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Has the meaning of Isaiah 59:20-21 been changed?

Roman 11:26: And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come from Zion; He will remove godlessness from Jacob.

Isaiah 59:20-21: “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD.

  • The Deliverer came of Judah, according to the flesh. He came out of that which was Zion. And he came, in the flesh, to Zion, to redeem Zion. I don't see any 'contradiction' (re: your tag) at all. – Nigel J Mar 12 at 13:16
  • @NigelJ I do not read it like that, it seems more of a copy of Isaiah that has been changed rather than a prophecy being fulfilled. Also Isaiah does not say Jacob will have his godlessness removed, quite the opposite to those who repent. – another theory Mar 12 at 13:33
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    Paul is interpreting Isaiah with the hindsight of further revelation after the coming of Christ. The same thing is seen with Mark and Malachi ('my face/thy face') – Nigel J Mar 13 at 7:15
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The answer, I think, is no.

Paul quotes almost exclusively from the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, Isaiah 59:20 reads

ἥξει ἐκ Σιὼν ὁ ῥυόμενος καὶ ἀποστρέψει ἀσεβείας ἀπὸ Ἰακώβ

The Greek text of Romans 11:26 (NA28) is identical:

ἥξει ἐκ Σιων ὁ ῥυόμενος καὶ ἀποστρέψει ἀσεβείας ἀπὸ Ιακωβ

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    Whether he was quoting the LXX or not, if he was translating from the Hebrew into the lingua franca of his day, namely Greek, he is afforded some freedom of interpretation to help those who did not speak Hebrew understand what Isaiah meant in the Hebrew as would have been the translators of the LXX. +1 excellent answer – Nihil Sine Deo Mar 12 at 21:03
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    This just pushes the question to why the LXX translators changed "from" to "to". That still needs an explanation. – curiousdannii Mar 13 at 4:38
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    Your and S. Broberg's LXX texts are different, can you clarify which exact text you are using? – curiousdannii Mar 13 at 4:41
  • Paul is interpreting Isaiah in hindsight of further revelation with the coming of Christ ( a similar thing is seen with Mark and Malachi in Mark 1:2 - 'my face/thy face'.) But why would LXX agree with Paul's interpretation (as @curiousdannii notes) ? Is there a copyist correction later in LXX ? – Nigel J Mar 13 at 7:13
  • @user33515 which LXX version are you using? LXX Swete reads differently than your resource. – S. Broberg Mar 13 at 13:37
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Regrettably, it happens too often that a Bible passage turns out hard to understand on account of the fact that many Hebrew prepositions – originally univocal terms – were reduced, over the centuries, to single letter. Isa 59:20 is just a typical case of this kind.

All the trouble is focused on the term לציון, that is made up of two parts: ‘Zion’ [ציון], preceded by the hyper-synthetic proposition L- [ל].

Now, if you search for the meaning of - ל in the Hebrew lexicons more probably you will be astonished. Why? Well, the Davidson lexicon lists twelve different meanings linked with L- [ל]. Gesenius assigned fourteen meanings to it, at least. John Parkhurst has a list with 22 different meanings of it. Koehler&Baumgartner: 26 meanings. And – sincerely - I have had enough to count all the different meanings listed by Schöckel

In these cases, how we can unravel the dilemma? Since this is not a linguistic site, I will answer simply, through textual criticism. In this specific case, we have to consider the witnessing of the context (in particular, the mention Paul made in Romans of this passage), and of the ancient translations.

In the Septuagint (LXX) the verse is: “καὶ ἥξει ἕνεκεν Σιων ὁ ῥυόμενος καὶ ἀποστρέψει ἀσεβείας ἀπὸ Ιακωβ.”, that translated by Brenton is: “And the deliverer shall come for Sion's sake, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob”.

As you note, here ἕνεκεν is a pivotal term. It means ‘on account of’, ‘for’ (I don’t know where ‘User 33515’ has found his reading of ‘Septuagint…). So, for the Jewish translators of the Septuagint (if they translated by a similar Hebrew text that we have to disposition), the L- [ל] had the meaning of ‘on account of (Zion)’, and not – merely – ‘to (Zion)”.

Someone may think that the Paul’s paraphrase of this Isaiah passage – using the preposition εκ – contradicts this conclusion. But, also in this case, wait a moment. One of the various meanings of the Greek preposition εκ is – again – ‘on account of, ‘for’ (you may examine, for some examples, this usage of εκ by Sophokles, Plato, and Plutarch. If you have need a more detailed references from this works I am able to list them).

So, the sense of Isa 59:20 is the one and the same of Rom 11:26. There’s no change of meaning.

Also, a number of Bible translation reached the same conclusion (bold is mine).

Und ein Erlöser wird kommen für [‘for the sake of’] Zion und für die, welche in Jakob von der Übertretung umkehren, spricht Jahwe”. (Elberfelder Bibel)

E un redentore verrà per [‘for’] Sion e per quelli di Giacobbe che si convertiranno dalla loro rivolta, dice l'Eterno.” (Riveduta-Luzzi)

E verrà per [‘for’] Sion un redentore […]” (Bonaventura Mariani)

“[…] for Zion will come a redeemer” (NJB)

“[…] come redentore verrà per [‘for’] Sion” (La Civiltà Cattolica-Piemme; in a similar manner also the TOB)

Ma per [‘for’] Sion viene quale redentore […]” (Concordata).

Very interestingly, this manner to translate - both in Hebrew and Greek - enhances the loyalty and the care of the Creator towards men, since He is ready to deliver peoples from their errors.

I hope these information will be useful to you.

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  • thank you all for your fantastic responses more complicated then I expected. there is also the important issue of all Israel or only those who repent. Could it be Paul being educated as a Pharisee in Jerusalem under the hand of Rabbi Gamaliel (well respected Dr of Law), he actually wrote his letters in Aramic/Hebrew and when they were translated for his Greek audience this caused the conflict. Also should we consider 'Isa' as the more reliable source. – another theory Mar 13 at 11:12
  • @JohnMartin - bible hub for both quotes. Berean Romans 11:26-32 to implies the same - comes out of Zion & mercy on all. Latin Vulgate Isa - 20 And there shall come a redeemer to Sion, and to them that return from iniquity in Jacob, saith the Lord. Aslo 'ISA' dosent mention anything about God making everyone disobedient to have mercy. – another theory Mar 18 at 13:05
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It's not a contradiction - although it may appear in English to be quite different. There are a couple of issues happening here which can throw off the English translations.

  1. The Isaiah passage you cited above in English is most likely translated from the Hebrew Masoretic Text although sometimes the translation committees will choose the Septuagint variant (for whatever reason).

  2. In the Romans passage - as mentioned by user33535 above - Paul is quoting the Septuagint. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures from the 200's BCE.

  3. Taking the Old Testament Hebrew into Greek - or any language for that matter - is not always as straight forward as we would like. Sometimes the Greek Septuagint has minor variations from the Hebrew due to translation issues.

Here, Paul quotes almost word for word from the Greek Septuagint so there would be no contradiction. The Septuagint was the accepted Old Testament to the Greek-speaking Jews living in the Diaspora.

The Hebrew word פֶּשַׁע is translated "transgression" or "sins."

When translated to the Greek Septuagint they chose ἀσέβεια (asebeia) which is shown here as:

want of reverence towards God, impiety, ungodliness

The Hebrew uses the normal word for "repent" וּלְשָׁבֵ֥י - the Greek Septuagint and Paul both use the word ἀποστρέφω - which is translated as either

to turn away; to remove anything from anyone

Which is where your translation gets "remove."

The contradiction may appear when you have to pull each of these passages into English. How you determine the translation of a passage will cause it to appear contradictory or not. Also, it may appear as if the author had been changing the text if you compare directly a passage from the OT quoted in the NT.

As far as "come to" or "come from" - The Hebrew is "come to" לְצִיּוֹן֙. On Studylight.org the Septuagint uses the word (heko) instead of (ek) - "out of" that Paul uses. See the screenshot below:

enter image description here

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  • This just pushes the question to why the LXX translators changed "from" to "to". That still needs an explanation. – curiousdannii Mar 13 at 4:40
  • Your and user33515's LXX texts are different, can you clarify which exact text you are using? – curiousdannii Mar 13 at 4:41
  • @curiousdannii it is stated that studylight.org is used. i just reproduced it myself. you have to click LXX to have the greek shown. – Janus Troelsen Mar 13 at 5:10
  • But which LXX text is it? Is it a transcript of a single manuscript? Is it an edited text? – curiousdannii Mar 13 at 5:11
  • @curiousdannii I couldn't find which LXX. That is why I placed the image and referenced Studylight. – S. Broberg Mar 13 at 13:01

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