What's Wrong with the Bible?
So far as the Old Testament is concerned, what’s wrong with almost all English Bibles is that they are based on the medieval Masoretic Hebrew text rather than the much-closer-to-the-original Hebrew texts discovered among the Dead Sea scrolls.
These ancient Hebrew texts closely correspond with the ancient Greek translation known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was used by all the New Testament writers and all quotations and scriptural references of course were made from and to this version.
Over the course of the centuries, copyists and editors took it upon themselves to "correct" these quotations and references so that they accorded with the Hebrew rather than the Greek.
In some cases, of course, they were stymied. The author of Hebrews, for instance, bases his whole argument in chapter ten on a quote from Psalm 39 (or 40) which does not exist in the Hebrew version at all. Now if the inspired author is not quoting from Scripture – and I believe most sincerely that he is! – then he is simply making bald, unsupported statements.
A student once asked a well-known Bible translator who was most meticulously comparing the Hebrew text with the Greek Septuagint line by line, verse by verse and word by word, “Why not just make your translation direct from the Greek?” The scholar was horrified. “Why, that would be to translate a translation!” he exclaimed.
Truth to tell, the Septuagint has a poor reputation – in my opinion, totally undeserved. The principal reason used to be a universal, yet erroneous belief, that the temple officials in Jerusalem were so jealous of “God’s word” they had taken the most minute care of its copying and transmission. Therefore in all the many thousands of instances in which the medieval Masoretic Hebrew text disagreed with third century C.E. copies of its Greek translation known as the Septuagint, the Hebrew was judged to be correct, the Greek wrong. Why? Errors were presumably made by the original Greek translators in the 200 to 300 years before Christ, plus errors since made by copyists. On the other hand, the Hebrew text had been scrupulously preserved in a state of purity and was error-free.
Only in the latter half of the 20th century, was this erroneous belief challenged – and then only by a few daring and forward thinking scholars like Professor Alter, who pointed out the truly sorry state in which some Biblical books – and most particularly Psalms – had been transmitted, due both to the neglect and deliberate alterations by the guardians in the Temple.
My own position is that, taken overall, the Greek text more accurately presents the word of God. This was also, as stated above, the firm belief of all the original writers of the New Testament. But as apologists for the Hebrew version would argue, what would dopes like Saint Paul know? (This was the actual answer given me, would you believe, when I asked one of my Fundamentalist pastors why Paul always quoted from the Greek, never ever from the Hebrew).
Rather than keeping the sacred text of the Old Testament pure and undefiled, however, the keepers of the scrolls in the temple at Jerusalem had no qualms whatever in altering it to suit their own purposes.
Adding to these deliberate changes were mistakes made by copyists, and accidents caused by fire and natural deterioration. And while the Greek text is also by no means free from such errors, it does on the whole present a more accurate, and at times a more complete rendering of the original Hebrew. And in many instances, the Septuagint compilers took the trouble to expand or qualify the original when the Hebrew seemed either obscure or capable of two entirely different meanings.
Why is it called the Septuagint? The title arose from a legend that the translation was made by 72 scholars. Thus the title is also written in its short form as simply "LXX" – 70 in Roman numerals.
Speaking of numerals, most of the Psalms are numbered differently in their Greek and Hebrew versions. In my book, Bible Wisdom: PSALMS of Praise and Power, the first number in the title text refers to the Septuagint, the second, in brackets, to the Hebrew. The Septuagint also contains one additional Psalm, number 151.