Some years ago, while reading Maxwell Staniforth’s excellent account of Early Christian Writings (Penguin Books, 1968), I was struck by his “word of warning” that Saint Clement’s quotations from Scripture were based on the Septuagint Version “of which the text differs widely at times from our English Bibles.”
This is so. But it occurred to me that it is not only Clement who quotes freely from the Septuagint, but ALL the writers of the New Testament itself. All of them without a single exception! The Septuagint was their Bible. They all regarded this Greek version as authoritative. The Hebrew had no status at all, as far as they were concerned. When Saint Paul maintains the divine inspiration of Scripture, he means all the Scripture contained in the Greek Bible. And like all other New Testament writers, Saint Paul always quoted from the Septuagint, never ever from the Hebrew.
So why is there no “word of warning” in our English Bibles? A real puzzle! Could it be that by sheer good fortune—or the grace of God—the New Testament writers always happened to chance upon Scripture quotations that were virtually identical in Hebrew and Greek?
I deluded myself with this belief for many years until finally I studied the Septuagint more attentively. I then realized that over the centuries, copyists had simply taken it upon themselves to re-write just about all the New Testament’s Old Testament quotations, so that they now conformed to those in the Hebrew Bible.
While some might consider this endeavor praiseworthy, it has the undeniable effect of changing the actual words written down by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and company. I firmly believe that all these men were inspired by the Holy Spirit of Wisdom and Truth. To deliberately change their words—even slightly—is to either completely deny the Holy Spirit as a source of inspiration, or at the very least to regard the Holy Spirit’s contribution as somewhat defective.
In my new translation, "MARK and JOHN: The First and Last Gospels", I have therefore attempted to reconstruct what the inspired authors originally wrote by referring their many Scripture quotations back to the Ancient Greek Bible rather than the Hebrew.
In some instances, I have even expanded the quotation on the principle that it is better to have too much Scripture than too little, and far more preferable to make the inspired author’s point plain than to leave his words slightly in the dark.
True, in many cases, there is very little difference between Hebrew and Greek. But in some instances, there’s a lot. In fact, some of the differences are quite startling!