A Greek Translation of the Old Testament
The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was commissioned in the third century BC. It has been proven accurate because many fragments of it have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is no major difference between the Qumran fragments and modern copies. Thus the Septuagint is an excellent source of accuracy for today’s translations. Of note, the New Testament quotes of the Old Testament are taken from the Septuagint, which is why they do not agree exactly with modern translations of the Old Testament. However, the underlying Greek of the New Testament does agree with the Greek of the Septuagint.
The word ‘Septuagint” is derived from the Latin word, septuaginta, meaning seventy. The abbreviation, LXX, is simply Roman numeral for seventy (L=50, X=10). The critical designation is “G”.
The earliest source concerning the development of the LXX, is the Letter of Aristeas. That letter tells us that Ptolemy, (a term similar to Caesar, Pharaoh, or Darius) king of Egypt circa 282 BC, asked seventy two Hebrew scholars, six from each tribe of Israel, to come to Alexandria to translate the Hebrew Torah into Greek. The Torah, of course, only contained the Pentateuch, which is the first five books of the Bible. They accomplished the task in 72 days.
After the Torah was translated, the remaining books of the Old Testament including the Apocrypha, were translated into Greek over the next two or three centuries, culminating about the time of the birth of Christ. After the resurrection of Christ and the spread of Christianity, Jewish scholars made a further translation of the entire Old Testament into a new Greek translation and discouraged the use of the LXX.
The dominant English translations of the LXX we have today are Alfred Rahlfs, from the United Bible Societies, 1935, or the Göttingen edition (begun in 1931), Brenton’s English Translation of the Vatican Text with insertions from the Alexandrian, and the New English Translation of the Septuagint, which used mostly the Göttingen edition. There are several others English Translations. Most scholars accept the Göttingen Edition as the most critical LXX. The New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) used mainly the Göttingen edition, where it was available. In the NETS, each book is prefaced by the translators where they cite which manuscripts were used for that particular book.
The Qumran scrolls, written 100-200 years before the advent of Christ are a standard against which the Old Testament books may be tested. The Dead Sea Scrolls have proven that the Old Testament we have today is essentially the same as the Old Testament available in the pre-Christian era. One of the earliest papyri from Qumran is Scroll 4Q LXX, containing parts of Leviticus. It is the earliest known extant copy of this part of the Bible, and it is from the Septuagint. Therefore, the oldest known copy of the LXX is also the earliest known copy of that part of the Bible. It is virtually the same as the LXX today. This establishes the reliability of the LXX. Since the New Testament writers quoted almost exclusively from the LXX, this scroll, 4Q LXX, also supports the reliability of the Bible available today.
The Septuagint is well represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls, thus establishing that the LXX was extant in the second century before Christ and thus establishing its dependability. The quotes in the New Testament that were taken from the Old Testament, are uncompromising evidence that the New Testament copies we have are extremely accurate and are not full of copyist errors as many liberal textual scholars claim.
In conclusion, we may rely upon the Septuagint as an accurate and ancient translation. Both its accuracy and its age are attested. It was written around the time that the Letter of Aristeas claims (c. 282 BC), and it is essentially the same as the LXX the Apostles knew. The true importance of the LXX is that it gives us an assessment of the thinking of the Hebrews in the years between the Testaments and immediately prior to the birth of Christ. It also gives us insight into the thinking of the writers of the New Testament.