When the Bible Pits the Masoretic Text vs. the LXX

A few posts (here and here) have allowed me the opportunity to think upon some of my former observations regarding how the New Testament authors use the Hebrew Bible in ways which some of my Evangelical friends would consider, to some degree, liberal.

contradictionBack in my Bible College days I was taught (rightly) to use critical thinking skills when I stumbled upon obscure textual problems. I am happy that I learned this tool very early in my professional training. In particular, when I would come across a passage in the New Testament which cites a verse from the Hebrew Bible, I considered it wise and valuable to go back and investigate the source. However, on a few occasions I did not find what I was in fact seeking. There are some places where the Greek of the NT citation has a different reading than what is found on the pages of the Hebrew Bible. Now I am certainly aware that some NT authors quoted passages loosely, maybe even from memory. Nevertheless, there are some places where the Masoretic Text pointed the words which resulted in a different reading than what the translators of the LXX wrote.

One such example can be found in Acts 15:16-18. This passage is in the midst of the Jerusalem Council where James attempts to bring unity to a diversified group of believers. In order to accomplish this feat, he (i.e., Luke) cites Amos 9:11-12. I’ll quote the Acts passage here:

After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord– even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.

In the middle of this quote (Acts 15:17) the line says “all other peoples” may seek the Lord. The phrase here for “peoples” is τῶν ἀνθρώπων. However, when I flip back to Amos 9:11-12, expecting to find this reading, I unfortunately fall short:

In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations who are called by My name,” Declares the LORD who does this.

The Masoretic Texts has “Edom” (אֱדוֹם). The translator of the LXX, who did not have the vowel points, read the noun as adam (“humanity”). Therefore, he translated what he thought was adam into anthropos. 

The point here is that the Bible preserves two different readings of Amos 9:12; one with “Edom” (in the Masoretic Text) and another with “humanity/people” (in the LXX which is quoted in Acts 15:17). No way around it. These texts say two different things.

I want to pose a question for my readers (since I don’t think I personally have made up my mind yet). What is the most appropriate way to fit this rare phenomenon into one’s view of Scripture?


7 thoughts on “When the Bible Pits the Masoretic Text vs. the LXX

  1. Pulpit Commentary

    Verse 12. – That they (the true children of Israel) may possess the remnant of Edom; i.e. those who were nearest in blood, and yet most hostile of all men. David had subdued the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:16), and Amaziah had inflicted a great slaughter upon them (2 Kings 14:7); but later they recovered their independence (2 Kings 16:6, where “Edomites” should be read for “Syrians;” 2 Chronicles 28:17), and were actively hostile against the Jews. It was on this account that they were emphatically denounced by Obadiah. “The remnant” is mentioned because, according to the threat in Amos 1:11, 12, they would be punished so that only a few would escape. The Septuagint gives ,Ὅπως ἐκζητήσωσιν οἱ κατάλοιποι τὼν ἀνθρώπων, [τὸν κύριον, Alexandrian], “That the remnant of men may earnestly seek the Lord,” regarding Edom as a representative of aliens from God, and altering the text to make the sense more generally intelligible, This version, which reads “Adam,” men, instead of “Edom,” is endorsed by St. James. Which are called by my Name; “over whom my Name hath been called” (Septuagint). This is closer to the Hebrew; but the meaning is much the same, viz. all those who are dedicated to God and belong to him being by faith

  2. I saw a lot things like this when comparing the gospels side by side. Information was not exactly the same, sometimes appearing a bit contradictory. However, it never seemed to change the basic story.
    The fact that Jesus and his disciple seemed to quote the Septuagint while many modern day scholars think it is unreliable is amusing.
    My own conclusion is that God is not as technically minded as some make Him out to be.

  3. A few things spring to mind for me on this issue:

    1. Adam and Edom are linked in terms of concepts, but they also are very different (e.g. Edom represents typologically fallen humanity or the evil twin of Israel; the Hebrew terms are linked; Edom/Esau/Amalek is the foil to Israel/Moses, etc.)

    2. It would be hard to tell whether the LXX translator misunderstood or the MT scribe misunderstood. Perhaps the Aramaic Targums or text from Qumran could resolve this difficulty.

    3. The historically “correct” reading is immaterial for Christians, imo. You have the NT writers citing texts, which in a sense makes those texts correct. If the authors were reading anthropos, then that is the correct reading. In terms of history, this doesn’t hold up. But if you are going to follow the authors of the NT, this seems unavoidable. It also appears that Jewish non-Christians in the 1st century would have agreed with whatever the LXX says, as they tended to view it as an inspired translation.

  4. The Hebrew text the LXX translators used did not have vowel points. They were going off of the common understanding of their day that Adam was the correct word. The Massorites had centuries of anti-Christian sentiment and the texts quoted from the Tanak in the NT were well known. They chose Edom because it reflected the difference between Judaism of their day and Christianity. The same thing is true of Psalm 22.16 (17 in the Hebrew) where “ka ari” like a lion, is used instead of “karu” they pierced. The only difference is the Yod vs the Vav, which look very similar, especially in hand written Hebrew. LXX and Aramaic Tanak and the Dead Sea Scrolls all support they pierced.

  5. Dustin
    An excellent post!
    Some of the responses to you just go to show that the human mind is capable of infinite rationalisation.
    I first became aware of the phenomenon to which you refer, when I tried checking some of the references to allegedly ‘prophetic’ verses in the synoptic gospels. (the ones one often sees italicised in some Bibles”) to the original secriptures. .
    I found that most ‘deviations’ were there to justify dogma and doctrine.!

    You may have noted how the LXX misquotes the Hebrew scripture (Psalm 102 vs 24 and 25) and this then finds its way into Hebrews 1 v 8.
    A verse directed at God , is now re-directed to the Son.!

    I find these shennanegans rather pathetic and born out of desperation to find at least one scripture that supports the doctrine of the Trinity.
    There are NONE!

    What is even more disturbing is that seemingly intelligent people go to great lengths to try to rationalise this discrepancy.( and others like them).

    A rather disturbing indication of the human condition.!

    Perhaps one day humans will ‘grow up and get out of the nursery” !


  6. In response to Tim’s question (“Perhaps the Aramaic Targums or text from Qumran could resolve this difficulty”) this verse is preserved in two Dead Sea scrolls: one from Cave 4 (4Q82) and the other from wadi Murabba’at (Mur. XII, circa 132 AD). The first part of the verse is also quoted in a floralegium on the last days (4Q174) which identifies the one who will raise up the fallen tent of David as a messianic figure “who will rise with the Interpreter of the Law” and save Israel, but doesn’t include the Edom/mankind section.

    Of course, the Qumran scrolls are unpointed and in an unpointed text “Edom” and “mankind” could both be written as אדם unless Edom was written with a holem vav (אדום), as the MT does. But the use of the holem vav (ו) was optional in the Biblical period, evidenced by varying manuscripts. I understand that at least one of the Dead Sea scrolls manuscripts has אדם without the holem vav, hence it is ambiguous.

    Targum Jonathan has אדום = Edom.

    The Syriac Peshitta has ܐܕܘܡ = Edom.

    I have posted some thoughts of my own on this text here: http://stephencook.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/it-is-written-quotations-from-the-old-testament-in-the-new-testament-1/

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