Posts tagged ‘Septuagint’

ABC Extra – “Jesus was born of a…”

When trying to understand a particularly puzzling or perplexing passage of Scripture, it is helpful to turn to other interpreters and study how they have interpreted the passage.  This is especially helpful in the case of Isaiah 7:14, a famous prophecy about the birth of Jesus: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.”  This passage became a source of heated debate and disagreement when the Revised Standard Version of 1952 famously translated, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  Traditionally, this verse has been taken as a prophecy of the miraculous conception of Christ as one who was born of a virgin girl named Mary: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).  It was the Holy Spirit, Matthew says, who planted the Christ child in Mary’s womb.  Mary, therefore, was still a virgin when she had Jesus.  But the RSV changed the traditional translation of Isaiah 7:14 from “virgin” to “young woman.”  Why the change?

The crux of the debate centers on the Hebrew word for “virgin,” or, as the RSV translates, “young woman.”  The word is almah.  And although almah does generally refer to a young woman who is a virgin, there are limited instances where it may refer to a young woman not in a virginal state, the most famous being Proverbs 30:18-19: “There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden.”  The Hebrew word for “maiden” is almah.  In this instance, the word seems to be referring to a woman already married and, hence, no longer in a virginal state.  This is why the translators of the RSV opted for a more general translation of almah – “young woman” – rather than a more specific one – “virgin” – in Isaiah 7:14.  The difficulty with this translation, however, is that Christianity’s critics have quickly pounced on this translation to undermine the Christological implications of this prophecy.  Rather than foretelling the virgin birth of Christ, these critics maintain that this prophecy points only to events in the Isaiah’s own day.

This debate, then, leads us to this important question:  Which translation of almah is correct?  “Virgin” or “young woman”?  And make no mistake about it:  At stake here is far more than trifling lexical nuances.  At stake here is a prophecy which the gospel writer Matthew says is fulfilled finally and fully in Jesus Christ!  Indeed, Matthew cites this prophecy in his birth narrative:  “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23).  Did Matthew misquote, misunderstand, or, worse yet, purposefully misuse this passage from Isaiah 7:14 when he applied it to the virgin birth of Jesus?

It is here that it is helpful to turn to other interpreters and see how they have understood this particularly puzzling and perplexing passage of Scripture.  One of the oldest interpretations of this passage comes to us via an ancient translation of the Bible called the Septuagint.  The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament, commissioned in the third and second centuries as more and more Jews, after Alexander the Great undertook his project of radically Hellenizing the whole world, were no longer able to speak and understand Hebrew fluently.  This Septuagint was a way for the Jews to maintain their religious Scriptural heritage in a language they could read and understand.  And in Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew word almah is translated as the Greek word parthenos.  And although there may some limited linguistic ambiguity in the meaning of the word almah, there is no such ambiguity in the word parthenos.  It means “virgin.”  Thus, ancient Jewish translators, living before the birth of Christ, interpreted this prophecy Messianically, referring to a miraculously virgin born Messiah.  And Matthew, in his account of Jesus’ birth, picks up on the Seputagintal translation of this prophecy and too uses the word parthenos.  Interestingly, later Jewish Greek translations of this verse from the second century AD translate almah as neanis, meaning “young woman,” no doubt in an attempt the mute the Christian interpretation of this passage.  But before the birth of Christ, the Jews were expecting nothing less than a miraculously born Messiah – a virgin born Messiah.

Thus, this particularly puzzling and perplexing prophecy stands as it has traditionally been interpreted.  And this particularly puzzling and perplexing prophecy is puzzling and perplexing no more.  For it has been fulfilled in Jesus.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

December 5, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Resurrection! It’s Not Just for Jesus


One of my favorite parts of Holy Week is the music.  Last night in Maundy Thursday worship, we sang of Christ’s body and blood, given for us sinners to eat and drink.  I’ve been singing the words to this hymn this morning:

God’s Word proclaims and we believe
That in this Supper we receive
Christ’s very body, as He said,
His very blood for sinners shed.

Today, as we reflect upon the cross of Christ, we will sing another of my favorite songs:

Mighty, awesome, wonderful,
Is the holy cross.
Where the Lamb laid down His life
To lift us from the fall.
Mighty is the power of the cross.

And then, on Easter, will come this powerful anthem:

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever-living head.

The words of this final song, of course, are taken from the book of Job where, even after Job has lost everything, he declares his faith in God and his desire for an advocate to plead his case to God:  “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:25-27)!  These words have long been taken by Christians as a foreshadowing of Christ’s resurrection.  Hence, the reason we sing these words on Easter!  Interestingly, however, it’s not just Christians who have found hints of a resurrection in Job’s story, the ancient Jews did too.

In the third century BC, a Greek translation of the Old Testament was commissioned.  Because of the rampant Hellenization of the ancient world, many Jews could no longer read Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was originally written, and so this work  of translating the Bible into Greek was undertaken so that people could read the Bible in their language.  The Septuagintal translation of Job is especially interesting because whoever translated it seems to have a love for resurrection!  Consider these passages:

  • Job 14:14:  Hebrew – “If a man dies, shall he live again?”  Greek – “If a man dies, he shall live!”
  • Job 19:26:  Hebrew – “After my skin has been thus destroyed…” Greek – “And to resurrect my skin upon the earth that endures these sufferings…”
  • Job 42:17:  The Greek Septuagint adds a line to this verse not in the Hebrew text:  “It is written of Job that he will rise again with those whom the Lord will raise.”

Clearly, the translator of Job believed in the resurrection!  Thus, the book of Job not only foretells Jesus’ resurrection in that famous line from Job 19, it foretells the resurrection of Job and all the faithful as well.  For because Christ has risen, we will rise!  In the words of the prophet Daniel:  “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).  For those who trust in Christ, we will be raised to everlasting life.  Because Christ has risen, we will rise.  The translator of Job knew and believed this.  I hope you do too.  For if you know and believe that your Redeemer lives, you can know and believe that you will live…forever.

April 22, 2011 at 7:36 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Jesus Isn’t Gentle (At Least Not All The Time)

Even if you’ve never specifically articulated it, you have at least a general impression of Jesus. “Jesus is loving.” “Jesus was a good man.” “Jesus accepts all people no matter where they’re from or what they’ve done.” These are but a few of the most common impressions of Jesus. Even our hymnody seems to endorse these types of impressions. As a child, I learned to sing: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child. Pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to Thee.” Yep, this is Jesus: He’s meek and mild.

As I’ve grown older and have spent more time reading the Scriptures, the impression of Jesus as meek and mild that I had as a child has been challenged. More often than not, in the Scriptures, Jesus doesn’t seem all that meek and mild. In fact, in some instances, Jesus doesn’t even seem nice! Indeed, we encountered one of these instances in this past weekend’s ABC.

In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus shares with His disciples what I like to call “The Parable of the Parable.” He tells His disciples a parable which describes what happens when He tells a parable! “A farmer goes out to sow some seed,” Jesus begins. “Some falls on a hard path, some falls on rocky soil, and some lands in the nearby thorn bushes. And none of these seeds last. They either do not sprout at all or they sprout and quickly wither. But there is some seed that falls on soft soil. And this seed germinates and grows up to be healthy, full, and whole.” As I mentioned, this parable describes what happens when Jesus tells a parable! There are some people who out and out reject His teaching while others get carried away by the rocks and thorny trials of this world. Some, however, not only hear and understand Jesus’ parables, but believe them. They are the soft soiled ones who take Jesus’ parables to heart.

Sadly, Jesus warns that many will not take His parables to heart: “To those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:11-12). These are some biting words! Jesus says that to those on the outside, He intentionally speaks in coded parables, lest these outsiders actually understand Jesus’ message and believe in His mission! This certainly doesn’t sound nice. This doesn’t sound like a gentle Jesus, meek and mild!

In His words, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, where God gives the prophet a similar mission of veiling God’s Word and message, lest people understand and believe: “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” There is no ambiguity in God’s commission to Isaiah. Isaiah is to specifically and deliberately “make the heart of the people calloused.” That is, he is to turn people away from God. What a strange – and harsh – mission for a prophet!

The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament from the third century BC, translates Isaiah 6:9-10 like this: “You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. This people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” Take careful note of the difference between the two versions. In the Hebrew text of Isaiah 6, Isaiah is specifically charged with hardening the hearts of the people. But in the Greek translation of this text, the hearts of the people are already calloused long before Isaiah begins his ministry. So which one is it? Is it Isaiah who callousing the hearts of the people? Or do the people who hear Isaiah come with already calloused hearts, ready to reject his message?

Actually, it’s both. Long before Isaiah arrives on the scene, the people of Israel have been busy callousing their hearts through their rebellion and carousing. Isaiah paints a bleak picture of Israel’s spiritual condition in his opening chapter: “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Isaiah 1:4). Israel is already calloused. Thus, Isaiah is called only to callous hearts through his preaching which are have already been calloused by sin. This, then, is God’s warning to sinners: “If you callous your hearts by sin, I will callous your hearts in judgment of that sin.”

This, therefore, is finally what Jesus is doing in His parables. He speaks of hiding the meaning of His parables from “those on the outside” not because He hates these people or wants to see them consigned to damnation, but because they have already chosen to be on the outside, apart from Jesus. And so now, Jesus is simply giving these sinners what they want – what they demand. He is callousing their hearts through His parables.

The portrait of Jesus as purely meek and mild is surely inaccurate. In Jesus’ “Parable of the Parable,” we learn that Jesus most certainly allows people to fall under the judgment they deserve and desire. And yet, this is not Jesus’ final will. His will is that these people would indeed “turn and be forgiven,” even though He knows that some will not.

This, then, is Jesus’ invitation to you: Do not be calloused! By the Spirit’s strength, instead, be soft soil. Have a tender heart! Receive and believe God’s Word…and watch it grow in you – even unto salvation.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

March 14, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Man with the Plan

Have you ever had a plan go south on you in a hurry?  When I was in college, I was in charge of planning the Christmas service for our campus chapel.  The plans did not come together as I expected.  Right before the service, my choir director fell ill and was not able to lead the choir.  My instrumentalists also did not rehearse as they should have.  In fact, there was one instrumentalist who still stands out in my mind to this day.

One of the carols I had planned for the service was “Joy to the World.”  Because this is such a boisterous song, I decided to incorporate some cymbal crashes into the arrangement.  The difficulty was, the only pair of cymbals our college had were monstrous.  Even a gentle crash of the cymbals easily filled the chapel.  My cymbal player, however, did not know this.  Thus, the beloved lyric, “And heaven and nature sing,” was answered by the biggest, baddest, moist boisterous cymbal crash I have ever heard.  In fact, it wasn’t just a crash, it was a smash!  The whole congregation jumped.  And the joy of the song was replaced by snickers at the surprise.

Sometimes, our plans go south in a hurry.  For our planning is never airtight and mistake-proof.  The unexpected can smash even our best-laid plans.

This weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a new series for Advent titled, “Hello!  My Name Is…”  In this series, we are taking a look at the names for Jesus as they are famously given to us in Isaiah 9:6:  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  This past weekend, we talked about what it means for Jesus to be our “Wonderful Counselor.”

In Hebrew, the word for “Counselor” is ya’as.  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, this word is translated as boule.  Notably, boule is often translated as the word “plan.”  A couple examples will suffice:

  • “If this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39)
  • When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His plan, He guaranteed it with an oath. (Hebrews 6:17)

In the first example, the Pharisee Gamaliel notes that though man’s plans eventually fail, God’s plans always endure and stand.  The Psalmist explains it this way:  “The LORD brings the plans of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples. The plan of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:10-11).  Thus, what God plans to do, He always accomplishes, even when His plan includes the death of His one and only Son, as Peter attests to in his Pentecost sermon:  “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:22-23).  It was God’s plan to kill His Son for the forgiveness of our sins all along.  And God’s plan prevails.

God’s plan prevails.  This is great comfort as we trust Christ, our Wonderful Counselor.  For our Counselor’s plans are sure and good.  After all, He has had our salvation planned from the very foundation of the world (cf. Matthew 25:34) and His plan came to pass with the cross.  Thus, we can always trust His counsel because we know that it is part of His plan.  And whereas our plans can fail, falter, and wind up in disaster, God’s plan remains, is resolved, and winds up in glory.  Trust in the plan, found in God’s Word, of your Wonderful Counselor!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

November 29, 2010 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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