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Christian commentary: G-d free to misquote Old Testament in the New because He owns the copyright!

February 4, 2014

new-testament-rewordedToday, I was perusing through my copy of an NIV version of The Scofield Study Bible (once given to me as a gift), one of the most popular Bible commentaries in the English-speaking world. There I happened upon one of the well-known misquotations of the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament, specifically Hebrews 10:5, which purports to quote what G-d supposedly said through David in Psalm 40:6, ostensibly in an allusion to Jesus’ future sacrifice on the cross:

NIV Hebrews 10:5

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;

However, when we open the “Old Testament”, also in the same NIV, and leaf over to read this quote in its original Psalm 40:6 context, we find the following very different wording:

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced (or opened);

But in this post I want to focus not on the misquotation itself, but rather on the explanation given for it in the commentary section below it. This is because I found it quite amusing, if a little incredulous. It’s certainly very novel. At first, the commentators give a litany of stock excuses meant to explain why the anonymous author of Hebrews felt free to change what the Hebrew Bible actually said in order to shoehorn Jesus into the Tanakh (e.g. he chose to quote not from the Hebrew original but some Greek translation; he was just paraphrasing; it was not meant to be accurate.) However, it was this last little gem that stood out for me:

The Holy Spirit who inspired the O.T. was free to reword a quotation just as a human author may restate his own writings in other words, without negating the accuracy of the original statement… The doctrine of complete inspiration only required that revelation be expressed without error.

In other words, should you dear reader come across any of the gospel authors, Paul or any other writer in the New Testament misquote or misuse the Hebrew Bible or even completely twist its original meaning, worry not. You can rest assured that since the Christian New Testament is as fully inspired by the Holy Spirit as the Jewish “Old Testament”, any and all “rewordings” have G-d’s full approval. After all, He’s the copyright holder!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2014 12:01 pm

    Sadly people will see what they want and refuse to see what they don’t want to see.

  2. February 4, 2014 4:52 pm

    Very true, Vadabundo…

    “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality…” (George Orwell)

  3. February 7, 2014 12:17 pm

    Gene, you might want to get a copy of Emmanuel Tov’s Text Criticism of the Hebrew Bible and educate yourself about the status of Hebrew manuscripts before the time of the Masoretes. Your article about the New Testament use of the HB lacks credibility because you have assumed the present form of the HB has always been as it is now. In reality, pre-Masoretic manuscripts fall into three families with substantial differences (the proto-LXX, the proto-MT, and and third type which a sort of wild card).

  4. February 7, 2014 12:19 pm

    Also, to be fair, Gene, you should acknowledge that Midrash plays fast and loose with the HB text, making points sometimes deliberately that are the opposite of the plain meaning of the yet. If you hold the NT to enlightenment rationalist standards, you need to hold the Sages to the same standard. Better yet, though, would be to jettison the artificial standard and read ancient people’s writing as . . . ancient.

  5. February 7, 2014 12:50 pm

    “Gene, you might want to get a copy of Emmanuel Tov’s Text Criticism of the Hebrew Bible and educate yourself about the status of Hebrew manuscripts before the time of the Masoretes.”

    Derek, what makes you think that I have not studied (yes, including works by Emmanuel Tov) and not familiar with the variations in text? The difference, of course, is that those variations are nearly always minor and do not significantly detract from the meaning of the text. More importantly, they were not altering existing scripture in order to blatantly promote an agenda of a new religion the way the book of Hebrews (and other NT texts) does. The New Testament itself had thousands of mostly minor variations floating around. I am not focusing on those at all as I don’t think their presence proves anything. Rather, I am pointing out agenda-driven alterations.

    “Also, to be fair, Gene, you should acknowledge that Midrash plays fast and loose with the HB text”

    Midrashic or aggadic literature is not scripture (they are “fast and loose” by nature), and Jews are not obligated to accept them as they are not authoritative. Nahmanides reiterated this fact when debating with a Jewish apostate Pablo Christiani during the Disputation of Barcelona. Christiani tried to use these types of Jewish texts to “prove” that rabbis actually believed that Jesus is the Messiah and G-d but hated him too much to acknowledge it. Nahmanides said that Jews didn’t have to believe these texts. Can you say the same about the book of Hebrews? So, there’s no comparison. New Testament, on the other hand, is holy scripture for Christians on the level of the “Old Testament”, if not greater (being a more “progressive revelation”).

    “Better yet, though, would be to jettison the artificial standard and read ancient people’s writing as . . . ancient.”

    Derek, this post is about a Christian commentary in a popular Bible. What do you think about their explanation on why the text was altered?

  6. February 7, 2014 3:13 pm

    Derek… I think that Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho from the second century is a great example of how the “ancients” actually read the writings and critiqued altered translations. In it you will see that Trypho is pointing out to Justin that Christians have purposely mistranslated “young maiden” as “virgin” in their Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible and in Matthew in order to shoehorn Jesus’ “virgin birth” into the Hebrew Scriptures. So, it appears that the “ancients” who lived much closer in time to the authors of NT than you and I didn’t seem to view or critique these agenda-driven “flaws” so differently than people do today. Certainly not as much as you’d like me to believe.

    Note: some people mistakenly assume that there was only one version of Greek translation of the Bible in the ancient world, that all these translations were authorized by Jews, or that the original “Septuagint” translated by Jews included the whole Hebrew Bible and not just the Five Books of Moses.

    It’s also interesting to note that nearly all Christian translations of the Hebrew Bible today, with a notable exception of the Bible used by the Greek Orthodox Church, rely not on any Greek translation (LXX or otherwise), even though the authors of the New Testament themselves heavily relied on it to support their theology, but use the Masoretic text instead. I guess they don’t believe (as I’ve recently read some Greek Orthodox bloggers claim) that Jews, who are famous for scrupulously transcribing the Bible, altered their own sacred text just to thwart Jesus and Christianity and that some ancient Greek translations on which NT is based reflected the now lost “true scriptures”.

  7. Jamo88 permalink
    December 6, 2016 9:29 am

    Here is a good one Gene the traditional Catholic Douay-Rheims version Daniel 9:26

    “And after sixty-two weeks Christ shall be slain: and the people that shall deny him shall not be his. And a people with their leader that shall come, shall destroy the city and the sanctuary: and the end thereof shall be waste, and after the end of the war the appointed desolation.”

    A confused Catholic (there are a lot of those believe me) asked: Why can’t I find the clause “and the people that shall deny him shall not be his” in any other translation I’ve looked at?

    Not also how “anointed one” has been replaced by Christ. I remember reading a well intentioned theologian from the 40s who said “look how accurately the “Old Testament” predicts Jesus’ arrival in Daniel – he used the DR translation. See the deception that has taken place.

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