Thursday, October 8, 2009

What is the Word of God?

Tonight I have a class on Old Testament prophets. One interesting matter which comes up is the question of the differences between the Hebrew text (MT) of Jeremiah and the Greek text (LXX) of Jeremiah. In some places these differences are significant and thus raise the questions such as which text is (closest to) the original text of Jeremiah, was there an 'original' text of Jeremiah, and can two different texts bear witness to the one Word of God through a single spokesperson whose name is associated with each of the texts?

I am no expert on Jeremiah, let alone on the Hebrew and Greek texts of Jeremiah, but a quick observation to make is this: the four gospels are four variant witnesses to the one Gospel of Jesus Christ. We accept them all and believe that God's Word is spoken through them all. Could we accept that God's Word is spoken through both the Hebrew and Greek versions of Jeremiah?

That question leads to a couple of others. What would people make of buying Bibles that included translations of both versions of Jeremiah? Mostly we accept that the prophets of the Old Testament were inspired spokespersons of God: could we accept that the scribes and translators of prophets such as Jeremiah were also inspired?


Tim Harris said...

Hi Peter. This is a pertinent and somewhat neglected question, especially in regard to what is perceived as the 'true' version. John Olley gave a paper at the Brisbane conference on just this (in reference to Ezekiel - I'll email you a copy of the paper), and finished with similar reflections as your own:

'For the NT the Church has long accepted four Gospels, seeing in their differences the value of harmony that is richer than uniformity—the history of music shows how people come to experience and enjoy harmony where once was perceived discord. There is also the phenomenon of differing forms of text that are cited in the NT. Is there value in recognising diversity in texts, learning from the voices of all, asking not, ‘which one is right?’, but at times, ‘what do we learn from the differences?’'

Howard Pilgrim said...

"What would people make of buying Bibles that included translations of both versions of Jeremiah?" Good question ...
1. For many readers it would be a vivid experience of the diversity of textual traditions lying behind our printed English Bibles. One the shock died down, most would find this empowering. Why should only scholars have access to this ancient data. Even in translation a greater richness would come through.
2. Why stop at Jeremiah? There has to be some practical way of making the complexity of the canonical process accessible to English readers. I have wondered for some time about how we can give modern students more awareness of the significance of the Greek translations of Hebrew scripture for New Testament writers. Side-by side translations would be one good way to do it.
3. It would tackle head-on the widespread myth that the true Old Testament is the one translated and delivered to us by Reformation-era printing presses, and that the Catholics have wickedly insinuated their beloved Apocrypha into this authoritative source, for their own scurrilous purposes. The theological challenge presented by the history of the Septuagint and its relation to the Hebrew scriptures goes much deeper than the inclusion of later parts of the Writings.

All of which brings me to your last question:- "...could we accept that the scribes and translators of prophets such as Jeremiah were also inspired?" Simple answer: we just have to. Some sort of inspiration has to be imputed to the whole process of composition, translation and canonical reception if inspiration is to mean anything at all. Those who attribute it only to original writers may think they are safeguarding the text's authority, but "they are dreaming" (to quote that famous Aussie realist)if they hope to equate the original writings with what we have in front of us on Sunday mornings. "Holy Scripture" is God-given, and God-breathed, but it has a complex history. Making that history more obvious to our people is a way of allowing them to have a faith more firmly grounded in historical realities and the providence of God.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Tim and Howard!

Anonymous said...

Well, I have a BHS, LXX - *and* a Vulgate on my shelves & dip into all three - but I am a bit weird that way...
Seriously, I would be happy if most Christians could *find* Jeremiah in their Bibles and thrilled if some of them read it.
Learning more about LXX is on my ever-expanding 'to do' list before I die. Katherine Jobes and Moises Silva, that grat evangelical scholar, have done fine work on this.
I love the Apocrypha - esp. Judith and Tobit - but agree with Jerome that it shouldn't be in the canon. Roger Beckwith's 'The OT Canon of the NT Church' is a great piece of scholarship.