"Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16)

Whitaker on the Corruption of the Greek Septuagint (LXX)

“What authority, however, this version should command is uncertain. The ancients used to hold it in the highest estimation, and looked upon it as unique and divine. Epiphanius, in his book of Weights and Measures, says that the translators were not mere interpreters, but, in some sort, prophets also. And Augustine (de Doct. Christ. Lib. 2. c. 15) says, that this version was made by a divine dispensation, and was held in greatest repute among the best learned churches, since the translators were said to have been “aided by such a presence of the Holy Spirit in their interpretation as that they all had but one mouth.” Upon this subject he hath also written largely in his City of God, Lib. 18. c. 42 and 43. In like manner, Irenæus (Lib. 3. c. 25) writes that, though each made his translation apart, yet in the end, when they all met together and compared their several versions, “they all recited the same thing and in the very same words and terms from beginning to the end; so as that the gentiles who stood by might easily perceive, that it was by the inspiration of God that the scriptures were translated.” So Augustine, in the City of God, Lib. 18. c. 42: “The tradition is that there was so wonderful, stupendous, and absolutely divine agreement in their expressions, that although each sat down separately to this task (for so Ptolemy chose to try their fidelity), yet none differed from another even in a single word, though it were synonymous and equivalent, or in the order and placing of the words. But, as if there had been but one translator, so the translation was one; as, indeed, it was one and the same Holy Spirit which was in them all.” Now, while I doubt not that this version was held in high authority, and that deservedly too, I cannot think that the miracles which are told to magnify its authority deserve credit; and, indeed, we find that they are treated as fables by Jerome in the Preface to the Pentateuch. However great may have been the authority of this version, it could not have been greater than that of our version. They, therefore, attribute too much to it, who make it inspired, and equal to the authentic scriptures themselves. For the authority of those interpreters was not so illustrious and certain as that of the prophets: nor is it the same thing to be an interpreter and to be a prophet. Rightly, therefore, does Jerome, in the Preface to the Pentateuch, call the seventy interpreters, not prophets. In his Commentaries also he frequently blames the Greek version of the seventy translators, not only as depraved by the scribes, but even as faulty in itself; which he surely would not have done, if he had deemed that translation to be possessed of such divine and supereminent authority.

Learned men question, whether the Greek version of the scriptures now extant be or be not the version of the seventy elders. The sounder opinion seems to be that of those who determine that the true Septuagint is wholly lost, and that the Greek text, as we have it, is a mixed and miserably corrupted document. Aristæus says that the Septuagint version was exactly conformable to the Hebrew originals, so that, when read and diligently examined by skilful judges, it was highly approved by the general suffrage of them all. But this of ours differs amazingly from the Hebrew copies, as well in other places and books, as specially in the Psalms of David. Nor is there room for any one to reply that the Hebrew is corrupt. For even the papists will not venture to maintain that the Greek is purer than the Hebrew. If they did, they would be obliged to condemn their own Latin version, which agrees much more closely with the Hebrew than with the Greek. Nay, the faults of the Greek translation are so manifest, that it is impossible to find any way of excusing them. There is the greatest difference between the Hebrew and Greek books in the account of times and years. The Greek books reckon 2242 years from Adam and the beginning of the world to the flood, as we read in Augustine, Eusebius, and Nicephorus’ Chronology. But in the Hebrew books we see that there were no more than 1656. Thus the Greek calculation exceeds the Hebrew by 586 years. Again, from the deluge to Abraham there is, according to the LXX., an interval of 1082 years. But if you consult the Hebrew verity, you will not find more than 292. Thus the Greek books exhibit 790 years more than the Hebrew: and all concede the Hebrew numbers to be much truer than the Greek. Genesis 5., in the Greek books, Adam is said to have lived 230 years, or, according to some copies, 330, when he begat Seth. But the Hebrew text shews that Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old. In the rest there is a similar discordance of reckoning times, so as to prove that it was not without reason that Jerome wrote that the LXX. sometimes erred in their numbers. It is even a laughable mistake in the Greek by which Methusalem is made to survive the flood fourteen years. Where did he remain during the deluge? or how was he preserved? Certainly he was not in the ark; in which the scripture testifies that there were no more than eight persons. This, therefore, is a manifest falsity in the Greek edition. But the Hebrew text speaks much more truly of the years and age of Methusalem; and we collect from it that he died in that same year in which the world was overwhelmed by the deluge. Augustine treats of this matter in his City of God, Lib. 15. c. 11. So Jonah 3., according to the Hebrew reading, destruction is denounced against the Ninevites after 40 days. But in the Greek we read otherwise, “Yet three days, and Nineve shall be destroyed:” which is manifestly a false reading; for he could scarcely have traversed the whole city in three days. Augustine (Civit. Dei. Lib. 18. c. 44) invents I know not what mystery in this change of numbers to preserve the authority of the Septuagint, which, nevertheless, in the former place about Methusalem he is unable to defend.

From these and innumerable examples of the like sort we may conclude, either that this Greek version which hath come down to our times is not the same as that published by the seventy Jewish elders, or that it hath suffered such infinite and shameful corruptions as to be now of very slight authority. Even Jerome had not the Greek translation of the seventy interpreters in its purity; since he often complains in his commentaries that what he had was faulty and corrupt.

— William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (1588), pages 121-122

14 thoughts on “William Whitaker on the Corruption of the Greek Septuagint”

  1. This is an interesting piece, but it only presents one side of the argument. The counter-argument is that the Masoretic Text’s references that reinforce Jesus as the Messiah were corrupted by Jews in the early AD centuries in an effort to stamp out Christianity. Justin Martyr alludes to this in his ‘Dialogue with Trypho’. I’ve also had my desire to know more on this subject piqued by Max Weber’s ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ as well as this piece by Adi in Faith and Heritage:


    • I have heard those arguments against the Masoretic Text and I do not believe they hold water. I do not believe that the Septuagint is what it is claimed to be and Jerome considered what was being called the Septuagint in his day to be a badly corrupted and untrustworthy document. John Owen and others believed that the passages in the Septuagint which match the NT Scriptures were back-translated after the fact — meaning that they were made to match sometime after the publication of the NT Scriptures.

      If the Jews perverted the Masoretic Text to try to stamp out Christianity, then they did not do a very good job of it because the Protestant Reformation era churches used it and the Reformers found no lack of support in it for the doctrine that Jesus was the promised Christ. Also, keep in mind that the Septuagint, if the story of its origin is true (which I do not believe), is only a translation from the original Hebrew, not the original itself, and it is a translation made by Jews. So there were Jews involved in both the MT and the LXX and there is no reason to believe that the Jews would have perverted the original Hebrew but not have perverted a translation of the Hebrew. The Talmud, in fact, praises the LXX (see next comment below).

      I believe we have the infallible Word of God contaned in the Masoretic Text and the Textus Receptus just as the Reformers believed. Those who believe otherwise are only sowing doubt in the minds of Christians, which is the real undermining of Christianity. This unscholarly generation needs to stop second-guessing the Reformers and follow their lead.

    • The LXX is praised in the Talmud and the anti-Trinitarian changes that were introduced into the LXX when the Hebrew was translated into the Greek are also approved of in the Talmud.

      Here the Talmud speaks of the Septuagint’s translation as a miraculous event guided by “the Holy One” where the translators all came to the exact same translation (and the exact same changes), though each one of them was separated into a different room. As you will see below this quote, the Talmud also approves of the changes introduced into the Greek to clarify (i.e., pervert) the meanings of the original Hebrew.

      “The Gemara continues: And this was due to the incident of King Ptolemy, as it is taught in a baraita: There was an incident involving King Ptolemy of Egypt, who assembled seventy-two Elders from the Sages of Israel, and put them into seventy-two separate rooms, and did not reveal to them for what purpose he assembled them, so that they would not coordinate their responses. He entered and approached each and every one, and said to each of them: Write for me a translation of the Torah of Moses your teacher. The Holy One, Blessed be He, placed wisdom in the heart of each and every one, and they all agreed to one common understanding. Not only did they all translate the text correctly, they all introduced the same changes into the translated text.” (Megilla 9a11)

      Notice the anti-Trinitarian mistranslations introduced into the LXX, according to the Talmud citations below. These are changes that whoever wrote this passage in the Talmud is praising and they immediately follow the paragraph quoted above.

      “And they wrote: I shall make man in image and in likeness, rather than: “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26), as from there too one could mistakenly conclude that there are multiple powers [i.e., multiple persons in the Godhead – SD] and that God has human form.” (Megilla 9a12)

      “Instead of: “Come, let us go down, and there confound their language” (Genesis 11:7), which indicates multiple authorities [i.e., multiple persons in the Godhead – SD], they wrote in the singular: “Come, let me go down, and there confound their language.”” (Megilla 9a14)

      You can see all this on the following linked page:


  2. Thanks for your reply Stuart. You make some very convincing arguments in favor of the Masoretic text. God forbid I should ally myself with the Talmudists! I’m attaching a few excerpts from the ‘Dialogue with Trypho’ that I found unsettling. Have you read these?

    Will you not be obliged to doubt your teachers who dare to assert that the translation made by your seventy elders at the court of the Egyptian king Ptolemy is inaccurate in some places? For, whenever there arises in the Scriptures an evident contradiction of their silly and conceited doctrine, your teachers boldly affirm that it was not so written in the original text … claiming that they have been spoken not of this our Jesus Christ, but of him of whom they attempt to interpret them. p. 106. If he was to be born as a result of human intercourse like any other first-born son, why did God solemnly announce that he would give a sign which all first-born have in common? p. 130.

    I would also have you know that, from the version composed by those elders at the court of Ptolemy, they have deleted entire passages in which it is clearly indicated that the crucified one was foretold as God and man, and as about to suffer death on the cross. … Thus far, you have admitted the authenticity of all my quotations, except this, Behold a virgin shall conceive, which you claim should read, Behold a young woman shall conceive. (Perhaps the translations of Aquila, Theodotian, and Symmachus. -footnote 1) p. 111.

    Justin Martyr, ‘Dialogue with Trypho’, trans. Thomas P. Halton

    You and your teachers venture to assert that the real words of Isaiah are not: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, but Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bear a son [p. 66] … and that the prophecy as a whole refers to Hezekiah. … Besides, [you say], in the Greek myths there is a story of how Perseus was born of Danae, while she was a virgin. … Justin gives many parallels between pagan and Christians motifs, including this one. He ascribes the pagan ones to demons. – (footnote 15). pp. 102-3.

    Rest assured, then, Trypho … that my knowledge of the Scriptures and my faith in them have been confirmed by the things which he who is called the Devil counterfeited in the fictions circulated among the Greeks (just as he accomplished them through the Egyptian magicians and the false prophets in the days of Elijah). p. 107.

    Justin Martyr, ‘Dialogue with Trypho’, trans. Thomas P. Halton

  3. No, I had not seen that before. Very interesting.

    At one point in his booklet “The Divine Original of the Scriptures” (Collected Works, Vol. 16, pages 301-302), the Puritan divine John Owen addressed the work of a contemporary “learned man” Ludovicus Capellus who attempted to correct the Hebrew text of the OT by using the Greek Septuagint.

    “Whether that plea of his be more unreasonable in itself and devoid of any real ground of truth, or more injurious to the love and care of God over his Word and church, I know not; sure I am, it is both in high degree. The translation insisted on by him is that of the LXX. That this translation—either from the mistakes of its first authors, (if it be theirs whose name and number it bears), or the carelessness, or ignorance, or worse, of its transcribers—is corrupted and gone off from the original in a thousand places twice told, is acknowledged by all who know aught of these things. Strange that so corrupt a stream should be judged a fit measure to correct the original by; and yet on account hereof, with some others not one whit better (or scarce so good,) we have one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six various lections exhibited unto us, with frequent insinuations of an infinite number more yet to be collected. It were desirable that men would be content to show their learning, reading, and diligence, about things where there is less danger in adventures.”

  4. Another one from Owen:

    “Concerning these, and some other places, many confidently affirm, that the apostle waived the original, and reported the words from the translation of the LXX… [T]his boldness in correcting the text, and fancying without proof, testimony, or probability, of other ancient copies of the Scripture of the Old Testament, differing in many things from them which alone remain, and which indeed were ever in the world, may quickly prove pernicious to the church of God… [I]t is highly probable, that the apostle, according to his wonted manner, which appears in almost all the citations used by him in this epistle, reporting the sense and import of the places, in words of his own, the Christian transcribers of the Greek Bible inserted his expressions into the text, either as judging them a more proper version of the original, (whereof they were ignorant) than that of the LXX, or out of a preposterous zeal to take away the appearance of a diversity between the text and the apostle’s citation of it. And thus in those testimonies where there is a real variation from the Hebrew original, the apostle took not his words from the translation of the LXX but his words were afterwards inserted into that translation.”

    — John Owen, Commentary on Hebrews , Volume 1, pages 67-68

  5. Part of Psalm 14 in the Septuagint matches verbatim a quote in Romans, while in the Masoretic text it does not match at all. Advocates for the Septuagint claim this as proof that it is more trustworthy. But in Adam Clarke’s commentary on Psalm 14 (see below) he says Jerome contended that Paul was drawing from several parts of Scripture in the Romans passage so that the two should not match, and that the reason the Romans passage matches the Psalm 14 passage verbatim in the Septuagint is because it was inserted there by scribes after the fact:

    “Yet it has been contended, particularly by St. Jerome, that Paul did not quote them [the verses in Romans 3:10-18] from this Psalm; but…he collected from different parts of several passages that bore upon the subject, and united them there…and that succeeding copyists, finding them in Romans, inserted them into the Septuagint, from which it was presumed they had been lost. It does not appear that they made a part of this Psalm in Origen’s Hexapla. In the portions that still exist of this Psalm there is not a word of these additional verses referred to in that collection, neither here nor in the parallel Psalm 53.”

    Now keep in mind, that in working on the Latin Vulgate in 380 A.D., Jerome began to consult the Hebrew texts. Here is testimony from a learned scholar way back in 380 A.D. who held to the idea that the LXX borrowed whole verses from the already completed NT text, and transplanted them back into their LXX version.

    Jerome originally thought the Greek translation of the LXX contained in Origen’s Hexpla was the inspired version, but later in life he came to believe that the LXX was not inspired, but instead, it was the Hebrew texts which were the inspired words of God. Jerome then began to write several works on the supremacy of the Hebrew texts over the various Greek translations. Jerome writes:

    “It would be tedious now to enumerate, what great additions and omissions the Septuagint has made, and all the passages which in church-copies are marked with daggers and asterisks [symbols indicating words present in the Greek but absent in the Hebrew, and vice versa]. The Jews generally laugh when they hear our version of this passage of Isaiah, ‘Blessed is he that hath seed in Zion and servants in Jerusalem [Is. 31.9].’ In Amos also … But how shall we deal with the Hebrew originals in which these passages and others like them are omitted, passages so numerous that to reproduce them would require books without number?”

    — Jerome’s Letter LVII

  6. Thanks very much for the reinforcing quotes. This is undoubtedly a question I won’t resolve thoroughly during what remains of my lifetime. One of the South African writers for Faith & Heritage, Gic Serry, points out that there’s no unanimity of thought even among Reformed Protestants on this question. His article on the corruption of the Dutch Reformed Church in South African hits really close to home since two of my great grandfathers on my mother’s side were Dutch Reformed ministers.

    From Higher Criticism to Marxism

    The Puritans as Radical Reformers

    The Book of Acts alerts us to the wormwood of the Judaizers in the early church. It seems, from Justin Martyr, that the Septuagint was (at least at one time) a reliable translation of Holy Writ. That even Reformed Protestants are not immune from Jewish deception also seems a safe assumption.

  7. You’ve given me much to think about and I appreciate it.

    I suppose what makes me question all of this is that it seems like the RC and EO churches have been more on guard in defending Christendom against Jewish ideas and influences than our own Protestant church.

    I’ve read that Calvin (unlike Luther) had a moderate stance on usury; and it was Cromwell (with his protege Menasseh Ben Israel) who opened the doors to Jews in the British Commonwealth. Bernard Lazare, himself a Jew, writes this about the social changes introduced by the ascendancy of Protestantism:

    “Now that the Jew has entered into society, he has become a source of disorder, and, like the mole, he is busily engaged in undermining the ancient foundations upon which rest[ed] the Christian state. … The admission of the Jew into the body of nations has proved fatal to them; they are doomed for having received him. … He is necessarily anti-Christian, by definition, in being a Jew. p. 158.

    To the impartial observer, however, it is not the Jew that is destroying Christianity. The Christian religion is … passing away under the slow blows of reason and science. [But are not ‘reason and science’ also being manipulated, just as Saint-Simon advised that the State should be co-opted by industry?] … The nineteenth century witnessed the last effort on the part of the Christian state to retain its dominance. Antisemitism represents one phase of the struggle between the feudal state, based upon unity of belief, and the opposite notion of a neutral and secular state, upon which the greater number of political entities are at present based.” p. 162.

    Bernard Lazare, ‘Antisemitism, Its History and Causes’ (1894)

  8. You’re quite right. It has nothing to do with the textual matter. I was reading in the Faith & Heritage anthology this morning and came upon an apropos quote from Augustine:

    “While the hot restlessness of heretics stirs questions about many articles of the Catholic faith, the necessity of defending them forces us both to investigate them more accurately, to understand them more clearly, and to proclaim them more earnestly; and the question mooted by an adversary becomes the occasion of instruction.”

    Augustine, ‘City of God’, Book XVI, Chap. 2

    I’ve learned from our discussion, hope others benefit from it, and thank you for it.

  9. On Oct. 7th you wrote:

    “It was under Charles II, who immediately followed Cromwell’s rule and would have liked to have returned England to Roman Catholicism but was hindered from doing it by Parliament, that toleration of the Jews was made official.”

    I don’t know but that this may have been the case, but found it interesting what Gerard Menuhin wrote in his ‘Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil’:

    Edward 1 had expelled the Jews in 1290; they found a willing creature and hireling in Oliver Cromwell. … On June 16, 1647 (Oliver Cromwell) writes to Ebenezer Pratt of the Mulheim Synagogue in Amsterdam: “In return for financial support will advocate admission of Jews to England. This however impossible while Charles living. Charles cannot be executed without trial, adequate grounds for which do not at present exist. Therefore advise that Charles be assassinated, but will have nothing to do with arrangements for procuring an assassin, though willing to help in his escape.” p. 227. … Despite purging the parliament of all those who might show favor to the king, no English lawyer could be found to draw up a charge against him, but a Dutch-English Jew carried out the task and Charles was executed—for “high treason” in January 1649. The same Amsterdam Jews who had financed Cromwell … installed William of Orange and his “Dutch” mob. … William’s reign brought a closer connection between the predominantly Sephardic communities of London and Amsterdam. p. 228.

    Gerard Menuhin, ‘Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil’

    If Mr. Menuhin is correct about the ‘letter from Cromwell to Pratt’ it raises serious questions about Cromwell’s Christian integrity.

  10. Hi Guys – I have been following this discussion with interest as I am currently investigating issues with the LXX. I note that you quote someone who states that Heb 1:6 has been read into Deut 32:43 instead of Ps 97:7. However, I have recently stumbled across DSS 4Q44 which appears to have the same reading for Deut 32:43 as the LXX. I think this renders this theory very unlikely in this instance. What do you think?
    I would add to this that I generally do not put a lot of credence in the DSS. My theory about the DSS scrolls is that they were not proper copies of scripture but were the output of trainee scribes, hence the numerous “school boy errors”. However, the community held the scriptures in such high esteem that they could not bear to even destroy these error strewn scrolls and so buried them in caves!


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