APPENDIX 3  Textual Studies of the Old Testament – Why We Need to Know

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by Edward D. Andrews, Chief Translator UASV


How the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures, as the first part of the inspired Word of God, were largely copied by professional scribes but some took liberties with the text, and others simply made human transcriptional errors, yet to be preserved through centuries of restoration, being transmitted down to this day.

Major Critical Texts and Manuscript

AC: Aleppo Codex
AT: Aramaic Targum(s), paraphrases
ATJ Jerusalem Targum I (Pseudo-Jonathan) and Jerusalem Targum II (Fragmentary Targum).
ATO Targum of Onkelos (Babylonian Targum), Pentateuch.
ATP Palestinian Targum, Vatican City, Rome, Pentateuch.
: Before Common Era
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Edited by Karl Elliger and Wilhelm Rudolph. Stuttgart, 1984.
BHQ: Biblia Hebraica Quinta with Apparatus. Edited by David Marcus; Jan de Waard; P. B. Dirksen; Natalio Fernández Marcos, Anthony Gelston, Yohanan A.P Goldman, Carmel McCarthy, Rolf Schäfer, Magne Sæbø, Adrian Schenker, Abraham Tal.  Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft , 2004–2015
B 19A: Codex Leningrad
CC: Cairo Codex, Heb., 895 C.E., Cairo, Egypt,
c.: Circa, about, approximately
DSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible; The Lexham Dead Sea Scrolls Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible
DSSB: Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible: The Oldest Known Bible Translated for the First Time into English (New York: HarperOne, 1999)
GinsInt: Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, by C. D. Ginsburg, Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1966 reprint.
IT: Old Latin Versions, Itala, second to the fourth century C.E.
LXX: The Greek Septuagint (Greek Jewish OT Scriptures in general and specifically used during of Jesus and the apostles)
LXXAq Aquila: Gr. translation of H.S., second cent. C.E.
LXXSym Symmachus: Greek translation of H.S., by Symmachus, c. 200 C.E.
LXXTh Theodotion: Greek translation of H.S., by Theodotion, second cent. C.E.
LXXא Codex Sinaiticus, Gr., c. 330–360 C.E.,
LXXA Codex Alexandrinus, Gr., c. 400-440 C.E.
LXXB Codex Vaticanus 1209, Gr., c. 300–325 C.E.
LXXBr Septuagint (with an English translation by Sir Lancelot Brenton, 1851)
     OGOriginal Greek (Oldest recoverable form of the Greek OT (280-150 B.C.E.)
LXXGS Septuagint (Paul de Lagarde, Göttingen, Germany, 1883), 24 volumes.
 The Lexham English Septuagint, Second Edition
LXXN A New English Translation of the Septuagint, NETS
LXXP Fouad Inv. 266 This papyrus fragment was discovered in Egypt, dating to the first-century B.C.E.

SOPHERIM: Copyists of the Hebrew OT text from the time of Era to the time of Jesus.
CTConsonantal Text is the OT Hebrew manuscripts that became fixed in form between the first and second centuries C.E., even though manuscripts with variant readings continued to circulate for some time. Alterations of the previous period by the Sopherim were no longer made. Very similar to the MT.
MT: The Masoretic Text encompasses the Hebrew OT manuscripts from the second half of the first millennium C.E. (500-1000 C.E.)
MTcorrection by a correction of the Masoretic Text
MTemendation by a small alteration of the Masoretic Text
MTmargin The Masoretic Text marginal notes

SP: Samaritan Pentateuch
SYM: Greek translation of H.S., by Symmachus, c. 200 C.E.
SYRHexapla is the Syrian Aramaic (Syriac) translation of the Greek Septuagint as found in the fifth column of Origen’s Hexapla.
SYR: Syriac Peshitta
TH: Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures by Theodotion, second cent. C.E.
VG: Latin Vulgate by Jerome, c. 400 C.E.
VGc Latin Vulgate, Clementine recension (S. Bagster & Sons, London, 1977).
VGs Latin Vulgate, Sixtine recension, 1590.


The primary weight of external evidence generally goes to the original language manuscripts, and the Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex are almost always preferred. In Old Testament Textual Criticism, the Masoretic text is our starting point and should only be abandoned as a last resort. While it is true that the Masoretic Text is not perfect, there needs to be a heavy burden of proof in we are to go with an alternative reading. All of the evidence needs to be examined before concluding that a reading in the Masoretic Text is corrupt. The Septuagint continues to be very much important today and is used by textual scholars to help uncover copyists’ errors that might have crept into the Hebrew manuscripts either intentionally or unintentionally. However, it cannot do it alone without the support of other sources. There are a number of times when you might have the Syriac, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, Aramaic Targums, and the Vulgate that are at odds with the Masoretic Text the preferred choice should not be the MT.

Initially, the Septuagint (LXX) was viewed by the Jews as inspired by God, equal to the Hebrew Scriptures. However, in the first century C.E. the Christians adopted the Septuagint in their churches. It was used by the Christians in their evangelism to make disciples and to debate the Jews on Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. Soon, the Jews began to look at the Septuagint with suspicion. This resulted in the Jews of the second century C.E. abandoning the Septuagint and returning to the Hebrew Scriptures. This has proved to be beneficial for the textual scholar and translator. In the second century C.E., other Greek translations of the Septuagint were produced. We have, for example, LXXAq Aquila, LXXSym Symmachus, and LXXTh Theodotion. The consonantal text of the Hebrew Scriptures became the standard text between the first and second centuries C.E. However, textual variants still continued until the Masoretes and the Masoretic text. However, scribes taking liberties by altering the text was no longer the case, as was true of the previous period of the Sopherim. The scribes who copied the Hebrew Scriptures from the time of Ezra down to the time of Jesus were called Sopherim, i.e., scribes.

From the 6th century C.E. to the 10th century C.E. we have the Masoretes, groups of extraordinary Jewish scribe-scholars. The Masoretes were very much concerned with the accurate transmission of each word, even each letter, of the text they were copying. Accuracy was of supreme importance; therefore, the Masoretes use the side margins of each page to inform others of deliberate or inadvertent changes in the text by past copyists. The Masoretes also use these marginal notes for other reasons as well, such as unusual word forms and combinations. They even marked how frequent they occurred within a book or even the whole Hebrew Old Testament. Of course, marginal spaces were very limited, so they used abbreviated code. They also formed a cross-checking tool where they would mark the middle word and letter of certain books. Their push for accuracy moved them to go so far as to count every letter of the Hebrew Old Testament.

In the Masoretic text, we find notes in the side margins, which are known as the Small Masora. There are also notes in the top margin, which are referred to as the Large Masora. Any other notes placed elsewhere within the text are called the Final Masora. The Masoretes used the notes in the top and bottom margins to record more extensive notes, comments concerning the abbreviated notes in the side margins. This enabled them to be able to cross-check their work. We must remember that there were no numbered verses at this time, and they had no Bible concordances. Well, one might wonder how the Masoretes could refer to different parts of the Hebrew text to have an effective cross-checking system. They would list part of a parallel verse in the top and bottom margins to remind them of where the word(s) indicated were found. Because they were dealing with limited space, they often could only list one word to remind them where each parallel verse could be found. To have an effective cross-reference system by way of these marginal notes, the Masoretes would literally have to have memorized the entire Hebrew Bible.


The Old Testament Text

The Old Testament, the inspired Word of God, how was it copied, maintained as to the textual reliability, and handed down throughout the past three thousand five hundred years?

It should be appreciated that what we possess today is nothing short of Word of God that the Old Testament writers penned throughout a 1,600-year period, from the time of Moses to Malachi. While it certainly is not provable that God personally preserved these documents by the same way that he miraculously inspired the Scriptures to be error free; there is little doubt that he blessed the work of those who worked on the copies and has blessed our attempts at restoring the text. Skeptics would consider it as mere coincidence that, we have a storehouse of manuscript treasure for both the Old Testament and New Testament documents while secular writings are nowhere near so fortunate. The secular writings of antiquity are reflected in but a handful of manuscripts for any given author. Moreover, they are hundreds of years removed from the date of the original copy, making them less trustworthy; while the Old Testament and New Testament are preserved in tens of thousands of manuscripts, with a number being within a century or two from the original copy[1] (especially the NT).

Isaiah 40:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

8 The grass withers, the flower fades,

    but the word of our God will stand forever. 

The Bible reader has every right to ask if the book that he carries has been tainted throughout the centuries of copying and recopying. What we possess today, is it a complete reflection of what was penned so many centuries ago? Does the evidence suggest that the manuscripts have been transmitted faithfully from the original-language texts so that the reader of God’s Word can feel safe that the Bible is trustworthy? We know that scribal errors have crept into the text, after centuries of copying by hand, but have the textual scholars been able to ascertain what the original text was?  There are many excellent books that cover the trustworthiness of the text of the Old and New Testaments; we will not be able to go into in great detail herein, because of limited space, but we can lay an excellent foundation, and suggest further reading.  However, what is covered will be very informative and beneficial to examine.

Men that were chosen by God penned the original manuscripts in Hebrew and a very small portion in Aramaic languages. Moses was the first in the late 16th-century B.C.E.,[2] who wrote the first five books of the Bible, down to about 443 B.C.E., with Malachi penning the book that bears his name, and Nehemiah writing the book that bears his name, totaling 39 canonical books for the Hebrew Old Testament. There are no original manuscripts in existence today. Around 642 B.C.E., in the time of King Josiah, Hilkiah, the high priest “found the Book of the Law” of Moses, very likely the original copy, which had been stored away in the house of God. At this point, it had survived for some 871 years. Jeremiah was so moved by the particular discovery that he wrote about the occasion at 2 Kings 22:8-10. About 180 years later, in 460 B.C.E., Ezra wrote about the same incident as well. (2 Chron. 34:14-18) Ezra was very interested in this, not only because of the importance of the event itself but he “was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which Jehovah, the God of Israel, had given.” (Ezra 7:6, UASV) Considering Ezra’s position, the fact he was a historian, a scribe, he would have had access to all of the scrolls of the Old Testament that had been copied and handed down up to his time. In some cases, some were likely the inspired originals from the authors themselves. It would seem that Ezra was well qualified to be the custodian of the manuscripts in his day.–Nehemiah 8:1-2


Period of Manuscript Copying

In the days of Ezra and beyond, there would have been an increasing need of copying the Old Testament manuscripts. As you may recall from your personal Bible study, the Babylonians took the Jews into captivity for seventy years. Most of the Jews did not return upon their release in 537 B.C.E., and after that. Tens of thousands stayed in Babylon while others migrated throughout the ancient world, settling in the commercial centers. However, the Jews would pilgrimage back to Jerusalem several times each year, for religious festivals. Once there, they would be reading from the Hebrew Old Testament and sharing in the worship of God. Over a century later in Ezra’s day, the need to travel back to Jerusalem was no longer a concern, as they carried on their studies in places of worship known as synagogues, where they read aloud from the Hebrew Scriptures and discussed their meaning. As one might imagine, the scattered Jewish populations throughout the ancient world would have been in need of their own personal copies of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Within the synagogues, there was a storage room, known as the Genizah.[3] Over time, manuscripts would wear out to the point of tearing. Thus, it would have been placed in the Genizah and replaced with new copies. Before long, after the old manuscripts were built up in the Genizah, they would eventually need to be buried in the earth. They performed this duty, as opposed to just burning them, so the holy name of God, Jehovah (or Yahweh), would not be desecrated. Throughout many centuries, many thousands of Hebrew manuscripts were disposed of in this way. Gratefully, the well-stocked Genizah of the synagogue in Old Cairo was saved from this handling of their manuscripts, perhaps because it was enclosed and overlooked until the middle of the 19th century. In 1890, as soon as the synagogue was being restored, the contents of the Genizah were checked, and its materials were gradually either sold or donated. From this source, manuscripts that were almost complete and thousands of fragments have found their way to Cambridge University Library and other libraries in Europe and America.

Throughout the world, scholars have counted and cataloged about 6,300 manuscripts of all or portions of the Hebrew Old Testament. Textual scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures, for the longest time, had to be content with Hebrew manuscripts that only went back to the tenth century C.E. This, of course, meant that the Hebrew Old Testament was about 1,400 hundred years removed from the last book that had been penned. This, then, always left the question of the trustworthiness of those copies. However, all of that changed in 1947, in the area of the Dead Sea, there was discovered a scroll of the book of Isaiah. In following years more of these precious scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures were found as caves in the Dead Sea area yielded an enormous amount of manuscripts that had been concealed for almost 1,900 years. Specialists in the area of paleography[4] have now dated some of these as far back as the third and second century B.C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls as they have become known, vindicated the trust that had been placed in the Masoretic texts[5] that we have possessed all along. A comparative study of the approximately 6,000 manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures give a sound basis for establishing the Hebrew text and reveals faithfulness in the transmission of the text.

The Epistle to the Hebrews PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL

The Hebrew Language

Hebrew is the language in which the thirty-nine inspired books of the Old Testament were penned, apart from the Aramaic sections in Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12–26; Dan. 2:4b–7:28; Jer. 10:11, as well as a few other words and phrases from Aramaic and other languages. The language is not called “Hebrew” in the Old Testament. At Isaiah 19:18 it is spoken of as “the language [Literally “lip”] of Canaan.” The language that became known as “Hebrew” is first shown in the introduction to Ecclesiasticus, an Apocrypha[6] book. Moses, being raised in the household of Pharaoh, would have been given the wisdom of Egypt, as well as the Hebrew language of his ancestors. This would have made him the perfect person to look through any ancient Hebrew documents that may have been handed down to him, giving him the foundation for the book of Genesis.

Later, in the days of the Jewish kings, Hebrew came to be known as “Judean” (UASV) that is to say, the language of Judah (Neh. 13:24; Isa. 36:11; 2 Ki. 18:26, 28). As we enter the period of Jesus, the Jewish people spoke an expanded form of Hebrew, which would become Rabbinic Hebrew. Nevertheless, in the Greek New Testament, the language is referred to as the “Hebrew” language, not the Aramaic. (John 5:2; 19:13, 17; Acts 22:2; Rev. 9:11) Therefore, for more than 2,000 years, Biblical Hebrew served God’s chosen people, as a means of communication.

However, once God chose to use a new spiritual Israel, made up of Jew and Gentile, there would be a difficulty within the line of communication as not all would be able to understand the Hebrew language. It became evident, 300 years before the rise of Christianity; there was a need for the Hebrew Scriptures to be a translation into the Greek language of the day, because of the Jewish diaspora who lived in Egypt. Down to our day, all or portions of the Bible have been translated into about 2,287 languages.

Even the Bible itself expresses the need of translating it into all languages. Paul, quoting Deuteronomy 32:43, says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles [“people of the nations”], with his people.” And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.’” (Rom 15:10) Moreover, all Christians are given what is known as the Great Commission, to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19-20) In addition, Jesus stated, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” (Matt 24:14) All of the above could never take place without translating the original language into the languages of the nations. What is more, ancient translations of the Bible that are extant (still in existence) in manuscript form have likewise aided in confirming the high degree of textual faithfulness of the Hebrew manuscripts.


Earliest Translated Versions

Versions are translations of the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into other languages (or Hebrew into Greek). Translation work has made the Word of God accessible to billions of persons, who are incapable of understanding the original Biblical languages. The early versions of the Scriptures were handwritten and were, therefore, in the form of manuscripts. However, since the beginning of the printing press in 1455 C.E., many additional versions, or translations, have appeared, and these have been published in great quantities. Some versions have been prepared directly from Hebrew and Greek Bible texts, whereas others are based on earlier translations.

The Septuagint

The Septuagint is the common term for the Old Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The word means “seventy” and is frequently shortened by using the Roman numeral LXX, which is a reference to the tradition 72 Jewish translators (rounded off), who are alleged to have produced a version in the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.E.). The first five books of Moses being done around 280 B.C.E., with the rest being completed by 150 B.C.E.  As a result, the name Septuagint came to denote the complete Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek.

Acts 8:26-38 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; who had come to worship in Jerusalem, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“He was led as a sheep to slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation was taken away.
    Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”[7]

34 And the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I beg you, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he declared to him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?[8] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

The Eunuch court official was an influential man, who was in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia and to whom Philip preached. He was a proselyte [convert] to the Jewish religion who had come to Jerusalem to worship God. He had been reading aloud from the scroll of Isaiah (53:7-8 as our English Bible has it sectioned), and was puzzled as to who it was referring to; however, Philip explained the text, and the Eunuch was moved to the point of being baptized. The Eunuch was not reading from the Hebrew Old Testament; rather he was reading from the Greek translation, known as the Greek Septuagint. This work was very instrumental to both Jews and Christians in the Greek-speaking world in which they lived.

What contributed to the Hebrew Old Testament being translated into Greek and when and how did it occur? What was the need that brought the Septuagint about? How has it affected the Bible throughout these last 2,200 years? What impact does the Septuagint still have for the translator today?


The Greek-Speaking Jews and the Septuagint

In 332 B.C.E., Alexander the Great had just finished destroying the Phoenician city of Tyre, and was now entering Egypt, but was received as a great deliverer, not as a conqueror. It was here that he would found the city of Alexandria, bringing mankind one of the great learning centers of all time in the ancient world. The result of Alexander’s conquering much of the then known world was the spread of Greek culture and the Greek language. Alexander himself spoke Attic Greek, which was the dialect that spread throughout the territories that he conquered. As the Attic dialect spread, it interacted with other Greek dialects, as well as the local languages, resulting in what we call Koine Greek or common Greek spreading throughout this vast realm.

By the time of the third century B.C.E., Alexandria had a large population of Jews. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and exiled its people to Babylon centuries before. Many Jews had fled to Egypt at the time of the destruction. The returning Jews in 537, were scattered throughout southern Palestine, migrating to Alexandria after it was founded. The need of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures arose out of the necessity for the Jews in their worship services and education within the Jewish community of Alexandria.

Many of the Jews in Alexandria could no longer understand the Hebrew language, with others simply letting it grow out of practice. Most could only speak the common Greek of the Mediterranean world. However, they remained Jews in custom and culture and wanted to be able to understand the Scriptures that affected their everyday lives and worship. Therefore, the time was right for the production of the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.  

Aristobulus of Paneas (c. 160 B.C.E.) wrote that the Hebrew law was translated into Greek, being completed during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.E.). We cannot be certain as to what Aristobulus meant by the term “Hebrew law.” Some have suggested that it encompassed only the Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Bible while others suggested that it was the entire Hebrew Scriptures.

Letter of Aristeas

This Greek writing is allegedly a letter written by Aristeas, who was a high official in the court of Ptolemy II in Alexandria. It was sent to Jerusalem in order to secure a copy of the Jewish Law together with a group of seventy-two scholars who would translate the Law from Hebrew to Greek. The recipient is Philocrates, about whom nothing is said except that he was a brother of Aristeas. The alleged purpose of the book is to tell the story of the translation of the Septuagint.

The book contains a delightful story. Demetrius of Phalerum, head of the great library in Alexandria, suggests to the king that a translation be made of the Hebrew Law. The king writes to the high priest Eleazar in Jerusalem requesting him to send seventy-two scribes to perform the work of translation. He sends rich gifts for the temple in Jerusalem. The story includes a description of the Holy City. Eleazar delivers an apologetic for the Law. When the translators come to Alexandria, they are feted in a series of royal banquets. The king plies the scribes with philosophical questions, and they answer with amazing wisdom. Then they are taken to the island of Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria where they set to work. Demetrius compares their work every day and writes down a consensus. They complete the work in seventy-two days. It is then read to the Jews, who laud it. When it is read to the king, he is greatly impressed and expresses wonder as to why it has not been mentioned in earlier Greek literature. Demetrius says that earlier authors were divinely restrained from mentioning it. Finally, the translators are sent home bearing rich gifts.

It is obvious that this beautiful story is fictional, although it has a core of reliable information. Aristeas and Philocrates are not known in other historical literature. Furthermore, the Letter of Aristeas itself reflects a knowledge and usage of the LXX. The work also bears obvious unhistorical traits. For example, an Egyptian king would not attribute his throne to the Jewish God (37). The author, however, seems to be thoroughly familiar with the technical and official language of the court and of Alexandrian life and customs.

The purpose of the book is fairly obvious. It is a piece of Hellenistic Jewish apologetic writing designed to commend the Jewish religion and law to the Gentile world. The book emphasizes the honors showered on the seventy by the Greek king. High praise is accorded to Jewish wisdom by heathen philosophers. It explains the failure of Greek historians and poets to mention the Jewish law. The apology of Eleazar on the inner meaning of the law tries to interpret in meaningful categories the Jewish distinction between clean and unclean things. The Jews are said to worship the same god as the Greeks but under a different name. Zeus is really the same as God (16).

The book is really not a true letter but belongs to the genre that may be called belles lettres. It falls in the Greek literary and artistic traditions rather than in the Semitic pattern. This governs its purpose, which is not to impart sound historical information but to produce a general ethical effect. The book is therefore far more important as a reflection of Jewish life and culture in the 2nd cent B.C. than as an account of the formation of the LXX. Thus very little attention is actually given to the work done on the LXX. We know that in the 2nd cent. B.C., before anti-Semitism had raised its head, a large colony of Jews lived in Alexandria, and the work reflects the fact that they were enthusiastically embracing Hellenistic culture, social usages, literary forms, and philosophical beliefs so far as they did not directly oppose their central religious tenets.

The date of the book is an almost insoluble problem. Scholars date it variously from 200 b.c. to 63 b.c. Perhaps an estimate of about 100 b.c. will suffice. While some scholars think that the LXX involved a protracted development, this letter may reflect the fact that at some time an official translation was made.[9]

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

Useful in the First Century

The Septuagint was put to use at great length by Greek-speaking Jews both prior to and throughout first-century Christianity. Just after Jesus ascension, at Pentecost 33 C.E., almost a million Jews customarily gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and Festival of Weeks, coming from such places as the districts of Asia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, and Crete, places that spoke Greek. There is little doubt that these were using the Septuagint in their services. (Acts 2:9-11) As a result, the Septuagint played a major role in spreading the Gospel message in the Jewish and proselyte communities. For example, we can look to Stephen.[10]

Acts 6:8-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, both Cyrenians and Alexandrians and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

In his defense, Stephen gave a long history of the Israelite people, and at one point he said,

Acts 7:12-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers the first time. 13 On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and the family of Joseph became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.

This account comes from Genesis chapter 46, verse 27, which reads, “All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” The Hebrew Old Testament reads seventy, but it is the Septuagint that reads seventy-five. Therefore, Stephen was referencing the Septuagint in his defense before the synagogue of the Freedmen.

The Apostle Paul traveled about 10,282 miles on his missionary tours,[11] which brought him into contact with Gentiles, who feared the God of the Bible and the devout Greeks who worshiped God. (Acts 13:16, 26; 17:4) These became worshipers or fearers of God because they had access to the Septuagint. The Apostle Paul used the Septuagint quite often in his ministry, and his letters.–Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:8

The Greek New Testament contains about 320 direct quotations, as well as a combined 890 quotations and paraphrases from the Hebrew Old Testament. Most of these are from the Septuagint. Therefore, those Septuagint quotes and paraphrases became a part of the inspired Greek New Testament. Jesus had said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) He had also foretold, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world.” (Matt 24:14) For this to take place, it had to be translated into other languages, to reach the people earth wide.

Still Beneficial Today

The Septuagint’s great purpose today is the light that it sheds on textual variants that crept into the Hebrew Old Testament text, as it was being copied throughout the centuries. An example of this can be found at Genesis 37:3, which reads,

OTTC GENESIS 37:3: Was it a “robe of many colors” or a “robe with long sleeves”?

Genesis 37:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a robe of many colors.

The Hebrew kuttoneth is a type of robe, which corresponds to the Greek chiton and the Roman tunic. Both terms are most widely used to refer to a tunic or long shirt like article of clothing that was worn next to the body. It was long-sleeved or half-sleeved, which could hang to the knees or as low as the ankles. The Septuagint (LXX) and Vulgate (VG) have a “robe of many colors” rather than “robe with long sleeves,” the reading of the Syriac (SYR). The meaning of the Hebrew term is uncertain (Also verses 23, 32).

However, the Hebrew text is the foundation and most trustworthy text. Thus, it is used to correct the Septuagint text as well. It is by the comparison of the Hebrew manuscripts, and the many early versions that we discover any textual errors and establish the original reading. This can give us confidence that we are reading the Word of God.

The Aramaic Targums 

The Aramaic word for “interpretation” or “paraphrase” is targum. (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, p. 1558) After the exile from Babylon in 539 B.C.E., the Jews living in the territory of the Persian Empire came to use the common language of Aramaic. Therefore, it became necessary to have a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament in the Aramaic language. They probably assumed their current form by about the fifth century C.E. Although they are simply free paraphrases of the Hebrew text and not an accurate translation, they are a source of rich background to the text and give assistance in determining some problematic passages.

The Latin Vulgate

This version has been the primary text used by many of the Catholic translators in turning out other versions in the many languages of Western Christianity. How did the Vulgate come about? The Latin word vulgatus means “common, that which is popular.” Latin was once the official language of the Roman Empire. Even though Greek was the common language that most people spoke up until the fourth century C.E., there was still a need for Latin translations of the New Testament, which were produced in the second century, and are known as the Old Latin texts. However, as times passed, especially after Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 C.E., the differences in the Old Latin texts eventually became unbearable.

When the Latin Vulgate was first produced, it was in the common, or popular, Latin of the day, which would have been understood without difficulty by the average people of the Western Roman Empire. In 382 C.E., Pope Damasus commissioned the leading Bible scholar of the time, Jerome, his advisor, to revise the Old Latin text. Jerome made two revisions of the Old Latin Psalms, in comparison with the Greek Septuagint. His translation of the Vulgate Bible was made directly from the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament and Greek language of the New Testament and was, therefore, not a version of a version. This approach created great controversy at the time. Jerome worked on his Latin translation from the Hebrew from about 390 to 405 C.E. The completed work included apocryphal books, which were also in copies of the Septuagint by this time. However, Jerome plainly distinguished between the books that were canonical and those that were not. There are no less than 10,000 Latin manuscripts today, as well as 9,300 other early versions.

The Syriac Version

Syriac is the language of ancient Syria and one of the dialects of Aramaic, which was an official language of the Persian Empire. It was spoken in northern Mesopotamia and around ancient Antioch. In the second or third century C.E., as a written language, Syriac came into wide use. Within this Western dialect of Aramaic, many important early Christian texts are preserved, and which is still used by Syrian Christians as a liturgical language. “And in Antioch [Syria], the disciples were first called Christians.” – Acts 11:26.


The Hebrew Texts

The Sopherim

The Sopherim (scribes) were copyist from the days of Ezra down to the time of Jesus. While they were very serious about their task as a copyist, they did take liberties in making textual changes at times. Whether this was what Jesus had in mind cannot be know for certain, but Jesus condemned these scribes, for assuming powers that did not belong to them.–Matthew 23:2, 13.

“A note in the Massorah against several passages in the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible states: ‘This is one of the Eighteen Emendations of the Sopherim,’ or words of that effect.” The intentions of these scribes were good, as they felt the passages were showing irreverence for God or one of his representatives here on earth. “These emendations were made at a period long before Christ before the Hebrew text had obtained its present settled form, and these emendations affect the Figure called Anthropopatheia.”

“The following is a list of the eighteen ‘Emendations,’ together with eight others not included in the official lists. Particulars will be found on consulting the notes on the respective passages.

Genesis 18:22. Numbers 11:15. 12:12. 1 Samuel 3:13. 2 Samuel 12:14. 16:12. 1 Kings 12:16. 21:10. 21:13. 2 Chronicles 10:16. Job 1:5. 1:11. 2:5. 2:9. 7:20. Psalm 10:3. 106:20. Ecclesiastes 3:21. Jeremiah 2:11. Lamentations 3:20. Ezekiel 8:17. Hosea 4:7. Habakkuk 1:12. Zechariah 2:8 (12). Malachi 1:13. 3:9[12]

The Masora

The Masoretes are early Jewish scholars, the successors to the Sopherim, in the centuries following Christ, who produced what came to be known as the Masoretic text. The Masoretes was well aware of the alterations made by the earlier Sopherim. Rather than simply remove the alterations, they chose to note them in the margins or at the end of the text. These marginal notes came to be known as the Masora.  The Masora listed the 15 extraordinary points of the Sopherim, namely, 15 words or phrases in the Hebrew text that had been marked by dots or strokes. A number of these extraordinary points have no effect on the English translation or the interpretation. However, others do and are of importance. The Sopherim had a superstitious fear of pronouncing the divine name of God, Jehovah (Yahweh). Therefore, they altered it to read Adonai (Lord) at 134 places and to read Elohim (God) in some cases. The Masora lists these changes. The Sopherim or early scribes are also guilty of making 18 emendations, what they thought were helpful corrections, according to a note in the Masora. It appears that there were even more. It seems that these emendations were not done with bad intentions, as the Sopherim simply felt the text at these places were showing irreverence or disrespect for God or his human representatives.

Genesis 18:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

3 And he said, “Jehovah,[13] if I have found favor in your sight do not pass by your servant.

Genesis 16:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your bosom, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes. May Jehovah judge between me and you.”[14]

Genesis 18:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 22 And the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Jehovah remained standing before Abraham.[15]

The Consonantal Text

The Hebrew alphabet consists of 23 consonants, with no vowels. Unlike English though, Hebrew was not written from left to right but right to left. In the beginning, the reader had to supply the vowel sounds from his knowledge of the language. This would be like our abbreviations within the English language, such as “ltd” for limited. The Hebrew originally consisted of words made up only of consonants. Hence, “consonantal text” means the Hebrew text without any vowel markings. The consonantal text of the Hebrew manuscripts come to be fixed in form between the first and second centuries C.E., even though manuscripts with variants within the text continued to be produced for some time. Changes were no longer made, unlike the previous period of the Sopherim.

The Masoretic Text

Between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E., the Masoretes setup vowel point, and accent mark system. This would help the reader to pronounce the vowel sounds properly, meaning that there would be a standard, and no need to have the pronunciation handed down by oral tradition. Because the Masoretes saw the text as sacred, they made no changes to the text itself but chose to record notes within the margins of the text. Unlike the Sopherim before them, they did not take any textual liberties. Moreover, they drew attention to any textual issues, correcting them within the margins.

The devotement of the vocalizing and accent marking of the Masoretic text throughout this period was done by three different schools, that is, the Babylonian, Palestinian, and Tiberian. The Hebrew text that we now possess in the printed Hebrew Bibles is known as the Masoretic Text, which came from the Tiberian school. The Masoretes of Tiberias, a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, established this method.

Unlike the Tiberian school, which placed their vowel signs below the consonants, the Palestinian school positioned the vowel signs above the consonants. Only an insignificant number of such manuscripts came down to us from the Palestinian school, showing that this system of vocalization was flawed. The Babylonian method of vowel pointing was likewise placed above the consonants. A manuscript possessing the Babylonian pointing is the Petersburg Codex of the Prophets, of 916 C.E., preserved in the Leningrad Public Library, U.S.S.R. This codex contains the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, as well as the “minor” prophets, with marginal notes. Textual scholars have readily studied this manuscript and compared it with the Tiberian text. While it uses the system of vocalization that places the vowels above the text, it follows the Tiberian text as regards the consonantal text and its vowels and Masora. The British Museum has a copy of the Babylonian text of the Pentateuch, which is substantially in agreement with the Tiberian text.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

The Dead Sea Scrolls

In the spring of 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a cave, marking an event that would be heard around the world, making the name “Dead Sea Scrolls” more known than any other associated with archaeology. As he released one of his rocks into the cave, the sound of a breaking earthenware jar came back at him. Upon further examination, he discovered the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery of the scrolls rise to fame has been partly fueled by the controversy among scholars and the media. Sadly, this has left a public scandal, where those, not in the know, are thrown back and forth by confusion and misinformation. Stories have spread about an enormous conspiracy, driven by anxiety that the scrolls disclose details that would damage the faith of Christians and Jews as well. Nevertheless, what is the real importance of these scrolls? More than 63 years have now gone by; is it possible that the facts can be known?

The Dead Sea Scrolls: What are They?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are manuscripts of the Old Testament. Many of them are in Hebrew, with some being in Aramaic and a small number in Greek. Many of these scrolls and fragments date to the third and second Century B.C.E., almost 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. There were seven lengthy manuscripts in various stages of deterioration that had been acquired from the Bedouin. Soon other caves were being searched, with new discoveries of scrolls and fragments in the thousands. A total of eleven caves near Qumran, by the Dead Sea, were discovered between 1947 and 1956.

Since, it has been determined that there are 800 manuscripts, once all the scrolls and fragment are considered. About 200 manuscripts, or about twenty-five percent, are copies of portions of the Old Testament. The other seventy-five percent, or 600 manuscripts, belong to ancient non-Biblical Jewish writings, divided between Apocrypha[16] and Pseudepigrapha.[17]

Various scrolls that produced the greatest interest for the scholars were formerly unknown texts. Among these were the interpretations on matters of the Jewish law, detailed instructions for the community of the Qumran sect, eschatological works that disclose interpretations about the outcome of Bible prophecy and the end times, as well as liturgical poems and prayers. Among them too were unique Bible commentaries, the oldest examples of verse-by-verse[18] commentary on Biblical passages.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Who Wrote Them?

After carefully dating these fragile documents, it has been determined that they were copied or composed sometime between the third century B.C.E and the first century C.E. A handful of scholars have suggested that these scrolls were hidden in the caves by Jews that fled just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. However, the vast majority of scholars find this to be mere speculation, because the content of the scrolls tells something quite different. For example, many scrolls reveal an outlook and customs that were in conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scrolls disclose a community that held the belief that God did not approve of the priests and temple service in Jerusalem. On the other hand, they believed that God saw their form of worship in the desert as a substitute temple service until the return of the Messiah. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the authorities at Jerusalem’s temple would be in possession of such scrolls.

The Qumran community likely had a scriptorium (a room in a monastery for storing, copying, illustrating, or reading manuscripts); it is probable that people who became a part of the community brought scrolls in with them when they joined. Therefore, the Dead Sea Scrolls are a broad library collection.  As applies to any extensive collection of books, the subject matter will be a wide range of thought, which will not reflect the thinking or religious worldview of any given reader within the community. Nevertheless, those texts, which encompass numerous copies, are more likely to take into account the general beliefs of the Qumran community as a whole.

The Qumran Residents: Were they Essenes?

Now that we have determined that, the Dead Sea Scrolls were the library of Qumran community, who were its people? Early on, in 1947 Professor Eleazar Sukenik obtained three scrolls from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; after that, suggesting that these scrolls had belonged to The Essene Community.

First-century writers Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, and Pliny, the elder, are our primary source of information for this Jewish sect, the Essenes. There is no real consensus on their origin, but most scholars agree that they seem to have arisen following the Jewish Maccabean revolt in the second century B.C.E. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus described their existence during that period as he sketched their religious views as opposed to the Pharisees and Sadducees. On the other hand, Pliny talks about the whereabouts of a community of Essenes by the Dead Sea between Jericho and En-gedi.

Professor James VanderKam, a Dead Sea Scroll scholar, suggests, “The Essenes who lived at Qumran were just a small part of the larger Essene movement,”[19] which Josephus numbered to about four thousand. While this certainly does not perfectly fit the picture, what comes from the Qumran texts appears to match the Essenes better than any other known Jewish group in that period.

While dismissed by most scholars, a few have suggested that Christianity grew up out of the Qumran community. However, the differences between these two communities are far too great, even to take serious such suggestions. For example, the Qumran writing contains an ultra-strict Sabbath regulations and an almost fanatical obsession with ceremonial purity. (Matthew 15:1-20; Luke 6:1-11) This would hold true as well with the Essenes’ isolation from society, their position on the immortality of the soul, the stress they place on celibacy and spiritual concepts about sharing with angels in their worship. All of this puts them at odds with Jesus and the early Christian congregation.–Matthew 5:14-16; John 11:23, 24; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

No Conspiracy, No Secret Scrolls

Contrary to the cover-up theorists, after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, numerous publications were released over the years that made those first finds accessible to scholars around the world. Nevertheless, the thousands of fragments from Cave 4 were proving far more awkward. These were not getting beyond the hands of a small international group of scholars operating in East Jerusalem (then part of Jordan) at the Palestine Archaeological Museum. The Jewish and Israeli scholars were strangely missing from this team.

Fueling this cover-up theory, the team established a rule of not permitting access to the scrolls up until they published the official results of their research. The amount of scholars on the group was reserved to a fixed maximum. At the time of a group member’s death, only one scholar would be added in his place. The volume of work required a considerably larger team, and in some cases, more expertise was badly needed in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. James VanderKam worded it this way: “Tens of thousands of fragments were more than eight experts, however skilled, could handle.”[20]

East Jerusalem and its scrolls came under Israeli jurisdiction after the Six-Day war in 1967. However, this did not result in a different policy change. This delay in publishing the scrolls of cave 4 went from years to decades; scholars around the world were in an uproar. Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford University, in 1977, called it the academic scandal par excellence of the 20th century. Stories were now spreading that the Catholic Church was deliberately concealing information that would shatter the long held beliefs of Christianity.

The team of scholars was expanded to twenty in the 1980’s. Then, in the 1990’s, Emmanuel Tov, the newly appointed chief of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was able to get the number of scholars to fifty. At this point, they set a strict schedule for publishing the remaining scrolls.

However, in 1991, the development everyone had been waiting for arrived suddenly. First, A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls was published. This was put together with the assistance of a computer program, which reconstructed Cave 4 texts from a decades-old concordance. After that, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, announced that they would make available to any scholars their whole set of photographs of the scrolls. After a short time, with the publication of A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, photographs of the formerly unpublished scrolls became available with no trouble.

Therefore, for the last two decades, all the Dead Sea Scrolls have been accessible for investigation. The examination discloses that there was no conspiracy; no secret scrolls that would have affected Christianity. Nevertheless, what significance does this investigation have for the average Bible student?

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Why Should the Dead Sea Scrolls be of Interest Us?

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament were dated to about the ninth and tenth centuries C.E., known as the Masoretic texts (MT).[21] The Hebrew Old Testament was complete in the middle of the fifth century B.C.E., over 1,400 years earlier than these MT. Therefore, the question begs to be asked, ‘can we trust this MT as really being the Word of God?’ A member of the international team of editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Professor Julio Trebolle Barrera, states: “The Isaiah Scroll [from Qumran] provides irrefutable proof that the transmission of the biblical text through a period of more than one thousand years by the hands of Jewish copyists has been extremely faithful and careful.” (F. Garcia Martinez, Martinez and Barrera 1995, p. 99)

The Isaiah scrolls identified as “IQisaa” and “IQIsab” are complete copies of the book of Isaiah, but the latter is the earliest known copy of a complete Bible book. Both are from cave 1. Gleason Archer had this to say about the two Isaiah scrolls that “proved to be word for word identical with the standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95% of the text. The 5% of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.” (Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction 1994, p. 19) Up to now, over 200 Biblical manuscripts have come out of the Qumran caves; representing portions of every Old Testament book except Esther. The Isaiah scrolls of Cave 1 are an exception to the rule, as most of the others are mere fragments, containing less than 10% of any given book. The books that are the most often quoted in the New Testament are, in fact, the most popular among the Qumran community: Psalms (36 copies), Deuteronomy (29 copies), and Isaiah (21 copies).

Aside from establishing that the Hebrew Old Testament has not undergone some radical changes over the last 1,400 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls also reveal two other important pieces to some long-standing questions. They provide evidence that there were different versions of the Hebrew Bible texts used by the Jews in the Second Temple period (537 B.C.E to 70 C.E.), each one of them containing its own variations. Of the scrolls, not all are identical in spelling and wording to the MT. Some of them are more in line with the Greek Septuagint,[22] also known by the Roman numerals for seventy, LXX.[23] It had been thought by scholars prior to 1947 that the differences in the LXX were the result of errors on the part of the scribes, even possibly intentional alterations by the translators. When the Dead Sea Scrolls became known, it was revealed that these differences were due to the variations of the different Hebrew versions. Further, this could possibly explain why writers from the New Testament quote from the Hebrew Bible texts using wording different than the MT.–Exodus 1:5; Acts 7:14.

Hence, the storehouse of thousands of fragments and Biblical scrolls affords the textual scholar an excellent basis in their studying the transmission of the Hebrew Bible text. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls have established the worth of both the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch for textual comparison. As all modern Bible are based on the Masoretic Text, they also provide added bases for these translation committees to consider emending (correcting) their translations and the MT.

It has long been held that there was not just one form of Judaism in the first century C.E. The portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls that describe the rules and beliefs of the Qumran community further validate that position. The Pharisees and Sadducees were far different from the Qumran sect.[24] Some extreme differences are likely, what led the sect to withdrawal into the wilderness. They saw themselves as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3,

Isaiah 40:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 3 A voice of one calling out,
In the wilderness, “prepare the way of Jehovah;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Numerous scroll fragments state that the Messiah’s coming was imminent. Bible student should find this interesting as Luke commented that “the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ [Messiah].”–Luke 3:15, ESV.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also help us better understand the historical setting in the life and times of Jesus Christ. They are also beneficial in the comparative study of Bible texts and ancient Hebrew. Nevertheless, not all of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been analyzed. Therefore, more light may come out of the wilderness. Absolutely, these scrolls were one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, which remains to motivate both scholars and Bible students as we have now entered into the 21st century.


What is Textual Criticism?

We begin by offering you what textual criticism is. It is the study of all the manuscript evidence and internal evidence (e.g., style of the author) in an attempt to ascertain the original wording of the original text. As Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Isaiah, Daniel, Micah, Ezra, Malachi, or Nehemiah handed their authorized text off to be copied by others, i.e., published for private and public use, what would it have looked like? What is the process that the Old Testament authors would have followed to get their book ready to be published, that is, copied by others? Once they were prepared for publication, how would they be copied throughout the centuries, up until the time of the printing press in 1455 C.E.? As we open our Bible to the Book of Genesis or the Book of Ezekiel or any of the 39 books of the Old Testament, how can we have confidence that what we are reading is a reflection of the original in our language? If we were to bring home from a bookstore a copy of the CSB, ESV, GNB, NLT, MSG, NASB, UASV or any of the other one hundred and fifty plus English translations, could we have confidence that what we are reading is, in fact, the Word of God? Some translations have footnotes throughout that say, “Other ancient MSS read …. What exactly does that mean, and which is the Word of God: the words in the main text of our Bible, or the others below in the footnote?

The science and art of textual criticism has answered these questions, and more. It is a science because there are rules and principles, as well as a method or process that is to be followed if the textual scholar is to get back to the original reading.[25] It is an art because the human agent needs to be balanced with his use of those rules and principles. It is like driving a car. The driver needs to follow all driving rules as he stays between the lines of his side of the road to reach his destination. So, too, the textual scholar needs to stay within the rules to reach his destination. However, the designers of the roads were not rigid to the point of making those two lines so narrow that there was no room for the driver to miss obstructions, which might be in his path. This extra room would help the driver to avoid objects that could result in a crash. The same holds true for the textual scholar having room within the lines of his field, to prevent a wreck, causing him not to be able to reach his desired destination, i.e., the original reading.


As is true of NT textual studies, Old Testament manuscripts are to be studied and assessed by the data obtained from the examination of manuscripts as well as internal evidence. The textual scholar is comparing the text of a manuscript to a standard text. Then, he will take note of how the manuscript differs from the standard text in each and every way, in the minutest way. When we find a difference in the manuscripts that differs from the standard text, we call that a textual variant, or a variant reading because it varies from the standard text. The primary goal and purpose of the textual scholar are to establish the original words as they would have been in the original text. It might be that the variant is, in fact, the original reading.

The textual scholar of the OT is concerned with more than the words in given texts. This is because our Hebrew manuscripts have marginal notes concern the text that contains them. In the Masoretic text margin, some notes read: “This is one of the eighteen emendations of the Sopherim” or similar words. The scribe who made these revisions had good intentions, as he saw the original reading as though it showed a lack of respect for God or his people. These give us information on the transmission of the text and help the textual scholar in making a decision about which reading was in the original.

Both OT and NT textual scholars have rules and principles that are often referred to as “canons.” Those of the OT are a bit different than the of the NT. Almost all of the textual variants in the OT are insignificant details or some version taking liberties with the text to add details or correct what they perceived to be an error. Most are quite easily resolved. We do not count the number of manuscripts that have a particular reading so that the majority wins. The manuscripts are weighed, not counted. Weighing a manuscript is assessing its known trustworthiness or its importance. Internal evidence would be scribal tendencies, as well as, grammar, syntax, chiasmic structures, acrostic patterns, and does it fit the context. We might have a reading in 1 Samuel that has textual variants, but that same reading is found in Kings or Chronicles, where there are no textual issues. Another would be the text has a reading that was perceived as showing a lack of respect for God or his people, a later scribe altered the reading. External evidence would be the marginal notes within the Masoretic text, its relationship to other texts. The reading that likely led to the other readings is preferred. The harder reading, meaning hard to understand in one’s initial reading but upon further reflection, makes sense, is preferred because a scribe is likely to make what he perceives to be a correction. The shorter reading is preferred because scribes tended to add material, not take away. Early translations of the Hebrew OT are very important to the textual scholar as well: the Greek Septuagint,  Aramaic Targums, Syriac Peshitta, and Latin.

While there are not as many textual scholars of the OT as there are of the NT, there are far more today than ever before. The current standard text is the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), which is based on the Leningrad Codex (1009 C.E.). It is currently being revised. The new edition is called the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ), which will be completed soon. The BHQ is the fifth edition of the Biblia Hebraica and when it has been completed, it will supersede the fourth edition BHS. As the third and fourth editions of the BHS, the BHQ uses a text that is based on the Leningrad Codex; the text has been corrected by using color photographs of the codex that were taken in the 1990s.


A very small number of textual scholars have favored the standard printed edition of the Hebrew Bible up unto the 19th century was the Second Rabbinic Bible of Jacob ben Chayyim Hebrew OT text that was published in 1524-25, viewing it like a textus receptus (received text; common text) of the OT. Their arguments do not hold up, though. Jacob ben Chayim’s intention was to recover the Masoretic text of Aaron ben Moses ben Asher. Well, this is precisely what we have in the Leningrad and Aleppo Codex.

Textual criticism has been referred to as “lower criticism” to differentiate it from “higher criticism.” Since its purpose is to recover the original words of the original text of the Bible author, it is a constructive criticism rather than being destructive, as is true with “higher criticism.” Lower criticism is not less important, rather, it is the foundation study that makes the way for Bible translation, biblical interpretation, theology, and so on. How does one translate an Old Testament text, interpret it, and place it within some doctrinal view, if they do not have the actual original words? When we establish a word, phrase, sentence, verse, or a section of text as original; then, and only then, can we wrangle over what the author meant by the words that he used. “Lower criticism” has done much to further our understanding of God’s Word, cutting out interpolations and providing us with a reliable critical text that gives us the basis for better translations of the Bible. On the other hand, higher criticism of the 18th/19th centuries, now referred to as biblical criticism (the historical-critical method or higher criticism) has opened the way for a flood of quasi-scholarly works whose result has been to undermine confidence in the Bible for an untold number of people.

We have two extremes when it comes to Old Testament Textual Criticism. First, we have those who would argue that the text of the Old Testament was copied so exactly, meticulously that there is no need for textual criticism. Some even going to the extreme that the copyists were under inspiration like the original authors. Second, at the other end of the spectrum, we have those skeptics, who argue that the text of the Hebrew Old Testament has been so corrupted that it is impossible to ever know the original wording of what any author wrote. In dealing with the first, the reality is imperfect humans made copyist errors and for a time, some scribes took liberties with the text. The Hebrew scriptures had the early sopherim (scribes) taking liberties with the text but not in extreme ways and yes, some scribal errors slipped into the Hebrew text. Yet, this really never impacted anything.

No manuscript has the entirety of the original text, being error-free. What we have are thousands of Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts, over 2,000 classified manuscripts of the Septuagint, as well as many other languages. None of these manuscripts are without errors. However, there are some Hebrew manuscripts that are essential, like the renowned Leningrad Codex (B 19A). It dates to 1008 C.E. and is the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Scriptures in the world. It is probably the single most significant manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. So, the first group of extremists thinking the Hebrew Old Testament was copied so carefully are wrong, as there are textual issues throughout the entire Old Testament. However, determining what the original reading was is quite easy on almost all of these. Briefly, below are a few examples.

OTTC GENESIS 21:16: Was it “the child cried aloud and wept” or “she lifted up her voice and wept”?

Genesis 21.16 MT

Genesis 21.16 LXX


Genesis 21.16-Hebrew

Genesis 21:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.

Genesis 21:16 The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation

16 And she departed and sat down opposite him at a distance, as it were a bow-shot, for she said, Surely I cannot see the death of my child: and she sat opposite him, and the child cried aloud and wept.

The Hebrew has the reading “she lifted up her voice and wept” in verse 16 of Genesis chapter 21. On the other hand, the Greek Septuagint (LXX) has “and the child cried aloud and wept” (referring to Ishmael) in verse 16 of chapter 21. The next verse says, “And God heard the voice of the boy, and God’s angel called to Hagar from the heavens and said to her: “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy there where he is.” Thus, it seems that the Septuagint (LXX) was taking liberties with the text, embellishing it to harmonize it,  to specify that it was the boy’s cries that were being heard. In Genesis 25:18, the Hebrew Text has the reading “they settled” (וַיִּשְׁכְּנוּ, wayyiskenu). On the other hand, the LXX and VG, have “he settled” (Gr. κατῴκησεν, katokesen) in verse 18 of chapter 25, the latter translations being a reference to Ishmael for the sake of clarity.

OTTC GENESIS 22:13: Was the ram “behind him” [Abraham] Or was it “one” ram?

Genesis 22.13 MT

Genesis 22.13 LXX

Genesis 22:13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

Genesis 22:13 The Lexham English Septuagint
13 And looking up, Abraham saw with his eyes, and look, one ram being held in a bush, a ⌊thicket⌋ of the horns, and Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a whole offering instead of Isaac, his son.

Genesis 22:13 The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation

13 And Abraam lifted up his eyes and beheld, and lo! a ram caught by his horns in a plant of Sabec; and Abraam went and took the ram, and offered him up for a whole-burnt-offering in the place of Isaac his son.

The Masoretic Text has the reading “behind him” (אַחַר, ’akhar) in verse 13 of Genesis chapter 22. On the other hand, a number of Hebrew MSS, the Septuagint (LXX), Syriac (SYR), and Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) have “one” (Heb. אֶחָד, ’ekhad; Gr. εἷς,  heis) in verse 13 of chapter 22. The Hebrew word (אַחַר, ’akhar) rendered “behind him” simply means “behind,” which is the difficult reading because “a ram behind caught” makes no sense. The ASV, RSV, ESV, NASB, and the UASV render it “behind him was a ram,” which explains where the ram was in relation to Abraham. Thus, it is likely that the copyists of the Hebrew manuscripts were moved to change the final “r” in the Hebrew word meaning behind (אַחַר, ’akhar) to a final “d” (אֶחָד, ’ekhad), as they are both very similar in shape. This Hebrew word with the final “d” would mean “a ram” was caught or “one ram” was caught in the thicket by the horns. (LEB, CSB) Thus, we can see why the copyist would go from the difficult reading to the easier reading but if it were the other way, there is no good explanation why a copyist would go from the easier reading to the more difficult one. The translators of Septuagint (LXX), Syriac (SYR), and Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) could have been similarly motivated.

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OTTC GENESIS 46:26-27: Was it “two souls” or was it “nine souls”? Was the total “seventy souls” or was it “seventy-five souls”?

 The Masoretic Text has the reading “two souls” (נֶפֶשׁ שְׁנָיִם, šenǎ·yim ně·p̄ěš) in verse 27 of Genesis chapter 46. On the other hand, the Septuagint (LXX) has “nine souls” (ψυχαὶ ἐννέα,  psychai ennea) in verse 27 of Genesis chapter 46. In addition, the Masoretic Text has the total reading “seventy souls” (שִׁבְעִים, šiḇ·ʿîm) in verse 27 of Genesis chapter 46. On the other hand, the Septuagint (LXX) has “seventy-five” (ἑβδομήκοντα πέντε hebdomēkonta pente) in verse 27 of Genesis chapter 46, which is the number given by Stephen as written by Luke in Acts 7:14. 

DIFFICULTY: Stephen, in Acts 7:14, says that there were 75 souls in the household of Jacob when they moved into Egypt. However, Genesis 46:26 says that there were 66 persons and Genesis 46:27 mentions 70 persons? There seems to be a discrepancy here.

All of the major English Bible translations are primarily based on the Hebrew texts, not the versions. The versions primarily encompass the LXX: The Greek Septuagint (Greek Jewish OT Scriptures in general and specifically used during of Jesus and the apostles), DSS: Qumran Texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), SP: Samaritan Pentateuch, SYR: Syriac Peshitta, TH: Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures by Theodotion, second cent. C.E., and the VG: Latin Vulgate. This is because of the standardized and remarkably careful copying done by the scribes of the MT: The Masoretic Text, which comprises the Hebrew OT manuscripts from the second half of the first millennium C.E. However, the Hebrew text does not always have the original reading. For example, Judges 14:15 in the Hebrew text reads, “On the seventh day they said to Samson’s wife;” however, the Greek and Syriac version have “On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife.” The English Standard Version (ESV), Lexham English Bible (LEB), Christian Standard Bible (CSB) New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New International Version (NIV) all follow the versions over the Hebrew text with “On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife.”

OTTC 1 SAMUEL 1:24: “And the boy was a boy”?

1 Samuel 1:24 English Standard Version (RSV)

24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young. (NASB, LEB, CSB similar)

1 Samuel 1:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull,1 an ephah2 of flour, and a jar of wine, and she brought him to the house of Jehovah at Shiloh. And the boy was a boy.

1 DSS LXX SYR “a three-year-old bull” MT VG “three bulls”

2 About 22 L (20 dry qt).

MT “and the boy was a boy” LXX “and the boy was with them” VG “the boy was yet an infant” The MT is correct, which is conveying the meaning that the boy was incredibly young when this event occurred. However, some look to the textual differences, emending the text to align with the LXX “and the boy was with them” or imposing a conjectural emendation “and the boy was with her.” The VG is interpreting the Hebrew  that the boy was incredibly young, “the boy was yet an infant.”  The UASV retains the literal MT reading.

OTTC RUTH 3:15 DILEMMA: “Then he/she went into the city? Was It Boaz or Ruth?

Ruth 3:15 English Standard Version (RSV)

15 And he said, “Bring the mantle you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and laid it upon her; then she went into the city.

Ruth 3:15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15 Then he said, “Bring the cloak you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and put it on her back; then he went into the city.

Ruth 3:15 Then he [Boaz] went into the city

Young’s Literal Translation, English Revised Version, American Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, Updated American Standard Version, Complete Jewish Bible, NET Bible, New American Bible, New International Version, New Living Translation, and others.

Ruth 3:15 Then she [Ruth] went into the city.

Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version, Complete Jewish Bible, Douay-Rheims, Christian Standard Bible, King James Version, New American Standard Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New King James Version, and others.

Ruth 3:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

15 And he said, “Bring the cloak you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then he went into the city.


The MT and most of the Hebrew manuscripts have “he [Boaz] went into the city.” Some Hebrew manuscripts and the Syriac and the Vulgate have “she [Ruth] went into the city.” The LXX is usually not mentioned because some LXX manuscripts have “he” and some have “she.” However, more recent discoveries of Septuagint manuscripts have made the rendering “he” weightier and the preferred choice.

Again, the primary weight of external evidence generally goes to the original language manuscripts. The Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex are almost always preferred. In the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS; critical edition of the Hebrew Bible), 90 percent is without a significant variation. Of the 10 percent that does exist, a very small percentage of that has any impact on its meaning, and in almost all of these very limited textual variants, we can ascertain the original wording of the original text with certainty. Yes, it is rare to find a substantive variant among manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. The Codex Leningrad B 19A dating to about (1008 C.E.) and the Aleppo Codex from about (930 C.E.) were produced by the Masoretes, who are the most by far extremely disciplined copyists of all time, whose scribal practices date back to about the year 500 C.E. In fact, by the second century C.E., a particular text entire Hebrew Bible became the generally accepted standard text, which is often referred to as the Proto-Masoretic text, as it preceded the work of the Masoretes, and it already had the basic form of the Masoretic text that was to come. These subtle differences in the Masoretic manuscripts are almost exclusively spelling differences, which also included vocalization, as well as the presence or absence of the conjunction wāw, in addition to other features that in no way impact the meaning of the text.

In Old Testament Textual Criticism, the Masoretic text is our starting point and should only be abandoned as a last resort. While it is true that the Masoretic Text is not perfect, there needs to be a heavy burden of proof if we are to go with an alternative source (e.g., LXX, AT, SYR, VG) for our reading. All the evidence needs to be examined before we conclude that a reading in the Masoretic Text is a corruption. The Septuagint continues to be very much important today and is used by textual scholars to help uncover copyists’ errors that might have crept into the Hebrew manuscripts either intentionally or unintentionally. However, it cannot do it alone without the support of other sources. While the Septuagint is the second most important tool after the original language texts for ascertaining the original words of the original Hebrew text, it is also true that the LXX translators took liberties at times, embellishing the text, deliberate changes, harmonizations, and completing of details. It should be noted that there is no one manuscript pers se. For example, there is the Septuagint manuscript of Aquila (Codex X), Symmachus (also Codex X), and Theodotion to mention just a few. There are a few times when you might have the Syriac, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scroll, Aramaic Targums, and the Vulgate that are at odds with the Masoretic Text, and the preferred choice should not be the MT.

The Septuagint continues to be very much important today and is used by textual scholars to help uncover copyists’ errors that might have crept into the Hebrew manuscripts either intentionally or unintentionally. However, it cannot do it alone without the support of other sources. While the Septuagint is the second most important tool after the original language texts for ascertaining the original words of the original Hebrew text, it is also true that the LXX translators took liberties at times, embellishing the text, deliberate changes, harmonizations, and completing of details. Even so, it should be noted that the Septuagint manuscripts are the second-weightiest tool in their effort to get back to the original.

How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1

If we are going to translate the Word of God into English and then follow the objective historical-grammatical approach of interpreting it, we need to first establish the original words of the original text. Therefore, there is no ignoring the field of Old Testament textual criticism. Of course, the textual scholars are going to practice textual criticism with ‘much perspective, background, and training as possible.” (Brotzman, 2016, p. 3)[26] The textual student (churchgoer with deeper knowledge) will possibly be well informed but likely nowhere near the level of the textual scholar. The churchgoer should at a minimum study through one introductory level Old Testament Textual Criticism publication that may number no more than 250-350 pages. These are written on an 8th-9th-grade level. Nevertheless, they will possess some 50-100 technical terms that will be defined by the author. The same holds true for New Testament Textual Criticism.


It is only reasonable to assume that the original 39 books written first-hand by the Old Testament authors have not survived. Instead, we only have what we must consider being imperfect copies. Why the Holy Spirit would miraculously inspire 39 fully inerrant texts, and then allow human imperfection into the copies, is not explained for us in Scripture. We do know that imperfect humans have tended to worship relics that traditions hold to have been touched by the miraculous powers of God or to have been in direct contact with one of his special servants of old. Ultimately, though, all we know is that God had his reasons for allowing the Old Testament autographs to be worn out by repeated use. From time to time, we hear of the discovery of a fragment possibly dated at the earliest ever discovered, but even if such a fragment is eventually verified, the dating alone can never serve as proof of an autograph; it will still be a copy in all likelihood.

As for errors in all the copies, we have, however, we can say is that the vast majority of the Hebrew text is not affected by errors at all. The errors occur in the form of variant readings, i.e., portions of the text where different manuscripts disagree. Of the small amount of the text that is affected by variant readings, the vast majority of these are minor slips of the pen, misspelled words, etc., or intentional but quickly analyzed changes, and we are certain what the original reading is in these places. A far smaller number of changes present challenges to establishing the original reading. It has always been said and remains true that no major doctrine is affected by a textual problem. Only rarely does a textual issue change the meaning of a verse. Still, establishing the original text wherever there are variant readings is vitally important. Every word matters!

[1] When we use the term “original” reading or “original” text in this publication, it is a reference to the exemplar manuscript by the New Testament author (e.g., Paul) and his secretary (e.g., Tertius) from which other copies was made for publication and distribution into the Christian communities. It should be noted that the author likely penned some books without the use of a secretary, such as the apostle John in First and Second John. Autograph: The autograph (self-written) was the text actually written by a New Testament author, or the author and scribe as the author dictated to him. If the scribe was taking it down in dictation (Rom: 16:22; 1 Pet: 5:12), he might have done so in shorthand. Whether by shorthand or longhand, we can assume that both the scribe and the author would check the scribe’s work. The author would have authority over all corrections since the Holy Spirit did not move the scribe. If the inspired author wrote everything down himself as the Spirit moved him, the finished product would be the autograph. This text is also often referred to as the original. Hence, the terms autograph and original are often used interchangeably. Sometimes textual critics prefer to make a distinction, using “original” as a reference to the text that is correctly attributed to a biblical author.  This is a looser distinction, one that does not focus on the process of how a book or letter was written.

[2] B.C.E. means “before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”

[3] The Genizah was storehouse for Hebrew books: a repository for Hebrew documents and sacred books that were no longer in use, e.g. because they are old and worn, but must not be destroyed.

[4] Paleography is the study of ancient writings: the study of ancient handwriting and manuscripts

[5] Hebrew Bible: the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible revised and annotated by Jewish scholars between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E.

[6] The Old Testament Apocrypha are unauthentic writings: writings or reports that are not regarded as authentic.

[7] A quotation from Isaiah 53:7–8

[8] P45, 74 א AB C 33 81 614 vg syrp, h copsa, bo eth omit vs 37; E, many minuscules, itgig, h vgmss syrh with * copG67 arm, And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

[9] G. E. Ladd, “Pseudepigrapha,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 1041.

[10] “The first Christian martyr; foremost of those chosen to bring peace to the quarreling church (Acts 6:1–7) and so mighty in the Scriptures that his Jewish opponents in debate could not refute him (Acts 6:10) as he argued that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul of Tarsus heard Stephen’s speech to the Jewish Sanhedrin accusing the Jewish leaders of rejecting God’s way as their forefathers had (Acts 6:12–7:53). Saul held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen to death; he saw him die a victorious death.” (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, p. 1534)

[11] Stanford University recently unveiled ORBIS, a site that lets you calculate the time and cost required to travel by road or ship around the Roman world in A.D. 200. (University 2012)

[12] Appendix 33 from the Companion Bible:

[13] This is the first of the 134 places where the Jewish Sopherim changed JHVH to Adonai. They made the change based on misapplied reverence for the personal name of God.

[14] “And you.” in the MT is marked with extraordinary points by the Sopherim (scribes) to show that the reading “and you” is uncertain and should read, “and her.”

[15] MT “Abraham was still standing before Jehovah” This the first of one of the Eighteen Emendations: In the Masoretic text margin, some notes read: “This is one of the eighteen emendations of the Sopherim” or similar words. The scribe who made these revisions had good intentions as he saw the original reading as though it showed a lack of respect for God or his people.

[16] “The Protestant designation for the fourteen or fifteen books of doubtful authenticity and authority that are not found in the Hebrew Old Testament but are in manuscripts of the LXX; most of these books were declared canonical by the Roman Catholic church at the Council of Trent in 1546, and they call these books deuterocanonical (second canon).”―Geisler 1986, 637.

[17] “A word meaning “false writings” and used to designate those spurious and unauthentic books of the late centuries b.c. and early centuries a.d. These books contain religious folklore and have never been considered canonical by the Christian church.”―Geisler 1986, 642.

[18] Of course, there were no verses in the ancient texts, as they were simply running text. It was Rabbi Isaac Nathan, while working on a concordance, numbered the Bible into verses in 1440 C.E. Robert Estienne (Stephanus) introduced his system for dividing the Bible’s text into numbered verses in 1550 C.E., which we still use today.

[19] James VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 127.

[20] Ibid., 232

[21] Hebrew Bible: the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible, revised and annotated by Jewish scholars between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E.

[22] Greek version of Hebrew Bible: a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made between 280 and 150 B.C.E. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine.

[23] Because of the tradition about 72 translators, this Greek Bible translation came to be known as the Septuagint, based on a Latin word meaning “Seventy.”

[24] Actually, there were more forms of Judaism. There were the Herodians, who were Jewish partisans or party followers of the Herodian dynasty. In addition, there were the Zealots, who advocated a Jewish kingdom completely independent of Roman control.

[25] When we use the term “original” reading or “original” text in this publication, it is a reference to the exemplar manuscript by the Old Testament author (e.g., Jeremiah) and his scribal secretary, if he used one (e.g., Baruch), from which other copies were made for publication and distribution to the Israelite nation.

[26] Ellis R. Brotzman, Eric J. Tully, Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (p. 78). Baker Publishing Group.



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