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Question

Dear father in Christ,

I would like to know what is the difference between the Bible of the Seventy and the one used by the Holy Church of Christ. 

Why does Saint Augustine praise the Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint, while Saint Jerome does not approve it?

And why doesn’t the Holy Church use that version? While the false “Orthodox” church says it is the true one?

Thank you.

May our Lord Jesus Christ always look at you.

Valentina


Priest’s Answer

Dear, 

  1. Already in the Old Testament many Jews who were in the diaspora no longer knew the mother tongue, so the Sacred Texts, which obviously concerned only the Old Testament, were inaccessible to them.

According to tradition, King Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247) asked the Jerusalem authorities to send some doctors to translate from Hebrew to Greek.

These, seventy-two in number, withdrew to the Island of Faro in front of Alexandria, in Egypt, and translated the sacred texts into Greek.

The translation was called DEI LXX (seventy).

  1. Depending on the doctor’s competence, some texts were well translated, while some others were translated with inaccuracies or in an obscure way.

The Gospels were written in Greek and the quotations from the Old Testament were taken from the Translation of the LXX.

St. Jerome, who knew Hebrew well, saw the inaccuracies and made his own translation in Latin.

Meanwhile, the LXX was also translated in Latin.

So, in the Catholic Church the Greeks kept the Translation of LXX, while the Latins used other versions from the LXX and from Hebrews. Inevitably, disagreements arose on some passages. 

3. St. Augustine wrote a letter to St. Jerome for Pastoral reasons, probably around 403, in which we read: “For my part, I would much rather that you would furnish us with a translation of the Greek version of the canonical Scriptures known as the work of the Seventy translators. For if your translation begins to be more generally read in many churches, it will be a grievous thing that, in the reading of Scripture, differences must arise between the Latin Churches and the Greek Churches, especially seeing that the discrepancy is easily condemned in a Latin version by the production of the original in Greek, which is a language very widely known; whereas, if any one has been disturbed by the occurrence of something to which he was not accustomed in the translation taken from the Hebrew, and alleges that the new translation is wrong, it will be found difficult, if not impossible, to get at the Hebrew documents by which the version to which exception is taken may be defended. And when they are obtained, who will submit to have so many Latin and Greek authorities pronounced to be in the wrong? Besides all this, Jews, if consulted as to the meaning of the Hebrew text, may give a different opinion from yours: in which case it will seem as if your presence were indispensable, as being the only one who could refute their view; and it would be a miracle if one could be found capable of acting as arbiter between you and them (Letter 71.2.4).

3. Saint Augustine keep writing: “A certain bishop, one of our brethren, having introduced in the church over which he presides the reading of your version, came upon a word in the book of the prophet Jonah, of which you have given a very different rendering from that which had been of old familiar to the senses and memory of all the worshippers, and had been chanted for so many generations in the church. Jonah 4:6 Thereupon arose such a tumult in the congregation, especially among the Greeks, correcting what had been read, and denouncing the translation as false, that the bishop was compelled to ask the testimony of the Jewish residents (it was in the town of Oea). These, whether from ignorance or from spite, answered that the words in the Hebrew manuscripts were correctly rendered in the Greek version, and in the Latin one taken from it. What further need I say? The man was compelled to correct your version in that passage as if it had been falsely translated, as he desired not to be left without a congregation —a calamity which he narrowly escaped. From this case we also are led to think that you may be occasionally mistaken. You will also observe how great must have been the difficulty if this had occurred in those writings which cannot be explained by comparing the testimony of languages now in use” (Letter 71,3.5).

  1.  For the books of the Old Testament the Catholic Church refers to the original text, which is Hebrew.

The translation of the LXX, although authoritative, is a translation with some inaccuracies.

The Greek Church has preserved the Greek translation of the LXX, considering it more authoritative than any other Greek translation, especially because everyone in the early centuries of Christianity also considered the translation of the LXX to be inspired.

5. Even today the Catholic Church considers the translation of the LXX to be inspired as a whole, which in some points makes progress in understanding. 

Just think about Hebrew Almah of Is 7:14.

Almah means girl, young woman, young bride. The LXX translates parthenos, which means virgin. Hence the well known text of Isaiah: “therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: the maiden is with child and she will bear a son, and will call his name Immanuel”. Where the reference to Our Lady is clear, moreover already made by the evangelist Matthew who had used the LXX, as we said:  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) ( Mt 1,22-23).

  1. Finally, I do not want to ignore your grave statement when you speak of a false “Orthodox” church.

You are not authorized by anyone to pronounce such a serious and inaccurate judgement. They venerate Mary as the mother of God, giving her a very great cult. The Orthodox also have saints, and also have consecrated life in a monastic form.

Almost all the holy realities are in common between Catholics and Orthodox, at the point that it is possible for us to receive the Sacraments in those churches when it is not easy to find a Catholic church, as well as is possible for them to receive them from us.

I wish you well, I remind you to the Lord, and I bless you.

Father Angelo