How did the New Testament writers and the earliest Christians come to adopt the Jewish Scriptures as their first Old Testament? And why are our modern Bibles related more to the rabbinic Hebrew Bible than to the Greek Bible of the early church?
The Septuagint, the name given to the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures between the third century BC and the second century AD, played a central role in the Bible’s history. Many of the Hebrew Scriptures were still evolving when they were translated into Greek, and these Greek translations, along with several new Greek writings, became Holy Scripture in the early Church.
Yet, gradually the Septuagint lost its place at the heart of Western Christianity. At the end of the fourth century, one of antiquity’s brightest minds rejected the Septuagint in favor of the Bible of the rabbis. After Jerome, the Septuagint never regained the position it once had. Timothy Michael Law recounts the story of the Septuagint’s origins, its relationship to the Hebrew Bible, and the adoption and abandonment of the first Christian Old Testament.
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“Second, the Old Testament translation of almost every modern English version of the Bible is based on the Hebrew Bible, but the form of scripture used by the New Testament authors and the early Church was most often the Septuagint.” (Page 4)
“First, the Septuagint sheds light on the development of Jewish thought between the third century BCE and the first century CE.” (Page 4)
“Matthew wrote about the prophecy of the virgin birth, which he found explicit in the Septuagint, not in the Hebrew Bible, and the most theologically important book in the history of Christianity, Paul’s epistle to the Romans, has been influenced entirely by the Greek version of Isaiah, not by the Hebrew version.” (Page 5)
“Between the third century BCE and the second CE there was no real preoccupation with a fixed text and authoritative status was shared by different versions of the same books.” (Page 26)
“The new consensus, but one that some commentators have still not fully appreciated, is that the Septuagint is not merely a guide to understand the Hebrew Bible better, but it is sometimes is our only source preserving alternative versions of the Hebrew scriptures.” (Page 21)
An original thinker, Timothy Michael Law portrays the birth, development, and theological impact of the Septuagint on Christianity and western civilization, and analyzes in a fascinating way the Septuagint as a creation in its own right and not only as a translation. This innovative study, incorporating the very latest research, is meant for the scholar and learned reader alike.
—Emanuel Tov, J.L. Magnes Professor of Bible, the Hebrew University
Law provides a thorough, readable introduction to the Septuagint’s formation, distinctiveness, impact upon the New Testament writers, and ongoing life in the Christian Church. Law boldly challenges us to reckon with the theological implications of multiple ‘Old Testaments’ informing early Judaism and Christianity and to consider the Septuagint afresh as Christian Scripture. We cannot afford to ignore the testimony this book offers.
—David A. deSilva, Trustees’ Distinguished Professor, Ashland Theological Seminary
A splendid work . . . I haven’t found any book so interesting and enjoyable in years.
—Sir Fergus Millar, camden emeritus professor of ancient history , Oxford
Law thus brilliantly turns accepted wisdom about the nature of biblical text on its head. [He is] aware that good history is a solvent for lazy and often harmful promulgations . . . [He writes] with an implicit moral purpose.
—Diarmaid N.J. MacCulloch, London Review of Books
It is a gripping tale, beautifully told, and should be of profound interest to any reader of the Jewish or Christian Bible . . . Timothy Michael Law has written the first introduction to the LXX that can be read by people outside the guild. It is a remarkable book, full of fascinating detail that I cannot evoke in a short review, a book that tells a rich story that no reader of the Bible can afford to ignore.
—Kevin Hart, Los Angeles Review of Books
. . . an ambitious, accessible, and intelligent survey of the context, composition, and contributions of the Septuagint to Christian scripture and theology. This is a fine introduction to an underappreciated subject.
—Amy-Jill Levine, CHOICE Magazine
When God Spoke Greek succeeds in remaining accessible to the educated reader whilst satisfying the scholarly expectations of the professional biblical scholar. Law is to be commended on an impressive achievement.
—C.L. Crouch, SOTS Book List 2014
Reading Law’s book is a bit like reading the biography of someone you once knew, but not well. It is full of information you never suspected was true. . . . Law’s vivid re-creation of the Greco-Roman world into which the Septuagint was born and of the culture it helped shape is more than readable. It is fascinating.
—Joseph Martos, Theological Studies
. . . one of those rare volumes which successfully communicates a fascinating general overview fully grounded in serious academic research . . . Law’s manifesto calls for the Academy to return to the study of the Septuagint as the great document of the rise of Christianity, and the Church to re-engage with the Septuagint as part of its biblical inheritance . . . NETS and Law would together be a perfect introduction to the Bible which shaped Western culture and the Christian Church.
—John Ritzema, The Oxonian Review
When churchgoers and church watchers wonder about the origins of Christian theology, questions about the Septuagint’s importance for the New Testament and patristic era do not dominate their concerns. Law laments this lack of attention and enthusiastically explains the Septuagint’s history, its significance for early Christian writers, and the reasons it all but disappeared from theological discourse in the Christian West.
—The Christian Century
Timothy Michael Law is Alexander von Humboldt Fellow in the Seminar für Altes Testament in the Georg-August-Universität Göttingenfounder. From 2009 to 2012 he was a postdoctoral fellow of the British Academy, and he is the publisher, founder, and lead editor of The Marginalia Review of Books.