CHAPTER 7- The Greek Old Testament Quoted




  1. New Testament writers quoted often from the Greek Old Testament.


There is a copy of the Koran on one of my book shelves. It is in English. George Sale translated and first published it in 1734. My copy is only a little more than a hundred years old. The Koran was originally written in Arabic. Many Moslems believe translations of it are sacrilege. To them, if it is translated, it is not the Koran.

Our Old Testament was originally written (with the exception of a few chapters) in Hebrew. After their dispersion into Gentile countries, many Jews of later generations could not read Hebrew. They had grown up and were educated knowing the language of the place where they lived. This was the time when numerous Jews learned Aramaic. Under a large and growing Greek influence, many of them knew only the Greek language.


During the first quarter of the third century B.C., Greek speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt began the translation of the Old Testament into Greek. Seventy (or perhaps seventy-two) translators worked at the behest of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.).1 At first, this version comprised only the five books of The Law. The rest of the books were finished over a period of about one hundred years. The Greek Old Testament is often called the Septuagint. (Which being translated, means "seventy." My translation of this Latin word proves I am not writing in Latin. But that was already obvious, wasn't it?) Sometimes it is referred to simply as The LXX.

Many rabbis are said to have wept when the Greek translation was made. They proclaimed a sad state of affairs in Israel. Some believed the sky was darkened because of God's displeasure with such a perverted book. They, like the Moslems, were convinced the Holy Writings must be read only in the original language. (If this were true, would you or I be serving God?)

However, not all Jews believed as those rabbis. The people of the New Testament did not. They commended the Greek Old Testament by reading from it. They studied it. They quoted it. They preached from it. They went so far as to include much of it in the New Testament. This cannot be thought of as unusual; they are both Greek books.


What are the sources of the information in the New Testament? Have you ever thought about it? In the main, the writers of the historical books just wrote what happened. Three of them had seen much of it. Luke, who had not been an eye-witness to the life of Jesus, got his information from others.

The New Testament letters arose out of the need for the churches and individuals to be taught and directed. As the Holy Spirit moved these men, they wrote the books.

Their own accounts and the eyewitness accounts of others were not the only sources used by New Testament writers. As the Holy Spirit motivated these holy men, much of what they wrote is quoted from the Old Testament. These quotations from the Old Testament make up a significant part of the New

Testament. There are numerous uses of single words and phrases. Direct quotations also abound. It is absolutely amazing that most of these quotations are from the Greek Old Testament.

The New Testament writers had access to both the Hebrew and Greek Old Testaments. They chose to quote many times from the Greek. The book of Hebrews is filled with quotations from the Septuagint. (This argues against it having been written to Hebrew speakers.) Paul and the other writers were well acquainted with the Greek Old Testament. They used it often. Why don't we review a few cases in point?


A government official from Ethiopian has been to Jerusalem to worship. He is on his way home. On the road near Gaza, he is setting in his chariot with a scroll unrolled before him. He is reading in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Let's read along with him.

He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And like a lamb dumb before his shearer,
So opened he not his mouth:
In his humiliation his judgment was taken away:
Who shall declare his generation?
For his life is taken from the earth.
                                 Acts 8:32,33

He was reading the Greek Old Testament.2 Remember, he was an Ethiopian. Ethiopia is a neighbor country to Egypt, where the Old Testament was translated into Greek. An Ethiopian Jew whom the Queen trusted to care for her finances, this man served God in the religion of his fathers. Still, he possessed the Scriptures in the Greek language.

God's Spirit led Philip to approach the Ethiopian. Rather than condemn the version of the Holy Scriptures he was reading, Philip used the very verses he was reading to teach him about Jesus. Philip put his approval on the Greek Old Testament by preaching from it. Luke further endorses it by quoting its words as he writes the book of Acts. Neither Philip nor Luke offers a single word of correction to the Ethiopian or to us about this Greek version. God sanctioned the Greek translation by moving the man to salvation as he heard the Word.

Ultimately, you and I can see from all this how Luke, when he wrote Acts, would not have quoted from the Greek Old Testament if he had been writing in Hebrew. He had the Hebrew Old Testament available to him. He could have quoted it. It was certainly still in use among many Jews. So why would Luke have translated the Greek words back into Hebrew, when he could have simply quoted the Hebrew to begin with? He would not have. He was not writing in Hebrew.


Paul quotes many times from the Greek Old Testament. (At least one scholar believes every Old Testament quotation Paul makes is from the Greek.)3 A striking example of this is found in Romans where Paul quotes from the prophet Joel.

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the
Lord shall be saved.
                      Romans 10:13

The Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament says, "delivered." The Greek says, "saved." The Greek speaking Paul is writing to the Greek speaking Romans. It is not surprising that he quotes from the Greek Old Testament. It is the one they can read. This is just a bit more of the abundant evidence that the New Testament was written in Greek, by writers of Greek, to readers of Greek.


Shall we find a quotation in the New Testament and compare it with both the Hebrew and Greek Old Testaments? The quotation in Luke 4:18 is from Isaiah 61:1 and the comparison is easily made.

A. The New Testament:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,..."

B. The Greek (Septuagint) Old Testament:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,..."

C. The Hebrew (Masoretic) Old Testament:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,..."

Note the word GOD is absent from both the Greek Old Testament and the New Testament. This comparison shows everyone who is unbiased that Luke is quoting from the Greek. How could anyone conclude he is quoting the Hebrew Old Testament? He is not. Because of this, we know he is not writing in Hebrew.

Other comparisons are equally easy to find. Look at Matthew 1:23 and Isaiah 7:14.

A. The New Testament:
"Behold a virgin shall be with child..."

B. The Greek (Septuagint) Old Testament:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive..."

C. The Hebrew (Masoretic) Old Testament
"Behold the young woman shall conceive..."

The Jewish people do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. They think he was born just like any other man. The Old Testament in their language (which they translated to English) has the prophet say young woman, not virgin. But the Greek Old Testament has virgin, just like the New Testament. Matthew was not quoting the Hebrew; he was quoting the Greek. Like other New Testament writers, he knew and quoted the Greek Old Testament to his readers.


Many Old Testament facts are narrated by Stephen in his speech before the Jewish council. That he had read and studied the Old Testament in its Greek version is evident form comparing his words with both versions of the Old Testament. Stephen's count of the number of Joseph's kindred who went down into Egypt agrees with the Septuagint at seventy-five.4 The Masoretic (Hebrew) text has seventy.5

Is it just a coincidence that Stephen and the LXX agree? It is not. The Greek Old Testament is obviously the book he had read. The Holy Spirit is telling us something, if we will hear it: Luke wrote this book in Greek. Isn't it amazing. The people who wrote the New Testament quoted the Greek Old Testament as they wrote. The Greek Old Testament is a translation from the Hebrew. The Greek New Testament is the original. It was never in Hebrew. It is a Greek book.


1. Charles Thompson, The Septuagint Bible, trans. (Colorado, Falcon's Wing Press, 1960), pp. xvii-xxiv. [back]
2. Robertson, III, 111. [back]
3. C. H. Wright, Bible Reader's Encyclopedia and Concordance, rev. W. M. Clow (London, Collins, nd.). [back]
4. Charles Thompson, trans. See Gen. 46:27. [back]
5. The Holy Scriptures, According to the Masoretic Text (Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955), See Gen. 46:27. [back]