Bibliotheca Sacra 113 (Jan. 1956) 37-45.

Copyright 1956 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SEPTUAGINT

FOR BIBLICAL STUDIES: Pt. 2

 

 

THE INFLUENCE OF THE SEPTUAGINT

ON THE NEW TESTAMENT VOCABULARY

 

 

 

By Everett F. Harrison, Th. D. , Ph.D.

 

 

A reader of the New Testament who approaches it by

way of familiarity with the Old Testament is likely to recog-

nize a certain similarity of structure and idiom, but he will

not think of it as strange because his mind has been condi-

tioned by the reading of the Old Testament. But if one were

to come to the reading of the Greek New Testament without

this background, having only an acquaintance with classical

Greek, let us say, he would be impressed with certain fea-

tures that would strike him as peculiar. In other words, he

would discover that the New Testament, although written in a

language to which he is accustomed, possesses constructions

and meanings of words for which his knowledge of classical

Greek provides him no preparation. These are especially

marked in the quotations, but also characterize the composi-

tion of the various books to a greater or lesser degree. The

technical term for these features is Semitism, a term broad

enough to include both Hebraism and Aramaism (the general

subject of Semitisms can be explored to good advantage in

J. H. Moulton, Grammar of New Testament Greek, II, 411-85).

 

SEMITISMS

 

Even Luke, the one New Testament writer who can be

safely judged to have been a Gentile, shows Semitic influence.

In his case it is chiefly due, no doubt, to the use of Semitic

source materials. The first two chapters of his Gospel, for

example, bear evidences of Semitic influence to a marked

degree. One instance will suffice to establish the point--the

use of kai egeneto in temporal clauses, a recognized Semi-

 

(37)



38 Bibliotheca Sacra

 

tism (1:23, 41, 59; 2:15) which reflects the wayehi ("and it

came to pass") which is so common in narrative portions of

the Old Testament.

Another example is the cognate accusative, in which a

verb is followed by a noun of the same root used in an ad-

verbial sense. So in Mark 4:41, we read that the disciples

"feared a great fear," which means that they feared greatly.

It would not occur to a native Greek to write this way, as the

adverb would be an entirely natural and adequate means of

expressing the same idea.

Much more important, however, than the influence of

Semitic constructions upon the New Testament is the shaping

of the concepts which it contains. Hebrew mentality and us-

age is impressed upon Greek terminology. In large part this

influence is due to the Septuagint. In the making of this ver-

sion the translators were faced with the necessity of giving

their sacred writings a Greek dress. New meanings became

imparted to familiar Greek words, reflecting the peculiar

nature of the Hebrew revelation, which necessarily differed

considerably from Greek religious thought.

In the first flush of the discovery that the language of the

New Testament was basically the language of every-day life,

as revealed by the nonliterary papyri, it was natural that

Deissmann should underestimate the Semitic influence in the

Greek of the New Testament. J. H. Moulton largely shared

his point of view, but he became more cautious toward the

end of his life, granting a larger degree of Semitic influence

than he was prepared to admit at the beginning (ibid., p

413).

As time has passed and investigation has proceeded, the

consensus of judgment is that the influence of the Septuagint

upon the New Testament is so important as to be crucial in

the field of interpretation. This was the conviction of Ger-

hard Kittel, the first editor of the Theologisches Worterbuch

zum Neuen Testament, and it is reflected in the articles

which have been contributed to this monumental work by a

large coterie of German scholars. Each important word of

the New Testament is traced from its classical Greek setting

 



Septuagint Influence on the New Testament 39

 

through the Septuagint into the New Testament, with attention

also to the papyri and the Hellenistic sources. Only a few of

these articles have so far been translated into English.

It is unquestionably true that the use of the terms in the

New Testament not only reflects Septuagint usage but goes

beyond it in some instances. This is due to the climactic

character of revelation in the person and work of Christ and

in the church which He established. To trace the added fea-

tures which the New Testament supplies over and above the

contribution of the Septuagint is a task which can only with

difficulty be disengaged from the process of discovering Sep-

tuagintal influence proper.

 

WORD STUDIES

 

The best way to gain some conception of the debt of the

New Testament to the Septuagint is to select a few samples

from the vocabulary of the New Testament and trace their

use from classical Greek writers through the Septuagint into

the New Testament, much in the manner of the Kittel volumes.

A good starting point is the word adelphos, which in

classical usage means blood brother. This meaning is natu-

rally retained in the Septuagint, but here the word also means

neighbor and then further denotes a member of the same na-

tion (see H. A. A. Kennedy, Sources of New Testament

Greek, pp. 95-96, for illustrative passages). In the New

Testament all of these meanings make their appearance, plus

one which is new, for Christians find this term suitable as a

description of themselves, no matter what their place of res-

idence or nationality may be. Because believers form the

family of the redeemed and constitute, so to speak, a new

nation, a group with a distinctive character and cohesion all

their own (1 Pet. 2:9-10), adelphos is deemed an appropriate

term to set forth this new relationship within the Christian

church.

A second line of investigation leads us to consider the

word truth (for useful epitomes, see G. Kittel, Die Religious-

geschichte and das Urchristentum, especially pp. 86-88;

 



40 Bibliotheca Sacra

 

G. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, pp. 65-75). In Ho-

mer aletheia denotes veracity as opposed to falsehood. Later

classical times witness an enlargement of usage, since it

comes to express what is real or factual as opposed to ap-

pearance or opinion. That which is true corresponds with

the nature of things. In this sense the truth is eternal and

divine, for the Greek recognized no distinction between the

natural and the supernatural. These values are continued in

the Septuagint use of aletheia, but because of the circum-

stance that it was often used to translate 'emeth, a Hebrew

word for truth which stresses the elements of reliability and

trustworthiness, a new content becomes added. Often the

word is used to describe God and also His Word. On these

one may rest with confidence, for they will not fail. So,

whereas the classical aletheia largely serves as an intellec-

tual term, the same word in its Septuagint setting has often

a decidedly moral connotation, especially when used with

reference to the divine.

New Testament writers draw from both st:reams of

meaning, so that the exegete must be constantly on the alert

to detect, if he can, whether aletheia means reality or trust-

worthiness. John and Paul make largest use of the term.

The Greek sense seems clearly present in passages like Ro-

mans 1:25, whereas a comparison of Romans 3:3 and 3:4

shows with equal clearness that here the Hebraic background

is powerfully operative. Paul is especially fond of linking

the word truth with the gospel. Here the two strains may be

said to unite, for the gospel message corresponds to reality

(that is, it is ultimate truth, much in the same way that the

writer to the Hebrews argues the finality of the Christian

dispensation with the aid of the related word alethinos, as

John does likewise), and for that very reason is reliable,

but even more so because the gospel originates with God and

possesses His own guarantee.

For John the acme of the concept lies in its application

to Jesus Christ. To be set free by the truth and to be set

free by the Son are two ways of saying the same thing (John

8:32, 36). Dodd observes that whereas the Jewish conception

 



Septuagint Influence on the New Testament 41

 

was to the effect that the divine truth ('emeth) was expressed

in the Torah, John places it in the person of Christ (see the

discussion in Kittel, op. cit., pp. 88-90). Paul comes close

to doing the same thing (Eph. 4:21). The New Testament,

then, has arrived at a synthesis of the two approaches to

truth, and this synthesis is thoroughly defensible in the court

of reason, for only that which possesses reality is worthy of

confidence. But the daring step taken here is in the identifi-

cation of truth in all its finality with the man Christ Jesus.

Another term with an interesting semantic history is

kosmos. We can only summarize here. The classical mean-

ing is order, adornment, beauty. This basic concept appears

also in the Septuagint and in the New Testament. An easy

application of this notion finds the word employed in the Greek

philosophers for the universe. Here the Greek thinkers found

system and order. But in turning to the Septuagint we do not

find kosmos used in this sense. Where we might expect to

find it, in Genesis 1:1, we find instead a duality--"the heav-

ens and the earth." To be sure, kosmos is employed in con-

nection with the creation story (Gen. 2:1), but only in the

sense of "host" or of "order." The latter meaning is very

attractive because it fits better the application to the earth.

While host is a fitting term to apply to the vast array of

heavenly bodies, the term order is also appropriate, and it

certainly accords well with the thought that the creation had

stocked the earth with things of beauty designed to fill a well-

ordered place in an integrated existence.

As Kittel observes, however, the essential thing in the

Old Testament is not so much the element of order as the

fact of creation by God. The unity of order lies not in the

kosmos but in the Creator. At any rate, the point which is

very clear and must be stressed is that the Greek concept of

universe is lacking in the Septuagint.

In the books of Maccabees, we begin to find kosmos used

of this world over which God stands as Creator and Sovereign

(2 Macc. 7:9, 23; 4 Macc. 5:25). Here the word does not

describe the universe, but the lower half, so to speak, this

world. We read of birth as a "coming into the world" (4

 



42 Bibliotheca Sacra

 

Macc. 16:18).

But because this world is a place of man's abode and ac-

tivity, and because he is a sinful creature, the way is pre-

pared for that peculiar usage of kosmos found in the New

Testament, wherein that which by its original Greek signifi-

cance should express order is now found to be riddled by rebel-

lion and chaos and evil. The kingdoms of this world are un-

der Satan's dominion, and the men of this world are alienated

from the life of God. Yet the one element of hope in this dis-

ordered cosmos is the reconciling mission of the Son of God

which results in restoration, the re-establishment of order.

One or two sidelights clamor for attention before leaving

this word. The versatility of the Apostle Paul is shown by

the fact that in addressing a Greek audience at Athens he al-

lows himself to use kosmos in a way which would appeal to

his audience, namely, as inclusive of heaven and earth, even

though this concept was not a part of his Hebraic inheritance

(Acts 17:14). The Revised Standard Version has Paul refer-

ring to "the elemental spirits of the universe" on several

occasions (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, 20). It is not our purpose to

deal with the expression "elemental spirits," though this

rendering is subject to serious question. Rather, we are

content here to point out that the translation "universe" vio-

lates the trend which the word kosmos has taken in its Bibli-

cal setting, as our brief study has shown. It is doubtful that

Paul would be conceding anything to Greek thought in letters

addressed to Christians. The situation is quite different

from that in Acts 17. While it is true that kosmos and the

term "elements" are found conjoined in a pre-Christian set-

ting in Wisdom 7:17, "world" has an earthly connotation and

"elements" refers to physical ingredients (cf. 2 Pet. 3:10

12) rather than to an order of spiritual intelligences (see

W. J. Deane, The Book of Wisdom, p. 148).

Another word with a fascinating history is doxa, which

in the New Testament is most frequently rendered glory.

By reason of the fact that the root dokeo means to think and

to seem, the noun followed the same double pattern. As the

result of thought-activity, it came to mean opinion. A vari-

 



Septuagint Influence on the New Testament 43

 

ation of this, the opinion in which one is held by others,

yields the meaning reputation. Ordinarily this occurs in a

favorable setting, hence carries the idea of fame, honor,

glory; if the sense is adverse, an adjective readily gives it

the flavor of notoriety. Branching out from the other mean-

ing of the verb, doxa comes to signify appearance or fancy.

This summarizes broadly the classical usage. With the de-

cline of Greek civilization and the growing habit of looking

backward with veneration to the views of the leading philoso-

phers, our word tends to appear in a somewhat technical

sense, descriptive of a given philosophical point of view or

tenet. This usage is reflected in the term doxographer.

In the Septuagint the meaning opinion is dropped, and

this applies likewise to the New Testament. Reputation and

related ideas continue to be associated with doxa, however,

thus providing a link with the classical background. Some

twenty-five Hebrew words are translated by it, some of these

having only remote connection with established meanings of

the word. Most often, doxa appears as the translation of

kabhodh, which derives from a root meaning to be heavy.

This term fits readily into a metaphorical setting in the sense

of importance, wealth, power, etc. Since one of the mean-

ings of this Hebrew word is reputation (or honor, or prestige)

and another is praise, one can understand how doxa was cho-

sen to render it, since these meanings are congenial to the

Greek word. But kabhodh has certain meanings originally

unknown to doxa, such as majesty, splendor, riches, beauty,

might, and even person or self. A highly specialized use of

the word is its employment in the Old Testament to denote

the glory of God, the outward, visible manifestation of bril-

liant light which appropriately expressed the excellence of

His spirit-nature. This revelational use of the word comes

out in connection with the pillar of cloud and fire, in the vi-

sions of Ezekiel, and elsewhere.

The problem facing us here is to explain, if possible,

the appearance of a whole bevy of new concepts in the use of

doxa which are not found in the classical setting. The expla-

nation put forward tentatively by Deissmann that the concept

 



44 Bibliotheca Sacra

 

of light belonged to doxa in popular Greek usage, but for some

reason did not appear in the literature, is highly dubious. It

lacks evidence. The same thing is true of Reitzenstein's at-

tempt to trace the light-element back to Iranian sources by

way of Egypt.

Rather, the problem should be approached from within

the Septuagint itself. As we have noted, a continuum in the

use of the word from older times is the meaning reputation.

It was not too difficult to extend the use of doxa from that

point to include the concept of majesty, which belonged na-

tively to kabhodh but not to doxa. Once this extension was

accomplished, it was not felt too strange to go a step further

and make the word do service for outward display of majesty

the revelation glory of the true God. Then all the other mean-

ings which adhered to kabhodh became transferred to doxa,

such as riches, might, person, etc. So before we are

through, we are face to face with one of the most startling

semantic changes known to us. New wine is being poured into-

the old wineskin.

It remains to note, however briefly, the debt of the New

Testament to the Septuagint in perpetuating the new emphases

given to doxa. In several passages Paul links the term riches:

with glory in away which suggests the Old Testament associ-

ation (Rom. 9:23; Eph. 1:18; 3:16; Phil. 4:19; Col. 1:27). Not

less striking is the employment of doxa to suggest power

especially in relation to the theme of resurrection (Rom. 6:4;

John 11:40). In John 2:11 something of this usage seems to

be present also. In Luke 9:32 the transfiguration glory of

Christ recalls the light-revelation passages of the Old Cove-

nant. At his conversion Saul of Tarsus glimpsed the glory

of the risen, ascended Lord (Acts 22:11).

The highest point is reached when the word is used not

exclusively of the visible manifestation of God but of the in-

trinsic excellence and worth of the Lord. John links the doxa

of Christ with inward realities, even grace and truth (John

1:14). Paul sees the Christian being conformed to the image

of Christ's moral glory by the ministry of the Holy Spirit

(2 Cor. 3:18).

 



Septuagint Influence on the New Testament              45

 

We find it rather natural to associate the person and

manifestation of the Lord God with light, though we may find

it hard to analyze the significance of the association. Per-

haps in addition to moral perfection ("God is light and in Him

is no darkness at all") we should grant with Karl Barth (Die

Kirkliche Dogmatik, third edition, II, 722, 733, 735) that the

glory of God is another way of stating the beauty of God. God

as infinite and eternal is overpowering to our finite minds.

But as light, He is a Person of beauty in whose fellowship

the saints will find endless delight.

In conclusion, it should be stated that not all the impor-

tant terms of the Septuagint manifest serious alteration in

meaning, but from these few examples it will be obvious that

the student of Scripture cannot afford to be indifferent to the

Semitic influence which has flowed into the Greek of the New

Testament by way of the Septuagint, and must learn to exam-

ine New Testament concepts in the light both of their Greek

and Hebrew provenance.

 

Pasadena, California

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

3909 Swiss Ave.

Dallas, TX 75204

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu