Why did the early church and our Orthodox church adopt the Septuagint scriptures? And why don’t the Jewish rabbis and the Protestant churches use it?

The Septuagint, abbreviation LXX, is the earliest extant Greek translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew. The Septuagint was presumably made for the Jewish community in Egypt when Greek was the common language throughout the region. Analysis of the language has established that the Torah, or Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), was translated near the middle of the 3rd century BCE and that the rest of the Old Testament was translated in the 2nd century BCE before Christ. The Septuagint is the only complete and reliable translation for the Old testament that was in Greek which is the most widely used language by the time of the early church. 

In addition to all the books of the Hebrew canon, the Septuagint includes the deuterocanonical books, which are not included in the Masoretic text adopted by Jews. The Protestant churches use only the Masoretic text as the canonical Old Testament.  

So why did the early church, and currently orthodox churches, use the Septuagint? 

FIrst, our Lord and Savior Jesus Himself used the Septuagint as evidenced in many instances (click here for more details on this topic). For example, He confirmed the book of Maccabees as scripture by celebrating The Hanukkah. According to the gospel of Saint John: “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.” (John 10:22, NKJV). The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which describe in detail the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah. Those books are part of the Septuagint, but not canonized in the Hebrew Masoretic Text. 

In addition, early Christians used the Septuagint out of necessity, since the language of most early Christians was Greek and they could not read Hebrew. Therefore, the Septuagint helped in the spread of Christianity in the early Church.  

The Jews themselves used the Septuagint up to the second century CE. They stopped using the Septuagint altogether only in the second century after Christ, as many early Christians relied on the Septuagint to refer to prophecies that they claimed to have been fulfilled by Christ. The Jews considered this a misuse of Holy Scriptures and adopted the Masoretic text instead. The discoveries of the dead sea scrolls revealed copies of both Hebrew (pre-Masoretic) and Septuagint versions used by the communities of Qumran which assures that both Old Testament versions were used within the Jewish sects and that the Septuagint scriptures was regarded as divine scriptures by Jews. 

The Greek text, not the original Hebrew, was the main basis for the Old Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Slavonic, and part of the Arabic translations of the Old Testament and has never ceased to be the standard version of the Old Testament in the Greek church. Indeed, St. Jerome used the Septuagint to begin his translation of the Vulgate Old Testament in 382 CE.  

Finally, the Church’s theology was also explicitly shaped by the Septuagint. For example, St. Matthew’s reference to the prophecy of Jesus’ virgin birth is supported only in the Greek text (whereas the Hebrew has “young woman”). The writings of the Apostolic fathers are similarly saturated with quotations from the Septuagint, and specific Greek readings were used to refute heresies throughout Church history.

The Authenticity of the Deuterocanonical Books 

Numerous Christians have difficulties with the Deuterocanonical Books, being unsure whether these books are part of Scripture or not. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches acknowledge these books, yet the Protestant Churches do not.  

Prior to looking at their authenticity, what are the Deuterocanonical Books and why are these books named as such? The terminology ‘’deuterocanonical’’ was introduced in the 16th century by Pope Sixtus V from the Roman Catholic Church (see http://wiscopts.net/spiritual-library/145). Pope Sixtus V made a distinction between ‘’protocanonical’’ and ‘’deuterocanonical’’ books, where protocanonical books are the books of the first Old Testament canon (hence, proto and canon) and the deuterocanonical books are the books of the second Old Testament canon (hence, deuteron and canon). As Orthodoxy does not make this distinction, and both ‘’groups’’ are seen as protocanonical books, the term deuterocanonical is nevertheless used as this term is widely used in literature. The Deuterocanonical Books are: The Book of Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Baruch, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, 1 and 2 Esdras, the prayer of Manasseh and additions to the Books of Esther and Daniel. These books were removed from the Bible during the Reformation (16th century). The one who removed these books was Martin Luther, who first removed these books to the appendix of the Bible and subsequently removed them from the Bible. He also tried to remove several books from the New Testament, such as: The Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of James and the Revelation of John (see episode 10 of ‘’Introduction to the Bible’’ podcast by ‘’Ancient Faith Ministries’’).  

What are arguments against the authenticity of the Deuterocanonical Books? 

Argument 1: The Deuterocanonical Books are not included in the list of books organized by Ezra the Priest in the library of Nehemiah. As Ezra had collected all books acknowledged as scripture, and he did not include the Deuterocanonical Books, these books are not supposed to be in the Old Testament Canon.  

Refutation: The information about the library of Nehemiah is, interestingly, only mentioned in the deuterocanonical book 2 Maccabees (2 Maccabees 2:13). Therefore, this argument is invalid as one cannot reject the Deuterocanonical Books based on information exclusively found in the Deuterocanonical Books. Another point is that the Israelites were divided back then, consisting of roughly three groups: Israelites in Jerusalem, Israelites in exile and Israelites returning home from exile. Furthermore, not all books were written prior to Ezra, some books, such as Sirach, were written after the time of Ezra and were written in other cities such as Jerusalem. As back then there were no databases, it was practically impossible for Ezra to collect Scripture from over the whole world. This, however, does not mean that Ezra purposely rejected these books, but he simply did not know of their existence or they were not even written.  

Argument 2: The average Bible does not contain the Deuterocanonical Books, therefore they are not important (enough) as they are not included in most Bibles.  

Refutation: That the average Bible does not contain these books does not mean that they are not part of Scripture. For instance, if I would remove books from the Bible and copy my Bible numerous times, would that mean that the books which I removed are not part of scripture? Of course not. More importantly, Orthodox and Catholic Bibles do contain the Deuterocanonical Books. Furthermore, ancient copies of the Old Testament also contain the Deuterocanonical Books, such as the Septuagint (3rd c. BC), the Peshitta (2-4th c. AD) and the Vulgate (4th c. AD). The copy which does not contain the Deuterocanonical Books is the Masoretic Text, which is a Jewish ‘’Bible’’. In addition, Bibles prior to the 16th century all contained the Deuterocanonical Books, as the ‘’controverse’’ started during the Reformation.  

What are arguments in favour of the authenticity of the Deuterocanonical Books? 

Argument 1:  The Biblical Canon has been discussed during several councils, such as: The Council of Laodicea in 363 (NPNF, series 2, Vol. 14, pp. 126-160), the Council of Hippo in 393, the Councils of Carthage in 397 (B. Westcott. General survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, pp. 440, 541–42) and 419 (NPNF, series 2, Vol. 14, pp. 438-510). During these councils, the Deuterocanonical Books were mentioned to be 1) part of Scripture and 2) to have the same authenticity as the rest of Scripture. For instance, Canon 59 of the Council of Laodicea mentions: ‘’No psalms composed by private individuals nor any uncanonical books may be read in the church, but only the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments’’, and Canon 60 lists the Deuterocanonical Books as part of the Old Testament Canon (NPNF, series 2, Vol. 14, pp. 438-510). As the Deuterocanonical Books were highly used by the Church Fathers, one can come to the conclusion that these were truly a part of Scripture. The Council of Carthage mentioned the Biblical Canon of the Old and New Testament, and this list contained the Deuterocanonical Books. Despite that most acts of this council has been lost, they are cited, however, in the acts of the Council of Hippo. Furthermore, Canon 24 of the 2nd Council of Carthage listed the Deuterocanonical Books as part of the Old Testament Canon.  

Argument 2: Church Fathers listed the Deuterocanonical Books as part of their Biblical Canon. Several Church Fathers explicitly mentioned the Deuterocanonical Books in their Biblical Canons, such as Melito of Sardis (Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History, Book 4.26.12-14), Athanasius of Alexandria (373 AD) (Festal Epistle, 39), Cyril of Jerusalem (386 AD) (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 4.33-37), Gregorius Nazianzus (390 AD) (Hymns, Hymn 1.1),  Amphilochius of Iconium (403 AD) (see his work ‘’Lambics to Seleucus’’), Epiphanius of Salamis (403 AD) (see his work ‘’On the Weights and Measures, 49’’), Augustine of Hippo (420 AD) (see his work ‘’Retractions, 2.2-3’’) and Innocent I of Rome (417 AD) (see his Epistle to Exsuperius, 7) are some of these Fathers. In addition, Church Fathers often cited Deuterocanonical Books in their works, also they never objected to the authenticity of the Deuterocanonical Books. Significant Church Fathers cited the Deuterocanonical Books in multiple instances, such as Athanasius of Alexandria (373 AD), Basil of Caesarea (379 AD), Gregory Nazianzus (390 AD), John Chrysostom (407 AD) and Cyril of Alexandria (444 AD). Also, the Apostolic Fathers cited the Deuterocanonical Books, such as Clement of Rome (1st c. AD), Polycarp of Smyrna (2nd c. AD) and the Didache (2nd c. AD).  

Noteworthy is that several Church Fathers counted the books of the Old Testament as 22, symbolising the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This did not mean, however, that these Fathers did not acknowledge all books of the Old Testament, rather they used another counting method. The counting method which they used, grouped the twelve minor prophets as one book and books such as Samuel, Chronicles and Kings were not numbered as 1 and 2. Church Fathers who used this method to count books from the Old Testament were Hilary of Poitiers (367 AD) (see his ‘’Prologue to the Psalms, 15’’), Athanasius of Alexandria (Festal Letters, Letter 39), Gregory Nazianzus (Poems, Book 1, Section 1,12), Origen of Alexandria (254 AD) (Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History, Book 6.25), Jerome of Stridon (420 AD) (see his Letter to Paulinus, 6-8) and Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 4.35).  

Argument 3: The New Testament and Jesus Himself quoted several times from the Deuterocanonical Books. For example,  

  • Jesus quotes Sirach 26:7 when He stated that “you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16,20).  
  • Jesus said: “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7) 
  • The Book of Sirach states that: “Do not babble in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray.” (Sirach 7:14) 
  • Matthew mentions that the people who were observing the crucifixion said: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:43) 
  • The Book of Wisdom prophesied that He, referring to Jesus “boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true” (Wisdom 2:15,16) 
  • Jesus said: “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Luke 6:31) 
  • Tobit states that: “Do to no one what you yourself hate” (Tobit 4:15) 
  • Jesus quoted from Tobit 4: “Give alms from your possessions. Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, so that God’s face will not be turned away from you. Give in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, do not be afraid to give alms even of that little. You will be storing up a goodly treasure for yourself against the day of adversity. For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps one from entering into Darkness. Almsgiving is a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High for all who practice it” (Tobit 4:7-11) 
  • Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:34)  
  • Book of Wisdom: “For who can learn the counsel of God? Or who can discern what the Lord wills?” (Wisdom 9:13) 
  • Pauls instructs the believers that “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) 
  • Sirach 35:11: “With every gift show a cheerful face, and dedicate your tithe with gladness.” (Sirach 35:11) 
  • Paul wrote on Jesus as the Wisdom of God that He “who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3)  
  • Solomon wrote on the Wisdom of God that “she is a reflection of eternal lighta spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wisdom 7:26) 

Did Jesus believe that the Totality of scriptures is the divine word of God?

For many years, skeptics and scholars of textual criticism have attempted to poke holes, and cast doubt on the reliability of Holy Scripture. From the perspective of a skeptic, it makes sense to go after Scripture – because after all, scripture is foundational to the Christian Faith. There have been several questions over the years that have been presented, and a couple that are more prominent.  

One example of this is that of the manuscripts. Can we count on the Bible we read today remaining true to the original writings, even though these writings were copied by hand hundreds; even thousands of times as they were handed down through the centuries? Of course, as many biblical scholars have noted, if we can’t rely on these manuscripts, than it would follow that no ancient texts can be relied upon; and that idea is simply preposterous. To illustrate this point, we can look at The Odyssey by Homer. This epic poem consisting of 24 books was passed on by word of mouth for centuries, and it is still required reading for many students today.  

The authenticity of biblical manuscripts, while an important issue, is not the question though that we are addressing here. In this case we are looking at a different issue that some prominent skeptics have presented; and that is the question of whether or not Jesus believed in the totality of Scripture (what we refer to as the Old Testament), being the word of God. We know based on all four accounts of the Gospel that Jesus frequently quoted scripture, but do we have evidence that he believed the entire Old Testament to be God breathed? 

Jesus taught consistently of the importance of scripture, and its vitality in the lives of his followers:  

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” Mathew 4:4  

What though can we infer from this on what Jesus believed to be the words that “proceed from the mouth of God”? In the next chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we can see that Jesus clarified this question perfectly, which demonstrated that he in fact embraced the entirety of Scripture:  

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all of this is fulfilled.” Matthew 5:17-18   

In the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus is also clear about his belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. It is important to note that he said these things in the brief period of time between his resurrection and ascension:  

“And beginning at Moses, and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” Luke 24:27   

Then he said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which are written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” Luke 24:44 

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he cited Scripture many, many times, and referenced people and events, giving no indication that these were anything but factual and accurate: In the Gospel according to St. Matthew we see Jesus making reference to Adam and Eve:  

“And he answered and said to them ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”’” Matthew 19:4.  

In the same Gospel account, we also see Jesus make reference to Jonah:  

“But he answered, and said to them ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” Matthew 12:39-40.  

Yet another example from the Gospel according to St. Matthew makes reference to Noah and the Flood:  

“For as the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the son of man be.” Matthew 24:38-39  

When we examine the Gospels, we can see clearly that Jesus himself regarded Scripture as the Word of God. We see him give equal treatment to the Law, as well as the Prophets and Psalms. Not only did he quote and reference scripture on many, many occasions, but he also demonstrated their reliability from an historical perspective, showing that we can trust fully that the Bible is truly the authentic, and unassailable, word of God.  

How Were the Books of the Bible Canonized?

The Criteria of Canonicity is the decisive criteria that was used to decide which books are canonized, i.e. admitted to the Bible, and which are not. The criteria are: 

1. Apostolic Origin, also known as Apostolicity, examines the identity of the author, i.e. does the author have the apostolic authority or not? The apostles were commissioned by the Lord himself to be His spokesmen on this earth during the interval between the ascension of Christ and the completion of the New Testament Scriptures. They were given the gift of the Holy Spirit which would enable them to write inerrant Scripture and teach inerrant doctrine. Therefore, the books of the New Testament were to be related  to one of these authoritative, inspired apostles. 

2. Accreditation of the Apostolic Fathers, for example, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp, among the Apostolic Fathers. Did the Apostolic Fathers accept those books and quote them as scripture or not? 

3. The Ecclesiastical Acknowledgement: the writings that became canonical were writings that were used in early churches; they were read in public worship and known to be useful for study, doctrine, and edification.  

4. The rule of Orthodox, True Faith:  whether the content of the book is aligned with the Orthodox faith or not. 

Scripture’s Canonization was done in Catholic Councils gathering Bishops from all around the Christian world to affirm the authenticity and divinity of the scripture. The Council of Laodicea, in 363 A.D., stated that only the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament were to be read in the churches. The Council of Hippo, 393 A.D., and the Council of Carthage, 397 A.D., also affirmed the same 27 books as authoritative. There is no doubt Our Early Church Fathers and Apostles were faithful to death to deliver the True faith to all the world. The textual criticism that had included millions of direct and indirect scriptures, the strictness of the biblical canonization process, as well as the faithfulness of the apostles and early fathers, who offered their lives joyfully in martyrdom to Christ to keep the right faith, leave no room for doubting the authenticity of the Scriptures.