Quoting the Old Testament

This entry is part 195 of 329 in the series Inquiring Minds

Does Luke 4:18 misquote Isaiah 61:1?

Luke does not misquote Isaiah. When Jesus reads from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue, we don’t know if he read from the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Masoretic text) or if he read from the Hebrew Masoretic text. He most likely spoke in Aramaic and perhaps read it in Hebrew if it was the Hebrew Bible.

What we do know is that Luke uses the Septuagint. I compared the Septuagint and Hebrew text to the Greek New Testament and there are only a few places where it does not completely agree with the words and word order.

Here is a translation showing which lines and parts come from each version (GNT = Greek New Testament, LXX = Septuagint, MT = Masoretic text or Hebrew Old Testament):

Luke 4:18-19 (Quoting Isaiah 61:1-2)

The Spirit of the (sovereign MT) Lord is upon me

because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me [to (heal the crushed LXX) bind up the broken of heart (MT)]

to proclaim to the captives release

and to the blind recovery of sight (GNT and LXX)

to send out the captives in freedom [and to those who are bound, freedom (MT)]

19 to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

It seems to me that Jesus may have been reading from the Hebrew text in the synagogue. Luke includes parts of the Hebrew text, even though the most accessible Bible to the first century Christians was the Septuagint.

As you can see, he includes parts from both. Luke omits “sovereign” (MT), and “heal the crushed and heart” (LXX) or “bind up the broken of heart” (MT). Only the Septuagint mentions recovery of sight for the blind. And only the Hebrew Bible mentions, “and to those who are bound, freedom.”

Luke includes a composite text from both the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible. The only thing he doesn’t include is healing the broken hearted. But Luke did not misquote the Old Testament. Quoting in ancient times from other texts is nothing like our expectations today.

The ancients never really quoted verbatim like we do in the Western world today. They may be the from memory. And if they have the text in front of them, they may selectively quote, skipping lines that don’t enhance their message.

All of these were acceptable practices in the ancient world. So Luke did not have to quote the entire text from either the Septuagint or the Hebrew Bible. He may not have had the complete text from either the Septuagint or the Hebrew Bible.

It’s unlikely that Luke, a Gentile, could read Hebrew. Most Jews in the first century could not read Hebrew. But he may have had help if he had access to a Hebrew Bible from one of the apostles or they quoted it for him from the Hebrew text. Paul, whom he traveled with in the book of Acts was well-versed in the Hebrew text.

Either way, only omitting one phrase is not bad for an ancient quote. Luke selectively chose the parts of the prophecy Jesus quoted to make his point about the divinity of Jesus and his mission on the earth.

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