The Three and the New Testament
Posted by John Meade on February 10, 2012
I have been thinking about ways in which the Three (Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion) provide an extra layer of Jewish Greek background for the study of the New Testament. There may not be direct influence of the Three on the NT authors, although, if Theodotion is first century, then his influence may be more direct than the others. What may be more plausible to claim is that the Jewish readings, which find their culmination in the Three, may have influenced the NT authors. The following is one example.
In 1 Cor. 15:54 Paul cites a version of Isaiah 25:8a: κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος, but it is not the LXX. The LXX reads: κατέπιεν ὁ θάνατος ἰσχύσας, which is not a very close translation of the Hebrew. Paul’s citation, therefore, is not from the LXX. Is this an ad hoc rendering of the Hebrew Bible on Paul’s part? I think not, for Paul’s text aligns with what we now know to be Theodotion’s version. Theodotion read the Hebrew verb (vocalized as a Piel in the MT) as a Pual (was swallowed) and he translated לָנֶצַח (“forever” in biblical Hebrew) with εἰς νῖκος (“in victory”; cp. Job 36:7 et al). For the latter translation, Theodotion has read the Hebrew with the Aramaic meaning “victory” as he does in many places. There is great discussion about the dating of Theodotion. I am persuaded that he worked in the first century, despite some patristic testimony which places him at the end of the second century. His translation technique fits the typology of translation/revision activity during 1 BC- AD 1. Also, Jerome comments that he lived after the time of Jesus, which may place him earlier than other testimonies. Furthermore, how do these texts, which are attributed to him, find their way into the NT, if he did not live at this time? Some want to posit Ur-Theodotion or Proto-Theodotion. It is time to place a moratorium on these categorizations and work within a context of historical Theodotion in the first century.
Back to Paul. The word “victory” is rhetorically important for Paul here, since he is talking about Jesus’ victory over death in the resurrection and therefore the church’s victory through Jesus Christ. The Hebrew Bible and LXX also have generally mean YHWH’s victory, but they are not as clear as the Theodotion version. Paul’s choice of this text is deliberate, for it uses the catch word νῖκος, which in turn becomes the ultimate meaning of the resurrection: victory over death. In this case, the doctrine of the NT has benefited from the revision of the LXX accomplished by Theodotion. Hopefully, in weeks to come I will be commenting on a couple of other cases, which are not as clear as this one, but which may still be important for this topic.