Peter Gentry on the Biblical Languages

PGentryThe following article is reproduced from The Gospel Witness 65.6 (1986): 22 (102) with permission. The Gospel Witness is a publication of Jarvis St. Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario that would devote one issue per year to Toronto Baptist Seminary. Dr. Peter Gentry taught the biblical languages faithfully at Toronto Baptist Seminary from 1984–1999 and 2008–2017, and he still teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Enjoy!


By Professor Peter Gentry

During the past fifteen to twenty years many Bible colleges and seminaries have reshaped their curricula and programmes, cutting content-oriented requirements like Biblical languages, church history, exegesis of the original text and systematic theology in favour of method-oriented requirements such as Christian education, counselling skills and psychology. Certainly a balance between content and method must be maintained, but the present trend tends toward highly skilled communicators and counsellors with nothing to say. Continue reading “Peter Gentry on the Biblical Languages”


John Wesley on the Biblical Languages

John WesleyWith this post, I want to begin a series “X Christian from Church History on the Biblical Languages.” I often share these sorts of quotes with my seminary students, and I thought they might be helpful to others as well. These posts are intended to be short, mainly consisting of a quote, which can be rather long at times, with brief commentary from me to provide some context. Continue reading “John Wesley on the Biblical Languages”

Summary of Epiphanius’s Biblical Theory (Part 4)


Patristic biblical theory is complex, and reductionism is difficult to avoid. For reasons I do not understand, folks still frame the complex situation in terms of “the church fathers read the Greek Septuagint” or the church “created its own Septuagint Canon” as if the Hebrew canon and text had only minimal impact on the Christian Bible. As I cited in Part 1 of this series (Parts 1, 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3), Albert Sundberg said that Epiphanius “argued that the Greek translation was actually better than the Hebrew text.” But Sundberg has missed the role of the Hebrew in Epiphanius’s description of the matter and what role it has in his overall theory. As long as these comments and thoughts persist, the complexity of the matter of patristic biblical theory will continue to be reduced to rather simplistic forms. We have looked at Epiphanius’s biblical theory over the last several posts, which is only a very small part of the much larger picture of patristic biblical theory. In what follows, I offer a few summary comments. Continue reading “Summary of Epiphanius’s Biblical Theory (Part 4)”

The Place of Greek in the Biblical Theory of Epiphanius (Part 3.1)


In the past three posts (Part 1; Part 2.1; Part 2.2) we have been enquiring into the biblical theory of Epiphanius of Salamis; that is, how did Epiphanius conceive of the Bible? In the next posts, we take up the subject of the Greek translation in his biblical theory. In this post, we look at the important details of the legend of Aristeas and how Epiphanius narrated them. In the next post, I plan to describe Epiphanius’s evaluation of the Greek translation vis-à-vis the Hebrew text and the later Jewish revisions. Continue reading “The Place of Greek in the Biblical Theory of Epiphanius (Part 3.1)”

Jerome to Augustine about the Nature of the Septuagint

Jerome writes to Augustine concerning the nature of the Septuagint of the 4th century (i.e. after Origen’s Hexapla) as follows:

Because, however, in other letters you ask, why my former translation has asterisks and obelisks noted in the canonical books, and afterwards I published another translation without them –I say with your pardon— you do not seem to me to understand, because you have inquired (about them).  For this first translation is from the seventy translators and, wherever the marks are, that is the obelisks, it is shown, that the Seventy said more than is contained in the Hebrew; however, where there are asterisks, that is stars which light the way, the reading was added by Origen from the version of Theodotion.  And in that (former) translation we translated from the Greek, in this place from the Hebrew itself, we expressed what we were understanding, preserving more importantly the truth of the sense than the order of the words now and then.  And I am amazed how you do not read the books of the Seventy in their pure form, as they were published by the Seventy, but rather as emended (emendatos) by Origen or rather corrupted by the obelisks and asterisks, and you do not follow the translation of a Christian man, especially when he (Origen) transferred these additions, which have been added from the edition of a man, a Jew and a blasphemer, after the Passion of Christ.  Do you wish to be a true friend of the Septuagint?  You should not read these (additions), which are under the asterisks; on the contrary, erase/scrape them from the chapters, so that you might show yourself to be a true patron.  If you do this, you will be forced to condemn all the libraries of the churches.  For scarcely one or another manuscript/book will be discovered, which has not such additions.

Epistula CXII, 19 Ad Augustinum

St. Jerome’s Critique of Aquila’s Translation

Jerome says:

However, Aquila, a proselyte and contentious translator, who has attempted to translate not only words (uerba) but also the etymologies (etymologias) of the words (uerborum), is rightly rejected (proicitur) by us.  For who is able to read and to understand χευμα (that which is poured),  οπωρισμον (vintage), στιλπνοτητα (brightness) [words from Deut 7:13], for grain and wine and oil [Deut. 7:13], in so far as we are able to read “pouring” (fusionem) and “harvesting of fruit” (pomationem) and “shining,” (splendentiam)? Or because the Hebrews not only have αρθρα (connecting word, the article), but also προαρθρα (prefixes), so that he κακοζηλως (in bad style) may interpret both syllables and letters and he may say συν τον ουρανον και συν την γην [Gen. 1:1; Aquila renders the marker of the direct object in Hebrew with συν, even though this rendering has no acceptance in Greek or Latin], which no Greek and Latin dialect accepts?  We are able to take his precedent of the matter from our discussion.  For how many words are spoken well among the Greeks, which, if we translate according to the word, do not resound in Latin, and from a region, where they are pleasing among us, if equally the words are altered with respect to the arrangement, then among the Greeks they will displease.

Epistula LVII, 11

St. Jerome on Translating according to the Sense

It has been a while since I have posted anything on this site, but here is a snippet from some of the material I have been reading for hexaplaric research.

Regarding translation technique Jerome says:

For I not only admit, but I declare freely that I express not word for word (uerbum e uerbo) but sense for sense (sensum de sensu) in translating from the Greek (except from the holy scriptures, where even the order of the words is a mystery.)

Ad Pammachium de optimo genere interpretandi Epistula LVII, 5

I put off a solution even of such a little question, so that my critics may question and understand that the words (uerba) of scripture must not be examined (consideranda), but the sense (sensum).

Ad Pammachium de optimo genere interpretandi Epistula LVII, 10

Does Genesis 1:1 Teach That God Created the Heavens and the Earth?

At LXX Studies we will more than likely never be the first to break a story to the public, but hopefully we will be able to offer sound reflection on some of the more newsworthy items from the perspective of the Ancient Versions.

This past week, there was some hype due to an announcement that Ellen Van Wolde has made an argument that concludes something to the tune of “the traditional view that God is creator is untenable now.”  As I understand it, a major part of Van Wolde’s argument concerns the translation of the Hebrew word ברא in Genesis 1:1.  Of course the traditional translation of this word is “to create,” but Van Wolde has suggested that the word in this context should be translated “to separate,” so that the text is not teaching the original creation of the heavens and the earth, but only the separation of the heavens from the earth (see Chris for an apt critique of Van Wolde’s analysis of the Hebrew usage).

What Van Wolde means by the “traditional view” is not clear, but one may safely assume that she has in mind the traditional exegesis of Genesis 1:1 which supports the traditional Jewish and Christian view of creation that God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo.  I simply want to list the evidence of the Ancient Versions in order to present the traditional exegesis of this verse.

LXX: ᾿Εν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν.  The text can be translated: In the beginning God created/made the heavens and the earth (see LSJ s.v. αρχη for anarthrous examples with prepositions, where the sense is still clearly definite probably because the lexical item naturally assumes only one beginning).  The LXX, then, uses a verb which does not mean “to separate,” but means “to make” or “to create” ( for the latter meaning see s.v. ποιεω A.2 LSJ).  For a thorough listing of translation equivalents for bara’ in the LXX and for what equivalents one would expect to see if the translators wanted to communicate the sense “to separate” see here.  This translation comes from the 3rd century BC (c. 280 BC) and some might wonder if the translators intended to convey that God only formed the heavens and the earth from existing matter by their use of ποιεω.  Although this is possible, only about 120 years later, we see clearly that the Jews are praying to the LORD God as ο παντων κτιστης (“the creator of all”) among other appellations in 2 Maccabees 1:24.  The Jews clearly have an understanding that God created all things in this period of their history and this theology must come from texts such as Genesis 1:1.

Aquila: ἐν κεφαλαιω εκτισεν θεος συν τον ουρανον και συν την γην.  Aquila employs the very specific verb κτιζω “to create” in order to render the Hebrew text.  Note that Aquila is not using the συν preposition in the normal sense “with” so that someone might be tempted to translate the text: God created with the heavens and with the earth or something like this.  Rather, Aquila uses συν characteristically to translate the Hebrew marker of the direct object את.

Symmachus: Not extant

Theodotion: Not extant

Vulgate: In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram.  Jerome uses creo to communicate the idea of creation, not separation.

Peshitta: ܒܪܫܝܬ ܒܪܐ ܐܠܗܐ܂ ܝܬ ܫܡܝܐ ܘܝܬ ܐܪܥܐ܂  P uses a cognate (bra’) to translate the Hebrew text in this verse.  According to the CAL in the G stem this verb may mean “to create” or “to get well.”  The former is clearly the meaning in this context given that the verb is transitive in this context.

Targum: בֲקַדמִין בְרָא יוי יָת שְמַיָא וְיָת אַרעָא׃  The Aramaic Targum uses the same cognate (bra’) as P, which has the same range of meaning in this dialect according to the CAL.

The Ancient Versions speak with one clear voice that God did indeed create the heavens and the earth, not simply the “stuff” in the heavens and the earth, and they certainly did not understand the text to mean God separated the heavens and the earth.

Therefore any argument to the contrary will have to be established firmly on the basis of the analysis of the Hebrew text of Genesis and the Hebrew Bible as a whole, which is Van Wolde’s project apparently.  However, see John Hobbins’ initial critique of Van Wolde’s analysis of the Hebrew Bible here.

HT: Charles

Determining Dependency Between Ancient Versions (part 2)

In this post, I comment on the nature of the translation of the Syriac Peshitta (S) in Qoheleth, which is an important consideration when trying to determine whether S is dependent on the Septuagint (G).

The Former Thesis

At an earlier time in research, scholars considered S to be a daughter version of the Septuagint (for this view see G.W. Anderson, “Canonical and Non-Canonical,” in Cambridge History of the Bible, ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans, vol. 1, (Cambridge, 1970), 158-9.), which means they considered S to be a direct translation of G.  What ailed this thesis was that it did not conform to the evidence of S itself. One is not able to read past Genesis 1:1 (ܒܪܫܝܬ ܒܪܐ ܐܠܗܐ. ܝܬ ܫܡܝܐ ܘܝܬ ܐܪܥܐ) without seeing the essential Semitic character of S and its faithful translation of the underlying Hebrew text (M or proto-M).  But however faithful S was to M, scholars still have noted that in some places S seems to be dependent on G, and the challenge was to explain this phenomenon leading to a new thesis. Continue reading “Determining Dependency Between Ancient Versions (part 2)”