A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)

Hahneman-book coverIn the last post, we looked at Geoffrey Hahneman’s reasons for a fourth-century date for the closing of the Old Testament canon. In this post, I supply some response to his interpretation of the evidence.

(1) Hahneman began with the evidence of the New Testament (74–5). Though NT usage of religious literature will continue to be debated, Oskar Skarsaune, in a significant essay in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation, vol. 1, concludes:

There has been much scholarly debate on the question of whether “circumstantial evidence” (i.e. the actual use of authoritative books) in the first century CE supports or contradicts the notion of a “closed” canon in that period. If quotation frequency is regarded as significant circumstantial evidence, the New Testament seems to indicate that its authors (with the one exception mentioned [1 Enoch in Jude]) quoted the Hebrew canon, and its books only, as Scripture (445).

According to formal quotation or citation, the NT only uses books from the Hebrew canon. Sundberg and Hahneman argue that NT authors reflect on books from a wider body of literature, but the question is whether that usage constitutes the same appeal to authority as direct quotation/citation. Skarsaune and most discern a difference. Continue reading “A Fourth-Century Closure of the Old Testament Canon? (Part 2)”


Peace on Earth: The Text and Message of Luke 2:14 for Christmas Time


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem entitled “Christmas Bells” in which the last line of every stanza is “Peace on earth good-will to men.” Of course this line echoes part of the angelic choir’s pronouncement to the shepherds that Christ, the LORD, had been born, and it is the wording of the AV. The translation preserves the correct meaning of ευδοκια, since it preserves its meaning as divine favor “to men”, but the AV obscures the intended recipients of peace and favor which is present in the original text [if you get bored with the technical, skip to the conclusion for the payoff].

The Variant in Luke 2:14

The critical edition of the Greek New Testament has the following reading:

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας (Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of favor [understood as men of God’s favor; see below]).

The genitive singular ending is considered to be the original text and not the nominative singular. Thus the angels are pronouncing peace to men of God’s favor, not peace on earth, goodwill to men [indiscriminately].

I won’t give the full listing of the evidence in NA 27, but I will draw attention to the reading in Codex א (codex S if you are a Septuagintalist). Follow the link to the on-line edition here. This link goes to the proper lief in the codex, but the settings will have to be changed. I suggest using “raking light” and zoom in on the top right hand column, where the lemma may be found. The raking light reveals a very interesting feature about the texture of the codex. Stretching over lines 5-6 in uncials, you should see ΕΥΔΟΚΙΑ (note the ε in medial/hyper position). Now, does your eye see the ruffled texture of the parchment after the letter Α? I see what appears to be a scraping (that’s an erasing in today’s vernacular) of the parchment and the remnant of the bottom part of the stroke of a lunar sigma (i.e. Ϲ). It appears that the scribe originally wrote, ΕΥΔΟΚΙΑϹ and then a later corrector erased the sigma so that what now remains in the text is the nominative singular “favor or good-will.”  Supposedly, codex B had the same erasure, but when I examined the exact replica of this codex, it was not easy to see the erasure. [Perhaps an electronic online edition of B with raking light would reveal the same phenomenon ;).]

The external evidence favors the reading in the critical edition since the reading is preserved in the oldest and best manuscripts over and against the text underlying the AV. The later correction of the codices S and B and the text of the other witnesses probably arose either to facilitate the difficult reading or accidentally on palaeographical grounds, since in some mss the lunar sigma may have been small in size (see Metzger, Textual Commentary, 111).

Meaning of the Phrase ανθρωποις ευδοκιας

Once the genitive is restored as the original text, there is still some debate over whether the phrase should be understood as “to men with a disposition of good will”, or “to men of God’s favor” or “to men whom God favors.”  The first option seems plausible only if one is not reading the text through the lenses of the LXX and DSS. In the LXX, ευδοκια means God’s favor on his people. Psalm 5:12(11)ff says, “And let all who hope in you be glad; forever they will rejoice, and you will encamp among them, and those who love your name will boast in you, because you will bless the righteous; O Lord, you crowned us as with a shield of favor.” Psalm 105(106):4 says, “Remember us, O Lord, in the good pleasure of [towards?] your people; regard us in your deliverance.” 1 Supplements (Chronicles) 16:10, “Praise in his holy name. When a heart seeks his good pleasure, it shall be glad.” Significantly, scholars have also noted a Semitic parallel in 1QH iv.32f (the sons of his [God’s] good pleasure); xi.9 (the elect of his [God’s] good pleasure) (see Metzger, 111). I found no examples of ευδοκια in the genitive modifying ανθρωπος in LXX, and LSJ did not have any examples. This reading in Luke 2:14 is truly difficult, yet the Hebrew examples from the DSS offer sufficient evidence to interpret this text as an indirect Hebraism or Septuagintalism.

Luke 2:14, then, is best read in light of the LXX and the DSS. This context indicates that the angels sing about peace to men whom God favors, not the favorable disposition of men or men in the disposition of goodwill.


Christmas time, therefore, is not encapsulated in the slogans, “peace, man” or “let’s end all wars” or “world peace” with a fundamentally future orientation. Fundamentally, it seems to me, Christmas is about remembering that the angels declared peace to men on whom God’s favor rests, and that declaration was actually fulfilled in the first advent of Jesus. Christ, the LORD, has brought peace to men whom God has favored. Christ came to preach the favorable year of the LORD (Is 61:2; Luke 4:19-21) and he accomplished this by shedding his own blood and inaugurating the new covenant [or the covenant of peace in Ezek. 34:25 et al.], which procures the forgiveness of sins for all who repent and believe in him (Luke 22:14-20; 24:44-49). His sacrifice made peace and formed a people, a new humanity (Eph. 2:14-18), who now endeavor to live as  the people of God by speaking the truth in love [i.e. living faithfully with one another as members of the new covenant. cf. Zech 8:16-17].

The cries “to end all wars” and “world peace” refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ, when he will announce the day of the judgment/vengeance of our God (Isaiah 61:2). On this day, he shall remove the tears from the eyes of the people of God’s favor, and he will judge his enemies with absolute justice and righteousness.

Christmas, then, is not an empty hope for world peace. It is remembering how God in Christ actually brought peace on earth to the people of his favor in the past, and that past historical reality is the ground for a certain hope that he will act in the future, that he will indeed come again to establish his justice and righteousness in the consummation of his kingdom in the new creation. “World peace” is part and parcel of why we cry,”Come, Lord Jesus!” It is not a lament or a gripe to God, as if the first advent of Christ had failed. The first advent brought peace through the blood of Jesus’ cross. The second advent will fulfill or consummate what Christ’s first coming inaugurated.

With this understanding, may we have a merry Christmas indeed!

What is a Septuagintalism and why is it important to NT Studies?

Natalio Fernandez Marcos, author of The Septuagint in Context, says, “Nowhere in the New Testament is the need for a Semitic Vorlage demanded by the evidence, and most of the Hebraisms invoked by philologists are more easily explained as indirect Hebraisms or Septuagintalisms through the sub-language that was created for the Scriptures by the translations of the Bible in Greek” (Septuagint, 333).

In my study of Greek Job, I have come across at least two examples of the use of προσθείς + finite verb which translates Hebrew יסף + infinitive, “to X again”, in which the action to be repeated is carried by the infinitive. In Job 27:1 and 29:1, Job takes up his parable/discourse again. The OG renders this construction as προσθείς + εἶπεν: lit. having added/furthered, Job said… Or “Again, he spoke his discourse.” LSJ lists this meaning for προστίθημι only for LXX and NT. A simple example from the NT comes from Luke 19:11: Ἀκουόντων δὲ αὐτῶν ταῦτα προσθεὶς εἶπεν παραβολὴν, “Now after hearing these things, he again spoke a parable…”

Since there is some debate over whence this NT construction comes (Hebrew or Aramaic Vorlage or LXX influence), it is interesting to compare it to Aquila’s revision of Job 27:1: καὶ προσέθηκεν Ἰὼβ ἆραι τὴν παραβολὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ εἶπε (lit. And he added Job to take up his parable and he said). Predictably, Aquila renders every word of his Hebrew source into Greek, even preserving the exact Hebrew word order. He has translated the Hebrew verb ultra literally, which preserves the Hebrew parataxis, whereas the OG translator created a hypotactic construction. Nowhere do the NT authors use the construction of Aquila to my knowledge, but they do use the construction of the LXX with some frequency.

This observation and the phenomenon of Septuagintalisms in general (see the list in Marcos on pages 333-35) indicate probably that the NT authors were influenced by the LXX and perhaps in some cases the early revisers, but might it also indicate that they did not have much recourse, if any, to a Hebrew parent text and that they were not very influenced by its linguistic makeup? If they had recourse to the Hebrew parent text of the Greek OT, would we expect more literal renderings such as we find in Aquila or Theodotion, who clearly had such an access? Of course there are more angles to this discussion, which I have left out (e.g. revision of the OG by the time of the NT, what was the exact form of the Greek OT during the first century AD? etc.). All I’m asking at this time is, do the presence of Septuagintalisms add to the growing consensus that the NT authors were more, if not exclusively, influenced by the LXX than the Hebrew text and therefore they may not have made ad hoc renderings from this text?

[Caveat: Text form does not indicate a different canon thus the NT authors’ dependence on the LXX does not mean that they were thinking in terms of the so called “wider canon” of the LXX. That such a conception existed at all is dubious according to a thorough examination of all of the evidence.]

Does the NT Misread the OT?

Daniel O. McCellan and I are having a bit of an exchange on his blog regarding the whole issue of the NT’s use of the OT here. Daniel posits that Hebrews 2:5ff has misread Psalm 8 via the mistranslation of the LXX. In Daniel’s view, this example shows that one cannot read the Bible “univocally,” since the NT is reading into the OT text and using it for its purposes. I disagree with Daniel for two reasons: 1) I’m not convinced that the LXX has misread the Hebrew text when it translates אלהים with αγγελοι. On his thread I said:

The Greek Psalter uses αγγελος 13 times to render three Hebrew words: אביר אלוהים, and מלאך. Of these 13 times, it uses αγγελοι to render “gods” 3 times (8:5, 96(97):7, and 137(138):1). In 96:7, αγγελοι is a very fitting translation of אלוהים since it clearly has “gods” or “divine beings” in view and not the God of Israel, YHWH, while the other two references are debatable. There is clearly not a different Vorlage underlying the LXX, since it is an established equivalent in the Psalter (see also Job 1:6 et al.). So there is no textual fluidity here, but rather indication that the translator is attempting a somewhat close rendering of a text similar to M. When the Hebrew Psalter refers to false gods/judges(?) or elohim in 81(82):1 and 85(86):8, the translator uses θεοι. Thus it would seem that the LXX has detected three meanings of elohim: God, angels or divine beings, and false gods/judges, and it has a different equivalent for each, clearly distinguishing the true God of Israel from the false gods by employing the singular and plural of θεος respectively. All of this seems like good translating on the part of the LXX, not a different Vorlage.

Therefore, in my view, LXX Psalms is actually a faithful translation of the Hebrew text (Peshitta and Targum also have “angels” here). Daniel thinks the translator made a translational (?; I don’t think he means an unintentional error of hearing or sight) mistake here, but I think he needs to show that αγγελοι is an insufficient Greek equivalent in those instances where elohim means something other than false gods or the God of Israel. It may be a novel translation equivalent in the LXX (though I’m not certain of this point), but does that mean the translator misread the Hebrew text?

2) I’m also not convinced that Hebrews has misinterpreted Psalm 8 by applying it to Christ. There is some debate over whether this text is Christocentric or anthropocentric, but let’s assume the former for the sake of discussion. I understand Psalm 8 to be written by David on the basis of the superscription attested in both MT and LXX, and therefore it is quite early. If it is Davidic, then one should read it in light of the covenant God made with David (2 Sam. 7:13ff) and in the light of the original creation of Adam, since it is a commentary on creation. I understand humanity and, therefore Adam as the first human, to be a kingly figure, since he is identified as the image and likeness of God. Genesis 5:3 also links Son with image, and therefore Adam is considered the Son of God, which is a title of kings in the ancient world. David also realizes that the covenant God made with him and his genealogy places him as King over all of the peoples, since there is one God over the entire world in the Israelite worldview  (Deut. 6:4; 2 Sam. 7:19; cp. Isaiah 2:1-3).

Hebrews 2:5ff, then, continues the Christological argument of the author, begun in 1:4ff. The word οικουμενη links 1:6 to 2:5ff, showing that the argument in chapters 1-2 is actually the same one. The author effectively shows in the categories of the OT that Jesus is the great Davidic King, the Son of God, who is at the same time fulfilling the covenant made with creation.


Daniel has set up the argument that there are some who understand the relationship between NT and OT as “univocal.” I’m not sure to whom he is responding, since most Evangelical scholars I know and read, affirm the relationship between the Testaments to be something like “unity in diversity.”  This means that the Bible has essential unity but that it also has contours and development, similar to a well-woven tapestry, which has individual patterns and colors, but of course these all create a unified pattern. The question is then, does the evidence reveal that Hebrews diverged from the essential message and theology (-ies) of the OT in a way that the OT would not approve or affirm? Or does the evidence indicate that the exegesis of Hebrews develops the OT theologies (creation and Davidic covenant et al.) in light of the first advent of Jesus Christ in a way that the OT would stand and say, “Amen.”

These are big questions, but each one needs to wrestle with this issue. Thanks Daniel for raising this important question, even if we do disagree on the answer.

The Lexis of Acts 2:41 or Who were the First Christian Baptizees?

This study only introduces an argument, which needs more research in the Classical and Patristic periods.  The argument concerns the description of the first baptizees in Acts 2:41.  The book of Acts records the history of the earliest apostolic church.  The question of what is normative in the book of Acts vs. what is only descriptive is a lingering question to ask of this book.  There seems to be components of the book of Acts that may not be normative for Christians today but simply applied to the first century church.  Perhaps, the description of the church community as sharing all of their possessions so that no one was in need may be an example of description, but does not constitute normative practice for the church in all ages and at all times; however, baptism is a normative aspect of the church (Matt. 28:18-20).  Therefore, the book of Acts must shape our doctrine and practice of baptism.  Most do not debate that the book of Acts reveals the subject or the recipient of baptism.  Presbyterians usually look to household baptism texts and conclude that infants of believers ought to be baptized.  Baptists appeal to texts in Acts where the subjects of baptism are reported as having believed and then were baptized.  The book of Acts has many baptismal accounts to examine, but this post is devoted to one aspect of the first account in Acts 2.

Another assumption I have about the book of Acts is that earlier accounts are expanded, while later accounts are abbreviated.  In other words, Luke describes in detail who was baptized in the first few baptismal accounts, while in the later accounts he simply reports that a baptism happened.  He does not explain what happens to the baptized members in later accounts, while in the earlier account he explains that baptism leads to membership in the church for example. Continue reading “The Lexis of Acts 2:41 or Who were the First Christian Baptizees?”

The Peshitta’s Reading of Acts 16.34

Acts 16.34 contains that wonderful and glorious text of the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his household.  However, the question that has intrigued interpreters is who is believing according to this verse?  Is only the jailer believing? Or is the jailer believing together with his household?  Allow me to cite the Greek text of the verse then I will describe the exegetical difficulties, and finally I will provide the Syriac Peshitta reading of the verse and draw some conclusions from it.

Greek Text: αναγαγων τε αυτους εις τον οικον παρεθηκεν τραπεζαν και ηγαλλιασατο πανοικει πεπιστευκως τω θεω.

Difficulty: Does πανοικει (an adverb meaning “with the whole house”) modify the main verb ηγαλλιασατο or the participle πεπιστευκως?  As an adverb, grammatically it may modify either word.  What is the difference between the options? If it modifies the first verb, the translation is something like: “He rejoiced with his whole household because he believed in God.”  If it modifies the second, the text reads: He rejoiced because he believed in God–together with his whole household.  In the second translation the adverb indicates that the whole household believed with the jailer and were subsequently baptized according to 16.33.  The first translation has only the jailer believing, but the whole household is rejoicing with him and if the oikos argument is granted, this whole household is baptized apart from faith. Continue reading “The Peshitta’s Reading of Acts 16.34”