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Hebrews 10:5 (ESV) states

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;

This is an apparent reference to Psalm 40:6:

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear.

The footnote in my Bible on the Psalm mentions that literally this verse would be "ears you have dug for me".

I can understand an idiomatic translation; digging out ones ears is a Hebrew idiom roughly equivalent to having an "open ear" in English. But moving to "a body have you prepared for me" seems to be far beyond translating an idiom.

I looked at one of these sites that has a whole bunch (17) of translations; all translate that phrase in Hebrews fairly similar (mentioning preparation of a body). In the case of the Psalm, likewise, they all seem to mention something about ears. Whether "you have made me listen" or "you have pierced my ears" or one of the ESV translations I mentioned above.

So most translations seem to point to the translation from Hebrew to Greek is a rather liberal one. Am I understanding this correctly? And if so, how does digging out an ear relate to preparing a body?

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This is interesting question. However, have you ever thought of those two verses NOT being related? –  Phonics The Hedgehog Aug 31 '11 at 3:18
3  
Well, Hebrews claims that it is a quote, and that is the closest quote available. –  Ray Aug 31 '11 at 3:20

5 Answers 5

The footnote for Hebrews 10:5-7 in the New American Bible mentions the following:

A passage from Ps 40:7–9 is placed in the mouth of the Son at his incarnation. As usual, the author follows the Septuagint text. There is a notable difference in Heb 10:5 (Ps 40:6), where the Masoretic text reads “ears you have dug for me” (“ears open to obedience you gave me,” NAB), but most Septuagint manuscripts have “a body you prepared for me,” a reading obviously more suited to the interpretation of Hebrews.

The original and ostensibly mistranslated passage appears in the Septuagint. Why this translation appears in the Septuagint and not the Masorectic text is something of a mystery, but there are a few different conjectures that discount the Masorectic text's translation. Notably by Benjamin Kennicott as descibed by Adam Clarke:

Dr. Kennicott has a very ingenious conjecture here: he supposes that the Septuagint and apostle express the meaning of the words as they stood in the copy from which the Greek translation was made; and that the present Hebrew text is corrupted in the word oznayim, ears, which has been written through carelessness for az gevah, THEN A BODY. The first syllable THEN, is the same in both; and the latter which joined to makes oznayim, might have been easily mistaken for gevah, BODY; nun, being very like gimel; yod, like vau; and he, like final mem; especially if the line on which the letters were written in the MS. happened to be blacker than ordinary, which has often been a cause of mistake, it might have been easily taken for the under stroke of the mem, and thus give rise to a corrupt reading: add to this the root carah, signifies as well to prepare as to open, bore, Septuagint, and followed by the apostle, must have read the text thus: az gevah caritha li, σωμαδεκατηρτισωμοι, then a body thou hast prepared me: thus the Hebrew text, the version of the Septuagint, and the apostle, will agree in what is known to be an indisputable fact in Christianity, namely, that Christ was incarnated for the sin of the world.

That is, Psalms 40 in the Masorectic text has a transcription error that was not present in the translations upon which the Septaguint manuscripts were based.

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+1 for research, but please remove your last sentence - it is incorrect. The Masoretic text is ca. 900AD, whereas we have LXX fragments dating from the first century. The LXX did not "fix" an error - the hypothesis is that it translated (faithfully) from an older copy of the Hebrew Scriptures, one no longer extant, which did not have the error. –  gmoothart Oct 18 '11 at 14:17
    
@gmoothart Sorry about that: I meant to just summarize that MT has a transcription error that LXX doesn't have, possibly corrected via divine inspiration, but it was very clumsily worded. Fixed now. –  user72 Oct 18 '11 at 17:48

The author of Hebrews is quoting from the Septuagint, which apparently mistranslated or poorly translated Psalm 40:6.

This brings up issues of infallibility (e.g., is the mistranslation inspired because it's in an inspired book?). This doesn't totally resolve the problem, but I tend to look at issue like this as confirmation that the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in us when we read the Scriptures, and that is more important than having the most accurate translation possible. Many centuries of Christians were without good translations of the Bible, and they got on remarkably well.

edit in response to comment: As @cwallenpoole points out, there is an alternative interpretation. Perhaps the author of Hebrews was quoting from an earlier, more accurate Hebrew text that is no longer extant (or perhaps he was quoting from the septuagint, which was itself based on a more accurate Hebrew text), as discussed here.

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Not necessarily. Isn't it quite possible that the modern texts are wrong and that a person 2000 years ago had access to better versions? –  cwallenpoole Sep 1 '11 at 18:49
    
@cwallenpoole indeed. Edited to reflect that. –  gmoothart Sep 1 '11 at 18:59
    
It is a fascinating question. –  cwallenpoole Sep 1 '11 at 19:06
    
Either answer would bring into question infalliblility. –  aceinthehole Sep 2 '11 at 0:52

The author is quoting the Septuagint:

enter image description here

This is apparently, a poor translation from the original Hebrew to the Greek. There are several examples of translation issues in the Septuagint. This is another example of such a translation.

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See also Can we trust the Septuagint? –  Richard Oct 17 '11 at 19:25

Well, this is actually not an answer but more a comment to an answer previously given (or additional question) that I cannot submit otherwise as my reputation is not high enough. Please forgive me and feel free to correct me.... However..

Can anyone please point me to a source where I can see the Hebrew words for 'az gevah' (body) and 'oznayim' (ears) in order to see the plausibility of Kennicott/Clarke's explanation that "The Hebrew words "then a body" (az gevah) could have been carelessly copied as "ears" (oznayim), which look very similar in the Hebrew."?

EDIT: This diagram might answer the question by visually complementing the Kennicott/Clarke's explanation:

enter image description here

Thank you.

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Sure...I can type them for you in Ashuri script, but that's not going to help. That's not how Hebrew was written in 1st century A.D. If you look at the Dead Sea Scrolls, it exhibits the script in which Hebrew was written at that time. Here's an example of the Isaiah scroll (1QIsa1): ao.net/~fmoeller/qumdir.htm –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Feb 21 at 3:25
    
Actually, after some more research, i think i found the information I needed to be fairly convinced that it is perfectly possible and plausible that the LXX is correctly translated, and that the MT could have made a mistake confusing two very similar words either accidentally, or influenced by their biased anti messianic theology (no bias evident or needed by the LXX prior to Christ). Please take a look and let me know what you think: thoughtswithaccent.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/… –  Luis Feb 21 at 5:23
    
It's interesting but again, you need to look at how it was written (the script) in 1st century A.D. (i.e., "paleo-Hebrew" script) in order to determine the similarity. That script you are looking at in that image is Ashuri script. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Feb 21 at 7:14

Most interesting, but I have arrived at conclusion. The problem is that you got the meaning of Psalms 40:6 totaly wrong.

I am a bilingual, and I can understand both Korean and English version of both verses. However, when I read the 40:6 in Korean, I have discovered this:

In Korean version, it is written as this:

The Lord has cleared my ear to tell me, "you do not desire sacrifice and offering, and you did not desire burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require."

As written above, It is actually saying that God has cleared your ear to tell you this.

P.S. On Hebrew 10:5 in Korean version, it is written that when Jesus said that "Sacrificing and Offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me", he was actually talking to the God.

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-1 I think this meaning is quite clear in the English translations, too. This isn't the point of the question. –  dancek Nov 11 '11 at 14:03

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