The New Testament quotes portions of the Greek Old Testament (known as the Septuagint, or LXX for short), including portions of books beyond the Pentateuch (or five books of Moses), some of which are of a distinct tradition than that of the Hebrew (or what is loosely called the Masoretic tradition).1

Yet it is claimed by Jews,2 as well as others, that the Septuagint was originally only a translation of the five books of Moses, not the entire Bible.

Question: If this is so, what exactly were the New Testament authors quoting?

Thanks in advance.


1 e.g. Mt 9:13 "mercy" (LXX) / cf. Hos 9:6 "goodness" (Masor); Mt 9:13 "perfected praise" (LXX) / cf. Ps 8:2 "ordained strength" (Masor). See also Mk 7:6-8/Isa 29:13; Lk 3:5-6/Isa 40:4-5; Rom 2:24/Isa 52:5 | It's been estimated that out of all the quotations of the Old Testament in the New, 340 are from the LXX, and 33 from the Masoretic (see G. Archer and G. C. Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey, p. 25-32).

2 The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia (Bible Translations, under 'Septuagint') states, "According to Aristeas, the Pentateuch was translated at the time of Philadelphus, the second Ptolemy (285-247 B.C.), which translation was encouraged by the king and welcomed by the Jews of Alexandria. Grätz ("Gesch. der Juden," 3d ed., iii. 615) stands alone in assigning it to the reign of Philometor (181-146 B.C.). Whatever share the king may have had in the work, it evidently satisfied a pressing need felt by the Jewish community, among whom a knowledge of Hebrew was rapidly waning before the demands of every-day life.It is not known when the other books of the Bible were rendered into Greek. The grandson of Ben Sira (132 B.C.), in the prologue to his translation of his grandfather's work, speaks of the "Law, Prophets, and the rest of the books" as being already current in his day. A Greek Chronicles is mentioned by Eupolemus (middle of second century B.C.); Aristeas, the historian, quotes Job; a foot-note to the Greek Esther seems to show that that book was in circulation before the end of the second century B.C.; and the Septuagint Psalter is quoted in I Macc. vii. 17. It is therefore more than probable that the whole of the Bible was translated into Greek before the beginning of the Christian era (Swete, "An Introduction to the O. T. in Greek," ch. i.). The large number of Greek-speaking Jewish communities in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and northern Africa must have facilitated its spread in all these regions. The quotations from the Old Testament found in the New are in the main taken from the Septuagint; and even where the citation is indirect the influence of this version is clearly seen. This will also explain in a measure the undoubted influence of the Septuagint upon the Syriac translation called the "Peshiṭta.""

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    From your footnote 2: "It is therefore more than probable that the whole of the Bible was translated into Greek before the beginning of the Christian era". How does this not answer your question? Nov 24 '17 at 17:05
  • It doesn't specify "what exactly" was being quoted—a regional translation? Apparently it wasn't what is considered 'the Septuagint' amongst the 'Pentateuch only' crowd. In many sources including this, it is implied both that, "quotations from the Old Testament found in the New are in the main taken from the Septuagint" yet also that the Septuagint was only 'originally' "the Pentateuch." If the rest of the biblical Books were not part of the original Septuagint, "what exactly" is the nature of these Greek versions of the books? Nov 24 '17 at 17:43
  • The Wikipedia article seems to refer to the whole work as the Septuagint, even though the "seventy scholars" originally translated only the Torah: "a Koine Greek translation of a Hebraic textual tradition that included certain texts which were later included in the canonical Hebrew Bible and other related texts which were not. ... The primary Greek translation of the Old Testament". That's also consistent with your footnote, e.g. "the Septuagint Psalter". Nov 24 '17 at 18:01
  • So we don't know exactly what they were quoting? (e.g. was it a whole Biblewhich people could recognize quotations from, as is implied as quoted in the New Testament)? I've heard of the Alexandrian Jews having the Septuagint as their Bible; is it to an Alexandrian Greek Bible that 'Septuagint' refers in reference to the extra books? The JE entry seems to imply that Diaspora communities would have had these necessarily: "The large number of Greek-speaking Jewish communities ... must have facilitated its spread in all these regions [etc.]". Surely they didn't just do without the rest of theScr. Nov 24 '17 at 18:45
  • They were quoting the Septuagint. It was the entirety of the Tanakh as it's now recognized, plus things like Wisdom and Sirach and Maccabees. Nov 24 '17 at 21:11

No, the entirety, more or less,1 of the Old Testament seems to have had a Greek version or translation since the second century at least, based on the translator's Prologue to the Greek version of Ben Sira (a.k.a Wisdom of Sirach and Ecclesiasticus).

In a collection of papers on the Book (from 2006),2 it is taken for granted that the rest of the Books of the Old Testament already existed by the second century B.C., in what we would (loosely) call a Septuagint version, that is, the Greek Old Testament.

Discussing the translator's own feeling that the Greek into which he was translating the original Hebrew did not have "the same force" (ισοδψναμει) (Prologue) as the original language itself (the Hebrew), the author of one paper3 writes:

In [his prologue] the grandson of Ben Sira brings the Biblical books as an example for the difference between original and translation:

ου μονον δε ταυτα αλλα και αυτος ο μονος και αι προφητειαι και τα λοιπα των βιβλιων ου μικραν εχει την διαφοραν τον εαυτοις λεγομενα ("That is true not only for this book but also the Law itself, the Prophets, and the rest of the books differ no little in the original.")

The way the Hebrew original is introduced at the end of the argument shows that the comparison proceeds from the Greek and not from the Hebrew version of the Law, the Prophecies, and the remaining books. This proves, that the grandson of Ben Sira believed his Greek readers to be familiar with the Greek version of these books, but ignorant of the Hebrew text.

(emphasis mine)

I think from this we have a strong case for the existence of an entire Greek Old Testament, not just the Law or Torah; as well as a readership aquainted with it, and even ignorant of the orginal Hebrew (if not Hebrew itself, then at least the original Hebrew versions themselves). We are left to opine as to who this readership is, although Alexandrian or Diaspora Jews (cf. Jn 7:35; Jas 1:1; 1 Pet 1:1) fit the bill quite well.4

1 Unfortunately, based on the following alone as the evidence, we cannot be more specific. In the least, every section of the Old Testament was completed.

2 Studies in the Book of Ben Sira (Géza G. Xeravits, Jószef Zsengellér), 2006.

3 ibid. p. 51. "The Pre-eminence of the Hebrew Language and the Emerging Concept of the 'Ideal Text' in Late Second Temple Jerusalem" (a paper by Stefan Schorch)—I had to transcribe the quote myself, so I couldn't include breathing marks and so forth, whereas the original has such. The author seems to have made a typographical error, having "Prophecies" were it should say "Prophets"(especially in concordance with what precedes it, and the fact that the first letter is upper-case. He also omits a what would be a heplful ellipsis after the Greek; the rest of the sentence continues: "[have no small difference,] when they are spoken in their own language."

4 "[I]...using great watchfulness and skill in that space to bring the book to an end, and set it forth for them also, which in a strange country are willing to learn, being prepared before in manners to live after the law" would seem to imply a Jewish readership.


Just because originally only the Pentateuch was translated into Greek doesn't mean that the rest wasn't translated later.

The date of the 3rd century BCE is supported (for the Torah translation) by a number of factors, including the Greek being representative of early Koine, citations beginning as early as the 2nd century BCE, and early manuscripts datable to the 2nd century.

After the Torah, other books were translated over the next two to three centuries. It is not altogether clear which was translated when, or where; some may even have been translated twice, into different versions, and then revised. The quality and style of the different translators also varied considerably from book to book, from the literal to paraphrasing to interpretative.

The translation process of the Septuagint itself and from the Septuagint into other versions can be broken down into several distinct stages, during which the social milieu of the translators shifted from Hellenistic Judaism to Early Christianity. The translation of the Septuagint itself began in the 3rd century BCE and was completed by 132 BCE, initially in Alexandria, but in time elsewhere as well. The Septuagint is the basis for the Old Latin, Slavonic, Syriac, Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Coptic versions of the Christian Old Testament.


  • "The translation process of the Septuagint itself and from the Septuagint into other versions can be broken down into several distinct stages, during which the social milieu of the translators shifted from Hellenistic Judaism to Early Christianity" Wikipedia cites no source here for the fact that Christian translations (or loosely Christians 'Septuagintic' translations, since Septuagint came to refer to pretty much any Greek translation of the Bible) supercede or admixed with previous Jewish versions. When was a 'Jewish' Septuagint first complete, and do we know? Nov 30 '17 at 13:58
  • "It is not altogether clear which was translated when, or where" Do we have anything better than this? Thanks for your input! Nov 30 '17 at 13:59

It seems you have a few questions here. I'll try to address each individually. My background is as a Jewish convert.

1) The Septuagint, to my understanding, contains the Pentateuch, the "Hebrew Bible" - which were books of the Bible originally written in Hebrew, and several later writings during the Hellenistic period, like Maccabees. The book of Maccabees is not considered part of the Jewish holy document. I kid you not, a box of them stayed in the janitor's closet in my synagogue and was pulled out for Hannukah once a year.

2) Jewish theology is based primarily on the Pentateuch, Psalms, and Prophets. Only the Pentateuch has relic status. (Most) Jews believe the Torah (Pentateuch) has been dutifully transcribed generation by generation since the time of Moses. We don't truly know, but Jews believe the Five Books of Moses were indeed written by Moses. The evidence the Jews having a viable Torah by the time they left Jericho is very strong. The Hebrew alphabet has changed twice since leaving Egypt, but the language is by and large intact. Translating Hebrew is notoriously difficult being that written Hebrew has no vowels (a standardized system was instituted by Maimonides in the 11th century AD). Jews believe the Torah of today is exactly the same as that used by the court of King David (the word Torah appears several times in Psalms).

3) The Pentateuch of the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew of the Torah perhaps because the Septuagint was written by those speaking Greek as their first language. The differences are mostly minor, but some, like Exodus 3:14, are pretty significant. English translation in all Christian Bibles I've seen: "I am what I am." Hebrew: Eh-yeh ascher eh-yeh," I shall be what I shall be." [Note: Reform "Reconstruction" Jews think differently.] It doesn't really bother me.

4) The rest of the Old Testament besides the Pentateuch changed here and there over the centuries. The Jews codified the Hebrew Bible outside of the Torah in the 2nd century AD with the Midrash, written primarily by the Sanhedrin and scribes. Being that Jewish culture values intellectual pursuits, the Sanhedrin undoubtedly held a great deal of authority in Jerusalem in the first century.

5) To paraphrase your stated question: Did the Greek Bible contain more than the Pentateuch?, the simple answer is Yes. The Septuagint contained the Hebrew Bible and other writings. (To my understanding, the masoretic text is more commonly used for modern translation, but it still isn't the Torah.)

6) Other than translation issues, the Torah, the Pentateuch, the masoretic text, and modern English translations are the same document.

  • "The Pentateuch of the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew of the Torah perhaps because the Septuagint was written by those speaking Greek as their first language" do we know that about the translators—do we know who they were, even? Isn't ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν a good translation of ehyeh asher ehyeh? 'I am what I be/I am the being one' pretty much, which retains the obscurity of the Hebrew as to tense. I'm not sure how else you would render it. "The rest of the Old Testament besides the Pentateuch changed here and there over the centuries" This is rather anecdotal: do you know any particulars? Nov 30 '17 at 14:04
  • There's nothing wrong with the translation; Jews just see it differently. Specifically, tense is determined by vowels at the end of the root word. Without vowels, the tense can be mysterious. It requires the "Oral Tradition" meticulously researched and codified by the ... Pharisees. I've seen a (I don't remember the denomination) Christian translation stating "I am the Alpha and the Omega." That's not very close, but it gets the point across. As to the changes in the rest of the Old Testament, I'll do a little research. We're talking BC and maybe the first century AD.
    – Stu W
    Nov 30 '17 at 14:34

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