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In Matthew 21:15–16, Jesus is praised by children in the temple after healing the blind and the lame. When questioned by the chief priests and scribes, he points out that what was occurring was prophesied in the Old Testament.

Matthew 21:15–16 [ESV]

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?"

But... in the ESV bible and the Masoretic text, Psalm 8:2 uses the word "strength", not "praise" – a completely different word, and not a contextual fit for Jesus' point.

Psalm 8:2a [ESV]

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength...

However... in the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that pre-dated Jesus' time), Psalm 8:2 uses the word "praise" – exactly as Jesus quoted it.

This is one of a number of differences between the Masoretic text and the Septuagint (another would be that the Septuagint included the 'extra' books of the Catholic bible, which Protestants call Apocrypha).

Most Protestant Bibles use the Masoretic text as the foundation of their Old Testament, believing it to be 'better' (closer to the original) than the Septuagint.

Most Protestants also believe the New Testament is inspired and inerrant, and that Jesus is part of the Triune God.

How do Protestants reconcile this?

Do they believe Jesus just misquoted this verse?

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    The textual issue itself (that Jesus, speaking in Greek at the time, may be quoting the Greek Septuagint, not the Hebrew) is clarified in an answer on Hermeneutics. There isn't anything to 'reconcile' - as far as I can see. – Nigel J Jun 28 '18 at 12:54
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    I don’t understand the premise of the question. Jesus is clearly quoting the Septuagint. If your question is why does the ESV use the Masoretic Text, why not just ask that? Protestants haven’t agreed on a translation, so the premise is incorrect. – Jon the Architect Jun 28 '18 at 18:07
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    Put simply, if I understand correctly, the difficulty is that if the MT is the inspired text, then Jesus is quoting something that isn't inspired (a divergent reading – the Septuagint) as if it were inspired. This is a common issue in NT quotes of the OT, with many different ways to explain it based on the example. – Nathaniel Jun 28 '18 at 18:28
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The issue of New Testament quotations of the Old Testament is broad and well-studied, so it's well worth reading a book like John Wenham's Christ and the Bible to get a feel for the complexities.

For example, not only is there a diverse manuscript tradition for the gospels, there are also multiple versions of the Septuagint, and there's always the possibility that even a particular reading in the Masoretic text is not faithful to the original inspired text. And even more fundamentally, it is thought that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, so what appears in Matthew is a translation into Greek. This just scratches the surface – there are many ways to explain the divergence between the OT text and NT quotations.

However, in this case, the most common explanation Protestants give is that "praise" is a legitimate translation of the Hebrew word found in the Masoretic text in Ps 8:2. R. T. France is a respected Anglican NT scholar, and in New International Commentary on Matthew, 789, he writes:

The psalm speaks of how God the creator silences his enemies by means of "strength" (so the Hebrew) which comes from the mouths of children. "Strength" is often ascribed to God in a formula of praise (e.g., Pss 29:1; 59:16–17; 68:34–35), and when that "strength" issues from mouths it is not hard to see why LXX translated it as "praise." The LXX version makes the relevance of the text to Jesus' situation in the temple more explicit, but the underlying sense of the Hebrew also is of vindication by what children say, and it is that sense of which Jesus' quotation here depends.

He also cites other scholars, particularly R. H. Gundry and K. Stendahl, to defend the Septuagint's choice of translating the Hebrew word 'ōz as "praise" instead of "strength":

Note from France's commentary on Matthew

His mention of "instruments of strength" in 2 Chr 30:21 is particularly interesting – it demonstrates the close relationship between "strength" and "praise" when this Hebrew word is used in this context.

So there's no need, then, to assume that Jesus "misquoted" the inspired text. Instead it seems likely that he emphasized a legitimate, but not necessarily the only, meaning or sense of the word in question.

  • Great answer, and thanks for the book recommendation - just bought John Wenham's Christ and the Bible, look forward to digging into it! – emeth Jun 29 '18 at 17:33
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The New International Version is in perfect harmony with Jesus' quoting from Psalm 8:2 in Matthew 21:16:

"Do you hear what these children are saying" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"

"From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise" (Psalm 8:2)

As for the English Standard Version, it makes this comment against Psalm 8:2:

"The Greek translation of the Septuagint (see Matthew 21:16) rightly interprets "strength" as "strength attributed to God in song," or praise."

The children (in Matthew 21:16) were praising Jesus by cryinging out "Hosanna to the Son of David." The ESV comment says this:

"Jesus acknowledges the children's praise and links it to Psalm 8:2, which the religious leaders should have known applied such praise to God, thus confirming Jesus as the divine Messiah."

The New Living Translation also helps to shed some light on this. In Matthew 21:15 it says that the children were shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” Matthew 21:16 says:

”Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.” Psalm 8:2 in the NLT says:

”You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.”

The NLT Footnote explains that the Greek version reads “to give you praise” and refers to Matthew 21:16. The Hebrew root words for “Hosanna” are found in Psalm 118:25, which says, “Save us, we pray, O LORD!” (ESV). Literally, hosanna means “I beg you to save!” or “please deliver us!” In saying, “Hosanna!” the people were crying out for salvation, and that’s exactly why Jesus had come.

There is nothing here for Protestants to reconcile. Jesus did not misquote Psalm 8:2.

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