The Bereans used the Septuagint

I know a lot more now about the history of the Bible than I used to. It amazes me at how much I took for granted before I became a Catholic. For example, it never occurred to me that perhaps I didn’t have a right to interpret the Bible however I saw fit, by virtue of the fact that I did not write it, codify it, or translate it. I treated the Bible as if it just grew on a tree. It was there, for sale in a bookstore, right? Wasn’t that all the permission I needed to buy one and determine for myself what it meant?

There was a brief time as a young adult when I thought of myself as a Berean. I remember being a bit prideful that I was “searching the scriptures” to see for myself if something is true (this was in the VERY early days of the cult, when it was still a fundamentalist Bible church).  The Bereans are the group of Jews who are lauded in the Bible for “searching the scriptures” to see if Paul and Silas were right. But I just realized something: the Bereans were almost certainly using the Septuagint. Here are the verses that mention them (Acts 17:10-12):

But the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea. Who, when they were come thither, went into the synagogue of the Jews.  Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all eagerness, daily searching the scriptures, whether these things were so. And many indeed of them believed, and of honourable women that were Gentiles, and of men not a few.

If I am correct then this is significant. The Septuagint contains the entire Old Testament canon… what I think of as the shared part (the part where Catholics and Protestants agree), as well as the seven Deutercanonical books, which Protestants reject as Apocryphal. I see now how naive I was to claim to be like a specific group of people when it comes to fidelity to the scriptures, yet I rejected some of the scriptures those people used.

There is nothing wrong with searching the scriptures, but as Jews, the Bereans had that right by virtue of their lineage. Imagine that same scenario but a group of idol-worshiping pagans instead of Jews. We might wonder why they were using those scriptures, since they had no historical connection to them. Does it make sense that they have the same right to use those scriptures as the Jews? Would they reach the same conclusions as the Jews? I am no longer certain that I had any right at all to use the Bible, since I had implicitly accepted the authority’s declaration regarding the canon, yet felt it was OK and even necessary to reject other authority claims. Maybe that’s OK, but as it looks to me right now, I have a problem with it because it seems contradictory. As a Protestant, was the Bible my book? If so, on what basis?

Advertisements

Author: everybodysdaughter

I'm an adult child of divorce, having been raised in multiple divorce/remarriage situations. I'm writing in order to shed light on the problems of divorce from the perspective of the child. I will also discuss problems with other non-triad family structures, since there is a lot of overlap. People often think that better parenting skills will overcome problems in non-triad arrangements. While I agree that parenting skills are important, they cannot overcome the problems I discuss such as fractured ontology and perpetual liminality. I converted to the Catholic faith in 2012, and will discuss Catholic things from time to time as well.

16 thoughts on “The Bereans used the Septuagint”

  1. Hi there – interesting post.

    There are a couple of problems with your line of thinking though.

    First your text tells you that it was Jews AND Gentiles in Berea – honorable women and not a few men and Paul does not seem to make any distinction between Jew and Gentile’s handling of Scripture. So lineage does not appear to matter.

    Second, the very well could have had the Scriptures in Hebrew – it was certainly less common but that doesn’t mean we should draw a conclusion off an unknown.

    Third, we don’t know how much of the OT they had if it was the Septuagint as it was produced over time and was not as easy to get as the local Bible app.

    Even if they did use the Septuagint that does not mean they viewed the Apocrypha as Scripture – the Bible refers to the Law, Psalms and the Prophets as Scripture. Josephus writing at the time specifically about the beliefs of the Jews did not include the Apocrypha. I have Bibles in my house that I read that include them and I don’t view those books as Scripture – someone could pickup those Bible versions and wrongly argue Thomas believes the Apocrypha are Scripture – see his Bible proves it.

    Why is the Bible my book? Because when Jesus was on the mount of Transfiguration and Peter was being his usual wrong self – Peter was astoundingly wrong a lot in the Bible – God Himself spoke from the heavens while making Moses and Elijah disappear saying – listen to Him. When Peter was getting into Johns business at the end of the Book of John, Jesus gently rebukes him and says you don’t worry about other people’s stuff – you follow me.

    The emphasis is on He and I – with specifically no one in between.

    Like

    1. Hi Thomas, thanks for the comment! In principle, I agree that they *might* have used the Hebrew scriptures. But that seems unlikely to me.

      As for somebody reasoning that you might view the seven books as scripture, by virtue of the fact that you owned and read Bibles that contained them… barring other facts, I don’t think this is an unreasonable assumption. Do you? Let’s say, for example, that you died, and everything you ever wrote was destroyed. Somehow, the Bibles in your library remained intact. What might your descendants or others think of your opinion on those scriptures? The presumption would have to be that you viewed them as holy writ, don’t you agree? So I think it is very fair to say that if the Bereans used the Septuagint, which seems more likely than not, they also viewed the seven books as holy writ.

      But you are correct that we don’t know with 100% certainty which set of scriptures they used. I should have said, “The Bereans probably used the Septuagint and here’s why I find that meaningful.”

      I have more to day but will stop here for now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi again —
        So I think it is very fair to say that if the Bereans used the Septuagint, which seems more likely than not, they also viewed the seven books as holy writ.

        In the example, my descendants would be making an assumption based upon a single piece of evidence that when examined actually could be interpreted different ways.

        The point is that it is just an assumption — they would not know and it is a stretch to make a conclusion based upon an assumption. I have a copy of the Jehovah’s Witness Bible on my Kindle and if someone found it they may assume that I am a JW — which is just crazy talk.

        Then if you add in Josephus, a contemporary of the Bereans who says specifically that the Apocryphra were not treated as Scripture it would be like them then finding my wife’s diary that said the people of our household did not hold them as Scripture. The general statement pushes the conclusion away from one assumption – that it was viewed as Scripture and towards another, that it was not viewed as Scripture.

        The Jews also made a clear statement on what they considered canonical after this time when they exclude the Septuagint and the Apocrypha from their canon — it was shortly after this point.

        Using a different example, the Ethiopian Eunuch from the Book of Acts appears to have had just the Book of Isaiah and was struggling to understand it when Phillip showed up. Once it was explained to him by a simple servant, deacon is usually translated as servant but literally means through the dirt, and the Holy Spirit saves him all is changed. He is saved, baptized and sent home. All without the approval or oversight or how do you do of any “authority” other than God Himself.

        Like

        1. Again, lots to respond to here. I’ll offer two things:

          1) Here is a listing of all the places in the New Testament that draw from the seven books (Catholics call them Deuterocanonical, Protestants call them Apocrypha):
          http://www.scripturecatholic.com/deuterocanon.html

          2) The example regarding the Ethiopian in Acts is often used in apologetics to support the Catholic position regarding the necessity for oral tradition. The Eunuch had “great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians,” and “had charge over all her treasures.” So we must assume he’s smart, yes? Yet, even with all that intelligence he didn’t understand the scriptures. The Holy Spirit’s plan was not to give him more scriptures; it was to provide him with a person who could interpret the scriptures, a person who had been given the Holy Spirit by Christ himself–Phillip the Apostle.

          Gotta run now.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Phillip was the deacon not the apostle. And the Eunuch had the OT and the specific scroll was Isaiah – how could he know who Isaiah was talking about until he heard the Gospel.

            No tradition involved there – just explaining who Jesus is.

            Honestly, you are free to believe what you will about the other books and God loves you for it – the original argument remains a stretch based upon the evidence

            Like

            1. Thanks for that correction; I should have caught it myself. Even so, the general argument remains, it seems to me. The Eunuch needed somebody to teach him who Jesus was, and the New Testament was not needed.

              Did you see the scripture verses I linked, that shows 75 scripture references where the New Testament draws from the Deuterocanon? There are also 116 quotes from church fathers at the bottom of that list in support of the Deuterocanon being scripture.

              For me, I find it more of a stretch to say that certain books are not scripture even though they are included with other books that are scripture. I think the evidence supports the Catholic position very well.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. The New Testament was not needed? A bit of problematic reasoning there it would seem – at the time there was no New Testament so Phillip – a regular guy not a supposed prince of the church passed on the message – but what was the message – the Gospel aka the message of the New Testament. Saying Jesus was the man ID’d in Isaiah is the message of the New Testament and it certainly did not require any church authority or tradition to pass on that message – the woman at the well did that as well.

                I did read the attachment and thought it was pretty unconvincing – the Bible actually quotes the Old Testament hundreds of times – Jesus Himself over 80 times directly quotes the OT and yet there are no quotes, not allusions or similar themes, from the apocrypha. The fact that they contain similar themes does not prove anything by itself.

                The Jews in Israel never accepted the apocryphal books – those in the Roman world may have after they were included with the Septuagint which was compiled by a Non-Jew but then they were specifically stated to be not canon by the actual Jews in 90. So from 70 AD when the Temple fell to 90 Ad would have been their heyday.

                Jerome put them in their own category when compiling the Vulgate stating that they are not the same as the others and they have been disputed from the very beginning – as I think it was Jerome stated they are useful but not inspired Scripture.

                But even so, we still don’t know what the Bereans were looking at and what their position was on them – we also don’t know what Paul’s position was as he never quotes them. He either does not agree with them or just doesn’t quote them.

                Speaking into silence to come to a conclusion doesn’t work so well.

                Like

                1. Again, so much to respond to.

                  I don’t find the reasoning problematic. But let me explain the true problem between us. Here are some examples. See if you agree. You think Phillip was a regular guy but that’s just your interpretation. I don’t have to accept it. You are not persuaded by the list I gave, but I am. You are not persuaded since Paul did not quote from those books, yet it appears that he did allude to them which I find persuasive. You think it’s reasonable to say that we can’t know what the Bereans thought about the Deuterocanon and this provides evidence for a rejection of those books, and I think it’s reasonable to think they viewed them as scripture.

                  These are small examples of the true issue that divides us, which is this: the question of authority. You indicate that you have some authority to interpret the Bible, and what constitutes the Bible, but I have no obligation to accept your interpretation. And you have no obligation to accept mine, if it were mine… but I am not interpreting on my own authority.

                  So our dialog about these differences can be go on forever. As I’ve said each time I’ve responded, there’s a lot I could say to your thoughtful replies. But I prefer to go to the root of the difference we have rather than hacking at the twigs and branches. Doesn’t that sound better? It’s a question of authority. For example, why do you accept the authority of the New Testament canon? I know why I accept it, because the Catholic Church said it was infallible. I did not have to investigate each book for myself to make sure it was infallible. Thank goodness for that! I am not up to the task and I have no confidence I’d reach the 100% correct conclusion. And since I don’t believe in “Bible alone,” I do not have to verify that Jesus asked for a New Testament. One of the things I love about being a Catholic is that all the heavy lifting has been done. The Deposit of Faith was delivered once for the saints (Jude 3). I want to learn it, but I don’t have to figure it out.

                  But it seems to me that there are things you do have to verify and figure out, being a “Bible alone” person. For example, how can you be certain that Jesus wanted a New Testament? Why do you accept the 27 books as infallibly defined? I mean these rhetorically. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I just find those kinds of questions foundational, since they go to the root of why the Bible exists, yet they can’t be answered with the Bible.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Hi – good points – rather than go round and round on what we disagree on we can focus on what we agree on – Jesus, King of Kings, Lord of Lords. As a historian, a lawyer and a pastor I can get caught up in argument and miss the beauty of agreement.

                    So I will say that we agree on 27 and praise Jesus for that and we can leave the rest for Jesus to sort out.

                    Liked by 1 person

                2. Hi, Thomas; hi, everybodysdaughter. I hope you won’t find it impertinent for me to chip in what I can.

                  I think, Thomas, you’re mistaking what is being claimed when Catholics refer to “Tradition” or say “the New Testament was not needed.” You actually affirm what you think you are denying! By Tradition, in this sense of the word (which I always try to distinguish from other senses of that word by capitalization) we mean exactly what you say, the oral teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, which eventually became the message of the New Testament. Philip the Deacon identified Jesus for the Ethiopian by expositing Isaiah and the Prophets using the message he had heard from the Apostles — that is, what we call Tradition. Why is this important? What is this distinction we’re trying to make? Well, it shows that Philip was not operating under a “sola scriptura” mentality. He considered the message he heard, revealed to him by the Apostles, to be a message worthy of believing and passing on, even though it went beyond, embellished upon, and added to the Old Testament Scriptures. “Scripture alone” was not enough to save either Philip or the Ethiopian, or any of the Apostles: this required the intervention and revelation of Jesus, which at this time, was not a scriptural message. Do you think, after this message was finally written down, repeating and preaching from the oral tradition (tradition here means simply “handing down”) of that message ceased to be effective? Do you think there was no other content in that message that was not written in Scripture? Paul tells us, in fact, quite the opposite, when he exhorts us to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). There was, apparently, content worth passing on that was not being written down!

                  It is a common Protestant canard that “there are no quotes … from the [deuterocanon]” in the New Testament. This is an unsupported claim and is misleading. Are there direct quotes? This is actually a debatable point: for what actually constitutes a “direct quote”? Does it have to be word for word, verbatim, and if it’s not, how is that different from an “allusion”? How many words or phrases have to be quoted for it to be counted? And what criteria should we use for determining this, since the books of the Old Testament were written originally in Hebrew and this brings translation issues into the concern? Really the clearest evidence of direct quotation occurs when the New Testament authors quite verbatim from the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament), as often is the case! But the fact is that professional textual scholars, those responsible for the editions of the New Testament that make up most modern Bibles — and these are fairly secular people, not Catholic partisans — have compiled lists of hundreds of possible or purported references to the deuterocanonical books in the New Testament. Jimmy Akin has shared the reference list from the Nestlé-Åland New Testament, 27th Edition (called the NA27).

                  The Septuagint was not “compiled by a non-Jew.” It is called the Septuagint, in fact, because it is said to have been compiled by seventy (“septuaginta”) Jewish scholars in Alexandria. Just because a Jew was not living in Palestine does not make him a “non-Jew,” and just because some Jews were living in Palestine does not make them alone “real Jews.” You recall that the Jewish people were exiled from Judea on several occasions, and only a small remnant returned; the vast majority of Jews, then and now, were living in diaspora. There was a sizable and influential Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, and that is where the Septuagint was compiled — and then widely used by the Jewish community in Palestine and everywhere else.

                  You are right that the Palestinian Pharisees eventually rejected the Septuagint and any book not written in Hebrew. (Most scholars today believe that several if not most of the deuterocanonical books were written originally in Hebrew.) This cannot be set to an exact date (there was no “Council of Jamnia”), but this certainly occurred in the century following Christ’s earthly life. The fact that Christians had embraced the Septuagint and these books very likely played into their rejection of them. Also, following the destruction of the Temple and the further fragmentation of their society, the Pharisees had an understandably nationalistic response, rejecting all Hellenistic incursions and influences. This is more a comment on them and their situation than on any merit those books might have. Why we should look to the very group that rejected Jesus and sought His crucifixion to determine the validity of our revelation and the authority of our scriptural canon is beyond me.

                  The overwhelming majority of Church Fathers accepted the deuterocanical books as they received them — the common view being that they were Scripture. Jerome is one of only very few authors, speaking centuries after Christ, who questioned the canonicity of the deuterocanon. He was influenced by many years of living among the Palestinian Pharisees — whose views toward Scripture, and to anything not purely Hebrew, we have already discussed.

                  Berea was a city in Macedonia, in what is now northern Greece. These were Jews of the Diaspora, who had been culturally Greek for several centuries. I think we can state as a virtual certainty that they were using the Septuagint, not the Hebrew texts. Even in Palestine, it was only a very small minority of the population — only rabbinic scholars — who knew or could read the Hebrew language. Biblical Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, was no longer a spoken, living language: Palestinian Jews then spoke Aramaic as their primary language, as did Jesus. The likelihood of a Jewish community in first-century Macedonia reading the Scriptures in Hebrew as a group is practically zero. This is like going into an American church and expecting the whole body to be reading the the Bible in Hebrew and Greek. There may in fact be a few who can, but only as a scholarly pursuit: likewise in Berea.

                  Just because Scripture does not state a thing explicitly does not mean there is “silence” on the matter: historical fact has something to say as well.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Hi Joseph – no problem from this end chiming in — welcome.

                    The back and forth initially started with a simple point, saying that Paul, (Hebrew of Hebrews btw — see I can’t stop myself) commending the Bereans for searching the Scriptures daily means that the 7 books are valid is a stretch and has expanded to definitely proving one side or the other in the Catholic v. Protestant debate — I think it is clear we are just about to get this figured out.

                    So I will say that we can respectfully agree to disagree and know that Jesus will straighten us out in the end.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Yes, ED’s original argument was a modest one. It was your insistence to reject the deuterocanon that caused you to introduce these other arguments and make this a Catholic-Protestant debate. I was responding to the claims you made. I tend to think ED’s original premise — that the Bereans’ acceptance of the Septuagint suggests an acceptance of the deuterocanonical books that were a part of it — is a reasonable one, especially when the wide acceptance of those books by other Jews in the Diaspora and by the Early Church is considered. Your initial response — to argue first that they may not have been Septuagint at all, and their Septuagint may not have contained those books, seems to accept the validity of her premise, too. The Protestant rejection of the deuterocanon is a post-hoc argument that grasps at straws: By the time of the Reformation, these books had been a part of the Christian Bible for ten centuries or more, and it was Protestants who removed those books, not Catholics who added them.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Joseph, feel free to keep going but it was correctly pointed out by ED that we are talking past each other — you don’t agree with me or accept the logic of what I am saying and I don’t agree with you and even if we break it down to foundational issues, it will come back to the same thing.

                      It is fair enough as we are free in Christ and He gave us brains, but generally it is a waste of time for everyone involved.

                      Like

                    3. Thomas, my apologies. You are certainly free to dismiss mine or anyone’s argument on whatever grounds you please, but I tend to believe that sound logical argumentation involves using reason to reject the argument and evidence of the other, rather than simply dismissing it as a waste of time. If it has come to that, I believe ED can consider her point vindicated.

                      Like

                    4. Just as a point of clarity: it is not so much that I disagree with your logic, as I disagree with your premise. It seems to me that you are reasoning correctly from your premise, as am I from mine (and Joseph too). This is why I wanted to steer the course of the conversation to foundational issues, which are the premises from which we begin.

                      To review: my premise is that there is a Deposit of Faith that was delivered once for the saints (Jude verse 3), and that it is my duty to learn the elements of it and to pass it along as it was given to me. As Jesus said in John 7:16: “My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me.” Paul echoed this same idea in verses such as 1 Cor. 15:3, 2 Tim. 1:14, and 2 Tim. 2:2.

                      I take this to mean that it is not our job to establish the Deposit for the first time, nor is it our job to establish the doctrine of Christ as if to set it up for the first time, only to learn it so we can pass it along intact.

                      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s