The Fallibility of the Hebrew Masoretic Text

In this series we will look at the accuracy and integrity of the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament known as the Masoretic Text (MT) while comparing it to the older Greek Septuagint (LXX), the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers. It should be noted before we begin that while we agree that the Bible is infallible, this cannot legitimately be applied to the Masoretic text of the Old Testament.

When comparing the Greek Septuagint with the Hebrew Masoretic text it is important to first understand when, how and why these text were established.

History of the Masoretic Text:

  • Work on the Masoretic Text did not begin until late in history, 7th Century A.D, which is long after the time of Christ meaning He never knew of this text nor did any Jews during his time.
  • The text was not fully completed until the 10th century A.D.
  • Early proto-Masoretic text were produced in the 2nd century after Christ by the Jews to alter verses in the Septuagint that Jesus fufilled. The first proto-Masoretic text however were like the Septuagint in Greek.
  • Rabbis (mostly Karaite) composed the Masoretic Text at different Talmudic academies in Babylonia and Palestine.
  • The authors of the Hebrew text we have today were known as the Masoretes, hence the name Masoretic Text.
  • Old Testament Quotes found in the New Testament often do not match or are contradictory as we will show below.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls do not support this text in most cases and show it did not exist along side the Septuagint. Scholars had hoped the Scrolls would contain an ancient Masoretic Text, but what they found instead was Paleo-Hebrew text, in square script as well as Aramaic and Greek, not Masoretic Hebrew.

The Septuagint’s History:

  • The Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint or LXX, has a much longer history as it was produced around 300 BC, making the Greek many centuries older than the modern Hebrew.
  • Unlike the Masoretic text,  the Septuagint existed before Jesus’ time.
  • Old Testament Quotes found in the New Testament match word for word. There is no contradictions. This shows that Jesus and the Apostles quotes come from this text.
  • The word Septuagint literally means seventy, because of the Seventy Rabbis who translated the text from an older Aramaic or Hebrew text. This text became the authoritative text for all Israelites.
  • Unlike the Masoretic text, which was not commissioned under any authority, The High Priest and the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem accepted the Septuagint as accurate and authoritative for use in the Temple and Synagogues. Note: This is a really important issue that cannot be overlooked. If the highest ranking Jewish officials agreed that the manuscript was accurate and correct, how can one deny it as the authoritative translation of the original Old Testament today?
  • Jewish historians/philosophers such as Flavius Josephus and Philo quoted from this text in their writings.
  • Again, Christ and the Apostles quoted from the Septuagint. This is the most important point to keep in mind. To deny that the Septuagint is accurate then would be to go against Christ and the Apostles quotes of the Old Testament from this text.

The Council at Jamnia

As mentioned, according to history the Jews altered the Septuagint to change prophecies which pointed to Christ. It has been claimed that a council took place at Jamnia in 95 AD, where the Jews decided to remove the Apocrypha from the Bible, because it contained condemning information about them. At this time they also decided to produce an alternative Old Testament to compete with the Septuagint. They did not like the fact that the Septuagint was being used by the Christians to prove Jesus as the Messiah.

No one knows for certain if a council at Jamnia actually occurred, however, we do know that around 100 A.D. Rabbi Akiva (who later proclaimed Bar Kochba as the Messiah) commissioned a scribe by the name of Aquila to produce an altered version of the Old Testament in Greek to discredit the Christians (for more info please read, “Rabbi Akiba’s Messiah” by Jewish Christian, Dan Gruber). So the first version of the Masoretic text, although in Greek (as the Hebrew still had not been developed yet) was born and was in fact created to discredit Christ.

Comparing Both Text with the New Testament

Proof that the Masoretic text is truly the altered version and that the Septuagint is the true, infallible word of God can be found simply using the New Testament. Those who prefer the Hebrew Masoretic typically do not realize that the Masoretic Text does not match prophecies that Jesus fulfilled or His quotes in the New Testament. Rather than His words following the Hebrew, verses which He quoted were intentionally changed to make Him appear to be ignorant of what the Old Testament says. Similarly verses which were prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus were also changed so that His birth, life, death and resurrection would not match.

Comparing verses taken from the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), the King James Version (KJV), the Septuagint, and comparing to the New Testament reveals which text is accurate and infallible and which was corrupted. Note that the KJV is included because some of the Old Testament manuscripts used were from the Masoretic text. However, the KJV New Testament is based on the Textus Receptus and is a wonderful text for New Testament accuracy:


LXXE Isaiah 7:14: 
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel.

CJB Masoretic Text Isaiah 7:14:
Therefore Adonai himself will give you people a sign: the young woman will become pregnant, bear a son and name him ‘Immanu El [God is with us].

New Testament


Matthew 1:23 

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Distorting the virgin birth, the CJB Masoretic reads:

the young woman will become pregnant”, whereas the LXX reads “a virgin shall conceive” matching the New Testament.

Note: The translators of the KJV chose to disregard the Masoretic Text in this verse, sticking with the virgin birth.

LXXE Isaiah 61:1:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind;

CJB Masoretic :Isaiah 61:1
The Spirit of Adonai ELOHIM is upon me, because ADONAI has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark;

KJV Masoretic Isaiah 61:1:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to [them that are] bound


New Testament


Luke 4:18

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

The CJB Masoretic reads “to let out into light those bound in the dark” which is interpreted that the Messiah will release Israel from exile and restore them fully to their homeland in Israel. Whereas the LXX reads “recovery of the sight to the blind” which are Jesus’ exact words in the New Testament.

LXXE Psalm 21:17 [LXX numbering is slightly different]:
For many dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked doers has beset me round: they pierced my hands and my feet.

CJB Masoretic Psalm 22:16 [LXX numbering is slightly different]

Dogs are all around me, a pack of villains closes in on me like a lion [at] my hands and feet

Here the Masoretic has completely removed the piercing of Jesus’ hands and feet which we are told a number of times in the New Testament happened at the crucifixion.

Note: The KJV translators (as well as most other modern translators) disregarded the Masoretic reading here in favor of Biblical truth.

LXXE Isaiah 42:4: 

He shall shine out, and shall not be discouraged, until he have set judgement on the earth: and in his name shall the Gentiles trust

CJB Masoretic Isaiah 42:4:
He will not weaken or be crushed until he has established justice on the earth, and the coastlands wait for his Torah

KJV Masoretic Isaiah 42:4:
He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law


New Testament


Matthew 12:21
And in His name Gentiles will trust.

Paul’s Quotes

The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion. Having been such it is safe to assume that he would have known the Hebrew version of the Old Testament, if one existed during his time, and quoted from it. However, we find that Paul’s quotes of the Old Testament do not match the Hebrew Masoretic, but instead match the Septuagint:

LXXE Deuteronomy 32:43:
Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.

KJV Masoretic Deuteronomy 32:43:
Rejoice, O ye nations, [with] his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, [and] to his people.

New Testament


Hebrews 1:6:

But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”

Notice that the Masoretic completely leaves out the portion prophesying the Angels worshiping Christ. This was fulfilled at the Nativity when the whole host of heaven glorified God praising Him for the birth of His son.

LXXE Psalm 40:6:
Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and [sacrifice] for sin thou didst not require.

CJB Masoretic Psalm 40:6:
Sacrifices and grain offerings you don’t want; burnt offerings and sin offerings you don’t demand. Instead, you have given me open ears;

KJV Masoretic Psalm 40:6:
Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required

New Testament


Hebrews 10:5

Therefore, when he comes into the world, he says: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me;

Notice that the versions that use the Masoretic read “you have given me open ears”, whereas the LXX says “a body hast thou prepared for me”, which matches the Greek New Testament.

Note: This is only a small sampling of verses that were later altered in the Hebrew Masoretic Text.

 

 While there are certain differences in New Testament usage, there is no doubt that of all Greek versions the LXX was employed predominantly and that it enjoyed independent existence in the period just prior to the time of Christ. – R. K. Harrison, “Introduction to the Old Testament”, pp. 231–232

If the Septuagint Old Testament was universally accepted by the Jews before the time of Christ, then it makes sense that the New Testament was written in Greek as well.  In fact, there are over 6,000 early manuscripts and fragments of the Greek New Testament in existence today. When we include the translations such as the Latin Vulgate and other early versions, there are well over 24,000 early copies and fragments of the New Testament pointing to the Greek. Plus the Greek version was exclusively quoted by the early Church.

Some of the fragments date only twenty years from the original autographs. By comparison to other ancient manuscripts such as the works of Plato or Aristotle, there are only a handful of copies that were written 1,200–1,400 years after the original autographs. According to a former director of the British Museum,

The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established. – Comfort, Philip W. “The Origin of the Bible” Tyndale House 1992 p.181

If Greek was the standard text for the Old Testament then naturally the Apostles would have written the New Testament in Greek as well. Furthermore, God apparently chose and guided the production of the Greek Septuagint for a reason. Greek was universally used in the Roman Empire and this would have made it easy to further the Gospel to the gentiles as Jesus commanded.

Conclusion

The lack of integrity on part of the authors of the Masoretic text in their attempts to remove and distort the Old Testament that Jesus fulfilled proves that this text cannot be claimed to be infallible. Instead, the Septuagint is proven to be the only true infallible Old Testament text as it matches the words of Christ and prophecies He fulfilled. Torah Observers hold the Masoretic Text in high as-teem yet their idolatry of the Hebrew is proven to be without basis. Other groups such as Muslims claim the Bible is corrupt yet they have simply fallen prey to the altering of the Old Testament by early Jews.

It should be noted that the New Testament, no matter the version is not in question. Nor is the Old Testament in the Septuagint. Both are infallible and the word of God.  Most newer Bibles use both the Masoretic text and the Septuagint for their Old Testament so as to provide Christians with a wider array of study tools and note in the footnotes which text is being quoted or where they text differ.

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