Does the New Testament Misquote the Old Testament?

Sometimes when a New Testament writer quotes the Old Testament, the two passages do not match precisely. Is the New Testament writer misquoting the Old Testament? Or is there another explanation?

Luke records that when Jesus began his ministry, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath day. When he stood up to read the Scriptures, “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him” (Luke 4:17). Jesus read the description of a climactic arrival of the anointed one from Isaiah 61:1–2, excluding the last half of verse two. That omission is understandable, but if you look at Luke 4:18–19 and Isaiah 61:1–2 side by side, several dissimilarities in what Jesus read are readily apparent.

In the original Old Testament passage, there is no reference to making the blind see. Conversely, Isaiah speaks of “binding up the brokenhearted,” a phrase absent in Luke. Since Luke is clear that Jesus was reading from a scroll, the divergence is not due to Luke (or Jesus) quoting from memory and messing up the passage! What’s going on here?

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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19)

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Isaiah 61:1–2)

Most of the time when a divergence occurs between a New Testament quotation and the Old Testament, the answer is the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. It often does not match the Hebrew text from which most Old Testaments were translated. Jesus apparently either read from a Hebrew text that reflected the Septuagint, or Luke fills in the quoted passage with the Septuagint. (And since Luke was not Jewish and spoke Greek, the Septuagint would have been his Bible.)

The Septuagint version of Isaiah 61:1–2 reads, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim the release of the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to summon the acceptable year of the Lord” (NETS). Jesus (or Luke) gets the “recovery of sight to the blind” line from the Septuagint. The Septuagint also contains a line from the traditional Old Testament that isn’t in Luke’s record!

This example shows that it’s worth our time to check cross-references, especially in quotations. Do it yourself by comparing New Testament quotations both to translations of the traditional Hebrew text, like the NASB or ESV, and an up-to-date English translation of the Septuagint.

We often don’t realize that even biblical writers depended on translations that they considered the Word of God. In the same manner, we can consider our own translations the Word of God.

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why is the bible hard to understandDr. Michael S. Heiser is a scholar-in-residence for Faithlife, the makers of Logos Bible Software. He is the author of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible and has taught many Mobile Ed courses, including Problems in Biblical Interpretation: Difficult Passages I.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Heiser’s book I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.

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Comments

  1. Joseph Lukowski says:

    Hello, everyone. I saw the movie The Passion of Christ, and Jesus was speaking in Aramaic. If Jesus was speaking Aramaic at the time he walked on the earth, and people heard him, and then later communicated (from memory) his words into Greek (the New Testament), should there not be some variance expected for the translation from Aramaic into late koine Greek? In other words, why do we expect the New Testament writers to rely on the early koine Greek of the LXX as their exclusive source for translating into late koine Greek what was originally spoken by the lips of Jesus in the Aramaic language of that time?

  2. B. Johnson says:

    This is where I get confused: if the original autographs are inerrant, (and I believe they are), is the Septuagint translation also inerrant when it is quoted in the New Testament? I have a hard time reconciling this issue.

  3. Mark Sequeira says:

    This explanation is possibly over-simplified and unsatisfactory. Books such as “When God Spoke Greek” by Timothy Michael Law and
    “Invitation to the Septuagint” by Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva, as well as Facebook resources such as “The Septuagint and the Apostolic Bible” (https://www.facebook.com/TheSeptuagint/) speak about an older independent Hebrew text than our MT (found along with the Dead Sea Scrolls) that matches up VERY CLOSELY to the Greek Septuagint version which is hundreds of years older than the MT.

    A better example than the one cited is: Hebrews 10:5 (where the author cites the Septuagint) ” Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for me.” VERSUS Psalms 40:6 in most Bibles relying on the MT which states: “But my ear thou hast pierced.” So, we have either Paul (or the author) not knowing the Hebrew Bible (unlikely), the MT being clearly in the wrong (based on belief in N.T. inerrancy and inspiration of the H.S. – by quoting the Septuagint version), or ?

    Those who hold tightly to the MT over the Septuagint must be willing to look at their denial of Paul and N.T. authors, in supporting the MT (much later Hebrew text).

    Some early church fathers argued that the Jews abandoned the Greek O.T. (The Septuagint) because so many verses were causinbg Jews to believe in the Messiah Jesus and so created a Hebrew revision that obscured those passages talking about the coming of the Messiah. (The passage regarding Jesus being born of a virgin is another example from the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew MT.)

    I think the reader(s) would have benefited from a deeper discussion about various independent Hebrew versions and how the NT either supports or contradicts those versions, incl. the text translated into Greek (our common Septuagint) and the later MT. Of course, there is not just one “Septuagint” or MT text either, but the article glosses over the differences between the Septuagint most often quoted by N.T. authors (70% of the time over the MT) and the later Hebrew text we have in the Jewish MT.

    I struggle believing that Psalm 40:5 actually originally said “But my ear thou hast pierced.” knowing that the New Testament tells me it originally said something far different and relied on it to prove Jesus’ claims.