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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