Theological Terms from the LXX – an Excerpt from Invitation to the Septuagint, 2nd Edition

The following is an excerpt from Invitation to the Septuagint, by Karen Jobes and Moisés Silva.


Perhaps the most striking case of the adoption and adaptation of theological language from the Greek Jewish Scriptures in the NT is the use of (ὁ) κύριος with reference to Jesus Christ. It is difficult to find a better starting point for Christology than the realization that the NT writers, who for the most part were monotheistic Jewish men, freely apply to Jesus, without apology or explanation, the term previously used in the Scriptures to translate the divine name of God (יהוה). The Greek translators had already extended the use of κύριος from its typical sense of “master” or “lord” to a distinct theological term.

Cover ArtAnother example is the noun ἄγγελος, which in Classical Greek meant “messenger” in a fairly general sense. When the Greek translators used it to represent the Hebrew, which often specifically designated a (superhuman) messenger sent by God, a new acceptation or definition was created. The use of this specialized Greek term in the NT doubtlessly reflects the strong influence of the Septuagint. From the standpoint of language, however, such a new meaning can be seen as merely a semantic addition to the lexical inventory, necessitated by the appearance of a new “thing.” Any explanations of what this thing is belong not to linguistic description but rather to extralinguistic— in this case, theological—interpretation.

But to say that the effect of such changes on linguistic structure is relatively small and superficial is not to suggest that, with respect to them, the influence of the LXX on NT thought is unimportant. Any time a NT writer uses a term that is common in the LXX and that is closely associated with Hebrew theology, we may safely assume that what is said about that term’s referent in the LXX would have significantly affected Christian reflection.

So, for example, when Paul describes the law as having been ordained through angels (Gal. 3:19; cf. Acts 7:53 and Heb. 2:2), we should take into account LXX Deut. 33:2, which speaks about the Lord’s coming from Sinai σὺν μυριάσιν Καδης, ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ (“with myriads of Cades, [and] on his right hand his angels were with him”). The Hebrew text does not have the word at all, and the last clause is problematic.

It is likely that the Greek translator was simply stumped by that clause and came up with a statement conceptually parallel to the previous clause so as to disturb the context as little as possible. For Paul, as well as for other Greek-speaking Jews who used the Greek version, this passage would have contributed to the belief (suggested elsewhere, perhaps Ps. 68:17 [LXX 67:18]) that angels were involved in the giving of the Mosaic law. (Note again, however, that to describe an angelic function is different from discussing the meaning of the word ἄγγελος.)

©2015 by Karen H. Jobes and Moisés Silva. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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