The Septuagint

It is often cited that one of the proofs that Martin Luther’s decision to omit 7 books (the Deuterocanon) from the Bible was wrong is because the New Testament authors, and even Jesus at times, quotes from the Septuagint which contained the Deuterocanonical books. Well if we are to be consistent with our criticisms shouldn’t we also concede that it was wrong to omit the Prayer of Manasseh, 3 & 4 Maccabees etc from the Catholic canon since they are also included in the Septuagint?

If the reason we took those books out was because we did not have reliable copies, well wasn’t that Luther’s logic to omit the Deuterocanon?

Moreover, did the original canon of Scripture ever contain these extra books that our Orthodox brethren use in their canon?

Martin Luther was a tormented, tragic figure. First, I pray that he is rejoicing for the purgative process as we speak. Now, as to the Septuagint, the Church had not been commissioned with the power to vet the scriptures when it was quoted from - except by our Lord, of course.

The test for canonicity is the Holy Spirit’s guidance that it is inspired. There is no other test. Certain theology in the Deuterocanonical books clearly and directly contradicted Martin’s personal theology. He simply did not like them. His denial of free will was one of the major motivating factors, as was his personally held belief that mankind is capable of doing nothing pleasing to God. I remind here of Luke 11:11-13.

The Church, after tolerating some spurious works in its infancy, and acknowledging that testing was needed in order to limit the early heresies, eventually gathered into the councils. The sheer number of writings that were produced in the time frame of the early Church is staggering. They could not all be inspired! Clearly, not everything in the Septuagint was inspired, or else no such power of canonization would have been granted the Church by our Lord.

A compact and quickly read book that would help you immensely (as it is helping me right now) is Where We Got The Bible by former Presbyterian pastor / Scottish Catholic Bishop Henry G. Graham. It is a practical and logical, rather than a scholarly work. However, Bishop Graham clearly deconstructs the 16th century European thoughts regarding the pre-reformation Church and the scriptures. I very highly recommend it.

Point to ponder: As to the Lutheran adoption of the Pharisaic “canon”, why on earth would any Christian, for any reason, approach those whose ancestors had chosen scriptures specifically to limit indications of Jesus as Lord?

But don’t some of our Eastern Churches have canons that include 3 and 4 Mac. etc?

Are there two infallibilities?


To my knowledge, the western Church has made no ruling on those texts in use only by eastern Churches (and different eastern Churches vary as well), unlike Protestants who have gone ahead and ruled that the deuterocanon Is not divinely inspired. We just haven’t used them in our liturgy.

Scroll down and see the various differences. Those in communion with the Bishop of Rome are in full compliance as to the canon, as they submit to the authority of the universal Church. The rest of the East remains fairly well fractured - the hallmark of separatism and geographic affiliation.

On page 172 of Gary Michuta’s book, “Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger,” there is a table of early copies of the Septuagint and the books they contain. I bring it up because I think it shows, perhaps, that the books you are wondering about are not part of the Septuagint after all. Now, I do not have the book in front of me, but I took notes a while back on it, and I have those. Assuming my notations and the book’s information are complete, the information I am about to give you should be correct.

The earliest copy of the Septuagint in the table is the Vaticanus codex from the 4th century. It contains all of the Old Testament – including the Deuterocanon, except the Maccabees. It does not contain the books you mention.

The next earliest is the 4th century Sinaiticus codex, which is missing Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Ruth, Baruch, Ezekiel, and Daniel, but includes the rest. It does not contain the books you mention.

The next earliest is the fifth century Alexandrinus codex, which lacks 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, but contains all the Deuterocanon. It also includes 1 Esdras and 3-4 Maccabees, but not 2 Esdras or the Prayer of Manasseh.

The next earliest is the fifth century Ephraemi Rescriptus, which has only Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, Job, Wisdom, and Sirach. It does not contain the books you mention.

Finally, there is the eighth century Codex Basilano-Vaticanus-Venetus, which lacks only Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, and the last chapter of Baruch. It also adds 3 and 4 Maccabees, but not the Prayer of Manasseh of the two Esdras books.

All of these Codices contain Books from the Deuterocanon placed among the other Books of Scripture, but the majority of them do not appear to include 3-4 Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, or the two Esdras books. (It is my understanding that Ezra and Nehemiah are sometimes called 1 and 2 Esdras in older literature. The original Douay-Rheims bible does this, for example. But I think there are also two other books of 1 and 2 Esdras, apocryphal ones, and those are the ones I am talking about in this post.)

I hope that is helpful. Perhaps you could get Gary Michuta’s book for more information. It’s available here:

**EDIT :: We can summarize the table this way (assuming I wrote down my notes correctly and Michuta’s table was complete):

There are 5 copies of the Septuagint in Michuta’s table on page 172 of his book.

5 of them contain Wisdom;
5 of them contain Sirach;
4 of them contain Judith; the one that lacks it lacks most of the Old Testament;
4 of them contain Tobit; the one that lacks it lacks most of the Old Testament;
3 of them contain Baruch; those that lack it lack much or most of the Old Testament;
3 of them contain 1 Maccabees; one of those that lacks it lacks most of the Old Testament;
2 of them contain 2 Maccabees; two of those that lack it lack much or most of the Old Testament.

2 of them contain 3 Maccabees;
2 of them contain 4 Maccabees;
1 of them contains 1 Esdras;
0 of them contain the Prayer of Manasseh.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessarily true that these four books were part of the Septuagint. I hope that helps. Please let me know.

Have you taken a look recently at how fractured the West is? :shrug:

Nice job!:thumbsup:

I haven’t. Care to share?

Oh! You mean with that whole protestantism thing? Sure.

The west has little difficulty holding synods or councils, I will note. Actually, our Lord and the apostles pleaded for unity 2,000 years ago. I would counter that trying to make things relative does not serve that purpose. Each of us can offer God only our obedience, one heart at a time.

I am pleased, even if many (most?) Orthodox are not at the ongoing and even increasing talks. We have plenty of work to do in unity - much more so when separated.

The Septuagint could be viewed as a general collection of translated OT books to Greek. Scholars tend to agree that the Pentatuech were the first books translated to Greek in Alexandria. Other books followed. These translated books were widely read and circulated in Egypt/Palestine by Hellenistic Jews and continued to be used for a couple of hundred of years AD. There were variants of these translated books in circulation then. The Church presumably took the existing Palestinian version in used then and added the NT books over the centuries to it. Not all LXX books are deemed canonical by the Catholic Church.

The Church is the sole authority to determine inspiration of the various books of the Catholic Bible. Luther does not posses this inspiration nor authority to define Holy Scriptures. He is not THE Church. Neither the Rabbanic Jews have any authority to define the canon for the Christian faith. Of course this limitation does not prevent them from customizing/removing what they think is suitable/relevant for him/them. The Septuagint version adopted by the Church was pre-existing and circulating and did not carry the bias alluded to the Protestant Bible or the Jewish Masoretic Text which may have an anti-catholic or anti-Christian angle.

Mark Bonocore has a writeup on why the Orthodox Church has more books than the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say regarding 3 & 4 Maccabees:

III Mach. is the story of a persecution of the Jews in Egypt under Ptolemy IV Philopator (222-205 B. C.), and therefore has no right to its title. Though the work contains much that is historical, the story is a fiction. IV Mach. is a Jewish-Stoic philosophical treatise on the supremacy of pious reason, that is religious principles, over the passions. The martyrdom of Eleazar and of the seven brothers (2 Maccabees 6:18-7) is introduced to illustrate the author’s thesis. Neither book has any claim to canonicity, though the first for a while received favourable consideration in some Churches.

Correct. The term ‘Septuagint’ itself, one could argue, originally refers to the Greek Pentateuch / Torah only.

To sum, there’s this legend that the Greek Torah was the work of seventy-two Jewish translators who were commissioned by a Greek king of Egypt. The legend became more embellished as time went on, to the point that these translators were said to have each translated the Torah individually (they were all locked , all of them miraculously producing the exact same translation. The Greek Torah was thus seen by some Jews as having a special, divinely-approved status equal to the Hebrew.

Christians entering the scene is where it gets confusing. Some early Christians began to claim that what the seventy-two (now more often rounded to seventy) translated was not just the Pentateuch, but the whole Old Testament. It was actually Christians who invented the term versio septuaginta ‘the version of the seventy’ and indiscriminately applied said ‘Septuagint’ label to any sacred Jewish literature in Greek that they encountered, not restricting it to the Greek Torah. In a way, you could say they are to blame for muddling up the definition of the word. :stuck_out_tongue:

And that’s the reason why ‘Septuagint’ is a difficult term.

I]t is necessary to clarify what we mean by “the Septuagint.” Sometime between three to two hundred years before Jesus and Hillel, Greek-speaking Jews began producing translations of books that we now find in the Hebrew Bible: they started with the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, but eventually translated them all. There is a legend that comes to us in a fictional work called the Letter of Aristeas. It tells how seventy-two Jewish men were gathered to the island of Pharos in Alexandria by an Egyptian ruler in the mid-third century BCE to translate the first five books of the Bible. Over time, the number seventy-two became remembered as seventy for some reason, and in Latin seventy is septuaginta; that name stuck with the earliest Greek translation of various books, and not only the first five books, but all the books classed together as authoritative Jewish Scriptures.

Today Septuagint is a fuzzy term. Some people think of a particular collection as being “The Septuagint.” Due to its widespread use today, students, pastors, and scholars think of the German textual expert Alfred Rahlf’s Septuaginta. It is available in a handy one-volume print edition, and since at least the 1980s its text has been available in electronic format. Most scholars do not actually believe that there was a book (codex) form of the Septuagint at the turn of the millennia, but they still talk about “the Septuagint,” as if Paul, for example, had gone to the local Alexandrian Bible Society bookstore in Tarsus and purchased his own bound copy of The Septuagint, from which he preached. In more thoughtful moments, we realize that Paul would not have done that, but rather he cited the Septuagint probably from a combination of memory, some form of crib sheet with important texts written out, and by finding and quoting from locally available scrolls or copies of particular biblical books that belonged to the translation-tradition that we refer to as “the Septuagint.” Some scholars will use the term Septuagint more loosely to refer to any Greek version of the Scriptures that were available to the early church. Still others reserve “Septuagint” for the earliest translation of the first five books of the Bible, and they use “Old Greek” for the first translations of the other books.

Quoting myself here:

I should just add: the ‘Septuagint’ as we know it today is really a Christian construct. In fact, the term is so vague that it could literally have different meanings depending on the context and/or the speaker.

Part of the confusion about the term ‘Septuagint’ lies in the early Christian usage of the term. (I should note that the term itself is a Christian invention.)

The earliest Greek translation of any OT book was that of the Torah, made around the 3rd century BC. A legend (mostly fictional, but with bits of fact in it) from the 2nd century BC claims that this translation was made by seventy-two (sometimes rounded into seventy) Jewish scholars for the Greek king of Egypt, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (reigned 285-246 BC). This very famous legend was repeated as fact by later generations of Jews and Christians. However, by the time it got into Christian hands, the legend became distorted a little bit: early Christians tended to consider those translations of OT books they encountered and commonly used to be also the ‘version of the seventy’ (versio septuaginta in Latin), although the original legend was about the Greek Torah only. This explains why nowadays, ‘Septuagint’ is used interchangeably with ‘Greek Old Testament’.

So strictly speaking, what the term ‘Septuagint’ means could either be (1) the 3rd century BC Greek Torah (as per the original form of the legend), with the earliest Greek versions of other OT books (3rd-1st century BC) being called “Old Greek” (OG); or (2) in a more looser way, as a catch-all reference to these earliest available Greek translations of Jewish (scriptural) books as a whole, or even (3) Scriptural books in Greek that were available to and read by the early Christians, regardless of whether they were the oldest translations made of said books or not. Nowadays the more common sense in popular usage is somewhere midway between (2) and (3), with more emphasis on (3).

The problem with the common shorthand use of ‘Septuagint’ to refer to the Greek OT (“The evangelists/Paul quoted the Septuagint,” etc.), however, is that using it gives an inaccurate image in people’s heads. One might imagine ‘Septuagint’ here being used in the same way as, say, the terms ‘King James Version’ or ‘RSV’. In other words, it could give the image of (1) an already-established canon of OT books, and (2) that this established canon was already in scroll form (i.e. all the inspired works are contained in a single scroll or codex, like in our modern Bibles).

First off, the books that make up what we usually call the ‘Septuagint’ were not translated as a set. These books were originally independent translations that were made by different people at different times. In fact, AFAIK it’s rather unlikely that the collection of these books we’re familiar with already existed before Christianity arose. It was really the early Christians who gathered together these different independent Greek translations into a single collection.

And this here is basically my personal theory about the development of the Christian OT canon. I believe that it was actually early Christians who elevated the deuterocanon - popular literature which are influential and widely-used - to the same status as the undisputed sacred literature (the protocanonical books), the cornerstone of Jewish belief / way of life / national identity, considering both categories to be sacred; in effect, the Reformers tossed out what the early Christians had adopted.

There seem to be some authoritative answers here ( above ) and I refer you to them.

I had the idea of getting an English copy of the Septuagint and I chose to get The Orthodox Study Bible, 2008, St Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology.

The introduction to this Bible answers your last question. According to this study Bible, there IS NO “canon” of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps you can pursue that topic in the other forum on other religions. The writer says that so tradition-oriented is the Orthodox Church, that they don’t recognize the Christian councils which established a “canon.” But, this collection is what they accept from “tradition.” So, where they got it is vague.

If you were shopping for an English copy of the Septuagint, I’d recommend you compare this Bible to the one published by Oxford University Press. I haven’t seen the Oxford version, but I don’t like this study Bible. It merges the Septuagint with the King James Version; you can’t tell immediately where all the contributions of the Septuagint are. It seems that the purpose of the St. Athanasius version was not to worry about that but simply to address the merged Bible. So, that’s why I say, compare before you pay money.

Regardless of the provenance of any of the writings of the LX/70/72, just what sort of sense does it make for a Christian “leader” to adopt the Pharisaic “canon” which was tailored to reject Jesus as Messiah? This odd and inexplicable action we commemorate next year.

This (( Bible says that there is no canon of scripture for the Orthodox Church. This is so, because the OC does not recognize the councils which DID establish a canon for the western Church. They say that this collection has been accepted and passed on from tradition.

I can’t find it but there’s a version I’d recommend you to check out, the Septuagint from Oxford University Press.

Some great responses here! Thanks everyone.

There is a separate book I read years ago about the Orthodox Church. The author, a priest in the OC, expresses surprise that during the Reformation, “protestants” didn’t move towards the OC, which was already in schism from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

He says that with respect to the OC, the Protestant churches took away too much from scripture, and the RCC has added too much. He describes the OC as the church of the New Testament. The RCC recognizes the OC as having apostolic succession and valid sacraments, although the OC is in schism from the RCC.

And, as I recall from your OP, they use the Septuagint for their liturgy and teaching.

Here is one example.
Cardinal Burke: we will make ‘formal act of correction’ if Pope doesn’t issue Amoris clarification
Pope Francis declines to answer four cardinals’ Amoris appeal

Just say Yes or No Holy Father! .:smiley:

What is it about this pope that puts him in a special position the previous popes were not in concerning this situation?


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