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But why study the LXX? I’m glad you asked. It’s customary to say that the LXX is important because it’s the OT translation most used by the authors of the New Testament. That’s not wrong, but it can be misleading. I don’t think the NT authors took the LXX to be divinely inspired; when they draw from the OT, they draw from the Hebrew. But they’re writing in Greek, the common tongue of their era, and they don’t see any need to reinvent the wheel. So they usually opt to use the pre-existing Greek biblical vocabulary and idioms, and that means using the LXX.
So the LXX is important for understanding what the NT does with Hebrew. That’s helpful to losers like me: The Hebrew language is the largest tract in the vast fields of my ignorance, but with some Greek abilities and the LXX, I can trace more connections from the OT to the NT even without knowing any Hebrew.
The LXX is also an interesting glimpse into the Old Testament beyond what you get from modern translations alone. As the translation ancient Jews made of the sacred writings and which was studied by any number of Greek-speaking Jews in the diaspora for centuries, the LXX matters.
Of course, it has other uses. It might be good literature in its own right. In the event of an ambiguity between the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls on the working of the OT, the LXX is one place to look for a tie-breaker. It has sometimes been treated as equal to the original Hebrew. Etc., etc.
Anyway, let’s do this.
The Two Greatest Commandments
From Matthew 22: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Genesis 1:26: Then G-d said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
The second commandment is “like” the first one. That word is homoios. Man is made in the image of G-d, after G-d’s “likeness.” That word is homoiosis. The words are a bit different: One is a noun for “likeness” and the other is an adjective meaning “like” or “resembles.” The noun homoiosis appears to be non-symmetrical: When it says that A is like B, it does not say that B is also like A. The adjective homoios appears to be flexible; it can have a non-symmetrical meaning, denoting the likeness of A to B, or the symmetrical meaning “of equal rank.”
But there is obviously a connection in meaning here, and the words have a common root.
More to the point, it’s likely that Matthew’s use of homoios is meant to connect to the LXX homoiosis (and that Jesus used Hebrew or Aramaic words pointing to the original text in the Torah).
In other words, the command to love our neighbor is like the command to love G-d because the neighbor is made in the likeness of G-d. The love of G-d leads to the love of neighbor because the likeness of the glory of G-d extends to the neighbor (Psalm 8). The right treatment of humanity matters because honoring G-d matters.
The Image of G-d and Idolatry
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ ” (Genesis 1:26)
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them . . . .” (Exodus 20:4)
In the LXX, the word “image” in Genesis 1:26 is eikon, the root of the English “icon.” The word “image” in Exodus 20:4 is eidolon, a very different word and the root of the English “idol.” The word “likeness” in the first passage is our old friend homoiosis, and “likeness” in the second passage is its relative, homoioma.
How many lessons are here? Probably too many to cover without writing a whole book. (Do I look like I have that kind of time?) But here are a couple.
We are not to make for ourselves an image of G-d. That would be idolatry, and sin. G-d made His own image on earth, and we are to honor it. What, after all, do the Ten Commandments say? You shall have no other gods, you shall not make an idol, and you shall treat your neighbor properly. When we do so we know G-d better by knowing the image he himself gave us for knowing him: man, who is no idol, but may perhaps be understood as something like an icon.
And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
The word for “gather” here is sunago, to assemble or, literally, to gather together. This word is (obviously) the source of the word synagogeh, from which comes our English synagogue. In the LXX translation of the Torah, sunago is used rather a lot. One important case is Exodus 3:16: “Go and gather (sunago) the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, . . .” ‘ .”
Meanwhile, Exodus 35 uses synagogue to refer to the congregation or the assembly of Israel–those gathered together by G-d through Moses.
Note the number: twelve. The disciples of Jesus are gathering together a remnant of the bread, a remnant organized into twelve groups. Literally, they are synagoguing a remnant of twelve groups.
This is a symbol. Of course, John is telling us that this is what the disciples did that day. But he is also giving us a symbolic depiction of his ecclesiology–his theology of G-d’s people.
A few more notes before we can say exactly what John is saying about that. There are five loaves of barley, krithinos. Click on the word to learn that it only appears in the New Testament in this passage, but barley loaves are super-important in the last three verses of 2 Kings 4. There Elishah multiplies twenty loaves of barley, krithinos in the LXX, to feed 100 men.
One obvious point here is that John is linking Jesus to the earlier blessings under the ministry of Elishah. The same G-d is visiting his people and blessing them again, and this time someone greater than Elishah has been sent–with a bigger version of the same miracle–15 loaves fewer but 4,900 more men!
Another lesson John is after is that Jesus is drawn out of the Old Testament: The early prophets were all leading up to this. G-d’s people are the people of the Tanakh (the Old Testament), and the G-d who blessed them in the time of Elishah is still doing so.
John probably intends another layer of symbolism with the word artos, “bread.” This is a word used in the LXX version of Exodus 16 referring to manna, and again in Psalm 78:25. Jesus refers to himself later in chapter 6 as the true manna. Manna is prominent in the narrative of the Torah, also called the Pentateuch–the five books. There are five loaves, standing for the five books. The disciples of Jesus literally synagogued twelve baskets of fragments ek tohn pente arton, out of the five loaves.
G-d’s people are the people of the Torah (and the Psalms), and the G-d who organized them with a blessing of bread from heaven is doing so again, and Jesus’ followers have the responsibility of gathering up those from the Torah who are faithful to its promises.
One more layer of symbolism: the fragments, the klasmata. This URL tells us how the word is used in the LXX. Not that we have time to be thorough, but note how the fragments in Leviticus 2:6 and Leviticus 6:21 are to be handled with great care as offerings to G-d. Note the contrast with certain religious leaders in Ezekiel 13:19, who dishonor G-d among His people in return “for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread” (using the same word for fragments and bread, and almost the same word for barley).
Fragments of food as an offering to G-d are to be handled with care and reverence as part of our worship of G-d. Instead, some people are using G-d and man as a means to the end of claiming the fragments for themselves.
That’s the contrast between the requirements in the Torah and the corruption exposed by Ezekiel. But what about the apostles in John?
Well, Jesus gives them the job of caring for the fragments “that nothing may be lost.” Since the fragments go into twelve baskets representing G-d’s people, this is a symbol of their responsibility to care for G-d’s people, and to do it better than the corrupt leadership that does not love G-d’s people properly (Matthew 23, e.g.).
Summary: John is saying this: Jesus is having his disciples reorganize G-d’s people, starting with the remnant of Jewish Tanakh-believers (with Gentiles to be added later; John 10:16). G-d’s people are the people of the Tanakh, and the same G-d who organized them under Moses in the Torah and continued to bless them under Elishah in the Prophets is still blessing them and reorganizing them under Jesus.
“Now Let Us Hear the Conclusion of the Matter”
Oh, wait–were you expecting a conclusion? I don’t think I have one.
Except this: The LXX is important, especially in that it helps to clarify the New Testament’s commentary on the Old–and not only on the LXX itself, but on the Hebrew by means of the LXX.Published in