Rearranging the Furniture

by Skip Moen, D. Phil.
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me;’”  Hebrews 10:5  NASB
Body – New Testament authors often rearrange God’s word from the Tanakh in order to make some point in their own writings.  Sometimes they offer rather creative translations (see, for example, my discussion of the many examples in Matthew).  Sometimes they combine diverse texts in order to make a new concept (even Yeshua does this).  And sometimes they change the words entirely.  Such is the case with this verse.  The citation is from Psalm 40:6, but the Hebrew doesn’t use the word “body” at all.  In fact, not even the standard LXX text has soma instead of otia (ears).  Guthrie remarks, “Although it is true  that LXX B S A have soma, these probably should be read as corrections by scribes wishing to bring the manuscripts in line with Hebrews’ quotation.”[1]  In other words, the author of Hebrews altered the verse in the Tanakh by changing “ears” to “body” and subsequent Christian copyists of the LXX changed the LXX to match the letter to the Hebrews.  The verse in Psalms clearly does not use “body.”  Hebrews changes the verse to fit the argument (and this is only one of four changes in this short sequences of citations).
Does this concern you?  If you believe that the New Testament is inspired by the same God, and that it is an accurate record of God’s infallible and inerrant truth, then this presents a real problem.  How can the author of Hebrews play fast and loose with the Tanakh and claim that he is citing holy Scripture?  If he can do this here, how do we know any of the rest of it isn’t also whatever he made up along the way?  How can we claim that God’s truth is one if the authors of the Bible freely change the words whenever they wish?  These are not trivial questions.  They shake the foundation of our faith in the text.
What we must realize, and come to terms with, is that the authors of the New Testament documents treat the Tanakh as Jews, not Greeks.  In our world, the Greek world, word-for-word accuracy is the definition of “citation.”  When we say, “This is what the Bible says,” we can’t imagine that we can freely change the words.  Accuracy means getting the words right.  But in Jewish thought, citation is the invitation to meaning, not words.  So Jewish use of the Tanakh is open to explanations of additional meanings.  It is not limited to exactly the same words.  The author of Hebrews is no different than Paul or Matthew or John.  He simply changes the words of the Tanakh in order to reveal another meaning of his reading of the text.  That does not mean that the Hebrew word ozen (ear) can also mean soma (body).  What it means is that the author of Hebrews saw in this verse in the Psalms a connection to another idea, and he simply incorporated that idea into the verse in Psalms.  His view of inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy is radically different than ours.  The author of Hebrews has a revelation.  The verse in Psalms can be used to speak about the preparation of the Son as the acceptable sacrifice for sin.  So he just rearranges the furniture to show that.  No big deal.  He is providing a midrash on the text.  The reason he doesn’t have to tell us that it is a midrash is because everyone knew what he was doing from a Jewish perspective.  Only Greeks find this suspect.
What does this mean for us?  Well, first it tells us that the meaning of Psalm 40:6 does not change.  It still isn’t about Yeshua’s body.  But the author of Hebrews wants us to see Psalm 40:6 in a different way.  For him, it is about the Messiah and the sacrifice – the one true sacrifice that makes all other sin offerings pale by comparison.  So when you read Hebrews, remember what is happening.  You are reading interpretations of the Tanakh and you need to have a Hebrew mind to understand them.

[1] George Guthrie, “Hebrews” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (eds. Beale and Carson), p. 977.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good post. I can multiply these examples where the Septuagint seems to use a different word than the MT. Although we should not be ignorant to the fact that there were multiples versions of both the MT and the LXX.