fr james bernstein


June 13, 2012 + The Psalter According to the Seventy

The Psalter According to the Seventy: The Use of the Septuagint by the Early Church
by Fr. A. James Bernstein
from
AGAIN Magazine, September 1992

What Old Testament text did early Christians use when they prayed the Psalms? Many are surprised to learn that the official text was not the Hebrew or Masoretic text which forms the basis of most modern English translations today. In order to understand why, it is necessary to know something of the background of the text of the Old Testament. 

At the time of Christ, the Apostles, and the early Church, Hebrew had long since ceased to be the commonly spoken language, even among the Jews.  Although Jesus understood Hebrew, He would have spoken Aramaic – the common language of Palestine – with His disciples. Jesus and His disciples were probably familiar, at least to a certain extent, with Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire. 

Because Greek was the most widely spoken and read language of the empire at large, a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek had been accomplished, according to tradition, by seventy translators, in the city of Alexandria, during the third century before Christ. The name Septuagint means “according to the seventy.” The Septuagint, or LXX, was without question the most common text of the Scriptures at the time of Jesus and the Apostles. It was the Old Testament of the early Church.