The Phantom Pharisee
Anyone familiar with the New Testament (NT), especially the Gospels, knows that Jesus never had a kind word for the Pharisees. They were the ultimate legalists— and the ultimate hypocrites. Their approach to scripture was the same approach used by slick lawyers to squeeze every drop out of the law, ignoring the “spirit of the law”, meaning the purpose for which it was written and the intent behind it.
By taking a law to mean anything and everything that could possibly be extracted from it, they went sometimes even to tragically comic extremes. For example, if someone was sitting outside their tent on the Sabbath and the chair broke, digging up a little dirt, they could be accused of plowing on the Sabbath! This practice is called “putting a fence around the law”, in the fear of violating it accidentally. Of course, no matter what anyone writes and no matter how precise and careful they are, the “fence” technique will make a monster out of it. And the Pharisees honed it to a fine art, not only out of the fear of accidental violation, but primarily out of greed and control. They heaped law after law upon the common people while exempting themselves and getting rich from all the fines. (Sounds all too familiar to us today!)
This is the sort of attitude that made Jesus’ blood boil. But while the NT itself doesn’t talk about what else the rabbis had been up to, I think it’s more than a coincidence that he and the apostles always quoted the Greek translation of the Old Testament (OT), the LXX or Septuagint. There are known problems with it, yet how can we lightly dismiss the Bible Jesus quoted from? This is just one of many indications that the rabbis not only were twisting the law, but also the scriptures themselves.
This quoting of the LXX instead of Hebrew scriptures is the reason why NT quotes don’t match the exact wording in the Hebrew. And the most famous of these differences is found in the quote of Isaiah 7:14 from Matthew 1:23, about the Virgin Birth. The Greek of the NT says “virgin” as does the Greek of the LXX. Yet the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14 says “young woman”. Why was the Hebrew vague? (I refer to the Masoretic Text [MT] in common use today.)
Note that the Hebrew word “mesorah” refers to a tradition, specifically the text marking (incl. “vowel pointing”) and marginal notes. But this is what Jesus thought of the rabbis’ traditions: “... You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:9 NLT). So even then the rabbis were showing contempt for the Word of God in favor of their traditions. They would later attack the LXX for that same reason, trying to erase any trace of reference to Jesus as the Messiah.
The MT was copied and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the seventh and tenth centuries AD, whereas the LXX was done around 300 BC. So the LXX was translated from an earlier Hebrew text, not the MT which is the basis for practically all translations of the OT. That earlier Hebrew text is gone. But we do have other translations besides the LXX that also predate the MT, giving us more insight into what the original likely contained. Of course no one can say with absolute certainty what that was, but the likelihood of the MT being inaccurate and tampered-with is certainly high enough to cause serious concern. At the very least, we should never have simply taken the rabbis’ word for it when they were consulted for help with translationg the scriptures. Their elevation of traditions over scripture to the point of denying their Messiah should raise serious reservations in our reliance on the MT for understanding.
Please see other articles here under “Bible Text” for more instances of tampering, especially of the word translated “desire” in the account of the temptation and Fall. This shows the great misogyny of the rabbis, who blamed Eve for sin when the scriptures actually said no such thing. Also, please see This Article for detailed quotes and arguments on the LXX, which shows that the rabbis had been removing verses and partial sentences from scripture. Here are some excerpts:
Scholar F. F. Bruce shows us why the Jewish rabbis who rejected the Messianic evidence that Jesus was and is the Christ felt they also had to reject the Septuagint ...
(Aquila, who provided a new Greek version of the Old Testament for Jewish use to replace the Septuagint, took care to employ the less specific Greek word neanis, ’girl’ or ’young woman,’ to blunt the point of a Christian ’argument from prophecy.’)“ (The Canon of Scripture, p.53)....
Justin Martyr, circa 160 A.D., evidently regarded the Septuagint as the only reliable text of the Old Testament. Says F. F. Bruce, ”Where it differs from the Hebrew text, as read and interpreted by the Jews, the Jews (he says) have corrupted the text so as to obscure the scriptures’ plain prophetic testimony to Jesus as the Christ... (Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p.70)
....Justin was a Gentile, born in Samaria near Jacob’s well, and lived approximately A.D. 110 to 165... In his “Dialogue with Trypho,” a learned Jew, he makes some remarkable statements which need to be analyzed, as they pertain to the Septuagint and the alleged “missing verses” not found in the Jewish Masoretic text. Remember, the Jewish rabbis had by this time rejected the Septuagint from the synagogues, and had replaced it with their own new Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures. But, Justin says in his dialogue, they had left off many of the Scriptural verses which had previously been used to prove Jesus was the Christ!...
This may seem shocking to those of us who have believed for years that the Masoretic Text is the one and only true text of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and that the Jewish rabbis have preserved it faultlessly -- but let’s reconsider this question. Does it not make sense that any people who would crucify the very “Word of God,” the Logos, in the flesh, would also “cut up” the written Word of God, which bears testimony to Him? We have perfect testimony that this was done. We have the witness, not only of Justin Martyr, but of the incredible evidence of the New Testament Scriptures themselves, which in many places QUOTE PASSAGES from the Old Testament which are NOT FOUND IN THE MASORETIC TEXT!!! But in the vast majority of cases, they are found in the Septuagint, and in some cases in the Aramaic!...
This proves that when it comes to the Son of God, who called Himself the “Son of Man,” that the Jewish rabbis of the first two centuries were less than honest -- less than candid -- and they did violence not only to the Son of God Himself, the Logos, but also to the WRITTEN Word of God, when certain prophecies CLEARLY pointed to Christ as the Messiah!
All the more reason to learn Greek! But the point I want to make is this: The practice of deliberate mistranslation and/or ignorance of the problems with the MT continues today. The Bible has been made to support such evils as slavery and male supremacy by the churches because of these things. So we can’t just point at the rabbis, but now also at many translation teams and individuals with an agenda of one kind or another.
As referenced in my earlier article linked above, there are attempts being made to bend scripture to suit particular biases, even among “conservative evangelicals”, and the meanings of formerly obscure Greek words discovered over a hundred years ago are being completely ignored. Nobody wants us to know that Eve “turned” to follow Adam instead of being driven by “desire”, or that Paul was not commanding but refuting women’s subordination which was being pushed by those infamous rabbis. The list goes on.
The church needs to go back to the Bible— the most reliable one we have. We must expose deliberate hiding of scriptures that forbid misogyny or condone other equally unbiblical notions. Let’s get the dictionaries and concordances up to date and accurate so people can know the truth. Let us not think we are immune to the pride and treachery of the Pharisees, whose spirit lives on in the churches under various forms of legalism and heresy.