Biblical Studies


“A brother once went out on a pilgrimage from the monastery of Abba Poemen, and came to a hermit, who lived in love towards all and received many visitors. The brother told the hermit stories of Abba Poemen. And when he heard of Poemen’s strength of character, he longed to see him.

The brother returned to Egypt. And after some little time, the hermit rose and went from his country to Egypt to see the brother who had visited him: for he had told him where he lived. When the brother saw the hermit, he was astonished, and very glad. The hermit said to him, ‘Of your charity towards me, take me to Abba Poemen.’ And the brother rose up and showed him the way to the old man.

And the brother told Abba Poemen this about the hermit, ‘A great man of much charity, and particular honor in his own province, has come here wanting to see you.’ So the old man received him kindly. And after they had exchanged greetings, they sat down.

But the hermit began to talk of the Holy Scripture, and of the things of the spirit and of heaven. But Abba Poemen turned his face away, and answered nothing. When the hermit saw that he would not speak with him, he was distressed and went out. And he said to the brother who had brought him there, ‘My journey was useless. I went to the old man and he does not deign to speak to me.’

The brother went to Abba Poemen, and said, ‘Abba, it was to talk with you that this great man came here, a man of much honor in his own land. Why did you not speak to him?’ The old man answered, ‘He is from above, and speaks of the things of heaven. I am from below, and speak of the things of the earth. If he had spoken with me on the soul’s passions, I would willingly have replied to him. But if he speaks of the things of the spirit, I know nothing about them.’

So the brother went out and told the hermit, ‘The reason is that the old man does not easily discuss Scripture. But if anyone talks to him about the soul’s passions, he answers.’

Then the hermit was stricken with penitence, and went to the old man and said, ‘What shall I do, Abba? My passions rule me.’ And the old man gazed at him with gladness and said, ‘Now you are welcome. You have only to ask and I will speak with understanding.’ And the hermit was much strengthened by their discourse, and said, ‘Truly, this is the way of love.’ And he thanked God that he had been able to see so holy a man, and returned to his own country.'”

 

Hat tip: Silouan Thompson

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Here is a great little introduction to the Orthodox view of the “Theotokos,” i.e. the Virgin Mary. Bp. MICHAEL is my old dean at seminary, and he is doing a great job answering seven of the most common questions non-Orthodox may have about our devotion to the Mother of God.

 

“So, being made of dust from the earth, and having received a breath of life which the word calls an intelligent soul and the image of God, he was placed in the garden to work and given a commandment to keep.  How so?  So that, as long as he did keep it and work, he would remain immortal and compete everlastingly with the angels, and together with them would praise God unceasingly and receive His illumination and see God intelligibly, and hear His divine voice.  But in that same hour that he should transgress the commandment given him and eat of the tree from which God had commanded him not to eat, he would be given over to death and be deprived of the eyes of his soul.  He would be stripped of his robe of divine glory; his ears would be stopped up, and he would fall from his way of life with the angels and be chased out of paradise.   This indeed did happen to the transgressor, and he fell from his eternal and immortal life.  For once Adam had transgressed God’s commandment and lent his ear for the deceitful devil to whisper in, and was persuaded by him on hearing his cunning words against the Master Who had made him, he tasted of the tree and, perceiving with his senses, he both saw and beheld with passion the nakedness of his body.  He was justly deprived of all those good things.  He became deaf.  With ears become profane he could no longer listen to divine words in a manner which was spiritual and adequate to God, as such words resound only in those who are worthy.  Neither could he see the divine glory any longer, in that he had voluntarily turned his nous away from it and had looked upon the fruit of the tree with passion, and had believed the serpent who said: ‘In that now that you eat of it, you will be as gods, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:5).”

– St. Symeon the New Theologian

St. Maximus the Confessor

“The world has many poor in spirit, but not in the right way; and many who mourn, but over money matters and loss of children; and many who are meek, but in the face of impure passions; and many who hunger and thirst, but to rob another’s goods and to profit unjustly. And there are many who are merciful, but to the body and to its comforts; and clean of heart, but out of vanity; and peacemakers, but who subject the soul to the flesh; and many who suffer persecution, but because they are disorderly; many who are reproached, but for shameful sins. Instead, only those are blessed who do and suffer these things for Christ and following his example. For what reason? “Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and “they shall see God,” and so forth. So that it is not because they do and suffer these things that they are blessed (since those just mentioned do the same), but because they do and suffer them for Christ and following his example.

– St. Maximus the Confessor, Four Hundred Chapters on Love, Third Century, #47

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) answers the question: “Are you saved?”

St. Basil the Great

“Any part of the Scriptures you like to choose is inspired by God. The Holy Spirit composed the Scriptures so that in them, as in a pharmacy open to all souls, we might each of us be able to find the medicine suited to our own particular illness.

Thus, the teaching of the Prophets is one thing, and that of the historical books is another. And, again, the Law has one meaning, and the advice we read in the Book of Proverbs has a different one.

But the Book of Psalms contains everything useful that the others have. It predicts the future, it recalls the past, it gives directions for living, it suggests the right behavior to adopt. It is, in short, a jewel case in which have been collected all the valid teachings in such a way that individuals find remedies just right for their cases.

It heals the old wounds of the soul and gives relief to recent ones. It cures the illnesses and preserves the health of the soul.

Every Psalm brings peace, soothes the internal conflicts, calms the rough waves of evil thoughts, dissolves anger, corrects and moderates profligacy.

Every Psalm preserves friendship and reconciles those who are separated. Who could actually regard as an enemy the person beside whom they have raised a song to the one God?

Every Psalm anticipates the anguish of the night and gives rest after the efforts of the day.  It is safety for babes, beauty for the young, comfort for the aged, adornment for women.

Every Psalm is the voice of the Church.”

– Commentary on Psalm 1, by Basil the Great, 4th century. Translation by Thomas Spidlik, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI – Spencer, MASS, 1994

The Orthodox Church has always preferred to use the Septuagint (LXX) manuscripts and canon of the Old Testament. This often puzzles Protestants, who wonders why we would prefer a Greek translation of books which were originally written in Hebrew. It might be helpful to understand the origins of the LXX, it’s usage in the early Church and the difference between the LXX and the earliest complete Hebrew manuscripts, the Masoretic texts.

The Origin of the LXX

In the time after the Babylonian captivity, the Jewish people had become more and more hellenized, and for the vast majority, Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew, was their native language. There was, therefore, a need to translate the Scriptures into a language that most Jews understood. According to Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC – 50 AD) it was the Greek king Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt that employed seventy-two Jewish scholars to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, for its inclusion in the great Library in Alexandria. Though the scholars were working on their translation separately, they were all reported as producing identical translations. With this traditional account, and others like it, we can see that many Jews in the days of Christ held the LXX translation to be divinely inspired. The Fathers of the early Church, as well as the Apostles themselves, received these accounts as accurate. The LXX was widely used, primarily in Hellenic areas, but also in Jerusalem.

Early Church Usage

Of the almost 300 Old Testament quotations in the New Testament, the vast majority are direct quotes from the LXX. We will look at a few examples in a moment. In the Greek East, the LXX was the Old Testament of the Church. In the Latin speaking West, the Vetus Latina-translation was based on the Greek LXX. St. Jerome later wanted to use some Hebrew manuscripts for his Vulgate, but was criticized by his contemporaries for deviating from the Apostolic Tradition. Nonetheless, Jerome’s Bible, the Latin Vulgate, more or less maintained the LXX canon, and not the more limited Hebrew canon. The Hebrew canon (which today is the basis for the canon in Protestant Bibles) had been formed by Rabbinical Jews at Jamnia around 110 AD, who despised the Greek translation despite the fact that earlier generations had considered the LXX to be inspired. Their canonical list, which only included books originally written in Palestine, in the Hebrew language, was likely a reaction against the success of the Christians, who used the LXX to show from prophecies that Jesus was the Christ. Overall, with the exception of the Latin Vulgate, the LXX has been the foundation of virtually all Old Testament translations in the Church throughout church history, until the dawn of the Protestant Reformation.

The Protestant Bible

The Protestant Reformation did not want to base its translations on the Roman Catholic Vulgate, but desired to “go back to the original language” (ironically following the reasoning of St. Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate).  The Protestants followed the Masoretic texts, the oldest Hebrew and Aramaic manuscripts available. The Masoretic manuscripts, however, had not been written until the 9th century AD! It is also noteworthy that the Masoretic translation is decidedly non-Christian, and has, in many places, removed the messianic foreshadowings of the Old Testament. In contrast, the LXX translation predates the Masoretic manuscripts by more than 1,000 years, and is clearly messianic. Moreover, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956, the Hebrew and Aramaic fragments of the Old Testament, dating from the 2nd century BC, were over all more in accord with the LXX than with the Masoretic manuscripts.

The Protestant Reformation also decided to do away with those books not recognized by the Jews at Jamnia, even though these books had been part of the Scripture that the Apostles themselves used. One of the reasons for the omission seems to be doctrinal, in that they clearly contradict Protestant teaching regarding prayers for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:43-45) and the Lutheran notion of sola gracia and sola fide (Tobit 12:9, Wisdom of Sirach 8:33).

A Few Notable Differences

There are several passages that clearly show the difference in meaning between the LXX and the Masoretic manuscripts. For example, the LXX text of Isaiah 7:14 reads:  “A virgin conceive and have a son.” The Masoretic text loses the reference to Christ and reads, “a young woman who is pregnant will have a son.” The LXX translation is quoted in Matt 1:23.

The LXX text of Isaiah 42:4 reads “and in His name will the Gentiles hope.” The Masoretic text omits the messianic promise to the non-Jewish peoples, and reads “and the coastlands wait for His law.” Christ is quoted using the LXX version in Matt 12:21.

In the LXX, Psalm 8:2 reads “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise,” while the Masoretic text reads “by the mouths of babes and infants thou hast founded a bulwark.” Christ is quoted using the LXX version in Matt 21:16.

Summary

The LXX was the Bible of the Apostles, and of the Early Church. Following in the footsteps of those first generations of Christians, the Orthodox Church continues to regard the LXX as its canonical text of the Old Testament. The omission of the “Deuterocanonical” books by the Jews at Jamnia was not embraced by the Church at the time, but rather seen by most as a radical distancing from the Christian tradition. The Masoretic texts, though written in Hebrew, were not authored until the 9th century AD and show many signs of anti-Christian bias in its translation.