Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus



5th century Septuagint manuscript tinted blue for no particular reason.

The Scandalous Isaiahine Comma

    This fourth article closes my series on the Jewish Septuagint, not with an exclamation point, but with a question mark. If you haven't already, please start with either the first, the second, or even the third article. By now, the reader is aware of my preference for the Septuagint due to it's age, it's usage in the New Testament, and it's preference by not only early Christians, but all of Christianity prior to the relatively recent birth of Protestantism.1 I will not however defend the Septuagint against legitimate questions, and the Isaiahine Comma marks exactly that: a legitimate question.
    Not only does the Isaiahine Comma give us good reason to pause in regard to the Jewish Septuagint, but in this writer's opinion, it is positively scandalous that we Protestants are unaware of the Isaiahine Comma as I have termed it. The "Johanine Comma" is a phrase in 1John 5:7-8 which Protestant Bibles usually edit out: "in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth, ..." The prevalent thinking among Protestants is that this phrase is a later addition since it was not found in most early Greek manuscripts. In fact the New American Standard does not even allow the possibility it may be scripture, but places an asterisk where the phrase would have been with footnotes explicitly stating the phrase is a later addition.

SCANDALOUS VERSE
    Imagine being a Roman Catholic in the 18th century when Protestants decided to strike those words from their Bibles. You likely would have been offended because it had been in your Bible for as long as you could remember, and it would quite likely have been a cherished verse about the Trinity. No doubt, you would have been tempted to deride such Protestant claims as utter nonsense.
    Equally as scandalous however, is a cherished phrase of Isaiah which we Protestants all have in our Bible as do all Roman Catholics. Yet it is not found in the Greek manuscripts, nor has it ever been found in the Bible of Eastern Orthodoxy. Isaiah 9:6 in Roman and Protestant Bibles ends by calling Jesus, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." While the translation and implications differ in modern Jewish Bibles, modern Jewish Bibles translate from similar Hebrew words in the Masoretic text. Likewise the Latin Vulgate of Rome and the Peshitta of Assyria contain this phrase. If we include the Masoretic, the Latin, and the Peshitta, then the votes are 3 against 1 with the Jewish Septuagint in the minority.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY SKEPTICISM
    How then, one must ask, does the Johanine Comma which affirms the Trinity in the New Testament earn Protestant scorn while a similar passage in Old Testament gets not even an asterisk questioning it's validity despite the fact that (like the Johanine Comma), it is missing from the earliest Greek manuscripts? Why would we favor the newer Masoretic text which was not quoted by Jesus or His apostles?

#1 FAN OF THE MASORETIC TEXT
    We find the answer to this mystery with the man who in many ways was the founder of our Protestant faith: Martin Luther. In his quest to defend the doctrine of Sola Fide, Martin Luther rejected the books of the Bible which appear to disagree. He emphatically rejected two books of the New Testament and seven books of the Old Testament. He rejected the book of James because it states in 2:24, "a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." Luther thought James 2:24 opposed the doctrine of justification-by-faith-alone which was so central to his protest that he actually inserted the words "faith alone" into his own translation of Romans 3:28.
    Luther rejected the book of Revelation. Perhaps he thought Revelation also opposed Sola Fide because in it, John stated the church is clothed in a fine linen which is "the righteous deeds of the saints." Martin Luther also rejected all of the books of the Old Testament which are not in the Masoretic text despite 1,500 years of Christian witness to their divine inspiration. He claimed to reject those books because of Jerome's doubts 1,100 years prior. Perhaps instead, Jerome's questions served more as Luther's alibi for ridding himself of the book of Tobit.
    The book of Tobit strongly features the idea that Tobit earned God's favor by giving alms to the poor. I can see how Luther could be intimidated by Tobit. In the book of Acts however, Luke highlighted the fact that Cornelius gave many alms in Acts 10:2. Then in Acts 10:4, an angel told Cornelius, "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God." Next Peter told Cornelius, "Your alms have been remembered before God." All three verses gave the same impression as the book of  Tobit: that giving alms to the poor brings God's favor. Neither the book of Tobit, nor the book of Acts claims that anyone can escape the fires of hell by self-righteous works. I submit that Martin Luther's theological defensiveness is most likely the cause for Protestants having lost seven books of the Christian canon.2 I am grateful that Luther's attacks on James and Revelation were not as successful.

THE ISAIAHINE COMMA
    Returning to the topic at hand, I offer the earliest extant quotes of the questioned passage in Isaiah 9. The Masoretic states, "his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." The Septuagint reads, "His name shall be called Messenger of great wisdom, for I will bring peace upon the rulers, peace and health by Him."
  1. The first and last titles (Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace) pose less of a problem. Where the Septuagint says "messenger of great wisdom," we see a translation of words for "counselor" would roughly equate to "messenger of wisdom," and "wonderful" roughly equates with "great." Likewise where the Masoretic states "prince of peace," we find in the Septuagint ends with, "peace and health by Him," a very rough equivalence which could be explained by the translation process.

  2. The middle phrase remains the greatest discrepancy between the Jewish Septuagint and not only the Masoretic, but also the Peshitta and the Vulgate. The Masoretic, the Peshitta, and the Vulgate all finish the sentence as a series of titles. The Septuagint sees "Messenger of great wisdom" as the final title of the promised Son, followed with the words, "for I will bring peace upon the rulers ..."

  3. Justin Martyr in "Dialogue with Trypho" circa AD 150 referred to Jesus as the Angel of Mighty Counsel. "Angel" in Greek is the same word as "messenger," thus Justin's use favors the Septuagint. Justin provided our earliest known quote of the passage. One earlier quote is attributed to Ignatius, but in a spurious letter addressed to Antioch and not in any of his authentic works.

  4. Irenaeus of Lugdunum, a few decades after Justin, added various words on various occassions so that we cannot accuse him of quoting the verse in its entirety, but we do see coincidences with the alternate form. Perhaps Irenaeus had read and been influenced by the alternate form. In "Against Heresies" 3.16.3, he called Jesus, "the messenger of great counsel of the Father." In 3.20.2 of the same work, "the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the judge of all men." As obviously as he had pulled together several passages in 3.20.2, he even more obviously pulls together multiple passages in 4.33.11, saying, "I came unto the prophetess; and she bare a son, and his name is called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God."3

  5. Clement of Alexandria, writing not long after Irenaeus, gave the earliest extant quote of the version of this verse which we find in the Masoretic, Peshitta, and the Vulgate.

  6. Even after Clement of Alexandria used the majority version, the Septuagint wording continued to be quoted. In the next 100 years, we get the Septuagint version from Origen, Cyprian, Peter of Alexandria, and Methodius.

TRINITY IN THE ISAIAHINE COMMA

    If we lose an apparent affirmation of the Trinity in the Septuagint, the Septuagint replaces it with Amos 4:13. When Tertullian explained the Trinity early in the third century, he did not use Isaiah 9. Instead, Tertullian quoted Amos 4:13 from the Jewish Septuagint which says God, "creates the wind and announces to men His anointed." Tertullian used the reference to God as the Father, rendering the "wind" or "Pneuma" in the Septuagint as the Spirit of God, and the "anointed" or "Christos" in the Greek as the Son. Notably, the Masoretic has God announcing His thoughts to man, not announcing His Christ/Anointed.
    Finally, we might ask whether the majority wording of Isaiah 9 agrees with Christian doctrine. We do not generally call the Son the "Wonderful Counselor," but typically reserve the title of "Counselor" for the Holy Spirit. Neither do we call Jesus, "Everlasting Father," reserving the title of "Father" primarily for God the Father. If we must cling to the majority version of Isaiah 9, perhaps we should begin calling Jesus the eternal Father? Perhaps instead, this form of the verse which is found in all texts other than the Septuagint would actually fit better with modalism rather than orthodoxy? These are questions, not accusations, which I sincerely ask and for which I desire input from others.

CONCLUSION
    I close this series of articles by clarifying that I have no problem with the Masoretic text. I do not think it is the earliest or the most reliable version of the Jewish scriptures, but I have no intention of maligning the Masoretic, nor maligning Protestant Bibles, much less maligning Protestantism in general. I myself worship and serve among Protestants. The purpose of these articles has simply been to educate Christians about a version of scripture which appears to me to be an excellent one, perhaps even the best of the best. To be the best of the best implies there are many bests.
    I have purposely ended this series not on an exclamation point, but on a question mark. Bible versions are worth investigation, and I will not gloss over a verse which will likely turn away many potential Septuagint readers.
    Finally, I encourage the reader to learn more about all four apostolic forms of Christianity. My momma taught me to respect my elders and listen to them. Most Protestants know a little bit about an elder named Roman Catholicism but almost nothing about Eastern Orthodoxy. Most Protestants have never even heard of Oriental Orthodoxy. Neither have we heard of our other elder, the Assyrian Church of the East. My top recommendation to begin learning more is "A History of Christianity in Asia, Volume I" by Samuel Hugh Moffett. For further recommendations, click here.


                                         
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"The Isaiahine Comma" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on December 10th, 2014. All rights are reserved.
1. The Septuagint canon is accepted by all elder branches of Christianity. The Septuagint text is used by Eastern Orthodox and used in part by Rome. The Assyrian Church of the East relies on the Peshitta which agrees remarkably with the Septuagint, but is claimed to be older than the Peshitta. While Oriental Orthodoxy affirms the canon of the Septuagint, I have not yet researched the manuscript sources of their many Old Testament translations.
2. Historically, the word "canon" was often used more narrowly than we Protestants now use it. For many Christians of old, "canon" referred to writings quoted liturgically when the church gathered to share the eucharist. That is to say, "canon" referred to books quoted during church services. Therefore several leaders of old like Athanasius and Origen gave "canon" lists which excluded several books of holy scripture because those books were not used liturgically. Yet elsewhere the same leaders affirmed those non-liturgical books as divinely inspired scripture. Protestants often use such canons to negate canons like those of Augustine which explicitly include the entire Septuagint. Not only do these leaders affirm as scripture the books they excluded from their "canon," but we find proof of canonicity in the fact that every apostolic form of Christianity agreed on those books as scripture while preserving the shorter "canon" lists without seeing a need to explain away those shorter canons. If no one prior to Protestantism felt threatened by the shorter canons of Athanasius and Origen, perhaps we Protestants should ask what was meant by their use of the word "canon."
3. I am indebted to Paul Pavao for these early Christian quotes.