Does Hebrews 10:5-7 Deliberately Mistranslate Psalm 40:6-8?

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It is written:

Acts 17:11-These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

One of the arguments often made against Christians is that the New Testament authors deliberately mistranslate parts of the Old Testament Scriptures to try and convince people that Jesus is the Messiah. One such passage which it is claimed Christians twist is a reference in the Book of Hebrews from the Psalmist:


However, when we go back and look at the text that the writer of Hebrews is referencing, it appears to be quite different!

Psalm 40:6-8-Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. 7  Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. 8  I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”

Why would these passages be rendered so differently?

Was the writer of Hebrews trying to “pull one over” on the early Jewish Christians?

Let’s study.

First of all, we must immediately dispense with the idea that the writer of Hebrews would be so foolish as to try and deliberately change a well-known text of Scripture while writing to people in the first century who were intimately acquainted with those very Scriptures! As Michael Brown points out:

“5.5. Hebrews 10:5 is one of the worst examples of New Testament Scripture-twisting. The writer quotes from Psalm 40, where the psalmist says, “You have opened my ears,” but he applies it to Jesus and changes the words to read, “A body you have prepared for me.” Could you imagine anything thing more dishonest?…Is there any truth to this charge? Aside from the fact that such a practice would be totally self-defeating-as I have stressed repeatedly, first-century Jewish readers would have been quick to spot the creation of a nonexistent verse or the wholesale changing of an existing text-it would make no sense: Why would the author of Hebrews completely change the text of a verse from a favorite section of the Bible (viz., the Psalms), knowing full-well that at least some of his readers would know the verse in Hebrew? It would be like a political leader speaking today to an audience of educated Americans and saying to them, “As Patrick Henry said, `Give me poverty or give me birth!”‘ Who would he be fooling ing with this? And what would his point be? There would be none.” (Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: New Testament Objections (Vol. 4), 37-39 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books)

Simply read through Hebrews and you will find numerous references to the Old Testament Scriptures, suggesting that the readers were very familiar with the Old Testament. Any attempt to deliberately mistranslate a well-known text of God’s Word would have been immediately evident.

Second (as Brown and others have pointed out), the writer of Hebrews is quoting from the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was made long before the time of Christ. Long before the time of Christ, there were different translations of Psalm 40 made by the Jewish people.

“Although it is not within the parameters of this work to deal exhaustively with the issue, something needs to be said about how Ps 40: 6-8 is used in Heb 10: 5-9. How, especially, can “You open my ears to listen” (Ps 40: 6) come to be rendered “You prepared a body for me” (Heb 10: 5b)? The writer of Hebrews is quoting the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the OT that was widely used among Hellenized Jewish people. Three renderings of the verse are compared below: Hebrew OT (MT)–“Ears you have dug for me” Greek OT (LXX)–“A body you have restored for me” 38 Greek NT (Nestle-Aland)–“A body you have prepared for me.” The words translated “restored” and “prepared” are the same Greek verb, katartizo. The translations are essentially identical, but both differ from the Hebrew text found in Ps 40.” (Daniel Green, “A Body Prepared For Death,” in Michael Rydelnik, Edwin Blum, The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy: Studies and Expositions of the Messiah in the Old Testament, 565 (Kindle Edition); Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers)

So before the time of Jesus, the Greek translation of the Old Testament had translated the Hebrew phrase “ears you have dug for me,” as “a body you have prepared for me.”

It may be objected, “No one in the first century was familiar with the Greek translation of the Old Testament, so the writer of Hebrews was trying to deceive them!”

How familiar was the Septuagint to the first century speaking world?

“In the early 1980s, two evangelical scholars, G. Archer and G. C. Chirichigno, compared all of the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament against both the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text. In 1983, they wrote up their findings in a book entitled Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey. Out of 340 quotations from the Old Testament, they found that 307 of them are from the Septuagint. There are only 33 quotations that are clearly from the Masoretic Text rather than the Septuagint. Remember, these men were not liberal scholars. They were conservative scholars, and their book was published by Moody Press.” (David Bercot, Discovering The Septuagint, 558-564 (Kindle Edition); Scroll Publishing)

The Septuagint was well known among the Jewish people, as evidenced by its’ continual quotations in the New Testament.

Third, why would the Greek Septuagint render “ears you have dug for me” as “a body you have prepared for me?”

To answer that question, we must understand that the Bible writers had figures of speech just as we do today. Sometimes these figures of speech can be lost on people who do not know the meaning behind the literal words.

For example, when I first moved to Eastern Kentucky from West Virginia I was speaking with a member of the local church about car trouble that I was having. He looked at me and said solemnly, “Your car’s had the lick.”

Now, I was surprised. I had never heard such an expression: and even in English, that made no sense to me. It was then defined for me. To “have the lick” was used locally to reference something which was about to “give up the ghost,” or start “pushing up daisies.” It simply meant that it was about to “meet its’ maker,” or “dance with the reaper.”

In other words, something that was about to “have the lick” was about to die (as those other phrases meant also, by the way).

Imagine how confusing it would be if someone were to translate these phrases into another language. Would the French know what “have the lick” means if they were to translate those words exactly into French?

I doubt it!

They would need to study the background and culture of that phrase to understand it. When they finally understood it, they could translate it literally, “Mark’s car has had the lick.”

Or, they could offer the meaning of the phrase:

“Mark’s car is about to die.”

Now, when we look at Psalm 40, there is every indicator that the translators of the Greek Septuagint (again: long before the time of Christ and His Apostles and church) were dealing with a recognized and well-known (at the time) figure of speech in Hebrew, which is why they translated “ears you have dug for me” as “a body you have prepared for me.”

It was not dishonest: it was not sleight of hand; it was not ignorant translators of the Bible.

It was just a paraphrase.

F.F. Bruce clarifies:

“He quotes them in the Septuagint version,33 in which the Masoretic reading “ears hast thou digged for me” is replaced by the clause “you have fashioned a body for me.” The Greek version cannot well be explained as representing a variant or corrupted Hebrew reading;34 it is rather an interpretative pretative paraphrase of the Hebrew text. The Greek translator evidently regarded garded the Hebrew wording as an instance of pars pro toto; the “digging” or hollowing out of the ears is part of the total work of fashioning a human body.35 Accordingly he rendered it in terms which express totum pro parte. The body which was “fashioned” for the speaker by God is given back to God as a “living sacrifice,” to be employed in obedient service to him. But if our author had preferred the Hebrew wording, it would have served his purpose almost as well, for in addition to reminding him and his readers of the psalm from which it was taken, it might have reminded them also of the Isaianic Servant’s language in the third Servant Song: “The Lord Yahweh . . . wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward” (Isa. 50:4f.).” (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 2714-2723 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Finally, let’s remember that many of the Jewish writers long before the time of Christ understood that Psalm 40 had Messianic overtones. The learned Edersheim noted on this passage:

“The application of Ps. xl. 7 [Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me] to the Messiah has already been noted in our remarks on Gen. iv. 25.” (Alfred Edersheim edited by Robert C. Newman, Messianic Passages in the Old Testament as Cited in Rabbinic Literature (IBRI Occasional Papers Book 35), 558 (Kindle Edition); Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute

When we go back and look at the reference to Genesis 4:25, we find his notes of the Jewish authorities equally intriguing:

“Gen. iv. 25 [Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, [she said], “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.”]. The language of Eve at the birth of Seth: ‘another seed,’ is explained as meaning ‘seed which comes from another place,’ and referred to the Messiah in Ber. R. 23 (ed. Warsh. p. 45 b, lines 8, 7 from the bottom). The same explanation occurs twice in the Midrash on Ruth iv. 19 (in the genealogy of David, ed. Warsh. p. 46 b), the second time in connection with Ps. xl. 8 (‘ in the volume of the book it is written of me’—bim’gillath sepher—Ruth belonging to the class megillot).” (Alfred Edersheim edited by Robert C. Newman, Messianic Passages in the Old Testament as Cited in Rabbinic Literature (IBRI Occasional Papers Book 35), 143-150 (Kindle Edition); Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute

The rendering of “a body you have prepared for me” in Psalm 40:6-8 as quoted in Hebrews 10:5-7 was around for centuries before Jesus and His Apostles, and there were good reasons for the rendering of this passage in both the Greek Septuagint and the Book of Hebrews.

The more we apply ourselves to learn the truth, the more we realize that the New Testament writers were completely honest in their handling of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Jesus Christ IS the Son of God Who died for all sinners (Matthew 16:16; 1 Timothy 2:6), was buried and arose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)! He promises to save from Hell and sin believers (Hebrews 5:8-9) who will repent of their sins and be immersed in water to join Him in His death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-4). Baptized believers who have fallen away may be forgiven and restored through repentance and prayer (1 John 1:9).

The churches of Christ stand ready to assist you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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