Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament

The NT writers frequently quote from the OT. When we begin to study NT quotations of the OT, we are instantly drawn into the complex issue of how the Hebrew text is translated–first into Greek and then into English.

Let’s look at James 4:6b as an example. The NLT translates this passage as follows:

As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but favors the humble.”

The first question for the translator and commentator is, What Scripture did James have in mind? (Very occasionally, as in Acts 13:33, the NT writer gives us an explicit OT reference; usually we have to dig for it ourselves.) In this instance, there is no OT passage that seems to be a direct source text for James’s quotation. But the NLT text note points us toward Proverbs 3:34. So we go to Prov 3:34 and we find the following text:

The LORD mocks the mockers
but is gracious to the humble.

On the surface, it looks like someone has made a mistake. The quotation in James is not a very exact replication of the proverb. The Hebrew proverb (as we read it in the English translation) is talking about “mockers,” which does not have the same connotation as James’s term “the proud.” Did James goof? Did the NLT translators–in either the OT or the NT–goof?

We find important clues in the NLT text notes. The text note at James 4:6 reads, “4:6 Prov 3:34 (Greek version).” This suggests that James, who was writing in Greek, was not creating his own translation of the Hebrew proverb. He was quoting from the Septuagint (often abbreviated as LXX)–the Greek translation of the OT that was in wide use in Palestine during the first century.

The text note at Proverbs 3:34 reads, “3:34 Greek version reads The LORD opposes the proud / but favors the humble. Compare Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.”

So the NLT text notes take us behind the scenes to show that James was quoting directly from the LXX. In fact, there is only one small difference between the LXX wording and James’s quotation. LXX translates the Hebrew Yahweh as kurios (translated into English as “the LORD“), and James uses the divine name theos (translated into English as “God”). The text note at Proverbs 3:34 also points us toward the NT passages where this verse is quoted: Jas 4:6 and 1 Pet 5:5.

I believe the NLT is unique among English translations in giving readers this kind of behind-the-scenes view of how NT writers frequently use the LXX as their source text.

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