I have chosen the faithful way. I have placed your ordinances before me. Psalm 119:30 (NASB)

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Isaiah 28:16 -- Another Septuagint Mistranslation

 

The origin of the false teaching that we can say a sinner's prayer, not repent of sin, but confess belief alone and be justified and saved, is Paul's use of Isaiah 28:16 in Romans 10.

 

Paul proved faith alone by using a Greek mistranslation of the Hebrew in Isaiah 28:16. The variance was material on this core issue. Thus Paul's conclusion that we are saved solely by confessing a belief in Christ and his resurrection (Romans 10:9-10; see also 1 Cor. 15:1-5) is based upon a false premise of what Isaiah 28:16 actually says.

 

Paul first lifted out of context from Joel the promise that one can "call on the name of the Lord" and "be saved," quoting from Joel 2:28-32. In context, however, it meant a repenting people who were fasting. See Joel 1:13-14 (a call to lamentation / repentance).

 

Peter unlike Paul had the context correct when he quotes the same verse from Joel 2:28-32 in an evangelical sermon where he calls for repentance from sin and turning to the Father, and His annointed One, Jesus, in Acts 2:14-41. Peter says this will bring salvation. Peter used Joel 2:28-32 correctly. Repentance from sin is a key step, not faith alone.

 

But Paul had a different purpose, and mixed in that reference of Joel 2:28-32 with a mistranslation of Isaiah 28:16 to change the meaning of Joel 2:28-32 ("call on the Lord and be saved") into a faith-alone prescription. For in Romans 10, Paul initially criticizes Jews who "sought to establish their own righteousness" -- which is not necessarily an error but rather is proper if we are following Deut. 6:25 -- our obedience is what God calls our justification / righteousness. Deuteronomy 6:25 reads in the ASV:

 

And it shall be righteousness unto us, if we observe to do all this commandment before [Yahweh] our God, as he hath commanded us.

 

Paul has confused us on what causes justification and ties it to atonement. That is incorrect. Atonement is appropriated differently than justification.

 

The truth is Christ's sacrifice applies to us atonement but that is not the same as justification. Atonement is a washing of sin, not justification. Moreover, in the Bible, atonement only applies to the repentant. (See my book, Jesus' Words on Salvation, ch. 1.)

 

Paul has switched things so the concept of justification applies supposedly from the sacrifice of Christ, thereby obliterating the requirement of repentance and obedience for justification.

 

Paul underscores his change of the Biblical doctrine of justification by then saying such justification is appropriated entirely by mere belief Jesus resurrected and consumated by mere profession of three words - "Jesus is Lord." For then Paul sums up his faith-alone conclusion:

 

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)

 

In the next two verses -- Romans 10:11-12, Paul tries to prove this conclusion is valid by using a quote taken from an erroneous 247 BC Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah 28:16. Paul render this as whoever "believes in him will not be put to shame." Hence, Paul teaches that this verse said "belief in him" (i.e., the cornerstone) avoids you having "shame," i.e., you are right / justified with God.

 

But in fact, the Hebrew original is not about:

[1] "believing" nor

[2] "in him"'' and not about

[3] "shame."

 

Our study will start with the fact there are two competing Septuagint texts. The more recent one from the 4th Century AD corrects some but not all errors of the 247 BC text that Paul relied upon. This underscores that even later scholarship by the 400s knew Paul's quote is not an accurate version of the original verse, and sought to conform it to the best Hebrew texts of the 4th century.

 

First, Paul contradicts the Christian version of the Septuagint in the Codex Alexandrinus. This is a 4th Century Christian version, which corrected the original Septuagint of 247 BC. See link.  The Alexandrinus Septuagint fixes Isaiah 28:16  back to more closely match the original Hebrew (as we shall see). It translates in Greek that this originally said in Hebrew "he who believes is not in haste." It removes "in him" and "shame." It still keeps "believes" if PISTEUO there means "believes." Thus, the 4th Century Alexandrinus Septuagint says more correctly than the last Septuagint of 247 BC as follows:  

 

"Therefore thus sayeth Yahweh God 'Behold I am he that hath founded in Zion a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone of sure foundation; he that believeth [pisteuon] shall not be in haste." (Richard Rusden Ossley, The Book of Isaiah According to the Septuagtint (Codex Alexandrinus) (Cambridge University Warehouse, 1909) Vol. 1 at 166.)

 

Next, we turn to the flawed earlier Septuagint of 247 BC upon which Paul clearly relied. The Septuagint of 247 BC varies from the Hebrew original in three ways.

 

First, by using "believes" (if we assume pisteuo in Greek here only means believe) instead of "relies on" or "trust".

 

Second, by making the object "in him" (implied by 'en autos' in Greek), rather than making the cornerstone the object upon which one relies.

 

Both of these first two errors are 247 BC Septuagint corrupt constructions absent in the original Hebrew.  See H.H. Drake Williams, The Wisdom of the Wise: The Presence and Function of Scripture Within 1 Cor. 1:18-23 (Brill, 2001) at 81-82 ("en autos" in the Greek Septuagint differs from the Hebrew original, the Greek implying "in him"). 

 

Third, the Septuagint of 247 BC said this is about avoiding shame. The full sentence in the Brenton Septuagint translation  reads: 

 

Therefore thus saith the Lord, even the Lord, Behold, I lay for the foundations of Sion a costly stone, a choice, a corner-stone, a precious stone, for its foundations; and he that [1] believes [2] on him shall by no means be [3] ashamed. [Link]

 

How do we know this is not how the Hebrew read at that time?

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) of the Hebrew Isaiah 28:16 answers that question. The DSS dates from the era of the 247 BC Septuagint. It clearly answers whether in Hebrew this was "ashamed," or correctly "haste." It turns out that the Dead Sea "Great Isaiah scroll" from a similar time as the 247 BC Septuagint reads "hasten."  The Hebrew word for haste used was yachish.

 

At the same time, Isaiah 29:22 in the Septuagint proves how the error happened, and why it was a perfectly understandable Septuagint error in Isaiah 28:16.

 

For in Isaiah 29:22, the word for "ashamed" in Hebrew is properly used -- yevosh.  When you look at the Hebrew plates, you can see that there is only a one character difference between yachish (haste) and yevosh (ashamed). See link. Thus, by accident, the Septuagint translator misread yachish (haste) as yevosh (ashamed) in Isaiah 28:16. It could not be the other way around that the Septuagint was translated into the Hebrew of the DSS for the word for "ashamed" versus "hasten" in Greek are not close to one another at all. 

 

Then the Alexandrinus Septuagint from the 4th Century -- as quoted above -- shows that Christian scholarship saw too that the Septuagint translation misread the Hebrew - rendering this verse no longer to be about a believing "in him," nor that it was about avoiding being "ashamed," but instead what was at stake solely was about  "haste."

 

Thus, it is highly problematic that Paul turns faith alone upon a verse in Isaiah 28:16 that is not about faith, nor a faith "in him," and is not about salvation ("shame"), but is about trusting in the foundation stone and who does so is not in haste.  The impact on Paul's validity in use of erroneous sources for such  an important issue is gently put by Daniel Wee in his 2016 article More LXX Translational Issues: Isaiah 28: 16

 

It is easy to see how a mistake might have happened, and why reliance on the LXX poses particular problems when these errors are inherited by the NT writers.

It is a big problem that the statements by Paul relied upon the errors identified as  # 1, #2 and #3 above. Without those errors, this verse is not any support for the faith alone doctrine Paul was extracting from Isaiah 28:16.

 

The KJV comes closer to the Hebrew than does Paul:

 

Therefore thus saith the Lord God [Yahweh], Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." (Isaiah 28:16, KJV.)  

 

Even this is off a bit to try to salvage one of Paul's errors. Insted, this verse is not about "believing" as the 247 BC Septuagint said.

 

This is because aman is the Hebrew word used in reference to the foundation stone; and thus its meaning here is "relies" upon, not "believes," even as the NIV correctly now translates it. See NIV version of Isaiah 28:16. 

 

The true verse of Isaiah 28:16 is thus not a verse about shame and salvation, as Paul adopted the 247 BC Septuagint corruption o say, but about haste or panic. The true verse is not about faith or believing as the Septuagint claimed, but about "relying" (trusting / obeying).

But the 247 BC Septuagint spoke of "believing," and Paul liked that. Nor was it "believing in him" as "in him" is absent in the Hebrew. Paul liked that change too.

 

So Paul in Romans 10 accepted the several mistranslation errors by the Septuagint of this passage. This Septuagint erased trust and made it to be about believing. The Septuagint wrongly made this about "shame" being avoided rather than haste.  Paul thus gave a completely different meaning than the true original Hebrew version to suit Paul's faith-alone polemic.

 

And to make the pieces all fit, Paul juxtaposes his distortion of the Septuagint mistranslation of Isaiah 28:16 with his out-of-context use of Joel 2:28-32 to build an edifice that faith alone saves you when Joel 2:28-32 said repentance from sin in fasting and ashes is the predicate act / premise for salvation.

 

 To repeat, Paul says:

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” [cf. & cfr. Isaiah 28:16]12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [cf. Joel 2:28-32] (Romans 10:11-13, NIV).

 

Despite these multiple flaws behind Paul's supposed Biblical proofs, these two verses remain the primary tool used by Paulinists to teach that you need only 'call' on Jesus' name and you are saved.

 

But in that respect, Paul contradicts Jesus in Matthew 7:21, so we know Paul is wrong. The meaning of 7:21 is clear when one reads the application that Jesus makes -- that He means the one who "does the will" of the Father enters Heaven which Jesus defines as putting Jesus' words in practice -- "relying upon" the true Cornerstone. It was wrong of Paul to say otherwise. Jesus says:

 

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

[The Wise and Foolish Builders]

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matt 7:21-24, NIV.

Hence, we never can escape Jesus' warnings that if you do not put in practice His words, you will suffer destruction in a "great crash." This is even true if you call on the name of Jesus as Lord. Paul thus invites us down a wrong path, relying upon out-of-context verses and misquotes of Greek mistranslations of the original Hebrew texts. 

 

The Lesson We Learn From This About Paul's Reliability For Accuracy of Quotation

 

The lesson this gives us about Paul is to heed what scholar J.Ross Wagner says is Paul's true source for his Isaiah references in the Romans 9-11 section. Paul was relying mostly upon the Greek Septuagint text, recognizable because of its distinctive differences (errors) in translating the Hebrew text. And he explains that Paul was also changing even the Septuagint to his taste or relied upon another text that has not survived that suited Paul's polemic better. In the conclusion of his exhaustive and painstaking study of Paul’s use of Isaiah in Romans (especially chapters 9-11), J. Ross Wagner makes these points in extremely diplomatic language yet still cognizable for its import: 

My own close examination of the wording of Paul’s quotations and allusions to Isaiah in Romans supports the consensus view that Paul cites a Greek text (or texts) of this prophetic book. In most cases, Paul’s Vorlage seems to have been nearly identical with the Septuagint version of Isaiah; at times, Paul’s interpretation of a verse clearly depends on the form of the text distinctive to LXX [i.e., another name for the Septuagint] Isaiah. In some cases, however, it appears that Paul has drawn his citation from a Greek text that reflects efforts to revise LXX Isaiah toward a Hebrew exemplar. Although I have given full consideration to textual evidence provided by MT, the Qumran finds (biblical MSS, pesharim, and quotations in other documents), the Targum, and the Peshitta, at no point has it been necessary to suppose that Paul has relied on a Hebrew or Aramaic text of Isaiah. This does not prove that Paul could not read these languages, nor does it show that he knew the book of Isaiah only in Greek. It does suggest, however, that Paul was intimately acquainted with a Greek version of Isaiah much like the LXX and that he apparently did not hunt down and exploit the textual variants in other languages [i.e., Wagner apparently means to include Hebrew] as he interpreted the book. (J. Ross Wagner, Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul “In Concert” in the Letter to the Romans (NovTSup 101; Leiden: Brill, 2002), 344-45.)

For further discussion on topic, see PDF article by Lee Irons, Influence of LXX on New Testament.

 

Study Notes

 

For proof Paul teaches faith-alone without repentance from sin in Romans 10:9-12 from a Paulinist perspective, see William Wenstrom's PDF, Romans 10:11-12 (2009).

For discussion of Isaiah 28:16 -- the cornerstone imagery -- in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see Drake Williams, Wisdom of the Wise, supra, at 81 et seq.