Why do New Testament quotations of the Old Testament occasionally vary from the Old Testament verses in our English Bibles?

Compare Hos 6:6 with Matt 9:13. Why do these translations differ?

Just as words in English typically have more than one meaning, such is the case in Hebrew.

The Hebrew text of Hos 6:6 contains the word khesedh. It connotes loyalty, intervention on someone’s behalf, unmerited favor, goodness, and kindness.[1]

During their seventy-year exile in Babylon, the language spoken by Jewish people shifted from Hebrew to that of their captors, Aramaic (2 Ki 18:17–18, 26–29).

In fact, one of the exiled prophets who served in the court of the Babylonian king penned a significant portion of his writing in Aramaic (Dan 2:4–7:28).[2]

By the time of their return to Israel, they needed Hebrew translated for them by the priests’ assistants (Neh 8:1–3, 8).

During the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great’s army introduced Koine Greek into Palestine, officially displacing Aramaic. However, Jewish people continued to speak Aramaic within their own communities (Mark 5:41).[3]

Between 170 and 100 BC, a group of scholars created a Greek translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). This work was attributed to seventy men in Alexandria, Egypt. Hence the title given to this work was the Septuagint, which means “seventy” (LXX for the Roman numeral seventy).[4]

As New Testament authors and their readers were well-versed in Greek, they frequently quoted this translation.

The Greek version of Hos 6:6 translates khesed as “mercy,” a term which fits into the range of meaning for the Hebrew word.

Most modern English Bibles translate the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew text, which accounts for these minor variations.

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Go to Old Testament Textual Criticism

 

[1]H. -J. Zobel, “khesedh,” TDOT, 5:44–64, 51.

[2]John E. Goldingay, Daniel (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1998), xxv.

[3] Gerald Mussies, “Languages: Greek,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD) 4:195–203, 197.

[4] Melvin K. H. Peters, “Septuagint,” ABD 5:1093–1104, 1093.