Deuteronomy 32:43, Hebrews 1:6, and the King James Version

by Luke Wayne
10/31/18
Return to King James Onlyism

Much attention is given by King James Onlyists to the material present in the KJV yet absent in modern translations. What is often overlooked, however, is that there is also important material present in modern translations which is lacking in the KJV. Perhaps the most important example of this is in Deuteronomy 32:43. In the KJV, this verse simply reads:

"Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people."

It is quite natural for the KJV to read this way. This is the reading found in the Masoretic text of all the medieval Hebrew manuscripts which were available at the time. Yet, the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament from before the time of Christ, contains a longer version of this verse which reads:

"Rejoice, O heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him. Rejoice, O nations, with his people, and let all the angels of God be strengthened in him, for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people."

This reading was further affirmed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), which contained the Hebrew text of this reading. Thus, this longer version clearly goes back to a Hebrew version of Deuteronomy that is quite ancient. What is perhaps even more important, at least to a Christian who believes in the inspiration of the New Testament, is that the author of the book of Hebrews not only cites this longer version, but directly cites the portion missing in the Masoretic text as proof of the deity of Christ! He says:

"And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him," (Hebrews 1:6, KJV).

This is a direct quote of Deuteronomy 32:43 in the LXX and these specific words are clearly treated as inspired words of God by the author of Hebrews, yet the KJV does not have these words there! Some modern translations like the ESV and NRSV include these words of the LXX/DSS in the main text of Deuteronomy 32:43. Others, like the NIV, NKJV,  and HCSB at least note them in a footnote. The KJV, however, omits the reading entirely, even though the author of Hebrews cites it is authentic Scripture. This is, again, historically understandable. The 1611 translators did not know about the Dead Sea Scrolls. The only Hebrew manuscripts they had ever seen lacked these words. They were as faithful as they could be to the text they had in front of them. I do not fault the scholars in 1611 for rendering the text as they did. But, knowing what we know now, is there really any good reason to omit these words? To not even note them in the margins or in a footnote?

Deuteronomy 32:43 or Psalm 97:7?

The primary objection to this raised by King James Onlyists is that the author of Hebrews was not, in fact, quoting from Deuteronomy at all! They claim that, instead, he was quoting the words of Psalm 97:

"Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods," (Psalm 97:7, KJV).

The word "elohim," translated here as "gods," has a range of meaning and is sometimes used of angels. Indeed, the Septuagint renders the relevant phrase of this Psalm as "worship him, all his angels." So, could it be that the author of Hebrews has this Psalm in mind rather than Deuteronomy 32? Almost certainly not. While both of these passages in the Septuagint call on angels to worship, they are not worded in the same way. Look at the three passages side by side in the original Greek. Even without knowing ancient Greek, it is easy to see which one the author of Hebrews was quoting:

"προσκυνησάτωσαν αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι θεοῦ," (Hebrews 1:6).
"προσκυνησάτωσαν αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι θεοῦ," (Deuteronomy 32:43, LXX).
"προσκυνήσατε αὐτῷ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ," (Psalm 97:7, LXX).

The words in Hebrews and in Deuteronomy are identical. Psalm 97 has some similar words, but it is not the same sentence. The author of Hebrews was typically quite precise in his quotations from the LXX. Note a few other examples in the surrounding context:

"υἱός μου εἶ σύ ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε," (Hebrews 1:5).
"υἱός μου εἶ σύ ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε," (Psalm 2:7, LXX).

"ἐγὼ ἔσομαι αὐτῷ εἰς πατέρα καὶ αὐτὸς ἔσται μοι εἰς υἱόν," (Hebrews 1:5).
"ἐγὼ ἔσομαι αὐτῷ εἰς πατέρα καὶ αὐτὸς ἔσται μοι εἰς υἱόν," (2 Samuel 7:15, LXX).

"κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου," (Hebrews 1:13).
"κάθου ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἕως ἂν θῶ τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου ὑποπόδιον τῶν ποδῶν σου," (Psalm 110:1, LXX).

"ὁ ποιῶν τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ πνεύματα καὶ τοὺς λειτουργοὺς αὐτοῦ πυρὸς φλόγα," (Hebrews 1:7).
"ὁ ποιῶν τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ πνεύματα καὶ τοὺς λειτουργοὺς αὐτοῦ πῦρ φλέγον," (Psalm 104:4, LXX).

These citations are identical to the letter in every case except Hebrews 1:7/Psalm 104:4, and there the only difference is the grammatical form of the word "πῦρ." Thus, it is highly unlikely that the author of Hebrews would have so altered the wording of Psalm 97:7, and especially that he would have done so in a manner that just happened to be literally identical to the LXX reading in Deuteronomy 32:43.

But Was LXX Deuteronomy Later Influence by Hebrews?

One of the more sophisticated arguments that is occasionally brought out is the claim that the LXX did not originally read that way at all. Instead, we are told, the reason the Greek is identical in both Hebrews and LXX Deuteronomy is not that the author of Hebrews was quoting from LXX Deuteronomy but rather that later Christian scribes copying the LXX inserted the words of Hebrews into Deuteronomy. Thus, they say, the author of Hebrews was originally intending to cite Psalm 97, but later Scribes added it in. This claim, however, is also problematic. As noted above, the Dead Sea Scrolls affirm this reading in Deuteronomy at a time before Hebrews had even been written. It is also cited by very early Christian writers, such as the Second Century apologist Justin Martyr, who wrote:

"They are recorded by the faithful servant Moses in parable, and are as follows: ‘Rejoice, O ye heavens, with Him, and let all the angels of God worship Him;’ ” and I added what follows of the passage: “ ‘Rejoice, O ye nations, with His people, and let all the angels of God be strengthened in Him: for the blood of His sons He avenges, and will avenge, and will recompense His enemies with vengeance, and will recompense those that hate Him; and the Lord will purify the land of His people.’ And by these words He declares that we, the nations, rejoice with His people," (Justin Martyr "Dialogue with Trypho," Chapter 130).

Justin makes no mention of the book of Hebrews here. He is clearly and directly citing Deuteronomy 32 from the Septuagint. He even includes the words not mentioned by the author of Hebrews, such as "rejoice, O ye heavens" and " let all the angels of God be strengthened in Him." Justin's copy of the Septuagint was identical here to many copies we have today. If early Christians corrupted it, they must have done so almost immediately after Hebrews was written, and yet done so with such thorough effectiveness that the whole church was convinced of this reading! Again, look at the words side by side:

"προσκυνησάτωσαν αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι θεοῦ." (Deuteronomy 32:43, LXX).
"προσκυνησάτωσαν αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι θεοῦ," (Deuteronomy 32:43, Justin Martyr).
"προσκυνησάτωσαν αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι θεοῦ," (Hebrews 1:6).

Now, some scholars have pointed out that there are early manuscripts of the Septuagint which read "all the sons of God" rather than "all the angels of God," and they will thus list "sons of God" as the original LXX reading. It is quite true that some early copies of the Septuagint read that way, and indeed this is not surprising. The term "sons of God" is used for the angels in Job, so both readings are really saying the same thing. "Sons of God" and "angels of God" may well represent two different ancient attempts at Greek translations of the same early Hebrew phrase. Conversely, one of the two might be the original LXX reading and the other a clarifying scribal revision. Either way, while the "sons of God" reading does exist, there are also Septuagint manuscripts that read "angels of God"1 And, since the "angels of God" version of the LXX is the one cited by all the early Christian writers, it is clear which version of the LXX the earliest Christians possessed and used. The existence of another ancient version of the LXX does nothing to undermine this.

Conclusion

The Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls preserved words in Deuteronomy 32 which are lacking in the later Masoretic Hebrew text. The New Testament author of the book of Hebrews affirms those words as authentic Scripture and, indeed, as testimony to the deity of Christ. The earliest Christian writers also cited this passage in LXX Deuteronomy to the same end. The 1611 translators, nobly striving to be as faithful as they could to the Hebrew text they had (i.e., the Masoretic text), did not include these words. Yet, with all the evidence discovered since then, it seems increasingly likely that these words are, indeed, original to the book of Deuteronomy. They are certainly the words which were cited by the author of Hebrews. Therefore, it makes the most sense for translations to include these words, along with a marginal reference or footnote noting for the reader the existence of the manuscript differences. It no longer makes sense to exclude these words entirely from our translations out of mere tradition.

  • 1. R. Homes and J. Parsons, Vetus Testamentum Graecum cum Variis Lectionibus, Vol. 1 (Oxford, 1798) 724, https://books.google.com/books?id=ytFciPVntCoC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (Accessed 4/12/2018). See also the Septuagint collections of Leander van Ess (1855) and Constantine von Tischendorf (1856), and even the LXX text used in the early 16th-century Complutensian Polyglot.