Rufinus’ Defense of the LXX

Rufinus ca. 345-410

Perhaps it was a greater piece of audacity to alter the books of the divine Scriptures which had been delivered to the Churches of Christ by the Apostles to be a complete record of their faith by making a new translation under the influence of the Jews. Which of these two things appears to you to be the less legitimate? As to the sayings of Origen, if we agree with them, we agree with them as the sayings of a man; if we disagree, we can easily disregard them as those of a mere man. But how are we to regard those translations of yours which you are now sending about everywhere, through our churches and monasteries, through all our cities and walled towns? are they to be treated as human or divine? And what are we to do when we are told that the books which bear the names of the Hebrew Prophets and lawgivers are to be had from you in a truer form than that which was approved by the Apostles? How, I ask, is this mistake to be set right, or rather, how is this crime to be expiated? We hold it a thing worthy of condemnation that a man should have put forth some strange opinions in the interpretation of the law of God; but to pervert the law itself and make it different from that which the Apostles handed down to us,–how many times over must this be pronounced worthy of condemnation? To the daring temerity of this act we may much more justly apply your words: “Which of all the wise and holy men who have gone before you has dared to put his hand to that work?” Which of them would have presumed thus to profane the book of God, and the sacred words of the Holy Spirit? Who but you would have laid hands upon the divine gift and the inheritance of the Apostles?

There has been from the first in the churches of God, and especially in that of Jerusalem, a plentiful supply of men who being born Jews have become Christians; and their perfect acquaintance with both languages and their sufficient knowledge of the law is shewn by their administration of the pontifical office. In all this abundance of learned men, has there been one who has dared to make havoc of the divine record handed down to the Churches by the Apostles and the deposit of the Holy Spirit? For what can we call it but havoc, when some parts of it are transformed, and this is called the correction of an error? For instance, the whole of the history of Susanna, which gave a lesson of chastity to the churches of God, has by him been cut out, thrown aside and dismissed. The hymn of the three children, which is regularly sung on festivals in the Church of God, he has wholly erased from the place where it stood. But why should I enumerate these cases one by one, when their number cannot be estimated? This, however, cannot be passed over. The seventy translators, each in their separate cells, produced a version couched in consonant and identical words, under the inspiration, as we cannot doubt, of the Holy Spirit; and this version must certainly be of more authority with us than a translation made by a single man under the inspiration of Barabbas. But, putting this aside I beg you to listen, for example, to this as an instance of what we mean. Peter was for twenty-four years Bishop of the Church of Rome. We cannot doubt that, amongst other things necessary for the instruction of the church, he himself delivered to them the treasury of the sacred books, which, no doubt, had even then begun to be read under his presidency and teaching. What are we to say then? Did Peter the Apostle of Christ deceive the church and deliver to them books which were false and contained nothing of truth? Are we to believe that he knew that the Jews possessed what was true, and yet determined that the Christians should have what was false? But perhaps the answer will be made that Peter was illiterate, and that, though he knew that the books of the Jews were truer than those which existed in the church, yet he could not translate them into Latin because of his linguistic incapacity. What then! Was the tongue of fire given by the Holy Spirit from heaven of no avail to him? Did not the Apostles speak in all languages?

But let us grant that the Apostle Peter was unable to do what out friend has lately done. Was Paul illiterate? we ask; He who was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, touching the law a Pharisees brought up at the feet of Gamaliel? Could not he when he was at Rome, have supplied any deficiencies of Peter? Is it conceivable that they, who prescribed to their disciples that they should give attention to reading,’ did not give them correct and true reading? These men who bid us not attend to Jewish fables and genealogies, which minister questioning rather than edification; and who, again, bid us beware of, and specially watch, those of the circumcision; is it conceivable that they could not foresee through the Spirit that a time would come, after nearly four hundred years, when the church would find out that the Apostles had not delivered to them the truth of the old Testament, and would send an embassy to those whom the apostles spoke of as the circumcision, begging and beseeching them to dole out to them some small portion of the truth which was in their possession: and that the Church would through this embassy confess that she had been for all those four hundred years in error; that she had indeed been called by the Apostles from among the Gentiles to be the bride of Christ, but that they had not decked her with a necklace of genuine jewels; that she had fondly thought that they were precious stones, but now had found out that those were not true gems which the Apostles had put upon her, so that she felt ashamed to go forth in public decked in false instead of true jewels; and that she therefore begged that they would send her Barabbas, even him whom she had once rejected to be married to Christ, so that in conjunction with one man chosen from among her own people, he might restore to her the true ornaments with which the Apostles had failed to furnish her.

What wonder is there then that he should tear me to pieces, being as I am of no account; or that he should wound Ambrose, or find fault with Hilary, Lactantius and Didymus? I must not greatly grieve over any injury of my own in the fact that be has attempted to do my work of translating over again, when he is only treating me with the same contempt with which he has treated the Seventy translators. But this emendation of the Seventy, what are we to think of it? Is it not evident, how greatly the grounds for the heathens’ unbelief have been increased by this proceeding? For they take notice of what is going on amongst us. They know that our law has been amended, or at least changed; and do you suppose they do not say among themselves, “These people are wandering at random, they have no fixed truth among them, for you see how they make amendments and corrections in their laws whenever they please,” and indeed it is evident that there must have been a previous error where amendment has supervened, and that things which undergo change at the hand of man cannot possibly be divine.

This has been the present which you have made us with your excess of wisdom, that we are all judged even by the heathen as lacking in wisdom. I reject the wisdom which Peter and Paul did not teach. I will have nothing to do with a truth which the Apostles have not approved. These are your own words: “The ears of simple men among the Latins ought not after four hundred years to be molested by the sound of new doctrines.” Now you are yourself saying: “Every one has been under a mistake who thought that Susanna had afforded an example of chastity to both the married and the unmarried. It is not true. And every One who thought that the boy Daniel was filled with the Holy Spirit and convicted the adulterous old men, was under a mistake. That also was not true. And every congregation throughout the universe, whether of those who are in the body or of those who have departed to be with the Lord, even though they were holy martyrs or confessors, all who have sting the Hymn of the three children have been in error, and have sung what is false. Now therefore after four hundred years the truth of the law comes forth for us; it has been bought with money from the Synagogue. (Rufinus’ Apology Bk. II: 32-35)


  1. Maximus, this is a good find!

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