In quoting these words the Apostles were not so scrupulous, provided they
perverted not Scripture to their own purpose. We must always have a regard to
the end for which they quote passages, for they are very careful as to the main
object, so as not to turn Scripture to another meaning; but as to words and
other things, which bear not on the subject in hand, they use great freedom
What Calvin is essentially saying is that Apostle knew his Hebrew, and he was
aware of the difference in the LXX rendering of the verse, but used it anyway
because it does not change the meaning substantially. In order to have His ears
opened or bored, Christ must first have a body, and since a body is a
synecdoche (a figure of speech in which a whole is given for a part and vice
versa) of a ear, it is not wrong for the LXX to render ozen (ear) with
sôma (body). The LXX is not an inspired translation. However, since the
Apostle was writing under inspiration, the portions quoted would then carry the
apostolic stamp of inerrancy. This being the case, it would not be right to charge
the Apostle for introducing errors into the inspired letter.
It may be questioned, however, how the translators of the LXX decided to
translate “ear” with a synecdoche in the first place! Some commentators
suggest that perhaps they understood the mystery contained in Psalm 40:6, that it
refers to the incarnation; others suggest they were aided in the translation by
the Holy Spirit and yet others suggest it was by providential coincidence.
These opinions, however, are not entirely satisfactory (at least to me), for
whichever opinion we choose, we may err by suggesting that the Apostles used
and sanctioned an unreliable translation, or we may err by suggesting that the
LXX is in some ways inspired.
Personally, I think that Dr. John Owen’s opinion deserves a little more
consideration. Owen believed that the rendering of ozensôma (body) was not in fact done by the LXX translators, but by the Apostle
under inspiration. The Apostle could of course do so as he was not bound to quote
the Hebrew text verbatim nor to translate it word for word,—just as preachers,
when offering proofs from the Bible do not necessarily quote word for word, but
often paraphrase or quote in such a way as to fit the flow and context of the subject
being dealt with, without compromising the original meaning of the quotation. Note
the difference between the earlier suggestion that the LXX translators were responsible
for the sôma (body) as compared to Owen’s suggestion that the Apostle
was responsible. In the former, the quality of the LXX translation (it being a
translation) would be compromised. In the latter, the Apostle is writing under
inspiration for the instruction of the Church, and so it is proper for him to render
as he did (“body” being suitably used as a synecdoche of “ear” to
emphasise the point that a body is necessary in order for the Lord to do the will of
the Father). (ear) with
But if we hold to this latter view, then how do we account for the fact that
the LXX’s rendering of Psalm 40:6 is exactly as in Greek text of Hebrews 10:5?
Owen asserts that it is so because “sundry passages have been unquestionably
taken out of the New Testament, and inserted into that translation” (see
Hebrews, 6.458). This is not at all unlikely given that the LXX OT continued
to be copied and used in some parts of the church after the New Testament were written.
Owen proves his point by showing that some old copies of the LXX actually have [the Greek]
ôtia (ears) at Psalm 40:6 rather than sôma (body), and the Latin Vulgate
had followed these early copies. Indeed, my own copy of the LXX, which was a scholarly
edition put together by Alfred Rahlfs (Septuaginta, [Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft
Stuttgart, 1979]), has ôtia (ears) at Psalm 40:6 rather than sôma (body).
Is it not likely that Owen is right?