Paul's quotations (use of Psm 68:18 in NT)

Dan Wagner Dan.Wagner at
Fri Mar 2 19:22:37 EST 2001

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Samuel Payne [mailto:sam at]
> Sent: Saturday, February 17, 2001 03:43
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Paul's quotations
> > but they can never alter or reinterpret the meaning of a passage.
> So Paul NEVER alters or reinterprets his quotations from the 
> Hebrew? How
> about Psalm 68.18 'Thou hast RECEIVED gifts among men' quoted 
> in Ephesians
> 4.8 as 'And he GAVE gifts unto men.'?

I find it a bit unusual that you would censure Paul for "altering ... his
*quotations* from the Hebrew" while misquoting yourself what i said (and
misconstruing my meaning)! I did not say the wording is always *quoted*
identically to the extant BH text. Rather, i said that the NT writers can
"never alter or reinterpret the *meaning* of a passage." They did not follow
modern rules of technical writing, copyright laws, etc., but had a freedom
with the wording (though never with the meaning, to be sure).

(Incidentally, in my study of Paul's use of the OT, i found his citations
typically were from the early church's vernacular translation, the LXX,
unless the wording of the Greek deviated from the historical meaning of the
HB *and* was significant to the particular argument he was making. If so, he
would alter the LXX or go directly from the HB to make his point. [The same
seems to be true for the rest of the NT writers, but i need to do more study
on that particular issue.] I found that an interesting way of dealing with a
1st-century translation issue!)

> Every version from the Hebrew, through the LXX and the Vulgate, to all
> modern versions I have ever seen read the Psalm in that way.

First, you should become aware that the non-Christian Aramaic Targum does
read "gave" rather than "received" in this passage:
"You ascended to the expanse, O prophet Moses; you led captivity captive;
you taught the words of the Law; you *gave* gifts to the sons of men. But as
for the rebellious who are becoming proselytes [and] are turning in
repentance, there rests upon them the shekinah of the glory of the LORD

Similarly, the Syriac Peshitta has, "You ascended on high; and you led
captivity captive; and you *gave* gifts to the sons of men." So it's
possible that the actual text should be "gave" rather than receive, and
Paul's interpretation is only changing the person of the verb (but not
necessarily its reference), not the verbal root itself at all.

Actually, Psalm 68 as a whole is a tough one from the start, considered one
of the most difficult psalms. Any help from Paul is appreciated by me! But
beyond my rhetoric, the phrase is "You received/took [_LAQAX_] gifts _B)DM_"
with a possible question of the use of beyth preposition on "man." I don't
really think that an appeal to a textual variant is even necessary.

There is a considerable degree of latitude possible with _LAQAX_, for
example beyth can be on the object who receives what is _LAQAX_ed. 1 Sam.
2:14 "all which the three-pronged fork brought up the priest would take *for
himself* [beyth prep. w/ 3MS suffix]." The verb can also have the idea of
"bringing" something as 1 Kg. 10:28 "the merchants brought them from Qeveh,"
and 2 Chr. 1:16 "from Qeveh the merchants brought them." (Thus, something
may perhaps be "taken" and "given" at the same time.)

More importantly, the verb _LAQAX_ is sometimes used for a sovereign
"taking" by God of a person as a minister to mediate between God and the
people (taken from the people, but given back to/for the people). 1 Kg.
11:37 gives this (hypothetical) idea concerning a king, Jeroboam. Num.
8:16-17 does the same concerning the Levites. In fact, i think this is the
intended parallel to which the psalm alludes:

16-19 "For they are wholly *given to Me* from the midst of the children of
Israel; instead of the firstborn of every womb, the firstborn of all the
children of Israel I have *taken [_LQX_] them for Myself*. For *to me* are
all the firstborn among [beyth] the children of Israel, among [beyth]
mankind [_)ADAM_] and among [beyth] beast; on the day I struck all the
firstborn in the land of Egypt I have sanctified them to Myself. 18 I have
taken [_LQX_] the Levites instead of all the firstborn among [beyth] the
children of Israel. 19 And I have given [_NTN_ = ] the Levites as a gift
[_NeTUNIM_] to Aaron and his sons from among the children of Israel, to do
the work for the children of Israel in the tabernacle of meeting, and to
make atonement for the children of Israel, that there be no plague among the
children of Israel when the children of Israel come near the sanctuary."

Also Numbers 18:6 is similar: "Behold, I Myself have *taken* [_LQX_] your
brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel; they are a *gift* to
you, *given* by the LORD, to do the work of the tabernacle of meeting.

Albright viewed Psalm 68 as a string of incipits, the beginnings of various
separate poems from different occasions in Israel's history. I'm not sure i
buy that exactly, but it does point to the existence of various allusions to
other portions of Scripture (intertextuality) or other non-Biblical writings
(such as often mentioned in the canon).

Thus, Psalm 68 alludes to Sinai in several places. Verse 7 clearly alludes
to the context of the wilderness wanderings and verse 8 to the law-giving
event when the earth shook at God's presence on Sinai. Verse 17 refers
cryptically to "the chariots of God" among which the Lord is present on
Sinai, the holy mountain. 

The wording, syntax, and semantics of 68:18 confirm this Sinai allusion,
specifically to the taking and giving of the Levites to be priests for the
nation. "Also [?from/among? the] stubborn/rebellious ones" probably alludes
to the fact that the other tribes rebelled when the Levites were chosen in
the wilderness at Sinai (Ex. 32). "To dwell there Yah God" is an infinitive
construct of purpose; the reason why the Levites were chosen was to mediate
concerning God's presence among the people, precisely as in Num. 8:19: "to
make atonement for the children of Israel, that there be no plague among the
children of Israel when the children of Israel come near the sanctuary."

They were ministers taken from among the people by God for Himself and at
the same time given as a gift to the nation to minister on behalf of the
entire nation in place of the firstborn, to intercede and mediate between
the nation and God (cf. Numb. 3:6-9; 18:2-6). Paul uses precisely the same
concept as was true for Israel and applies it to the NT church in Ephesians
4. Elect men are taken by God from among the people of the church,
sanctified as ministers to mediate to/for the people, and then given back to
the people of the church as "gifts."

Ephesians 4:8 "Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led
captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.' ... 11 And He Himself gave some
to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and
teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for
the edifying of the body of Christ." 

Paul's concise allusion to this theology in Numbers 8, etc., by means of
Psalm 68 demonstrates his profound insight into both the OT text and its
theology, and also how it was relevant for the NT church. 

Dan Wagner

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