The Role of the LXX in the Theology of the Early Church, posted May 10th, noted that the early Church Fathers relied upon the Septuagint. As Jean Danielou has indicated, early Christian theology saw in the symbolism of the cross the expression of glory, irresistible power and divine efficacy. The apostolic fathers believed that salvation was based on repentance and not solely on the ground of the death of Jesus on the cross. Robert Kraft has stated: “There is no indication in the Didache that an initial repentance connected with the idea of personal sinfulness for which Jesus' death atones was considered basic to the Christian life.”
Why is it, that the early Church Fathers did not have a theology of the cross? The LXX in Isa. 53:9a, 10-11b rewrites the outcome of the servant’s suffering excising his sacrificial death and any notion of vicarious atonement. “The 'punch line' for the Christian gospel--the description of the Servant's divinely intended sacrificial death, his justification of the many, and allusions to his resurrection--occurs only in the Hebrew texts.”[i]
Luke tells us that Philip used the passage from Isaiah 53:7-8 LXX that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading as the starting point of the good news of the suffering Jesus as the Isaianic suffering servant of Isaiah 53 LXX. Philip’s explanation probably included the story from the 24th chapter, where Luke tells us that Jesus began with Moses and the prophets to explain to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus the things about himself, especially that “the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory.” It is no wonder that early Christian theology saw in the symbolism of the cross the expression of glory, irresistible power and divine efficacy. The victory motif was held in high esteem in the early church.
Does this mean that the early Church Fathers did not provide a means of salvation? No. In the Septuagint, the form of righteousness that will provide a ransom for sins is almsgiving, the financial outpouring of compassion on the poor. The Greek translation of Daniel, Proverbs, Tobit and Sirach explicitly claim that almsgiving has the power to purge sin, to atone for and redeem iniquities. The doctrine of redemptive almsgiving states that giving money to the poor provides a ransom for sin. This idea, implicit in the writings of Luke and also Paul, was boldly advocated by the Apostolic Fathers.
2nd Clement 16.4 states: “Almsgiving is therefore good as repentance from sin. Fasting is better, but almsgiving is better than both. Love covers a multitude of sins but prayer from a good conscience rescues from death. Blessed is every man who is found full of these things for almsgiving lightens sin.
Didache 4.5-6 states: “Do not be one who stretches out his hands to receive, but shut them when it comes to giving. Of whatever you have gained by your hands, you shall give a ransom for your sins.
Barnabas 19.10 states: “You shall remember the day of judgment day and night and you shall seek the face of the saints either laboring by speech and going out to exhort, and striving to save souls by the word, or working with your hands for the ransom of your sins. You shall not hesitate to give and when you give you shall not grumble
. . . .
In addition, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Commodianus, Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius, Polycarp and Second Clement, Hennas, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus all wrote favorably. Origen, Cyprian and Chrysostom cited Luke 11:41 as proof-text to support the doctrine that almsgiving redeems sin. Polycarp cited Tobit 4:10 LXX and Cyprian cited Proverbs 16:6 LXX. Cyprian also rewrote the story of Tabitha in support of redemptive almsgiving.
The theology of the early Church provided redemptive almsgiving as a basis of salvation. It is apparent that the role of the Septuagint with respect to these developments was significant.
A work in progress.
[i] David A. Sapp, “The LXX, 1QIsa, and MT Versions of Isaiah 53 and the Christian Doctrine of Atonement.”