Imagine you are preparing a Bible Study or Bible teaching time on a chapter in the New Testament. You are using a trusted Bible teacher’s book as your guide. Your guide book tells you that certain verses in the New Testament chapter you are studying are quotes from the Old Testament. You note this in your notes, and later, as you are leading your group through the New Testament text, you have the whole group turn to the Old Testament texts that are quoted.
To your shock (you did not check in advance), the words are very different from what is in the New Testament. You get red in the face and someone asks if the New Testament writer got the quote wrong. Does the Bible contain errors? Can we trust the Bible? You do not know how to answer, and you worry about this. How can an inspired Bible get quotes wrong? Here are a few things to consider. Note, the Bible is not wrong, but your understanding of inspiration is probably wrong.
First, it is the words in the Bible that are inspired, not the person who wrote the words.
Paul probably spoke hundreds of thousands of words after his conversion. If he was an “inspired person” then all of his words should be in the Bible. But Paul was not an inspired person in that sense. Out of all the words Paul spoke, God worked in and through only some of them to be His written word. In God’s providence, He saw that those words would be written; then He acted to have the words recognized as ultimately from Him; then He acted to preserve the texts for us.
It is the final words of the Old and New Testament that are inspired. This is why the New Testament can quote a pagan poet or a book from the Apocrypha without it meaning that everything the pagan wrote, or everything in the Apocrypha, is inspired by God. This means that a New Testament reference to an Old Testament text can be different, but both are equally and fully part of God’s word written.
Second, this last bit is still troubling to many of us.
The idea of an inspired text (not a person) helps us when thinking about how the Bible can quote a pagan poet. Yet something feels odd when it comes to the New Testament quoting the Old Testament. This says more about us than God. The problem is that we have a concept of rational order, and the Bible does not meet our standard of rational order. Emotionally and intellectually this seems to be a problem. But ask yourself.
If God is God, why does He have to meet your concept of rational order? We live in an age where we want a tidy consistency to rules and laws. Lawyers and others find loopholes and inconsistencies and exploit them.
So we want a systematic consistency in words and concepts from top to bottom and throughout the full width of the “system”. So, we think God has to tidy up His word, and if His word does not have that tidy, rigorous consistency, it is lacking. Now you can maybe see why I say “why”? Why does God have to meet this standard?
Third, this whole question reveals the deep-seated problem of all human beings, including Christians.
We are fallen. A Christian is fallen but saved. We live in the “already/not yet,” so we are still fallen, even though we have been made right with God through the finished work of Christ. As fallen human beings our default is to judge God and find Him lacking, not trust Him and marvel at His glory and His mercy.
You see, we should marvel! God in His providence moved Jewish scholars to provide a Greek version of the Old Testament shortly before Jesus was born so that the Apostles could bring the Gospel to the pagan world.
This Greek version (The Septuagint, LXX) is a faithful paraphrase of the Hebrew text. The New Testament writers, mainly speaking to the Greek-speaking pagan world, quote the same version (LXX) they used in their preaching. This explains why sometimes New Testament citations of the Old Testament differ from what we find in the Old Testament.
New Testament authors generally quote the LXX, but we primarily use the Hebrew text when we translate the Old Testament into English (so the text of the Old testament is secure). For this reason, God can save the pagan and instruct the Christian at the same time.
He provides the Hebrew text so we can read and know the Old Testament, and He provides nuance and insight into some Old Testament texts woven into the New Testament through the use of the Septuagint. Truly we should say “Great and marvelous are Your works Lord God Almighty, just and true are Your ways O King of the Nations!”