“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.18–19).
The only New Testament class that I have the opportunity to teach at Florida College is the freshman course “New Testament History and Geography,” which focuses on the narratives in Luke-Acts. As I teach through Luke, I emphasize how important scripture citation is to Luke: he does it (compared to Mark and Matthew) rarely, and each time he does is notable. One of the most important for Luke’s Jesus comes from his first sermon (Luke 4.16–30). There is a lot we can talk about, here, but what I want to focus on is Jesus’ citation. As many of you probably already know (or can check with a quick glimpse down at your cross references!) this passage comes from Isa 61 and is used by Luke to highlight Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus was anointed to do a few things: to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Each of these items are seen in Jesus ministry and form a sort of “thesis statement” for what Jesus sets out to do here on earth.
One of the things a lot of folks learn to do when they see a quotation from the Hebrew Bible is to flip back and check it. So, if we flip in our English Bible back to Isaiah we find:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor (Isa 61.1–2)
But that citation… doesn’t match! Among the differences, where is the “recovering the sight of the blind!?” This is one of the key aspects of Jesus’ identity: it’s what he convinces John with (Luke 7.21–22), it’s who is supposed to be invited to the Messianic feast (Luke 14.13, 21), and it’s who he heals as he is on his way to Jerusalem (Luke18.35). This miracle is just as important outside of Luke (cf. John 9–11!). But where did it come from, for Jesus to cite it? Did he just get it wrong? Make it up? The answer to both is “no.”
This phrase actually comes not from the Masoretic Text which underlies our modern, English Bibles, but rather the Old Greek. Notice what is present in the Greek version of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Isa 61.1–2 OG).
In fact, if you’re careful about checking your references while reading through your New Testaments you will find frequent examples of where the text you look at in your Old Testament doesn’t match what you’re reading in your New Testament? You may have asked “Why is that?” before quickly dismissing it as a mere translation difference or something weird with your version and—sometimes—that is right! But, far more often, it’s because the New Testament writers were using a different textual tradition than what our modern English Bible’s use for their Old Testaments.
Oddly enough, over the past two weeks I’ve received several, independent questions asking me about these issues, so over the next few posts I’m going to dive a little more into that: what is the Septuagint? What is the Masoretic Text? Why does it matter? And What does it change? In the meantime, keep an eye out for those quotations that don’t match. Which ones have you noticed, lately?