A Series of Answers to Common Questions

Sam Shamoun


The author of Hebrews cites an OT text and applies it to Christ. The text in question is taken from Psalm 40:6 and says that Jesus spoke prophetically there regarding the body that God prepared for him in order to come as the final sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 10:5-10). The problem with the quote is that the Psalm says nothing about a body being prepared, but speaks of the Psalmist’s ears being opened for service. How can the NT books be inspired if they so blatantly distort the words of the OT scriptures?


Here is what the author of Hebrews wrote:

"Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, "Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God," as it is written of me in the roll of the book.’ When he said above, ‘Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second." Hebrews 10:5-10

When we read the particular Psalm that the author quoted we do find that there is indeed a variant reading:

"Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire; but thou hast given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering thou hast not required. Then I said, ‘Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart.’" Psalm 40:6-8

On this basis it is assumed that the author deliberately tampered with the text to suit his theological agenda.

What this question fails to consider is that the NT authors often quoted a couple of OT text types that are at variance with the standard Hebrew Masoretic text. In fact, the NT authors at times quote a more ancient form of the text than the later Masoretic version as can be seen from a comparison with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. These two texts often agree with each other in certain readings over against those found in the later Hebrew version.

One must therefore exercise caution before assuming that the NT is corrupting or quoting from an inaccurate version of the Hebrew text solely because their citations differ from those found in the Masoretic version.

In this case, it seems that the author of Hebrews cited an older form of the text, one found in the Septuagint version of the OT Scriptures:

Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin thou didst not require.

Thus, the Septuagint serves as a witness to an older reading of the Psalms which contained the word body as opposed to that found in certain Hebrew versions.

Yet the fact of the matter is that the great majority of these variants are inconsequential, of no real significance, and can be easily reconciled. None of these variants affect any essential doctrine of the Christian faith.

These references actually help illustrate this point clearly. A careful reading of these two specific variants help clarify one another, and in no way contradict the point being made by the inspired author of Hebrews.

For instance, the Hebrew word for open in Psalm 40:6 comes from karah, a word that has the following meanings:

Strong’s # 03738
1) to dig, excavate, dig through

a) (Qal) to dig
b) (Niphal) to be dug
2) (Qal) to give a banquet or feast
3) (Qal) to get by trade, trade, buy (Source)

It is used in Psalm 22:16 in reference to the Messiah’s hands and feet being pierced through:

"Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet –"

The Psalmist’s statement regarding his ears being opened or pierced is his way of saying that he has enslaved himself to the perpetual service of his master out of his love for him:

"But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life." Exodus 21:5-6

The point being made by the Psalmist is that God isn’t necessarily looking for rituals or animal sacrifices. Rather, God desires that a person wholeheartedly surrender himself/herself to the service of the Lord. The Psalmist is basically stating that he will devote himself completely to the will of God, giving himself over to perpetual servitude in accomplishing God’s purpose.

This is precisely the point that the author of Hebrews was making, namely that Jesus had a body prepared for him in order that he could come and perfectly accomplish the will of God:

"For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45

"Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has any one brought him food?’" John 4:31-34

"I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me." John 5:30

"For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me;" John 6:38

Hence, whether the Septuagint retained the original reading, or simply paraphrased the original text, it seems clear that at some point in time the variants arose in order to explain what the inspired author was trying to say.

Putting it another way, both readings refer to a person who lovingly and voluntarily hands himself over to the service of God. The verses therefore help to clarify each other and highlight the fact that the Messiah voluntarily came into the flesh in order to become a slave to his Father since this is what God desired of him.

A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Answering Islam Home Page