Quotation Quandary – Hebrews 10:5 versus Psalm 40:6

A couple months ago, I had a conversation with a church brother regarding the body of Jesus Christ. His claim was that Jesus’ body was specially made for him, and my rebuttal was that Jesus’ body was a (hu)man’s body just like any other man. I recall having an almost identical argument with an older church brother over five years prior, where that brother claimed that Jesus’ body was “perfect” and thus was a special body. Although this post is not about either discussion, what I found interesting upon reflecting over both encounters is that both men quoted Hebrews 10 verse 5 as their main proof text. After this recent encounter, I decided to have a second look at this verse in context, and found out that it is actually a quote of Psalm 40 verse 6. So, I cross checked this reference, and was absolutely shocked that the phrase that was used as a proof text was different to the original quote. It seems like I have found another quotation quandary. Let’s have a deeper look.

Differences between the passages

The teaching that Jesus’ body is specially made, but different from every normal man’s body is predicated on the expression, “a body hast thou prepared me”. It is taught from the perspective that God has prepared a special body for Jesus when he was born. My understanding and belief is that Jesus’ body was a (hu)man’s body just like ours, and if we look at the passage of Hebrews 10, its focus is on sacrifice and offering for sin, and that Jesus is the “offering… once for all” (Hebrews 10:10) for our sin. I believe that the expression, “a body hast thou prepared me” is in reference to Jesus’ death, not his birth.

Regardless of what we think, the author of Hebrews was quoting Psalm 40, but seemed to change a couple parts of his quotation. Of course, some may say that it is due to errors by the scribes or even a deliberate effort to change the meaning. Before I come to any conclusions, let’s examine the differences between the texts in English, Greek and Hebrew.

First, let’s compare the English translation from the KJV Bible for both passages:

Psalm 40: 6 – 8Hebrews 10: 5 – 7
6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.

7 Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,

8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:

6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.

7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
In reviewing the differences in the English, we see that there are 4 main differences between the two passages:
  1. “didst not desire” in Psalm 40 versus “thou wouldest not” in Hebrews 10 is the first difference. This is really just cosmetic, since if we look at the original greek for both texts, they use the same word, ἠθέλησας, which means “to desire; to wish”.
  2. “mine ears has thou opened” in Psalm 40 versus “but a body hast thou prepared me” in Hebrews 10 is the second difference. This is the main difference that we are concerned with. So, will discuss it fully in the following section.
  3. The third difference is the pluralization of offering and sacrifices in Hebrews 10 as compared to Psalm 40. Although I don’t personally believe in misquoting anything deliberately, I think that this was probably intentional by the author of Hebrews to refer to all the sacrifices and offerings done in the past. Whereas in Psalm 40, the psalmist is referring to the descriptive act of giving sacrifice and offering that was ongoing at the time, the author of Hebrews was referring to the cumulative acts that have already occurred. Essentially, they are referring to the same thing. So, I don’t think it really matters.
  4. Lastly, Psalm 40 has “not required” whereas Hebrews 10 has “no pleasure”. In Psalm 40, it is saying that God didn’t ask for it, and in Hebrews 10, it is saying that God didn’t like it. The greek words used were different for these two words, which I personally don’t like as I stated in the previous point. Nonetheless, the thought is essentially the same.

Next, if we will compare the Hebrew Masoretic Text with its equivalent Greek Septuagint (LXX) of Psalm 40: 6-8, we will find that the translation was really spot on, with no missing or added words, and translated meaning faithfully rendered. However, when comparing the LXX with the Koine Greek Textus Receptus (TR) or the Critical Text (CT), we will find that the differences correspond directly with the differences with the English translations outlined above. So, let’s examine the main second difference next.

Ears, Body, Commentaries and Poetry

In trying to figure out the reason for the difference between Psalm 40’s “mine ears has thou opened” and Hebrews 10’s “a body has thou prepared me”, I first decided to search though commentaries and any online articles written about it.

Some commentators were very dismissive of the difference. However, others were quite authoritative and deliberate in making the point that it shows the obedience of Jesus by saying that “mine ears has thou opened” refers to Exodus 21:6, which talks about a bond servant who wants to continue being bound to his master and choses to have his ears bored with an awl. They make this inference due to the use of one ancient Hebrew word, krith, with the root being Strong’s H3738. This Hebrew word has a primitive root meaning of “to dig”; a figurative meaning of “to plot”; and a general meaning of “to bore, or to open”. The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon expresses that “ears hast thou digged for me” is a poetical and stronger expression for the common expression “thou has opened the ear for me”, and it goes on to state that the meaning conferred by this is “thou hast revealed this to me”. Considering that the primitive root meaning is “to dig”, I can somewhat see how these scholars relate it to Exodus 21, but, honestly, it was a bit of a stretch to think that King David was saying that God does not require sacrifice and offering, but rather for to have him be a perpetual bond servant, or slave, as some would say. It just doesn’t fit the context. It makes way more sense to say that God does not desire sacrifices and offerings, he has revealed this to me or open my ears of understanding to this.

Other commentators expressed that “ears” and “body” could be exchanged without issue since one was part of the whole, and could be used to express the same idea of Jesus’ submission. I also found this to be a stretch of the imagination on the commentators’ part.

I did find one article, written by retired scholar Karen Jobes, that addressed all of the differences I outlined. She explained that the changes of “mine ear has thou opened” and “a body has thou prepared” occurred because of the use of a “phonetically based rhetorical technique called paronomasia which was highly valued in the first century”. Basically, it was a form of poetry, as I understand her explanation, and it was used to “embellish” the author’s argument to make it sound more pleasing to the listeners. To be honest, I can’t say whether her assertions were correct or not. However, as I studied the passage more, she did make one comment that resonated with me. She said the following:

According to the MT, David had “ears” to hear the word of the Lord. The midrash of Ps 40:7 understands this verse in light of 1 Sam 15:22, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” (the verb is שׁמע” ,hearing”). The reference to David’s ears, which heard the voice of the Lord, is therefore to be understood as referring to David’s obedience to God.

I found this intriguing because the moment I read the reference to 1 Samuel 15:22. The full reading of 1 Samuel 15:22 says:

And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Indeed, this resonates with me. To obey or listen to God’s voice necessitates that our ears be opened to his calling. This is a thought that is constantly expressed and repeated throughout scripture. It makes lots of sense. If we relate this to our Lord Jesus, we see that Jesus listened or obeyed God’s call to be that lamb offered once for all people for all time. Jesus said in the gospels (Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:42) that he came to do the will of his father.

Putting it all together

So, if we put it all together, we first see a contrast established in Hebrews 1: 1-2, where the writer of Hebrews sets the context of the letter that in the past, God spoke through the prophets, but in the present, he speaks through his Son, Jesus Christ. Then we see that in Hebrews 10:5 a change in quotation of Psalm 40:6, which I believe is deliberate to show that Jesus, who obeyed God through giving of himself as the lamb, has replaced David, who obeyed God through following the commands of God.

Lastly, the passage still shows the emphasis on Jesus being the lamb sacrificed once and for all. He was the substitute for our sins. His body was the ready for that purpose. There is no more any need for sacrificing and offering of animals, as was done in the distant past.

References:
  1. Defending InErrancy – https://defendinginerrancy.com/bible-solutions/Hebrews_10.6-7.php
  2. Karen H. Jobes – https://drmsh.com/TheNakedBible/Psalm40.pdf
  3. Geoffrey R. Kirkland – http://vassaloftheking.com/home/180007755/180007755/Images/The%20use%20of%20Psalm%2040%20in%20Hebrews%2010.pdf
  4. Luke Wayne (CARM) – https://carm.org/does-hebrews-10-5-misquote-psalm-40-6

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