Did Jesus Misquote Scripture in Luke 4:17-24?

By: Matthew Dyer

In the book of Luke chapter 4:17-24 we have an event of Jesus attending service at a synagogue on the sabbath. From what can be known it was a tradition of the Judeans to have someone read out loud a portion of the Books of Moses or the Prophets. Jesus proceeds to get up and read a passage from Isaiah chapter 61:1-2, and then says that this Scripture was just fulfilled before their eyes. Let’s read Luke 4:17-24:

And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country. And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.”

Now let’s read Isaiah 61:1-2:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;”

Did you all notice the issue? In Isaiah 61:1-2 it doesn’t say anything close to and recovering of sight to the blind.” So, what is often used by anti-Christians is they say that Jesus misquoted Scripture, or more likely Luke added this in his book to help prove Jesus was the Messiah when He was not. Some will also say that it is possible that a scribe later down the road added it in for the same reason. The argument kind of goes like this: “Jesus was healing people and claiming to be the Messiah and there is nowhere in the Old Testament that says the Messiah has to heal people, so they had to put it in there somehow.” This theory is often compared to Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) trying to add himself in his translation of the Bible in Genesis chapter 50, and they say that Luke was trying to do the same thing with Jesus. Whether you think that is a valid objection or not in Luke chapter 4 doesn’t really matter, it is things like this we as Christians need to have an answer for rather than throwing our hands up and saying that we believe the Bible is the Word of God no matter what because that is what you were taught. Because when we as Christians fail to have answers to these questions, this allows anti-Christians to come in and mislead our young people away from the truth because they present a few arguments that sound really good. By not equipping ourselves with proper defenses we are not fulfilling 1st Peter 3:15 which says:

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer (The word answer in this passage is the Greek word Apologia and means to give a defense.) to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”

So, what do you do with this passage in Luke chapter 4? Do you throw away your Bible and reject Jesus? Or is there another answer? In the book of Luke Jesus is not quoting from the Hebrew, rather He is quoting from the Greek Septuagint which was a Greek translation of the Old Testament that was translated around 250 years before the birth of Jesus. So, it was a translation that would have been widely available long before the time of Jesus. Now let’s read Isaiah 61:1-2 from the Brenton Greek Septuagint (This is an English translation of the Septuagint) which says this:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to declare the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompence; to comfort all that mourn”

Now at this point the critics will say that since the Septuagint was used more by Christians in the 1st Century that they must have added this portion to help support Jesus being the Messiah. The issue with that is the Septuagint was translated by Judean scholars around 250 years before Jesus was born. This wasn’t a translation that came about in the 1st Century and translated by Christians. It was just used by Greek speaking Christians after the time of Jesus because Greek was a more common language then Aramaic or Hebrew, and the Gospel of Christ went north-west towards Europe where the scattered Israelites who spoke mainly Greek were located. It is true that Judeans stopped using the Septuagint after the Christians started using it because they wanted to distance themselves from them as much as possible, but it was widely used by Greek speaking Judeans before this point. There are even fragments of the Greek Septuagint that were found with the Dead Sea Scrolls that were put there by the Essene, who were a Judean sect before the time of Jesus.

The critics will also rightly bring up the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in 1940s which had a complete book of Isaiah in Hebrew, along with many other large fragments of the book. The complete book of Isaiah which is known today as The Great Isaiah Scroll does not contain the “recovery of sight to the blind” passage in Chapter 61:1. Which leads many to think this was added in wrongfully at some point in time. Another issue that is often brought up is Jesus was quoting from the Greek Septuagint. It is very unlikely Jesus would have been reading from a Greek Septuagint in a Judean synagogue in that region, but rather be reading from a scroll written in Aramaic. It is not impossible He was not reading from Septuagint, but it is still very unlikely. What is not often mentioned by the critics though is that The Dead Sea Scrolls contained multiple fragments of the book of Isaiah, and there is a slight variant in this passage among other scrolls that words this verse a little differently. For those that don’t know, a scriptural variant is where you have more than one manuscript and they vary from one to another. Most variants in scripture are very minor and are mostly grammar errors. We have thousands of Greek New Testament scrolls, which is more than any other ancient document in human history. This is a really good thing! Because we have many points of reference to check for accuracy.

The Great Isaiah Scroll, the best preserved of the biblical scrolls found with the Dead Sea Scrolls

Among the Isaiah scroll variants the passage in chapter 61:1 that says “freedom to prisoners” some fragments say “release from darkness” or can also mean “opening the eyes” of the prisoners. The following is a reading from The Dead Sea Scroll Bible which is a translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich published in 1999:

“The  spirit  of  the  Lord is  upon  me,  because  the  Lord  has  anointed   me;  he  has  sent  me  to  bring  good  news  to  the  oppressed,  and to  bind up  the  brokenhearted,  to  proclaim  freedom  for  the  captives,  and  release  from  darkness  for  the  prisoners”

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used for the “the opening of the prison” can be used figuratively for freeing from a dark prison or freeing someone from the darkness according to Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon. If you think about how someone being released from a dark prison can also be related to someone having their eyes open or their eyesight being healed is not a huge stretch. Today in our prisons we have bright lights and such but back before electricity a prison was often what we would call a dungeon, and to be set free from that would be to come into the light. I think the 70 Greek Septuagint translators understood this, which is why they chose to translate it the way they did.

Some still may ask the question of why Jesus read from a Greek Septuagint when it should have been Aramaic, or why did Luke add the Greek Septuagint quote in his book. This is a good question. It is very possible that Luke did indeed add the Greek Septuagint passage into his book which was written in Greek. Why would Luke do such a thing? The same reason if someone was writing a book on Christian theology to a group of Christians who only used the King James Translation would quote from the KJV, instead of quoting from the New American Standard. That way when they read it in their own language with their own translation, they would be familiar with it and better understand it. Since Luke was writing in Greek to a Greek speaking people, why not have Luke quote from the Greek Scriptures in his book. If this did happen, did it cause some confusion by him doing that? Yes, it seems so. But I believe the plain meaning of the verse that Jesus was quoting is still there plain as day and still stands true in both Hebrew and Greek. We may have to dig a little deeper to understand it better, but Jesus literally healed the blind and He also figuratively heals the blind spiritually by bringing them out of darkness and into the light. This answer will not convince most unbelievers who has their heart set on unbelief, but I hope it sheds some light on the passage for those Christians that have been questioned on this passage.