LXX’s view of God’s Repentance
1 Sam. 15:11, 29, 35
1Sam. 15:11 παρακέκλημαι ὅτι ἐβασίλευσα τὸν Σαουλ εἰς βασιλέα ὅτι ἀπέστρεψεν ἀπὸ ὄπισθέν μου καὶ τοὺς λόγους μου οὐκ ἐτήρησεν καὶ ἠθύμησεν Σαμουηλ καὶ ἐβόησεν πρὸς κύριον ὅλην τὴν νύκτα
1Sam. 15:29 καὶ διαιρεθήσεται Ισραηλ εἰς δύο καὶ οὐκ ἀποστρέψει οὐδὲ μετανοήσει ὅτι οὐχ ὡς ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν τοῦ μετανοῆσαι αὐτός
1Sam. 15:35 καὶ οὐ προσέθετο Σαμουηλ ἔτι ἰδεῖν τὸν Σαουλ ἕως ἡμέρας θανάτου αὐτοῦ ὅτι ἐπένθει Σαμουηλ ἐπὶ Σαουλ καὶ κύριος μετεμελήθη ὅτι ἐβασίλευσεν τὸν Σαουλ ἐπὶ Ισραηλ
15:11 ‘I have comforted myself since I crowned Saul as King, because he has turned from away from behind me and my words he has not kept. And Samuel was disheartened and cried out to the Lord all night.’
15:29 ‘And Israel will be divided into two and he will not turn back nor repent because He is not like a man in that he does not repent.
15:35 ‘and Samuel did not add again to see Saul until the day of his death because Samuel mourned Saul and the Lord regretted that he had made Saul King over Israel.’
I have translated this word as ‘I have comforted myself.’ The only reason I mention it here as a translational issue is because my translation differs from the NETS translation which reads: ‘I have been comforted.’ Since a passive and middle voice have the exact same form in the perfect verb it must be decided by context how one should translate it. NETS has gone with the passive voice (‘I have been comforted’). In the passive voice it sounds like the fact that the Lord made Saul king is the agent which is comforting him (hence the introduction to that clause with a ὅτι). I have gone with the middle voice, because the context seems to be suggesting that because the Lord made Saul king, which he regrets (v. 35), he has comforted himself by rejecting Saul’s kingship, hence my translation: ‘I have comforted myself since I crowned Saul as king.’
This infinitive verb, which translates the Hebrew Infinitive Construct: להנחם, is usually translated as a subjunctive: ‘that he should change his mind.’ I struggle with this use of the infinitive but it does seem clear that this is the sense that this construction is trying to get across. If I were to classify the use of this verb form I would classify it as an ‘Explanatory use of the Genitive Infinitive’ (Conybeare and Stock, §60b). Thus my translation: ‘He is not like a man in that he does not repent.’
MT vs. LXX
παρακαλεω, μετανοεω and μεταμελομαι vs. נחם
Although there are many textual differences between the MT and LXX in these texts, I have chosen to focus on this one issue because of the theological significance I see here. I have argued elsewhere (see my paper on this) that the MT intentionally uses the word נחם each time it speaks of the Lord repenting and not repenting in order to draw attention to the apparent contradiction between these verbs. The point is to force the reader to understand the paradoxical fact that God is a constant and reliable God who does not change his mind (v. 29) and yet he is also a a dynamic and interacting God who does change his mind based on the actions of his children (vv. 11 and 35).
What the LXX translators have done in translating this verse with three different verbs is 1) appropriately capture the emphasis of each individual usage of the Hebrew נחם, and 2) alleviate the tension that is created by the repeated use of נחם in the MT.
It seems to me that in the MT, this passage is a clear commentary on the nature of God as one who is changing and yet unchanging. My question is whether the decision by the LXX translators to translate נחם with three different verbs a context based decision (I do think נחם has a slightly different nuance each time it is used in the MT) or a decision based on the theological problem of the apparent contradiction in this passage. At this point I can’t really answer the question but my hunch is, based on other readings in the LXX, that the translators often make theological ‘tweaks’ to the Hebrew text because of theological problems with the Hebrew, especially in regards to how it presents God. I think I have said it before, but I think a great study could be made as to how the LXX translators view God based on variants from the MT.
F.C. Conybeare and St. George Stock, Grammar of Septuagint Greek (Boston, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995).