There is a confusing wording in Psalm 68:18, which is also quoted by Paul in Ephesians 4:8, where it sounds like captivity itself, as a concept, is being taken into captivity. Huh? Just look at how the King James Version puts it:
‘When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive’
How odd! Yet, the literal words in the Septuagint source of the Psalm do seem to say it:
The Hebrew text of the Psalm says the same:
Then in Ephesians, where Paul quotes it, the Greek source is identical to the Septuagint, while the (possible original) Aramaic source of Ephesians also says the same thing:
It sounds very odd to say something like captivity will be taken into captivity. It’s a bit like saying murder will be murdered, or eating will be eaten. Is the author of the Psalm (and Paul who quotes it) trying to make some deep, meaningful, point?
Probably not. You see, none of these languages has the indefinite article ‘a’. If we understand that it says ‘a captivity will be taken captive,’ then we can understand that ‘a captivity’ could simply be shorthand for ‘a group of captives.’ This is highly likely to be correct because of other uses of it in the Septuagint.
The same Greek word for captivity is found in numerous places in the Greek Septuagint, and is often called ‘the captivity,’ where ‘the captivity’ means the group of people they have taken. Therefore, referring to ‘a captivity’ is a perfectly valid, and shows that a captivity is what you call a group of captives, and also whatever spoils you have taken, such as wealth and animals, is thrown into the same ‘captivity.’
In fact, that’s how the Septuagint uses ‘captivity’ in many places where the context clearly means ‘a group of captives.’ For example, 2 Chronicles 28:17, which says in part, in English:
‘...attacked Judah and carried off captives.’
Well, in the Greek source it says:
...επάταξαν εν Ιούδα και ηχμαλώτευσαν αιχμαλωσίαν
...epátaxan en Ioúda kai ēkhmalṓteusan aikhmalōsían
...struck in Judah and they-took-captive captivity
Yes, it’s the same phrasing as used in Psalm 68 and Ephesians! It’s obvious what the expression means, and nobody would think that the account is trying to make some deep philosophical point about captivity itself – as a concept – being captured! This was just the normal way of saying ‘they took a group of captives.’
In fact, ‘captives’ and ‘a group of captives’ appears in our dictionaries as secondary meanings for the Greek and Aramaic words in question. So there never really was any translation issue, and it’s not clear why so many translations got this muddled up. It seems that saying ‘he captured captivity’ was simply a standard way of saying ‘he took captive a group of captives.’
So our translation says:
‘He’s taken captives into captivity’
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