21 November 2011

Brief Reflection on Psalm 8:5 use of Elohiym

Yesterday, one of our pastors shared an extended reflection on Psalm 8. I really enjoy walking through a passage in this way as it can really deepen our learning of Scripture. We came upon verse 5, and I was left with some questions.  In the ESV, the first part of Psalm 8:5 reads, "Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings."  Heavenly beings is from the Hebrew word Elohiym. Here's where the rub comes in, however. Although NIV sides with ESV in interpreting this as "heavenly beings", NASB (traditionally the most literal interpretation) and NLT translate this word as "God." KJV renders it as "angels", which is closer to the ESV/NIV.

In the Old Testament, the word Elohiym is nearly always translated as "God", though there is precedence for other renderings as well, including "heavenly beings." I have two reasons, one scriptural and one philosophical, to favor interpreting this as "heavenly beings" or "angels" rather than "God."

First, with regard to Scripture, Psalm 8 is cited in Hebrews 2 and the writer of Hebrews interprets this as "angels" (ἀγγέλους). The interpreters of the NLT and NASB also render this "angels". Furthermore, in the Greek Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, Elohiym is translated as "angels" (also ἀγγέλους).  So it would seem that the precedent, even for the inspired biblical author of Hebrews, was to interpret this as "angels."

Second, with regard to philosophy. It is a clear and consistent teaching of the Christian church that God is infinite in a number of divine attributes. A complete understanding of infinity would suggest that one cannot be made a "little lower than" something infinite. Because there is no point at which God becomes limited, it is meaningless to say we were made a little lower than Him.

For these reasons, I favor the interpretations made by ESV, KJV, and NIV.

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