Thursday, April 30, 2020

What is the correct translation in Hebrews 1:8 - "Your throne, O God" or "God is your throne"?

Trinitarians and anti-Trinitarians have debated on this issue for a long time. 

The translation, “God is your throne” is often used by those who don’t believe that Christ is God because for them this is the correct translation. Otherwise, it will appear there are two Gods. 

We will discuss the Greek text of Hebrews 1:8 and Syriac since there is a bible translated from Syriac which supports “Your throne, O God” as translation. 

Here are versions of the Bible that support “Your throne, O God”:
  • New International Version
  • New Living Translation
  • English Standard Version
  • Berean Study Bible
  • New American Standard Bible
  • Christian Standard Bible
  • Contemporary English Version
  • Good News Translation
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible
  • New English Translation Bible
  • New Heart English Bible
  • English Revised Version
  • Aramaic Bible in Plain English
  • New American Bible: Revised Edition
  • King James Translation
  • Douay-Rheims Bible
  • Darby Bible Translation

Here are versions of the Bible that support “God is your throne”:
  • New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures
  • James Moffatt New Testament
  • Goodspeed New Testament
  • New Testament by William Barclay

Let us look at the original text of Hebrews 1:8 and analyze the context until the succeeding verses. 

πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν, Ὁ θρόνος σου, ὁ θεός, εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος, καὶ ἡ ῥάβδος τῆς εὐθύτητος ῥάβδος τῆς βασιλείας σου. ἠγάπησας δικαιοσύνην καὶ ἐμίσησας ἀνομίαν: διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισέν σε ὁ θεός, ὁ θεός σου, ἔλαιον ἀγαλλιάσεως παρὰ τοὺς μετόχους σου: καί, Σὺ κατ' ἀρχάς, κύριε, τὴν γῆν ἐθεμελίωσας, καὶ ἔργα τῶν χειρῶν σού εἰσιν οἱ οὐρανοί:
In v. 8 the author states that this is what God says to the Son in contrast to what he states to the angels. In v. 8 the author first identifies who is the recipient of the statement with πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν (pros de ton huion). So we can assert that the son is the person spoken to in the citation which follows. The citation begins with Ὁ θρόνος σου (ho thronos sou),” so because of proximity we can say that the Son is the referent of the pronoun “sou”. The question is how we should understand ὁ θεός (ho theos) in this citation.

We can rely on the scholarship and authority of Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, 28th Edition which did not shift σου to αὐτοῦ as the better reading. NA28 is the best, most up-to-date Greek New Testament.

LXX suggests this reading by adding a comma (,) = ὁ θρόνος σου, ὁ θεός in Psalm 44,7 quoted in Hebrews 1:8.

It is taken from Hebrew Bible, wherein all the versions of ancient manuscripts vocalization take אֱ֭לֹהִים (elohim) in the vocative.

Their reason (anti-Trinitarians) is the shift of σου to αὐτοῦ. If σου is read, there is no difficulty in taking "ho theos" as vocative.

What can New Testament scholars say about this? 

According to New Testament Text and Commentary by Philip Wesley Comfort, Page 695:
"The context makes it clear that God is speaking to his Son, Thus God the Father addresses his Son as “God.” This is the TR NU reading, where O THEOS must be understood as a vocative. The variant reading allows for two different renderings, the most unusual of which is noted above as a second option for the variant (“God is your throne etc.). But such reading violates the natural sense of the Greek and obscures Christ’s deity. God calls his Son “God” and then declares that his throne is everlasting because of his righteousness."

According  A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible) by Harold W. Attridge:

“The author introduces two citations (vss. 8–12*), indicating that they are both addressed to the Son. The first is from Ps 45(44):7–8*, which was originally composed as a wedding song (epithalamium) for an Israelite king,  wherein the monarch’s majesty is praised in hyperbolic language. The original import of the first clause of this psalm is disputed. Although it may have involved an address to the king as god,  it is more likely to be construed as a predication, in parallelism with the following verse, to be rendered “your throne is (a throne) of God, eternal.” The LXX rendering is ambiguous, since the form used for “God” is nominative. It is, however, possible, even in classical Greek, to use the nominative for the vocative,  and in the LXX and the New Testament this usage is common. That Jewish exegetes regularly understood the text as an address is clear, both from the Targum and from the revision of the LXX by Aquila.  The author of Hebrews stands in this exegetical tradition and takes the psalm as an address to the Son as God. Although such explicit recognitions of the divinity of Christ are rare, they do appear in other early Christian writings. The author’s understanding of the psalm may have been influenced by his high Christology with its sapiential roots, since Philo can refer to the Logos, one of the divine “powers,” as a “God.” For our author, then, Christ, as divine, is seen to have an eternal reign, unlike the transitory angels.” 

The argument often used by those who disagree with “Your throne, O God” is not acceptable since it will mean that there are two Gods based on Hebrews 1:9. Yet, this argument is based on their own interpretation since they cannot accept God has three divine persons. This is not how scholars in Greek grammar interpret it.

These are the comments of Greek and New Testament scholars:
1:8-9. Psalm 45 may have been composed for a royal wedding celebration, but part of it speaks of God's blessing on the king and probably (certainly in the Greek version cited here) addresses God directly. Jewish interpreters read as
much literal significance into a passage as they could, hence the writer of Hebrews forces his fellow Jewish-Christian readers to recognize the plain language of this psalm. Because God is addressed in Psalm 45:6 (cited in Heb 1:8), it is natural to assume that he continues to be addressed in Psalm 45:7 (cited in Heb 1:9). (Later *rabbis applied this text to Abraham, and a later *targum applied an earlier verse to the *Messiah; but probably neither tradition was known to the writer of Hebrews, and the former one may have represented anti-Christian polemic.) But Psalm 45:7 distinguishes this God from a God he worships, so that one may distinguish God the Father from God the Son. The writer of Hebrews explicitly affirms *Christ's deity in this passage. (The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, pages 1087-1088 by Craig S. Keener)

"The First “O God” is a vocative in the Greek – the Son is being addressed as “God”, the second statement “your God’ refers to God the Father "(A Commentary on the Manuscripts and text of the New Testament, Page 373).

So, in verse 9, the Son is identified as distinct from God. The passage says πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν (echrisen se ho theos, ho theos sou), “God, your God, has anointed you…” The only way the Son can be identified as God in verse 8 and then distinct from God in verse 9 is through a unity of essence but a difference in person as the classic Trinitarian doctrine states.

The καί in v. 10 links that citation to the previous one in vv. 8-9, which is directed towards the son, πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν (pros de ton huion).

Here are the Bibles translated from Syriac Peshitta:

Dr. John W. Etheridge's English Peshitta translation
But concerning the Son he hath said, Thy throne, Aloha, (is) for ever and ever, a right sceptre [Or, perfect, true] (is) the sceptre of thy kingdom.
Dr. James Murdock's English Peshitta translation
But of the Son he said: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a righteous sceptre is the sceptre of thy kingdom.

Dr. George Lamsa's English Peshitta translation
But of the Son he said, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the scepter of thy kingdom is a right scepter.
Some said the translation from Syriac Peshitta is wrong. 

A person can only say the translation of a certain version mentioned above is incorrect if he or she can understand the grammar of Syriac Peshitta. 

Why do we believe that the above-mentioned translations from Syriac Peshitta are correct?

ܕ݁ܟ݂ܽܘܪܣܝܳܟ݂ ܕ݁ܺܝܠܳܟ݂ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ

It reads like this:

"d’ḵūrsāḵ dilak alaha"

First, we would be disrupting the parallelism of the quote if God were the throne. “Your throne is forever…and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.” It makes sense to speak of the throne and the scepter in parallel.

Second, If there was no particle ܕ݁ܺܝܠܳܟ݂  (dilak) in there, it would read with the connecting verb "God is your throne." but the addition of the particle makes it "Your throne God..." 

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