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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

reviewing Psalm 11:4

If you were a reviewer for the RSV, ESV, or NASB, what translation issues would you note for the last clause (boldfaced) of Psalm 11:4:
The LORD is in his holy temple,
the LORD's throne is in heaven;
his eyes behold, his eyelids test, the children of men. (RSV)

The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. (ESV)

The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD'S throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. (NASB)
(UPDATE, June 7: As noted in comments to this post, there is a discrepancy among different releases of the ESV as to whether or not there is a comma after the word "test." An ESV representative has just replied to our inquiry about the comma:

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for your message.

The updated text of the ESV does not have a comma after the phrase in question.

We are aware of this issue, and we are working to resolve it.


S. H.
Customer Service Representative
Good News Publishers/Crossway Books & Bibles)


At Wed Jun 06, 07:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what does that even mean??

At Wed Jun 06, 08:04:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

what does that even mean??

Mike, that's actually an appropriate question to note as a reviewer. As I review English versions and send my comments to their teams I will sometimes note "I don't know what this means."

At Wed Jun 06, 08:25:00 AM, Blogger Apprentice2Jesus said...

Why the use of "eyelids," beyond the fact it may be "literal." TNIV uses "eyes." That's a bit more clear than having someone examine you with their EYELIDS!

Reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean (2nd movie) where Jack Sparrow is about to be roasted by the tribe. He has eyeballs painted on his eyelids so it always looks like he's looking at you.

At Wed Jun 06, 09:00:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

"His eyelids test ..." means nothing to me. And both "the children of man" and "the sons of men" seem strange, suggesting that this is some unusual subset of the human race.

At Wed Jun 06, 09:26:00 AM, Blogger David said...

What is the Hebrew that is being translated?

At Wed Jun 06, 10:11:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

What is the Hebrew that is being translated?

יְהוָה֮ צַדִּ֪יק יִ֫בְחָ֥ן וְ֭רָשָׁע

At Wed Jun 06, 10:14:00 AM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Keil & Delitzsch have;
"The mention of the eyelids is intentional. When we observe a thing closely or ponder over it, we draw the eyelids together, in order that our vision may be more concentrated and direct, and become, as it were, one ray piercing through the object. Thus are men open to the all-seeing eyes, the all-searching looks of Jahve: the just and the unjust alike."

At Wed Jun 06, 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, you have posted the wrong verse in Hebrew, verse 5. In this psalm the English and Hebrew numbering are the same. The verse in question is:

יְהוָ֤ה ׀ בְּֽהֵ֘יכַ֤ל קָדְשֹׁ֗ו
יְהוָה֮ בַּשָּׁמַ֪יִם כִּ֫סְאֹ֥ו
עֵינָ֥יו יֶחֱז֑וּ
עַפְעַפָּ֥יו יִ֝בְחֲנ֗וּ בְּנֵ֣י אָדָֽם׃

(line breaks added at the clause divisions) or transliterated:

YHWH b-heykal qodsho
YHWN bashshamayim kiss'o
`eynaw yexezu
`af`appaw yivxanu b-ney 'adam

At Wed Jun 06, 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Wayne, you have posted the wrong verse in Hebrew, verse 5.

Well, how could that have happened? My eyelids were testing the Hebrew characters!


At Wed Jun 06, 01:29:00 PM, Blogger Bob MacDonald said...

eyelids is fine - a closer look at these children of dust, or of humus, or of earth

At Wed Jun 06, 01:29:00 PM, Blogger Apprentice2Jesus said...

So, it's God is SQUINTING with judging eyes? Would that be accurate? I've done that. When my boys see my eyes narrow, and my one eyelid starts twitching...NOT GOOD. Head for the hills!

At Wed Jun 06, 10:13:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

You did not correctly quote the ESV. There is a comma missing after "test." It is far easier for me to read with this comma present.

At Wed Jun 06, 10:38:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

You did not correctly quote the ESV.

I copied and pasted from the e-text I have of the ESV. After your comment, I have checked other editions of the ESV and, sure enough, that comma is there, just as I had noticed it in the RSV. I will let those who work with this e-text know of the missing comma. I will restore the comma to my post manually.

There is a comma missing after "test." It is far easier for me to read with this comma present.

Good. That is probably the case for other readers, as well.

Thanks for your careful attention to the details.

At Wed Jun 06, 10:50:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

P.S. The comma is present in my print copy of the ESV, but it is missing in the online e-text posted here by Crossway, as well as the e-text at But the comma is present in the online e-text at and

This is becoming more and more interesting!

At Thu Jun 07, 05:31:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

That comma is actually quite significant.

Is "his eyes see" to be understood as an absolute sentence about God's sense of sight, followed by a separate sentence "his eyelids test the children of man"? That is the implication of the text without the comma. And it is the more natural understanding of the Hebrew grammar.

Or is this a rather strange construction in which two sentences share an object and it is left unexpressed in the first of the sentences? Such a sentence would be impossible in prose, but just might work in poetry - and the Hebrew grammar of this verse is already strange. The ESV text with the comma is probably intended to point to this understanding, but it doesn't really work in English either. A much better way of putting this in English would be "his eyes see the children of man, his eyelids test them". Well, at least the grammatical structure is then clear, but the odd expressions "his eyelids test" and "the children of man" remain.

TNIV does a much better job with "He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them", although I am not sure where "on earth" comes from.

At Thu Jun 07, 07:23:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

"on earth" would be "of man" no? b-ney adam

At Thu Jun 07, 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Well, Suzanne, I guess that is what they would say, but this sounds over-dynamic. What's wrong with "every human being"? Well, perhaps not so poetic, but it is hard to balance accuracy and poetry.

At Thu Jun 07, 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I guess they are just trying to work the "earth" into it. I am not familiar with how the TNIV translates the Hebrew.

At Thu Jun 07, 01:38:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Well, I am flabbergasted.

First, I think all of these readings are inferior to those of the KJV, which shows greater fidelity to rhythm and euphonious expression. What was wrong with "try", I wonder -- it is not archaic usage in English today (e.g., we speak of Scooter Libby's trial and being tried.)

Second, omitting the comma detracts from our ability to see the Hebrew parallelism.

Third, the comment from Crossway appears to imply that we have online copies of the original and revised ESV translations. If that is the case, it is straightforward to produce a comprehensive list of revisions to the ESV with a simple computer program. I know that in the past Rick Mansfield has expressed interest in such a list. If there is interest, I can do such an analysis and send the list for publication in this blog.

At Thu Jun 07, 01:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

If that is the case, it is straightforward to produce a comprehensive list of revisions to the ESV with a simple computer program. I know that in the past Rick Mansfield has expressed interest in such a list. If there is interest, I can do such an analysis and send the list for publication in this blog.

If it doesn't take too much time, yes, please that would be interesting. I suspect, however, that there are different stages of revision from the ESV team, as reflected in their online e-texts. I also suspect that they do not have their latest revisions online yet.

At Thu Jun 07, 02:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, I thought it might be an appropriate question.

It doesn't help for a Bible to be in English if English readers cannot understand the meaning.

At Thu Jun 07, 02:55:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Anonymous, I too am flabbergasted, that you don't see a problem with the KJV rendering "his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men". OK, it may be euphonious, but it doesn't make sense! For a start, with this punctuation we have two clauses without an object followed by "the children of men" left grammatically hanging. Then what does "his eyelids try" mean? Yes, Scooter Libby can be tried, but the subject of "try" in that sense must be a judge, not eyelids. The only sense of "try" which makes any sense with "eyelids" as subject is "attempt", as in "his eyelids tried to open" which probably means "he tried to open his eyelids". The KJV could just mean "his eyes behold, his eyelids try to behold", with "the children of men" as the object if the comma is ignored. And that is probably how many people understand this - of course completely wrongly. Or perhaps they get the idea of "try" in the judicial sense because they think of God as a judge, and as they read on to the next verse "The LORD trieth the righteous". But is even that a correct understanding? I very much doubt it, for we never have the idea in the Bible that God puts the righteous on trial but not the wicked - who on this understanding are to be punished (verse 6) without trial! So there is a very good reason to avoid the verb "try" here.

At Thu Jun 07, 04:21:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Insight into the meaning is drawn by contrasts with the Coverdale Psalter (preserved in the Book in the Common Prayer):

His eyes consider the poor: and his eyelids try the children of men.

The children of men, of course, is mankind -- which is clear to anyone who has read the KJV. Now, we see the dichotomy the Coverdale suggests, that there are two categories: the poor, and the children of men. Of course, Coverdale didn't mean for that dichotomy to be present, and neither did the LXX; we, mankind, are the poor; we, the poor, are mankind. So now we see the superiority of the KJV:

His eyes behold,
His eyelids try,
The children of men.

In this case, the comma is marking the parallelism, which is a valid use of the comma. The meaning of course is

His eyes behold the children of men.
His eyelids try the children of men.

suggesting that the two are two aspects of the same function.

While this is rich enough in the Hebrew, for Christians, there are additional layers of meaning. Thus, Gerhohus has (via Neale):

For thus the eyes of the FATHER considered Him, Who although He was rich, yet became poor: considered Him as the sacrifice and propitiation of the whole world: considered Him, as by that very act of humility winning for Himself, according to His humanity, the everlasting diadem. His eyelids try the children of men. They take it to mean that those hidden and mysterious counsels, the secret things which belong to the LORD our GOD, of which His servants sometimes catch as it were a glimpse, and then all is dark again, are appointed His appointed trial for our faith, His touchstone whether we attain to the blessedness of those that have not seen and yet have believed.

Conflating commentary from Haymo, Parez, and Gregory I, Neale continues:

[His eyes consider the poor, because He watches unweariedly over them in His love, and allows no want of theirs to escape Him. His eyelids are sufficient to judge sinners, because His briefest glance sees even the most hidden sins. Again, they take the eyelids, opening and closing like a book, to denot Holy Write, the standard whereby man is to be tried. Others see here the sudden flashes of inspiration whereby men's intellects or consciences are often roused to the true knowledge of divine things.]

Regarding the next verse, it strikes me that you would prefer the rendering of the Vulgate (Challoner): The Lord trieth the just and the wicked: but he that loveth iniquity hateth his own soul.

See also Spurgeon's commentary

At Thu Jun 07, 07:39:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Anonymous, thank you for your further analysis on the Hebrew parallelism of Ps. 11:4. I'm glad that you looked at the Coverdale Bible which made the parallelism clear.

Some contemporary English versions do, as well, although in not as elegant style, perhaps.

The TNIV has this couplet:

He observes everyone on earth,
his eyes examine them.

The NLT has:

He watches everyone closely,
examining every person on earth.

I like both. Each is grammatical English, with direct objects for transitive verbs. The meaning of the Hebrew is communicated clearly in both translations, while retaining the couplet form of the Hebraic parallelism.

At Fri Jun 08, 04:37:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

No, Anonymous, I do not prefer the Vulgate's mistranslation of verse 5 to accurate translations of the Hebrew. And for the same reason I do not appreciate your quote from Coverdale; I'm not sure where he got "the poor" from, but not from the Hebrew text. Maybe these variants come from LXX, and so they have some claim to be original. But I don't choose the textual basis to translate because I prefer the resulting English translation.

At Fri Jun 08, 07:43:00 AM, Blogger Apprentice2Jesus said...

Well, my eyelids are twitching over this line of discussion. WOW. ;)

At Fri Jun 08, 10:06:00 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

Ah, then you miss my point. The KJV was able to stay faithful to the Hebrew original while still preserving parallelism in the Hebrew. The result may be difficult to read, but then again, so is the Hebrew.


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