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Friday, July 11, 2008

Hebrews 2:7

Nathan has asked John and myself to post about Psalm 8:5 in Hebrews 2:7. This is a fascinating issue. I will only look at a few points relevant to the Greek version of this verse. First, the author of Hebrews quotes exactly from the copy of the LXX as we know it today.
    ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ ἀγγέλους Psalm 8:5

    ἠλάττωσας αὐτὸν βραχύ τι παρ' ἀγγέλους Hebrews 2:7
But the Hebrew is
    vattechassereihu me'at, mei'elohim

    You have made him a little lower than Elohim
The King James creates an agreement between the passage in the Psalms and in Hebrews.
    For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, Ps. 8:5

    Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Hebrews 2:7
It is worth noting that the Vulgate has "angels" while Jerome's Iuxta Hebraicum has "God" and the Pagnini translation has "angels" again (Excuse my English). Of the Reformation versions, we see,

"God" Luther, Geneva, ERV, RSV, NRSV
"angels" Coverdale, Bishop's, KJV
"heavenly beings" ESV, (T)NIV

As an aside, this might point to Luther and Geneva favouring the Iuxta Heb. or the Hebrew itself, and Coverdale depending more on Pagnini. However, the translation that Nathan points to uses "the powers that be" for elohim. Perhaps that is the meaning suggested by the use of "angels" in Greek. There is a suggestion that the meaning of elohim is related to that of ἐξουσία in Rom. 13:1
    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities ἐξουσίαις
It seems that in Rom. 8:38, ἄγγελοι (angels) are related to ἀρχαὶ (principalities) and δυνάμεις (powers).
    For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Rom. 8:38.
It is also worth noting that the LXX translates elohim as "angels" on other occasions as well, notably Deut. 32:43 and Psalm 97:7. This is then quoted in Hebrews 1:6,
    Let all God’s angels worship him.
So, when we see "angels" in this verse, it is a translation of elohim. Is the author of Hebrews saying that the elohim worship Christ? I hope this provides some background to Nathan's post and provokes a little thought about elohim and "angels." I have not commented on the other aspect of this post, that the verb should read, "he requires little."

Nathan has written a post presenting the possible translation,
    And You made him so that he requires little from the powers that be. Ps. 8:5.


At Mon Jul 14, 12:35:00 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Thanks, interesting. I'm even more interested in the Hebrew verb here (though John is headed out the door). How did we get "create" from the Hebrew hasar, "lack"?

Suzanne, is the Greek closer to "lack" or "create"?

At Mon Jul 14, 03:09:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Nathan, where did you get "create" from? None of the translations listed by Suzanne or by yourself say "create". I accept that "made him a little lower" is ambiguous in English, but it is wrong to interpret this as "created him such that he is a little lower", rather it means "caused him to be a little lower", cf. YLT.

By the way, Suzanne, I am surprised that you quote all these translations using a generic "him" without even noting how misleading this is. This seems to be because you have misinterpreted the "him" as a reference to Christ, whereas both in the psalm and in Hebrews (if read properly in context, as understood by the TNIV translators) it is a reference to humanity in general.

At Mon Jul 14, 06:58:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, I am wondering where "create" is also.

The real difficulty seems to be whether humankind (thanks, Peter) lacks "little" or lacks "a little" from the heavenly beings/powers.

At Tue Jul 15, 06:10:00 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

OK, "made" instead of "create." Why "made" instead of "lack"?

At Tue Jul 15, 06:49:00 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

or actually, why "made/caused to be lower" rather than "made/caused to lack (a) little"

At Tue Jul 15, 01:30:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The word in Greek is a verb made from the word for "less" so the meaning seems to be to "lessen" something, that is "to make it lesser." This is typical in English that there is no causitive so we need two words to do the work of one in Hebrew and also Greek but for a different reason. That is, English varies from Greek and Hebrew but in different ways.

In Latin, for Jerome, one word can express the idea of "diminish" but I think, in Pagnini, two words, "to make less." So the transition from one word with the force of causing something to be something, to the circumlocution in English of "make" and then the verb, happened in Medieval Latin.

Let's try "diminish."

You diminish humankind (a) little from the heavenly powers.


You make humankind to "lack" (a) little from the heavenly powers.

But the Greek clearly says the former - "diminish." I don't know about the Hebrew.

At Wed Jul 16, 01:55:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, in English "diminish" implies making something small that was large. Does the Greek (or for that matter the Hebrew, anybody?) imply that? There seem to be two possibilities here, that humanity was originally created "a little lower", or that it was originally higher but God then made it "a little lower". Of course if the referent is misunderstood as Jesus and the grid of orthodox Christology is imposed, the second possibility will be preferred. But does the original text allow us to distinguish between these possibilities?

At Wed Jul 16, 12:19:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


The original text is Hebrew. I am just looking at what the Greek says to help us understand where we get the English version that we have today.

At Wed Jul 16, 02:12:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

The original of the psalm is Hebrew. The original of Hebrews, paradoxically, is Greek. And it is to understand Hebrews that I ask the meaning of the Greek verb.

At Tue Jul 22, 11:24:00 PM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

I finally got around to posting on this text over at "Ancient Hebrew Poetry," and discuss it in its Hebrew and Greek forms.

Psalm 8 has a theological and generic anthropological focus in the Hebrew; supplemented by an interest in hierarchy and angels in the Greek; there is a christological application in Hebrews and the NT in general; and an application to Israel in traditional Jewish exegesis, for example, Rashi.

I don't think it's helpful, as Peter does, to speak of misunderstandings, rigid Christology, and the like. If Peter cut ancient exegetes half as much slack as he does that Bentley fellow, he would be singing their praises from here to kingdom come.

At Wed Jul 23, 03:21:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

John, I am not criticising ancient exegetes but modern ones, who fail to distinguish between the Hebrew and the Greek and misunderstand the verse in Hebrews by harmonistically assuming that "son of man" always means Jesus.

I am happy to criticise Todd Bentley's exegesis if I am given an example of it. But he doesn't claim to be an exegete, but an evangelist and healing minister. I find it very easy to criticise the often terrible exegesis, or proof-texting, of those who claim to have found a verse which "proves" that Todd is a false teacher.

At Wed Jul 23, 07:34:00 AM, Blogger John Hobbins said...

Thanks for the clarification, Peter.

I agree that it is important to distinguish between the sense a passage in the Hebrew Bible would have had in ancient Israel and the sense it acquired in later contexts, Jewish or Christian.


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