The New World Translation reads here:
"But with reference to the Son: "God is your throne forever and ever, and [the] scepter of your kingdom is the scepter of uprightness."
One website critic asserts: "They[the
NWT]changed Heb[rews] 1:8 from "...Thy throne, O GOD, is
forever and ever..." to "GOD is your throne forever and
The Father calls the Son GOD in this passage, but not in the NWT" (To read an e-mail discussion between this critic and ourselves click here )
This is all that is said on the matter! The critic does not mention that other translations render Hebrews 1:8 the same way as the New World Translation implying that the New World Translation is alone in so doing. He does not go into why it cannot be so translated. Is he, and others who make similiar charges, really informing their visitors/readers fully? So we do hope those who read/come across this rather absurd criticism on the www or in books, will consider the following:
Other translations apply the term "God" here to the Son by saying:
"About the Son, however, God said: "Your kingdom, O God,will last forever! You will rule over your people with justice."-Todays English Version.
A footnote says: ".....or God is your kingdom."-agreeing with NWT here.
However, some may have a question
regarding the Greek of this verse. QEOS is in the Nominative Case
and has a Nominative article. How is it possible then to
translate it as a vocative? QEOS is in the nominative case.
However, there is a syntactical category called the "nominative
for vocative" (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,
56) or the "nominative instead of vocative" (BDF, 81).
What happened is that as the Greek language changed the
nominative began to be used in place of the vocative (see BDF, 81,
section 147), which is what some believe is happening here at Hebrews
It is possible that hO QRONOS SOU hO QEOS can be translated with "God" either as a vocative "your throne, O, God, is forever...", as in most English versions, or nominative subject of an equative construction "God is your throne..." or predicate nominative of an equative construction "your throne is God..." If one consults the commentaries the first option is the most popular one. But that could be attributed to the theology of the commentators(they are all most to a man trinitarian)more than anything else.The fact is that all should recognise that all three exegetical options given above are possible here.
In answer to a question, "Is Jesus the God at Hebrews 1:8?" an answer appeared in The Watchtower, 1984, March 1st, p.31, which states,
"No. The weight of the evidence indicates that it is Jehovah. According to the New World Translation, Hebrews 1:8 says: "But with reference to the Son: "God is your [the Son] throne forever and ever."" This shows that Jesus' throne, his office or authority as a sovereign, has its source in Jehovah the Almighty God. However, believers in the Trinity prefer the Authorized Version, or King James Version, which renders Hebrews 1:8 this way: "But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." Thus, they feel that Jesus is shown to be the same as Almighty God. Why is this not correct? First, note the context. In many translations, either in the main text or in the margin, Hebrews 1:9 reads, "God, your God, anointed you." This makes it clear that the one addressed in verse eight is not God, but one who worships God and is anointed by him. Secondly, it should be noted that Hebrews 1:8, 9 is a quotation from Psalm 45:6, 7, which originally was addressed to a human king of Israel. Surely the writer of this psalm did not think that this human king was Almighty God and neither did the writer of Hebrews think that Jesus was Almighty God. Commenting on this, scholar B. F. Westcott said: "It is scarcely possible that[Elohim,God]in the original can be addressed to the king. . . . Thus on the whole it seems best to adopt in the first clause the rendering: God is Thy throne (or, Thy throne is God), that is 'Thy kingdom is founded upon God.'" With good reason, therefore, the New World Translation and a number of other translations render Hebrews 1:8 as, "God is your throne." (See An American Translation, Moffatt; also the marginal reading in American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version and The New English Bible.) This makes it clear that the "Son," Jesus Christ, has a God who is higher than he is."
It may well be beneficial to quote Westcott entirely here. In The Epistle to the Hebrews, p.25, 26 he says:
"[Hebrews 1:]8 pros de...] in reference to...The words of the Psalm are not addressed directly to the Son though they point to Him. "It is not necessary to discuss here in detail the construction of the original words of the Psalm. The LXX. admits of two renderings:[ho theos]can be takne as a vocative in both cases (thy throne,O God,...therefore,O God,thy God...)or it can be taken as the subject(or the predicate)in the first case (God is Thy throne,or Thy throne is God...),and in apposition to [ho theos sou]in the second case(Therefore God,even Thy God...,). The only important variation noted in the other Greek versions is that of Aquila, who gave the vocative [thee]in the first clause.....and, as it appears also in the second. ...It is scarcely possible that [ ] in the original can be addressed to the king. The presumption therefore is against the belief that [ho theos]is a vocative in the LXX. Thus on the whole it seems best to adopt in the first clause the rendering: God is Thy throne(or, Thy throne is God), that is 'Thy kingdom is founded upon God, the immovable Rock'; and to take [ho theos]as in apposition in the second clause.
"The phrase 'God is Thy throne' is not indeed found elsewhere, but it is no way more strange than Ps.lxvi.3[Lord]be Thou to me a rock of habitation...Thou art my rock and fortress.Is.xxvi.4(R.V.) In the LORD JEHOVAH is an everlasting rock. Ps.xc.1 Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place. Ps.xci.1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most high...v.2 I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, v.9; Deut.xxx111.27 The eternal God is thy dwelling-place. Comp. Is. xxii. 23 .....
"It is commomly supposed that the force of the quotation lies in the divine title (ho theos) which, as it is held, is applied to the Son. It seems however from the whole form of the arguement to lie rather in the description which is given of the Son's office and endowment. The angels are subject to constant change, He has a dominion for ever and ever; they work through material powers, He - the Incarnate Son - fulfills a moral sovereignty and is crowned with unique joy. Nor could the reader forget the later teaching of the Psalm on the Royal Bride and the Royal Race. In whatever way then [ho theos] is taken, the quotation establishes the conclusion that the writer wishes to draw as to the essential difference of the Son and the angels. Indeed it might appear to many that the direct application of the divine Name to the Son would obscure the thought."
The Interpreter's Bible notes:
"[Hebrews 1]8-9. Thy throne....is for ever and ever (from Ps. 45:6-7) : The sense in which the author uses this quotation is clear. It means for him that the Son has divine authority in contrast to the subservient role of the angels. As the opening words stand in our translations, they require the application of [ho theos], "O God," to the Son. We have noted that this epistle does not elsewhere give the name "God" to the Son in this unrelieved fashion, and vs.9 would seem to suggest another reading. The alternative is to read, "God is thy throne" or "thy throne is God." The usual translation is not impossible, however, in a poetic passage.(p.605-606)-emphasis mine.
George Wesley Buchanan writes in his translation and commentary:
"8 The introduction to the quotation in this verse is exactly as it is in vs.7. The pro...ton huion means "[with refernce]to the Son" and not just "to....the Son." This is important for understanding the author's use of quotations involved. Some scholars have taken this as a direct address to the Son and therefore believed the author of Hebrews thought Jesus was God. An old example of this reasoning is Turner, who said, "The only correct translation then is, 'Thy throne O God.' As thid title is never applied to any human monarch, it must relate to some superhuman personage....The messiah is really God, but but is spoken of at the same time in such a way as presumes a human nature also." More recently Montefiore said, "He is superior to them, for he has been raised above them when he was annointed by God." This is not a necessary conclusion. As the pros in vs.7 means "in reference to," and it's seems most likely that pros in vs.8 should be rendered the same way, so it is in reference to the Son that the author quoted a scripture dealing with the eternity of God's throne, upon which the Son would sit. When Solomon, who was God's Son(II Sam.7:14),ruled over the Lord's kingdom(I Chron.29:11), he sat on the Lord's throne (Žal kisseŽ Yhwh) (I Chron 29:23; see also Enoch 51:3; 55;4; 61:8; 62:2-3,5; 69:26-27,29).That did not mean that Solomon was God. It means that Solomon ruled over God's kingdom when he ruled over Palestine, and he sat on God's throne when he ruled from Jerusalem. Therefore, it is just as proper to speak of the eternity of God's throne with reference to the son Jesus who was to sit on it as it was to speak of God's throne when Solomon, the son, sat on it. The point of the authors arguement is that, in contrast to the angels, who are as temporal as wind and fire, the Son was destined for a throne which was "forever and ever," as the scripture says. At the end of the verse "his" has the stronger textual support..., although almost all other texts have "your"(sou) in conformity to the LXX(and MT). The RSV renders Ps.45:6, "Your divine throne"- the most likely rendering when the next line continues "Your royal scepter....." and the address is clearly to the king. The same would be here true in Heb.1:8 if the reading "your" were accepted at the end of the verse. It seems more likely that the author of Hebrews spoke only in reference to the Son when he addressed God, mentioning the eternity of the throne on which the Son would sit. He then changed the pronoun from second to third person in the next line to describe his(the Son's)kingdom. "The staff" was the symbol of royal power and authority. As king, he was the highest judge in the land, so this staff was also a symbol of his legislative authority. Psalm 45 was a poem addressed to a king,not to God.The king,whom God had blessed,was urged to gird on his sword in glory and ride victoriously(Ps.45:3-4). His enemies were destined to fall before his sharp arrows(Ps.45:5). In the Psalm the king was also addressed with reference to his throne and his scepter, but the words could be understood as addressed to God. Since the author of Hebrews wanted to use this royal Psalm,he had to deal with this difficulty in some way,just as commentators do today. He seems to have handled the problem by speaking in reference to the Son,just as he had spoken in reference to the angels(1:7) just before. Then,in reference to the Son he spoke of God's throne and the Son's kingdom. Next, in the following verse, he continued to deal with the Son in direct address as indicated by the Psalm quotation. It seems more likely that the author of Hebrews sensed a difficulty here than he intentionally confused the Son with God. For the author, the Son was the first-born,the apostle of God,the reflection of God's glory, and the stamp of his nature(1:3,6), but he was not God himself."-To The Hebrews, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Bible, pp.20-21.
The critic, quoted above, of the New World Translation's rendering of Hebrews 1:8, went on to say, in an e-mail to us: "Hebrews 1:8 butchered to suit your teaching." We believe the above has belied that claim to be wholly without warrant or foundation. Part of a criticism of the New World Translation at Hebrews 1:8 reads:
"The Watchtower organization denies that Jesus is God. Therefore, it cannot permit any verses in the Bible to even hint that Jesus is God. That is why they choose a translation that does not best fit the context or overall theology of the Bible."
This does not present the facts that have been presented above. One could easily say that those translations that read at Hebrews 1:8 the Son is "God," do not "permit any verses in the Bible to even hint that Jesus is not God"! This kind of criticism of the New World Translation at this place also impugns the reasons why scholars such as Edgar Goodspeed, James Moffatt, Steven Byington and the NT version The Twentieth Century New Testament -none of which were influenced by a "theology" similar with Jehovah's witnesses.
A.T.Robertson remarking on whether QEOS in Hebrews 1:8 is a nominative or a vocative stated:
"O God (hO QEOS). This quotation (the fifth) is from Psalms 45:7. A Hebrew nuptial ode (epiqalamium) for a king treated here as Messianic. It is not certain whether hO QEOS is here the vocative (address with the nominative form as in John 20:28 with the Messiah termed QEOS as is possible, John 1:18) or hO QEOS is nominative (subject or predicate) with estin (is) understood: "God is thy throne" or "Thy throne is God." Either makes good sense"-Word Pictures in the N.T., vol 5, p.339.
Finally we quote from A New Commentary of Holy Scripture Including the Apocrypha:
"O God: see on Ps 45:6. In the Psalm the King is addressed as God (Elohim: cf. Ps 82:6). If this translation is retained our Lord is here proclaimed as God by the Father (= 'they God' in next verse). The other translation 'thy throne is God' is equally possible and we cannot say which of the two our writer adopts." (page 605. Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, edited by Charles Gore, Henry Leighton Goudge, Alfred Guilaume, 1946 reprint of corrected edition of March 1929. italics ours)
Yes, the New World Translation at Hebrews 1:8 is not only grammatically acceptable but in the context "makes good sense."
The following is a post from Jason Beduhn on the b-greek list where he makes extensive comment on what he book "Truth in TRanslation" had to say about the probable way one should translate Hebrews 1.8:
Jason BeDuhn , Fri Jul 9 17:24:17 EDT 2004
Dear B-Greek subscribers, I am not a member of your list. But my name has come up in a discussion of Hebrews 1.8, and I wish to set the record straight on what I have said about this verse in my book Truth in Translation. First of all, you should know that the book is about translation, not interpretation, and that all of its arguments are rooted in linguistic analysis of the original Greek of the New Testament within its literary, historical, and cultural context. It does not concern itself with theological debate over interpretation. A year or so ago, when someone brought up the book as a topic for discussion on this list, the moderators banned any such discussion, for reasons that escape me. But now Dr. Conrad, without benefit of actually reading my very short chapter on Hebrews 1.8, has objected to one sentence within that chapter that was quoted on this list, and offered an analysis at the conclusion of which he states that what I have said "will not stand as an objection to the conventional translation of Heb. 1.3" and that "BeDuhn's claim that the conventional reading of the text is grammatically invalid just won't hold water." To his credit, Dr. Conrad qualifies his conclusions by stating that they apply to my position "if it has been accurately cited and in sufficient context." I must say that it has not. Nor do I fault the individual who quoted me, because his sole purpose was to ask if the particular point I made in the one sentence (not my whole position and argument) was factually correct. Dr. Conrad certainly did not have sufficient information on my argument to gratuitiously assert that I am "unaware of the existential function of the verb EINAI in Greek" and that I "assume that all instances of the verb are copulative." Nor was he in a position to assume that I consider the conventional reading of Heb. 1.3 to be invalid. In fact, I say in my book, "Both translations [the conventional and the one found in the NWT, as well as in notes to the NRSV and TEV] are possible, so none of the translations we are comnparing can be rejected inaccurate. We cannot settle the debate with certainty" (99) and "Let me repeat that both ways of translating Hebrews 1.8 are legitimate readings of the original Greek of the verse. There is no basis for proponents of either translation to claim that the other translation is certainly wrong. All that can be discussed is which translation is more probable" (101). I hope that is clear. I argue in the book that "God is your throne" is more probable based on the following points: Linguistic: 1. preponderance of use of hO QEOS as a nominative, rather than as a vocative; 2. lack of parallel to using EIS TON AIWNA as an absolute predicate phrase; preponderance of its use as modifier of other elements within the predicate; 3. the existence of an alternative way to convey the vocative if it is intended. Literary: 1. literary context in Hebrews fails to supply another reference to Jesus as "God"; functionality of the verse in its context without taking hO QEOS as a vocative; 2. literary context of original passage in Psalm 45 shows that God is not being addressed; rather a king is being praised by cataloguing the attributes of his life in the palace. Let me add that this argument in presented in just two pages written at a popular level. Dr. Conrad has gone to the trouble of carefully investigating my statement that "There is no other example in the Bible where the expression 'forever' stands alone as a predicate phrase with the verb 'to be' . . . 'Forever' always functions as a phrase complementing either an action verb, or a predicate noun or pronoun" (99, part of Linguistic argument 2 above). He cites what he considers contrary examples, and this leads to his conclusion that my statement is in error. It is in error only in the way I sometimes let the popular level at which I am writing in the book oversimplify, namely, (a) I use "Bible" and "New Testament" interchangeably in the book, and (b) once I have given an English rendering for a Greek phrase, I use the English to stand for the referenced Greek wording. I can see now that his needs to be handled more carefully in future editions of the book. My statement, within the context of how the book is written (with the two practices of simplification I just mentioned) is correct. None of Dr. Conrad's examples refute it, and I am surprised no one else on this list has noted that fact. In none of Dr. Conrad's examples does the phrase EIS TON AIWNA stand alone with an explicit or implicit EINAI in the predicate. Instead, his exampled involve either the dative of possessor which the phrase complements (in the doxological formulae) or the adverbial phrase MEQ' hUMWN, which again the phrase complements. Now we all know how easy it is to quibble about what is or is not a true parallel. But all I wish to assert here is that Dr. Conrad's argument falls short of demonstrating a failing in mine. On the other hand, Dr. Conrad's instincts were right, even if he did not succeed in supporting them sufficiently. That is the case because if we take the Septuagint into account, then my statement would need to be qualified. Because there, in that part of the Bible that I did not take into consideration in my analysis, we do find the phrase EIS TON AIWNA used absolutely with either explicit or implicit EINAI, namely, in Psalm 80.16 (81.15), 103.31 (104.31), 134.13 (135.13), and repeatedly in the expression "his mercy (is) forever" in Psalms 99, 105, 106, 117, 135, and 137). So this information would require me to speak here, as I do in connection with hO QEOS, of preponderance of usage rather than claiming that there are no other examples. EIS TON AIWNA usually and regularly modifies some other element of a predicate, but it can stand alone, and so this part of my argument looses much of its force. A survey of the Psalms does show, however, that the preferred way to make an existential statement about the subject with EIS TON AIWNA is with MENW (e.g., Psalms 9.8, 32.11, 88.37, 101.13, 102.9, 110.3, 110.10, 111.3, 111.9, 116.2). With that, let me just repeat that there is no objective, linguistic way to determine which of the two possible translations of Heb. 1.8 is the correct one, and one's choice must always be qualified by this fact. I have made an argument for preferring one translation as more probable, and even with a retraction of one part of it as too sweeping an assertion, that argument is still stronger than any with which I am familiar on behalf of the other possible translation. I would be interested to hear any argument that could be made on linguistic and literary grounds for preferring the "conventional translation" to the other. best wishes, Jason BeDuhn Jason BeDuhn Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion Northern Arizona University
INDEX OF PAGES
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