Monday, April 07, 2014

Jason Beduhn on Hebrews 1:8 (Originally Posted on BGreek)

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 [SIC] 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:

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

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
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

No comments: