One of the most powerful verses in the whole Bible, to me at least, is Hebrews 1:8

But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. (KJV)
πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν Ὁ θρόνος σου ὁ θεός εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος ῥάβδος εὐθύτητος ἡ ῥάβδος τῆς βασιλείας σου (GNT)

Heb1:8 is actually a quote from a messianic psalm; and the author of Hebrews uses this statement from Psalm 45:6 to prove Jesus’ superiority over all created things.  This verse gives us one of the Bible’s clearest statement of Jesus’ deity, and affirms his righteous dominion.  Jesus is God, his throne has no end, and he rules his eternal kingdom with a scepter of righteousness—proof that he is “so much better than the angels”.

Even though this verse plainly calls Jesus God, some people do not accept Jesus’ deity.  These people say that most Bible versions mistranslate the verse, and that it should actually say “Thy throne is God” instead of “Thy throne O God.”  The theological difference between these two translations should be obvious.  “Thy throne O God” plainly calls Jesus God.  “Thy throne is God” does not call Jesus God; he is just a man with a divine throne.

According to some pretty well respected scholars (including James Moffatt and A.T. Robertson), the original Greek is ambiguous and either translation is possible.  In this post, I will explain why scholars make these assertions; then I will explain how I went about testing—and I believe, ultimately disproving—these claims.

The Issue

How can the original Greek (specifically, ὁ θρονος σου ὁ Θεος εἰς τον αἰωνα) have such different translations?  It all has to do with how the ancient Greek language uses the little word “is.”

In ancient Koine Greek, the being-verb (am/is/are) is not necessary in many cases and can be dropped out; a native speaker would understand either way.  For example, if an ancient Greek speaker wanted to say “The man is wise” he could either say

“ὁ ἀνθρωπος ἐστιν σοφος / The man is wise”

or else he could say

“ὁ ἀνθρωπος σοφος / The man wise”

and either way his sentence would make sense to native speakers.  We do something similar in English when we say “How you doin?” instead of “How are you doing?”  In Greek, the verb “is” can be left out when it is easily understood.

As it turns out, the Greek word is/ἐστιν is missing from Heb1:8, because a native speaker would understand where it is supposed to go.  But since we aren’t native speakers of ancient Greek, it begs the question: where is the is/ἐστιν supposed to go?

Translation options.001

Testing The Options

As we have already said, several scholars have said both translations are possible based on the original Greek.  I don’t claim to be A.T. Robertson, but I have read the entire NT in the original Greek, as well as a fair bit of Homer, Plato, and Euripides.  Based on my knowledge of Greek, I had a hunch that the “scholarly opinion” just wasn’t so.

I believe that the original Greek of Heb1:8 cannot mean “Thy throne is God” because both nouns (the subject “throne” and the predicate “God”) are articular.  In other words, both nouns have the Greek word “the/ὁ” in front of them.  The verse says θρονος σου  θεος/ho thronos sou ho theos, not

θρονος σου θεος/ho thronos sou theos (with no article ὁ/ho before θεος)

or

θρονος σου  θεος/thronos sou ho theos (with no article ὁ/ho before θρονος).

Since both nouns have the article ὁ, I believe that the verb is/ἐστιν does not—can not—belong between them.  If I am correct, the only valid translation of ὁ θρονος σου ὁ θεος is “Thy throne, O God,” NOT “Thy throne is God.”

I knew that Heb1:8 was a quote from the book of Psalms.  So, in order to test my hunch, I read the entire ancient Greek version of Psalms (LXX) looking for verses with similar grammar to Heb1:8/Ps45:6—verses where the is/ἐστιν is understood and omitted from an “X is Y” sort of situation.  Then, I recorded whether both nouns were articular, whether only one noun was articular, or whether neither noun was articular—to see which structure was the most common.

Article Options.001

After reading all 151 Psalms in the Greek Septuagint (LXX), I came up with some pretty staggering results which I believe prove my suspicion that “thy throne O God” as the only valid translation of Hebrews 1:8.

One Or None

The vast majority of the time, in grammatical situations like the one we are considering, only one of the nouns will have the article.  I cannot stress just how overwhelmingly common this pattern is—both in the New Testament and the LXX Psalms.  I will provide an extremely condensed chart of only fifteen examples from the LXX Psalms and the NT.

Psalms

(LXX/English)

Verse

7:12 / 7:11

ὁ θεὸς κριτὴς δίκαιος καὶ ἰσχυρὸς καὶ μακρόθυμος

God is a righteous and mighty and patient judge

15:5 / 16:5

κύριος ἡ μερὶςτῆς κληρονομίας μου καὶ τοῦ ποτηρίου

The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup

20:6 / 21:5

μεγάλη ἡ δόξααὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ σωτηρίῳ σου

Great is his glory in your salvation

24:8A / 25:8A

χρηστὸς καὶ εὐθὴς ὁ κύριος

The Lord is good and upright

24:10 / 25:10

πᾶσαι αἱ ὁδοὶκυρίου ἔλεος καὶ ἀλήθεια

All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth

31:10 / 32:10

πολλαὶ αἱ μάστιγες τοῦ ἁμαρτωλοῦ

Many are the punishments of the sinner

32:4 / 33:4

ὅτι εὐθὴς ὁ λόγος τοῦ κυρίου

Because the word of the Lord is right

32:5 / 33:5

τοῦ ἐλέους κυρίου πλήρης ἡ γῆ

The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord

Greek NT

Verse

Rom 7:12

ἡ ἐντολὴ ἁγία καὶ δικαία καὶ ἀγαθή

The commandment is holy and right and good

Rom 8:6

τὸ γὰρ φρόνημα τῆς σαρκὸς θάνατος

The mind of the flesh is death

Rom 8:7

τὸ φρόνηματῆς σαρκὸς ἔχθρα εἰς θεόν

The mind of the flesh is hatred against God

Rom 8:18

οὐκ ἄξια τὰ παθήματα τοῦ νῦν καιροῦ

The sufferings of the present time are not worthy

James 1:26

τούτου μάταιος ἡ θρησκεία

The religion of this man is vain

This structure, where ἐστιν is omitted and only one noun has the article is overwhelmingly the most common way to express “X is Y”.  If the author of Hebrews had wanted to say “Thy throne is God,” the clearest and most natural way to express that meaning would be with only one article:  θρονος σου θεος.

Just to drive this point home: using one article in an “X is Y” situation is so common in the LXX Psalms, that it actually happens in the second half of Heb1:8/Ps45:6.  Have a look

ῥάβδος εὐθύτητος ῥάβδος τῆς βασιλείας σου
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom

Notice how there is only one article in this sentence.  Far and away, using one article is the most common way to express “X is Y” in the LXX Psalms and in the Greek NT.  When the author of Ps45 and the author of Hebrews wanted to express “X is Y” in the second half of the verse, they used the most common method of doing so.  If they had wanted to express “X is Y” in the first half of the verse, why didn’t they use this grammar there too?

Less frequently, but still very common, is where ἐστιν is omitted and neither noun has an article.  Although I could provide quite a few examples for this structure from both testaments, I will limit my chart to four examples from the LXX Psalms.  Notice how none of the examples have an article.

Reference

(LXX/English)

Verse

17:3 / 18:2

κύριος στερέωμά μου καὶ καταφυγή μου καὶ ῥύστης μου

The Lord is my stability and my refuge and my deliverer

27:6 / 28:6

εὐλογητὸς κύριος

Blessed be the Lord

27:7 / 28:7

κύριος βοηθός μου καὶ ὑπερασπιστής μου

The Lord is my help and my protector

30:22 / 31:21

εὐλογητὸς κύριος

Blessed be the Lord

These two structures—where neither noun or only one noun has an article when ἐστιν is understood—are by far the vastly most common ways of saying “X is Y.”  I read every word of the LXX Psalms: I am not exaggerating the data even slightly when I say that 99.99% of statements where ἐστιν is understood have only one article or no article.

Two Articles…?

So how many times in the LXX do both nouns have articles when the is/ἐστιν is absent and understood?  To put things differently, how many times does the pattern

article : subject : understood ἐστιν : article : predicate

occur in the LXX version of Psalms?  If this pattern occurs even relatively often, then we have good reason to believe that the scholars are right.  If this pattern occurs frequently, then we must admit that the original Greek is ambiguous and Heb 1:8 can be translated either way.  So how many times does this pattern occur?  In the LXX Psalms this pattern, which would validate the translation “Thy throne is God” occurs unambiguously only once.[see addendum below]

Yes, you read that right.  Ps73:26b is the only verse where the pattern article-noun-article-noun must have an understood “is” between the two nouns.  And to make matters worse, the one verse that contains this phenomenon also contain a relevant translation error!

translation errors.001

If the translator of Psalm 73 can make one mistake, he can just as easily make another.  If he can mistranslate צור as “God” instead of “strength,” why can’t he mistakenly put an article in front of the predicate when it ought to be left out?

A Powerful Parallel

As I was reading through the LXX Psalms, I found a very striking parallel.  Psalm 119:142 (118:142LXX) has an identical pattern to Hebrews 1:8/Psalm 45:6, with one critical difference.  Take a look.

verse comparison.001

Except for the addition of one small article in the case of Heb1:8, these two verses have identical structure.  The parallel is made even stronger by the fact that the pronouns and the prepositional phrases are identical.  The only difference between these two sentences, schematically speaking, is the fact that Heb1:8 has an article in front of the second noun.

This even further illustrates a point I made earlier: if the author of Hebrews really did intend to say “Thy throne is God,” the most natural way for him to do so would be how Psalm 119:142 does—by using only one article in front of the subject.  If Heb1:8 means “Thy throne is God,” why didn’t the author of Hebrews write ὁ θρονος σου θεος εἰς τον αἰωνα with only one article??  Why did he use the structure article : noun : article : noun, when that structure means “X is Y” only once unambiguously—and even then it is connected to a translation error?

Conclusion

So is it possible for the grammar of Hebrews 1:8/Psalm 45:6 to mean “Thy throne is God” instead of “Thy throne God”?  I really don’t think so.  If it does, there are only two verses in the LXX Psalms where the structure article : noun : article : noun means “X is Y”—and the only other verse (Ps73:26b) involves a translation error, which makes it look suspect.

Hebrews 1:8 says exactly what it means.  The author of Hebrews did NOT say ὁ θρονος σου θεος εἰς τον (with only one article), because that isn’t what he wanted to say.  By repeating the article—by saying ὁ θρονος σου ὁ θεος εἰς τον—the author of Hebrews made sure that we wouldn’t accidentally put the “is” in the wrong place.  By putting an article in front of θεος, the author of Hebrews was actually telling us NOT to translate the verse “Thy throne is God.”

Question.001

If the author of Hebrews had wanted to say “Thy throne is God,” there are two perfectly clear and frequently used grammatical structures he could have chosen.  But that isn’t what the author of Hebrews wrote.  And I don’t think that is what the author of Hebrews meant.

If Hebrews 1:8/Psalm 45:6 means “Thy throne is God,” it is the only verse in the entire LXX Psalms where the structure article : noun : article : noun requires an understood “is” unambiguously and without the presence of a translation error.

Based on the data that I have presented in this post, the only logical translation for Hebrews 1:8 grammatically speaking is “Thy throne O God.”  The grammar is not ambiguous, as some claim, but is actually crystal-clear when we consider it in light of the grammar of the LXX Psalms.  The repetition of the article actually guarantees that we NOT translate the passage “Thy throne is God.”

Therefore, based on the grammar of the LXX Psalms, we must affirm the God-hood of Jesus Christ by translating the verse “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.”  And may King Jesus forever reign!

***

This has been a very long article, and I understand if you don’t want to read the whole addendum, but if you would please skip down to the “Final Thoughts” section, I think you will find it useful. ~CJK

Addendum

This article has been a very long one, and if you are still with me by this point I want to say Thank You from the bottom of my heart!  In interest of size, I would have cut this article short long ago—but in interest of thoroughness, I feel like there are a few more facts I must share about how the LXX Psalms uses the article in statements where ἐστιν is understood.

Earlier in this blog post I said that the structure article : noun : article : noun unambiguously requires an understood ἐστιν between the two nouns in only one verse—Ps73:26b.  I stand by this statement.  However, there are a few cases where the grammar is similar enough and ambiguous enough to deserve mention.  For personal convenience, I am using the LXX reference below, not the reference found in most English Bibles.

17:33-34

ὁ θεὸς ὁ περιζωννύων με δύναμιν καὶ ἔθετο ἄμωμον τὴν ὁδόν μου, ὁ καταρτιζόμενος τοὺς πόδας μου ὡς ἐλάφου καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ ὑψηλὰ ἱστῶν με

This verse could be translated like an “X is Y” situation: “God is the one girding me with strength…God is the one making my feet like a hind’s feet.”  But there are a couple reasons why this verse is not a valid example of what we have been talking about with Hebrews 1:8

For one thing, the second “noun” is actually not a noun but a participle, a verb.  Verbs behave differently than nouns, and so this is not really a true parallel to Heb1:8.  But for another thing, the difference between a participle and a simple noun becomes more clear when we realize that the participles are followed by a main verb here.  This means that the verse could be translated

The God who girds me with strength also makes my way perfect.  He who makes my feet like hind’s feet also lifts me up to high places.

As this translation hopefully makes clear, Ps17:33-34 is not grammatically analogous to Hebrews 1:8 at all.  Therefore, it cannot be considered a valid support for translating Heb1:8 as “Thy throne is God.”

17:48

ὁ θεὸς ὁ διδοὺς ἐκδικήσεις ἐμοὶ καὶ ὑποτάξας λαοὺς ὑπ᾽ ἐμέ

Just like in our first example this verse could be translated with an understood “is”: God is the one who gives me vengeance.  But, also like our first example, the second “noun” is actually a participle, which disqualifies it from being a suitable analogue for Hebrews 1:8

Furthermore, when we look at v.47, we see that ὁ θεὸς is actually in apposition to ὁ θεὸς τῆς σωτηρίας μου.  When we translate these verses together, and are sensitive to the context, we get the following

Let the God of my salvation be exalted—the God who gives me vengeance

So again, as we can see from this translation, “the God who gives” is not grammatically analogous to Heb1:8.

118:24

καὶ γὰρ τὰ μαρτύριά σου μελέτη μού ἐστιν καὶ αἱ συμβουλίαι μου τὰ δικαιώματά σου

At first glance this verse is a strong parallel for translating Hebrews 1:8 as “Thy throne is God.”  Both of the nouns are articular and the verse has to be translated with an “is” or else it won’t make sense.  So what’s the problem?

The problem is, the Greek word “is/ἐστιν” is in the first half of the verse!  This obviously disqualifies this verse from being a parallel to Heb1:8, which does not have the word ἐστιν in it at all.  Because ἐστιν occurs in the first half of the verse, both nouns in the second half of the verse can be articular because the parallel is so plain.

Final Thoughts

For one reason or another, the three verses I have listed above do not qualify as analogues for translating Heb1:8 as “Thy throne is God.”  And, the one time where an understood ἐστιν is required, both of those verses contain translation errors!—and so in my opinion that verse should not count either.

In toto we have four near-parallels to Hebrews 1:8—one translation error and three near-misses.  If Hebrews 1:8 really should be translated “Thy throne is God,” it is the only verse in the LXX Psalms a) without a translation error and b) without grammatical ambiguity that should be translated that way.  Now does that really hold water?

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