How Was Psalm 45:6 Understood?
“6 Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness 7 you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (Ps 45:6-7, ESV).
The translation of verse six is one of the most controversial in the Old Testament.
One commentator wrote, “This verse is the most problematic of the psalm.” VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 346). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
And another comments:
“One of the most celebrated crux interpretum in the OT is found in v. 7a.” Harris, M. J. (1984). The Translation of Elohim in Psalm 45:7–8. Tyndale Bulletin, 35, 69.
Most Trinitarians don’t know this verse is disputed. They read, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” and mentally apply this exaltation to almighty God when this verse (as translated from Hebrew) is not addressing God, but a historical human king.
The capitalization of the words “O God” camouflage that an earthly king is addressed.
While the translation in most Bible, “your throne, o god, is forever and ever” is grammatically possible, it does not fit the context. This study will side with two possible grammatical translations believed to be contextually superior. Speaking of the king:
“Your throne is God forever and ever. A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” (Ps 45:6, Revised English Version).
“God is your throne forever and ever; The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness” (Ps 45:6, NWT).
This video will share conclusions reached after a critical examination. Please critically examine the evidence for yourself.
The Underlying Motivation
The translation of Psalm 45:6 is of great significance to Trinitarians; they have a vested theological interest. Hebrews 1:8 (which is also disputed) hinges to a large degree on the translation of Psalm 45:6 which came first. By assigning the title “O God” to a king, they can subsequently call Jesus, “O God” when this verse is quoted in Hebrews 1:8.
Interpreting in the Historical Context
Because the translation of Psalm 45:6 is disputed, the scope of this study will be from an Old Testament perspective. This is to avoid a potential cross-projection from Hebrew 1:8.
In order to understand Hebrews 1:8, which I hope to make a video on, Psalm 45:6 should be first understood independently. How was this verse understood by Jews when sang before the time of Christ?
Many Trinitarians try to understand the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. But reading later history back into the Old Testament removes or blurs the historical understanding we are after. We should interpret the New Testament in light of the Old Testament which came first. The Old Testament comes first in our Bibles for a reason.
A commentator wrote: “The usage in Heb 1:8–9 (cf. NIV) shows how the NT applied the text to Jesus, but the OT text should also be read on its own.” VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 347). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
I agree strongly. This includes a consideration of the historical Jewish culture they lived in, and the near and far contexts.
Is Psalm 45:6-7 a direct prophecy foretelling the coming of the Messiah? No. One commentary, “The contents of this Psalm, however, show that the Messiah is not directly addressed.” [Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moll, C. B., Briggs, C. A., Forsyth, J., Hammond, J. B., … Conant, T. J. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Psalms (p. 297).
Another one wrote, “In its original sense and context, it is not in any sense a messianic psalm.” Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19, p. 340). Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.
At first I read these quotes and did not agree. But after wrestling with this question and attempting to interpret this chapter without projecting a New Testament mindset, I tend to agree. While this godly king was distinguished by his righteousness, and historically I believe it was a king in the line of David, I don’t think the verse was understood before the time of Christ as Messianic.
A Contextual Summary of Psalm 45
In biblical interpretation it can be dry and tedious to examine the context, but it’s paramount. So please continue reading.
This chapter is a love song and believed to be a wedding coronation of a godly king. This king may have been Solomon early in his reign.
“To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Maskil of the Sons of Korah; a love song.
“1 My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe” (Psalm 45:1)
The heading and the first verse sets the stage for this Psalm. The word “I” (first person) identifies the author or authors (“Sons of Korah”) who penned this love song, “to the king.” This entire Psalm is about a king and the song begins in verse two.
The end of verse one says, “my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.” The tongue of this author did not mysteriously turn into a pen. This is poetic. This chapter contains poetic language not intended to be interpreted literally. Figures of speech communicated rich truths that stimulated the thinking of the original audience.
Please notice that after verse one, the author moves from first person to the third person (“you,” “your,” etc.).
Please also observe that in the three verses where Elohim is found, they are also in the third person, consistent with this Psalm.
Here are verses that lead up to the disputed verse. Please notice that this Psalm is about a king:
“2 You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. 3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty! 4 In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds! 5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you” (Psalm 45:2-5).
Because the first half of the verse six is disputed, it will be skipped for now. The undisputed, surrounding context should be allowed to clarify and flavor what is disputed.
If you were assembling a puzzle —a view of the surrounding pieces help identify the missing piece.
The second half of the verse is not disputed, so it’s displayed. It describes a king because it identifies a kingdom and scepter. A scepter was a staff carried by kings that was a sign of their authority, sovereignty and might.
Verse seven (which is undisputed) is also helpful for understanding the verse prior. It identifies a king who has a God: “therefore God, your God.”
The verse begins in the third person, “you.” Who is this “you”? It points back to our disputed verse. So verses six and seven are intertwined. There is no shift in context — that is, both verses describe the same king.
The rest of the chapter continues the love song ascribed to this king. Some “king language” is highlighted:
“8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; 9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. 10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, 11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. 12 The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people. 13 All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. 14 In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. 15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. 16 In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. 17 I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever” (Psalm 4.5:8-17)
A Consultation with the Hebrew Masoretic Text
Our Old Testaments today are based primarily on Hebrew Masoretic texts.
This is the Hebrew clause that is disputed: כִּסְאֲךָ֣ אֱ֭לֹהִים עוֹלָ֣ם וָעֶ֑ד.
Popular English translations interpret this clause as, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever”.
A commentary, called A translator’s handbook on the book of Psalms says, “The order in Hebrew is “Your throne God forever and ever.” Bratcher, R. G., & Reyburn, W. D. (1991). (p. 424). New York: United Bible Societies.
Please observe it does not say, “Your throne O God IS forever and ever.”
What is not disputed are the words “your throne” and “forever and ever”.
The dispute centers on how to understood the Hebrew word “elohim” in this clause.
Within the context, when the author wrote this Psalm, and the recipients sang it, did they apply this word to almighty God or to this king? The choice they made results in a different translation.
If this song directly addressed the king as “O God,” as found in our Bibles, this is called a vocative translation.
But they could have ascribed the word “elohim” to God and not the king. This meaning for “elohim” is the most common in the Psalms and the Old Testament. It is used in verse two, and in verse seven. If “elohim” was applied to God, God is a predicate or the subject of the sentence. If this is above your knowledge of grammar, it will be covered in more detail.
USE OF ELOHIM IN PSALM 45:6
|Elohim as Vocative (applied to the king)||“Your throne, O God”|
Elohim as Predicate
(Applied to God)
|“Your throne is God”|
Elohim as Subject
(Applied to God)
|“God is your throne”|
I’ll restate this because it is so important. Based on rules of Hebrew grammar, the word “elohim”(outside a consideration of context) in this clause as laid out in Hebrew syntax could be applied to the king where the king is called “O God,” or, it could have been applied to God. If “elohim” was applied to God, the word “elohim” was a predicate, or it was the subject of the sentence. Both of these translations have similar meanings.
So, there are three translation choices based on the syntax without a consideration of context.
So the dispute in this verse, essentially comes down to one word. Was the word “elohim” sang to God or to the king?
The verb “is” is not found in Hebrew. It was added to our translations. Many languages, including English require at least one verb in a sentence. So a verb has to be added to this verse to make it grammatical.
The placement of the verb “is” follows how “elohim” was understood by the original audience. If they applied the word “God” to the king vocatively (“O God”), the verb is already added to the correct location in our Bibles.
But if the word “elohim” was applied to God as a predicate, the verb has to be moved. Or, if the word “elohim” was applied to God as the subject, the verb has to be moved. So the location of the verb “is” in this clause is determined by how the word “elohim” was understood.
The Vocative Translation
Problems with the Vocative Translation:
|#1 No biblical record of kings called God. Others called “god” were temporarily assigned this title while speaking in the place of God.|
|#2 The king as God seems incompatible with the first commandment.|
|#3 The deification of kings was a practice in some pagan cultures|
|#4 “O” before God exalts this king to being God himself.|
|#5 The perpetual exaltation of this human king is uncharacteristic of the Bible.|
|#6 All the other uses of “Elohim” in the chapter are non-vocative. There is no shift in context between verses six and seven for a change to vocative.|
|#7 The king has a God in the next verse.|
The vocative translation applies the title “ O God” to the king.
Here is the definition of vocative: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocative_case
It’s important for this study to understand vocative expressions. If you say in a conversation to someone, “God has been good to me.” Was the word “God” used vocatively? No. God was not addressed directly. But in your heart if you look up to God and say, “God, you have sure been good to me.” That was a vocative expression because you addressed God directly.
There are hundreds of vocatives in the Bible. They are not all about God. Here are just a few:
“Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty!” (Ps 45:3, ESV).
This verse is found in our chapter. The king is called, “O mighty one” (v. 3).
“5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Ps 57:5).
“5 You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah” (Ps 59:5). ESV
“46 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).
“42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Lk 23:42).
All the examples above are direct addresses.
Back to our verse. The vocative translation calls the king the title “ O God.” “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”
Are human kings called god in the Bible? No other verse in the OT authenticates such deification.
While judges, angels, Moses, and Samuel were sparingly called “god” in the Old Testament, these were temporarily titles while acting as agents. They briefly held this title while speaking as God’s representatives to the people. The following 30 second summary provides an overview:
There are at least two verses where judges were called “god” (Exodus 21:6, 22:8). But this title corresponds with their ability to step in and represent God before the people to settle disputes and administer justly.
Based on the Septuagint, angels were sometimes called “god” (Psalm 8:5, 97:7, etc.). There are accounts of angels speaking for God as messengers in the Old Testament.
There are a least two verses (Exodus 4:16, 7:1) where Moses spoke to Pharaoh for God. And in doing so was temporarily assigned the title “god” because of this agency.
And finally, at the end of his life, Saul summoned a medium to consult with Samuel who had already died. In the account, Samuel spoke a message for God informing King Saul that he would die. Based on the capacity of speaking for God, Samuel is given the title “god” (1 Samual 28:13).
This brief survey of the OT illustrates that in special cases intermediaries were temporarily assigned this title while speaking God’s message. Because the title “O God” for a king is inconsistent with others who spoke directly for God, this casts doubt on this translation (See chart for #1).
Many Trinitarian Commentators acknowledge that calling an earthly king “O God” is doubtful.
The commentary Psalms writes, “But ’elohim does seem to press the limits of adoration of a human king in a religion ruled by the principle of “no other god.” Mays, J. L. (1994). Psalms (p. 181). Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
The king as God seems incompatible with the first commandment where they were not to have any other gods before them (See chart for #2).
According to The Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible:
“There is no proof in this text, or in any other OT text, of the deification of the Israelite or Judean monarch as is the case in some ancient Near Eastern civilizations, for example, Egypt, where the king was deified.” Prinsloo, W. S. (2003). The Psalms. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 390). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Another commentary says,
“The deification of the human king was a pervasive concept in the cultures of the ancient Near East.” deClaissé-Walford, N., & Tanner, B. (2014). Book Two of the Psalter: Psalms 42–72. In E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, & R. L. Hubbard Jr. (Eds.), The Book of Psalms (p. 419). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
And yet another one states, “If they are addressed to the king, however, how can he be called “God”? Some have proposed that the king here is deified, after the Egyptian manner. This is impossible in light of the rest of Scripture, however. Others have proposed emending the text.” Williams, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1986). Psalms 1–72 (Vol. 13, p. 350). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.
Because the deification of kings was practiced in Egypt where the Jews came out of it is added to our chart (See chart for #3).
These quotes are not intended to communicate that all commentaries are opposed to the vocative translation. Some commentators, in fact, many do support it.
The capitalization of the word “God” for a human king is unfortunate. This punctuation is at odds with the next verse where God is capitalized twice.
But what about the word “O” before God? This word is not found in Hebrew and is not required for a vocative translation unless adduced by the context. For a vocative translation it could say, “Your throne, god, is forever, and ever.
The “O” in front of “God” here becomes an exaltation to most readers.
Logos Bible Software demonstrates from a search how the words “O God” are out of place for a human king. A search for “O God” with the ESV produces 111 results.
I examined each verse and remarkably, every use of “O God” is applicable to Almighty God except Psalms 45:6 and Hebrews 1:8, which quotes Psalm 45:6. No wonder, most Trinitarians have no idea that a human king is assigned the title “O God” when they read their Bibles. The exaltation “O God” for a human king is an odd deviation for a title otherwise attributed exclusively to Almighty God. In fact, in Hebrews 10:7, Jesus applied the exclamation “O God” to God.
The “O” before God which is not required for a vocative makes the king appear to be God himself (See chart for #4).
The Vocative interpretation seems to call this human king “O God” into eternity. These two Hebrew words together usually mean (subject to context) “forever and ever.”
A perpetual exaltation of this human king who has died and whom we don’t even don’t know the identity of, seems at odds with the Bible (See chart for #5).
To follow are some reasons that commentators use to support a vocative interpretation.
A few theologians, driven by Trinitarian ideology make this human king more than human. One such commentary says, “The psalmist’s intention is to address the King, whom he has already declared to be more than man (ver. 2), as ‘God.’” Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 1, p. 351). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
Why does this commentator make this king more than human? Trinitarian presumptions can be walked back thousands of years earlier and read into the Old Testament so that Jesus can be more than human in the New Testament.
In a podcast, Dr. Dale Tuggy, a Biblical Unitarian described the practice of projecting a later view into history. He gave an example about using the internet to describe the civil war. There is a name for this unscholarly practice. It’s called anachronism.
“The rsv, neb and rp . . . have sidestepped the plain sense of verse 6 (which is confirmed by the ancient versions and by the New Testament) by reducing the words ‘Thy throne, O God’ to something less startling.” Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 189). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
While a serious study into this verse can consider ancient versions, this is only a small part of the investigation. An inquiry considers that some ancient versions were influenced by the Roman Catholic Church which gave us the Trinity. It’s not about a less starting translation but about following the evidence whether startling or not.
This partial commentator continues: “But the Hebrew resists any softening here, and it is the New Testament, not the new versions, which does it justice when it uses it to prove the superiority of God’s Son to the very angels (Heb. 1:8f.).” Kidner, D. (1973). Psalms 1–72: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 15, p. 189). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Rules of Hebrew grammar do not inform us if the word “elohim” should be translated vocative or not. This will be covered shortly. Therefore, the claim that “Hebrew resists any softening” is an exaggeration. It’s unscholarly to read a highly disputed New Testament verse back into the Old Testament and present it as the only valid grammatical option.
Some commentators differ: “But the psalm is not only unusual and extravagant compliment; it is unique in addressing the king with the title “god” (’elohim). Whether this happens in verse 6 depends on how the Hebrew text is understood.” Mays, J. L. (1994). Psalms (p. 181). Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
Another commentary of many writes of different possible interpretations: “It is possible that in Psalm 45:6 the king is referred to as ‘God’. However, there are several possible ways of construing this verse.” Lucas, E. (2003). Exploring the Old Testament: The Psalms and Wisdom Literature (Vol. 3, p. 63). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Hebrew has no Vocative Case
Biblical Hebrew does not have a vocative case to determine if the word “elohim” should be applied to this king. The English language also does not have a vocative case. Nonetheless, the absence of a vocative case does mean that there are no vocative nouns. In Hebrew, sometimes a definite article is used to mark a vocative. But its not found here in Hebrew.
A few months back I consulted with a friend who is fluent in ancient Hebrew. I wanted to determine if the underlying Hebrew syntax alone provides any indication if the word “elohim” is vocative. He said the syntax does not inform us if it is vocative or not. It’s up to the context.
Is the Context Vocative?
I’m unable to find any indication from the surrounding context that this king should be addressed as, “O God.”
The vocative translation seems at odds with the second half of the verse and the next. In the second sentence, the king is complemented with figurative language about a scepter of righteousness in his kingdom. In the next verse, an additional compliment is issued about his love for righteousness and hate for wickedness.
Because of these two compliments, the king’s God has anointed him with the oil of gladness beyond his companions.
The word “elohim” is found in this chapter in verses two and seven and they are not vocative. Because verse six and seven have no shift in context, all four uses of “elohim” appear to have the same referent — they are used for God. In fact, most translations place verses six and seven together because they believe they are in sync. Therefore, our problematic chart should be updated with this development. (See chart for #6).
Also, it seems unreasonable for this king to be called “O God” when the context attributes his godliness for having a God (See chart for #7).
For now the vocative translation will be dismissed. Although more problems will be uncovered.
The Abstract, Vocative for God Interpretation
There is a second interpretation of the vocative. Instead of the title “O God” being applied to this king, it is applied to God.
This is not a widely held interpretation by commentators. Most don’t mention this view as a possibility. Others mention it as an option, but don’t give it much plausibility. Because a few commentators do support it and our Trinitarian Bibles appear to communicate this interpretation, it is covered.
Trinitarians, I suspect read this Psalm with such an interpretation. They think this phrase describes almighty God without realizing that this interpretation is contextually out of bounds.
Yet, could Psalm 45:6a be an un-contextual utterance, not attributed to this king, but an exclamation applicable solely to God almighty? That is, could this be a cryptic sentence unrelated to the context of this king in this verse and chapter?
Here are some problems with this interpretation.
It ignores the context which runs counter to the most basic principle of interpretation which is context, context, context. Outside the bounds of context, the Bible is contradictory.
It would be unprecedented for an entire chapter to be about a king —except this half verse. It would be strange for this sentence to have been held in a vacuum until a New Testament author attributed it to Jesus Christ.
A commentary says, “It makes little sense to take elohim as addressed to God; the poem is addressed to the king and his bride, not to God.” Bratcher, R. G., & Reyburn, W. D. (1991). A translator’s handbook on the book of Psalms (p. 425). New York: United Bible Societies.
A commentator writes, “To whom are these words addressed? If they are addressed to God then the problem becomes the sudden change in subject matter from God to the king without any transition. If they are addressed to the king, however, how can he be called ‘God’?” Williams, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1986). Psalms 1–72 (Vol. 13, p. 350). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.
And yet another commentator wrote, “The Psalmist cannot have addressed it to God Himself, since he speaks of God, thy God directly afterwards.” McNeile, A. H. (1942). The Psalms. In C. Gore, H. L. Goudge, & A. Guillaume (Eds.), A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha (Vol. 1, p. 357). New York: The Macmillan Company.
“The words cannot, as from Hebrews 1:8 onwards has often been supposed, be an affirmation of the divinity of the Messiah, for the simple reason that the king whom the psalmist celebrates, though he is invested with ideal attributes, is not the Messiah—least of all the Christian Messiah, for he marries a queen and has children, who are spoken of in such terms that it would outrage all reasonable exegesis to understand them in any but a literal sense. Nor can we rend the Psalm in two, and apply the rest of the Psalm to the Israelite king, and this one verse to the Messiah. Thus, not upon theological, but upon exegetical grounds, the current interpretation of the passage cannot be sustained. Driver, S. R. (1915). Studies in the Psalms. (C. F. Burney, Ed.) (p. 82). London; New York; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton.
Another problem is that the second half of the verse makes no sense when the first half is interpreted in a theological abstract fashion to make Jesus Almighty God in Hebrews 1:8. Plucking verses or half verses out of context is a prominent practice in false doctrine.
When the clause is stripped, independent of its historical context, and applied to God alone, it guts a vital feature of this Psalm. The author of Hebrews later under the influence of the Holy Spirit believed that both verses go together and so should you and I.
Because the vocative “out of context” interpretation is so problematic, it is dismissed.
Non-vocative, Paraphrase Translations
The book, Hard sayings of the Bible, says, “Not a few scholars, daunted by what they consider to be insuperable difficulties with the text as it stands, have suggested a long list of emendations, yet without any manuscripts to warrant such revisions and with no consensus of opinion as to which is correct.” Kaiser, W. C., Jr., Davids, P. H., Bruce, F. F., & Brauch, M. T. (1996). Hard sayings of the Bible (p. 270). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
Some commentators and a few Bible translations reject the traditional vocative interpretation and apply the word “elohim” to God. But then sadly add words not supported by the underlying Hebrew syntax. Because these interpretations are outside the normal confines of Hebrew syntax, there are many, many variations.
Sometimes it is inaccurate to translate a verse literally because of differences in languages. But in this disputed clause there are three grammatical translations to pick from. Therefore, paraphrase translations should not be used in the verse.
The king’s Throne is Comparable to God’s Everlasting Throne
This understanding suggests that the king’s throne is comparable to God’s everlasting throne. Here is a paraphrase translation:
“6 Your throne is like God’s throne, eternal, your royal scepter a scepter of righteousness.” Payne, D. F. (1970). New English Bible. Cambridge University Press; Oxford University Press
Yet, this is speculative. Such translations here take liberty over accuracy. The underlying syntax does not communicate the word “like.”
When unfounded changes are brought to God’s Word it can be made to say anything one wants.
Another commentator acknowledges this translation is suspect:
“Your throne is like God’s throne, eternal,” as proposed by neb (cf. Emerton, art. cit.), but the syntactical argument in support of this rendition is not persuasive (see Harman, op. cit., 338–40).” Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19). Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.
The King’s Throne is divine
“Your divine throne[a] endures for ever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity” (Revised Standard Version, 1946, 1952, and 1971)
This interpretation interprets the word “elohim” to modify the word “throne.”
A commentary says,
“Your divine throne,” as in rsv, but again the syntax raises problems (cf. GKC 128d).
Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19). Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.
Separately, I browsed and did not find support in the Old Testament for “elohim” used to modify a non-personal noun.
The King’s Throne Belongs to God
This translation of Psalm 45:6 correctly applies the word “elohim” to God, yet deviates from a literal translation by making the king’s throne a throne of God.
“Your throne is God’s for ever and ever,” as proposed by Mulder, but the syntax does not clearly designate possession.” Craigie, P. C. (2004). Psalms 1–50 (2nd ed., Vol. 19). Nashville, TN: Nelson Reference & Electronic.
“Second, it may be rendered “your throne of God [is] for ever and ever” (RSV marg.). This view finds support in the fact that the throne of Solomon is the throne of Yahweh. However, the view is grammatically difficult; the noun with the suffix may be pointed to as part of an appositional phrase, but not in construct.” Ross, A. P. (2011–2013). A Commentary on the Psalms 1–89: Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 72). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic.
These paraphrases demonstrate how a slight change modifies the true historical meaning.
The King’s throne is God’s Throne
“Your throne is God’s throne, ever and always; The scepter of your royal rule measures right living” (Message Bible).
This paraphrase also uses the word “throne” twice. Similarly, it replaces the emphasis on God as the king’s throne (which contextually results in uprighteousness), to the king’s throne being God’s throne.
“Your throne is the very throne of God. Your kingdom will last for ever and ever. You will rule by treating everyone fairly.” (New International Reader’s Version).
The word “throne” again is used twice in this paraphrase to make the king’s throne the very throne of God. While they correctly use a non-vocative rendering of “Elohim,” they deviate from Hebrew when they double back and make the king’s throne almighty God’s throne.
These Bible translations and translations within commentaries deviate from Hebrew and Greek Septuagint. Therefore, they are dismissed.
The Elohim as Predicate Translation
The predicate translation is one of two possible non-vocative translations.
I found the context so persuasive early in my investigation that a predicate construction was intended, that I searched the internet to determine if such a translation was already in existence. To my delight, I found a translation called Revised English Version that has an exact word for word predicate translation (“your throne is god forever and ever”).
The Revised English Version is produced by Spirit & Truth Fellowship International who are Biblical Unitarians and is freely available on the internet, and they even has a free Bible app. The website also has a commentary available separately that incorporate helpful notes. If you wish to research this verse further, their commentary on this verse is accessible and insightful.
The predicate construction
In this verse the predicate construction is a noun followed by the verb “is” that provides additional information on the subject of the clause. Predicates are common in Hebrew.
The Revised English Version commentary (noted from earlier), speaking of the predicate says, “Although some of the translations above expand the Hebrew phrase for ease of English reading, the simple Hebrew text, which has two nouns in construct with an implied ‘is’ between them, is a fairly common Hebrew construction. For example, Psalm 73:26 has ,וְחֶלְקִ֗י אֱלֹהִ֥ים which is quite literally, ‘my portion Elohim,’ which we put in English as ‘my portion is Elohim.’ In Psalm 45:6, the text reads, כִּסְאֲךָ֣ אֱ֭לֹהִים, literally, ‘your throne God,’ which is brought into English as ‘your throne is God,’ which makes perfect sense when we realize that the ‘throne’ is a reference to kingly authority. The Bible calls God a number of different things to import specific information about Him into the text, such as calling God ‘my high ridge…fortress…rock…shield…horn of salvation’ and ‘high tower’ (Ps. 18:2). So in the context of all the things that represent God such as ‘rock’ and ‘high tower,’ speaking to the king and referring to God as ‘your throne’ (your source of kingly authority) is very understandable.’” https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Psalms/chapter45/6
A search of the Hebrew lemma “elohim” within the book of Psalms reveals that this word is used 365 times. I found 10 uses where this word was not applied to Almighty God: Psalm 8:5, 82:1, 86:8, 95:3, 96:4, 5, 97:7, 9, 135:5, and 136:2. These uses are for angels, false gods, etc. Because the word “elohim” applies to Almighty God over 97% of the time (based on my calculations), the disputed word by default (subject to exception from context), applies to Almighty God.
With this in mind, and all the other evidence introduced, surely “Elohim” applies to almighty God. God was the throne of the king which allowed this godly king to emulate God’s rule of righteousness.
It should be noted that the predicate translation should be understood metaphorically consistent with the rich poetic language of the Psalms. For example, take the second half of the verse: “The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness” (Ps 45:6). Kings had a staff that was a visible representation of their sovereignty, power, authority, etc.. There was nothing magical about this staff that produced unrighteousness. This is rich figurative language. Similarly, the king’s throne in this verse was not a piece of furniture. While this king temporarily had a kingdom, literal crown and literal throne, he lived for God’s throne as greater than his own.
A predicate translation can be interpreted in at least three manners.
The first can easily be eliminated. The king’s literal throne (the royal piece of furniture that he sat on) is God’s throne forever. This interpretation makes no sense conceptional and contextually. God is not a piece of furniture that has decayed and turned into dust.
The second interpretation is a metaphor in that the king’s own throne is figurative God. This interpretation does not make the king God, but this throne. There is a similar verse in the Bible that communicates this truth:
“23 Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king in place of David his father. And he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him.” (1 Ch 29:23).
The throne that Solomon occupied as king ultimately belonged to Yahweh.
While the second interpretation is biblical, it don’t think it fits the context as well as the third interpretation. The king is complimented for his justice, righteousness, and hatred for wickedness because he places himself in subordination to God almighty.
The third interpretation is also a metaphor. While the king has a throne, his focus is on God almighty to administer righteousness. I like the commentary for this verse in the Revised English version. “‘Your throne is God forever’ means that God is the authority, the ‘throne’ of the king, and the king reigns with the authority of God.” https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Psalms/chapter45/6
While the last two interpretations are similar, one focuses on the throne of the king as God while in the latter, the king submits to almighty God’s for his authority to administer righteousness from his own throne.
As I consulted many commentaries for this verse, a common thread emerged. While some commentaries discussed different translations, usually a predicate translation was not discussed. When it was discussed, rarely did it receive a fair representation.
The book, Exposition of Hebrews says,
“The question raised by translators of Psalm 45:6 and Hebrews 1:8 is whether the word God is an address or a predicate construction that should be translated ‘Your throne is God.’”Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, p. 43). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
I commend this author for acknowledging that Psalm 45:6a can be translated differently.
But sadly he continued: “According to ancient translations of Psalm 45:6, the address O God makes excellent sense, and the author of Hebrews uses this address to express the deity of Christ.” Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, p. 43). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
The original reading of Psalm 45:6 should not be determined based on ancient translations. An exception is the Septuagint that should be consulted with carefully.
However, this author did not define ancient translations. He could be referring to the Vulgate, KJV, etc. But many additional manuscripts have been discovered. No ancient translations were perfect and all have differences. Translations don’t supersede ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Translators today have a superior working knowledge of ancient languages than when ancient translations such as the KJV were produced.
A recent commentator writes:
“First, it may be translated, ‘Your throne [is] God forever’ (s.v. Ps. 61:4). This meaning seems a little forced, but would probably indicate that the throne was based on God and therefore like God’s rule. It would be comparable in structure to Psalm 71:3 which says, “Be to me a rock of habitation … you are my rock and fortress.” Ross, A. P. (2011–2013). A Commentary on the Psalms 1–89: Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 72). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic.
This commentator provided five possible translations. He was more open minded than most. Yet, I don’t understand how “this meaning seemed a little forced.” The book of Psalms is loaded with colorful symbolic language. I don’t know of any Trinitarian who would object to God being metaphorically called a rock. I love how this author interpreted the predicate rendering —“the throne was based on God and therefore like God’s rule.”
The Elohim as Subject Translation
“Elohim” can be a vocative, predicate, or the subject of the sentence.
When “elohim” is translated as the subject—this results in, “God is your throne forever and ever.”
Because the sentence begins with God as the subject and the context is about the king, this translation should not trigger multiple interpretations. Because the king’s throne is Yahweh, his kingdom emulates righteousness.
The only such Bible translation in English to my knowledge is the New World Translation. However, there may be more. “6 God is your throne forever and ever; The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness” (NWT).
Most Old Testament commentators don’t mention this grammatical translation and how well it fits the context. It’s more important that Jesus be almighty God in the New Testament than to consider and potentially side with an Old Testament king who subserviently placed himself under God to rule righteously.
A commentary says,
“(2) In view of these difficulties, it is necessary to consider whether the words are correctly translated. Various other renderings have been proposed, taking Elohim as the subject or predicate of the clause instead of as a vocative. (a) God is thy throne: i.e. thy kingdom is founded upon God. In support of this are quoted such phrases as ‘Jehovah is my refuge and my fortress’ (91:2), or, ‘The eternal God is thy dwelling-place’ (Deut. 33:27). But the expression, to say the least, would be a strange one.” Kirkpatrick, A. F. (1906). The Book of Psalms (p. 248). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
I commend this late commentator for disclosing that God can be the subject of this clause. Regrettably, his rejection of the subject as a viable grammatical translation is without supporting elements. He does not elaborate why he views this expression, “a strange one.”
“2. To make it the subject of the sentence, ‘God is thy throne for ever and ever,’ which is grammatically possible, affords no tolerable sense. And the figure, if figure it were, would be harsh and derogatory to the Supreme Being.” Murphy, J. G. (1875). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (p. 286). Andover: Warren F. Draper.
At least this commentator is straightforward why such a translation “affords no tolerable sense.” His scholarship is at odds with the title of his book —A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms.
“It seems necessary to make these preliminary remarks, because when a passage which has been supposed to substantiate a Christian dogma is under treatment, it is difficult to induce students to investigate it in a calmly critical spirit . . . . The only other noteworthy interpretation is that of Döderlein, who proposes ‘God is thy throne, etc.,’ comparing the expression ‘God is my rock.’ Jennings, A. C., & Lowe, W. H. (1884). The Psalms, with Introductions and Critical Notes (Second Edition, Vol. 1, p. 208). London: Macmillan and Co.
While my coverage of “elohim” as the subject has been brief, this translation is on point with the context. The theological implications of “God is your throne” in Hebrews 1:8 makes this translation inadmissible to most Trinitarians. I expect there is also hesitation for translations to use the subject rendering because it’s used in the NWT. However, what matters is an accurate translation.
The Septuagint’s Translation of Psalm 45:6
The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Because it was produced before the birth of the Messiah, it is a neutral, reliable resource to examine. The New Testament authors quoted from it often which indicates that they considered it reliable. The Septuagint has our verse in Psalm 44:7.
Here is an English translation. Trinitarian scholars have a longstanding tradition of using a vocative translation. But the translation of the Septuagint is contested.
According to The Commentary, The Book of Psalms:
“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever] (1) This appears to be the sense given by all the Ancient Versions, for though it has been argued that ὁ θεὸς in the LXX is not the vocative (Thy throne O God) but the predicate (Thy throne is God), the words do not appear to have been so understood by any of the ancient commentators, and the construction is certainly not an obvious one. But this rendering involves serious difficulties, whether it is taken as an address to the king or to God.” Kirkpatrick, A. F. (1906). (p. 247). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This commentary, with others, parrots a vocative based on “ancient versions.” But this argument is illegitimate. At least this commentator excluded the LXX from ancient versions. Most ancient versions were produced after the inception of the doctrine of the Trinity. Such appeals offer no substance. If there are serious difficulties, they should be listed. There is a longstanding rejection of the predicate and subject translations without merit by most Trinitarian scholars.
The Greek does not have a verb in this sentence consistent with Hebrew. Because the English language requires a verb as previously discussed, it must be added to this sentence. The placement of the verb depends on how they understood this nominative noun “theos.”
Because the meaning of the word “elohim” is disputed in Hebrew, we will start our investigation here with the Greek word “theos.”
Unlike Hebrew —the Greek Septuagint had a vocative designation that marked nouns of direct address.
But for our investigation, there is a major pitfall to avoid. Written Greek language at that time sometimes used the nominative for the vocative. The Letter to the Hebrews makes this important point:
“ὁ θεός (‘God’) is nominative in form but is readily used as both a nominative and a vocative in the LXX and the New Testament.” O’Brien, P. T. (2010). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
So while Greek had a vocative case, there are many nominate case nouns in the Greek Septuagint that are vocative in application. Simply put, the Greek word “theos,” in the nominate case here, when examined independently of the rest of the sentence and context does not inform us if it is vocative.
All the uses of “theos” in this chapter are nominative. There is no shift in case from verse three, seven, or eight. But given that the nominative case could occasionally be used for a vocative, one should be careful to not jump to conclusions.
Another observation from the Septuagint is two direct articles not found in Hebrew.
“The throne” applies to the king because of the pronoun “your.” “The God” applied to almighty God unless a vocative is understood.
Please note that there is a Greek letter that looks like an “O” before the word “God.” It is not equivalent to the exaltation “O” found in mainline translations. In Greek what looks like “O” is a direct article similar to the English “the.” So it says, “the God” in Greek.
Earlier, a one-sentence quote was provided. But I’ll start from the beginning for the context:
“ὁ θεός (‘God’) is nominative in form but is readily used as both a nominative and a vocative in the LXX and the New Testament. If it is the former here [speaking of the nominate], it may then be either subject (‘God is your throne’) or predicate (‘your throne is God’).” O’Brien, P. T. (2010). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
A highly regarded Trinitarian, B. F. Westcott wrote, “The LXX. admits of two renderings: [ho the·osʹ] can be taken 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 the·osʹ sou] in the second case (Therefore God, even Thy God . . . ). . . . It is scarcely possible that [’Elo·himʹ] in the original can be addressed to the king. The presumption therefore is against the belief that [ho the·osʹ] 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.’ —The Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1889), pp. 25, 26.
This late distinguished scholar seemed adamant that the vocative translation was “scarcely possible . . . addressed to the king.”
In conclusion, the Greek Septuagint allows the vocative, predicate, and subject translations consistent with the Hebrew. But because of the many problems noted earlier with the vocative translation, I believe the Septuagint favors a predicate or subject translation.
Targum on the Psalms
A few Trinitarian commentators use the Targum of the Psalms to stress a vocative interpretation.
The Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament, after citing two sources within Judaism which it claimed may allude to a messianic interpretation, writes, “Also, in the Targum on the psalm, 45:3 MT (45:2 ET) reads, ‘Your beauty, O King Messiah, is greater than the sons of men,’ and 45:7 MT (45:6 ET), ‘The throne of your glory, O Lord.’ Thus, the psalm is again interpreted as messianic, and the difficult phrase in 45:7 MT is understood as a vocative.” Guthrie, G. H. (2007). (p. 938).
Please notice that this commentary uses the Targum to support a vocative translation.
This is not the only commentary that speculates based on the Targum on the Psalms. Yet there is a foundational fact that these commentaries omit. While there is no precise date for the Targum of the Psalms, recent scholarship is unanimous —the Targum of the Psalms was written well after the time of Christ. Here are some quotes:
“The date of composition of TgPss remains very uncertain. A very tentative suggestion would be fourth to sixth century c.e., but this is little more than guesswork. It is possible and even likely that it contains material belonging to more than one period.” Cathcart, K., Maher, M., & McNamara, M. (Eds.). (2004). The Aramaic Bible: The Targum of Psalms. (D. M. Stec, Trans.) (Vol. 16, p. 2). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
“The Targum of the Psalms is of uncertain date, since it embodies some early tradition, but in its present form cannot date earlier than the 7th or 8th cent. a.d.” Davison, W. T. (1911–1912). PSALMS, BOOK OF. In J. Hastings, J. A. Selbie, A. B. Davidson, S. R. Driver, & H. B. Swete (Eds.), A Dictionary of the Bible: Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology (Vol. 4, p. 161). New York; Edinburgh: Charles Scribner’s Sons; T. & T. Clark.
“While we have no evidence that this way of reading the psalm was actually current in the first century ad (the Targum on Psalms is of a much later date; see Hall Harris 1996: 92–194), Muddiman, J. (2001).” The Epistle to the Ephesians (p. 189). London: Continuum.
Because the Targum of the Psalms was written hundreds of years after the time of Christ, it’s unscholarly to cited this source for a vocative translation of Psalm 45:6. It’s a dishonest scholarship to attempt to validate a presumption from a later period of history that had exposure to the presumption being affirmed.
From the perspective of Trinitarians, the king must be called “O God” in Psalms 45:6. Their belief in the deity of Christ is the glue that bonds their doctrine together.
I acknowledge that some unitarians Christians accept the vocative translation of Psalm 45:6. It is certainly grammatically possible.
While grammatically possible, I no longer find the traditional translation sustainable based on the context and evidence presented. While I’m convinced it’s a mistranslation, please follow the evidence for yourself independently. I can be wrong, but the Bible properly translated and interpreted never is.
Earlier, some difficulties were noted with the vocative translation. Both the predicate and subject translations for “elohim” solve these difficulties.
In my study of this verse, a pattern emerged. Rejection of the predicate or subject translations were based on ambiguities, such as:
“But conceptually they are harsh.” Harris, M. J. (2008). Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (p. 192-193). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
“This meaning seems a little forced” Ross, A. P. (2011–2013). A Commentary on the Psalms 1–89: Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 72). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic.
“But the expression, to say the least, would be a strange one.” Kirkpatrick, A. F. (1906). The Book of Psalms (p. 248). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
“Affords no tolerable sense. And the figure, if figure it were, would be harsh and derogatory to the Supreme Being.” Murphy, J. G. (1875). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms (p. 286). Andover: Warren F. Draper.
“But this rendering involves serious difficulties” Kirkpatrick, A. F. (1906). (p. 247). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
If the predicate and subject translations are harsh, forced, strange, and intolerable, this should be demonstrated based on articulable and specific premises.
Another prominent feature of surveyed commentaries was neglect in consulting the context carefully to determine if alternate grammatical translations were valid. Biblical translations and commentaries should pursue the original historical understanding that we are after.
Earlier in my investigation, while studying Hebrew I felt that the predicate construction was the correct translation. But after going on to examine the LXX I began to accept that “elohim” could be the subject. I’m undecided. They are both excellent translations and should result in similar interpretations. Which one of the three grammatical translations do you believe was sang to this king?
I urge you beloved to picks up your cross daily —the cross was a device, an apparatus of death to self and this life (many of you do already) and follow Jesus Christ. The footsteps of the Messiah lead to immortality. He is the only way to God. Jesus said, ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6).
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bless you beloved as you follow his human messiah —exalted and made Lord to the praise of his God — the only God!