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Hebrews' Usage of Psalm 102:25-27: Part 2 (Updated)

Updated: Oct 10, 2022


Did the Writer of Hebrews Assume That the LORD Answered the Psalmist in 102:23-28?


In our prior post, we laid the groundwork for analyzing the claims of F. F. Bruce regarding the assumptions of the writer to the Hebrews and his application of Psalm 102:23-28 to the Son. [1]


Bruce, the esteemed commentator, proposed that the writer to the Hebrews viewed the Septuagint translation (LXX) of Psalm 102:23-24 as a secondary rationale for applying the LORD’s work of creation in Psalm 102:25-27 to the Son. However, most miss that this was not Bruce’s primary argument, as we shall show below. Additionally, Bruce's secondary assumptions and arguments are demonstrably problematic.


We will continue using my sevenfold question-based approach. [2]

 

Question #3: What Are the Original Words of Psalm 102:23-28


No relevant major textual issues. This passage does not contain any relevant major textual or linguistic issues.


Several relevant major translational points. The overall analysis of these passages of Scripture centers on the analysis of the Greek Septuagint translation (LXX) and its usage in the letter to the Hebrews.


Bruce's Unique Translation of Psalm 102:23b-24 (LXX)


Like many bible students, I love F. F. Bruce. In fact, I cannot think of any of his readers whom I have met who have not expressed high respect for the late commentator. His reputation is well-earned and fully intact.


Therefore, you can imagine that I was greatly astonished to discover that Bruce's translation of the Greek for Psalm 102:23b-24 (LXX) is not compelling. In fact, it is the source of the problem for his subsequent assumptions and conclusions. Yes, even F. F. Bruce can be wrong.


Below, I will demonstrate the multiple problems with Bruce's translation and explanation of Psalm 102:23b-24. However, I think it will be enlightening simply to begin by comparing Bruce's translation of the entire Greek passage with an official translation, the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS). This simple comparison of both translations from the same Greek text will serve to show that Bruce's translation is not beyond question. We will use this comparison throughout for clarity.


Bruce's Translation Psalm 102:23-25

NETS Psalm 102:23-25

[23] He answered him in the way of his strength:

[23] He answered him in the way of his strength,

"Declare to me the shortness of my days:

"Tell me the paucity of my days.

[24] Bring me not up in the midst of my days.

[24] ​Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days,

Thy years are throughout all generations.

while your years are in generation of generations!"

[25] Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth ..."

[25] At the beginning it was you, O Lord, who founded the earth ..."


Psalm 102:23-28 (LXX) Consistently Uses Lord (Kurios) for LORD (YHWH)


What is the first point that is problematic for Bruce's explanation? Bruce's assumption that the Septuagint translator meant something different by the word Lord (Kurios) in v. 25 of the Psalm than he did in the rest of the Psalm is difficult to support.


The original Hebrew text of Psalm 102 used the sacred name for God, YHWH (or Yahweh). Most English translations render this as LORD (fully capitalized). However, the Septuagint translator for the LXX consistently translated the nine instances of the Hebrew name using the title Lord (Kurios). This title is the universal substitute for the divine name (YHWH) in the Septuagint. However, it was also used less frequently as an honorific title for an exalted human leader (Lord).


In the Greek text, this allows for some ambiguity in verse 102:25 when the person spoken to is addressed as, “You, Lord.” Is this person being identified as the LORD (YHWH) or a human Lord (Kurios)? That's the major question.


When we examine the context, the wording of Psalm 102:25 is more consistent with the Septuagint translator using Lord (Kurios) as LORD (YHWH). This is in line with his usage throughout Psalm 102 (see the usage of Kurios as LORD in the superscription of Psalm 102, along with Psalm 102:1, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22). This means that the tenth and final use of Kurios in Psalm 102:25 makes sense to be LORD (YHWH) just as in the preceding nine instances. Additionally, this understanding of the expression "you, O Lord" in v. 25 agrees with the translator's consistent application of the second person pronoun "you" exclusively to the LORD over 18 times (see multiple occurrences in Psalm 102:1, 2, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15). The same can be said for the 21 instances of the person pronoun me-they are used in contrast with the LORD throughout the Psalm. Bruce's interpretation would make 102:25ff the exception to the pattern for the Psalm.


There are no indications that the Septuagint translator viewed the words as being addressed to a secondary Lord in the Psalm. Unfortunately, Bruce did not address this simple, yet solid contextual point in his commentary when making his proposal.


Psalm 102:23-28 (LXX) Differences Are Due to Vocalizations of the Hebrew Words


How did we end up with differences between the Hebrew version of Psalm 102 and the LXX? Well, ancient Hebrew was written as a consonantal language, mostly without the use of distinct letters for vowels. The vowels were supplied vocally by the reader, based on the normative usage of the words. Thus, over time there was the potential for someone to vocalize a particular Hebrew word differently than the original word, resulting in a word difference.


In Psalm 102 there are at least two instances where the Septuagint translator vocalized the original Hebrew words differently than the original pronunciation. This resulted in the primary differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts. We will highlight these two differences now.


Vocalization Difference #1: He Answered Him in the Way of His Strength


The first vocalization difference occurred in verse 102:23.


Bruce noted:

“The LXX has treated Heb. ‘innāh (“he afflicted,” “he humbled”) as ‘anāh (“he answered”); the difference is formally one of vocalization.”


The original Hebrew read: “He has afflicted my strength in the way” (see NET translation notes on Psalm 102:23). The NET adds, “The term “way” refers here to the course of the psalmist’s life, which appears to be ending prematurely (vv. 23b-24).” Thus, in the original version, God is the subject, weakening the strength of the afflicted psalmist’s life: "He (the LORD, YHWH) has afflicted my strength in the way."


Bruce argued that due to the vocalization difference, the Septuagint translator rendered it as, “He answered him in the way of his strength …” Here, Bruce’s translation of the Greek agrees with the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint). However, his explanation of the text's meaning does not.


What's the issue? The LXX is not conclusive on who is answering whom. There are no indicators in this initial sentence of whether the Septuagint translator decisively viewed the subject who answered as the LORD (YHWH) or the afflicted man (“He answered him …”).


The Septuagint translator could have easily assumed that the afflicted man was answering the LORD, since the prior verse is about the LORD (see 102:22). Therefore, verse 23 would serve as the consistent pivot back to the afflicted man. This aligns with the entirety of the back-and-forth flow of the Hebrew and Septuagint Psalm:

  • Psalm 102:1-11 - The afflicted psalmist describes his fleeting life.

  • Psalm 102:12-22 - The psalmist exalts the permanence and faithfulness of the LORD.

  • Psalm 102:23-28 - The afflicted psalmist appeals to the permanent LORD in light of his fleeting life.

This structure is reflected in both the Hebrew and Septuagint versions of the Psalm.


Vocalization Difference #2: Declare to Me the Shortness of My Days


The second vocalization difference occurred in verse 102:23b-24.


Bruce noted:

“The LXX has treated Heb. ʾômar ʾēlî (“I say, My God”) as ʾěmôr ʾēlai (“say to me”); again the difference is purely one of vocalization.”


In this second instance, the original Hebrew read: “… he has cut short my days. …” (Psalm 102:23b-24, NET). Thus, the original referred to the shortening of the Psalmist’s lifespan by the LORD.


Conversely, Bruce translated the LXX as, “Declare to me the shortness of my days …” Bruce here argues that the LXX translator is viewing God as challenging the afflicted psalmist to declare to God how short God’s plan for the kingdom is (see below).


Bruce wrote:

“This is God’s answer to the suppliant; he bids him acknowledge the shortness of God’s set time (for the restoration of Jerusalem, as in v.13).”


This is where the problems mount for his proposal.


Bruce's Problematic Translation of Psalm 102:23b-24 (LXX)


What specifically did Bruce get wrong in his handling of the Greek text of Psalm 102:23b-24? In addition, to a problematic translation of Psalm 102:24 (LXX), Bruce's interpretative explanation is demonstrably forced.


Let's begin with the faulty translation of 102:24 (LXX). As you recall, earlier we compared Bruce's translation to the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint). We indicated that Bruce's version of v. 24 was noticeably different.

Bruce's Translation Psalm 102:23-25

NETS Psalm 102:23-25

[23] He answered him in the way of his strength:

[23] He answered him in the way of his strength,

"Declare to me the shortness of my days:

"Tell me the paucity of my days.

[24] Bring me not up in the midst of my days.

[24] ​Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days,

The key difference in the translations is the Greek word anagō (ἀνάγω; see also Strong's G321). In the BDAG lexicon, we are provided with the following definitions :

  1. Literally, from a lower to a higher point, carry away (Luke 4:5).

  2. Figuratively, to bring up love or to bring up an offering (Acts 7:41).

  3. As a nautical term to put a ship to sea, and set sail (Acts 28:11). Note: it can be used of a person figuratively, to set someone adrift.

  4. Figuratively, to restore, bring back

Bruce selected the definition option "to bring up." However, BDAG does not offer the particular meaning that Bruce suggests as a known option. Unfortunately, Bruce's suggestion is highly problematic for three reasons.

  1. Based on English, not Greek. Surprisingly, Bruce relied on the English connotation of "bring me up" which sometimes can refer to summoning someone (i.e., bringing them up in discussion or for consideration). However, this is definitively not the meaning of the underlying Greek word (anagō). The examples where it means "to bring up," refer to actively leading someone from a lower place to a higher place or carrying them forth (i.e., bringing them out, carrying them along, or carrying them up). There are no instances in the Greek Bible of this word being used in this way. None.

  2. Never Applied to God. Additionally, in its 123 uses, this Greek verb is never used with God as the direct object. God can be the subject of the verb (i.e., the divine one bringing or carrying a person along, see Psalm 81:10). However, God is never brought up or carried along by anyone. This is true for the entirety of the Greek Bible. This includes the Greek translation of the Old Testament and the New Testament.[3] This is another fatal oversight in Bruce's translation which he did not address.

  3. Greek Mood of Request Not Command. Moreover, the mood of the underlying Greek word in v.24 is subjunctive. Although this mood has several nuances, in the LXX Psalms it is overwhelmingly used to describe possibilities, hypotheticals, petitions, or requests (i.e., Do not take me away). Greek has a different mood that is used to issue commands: the imperative mood. Although the New Testament provides us with many examples of prohibitive subjunctives (a subjunctive, preceded by a negation), which have imperative force, the LXX Psalms primarily use the subjunctive mood, preceded by a negation, to make a request to God. This is especially true in the Psalms of lament and supplication. In Psalm 102, this is confirmed because we see an actual parallel negated subjunctive request made by the afflicted psalmist to God earlier in 102:2: "Do not turn away your face from me." The verb for turn, preceded by a negation, is similar in structure to "do not take me away" in 102:24. If v.24 is a command from God not to "summon him up" (i.e., do not bring me up into discussion or consideration), it is the only case where God Himself uses the negated subjunctive to issue an imperative command in the LXX Psalms.[4] God normally uses verbs in the imperative mood or non-negated subjunctives for commands in the Psalms of the Septuagint (see Psalm 2:10-11, 50:14-15, 82:3-4, 90:3, 110:1).[5] More problematic, right before the subjunctive in v.24, v. 23 contains an actual imperative verb ("declare to me ..."). This makes the parallel with 102:2 even stronger, since it uses the negated subjunctive for the request, followed by an imperative for the positive request. There are examples in the Psalms (LXX) of suppliants addressing God with imperatives and negative subjunctives for their requests. But no examples of God beginning with an imperative and then switching to a negative subjunctive request when commanding His people. Bruce does not address this major discrepancy in his translation.


This is why the NETS translation of the text renders it as follows: "​Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days" (Psalm 102:24, NETS). Like Psalm 102:2, it is a negated subjunctive request of the afflicted Psalmist to the LORD.


Either of these three oversights is sufficient to derail Bruce's proposed interpretation of the word anagō. The combination of all three conclusively makes it untenable. If God is not commanding the Messianic figure using the imperative to no longer bring him up into discussion, then the entire argument collapses.


Bruce's Problematic Explanation of Psalm 102:23b-24 (LXX)


In addition to the problematic translation of the Septuagint passage, Bruce also proposed explanations of his unique translation that were also problematic.


Here I will include the explanations from his commentary adjacent to each verse. I will also include a column with the NETS translation and another column with my objections.


Bruce's Translation Psalm 102:23-25

Bruce's Explanation

NETS Psalm 102:23-25

My Objection

[23] He answered him in the way of his strength:

Bruce proposed that the LXX translator viewed this as the LORD (YHWH) answering the afflicted Psalmist.

[23] He answered him in the way of his strength,

psalmist's

"Declare to me the shortness of my days:

Bruce proposed that God bids the psalmist acknowledge the shortness of God's set time (for the restoration of Jerusalem, as in v.13) ...

"Tell me the paucity of my days.

Similar to the above, nothing requires the LXX translator to assume that this is not the afflicted Psalmist directly speaking to the LORD. Conversely, the flow of thought for Bruce's explanation of the passage now becomes disjointed. Bruce's explanation requires the LORD to be engaging in a form of subtle sarcasm with the afflicted man. However, the psalmist has been faithfully trusting in the LORD throughout the Psalm, with no sins attributed to him. Additionally, God's set time to restore Jerusalem is never referred to in the Psalm by God as "my days." This is another forced explanation. The psalmist has consistently contrasted his days with God's years and generations of generations (v. 12 & v.24).

[24] Bring me not up in the midst of my days.

Bruce proposed that God rebuffs the psalmist not to summon him (bring Him up in discussion) to act when His set time has only half expired.

[24] ​Do not take me away at the mid-point of my days,

As mentioned above, see the three translational problems for the Greek word anagō. Additionally, Bruce's explanation about God's set time being "only half expired" is not the normative explanation of the underlying Greek words ("mid-point of my days"). Conversely, if this is the psalmist addressing the LORD then it is consistent with the earlier verses in the LXX and Hebrew texts. This is the afflicted man's request to the LORD to not carry him away, midway in his life (see also v.10). It would also be in the proper mood for a subjunctive request (see v. 2).

Thy years are throughout all generations.

Bruce proposed that God explains to the messianic figure that his years are forever.

while your years are in generation of generations!"

Bruce's interpretation is again highly disjointed and requires God to now provide a positive messianic declaration about the eternity of the Messiah (the Lord), immediately following His quasi-rebuke of the Messiah. Conversely, if the psalmist has been addressing the LORD from vv.23-24, this declaration of the LORD's eternity is consistent with the entire Psalm (see similar language of the LORD in Psalm 102:12).

[25] Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth ..."

Bruce proposed that God is now addressing the afflicted figure as "You Lord." The LORD now ascribes to the Lord the work of creation. Bruce believes the use of this address enigmatically points to the identification of the person as either the Messiah or divine Wisdom.

[25] At the beginning it was you, O Lord, who founded the earth ..."

Bruce's explanation would require that God is now acknowledging someone as Lord (Kurios) who He just requested not bring Him up again (i.e., do not summon up God). This is also highly disjointed because of the quasi-rebuke from God in v.23-24. However, if the simplest explanation holds, the Lord (Kurios) is the Lord through v.23-25, and this aligns with the entirety of the Hebrew text's flow of thought.


The more one considers Bruce's proposed translation and explanations, the more one sees how highly problematic all of this is. Noticeably, it also does not provide any textual or linguistic warrant for rejecting the simple explanation that the Septuagint translator viewed the Lord being addressed in v.25 as the same LORD in vv.1-22.


Bruce's Theological Problem for Psalm 102:23-24: God Rebukes the Messiah?


What more can go wrong with this explanation? Even if we granted Bruce's unique translation and explanations, there would be a major unintended consequence. If God is addressing the Messiah (or even divine Wisdom) in v. 23-25, then v.23 would be an implied sarcastic request of the LORD to the Messiah: "Declare to me the shortness of my days" (i.e., Go ahead, tell me (the LORD) how short my plan for restoration really is, Messiah!). This would be similar to God's confrontation with Job (see Job 38:1-3). However, Job was not the Messiah. This would be highly unusual for God to speak in this way to His chosen and beloved Son. This would be the only example of this type of divine sarcasm for the Messiah.


More seriously, Bruce's interpretation of v.24 would have God in the LXX issuing a quasi-rebuke of the Messiah: "Bring me not up in the midst of my days." This essentially would be the LORD telling the Messiah, "Be patient and do not summon me when my plan for restoring Jerusalem is only half expired." That's a command to stop doing something wrong. It would have God commanding the Messiah to stop bothering him about his kingdom plan until He is fully ready.


Everyone should agree that these unintended consequences of Bruce's proposal are ultimately unbiblical. Unfortunately, he did not address them. It is likely that he did not consider the overall implications of his proposal to the meaning of the entire LXX text.


Conversely, we should point out that the translator of the LXX did closely follow the original Hebrew. In fact, with the exception of the understandable two vocalization differences and the additional "You Lord" (see final post), he attempted to represent the Hebrew in his LXX version.


This indicates that this particular Septuagint translator was not deliberately attempting to deviate from the fundamental understanding of the Hebrew Psalm. However, if Bruce's explanation holds, then the translator was severely tampering with God's word in linguistically abnormal and highly irreverent ways. Moreover, if the writer of Hebrews also endorsed the LXX translator's tampering simply to make an exegetical point, then he would have been knowingly guilty of the same.


However, as we show below and in the final post, this was not the case for either of them.


Question #4: What Are the Biblical Assertions of Psalm 102:23-28 & Hebrews 1:10-12?


Hebrews Does Not Quote Psalm 102:23-24 (LXX)


One of the most stunning facts for Bruce's interpretation is that the writer to the Hebrews never quoted the Greek translation of Psalm 102:23-24-Bruce's proposed rationale verses. Instead, he began his quotation at verses 102:25-27, "And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning ..." No rationale verses were given.


This means that Bruce's assumptions are entirely inferential. The author of Hebrews did not give us an inspired explanation of the LXX translation for Psalm 102:23-24. He only quoted vv. 25-27. It may be that he was aware of the two vocalization differences in the Septuagint and simply chose not to use them. Conceivably, the writer of Hebrews, who is famous for his level of Greek proficiency, may have understood the text with the simple explanation-it was the psalmist who addressed the LORD in the Hebrew and LXX text. This remains the simplest and least convoluted explanation. Therefore, Bruce's arguments are entirely conjecture. It effectively becomes an argument from New Testament silence.


Psalm 102:23-28 (LXX) Does Not Require the LORD to Be the Speaker


As we have shown, the crux of Bruce's argument is that beginning in verse 23, the LORD is the sole speaker for the remainder of the LXX version of Psalm 102. However, there is nothing in the Septuagint text to necessitate that assumption.


Bruce's claim is that the writer of Hebrews recognized that the Septuagint translator viewed Psalm 102:23-28 as the LORD speaking to the psalmist. However, nothing in the actual Greek text requires this assumption.


If you only read Bruce's commentary, you may mistakenly assume that the Greek text has a key difference that decisively points to the LORD God as the speaker. Surprisingly, it does not. In fact, if you reread the NETS version of Psalm 102:23-25 above, you will see that their translation aligns with the Psalmist as the speaker, pivoting to address the LORD.


In this sense, Bruce's secondary argument is entirely his own. The author of Hebrews does not make it, and the Septuagint translation does not require it.


We will return to this point later since it is also demonstrably incorrect in light of how the author of Hebrews regularly handles quotations from the Old Testament.


We will continue with Questions #5 - #7 in the final post.


[1] Bruce, F. F. 1997. The Epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Eerdmans. Kindle edition.

[2] Shepard, 2022. Why I Became a Biblical Binitarian. Independently published. pp. 57-61.

[3] The verb is applied to the ark of the LORD (see 2 Samuel 6:2). But never to the LORD Himself as the object.

[4] There is at least one instance in Psalm 95:8 (LXX) where the negated subjunctive mood is used by the Psalmist to make a command: "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts ..." (NETS). However, Psalm 95:8, which is quoted in the book of Hebrews (3:7-15, 4:6-7), begins with the Psalmist exhorting the people with a conditional request: "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden hearts. Thus, the negated subjunctive mood is properly being used as a true hypothetical. The next verse noticeably switches to have God as the ultimate speaker making this conditional request. This is elaborated on in the book of Hebrews. Conversely, all other divine commands in the Psalms (LXX) use the imperative mood.

[5] There is also an optative mood in Greek that is similar to the subjunctive mood. There are instances in the Psalms where the optative mood is used to make divine commands (see Psalm 2:10-11).

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