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Your Throne, O God:

Does Psalm 45:6 Teach the Trinity?

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Question:   I have a question about Ps. 45 and Hebrews 1:8, the passage that says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever..." I am corresponding with a non-Trinitarian who says it should be "God is your throne", and that the traditional translation of the Hebrew text is "doubtful". What do you think?

Response:  The translation you give first, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever...", is in my view the only one that works for Psalm 45:6 (Hebrew v.7). I'm a bit perplexed as to why anyone would describe the translation of the Hebrew here as "doubtful". The nature of the language, especially in poetic contexts, means that there are often a number of different ways of "taking" certain phrases, and, as anyone who has done extensive comparisons of one translation to another can attest, this is more true of Psalms than of any other book in the Bible (the number of textual questions contributes to this characteristic). However, any language has its own rhythms, its own voice, so that anyone with even an average sensibility for said language can tell immediately when certain ways of understanding a phrase are possible, unlikely, or far-fetched. "God is your throne" is not only odd in English, but would have been so to the original readers as well. Given the poetic rhyme scheme of this verse, it is hard to believe that it could even have been construed by a native speaker the way your correspondent suggests. The psalmist has been addressing God all along, so that the most natural way to read the -cha suffix on throne (i.e., meaning "your") is as a continuation of that address, thus making `elohiym (God) a vocative rather than a (hard to explain) predicate. The Masoretes evidently understood this passage in that natural way, for `elohiym is divided from the rest of the verse by disjunctive accents before and after = "Your throne {comma} [O] God {comma}". Whereas we would have expected no disjunction if it were a case of subject/predicate (the alternative translation).

Incidentally, going back to the issue of sensibility and language, the automatic way to read this verse if you are thinking/feeling Hebrew, even if you don't notice the accent marks, is also "Your throne, [O] God, [is] forever and ever". Hebrews 1:8 renders the Hebrew in a rather "literal way". That is, it follows pretty much word for word using the standard conventions of the day for rendering Hebrew into Greek, leaving out the copula, using aion twice (i.e., to mean "forever") for the Hebrew 'olam v'edh, and using the definite article for the vocative. This last feature is, I suppose, not really "literal", for there is no definite article used with `elohiym in the Hebrew. On the other hand, this vocative marker is often left out in Hebrew poetry, so that the less poetic Greek translations often put it in for the sake of clarity (as has happened here). What all this means is that in the Greek of Hebrews 1:8, "the God" = O God. The first half of the verse (i.e., what we are dealing with here) is identical to what is found in the Septuagint version.

As to what the alternative translation, "God is your throne" might mean, I personally can find no easy way to work that notion into any Old Testament mode of expression or theology. The Psalm is clearly Messianic, the Messiah comes before God's throne, shares in God's throne, but God is not "His throne". Since, in my view, it is really not a defensible translation anyway, it is probably not necessary to belabor the point.

One final comment: scripture has a strong, unified current that, completely felt and understood, flows eventually and inexorably in the same direction, the direction of truth. It is generally pretty obvious when someone is struggling against that current (as is the case with your correspondent). It is plain that those who resist the truth of Bible are often put in the position of having to rend and twist certain scriptures in order defend their heretical beliefs (and that is certainly what is going on here).

Please also see the following links:

Explaining and Defending the Trinity and the Person of Christ.

The Trinity (in part 1 of Bible Basics)

The Trinity in Scripture

Questioning the Trinity

The Trinity in Isaiah 63

The One True God and the Trinity in the Old Testament

Yours in Him before whose throne we shall all stand, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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