Biblical Hebrew: "כִּסְאֲךָ אֱלֹהִים" in Psalm 45:6

Discussion in 'עברית (Hebrew)' started by dn88, Oct 1, 2013.

  1. dn88 Senior Member

    Hello, everybody;

    I would like to ask about the possible meanings of the "כִּסְאֲךָ אֱלֹהִים" part in Psalm 45:6 (alternatively numbered as 45:7). Here are the entire verse and the one that follows:

    כִּסְאֲךָ אֱלֹהִים, עוֹלָם וָעֶד; שֵׁבֶט מִישֹׁר, שֵׁבֶט מַלְכוּתֶךָ
    אָהַבְתָּ צֶּדֶק, וַתִּשְׂנָא-רֶשַׁע
    עַל-כֵּן מְשָׁחֲךָ אֱלֹהִים אֱלֹהֶיךָ, שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן-- מֵחֲבֵרֶךָ

    Are "Your throne, (o) God [vocative]", "Your throne (given) of God" and "Your divine throne" all equally valid English renderings of that part? The way I see it, if only the first option were correct, then I suppose we would also have to conclude that the first word for "God" in "עַל-כֵּן מְשָׁחֲךָ אֱלֹהִים אֱלֹהֶיךָ" in the next verse is in the vocative case as well (used as a form of address), but most English translations agree and have that bit as "therefore God [nominative case], your God (has) annointed you". Which interpretation seems the most likely to you as far as the original question goes? I guess it's not so black and white.

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2013
  2. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Purely grammatically, the verse means either “thy throne, oh God”, or “God is thy throne”. It really cannot mean “thy throne is from God”, or “thy throne is divine”, at least not if you to translate the words rather than paraphrasing them.

    In the former case (“thy throne, oh God”) this would imply that the king to whom this psalm is dedicated is addressed as “God” (with all the theological difficulties that this might imply). In the latter case one would assume that psalmist is saying that God supports the king in the same way that a throne supports him.

    You are presumably aware that Ps. 45:6 is quoted verbatim in the New Testament, in Hebrews 1:8 as: προς δε τον υιον ο θρονος σου ο θεος etc., for which the expected meaning would be “but unto the son (i.e. Jesus) he said: Thy throne is God…”. ο θεος can really only be nominative, not vocative. But this has not prevented most of the translators from rendering it as “Thy throne, oh God”, implying that Jesus is in fact God.
  3. origumi Senior Member

    The accepted Jewish explanation is:

    * תשב על הכסא לעשות משפט אמת וצדק כאלהים -> thy throne like God (מלבי"ם)
    * כסא המלוכה הנתון לך מאלהים -> the throne given to you by God (מצודות)
    * כסאך שר ושופט לעולם ועד... שמשפטיך אמת וראוי אתה למלוך -> your throne is of minister and judge forever... your verdicts are true and you deserve to rule (רש"י)

    רש"י also compares it to Exodus 7:1 נתתיך אלהים לפרעה, I made you (like) God to Pharaoh (to judge and punish him).
  4. dn88 Senior Member

    Thank you both. And why yes, I know about the quotation in Hebrews 1:8. I just wanted to find out how things look in the Old Testament. The correct interpetation of that fragment can be important in determining whether or not Jesus is God incarnate. I've seen different translations of it and, of couse, a whole lot depends on who's translating the Bible into English or any other language — as the translators tend to go with what best fits the doctrines they believe.
  5. InfatigableLearner

    InfatigableLearner Member


    I thought I would put my two cents in on this as it is an interesting question. Grammatically speaking, there are actually three ways that the clause כִּסְאֲךָ אֱלֹהִים עוֹלָם וָעֶד in Psalm 45:7 [45:6 in English] could be read:

    1) אֱלֹהִים could be understood as the subject of the clause to yield the meaning “God is your throne forever and ever”
    2) אֱלֹהִים could be understood as the predicate of the clause to yield the meaning “Your throne is God forever and ever”
    3) אֱלֹהִים could be understood as a vocative to yield the meaning “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever”

    Each of these three understandings is permissible on purely grammatical grounds. However, in determining the use of אֱלֹהִים in this verse, it is instructive to note that the addressee of this psalm is called אֱלֹהִים once again in the very next verse: עַל־כֵּן מְשָׁחֲךָ אֱלֹהִים אֱלֹהֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן מֵחֲבֵרֶיךָ “Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you with the oil of jubilation more than your companions” (dn88 is right to see a vocative here). Thus understanding אֱלֹהִים as a vocative in Psalm 45:7 as well would seem to be the preferred one. Here I think Origami, citing Rashi, does well to mention Exodus 7:1 as a parallel to the usage of אֱלֹהִים seen in these verses.

    Mention was also made of Hebrews 1:8 in the Christian’s New Testament. While that work’s application of Psalm 45:7 to Jesus need not detain us here, one should note that the citation of Psalm 45:7 in Hebrews 1:8 is taken verbatim from the Septuagint [= Psalm 44:7]. Fdb made the remark that “ο θεος [in Hebrews 1:8] can really only be nominative, not vocative.” This is only partially correct. ὁ θεός in Hebrews 1:8, and thus Psalm 44:7 in the Septuagint, is indeed correctly parsed as a nominative. However, as Daniel B. Wallace outlines in his work Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, the use of nominatives in place of vocatives is not unknown in Greek (Wallace, 56–59). In fact, Wallace specifically discusses the use of ὁ θεός in Hebrews 1:8 stating that “It is our view that the nom[inative] for voc[ative] view is to be preferred” (Wallace, 59). While most of Wallace’s reasons for this view concern the Greek text which frames the citation, the most important reason he gives in my opinion is his observation that “the LXX [= Septuagint] is . . . reticent to use the voc[ative] form, most likely since Hebrew lacked such a form.”[1] The Septuagint’s use of nominatives for vocatives is confirmed by Conybeare’s A Grammar of Septuagint Greek which states:

    The use of the nominative for the vocative was a colloquialism in classical Greek. It occurs in Plato, and is common in Aristophanes and Lucian. When so employed, the nominative usually has the article. As in Hebrew the vocative is regularly expressed by the nominative with the article, it is not surprising that the LXX translators should often avail themselves of this turn of speech. (Conybeare, 54).[2]

    Thus while the Septuagint does employ a nominative here, there is nothing that necessitates that ὁ θεός is not being used as a vocative on that account. Given that the best understanding of אֱלֹהִים in the Hebrew text is as a vocative, the Septuagint’s use of ὁ θεός should likewise be taken as a vocative. The correctness of the vocative reading for the nominative ὁ θεὸς is supported by the fact that in the next verse in the Septuagint one finds διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισέν σε ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός σου, etc. which, although appearing with two nominative ὁ θεὸς, clearly intends one of these to be a vocative in reference to the addressee. Thus whether in Hebrew or in Greek, the vocative reading of אֱלֹהִים and ὁ θεός in Psalm 45:7/44:7 is preferred.


    [1] Wallace’s statement here should not be construed to mean that words in Hebrew are not used as vocatives, only that Hebrew lacks a particular form for the vocative (except, perhaps, for their often appearing with the definite article, but see below).
    [2] Conybeare’s statement here should not be construed to mean that when words are used as vocatives in Hebrew that they must always appear with a definite article. Note the following from Joüon-Muraoka’s A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew: “The person (or the thing) that is addressed (vocative), since it is always determinate, should always have the article; in fact the article is often omitted, especially in poetry or in lofty prose” (Joüon-Muraoka, §137g). Needless to say, the book of Psalms is just the place where one should expect to find the definite article omitted with vocatives.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2013
  6. origumi Senior Member

    I disagree with this analysis.

    You overlooked the Jewish commentators opinion that God here stands for in a manner favorite/appropriate to God or alike.

    You take for granted that ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός σου contains a vocative, while it's a direct translation of Hebrew אֱלֹהִים אֱלֹהֶיךָ thus provides no more info. It can naturally translate to the God (who is) your God. That is, emphasis it's not any other existing God (Canaanite for example) or future God (Christian for example).

    You take Rashi's reference to נתתיך אלהים לפרעה as an example of anther vocative while Rashi says quite the opposite, that God means here simply lord (not capitalized).
  7. InfatigableLearner

    InfatigableLearner Member


    I never meant to give the impression that an understanding of אֱלֹהִים in Psalm 45:7 as a vocative necessarily means that the person so invoked must be “God” as in “God Almighty,” if that is what you thought I meant. I personally do not read the text that way, even accepting the vocative. I mentioned your reference to Exodus 7:1, not because it is vocative, which it is not, but because it is an instance where the word אֱלֹהִים is used for someone who clearly is not “God Almighty.” I understand this to be analogous to the situation in Psalm 45:7 where the addressee, although addressed as אֱלֹהִים by the psalmist, is clearly not “God Almighty” since the psalmist states that the addressee has above them still yet another who is called אֱלֹהִים in the very next verse (i.e. “your God (אֱלֹהֶיךָ = the addressee’s God, i.e. “God Almighty”) has anointed you, etc.”). Thus just as Moses was spoken of as a “God” (אֱלֹהִים) to Pharaoh in Exodus 7:1, yet still obviously had a “God” (אֱלֹהִים) above him, so too the addressee here is called אֱלֹהִים, yet is certainly not “God Almighty.”

    As for why the addressee is called אֱלֹהִים, I find nothing objectionable at all in “the accepted Jewish explanation” you mentioned and in fact I quite agree with it. My question is, what is it about understanding אֱלֹהִים in Psalm 45:7 as a vocative that negates that explanation? I personally do not see that to be the case.

  8. origumi Senior Member

    If you take אלהים as lord (vs. Lord), like Rashi suggests, then yes, grammatically and contextually this can be vocative. If you take it as Lord then according to the context this cannot be vocative. This becomes apparent when reading the whole chapter.

    Personally I find Rashi's explanation that אלהים here is lord difficult, I prefer Hamalbim and other who explain in a manner appropriate to God.
  9. Diadem Senior Member

    USA (English)
    Because the nominative was occasionally used instead of the vocative in Greek during that era.

    For example, John 19:3 has Χαῖρε ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων rather than Χαῖρε βᾰσῐλεῦ τῶν Ἰουδαίων ("Hail, O' king of the Jews"). This is only one of many examples and any basic Greek grammar discusses this phenomenon.

Share This Page