Psalm 85.11 – Translation Comparison

Psalm 85.11 (English verse 10) is the kind of verse in comparing parallel translations that could drive a sane man crazy.  Five different translations and three different renderings of the word hesed and three different renderings of the verb tenses.

Parallel Comparison of Psalm 85.11

Here are the parallel translations in BibleWorks:

Psalm 85.11

Notice that the first word, which is rendered for the Hebrew hesed, is translated as “steadfast love”(ESV, NRSV) “love” (NAB, TNIV) and “lovingkindness” (NASB).  This word is notoriously difficult to translate as some have proposed possibilities such as “covenant loyalty,” and even further, others have proposed that the word does not translate readily into English and should be left untranslated.  These translators would simply transliterate the word as hesed and leave it up to the individual interpreter to make a decision as to how to best understand the idea.

Now, check out the verb tenses.  The verbs are translated “meet/kiss” (sounds like a gnomic type present – ESV, TNIV), “will meet/will kiss” (future – NAB, NRSV), and “have met” (past – NASB).  Each of the translations have some merit.  There are a future (vs. 9) and a present (implied – vs. 10) in the context that the translators could be following.  Yet the form is identified by morphology databases as perfect and could be translated with an English past tense.

Overall, I think how the verse should be translated is ambiguous.  But, this should serve as a lesson for English interpreters in the value of comparing translations.  In preaching or teaching, I would be somewhat careful of making too much out of the word meanings, though certainly you must choose one, or of making much out of the tenses of the verbs.

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