But someone has testified somewhere, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet." (Hebrews 2:6-8a NRSV, emphasis mine)
The author of Hebrews was quoting Psalm 8 in this passage, so let's compare:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet... (Psalm 8:3-6 NRSV, emphasis mine)
The passage in Psalms says we were made a little lower than God, but the passage quoting it in Hebrews says we were made for a little while lower than the angels. How do we explain this? Did the NRSV translators make a mistake? In a word, no.
In the Psalms passage, the Hebrew word is elohiym. Strong's Dictionary defines this word as "gods in the ordinary sense, but specifically used of the supreme God." Brown-Driver-Briggs defines it:
1a) rulers, judges
1b) divine ones
2) (plural intensive - singular meaning)
2a) god, goddess
2b) godlike one
2c) works or special possessions of God
2d) the (true) God
This word was translated "God" over 2,000 times in the King James Version, but only once as "angels" (and that's in Psalm 8.) The NRSV, HCSB and GWT translate it "God" in Psalm 8 while the TNIV and the ESV use "heavenly beings".
Here's the fun part. The Greek word in the Hebrews passage is aggelos, which is clearly referring to angels. The author of Hebrews was quoting the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament used during the time when Hebrews was written. (If you want to look cool, write LXX instead of Septuagint.)
John Wesley had this to say:
The Hebrew is, a little lower than (that is, next to) God. Such was man as he came out of the hands of his Creator: it seems, the highest of all created beings. But these words are also in a farther sense, as the apostle here shows, applicable to the Son of God. It should be remembered that the apostles constantly cited the Septuagint translation, very frequently without any variation. It was not their business, in writing to the Jews, who at that time had it in high esteem, to amend or alter this, which would of consequence have occasioned disputes without end.
I'll write more about the original question in another post, but for now I'd like to pose a few questions to my readers (if I haven't lost everyone by now):
- Was elohiym in Psalm 8 mistranslated in the Septuagint?
- If the early church, including the writers of the New Testament, used the Septuagint, then is it safe to conclude that they thought it was reliable or was it simply the only game in town?
- Assuming that Jesus, the apostles and the early church considered the Septuagint reliable, is mistranslation of elohiym still a possibility? Can a translation get it wrong occasionally and still be considered reliable?