(Mis)Translating Psalm 1 -- By: Robert L. Cole

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 10:2 (Fall 2005)
Article: (Mis)Translating Psalm 1
Author: Robert L. Cole


(Mis)Translating Psalm 1

Robert L. Cole

Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina

The recent Today’s New International Version (TNIV) translates the opening words of Psalm 1 as follows: “Blessed are those….,” rendering the singular articular masculine noun האישׁ (lit., “the man”) as a genderless plural.1 Since this particular noun is the subject and grammatical antecedent for the verbs and pronouns that follow through v. 3, the plural translation has been continued throughout. So the three masculine singular perfect verbs which follow in verse one (יָשׁבעָמדהָלךְ) have been pluralized (“who do not walk…stand…sit”). The third masculine singular pronominal suffix and third masculine singular verb of verse two (.…יהגהחפצוֹ…)are also made to conform to this pattern (“but who delight…and meditate….”2 ), as is the translation of the third masculine singular weqatal of verse three (והָיָה) by “They are.” The same is true for the translation of the third masculine singular imperfect יעשׂה of verse three. Such a translation is a change from the previous NIV which reads: “Blessed is the man who does not walk….But his delight…hemeditates….He is like a tree….”3

History of Interpretation

Final judgment on the plural generalizing translation of the TNIV must be based on the content and context of the psalm, but it is instructive as well to survey the history of interpretation. Translators since antiquity have consistently rendered this form (האישׁ) by the masculine singular.4 Nonetheless, there has been a long and deeply entrenched history of interpretation that understands it to refer not to any single and identifiable individual but rather to all people in general. For example, according to the fourth century Antiochene interpreter Diodorus the psalm is “instructing not any particular person but people in general.”5 Clifford, in a recent commentary, surveys patristic commentators and considers the “ethical view” of

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