Jim Hamilton on the Removal of “Selah” from the NIV


Jim Hamilton
takes issue with the decision of the NIV translators to remove the word “Selah” from the book of Psalms. He argues:

For reasons textual, structural, intertextual, cultural, and theological the NIV 2011 should reverse itself on this point and put the word Selah back where it belongs: in the text.

Hamilton concludes:

When I read an ancient text from a different culture, I don’t want to look into a linguistic mirror. I would like for that text to feel a little foreign, to feel a little ancient. I don’t want it only telling me what I already know. This word Selah occurs over and over all across the Psalter and into Habakkuk 3. One of the challenges of reading and understanding the Bible is paying attention to all the things the Bible says that we don’t understand, studying those things, and trying to come to a place where we begin to learn what the biblical authors were talking about and how they talked about it.

At my church earlier this evening, I heard an expository message on the text of Psalm 59. During the sermon, I was struck by the fact that my English translation had structured the Psalm one way while the preacher understood the structure a different way. The preacher identified the units of the text based on the two occurrences of Selah. No one is really sure what Selah means, but I observed just tonight that it still figures in to the reader’s interpretation of the text.

I agree with Jim on this one and hope that future editions of the NIV will put it back in. Read the rest of Jim’s argument here.

15 Responses to Jim Hamilton on the Removal of “Selah” from the NIV

  1. Mike Aubrey October 27, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    fascinatingly enough…Rod Decker approved of the NIV2011 for precisely the same reason…but then…you wouldn’t want to report on that…you only like report on things that say negative things about the new NIV…funny how that works. It almost seems as if you’re just full of bile.

    • Walt October 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

      To see the other side of this debate I would suggest reading the NIV review by Dr. Daniel Wallace, highly respected DTS Professor or Dr. Rod Decker’s excellent review. There is debate with the release of every new translation or revision. The NIV is not perfect but it is an acceptable translation. It is an interesting discussion among conservative Bible scholars.
      Walt

    • Ryan October 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

      He didn’t seem particularly angry in his post to me (hmm, forgive me if you were referring to the stomach goop, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bile – it’s a good read, tbh). But yes, I doubt that the NIV2011 putting Selah back in will increase the chances of him using it. ; )

      That said, I typically read from an ESV (other times HCSB and sometimes NLT) and just skip over the word. If someone’s reading it aloud I usually end up wondering if they practiced several different pronunciations before deciding on the one they used.

      • Ryan October 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

        Hmm, and in case anyone else is wondering, bile is actually a basic alkaline fluid, not acidic. That’s what led me to Wikipedia, but I ultimately found the answer at other sources.

  2. Robert Slowley October 27, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    Mike – surely when one reads a certain blogger you start with the assumption that they’re going to post about things of interest to them, from people they’re interested in, rather than be a news source about anything going on?

    I don’t see what is ‘bileful’ about that. Does anyone else?

  3. Annie Law October 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Personally I don’t want anything taken out of the Bible. Whoever decides to take a word from the Bible should think again. I looked up the meaning of “selah”.

    Someone put this online. It is taken from The Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language (Ernest Klein).

    Selah means to stop, think, contemplate, consider, ponder, meditate, regard what we have been learning.

    In the Psalms we read along and suddenly, there is the word, “selah”. It is at this point that we stop and contemplate what we have been learning.

    Understanding what the word selah means and how to use it makes all the difference! I now want to practice it! I say keep it in. Even if I didn’t know what the word meant, I still think nothing should be taken out of the Bible. I think I will now be using this word often while studying or teaching the Word of God.

    Thank you for writing this article. Now if only those who want to take it out of the Bible would look up its meaning, they would know better to not to. Didn’t God tell them not to be removing words from the Bible?

    Annie

  4. David October 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Respectfully, Ms. Law, I think that your response might illustrate exactly why Dr. Decker thinks that leaving “Selah” out would make it a more faithful translation. Let me explain.

    Ideally, a translation should present to us the underlying text as clearly as possible. As much as possible, we’d like the Hebrew or Greek to be translated into common English, including structure, literary devices, etc. But any translation that an English speaker cannot understand isn’t a good translation.

    So, for example, we have a text like Matt 20:15b which, in the Greek says something like “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (ESV footnote). But what does it mean to say that one’s eye is evil? We don’t talk like that today. This seems to have been an idiom that would have communicated jealousy or envy to Matthew’s audience. The ESV (the inspired translation…) renders that text “Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Which is the better translation? The better translation is the one that has the fewest needles obstacles for a contemporary reader to understand what original text is saying. Did the ESV take some words out of the Biblical text and relegate them to the footnotes? Perhaps we disagree, but I think that was merely a translational decision intended to make the underlying text clearer.

    Let’s say I wrote a book, and I used the expression “not even in the ballpark.” And then let’s say I translated my book for another culture, one not familiar with that expression. Would it be best to just leave the word “ballpark” exactly as it is and just transliterate, or should that phrase perhaps be translated “not even close”?

    I can’t speak for Dr. Decker (though he has responded quite ably, I believe), but I think his point is that the transliterated “selah” is actually getting in the way of some people understanding the text.

    For example, I don’t think we’re sure what it means. One possibility is a musical rest. Another is “stop and ponder.” Another possible meaning is “crescendo”.

    Without actually knowing for sure what the word means (all due respect to Earnest Klein), it’s possible (likely?) that some have put too much emphasis on “selah” and used it to draw points from the text that are incorrect (see Dr. Decker’s original post which particularly addresses the definition you used).

    Assuming that’s the case, does including “selah” in our English text elucidate or obscure the original text? Dr. Decker seems to argue that the clearer translation (i.e. the translation that better helps the reader understand the original text) is one which sends “selah” to the footnotes.

    Dr. Burke, I think that Dr. Decker might argue that the NIV solution would preserve the structural significance to which you alluded in your post. Of course “Selah” has significance for interpretation. Dr. Decker seems to be arguing that the significance can be preserved with less confusion and missed meaning (and perhaps a greater faithfulness to what “selah” may actually mean) by following the NIV’s decision.

    Dr. Burk

  5. Sue October 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    Annie,

    Perhaps punctuation is used with the same meaning in English. There was no punctuation in the original text, and yet we have added it in. I would trust the sincerity of this post, if Denny advocated a translation with no punctuation, capital letters or verse numbering.

  6. Christiane October 28, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    The fact is that the word ‘Selah’ has been in sacred Scripture for millenia.

    One explanation of meaning comes from the Torah:
    The Talmud (Eruvin 54a) says that selah means “forever.”

    The closest corresponding meaning in Christianity would probably be the phrase found in Eastern Christianity
    ” from the ages to the ages” . . . often followed in prayer by ‘Amen’

    Removing it from a translation of sacred Scripture ?
    Why?
    Because it is ‘meaningless’ to some people ?
    I see no wisdom in removing it. When it comes to sacred Scripture, we are to receive what we have been given and pass it on intact to future generations.

  7. Annie Law October 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I would have to agree with Christiane’s post, as before I looked up a meaning for “selah”, I just considered it as a word tagged on in various places… such as our “amen” or “shalom”.

    I am not a Bible scholar, nor do I have a university education, but I love to study and mediate on God’s Word and find it exciting to do so. There has never been a problem with “amen”, “selah”, or “shalom” before now interfering with my understanding of Scripture. The Holy Spirit and reading in context help me there. As for stopping to think, reflect, mediate, etc.,… Isn’t that what God’s Word tells us to do? Is it not better to stop and refect on what we are studying or just reading, rather than just reading straight through it? If we are studying a passage we need to stop and ask questions in order to come to a better and clearer understanding of the author’s meaning and reasons for saying what he is saying and one could go deeper into the culture and grk/heb, ect., We also we need to stop and reflect on how this applies to our walk with Christ and taking on more and more the character and love of Christ.

    Maybe these comments were just for scholars who have a doctrate, I don’t know, and maybe I shouldn’t even be commenting. No one has said that though. I am just a regular person who loves Jesus and loves His Word and I don’t want to see it tampered with because someone thinks they don’t need these tagged on words. Please leave them in.

    I still believe they should be left in. If someone is confused about their meaning let them look it up in a greek or hebrew concordance or dictionary. It’s bad enough that the new evangels want to take out/destroy major doctrines, not that anyone here is thinking on those lines, but it makes me wary when people want to change any words in the Bible. We did fine for so very, very long. Why start now? Please leave the Bible alone.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like I am judging anyone’s character. I am not. I know you believe as strongly as I do that your view on this matter is the best one. I just need to state my view and actually the view of others I know who do not like the Bible being changed in any way, gender or words.

    Shalom

    Annie

  8. Sue October 28, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    Annie,

    I feel such empathy for you. You express such a heartfelt feel for the Bible. I did study Greek and Hebrew, but don’t think that I have some superior insight. Meditation and practice is the key.

    But because I have studied these languages and do love the history of the Bible, I can explain that “selah” was not in the Latin Vulgate, which was the Bible in use in Europe for over one thousand years. Even in the Septuagint, it was translated “diapsalma” which meant “musical interlude.” This was the translation at the time of Christ.

    It was not until the 1500’s that the translator Pagninus, who was, in my view, deeply influenced by Kaballah to believe that the form of words had a certain power and signigicance, that “selah” was reintroduced into Latin translations, and from there found its was into the King James Bible.

    I appreciate Pagninus influence and contribution to Bible translation. I think it has been sadly overlooked. However, I do not believe that this matter should be made a question of doctrine or faith.

    • Annie Law October 31, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      Hi Sue,

      Thank you for your helpful input. I thank the others as well. I appreciate you helping me to understand where the word “selah” came from.

      I do need to say, however, that my concern isn’t just about the word “selah” being taken out of the Scriptures. My concern is that if the publishers take out one simple word that many will say really doesn’t serve any purpose, what are they going to take out or change next?

      What they change or take out is not going to weaken my faith, but it might someone who does not yet know Christ and is not familiar with God’s Word. If we keep making changes to God’s Word to suit women’s lib, gay rights, or others who think it should be changed so that it does not offend certain people groups, it will no longer be God’s Word. I know it is not there yet, but can you not see it coming?

      Already many non-Christians who are not familiar with the whole of God’s Word are confused because of the many versions, particularly of the newer paraphrases and those who are changing the gender to “please” certain people groups. It is difficult for some of them to see it as God’s Word when they all appear to have so many differences. When I say this, I am not advocating KJV only. There are many good versions that stick to God’s truth without changing genders, or taking out words.

      I’m sure you have probably already heard that there are those of the “new evangels” who what to change or take out much of the major doctrines of Scripture. It appears to be that they are more concerned with what people what to hear, rather than with what God has said. Today there are many secular folks who slander God’s holy name because they do not know Him. For new evangels to change what the Bible says or means to appease them isn’t helping them, but reinforcing their wrong understanding. Right now “hell” is a big issue. Doesn’t Scripture itself say this will happen?

      I hope you can see where my concern is coming from. It is not my concern only. I will stick to the older Bibles and will not purchase Bibles that are concerned about gender and other people issues that disagree with God’s Word, as written in my current Bibles.

      This responce is for anyone, not only you, Sue, to understand where my concern for removing words from the Bible is coming from. I think God’s Word is perfect as it is. I don’t want to see it changed. (I have NASB, NIV, NKJV, ESV, versions) They are all good. I prefer to not see them changed.

      In Christ’s love,
      Annie

  9. David October 31, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Dr. Decker just posted another reply (http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=1364). I’m sure his points could be said of any of the translations mentioned above.

    We may read something like that and believe that Dr. Decker has started us down a slippery slope. But we should worry about where a translation may lead some future editorial board with some heterodox agenda. Rather, does this translation stand on its own merits? At least in this one issue, relative to today’s accepted translations, I think it does.

    • Annie Law October 31, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

      Thank you, David.

      I read Dr. Decker’s posts from the link you supplied. I’m not concerned about Dr. Decker personally, it is the edititorial boards and all that I have been reading regarding the “new evangels” that cause me to wonder why the preceived necessity of changing anything in Scriptures and why now?

      Between the ECT, and the new evangels wanting to remove major doctrines, it makes me feel that we all need to be more alert to what is going on regarding changes in theology and Scripture. It is very apparent that there is an apostasy happening in our time (by some, but not most) and the Bible speaks about this.

      Thank you for your feedback and the link, (and patience with me). I am going to leave this alone now as I am not a scholar, and this one word is not a major doctrine.

      Thank you, all

      In Christ’s love,
      Annie

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A La Carte (10/27) | My Blog - October 27, 2011

    […] Selah – Jim Hamilton doesn’t like the word “selah” being removed from the biblical text. I’d tend to agree (not that I speak with any authority!). Faith brings a man empty to God, that he may be filled with the blessings of God. —John Calvin […]

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