Psalm 8 describes both God and man in regal language. Two terms fit for a king are associated with God: אדיר ‘majestic’ is his name in all the earth; הוד his ‘splendor’ in the heavens is the object of praise. Four terms fit for a king are associated with man: כבוד ‘glory’ andהדר ‘majesty’ are that which God עטרD ‘crowns’ him with; heהמשיל ‘gives’ him ‘reign,’ or ‘rule,’ over all ambient creatures. A similar cluster of terms and themes co-occur in Ps 21, a hymn of praise for divine blessings granted to the king (to be read in conjunction with Ps 20 preceding).
According to Ps 8, God is lord over all. He brooks no rivals. The work of his fingers, the heavenly bodies, are magnificent beyond compare. Yet God made human kind his viceroy, put everything under his feet, such that he is lord over all ambient creatures great and small.
For text and translation, go here.
God’s ‘fingers’ and human ‘feet’: the corporeal details are of the essence of this psalm’s poetry. With all due respect, CEV is a sad excuse for a DE (dynamic equivalence) translation insofar as it changes ‘fingers’ to ‘hands’ in 8:3 and eliminates ‘feet’ in 8:6 (it becomes ‘power’). The old NLT has the abstractifying ‘giving us authority over all things’ in place of the imagination-inspiring ‘you set all things under his feet.’ The new NLT is not much better: ‘putting all things under their authority.’ I do note with appreciation some movement in the right direction.
CEV replaces the traditional rendering of אדיר by ‘majestic’ with the more generic ‘wonderful.’ The tie-in to royalty, as in “Your Majesty,” is thereby eliminated. NLT refrains from this simplification. CEV and NLT both translate ‘splendor’ with the more generic ‘glory.’ It is typical of DE translations to opt for equivalents that are more generic or “brand X” than are the counterparts in the base text.
Both CEV and NLT translate הדר ‘majesty’ with ‘honor.’ The result is a move away from the metaphorical plane of aesthetics, a theological and anthropological locus extraordinaire in the Bible, but a touchy one for prim and proper Christians, to its underlying reference, moral and spiritual dignity and responsibility.
Why are DE translators inclined to reduce metaphors to underlying referents? Is it because metaphors are dangerous? If that’s what they think, they are not amiss. Metaphors are dangerous. They move the heart and not just the mind. Plus, metaphors are hard to control. As Lenin put it, "Trust is good. Control is better." If control is your goal, metaphors are best avoided.
Why are DE translators loathe to translate image-for-image? Is it because the imagination is subject to abuse? A horrifying place where the wild things are?
The imagination – where images are processed and reconstructed - is both of those things. It is not a safe place. Never has been. Never will be. It is also the place where God meets human beings in visions and revelations, in wheels within wheels, astride chariots of fire on the surrounding hills. It is the place where יהוה wades in blood up to his knees, and promises that swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks.
Read the Bible at your own risk. Whoever you are, whether you are a redneck or a tree-hugger, a pacifist or a warmonger, a believer in diffused power or a believer in clear lines of authority: mark this: the Bible is hazardous to your sense of propriety. Especially if you read it in a translation that preserves its metaphors and images.