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In Psalms 46-10 (Christian versions) or 46:11 (in Jewish versions), is the phrase

 הרפו ודעו כי אנכי אלֹהים

In most English Bible translations

הרפו

is translated as

Be still .

With the exception of the NASB, giving a much more precise translation.

Naturally, of course, the JPS has the most precise translation - and perhaps, the Beatles read the Hebrew Bible while they authored their song "Let it be".

I understand

הרפו

to mean

  • relax y'all,
  • slacken y'all or
  • let go y'all.

I cannot see it having the meaning Be still.

A couple of Christians I spoke to have defended the translations as saying "Be Still" means "to relax". I don't buy that because I have seen televangelists preaching to the tune of

Be still! Shut up and don't move until the lord has done his work.

To me, הרפו should be read as

Relax, go on with your business, go where you need to go, stay where you need to stay and stop being tense. Don't worry because I am.

Therefore, the verse is far from telling people to "be still". To me, it is spiritually important that people get the message clearly that their Creator is telling them to "relax" rather than "be stiff and shaddup".

Question

Why do the Christian bibles translate it as Be still? Why don't they translate it more precisely as "relax", or "let it be"?

Are there some theological arguments or principles that would be violated if it was translated as "relax"? Bearing in mind the frequency of disagreement between Christian, Jewish translators and Linguists on the meaning of words - such that the choice of translation of the Jewish section of the Bible must be subjected to the interpretation due to the theological assertions of 1st century Christian scriptures.

Perhaps, it is to ensure the continued meaning of the wonderful hymn that I enjoy humming frequently? That is, so that this classic hymn continues to be relevant? Imagine singing "Relax and know ..." Which I think is improbable.

Perhaps, most probably, Christianity is holding evidence that "Be still" is a better translation. What is that evidence, I pray thee?

Perhaps, "relax" is too informal a word to be used in the Bible? Too colloquial? To much of a "street language"? To that I would ask - Wasn't Koine Greek a more colloquialized derivative of classical Greek?

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The way you've phrased your question, it looks a more like you're picking a fight than simply asking a question. Your tone is pugnative, and your assumptions of what those who disagree with you might say coupled with your rebuttals of those responses do not suit themselves well for this site. The idea here is to ask honest questions in a civil manner. Could you pair down the question, deleting some of your musings? I am eager to answer the basic question here about Psalm 46:10—but not to get into a debate about Christian versus Jewish translations. –  Kazark Sep 4 '12 at 1:38
1  
"Could you pair down the question" - Pare down. –  Blessed Geek Sep 28 '12 at 1:02
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Some Jewish translations do translate it that way, actually. Mechon Mamre (based on the Masoretic text with JPS 1917) has "let be", and this version has "desist".

I think part of the problem is that the English word "still" is not unambiguous. "Still" can mean both "stationary, motionless" and "calm" -- when you say "be still my heart" you surely don't mean for it to stop pumping, and "still waters" doesn't just mean lakes. The Wiktionary entry supports both meanings. I do not know if one meaning was more common than the other when the psalm was first translated into English; that might be a question better asked on English Language and Usage.

I think we can understand הרפו as meaning "calm yourself" or "relax" or "let be", which are meanings that the word "still" sometimes has. The Jewish translations I cited were done more recently than King James, so they are more likely to use language that reflects current usage and idioms. Why do recent Christian translations use "still" (assuming they do)? Perhaps tradition? Perhaps because there were already hymns with that scansion? "Still" isn't wrong; it's just less precise than the others.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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I've also heard it translated as "cease striving" –  Daи Jan 10 '13 at 15:57
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Psalm 46 and 47 are usually (by which I mean A. S. Hartum, M. D. Cassutto) understood as exhortations sung in Israelite worship but addressed to the nations.

The first stanza (verses 1-3) introduces G-d, our shelter from trouble. The second stanza (4-5) contrasts the tumult of the nature with the quiet of a river that will in the future flow through the city of G-d. The third stanza (6-9) compares the tumult of war with the tumult of the forces of nature that G-d controls and claims that G-d is with the House of Jacob in times of war.

Up to this point the psalm is descriptive. The last stanza (verses 10-11) is an imperative sequitur addressed to the nations: "Stop [your wars and your scheming (against us)] and know that "I am the Lord"...

Compare the use of "harpu" in this psalm with a parallel imperative construction to which I think this verse alliterates, "heref mimenu v'ashmidem" הרף ממני ואשמידם ואמחה את שמם מתחת השמים ואעשה אותך לגוי עצום in Deuteronomy 9:14. See also Judges 11:37. (There are about 30 other instances in the OT, in various forms, mostly not imperative.)

In this sense "harpu" is "desist!", here addressed to the nations.

Note that the Cambridge NEB translates "Let it be", though probably not in the sense that the Beatles intended, more likely in the sense of "Drop it buddy, let it be!".

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