Many (56) of the Greek Psalms begin (in what is the superscript in English on most chapters, not represented at all in a few):

Εἰς τὸ τέλος.

This is a mystery to me. The NETS translates it, Regarding completion. Brenton: For the end or, occasionally, For the End. But most of them have no obvious eschatalogic theme nor any clear connection to 'completion.'

In every case, this corresponds to the Hebrew:

To the leader. (NRSV)

This connection is even more mysterious. I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that the word looks suspiciously like a piel participle from נצח whence comes the adverb נֶצַח (more often לָנֶצַח) which is (I think consistently in the psalms?) translated εἰς τέλος, e.g:

Ἕως πότε, κύριε, ἐπιλήσῃ μου εἰς τέλος; (LXX, Rahlfs, 12:2)
How long, O Lord, will you totally forget me? (NETS, 12:2)
How long, O Lord, wilt thou forget me? for ever? (Brenton, 12:1)
עַד־אָ֣נָה יְ֭הוָה תִּשְׁכָּחֵ֣נִי נֶ֑צַח (BHS, 13:2)
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? (NRSV,* 13:1)

If the mem is ‘substantivizing’ נצח, I can vaguely see how this relates an adverbial phrase that means ‘completely’ (to the Greek translator, if the NETS reading is accepted) with a noun meaning ‘completion’ (with the article to emphasize its noun-ness I suppose). However, as far as I see that’s not how any translation understands the Hebrew, which apparently derives its meaning from a verb that has something to do with directing music.

What does Εἰς τὸ τέλος mean on top of the psalms, and how is it related to the Hebrew?

(Bonus points for resolving the issue in the footnote.)

*Included because the NETS has a stated policy of sticking to the NRSV unless they have reason to believe that the Greek translator meant something else. (Stated more eloquently there: ‘...all modifications of the NRSV should reflect as closely as possible what meaningful differences exist between the Greek and Hebrew texts and, conversely, no departures from the NRSV should be introduced without good reason....a useful modus operandi might be: "Retain what you can, but change what you must.”’) In light of that, I’m very curious about this (very consistent) decision to depart from the most obvious reading of the Hebrew, the NRSV, and Brenton. Even, e.g., (English) 49:9: 'that one should live on forever' → 'and will yet live completely.’

  • I am not sure I understood your question, but it seems as though the validity of the translations behind the Greek "εἰς τέλος" and the Hebrew "נצח" are fair game. Is this the direction of your inquiry? May 28, 2015 at 5:59

1 Answer 1


Proposed Answer: (A.) The Greek "τέλος" is translated differently from "εἰς τέλος", (a figure of speech), which is a valid translation of the Hebrew, נצח, (fulfillment, consummation, finish line). (B.) "נצח" is itself questionably translated as "Choir". (C.) However, In the verses of each of the Psalms themselves, this parallel, and this meaning, are evidently observed. And it is certain that "εἰς τέλος" is a very suitable, semantic, translation for "נצח", (though perhaps not a suitable "pragmatic" translation--if indeed "נצח" should be translated as "Choir").

NOTE 1: This phrase, (figure of speech), "εἰς τέλος", occurs frequently in classical Greek, in this sense, and probably how the translators justified this translation. (I can provide references if there is interest.)

NOTE 2: "εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα" is very similar to "εἰς τέλος"--but is not equivalent as seen in Psalms 49:9.

εἰς τέλος and נצח Connote Fulfillment of Time, a Predefined Course

From Brown-Driver-Briggs: "εἰς τὸ τέλος (probably לַמִּנְצָח) follows ordinary meaning of noun נֵצַח, which may be explained in eschatological sense as referring to end of age of world after Euseb Theod; or for full rendering after De; neither satisfactory."

The LXX Consistently Translates "נצח" as "εἰς τέλος"

The LXX consistently translates the Hebrew "נצח" with the Greek "τέλος"1 within the content of the Psalms.

Psa 9:1 -

εἰς τὸ τέλος ὑπὲρ τῶν κρυφίων τοῦ υἱοῦ ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ ἐξομολογήσομαί σοι κύριε ἐν ὅλῃ καρδίᾳ μου διηγήσομαι πάντα τὰ θαυμάσιά σου

למנצח עלמות לבן מזמור לדוד׃ אודה יהוה בכל־לבי אספרה כל־נפלאותיך׃

Psa. 9:6 -

τοῦ ἐχθροῦ ἐξέλιπον αἱ ῥομφαῖαι εἰς τέλος καὶ πόλεις καθεῖλες ἀπώλετο τὸ μνημόσυνον αὐτῶν μετ᾽ ἤχους

האויב ׀ תמו חרבות לנצח וערים נתשת אבד זכרם המה׃

Psa 9:18 -

ὅτι οὐκ εἰς τέλος ἐπιλησθήσεται ὁ πτωχός ἡ ὑπομονὴ τῶν πενήτων οὐκ ἀπολεῖται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα

כי לא לנצח ישכח אביון תקות [ענוים כ] (עניים ק) תאבד לעד׃

Psa 10:11 -

εἶπεν γὰρ ἐν καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ ἐπιλέλησται ὁ θεός ἀπέστρεψεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ τοῦ μὴ βλέπειν εἰς τέλος

אמר בלבו שכח אל הסתיר פניו בל־ראה לנצח׃

Psa 16:11 -

ἐγνώρισάς μοι ὁδοὺς ζωῆς πληρώσεις με εὐφροσύνης μετὰ τοῦ προσώπου σου τερπνότητες ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ σου εἰς τέλος

ודיעני ארח חיים שבע מחות את־פניך נעמות בימינך נצח׃

Psa 18:35 -

καὶ ἔδωκάς μοι ὑπερασπισμὸν σωτηρίας μου καὶ ἡ δεξιά σου ἀντελάβετό μου καὶ ἡ παιδεία σου ἀνώρθωσέν με εἰς τέλος καὶ ἡ παιδεία σου αὐτή με διδάξει

The LXX significantly differs from the Hebrew

Psa 44:23 -

ἐξεγέρθητι ἵνα τί ὑπνοῖς κύριε ἀνάστηθι καὶ μὴ ἀπώσῃ εἰς τέλος

עורה ׀ למה תישן ׀ אדני הקיצה אל־תזנח לנצח׃

Psa 49:9 -

καὶ ἐκόπασεν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ζήσεται εἰς τέλος ὅτι οὐκ ὄψεται καταφθοράν ὅταν ἴδῃ σοφοὺς ἀποθνῄσκοντας

ויחי־עוד נצח לא יראה השחת׃

Psa 52:5 -

διὰ τοῦτο ὁ θεὸς καθελεῖ σε εἰς τέλος ἐκτίλαι σε καὶ μεταναστεύσαι σε ἀπὸ σκηνώματος καὶ τὸ ῥίζωμά σου ἐκ γῆς ζώντων διάψαλμα

גם־אל יתצך לנצח יחתך ויסחך מאהל ושרשך מארץ חיים סלה׃

Psa 68:16 -

ἵνα τί ὑπολαμβάνετε ὄρη τετυρωμένα τὸ ὄρος ὃ εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς κατοικεῖν ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ γὰρ ὁ κύριος κατασκηνώσει εἰς τέλος

למה ׀ תרצדון הרים גבננים ההר חמד אלהים לשבתו אף־יהוה ישכן לנצח׃

  • I thought this was a useful answer and have upvoted it. Many thanks. I am mystified why it was so savagely downvoted!
    – Dottard
    Jan 2 at 11:03

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