What is the current scholarly opinion on the possible translations for "Selah" (סֶלָה‎) as used in the Psalms?

5 Answers 5


Per Strong's, the word itself means to lift up, exalt.

However, when we see it used in Psalms (per the question), it's accepted that this is a musical term used to accentuate the passage, pause or show interruption. (Again, this is per Strong's.)

Psalms 3:1-2 (NASB)
1 O LORD, how my adversaries have increased!
Many are rising up against me.
2 Many are saying of my soul,
“There is no deliverance for him in God.”

Gesenius's Lexicon shows that this term is probably used for rest or silence:

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Wikipedia has a much longer discussion about this one word (including many different opinions).


There is no consensus as to the etymology or what the word Selah might actually "mean". The only think scholars seem to agree on is that it ancillary to the text, probably indicating something musical, a paragraph marker or some other information other than a word within the sentences.

Here's part of the entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia. It goes into the various theories of the origin and meaning of the word (which throws light on why it is sometimes rendered "lift up" or "pause" or what have you.

"...Nor is there greater unanimity among modern scholars than among the ancient versions. Only on one point there agreement, namely, that "Selah" has no grammatical connection with the text. It is either a liturgico-musical mark or a sign of another character with a bearing on the reading or the verbal form of the text. As thirty-one of the thirty-nine psalms with the caption "To the choir-master []" present "Selah," the musical value of the mark has been regarded as well assured. In keeping with this it has been assigned to the root , as an imperative that should properly have been vocalized , "Sollah" (Ewald, "Kritische Grammatik der Hebräischen Sprache,"p. 554; König, "Historisch-Kritisches Lehrgebäude der Hebräischen Sprache," ii., part i., p. 539). The meaning of this imperative is given as "Lift up," equivalent to "loud" or "fortissimo," a direction to the accompanying musicians to break in at the place marked with crash of cymbals and blare of trumpets, the orchestra playing an interlude while the singers' voices were hushed. The effect, as far as the singer was concerned, was to mark a pause. This significance, too, has been read into the expression or sign, "Selah" being held to be a variant of "shelah" (="pause"). But as the interchange of "shin" and "samek" is not usual in Biblical Hebrew, and as the meaning "pause" is clearly inapplicable in the middle of a verse or where a pause would interrupt the sequence of thought, this proposition has met with little favor. Neither has that which proposes to treat it as a loan-word from the Greek ψάλλε = "strike the harp," etc.

Grätz ("Kritischer Commentar zu den Psalmen," i. 93 et seq.) argues that "Selah" introduces a new paragraph as it were, a transition in thought, and also in some instances a quotation (e.g., Ps. lvii. 8 et seq. from cviii. 2 et seq.). The fact that the term occurs four times at the end of a psalm would not weigh against this theory. As stated above, the Psalms were meant to be read in sequence, and, moreover, many of them are fragments; indeed, Ps. ix. is reckoned one with Ps. x. in the Septuagint, which omits διάψαλμα also at the end of Ps. iii., xxiv., and xlvi. B. Jacob (l.c.) concludes (1) that since no etymological explanation is possible, "Selah" signifies a pause in or for the Temple song; and (2) that its meaning was concealed lest the Temple privileges should be obtained by the synagogues or perhaps even by the churches.

More Liturgical than Musical. Another series of explanations is grounded on the assumption that its signification is liturgical rather than musical. It marks the place, and is an appeal, for the bystanders to join in with a eulogistic response. Briggs ("Jour. Bib. Lit." 1899, p. 142) accepts the etymology and grammatical explanation given above, i.e., that "Selah" is a cohortative imperative, meaning "Lift up [your benediction]," the eulogy with which psalms or sections of psalms were concluded. One would expect the imperative to be in the plural if the address was to more than one bystander. However, Briggs' explanation indicates the line along which the mystery connected with this term or combination of consonants is to be removed. It has been suspected that "Selah" is an artificial word formed from initials...



Perhaps, an answer of sorts would exist in other musical/ poetic traditions of the middle east in general. It's highly likely there may be a trace of the art/tech of its usage evident in other musical traditions of area. Contemplative poetry is I believe still a high cultural value in the middle east in general....? (Coleman Barks may be best example of this for westerners?) Also, music that provokes religious feeling is a technology that combines the use of both halves of brain. A pause may be for processing to take place. A good musician... Sensitive to his / her audience would pause for feedback from audience? Not being a musician of that sort I can only imagine it would be a very subtle art?

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    Welcome to our Biblical Hermeneutics site, Phil! I can't help but notice you raise more questions than the question itself. ;-) We're looking for more complete answers (such as Richard's), so this is more of a comment than a real answer. If you'd like, I can convert it for you or, if you'd prefer, you could edit it some more to fill out a complete answer. Please see How to Answer. Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 17:12
  • As a comment however, your first sentence is an excellent suggestion. By the way, @JonEricson , members with less than 50 points (I think it is 50) are not permitted to comment.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 23, 2018 at 0:27

I believe this word to come from a more ancient language, such as Gaez. kimrandall is correct about the modern prayer ending, amen, which is not an ancient word for prayers, unless you are praying to the diety "Amen Rah". Amen at the end of prayer was introduced to shorten the use of "let it be so". I learned this from an old dictionary from my school library while in university which I do not possess and therefore cannot cite. Yet, as God as my witness, I read it.


I did a word study on Selah over the past few dozen months.

In summary, for me it means to "Lift up" the scripture it is referenced next to. The Jews still raise the Torah before it is read - and these Selah passages are noted for even higher lifting. There is a transformation in the heart of the inspired Psalmists - if you look closely.

For details, see the full write up.

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    Hello, Jerry, and thanks for your post - as noted, if you could provide us more information so that your contribution can "stand on its own feet." If you just provide us your views, then anyone can assume that you derived your ideas from just watching television. If you could provide us some connections to the text so that your views do not become your views so to speak, but the apparent views of the Biblical Texts. Thanks!
    – Joseph
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 0:54
  • Thanks for the feedback. Joseph - please see the link for how I derived my understanding of the word. disciplestoday.org/bible-study/digging-deeper/… Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 3:18

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