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We read in Tehillim 2:12 [MT],

"Yearn for Purity, lest He be angry and your-way will perish when suddenly His-wrath will kindle. Happy [are] all who take refuge in-Him" (נַשְּׁקוּ בַ֡ר פֶּן יֶאֱנַ֚ף וְתֹ֬אבְדוּ דֶ֗רֶךְ כִּֽי יִבְעַ֣ר כִּמְעַ֣ט אַפּ֑וֹ אַ֜שְׁרֵ֗י כָּל ח֥וֹסֵי בֽוֹ)

Why do English bibles (KJV, NIV, ESV) change the Ivri phrase "Yearn for Purity" (נַשְּׁקוּ בַר) in Psalm 2:12 to "Kiss the Son" or "Kiss his Son"??


Psalm 2:12 [KJV] "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."

Psalm 2:12 [NIV] "Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him."

Psalm 2:12 [ESV] "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him."

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  • Hint : Translate kiss(ing) and son into Hebrew, and see what you get. – Lucian Nov 19 '20 at 1:10
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The words נשקו בר is a Hebrew idiom, and like many idioms it is impossible to fully translate. To begin, here is a rough word by word translation, although, this sometimes does not explain a phrase fully as in other languages words have different connotations.

נשקו is the male plural imperative form of the verb נָשַׁק which is of the פָעַל form and means, in its most literal sense as "to kiss." The word בר is a Hebrew word which means purity as it is used in the phrase בר לבב in Psalms 24:4. It also comes from the same root, בר״ר, as the word ברור which means pure/clear/obvious/sincerity.

Thus, this Hebrew idiom would be translated word-for-word as "kiss purity." This is not a perfect translation as it is an idiom. Thus, the translation "yearn for purity" is a closer translation to what seems to be the basic meaning of the Hebrew text.

However, some claim that the word בר is in Aramaic, and thus it means "son." This is done to import a Christology even though it is unprecedented as there are no other Aramaic influences on the text, unlike in Proverbs 31:2 which has the word מלכין in the next verse. Thus they translate it as "kiss the son," which would not be the correct translation even if this word was in Aramaic because the definite article ה is missing. If the word בר is taken as Aramaic, then the proper translation should be "kiss a son." This translation seems strange and does not have a credible basis for it.

Since it is a Hebrew idiom, an exact translation may not be possible, so one should look to the context to try to make sense of the translation. The obvious thing to note is that it continues from Psalms 2:10 as a command to some kings. The following is the full quote:

וְ֭עַתָּה מְלָכִ֣ים הַשְׂכִּ֑ילוּ הִ֝וָּסְר֗וּ שֹׁ֣פְטֵי אָֽרֶץ׃ עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה בְּיִרְאָ֑ה וְ֝גִ֗ילוּ בִּרְעָדָֽה׃ נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר פֶּן־יֶאֱנַ֤ף ׀ וְתֹ֬אבְדוּ דֶ֗רֶךְ כִּֽי־יִבְעַ֣ר כִּמְעַ֣ט אַפּ֑וֹ אַ֝שְׁרֵ֗י כָּל־ח֥וֹסֵי בֽוֹ׃ (Psalms 2:10-12)

A translation is as follows:

So now O kings, gain intelligence; accept discipline rulers of the Earth. Serve G-d in fear and be happy while trembling. נשקו בר lest He becomes angry and your way be doomed in a mere second of His anger. Happy are all those who trust in Him.

The command is clearly related to worshipping G-d as it is connected to both serving G-d in fear and the statement that "happy are all those who trust in G-d." Furthermore, serving G-d in fear is seen as a form of intelligence thus connecting to the first line as it says "Fear of G-d is the beginning of knowledge" (Psalms 111:10). Thus these kings are commanded to נשקו בר as it is an intelligent thing to do while worshipping G-d. Furthermore, the verse emphasizes fear as it says "lest He becomes angry." So it is clearly established that נשקו בר is something done while worshipping G-d with fear. Furthermore, this is consistent with the rules of Biblical Hebrew poetry where a single idea is repeated in separate ways twice. This poetry can be illustrated as followed.

Couplet 1:

  1. So now O kings, gain intelligence;
  2. accept discipline rulers of the Earth.

Couplet 2:

  1. Serve G-d in fear and be happy while trembling.
  2. נשקו בר lest He becomes angry and your way be doomed in a mere second of His anger. Happy are all those who trust in Him.

Thus נשקו בר must be something done while worshipping G-d, when you fear Him. Thus in context, the translation of נשקו בר meaning "embrace what is pure" would be logical as it says "Be wholehearted with G-d your G-d" (Deuteronomy 18:13). By contrast, there is no precedent or command to "kiss a son" while worshipping G-d.

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  • Isn't the proper word for embrace חָבַק? – Revelation Lad Nov 28 '20 at 3:04
  • Yes, but it means a physical embrace as in a hug. I explained that its a Hebrew Idiom, "embrace" is just the best translation into English, not a direct word-for-word translation. The Hebrew words also don't have the exact same meanings as their English counterparts as many words have several meanings in both English and Hebrew. – aefrrs Nov 29 '20 at 2:20
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    And not one scholars have recognized. Do you have any examples to support your interpretation? – Revelation Lad Nov 29 '20 at 2:24
  • It's not that complicated. Its mainly a way to translate the Hebrew idiom "kiss purity" which does not have a literal translation, and get something that resembles the Hebrew phrase but is understandable in English. It's a Hebrew idiom that is used in one place. Its an explanation from which most translations come from in some form (except for those which translate "kiss the son"). For example the Koren Jerusalem bible translation uses "worship in purity," JPS uses "Pay homage in good faith" which both come from combining this explanation and the context. – aefrrs Nov 29 '20 at 2:49
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Uncertain Hebrew Phrase
Jewish scholars state the meaning of the phrase נשקו־בר, which the OP states means yearn for purity or kiss the son as in the NIV and others, is uncertain:

d pay homage in good faith,d lest He be angered, and your way be doomed in the mere flash of His anger. Happy are all who take refuge in Him (Psalm 2:12 Tanakh 1985)
פן־יאנף ותאבדו דרך כי־יבער כמעט אפו אשרי כל־חוסי בו d נשקו־בר d

d-d Meaning of Heb. uncertain

The JPS renders the phrase pay homage in good faith; the failure to find either purity or son in the phrase is a reflection of its uncertainty. In the Jewish Study Bible, Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler comment on this:

As noted, the translation in good faith is uncertain. The Heb. word "bar" can also mean "son," especially in Aramaic, and this has sometimes been connected to the divinely adopted son ("ben") in v. 7.1

Often times the Septuagint, likely the earliest translation helps to shed light on the original intent and offers an understanding apart from any Christian influence:

Seize upon instruction, lest the Lord be angry, and you will perish from the righteous way, when his anger quickly blazes out. Happy are all who trust in him. (LXX-Psalm 2:12 NET)

Arguably, "seize upon instruction lest the Lord..." reflects the Torah bias of the Second Temple period by placing an emphasis on "instruction" which is not present. The LXX rendering is not Biblically incorrect; it is just not one present in this specific phrase.2

An early Christian translation and commentary by Jerome affirms the uncertainty:

Jerome was acquainted with the translation Worship the son, but rejected it as doubtful. The passage in his treatise against Ruffinus (i. 19) deserves quotation. He had been charged with inconsistency for translating Worship purely (adorate pure) in his Psalter, though he had given Worship the son (adorate filium) in his Commentary. After discussing the possible meanings of the words he concludes thus: “Why am I to blame, if I have given different translations of an ambiguous word? and while in my short commentary where there is opportunity for discussion I had said Worship the Son, in the text itself, to avoid all appearance of forced interpretation, and to leave no opening for Jewish cavils, I have said, Worship purely, or choicely; as Aquila also and Symmachus have translated it.”3

He describes the term as ambiguous which he rendered "worship purely" and knew "worship the son" was possible. Thus, there is good historical evidence to support contemporary scholarship which maintains the meaning is uncertain.

The NIV Translation
While the phrase is uncertain even the LXX understands the Psalmist has some instruction in view:

Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (NIV)

The NIV Study Bible gives an explanation for this translation:

2:12 Kiss. As a sign of submission (see 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 19:18; Hosea 13:2; see also note on Genesis 41:40). Submission to an Assyrian king was expressed by kissing his feet. he...his...him. Most likely the reference is to "the LORD" (v. 11), who anointed "the Son."4

Understanding בר as "son" makes for a logical progression: son...he will be angry...his wrath...refuge in him. It may be argued this reflects a Christian bias, yet בר is "son" in Proverbs 31:2, where the son is, or will be a king. In addition, the use of a single Aramaic word in the midst of Hebrew is found in Genesis 31:47.

Therefore, the NIV position is one in which the meaning is consistent with another accepted use of בר as a royal son5, the complete verse, and entire Psalm (see below).

bar as Aramaic
The rendering of son effectively reads the consonants בר as בַ֡ר (Aramaic for son) rather than as בַּר (Hebrew for clean or pure). The NET translation is similar to that of the JPS and includes a note to explain the decision not to use son:

Give sincere homage.33 Otherwise he will be angry, and you will die because of your behavior, when his anger quickly ignites. How blessed are all who take shelter in him!

33 tn Traditionally, “kiss the son” (KJV). But בַּר (bar) is the Aramaic word for “son,” not the Hebrew. For this reason many regard the reading as suspect. Some propose emendations of vv. 11b-12a. One of the more popular proposals is to read בִּרְעָדָה נַשְּׁקוּ לְרַגְלָיו (birʿadah nashqu lraglayv, “in trembling kiss his feet”). It makes better sense to understand בַּר (bar) as an adjective meaning “pure” (see Pss 24:4; 73:1 and BDB 141 s.v. בַּר 3) functioning here in an adverbial sense. If read this way, then the syntactical structure of exhortation (imperative followed by adverbial modifier) corresponds to the two preceding lines (see v. 11). The verb נָשַׁק (nashaq, “kiss”) refers metonymically to showing homage (see 1 Sam 10:1; Hos 13:2). The exhortation in v. 12a advocates a genuine expression of allegiance and warns against insincerity. When swearing allegiance, vassal kings would sometimes do so insincerely, with the intent of rebelling when the time was right. The so-called “Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon” also warn against such an attitude. In this treaty the vassal is told: “If you, as you stand on the soil where this oath [is sworn], swear the oath with your words and lips [only], do not swear with your entire heart, do not transmit it to your sons who will live after this treaty, if you take this curse upon yourselves but do not plan to keep the treaty of Esarhaddon…may your sons and grandsons because of this fear in the future” (see J. B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East, 2:62).6

Arguably the NET attempts to avoid the claim of Christian bias by give sincere homage. Yet it is significant that despite the uncertainty in the phrase, historically translators agree a definite action such as seize, worship, kiss, or pay homage is instructed. In other words, "yearn for purity" or "embrace what is pure" convey a lesser and primarily, inward response. This misstates the nature of what is required. The exact meaning of the Hebrew may be uncertain, yet a strong response directed away from self is present.

The command, נָשַׁק means to kiss. Hence, a rendering of "kiss" is literally correct and logically a kiss is given to a person. "Most modern scholars classify this psalm as a royal psalm, and connect it to other psalms concerning kings."7 As the NET translation note shows, paying homage to a king was done with a kiss. Therefore, if the son is understood to be royalty, then kiss the son...blessed are all who take refuge in him is a reasonable translation.

Conclusion
The phrase begins with "to kiss..." or "to pay homage..." or even "to worship...". It instructs others to take action which is logically directed toward another, not an inward reflection. It is historically accurate to see the action consistent with the treatment of a person of royalty. The use of the Aramaic term would be unusual, but is found elsewhere. In fact the undisputed use of בר as "son" in Proverbs applies to Lemuel, who is, or will become a king.

In terms of the entire Psalm, a deliberate use of the Aramaic does compliment the opening:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed... (Psalm 2:1-2 ESV)

Taken as an Aramaic term, the Psalm ends with an implied address to the nations, not Israel, to kiss the son so as to avoid destruction and be blessed as are all who take refuge in him.

Finally, the Psalm begins (vv. 1-3) by describing the nations rebellion against YHVH and His anointed. The presence of an anointed "other" forms the basis of the prophetic oracle (vv. 6-9) and the Psalm ends (vv. 10-12) speaking to the nations as if they were present.8If "son" is not present in this address, then the ending is stripped of YHVH's anointed who, clearly, is an important, if not the main focus of the Psalm. That is to say, yearn for purity would leave the reader wondering "What became of YHVH's anointed?" while instructing the nations "kiss the son" who is YHVH's anointed, is a proper ending to the Psalm in its entirety.


Notes:

  1. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 1286
  2. Seize upon instruction is not necessarily an invention by the LXX translator(s). There are Christian and Jewish traditions (variants of Acts 13:33 and Talmud, b. Ber 9b-10a) which show Psalm 2 was a continuation of Psalm 1. If that were the case, then seize upon instruction would be consistent with the reference to torah in (1:2).
  3. Cambridge Bible Commentary.
  4. NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised, Revision Editors Kenneth L. Barker, John H. Stek, Walter W. Wessel, Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan, 2002, p. 1054
  5. As in another answer, it can be argued the "the" son is inaccurate as the definite article ה is missing: as such the proper translation would be "a" son. However, that position is over simplistic as often times in Scripture the definite nature of what is written is obvious despite the lack of the article. It is particularly unconvincing in this Psalm; for example in verse 7, חק is universally understood as "the" decree despite the absence of ה.
  6. NET translation note
  7. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, p. 1284
  8. Ibid.
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This is a problematic verse in the Hebrew. Commentators are agreed that "Kiss the Son" is NOT the sense but deciding what should be the translation is much more difficult.

Reasons why "Kiss the Son" is incorrect.

The problems with the tradition rendering (in English) are summarised by the Cambridge commentary:

  1. Kiss the Son] According to this rendering the exhortation to serve Jehovah is followed by an exhortation to pay homage to His representative. For the kiss of homage cp. 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Kings 19:18; Job 31:27; Hosea 13:2. But this rendering must certainly be abandoned, (1) Not to mention some minor difficulties, it assumes that the Psalmist has used the Aramaic word bar for son (cp. Bar-jona, Bar-Jesus) instead of the usual Hebrew word ben. The only example of its use in the Hebrew of the O.T. (it is of course found in the Aramaic of Ezra and Daniel) is in Proverbs 31:2, a passage which contains other marked Aramaisms. No satisfactory reason has been suggested for its introduction here. We should not expect a poet to borrow a foreign word for son either for ‘emphasis’ or for ‘euphony.’

Ellicott has similar remarks.

What is the "correct" translation?

This is a more difficult question. As the Cambridge commentary observes:

It is however easier to shew that the rendering Kiss the Son is untenable, than to decide what rendering should be adopted.

According to Ellicott:

The most consistent rendering is, therefore, proffer pure homage (to Jehovah), lest he be angry. It may be added that the current of Rabbinical authority is against our Authorised version. Thus R. Solomon: “Arm yourselves with discipline;” (so, with a slight variation, one of the latest commentators, E. Reuss: “Arm yourselves with loyalty”;) another Rabbi: “Kiss the covenant”; another, “Adore the corn.” Among the best of modern scholars, Hupfeld renders “yield sincerely”; Ewald, “receive wholesome warning”; Hitzig, “submit to duty”; Gratz (by emendation), “give good heed to the warning.”

There is also this warning from the Cambridge commentary:

No rendering is free from difficulty, and it may be doubted whether the text is sound. But an exaggerated importance has frequently been attached to the words. The uncertainty as to their meaning does not affect the general drift of the Psalm, or its Messianic interpretation.

I agree - the overall intent is clear - Ps 2 is clearly Messianic encouraging all to worship the LORD and the Lord Messiah.

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The JPS translation of the Tanakh translates it, "pay homage in good faith," with a note "meaning of Heb. uncertain." The LXX translates it δράξασθε παιδείας (embrace instruction) and the Vulgate similarly adprehendite disciplinam. "Kiss the son" seems to be translating נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר as Aramaic or later Hebrew rather than the language at the time of King David.

However, Aramaic words may also reflect language older than David. Son is also בַ֡ר (𐤁𐤓) in Phoenician, and našāqu (נַשְּׁקוּ) is kiss in Akkadian as well as Aramaic. David did borrow some psalms after altering them.

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