1

Psalm 109:6 New International Version:

Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand.

King James Bible:

Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.

Which version is better?

3 Answers 3

1

This question is contentious precisely because there is no hard and fast grammatical rule to distinguish "accuser" (a general noun) from "Satan" (a proper name). Let us examine the data:

שָׂטָן (satan)

The Hebrew word שָׂטָן definitely means "adversary", or, "accuser" and occurs 27 times in the OT. [Note: it occurs 36 times in the Greek NT and is always a proper name.] Of the 27 times in OT, many are obviously "adversary" or "accuser", eg, Num 22:22, 32, 1 Sam 29:4, 2 Sam 19:22, 1 Kings 5:4, 11:4, 23, 25, Ps 109:6. All these lack the article הַ and all are simply an "accuser" or "adversary" without being specific.

However, many are obviously "Satan" as in 1 Chron 21:1, Job 1:6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 2:1, 2, 3, 6, 7, Zech 3:1. All of these have הַשָּׂטָ֖ן with the article, except the first and last (1 Chron 21:1 & Zech 3:1 which are שָׂטָ֖ן, ie, inarticular) .

One or two in both lists are debatable.

Note that, as @Robert correctly points out, a Hebrew noun does not need the article to be a proper noun such as, "David" in, Ruth 4:17, 22, 1 Sam 16:13, 19, 20, 21, 23, 17:12, etc. [In fact, i could find no occurrences of "David" with the article הַ .]

I agree with the bulk of modern translation that in Ps 109:6, שָׂטָן should be translated, "an accuser" because it is parallel to the first part of the verse as follows:

  • Appoint a wicked person over him,
  • And may an accuser stand at his right hand.

Neither reference to "wicked person", or, "an accuser", is specific.

2

The Hebrew reads, הַפְקֵ֣ד עָלָ֣יו רָשָׁ֑ע וְ֝שָׂטָ֗ן יַעֲמֹ֥ד עַל־יְמִינֽוֹ׃

If King David had intended to mean a specific wicked man he would have written הָרָשָׁ֑ע and by analogy, if he had meant a specific accuser, he would have written וְ֝הַשָׂטָ֗ן putting the letter ה before the word.

Therefore The New International Version is to be preferred.

1
  • rarely does Hebrew use articles with proper names, so there is no reason to expect this here. Satan is a proper name, it's not a "specific accuser" anymore than Hevel is a "specific breath". It's just a name that is also a noun -- something not unusual in Hebrew. Speaking of David, for example, we have 1 Sam 16.19 -- no article. 1 Sam 16.23 -- no article for either Saul or David. Etc. It's just wrong to suggest that if he meant Satan, then an article is required.
    – Robert
    Sep 5, 2021 at 16:18
2

It is up to translator preference, as there is no capitalization or separate treatment of proper names in Hebrew and Satan just means "accuser".

I also fail to see how the meaning would be different in either translation. Those preferring Satan see an allusion to Christ as per Zechariah 3.1:

Then he showed me Joshua [Yeshua] the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.

Those who think it is an unknown accuser don't see this allusion.

At the end of the day, as the grammar allows for both interpretations, it will depend on the theology.

Update

In response to some of the other answers, it's important to understand that Satan does not mean "a specific accuser" anymore than Hevel means "a specific breath". Satan, like Hevel, is a proper name that means "accuser" just as Hevel means "breath". Thus there is always ambiguity as to whether the common or proper noun is meant, as these are effectively two senses for the same word, and they both appear with and without an article in both senses.

8
  • +1 would you oppose KJV's capitalizing "satan"?
    – user35953
    Sep 5, 2021 at 14:34
  • No, because in the English language, proper names are capitalized. KJV is a translation into English. @TonyChan
    – Robert
    Sep 5, 2021 at 14:48
  • Do you speak Hebrew? :)
    – user35953
    Sep 5, 2021 at 14:51
  • I study Biblical Hebrew, it's not my native language
    – Robert
    Sep 5, 2021 at 14:52
  • NIV's English "an accuser" means the specific person of Satan himself?
    – user35953
    Sep 5, 2021 at 14:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.