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Can anyone explain the meaning of "when Thou art judged" in Psalm 50(51):4? This only shows up in translations of the Psalms according to the Septuagint and it appears as though God is being judged which is hard for me to get a grip on.

Psalm 50 (According to the Septuagint numbering)

1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy. According to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out mine iniquity. 2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against Thee only have I sinned, and done evil in Thy sight, that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged.

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    I suspect folks were not sure whether to translate κρίνεσθαί as middle or passive, and it’s an odd infinitive construction. “καὶ νικήσῃς ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε” could just as easily be translated “and prevail when you judge”
    – Dan
    Nov 25, 2023 at 5:37
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    It’s important also to translate Romans 3:4 where this version from the LXX is quoted by Paul
    – Dan
    Nov 25, 2023 at 5:45
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    Thou art righteous in Thy words, Thou art pure in Thy judging. [Young's Literal from the Hebrew] thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. [Webster's from the Hebrew] The Hebrew original is that which is inspired, not the translation by the seventy.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 25, 2023 at 7:24
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    @Nigel J Then why do the NT authors quote also from Septuagint versions? Isn’t the NT inspired? Or, if it is inspired, then do the inspired NT authors quote uninspired Septuagint? Actually, 2/3 of OT quotes in NT come from Septuagint. Nov 25, 2023 at 9:48
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    @Nigel J it is a Mahometan attitude who claim that only Arabic Koran is inspired, then neither NT translations in any other language should be considered inspired, but only Greek. P.s. and when you down-vote, please, substantiate and give reasons, it’s more polite so. Nov 25, 2023 at 11:01

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Let us take this in three steps about the last half of Ps 51:4:

The Hebrew Text

לְ֭מַעַן תִּצְדַּ֥ק בְּדָבְרֶ֗ךָ תִּזְכֶּ֥ה בְשָׁפְטֶֽךָ = that [you] are justified/vindicated when you speak and blameless when you judge

Note what David is saying in this great confession - he wants to clear God's name so that God is justified/vindicated. That is, in the minds of on-lookers, he wants people to have the right impression of God. This arose directly out of David's heinous sin with Bathsheba and Uriah when the Prophet Nathan said to David (2 Sam 12:14):

  • (NKJV) - However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.”
  • (Aramaic) - However, because there will be boasting to the enemies of LORD JEHOVAH in this deed, also the son who will be born to you from her shall surely die”
  • (ASV) - Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.
  • (LXX Breton) - Only because thou hast given great occasion of provocation to the enemies of the Lord by this thing, thy son also that is born to thee shall surely die.

That is, David's actions had caused the surrounding nations to regard the Name of the LORD with contempt. Thus, David's confession recorded in Ps 51 was essential to prevent the other nations from blaspheming God's name.

LXX Text

ὅπως ἄν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου, καὶ νικήσῃς ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε. = That You may be justified in Your words, and will prevail in Your being judged.

This is another of the many thousands of variation between the LXX and MT, but this difference is slight, if it exists at all. The LXX is an allowable (albeit) stretched translation of the Hebrew. Despite this it captures one of the main reasons why Ps 51 was written - to vindicate God.

NT Text of Rom 3:4

Paul, in Rom 3:4 quotes this passage under inspiration by saying:

Ὅπως ἂν δικαιωθῇς ἐν τοῖς λόγοις σου καὶ νικήσεις ἐν τῷ κρίνεσθαί σε = "That You may be justified in Your words, and will prevail in Your being judged." (BLB)

This is quite consistent with all the above and quotes the LXX accurately.

This is also consistent with the NT teaching about the judgement of God by people such as:

  • We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 1 Cor 4:9b.
  • His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Eph 3:10, 11.
  • Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:12.
  • “…your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God's judgment is right…”, 2 Thess 1:4, 5.

The fulfilment of these prophecies is predicted in the book of Revelation:

Rev 16:5 - “Righteous are You, O Holy One, who is and was, because You have brought these judgments.

Rev 16:7 - “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are Your judgments.”

Note that, again, on-lookers are forming judgements about God's justice.

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I have heard such an explanation from one late saintly Orthodox Serbian bishop (I will put it in quotation marks, but I cannot tell the verbatim wording, only the gist of it for it was a live sermon):

"When we shall go to the Final Judgment and start judging the Lord that He did not provide us enough in our lives, deprived us of opportunities, happiness, lead us to misery and griefs, did not give us enough money, enough health, enough good people around us, but rather evil and mean people who inflicted pain upon us, and, moreover, deprived us of a pleasure to see the demise and misfortune of our enemies (for surely we were also cowards being afraid avenging ourselves, which is also bad but not worse than that we pusillanimously expected God to do it on our behalf), and sometimes, on the contrary, inflicted even a greater pain on us by making us see our enemies prosper etc. yes, when we start judging our Lord for all those things, He will show us His wounds that were inflicted upon Him for our love and salvation, He will show all those lovingkindnesses that He did to us and that we have received without any notice or gratitude as something He was due to have done, He will show us all our nasty doings against Him, when we indulged in pleasant sins, and against our neighbors, even the closest people, our hatred, our treasons, and how He forgave all that continuing His benefactions; and then we shall be humbled and He will be justified when He will be judged by us."

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In claiming that "'when Thou art judged' only shows up in translations of the Psalms according to the Septuagint in Psalm 50:4", the need is to state which translations have that. When Psalm 50:4 (according to the Septuagint numbering) is then quoted, is that the Septuagint in English? The translation quoted from really needs to be stated clearly, as some, like me, need to have such details spelled out! I have spent some time searching through my various Old Testament translations in English to see if 'when thou are judged' is in any of them, and it is not.

In my copy of "The Holy Scriptures, Hebrew & English" (the Hebrew Scriptures only) p.1195 has 51:4 as, "...that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest."

Of course, when the Septuagint is used by Paul in his quote in Romans 3:4, that is where "...and mightest overcome when Thou are judged" [or similar] appears (The Companion Bible, Bagster). Its footnote on that phrase says, "Lit. in (Gr. en) Thy being judged (Gr. krino)."

Young's Literal Translation of Romans 3:4 has "...be declared righteous in Thy words, and mayest overcome in Thy being judged."

The 2008 N.L.T. dynamic-equivalence version takes liberties with both texts: "...your judgment against me is just" (Psalm 51:4), and "...you will win your case in court" (Romans 3:4). Its footnote for Psalm 51:4 claims that the "Greek version reads, 'and you will win your case in court.' Cp. Rom 3:4 where Paul quotes the Greek translation of this verse". This seems a bit back to front, with the Septuagint used in Romans 3:4 being the basis for translating Psalm 51:4 as "your judgment against me is just."

However, it is significant that the context of Psalm chapter 51 is David confessing his sin to God, who judged him through Nathan the prophet. Thus the NIV study note on Romans 3:4 says: "...David admitted that God was proved right and would win his case in court - his punishment was entirely just."

This brings in the matter of the apparent difficulty of the Greek Septuagint text implying that God is judged. There's not even any "if" about it; it is "when" God is judged! This is where the context of Paul quoting the Septuagint here is important.

The start of Paul's point is that some of the Jews who had been entrusted with all the oracles / words / revelations / of God had turned out to be unfaithful to this privilege from God. This risked making God out to be a liar, when they were the ones lying, by distorting God's words. That is why Paul emphatically insisted that even if every man was proven to be a liar, God would be found to be true. That fits in beautifully with him quoting the Septuagint of Psalm 50:4, with its implication that God would be judged. Now it becomes obvious why he used it in the context of his argument about the faithfulness and righteousness of God when unfaithful and unrighteous distorters of God's word think to judge God. The sheer audacity of any human thinking they could judge God, yet that is what happens once they start to distort God's word, when they start to question whether God really is faithful and righteous.

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    Sorry, my statement of source was unclear. I have two Orthodox translations of the Psalms from the Septuagint and both use that wording. I looked at perhaps 20 versions on biblegateway.com (i.e. I didn't think any were based on the Septuagint) and all of them had God doing the judging. So, apparently I missed a few. But anyway your final paragraph was helpful in placing the context i.e. OT Jewish religious leaders apparently felt they could judge God. I had read somewhere else that the passage as worded meant when humans judge God but I couldn't imagine who would presume to do so. Nov 25, 2023 at 19:43

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