Is This How We Should Do Exegesis?: A Biblical Case Study

Here's but one example of how the New Testament uses a mistranslated word from which a faulty interpretation of the Old Testament is made, adapted from a previous post and highlighted for discussion. Is this not stupid? Is this not a problem for inerrancy?

Let's take a good look at Psalm 8:3-8 (New American Standard Bible, NASB). What we'll find is a mistranslated word, a misinterpreted Psalm, and a pre-scientific cosmology:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,

The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;

The Psalmist is not conceiving of the type of universe we do today, as we’ve seen…by far.

What is man that You take thought of him,

And the son of man that You care for him?

Notice this is a case of Hebrew parallelism for future reference below. The first phrase is paralleled by the second one, even though no parallel phrase is exactly similar in all respects. “Man" = "son of man”; “thought of” = “care for.” This is basic wisdom literature exegesis here.

So if by the word “man” the Biblical writer thought of the phrase “son of man,” then this same phrase, when applied to Jesus, must mean little more than what it means here. If, however, the phrase “son of man,” when applied to Jesus, means “son of God,” then all human beings should be considered "sons of God.”

According to Bruce Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, "the phrase such as 'son of X' means 'having the qualities of X.' Thus the 'son of man' would mean having the qualities of man, hence human." [Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 2nd ed, p. 408).

In any case, Hebrews 2 is obviously a misinterpretation of this Psalm, since Hebrews claims Psalm 8 is speaking exclusively about Jesus as the “son of man” in comparison to angels (a comparison made throughout Hebrews), whereas Psalm 8 is really speaking about how human beings rule over creation, who are just a little lower than God himself in status. The Hebrews writer misunderstood Psalms 8 to be primarily messianic, about Jesus, but there is no reason to read it as such in the Psalm itself…none!

The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (2:784), admits of the Hebrews writer: "No doubt the familiar messianic designation “Son of Man” (v. 6) contributed to this understanding." Or, shall I more correctly say, misunderstanding!

Yet You have made him a little lower than God,

And You crown him with glory and majesty!

Again, a Hebrew parallelism. God is crowned with unique glory and majesty that none other receives, so also God crowns man with glory and majesty no other creation receives.

Here’s how the Hebrew writer understood this verse, according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary: "while total dominion over the created order is not yet His, Jesus is at last seen as crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death. The One so crowned was made a little lower than the angels for the very purpose of dying, that is, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. This last statement is best understood as the purpose of the Lord’s being made lower than the angels in His Incarnation." Again, there is no reason to read the Psalm this way…none! If anyone else misinterpreted a text in this manner Christians themselves would laugh at him or her.

Psalm 8:5 uses the word Elohim translated "God" (NASB) whereas the Hebrews writer followed the Septuagint (LXX) in translating this word αγγελους “angels.” Thus in Psalms 8 we find that human beings were created as God’s ruler-representatives on earth, over all his creation, although lower than God. But in Hebrews we read that it's Jesus who was made lower than “the angels” in the incarnation, so that he could redeem mankind. Thus Hebrews interpretation is fundamentally flawed based on this mistranslated word.

Evangelicals want to affirm the fact that since the author of Hebrews (2:7) renders the word "Elohim" (God or gods) as αγγελους (angels) it establishes the intended meaning of Psalm 8:5. But this opinion is nothing different than saying: "The Bible said it; I believe it; that settles it." It’s just illegitimate to claim to have a correct understanding of an original Hebrew word by referring exclusively to a Greek translation of that word. It's also illegitimate to take a particular passage out of context and claim to properly understand that passage. Hebrews 2 is clearly based on a misinterpretation of the text of Psalm 8, as well as a mistranslation of a word in it. Is the LXX inspired when it translates "Elohim" (God or gods) as αγγελους (angels)? Tell me! And does inspiration guarantee that what the Bible says is accurate even when it can clearly be shown to be incorrect? How is this even possible?

Biblical scholar Hector Avalos informs me about the translation of Elohim and wrote this:
The translation of 'elohim’ as "god(s)" in Psalm 8:5 (English; verse numbers may differ in some translations) is not controversial anymore, and is accepted in the following translations:

NRSV: "lower than God."
REV: "less than a god"
NAB: "less than a god"
NJB: "less than a god."

To be more literally accurate, "less than the gods" would be better because Elohim is plural.

This is also the opinion of Mitchell Dahood, the Catholic biblical scholar, in his commentary on the Psalms I:-1-50 (Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 1965), p. 51. He translates it, "Yet you have made him a little less than the gods" on p. 48.
Man was created a little lower than the gods, which reflects a polytheistic religious viewpoint. In order to soften the polytheistic implications of this the translators do some interesting things with this Hebrew word.

You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet,

Again Hebrew parallelism. Notice the phrase “works of Your hands” here. That phrase can only parallel the earlier phrase “the work of Your fingers” in verse 3 above, and this refers to “the heavens,” which include “the moon and the stars.”

Only one evangelical conclusion about the central role of man can come from for a correct reading of Psalm 8, human beings are the highest creation, above angels, and any other alien life form.

All sheep and oxen,

And also the beasts of the field,

The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,

Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

This is what the Psalmist thought all creation involved. It’s crystal clear he said mankind rules over all the works of God’s hands earlier, and here he tells us what this means. There are no references to aliens or angels or galxies far far away. He just didn’t think of them, or they just didn’t compare to the status of mankind. But it is surely refective of a prescientific cosmology, and as such, considered as disconfirming evidence that there is a God behind the human words in the Bible.