“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”

My son, age 8, is progressing through a workbook introducing him to Bible truths.  He came and asked me a question, since he was a bit puzzled how to answer the workbook’s question.  The topic in the workbook is “Giving God Glory.”  And it  references Psalm 29:2.  It asked, “What do you think it means to ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness?‘”

My son’s request for help was intriguing.  He said, “I know what it means.  But, I don’t know what it means.”

Obviously, the original text is poetry.  However, the translation follows the original language idiom.  I’ve often had the same response as my son did here to idiomatically foreign statements.  Like him, I see the English and can parse the English.  I can even diagram the English according to English grammar.  I can even let my mind basque in the supposed poetic beauty of such a text.  But, the question, “what does it mean?” remains.  Does the question of meaning come from the original poetry?  Or does it come from the idiomatically foreign rendering?

My question is:

How would you answer my 8 year old son?

43 thoughts on ““Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”

  1. Jon says:

    I under stand “in the beauty of His holiness” to mean:

    1) that He is beautiful, because of His holiness, and this should be acknowledged in our worship.

    2) that those who worship Him must also be made beautiful by means of His holiness, made possible by Jesus Christ, in whom we are being saved

    If we are in sin, then what worship can we offer, so long as we are wallowing in the mud, etc.

    It’s a call to be holy, and worship Him who is holy.

  2. Brant says:

    I used Psalm 29 in a devotion just last week. The phrase “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” sounds poetic but is meaningless in English.

    I am no expert in Hebrew and will gladly be corrected, but I take “of holiness” to be a genitive of description. The “beauty of holiness” then would be “holy beauty.” The use of the preposition “in” is also non-standard English. I think it is attributing holy beauty to the Lord, and this holy beauty is the occasion for our worship.

    Like your son, I know what it means, but I don’t what it means.

    To explain the verse to an 8 year old, I would refer to some other translations.The NLT, for example:

    “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”

  3. Wayne Leman says:

    “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”

    I am a fan of the NLT but I don’t think this is much of an improvement over the wording that was puzzling Mike’s son.

    How about something like this:

    “Worship the Lord because he is holy. His holiness is beautiful.”

  4. Tiffany says:

    When I read “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” I take it to mean “worship the Lord in a holy way, and doing that is a beautiful thing.” So, I would break the phrase down. I would ask him, What are some ways we can worship the Lord? Can we do it any way we want? What are some things we are commanded to do? And then tell him that being obedient to God is being holy, and that is worship.

  5. WoundedEgo says:

    I like David Ker’s answer!

    I’m not about to pretend that I have a grasp of ancient Hebrew, so I’ll merely point to the NET Bible’s take for you to ponder:

    Psa 29:2 Acknowledge the majesty of the LORD’s reputation!4
    Worship the LORD in holy attire!5

  6. Theophrastus says:

    kodesh (holiness) = separateness.

    “Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness” means: worship God in the beauty of his separateness.

    This matches up with the first part of the verse where we worship God in the glory due unto his name — God’s name is unspeakable, absolutely separate from ordinary names.

  7. codepoke says:

    You asked how to answer, not how to translate.

    The whiteness of snow is its beauty. The Lord is whiter than white. Worship Him for the immense beauty of His perfect purity from all that corrupts us, even while He continues to love and stay with us.

  8. Bob MacDonald says:

    I would answer your son with structure – not with synonyms. It’s great that he recognized knowing and not knowing. The search for meaning is sometimes total futility, utter futility as Qohelet touts.

    The structure of the Psalm begins with a trio – ascribe – followed by the command to worship. The word used for beauty has the same root in the third of the seven occurrence of voice in the psalm. So some word-sounds-like work needs to be done in English to get the relationship between beauty and majesty. (I failed to do this in my translation – probably out of habit – (I couldn’t take off the too familiar shirt).

    The psalm ends with a trio preceded by a single line – The Lord sat in the flood – which matches the position of the beauty of holiness. To have sat in the flood is to have managed it on our behalf – so our Lord the Anointed Jesus dealt with the floods (see water imagery in the psalms for the flood as judgment) on our behalf and he is the focus and source of our worship. My translation is here

  9. Bob MacDonald says:

    The key I missed to relate the beauty of holiness to the sat in the flood is this (I also fixed the blog link on my id)
    Structure is 3+1+7+1+3 – the chiasm shows how to connect the dots – and an 8 year old can count words and see structure and learn to be a detail reader and writer at a young age. Look for what balances and what is at the centre.

  10. J. K. Gayle says:

    He interprets, as I do, the phrase in question as a reference to the sanctuary.

    And the Septuagint translators so interpret:

    προσκυνήσατε τῷ κυρίῳ ἐν αὐλῇ ἁγίᾳ αὐτοῦ

    (which is something like, “worship Master in His Holiness’s Holy Courtyard” with a Greek locative, 3-D, preposition.)

  11. WoundedEgo says:

    In order to understand this passage, and a good 90% of the rest of the scriptures, you have to understand that the ancients believed that the gods (whether it was Zeus or YHVH) lived in the sky (just above the firmament, or “solid structure” that supported the rain waters). In this psalm, the incredible forces of a storm are the actions of YHVH performing “shock and awe.” The voice of YHVH here is the powerful rumble that accompanies a storm. He is emitting lightning bolts. He sends down awful winds and rain that causes the animals to panic and give birth prematurely, and sends every creature scurrying for safety. His dreadful actions even cause the hugest, most solid structures – the cedar trees in Lebanon – to snap.

    In his sanctuary in the sky, high above the waters (one tower height) the nanlike sons of the god(s) are addressed by the psalmist and exhorted to worship YHVH, the manlike deity, in his beauty filled throne room, where YHVH sits as suzerain.

    It is the same sanctuary as Daniel and the revelator describe:

    Rev 4:2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
    Rev 4:3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
    Rev 4:4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
    Rev 4:5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits [breaths] of God.

    Perhaps “holiness” here reflects his apart-ness. YHVH’s sanctuary in the sky is the serene eye of the storm, where all is ordered, safe and beautiful.

  12. WoundedEgo says:

    It makes me cringe how people can read over and over (in each and every verse of the Psalm) that the psalmist is exhorting for the worship of **YHVH** and they instead worship Jesus! Both Bob and David… this is not exegesis, but rather eisegesis (pronounced “I-See-Jesus”!!

    Ps 29:2 Give unto the LORD [YHVH] the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD [YHVH] in the beauty of holiness.

    This song is not about Jesus!! Except perhaps it would now apply to him, because he would be one of the “sons of God”
    who is exhorted to worship him.

    Joh 4:22 Ye worship ye know not what: **we know what we worship**: for salvation is of the Jews [Judeans].

    Jesus worshiped God.

  13. Mike Sangrey says:

    This is good, ongoing discussion! Thank you to everyone.

    I agree with David regarding the preposition comment. There’s only a few cases in English I can think of where I “do X in the beauty of Y.” The abstract nature of holiness or separateness adds to the difficulty of using in. [I just realized the text was from the KJV. I don’t know, but maybe, in 1600s, beauty was thought of as being ‘projected’ much like splendor is today. So, perhaps it made sense then.]

    Prepositions mark something; they cause the formally related words they’re connected to to respond in specifically nuanced ways. It’s like they help out the meaning of the other words, much like a catalyst. They don’t really have meaning in and of themselves. That is, they aren’t consumed by the cognitive processes which home in on the meaning. Their underlying geometric meaning of many prepositions being the exception when that is intended.

    Interestingly, I think one can readily discern that the geometric meaning is the default meaning in the “normal” Biblical exegesis process. That is, if the idiomatic use of the preposition is not clear, the exegete defaults to the geometric use. [Introductory Greek promotes this, too.] I think that is quite natural, though it likely will result in an incorrect understanding of the text. I suggest that the geometric meaning is the most concrete and perhaps “feels” the safest. However, because of the catalytic nature of the preposition, the exegete must be purposeful in his or her analysis so that he or she doesn’t simply follow the easiest pathway to a solution. This, I think, is what David K.’s intuition tells him when he wants to talk about prepositions in functional or particle terms. In any case, the simplicity of the exegesis must be seen in the result of the exegesis where the connections between form and meaning are presented. On the other hand, because of the inter-lingual chasm, the actual process of exegesis is rarely, if ever, simple (cf Tower of Babel).

    Now, explaining that to an 8 year old! Hmmmmmm…perhaps we simply need a better translation. 🙂

    I also greatly appreciate Rob’s chiasm observation, particularly the 3+1+7+1+3 structure. Obtaining first a clear and observational understanding of the original language form, in my opinion, is absolutely vital to obtaining the meaning. Chiasm, such as that used here in this Psalm, has the same heavily weighted significance (semantically) as paragraphs do in English. However, chiasm, more than paragraph structure, disambiguates potential meaning. That is, paragraph sized, or small section sized, chiasm primes the reader’s mind to discern the authorial, intended lexical choices (though the modern reader must be consciously aware of the chiasm since we do not normally utilize such structures).

    If I use the ASV, the two, relevant parts of the chiasm are:
    B: Worship Jehovah in holy array
    B’: Jehovah sat as King at the Flood

    Given Rob’s observation and WoundedEgo’s contextual observation of where the gods sat, Weiser’s commentary, I would tend to think that the events of the storm (in the 7) are presented as arrayed around God’s throne. We don’t immediately know, of course, what the “array thing(s)” are, at the moment of first reading verse 2. It becomes more clear as the poetry is read through and meditated upon. It is within this fearful, powerful, storm that God’s separateness is presented and within which we are called to worship.

    Lastly, I think an ever so slightly different chiastic form of 3+1+3+1+3+1+3 needs explored. It seems to me that there’s some level of focus on Lebanon and Sirion at the middle (verse 6). I suspect ‘Sirion’ referred to the cluster of three summits, one of which is Mount Hermon, but I could easily be wrong. Makes me wonder what storms look like, particularly on the Lebanon side, resulting from the geography of Mount Hermon.

  14. Bob MacDonald says:

    It makes me cringe how people can read over and over (in each and every verse of the Psalm)
    You are cringing – O dear. Yes, I made a hermeneutical leap in applying the struggle with the floods (all thy waves have gone over me etc – psalms 69+++) to the work of the servant / anointed / elect / Christ / king / psalmist / individual. I leap tall buildings with a single bound. It doesn’t mean the building is not there to examine and critique.

    So here – spun out a bit – is my reasoning for the leap: God is Spirit – and worship is to be in Spirit and in Truth – for the Father seeketh such. In this psalm, “Everything in the temple cries Glory.” So Jesus was raised from the dead – having sat in the flood – his life given for the life of the world – by the Glory of the Father.

    The 7 fold repetition is 3 + 1 + 3 – reinforcing the 3 + 1 – read it and love. It is marvelous birthing imagery. Who gives us birth? Who is born in us? The Christ. This king who sits for ever and makes us kings and priests – his chasidim (Psalm 149) – this king is the king of Psalm 2 and Psalm 110.

    I think even an 8 year old can see this structure and count the words with good effect – and hold off applying the mystery of HaShem to the question – “who do people say that I, the bar-enosh- am”? I suspect it is error to attribute equality between Jesus and YHWH – simply because we see Incarnation. We see God’s Spirit given unreservedly to him who is the end of election, “the produce of the earth”,(Psalm 67) without measure. Therefore in these words of the Psalms that are like his words, Spirit and Truth, we worship, and while not prescribing equality, we do see the “participation in the divine identity” – to use Bauckham’s phrase, for Jesus particularly.

  15. Bob MacDonald says:

    Mike – you and I both extended the structure to split the 7 into 3 + 1 + 3 independently. Perhaps our thoughts met mysteriously in the ether (the other 4 or 7 dimensions we cannot see). I love these observations. They help me so much with memorization. Thanks

    I agree with you – explaining prepositions can get us into too much grammar – but in is in – we in him and he in us.

  16. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>that this is a reference to the beautiful holy garments of the priests.

    In another occurrence of the phrase, it is clearly the people that are exhorted thus:

    Psa 96:8 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.
    Psa 96:9 O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.

    Perhaps the allusion is to the priestly garments, but they, in turn, are symbols of holiness being a garment:

    NET Bible:
    Exo 28:36 “You are to make a plate54 of pure gold and engrave on it the way a seal is engraved:55 “Holiness to the LORD.”56
    Exo 28:37 You are to attach to it a blue cord so that it will be57 on the turban; it is to be58 on the front of the turban,

    In other words, the clothing of the priests were symbolic of the beauty of holiness. The clothing is the concrete symbol of the abstraction that “holiness is a beautiful thing to wear.”

    Likewise the priests are aping the 24 elders (sons of the god(s)?), who wear fine white linen and crowns:

    Rev 4:4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.

  17. Mike Sangrey says:

    I am curious about the underlying Hebrew, whether it is the same phrase, but I did a quick search of “beauty of holiness” in the KJV. I had 4 hits:
    1 Chronicles 16:29, 2 Chronicles 20:21, Psalm 29:2 (this verse), and Psalm 96:9. The surrounding context in all cases appears to have something to do with God’s powerful rule over his creation.

  18. WoundedEgo says:

    The juxtaposition of “beauty” and “the beast” (terror) seems to suggest a bifurcation (a “split”) so that on the one hand you have “out there” but on the other hand you have “in his sanctuary” and “out there” all is fear, terror, chaos, panic, destruction, but in the sanctuary, all is lovely, serene, and beautiful.

    If this bifurcation is intended, then how wonderful it is to be in the inner circle, on the “in” and basking in the security of the throne room! So we have this psalm saying just that, even of the Jewish temple:

    NET Bible:
    Psa 84:1 Psalm 841

    For the music director; according to the gittith style;2 written by the Korahites, a psalm.

    How lovely is the place where you live,3
    O LORD who rules over all!4
    Psa 84:2 I desperately want to be5
    in the courts of the LORD’s temple.6
    My heart and my entire being7 shout for joy
    to the living God.
    Psa 84:3 Even the birds find a home there,
    and the swallow8 builds a nest,
    where she can protect her young9
    near your altars, O LORD who rules over all,
    my king and my God.
    Psa 84:4 How blessed10 are those who live in your temple
    and praise you continually! (Selah)
    Psa 84:5 How blessed are those who11 find their strength in you,
    and long to travel the roads that lead to your temple!12
    Psa 84:6 As they pass through the Baca Valley,13
    he provides a spring for them.14
    The rain15 even covers it with pools of water.16
    Psa 84:7 They are sustained as they travel along;17
    each one appears18 before God in Zion.
    Psa 84:8 O LORD, sovereign God,19
    hear my prayer!
    Listen, O God of Jacob! (Selah)
    Psa 84:9 O God, take notice of our shield!20
    Show concern for your chosen king!21
    Psa 84:10 Certainly22 spending just one day in your temple courts is better
    than spending a thousand elsewhere.23
    I would rather stand at the entrance24 to the temple of my God
    than live25 in the tents of the wicked.
    Psa 84:11 For the LORD God is our sovereign protector.26
    The LORD bestows favor27 and honor;
    he withholds no good thing from those who have integrity.28
    Psa 84:12 O LORD who rules over all,29
    how blessed are those who trust in you!30

    [I apologize for all of the footnote number in the above text. I’ve written to the NET Bible folks to provide a way to cite their text without all of the (WONDERFUL) footnote references, but for now, we’re stuck with these ugly citations.]

  19. jkgayle says:


    Robert Alter renders this way:

    Bow to the LORD in holy majesty!

    Sir Philip Sidney provides this:

    Ascribe due glory to his name;
    And in his ever-glorious frame
    Of sanctuary do the same.

    And, has anyone here read Ernst R. Wendland’s Comparative Discourse Analysis and the Translation of Psalm 22 in Chichewa, a Bantu Language of South-Central Africa? Katherine Barnwell says Wendland, “challenges translators to use all the literary resources of the receptor language and culture.” What would an 8-year-old native speaker of Chichewa get from hearing a literary-based translation of Psalm 29:2?

  20. Wayne Leman says:

    Robert Alter renders this way:

    Bow to the LORD in holy majesty!

    It may be just my problem, but I still don’t understand what is meant if the “in” phrase is used. I don’t know what it means to do something “in holy majesty.” I would prefer an “alter-ed” wording which I could understand.

  21. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>…I don’t know what it means to do something “in holy majesty.”

    I agree that the sentence is ambiguous and must be “alter-ed.” Surely he understand the “holy majesty” not to be a characteristic of their worship (or does he, since these sons of the god{w} are also dignitaries)?

    I think his reading is saying that YHVH is amid grandeur, like Solomon’s temple. We might think of Schuller’s “Crystal Cathedral” or “The Vatican.”

  22. J K Gayle says:

    Is it any less of a problem for you to read the following?

    “Don’t write to Wayne in literary majesty!”

    it’s a serious question of analogy if I’m also trying to play with language, with what makes for a better and moe understandable English phrasing for you.

  23. J. K. Gayle says:


    There’s ambiguity in Alter’s English here.

    But it may also be English familiar to contemporary Orthodox worship. Here’s from the Orthodox Union’s free English translation of “Akdamut” [a “piyut,” a religious poem in Aramaic, “composed during the First Crusade, which began in 1096, as … the Christian knights would, in general, visit terror if not outright destruction upon the Jewish communities” in Europe]:

    Now you my listeners,
    When you hear your praise in this song,
    Be strong in your faith!
    And you will merit to sit in the company
    Of the holy and righteous ones
    In the World-to-Come!
    If you’ve listened well to my words,
    Which were uttered in holy majesty
    Great is our G-d!
    The First and the Last!
    Happy are we, for He loved us,
    And gave us His Torah.


  24. Mike Sangrey says:

    “Don’t write to Wayne in literary majesty!”

    For what it’s worth…I have no idea what that means.

    On a whim, I googled for the phrase “in literary majesty”. I got 3 hits. When this page is indexed, there will be four.

    One is from a book so old the letters ‘s’ and ‘f’ look alike. The other two are a bit more interesting.

    The next uses the verb rival. …, though they likely won’t rival infinite jest in literary majesty…Infinite Jest” is a book.) One can rival in or be equal in some quality. Something can be equal to something else in majesty. And one can modify that majesty by using the adjective literary. So, the collocation of the words work.

    The other occurrence uses the verb lack. I’m half way through it and for what it lacks in literary majesty, its(sic) a compelling read Interestingly, again this verb assumes degrees of relative quality and therefore collocates well with a term such as majesty.

    I wish we had an easy way of answering the question, “What verbs collocate with in majesty.” I tried doing a search for the phrase in majesty but that gave me a lot of hits with ‘in’ used in its locative sense (what I’ve called its geometric sense). So, in majesty appears to be a shortened form of “in a/the majestic sphere.”

    I don’t think write is one of the verbs that works with that phrase. I think what you mean, though, is Don’t write to Wayne with majestic literary terms. But, that’s a guess based more on context than on the actual sentence construction.

    Perhaps you could use this:
    When words to Wayne
    need to be explained
    it’s a royal travesty
    in literary majesty.

  25. Theophrastus says:

    Wounded Ego: Uri (Robert) Alter’s translations will never appear on the CBA Bible best-selling translation list, but he is certainly a major intellectual figure in Bible translation today. However, he operates outside the world of most BBB readers/writers: he is a literature professor and Jewish, while most of the BBB writers come either from a background in linguistics or theology and are Christian.

    Alter’s ongoing translation of the Bible (so far, he has translated the Pentateuch, Samuel, the Psalms, and Job/Proverbs/Ecclesiastes) have attracted wide attention in academic circles.

    Alter’s views the Hebrew Bible as a literary document (in addition to its religious and legal roles). Other major translator who has taken this viewpoint include Everett Fox and the team of Martin Buber/Franz Rosenzweig. (New Testament translators with similar perspectives include Richard Lattimore and Willis Barnstone.) Major literary scholars supporting this point of view include Frank Kermode and Gerald Hammond.

    (Note: by the literary approach, I mean translations that attempt to reproduce the literary features of the Bible in original languages. Some people call translations such as the REB “literary”, but these do not attempt to model the literary features of the Bible; rather the REB supporters claim that the REB is written in elegant English. I do not agree that REB is written in elegant English; but in any case, please understand how I am using literary approach in this comment.)

    Several BBB contributors oppose Alter’s point of view — perhaps the most articulate opposition is given by Richard Rhodes. Another frequent opponent of the literary approach is the commenter Joel Hoffman. Rhodes and Hoffman view the Bible as having a plain meaning; they think we should use linguistic techniques to find that meaning and then write translations that transmit that meaning. Thus, the opponents to the literary approach believe (i) the Bible is almost never obscure: we can find its meaning; (ii) the meaning is the important part of the Bible, rather than the literary techniques that Bible uses.

    My favorite defenses of the literary approach are:

    * Gerald Hammond’s The Making of the English Bible

    * Uri (Robert) Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative

    * Everett Fox’s introduction to his Five Books of Moses

    Also worth reading are

    * Uri (Robert) Alter’s introduction to his Five Books of Moses (not to be confused with Fox’s book of the same name)

    * Alter and Kermode’s Literary Guide to the Bible

    Finally, a note: it appears to me that a disproportionate fraction of those supporting literary translations — I think this is a fundamental consequence of the fact that religious* Jewish worship and Bible reading is in Hebrew, and religious Jews typically study Hebrew from a young age. In contrast, few Protestants study Hebrew or Greek, Protestant worship among English-speakers in the US is exclusively in English, and when Protestants do study Hebrew or Greek, that study is almost always superficial (typically just a year or two in seminary) and almost always as adults. The more that one puts original language as primary, the more likely one is to recognize the aesthetic pleasures of the original languages.

    *The use of “religious” in Jewish and Protestant contexts is different. “Religious” in Judaism usually means observant to the commandments — thus a religious Jew is likely to describe himself or herself as “Orthodox” and “Traditional” (rather than “Reform Judaism”). In Protestant circles, religious means someone who believes in God or who is active in church activities.

  26. Wayne Leman says:

    Kurk asked:

    Is it any less of a problem for you to read the following?

    “Don’t write to Wayne in literary majesty!”

    This sentence is less of a problem for me, Kurk, because it is semantically and pragmatically different from the sentence which has the “in” phrase that I do not understand. W.E. correctly notes that there is ambiguity when speaking of worshiping God “in holy majesty.” We don’t know in such a case whether the holy majesty refers to the quality of our worship or somehow to God’s quality. But if it is the latter, I have difficulty getting the sentence to parse syntactically.

    Most people would only understand your second sentence about writing in literary majesty to refer only to the quality of the writing. Pragmatics is so very important for communication, since it often delimits possible syntactic readings. Chomsky was wrong, IMO, to keep syntax as an autonomous component of language. That’s not how language works. There is much more of an interplay among syntax, semantics, and pragmatics and professional translators understand that and so are able to translate well, without thinking of so many syntactic ambiguities which analysts might think of if they think of language as largely syntax divorced from aspects of language more closely connected to the real world speech situation. Once again, we need Ken Pike to help us be balanced, with his insistence on language being set within the context of human behavior. Language is much richer than mathematical type formulas.

  27. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo. wrote:

    Several BBB contributors oppose Alter’s point of view — perhaps the most articulate opposition is given by Richard Rhodes. Another frequent opponent of the literary approach is the commenter Joel Hoffman. Rhodes and Hoffman view the Bible as having a plain meaning; they think we should use linguistic techniques to find that meaning and then write translations that transmit that meaning. Thus, the opponents to the literary approach believe (i) the Bible is almost never obscure: we can find its meaning; (ii) the meaning is the important part of the Bible, rather than the literary techniques that Bible uses.

    Well, I can’t speak for Joel or Rich, but I can speak for myself. As I have insisted for years on the Bible translation email discussion list and here on BBB, careful attention to the literary qualities of the Bible is an essential component of good Bible translation. Also, I do not believe that the Bible is “almost never obscure.” There are clearly (!) obscure things written in the Bible. Concepts in the Bible are sometimes obscure. Sometimes we cannot determine with a reasonable degree of certainty what a biblical author intended his audience to understand by what he wrote. We should never make the Bible clearer than it originally was, when we translate. Nor should we make it more obscure than it originally was.

    That said, I find little justification for making an English translation of the Bible, overall, sound like it was written by non-native speakers of English. Native speakers of English can write grammatical and natural sentences about obscure things and the result should be that people do not understand what is written very clearly. The reason for such lack of understanding should not, however, be due to using ungrammatical or unnatural English. We should only use unnatural English for limited literary effects, typically poetic. If we overdo the use of unnatural English in any document, including translations, we lose the power of the original literary effects we are attempting to retain. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is probably too strong for what happens when there is overuse of unnatural language, but it’s in the right ballpark.

    (BTW, with Ph.D’s in descriptive linguistics, I’m guessing that Joel and Rich have similar ideas to mine about not making a translation clearer than its source text. An attempt to get at the plain meaning of texts does not mean that one does not recognize that there are obscure wordings in texts. But the number of such obscurities does not correlate well with the much higher percentage of unnatural, obscure language found in most “literary” translations of the Bible.)

  28. Theophrastus says:

    Wayne, I’ll let your comments speak for themselves, except for one sentence:

    That said, I find little justification for making an English translation of the Bible, overall, sound like it was written by non-native speakers of English.

    The question of how natural or unnatural a translation is in English is not necessarily related the question of the literary approach.

    Translator Fox does, indeed, make a translation that sounds very alien in English (he’s my personal favorite, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time). Translator Alter goes quite far in trying to write in a natural English style. Translator Lattimore arguably completely achieves a natural English style. While there are trade-offs in each of their approaches, I don’t think one can equate the literary approach with any particular degree of natural English style.

  29. clarkarussell says:

    Here’s a quote from Watchman Nee on this verse in a section about “What is worship?”

    Two things are needed to worship—holiness and fear. “Worship Jehovah in holy splendor” (Psa. 29:2). No one who has seen God can allow sin or any unrighteousness to remain. When we go before people, our first thought is of our clothing; the same is true when we go before God. We must worship Him in holy splendor. Those who live under the glory of God say, “I am a sinner.” Those who see God, fear Him. “Our God is also a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). Everything that can be burned, He will burn. God cannot consume those who have passed through drastic dealings by the cross. However, it is dangerous for those who do not know the work of the cross to meet God. Fire could not consume Daniel’s three companions. Once a person sees God, he will spontaneously fear God.

    This is from his collected works.

  30. James Church says:

    I was asked about this with reference to church vestments when interviewed for my current pastorate. I answered it with reference to the set apart (holy) attire (splendor or beauty), this seems in keeping with same Hebrew phrase in 2 Chronicles 20:21 where it is most clearly a reference to special priestly garments. I then suggested that as New Covenant people we had our own holy attire to put on. I referred the congregation to Colossians 3:12 (ESV) – ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…’


  31. Audrey Brown says:

    We live in a day where, as the Bible says, men call evil deeds good, and good deeds evil. Of course, this thinking comes from ungodly, carnal minds. God’s chosen people have been called out of the world by God himself. John 6:44 says “No man can come unto me except he is drawn by the Father.” Jesus said that. So, when God draws his chosen person out of the world, he no longer has a desire to conform to the ungodly and unholy ways of the world, because he is now transformed by the renewing of his mind. His desire no longer exists to be knowingly sinful and disobedient to the will of his Father, God. This person becomes born again, and his thoughts, ways, motives, walk, and talk, lean toward serving God. Sin is ugly. Holiness, or a holy and sanctified life results in a beautiful life for God, and God prefers that our lives be holy, with God’s help, when we worship Him. God told us to be holy, for He is holy…and that’s how God wants us to worship Him, in the Beauty of Holiness!

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