“Lower than God” or “lower than angels” in Psalm 8:5?

by | Jan 22, 2023 | Ask the Pastors

QUESTION

In Psalm 8:5 the New American Standard Bible says, “You have made him a little lower than God.” Why in some translations does it say “lower than the angels”?

ANSWER

The source of the difference comes from the difficulty of translating the Hebrew word ‘ĕlōhîm. You may recognize that as the name “God” (as in, “God [‘ĕlōhîm] created the heavens and the earth”). It is, which is why the NASB translates it as “God” in Psalm 8:5. However, this word, depending on the context, can also be a plural noun and mean “gods.” When used this way, it often refers to false gods or idols, and sometimes even clearly refers to powerful angelic beings (as in Deut. 32:17). The context usually makes it clear which way the word should be translated, but there are some places where it is less clear, as in Psalm 8:5. Three good translations give three different possibilities:

  • NASB95: “You have made him a little lower than God…”
  • NKJV: “You have made him a little lower than the angels…”
  • ESV: “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings…”

The variation indicates that this is a tough one. Although this word wouldn’t normally be translated as “angels,” a compelling case for doing so can be made in light of Hebrews 2:7, which quotes this very Psalm:

For He [God] did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying,

“What is man, that You remember him?

Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?

You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;

You have crowned him with glory and honor,

And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”

(NASB95)

The author of Hebrews here directly quotes Psalm 8 from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was in use when the New Testament was written. The Septuagint translates this word as “angels” (Gr. angelous), and the book of Hebrews here seems to confirm this understanding. This New Testament insight indicates to me that David had in mind angelic beings when he wrote that line, which also makes more sense to me than saying man is/was a “little lower than God.” Passages like Isaiah 55:9 come to mind:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways

And My thoughts than your thoughts.

(NASB95)

That sounds like man is a lot lower than God to me. 😄

Man in his current earthly state is a little lower than the angels, which is a high estate indeed, especially when you consider man’s sinfulness. And yet, astoundingly, the New Testament teaches us that through Jesus Christ, the second Adam, we will obtain a status which is even higher than angels. In fact, we are destined in our glorified state to judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3). 🤯

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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