49 Responses to NIV 2011 Removes Selah from the Biblical Text

  1. Rod Decker October 27, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    My, my. Did I push somebody’s hot button or what? 🙂 At least I’m glad to read that “I like Rod Decker.” 🙂 Today is my long teaching day, so I won’t be able to respond adequately until later–maybe not until this evening. But I will get back to you. I think you’ve argued a bit too strongly on this subject–and added some unnecessary rhetoric (“pillories,” “emasculate,” etc.). But let’s talk about it later today.


    • JMH October 27, 2011 at 7:03 am #

      Thanks for your note, Rod, I would say that more than anything you drew my attention to something the NIV 2011 does, and what they’ve done pushed the hot button.

      Just to be clear, I think the possible contradiction is in the “this is mysterious” followed by the “it’s only a musical notation that isn’t necessary,” an assumed conclusion that is then the basis for a false analogy. And I only used a word like “pilloried” because it seemed you were pretty dismissive of the idea of reading the word aloud and having it inform our interpretation.

      I really do like you and your blog!


  2. Noah October 27, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    I have the privilege to read the Scripture Reading at my church from time-to-time. I don’t believe I have read from a psalm, yet, but I’m wondering what your opinion is on including Selah in the public reading. We do read the script that begins the psalms (if the beginning verses are included in the reading), but I don’t know what we do with the Selah’s. Thank you for bringing this topic to our attention as it directly affects what we do with the inspired words, and thank you in advance for your response.

    • JMH October 27, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      I think it should be read aloud,


  3. Squirrel October 27, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Decker writes, “Selah is a bit mysterious, but probably is a musical notation that may have indicated a rest/pause.”

    I was informed long ago, by a very good authority, that “Selah” means “guitar solo.”

    Kidding aside, I agree that the word belongs in the text.


  4. Dan Phillips October 27, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Excellent catch and well-argued, Jim. I’ll be tagging off of it later today, DV.

  5. Stephen Shead October 27, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Linguistically, I tend to agree with Dr. Decker – that is, I’ve got no problem with it being included in the main text of a translation, but I think it’s a good decision to do what they did. Not the only possible God-honouring option, but one of them.

    I’d like to make two specific comments in response to what you have said:

    1. The strange thing about including “Selah” in a translation is that it is precisely NOT a translation! It’s a transliteration of a Hebrew word which we have no translation for. I will defend to the death its inclusion in the inspired, canonical text of Scripture. But if it seems, as many conclude, that it was an indication that would not have been read aloud in ancient Israel, that makes it even stranger to be reading a straight Hebrew word in the middle of our English translation.

    2. Much more importantly: If the NIV did not put in footnotes indicating where “Selah” appears, I would agree with you. But the footnotes undermine almost everything you say! You seem to assume or suggest – quite overtly at several points – that the NIV omitted it from the text BECAUSE they are casting doubt on whether it “belongs to the text inspired by the Holy Spirit”. Is that really the case?? It’s quite an accusation – and the wording of the footnote itself implies the opposite.

    However, because the footnotes are there, (1) I know it’s in the Text of sacred Scripture, (2) I can easily access that information if I think it is pertinent to the Structure, to prepare my reading, for instance, (3) the Intertextual link in Habakkuk is clear, (4) I am still struck by the Cultural otherness of the Bible, and (5) Theologically, I can affirm that the NIV does a good job at “faithfully present[ing] the text of Psalms as it has come down to us”, opting for one very defensible way (out of several possible ways) of affirming the canonicity of “Selah” while taking into account its apparent function in the text.

    I’m quite happy to live with several different solutions to the Selah issue, in different English translations. But let’s not character-assassinate the NIV committee for doing something they haven’t done (remove it entirely), with a motivation that was patently not theirs (denying that it is part of the inspired text).

    • JMH October 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm #


      There are lots of transliterations in the Bible: baptism, apostle, deacon, etc. All words that are transliterated rather than translated.

      The presence of something in the footnotes is NOTHING like it being in the text. Most people don’t read the footnotes at all, and if they do, they probably assume that what’s in the text is what matters and what’s in the footnotes is there because the editors and translators have decided it doesn’t really belong in the text.



      • Stephen Shead October 27, 2011 at 8:34 pm #


        Thanks for those comments.

        It’s a big stretch to call baptism etc. transliterations. Strictly speaking, the transliterations are baptisma, apostolos, diakonos, etc. But even if you can call them transliterations, they are ALSO – and far more importantly – translations. That is, they are meaningful words in the English language which approximately render the meaning of the Greek. Their etymology just happens to derive from Greek – though even with words that are so closely related historically, there are often important differences in meaning connotations. All 3 words you mentioned suffer from that difficulty – as English words, they are almost exclusively church/religious words, which is not the case in the Greek of the NT. Selah is a different kettle of fish: it’s a transliteration because we can’t translate it.

        I was trying to think of other cases like Selah, of a straight transliteration because we simply can’t translate. The best example I came up was the Urim and the Thummim: it’s pseudo-English which is still pretty meaningless to us after transliteration.

        However, on reflection, that example helped me to realise that my point about transliteration is actually totally irrelevant in my support of the NIV’s decision (as one valid-but-imperfect solution among several). “The Urim and the Thummim” is also strange transliterated Hebrew, but to therefore remove it from the text and relegate it to a footnote would be unacceptable. So I’m happy to withdraw my point (1) from the NIV issue – it has nothing to do with it. The justification is the proposed function of Selah within the text – period.

        As to the footnote issue: I agree that most people don’t read the footnotes. I don’t agree with your second sentence: How people interpret the footnote (if they read it) depends a great deal on what the footnote says, and I really think you’re not being fair to the NIV. They say it pretty clearly and simply! “The Hebrew has …” And even if people do draw the wrong conclusion, that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the reasoning behind the decision. That’s why we encourage study and Bible education!

        So I stand by my point (2). Very happy for you to keep arguing that it is not the best option (linguistically, theologically, pastorally, etc.), but I am concerned that people be generous and not judgmental with regard to what motivated the editorial committee. I think it’s much healthier to present pros and cons of different options, and think about whether people might have had a good reason for doing something (even if you think your reasons are better).

    • Dan Phillips October 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

      But they did remove it entirely from the text, and relegated it to the footnotes, which are definitionally non-text.

      How do you know what motivated them? Isn’t de facto a pretty forceful statement? They could have left it, and footnoted possible translations. Or they could have picked a translation, and footnoted “Heb selah, mng uncertain.” But they removed it from the text.

      You try to enter church. A burly deacon stands in your way, barring entrance. I ask, “Why did you throw Stephen out of church.”

      “We didn’t,” comes the reply.

      But what I’m seeing says something different.

      Whatever their feelings and dreams and aspirations, their actions spoke. And they spoke badly.

      • Stephen Shead October 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

        Hi Dan,

        I don’t know what motivated them. I haven’t asked them nor hunted to see if they have explained their reasoning. But until I do, I certainly want to be generous and not judging (and yes, I am thinking of our Lord’s words) in presuming what their motivation was – and even more so in casting public aspersions on their personal character, godliness and/or doctrinal orthodoxy.

        Moreover, as Dr Decker has explained (and I have tried to back up), there IS a potential reason for doing it which – even if you disagree with the final decision – is not based on disregard or disrespect for the inspired text of Scripture, and which has a defensible linguistic basis. In the light of the NIV footnote, it’s more than possible that this was their motivation.

        I really don’t think your analogy applies.


        • Dan Phillips October 28, 2011 at 8:01 am #

          Thanks, Stephen — but, you see, it does have that effect, and I don’t have to try to do the undoable and impermissible (judge their hearts) to judge the action.

          If I instruct my wife that she is at all times to walk ten paces behind me with her head bowed, and you say “Dude, you are seriously humiliating your wife,” and I say “But that is not the intent of my heart,” what will you respond?

          I believe your honest response would likely be along the same as mine to their clear, high-handed, de facto dishonoring of part of the admitted text of Scripture.

          • Stephen Shead October 28, 2011 at 8:38 am #

            Hi Dan,

            Seems we’re at an impasse. My “honest response” is very different from yours, brother! To “judge the action”, as you say, would be to argue that they have made the wrong decision in relegating Selah to a footnote. I have absolutely no problem with that: judge away, and convince me why! Argue that it will have the effect of wrongly communicating that Selah is unimportant, or not part of the inspired text, or whatever.

            But in asserting that, behind that action, is “their clear, high-handed, de facto dishonoring of part of the admitted text of Scripture”, how have you not attributed ungodly motives that you simply can’t know? These are highly-charged words and grave accusations.

            And of course, given that I have stated that I have no problem with the NIV’s decision (my action of support, as it were), your judgment of “clear, high-handed, de facto dishonouring of…” must equally apply to me. I feel ridiculous having to do this … but for the record, I’m an evangelical inerrantist who believes that Selah is part of the inspired canonical text of God’s perfect Word, and takes Isaiah 66:2 as perhaps the most important starting-point for any person’s approach to the Bible. And who thinks the NIV made a good decision.

            As for your analogy … I’m reluctant to argue by analogy, but there are a zillion counter-examples of seeing an action and misreading the motive. You see my wife walking 10 steps behind me with head bowed, and jump to a conclusion about my pride, repressive husband style, etc. You then ask my wife, turns out we had been in different shops, she is lost in thought and we haven’t even seen each other. Or we’re both praying privately, and it hadn’t even occurred to us who was ahead of whom. Or she wants to know whether my new shoes leave marks on the floor. Whatever – but it would probably good to ask before starting a petition for me to be removed from the ministry.

            Can we stick to reasons for and against moving Selah to a footnote, on the basis that it is a musical indicator of uncertain meaning, and therefore canonical but not meant for public reading? I’d be much happier to get back there.

  6. Rod Decker October 27, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Sorry to be slow in responding, Jim, but I do want to chat a bit about your post. I certainly agree with your concern that Scripture be translated and presented accurately. How that is best done is, of course, the rub. So let me comment on some of your proposals, roughly in the order of your post. Had I the time, an independent essay would argue my position more adequately, but I’ll have to settle for responding to some of your specifics. So there’s no misunderstanding, let me point out up front that I have no connection to the CBT which is responsible for the NIV. I have published a review article on the ESV and my review of the NIV11 is forthcoming in the next (Nov) issue of Themelios. Links and/or early drafts of both are on my website.

    You refer to the “canonical form of the Psalter,” but you never identify just what that is. It is apparently not the text as given in BHS since you distinguish this canonical form from Masoretic additions. So just how much of BHS is canonical? If we delete *all* the Masoretic materials we’re left with an unpointed text, but one which is still likely not identical with the original text—one written in paleo-Hebrew. Unfortunately we don’t have access to such texts. Yes, I know, that’s the whole issue of OT textual criticism, and it’s beyond the scope of this discussion. (The issue of ketiv/qere might be relevant as well, and maybe even some of the oldest notations such as petuha which might be pre-Masoretic, but that’s getting too technical for our purposes here.) And also outside the scope of my expertise. But I do note that you’ve assumed some major matters in appealing to such. It’s not so simple—as you well know.

    As to Selah, I will stand by my statement that it’s “a bit mysterious,” but that need not be contradictory to the conclusion that it’s a musical term, likely a rest, since we don’t know exactly how a rest of that sort functioned in the text or the community of OT singers. Yes, HALOT lists 4 possibilities (including “rest”), but all of them are musical terms that relate to *how* the psalm is to be sung, not to the meaning of the psalm itself. To press beyond that and insist that it is a semantic structural marker cannot be based, IMHO, on the word itself. Nor is usage determinative since, as you note, it appears in some “odd” places that don’t make good sense in terms of structure.

    You suggest that I “pillory” other translations that keep it. I said nothing of the sort. I said nothing regarding any other translations. My comment related to the oral reading of the Psalms that include Selah, suggesting that as a musical term (which I take to be a rest, but any of the other 3 suggestions in HALOT would result in the same conclusion) giving instructions as to how the psalm was to have been sung in the original setting should not be read orally. It would not have been read in Hebrew—it would have been “obeyed”; i.e., the readers/singers would have followed the instructions to rest at that point (or to use a stringed instrument, or change the pitch, etc.). At that point I think the analogy from the Hallelujah Chorus is spot on. Now if someone wants to mount an argument against viewing Selah as some sort of musical term, have at it, but I think I’m assuming the normal view at this point.

    Then you say that the NIV has “removed” Selah from the text. But that isn’t the case at all. Every instance is clearly marked, both in the Psalter and in Hab 3. It is *not* presented in the notes as a textual variant, suggesting that it isn’t original. I don’t have any access to the mind of the CBT as to why they’ve done this. Perhaps they’ve discussed it somewhere. My assumption, however, is that they have acted consistently with the normal view that it is a musical notation—one that was relevant when originally sung, but which serves no equivalent function in English translation. Rather than simply delete it, however, they have been careful to maintain it since it is part of the text. They certainly do not “remove it from consideration.” By putting it in the note they encourage what I would consider a proper practice: not reading ancient musical notation when reading the Psalter! You obviously disagree, but let’s not make accusations about tampering with the text when that’s not the case at all.

    Some may object that we have no right to move things like this. Your comments under “cultural” say as much. But I think you’ve mixed two different things in that paragraph. Should modern culture determine how the Bible is understood? Absolutely not. And I’d be quite confident that the entire CBT would agree. But then you reframe the question as how translations are “presented.” That’s a very different subject. *All* English translations, without exception, present the biblical text in a very different form from the original—a form that is unavoidably determined by the modern culture. Not only have we translated it into a modern language (a very cultural matter!), we *printed* it on a printing press (or digitized it…) using modern typography. We’ve added all sorts of typographical niceties which were not part of the original text—all of which are hermeneutical in one way or another. All English Bibles have chapter and paragraph divisions; most have verse divisions, most are printed in 2-column format, and most have notes of various sorts (various sorts of footnotes and some such as HCSB have bullet notes in an appendix). Some texts are indented, some are italicized, HCSB even boxes some text. All of those are cultural conventions and all of them affect the presentation and understanding of the text. If it’s legitimate to use these various devices to arrange and format the text, then formatting a musical notation as a note is similar formatting. In modern printed music we print the musical notation separately from the words. If Selah is treated in a similar fashion, then the inspired notation is still retained, only formatted differently. To single out one such feature and on that basis question whether the NIV “faithfully presents the text of Psalms as it has come down to us” seems very inconsistent since *all* translations make such additions/changes. Would it be fair to accuse the ESV or HCSB of not faithfully presenting the text as it has come down to us since they both use very different typography from the canonical form of the text? Of course not.

    As to the “foreignness” of the text, I agree that there should be a distanciation between the modern reader and the ancient text. But that should be one of history and cultural “situatedness,” not one of language or communication. The original text was not obscure to its original readers in terms of the language used or of the conventions of textual presentation. That does not mean that it was simple to understand, but such difficulty is a conceptual one, not a linguistic or typographical one. Peter acknowledges that Paul wrote some difficult material, but Peter could easily read every word Paul wrote. The difficulty was grasping the meaning of Paul’s relatively simple prose. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he had written them nothing that they could not read and understand, but they had not done so well at understanding the significance of those words else the apostle would not have need to write another letter! My point is that yes, we will have to grapple with the text of Scripture—we’re trying to understand things that are far greater than ourselves—but we ought not have unnecessary stumbling blocks in accessing the text. Some people might not find Selah printed in the body of a psalm objectionable, but we don’t translate for people with a PhD in biblical studies. We translate for all of God’s people—and some who are not yet his people. I think in that context the decision of the CBT regarding Selah is defensible. I’d be curious to know their explanation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ran along similar lines as I’ve laid out here.

    At the least let’s agree to leave the satirical comments aside. We do not need to imply that the NIV has made culture determinative of the meaning of Scripture. And let’s tone down the rhetoric a bit. Making extreme statements and implying that such minor details denies inerrancy, or results in the NIV no longer being the Word of God, etc. is really unhelpful. There are far more important matters to deal with and far more that we agree on. Selah. 😉

    • Stephen Shead October 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

      “Like” 🙂

    • JMH October 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

      Thanks for this Rod,

      On the Hebrew text we have, I’m convinced by Peter Gentry and others that the MT reliably preserves the text, and I think we ought to attribute inspiration of the Spirit and inerrancy to the final canonical form of the OT, which in my view was most likely stabilized in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. As you note, there are many issues here that are beyond the scope of this interaction.

      Forgive me for saying that you pillory “translations.” I honestly didn’t meant to refer to translations but to those who would read Selah aloud or factor it into their interpretation. My bad. I apologize. I’ve adjusted this line of the post in a way that I hope is satisfactory.

      As for the meaning of Selah, BDB indicates that it’s an imperative form of a verb that means “exalt” or “lift up.” This might be taken musically, but it would seem that it could just as well be a verbal indication for someone to lift up their thoughts and reflect on what has just been said. I think this is what’s behind the “think of that” interpretations you’ve heard.

      Again, I think the conclusion that this is an irrelevant musical notation is being assumed when it is removed from the text to the footnotes. This also applies to the comments you make about modern printing and typography. None of the matters you mention are analogous because none of them involve the removal of a word from the text to the footnotes. Your case only works if what we are dealing with is beyond dispute a musical notation that serves no other purpose–and I’m suggesting that at least in some instances it seems also to serve as a structuring device, while in the Habakkuk 3 instance it helps us identify the genre of the text.

      I maintain that on this point the NIV 2011 does not faithfully present the text of Psalms as we have received it.

      I am very sympathetic with Robert Alter’s arguments that translations ought to bring over something of the thought patterns used in other languages. Readers of the Bible will intuitively learn to follow these ways of thinking, and the Bible will be a shaping influence on the target language, as it as been historically.

      I wonder if your suggestion that “The original text was not obscure to its original readers in terms of the language used” will stand when held up to the Hebrew of Job or Isaiah. And then there are the issues with John’s Greek in Revelation, and on this I would agree that John has adopted a style that evokes the Old Testament (against the idea that his grammar is simply poor).

      Neither the Greek translators of the OT nor the translators of the KJV were focused on rendering the text for those with PhD’s in biblical studies, and they had no qualms about keeping Selah in the text (diapsalma in Greek). Lots and lots of people with very little education have done pretty well on the KJV over the years.

      I’m not convinced that cultural determination isn’t influencing the NIV. In some prefaces to NIV’s I think you’ll find explicit statements that certain aspects of ancient Hebrew culture needs to be muted (I think the NIVI was explicit about this). Maybe they’ve toned down what they come right out and say, but it seems to me that they are still speaking and acting as though what is acceptable in our culture is exercising a controlling influence rather than attempting to present a translation that communicates the contours of the culture in which the biblical authors operated.

      There is a lot on which we agree.

      I don’t think it’s extreme to conclude that a translation that removes a word from the text to the footnotes has failed to present the text faithfully.

      I think the CBT should reverse itself and put Selah back where it belongs. If they won’t, it would seem to me that a discussion about Article 10 of the Chicago Statement is warranted.



      • Stephen Shead October 28, 2011 at 10:40 am #

        Just on your last two paragraphs: If you are correct and the NIV made a bad decision on this, then of course “a discussion about Article 10 of the Chicago Statement is warranted”. That’s just saying it’s an imperfect and non-inspired translation, like every other Bible translation on the planet! I’m sure there are other unfaithful representations of the original in the NIV (and ESV, Holman, RSV, KJV, etc. etc.), based on insufficient or erroneous present understandings. I’m still not sure why that would suddenly elevate this particular issue to an extra level of Chicago-denying heterodoxy.

        For example, check this for, arguably, a more serious topic for discussion in relation to Article 10 of Chicago. But I still love the HCSB, and don’t assume the translators are docetic.

    • Dan Phillips October 28, 2011 at 8:08 am #

      “The issue of ketiv/qere might be relevant as well”

      Indeed; it’s a potent argument for keeping Selah in the text. So respectful of the text at hand were the Massoretes that they would leave words that made no sense to them, adding the equivalent of a footnote to indicate what they thought was a probable reading.

      Whatever the intent of the translators’ hearts (on which speculation may be warranted, but is unnecessary), the effect is to disrespect part of the text.

    • R. Delaney December 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm #


      Has it ever occurred to you that the political (and in some cases theological) agenda of the feminists has already permeated our culture and therefore altered the meaning of some of our key gender terms and concepts? Which, in turn, has affected the decisions of the NIV 2011 translators?

      Shame on you for implying that Poythress/Grudem et al expressed their concerns because, among other things, they are defending the ESV as a superior translation to maintain market share and because of the “personalities” involved. They expressed valid biblical and linguistic concerns….

      • Stephen Shead December 14, 2011 at 7:46 am #

        Quite correct, their agenda has changed the English language. But that’s the point – the language HAS changed for (most) native speakers. And whatever the origin of the changes and their “feel” in the early days, there are grammatical features which are now simply normal and entirely neutral.

        To my ear, saying “If someone asks for help, you should not ignore him” sounds archaic and odd, compared with “…ignore them”, which sounds normal (and is what I would say, without thinking about it). “Ignore them” is also considered grammatically incorrect, at least in modern Australian English. And of course, when I say “you should not ignore them”, I am not thereby declaring my support for the agenda of one of the modern feminist movements, nor am I advocating the elimination of gender roles in the family or the church. It’s just how my language works! That’s grammar. (And incidentally, I’m a complementarian inerrantist.)

        So any current Bible translator should be “affected” by these changes. That doesn’t mean they’re being swayed by feminist ideology in their translation decisions; it means they’re writing in today’s English.

        • R. Delaney December 14, 2011 at 11:27 am #

          Quite wrong. Since the origin of the changes is a feminist political agenda the changes in the English language are *not* neutral, regardless of how “normal” they are. That’s a back door concession to the feminist agenda (which has accomplished it’s purpose in this case).

          • Stephen Shead December 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

            Linguistically, I disagree entirely. Yes, the changes were politically motivated. Current usage is not.

            So the feminist agenda might have “won” on language change. Whether the overall long-term sociological effects have been positive or negative is another issue – and I, for one, think it’s a mixed bag (taking together a range of issues – opportunities, abuse, attitudes, raising of children).

            But from a linguistic viewpoint, the way language change works means their victory, in terms of “loaded” language, was actually short-lived. (This should be good news for you!) Highly-charged expressions 25 years ago, which were intended to push a viewpoint, no longer have that intention or effect. Again, the example in my previous reply illustrates that. NOBODY would use “him” in that example, in normal speech, not even a rabid male chauvinist.

            Your argument is a type of etymological fallacy: the ideological connotations conveyed in the past are NOT automatically imported into present semantic content. This language no longer has feminist connotations. It has been normalized.

            Of course, if you still disagree, you still disagree…

          • R. Delaney December 14, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

            “Language change” is one of the first barriers that needs to come down before there is lasting sociological change. I don’t care if from a purely linguistic stand point you are correct, as this matter is not purely linguistic in nature. I’d rather have the English in my Bible sound slightly archaic than considerably influenced by a modern feminist policital agenda. Allowing that agenda to affect the translation of the text is not being faithful to the functional equivalence methodology so dear to Rod and the NIV 2011 translators.

          • R. Delaney December 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

            and by the way, saying “If someone asks for help, you should not ignore him” doesn’t sound archaic in my opinion. So, even on the usage front your position is somewhat subjective….

    • James Cornell January 1, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

      from the Preface to the 2011 NIV – “Although Selah, used mainly in the Psalms, is probably a musical term, its meaning is uncertain. Since it may interrupt reading and distract the reader, this word has not been kept in the English text, but every occurrence has been signaled by a footnote.”

  7. Jimmy October 28, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    Dr. Hamilton,

    I think that your view of bible translations is far too rigid.

    If in fact selah is a structural term, and it marks the structure of a Psalm. Then it COULD be left in the text to mark this division. Another way to handle it would be to make a break in the text. Thus showing in English what the Hebrew term represents.

    As far as the argument that, it was in the MT therefore it needs to be in our translation, I find to be less than compelling. Every single translation leaves Hebrew words out of its translation, EVERY translation.

    That is because some Hebrew “words” don’t always function as words. I am speaking specifically of the waw. Very often the waw is a conjunction, coordinating, disjunctive, etc. But in quite a few cases the waw is not a conjunction but a clause marker. That is it simply stands at the beginning of a new clause. In cases like this it would be silly to translate the waw and translators do leave these “words” out.

    I’m sorry to say but if you are consistent with your argument about selah then you need to criticize all translations for taking words out of the inspired text.

    My point is this. Some words don’t have a “meaning” they simply serve a functional purpose in the text, the way a period or a semi colon would in English. For a translation to decide to provide an English alternative for the Hebrew structural term is completely consistent and does not detract from the power or authority or inerrancy of the translation. What it does is make the text readable for an English reader.

    • JMH October 28, 2011 at 8:21 am #

      Of course there are function words and content words. Function words don’t have to be brought over but can be encoded in ways appropriate to the function of the target language.

      The question here is whether Selah is a content word.

      I don’t think that’s a closed case, so I don’t think it should be excluded from the text.

      A better analogy are the terms like Miktam, Gittith, and Maskil in the superscriptions of the Psalms. Does the NIV 2011 include or exclude those? I honestly don’t know . . .

      • Stephen Shead October 28, 2011 at 9:07 am #

        For the record, I wish your original post had been more along these lines! I think this is a more helpful line of debate (and was the biggest doubt that had occurred to me so far).

        A follow-up question: If you were sure that Selah was a structural or musical indicator, for helping the reader/singer but not to be read/sung, would you be happier with the NIV’s decision?

      • Ben November 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

        Dr. Hamilton,

        If the issue is whether or not Selah is a function word or a content word, then shouldn’t that be the focus of the argument? Why, then, would you jump to the conclusion that the NIV2011 does not match up with the CSBI? They obviously believe it is a function word and, thus, feel no need to reflect it in the translation itself (just like every translation does with function words w/out anyone questioning their adherence to the CSBI). You disagree, so you believe it should be left in the translation. Thus, you disagree on the nature of Selah, not on inerrancy.

        Perhaps it would be better to amend your original accusation regarding the NIV2011 and inerrancy, since that’s not really the issue. It seems at best uncharitable.


        • JMH November 2, 2011 at 8:02 am #

          Thanks Ben,

          I think if we disagree on this point, it follows that for me they don’t meet the requirement of Article 10 of CSBI on this point. The same could be said of other translations at the points where they misrepresent the original.

          I don’t think it’s uncharitable to call a spade a spade,


          • Stephen Shead November 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

            But in that case, why invoke the CSBI at all? The point applies to all translations, period.

            However, the way you invoke the CSBI seems to suggest something more – like, this particular (in your opinion) error is motivated by a heterodox (non-Chicago) theology, and/or it is a level of error which means we must reject the NIV 2011 wholesale as being “the word of God”.

            If you were not meaning to suggest that, why invoke the CSBI?

          • Ben November 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

            Dr. Hamilton,

            Thanks for the response. I agree in principle that there’s nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade. My point is that I’m not sure that’s what you were doing in the OP. It seems the real point of contention is on two fronts: 1) whether or not Selah is a function or content word. There is obviously disagreement on that, but I think it’s fair to say there’s no slam dunk case one way or the other. 2) The issue of translation philosophy: given that there is debate about Selah, is it legitimate for a translation to make a call on debatable interpretation issues and reflect that in the translation, or should they make no judgment call on the word’s purpose/meaning and just transliterate it. I think this is perhaps the crux of the issue, and why you are bothered by this decision. You prefer translations that do less of making judgment calls (since every translation does this to a degree), so you don’t like the NIV’s translation philosophy.

            That means, again, that the point of disagreement is not on the matter of inerrancy but on the other two issues. I have no problem with you arguing for your translation philosophy as superior to the NIV’s. The reason I say that your original statement is uncharitable is that it certainly seems to imply the charge of heterodoxy. Since that is no small charge, and since your further comments reveal that it’s not really the issue, I suggested that you consider amending or at least clarifying your original statement. It’s one thing to say that certain translations are better than others. It’s another to say that it’s not the Word of God.



            To try to summarize: if this were about calling a spade a spade, then I think we would need some kind of statement from the CBT saying in effect “we don’t believe it is necessary to faithfully represent the original.” Then we would have a spade, and you could call it such. I think instead, we have an opinion–you don’t think the NIV2011 faithfully represents some of the Psalms, but that’s b/c of your differing interpretation of Selah and your translation philosophy, not b/c of their belief in inerrancy.

          • JMH November 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

            Ben, I agree with what Grudem writes here: http://jimhamilton.info/2011/09/19/grudems-essay-are-only-some-words-of-scripture-breathed-out-by-god/

  8. Bruce October 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    To some of us convinced of an organic, canonical (developmental and final-form) Word-from-the-Lord, which sets us in the basic position of receivers of (rather than actors upon) the text, excising or “systematically ignoring” text for a translation seems like an odd stance for anyone to take, who is committed to a traditional doctrine of inspiration.

    Various suggestions have been offered over the years for the meaning/purpose of the Selahs (as well, superscription notations). Maybe none of them are correct. On the other hand, it seems more likely that at least one or more of them have a grain of truth to them, which means that the term isn’t fatally shrouded in mystery. Digression–since when has mystery become a negative term

    If the word does/should have bearing on our understanding or appreciation of the text around it, it is an act of judgment (i.e. condemnation) to peremptorily remove it.

    Personally, and without overcommitment, I’m partial to the view that Selah is *specifically* a “Messianic” pause-for-reflection, and not a general reference.

  9. Sue November 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    I agree with what Grudem writes here: http://jimhamilton.info/2011/09/19/grudems-essay-are-only-some-words-of-scripture-breathed-out-by-god/

    Then how is that the ESV does not translate the word aner so many times. Just because it was not immediately clear that “adelphoi” and “andres adelphoi” have a different meaning, that is no reason at all to eliminate the word aner from the word of God.

    You can hardly call the NIV to task for putting selah in the footnotes, if you don’t have equal criticism for all translations which remove aner without any footnotes at all.

  10. Ryan November 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Hi Jim,

    I would like to share a few thoughts on this topic. First, you and Rod have argued very well for both of your views.

    Second, I appreciate your firm and rigid stance on the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures. I must say that in the end, I side with you on the matter. Why? Because, though someone may be accused of being too “strict” or “rigid” on the Scriptures, they will be much less prone to commit the error of removing words which belong in the text. Now, please understand that I am not accusing Rod of what I am about to write: On the other hand, when a person is prone to remove originally written words from the text Scripture (and I’m not talking about και here or there) then it will happen again, and quite possibly with other more significant words.

    In Christ,


  11. Sue December 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    I heartily agree that cases of political agenda should be researched. I would look at the Reformation Bibles first and see what we can find there.

    First we find that Erasmus Latin translation of 1 Tim 5:8 had was translated with feminine pronouns because he, a top Greek scholar, recognized that the Greek was non-gendered, as usual, and in this case refered back to the widows.

    Calvin wrote about 1 Tim 5:8: “And if any person do not provide for his own Erasmus has translated it, “If any woman do not provide for her own,” making it apply exclusively to females. But I prefer to view it as a general statement; for it is customary with Paul, even when he is treating of some particular subject, to deduce arguments from general principles, and, on the other hand, to draw from particular statements a universal doctrine. And certainly it will have greater weight, if it apply both to men and to women.”

    Russell Moore wrote, “Male headship is strictly defined in Scripture as the opposite of a grasp for power. The headship of men in the church and home is rooted everywhere in Scripture in protection and provision. This is why the apostle Paul calls the man who will not provide for his family “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8 ESV).”

    In fact, this passage contains no reference to a “man” or to an implied “he” at all. I have been thinking that this verse has been reinterpreted to fill a felt need. Certain complementarians may have felt that there ought to be a verse in the Bible which states that the man is the provider, and so this verse has been brought in the fill the gap.

    The original Greek contained no reference to a man. Why is someone of Dr. Moore’s standing not able to understand that? Perhaps because present day English translations which use “he” are misleading the reader. Shouldn’t this be corrected? Or conversely could Calvin’s commentaries be made compulsory reading for those claiming to be Calvinists!

  12. John December 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    This is the perfect reason for not having Bibles translated into English: the language is living and keeps changing. Maybe we should have kept it in Latin, which never changes, or stick with the original languages. If you use English, there will always be changes.

  13. trlkly February 19, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    I don’t understand the arguments that removing the word clarifies anything. Removing something by definition obscures it.

    The problem with Decker’s argument is that the NIV is deciding for us whether or not this word is important. Even if it’s just a musical term, it means something. If nothing else, it provides structure. It’s not for the translators to decide that we get nothing out of it.

    BTW, it’s not footnoted every time. Sure, you can reconstruct where “Selah” is found from the footnotes, but only the first occurrence in a psalm is given an actual footnote. It’s one of the more annoying things about the NIV, keeping you from being able to just read one verse and see all the notes.

    And the NIV already translates the subtitles of the Psalms, which we know not to read. It includes section titles which we know not to read. There’s no reason “Selah” can’t be included in a way for us to know not to read it, but still preserving any possible function.

    I honestly had no problem with the NIV-11 until I noticed this change in Bible reading today. The rest of it seems to either update the language or improve translation. This, on the other hand, accomplishes neither goal. It instead obscures the structure of the Psalms, changing their meaning much more than having an untranslated word in italics and/or brackets ever could. Remember, that word also had a footnote, which people who were interested in knowing what it means could read.

    (My only other problem with the NIV-11 is the translation of Psalm 23. I get that they want to explain the metaphor, but there’s no reason the metaphor itself could not be kept. “Even though I walk through valleys, dark as death…”)


  1. Jim Hamilton on the Removal of “Selah” from the NIV | Denny Burk - October 26, 2011

    […] Jim Hamilton takes issue with the decision of the NIV translators to remove the word “Selah” from the book of Psalms. He argues: […]

  2. Dr. Jim Hamilton and the New NIV’s Removal of Selah « Blogournal - October 27, 2011

    […] NIV 2011 Removes Selah from the Biblical Text […]

  3. Selah Once Again | NT Resources Blog - October 27, 2011

    […] Jim Hamilton has taken issue with my commendation of the NIV-11 in regard to Selah (see my previous post). Since he devoted quite a bit more space to his response than my original post (which wasn’t intended to be controversial–naive me!), I’ve responded on his blog a greater length. Since my readers are not necessarily his readers, I’ll also post it here. Sorry to be slow in responding, Jim, but I do want to chat a bit about your post. I certainly agree with your concern that Scripture be translated and presented accurately. How that is best done is, of course, the rub. So let me comment on some of your proposals, roughly in the order of your post. Had I the time, an independent essay would argue my position more adequately, but I’ll have to settle for responding to some of your specifics. So there’s no misunderstanding, let me point out up front that I have no connection to the CBT which is responsible for the NIV. I have published a review article on the ESV and my review of the NIV11 is forthcoming in the next (Nov) issue of Themelios. Links and/or early drafts of both are on my website. […]

  4. Selah « BLT - October 28, 2011

    […] Hamilton responded here, saying, When I read an ancient text from a different culture, I don’t want to look into a […]

  5. NIV 2011 Removes Selah from the Biblical Text « Allsufficientgrace - October 29, 2011

    […] Jim Hamilton | Rod Decker has drawn attention to the fact that the NIV 2011 puts the term Selah in the footnotes rather than in the text of the Psalms, and he suggests that the word should never be verbalized by those who read Scripture aloud. I like Rod Decker, but I think his post may be self-contradictory and seems to assume its conclusion. In my view, every word of the canonical form of the Psalter should be presented in the text of translations of the Psalter, factored into our interpretations of the Psalms, and verbalized by those who read the Psalms aloud. Far worse than Decker’s post is the NIV’s decision to remove something from the text of Scripture and place it instead in the footnotes. […]

  6. Weekend Links « Casey Lute - October 29, 2011

    […] Add this to the list of reasons I’m lacking confidence in the NIV 2011. […]

  7. NIV, ESV, HCSB, NET no longer the word of God? « BLT - November 2, 2011

    […] Hamilton responded with this, Will the ancient culture in which the Bible was written be accurately represented by the texts that […]

  8. ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί « BLT - November 3, 2011

    […] Jim Hamilton and Rod Decker have been discussing the fact that the NIV 2011 has put selah in the footnotes instead of in the text. In yesterday’s post, I remarked that the Greek word ἁνήρ had been left untranslated 13 times in the book of Acts by several of the modern evangelical Bibles. Rod Decker provided the list in a comment on this post, There are 13 instances of the phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί which the ESV, etc. collapse to just ἀδελφοί. Here’s that list: 13x: Acts 1:16; 2:29, 37; 7:2; 13:15, 26, 38; 15:7, 13; 22:1; 23:1, 6; 28:17. I suppose one could argue that this is an idiomatic phrase, but it still a content word that is omitted. […]

  9. A Couple Of Posts Regarding Recent Bible Translation Issues | mgpcpastor's blog - November 8, 2011

    […] couple of posts have attracted my attention. The first is by James Hamilton and his disagreement with the choice by the New International Version 2011 to remove the word selah […]

  10. OT News Around the Web - November 12, 2011

    […] Jim Hamilton responds to Rodney Decker’s blog supporting the NIV 2011 in not including selah in the text of the psalms. […]

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