The Wartburg Project

October 29th, 2020

64. Shouldn't Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26 agree?

Why does your translation of Psalm 4:4 not agree with Ephesians 4:26?

Here are these verses in three familiar versions:

Ephesians 4:26Be angry, yet do not sin.

Psalm 4:4

You may be upset, but do not sin.

Ephesians 4:26Be angry, and do not sin.

Psalm 4:4

Be angry, and do not sin.

Ephesians 4:26In your anger do not sin.

Psalm 4:4

Tremble and do not sin.

There are three main issues that influence the translation here: 1) What is the meaning of the Hebrew verb in Psalm 4:4? 2) What is the force of the Hebrew imperative? 3) Is Paul quoting Psalm 4:4?

  1. The Hebrew verb rgz is not one of the usual verbs for anger. It means shake, be agitated, be excited. The Greek verb refers to anger.

  2. The word imperative means a command, but this is a grammatical misnomer because the form does not always indicate a command. An imperative may indicate permission or tolerance or a concession. This is as true in English as it is in Hebrew. “Have another piece of pie” may be an invitation. But if grandma has baked a pie for your visit, it is a command. We do not always spell out these nuances in English, but let the reader recognize them from the context.

  3. Paul does not say that he is quoting Psalm 4:4. He may simply be using a familiar expression. Some say Paul is quoting the Greek Old Testament known as the Septuagint. Others say his statement echoes Psalm 4.

Both the NIV and EHV recognize that the verb in Hebrew is not a normal word for anger. But it seems that the text refers to emotions more than to bodily symptoms. Hence the choice of the EHV, be upset rather than tremble.

In Ephesians 4:26, both the EHV and the NIV indicate that Paul is not commanding anger, but telling people how to deal with it when they are experiencing it. Somewhat surprisingly, in the Psalm the NIV does not indicate a shading, but sticks with straight imperative force.

The ESV stays very literal and does not indicate a shading in either passage. It adjusts the Old Testament to the New.

Paul seems to be quoting the Septuagint as we know it, but our copies are Christian, post-Ephesians texts so it is possible that the New Testament scribe made the Old Testament agree with the New just as the ESV did. It may be that Paul was not attempting to quote the Psalm.

Anger and upset are inevitable, but we are to strive to control them and direct them in the right direction.