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The Glory and Splendor of King Messiah

Addendum – Kiss the Son!

Sam Shamoun

Some Jewish anti-missionaries argue that translating the word bar (ַּבר ) as "son" in Psalm 2:12 is a deliberate Christian distortion of the passage in order to turn it into a prophecy of Jesus. They assert that this is not a Jewish rendering of the verse but a Christian spin on the text, since they claim that bar only means "son" in Aramaic, whereas this Psalm is in Hebrew. It should be pointed out that the term in Aramaic can either be translated as ‘a son’ or as a possessive ‘son of.’

These Jewish opponents of Christianity further argue that the Psalter could have simply used the Hebrew ben, which is what he used in v. 7,

“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son (beni), Today I have begotten You.’”

Since this would leave no doubt that v. 12 is in fact a command directed to the nations to do homage to God’s Son, the Anointed King.

In response to these objections it should be pointed out that the book of Proverbs does something similar in that it uses both the Hebrew and Aramaic words for son within a matter of two chapters:

“The words of Agur the son of Jakeh (bin yaqeh), the oracle… What is His name or His son’s name (shem beno)? Surely you know!” Proverbs 30:1a, 4b

“The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him: What, O my son (bari)? And what, O son of my womb (bar bitni)? And what, O son of my vows (bar nadaray)?” Proverbs 31:1-2

Seeing how Proverbs uses both the Hebrew and Aramaic words for son in a book that is primarily written in Hebrew why should it therefore seem odd that the Psalmist has done something similar?

Besides, Jewish authorities themselves readily acknowledge that the word bar here in v. 12 can and does mean son. For example, the following Jewish sources either translate bar as son or admit that it is a possible and acceptable rendering of the term:

Do homagec to the son, lest he be angry, and ye be lost on the way; for his wrath is so speedily kindled. Happyd are all they that put their trust in him.”

c Aben Ezra. Lit. "kiss," as the giving of a kiss was considered a sign of appointing to royalty, as with Samuel to Saul (1 Sam. x. 1.) Rashi, "Arm yourselves with purity of heart." Jonathan, "Accept instruction." Most commentators apply "lest he be angry," to God. (Isaac Leeser, Twenty-Four Books Of The Holy Scriptures: Carefully Translated To The Massoretic Text, On The Basis Of The English Version After The Best Jewish Authorities; And Supplied With Short Explanatory Notes [Published At 371 Walnut Street, 5614, Philadelphia, 1853], p. 713)


12: As noted, the translation in good faith is uncertain. The Heb word "bar" can also mean "son," especially in Aramaic, and this has sometimes been connected to the divinely adopted son ("ben") in v. 7. (The Jewish Study Bible, p. 1286)

Moreover, leading Jewish Christian scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown says that the assertion that the translation of bar as son is nothing more than a Christian mistranslation is,

“Not so. Abraham Ibn Ezra, possibly the most exacting of the medieval Jewish commentators and a man with no sympathy for Christian interpretations of the Tanakh, understood bar to mean ‘son’ with reference to Proverbs 31:2. Other Jewish scholars—some traditional and some not—have also interpreted the text in similar terms, including A.B. Ehrlich, A. Sh. Hartom (in his fairly traditional Psalms commentary, where ‘son’ is mentioned as a possibility),216 and Samuel Loewenstamm and Joshua Blau, leading Israeli scholars, in their Thesaurus.217 (Note that David Kimchi also understands bar to refer to the king, although reading the text in terms of bar lebab [‘purity of heart’], hence, ‘the pure one’ or, with another interpretation, ‘the elect one.’218) Thus, Ibn Ezra states, ‘“Serve the LORD” refers to the LORD, while “Kiss the son” refers to his anointed one, and the meaning of bar is like [the meaning of bar in the phrase] “What my son [beri] and what, son of my womb [bar bitni; Prov. 31:2].” And thus it is written, “You are my son” [Ps. 2:7]. And it is a custom of the nations in the world to put their hands under the hand of the king, as for the servant [to put his hand] under the thigh of his master [see Gen. 24:2], or to kiss the king. And this is the custom until today in the land of India.’219  

“There is also an interesting mystical interpretation provided in the Zohar that equates bar with the son of God: ‘You are the good shepherd: of you it is said, “Kiss the son.” You are great here below, the teacher of Israel, the Lord of the serving angels, the son of the Most High, the son of the Holy One, may His name be praised and His Holy Spirit [Shekhinah].’220

“As to the question of why an Aramaic word would occur in a Hebrew psalm, some scholars have suggested that just as in Jeremiah 10:11, where the foreign nations are addressed in Aramaic (the most widely used Semitic language of the day, similar to Arabic today in the Muslim world) in an otherwise totally Hebrew context, so also the final warning to the foreign kings reminds them in the most common Semitic term (Aramaic bar for ‘son’) that the king in Jerusalem is God’s son.

We can safely say, then, that there are excellent reasons to accept the translation of ‘kiss the son’ and no compelling reason to reject it. In context it reminds us of the central role played by the Messianic King in Jerusalem, the son/Son of God.” (Dr. Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2003], Volume 3. Messianic Prophecy Objections, pp. 113-114; bold emphasis ours)

216. A. Sh. Hartom, The Book of Psalms (in Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Yavneh, 1972), 12: “It is possible that the word bar occurs here according to its meaning in Aramaic, ‘son’, in which case it should be interpreted: kiss the son, that is, the king (v. 7), as if to say, give him glory (2 Sam. 10:1; 1 Kin. 19:18; Hos. 13:2).” Hartom’s volume belongs to a commentary series that was edited by the respected Orthodox scholar M. D. (Umberto) Cassuto.

217. Samuel Loewenstamm and Joshua Blau, eds., Thesaurus of the Language of the Bible, vol. 2 (in Hebrew and English) (Jerusalem: The Bible Concordance Press, 1959), 146-47. Blau and Loewenstamm also mention kissing “the soil (before the king’s feet)” as a possibility.

218. Cf. A. A. Macintosh, “A consideration of the problems presented by Psalm ii. 11 and 12,” Journal of Theological Studies, n. s. 27 (1976): 138ff. for translations of both Ibn Ezra as well as Radak (the latter understanding br as “elect, chosen,” from a putative root brr, “to choose, select”); Arnold V. Ehrlich, Die Psalmen, Huldiget dem Sohne (Berlin: M. Poppelauer, 1905), 4; A. Sh. Hartom, The Book of Psalms, 12; Loewenstamm and Blau, Thesaurus, 2:147-48. Moreover, it can be argued that some Christian scholars have unconsciously steered away from such a translation for fear of seeming partial and biased. In any case, from the viewpoint of a contextual and philological study of Psalm 2, what does any rendering of verse 12 have to do with later Jewish or Christian interpretations, especially in light of the fact that in spite of the popularity of Psalm 2 in the New Testament (esp. v. 7; cf. Donald Juel, Messianic Exegesis [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988], 62), verse 12 is never quoted? For an interesting study of the affect of medieval Jewish-Christian polemics on the concept of Israel as God’s “son,” see V. Huonder, Israel Sohn Gottes. Zur Deutung eines altestamentlichen Themas in der judischen Exegese des Mittelalters (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1975). 

219. Of minor grammatical importance is the question of why there is no definite article before bar (in other words, why the word “the” is not found), but in poetic contexts such as Psalm 2, the definite article would not be necessary; cf. Delitzsch, Psalms, in Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 847.

220. As cited in Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings, 121, from the Amsterdam edition, part 3, 307a. Another citation of this passage in the Zohar (vol. 1, 267a), adds the words, “It is also said about the Messiah son of Joseph,” possibly referring to b. Sukkah 52a, cited above. (Ibid., pp. 221-222; bold emphasis ours)

The following expositor further elaborates on the view held by the renowned rabbi Kimchi mentioned by Brown:

“Qimchi observes that bar may either be the same as the common Hebrew ben, as in Prov. xxxi.2, or may mean ‘pure,’ as in the phrase "pure of heart.’ ‘If,’ he says, ‘we adopt the reading son, then the sense will be, “kiss the son whom God hath called a son,” saying, “Thou art my son;” and the verb must be explained by the custom of slaves kissing the hand of their masters. But if we adopt the reading pure, it means, “What have I to do with you? for I am pure of heart, and there is no iniquity in me that you should come and fight against me; but it is your part to kiss me and to confess that I am king by the ordinance of God.”'” (J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms: A New Translation with Introductions and Notes Explanatory and Critical [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 1975), pp. 119-120; bold emphasis ours)

And here is a commentator who happens to be one of the scholars alluded to by Brown that take the position that v. 12 uses an Aramaic phrase in a predominately Hebrew text because it is directed to the nations, and is therefore written in the language that would have been understood by all of them:

2:12. The image here is that of submission to a sovereign: Kiss the son! Unusual in the verse is the apparent use of bar, an Aramaic word for son. Therefore the versions translate it differently. Jerome rendered it, "Give pure (bar is a Heb. word for pure) worship," or "Worship in purity," rather than translating the word as "son." However, in an address to the nations an Aramaic term was not out of place. Moreover, "kiss" pictures homage (cf. 1 Kings 19:18; Hosea 13:2). At any rate it is clear that the psalmist is telling the earth's kings to submit to the Lord and to His anointed son, Israel's king.

The urgency of their submission is expressed by the suddenness of his wrath. It is not immediately clear whether this wrath is the Lord's or the king's. The nearest antecedent is the king (the son) who will smash opposition (Ps. 2:9). However, in the psalm the two persons are inseparable; a person serves the Lord (v. 11) by submitting to his son (v. 12). If the nations' kings do not submit, the king will destroy them, because the Lord in angry opposition to their plans has decreed that His son will have the throne.

The final note of the psalm expressed blessing for those who take refuge in Him. (The thought of taking refuge in God occurs many times in the Pss.) Again, to submit to the son is to take refuge in the Lord's anointed, and therefore in the Lord as well. Only in the son is there safety from the wrath of God. (Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (general editors) [Published by David C Cook, 1985], p. 792; underline emphasis ours)

So much for the objections of the anti-missionary Jews.