13 “If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways,14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! 15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Psalm 81:13-16King James Version (KJV)
13 Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!
14 I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.
15 The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured forever.
16 He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.
First let's look at the NIV version. The statement really begins in verse 13 and ends at 16
The Lord is speaking through the prophet or psalmist Asaph. The Lord laments "if only my people had listened and walked in my ways. The NIV gets the first part of this message well enough in 13 and 14 but then they take a step sideways in vs 15.
"Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their punishment would last forever."
As verse 15 now reads in the NIV, it becomes a proof text or a support text for the Roman Catholic doctrine of everlasting punishment,meaning perpetual torture in hell-fire. This was and still is a popular belief among protestants and Catholics since the middle ages.
There's also a substantial number of protestant denominations and groups who reject this doctrine. For instance, the 7th Day Adventists, some Baptist groups and Jehovah Witnesses.
These groups believe instead in the doctrine of annihilation, the final destruction of unrepentant mortal souls.
We cannot nor do we wish to resolve this particular but significant doctrinal dispute. The concern here rather is that of scriptural authority and how playing loose with the text in the end doesn't support doctrines but rather undermines the authority of holy scripture itself.
When changes in the fundamental meaning of scriptural statements are made without even so much as documenting the new interpretation proposed, most readers will be assuming scriptural authority when they are actually relying upon some modern translators novel opinion.This does not resolve disputes. It only perpetuates them.
In this case, the KJV translators, by being more literal have captured the sense of the Hebrew much better. They read the text as saying, in essence, if Israel had obeyed the Lord, their enemies would have been subdued and would have submitted themselves.
The last half of verse 15 adds, "and their time would have endured forever". This refers not to Israel's enemies, but to Israelites and this thought is continued in verse 16. The text here is describing the success and the everlasting status the Israelites would have received had they been loyal.
By changing the word, "time" or "season" into punishment, the enduring and everlasting reward for the Israelites has now been turned into everlasting punishment for enemies.
The NIV gives almost an opposite meaning than the original Hebrew and what the KJV translators understood. In order to disconnect verse 16 from this last part of 15, they also change the "person" or "address" in verse 16 which is clearly discussing blessings, not curses.
While the KJV translation can certainly be updated and improved, imposing a doctrinal opinion on a text that knows nothing about the issue has the NIV translators into commentators.
In harmony with the KJV, we could render the passage as follows: "Oh that my people had listened to ME and Israel had walked in my ways: I would have subdued their enemies and turned my hand against their adversaries." (adversaries in Hebrew is tsars- "despots")
And in verse 15 "the haters of the Lord would have submitted themselves to Israel and Israel's time would have endured forever. The Lord would have fed them with the finest of wheat : I would have satisfied you with honey from the Rock"
This is a modern paraphrase without loosing the meaning.
In summary, once again the KJV translators with more knowledge of Hebrew, more reverence for the original text and less presumption regarding doctrine have preserved the meaning with a superior translation. They have taken an unused root and misread the Hebrew word, "oeth" The primary meaning of the Hebrew word "oeth' (names of letters are ayin - tav) is time, a season meaning a time period. It corresponds to the Greek word, "kairos" and refers to a length of time or a beginning or an end of a time period. It's typically rendered with prepositional prefixes as "at this time" or "in that time" or "from that time" or idiomatically as "in season". One plural form would end in "m" meaning, "times" and this is the plural form found in Pslam 81:15b.
The KJV translators understood it correctly, whereas the NIV translators have mistaken it for the niphal form of another verb which can mean "consumed." Probably on the basis of a similar usage in Isaiah 9:18 but this is a very "ify" hypothetical reconstruction which is unnecessary.
The study of itymology and the origins of words is an interesting ongoing study but tentative theories of various scholars should not be introduced into the translation. Especially when there are likely ulterior motives at play.