In my devotional reading recently I have noticed an unusual rendering in Leviticus and Numbers. The reading was jarring because I couldn’t remember that phrase.
Lev 16:29 “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the foreigner who resides among you.
Lev 16:31 It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial; it is a permanent statute.
Lev 23:27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly and practice self-denial; you are to present a fire offering to the LORD.
Lev 23:29 If any person does not practice self-denial on this particular day, he must be cut off from his people.
Lev 23:32 It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial. You are to observe your Sabbath from the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening.”
Num 29:7 “You are to hold a sacred assembly on the tenth day of this seventh month and practice self-denial; you must not do any work.
fn (in each case): “Practice self-denial” Traditionally, fasting, abstinence from sex, and refraining from personal grooming
The Hebrew phrase is תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם . The Greek LXX translates it ταπεινώσατε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν, and both have traditionally been translated as “humble your souls.”
I am wrestling with whether the HCSB is an acceptable translation in this instance. Is it readable English? Yes. Is it faithful to the text? This is where I hesitate.
The Hebrew word, ענה, is in the Piel, which is often translated “afflict” or “be humilated.” In these cases, the affliction is done on/to the person, i.e. your nephesh, or “your soul.” This suggests that the sense of the Hebrew (and LXX) phrase is that it is an inner aspect of the person, obviously assisted by God. NAS catches that understanding, even woodenly, literalistically “humble your souls.” HCSB translation (“practice self-denial”) seems to focus on the activities associated with that rather than the inner aspect of the heart.
Checking other translations notice the subtle change that several provide, as does HCSB:
ESV: you shall afflict yourselves
NIV 2011: you must deny yourselves
NLT: you must deny yourselves
GW: must humble themselves
NET: you must humble yourselves
NET footnote adds:
Heb “you shall humble your souls.” The verb “to humble” here refers to various forms of self-denial, including but not limited to fasting (cf. Ps 35:13 and Isa 58:3, 10). The Mishnah (m. Yoma 8:1) lists abstentions from food and drink, bathing, using oil as an unguent to moisten the skin, wearing leather sandals, and sexual intercourse (cf. 2 Sam 12:16–17, 20; see the remarks in J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1054; B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 109; and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 242).
The references to Psalm 35 and Isaiah 58 have the added note about fasting in the text. While the Mishnah is helpful at times, we have to remember the limitations:
The Mishnah reflects debates between 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim. The Mishnah teaches the oral traditions by example, presenting actual cases being brought to judgment, usually along with the debate on the matter and the judgment that was given by a wise and notable rabbi (from Wikipedia, yes, I know a quick reference overview is what I needed)
Thus, the Mishnah may not help us translate the Old Testament texts, because the focus is on outward behavior and judging of that behavior. That is reading back into the Hebrew text. Interestingly, the LXX translation of the Penteteuch in mid 3rd century BCE does not favor the Mishnah direction.
Given this, it seems that HCSB, and closely followed by NIV and NLT change the focus to outward behavior rather than a heart issue.
New Testament Use
Moving into the New Testament, the Greek word focuses on the inner aspect of the word, ταπεινός. Perhaps the most famous use from the following passage:
NA-28 ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ⸋ἀπ᾿ ἐμοῦ⸌, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν·
HCSB: All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.
Note also that in James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5, (quoting Proverbs 3:34) each of the translations above use the word “humble.”
NA-27: ὅτι °[ὁ] θεὸς ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεται, ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν
HCSB: God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
NAS: God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
ESV: for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
NIV 2011: because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
NLT: for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”
GW: because God opposes the arrogant but favors the humble.
NET: because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
At this point, I am not convinced that the HCSB translation of תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם, “practice self-denial” is the best translation. In fact, it seems to miss some connections with the LXX and certainly in the NT.