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Regnavit is the

third-person singular perfect active indicative of rēgnō

(Wiktionary)

Now, many times this word translated as if present, regnat, which is puzzling. For example, consider Psalm 93, in the Hebrew bible. It seems the original text uses the active perfect of to reign. In effect, the Vulgata (psalm 92) uses that tense too, i.e. regnavit. Similar use of perfect is found, for instance, in the Hebrew psalm 97 (psalm 96 in Vulgata).

However, many English translation use the present instead. Just take the above two psalms as example:

I imagine in English the present tense makes a bit more sense, in the theological sense that "the Lord still reigns". I.e. "his reign hasn't stopped". The perfect tense conveys however the meaning of a finished action. Or does it? Is there perhaps something special about the verb "to reign"?

It seems clear Jerome remained faithful to the Hebrew. But why don't English translations? Is Latin helpful in understanding this discrepancy, or is this merely an issue with Hebrew?

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  • Note that according to your links, the word מָ֭לָךְ (mā·lāḵ) in Strong's concordance is translated (descriptively) as "To reign, inceptively, to ascend the throne, to induct into royalty, to take counsel". Therefore the perfect can mean "he has begun to reign," i.e. he is reigning. I don't know whether 'regno' had ever been used 'inceptively' in Latin before, but it was more important for St. Jerome to preserve the details of the Hebrew than to translate it into idiomatic Latin.
    – Jasper May
    May 27, 2020 at 15:09
  • @JasperMay You should just post that as an answer.
    – cmw
    Dec 13, 2021 at 18:39

2 Answers 2

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This is really an issue with Hebrew. The Hebrew "tenses" do not map into Greek/Latin/English tenses in a straight-forward manner, and their uses even seem to vary depending on whether they're being used in prose or poetry. So Jerome gives a sort of litteralist translation, but the English translations probably reflect the sense of the Hebrew better. (I'm no expert, but I expect the English translators are experts.)

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Sometimes (many times) Jerome does not translate from Hebrew but from the Septuagint. Ps 96 (97), 1 : Ὁ κύριος ἐβασίλευσεν = regnavit Ps 92 (93), 1 : Ὁ κύριος ἐβασίλευσεν = regnavit Modern Bibles follow the Massoretic version, the Vulgate often has different meanings. The same phenomenon applies to other ancient latin Bibles (So-called Vetus Latina, widely used by Middle Ages authors)

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