Rereading Psalm 100:3: In Search of a Better Translation

Psalm 100 is one of those great psalms of the Bible.  The psalm is a song of thanksgiving, calling all people to praise the Lord as the creator. All nations are invited to serve the Lord because of his goodness and faithfulness.

The doctrine of creation in the Old Testament was Israel’s testimony of the uniqueness and sovereignty of the Lord over nations and individuals.  In the very act of creation, the Lord demonstrates his power by calling the world into existence.

Thus, in his call for human beings to worship God, the psalmist declares that we are not self-created, that we owe our existence to God, because only the God of Israel is the creator: “Know ye that the Lord is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3 KJV).

The translation of the King James Version poses a difficult issue of interpretation.  The problem is focused on a textual corruption introduced into the Hebrew text.  In Hebrew, there are several words that sound alike but have different meanings.  Words that sound alike are called homophones.  A homophone is “a word pronounced the same as, but differing in meaning from another, whether spelled the same way or not, as in heir and air.”  There are many homophones in English also; a classical example are the words to, two, and too.

In biblical Hebrew there are many words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings. Two of them are the words lo’  (Hebrew לא) and the word (Hebrew לו).  The first word is negative and means “not.”  The second word is positive and means “to him.”

In Psalm 100:3 the written Hebrew text or the ketiv (the word ketiv means “what is written”) reads lo’, “not.”  However, an old scribal traditions notes in the margin of the text that the correct reading of the text should be , “to him.”  This marginal reading is called the qere.  The word qere means “what should be read.”

In making this marginal note, the scribe or scribes who copied the text are telling the reader that even though the text reads lo’, “not,” that it should be read , “to him.”

Several older translations have adopted what is written in the text.  Among these are the Darby Bible, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Geneva Bible, the King James Version , the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Version, and the Revised Webster Bible.

Modern translations, such the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV) and others, have adopted the correction proposed by the scribes.  For instance, the New Revised Standard Bible reads: “Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (NRSV).

In light of the different readings between the older and modern translations, which translation is better?  Which translation provides a better understanding of what the psalmist was trying to convey to his readers?  As it is, both translations are plausible and both of them make sense.  Both readings would fit the context of the words of the Psalmist and both readings would be in harmony with the teachings of the Old Testament.

The reading of the KJV is found also in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament), the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible), and the Peshitta (the Aramaic version of the Old Testament). However, from the perspective of the world of the Old Testament and of other nations in the Ancient Near East, no people of antiquity, however primitive they might have been, believed  that they had made themselves.  Only someone with a sense of grandeur, one who is obsessed with the pride of possession, one who would believe himself to be a god, like the Pharaoh of Egypt, would dare say about a small part of creation: “The Nile is mine, and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3).

Every Israelite believed the Lord to be the true creator.  The faith of Israel declared that men and women derived their beings from God.  A similar idea to Psalm 100:3 is also found in Psalm 95:7: “For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

The message of Psalm 100:3 is clear: God is the creator.  He made us, therefore, we are not independent, but belong to him.  For this reason, the reading of the NRSV and other modern translations should be adopted.  Because God created us and because we belong to him, we should worship the Lord with gladness, we should come into his presence with singing (Psalm 100:2).

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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6 Responses to Rereading Psalm 100:3: In Search of a Better Translation

  1. Anonymous says:

    >”…The LORD, He is God…” Every Israelite knew that also and yet it is written. At least, something very similar to that is written. To base a choice on what everyone knows or knew is very limiting. It is an argument, but I find it to be very weak.I also worry a bit about the scribe. How did he know which way it should be read? I can see him now. “Everyone knows that so the wrong word must have been written. When this was first written, the original scribe must have heard the wrong word. After all, they sound alike.” Wow, divinely inspired footnotes.I am glad to now know why there are different versions, but I still do not know which is right.

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  2. >I’d wondered about these variant translations. Thanks for the explanations. Peace.

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  3. lingamish says:

    >Professor,Thanks for the post. Well written and entertaining. I wondered if the other reading is grammatically possible. Are there other attested forms in the Hebrew?

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  4. >Dear Friends:Thank you for your comments. I have chosen to answer your comments by writing a new post dealing with the issues raised by these three comments.For a more detailed answer, read my post “Psalm 103:3: Which Version Is Better.” published on Thursday, February 9, 2006.Thank you for visiting my web page. I welcome your comments.Claude Mariottini

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  5. JFC says:

    >I was 9 years old in 1970, and because I was sick one day, I missed school and accompanied Dad into Ft Worth to go see the doctor. Dad also took me to his classes at the seminary that day, and I still recall, to this day, the discussion of that very verse (Psalm 100:3) and the professor’s explanation of the two textual possibilities which led to the different renderings (at that time) in the KJV and the RSV.Reading your post caused me to fondly recollect that day.

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  6. >Dear JFC,Any father who takes his son to seminary and to an Old Testament class must have been a great father. I commend your father for what he did. Maybe this is one of the reasons you still have fond memories of that special day in your life.I almost went to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. I was already accepted there when I decided to attend Golden Gate Seminary in Mill Valley and Southern Seminary in Louisville. If I had gone to Forth Worth and if your father were there, I would probably have met your father because in 1970 I was in seminary.Thank you for visiting my web page.Claude Mariottini

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