Have you ever noticed, as you are reading the King James Version of the Bible that some of the words are in italics? The biblical translation editors did this to indicate those words were not in the original manuscripts and were added by the translators to clarify meaning. Now, while clarity was the original intent of the translation editors, in some cases, the addition of the italicized words doesn’t clarify, but actually change the meaning of the text completely! I believe such is the case in Psalm 37:23-24.
Note, in Psalm 37:23, the sentence: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” The word: good is italicized, that means it is not part of the original text. The Hebrew actually translates: “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord.” Now, this wouldn’t be much of a big deal if it wasn’t for the possibility of an alternate translation of the word “and” in the next phrase. The Hebrew particle conjunction that is translated as “and” in the KJV, can also be translated as; “when.” With these two possible variants, the meaning of the verse is completely different. The translation editors of the English Standard Version recognized this possibility and thus renders the verse: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way.”
Now, the last part of the verse is a bit ambiguous in any translation. For instance; Who is “he” and who is “his?” Is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, He; the Lord, delights in his; the good man’s way? Or is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, he; the good man, delights in His; the Lord’s way? Even when the italicized; good is dropped and the “and” is translated as “when,” the verse is no less ambiguous! This is illustrated in how the New International Version (NIV) renders the verse as opposed to how the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders the verse. The NIV says: “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” The NRSV says: “Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way.” In the NIV; the Lord makes firm the steps of the one (the man) who delights in the Lord’s way. In the NRSV, the Lord makes firm the steps of the man (our) when He (the Lord) delights in (our) the man’s way. Which version is correct? Well, grammatically and theologically; both of them are! The Psalmist states in Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (KJV) In Psalm 18:19, the psalmist said: “He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he (the Lord) delighted in me.” (KJV) There are various other places in the biblical text, where man delights in the Lord and the Lord delights in man. By the way, in the two verses of the Psalm I just cited and in the text under consideration, the Hebrew word that is translated as “delight” is the same.
The next verse (Psalm 37:24) says: “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” (KJV) Note in this verse, the words; “him” and “with” are italicized; meaning they were added by the biblical translation editors and were not in the original text. As the verse stands with the italicized words, the meaning is that the Lord upholds the good man with his (the Lord’s) hand. Without the italicized words, the meaning is; the Lord upholds or holds the man’s hand, as is stated in the New American Standard Bible (NASB): “When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” Once again, this is not a “this-not-that” case, but a “this-and-that” case! Both translations are theologically sound! Surely, the Lord holds us with His hand and I don’t know about you, but I also want the Lord to hold my hand while I run this race!
So, if both are correct and the italicized words don’t make a tremendous amount of difference, what was the point of this post? It was to point out the fact that too often we take for granted what people say the Bible says! We need to learn how to study the word for ourselves! Secondly, to point out the richness of meaning in the biblical text! Although the original authors had “one” meaning in mind when they wrote the text, that meaning is often obscured by language, culture, time, and context. Therefore, reading the Bible should not be just a devotional exercise, nor should it be just an academic exercise; it should be both! We should read the Bible with our minds and with our hearts! But most of all, we should read it, allowing the Spirit of God, through our diligent investigation of the text, to reveal the multifaceted deep thoughts of the mind of God!