My First ESV Review: Psalm 51

I
haven’t received my free
ESV Bible
yet, but I thought I’d get the review ball rolling
anyhow. I’ll start off with something easy – Psalm 51. It’s my favorite
psalm and may even be my favorite bit of Scripture. I’ll review the
lexical and grammatical choices made in translating this chapter. Below
is the psalm from the RSV (my favorite translation), the ESV, and the
NAB (the officially endorsed Catholic translation in the U.S. and a
example of banality raised to an artform).

RSV ESV NAB
1: Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast
love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my
transgressions.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast
love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my
transgressions.
3 Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your
abundant compassion blot out my offense.
2: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me
from my sin!
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me
from my sin!
4 Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse
me.
3: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever
before me.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever
before me.
5 For I know my offense; my sin is always before
me.
4: Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done
that which is evil
in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless
in thy judgment.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is
evil in your
sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your
judgment.
6 Against you alone have I sinned; I have done such
evil in your sight
That you are just in your sentence, blameless when you
condemn.
5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin
did my mother conceive me.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin
did my mother
conceive me.
7 True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother
conceived me.
6: Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and
you teach me
wisdom in the secret heart.
8 Still, you insist on sincerity of heart; in my inmost
being teach me
wisdom.
7: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me,
and I shall be whiter than snow.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me,
and I shall be
whiter than snow.
9 Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me,
make me whiter
than snow.
8: Fill me with joy and gladness; let the bones which
thou hast broken rejoice.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you
have broken
rejoice.
10 Let me hear sounds of joy and gladness; let the
bones you have
crushed rejoice.
9: Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my
iniquities.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my
iniquities.
11 Turn away your face from my sins; blot out all my
guilt.
10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new
and right spirit within me.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right
spirit within
me.
12 A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a
steadfast spirit.
11: Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not
thy holy Spirit from me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not
your Holy Spirit
from me.
13 Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me
your holy
spirit.
12: Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold
me with a willing spirit.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold
me with a
willing spirit.
14 Restore my joy in your salvation; sustain in me a
willing spirit.
13: Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and
sinners will return to thee.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and
sinners will return
to you.
15 I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may
return to you.
14: Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of
my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my
salvation, and
my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
16 Rescue me from death, God, my saving God, that my
tongue may praise
your healing power.
15: O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show
forth thy
praise.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your
praise.
17 Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your
praise.
16: For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to
give a burnt
offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would
give it; you will
not be pleased with a burnt offering.
18 For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering
you would not
accept.
17: The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and
contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken
and contrite
heart, O God, you will not despise.
19 My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not
spurn a broken,
humbled heart.
18: Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure; rebuild the
walls of
Jerusalem,
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the
walls of
Jerusalem;
20 Make Zion prosper in your good pleasure; rebuild the
walls of
Jerusalem.
19: then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices, in
burnt offerings and
whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on thy altar.
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt
offerings and
whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
21 Then you will be pleased with proper sacrifice,
burnt offerings and
holocausts; then bullocks will be offered on your altar.

Comments 24

  1. Matt wrote:

    May I suggest “occult” in lieu of the word “blot”?

    Posted 15 Aug 2005 at 8:19 pm
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    I’d never thought of using “occult” as a verb. I had to look it up in a dictionary to convince myself it was a legit. 😉 Were that use of the word more common, it’d be ideal. Great suggestion. 🙂

    Posted 15 Aug 2005 at 8:34 pm
  3. Jerry wrote:

    I’ve often been struck by how sensitive you are to nominally archaic language in the Scriptures, especially given how traditionally oriented you are, liturgically and theologically speaking.

    Some archaisms are a good thing: the Scriptures are millennia old. Reading them perhaps should sometimes require us to look up things since they come from distinct cultural milieus–e.g., the hyssop in v. 7. (BTW, I’ve heard “blot” plenty of times, it’s still often mentioned in chemistry and bio labs, and one is supposed to “blot out” stains on carpet,rather than try to rub it out. The action is thus quite different than any of the alternatives presented in your entry for “blot”.)

    No, we should lay on baroque archaisms, and many earlier English translations of Catholic prayers got way too unwieldy that way, but I fear that too much zeal in keeping things “modern” will send us right back to the NAB. The Psalms in particular, after all, are poetry, and should be given particular leeway for style.

    Posted 19 Jul 2005 at 9:24 pm
  4. Funky Dung wrote:

    The blot you refer to is different in meaning than the one used inscripture. It means (roughly) to obscure (like putting your thumb over a word on a page). The biochemical use of blot is like splotch. To blot a carpet to get a stain out is to soak up liquid, not cover it up.

    Also, the Scriptures were written in what was vulgar (i.e. common) at the time, without sophisticated vocabularies or grammatical gymanstics. Average Joe shepherd could understand them.

    Posted 19 Jul 2005 at 10:07 pm
  5. Funky Dung wrote:

    BTW, poetry need not be in iambic pentameter (to use an extreme example) in order to be beautiful. Anyhow, I don’t think I criticized the poetic grammar structures. As for the repitition found in ancient Hebrew poetry, I think you’ll find that I defended translations that retained them as much as possible.

    Posted 19 Jul 2005 at 10:10 pm
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    Ah, the irony…

    Writing posts in Notepad means doing without a spelling checker. There’s nothing like criticizing poorly constructed English with more poorly constructed English. 😉

    Posted 19 Jul 2005 at 10:24 pm
  7. Jerry wrote:

    I wasn’t referring to the repetition of poetry, but that word-choice in poetry may be more figurative (and thus may reasonably demand a trip to dictionary once or twice; e.g., that they used “blot” in a sense that I wasn’t aware of. 😉 Where did you learn that bit about how the term “blot” was used?)

    Posted 19 Jul 2005 at 11:33 pm
  8. Tom Smith wrote:

    I agree that the language of scripture should be dignified without being pompous, but readable without being inane.

    Regarding the text of Psalm 50/51, verse 9 of which comprises the famous “Asperges me” chanted versicle and response from the old Mass, the text from the NAB is, believe it or not, closer to the Vulgate than the others. Here is the text of the Mass part, the same as in the Vulgate:

    Asperges me domine, hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor.

    The word “asperges” (as in “aspersion”) is typically translated as “sprinkle”, which the NAB has, while the ESV and RSV have “purge.” Perhaps the difference comes from the fact that the RSV and ESV are translated from the Hebrew, while the NAB, Douay-Rheims, and the Vulgate come from the Septuagint (Greek). But that doesn’t explain why the word “domine,” a derivative of “dominus,” lord, doesn’t show up at all in the English translations cited.

    Posted 19 Jul 2005 at 11:35 pm
  9. Wayne Leman wrote:

    I appreciated reading your first review of the ESV. I have been evaluating it a great deal and posting some of my analysis on my blog. I just linked from my blog to your ESV post.

    I agree with you that even though the Bible itself is ancient, its language in translation need not sound ancient. In fact, that would contradict the original sound of the Bible which was, as you stated in a comment, in the “vulgar” language. The Bible can still describe the ancient cultures in whose contexts it was written while using contemporary language which is more accessible to current speakers than is obsolete and archaic wordings.

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 1:36 am
  10. Funky Dung wrote:

    Just to be clear – I don’t prefer modern wordings to venerable wordings sinply because they are modern any more than I prefer Tuesday to Monday simply because today is Monday (except that it puts me one day closer to the weekend ;)). I like the idea of literal translations that retain the vulargity of the originals in comprehensible English. Most modern/contemporary language translations I’ve seen lean toward or fully embrace idea-for-idea vs. word-for-word. I’d rather see an effort made to go word-for-word except in cases where a word, phrase, or idiom cannot be translated directly to English without losing or distorting the meaning.

    In response to Tom, I’ll say that I don’t much care for English translations made from the Vulgate. A translation of a translation is bound to lose information along the way. It’s like playing Whisper Down the Lane. That said, if you’re going to translate from the Vulgate, do it right. Stay as word-for-word as possible and refer to the original languages when any doubts arise. The English “translation” of the Vulgate found in the English version of the Roman Missal is a disaster. It bears little resemblance to the Latin, let alone the Greek or Hebrew.

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 1:58 am
  11. Funky Dung wrote:

    BTW, I’ll hopefully have my own poor English fixed by tomorrow evening. Right now, time with my wife is more important. 🙂

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 1:58 am
  12. Wayne Leman wrote:

    “uphold me with a willing spirit”

    One problem with this wording is that it is syntactically ambiguous. It is not clear from this wording if the person with the willing spirit is God or the repentant sinner. I think, according to English syntactic rules, that the more likely interpretation is that it is the person who is doing the upholding who has the willing spirit.

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 3:48 am
  13. Wayne Leman wrote:

    After posting my preceding message about 51:12, I did further research and discovered that English versions are split over whether the meaning of the original Hebrew is that God or Dave is the one to have the willing spirit. It’s not, then, actually a case of syntactic ambiguity in the RSV and ESV, but, rather, of a different interpretation of the Hebrew. Sorry for posting prematurely. But I learned something from the exercise which is always good.

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 4:39 am
  14. Funky Dung wrote:

    I wonder if it’s a little of both. That is, the willing spirit is an aspect of God which David wishes to share. Thus, the spirit would dwell in David but belong to God. Thoughts?

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 1:19 pm
  15. Funky Dung wrote:

    Jerry,

    I learned that bit about “blot” from a trip to dictionary.com and a look at other translations (like NJB). Translation consensus reveals which meaning of the word was intended. Also, IIRC, there is a NAB footnote about that verse.

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 1:35 pm
  16. Funky Dung wrote:

    For those interested, here’s the Douay-Rheims version (which is based on the Vulgate) of this psalm.

    3 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy. And according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my iniquity.
    4 Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
    5 For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me.
    6 To thee only have I sinned, and have done evil before thee: that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst overcome when thou art judged.
    7 For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.
    8 For behold thou hast loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of thy wisdom thou hast made manifest to me.
    9 Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.
    10 To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness: and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.
    11 Turn away thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
    12 Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels.
    13 Cast me not away from thy face; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
    14 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit.
    15 I will teach the unjust thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted to thee.
    16 Deliver me from blood, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol thy justice.
    17 O Lord, thou wilt open my lips: and my mouth shall declare thy praise.
    18 For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted.
    19 A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
    20 Deal favourably, O Lord, in thy good will with Sion; that the walls of Jerusalem may be built up.
    21 Then shalt thou accept the sacrifice of justice, oblations and whole burnt offerings: then shall they lay calves upon thy altar.

    Posted 20 Jul 2005 at 1:45 pm
  17. Wayne Leman wrote:

    “I wonder if it’s a little of both. That is, the willing spirit is an aspect of God which David wishes to share. Thus, the spirit would dwell in David but belong to God. Thoughts?”

    Yes, I think this is entirely possible. And support for that comes from a Biblical Hebrew scholar who was one of several scholars who responded to my questions about Psalm 51:12 (posted after reading your blog post) on a private discussion list about the Old Testament. This particular scholar claims that in the O.T. predominantly references to “spirit” are to God’s spirit. When there are references to a human spirit, they often are with reference to a spirit which God has placed within that person, sometimes for a particular purpose and time.

    Posted 21 Jul 2005 at 10:41 pm
  18. Talmida wrote:

    I enjoyed your comparison of the 3 versions. It’s a bit tough to rag on any one version for its translation of hhesed, though. It’s a huge word, as far as meaning goes, and gets translated lovingkindness, kindness, mercy, and goodness. The most encompassing definition I’ve seen is “covenant loyalty” but I’m not sure that that concept is understood by Christians the same way it would be by Jews.

    The word in the second half of the couplet which was translated “compassion” in one version and “abundant mercy” in another has a root that means “womb”. The implication here is of motherly love, or perhaps the brotherly love of two who share the same womb.

    I blogged a bit about this in May if you’re interested in more details.

    Posted 22 Jul 2005 at 2:41 am
  19. Funky Dung wrote:

    Talmida, thanks for dropping by and educating us. 🙂 I’m very glad someone with some knowledge of Hebrew found this post. I certainly don’t have any. 😉

    As far ragging on the NAB goes, I make no apologies. It consistently soft-peddles. The word choices are often extremely egocentric (“my sacrifice” being a prime example) and/or “feel good” rather than having the power to convict hearts.

    Posted 22 Jul 2005 at 12:17 pm
  20. Talmida wrote:

    Funky Dung, rag the NAB all you want — I do it all the time! 😉 It really is awful.

    It’s just that particular word (hhesed) seems to defy translation in English.

    I’m almost tempted to just leave the HEbrew word in, as we do with Halleluia or Hosanna. Simon the Just said, “On three foundations does the world stand: On the Torah, on Divine worship, and on hhesed.”

    In Christian terms, maybe the Word of God, the Eucharist and hhesed are our 3 pillars, with hhesed encompassing the kind of love that Jesus expresses in “love your neighbour”?

    Posted 22 Jul 2005 at 2:17 pm
  21. Tom Smith wrote:

    Not to sidetrack too much, but, since you seem to know a bit about Hebrew, Talmida, what exactly does *Sabaoth* mean? In the new Mass translation that’s been “just about to come out” for years, “Sabaoth” is supposedly restored to the English Mass, and that it’ll be used like Alleluia or Hosanna. The ICEL translation is “Lord of Hosts,” I think, but I don’t particularly trust ICEL too much.

    Posted 25 Jul 2005 at 7:20 am
  22. edey wrote:

    tom

    isn’t sabaoth latin? (as in “sanctus dominus deus sabaoth”) in which case, isn’t it translated in the icel version “power and might”? (that’s all i could come up with given

    “sanctus, sanctus, sanctus dominus deus sabaoth”

    “being translated as holy, holy, holy, Lord God of power and might”

    and sanctus=holy, dominus=Lord deus=God

    so sabaoth has to be what’s left, right? ie power and might)

    now i don’t know if that’s a good translation, but i don’t know where you got “Lord of Hosts”?

    i could be totally off here….

    Posted 25 Jul 2005 at 2:19 pm
  23. edey wrote:

    ok, i just retract that last comment. i didn’t realize there was a hebrew word in the middle of a prayer completely in latin. sorry.

    Posted 25 Jul 2005 at 6:42 pm
  24. Talmida wrote:

    Sabaoth (ts’va’ot) is the plural of tsava, which means warfare, army, warriors when used of humans. It means host, God’s attendants when used of God. Whether they are warriors or angels or stars is up for grabs, according to my lexicon.

    I suppose that’s why they kept the original word (with its archaic and misleading transliteration)– probably nobody really knows what or whom it designates.

    Many of the words that we consider titles of God (mighty warrior, everlasting Father, etc) are considered by many to be NAMES of God, and are not translated, any more than we would call Amy “Beloved” or Thomas “the Twin”.

    Hope that answers your question. I don’t read this blog regularly, so if you have more questions, you’ll probably have more luck finding me at mine or thru email. 🙂

    Posted 26 Jul 2005 at 6:35 am

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