"The Lord is My Shepherd"

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Psalm 23 (NIV)

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Psalm 23 (KJV)

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 23 (NAB)

1 A psalm of David. 2 The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
3 you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
4 Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
5 You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

Just three examples of one of the most widely known of the Psalms to show the difference translation makes.

You are probably all aware that Psalm 23 is prayed at many Protestant funerals. It is prayed as spontaneously as the Lord's Prayer, not because it is used as frequently, but because it falls into a regular rhythmical, if not metrical pattern. The NIV preserves some of this, but the NAB has the bland regularity of most free verse--nothing rhythmical, nothing metrical, nothing really accented. Just pure bland translation--there is no hook to grab you and keep you in the recitation of the psalm.

I suppose part of my contention is that if the Psalms are to be prayed, they should be easily memorizable. I think this was one of the function of Gregorian Chant. The Chant imposed a rhythm on the Latin that makes the words fall into place. The verbal mush which constitutes the NAB cannot possibly flow into a memorizable pattern. Now, this same verbal mush could very well be a much better translation for study--in those matters I am no expert. And I'm not necessarily claiming that the KJV is the very best for these purposes (prayer). However, I am saying that there is a distinct difference in the way things are translated and the use to which you wish to place the particular piece of scripture should govern the translation you use. If one is sufficiently more accurate to encourage clarity in study, then it should be used. If one works better as part of your "internal vocabulary" of prayer, then it should be used. I often find the Liturgy of the Hours a real chore, not because the prayers are difficult, tedious, or unimportant, but because the translation is so leaden it resists any urge on my part to enliven it. The words seem merely words on the page--they do not sing. My feelings about it do not inhibit my continuation of it, but they do make it more of a penitential exercise than it need be.

Yet another reason why poetry matters--God speaks to us in it.

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Well said, Steven. My one peculiarity (yeah, right, there's only one) is that I put this prayer card with the KJV of the 23rd Psalm in any Bible I happen to be reading. I put it right in the page where the 23rd psalm is. I also had them out to people for book marks. :)

NAB's leaden translation

Dear Steven,

That's why I keep my RSV (Ignatius) handy while praying the LOH; when I have time, I'll read the Grail psalm (or NAB reading) then re-read in the RSV. When I don't have time, I recall Augustine's comment (somewhere in the Confessions?) about the humility of the homely Latin translation of the psalms he used compared to the grandeur and beauty of the classical Latin he had studied and taught.

Cheers -


Which is the translation with that unfortunate "in the sight of my foes/my cup overflows" rhyme? I always wondered what sort of trnaslator would let that stand.

It has been said (I forget by whom, but it sounds like something an Anglican might say) that almost half the arguments for being Anglican are better arguments for being Catholic, the other half are better arguments for being Baptist, and the only real argument for being Anglican is the Book of Common Prayer -- because, by and large, setting aside some failings, the BCP does a good job at precisely this sort of rhythmic rendering of the Psalms.

Dear Brandon and all,

speaking of rhythmic psalm settings, see Psalms in Metre for Christian Worship: glorious.

Cheers -


The original Aramaic, and Hebrew linguistic milieu of the authors (Sorry-"inspired prophets") are as differently conceived, written, read, spoken, and percieved from English as is the Japanese of Basho haiku. Their simple, but ingenious pictographic writings allows multiple layers of meaning to be inferred. Basho's frog leaps and goes "plop". Moses' bush burns and speaks. No biggy in Americanglish, but those who are blessed with these native languages smell the ancient pond, and shield their faces from the penetrating radiance flowing from the flame shaped letters in the pages. So when you say these words must have been meant to be rhythmic, I respond they were meant to be sung and danced; eaten, imbibed and celebrated as a vital, organic conversation with the Great Creator. Greco-Roman written English disdains such emotional clarity. "I'll just wait for the movie. Justin Timberlake plays Daniel! Dude, "the Bible: the Movie" is gonna kick Bin Laden butt!...". Looking back from that far future, I see Hollywood sparing no account, and giving itself many Hollywood kudos, golden statues and such, but your favorite meta-haijin shows no interest until the sound track reaches the Barns and Noble bargain table because, at least the musicians were purely inspired.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 4, 2005 7:29 AM.

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