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The God Squad: The 23rd Psalm

By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” -- King James Version (KJV)

Q: I agree with you about changing “want” to “lack” in the 23rd Psalm. I have a large Bible which is too heavy to hold but I sometimes read it in place of my smaller bible because it includes many foot notes that help clarify some words. This morning I noted that the first sentence in the 23rd Psalm read "The Lord is my Shepherd there is nothing I lack" This Bible is the New American Bible A Saint Joseph edition published by the Catholic Book Publishing Co. Some translations got it right. May God Bless you. -- J in NC

A: When I first made this point about the first verse of the most famous Psalm, I received many e-mails pointing out that “want” and “lack” mean the same thing as in, “They wanted for nothing.” True enough—in English. However, the Hebrew is clearer in its distinction between hafatz meaning “want” and hasar meaning “lack”. The larger point is that there is no limit to what we can want while there are clear limits to what we need. Wanting is fuel for ambition and ambition is not necessarily a sin. Not realizing that you have already been given all you need is a sin.

The point of the 23rd Psalm is that God is with us to provide our needs. No matter how poor we are, we can still love God and believe that the God we love has already given us everything we need to live a good and humble and joyous life. That is why we need to update the King James Version translation of this verse. We need to return to gratitude and humility for what we already have because it has been given to us not what we lack because it has been taken away. Without this change the Psalm is still great. With this change the Psalm is perfect.

You should know that your New American Bible is not the only translation that got the first verse of the 23rd Psalm right. Some of the others (thank you Bible Gateway) are:

New International Version (NIV), The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

 

Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC), The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.

Christian Standard Bible (CSB), The Lord is my shepherd; I have what I need.

Common English Bible (CEB), The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB), Adonai is my shepherd; I lack nothing.

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