Psalm 145:13b: A Case Study in Old Testament Textual Criticism (Part 1)


Image of Bible open to Psalms

Psalm 145 is an acrostic psalm, that is, the author chose to construct the psalm using the literary device of following the order of the Hebrew alphabet from aleph to tav for each successive verse. Such acrostics are rather common in the Hebrew Bible, the most famous being Psalm 119, where each successive group of eight verses begins with the same Hebrew letter. Several other Psalms follow the acrostic pattern, as do four of five chapters in Lamentations, and the final 22 verses of Proverbs 31, in praise of the “virtuous woman.”

There are 22 consonants in the Hebrew alphabet, and when we examine Psalm 145, we notice that there are only 21 verses in the KJV, as also in the common Masoretic Hebrew text, which suggests that something is amiss here, and indeed, further investigation reveals what the problem here is: in the Hebrew acrostic, the verse that should begin with nun, the fourteenth Hebrew letter, is missing. And all the Reformation-era Bibles that I examined, with one exception (to be noted later), also lacked anything corresponding to a nun verse—in English, Matthew’s Bible (1537), the Geneva Bible (1560) and the King James Version (1611); in German, Luther’s first (1534) and second (1545) editions; and in Spanish the Ferrara (Jewish) version (1553) and both the Reina (1569) and Reina-Valera (1602) Bibles. These last two Spanish versions are the only translations from those listed that noted the acrostic nature of the Psalm. In each case the translators of all these were simply following the printed Masoretic Hebrew text available to them.

The one exception to the pattern of most Reformation-era Bible translations is the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible (1610). This version in the Old Testament was not made from the then-current Masoretic Hebrew text but from the Latin Vulgate version of the Jerome, made just after 400 A.D. That version (I follow the Challoner revision, not having a facsimile of the 1610 edition) reads in the second half of v. 13 words not found in the Masoretic text:

The Lord is faithful in all his words: and holy in all his works.

(The Psalm is numbered 144 in the Douay-Rheims, due to variations in how the Psalms are divided and numbered that exist between the Masoretic text and several ancient translations). The existence and presence of these words—this clause—suggests two possible explanations: 1. That an original nun verse in the acrostic was accidentally omitted in the centuries of hand copying of this Psalm in Hebrew; or, 2. Someone, noting the inexplicable absence of the nun clause, composed one to fill the gap (the words in Hebrew correspond precisely to v. 17, with the exception of the first word, which of course begins with nun).

The Latin version behind the Douay-Rheims translation in Psalms is the so-called Gallic Psalter, which became the standard text in Vulgate editions (and is found in the first ever printed Bible, the Gutenberg edition of circa 1453). Unlike the rest of the Old Testament, Jerome based his Gallic Psalter on the pre-Christian Septuagint Greek version of the Hebrew, and not directly on the Hebrew itself. The Old Latin version of Psalms (like all of the Old Latin Old Testament), was made from the Septuagint Greek, and had become so familiar to Latin-speaking Christians that Jerome dared only modestly revised the Old Latin version of Psalms to make it conform more closely to the Septuagint (Jerome also produced a translation of Psalms directly from the Hebrew; it is preserved in a small minority of Vulgate manuscripts). And here, the Greek Septuagint has the additional words found in the Vulgate, and is indeed the source from which they were drawn.

It is no surprise to me, then, when turning to the first printed Romanian Bible (1688), which in the Old Testament was translated from the Greek Septuagint rather than the Hebrew, that we find the additional words at the end of verse 13. The earlier Romanian Psalter of 1651 also contains the additional words, albeit in parentheses, apparently indicating that the translator was aware of their absence from the Hebrew. Indeed, all the ancient (and modern) versions based on the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew include the words in question.

But there is more. There is also the ancient Peshitta Syriac version, which is generally dated in its composition to around 100 A.D., and was made directly from the Hebrew text. It includes the words in question. Yes, the Peshitta betrays here and there in its overall translation some influence from the Septuagint, but that does not seem to be the case in this Psalm, making this a separate, independent witness to the existence of an original nun clause in the Psalm 145’s acrostic construction. And there is still more.

The footnotes in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, the standard scholarly edition of the Masoretic text, report that one Hebrew manuscript (otherwise unidentified) besides the ancient Septuagint and the Syriac versions has here an additional clause: ne’eman YHWH becol-devarayw ve chasidh becol-ma’asayw. This information, though accurate, is incomplete, since among the Hebrew scrolls found in the Judean desert (the “Dead Sea Scrolls”), there is preserved a copy of Psalms with Psalm 145 intact (that scroll is identified as 11 QPs-a). There, the nun-clause is present (with the minor variation reading God instead of LORD), at a date preceding the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. (see The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible [1999] by Martin Abegg, Jr. et al., p. 571). So, then, we have three ancient witnesses to the presence of the nun-clause in Psalm 145: the pre-Christian Greek version the Septuagint (before 150 B.C.), the Peshitta Syriac (dating to about 100 A.D.) and now the most ancient by far Hebrew copy of this Psalm. The compelling conclusion is that the words in question were originally part of the Psalm, but they were accidentally omitted in the copying process by Jewish scribes. Even so, in God’s providence, they persisted and were included in the three most widely used Old Testament versions from antiquity, the Greek, the Latin and the Syriac.

This reaffirms the wise counsel of Princeton Old Testament scholar and Bible defender Robert Dick Wilson, when addressing the subject of the reliability of the present form of the Hebrew Old Testament:

[I]n the text of our common Hebrew Bibles, corrected here and there, especially by the evidence of the ancient versions and through the evidence from paleography, we have presumptively the original text. (Robert Dick Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1959, p. 61. Italics added for emphasis.)

The Masoretic Hebrew text, while carefully copied for many centuries, occasionally has defects in the text (that is, departures from the original reading) which can be set right by appeal to the ancient translations which were made from Hebrew copies much older than any that were available before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the late 1940s and 1950s (another such passage is the presence of the word “light”, Hebrew ‘or, in the Septuagint at Isaiah 53:11, now attested by two Dead Sea Scrolls, Q Isa-a and Q Isa-b).

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Douglas K. Kutilek Bio

Doug Kutilek is the editor of, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.