Nathan Kirkpatrick: Psalm 119

Which psalm translation works for you? The psalms are the songbook of the bible. St. Augustine famously said, "The one who sings prays twice." So the answer matters. Nathan Kirkpatrick wants to know which you choose.

In October 2008, I was at a meeting in Nashville for directors of the Course of Study program from around the nation. During these biannual meetings, we always meet with representatives from the United Methodist Publishing House. This year, these representatives were extolling the virtues of their new Wesley Study Bible (edited by Will Willimon and Joel Green). As they were talking about this new resource, they made a point of saying that they are using the text of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as the biblical translation, but then they noted quickly that the Publishing House is assembling a team of scholars to begin work on a new translation of the Bible.

It seems that the NRSV, the 1989 translation that has become somewhat standard for academic purposes within Protestant circles, is simply too difficult for most American readers to understand. According to what we heard in Nashville, it is written on a seventh grade reading level, and they receive countless requests each year for an “easier” translation for use within congregations. So, this new translation has as its goal a third grade reading level.

Obviously, this new “easier” translation raises old but significant questions about the nature of the Scriptures and the community that reads them. While countless others will be willing to wrestle with those questions theologically and ecclesiologically (if that’s a word), I wonder about how we experience different translations – how we hear a word directed to us through – and in spite of – the translation we read.

To help illustrate this point, I wonder what word you hear for you in the verse below today. Does the word directed to your heart differ translation to translation? Does the nuance of each translation help or hinder your hearing of a word?


Today’s Psalm of the Day – Psalm 119.54:

Your statutes have been my songs wherever I make my home. (NRSV)

Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge. (NIV)

Your statutes are my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage. (NASB)

I set your instructions to music
and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way. (The Message)

Your decrees have been the theme of my songs
wherever I have lived. (New Living)

Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. (KJV)

No matter where I am, your teachings fill me with songs. (Cont. English Version)

I sing about your demands
wherever I live. (New Century Version)

Nathan Kirkpatrick is a managing director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.