In describing David's look these Bible versions have different interpretations concerning his skin color. NLT have him as dark, while KJV as ruddy, which though not cleared, some interpreted as reddish. Which is right?


So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the LORD said, “This is the one; anoint him"


So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” (1 Samuel 16:12)


The literal translation of the word אַדְמוֹנִי is ruddy. It comes from the root אדם which is the color red. Actually the same word is used to describe Esau in Gen. 25:25, and I think that all translations agree that it should be translated as ruddy as the text clearly connects it with the red stew Esau gulped down (v. 30), and is also related to the etymology of the land of Esau, Edom or אדום, which all share the same root. So, yes I side with the KJV.

What ruddy actually means is beyond the scope of the question, but it does not mean that he was redhead as is commonly believed; it's more about the skin color than anything else.


The New JPS Tanakh translation of this verse is:

So they sent and brought him. He was [ruddy-cheeked, bright-eyed,] and handsome. And the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.”

A note in the Oxford Jewish Study Bible indicates that the Hebrew text of what is in brackets above is "uncertain", without any further explanation, so it may be that "ruddy" (i.e. reddish) is an accurate translation of אַדְמוֹנִי, but, if I am understanding the OSJSB editors, it is not clear that the Masoretic אַדְמוֹנִי faithfully represents the original Hebrew text.

That having been said, though, references to other proto-Hebrew texts all seem to agree with "ruddy". The Septuagint (older than the Masoretic Text) refers to some 2-3d century BC Hebrew texts and shows:

καὶ ἀπέστειλεν καὶ εἰσήγαγεν αὐτόν, καὶ οὗτος πυρράκης μετὰ κάλλους ὀφθαλμῶν καὶ ἀγαθὸς ὁράσει κυρίῳ, καὶ εἶπεν κύριος πρὸς Σαμουηλ Ἀνάστα καὶ χρῖσον τὸν Δαυιδ, ὅτι οὗτος ἀγαθός ἐστιν.

And he sent and fetched him: and he was ruddy, with beauty of eyes, and very goodly to behold. And the Lord said to Samuel, Arise, and anoint David, for he is good.

The Latin Vulgate (also older than the Masoretic Text) dates to the time of Jerome (4th c.) and shows:

Misit ergo, et adduxit eum. Erat autem rufus, et pulcher aspectu, decoraque facie: et ait Dominus: Surge, unge eum: ipse est enim.

He sent therefore and brought him. Now he was ruddy and beautiful to behold, and of a comely face. And the Lord said: Arise, and anoint him, for this is he.

Finally, there is the Syriac Peshitta, dating to the first half of the first millennium, which reads (in English translation):*

And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes, and very handsome. And the Lord said to Samuel, Arise, anoint him; for this is he.

We might keep in mind in these sorts of comparisons, I think, that the NLT is by its own admission not a very literal translation. In the words of the NLT editors, "In the New Living Translation, this is accomplished by translating entire thoughts (rather than just words) into natural, everyday English." The KJV, on the other hand, is a fairly literal translation.

* George Lamsa (ed.), Holy Bible: From Ancient Eastern Manuscripts (A. J. Holman Company, 1957)

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