I am looking at Psalm 139:16 which the NRSV translates as:

In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

But the "were written" is יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ which biblehub has parsed as nifal-imperfect-3mp form of כָּתַב (to write down). But isn't the perfect form the one that is "complete?" As in, "the writing is finished"? Shouldn't this be, as imperfect, an incomplete action? Like "in your book are being written" all the days? But the verb for "formed" is in the perfect tense (יֻצָּ֑רוּ), which indicates that the days were formed and that that action is complete (this is the forming as God did in Genesis 2:7 to form adam from the adamah).

What is with the conflict of completeness and incompleteness here in this verse? Is this actually an imperfect conjugation of "writing?" Like, the days have not yet been written? Is this a bad parsing on the side of whatever source biblehub is using?

If the days are already formed (perefect/complete), then is the writing happening as they are lived out? If they are already formed, how can we choose what to do? But is there a determinism here? This Psalm in general is loaded with deterministic imagery of the inescapable God. Why do translations like the NRSV say that the days were already written?

Edit: γραφήσονται is the word in the Septuagint which is a future tense form of the verb "to write"... But still the NRSV, the NIV, the KJV all have the idea that they are already written...

  • Webster's Bible of 1833 stands out (on this particular verse) from most other translations and is perhaps worthy of consideration : Thy eyes saw my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 20, 2020 at 22:36
  • If you scroll further down, there are some relevant commentaries on that verse on Biblehub Oct 20, 2020 at 23:58
  • 2
    @ Gus L. - The Future Tense of "Yikatevu" ( יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ ) is interesting & exciting! Psalm 139:16 shows evidence that Ancient Ivrim envisioned a future body after His day had come. - Thank you for helping us notice this. Oct 21, 2020 at 15:05

2 Answers 2


Psalm 139:16 all my days "are" or "will be" written?

Tehillim / Psalms 139

[16] "Your eyes saw my unformed body, and on Your-Book they will all be written; days were formed and one of them [is] His." (גָּלְמִ֤י רָ֘א֤וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וְעַֽל־סִפְרְךָ֮ כֻּלָּ֪ם יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ יָמִ֥ים יֻצָּ֑רוּ ולא וְל֖וֹ אֶחָ֣ד בָּהֶֽם)

Sifer-kha ( סִפְרְךָ ) = Your-Book .

Yikatevu ( יִכָּ֫תֵ֥בוּ ) = [they] - will be written.

  • See Ivri conjugation of "Lehikatev" (לְהִכָּתֵב) / "To be Written" for Future Tense 3rd-Person Masculine Plural : [https://www.pealim.com/dict/958-lehikatev/#h-IMPF-3mp]

Yamim ( יָמִ֥ים ) = Days .

Yutsru ( יֻצָּ֑רוּ ) = [they] - were formed.

  • See Ivri conjugation of "Li-Yitsor" (ליצר) / "To Form" for Past Tense 3rd-Person Masculine Plural : [https://www.pealim.com/dict/840-litzor/#h-PERF-3p]

Some versions use future tense:

Brenton Septuagint Translation Thine eyes saw my unwrought substance, and all men shall be written in thy book; they shall be formed by day, though there should for a time be no one among them.

Douay-Rheims Bible Thy eyes did see my imperfect being, and in thy book all shall be written: days shall be formed, and no one in them.

But more use past tense

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