In Hebrew, the phrase בְּ֝אַרְצ֗וֹת הַחַיִּֽים from [Tehillim 116:9] is plural referencing multiple "Lands" אַרְצ֗וֹת Aretsot (on earth) where "The Living" הַחַיִּֽים Ha-Chayim (God's faithful servants) dwell.

[Tehillim 116:9] "I shall walk before YHVH in the lands of the living." ( אֶֽתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה בְּ֜אַרְצ֗וֹת הַֽחַיִּֽים )

Yet in English bibles, there is only a singular "Land" where the Living dwell:

  • [ESV] "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living."

  • [NKJV] "I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

Why do English bibles make the noun אַרְצ֗וֹת Aretsot in Psalm 116:9, singular instead of plural?

1 Answer 1


English Bibles are not changing a plural into a singular, they are translating. Translation requires expressing the same idea in different languages with different conventions for using singular and plural. That means in one language it may be singular and in another it may be plural. To get this right requires a deep understanding of both languages.

For example, English Bibles do not say "bloods" of Abel, but the "blood" of Abel in Gen 4.10. Even though the Hebrew says "bloods". But in English we do not say "bloods". Similarly, "Lands of the living" sounds very clumsy in English, so "Land of the living" is used.

For the other direction, in Hebrew the list of peoples in Ex 33.2 is singular, but in English it must be plural:

"And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, and the Hittites and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, Go to a land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go up among you, because you are a stiff-necked people, lest I destroy you on the way.”

So we see that although some may naively believe that singular and plural reflect objective realities that are language independent, such a belief is mistaken.

The rules for plural and singular do not transcend linguistic boundaries, they are as specific to each language as the declension rules for nouns, and the translator must go between different conventions for singular and plural just as much as they must correctly go from one declension scheme to another.

  • Excellent and succinct answer. Many thanks. +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 2, 2021 at 21:50

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