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I saw this Psalm on this Wikipedia page on which is written the following note:

Other English translations insert extra words, example "I had fainted, unless" (King James Version). Another example is "Yet I am confident that" (New Living Translation). Only the Hebrew conjunction "unless" appears – translators add the extra words to make the phrase appear as a complete thought

Psalm 27:13

(ESV)

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!

(KJV)

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

(Westminister Leningrad Codex)

לׄוּלֵ֗ׄאׄ הֶ֭אֱמַנְתִּי לִרְאֹ֥ות בְּֽטוּב־יְהוָ֗ה בְּאֶ֣רֶץ חַיִּֽים׃

The bold is the a word meaning if/unless, the ESV seems to completely ignore it? How is the ESV approaching the word לׄוּלֵ֗ׄאׄ in their translation?

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  • According to Young's Concordance, the Hebrew word 'lule' is in Psalm 27:13 & 94:17. It means "Unless / if not". Perhaps it's the 'if NOT' meaning that causes difficulties? Young's Literal Translation has, "I had not believed to look on the goodness of Jehovah in the land of the living" That is quite the opposite to the ESV! But it would help explain the KJV. I hope someone knowledgeable in Hebrew will give an answer.
    – Anne
    Mar 24, 2022 at 18:06

1 Answer 1

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Ps 27:13 is a very difficult verse to translate because it makes no sense in the Hebrew and is either corrupt or incomplete. The original Hebrew, literally says this (Smith's)

Unless I believed to look upon the goodness of Jehovah in the land of the living.

Thus, there have been several approaches to deal with it:

APPROACH #1 - add an initial phrase

Note that the KJV & NKJV adds a whole phrase as Ellicott correct notes:

Psalm 27:13. I had fainted — These words are not in the original, but are added to complete the sense. For the speech is abrupt and imperfect, as is very usual, not only with the inspired penmen, but many other authors, in all vehement passions or commotions of mind, such as David was in at this time.

APPROACH #2 - "Unless" is spurious

The Cambridge commentary helpfully note that:

  1. The word for unless is marked with dots in the Massoretic text as probably spurious.

This is what is adopted by most modern versions who render the verse something like:

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!

APPROACH #3 - Apodosis - the sentence is incomplete

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary summarizes the tricky situation by suggesting:

  1. The strong emotion is indicated by the incomplete sentence, for which the English Version supplies a proper clause; or, omitting that, and rendering, "yet I believed," &c., the contrast of his faith and his danger is expressed.

The Pulpit commentary arrives at a similar conclusion:

Verse 13. - I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. In the original, by the figure aposiopesis,, the apodosis is omitted, "had I not believed that I should see the goodness of Jehovah in the land of the living [i.e. in this present world], then... " He shrinks from stating the consequences, He would have fainted, or despaired, or lost all faith in religion (compare, for similar uses of the figure aposiopesis, Genesis 3:22; Genesis 31:41; Genesis 1:15; Exodus 32:32; Daniel 3:15; Zechariah 6:15; Luke 13:9).

While this may appear similar to approach #1 it leaves open what was omitted and makes the problem even more vague.

My personal preference (for what it is worth, since I do not like adding to Scripture) is to adopt approach #2 as it appears to have the approval of ancient scribes, and, fits best with the context.

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