The Case of the Missing “Nun” (נ)

Not all variations in Bible translations invite theological debate. Using different synonyms for certain words, for instance, are certainly acceptable providing the English usages adequately reflect legitimate meanings inherent in the original words. Other translation differences, however, are more striking and demand explanations even if the theology poses no difficulties.

Psalm 145 illustrates this type of translation variation at verse 13. An acrostic psalm utilizes each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to begin the successive strophes of the poem. Of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, psalm 145 includes only 21, hence the missing nun (נ) strophe.

In the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and many other translations, Psalm 145:13 reads, “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Thy dominion endures throughout all generations.” The NIV reads, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” The NIV is twice as long as the NASB by adding the nun (נ) strophe, seen in bold font.

At the present time the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible is prominent among evangelical Christians. One can count on its presence in church and Bible studies. Also one can count on questions about the disappearance of the missing nun (נ) in other translations. An answer should be given.

Although the Hebrew text does not include the nun strophe in verse 13 the textual apparatus does have it along with this note, insert the nun strophe to agree with one Hebrew manuscript, the Septuagint, and the Syriac manuscripts. Compare verse 17 (my translation of the apparatus note).

Comparing verse 13 with verse 17 we find that the first words differ, נֶאֱמָן and צַדִּיק, and instead of “His ways” (דְּרָכָ֑יו) in verse 17 we read “His words” (דְבָרָיו) in the nun strophe. Certainly these word changes do not detract from the meanings of the verses but enhance them. God’s faithfulness (נֶאֱמָן) correlates with his words/promises (דְבָרָיו) and likewise God’s righteousness (צַדִּיק), with his ways (דְּרָכָ֑יו). What ultimately happened in the manuscript transmission of Psalm 145:13 is unknown.

The evaluation of the known data includes: First, the fact that the poem is intentionally acrostic favors an inadvertent omission. Although it is not unique to discover a missing letter in an acrostic poem (cp. Psalm 25), the intent of the author surely began with the idea of representing each successive strophe with one of the 22 Hebrew letters. Second, repetition is a common poetic feature so that the similarities between verses 13 and 17 are not unique. Third, the contents of the debated portion fits admirably in both verses. Based tentatively on this evaluation, the longer reading of verse 13 should be granted legitimacy in the NIV, ESV (?), NRSV, NLT, et al.

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