Day 146: The DSS, KJV, and the Case of the Missing Couplet (Psalm 145)

A few of the clay jars recovered from Qumran, which contained the Dead Sea Scrolls. On display at the Shrine of the Book, Jerusalem.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the children of man your[b] mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
[The Lord is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.][c]
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.

If you have a hard copy of the Bible (not a digital version), open it up to Psalm 145. If you have a King James Version you can put next to it, even better. In this post, I want to give you a snapshot of why the Dead Sea Scrolls are perhaps the most important biblical archaeology find in history.

First, a review: The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) are a collection of Hebrew manuscripts that were discovered in a series of caves near the Dead Sea beginning in 1948. They were compiled by a community of monastic Jews called the Essenes. The oldest ones are from about three hundred years before Christ, and the newest are from around the first century AD.

Me at Qumran, February 2019, I’m pointing to Cave #1, where the Great Isaiah Scroll was found.

The Dead Sea scrolls contain all or part of every book of the Old Testament except for Esther. The most significant find is the Great Isaiah Scroll, which contains the entire Old Testament book of Isaiah on one scroll. Today, most of them are housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. In the center of the museum is a reproduction of the entire Great Isaiah Scroll. The actual Scroll is in a vault protected from light. Only about a foot and a half can be seen through a window, and they roll the scroll every month or so in order that one part doesn’t get more exposure than any other.

Ok. Enough background. What does this have to do with Psalm 145? Well, take a look at the Psalm as it is laid out on the page. 21 verses, right? And with the exception of verse 13, every verse is two lines long, right” (Some printed versions divide it into two couplets of two lines each.

But verse 13 is four lines (or six). Why is that?

Now, if you are looking at the King James Version, you see that it has a letter of the Hebrew alphabet above each verse:

This tells you that Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem, similar to Psalm 119. Each line in the couplet begins with that letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Now, notice that verse 13 in the KJV is two lines shorter than it is in most other English translations.

What?!? The Bible has been ADDED TO? What sort of devilry is this?

Pay attention to this part, because it shows the care with which the translators of the KJV went about their work.

Because Psalm 145 follows the acrostic pattern, translators expected there to be a two line couplet for the letter Nun. In the Hebrew alphabet, the letters Kaph, Lamed, Mem, Nun, and Samech correspond to the English K, L, M, N, and O. So when King James’ translators did their work back in 1611, they fully expected there to be a verse 14 for the fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet— Nun.

However, one of the rules the KJV translators made for themselves is that they would not include a verse if they couldn’t find it in multiple Hebrew manuscripts. And in 1611, when the King James was published, only two were known to contain a couplet for Nun, and one of them was the Greek Septuagint. So the 14th verse did not meet their standards for inclusion.

Fast forward 340 years. As archaeologists and translators worked to piece together the thousands of fragments of DSS, they found scrolls which contained Psalm 145. And guess what? There was the Nun couplet! It had been there for over two thousand years, just waiting to be discovered.

That’s why English translations published since 1948 contain an extra couplet in verse 13. In order to be consistent with hundreds of years of verse numbering, they didn’t add a verse 14.

This is no shot at the KJV. In fact, my admiration for those early translators went way up when I learned about this. They applied strict standards to their work, and made the best decision they could based on the information they had at the time.

But this is also a defense of modern translations. My last position at the Christian publisher where I worked for sixteen years was as the editor of the King James Only version of our Sunday school curriculum. I learned that there were some in my audience who were “King James Only” by preference. They had grown up with the beautiful poetry of the King James Version. They had memorized verses in the KJV, and it was the one they were most familiar with.

But there were other members of my audience that were King James Only by conviction. They believed that every modern translation was corrupt and possibly even evil. Alarm bells would go off for them whenever they discovered that another translation had added to or taken away from anything that was in the KJV.

I understand that there may be some of you reading this blog that are having all sorts of red flags raised at this point. You may be wondering if you can ever trust anything I ever write again. If that is you, then I’m sorry to have triggered you.

But in this case, it was clear to everyone, even the KJV translators themselves, that something was missing from Psalm 145 in the 1611 version. The placing of the Hebrew letters above each verse is a tacit admission to the fact that not all 22 letters are represented in the 21 verses of the Psalm. And I believe that when the missing verse was discovered in the 20th century, it made those 17th century saints in glory smile.

Because, don’t miss what those two lines actually say:

The Lord is faithful in all His words, and kind in all His works.

God is faithful and kind to every generation to ensure they will have access to every perfect word of His perfect word.

All His words. Even the ones that had been in a cave for twenty-two centuries.

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