"My goodness extendeth not to thee" or "I have no good apart from you" in Psalm 16:2?

KJV: "O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee;"

ESV: "I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”"

Psalm 16:2 is difficult to translate due to its elliptical construction (i.e. some words are implied). To begin with, "thou hast said unto the LORD", is a difficult construction because the second-person "thou" does not seem to fit the context. The Psalmist (the first person) is speaking "unto the LORD", so the "thou" seems repugnant to the context (one would expect an "I"). What seems to be the case is that the Psalmist is speaking to himself in the second person (Just as a frustrated person might say to himself: "Henry, you are so clumsy!"). To convey this meaning, the KJV adds "O my soul" in italics (which has the support of the Targum and notable Jewish Rabbis, Rashi, Aben Ezra and Kimchi (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible)). The ESV took the approach of changing "thou" (second-person) to "I" (first person). Some addition or alteration is required no matter which approach is taken.

With regards to the latter portion of the verse, the KJV has "my goodness extendeth not to thee" while the ESV (agreeing with other translations such as the NIV and NKJV) has "I have no good apart from you". Some other translations have some sort of variation of the ESV rendering. This discrepancy in translation arises because the Hebrew only has the words that say, "[thee] [my goodness] [not] [to/beyond]". The translator must supply some additional words. The ESV translators interpreted the Hebrew and supplied additional words as follows: "[beyond] [thee] [my goodness] I have [not]" which idiomatically is rendered "I have no good apart from you". The KJV translators interpreted the Hebrew and supplied additional words as follows: "[my goodness] extendeth [not] [to] [thee]".

Either the KJV or ESV rendering is supported by the Hebrew. However, the KJV rendering has the following support from the context:

  • Psalm 16 is considered the words of Jesus Christ prophetically spoken by King David (see Acts 2:22-33). If these are the words of Jesus Christ, a theological problem might arise with having him say to the LORD "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you." Jesus himself is God and is therefore good. He is “the good shepherd” (John 10:11) who was without sin (John 8:46, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, Hebrews 7:26). In the parable of the vine at John 15, Jesus himself is the vine from which his followers bear good fruit. The KJV rendering portrays Jesus as the source from which goodness flows (to the "saints that are in the earth" in verse 3) rather than someone who lacks inherent goodness. Thus the KJV rendering may be more consistent with orthodox Christology.

  • Psalm 16 moreover is considered the words of Jesus Christ shortly before his crucifixion. At that time, he prayed a prayer of blessing for his followers "in the world. John 17:11-13 says: "11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves." Jesus emphasized "in the world" no less than four times. When the words at Psalm 16:3 is read together with the KJV rendering of Psalm 16:2, we get, "my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth". Psalm 16:2-3 in the KJV is a concise summary of Jesus' prayer of blessing in the Garden of Gethsemane which culminated in the words at verse 22: "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them" who were "in the world". Jesus indeed gave his "goodness" i.e. his "glory" to his "saints that are in the earth".

While the ESV and other modern translations seem to interpret Psalm 16 primarily as the words of David and secondarily as the words of Jesus, the KJV seems to have read Christ more thoroughly into the text. This of course is consistent with our Lord's hermeneutical strategy provided at Luke 24:44 wherein he said, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me."

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