And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.
1 Samuel 17:34-37

A Singapore pastor working to help bring forth KJV-equivalent Chinese Bibles, Jesse Sng, recently pointed out a common mistranslation of this verse that I had not noticed before. The ASV translators were confused by the grammar of the first sentence and this led them to the following rendering:

1 Samuel 17:34* And David said unto Saul, Thy servant was keeping his father’s sheep; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock,

What this verse meant was that a lion and a bear both attacked the flock on different occasions. The word in question is the conjunction ‘ve’ (vav or waw), which means “and” not “or”, which has the opposite meaning. The ASV made it look like David did not know the difference between a lion or a bear, or else he had a really bad memory and could not remember which it was that attacked the lamb. This seems unlikely. If you, the reader, were to fight a lion or a bear and kill it, would you have any trouble remembering which animal it was? There is a more than fair chance that you would remember it as clear as day even if you used a .458 or a .375 H & H Magnum, let alone a crude and primitive weapon in hand-to-hand combat. I have had nonviolent encounters with black and grizzly bears, and believe me, I have no trouble at all remembering that they were not lions. I might forget my wife’s birthday (fortunately for me, not yet), but the bear encounters I will never forget. Maybe this explains David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. His memory might have been so bad that he could not remember whether or not he was married to her.

In all fairness, it is possible that the ASV rendering may have intended to say the same thing that the KJV does, and did not actually intend to make David look forgetful. A number of modern perversions did try to correct the ASV’s butchering of the verse. In this case, we should be fair to the ASV committee and just assume that they were merely incompetent in both English and Hebrew, and just failed to express themselves in a manner that makes any sense. Note that the KJV states that David kept his father’s flock. This implies past habitual action. The ASV states that David was keeping his father’s flock at the time of the incident. This indicates a single event, a single moment captured in time, in which case the conjunction ‘or’ makes no sense whatsoever. Therefore, even if the ASV intended to imply that more than one incident was involved, the outcome of the translation did not reflect the intention. The NIV shows its frequent poor understanding of Hebrew and English in a different manner than the ASV in regard to this passage. The NIV implies that there were multiple incidents of different lions and bears. The Hebrew has the definite article with a singular noun in every place where the lion and the bear are mentioned. This tells us that a specific lion and a specific bear was being mentioned, not multiple ones. The definite articles in verse 36 make this particular clear. As for the English of the NIV, take a look at this:

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

Is this good English? One would expect a better command of English tenses from a first grader (home-schooled, at least) than what we see in the NIV. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear? Perhaps, when the advocates of this New Age Bible version claim that it is a better version than the KJV due to its contemporary language, they mean that it reflects the clumsy language of the incompetent government school-educated ignoramuses of modern times. This is not a doctrinal issue, but it is a very important issue on another level. Following the rendering of the ASV makes the Bible look silly. Worse than that is the unfortunate fact that the ASV was one of the most popular versions used by apostates to pervert the Bible in the mission field, and is still used by many foreign missionaries to this day. The NIV is, for some very ungodly reason, the most popular English Bible today and is the source for most of the international perversions that are being produced. These perversions have led to a number of confusing renderings. The Communist party supported Chinese Union Bible, for example, has “sometimes lion, sometimes bear”, which as Brother Jesse points out, is the funniest rendering of all.

1 Dahood, Proverbs, p. 18.

John Hinton, Ph.D.
Bible Restoration Ministry
A ministry seeking the translating and reprinting of KJV equivalent
Bibles in all the languages of the world.