Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

A number of modern versions have toyed with this well known and frequently quoted verse by changing shadow of death to darkness or the like.

NRSV: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil …

NAB: Even though I walk in the dark valley …

NIV footnote: Or through the darkest valley.

Anchor Bible: Even though I should walk in the midst of total darkness.

The CEV and Living Bible try to combine the two by saying “valleys as ark as death” and “dark valley of death,” but they do so by slopping together other renderings without paying any attention to what the Hebrew text really says. No comment on either of these¬†silly paraphrases is necessary here.

The ASV and RSV did not tamper with the verse, but the socialist WCC translation mistranslated it in every other verse in which it shows up. The WCC, of course ruined the only correctly translated verse that was in the RSV when they produced the NRSV.

Some people may ask what difference does it really make. Doctrinally, it may not make a real big difference, but it makes a big difference in other important ways. Next to the Lord’s Prayer, this is probably the best known verse in the entire Bible. It is well known by atheists even, or at least it was in the days when Americans were able to read beyond fifth grade level. This verse is more than an inspiring verse that has helped countless people in times of trouble, but it has become a part of our literary heritage. When verses like this are altered it not only confuses the meaning of the verses themselves, but it confuses our English literary heritage. Introducing hundreds of alternative versions of this great verse help to eliminate the verse from the psyche of the English-speaking world. If there were 200 ways to say “a penny saved is a penny earned,” would it have come to be a part of our literary heritage? I doubt it greatly. Maxims, like verses, are memorized word for word.

A second problem with messing with this verse is, of course, that it destroys people’s confidence in the Bible. Most people are very familiar with this verse. If they hear it quoted with unfamiliar words, they will assume that the Bible is incorrect and that we are free to interpret it any way that we want, which is of course what is being said today by the majority.

A third problem is that changing it to very dark, or the like, is wrong! It is poor translation work and should not be tolerated. The word does refer to utter darkness, the darkness of death, but the element of death is essential to its meaning. It shows up a number of times in the Books of Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos and every time it refers to the darkness of death.

Job 3:5 Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.

Job 10:21 Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;

Job 10:22 A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.

Job 12:22 He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.

Job 16:16 My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death;

Job 24:17 For the morning is to them even as the shadow of death: if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death.

Job 28:3 He setteth an end to darkness, and searcheth out all perfection: the stones of darkness, and the shadow of death.

Job 34:22 There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.

Job 38:17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?

Psalm 44:19 Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.

Psalm 107:10 Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron;

Psalm 107:14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder.

Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Jeremiah 2:6 Neither said they, Where is the LORD that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led usthrough the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt?

Jeremiah 13:16 Give glory to the LORD your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.

Amos 5:8 Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:

The Bible perverters do give an alleged reason for this emendation. They claim that tsalmavet is not a conjunct between tsal (shadow) and mavet (death), but one word meaning darkness, which they claim is in an intensive mode. The plural -oth ending is on occasion used as an intensive rather than as a plural, but there is no -oth ending in the Masoretic Text (MT).

The ending is singular. What these incompetents must do is to ignore the MT and read it as tsalamot tsulamot, or the like. They do this with absolutely no justification, but it gets worse. What none of these skunks bother to tell the unsuspecting, foolish pseudo-scholars who are duped by them is that tsalam does not even show up in the Bible for darkness, nor does it show up in modern Hebrew. The Hebrew words for darkness are xasok, xashekah, and xoshek, and derivatives of the root ‘phl are used for great darkness. They have derived the word from the Arabic root zalama (a dot should be under the z), which is not used in Hebrew for darkness. So not only do they ignore the obvious connotation of death that is unarguably part of the word, but they change the word to do so, and they do so with a unattested word that they have sneaked in from Arabic.

The Anchor Bible’s version, done by Dahood, has a note correctly states that Hebrew composite nouns are more common than most grammars allow, but then goes off into the ozone by stating that mawet serves as a superlative here. I do not know how this dumb statement got past the editors.1 Mawet (mavet) has to be either the word for death or the end of a longer word. It would not serve as a superlative in the former case, and would have to be revocalized in the latter case. The Jesuit translator may have been sipping on too much wine when he came up with this comment.

None of this really matters, however, because the Bible is the Final Authority, and it does settle the issue for us without need of grammatical discussions. The conjunct in question shows up in Matthew and Luke.

Matthew 4:16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

Luke 1:79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Here the term is skia thanatou, which clearly means shadow of death. There is no way to suggest that these Greek words mean very dark, and I have not encountered a modern version that translates them incorrectly, including those that mistranslate the equivalent term in the Old Testament. In neither case are these passages translations of Old Testament passages, but they do demonstrate that the term was well understood by the divinely inspired New Testament authors, and it is used with the work for darkness as it is in most of the Old Testament occurrences. If the critics want to make the unfounded, theoretical claim that total darkness is the correct translation, they must not only lie and use poor reasoning, but they must place themselves above the authority of Matthew and Luke.

Atheist Bible “scholars” will of course do that, and it is at least logical on some warped, misguided level for them to do so. They do not believe the Bible and they want to undermine it, and using obviously faulty and silly reasoning to change the meaning of tsalmavet is not excluded from their moral code. What is confusing is the fact that professed Bible believers do the exact same thing and actually use the arguments of the incompetent atheists. What a strange world we live in today!

1 Dahood, Mitchell. Anchor Bible Psalms I, p. 147.

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.