SOMETIMES TRANSLATION DIFFICULTIES prompt Bible translators to include footnotes that preserve alternative possibilities. Sometimes no alternative is included, and something important is lost. One instance of each kind is found in Psalm 116, and both deserve thoughtful reflection.
(1) The NIV reads, “I believed; therefore I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’ And in my dismay I said, ‘All men are liars’”(116:10-11). The Revised Standard Version renders the first line, “I kept my faith, even when I said . . .” The latter is a perfectly possible rendering of the Hebrew, and most modern translations have followed it. Paul quotes from the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew, commonly called the Septuagint (or LXX), which preserves the meaning found in the NIV of Psalm 116:10-11 (see 2 Cor. 4:13).
But in this case, surprisingly little is at stake. Perhaps the NIV rendering is a trifle stronger: the reason why the psalmist said he was greatly afflicted was that he believed (“I believed; therefore I said”). In other words, it was nothing other than his faith in God — and the entire relationship with God that such faith presupposes –that enabled him to see that when he faced terrible suffering it was nothing other than the affliction meted out by God. But more importantly, both the NIV and the RSV make a point frequently illustrated in the Psalms, and particularly illustrated in Job: when someone feels crushed (Ps. 116:10) or utterly disillusioned (Ps. 116:11), and says so, it does not follow that he or she has abandoned faith. Rather, the unguarded accents of pain, offered up to God, give evidence of both life and faith.
(2) The NIV’s “precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15) is often cited at funerals, and doubtless it expresses an important truth. But there is good reason to think that the word rendered “precious” should be rendered “costly” or the like: hence Jerusalem Bible’s “The death of the devout costs Yahweh dear.” The psalmist’s rescue from the borders of death (Ps. 116:3-8) makes that rendering more likely. Certainly Jesus recognizes how costly is the death of one human being (Matt. 10:29-31).
If that is the case, it is vitally important to see that although God in his sovereignty rules over everything, including all deaths, this reign for him is not some cold piece of accounting. He knows better than we do the sheer ugliness and abnormality of death, how it is irrefragably tied to our rebellion and the curse we have attracted. It is immensely comforting to perceive that the death of the devout costs Yahweh dear. Still more wonderful is the price he was willing to pay to supplant death by resurrection.