Questions From Readers
Why does the numbering in the book of Psalms differ in various Bible translations?
The first complete Bible to have the chapter and verse divisions is a French translation published by Robert Estienne in 1553. The book of Psalms, however, apparently had divisions long before that, since it was a compilation of individual psalms, or songs, composed by a number of people.
Evidently, Jehovah first directed David to put together a collection of psalms for use in public worship. (1 Chronicles 15:16-24) It is believed that Ezra, a priest and “a skilled copyist,” was later responsible for compiling the entire book of Psalms into its final form. (Ezra 7:6) So it follows that the book of Psalms was made up of individual psalms when it was compiled.
In a speech that the apostle Paul gave in the synagogue in Antioch (Pisidia) on his first missionary journey, he quoted from the book of Psalms and said: “Even as it is written in the second psalm, ‘You are my son, I have become your Father this day.’” (Acts 13:33) In Bibles today, those words still appear in the second psalm, Ps 2 verse 7. There are, however, differences in the numbering of many of the psalms in various Bible translations. This is because some translations are based on the Hebrew Masoretic text, whereas others are based on the Greek Septuagint, which is a translation of the Hebrew text completed in the second century B.C.E. For example, the Latin Vulgate, from which came many Catholic Bibles, uses the numeration of the psalms found in the Septuagint, while the New World Translation and others follow that of the Hebrew text.
What are the specific differences? The Hebrew text has a total of 150 psalms. The Septuagint, however, combines Psalms 9 and 10 into one and Psalms 114 and 115 into one. Furthermore, it divides Psalms 116 and 147 each into two psalms. While the total count remains the same, the numbering from Psalm 10 through Psalm 146 in the Septuagint is lower by one than that in the Hebrew text. Thus, the familiar 23rd Psalm 23 appears as Psalm 22 in the Douay Version, which follows the numbering of the Latin Vulgate, which, in turn, follows the Septuagint.
Finally, the verse numbers of some psalms may also differ from one translation to another. Why? This is because some translations adopt “the Jewish practice of reckoning the superscription as the first verse,” says McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, but others do not. In fact, if the title or superscription is long, it is often counted as two verses, and the number of verses in the psalm increases accordingly.