The Bible has been translated hundreds, maybe thousands, of times over the centuries. When you compare these translations, you will find that for the bulk of Scripture, most translations agree on the overall meaning of a passage, where the meaning is clear from its context. But sometimes, different translations get wildly different results, such that one word can drastically change the meaning of a sentence, or a chapter, or the whole Bible itself. There are a few pivotal verses like this in the Bible, which wrongly understood have swayed the thrust of the entire narrative. Or at least boast to do so. Let’s take a look at this one from Psalm 139.
Psalm 139:16 “…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV)
This verse clearly says that everything—all of our days—have been pre-scripted for us, right? Hold your horses there. Let’s take a look at what other translations have done with this text and look again at the context to conclude what the intended meaning is. Let’s first look at the context, from verse 15…
“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV)
My frame…woven together…my unformed body… The psalmist is speaking of is his body. Interesting. With the subject in mind, the phrase we are addressing from the NIV is “all of my days were written beforehand.” Now, let’s take a look at how the King James Version translates this verse. Also beginning with verse 15,
"My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.” (KJV)
This seems to be more logically connected, doesn’t it? The subject is his body, not his days. His members (that’s old language for body parts) have been planned and hoped by the Lord, just as any father has dreams and hopes, thoughts and plans, for his children. The point of the passage is that God loves us. He thinks of us. He has so many plans to prosper us and to bless us. He is the best kind of father. He is interested in all of our ways. The point of this passage is not saying (as other translations suggest) that every event and every day of our lives has already been fatalistically determined.
Does this mean that those born with defects were made that way by God? No. Either way we read this passage: as days or body parts being pre-known/pre-scripted/pre-planned, we get off track when we take the thought literally. This is a poem, a song, a love letter to God from a follower who feels romantic affection for His Maker—His faithful God who knows him deeply and intimately—who has thought of him day in and day out for his whole life. That Maker has endlessly thought of you day in and day out for your whole life, too.
And when we think of our imperfections, whether they are big or small, sometimes we find comfort in the idea that God planned us this way. I’d like to suggest that true comfort comes when we acknowledge ourselves in all of our glory and imperfections and believe, not that He planned us this way, but that God knows us this way. That makes his knowing a now-knowing, an intimate-knowing, a seeing-and-accepting-knowing. That kind of knowing settles something in me. It adds hope. It gives courage—that God knows me in all of my limitations and can still use me. Not only that, but that I’m lovable, even on my worst days when I think I’m useless.
[taken from my book Catharsis]