In Psalm 66:3, do God's enemies "submit to Him" (KJV) or do they merely give "feigned obedience" (NASB)?

by Luke Wayne
09/16/2019
Return to King James Onlyism

For King James Onlyists, any difference at all between the wording of the KJV and another translation can be infused with all kinds of theological significance. Thus, when they read Psalm 66:3 in the KJV and NASB, many King James Only advocates see a nefarious plot to undermine the Christian faith. They claim that the NASB's slightly different wording actually makes a huge difference and downplays the power and victory of God over His enemies. The fact of the matter is that the NASB offers a fair reading of a difficult Hebrew phrase, one that is ironically supported by the original translators of the KJV!

The Verse

The verse in question reads (with the relevant clause in bold):

"Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee," (Psalm 66:3, KJV).

"Say to God, 'How awesome are Your works! Because of the greatness of Your power Your enemies will give feigned obedience to You,'" (Psalm 66:3, NASB).

In the eyes of some King James Onlyists, this difference in wording is meant to downplay the greatness of God's power. The KJV, they say, has God's power leading to real submission on the part of God's enemies while in the NASB God's power can only attain a feigned submission. Thus, they claim, only the KJV gives us a truly powerful and victorious God. Yet, when we look a little closer, there is a very good reason for the NASB's wording, and it does not diminish the victory of God's power at all!

The source of the difference

The overall context of the verse is about God's great power, to which even His enemies will ultimately have to respond in some kind of submission. God will defeat His enemies, and they will in some way acknowledge the fact. Yet, the specific word used for this submission is a Hebrew term rooted in the idea of lying or deceiving. This is why the previous two "authorized" versions of the English Bible before the KJV rendered this verse as:

"...thine enemies be found liars unto thee," (Great Bible, see also the Bishop's Bible).

The KJV adjusted this language to read that they would "submit themselves unto thee," but even here there was more. The original 1611 KJV contained a note in the margins, which read:

"or yield feigned obedience. Heb. lie" (KJV 1611 marginal note).

Thus, the KJV translators did two important things here. First, they acknowledged that the Hebrew word did not literally mean "submit" but rather "lie." Second, they offered another possible translation, one that reads almost exactly like the NASB! "Yield feigned obedience" and "give feigned obedience" are, for all intents and purposes, the same rendering. Thus, the KJV itself actually admits that the NASB might offer the better reading here!

The only real difference between the two, however, is that the rendering given in the NASB (and the 1611 KJV footnote) makes explicit what is implicitly obvious even in the main reading of the KJV; i.e., that the inner motives of God's enemies in their submission are not the same as those of God's own people. God is so great that even His enemies will indeed submit to Him, but this will not be because they all come to true saving faith. They will outwardly submit for fear of His might, but not because they have become genuine followers of God. Note, for example, how the Geneva Bible handles this verse. It reads quite similar to the KJV:

"...shall thine enemies be in subjection unto thee," (Psalm 66:3, Geneva Bible).

Yet it clarifies in a study note:

"As the faithful shall obey God willingly, so the infidels for fear shall dissemble themselves to be subject," (Geneva Bible, Marginal note on Psalm 66:3).

Thus, even while translating it like the KJV, they still found the same meaning that is present in the NASB to be implicit in the text. We can see, therefore, that there is no conspiracy here. The Hebrew is somewhat difficult to translate, but each of these solid Christian versions ultimate brings the sincere reader to the same meaning.