Psalms 100:3: "Not We Ourselves"

© 1997, 2001, 2008 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

Psal. 100:3 (KJV) Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

"Not we ourselves"--a much disputed reading. NIV and many other versions read, "and we are his," and the JPS Tanakh adds that this reading is found in the qere of the Masoretic Text, while the KJV reading is in the kethib (the "qere"--which gets its name from an Aramaic word meaning "read"--gives alternate readings from the "kethib" or written text of the Jewish scriptures). The Vulgate, like the KJV following the "kethib" here, gives "ipse fecit nos, et non ipsi nos" (Clementine text), probably following the LXX ("he made us, and not we ourselves" [Brenton's translation]). 


Regarding which reading makes more sense, it has been asserted (e.g., by Richard Kevin Barnard, in his book God's Word In Our Language: The Story of the New International Version [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989], p. 105) that the KJV's reading is obviously inferior to the NIV, because:

" . . .the rest of the sentence says, 'we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.' His people, his pasture, his sheep; these phrases all convey the idea of ownership. Since the context speaks of ownership, the phrase 'we are his' is clearly the better translation."

Long before this, in an even more overconfident strain, Adam Clarke said the following of the KJV reading in his Commentary:

"I can never think that this is the true reading, though found in the present Hebrew text, in the Vulgate, Septuagint, AEthiopic, and Syriac. Was there ever a people on earth, however grossly heathenish, that did believe, or could believe, that they had made themselves? . . . Every person must see, from the nature of the subject that ['and His we are'] is the genuine reading. . . ."

It is one thing to admit one's inability to see something, as Clarke does, but one risks exposing himself to looking ridiculous in making his own inability a universal one! In fact, St. Augustine (in his "Expositions on the Book of Psalms") did not find any difficulty in the reading that caused Clarke and Barnard to stumble so significantly:

"'It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.' It is He that hath made us: 'and without Him was not anything made that was made.' What reason have ye for exultation, what reason have ye for pride? Another made you; the Same who made you, suffereth from you. But ye extol yourselves, and glory in yourselves, as if ye were created by yourselves. It is good for you that He who made you, make you perfect."

Nor is this the only time that Augustine has this verse in mind, since he alludes to it in the opening pages of his Confessions: "Where could a living creature like this have come from, if not from [Y]ou, Lord? Are any of us skillful enough to fashion ourselves?" (Book I:10, p. 8 of the translation by Maria Boulding, O.S.B. [Vintage, 1998].)

To answer Barnard's argument: one must not lose sight of the fact that the context not only "speaks of ownership," but also speaks of creation and perspective: infinite God vs. man the finite creature. Significantly, the above Barnard quote and the citation from Clarke fail to account for the beginning of v. 3--"Know ye that the LORD he is God"--, which sets up this contrast. Reading "not we ourselves" continues the contrast, while the reading "we are his" does not and is redundant anyway because of the statement "we are his people" immediately afterwards. Thus the KJV reading makes better sense.

It is worth noting that, although the ASV moved to replace the KJV reading with "we are his," the New American Standard apparently had second thoughts about the new reading and revised it to agree with the KJV!

That the reading "not we ourselves" remained thoroughly intelligible and made perfect sense to Christians after 1611, despite the objections of Barnard and Clarke, can be seen in the following from Samuel Richardson's 1740 novel Pamela (Volume I, Letter VIII), which is clearly an allusion to this verse:

"Besure don't let people's telling you, you are pretty, puff you up: for you did not make yourself, and so no praise can be due to you for it."

What's more, even in our own times, the reading has been fully validated by the kind of thing that Adam Clarke was too unimaginative to have envisioned: men claiming to be self-made in the most literal sense. Consider the 1965 letter of Che Guevara to Carlos Quijano which was later anthologized as a piece entitled "The New Man"; another title for it, "Socialism and Man in Cuba," is given in the online text of it at, with a slightly different translation from that quoted below, which agrees with the one found at

In this piece, Guevara writes of "the need to create a new human being who will represent neither nineteenth-century ideas nor those of our decadent and morbid century. It is the twenty-first-century man whom we must create...." And near the very end of the letter, Guevara very revealingly says, almost exactly reversing the words of the psalmist (presumably unintentionally), "We will make the twenty-first-century man, we ourselves" (emphasis added).

Can anyone after reading such things assent to the benighted opinion of Barnard and Clarke that the KJV here is deficient in sense? In fact, the phrase "not we ourselves" may be more meaningful, applicable, and relevant today than ever before.

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