I Shall Not Want

The young man in the back seat, all of twenty, clearly was not at a loss for words: he spoke of his new job, of his recent purchases, of his plans, of his fiancée and unborn baby, of the bad situation at home, of the music on the radio. As we drove through places where one shouldn’t wander after dark, we came to a full stop behind a church busone of those, you know, with a Bible verse printed on the back door. It read:

“The Lord is my Shephard,
I Shall Not Want” (Ps. 23:1)

I noted the misspelling with amusement, and quickly redirected my attention to the stream of words coming from the back seat. The Scriptural words did not fail to catch the young man’s attention, however, but for an altogether different reason.

He blurted out, “Now, what kind of church is that?” Never one to miss a chance to make a smart comment, I quipped, “Well, apparently one that quotes the Bible!” After a brief (and humorous) digression brought on by my comment, the young man returned to the Scriptural words. “I shall not want,” he repeated. “What is that supposed to mean? Of course I want!”

My first thought was perhaps to explain to him that the passage doesn’t mean that one will not want things, and that, as I once suggested here, the phrase in question might be rendered more idiomatically as “I will lack nothing.” But then it hit me: this was no mere misunderstanding of an older translation. Of course he wants: he wants domestic peace, a bed on which to sleep, a fair shot at success in spite of a minor criminal record. He wants these things because he lacks them. And while “I will lack nothing” would undoubtedly elucidate the actual meaning of “I shall not want,” to him, the former would ring every bit as false as the latter.

I was then reminded of the searing words of the great Spanish biblical scholar Luis Alonso-Schökel:

“People ask us for bread, and we offer them a handful of hypotheses about a verse from St John chapter 6; they question us about God, and we offer them three theories about the literary genre of a Psalm; they thirst after righteousness, and we put before them an etymological disquisition on the root sedaqa…”1

And so, at a loss for words, I said nothing.


1 Quoted in José Martínez, Hermenéutica bíblica (Terrassa: CLIE, 1984), pages 541-542; my translation.

4 responses to “I Shall Not Want

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