Tender Mercies in English Scriptural Idiom and in Nephi’s Record

Nephi records divine beings inviting humans to participate in the sacred story of salvation and humans petitioning divine beings for aid in their mortal affliction. The first chapter of Nephi’s story introduces linguistic, textual, and narrative questions about how humans should engage with and produce holy books that memorialize these divine human relations in heaven and on earth. For Nephi, a central element of these relationships is “tender mercies” (1 Nephi 1:20). What are tender mercies? How do the Lord’s tender mercies make the chosen faithful “mighty, even unto the power of deliverance”?

Nephi’s striking phrase has become popular in Latter­day Saint discourse since Elder David A. Bednar preached of the “tender mercies of the Lord” at general conference in April 2005. He defined t ender mercies as “very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving­kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.”1 I would like to extend this discussion and reconsider this definition with respect to Nephi’s record by exploring the biblical sources and the transmission of this beloved phrase through English scriptural idiom.

Nephi explains that he has acquired “a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God” and that he will share this knowledge in his record (1 Nephi 1:1). To make this record, Nephi must translate his personal experience and spiritual knowledge into the medium of written language, a medium circumscribed by its lexical resources and cultural traditions. Nephi acknowledges his record’s linguistic and cultural hybridity in blending ancestral Jewish traditions with imperial Egyptian script: “Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. And I know that the record which I make to be true. And I make it with mine own hand, and I make it according to my knowledge” (1 Nephi 1:2–3). As modern readers, we are limited in our ability to perceive and evaluate these linguistic and cultural contours because we lack access to the original language of Nephi’s record. Instead, we have Joseph Smith’s English translation, a translation made in the language of Smith’s own ancestors. Like Nephi’s Reformed Egyptian, Joseph’s English is encoded with linguistic and cultural hybridity, but unlike Nephi’s language, the history of the English language has been well documented. Consequently, we must triangulate the meaning of Nephi’s phrase tender mercies through the lens of Joseph’s translation, which is itself embedded in a long tradition of fashioning English as a functional and resonant medium for scripture.

The rich history of translating scriptural texts into English involves generations of effort by many, including Ælfric, John Wyclif, William Tyndale, English expatriates in Geneva, and King James’s scholars. The translators of each generation were challenged to recapture the ancient scriptural truths anew in the common language of their day. As an inheritor of this tradition, Joseph Smith likewise recasts Nephi’s sixth­century Jewish world using the linguistic resources of the scriptural idiom popular in early nineteenth­century Protestant America—that is, the language of the King James Bible. Before we can understand tender mercies with respect to Nephi’s “learning of [his] father,” we need to explore the history of the term in the learning of Joseph’s fathers.

The learning of Joseph’s fathers: Mercy in the Hebrew Bible and in English scriptural idiom

The phrase tender mercies did not originate in the Book of Mormon.2 It appears eleven times in the King James Bible:3 ten times in the Psalms and once in Proverbs, where it consistently renders the Hebrew word r ah. ămîm , an intensive, plural, nominal form of the verb r āh. am, meaning to “love deeply, have mercy, be compassionate.”4 R ah. ămîm appears thirty­nine times in the Hebrew Bible (eleven times in the Psalms),5 in contexts articulating God’s intrinsic and steadfast love and his patient willingness to forgive in order to preserve relation with both the obedient and the unfaithful. The cluster of occurrences of the phrase tender mercies and the term r a h . ămîm in the Psalms indicates a close relationship between this term and the language of Israel’s songs of praise and lament.

In the Hebrew Bible, the stem rh. m and its cognates refer to an intense visceral love and intimate commitment rooted in a natural bond of kinship and creation, especially of a mother for her child (for example, 1 Kings 3:26 and Isaiah 49:15) and of God for his children (for example, Isaiah 63:7, 15; Psalm 145:9).6 R āh. am is linked with a homophone, r eh. em (“womb”), and this verbal relation anchors the emotion of r h . m in physiological pain felt deeply in one’s inner organs while observing another’s vulnerability: a mother for her baby dependent on her care, and God for his creatures susceptible to sin and suffering. Such pain compels a compassionate and merciful response that alleviates this suffering.

In the Hebrew Bible, r h . m primarily refers to a fundamental and enduring attribute of Yahweh, and it is “an essential constituent of the relationship between God and humanity.”7 For example, in Exodus 34:6, Yahweh proclaims himself to Moses on Mount Sinai: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful ( r a h . ûm ) and gracious ( h annûn ), slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love ( h . e s e d ) and faithfulness ( ʾ ĕme t ).”8 The same constellation of words appears in Psalm 25, where the psalmist expresses powerful confidence in Yahweh’s love and mercy amid petitions for divine rescue, teaching, and forgiveness.9 Walter Brueggemann notes that this psalm juxtaposes themes of divine fidelity and human failure and in doing so models candid acknowledgment of human vulnerability, for “the candor of suffering . . . moves to a gratitude rooted in confidence that God’s h . e s e d will prevail. Candor turns to gratitude, suffering turns to hope, lament turns to praise.”10

Be mindful of your mercy ( rah. ămîm ), O Lord, and of your steadfast love ( h. ĕsādîm ), for they have been from old.

Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love ( h . e sed ) remember me, for your goodness’ sake, Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs the sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love ( h. esed ) and faithfulness ( ʾĕmet ), for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.11

In verse 6, r ah. ămîm is paired with h . e sed , a word referring to an “act that preserves or promotes life,” constituted by mutual and enduring “goodness, grace, kindness.”12 This frequent pairing can be treated as “a compound of complementary expressions: h . e sed expresses the fundamental goodness of God, r h . m the special favor shown by God in the face of a situation of sin and affliction.”13 Like r ah. ămîm , h . e sed is a rich and flexible word of relation. Scholars have considered h . e sed as “loyal kindness,” the reciprocity of mutual beneficence between two parties who have entered a relationship entailing responsibility to the other party. While some scholars describe h . e sed as involving a formal covenant, others stress that this commitment is rooted in moral responsibility rather than legal obligation.14 The mutuality in this relation involves reciprocal actions: a person “who receives an act of h . e sed responds with a similar act of h . e sed ,” or at least a person “who demonstrates h . e sed is justified in expecting an equivalent act in return.”15 When referring to divine action , Katharine Sakenfeld concludes that “ h . e s ed was a particularly useful word for speaking of God’s relationship to his people, collectively and individually, because it held together in a single expression an emphasis on divine freedom on the one hand and divine commitment on the other, the emphasis on divine power . . . and divine care . . . an emphasis on human need and weakness . . . and human responsibility to trust in God alone.”16 Dan Belnap highlights the agent reciprocation involved in acts of h . e s e d , and he emphasizes that humans reciprocate physical or spiritual deliverance of divine h . e sed by obedience to God and by performing acts of h . e sed on behalf of others, “since we cannot truly reciprocate in kind to God.”17

H . e sed is repeated in verses 7 and 10 of Psalm 25, where it is linked to God’s faithfulness ( ʾ ĕ met ). Scholars consider the pairing of h . e sed and ʾ ĕme t to be a hendiadys in which one noun serves to describe the other; thus, the pair of words could mean “faithful love” or “steadfast kindness.”18 In his study of the collocations with h . e s e d , Gordon R. Clark concludes that this collocation emphasizes the fidelity, faithfulness, trustworthiness, and steadfastness that characterize the agents’ interaction and the “permanence, certainty, and lasting validity of the demonstration or promise of h . e sed. ”19 This triad of terms— r ah. ămîm, h. esed, and ʾ ĕ met —deepen the relational aspects of mercy in ancient Israel’s songs of wor20 The subtle variations among these complementary and overlapping terms praise God’s multifaceted and constant nature.

To explore how much of the Israelite theology of mercy embedded in the word rah. ămîm and its related words was conveyed in translations made through the centuries, I will trace how the verse Psalm 25:6 has been rendered through the development of English scriptural idiom. This case study illustrates how scripture is circumscribed by the medium of the language in which it is rendered. The visceral and reciprocal nature of rah. ămîm was effaced in Greek, Latin, Old and Middle English translations and was somewhat recovered in Early Modern English translations during the sixteenth century.

The story of the transmission and translation of Psalm 25 begins with the compilation of the Hebrew book of Psalms during the Second Temple period. The authorship and date of the composition of Psalm 25 is unknown, as is the case with most of the psalms. Many biblical scholars believe that ancient Israel composed prayers and songs for use in preexilic communal and family worship, including in temple liturgy and in prayer rituals, and continued to do so during the Babylonian exile. Priests and scribes collected these prayers and songs during the postexilic period, and the collection eventually became canonized as the book of Psalms.21 The Hebrew Masoretic text of Psalm 25:6 reads:22 ְ

Modern translations of the Hebrew Bible typically render r ah. ămîm as “compassion” and h . e s ed as “mercy” or “great commitment.”23As discussed above, r ah. ămîm and h . e s e d are not synonyms. Rather, r ah. ămîm is the physiological and emotional response to the suffering of a loved one, and this compassionate emotion generates the merciful action of h . e sed on the loved one’s behalf.

In the second and third centuries bc, Greek translations were made of Hebrew scriptures for Hellenized Jews, especially those living in Egypt. Greek was the common language of the Mediterranean world for several centuries, and these translations made the Hebrew scriptures widely available. The best­known Greek translation was the Septuagint, in which Psalm 25:6 is rendered:

μνήσθητι τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν σου κύριε, καὶ τὰ ἐλέη σου, ὅτι ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνός εἰσιν.24

O i ktirmós translates r ah. ămîm , and eleos translates h . e s e d . In this verse, the translators of the Septuagint used two of three words that expressed mercy and compassion in the Greek lexicon: “ e l eo s refers to the feeling of pity, oiktirmós, and especially its root oiktos, to the exclamation of pity at the sight of another’s ill­fortune.” However, they did not use splanchna , the word used to refer “to the seat of emotions, the inward parts or what today would be called the heart,” which may have preserved the visceral connotations of r ah. ămîm .25 As in any translation, the entire semantic range and complex nuances of the source language cannot be fully captured in the target language, so a translator looks for comparable, compatible, or parallel linguistic concepts in the target language. Mercy was not valued the same way in the Hellenistic worldview as in the Semitic, so it is not surprising that the constellation of Greek words for mercy did not align exactly with the Hebrew words. Pity was not always a desirable emotion in Greek culture. Aristotle defines eleos in R hetoric 2.8 as “a kind of pain in the case of an apparent destructive or painful harm in one not deserving to encounter it,” a misfortune that “one might expect oneself, or one’s own, to suffer.”26 According to David Konstan, an expert on ancient emotions, “Greek pity [ e l eos/oik t os ] was not an instinctive response to another person’s pain, but depended on a judgment of whether the other’s suffering was deserved or not.”27 The Stoics, who were writing during the same period as the Septuagint translation was being produced, considered pity to be a pathological emotion to be avoided. In Greek discourse, the psychological and judicial elements of these terms were emphasized, in contrast to the physiological and social dimensions of the Hebrew terms.

During the second and third centuries ad, multiple Latin translations of the Septuagint circulated in Christian communities in the Roman Empire. Around 380, Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome to revise these various Latin translations of the Greek New Testament; after Jerome completed the New Testament, he turned his attention to translating the Old Testament. During the 380s and 390s, Jerome produced three revisions and one translation of the Psalms.28 Although Jerome consulted sources in multiple languages, he selected Latin words that lessened the distinction between r ah. ămîm and h . e s e d . First, he revised the second­century Old Latin version from Africa, and he consulted Greek versions in his second revision, the Ps a lt erium R oma- num . Then he consulted Origin’s Hexapla for his third revision, the Psalterium Gallicanum ; this version was transmitted in the Vulgate and used in medieval liturgy for over a millennium. While living in Bethlehem, he produced a new Latin translation of the Hebrew psalms called the Psalterium Hebraicum. There are minor variations among Jerome’s different versions of Psalm 25:6.

[Romanum] Reminiscere miserationum tuarum domine et misericordia tua quae a saeculo sunt. [Gallican] Reminiscere miserationum tuarum domine et misericordiarum tuarum quae a seculo sunt. [Hebraicum] Reminiscere miserationum tuarum domine atque misericordiarum tuarum: quod a seclo sunt. [Remember your mercies Lord and your mercy­hearted­ nesses which are from the beginning.]

Jerome consistently uses the plural genitive of miseratio , “pity, compassion,” for rah. ămîm/oiktirmós and in the two later versions the plural genitive of mi sericordia , “mercy, compassion,” or literally “mercy­heartedness” for h. esed/eleos .29 Jerome seems to have interpreted rah. ămîm and h. esed as synonyms and does not utilize the potential parallel between the visceral connotations implicit in the compound misericordia and those of rah. ămîm .

Miser atio and m is e ric ord i a were often used synonymously in Christian Latin discourse and conveyed a new ethics of relation outlined in the beatitude in Matthew 5:7: “Beati misericordes quia ipsi misericordiam consequentur” [Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy]. This Christian ethical orientation contrasted with the Stoic view expressed by Seneca, in which mi s ericordia was a “weakness of souls” that good men should avoid, “for it is the falling of a weak nature that succumbs to the sight of other’s ills.”30 In the early seventh century, Isidore of Seville provided an etymological explanation that again highlighted the visceral relation between misery and compassion: “The term ‘pitying’ ( misericor s ) is assigned from one’s having compassion for another’s distress ( mi s e r ia ), and from this pity ( mise r ico r dia ) is so called, because it makes miserable ( mi s e r um ) the heart ( c or ) of one who grieves over the distress of another. However, this etymology does not apply in every case, because in God there is misericordia without any ‘misery of heart.’”31 Latin Christian discourse shifted the locus of compassion back to the physiological and social, though it excluded God from participating in emotional mutuality with humans.

The history of English scriptural idiom begins with the conversion of the Anglo­Saxon kingdoms in the sixth and seventh centuries. The Anglo­Saxons spoke a West Germanic language we now call Old English and could not understand the Latin Bibles brought by Christian missionaries from Ireland, Gaul, and Italy. Eventually a small percentage of Anglo­Saxons joined monasteries and learned Latin, but the majority of Anglo­Saxons would have had to rely on vernacular summaries, paraphrases, illustrations, and translations of the Bible to learn about the Christian faith.

The oldest extant translation of a biblical text into Old English is the interlinear gloss added in the mid­ninth century to the Psalterium Romanum in the mid­eighth­century manuscript London, British Library, Cotton Vespasian A.i (usually called the Vespasian Psalter). It is not surprising that a vernacular version of the Psalms was needed. Reciting the Psalms was the foundation of the monastic liturgy and an integral part of the monastic curriculum. Over the course of a week, monks and nuns recited the entire Psalter.32 The Old English gloss for Psalm 25:6 was rendered by the glossator of the Vespasian Psalter as:

Gemyne mildsa ðinra dryhten & mildheortnis ðin ða from werulde sind.33 [Be mindful of thy mercies Lord and thy mercy­heartedness which are from the beginning of the world.]34

The Old English gloss provides a straightforward translation of the Latin psalm. Although the Old English word milds became the modern English word mild, in early Germanic languages it and its cognates meant “mercy, pity, and compassion.” The compound mildheortness is a calque (or a loan translation) of misericordia in which the Latin components are rendered in the same pattern with Old English lexical correspondence. Anglo­Saxons continued glossing and translating the Psalms over the next two hundred years; fourteen psalter manuscripts with vernacular glosses survive from the tenth and eleventh centuries.35 The subsequent psalter glosses consistently employed the vocabulary of the Vespasian gloss. Anglo­Saxons also produced independent translations of psalms. The Paris Psalter contains Old English prose paraphrases of Psalms 1–50 and Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Fonds latin 8824, a manuscript that dates from perhaps the mid­eleventh century, contains Old English metrical versions of Psalms 51–150.36 The prose paraphrase renders the words from the psalter glosses of Psalm 25:6 in more fluid Old English syntax.

 Gemun, Drihten, þinra miltsunga and þinre mildheort­nesse þe fram fruman worlde wæs.37 [Be mindful, Lord, of thy mercies and of thy mercy heartedness which was from the beginning of the world.]

Following the example of the Latin Vulgate, the doubling of mild- in Old English translations perpetuates the loss of distinction between the Hebrew terms rah. ămîm and h. esed, of which Anglo­Saxons had no direct knowledge.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the influx of French­speaking aristocrats and ecclesiastical leaders displaced Old English as a literary language. Over several hundred years, a hybrid language called Middle English emerged from Germanic and Scandinavian roots and exposure to French. Middle English can be characterized by a simplified inflectional system and by an enriched vocabulary; this fluidity offered new possibilities for biblical translation.38 In addition, a growing focus on individual piety in the thirteenth century stimulated the production of the Books of Hours, which encouraged laity to emulate in their private devotional life the clerical practice of daily reciting psalms.39

Multiple Middle English translations of Latin psalms were made from the mid­1200s to 1400. These translations were made in several Middle English dialects, and they employed words with Old English antecedents and more recent loan words. The Surtees Psalter, a Middle English metrical paraphrase, was composed between circa 1250 and 1300. Psalm 25:6 is rendered in the following couplet:

Lauerd, ofe þine reuthes mine þou mare, And of þine milþes , of werld þat are.40 [Lord, be thou more mindful of thy pities, and of thy mercies, that are from the world.]

This northern dialect employs reu t h , a word from Old Norse meaning “pity, compassion, and sympathy,” and milthe , a word from the Old English milds , “mercy.”41 Dating from the mid­fourteenth century, the West Midlands Psalter provides a Middle English prose translation of Psalm 25:6:

By­þenche þe, Lord, of þy pites and of þy mercies þat ben of þe world.42 [Be thoughtful, Lord, of thy pities and of thy mercies that be from the world.]

This West Midlands dialect employs two Old French loanwords: pité and merci , both of which are still used in similar semantic ranges in Modern English. In circa 1340, the mystic hermit Richard Rolle of Hampole (1290– 1349) produced his English Psalter , which included a translation and commentary for his friend Margaret Kirkby, who later became an anchoress. Rolle emphasized that his translation could be used for devotional purposes by persons who did not know Latin, for psalms provided “a moral yet mystical bridge between the physical world of words and heavenly realities.”43

Rolle rendered Psalm 25:6 with commentary:

Vmthynke ye of thi mercyingis lord; and of thi mercys, the whilke ere fra the warld.44 [Remember thy merciful works Lord, and thy mercies, those which are from the beginning of the world.]

Rolle uses mercy to signify both an emotional response to another’s suffering and the action prompted by this feeling. Rolle’s psalter was popular in southern England and much copied and revised by Lollards who advocated for ecclesiastical reform and for vernacular translation of the Bible in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.45

In the 1370s and 1380s amid “profound clerical anxieties about lay access to the Bible,” manuscripts containing Middle English translations of the entire Latin Vulgate began circulating in England.46 Th se manuscripts were associated with John Wyclif, a prominent scholar at Oxford, and his friends; however, the names of the translators remain unknown. The translation of the Wycliffite Bibles was likely a corporate enterprise in multiple stages.47 The first phase of translation produced “a closely literal” rendering of the Latin Bible, and the second phase “a more idiomatic revision.”48 This sequence of revision is evident in Psalm 25:6.

Earlier Version: Recorde of thi mercy deedis , Lord; and of thi mercies that fro the world ben. [Remember your merciful deeds, Lord, and your mercies that have been from the beginning of the world.] Later Version: Lord, haue thou mynde of thi merciful doyngis ; and of thi mercies that ben fro the world. [Lord, be mindful of your merciful actions, and of your mercies that have been from the beginning of the world.]

Wycliffite Bibles circulated secretly for the next 150 years in spite of intense repression after ecclesiastical legislation in 1407–9 prohibited “the use of any recent, unlicensed translation.” Approximately 230 manuscripts survived, more than any other Middle English text.49

In both versions of the Wycliffite Bible and in Rolle’s Psalter, the French loanword merci replaced the native Old English word milds . The root of the Old French merci was “Latin merces [which] meant ‘payment, reward.’ In the Christian era the [commercial] notion of a ‘reward’ was taken up and reapplied metaphorically to the ‘compassion given freely by God to humankind,’ and the word passed into Old French (in the form of merci ) with the broader sense ‘compassion,’ and hence ‘forbearance from punishment.’”50 Merci appears in the Middle English corpus as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century, and its semantic range encompasses social responses of pardon, clemency, and forgiveness; emotional responses of pity, compassion, and favor; and theological concepts of divine atonement, propitiation, and grace.51 By the early sixteenth century, humanistic renewal of interest in Hebrew and Greek in Western Europe revealed inconsistencies and divergences in the Latin Vulgate, which spurred scholars to call for new translations from original sources. Simultaneously, the spread of the evangelical doctrine that all Christians should have access to the word of God in their own tongue increased the intensity of vernacular scriptural translation and publication.52 However, translating the Bible in England was politically dangerous and divisive. Henry VIII and his advisors considered vernacular translations of the Bible to be seditious because they undermined the authority and power of the king and the Catholic Church. Until Henry’s break with Rome in the 1530s, translations of the Bible into English were prohibited.53 Nevertheless, there was a proliferation of English translations of psalms during the sixteenth century as scholars began referring to Hebrew, Greek, and contemporary vernacular versions. The first group of translators comprised English scholars living on the continent in exile because of their evangelical sympathies.

George Joye published the first sixteenth­century English translation of the Psalms in 1530 as The Psalter of David in Englyshe in Antwerp. Joye’s colloquial psalm translations were also published in England in the form of a primer, a devotional manual and school text for the laity.54 Joye’s source was Ps a l mor u m libri quinque ad ebraicam veritatem versi by reformer Martin Bucer of Strasbourg. Bucer translated the Hebrew of Psalm 25:6 as: “Memor sis misericordiae tuae Autophyes, & benignitatis tuae, quando quidem iis praestas ab initio,”55 which Joye rendered into colloquial English as:

Lorde remember thy mercy and thy gracious favoure : for in theis thynges thou excellest even from the beginnynge.56

Joye followed Bucer’s somewhat freer translation, whose periphrastic rendering prioritized plain sense over literal verbal correspondence. Unlike many of the Latin, Old English, and Middle English psalm translations, Bucer’s and Joye’s translations distinguish between the Hebrew words r ah. ămîm and h . e sed , and this verbal distinction set a precedent for subsequent English psalm translations. Bucer also aligns r ah. ămîm with the more apt Latin term m i sericordia.

Four years later, another English expatriate in Antwerp, Miles Coverdale, produced a paraphrase of Jan van Campen’s Latin translation of the Hebrew psalms. Coverdale rendered Campen’s version of Psalm 25:6, “Reuoca in memoriam D o mine clementiam & benignitatem tuam, quibus seculis superioribus tam liberaliter usus es erga tuos,” as:

Call to remembraunce Lorde thy kyndnesse & gent yl­nesse , whyche in fore tymes thou hast used so liberally towarde those that are thyne.57

Coverdale faithfully renders Campen’s Latin in 1534, but he makes considerable changes to this verse when he publishes his translation of the Psalms in the first edition of the entire English Bible the following year.

Call to remembraunce, O LORDE, thy tender mercyes & thy louinge kyndnesses , which haue bene euer of olde.58

David Daniell and Gordon Campbell credit Coverdale with coining the term tender mercies in his translation of Psalm 25:6: “Coverdale had an excellent ear, and many of his fine phrases have resonated down the centuries, transmitted by the KJV. His magnificent rendering of Psalm 25:6 . . . brought the word ‘loving kindness’ and the phrase ‘tender mercies’ into English and into the mainstream of biblical translations.”59 The use of plural mercies renders the plural r ah. ămîm , and the adjective t ende r communicates the intensified form of the Hebrew word. Tender entered Middle English via Old French from the Latin root tener , “soft, delicate.” In English, t ende r encompasses both God’s capacity to “yield easily to force or pressure” in response to human fragility as well as humanity’s “easily broken, divided, and injured” nature that yields to God’s love.60

It is curious though that Coverdale, who reportedly did not read Greek or Hebrew, could have introduced such a felicitous English pairing that conveys the lexical form of the Hebrew r a h . ămîm as well as the emotional intensity and vulnerability associated with the Hebrew concept of compassionate mercy. In the prologue of his historic 1535 Bible, Coverdale explains that he consulted the Latin Vulgate and Sante Pagnini’s Latin translation of the Psalms from Hebrew and Greek as well as German translations by Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, though I have found no evidence that he derived the adjective tender from these sources. Coverdale may have been influenced by William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament published in 1534, in which he translates “splanchna eleous/viscera misericordiae” in Luke 1:78 and “splanchna oiktirmou/viscera misericordiae” in Colossians 3:12 as “tender mercy.” There is no question of an underlying Hebrew term for these passages, since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, but the Greek terms that Tyndale translates come from the same constellation of terms that the Septuagint translators used for rendering r ah. ămîm in the Psalms—namely, oi ktirmós and eleos —a fact Tyndale likely knew since he read Hebrew and Greek. Tyndale may have recognized genre conventions of psalms in Zacharias’s song (Luke 1:68–79). Furthermore, Zacharias speaks of similar themes of deliverance and praise in this passage, closely aligning it with the Hebrew doctrine of r ah. ămîm and h . e sed in the Psalms. This passage from Luke would also have been well known throughout the Latin Middle Ages, since it was recited as the Canticle of Zacharias in the liturgy. As the Greek and Latin terms demonstrate, the physical, visceral notion embodied in r h . m were not effaced in this passage, primarily since the term for vitals or organs was included. So perhaps Tyndale was the first to render the concept of r h . m in English as “tender mercy.”

Could Tyndale have been the impetus for Coverdale’s choice to translate r ah. ămîm in Psalm 25:6 as “tender mercies”? Although it is unknown where Coverdale made his biblical translation and where the first edition of the 1535 Bible was printed, David Daniell reports that Coverdale spent time in Antwerp in the early 1530s, where Tyndale was working and printing. There have been suggestions that Coverdale and Tyndale were associates, and Daniell believes they might have been, if for no other reason than they were both in Antwerp at the same time working on English Bible translations.61 The circle of these scholars was not large. Although Coverdale did not know Hebrew, it is certainly possible that he was working with colleagues who may have pointed out to him the richer sense of r ah. ămîm that he had earlier missed in his metrical paraphrase. The phrase tender mercies was used in subsequent sixteenth­ and seventeenth­century bibles. Coverdale revised his 1535 translation of the Psalms for the royally approved Great Bible published in 1539; this version was adopted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer as the psalter of the Book of Common Pr a y e r , which was used by the Church of England until the twentieth century.62 The popular Geneva Bible was translated by Marian exiles in 1560.63 The Bishops’ Bible was revised under the direction of Archbishop Matthew Parker in 1568 for use in the Church of England.64 The King James Bible was completed in 1611 by a team of translators commissioned by King James.65

Geneva Bible: Remember, o Lorde, thy tendre mercies , and thy louing kindenes : for thei haue bene for euer.66 Bishops’ Bible: Call to remembraunce O God thy tender mercies & thy louyng kindnesse : for they haue ben for euer.67 King James Bible: Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies , and thy louing kindnesses : for they haue beene euer of old.68

By the end of the seventeenth century, the King James Bible (KJV) became the predominantly used Bible in England largely because the king’s printer and then two privileged university presses held a monopoly on the publishing rights.69 The consistency of the use of the phrase tender mercie s in the major sixteenth­century biblical translations had so shaped English religious language that by the mid­sixteenth century, the phrase tender mercies appeared in sermons and other devotional writing.70

More than seventy different, new English versions of the Psalms were produced in the sixteenth century (see a representative sample of the metrical versions of Psalm 25:6 in the appendix at the end of this chapter). A significant number were composed by poets and clergy as they participated “in a long and relatively stable tradition of Christian devotion” that incorporated psalms in liturgical worship and private prayer.71 The metrical versions particularly highlight the “intrinsic affective appeal” of the “authoritative and eloquent texts” in the devotional practices of English Catholics and Protestants. The variety of translations for r a h . ămîm employed in the metrical psalms, such as “mercies manyfolde,” and “louyng mercies,” indicates that the pairing of “tender mercies” was not the inevitable translation. Over the century, the phrase tender mercies became sufficiently established for Sir Philip Sidney to engage in poetic word play in the 1580s, altering the famil­ iar phrase to a possessive relationship: “Remember, only king, / Thy mercy’s tenderness” in his lyric rendition of Psalm 25.72 By the early seventeenth century, the translators of the KJV Psalms employed the conventional phrase t ender mercies when rendering r ah. ămîm . English­speaking colonists brought the King James Bible with them to America, and American printers began publishing editions of the KJV in 1777.73 The KJV retained a central place in American religious life until 1901 when the official American Revised Version was published.74 It has been well documented that antebellum American society and the Second Great Awakening movement were saturated with the language and images of the KJV and that Joseph Smith was likewise deeply immersed in the biblical culture of his family that centered on the KJV.75 Consciously, unconsciously, or by inspiration, Joseph employs conventional scriptural idiom (that is, the language of the KJV) in his translation of the Book of Mormon.76 As we have seen in this overview of the translations of Psalm 25:6, Joseph Smith’s English scriptural idiom is encoded with linguistic and cultural hybridity. Tracing centuries of translations deepens our appreciation of how language mediates the transmission of theological concepts as they are reformed in new linguistic and cultural contexts and offers insight about Nephi’s absent or inaccessible language.

The learning of Nephi’s father: Empowering mercy in the Book of Mormon

Nephi frames his narration of his father’s visions with self­reflective commentary about his purpose in making this particular record. Nephi will disclose in subsequent chapters (1 Nephi 6:1–6, 9:2–6, 10:1, 19) that this is not the first record that he has made of his people and that he received a divine mandate to make this record for a special and a wise purpose (9:2, 5). Before we learn these details though, Nephi introduces his theological project in verses 1 and 20, creating an inclusion, a thematic envelope, around the story of his father. In these verses, Nephi speaks directly to his audience, explaining that he makes his record to reveal his knowledge of God, more specifically of God’s goodness and his mysteries—his tender mercies.

Nephi’s theological project: The inclusio of 1:1 and 1:20b

Nephi begins his record by introducing two types of learning experiences in his life that have profoundly shaped his theological project. The syntactical structure of the first sentence illustrates the parallelism between parental and divine learning. Nephi describes his experiences in four participial clauses linked by the anaphora of “having.” These descriptive statements are divided into two sections by causal clauses beginning “therefore.”

I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and, having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days, yea having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. (1 Nephi 1:1)77

In the first clause, Nephi describes his parents as “goodly,” because they provided a way for him to learn the social practices of his commmunity. In the next sentence, Nephi specifies the content of his learning: “I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2); this linguistic, cultural, and religious literacy is crucial for Nephi to write a sacred record and to read and interpret other sacred records. In the next three clauses, Nephi explains the rigorous method of divine tutoring. The contrast between the second and third clauses raises a question: Why does Nephi acknowledge suffering affliction while receiving divine favor? The fourth clause reveals the outcome of this paradoxical pedagogy: Nephi gains knowledge about God’s nature, specifically his goodness and mysteries. Although afflictions are often interpreted as evidence of divine punishment, Nephi implies that gaining knowledge of God requires suffering, for it is in affliction that we seek God and that God powerfully manifests himself to us.78 The repetition of the temporal phrases, “in the course of my days,” “in all my days,” and “proceedings of my days,” suggests that Nephi’s learning process unfolded over a lifetime rather than in discrete events. The attribute “good” seems to be an appropriate description of both his parents and God because of the care they demonstrate toward Nephi in endowing him with the knowledge he needs to make a true record memorializing his lifetime of learning.

Nephi’s first example of divine tutoring comes not from his personal experience but from that of his father. Lehi hears prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem, and he prays to God “with all his heart” on “behalf of his people” (1 Nephi 1:5). A pillar of fire from which “he saw and heard much” appears to him (v. 6). Next, the “heavens open,” and he sees God enthroned and surrounded by angels (v. 8). A brilliantly shining being brings him a book in which he reads about the destruction of Jerusalem. After reading and seeing “many great and marvelous things,” Lehi joins the concourses of angels in praising God (vv. 14–15). Then Lehi joins the “many prophets,” declaring “among the people” the knowledge he had acquired from God in his visions to his community and family (vv. 4, 18). However, “the Jews” reject his prophesies and threaten to kill him. At this critical moment in the narrative, Nephi pauses, leaving his audience in suspense as to whether Lehi would be “cast out and stoned and slain” as the “prophets of old,” to remind us of his theological project (v. 20).

But behold, I Nephi will shew you that the tender mercies of the Lord is over all them, whom he hath chosen because of their faith, to make them mighty, even unto the power of deliverance. (v. 20)

The incongruity and dissonance between Lehi’s plight and Nephi’s thesis propel us into interpretive work. As we ponder how God will make Lehi “mighty, even unto the power of deliverance,” we join the dialectic process in the narrative of learning about God through the characters’ suffering of affliction and their exercising faith in becoming favored or chosen of God, just as Nephi introduced at the beginning of his record (see v. 1).

In addition to being a narrative crux, verse 20b is also a textual crux. We are accustomed to reading in the scriptures about the Lord delivering his chosen people, but the syntax in the verse does not suggest that the faithful are passively delivered. God offers an open invitation to all. Everyone may choose to be faithful to him, and in return God promises the faithful deliverance. However, the mechanism of this deliverance hinges upon the bestowal of tender mercies that seem to endow the faithful with some kind of potential power or ability to enact their deliverance. Nephi’s conception of divine mercy seems to involve divine­human mutuality and reciprocity akin to the Hebrew concept of r ah. ămîm and Israel’s theology of mercy articulated in the Psalms.

Praise and lament: Lehi, Nephi, and the language of the Psalms

As discussed above, the Hebrew word r ah. ămîm and its cognates frequently appear in the Psalms, so I consider broader resonances of psalms at the beginning of Nephi’s record and how they may illuminate Nephi’s theology of mercy. Since Nephi’s or Lehi’s records are not available in their original languages, any attempts at discerning intertextual allusions must remain speculative and must be filtered through the lens of Joseph Smith’s scriptural idiom indebted to the KJV. Nevertheless, it may be productive to compare Nephi’s theological statements and Lehi’s direct discourse (or as much of what Nephi provides) with the language and imagery of the KJV psalms.

I suspect that Lehi’s perception of his visions, or at least how he recorded them and taught them to his family, was infused with imagery from the psalms, the songs that generated ancient Israel’s discourse for communicating with God. Although the received form of the Hebrew Psalter was not canonized until after Lehi’s lifetime, it is likely that Lehi used similar songs as vehicles for praise and prayer in his cultic and devotional worship. John Goldingay surmises that “while the Psalms eventually do take a place in the context of individual spirituality and individual study, in origin many of them belong at least as intrinsically in the context of liturgical worship and priestly ministry, in the temple, in other sanctuaries, and later in the synagogue and other community settings for worship and ministry.”79 Other scholars suggest more specific associations of psalms with the temple in Jerusalem, where they probably functioned as libretto during temple worship.80 For these reasons, it would not be surprising for Lehi to use language, images, and themes from the discourse of his worship to articulate his glimpses into heaven. After relating Lehi’s vision of God in majesty and the descent of a brilliant personage with a prophetic book, Nephi reports a brief exclamation of Lehi’s praise. Nephi signals that Lehi has shifted into a special idiom with specific formal features when he explains, “after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God” (v. 15).81 Lehi’s praise follows the typical form of praise in biblical poetry: first a sum­mons to praise, followed by reasons or motivations for praise.

Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power and goodness and mercy is over all the inhabitants of the earth. And because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish. (1 Nephi 1:14)

In the summons of his first exclamation, Lehi responds with delight to God’s nature and calls out to God with a string of sacred names. Then Lehi offers two reasons for his praise: God’s sovereignty and his compassion. These statements employ structural parallelism, a formal feature of psalms.82 First, God’s lordship is illustrated by a visual image of his enthronement. Lehi amplifies this royal image in the second cola of the sentence by listing God’s sovereign qualities. In the second reason, Lehi restates who God is with respect to his mercy and then defines what God does as a result of his mercy—he protects the faithful. There are certainly similarities between Lehi’s praise at the conclusion of his vision of the heavenly council and Nephi’s theology of mercy in 1:20b. In particular, both Lehi and Nephi describe God’s mercy as being “over all”; mercy is an essential element of God’s nature.

Thy power and goodness and mercy is over all the inhabitants of the earth. (1 Nephi 1:14)

The tender me rc ies of the Lord is ove r all them. (1 Nephi 1:20)

Lehi’s and Nephi’s descriptions of God’s merciful nature echo the laudatory KJV rendition of Psalm 145:8–9: “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” They also anticipate Ammon’s testimony of thanksgiving: “We see that God is mindful of every people…. His bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). Nephi’s pluralization of mercy also may indicate that God’s mercy is not a discrete response but an ongoing divine characteristic; God is always ready to respond to human suffering by experiencing r ah. ămîm , and “God performs h . e sed because he likes to do it. . . . It is his glory. He loves what he does and does what he loves. In recognizing this, we can begin to discern our true nature, desire to serve and deliver others.”83

Although God’s mercy is patiently steadfast and eternally available to all, Lehi and Nephi explain that not everyone will accept God’s invitation to be in relation with him; humans choose to qualify and circumscribe God’s mercy.

Because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish. (1 Nephi 1:14)

Whom he hath chosen because of their faith to make them mighty, even unto the power of deliverance. (1 Nephi 1:20)

Human reciprocity demonstrated through obedience activates divine mercy. In both formulations, God exercises mercy by protecting the obedient, and in gratitude for deliverance (or anticipated deliverance), the obedient praise God. Nephi explains that Lehi was moved to praise at the end of his vision, “for his soul did rejoice and his whole heart was filled” (1 Nephi 1:15). In doing so Lehi imitated the “numberless concourses of angels” he had seen “in the attitude of singing and praising their God” at the beginning of his vision and may even have joined in their celestial song (v. 8). Together the angels and Lehi demonstrate that “praise is the duty and delight . . . of all creation.”84

But what should we make of Lehi’s praise in light of the destruction he reads about in the heavenly book brought to him by the “one” (1 Nephi 1:9)? Nephi explains that his father “read concerning Jerusalem, that it should be destroyed and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword and many should be carried away captive into Babylon” (v. 13). The emotional impact of this devastation is heightened as Lehi quotes the book’s lament: “Woe woe unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations” (v. 13; see also Jeremiah 13:27). Psalms offer examples and precedent for the stark juxta­ position of lament and praise in communication with God. As Walter Brueggemann explains, “Praise articulates and embodies our capacity to yield, submit, and abandon ourselves in trust and gratitude to the ‘One’ whose we are,”85 for only when there is “articulation of hurt and anger, . . . submission of them to God, and finally . . . relinquishment . . . can there be praise and acts of generosity.”86 John Goldingay likewise envisions the emotional attitudes of psalms as a circular spectrum cycling from praise to protest to plea to trust to thanksgiving to obedience and back to praise.87 One function of psalms is to facilitate divine mercy on behalf of the psalmist. The psalmist calls God to feel r ah. ămîm and extend h . e sed ; thus “the praise has the power to transform pain. But conversely, the present pain also keeps the act of praise honest.”88

Lehi models this cyclical, maturing process of lament and praise in his vision. He initially seeks the Lord, to plead with his whole heart on behalf of his people. God responds to Lehi’s lament by revealing himself enthroned in heaven to Lehi and by sending “the one,” whom Lehi will learn is a messiah and whom Nephi will learn is the Lamb of God. Yet this divine communion is complicated by the heavenly book in which Lehi reads about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, at which point he echoes the book’s lament for his community. Only after articulating this lament can he hear and vocalize the angelic praise. Lehi’s laments generate contact with God, who responds by giving him knowledge that reorients his perspective about his personal and communal suffering, for which he offers God thanksgiving and praise. The responsive mutuality in Lehi’s personal interaction with God is Nephi’s initial evidence of God’s tender mercies.

Lehi’s life, especially in Nephi’s account from 1 Nephi 1:4–20, reveals that articulating praise and lament are theological acts and social gestures that construct a theological world in which humans interact with God individually and communally. Lehi illustrates that as he approached God with candor about his suffering and with gratitude for his hope that God would respond mercifully, his relation with God deepened into a steadfast trust that mediated his mortal sorrows. This is precisely the relation conceptualized in the Hebrew terms r ah. ămîm and h . e sed , conveyed in English scriptural idiom as “tender mercies” and “loving kindnesses.” God is moved with compassion for Lehi’s suffering, so he offers Lehi empowering knowledge, knowledge that will frame his family’s worship for generations and will protect his family from captivity in Babylon. Yet this knowledge also effects great suffering for Lehi and his family.

Nephi resumes his father’s story after stating the theological thesis of his record in 1 Nephi 1:20. Lehi receives another vision in which the Lord commands him to “depart into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 2:1). Leaving Jerusalem preserves his life, but the consequence of his obedience and of God’s deliverance is that Lehi and his family lose their home, inheritance, and wealth. Lehi spends the rest of his life barely surviving the rigors of traveling through deserts, sailing across the world, and founding a new civilization amid escalating violence among his sons. Though these sorrows weigh him even to death (1 Nephi 18:17–18; 2 Nephi 1:17), he receives (1) the comfort that “if I had not seen the things of God in a vision, I should not have known of the goodness of God but had tarried at Jerusalem and had perished with my brethren” (1 Nephi 5:4); (2) the promise that “notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands, a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed” (2 Nephi 1:5); and (3) the knowledge of his salvation: “the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell. I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 1:15).89 I suggest that these are the tender mercies that the Lord granted Lehi. This knowledge gave him the courage and fortitude to survive the dangers and the sorrows of his remarkable and unexpected life, so that he was made “mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20). According to Nephi, God does not deliver the faithful by miraculous intervention; instead, God empowers the obedient with the knowledge, means, and strength necessary to survive, to grow, and even to flourish.90 Nephi continues to develop his theology of mercy as he tells of his own tender mercies and as he interprets prophesies in Isaiah with respect to his family’s future. For example, Nephi obtains precious scripture and family history on the brass plates but has to kill Laban for them (1 Nephi 3–4); he and his family survive an eight­year desert journey but are sustained by raw meat (1 Nephi 17:1–4); and they are pledged a promised land but have to build a seaworthy boat and traverse oceans to get there (1 Nephi 17–18). Divine mercies empower deliverance, but they also often involve (in Nephi’s record) suffering affliction. Nephi’s tender mercies are not sweet coincidences or reassuring serendipity, but the very type of afflictions that spur painful maturation, the rigorous tutelage of the transformation of weakness into strength.

Conclusion: Nephi’s invitation

In the first chapter of Nephi’s record, he introduces his theological project to produce a record that reveals and testifies of a particular form of divine­human relations characterized by “tender mercies,” in which suffering affliction and knowing God are interlinked. In narrating his father’s story, Nephi illustrates how humans invite divine beings to participate in their mortal experiences and how divine beings invite humans to participate in the sacred story of salvation. In doing so, Nephi invites us to live within and through scriptural narrative by recognizing tender mercies in scriptural stories and then examining our own lives for evidence of divine mercy. Like Nephi and Joseph Smith, we should make a record in our own language, according to our learning, to record God’s tender mercies in the afflictions of our own lives, the lives of our families, our neighborhoods, wards, nations, and world. As we come to recognize how God participates in our life, we take part in God’s life in the unfolding narrative of salvation.91




1. David A. Bednar, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord,” Ensign, May 2005, 99.

2. The phrase tender mercies appears in 1 Nephi 1:20; 8:8; and Ether 6:12.

3. See Psalms 25:6; 40:11; 51:1; 69:16; 77:9; 79:8; 103:4; 119:77, 156; 145:9; and Proverbs 12:10. Tender mercy appears twice in the New Testament: Luke 1:78 and James 5:11.

4. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), s.v. “rāh. am,” 2:841. For a thorough analysis, see Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz­Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974–2004), s.v. “רחם rh. m,” 13:437–54.

5. The Hebrew word rah. ămîm occurs eleven times in the Masoretic text of the Psalms, including the previously listed instances in note 3 plus one in Psalm 106:46 (KJV 106:45).

6. See Theological Dictionary, ed. Botterweck et al., 13:438–43.

7. Theological Dictionary, ed. Botterweck et al., 13:441.

8. Katharine D. Sakenfeld, The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible: A New Inquiry (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978), 112–22. These verses have been interpreted as the heart of the Sinai covenant and are used liturgically in Judaism; see echoes in Psalms 86:15; 103:8; and 145:8.

9. John Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 1, Psalms 1–41 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 368. See also Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger Jr., Psalms, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 130–33. Goldingay suggests that the acrostic form of Psalm 25 may have been “designed as a model prayer” (368).

10. Walter Brueggemann, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 199–200.

11. Translation by Brueggemann, Psalms and the Life of Faith, 198; see also Brueggemann and Bellinger, Psalms, 130–31.

12. Theological Dictionary, ed. Botterweck et al., s.v. “h. esed­ ,” 5:51–52.

13. Theological Dictionary, ed. Botterweck et al., 13:452.

14. For example, see Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, trans. Alfred Gottschalk (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1967), and Harold M. Kamsler, “Hesed— Mercy or Loyalty?” Jewish Bible Quarterly 27/3 (1999): 183–85.

15. Theological Dictionary, ed. Botterweck et al., 5:47.

16. Sakenfeld, Meaning of Hesed, 149.

17. Dan Belnap, “‘How Excellent Is Thy Lovingkindness’: The Gospel Principle of Hesed,” in The Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, ed. D. Kelly Ogden, Jared W. Ludlow, and Kerry Muhlestein, 38th Annual Sidney Sperry Symposium (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2009), 182.

18. Theological Wordbook, s.v. “חסד h. sd,” 1:305–7.

19. Gordon R. Clark, The Word Hesed in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 267.

20. See also Lamentations 3:22–23 and Psalm 89:24, 33

21. Goldingay, Psalms, 35–37, see also 24–32. Goldingay summarizes: “[The Psalter] is known in approximately the form we have it to the authors of the LXX (in Alexandria in the third or second, century bc?) and to the Qumran community (a little later), and there are no indications of Greek influence on the Psalms. All this implies that the Psalter came into being in something like the form we know it sometime in the Second Temple period, in Persian or early Greek times. From the beginning it was presumably among the authoritative resources of the Jewish community, and in this sense the time it came into being is also the time when it became canonical” (35).

22. JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 1439.

23. Goldingay, Psalms, 365.

24. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, ed. Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 711.

25. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1976), s.v. “Mercy, Compassion.” See also Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 1:680.

26. Quoted in David Konstan, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 204. See Aristotle, Rhetoric 1385b13–16.

27. Konstan, Emotions of the Ancient Greeks, 201.

28. Susan Gillingham, Psalms through the Centuries: Volume 1 (Oxford: Wiley­ Blackwell, 2008), 36–37.

29. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), s.v. “Misericordia.”

30. Seneca, De Clementia 2.6.4, “vitium est animorum”; 2.5.1, “Est enim vitium pusilli animi ad speciem alienorum malorum succidentis.” See Cilliers Breytenbach, Grace, Reconciliation, Concord: The Death of Christ in Graeco-Roman Metaphors (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 232–33; and Sarah Byers, “The Psychology of Compassion: Stoicism in City of God 9.5,” in Augustine’s City of God: A Critical Guide, ed. James Wetzel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 130–39.

31. Isidore, Etymologiae 10.164, in Isidori hispalensis episcopi etymolgiarum sive originvm, ed. W. M. Lindsay, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911), “Misericors a conpatiendo alienae miseriae vocabulum est sortius: et hinc appellate misericordia, quod miserum cor faciat dolentis aliena miseria. Non autem occurrit ubique haec etymologia; nam est in Deo misericordia sine ulla cordis miseria.” Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof, trans., The “Etymologies” of Isidore of Seville (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 223. See also Leslie Lockett, Anglo-Saxon Psychologies in the Vernacular and Latin Traditions (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2011), 211.

32. For a comprehensive analysis of the use of the Psalms in Anglo­Saxon England, see M. J. Toswell, The Anglo-Saxon Psalter (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014). See also George H. Brown, “The Psalms as the Foundation of Anglo­Saxon Learning,” in Th Place of the Psalms in the Intellectual Culture of the Middle Ages, ed. Nancy van Deusen (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999), 1–24.

33. Sherman M. Kuhn, ed., The Vespasian Psalter (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965).

34. The Old English gloss “worlde” [world] for “saeculo” [time, world] literally renders the Latin idiom “a saeculo” [in the beginning].

35. Phillip Pulsiano, ed., Old English Glossed Psalters: Psalms 1–50 (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2001).

36. King Alfred (849–899) has traditionally been credited as the composer of the prose paraphrases of the first fifty psalms; however, his authorship has been disputed.

37. Patrick P. O’Neill, ed., King Alfred’s Old English Prose Translation of the First Fifty Psalms (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 2001), 126.

38. Richard Marsden, “The Bible in English in the Middle Ages,” in The Practice of the Bible in the Middle Ages: Production, Reception, and Performance in Western Christianity, ed. Susan Boynton and Diane J. Reilly (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 272–95, and “‘In the twinkling of an eye’: The English Scripture before Tyndale,” Leeds Studies in English, n.s., 31 (2000): 145–72.

39. Eamon Duffy, Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers 1240–1570 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).

40. Joseph Stevenson, ed., Anglo-Saxon and Early English Psalter, Surtrees Society Publications 16 and 19 (London, 1843–47), 156. See also James H. Morey, Book and Verse: A Guide to Middle English Biblical Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 174–75.

41. Middle English Dictionary, Middle English Compendium, University of Michigan, s.v. “reuth(e (n.),” and “milthe (n. & adj.).”

42. Karl D. Bülbring, ed., The Earliest Complete Prose Psalter, Early English Text Society 97 (London, 1891), 27. See also Morey, Book and Verse, 175.

43. Gillingham, Psalms through the Ages, 124; Morey, Book and Verse, 175–77; David Daniell, The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 101–2.

44. Richard Rolle, The Psalter, or Psalms of David and Certain Canticles, with a Translation and Exposition in English by Richard Rolle of Hampole, ed. H. R. Bramley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884), 88. Rolle’s commentary on this verse: “Vmthynk the, for men wenes thou has forgetyn, for thou gifes noght alstite as thai wild, of thi mercyingis, that is, of the werkis of thi mercy: and of thi mercys, the whilke ere kindly in the, and thai ere fra the beginynge of the warld: for neyer was thou wthouten mercy.”

45. Gillingham, Psalms through the Ages, 124.

46. Mary Dove, The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 10.

47. Dove, First English Bible, 68–82.

48. Dove, First English Bible, 3; for more details, see 137–88. See also Daniell, Bible in English, 76–85.

49. Dove, First English Bible, 1 and 35–67; Daniell, Bible in English, 67.

50. John Ayto, Word Origins, 2nd ed. (London: A & C Black, 2005), s.v. “mercy”; Webster’s Word Histories (Springfield, MA: Merriam­Webster, 1989), 304; and the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “mercy.”

51. Middle English Dictionary, s.v. “merci.”

52. George R. Potter, “Zwingli and the Book of Psalms,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 10/2 (1979): 42–50; Gerald Hobbs, “Martin Bucer and the Englishing of the Psalms: Pseudonymity in the Service of Early English Protestant Piety,” in Martin Bucer: Reforming Church and Community, ed. D. F. Wright (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 161–75.

53. Richard Duerden, “Equivalence or Power? Authority and Reformation Biblical Translation,” in The Bible as Book: The Reformation, ed. Orlaith O’Sullivan (London: Oak Knoll Press, 2000), 9–23.

54. Hobbs, “Bucer and the Englishing of the Psalms,” 163–64; Rivkah Zim, English Metrical Psalms: Poetry as Praise and Prayer, 1535–1601 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 31–33.

55. Martin Bucer, Psalmorum libri quinque ad Ebraicam veritatem versi et familiari explanatione elucidate per Aretium Felinum (Strasbourg: G. Ulricher, 1529), 139. Digitized by Bayerische StaatsBibliothek digital.

56. George Joye, The Psalter of Dauid in Englishe purely a[n]d faithfully tra[n]slated aftir the texte of Feline ([Antwerp: Merten de Keyser], 1530), fol. 36r, STC 2nd ed./2370, EEBO. Four years later, Joye translated Ulrich Zwingli’s Latin and German version into English as Davids Psalter: “Remember thy mercy and goodnes: which thou of euer vseste” (25:6). George Joye, Dauids Psalter, diligently and faithfully tra[n]slated by George Ioye, with breif arguments before euery Psalme, declaringe the effecte therof ([Antwerp: Merten de Keyser], 1534), STC 2nd ed./2372, EEBO.

57. Miles Coverdale, A paraphrasis vpon all the Psalmes of Dauid, made by Iohannes Campensis, reader of the Hebrue lecture in the vniuersite of Louane, and translated out of Latine into Englysshe (1539), STC 2nd ed./2372.6, EEBO.

58. Miles Coverdale, trans., Biblia the Byble, that is, the holy Scrypture of the Olde and New Testament, faithfully translated in to Englyshe (1535), STC 2nd ed./2063, EEBO.

59. Gordon Campbell, Bible: The Story of the King James Version, 1611–2011 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 16. Daniell makes a similar claim in The Bible in English, 181. Although Coverdale may have been the first to use the phrase tender mercy in a psalm translation, he did not coin the phrase. In his translation of the New Testament published in 1534, William Tyndale employs tender mercy to translate “splanchna eleous” in Luke 1:78 and “splanchna oiktirmou” in Colossians 3:12. In his influential Latin translation of the New Testament first published in 1516, Desiderius Erasmus renders the Greek Septuagint as “viscera misericordiae” in Luke 1:78 and “viscera miserationum” in Colossians 3:12.

60. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “tender.”

61. Daniell, Bible in English, 177–81.

62. Daniell, Bible in English, 198–220.

63. Daniell, Bible in English, 291–319.

64. Daniell, Bible in English, 338–47.

65. Daniell, Bible in English, 427–60. See also Campbell, Bible, and David Norton, The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

66. The Bible and Holy Scriptures conteyned in the Olde and Newe Testament. Translated according to the Ebrue and Greke, and conferred with the best translations in diuers languges (Geneva, 1560), STC 2nd ed./2093, EEBO.

67. The. holie. Bible conteynyng the olde Testament and the newe (London, 1568), STC 2nd ed./2099, EEBO.

68. The Holy Bible conteyning the Old Testament, and the New: newly translated out of the originall tongues: & with the former translations diligently compared and reuised, by his Maiesties speciall co[m]mandement (London, 1611), STC 2nd ed./2216, EEBO.

69. Campbell, Bible, 108–28, 148.

70. For example, see sermons and writings by Thomas Becon, John Bradford, John Knox, and Thomas Lever. Searching “tender mercies” in EEBO produced 1,973 hits in 1,089 records.

71. Zim, English Metrical Psalms, 26.

72. Sir Philip Sidney, “Psalm 25,” lines 19–24, in The Sidney Psalter: The Psalms of Sir Philip and Mary Sidney, ed. Hannibal Hamlin et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 47.

73. Daniell, Bible in English, 580–603.

74. Daniell, Bible in English, 624–58.

75. Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 6, 14. See also John S. Tanner, “The King James Bible in America: Pilgrim, Prophet, President, Preacher,” BYU Studies 50/3 (2011): 4–21; Kent P. Jackson, ed., The King James Bible and the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011). See Marie Bourgerie Hunter, “Fossilized LDS Church Phrases in the Usage of Eliza R. Snow,” Schwa 12 (April 2015): 20–22, for a corpora study of tender mercies in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty­first centuries.

76. See Barlow, Mormons and the Bible, 26–32.

77. I use Royal Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), throughout, though I modify some of the punctuation.

78. Adam Miller discusses this divine mystery in his essay prepared for this volume.

79. Goldingay, Psalms, 46.

80. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael D. Coogan, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 775–76.

81. Nephi uses this same descriptive phrase, “after this manner of language,” when Sariah articulates her complaint and praise concerning her sons’ dangerous trip to Jerusalem for the brass plates (1 Nephi 5:3, 8). I thank Julie M. Smith for this insight; see her “‘I Will Sing to the Lord’: Women’s Songs in the Scriptures,” Dialogue 45/3 (2012): 56–69.

82. See Goldingay, Psalms, 37–40.

83. Belnap, “‘How Excellent Is Thy Lovingkindness,’” 183.

84. Walter Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 1.

85. Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise, 1.

86. Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise, 100.

87. Goldingay, Psalms, 68.

88. Brueggemann, Israel’s Praise, 139.

89. Nephi employs the phrase tender mercies when he describes Lehi’s vision of the treeoflife.In1Nephi8:8,Nephirepeats(orquotes)Lehi’sdesperationafterwandering for what seemed like hours in darkness and then praying to the Lord to have mercy upon him, “according to the multitude of his tender mercies.” Lehi’s prayer is answered by seeing a tree “whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.” Nephi will eventually learn that this tree represents “the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things. . . . Yea, and the most joyous to the soul” (11:22–23). God’s condescension is manifest most particularly in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Son of the Eternal Father, who was born a human to be slain for the sins of the world (11:32).

90. Compare the repetition of God providing the “means” to achieve commandments in 1 Nephi 3:7 and 17:3. I thank Ben Huff for this insight.

91. I thank Don Chapman for his enriching suggestions during the composition of this paper.