Can one sing inspired Psalms that are changed around to please the ear?

Discussion in 'Worship' started by earl40, Jul 22, 2014.

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  1. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Below is a thought from a sister in The Lord that brings up the following point......"The only "sung Psalms" I'm familiar with are non-inspired versions like the Geneva Psalter or the RPCNA Book of Psalms for Singing where they change the words around to make them rhyme and follow the tune -- which makes them not the inspired words anymore."
  2. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    You can sing "Amazing Grace" if it doesn't go against your principles or conscience.

    The important thing is that the Psalms are those songs that are given by God and so have high warrant for use, and thus for public use. The church doesn't have that high biblical warrant to impose other songs on the congregation. They should be good quality and accurate renditions of them rather than paraphrases.

    The Preface to the Scottish Psalter
  3. SeanPatrickCornell

    SeanPatrickCornell Puritan Board Freshman

    If you want to go that far, only the original Hebrew compositions are truly "inspired" in that case.
  4. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    You're going too far in order to make your point. Just as you would want an accurate rendition of the Scriptures in English, so should we want accurate renditions of the Psalms in English.
  5. JOwen

    JOwen Puritan Board Junior

    Good point. The Hebrew, sung in its original word order in English, would not be edifying to anyone. Not even a Hebraist. All English Psalms are rearranged from the Hebrew. Even the beloved 1650!
  6. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Puritan Board Sophomore

    From the Preface to "Sing Psalms": "Because of the restraints imposed by the use of metre and rhyme, a metrical translation of the Psalms is inevitably freer than a prose translation... A metrical translation is more than a paraphrase... Sing Psalms is a metrical translation rather than a paraphrase in that every effort has been made to set out in verse what is to be found in the original text." So the claim from this psalter and others is that metrical psalms can actually be accurate translations of the Psalm texts.

    I find myself wishing that we were not so bound to rhyme, if more accuracy in translation could be had that way. However, in singing the Psalms in a well-translated metrical form, I do believe we are singing the word of God.
  7. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
    Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
    When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
    Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
    So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
  8. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Perhaps somewhat relevant, the argument from the Bay Psalter's preface for the legitimacy of metrical translations.

    "As for the scruple that some take at the translation of the Book of Psalms into metre, because David’s psalms were sung in his own words without metre: we answer—First, there are many verses together in several psalms of David which run in rhythms (as those that know Hebrew and as Buxtorf shows Thesau. pa. 629.) which shows at least the lawfulness of singing psalms in English rhythms.

    Secondly, the psalms are penned in such verses as are suitable to the poetry of the Hebrew language, and not in the common style of such other books of the Old Testament as are not poetical; now no Protestant doubts but that all the books of scripture should by God’s ordinance be extant in the mother tongue of each nation, that they may be understood of all, hence the psalms are to be translated into our English tongue; and in it our English tongue we are to sing them, then as all our English songs (according to the course of our English poetry) do run in metre, so ought David’s psalms to be translated into metre, that so we may sing the Lord’s songs, as in our English tongue so in such verses as are familiar to an English ear which are commonly metrical: and as it can be no just offense to any good conscience to sing David’s Hebrew songs in English words, so neither to sing his poetical verses in English poetical metre: men might as well stumble at singing the Hebrew psalms in our English tunes (and not in the Hebrew tunes) as at singing them in English metre, (which are our verses) and not in such verses as are generally used by David according to the poetry of the Hebrew language: but the truth is, as the Lord has hid from us the Hebrew tunes, lest we should think ourselves bound to imitate them; so also the course and frame (for the most part) of their Hebrew poetry, that we might not think ourselves bound to imitate that, but that every nation without scruple might follow as the grave sort of tunes of their own country songs, so the graver sort of verses of their own country poetry.

    Neither let any think, that for the metre sake we have taken liberty or poetical license to depart from the true and proper sense of David’s words in the Hebrew verses, no; but it has been one part of our religious care and faithful endeavour, to keep close to the original text."

    Interestingly, John Brown of Haddington in his preface says,

    "That the Hebrew originals are composed in a metrical form hath been almost universally agreed: but the laws and measures of the poetry have not yet been clearly ascertained. It is not even reasonable to insist, they should correspond with those of the Greeks or Romans, and other nations of the West, whose idioms and manner of language are so remarkably different. It is certain, they as little agree with those of the dull and insipid rhymes composed by the Jewish Rabbins. Some of the Psalms, no doubt for the more easy retention thereof in the memory, are composed of verses or sentences beginning according to the order of the Hebrew alphabet. In this order every sentence of the 111th and 112th Psalms begins with a new letter. Almost every verse of the 25th, 34th, and 145th, begins in the same order. But in the 119th every eight verses begin with the same Hebrew letter, in the like alphabetical order."
  9. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    Me too, and he is correct - it is an absurd argument. If the quoted sentence in the OP is correct then we have no inspired Scripture at all, whether Old Testament or New Testament, sung or read, word order is completely different once you translate. However word order is nothing to do with the doctrine of inspiration and our resultant confidence in Scripture the Westminster Confession states, it is in the original languages that we have immediate inspiration and then mediatley so far as translations are accurate.

    8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto them. But, because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner; and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
  10. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So did they "change the words around to make them rhyme and follow the tune" or not? In other words, if a person rewrites a Psalm to fit a tune did he not possibily change The Wird of God?

    I ask not knowing much anything in this area seeing that I have been attending PCA churches and have never heard a Psalm sung in 30 years. Yes we read them aloud, but never sing them.
  11. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    Not to be pedantic but it depends on how one defines a) what 'change' means and b) what 'rewrites' means.

    Word order is not an issue for the doctrine of inspiration (well not major anyway - you have to capture the emphasis of a sentence etc. obviously) - so the person has not changed the Word of God if the word order changes as the word order must change in the translation process. So long as the 'sense' is maintained word order may change.

    'Rewrites' - is a relative, in relation to what? A translation is a translation, and there may be alternative translations that more or less maintain the meaning and sense, while using different words. So again there is no major problems here so long as sense is maintained.

    In relation to rhyme - if you can supply an equivalent set of sense-maintaining words that accurately translate the orginal language poetry then why not? Again the Word of God is maintained.

    So in answer to your question: So did they "change the words around to make them rhyme and follow the tune" or not? In other words, if a person rewrites a Psalm to fit a tune did he not possibily change The Wird of God?

    My answer is 'No', so long as meaning, sense, emphasis etc. is maintained, and in my opinion most of the psalters do so either adequatley or excellently. You can change the word and move them around, and tie them to tune and still not change the word of God.
  12. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So I could see where poetic licence can be used with the Psalms. So why could not someone write a hymn using the same licence with The Word?

    I ask because it seems that one could translate themes in hymns as we translate Psalms for singing.

    PS. I am not arguing for hymns as I am leaning towards Psalms should be the primary, if not only songs sung in church, and I only wish to be consistant in my thinking. :)
  13. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

  14. irresistible_grace

    irresistible_grace Puritan Board Junior

  15. Pilgrim Standard

    Pilgrim Standard Puritan Board Sophomore

    Hey brother! I recomend that you go here Christ Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church: Psalm Singing and download some free Psalm recordings.
    You can get a free pdf of the Scottish Metrical Psalter that is being sung here PSaltER.pdf

    Try singing along with Tina in family devotions.

    There are also some very good recordings of the singing of the Psalms here for free
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2014
  16. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Quite sure we will not be singing anything at home. Just saying. I have a hard enough time trying to encourge my church to sin one Psalm much less my family at home.
  17. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    I was just going to say that I think word order is far less important than capturing the meaning. When translating from Hebrew into English, the word order cannot be maintained and the sense still retained, so you have a range of translations: from literal, or formal equivalence, or "intent", but none of them captures word order. So I would expect that the same guidelines applies for translating metrical psalms.

    A metrical translation ideally doesn't add words or change the sense to rhyme, it just translates the words and the order in a way that happens to rhyme. That said, there is a range of more paraphrased metrical translations and more literal ones, just like you have with Bible translations. It is harder to translate when you have the additional restrictions of so many syllables per line and synonyms that rhyme, but the end result is something that is typically more easily sung and remembered. The Puritans thought this an important characteristic and if anyone had a high regard for God's Word it would be them.
  18. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    "Even if I were reading the New International Version of the Bible, you would still recognize it as a poor translation of the Word of God. But if I were to stand in the pulpit and read Matthew Henry’s commentary on the same passage, no one would understand that to mean that I was reading the Word of God. That is the difference between singing Isaac Watts and singing even the poorest translation of the Psalms."
  19. Miss Marple

    Miss Marple Puritan Board Junior

    We sing psalms only at our church. I do think the translations, done with the best of intentions, can get rough.

    Things are repeated or emphasized that are not, originally. Things are de-emphasized that are more important in the written psalm. There are "go-to" words that approximate the meaning of a word more roughly than a precise translation. Extra words, sort of meaningless words or filler words, are used to get that meter right.

    What gets lost, and I think there really is no solution, is the poetry.

    Trying to translate any poem is basically impossible. Of course you can translate word for word, and get the meaning out. But the poetry element is missing.

    Sometimes, as someone who really likes a well-turned phrase, I find the awkward jumble of the syntax tortured and wince inducing! I mean NO negativity towards the translators. I am certain they have done the best they can.

    But the plain meaning of the words still edifies, probably more than most hymns. I notice that the basic content of psalms is very different from the basic content of hymns. The psalms for example have much more specific reference to biblical history, it seems to me, recounting past acts of the Old Testament. They are sadder. They are frankly harsher. "You smash the face of wicked men; their teeth break with your blows." Hard to sing, but there it is, for a purpose I do assume. There is more song of war, more song of suffering, in my estimation. Is this God's will for us to sing? I'd have to assume so, whether we are exclusive psalm singers or not.
  20. Pilgrim Standard

    Pilgrim Standard Puritan Board Sophomore

    I do not believe all of the elements of Ancient Hebrew poetry are necessary or even possible to translate into every tongue. I believe arguments around the LXX and its historical use show this as well. Either we are to have God's word in the vulgar language or we are not.

    To my knowledge, there are no doctrines or teachings that have their root in any element of hebrew poetry from the Psalms.
  21. Miss Marple

    Miss Marple Puritan Board Junior

    Well, there's poetry and there's prose. The Psalms are poetry, and ideally, we'd be singing poems. But it's not an ideal world we live in. We make do, faithfully one hopes.

    I suppose if it were important to the Lord that we retain or maintain the poetry aspect, He'd have provided a way. Perhaps Biblical hymns are that way. I don't know.

    The human soul responds to good poetry. It is different than prose.
  22. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    First, apologies again for being pedantic, but I don't like the term 'poetic licence' used here - this is most often a term applied to the deliberate changing for artistic or aesthetic appeal - that is not what is happening in the main in the production of metrical psalms - they are going through a process of necessary translation, essential change for them to be used as intended.

    Second, in relation to your question as to whether that process of versification etc. may just as reasonable carried out on other portions of the Word, - well that takes us into other arguments about the subject of Exclusive Psalmody versus Hymnody. Most especially there is no necessity of burden laid up us, or required that we engage in such a process with other Scriptures i.e. to make them into songs, whereas clearly the Psalms demand such a process to one extent or another that they become singable in the vulgar tongue.
  23. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Which brings up this question I have. Did the Jews in the OT and the early Christians really sing the psalms? I suspect they did not go "la la la The Lord". In other words, if we try to sing the psalms today is it not impossible to do such in that they (the psalms) were not inspired to be sung like we sing today.

    So why is it "clear the Psalms demand such a process to one extent or another that they become singable in the vulgar tongue"?
  24. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think we can safely say that whether or not OT saints did...(which I have no doubt they did) NT saints not only did, but must, and we likewise. - Eph 5:19/ Col 3:16

    It is no more impossible to sing the psalms today than it is to read Amos, or Ezekiel - all demand an appropriate translation process.

    They were inspired to be sung which is why they were collected into a Book of Praises and not merely left scattered in narrative portions (though some are also there). They were inspired to be sung by God's people at any time and any where - inspiritation is not tied solely to words, and phrases but to the accumulate content and message - translation demands the modification of the first but must not muck with the latter.
  25. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I think it's important that the most important elements of Hebrew poetry depended on things not like meter and rhyme as in English poetry, but in things that translate well to our poetry/song and prose, such as repetition for emphasis. There may be exceptions here and there (such as the acrostic nature of Psalm 119).

    (Note: I have heard this before and it seems to be generally true from my observations, and it seemed relevant to some issues/questions in this thread. Anyone who knows more is free to chime in!)
  26. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    edit I see this was answered. :)
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2014
  27. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

  28. SeanPatrickCornell

    SeanPatrickCornell Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you. That was indeed my intent.
  29. Miss Marple

    Miss Marple Puritan Board Junior

    I don't think the people officially sang the psalms in the Old Testament worship. I believe it was done by the Levitical choir.
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