Chanting the Psalms vs singing a paraphrase

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Scott Bushey, Dec 12, 2018.

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  1. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I am going on a level of assumption here that would seem logical in that the temple singing were most likely 'chants'. Given that the paraphrasing of most translations do not mirror the actual placement of words in God's word, is not this paraphrasing much akin to hymnody?

    For those who are EP like myself, do u not see this as a thorn in the EP argument; especially in light of the option to actually chant the actual words of God, in the order they have been prescribed?

    *As I was typing, I thought that for any of this to be whittled down to the most appropriate method would be to do as they do in Jewish worship where they sing in actual Hebrew. Though I believe, and am not positive, but I believe Jews still follow temple worship and use a cantor for song.
  2. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I think chanting them would be a good (maybe best) thing, but it's so foreign to Western ears I don't know when, or if ever, the churches would take it up. I think "the paraphrasing of most translations" is indeed problematic in making appeals for the EP position- that so many translations are available and used is a problem, problematic to the unity of the church and to its testimony, just as it's a problem (the same problem) with Bible translations. I believe in the doctrine of a received text and so hold that the KJV ought to be in use in pulpits (in the English-speaking world) until a reforming time should come again; and that the 1650, which is an amazingly accurate psalter, should be the psalter used. When I sing from it I recognize the Psalm I'm singing.

    Back to chanting- I'm all for it and would be happy if it were our standardized way to sing the Psalms, but for now it's just not.
  3. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    On one of my FB groups, a poster said, 'Which means that virtually no metrical psalm is a *psalm*; all metrical psalms are hymns.'

    I tend to agree. W/ the metering and rearranging of the words, can it really be said that the song is an actual *Psalm? Can we say the same of some bible translations?
  4. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I hear ya. I do think the 1650 is a true translation, and thus my conscience is quiet that they are Psalms. I have the same reservations as you've expressed about other English translations. I don't know about Calvin's original French translations.

    I think the form (meter and rhyme) doesn't affect its being a Psalm; neither does the rearranging of words, as long as it says the same thing as the Scripture. But I find that most psalters fall too short in this.

    Have you used the 1650?
  5. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    I have. But, again, I can't seem to wrap my brain around the paraphrasing all of a sudden. Thats a problem. One cannot deny that. Some words are omitted, from time to time.
  6. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I guess I'd have to see an example of a word omitted to know what I thought about it. I am by no means an expert on the 1650 or any other psalter. And, I do know what you mean. I've often wished dear Calvin had kept the chant! As much as I love the Genevan melodies.

    But we have what we have, right? As far as for use in the churches. However, I think it would be cool for various churches or just groups of Christian friends to get together and learn how to chant them and do it. I chant them in my private times with the Lord, sometimes (used to do it more. and I used that Lutheran Brotherhood website you linked to).
  7. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

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  8. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Good read. I wonder if MW would say that the paraphrased Psalter, inspired? Using his own language, to be accurate, 'mediately' inspired?
  9. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I don't remember the location of the past discussions, but he would not view the 1650 Psalter as a "paraphrase" (in the sense that we use the word today). What we mean by "paraphrase" today (which is different from how the word used to be used in reference to metrical versions) is actually a "metaphrase" (according to MW). He also would not view it as a "translation," strictly speaking, but a translation of the Psalms for the purpose of singing. I think I do recall him defending the psalter as have the qualities of inspiration.

    I don't really have time to contribute, but one consideration is that (according to the KJV preface) even the meanest translation of the Word of God is the Word of God still. And that while it is good to get as much of the Hebrew form into English as possible so that the Word of God may dwell plentifully in all (and provide a window into the original tongue), it is the doctrine and sense that is preserved in any translation: not all the details.

    Edit: Also see the Bay Psalter preface for a defense of metrical versions and for some insight into some of the translation choices.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2018
  10. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    I've often wondered how EP advocates are generally not comfortable with stepping outside the KJV, but are okay with tweaking God's Word to make it more singable. It seems like the same consistency must be kept across the board.
  11. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior


    I appreciate your thoughtfulness on this subject. From a non-EP standpoint, this very point makes EP seem hypocritical. EP's core argument seems to be that EP was the practice of the NT church and that biblical examples cannot "prove" otherwise. Then the EP turns to a practice of "translating" to meter and rhyme, something that we are fairly certain would not have been a part of early church practice, at least this practice cannot be proven. Do Western EP advocates conform the word of God to the poetic constructs and parameters of their culture against biblical warrant?

    A simple word count in a standard psalter will show a fairly larger word count than the Psalm it represents.

    I say this not to debate the issue here and now, but to say that from my non-EP standpoint, this single point stands in the way of me taking arguments for EP seriously. It seems like a tradition that then looks for biblical support without the application of a consistent standard.

    Again, thanks for considering.
  12. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Translating prosaic passages of Scripture to English requires rearranging the words as well because the languages have different grammar. Words must be added, subtracted, and rearranged and even slavish, word-for-word translations have to do this as words in different languages have different semantic ranges and are never exact equivalents. The KJV certainly did. As long as the translation is careful and the thoughts are presented in order, I don't see this as a problem for psalmody any more than it is a problem for the public reading of the Scriptures.

    I'm also not convinced that the OT worship maintained a distinction between singing and chanting such as we would have today. They used melodic instruments in temple worship and both singing and playing of the singers and musicians was required to be "skillful" and necessitated training. It certainly didn't follow Western rules of meter and melody, of course, but I think more is made of the issue in some corners than should be.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2018
  13. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm not sure who you are speaking about, the EP folks I'm familiar with (which is quite a few) are generally KJV preferred due to its textual basis but have no principled problem with updated translations. Certainly none object to the KJV updating the Geneva Bible. But then again, I avoid the facebook groups where all of the kooks are. :D
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2018
  14. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    It would seem to me that chanting would avoid all the obvious pitfalls and charges of inconsistency.
  15. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    It's a basic distinction between element and circumstance. God provided an inspired songbook for the church. He did not provide inspired sheet music. He provided the basis for sermons but not the precise manner in which the text is to be expounded and sequenced in a sermon. It is no more complicated than that. Indeed, it seems quite clear that the Psalms themselves were sung differently in the temple service than they were in the synagogue/NT church which further suggests, beyond the mere nature of such, that the setting of a Psalm is circumstantial.
  16. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    I understand your argument, but I don't think any of us would want a translation of scripture with so many liberties taken. If EP advocates really thought it was very accurate, consistent with verbal plenary inspiration, why would we even have this conversation?
  17. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I believe it is consistent. We must pay attention not only to the words of Scripture but the form of words when translating, so a poetical translation of the Psalms (and other poetic passages) is, in some ways, more accurate then an extremely literal prosaic one. The liberties we take must be taken with care, unlike the 1912 Psalter's approach, but it seems quite appropriate to me to craft the translation literally, but with a concern for form appropriate to their intended use.

    Regardless, I don't see how being "non-EP" avoids this problem. I would think all of us here would agree that there is a commandment to sing the psalms--both the NT and the confessions are clear about that--even if not exclusively. The requirement to handle the Scriptures carefully doesn't cease applying simply because we can sing Charles Wesley or Hillsong too, does it?
  18. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I think you make a point here. As someone convinced of the idea of the received text, and the need for an ultimate ecclesiastical consensus on any translation of Scripture, the myriads of translations of both the Bible and psalters are problematic. Keep in mind that no one considers translating from the original Hebrew or Greek as “tweaking” God’s word. The point has been made that in translating from one language to another, word order is changed, more words are often called for in order to convey the meaning, etc. As Rev. Winzer said, we are commanded to sing, and so the psalms have been translated into a form that accommodates that. The aim is to determine and use the most accurate Psalter translation. In our times that’s just as difficult as agreeing on a Bible translation. But only God can bring about better times. Until then we depend on him and do the best we can.
  19. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    It would have been interesting to see the differences in singing between the Hebrew and Greek Christians in the early church. Did one sing (or chant) the Hebrew text and the other the Greek text? How would that have changed the sound from one language to the other since Greek is so much longer? Would the tunes cross over the cultures or would they be different depending on the language sung? How would visitors participate? Or was everyone just basically bilingual and it didn't matter? I doubt we can find an answer now, but if we could, then you may have an answer to singing in English too. It's more a curiosity for me though since I'm not EP.
  20. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    It would seem as if chanting the English bible is safer than a paraphrased rendering; one of the reasons for my transition to Ep was simply that it was prudent to sing God’s word in contrast to man made hymnody. For the same reason, It would seem as if chanting God’s word more prudent than singing a song that is ‘faithful to the text’. This phrase, in my opinion is suspect.
  21. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    The problem is that with any translation of the text you are going to end up with some form of paraphrasing since there are often not equivalent terms from Hebrew to English. That doesn't make it less inspired though. If the translation adequately captures the meaning of the original term, then it's God's Word no matter what. But it's still not the exact text given by the Spirit. The only way you can resolve your fear of paraphrasing in any absolute sense is to sing the Hebrew. Otherwise, you just need to be content with the inevitable paraphrasing necessary in translation and sing straight from the Psalms rather than a psalter.
  22. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Here’s the rub; using MW’s terminology, our English versions of God’s word are ‘mediately’ inspired. Are u prepared to say that the paraphrased rendering of our English translated Psalters, inspired?
  23. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    Again, I hear you. However, if translating into a poetical form is more consistent with the original intent, then would it be better to translate all Hebrew poetry in the Bible the same way since it is consistent with intent? The fact is, you only make this argument when it comes to singing, not translating in general. If this is a fair representation, it seems that the choice to translate into meter/rhyme is a choice subservient to singing, not translating intent.

  24. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    This is all I'm going to say as I simply don't see the problem. If singing psalms with more words in the translation and different order than in the original makes it not singing the psalms, reading a translation of the scriptures made for reading with more words and different word order than the original is not reading the scriptures. No one disputes license in making an English translation suitable for reading in the church service (for unsuitable see any straight literal translation). A metrical version is one manner of translating in order to be sung. When I was working with my pastor on the psalter for the church (not EP), our goal was as accurate renderings to the original as possible and when we reworked some settings (ditching the 1912), we aimed for as few extra words as possible.
  25. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    In theory I think you could faithfully translate the Psalms into English meter. I have yet to find one that does it well. The RPCNA psalters perhaps have come the closest in my experience to sticking with the text. But they are also difficult to sing. Hebrew Poetry is structured differently from English poetry. Hebrew focuses on parallelism, English focuses more on rhythm and rhyme. When it comes to singing, it isn't just an issue of translating words, but transitioning from one cultural form of poetry and singing to another. For Bible study or preaching, translating the text alone is adequate. For singing, you need more.
  26. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    Is chanting singing? I personally would leave this to the monks. :)
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2018
  27. lynnie

    lynnie Puritan Board Graduate

    I really appreciate your honesty.

    I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar, but it would appear that the bible commands and references to singing mean singing a melody, not a chant. You can get picky here as I've heard chanting that does have several notes in a minor key, so it has melody, but when it comes to making a "joyful noise" it does not sound joyful to me. It sounds mournful. (Is that cultural on my end?)

    My brief foray into Hebrew which got me to reading beginner books at maybe kindergarten level did include listening to messianic songs from Israel. They were beautiful and the literal words flowed so nicely. Obviously the problem is translation from Hebrew and psalms were songs.

    My pastor has been making a valiant effort to introduce some psalm singing via a young enthusiastic worship leader. We've had quite a few midweek to see how it goes, with tunes new to me and also common tunes with different psalm words. Our pastor seemed to feel a bit bad that the one to "oh sacred head now wounded" just didn't go over at all. On Sunday, the worship leader has done some that were tried midweek, and two weeks ago there was a new one to "Crown him with many crowns" music.

    I am not impressed to be honest. I was really looking forward to this but they don't sound like the psalms I know, either in NIV, NASB, ESV, or NKJ. They rhyme and fit a meter so they have to be paraphrased. While some old hymns are not all that great for lyrics, there are plenty of newer hymns like say Gettys that are rich with scriptural phrasing or good systematic theology, and to be honest they seem to have as much lyrical integrity as these psalms we are starting to sing.

    My early charismatic experience was little choruses, two or four liners, straight out of scripture all over the bible, and we'd sing them 10 times in a row. It was great worship as long as you didn't move into the sermons which in retrospect were lousy doctrine, but never mind, at least the singing was 100% bible. Mostly NASB back then which is a good translation. I learned so much bible memory by singing. These "psalms" we are starting to sing are paraphrased enough that I can't call them bible memory.

    Again OP, I appreciate your honesty. I am not EP and I can't say that my recent exposure is particularly encouraging in singing psalms, but as we persevere I'll see how it goes.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2018
  28. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Is the phrase, ‘faithful to the text’ akin to saying that paraphrased Psalter renderings are mediately inspired?
  29. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think that is fair. Unique to the Psalms is a command to sing them and accordingly our translation philosophy must bear that in mind. Indeed, the Psalms are treated in the NT both as a book of prayer and prophecy to be read and studied as well as a book of hymnody to be sung. That being the case, I think two different translations are entirely appropriate--a reading form and a singing form. Both should be literal in the sense of carefully translating the words of the text, but the forms are different. I do think all Hebrew poetry ought to give consideration to rendering them in a less wooden, prosaic form, but those other sections are nevertheless meant to be read instead of sung and that impacts how we use them and translate them. Sometimes I do read the 1650 Psalter when reading through the Psalms so that I don't forget that they are, in fact, songs, but I will usually have a standard translation present to to consult where the metrical version is unclear or awkward for me.
  30. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    This is the fact that should put controversy over the accuracy of a metrical translation (due to having more or rearranged words) to rest. I think the question of whether chant is preferable should rest on other issues.
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