Exclusive Psalmody And Flexibility

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Ben Chomp, May 5, 2019.

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  1. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    A line of questioning to my brothers who hold to exclusive psalmody. How much flexibility is allowed in the pursuit of singing psalms in worship?

    1. May we transform the psalm by setting it to rhyme and meter?

    2. May we transform the psalm by only singing part of the psalm? Many of Calvin's psalms in the beautiful Genevan Psalter are only parts of psalms because the psalms are very long.

    3. May we transform the psalm by making explicit Christological connections that are in the psalms so that we explicitly sing about Jesus in worship?

    Thanks for answering these questions. To lay my cards on the table...

    If we may transform psalms by setting them to rhyme and meter, only singing parts of psalms, and making Christological connections explicit, then what is the relevant difference between such a transformed psalm and one of Isaac Watts' or Charles Wesley's hymns?
  2. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Moving to Exclusive Psalmody subforum.
  3. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    God commands us to sing Psalms. He does not command what tune or what meter. But wisdom as to the words ought to be taken into consideration when putting a tune/meter with a Psalm.

    Questions such as this are disagreed by brothers. It is best left to the courts of the church to decide and approve the Psalms (ie Psalter) that are sung and the length.

    With all due respect brother, Christ is in every Psalm. I’d encourage you in the singing of Psalms to study them and see Him who is so clearly presented. I would say no to your question, the Psalms are God’s perfect hymnal for the Church and do not need man to make it better to fit what we think we need to sing about. The Psalter is sufficient.
    Last edited: May 5, 2019
  4. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    1. In addition to Pastor Barnes above, I would say, the Hebrew can be translated to a text suitable for singing, as much as one may be for reading. This has been discussed numerous times here on PB. See this article that covers the topic of translation. http://www.apuritansmind.com/purita...ctions-answered-paraphrases-by-richard-bacon/
    2. Breaking up a long psalm is a necessity as they must be spread over several pages. They can be sung in series in a worship service to sing the whole psalm, which my church commonly does when singing from our psalter, with 119 the only exception I think. We have sung it serially over many Lord's days however. Singing part of a psalm does no more violence to it being still singing a psalm, than reading a portion of scripture does to its standing as reading scripture.
    3. No, that would be paraphrasing not translating; but I"m not sure if it makes it a bad translation or a hymn. If it is a few words, I would say the first; if it is like Watts, the second.
  5. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    How much flexibility is allowed as we use wisdom in transforming a psalm in order to set it to rhyme and meter?

    Of course I do not disagree that Jesus is in every Psalm. But he is not mentioned explicitly by name in any Psalm. May we ever explicitly sing Jesus' name from any Psalm, or would that be too much of a transformation?
  6. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

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  7. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    1. Again I’d say it really ought not be left to any individual to decide, but given to church courts to decide.

    3. First, how many names of Jesus are found in the Psalms? I’m not sure the number but I can think of a good number (eg LORD, rock, fortress, Son, Prince, etc). That’s if you are looking for His names. He has many! The name name that He holds is Jehovah! That’s found all through the Psalms. Second, where is the requirement when God commands us to sing Psalms that we must sing the name “Jesus”? If God has commanded us to sing Psalms, where is the command to transform them?

    The 3rd question is exhaustively answered in Bushnell’s book “Songs of Zion”.
  8. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I am no brother (LOTR reference). But will answer the question re: singing the name “Jesus,” that Christ sings of himself, along with his church, as “salvation” in the Psalms, which of course is the Hebrew translation of Jesus.
  9. Ben Chomp

    Ben Chomp Puritan Board Freshman

    Fair enough.

    I agree. Our church sang a modified version of Psalm 32 today wherein we mentioned "the Savior's blood". The psalms do not speak about the cross in very explicit terms. Does this mean that we should not sing about the cross in explicit terms?

    God has not commanded us to transform the psalms. But every psalter I've ever seen does transform the psalms. I'm just wondering what the limits are and what the relevant difference is between transforming a psalm and singing a hymn.
  10. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    The command is to sing Psalms. The Psalter is sufficient. What need is there for such additions or paraphrases? Would you do the same for another text from the Old Testament? Would it be permissible to insert an "explicit" description of the cross into Isaiah 53? No, let Scripture be Scripture.
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  11. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    Good questions.

    I thought much about the metrical/prose dichotomy, and my own personal conclusion is that the metrical psalms are faithful in a way that the prosaic translations are not: music and poetry. Seems to me the prosaic translations don't make much effort to preserve the poetry (they are still glorious to read), but the Psalms were meant to write themselves on our hearts through song and literary pleasantry. So, the metrical psalms are faithful to the principle of the original medium itself. Which is also a reason to say that our metrical versions should be not only accurate, but beautiful and pleasant to sing.

    As for singing only portions, I'd say if a preacher can preach on a single verse without preaching on the whole book, or a Christian can meditate on a few verses for private/family worship, the same is allowed for singing the psalms, and you are not being faithless to the proper use of Scripture.

    As for explicit Christological references, when I think of Psalm 16 or 22 or 45 or 110 I can't see where adding the name "Jesus" would improve anything. The man Himself and everything meant by the name Jesus--"He shall save his people from their sins"--is in these Psalms. You couldn't mistake the presence of the Son of God in Psalm 2. Once the Spirit reveals Christ then nothing else is needed to make the use of the Psalms that the Spirit intends. Nor would you improve on the Spirit's work by adding it.
  12. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Sure it does, brother. Take a look at Psalm 22. According to the New Testament, this Psalm has several explicit references to the sufferings of Christ on the cross.
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  13. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    When I read the question about transforming the psalm to make Christological references, I'm thinking of it a bit differently. For example, The Psalter of 1912 specifically would use the name "Jesus" or make some of the language more New Testament. Translating something into meter is very different from paraphrasing.

    In the former, we are already altering the word order (from the original) and choosing synonyms, so going the extra step of doing so in such a way as to put it into meter is really not a stretch or abuse. This type of translation is an area where wisdom and skill is appropriate.

    Altering the actual meaning (as the 1912 psalter, or Watts' paraphrases did) seems to me to be presuming our wisdom to be superior to God's, in that we need to correct it to make it usable.

    The two mentalities are very different.

    As to whether singing only part of a psalm is appropriate, I often feel we only sing the parts we like and in doing so are missing out on the entire message. Even distributing it throughout a worship service makes it artificially disconnected. I wish we sang the entire psalm more often. Perhaps it isn't always feasible to do so, but I think it should be more common than it is or we run the risk of creating our own preferred psalter within the psalter.
  14. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

  15. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    Indeed. A systematic singing-through-the-Psalter, covering all the psalms in the space of six months or a year or so, forces the worshipper to sing the psalms in their contexts, and including the less comfortable bits. (Psalm 137 comes to mind!)
  16. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    I've sometimes thought that it would be interesting to get away from rhyming metre altogether. Old English poetry, for instance, did not rhyme but employed alliteration in rhythm. Rhyming is rather a late development in European music.
  17. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Junior

    I believe John Milton thought rhyme to be an inferior form of poetry.
  18. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I’ve always thought that removing rhyme would remove a potentially limiting factor to greater accuracy. But I believe rhyme is employed to help with memorization.
  19. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I will say at the outset that I have already addressed this subject on the Puritanboard here.

    No, not transform. Yes we may render it faithfully if we adapt the Hebrew to an English translation and retain the original words and meanings without superfluous additions and significant detractions.

    No, not transform. Yes to singing a portion as the New Testament at times quotes portions of Psalms without changing the meaning of the whole (as well as approved examples: Luke 19:38). The command to sing the Psalms is general and preceptive; the particulars are left to the light of nature and common sense.

    No, not transform. Yes to "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." The explicitly Christological nature is revealed in the original words and in their application or use in the New Testament. The Psalms as written are sufficiently Christological for Paul to use them copiously throughout Hebrews to prove the greater light and glory of the new covenant: https://kingandkirk.com/kings-songs...salmodically-mediated-in-the-book-of-hebrews/

    Changing the Psalms not only commits one to mishandling and misrepresenting God's Word, but erects a man made wall between parties in the commonwealth of Israel. The so called ambiguity of the Psalms lent itself to the language of its redemptive period: for Israel as a child and now Christians can sing the same words with the new meaning of God's revelation in Christ. Thus the church is one in all ages.

    Isaac Watts did change the Psalms substantially. J.G. Vos highlights the differences between Watts' songs and those of the Psalms, particularly in light of the history of the Bible:

    "Evil is not abstract, but concrete; it is identified with particular persons. To destroy the evil, the persons must be dealt with by God’s mighty power and righteous judgment. Isaac Watts said he would make David talk like a Christian. He denatured the Psalms, and he sophisticated them. Watts quite failed to appreciate the real beauty and glory of the Psalter. Since Watts time, some Psalm-singing denominations have shied away from the proper names in the Psalter, and have tried to screen many of them out of it. Zion is changed to “the church,” and Jerusalem likewise; many of the others are omitted or smoothed over in some way. This yields us a denatured Psalter. No wonder the next step is to give up the Psalms in worship. They have already given up the real vigor and beauty and power of the Psalms by omitting the proper names." https://bluebanner.org/assets/pdfs/tenst.pdf

    You don't really believe that Wesley's hymns are in any way comparable to the inspired word of God, do you? You cannot seriously believe that "And Can It Be?" compares, in any way, to any particular Psalm.

    Assuming that you believe that God has commanded the singing of the Psalms, then the contradiction between singing a rhymed and metered version of the Psalms and singing the Psalms as you think a consistent adherent of exclusive psalmody should is your problem as well.

    Assuming, also, your sincerity in asking, and not some clever ploy on your part to trap us in a logical fallacy, then why don't you suggest a better way to render the Psalms that we can sing them as you think they should be rendered?

    Finally, assuming your point is proven, all it proves is that we are inconsistent. It does not prove that one should sing uninspired songs in worship nor does it prove that the Psalms are insufficient for worship.
    Last edited: May 7, 2019
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