Selah - To Read or Not to Read

Do you read Selah out loud?


  • Total voters
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Grant

Puritan Board Senior
When given opportunities to read the psalms out loud, do you say the word Selah out loud or do you pass over it?

If you don’t, please state why?

If you do, how do you pronounce the word?

The psalters seem to leave the word out.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
We had an elder one time who explained it as a musical interlude that would give the listener time to pause and "think about that". Whenever he read a psalm he would read it as "selah: think about that". He pronounced it "see-lah" and I guess I've adopted that.

That said, you're right, we don't sing it in our psalter (or any psalter I know of) and I don't have strong feelings one way or the other. We also don't sing the headings to the psalms, probably for similar reasons.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
That said, you're right, we don't sing it in our psalter (or any psalter I know of) and I don't have strong feelings one way or the other. We also don't sing the headings to the psalms, probably for similar reasons.
Are the psalm titles of those that have them given in the RPCNA Psalter?
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Read it.. It's divinely inspired. I pronounce it "say-lah" personally. Read the Psalm headings aloud too as they are also divinely inspired. This is one problem with bibles that add man-inspired subtitles and such - it can sometimes be confusing to differentiate between that which is actually inspired of God and what is added by man.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
Read it.. It's divinely inspired. I pronounce it "say-lah" personally. Read the Psalm headings aloud too as they are also divinely inspired. This is one problem with bibles that add man-inspired subtitles and such - it can sometimes be confusing to differentiate between that which is actually inspired of God and what is added by man.
I think that would depend on what it means.

If it is a musical direction or an instruction to pause or somesuch, then it would be divinely inspired and yet not intended to be read aloud. Doing so would be a distraction then, breaking up a text that's meant to be read consecutively.

I haven't studied enough into the matter to have an opinion one way or another how the term functions.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
Doing so would be a distraction then, breaking up a text that's meant to be read consecutively.
By that logic, we should never pause at chapter breaks (and certainly not verse breaks). We should read books of the bible straight through, which actually can be quite profitable, but not always expedient, especially in the reading of Scripture during corporate worship.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
Are the psalm titles of those that have them given in the RPCNA Psalter?
Chris,
The 1864 Keys Psalter had only the psalm number, e.g., "Psalm 63"
The 1889 RPCNA slight revision to the SMV had the same.
The 1911 RPCNA first true new psalter also just had the psalm number as the title.
So did the 1920 edition.
I'd have to double-check the 1950 edition.
So did the 1973 edition.
The latest 2007 "blue" psalter included the first phrase as the title in addition to the psalm number, e.g., "4A Give Answer When I Call" and a cross-reference to a New Testament passage under that. The title for say, Psalm 4, "To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David" does not appear in any of the above versions.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Chris,
The 1864 Keys Psalter had only the psalm number, e.g., "Psalm 63"
The 1889 RPCNA slight revision to the SMV had the same.
The 1911 RPCNA first true new psalter also just had the psalm number as the title.
So did the 1920 edition.
I'd have to double-check the 1950 edition.
So did the 1973 edition.
The latest 2007 "blue" psalter included the first phrase as the title in addition to the psalm number, e.g., "4A Give Answer When I Call" and a cross-reference to a New Testament passage under that. The title for say, Psalm 4, "To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David" does not appear in any of the above versions.
I wonder if the 1650 versions over the years included the psalm titles? I know the consideration of economy may be in play (if not singing them why include them?). I gave up my red split leaf Irish Psalter years ago so can't check if it has them. Both Psalter projects I've been involved with include them for those that have them as verse one as a subtitle.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
By that logic, we should never pause at chapter breaks (and certainly not verse breaks). We should read books of the bible straight through, which actually can be quite profitable, but not always expedient, especially in the reading of Scripture during corporate worship.
No.

We should pause where the grammar or syntax of the text implies punctuation or paragraphs that our translators have helpfully supplied to the best of their ability. Whether there is a chapter/verse break or not. Otherwise, we may similarly not be communicating the true sense of the text. Chapter/verse divisions do intend to match the natural breaks of the text, however, and usually do.

Your understanding of my "logic" presumes that I understand "selah" to be an indication of a pause, when I noted it could simply be a musical direction. I.e., by adding "selah," you may be introducing an unintended interjection that disrupts the flow of the passage.

Again, my point was simply that reading or not reading "selah" depends on what you think its function.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
John Trapp:
"Selah i.e. In truth, or amen, saith Aben Ezra; Plane, Tremel.; Omnino, penitus, revera, Polan. The Hebrews at this day accordingly add to the end of their prayers and epitaphs Amen, Selah, twice or thrice repeated. The Greek maketh it only a musical notion, Dιαφαλμα."

Matthew Poole:
"Selah: this word is nowhere used but in this poetical Book of the Psalms, and in the song of Habakkuk 3:3,9,13; which makes that opinion probable, that it was a musical note, directing the singer either to lift up his voice, or to make a short stop or pause, or to lengthen out the tune. But withal, it is generally placed at some remarkable passage; which gives occasion to think that it served also to quicken the attention or observation of the singer and hearer."

Matthew Henry:
"To this complaint he adds Selah, which occurs about seventy times in the book of Psalms. Some refer it to the music with which, in David’s time, the psalms were sung; others to the sense, and that it is a note commanding a solemn pause. Selah—Mark that, or, 'Stop there, and consider a little.' As here, they say, There is no help for him in God, Selah. 'Take time for such a thought as this. Get thee behind me, Satan. The Lord rebuke thee! Away with such a vile suggestion!'"
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Freshman
While there is debate about what it means, it seems that it is some sort of musical direction, so it is important to know that it’s there, but it wouldn’t be spoken necessarily. You don’t “speak” an interlude or dynamic change.
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
Chris,
The 1864 Keys Psalter had only the psalm number, e.g., "Psalm 63"
The 1889 RPCNA slight revision to the SMV had the same.
The 1911 RPCNA first true new psalter also just had the psalm number as the title.
So did the 1920 edition.
I'd have to double-check the 1950 edition.
So did the 1973 edition.
The latest 2007 "blue" psalter included the first phrase as the title in addition to the psalm number, e.g., "4A Give Answer When I Call" and a cross-reference to a New Testament passage under that. The title for say, Psalm 4, "To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm of David" does not appear in any of the above versions.
I wonder if the 1650 versions over the years included the psalm titles? I know the consideration of economy may be in play (if not singing them why include them?). I gave up my red split leaf Irish Psalter years ago so can't check if it has them. Both Psalter projects I've been involved with include them for those that have them as verse one as a subtitle.
My TBS edition of the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter includes the Psalm titles (e.g. A Psalm of David). Did the 1650 not originally include them?
 

Grant

Puritan Board Senior
Read it.. It's divinely inspired. I pronounce it "say-lah" personally. Read the Psalm headings aloud too as they are also divinely inspired. This is one problem with bibles that add man-inspired subtitles and such - it can sometimes be confusing to differentiate between that which is actually inspired of God and what is added by man.
Good thoughts. I’m not yet certain though in reading I do read it aloud along with the headers.

However I still have questions as to this view and the fact that we do not sing the word aloud in psalters versions.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
I wonder if the 1650 versions over the years included the psalm titles? I know the consideration of economy may be in play (if not singing them why include them?). I gave up my red split leaf Irish Psalter years ago so can't check if it has them. Both Psalter projects I've been involved with include them for those that have them as verse one as a subtitle.

Out of interest's sake:

Of the copies I've seen:
The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland's 1650 in the back of Sing Psalms does not include the titles.
The FCC's split-leaf 1650 does not include the titles either.

Additionally the 1698 Brady & Tate did not include the titles.
The Irish RP's split-leaf Psalm Singing in the 21st Century did not include the titles.
The 1912 Psalter does not.

Rowland Ward's psalter does include them.

I don't think any of the psalters, including the 1650, use Selah.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
That's a good question. I've always understood it as a pause of reflection. So that probably means we should be pausing and reflecting when it is read, and not just treat it like any other word in a sentence. But then again it doesn't seem like there's much clarity or understanding of the word.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
Out of interest's sake:

Of the copies I've seen:
The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland's 1650 in the back of Sing Psalms does not include the titles.
The FCC's split-leaf 1650 does not include the titles either.

Additionally the 1698 Brady & Tate did not include the titles.
The Irish RP's split-leaf Psalm Singing in the 21st Century did not include the titles.
The 1912 Psalter does not.

Rowland Ward's psalter does include them.

I don't think any of the psalters, including the 1650, use Selah.
Minor point of correction, Sing Psalms is produced by, I think, the Free Church of Scotland. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland don't use it and only use the SMV.
 

Santos

Puritan Board Freshman
I do read it out loud. And when I call to my daughter (Selah) I pronounce it Say-La. Or Say-La-Win, because Wynne is her middle name.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I don't think the Selah is an aid to congregational singing the Psalm, so in our worship contexts I think it best we don't include them. But perhaps the pastor, as he introduces the Psalm, could note for the congregation those non-sung particulars (if it would be an aid to them spiritually).

I do regard the term, as well as the headings, to be inspired text, not just some later Masorete copyist's pious guesswork (i.e. vain imagination). They are indistinguishable from the rest of the text in the Hebrew. They often form part of, or the whole first Hebrew v of the Psalm, which is why our English Bibles and the Hebrew versification are often off by 1.

As to the meaning, I regard them as "Messianic pauses." That is, I don't think they are simply a "pause and reflect" presence; but summon the singer or reader or listener to the benefits of a Christocentric meditation on the words prior. In the days before Christ's arrival, such a reflection would prompt anticipation. In the days since, such a reflection may encourage deeper engagement with the substance of the Psalm, seeing in what ways it foretold what Jesus fulfilled.

I can't speak for anyone else' experience (i.e. under my ministry who has been encouraged in this pattern by my explicit exhortation); but for my part, I have yet to not be rewarded in this purpose.
 

Ryan&Amber2013

Puritan Board Junior
I don't think the Selah is an aid to congregational singing the Psalm, so in our worship contexts I think it best we don't include them. But perhaps the pastor, as he introduces the Psalm, could note for the congregation those non-sung particulars (if it would be an aid to them spiritually).

I do regard the term, as well as the headings, to be inspired text, not just some later Masorete copyist's pious guesswork (i.e. vain imagination). They are indistinguishable from the rest of the text in the Hebrew. They often form part of, or the whole first Hebrew v of the Psalm, which is why our English Bibles and the Hebrew versification are often off by 1.

As to the meaning, I regard them as "Messianic pauses." That is, I don't think they are simply a "pause and reflect" presence; but summon the singer or reader or listener to the benefits of a Christocentric meditation on the words prior. In the days before Christ's arrival, such a reflection would prompt anticipation. In the days since, such a reflection may encourage deeper engagement with the substance of the Psalm, seeing in what ways it foretold what Jesus fulfilled.

I can't speak for anyone else' experience (i.e. under my ministry who has been encouraged in this pattern by my explicit exhortation); but for my part, I have yet to not be rewarded in this purpose.
That's really fascinating, Bruce! Where did you come to theorize the messianic part? If that's true that's really good information for me to apply.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
Just going to toss this out here for thoughts

There are at least a few instances where the first verse of a psalm is quoted in the New Testament, and none quote the heading as far as I know (it probably wouldn't have added much to the quotation's purpose).

There also appear to be several instances of verses cited where "selah" would have appeared, and it isn't quoted in the New Testament either (although I didn't do an exhaustive look and the quotations are often not exact).

I do see the various opinions on what "selah" means. Must it serve a purpose today if it was part of the temple directions? Genuinely curious.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
That's really fascinating, Bruce! Where did you come to theorize the messianic part? If that's true that's really good information for me to apply.
I thought I read it somewhere, as in many years ago. So, disclaiming originality.... However, I've not been able to recover the source when I've tried. My reviews have left me thinking perhaps it happened to occur to me as the result of a wide variety of inputs coalescing in a single concrete conclusion. [shrug emoji goes here]
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
As to the meaning, I regard them as "Messianic pauses." That is, I don't think they are simply a "pause and reflect" presence; but summon the singer or reader or listener to the benefits of a Christocentric meditation on the words prior. In the days before Christ's arrival, such a reflection would prompt anticipation. In the days since, such a reflection may encourage deeper engagement with the substance of the Psalm, seeing in what ways it foretold what Jesus fulfilled.

That is a very interesting perspective. I was curious so I tried to test it by going through the Psalms and looking at some of the instances where "Selah" occurs.

The first few I looked at were promising, e.g.,
Psalm 85:2 "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah."
That could very clearly be a "Messianic pause"!

But then there are some like
Psalm 83:8 "Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah."
Psalm 52:3 "Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah."

These are much less obviously Messianic in nature, though by being clever one can find ways in which they are. But in that case the position that Selah is a "Messianic pause" seems to prove too much, because you could treat every verse that way. I find the concept interesting but I'm not sure there is obviously supporting evidence for it.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
That is a very interesting perspective. I was curious so I tried to test it by going through the Psalms and looking at some of the instances where "Selah" occurs.

The first few I looked at were promising, e.g.,
Psalm 85:2 "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah."
That could very clearly be a "Messianic pause"!

But then there are some like
Psalm 83:8 "Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah."
Psalm 52:3 "Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah."

These are much less obviously Messianic in nature, though by being clever one can find ways in which they are. But in that case the position that Selah is a "Messianic pause" seems to prove too much, because you could treat every verse that way. I find the concept interesting but I'm not sure there is obviously supporting evidence for it.
I wouldn't treat any Selah as merely referring to the last, say, no more than 10 words or so. In the case of Ps.83, the relevant context is vv1-8. In that context, it would be fitting to consider how Messiah is the ultimate answer to perennial plots against God and assaults on God's people. There is absolutely nothing "clever" about that, but it is intrinsic to the very idea and hope in the coming Savior.

The idea of "cutting off Israel," v4, is actually the devilish purpose of preventing Messiah (the Israel of one) from coming into the world; and is not merely the collective identity calling out for help. The children of Lot are, in a redemptive-historical reading of the OT, rivals to the claims of Abraham's seed/Seed; as well as Ishmael mentioned, being rival to Isaac; and Esau/Edom rival to Jacob.

Perhaps I could still be wrong; but perhaps, if one actually uses the opportunity to reflect for more than a minute or two on the material, but ruminate on the passage (as a result of the specific encouragement to do so) for a week or more--as in the case of sermon preparations--the results could speak for themselves?
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
perhaps, if one actually uses the opportunity to reflect for more than a minute or two on the material, but ruminate on the passage (as a result of the specific encouragement to do so) for a week or more--as in the case of sermon preparations--the results could speak for themselves?

Wouldn't that be true for any psalm? They all seem to point to Christ in some way, Selah or no Selah. If everything can be a "messianic pause", what evidence is there that Selah in particular would be a "messianic pause"?

There doesn't seem to be a clear pattern I can tell. Perhaps the most clearly messianic (2, 22, 110) don't have any Selah at all. Most psalms don't. Is that because they are so obvious they don't need them? Couldn't one make the case just as easily that a Selah is a "sovereignty pause", or a "holiness pause"? Is there any evidence for why it should be a "messianic pause" in particular?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Wouldn't that be true for any psalm? They all seem to point to Christ in some way, Selah or no Selah. If everything can be a "messianic pause", what evidence is there that Selah in particular would be a "messianic pause"?

There doesn't seem to be a clear pattern I can tell. Perhaps the most clearly messianic (2, 22, 110) don't have any Selah at all. Most psalms don't. Is that because they are so obvious they don't need them? Couldn't one make the case just as easily that a Selah is a "sovereignty pause", or a "holiness pause"? Is there any evidence for why it should be a "messianic pause" in particular?
"There doesn't seem to be a clear pattern I can tell." I don't know what could convince you, given what your requirement seems to be. To my mind, it doesn't matter if it is "possible" to make one's way to Christ in every Psalm. My proposition is that Selah is a special direction to take this particular place so marked, and make purpose to meditate on the Messiah from it.

For the matter of those three Psalms you mention that lack the Selah, one obvious argument is: those Psalms need no Selah! Selah could be a meditational encouragement to refer our thoughts to Christ in places where it might be easier to settle for a surface-level consideration. There are interpreters of more than idle repute who quite doubt that there are that many "Messianic" Psalms in any case, given the criteria they use. If Selah were admittedly a "messianic pause," they might have a new criteria and their acknowledged complement appreciably increased.

As one who believes in a Christ-oriented hermeneutic, I'm predisposed 1) to look for perspectives on Christ; and 2) to look for authorizations within the text teaching interpreters to adopt the Christocentric model. I don't believe that the prophets were equally inspired to teach their readers to pause and reflect on sundry "holy subjects." I think Christ is the natural center of Scripture and its interpretation, yet our tendency is to lose sight of him. So, reminders are in order.

That's my argument for "why a messianic pause" in particular."

As for finding that "clear pattern," all I can vouch for is my experience. I didn't have a preconceived idea of how such an approach might aid me; I simply went the experimental route. And having taken it, I feel rewarded by discovery.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
I don't know what could convince you, given what your requirement seems to be. To my mind, it doesn't matter if it is "possible" to make one's way to Christ in every Psalm. My proposition is that Selah is a special direction to take this particular place so marked, and make purpose to meditate on the Messiah from it.

Bruce, I mean no offense at all. I greatly respect you and have often benefited from your posts.

The way my mind works, you have presented a proposition, a hypothesis: "Selah is a messianic pause, where we should meditate on Christ". However, the criteria for testing that hypothesis (can we connect to Christ in some way in the preceding verses) appears to be broad enough that it could work with any given set of verses for any psalm, not just the ones that contain Selah. And the hundreds of places where Selah could be and isn't, aren't considered evidence against the proposition. So the proposition may be true, but the criteria also appears to be broad enough so that the proposition is unfalsifiable.

Selah is used 71 times in 39 psalms. Which means 111 psalms do not contain it, despite many Christocentric passages. Of those 39 that do have it, 31 have "to the choir-master" in the heading, which would seem to lend more weight (in my mind) to the traditional commentaries (and the Septuagint translation and Jerome's translation) that seem to think it was a musical instruction.

Now maybe I shouldn't worry about whether an experimentally beneficial practice is intended by the author or not. But since this is the first I've ever seen it from any commentator, it seems worthwhile to wonder whether it is the actual intention behind Selah or not. After reviewing it, I don't see any clear indication that it is the intention, but I agree it can certainly be beneficial.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Bruce, I mean no offense at all. I greatly respect you and have often benefited from your posts.
I'm not offended. We're all offering up opinions in this thread on an obscure topic. I offered a "refined" position on the pause/meditation proposal that has historically been one of several most common expert opinions. I gave some reasons for the plausibility of my view, and some anecdotal justification.

You need not accept my view. You can say you think it's wrong for some reason. If you offer a doubtful take on my view, if I think it can be defended better than it's portrayed, a reply will be forthcoming.

It's a pleasure to know I've been of some help to you on a variety of topics. I'd be a little nervous about anyone who regarded every proposal of mine as golden.
 
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