Psalm Translations

Dear Psalm-Singing Reader,

I posted here on why I love the fact that we sing Psalms exclusively in our church. The dirty little secret of psalm-singing though is that what we sing is not always an accurate translation of the biblical text. This is a really important issue to me and often when I talk to my fellow Reformed Presbyterians (RPs) about it, I feel like I am banging my head against a wall. Now for the most part these are people that care a lot about what translation of the Bible they read. They had parties when the ESV came out. They denigrate the NIV in Bible studies. So why is there so much complacency when it comes to the translations in our Psalter?

I am willing to make concessions for the Psalms we sing. I understand there are more variables to juggle. We need something singable, something that follows a certain meter. But the fact remains that we claim we are singing  God’s Word. In fact, we pride ourselves on it. So if we call something God’s Word, we better make darn sure it is God’s words. If anything, we are more likely to remember what we sing. Do we want to remember it wrong?

Our denomination just came out with a new Psalter. This has led to a lot of talk about the versions of the Psalms. This is a good thing. People do realize to some extent that the Psalter is not perfect. But the truth is, the other one wasn’t either. It was just more familiar. It had been out a long time (30 years or so I think) and we no longer thought about the particulars.  Is the new psalter worse than the old one? There are some pretty spectacularly bad versions of the Psalms in there. But there are also some good ones. I have been going through the new psalter selection by selection with my Hebrew Bible next to me (I studied Hebrew for 10+ years in grad school, btw). I had done something similar years ago with the old psalter. The jury is still out on whether the new psalter is worse than the old. I will get back to you on that when I finish my task. But what I am struck by is just the mediocrity of it. There are surprising good translations and surprisingly bad ones. But most are in the middle. They are C students. Should we be happy with this? I think not. Most psalm translations in our psalter are worse than that awful NIV we denigrate so much (I actually don’t have much problem with the NIV). So why don’t we care?? We have this great tradition of singing God’s Word, let’s take it seriously and make sure we are singing God’s words and not our own.


One response to this post.

  1. […] to us to use in worshipping Him, and that we are commanded to worship Him in this way. In an earlier post I discussed the fact that although the theory behind psalm-singing is great, our application of it […]


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