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. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    One reason why paraphrasing is necessary sometimes in translation (even the KJV does it) is because Hebrew poetry engages in rhyming thoughts or ideas, not rhyming words, as in English poetry.
  2. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    All translaions change word order and add words. It's a necessary part of translation. The ironic thing is that there are places in which a metrical translation may allow a translator to keep the original word order, where the prose translator would have to change it. Perhaps the verb comes before the noun in the original--the prose translator will alter it to fit the conventions of English prose; but we invert sentences all the time in poetry. I've been told that the 1650 psalter is more straightforward a translation than prose translations in that regard, in certain places. I'm no Hebrew scholar, so I can't judge.
  3. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    What is a translation and what is a paraphrase?

    You'll get different answers for the former. But even the most extremely formally equivalent translation will have to change words and add words here and there to give a right sense of the meaning in another language.

    The term "paraphrase" is often associated with such things as Isaac Watts' versions of the psalms, or with something like The Message. Neither of the psalters that I use come anywhere close to those disasters, but are generally speaking quite accurate translations.

    Concerning translating the psalms, I'd say that, if they are to be translated, in order to make them singable (since singing psalms is commanded) they must be translated into metre of some kind. If you insisted on chanting out of the KJV, you'd end up with (mostly) impossibly awkward tunes, or else a horrendous monotone.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2018
  4. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    I have read that in the first centuries of the church Greek-speaking Christians in Egypt and elsewhere chanted the psalms. I would assume that their text was the Psalter of the LXX. Of course, we can have no idea what the music sounded like. I can't comment of the Greek of the LXX, but I wonder how well it lends itself to congregational singing.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2018
  5. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    Chanting's not at all bad, by the way.

    I enjoy singing Psalm 145 out of the Scottish Psalter using the tune of a 7th-century chant. A bit weird, maybe, but the tune is nice.

    Psalm 145:1-3 (2nd Version), from the Scottish Psalter

    O Lord, thou art my God and King;
    thee will I magnify and praise:
    I will thee bless, and gladly sing
    unto thy holy name always.

    Each day I rise I will thee bless,
    and praise thy name time without end.
    Much to be prais'd, and great God is;
    his greatness none can comprehend.

    The tune is here:
  6. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Result of this discussion:

    In summary: Most all biblical translation, are mediately inspired and should be considered the Word of God. For example, the Watchtower 'New World Translation' does contain the Word of God in many places, yet given the intent of the penners, should not be considered the Word of God for its overall aberrance.

    1) Psalter translations w/ metering are the W of G and should not be seen as a 'lesser' translation than its biblical counterpart.
    2) Metering and adjusting words are needed for the flow of the words for singing.
    3) Chanting, i.e. reading of the words in one of the biblical translations are no better than the Metered Psalter as both contain the Word of God and are mediately inspired.
    4) Chanting and singing are essentially synonymous.
    5) Some translations are better than others-both metered Psalters and actual Bible.
    6) Singing of the Psalms are commanded in the Word of God, hence should be sung in Worship.
  7. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I actually played around with chanting from the KJV ( yesterday due to this discussion. It isn't as difficult as I thought it would, and the tunes can sound pretty if you point the text well and speak the words well (the KJV has a natural poetic feel to its words).

    However, I can definitely see the difficulties of trying to get a congregation to chant together (unless you chanted the verses to just one note and maybe change the note for each verse; perhaps that's the pedagogical first step?). It definitely does not come natural, and as Jack noted, it isn't really culturally considered "singing." Even supposing one got a congregation to chant together, one would then have difficulties with newcomers not being able to join in song at once (whereas they can do that with meter if they know the tune). Maybe these are imagined difficulties though (aside from not viewing chanting as singing). I'm half-considering trying it out with members of my church just to see.

    There are also places where, due to needing to fill out more syllables, more of the detail of the Hebrew was drawn upon than the prose, e.g., our pastor noted 57:2 "perform most perfectly."
  8. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    This was a great discussion and really helped me- thanks for bringing it up Scott. This morning in private worship I sang a Psalm, both by following along from the Lutheran chant site and from the 1650- both were wonderful. The Psalm translation from the 1650 is as recognizable as the prose translation.

    For those (looking at you Earl :) ) who think chant is a sad, minor key monotone, it’s not by necessity so, and when sung warmly by a group of believers I suspect will be great. I shall report on it next week. But I fully accept and am glad for the fact that we sing them metrically in corporate worship, unless our good Shepherd someday leads us otherwise.
  9. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    The point about visitors is one of the biggest things. The churches need to sing in a unified way so that all can participate without struggle.
  10. richardnz

    richardnz Puritan Board Freshman

    Try this link for some of the best Anglican chant. All you need to sing along is your Coverdale’s Bible. No word order changes, no words added or subtracted, no rhyming, just singing unadulterated Psalms straight from the Bible.

    Psalm 23

  11. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    That's beautiful, but they're singing, not chanting.

    Love your Augustine quote, by the way. Where did you find it?
  12. richardnz

    richardnz Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes, I would call it singing too, but it illustrates the point that there is no clear division between singing and chanting. Most people think of Gregorian chant or Plainchant when they think of chanting. Anglican chant is a later development. I wondered why Calvin did not use it in his day instead of Psalms in metre until I realized that it came later.

    The quote is from City of God Ch9.
  13. kodos

    kodos Puritan Board Junior

    Lest some try to turn this into an EP "problem", it is not. All are commanded to sing psalms (Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19).

    Maybe our Reformed Churches are not doing it well and we can improve, but the command remains for both EP and non-EP. We are told to sing the Word of Christ.
  14. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    Chanting technically is singing, but there are distinctions. But a chant would be considered singing a song. I believe the word chant comes from a French word meaning sing.
  15. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    The issue wasn't mode per se. It had to do with the transliteration of the written Psalter vs metered and rearranged Psalter for singing.
  16. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I guess the question I would pose would be is this: If there was a feasible way to sing verbatim (or very close to verbatim) Psalms in public worship without disrupting order (chants would likely do this), would we rather sing them or the ones put to meter/rhyme?

    The LXX was by most counts an inferior translation to many we have today. I'm convinced that similarly, metered/rhyming Psalms are likewise inferior, though I would not say they are not the Word of God.

    If we argue that metered/rhyming Psalms are more accurate for their purpose, then preferring them in worship seems consistent. If we argue it is an inferior translation, it would seem that we make the Word of God subservient to the music since we have better translations.

  17. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Both are mediately inspired.

    As for the rest of your post, I alluded to such earlier and Ramon responded with, 'The meanest translation of God's word is still God's word'. Hence, it would seem to be a moot point.
  18. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior


    I acknowledged that both are mediately inspired. That doesn't deal with my question. If the New World Translation suited my purposes for singing, is it an indifferent matter if I use it or not since "meanness" of translation is if little consequence? How "mean" is too mean? Should convenience or some other peripheral circumstance dictate the necessity of accuracy in translation?

    EP advocates often warn about a slippery slope. This slope seems slippery to me.

    Again, my challenge doesn't counter EP itself, just the use of texts when we have far more accurate translations.
  19. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Told to sing and not chant. I am thinking the chant maybe a recent invention in Christian thought borrowed from some type of false religion.
  20. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Junior

    It's not recent. Chanting was practiced at least as early as the third century, if I'm not mistaken. (I don't have my source with me.)

    But still, what is meant by "chanting"? You may think of Gregorian chanting, but that's not necessarily what is meant.

    The word "chant" itself came into English via Old French from the Latin canto, which is translated "sing". Sing, meanwhile, is a good Old English word with cognates in other Germanic languages.

    I think it is safe to say that the line between singing and chanting may not always have been as clear as we make it today.

    Further, if you believe that chanting (whatever that means) has entered the church from pagan practices, you will need to demonstrate it. And besides, arranging psalms into metre is itself hardly an ancient custom.
  21. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    The NWT would not be considered even a 'mean' translation as the intent was aberrant when it was produced.

    Some people consider the 1650 the best translation; another church may prefer the red Trinity Psalter over the 1650; The latter may feel as if the 1650 is meaner, but none the less, inspired. Some people like the KJ and others, not so much; it doesn't change the quality of the translation, per se as there is enough accuracy to be considered mediately inspired.

    I believe the rules of transliterating the bible and metering are the most important.

    I understand and hence, my original post on the matter, which has been cleared up for me.
  22. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Some old posts from MW on the subject. (This whole post of mine is mostly copy and paste from other places.) His arguments for metrication (i.e., a translation intended for singing) and why we use metrication over chanting are pretty typical/representative. The slippery slope is avoided by pressing towards perfection within the medium of meter; it's the same way the slippery slope is avoided by proponents of formal equivalence translations or even just prose translations of the psalms.

    A comment of mine from FB that gives some more resources as to metrication, along with its accuracy and difficulties. When assessing accuracy of any translation, one should also be careful to distinguish between translating the sense of the original language and translating the details. I should point out here that when I quoted the KJV preface, I may have been stretching out what they intended by "mean translation;" they seem to have been referring to style of the translation (e.g., a rough, literal word-for-word translation versus an elegant one). However, it may be a legitimate extension of their idea, since "style" includes translating "details."

    "The Bay Psalter Preface is useful because it helps show the concern for faithfulness in translation, along with some possible motivations for some translation choices and a brief defense of translation into meter. The relevant portion for defense of metrical versions is here (, but the whole of the preface is very useful (

    Richard Bacon's article:

    Seeing specific examples of how some perceived looseness is in fact based in the Hebrew can also be helpful. So to that end, I recommend David Silversides' article on the 1650 Psalter, which contains a few examples:"
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
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  23. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you all for a good conversation. Very informative!
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