Does it matter where the Psalm is divided?

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
For anyone:

1) Do the psalms in Hebrew not have divisions? For example, there not being a "Psalm 3", "Psalm 4" before each portion of a psalm?

For EPers:

2) If there are no divisions in the Hebrew, are where the Psalms divided for singing arbitrary? Granted, it is probably too difficult for a congregation to sing a long psalm in its entirety, so the divisions are necessary, but my question is: Does it matter where the divisions are made (e.g., would it be just as fine starting in the middle of a Psalm as it would be at the begnning or as it would be in picking up where you last left off in a Psalm?; would it be just fine only singing one or two verses in a setting from anywhere in the psalm?) and if not, how is it decided?

3) If the divisions do not matter, what about non-consecutive verses? Do they matter? E.g., singing verse 1-2, then skipping verse 3, singing verse 4-6, etc.; or perhaps singing 1 verse from one Psalm, then two verses from an entirely different Psalm. If the verses must be sung consecutively, and the divisions do not matter, why must they be sung consecutively?

4) If the divisions do not matter, where does one cross from singing a Psalm to singing something someone arranged from a Psalm (Does that distinction even matter, and why?)?
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
There are natural divisions in all of scripture that relate to the context of the passage. The Psalms may be divided in the same way. You would never read the rest of scripture by putting the verses out of order. Why would one do this for the Psalms?
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Tim said:
There are natural divisions in all of scripture that relate to the context of the passage. The Psalms may be divided in the same way. You would never read the rest of scripture by putting the verses out of order. Why would one do this for the Psalms?
A fair point. It is then a matter of wisdom (as it is when reading Scripture) where the psalms are divided in public worship. However, I would note that in family worship and private, people often do jump around quite a bit when reading Scripture--perhaps skipping over this verse or that, in order to understand it better--sometimes even reading backwards! Even in public worship, it sometimes occurs that whoever is reading it out loud will stop, comment, then go on; or stop, turn elsewhere, then turn back! Especially in sermons this occurs. I've also noted that some in the past (such as John Brown of Haddington) would have no problem singing only a couple of verses from the middle of a psalm with their friends. It seems then, there must be a difference between non-public worship and public for dividing the psalms?

And secondly, at the very least then, what about starting a psalm (from anywhere), finishing some division, then singing another part of a psalm (to wherever the division ends), then returning to finish off the first psalm (though perhaps leaving out the last verse); or perhaps within the same psalm, singing one division, skipping a division or two, then singing the next and skipping the last? Sometimes (though I can only think of a few times it has happened; and once it occured when there were a bunch of names in a geneaology, which were skipped over to the end of the division), the analogous occurs in the reading of Scripture in public worship, and oftentimes occurs during the sermon.
 

Tim

Puritan Board Graduate
And secondly, at the very least then, what about starting a psalm (from anywhere), finishing some division, then singing another part of a psalm (to wherever the division ends), then returning to finish off the first psalm (though perhaps leaving out the last verse); or perhaps within the same psalm, singing one division, skipping a division or two, then singing the next and skipping the last? Sometimes (though I can only think of a few times it has happened; and once it occured when there were a bunch of names in a geneaology, which were skipped over to the end of the division), the analogous occurs in the reading of Scripture in public worship, and oftentimes occurs during the sermon.

I have never observed anyone going through scripture (including the Psalms) in such a disorderly manner as what you describe here. Perhaps this occurs in contemporary Christian "praise songs", where verses or parts thereof are brought in here and there, but never in the reformed context where the intent was to sing a faithful versification of a Psalm. I would also suggest that preaching scripture is different than reading scripture.

Would I be correct that you are really asking whether one must "sing the entire Psalm" in order to be considered to have "sung a Psalm", according to God's command? And that if a partial Psalm is sufficient, what are the principles involved in choosing that partial selection? Please tell me if this is the root of your question.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Tim said:
I have never observed anyone going through scripture (including the Psalms) in such a disorderly manner as what you describe here. Perhaps this occurs in contemporary Christian "praise songs", where verses or parts thereof are brought in here and there, but never in the reformed context where the intent was to sing a faithful versification of a Psalm. I would also suggest that preaching scripture is different than reading scripture.
I suppose I can grant the difference between preaching scripture and reading scripture.

Time said:
Would I be correct that you are really asking whether one must "sing the entire Psalm" in order to be considered to have "sung a Psalm", according to God's command? And that if a partial Psalm is sufficient, what are the principles involved in choosing that partial selection? Please tell me if this is the root of your question.
Yes, that is a large part of it. Thank you for clearing me up! The only additions I have to make to this old issue is (1) what bearing the lack (or inclusion) of divisions in the Hebrew has on this question, and (2) where does division end and human arrangement of the psalms begin? If there were no such divisions in the Hebrew, it does indeed seem singing a "partial Psalm" is sufficient, but then that raises the obvious question of: What principles guide this?
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
"God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee" (Acts 13:33).

The division of the Book of Psalms into distinct compositions (commonly called "Psalms") was recognized by the early church. Most recognize that the Septuagint was widely used by the early church, which actually goes "off" on the numbering early on, and only gets back with the Hebrew numbering toward the end of the Psalter. So most would agree that both the Hebrew Psalms in the original (which, according to the titles, were many of them composed on distinct occasions, for different reasons) and the Greek Septuagint version (which predated Christ and the Apostles by a couple hundred years) contained distinctly numbered Psalms.

I would also say that, in the command to sing the Psalms, we are not being required to start at Psalm 1, work our way to Psalm 150, then start over, and that's it. Nor are we being required to sing through an entire Psalm during a public worship service, to include the longer selections, like Psalms 18, 78, 119, 89, 119, etc. There may be a regular singing through the Psalter; there may be a Psalm or Psalm portion of the month; there may be a selection of verses of a particular Psalm well-fitted to the theme of the Scripture reading, the text, or the sermon. Which Psalm, or verses of a Psalm, shall be sung are a matter of the wisdom of the man officiating.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you for the informative response! I guess I was wrong then about the Hebrew Psalms not being numbered. Since you say that it is a matter of wisdom how much or from what psalm to sing, what do you think about skipping verses, like maybe 1-4, 7, 10-11, etc.? Is that wrong, or is it merely unwise, and why? And perhaps in favor of singing a psalm in that manner, was that it saves time in singing the psalm, and is like summarizing a long passage of Scripture in Scripture reading; and also in favor of singing that way, it could be said that that's what theoretically could happen anyway (e.g., a psalm portion might be verse 1-4, then the next psalm portion is verse 7, and then the third happens to be 10-11). Thoughts to this?
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Since you say that it is a matter of wisdom how much or from what psalm to sing, what do you think about skipping verses, like maybe 1-4, 7, 10-11, etc.? Is that wrong, or is it merely unwise, and why? And perhaps in favor of singing a psalm in that manner, was that it saves time in singing the psalm, and is like summarizing a long passage of Scripture in Scripture reading; and also in favor of singing that way, it could be said that that's what theoretically could happen anyway (e.g., a psalm portion might be verse 1-4, then the next psalm portion is verse 7, and then the third happens to be 10-11). Thoughts to this?

A good example would be the version "My People Give Ear" (Ps 78) in the Trinity Hymnal. It has eight of the twenty-one stanzas in the 1912 Psalter. And it isn't just a section of it. It's several sections given with parts missing in-between. It has stanzas 1-5, 16-17, and 21. I don't personally think that it is wrong to sing it this way, but I do think it can be unwise.
 

Kaalvenist

Puritan Board Sophomore
Exactly, Tim.

I don't necessarily have a problem with singing certain selected verses of a Psalm that highlight a certain principle, as we might quote from certain selected verses of a chapter of the Bible, in order further to highlight what is being said. I do have a problem with a "Psalter" that does not contain all of the verses of that Psalm or Psalm portion. Regardless of where one comes down on the textual criticism debate, we all recognize that all those verses that should be recognized as Scripture should make it into our copies of the Bible.
 
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