Psalter comparisons and translation philosophy

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
First, I would request no debates.

A recent thread got me thinking of the differences between psalters.

In the RPCNA, the 1650 seems to be used in some places. Our own congregation use the Book of Psalms for Singing (the Red psalter), and there's the Book of Psalms for Worship (the Blue psalter) in others.

There's a quote by RM M'Cheyne that says in some places the 1650 exceeds the accuracy of the prosaic KJV. I first wonder if brothers and sisters here may have thoughts to express one way or the other on this idea.

And, thoughts on the quality/accuracy of the Red and Blue psalters?

I suppose I'm looking for a "translation for life" from which I'll always be singing and meditating.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Also, a resource on some of the inevitable "padding" that occurs when bringing something from prose to meter.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
There's a quote by RM M'Cheyne that says in some places the 1650 exceeds the accuracy of the prosaic KJV. I first wonder if brothers and sisters here may have thoughts to express one way or the other on this idea.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843): “The metrical version of the Psalms should be read or sung through at least once in the year. It is truly an admirable translation from the Hebrew, and is frequently more correct than the prose version.” —Andrew Bonar, ed., Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Dundee: William Middleton, 1845), p. 574 (from this blog).

I am not a Hebraist nor a linguist at all, but I find the notion that the SMV is frequently more accurate than the AV to be far-fetched (to put it mildly).
 
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Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I am not a Hebraist or a linguist at all, but I find the notion that the SMV is frequently more accurate than the AV to be far-fetched (to put it mildly).
I suppose it depends on what one means when they say "accurate." Are they talking about formal equivalence, word order and vocabulary consistency? Probably not in this case. I realize I could be being anachronistic here, but M'Cheyne could mean that the poetry often expresses the intent of the author better. Just a guess.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

2 Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.

3 Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.

4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.

6 He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.

7 Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:

8 Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word:

9 Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:

10 Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:

11 Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:

12 Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:

13 Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.

14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the LORD.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843): “The metrical version of the Psalms should be read or sung through at least once in the year. It is truly an admirable translation from the Hebrew, and is frequently more correct than the prose version.” —Andrew Bonar, ed., Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Dundee: William Middleton, 1845), p. 574 (from this blog).

I am not a Hebraist or a linguist at all, but I find the notion that the SMV is frequently more accurate than the AV to be far-fetched (to put it mildly).
With basic issues like some of the multiple versions having weaker translations than others and not consistently translating or even notating the divine name, I would be hesitant to put the 1650 SMV on the same level as the AV 1611 or any other prose translation. That's not to say it's not the best option (it might be in terms of good translation), or that there are not places it has a better translation than many prose versions.

Compare the second version of Psalm 148 in the SMV to the KJV.

1 The Lord of heav'n confess,
On high his glory raise.
2 Him let all angels bless,
Him all his armies praise.
3 Him glorify
Sun, moon, and stars;
4 Ye higher spheres,
And cloudy sky.

5 From God your beings are,
Him therefore famous make;
You all created were,
When he the word but spake.
6 And from that place,
Where fixed you be
By his decree,
You cannot pass.

7 Praise God from earth below,
Ye dragons, and ye deeps:
8 Fire, hail, clouds, wind, and snow.
Whom in command he keeps.
9 Praise ye his name,
Hills great and small,
Trees low and tall;
10 Beasts wild and tame;

All things that creep or fly.
11 Ye kings, ye vulgar throng,
All princes mean or high;
12 Both men and virgins young,
Ev'n young and old,
13 Exalt his name;
For much his fame
Should be extolled.

O let God's name be praised
Above both earth and sky;
14 For he his saints hath raised,
And set their horn on high;
Ev'n those that be
Of Isr'el's race,
Near to his grace.
The Lord praise ye.

1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

2 Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.

3 Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.

4 Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.

6 He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.

7 Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:

8 Fire, and hail; snow, and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling his word:

9 Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:

10 Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:

11 Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:

12 Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:

13 Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.

14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the LORD.

Or Psalm 136, where the phrase consistently rendered in the KJV is "for his mercy endureth forever" we get various renderings including "For certainly his mercies dure most firm and sure eternally," "his mercies last for aye," "whose mercies still endure," "his grace lasts aye," "for mercy hath he ever," "for his grace faileth never," "for his grace hath no bound," and "for his grace lasteth still" (assuming I didn't miss any scanning through the page). This is like the Amplified Bible on steroids!
 

Zach

Puritan Board Junior
This isn't really an answer to your question, but I would say the difficulties you've observed about bringing Hebrew poetry into English meter (as well as general questions about translation philosophy like Taylor notes above) is a reason to actually favor using multiple translations in personal settings. I like mixing up what Psalters I use and benefit from all of them because they all have their strengths and weaknesses (the same is true of Bible translations). While a church usually has to settle on a single song book (maybe two) to use in corporate worship, I like the fact that I don't have to in my personal worship!
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
There is no doubt that the 1650 psalter was alert to the importance of precise translation. You can see it in their alterations to William Kethe's 1545 version of Psalm 100:
1) "Him serve with mirth" rather than the indefensible "Him serve with fear"
2) Correcting the indicative to an imperative: "Know that the Lord" for "The Lord ye know"
3) restoring the two distinct images "we are his folk he doth us feed" for both collapsed into one "we are his flock he doth us feed"
All of these changes (which are the only modifications in the psalm) are soundly based on the Hebrew, though to be fair they are all there in the KJV and in the Geneva Bible before that. Which makes it bizarre that the Trinity Hymnal chose to restore William Kethe's version as Hymn 1.

But I'm not aware of anywhere specific where the psalter diverges from the KJV on a point of Hebrew translation; I'd be interested to hear if people know of examples. The place where they probably should have diverged if they were paying that close attention was at the end of the first line of Psalm 121. The KJV (following the Geneva Bible) renders it as a statement: "I to the hills will lift mine eyes from whence doth come mine aid." That's not an impossible translation: me'ayin is used in a statement in Joshua 2:4. But everywhere else it is a question, and the beginning of the following verse seems to provide an answer. Hence most modern translations go with a question here, while 1650 follows KJV and Geneva.

Stepping back from specifics, if I was translating a psalter to accompany a universally used good translation, I would want to follow it wherever possible, except perhaps where absolutely necessary. I'd be surprised if there are many intentional differences.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
For working on my church's psalter I didn't do any tally or record on this sort of thing, but I did note a couple of times that the either the UP 1871 Psalter (our go-to to craft new words and settings when needed) or the SMP (or both) had more padding (elongating or repeating the thought, etc.) to make the meter. Since we were not using the SMP I didn't check it that often and opted simply to look at the KJV and the Hebrew at biblehub to detect to extra thoughts or poetical word choices outside the range of meaning (as far as I could see; the pastor's Hebrew is better and half time he showed me it was okay or he went back to redo it).
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
There's a quote by RM M'Cheyne that says in some places the 1650 exceeds the accuracy of the prosaic KJV. I first wonder if brothers and sisters here may have thoughts to express one way or the other on this idea.
Greetings,

I don't think anyone posted this so here it is. Get a load of the impressive list of signers. Awesome!

The Preface to the 1650 Psalter:

Good Reader,

Tis evident by the common experience of mankind, that love cannot lie idle in the soul. For everyone hath his oblectation* and delight, his tastes and relishes are suitable to his constitution, and a man’s temper is more discovered by his solaces than by anything else. Carnal men delight in what is suited to the gust of the flesh, and spiritual men in the things of the Spirit. The promises of God’s holy covenant, which are to others as stale news or withered flowers, feed the pleasure of their minds; and the mysteries of our redemption by Christ are their hearts’ delight and comfort. But as joy must have a proper object, so also a vent: for this is an affection that cannot be penned up: the usual issue and out-going of it is by singing. Profane spirits must have songs suitable to their mirth; as their mirth is carnal, so their songs are vain and frothy, if not filthy and obscene; but they that rejoice in the Lord, their mirth runneth in a spiritual channel: “Is any merry? let him sing psalms,” saith the apostle (Jas. 5:13); and, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” saith holy David (Ps. 119:54).

Surely singing, ’tis is a delectable way of instruction, as common prudence will teach us. Aelian telleth us that the Cretians enjoined their children, τοὺς παῖδας τοὺς ἐλευθέρους μανθάνειν τοὺς νόμους ἐκέλευον μετά τινος μελῳδὶας, to learn their laws by singing them in verse.† And surely singing of Psalms is a duty of such comfort and profit, that it needeth not our recommendation. The new nature is instead of all arguments, which cannot be without thy spiritual solace. Now though spiritual songs of mere humane composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter and words are of immediately divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” which the apostle useth (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But then ’tis meet that these divine composures should be represented to us in a fit translation, lest we want David, in David; while his holy ecstasies are delivered in a flat and bald expression. The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the original of any that we have seen, and runneth with such a fluent sweetness, that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance; some of us having used it already, with great comfort and satisfaction.

Thomas Manton, D.D.
Henry Langley, D.D.
John Owen, D.D.
William Jenkyn
James Innes
Thomas Watson
Thomas Lye
Matthew Poole
John Milward
John Chester
George Cokayn
Matthew Mead
Robert Franklin
Thomas Doolittle
Thomas Vincent
Nathanael Vincent
John Ryther
William Tomson
Nicholas Blaikie
Charles Morton
Edmund Calamy
William Carslake
James Janeway
John Hickes
John Baker
Richard Mayo

NOTES:
* oblectation: The act of pleasing highly; delight (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary); Delight, pleasure, enjoyment; an instance of this (OED).—Ed.
† Claudius Aelianus (c. 175 – c. 235), Variae Historiae, lib. 2, cap. 39
 
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RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
There is no doubt that the 1650 psalter was alert to the importance of precise translation. You can see it in their alterations to William Kethe's 1545 version of Psalm 100:
1) "Him serve with mirth" rather than the indefensible "Him serve with fear"
2) Correcting the indicative to an imperative: "Know that the Lord" for "The Lord ye know"
3) restoring the two distinct images "we are his folk he doth us feed" for both collapsed into one "we are his flock he doth us feed"
All of these changes (which are the only modifications in the psalm) are soundly based on the Hebrew, though to be fair they are all there in the KJV and in the Geneva Bible before that. Which makes it bizarre that the Trinity Hymnal chose to restore William Kethe's version as Hymn 1.

But I'm not aware of anywhere specific where the psalter diverges from the KJV on a point of Hebrew translation; I'd be interested to hear if people know of examples. The place where they probably should have diverged if they were paying that close attention was at the end of the first line of Psalm 121. The KJV (following the Geneva Bible) renders it as a statement: "I to the hills will lift mine eyes from whence doth come mine aid." That's not an impossible translation: me'ayin is used in a statement in Joshua 2:4. But everywhere else it is a question, and the beginning of the following verse seems to provide an answer. Hence most modern translations go with a question here, while 1650 follows KJV and Geneva.

Stepping back from specifics, if I was translating a psalter to accompany a universally used good translation, I would want to follow it wherever possible, except perhaps where absolutely necessary. I'd be surprised if there are many intentional differences.

Being an AV reader, this actually has a lot of pull for me to a primary use of the 1650.

Greetings,

I don't think anyone posted this so here it is. Get a load of the impressive list of signers. Awesome!

The Preface to the 1650 Psalter:

Good Reader,

Tis evident by the common experience of mankind, that love cannot lie idle in the soul. For everyone hath his oblectation* and delight, his tastes and relishes are suitable to his constitution, and a man’s temper is more discovered by his solaces than by anything else. Carnal men delight in what is suited to the gust of the flesh, and spiritual men in the things of the Spirit. The promises of God’s holy covenant, which are to others as stale news or withered flowers, feed the pleasure of their minds; and the mysteries of our redemption by Christ are their hearts’ delight and comfort. But as joy must have a proper object, so also a vent: for this is an affection that cannot be penned up: the usual issue and out-going of it is by singing. Profane spirits must have songs suitable to their mirth; as their mirth is carnal, so their songs are vain and frothy, if not filthy and obscene; but they that rejoice in the Lord, their mirth runneth in a spiritual channel: “Is any merry? let him sing psalms,” saith the apostle (Jas. 5:13); and, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” saith holy David (Ps. 119:54).

Surely singing, ’tis is a delectable way of instruction, as common prudence will teach us. Aelian telleth us that the Cretians enjoined their children, τοὺς παῖδας τοὺς ἐλευθέρους μανθάνειν τοὺς νόμους ἐκέλευον μετά τινος μελῳδὶας, to learn their laws by singing them in verse.† And surely singing of Psalms is a duty of such comfort and profit, that it needeth not our recommendation. The new nature is instead of all arguments, which cannot be without thy spiritual solace. Now though spiritual songs of mere humane composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter and words are of immediately divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” which the apostle useth (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But then ’tis meet that these divine composures should be represented to us in a fit translation, lest we want David, in David; while his holy ecstasies are delivered in a flat and bald expression. The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the original of any that we have seen, and runneth with such a fluent sweetness, that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance; some of us having used it already, with great comfort and satisfaction.

Thomas Manton, D.D.
Henry Langley, D.D.
John Owen, D.D.
William Jenkyn
James Innes
Thomas Watson
Thomas Lye
Matthew Poole
John Milward
John Chester
George Cokayn
Matthew Mead
Robert Franklin
Thomas Doolittle
Thomas Vincent
Nathanael Vincent
John Ryther
William Tomson
Nicholas Blaikie
Charles Morton
Edmund Calamy
William Carslake
James Janeway
John Hickes
John Baker
Richard Mayo

NOTES:
* oblectation: The act of pleasing highly; delight (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary); Delight, pleasure, enjoyment; an instance of this (OED).—Ed.
† Claudius Aelianus (c. 175 – c. 235), Variae Historiae, lib. 2, cap. 39

There is the ad nauseum debate over the archaic language, but one thing the 1650 certainly has is the testimony of godly men. Even today. I am not so well-learned as others, but its testimony must weigh in to a decision.

And if you are going to read the Puritans, you are going to learn old English anyway. Reading Baxter once I found the word "dirigent", and no online dictionary knew what that meant. I had to derive the meaning from a similar German word.

Does any here know if there an extensive review of the Red Psalter anywhere?
 
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RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
This isn't really an answer to your question, but I would say the difficulties you've observed about bringing Hebrew poetry into English meter (as well as general questions about translation philosophy like Taylor notes above) is a reason to actually favor using multiple translations in personal settings. I like mixing up what Psalters I use and benefit from all of them because they all have their strengths and weaknesses (the same is true of Bible translations). While a church usually has to settle on a single song book (maybe two) to use in corporate worship, I like the fact that I don't have to in my personal worship!

I'm all for looking at multiple versions to get a sense of the meaning of the Word.

Though I think having a primary psalter/translation is also beneficial. To have a version you consistently refer to, sing from, or memorize from will serve to anchor your insights from other translations and psalters. One memorized psalm is a peg in the wall, on which you hang everything else you learn. Even to learn how other psalters do better. That's the big idea behind the inquiry.

My family is going to continue using the Red Psalter in any case. What one I memorize/sing from privately may end up being different.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843): “The metrical version of the Psalms should be read or sung through at least once in the year. It is truly an admirable translation from the Hebrew, and is frequently more correct than the prose version.” —Andrew Bonar, ed., Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (Dundee: William Middleton, 1845), p. 574 (from this blog).

I am not a Hebraist or a linguist at all, but I find the notion that the SMV is frequently more accurate than the AV to be far-fetched (to put it mildly).

I suppose it depends on what one means when they say "accurate." Are they talking about formal equivalence, word order and vocabulary consistency? Probably not in this case. I realize I could be being anachronistic here, but M'Cheyne could mean that the poetry often expresses the intent of the author better. Just a guess.

I wonder if this just comes with translating poetry. It'd be hard to get any poem in any language into another one for the fact that the concepts of poetry and literary devices may indeed be different. What would it ever take, for example, to take a Spanish poem and get it to read like poetry in English? So, there's already a different standard for translating the Writings than, say, the history books. God saw it necessary in the originals for there to be literary appeal, and I think we have to say that it's also necessary when we translate Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Or in any book, try to somehow capture that literary edge.

One criticism I've heard of the LXX translation of Ecclesiastes is how wooden it is. If a translation of something poetic or stylistic in the original comes off as steely or lifeless, you've lost part of the original work's glory, and something God saw needful to the work itself.

Though I hear the the Psalms and Proverbs more or less "rhyme" in pairing of concepts. Two statements are coupled together and somehow work together, and the beauty is more in the parallel/contrast of concepts. If extra words in a metrical psalter capture that concept and gives it a literary appeal, it seems from a poetic standpoint the translator has done his job.
 
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Logan

Puritan Board Junior
Does any here know if there an extensive review of the Red Psalter anywhere?

Attached is my reviews of all the psalters I know of that are currently readily available for purchase, although it's been...eight years since I wrote them up. If I were doing the reviews for this discussion, I'd probably add considerably more.

In general:
I feel that the Book of Psalms for Singing has its own issues. In general the language is good (it retains some of the more archaic language) but much of the music is difficult or archaic in my opinion. There are some seemingly odd translation choices in areas.

The book of Psalms for Worship likewise has some strengths. Some people think that the tunes are made for music majors but I find most of them quite easy to learn (many of the old CM tunes in various 1650 psalters feel very meandering and don't sink into my mind at all). There are very few tunes that I've found that I can't listen to a couple of times and not "get". The translation is an improvement in some areas, and probably not an improvement in others.

The "Sing Psalms" from the Free Church of Scotland is quite an admirable translation in my opinion. It is probably more on the CSB/NIV side of the spectrum than say NASB, but seems fairly accurate in my experience.

"Psalm for Singing: A 21st Century Edition" from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland is also quite good, although I find the language not quite as smooth at times. They also have a very good list of rules for their committee to work off of as they translated, which I included in my attached review.

I feel the 1650 is a very serviceable translation, but it has some very noticeable faults. Its fans will say that these are either not faults, or that they can be easily overcome but let's be honest that this is a pretty dated psalter. It's hard enough to convince people to sing the psalms without it being a 400-year old, very Scottish translation. Often you'd be surprised that the words are looser than you'd guess they would be. I definitely have an appreciation and admiration for the 1650 and do sing from it but as I've expressed before, I have my personal reservations about using it as a primary psalter for corporate worship.

I have sung from all of these (and a couple others that I didn't care for as much) fairly extensively and enjoyed them all. All have strengths and weaknesses. All have tradeoffs. The 1650 is not perfect and neither are any of the others. I couldn't tell you which is the "best". I would be content with all of them.

Here's a random comparison. I randomly picked Psalm 76:4-5 from a page, although note that because there are various meters, sometimes they divide between stanzas so might not sound as poetic without the entire stanza.

For comparison:
KJV (31 words):
"Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey.
The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands."

ESV (33 words):
Glorious are you, more majestic than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep; all the men of war were unable to use their hands.

NASB (27 words):
You are resplendent, more majestic than the mountains of prey.
The stouthearted were plundered, They sank into sleep; And none of the warriors could use his hands.

CSB (34 words):
You are resplendent and majestic coming down from the mountains of prey.
The brave-hearted have been plundered; they have slipped into their final sleep. None of the warriors was able to lift a hand.

Book of Psalms for Singing 36 words):
"Excellent art Thou and glorious in
Coming from the hills of prey.
Thou has spoiled the valiant-hearted;
Wrapt in sleep of death are they.
Mighty men have lost their cunning;
None are ready for the fray."

Book of Psalms for Worship (36 words):
"You're more glorious and majestic
Than the mountains filled with prey.
Brave and valiant ones You plundered,
Now they slumber in the grave;
Though they once were mighty warriors,
None can lift his hands to save."

Sing Psalms (35 words):
"Your splendour is more glorious
than hillsides rich with prey.
Brave men were stripped of all their spoil
asleep in death they lay.
Not one of those great warriors
could lift his hands to kill."

Psalms for Singing (36 words):
"How glorious, more excellent
than hills of prey, you are!
The men of valiant heart, laid bare,
their last sleep they have slept,
and none of all the mighty men
his strength of hand has kept."

1650 Scottish Metrical Version (37 words):
"More glorious thou than hills of prey,
more excellent art far.
Those that were stout of heart are spoil'd
they slept their sleep outright;
And none of those their hands did find,
that were men of might."

To be honest, I find the second part of the 1650 less immediately comprehensible than any of the others. But it's certainly also a fair translation. The BPW and BPS do quite well in the first half, less so in the latter half (depending on how you define "well"). All get the meaning across. The 1650 has the most words...but that is a very unfair comparison for translation work. I just included the word count as something that might be of interest. But do note that the shortest psalter translation still has more words than the longest Bible translation. Padding or using more words to fill a meter is common tool for metrical translations.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
The "Sing Psalms" from the Free Church of Scotland is quite an admirable translation in my opinion. It is probably more on the CSB/NIV side of the spectrum than say NASB, but seems fairly accurate in my experience.
The Reformed Churches of New Zealand have produced their own hymnbook (we are IP). A sizable part of their psalter is from the "Sing Psalms". The Free Church of Scotland kindly gave them full access to their psalter.
I feel the 1650 is a very serviceable translation, but it has some very noticeable faults. Its fans will say that these are either not faults, or that they can be easily overcome but let's be honest that this is a pretty dated psalter.
As well as our church hymnbook, I also use Christian Worship (published by the Christian Worship Publishing Trust in Wales) for personal worship. For their psalter they use a lightly edited edition of the 1650 Scottish Psalter. In my personal view they have done a fine job of editing it.

They make this comment about the 1650 Scottish Psalter:
In common with many traditional books, the first 150 numbers correspond to the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament. These are metrical Psalms rather than Psalm paraphrases, and have been taken from The Psalms of David in Metre published in 1650. This is commonly known as The Scottish Metrical Psalter, and is without doubt the classic metrical Psalter within the English-speaking world. As has been done by others in the past, these renderings have been lightly edited. Our desire has been to remove unnecessary archaisms and unfortunate rhyming, while retaining the immediate recognition of all who are familiar with this well known and much loved Psalter. It is our deep conviction that the almost non-existence of metrical Psalms in the worship of many evangelical churches is highly regrettable, and it is our sincere hope that the inclusion of a complete metrical Psalter will go at least some way in helping to redress the balance (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16, Jas 5:13).
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Attached is my reviews of all the psalters I know of that are currently readily available for purchase, although it's been...eight years since I wrote them up. If I were doing the reviews for this discussion, I'd probably add considerably more.

In general:
I feel that the Book of Psalms for Singing has its own issues. In general the language is good (it retains some of the more archaic language) but much of the music is difficult or archaic in my opinion. There are some seemingly odd translation choices in areas.

The book of Psalms for Worship likewise has some strengths. Some people think that the tunes are made for music majors but I find most of them quite easy to learn (many of the old CM tunes in various 1650 psalters feel very meandering and don't sink into my mind at all). There are very few tunes that I've found that I can't listen to a couple of times and not "get". The translation is an improvement in some areas, and probably not an improvement in others.

The "Sing Psalms" from the Free Church of Scotland is quite an admirable translation in my opinion. It is probably more on the CSB/NIV side of the spectrum than say NASB, but seems fairly accurate in my experience.

"Psalm for Singing: A 21st Century Edition" from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland is also quite good, although I find the language not quite as smooth at times. They also have a very good list of rules for their committee to work off of as they translated, which I included in my attached review.

I feel the 1650 is a very serviceable translation, but it has some very noticeable faults. Its fans will say that these are either not faults, or that they can be easily overcome but let's be honest that this is a pretty dated psalter. It's hard enough to convince people to sing the psalms without it being a 400-year old, very Scottish translation. Often you'd be surprised that the words are looser than you'd guess they would be. I definitely have an appreciation and admiration for the 1650 and do sing from it but as I've expressed before, I have my personal reservations about using it as a primary psalter for corporate worship.

I have sung from all of these (and a couple others that I didn't care for as much) fairly extensively and enjoyed them all. All have strengths and weaknesses. All have tradeoffs. The 1650 is not perfect and neither are any of the others. I couldn't tell you which is the "best". I would be content with all of them.

Here's a random comparison. I randomly picked Psalm 76:4-5 from a page, although note that because there are various meters, sometimes they divide between stanzas so might not sound as poetic without the entire stanza.

For comparison:
KJV (31 words):
"Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey.
The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands."

ESV (33 words):
Glorious are you, more majestic than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep; all the men of war were unable to use their hands.

NASB (27 words):
You are resplendent, more majestic than the mountains of prey.
The stouthearted were plundered, They sank into sleep; And none of the warriors could use his hands.

CSB (34 words):
You are resplendent and majestic coming down from the mountains of prey.
The brave-hearted have been plundered; they have slipped into their final sleep. None of the warriors was able to lift a hand.

Book of Psalms for Singing 36 words):
"Excellent art Thou and glorious in
Coming from the hills of prey.
Thou has spoiled the valiant-hearted;
Wrapt in sleep of death are they.
Mighty men have lost their cunning;
None are ready for the fray."

Book of Psalms for Worship (36 words):
"You're more glorious and majestic
Than the mountains filled with prey.
Brave and valiant ones You plundered,
Now they slumber in the grave;
Though they once were mighty warriors,
None can lift his hands to save."

Sing Psalms (35 words):
"Your splendour is more glorious
than hillsides rich with prey.
Brave men were stripped of all their spoil
asleep in death they lay.
Not one of those great warriors
could lift his hands to kill."

Psalms for Singing (36 words):
"How glorious, more excellent
than hills of prey, you are!
The men of valiant heart, laid bare,
their last sleep they have slept,
and none of all the mighty men
his strength of hand has kept."

1650 Scottish Metrical Version (37 words):
"More glorious thou than hills of prey,
more excellent art far.
Those that were stout of heart are spoil'd
they slept their sleep outright;
And none of those their hands did find,
that were men of might."

To be honest, I find the second part of the 1650 less immediately comprehensible than any of the others. But it's certainly also a fair translation. The BPW and BPS do quite well in the first half, less so in the latter half (depending on how you define "well"). All get the meaning across. The 1650 has the most words...but that is a very unfair comparison for translation work. I just included the word count as something that might be of interest. But do note that the shortest psalter translation still has more words than the longest Bible translation. Padding or using more words to fill a meter is common tool for metrical translations.

I appreciate the work you've done here. I rather feel my ignorance. So you see all the reviewed ones as having strengths and weaknesses though all ultimately worthy of use. What do you think in terms of accuracy?

I did find your review of the 1650, and got a sanctified laugh when I read your quote of two psalters prior to the 1650, showing that godliness and poetic talent aren't always found together:

Why doost withdrawe Thy hand aback,
And hide it in Thy lappe?
O plucke it out, and be not slack
To give Thy foes a rappe!

The Athanasian Creed:

The Father God is, God the Son,
God Holy Spirit also,
Yet there are not three Gods in all,
But one God, and no mo.
 
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Logan

Puritan Board Junior
What do you think in terms of accuracy?

Of the five psalters I drew attention to, I would say they are relatively comparable in terms of accuracy, depending on how one defines "accuracy". They are like various translations of the Bible: some have strengths in some lines and some have strengths in others, but I'm convinced you're singing the word of God no matter which of these metrical translations you use.

So at that point, I start looking at other factors, like archaic language, language that doesn't flow well, or difficult music.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Of the five psalters I drew attention to, I would say they are relatively comparable in terms of accuracy, depending on how one defines "accuracy". They are like various translations of the Bible: some have strengths in some lines and some have strengths in others, but I'm convinced you're singing the word of God no matter which of these metrical translations you use.

So at that point, I start looking at other factors, like archaic language, language that doesn't flow well, or difficult music.
Several or maybe more than several psalters or psalter hymnals (with full psalter) have come out since your survey. Have you taken a look at them; Canadian Reformed, OPC, even the CREC has theirs (they got permission to use a couple of settings from our psalter; they used the same setter we did for the music and the ask came through him).
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks Chris. I'd heard of the OPC one but not the others. Do you know how much of them are new translation and how much are compilations of other ones?
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
The Canadian is theirs (the ones we used seem early 20th mid 20th not new); CRECs may be a compilation. In hindsight we wish we had not relied so heavily on the Canadian as many seem seem far looser with the text than our approach.
 

Zach

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks Chris. I'd heard of the OPC one but not the others. Do you know how much of them are new translation and how much are compilations of other ones?
Many of the Psalms in the OPC/URC Psalter Hymnal are new translations.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Of the five psalters I drew attention to, I would say they are relatively comparable in terms of accuracy, depending on how one defines "accuracy". They are like various translations of the Bible: some have strengths in some lines and some have strengths in others, but I'm convinced you're singing the word of God no matter which of these metrical translations you use.

So at that point, I start looking at other factors, like archaic language, language that doesn't flow well, or difficult music.

Thinking on what I wrote earlier, yes, accurate is a fluid word. "Accurate" in Song of Solomon is different than "accurate" in Romans. I suppose you could also know which psalms in a psalter you don't think fit the bill for quality or accuracy and supplement those.

As @Zach said, have a few different ones to get the full sense.

I probably know as much as I'm capable of knowing on this. For the sake of progress it's best to just pick one up and run with it and don't look back. It's a big thing to me though because I'm also considering what ones I want in my memory for a full lifetime. But then again, why create a Procrustean bed and limit yourself to one psalter?

I confess, this decision paralysis is one of those things that gets me hoping for another Westminster Assembly. We need another major rounding off of a bunch of stray theological issues anyway.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Junior
I confess, this decision paralysis is one of those things that gets me hoping for another Westminster Assembly. We need another major rounding off of a bunch of stray theological issues anyway.

I agree. I'd love to see a modern universal psalter and modern universal English translation. Unfortunately it's pretty clear that will never happen.
 
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