RPCNA Revision of 1650 Scottish Psalter

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Logan

Puritan Board Senior
I was working a little bit on my long-term project of the history of the RPCNA psalter and found something I thought was fascinating.

In 1882 the RPCNA synod appointed a committee to revise the 1650 Psalter with some verbal corrections and suitable music. This was completed in 1899. The goal was to:
1. Remove imperfections in the meter as far as possible by slight verbal changes
2. To recast the stanza when serious defect in the meter could not be otherwise overcome
3. To secure closer conformity to the original Hebrew, by omitting unnecessary additions, and especially in the use of the Divine names.

It was this last one which piqued my interest and they went into further detail. The revisers noted of the 1650 psalter that
  • The Divine name was omitted in fifty cases
  • The Divine name was inserted in many cases, e.g. Psalm 119 where "God" is introduced twice and "Lord" nineteen times.
  • The 1650 uses "Lord" for both "Adonai" and "YHWH", never distinguishing by capital letters

Given the general effort toward accuracy in the 1650 translation, I found this somewhat surprising.

As an aside, the 1899 RPCNA revision seems fairly admirable, smoothing things like the 1650's famously inscrutable "Pure to the pure, froward thou kyth'st unto the froward wight" in Psalm 18:26 to "Pure to the pure, but froward still To men of froward heart". Which is much more in line with the KJV. But it also clearly never caught on and ended up being supplanted by the 1911 newer translation/revision.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I was working a little bit on my long-term project of the history of the RPCNA psalter and found something I thought was fascinating.

In 1882 the RPCNA synod appointed a committee to revise the 1650 Psalter with some verbal corrections and suitable music. This was completed in 1899. The goal was to:
1. Remove imperfections in the meter as far as possible by slight verbal changes
2. To recast the stanza when serious defect in the meter could not be otherwise overcome
3. To secure closer conformity to the original Hebrew, by omitting unnecessary additions, and especially in the use of the Divine names.

It was this last one which piqued my interest and they went into further detail. The revisers noted of the 1650 psalter that
  • The Divine name was omitted in fifty cases
  • The Divine name was inserted in many cases, e.g. Psalm 119 where "God" is introduced twice and "Lord" nineteen times.
  • The 1650 uses "Lord" for both "Adonai" and "YHWH", never distinguishing by capital letters

Given the general effort toward accuracy in the 1650 translation, I found this somewhat surprising.

As an aside, the 1899 RPCNA revision seems fairly admirable, smoothing things like the 1650's famously inscrutable "Pure to the pure, froward thou kyth'st unto the froward wight" in Psalm 18:26 to "Pure to the pure, but froward still To men of froward heart". Which is much more in line with the KJV. But it also clearly never caught on and ended up being supplanted by the 1911 newer translation/revision.
In working on the Lakewood Presbyterian Church Psalter I set a rule on what I reivewed that there be as minimal of what we called padding as possible. In the course of that I was surprised to find that the 1650 did as much adding as it did; but the bit about the divine names I didn't realize. It is terribly hard to get from Hebrew to English for sing without some adding and the amount will be governed by how much tolerance there is for it. If there is no commitment to EP, it can be much more prevalent.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
The divine name is indeed very inconsistent in the 1650. Sing Psalms (2003) has a version with the 1650 in the back that will always capitalize references to divine name (e.g., GOD, HE, LORD), but that doesn't help if it is omitted.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
The divine name is indeed very inconsistent in the 1650. Sing Psalms (2003) has a version with the 1650 in the back that will always capitalize references to divine name (e.g., GOD, HE, LORD), but that doesn't help if it is omitted.

That words version of Sing Psalms with the 1650 is my favorite edition of the 1650, although I hadn't noticed the capitalization (now I like it even better). What I like about it is the various typographical techniques to show the syllable breaks and combinations. Very useful!
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Yeah, I don't know why Lord and YHWH are not distinguished by capital letters. I originally thought it was a printer's thing, but that does not appear to be the case. It is not technically inaccurate, since "Lord" is used for the divine name in the NT, but it could be more accurate. It's an easy (though tedious!) thing to fix though, if printers of the 1650 split leafs actually had a decent budget to make these sorts of changes.

I don't know about all omissions, but when writing poetry, sometimes one can get away with omissions cause the overall context supplies the missing word. This can sometimes be the case with additions too (like the italics with the KJV), either making more explicit what is implicit or translating in a longer manner to fill the metre. Certainly, it is more accurate to stick with the text when possible, of course.

After using the 1650 for a while, the line for Psalm 18 really isn't all that inscrutable anymore. One learns the vocabulary; it's just two words. Nevertheless, I do like the 1899 revision, though it loses some of the poetic quality.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
After using the 1650 for a while, the line for Psalm 18 really isn't all that inscrutable anymore. One learns the vocabulary; it's just two words. Nevertheless, I do like the 1899 revision, though it loses some of the poetic quality.

Hmm, perhaps including the full stanza would help. I think it's actually an improvement in poetic quality.

1650:
"Thou gracious to the gracious art,
to upright men upright:
Pure to the pure, froward thou kyth'st
unto the froward wight.

1899:
"Thou to the gracious showest grace,
To just men just Thou art;
Pure to the pure, but froward still
To men of froward heart."

And the KJV for reference:
"With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful;
with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;
With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure;
and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward."
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
After using the 1650 for a while, the line for Psalm 18 really isn't all that inscrutable anymore. One learns the vocabulary; it's just two words.
True that. Imagine if folks lowered the bar that far for their children. "Daddy, I can't use this book. I don't know two of the words."
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
True that. Imagine if folks lowered the bar that far for their children. "Daddy, I can't use this book. I don't know two of the words."

Is it truly "lowering the bar that far" to eliminate the need to learn 17th century Scots vocabulary? What bar are we talking about here? Did the KJV also lower the bar? :scratch:
 

Grant

Puritan Board Senior
Is it truly "lowering the bar that far" to eliminate the need to learn 17th century Scots vocabulary? What bar are we talking about here? Did the KJV also lower the bar? :scratch:
I agree as someone relatively new to EP and who has lead my family into it over the past year, I still have not been able to mentally link to the 1650 older English. I have been trying to do so privately for some time while my family and I use the Blue Psalter. But so far after some time the 1650 still has not clicked for me so I have yet to feel it proper to introduce to my wife and children (and I may never get there).

P.S. And it is certainly more than 2 words I wrestle with.
 

Ben Zartman

Puritan Board Sophomore
The trick with the 1650 language is to sweat through some of Sir Walter Scott's more obscure novels like "The Heart of Midlothian," or the Waverly series in which conversational Scottish is freely mixed with English. You have no idea what they're saying at first, but with contextual clues you slowly (I slowly, at least) pick it up.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Is it truly "lowering the bar that far" to eliminate the need to learn 17th century Scots vocabulary? What bar are we talking about here? Did the KJV also lower the bar? :scratch:
There is a glossary in the back of the Comprehensive Psalter. It defines 18 words used in the Psalter that aren't part of our usual speech. Is learning 18 words really so bad?
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Is it truly "lowering the bar that far" to eliminate the need to learn 17th century Scots vocabulary? What bar are we talking about here? Did the KJV also lower the bar? :scratch:
I've read some of the Scots complained the 1611 AVV had too much English vocabulary. And though I don't have particular fondness for phrases like "God save the king" or "give up the ghost," I do have to admit that the AV seems more timeless to my American ears than the 1650 SMV.

I think metered poetry is especially complicated compared to prose to keep current. It doesn't necessarily warrant a new psalter every generation, but another more subtle example is in how words and pronounced and rhyming. A lot of the rhymes in the 1650 use different pronunciations than we use here. I remember a gentleman (a linguist if you can believe it) at my church that used to sing from the 1650 would be the one person to loudly try to use the Scottish pronunciation to make the rhymes work, whereas most of us Americans just ended up with a lot of non-rhyming lines.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
There is a glossary in the back of the Comprehensive Psalter. It defines 18 words used in the Psalter that aren't part of our usual speech. Is learning 18 words really so bad?

Certainly not (and I do know them myself), but why assume it should be necessary? Why assume that one must be stuck forever with a 17th century psalter with no possibility of improvement in any way? One could certainly argue it's the best to date and therefore preferable but you seem to be saying that no one should ever use anything else. I can't see why it and every single word it contains should be considered "the bar" and anything that doesn't exactly match it (antiquated narrow dialect and all) doesn't measure up to "the bar".

Is it because of your denomination's history and current practice or is this to be the practice of the English church everywhere, in all ages, from 1650 forward?
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
@TylerRay, isn’t there a case to be made for the unity and conformity a common psalter (and Bible) are to bring to the visible church? And this is a main reason for the continued use of the AV and the 1650 (being the reformation texts the English church was given)?
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
I wrote the 1650 Split Leaf app that many use - and Logan was a contributor to it. I do not think any of us are belittling such a great psalm book when we call out difficulties people might have with it. At the Dallas RPC we typically sing two selections from the 1650 each Lord's Day. I preach out of the KJV.

All by choice. I love both. I think both are the best thus far. Both model catholicity well. Both are well tested over centuries. I will use both until my dying breath.

But I can readily admit the older language can be very difficult and very hard on some people. I know it from experience. Some grasp it easily, no problem. Others, not so much and they struggle. They really do. I wish more of us who love the AV and the 1650 would have sympathy toward this. When people say they have a hard time, let’s not brush it off.

Often, it is not simply the want of knowing the definition of words, but also how the words join together, and the phrases themselves.

Then again, I enjoy explaining the word sith to the post-Star Wars generation. :)
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
Certainly not (and I do know them myself), but why assume it should be necessary? Why assume that one must be stuck forever with a 17th century psalter with no possibility of improvement in any way? One could certainly argue it's the best to date and therefore preferable but you seem to be saying that no one should ever use anything else. I can't see why it and every single word it contains should be considered "the bar" and anything that doesn't exactly match it (antiquated narrow dialect and all) doesn't measure up to "the bar".

Is it because of your denomination's history and current practice or is this to be the practice of the English church everywhere, in all ages, from 1650 forward?
I think you've misunderstood me, brother. I am not an advocate for perpetuating the use of the 1650 Psalter until Christ returns, or for viewing it as perfect or unimpeachable. Many speak as if it's impossible to use, and my point is that the challenges are significantly overblown.

I do think it's the best we have in terms of functionality (anyone who knows a single tune can sing straight through it, but I don't know anyone who can sing through either of the RPCNA Psalters from cover to cover), in terms of accuracy, and in terms of universality.

Until there is another covenanted reformation, more psalters will only deepen the divisions in the church of Jesus Christ. There can be no unity where there is no semblance of uniformity or commonality of practice.

I read once of an ARP minister in the 1800s who repeated the entire 1650 Psalter from memory as he lay, blind, on his deathbed. That kind of thing can only occur when people use the same psalter from cradle to grave, and when all the psalms in the psalter they've used can be readily and repeatedly sung. I don't think anyone is going to be reciting the entire Book of Psalms for Singing or Book of Psalms for Worship on his deathbed.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
But I can readily admit the older language can be very difficult and very hard on some people. I know it from experience. Some grasp it easily, no problem. Others, not so much and they struggle. They really do.

This reminds me of an old post from 2014:

I will usually always come down in favor of the Received Text, however, personally our family (myself in particular) just cannot get anything but a headache reading the KJV. Makes for a miserable experience when attempting to read God's Word.

We've tried multiple times, apologies to KJV fans, who are often my dearest brothers in Christ.

You must have stuck it out! ;)
I do want my children to be familiar with the older language and I love it myself. The KJV is a wonderful translation and the 1650 certainly has a lot of common history to it.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
I read once of an ARP minister in the 1800s who repeated the entire 1650 Psalter from memory as he lay, blind, on his deathbed. That kind of thing can only occur when people use the same psalter from cradle to grave, and when all the psalms in the psalter they've used can be readily and repeatedly sung. I don't think anyone is going to be reciting the entire Book of Psalms for Singing or Book of Psalms for Worship on his deathbed.

I was at the RP Home in Pittsburgh last year as I was wrapping up my MDiv. A dear elderly saint (in her 90s), who I sat next to, blind due to old age, when the psalm selections were announced from the Book of Psalms for Singing, she never lifted her psalm book, but sang each from memory.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
I was at the RP Home in Pittsburgh last year as I was wrapping up my MDiv. A dear elderly saint (in her 90s), who I sat next to, blind due to old age, when the psalm selections were announced from the Book of Psalms for Singing, she never lifted her psalm book, but sang each from memory.
Do you really think she could do that with every single setting?

Perhaps she could, but it's a rare individual (and a rare church) that has the musical ability and/or the diligence to learn to sing the entire BPS from memory.

I love many of the settings in the BPS, by the way. It was used at the first two Reformed churches I belonged to; but there are many settings that I've never sung from, even though I sang from it every Lord's Day for five or six years.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
Do you really think she could do that with every single setting?

Perhaps she could, but it's a rare individual (and a rare church) that has the musical ability and/or the diligence to learn to sing the entire BPS from memory.

I love many of the settings in the BPS, by the way. It was used at the first two Reformed churches I belonged to; but there are many settings that I've never sung from, even though I sang from it every Lord's Day for five or six years.

I was told that she is not the only one who can do it. The reason they use the BPS at the Home is because most of those who live there now have virtually all of it memorized. Many listen to recordings of it as well, which helps in their old age and with their memory care.

I am not discounting the difficulty of knowing the entirety of either of these psalters btw. I readily admit the difficulty. In-house, those in the RPCNA know my own views on these matters and I will not defend either of these psalters when it comes to being able to sing them (BOPFW, BPS). I am simply saying that the saint, who by God's grace, wants to know the Word of God in their heart will find it in their heart to get past it if that is all that is available to them.

In a way, I suppose that this is the flip-side to your own argument about knowing the language of the 1650. The saint determined to know and sing the Word of God will do it and persevere in the task!
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
Do you really think she could do that with every single setting?

Perhaps she could, but it's a rare individual (and a rare church) that has the musical ability and/or the diligence to learn to sing the entire BPS from memory.

I love many of the settings in the BPS, by the way. It was used at the first two Reformed churches I belonged to; but there are many settings that I've never sung from, even though I sang from it every Lord's Day for five or six years.

My understanding is that it's not that uncommon, and that consideration that the older saints had grown up with and intimately knew the BPS was a serious discussion when the BOPW was proposed.

There are at least several in our church that don't seem to need to use the words in the BOPW even after only ten years, I can't claim to be one of them. Psalter.org is a tremendous resource and the app has all the tunes readily available for you to listen to so there really isn't any reason one can't learn any of the settings. Our family has sung through them all, as has our church. I can't tell you whether that is common or uncommon denominationally.

But I take it from your comment that the memorization of the 1650 isn't terribly common so I'm not entirely certain what the conclusion one would draw from the comparison.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
But I take it from your comment that the memorization of the 1650 isn't terribly common so I'm not entirely certain what the conclusion one would draw from the comparison.
It's actually quite common. Practically anyone who has used it throughout his life will have the bulk of it memorized.

My point is that the 1650 is easier to memorize because, on the whole, it's easier to use. Literally anyone reading this thread can open up to any page on the 1650 and start singing. As long as he knows the tune to Amazing Grace, the Old 100th, and Crown Him with Many Crowns, he pretty much has it licked.
 

kodos

Puritan Board Junior
It's actually quite common. Practically anyone who has used it throughout his life will have the bulk of it memorized.

My point is that the 1650 is easier to memorize because, on the whole, it's easier to use. Literally anyone reading this thread can open up to any page on the 1650 and start singing. As long as he knows the tune to Amazing Grace, the Old 100th, and Crown Him with Many Crowns, he pretty much has it licked.

There is something to be said about tunes being an aid to memorization too. Many times, one will hear the precentor hum the tune and the psalm words come to their mind. I think my mind works that way.

For example, I think the Comprehensive Psalter was helpful in having fixed tunes for the selections. The nice thing about a psalter like it is that if you don't know the tune, you can still sing the psalm to another tune you might know. Kind of the best of both worlds in a way. Just another two cents :2cents: for the discussion!
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
The accessibility/singability of (most of) the common meter tunes is a huge plus. It makes for easier accessibility/singability for visitors and people who aren’t particularly strong singers or sight readers, to join right in.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
For example, I think the Comprehensive Psalter was helpful in having fixed tunes for the selections. The nice thing about a psalter like it is that if you don't know the tune, you can still sing the psalm to another tune you might know. Kind of the best of both worlds in a way. Just another two cents :2cents: for the discussion!
From what I understand of the history, the Scottish Psalter (and its predecessors) broke from the tradition of having fixed tunes in psalters in order to be easier for the common man to use. However, the idea was that there were "fixed tunes" and there were "common tunes:" the former being the tunes that were used with certain psalms and the latter being tunes that could be used with any psalms (including the psalms with fixed tunes, if they were unknown).* The Scottish psalter is definitely able to get the best of both worlds: one can fix tunes to certain psalms (and many are fixed by tradition in our church culture) and still be able to use whatever tune for whatever psalm. As a precentor, I've been working towards "fixing" two or three tunes to certain psalms whenever I choose the tunes; we won't be able to do that for all 150 of the psalms, but we can do it for a lot of them.

*I wish I could give a source here. I should save more of my research, but I don't always know that the obscure thing I read would be useful sometime in the future!
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
I've written up my thoughts on the 1650 and other psalters somewhat extensively in the past but there's unfortunately not a perfect solution.

The 1650 having CM for every selection is both a strength and a weakness. Psalters having a fixed tune for each selection is both a strength and a weakness. Psalters with multiple meters are both a strength and a weakness. And psalters with split leafs are both a strength and a weakness. There is no perfect solution, only compromise!

It's nice to be able to jump right in and used "Martyr" to every psalm, but it's not ideal either.

CM in general is rather slow and often doesn't fit the context well, and in practice I've been told many churches never sing an entire psalm but only portions because of it, although that same criticism could certainly be leveled at the BPW and the BPS.

Conversely, even with the BPS and BPW the tune on the page is for convenience, but with a few exceptions it's usually not hard to find a tune you do know and use it for the selection you want, if you needed to.

I greatly appreciate those split leafs that make recommendations for tunes to match with various psalms, and my personal practice is to pick a selection, notate it in the psalter (or link it in Rom's app), and stick with it as it certainly is helpful for a great many in memorization to have a consistent tune and words.

I have a long-term vision of an inter-denominational committee that would compare multiple translations, pull from multiple psalters, and create a truly modern and excellent translation, verse by verse and stanza by stanza. I even started drafting the guidelines, rules, and goals for such a committee. But I suspect that there is absolutely nothing that could make some churches switch, no matter the excellence, because by definition it is not the 1650 and the 1650 has, through tradition, become a standard unto itself.
 
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