What qualifies as a Psalm for a strict EP position?

CGS

Puritan Board Freshman
Reading through the introduction to the Trinity Hymnal (Great Commission Publications – OPC/PCA; 1990 Revised Edition), on page 11, it references three types of Psalms included in the hymnal:
1. Metrical Psalm – “Psalm (number)”
2. Psalm version – “From Psalm (number)”
3. Psalm paraphrase – “Based on Psalm (number)”

In addition, some older ARP churches still use a hymn book called Bible Songs. In the preface it states: “This book does not claim to be a complete psalter, though it contains the whole or parts of every psalm. In many cases a selection of stanzas has been made, and these do not always follow each other in consecutive order. The effort has been to select stanzas which are true to the inspired thought, rich in devotional content and of good lyrical quality. By such selection it is hoped that many rich portions of psalms will be brought into more frequent use.”

And just in general…many uninspired hymns are loosely based on specific psalms.

So, my question is…for those who hold to a strict EP position, how do you define a "psalm"? What qualifies as an acceptable type of psalm to be sung in corporate worship? Would all three types in the Trinity Hymnal and the versions found in the ARP Bible Songs hymn book meet the criteria for adherence to the EP position? What about uninspired hymns that are closely/loosely based on a psalm? How loosely paraphrased can a hymn be based on a psalm before it ceases to be a psalm (i.e. in the sense that EP defines psalm singing)? Would singing type #3 from the Trinity Hymnal or a selection from the ARP Bible Songs book be considered EP?

I see a lot of references to the "metrical psalms" in EP discussions, so does this imply that these are the only preferred/required type to meet the definition of EP?

Thank you!
 

JH

Puritan Board Sophomore
Pretty simply really, it's the same question when we consider Bible translations. How faithful is the Psalm to the text? It's the same question as: "What qualifies as a Bible?"

Personally, my conscience would not permit me to sing some "Psalms" from the 1912 Dutch Psalter. Even so, the most one could prove is that the EP position is inconsistent, in that it doesn't chant the text without metrical rendition; that still couldn't give warrant for uninspired praise.
 
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Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
I inserted my thoughts in bold:
What qualifies as an acceptable type of psalm to be sung in corporate worship? Would all three types in the Trinity Hymnal and the versions found in the ARP Bible Songs hymn book meet the criteria for adherence to the EP position? Nope What about uninspired hymns that are closely/loosely based on a psalm? Nope How loosely paraphrased can a hymn be based on a psalm before it ceases to be a psalm (i.e. in the sense that EP defines psalm singing)? Would singing type #3 from the Trinity Hymnal or a selection from the ARP Bible Songs book be considered EP? Nope
It needs to be an accurate/literal translation from the original language. The Scottish Metrical Psalter is beloved because it is a good translation (people may be quick to point out the places where they do not consider it to be so, but that occurs with any translation of any text). That is probably one of the reasons there is little controversy about publishing Bibles with the SMP in it ( https://us.tbsbibles.org/store/viewproduct.aspx?id=9352758 for example). I'm not sure many would be as comfortable publishing a Bible with the ARP Bible Songs in it.
 

CGS

Puritan Board Freshman
Pretty simply really, it's the same question when we consider Bible translations. How faithful is the Psalm to the text? It's the same question as: "What qualifies as a Bible?"

Personally, my conscience would not permit me to sing some "Psalms" from the 1912 Dutch Psalter. Even so, the most one could prove is that the EP position is inconsistent, in that it doesn't chant the text without metrical rendition; that still couldn't give warrant for uninspired praise.
To clarify...my question is in no way intended to be an argument against the EP position. I hold to the EP position myself. I'm just confused about all the different variations of psalters, psalms, paraphrases, etc. and what actually constitutes/defines a "psalm" when it comes to the EP position. For example, if I want to hold to a consistent EP position (and refrain from singing uninspired hymns), can I still sing types #2 and #3 from the Trinity Hymnal and songs from the ARP Bible Song hymnal, or would those be off limits? I'm confused about where to draw the line, and there seems to be a lot of gray area. I guess I'm just not yet familiar enough with all the distinctions for my conscience to inform my decisions.
 

Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
To clarify...my question is in no way intended to be an argument against the EP position. I hold to the EP position myself. I'm just confused about all the different variations of psalters, psalms, paraphrases, etc. and what actually constitutes/defines a "psalm" when it comes to the EP position. For example, if I want to hold to a consistent EP position (and refrain from singing uninspired hymns), can I still sing types #2 and #3 from the Trinity Hymnal and songs from the ARP Bible Song hymnal, or would those be off limits? I'm confused about where to draw the line, and there seems to be a lot of gray area. I guess I'm just not yet familiar enough with all the distinctions for my conscience to inform my decisions.
It's a good question and Jerrod's response contains a good answer: If you consider the translation to still be Scripture, then it falls within the parameters of EP. Likewise, if you do not consider it Scripture (a paraphrase or a human "based on a Psalm" song), it does not. One of the practical advantages of being EP is that you can focus on praising God without the distraction of thinking "Is what I am singing really true?" because you know you are singing God's Word. I'm not sure you escape that distraction with a paraphrase or a human song "based on a Psalm" - in the back of your mind your conscience would still be wondering about the truth and purity of what you are singing.

"Based on a true story" is not the true/full story. Neither is adding to it, which some psalters do (repeating phrases that are not repeated in the original text). I think this is usually done in order to fit a tune - the RPCNA's current psalter, The Book of Psalms for Worship, is frequently guilty of this, as are most modern praise choruses which take a line (or lines) from a Psalm and repeat it over and over. This is different than singing just part of a Psalm.
 

JH

Puritan Board Sophomore
To clarify...my question is in no way intended to be an argument against the EP position. I hold to the EP position myself. I'm just confused about all the different variations of psalters, psalms, paraphrases, etc. and what actually constitutes/defines a "psalm" when it comes to the EP position. For example, if I want to hold to a consistent EP position (and refrain from singing uninspired hymns), can I still sing types #2 and #3 from the Trinity Hymnal and songs from the ARP Bible Song hymnal, or would those be off limits? I'm confused about where to draw the line, and there seems to be a lot of gray area. I guess I'm just not yet familiar enough with all the distinctions for my conscience to inform my decisions.
Gotcha. Well, for an exclusive psalmist, they would only sing the Psalms. This position differs from the Inspired Praise position
 

CGS

Puritan Board Freshman
So...using the bible translation analogy, how would the distinction between formal and dynamic equivalence (or other translation approaches) play into the distinction between a "true" EP psalm versus one that takes too much liberty with paraphrasing (thought for thought rather than word for word)? If a preacher uses the NIV, NLT, etc. instead of the NASB/KJV is he not still preaching from the Word of God?
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
A faithful, verse-by-verse translation of the psalm that can be sung to a tune. It can rhyme, but it doesn't have to.

I don't know what your #2 refers to but #3 wouldn't qualify.

Some psalters are more on the "NIV" side of the scale (like "Sing Psalms"). I would consider that a true psalter. The 1912 is different because it actually changes the psalms, inserts the name of "Jesus" for example. It's more like an interpretation of the psalms at times than a translation.
 

CGS

Puritan Board Freshman
A faithful, verse-by-verse translation of the psalm that can be sung to a tune. It can rhyme, but it doesn't have to.

I don't know what your #2 refers to but #3 wouldn't qualify.

Some psalters are more on the "NIV" side of the scale (like "Sing Psalms"). I would consider that a true psalter. The 1912 is different because it actually changes the psalms, inserts the name of "Jesus" for example. It's more like an interpretation of the psalms at times than a translation.
The numbers refer back to this in the original post:
1. Metrical Psalm – “Psalm (number)”
2. Psalm version – “From Psalm (number)”
3. Psalm paraphrase – “Based on Psalm (number)”
 

Jeri Tanner

Administrator
Staff member
The numbers refer back to this in the original post:
1. Metrical Psalm – “Psalm (number)”
2. Psalm version – “From Psalm (number)”
3. Psalm paraphrase – “Based on Psalm (number)”
The EP position would only see #1 as a viable option. It must be an actual translated Psalm from the book of Psalms.
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
The numbers refer back to this in the original post:
1. Metrical Psalm – “Psalm (number)”
2. Psalm version – “From Psalm (number)”
3. Psalm paraphrase – “Based on Psalm (number)”

I realize that, but I still don't know what it means. What is a "Psalm version from Psalm (number)"?
 

CGS

Puritan Board Freshman
I realize that, but I still don't know what it means. What is a "Psalm version from Psalm (number)"?
Ah, OK...I misunderstood. An example from the Trinity Hymnal is hymn 78 ("O Bless the Lord, My Soul" by Isaac Watts written in 1719). It notes at the bottom that it is a Psalm version "From Psalm 103".
 

Logan

Puritan Board Senior
I see. So it seems very similar to #3 to me. If it's "based on Psalm x" or "loosely related to Psalm x" then it's not Psalm x. Watts compiled a book of his hymns he called "Imitations of the Psalms" and directly said he didn't think the Psalms were fit for the Gospel age. So he changed them. I don't think anyone would call those Psalms.
 

TylerRay

Puritan Board Graduate
I think the "from Psalm x" language indicates that it's a selection of a Psalm, rather than a complete Psalm. EP folks do that all the time. I could be wrong, but I think that's how I remember the Trinity Hymnal using that language.
 

Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
So...using the bible translation analogy, how would the distinction between formal and dynamic equivalence (or other translation approaches) play into the distinction between a "true" EP psalm versus one that takes too much liberty with paraphrasing (thought for thought rather than word for word)? If a preacher uses the NIV, NLT, etc. instead of the NASB/KJV is he not still preaching from the Word of God?
I think WCF 1.8 speaks to this question when it states that Scripture in the original languages is "immediately inspired by God and... are therefore authentical." While it allows for these texts to be "translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope," it is important to note that "paraphrased" =/= "translated." I'm not sure what you mean by "if a preacher uses" - if he is expositing from the original language(-s) and using the wording from a modern paraphrase that he believes gives the best sense of the passage to his listeners, there is no problem. If he is using something like the NLT as the text which he solely bases his preaching on, then he may or may not be preaching the Word of God (depending on whether or not the paraphraser's dynamic equivalence is the true sense of the original language). The latter case is like singing uninspired songs - maybe you are offering up a sacrifice of acceptable praise, maybe you are not (depending on whether or not the words are pure and unblemished). But why bother? Why not just sing a literal translation of God's Word and then you only have to focus on whether or not your heart matches your lips.
 

CGS

Puritan Board Freshman
I think WCF 1.8 speaks to this question when it states that Scripture in the original languages is "immediately inspired by God and... are therefore authentical." While it allows for these texts to be "translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope," it is important to note that "paraphrased" =/= "translated." I'm not sure what you mean by "if a preacher uses" - if he is expositing from the original language(-s) and using the wording from a modern paraphrase that he believes gives the best sense of the passage to his listeners, there is no problem. If he is using something like the NLT as the text which he solely bases his preaching on, then he may or may not be preaching the Word of God (depending on whether or not the paraphraser's dynamic equivalence is the true sense of the original language). The latter case is like singing uninspired songs - maybe you are offering up a sacrifice of acceptable praise, maybe you are not (depending on whether or not the words are pure and unblemished). But why bother? Why not just sing a literal translation of God's Word and then you only have to focus on whether or not your heart matches your lips.
I have a follow up question in regard to the sentence in bold above. For clarification...the EP position holds that any/all uninspired songs would NOT be offering up a sacrifice of acceptable praise...correct? So...there is no maybe/maybe not when it comes to uninspired songs...correct? Or are you saying that if the words are "pure and unblemished" (and true to and accurately convey the inspired thought of a given text), then even uninspired songs (or non-Psalms from inspired OT/NT texts) can constitute acceptable praise?
 

Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
I have a follow up question in regard to the sentence in bold above. For clarification...the EP position holds that any/all uninspired songs would NOT be offering up a sacrifice of acceptable praise...correct? So...there is no maybe/maybe not when it comes to uninspired songs...correct? Or are you saying that if the words are "pure and unblemished" (and true to and accurately convey the inspired thought of a given text), then even uninspired songs (or non-Psalms from inspired OT/NT texts) can constitute acceptable praise?
I'm not strictly EP, so I am not speaking for those that are (I find it acceptable to sing other parts of Scripture - "Inspired Praise" or IP is what some call it - though my preference is to just use the Psalter). Your question is a logical conclusion from what you highlighted. However, my statement "maybe you are offering up a sacrifice of acceptable praise, maybe you are not (depending on whether or not the words are pure and unblemished)" was meant to refer to the general question of whether or not the EP/IP position is correct ("is like singing uninspired songs"). Maybe EP was what Paul was teaching in his Epistles, maybe not (though the position is much larger than the usual references 1 Corinthians 14:26/Ephesians 5:19/Colossians 3:16). In my view I would consider any part of an uninspired song that incorporates an accurate translation of an inspired text to be acceptable praise - but the rest of that song wouldn't. So, yes, in theory. But practically, no. The only real example I can think of to give you where this might actually occur in worship is when I stop singing at the end of a Psalm because that particular psalter has repeated a line that is not repeated in the original text (see below from the RPCNA's current psalter, The Book of Psalms for Worship). I consider that adding to God's Word - strange fire if you will - and it bothers my conscience to sing it. But that is different (and easier to work around) than trying to only sing the parts of a song that are God's Word when the rest is uninspired. Again, why bother? Just sing Psalms which you know is/are pleasing to God.
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Logan

Puritan Board Senior
Not to derail
The only real example I can think of to give you where this might actually occur in worship is when I stop singing at the end of a Psalm because that particular psalter has repeated a line that is not repeated in the original text (see below from the RPCNA's current psalter, The Book of Psalms for Worship). I consider that adding to God's Word - strange fire if you will - and it bothers my conscience to sing it.
Not to derail the topic but I find this interesting and something I've thought about before. Ideally I'd prefer there to be no repeated phrases too (it's one of the points in my list of requirements for an ideal psalter), but it has to do with the meter of the music rather than an intentional repeating. I.e., sing it to an 8.8.8.8 tune instead of an 8.8.8.8.8 tune and there is no repeat.

But I find the use of "strange fire" interesting. You are singing God's word, but you think it is "strange fire" (abhorrent to God) to offer some portions of it twice, even though that's an artifact of the tune used?

Are you certain that when the psalms, as written, were sung in temple worship, there were no lines repeated according to the music? I've wondered about that. Just writing down the words does not necessarily mean they were sung exactly like that without variation (otherwise we'd all be chanting). What does "selah" mean?

Thoughts like this give me pause and realize I know far less for certain than I sometimes think I do.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Basically, if it is a half-decent attempt to translate the Psalms in a singable manner, then sing it asking no questions for conscience's sake. Our worship has to be authorised; it does not have to be perfect.
 

Northern Crofter

Puritan Board Freshman
Not to derail the topic but I find this interesting and something I've thought about before. Ideally I'd prefer there to be no repeated phrases too (it's one of the points in my list of requirements for an ideal psalter), but it has to do with the meter of the music rather than an intentional repeating. I.e., sing it to an 8.8.8.8 tune instead of an 8.8.8.8.8 tune and there is no repeat.

But I find the use of "strange fire" interesting. You are singing God's word, but you think it is "strange fire" (abhorrent to God) to offer some portions of it twice, even though that's an artifact of the tune used?

Are you certain that when the psalms, as written, were sung in temple worship, there were no lines repeated according to the music? I've wondered about that. Just writing down the words does not necessarily mean they were sung exactly like that without variation (otherwise we'd all be chanting). What does "selah" mean?

Thoughts like this give me pause and realize I know far less for certain than I sometimes think I do.
I've always understood "strange fire" to be the addition into worship of what has not been provided by God. When Nadab and Abihu put fire in their censors from some other source than the altar they were adding (unnecessarily and without warrant) to the fire that had been divinely provided in the previous verse. You find it interesting that someone might view offering some portions of a Psalm twice abhorrent to God, but would God not have found it abhorrent if Aaron, when told to take a young calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without blemish, and bring them before the Lord, showed up with 2 calves and 2 rams?

The Psalms (and most Hebrew poetry) are built upon repetition - usually parallel thoughts rather than word-for-word repeating. With chiastic structures, there is meaning within and/or created between the paralleled thoughts. Adding in repeated lines detracts/distracts from that. It can emphasize what was not meant to be emphasized. The beauty of Hebrew poetry is that, because it relies on the repetition of ideas and not on rhyme or other sound repetition structures (though the latter do exist to some degree), it can be translated more easily and faithfully. No one, of course, is certain that when the psalms were sung in temple worship there were no lines repeated according to the music or not - we don't have the music. If we did, we would be using it. But since we don't, why use a tune that forces such repetition?

But, again, why make it so complicated? Just sing Psalms in their simplest form true to the original texts which you know is/are pleasing to God. And, again, as I stated, it bothers my conscience to sing lines not in the original text. It does not bother my wife, so she sings them. But I have long operated on the premise that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of worship - if I think something might not be pleasing to God, I don't do it. This is not a slavish fear - it actually offers an amazing amount of freedom of conscience in the worship of God.
 

CGS

Puritan Board Freshman
For those of you who would not consider the ARP Bible Songs as a valid psalter (from an EP perspective), could you please take a look at the random selections/examples below and provide specific reasons for why these would not be valid examples of singing psalms. I think looking at concrete examples and pointing out the specific problems/concerns would help to provide me with more clarity on this issue (rather than just speaking in generalities). I know for a fact that most ARP folks think they are singing psalms when singing from this book. Why is it not a true psalter (or at least not valid for someone who holds an EP position)? Thank you for your time.
IMG_1286.jpg IMG_1287.jpg IMG_1288.jpg IMG_1289.jpg
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Not to derail

Not to derail the topic but I find this interesting and something I've thought about before. Ideally I'd prefer there to be no repeated phrases too (it's one of the points in my list of requirements for an ideal psalter), but it has to do with the meter of the music rather than an intentional repeating. I.e., sing it to an 8.8.8.8 tune instead of an 8.8.8.8.8 tune and there is no repeat.

But I find the use of "strange fire" interesting. You are singing God's word, but you think it is "strange fire" (abhorrent to God) to offer some portions of it twice, even though that's an artifact of the tune used?

Are you certain that when the psalms, as written, were sung in temple worship, there were no lines repeated according to the music? I've wondered about that. Just writing down the words does not necessarily mean they were sung exactly like that without variation (otherwise we'd all be chanting). What does "selah" mean?

Thoughts like this give me pause and realize I know far less for certain than I sometimes think I do.

When I was in a congregation that sang out of the 1650 Scottish Psalter, some selections we used had repetition, based on the tune or the versions in the back which had the repetition built in. One tune example is Wallace, which involves repeating some lines. I've since come to think that as long as it is the words of the Psalm are used, it is okay to change the arrangement or repeat some words and still call it a Psalm. It's part of our process of rendering the Psalm in English.

While I will not make a practical argument into a why, I will say repeated lines in a Psalm like done in the Bible Songs do make it easier to learn parts of the Psalm. Many of the Bible Songs are taken from good Psalters like the 1650 but with "new" arrangements which in some cases includes adding a repeated chorus from the Psalm. There are a handful of Bible Songs which include a line from another Psalm together with a Psalm which I don't think is very responsible, even though it is permitted in the reading of God's word to read from two different portions of Scripture. My church mostly uses the ARP Psalter selections based on the Book of Psalms for Worship which I find more consistent, but we do pull out some favorite Bible Songs now and again. I'm frankly only familiar with a handful of Bible Songs because we mostly use the ARP Psalter.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
The 1912 psalter is not a Dutch psalter, it just happens to be used by a lot of people of Dutch descent
 

SavedSinner

Puritan Board Freshman
1912 is almost a fake psalter--United Presbyterian (it does not seem right to even use the word psalter). GCP Trinity took a lot from it. Can Ref was smart in sticking to the Geneva Psalter. I heard they were really disappointed when the URC did not go with their psalter and went to work the OP. But I've heard the URC in the west is more OP-oriented and in the midwest they are closer to the Can Ref. I am curious if URCs far from the west coast use the Can Ref's Anglo-Genevan Psalter? It is easier for children and everyone really, since there is no part-singing like the RPCNA and OP psalters. More like the European psalters influenced by John Calvin. Only one note to choose makes it very user-friendly so it is a one-of-a-kind in the Anglo-Saxon world.
 

De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
1912 is almost a fake psalter--United Presbyterian (it does not seem right to even use the word psalter). GCP Trinity took a lot from it. Can Ref was smart in sticking to the Geneva Psalter. I heard they were really disappointed when the URC did not go with their psalter and went to work the OP. But I've heard the URC in the west is more OP-oriented and in the midwest they are closer to the Can Ref. I am curious if URCs far from the west coast use the Can Ref's Anglo-Genevan Psalter? It is easier for children and everyone really, since there is no part-singing like the RPCNA and OP psalters. More like the European psalters influenced by John Calvin. Only one note to choose makes it very user-friendly so it is a one-of-a-kind in the Anglo-Saxon world.
I have never heard of a URC using the CanRef book. Almost certainly there are no congregations who use it. I personally prefer the Genevan Psalter from The CanRef myself.
 
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