The New Psalter’s Language

Language is always changing. That is why etymology, the history of words, is so interesting. The word “nice,” for instance, didn’t mean something pleasant years ago; now it does. “Nice” came from the Latin nescius (ignorant). The adjective was not a kind thing to associate with someone’s name. “He is nice” meant “He is an idiot.” Ironically, the word, at a later time, came to mean “having refined taste”—rather the opposite.  Nowadays, “nice” is so overused it almost creates a vacuum. The hearer is quick to import his or her own idea of what the author means: nice can be good or bad or willy-nilly.


Because language is always changing, my journalism professor was adamant about us having the current year’s dictionaries and style books. Usage and words, like it or not, evolve during our lifetimes. If we don’t recognize this, we may not communicate what we mean to communicate.


Take the pronouns “thee” and “thou,” for instance. In early modern English, these words were the singular and informal counterparts to “ye” and “you.” If you were talking to a close friend, you would use “thou,” but if you were talking to someone you didn’t know well or a group of people, you would use “ye.” Nowadays, we make up for the absence of “thee” and “ye” by saying “y’all” and “yinz guys.” If one reads Shakespeare, one realizes that “thee” and “thou” are used more among the drunkards and thieves, and “you” and “ye” are used more among the polite talkers, but even then the distinctions were eroding.


In the 1500s, Tyndale, used thou and ye to make the distinction between the plural and singular in the Hebrew and Greek; he didn’t take into consideration whether it was a formal or informal usage. As the usage became archaic in conversation, some Bible translations and religious orders like the Quakers kept the usage in the written word, but it lost its raison d’etre. Nobody was using “thou” to express familiarity or plurality, but more often to express the opposite: formality and respect.  In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which was published mid-20th century, “thou” is used only as a pronoun to address God and “you” was used everywhere else. What a reversal of the intended meaning!


When The Book of Psalms for Singing was put together in 1973, there was some understanding about the current misuse and misunderstanding of “thee” and “thou” and “ye.” The committee worked to introduce more versifications that used “you” to refer to God and man, singular and plural.


Now in 2009, we have the promise of a psalter that uses “you” consistently throughout. Surely, this clears the waters of intended meanings.


Another illustration of the need to change wording occurred when I was working on the Kids Sign Psalm DVD, which brouhg some exposure to the new versifications of the psalter. Most of the changes I saw were minor. In some places, I wondered why the text was changed. One was such spot was in Psalm 57:7. The old versification reads, “My heart is fixed…” The new is “My heart is firm.”


When I was singing it for practice, my then17-year-old who is a writer and poet with a knowledge of Latin and French, said, “Oh, wow, is that what that means?”


He had thought that it meant that his heart was “repaired,” because of the outdated use of “fixed.” Firm, then, better communicates the idea of “unmoved” to this 21st century audience.


Perhaps this is a reason to change our psalters as we change our dictionaries, at least more often than once in a few decades.


There are many valuable things about using the common and spoken language of the people to communicate God’s Word. The 2009 psalter, entitled The Book of Psalms for Worship, is promising in this regard.

Where Are the Psalms?

Where are the Psalms in American Protestant worship life? Even denominations that used to define themselves by their exclusive Psalm singing have often largely abandoned the practice.”


These sentences announce a symposium about the state of psalm singing in congregational life. It promises to address why denominations have been “so ineffective in convincing congregations to sing the psalms,” including discussion of what actions, if any, should be taken to encourage more psalm singing.


The subtitle of the conference is “The State of Congregational Psalm Singing after Fifty Years of Worship Renewal.” Discussing how congregations swung so suddenly from exclusively psalmody to almost exclusive hymnody is a brilliant place to begin this discussion on
the psalm singing. I hope to be there.


Where Are the Psalms? is to be held at Erskine College and Theological Seminary on February 26-27 in western South Carolina. Speakers include professors from the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Seminary: Robert Glick, Robby Bell, and Mark E. Ross. Also speaking are John Witvliet, Hal Hopson, and Terry Johnson.


Amazingly, the brochure says that the first thirty paid registrants get free lodging!


Visit the Erskine Seminary website for more details.

From the Lips of Little Ones

From the Lips of Little OnesFrom the Lips of Little Ones made its debut at the RP International Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This book, compiled by ARP Pastor Jeff Kingswood, is a study in the children’s catechism for families. The study questions are conversational, designed to encourage dialogue with your children about basic Bible teachings.

This is the kind of book that would be a valuable format for family devotions. Even a family with younger and older children may find that the older ones will be pleased to discuss these topics with the younger ones, and it will be good review.     


There is something to discuss and a suggested scripture reading for every weekday for 73 weeks. The questions are based on Joseph P. Engle’s Children’s Catechism of 1840, which was derived from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. A few terms have been changed for 21st century understanding.
ISBN: 978-1-884527-24-1
Paper, 146 pp.


The New Psalter and the Learning Curve

When I was young, my worship song came from the 1950 blue psalter. My parents had joined the Reformed Presbyterian church just before I was born. The congregation was aging and they were, I’ve been told, a bit shocked at my dancing on the pews to the singing.

But I always loved the psalms: the first tunes, the word pictures that were dear to me, even the smell of the books. I’m not sure if the aroma was from the glue, the paper or the blue-dye edging on the pages, but today if I pick up one of those books, it still smells like the 1960s worship service.

In 1973, the words and tunes changed with the publication of The Book of Psalms for Singing. It wasn’t blue and it had more tunes. Worst of all, some of my childhood favorites—“The Birds of Heaven” and “The Lord Will Light My Candle” were gone. I was a teenager during the transition and found that the losses were more than compensated by the rewards. There were new tunes, less archaic language, and no page numbers. The new psalter was organized by the number of the actual psalm of the Bible. My mind became even more attuned to the scriptural origin of what I was singing.


To this day, I still sing some “blue psalter” words by mistake (when everyone else is singing a 1973 edition psalm.) It is a minor jolt that makes me think about meaning and context and purpose. The disparate words make me more aware of the original Spirit-inspired text.

This week, the Reformed Presbyterian Synod approved the work of a committee for a 2009 psalter. Once again, I will be learning new settings, singing wrong words, and exploring a new book of worship song.

I look forward to the learning curve because I know what will come of it: a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s Word.

A Forkless Lift

Someday we may be able to utilize a forklift, but for now the best such a machine could do would be to unload the book-laden boxes from a delivery truck and then dump them down the concrete steps to our basement stockroom.

That is why my heart skipped a beat when we saw the 18-wheeler outside our office at 8:30 a.m. last Monday. The 3,000 psalters weren’t to arrive until the next day. At that moment, it was just Drew’s and my four biceps and a truck driver who was desperately seeking our fork lift.

After a panicked call to the next-door RP Seminary, which produced eager and sacrificial students Jay Strunk and Keihei Takiura, the driver suggested the books could be redelivered the next day. This gave us time to do things right.

The next day a smaller trailer with a liftgate backed up within several yards of our stock room storm doors. Despite arriving a bit earlier than planned, several Seminary students and staff ran over to give us a lift. Due to past experience, we placed a folding table on the steps, legs extended only on the lower side. The trucker unloaded the palettes and the helpers slung the boxes, one by one, toward the inclined table. There, they slid down to the helpers below who continued the bucket brigade until the boxes were securely in place on stockroom palettes. It took less than an hour and we celebrated with pizza. Special thanks are due to Grant Van Leuven, Sam DeSocio, Paul Martin, Zack Kail, and Young-Ho Kim. With friends like these, who needs a forklift?