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.

Third Time Is Not a Charm

At 11:30 on a Saturday night, I took a sip of decaf and thought about going to bed. Pittsburgh had experienced two nights of temperatures well below zero, so it felt good just to be inside and warm. 

 

Then the security company called. A motion detector at our office had set off an alarm, though none of the exterior alarms had been tripped. My heart fell. The last time that had happened, it had not been a thief but a cascade of water from a broken pipe that had set off the alarm. Given the stacks of books stored at our office, fire and water are more fearsome enemies than thieves. This week’s weather was ideal for frozen pipes.

 

I rushed to the office and arrived as the police were pulling up. They checked the building periphery–no tracks on the freshly fallen snow. As we neared the door, we heard that odd sound. It was a sound you might hear at a public fountain or at the base of a waterfall–quite unfitting for a frigid night in winter. I opened the door and walked through rivulets of warm water–yes, warm. The hot-water pipe had frozen on the second floor, sending water into a first floor office, where it soaked the carpet and seeped onto the stacks of books in the basement.

 

This was the third time a pipe had broken in the same shaft. The first time we were told by the plumber that an interior pipe breaking like this was a fluke, a rare experience of below-zero temperatures and other factors. The second time, a couple years later, we insulated the pipes and the shaft and provided a way for cold air to escape from the shaft. But now, 10 years after that last episode, we were back to square one.

 

We took some other precautions after the first “flood,” protecting many of our book stacks from water that might seep from above in a catastrophe. The early detection and the preventive measures made this third flood relatively minor. We’re very, very thankful that is was not worse. And we’re working harder than ever to find a permanent fix. We prefer our fountains out-of-doors.

Reformed Voice

One of our companion web sites puts good Reformed teaching at your fingertips, wherever you may roam. The site is ReformedVoice.org, and it features thousands of free sermons from dozens of speakers.

 

This week we added our 50th broadcaster to the site, and, before the year is up, we expect to receive our 3 millionth visitor to the site.

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.

Fare Thee Well, Friend

 

We bid farewell this week to our editorial assistant, Lindsey. She is a gifted musician who has decided to pursue her doctorate in music performance. We know she’ll do well. We’re glad that, for the near future at least, she won’t be far away.

 

Lindsey also has a heart for ministry to the Japanese people, a heart that has been developing over the past year as she went on two mission trips to Japan. She loves many things about Japan; so for our last staff “meeting” it seemed most appropriate to go to a Japanese restaurant.

 

A great thing about the hibachi Japanese restaurants is that they are part dining experience, part entertainment, as one admires the chef’s work and laughs at his antics that are aimed to please.

 

Staff members in the photo are Josh, Lois, Ariana, Lindsey, and Lynne. Lindsey trained Ariana this week as the new editorial assistant.
Staff members in the photo are Josh, Lois, Ariana, Lindsey, and Lynne. Lindsey trained Ariana this week as the new editorial assistant.

RP International t-shirts

Some of our customers saw us at the RP 2008 International Conference. For the conference, we designed and sold a variety of t-shirts to mark the event. Some of our styles and designs were very popular and sold out quickly. This was good for us but many people did not get the shirt they wanted.

If you are interested in getting a shirt, please let us know soon. If there is enough response, we will have some more made. Contact Josh if you are interested. Thanks!

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.
$10.00

 

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.

Rediscovering the Psalms

While psalm singing isn’t new to many who read this blog, it is still a newly-rediscovered practice for many. There is a great blog entry on the reformation21 blog that covers the topic very well. 

 

Head on over to read this great post, and you can pick up copies of the psalters mentioned in the post —two of which are published by Crown & CovenantThe Book of Psalms for Singing and the Trinity Psalter.

 

If you are looking for a good book on the topic of psalmody, we recommend Sing the Lord’s Song by John Keddie.