Thursday, June 4, 2015

Quotations about the Book of Psalms by Significant Christian Interpreters

One of my great joys as a reader of the Bible and professor of Biblical studies is to ponder and enjoy the Psalms. I’m in the process of preparing a study of Psalms 1-41 for an upcoming volume in Seedbed’s OneBook series. As I begin writing, I pulled out some of my notes. Here are a collection of quotations from significant Christian interpreters of the Psalms about the richness of these biblical prayers.

Diodore of Tarsus:
He opens the prologue to his commentary on the psalms by quoting 2 Tim 3:16 and writing: One would not be mistaken in applying this whole encominium of Holy Scripture to the book of the holy Psalms. For it teaches righteousness gently and reasonably to those who wish to learn, it reproves the rash carefully and without roughness, and it corrects whatever unfortunate mistakes are made, either by accident or by our own choices.  

Martin Luther:
Where does one find finer words of joy than in the Psalms of praise and thanksgiving? There you look into the hearts of all saints, as into fair and pleasant gardens, yes, as into heaven itself. There you see what at fine and pleasant flowers of the heart spring up from all sorts of fair and happy thoughts toward God, because of all his blessings. On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of all the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself. How gloomy and dark it is there, with all kinds of troubled forebodings about the wrath of God! So, too, when they speak of fear and hope, they use such words that no painter could so depict for your fear or hope, and no Cicero or other orator so portray them. 

Athanasius (Letter to Marcellinius)
…these words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might perceive himself and the emotions of his soul, and thus affected, he might recite them. 

Thomas Merton:
the Psalms bring our hearts and minds into the presence of the living God.” (Bread in the Wilderness, 13)

The Church indeed likes what is old, not because it is old but rather because it is ‘young.’ In the Psalms, we drink divine praise at its pure and stainless source, in all its primitive sincerity and perfection…for the Psalms are the songs of men who knew who God was…. For God has willed to make Himself known to us in the mystery of the Psalms. (Praying the Psalms, 7-8)

John Calvin:
I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, 'An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;' for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which [our] minds are wont to be agitated. (Commentary on the Psalms

John Wesley
 "We have now before us one of the choicest parts of the Old Testament, wherein there is so much of Christ and his gospel, as well as of God and his law, that it has been called the summary of both Testaments. The history of Israel, which we were long upon, instructed us in the knowledge of God. The book of Job gave us profitable disputations, concerning God and his providence. But this book brings us into the sanctuary, draws us off from converse with men, with the philosophers or disputers of this world, and directs us into communion with God. It is called, the Psalms, in Hebrew Tehillim, which properly signifies Psalms of praise, because many of them are such; but Psalms is a more general word, meaning all poetical compositions, fitted to be sung. St. Peter styles it, The book of Psalms. It is a collection of Psalms, of all the Psalms that were divinely inspired, composed at several times, on several occasions, and here put together, without any dependence on each other. Thus they were preserved from being scattered and lost, and kept in readiness for the service of the church. One of these is expressly said to be the prayer of Moses. That some of them were penned by Asaph is intimated in 2 Chronicles 29.30, where they are said to praise the Lord, in the words of David and Asaph, who is there called a seer or prophet. And some of the Psalms seem to have been penned long after, at the time of the captivity in Babylon. But the far greater part were wrote by David, who was raised up for establishing the ordinance of singing Psalms in the church of God, as Moses and Aaron were for setting the ordinance of sacrifice. Theirs indeed is superseded, but this [book of Psalms] will remain, 'till it be swallowed up in the songs of eternity. There is little in the book of Psalms of the ceremonial law. But the moral law is all along magnified, and made honourable. And Christ the foundation, corner, and top - stone of all religion, is here clearly spoken of; both his sufferings, with the glory that should follow, and the kingdom he would set up in the world." (preface to the book of Psalms in Explanatory Notes on the Old Testament)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
When read only occasionally, these prayers are too overwhelming in design and power and tend to turn us back to more palatable fare. But whoever has begun to pray the Psalter seriously and regularly and say: ‘Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, and fire which I find in the Psalter. Anything else tastes too cold and too hard. (Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, 11)

Walter Brueggemann:
The Psalms not only propose and constitute a world; they intend also to unmake, deconstruct, and unmask other worlds which seduce and endanger…. In fact, they articulate a counter-world, offered as a subversive alternative to the dominant, easily available worlds that are ever present in and tempting for Israel. The dominant, easily available world endlessly seducing Israel is one-generational, devoid of covenanting, morally indifferent, monologically closed, and politically indifferent. These Psalms voice a counter-world that practices exactly what the dominant world resists and denies. In its liturgic recital over a long period of time, Israel regularly enacted and embraced this counter-world as its true home. (Abiding Astonishment: Psalms, Modernity, and the Making of History (Literary Currents in Biblical Interpretation); 26 and 28)

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