Reading, Interpreting, and Preaching the Psalms – Step 2

Please see this post for the origin and purpose of the process I’m continuing today. Breaking the 10-fold procedure into bite-size chunks, I will be explaining what I mean by step #2:

1. Read the Hebrew Text

Please refer to this post for my thoughts on this step.

2. Evaluate the Variants

If the first step of reading the Hebrew text is taken seriously, this second step of textual criticism will naturally arise as difficulties in translation are observed or the critical apparatus becomes significant. As variants in Hebrew manuscripts and ancient translations are considered, exegetical commentaries (e.g., the Word Biblical Commentary volumes) or other reference works (e.g., Emanuel Tov’s Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible) will be helpful in this process.

The casual reading of various English texts will also demonstrate that not all translations are alike. Not only do they have various translations of Hebrew forms and tenses, but they also reveal completely different readings. For the preacher/teacher, the practical advantage of being diligent in this step is coming to understand why modern translations differ. As such, evaluating variants will prepare the preacher to speak intelligently and honestly about the nature of the text. Decisions will have to be made, and those decisions will need to be carefully integrated into interpretation and wisely presented to the congregation.

For example, evaluating the variants of the text will elucidate why English translations of Ps 100:3 vary. The NASB says, “It is He who made us, and not we ourselves” (cf. also [N]KJV), while the ESV reads, “It is he who made us, and we are his” (cf. also NIV, NRSV). Faithful expository preaching will probably have to address such an issue, so the preacher/teacher must be prepared.

Another example would be Psalm 72:5. In his work, The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic, Michael Rydelnik has a helpful chapter regarding “Text-Criticial Perspectives on Messianic Prophecy.” Although the whole chapter (and book) is well worth reading, I refer to it in this discussion because he shows how a textual variant is important in reading 72:5, where the MT (יִירָאוּךָ) and LXX (και συμπαραμενει) differ, with quite distinct meanings. As such, English versions vary: “May they fear you” (ESV, see also NASB, NKJV) or “He will endure” (NIV, see also NRSV). Since there are possible messianic implications involved here, the reader must take these alternative readings into account.

This is not an easy step and can be done at various stages of this whole process. But the reader of the Psalter must come to an understanding of the textual criticism and how these differences are to be handled within a responsible view of composition and inspiration.

3. DIAGRAM THE TEXT

4. ANALYZE THE PARALLELISM

5. EXAMINE THE PSALM’S COHERENCE

6. COMPARE THE PSALM TO ITS CONTEXT

7. READ THE TEXT CANONICALLY

8. FOLLOW THE TEXT INTO THE NEW TESTAMENT

9. APPLY THE PSALM RESPONSIBLY

10. PRAY THE PSALM

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Author: Randy McKinion

Besides being a husband and father, I teach at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.

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