The Book of Psalms for Worship
Information and Frequently Asked Questions
Why are you publishing a new psalter?
The Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America determined years ago that an update to The Book of Psalms for Singing, published in 1973, was needed. The Book of Psalms for Worship is the fruit of that labor. Read More...
Who is responsible for the content of the new psalter?
The Psalter Revision Committee, appointed by the Synod of the RPCNA, handled the revision work for the new psalter. Read more about the committee...
Does this mean that The Book of Psalms for Singing is going to be discontinued?
No. The Book of Psalms for Singing serves a very large and diverse group of psalm-singers all over the world. Crown & Covenant will continue to publish The Book of Psalms for Singing for a long time.
What are the major changes in The Book of Psalms for Worship?
The biggest change is the modernization of the language throughout the book. The new psalter now contains no archaic, obsolete, or inaccessible language to the 21st century person. Another change is the rendering of the divine name (YHWH) as LORD instead of Jehovah. There was also an emphasis on removing unclear and awkward phrasing that had sometimes lead to confusion about the meaning of portions of the Psalms. Read more about the changes here...
But will "modernizing" the psalter lead to a "watered-down" version of the Psalms?
Certainly not! The modernizing does not refer to a Psalter that has in any way broken free of all historical or ecclesiastical tradition and familiarity so as to embrace a purely contemporary Christian music scene or style. The intent with the 1973 psalter was that there would eventually be a fully modern English psalter and this project is a fulfillment of that vision. The Hebrew text has been consulted throughout. The committee endeavored always to remain as close as possible to the Hebrew text and its sense, while at the same time setting forth the Psalms with accuracy, clarity, readability, singability, and ease. Read more about translation issues here...
Will The Book of Psalms for Worship be different in size, weight, color, etc., compared to The Book of Psalms for Singing?
The number of selections in both psalters is roughly the same. The physical size of the new psalter will be a bit larger in the length and height. The new psalter will be blue with silver lettering. There will also be large-print and gift editions coming in the future.
Are the music arrangements going to be the same? Are there new tunes to learn?
There are many familiar tunes and many new ones as well. There was a great effort put into matching psalms with appropriate music. Some tunes have been moved to new psalms and some familiar hymn tunes that were not used in the past have been added with new psalm arrangements. Learn more about the music.
Psalter Revision Committee History
The Psalter Revision Committee was formed at the Synod of 1997. In its first year, general discussion took place as to guiding principles, what other Psalters might benefit us in our work, the history of the current Psalter, what simple revision work was needed in the current Psalter, and what tunes in it were generally deemed acceptable/unacceptable, used/not used by surveyed surveyed members in the denomination. Discussion also ensued as to what selections from Psalm Settings might be included in a revised Psalter. The thinking was that very minimal revision was needed, and that 2002 was a possible date for the conclusion of the revision. Little did the committee appreciate at that time the full extent of the work ahead.
The following couple years the revision committee sampled a variety of changes that might be made in The Book of Psalms for Singing together with a general timetable for its revision.
In the first attempt, Synod was provided a booklet called Psalm Updates. In hindsight, this reflects the immature stage of the committee. The Synod responded to our query concerning the preferred rendering for YHVH by preferring a sparing use of its variants Yahveh, Yahweh, or Yah. LORD and Jehovah were deemed more acceptable.
In following years, the number of meetings increased from two to three times per year, and then (beginning 2005), four times per year. Significant work had begun to be accomplished. Some 30-40 psalms had been revised, the plan being to prepare a draft revision of each Book of the Psalms, followed by a final revision of the whole Psalter. The initial terminus point of 2002 was realized as unattainable, but only by a couple years.
The further the committee went into the work of revision, the more they saw that a simple revision would be inadequate. Having revised some selections with archaic language and obscure phrasing, they realized that for the purpose of overall evenness, balance, and internal consistency, a more substantial revision of other remaining selections—indeed the whole Psalter—was needed.
In 2003, the committee provided a sampling of various texts and tunes. In 2004 they provided a booklet of Psalms for Singing, some 35 music/word selections to the Synod. In 2005 they provided another of 20 more. In 2006 they finished the draft revision of all five books of the Psalter, two years behind the revised date of completion. The final review of the whole Psalter, originally hoped to take only one year, took two.
In the 2006 report to Synod, knowing the end was more clearly in sight, the committee queried the Synod to discern what sort of review was wanted (if any) concerning the work before it went to its first printing. Four options were proposed ranging from 2 sorts of review committees, a web-based service for Synod to review our work and leave its feedback, or to proceed according to precedent that the committee prepare and publish the next Psalter and keep the Synod informed until that time. The final option was chosen allowing the work to go forth for preparation, printing, and publication without further delay.
The work of the Committee was in large part based on the already-accepted credibility and recognition of standard English Bible translations (NASB, NKJV, ESV, etc.). The Hebrew text has been consulted throughout. The committee endeavored always to remain as close as possible to the Hebrew text and its sense, while at the same time setting forth the Psalms with accuracy, clarity, readability, singability, and ease. What Geerhardus Vos recognized in his work on the letter to the Hebrews, can also be applied to the work of the Psalter Revision Committee:
‘Of course no word can ever be translated into another language exactly, with all the precision and nicety of meaning that it has in the original language. Translation must always remain a choice between relatively suitable words, a matter of selecting the best word from among those that are available’ (Geerhardus Vos, ‘Conception of Diatheke’ in The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956, p.33).
The four elements of a familiar/beloved tune, rhyme, meter, and an accurate text have presented a great challenge in the work of revision. They do not always go together as one might like, though every effort has been made to attain all. Faithfulness to the text and sense of the Hebrew may not accommodate a familiar/beloved tune. Sometimes it may. Usually a strictly literal text fresh off the translation slate can be such no longer if put into rhyme or made to fit the meter of a familiar/beloved tune. If a strictly literal text is preferred, one’s best option is to express the text via chant-style song. Given that chanting is not a preferred or accessible means for most singers, there is need for some adjustment to ‘the strictly literal text.’ One necessary adjustment is called ‘padding’, the addition of words not actually in the Hebrew text (but in harmony with the sense of the context) in order to fill out the required number of syllables in a given line (i.e., the meter). Another adjustment is called ‘compression’, a reduction of words found in the Hebrew while still maintaining its sense. Of course, padding and compression are to be used appropriately and wisely. We have been helped by the following statements made by one on the committee over the years in light of the current Psalter and these matters:
Biblical Hebrew, especially in its poetry, uses a variety of nouns and verbs but is rather sparing when it comes to adjectives. Therefore, when you come across an adjective in some translation of the Psalms, you almost always know that it is not original to the Hebrew itself. Padding is necessary, but it should not draw attention to itself; it should be unobtrusive.
The challenge of finding a balance on the matters of the literal text, rhyme, and meter becomes exacerbated in the face of a familiar/beloved tune which one might like (i.e., insist on) in a familiar/beloved place. Everyone has preferences and biases. In this mix of bias, personal preference, and sound principle, a new Psalter is both produced and received. Thus, it is admittedly a Psalter that does not match up to everyone's individual desires. Yet without question, the new Psalter is a vastly significant and qualitative improvement compared with the current Psalter. In the end, the committee trusts that you will find the new Psalter provides a refreshingly clear rendering of the Word of God for its reader and singer, and is more accessible.
While the phrase thoroughly modernized Psalter can cause some uneasiness to some individuals, the committee intends the expression as a reference to a Psalter which now contains no archaic, obsolete, or inaccessible language to the 21st century person. The expression does not refer to a Psalter that has in any way broken free of all historical or ecclesiastical tradition and familiarity so as to embrace a purely contemporary Christian music scene or style. Apart from an occasional use of ‘nigh’ for the purpose of rhyme (some half dozen times), all pronouns, verb forms, vocabulary, and other expressions are now rendered throughout the Psalter in modern English (i.e., a thoroughly modernized Psalter). Each of the 150 Psalms is set in modern English, meaning that one can sing every Psalm in modern English.
The revision committee has sought very diligently to be clear and accurate in the rendering of the Psalms. The following comparisons between the 1973 Psalter and the text of the new Psalter will hopefully provide a sense of this:
Attempts have also been made to even a line’s phrasing so that it is not left to dangle at the end of its line. Without this preventive measure the sense can be distorted, as in the case of the current Psa. 28A (v. 5):
‘Since they do not regard the works
Or, without this preventive measure, a verse can inadvertently imply self-contradiction, per the classic example:
Be silent, but speak out’
- Scottish Metrical Psalter (1929), 50:3 (2nd version)
Positioned as it is metrically, the phrasing makes the ear to hear: ‘Our God shall come and shall no more, be silent but speak out’ - as though God will both come and not come, and be both silent and speaking out at the same time.
Every attempt has been made to not have any phrase stand by itself so as to sound inappropriate. (Often these are exacerbated when a singer takes a breath immediately afterward and before completing the phrase). Ready examples (now-corrected) are found at Psa. 5:4 of our current Psalter: Revision Statistics
To give you as much of an overview of the new Psalter as is possible in advance of having it in your hands, the following statistics are provided:
Titles of the Psalter
1950 = The Book of Psalms with Music (BPM)
1973 = The Book of Psalms for Singing (BPS)
2009 = The Book of Psalms for Worship (BPW)
The Committee discussed at length the title The Book of Psalms for Worship, and many other alternatives, including that of the current 1973 Psalter. The rationale behind the change of name from the 1973 Psalter to the 2009 Psalter is manifold. First, the result of the committee’s work is a product which does not exactly reproduce The Book of Psalms for Singing as we know it. Of course, the work is in essence another Book of Psalms for Singing. But the committee wanted to recognize the context of this new Book of Psalms from God’s perspective more generally, and the purpose for which He gave it (Worship), and not a single element of that worship specifically (Singing). The Book of Psalms is used for various acts of worship—everything from reading to meditating to praying—as well as singing. And thus Worship rightly encompasses the many facets of one’s use of the Book. One can sing but not necessarily worship. Also, the reference to Worship speaks not of a means (i.e., Singing) but a goal. We are created and redeemed by Christ for God’s worship, of which singing is but one means and element.
Still more, the use of the Book for worship may be for a worship that is in nature private, as family or small groups, or as the publicly gathered saints. The Book of Psalms for Worship assumes and recognizes these various nuances and contexts, and notes that there is something more than singing, and that is worship. Finally, in that the new Psalter comprises all 150 selections (and not mere or miscellaneous parts of them), we see an importance in referring to it as The Book of Psalms. This also is true to the inspired NT manner of reference (Luke 20:42; Acts 1:20).
Number of tunes repeated throughout the Psalter
New by composition of committee (20) or other (3) = 23
Other new and perhaps unfamiliar to most = appr. 30-45
New but already familiar to many on account of common hymnals = appr. 30-50
On account of outside-1973 usage within RPCNA = 11
Number of meters used throughout the Psalter
1950 = 34
1973 = 60
2009 = 78 (with 11 others as irregular meters)
Number of Psalm selections in the Psalter
1950 = 359
1973 = 439
2009 = 437
Number of Psalms with alternate versions in the Psalter
1950 = 64
1973 = 72
2009 = 84
Alternate versions of the full Psalm = 70
Alternate versions of a portion of the Psalm = 14
In summary, the new Psalter will have approximately the same number of selections, and therefore be about the same thickness. It will have a considerably less number of total tunes, many of them even being repeated throughout to aid the process of familiarization. Of course, there will be new tunes to learn, others to appreciate as finally in the Psalter, and still other familiar tunes to accompany those with which many are already familiar. Although there are newly composed tunes and tunes, the committee believe that each Psalm lends itself to congregational singing.
The new psalter will have the following:
1) Reference to the Psalm by its first line. Is is deemed important that the first line of the selection be clearly visible at the top of the page. With any given Psalm selection, a person may associate with the selection also by means of the words, and not merely the Psalm’s number. A mere numerical reference may be, to some, only as helpful as finding the selection, or, not at all in view of uncertainty as to which of the 150 psalms it is. Some may have the first line going through their mind, but cannot for the life of them remember which Psalm it is. (The ancient Jews recalled Scripture by the words and not so much its versification.) The presence of the title as a stimulus to singing; upon recognition of the first line of the text, may already begin settling the tune in the singer’s mind. (This new layout will usefully accommodate both approaches).
2) Brief NT reference. This connects the Psalm with the notion of fulfillment in and association with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is sought to render the substance of Luke’s statements by this arrangement: ‘He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures…all things which are written about Me in the law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms’, and again our Lord Himself, ‘David himself says in the Book of Psalms…David calls Him “Lord”’ (Luke 24:27, 44; 20:42, 44). It is deemed important to help the singer associate and appreciate the presence of Christ and the Gospel of the kingdom in the Psalms. Though these are old songs, they are new in Jesus Christ; promise followed by fulfillment. The NT reference is cited to note something of this. Granted, many other relevant verses could be chosen. The verse cited is not meant to comment on everything about the Psalm, or be the only key to interpretation. However, it fitting as a guide to a more Christ-centered experience of singing the Psalms.
3) Identification of each Psalm by its number (e.g., 5) selection letter (e.g., C), followed by the citation of the entire Psalm covered by the selection (e.g., Psalm 5:1-7). The Psalm selection/number will be in larger font for easy identification and location. The Psalm citation shows that this is a rendition of Scriptural verse, which may be read as such in the context of worship. It also shows that the book is not a mere selection of Psalms but a version of biblical text in metered form.
4) Stanza/verse notation. In that this is a rendition of Scriptural verse in metered form, larger numbers will note the musical stanza (e.g., 1…2…3…). Biblical versification and reference will be noted by smaller superscript numbers accompanying the text within each stanza (e.g., 1…2…3…).
5) Additional data. In the spirit of ‘giving credit where credit is due,’ it is (and has been) a standard feature of hymnals to note the relevant information of a given selection. Thus, beneath the music, in small, unobtrusive print, will be the tune’s name, meter, composer/arranger, source, and date. Given that some selections may change their form (Xerox, scanned image, overhead, etc), this data will appropriately go with it. This feature would also bring the new Psalter into conformity with acceptable Church traditions.
Contents of The Book of Psalms for Worship
The new Psalter, though primarily the Book of Psalms in metered and musical form, also will contain important information to aid in its use. Some formal and necessary features will exist as in any book (title page, copyright, and permission information). Additional resources to aid in its use are the indices. These will make a variety of use-related tasks easy: locating a tune, finding another tune with the same meter, knowing what other tunes a person has written, where a psalm is that begins…, what Psalms speak about…, and where a Psalm is noted in the NT.
Change is sometimes difficult. The committee is cognizant that there will be some period of adjustment. Some new tunes will need to be learned. For some, especially those who have longed for a revised Psalter, or those who are not very familiar with or wedded to the 1973 Psalter, or still others who are more skilled in things musical, this will be little problem, if any at all. For others, there may be some degree of challenge concerning nostalgia, unfamiliarity, and patience with determination to learn something new. Such has been the case with every revised Psalter. It was the case with the transition from the 1950 Psalter to the 1973 Psalter. And if God can lead a person to adjust to a Psalter that at first was in some way resisted, then He can guide receptive persons with yet another.
In view of the adjustment challenge, and for assisting our transition to a new Psalter, audio files of every tune will be available online. A simple click will allow anyone to hear the selection as often as they’d like in order to facilitate familiarity and learning.
As a final word from the revision committee, having invested much time, prayer, and effort, the committee would have everyone know its satisfaction in the work. Having prayed many times that the Lord would ‘confirm for us the work of our hands, yes, confirm the work of our hands’ (Psa. 90:17), the committee has seen His answer throughout the process. More, we delight in God who Himself has blessed us with this gift, ‘to see good in all his labor…to rejoice in his labor’ (Ecc. 3:13; 5:19). ‘To Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus!’