Ancient Psalms and Modern Worship -- By: Edward M. Curtis

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:615 (Jul 1997)
Article: Ancient Psalms and Modern Worship
Author: Edward M. Curtis

Ancient Psalms and Modern Worship

Edward M. Curtis

[Edward M. Curtis is Professor of Biblical Studies, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California.]

Despite disagreement and uncertainty about a number of issues1 related to the Book of Psalms, scholars generally agree that the psalms were used in Israel’s worship. The book is often referred to as “the Hymnbook of the Second Temple.”2 Since the psalms were used in Israel’s public worship, it seems likely that they reflect patterns for worship that can and should be incorporated into congregational worship today.3 Throughout the history

of the church, the psalms have been used extensively in personal devotions and meditation, and the relevance of these psalms for both public and personal worship is almost universally acknowledged. Miller says, “It is in the conviction that the psalms belong both at the center of the life and worship of Christian congregations and in the midst of the personal pilgrimage that each of us makes under the shadow of the Almighty, that I have written this book.”4 Many recent books on worship find numerous examples from the Book of Psalms to support their points.5 Despite the widespread agreement about the relevance of various individual psalms for worship today, important dimensions of application are sometimes overlooked.

Several difficulties are encountered in an attempt to transfer the use of psalms in Old Testament worship to worship today. First, few details are given about how psalms were used in Old Testament worship. That they were used is clear from numerous comments in the Bible6 as well as from tradition.7 “That there was a great number of activities accompanying poetic ‘recitations’ is clear from allusions in the poems themselves. However, there is not a single complete ritual preserved in the Hebrew Scriptures that would indicate exactly the place and kind of accompaniment of prayer or song.”8 “Both the descriptions of such cultic processions and the allusions to them in other Old Testament texts and his own imagination [are needed for the interpreter] to recall a picture of the definite situation from which such

a psalm cannot be separated.”9 A second di...

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