Author Topic: Psalter translations  (Read 1269 times)


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Psalter translations
« on: December 10, 2006, 07:50:10 PM »
I enjoyed Richard Johnson's piece on the translation of the Psalms in the last Forum Letter (Dec. 2006).

First, one minor point.  He mentions Psalm 1 as an example of a psalm where the use of the plural to avoid masculine pronouns is acceptable.  This seems to be consistent with Luther's own interpretation of the psalm.  However, this excludes a traditional interpretation which perhaps should be taken into consideration.  Augustine's interpretation of Psalm 1 begins like this:

"Blessed is the man who has not gone astray in the council of the ungodly.  This statement should be understood as referring to our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, the Lord-Man." (en. Ps. 1.1, WSA/Boulding tr.)

One could argue (as Augustine does) that Christ is the only one who has not gone astray, which sounds theologically sound to me.  This interpretation is of course impossible when the psalm is translated with "they" or "those."

What I would argue (in general) is that a Lutheran Psalter ought to be compatible with Lutheran theology.  Ambiguity is great, when the English can capture it in a similar way to the original language.  But there are times when the English must decide between possible meanings (like singular vs. plural in these Psalms), and we must insist on one that allows for the Lutheran interpretation, not to mention the New Testament interpretation of the Psalms, and takes the whole tradition of interpretation into consideration.

This of course complicates, rather than simplifies, things, since we would of course argue at great length over which interpretations are part of or compatible with the Lutheran tradition.  And there are surely interpretations of individual verses that might need to be corrected with better knowledge of biblical manuscripts and languages.  It would also be unpopular, since I am suggesting a fairly unecumenical project.  But I believe it is better to be unecumenical than to teach things incompatible with the Christian tradition.

And it should be made clear that there is room for wide-ranging paraphrases of Psalms in worship, ranging from verse translations (like The King of Love My Shepherd Is) to verse inspired by psalms (like Joy to the World).  But we do not call them Psalms.

Jonathan Hall
University of Virginia