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Liturgical Psalter

first published as


Publishing History

The Liturgical Psalter was first published in 1977 as The Psalms: A New Translation for Worship by William Collins, in cooperation with the Church Information Office. It was put out in two editions, one a plain text (as here), one pointed for singing to Anglican chant.

The text was excerpted in Church of England draft services before its publication and was used in the text of The Alternative Service Book 1980. As The Liturgical Psalter, the complete translation was bound up with most editions of The Alternative Service Book 1980.

The translation was incorporated in An Australian Prayer Book (1978), in Alternative Prayer Book 1984 (Church of Ireland), and in An Anglican Prayer Book (Church of the Province of South Africa). It has been reprinted in a variety of publications in England and abroad, adopted for use by the Uniting Church in Australia and excerpted for the Methodist Hymns and Psalms (1983).

An adapted version was published by HarperCollins in 1995 as The Psalms: The Liturgical Psalter (New Inclusive Language Version) and in this form was incorporated into A Prayer Book for Australia (1995).

Copyright Permission

Rights in The Liturgical Psalter reverted to the copyright holders in March 2001. The copyright holders licence use of the translation, in whole or in part, in any form, worldwide, without prior permission, subject to the condition that the substantive text of this version of scripture be reproduced without alteration.

Short extracts should be acknowledged as from The Liturgical Psalter. For substantial passages or for reprints, copyright acknowledgement should be to: The Liturgical Psalter © 1976, 1977, David L. Frost, John A. Emerton, Andrew A. Macintosh. Where substantial use is made of the translation, the copyright holders would be pleased to be notified at: information@aquilabooks.co.uk

The Translators

Hebrew Panel



The Psalms

Christians have used the Psalms in their praises of God, in their prayers and in their meditations since the earliest days of the Church. The Jews have used the Psalms for a much longer time, for they were composed for use in ancient Israel. The majority of the Psalms are hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God for what he is and for what he has done (e.g Pss. 8, 104, 135), or prayers for help and laments because of the sufferings of an individual (e.g. Pss. 6, 22) or his anxieties (e.g Ps. 77), or because of some national disaster such as defeat in battle (e.g. Ps. 44) or the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple (e.g. Pss. 74, 79). There are also meditations on God’s providence (e.g. Pss. 49, 73, 78) or on his commandments (e.g. Pss. 1, 119). Other Psalms were composed for particular occasions in the nation’s life: for the accession of a new king (Ps. 2), for a royal wedding (Ps. 45), or for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple (e.g. Pss. 84, 122). The temple was the place where most Psalms were originally intended to be sung, but they also came to be used by Jewish congregations in their synagogues and by individuals in their private prayers.

The period in which the Psalms were composed in ancient Israel goes back as early as the time of King David (c. 1000 BC), though modern scholars have questioned the tradition that he was the author of a large number of the poems in our Psalter. Some Psalms were certainly written much later: Ps. 137, for instance, speaks of the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon in the sixth century BC. Most of the Psalms, however cannot be dated precisely and might have been written at almost any time within a period of several centuries. Nor do we know when the last poem in the Psalter was written, though it was probably not later than about 200 BC and may well have been much earlier. The Psalms thus reflect something like three quarters of a millennium in the life and worship of ancient Israel.

Jesus was born a Jew, and he was brought up to know the Psalms intimately and to ponder them. He quoted them in his teaching, and words from the Psalter were on his lips as he hung on the cross. The Church learned from him, and from God’s ancient people the Jews, to value the Psalms, and Christians have used them ever since.

When Christians read the Psalms, they meditate and share the thoughts and varied emotions of the people of God in the Old Testament, the people to whom God made himself known, and they share in Israel’s experience of God. The God of the Psalms is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ has, however, made a difference, and Christians cannot always think of God in exactly the same way as those who lived before the birth, and death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christians cannot make their own everything in the Psalter, at least not in its original sense. We cannot, for example, identify ourselves with the author of Ps. 137 when he blesses those who will dash Babylonian children against the rocks, however well we may understand the Psalmist’s reaction to the murder by Babylonian soldiers of Jewish children. There are parts of the Psalter that Christians must read with detachment. Many Christians feel that they must go further and refrain from the use of such passages, at least in public worship. Nevertheless, although there are verses in the Psalter whose sentiments Christians must not share, there remains much more which they can wholeheartedly make their own.

Throughout the centuries, Christians of different persuasions have found the Psalms a means of prayer and worship that fulfilled their needs. In the future, as in the past, Christians will use the Psalms both in the public worship of the Church and in their private devotions, in meditation, in prayer, and, above all, in praise.

The New Translation

This present translation was made primarily, though not exclusively, for public worship. Miles Coverdale’s version of the Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer has been used for more than four hundred years, and it is well loved by many Anglicans (not least by the members of the translation panel). It will doubtless continue to be used. Yet there are two reasons why a new translation was necessary. First, the Psalms were written in Hebrew, and the study of the Hebrew language and the textual problems of the Old Testament has advanced considerably in the past century, and even in recent years. More is known about the meanings of the Hebrew words and the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible, and techniques have been developed for dealing with obscure passages and verses where it is likely that mistakes were made by scribes copying the text by hand in ancient times. Second, there was need for a translation that would express the meaning clearly in modern English in a style suitable for use in public worship. There have been several new translations in recent years, but the present one is intended primarily for public speaking and singing.

In September 1970 the Church of England Liturgical Commission invited one of its members, Dr (now Professor) David Frost, to begin work on a liturgical Psalter suitable for use in the services in modern English that the Commission was in process of preparing. At that early stage it was hoped to produce such a Psalter by modestly revising Coverdale’s version in the Book of Common Prayer by reference to other English versions (both old and new) and, where it was thought necessary, to the Hebrew Bible. A revision of Coverdale version had, indeed, earlier been undertaken for the Church of England at the request of the then Archbishops of Canterbury and York and published by the S.P.C.K. in 1963 as The Revised Psalter. The members of the Commission who prepared it have been justifiably praised for their skill in removing many errors and obscurities without losing the familiar flavour of the English of the Prayer Book. Yet their very success in achieving their purpose meant that the revised translation did not meet the needs of services in modern English.

As the work proceeded, it became clear that the projected Psalter could not be produced satisfactorily except on the basis of a fresh translation of the Hebrew original. At the same time, increasing interest in the project in this country and abroad, not only from Anglicans but also from members of other Churches, was reported to the Commission. Therefore, with the approval of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Regius Professor of Hebrew in the University of Cambridge was invited in 1972 to convene a panel of Hebrew scholars drawn from various Churches to cooperate with Dr Frost in preparing a new translation of the Psalter.

In the mean time, the work done between 1970 and 1972 was published in 1973 by the Church Information Office under the title Twenty-Five Psalms from a Modern Liturgical Psalter, with the intention that critics should have an opportunity to judge what was now regarded as a pilot scheme of the project as a whole. The pilot scheme was the work of Dr David Frost in collaboration with the Rev. Andrew Macintosh. Their translation has been revised and incorporated in the present version of the Psalter.

The preparation of this new translation of the Psalter is thus part of the process of revising the services of the Church of England, but it is hoped that it will be found useful by other branches of the Anglican Communion and also by other Christians. The panel responsible for the translation included members of the Roman Catholic, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, as well as Anglicans – and it may be added that the differences of Christian allegiance made no difference at all to the way in which the problems of translation were tackled. It is also hoped that the translation will be found useful for private prayer and study in addition to public worship.

The translation panel consisted of eight Hebrew and biblical scholars, whose task was to determine the meaning of the Hebrew text, and of Dr Frost, who was responsible for the English wording of the translation. Seven of the Hebrew scholars (of whom two are laymen) teach in universities, and the eighth is the vicar of a country parish.

The first step in preparing the translation was for one of the Hebrew scholars (not always the same one) to make a draft rendering of a Psalm, and for his draft to be discussed and revised by the others. The second draft thus reflected the judgement, not just of one scholar, but of a team of scholars with a specialised knowledge of Hebrew and the Old Testament – and experience showed how much more could be learned by working as a team. The aim at this stage was to produce a rendering that expressed the meaning as simply and clearly as possible, and no attempt was made to achieve an acceptable English style, let alone literary elegance. While the meaning of most parts of the Psalms is clear, there are some obscure passages (e.g. Ps. 87), and the panel did their best to find a meaningful translation. There are also places where good sense cannot be obtained from the Hebrew text, and where there is reason to believe that mistakes were made by scribes in ancient times. In such passages the panel felt free to make small corrections of the Hebrew text. However, they were reluctant to make changes except where there was no satisfactory alternative. They were also cautious about accepting many recent theories concerning new meanings of Hebrew words, which have not won general acceptance. A translation for use in church should display a cautious attitude both towards emendations of the text and towards new lexicographical theories.

The next stage was the responsibility of David Frost. He took the draft agreed by the Hebrew scholars and prepared a rendering in an English style and rhythm suitable for singing or reading aloud in church. His translation came back to the panel, who were free to criticise it if they believed it to misrepresent the meaning of the Hebrew, or if (which happened only very rarely) they were dissatisfied with the English wording. They did not themselves alter the translation, but asked David Frost to take it away and revise it himself and to bring the revision back to the panel. It was thus hoped, on the one hand, to gain the considered opinion of the team of Hebrew scholars and, on the other, to avoid the flatness of what has been described as ‘committee English’.

Finally, a panel of musicians studied the translation and prepared the edition that is pointed for chanting. If the wording was, in their opinion, difficult to sing, they asked the translators to consider whether revision was possible.

This translation is a new rendering of the Hebrew into modern English, not a revision of an older version. However, novelty has not been sought for its own sake, and we have felt free to make use of many phrases from earlier translations. Further, we have followed the example of the great translators in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in keeping close to the images and idioms of the original Hebrew. The English language has been regularly refreshed by the importation of elements from foreign cultures, not least from Hebraic culture through the wisdom of early translators of the Bible into English; and we have thought lively expressions modelled on the Hebrew to be poetically preferable to tired expressions and clichés drawn from the vernacular. Partly because it seems right that the Psalms in Christian worship should be recognised to be from ancient Israel, we have not avoided slight archaisms appropriate to the purposes of poetry. However, we have tested the intelligibility of our drafts, particularly on those who are unfamiliar with older English versions: if we have not attempted to speak in the tones of daily conversation we have made every effort to render the Psalms into language that the ordinary Christian can understand.

Because we have been creating a literary version for public recitation and singing, we have not felt ourselves bound in all places to the strict letter of the Hebrew text, though we have translated the meaning of the whole as well as we were able. On occasion, to give singers sufficient syllables to sing, we have added one or two words to a half-verse, but these have always been justifiable expansions of the meaning of the Hebrew. Again, we have at times put ‘God’ instead of ‘the Lord’, or expanded a phrase so that it flows more smoothly: for instance, instead of beginning a Psalm with ‘O God’ we may begin ‘O Lord our God’. Where a Hebrew phrase was obscure if translated baldly we have sometimes added a explanatory word, or offered a paraphrase or a double translation to convey the full meaning in English. Throughout, we have felt free to renumber and redivide the verses where that seemed required by the structure of the verse in English translation, but we have kept to the parallelism of Hebrew poetry and observed most of those divisions into half-lines indicated by Jewish tradition.

Some verses in this translation of the Psalms are printed in square brackets, so that they may be omitted by those who believe their contents to be unsuitable for use in public worship. Most of the bracketed verses are those that were bracketed in the 1928 Prayer Book, but a few changes have been made.

The psalms may be viewed directly from here, or the Bible Browser page may be used.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45

46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60

61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75

76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90

91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105

106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120

121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135

136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150

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