2. INTERPRETING THE PSALMS:
SOME CLUES FROM THEIR
HISTORY AND CONTENT

The interpreter of the psalms who takes them up to find afresh their lively meaning for contemporary faith does so with some advantages that are not necessarily present when other parts of the Old Testament are in view. The primary one is their general familiarity. Surely members of the community of faith know the psalms as well as or better than any part of Scripture, with the possible exception of the Gospels. That does not mean the familiarity is detailed, total, or highly informed. Indeed some of the psalms are quite unfamiliar and startling to persons when they first read them. All of us, however—even those on the outer fringes of religious involvement and commitment—have encountered the psalms sufficiently to feel their pulse, experience some of their vibrations, and know places within the Psalter that have some special meaning and importance for us as well as for others. Even persons who have little knowledge of the Old Testament or feel uncomfortable within its borders may feel at least somewhat at home with the psalms.

One of the most popular forms of publishing part of the Scriptures is the pocket New Testament with the Book of Psalms at the back. One can raise some questions about such an abbreviated collection of Scriptures that includes one testament and only one book out of the Old Testament, but I think appending the Psalter to the New Testament is a more positive and natural act than such questions about partiality and incompleteness would suggest. Placing the psalms after the New Testament arises out of the recognition that they in some sense provide a vehicle for responding to the good news of the loving and gracious activity of God that is proclaimed in the gospel. And here we come upon one of the

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