The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

19
Through
Jesus Christ Our Lord

We have surveyed the history of the use of the Psalms, and in chapters 15 through 18 we explored from a Christian perspective a variety of issues that the use of the Psalms implies. Now it is time to raise the ultimate normative theological question: How should we use the Psalms? What does God intend us to do with the Psalms?

There can be as many answers to this question as there are belief systems. For those who are convinced that God does not exist, the question is nonsense; for those who are not sure that God exists, or are fairly certain we cannot know whether God exists, the question again will be beside the mark. For those numberless folk across the world who adhere to faiths other than the Jewish or Christian ones, the question will be irrelevant; these folk might read the Psalms as Christians might read the Hindu Bhagavad-gita, as significant religious poetry of an alien faith but irrelevant for their understanding of God. Superstitious folk of whatever declared faith may put passages of the Psalms to occult or manipulative use (see the beginning of chapter 15).

For secularized Jews, the Psalms may be read as a precious portion of the Jewish tradition (compare the remarks in chapter 9 on the use of the Psalms in secular contexts by Israeli Jews). For those whose religious outook has emerged out of the Christian tradition but who now do not derive their revelation of God from the Bible, such as Quakers and Unitarians, particular psalms may be moving testimonies of a specific tradition about God, but the Psalms are not authoritative.

Again, there are a variety of faith communities that in different ways find authority in the Hebrew Scriptures or in the Christian Bible. For some Orthodox Jews the answer to the question “What does God intend us to do with the Psalms?” would be “Recite them in Hebrew.” But this is not practical for most Christians. And for the great majority of Christian communities that find their authority in the Bible, there will be a variety of answers to the question.

Let us remind ourselves of the total situation. What we have is a series of Hebrew poems that were vehicles for the worship of God for the Old Testament people, composed for the most part between the eleventh and the fifth centuries

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