Biblical-Theological Resources on the Psalter

This summer our Adult Bible Fellowship, Wellum’s Couples, has been studying the book of Psalms. Attempting to read the Psalter as a canonical unit, instead of 150 disjointed praises and laments, Dr. Wellum has been showing us the themes and the biblical-theological connections established in the Psalms.  This weekend, I had the privilege of teaching Psalm 24.

In preparation for the lesson, I considered a number of books and articles that proved helpful in reading the Psalter canonically.  In contrast to the higher-critical scholarship done in the later nineteenth and twentieth century, the resources listed below mark a more recent turn in Psalm scholarship, seeking to point out the unity and structure of the Psalter. Not all the resources are equally helpful or detailed, but they are a place to start if you are desirous of reading the Psalter as one, God-inspired canonical unit.

Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty (IVP: 2003) pp. 194–202.

Dempster sees David as the main idea in the Psalter: “[The Psalter’s] fivefold structure echoes the first section of the canon, the five books of Moses. Seventy-three of the psalms have the name ‘David’ in their titles, and Davidic psalms are strategically placed in each book of the Psalter. The Psalter opens with a flurry of Davidic psalms and closes with a similar grouping, Ps. 3-9; 11-32; 34-41; 138-145 (194).

Jamie Grant, “Singing the Cover Version: Psalms, Reinterpretation and Biblical Theology in Acts 1–4” in The Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology.

Grant’s journal article attempts to show how NT usage of the Psalter in Acts 1-4 could serve as a helpful paradigm for reading the Scriptures typologically. Grant also has another book,The King as Exemplar: The Function of Deuteronomy’s Kingship Law in the Shaping of the Book of Psalms (SBL: 2004), that looks helpful for reading the Psalter well.

Geoffrey W. Grogan, Psalms (Eerdmans, 2008)

Brand new commentary on the Psalms in the The Two Horizons OT Commentary series. Grogan spends the first half of the book commenting on individual psalms, and the second half considering the Psalter thematically, biblical-theologically, and then with regard to contemporary issues in evangelical theology. The second half of the book seems very helpful in drawing out themes in the Psalter, but it does not do as well in helping to understand the internal structure of the Psalms themselves.

Paul House, “The God Who Rules,” in Old Testament Theology (IVP:1998), p. 402–23.

Though only a chapter, this may have been the most helpful treatment. Citing John Walton’s JETS article on the Psalter (1991), House writes: “Psalms displays a ‘content agenda’ that includes an introduction (Ps 1-2), David’s conflict with Saul (Ps 3-41), David’s Reign (Ps 42-72), the Assyrian crisis (Ps 73-89), reflection on Jerusalem’s destruction (Ps 90-106), reflection on the return to the land (Ps 107-145) and concluding praises (146-150). These divisions and contentment statements keep faith with the shape of the Psalms ans offer ways by which major theological themes may be discussed. They also allow for both essential diversity and necessary unity in Psalms interpretation” (405).

David C. Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of the Psalms  (Sheffield Academic:1997).

Mitchell’s work underscores the eschatological trajectory in the Psalms in general; chapter 2 considers the arrangement of the Psalter in particular. Recognizing “the headings and content of individual psalms, the sequence of the Psalms, the arrangement of the internal collections and the five-book arrangement” (89), Mitchell attempts to construct a reading the Psalter that is both tied to history and eschatological in emphasis. He sees Zechariah 9-14 as a key to understanding the Psalms, and he spends much time developing this intratextual link. Some of his connections seem speculative, but his work challenges us the reader to consider the Psalter more carefully.

Marvin Tate’s article in Peter Craigie’s Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms (Word: 2004) p. 438–72.

Found in the 2004 update of Peter Craigie’s commentary, Southern Seminary’s own Psalm scholar writes a helpful piece, tracing recent scholarship on the Psalter. He writes: “There is too much evidence of intention and design to assume that the Psalter was simply thrown together in a jumble out of disparate texts without regard to placement or design. We need not, and should not, expect the process to reflected in the Psalms to meet the standards of a modern artistically structured texts. A fully “systematic” redaction will not be found, but this need not deter us from a careful analysis of intertextual relationships between continguous psalms in pairs, clusters, blocks, books, and divisions, as well as the psalter as whole (468).

Soli Deo Gloria, ds