Title & Purpose

Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:

for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand, Joel 2:1.

All quotations from the Scriptures will be from the Authorised Version - the best and most accurate English translation of the Scriptures.

Please see sermons down the left hand column of the Blog about why the Authorised Version is the best and most accurate English translation of the Scriptures

and why we reject the many perversions of the Scriptures, including those so beloved of many neo-evangelicals at present such as ESV & NKJV.

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Monday, 21 January 2013

Over a dozen reasons why the argument for Exclusive Psalmody doesn't stand up, Part 14

14. The metrical translation of the Psalms is not an accurate translation. 

The 150 Psalms of Scripture are Hebrew poetry. There are written in prose and not in metre. For the Psalms to be sung in congregational worship today they have to be changed to metrical rhythm. In doing so there are many changes that take place. 

Numerous additional words are added to suit the particular metre to which the Psalm is set. A very obvious example of this can easily be referenced. The longest of all the Psalms in the Bible is Psalm 119.  If you paste the words of the English translation from the Authorised Version into a word processing document and do a simple word count, it will tell you that there are 2,621 words in the English translation of this particular Psalm. Do the same with the Scottish metrical version of Psalm 119 and the word count is 3,090. The Scottish metrical version of Psalm 119 has an additional 469 extra words! Amazingly, almost twenty percent of the metrical version is made up of additional words as compared with the Authorised Version!

Yet the exponents of Exclusive Psalmody foolishly persist in pressing the point that they are singing inspired praise! They are not! Who inspired these almost twenty percent extra words?

If someone came along and set down two copies of the Bible and told you that both are an accurate and faithful translation of the original but one has twenty percent extra words; you would be forgiven for seriously doubting their claims. It is simply not possible that both could be accurate and faithful when one has so many extra words. How much more is your credulity stretched to breaking point when this is true about one psalm, albeit, the longest of psalms, never mind all 150 psalms?

There are many extra words in the metrical version of the Psalms that have no corresponding word in the Hebrew original. At least when the Authorised Version does this, to assist the readability of the English translation, the translators put the additional words in italics. If you followed this practice with the metrical version you would have no end of words in italics. On average every third word in Psalm 119 of the metrical version and this is in addition to those which the Authorised Version places in italics. 

The metrical Psalms are therefore actually a paraphrase and not a translation. The compilers of the metrical version were balancing a translation with metrical rhythm. Their chief concern is, not exclusively the accuracy of the translation, but rather the balancing act of making a translation and also fitting the translation into the particular chosen metre. Hence the additional words. If accuracy of translation was the chief concern then it would not matter how many or how few words were employed as long as the translation was accurate and faithful to the original.

This evidently makes the metrical version of the Psalms a paraphrase. The metrical version contains the sense of the original but it is not a direct translation. The exclusive psalmist is actually singing words of human composition! Yet this is the very thing they rebuke others for doing and even make it an issue of whether they will fellowship with a fellow believer. 

Furthermore, Exclusive Psalmists reject, as legitimate items for praise, similar paraphrases of other portions of Scripture, such as that which John Calvin did with the Lord's Prayer. This also begs the question: why not sing the Scottish Paraphrases which are based upon Scripture in the same way as the metrical psalms are sung? There is really no difference!

They are doing the very thing that they profess to be rejecting and condemning others for doing!

Previous posts on this subject:
1. The terms 'Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs' inEphesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16 do not refer to the 150 Psalms of the Book of Psalms.
2. Old Testament and New Testament saints did not live by this exclusive psalmist rule.
3. The angels and glorified saints did not sing the psalms.
4. There are possible remnants of hymns/canticles/doxologies quoted in the New Testament.
5. Progressive Revelation argues against Exclusive Psalmody.
6. Exclusive Psalmody leads to different levels of worship.
7. The Exclusive Psalmist's position requires them to reject ever singing the 'very best song' in public worship.
8. If 'inspired praise' is required then an equally valid argument could be made for 'inspired praying' and 'inspired preaching' in public worship.
9. The early New Testament Church did not believe in Exclusive Psalmody.
10. The Reformers at Geneva did not believe or practice Exclusive Psalmody.
11. The Puritans did not all believe in Exclusive Psalmody.
12. The Westminster Divines did not believe in Exclusive Psalmody.
13. Scottish Presbyterianism has not always believed in Exclusive Psalmody.


Thomas said...

Is it not true that the Scottish Psalter was treated to the most rigorous of tests, it is known that each verse was read to the Westminster Assembly as the divines checked the accuracy with their own Hebrew texts open before them. The link is to a sermon which would contest adequately the sentiments of this article toward the Scottish Psalter.

Rev Brian McClung said...


This I do know that when you make a comparison between the Hebrew original, the Authorised Version and the Scottish Metrical version there are serious inconsistencies.

For example - let's take the opening section of Psalm 119.
In verse 1 there are 15 words in the Authorised Version; there are 6 in Hebrew prose and there are 24 words in the Scottish Metrical version. There are no equivalent Hebrew words in the original for the words: 'straight' 'most' & 'holy' and for the phrase 'and do not stray' which appear in the Metrical version.

In verse 2 there are 15 in the A.V.; 6 in Hebrew; 23 in the Metrical version. In this verse as in verse 1 there are no Hebrew equivalents for 'inclined' 'living God' & 'and mind' which again appear in the metrical version. Furthermore the Hebrew word translated 'testimonies' in the A.V. is different from that translated elsewhere as 'statutes', cf.v5. Yet the Metrical version chooses to mix these words up and to translate them in both places as 'statutes'.

In verse 7 there are 16 words in the A.V.; 6 in Hebrew; 22 in the Metrical version. There is no Hebrew equivalent for the words 'bless' & 'pure'

In verse 8 there are 10 words in the A.V.; 7 in Hebrew; and 21 in Metrical version. Again there are no Hebrew equivalents for 'all firmly resolved have I' & 'most gracious God'.

How can this then be described as a consistent translation? If the use of these extra words is excused as expanding the meaning of the original Hebrew word then it begs the question why not do this with each and every word, Instead with just some words?

This excuse does stand true for the insertion of the phrase 'most gracious God' in verse 8. There is clearly no wrong in singing such words but it can't be claimed that this is part of a faithful translation.

The reason for these extra words is to suit the metre of the Psalm and not accuracy of translation. The Metrical Psalms are therefore a paraphrase, pure and simple!

Brian McClung

Thomas said...

Rev McClung

There are of course those who would and did disagree with your statement, "This I do know that when you make a comparison between the Hebrew original, the Authorised Version and the Scottish Metrical version there are serious inconsistencies."

In reading your previous posts on the subject of EP I see that you have used the names and statements of those honorable divines of the past to support certain sentiments,I trust you would permit me the liberty to do the same on this issue of the accuracy of the Scottish Psalter.

The below statement is from the Letter to the Reader in an edition of the 1650 Psalter in 1673, subscribed by a number of divines.

...and to us David's Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of the Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which the Apostle useth, Ephes 5.19, Col 3.16. But then 'tis meet that these divine composures should be represented to us in a fit translation, lest we want David, in David; while his holy ecstasies are delivered in a flat and bald expression. The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the Original of any that we have seen, and runneth with such a fluent sweetness, that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance; Some of us having used it already,with great confort and satisfaction."

Subscribed by Thomas Manton,Henry Langley,John Owen, William Jenkyn,James Innes,Thomas Watson,Thomas Lye, Matthew Poole, John Milward,John Chester, George Cokayn, Matthew Meade,Robert Francklin, Thomas Dooelittle,Thomas Vincent, Nathanael vincent, also Edmund Calamy, James Janeway.

McCheyne also stated that "the metrical version of the Psalms should be read or sung through at least once in the year. It is truly an admirable translation from the Hebrew..."

As others have said, " We must not assume that when the metrical Psalter uses more words than the prose, that they are simply made up words. Generally speaking, when they use more words to fit the metre, the metrical translators are normally drawing out more of what is actual in the Hebrew. That is why competent authorities confirm that it is an accurate version and even hostile critics of the style frequently concede the accuracy."

Every Blessing

Rev Brian McClung said...


I will happily upload your comment with the quotations that it contains.

I think the interesting words of that quote are 'The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the Original of any that we have …'. That is a far cry from saying that it is an exact translation. Something that is near can still be a distance away.

Again with R M McCheyne the metrical version may indeed be 'an admirable translation from the Hebrew' but that doesn't make it an exact translation.

You did not attribute the third quotation that you have used. Who said this? It is an interesting quotation for a number of reasons:

1. Its use of the words 'Generally speaking'. This is an obvious acknowledgement that there are words in the metrical version that do not have an Hebrew equivalent.
Let's take again one of the examples that I give in an earlier reply - Psalm 119:8. The metrical version reads: That I will keep thy statutes all/firmly resolved have I/O do not then, most gracious God/forsake me utterly
There are no equivalents for 'most gracious God' in the Hebrew. None of the seven words could have this sentiment drawn out of them. This must be one of those places where 'Generally speaking must come in!

2. It begs the question then why not treat each word on the same basis and 'draw out' what is supposed to be in the actual Hebrew.
If the word 'keep' in Psalm 119:8 [AV] is expanded in the metrical version, as you claim, to read: That I will keep thy statutes all/firmly resolved have I… then why not be consistent and translate this form of the Hebrew verb the same way in the other 7 places were the same form of the verb appears in Psalm 119, namely vv17,44,55,88,101,134,146? In none of these 7 other places is the so-called expanded version employed. Why is this so? The sole reason why this doesn't happen consistently is that the metrical version is governed by the metre which doesn't allow it in these other 7 places. It is not faithfulness of translation, it is the selected metre that is ruling. Therefore the metrical version is an inconsistent translation, as in some cases it draws out the meaning of the words and in other cases it doesn't. This makes the metrical version a paraphrase in other words!

3. Who are the 'competent authorities that confirm that it is an accurate version and who are the hostile critics of the style frequently concede the accuracy? Would any of them by any chances be exclusive psalmists who have a vested interest in saying so?

Brian McClung

Nick said...

I'm working through this issue now, so I appreciate these follow-up comments from both of you.

I'm working backwards through your 15 reasons, so you may have already answered this. Do you sing Psalms at your church, and if so do you sing from a Psalter?

Thank you.

Rev Brian McClung said...


Yes Nick we do sing Psalms in our Church, occasionally but not exclusively. They are from the Scottish Metrical Version.

I sing psalms, usually at the commencement of the Lord's day morning service, although sometimes like the most recent Lord's day we sang a paraphrase.

I sing psalms for a specific reason. I have outlined this in the fourth argument. Here is an one sentence summary. The Psalms, along with the rest of the revelation that accompanied the Old Testament dispensation, are best suited to teach the holiness of God and the sinfulness of the sinner.

At the commencement of worship on a Lord's day I certainly desire to cultivate a consciousness that we are coming into the presence of an infinitely holy God.

However I also want to sing of the fulness of the Gospel in our praise and that is why we sing hymns.

Brian McClung