Christianity 201

September 13, 2021

What’s the Deal with Psalm 151?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:51 pm
Tags: , , ,

There’s only 150 Psalms, right? And number 150 caps off the Bibles music- and singing-related book with a crescendo of musical instruments. So what is Psalm 151.

Actually, it’s mentioned in a scholarly work called the Psalms of the Pharisees (just to make it more interesting, but we don’t have time for that right now) and the five are also referred to as the Five Apocryphal Psalms of David.

It’s found in the Greek Old Testament (commonly called the Septuagint) but isn’t part of the common canon (meaning the official collection) of scripture used by Protestants and Evangelicals. It’s found in some Catholic Bibles, and is officially recognized as part of the canon by major Orthodox denominations.

It is not sanctioned by Jewish scholars.

Specifically, it is a poetic midrash historically tied to 1 Samuel 16-17

The version of it on Biblia.com states that it is quoting the NRSV version of it, but BibleGateway.com does not yield any results when you type Psalm 151 and NRSV into a search. The full text on Biblia reads,

This psalm is ascribed to David as his own composition (though it is outside the number), after he had fought in single combat with Goliath.

1 I was small among my brothers,
and the youngest in my father’s house;
I tended my father’s sheep.

2 My hands made a harp;
my fingers fashioned a lyre.

3 And who will tell my Lord?
The Lord himself; it is he who hears.

4 It was he who sent his messenger
and took me from my father’s sheep,
and anointed me with his anointing oil.

5 My brothers were handsome and tall,
but the Lord was not pleased with them.

6 I went out to meet the Philistine,
and he cursed me by his idols.

7 But I drew his own sword;
I beheaded him, and took away disgrace from the people of Israel.

However, that version is not the only version. This is discussed on the website BibleOdyssey.org:

…Greek Psalm 151 was not a simple combination of the two psalms we now see in the scroll but an edited version.  It lacks some essential elements that are in the original Hebrew and rearranges a few phrases in the Greek version verses 4 and 5. You can see this by comparing the psalm to the story in 1 Samuel. Psalm 151 shortens the story of Samuel’s choosing David in order to merge the two poems.

But the most interesting change is that the Greek version omits six phrases from the original Hebrew. (Consequently, the Old Latin and Syriac translations also lack them.) The six phrases, omitted in the Greek translation, appeared in the original between verses 2 and 3 to read:

Thus have I rendered glory to the Lord,
thought I within my soul.
The mountains do not witness to him,
nor do the hills proclaim;
The trees have cherished my words
and the flock my works.

…Whichever version one reads, Psalm 151 lifts in relief the moving story of David’s selection by Samuel and his victory over the Philistines as epitomized in his slaying Goliath. That victory anticipates his reign over the United Kingdom of northern Israel and southern Judah in the tenth century BCE. Whether in two parts or amalgamated, the psalm comes last in the various Psalters in which it appears. Perhaps it gained its place at the climax of the Psalter because of the growing belief at the time that David was responsible for the entire Psalter, whether he actually composed all of the psalms or not…

The website ReasonsForHopeJesus.com is emphatic that,

No! Psalm 151 should not be included in our Bibles. Why? Because our Bibles only contain Scripture that has been deemed officially part of the ancient sacred texts, which are inspired by God.

However, that said, many non-Catholics find the apocryphal books helpful in various ways. I and II Macabees continues the history found in books such as I and II Samuel and I and II Chronicles. Some have found the Proverbs-like wisdom in books like Sirach and Tobit helpful in personal relationships and the raising of children; and in knowing more about God’s dealings with his people.

To that end, the answer to the question, ‘Should we read it?’ is the same as with other apocryphal texts, and that is: Start looking at those only after you’ve fully digested the common 66-book canon of the Old and New Testaments.

But if you’re reading a study Bible that mentions the text as you progress through I Samuel, then it’s okay to pause and read it as you would read the study notes in that Bible.

A more detailed commentary on the Psalm is available at BibleWise.com.


Tomorrow, I promise we’ll get back to more familiar territory when it comes to our key study texts!

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