There is a growing interest in many Reformed Circles about Psalm Singing, particularly Exclusive Psalmody ( I am a staunch proponent of the practice). I will not be in this article trying to directly argue for Exclusive Psalmody (the best case for the practice can be read here: https://archive.org/details/PsalmsInWorship) but will rather be exploring the various Psalters which are available for singing and their strengths and weaknesses and which churches use them. Please also note I am not going into details about particular translations or renderings. I am just going to give a broad overview and offer my humble opinion as to which Psalter is best.
- The Psalter (commonly called the 1912 or the 1912 Psalter)
Originally commissioned and published by the United Presbyterian Church of North America it is now published with an added section of translations from the Dutch Psalms and twelve Spiritual Songs, and is use by many Dutch Reformed denominations. Which include the Heritage Reformed Congregations, Netherlands Reformed Congregations, Free Reformed Congregations, and the Hersteld Hervormde Kerk’s North American Congregation. It has been noted by church historian and avid Psalm Singer Frank Smith that this Psalter shows a significant departure in translation from more literal translations before it to a more figurative translation. In fact a minister once joked that their was only 4 accurate Psalms worthy of singing in the whole thing.
2. The Book of Psalms for Worship (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 2009)
The Book of Psalms for Worship has been introduced as the new Psalter for North America’s largest Exclusive Psalm singing denomination the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). The Psalter is currently in growing use among RPCNA Congregations and has been received warmly by many in the denomination, though not without problems. One RPCNA Presbytery objected to several Psalm selections and requested that in any subsequent printings that a number of Psalms would be revised to be more accurate. This Psalter features a number of new tunes from other cultures and even some chants. In my opinion the problem with this Psalter is despite the new revisions requested by some in the RPCNA, it still has some issues to be fixed and it is not as good of a translation as the Psalter before it, the Book of Psalms for Singing.
4. The Book of Psalms for Singing (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 1973)
This Psalter is probably the most commonly used Psalter in North America and served as the main Psalter for the RPCNA for nearly 40 years. It offers a wide variety of Psalm selections, interesting tunes and has gone through 17 reprints. This Psalter (like the 1912, and the Book of Psalms for Worship) is set up like a hymnal which means it looks fairly familiar to those who are transitioning from hymn singing and it is a popular Psalter for many churches that still sing hymns. The Psalter is known for being accurate, but it still has some renderings that are almost paraphrased, but overall not the worst Psalter one could use.
4. The Trinity Psalter (a supplemental Psalm book for hymn singing churches, produced as an effort between the Presbyterian Church in America and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, 1994)
The Trinity Psalter offers renderings from the Scottish Psalter as well as the RPCNA Book of Psalms for Singing. It was designed to be a cheap Psalter for many Congregations who sang Psalms and Hymns. It’s usage is spread throughout churches like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America and United Reformed Church. It is also used as the primary Psalter by one Exclusive Psalmody Congregation that I know of due to it’s availability and low cost.
5. The 1650 Scottish Psalter (The Church of Scotland, 1650)
The 1650 is what many Presbyterians consider the gold standard of Psalters. It’s renderings are very close to the original text (in fact in a few places that convey meaning better than the Psalter’s contemporary the King James Bible). It appears in either a words only version printed by the Trinitarian Bible Society or a Split Leaf version where different tunes can be used for each Psalm, something other Psalters don’t have. The main advantages that this Psalter has is language- the renderings are beautiful, accuracy- this Psalter is probably the most literal of all the translations listed here, and lastly history- for three centuries this was THE PSALTER most Presbyterian congregations and denominations used. It is still in use today by multiple Presbyterian denominations which includes: The Free Church of Scotland(Continuing), The Free Church of Scotland(some Congregations), The Presbyterian Reformed Church, The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, The Australian Free Church, The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, The Southern Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland(some congregations), also it is almost a guarantee that any Presbyterian Church which is Exclusive Psalmody will have a few people that want to make the move to the 1650. It is my personal favorite and the one I sing from, there is something special about the stirring Psalm renderings and tunes used in the book. My favorite Psalms and tunes would be 130 to Martyrdom, 23 to Bays of Harris, and 51 to Ottawa.