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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Theology of the Psalms.

1.

Most commentaries include a discussion of the theology of the Psalter and whole books have been written on the subject (e.g. Gunn 1956; Ringgren 1963; Kraus 1986; McCann 1993a ). It is deliberately omitted here for two reasons.

2.

First, there is no unitary theology of the psalms. Rather what is found is a number of different theologies and series of theologies. On the one hand, the theology of Ps 1 is very different from that of Ps 73 or 88 ; the universalism of some of the hymns is different from the intense nationalism of others; even the three history psalms present differing views of God's activity in Israel's history and Israel's response to God. On the other hand, the interpretation of the psalms, and hence their theological teaching, has changed over the centuries. It is doubtful whether we can recover the theology of those who wrote the psalms, even if ‘theology’ is the correct term to describe their ideas about God, for practice and worship were probably more important than explicit beliefs, and each stage in the editing and compilation of the Psalter introduced fresh theological ideas. Later, the psalms have been used by Jews and Christians in different contexts and with different meanings.

3.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the psalms are the poetry of prayer and praise, not the prose of dogma. The attraction and power of the psalms lies in imagery and language, rather than in a set of theological ideas. They kindle religion rather than define it. It is possible to derive a theology from liturgy and worship, but a better way is to allow the psalms to inspire and express religious devotion. But they come from a distant age, and a few problems remain.

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