Reformation Interpretation of the Psalms

Reformation Interpretation of the Psalms January 5, 2019

Herman J. Selderhuis (ed)
Psalms 73150. Old Testament Volume 8, Reformation Commentary on Scripture.
Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2018.
Available at IVP.

By Jill Firth

In the Reformation Commentary on Scripture, we are invited to read the Scriptures with the Reformers, joining scholars in appreciating pre-critical exegesis within the context of patristic and medieval scholarship. The goals and perspectives of the series are introduced by Timothy George, the General Editor of the series, who also provides a historical context and insight into the patterns of Reformation, and schools of exegesis. A challenge for the editors was the fierce polemical rhetoric of the sixteenth century. Anti-Semitic and sexist comments have been excised from the text and placed in footnotes. The numbering of the Psalms differs between LXX and MT, but have been standardised to the MT in this volume.

Herman J. Selderhuis is a leading Reformation historian who is professor of church history and church polity at the Theological University Apeldoorn (The Netherlands) and director of Refo500, the international platform on projects relating to the sixteenth century Reformation. Selderhuis is the author and editor of several books, including John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms, and Psalms 172 in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture.

As in Psalms 172, Selderhuis provides an introduction to reading the psalms, beginning with Athanasius’ letter to Marcellinus and noting the spectrum of Christological interpretation between Luther and Calvin. While both interpreters emphasised the need to read Scripture theologically, Luther often moves quickly to a christological reading, while Calvin moves more deliberately from grammatical and historical considerations to christological and ecclesial interpretations.

The commentary’s selections explore theological themes such as human freedom, divine providence, and justice, often within a framework of God’s eternal covenant with his people. Interpreters in the Reformation typically read the Psalms in both literal (pertaining to Israel) and christological senses, as can be seen in their interpretations of the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120–143). Attention is given to figurative language and the range of human emotions in the Psalter. Selections from Karlstadt, D’Étaples, Cajetan, Bellarmine, Arminius, Lancelot Andrewes and Hooker join Luther, Calvin, Oecolampadius, Bucer, and other figures to expand our appreciation of Reformation scholarship on the Psalms.

Scripture passages are printed from the ESV, followed by a brief overview of key exegetical, theological and pastoral concerns of the Reformation writers. Excerpts from the Reformers are then printed with topical headings. The volume includes a map of Europe, a timeline of the Reformation locating key people and events, and biographical sketches of relevant figures and works. Sources for the excerpts are given, and an index of authors and writings enables the reader to locate relevant segments. A subject index and Scripture index complete the helps for the student or researcher.

George Herbert refers to the Scriptures as “a mass of strange delights” which can be appreciated by the use of a commentary, “ploughing with this, and his own meditations, he enters into the secrets of God treasured in the Holy Scripture.” The series is a valuable addition for scholars, preachers, and anyone who seeks a deeper appreciation of the Psalms. Theological libraries will find this series to be a basic reference.

Jill Firth is a Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne. She holds a PhD in Psalms studies.

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