Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Psalms and the New Testament

David Ker of Lingapotamic fame has posed a question on Psalms in a comment.
I guess my question about the Psalms is with regard to the key theological concepts of the New Testament. Grace, justification, the fruits of the Spirit, love. These all seem to be missing in the Psalms and thus we can't really embrace them as representative of our New Covenant experience. Second, the ideas of community and family seem lacking while nation seems to be overly prominent in ways that I don't know how to appropriate.
There are 7 positives in this question and 1 negative.

  • Grace, justification, the fruits of the Spirit, love.
  • New Covenant experience
  • community and family
  • nation
David closes with a desire to 'appropriate' but a resistance in the same.

I think David has raised a set of very important issues related to Covenant, the Chosen People, Anointing, Experience, and Universality. That he has raised them is also important - for he represents North American New Testament Evangelism in Africa as a translator. More particularly, he represents his own uniqueness in this field as wit and poet, and a graduate in Creative Literature rather than Theology.

I think there is sufficient depth to the Psalms that addresses every one of his feelings of what is lacking in the positives and also what is positive in his negative concern.

As a brief introduction in reverse order:
  • Nation - raises the scandal of particularity and the danger of parochialism, both issues must be faced by the nation and by those who are not of the nation.
  • Community and family - the Psalms embrace all peoples (e.g. 149) as do the prophets yet their story is of a particular 'family' (104-106).
  • New Covenant experience - raises the question of jealousy. Has Abel killed Cain? (139 for experience).
  • Grace, justification, the fruits of the Spirit, love. God initiates - this is grace (6,38,143), God is justified (51), the Spirit is manifest in the Anointed (2,16,18,69), and love of instruction (1,19,119) breathes the oil that flows down on the beard and collar of the clothing (133).
This is only a beginning of how we Gentiles might begin to better embrace the depth of the riches of the material we have appropriated or failed to appropriate appropriately that is contained and implied in the Psalter on its own and in the way it is used in the New Testament.

I would welcome other author's posts on this subject and the incompleteness of Christian formation that the questions raise. Equally I would welcome posts that challenge completeness in TNK as if love of God were exclusive to the NT. (Note the chiasm T-N-K-N-T - the Psalms are encircled!)


David Ker said...

Thanks for picking this up, Bob. Your experience in the Psalms is an amazing resource to me since I am a skimmer by comparison.

I'd like to look up your references and think more about what you've written.

Bob MacDonald said...

David, my tradition emphasizes the Psalms. I hardly touch the extent of the traditional emphasis. After three or four weeks of 'holiday' I am finding it hard to get back to the project.

But my reasons for studying the psalms are still there: 1. they are applied to the dialogue between the Son and the Father in Hebrews - still an astonishing usage to me. 2. My personal reading of them (i.e. outside of corporate worship) has strengthened my faith. 3. They represent real honesty in relationship. I am convinced that we cannot 'put on Christ' without such development. 4. As such, I see them as their own 'Torah' = instruction, inspired by יְהוָה so that we will really learn from him as well as from each other. 5. They are used more than any other book of the TNK in the NT - so they must have been important to the first believers.

With respect to nationalism, when you are reading, look for the clues that the Psalmist lets drop that get over the potential for parochialism. The Psalmist personally, Israel, Judah, Aaron/Levi, those that fear יְהוָה, then the nations, and even the whole created order take part in these prayers and praises. There are others than Psalm 149 that have these many players (e.g. 115:9-11 or psalm 22:23). Personally in Psalm 149, when I see the saints binding kings in chains, I think of it as for the kings' salvation rather than destruction - for all those things that rule us must be bound in the death of Christ so that we might be free to live for God. Admittedly, the Psalm could be read in a more narrow sense.