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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The steps of a good man

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” – Psalm 37:23 [bold emphasis mine, rlv]

Question. Who is “he” and who is “his” in the second line of Psalm 37:23? What is the antecedent (or antecedents) of these pronouns?[i]

The question seems to be whether “he” and “his” refers to the Lord to the “good man.” Grammatically the pronouns seem ambiguous, so that “he” and “his” could be either the man or the Lord. Perhaps it is thus written so that we might know that the good way ordered by the Lord is pleasing both to the Lord who orders it and to the man who walks in it. It might be understood of God’s satisfaction in the good man’s life (directed by God according to God’s way), or it might be understood of the good man’s acceptance of and enjoyment in God’s path for him. Certainly there is ultimate truth in this fact.

Nevertheless, I think the primary meaning is this: The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and the Lord delighteth in the Lord’s way that the man is walking (i.e. the way the Lord has ordered and the man is walking). This interpretation reaches back to the closest noun as the antecedent of the pronouns,[ii] and fits well with the context and other scriptures that speak similar truths (e.g. Psalm 18:19; Proverbs 16:9).

The context of verses 22 through 24 shows first a contrast of persons in verse 22 – those “such as be blessed of him and they that be cursed of him.” The 23rd verse adds “good” in italics to clarify which of the two are spoken of, which matches the one spoken of in verse 24. Two things stand out about this type of person: (1.) His steps are ordered or established by God; and (2.) He is upheld by the hand of God.

Matthew Henry affords us the following thoughts on the verse:
“Observe, God orders the steps of a good man; not only his way in general, by his written word, but his particular steps, by the whispers of conscience, saying, This is the way, walk in it. He does not always show him his way at a distance, but leads him step by step, as children are led, and so keeps him in a continual dependence upon his guidance; and this, (1.) Because he delights in his way, and is well pleased with the paths of righteousness wherein he walks. The Lord knows the way of the righteous (Ps. 1:6), knows it with favour, and therefore directs it. (2.) That he may delight in his way. Because God orders his way according to his own will, therefore he delights in it; for, as he loves his own image upon us, so he is well pleased with what we do under his guidance.”
Perhaps it is best not to pick over the verse like a wake of buzzards picking over a dead possum. Albert Barnes rightfully recognizes that “The general idea is that he is the object of the divine favor, and is under the care of God.” Charles Spurgeon speaks with passionate insight, favoring us the following perspective: “He delighteth in his way. As parents are pleased with the tottering footsteps of their babes. All that concerns a saint is interesting to his heavenly Father.” (Cf. Matthew 10:29-31)


[i] Antecedent in grammar is “a word, phrase, or clause, usually a substantive, that is replaced by a pronoun or other substitute later, or occasionally earlier, in the same or in another, usually subsequent, sentence.”
[ii] Our English sentence structure seems to favor this. “A colon instead of a semicolon may be used between independent clauses when the second sentence explains, illustrates, paraphrases, or expands on the first sentence.” The Lord is mentioned, followed by a colon (:), explaining detail specific to the immediately preceding “Lord”. Most often the antecedent of the pronoun will be the closest noun, but there are plenty of exceptions in English. This is just my interpretation of the rules related to this sentence. Take it for what it is or is not worth!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Categories of Psalm Superscriptions

Since the superscriptions of the Psalms are “valuable guides” that “give accurate and reliable information,” categorizing them may be helpful to the Bible student for gleaning information and understanding. In An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books (Revised and Expanded, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007, pp. 143-145), C. Hassell Bullock says concerning the titles or superscriptions of the Psalms that “We can distinguish five different categories among the titles in the Hebrew (and English) Bible”:
  1. Authorship
  2. Historical origin
  3. Literary features
  4. Liturgical use
  5. Musical notations
In his “Introduction to the Psalms,” F. A. Leslie (The Abingdon Bible Commentary, New York, NY: Abingdon Press, 1929, pp. 509ff.) gives 4 categories:
  1. Technical designations
  2. Explanation of purpose
  3. Cultic (i.e., with reference to religious rites and ceremonies)
  4. Musical references
Using these and other categorizations as a guide – and not being a scholar – I have developed the following categories that work for my simpler understanding.
  1. Personal information
  2. Historical information
  3. Functional information
  4. Ceremonial information
  5. Musical information
Personal information. Information about people. The superscriptions with personal information are those that relate the psalm to a particular person – A Psalm of David, A Psalm of Asaph, A Psalm for Solomon, etc. These may indicate the author (as in the case of David; Cf. Matthew 22:42-45, Acts 1:16), or perhaps someone the psalm is written for or dedicated to (Cf. Psalm 72). More than one person may be mentioned, but there is usually one central figure. Many of the superscriptions fit this category.

Historical information.  The superscriptions with historical information establish the setting of the time when or circumstances under which the psalm was written. There are 14 of these superscriptions, all of which are Psalms by David – 3, 7, 18, 30, 34, 35, 51, 52, 56, 57, 59, 60, 63 and 142.

Functional information. The superscriptions with functional information outline a genre, use or purpose – such as describing the psalm as prayer (86, 90, 102, 142), praise (100, 145), thanksgiving (99, in the Septuagint). The maschil superscriptions apparently mean an instructive or didactic hymn. In Psalm 47:7 the related term sakal is rendered “with understanding.”

Ceremonial information. The superscriptions with ceremonial information suggest relevant times and uses for the psalm. For example, Psalm 92 is “A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day.” Psalm 38and Psalm 70 are “to bring to remembrance.”

Musical information. The superscriptions with musical information are believed to contain notes on how psalm should be played and/or sung. These references are somewhat obscure to us today. For example, six superscriptions – 4, 6, 54, 55, 67, 76 – contain the prepositional phrase “on Neginoth,” meaning songs with instrumental accompaniment or “on stringed instruments,” as it in rendered in Habakkuk 3:19. Another musical term is “upon Sheminith.” In Notes on the Bible, Albert Barnes tells us “The word Sheminith - שׁמינית shemı̂ynı̂yth - means properly ‘the eighth,’ and corresponds exactly to our word ‘octave,’ the eighth.”

The categories are not mutually exclusive, but overlapping. The Psalm 54 superscription illustrates this well, containing four of the five categories: “To the chief Musician[i] on Neginoth [musical], Maschil [functional], A Psalm of David [personal], when the Ziphims came and said to Saul, Doth not David hide himself with us? [historical].”

Perhaps my growing awareness of the meaning of these superscriptions will provide some help to the readers of this blog.


[i] “To the chief Musician” may also contain some musical reference, but might be considered dedicatory as well.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Commentary on the Psalms

Psalm 135:13 Thy name, O Lord, endureth for ever; and thy memorial, O Lord, throughout all generations.

Below are links to some online commentaries (and related material) on The Psalter, the Old Testament book of 150 Psalms. Suffice to say I do not recommend everything in the commentaries.

Top 5 Commentaries on the Book of Psalms -- "The book is actually a collection of 150 individual songs composed over a period of approximately 1000 years, from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the post-exilic period (Psalm 126)."

Teach Us to Pray

“Some of the psalms of praise are very short, others very long, to teach us that, in our devotions, we should be more observant how our hearts work than how the time passes and neither overstretch ourselves by coveting to be long nor over-stint ourselves by coveting to be short, but either the one or the other as we find in our hearts to pray.” -- Matthew Henry, from his commentary on Psalm 105

Sunday, May 28, 2017

My faith has found a resting place

1. My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device or creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

Refrain: I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

2. Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul I come to Him,
He’ll never cast me out. [Refrain]

3. My heart is leaning on the Word,
The written Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior’s name,
Salvation through His blood. [Refrain]

4. My great Physician heals the sick,
The lost He came to save;
For me His precious blood He shed,
For me His life He gave. [Refrain]

Author Eliza Edmunds Hewitt was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 28, 1851. She was educated in the public schools and after graduation from high school became a teacher. However, she developed a spinal malady which cut short her career and made her a shut-in for many years. During her convalescence, she studied English literature. She felt a need to be useful to her church and began writing poems for the primary department. She went on to teach Sunday school, take an active part in the Philadelphia Elementary Union and become Superintendent of the primary department of Calvin Presbyterian Church. According to Hymnary.Org, some of her songs were written under the pseudonym Lidie H. Edmunds. Find-A-Grave says she was a cousin of hymn writer Edgar Page Stites. He wrote the hymn Trusting Jesus used on page 573 in the Cooper Edition of The Sacred Harp.

I used words by her for a tune I titled HEWITT in her honor:

1. O come and walk the pilgrim way.
Beside the cross an open door!
Tho millions come theres room for more.
Tis Christ who calls you, calls today,
O come and walk the pilgrim way.

2. O come and walk the pilgrim way.
From Calvrys blessed starting place
Begins a walk of faith by grace.
Tis Christ who calls you, calls today,
O come and walk the pilgrim way.

3. O come and walk the pilgrim way.
In fellowship with Christ the King
We walk, and loud his praises sing.
Tis Christ who calls you, calls today,
O come and walk the pilgrim way.

Eliza Edmunds Hewitt died April 24, 1920, and is buried in the Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was surprised to find out after I had chosen her words for my tune, completed it and titled the tune HEWITT (I thought about calling it Pilgrim Way), that this song was finished on the anniversary of her death.

[Much of the bio from Hymnary.Org]

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sinners

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

3 Facts About Sin

We inherit sin and death. It is part and parcel of humanity.
Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

We come into the world not only prone to sin, but sinners by nature.
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

We are unaware of our desperate sin condition until God reveals it.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

3 Ways People Relate to sin

Some people embrace and enjoy sin. This is a dismissal of the principle of sin, at least in their own cases, as well as the heinousness of it. (Cf. Hebrews 11:25)

Some people excuse and ignore sin. This is a recognition of sin as sinfulness, but ignoring it as sin when possible and excusing it when necessary. (Cf. Romans 2:15)

Some people recognize and repent of sin. This is a recognition of sin, as well as, by God’s grace, sorrowing over it unto repentance. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10)

Random facts and figures about the Psalms

When preparing an answer for the question about superscriptions in the Psalms I did some research which confirmed information and ideas I had, plus gathering new information. Some of that information is placed in this blog post for a source of information for others.

Hebrew Name: תְּהִלִּים‎‎ or תהילים‎, Tehillim, (meaning “praises” or “songs of praise”)
Septuagint Name:  Ψαλμοὶ (plural of psalm, meaning, perhaps originally, “a song sung to the harp”) (Apparently called Psalterion in the Codex Alexandrinus, which I have not seen)
Latin Name: Liber Psalmorum (book of Psalms)
English Name: Psalms (meaning “sacred songs” to most English-speakers)

Though not noticeable in the English Bible, the Book of Psalms is usually considered to be divided into five sections, as follows:
  • Book I, Psalms 1–41 (v. 13 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.)
  • Book II, Psalms 42–72 (v. 19-20 And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended)
  • Book III, Psalms 73–89 (v. 52 Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen.)
  • Book IV, Psalms 90–106 (v. 48 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord.)
  • Book V, Psalms 107–150 (v. 6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.)
Thus, each book closes with a benediction of blessing, praise and/or agreement (amen). Some students of the Bible believe this five section division is designed on the basis of the five-fold division of the Torah (the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

There are 150 biblical psalms in the Old Testament book of Psalms. 34 of the Psalms carry no introductory inscription whatsoever. 116 of them have some kind of title or superscription.[i] 16 of these 116 have an inscription which is only a general or musical reference such as “psalm” or “prayer.” 100 of these 116 Psalms mention the name of the author – or in some cases possibly a person it was written “to” or “for”.[ii] Of the superscribed Psalms:
In addition to these, others are mentioned. “Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite” (1 Chronicles 15:19; 1 Kings 4:31) is mentioned in one of the psalms that is “for the sons of Korah.” “To Jeduthun” (1 Chronicles 16:40-42; 1 Chronicles 25:1) is mentioned in two of the psalms of David and one of the psalms of Asaph. King Saul is mentioned in the superscriptions of 5 psalms – Psalm 18, Psalm 52, Psalm 54, Psalm 57, and Psalm 59.

Psalms are attributed to David elsewhere in the Bible, which confirm or add information (since four are not attributed to him in the superscriptions in the book of Psalms).
Bob Utley cites perceived contradictions against the superscriptions being part of the inspired original, writing, “It seems that at least two of them disagree with other canonical texts.”[iv]
  • Title Psalm 34 vs. 1 Samuel 21:10ff – the name of the Philistine king is different, Abimelech vs. Achish. An objection based on name differences is fairly light, considering how many people in the Bible had more than one name. But, most likely in this case, Achish is the name of the king and Abimelech is a title for Philistine kings (Cf. Genesis 20:2; Genesis 26:1).
  • Title of Psalm 56 vs. 1 Samuel 21:10 – Utley asks “how did David get to Gath?” I must admit that I neither understand this objection nor see any contradiction.
  • Title of Psalm 60 vs. 2 Samuel 8:13 and 1 Chronicles 18:12 – the number of enemies killed. It is common for modern scholars to claim numerical discrepancies in the text of the Old Testament are copyist errors and move on (though not the best way, imo). Here Utley applies a higher standard to the Psalm superscription than he would to the rest of the Old Testament. Others have dealt with the discrepancies in various ways. For example, Johann Peter Lange writes, “The difference in numbers also (here and in Chron. eighteen thousand, in Psalm 60. twelve thousand) is unimportant; there is no need to suppose an error of copyist in the last passage (Ew.) to explain it. It receives a simple explanation from the various statements about the battle in different authorities. In the last German-French war the reports of the numbers of killed or prisoners often differed by thousands. How much more might such differences arise at a time when so exact countings were not provided for.” Both Ellicott and the Pulpit Commentary see it as two separate battles in the same war. The so-called discrepancies of these passages extend beyond the superscription of Psalm 60, and have been dealt with by numerous conservative commentators.
The superscriptions of the Psalms in the Septuagint use the following words (see below) for songs, which compare interestingly with terminology found in Ephesians 5:19 (ψαλμοις, υμνοις and ωδαις πνευματικαις) and in Colossians 3:16 (ψαλμοις, υμνοις and ωδαις πνευματικαις).[v]
  • ψαλμος (Psalms 3-9, 11-15, 19-25, 29-31, 38-41, 43-44, 46-51, 62-68, 73, 75-77, 79-85, 87-88, 92, 94, 98-101, 108-110, 139-141, 143)
  • συνεσιν (Psalms 32, 42, 44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, 142)
  • υμνοις (Psalms 6, 54-55, 61, 67, 76)
  • ωδη (Psalms 4, 18, 30, 39, 45, 48, 65-68, 75-76, 83, 87-88, 91-93, 95-96, 108, 120-134)
I hope these random facts and figures prove interesting and useful to you.


[i] There are more superscriptions in the Greek LXX (Septuagint) than are found in the Hebrew Masoretic text or English Bible translations.
[ii] Search and comparisons made with the King James Bible published Cambridge University Press and used at Biblegateway.com.
[iii] The preposition “l” (in “ledawid”) in a superscription relates the psalm to David in some way. The most likely way of understanding this is the attribution of authorship to David. It can possibly mean “to David” or “for David” instead of “of” or “by” – but we know from elsewhere in the Bible that David was a singer and composer. For example, 2 Samuel 23:1-3 and 1 Chronicles 16:7.
[iv] Though he says two, he lists three; Introduction to the Psalms
[v] The list is based on The Titles of the Psalms in the Septuagint. I have not checked it for errors, but believe it is correct or substantially so. Psalm numbers are those of the Septuagint, which differ slightly with the English Bible numbering.

Friday, May 26, 2017

What are the notes at the beginning of some of the Psalms

Question: What are the notes at the beginning of some of the Psalms? For example, Psalm 3 has a note that says “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.”

These notes are found in all English Bibles (that I have checked) on 116 of the 150 Psalms.[i] These notes are usually called “superscriptions”[ii] or “titles”. Unlike the subscriptions at the end of the letters of Paul, most conservative biblical scholars have accepted them as part of the inspired text. Steven J. Cole in Psalms An Overview: God’s Inspired Hymnbook writes, “Many psalms contain a superscription, which sometimes identifies the author, the historical setting, and other features. For example, Psalm 3 begins, ‘A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom.’ These psalm titles are a part of the original Hebrew text (they are verse 1 in Hebrew, thus making the Hebrew verse numbering differ in many places from the English) and are just as inspired as the rest of the psalm.” On the other hand, in his Introduction to the Psalms on the same web site, Bob Utley presents a more modern critical view, “I think they [titles or superscriptions, rlv] are not inspired. I will not comment on them in this commentary.”

These statements by Cole and Utley reveal the basic views on the topic – (1.) that they are in Masoretic text (Hebrew) and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) and are, therefore, canonical; or (2.) that they were not part of the text of the original writers, were added later and, therefore, should not be viewed as inspired. In The Authenticity of the Psalm Titles, James H. Fraser expands and categorized seven views as “representative of some of the attitudes of scholars toward the psalm titles”: the Inspired Scripture View, Authentic-Tradition View, Critical-Tradition View, Psalter-Compilation View, Midrashic-Exegesis View, Cultic-Setting View, and Higher-Critical View.[iii]

I was brought up in a tradition that views these superscriptions as part of the original text[iv] – and yet sometimes inconsistently might not read or refer to them when studying a Psalm. If they are original and inspired, then we should not ignore them, even if in some cases we don’t understand them. If we consider these inscriptions inspired, what proof might help sustain that view? Here are some considerations.

Internal/biblical evidence (New Testament references)

New Testament passages refer to David as the author of certain psalms, which authorship is maintained in the superscription. For examples:

In Luke 20:42 Jesus refers to Psalm 110 and says “David himself saith in the book of Psalms.” Only in the superscription and nowhere else in the text of the psalm does it state that David wrote the psalm. Jesus’ use of the emphatic Greek personal pronoun αὐτὸς (autos, himself) emphasizes he intends Davidic authorship specifically and not just as a general relationship between David and the Psalms. We observe the same thing in Peter’s reference to Psalm 110 as recorded in Acts 2:34-35.

Both Peter and Paul cite Psalm 16 (v. 10; in Acts 2:29-32 and Acts 13:35-36), making the point that David himself was speaking, but that he was not speaking of himself. That David was the author/composer of this psalm occurs only in the superscription and not in the text of the psalm itself.

Internal/biblical evidence (Old Testament similarities)

The superscription of Psalm 18 is “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: And he said…” This is also found in 2 Samuel 22:1-2, where it is included as part of the inspired text introducing this song: “And David spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul: and he said…” This clarifies the superscription as part of the scriptural introduction to the song. [bold emphasis mine]

Other Old Testament passages of songs bear similarities to the Psalm superscriptions and are part of the inspired text.
  • Habakkuk 3:1 “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.”
  • Habakkuk 3:19 “…To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.”
  • Isaiah 38:9 and Isaiah 38:20 show Hezekiah’s psalm beginning with an inscription of information on the author and historical setting.
These instances (2 Samuel 22:1-2; Isaiah 38:9,20; Habakkuk 3:1,19) occur outside the book of Psalms. Consistency suggests that in all places these should be read and included as inspired Scripture. Other biblical song/poetic evidence outside the Psalter/Psalms that should be considered include: Exodus 15:1 (Moses’ song), Exodus 15:21 (Miriam’s song), 1 Samuel 2:1 (Hannah’s prayer) and 2 Samuel 1:17ff (David’s lament).

External evidence (related to the Old Testament)

Students of the titles have called attention to several external factors that support viewing the superscriptions in the Psalms as part of Scripture.

The structure and style of the Hebrew Bible. According to Fraser, the Hebrew Bible “incorporates them into the text of the psalm so that when the verses were numbered in the sixteenth century they were counted as the first verse or part of the first verse. Thus, indicating that in the Massoretic tradition of the Hebrew Bible they were regarded as an integral part of the text.”[v]

Translation in the Septuagint. The fact that “some of the psalm titles (e.g. 46 & 58) were merely transliterated by the translators of the Greek Septuagint (c. 300-250 B.C.)” suggests at least the antiquity of the superscriptions because “their meaning had already been lost by the time of the Septuagint.”[vi]

Presence in the Dead Sea Scrolls. J. H. Fraser writes that “the Dead Sea Scrolls have become crucial in the study of the OT text and in determining the validity of the psalm titles as they are found in the MT.” Though Utley claims “the Psalms found in the Dead Sea Scrolls do not have these titles and superscriptions,”[vii] Fraser says these Dead Sea texts “are found to be in essential agreement with the MT in the assignment of titles to the various psalms they contain except for a few minor variations.”[viii] He even provides an appendix comparing the Masoretic and Dead Sea superscriptions.[ix]

Concluding thoughts

External evidence is not convincing in itself, but supports the internal evidences we find in the Bible. The internal evidence displays use of superscriptions in biblical writings outside the Psalms, as well as New Testament support for the authority of the superscriptions. “The titles are valuable guides to the interpretation of the Psalter. They give accurate and reliable information concerning the authors, historical settings and liturgical use of the psalms in question.” That being true, we should use them as guides. In his Bible commentary Matthew Henry writes, “The title of this psalm and many others is as a key hung ready at the door, to open it, and let us into the entertainments of it; when we know upon what occasion a psalm was penned we know the better how to expound it.” The superscriptions are intimate parts of the Psalms to which they are attached. We should not lock the door and throw away the key![x]


[i] 34 of the Psalms carry no inscription whatsoever, 16 have an inscription which a general reference such as “psalm” or “prayer.” 100 Psalms mention the name of the author (or in some cases possibly a dedicatee). 73 of these Psalms are attributed to David. There are more attributions in the Greek LXX (Septuagint) than are in the Hebrew Masoretic text or English Bible translations.
[ii] Merriam-Webster: “1:  something written or engraved on the surface of, outside, or above something else.”
[iii] The Authenticity of the Psalm Titles, James H. Fraser, Master of Theology thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, May 1984, pp. 4-11
[iv] J. W. Thirtle describes the traditional position this way: “In days gone by, reverent souls who found a mystery in every word of Holy Scripture, regardless of text or version, approached the Psalm inscriptions in the same submissive spirit as they studied the Inspired Word itself, assured that each and every title had some message to deliver in harmony with the general trend of Revealed Truth.” (The Titles of the Psalms Their Nature and Meaning Explained, James William Thirtle, London: Henry Froude, 1904, p. 1 )
[vi] What Should We Do with Those Psalm Headings? A Theory; Fraser states, “Some of the terms used in the titles had lost their meaning by the time the LXX translation was made, indicating that the liturgical instructions of the titles had been in disuse for years.” (Introduction)
[vii] Introduction to the Psalms; Utley also claims “that at least two of them disagree with other canonical texts”: Psalm 34’s title vs. 1 Sam. 21:10ff and Psalm 56’s title vs. 1 Sam. 21:10. These raise questions, but ultimately are no more difficult than other textual difficulties we encounter in Old Testament interpretation.
[x] Matthew Henry, Commentary of the Whole Bible, Volume III, McLean, VA: McDonald Publishing Co., n.d., p. 247

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What are the notes at the end of Paul’s epistles

Question: What are the notes at the end of Paul’s epistles? For example, after Galatians 6:18 in some Bibles there is a note that says “Unto the Galatians written from Rome”.

These notes are found in some Bibles at the end of each of Paul’s epistles, from Romans to Hebrews.[i] These notes have been called “postscripts,”[ii] “endnotes,”[iii] but probably more commonly “subscriptions.”[iv] The most important thing to know is that the subscriptions on these 14 epistles are not part of the original writings of Paul. Some scholars believe they were added by Euthalius, who was “a deacon of Alexandria and later Bishop of Sulca.” The subscriptions can be determined to be uninspired additional commentary by (1.) internal biblical evidence – by study of the epistles it can be determined that some of them are incorrect; for example, when the information supplied does not agree with the facts of the epistle; (2.) other factual oddities and inaccuracies, such as Paul writing “The first epistle to the Corinthians was written from Philippi…” when he did not yet know he would write a second epistle, or the description of Phrygia which was not current in Paul’s lifetime. Below is appended a longer statement on subscriptions from Thomas Hartwell Horne’s An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
“V. But the Subscriptions annexed to the Epistles are manifestly spurious: for, in the first place, some of them are beyond all doubt false, as those of the two Epistles to the Thessalonians, which purport to be written at Athens, whereas they were written from Corinth. In like manner, the subscription to the first epistle to the Corinthians states, that it was written from Philippi, notwithstanding St. Paul informs them (xvi. 8.) that he will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost; and notwithstanding he begins his salutations in that Epistle, by telling the Corinthian Christians (xvi. 19.) the Churches of Asia salute you; a pretty evident indication that he himself was in Asia at that very time. Again, according to the subscription, the Epistle to the Galatians was written from Rome; yet, in the Epistle itself, the Apostle expresses his surprise (i. 6.) that they were so soon removed from him that called them; whereas his journey to Rome was ten years posterior to the conversion of the Galatians. And what still more conclusively proves the falsehood of this subscription, is, the total absence in this epistle of all allusions to his bonds or to his being a prisoner; which Saint Paul has not failed to notice in every one of the four epistles, written from that city and during his imprisonment.3 Secondly, the subscriptions are altogether wanting in some antient manuscripts of the best note, while in others they are greatly varied. And, thirdly, the subscription annexed to the first Epistle to Timothy is evidently the production of a writer of the age of Constantine the Great, and could not have been written by the apostle Paul: for it states that epistle to have been written to Timothy from Laodicea, the chief city of Phrygia Pacatiana; whereas the country of Phrygia was not divided into the two provinces of Phrygia Prima, or Pacatiana, and Phrygia Secunda, until the fourth century. According to Dr. Mill, the subscriptions were added by Euthalius Bishop of Sulca in Egypt, who published an edition of the Acts, Epistles of Saint Paul, and of the Catholic Epistles, about the middle of the fifth century. But, whoever was the author of the subscriptions, it is evident that he was either grossly ignorant, or grossly inattentive.
“The various subscriptions and titles to the different books are exhibited in Griesbach’s Critical Edition of the New Testament.”[v]
“3. Paley’s Horaæ Paulinæ, pp. 378, 379.”


[i] All do not agree that Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews, but there is a note at the end of it, nevertheless.
[ii] Dictionary.com “2. any addition or supplement, as one appended by a writer to a book to supply further information.”
[iii] Dictionary.com “1. a note, as of explanation, emendation, or the like, added at the end of an article, chapter, etc.”
[iv] Dictionary.com: “10. something written beneath or at the end of a document or the like.”
[v] Thomas Hartwell Horne, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, Volume 2, Philadelphia, PA: E. Littell, 1825, pp. 154-155