Psalms as Torah

Reading Biblical Song Ethically

series: Studies in Theological Interpretation

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"An important contribution to both ethics and our insightful reading of the Psalms."--Patrick D. Miller, Princeton Theological Seminary
 
The Psalms are the most-read part of the Old Testament, but their importance for ethics has often been overlooked. However, the Psalms offer some of the most potent ethical instruction in the Bible. In this book renowned Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham examines the source of the Psalms' power, reflects on their main ethical themes, and shows how they function as prayers that change us. Wenham makes an important contribution to biblical scholarship and breaks new ground in discussions of Old Testament ethics, yet he writes accessibly, making this book invaluable for students in Old Testament/ethics courses, scholars, and pastors.

Contents
Introduction
1. Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms
2. Critical Approaches to the Psalms
3. The Psalter as an Anthology to Be Memorized
4. The Unique Claims of Prayed Ethics
5. The Concept of the Law in the Psalms
6. Laws in the Psalter
7. Narrative Law in the Psalter
8. Virtues and Vices in the Psalter
9. Appeals for Divine Intervention
10. The Ethic of the Psalms and the New Testament
Conclusion
Indexes

 

About the Series
The Studies in Theological Interpretation series is dedicated to the pursuit of constructive theological interpretation of the church's inheritance of prophets and apostles in a manner that is open to reconnection with the long history of theological reading in the church. These brief, focused, and closely argued studies evaluate the hermeneutical, historical, and theological dimensions of scriptural reading and interpretation for our times.

 

Editorial Advisory Board
Gary Anderson
(University of Notre Dame), Markus Bockmuehl (University of Oxford), Richard Hays (Duke University Divinity School), Christine Pohl (Asbury Theological Seminary), Eleonore Stump (Saint Louis University), Anthony Thiselton (University of Nottingham, University of Chester), Marianne Meye Thompson (Fuller Theological Seminary), Kevin Vanhoozer (Wheaton College and Graduate School), John Webster (University of Aberdeen)

Endorsements

"While the Psalms are a regular source of our thinking about theology, prayer, and worship, less attention has been given to what they have to say to guide our ethics. That gap has now been filled by Gordon Wenham's careful reading of the Psalter to uncover its various moral voices. With particular attention to the way the law is taken up in the Psalms and to the ethics of prayer, Wenham identifies features of the Psalter that have to do with justice, compassion, the poor, violence and retribution, and the capacity for these prayers to commit the one praying to various perspectives and modes of behavior. And major attention is given to how the Psalter's theology and ethic reverberate throughout the New Testament. An important contribution to both ethics and our insightful reading of the Psalms."

Patrick D. Miller, professor of Old Testament theology, emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary

"In Story as Torah Gordon Wenham showed how biblical narrative texts, little used by ethicists, can inform Christian moral teaching. Here he applies the same idea to the Psalms, equally seldom used in building a biblical ethics. He shows the huge potential of the Psalter to shape our moral insight."

John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture, Faculty of Theology, University of Oxford

"As increasing scholarly attention is given to Old Testament ethics, Gordon Wenham has become one of our most reliable guides. Having already directed attention to the neglected area of narrative texts and their moral significance, he now gives us a detailed treatment of the Psalms and their importance for Old Testament ethics. He makes such a clear case for the ethical centrality of Israel's Psalter that we wonder how so many before him failed to see the ways in which ethics are shaped by the prayers and liturgies of a worshiping community. We are deeply in his debt."

Bruce C. Birch, professor emeritus of biblical theology, Wesley Theological Seminary

"Wenham charts a fresh new course in studying the Psalms, asking readers to go beyond simply using them haphazardly in worship contexts as songs. Rather, Wenham urges us to appropriate the Psalms at a deeper level as a means of instruction (Torah), full of doctrine and ethical guidelines for life. This book is a rich delight, and I heartily recommend it to the scholar, pastor, and layperson alike."

David M. Howard Jr., professor of Old Testament, Bethel Seminary

"After publications on how to appropriate Old Testament law and narrative for ethics, Wenham turns his attention to the Psalter. He embeds its ethical impact in the liturgy, explores its particular contribution to ethical formation, and connects its views with the rest of the biblical canon. This is a welcome and wonderfully profound and expansive study of a neglected area in the field of Old Testament ethics."

M. Daniel Carroll R., distinguished professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary

"This richly satisfying book fills a great need and points to an even greater loss. The need was for a book that would explore the depth and breadth of the book of Psalms in its ethical and formative power for the lives of God's people, individually and as a community in the midst of a fallen world. Gordon Wenham has filled that gap with a model exercise in biblical theology at its very best--illuminating, nourishing, and challenging. To read this book, however, is to lament the loss of the Psalms in so much anemic contemporary Christian worship. What a deficit we inflict upon ourselves, in our worship, in our discipleship, in our ethical sensitivity to the sharp issues of right and wrong in the world around us, and in our personal and collective commitments, by our ecclesial neglect of this priceless anthology of biblical faith and life. May this book inspire creative and effective use of the Psalms once more in the transformative worship of God's people."

Christopher J. H. Wright, international director, Langham Partnership International; author, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God


The Author

  1. Gordon J. Wenham

    Gordon J. Wenham

    Gordon J. Wenham (PhD, University of London) is tutor in Old Testament at Trinity College, Bristol, England, and professor emeritus of Old Testament at the University of Gloucestershire. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Story as...

    Continue reading about Gordon J. Wenham

Reviews

"A well-written and accessible book investigating ethical dimensions of the Psalter. . . . Wenham advances his thesis without weighing the reader down with long-winded and unnecessary prose. . . . Despite my disagreements with the book, I have found it helpful for thinking through issues concerning the ethics of the Psalms."--Joseph Kelly, Review of Biblical Literature

Joseph Kelly,

Review of Biblical Literature

"[Wenham] has certainly performed the valuable service of approaching the Psalter with ethics specifically in mind."

J. Clinton McCann Jr.,

Interpretation

"More than the best book for priming the pump of prayer, penning worship songs, or reading at funerals, this pithy tome convinces us that the Psalms are literally a Bible within a Bible. Must read."

Worship Leader (Best of the Best 2012)

"Wenham has gifted the Church with a defining work that enriches our understanding not just of the obvious value of the Psalms as prayer and worship, but as instruction (i.e. Law) in ethical behavior. . . . Tracing the many scholarly surmises and conclusions regarding the Psalms, Wenham makes a convincing case for looking at the Psalter canonically. Through Wenham we see the Psalms theologically and ethically. He soundly chronicles the continuity of the character of God . . . transcending eras and bridging both Testaments. . . . Engaging, informative, a valuable resource for a teaching or worship pastor and essential reading for all."

Andrea Hunter,

Worship Leader

"This study not only provides a fine overview of the ethical character of the psalms and their importance for Jewish and Christian believers, but it demonstrates the power that prayer has in shaping one's ethical worldview. Carefully researched and well-written, this study should alert those responsible for prayer, whether personal or communal, to the importance of the prayer choices that are made, sometimes quite unconsciously."

Dianne Bergant, CSA,

Worship

"This book is well worth reading. Gordon Wenham, an established evangelical Old Testament scholar, has found what he rightly calls 'a blind spot' in biblical study and has filled the gap for us. . . . He makes excellent use of recent writing on the Psalter, as well as older material. . . . This is an enriching and challenging book that I will be recommending to my students."

Leslie C. Allen,

Evangelical Quarterly

"Psalms as Torah provides the first monograph-length study of ethics in the Psalms . . . The unique contribution of this book is Wenham's argument based on speech-act theory that the prayed ethics of the Psalter transforms its readers in ways distinct from other genres in the OT. Wenham touches on this argument throughout the work, culminating in his treatment of select NT texts. Wenham helpfully identifies the Psalter's influence both on the NT presentation of Jesus as the righteous sufferer of the Psalms and on its teaching to Christians to imitate Christ in suffering while hoping in the vindication of God's glory. . . . Wenham has done a service to the scholarly community in bringing this study to print. It addresses a surprising scholarly neglect of the Psalter as a resource for biblical ethics and provides a starting point for future ethical study of this much-beloved book. Psalms as Torah will prove valuable not only for scholars, but also for pastors, students, and educated laypeople who desire to learn, teach, memorize, and pray the Psalms. It has already affected the way that I pray, so I commend it to all who love the Psalms."

Daniel C. Owens,

Themelios

"Wenham articulates that the goal of this book is 'to demonstrate the importance of the psalms particularly in molding Christian ethics and to offer an initial exploration of the ethics of the psalms.' He accomplishes this goal admirably. The book is well-written and clearly laid out. . . . Particularly helpful is Wenham's extended discussion of how the Psalter has the potential to shape the ethics of the worshipper. . . . The book is illuminating and brimming with fresh insights and readings of various psalms that will be helpful to students, pastors, and scholars. Perhaps most importantly, Wenham has opened a new path for scholarly inquiry. As he often states in the book, the ethics of the Psalter is a much neglected area of study and his work opens the door for more detailed and comprehensive analyses."--Ryan J. Cook, Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament

Ryan J. Cook,

Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament

"Wenham breaks new ground in this book. . . . Though based on the best results of modern research on the Psalms, this book nevertheless is written to be accessible to all."

James Chukwuma Okoye, CSSp,

The Bible Today

"On understanding the psalms in general, the best new resource is Gordon Wenham's Psalms as Torah. . . . It is wonderfully written, engaging, and inspiring."

Ray Van Neste,

Preaching

"Psalms as Torah, the sequel to Wenham's masterful work, Story as Torah, is every bit as insightful and constructive for OT ethics and is a great contribution both to Psalms scholarship and to the series Studies in Theological Interpretation. . . . Wenham is thorough and systematic in his presentation, making a compelling case for the ethical value of the Psalter. . . . The genius of the psalms is that they not only proclaim a higher ethical standard but also invite a recalcitrant people to make the psalmists' words--and thus the psalmists' ethics--their own words and ethics. It is this great wisdom behind the psalms that Wenham makes evident in Psalms as Torah. In addition, Wenham's survey of the ethics of the Psalter shows what may be gained by a return to the psalms for ethical instruction. . . . Too often, students of the Bible commend the ethical teachings of Jesus while shying away from the ethics of the psalms. Wenham challenges this neomarcionite approach to Scripture and displays the ethics of the Psalter in all its glory. For this reason alone, the book comes highly recommended."

David B. Sloan,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"The strength of this book is its all-encompassing biblical imagination. Wenham finds not only exact parallels but also implicit ones, between particular psalms on the one hand and biblical laws and narratives on the other. In such careful details is the value of this book. . . . I look forward to returning [to it] with my students and parishioners."

Victor Lee Austin,

First Things

"A powerful apologetic for the Psalms as the means by which the instruction of God laid out in precept form elsewhere is internalized. . . . The conclusion that God's people cannot live out a biblical ethic without internalizing the Psalms (or 'Psalter') deeply is nearly inescapable after reading this fine work! . . . Wenham's work is a powerful tonic for those seeking encouragement to revisit the Psalms anew--for personal devotion, for worship renewal, and as nothing less than a hermeneutical key for properly unlocking the abiding value of Moses' Law."

Chuck Huckaby,

Ekklesia Weekly Digest

"Given his publication record in the field of Old Testament studies, as well as his reputation as a biblical scholar par excellence, Wenham is well qualified to pen a study on the Book of Psalms entitled Psalms as Torah. . . . There are many favorable aspects of this book. . . . As with all of Wenham's publications, Psalms as Torah is well-written and clearly structured. . . . He explores the ethics of the Psalms in a manner that could easily be digested by an educated layperson. College and seminary students will find this book especially helpful in their ministry preparation. . . . This book is a fine study on the ethics of the Psalms that ought to find its way onto the bookshelf of scholars, pastors, and laypeople alike."

David W. Jones,

Southeastern Theological Review

"Any pastor who reads Psalms as Torah will find it like water in the desert. Some will consider rearranging their schedule to make way for some preaching and teaching the Book of Psalms because Wenham brought it newly alive for them."

Dale A. Brueggemann,

Enrichment

"In a day when it is faddish to view the Torah as poetry it is refreshing and intriguing to find a study that approaches the matter in quite the reverse--the Psalms as Torah. Though most careful readers of the Psalms see didactic and even regulatory features in them, few have taken the time and effort to categorize these features synthetically. Wenham has done this in a well-written, inspiring, and informative work. . . . A work that is both eminently practical and profoundly and properly theological, Psalms as Torah is a welcome addition to the library of every preacher of both Psalms and Torah."

Eugene H. Merrill,

Bibliotheca Sacra

"Psalms as Torah is a helpful addition to the study of the Psalter, and it adds to the discussion in a unique and insightful manner. Specifically, Wenham offers the reader a compelling, well-developed, and well-researched argument that the Psalms were a significant means by which ethical instruction was given in Judaism as well as the early church. Moreover, it is a helpful example of how the New Testament authors integrated the Psalms into their writings, thus opening new avenues for the study of the Psalter from both an Old Testament and New Testament perspective. . . . Psalms as Torah is a well-crafted work that blazes a new trail in the study of the Psalter. Further, Wenham masterfully composes this monograph in such a way that it may benefit both the specialist and the non-specialist. Finally, in comparison to other similar works on the Psalter, Wenham's work is unique in that he is the first to specifically examine how the Psalms were used to inculcate the ethics of both Jews and Christians."

Michael Graham,

Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"Wenham's work is accessible, readable, engaging, and informative. Readers . . . are urged in the strongest possible terms to 'Tolle, lege!' You will not be disappointed."

Jim West,

Zwinglius Redivivus blog

"Gordon Wenham's service of church and academy is rightly well-known. This latest publication reflects these twin concerns. . . . The book is well-written, very accessible to the working minister, and serves to give a good introduction to scholarship on the Psalms while, at the same time, advancing clearly Wenham's argument. . . . Wenham does an excellent job of presenting a scholarly argument that will be accessible to a wider Christian audience. . . . This book usefully and creatively gives fresh insights into reading, praying, and preaching the Psalms. Wenham concludes by asking, 'whether neglect of the psalms has not impoverished the church's witness both to its own member and to the wider world.' Reading this book will certainly encourage reflection on this important question."

Ed Kaneen,

Regent's Reviews

"Seasoned OT scholar Gordon Wenham explores the ethical shaping power of the Psalms. He concludes that what we say, pray, and sing profoundly influences who we are and who we become. . . . If the Psalms are God-crafted instruments for our shaping, then neglecting them will necessarily leave us misshapen. Thankfully, Gordon Wenham has added his voice to the burgeoning chorus calling for the reinstatement of the Psalms in the church's worship. May God raise the chorus to a crescendo so that we might rejoin the harmony of the Psalter and all the benefits it brings."

David Gunner Gundersen,

Raw Christianity blog


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