The third paper on the Psalms was given by Gordon Wenham (Old Testament Tutor, Trinity College,
Bristol). He used no headings so here is his conclusion and the questions we discussed.
In this paper I have tried to sum up some of the key arguments in my book Psalms as Torah. I have drawn attention to the power of song to imprint on the mind and be memorable. This in itself would give the Psalms great influence in moulding the ethic of those who pray and sing them. But I applied the insights of Donald Evans on the performative power of liturgical texts to the Psalter to develop this argument. In that most scholars agree that the Psalms originate as texts for worship, and were certainly used later by Jews and Christians in their worship, this use gives them peculiar potency. Reciters of the psalms are making both a public commitment to their sentiments and affirming to God these same truths. If the worshipper does not assent to the ideology of the psalm, he has the choice of offending his fellow worshippers by his silence, or insulting God by his hypocrisy by mouthing words he does not mean. Thus liturgy compels assent more powerfully than sermons or laws, stories or proverbs. This is the reason why the ethic taught by the psalms has been so influential and why biblical scholars should have paid more attention to it. In the rest of the paper I have tried to pick out some of the distinctive emphases of the psalms’ ethical teaching. Of course most of the fundamentals are shared with the rest of Scripture, but a comparison with the Ten Commandments proved instructive. We noted the very strong emphasis on the misuse of the tongue on the one hand and on the other the absence of commands to observe the Sabbath or other great festivals despite the fact that a goodly number of psalms would be suited to such occasions. Other leading emphases include the appeal to justice, especially its formulation in the lex talionis. Worshippers pray that God will prove his just sovereignty by punishing the guilty in a way that matches their crime. Those who suffer at the hands of the mighty and find no redress are often the poorer and weaker members of society, so like the Pentateuch the Psalter especially advocates care for the poor as well as praying for divine intervention on their behalf. In this way the righteous are taught to imitate their creator in his concern for the oppressed and their plight.
- Does your church use the Psalms in worship? Why?
- Have you considered the power of liturgical texts as a means of teaching?
- Do you agree with Griffiths about the performative value of the Psalms?
- What do you see as distinctive about the Psalter’s ethical teaching?
- Is the principle of the lex talionis, exact retribution, defensible today?
- Should the imprecatory psalms be used in Christian worship?
- Do we highlight the last judgment in preaching? Can it be made palatable and believable?
The format was again for the writer to presnet his paper which Gorodn Wenham did firstly drily adn then with some emotion as he came to the imprecatory psalms.