/ Nathan Eshelman

Super Thoughts on Superscripts

Recently I had a conversation with a few other preachers concerning the superscriptions within the Book of Psalms. This conversation made me to reflect on my own ideas concerning the superscriptions and their relationship to God's Word. The word superscription means, "written above" and refers to the various classifications, titles, and instructions that we find within The Book of Psalms.

There are various superscriptions found within the Psalter. Superscriptions may refer to genre: Psalm (57 times), Praise (see Psalm 145), Song (28 times). The superscription may refer to a hymn tune: Deer of the Dawn (Psalm 22); Do Not Destroy (Psalm 75); or The Lillies (Psalm 45). It may also provide ancient Hebrew instruction on the Psalm: Maskil (13 times); Miktam (Psalm 16); Shiggaion (Psalm 7). Authorship is often associated with the superscriptions,  such as, "Of David" or the author's historical context (see Psalms 3, 7, 18, 51, 57, etc.).

Although these are not sung in the churches--nor intended to be sung--they are a part of the Word of God and ought to be studied and understood. Many critical scholars have rejected the superscriptions as part of God's Word despite the church historically owning them as part of the canon and given by inspiration of God.

In Waltke and Zaspel's recent book, How to Read and Understand the Psalms, they write:

"Against the prevalent skepticism of an academic consensus regarding the originality, and so the veracity, of the Psalms' superscripts, both the universal tradition of Dravidic authorship and empirical evidence support the traditional understanding that "of David" means "by David" that David authored the psalms attributed to him and that the historical notices that associate fourteen psalms with his career are credible (How to Read...., 45)."

The authors go on to give several proofs for the superscriptions being viewed as part of God's holy Word. They include:

*The textual evidence for the genuineness of the superscripts is unanimous.
*All other songs of the Old Testament have superscripts; the Psalter is no exception. The evidence suggests that the use of a superscript was standard.
*The superscript of Psalm 18 is explicit in its attribution of the psalm to David. This is verified in 2 Samuel 22.
*Jesus and the New Testament writers build their arguments on the historical accuracy of the superscripts.
*By 200BC, the Greek translators of the Psalter did not know how to translate some of the words in superscription, verifying their antiquity.

Despite the main scholarly arguments against the inspiration of the superscriptions--such as, they are editorial in nature, and, the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls have different superscriptions--maintaining the historical Jewish and Christian view of their inspiration is consistent with how both Jesus Christ and the Apostolic church read and understood the Book of Psalms. Therefore, they ought to be maintained, studied, and understood as part of God's holy Word. They are a part of the received canon of the Scripture and despite a 100 year, rather negative, scholarly discussion on them, it seems that more scholars are now acknowledging them to be part of the very Word of God.

May you grow to trust God's Word, even down to the little parts, like the superscriptions.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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