Is the Book of Psalms Sufficiently Christological?

One common objection to exclusive psalmody is that it presents an incomplete or truncated Christ – one that is revealed primarily, if not exclusively, in types and shadows. The progress of revelation, therefore, requires that we compose and sing songs that reveal Jesus in all his New Testament glory. In short, the Psalms are not sufficiently Christological.

1) First of all, the Psalter is devotional by character and emphasis. This is even true of man’s hymn books because songs are not meant to be creedal documents. Singing is, after all, more of an experience than it is didactic. 

2) But we counter: how do we define sufficient in this context? For example, what must a hymn say of Christ in order for it to be considered sufficient? Would every hymn have to come to a set standard or just a hymnal (in its entirety)?

3) Do those on worship committees actually have a set of rules they have adopted so they stay within the lines? I have never seen or heard of such a regulation being proposed or defended. Indeed, why not change the Psalter (a la Isaac Watts)? Or more consistently, replace it entirely? Why do we need it at all?

4) And why are new songs being written and song books constantly being printed? It must be that the older ones were not sufficiently Christological. Indeed hymns often miscommunicate Christ’s person and work and thus undermine historic Christology.

5) Moreover, hymnbooks demonstrate their insufficiency by adding to the word of God and so, ironically, overturn the prerogative of Christ. As head of his body and son of the house (Ephesians 5:23-34 & Hebrews 3:6), Christ alone has the right to determine what praise is sufficient for his church . And he has clearly indicated what source that is by singing from it, quoting from it, and blessing his church with its comforts, rebukes, and stirring up his people through it for thousands of years. He never supplemented it once nor did his apostles. 

“If God had regarded the Psalms as inadequate to meet the needs of the Church in gospel times it is reasonable to suppose that He would have provided a substitute for the ancient book of praises. He provided a better substitute for the old ordinance of circumcision. He did away with the sacrifices, since the great Sacrifice had come. He put the Lord’s Supper in place of the old Paschal feast. Circumcision, the sacrifices, the Passover observance, were outworn. They were inadequate to meet the needs of this larger dispensation. But there is no slightest hint of anything as being offered to serve in place of the Psalms as the matter of praise in the worship of God.”[1]

6) If we turn to a basic gospel passage such as 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul tells us of four main aspects of Christ’s life: Christ death, burial, resurrection and (implied vs. 8) ascension. But note that for every one of these points a Psalm has been penned and ready at hand (Psalm 16, 22, 24, 68 etc.). Even if we add the return of Christ and the final judgment (Psalm 96 & 98), we (arguably) have more material in the Psalter than we do in any collection of uninspired songs.

7) All parties would agree that the sufficiency of any songbook must be defined by the word of God (Luke 24:44; 2 Timothy 3:16) But the word of God demonstrates that Christology, while essential to our faith, is not sufficient. The Psalter contains more of the teaching of the word of God and is balanced in so doing. Christ himself taught us to believe, teach and obey everything he had commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). 

“God knows what balance we need in our theology and instruction, and has provided that balance in the Psalter. The Psalms contain a much greater variety of theological material than all the merely human compositions. God gave to the entire Church throughout much of its history what it needs to sing. We must remember that God doesn’t need us to worship him as we want to. He wants us to worship him as we need to. We want to worship him with our own offerings. We need to worship him with the compositions that he has given us. Since the Psalms were sufficient for Jesus and his disciples, they certainly are good enough for the Church in the twenty-first century. What can stir the soul more than words written by God himself that speak about Christ?”[2]

8) Specifically, hymns primarily portray Christ in soteriological vignettes and ignore other aspects of his person and work whereas the Psalms portray them all in perfect harmony.[3]

9) Indeed, who is sufficient for these things? No one. No man is inspired to write these things. For who knows the mind of God except the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11)? 

10) If the Psalter must be augmented by human writers, what must we say, then, of inspiration? Did it fail? Every song in the Psalter is inspired. But songs based on the thoughts, words and ideas of men fail the test of scripture sufficiency because they savour not of the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:11). The Spirit of David is the Spirit of Christ (Matthew 22:43) so unless hymn writers claim divine inspiration they have not the Spirit of Christ but merely their own which undermines Christology.

11)  Though we should acknowledge that the language of types and shadows exists in the Psalter, we do not maintain that this is true where the Psalms speak of Christ, and especially where Christ speaks in the Psalms. And in contradistinction, hymns, though they may contain certain truths, always replace the words of Christ with those of men.

12) The Psalter contains more of Christ than any hymnbook for they not only convey his words, will and works but also his thoughts, words & emotions (Psalms 16, 22, 40 & 45 etc.). They also convey his holy dialogue with the Father (Psalms 2 & 110 etc.). Thus, we have, in this book of praise the mind of Christ. The Psalms give us the objective experience of Christ whereas hymns give us the subjective experience of the believer about Christ.

“Many modern hymns are written to Jesus, or are written about Jesus. The Psalms also include portions addressed to Christ and many lines about him. But in all the Psalms (and only in the Psalms) we have words of Christ to sing with him… [uninspired songs] can speak about Jesus, but they cannot give us the voice of Jesus.”[4]

13) Word for word, the Psalter contains a Christological depth that will never be matched by a hymn writer. Consider Psalm 110:4 (“thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec”) and how it is used in Hebrews.

This single text establishes: i) Christ’s appointment to the priesthood by God (Hebrews 5:5-6), including its abiding (Hebrews 7:16-17) and immutable nature (Hebrews 7:21) ii) his salvific work (Hebrews 5:9-10) iii) his securing of eternal life for his people (Hebrews 6:20). This is not even to mention how Jesus used another portion of this Psalm in his self-disclosure as Messiah (Mark 12:35-37). Can anyone write a verse so wonderfully expressive of his saving work for his people? 

14) Hebrews 1 objectively proves a high Christology in the Psalms. This includes: 

“i) the eternal Sonship of Christ as contrasted with the angelic hosts (vs. 5 – Psalm 2:7 & Psalm 89:26,27) ii) the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father as demonstrated in the worship they receive from the angels (vs. 6 – Psalm 97:7 & vs. 8 – Psalm 45:6-7) iii) the creation of all things through the Son and thus their required obedience to him (vs. 10-12 – Psalm 102:25-27) & iv) the subjection of the angels, particularly to the one who brings salvation (vs. 13-14 – Psalm 110:1).”[5]

1. Wishart, W.I. “The Psalms the Divinely Authorized and Exclusive Manual of Praise” in The Psalms in Worship, page 53.
2. Hughes, James R. In Spirit and Truth: Worship as God Requires (Understanding and Applying the Regulative Principle of Worship), 2009. PDF e-book, page 68.
3. And even when Christ finished his work of salvation on the cross he quoted directly from the Psalms as a fulfillment of prophecy (Psalm 22:1 & Psalm 31:5).
4. Lefebvre, Michael. Singing the Songs of Jesus. Rosshire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2010, page 92-93.
5. The author: “New Covenant Themes Psalmodically Mediated in the Book of Hebrews”

Daniel Kok © 2020

See also Christ and the Psalms & Psalmody and Jesus’ Name