we would never use the name of Jesus…
by Richard Bacon
Copyright 2002 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett
See a PDF format of this article in The Blue Banner, v11#1
An argument is sometimes made against the position of Exclusive Psalmody (the position that one should only sing the inspired songs from the OT Psalms in worship) that since the name of Jesus is not in the OT Psalms, that we must have new hymns for the NT Church. I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the force of this “argument.” I’ve seen the argument many times and expressed in a multitude of ways, but when pressed I’ve never been able to get any of its advocates to put it into a syllogistic form for me. Recently I’ve seen the suggestion that the fact that one does not find the name of Jesus in the Psalter is evidence against using the Psalter as an exclusive praise book. In order for that fact to count as evidence however, it seems to me that a syllogism something like the following would be needed:
We are commanded by Scripture to sing the name of Jesus.
The Psalter nowhere contains the name of Jesus.
Therefore the Psalter is insufficient as a songbook for the church.
However, what is generally proposed is something like:
It would be nice in my opinion to sing the name of Jesus.
The Psalter nowhere contains the name of Jesus.
Therefore I want to use some additional hymns that do contain the name of Jesus.
I do not think we are commanded anywhere in the OT to sing Jesus’ name anymore than we are commanded in the NT to sing it, so I think the argument is a sort of “red herring.” Why is the name of Jesus (an Anglicization of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Yehoshua) given to our savior? Because, as Matthew 1:21 informs us, “he shall save his people from their sins.” For those non-Hebraists reading this, he is called Yehoshuah (Joshua) because the Hebrew word for salvation is – you guessed it, “Yoshuah.” I wonder how many hymns are written using Jesus’ actual name that his mother or father who named him would have recognized? Probably not many, if any at all. Aside: I would not be surprised to find such hymns in Messianic congregations.
The Psalter is, however, replete with references to the Savior in his person, work, titles, attributes, and yes even his name. In the Psalms Christ is referred to by his “title” of Messiah (Greek = “Christ”). Of course, because in the Psalms we often find the word translated into English (we should sing with understanding as well as with spirit – 1 Cor. 14:15) we may not immediately recognize it. Never mind – we should learn what Jesus’ name *means* and not simply recite it as a mantra – I think all of us would agree with that regardless of our view of exclusive or non-exclusive Psalmody.
So then, here is a non-exhaustive list of Psalms that we can sing whenever we want to have Jesus’ title of Christ/Messiah/Anointed on our lips (I’ve included the verse by reference):
Psalm 2:2; Psalm 18:50; Psalm 20:6; Psalm 28:8; Psalm 45:7 (verbal variant); Psalm 84:9; Psalm 89:20 (verbal variant); Psalm 89:38; Psalm 89:51; Psalm 105:15; Psalm 132:10; Psalm 132:17.
I realize that it may be possible to sing these passages and have nothing other than King David in view. That would be a terrible misunderstanding of the Psalms, though. That would be like reading about the tabernacle without Christ in view or “the seed of Abraham” without Christ in view. The New Testament does not provide us with a new songbook in large measure because it teaches us how to understandthe songbook God gave his church for the ages. In fact, I would maintain that there are some portions of the Psalms that are impossible to understand without a view to Christ (e.g. Psalm 68:18).
But wait, that list includes Jesus’ title, but not his name Jesus. Yes, that is correct. So, does singing the Psalter alone allow us to sing the name of Jesus? Yes, it does if we recall that he is named Jesus because his name is actually the Hebrew word for salvation. It would be more accurate for me to explain that it is one of the Hebrew words for salvation. The Psalter uses two cognate words for “salvation.” One is YShU`AH and the other is YSh`AH. If we note carefully, the only difference is the presence or absence of the shureq (letter “u”). The following list of Psalm verses speaks of the name YShU`AH, though you will typically find it translated by the English word “salvation.” These are the places that for all intents and purposes use the Hebrew word for the name of Jesus. For the Hebraists on the list, I should add that there will often be pronominal suffixes attached, but that does not change the fact that we are singing the English translation rather than merely the transliteration of Jesus’ name. Think of singing “king of the world” in the place of the name “Vladimir” or “Walter” and you will have a similar concept.
Psalm 3:8; 9:14; 13:5; 14:7; 20:5; 21:1, 5; 35:9; 38:22; 40:10, 16; 50:23; 51:14; 53:6; 62:1, 2, 6; 68:19; 69:29; 70:4; 71:15; 74:12; 78:22; 88:1; 89:26; 91:16; 96:2; 98:2, 3; 106:4; 116:13; 118:14, 15, 21; 119:41, 81, 123, 155, 166, 174; 140:7; 144:10; 149:4.
These verse numbers are all as found in the English Bible. Something that struck me as I was researching Psalm 89 is that this is the restatement of the Davidic covenant which clearly speaks of Christ and it also contains both his name (translated as “salvation”) and his title “Christ” fully four times.
Here is the “bottom line” of all this. As William Binnie said in his masterful work on the Psalms we must always read and sing the Psalms with one eye toward David and the other eye toward Christ.