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Book Review: “Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Psalms 73-150” edited by Herman J. Selderhuis

The Reformation Commentary on Scripture series focuses on sharing insights from Reformation theologians on the Bible. Here, we’ll take a brief look at the commentary on Psalms 73-150.

The general introduction gives readers insight into the different schools of interpretation that developed  during the Reformation. The introduction to this Psalms, specific to this volume, provides readers with some background on understanding the context in which the Reformers wrote, along with some common themes. For example, the fact that the Psalms were effectively a prayerbook for the Hebrews lead to it being seen as a prayerbook for the church, from which the Reformers derived no small amount of theology. Selderhuis also comments on the anti-Semitic (he calls it anti-Judaic to try to avoid anachronisms associating it with more modern anti-Semitism) sentiment found in so many of the Reformers. He comments on the irony of the fact that so many Reformers loved the Hebrew language and interacted with various Jewish scholars to do their interpretation, but remained anti-Judaic in their comments and attitude. He also notes how the Reformers saw in the Psalms a model for how we Christians ought to rejoice, ask, and pray.

The selection of contributors for this volume is quite well done. It is particularly interesting to see the comments of Cardinal Cajetan (best known for his opposition for Luther) set alongside those of Martin Luther. Another comparison to make is between John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius.  Other, lesser known names, are just as interesting. Martin Bucer is one of the most well-known of these “less known” contributors, such as Wolfgang Musculus or the English Annotations. These diverse and broad perspectives allow for the occasional side-by-side look at opposing schools, along with giving readers insights into some of the figures of the Reformation they may not have encountered otherwise. Some of the contributors were unknown to me. There is, as with every volume, a useful set of brief (short to long paragraph-length) biographical sketches of each contributor to give some background.

Perhaps the most consistent theme in the Psalms with the Reformers is their reading of the Psalms as being about Christ. Time and again, various Reformers (but particularly Luther) assert that a certain Psalm just is about Christ. Other times, with imprecatory Psalms, for example, it is fascinating to see the divergence among the Reformers. Psalm 109 is a good example of this. Luther, for example, reads it as a warning against taking vengeance in one’s own hands. Johannes Althamer and Johann Rurer read it as a curse against heresy and factions–a clear reading of their own historical context into the Bible. Robert Bellarmine reads the Psalm straightforwardly as being about Christ being persecuted by Judas and the Jews, but here we don’t see Luther offering such a comment (though he may have–it may just not appear in this volume). Calvin sees it as an exhortation to believers to bring every care to God. Though most of these aren’t strictly contradictory, this shows how diverse the Reformers could be in reading a single Psalm. Moreover, it shows the general penchant for reading their own current events into Scripture (or vice versa) and for reading Christ into parts of Scripture.

Psalm 104 is another fascinating study, as it has led to different discussions in our own day, too. Modern readers sometimes turn to this passage to see what it may say about creation debates–something that doesn’t come up in the Reformation discussion of the same passage. A hotly disputed part in this Psalm (hotly disputed in an American evangelical context, anyway) is the meaning of the Behemoth, and here the only suggestion about that is that it was a large beast–possibly one generally unknown. This helps give modern readers some perspective, too. Like the Reformers, our own concerns about what the text should say can sometimes come into our readings of the texts. Reading commentaries from those who lived in different times can offer a corrective for that, letting us see how the issues we assume are central to the text were understood–or not–by others.

It may be a foregone conclusion to say this volume on Psalms 73-150 is essential for anyone interested in Reformation readings of Scripture. The Psalms are an area that the Reformers across the board focused on, and it gives critical perspective on how various Reformers read Scripture. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

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