The Book of Psalms for Beginners

Stephen Cook over at Biblische Ausbildung has posted on “books that provide ‘accessible interpretation’ of the psalms.” He notes four books in particular, two commentaries and two introductions by two authors:

  • Mays, James Luther. Psalms. Interpretation. W/JK, 1994. Buy from or
  • McCann, J. Clinton. Psalms. New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4: 1 & 2 Maccabees, Job, Psalms. Abingdon, 1996. Buy from or
  • Mays, James Luther. Preaching and Teaching the Psalms. W/JK, 2006. Buy from or
  • McCann, J. Clinton. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms. Abingdon, 1993. Buy from or

These recommendations are excellent. McCann’s works are definitely accessible and chock full of valuable insights on the psalms that takes into consideration the latest of scholarly approaches to the psalms. Mays is a veteran psalms scholar and always has insightful comments and interpretations. The only criticism I have of Mays’s commentary is that it is too brief.

That being said, I would like to add a number of a number of other works to Steve’s recommendations. In regards to accessible commentaries on the book of Psalms from a Christian perspective I would include the following:

  • Broyles, Craig C. Psalms. New International Biblical Commentary: Old Testament. Hendrickson, 1999. Buy from or
  • Davidson, Robert. The Vitality of Worship: A Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Eerdmans, 1998. Buy from or
  • Goldingay, John. Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41 . Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Baker Academic, 2006. Buy from or
  • Wilson, Gerald H. Psalms Volume 1. The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan, 2002. Buy from or

In terms of a one volume commentary on the psalms that is historically and theologically sensitive, I really like Davidson. I would also recommend Broyles. I have been nothing but impressed with Goldingay’s commentary. It is accessible, yet scholarly; theologically deep, yet practical. I highly recommend his first volume and look forward to the others. The commentary by the late Gerald Wilson is also an excellent commentary that is both accessible and theologically rich.

In terms of introductions to the book of Psalms, I would also recommend the following:

  • W. H. Bellinger. Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990. Buy from or
  • Nancy L. Declaisse-Walford. Introduction To The Psalms: A Song From Ancient Israel. Chalice Press, 2004. Buy from or
  • Denise Dombkowski Hopkins. Journey through the Psalms. Chalice Press, 2002. Buy from or

Bellinger’s work is an excellent (and brief) introduction to the book of Psalms that focuses on form-critical interpretation, while Declaisse-Walford’s is another good introduction that covers all the bases of psalm interpretation, especially the more recent interest in the shape and shaping of the book of Psalms.

Hopkins’s work is perhaps the most accessible of any that have been mentioned by either Stephen or myself. It is a Brueggemann-esque introduction that is personally engaging and spiritually sensitive. The book is filled with numerous illustrations of visual art, poetry, and personal stories, as well as many practical group exercises.

For a comprehensive ranking of commentaries on the Psalms, see my Old Testament Commentary Survey.

Any other suggestions?

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3 Responses to The Book of Psalms for Beginners

  1. Magonet, A Rabbi reads the Psalms 1994 (2004) is a very good introduction; strong on structure and detailed interpretation of about a dozen Psalms – funny also.

  2. IMHO, the best commentaries on the Psalms are the four volume masterpiece by J.M. Neale and R.F. Littledale titled, Commentary on the Psalms (about 2,500 pages), and the ArtScroll two volume (about 1,800 pages) that is part of their Tanach Series commentaries.

    You find commentary in each series that you won’t find anywhere else. By far the best, even if both are a bit heady at times (especially Neale and Littledale).

    For regular updates on new commentaries on the Psalms, the best source is clearly Old Testament Abstracts.

  3. John Stuart says:

    I had the privilege of studying OT and Hebrew with Robert Davidson at Glasgow University. He was a great teacher. His book on Ecclesiastes is also worthwhile.

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