An introduction to the Psalms

Martin Luther called the Psalms the “Prayer Book of the Bible” and the “little Bible” because the Psalms contain the story of God’s love, grace and forgiveness and desire for a real relationship with each of us.

Our Bibles are books, with front and back covers, and we have become accustomed to treating the Bible like other books and thinking of Genesis as the beginning and Revelation as the end, with everything inside happening in, more or less, chronological order. When we are reading the Bible, it’s important to remember that the original content of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was collected on scrolls which were not bound together. A single scroll would be opened and read from right to left, so readers and writers made connections by flow rather than flipping back and forth like we do with books.

The Book of Psalms, a single book in the Bible is actually 5 books (Book I: Psalms 1–41, Book II: Psalms 42–72, Book III: Psalms 73–89, Book IV: Psalms 90–106, Book V: Psalms 107–150) There is a flow between Psalms that are next to each other: for example, Psalm 22 is a lament and Psalm 23 is a statement of trust following the lament. Reading the two Psalms as partners can add depth to each Psalm as well as connect us more deeply with God.

Psalm is a Greek word for “songs accompanied by stringed instrument”. Psalter, the Latin word for the Book of Psalms was named for the psalter, an instrument that was used for accompaniment.  (It’s like referring to “guitar music book” today.) Before the printing press, monks would hand copy and illuminate collections of Psalms for monasteries, church leaders, and affluent men and women. It was a sign of great wealth and piety to own a Psalter, especially because most people couldn’t read.

Monks and nuns chanted or sang the psalms as they prayed 5 times each day. Today, in some churches, a psalm is chanted or sung, often using a tune that was written down centuries ago by those same monks. Many catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopal churches chant the Psalms on Sundays. There are some beautiful versions of psalm chants online and great examples of how to chant the psalms

The next article will discuss the 5 different types of Psalms: Individual and Community Lament; Hymns of Praise; Individual and Community Thanksgiving; Royal Psalms; and Wisdom Psalms.

*The author relies heavily on Professor Walter Brueggemann’s Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary).

Categories: Pastor's Thoughts


Dear St. John-San Juan Family,

Pentecost (which means the 50th) is the day that we celebrate the baptism of the early church by the Holy Spirit and is the true “birthday” of the Christian faith.  Pentecost is also the Feast of the Harvest in the Jewish calendar, a day when everyone is to bring a gift of the first-fruits to the temple as a Thank offering to Yahweh.

Is it coincidental that the church received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the festival of Thanksgiving to God? Giving thanks for God’s goodness by sharing the message of God’s love and generosity with others in ways that they can understand is the message of Pentecost and continues to be God’s message to us today.

During this Season of Pentecost, I pray that you will find ways of giving thanks to God for God’s love and generosity through sharing that love with others in ways that they can understand.

Pr. Ellen


Querida familia de San Juan San Juan,

Pentecostés (que significa el día 50) es el día en que celebramos el bautismo de la iglesia primitiva por el Espíritu Santo y es el verdadero “cumpleaños” de la fe cristiana. Pentecostés es también la Fiesta de la Cosecha en el calendario judío, un día en que todos deben traer un regalo de los primeros frutos al templo como ofrenda de agradecimiento a Yahvé.

¿Es una coincidencia que la iglesia recibió el don del Espíritu Santo en el festival de Acción de Gracias a Dios? Dar gracias por la bondad de Dios al compartir el mensaje del amor y la generosidad de Dios con los demás de manera que puedan entender es el mensaje de Pentecostés y continúa siendo el mensaje de Dios para nosotros hoy.

Durante esta temporada de Pentecostés, te pido que encuentres formas de dar gracias a Dios por el amor y la generosidad de Dios al compartir ese amor con los demás de manera que ellos puedan entender.

Pr. Ellen

Categories: Pastor's Thoughts