Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
In bringing to a close his labors on Calvin’s Commentary On The Psalms, the Editor begs leave to state, that in addition to the General Index, and the Indices Of Texts Of Scripture, and of Hebrew Words, originally contemplated, it has been deemed highly desirable to give at the end of the Commentary a Translation; or Calvin’s Version Of The, Psalms arranged in parallelisms, together with a Table Of Those Passages In The Psalms Which Are Quoted In The New Testament, and a Table Of The Particular Subjects Of Each Psalm, according to Calvin’s interpretation. These additions, it is hoped, will be considered as improvements. From the extent to which they have increased the size of this Volume, it has been found necessary to omit the Appendix of Additional Criticisms to which reference is made in some of the footnotes throughout the work.
To exhibit the Psalms arranged in the metrical order, was an idea which appears never to have suggested itself to the mind of Calvin. In his time, indeed, and long after it, the peculiar character of Hebrew Poetry was not understood. It was not till a recent period that any steady light was; thrown on the laws of its composition. A vast amount of learning had indeed been expended on the subject, and a variety of hypotheses had been suggested by successive writers to unravel a question so intricate and mysterious; but no satisfactory result was attained until it was investigated by the learned Bishop Lowth, to whose genius and erudition we are indebted for the discovery of this long lost secret. He has proved, with a clearness and force of evidence which has now commanded universal assent, that Hebrew Poetry bears no resemblance in its structure to the Poetry of Greece and Rome, that it has no rhyming termination of lines as in the Poetry of our own language, and that its peculiar, and perhaps its sole characteristic, lies in a felicitous arrangement of words into what he denominates Parallelism. In other words, its leading peculiarity is that. each sentence consists generally of two parts, closely corresponding to each other, not indeed in the number of syllables, but in the ideas which they express, or in their grammatical constructive form, the second being synonymous (or, as Bishop Jebb would denominate it, cognate) with the first, — or antipathetic to it in its terms and sentiments, — or similar to it in the form of grammatical construction, such as noun answering to noun, verb to verb, member to member, negative to negative, interrogative to interrogative. 1 The division of these sacred poems into hemistichs or lines is, therefore, the form in which they ought naturally to be arranged; and such an arrangement is attended with great advantages. It exhibits to the eve the peculiar structure of Hebrew poetical composition, and is, besides, an important aid in Scriptural Interpretation, as it often contributes to the elucidation of obscure and difficult passages, and enables even the mere English reader to discover a thousand beauties, which, without such a help, would escape his notice.
In translating this parallel version, two of Calvin’s translations of the Hebrew text were at the service of the Editor, — the Latin and the French. The former is strictly literal, rarely changing the Hebrew idiom, or even inserting a supplementary term, and uniformly giving the arrangement of the words as they stand in the inspired original. The latter is also upon the whole literal, though in some instances it changes the Hebrew idiom into the French, as well as frequently inserts such supplementary terms as the sense seems to require; and disregarding the arrangement of the words in the original, it gives them in the order most suitable to the genius of the French tongue. The Editor has followed Calvin’s Latin; Version, and has rendered it literally, retaining the Hebrew modes of expression, and the arrangement of the words in the sequence of the Hebrew text, except in a very few instances where a deviation seemed necessary to render the reading intelligible. Occasionally he has found it necessary to insert some supplementary words. These, when taken from Calvin’s French Version, as is generally the case, are printed simply in italics, and when supplied by the Editor are printed in italics and enclosed within brackets. By adhering to the Hebrew order of the words, the arrangements may sometimes appear harsh and uncouth; but very often they give much beauty and force to the expression. And in retaining the Hebrew idioms, the Editor has felt little scruple, considering that as our English Bible is a literal verbal translation of the Original Hebrew, many of these are quite familiar to us, and from their peculiar grace have even become naturalized in our language.
“The Hebrew idioms,” says Addison, “run into the English with a peculiar grace and beauty. Our language has received innumerable elegance’s and improvements from that infusion of Hebraisms which are derived to it out of the poetical passages in Holy Writ. They give a force and energy to our expressions, warm and animate our language, and convey our thoughts in more ardent and intense phrases than any that are to be met with in our own tongue. There is something so pathetic in this kind of diction, that it often sets the mind in a flame, and makes our heart burn within Us.”
The utility of the two Tables adverted to is too obvious to require to be dwelt upon. From the former the reader will perceive how completely the inspiration of the Psalms is established by New Testament authority, and how highly they were appreciated by Christ And His Apostles, there being no portion of Old Testament Scripture from which they so frequently quoted. The other Table will readily serve as a guide to the selection of such Psalms as may be adapted to the doctrines of the Christian system, the duties of the Christian life, or the varied circumstances, whether prosperous or adverse, in which the Christian or the Church of God may be placed.
EDINBURGH, April 1849.
This sentence expresses the three specific heads into which Lowth discovered Hebrew parallelism, — which involves in it much variety and many gradations, — may be generally And more loosely distributed, Parallels Synonymous, (or, according to JEBB, Parallels Cognate,) Parallels Autithetic, and Parallels Synthetic or Constructive. For an example of the first, see Ps 1:1-5; of the second, see Ps. 20:7, 8; and of the third, see Ps 148:7-13.