Response to Dr. Clark, Part 2

Just to be clear, this post is part 2 of my response to this post. Dr. Clark has already responded to my post of yesterday. So, to make sure that we don’t get hopelessly mixed up, I won’t respond to his most recent post until later.

So, to pick up where I left off yesterday, we will consider the two questions of paraphrase and office that Dr. Clark has raised. First off, paraphrase. On this question, I’m not getting the feeling that Dr. Clark actually answered my query. My query is this: are not metrical renditions of the Psalms themselves paraphrases? I have yet to see a Psalter that did not include a fair amount of paraphrase in order to make the rhyme and meter fit the strophic melody. The best poets/linguists in the world cannot directly translate the Psalms from Hebrew strophe (or Greek prose, for that matter, since Dr. Clark believes in singing the texts of Scripture, not just the Psalms) into rhyme and meter without some measure of paraphrase. Maybe we are operating under different ideas of what constitutes paraphrase. I would say that a paraphrase is any attempt to convey the meaning of the text in any kind of different words than the original, or than a word-for-word translation would do. By this definition, all Psalters are nothing but paraphrases, given the necessary constraints on rhyme and meter (not to mention the considerable editing that is often done!). If Psalters are paraphrases, and so is everything else that is Scripture set to strophic music, then what biblical basis is there for forbidding one further step, and allowing the whole counsel of God to be paraphrased, as many hymns attempt to do? Have we not already taken the necessary steps?

This leads us to the second question, that of office. To quote Dr. Clark directly, we have this:

The congregation is called to respond to God’s Word with God’s Word. Again, I address this in chapter 7 of RRC. The congregation exercises their priesthood in taking upon their lips God’s Word in praise, adoration, and worship not in taking over the function and nature of the ministerial office. So, it is one thing for the minister to paraphrase God’s Word in the discharge of his God-ordained office and quite another for the congregation to do the same.

Now, there are two issues with this argument. The first is that what the congregation sings is not usually chosen by the congregation from week to week. Usually the pastor chooses it. That kind of messes up the normal division of office as Dr. Clark formulates it (I agree with the distinction of office as he phrases it here, just not with the application of it). Furthermore, as has been noted in some of the comments, although the pastor prays, the congregation is supposed to pray along with him in such a way that his words become their words. The parallel with praying becomes a bit more obvious once we note that in both praying and singing, both the pastor and the congregation are fully involved. The only difference is that, in praying, the pastor is the only one actually vocalizing. So prayer is another place where the ipsissima verba of Scripture are not a limitation. As my brother-in-law Nels noted, many hymns are prayers set to music. These distinctions between categories then become a bit difficult to sustain, it seems to me.

Secondly, what about creeds? If the congregation may never say anything in worship that is not the ipsissima verba of Scripture, then they can never recite creeds. If it is argued that creeds are in a different category (or element of worship) than singing in terms of the content of what is said/sung, I would ask what biblical basis does that distinction have? Or, maybe Dr. Clark does not believe that creeds should be spoken by the congregation in the worship service. Of course, that could have problems, too, like cutting ourselves off from the church of history.

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