Following ancient precedent, most English versions of Scripture entitle this anthology of sacred songs “(The) Psalms” (e.g., ASV, RSV, NASB, JB, NEB, NIV) or “The Book of Psalms” (KJV, DV, NAB, NKJV). In the NT Luke uses the titles “The Book of Psalms” (Lk 20:42; Ac 1:20) and “The Psalms” (Lk 24:44), calling each individual composition therein a “psalm” and showing awareness of their numbering in the expression “the second psalm” (Ac 13:33). Luke may reflect the custom of the Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora here. Their Scriptures, the Septuagint (LXX), contained these titles, if manuscript evidence from the early Christian era (Vaticanus) attests pre-Christian tradition at this point.
The Greek word psalmos, meaning “a stringed instrument,” “a song sung to stringed accompaniment,” or simply “a song,” stands behind these titles. The LXX translates the Hebrew designation mizmôr (see Ps. 0:5 below), found in the superscription of 57 psalms and apparently taken as characteristic of the majority of the collection. LXX tradition (Alexandrinus) also shows the title psaltērion, “a stringed instrument.” Common Christian reference to “the Psalter” and Luther's translation reflect this.
Hebrew- or Aramaic-speaking Jews came to call these 150 songs tehillîm, “Songs of Praise,” using a special plural form of a word that appears only once in a psalm title (145:1). This use to designate a favorite type of song in the collection (see Ps. 0:9 below) reflects a time when the Psalter had become the “hymnal” of the Jewish worshiping community.
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