Years ago, when you wanted to buy a copy of the New Testament, not the whole Bible, especially in a pocket-sized edition, what you would get was usually The New Testament with Psalms, Authorized King James Version. As I remember it, I don’t believe I ever saw a New Testament ‘by itself’ until I bought my first copy of Good News for Modern Man, possibly the first colloquial English version, now available as the Good News Bible, even with Apocrypha!
It’s a good thing to have the New Testament by itself for portability. I have an NIV version that I carry in the cigarette pocket on the left sleeve of my hoody, and I read it whenever I’m caught somewhere with time on my hands. I still wish it had the Psalms in it, though. That wouldn’t really make it much bigger.
Publishing the New Testament alone without the Psalms makes it possible to just read the Bible for knowledge without being put in a position where an encounter with God is not only possible, but probable. Sure, most people who have a pocket NT probably are already committed Christians, but this isn’t about one’s ‘status’ as a Christian; it’s about the Reality to which the scriptures point, and that is God Himself.
Of all the books of the Bible, the Psalms are most full of the ‘worship in spirit and truth’ that our Lord spoke to the woman of Samaria about. The Old Testament division called the Torah, or the Pentateuch, has books detailing the ceremony of worship and the layout of ancient Israel’s sacrifice-based religious system. In the division called the Nevi’im, or the Prophets, we see glimpses of the worship that ‘the Father wants,’ and this carries us back again to the Psalms, many of which were already in existence at that time.
The Psalms are the heart of the ceremonial worship of both Judaism and historic Christianity, and in the personal worship of Judaism and ancient Christianity represented today by Orthodox, Roman Catholic and ‘high church’ Protestantism. Among some of the modern forms of Christianity, the Psalms are just another book of the Bible to be mined for props to their ever-redundant ‘pop worship.’ If a text can’t be made to fit what the band is playing up there, they just change or replace it. The Psalms are a timeless melody from God’s heart that the world wants to fit into its concept of ‘praise.’
The first psalm appointed for the 29th day of the month, is Psalm 139. Can anyone find a passage in the Bible to rival this psalm in both revealing the secret door of the soul that leads to the Father, and then take them through it?
Yahweh, You examine me and know me,
You know if I am standing or sitting,
You read my thoughts from far away,
whether I walk or lie down, you are watching,
You know every detail of my conduct.
The word is not even on my tongue,
Yahweh, before You know all about it;
close behind and close in front You fence me round,
shielding me with Your hand.
Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
a height to which my mind cannot attain.
Where could I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where could I flee from Your Presence?
If I climb the heavens, You are there,
there too, if I lie in She’ol.
If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
Your hand would still be guiding me,
Your right hand holding me.
If I asked darkness to cover me,
and light to become night around me,
that darkness would not be dark to You,
night would be as light as day.
It was You who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother’s womb;
for all these mysteries I thank You:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of Your works.
You know me through and through,
from having watched my bones takes shape
when I was being formed in secret
in the limbo of the womb.
You had scrutinised my every action,
all were recorded in Your book,
my days listed and determined,
even before the first of them occurred.
God, how hard it is to grasp Your thoughts!
How impossible to count them!
I could no more count them than I could the sand,
and suppose I could, You would still be with me...
Psalm 139:1-18 Jerusalem Bible
Compare the experience of this psalm in praying it with what goes on typically in a worship service. There really is no comparison, is there? The intimacy that indwells this psalm is absent from most church services. In my experience, though, it can be found in the public worship of synagogues, churches and assemblies in proportion to how much of the Bible, in particular the Psalms, are in those services. It would be difficult to imagine Christ being very impressed with many of the things we do in our public worship. This isn’t a matter of ‘what would Jesus do (or think)?’ but rather, ‘what does Jesus do?’ for you see, He is present at those worship services, at least at those where He is welcome. As for those where He is unwelcome, He comes anyway still looking for His sheep. Christ can and does go anywhere.
When I have worshiped with the Jews at their synagogue, I noticed immediately how often I heard the name ‘Jesus’ recited or sung in their congregation. Being able to read Hebrew, I would hurriedly try to find the place in their siddur or prayer book where the name occurred, so I could see the context. The prayer books are Hebrew on one page and English on the facing page.
What I discovered was that it wasn’t the name ‘Jesus’ they were singing—after all, how could they? They’re Jews!—but the word ‘salvation.’ When they were singing ‘yeshu’ató’ they were saying ‘His salvation’ and so on. What were they reciting and singing? The psalms, of course! The word ‘salvation’ and its verbal counterparts occur many times in the Psalms. That is in fact what the psalms are concerned about more than anything—salvation.
The original meaning of salvation wasn’t as we now mostly think, ‘dying and going to heaven,’ but rather being saved from the life of bondage in Egypt. In this sense, Moses was both liberator and savior of Israel. In this sense Joshua was a savior. After Israel came into the land of Canaan, the judges were there to lead Israel and save them from the assaults of their heathen neighbors. As such there were many saviors in Israel, some of them women, like Esther and Judith, who saved their people Israel from grave danger.
The entire Old Testament is actually a record of God’s saving acts on behalf of His hereditary people Israel, to bring them from bondage to freedom. At the end of the long line of saviors in Israel appears the One who is the Savior, the one who is Salvation, so much so that the Most-High sends His angel to impart the name to this Child—Yeshua, Salvation. He saves His people from bondage, but not just from bondage to an earthly tyrant, but from death itself, from She’ol. For what worse tyrant can there be than death?
In the same way that Jesus Christ does not point to the truth but Himself is the Truth, so does Jesus not lay out a religious system to dispense salvation but Himself is Salvation. This is why true Christianity, if we can even use the word ‘Christianity’ to describe it at all, is emphatically not a religion, but a personal encounter with the crucified and resurrected Living God, the God-Man Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and who by His very name Jesus, is the Salvation of the world.
The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:1-13 NIV