Psalms, Proverbs and Doctrine

I was reading this in another forum. It strikes me as wrong, but I can't put my finger on exactly why. First, I'll put the question that was submitted:

Psalm 91 says God will keep us safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases.
Since we believers experience the same dangers and diseases as unbelievers, why does scripture have so many promises of God's protection?

This was the response:

Here's the point. We need to remember what the Psalms are. They are poems intended to be sung. They were not written as doctrinal letters like Paul's letter to the Romans. There is so much in Psalms that we need to be cautious in taking as universal promises or universal teaching. Much of the Psalms are emotional expressions and often "overstated" not to lie but just expressing emotion. What if Psalm 91 was a poem/song created right after a miraculous deliverance - the Psalmists heart is overflowing in gratitude. That same psalmist might have in the past or the furture be bitten by a snake. The point is that God is a protector and is trustworthy, but that is not a promise from any hardship. Listen to what C.S. Lewis says about the Paslms:

“are poems, and poems intended to be sung; not doctrinal treatises, nor even sermons…Otherwise we shall miss what is in them and think we see what is not.”

I can give many more illustrations of the danger of taking Psalms or any Hebrew poetry like Proverbs as universal promises.

Can anybody shed some light on this?

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Alex Guggenheim's picture

There are many promises in the Bible, their context must be determined first for an appropriate interpretation and application. It is incumbent upon any follower of our Lord to "rightly divide" the Scriptures (I say this rhetorically assuming indeed you already know this Smile ). Hence when we come upon any or all promises we cannot assume that they are by default, universal promises.

Some promises are for a singular individual (Gideon, Samson), some are for limited periods and people (the theocracy of Israel) and some are for all men every where at all times (the gospel). As well some promises are those we are directed to trust though we are not given divine documentation that God is insuring such promises he has made to us are indeed being kept (when in fact they are being kept) though what appears to us at times seems to be to the contrary (think of the Jews who were promised a King and because they did not see the King they expected they charged God with not sending a King and crucified Jesus our Lord who indeed was and is The King of Kings).

Therefore the Psalms and Proverbs are not more exempt from hermeneutic scrutiny than any other portion of Scripture, neither are they "under qualified" for hermeneutic examination and doctrinal value. Thus, to say that Proverbs and Psalms are not or should not be sources of doctrine is theologically disabling.

It might be the where the church receives in the epistles "certain" doctrine such as ecclesiastical protocol which rightly can be said is NOT sourced from the Psalms or Proverbs, doctrine for the believer and its application is NOT just doctrine related to the church. What I mean by that is this.

Take the doctrine of God for example. If you look is the Psalms it is so pregnant with declaratives about the nature of God it is hard to read any Psalm without some impact upon our understanding of him. But here in Psalm 91 what doctrinal contribution can we gain? Well first you must understand the context for each reference and taking for example the reference to no pestilence, here the writer is referring to Exodus 15:26:

He said, "If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you."
So he is repeating a promise given specifically to Israel, so we know this is not a universal reference.

But its doctrinal value remains, even for today. For example vs 4 of Psalm 91 states:

4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Here the integrity of God is presented as the source of protection for the believer. While the context is different for us and we do not have given to use the specific conditions of the theocracy of Israel during that period, we do have the universal truth that is reinforced here and contributes to doctrine without a doubt that God's integrity, his faithfulness, is our refuge and not our own strength and this cannot be more echoed through Scripture.

What is critical is learning to make proper distinctions in Scripture and at times it requires at least an intermediate level of doctrinal foundation to avoid pitfalls of misapplication or misinterpretation. I hope my feedback at least gives another dimension of consideration and I am sure others have helpful thoughts.

Stephen Schwenke's picture

II Timothy 3:16 is clear: ALL scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for DOCTRINE...

If the Psalms and Proverbs are NOT sound doctrinally, then by definition, they are not Scripture. The arguments posted above in the opening post are the musings of a worldly philosopher, not a Bible-Believing Christian. The Psalms and Proverbs are LOADED with doctrine, but as Alex pointed out, not necessarily Church doctrine. Many of the Psalms deal with the 2nd coming of Christ, the tribulation, the millenial reign of Christ, the anti-christ, the crucifixion of Christ, etc.

This goes to the question of how do we interpret Scripture? Do we use the allegorical method, as advanced by the heretic Origen, and used by Theological liberals; or do we use the fundamental principles of normal, literal interpretation as much as possible?

Pastor Steve Schwenke
Liberty Baptist Church
Amarillo, TX

Brian Jo's picture

Always be wary of someone who says we cannot gain doctrinal truth from the Psalms. This is an argument advanced by Doug Pagitt, a leading member of the emergent church. No, the Psalms are not doctrinal treatises, but, as Stephen said, the doctrines they do teach MUST be accurate.

Stephen Schwenke's picture

Brian, I don't think we often agree, so I am in shock!!!


Pastor Steve Schwenke
Liberty Baptist Church
Amarillo, TX

Charlie's picture

Stephen, I too agreed with (the main thrust of) your post. The miracles of SharperIron 3.0 are many and profound.

My Blog:

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Teri Ploski's picture

I figured I would get a good response to this Smile I should explain that this came from the pastor of a former church (quite obviously NOT fundamental). I keep an eye on his blogs and comments to see if they are anywhere near returning to sound doctrine. It's very disappointing to see that that is not the case. I knew there was something wrong with his answer, but I couldn't articulate it well enough. Pastor Schwenke, your post especially made it abundantly clear where he is in error, and Brian Jo, yours answers another question that came to mind - Where did he get his theology from? One of the biggest reasons we left the church was we sensed they were heading down the EC path. The pastor (a friend, which makes it even sadder), said that they are NOT embracing the EC movement, yet they consistently show that that is in fact the path they are choosing to tread. So sad.

Rachel L.'s picture

I agree with what others have posted.

But I have to confess that I do not read the original post (pastor blogger's portion) the way the rest of you seem to be reading it.

They were not written as doctrinal letters like Paul's letter to the Romans.

not doctrinal treatises

I haven't spent much time this morning coming a conclusion; but at first blush, I would agree that the Psalms are not "doctrinal letters" or "doctrinal treatises." Am I wrong?

Don't sue me for defamation of character Alex Smile , but I think you and the pastor blogger are saying the same thing.

Alex Guggenheim's picture


I have not read the entire article from which the quote has been sourced but regarding the limited quote, I agree with you that substantially my view and the author's view is with the same posture (though using the expression or equivocation that they are "poems to be sung" without other elevated contexts of the role of Psalms and Proverbs is not well crafted language). My response was not intended to reflect an antagonism toward the quoted material or the author (and if read that way I will attempt to improve my verbosity with clarity...heh heh) rather an amplification of the point.

So yes, it is appropriate to recognize the literary distinction and theological classification of the Psalms and Proverbs (they are not alone) from that of the doctrinal letters of the NT.

*Since the OP, it appears Teri has disclosed that the author of the blog has departed, in her view, much further from Protestant orthodoxy in some of his theology so for the record it might be that there is mild to extensive disagreement between me and that blogger but, since I have only read the one quote I can only gauge my view and his from that singular quote and the quote, in itself, does not depart from any Protestant orthodoxy or even views accepted in fundamental circles.