by Bryan Emerson
Scripture paraphrase is a longstanding church tradition, especially considering the Psalms. The Jewish church sang the Psalter regularly in their worship practices, so it was only natural for the Christian church to desire to carry on the tradition.
During the Reformation, John Calvin had a nearly completed Psalter translated and paraphrased into meter. It was immensely important to Calvin to sing only Scripture during worship, but he considered a good paraphrase to be quite edifying.
There are a few things to take into account when paraphrasing Scripture, though:
- A paraphrase is not authoritative. Only the original manuscripts are without error, and while we trust that God has kept His word safe through the translation processes, all paraphrases are skewed toward the beliefs of the paraphraser, no matter how sound those beliefs may be
- A good paraphrase will always focus on the main idea of the passage. Each Biblical passage has a primary message, and many will often have secondary and tertiary messages as well. These secondary and tertiary messages may sometimes be used to help back up theological ideas, but they should never be used to base a theological argument. In the same way, a paraphrase should never be built on the secondary or tertiary messages of a passage.
- Paraphrases may be strict or loose, so long as they do not stretch into heresy. When trying to put Scripture into meter, you may go line by line and try to keep as much of the original text as you can; but you may also take the main ideas and details from the passage and make it more personal or poetic as you wish, as long as the main ideas are kept intact and still reflect good theology.
These are not the only things to take into account when paraphrasing, but these three will take you a long way. Here are some of my favorite examples of Scripture paraphrases, in songwriting:
Jon Foreman – Equally Skilled – Micah 7
Matt Redman – 10000 Reasons – Psalm 103
Martin Luther – A Mighty Fortress – Psalm 46
Five Minute Free-Write: Have you ever paraphrased scripture in song-writing? What are the difficulties you found, when attempting to paraphrase?