The Wartburg Project

October 31st, 2018

48. Why Does the EHV Have So Many Psalm Headings?

In the translation of Psalms you have added a lot of headings that divide the individual psalms into thought units. I like to read the psalms with few headings to disrupt the flow of the reading. Why do you have headings?

You have raised an issue for which there is no single solution that everyone likes. That issue is how should translators format the biblical text, particularly for a study Bible which is designed to help readers understand the flow of the text.

The original Hebrew and Greek texts were, for the most part, unformatted as far as margins, headings, punctuation, capitalization, etc. These features were added to the text in the process of copying and translation. So almost all aspects of formatting, including chapter and verse numbers, are editorial additions to help readers follow the flow of the text and locate specific passages.

These features are all a matter of editorial and reader preference. Some readers like the two-column-per-page format that has been used in many Bibles. A significant majority of our readers like the one-column-per page format that was used in the EHV edition of the New Testament and Psalms. Most readers like the formatting of the poetry of the Bible according to poetic lines, even though this was not part of the original text. Some readers like a lot of headings and notes. Some like fewer.

In regard to the headings of the psalms, there are two, or perhaps three, issues.

The first issue is that some (seemingly a significant majority) of our readers like the topical headings in psalms, just as they like the headings in the other biblical books regardless of genre. These headings not only help the readers outline the text, but they help them locate specific passages. Some readers, however, like few or no headings.

The headings in psalms are perhaps more conspicuous than the headings in historical books, because the many of the psalms are quite short, so the headings in psalms are often closer together than the headings in historical books.

We have approached the decision “How many headings should we include?” like the decision about how many clothes to take to a spring sports event in Wisconsin. If you take too many clothes, you do not have wear them all. If you did not take enough clothes with you, you can't wear them when the cold, driving rain arrives. We have worked with this approach, because readers who do not like headings can skip them, but they are there for those readers who want them. It is relatively easy to by-pass the headings. In numerous passes through the Psalms, I have sometimes read them with headings, sometimes without. Readers can easily exercise their preference.

The second issue is that there are two or three different kinds of “headings” in each psalm. (Some of these do not appear in the pew Bible, but will be present in the study Bible, which we hope will appear late next year, at least in electronic editions. The formatting in the pew Bible is set up in a way that will transfer easily into the study Bible.)

The first type of heading consists of the captions that are part of the Hebrew text. They are even given verse numbers in the Hebrew text. All the EHV does is translate them.

The second type of heading is the type you have asked about. These are the section headings that divide the text into topical units. These headings will be a great space saver for the study Bible, since it will be unnecessary to comment on the outline of the text in the footnotes, since it is already indicated by the headings. These headings are not part of the Hebrew text, and this is indicated by printing them in italics or a different font.

In the study Bible, there is a third type of “heading.” These are the short introductions to each psalm, which are not part of the original Hebrew text, but a feature of the study Bible.

Here is a sample of a psalm with red comments inserted to explain the type of “heading.”


Do Not Rebuke Me in Your Anger

This is the last of the morning and evening prayers from the time of David’s suffering. The reference to sickness suggests this psalm may come from the time of the rebellion of David’s son Adonijah (1 Kings 1). This is the first of the seven psalms traditionally identified as penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143).

This is a type 3 heading, which the EHV has added to introduce the psalm. It could be called an introduction rather than a heading.


This type 2 heading marks the beginning of the Hebrew text by separating it from the introduction.

For the choir director. With stringed instruments.
According to sheminith. A psalm by David.

This type 1 heading (caption) originated as part of the Hebrew text.

Anxious Prayer

This type 2 heading is a sub-division was added by the EHV translation.

1Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger.
Do not discipline me in your wrath.
2Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am fading away.
Heal me, Lord, for my bones are trembling,
3and my soul is terrified.
But you, O Lord—how long?
4Turn, O Lord, and deliver my soul.
Save me because of your mercy.
5For in death no one remembers you.
In the grave who praises you?
6I am worn out from my groaning.
I flood my bed all night long.
With my tears I drench my couch.
7My eyes are blurred by sorrow.
They are worn out because of all my foes.

Confident Trust

This type 2 heading is a sub-division that was added by the EHV translation.

8Turn away from me, all you evildoers,
because the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9The Lord has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord accepts my prayer.
10They will be put to shame.
All my enemies will be terrified.
They will turn back.
They will be put to shame in an instant.

End of psalm

It is clear at that there is no one formatting solution that everyone prefers, because the preferences of readers are so dramatically different. So as we create the EHV, we are producing a fuller set of reader helps, like special formatting, headings, etc. Once we get past the first edition, we can print some editions with minimal or no headings or notes and some editions with lot of headings, and readers can choose their preferred style. It will be easy enough to remove captions and notes to produce a more vanilla edition. It would be more difficult to go back and create more headings after the fact. In the meantime, readers can use the helps they like and skip those they do not.