yeshu`ah / σωτηρία / hæl / salvation

My exegesis assignment tomorrow is on Psalm 3.  I had already done the translation for it late last week, so this morning I decided to do a little extra study on the psalm from different angles to try to get more background information fresh in my head for class discussion.  I looked up its entry in a couple different commentaries I have, and all that jazz, but being the language nerd I am, I also had to look at them in my favorite language, Old English.

There are two different renditions of the Psalms in Anglo-Saxon that I know about: the Canterbury Psalter and the Paris Psalter.  The Canterbury Psalter is cool because it is primarily in Latin but has an Old English translation written between the lines, so it was actually a major help for modern scholars to reconstruct a good portion of the Old English language.  So the Canterbury Psalter basically gives a Vulgate rendition of the psalms in Old English, giving us a sense of how they translated out of Latin, but not necessarily how they treated the psalms within their particular culture.

That’s where the Paris Psalter comes in.  I’ve only ever found it online in two parts: Psalms 1-50 given with verse numbers, and psalms 51-150 in Old English poetical form, hiding the verse numerations.  The inconsistency is annoying, but both are wonderful for seeing how the Anglo-Saxons adapted not only the words but the style of the psalms into their own language.  Most English-speakers today have never really been exposed to this type of translation before, so it’s a wonderful opportunity when you come across one!

Anyway, the Paris Psalter’s translation of Psalm 3 was pretty easy to follow.  Most of its words were the same as the Canterbury Psalter translation, though a few nuances came through differently from time to time, such as “I slept & dreamt” vs. “I laid down and slept” (v6).  In general, though, the Paris Psalter edition was more elaborate and wordy.  Let’s see if I can translate the Old English into modern, for a basic comparison.

Canterbury Psalter

2. Lord, why are there manifold people who are troubling and oppressing me?
Many are rising against me.
3. Many say to my soul there is no salvation for you in your god.

4. You, truly, Lord,
are my defender and my glory
and my uplifter.

5. With my voice to the Lord I cry, and he heard me from his holy mountain.

6. I slept & dreamt, I was protected, & I arose
because the Lord protected me.
7. I do not dread a thousand people surrounding me;
but arise, my Lord, gather me whole, my God.
8. For you strike & smite all those who are against me who would devour me, and you fracture the teeth of the sinful.
9. Salvation is the Lord’s,
and over your people be your blessing.

Paris Psalter

2. Oh Lord, why are there many of my foes who oppress me?

Why arise so many against me?
3. Many say to my being that there is no salvation in its god.
4. But it isn’t so what they say;
But you are, without any doubt, my protection and my glory,
And you heft up my head.
5. With my voice I cried to the Lord, and he heard me from his holy mountain.
6. Then protected I laid down and slept, and arose again; because the Lord woke me and rose me up.
7. For I now do not dread a thousand people, though they surround me about;
But you, Lord, arise, and gather me whole, for you are my God.
8. For you strike all them who are my adversaries who are transgressors, and you divide the might of the sinful.
9. For in you is all our salvation and our hope; and over your people be your blessing.

English Standard Version


O Lord, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.
But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory,
and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill.
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people, who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God!

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people!

But there is one major thing that I learned here.  Much to my surprise, I came across this Anglo-Saxon word, hal or hæl, which was consistently used when the Hebrew, Greek, and modern English all indicated “salvation.”  In my experience, hal/hæl means healthy or clean, or in a Christian context it also means holy (or the noun form of any of those adjectives).  But salvation?

Eventually it occurred to me that if you take the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon ideas of health and cleanliness to their truest forms in a Christianized context, it makes perfect sense.  The salvation promised by Christ is about the resurrection of the body into perfect everlasting physical health, balance & order with both God and nature, as well as spiritual cleanliness, otherwise known as holiness.  Salvation is about taking away our sins and all their effects.  It occurred to me that it’s rather unfortunate in our English-speaking world today that ‘salvation’ and ‘holiness’ are two different concepts, because there is an inextricable link between them!

Too often we think of salvation as being avoidance of hell, being with God forever, not sinning anymore, and those are all true, but many Christians don’t as quickly remember that salvation includes sanctification – the process of being made holy.  To draw general caricatures, most protestants tend to throw salvation into the past as a one-time completed action that God does when we repent of our former lives and turn to Christ, and most Catholics throw salvation into the far future as something that God will hopefully do for us eventually, depending on how much sin we manage to confess and pay off in penance or in Purgatory.  While there are critical truths contained in both extremes, there’s also the present-life process of becoming more clean and holy.  There are some traditions within Christianity that do have a good awareness of this, but they aren’t the majority.

So that’s something I think I need to keep more closely to my heart when I spend time with God.  There’s a line in the Morning Prayer liturgy that goes “And grant us thy salvation,” and it often makes me wonder if the author of that was really uncertain of the future fate of his soul.  But that’s because I’m thinking in the protestant/catholic range of salvation as either a past event or future hope.  If I remember that God’s work of sanctifying me throughout my entire life is a part of my salvation, then this line of prayer makes so much more sense, no matter how I work out the specific theology.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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