Psalm 151? You won’t find it in most Bibles. Most people don’t know it exists. Who wrote this psalm? What’s it all about? Should it be included in the Bible?
The Book of Psalms, in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, contains 150 psalms. However, there are other psalms (10) that have survived throughout the ages, including this one. While you won’t find Psalm 151 in the Masoretic text (Hebrew manuscripts), it is found in most copies of the Septuagint (the LXX) with a title that indicates it was written by David and is supernumerary (extra; beyond the standard or prescribed amount or number):
“This Psalm is ascribed to David and is outside the number. When he slew Goliath in single combat”
Although no number is attached to the psalm in the Greek manuscript, it is commonly called Psalm 151. The psalm speaks of David’s victory over the Philistine giant, Goliath, and of his having been selected by God to rule over Israel as king. It is autobiographical (dealing with the writer’s own life) and tells of David’s stature, family position, work, selection by God to be king, and his victory over Goliath.
The only manuscript evidence for this psalm, prior to the 20th century, was the Septuagint and translations that derived from the Septuagint. In 1947, the psalm and others were found in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hebrew texts) that were discovered in Qumran (a village situated about twenty miles east of Jerusalem on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea).
The text found in the Dead Sea Scrolls differs from that found in the Septuagint translation (both provided below). In the Hebrew, the psalm is split into two separate texts. In the Septuagint it is one, condensed, and shorter text.
Should Psalm 151 be Included in the Bible?
It’s not surprising that Psalm 151 is not canonical (officially part of the sacred texts) in Protestant or Catholic Bibles. When the Bible was canonized in the 5th century, no Hebrew texts contained this psalm. Not being found in the traditional Masoretic Hebrew text, and only in a Greek translation, would have disqualified it from being considered for inclusion in the canonical Book of Psalms.
While the Septuagint is widely used, it should be understood that it does not have the authority of Hebrew manuscripts. Many question the accuracy of the Septuagint and consider some, or all of it, to be apocryphal (biblical or related writings not forming part of the accepted canon of Scripture). Traditional Judaism considers Psalm 151 to be apocryphal and so also did the translators of the Septuagint who indicated such by their marking it as “not of the number.”
So, the answer to our question is: “No! Psalm 151 should not be included in our Bibles. Why? Because our Bibles only contain Scripture that has been deemed officially part of the ancient sacred texts, which are inspired by God.
It should be noted that the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the Orthodox Study Bible (a translation by Greek Orthodox Christian theologians) do include Psalm 151. But even these two translations do not include it as canonized Scripture and both include the attribution that indicates it is “outside the number.”
We can enjoy the words of this psalm and the teaching it offers. It does not contradict that which has been inspired by God and can be beneficial in our reflection on the life and faith of King David and his service to God. However, do not consider the words of this psalm as inspired by God. There is no authoritative proof of the authenticity of the words or the authorship.
Psalm 151 (as translated in the NRSV)
This psalm is ascribed to David as his own composition (though it is outside the number),
after he had fought in single combat with Goliath.
1 I was small among my brothers,
and the youngest in my father’s house;
I tended my father’s sheep.
2 My hands made a harp;
my fingers fashioned a lyre.
3 And who will tell my Lord?
The Lord himself; it is he who hears.[b]
4 It was he who sent his messenger[c]
and took me from my father’s sheep,
and anointed me with his anointing oil.
5 My brothers were handsome and tall,
but the Lord was not pleased with them.
6 I went out to meet the Philistine,[d]
and he cursed me by his idols.
7 But I drew his own sword;
I beheaded him, and took away disgrace
from the people of Israel.
a Psalm 151 1:1 Other ancient authorities add of the one hundred fifty (psalms)
b Psalm 151 1:3 Other ancient authorities add everything; others add me; others read who will hear me
c Psalm 151 1:4 Or angel
d Psalm 151 1:6 Or foreigner
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Variation in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Psalm 151 (A and B translated from Dead Sea Scroll 11QPsa)
Hallelujah! A Psalm of David, son of Jesse.
1 I was smaller than my brothers,
and the youngest of my father’s sons,
so he made me shepherd of his flock
and ruler over his little goats.
2 My hands fashioned a reed pipe,
and my fingers a lyre;
and so I gave glory to the LORD.
I said in my mind:
3 “The mountains cannot testify to him,
nor can the hills proclaim—
lift up my words, you trees,
and my compositions, you sheep
4 For who can announce, and who can declare,
and who can recount my deeds?
The Lord of everything has seen,
the God of everything has heard, and he has paid attention.
5 He sent his prophet to anoint me,
Samuel to raise me up.
My brothers went out to meet him,
handsome of figure, handsome in appearance.
6 Although they were tall of stature
and handsome because of their hair,
the LORD God did not choose them.
7 But he sent and fetched me from behind the flock
and anointed me with the holy oil,
and he made me prince of his people
and ruler over the sons of his covenant.
At the beginning of po[we]r for [Dav]id,
after God’s prophet had anointed him.
1 Then I s[a]w the Philistine,
throwing out taunts from the r[anks of the enemy].
Bracketed information not found in the scroll.
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