What’s the difference between the wicked, sinners and scoffers in Psalms 1?

(Josué Aparicio) #1

I recently started reading the book of Psalms and I noticed in the first chapter that there are 3 types of people: the wicked, sinners and scoffers (NRSV)—what’s the difference? Wouldn’t sinners fit into all 3 types? There has to be a reason for this distinction.

(SeanO) #2

@josueaparicio That is a good question. In Hebrew thought / poetry an idea is often repeated for emphasis or as part of the literary form. A ‘bicolon’ is when two phrases appear together with similar meaning, such as:

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place? Psalms 24:3

A ‘tricolon’ occurs when three phrases occur that are roughly parallel, such as:

Psalms 24:4 -He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.

What we see in Psalms 1 could be a ‘tricolon’ or it could be a progression. Personally I think it is probably a ‘tricolon’, so that all three categories are equally bad. But I have included a note from the NET Bible where they do believe it is a progression for walking -> standing -> sitting where sitting is someone who is completely comfortable in sin. Personally, I think this passage is probably Hebrew parallelism and therefore all three categories are bad - walking with the wicked is no better than sitting with mockers.

Psalms 1:1-2 - Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

NET Bible Note - 4 tn Heb “walk in.” The three perfect verbal forms in v. 1 refer in this context to characteristic behavior. The sequence “walk–stand–sit” envisions a progression from relatively casual association with the wicked to complete identification with them.

“Three types of sinners, three forms of expression are now specified. It is true, these three clauses are presented in an ascending climax. But no particular importance is to be attached to this climax.” (Leupold, Exposition of Psalms , p.34)

“The three parallel clauses of the verse may or may not be intended to form a climax. They are usually so understood … a progressively closer association with evil of a more pronounced kind. But the laws of parallelism do not require this.” (Davison, Psalms Vol I, The Century Bible , p.48)

“It would be reading too much into these verbs to draw a moral from the apparent process of slowing down from walking to sitting, since the journey was in the wrong direction for a start.” (Kidner, Psalms 1-72, TOTC , p.49)


Hope those thoughts are helpful. The Lord bless you with wisdom as you study His Word and may you be like a tree planted beside streams of water, producing the fruit of the Spirit!