This morning, on the way to work, I listened to a philosophy lecture that offered Psalm 19 as an example of the Teleological Argument. The quoted portion is Psalm 19:2 in the NJPS translation:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
the sky proclaims His handiwork.

(For reference, the verse numbers are different for most Psalms between the Jewish Publication Society translations, which label the title of each Psalm verse 1, and most other English translations, which don't.)

Did the Psalmist simply mean what William Paley said in Natural Theology:

It has been said, that a man cannot lift his hand to his head, without finding enough to convince him of the existence of a God.

Or did David intend something more?

1 Answer 1


Being awed and inspired by the world's beauty is not the same thing as a teleological argument. In Psalm 19, the psalmist captures the experience of wonder, a core component of the religious experience and offers an awareness of God's manifestation in the physical world (all translations are by Robert Alter):

The heaven's tell God's glory, and his handiwork the sky declares.
Day to day breathes utterance and night to night pronounces knowledge. (2-3)

Another example of this theme is found in chapter 8:

Lord, our Master, how majestic Your name in all the earth! Whose splendor was told over the heavens.
… When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you fixed firm. (2-4)

Unlike a teleological argument, these psalms have no philosophical agenda. In chapter 8, the psalmist turns an awareness of the divine into a fundamental question of human existence:

What is man that You should not him, and the human creature that You pay him heed (5).

In chapter 19, the psalmist turns an awareness of the divine into an appreciation of God's commandments:

The Lord's teaching is perfect, resorting of life.
The Lord's pact is steadfast, it makes the fools wise.
The Lord's precepts are upright, delighting the heart.
The Lord's command unblemished, giving light to the eyes.
The Lord's fear is pure, outlasting all time.
The Lord's judgments are truth, all of them just.
… Unwitting sins who can grasp? Of unknown actions clear me. (8-11, 13)

The structure, content and viability of a serious teleological argument would be a question for this site.

  • 1
    I thoroughly agree. I would further say that Psalm 19 would be a circular argument if it were intended to be Teleological as the psalmist assumes God exists and has characteristics such as being perfect in goodness and power. (And I think the argument works best to refine our understanding of God--not to establish it, so I probably won't be interested in the answers I would get on Philosophy.SE.) Thanks for the answer. Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 17:30
  • There is no word for "sin" in the Hebrew text of the Bible. i.e. , "sin" is not a concept found in the Hebrew text of the Bible.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 19:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.