Question: "Why are Psalms 14 and 53 nearly identical?"
Answer: Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 are nearly identical. Only a slight change of thought near the end of each psalm differentiates the two. Why would the Bible include two psalms that are very nearly the same? A close look at Psalms 14 and 53 offers some insight in this matter.
Although subtle, three distinctions are observable in these two psalms. First, each has a different title. Psalm 14 begins, “For the director of music. Of David.” In contrast, the title of Psalm 53 is “For the director of music. According to mahalath. A maskil of David.” Though both psalms contain similar lyrics, they seem to have had different tunes associated with them.
Second, there is one clear difference toward the end of each psalm. Psalm 14:5–6 states, “But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, / for God is present in the company of the righteous. / You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, / but the Lord is their refuge.” By contrast, Psalm 53:5 says, “But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, / where there was nothing to dread. / God scattered the bones of those who attacked you; / you put them to shame, for God despised them.” What is the difference? Psalm 14 focuses more on God’s deliverance of the righteous, while Psalm 53 focuses more on God’s defeat of the wicked. It is possible that one of the songs is an adaptation of the earlier song, and the change in lyrics commemorates a specific event.
The third difference between the two psalms regards the use of God’s name. Psalm 14 uses “the Lord” (Yahweh) in verses 2, 4, 6, and 7. Psalm 53 uses “God” (Elohim) in all seven places where God is mentioned.
Psalms 14 and 53 are very similar in content, but they were likely very different musically. In today’s culture, singers commonly record “remakes” of older songs that may be slightly different lyrically and feature completely new musical settings. This was likely the case in these two psalms. The musical differences would have been in sound and not words, and we only see the similarities. However, those originally singing these two psalms would have likely sung them very differently.
The theme in both psalms is the salvation of God. Both psalms end with these words: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! / When the Lord restores his people, / let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!” (Psalm 14:7; cf. 53:6).