Can Musical Instruments be Used to Worship God?

I.          One of the distinguishing marks of our worship is the fact that we do not use instrumental music in our worship.

             A.         It is certainly different among the denominations where almost all use instruments.

             B.         Lately, I been hearing of numerous congregations deciding to add instrumental music to their worship.

                          1.          The reasoning that was so well known in the church has been lost these days.

                          2.          Too often we take things for granted and forget that each new generation of Christians needs to learn the reasons why.

II.         First, let us examine the passages from the New Testament that defines our music

             A.         The verses:

                          1.          Matthew 26:30 - They sung a hymn (also Mark 14:26)

                          2.          Acts 16:25 - Paul and Silas sang while in jail

                          3.          Romans 15:9 - I will sing to your name

                          4.          I Corinthians 14:15 - I will sing with spirit and understanding

                          5.          Ephesians 5:19 - Sing and make melody to the Lord

                          6.          Colossians 3:16 - Sing with grace in your hearts to God

                          7.          Hebrews 2:12 - I will sing Christ’s praise in the congregation

                          8.          James 5:13 - If you are cheerful, sing praise

             B.         There are no verses indicating that instrumental music was used in the New Testament church.

III.        Some though would argue this point.

             A.         In Ephesians 5:19, two words are used: psalmos (translated psalms) and psallo (translated making melody).

                          1.          They will turn to a Greek dictionary, such as Vine’s “psallo - primarily ‘to twitch, twang,’ then, ‘to play a stringed instrument with the fingers,’ and hence, in the Septuagint, ‘to sing with a harp, sing psalms,’

                          2.          See it means singing to the accompaniment of instruments!

             B.         Notice that Ephesians 5:19 gives a command to sing and make melody.

                          1.          If the word translated “make melody” means songs accompanied by instruments, then it would be a sin to sing without instruments.

                          2.          It does not say sing or sing with instruments. The conjunction is “and” meaning both must be done.

             C.         Second, the argument ignores something that Vine points out.

                          1.          Words change meaning over time.

                          2.          Examples from English

                                       a.          “Idiot” once meant “a person who did not hold office.”

                                       b.          A “lewd” man was a “layman.”

                                       c.          “Prevent” use to be “precede.” (In KJV)

                                       d.          “Let” once meant “hinder.” (In KJV)

                          3.          From The Complete Biblical Library Greek Dictionary: “In classical Greek the verb psallo means ‘to pluck, pull’ in a very general sense, such as to ‘pluck out a hair’ or ‘to pull a bowstring.’ It is also used with a technical meaning to play a stringed musical instrument’ on which the strings were plucked rather than struck with a mallet”

                                       a.          The original meaning of the word, in use of music, meant to play an instrument by plucking, such as a harp, guitar, or lyre.

                                       b.          Notice that singing was not included in the classical definition.

                          4.          Continuing: “The usage of psallo in the Septuagint, however, introduces an expansion of its meaning. Twelve times it is used to translate Hebrew naghan, ‘to play a stringed instrument,’ in keeping with its technical use in classical Greek. However, nearly 40 times the Septuagint uses psallo to translate Hebrew zamar, ‘to make music in praise to God.’ This Hebrew word describes music made either by musical instruments or vocally, and thus can also mean ‘to sing.’ In some Old Testament contexts it is apparent that zamar/psallo refer to singing that is accompanied by instruments (cf. Psalm 66:4).

                                       a.          So by the time the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was done, psallo had changed meaning to include singing with playing, playing alone, or singing alone.

                          5.          Continuing: “As a result, the meaning of psallo began to be extended to include ‘to sing,’ and by Modern Greek it had come to mean this exclusively.”

                                       a.          Notice that the broadened word became more specific, taking on the meaning of singing only.

                          6.          Continuing: “This gradual shift in meaning presents minor problems for understanding the use of psallo in the New Testament. It is widely agreed that the primary meaning in the New Testament is ‘to sing’ with at least the possible nuance of ‘to sing with instrumental accompaniment.’ Clearly no conclusions can be drawn solely from the lexical meaning of psallo as to whether instrumental accompaniment should be included with Christian worship in song.”

                                       a.          In other words, the scholars agree that it means to sing, though some hold out that it might include an implication for using instruments.

                          7.          Now, returning to dictionaries, such as Vine’s. Most stop reading the definition too soon.

                                       a.          Psallo, primarily ‘to twitch, twang,’ then, ‘to play a string instrument with the fingers,’ and hence in the Septuagint, ‘to sing with a harp, sing psalms,’ denotes in the New Testament, ‘to sing a hymn, sing praise’; in Eph. 5:19, ‘making melody.’ Elsewhere it is rendered ‘sing,’ Rom. 15:9; I Cor. 14:15; in Jas. 5:13, ‘let him sing praise’.

                                       b.          Vine gives the same record of the shift of meaning and states that in the New Testament the meaning is to sing (not play).

                          8.          Thayer makes the same distinction.

                                       a.          “In the New Testament to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song.

                          9.          Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament

                                       a.          “Psallo originally meant to play on strings, then to sing with an accompaniment (Eph. 5:19), and here apparently to sing without regard to an instrument.”

                                       b.          Robertson again traces the same change of meaning. But notice that in Ephesians 5:19 he says the word means with accompaniment. We will return to this point later.

             D.         One of our problems is that we are almost 2,000 years later trying to figure out the nuances of a word used in another language.

                          1.          Everyone agrees the word means to sing, but some hold out that it is possible it could include instruments. Probably because they are uncertain as to when the change in meaning was completed.

                          2.          One solution to this problem is to see how people of that era interpreted the word.

                          3.          “Christians who heard and read the New Testament commands to sing did nothing else but sing for 600 years.” Jim Massey in Psallo

                          4.          James W. McKinnon examined 150 references to Christian music up to the Middle Ages and found opposition to instruments ‘uniform, vehement, and monolithic’.

                          5.          Clement of Alexandria, about 195 A.D. “The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by whom we honor God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, trumpet, timbrel, and flute.”

                          6.          McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, Volume 8, page 739 “The Greek word psallo is applied among the Greeks of modern times exclusively to sacred music, which in the Eastern Church has never been any other than vocal, instrumental music being unknown in that Church, as it was in the primitive Church. Sir John Hawkins, following the Romish writers in his erudite work on the History of Music, makes Pope Vitalian, in A.D. 660, the first who introduced organs into churches. But students of ecclesiastical archaeology are generally agreed that instrumental music was not used in churches till a much later date; for Thomas Aquinas, A.D. 1250, has these remarkable words: ‘Our Church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.’ From this passage, we are surely warranted in concluding that there was no ecclesiastical use of organs in the time of Aquinas.”

IV.       I have about 15 translations, all translate the word psallo as sing or making melody. Only one, the Amplified Bible, inserts “and instruments” in brackets in Ephesians 5:19.

             A.         “Speak out to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise with voices [and instruments] and making melody with all your heart to the Lord.”

                          1.          What is fascinating is that psallo appears four times in the New Testament: Romans 15:9, I Corinthians 14:15, Ephesians 5:19, and James 5:13, but they only insert this commentary of musical accompaniment in Ephesians 5:19.

                          2.          The other problem is that the added commentary is on the word ado, which all agree is vocal singing and not on “making melody” (psallo)

                          3.          At best, this translation is misleading.

             B.         The reason for questioning psallo is that Paul says sing (ado) and make melody (psallo). They look for a reason for why Paul would say sing and sing.

             C.         In a sense, I believe they are right, there is an accompaniment to the singing being referred to in this verse. There is something being played.

             D.         The question must be asked is what is being played. The AMP version says it is instruments, if we ignore the fact that they attached it to the wrong word.

                          1.          When we say baptized or immersed, the words are actions but they do not describe, by themselves, the medium being immersed in. In the Bible, people are immersed in water, in fire, in the Holy Spirit.

                          2.          If I mentioned plucking, you would need to hear more as to what was plucked. It could be a chicken for all you know.

                          3.          “Making melody”, some feel, includes the idea of plucking, strumming, or playing something.

                                       a.          What is the object of this verb? What is being played? With what are we making melody?

                                       b.          Even in English it is as obvious as it is in Greek – we are making melody with the heart.

                                       c.          When the object is specified, it is not reasonable to insert other things.

                                                    (1)        You want to add instruments, such as an organ or a guitar?

                                                    (2)        Then I want to add a chicken or a bow! At least both of mine can be plucked, you can’t pluck an organ.

                                                    (3)        But be aware that they are all additions because what is being played is already in the text!

V.         Actually, instrumental music is a relatively recent innovation.

             A.         For many years, only a few denominations had instrumental music.

             B.         John Calvin, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things from the Jew. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise: but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to Him.” (Commentary on Psalms 33)

             C.         John Wesley, “I have no opposition to the organ in our chapel provided it is neither seen nor heard.” (Adam Clark’s Commentary, Volume 4, page 868)

             D.         Adam Clark, “I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them to be productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire; but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor.” (Adam Clark’s Commentary, Volume 4, page 686)

             E.         Charles Spurgeon, when asked why, in the twenty years he preached in London, never used the organ in worship, cited 1 Cor. 14:15 and said “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the understanding also, I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. I would as soon pray to God with machinery as to sing to God with machinery.”

             F.         I might not agree with the men on other subjects, but I think they hit the nail on the head when it comes to mechanical instruments of music in the worship.

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