Thanks for the good question and kind spirit in which it was asked! Both are much appreciated.
For easy reference here are the two New Testament passages that command us to sing:
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (Ephesians 5:18-20 NKJV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16-17 NKJV)
Your questions indicate 3 underlying requirements to satisfying the above commands to "speak"
, and "sing" "in psalms"
- All psalms of the Old Testament must be sung.
- The commands of any psalm, which is sung, must be executed in that setting. In other words, singing those psalms makes them authoritative and binding upon us. We must do what they say, if we are to sing them.
- For any psalm that was originally accompanied with mechanical instruments, the essential meaning of the psalm is lost without instrumental accompaniment.
First, please note that the commands of Ephesians 5:19
and Colossians 3:16
say, "speaking to one another in all Old Testament psalms and hymns and spiritual songs"
or "teach and admonish one another in all Old Testament psalms and hymns and spiritual songs"
. No where are we commanded to employ every
psalm recorded in the Old Testament. The number, source, and order of the psalms is simply not specified, so I dare not limit what God has not limited. Whatever God leaves open-ended, I try to do the same. Now, the nature and capability of the psalm is specified (spiritual teaching and thanksgiving), so I dare not take away from that.
Secondly, let us test this first assumption for practical, consistent application. (If we cannot keep it consistently, then something must be wrong with our initial assumption.) Where you worship, do they sing all
150 psalms of the Old Testament? What about the ones that are included in line with the narrative, like those found in I Chronicles 16:7-36
or maybe II Samuel 22:1-51
? (Admittedly, the last one is described merely as a "song"
that was "spoken"
. Does that mean there was no musical accompaniment?) This could
be done, even if no one does it, but should
it be done?
This continued line of reasoning also challenges the second assumption: Do you sing this
psalm at worship services and execute all
of the commands it demands?
1 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
2 Let Israel now say, "His mercy endures forever."
3 Let the house of Aaron now say, "His mercy endures forever."
4 Let those who fear the LORD now say, "His mercy endures forever."
5 I called on the LORD in distress; The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
10 All nations surrounded me, But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
11 They surrounded me, Yes, they surrounded me; But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
12 They surrounded me like bees; They were quenched like a fire of thorns; For in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
13 You pushed me violently, that I might fall, But the LORD helped me.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
27 God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.
29 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (Psalm 118:1-29 NKJV)
Did your church immediately proclaim war on all idolatrous, pagan, or unbelieving nations? Did you immediately seek to "destroy them in the name of the Lord"
? Did you proceed to "the house of the Lord"
and there "bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar"
? Is it not a command to "bind the sacrifice"
? Where is the phrasing that indicates it was an option?
How about this Psalm?
1 By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it.
3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
4 How shall we sing the LORD'S song In a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill!
6 If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth -- If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, "Raze it, raze it, To its very foundation!"
8 O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us!
9 Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock! (Psalm 137:1-9 NKJV)
Do you encourage your church to "dash the little ones against the rock"
, who belong to opposing nations? How do you sing this psalm in your worship?
We could proceed multiplying examples of psalms that should no longer be observed. Hopefully, these will suffice to make the point: The Old Testament psalms contain a multitude of references and commands that pertained to carnal Israel in their carnal worship of earthly sacrifice and their carnal mission to secure the land of Canaan. Just as those commands no longer authorize genocide and animal sacrifice, they no longer authorize instrumental music. If one insists that they do authorize - even demand instrumental music, then why do they not also demand genocide and animal sacrifice? Whatever approves one approves the other.
Does that lack of authority mean that the Old Testament psalms are not valuable or that some of them cannot be sung? No, there is great value and edification that can be gleaned from the Old Testament, including the Psalms (I Corinthians 10:6, 11-12; Romans 15:4
). Please see these articles and this discussion for more details and deeper study:
However, they no longer hold the power to command
)! Therefore, any Old Testament psalm sung holds no more power to command than if we should put the book of Leviticus
Lastly, if the accompanying music is so essential to its message, then why did God preserve only the words
? Why did He not preserve the musical score? ... Why did He tell us to "sing"
, and "admonish"
the psalms? How does a guitar "teach"
? How does a piano "admonish"
? ... Maybe we are emphasizing the wrong part of the psalms?
In summary, there is no basis for requiring every
Old Testament psalm to be sung, since there is no New Testament command, example, or inference that would lead to such a conclusion. Furthermore, singing and
obeying every Old Testament psalm would lead us to execute unthinkable acts condemned by the New Testament, such as genocide and animal sacrifice. Therefore, such a requirement must be wrong, since it is opposed to the New Testament itself. Old Testament psalms can be sung in worship, provided they "teach"
, and "speak"
what clearly accords with New Testament teaching, uttering no "uncertain sound"
that would lead to "confusion"
or misunderstanding (I Corinthians 14:6-9, 33, 40
). (FWIW, there are several Old Testament Psalms duplicated almost verbatim in our hymnal.) Lastly, the true, essential meaning of the psalms is seen in their ability to satisfy the commands to "teach"
, and "speak"
. Only words hold such lasting power to forever change the mind.
So, in closing, does your church perform all
150 Psalms and those included inline with the Bible narrative? Do they obey every
command found therein? If not, why not? If the instrumental score is so important, why did God only
preserve the words
? How does a mechanical instrument teach
? ... These are the questions that stick in my
conscience that prohibit me from using mechanical instruments in worship to God. I ask them of you in all caring and love, only as I ask them of myself.
Again, I want to thank you for your good question and kind answer. I pray you will find my answer to be likewise offered in kindness and Christian love.
If this answer does not satisfy your conscience, I hope you will explain why. I would covet the opportunity to prayerfully consider or clarify. Thank you too for reaching out and offering this opportunity to study important matters of the faith. It is my prayer that it will help us move closer to God, His Word, and each other in Christ.
May God help us to have a sincere love of truth (II Thessalonians 2:9-12; Isaiah 66:4