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by Phillip Vanwinkle
JULY 15, 2016

Erasing Arguments for Using Instrumental Music in Worship: Psalm & Psallo (Part 2)

Those who push the mechanical instrument into the Lord's worship try to shove it through by using the old argument: "The instrument is found in the word 'psallo.'" I disagree with this conclusion, as does scholarship. (Please take time to read the previous article.)

But even supposing that they are correct, the answer is still found within the context of this verse itself. 

The Instrument is Named!

Let's suppose that they are right in their assertion that the word did indeed carry the idea of an instrument of music. They would still have to explain why "the heart" is not the specified instrument, and why this is not referring to a spiritual thing, but rather a physical thing (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19).

Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. (Psa. 81:2)

There was a psalm (words to be sung), and the instruments expected are listed.

Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp. (Psa. 149:3)

Once again, we see that both the praises being sung and the instrument being played are named.

The passage under consideration for us today is Ephesians 5:19:

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord... (Eph. 5:19)

It is clear that something spiritual was to be played, and not something physical. Historians agree; I will list only a couple, although there are many more.

(1) Justin Martyr (A.D. 139): The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song;

(2) Chrysostom (A.D. 347): It was only permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls. God condescended to their weakness because they were lately drawn off from idols; but now, instead of organs, we may use our own bodies to praise him with.

The point is that, even supposing they were successful in proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the word psallo meant "to play an instrument," they must then prove that the heart is not the instrument being referenced. They have failed to do this.

But wait!

Suppose they did prove that it was not the heart that was the instrument, and that God was actually intending to instruct us to use mechanical instruments. What then? If that were the case, they would necessarily have to conclude that whatever the instrument is, it is to be used by everyone, as the pronouns demand in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5.

Wayne Jackson writes in an article concerning choirs and solos the following words which have application to this subject (Read full article at Christian Courier):

Paul wrote:

And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18, 19 [ASV]).  -- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God (Colossians 3:16 [ASV]).

There are several important things here. First, the language of these verses is such that it involves a plurality of individuals, entire congregations, in the obligations enjoined. The imperatives “be filled” and “let dwell,” along with the explanatory plural participles, “speaking,” “singing,” “making melody,” “teaching,” etc., indicate the activity of the church as a whole, rather than individual action, or that of a small portion of the church, as suggested by the solo-choral arrangement.

Second, the terms heautois (“one to another” [Ephesians 5:19]) and heautou (“one another” [Colossians 3:16]) are grammatically classified as reciprocal, reflexive pronouns.

According to noted grammarians Dana and Mantey (1968, 131), such a usage, as in the contexts under consideration, represents “an interchange of action” in the verbs employed.

J. B. Lightfoot (1892, 219) has noted that the reflexive nature of these pronouns emphasizes the “idea of corporate unity.” When the church as a whole sings, there is “speaking one to another”; when one group is active (the choir) and another group is passive (the listening audience), there is no interchange of action.

Choir and solo music does not fulfill the requirements of these contexts. Godet affirms that Ephesians 5:18ff and Colossians 3:16 refer to hymns that are sung by “the whole Church” (1890, 281).

Third, the participles “speaking,” “singing,” etc., explain the manner of implementing the imperatives (commands) “be filled” and “let dwell.”

Consequently, if one group (the chorus) may sing and praise God for another group (the audience), that is equivalent to arguing that one group may “be filled” with the Spirit for another, or the choir may “let [the word] dwell” in them as representatives for the balance of the congregation.

The New Testament does not sanction the notion of proxy worship. One segment of the church can no more sing for another than it can observe the Lord’s supper for another, or give for another. God expects faithful worship from each Christian.

Fourth, if Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16 actually exclude congregational singing and suggest solo or choir singing, as some have alleged (DeWelt 1985, 293), then solo and choir singing is not an option; rather, it is an obligation, and everyone in the church must be active in this type of singing function.

This is similar to the argument that N. B. Hardeman made in his debate with Ira Boswell. When Boswell contended that the Greek word psallontes (“making melody”) in Ephesians 5:19 infered a mechanical instrument, Hardeman, with relentless logic, demonstrated that since all of the saints at Ephesus were commanded to make melody, this would surely demand that each of them personally employ an instrument. Boswell was devastated by the argument.

English Bible Translations

What about the translators of the English Bible? When they read these words, how did they translate them? Notice these various translations of Ephesians 5:19: 

KJV Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
NKJV speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
NLT SINGING psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.
NIV speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. SING and make music from your heart to the Lord,
ESV addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody to the Lord with your heart,
HCSB speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, SINGING and making music from your heart to the Lord,
NASB speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
RSV addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,
ASV speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
YLT speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
DBY speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING and chanting with your heart to the Lord;
WEB Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, SINGING and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
HNV speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; SINGING, and SINGING praises in your heart to the Lord;

And Colossians 3:16:

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.
NLT Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.
NIV Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, SINGING to God with gratitude in your hearts.
ESV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, SINGING psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
HCSB Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and SINGING psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.
NASB Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
RSV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and SING psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
ASV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, SINGING with grace in your hearts unto God.
YLT Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing each other, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, in grace SINGING in your hearts to the Lord;
DBY Let the word of the Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, SINGING with grace in your hearts to God.
WEB 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.
HNV Let the word of Messiah dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, SINGING with grace in your heart to the Lord.

In light of these translations, it looks like the men who translated the word psallo must not have been convinced that it meant "to play a mechanical instrument"!

Here's the point:

Suppose that they had been able to prove that the words "psallo" and "psalmos" carry the idea of musical instruments (which they have not done). And suppose they were able to prove that the heart was not the instrument, but rather that God intended His children to use mechanical instruments in worship (which they clearly have not proven).

In the end, the thing they have proven is that God demands all men who worship Him to use mechanical instruments.

The logical and scriptural conclusion we would reach is that the early church, including the apostles, were living in sin by disobeying God’s specific instruction to play a mechanical instrument.

Let me see if I have the thinking right.

  1. They have not proven that “psallo” carries with it the idea of the mechanical instrument. However, they expect me to believe their assertion.
  2. They have not proven that the heart is not the instrument under consideration.
  3. They do not argue that such a command is incumbent upon every Christian.
  4. They "logically" conclude that I should just take their word for it that it is OK.

God still says: Prove all things, hold fast that which is good. (1 Thess. 5:21)

God still says: And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

So, based upon the Psallo argument, I dare not leave it up to man’s "wisdom" to define God’s pattern for worship. We are still waiting to see if they can prove it!

The Psalm & Psallo arguments failing, next time we will discuss the following question:

“Musical instruments are used in Heaven, so we can use them now?”


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