Psalms, Making Melody And Instrumental Music

A Study Of Ephesians 5:19 And Related Passages

1. The Basic Argument: Eph. 5:19 (Those who believe in the use of instrumental music in worship to God sometimes make two arguments based on this verse in defense of instrumental music. They are as follows.)

    A. Speaking To Yourselves In Psalms: It is alleged that the Greek noun psalmos, translated "psalms" means a song performed with musical accompaniment. Therefore, the New Testament authorizes the use of instrumental music in worship to God.

    B. Making Melody In Your Heart: The phrase "making melody" translates the Greek verb psallo. This is the word from which psalmos is derived. It is alleged that psallo means to pluck a stringed instrument. Therefore, the New Testament authorizes the use of instrumental music in worship to God.)

2. What These Words Mean:

    A. Lexicons: (The following lexical definitions of psalmos will reflect the original meaning of the term and how its meaning evolved through the years. As with many words, its original, literal meaning and its later applications often differed. Thus, the question becomes not just what it meant originally, but what it means in 1 Cor. 14:15, Eph. 5:19, and Col. 3:16. Note below that Zodhiates speaks of the evolution of its meaning. Vincent contrasts its original signification with its use in the New Testament. The lexical definition of psallo will not be dealt with here since it is so similar to psalmos. Its meaning and usage is addressed in different places throughout this writing.)

      1.) Strong's: #5568 "...A set piece of music, i.e. a sacred ode [accompanied with the voice, harp or other instruments; a 'psalm']; collectively the book of the Psalms..."

      2.) Zodhiates': Lexical Aids To The New Testament, pg. 1769 "...Actually a touching, and then a touching of the harp or other stringed instruments with the finger or with the plectrum; later known as the instrument itself, and finally it became known as the song sung with the musical accompaniment. This latest state of its meaning, 'psalm,' was adopted in the Septuagint. In all probability the psalms of Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16 are the inspired psalms of the Hebrew Canon. The word certainly designates these on all other occasions when it occurs in the New Testament, with the one possible exception of I Corinthians 14:26..."

      3.) Thayer's: Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament, pg. 675 "...a striking, twanging... a striking the chords of a musical instrument... hence a pious song, a of the songs of the book of the Old Testament..."

      4.) Vincent's: Word Studies Of The New Testament, Vol. III, pg. 269-270 "...The noun psalm (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; I Cor. 14:26), which is etymologically akin to this verb (psallo in 1 Cor. 14:15 DEM), is used in the New Testament of a religious song in general, having the character of an Old Testament psalm... Some think that the verb has here its original signification of singing with an instrument. This is its dominant sense in the Septuagint, and both Basil and Gregory of Nyssa define a psalm as implying instrumental accompaniment... But neither Basil nor Ambrose nor Chrysostom, in their panegyrics upon music, mention instrumental music, and Basil expressly condemns it. Bingham dismisses the matter summarily, and cites Justin Martyr as saying expressly that instrumental music was not used in the Christian Church. The verb is used here in the general sense of singing praise."

    B. Root Meaning Vs. Context: (More needs to be said to establish that the meaning of a term changes and evolves through the years. Furthermore, we must illustrate where a term can take on a meaning in a given context that vastly differs from its original meaning.)

      1.) Giveth: "Giveth" in 1 Pet. 4:11 (KJV) comes from a word which means; to be a chorus-leader, lead a chorus, to furnish the chorus at one's own expense, to procure and supply all things necessary to fit out the chorus. In time, through the ordinary evolution of definitions, it come to mean; to supply, furnish abundantly. See Strong's #5524 in Strong's, Thayer's, etc. Obviously, the original meaning of the term doesn't fit the context of 1 Pet. 4:11. Thus we assign to it a later applied meaning. The same is true with psalmos in Eph. 5:19. The context must determine its meaning.

      2.) Lyric: According to The Century Dictionary of 1889 as quoted by Bales in Instrumental Music And New Testament Worship, pg. 109, lyric meant, "Pertaining or adapted to the lyre or harp... among the ancients, poetry sung to the lyre; in modern usage, poetry composed for musical recitation." This illustrates not only that words change, but that a word once associated with an instrument finally became associated with a song accompanied by an instrument, and then to the words of a song, sung in a lyrical, poetic way with no necessary connection to any instrument.

    C. Translations: (Credible translations consistently translate psalmos and psallo in such a way that reflects singing. If the meaning of these terms so obviously involves musical instruments, why aren't main line translations reflecting that? The hundreds of scholars that produced translations such as the KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASV, RSV, etc. reflect our conclusion, that psalmos and psallo do not necessitate instrumental music. To find a translation that does otherwise, you must leave the mainstream and use versions that take great liberties with scripture and frequently betray the original languages.

3. What Early Christians Understood "Psalms" To Mean: (When attempting to define a Bible term, it is helpful to see how people from that general time understood and used the term. The sources cited in this section were Christian writers in the late first, second, third, and early fourth century. If the use of instrumental music is inherent in psalmos, it should be reflected in their usage of that term. If, on the other hand, they apply it to the idea of vocal music, this is a strong indication psalmos was commonly understood to indicate a religious song performed by singing.

    A. Eusebius Pamphilus: Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, pg. 213 (early fourth century) speaks of psalms and hymns as simply spiritual songs written by Christian brethren. No mention is made regarding these involving instrumental music in their performance.

    B. The Instructor: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, pg. 249 (possibly late first, likely second century) says the psalm is a melodious and sober blessing. He says Paul called it a spiritual song. Like the other sources, this early writing regards a psalm as simply a religious song. Nothing is said about it necessitating or even involving a musical instrument.

    C. Tertulian Against Marcion: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III, pg. 468 (second and early third century) speaks of psalms and hymns being performed vocally while instruments characteristically accompanied drunkenness. This is not to say that instruments by their nature incur revelry. It simply shows that the exclusively vocal performance of psalms was contrasted with instrumental use in secular music. If the use of instruments was inherent in psalms, why did Tertulian place psalms as opposite with songs accompanied with instruments? Furthermore, why did he depict psalms being performed vocally, not instrumentally?

    D. Tertulian To His Wife: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, pg. 48 (second and early third century) speaks of a husband and wife chanting (singing) psalms and hymns together. If instruments inhere in the performance of psalms, why do these early Christians consistently speak of psalms being vocally performed? Though there was a time (under Moses' law) that psalms were performed with instruments, these sources show that the usage of psalmos does not necessarily include or require instruments, especially in New Testament times.

4. Instruments Would Be Mandatory: (If it is true that instrumental music is inherent in psalmos and psallo, passages like Eph. 5:19 would not only allow instrumental music, they would require it! Are musical instruments mandatory when offering musical worship to God? Are the proponents of instrumental music consistent with this argument?)

    A. Sing Psalms: Jas. 5:13 (In this passage, the KJV translates psallo "sing psalms". If the meanings of psallo and psalmos demand musical instruments, then we are required to play a musical instrument when we are happy. What of a person who cannot play? Is there no way such a one can express their joy in song? If psallo inheres instruments, that is precisely the case. If we can understand the term to indicate vocal music in Jas. 5:13, why can we not make the same application in Eph. 5:19?

    B. Commanded To All: Eph. 5:19 (The context of this passage applies to all Christians. All Christians are to abstain from drunkenness. All Christians are to be filled with the Spirit. All Christians are to sing. Since this context applies to all, whatever psalmos and psallo mean/require, they mean/require all to do. If they inhere musical instruments, all are required to use them. Anybody not using an instrument is not performing a psalm, they are not making melody.

    C. Consistency: Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16 (If psalms in these verses mean a song accompanied with instruments, do advocates of instrumental music only use instruments when performing psalms? Do they invariably perform hymns or spiritual songs without instruments? To do otherwise would contradict their contention that a psalm is a special kind of song to be performed with instruments.)

5. You Can Perform A Psalm Without An Instrument: (The information we have examined thus far indicates psalm does not necessarily include instrumental accompaniment. The lexicons testify to this fact. The dynamic nature of definitions testify to this fact. The contexts in which these terms are used prove this fact. We will now illustrate this fact through scriptural examples. We will examine cases where psalms were performed vocally, without musical instruments. This will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that psalmos and psallo do not necessarily involve or allow instruments of music.

    A. Quoted: Rom. 3:9-18 (This passage contains several quotations from Psalms. If psalms, by their nature are accompanied with music are we to understand Paul played a harp when he recited these passages? Of course not. Though this doesn't speak specifically to the issue of music, it does demonstrate that psalms can be recited without musical accompaniment.

    B. Read: Mt. 21:42 (Here Jesus quoted Ps. 118:22-23 and spoke of them reading the same. This was a psalm. Did he accompany it with musical instruments? Did they always accompany it with instruments when they read it? Once more, this doesn't speak specifically to the issue of music, but it does demonstrate that psalms can be recited without musical accompaniment, showing that instruments don't inhere in psalmos.

    C. Sang: Mt. 26:30 (This passage says Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn. The term "hymn" here refers to psalms of praise, especially Psalms 113-118. See Instrumental Music And New Testament Worship, pg. 62, and Vincent's Word Studies Of The New Testament, Vol. III, pg. 269-270. Note that Jesus and his disciples sang these psalms. The Bible doesn't say they played them. We read nothing of them being accompanied with musical instruments. The Bible simply says they sang these psalms. Did Jesus perform these psalms incorrectly? Do those who wish to use instruments of music understand better how to perform a psalm than Jesus?

    D. Sang: Mk. 14:26 (This is the same instance as noted above. It shows another passage of scripture which depicts psalms being performed by singing, not playing.)

    E. Jerome: As quoted in Instrumental Music And New Testament Worship, pg. 64-65 "Whichever way you turn, the plowman holding the plow-handle is singing 'Hallelujah,' the sweating reaper diverts himself with psalms, the vine-dresser pruning the vine with his curved knife is singing something from David." These people had their hands full, yet they performed psalms. Since their hands were busy working they couldn't have accompanied the psalms with instrumental music. They sang these psalms without instrumental music. Though this is not a Bible example, it is valuable in helping us understand the meaning of psalm. Furthermore, it aids in proving that psalms did not necessarily include instrumental accompaniment.

6. How The New Testament Says To Perform Psalms:

    A. Speaking: Eph. 5:19 (How does the Bible tell us to perform psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in this passage? Paul said these are accomplished by speaking and by singing. Those who wish to use instruments of music say psalms are to be played. The inspired Apostle Paul said they are to be spoken and sung! Making melody here (psallo) does not indicate playing an instrument. The making of melody here is accomplished in or with the heart. It has to do with singing heartily, with meaning.)

    B. Understanding: 1 Cor. 14:15 (This passage uses psallo, the verb form of psalmos. Notice the Bible says to sing [psallo] with the understanding. From the immediate context, verses 16 and 19 show that understanding has to do with understanding spoken words. So the singing [psallo-ing] involved spoken words, not mechanical instruments. Some argue that since the root meaning of psallo is to strike or twang something to make it vibrate, such as a stringed instrument, this must involve playing, not singing. However, through the evolution of this terms definition, it has come to indicate singing in the New Testament rather than plucking a string, the vocal chords being the object "plucked" and caused to vibrate. The bottom line is, whatever psallo does, it produces intelligible words in 1 Cor. 14:15. Playing an instrument does no such thing, but singing does. This supplies a Bible definition for psallo [verb], and by implication psalmos [noun]; to sing [verb], or the song that is sung [noun].)

    C. Teach And Admonish: Col. 3:16 (This passage tells us to teach and admonish with psalms. Whatever a psalm is, it teaches and admonishes. The sounds of an instrument do not teach nor admonish so their use in the performance of a psalm would violate what this passage requires of our musical worship. Furthermore, the verse says this is accomplished by singing. The performance of a psalm, a hymn, or a spiritual song is accomplished by singing. That's what the Bible says. Others may say that at least psalms also include playing, but the Bible says it is accomplished by singing.)