Most denominations today play instruments to praise God, but historically instrumental music was often accepted only after much controversy. Introduction of instruments in denominations historically has often led to division. Members of churches that play instruments are often surprised to find that there are still churches that do not use instrumental music but simply sing (vocal music, a cappella).
Our goal is simply to determine God's will and to encourage everyone to follow it with conviction. We have no personal ill will toward others. But God's word must prevail. We must stand for truth and help others correct their lives where necessary. Singing or playing: which does God want?
A. Musical Praise in the Old Testament
Each passage below describes singing in God's worship.
Deuteronomy 31:19 - Write down this song ... put it in their mouths.
2 Samuel 22:1 - David spoke to the Lord the words of this song...
2 Chronicles 29:30 - Sing praise to the Lord with the words of David...
Psalm 40:3 - He has put a new song in my mouth - Praise to our God.
Psalm 51:14,15 - My tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
Psalm 71:23 - My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to you...
Psalm 89:1 - I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known your faithfulness...
Psalm 126:2 - Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing...
Isaiah 52:8 - With their voices they shall sing together...
Words like "sing," "spoke," "lips," "mouth," etc. clearly refer to vocal music. Altogether over 125 Old Testament verses describe worshiping God by singing.
2 Samuel 6:5,21 - Israel played before the lord on instruments.
1 Chronicles 23:5 - They praised the lord with instruments which David made for giving praise (NKJV).
2 Chronicles 7:6 - The Levites had instruments of music, which David had made to praise the lord. David offered praise by their ministry.
2 Chronicles 29:25 - The Levites were arranged with cymbals, stringed instruments, and harps. This was commanded of the Lord.
Psalm 43:4 - On the harp I will praise you. Cf. 71:22; 33:2.
Psalm 68:25 - Singers went before, players followed after.
Psalm 150:3-5 - Praise Him with the trumpet, harp, etc.
Altogether over 60 Old Testament verses refer favorably to worshiping God by using instruments.
[Cf. Psa. 87:7; 1 Chron. 13:8; 2 Chron. 29:28.]
Dancing in the Bible was generally not a sexually suggestive act involving couples as is done today. It meant to leap, twirl, and gyrate as an expression of joy.
Exodus 15:20,21 - Miriam led the women with timbrels and dances, saying to sing to the Lord.
2 Samuel 6:14 - David danced before the Lord with all his might.
Psalm 149:3 - Let them praise his name with the dance.
Psalm 150:4 - Praise him with the timbrel and dance.
At least 6 Old Testament verses refer favorably to dancing in worship to God.
The Old Testament is clear and explicit.
(1) Singing, playing instruments, and dancing were all clearly stated to be acceptable acts of worship.
(2) Singing, playing, and dancing were three different types of musical praise. They were often done together, but each one constituted an additional, distinct act of praise to God.
(3) Playing instruments and dancing were each, in and of themselves, a means or avenue of praising God, just as singing was.
(4) When God was willing to accept instrumental praise, He very plainly said so.
These facts will be important in our study; however, they prove nothing about what God wants in His worship today. We will later show that we are no longer under the Old Testament, and the acts it authorizes do not apply to us (Gal. 5:1-4; Heb. 10:9,10; Rom. 7:1-6; Col. 2:14).
B. Musical Praise in the New Testament
Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26 - After instituting the Lord's supper Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn.
Acts 16:25 - In prison, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.
Romans 15:9 - Prophets had predicted that (in the gospel age) Gentiles would glorify God for His mercy and sing to His name.
1 Corinthians 14:15 - I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding.
Ephesians 5:19 - Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.
Colossians 3:16 - 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.
Hebrews 2:12 - In the midst of the congregation I will sing praise to You.
Hebrews 13:15 - Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.
James 5:13 - Is any cheerful, let him sing psalms.
This is a complete list of all New Testament verses that mention musical praise to God by Christians on earth. As in Old Testament examples, words like "sing," "speak," "teach," "admonish," and "lips" all clearly refer to vocal music. Note that this is proved, not just by the word "sing," but also by other words.
The Old Testament explicitly stated that singing, playing instruments, and dancing were three distinct forms of musical expression, and each was an acceptable act of praise to God. The New Testament continues to describe singing as acceptable praise, but not one time are instruments or dancing mentioned as accepted forms of praise to God. The New Testament mentions instruments (12 times) and dancing (5 times), but never as acts of praise to God.
Why does the New Testament contrast so powerfully to the Old Testament regarding instrumental music? If God still wants it today, why does He not clearly mention it in the New Testament, as He mentioned it in the Old Testament? He mentions instruments in the New Testament, but never for our praise to God. Why not?
The Old Testament expressly authorized many practices which are nowhere authorized in New Testament service to God: the seventh-day sabbath, animal sacrifices, Levitical priesthood, burning incense, infant membership, circumcision, tithing, holy days, roast lamb in memorial feasts, dancing, and instrumental music. Since this law does not apply today, people generally omit these from service to God, yet some people want to keep instrumental music. Why leave some but take others?
The very fact that God mentioned these practices repeatedly in the Old Testament, but does not mention them at all in the New Testament, proves that He does not want them now. If He wanted them, He would mention them now as He did then.
Consider some important principles in reaching the proper conclusions about this evidence.
John 4:24 tells us to worship God "in spirit and in truth." 1 Corinthians 14:15 says to sing "with the spirit and with the understanding." Hence, musical praise in the New Testament must meet three criteria: (1) truth, (2) understanding, and (3) spirit. Let us see how instrumental praise measures up.
First, consider worshiping God in truth.
People often defend a practice by saying "God nowhere said not to do this." But when a practice cannot be found in God's word, is that practice right or wrong? Does God's silence about a practice give us consent to do it, or does it prohibit us from doing it?
Consider the following teachings of God's word:
A. The Bible Completely Reveals ALL God's Will.
God reveals in the gospel everything which He approves.
John 16:13 (14:26) - The Holy Spirit revealed all truth to the apostles. What the Spirit revealed, they then wrote in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 11:23; 14:37; 15:8; 1 John 1:1-4; Ephesians 3:3-5).
Acts 20:20,27 - Paul preached the whole counsel of God, keeping back nothing that was profitable.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - All good works are recorded in the Scriptures. So the Scriptures are profitable to teach and instruct men in righteousness, etc.
2 Peter 1:3 - In Peter's lifetime, people received all things that pertained to life and godliness. Having received these things, Peter wrote them down so that, even after he died, we could be reminded of the words of Jesus' apostles and prophets (2 Peter 1:12-15; 3:1,2).
James 1:25 - This word of truth is the perfect law of liberty.
[See also Matt. 28:20; Col. 4:12; Jude 3; Hebrews. 13:20,31; John 20:30,31; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:1-6.]
Consider the consequence for practices not revealed in the New Testament. Since the Bible contains all truth, all good works, etc., does it not follow that any practice not found there is not true, not a good work, and does not pertain to life or godliness? How then can we practice these things and expect to please God?
Specifically, if God wants instrumental praise today, wouldn't the New Testament reveal this like the Old Testament did? Singing is part of the truth and a good work, etc., since it is revealed. But instruments are not revealed, so how can we use them and be abiding in the truth?
B. Practices Not Included in God's Word Are Unacceptable.
John 4:23,24 - We must worship God in spirit and in truth. But God's word is truth (John 17:17), and all truth is revealed in the gospel (John 16:13). It follows that any practice is unacceptable if it is not included in the gospel.
Matthew 15:9,13,14 - Worship is vain (worthless) when based on precepts of human origin. But every religious practice is based either on God's authority, or else on man's authority (Matthew 21:23-27). Since the Bible reveals everything that God ordained, then any practice which is not revealed in the gospel must be human in origin and therefore displeasing to God.
The purpose of worship is to please and glorify God. We honor and respect Him when we do what He says. If we do what men say instead, then we are showing respect for men, not for God. So God is displeased.
Specifically, we know singing in worship pleases God, because the New Testament commands it. But instrumental music is different from what God said to do in worship. It is nowhere included. Therefore, it must be human in origin and shows disrespect for God.
Loving God is the most important command there is (Matt. 22:37).
John 14:15 - But love means that we keep God's commands [1 John 5:3; 2 John 6]. Love leads us to please the person we love, rather than pleasing ourselves.
Isaiah 55:8,9; Luke 16:15 - God's thoughts and ways are completely different from ours. What is highly esteemed by men is an abomination to God.
The fact that we like a thing means nothing regarding whether or not God will like it. Yet people often defend their religious practices by saying, "I think it's beautiful," "I like it," or "We're satisfied with it." Such statements reveal love for self, not love for God. When we love God, we do what pleases Him, regardless of what we want.
Where can we learn what God wants? Only in the Bible, which completely reveals everything He wants. If we love God, then, we will do only what His will says to do. [Revelation 22:18,19; Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:6]
Specifically, we show love for God when we sing in worship, because He says He wants this. But instrumental music is different from what God said to do in worship. It is nowhere included. So to use it is an act of love for ourselves, but not for God.
Romans 10:17 - Faith comes by hearing God's word. We can practice a thing "by faith" only if it is in God's word.
Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12; 2 Corinthians 10:18 - The way of man is not in himself. It is not in man who walks to direct his steps. There is a way that seems right to man, but the end is death. Not he who commends himself is approved, but he whom the Lord approves.
Since we do not think like God does, we cannot possibly know God's will unless He reveals it. And His will is completely revealed in the Bible. It is impossible, therefore, to practice anything by faith if it cannot be found in the Bible.
Proverbs 3:5,6 - Trust in the Lord and don't lean on your own understanding. True faith teaches us to do only what the Lord reveals. To do what is not revealed is to lean on human wisdom instead of trusting God.
Specifically, we can worship by singing, since God has revealed this. But instrumental music is different from what God said to do in worship. It is nowhere included. To use it is to act by faith in men, not in God.
Colossians 3:17 - All we do, in word or deed, should be done in Jesus' name (by His authority). But Jesus' authority for today is completely revealed in the gospel. Practices not included in Jesus' teaching cannot be done in Jesus' name. What about instrumental praise? Can you find it in Jesus' teaching?
Galatians 1:6-9 - Any man is accursed if he preaches a gospel different from what inspired men taught in the first century. That gospel completely reveals all good works that God wants us to do. If a practice is not included in the gospel, but we preach that it is a good work, then we are preaching a different gospel. Can you find instrumental music in the gospel?
2 John 9 - Whoever does not abide in Jesus' teaching, does not have God. To have God we must abide in Jesus' teaching. But all Jesus' teaching is revealed in the New Testament. So to practice things we cannot find in Jesus' teaching would be to separate ourselves from Him. Is instrumental praise a part of the teaching of Jesus for us today?
Although the Bible does expressly forbid some acts, God never intended for His word to specifically itemize all the things He does not want us to do. Instead, God tells us what He does want us to do. Then He tells us that other things are unacceptable.
When we study about a practice, we should not ask, "Where does God say not to do this?", but rather "Where does God's word show this act to be acceptable?" If the act is not included in God's will, then we should refuse to practice it. Since instruments are different from what God said, to use them is to act by human authority, not God's authority.
[See 1 Peter 4:11; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Romans 10:1-3; Colossians 2:8.]
C. Applications of These Principles
To please God, we must do only those things that are included, fit the definition, or fall within the meaning of God's instructions. Consider some examples (note the chart on the back cover).
God told Noah to make an ark of gopher wood. Metal, pine, and walnut do not fit the definition of gopher wood. They constitute different kinds of materials. God did not expressly say not to use them, but when He said "gopher wood" and did not include metal, pine, etc., they would have been wrong.
Had God simply said to make an ark and specified no particular material, then Noah would have been free to choose any material, and he would still have been obeying God. But when God specified gopher wood, that left Noah with no other choice.
God said people should be buried in baptism. Sprinkling and pouring do not constitute burial. They are different ways of applying water. Had God said simply, "Apply water to the people," or "Get them wet," then we could sprinkle, pour, or immerse. But when He said to bury them, and nowhere said to sprinkle or pour, then sprinkling and pouring must be wrong.
Likewise, Jesus said to baptize penitent believers. Babies and animals do not fit the terms, so they are different subjects from what God said to baptize. When God specified penitent believers and said nothing about babies or animals, then to baptize babies or animals would be wrong.
In the Lord's supper, Jesus said to use unleavened bread and fruit of the vine. But milk and lamb are different kinds of foods from what Jesus said. Had God simply said to eat and drink, we could have chosen any kinds of food and drink. But when He named particular kinds of food, that limited us. To use other kinds of foods would displease Him.
Every New Testament passage that mentions music in worship says to sing, speak, teach, etc. In the Old Testament God showed that singing, playing, and dancing are three distinct ways of praising Him musically, and all three were acceptable then. But in the New Testament, God simply says to sing. He never mentions praising him by dancing or by playing instruments.
If God had simply said to praise God with music, then singing, playing, and/or dancing would have been acceptable. But He named only singing, and He omitted dancing or playing instruments. So to dance or play would be to do that which falls outside the meaning of what God said, just like using pine in the ark or hamburger on the Lord's supper.
God does not have to expressly forbid instruments. The fact that He expressly said to sing, but nowhere says to praise with dance or instruments, shows they are displeasing.
When they consider the unauthorized practices we have listed above, some people object to some of the practices, but they accept others. Some want to use instruments but reject the dancing, infant baptism, or hamburger on the Lord's supper. On what basis do we differentiate them? They stand or fall together. The arguments that justify one would also justify the others; and the arguments that eliminate one would also eliminate the others.
If people practice instrumental praise, they cannot consistently oppose infant baptism, sprinkling, hamburger on the Lord's supper, weekday or annual communion, an earthly headquarters for the church, incense, a special priesthood, dancing as praise to God, or any of a hundred other things that the New Testament nowhere expressly forbids. All are eliminated on the grounds that they differ from what God says.
Instrumental praise does not fit New Testament truth. That is enough reason not to use it. But there are other reasons too. Consider the New Testament teaching about understandable worship (1 Cor. 14:15).
A. Scriptures about the Importance of Understanding in Worship
Our assemblies should be arranged so that they edify people with an understandable message.
Acts 17:2,3 - The gospel is spread by reasoning - a rational message that can be understood.
Acts 11:26 - The church in Antioch conducted assemblies in which they taught many people.
Hebrews 10:24,25 - We should not forsake the assembling of ourselves but be present so we can exhort one another and provoke to love and good works. This is a mutual responsibility in which all should actively participate.
1 Corinthians 11:23-29 - If we conduct ourselves in our assemblies so that we do not understand the significance of what we do, we bring condemnation on ourselves.
1 Corinthians 14:19,26,31 - Everything we do in our assemblies should promote edification, which is promoted by understanding. Activities that fail to promote understanding should be eliminated!
1 Corinthians 14:15 - Specifically, our singing should be done with spirit and understanding. One reason we sing is that singing promotes understanding.
Ephesians 5:19 - Again, in singing we speak to one another. Note it: Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are to be rendered by speaking. This is done by singing. Singing conveys words, and hence, an understandable message. When a person plays an instrument, does the instrument "speak"?
Colossians 3:16 - We render psalms, etc., in such a way as to teach and admonish one another. This requires an understandable message, which is accomplished by singing.
Note that these latter verses both show that the people being taught are also to teach. The same people both teach and are taught in singing. It is done for "one another."
B. Applications to Instruments in Worship
How can they? They speak no words and carry no message! You can take the same instrumental music and put hundreds of different words (messages) to the tune. Instruments produce nothing but an undefined sound which is capable of many different interpretations and which actually gets in the way of understanding the words that are sung.
This is not true of singing. Singing has a tune, but it also necessarily requires spoken words which are designed to teach and admonish and promote understanding - exactly what the passages require. (Of course, it is possible to sing in a way that is confusing, and such should be avoided. But this is not inherently the case, as it is with an instrument.)
Instruments detract from the message by emphasizing the skill of the players. The audience increasingly admires the talents of the performers instead of considering the message proclaimed.
Playing discourages group participation and promotes instead a performer/observer relationship - i.e., entertainment. This necessarily occurs because playing instruments requires skills which many people have not developed. So some perform and others watch. The inevitable tendency is to admire the skill of the performer.
Instruments in worship are wrong because they promote entertainment and emphasis on human ability. Singing is commanded because it promotes teaching and admonition by an understandable message.
Instrumental Praise Suited the
Outward Emphasis of the Old Testament.
* Heb. 9:10 describes these as "carnal (fleshly - NKJV) ordinances imposed until the time of reformation."
* The law had a physical nation, an earthly kingdom.
* People were born into this nation by a physical birth.
* The covenant relationship was physically symbolized by fleshly circumcision.
* Worship was offered in a physical temple with emphasis on the physical beauty of its furnishings.
* Worship was led by a physical priesthood (earthly descendants of Aaron).
* It consisted often of offering physical animal sacrifices.
All these had spiritual significance, but they greatly emphasized outward ritual and detailed physical requirements.
Instruments lend themselves to outward ceremony, emphasis on physical sound and beauty, and admiration of the technical skill of the musicians. All this is described in the Old Testament references to instruments.
People who use instruments today likewise emphasize the outward beauty of the sound. They invent great rituals involving them, they deliberately invite and honor talented players, they create theatrical productions to attract crowds, etc. The end result is an effort to please the carnal, fleshly desires of the people for physical beauty.
This is inherent in the nature of instruments, not just an abuse of them. Where they are used, this will eventually invariably happen, because instruments have no spirit! They are physical objects used simply for the outward effect of physical sounds. There is no other purpose for them. They take the emphasis off inner, spiritual qualities and put it on the outer quality of the physical sound. By their very nature, they always have and always will emphasize that which is outward and physical.
In short, instrumental praise was well suited to a period of "carnal ordinances." They do not suit the "time of reformation" now that it has come.
B. The New Testament Emphasizes Spiritual Worship.
In the Bible, spiritual is the opposite of physical. It is that which relates to God, eternal life, and salvation from sin. It is based on obedience to God's word.
And the gospel, especially regarding worship, repeatedly tells us to maintain spiritual emphasis and avoid bringing in physical emphasis. While the New Testament worship involves some outward activities, the emphasis is on the inner man. See Matthew 6:1-18,19-34; 16:23-27; Colossians 3:1,2; John 6:27; Romans 8:5-8; 2 Corinthians 10:3,4.
Specifically, the New Covenant involves:
* A spiritual law - John 6:63,27,68; Ephesians 6:17; Romans 2:28,29; 7:6.
* A spiritual (holy) nation - 1 Peter 2:9.
* A spiritual kingdom - John 18:36; Romans 14:17
* A spiritual new birth - John 3:3,5; 1 Peter 1:23.
* A spiritual circumcision - Romans 2:28,29
* A spiritual temple or house, the church - 1 Peter 2:5; Ephesians 2:21,22; 1 Corinthians 3:16.
* A spiritual (holy) priesthood - 1 Peter 2:5,9
* Spiritual worship (to a spiritual God) - John 4:23,24; Matthew 15:8,9; Philippians 3:3; Romans 1:9.
* This worship involves spiritual sacrifices, i.e., the fruit of the lips - 1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 6:18
* Specifically, it includes spiritual songs - 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16.
We sing because God wants spiritual songs, speaking to one another and making melody in our hearts to the Lord (Eph. 5:19). We sing because God wants spiritual songs, teaching and admonishing one another, with grace in our hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16). We sing because God wants spiritual sacrifices of praise offered by the fruit of the lips (1 Peter 2:5; Heb. 13:15).
Sometimes people think instruments are spiritual because of the emotions they produce: "It just makes me feel so spiritual." No, instruments do not make you feel spiritual. They may make you feel emotional, but that is not the same as spiritual. Emotions can be entirely physical, as when you receive a present, attend a ball game, or see a pretty girl. In worship God wants spirituality, not just emotions.
Spiritual-minded people, who offer spiritual sacrifices in the spiritual temple of God, will not allow the spiritual worship that God designed to be turned into carnal, fleshly entertainment. Yet that is what inevitably happens whenever mechanical instruments of music are added to the worship.
Corinth was firmly rebuked because they turned the Lord's supper into a banquet. This involved two errors: (1) they used unauthorized elements (different kinds of foods from what God specified), and (2) they emphasized satisfying physical appetites instead of spiritual edification and praise. This is exactly what happens when people put musical instruments in worship.
Using instruments is just like adding roast lamb to the Lord's supper. (1) Both were authorized in the Old Testament (lambs were eaten in the Passover), but neither is authorized in the N.T. (2) Neither one conveys an understandable message, and neither one is spiritual.
When we understand why Paul forbade Corinth to turn the Lord's supper into a common meal, we will understand exactly why the Lord does not want instruments of music added to our worship!
The three required elements of New Testament worship are truth, understanding, and spirit (John 4:24; 1 Corinthians 14:15). Singing in worship fits all three, but instrumental music fits none of them.
(1) Singing is authorized in the truth of the New Testament. Instruments are not. (2) Singing promotes understanding, but playing hinders understanding. (3) Singing promotes spiritual mindedness, but playing hinders spirituality and promotes carnality and fleshly entertainment.
Consider some of the efforts that have been made to defend the use of instruments in worship.
We are told that David used instruments in Old Testament worship. David was a man after God's own heart, so surely God will be pleased if we use instruments like he did.
As discussed earlier, the Old Testament truly did authorize playing and dancing as musical praise to God. But this tells us nothing about what God wants today. Today we follow the New Testament.
Hebrews 7:12 - The law was changed.
Hebrews 7:18 - The law was annulled.
Hebrews 10:9,10 - The first covenant was taken away by Jesus, so He could establish the second covenant.
Galatians 3:24,25 - The law was a tutor to bring us to Christ. We are no longer under that tutor.
Galatians 4:21; 5:1-4 - Those who desire to be under the law are entangled in a yoke of bondage, Christ profits them nothing, they are severed from Christ and fallen from grace.
Galatians 5:18 - We are not under the law.
Galatians 2:4,5 - Those who believe we should follow the law are false brethren to whom we should not submit even for an hour.
Romans 7:1-7 - We are dead to the law (v4), and discharged from the law (v6). To follow it today would be like a woman whose husband dies, then she remarries; but she still obeys the will of her dead husband instead of her living husband!
Colossians 2:14,16 - Christ blotted out the handwriting of ordinances which were against us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. No man should judge us on the basis of its commands.
To follow the law is to contradict Christ, who died to remove it!
[Cf. Eph. 2:14-16; Matt. 5:17,18; 2 Cor. 3:6-11; Acts 15:5,10; Heb. 8:13.]
If we seek to follow part of the law, then we are bound to keep the whole thing. Either all of it is binding, or none of it is binding.
Consider some examples of Old Testament practices. On what Scriptural basis may we practice some. but leave off the others?
1) Seventh-day sabbath (including the death penalty)
2) Animal sacrifices
3) Levitical priesthood
5) Holy days
6) *Roast lamb (in the Lord's supper?)
8) *Infant membership
10) *Instrumental music
If you reject any of these practices for today, how can you accept instruments? If you accept instruments, how can you reject any of the others? If you accept any of it, you are bound to accept the rest, and then you are fallen from grace, etc.
David, the "man after God's own heart," practiced all the above, because they were part of the law under which He lived. But he lived under a different law from ours. His practice proves nothing about what laws we should follow.
Note the items marked with an asterisk (*). No New Testament passage expressly says that any of these are not included today. Hence, if we can have instruments because they are nowhere specifically forbidden today, then we may also practice all these other items for the same reason.
As discussed earlier, the Old Testament authorized great emphasis on elaborate outward ritual and ceremony. But this does not fit the spiritual emphasis of New Testament worship.
Again, the New Testament repeatedly emphasizes that everything we do in worship must promote understanding and teaching. We must not add anything that is not understandable.
But playing instruments is a different kind of musical praise from what the New Testament specifies. It adds nothing that is understandable, but in fact hinders our understanding.
The Old Testament authorized dancing as well as playing.
But the New Testament is silent regarding both. The contrast between Old Testament and New Testament shows us God does not want dancing in our worship today. The same is true of playing instruments.
Why don't the defenders of instrumental music defend dancing in worship with equal zeal?
When God accepted instruments, He clearly said so.
The Jews could understand this from the Scriptures in their own language, and we can clearly understand it from the translations into our language. If instruments are still acceptable in worship today, this should be equally clear in our translations of the New Testament.
The conspicuous absence of instruments in the New Testament, following their conspicuous presence in the Old Testament, is a powerful argument that God does not want them today, just like He does not want the other Old Testament practices that are not authorized in the New Testament.
Some argue that harps are used in heaven to praise God - Revelation 5:8,9; 14:2,3; 15:2,3. No sin can enter heaven, and God accepts instrumental praise there. Therefore, it is not sin for us to use them to praise God. However:
Most things in the book of Revelation are symbolic, not literal. Premillennialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many others make serious mistakes by literalizing the symbols of Revelation. It is likewise error to take the harps literal.
Our next point (below) lists many items in the context of the harps which clearly cannot be taken literally and used in our worship on earth.
Matthew 22:30 - In heaven there is no marriage. Yet people who forbid marriage on earth are guilty of apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Heb. 13:4). Hence, the rules for heaven are not the same as the rules for earth.
Note some things in the immediate context of the harps in Revelation. Should we literally use them in our worship today on earth?
1) A lamb (5:6; 14:1,4) - a literal, woolly animal in our worship? They had them in Old Testament worship, as well as in heaven.
2) Golden bowls of incense (5:8). They had this in the Old Testament too.
3) Mt. Zion (14:1) - a literal, physical mountain in Jerusalem has some significance in our worship? It did in the Old Testament.
4) Four living creatures (5:6,8,11; 14:3; 15:7)
5) The throne of God (5:1,6,7) - literally in our worship?
6) Voice of many waters and a voice of great thunder (14:2) - Note: "as (like) the voice ... as (like) the voice."
7) 144,000 virgins (14:1,4) - a literal number of literal virgins (like Jehovah's Witnesses argue)?
8) Sea of glass mingled with fire (15:2) - note "like a sea."
9) The beast (15:2) - shall we literally defeat a literal beast, then rejoice over it in our worship?
10) Seven angels with seven plagues (15:1,6,8)
Should we take all these literally and put them in our worship services? If not, then why do so with the harps?
Just as the rules for the past age of the Old Testament differ from the rules of the present New Testament age, so the rules for the future affairs of heaven differ from the rules of the present practices on earth. We have no more right to use the rules of heaven as authority for our practice today than we have to use the Old Testament rules.
As in the Old Testament, when God wanted to talk about instruments in Revelation, He plainly did so. Why are there no such passages referring to instruments in our worship in the church?
When people want to justify instruments in the worship of the New Testament church, why must they go everywhere except to the instructions given to the New Testament church?! They go to the Old Testament to try to show what we should do in the New Testament. They go to heaven to try to show what we should do on earth. Why don't they just find instruments in the passages talking about worship in the New Testament church? Because they are not there!
The fact instruments are so conspicuously mentioned in the Old Testament and in heaven simply makes all the more obvious the fact that they are not mentioned regarding the New Testament church. God provided us to all good works, and He told us not to practice things different from what He said. Then He omitted instruments. The only sensible, honest explanation is that God did not mention them because He did not want them.
We are told that playing an instrument is a God-given talent, just like singing. God expects us to use our talents to serve Him. Since God gave people the talent to play, He would surely be pleased if we used it to praise Him.
Consider some talents people have. Some of them may have a proper use, but may they all be used in worship to God?
1. A dancer also has musical talent. It was even done in the Old Testament. Shall we do it in our worship?
2. A chef has cooking talent. Should he cook roast lamb and put it on the Lord's supper, like in the Old Testament Passover?
3. A butcher has talent for killing animals. Shall he kill them in worship, like the lambs in Old Testament worship?
4. An animal trainer has talent. Shall we have a lion-taming act or dog show in worship?
5. Athletes have talent. Shall we have gymnastics, basketball, Ping-Pong, etc., in worship?
6. Undertakers have talent. Shall we have one embalm a body in worship?
8. Likewise, playing instruments requires talent. But if we agree from the above examples that not all talent should be used in worship, then why should playing instruments be used in worship?
The fact a person has talent does not, of itself, prove anything about how it should be used. We have previously listed many verses showing that all we do in God's service must be found taught in God's word. Specifically then, we must use our talents to do works He has authorized.
Colossians 3:17 - Whatever we do, in word or deed, must be done by His authority.
Matthew 7:21-23 - These people thought they were using their abilities for the Lord too, but they were rejected because they were not following the Father's will.
Romans 10:1-3 - Zeal in God's service must be directed by knowledge of His will.
"Sing" in Rom. 15:9; 1 Cor. 14:15; James 5:13, and "make melody" in Eph. 5:19 are translated from the Greek PSALLO. "Psalm" in 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19; and Col. 3:16 is translated from the Greek PSALMOS. Some Greek dictionaries (lexicons) say that these words can mean to sing to the accompaniment of a harp. So some people argue that this authorizes instrumental music today.
The average person does not understand Greek. He cannot use lexicons to refute a Greek argument, but neither can he use lexicons to confirm a Greek argument. So why should he be convinced by it? Does our salvation depend on evidence which we can neither confirm nor refute?
Jesus expected average people to understand His teachings (Mark 7:14). We can know the truth (John 8:32) and prove all things (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:15). Average people can do this by studying the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16,17; Acts 17:11; Eph. 5:17).
Any practice, which can only be established by a study of the original Greek, ought to be immediately suspect, because the average person can not check it out. Those who make such arguments are committing a form of elitism: "I will tell you God's will, but you can't know the truth unless you take my word for it!"
Dictionaries list significantly different definitions for many words. Different meanings may apply in different contexts. And word meanings may change over time. Examples:
* Compare the word "gay" today to its use prior to the mid-1900's.
* "Lyric" originally meant that which pertained to a lyre, a musical instrument like a harp. But today the lyrics are the words of a song, which cannot possibly be played on any instrument. The word changed meaning due to usage. It originally referred to an instrument, but now refers to vocal music and has nothing to do with instruments.
People often misuse dictionaries by trying to apply a definition which does not fit in a certain time or context. Such problems are especially common with dictionaries of foreign languages. Furthermore, Greek lexicons were written by human scholars, who are subject to error.
PSALLO & PSALMOS changed meanings, just like the word "lyric."
In Classical Greek (used before and outside the New Testament), these words sometimes referred to instruments, and some lexicons so define them. But by New Testament times and in New Testament usage, nothing in the words includes instruments. They changed meaning, like "lyric" did.
Classical Greek was spoken by educated people in formal speech, before the New Testament and outside the New Testament. It differs from the Koine (common) Greek in which the New Testament was written. Many lexicons give both the Classical and Koine meanings for PSALLO & PSALMOS.
Examples of lexicon definitions:
Some lexicon definitions for PSALLO include:
(1) To pluck the hair
(2) To twang a bowstring (as in shooting an arrow)
(3) To twitch a carpenter's line
(4) To touch the chords of a stringed instrument
(5) To sing to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument
(6) To sing without an instrument
Some lexicons define PSALMOS as:
(1) The act of plucking a string
(2) A song sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument
(3) A song or sacred poem
These definitions are given because the words were so used in some instances in some periods of the Greek language. But that does not prove the words have these meanings in the New Testament. Do PSALLO and PSALMOS in Eph. 5:19 mean to pluck a bowstring, hair, carpenter's line, etc.? Obviously not. These lexicon definitions do not apply in Eph. 5:19, and the same is true for singing to an instrument.
Many lexicons show the change in meaning I have described.
They may list older definitions that include instruments, but they do not apply those definitions in the New Testament. They show that in the New Testament PSALLO meant to "sing" and PSALMOS meant a sacred "song." There is no inherent reference to instruments. Such lexicons include: Thayer, Sophocles, Moulton and Milligan, Green, Greenfield, Abbott-Smith, Bagster, Vine, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.
For example, Thayer on PSALLO lists the classical meanings. Then he says: "in the N.T. to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song."
On PSALMOS he again gives some of the classical uses. Then he says, "hence a pious song, a psalm ... Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16..."
You would also need to know some Greek to check out what I just claimed! So how can you know the truth without being a Greek scholar?
There are three ways for the average person to study the meaning of Bible words without knowing Greek or Hebrew: (1) Translations, (2) Context, (3) Other passages. Consider all three regarding PSALLO and PSALMOS.
|Trans||Rom. 15:9||1 Cor 14:15||Eph. 5:19||James 5:13|
|KJV||sing||sing, sing||making melody (in your heart)||sing psalms|
|NKJV||sing||sing, sing||making melody (in your heart)||sing psalms|
|ASV||sing||sing, sing||making melody (with your heart)||sing praise|
|NASV||sing||sing, sing||making melody (with your heart)||sing praises|
|NIV||sing hymns||sing, sing||make music (in your heart)||sing songs of praise|
|RSV||sing||sing, sing||making melody (with your heart)||sing praise|
|Trans||1 Cor 14:26||Eph. 5:19||Col. 3:16|
PSALLO is consistently translated as "sing" or "make melody (music)" in your heart, and PSALMOS is translated "psalm" or "hymn." No major English translation ever says "sing to a harp" or any other expression that implies instruments. From reading the standard English translations, no one would ever believe that instruments are included in the New Testament. If PSALLO and PSALMOS include instruments, why don't the translations say so?
Remember that the men who made these translations were almost invariably members of churches that use instruments! If these words imply instruments, why did these men not translate so as to defend their practice? Clearly they knew that, by the time the New Testament was written and in the context of New Testament passages, the words did not refer to instruments!
The second way to study the meaning of a word is by context. We do this with "baptism," "church," "saint," etc.
In Eph. 5:19 "making melody" (PSALLO) specifies that the "instrument" to be used is the heart.
Singing should be accompanied, not by a mechanical instrument, but by meaning what we say in our heart.
Note this comparison:
Psalm 98:5 - Sing to the Lord with the harp
Psalm 33:2 - Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings
Ephesians 5:19 - Making melody in your heart to the Lord.
So, where the Old Testament authorized praising God on a harp, the New Testament substitutes praising God in the heart. God leaves out the harp and puts in the heart!
God here specifies the "instrument" to accompany our singing, just like He has specified the elements of the Lord's supper. He left out the mechanical instrument in the New Testament, just like He left out the Passover lamb in the Lord's Supper. To add mechanical instruments is to act without Divine authority, just the same as if we added another element to the Lord's supper.
Ephesians 5:19 also says to "make melody" (PSALLO) in the heart with "speaking" and "singing."
We earlier showed that an instrument cannot speak, because it gives no understandable message, as the New Testament requires. The sound it makes can be interpreted in numerous ways. Instead it hinders an understandable message.
So the context of PSALLO shows that it refers to an attitude of heart, accompanied by speaking/singing. There is no mechanical instrument in the word.
In the New Testament, psalms could be simply spoken.
Luke 20:41,42 - Jesus quoted what David said in the Psalms.
Acts 1:20 - Peter quoted two references from the Psalms.
Acts 13:33,35 -Paul quoted two psalms.
Who would argue that these men had to play harps in order to quote these psalms? New Testament references to "psalms" do not even require music, let alone instrumental music!
A psalm is simply a kind of sacred poem. Like our poems, the word itself tells you nothing about how it is rendered. Physically it could be read, sung, or sung to the accompaniment of an instrument. The only way to know how it is rendered is by the context.
New Testament context shows that, when rendered musically, psalms should be sung.
Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both say to render psalms by speaking, teaching and admonishing, and singing (ADO). All these terms describe vocal music (everyone agrees that ADO refers to vocal music). Hence, in the New Testament, when psalms are rendered musically, they are rendered by vocal music.
Furthermore, the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are all rendered in the same way.
When people claim that "psalms" are accompanied by instruments, they agree that no instruments are implied in "hymns." But the context says all three kinds of songs are rendered in the same way - speaking, teaching, singing, etc. If hymns are rendered without instruments, then so are the psalms.
Hence, New Testament context shows that psalms are spoken without music or are rendered by vocal music. But the word has lost any inherent reference to instruments.
Another way the average person can learn the meaning of New Testament words is to compare words in one passage to words in other passages.
|Ephesians 5:19||Colossians 3:16|
|speaking to one another||teaching & admonishing one another|
|in psalms, hymns, & spiritual songs||in psalms, hymns, & spiritual songs|
|making melody in your heart||with grace in your hearts|
|to the Lord||to the Lord|
"Making melody (PSALLO) in your heart to the Lord" in Eph. 5:19 clearly means the same as "with grace in your hearts to the Lord" in Col. 3:16. But the latter phrase has no reference to instruments. It refers simply to the attitude of heart we have as we sing. Since this is parallel to PSALLO in Eph. 5:19, this proves PSALLO in Eph. 5:19 likewise has no reference to instruments.
From a study of other passages we have also shown earlier that, unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament emphasizes spirituality and understanding, especially in our worship and in praising God in song. In fact, this emphasis is made strongly in the very context of New Testament PSALLO/PSALMOS passages.
We are told not to add things to our worship which are not found in God's word and which do not contribute to understanding and spirituality. But we have learned that instruments contribute neither to understanding nor to spirituality, but in fact they hinder both. Therefore, by studying other New Testament passages, we conclude that neither PSALLO/PSALMOS nor any other words authorize the use of instruments in New Testament worship.
As we showed earlier, when God accepted instruments in the Old Testament, He said so in a way that is easily understood in standard English translations. The average person does not need to study a foreign language. If God still wants instruments today, why can't it likewise be clearly understood in English translations?
This same argument can be made from the symbolic references to harps in Revelation. No one needs to know Greek to see that harps are mentioned. Why is it that, when we get to passages that talk about our worship on earth today, we cannot understand God's will unless we either study a foreign language or else take someone else's word for what the passages mean?
The PSALLO/PSALMOS argument is used to justify singing accompanied by harps. But those who make the argument then proceed to play at times when there is no singing at all! This is often done during their worship.
Hence, their argument does not defend their own practice! Where is the authority for playing which does not accompany singing?
It is simply not generally the case that people were simply searching for the truth, then their study led them to the PSALLO/PSALMOS argument, and that convinced them that instrumental praise was acceptable, so they began to practice it. The fact is that people were already using instruments or had made up their minds to use them, then somebody thought up the PSALLO argument to rationalize what they wanted to do!
We do not speak Greek, but people in the first century did. Surely if PSALLO/PSALMOS in the New Testament included instruments, they would have so understood and would have used instruments. But history unanimously tells us they did not. Why not, if these words include their use?
Furthermore, the instrument was introduced several hundred years after the first century among apostate Latin-speaking churches. Yet even then the Greek-speaking churches did not use it. In fact, the Greek Orthodox church has refused to use instruments consistently through the centuries till the 20th century (though some may have started to use them in the past few years).
If the Greek words PSALLO & PSALMOS include the use of instruments, why haven't Greek-speaking people throughout history known this?
The argument that PSALLO/PSALMOS include the use of instruments is based on misuse of Greek lexicons. But no one needs to know Greek to learn the truth. By studying English translations, context, and other passages, the average person can know that PSALLO/PSALMOS in the New Testament do not include the use of instruments.
We are told that instruments are authorized as aids to help people stay on tune and improve the singing. They are compared to songbooks, pitch pipes, church buildings, pews, pulpits, water fountains, lights, overhead projectors, carpets, etc. They may not be expressly mentioned in the Bible, but they are authorized because they help us do an authorized act.
Churches may argue that they use instruments to aid the singing, but in practice they use the instrument even when no one is singing! They play as a prelude to the service, between acts of worship, during collection, etc. They play a whole verse before people begin singing it. How can the instrument expedite or aid that which is not even being done?!
These facts prove the following:
(1) The instrument is not used just as an aid to singing.
The way people use instruments proves they are an act of praise to God in and of themselves, distinct from the singing. Therefore, instruments are not like water fountains, lights, pews, restrooms, overhead projectors, etc. We do not use these as acts of praise to God of themselves. We do not deliberately do them by themselves in our worship, thinking somehow God is praised by them.
(2) The aid argument does not justify what is actually believed and practiced.
Folks argue for one thing but practice something different.
Again, people do not use instruments because they find authority for them in the Bible and then start using them. They use instruments because they enjoy them, want them, and are determined to have them. The aid argument is just a rationalization to justify what people are already determined to do.
Restudy the passages listed earlier regarding Old Testament use of instruments. They show clearly that God viewed singing, playing, and dancing as three separate kinds of musical praise. And each was authorized as a means or avenue of praising God, in and of itself, distinct from the others.
To argue that instruments merely aid the singing is to overlook the fact that God has clearly decreed that they constitute an act of praise in and of themselves.
It says to praise God with the trumpet. Praise Him with the harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance, etc. God views instrumental music as an act of worship of itself, not just an aid to singing.
Is this the way we use the water fountain, etc.? Praise God with the water fountain? Praise Him with the carpet? Praise Him with the pitch pipe, etc.? Surely not. Instrumental music is not just an aid, parallel to how we use the pews, restrooms, etc.
If instrumental music is justified today at all, it must be justified as an act of worship separate from singing, not just as an aid. If God wanted instruments today, He would clearly say so as He did in the O.T. The fact He does not say so proves He does not accept them today, just the same as with the dancing.
Again, we have proved that New Testament worship, including our singing, should emphasize spirituality and understanding. Everything we do in worship must contribute to understanding, not hinder it.
We might debate whether the instrument improves the sound of our singing. But even if it did so, that is all it could possibly aid. God nowhere emphasizes the need for beautiful sounds in our worship, but He does repeatedly emphasize understanding and spiritual meaning. And these, we have seen, are hindered by playing. So playing does not aid what is really important in our singing. Instead, it hinders and violates it.
In practice, what instruments really aid are entertainment and fleshly desires. They appeal to the desires of the audience to hear performances that satisfy their personal pleasures. But they hinder, rather than aid, the understanding and spirituality that God emphasizes.
If people really want to "aid" the singing in worship, they should get rid of instruments wherever they are used!
We learned earlier that everything we do in worship to God must be authorized in the New Testament. It must be included or fit the meaning of what God said to do.
An aid is something that simply helps us to do what God authorized. When we use it, we must still be doing only that which fits the definition of what God said. It must not be different or another kind of act. If it is different, then it is an unauthorized addition. We should not oppose true aids that simply help us do what God said.
(1) Glasses are truly an aid to seeing. When I use glasses, I am just seeing. It fits the definition of seeing. The glasses help me see.
But hearing is another kind of sense in addition to seeing. If I am hearing, I am not just seeing. I am both seeing and hearing. Hearing does not fit the definition of seeing.
(2) A cane can truly aid walking, because when I use it I am just walking. It still fits the definition of walking. The cane helps me walk.
But riding is another kind of transportation. If I walk awhile and ride awhile, I cannot say I am just walking. I am both walking and riding. Riding does not fit the definition of walking.
Restudy some of the examples we considered earlier. (Note again the chart on the back cover.)
(1) God told Noah to build an ark of gopher wood.
Noah could have used tools (hammer, saw, etc.) to help him build the ark. When using them, he would be doing just what God said - build an ark. It fits the definition of building.
But using oak would be different from what God said. It is not just using gopher. Oak does not fit the definition of gopher. Hence, oak is an unauthorized change in what God said.
(2) God said to bury in baptism and to baptize those who believe and repent.
Any pool, large enough to bury someone in, is an aid to baptizing. If I immerse someone in a baptistery I am doing what God said - burying in baptism. It fits the definition. The baptistery helps me do what God said.
But if I sprinkle or pour, or if I baptize a baby, I am doing something different from what God said. It does not fit the definition of burying a penitent believer.
(3) God said to use bread and fruit of the vine in the Lord's supper.
Containers help us serve the elements. When we use them we are doing what God said - eating and drinking the elements. It fits the definition.
But if I add roast lamb to the Lord's supper, I have a different kind of food from what God said. It does not fit the definition of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine.
(4) Likewise in music, God said to sing, speak, teach, etc., emphasizing the understanding and spiritual meaning.
When we use a songbook, we are doing what God said - singing. It fits the definition. The book helps us know what words and notes to sing.
But if I add an instrument, I have a different kind of music from what God said. I am no longer doing just what God said (sing, speak, etc.). It does not fit the meaning, and it leads us away from spiritual emphasis and understanding.
We know instruments are a different kind of musical praise because: (1) Bible examples tell us so (as in the cases just listed); (2) the way people use it proves it is a separate act of praise (they play when not singing); and (3) the O.T. clearly says it is an additional act of praise.
In the same way, we can show that lights, pews, restrooms, water fountains, pitch pipes, overhead projectors, etc., are legitimate aids to worship. We do not use them as acts of praise to God of themselves separate from the other acts we do to praise God. We use them only because, like Noah's tools, they legitimately help us accomplish the acts of worship God has authorized.
Instruments are not just an aid to singing, but an additional, different form of praise to God. They violate the New Testament teachings about truth, spirit, and understanding in worship. Those who use them are not following God's plan but have changed His plan to satisfy their own entertainment and enjoyment.
(C) Copyright 1999, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale. Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.
This material is available if you wish to purchase it in printed form. For a complete list of prices and other titles available, visit Light to My Path Publications.
Should We Keep the Old Testament Today
Observance of Religious Holy Days
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?
Does the End Justify the Means?
How Can You Find & Identify Jesus' Church?
Free audio Bible