Thursday, July 22, 2010

Against Exclusive Psalmody -Scripture

I am finally getting around to posting the Scriptural argument against Exclusive Psalmody.

Let us just start with Scriptural commands to sing things other than psalms. Remember there is a specific word for psalm. There is debate about whether psalm (the word) means The Psalms always, but we can set that aside for now. Even if we concede it, I think the evidence is on the hymn singing side. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are the most famous. Here Christians are commanded to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Granting that psalms here means The Psalms, there seems little possible evidence that hymns and spiritual songs also mean psalms. And as you would expect few Greek scholars even claim they mean the same thing. Not even John Calvin claims that this is in favor of exclusive psalmody. Some want to claim that the use of “kai” (translated and) connects the three making them into three ways of saying one thing. But that argument breaks down as “kai” is not used in Colossians 3:16.
Then of course there is also the command to “sing a new song” (Isaiah 42:10). The word there is “hymn” and not the word “psalm”. The word for psalm exists, but was not used. Thus, here we have a command to sing hymns. The only way to maintain exclusive psalmody is to state that hymns and psalms mean the same thing. They are synonyms. Or that one refers to singing with instruments and one without. That argument is not possible to explain away Deuteronomy 31:19,22 where a non-psalm is required to be memorized and sung. Then there is I Corinthians 14:15,26. There I Corinthians talks of singing with the spirit and singing with understanding. This is further enlarged when Paul in verse 26 says “everyone of you has a psalm”. This use of psalm seems to be a song that is outside of the 150 psalms. The criticism is of those who come with a supposed song from the spirit like those who claim to have tongues and prophecies. Those are both assumed to be new word of prophesy and a new word in tongues. Thus, it ought also to be said that they were bringing new psalms not one of the original 150. This was taking place in Christian worship in Corinth that had been set up by Paul and his companions.

If hymn does not mean psalm then this introduces lots of problems for exclusive psalmists. Christ at after the Lord’s Supper sings a “hymn” not a “psalm”. While we might rightly guess that this hymn is a psalm, we cannot scripturally say he sung a psalm. Scripturally he sang a hymn and that is all we know. The same is true for Paul and his companions in prison in Philippi (Acts 16:25). The word used there is again not “psalm”, but rather “hymn”. One can assume that these songs were from The Psalms, but strictly scripturally speaking one cannot say it is. It is only an assumption. The inerrantly chosen word was “hymn”.

This brings up the point of all the times we see people singing non-psalms in the Bible. We have at least:
Luke 1:46-55 (Mary)
Luke 1:67-79 (Zechariah)
Luke 2:14 (the angels)
Luke 2:28-32 (Simeon)
Revelation 5:9f (hosts of heaven)
Exodus 15 (Moses and Miriam)
Deuteronomy 31-32 (Moses)
Judges 5 (Deborah)
Habbakuk 3 (Habbakuk)

And that list does not count many others that are generally considered to early Christological hymns like Colossians 1:15-20. Nor does it count the Song of Solomon, an entire book of the Bible either. The point is that we have more instances of people singing praises to God without the psalter than we do with the psalter in the Bible itself. Now we know how the Jews worshipped from extra-biblical sources, but again the biblical witness needs to carry some weight here. Non-psalms seem acceptable. Now admittedly Dr. Clark makes it possible to sing these songs as they are considered inspired and can be sung, but that attempt falls flat on the previously mentioned Nature of Words Argument. And it also comes into a problem with exactly where is the command to sing only inspired words.

Which brings me to my last point, the idea that the Bible is or contains an approved hymn books is itself an assumption. The idea that the Psalms is the God ordained hymn book is no where in the Bible itself. The application of the Regulative Principle of Worship to say “the psalms are commanded but there is no other command for hymns” makes an assumption in and of itself. Namely that the Psalms was a hymn book. The Regulative Principle does carry the requirement to have a command to do something. But this test is easily applied and passed when we dispense with the assumption that the Psalter is required because it is there. We see commands like Ephesians and Colossians that state “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” We have the command to “sing unto the Lord a new song” (Isaiah). Add this to the many divinely approved examples of non-psalm singing in worship such as those in Revelation 5, then I am quite confident that the demand of the Regulative Principle of worship is met for hymnody.

8 Comments:

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Andrew Duggan said...

Lee,

First off, Sing a new song, is also how Psalm 98 starts off. What does that really mean? Singing a new song is singing of salvation. I

Second, really the supposed singing of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon in Luke 1 is just that supposed. Even if it was singing a song, it was directly inspired at the time. Do you claim the same for songs you want to write?

Third, Angels, have different rules. If you are an Angel then you can sing what they do, but they sure aren't singing "Rock of Ages", "The Old Rugged Cross", or the "Sweet By and By".

Fourth, what is sung in heaven is not under debate. If you have access to the heavenly hymnal, well, have it at it, but I'm guessing you don't. How does that convert into license to compose your own worship.

Sure there are other songs in the OT that are not in the Book of Psalms. Not all the psalms in the Psalms are psalms, some are hymns and some are songs. Sort of they same way the the scriptures of the OT are referred to as Law and Prophets, or the Law the Prophets and the Writings.

The fact that the Holy Spirit didn't include all the songs found in scripture in the Psalter is hardly a problem, what I'm curious is why you want to find fault with the Holy Spirit's work in collecting the Psalter?

Some things in the world you are just supposed to recognize for what they are. Why do you take the bible as the word of God?

Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 don't have be identical for them to be really teaching the same thing. Have you ever preached more than one sermon on the same passage. Have you never said the same things in two different ways to try to get your hearers to understand? Why do you get to dictate how God says what he says?

Then we have the bottom line. Among the offices of the church, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;" (Eph 4:11) were is the office of hymn writer?

Your conclusion is wrong. The Psalter being the identified hymnal of the Bible is found in Eph 5:19. Just because Paul used Psalms Hymns and Songs to identify it is just like the Scriptures are referred to as Law, Prophets and Writings. Have your kids ever disobeyed you and retorted to your rebuke with well that's not what you said exactly, as though the choice of words you use needs to pass their judgement? Do you really want to take the same stance with God as misbehaving children often do with their parents?

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Lee said...

Andrew,

Thanks for your response. I appreciate the interaction.

You point out the the songs Mary and Simeon and the others were inspired and therefore allowed. The objection about my reference to Revelation appears to be the same. They are singing from an inspired heavenly hymnal. The questions is how does that translate into a license to sing man made songs in worship on earth.

I think that this question goes back to the "nature of words" post. Why is it wrong to sing words in a song that are not inspired, but preaching non-inspired words from the pulpit or praying uninspired words in a prayer or confessing them together in something like the Apostles' Creed? What is it about singing that raises the bar so high as no humanity can be present?

I also do not have any problem with the Psalter or the Holy Spirit collected Psalms. In fact, I am trying to live them out. As you point out we are to sing a new song according to Pslam 98, we are to sing of our salvation. In the Exclusive Psalmist position the name of Jesus can never be sung, as it is not in the inspired Psalms. Obviously we are going to disagree in the application of Psalm 98 and what it means to sing about our salvation.

I look forward to your interaction about this.

Blessings,
Lee

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Anonymous said...

I've struggled with this for years because I want to do what is right in God's sight. I have to admit that the collection of hymns in a lot of hymnals is a little licentious from a doctrinal standpoint. Some are good, but some to need to be weeded out. And as for the vast majority of modern praise songs, the doctrinal content is quite shallow.

But overall, I keep on thinking about the instance in Matt. 21 when the little children sang "Hosanna to the Son of David" and the Pharisees were displeased. Jesus' response was "Have you never read, Out of the mouth of babes and infants you have perfected praise." Matt. 21:16

I get disturbed by the idea anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus would forbid me to sing the name of Jesus which is not contained in the psalms. He is told about in the psalms, but his name is not revealed.

Anyway, shall we assume God is displeased with us when we seek to uphold the name which is above every name? I shall then sing praises to Jesus who is The Way, the Truth and the Life. The Holy Spirit leads me to pray to the Father is Jesus' name and to speak to others in Jesus' name and I will sing to the Father in Jesus' name.

Amen.