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Doctrine of Religious Worship: History of Music in the New Testament

November 20, 2022 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Scripture: Ephesians 5:18–20, Colossians 3:16–17

Scripture: Ephesians 5.18-10, Colossians 4.16-17


Up to now we have taken a fairly exhaustive look at a couple of things.

We have looked at the regulative principle of worship

  • God is to be worshipped in the ways that He has commanded
  • God commands things by way of positive arrangement
    • he does not command it, he does not want it

I never commanded these things.

  • If we would worship God, according to the Bible
    • we would worship according to that principle, that regulative principle.

We have looked at the use of music and how the Lord ordered the use of music.

  • at the days of the patriarchs
  • at the days of Moses
  • at the days of Joshua, Judges, Ruth
  • at the beginning of the monarchy of King David
  • at the instruments that David commanded
  • at the songs that delivered to the Levites to be incorporated into the worship of God

We concluded:

  • the change in worship came at the Lord's command through His prophets
  • that we are not free to augment, to innovate, to change, the worship of God

We saw the understanding of worship was kept by the reforming Kings (Hezekiah, Josiah, Nehemiah, Ezra)

  • when the worship of God fell into disrepair
  • when Israel became idol worshipers
  • when the temple had fallen into its disrepair


This week we come to the days of the New Testament.

  • The New Testament has a few things to say about music and the use of music.

There are some uses of music in the New Testament that do not pertain to churchliness and then there are other uses that do.

We are going to start by looking at the terminology used in the New Testament with respect to music

  • As we understand the terminology, we can begin to see how it is applied in various places

To Sing, A Song

The first verb in your English Bibles that you will see is the verb “to sing”

  • It is the Greek word “Ado”

The Greek word for song “O-day”

  • You see how they are related.

It's used in the two passages that we've read Ephesians 5.19 and Colossians 3.16

  • It is also used in Revelation 5.9, 14.3, 15.3

To Sing, To Psalm

The second verb, psallo, is translated a couple of different ways and is used 4 times in the New Testament.

Romans 15.9

Notice, we see the English word “sing” but it is based on a different Greek word → psalo

  • this word relates to the Psalter
  • this word relates to the Psalms

It means to sing psalms or to sing praises sometimes with stringed instruments (sound familiar?)

  • Notice here that we are quoting (or the Apostle Paul is quoting) from Psalm 18.49

1      Corinthians 14.15

The context of this passage is the church service and is a part of the regulation of New Testament worship

In the worship service, the apostle Paul is focused all about psalo

  • He is going to sing psalms

Ephesians 5.19

The term there is making melody → psallo → in your heart to the Lord

The term there singing → “Ado”

James 5.13

Is any merry?

  • let him sing psalms (psalo)

This is not to sing general praises, but to sing psalms


Those are two verbs.

  • the verb sing is “Ado”
  • the word for song is “O-day”
    • roughly equivalent to our English word “ode”

The word song is also used → psalo  

All these verses that we have looked at have the same words in common “O-day” and “Ado” and “Psallo”

The Hymns

This is a transliteration of a Greek word → “hymnos”

  • sometimes the “y” and the “u” are interchangeable in Greek with loan words

Used as a noun in Ephesians 5.19, Colossians 3.16

Matthew 26.30

At the end of the establishment of the Lord's Supper.

We do not have this from a scriptural source, but we do have it from almost irrefutable historical sources

  • Every Jewish male learned to sing at the end of every Passover meal, from his father and from his father's father, the collection of psalms called the Great Hallel
    • they are a collection of Psalms, each of which has the Hebrew word Hallu – Yah
    • Hallelujah which means Praise ye the Lord.

At the end of the Passover meal, every faithful Jewish male learn to sing that collection of psalms at the end of the Passover. (Psalms 113-118)

The verse literally reads, when they had hymned a hymn, or when they had hymned they went out into the Mount of Olives

We must remember that when we study terminology:

  • we must put ourselves within the mindset and the use of words as they existed in the time that they were written and not in our own time.

Most folks would read Matthew 26.30

  • and not hear they sang a portion of the Psalter
  • but hear that they sang some uninspired song

Why? because the word hymn means that in our day

  • Keep in mind, that is a fairly modern invention.
  • The word hymn has pointed to the psalter for a long, long time in the English language
  • it's only recent that that the word hymn has turned away from the psalter and turned to human instead of divinely composed hymns

But the word hymn in its root form simply means a song of praise

Mark 14.26

It's a parallel passage to what we've just read.

In the margin of your King James Version, there's a footnote that says “or Psalm”

  • recognizing that historical fact that Jewish men learned to sing the great Hallel

Acts 16.25

Paul and Silas are in the Philippian jail and tortured

  • at midnight, Paul and Silas prayed, and notice it's translated, sang praises unto God (hymneo)

Hebrews 2.12

I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church, I will sing praises unto thee (hymneo)

  • Note that these words are in the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ in Psalm 22.22
    • it refers itself back to the inspired psalter

That is the word hymn and how it is used in the NT

The Psalms

The word Psalm is also seen in your English Bible and is a translation of the Greek word →psalmos

Luke 20.42

  • Where are we quoting from? Psalm 110

Luke 24.44

  • This is Jesus saying he appears in the Psalms

Acts 1.24

  • Refers to Psalm 109, speaking prophetically of Judas, no doubt what we're talking about there.

Acts 13.33

  • Reference to the word psalmos, 2nd psalm

Acts 13.35

Notice the word is in italics but the word psalm is certainly implied. (Psalm 16)

1 Corinthians 14.26

Remember we said this was in reference to a worship service in the church?

  • The word Psalm is used here as well.


Every use we have seen of the word psalmos thus far, in the scriptures, refers to the inspired Psalter.

Some commentators do not believe that's what we're talking about here.

  • They hold that what we're looking at is some immediately or close-in-time inspired worship song that was brought by first century prophets into the worship service.

I am not sure this is the correct view

  • I think that it should be consistently understood as referencing a portion of the inspired psalter
    • the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament

The Word Music

Luke 15.25

Prodigal → spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant:

Wastrel →a wasteful or good-for-nothing person:

Remember the purpose of this parable is to teach how the Jews would not receive the Gentiles.

  • it is not about someone who leaves/ comes back

Notice in verse 25, his older son was in the field, he came near the house, and heard music and dancing

  • This is not a worship service at all.

They are just having a party (similar to what Laban said he would have done for Jacob)

In this parable that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself told, he is extolling the virtues of the father

  • we infer from this that music is a legitimate form of recreation or entertainment

Here is an interesting tidbit of information:

  • The Greek word for music here is symphonias
  • Symphony, it is like symphony.

Familiar or UnFamiliar Terms

Those are generally the terms that are used in the New Testament, a pretty exhaustive look.

We have to understand the terminology rightly, if we're going to make good use of them.

We must understand the basis for the Greek terms and how they were used in the time of the apostles

  • not how they are used today

Were these terms generally unknown to those Jewish Christians that populated the first century church?

Were these terms generally known and familiar?

I believe that they were terms that were well known to them.

2 Timothy 3.15,16

It behooves us to understand what Scriptures the Apostle Paul is talking about

Alexander the Great spread Greek culture/ language from one end of the known world to the other

  • 2 centuries before Christ walked the earth.

As time passed, the Jews of their day lost or were in process of losing their facility, their ability in Hebrew

Nehemiah 8.8-10

70 years of separation meant they had lost a great deal of facility in the Hebrew tongue

  • Can you imagine about 200 or 300 years later?

Alexandrian Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek → the Septuagint

  • This is the Greek of the Holy Scriptures
  • Almost ⅔ of all of the quotations that appear in the New Testament from the Old Testament favor the Septuagint over the original Hebrew

This is an interesting point because we now begin to understand what the Paul is thinking about when he says “from a baby thou hast known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make the wise unto salvation”

  • What Bible was Timothy's Bible?
    • His father was a Greek
    • His mother was a Jewess
    • He lived in Ephesus

Most folks believe Timothy grew up like many Jews of his day → on a steady diet of Septuagint

The Lord Himself had providentially set that language across the known world and providentially had a translated provided

  • Those scriptures that were to make Timothy (and anyone else who read/ heard them under the influences of God's Spirit} wise unto salvation:
    • Those scriptures were the translated copy of the Hebrew Bible

Logical Inference

It makes sense then that the apostle drew from terms that were familiar to his readership, terms familiar to and from the Septuagint

  • When Paul uses the terms psalmos, hymnos, o-day, ado, pneumatikos
    • hymns, song, spiritual songs
  • Paul is using terms that are familiar

Some would say that hymnos refers to those ancient noble doctrinal hymns like “A Mighty Fortress”

Some would say that the words “spiritual songs” would be understood as a praise chorus

  • I think we all would disagree after having walked through these Scriptures these past few weeks

I think we can say two things regarding the use of these three terms → psalms, hymns, spiritual songs:

  1. The writer and the readers must have had no knowledge of what we might today call “righteous hymns” … they simply did not exist at that time.
  • For example, “A Mighty Fortress” was written sometime in the early 1500’s
  1. The readers would have no knowledge of any kind of praise chorus that we see today.
  • To import or interpret those terms with modern activities is to speak anachronistically
    • it is to import 20 or 21st century anomalies back into the language of the first century
    • it is a failure of letting the language of the first century inform our thinking
  • Oftentimes, we redefine terms based on things that take place long after terms were coined
    • Even when they could not have been close to the same meaning

On another note, there were some common uses of the word “hymn” in the 1st century other than in reference to the Psalms

  • For instance, in pagan rites, especially in bacchanalian rites, those wicked festivals to the god Bacchus, they sand what they called hymns
  • This took place in/ around the 1st century

With that, think about this for a moment → is Paul saying that we can sing Psalms and hedonistic hymns to the Lord – similar to the understanding of the meaning of the Bacchanalian hymns?

Of course not.

  • Do psalms, hymns and spiritual songs refer in part to an inspired set of songs, and then in another part, to an uninspired set of songs that existed at that day?
  • Or do they refer to the Psalter itself?

I think this is the correct view.

That the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 refer specifically to the Psalter.


Colossians 3.16

  • What are they to let dwell in them richly?
  • The Word of Christ

What are the Words of Christ?

  • They are the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs of the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament

If we would speak and sing to one another using those Psalms, would we be speaking the Word of Christ to one another?

  • We would.

And isn't that indeed what the Apostle refers to back in Ephesians 5.19

  • when he says that we are to be filled with the Spirit?
  • when he says we are to be speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

There are only two possibilities from this passage

  • Either we are referring to the 150 Psalms
    • Or we are not
  • Either it is the 150 songs exclusively
    • Or it is the 150 songs plus something else.

If is plus something else

  • should we overturn the entirety of biblical revelation to this point?
  • should we overturn every place in Scripture where every song that has ever been used in the worship of God has been the product of an inspired prophet?

What then is the standard for a worship song?

  • Is it as it always has been in every survey that we've done, looking exhaustively at every single passage in the Old Testament and in the New?
    • that standard has always been inspiration
    • that standard has never wavered
    • The Lord has never changed.
    • He is never moved off of that standard

In the days of the reformation of the kings of ancient Israel, they returned to the inspired words.

  • In the days when they came back from Babylon, they returned to the inspired words, they never sang anything else.

What would it take for a different standard to be used?

  • To take these Jews that had been singing the 150 inspired Psalms all their lives?
    • Even singing them in Greek, it is still the inspired Word of God.
    • What would it take for them to move off of that standard?
  • It would take a command from God, wouldn’t it?
  • It would take a command for some people or all people to rise up in the New Testament and write songs for inclusion in the worship service

As a matter of fact, some have said that is exactly what is going on in Ephesians 5.19 and Colossians 3.16.

  • These are tantamount to a command to write new songs for the inclusion in Scripture.

If this is a command to write and include new songs, then it commands too much.

  • b/c it pushes this upon everyone in the church
  • b/c everyone must become a songwriter
    • b/c this command in Ephesians and Colossians is universal to all in the church

Can we imagine a greater influx of chaos into the worship of the church, if everyone becomes a hedonist?

There is no new command present in these passages

  • it is an inference that the proponents of uninspired songs draw from the passage, but it is not a necessary inference.
    • It is against the use of the words
    • It's against the history of worship song
    • It is against the practice of the Apostolic Church

What are we left with to finalize our understanding?

  • We are left with what we will get to next week
    • Lord willing, we will open up the Greek psalter, and we will look for the terms psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
    • We will look at the Greek Old Testament in the historical books
      • and we'll see whether or not the Psalter is referred to under the name of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs


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