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Doctrine of Religious Worship: Music Terminology in the Septuagint

November 27, 2022 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

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

Scripture: Ephesians 5.18-20, Colossians 3.16-17


Last week we looked at whether Paul was using terminology familiar with the readers of the 1st Century or whether he was using new words which perhaps they didn’t understand.

We concluded that he was using familiar terms.

Today we will look at some sample usages of those terms the apostle is using so that we might understand them as the readers understood them.

Remember the foundation we laid last week with the Septuagint and its usage in the 1st Century church?

  • that the Septuagint was the common bible of the time
  • that close to 2/3 of the quotations in the NT come from a Septuagint translation
  • that the Septuagint, while not an infallible translation, was still a translation of the infallible, inspired words of God

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been working and trying to understand the history of worship song so that we might worship God in the manner in which He has prescribed and not in the way that we want.

As a result of those efforts, we have built up a pretty solid understanding of what worship looks like in the Bible.

With regard to worship songs

  • we have looked at every instance in the Old Testament of how worship songs were used
    • we have looked at every single one
  • we have looked at every mention
    • whether it was inside of formal worship
    • whether it was outside of formal worship

We can no longer say that we do not know what the Bible teaches with regard to music and worship.

We could reasonably conclude that the standard which we have seen so far, the standard set for us by God in the Bible for worship is inspired songs.

Would we say that God, speaking to us in the Bible, is unclear and allows His people

  • to approach Him in any way they see fit?
  • to worship Him in any way they see fit?
  • to add their own procedures and their own standards and their own songs of human composition to His worship?

No, I don’t think so – not if we want to avoid reading into the Scriptures and pressing that which it does not.

  • If we were to do that, then we may as well set our own texts next to the Bible and say those texts are just as good as the Word of God

But let’s take a little bit more time and look at the terms Paul used to see how familiar they really might have been.

  • psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

1st Term: Psalmos

The title of the book of Psalms in the Septuagint exactly matches the word the apostle uses in Colossians 3, in Ephesians 5

  • it's the same word psalmos.

When Paul says the word, Psalms, to his readers:

  • there is a book in the Old Testament to which these first century Christians can refer
  • they know exactly where to go
  • they understand the term Psalm

Several times in the Greek Old Testament version of the psalter when the verb Psallo is used

  • it is used in reference to command God’s people to sing praises to Him
  • it is translated that way in English for us in our English Bibles as Psalm

The verb that is used in the Psalter is Psallo and is the verbal form of singing of psalm

This is the title of the Greek version of the Psalms

Psalmos Used as a Title


68 times in the Greek psalter in the title of the Psalm

  • it is indicative of what follows

In other words, the word Psalms is used 68 times in the title of the Psalter

  • Psalm 3 through Psalm 146

This gives up a good idea of what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he says Psalmos

  • the psalms of the Old Testament.

2nd Term: Hymnos

This is the second word the apostle uses in the Greek

This is the Greek word where we get our word hymn

  • The basic definition for the word hymn is a praise song, a song of praise.

This word presents a difficulty to others when letting the Scriptures speak

  • because this is the word where we modern day Christians automatically think uninspired songs
  • because we grew up in churches with a hymnal
  • because we can open that hymnal and there is Fanny Crosby and Isaac Watts and other folks that writing songs for praise
  • so, when we hear hymns we automatically think uninspired songs from the hymn book
    • A mighty fortress is our God
    • Great is thy faithfulness

There are all under the understanding of the word “hymn.”

Let us first agree on this:

  • There are a class of hymns that are inspired
  • There are a class of hymns that are uninspired.

The word hymn does not relate specifically to inspiration or non inspiration

  • The word hymn simply relates to praise

The second thing we need to understand about the word hymn:

  • It is a word that is used often in the Greek Psalter to refer to the songs of praise that are inspired within the Psalter

Remember, a word means what it means in context

  • with respect to the Bible the word’s meaning is what it was at the time they were written

It is careless for us to import our own definitions back in time to 2000 years ago and say that's what it means

  • even though we grew up thinking that hymns meant Fanny Crosby and Isaac Watts
  • this is not what it meant to 1st century Christians

Hymn Used as a Title

6 of the titles in the Greek Psalter use this term

  • indicative of what follows
  • Psalms 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76

Hymn Used in the Body of the Psalms

Psalm 40.1-3

And he put a new song into my mouth, even a hymn to our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall hope in the Lord.  → LXX

Notice the word " 


  • it is equating the two words together → song and hymn (praise)
Psalm 72.20

Most of you know the Psalter is divided into 5 books

  • that Psalm 72 is the end of the 2nd book
  • that Psalm 73 begins the 3rd book

When the Psalter was put in its final form, it was divided into 5 books.

I believe Ezra divided these books based on what he understood about the origins of those Psalms

  • based on their history
  • based on their content
  • based upon/ under inspiration of God's Spirit

Remember how the 2nd book of the Psalms ends?

  • The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.
  • The hymns of David the son of Jesse are ended. → LXX

How would you think this should be understood?

  • That maybe everything preceding that statement, in the 2nd book, would be part of the hymns of David.
  • That maybe the entirety of the second book which would be what Psalm 43 – 72 are the prayers or the hymns of David

This is a very large portion of the Psalter.

This is a very large portion in the Septuagint version of the psalter, that are designated as hymns

  • perhaps the entirety of the second book
Psalm 137.3-4

For there they that had taken us captive asked of us the words of a song; and they that had carried us away asked a hymn, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Sion → LXX

Once again, we see the term hymn being equated not just with general songs but the songs of Zion

  • That's very important.

Hymns at this point, then in Psalm 137, are equated with the songs of Zion

Psalm 100.4

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with hymns; give thanks to him, praise his name → LXX

Psalm 148.14

and he shall exalt the horn of his people, there is a hymn for all his saints, even of the children of Israel → LXX

  • the praise of all his saints
  • the hymns of all his saints
    • or the hymning length
Isaiah 42.10

Sing a new hymn to the Lord: ye who are his dominion, glorify his name from the end of the earth: ye that go down to the sea, and sail upon it; the islands, and they that dwell in them.  → LXX

2 Chronicles 7.6

And the priests were standing at their watches, and the Levites with instruments of music of the Lord, belonging to king David, to give thanks before the Lord, for his mercy endures for ever, with the hymns of David, by their ministry: and the priests were blowing the trumpets before them, and all Israel standing → LXX

In our English bible, it says that David praised

In the Septuagint, it says that David hymned

  • He hymned unto the Lord.


So, what are we to understand from this?

There is this word “hymn”

  • and it is not used in a vacuum
  • and it is not unfamiliar with his readers
  • and it is used with specific reference

Certainly, it is not used to instruct the people

  • that they owe unto God worship in ways of their own choosing
  • that they owe unto God, in the speaking to one another and the encouraging of one another, and the building of up of one another through uninspired, man-composed songs

There is a body of song that is already present for the people of God

  • that body of song is recognized by the 1st century Christians as hymns

Remember, Psalm 72.20

  • the hymns of David, the songs of Jesse are ended
  • speaking of the entirety of the second book.

When the Apostle Paul says Psalms

  • I think we know what he's talking about.

Now, when he says hymns

  • I think we know what he's talking about as well

3rd Term: Songs or Spiritual Songs


Songs or Spiritual Songs Used as a Title

35 times this appears in the title of the Psalms

  • indicating what follows in the body of the Psalm
  • Psalm 4 through to Psalm 134

Songs or Spiritual Songs Used to Denote a Psalm

  • 6 other times in the Psalter, the word song is used to denote the content of the psalm itself.

We’ve looked at several of these already where the word song and the word hymn were near each other

For instance, in Psalm 137

  • They said sing to us the songs of Zion
    • hymn and song.

There are instances in the titles where multiple terms appear

  • The term Psalmos and O-day appear 12 times together in the title of a song
    • a Psalm and a song.

Then the words Psalm and hymn → Psalm 6 and 67

  • together in the title
  • together as the title of the inspired praise that follows
Psalm 76
  • all 3 appear in the heading of the psalm
  • Psalm, hymn, and song appear in the title

For the end, among the Hymns, a Psalm for Asaph; a Song for the Assyrian. → LXX

2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles

  • Additional places where we use the term hymns for Psalms and songs for hymns


These terms were not uncommon, and they would have been clear as to what Paul meant

  • to anyone with any idea of what the Old Testament taught with regard to song
  • to anyone that had any familiarity or any facility in the Greek Old Testament

When we read Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we may not necessarily be speaking synonymously

On one side, we may be speaking of different portions inside the psalter

  • some of the songs were geared more toward praise (like the hymns)
  • some of them were geared more toward elegiac song (like where we get our word elegy – to be reflective or sorrowful)
  • some of them were geared more toward that kind of praise that is classed as a psalm.

On the other side, the terms may not have an overly clear delineation

  • often, they are used synonymously in the Old Testament.

But the point is that there is indeed a sufficient body of history that existed at the time of the writing of Colossians and Ephesians.

So that when Paul uses these 3 terms

  • it is pretty clear as to what he was talking about

Combine that with the understanding of God governing and commanding the entirely of how He is to be worshipped

  • with entirety of worship song that has been governed by the standard of inspiration

This would mean that to sing a song in worship apart from the inspired Psalter would require a prophet.

In the New Testament days, then, is everyone a prophet?

  • No, not in that same sense?

Everyone is a prophet in the sense that we are all gathered together and singing prophetic words

  • but not in the sense that everyone must now become an inspired songwriter

The writing of song was a special office in the Old Testament

Is this office being expanded into the New Testament

  • Asking that question is almost the same as answering it.

Understand, this realization is not something held in a vacuum

  • We are not following the Scripture simply from a desire to be conservative
    • This is not a reason to develop a practice

This is something we have seen the Scriptures teach.

When the apostle commands the Colossians and Ephesians to sing

  • they are to use a particular body of the word of Christ that they knew
  • they understood it to be that book of Psalms
  • they understood that the Psalms were given by inspiration of the Spirit of God
  • they understood that they were not to offer strange fire, strange sacrifices to God in worship

It is certainly a most reasonable assertion that the Apostle was speaking into a religious context when it comes to defining these words

  • and not to a secular context

It is certainly a most reasonable assertion that the Apostle was not calling people to use something else to fill in the gap that Scripture left behind

  • like their own ideas
  • like their own source for admonition
  • like their own source for teaching
  • like their own source for preaching
  • like their own source for talking to one another, and encouraging one another

What the Apostle does here in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 is simply holding up the Psalter

  • holding it up for us to use as that body of song by which we will
    • speak to one another
    • sing to one another
    • learn from and to one another
    • admonish warn one another.

To do those things that we owe to one another as Christians int he manner in which God has commanded His people to do so.

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