Why do I Hold to Exclusive Psalmody in the Worship of God?

My reasons for holding to Exclusive Psalmody are as follows:

God is a jealous God and this is especially true when it comes to His worship. He has always, throughout Biblical history, carefully outlined and regulated how He is to be worshiped (and as the perfect, infinite, holy God, He has a right to do this). God takes His worship very seriously as illustrated throughout the Old Testament with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:3 – 5), Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16), Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:7), King Uzziah and the offering (2 Chronicles 26:19-21), Isaiah 59:13, and in the book of Malachi (Malachi 1:7-8, 13, 14). This is also why the first Four Commandments deal with how God is to be worshiped (Exodus 20: 1 – 8). Since God regulates how He is to be worshiped in the Scriptures, we must not include anything in our worship of God that is not found in the Scriptures. Rather our worship of God must be regulated by how the Scriptures tell us to worship Him, not adding or removing anything from that worship. This, in short, is the regulative principle of worship.

Part of the Regulative Principle of worship is the adherence to Exclusive Psalmody. The Book of Psalms is the book of worship which God has given to the church. The Psalms were not only sung in the Old Testament but were also an integral part of the worship of the church in the New Testament. This is evident from passages such as:

  • Ephesians 5:19 – “Speaking to yourselves 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.”
  • James 5:13 – “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.”
  • I Corinthians 14:15, 26 – “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. . . . How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
  • The example of Christ Himself in passages such as Matthew 26:30, “And when they had sung a hymn (one of the Hallel Psalms), they went out into the mount of Olives.”

There are certainly differences of opinion regarding what people believe the meaning of Paul is in passages such as Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 (most of it revolving around the interpretation of the words: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs). Some argue that hymns and spiritual songs are uninspired compositions outside the canon of Scripture, thus making an argument against Exclusive Psalmody. However, I argue Paul is making reference to the Septuagintal separation of the Book of Psalms and thus these passages in Colossians and Ephesians are an excellent example of Exclusive Psalmody in the practice of the New Testament Church. I hold to this position for a number of reasons:

  1. The Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) was widely used by the Christian church, as evidenced by the numerous quotations from the Septuagint in the New Testament. Whenever an Old Testament passage is quoted, that quotation almost always comes from the Septuagint (e.g. Matthew 1:23/Isaiah 7:14; John 1:23/Isaiah 40:3-5; Mark 7:6,7/Isaiah 29:13). Paul readers would be familiar with the Septuagint translation.
  2. The Septuagint breaks up the Book of Psalms into Psalms (ψαλμός), Hymns (ὕμνος), and Songs (ᾠδή). Thus, it makes sense that when Paul lists, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, his readers would understand that by that he means the entire book of Psalms. Not compositions that are of human invention and composition and, thus, outside the Canon of Scripture.
  3. Paul, in Colossians 3:16, commands this: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” The Word of Christ is very clearly the Scriptures: Jesus Christ is referred to as the Word in John 1:1, 14. But Paul goes on to further classify the Word of Christ by stating, “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” What Paul is saying here is that we let the Word of Christ (Scripture) dwell in us richly through teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. These Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs must be found within Scripture then and I argue they are found in the Book of Psalms.

So why would Paul list three of the same thing? If Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs are all Psalms why not just say Psalms? Could it be possible that Paul is telling his readers to sing uninspired compositions as well aka the modern definition of a hymn? Well, it must be remembered that Paul is drawing these definitions from the Septuagint. So the question should be asked: why did the Septuagint classify them as such? Well, these three words (psalm, hymn, and spiritual song) refer to three different types of songs.

  1. Leupold describes a Psalm as such in his Commentary on Psalm 3: “(Heb. mizmor [Hebrew word for Psalm]). It seems best to accept as the root meaning of the word zamar the idea of plucked strings rather than to sing; and it is better to understand mizmor in the sense of a poem that is to be rendered with musical accompaniment than as ‘melody.’ The latter term would result in a misleading meaning; for the psalm is not a ‘melody’ but a poem sung to a melody or accompanied by some melody.” This title is perhaps the most common in the book of psalms: Psalms 2-8, 10-14, 18-24, 28-30, 37-40, 42-43, 45-50, 61-67, 72, 74-76, 78-84, 86-87, 91, 93, 97-100, 107-109, 138-140, 142. The special use of instruments in the singing of these Psalms was especially a part of Old Testament worship. Whether or not they are necessary for New Testament worship will have to be the discussion of a later article.
  2. A Hymn is a genre generally considered to be one of the Hallel Psalms: Psalms 113 – 118. These were generally sung in association with the feasts and particularly the Passover. Thus, at Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the people sang from Psalm 118 (John 12). Further, when Matthew and Mark make mention of Jesus singing a hymn (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26) this again most likely refers to anything from Psalm 113 – 118.
  3. A Song, or Ode, may likely refer to Psalms such as Psalms 3, 17, 29, 38, 44, 47, 64-67, 74-75, 82, 86-87, 90-92, 94-95, 107, 119-133. It is a “song, ode (to God) Ex 15,1; song of praise, joyful song Am 8,10.” In a later article it will be established why Paul makes specific mention of spiritual songs and not simply “songs.”

So then it makes sense that Paul would use these three terms to refer to three different types of Psalms. In short, we are to sing all the Psalms in our worship of God. Calvin also agrees with this distinction between the meaning of these three different words. He states this, “they are commonly distinguished in this way—that a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters.” While Calvin does not make mention of the Septuagint, I believe Calvin’s interpretation is helpful as it demonstrates specific meanings for these three terms, each with a distinct function.

Thus, in conclusion to this post, Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 not only illustrate a practice of Exclusive Psalmody in the early Christian church but also command such a practice for the church. Believers are called to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as part of their worship of God. They are to sing the Word of Christ as found in the Book of Psalms.

 

Stay tuned for further articles on this subject! I hope to deal with further objections to the EP position.

Notes:

[1] John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 217–218.

[1] Johan Lust, Erik Eynikel, and Katrin Hauspie, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint : Revised Edition (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft: Stuttgart, 2003).

 

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