Musical Instruments in Worship
Musical Instruments in Worship
Phillip Kayser
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Table of Contents

1. God’s Delight In Instrumental Music

Music has been around since the beginning of creation “when the morning stars [i.e., angels] sang together” in joyful worship of their Creator (Job. 38:7). Lucifer was one of those singing angels in whom God delighted,1 and one of God’s purposes for creating Lucifer was to provide musical accompaniment for this worship:

You were in Eden, the garden of God… The workmanship of your tambourines (תֹּף)2 and pipes (נֶקֶב)3 was prepared for you on the day you were created. (Ezek. 28:13)

It is clear that God created musical instruments for the worship of heaven from the very beginning of time. Though fallen man also invented musical instruments (see the harp and flute in Gen. 4:21), we should not forget that God created them first, and we should not think of musical instrumentation as being intrinsically evil.4 The same God who gloried in the “perfection” and “beauty” of angelic music on day one of creation (Job 38:6-7; Ezek. 28:12-15) continues to glory in instrumental music in His heavenly throne room today (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2; etc.). The instrumental music of heaven is played with “harps of God” (Rev. 15:2). This either refers to harps owned by God or given to them by God. Either way, it shows divine warrant for the heavenly delight in instrumental music.

God wants us to glory in this same music. He wants us to pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If heaven is the pattern for everything we do (see Col. 3:1-2), then worship music should be patterned after the worship music of heaven. This involves not only singing new songs (see Rev. 3:8,11; 5:9,12,13; etc.), but also valuing the instrumental music that God loves so much (see Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2).

This is no different than what happened in the Old Testament worship of temple and synagogue.5 God showed Moses “the pattern” for their worship (Ex. 25:40; 26:30; Numb. 8:4; Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:5). It was not enough for heaven to be beautified with such music. God’s heavenly kingdom invaded Earth’s earthly kingdom and enabled David to affirm that the “praise of the upright is beautiful” (Ps. 33:1) even when it is accompanied by the same kind of instrumental music that characterized heaven (vv. 1-3). Just as there are “harps of God” in heaven (Rev. 15:2) there are “musical instruments of Jehovah” on earth (2 Chron. 7:6). We will see in chapter 3 that the Booth of David, which is the paradigm for the New Testament church (cf. Amos 9:11,12; Acts 15:15-17) was filled with glorious instrumental music (1 Chron. 15:16ff).

The bottom line is that God loves music and He moves His people to delight in music. David says, “He put a new song in my mouth – praise to our God” (Ps. 40:3). It was God who moved David’s music, and through David God continues to call His people to “sing to Him a new song” “with a ten stringed instrument” and to “play skillfully with a shout of joy” (Ps. 33:1-3). It is not enough for heaven to be beautified with such music – earth too must be made “beautiful” by music (Ps. 33:1; Ps. 147:1).

Indeed, God commands the use of musical instruments in worship over and over again. Both grace and law join hands in beautifying worship with instrumentation. Scripture says, “Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn” (Ps. 98:5-6). “Sing praises on the harp to our God” (Ps. 147:7); “Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp” (Ps. 149:3); “play skillfully” (Ps. 33:3); “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harps! Praise Him with the timbrel… Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals!” (Ps. 150:1-6).6

Every time God commands us to sing a “psalm” He is commanding us to appreciate the accompaniment of musical instruments since both the Hebrew7 and the Greek8 terms for “psalm” refer to a song accompanied by musical instruments. Even the term “Selah,” which occurs 74 times in the Old Testament,9 is an instruction to use musical instruments since it refers to a forte (or very loud) antiphonal response of trumpets to the other musicians.10 If the Psalms are for today, can we ignore these oft-repeated Selahs? What about the instruction, “Higgaion” (cf. Psalm 9:16 with 92:3)? That is an instruction to use “quieter music.”11 It is hard to spiritualize such instructions that God has preserved for us.

Even the inspired titles of the Psalms show us that God loves musical instruments. Can we really forbid stringed instruments while singing Psalm 3 when the inspired title calls us to sing it “with stringed instruments”? Can we really forbid wind instruments when Psalm 5 calls us to sing those words “with flutes”? Can we really object to variety in musical instruments when God’s instructions range from “an eight-stringed harp” (Ps. 6,12; etc.), to “an instrument of Gath” (Ps. 8,81; etc.), to a neginoth or generic “musical instrument” (Ps. 54,55; etc.), or when God left the instrumentation up to the judgment of “the chief musician” (Ps. 4,5; etc.)? Certainly David modeled the use of “all kinds of instruments” (2 Sam. 6:5) and authorized the use of all kinds in Psalm 150.

God loves variety. Suzanne Haik-Vantoura12 has demonstrated how the diacritical marks above and below the Hebrew text of the Old Testament have given the church the foundations for Western music. The exquisite nature of this original music exhibits variety in voice and instrument, melody and harmony, modality and rhythm. The fact that the same words are sung to one tune and instrument in one psalm and to another tune and instrument in another psalm shows God’s flexibility. His Biblical guidelines for music are not inhibiting but spur us to reverent creativity. God loves music and He wants us to love music.

Some have had their consciences troubled by the belief that musical instruments were exclusively tied to the ceremonial sacrifices and were only authorized for temple Levites to play. I will deal with this objection in much more detail later, but here it is sufficient to note that God allowed Levites (1 Chron. 15:16; 2 Chron. 7:6) and non-Levitical prophets (1 Sam. 10:5), kings (2 Sam. 6:4; Is. 38:20) and ordinary citizens (Ps. 33:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:5), males (1 Chron. 13:8; 15:16) and females (Ex. 15:20; Ps. 68:25) to worship God with musical instruments if they were adequately skilled13 and if they had the character qualifications that are laid out in Scripture.14 The instrumental worship that God speaks against is that which comes from a bad heart (Eph. 5:19) or that which is produced by those with a lawless life (Amos 5:23).

I will have more to say about the wide variety of instruments that David played by God’s authorization in a later chapter, but this chapter is simply trying to demonstrate that God loves music and wants us to love it. We may find ourselves criticized for our music just as Michal criticized David, but if we are solidly grounded in the Scripture, we can respond with the confidence of David, who, knowing that God delights in music said, “I will play music before the LORD” (2 Sam. 6:21). God vindicated David and disapproved of Michal (2 Sam. 6:23), not because there was no room for disagreements on this subject, but because “she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:16). I do not despise my brothers and sisters who defend a cappella worship, and it is my hope that they will not despise me. This book is simply my response to those who claim that we have no Biblical basis for musical instruments and who assert that we are violating the Regulative Principle of Worship. It is my hope that I have fairly represented their position on the subject and that I have adequately answered their objections. It is also my hope that the church will at some point be united in giving God the kind of music that He loves.

David by inspiration commanded the use of all kinds of “musical instruments” in order “to raise sounds of joy” (1 Chron. 15:16). Can this become fake and fleshly joy? Yes, but the solution is not to get rid of music, but to “sing and play music from the heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Can instruments inappropriately overwhelm the words? Yes, but the solution is not to get rid of the instruments, but to make sure that “the song to the LORD” is “accompanied by the instruments” (2 Chron. 29:27), not replaced by instruments.15

Any number of reasons can be introduced as to why musical instruments should be minimized or eradicated. This book will attempt to deal with the three most compelling arguments for a cappella singing. Though some of the argumentation in the following chapters is of necessity detailed and heavy (because it is responding to detailed and heavy a cappella arguments), it is my hope that the reader will be freed by this information to sing with joy to the glory of God and not have conscience-issues with musical accompaniment. Ultimately, it is my hope that this book will glorify God and bring Him great joy.

2. To mandate a cappella worship is to violate the Regulative Principle of Worship

You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; …whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.

– Deuteronomy 12:32-33

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.

– Psalm 33:1-3

In 1983, Crown & Covenant Publications published a brochure by Robert B. McCracken – What About Instruments In Worship? What Place, If Any, Do Musical Instruments Have In The Worship of God? This well-written tract has had a great deal of influence in convincing people that it is a sin16 to accompany singing in worship with any musical instrument. While I myself once held to that position in my early twenties, and while this position has had a long and distinguished history,17 I have come to the conclusion that this viewpoint is unbiblical. Indeed, imposing his thesis upon the church would not only involve the church in legalism (adding to God’s law the mandate of a cappella singing – a commandment nowhere to be found in Scripture18), but it would also involve the church in antinomianism (disobeying many direct commands from God to use musical instruments19). History tells us that any time we subtract from God’s law (antinomianism) we will inevitably add man-made laws (legalism).20 The two are not opposites; they necessitate each other. It is in the interest of preserving the church from both legalism and antinomianism that this book has been written.

I should point out that both McCracken and I believe in the Regulative Principle of Worship.21 This principle correctly teaches that we may not introduce anything into worship that is not explicitly authorized in the Bible. Deuteronomy 12:31-32 summarizes the Regulative Principle of Worship quite well when it says,

You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way…Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.

It is important to realize that both sides of that commandment are equally important – it is just as sinful to take away from God’s commands relative to worship as it is to add to God’s commands. Thus, the Regulative Principle of Worship should cause us to avoid both a minimalistic approach to worship (failing to implement all God’s commands) as well as a lax approach to worship (adding novel elements to worship that are not found in the Bible). It is my contention that McCracken and all others who speak of the use of instrumentation in worship as sin are in reality the violators of both sides of the Regulative Principle of Worship.

Nevertheless, because many men whom I respect have held to this position, and because this is a sincerely held conscience issue for many people, I want to give a Biblical response. Though the literature already cited contains many subsidiary arguments against instruments, they can all be boiled down to three main arguments:

  1. The use of instrumental music was strictly Levitical in the Old Testament, tied to the temple, and passed away with the rest of the ceremonial law.
  2. The use of instruments in worship is foreign to “New Testament church worship.”
  3. Since neither synagogue nor early church used musical instruments, any other understanding of the Biblical material is impossible.

If these three main pillars can be shown to be wrong, the rest of the subsidiary arguments will automatically fall to the ground. It is my hope that this book will liberate the consciences of friends who have been troubled by the legalism of instrument-abolitionists.

3. Dealing with a cappella’s first pillar

Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments…

– 2 Samuel 6:5

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of the psalm, with trumpets and the sound of the horn; shout joyfully before the LORD, the King…”

– Psalm 98:4-6

They have seen Your procession, O God; the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the maidens playing timbrels. Bless God in the congregations…

– Psalm 68:24-26

A summary of the argument: the claim that instrumental music was purely Levitical, ceremonial, and tied to the temple

The first pillar of the a cappella advocates is that all authorized instrumental music in the Old Testament was tied exclusively to the Levites and temple, and thus all Old Testament references to musical instruments are part of the ceremonial law. Kevin Reed states the argument succinctly:

…it is indisputable that these musicians [of 1 Chronicles 23ff] were part of the Levitical priesthood… The priestly services of the Levites have been replaced in the New Testament. Therefore, the burden of proof rests with the proponents of instrumental music; they must prove a divine warrant for such a service apart from tabernacle or temple ordinances, if they wish to introduce instrumental music into new covenant worship. Without such a warrant, it is improper to reintroduce such ceremonial observances back into public worship.22

The argument can also be stated by way of syllogism:

  1. Premise one: God-authorized use of musical instruments in worship was entirely restricted to the Levitical order and to the temple.23
  2. Premise two: The Levitical order, the temple, and the ceremonial laws have passed away.24
  3. Conclusion: instrumental music passed away when the Levitical order passed away.

It is their contention that it is no more proper to play instruments in worship today than it would be proper to sacrifice sheep or oxen today. They believe that both kinds of action would be an ungodly reversion to Judaism. To those who respond that the Psalms continually command the use of musical instruments, the response is simple: treat such references like we would similar references in the Psalms to sacrifices, bulls, blood, and hyssop. It is the meaning of those types that is important, not the literal presence of the types. It is claimed that just as sacrifices pointed to the atonement of Jesus, musical instruments typified the joy that believers were ushered into through Christ’s atonement.25 The typical meaning of the sacrifices and instruments remains, but not the type itself. The very simplicity of the argument has been compelling to many Christians down through the centuries. Fearful of the accusation of “Judaizing,” they have abandoned any use of musical accompaniment to songs.

Problem one – Non-Levites were clearly authorized to play musical instruments in worship

Brian Schwertley represents many when he says,

A careful study of the use of musical instruments in worship in the old covenant reveals that musical instruments were only played by certain authorized classes of Levites. Non-Levites never used musical instruments in public worship.26

Despite the categorical “only” and “never,” he backtracks at points and acknowledges that musical instruments were used by prophets (1 Sam. 10:5; 2 Kings 3:16-17), though that fact is dismissed as an irrelevant exception since prophets no longer exist. He admits that instruments were played in Jehoshaphat’s victory celebration (1 Chron. 15:14-28), but insists that since the parade ended at the temple (v. 28), that it was ceremonial and therefore the instruments must have been used by Levites, though the text implies otherwise,27 and though the text makes clear that they at least had musical instruments at a non-temple worship service before traveling to the temple.28 He admits that the Psalms are replete with admonitions to use instruments in worship, but he dismisses those passages as either commands to Levites in the Old Covenant or typological of joy for the New Covenant. Where that is not possible, he uses an ad hominem argument that if instruments are admitted, then dancing and sacrifices also need to be admitted.29 He admits that non-Levites played musical instruments at victory celebrations in Exodus 15, 1 Samuel 18, Judges 11, and Jeremiah 31:4, but believes he can dispose of them with five reasons.30 These examples at least illustrate that a cappella advocates must constantly nuance their categorical statements with exceptions, assumed contexts, and circular reasoning. Indeed, there are so many “exceptions” that the rule should be questioned rather than assumed as proved.

Though we could debate some texts endlessly, I will seek in the rest of this section to show clear evidence that God authorized non-Levitical instrumentalists to play in public worship services in the Old Covenant. Even women were authorized to play music in church. If this can be demonstrated clearly, then numerous other passages that have been dismissed or explained away by the a cappella advocates suddenly become a resounding chorus of calls to use musical instruments.

Illustrated in Psalm 98

The first clear passage comes from Psalm 98. God gives the following command to “all the earth”:

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of the psalm, with trumpets and the sound of the horn; shout joyfully before the LORD, the King… (Ps. 98:4-6)

There are three things that need to be highlighted in this passage: First, this paragraph is describing a formal worship service, since the singing and playing is done “to the LORD” (v. 5) and “before the LORD” (v. 6).31 Indeed, the strong literary parallels that commentators have noted with Psalm 9632 make it impossible to escape the idea of a public worship service (see Ps. 96:7-9). Therefore this passage cannot be as easily dismissed as being “non-worship celebration” as so many other passages have been cavalierly dismissed.33 It is clearly intended to speak about people gathered before the LORD in public worship.

Second, the instruments are said to be in the hands of “all the earth,” which in the immediately preceding sentence is defined as “all the ends of the earth [which] have seen the salvation of our God” (v. 3). Here is a clear reference to non-Levitical Gentiles who have been commanded to use musical instruments in a worship service.

Third, it cannot be claimed that all the earth is simply being commanded to have the joy typified by the musical instruments. If the musical instruments were indeed types, then (on their own hermeneutical principles) the ceremonial types could only have been in the hands of the Levites. So this passage would prove too much if it were said to be a type. It would prove that even in the Old Testament the type could have been in the hands of a Gentile. So either way it demonstrates our point. If it was a type, this passage shows that it was not a distinctively Levitical type since Gentiles in Old Testament times used them. On the other hand, if all types were Levitical, then such instruments could not be a type because these worship instruments were in the hands of non-Levites. Thus premise one is clearly proved to be false. There is yet more evidence:

Illustrated in Psalm 68

Psalm 68 is another passage that authorizes non-priestly singers and instrumentalists to go into the “sanctuary” with their music. It says,

They have seen Your procession, O God; the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary. The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the maidens playing timbrels. Bless God in the congregations, the LORD, from the fountain of Israel. (Ps. 68:24-26)

There have been various attempts to get around the clear meaning of this passage, the most common one being the claim that it is describing a “procession celebration” that was not worship, but rather, people travelling to Jerusalem prior to worship.34 However, even if this were true, it is inconsistent for instrument-abolitionists to categorize five other “procession” texts as being Levitical temple worship since the procession was leading up to the temple,35 and to fail to see this Psalm as describing exactly the same temple worship when the procession mentioned is right “into the sanctuary.”

Apart from that inconsistency, the instrumental playing in this Psalm cannot be categorized as non-worship. Several features make it clear that public worship was happening. First, God is present in their midst (“Your procession, O God, the procession of my God”). Whatever movement was happening, God was at the center of it. Second, the procession is “into the sanctuary” not simply towards Jerusalem. Third, the grammar of verses 24b-25 indicates that the maidens were still playing after they had entered the sanctuary. The order of entering “into the sanctuary” was that “the singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the maidens playing timbrels.” There is no evidence that the musical instruments were left at the door. Fourth, the result of their procession into the sanctuary is a call to everyone to “bless God in the congregations” (v. 26). This fits the context of the whole Psalm which has called the righteous to “rejoice before God” (v. 3), to “sing to God” (v. 4), to “extol Him” (v. 4), and to “rejoice before Him” (v. 4) by recounting his wonderful deeds (vv. 5ff). It is difficult for me to conceive how this worship is any less worship than the typical procession passages that a cappella advocates use to prove the regulative principle, such as 1 Chronicles 13 and 15-16.

Second, this passage deals with worship by non-priests in both the temple and the synagogues of Israel. Verse 24 refers to the temple procession as God’s procession, and a procession of music that went “into the sanctuary” (v. 24). That phrase deals with the temple worship of the whole congregation of Israel. Subsequently these same players are commanded to “bless God in the congregations” (v. 26). Note that this is a plural word in both the New King James Version and also in the Hebrew – “congregations.” These “congregations” were various synagogues that met on the temple precincts in the numerous meeting rooms.36 If it was appropriate for maidens to play on timbrels in the various congregations/synagogues37 that met on the temple precincts, then such playing would also be appropriate to the congregations/synagogues that gathered in the “meeting places of God” (cf Ps. 74:8) scattered throughout the land.38 In any case, this passage makes clear that it was not simply Levitical officers who played instruments. Maidens also played instruments within the central sanctuary, giving us a second clear proof of the falsity of premise one.

Illustrated in Psalm 33

The same can be illustrated in Psalm 33:

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy. (Ps. 33:1-3)

While it cannot be categorically proved that this verse is a command to play within a formal worship service, it is certainly a call to worship God, and this call is addressed to the congregation of believers (“you righteous… the upright”). And it is within some kind of worship that the author issues a command to use both harp and lute. Third, the grammar indicates that the ones being commanded to play these musical instruments are a broader group than simply the Levites. It is a command directed to “you righteous” and “the upright.”

Illustrated in the Practice of David

It is also clear that David himself did not believe that the use of musical instruments in worship was to be restricted to the Levitical office. David was not a Levite (Ruth 4:12,18-22), yet he not only invented new musical instruments (Amos 6:5; 1 Chron. 23:5) such as the ten stringed lute (Ps. 33:2; 144:9), but he also joined others in playing such instruments before the Lord:

Then David and all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets. (1 Chron. 13:8)

Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals. (2 Sam. 6:5)

At this point a cappella advocates are divided in their response, with some insisting that David was condemned for inventing instruments (Amos 6:5) and playing instruments (1 Chron. 13), while others simply say that David received special revelation concerning changes to Levitical worship. Either direction poses problems. Scripture is clear that David’s invention of instruments was authorized by the commandment of the Lord (2 Chron. 29:25). Most agree, emphasizing the fact that Levites are the only ones authorized to use such instruments in this last verse, but this ignores the fact that David himself played instruments in worship even though he was a non-Levite. Though this is often admitted, it is still insisted that David only used the instruments for temple worship and he did so by divine warrant. However, we have already seen that David authorized a broader use of instruments in Psalm 68 and 98. So even though David’s use of instruments in the temple is marshaled by a cappella advocates to prove an exclusive Levitical function, their exegesis is muddied and often backtracks on principles that were earlier insisted upon. Therefore, I will seek to examine David’s use of instruments in more detail.

Instrument-abolitionists agree with us that these verses are descriptions of public worship (“worship before the LORD”), and that they do indeed teach us much about the Regulative Principle of Worship. We also agree that David in some way violated the Regulative Principle of Worship because David said, “the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order” (1 Chron. 15:13). We are agreed that every aspect of public worship must be regulated by God.

Where we differ is whether the use of musical instruments in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles was condemned. According to many a cappella advocates, 2 Samuel 6, 1 Chronicles 13,15, and Amos 5:6 all condemn David’s use of unauthorized music. Their argument is that “all Israel played music” in 1 Chronicles 13:8, whereas “the Levites… [were appointed] to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music” in 1 Chronicles 15:16. They also say that chapter 13 violated Mosaic law because non-Levites played music. Chapter 15 followed Mosaic law because the instruments were used by Levites. Therefore, even though there is no specific prohibition of non-Levitical use of instruments, the implication is that the music of chapter 13 was just as unbiblical as the faulty handling of the Ark of the Covenant.

It is true that God did get angry with Uzzah and judged him with death for violating His laws related to worship (2 Sam. 6:7; 1 Chron. 13:10). I am in agreement that this passage teaches us that God is not pleased with anything unauthorized being introduced into worship. However, it is not correct to say that the use of musical instruments by non-Levites was in any way condemned. We will see that the passage teaches the exact opposite.

The judgment of God fell because Israel violated four laws. First, God’s law required the ark to be carried by the Levites alone (Deut. 10:8; 31:9; Numb. 4:1-20), yet others were involved in carrying the ark in direct violation of Mosaic law (1 Chron. 15:2,12-14). Second, the ark had rings on it through which poles were inserted, and the Levites were supposed to carry the ark by placing those poles upon their shoulders (Ex. 25:12-14; Numb. 4:5-6,15), whereas David imitated the Philistines by carrying the ark on an ox cart (compare 1 Sam. 6:7 with 2 Sam. 6:3-4). Third, the ark was supposed to be completely covered so that it could not be seen when it was carried (Numb. 4:5-6,12), whereas no covering prevented Uzzah’s hand from touching the ark (2 Sam. 6:6; 1 Chron. 13:8-9). Fourth, no one was to ever touch the ark on any account (Numb. 4:15,19,20), whereas Uzzah touched the ark (2 Sam. 6:6; 1 Chron. 13:8-9). This much is clear.

However, the a cappella legalists add a sin that is never mentioned. They claim that God’s wrath also broke out because non-Levites like David were involved in playing musical instruments. But nowhere in any of the texts was the use of musical instruments condemned. Indeed, this passage proves the exact opposite. At the second worship celebration of 1 Chronicles 15, David corrected every error that had been made on the previous occasion, but there is no mention of an error with regard to music. On the contrary, when the ark was brought into Jerusalem, David was still “playing music” (1 Chron. 15:29) and “all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting and with a sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps” (1 Chron. 15:28). It is clear from the grammar that it was “all Israel” that was “making music.” Even after his wife rebuked him for this display of celebration, David says “I will play music before the LORD” (2 Sam. 6:21) and God vindicated what David was doing by judging his wife (2 Sam. 6:23) and making a lasting covenant with David (2 Sam. 7). So this passage proves the exact opposite of what a cappella advocates intend. It proves that non-Levites accompanied singing in worship before the Lord with “all kinds” instruments (2 Sam. 6:5).

The second passage often used to prove that David was in sin is Amos 6:5. In context the passage says:

Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, Who cause the seat of violence to come near; Who lie on beds of ivory, Stretch out on your couches, Eat lambs from the flock And calves from the midst of the stall; Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, And invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; Who drink wine from bowls, And anoint yourselves with the best ointments, But are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore they shall now go captive as the first of the captives, And those who recline at banquets shall be removed. The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, The LORD God of hosts says: “I abhor the pride of Jacob, And hate his palaces; Therefore I will deliver up the city And all that is in it.”

The key offense that is highlighted is, “and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David” (v. 5). The idea is that David’s multiplication of musical instruments was not authorized by God (despite clear Biblical testimony to the contrary – 2 Chron. 29:25).39

However, such an interpretation is totally missing the point that Amos is making. Amos is not saying that having a fancy bed, lying down on a couch, eating lamb, singing, playing instruments, drinking wine, anointing oneself, or reclining at banquets was wrong. Indeed, if all these things were not legitimate things, the point Amos was making would have been lost. Judgment was about to fall and Amos couldn’t understand how the Jewish leaders could ignore that fact.

Amos was opposed to five things that these Jewish leaders were engaged in. First, he was opposed to them leading a normal life as if no judgment was coming,40 when the prophets had said that judgment was imminent (Ezek. 12:22,27). This means that playing instruments and inventing instruments was a part of normal life. Second, the Jewish leaders were preoccupied with enjoying life rather than with mourning over Israel’s sin.41 All these things were good gifts of God that were meant to be enjoyed – in their place. When God called for mourning and sackcloth, it was not a time for pleasure. Third, these leaders were living pridefully as if they were the masters of their fate and acting as if their lifestyle would continue forever.42 Even eating lamb can be a sin if it is done pridefully and independently of God. Fourth, he was warning them that their leisure would be turned into slavery.43 It is not that leisure is not allowed. God gave seven festivals in which to have leisure. Now was a time to be engaged in repentance. Finally, he was warning them that their opulent luxury would not prevent them from being delivered to the enemies.44 The point Amos clearly made was that Israel should not be acting as if everything was normal when judgment was looming over them.

This means that David’s invention of instruments was not sinful. Nor was the idea of playing on instruments. Far from proving a cappella worship, the life of David overturns it. Furthermore, the very instruments that David invented, are commanded to be used by God’s inspiration in Psalm 33:2; 43:4; 57:8; 71:22; 81:2; 92:3; 98:5; 108:2; 147:7; 149:3; 150:3. When Scripture itself clearly states that the “instruments of David” were instituted according to “the commandment of the LORD,” (2 Chron. 29:25-27), it is only strong prejudice against instruments that can maintain this kind of interpretation of Amos 6:5.

This means that we have definitively proved that the first pillar of the instrument-abolitionist position is false. Instruments were not restricted to the Levites since David, maidens, and Gentiles were all commanded to play instruments in worship.

Problem two: David’s booth/tabernacle (a form of synagogue worship that foreshadowed New Covenant worship) had instrumental music without sacrifices or ceremonial law.

In 2003, Peter Leithart wrote a ground-breaking book that analyzes the Booth (אֹהֶל) of David as a worship center in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:12-23; 1 Chron. 15-16) that operated side by side with the Tabernacle (מִשְׁכַּן) of Moses that continued to function seven miles northwest of Jerusalem in Gibeon (1 Chron. 16:39-43).45 While I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I believe that he does establish the following facts that are relevant to our study:

First, the Booth/tabernacle of David was not a substitute Tabernacle for the ceremonial law. The two entities were different on many levels. As already noted, different Hebrew words are used to describe the two places. The architecture was quite different, with the Booth of David being a one roomed meeting place where the Ark of the Covenant was visible and the Tabernacle of Moses being divided up into outer, holy place, and most holy place, and the Ark of the Covenant never being visible. People went to the Tabernacle of Moses in Gibeon to perform their sacrifices, and they went to the Booth of David in Jerusalem to worship much like they would in a synagogue. The priests continued to minister at the Tabernacle of Moses in Gibeon while the synagogue Levites ministered side-by-side with the majority Gentile officers of Obed-Edom and his brethren.46 In short, the Booth of David contained the temple worship stripped of all its ceremonial law just as the New Covenant church is worship stripped of the ceremonial law. The Booth of David was equivalent to the Old Testament synagogue,47 but with the heightened presence of music.

Second, the extremely unusual features of the Booth of David mentioned in the previous paragraph were authorized by God in order to foreshadow the New Testament church. Both Amos 9 and Acts 15 use the Booth of David as a type of New Covenant worship, where Jew and Gentile together are able to worship God. Never do the prophets or the New Testament Scriptures liken the church to “mount Moriah.” Rather they liken the church to mount Zion where the Booth of David was.48 The psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 is particularly powerful in describing Jew and Gentile worshipping side-by-side in New Testament times. So though this Booth of David functioned like a large synagogue, it was different from most synagogues in that it had Gentiles who were “adopted” to be Levites (and thus prefigured New Covenant pastors) and it had Jews and Gentiles coming boldly before the throne of grace (and thus prefiguring our New Covenant privileges). In commenting on the Jew-Gentile issue in Acts 15, James says that the New Testament church is a rebuilding of the Booth of David. Whatever role the other synagogues or temple might have to the New Testament church, James is explicit about the fact that the New Testament church corresponds closely to the Booth of David. The Booth of David removed all ceremonial furniture and functions of the Tabernacle of Moses leaving only the “throne of grace” (the Ark of the Covenant) – exactly as we have in the New Covenant church (Heb. 4:16). This interpretation is confirmed by James at the Jerusalem council:

And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle [booth] of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” Says the LORD who does all these things.

While Acts 15 obviously settled the question of whether Gentiles could enter the church without getting circumcised, it also answers the question of whether music should be played in the New Testament church. If David played music in the Booth of David, then the New Testament church should play music in worship. The next point makes explicit that musical instruments were not just a thing of the temple – they were part and parcel of the Booth of David.

There was an abundance of musical instrumentation in the Booth of David. Indeed, David invented new musical instruments (Amos 6:5; 1 Chron. 23:5) such as the ten stringed lute (Ps. 33:2; 144:9) and allowed laity to play on “all kinds of instruments” (2 Sam. 6:5). Peter Leithart points out that the law of God did not authorize these kinds of instruments for the ceremonial rituals of the Tabernacle of Moses. These new instruments cannot be explained away as “Temple ceremonial law” since these instruments were not commanded in the Pentateuch and were not being played at the Tabernacle of Moses in Gibeon. Something else is going on – something prophetic of the New Covenant: God explicitly ties the rejoicing with new instruments (1 Chronicles 16:1-6) to his prophetic call for all the peoples of the earth to worship with song (1 Chronicles 16:7-36). So what is made explicit about the connection of the Booth of David with New Covenant worship is implied in 1 Chronicles 16.49

Nor can these instruments be explained away as David’s unauthorized novelty since God explicitly says that they were instruments authorized by “the commandment of the LORD” (2 Chron. 29:25-27) for the Booth of David.50 The other exegetical issue that shows divine authorization is that these “new instruments” are commanded by God in the titles to several Psalms (cf the titles of Psalm 33:2; 43:4; 57:8; 71:22; 81:2; 92:3; 98:5; 108:2; 147:7; 149:3; 150:3). Interestingly, some of these Psalms also prophetically call upon the Gentiles to worship God in the New Covenant. Even if that had not been true, the apostle Paul says that these Psalms “were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Therefore, the Booth of David is all the justification that is needed for New Testament believers to use musical instruments in worship.

Problem three: the only musical instruments that were distinctively Levitical were the two silver trumpets.

There is a third problem with the first main pillar: the only musical instruments that were distinctively Levitical were the two silver trumpets of Numbers 10. Jewish scholar, Alfred Edersheim, said,

What instrumental music there was, served only to accompany and sustain the song. Accordingly, none other than Levites might act as choristers, while other distinguished Israelites were allowed to take part in the instrumental music. The blasts of the trumpets, blown by priests only, formed—at least in the second Temple—no part of the instrumental music of the service, but were intended for quite different purposes.”

The two silver trumpets of Numbers 10 were blown over the sacrifice at the time it was being sacrificed (Numb. 10:2,10). No one else could blow those two trumpets. On this much we are agreed.51 But that did not mean that other silver trumpets (hasarsarat) could not be used. Psalm 98 commands their use by even Gentiles. And even if that particular brand of trumpet could have been proved to have been exclusively Levitical, there are other kinds of trumpets commanded (see Psalm 150:3 – shofer). And we have already seen that instruments used by the Levites (2 Chron. 29:26; 1 Chron. 15:16; 23:5; 28:13, 19; 2 Chron. 29:25-27, etc.) were also used by non-Levites. For example, the non-Levitical prophets of 1 Samuel 10:5 used “a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp.” Likewise, “all Israel played music before God with all their might, with singing, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on cymbals, and with trumpets” (1 Chron. 13:8). The non-temple worship of Exodus 15 was done “to the LORD” (vv. 1,21) with timbrels (v. 21). It was not temple worship, but it was worship. Furthermore, the Messianic Psalms that predict the conversion of the world call upon the Gentiles to use instruments in worship. For example, Psalm 67 instructs all nations, all peoples and all ends of the earth to praise God and the title explains how – “on stringed instruments.” Psalm 87 speaks of every nation being a part of Zion in the Messianic age, and these New Covenant members have both “singers” and “players on instruments” (v. 7) who worship within Zion. The two Psalms we began with (Psalms 68 and 98) are both Messianic Psalms speaking of New Covenant saints playing on instruments. It is gratuitous to say that whenever the Psalms command the use of musical instruments, they are only commanding Levites to do so. The only clearly labeled Levitical instruments were the two silver trumpets.

Problem four: While some Levitical functions ceased with the death of Christ, it is simply not true that all Levitical functions do.

There is still another problem with the first main pillar of the a cappella position. Even if we are wrong on everything we have said thus far, McCracken has still not proved his point that instrumental music has passed away. While some Levitical functions (such as blood sacrifices, temple ministry, temple calendar) ceased with the death of Christ, it is simply not true that all Levitical functions do. Unless the Scripture clearly says that a Levitical function ceases, we should be careful of affirming that it does. After all, the Levites prayed, preached God’s Word, led in singing, received a tithe, applied the sign of the covenant to converts, etc. In fact, even though the bloody sacrifices and the ceremonies exclusively tied to those bloody sacrifices have passed away, the New Testament uses those laws to instruct us on how our spiritual worship should be offered up.

Consider the following: Just as Levites substituted for the “firstborn” as the spiritual leaders in the church during the Mosaic period (cf. Numb. 3:12,41,45-46; 8:18; etc.), the Old Testament prophesied that God would make Levites out of the Gentiles during the New Covenant era (Isa. 66:21; cf. also Jer. 33:18,21-22). He is using Old Covenant language to describe New Covenant leadership. This means that there must be some continuity between Levites and present day church leaders.

Furthermore, though the physical temple is abolished (along with the Jewish priesthood and blood sacrifices – cf. Hebrews), God repeatedly calls the church a temple (1 Cor. 3:17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21) in which non-bloody “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Eph. 5:2; Phil. 2:17; 4:18; Heb. 13:15,16; 1 Pet. 2:5), drink offerings (Phil. 2:17) and other offerings (Rom. 15:16) are offered up through Jesus (1 Pet. 2:5).52 This assumes some points of continuity between the temple and the church of today.

I have elsewhere demonstrated that these points of continuity are the same as the points of continuity between temple and synagogue in the Old Testament. The New Testament church carries over all the functions of the synagogue and indeed is called a “synagogue” (Greek of James 2:2). If New Testament Gentiles can take over many of the functions of Levites (Isa. 66:21), then we have to determine which Levitical tasks continue and which do not. The position of “exclusive psalmody” and “no instrumentation” is basically a dispensationalist hermeneutic (“if you can’t find it in the New Testament then it’s not for the church”). We will indeed demonstrate that the use of instruments can be found in the New Testament. Until someone can demonstrate that the use of instruments is distinctively Levitical or has been abolished, we remain unconvinced.

Problem five – Where does the Bible describe musical instruments as a ceremonial type?

The last problem that I see with the first pillar of the a cappella thesis is the assumption that musical instruments are a type or symbol of something redemptive. Not everything the Levites did was a type of redemption. As previously pointed out, they did many things that a cappella churches do – they prayed, preached God’s Word, led in singing, received a tithe, applied the sign of the covenant to converts and their families, gave the benediction, etc. Just because Levites did such things does not make all of those things types. So my parting question on this point is, “Where in the Bible are musical instruments ever described as types of redemption?”

Of course, even if someone can demonstrate that musical instruments are types, his work is not finished. Many Old Testament types continue in the New Testament. Marriage was a type of the relationship between Christ and the church, yet it continues.53 Other Old Testament types that continue are the rainbow,54 baptism,55 the Sabbath,56 and the central part of the Passover meal.57 So even if you are convinced that musical instruments are a type, you will need to deal with our next point – instruments in the New Testament. I have yet to find any Scripture that affirms that instruments are a type of redemption. Once again, pillar number one is shown to be an unbiblical doctrine. As such, the mandate to sing a cappella constitutes both legalism and antinomianism (see chapter 2).

4. Dealing with a cappella’s second pillar

…speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and with your hearts sing and play music to the Lord.

– Ephesians 5:19 (Beck’s translation)

And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.

– Revelation 14:2

A summary of the argument: the claim that instrumental music cannot be found in the New Testament

The second major pillar for the instrument-abolitionist position is the claim that instrumental music is foreign to “New Testament worship.” Of course, the very demand that musical instruments must be commanded in the New Testament is a faulty hermeneutic. If we were to restrict our commandments to the New Testament alone, not only would women be excluded from the Lord’s Supper, but we would have only one guideline for the degrees of consanguinity (can’t marry your mother), we would have no prohibition of bestiality, and we would be without guidance on a host of societal, ecological, and family issues.

So even though I will be giving New Testament evidence for the use of musical instruments, I would urge the reader to restudy the first three chapters. Paul praised the Bereans because they checked out all his teaching against the Old Testament (Acts 17:11). Luke said that Paul was teaching “no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come” (Acts 26:22). If everything he taught was taught from the Old Testament, it means that the subject of worship can be taught from the Old Testament as well. After all, Paul said that the Old Testament Scriptures that Timothy grew up on (2 Tim. 3:14-15) are sufficient for every doctrine and issue of righteousness (v. 16), and are so sufficient that they make the man of God “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 17). This means that restricting ourselves to what the New Testament says on this subject is a non-Biblical hermeneutic.58 My most fundamental disagreement with McCracken (and other a cappella advocates) is that they have unwittingly adopted a dispensational hermeneutic. Nevertheless, I think the reader will find it interesting that the New Testament does indeed command the use of instruments in worship.

Ephesians 5:19: Does it command the use of instruments or forbid the use of instruments?

Ephesians 5:19 commands us to be:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord

Many a cappella advocates have tried to demonstrate that this verse forbids the use of all instruments. The first claim is that the Greek words for psalms, hymns, and songs had a specialized meaning in the New Testament that excluded instrumentation, a claim that at least some lexicons support.59 The second argument is that Ephesians 5:19 restricts all instrumentation to an inward disposition of the heart. For example, McCracken admits that the New Testament word “psallo” means, “to pluck the strings of an instrument,” but because of the phrase, “in your heart,” he renders it, “plucking the strings of your heart to the Lord.” 60 So, far from being embarrassed by this verse, instrument-abolitionists have used it to teach a cappella singing.

On the other hand, Instrumentalists have argued that this verse is a positive command to use instruments in worship. They point out that the only way to exclude instrumentation from the meaning of these terms and/or to turn the terms into a mandate for a cappella singing is through circular reasoning.61 Indeed, the Bible repeatedly uses the terms “psalms,”62 “hymns,”63 and “songs”64 to refer to singing that was indeed accompanied by instruments. Likewise, Instrumentalists insist that the phrase that is translated as “making melody” in the NKJV is a word whose primary usage outside of the New Testament would mandate a translation of “playing instrumentally.” Danker’s lexicon (under the entry for ado) renders Ephesians 5:19 as “singing and playing (instrumentally) heartily to the Lord.” Instrumentalists therefore claim that this is a verse that gives a positive command to use instruments in the worship service. They also claim that if only a cappella singing was being called for, the voice-only interpretation would produce two awkward tautologies within one verse. It would then mean, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and singing psalms in your heart to the Lord.” If Paul’s purpose was to call for the singing of Psalms, he has already adequately done so in the first phrase and wouldn’t need to duplicate that admonition in the second half (“psalms…singing psalms.”). If it is objected that Paul wanted to enforce the singing (ado) of the Psalms and not merely the recitation of them, we still have a tautology: “singing and singing Psalms.” The only way to avoid tautology is to affirm two kinds of singing: “singing and singing psalms.” Since a cappella advocates are for the most part also exclusive psalmists, this poses a problem for them because it implies singing psalms and singing something in addition to psalms. Thus, the most natural interpretation of the passage is to say that it calls for singing three types of song within the worship service as well as calling for at least some instrumental accompaniment.

It is my contention that this second interpretation fits the evidence better. Modern studies of the Greek terms strongly point in the direction of instrumentation being commanded. Let us examine each term. The text says, “speaking to yourselves in psalms [psalmos] and hymns [humnos] and spiritual songs [ode], singing [ado] and making melody [psallo] in your heart to the Lord.”


No one (to my knowledge) disagrees with the fact that the Greek word for “psalms” (psalmos) originally referred to the action upon a stringed instrument or the sound coming from a stringed instrument.65 Later it included the idea of both the song and the musical accompaniment, but the instrumentation was the dominant idea behind the word.66 When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the term psalmos could refer to either music alone,67 a Psalm accompanied by stringed instruments,68 a Psalm accompanied by other instruments,69 or to anything in the Psalter. The Greek word translates the Hebrew words mizmor,70 zamar,71 naganah,72 and sir73, all of which had instrumental connotations. So pervasive was this connection, that K. A. Bartels argues that “It can be assumed that, at least during the OT period, the singing of the Psalms was always accompanied by musical instruments.”74 Though the last statement will be hotly contested by the a cappella advocates based on their understanding of synagogue worship,75 I know of none who would argue that any of the terms discussed here had an a cappella connotation in the Old Testament.

However, it is argued that by the time we get to the New Testament period, the words psalmos and psallo have lost any idea of instrumentation. What is the proof offered? Instrument-abolitionists cannot offer up any first century evidence external to the New Testament. Instead they have offered two assumptions: 1) that later Byzantine usage must have been already developed in the first century and 2) that church fathers who understood the Greek language would not have later opposed instruments in worship if those Greek terms had retained any instrumental connotations. Girardeau quotes Dr. Porteous to this effect:

From these quotations from the Greek fathers, the three first of whom flourished in the fourth century – men of great erudition, well skilled in the phraseology and language of Scripture, perfectly masters of the Greek tongue, which was then written and spoken with purity in the countries where they resided; men, too, who for conscience sake would not handle the Word of God deceitfully, it is evident that the Greek word ψαλλω signified in their time singing with the voice alone. Had they conceived otherwise, we may be assured that they had both sufficient firmness of mind and influence in the church to have induced their hearers to have used the harp and psaltery in the public worship of God.76

In the fifth chapter of this book we will challenge two of the assumptions that are critical to his conclusion: 1) that there were no instruments in public worship in the first four centuries and 2) that the church fathers who did oppose instruments did so out of zeal for Scripture, rather than out of zeal for Greek philosophy. Lexicons have on occasion made the same faulty assumptions and have tentatively cited evidence that psalmos is a cappella from 1) later usage of the term psalmos, 2) scholars with the same faulty assumptions, and 3) reference to the very texts being contested in the New Testament.

At this juncture it is sufficient to show that psalmos and psallo were both used long after the New Testament was written with exactly the same instrumental connotations that they had in Old Testament times. Moulton and Milligan cite second century AD Koine inscriptions where technical Greek terms are distinguished, with kitharismos referring to the action of picking the harp with a quill and psalmos referring to the action of picking the harp with the fingers.77 He also cites one second century example of it meaning a psalm or song that was “sung to a harp accompaniment.” Josephus, a contemporary of Paul, always used the term psalmos to refer to instrumental music, and consistently used humnos to refer to the Old Testament Psalms. Philo avoided using psalmos precisely because it meant an instrumental tune, and his adoption of Greek philosophy made him hostile to instrumental music.78 The church fathers Hyppolytus79 (d. 236AD), Didymus of Alexandria80 (d. 394), Gregory of Nyssa81 (d. 395), and his brother Basil82 all support our contention that the word has an instrumental meaning.

Indeed, there is no evidence whatsoever that the word “psalms” mandates the a cappella meaning that some instrument-abolitionists have claimed for it. Though psalms obviously could be sung with no instrumentation, the idea of a cappella singing is not inherent in the meaning of the term. The evidence points in the opposite direction – especially the usage of the term by Josephus, Hippolytus, Didymus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil.


The next word is humnos. The central meaning of this term involves praise to God.83 It has no inherent meaning related to instruments one way or the other. This noun occurs only here in Ephesians 5:19 and in Colossians 3:16, but it is used by extra-Biblical writers to refer to both canonical psalms as well as non-canonical songs of praise to God.84 In classical Greek this was a more general term of praise that could refer to either recited poetry or to songs. In the Old Testament it had a range of meaning, including praise, prayer, song, psalm, and even a stringed instrument.85 Though I have already mentioned that Philo may have preferred using humnos to refer to the Psalms because of an anti-instrument bias, and even though both classical and Septuagintal Greek could use the term for both a cappella and accompanied song, there is nothing about the term that would necessitate a cappella singing, as is clear from Josephus, a first century writer, who used the term humnos to refer to Psalms accompanied by music.86

The Terms “Songs” and “Sing”

What about the words ode (song) and ado (sing)? Some instrument-abolitionists have insisted that these terms have an unmistakably a cappella meaning. Thus, even if psalmos originally included the idea of accompaniment, in our era we are to “sing” (ado) the Psalms as a “song” (ode), not play them. In other words, the claim is that the terms ado and ode constitute a command to sing the Psalms a cappella even if the psalms were once (under the temple system) sung with accompaniment. Though this particular understanding of ode and ado has a long history,87 it has been discredited as contradicting the evidence in ancient, Biblical, Koine, or even later Greek. When Josephus can say that singers would “sing [ado] to the instruments which David had prepared,” 88 it is clear that he was utterly unaware that the term had any concept of a cappella singing included in its meaning; and his life overlapped the life of the apostles.

This is also true in its New Testament usage. The two terms always occur together in the New Testament. Besides Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, these two words only occur in Revelation 5:9, 14:3, and 15:2-3. In each one of those passages the song or singing is done with instruments. Interestingly, the last passage speaks of them singing with “harps given them by God.” Danny Corbitt rightly notes, “This reminds us of how those in the Old Testament praised God with ‘the Lord’s instruments’ (2 Chronicles 7:6 and 30:21).”89 It is difficult to believe that Paul intended to command a cappella singing with the terms ado and ode when those very terms were used by his contemporary, John, to describe accompanied singing! Instrument-abolitionists will dismiss the passages from Revelation as being irrelevant since they refer to heavenly worship, not church worship, but the point I am making now concerns the meaning of terms, not the relevance of heavenly worship to earthly worship (a point that we have touched on in chapter 1 and will explore further below). It is clear that these terms do not have an inherent meaning of a cappella singing, a fact that completely nullifies the instrument-abolitionist interpretation of Ephesians 5:19.

Making Melody

The last musical term is psallo, and is rendered in the New King James Version with the ambiguous phrase “making melody” (which could refer to instrumentation or simply vocal singing). Everyone agrees that the word originally had the meaning of “to play on an instrument.”90 There is also broad agreement that Philo (20 BC – AD 20), Josephus (AD 37-100), Plutarch (AD 46-140), Lucian (AD 125-180), and others used both psallo and psalmos to refer to playing with an instrument, making it clear that the classical meaning was maintained by both Jews and Gentiles in the century leading up to and after the writing of the New Testament.91. This instrumental meaning of the term is so pervasive that a cappella advocates have tried four different ways to get around the clear evidence that Paul is commanding the use of an instrument in church.

The first approach has been to distinguish between the Hellenistic cultures that both Philo and Josephus were writing to and the Biblical culture that the New Testament was seeking to work within. For example, Everett Ferguson says, “Hellenistic Jews writing for Gentile audiences kept to the classical meaning of psallo.92 His explanation for Philo never using psallo for a cappella Psalm singing, but preferring humneo instead is quite revealing: “A plausible hypothesis would be that Philo is aware of the primarily instrumental connotation of the word to pagan readers,” and since Philo was writing to a Hellenistic audience, the use of psallo would be confusing.93

I would object with a counter argument: would not Paul have been writing to Greek Gentiles when he wrote Ephesians? Would they not have understood the term in its normal Greek usage? If he intended a cappella singing, would not his use of psallo have been equally confusing? Ferguson would counter that Paul was writing to Greek Gentiles who had been incorporated into the church and that as members of the church they would be accustomed to Paul’s “Jewish religious language,94 but this begs the question of what the “Jewish religious language” really is. Lexicons can be found that will tentatively say that non-instrumental music may be included in the meaning, but the concept of “Jewish religious language” mandating an a cappella meaning is circular reasoning. Did the Jewish translation of the Old Testament use an a cappella meaning for the term? We have already seen that it did not. Therefore, the so-called “Jewish religious language” did not originate in the Septuagint. Did Josephus use the term to convey a cappella singing? Clearly not. Yet he was a religious Jew (a Pharisee). Did Philo understand the term psallo to have an a cappella meaning? Obviously not. Then what Jewish sources would Ferguson have us consult to find the meaning of “Jewish religious language”? He appears to mean the language of the New Testament, but that is the very point in contention. Why would it not be more natural to say that the language of the New Testament should be read the way the Jewish translators of the Septuagint understood it, or the way the Jewish writers Philo and Josephus understood it? This is more reasonable than assuming a unique definition of the term psallo that cannot be found in the Old Testament Bible (the bulk of Paul’s Bible) and cannot be found in contemporary secular or religious literature. Ferguson’s argument is circular reasoning on steroids. I see no convincing evidence that the New Testament has changed the meaning of the term psallo to a new a cappella meaning.

The second way that a cappella advocates have used to prove their point has been a bit more convincing: it is to let the other passages in the New Testament define the term in Ephesians 5:19. While this cannot be determinative (since scholars agree that various authors can use terms in different ways), it is still an approach that should not be lightly dismissed. The term psallo occurs in four New Testament verses. The first one that is often cited is James 5:13:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him psallo.

Girardeau argues that James must mean “let him sing psalms,” since

  1. the noun form clearly means “psalm” in the New Testament
  2. the other two occurrences could not have the older meaning of “play instruments”
  3. since not everyone could obey the command to play instruments (not all being musical).

His last argument is based upon the fact that the command is addressed to “anyone,” and since not everyone is a harpist not everyone can fulfill the command to play music.95

The third argument of individuality is not as strong as it may at first appear. Immediate context indicates that James is making these commands in the context of the body (“anyone among you… anyone among you” – vv. 13-14) just as Ephesians 5:19 is in the context of the church. If the church was in mind, consistency does not necessitate that every member must use an instrument or that a church had to use it in every worship service, since any of the three modes of singing in Ephesians 5:19 are acceptable to God. Commenting on Ephesians 5:19, J. B. Lightfoot said,

In other words, while the leading idea of ψαλμός is a musical accompaniment and that of ὔμνος praise to God, ᾠδή is the general word for a song, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, whether of praise or on any other subject. Thus it was quite possible for the same song to be at once ψαλμός, ὔμνος, and ᾠδή.96

It would go beyond even Old Testament usage97 to mandate that each singer also be playing the instrument by which such psalms are normally accompanied. I know of no Instrument-abolitionist who believes that every Israelite had a timbrel and harp when God commanded,

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King… Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp.” (Ps. 149:2-3)

Obviously such a command was given to the community as a whole, and the individuals fulfill the mandate by being in the community. Likewise, when “all the earth” is commanded to “sing with … the harp… with trumpets, and the sound of the horn” (Ps. 98:4-6) it is obvious that not each musician was playing all three instruments and singing at the same time. The individual fulfills the command by being connected with the congregation where both singing and instrumental accompaniment can be found.

We have already dealt with the first argument, noting that the noun form does not exclude instruments, and therefore, even if we translate the term as “sing psalms,” it is not thereby mandating an a cappella singing of those psalms. Indeed, with the overwhelming evidence for the first century instrumental meaning of psallo, the burden of proof is really on the instrument-abolitionist to conclude that it mandates an a cappella meaning.

Even if an a cappella meaning were concluded for James, would it not be just as easy to use Ferguson’s argument against him and to say that when Jews wrote to Hellenists and Gentiles (like Paul did in Ephesians) that psallo means “play instruments” and when Jews wrote to Jews (like James did in James 5) that psallo can mean either to “play instruments” or it can mean to “sing Psalms (with or without accompaniment)”? The point of this exercise is not to disagree with the translation “let him sing psalms” but to demonstrate that there has been no evidence given that it must mean “let him sing psalms” or (if such a translation is preferred) that the singing of such psalms must be done in an a cappella fashion.

The next passage that has psallo is Romans 15:9:

and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and psallo to Your name.”

The primary arguments used by Instrument-abolitionists that this verse refers to a cappella singing of the psalms are 1) that confession can only be done by words, and since an instrument is not “rational,” the kind of confessing and psallo-ing must be with words, and 2) secondly, that it is not conceivable that Jesus would sing accompanied by instruments.98

As to the first argument, I fail to see how rational confession is excluded if singing is accompanied by instruments and not replaced by instruments. Note the word “and,” which implies something in addition to confession: there is confessing and psallo-ing. The “and” strongly favors the idea that the author is not merely reciting/confessing the Psalms, but confessing them through instrumentation.

As to the second argument, it is purely prejudice that would say that Jesus would not use accompaniment. With Christ’s daily ministry in the temple (Matt. 26:55; Luke 19:47) it is inconceivable that He could have missed the instrumentation in worship. Revelation certainly presents the glorified Jesus as surrounded by praises accompanied by instruments (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2-3). Thus, far from proving Girardeau’s point, Romans 15:9 shows that Jesus continues to offer up instrumental praise “among the Gentiles.” This is similar to the promise in Hebrews 2:12 where Jesus promises to sing praise “in the midst of the assembly.” How does He do that? By His union with the church that sings praise to God. So both praise (Heb. 2:12) and instrumental music accompanying that praise (Rom. 15:9) are promised to be characteristic of the Messianic age.

This interpretation of the anti-type (Jesus) is reinforced by the actions of the type (David). Given the source of the quote found in Romans 15:9, it is amazing to me that anyone could argue that this is a reference to a cappella singing. Everyone agrees that Romans 15:9 is quoting 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49, and Schreiner demonstrates that 2 Samuel 22:50 is especially in mind.99 David (as a type of Christ) is the one who was confessing God among the Gentiles and psallo-ing to God’s name, and it is quite clear that David did so by means of instrumental accompaniment. Even the Hebrew word, zamar, which is translated with psallo in the Septuagint, argues strongly for instrumental accompaniment.100 So this verse does not make Girardeau’s point.

The last verse that is cited by Girardeau as proving that psallo must have an a cappella meaning in the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 14:15.

What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will psallo with the spirit, and I will also psallo with the understanding.

The argument against instruments is that instruments are “without life” (v. 7) and therefore without rationality. The claim is that it is impossible to play instruments “with the understanding.” Thus, the command is simply to engage in the aspect of psallo that includes understanding, namely, to sing Psalms.101

That takes Paul’s argument completely out of context. The purpose of Paul’s argument in verse 7 is to say that instruments aren’t useful unless they “make a distinction of sounds” and unless it can be clearly “known what is piped or played.” In the same way, tongues aren’t useful unless the tongues are distinct words that are understood. Consider the “without life” quote in its context:

But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?

Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?

For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?

So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. (1 Corinthians 14:6-9)

Since the untranslated tongues is being compared to an instrument that is poorly played, translated tongues would correspond to an instrument that is well played. Thus, Paul is in no way disparaging instruments. On the contrary, he is assuming that they should be played well. Second, Thiselton has shown that the terms “distinction,” “known,” and “uncertain” all speak of playing instrumental music with understanding and rationality.102 Thus it is quite possible to play with the spirit and to play with the understanding. Third, since these verses assume that Paul and his hearers are quite familiar with the need to play instruments with understanding, the most natural rendering of psallo in 1 Corinthians 14:15 would be its normal meaning, “to play music.” Even if one preferred the rendering, “sing psalms,” the instrument-abolitionist has not in any way proved that it has an a cappella meaning. On the contrary, the context indicates the opposite. Thus, this second way of avoiding the implications of the ordinary meaning of psallo has not been successful in overthrowing our interpretation of Ephesians 5:19.

A third way of getting around the clear meaning of the term psallo is to make certain assumptions about how Paul would have reacted against Pharisaism and the mystery cults. In their Lexicon, Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich can cite no evidence that the meaning of psallo had changed by New Testament times. Instead, they offer an assumption:

Although the NT does not voice opposition to instrumental music, in view of Christian resistance to mystery cults, as well as Pharisaic aversion to musical instruments in worship … it is likely that some such sense as make melody is best understood in this Eph pass.103

There are several obvious objections to this line of reasoning: First, Josephus was a Pharisee,104 yet he used the term psallo to refer to “playing on a musical instrument” in worship over and over again. Second, Josephus would have had just as much objection to mystery cults as Paul would have had, yet he had no problem describing the use of instruments with this word psallo. Third, it still begs the question of why Paul would use a term that the Greek Ephesians would immediately understand as instrumental if his goal was to communicate simply “singing Psalms”? He could have used humneo just as Philo did. After all, Paul was writing to Greeks, not to Hebrews, but Paul shows no such prejudice against the term. Fourth, it is a liberal notion to think that the Bible bases its practice and theology on avoiding what pagans do. This is akin to saying, “We shouldn’t stand for prayer, because Greek pagans did.” Fifth, this assumption is actually the reverse of what happened with the Pharisees and the church fathers. When we get to the views of the church fathers on musical instruments, we will deal with the real source of antipathy to musical instruments by Philo and some church fathers – the influence of Greek ascetic philosophy. We will demonstrate that the later church fathers avoided musical instruments not because they are unbiblical, but because they had adopted Greek asceticism hook, line, and sinker.

The fact of the matter is that no evidence has been advanced to discredit the straightforward interpretation of Ephesians 5:19 as a command to sing accompanied with instruments. Every command to sing a “psalm” is a command to sing something accompanied by an instrument, and when psallo is added to psalmos, the conclusion of instrumentation is unavoidable. Even McCracken admits that “making melody” should properly be translated as “to pluck the strings of an instrument.” Thus Beck’s translation renders the two commands as, “sing and play music to the Lord.” The Amplified Bible translates it as “offering praise with voices and instruments.” Other translations bring out the difference between the voice and the instrument by translating it as “sing and make music” (NIV, NET, HCSB, NLT) or “singing and playing to the Lord” (NAB). There is clearly more than the voice involved in Ephesians 5:19.

Even John Calvin agrees with this exegesis. Commenting on Ephesians 5:19 Calvin says,

…under these three terms [songs, hymns, spiritual songs] he includes all kinds of songs. 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. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles.” (emphasis mine).

Calvin clearly sees the proper meaning of the term. (On Calvin’s possible changes in view, see more below.)

Instrument-abolitionists use one more argument to get around this conclusion. With McCracken, many of them say that the phrase “in the heart” refers to playing an instrument inaudibly:

Also, we are to “make music in [our] hearts” (Eph. 5:19). The Greek word for “make music” is psallo, which means originally “to pluck the strings of an instrument.” This gives a beautiful picture of what true and acceptable praise of God really is. Since the word psallo cannot be separated from the word “heart,” it literally means “plucking the strings of your heart to the Lord.” When the music of the heart is expressed through lips that confess the Lord’s name, there is no need for supporting instruments.105

While clever, this interpretation proves too much: if playing instruments from the heart means that the musical instrument is inaudible, logic forces us to say that singing from the heart makes singing inaudible as well. After all, the text says literally “singing and plucking the strings of an instrument from the heart.” The grammar makes clear that the singing must be in or from the heart just as much as the plucking of the instrument.106 William Hendriksen says,

The idea of some that in the two parts of this one verse the apostle has reference to two kinds of singing: a. audible (“speaking”) and b. inaudible (“in the stillness of the heart”), must be dismissed. If that had been his intention he would have inserted the conjunction and or and also between the two parts. The two are clearly parallel. The second explains and completes the first.107

Nor is this a straw man argument. Many of those who were hostile to instrumentation ended up being forced by logic to bar all singing from the church.108 Interestingly, when dealing with the Old Testament, these song-abolitionists used exactly the same argument as the instrument-abolitionists – that singing had an exclusively Levitical function and passed away with the ceremonial law.109 When instrument-abolitionists appealed to Ephesians 5:19 for New Testament warrant for singing, song-abolitionists like Isaac Marlow pressed the logic by saying that this text either teaches singing and instrumentation or it teaches silence of both, but one cannot have it both ways. It was a forceful argument against the a cappella proponents.

The simplest understanding is that Paul was doing nothing other than what the Old Testament Scriptures commanded the saints to do when they sang and played their instruments.110 The Old Testament said that they should do so with the whole heart (Ps. 138:1), with a steadfast heart (Ps. 57:7; 108:1), with joy of heart (Isa. 65:14) and with all your heart (Zeph. 3:14). God rejected the songs and stringed instruments of the church of the Old Testament when the heart was not right (Amos 5:23-24). It doesn’t matter that the singers have “a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument” if “their hearts pursue their own gain” and “they hear your words but do not do them” (Ezek. 33:31-33). All our worship must be done from the heart. That does not mean that our worship is not expressed (as in Quakerism). It means that our worship must be sincere.

Therefore, far from doing away with the use of musical instruments, the New Testament clearly commands us to “play music to the Lord”111 and to sing songs accompanied by a musical instrument (the Greek meaning of the word “psalm” used in Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16 and James 5:13).

Other New Testament evidence

In my response to Girardeau on Ephesians 5:19, I have already given the evidence for instrumentation from 1 Corinthians 14, Romans 15, and James 5. However, the book of Revelation also illustrates the use of instruments in worship (Rev. 5:8-9; 14:2-3; 15:2-3). Some might object that the worship in Revelation is “before the throne of God,” and that this heavenly worship cannot regulate our worship. However, it needs to be remembered that every time the church on earth worships it has “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16) and it has “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 12:22-24). If our worship is real worship, it is united (by means of the Spirit of Christ) to the worship in heaven.

If instruments are appropriate in the heavenly Zion to which we come each Sunday, and we are commanded to join in what they do, this too argues that we should not just sing, but sing accompanied with instruments. The heavenly is the pattern for the earthly worship. This was true of Old Covenant worship (Heb. 8:1-6) as well as of New Covenant worship (Heb. 12:18-29). Even the passages on instrumental worship in Revelation demonstrate this. For example, the worship before God’s throne in Revelation 5 includes the prayers of saints on earth (v. 8) and the singing of saints on earth (v. 13) since all who come before the throne of mercy are united in worship (Rev. 5:8-13). The same can be seen in Revelation 8 where the prayers of corporate worship on earth ascend (vv. 3-4) and are mingled with the heavenly work of angels (vv. 1-3,5-6) and the heavenly prayers of Jesus (vv. 3-4). The heavenly worship with instruments in 15:1-3 is a call for “all nations” to “come and worship before You” (vv. 3-4). The worship of Revelation is the pattern for our worship on earth. Indeed, it is one and the same worship service. There should be no surprise that the instruments of earth (Eph. 5:19) and the instruments of heaven (Revelation) continue into the New Testament period since we have already seen in chapter 3 that musical instruments were never restricted to the Levites. Indeed, that chapter demonstrates how the most consistent prototype of New Covenant worship was the Booth of David (Acts 15:15-17 with Amos 9:11-12), a center of worship that clearly had instrumental music. Nor does the New Testament ever explicitly say that instruments are ceremonial or that they cease. This means that the second pillar falls to the ground.

5. Dealing with a cappella’s third pillar

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

– Colossians 2:8

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.

– 2 Thessalonians 2:15

A summary of the argument: the claim that instrumental music was not used by the early church and that the early church interpreted the Bible to teach a cessationist perspective on instruments

The third pillar used for building an Instrument-abolitionist position is an appeal to a claimed “universal” absence of instrumental music in the synagogues and among church fathers. Joseph Bingham represents the opinion of many when he says,

Music in churches is as ancient as the apostles, but instrumental music not so… In the Western parts, the instrument, was not so much as known till the eighth century; for the first organ that was ever seen in France was one sent as a present to King Pepin by Constantinus Copronymus, the Greek emperor…But, now, it was only, used in princes courts, and not yet brought into churches; nor was it ever received into the Greek churches, there being no mention of an organ in all their liturgies ancient or modern.112

Quotes like these could be multiplied many times over. When questioned whether they have abandoned the principle of sola Scriptura, these authors insist that they are only appealing to church fathers in an ad hominem way to show that our interpretation is the novel one.113 In effect they are saying, “so many people couldn’t be wrong in their interpretation of the Bible.” It is checking the catholicity of our interpretations by appealing to the history of interpretation, and as such has a legitimate role.

Girardeau believes that the overwhelming weight of church history should alleviate the charge of begging the question with respect to appealing to Instrument-abolitionists in order to defend Instrument-abolitionism. He says,

If it be urged that this is begging the question, and proof is demanded, the appeal is taken, first, to the preceding argument [i.e., that lexicons and other authorities agree with him]; and, secondly, to the practice of the post-apostolic church. If the apostles had allowed the employment of instrumental music in the church, it is morally certain, from the very constitution of human nature, that it would have continued to be used subsequently to their time.114

We will see that it was unbiblical (Greek) ethical thinking that caused some portions of the church to reject instruments in the fourth centuries and beyond. But even apart from the issues of asceticism, the evidence in church history is grossly overstated by most instrument abolitionists. It is because the myth persists that all church fathers were opposed to musical instruments115 that I am providing contrary evidence in this chapter.

McCracken represents many when he claims,

No evidence of instrumental music in the churches exists until the 7th Century. In the year 666 A.D. one of the popes of the Roman Catholic church, Pope Vitalian, brought into his worship Latin singing to the accompaniment of the organ. This is the first time instruments were formally used in worship since the time of the Jewish ceremonial ritual.

The Roman church adopted this practice, and it continued until the time of the Reformers. Striving to return to the purity of worship and obedience to the law of God, many of the Reformers cast out the use of instruments in their worship services.116

The false picture often painted is that of an early church that maintained purity of worship (with no instrumentation), and as Romanism grew, corruption grew, and with it came church instrumental music. McCracken’s reference to AD 666 gives the offensive impression that the entrance of instrumental music into the church was ironically characterized by the mark (666) of the Beast (Rome).

When critics of the a cappella position assert that there was no criticism of instruments in worship during the first three centuries, the a cappella response is to claim that this lack of criticism is proof that no one tried to introduce instruments into worship during those first three centuries. For example, Foley asserts that the music “was so exclusively vocal in its early stages that the occasion to criticize the use of instruments in the church never arose.”117 As we will see, however, all branches of the church had instrumental music, and it was only the ascetics who opposed it.

Preliminary contradiction of the a cappella thesis

There has always been plenty of evidence that this thesis has been flawed.118 My own original study of the electronic databases of the church fathers convinced me in 2002 that musical instruments were indeed present in worship across a broad geographic spectrum of the church. I will present some of my own findings on this subject later. I want to present the concessions that have recently been made by those who believe no instruments were present in the early church.

James McKinnon’s119 initial foray into this subject was in his 1965 doctoral dissertation, The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments.120 Based on the conclusions of previous scholarship, he still had a working assumption that there were no instruments in the church in the first few centuries, but he was puzzled by what he found. He said,

Now a close reading of all the patristic criticism of instruments leads to the remarkable conclusion that there is not a single quotation which condemns the use of instruments in church.121

He believed this was because no instruments were present in the church, and therefore no criticism of instruments within the church was necessary. This was what many scholars had assumed, and it seemed like an unremarkable conclusion to say,

If it had ever occurred to any Christian communities of the third or fourth centuries to add instruments to their liturgical singing, indignation over the action would certainly be prominent in patristic literature.122

Keep this quote in mind as I present evidence that musical instruments were indeed present in many congregations. The fact that they were present during a time when there was no criticism of instruments within the church forces a different conclusion than McKinnon arrived at. I believe the evidence points in the direction that instrumentation was used without controversy.

Instrument-abolitionist, Everett Ferguson123 came to the same conclusion as McKinnon in his own research. In 1972 he published the book A Cappela Music in the Public Worship of the Church. In that book he admits that early church criticism of instrumental music has been grossly overstated in his Instrument-abolitionist circles. Like McKinnon, he pointed out that early rhetoric against instruments was against instruments at banquets and parties and contexts that led to lewdness. He said,

There is no polemic against instruments in the church. That is not under consideration…124

This concession and other refreshingly honest admissions are certainly a welcome change from the constantly repeated exaggerations that I have read in the Instrument-abolitionist literature.

In 1987 James McKinnon wrote a book outlining some of his newest conclusions.125 He concluded that early church criticism of instruments was related to the fact that non-church concerts were almost always connected with either pagan cultic worship or with sexual immorality.

…no one will dispute the close association of much pagan musical practice with pagan cults. One need look no further than the omnipresent theatrical music of the day and recall the cultic origins of the theatre… the motivation of moralism is at least as strong as that of antipathy toward idolatry. The polemic makes reference to a limited number of contexts: most notably the theatre, marriage celebrations and banquets. Typically singled out are items of moral concern like the lewd aspect of theatrical musicians, the coarseness of marriage songs and the dubious profession of female musicians employed at banquets. Obviously it is not so much morality in general that is at stake here, but sexual morality in particular, a subject concerning which the church fathers display the most acute sensitivity.126

In other words, the criticisms often cited were reactionary against the idolatry and immorality in the culture around them. He then asks,

[W]hat relationship is there between the polemic against instruments and the a cappella performance of sacred music? Music historians have tended to assume that there is a direct connection, that is, that ecclesiastical authorities consciously strove to maintain their music free from the incursion of musical instruments. There is little evidence of this in the sources however.127

While still maintaining that “ecclesiastical psalmody [was] obviously free of instrumental involvement” and yet finding an exclusive “condemnation of instruments in the contexts” of idolatry and immorality, he goes on in the next sentence to say,

It is puzzling to the modern mind that the church fathers failed to forge an ideological link between the two – leaving this apparently to the a cappella partisans of the nineteenth century. It is true that a few exceptional passages exist where there is a hint of such a connection – where the two are juxtaposed at least on the level of phenomenon if not of doctrine. The most striking is one in which John Chrysostom writes admiringly of a monastic community that rises before daybreak for prayer and psalmody:

They sing the prophetic hymns with great harmony and well ordered melody. Neither cithara, nor syrinx, nor any other musical instrument emits such sound as can be heard in the deep silence and solitude of those holy men as they sing.128

The very fact that Chrysostom admires this monastery for its lack of instruments argues that instruments were present elsewhere. Otherwise, what would be admirable about this unique group of men in Chrysostom’s mind? McKinnon goes on to say,

One would have to deny the larger context to see this as an example of incipient a cappella doctrine.129

Indeed, there are other puzzling things that he uncovered. McKinnon shows how the church fathers saw no contradiction in condemning musical instruments in the theatre and other immoral contexts and teaching the use of musical instruments “as one of the encyclical or liberal arts” courses, saying that “the church fathers accepted it [musical education] while rejecting pagan musical practice.”130 Why pass on the skill of training churchmen in musical instruments if musical instruments were universally condemned?

McKinnon shows that the knowledge of musical instruments by some church fathers was so extensive that,

However far one wishes to take such thinking, it seems fair to say that western music would not have been quite the same had the church fathers adopted a different policy toward the ars musica.131

Indeed, my own reading of the fathers shows that they understood the intricacies of musical instruments quite well. People might assume that they understood the instruments because of personal use outside the church, but the evidence points in the opposite direction. McKinnon demonstrates that their knowledge is “so far removed from everyday music that there is no real contradiction in the fact that the church fathers accepted it [musical instruction of church leaders] while rejecting pagan musical practice.”132

When this newer research is coupled with the examples of instruments in worship that I have uncovered, a quite different picture emerges – a picture of a church at ease with instruments in worship until Greek asceticism began to infect certain sections of the church (especially in the East).

When the focus goes beyond Europe and into the practices of the world-wide church of the first seven centuries, the evidence in favor of instrumentation becomes even stronger. David Shirt says,

As this thesis has sought to indicate, examination of Christian practices limited to the Mediterranean world, reveals only part of the whole picture and ignores much of the most vivid and colourful evidence supporting the use of vocal and instrumental music, and dance, in Christian worship throughout the centuries of concern to this study. The array of drums and sistra of Ethiopian Christian tradition, together with the dancing priests of that country (among the first to officially adopt Christianity) offers swathes of evidence depicting the musical life of its liturgy. None of this is mentioned by McKinnon or Foley. That Irish love of the harp, evidenced, for example, in the action of (St) Kieran when raising from the dead, eight drowned harpers, and the slightly later evidence of Bede, that English bishops regarded a harpist in their retinue as highly desirable, clearly places that instrument above the level of blanket condemnation so frequently meted out by many of the Fathers. A wealth of evidence on the use of pipes and multi-toned bells, by Christian missionaries in Scotland, thanks to the work of John Purser, in this connection, leaves no room for doubt as to the use of musical instruments in the Christian worship of Scotland and further north. Whether in the north-westerly progress of Christianity through the cultures of England, Ireland, and Scotland, or south-easterly through India and China, no assessment is made by McKinnon or Foley concerning the role of musical instruments in the Christian worship of these places.133

It is my hope that this chapter will put to rest the false notion that there was a total absence of musical instruments in the first eight centuries. Even the shrillest opponent of instruments in his own churches (Clement of Alexandria) admitted to the bishops of other churches that “if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame.”134 Hippolytus (AD 170-235) defined the psalms that they sang as hymns “which are simply played to an instrument.”135 The bishop who wrote what is now called “Pseudo-Ignatius” greeted elders, readers, and musicians of the church, and the word used for musicians means “harp players.” 136 Hilary of Poitiers, Ephraem the Syrian, and other well-known church fathers spoke explicitly about the instrumentation that was currently being used in their worship services. The following list of quotes, while not exhaustive,137 reveals either 1) the presence of instruments in the writer’s own church and/or the churches of others or 2) a positive view towards musical instruments that would be out of accord with the philosophy of asceticism.

Church fathers who either played musical instruments themselves or who (while opposing instruments in their own local churches) admitted that the true church used instruments in worship (AD 70-680)

Ignatius of Antioch (AD 35-107)

Ignatius has a passage that speaks positively of a cithara (rendered “harp” below). This passage also uses an analogy of praises to Jesus accompanied by instruments (“so that, joining the symphony… taking your keynote from God… you may … sing a song”) to describe the relationship of a bishop to the presbytery of elders – they must work together harmoniously. For this analogy to even work, it assumes that it is appropriate to worship Christ accompanied by musical instruments. The idea is that just as symphony and chorus should work harmoniously together, a bishop and his presbytery should work harmoniously together. Ignatius wrote:

Hence it is proper for you to act in agreement with the mind of the bishop; and this you do. Certain it is that your presbytery, which is a credit to its name, is a credit to God; for it harmonizes with the bishop as completely as the strings with a harp. This is why in the symphony of your concord and love the praises of Jesus Christ are sung. But you, the rank and file, should also form a choir, so that, joining the symphony by your concord, and by your unity taking your key note from God, you may with one voice through Jesus Christ sing a song to the Father. Thus He will both listen to you and by reason of your good life recognize in you the melodies of His Son. It profits you, therefore, to continue in your flawless unity, that you may at all times have a share in God. (Ignatius to the Ephesians, 4)

The Greek word translated “symphony” can refer to either a literal symphony composed of musical instruments138 as in Luke 15:25139 or be a metaphorical reference to the same unity or agreement that is found in a musical symphony. Either way it is a positive reference to accompanied singing. Though it is possible to exclude the concept of music from this metaphor, it is highly unlikely for three reasons: 1) Ignatius uses the term “symphony” in a musical context (“harp… choir”), 2) if we translate “symphony” as “unity” it produces a tautology (“that the unity of your unity - ἵνα σύμφωνοι ὄντες ἐν ὁμονοίᾳ140),” and 3) thirdly, the metaphor is more striking if the translation “symphony” is kept because it adds the “choir” to the “symphony [συμφωνω…συμφωνοι]” to provide a unity of metaphorical sound before God. So it appears that Ignatius is saying that just as they seek to harmoniously unite symphony with choir in church, they should unite bishop with presbytery, rather than having a bishop be a solo tyrant.

Another very positive reference to a musical instrument can be found in the following description of an elder that Ignatius was pleased with:

I am charmed with his sweetness of manner. He accomplishes more by his silence than others that talk to no purpose. No wonder; he is as perfectly in accord with the commandments as strings are with a harp.141

Though some like Roberts and Donaldson142 place “The Epistles of Ignatius to the Antiochians” in this time period, most recent scholarship would place this epistle and its reference to “the sub-deacons, the readers, the musicians (ψάλτας),” to the late fourth century. I will place this reference to a distinct group of musicians within the church to that time period.

The Odes of Solomon (first century AD)

These hymns from the latter part of the first century143 were discovered by J. Rendel Harris in 1909 and have been the subject of much discussion and study. Most scholars now believe that they were put in their present order in AD 125, though they were composed long before that (perhaps in the first century). It is believed that these were hymns composed by a Syrian Christian. Many have noted that these hymns show both sophisticated artistry144 as well as appreciation for musical instruments. Here are two sample145 references to accompanied singing:146

To announce to those who have songs of the coming of the Lord, that they may go forth to meet Him and may sing to Him, with joy and with the harp of many tones.147

This is a clear reference to accompanied singing in worship – “sing to Him… with the harp.”

I poured out praise to the Lord, Because I am his. I will pronounce his holy song, Because my heart is with him; For his cithara is in my hands, And the songs of his rest shall not be still.148

This too is a clear reference to song in worship “praise to the Lord… his holy song”) that is accompanied with a stringed instrument that is authorized by God Himself (“his cithara is in my hands, and the songs of his rest shall not be still.”)

Justin Martyr (AD 100-165)

Sadly, a cappella writers have frequently copied “citations” of early church fathers from other a cappella books without checking the sources. This bad scholarship has resulted in an embarrassing number of false citations that do not exist in the original sources. This has certainly been the case with Justin Martyr. He is frequently quoted as saying,

The use of [instrumental] music was not received in the Christian churches, as it was among the Jew, in their infant state, but only the use of plain song…Simply singing is not agreeable to children, but singing with lifeless instruments and with dancing and clapping is. On this account the use of this kind of instruments and of others agreeable to children is removed from the songs of the churches, and there is left remaining simply singing.

However, scholars have shown that this quote is not from Justin Martyr, but appears to have been written by an unknown father somewhere between AD 400 and 466. Thankfully, several recent a cappella advocates have corrected this error and have either attributed the quote to Theodoret or have called it “pseudo-Justinian.”

Justin Martyr’s own views were supportive of accompanied singing. In his debate with the Jewish author, Trypho, Justin said,

The Spirit… bids the inhabitants of all the earth… to sing (ᾄδοντας) and play the harp (ψάλλοντας) to God the Father of all things…”149

Three things to notice: First, Justin Martyr does not see this command as only relevant to Jews, but sees it as applicable to “the inhabitants of all the earth.” Second, it is in the context of worship (“to God the Father”). Third, it is clearly a call for singing accompanied by instruments (“sing and play the harp”).

It might be objected that the word ψάλλοντας should be translated as “to sing psalms” or “to sing praise,” but this is not likely for three reasons: First, Justin is calling for something in addition to singing – note the “and” in the Greek phrase, “ᾄδοντας καὶ ψάλλοντας.” To translate the second term as anything other than “to play the harp” would produce a very awkward sentence: “to sing and to sing psalms” or “to sing and to sing praise.”

Second, we have already demonstrated that the meaning of the word in the centuries leading up to Christ and in the three centuries after Christ was “to play the harp.” For example, Josephus used the term exclusively to refer to playing with a stringed instrument. I would refer the reader to our discussion of this term under the heading, “Ephesians 5:19: Does it command the use of instruments or forbid the use of instruments?”

The third reason this objection is not likely is that Justin Martyr defines the term in Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, section 29. He says,

For these words have neither been prepared by me, nor embellished by the art of man; but David played them on a harp (εψαλλεν), Isaiah preached them, Zechariah proclaimed them, and Moses wrote them.

The Greek in this paragraph is identical to the Greek in the Septuagint of 1 Samuel 16:23 and 19:9 where David “played before the LORD.” The Septuagint faithfully translates the Hebrew (“to play a harp”), and neither the Hebrew nor the Greek of the Septuagint can be translated in any other way than to play the harp. So Justin is a clear supporter of instruments in worship.

Tatian (AD 120-180)

Tatian criticized the Greeks for deceitfully taking credit for their wonderful inventions, including musical instruments. He pointed out that they got them from earlier peoples, whether barbarians or Jews. This is yet another positive reference to musical instruments, not at all like the language used by the ascetics.

Be not, O Greeks, so very hostilely disposed towards the Barbarians, nor look with ill will on their opinions. For which of your institutions has not been derived from the Barbarians? … To the Babylonians you owe astronomy; to the Persians, magic; to the Egyptians, geometry; to the Phoenicians, instruction by alphabetic writing. Cease, then, to miscall these imitations inventions of your own. Orpheus, again, taught you poetry and song; from him, too, you learned the mysteries. The Tuscans taught you the plastic art; from the annals of the Egyptians you learned to write history; you acquired the art of playing the flute from Marsyas and Olympus, — these two rustic Phrygians constructed the harmony of the shepherd’s pipe. The Tyrrhenians invented the trumpet; the Cyclopes, the smith’s art; and a woman who was formerly a queen of the Persians, as Hellanicus tells us, the method of joining together epistolary tablets: her name was Atossa. Wherefore lay aside this conceit, and be not ever boasting of your elegance of diction; for, while you applaud yourselves, your own people will of course side with you. But it becomes a man of sense to wait for the testimony of others, and it becomes men to be of one accord also in the pronunciation of their language. But, as matters stand, to you alone it has happened not to speak alike even in common intercourse; for the way of speaking among the Dorians is not the same as that of the inhabitants of Attica, nor do the Aeolians speak like the Ionians. And, since such a discrepancy exists where it ought not to be, I am at a loss whom to call a Greek.

Athenagoras (AD 133-190)

Athenagoras’ reference to musical instruments treats it as a gift of God, not as a tool of the devil. He says,

If, therefore, the world is an instrument in tune, and moving in well-measured time, I adore the Being who gave its harmony, and strikes its notes, and sings the accordant strain, and not the instrument. For at the musical contests the adjudicators do not pass by the lute-players and crown the lutes. Whether, then, as Plato says, the world be a product of divine art, I admire its beauty, and adore the Artificer…150

Polycrates (AD 130-196)

Polycrates was a bishop in the church of Ephesus. He was a staunch defender of the Regulative Principle of Worship, 151 and protested the imposition of an unbiblical date for celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. The debate was over Quartodecimanism, the practice of celebrating Pascha on the 14th of Nisan. There were many who held to Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle of Worship and argued that it was the only date given in Scripture and had been practiced by the apostle John, by Polycarp, Melito of Sardis, and others. Though he argued that the Bible alone should regulate the church’s activities, pope Victor sought to excommunicate him for lack of conformity. It was only the intervention of Irenaeus (who argued that Victor’s predecessors had allowed this practice) that reversed the discipline. Later councils were not as kind.

All of this illustrates how easily some of the church fathers could allow legalism to triumph over Sola Scriptura, and how quickly the Regulative Principle of Worship came into jeopardy. Whether the following information related to “the harp of Ephesus” is accurate or not, it is worth asking why some of the subsequent defenders of the Regulative Principle of worship were so opposed by the a cappella advocates.

In any case, there is at least some evidence that this early church father was favorably disposed to instrumental music. In a paper submitted to The Expository Times, Professor John Foster suggested that the “ring of Polycrates” referred to by Clement was the ring of Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus.152 While there is contrary evidence to this identification,153 Foster’s interpretation certainly squares well with the testimony of Ignatius concerning the presbytery of Ephesus being “attuned to the bishop like the strings of a harp.” (See discussion under Ignatius.)

Theophilus (bishop of Antioch from AD 169-183)

The only reference I could find in Theophilus to music was his unwillingness to let the Greeks get the credit for it. He said,

And Lamech took unto him two wives, whose names were Adah and Zillah. At that time there was made a beginning of polygamy, and also of music. For Lamech had three sons: Jabal, Jubal, Tubal. And Jabal became a keeper of cattle, and dwelt in tents; but Jubal is he who made known the psaltery and the harp; and Tubal became a smith, a forger in brass and iron. So far the seed of Cain is registered; and for the rest, the seed of his line has sunk into oblivion, on account of his fratricide of his brother. And, in place of Abel, God granted to Eve to conceive and bear a son, who was called Seth from whom the remainder of the human race proceeds until now. And to those who desire to be informed regarding all generations, it is easy to give explanations by means of the holy Scriptures. For, as we have already mentioned, this subject, the order of the genealogy of man, has been partly handled by us in another discourse, in the first book of The History. And all these things the Holy Spirit teaches us, who speaks through Moses and the rest of the prophets, so that the writings which belong to us godly people are more ancient, yea, and are shown to be more truthful, than all writers and poets. But also, concerning music, some have fabled that Apollo was the inventor, and others say that Orpheus discovered the art of music from the sweet voices of the birds. Their story is shown to be empty and vain, for these inventors lived many years after the flood.154

Tertullian (AD 155-240)

Another church father who is often misquoted is Tertullian. The quote I have frequently read goes as follows:

Musical concerts with viol and lute belong to Apollo, to the Muses, to Minerva and Mercury who invented them; ye who are Christians, hate and abhor these things whose very authors themselves must be the object of loathing and aversion.

This actually quotes Tertullian out of context. The context was opposition to the debauchery that happened in connection with the stage. In context, Tertullian says,

That immodesty of gesture and attire which so specially and peculiarly characterizes the stage are consecrated to them—the one deity wanton by her sex, the other by his drapery; while its services of voice, and song, and lute, and pipe, belong to Apollos, and Muses, and Minervas, and Mercuries. You will hate, O Christian, the things whose authors must be the objects of your utter detestation.

Elsewhere Tertullian makes clear that it is not the instruments themselves, but the drunkenness that was evil. He says,

This prohibition from drink was given also to the high priest Aaron and his sons, “when they went into the holy place.” The command, to “sing to the Lord with psalms and hymns,” comes suitably from him who knew that those who “drank wine with drums and psalteries” were blamed by God.155

Since God authorized the musical instruments of Aaron and his sons, it was not the instruments themselves that were criticized, but playing them in a state of drunkenness.

This observation is consistent with the fact that Tertullian speaks with admiration of the hydraulis (predecessor to the pipe organ). Though he uses the instrument as a symbol, he speaks of the literal instrument as “a wonderful piece of organic mechanism.”

But of the whole number of the limbs one body is made up, so that the arrangement is rather a concretion than a division. Look at that very wonderful piece of organic mechanism by Archimedes,—I mean his hydraulic organ, with its many limbs, parts, bands, passages for the notes, outlets for their sounds, combinations for their harmony, and the array of its pipes; but yet the whole of these details constitute only one instrument. In like manner the wind, which breathes throughout this organ at the impulse of the hydraulic engine, is not divided into separate portions from the fact of its dispersion through the instrument to make it play: it is whole and entire in its substance, although divided in its operation. This example is not remote from (the illustration) of Strato, and Ænesidemus, and Heraclitus: for these philosophers maintain the unity of the soul, as diffused over the entire body, and yet in every part the same. Precisely like the wind blown in the pipes throughout the organ, the soul displays its energies in various ways by means of the senses, being not indeed divided, but rather distributed in natural order.156

Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215)

Though Clement of Alexandria was prejudiced against some musical instruments157 (and we will have more to say about the reasons for that in the next section), he explicitly says that those who disagree with him are not Biblically wrong. To be fair, I will give a more extended quote so as to show both his opposition to instruments and his concession that continued use of instruments is allowable. He says,

The Spirit, distinguishing from such revelry the divine service, sings, “Praise Him with the sound of trumpet;” for with sound of trumpet He shall raise the dead. “Praise Him on the psaltery;” for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. “And praise Him on the lyre.” By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit, as it were by a plectrum. “Praise with the timbrel and the dance,” refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin. “Praise Him on the chords and organ.” Our body He calls an organ, and its nerves are the strings, by which it has received harmonious tension, and when struck by the Spirit, it gives forth human voices. “Praise Him on the clashing cymbals.” He calls the tongue the cymbal of the mouth, which resounds with the pulsation of the lips. Therefore, He cried to humanity, “Let every breath praise the Lord,” because He cares for every breathing thing which He hath made. For man is truly a pacific instrument; while other instruments, if you investigate, you will find to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, or kindling up amours, or rousing wrath.

In their wars, therefore, the Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedaemonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal. The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honour God, is what we employ. We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute, which those expert in war and contemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies; that by such strains they might raise their dejected minds. But let our genial feeling in drinking be twofold, in accordance with the law. For “if thou shalt love the Lord try God,” and then “thy neighbour,” let its first manifestation be towards God in thanksgiving and psalmody, and the second toward our neighbour in decorous fellowship. For says the apostle, “Let the Word of the Lord dwell in you richly.” And this Word suits and conforms Himself to seasons, to persons, to places.

In the present instance He is a guest with us. For the apostle adds again, “Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to God.” And again, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and His Father.” This is our thankful revelry. And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame. Thou shalt imitate the righteous Hebrew king in his thanksgiving to God. “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; praise is comely to the upright,” says the prophecy. “Confess to the Lord on the harp; play to Him on the psaltery of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song.” And does not the ten-stringed psaltery indicate the Word Jesus, who is manifested by the element of the decad? And as it is befitting, before partaking of food, that we should bless the Creator of all; so also in drinking it is suitable to praise Him on partaking of His creatures. For the psalm is a melodious and sober blessing. The apostle calls the psalm “a spiritual song.”158

Three things to notice: First, the context of the comment was not private parties, but the public worship of God. He had moved from discussing parties to discussing “the divine service” where God is “a guest with us.” He also quotes the admonitions in Ephesians and Colossians to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The very next sentence is “And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame.” So his allowance for instrumentation was in the context of worship.

Second, though Clement avoids the use of instruments by allegorizing them (especially in the first cited paragraph), he concedes that the exclusion of musical instruments was a recent innovation. He said, “We no longer employ the ancient psaltery, and trumpet, and timbrel, and flute…” If “we” no longer employ such instruments it implies that the group called “we” once used to use them. Since some of his contemporaries in the church continued to use musical instruments, the “we” is not the church as a whole, but those in Clement’s own church. This means that even Clement’s own church had previously used instruments in worship and that they had stopped due to his strong influence. We will discuss the reasons for his opposition to instruments later in this chapter, but it is important not to miss his concession that “we” (including Clement) had previously used instruments.

Third, this concession to the church at large (“And even if you wish to sing and play to the harp or lyre, there is no blame.”) implies that there has been some resistance to his innovation within the church. Indeed, we are seeing that there were musical instruments used in branches of the church, and that they continued to be used.

Fourth, the reason Clement could make allowance for the use of instruments is that he held to two meanings of the text: the literal, and the allegorical. As Frederic Farrar points out, “He does not deny the literal sense, but thinks that it only furnishes an elementary faith. The literal is the milk of the word, but the esoteric vision furnishes strong meat.”159 So he could consistently make allowances for other churches to continue to use instruments in worship while teaching that he held to a higher way. Some church fathers held to three levels and even four levels of meaning in every text, but usually they did not deny the literal application.

Hippolytus (AD 170-235)

In defining the distinction between psalms and hymns, Hippolytus points to the presence of instruments accompanying the first. Since he and other fathers of his age sang both psalms and hymns, this is evidence (along with the definitions of Didumus and Gregory of Nyssa) that the fathers of their age did indeed use instruments:

“We think, then, that the ‘psalms’ are those which are simply played to an instrument, without the accompaniment of the voice, and (which are composed) for the musical melody of the instrument; and that those are called ‘songs’ which are rendered by the voice in concert with the music; and that they are called ‘psalms of song’ when the voice takes the lead, while the appropriate sound is also made to accompany it, rendered harmoniously by the instruments; and ‘songs of psalmody,’ when the instrument takes the lead, while the voice has the second place, and accompanies the music of the strings. And thus much as to the letter of what is signified by these terms.”160

It is often objected that this cannot indeed be the correct understanding of Hippolytus since he opposed instruments, but a cappella defenders are now admitting that the context of such opposition was to music in the theatre or at parties of debauchery.161

Origen (AD 184-253)

While Origen is often cited as spiritualizing the instruments of the Old Testament,162 that is not the same thing as opposition to musical instruments. Origen believed in four levels of meaning for every text. While he emphasized the spiritual meaning, he did not ignore the literal. Indeed, more recent scholars have pointed out that Origen never corrected Celsius’ charge that the orthodox churches used instruments in worship – something Celsius rejected and counted as a mark against Christianity. It would have been easy enough for Origen to refute it, but he did not. More recent a cappella advocates have admitted that this is an “incongruity” with their position. I would argue that it is more than an incongruity – it is inconceivable that Origen would let such an accusation go uncontested if the church of Jesus Christ did not indeed use musical instruments.

Pseudo-Ignatius (late third century AD)

Though some still attribute “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians” to Ignatius in the first or early second century, most attribute it to a church father of the late third century. The writer of this epistle assumes the presence of a group of musicians in every church.

I greet the holy elders. I greet the sacred deacons… I greet the sub-deacons, the readers, the musicians (ψάλτας), the porters, the laborers, the exorcists and the confessors. I greet the keepers of the sacred gateways and the deaconesses in Christ.163

The word for “musicians” is literally, “harp players.”164 Though BDAG thinks the word ψάλτας had lost its instrumental meaning, see our discussions of the grouping of related words under Ephesians 5:19 for evidence that it retained an exclusively instrumental meaning up through this time. Keep in mind that this is the word group condemned by a cappella fathers. They would not have condemned it if it was not related to instrumental music. What one group of fathers oppose, pseudo-Ignatius (whoever he is) approves.

Pachomius (AD 292-348)

Pachomius was the founder of the coenobitic monasticism, and he had a huge influence upon notable leaders like Basil, Cassian, and Martin of Tours. One of the rules for his monastery was,

As soon as the signal of the trumpet that calls them to the collecta sounds, he immediately comes out of his cell, meditating on some passage of Scripture [de scripturis aliquid meditans] until he reaches the door of the meeting room.165

Though this does not prove accompanied singing, it does show that he was not opposed to musical instruments as being intrinsically evil, like some fathers did.

Didymus of Alexandria (AD 309-394)

Since the church fathers of this age sang both “psalms” and “hymns” and constantly distinguished between the two, it is instructive that Didymus gives the following definition: “A psalm is a hymn which is sung to the instrument called psaltery or else cithara.”166 Since Didymus and his contemporaries clearly sang “psalms,” they are said by this author to be singing hymns accompanied with instrumental music.

Hilary of Poitiers (AD 315-367)

Hilary was the bishop of Poitiers and was a very influential church father. He was sometimes referred to as “the Hammer of the Arians” because of his powerful work against that heresy. Others referred to him as the “Athanasius of the West.”

James McKinnon (probably the most scholarly proponent of the view that the early church did not have instruments in worship) concedes that the following passage from Hilary looks like Hilary is endorsing literal instruments. He believes that it can be explained as simply exegesis of the Old Testament rather than reflecting Hilary’s own person views, but the passage goes as follows:

Now, the varieties of function and kind in the art of music are as follows. There is a ‘psalm’ when the voice rests and only the playing of the instrument is heard. There is a ‘song’ (canticum) when the chorus of singers, using its freedom, is not bound in musical deference to the instrument and enjoys a hymn with sonorous voice above. There is a ‘psalm of a song’ when, after the chorus has sung, the art of the musical instrument is adapted to the hymn of human singing and the psaltery plays with equal sweetness to the measures of the singing voice.167

Note that Hilary defines these terms as necessitating some interaction with musical instruments. Since he and his contemporaries sang Psalms, hymns, and songs, it follows that they used instruments. Notice that he speaks of this instrumentation as currently taking place. Notice thirdly the positive descriptions of the instruments: he speaks of the “equal sweetness” of the instrument to the “singing voice.”

Athanasius (AD 296-373)

Athanasius was familiar with musical instruments and spoke of them in positive terms. He said,

Secondly, because as harmony creates a single concord in joining together the two pipes of the aulos, so … reason wills that a man be not disharmonious with himself, nor at variance with himself…168

Just as when one hears from afar a lyre, made up of many different strings, and wonders at their harmonious symphony, that not only the low one produces a sound, not only the high one, and not only the middle one, but all sound together in balanced tension; and one concludes from all this that the lyre neither operates by itself nor is played by many, but rather that there is one musician who by his art blends the sound of each string into a harmonious symphony – even though one fails to see him – so too, since there is an entirely harmonious order in the world as a whole, without things above being at odds with those below, and those below with those above, but one completed order of all; it follows that we know there is one leader and king of all reaction, not many, who illuminates and moves everything with his own light.169

Of course, he recognized that music can be used for good or evil. He gave an interesting account of the Life of Anthony, in which he spoke of demons who played music and sang so as to deceive.

They [demons] are crafty and quick to change and to transform themselves into anything. Frequently, without appearing, they pretend to play harps with songs (ψάλλειν μετ´ωδης), and they repeat passages from lections. Often, after we have read, they straightaway, like an echo, say precisely what has been read; and they arouse us to prayer when we are asleep, doing so continuously, hardly allowing us to sleep at all.170

The thing of especial interest is that he claimed the demons imitated their worship. If this is so, it might imply that their worship had musical accompaniment.

Ephraem the Syrian (AD 306-373)

Ephraem clearly speaks of instrumental accompaniment to hymns:

Blessed He Who by our tongue interpreted His secret things. Let us praise that Voice whose glory is hymned with our lute, and His virtue with our harp. The Gentiles have assembled and have come to hear His strains.171

Though most of the references to musical instruments in his writings relate to the worship of heaven,172 it is clear that he also played instruments on earth. J. S. Assemani says,

[Ephraem] himself founded choirs of consecrated virgins, taught them the hymns and responses… was in their midst as their father and citharist of the Holy Spirit, and he taught them music and the laws of song.173

David Shirt says, “Indeed Ephraem’s biographer, Jacob of Serug (c. 451-c 521) describes Ephraem accompanying his choir on the cithara in church, on Festivals and Sundays.”174 Even James McKinnon agrees that Ephraem probably did accompany the singing with instrumentation,175 but this contradicts the claims to a “universal” position of a cappella singing.

Basil of Caesarea (AD 330-379)

Basil was a very influential theologian in Cappadocia. He is often quoted as being opposed to instrumental music. Based on the Greek “cosmological functions of good music” he apparently classified instrumental music as “useless.”176 If he was indeed opposed to instrumental music, it seems extremely odd that he would admit that a “psalm” is a hymn sung to the accompaniment of music and that it cannot be called a “psalm” if instrumentation is absent. He said, “it is a canticle not a psalm: because it is sung with harmonious modulation by the unaccompanied voice and with no instrument sounding in accord with it.”177 This together with his brother Gregory’s definition of a psalm indicates that the hundreds of references to “psalms” in the writings of these two brothers and their contemporary churchmen may indicate a far greater degree of instrumentation in the church than is explicitly stated. It may also explain why certain fathers railed against the instrumentation of other churches. It showed disagreement, not a so-called “universal” endorsement of a cappella singing.

Gregory of Nyssa (AD 330-395)

Gregory tried to distinguish between the terms ‘hymn’ and ‘psalm’ by saying that “a psalm is the tune produced by a musical instrument.”178 Since both he and his contemporaries sang ‘psalms,’ it follows that they used instruments. He does of course warn against solo instruments, stating, “the meaning is most certainly not recognized when the tune is played on musical instruments alone,”179 but that very statement also affirms that they used musical instruments to accompany the words of the psalms. Otherwise why give the warning?

Victricius (AD 330-407)

Victricius was the bishop of Rouen. He urged his congregations, “Play your instruments and mount the paths to heaven with your dances.”180

Prudentius (AD 348-410)

This church father wrote a hymn that calls heaven and earth to join him in worship as he sings accompanied by an instrument:

Let the heights of heaven sing, all you angels, sing,

Let all powers everywhere sing in praise of God,

Let no tongue be silent, let every voice ring in harmony.

Him alone may my muse sing of,

Him alone may my lyre praise.181

Synesius of Cyrene (AD 370-414)

This bishop of Ptolemais gives evidence of having a love for musical instruments. The following poem gives his personal testimony of worship with harmony and musical accompaniment.

I was the first to invent this meter

For thee, blessed, immortal,

Illustrious offspring of the virgin,

Jesus of Solyma,

And with newly-devised harmonies

To strike the cithara’s strings.

Egon Wellesz says of this author, “We know from his letters that he practiced music and we also know a song which he used to sing, the Hymn to Nemesis, one of the few pieces of Greek music which have come down to us.”182 So here is yet another father who played a musical instrument. Interestingly, he also rejected other faulty ascetic ideas - such as celibacy being good (he was married).

Diodore of Tarsus (in office AD 378-390)

Diodore was the bishop of Tarsus, and the mentor of John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia. He played a key role at the Council of Constantinople. He held to the Antiochene exegetical method that insists on the literal, grammatical, and historical reading of the Bible and he avoided the allegorical method. What is notable about this influential bishop was that he mandated the use of instruments. After quoting Psalm 32:2 he said,

Having said above that it is necessary for them to hymn God, he adds then that they must do this with instruments.183

Jerome (AD 347-420)

Jerome speaks of a “sister” who praises God with the timbrel and teaches other women how to be “luteplayers for the Savior.”

Oh! that you could see your sister and that it might be yours to hear the eloquence of her holy lips and to behold the mighty spirit which animates her diminutive frame. You might hear the whole contents of the old and new testaments come bubbling up out of her heart. Fasting is her sport, and prayer she makes her pastime. Like Miriam after the drowning Pharaoh she takes up her timbrel and sings to the virgin choir, “Let us sing to the Lord for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” She teaches her companions to be music girls but music girls for Christ, to be luteplayers but luteplayers for the Saviour. In this occupation she passes both day and night and with oil ready to put in the lamps she waits the coming of the Bridegroom. Do you therefore imitate your kinswoman. Let Rome have in you what a grander city than Rome, I mean Bethlehem, has in her.184

Cyril of Alexandria (AD 376-444)

Cyril of Alexandria was the bishop of Alexandria from 412-444. He was the central figure at the First Council of Ephesus in 431. Cyril defined a “Psalm” in a way that completely rules out a cappella singing. Since he advocated singing psalms, he advocated singing that was accompanied by musical instruments.

A Psalm (psalmos) is a musical sound caused when the instrument in struck rhythmically according to the musical notes.

One advocate of a cappella singing calls this an “anomaly” that is hard to explain from an a cappella perspective,185 but it is totally consistent with Cyril’s practice of using instruments. Recounting a time under Cyril, Theodoret said,

At this time the see of Alexandria was held by Cyril, brother’s son to Theophilus whom he succeeded… The bishop gathered all the faithful together, both clergy and laity, and marched with them to the assembly. The procession was accompanied by musicians (ψάλλοντας); one hymn was sung by all in harmony, and thus he and his company went in procession from the western postern to the great church, filling the whole forum with people, and constituting a stream of thinking living beings like the Orontes in its course.186 (emphasis mine)

This not only describes a church event when singing was “accompanied by musicians,” but speaks of that whole throng “filling the whole forum” of the church. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the musicians themselves entered the church. Clearly the church members and leaders were singing hymns accompanied by instruments at an organized event of the “gathered” “faithful.” If “all the faithful” including all the “clergy and laity” sang with instrumental accompaniment, it is inconceivable that there was universal contempt for musical instruments prior to this time. Instead, it points to pockets of resistance to the more widespread use of instrumental music.

Theodoret (AD 393-460)

Theodoret was the bishop of Cyrrhus from 423-457, and a very influential theologian. He is often quoted as saying, “instruments and other such things appropriate to those who are childish is dispensed with in the churches and singing alone has been left over.” Here is the problem - you will not find that quote in any of Theodoret’s writings. Instead, it is found in an anonymously authored document that used to be attributed to Justin Martyr, but that scholars have proved could not have been written by him.187 Some have guessed that Theodoret might have written it, but that evidence is not conclusive. Indeed, it seems to contradict Theodoret’s views on music. The passage already quoted under our discussion of Cyril shows Theodoret describing a church “gathering” of “all the faithful” including “clergy and laity” in which singing of hymns was “accompanied by musicians.” There is no hint that Theodoret disapproves of this instrumental music:

The bishop gathered all the faithful together, both clergy and laity, and marched with them to the assembly. The procession was accompanied by musicians (ψάλλοντας); one hymn was sung by all in harmony, and thus he and his company went in procession from the western postern to the great church, filling the whole forum with people, and constituting a stream of thinking living beings like the Orontes in its course.188 (emphasis mine)

It is inconceivable that “all the faithful together” would joyfully sing to the accompaniment of instruments if Alexandria had been universally opposed to instrumental music prior to this time. Certainly Theodoret gives no criticism of this musical event.

Augustine (AD 354-430)

Augustine speaks so frequently about the church of his day playing the lyre and psaltery that I will not be able to reproduce all of the quotations here. James Hastings summarizes the position of the Western church of his day in these words:

St. Augustine (354-430) likewise encourages ‘the singing of Psalms to the lyre or psaltery’ (j.A. Latrobe, The Music of the Church, London, 1831, p. 42). This regulation, or partial allowance, of instrumental music in the service of the Church seems not to have affected the Eastern branch, since in the Greek Church instrumental accompaniment has never been allowed, probably from its proximity to the pagan East.

Where instrumental help was allowed, it is easy to understand that the lyre, cithars, etc., would soon give way to the organ; the advantage of having the accompaniment under the control of one person would be apparent, and from the 5th cent. onwards the organ became supreme. Ancient MSS of the 8th, 9th, and later centuries show the use of the harp, the square stringed psaltery, the rotta or crwth (of the viol species) and trumpet, which the minstrel galleries seen in ancient churches both on the Continent and in England confirm.189

Notice the stark contradiction of McCracken’s statement that no instruments were introduced into the church before AD 666. This encyclopedia asserts that “from the 5th cent. onwards the organ became supreme” in displacing other instruments that had been used to accompany worship. By now it should be apparent that the claim that the “universal” position of the early church was the a cappella position is a myth. Instruments have always been present in the church, though some branches deviated from the practice because of their infection with Greek asceticism. Certainly Augustine acknowledges their use in his day:

“Yea, upon the harp will I praise Thee, O God my God.” What is the meaning of “praising on the harp,” and praising on the psaltery? … These two instruments of the musicians have each a distinct meaning of their own, worthy of our consideration and notice. They are both borne in the hands, … Both are good, if one knows how to play the psaltery, or to play the harp. … both however are acceptable to God, and grateful to His ear…190

Though Augustine believed in four levels of meaning of the text (including the allegorical), we should not ignore his numerous references to the literal meaning of the musical instruments. Even the literal sounds of literal instruments were pleasing to God’s ear, though Augustine believed the presence of the spiritual meaning was even more pleasing. Commenting on Psalm 66:3 he says,

3. “But play ye to His name” (ver. 2). What hath he said? By you “playing” let His name be blessed. But what is it to “play”? To play is also to take up an instrument which is called a psaltery, and by the striking and action of the hands to accompany voices. If therefore ye jubilate so that God may hear; play also something that men may both see and hear: but not to your own name. …For if for the sake of yourselves being glorified ye do good works, we make the same reply as He made to certain of such men, “Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward:”191

In this and in many passages Augustine gives layers of meaning, but he does not discount the literal meaning as having current significance. On Psalm 71:28 he says,

28. “For I will confess to Thee in the vessels of a Psalm Thy truth” (ver. 22). The vessels of a Psalm are a Psaltery. But what is a Psaltery? An instrument of wood and strings. What doth it signify? There is some difference between it and a harp: …there seemeth to be signified by the Psaltery the Spirit, by the harp the flesh.

On Psalm 147:2 he comments,

2. For a “Psalm” is a song, not any kind of song, but a song to a psaltery. A psaltery is a kind of instrument of music, like the lyre and the harp, and such kinds of instruments, which were invented for music. He therefore who singeth Psalms, not only singeth with his voice, but with a certain instrument besides, which is called a psaltery, he accompanieth his voice…

On Psalm 150 he comments on both the mystical and the literal meaning of the text, saying,

Nor do I think that I should pass over what musicians say, that there are three kinds of sounds, by voice, by breath, by striking: by voice, uttered by throat and windpipe, when man singeth without any instrument; by breath, as by pipe, or anything of that sort: by striking, as by harp, or anything of that kind. None then of these kinds is omitted here: for there is voice in the choir, breath in the trumpet, striking in the harp…

These kinds of quotes could be multiplied many times over. It is not fair scholarship to quote the portions of Augustine that speak of the “mystical” sense that he articulated and forget that he held to four levels of meaning, the “literal” being one of them. In many passages he indicated that the literal playing of instruments was currently happening.

Spanish Churches in AD 450

James Hastings summarizes the evidence of the use of instruments in Spain:

Organs seem to have been in common use in the Spanish churches of A.D. 450, according to Julianus, a Spanish bishop (Hopkins and Rimbault, The Organ, London, 1877)…192

Ethiopian Churches in AD 500

David Shirt says,

A scene inclusive of music can be inferred from the depictions of Yared (505-571), possibly Ethiopia’s most celebrated saint, with an orchestra of monks… Yared’s instrumentally accompanied (sistrum, and drums of various sizes) compositions enjoyed a widespread appeal which appears to have survived the centuries. That Yared’s chants and hymns were used monastically supports the argument that Ethiopian ascetic practice did not necessarily view instrumentally accompanied music as incompatible with the ascetic Christian life. That the generality of Christians, clearly including those who are priests, vigorously immersed themselves in the drumming and dancing associated with the liturgy would seem beyond doubt. As touched on in chapter three, particular solemn hymns, with plucked string accompaniment, appear to have been reserved for Lent.193

Adomnan of Iona (AD 624-704)

David Shirt says,

The Celtic missionaries were particularly fond of bells, including those whose several faces, when struck externally, could produce a range of different notes. One of Adomnan’s bells, considered to be genuine, and dating within the life-span of this study (first to seventh centuries), is housed in the museum of Kilmartin, on Scotland’s west coast.194

Saint Bede the Venerable (AD 673-735)

In his commentary on Psalm 97, Bede writes,

After a prelude on an instrument, the sound of a singing voice is heard, following and keeping time with the instrument, imitating the strains of the psaltery with the tones of the voice.195

Though not a conclusive testimony to English use of instruments, it is certainly consistent with England’s requests for instrumentalists from other parts of the church.

Having given samples of church fathers who either spoke of the presence of instruments in worship or who actively participated in such instrumental worship we will now seek to examine why some church fathers resisted instrumental music so vigorously.

The real reason that opposition to musical instruments arose in the late third century and following – the Greek philosophy of asceticism


I do not question the fact that many church fathers can be cited who opposed instrumental music, but they opposed the music for the same reason that they opposed enjoyment of sex, art, special food, and other pleasures – the influence of Greek asceticism.196 So many authors have documented this influence of the Greeks upon many church fathers that it is not much contested. A cappella advocate, James McKinnon, admits,

The later fathers on the other hand, all thoroughly educated in the classical tradition, might be said to have shared the musical Puritanism of pagan intellectuals, taking it – for reasons of their own – beyond all precedent.197

John T. Noonan writes,

Stoicism was in the air the intellectual converts to Christianity breathed. Half consciously, half unconsciously, they accommodated some Christian beliefs to a Stoic sense.198

David Shirt documents the negative attitudes of the Greek philosophers to musical instruments. One cannot read the canons of the Council of Laodicea without seeing the strong impact of Greek thinking upon their worldview. Many of the church fathers explicitly credit their ideas to various Greek writers whom they admired. Shirt then explains how the Greek view of passions and music influenced the thinking of some church fathers. He says,

The idea that the passions were vices,41 or at the very least, that the passions of the soul may be likened to unruly children,42 would seem to be echoed by Christian writers, including Clement of Alexandria, who directed that the soul to be kept quiet and not be stirred by external impressions that stimulate the passions.43 The emotions/passions, especially the passionate emotions such as Galen (129–200 A.D.) lists as ‘temper, anger, fear, grief, envy and extreme desire’,44 if unrestrained, as Galen’s contemporary, Clement expresses it – ‘unbridled and disobedient to reason’45 – could be morally disastrous. To the extent that music was considered highly influential in establishing or changing the emotional state, it was clearly a force to be reckoned with – for good or ill – and perhaps perceived as weighted towards the ill. Justification was provided by the variety of reprehensible circumstances in which music was frequently located.199

Their worldview led them to be prejudiced against musical instruments, and it made a conundrum for them when interpreting the Bible – how should they interpret passages which give every appearance of approving of musical instruments? Those embarrassing passages had to be explained away, and there were two approaches to doing so.

The Alexandrian School, under the heavy influence of the Greek allegorical method,200 simply ignored the literal meaning and said that the Old Testament saints played spiritual instruments within their hearts (much like McCracken does).201

The Antiochian school, though strongly opposed to the allegorical method, still evidenced Greek prejudice against instrumental music. However, their approach to explaining away instruments was to say that God was overlooking the problem of instruments as he sought to woo the Israelites away from the idolatry of Egypt. They did not deny that Israel played musical instruments, but they claimed that God allowed those practices to continue as a concession to Jewish immaturity, weakness, and ignorance. They insisted that after Christ, we must put away such childish things. Though slightly changed, we will see that Calvin buys into their arguments. Chrysostom,202 Eusebius,203 Jerome,204 Clement, and Thomas Aquinas205 can all be cited for their resistance to instrumental music.

This tendency to allow cultural presuppositions to influence our hermeneutics is powerfully illustrated by the Hellenized Jews. We all know that the temple had musical instruments, but it was interesting to see the way Philo explained away the instrumentation of the Old Testament through allegory, and Clement of Alexandria was influenced by Philo to do the same. Louis Feldman points out that “Philo reflects the Greek contempt for instrumental music.”206

This Greek asceticism was resisted by fathers who believed that the Bible alone must govern our church worship (i.e., the Regulative Principle of Worship)

This Greek asceticism was strongly resisted by many church fathers that believed the Bible alone should regulate the church. In other words, it was the instrumentalists who most strongly adhered to the Regulative Principle of Worship. Some of these church fathers continued to have influence in the church while others, like Jovinian, were brought under church discipline.

David Shirt says, “Jovinian … proclaimed that Christianity was advocating new and unnatural dogma.”207 He resisted not only the novel views on music, but the novel views of sexuality that had crept into the church via Greek philosophy. His writings proclaiming the excellence of marriage were condemned at a synod held under Pope Siricius and were again condemned at the Milan synod. It needs to be kept in mind that the very thing for which he was condemned (a Biblical view of sexuality within marriage) is a viewpoint held to by most a cappella writers who have written on the subject. Yet the underlying reason for early hostility to sexuality in marriage is the same underlying reason for early hostility to instruments.

Some church fathers thought that marital sex was sinful if there was the least passion involved,208 and some thought that all sex was sinful.209 Their ideas on marriage were highly influenced by pagan Greek asceticism.210

David G. Hunter points out that Ambrose, Jerome, and many other Christian ascetics “believed that the time for procreation lay in the past when the earth still needed to be filled with people,” but was no longer a relevant command.211 Some of the ascetics argued for celibacy within marriage, which in turn severely limited the number of children.212 Tertullian even sounded like a Malthusian in his fears of overpopulation. He said,

What most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint), is our teeming population: our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race…213

Though this legalism was vigorously opposed by church fathers such as Jovinian, Epiphanius, Filastrius, Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom, and others, it continued to flourish in the church for many centuries. It led some married couples to avoid sex within marriage, and it led many to oppose remarriage, contrary to Paul’s command in 1 Timothy 5:14.214 The point is that though we should always take seriously the views of the church fathers, the church fathers themselves insisted that the Bible alone is inerrant.215

Some of the non-instrumentation citations prove too much

There are further problems that I see with the a cappella practice of indiscriminately citing the church fathers to prove their position. If they were to follow those same church fathers consistently on their views of worship, they would have to jettison the Regulative Principle of Worship. It is crystal clear that those Greek fathers were not regulated by the Word of God alone on their views of asceticism, celibate priesthood, multiplication of offices, sacraments, economics, monasteries, sign of the cross, etc. The fact of the matter is that the early church does not represent the pinnacle of the church, but the infancy of the church. The apostolic church was awash in bad doctrine and practice,216 and Paul characterizes it as being immature:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Eph. 4:11-19)

Paul points out that the trajectory of history over the thousands of years will be towards more maturity and unity in doctrine. It should be pointed out that though there was some growth in the first eight centuries, there was still wide variation of viewpoint on worship. David Shirt points out,

Whatever rituals of the first Christian gatherings, any new innovation, in a particular location, could soon become established tradition, and might differ from that which evolved elsewhere. By the early fifth century, the Christian historian Socrates was to record that ‘it is impossible anywhere, among all the sects, to find two churches which agree exactly in their ritual’. Within that diversity (a diversity increasingly brought to our attention by recent scholarship), [and despite attempts by regional synods to prohibit cithara playing, the very rhetoric against instruments by some] … illustrates the measure of non-compliance.217

The bottom line is that there must be continuing reformation of the church, and part of that reformation is to put off regulation by the traditions of men (Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-23; Col. 2:20-23; etc.) and to put on regulation by the word of God alone (Deut. 12:31-32; 1 Cor. 4:6; 1 Tim. 3:15; etc.). As will be seen by the following points, following the lead of the non-instrumentalist fathers would prove far too much.

Some fathers opposed audible singing

For example, some of the fathers who showed detestation for instrumental music also showed detestation for all singing. In some circles this prohibition of singing was pervasive enough to warrant rebuke. For example, Niceta, bishop of Remesiana in AD 370, castigated those who took the interpretation of McCracken (that the phrase “in the heart” in Ephesians 5 refers to a silent and unexpressed form of music). He said,

I know that there are some, not only in our area but in the regions of the east, who consider the singing of psalms and hymns to be superfluous and little appropriate to divine religion. They think it enough if a psalm is spoken in the heart and frivolous if it is produced with the sound of one’s lips, and they appropriate to this opinion of theirs the verse of the Apostle which he wrote to the Ephesians: ‘Be filled with the Spirit, seeking in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.’ Look, they say, the Apostle specifies that one must make melody in the heart, and not babble in the theatrical manner with sung melody, for it is sufficient to God ‘who searches the hearts’ (Rom. 8:27) that one sings in the secrecy of his heart.”218

Niceta then went to great lengths to prove that it is proper to sing audibly. Why would he need to do this? The answer is that these men had been hugely influenced by Greek philosophy.

Some fathers opposed use of instruments outside of church

Most modern a cappella advocates are quite willing to permit musical instruments in private, in non-church orchestras, in education, in civic celebrations, etc. Yet we find that the church fathers that they cite to prove a cappella singing opposed all use of musical instruments, whether in the church or outside the church, whether in private or public. In fact, some were willing to discipline anyone who learned how to play a musical instrument. As Shirt points out,

The Canons of Hippolytus, dating from the late fourth century, state ‘whoever performs in a theatre or is … a music teacher … none of these may be permitted to attend a sermon until they have been purified from these unclean works. After forty days they may hear a sermon’. The slightly later Canons of Basil insist that ‘If anyone is a chorus dancer he shall either give up his profession or be excommunicated and banned from the mysteries … [a woman who] allures people by her beautiful singing and her deceitful melody … shall, if she renounces her profession, wait forty days before she communicates’. That such directives concerning musicians did not entirely correct the situation is strongly suggested by later canons attempting to enforce the same prohibitions. A half millennium beyond the period of prime concern to this study, canon 70 of Gabriel ben Turiek, condemns use of the cithara and the late twelfth century Nomocanon of Michael of Damietta reiterates yet again that if ‘anyone plays a cithara or an instrument which is blown he shall either cease or be cast out’.219

Unless a cappella advocates are willing to embrace this kind of opposition to all private use of musical instruments, it is not consistent for them to cite those same fathers as authoritative exegetes on a cappella singing within the church. Even those like Novatian who considered music lawful, did not consider it proper for Christians. Speaking of musical instruments he said,

Even if these things were not consecrated to idols, faithful Christians ought not to frequent and observe them, for even if there were nothing criminal about them, they have in themselves an utter worthlessness hardly suitable for believers.220

Some fathers malign the fathers of the Old Testament in their zeal to avoid any positive reference to instrumentation in the Bible

Some of these church fathers that are cited go so far in their hostility to instrumental music that they stoop to accuse the Old Testament musicians of being weak, immature, and sinful. Even James McKinnon admits this in his polemic against instruments. He quotes a church father’s comments on the instruments of Psalm 150:

Of old the Levites used these instruments as they hymned God in his holy Temple, not because God enjoyed their sound but because he accepted the intention of those involved. We hear God saying to the Jews that he does not take pleasure in singing and playing: ‘Take away from me the sound of your songs; to the voice of your instruments I will not listen’ (Amos 5:23). He allowed these things to happen because he wished to free the Jews from the error of idols. For since they were fond of play and laughter, and all these things took place in the temple of the idols, he permitted them… thus avoiding the greater evil by allowing the lesser.221

This church father blasphemes God’s law by calling the Old Testament musical instruments a lesser “evil.” Chrysostom says,

But I would say this: that in ancient times, they were thus led by these instruments due to the slowness of their understanding, and were gradually drawn away from idolatry. Accordingly, just as he allowed sacrifices, so too did he permit instruments, making concession to their weakness.222

The point is, that appealing to the church fathers proves neither the truthfulness nor the falsity of our position or the a cappella position. As the early church historian, Socrates, pointed out, there was wide division on liturgy in the early centuries because many issues had not yet been settled. Like eschatology, all viewpoints can find support in the fathers, and this means that we need to go to the Scriptures to be Reformed and ever reforming.

What about the Reformers?

Some will object that the Reformation settled the question. Of course, by “the Reformation,” they mean Calvin and his heirs, because they know that the Lutherans held that musical instruments glorified God and were Biblical. It is worthwhile pointing out the same kind of disparity of thought existed among the Reformers and their heirs as existed among the church fathers.

Luther’s views

Luther’s attitude toward music was not governed by pragmatism. Nor was it due to a lack of zeal in throwing out anything that smacked of Romanism. Indeed, it was because of the way that the organ had overwhelmed the voices and become a vain showpiece in Romanist churches that Luther initially opposed it, saying, “The organ in worship is the insignia of Baal… The Roman Catholics borrowed it from the Jews.”223 But he hastened to say,

Nor am I at all of the opinion that all the arts are to be overthrown and cast aside by the Gospel, as some superspiritual people protest; but I would gladly see all the arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has given and created them.224

This promoter of “Sola Scriptura” had a very positive and healthy attitude toward instrumental music. His philosophy of its use in worship can be seen in his “Forward” to Georg Rhau’s Symphoniae, a collection of chorale motets published in 1538:

I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God. The riches of music are so excellent and so precious that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them…. In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…. Our dear fathers and prophets did not desire without reason that music be always used in the churches. Hence, we have so many songs and psalms. This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God. However, when man’s natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace. A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.225

Calvin’s changing views

A cappella advocates are correct in saying that Calvin was opposed to instruments. However, Calvin also gives mixed signals. For example, when commenting on Ephesians 5:19 Calvin says,

…under these three terms [songs, hymns, spiritual songs] he includes all kinds of songs. 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. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles.226

Calvin clearly concedes that instruments are biblical in the New Testament. On the other hand, he makes several comments in his commentary on the Psalms that defend a position of no instruments in worship, but on two flimsy assertions with no proof or argumentation. The first is that instruments belong to the era of the shadows. The second is that Paul commands us to speak in a known tongue. How speaking in a known tongue relates to instrumental accompaniment is beyond me. I am not a Calvin scholar, but I have wondered if he changed his views as he got older. The following quotes seem to show a greater openness to instrumental music in later years. Whether he changed his mind or not, his earlier views are unbiblical and seem to be governed more by peer pressure of current attitudes227 toward music than by exegesis. However, notice the progression of thought in the following quotes:

The Psalms were published in 1557

Under Psalm 71:22 Calvin says,

To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law, and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.

Daniel was published in 1561

Under Daniel 3:6-7 Calvin says, “Respecting the use of musical instruments, I confess it to be customary in the Church even by God’s command.” This is a clear statement in defense of instruments. Was he moving in his convictions based on his dialogues with other Reformers? We are not told, but this seems to be at least a theoretical openness to musical instruments.

Genesis was published in 1563

Under Genesis 4:20 he says,

Now, although the invention of the harp, and of similar instruments of music, may minister to our pleasure, rather than to our necessity, still it is not to be thought altogether superfluous; much less does it deserve, in itself, to be condemned. Pleasure is indeed to be condemned, unless it be combined with the fear of God, and with the common benefit of human society. But such is the nature of music, that it can be adapted to the offices of religion, and made profitable to men; if only it be free from vicious attractions, and from that foolish delight, by which it seduces men from better employments, and occupies them in vanity. (emphasis mine)

Note that Calvin does not simply affirm the lawfulness of the private use of musical instruments. Instead he affirms that they “can be adapted to the offices of religion.” Is this another indication of a move toward the position of the Lutherans and Anglicans? We are not told, but it is clear from the next point that not all of Calvin’s disciples were convinced of the a cappella position either.

Continental Calvinism & Anglicanism

The continental Calvinists followed Calvin’s later views. The organ was first allowed to accompany congregational singing at Leyden in 1637.228 It spread rapidly all over Holland. The extent to which instruments were used in the Continental Reformed churches and in Anglicanism can be seen by Richard Cameron’s lament:

The Jewish way under the law of praising the Lord was upon the timbrel, the harp, psaltery, and ten-stringed instruments, and other instruments of music that belonged to ceremonial worship that is now abolished. Christ, who is the end of the law, has torn or taken away the ceremonies of the law, and there is no warrant now to make use of the organs, as they do in the Popish Church, and in the Prelatical Church of England, and even among them that are more reformed, those over in Holland. Oh, but we have a great advantage in being free of these!229

Mixed views among the Puritans & Presbyterians

Though the vast majority of the Puritans and Presbyterians appear to be advocates of a cappella singing in worship, there was by no means unanimity.230 The 1563 harmonized psalter that was used by these Puritans and Presbyterians had on its title page, “sung to all musical instruments… for the increase of virtue: and abolishing of other vain and trifling ballads.”231 Though the Protestant publisher (John Day) does not represent the whole Puritan movement, neither was there the outcry that one might expect if the viewpoint of non-instrumentation was as pervasive or as dogmatically affirmed as some books would have you believe.

Paul Baynes (1573-1617) is called a “radical Puritan” because of his strict adherence to Scripture and the Regulative Principle of Worship. He succeeded William Perkins in the pastorate at St. Andrew’s, Cambridge, and was a very influential Puritan. He was often quoted by Samuel Rutherford and is noted as having influenced such notables as William Ames and Richard Sibbes. Yet Baynes thought the exclusion of instruments from worship to be a legalistic and unbiblical tradition. He said in his commentary on Ephesians 5:20,

This doth rebuke a common practice among us who do run forth out of churches at psalms if sung with instruments-as the organ and others, comfortable and laudable-as if they were no part of God’s ordinances for our good; whereas we are expressly charged by God’s Spirit to praise Him both on stringed instruments and organs. If it were at a comedy, men would not lose the song and instrument or dance though played on divers pipe-instruments; yet the wind of one pipe in the organ will blow out their zeal in the church, and them from the church.232

Notice that Baynes rebukes his fellow Puritans by claiming that “we are expressly charged by God’s Spirit to praise Him both on stringed instruments and organs.” His view is that instruments are not simply allowed; they are commanded. Though this was a minority position, Joel Beeke (probably the world’s foremost authority on the Puritans) says that “some Puritans” believed in instruments in worship.233

For example, Richard Baxter, the pastor to pastors, gave the following five reasons why instruments should continue to be used in the churches to accompany psalms and hymns. This can be found in his monumental book, A Christian Directory.

For, 1. God set it up long after Moses’ ceremonial law, by David, Solomon, &c.

2. It is not an instituted ceremony merely, but a natural help to the mind’s alacrity: and it is a duty and not a sin to use the helps of nature and lawful art, though not to institute sacraments, &c. Of our own. As it is lawful to use the comfortable helps of spectacles in reading the Bible, so is it of music to exhilarate the soul towards God.

3. Jesus Christ joined with the Jews that used it, and never spake a word against it.

4. No Scripture forbiddeth it, therefore it is not unlawful.

5. Nothing can be against it, that I know of, but what is said against tunes and melody of voice. For whereas they say that it is a human invention; so are our tunes (and metre, and versions). Yea, it is not a human invention; as the last psalm and many others show, which call us to praise the Lord with instruments of music.

He gives some other admonitions related to this subject, but the following is an especially appropriate warning for those who impose legalism upon the church. Baxter says, “It is a great wrong that some do to ignorant Christians, by putting such whimsies and scruples into their heads, which as soon as they enter, turn that to a scorn, and snare, and trouble, which might be a real help and comfort to them, as it is to others” (cxxvii).

Having said all the above, it is admitted that the vast bulk of Puritans and Presbyterians believed in a cappella singing in worship. It has a long history supported by well-respected scholars. Having read their arguments, I do not believe they are Biblical, and it is ultimately the Bible that must drive our exercise of the Regulative Principle of Worship, not what the Puritans believed.

What about the synagogues – Were they instrument free? And does it matter if we hold to RPW?

The argument stated

It is often asserted that synagogues never had instrumental music until the late 1800’s, when Reform Judaism introduced it.234 Why would this be a relevant argument in favor of a cappella singing? Indeed, if the church fathers are not a standard for our worship, how much less so should the Talmudic synagogues? Yet many a cappella advocates use the following syllogism as part of their polemic against instruments:

  • Premise A – The church follows the synagogue pattern of worship rather than the temple pattern of worship.235
  • Premise B – Jewish synagogues did not used instruments until 1810.236
  • Conclusion: therefore we should not use instruments.237

Hopefully one can see that the a cappella advocate has abandoned the Regulative Principle of Worship at this point. Premise B implicitly makes the antichristian post-cross practices of Talmudic synagogues a standard for how our worship services should be conducted.

Response #1 – the only synagogue information that should regulate our conclusions is the information about synagogues in the Bible, and the Bible allowed musical instruments in the synagogues

My response will be threefold. First, I believe the Scripture authorizes me to change premise B of the syllogism so that the argument goes as follows:

  • Premise A – The church follows the synagogue pattern of worship rather than the temple pattern of worship.
  • Premise B – Synagogues did indeed use instruments (see arguments in chapter 3 under “Illustrated in Psalm 68” and under “Problem two.”).
  • Conclusion: therefore we may continue to use instruments since they are not distinctively temple instruments

First it is necessary to prove that synagogues even existed in the Old Testament. Many people have tried to deny that God instituted the synagogue in the Old Testament, and they say that the synagogue arose out of necessity for worship when the Jews were in exile in Babylon. The following Scriptures show that belief to be false. Acts 15:21 says, “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” This verse establishes that synagogues were a Mosaic institution, and that synagogues were in every city.

Leviticus 23:3 firmly establishes synagogues as a Mosaic institution, saying, “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.” The Hebrew word for “holy convocation” means “sacred assembly” (מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ see NIV translation). The Sabbath was to be a day of corporate worship throughout the land, not just in the temple. Compare 2 Kings 4:23.

Psalm 74:8 speaks about these “meeting places” throughout the land: “They have burned up all the meeting places (the Hebrew is מוֹעֵד) of God in the land.” Already in Asaph’s day there were synagogues everywhere.

The Levites were scattered throughout the land in order to provide teachers or scribes (2 Chron. 17:9; Deut. 18:6-8; Neh. 10:37-39; etc.). Levites were trained in the law as teachers. Though Levites also taught at the temple, and assisted in other ways (Deut. 18:6-8), most Levites taught in the cities (Deut. 18:6) in proto-synagogues (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 17:18; 31:9-13; 33:10; 2 Chron. 17:7-9; 30:22; 35:3; Neh. 8:17-13; Mal. 2:6-7). The Levites of the Old Testament were equivalent to the teaching and ruling elders of the New Testament with the Teaching Elders carrying the title of “scribe” (2 Sam. 8:17; 20:25; 1 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 12:10; 18:37; 19:2; 1 Chron. 24:6; 27:32; Ezra 7:6,11; Neh. 12:10; Jer. 36:12; Matt. 7:29; 13:52; 17:10; 23:2,3; etc.).

A distinction was made in the New Testament between the “synagogue (συναγωγή) of the Jews” (Acts 17:1,10) and the Christian synagogue (James 2:2 - the word for “assembly” is συναγωγή). Whereas the church was the synagogue of God, the Jewish synagogues are spoken of as “the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9; 3:9) or counterfeit synagogues. The reason the distinction was finally made was that even though the apostles taught in the synagogues (Acts 9:20; 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:1,10,17; 18:4,7,19,26; 19:8) and many of those synagogues as a whole became Christian synagogues, there were many other synagogues that refused to believe in Christ, and even began to persecute Christians in the synagogues (prophesied in Matt. 10:17; 23:34 and seen in Acts 17:5-9; 22:19; 26:11).

Where the authority for the Jewish synagogues had become the “traditions of men” that Jesus opposed,238 the authority for the synagogue of God239 is “the perfect Law of liberty” (James 1:25). We have already established in the first sections of this book that the law of God allowed for the use of instruments in worship outside of the temple ceremonial system. Instruments of music were played “in the congregations” of the Lord (Psalm 68), the Tabernacle of David being one such synagogue. (See earlier discussion.) So the synagogue argument actually works in favor of our position, not against it.

Response #2 – If the Biblical information on the synagogue is ignored and if the unbelieving synagogue becomes the pattern, then it proves too much.

Let us assume that our previous arguments are rejected. If centuries of silence with respect to instruments in Jewish synagogues proves that the church should not have instruments, what does the silence with respect to Psalm singing in those synagogues prove? James McKinnon says,

…the silence on psalmody appears increasingly significant. It is a silence of some five hundreds years extending from the New Testament period to the time of the final redaction of the Talmud [8th century].240

Up until recently, scholarship has not been able to find any evidence of singing in the Jewish synagogues.241 The reason for this is that as a result of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews among the nations, the Jews felt such shame242 that certain rabbis commemorated the event by calling men to the shameful practice of wearing head coverings243 and placing a ban on all music - whether singing or instrumental; whether public or private.244 This initial consensus became codified by early rabbinic authorities.245 Resistance to the ban led to three additional reasons:

  1. playing instruments might lead to the breaking of the Sabbath
  2. playing instruments is joyful and therefore violates God’s mandate to mourn in exile
  3. playing instruments might lead to immorality.246

A rabbi who was asked for the source for the ban on music gave an interesting insight – he claimed that one of the additional reasons cited in the Talmud was to avoid acting like the “heretics,” a reference to Christians.247 So this may be additional evidence that Christians at the time of that rabbinic edict did indeed use instrumental music.

These facts actually undermine the a cappella argument in three ways: First, they show that the Jewish ban had nothing to do with Scripture forbidding music, but rather reveal an attitude that is governed by tradition rather than the Bible. It was a commandment of man, not a commandment of God. Second, this ban revealed their shame, not normalcy. Third, it included abstinence from singing as well as instrumentation. This hardly proves the a cappella point. Though it is true that more recent scholarship has uncovered some evidence of resistance to the ban on singing, it also reveals resistance to the ban on instrumentation (next point).

This whole discussion illustrates the futility of informing the Regulative Principle of Worship from the Jesus-hating-Talmudic-traditions-of-man-synagogue-system. Instead, we should turn back to the Biblical evidence of instrumental music in the synagogues of the Bible, as this book has done.

Response 3 – the same scholarship that has recently found scant evidence of singing in the synagogues has also found instrumentation

In recent years there has been some evidence that at least some Jewish synagogues resisted the ban on both singing and instrumentation. Charlesworth cites several examples. The following should be sufficient:

[You] … have given (us) an articulate tongue for confession (of gratitude), and have undergirded (it with) a harmonious tongue, in the like manner of a plectrum, like a musical instrument…248

6. Conclusion

In chapter 1, we saw that God created us for joyful worship and restored us to joyful worship. The world, the flesh, and the devil will do all in their power to spoil God’s joyful purposes for us and to bring us into bondage.

In chapter 2, we saw that the Regulative Principle of Worship is not a hindrance to joyful Liberty, but is God’s protection of such liberty. The moment we add to God’s laws or subtract from God’s laws (both of which the Pharisees did) we run the danger of losing some of the joy and liberty that God ordained for his people.

In chapter 5, we saw that even well-meaning godly Christians can unwittingly mar God’s purposes for liberty. If even the apostle Peter could do so on such serious issues as the Gospel (Galatians 1) and less serious issues such as food (Acts 10), it would be easy for us to do so. Granted, instrumental music is not on the same level as the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul defended in Galatians, but it was designed by God to adorn that Gospel with joy and gladness. When the apostle Paul corrected the apostle Peter on the issue of circumcision, he in no way sought to diminish Peter’s apostleship (cf. Gal. 1:17,19; 2:9) or to deny that Peter had done tremendous good for the church (Gal. 2:9). Indeed, he reaffirmed Peter’s apostleship and reaffirmed that Peter was a “pillar” (Gal. 2:9). Nevertheless, Paul made the point that even an apostle may err in his judgments. In the same way, my disagreements with godly men on the issue of music was not meant to diminish the honored status of various church fathers or esteemed theologians of the past. I love Calvin and I love the early church fathers. I have simply joined with other esteemed church fathers and theologians in demonstrating that that they have deviated from the Scriptures on this important issue of worship. They have added to God’s law a command of a cappella singing (a form of legalism) and they have taken away from God’s law numerous commands to sing accompanied with instruments (a form of antinomianism). This book is a call to be more consistent with the Regulative Principle of Worship and to properly adorn the joyful Gospel with joyful music accompanied by well-played instruments of music.

In the course of answering the three main pillars of the a cappella position, I have provided six pillars of my own in defense of instrumental music. The first pillar is to affirm that it is the instrumental position alone that fully defends the Regulative Principle of worship. It alone submits to God’s repeated commands to sing psalms accompanied with instruments.

The second pillar is to demonstrate that instrumental music was not restricted to the ceremonial law. Indeed, musical instruments were lawfully played by Levites (1 Chron. 15:16; 2 Chron. 7:6) and non-Levitical prophets (1 Sam. 10:5), kings (2 Sam. 6:4; Is. 38:20) and ordinary citizens (Ps. 33:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:5), males (1 Chron. 13:8; 15:16) and females (Ex. 15:20; Ps. 68:25). The only requirements that God set for those musicians was that they be skilled,249 have certain character qualifications,250 play from the heart (Eph. 5:19) and with a life that is not subject to serious blame (Amos 5:23).

The third pillar is to demonstrate that instrumental music was included in the synagogue worship of the Old Testament, of which the scattered Levites were the pastors, and from which the New Testament church originated. Thus instrumental music preceded the creation of the Tabernacle of Moses and it continued long after the Temple was destroyed.

The fourth pillar is to demonstrate that the Booth of David is the fullest and richest Old Testament prototype of the New Covenant church, and is applied by both Amos 9 and Acts 15 to the New Testament church. James describes the building of the New Testament church as the rebuilding of the Booth of David (Acts 15:15-17). In chapter 3, I demonstrated how the Booth of David foreshadowed the glorious privileges that we have as Jew and Gentile approaching the very throne of grace with joyful worship-music. Of all the institutions of the Old Testament, the Booth of David was most characterized by instrumental music, and as such stands as the best expression of New Testament worship.

The fifth pillar is to demonstrate that the New Testament also calls us to use instruments in corporate worship. It does so by using words that included in their meaning singing accompanied by musical instruments. These words had that meaning in the centuries leading up to Christ and in the four centuries after Christ. But we looked at other indications that the music of earth was to be patterned after the music of heaven.

The sixth pillar is to show that our interpretation is consistent with historical theology (the history of interpretation). If no church fathers had held to our interpretation, it might have legitimately been suspect. However, I would hasten to say that including chapter 5 is not intended as a concession to church tradition or as a deviation from the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Instead, it is a humble test of our interpretation by examining the teachings of others who were driven by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

May this book help Christians to stand in the Perfect Law of Liberty and to thereby adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that glorifies God. May God also give us charity to love others who differ with us on this position. And may God give others charity toward us to admit that their interpretation may be wrong and to not slander us with the charge of being papists and defilers of worship. We have appealed to the Scripture. May our conscience be bound by Scripture alone, and not by the fear of man. Amen.

In essentials unity,
In non-essentials liberty,
In all things charity.

7. About the author

This book gives an exegetical and historical defense of the use of instruments in worship. While the author highly respects those who disagree, it is his thesis that the prohibition of instruments in worship actually violates the regulative principle of worship.

Founder and President of Biblical Blueprints, Phillip Kayser has degrees in education, theology, and philosophy. Ordained in 1987, he currently serves as Senior Pastor of Dominion Covenant Church, a conservative Presbyterian (CPC) church in Omaha, NE. He also serves as Professor of Ethics at Whitefield Theological Seminary and President of the Providential History Festival. He and his wife Kathy have 5 married children and 16 grandchildren.


1That this describes Lucifer before his fall into sin can be seen by the whole context of verses 12-16 which describes him as being “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty… You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you” and then verse 17 describes that iniquity.

2TWOT says, “The noun תֹּף is a general term for tambourines and small drums (the most common instruments of percussion in ancient times)…” Dictionaries point out that these tambourines were played by both women (Ex. 15:20; Judg. 11:34; 1 Sam. 18:6; Jer. 31:4; etc.) and men (Ps. 81:3; 149:3; 150:4; etc.).

3Though there is debate on the precise meaning of this term, the older rendering of “pipes” fits the musical parallel of “tambourines.” It also best accounts for its connection with musical instruments elsewhere. Daphna Arbel says, “Callender, for instance, has recently interpreted the Hebrew term נֶקֶב as a synonym for חליל, a “flute pipe” or a “drilled thing.” As he asserts, the common term for “flute” in the Hebrew Bible is חָלִיל, a word semantically generated from the root חלל, indicating “to bore” or “to pierce.” The word נְקָבֶיךָ is, most reasonably, taken from the root נקב, which in Semitic languages carries the sense “to dig,” “to tunnel,” or “to pierce.” Thus, נֶקֶב, like חָלִיל, denotes a “drilled thing” or a “flute pipe.” Textual evidence in support of this translation includes passages that place the articles תֹּף and חָלִיל together in the context of a list of musical instruments (e.g. 1 Sam. 10:5; Isa. 5:12)” (Daphna Arbel, “Articles,” in JBL 124 (2005): 647).

4As we will see later in this book, in the fourth century and beyond there were church fathers that were influenced heavily by Greek philosophy, and they treated all instrumentation as evil. Though they were not successful in stamping out instrumental music everywhere, their Greek asceticism resulted not only in abuse of the body, celibacy, escapism, etc., but led to most churches abandoning instrumentation and even abandoning the “tritone” interval that is common to the melodies of the Psalms. The Council of Trent actually banned the tritone. Dennis McCorkle believes that in addition to embracing Greek asceticism, many in the fourth century avoided both instruments and the tritone interval as a way of distancing themselves from Judaism (Dennis McCorkle, The Davidic Cipher, (Denver, CO: Outskirts Press, Inc., 2010), 19).

5Later in the book I will seek to demonstrate that synagogue worship was normatively characterized by instrumental accompaniment. It was not simply a temple ceremonial law.

6Roger Beckwith says, “There are 36 references to singing in Books I-III of the Psalter, and the same number in Books IV-V. Musical instruments are referred to nine times in Books I-III (four or five different instruments being mentioned) and ten times in Books IV-V (five or six different instruments being mentioned)” (Roger T. Beckwith, “THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE PSALTER.” TynBul 46 (1995): 27).

7See footnotes 13 and 16 in chapter 3 for the definitions of the various terms for “psalm,” all of which point to words accompanied by instrumental music.

8See footnotes 2, 8, 12, 14, and 16 in chapter 3 for the definitions of the Greek terms.

9The references in the English Bible (the Hebrew is sometimes off by one verse) are: Ps. 3:2; Ps. 3:4; Ps. 3:8; Ps. 4:2; Ps. 4:4; Ps. 7:5; Ps. 9:16; Ps. 9:20; Ps. 20:3; Ps. 21:2; Ps. 24:6; Ps. 24:10; Ps. 32:4; Ps. 32:5; Ps. 32:7; Ps. 39:5; Ps. 39:11; Ps. 44:8; Ps. 46:3; Ps. 46:7; Ps. 46:11; Ps. 47:4; Ps. 48:8; Ps. 49:13; Ps. 49:15; Ps. 50:6; Ps. 52:3; Ps. 52:5; Ps. 54:3; Ps. 55:7; Ps. 55:19; Ps. 57:3; Ps. 57:6; Ps. 59:5; Ps. 59:13; Ps. 60:4; Ps. 61:4; Ps. 62:4; Ps. 62:8; Ps. 66:4; Ps. 66:7; Ps. 66:15; Ps. 67:1; Ps. 67:4; Ps. 68:7; Ps. 68:19; Ps. 68:32; Ps. 75:3; Ps. 76:3; Ps. 76:9; Ps. 77:3; Ps. 77:9; Ps. 77:15; Ps. 81:7; Ps. 82:2; Ps. 83:8; Ps. 84:4; Ps. 84:8; Ps. 85:2; Ps. 87:3; Ps. 87:6; Ps. 88:7; Ps. 88:10; Ps. 89:4; Ps. 89:37; Ps. 89:45; Ps. 89:48; Ps. 140:3; Ps. 140:5; Ps. 140:8; Ps. 143:6; Hab. 3:3; Hab. 3:9; Hab. 3:13.

10A very helpful article that logically and systematically rules out all alternative theories of what is meant by the term, Selah, is B. B. Edwards, “STUDIES IN HEBREW POETRY,” in Biblicotheca Sacra 5 (1848): 68. Imagine two groups of instrumentalists, the priests with trumpets and the Levites with the instruments of normal accompaniment. At the points in the Psalm where the Selah occurs the trumpets would be introduced and the other musicians would play more loudly (forte) to emphasize those portions of the singing. Where Higgaion refers to piano (very soft playing), Selah refers to forte (very loud playing). That it cannot refer to a pause in singing (as some have supposed) is demonstrated by the fact that the word occurs both in the middle of sentences and at the end of a psalm.

Nor can it mean “repeat.” Prof B. B. Edwards explains:

But supposing that the Hebrews were acquainted with this musical repetition—which is improbable— the word occurs in the midst of sentences, between the Protasis and Apodosis, yea even after the first words of a psalm, where a repetition would be absolutely inadmissible.

While Merrill Tenney correctly sees the forte (“lifting up”) nature of Selah, he unfortunately sees it as occurring during an interlude or postlude. While it does occur at times as a postlude, it frequently occurs in the middle of a sentence and therefore cannot be an interlude (Merrill C. Tenney, ed., Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 324). At the end of his long discussion, Edwards summarizes:

Now if we suppose that the significant tones of the trumpet fell in with and marked the words where the psalmist would present before God the leading desires of his heart, his most ardent hopes and convictions and assure himself of being heard, then certainly these are the points or passages where we should find סֶלָה subjoined. Here therefore is seen the office or use of the trumpets, and here Selah also appears. It is placed by the poet at the passages, where in the temple-song, the choir of priest, standing opposite to that of the Levites, sounded the trumpets (סלל), and, with the powerful tones of this instrument, the words just spoken were marked and borne upwards to Jehovah’s ear. This intercessory music of the priests was probably sustained on the part of the Levites by the vigorous tones of the psaltery and harp; hence the Greek term διάψαλμα. The same appears further from the full phrase הִגָּיוֹן סֶלָה”pan, Ps. 9:16, the first word denoting the sound of the stringed instruments, Ps. 92:3; the latter, the blast of the trumpets, both of which would here sound together. The less important word, הגּיוֹן, disappeared when the expression was abbreviated, and סֶלָה alone remained.

11See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC 15; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 52.

12Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed (San Francisco: King David’s Harp, 1991).

13Here are some of the many commands to lead with skill:

“Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.” (Psalm 33:3)

“So the number of them…who were instructed in the songs of the LORD, all who were skillful, was two hundred and eighty-eight. And they cast lots for their duty, the small as well as the great, the teacher with the student.” (1 Chron. 25:7-8)

“Keniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.” (1 Chron. 15:22)

14There are many character qualifications for musicians. Here are a few:

“I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.” (Isa. 1:13)

“Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:23)

“Praise from the upright is beautiful.” (Ps. 33:1)

“…singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16)

“I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1 Cor. 14:15)

“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth.’” (Ps. 50:16)

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with wicked intent!” (Prov. 21:27)

15Howard Vos notes,

Musical instruments were for the purpose of accompanying singers, and not for the sake of orchestras as such. The expression k’le shire (Neh. 12:36; 1 Chron. 16:42; 2 Chron. 5:13, etc.), ‘instruments of song,’ which occurs in several passages of the Old Testament as a general term for all kinds of musical instruments, shows plainly that the ancient Hebrews used instrumental music solely to accompany singing” (Howard Vos, “THE MUSIC OF ISRAEL: PART 2,” in Biblioteca Sacra 107 (1950): 66).

16Some a cappella legalists use much stronger language, calling the use of instrumentation Papism, idolatry, Judaizing, rebellion, sin, a denial of the simplicity of the Gospel, and heresy. For example, John Girardeau says,

It is heresy in the sphere of worship… The ministers who are opposed to the unscriptural movement are, many of them at least, indisposed to throw themselves into opposition to its onward rush. They are unwilling to make an issue with their people upon this question. They are reluctant to characterize the employment of instrumental music in public worship as a sin. But a sin it is, if there be any force in the argument which opposes it. The people ought to be taught that in using it they rebel against the law of Christ, their King. (John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in Public Worship (Havertown, PA: New Covenant Publication Society, 1983 [first published 1888]), 179, 206-207).

See also the comments of Robert Nevin, Instrumental Music in Christian Worship (Londonderry: Bible and Colportage Society, 1873; Reprinted by Still Waters Revival).

17This long and distinguished history is documented quite well by the following two authors: 1) John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in Public Worship (Havertown, PA: New Covenant Publication Society, 1983 [first published 1888]), and 2) John Price, Old Light on New Worship (Avinger, TX: Simpson Publishing Company, 2007). Another compendium of essays that is quite helpful on this subject was published by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America Synod’s Committee on Worship, and is called The Biblical Doctrine of Worship: A Symposium (RPCNA: 1974). I have also found it helpful to read the following books: Donald Weilersbacher, My Praise Shall Be Of Thee (Self-Published by author; Minister in the RPCNA). Robert J. Breckenridge’s “Protest Against the Use of Instrumental Music in the State Worship of God on the Lord’s Day.” Hugh Brown, “Discourse Against the Use of Instrumental Music in Worship.” Robert Johnson, “A Discourse On Instrumental Music in Public Worship” unpublished, 1871. Brian Schwertley, “Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God” (Southfield: Reformed Witness, 1999).

18Far from there being a command for a cappella singing, there is not even a clear example of it, though it no doubt happened frequently. (This is the problem of arguing from silence as the no-instrumentation position frequently does.) James Jordan correctly notes:

There is no example of a cappella singing (singing without instruments) in the Bible. We are told on occasion that people sang, and instruments are not mentioned, but never are we told that people sang without instruments. (From (1999) “Additional Notes on Musical Instruments,” appended to an article by Peter Leithart, “Death and Resurrection of the Tabernacle.”)

19As we will see, every command to sing “psalms” is a command to sing something accompanied by instruments. Likewise, numerous Psalm titles command us to use instruments. Here are some additional commands: “Sing to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn” (Ps. 98:5-6). “Sing praises on the harp to our God” (Ps. 147:7); “Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp” (Ps. 149:3); “play skillfully” (Ps. 33:3); See also Ps. 68:24-25; 98:4-6; 149:3; 150:1-6. The term “Selah” occurs 74 times in the Old Testament, and is thought to mean, “the lifting up of instrumental music in an interlude or postlude.” See Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, p. 324. We will examine the New Testament command to use instruments later in the book.

20This is illustrated in Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-23, Galatians 5-6, and other passages. The Pharisees described in these passages were not merely “laying aside the commandment of God” (Mark 7:8) but they also added “many” traditions (Mark 7:8-13). Man cannot live without law, so antinomianism always leads to some form of legalism.

21The Regulative Principle of Worship argues that Christian worship is to be offered in accordance with Scriptural norms and ordinances to the exclusion of all forms of worship not warranted by the teaching of Scripture. See Westminster Confession of Faith chapters 20-21 for a detailed discussion. See also Larger Catechism questions 108 & 109. The regulative principle of worship can be found in the following sampling of Scriptures: General principle - Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19; Prov. 30:5-6; Is. 8:20. Other Scriptures - Gen. 4:3-5; Lev. 10:1-3 (16:12); Numb. 16; 20:1-13; Deut. 12:28-32; 1 Sam. 13:8-14; 1 Chron. 13:9-14 (15:11-15; 2 Sam. 6:6f; Numb. 4:15; 1 Chron. 15:13-15); 2 Chron. 26:16-21; 29:25-30; Ex. 20:3-6; Ezra 3:10-11; John 5:19; 8:29 (12:49f; 14:31); John 4:24; Mark 7:7-13 (11:15-17; Matt. 15:6-9; 21:12-13; John 2:14-17); Col. 2:20-23; Matt. 28:19ff. The regulative principle of worship does not mean that God cannot change the way we are to worship Him. He no longer allows animal sacrifices now that Christ the final sacrifice has come. He no longer mandates the crucial distinctions of clean and unclean now that Christ has made all things clean and holy to the Lord (cf. Zech. 14:20-21), and there have been other changes. The point is, though God has His reasons for regulating worship differently in any given era, He does continue to regulate worship.

22Kevin Reed, Biblical Worship (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1995), pp. 62,65. Many such quotes from older authors could be given. John Calvin said,

The Levites, under the law, were justified in making use of instrumental music in the worship of God; it having been his will to train his people, while they were yet tender and like children, by such rudiments, until the coming of Christ. But now, when the clear light of the gospel has dissipated the shadows of the law and taught us that God is to be served in a simpler form, it would be to act a foolish and mistaken part to imitate that which the prophet enjoined only upon those of his own time. (On Psalm 81:3)

23This is strengthened in the minds of some with two passages (Numbers 10:10 and 2 Chronicles 29:25-30), where musical instruments were used when the sacrifices were offered up to God. Their conclusion is that this was the purpose of such instruments. However, there is a big difference between saying that musical instruments accompanied certain sacrifices and saying that this was their only purpose.

24Hebrews, Colossians, and Galatians are all cited as abolishing the Old Testament ceremonial law. However, two points are often missed in this discussion: 1) Though there is explicit mention made in the New Testament about sacrifices, foods, and Old Testament calendar no longer being binding on the church, the New Testament nowhere says that God abolished musical instruments. 2) Hebrews does not say that ceremonial law was abolished. It says that it has been changed: “priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Heb. 7:12). We will have more to say about this below.

25Girardeau says,

The instrumental music of temple-worship was typical of the joy and triumph of God’s believing people to result from the plentiful effusion of the Holy Ghost in New Testament times… [I]t pleased God to typify the spiritual joy to spring from a richer possession of the Holy Spirit through the sensuous rapture engendered by the passionate melody of stringed instruments and the clash of cymbals, by the blare of trumpets and the ringing of harps. It was the instruction of his children in a lower school, preparing them for a higher. (Girardeau, pp. 60-63)

26 Emphasis his.

27When verse 28 says “So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of the LORD,” the only antecedent for the “they” is Jehoshaphat and the men who had won the battle in the previous verse.

28It is clear that the instruments had been brought to the place that they “assembled in the Valley of Berachah” (v. 26) where “they blessed the LORD” in worship (v. 26) because they had them in their possession after the worship service when “they returned… to go back to Jerusalem” (v. 27). I do not see how the conclusion can be avoided that instruments were deliberately brought to the worship service far from the temple. We cannot prove that they were played at the worship service, but they certainly had them there and played them on the trip back.

29The problem with saying that allowing instruments automatically must allow sacrifices is that the New Testament explicitly and repeatedly speaks of the ending of bloody sacrifices, but nowhere does the same for musical instruments. It is by divine revelation alone that the use of instruments in worship can be overturned.

30The five reasons he gives are:

  1. Women played instruments in all of these cases. He counters that by claiming that women were never allowed to play instruments in worship, but see my exposition of Psalm 68 below.
  2. God showed Moses all the plans for worship in the tabernacle (Ex. 25:40; Heb. 8:5), and nowhere in the law are women allowed to play and dance. However, Exodus 15 is in the law.
  3. Only male Levites were allowed to play instruments. However, that is circular reasoning, and this section will seek to disprove the contention.
  4. These passages would indicate that only women could play instruments and only in conjunction with female dancing.

This last seems to be an attempt at reductio ad absurdum, but it fails on two counts. First, many other passages indicate that men played instruments so the “women only” application would not be necessary, and second, it is assumed rather than proved that dancing should not occur in worship. I happen to be conservative on that point as well, but it should be exegesis, not preferences, that drive us to our conclusions. His argument implies the opposite – that prejudice, not exegesis, should exclude dancing from worship. Similar arguments can be found in Girardeau and other authors.

31The two phrases “to the LORD” and “before the LORD” are phrases that are used over and over to describe a public worship service (Ex. 24:1, 2 Chron. 20:18; Ps. 22:27; Ps. 95:6) and especially worship at the temple (Ex. 29:18,25; Lev. 1:5,9,11,13,17; 2:2,8-9,12; 3:5,11; 4:7,18,35; etc.).

32See John Goldingay, Psalms, volume 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008) for some of those parallels. He sees both as belonging to the context of Israelite worship.

33While I won’t deal with all the passages that have been discarded with this sweeping generalization, I would ask three questions related to such passages: 1) What things in the context demand that it be categorized as a non-worship celebration? Too many times circular reasoning is used: “It must be a non-worship celebration since instruments are not allowed in worship.” 2) If it is not worship of God, then why is the use of musical instruments in so many passages phrased as a command? Why is there not liberty given in those passages? The very mandate argues that it falls under the Regulative Principle of Worship, not general life. 3) If those commands are not commands to the church corporate, but are rather commands to individuals outside of church worship, is every believer under a mandate to learn to play musical instruments? If not, why not? It is easy for the church to obey the command by allowing a few gifted people to “play skillfully,” but it would be nearly impossible for every individual Christian to “play skillfully” (Ps. 33:3) with various instruments.

34Another less common way that this text has been dismissed as relevant is to claim that “whatever it means” it relates to temple, not synagogue. We will deal with that issue later in the booklet, but for now I simply point out that it misses the point – this passage clearly disputes their claim that only Levites could play instruments in worship.

35For example, Brian Schwertley claims that 1 Chronicles 15:14-28; 2 Chronicles 5:11-14, Ezra 3:10-11, Nehemiah 12:27-43, and 2 Chronicles 20:27-28 must all be Levitical uses of instruments because “each instance was either connected with the ark, the temple, or the wall protecting the central sanctuary. The victory procession recorded in 2 Chronicles 20 ended at the temple (v. 28)” ( Aside from the inconsistency that David was not a Levite, Schwertley should apply the same exegesis to Psalm 68 that he does to these passages.

36Philip Mauro says, “the Temple, with its vast corridors or ‘porches’, was the regular gathering place of all the various parties and sects of Jews, however antagonistic the one to the other… [and] because of its many convenient meeting places [it became the place] where the disciples would naturally congregate [in the book of Acts]” (Philip Mauro, The Hope of Israel (Swengel, PA: Reiner Publications, nd), 126f.).

37Synagogue is simply a transliteration of the Greek word sunagoge, which means either “the place of assembly,” “the members of a synagogue” or “congregation of a synagogue” or “meeting” or “gathering.” (See BDAG.)

38Scripture indicates that from the time of Moses and on there were synagogues (assemblies) throughout the land on every Sabbath: “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). This verse indicates that synagogues were a Mosaic institution. Psalm 74:8 calls them the “meeting places,” and Isaiah 4:5 calls them “her assemblies.” Moses commanded, “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:3). The Hebrew word for “convocation” (miqra), like the English, means “an ecclesiastical assembly that has been summoned to meet together; an assembling by summons.” It would have been physically impossible to travel to the temple once a week from many parts of Israel. This is why the Levites were scattered throughout the land in every community to teach (2 Chron. 17:9; Deut. 18:6-8; Neh. 10:37-39). Thus the “calling of assemblies” (Isa. 1:13) and the “sacred assemblies” (Amos 5:21) should not be assumed to be temple assemblies. There were numerous “meeting places of God in the land” (Ps. 74:8). Israel was responsible to “keep all my appointed meetings, and they shall hallow My Sabbaths” (Ezek. 44:24). Thus we read of Jesus, that “as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16). His practice of weekly public assembly was the practice commanded in the Bible. Thus the Septuagint translates the “rulers of the congregation” as “rulers of the synagogues” (Ex. 16:22; 34:31; Numb. 31:13; Josh. 9:15,18; 22:30).

39For example, in his commentary on Amos 6:5, Adam Clarke says,

I believe that David was not authorized by the Lord to introduce that multitude of musical instruments into the Divine worship of which we read, and I am satisfied that his conduct in this respect is most solemnly reprehended by this prophet; and I farther believe that the use of such instruments of music, in the Christian Church, is without the sanction and against the will of God; that they are subversive of the spirit of true devotion, and that they are sinful. If there was a woe to them who invented instruments of music, as did David under the law, is there no woe, no curse to them who invent them, and introduce them into the worship of God in the Christian Church? I am an old man, and an old minister; and I here declare that I never knew them productive of any good in the worship of God; and have had reason to believe that they were productive of much evil. Music, as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity. The late venerable and most eminent divine, the Rev. John Wesley, who was a lover of music, and an elegant poet, when asked his opinion of instruments of music being introduced into the chapels of the Methodists said, in his terse and powerful manner, “I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither HEARD nor SEEN.” I say the same, though I think the expense of purchase had better be spared. (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary on the Holy Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, nd), Vol. IV).

See also his comments on 1 Chron. 23:5; 2 Chron. 29:25. For other examples of this interpretation, see James Burton Coffman, Commentary on the Minor Prophets, Vol. 1 (Houston: Firm Foundation, 1981), p. 180-183; Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers, Vol. 1 (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University, 1976), p. 26-30.

40“Woe to you who put far off the day of doom” (v. 3).

41“But are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (v. 6).

42“Woe to you who put far off the day of doom… I abhor the pride of Jacob… Therefore I will deliver up the city and all that is in it” (vv. 3,8).

43“Therefore they shall now go captive as the first of the captives, and those who recline at banquets shall be removed” (v. 7).

44“Who lie on beds of ivory… [etc.] but are not grieved… Therefore they shall now go captive [etc.]” (vv. 4,6-7).

45Peter J. Leithart, From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003).

46Robert Gordon calls this a “Levitical preferment” to a Gentile, but Obed-Edom was not the first Gentile to provide leadership and access with regard to the Ark of the Covenant. In 1 Samuel 7 the Philistines send the ark out of captivity to Kirjath Jearim, a Gibeonite city. The Gibeonites are not yet considered Israelites. 2 Samuel 21:2 says, “the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites.” So the ark is in Gentile hands, and these Gentiles take very good care of the ark. They take much better care of it than the Levites of Beth Shemesh did. Both these passages prefigure the New Covenant church composed of Jew and Gentile.

47That synagogues were a Mosaic institution can be seen from Acts 15:21 where it says that “Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in… the synagogues.” The Jews said that the officers and courts of the synagogue system were established in Exodus 18. Leviticus 23:3 required people to gather for worship every Sabbath “in sacred assembly.” This was geographically impossible to fulfill via the temple; rather, the sacred assemblies were led by Levites in synagogues in every town and hamlet throughout the land. The Levites were scattered throughout the land in order to provide teachers or scribes (2 Chron. 17:9; Deut. 18:6-8; Neh. 10:37-39; etc.). Levites were trained in the law as teachers. Thus Psalm 74:8 speaks of these “meeting places” throughout the land. Though Levites also taught at the temple, and assisted in other ways (Deut. 18:6-8), most Levites taught in the cities (Deut. 18:6) in proto-synagogues (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 17:18; 31:9-13; 33:10; 2 Chron. 17:7-9; 30:22; 35:3; Neh. 8:17-13; Mal. 2:6-7). The Levites of the Old Testament were equivalent to the teaching and ruling elders of the New Testament with the Teaching Elders carrying the title of “scribe” (2 Sam. 8:17; 20:25; 1 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 12:10; 18:37; 19:2; 1 Chron. 24:6; 27:32; Ezra 7:6,11; Neh. 12:10; Jer. 36:12; Matt. 7:29; 13:52; 17:10; 23:2-3; etc.).

48Leithart comments,

Further, the prophets always use the language of Zion to describe the future restoration of Jerusalem. Never once did an Old Testament prophet announce that “Moriah” would be raised up to be chief of the mountains.’) Always and everywhere, the promise is that Zion will he exalted to become the praise of the earth. Along similar lines, the prophets never held out the hope for a restoration of the glory of Solomon’s reign; Solomon is mentioned only once in the prophecy, in Jeremiah 52, a narrative passage that is identical to the last chapter of 2 Kings. Instead, the prophetic hope always was framed in terms of a restored Davidic king, or of the restoration of David himself to the throne of Israel. Israel’s eschatology always focused on David, not Solomon, and Zion, not Moriah. This striking emphasis will, I hope, make somewhat more sense after we examine the features of and the worship at the ark-sanctuary that was the center of Israel’s worship during that time. (Peter J. Leithart, From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), pp. 17-18.)

49As Leithart words it,

[T]he exhortation to publicize, proclaim, and tell about Yahweh is addressed to the nations (vv. 23-24,31). In fact, the psalm is structured as a series of concentric circles: initially, Israel is called to praise (vv. 9-22), then the nations join in (vv. 23-30), and finally the entire cosmos rejoices at Yahweh’s coming and His enthronement in Jerusalem (vv. 31-33). Not only Israel, but “the earth” is to proclaim the salvation of Yahweh (v. 23) and to recount His “wonderful deeds” (v. 24). As the nations join in Israel’s song of praise, they are simultaneously encouraged to reject their idols, which are nothing (vv. 25-26). In context, verse 29 is especially striking: The series of exhortations to “ascribe” glory to the Lord is addressed to the “families of the peoples” (v. 28a), and this same audience is being addressed by the closing exhortation of verse 29: “Bring a tribute (minchah), and come before Him; worship Yahweh in the glory of holiness.” Thus, the “families of the nations” are being invited to join the worship of Israel. (Peter J. Leithart, From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), pp. 48-49.

50Peter Leithart says,

Led by priests blowing trumpets, Levitical musicians surrounded the ark with a cloud of sound as it was brought from the house of Obed-Edom (1 Chr. 15:25-28). When the ark had been set in its tent, David assigned Asaph to head the Levites who were “to minister before the ark continually, as every day’s work required” (1 Chr. 16:37), and the context makes it clear that this “ministry” was in song and instrumental music: [David] appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of Yahweh, even to celebrate and to thank and praise Yahweh God of Israel: Asaph the chief and second to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-Edom, and Jeiel, with musical instruments, harps, lyres; also Asaph played loud-sounding cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests blew trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God. (1 Chr. 16:4-6). (Peter J. Leithart, From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), p. 55).

51However, that did not mean that other trumpets could not be made and used. There were numerous trumpets used in later worship (2 Sam. 6:15; 2 Chron. 5:13; 20:28; Ezra 3:10). It was just that these two trumpets were reserved for one purpose.

52By the way, Old Testament saints also offered up such spiritual sacrifices (cf Ps. 40:6; Hos. 14:2; etc.).

53In the Old Testament, see. Is 61:10; 54:5; 62:5; Jer 31:32. In the New Testament see Eph. 5:22-33; John 3:29; Rev. 21-22.

54Genesis 9 makes clear that the rainbow will continue to be a sign for all mankind as long as history continues.

55Hebrews 6:2 calls Old Testament baptisms a foundational doctrine for the church. Paul taught nothing that could not be proved from the Old Testament (Acts 17:11; 26:22), so his doctrine of baptism also has roots in Old Testament baptism. For a discussion of the relationship between Old Testament baptism and New Testament baptism, see Phillip G. Kayser, Seven Biblical Principles That Call For Infant Baptism (Omaha: Biblical Blueprints Publishing, 2009).

56The Sabbath was called a sign in Exodus 31:13 and a sign of the covenant (Ezek. 20:12,20). As a sign it was a part of the ceremonial law. Nevertheless, the heart of this type of salvation continues on in the “first day Sabbath” (literal Greek of “first day of the week” in 1 Cor. 16:1-2 and many New Testament passages). See Phillip G. Kayser, First Day Sabbath (Omaha: Biblical Blueprints Publishing, 2009).

57Jesus called the Lord’s Table “this Passover” (Luke 22:15) and Paul spoke of the Lord’s Table as being the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7-8) and connected all the Old Testament ceremonial meals with the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10-11).

58Besides, we have already seen that the Old Testament prophesied that New Testament saints would worship with musical instruments.


TDNT (under ψαλμός) says, “The literal sense ‘by or with the playing of strings,’ still found in the LXX, is now employed figuratively,” though no proof is given. See “ὕμνος ὑμνέω ψάλλω ψαλμός ᾄδω αἰνέω δοξάζω μεγαλύνω ἐξομολογέομαι,” TDNT, VIII:498-499. As we will see, there are a few other Lexicons that admit that the contemporary use of psalmos and psallo retains instrumentation in the idea, yet still affirm that in the New Testament the terms lose that sense – but again, with no proof.

60He says, “Since the word psallo cannot be separated from the word ‘heart,’ it literally means ‘plucking the strings of your heart to the Lord.’ When the music of the heart is expressed through lips that confess the Lord’s name, there is no need for supporting instruments” (What About Instruments in Worship). See also Kevin Reed, Musical Instruments.

61For example, they assume that the meaning of the terms in the New Testament must have changed because, otherwise, why would church fathers have excluded instruments? Likewise, they assume that church fathers would not have excluded instruments unless the Bible itself forbad instruments. Both arguments ignore 1) clear testimony from first century and later authors of an instrumental meaning of the terms 2) clear evidence of instrumentation in the church in the first centuries, and 3) clear evidence that the specific fathers that were hostile to instruments were opposed to instruments not because of Scripture but because of prejudice that sprang from Greek philosophy. We will see that the first three centuries are completely absent of any criticism of instruments in worship, despite the fact that instruments were played in at least some churches. (The material credited to Justin Martyr has been shown by several scholars to be written by someone centuries later.)

62This word had the original meaning of playing an instrument, a secondary meaning of singing while accompanied by an instrument, and a tertiary meaning of singing. In the Bible it most frequently refers to the Psalms, musical pieces that were unquestionably sung accompanied in the Old Testament.

63Though it is sometimes assumed that a hymn is an unaccompanied psalm, the following passages in the Septuagint show that “hymns” can be accompanied and still retain the meaning of “hymn” - 2 Chron. 7:6; Ps. 39:4 [40:3 in English Bible – note the title – the “hymn” is devoted to the chief musician]; also compare the English and Greek titles of Psalm 55, 61, 67, and 76 in LXX [54:0; 60:0; 66:0; 75:0].

64Again, though this term can refer to unaccompanied singing, it is instructive that every other New Testament occurrence of the term has instruments accompanying the “song” (Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3). See also the Old Testament: Ex. 15:1; 2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chron. 15:16,27; 16:42; 2 Chron. 5:13; 7:6; Neh. 12:27,36 in the LXX as well as numerous Psalms that use the word hodais in connection with instruments that accompanied the singing.


On the classical Greek meaning, see Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. It gives a range of the old meaning as “tune played on a stringed instrument”; “twitching or twanging with the fingers”; “mostly of musical strings”; “the sound of a cithara or harp.” Bartels says,

“In secuar Gk. Psallo is used from Homer onwards, originally meaning to pluck (hair), to twang a bow-string, and then pluck a harp, or any other stringed instrument. The noun psalmos refers in general to the sound of the instrument, or the actual production of the sound.” (In Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 671.)

66Zhodhiates says it was

“later known as the instrument itself, and finally it became known as the song sung with musical accompaniment” (entry 5568).

67Lust, Eynikel, and Hauspie, Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, part II lists Amos 5:23 as having the meaning of “music made with an instrument (harp).” (p. 523) Another example would be the genitive use in Psalm 66 [65]:1 where we have ode psalmou.

68For examples, see the titles of Psalms 4,6,12,61,67,76.


See the titles of Psalm 5 (flute) and 8,81,84 (instrument of Gath).


Mizmor is translated with psalmos 50 times. It clearly had an original meaning of a song accompanied by a stringed instrument. Halot even includes the idea of “small pipes … a song sung to an instrumental accompaniment.”


Halot defines as zamar as “song (with instrumental accompaniment.” NIDOTTE defines it thus:

The basic meaning of the vb. is playing a musical instrument in the context of worship, usually a stringed instrument (“make music,” Ps. 33:2; 98:5; 144:9; 147:7), but also a percussion instrument (149:3). More often it has the developed sense of singing to a musical accompaniment (cf. 71:22–23). The nom. זִמְרָה is used both of music (Amos 5:23) and of accompanied singing (Isa. 51:3). In Exod 15:2; Psa 118:14; Isa 12:2 (NIV “my song”), it is more probably to be related to the third root, with the sense “might” (NRSV) or “defence” (REB). The less common nom. זִמְרָה means a song accompanied by music, and so does the nom. מִזְמוֹר, generally rendered “psalm.”

72Halot defines as “1. music played on strings Is 38:20 Lam 5:14, נגינות שיר stringed instrument to accompany singing (Pritchard Pictures 199, 202) Sir 479; —2. mocking song Ps 69:13.”


“to play music” (Judg 5:3; Psa 21:14; 57:8; 68:5, 33; 101:1; 104:33, etc.). Jenni-Westermann TLOT says,

šîr indicates not only a recitative but also instrumentally accompanied song. Thus various musical instruments are mentioned in relation to šîr: kinnôr “zither” and tōp “tambourine” (Gen 31:27), nēbel “harp” (Amos 5:23), nēbel ʿāśôr “ten-stringed harp” (Psa 144:9), with kinnôr, nēbel, and tōp, also m<sup>e</sup>ṣiltayim “cymbals” and ḥ<sup>a</sup>ṣōṣ<sup>e</sup>râ “trumpets” (1 Chron 13:8). The expression k<sup>e</sup>lê šîr “musical instruments” (Amos 6:5; Neh 12:36; 1 Chron 16:42; 2 Chron 7:6; 23:13; 34:12), which appears in 1 Chron 15:16 and 2 Chron 5:13 together with a list of musical instruments, also indicates the instrumental accompaniment of cult songs (cf. also Kraus, op. cit)…

74Colin Brown, ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 671.

75For more information on instrumentation in the synagogues, see the third section of this booklet.

76As quoted by Girardeau in Instrumental Music, pp. 116-117.

77James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other non-literary Sources (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1949), 697. Kitharismos is defined as “de eo qui plectro utitur” and psalmos is defined as “de eo qui ipsis digitis chordas pulsat.”

78David F. Detwiler notes that Philo avoided the use of the term psalmos to describe the Psalms (choosing humnos for that purpose instead) because psalmos still had such an instrumentalist connotation among Gentiles that it would miscommunicate if instrumentation was not in mind. He points out that “Josephus points in the same direction. He has psalmos and psallein several times, but always in the meaning of ‘plucking strings,’ ‘playing a stringed instrument’ (“CHURCH MUSIC AND COLOSSIANS 3:16.” BSac 158 (1901): 360). For examples, look at the Greek of Josephus in Antiquities 6:214; 7:80; 9:35; 12:323.

79The full quote is,

We think, then, that the “psalms” are those which are simply played to an instrument, without the accompaniment of the voice, and (which are composed) for the musical melody of the instrument; and that those are called “songs” which are rendered by the voice in concert with the music; and that they are called “psalms of song” when the voice takes the lead, while the appropriate sound is also made to accompany it, rendered harmoniously by the instruments; and “songs of psalmody,” when the instrument takes the lead, while the voice has the second place, and accompanies the music of the strings. And thus much as to the letter of what is signified by these terms. (Fragments on the Psalms, I, 7)

80He said, “Psalm is a hymn which is sung to the instrument called psaltery or else cithara” (Didymus of Alexandria, Eis Psalmous, 4: 1, Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel, 203. PG XXXIX, 1166).

81In his Inscriptiones Gregory tries to distinguish between the terms ‘hymn’ and ‘psalm’ by saying that “a psalm is the tune produced by a musical instrument” (Hine, Gregory of Nyssa’s Treatise, 129). He does of course caution that the musical instruments should not overwhelm the words, stating, “the meaning is most certainly not recognized when the tune is played on musical instruments alone” (Treatise on the Inscriptions of the psalms 2: 3; 25).

82Basil states that the difference between a canticle and a psalm is that the canticle is a song that has no instrumental accompaniment while a psalm is a song that does have instrumental accompaniment. “…it is a canticle not a psalm: because it is sung with harmonious modulation by the unaccompanied voice and with no instrument sounding in accord with it” (Basil of Caesarea, Exegetic Homilies, tr. A.C. Way, The Fathers of the Church Series (Washington, 1965), 278).

83Trench points out that even the Classical Greek meaning had this idea: “It was of the essence of a Greek ὕμνος that it should be addressed to, or be otherwise in praise of, a god, or of a hero, that is, in the strictest sense of that word, of a deified man…”

84For a history of the use of the term, see the article by Delling under See “ὕμνος ὑμνέω ψάλλω ψαλμός ᾄδω αἰνέω δοξάζω μεγαλύνω ἐξομολογέομαι,” TDNT, VIII:498-499.

85NIDNTT says of its Old Testament usage,

The noun hymnos also translates hālal in the piel (2 Chr. 7:6; Neh. 12:24 v.l.) and the cognate t<sup>e</sup>hillâh, praise (Neh. 12:46; Pss. 40:3 [39:3]; 65:1 [64:1]; 100:4 [99:4]; 119:171 [118:171]; 148:14). It is used for n<sup>e</sup>ḡı̂nâh, a musical term perhaps denoting a stringed instrument, in the titles of Pss. 6 v.l.; 54 (53); 55 (54); 61 (60); 67 (66); 76 (75); šı̂r, song (Neh. 12:46; Isa. 42:10); and t<sup>e</sup>p̄illâh, prayer (Ps. 72:20 [71:20]). “SONG, HYMN, PSALM,” NIDNTT, 3:669.

86The following are some sample places where the Greek term humnos is used in connection with instruments (I have highlighted in bold for easy location):

Antiquities 6:166 ( So Samuel, when he had given him these admonitions, went away. But the Divine Power departed from Saul, and removed to David, who upon this removal of the Divine Spirit to him, began to prophesy; but as for Saul, some strange and demoniacal disorders came upon him, and brought upon him such suffocations as were ready to choke him; for which the physicians could find no other remedy but this, That if any person could charm those passions by singing, and playing upon the harp, they advised them to inquire for such a one, and to observe when these demons came upon him and disturbed him, and to take care that such a person might stand over him, and play upon the harp, and recite hymns [humnos] to him.

Antiquities 6:168 ( So Jesse sent his son, and gave him presents to carry to Saul; and when he was come, Saul was pleased with him, and made him his armor bearer, and had him in very great esteem; for he charmed his passion, and was the only physician against the trouble he had from the demons, whensoever it was that it came upon him, and this by reciting of hymns [humnos], and playing upon the harp, and bringing Saul to his right mind again.

Antiquities 6:214 ( but when the demoniacal spirit came upon him, and put him into disorder, and disturbed him, he called for David into his bed chamber wherein he lay, and having a spear in his hand, he ordered him to charm him with playing on his harp, and with singing hymns [humnos]; which when David did at his command, he with great force threw the spear at him; but David was aware of it before it came, and avoided it, and fled to his own house, and abode there all that day.

Antiquities 7:80 ( Before it went the king, and the whole multitude of the people with him, singing hymns [humnos] to God, and making use of all sorts of songs usual among them, with variety of the sounds of musical instruments, and with dancing and singing of psalms, as also with the sounds of trumpets and of cymbals, and so brought the ark to Jerusalem.

Antiquities 7:305 ( And now David being freed from wars and dangers, and enjoying for the future a profound peace, composed songs and hymns [humnos] to God, of several sorts of meter; some of those which he made were trimeters, and some were pentameters. He also made instruments of music, and taught the Levites to sing hymns [humnos] to God, both on that called the sabbath day, and on other festivals.

…plus many more.

87Calvin expresses this understanding when he says,

…under these three terms [songs, hymns, spiritual songs] he includes all kinds of songs. 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. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles.

88The full quote is as follows:

Antiquities 7:364 ( out of which he appointed twenty-three thousand to take care of the building of the temple, and out of the same, six thousand to be judges of the people and scribes; four thousand for porters to the house of God, and as many for singers, to sing to the instruments which David had prepared, as we have said already.

Other examples of this usage from Josephus could be multiplied. Here are a few:

Antiquities 7:305 ( And now David being freed from wars and dangers, and enjoying for the future a profound peace, composed songs [ode] and hymns to God, of several sorts of meter; some of those which he made were trimeters, and some were pentameters. He also made instruments of music, and taught the Levites to sing hymns to God, both on that called the sabbath day, and on other festivals.

Antiquities 6:193 ( Now the women were an occasion of Saul’s envy and hatred to David; for they came to meet their victorious army with cymbals and drums, and all demonstrations of joy, and sang [ado] thus; the wives said, that “Saul has slain his many thousands of the Philistines:” the virgins replied, that “David has slain his ten thousands.”

Antiquities 7:80 ( Before it went the king, and the whole multitude of the people with him, singing [ado] hymns to God, and making use of all sorts of songs usual among them, with variety of the sounds of musical instruments, and with dancing and singing of psalms, as also with the sounds of trumpets and of cymbals, and so brought the ark to Jerusalem.

… and many more

89Danny Corbitt, Missing More Than Music: When Disputable Matters Eclipse Worship and Unity (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008), 80.

90In Classical Greek the word psallo could mean either “to twang the bow-string” or “to play a stringed instrument with the fingers” and only “later, to sing to a harp” (Liddell & Scot, Seventh Edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. (Oxford, At the Clarendon Press, 1889)). Delling writes,

3. ψάλλω perhaps meant orig. “to touch” (etym. akin to ψηλαφάω), then “to pluck” the string, to cause it to spring, of the string of a bow, Eur. Ba., 784; Dio C., 49, 27, 4, “to play a stringed instrument,” Aristoph. Eq., 522; Menand. Epit., 301, “to pluck” strings with the fingers (opp. κρούω τῷ πλήκτρὥ), Plat. Lys., 209b, with κιθαρίζω and καπηλεύω as not a manly activity, Hdt., I, 155, 4, cf. the antithesis: to bear weapons – ψάλλω, to play the flute, to be a brothel-keeper and merchant etc., Plut. Apophth. Xerxes, 2 (II, 173c). When Alexander skilfully plays a stringed instrument at a feast his father reproaches him: “Are you not ashamed to play (ψάλλειν) so well?” Plut. Pericl., 1, 6 (I, 152 f.); of the ψάλλειν καὶ αὐλεῖν of γύαια at banquets, Plut. De Arato, 6, 3 (I, 1029e). In teaching: διδάξει. . .κιθαρίζειν ἤ ψάλλειν, Ditt. Syll., II, 578, 17 f. (2nd cent. B.C.). To practise one’s τέχνη an ὄργανον is needed, one cannot play the flute without a flute nor ψάλλειν without a lyre, Luc. De Parasito, 17.

Under the entry, “ὕμνος ὑμνέω ψάλλω ψαλμός ᾄδω αἰνέω δοξάζω μεγαλύνω ἐξομολογέομαι,” TDNT, VIII:490-491. Vine’s says, “primarily to twitch, twang, then, to play a stringed instrument with the fingers.” W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966) under heading of “Melody.” Likewise see the entries under L-S-J, Souter Pocket Lexicon, Wingram, Zodhiates, etc.

91Since Josephus wrote in the century that the Bible was written, it is instructive that he only uses the terms psalmos and psallo with reference to playing instrumental music. David F. Detwiler says, “Josephus … has psalmos and psallein several times, but always in the meaning of ‘plucking strings,’ ‘playing a stringed instrument.’ [BSac 158:631 (Jul 01) 361] For the psalms he uses humnoi and odai, sometimes together” (in Bib Sac, Issue 631: Jul-Sep 2001, “Church Music and Colossians 3:16”). The meaning of the Old Testament Hebrew term for Psalm also indicates an accompanying musical instrument. See detailed discussion in Danny Corbett, Missing More than Music: When Disputable Matters Eclipse Worship and Unity (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2008).

92Everett Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church (Revised Edition), (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press, 1972), 11.

93Ferguson, Ibid. p. 13.

94Ferguson, Ibid. p. 13.

95As one author worded it, “consistency” demands a cappella:

“If the meanings of psallo and psalmos demand musical instruments, then we are required to play a musical instrument when we are happy. What of a person who cannot play? Is there no way such a one can express their joy in song? If psallo inheres instruments, that is precisely the case. If we can understand the term to indicate vocal music in Jas. 5:13, why can we not make the same application in Eph. 5:19…Since this context applies to all, whatever psalmos and psallo mean/require, they mean/require all to do. If they inhere musical instruments, all are required to use them. Anybody not using an instrument is not performing a psalm, they are not making melody” (

96J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (Lightfoot’s Commentaries on the Epistles; Accordance electronic ed. Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), n.p. Interestingly, the NET Bible notes claim that Paul’s order of words in Ephesians may indicate that accompaniment was the most common form of singing in the New Testament church, though not the only form of singing:

Since ψαλμός refers in the first instance to instrumental music and ᾠδή to vocal music, it is not impossible, as has been suggested ad loc., that he had in mind the relative predominance of these two aspects. (Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, eds., NETS Notes (1st, Accordance electronic ed. Winona Lake: International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Inc., 2007), n.p.)

97Martin comments, “ψάλλειν, appearing almost sixty times in the LXX, can mean either praise by means of a harp or a song sung to God with (Pss 33:2, 3; 98:4–5; 147:7; 149:3) or without (Pss 7:17; 9:2, 11) the accompaniment of an instrument (Ropes, 303)” (Ralph P. Martin, James (WBC 48; Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. Dallas: Word Books, 1988), 206).

98This was oft repeated by the church fathers who were opposed to musical instruments. For example, Clement of Alexandria says, “And He who is of David, and yet before him, the Word of God, despising the lyre and harp, which are but lifeless instruments” (in Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (ANF II; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), n.p.).

99He says, “Most scholars believe that the citation hails from Psalm 17:50 LXX, but Reasoner (1990:111) notes that two parallels are found in the Samuel context that are lacking in the Psalms: the reference to Jesse (2 Sam. 23:1) and the use of the verb “raise” (ἀνίστημι, anistemi)” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 757).

100Leslie C. Allen says,

The basic meaning of the vb. is playing a musical instrument in the context of worship, usually a stringed instrument (“make music,” Ps 33:2; 98:5; 144:9; 147:7), but also a percussion instrument (149:3). More often it has the developed sense of singing to a musical accompaniment (cf. 71:22–23). The nom. זִמְרָה is used both of music (Amos 5:23) and of accompanied singing (Isa 51:3). In Exod 15:2; Psa 118:14; Isa 12:2 (NIV “my song”), it is more probably to be related to the third root, with the sense “might” (NRSV) or “defence” (REB). The less common nom. זִמְרָה means a song accompanied by music, and so does the nom. מִזְמוֹר, generally rendered “psalm.” (Quote taken from the article, “זָמַר זָמִיר זִמְרָה מִזְמוֹר,” NIDOTTE, 1:1,091.)

TWOT says, “It is cognate to Akkadian zamaœru ‘to sing, play an instrument.’” BDB says that it can either refer to singing accompanied with instruments or to instrumental music alone.

101One author says,

Notice the Bible says to sing [psallo] with the understanding. From the immediate context, verses 16 and 19 show that understanding has to do with understanding spoken words. So the singing [psallo-ing] involved spoken words, not mechanical instruments… The bottom line is, whatever psallo does, it produces intelligible words in 1 Cor. 14:15. Playing an instrument does no such thing, but singing does. This supplies a Bible definition for psallo [verb], and by implication psalmos [noun]; to sing [verb], or the song that is sung [noun]. (

102See especially Thiselton’s comments 1 Corinthians 14:7-9. He speaks of meaning, recognition, communication, intelligibility, and the rationality of instrumental music. Anyone who has studied music would appreciate the rational technical terms used by Paul. (Anthony C. Thiselton, NIGTC: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1102-1105).

103From the article under ψάλλω , BDAG, 1096. The full quote is as follows: > Although the NT does not voice opposition to instrumental music, in view of Christian resistance to mystery cults, as well as Pharisaic aversion to musical instruments in worship (s. EWerner, art. ‘Music’, IDB 3, 466–69), it is likely that some such sense as make melody is best understood in this Eph pass. Those who favor ‘play’ (e.g. L-S-JM; ASouter, Pocket Lexicon, 1920; JMoffatt, transl. 1913) may be relying too much on the earliest mng. of ψάλλω. ψ. τῷ πνεύματι and in contrast to that ψ. τῷ νοΐ sing praise in spiritual ecstasy and in full possession of one’s mental faculties 1 Cor 14:15. Abs. sing praise Js 5:13.
William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1096.

104In Life 12 (2.12) Josephus says, “…being now nineteen years old, and began to conduct myself according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees, which is of kin to the sect of the Stoics, as the Greeks call them.” His statement concerning the Stoics should be kept in mind when we get to the third section of this book dealing with the church fathers.

105McCracken, Instruments, panel 7.

106For an explanation of the grammar, see R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1937), 620-621.

107William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967), 240-241.

108The Zwinglian churches allowed no singing during worship. Until Calvin came, the same was true of Farel’s churches. So pervasive was the song-abolitionist sentiment in the late 17th to early 18th centuries that Benjamin Keach had to write an entire book justifying audible singing among the Baptists: The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship. This did not settle the debate, as Isaac Marlow responded with his own book: Some Observations… Both are available from Early English Books Online. In America, Cotton Mather had to publish a book defending audible singing: Singing of Psalmes (1647) in which he argued against, “Antipsalmists, who do not acknowledge any singing at all with the voice in the New Testament, but onely spirituall songs of joy and comfort of the heart in the word of Christ.” Of course, it was an unbiblical “New Testament only” attitude that led to such controversy.

109For example, Isaac Marlow “asserted that there was no singing in worship before the time of David and that the practice David began was priestly and did not involve the congregation… If all were to sing, Marlow reasoned, women would participate, violating Paul’s instruction that they are to keep silent in the church, ‘for singing is teaching’” (David W. Music & Paul A. Richardson, I Will Sing the Wondrous Story: A History of Baptist Hymnody in North America (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2008), 11).

110As David F. Detwiler put it:

This is not to say that the singing should remain in the heart, as if Paul were advocating some sort of silent praise. Rather, the apostle was simply underscoring the fact that true worship (when it is offered in song, or in any other way) originates in the heart and is an expression of the entire person (Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:8). ‘The voice must express the praise of the heart if the singing is to be really addressed to God.’ (“CHURCH MUSIC AND COLOSSIANS 3:16.” BSac 158 (1901): 364.)

111Beck’s translation.

112Joseph Bingham, The Antiquities of the Christian Church and Other Works (London: William Straker, 1834), Book VIII, 492-493.

113For example, Brian Schwertley says, “The word of God is the only authority and infallible standard for determining the doctrine, government and worship of the church. If one strictly adheres to the regulative principle of worship, the biblical case against the use of musical instruments in public worship is irrefutable (no warrant, no practice). Although the study of church history obviously does not carry the same weight as Scripture, it can be helpful nevertheless. The testimony from church history in support of the biblical evidence against the use of musical instruments in New Covenant worship is incredibly strong. The great theologians and apologists (of both the eastern and western branches of Christendom) for at least five centuries regarded the use of musical instruments in public worship as things that belonged solely to the old covenant dispensation. If the apostolic churches had used musical instruments in their worship, the attitude toward instrumental music in public worship by the church fathers would be extremely difficult to explain” (

114John. L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in Public Worship (Haverton, PA: New Covenant Publication Company, 1983 [original 1888], 120).

115Here is a sampling of claims that the early church universally rejected instruments: Edward Dickinson claims, “while pagan melodies were always sung to an instrumental accompaniment, the church chant was exclusively vocal.” (Edward Dickinson, Music in the History of the Western Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 54). James McKinnon says, “The antagonism which the Fathers of the early Church displayed toward instruments has two outstanding characteristics: vehemence and uniformity” (James McKinnon, The Temple, The Church Fathers and Early Western Chant, (Brookfield: Ashgate Publishing Company,1998), p. 69). Girardeau writes, “Instrumental music had no place in the early Christian churches” (John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in Public Worship (Havertown, PA: New Covenant Publication Society, 1983 [first published 1888]), 102-103). John Price states, “The early Church Fathers were unanimous and vehement in condemning musical instruments in the worship of the church” (John Price, Old Light on New Worship (Avinger, TX: Simpson Publishing Company, 2007), 67-68).

116McCracken, Instruments in Worship, panels 5-6.

117Edward Foley, Foundations of Christian Music: The Music of Pre-Constantinian Christianity (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992).

118For example, the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics documents the use of musical instruments from the first century and on within the Western branch of the church. Far from introducing the organ in AD 666 (as many a cappellists claim), this encyclopedia shows that “Organs seem to have been in common use in the Spanish churches of A.D. 450, according to Julianus, a Spanish bishop…” John Arnott MacCulloch et al., “MUSIC,” ed. James Hastings, John A. Selbie, and Louis H. Gray, Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh; New York: T. & T. Clark; Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908–1926), 32. Brendan Drummond goes on to comment:

Clement of Alexandria (c150-215) tolerated the lyre and harp due to their association with King David, but disapproved of most other instruments because of their use in pagan festivities and on the stage, where ‘this artificial music… injures souls and drives them into feelings… impure and sensual, and even a Bacchic frenzy and madness’. Similarly St John Chrysostom (c345-407), who wished to banish everything that recalled pagan cults and the songs of actors from Christian worship. Eusebius disapproved of the use of all instruments, even the harp. St Jerome (c340-420) shared his feelings and mentioned specifically the organ, advising a mother that her daughter should be ‘deaf to the sound of the organ.’ This aversion to the instrument which has become most associated with Christian worship is hardly surprising when one recalls that an early form of the organ, the water-powered hydraulis, was the favourite instrument of the Roman arena, where so many early Christians met their deaths.

Not all the early writers were so averse to popular culture, however. St Ephraim of Syria (d.373) apparently wrote hymn texts to be sung to the popular secular melodies of the day. And St Basil, bishop of Caesarea, (c330-79) defended the antiphonal and responsorial singing of psalms ‘with melodies to attract children and youths to the end that their souls and minds might be enlightened while, as they think, they are surrendering themselves to the pleasures of the music’. Here we have early acknowledgements of the value of music in attracting young people to the faith, and a strategy which progressive musicians today would readily endorse. Theodoret (c386-457), bishop of Cyrrhus, mentions the accompaniment of hymns with the clapping of hands and dance movements. Musical purists might, therefore, reflect that such accompaniment has an older pedigree than the organ.

119James McKinnon later became professor of music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Chair of the music department of the University at Buffalo. He is the author of five books on music and history.

120James McKinnon, The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments, Ph.D. diss, Columbia University, 1965 (Ann Arbor, Mich,: University Microfilms, Inc., 1967).

121McKinnon, Ph.D. diss., 262

122Ibid., 262.

123Everett Ferguson is Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the University of Abilene, Texas and the co-editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies. He is the author of numerous books on early Christian studies.

124Everett Ferguson, A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church (Revised Edition) (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press, 1972), 74. Of course, he still comes to the conclusion of no instruments being present, saying, “In view of the violent response to immoral uses of instruments in social life and their cultic use in pagan religion, it becomes incredible that the instrument was present in the worship of the church. That surely would have brought condemnation, or at least called for explanation. But there is not even a comment to this effect.”

125James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

126McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature, 3.

127Ibid., 3.

128Ibid., 3-4.

129Ibid., 4.

130McKinnon, Music in the Early Christian Literature, 4.

131Ibid., 5.

132Ibid., 4.

133David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 233.

134Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (ANF II; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), n.p.

135See his Fragments on the Psalms, I, 7.

136Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians, chapter 12.

137I have not been able to finish my research in Migne’s Patrologiae Curus Completus: Series Graeca (167 volumes), Series Latina (221 volumes), and Series Orientalis (16 volumes). I have found reading extensively in another language to be tedious and incredibly time consuming. However, I suspect a treasure trove of quotes will be found in these volumes that will add much weight to what I have uncovered so far.

138TDNT defines this non-metaphorical use of the term as follows:

3. συμφωνία.

a. συμφωνία occurs first in Plat. and its primary ref is to the “harmony” of sounds in music τὴν ἐν τῇ ᾠδῇ ἁρμονίαν ἣ δὴ συμφωνία καλεῖται, Plat. Crat., 405c d, cf. Tim., 67c; Symp., 187b, opp. ἑτεροφωνία, Leg., VII, 812d and then the “agreement” of two sounds, “accord,” Resp., VII, 531a c. Aristot. An. Post., II, 2, p. 90a, 18 f. defines συμφωνία as λόγος ἀριθμῶν ἐν ὀξεῖ ἤ βαρεῖ, also as κρᾶσις. . . λόγον ἐχόντων ἐναντίων πρὸς ἄλληλα, Probl., 19, 38, p. 921a, 2 f. He distinguishes συμφωνία as the harmony of different voices from mere “unison” ὁμοφωνία, Pol., II, 5, p. 1263b, 35. The Pythagorean doctrine of the music of the spheres he describes as οἱ τῶν συμφωνιῶν λόγοι, Cael., II, 9. p. 290b, 22; thus συμφωνία is for him the harmony of many sounds.89

b. Later συμφωνία in the “concert” of many instruments, Paradoxographus Florentinus,90 43 and concretely an “orchestra,” P. Flor., I, 74, 5 (181 A.D.); P. Oxy., X, 1275, 9 (3rd cent. A.D.). A single instrument can also be meant, perhaps when Polyb., 30, 26, 8 recounts of Antiochus Epiphanes: καὶ τῆς συμφωνίας προκαλουμένης (sc. ὁ βασιλεύς) ἀναπηδήσας ὠρχεῖτο, and certainly in 26, 1, 4: ἐπικωμάζων μετὰ κερατίου καὶ συμφωνίας. Suet. Caes., IV, 37 tells similarly of Caligula: discumbens de die inter choros et symphonias, cf. Pos. Fr., 14 (FGrHist, IIa, 229): χορῷ μεγάλῳ καὶ παντοίοις ὀργάνοις καὶ συμφωνίαις. Acc. to Plin. Hist. Nat., 8, 64, 157 symphonia must be a wind instrument, acc. to Isidor. Etymologiae,91 3, 22, 14 a percussion instrument.92

… 3. For Philo συμφωνία is the “harmony” of musical instruments, Sacr, AC, 74, of fourths, fifths and eighths, Som., I, 28. The best harmony, which does not consist in the raising and sounding of a melodious voice ἐμμελοῦς φωνῆς but in the concord ὁμολογία of the acts of human life, is produced by a well-tempered soul τὴν πασῶν ἀρίστην συμφωνίαν ἀπεργάσεται, Deus Imm., 25.

… 3. The brother of the Prodigal Son can tell that there is festivity in his father’s house from the fact that he hears συμφωνία καὶ χοροί “flute-playing and dancing,” Lk. 15:25. The meaning of συμφωνία is contested.2 Possibly the double flute is in view, → 307, 17 ff.

“φωνή, φωνέω, συμφωνέω, σύμφωνος, συμφωνία, συμφώνησις,” TDNT, IX:305-306.

139Spicq dictionary says,

When the older son returns from the field, he hears “music and choirs” in his father’s house (Luke 15:25). Symphonia can mean the sound produced by a certain musical instrument or of voices and instruments “in concert,” more specifically what we call a band or an orchestra. (Celas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by James Ernest (Hendriksen publishers, 1994), n.p.)

140J. B. Lightfoot with Ignatius and Polycarp, The Apostolic Fathers, Part II: S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp: Revised Texts, Second Edition, vol. 2 (London; New York: Macmillan and Co., 1889), 41.

141In his letter to the Philadelphians, 1. See St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, ed. Johannes Quasten and Joseph C. Plumpe, trans. James A. Kleist, 1st ed., Ancient Christian Writers (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1946), 85.

142Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (eds.), The Anti-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885).

143For discussion on dating, see Rutherford H. Platt (ed.), The Forgotten Books of Eden (New York, 1926), introduction to Odes of Solomon, p. 120.

144Sherwood Eliot Wirt says, “The first hymnbook of the early Church was (it is believed) the Odes of Solomon, which reached a level of Christian poetry that has not been surpassed in two thousand years” (“The Poet As Theologian,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 19 (1976): 40).

145For more see Ode vi:1-2; vii:19-20; xiv:7-8; xvi:1-2; xxi:3-4; xli:16-17.

146To pursue this further, visit and chase the links.

147Ode 7.17. Quoted in David E. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 298. Also see James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, vol. 2 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1985), 740.

148Ode xxvi, 1-3. In James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, vol. 2 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1985), 758.

149The full context of the Greek sentence written by Justin Martyr is as follows: Ὡς τῷ Θεῷ καὶ Πατρὶ τῶν ὅλων ᾄδοντας καὶ ψάλλοντας τοὺς ἀπὸ πάσης τῆς γῆς γνόντας τὸ σωτήριον τοῦτο μυστήριον, τουτέστι τὸ πάθος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, διʼ οὗ τούτους ἔσωσεν, ἐνδιάγοντας, κελεύει, ἐπιγνόντας ὅτι καὶ αἰνετὸς, καὶ φοβερὸς, καὶ ποιητὴς τοῦ τε οὐρανοῦ καὶ τῆς γῆς, ὁ τοῦτο τὸ σωτήριον ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἀνθρωπείου γένους ποιήσας, τὸν καὶ μετὰ τὸ σταυρωθῆναι ἀποθνήσκοντα, καὶ βασιλεύειν (56) πάσης τῆς γῆς κατηξιωμένον ὑπʼ αὐτοῦ. «Ὡς καὶ διὰ τῆς γῆς (57) εἰς ἢν οὗτος εἰσπορεύεται εἰς αὐτὴν, καὶ ἐγκαταλείψουσί με, καὶ διασκεδάσουσι τὴν διαθήκην μου ἣν διεθέμην αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ J. P. Migne, “Patrologia Graeca: Greek Text,” Patrologiæ Cursus Completus (Paris: J. P. Migne, 1857), 649.

150Athenagoras, “A Plea for the Christians,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. B. P. Pratten, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 136.

151Note the italicized phrases in his letter to pope Victor which show his commitment to Sola Scriptura and the Regulative Principle of Worship:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. … [After listing other bishops who agreed with his Scripturalism, he said,] All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man’…I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.

152John Foster, “The Harp at Ephesus,” The Expository Times, February 1963.

153See the rebuttal in The Expository Times, April 1963, vol. 74, no. 7, 213-215. However, his skepticism that an early bishop would have a signet ring is curious, and his contention that this is the ring of the tyrant Polycrates is unlikely, as that ring had the engraving of an anchor upon it, not a harp.

154Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 106.

155Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (ANF III; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), n.p

156Tertullian, “A Treatise on the Soul,” in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 3, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 193.

157In particular, he seemed to have a disdain for the pipe and flute since they were associated with so much pagan debauchery. He said, “Let the pipe be resigned to the shepherds, and the flute to the superstitious who are engrossed in idolatry. For, in truth, such instruments are to be banished from the temperate banquet, being more suitable to beasts than men” (Clement of Alexandria, “The Instructor II,” in Roberts and Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, 248). Notice that the context of his opposition was in banquets, not the church.

158Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (ANF II; Accordance electronic ed. 9 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), n.p.

159Frederic Farrar, History of Interpretation, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961), 184.

160Hippolytus of Rome, “Fragments from Commentaries on Various Books of Scripture,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 5, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 201.

161For example, one of the Canons of Hippolytus says, “Whoever performs in a theatre or is a wrestler or a runner or a music teacher… or is a hunter or an animal trainer… none of these may be permitted to attend a sermon until they have been purified from these unclean works. After days they may hear a sermon.”

162For example, McKinnon cites him as saying, “The musical instruments of the Old Testament are not unsuitable for us if understood spiritually” (Origen, “Letter to Gregory”). Or the quote, “The strings are the harmony of the balanced sound of virtues and instruments” (Pseudo-Origen, “Selecta in psalmos CL,” in McKinnon, Early Christian Literature, 39).

163Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians, chapter 12.

164Both the masculine ψάλτας and the feminine ψάλτης refers to people who play the ψαλτήριον. If the definition of ψαλτήριον is a stringed instrument, then it follows that a player of a ψαλτήριον is a “player of a stringed instrument” or a harpist. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament shows the usage of this term as referring to a professional player of a stringed instrument.

ψάλτης for a (professional) player of a stringed instrument seems to be rare, Plut. Pomp., 36, 4 (I, 638d). More common is ψάλτρια: Noble and cultured participants in a symposium do not need the foolish and childish pranks of women playing the flute and dancing, ψάλτριαι, Plat. Prot., 347d. The street-police keep a watch on women flautists, ψάλτριαι and κιθαρίστριαι, esp. to prevent overcharging, also garbage collectors, Aristot. ‘Αθηναίων Πολιτεία, 50, 2 (ed. H. Oppermann [1961]); cf. Plut. De Cleomene, 12, 3 (I, 810a); Luc. Bis Accusatus, 16. ψαλτήριον is a stringed instrument; one should not listen to the flute and ψαλτήριον without words and song, that the spirit may be entertained and ennobled (v.) already Plat. Leg., II, 669e, cf. Aristot. Pol., VIII, 6. p. 1341a, 24 f.); Plut. Quaest. Conv., VII, 8, 4 (II, 713c). For attacks on the emancipation of music from words cf. W. Jaeger, Paideia,) II (1944), 298 f.; Söhngen, 87. On the ethical evaluation of music in antiquity v.) A. J. Neubecker, Die Bewertung d. Musik bei Stoikern u. Epikureern) (1956); earlier bibl. 100. (“NOTES,” TDNT, X:660.)

Keep this antagonism to stringed instruments among ascetic Greeks in mind when we discuss the fathers who opposed instrumental music.

Liddell and Scott only list the feminine form of this noun, but they do define it as “a female harp player.” Luks, Eynekil, and Hauspie define it as “harpist or psalm singer, cantor.” (LEH Septuagint Lexicon). Even if it referred to professional singers, the root idea of musical accompaniment is still primary in the word.

Charles Dyer explains how both the Hebrew and the Greek had the same loan-word to describe a stringed instrument:

The third stringed instrument listed among Nebuchadnezzar’s musicians is the פְּסַנְתֵּרִין, which appears to be a transliteration of the Greek word ψαλτήριον. According to Mitchell and Joyce, the ψαλτήριον was a triangle-shaped stringed instrument. Engel identified the ψαλτήριον with the santı̄r, the present oriental dulcimer. Wellesz connected ψαλτήριον with the following word סוּמְפֹּנְיָה and identified the instrument as an “upper-chested ‘concord harp.’”

The Aramaic word פְּסַנְתֵּרִין became the Persian santur and the Arabic santı̄r.30 The instrument was likely a trapezoid-shaped dulcimer either plucked or played with plectra. Thus Daniel 3 refers to three types of stringed instruments. Nebuchadnezzar’s string section included lyres, harps, and dulcimers. (Charles Dyer, “THE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS IN DANIEL 3.” BSac 147 (1990): 432-433.)

The bottom line is that if the ψάλτας were the players of the ψαλτήριον, they were clearly instrumentalists.

165As cited by Giorgio Agamben, The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life, trans. Adam Kotsko (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013), 25.

166Didymus of Alexandria, Eis Psalmous, 4: 1, Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel, 203. PG XXXIX, 1166. Or as Blaising translates the same phrase, “The psalm is a hymn that is sung to an instrument, either a lyre or a psaltery.” Craig A. Blaising and Carmen S. Hardin, eds., Psalms 1–50, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 26.

167cited by James McKinnon in Music in Early Christian Literature, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 124.

168Epistula ad Marcellinuum de interpretation psalmorum 27; PG xxvii, 37-40, as cited by James McKinnon in Music in Early Christian Literature, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 53.

169Oratio contra gentes 38; PG xxv, 76-77; Thomson, 104-106, as cited by James McKinnon, Ibid.

170Life of Saint Anthony, 25.

171Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Gregory the Great (II); Ephraim Syrus; Araphat (NPNF-2 XIII; Accordance electronic ed. 14 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p.

172Ephraem, metrical homily Description of Paradise, tr. Henry Burgess, Select Metrical Hymns and Homilies of Ephraem Syrus (London, 1853), 114. Ephraem, Hymn of the Resurrection, tr. Burgess, Select Metrical Hymns, 31.

173J.S. Assemai, Biblioteca orientalis pp 47-8, Rebecca J. Rollins, ‘The Singing of Women in Early Christian Worship’, Music in Performance and Society: Essays in honor of Roland Jackson, p. 52 – as cited by David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 125.

174David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 125.

175James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature, 92.

176For example, Eastern Orthodox writer, John Nichiporuk, claims that Basil said, “of useless arts there is harp playing, dancing, flute playing, of which, when the operation ceases, the result disappears with it. And indeed, according to the word of the apostle, the result of these is destruction.” This is also quoted in Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin, eds., Music in the Western World: A History in Documents (New York: Macmillan, 2008), 23). I have not been able to track down this quote to verify its authenticity.

177Basil of Caesarea, Exegetic Homilies, tr. A.C. Way, The Fathers of the Church Series (Washington, 1965), 278.

178Ronald E. Heine (ed.), Gregory of Nyssa’s Treatise on the Inscription of the Psalms, (Oxford, 1995), 129.

179Treatise on the Inscriptions of the psalms, Ibid., 2: 3; 25.

180As cited by David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 224. Shirt gives the following additional interesting information in a footnote: > Victricius, De laude sanctorum 5 (PL 20. 447), cited MacMullen, Second Church, p. 170. As Gillian Clark brings to our attention, music historians (e.g. Herval, in Origines) regard this as being practical not allegorical reference to music and dance. For introduction and annotated translation of De laude sanctorum see Gillian Clark, ‘Victricius of Rouen: Praising the Saints’, Journal of Christian Studies 7. 3 (1999), 365-399.

181Prudentius, Cathemerinon 9, 22-24 and 2, tr. Carolinne White, Early Christian Latin Poets (London, 2000), p. 83.

182Egon Wellesz, A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), 152.

183Commentary on Psalm xxxii, 1-2, as cited by James McKinnon, op. cit., 77.

184Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Jerome: Select Works and Letters (NPNF-2 VI; Accordance electronic ed. 14 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p. The editor says that “Her cousin Eustochium seems to be meant.”

185David VanBrugge, “An Analysis of the Ancient Church Fathers On Instrumental Music,” p. 12 at

186Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius & Rufinus: Historical Writings (NPNF-2 III; Accordance electronic ed. 14 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p.

187There are numerous differences between Justin’s writings and the Exhortation to the Greeks, by Pseudo-Justin, including vocabulary, writing style, and the fact that Exhortation to the Greeks rejects Greek pagan philosophy.

188Theodoret, Book V, chapter 35. In Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Theodoret, Jerome, Gennadius & Rufinus: Historical Writings (NPNF-2 III; Accordance electronic ed. 14 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p.

189James Hastings, John Alexander Selbie (eds.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics: Munas-Phrygians, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), 31.

190Philip Schaff, ed., Augustine’s Commentary on Psalms, John, and 1 John (Accordance electronic ed. New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1886), n.p.

191Philip Schaff, ed., Augustine’s Commentary on Psalms, John, and 1 John (Accordance electronic ed. New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1886), n.p.

192James Hastings, John Alexander Selbie (eds.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics: Munas-Phrygians, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), 32.

193David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 102-103.

194Shirt, Ibid.,” 164.

195As cited by John Mason Neal, and Richard Frederik Littedale, A Commentary On The Psalms: From Primitive And Mediaeval Writers And From The Various Office-Books And Hymns Of The Roman, Mozarabic, and Syrian Rites, volume 3, (London, 1871), 22.

196This Greek disgust with Roman instrumental music can be traced back as early as Cicero. Its influence upon Hellenistic Judaism and upon Christianity was quite strong. Philo, a first century philosopher, was a Hellenized Jew who opposed even the instrumental music used by the Jews of his day. Louis Feldman correctly points out that “Philo reflects the Greek contempt for instrumental music.” (Louis H. Feldman, Studies in Hellenistic Judaism (Brill, 1996), 525).

197James McKinnon, op. cit., pp. 2-3.

198John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 46.

199David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 189ff.

200This Greek method of allegorizing the embarrassing parts of Greek religious texts was adopted by Jewish Hellenists like Philo (a contemporary of Jesus, but not a Christian) and then was adopted by men like Clement of Alexandria who helped to form the Alexandrian School of allegorical interpretation.

201As one example, we can look at Clement of Alexandria. He said,

Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and are intent on their idol-worshiping. Such musical instruments must be excluded from our wineless feasts, for they are more suited for beasts and for the class of men that is least capable of reason than for men. We are told that deer are called by horns and hunted by huntsmen to traps, there to be captured by the playing of some melody; that, when mares are being foaled, a tune is played on a flute as a sort of hymeneal which musicians call a hippothorus. In general, we must completely eliminate every such base sight or sound—in a word, everything immodest that strikes the senses (for this is an abuse of the senses)—if we would avoid pleasures that merely fascinate the eye or ear, and emasculate. Truly, the devious spells of syncopated tunes and of the plaintive rhythm of Carian music3 corrupt morals by their sensual and affected style, and insidiously inflame the passions.

The Spirit, to purify the divine liturgy from any such unrestrained revelry, chants: ‘Praise Him with sound of trumpet,’4 for, in fact, at the sound of the trumpet the dead will rise again; ‘praise Him with harp,’ for the tongue is a harp of the Lord; ‘and with the lute, praise Him,’ understanding the mouth as a lute moved by the Spirit as the lute is by the plectrum; ‘praise Him with timbal and choir,’ that is, the Church awaiting the resurrection of the body in the flesh which is its echo; ‘praise Him with strings and organ,’ calling our bodies an organ and its sinews strings, for from them the body derives its co-ordinated movement, and when touched by the Spirit, gives forth human sounds; ‘praise Him on high-sounding5 cymbals,’ which mean the tongue of the mouth, which, with the movement of the lips, produces words. Then, to all mankind He calls out: ‘Let every spirit praise the Lord,’ because He rules over every spirit He has made. In reality, man is an instrument made for peace, but these other things, if anyone concerns himself overmuch with them, become instruments of conflict, for they either enkindle desires or inflame the passions. The Etruscans, for example, use the trumpet for war; the Arcadians, the horn; the Sicels, the flute; the Cretans, the lyre; the Lacedemonians, the pipe; the Thracians, the bugle; the Egyptians, the drum; and the Arabs, the cymbal. But as for us, we make use of one instrument alone: only the Word of peace, by whom we pay homage to God, no longer with ancient harp or trumpet or drum or flute which those trained for war employ. They give little thought to fear of God in their festive dances, but seek to arouse their failing courage by such rhythmic measures.

Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator, trans. P. Simon Wood, vol. 23, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 130–132.

In another place Clement said,

He who sprang from David and yet was before him, the Word of God, scorned those lifeless instruments of lyre and harp. By the power of the Holy Spirit He arranged in harmonious order this great world, yes, and the little world of man too, body and soul together; and on this many-voiced instrument of the universe He makes music to God, and sings to the human instrument. “For thou art my harp and my pipe and my temple”c—my harp by reason of the music, my pipe by reason of the breath of the Spirit, my temple by reason of the Word—God’s purpose being that the music should resound, the Spirit inspire, and the temple receive its Lord. Moreover, King David the harpist, whom we mentioned just above, urged us toward the truth and away from idols. So far was he from singing the praises of daemons that they were put to flight by him with the true music; and when Saul was possessed, David healed him merely by playing the harp.d The Lord fashioned man a beautiful, breathing instrument, after His own image; and assuredly He Himself is an all-harmonious instrument of God, melodious and holy, the wisdom that is above this world, the heavenly Word.

T. E. Page et al., eds., Clement of Alexandria, trans. G. W. Butterworth, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press; William Heinemann, 1960), 13–15.

202Chrysostom said,

David formerly sang songs, also today we sing hymns. He had a lyre with lifeless strings, the church has a lyre with living strings. Our tongues are the strings of the lyre with a different tone indeed but much more in accordance with piety. Here there is no need for the cithara, or for stretched strings, or for the plectrum, or for art, or for any instrument; but, if you like, you may yourself become a cithara, mortifying the members of the flesh and making a full harmony of mind and body. For when the flesh no longer lusts against the Spirit, but has submitted to its orders and has been led at length into the best and most admirable path, then will you create a spiritual melody. (Chrysostom, Exposition of Psalms 41, (381-398 A.D.) Source Readings in Music History, ed. O. Strunk, (W. W. Norton and Co.: New York, 1950), 70.)

203Eusebius said,

Of old at the time those of the circumcision were worshipping with symbols and types it was not inappropriate to send up hymns to God with the psalterion and cithara and to do this on Sabbath days… We render our hymn with a living psalterion and a living cithara with spiritual songs. The unison voices of Christians would be more acceptable to God than any musical instrument. Accordingly in all the churches of God, united in soul and attitude, with one mind and in agreement of faith and piety we send up a unison melody in the words of the Psalms.
Translated from Eusebius, Commentary on the Psalms, 91:2-3; (Patrologia Graeca 23:1172D-1173A)

204Jerome (342-420 A.D.), in remarking upon Eph. 5:19, says:

May all hear it whose business it is to sing in the church. Not with the voice, but with the heart, we sing praises to God. Not like the comedians should they raise their sweet and liquid notes to entertain the assembly with theatrical songs and melodies in the church, but the fire of godly piety and the knowledge of the Scriptures should inspire our songs… As quoted in John M’Clintock and James Strong, “Music, Christian,” Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1894), 758.

205Aquinas said,

Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize. (Thomas Aquinas, Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 3, 137) As quoted in W. Frank Walton, “Why Do You Not Use Instruments In Your Worship?,” ed. Sewell Hall, Christianity Magazine (Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine, 1999), 14.

206Louis H. Feldman, Studies in Hellenistic Judaism (Brill, 1996), 525.

207David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015).

208For example, Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) said, “If a man marries in order to have children, he ought not to have a sexual desire for his wife. He ought to produce children by a reverent, disciplined act of will.” He also said, “Intercourse performed licitly is an occasion of sin, unless done purely to beget children.” Keep in mind that the dictionary defines “licitly” as in full conformity with the law. He is adding a qualification to being lawful – it cannot have any function beyond producing a baby. This is legalism. In another place Clement said, “To… a spiritual man, after conception, his wife is as a sister and is treated as if of the same father” (ANF 2.503). Justin Martyr (c. 160) writes, “If we marry, it is only so that we may bring up children” (ANF 1.172). Lactantius (c. 304-313) writes, “Whatever is sought beyond the desire of procreation is condemned by God” (ANF 7.143). Athenagoras the Athenian (c. 175) forbad any sexual relations between a couple once the couple had achieved conception (ANF 2.146). Augustine said,

In Eden, it would have been possible to beget offspring without foul lust. The sexual organs would have been stimulated into necessary activity by will-power alone, just as the will controls other organs. Then, without being goaded on by the allurement of passion, the husband could have relaxed upon his wife’s breasts with complete peace of mind and bodily tranquility, that part of his body not activated by tumultuous passion, but brought into service by the deliberate use of power when the need arose, the seed dispatched into the womb with no loss of his wife’s virginity. So, the two sexes could have come together for impregnation and conception by an act of will, rather than by lustful cravings. (Saint Augustine, City of God, Book 14, Chapter 26)

The Apostolic Constitutions (compiled c. 390) say, “Nor, indeed, let them have relations when their wives are with child. For [in that case] they are not doing it for the begetting of children, but only for the sake of pleasure. Now a lover of God should not be a lover of pleasure” (ANF 7.463). Thomas Aquinas wrote,

Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt; otherwise it is always at least a venial sin… If a man intends by the marriage act to prevent fornication in his wife, it is no sin, because this is a kind of payment of the debt that comes under the good of “faith.” But if he intends to avoid fornication in himself, then there is a certain superfluity, and accordingly there is a venial sin, nor was the sacrament instituted for that purpose, except by indulgence, which regards venial sins. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Benziger Bros./Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2004), n.p.)

See also the quotes in chapter 3.

209As has already been noted, Chrysostom, Augustine, and other fathers had to oppose this viewpoint. It persisted despite scholars such as Thomas Aquinas refuting it. Huguccio said of sexual relations with one’s wife that it,

…can never be without sin, for it always occurs and is exercised with a certain itching and a certain pleasure; for, in the emission of the seed, there is always a certain excitement, a certain itching, a certain pleasure.

In his Summa Only excerpts of Huguccio’s Summa on Gratian’s Decretum have been edited. See J. Roman (ed.) Smma d’Huguccio sur le Décret de Gratueb d’apres le Manuscrit 3891 de law Bibliotheque Nationale. For an introduction, see Kenneth Pennington, DMA, 6:327-328.

210The Stoic philosopher Ocellus Lucanus says, “We have intercourse not for pleasure but for the purpose of procreation….The sexual organs are given man not for pleasure, but for the maintenance of the species.” Ocellus Lucanus, text and commentary by Richard Harder (Berlin, 1926), quoted in Noonan, p. 47. This of course could have been said verbatim by any number of church fathers.

211David G. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 34.

212Augustine and Ambrose both present Susanna as a model of chastity within marriage. Jerome was particularly troubling in his insistence that married clergy be celibate. See Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds. Jerome: Select Works and Letters. vol. VI of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. Accordance electronic ed. (New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p.

213Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. vol. III of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Accordance electronic ed. (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1885), n.p. David G. Hunter points out about Tertullian,

Nevertheless, Tertullian’s starkly eschatological outlook led him to denigrate sex, marriage, and procreation in a manner that resembled traditional encratite theology.101

Another parallel between Tertullian and the encratite tradition is that Tertullian, like Tatian, argued that a radical divide lay between the morality of the Old Testament and that of the New. Although he acknowledged that God had originally established marriage for the propagation of the human race, Tertullian held that with the coming of Christ the command to ‘increase and multiply’ had been abrogated by Paul’s warning that ‘the time is short; from now on let even those who have wives be as though they had none.’102 In these last days the only reasons for marrying even once are disreputable ones: sexual desire, a wish for comfort and security, or the desire to live on in one’s children.103 While some Christians might argue that procreation is a civic duty, Tertullian complained, children are in reality troublesome burdens that distract their parents from preparing for martyrdom and the approach of the kingdom of God.104 Although Tertullian did not completely reject first marriages, thereby remaining technically ‘orthodox’ on this question, his emphasis on the profound gulf between the old dispensation and the new reiterated the traditional encratite contrast between the Old Law and the New. (David G. Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity: The Jovinianist Controversy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 118,

214Two examples are Justin, 1 Apol. 15, 29; Athenagoras, Leg. 33.4–6.

215For example, when Augustine wrote to Jerome, he said, “I have learned to hold the Scriptures alone inerrant” (Cited by Boice & Packer in, Does Inerrancy Matter? [Oakland, CA: ICBI, 1979]). In his Preface to the Treatise on the Trinity Augustine said, “Do not follow my writings as Holy Scripture. When you find in Holy Scripture anything you did not believe before, believe it without doubt; but in my writings, you should hold nothing for certain.”

216For examples, see 2 Cor. 11:13; Gal. 1:6ff.; Col. 2:1-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-11; 2 Tim. 3:1-4:5; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:18ff.; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-23; Rev. 2:14-16,20-23.

217David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 234-235.

218As cited by McKinnon, Church Music in Early Christian Literature, 134-135.

219David John Shirt, ‘Sing to the Lord with the harp’: Attitudes to musical instruments in early Christianity – 680 A.D., unpublished doctoral thesis, (University of Durham, 2015), 122-123.

220Novatian, “De spectaculis” vii, 1-3, as quoted by James McKinnon, Music, 48.

221James McKinnon, Music in Early Christian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 7.

222His commentary on Psalm 149. See also similar comments in his commentary on Psalm 150.

223This quote can be found under “Martin Luther,” in James McClintock & James Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature Volume VI, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894), 762. Note: I have searched high and low for the source and cannot find it. But given my respect for McClintock and Strong, I assume it is an accurate translation of some portion of German that I have not yet discovered.

224I found this quote in Joshua Busman, “Different Commandments: Sola Scriptura and Theologies of Worship in the Protestant Reformation,” 2010. This article can be downloaded at Academia -

225Cited in John Barber, “Luther and Calvin in Music and Worship,” Reformed Perspectives Magazine, volume 8, number 26 (June 25-July 1, 2006).

226Emphasis mine. The quote can be found in 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.

227“The beating of timbrels may indeed appear absurd to some, but the custom of the nation excuses it…” We would say that the Old Testament use of instruments needs no excuse and that it matters not if people think it absurd. We do not need to apologize for God as Calvin here does.

228See Idzerd Van Dellen and Martin Monsema, The Church Order Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1941).

229For his full sermon against instruments, see

230It should be noted that the Puritans and Presbyterians were not even unanimous in defending exclusive psalmody, but that is a subject for another paper. (Thomas Manton wrote the preface to the Confession and Catechisms, was on the committee of Triers who examined people going into the ministry, led the Presbyterian divines in their protest, etc.). In brief, he says,

Some raise a scruple, whether we may or must only sing scripture psalms, as the psalms of David and other prophets.

I answer – we do not forbid other songs, if grave and godly, to be received into the church. Tertullian showeth that in the primitive times they used this liberty, either scripture psalms, or such as were of private composure.

Thomas Manton goes on to give several pages of reasons why exclusive psalmody is not Biblical. See volume 19, pages 411 and following. See Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 19 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1874), 411.

231See Nicholas Temperley, The Music of the English Parish Church, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 37.

232For an archive of his commentary, go to

233For the audio lecture go to

234For example, M. C. Ramsay writes:

Those who maintain that Jewish worship had associated with it instruments of music fail to appreciate the facts; and some of the facts are as follows: The ordinary worship of the Jew was that of the synagogue, and it was always unembellished. The men of Israel were commanded to attend the temple worship only thrice annually. Throughout the remainder of the year, Sabbath by Sabbath, they met for worship in their synagogues. Their wives and children attended regularly the synagogue where the services were marked by simplicity… In the synagogue where there was congregational singing, there was no musical instrument. (Purity of Worship, Presbyterian Church of East Australia, 1968, 11)

Brian Schwertley says, “musical instruments … were not used in the Jewish synagogues until A.D. 1810 in Germany” (

Girardeau states, “The writers who have most carefully investigated Jewish antiquities, and have written learnedly and elaborately in regard to the synagogue, concur in showing that its worship was destitute of instrumental music” (John L. Girardeau, Instrumental Music in Public Worship (Havertown, PA: New Covenant Publication Society, 1983 [first published 1888], p. 39).

235Some sample quotes to this effect:

The worship of the synagogue was very different from that of the Temple, in that it had no sacerdotal rituals and supported no sacrosanct priesthood” (W. White, Jr., in Merril C. Tenney, gen. ed., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 556).

The fact that the temple used musical instruments while the synagogues did not is significant, for the first Christian churches were closely patterned after the synagogue. (Brian Schwertley,

The most important legacy of the first century synagogue was the form and organization of the apostolic Church (W. White, Jr., The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 5, 556).

236Literally hundreds of quotes could be added to these:

Furthermore, given the fact that musical instruments were only used by priests and Levites during the temple service and were not used in the Jewish synagogues until A.D. 1810 in Germany, one can safely conclude that the Jews themselves did not regard this instance in 1 Samuel 10 as a justification for musical instruments in public worship… This argument is considerably strengthened by the historical fact that musical instruments were not used in synagogue worship or the apostolic church… If one wants to find a non-Levitical, non-ceremonial use of musical instruments in public worship, the most logical place to look would be the worship conducted in the synagogue. (Brian Schwertley,

237Thomas Peck words it this way:

Let the Papists, who believe in temples, priests and sacrifices, stick to their organs; let not the freemen of the Lord, who have boldness to enter into the holiest of all through the blood of the Son of God, who has passed into the heavens, borrow their pitiful machinery. We prefer the synagogue to the temple. (Thomas E. Peck, minister, Presbyterian Church, US [Southern]/professor, Union Theological Seminary), “General Principles Touching the Worship of God,” in The Presbyterial Critic (1855)).

238This is illustrated in Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-23, Galatians 5-6, and other passages. The Pharisees described in these passages were not merely “laying aside the commandment of God” (Mark 7:8) but they also added “many” traditions (Mark 7:8-13). Man cannot live without law, so antinomianism always leads to some form of legalism.

239James 2:2 describes the Christian church as a συναγωγή.

240McKinnon,‘On the Question of Psalmody in the Ancient Synagogue’, Early Music History 7 (Cambridge, 1987), 183.

241George Foot Moore says,

…it appears that in the middle of the second century AD, the daily repetition of the psalms was a pious practice of individuals rather than a regular observance of the congregation. (George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of Tannaim, Vol 1 (Hendrickson Publishers; reprinted 1997 from Harvard University Press edition, 1927), 296).

J. A. Smith claims that this has been the scholarly consensus, quoting several scholars:

“I can only confirm the fact that in the Rabbinic literature there is no mention of singing in the early synagogue.” -Levertoff

“The synagogue service was in ancient times always songless.” – Mowinckel

“Meetings in the Jewish synagogue were primarily for reading, instruction, and prayer, but not psalm-singing.” – David Hiley

“To state it as simply as possible, there was no singing of psalms in the ancient synagogue.” – James McKinnon

McKinnon once suggested that there may have been chanting in the early synagogue, but Smith has pointed out that McKinnon based that possibility solely on a document dated centuries later, and therefore, “its relevance to the ancient synagogue is very doubtful.” (J.A. Smith, The Ancient Synagogue, the Early Church and Singing¸ published in Music & Letters, January 1984.)

242“the instrumental music was lost when the dispersed peoples, as an act of mourning, ceased playing instruments” (Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2008, under “Jewish Liturgical Music”).

243The practice of Jewish men wearing head coverings in worship (and often outside of worship) did not begin until after the Bar Kochba rebellion of AD 132-135. Even then, the practice was not firmly entrenched until the Middle Ages. This man-made tradition was added by Jewish rabbis to symbolize the shame of their exile and had other explanations such as the shame men should feel when in God’s presence. John Lightfoot cites evidence that early Pharisaic tradition held that men did not have a head covering in the synagogues.

We may observe Onkelos renders בְיָד רָמָה with a high hand, by בריש גלי with an uncovered head: as in Exod. 14:8; The Israelites went out of Egypt with an uncovered head; that is, confidently, not fearfully, or as men ashamed; and Numb. 15:30; “The soul which committeth any sin גלי בריש with an uncovered head;” that is, boldly and impudently. So Jonathan also in Judges 5:1; The wise men returned to sit in the synagogues בריש גלי with an uncovered head; that is, not fearing their enemies, nor shamed by them” (John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Matthew-1 Corinthians, Acts-1 Corinthians, vol. 4 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 230).

Lightfoot also cites evidence that the Judaizers (perhaps out of reaction to Christianity or perhaps out of a perverted notion of hyper-spirituality?) changed both the covering of the men and the covering of the women. The men who were formerly uncovered became covered in the synagogues and the women were formerly uncovered in the public but covered in the synagogue were no longer covered (for a time) in the synagogues, and had to be covered outside of the synagogue.

244“Instrumental music was prohibited in synagogue services as a symbol of national mourning” (Shalom Kalib, The Musical Tradition of the Eastern European Synagogue, volume one, part one, (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002), 2).

245Joshua Rabbin states,

In the rabbinic period, however, the use of musical instruments on Shabbat and Yom Tov (major holidays, like Rosh Hashanah and Passover, when work is forbidden) was eventually prohibited. A mishnah in Tractate Beitzah states that “one may not smack or dance or clap on Shabbat and Yom Tov” (5:2). The Talmud explains that “one may not smack or clap or dance, lest one fix a musical instrument” (BT Beitzah 36b). Fixing a musical instrument is a prohibited form of work on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Rashi notes that if clapping is forbidden because it might lead to fixing an instrument, playing an instrument would obviously be prohibited as well, for the same reason.

246Bob William elaborates on these three points at

  1. Perhaps the main reason that the use of instruments in worship ceased in the synagogues was that the Rabbis decided to forbid such. According to their views, such could possibly lead to work on the Sabbath. Musical instruments remained a part of the Sabbath service in the temple because the rabbis apparently could do nothing regarding their presence there. But they could and did prohibit them outside the temple for fear that playing an instrument on the Sabbath, a permissible act in and of itself, might lead inadvertently to the musician’s tuning it, or mending it, or carrying it from one public place to another - all of these being forbidden acts of work. Since the main synagogue service took place on Sabbath mornings, no musical instrument could become an integral component thereof.
  2. The rabbis gave another reason for banning instruments of music (as well as other types of singing): they apparently felt such joyous or celebratory music would be inappropriate in light of the sorrows that were being experienced by the Jews (i.e., the destruction of the temple and their exile). The rabbis apparently felt that such an attitude of mourning should be carried into the synagogue service as well. They quoted Hosea 9:1, “Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation (or “merriment”) like the nations,” and then declared: “An ear listening to songs will surely be cut off… A song in the house means destruction is at its threshold” (Sotah 48a, as given by
  3. The music of the synagogues was further influenced by the legalistic and puritanical ethic of the rabbis in regards to their concern over promiscuity. They taught, “A woman’s voice is indecency” (Ber. 24a, as given by; and, “Men singing and women answering is promiscuity; women singing and men answering is like fire set to chaff” (Sotah 48a, as given by These excessive fears of promiscuity led to the separation of men and women, and ultimately to only men singing in the synagogue in worship.

247The full post is as follows:

Dear Rabbi,

Could you identify for me the halakhic prohibitions against playing instruments in the synagogues? I need this clarified, and would also like the references or Talmudic citations. Also, could you help explain the dates the oral teachings originated? I’m doing research on synagogue worship and would really appreciate your help.


The classic talmudic source on musical instruments is the Babylonian Talmud (rabbinic text finished in the year 500 and edited until approximately 650 C.E.), tractate Beitza 36b, in which the rabbis explain that there is a rabbinic prohibition based on the fear that one might end up fixing the musical instrument if it was necessary. Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman (1843-1921), the rector of the famous Hildesheimer yeshivah [Talmudic academy], in his responsa Melamed Leho’il (first part, Orah? H?ayyim, chapter 16), explains the evolution of this prohibition. He writes that in 1819 the Rabbinic Court in Hamburg published a series of letters by different halakhic authorities under the name of Eleh Divrei Habrit in which they unanimously prohibited playing musical instruments (particularly the organ) in the synagogue even if played by a non Jew. This was a reaction against the custom of the Reform movement to play instruments during services. There was less uniformity on the issue of playing musical instruments the weekday services. Some authorities who were asked did not address this question at all and might have allowed it. Some authorities clearly prohibited their use while others clearly allowed musical accompaniment. In 1820, Rabbi Abraham Lowenstein, the head of Emden’s rabbinic court, prohibited organ playing in the synagogue on Shabbat, Holidays and weekdays asserting that we are not permitted to follow the customs of Gentiles. Beginning in 1863 many rabbis applied the same reasoning and the Hildsheimer Yeshivah in Berlin ordained rabbis on the condition that they would not serve in synagogues with organs. Rabbi Hoffman claims that the musical instruments in the Beit Hamikdash [the Temple in Jerusalem] were not at all like the organ and that the organ played in the Al Tnai synagogue in Prague was played before Shabbat started. He explains the reasons for prohibiting instruments as: a) Not to follow the Gentile’s ways b) Not to follow the heretics’ ways c) We are grieving for the Temple’s destruction Rabbi Hoffman sent a letter to five rabbis, all of whom prohibited the use of musical instruments in the synagogue. One rabbi did not answer and instead deferred to Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer’s opinion prohibiting them. Even though some rabbis thought that in modern times we are not experts in fixing instruments if they broke on Shabbat, this was not an accepted opinion (See Rabbi Yehezkel Landau, 1713-1793, Noda Beyehudah, second edition, Orah Hayim 49). I hope this is sufficient information for your research. (From the Schechter Institutes)

248James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume 2 (Garden City, NY: DoubleDay & Company, 1985), 686. He takes this as a synagogue prayer that was later added to by Christians.

249Here are some of the many commands to lead with skill:

“Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.” (Psalm 33:3)

“So the number of them…who were instructed in the songs of the LORD, all who were skillful, was two hundred and eighty-eight. And they cast lots for their duty, the small as well as the great, the teacher with the student.” (1 Chron. 25:7-8)

“Keniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.” (1 Chron. 15:22)

250There are many character qualifications for musicians. Here are a few:

“I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.” (Isa. 1:13)

“Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:23)

“Praise from the upright is beautiful.” (Ps. 33:1)

“…singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16)

“I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1 Cor. 14:15)

“But to the wicked God says: ‘What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth.’” (Ps. 50:16)

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with wicked intent!” (Prov. 21:27)