The word “tradition” simply refers to something that is passed down, whether from God to man through His word (1 Cor. 11:2, 23) or from man to man through subjective preferences (Matt. 15:1-9). Is singing praises to God without musical accompaniment, as practiced by modern-day churches of Christ, based on biblical tradition or human tradition? Singing without musical instruments in Christian worship can be traced back to the NT itself, continuing on through the first several hundred years of church history. Singing with musical accompaniment in Christian worship can only be traced back to the Roman Catholic Church no earlier than the 7th-century AD and to Protestant denominations of the 19th-century AD. Which practice is based on human tradition?
Q: Does the Greek word psallô in Eph. 5:19 mean to pluck the strings of an instrument?
If it does, then every Christian is required to play a stringed instrument while singing -- an assertion no one will make. The meaning of the Greek word psallô has undergone a number of changes through the centuries. Long before the NT was written, psallô meant “to pluck off” or “pull out,” e.g. the hair (J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon 675). Then it came to signify “to cause to vibrate by touching, to twang,” e.g. a carpenter’s line; then “to touch or strike the chord, to twang the strings,” e.g. of a stringed instrument (ibid.). What should concern us, however, is the meaning of psallô when the NT was written. Thayer says, “in the N.T. to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song” (ibid.). After noting the original non-musical sense of the word, the Greek-English Lexicon of Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker has this to say: “In the LXX [Greek translation of the OT] ps[allô] freq. means ‘sing’, whether to the accompaniment of a harp or (as usually) not . . . . This process continued until ps[allô] in Mod. Gk. means ‘sing’ exclusively; cf. psaltês = singer, chanter, w[ith] no ref[erence] to instrumental accompaniment” (891). When Paul wrote Rom. 15:9, 1 Cor. 14:15, and Eph. 5:19, and when James wrote Jas. 5:13, the word psallô simply meant to “sing, sing praise” (ibid.). Moreover, even if the word psallô still carried the idea of “pluck,” “strike,” or “twang,” the NT never uses “on stringed instruments” as the object of this verb, but rather “in/with your heart” (Eph. 5:19). The instrument with which Christians are enjoined to “make melody” (psallô), while singing in worship, is the God-created human heart, not a man-made mechanical instrument.
Q: Does 2 Chronicles 29:25 indicate that the use of musical instruments in worship was according to divine decree?
Even if it does, remember this pronouncement was enjoined on ancient Israel and has nothing to do with Christian activity. Nevertheless, what does this passage actually say? “Then he [Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets.” Notice that there are two actions being considered for which there were two different commands: (1) the Levites stationed in the temple was according to the commandment of the Lord (cf. Deut. 10:8); (2) the use of musical instruments was according to the commandment of David and his cohorts (cf. 1 Chron. 15:16; 23:5). Whether or not the latter was done with divine approval is a moot point as far as NT Christians are concerned. However, the Lord’s condemnation of Israel’s luxury and revelry in Amos 6:1-5 included their use of musical instruments “like David,” bringing into question the Lord’s supposed sanction of this practice.--Kevin L. Moore
Related posts: Music & the Bible History, Questions About Music 1, Questions About Music 2
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