What did Paul Mean By Psalm, Hymn and Song?
I, Wayne Mckellips, wrote this years ago after previewing tons of material by a Greek scholar whose name I believe was Guy B. Dunning. Our aim was first to show people its okay to sing praises and thanksgivings to God on a musical instrument or accompanied by a musical instrument. Our second and perhaps most important aim was to show people God simply wants us to worship him from the heart in spirit and in deed. John 4:24. James 1:27. He has not told us to worship him only via certain specific actions.
The early Christians knew what Paul meant by Psalm, Hymn and Song, because they knew how these words were used in the Septuagint. The Septuagint, LXX, is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This Bible, used by almost everyone during the time of Christ, is the Bible Jesus and His apostles usually quoted from. Let’s examine the words Paul used in Ephesians 5:19.
PSALLO, the word Paul used for Psalm in the LXX, means to play an instrument, especially a stringed instrument. To sing to the accompaniment of such an instrument. In the LXX, psallo generally refers to actually touching or plucking some material object.
PSAUO, the word Paul did not use for Psalm in Greek, can represent a non-literal or figurative touching.
If Paul meant that we should symbolically touch or pluck our hearts, why didn’t he use psauo instead?
In the LXX, the singing (psallo), is done with the instrument itself not with or by the voice in the following Psalms. Psalms 57:9. 71:22. 92:1. 98:5. 108;1,3. 144:9. 147:7. 149:3. Did Psallo include the use of musical instruments in the LXX? Would the early Christians understand Psallo to include or prohibit the use of musical instruments?
To find out what a Greek word meant shouldn’t we study the Greek Old and New Testaments, not the Hebrew Old Testament? We can also find out what a Greek word means by examining some Greek dictionaries or lexicons. If you look at Young’s analytical Concordance, Strong’s Dictionary of the Words of the Greek NT, Thayer, etc., you’ll find they say psallo means to play an instrument, especially a stringed instrument, to sing to the accompaniment of such an instrument.
HUMNOS, the word Paul used for hymn in the LXX, is sometimes used when the human voice is to be accompanied by musical instruments.
ODE, the word Paul used for sing in the LXX, is frequently used when the human voice is to be accompanied by musical instruments.
Why would the early Christians suddenly understand PSALLO, HUMNOS, and ODE, to prohibit the use of musical instruments? They had never understood these words to do that in the LXX? In fact, they frequently understood these words to include the use of musical instruments in the LXX.
James 5:13 says, “Is any merry? Let him sing praises (psalleto).” Let’s see how this word translated “sing praises” is used in the LXX.
I will sing psalms (psalo) to thee on the harp. Psalm 71:22. Sing (psalate) to the Lord with the harp. Psalm 98:5. It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises (psallein) to thy name … on a psaltery (Psaltario) of ten strings, with a song (odas) on the harp. Psalm 92:1-3.
Here are examples in the LXX where psalleto means to sing praises to God on a musical instrument. Like all Greek words, psalleto retained all the meanings in the New Testament that it had in the LXX or any other Greek literature. James, like Paul, gave the early Christians Scriptural authority to use musical instruments.
The Synagogue and Instrumental Music
Before 70 A.D. there is no evidence the synagogue had any music, vocal or instrumental. Why? Because the synagogue was primarily a place of religious instruction, a school. They synagogues had prayers in addition to teaching before 70 A.D., but evidently no music, vocal or instrumental.
Jewish cantors tell us after 70 A.D. instruments were banned in the synagogue as a sign of mourning over the destruction of the temple. For evidence of this type of mourning see Psalm 137:1-5. Isaiah 24:8. 2nd Esdras 10:21-22. 1st Maccabees 3:45.
Clement of Alexandra
Around 200 A.D., Clement of Alexandra opposed the trumpet, flute, and sistrum, but not on Scriptural grounds.
Trumpets called men to war and some were killed. Since killing is wrong, using trumpets is wrong. Flutes were used by horse breeders to provide nuptial music for stallions and mares, which made flutes a bad influence for the church. The sistrum was used in the temples of Isis, a licentious cult, so it must not be used by Christians.
Clement found nothing wrong with Christians using the harp during the love feast, and he pronounced it “innocent and permissible” for Christian use. See the Anti-Nicene Fathers; the Instructor on “How to Conduct Ourselves at Feasts.”
Breaking away from the Roman church in the 1500’s John Calvin chose to abolish musical instruments and four part singing, but not on Scriptural grounds.
In his commentary on Colossians under 3:16, her writes, “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 is be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters.”
It seems Calvin abolished musical instruments and four part singing as a quick way of weaning his followers away from “Rome”, but as an exegetical scholar he knew better.
Many people in the reformation Movement were influenced by and accepted the teachings and practices of Calvin on this and other matters.
However, in time many Christians began to set aside Calvinist ideas on instrumental music, eternal security, baptism, the Lord’s supper, etc.
What scripture in the New Testament tells us singing, giving, preaching,, or observing the Lord’s Supper is worship? Is it wrong to worship God in ways he hasn’t commanded? If it is, then it’s wrong to worship God by singing, preaching, etc., because no scripture in the New Testament tells us singing, giving, preaching, or observing the Lord’s supper is worship! Let me mention here that I love worshipping God as I dance, and sing praises, thanksgivings, requests and petitions to him.
In Matthew 4:10 Jesus said, “You shall worship (proskuneo) the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve (latreuo).” Proskuneo means “to kiss (the hand) toward” a rather specific act. Latreuo means “worship or service rendered to God.” Luke 2:37 identifies “fasting and prayer” as worship or latreuo.
Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your spiritual worship (latrein).” For Paul, worship involved serving God in everything we do!