Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

This is from a discussion on a yahoo group list:

Another list member wrote:

I have not 'shouted' at you for quite a while now so thought I would chime in here though uninvited.

Hi, No problem.

I recognize with you that the Psalms we have in our Bibles is the Hebrew Psalter. With that being said and given due recognition, I call your attention to the NT passages speaking of singing (Eph 5; Col 3) and to notice they speak of the saints making use of three categories of praise; not one. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

"A candid examination of the above evidence [linguistic usage by apostolic and post-apostolic writers], we believe, leads to the inevitable conclusion that the phrase 'psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs' is a rhetorical device intended as a reference to the biblical Psalms." - Michael Bushnell, Songs of Zion (Crown & Covenant, 1977). p.88 of the 3rd ed., 1999.

I submit to you, Harry, that while Psalms, as spoken of by Paul, might have been in Paul's mind fairly well limited to the book of Psalms in our OT, hymns are another matter.

occurs some 17 times in the Septuagint [Greek trs. of OT], 13 of which are in the Psalms, six times in the titles. In 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah there are some 16 examples in which the Psalms are called 'hymns' or 'songs' and the singing of them is called 'hymning.' Philos (d.A.D.40) frequently designates certain Psalms as 'hymns.' The historian Josephus also repeatedly alludes to the Psalms as 'hymns.' According to Trench, humnos occurs nowhere in the Apostolic Fathers or Justin Martyr or the Apostolic Constitutions, and only once in tertullian (ad Uxor.II,8), perhaps because the word had by then taken on profane associations. But this consideration does not materially affect our understanding of the usage of the term during New Testament times. Generally humneo means 'to sing praise' or 'to praise in song,' but it can mean simply 'to praise' without any musical reference at all. There is, however, no clear instance of the latter usage in the New Testament (Heb.2:12 and Acts 16:25 are the only possible instances). What we see, then, in the Septuagint and in the early theological literature is a pattern of instances in which the noun humnos is used either in connection with or in reference to the inspired Psalms." - pp.85,86 ibid.

There are other praise passages in scripture that might well be called 'hymns.' Or a hymn might be a composition of any person and not taken from holy writ.


I further suggest that by "spiritual songs" Paul had reference to songs one would sing in the Spirit just as Paul said in I Corinthians 14 that he would sing with the Spirit and he would sing with his mind. One might also express it as "singing in tongues" (a spiritual gift).

"Odee [songs] occurs some 80 times in the Septuagint, 45 of which are in the Psalms, 36 in the Psalm titles. Josephus (Antiquities 2, 346) refers to Exodus 15 as a 'song of God.' At a later point odee came to be used only for biblical songs (apart from the Psalms) used in the liturgy, but usage in New Testament times is broader, there being no precise differentiation odee, psalmos and humnos. Philo, for example, in connection with Exodus 15 first uses the term 'sea song' and then simply humnos. As we shall see momentarily, the term odee is used quite frequently in conjunction with other musical terms to denote the biblical psalms." - ibid., p.86.

"Assuming for the moment that Paul is, in fact, speaking here of some kind of charismatic hymn singing, it ought to be clearly understood that such a situation in no way militates against exclusive psalmody. There are two very good reasons for this. In the first place, the charismatic gifts present in the Corinthian church at the time this epistle was written, passed away with the close of the New Testament canon and are not normative for today's church. If the advocates of non-canonical hymnody wish to use this passage to support their position, they are bound to produce Spirit-given, charismatic songs. But it ought to be obvious that such songs as these could never become the foundation for the Church's hymnody. Such songs may be interpreted by someone with the appropriate gifts, but their spontaneous origin and glossolalic [tongues] character prohibit their reproduction for corporate use. The singing alluded to in this passage is, in fact, not congregational singing at all. There is 'no thought here of liturgical music; it is the individual spontaneously using a special gift in the congregation.'
In the second place, it is important to note that the charismatic song interpretation of the passage places worship song in the same category as that of inspired prophecy or revelation and thus represents an implicit prohibition of uninspired worship song. [Thus, confirming exclusive psalmody!] It may be objected that the need for charismatic song in this instance implies the insufficiency of the psalter for New Testament worship. We reply that the Old Testament psalms are in a sense insufficient for the worship needs of the Church in this dispensation , but only in the sense that they require the interpretation of a completed New Testament canon to be properly understood, used, and sung. Go may well have given the Corinthians such charismatic songs to 'fill the gap' until this interpretive need was met. This was, in fact, what the charismatic gifts were all about. So the presence of charismatic singing in the early days of the Church cannot be offered as justification for composing new songs now, any more than the exercise of prophetic gifts in the same context can be seen as suggesting the need for new prophetic oracles in the present day." - ibid., pp.80,81.

So, yes, the Psalms are meant to be sung. Years ago, some of us would sing many scriptures and not just the Psalms and I would many times play my guitar. It is a great way to praise the Lord and memorize scripture.

So we are not limited to using only the Hebrew songbook.


You might notice that the very last Psalm in that book enjoins that everything that can make a sound should praise the Lord. Why limit ourselves when God is worthy of more praise that we can give at our best and most efforts?

Why not give Him the best and most perfect praise, His Word?
Limiting ourselves, as you say, is only another way of saying: "I want to worship God according to my own will, after my own fashion, and whenever I want to."
This is 'will worship."
This is the sin which, I believe, Nadab and Abihu committed: offering strange fire to the Lord.

As far as it goes, the only mention of singing in the NT scriptures is not indicated as limited to times when the church is assesmbled as such. We should speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs any time we have opportunity.

Think about it some more, Harry.

Yes, well, I have gone through all this, and am settled with the objective propositional truths of Scripture.
Hope this gives you a better understanding of where I am coming from.

Yours, for the Cause of God and Truth,



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