This post is in response to the following question, which has been edited for use here:
In the spirit of looking at the Greek, I was wondering if I could have your perspective on the following subject: In Ephesians 5:19, the Scriptures say, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” I was told by other Christians at the time [speaking of the time of his conversion] that because of this verse we were only supposed to use our voices to worship God and not use musical instruments in our song worship. Naturally, coming from a different understanding of what is acceptable to God, I looked at the Greek translation of this verse and it was translated from a term that actually referenced a musical instrument, a “lyre” to be exact. I pointed this out to [name removed] at the time and let him borrow my Greek translation dictionary. Fortunately for me, I didn’t let this one translation prevent me from obeying the gospel at the time, but I have always been confused with having that verse be the sole authority in Scripture for why we do not allow musical instruments in our song worship. Would this better be explained under the “authority argument” and not by referencing that verse? What is your understanding on the subject? What insight can you share with me on the subject and how can I better explain this to others that I might be trying to convert from a denominational background? Sorry, I know that is a lot of questions, but I know you [will do your best to give me a biblical answer].
Ephesians 5:19 says, “[S]peaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Is this passage teaching us to “sing and play,” as is claimed by those who believe this passage authorizes singing with the accompaniment of a mechanical instrument of music? Yes, singing and playing are exactly what this passage is teaching. However, it does not teach what those mechanical-instruments-of-music folks say it does. The word in the Greek that is translated “making melody” here is psallo and it means, according to Thayer’s New Testament Greek Lexicon,
1) to pluck off, pull out; 2) to cause to vibrate by touching, to twang; 2a) to touch or strike the chord, to twang the strings of a musical instrument so that they gently vibrate; 2b) to play on a stringed instrument, to play, the harp, etc.; 2c) to sing to the music of the harp; 2d) in the NT to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song.
Thus, there must be no doubt that this passage commands us to sing and play. But once again, there is nothing in this passage that authorizes the playing of a mechanical instrument of music. Why? Because, the passage tells us exactly what instrument we are to psallo, play, and make melody on, and this is the instrument of our heart. Following the instructions of this passage, we “pluck the strings” (psallo) of our hearts. Thus, by a direct statement (command), we are instructed to sing and make melody in our hearts. We are also told what to sing (“psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”) as well as to whom and with whom we are to sing them (to one another).
The term “psalms” here more than likely refers to the Old Testament Psalter. “Hymns” refer mainly to New Testament songs of praise to God and to Christ (cf. verse 14). Finally, “spiritual songs” probably refer to sacred songs about things other than direct praise to God or to Christ. The drunkard may mumble, moan, and curse, but the Christian that is filled with the Spirit will want to sing from his heart to the Lord. Since Paul mentions “speaking to yourselves,” he is referring to the occasions when Christians are assembled together and not to an individual singing alone. (Individual singing of psalms is addressed in James 5:13b.) Singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” is one of the ways Christians are to be taught in the assembly. Those who refuse to sing, refuse to teach! The melody is to be made in their hearts—no mechanical instruments are mentioned. They were added centuries later. In fact, nowhere in the New Testament are Christians told to play anything other than the strings of their hearts.
To your “one verse” statement, as long as there is nothing problematic about the passage itself, one verse is all we need to establish a doctrine and Ephesians 5:19 is clear as clear can be. So, what it teaches stands. However, Ephesians 5:19 does not stand alone. It has a parallel passage in Colossians 3:16, which says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The key idea when comparing Ephesians 5:19 is “singing with grace in your heart.” “Grace” is translated from the Greek word charis which means “joy, pleasure, delight, and sweetness,” according to Thayer’s New Testament Greek Lexicon. It has other meanings, but these correspond best with the “making melody in the heart” of Ephesians 5:19. Both passages make clear the role the heart plays in our worship in song to the Lord. In either of these verses, there is no mention of mechanical instruments of music being used.
So yes, the “authority argument,” as you mentioned, is very much in play here, as always. People frequently say, “Well, it doesn’t say we can’t use mechanical instruments of music in congregational worship, therefore, we are not prohibited from doing so.” This may sound reasonable to some people, but is it true? This, then, is the question that needs a Bible answer. So let’s see if there is one.
What The Bible Does Not Say Is Extremely Important
Even after we get people to understand what the Bible says in a clear command, example, or necessary conclusion, there remain two attitudes about the silence of the Scriptures. The first of these says that when the Bible is silent, then the reader is at liberty to act as he thinks best. Therefore, if the Bible does not expressly prohibit something, then it is permissible. This attitude is reflected in the actions of many. The second attitude says that when the Bible is silent, then the reader is not at liberty to act, but must be silent as well. This, of course, is exactly the attitude taught in the Bible. In 1 Peter 4:11, the Scriptures say, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” In Romans 10:17, the Scriptures say that faith comes by hearing God’s word. In Romans 14:23, the Bible says that whatever is not of faith is sin. Therefore, the silence of the Scriptures does not give consent, as many think—it actually prohibits! In 1 Corinthians 4:6, the apostle Paul teaches that one is not to think of men “above that which is written.” This means that the word of God—the Bible—is the absolute standard of authority in all things religious. Ultimately, what men say, or do not say, is not important. What is important is what God does or does not say!
Noah As A Positive Example
In Genesis 6:14, God told Noah to construct an ark out of “gopher wood.” In doing so, God did not have to say, “And thou shall not construct it from cypress, ebony, or any other kind of wood.” All He had to do was tell Noah what kind of wood to use. The fact that He specified the type of wood eliminated every other type. In Hebrews 11:7, the Scriptures say: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Here the Bible tells us that Noah was saved by faith. Of course, Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing God’s word. Noah, upon hearing God’s word, moved by faith to prepare the ark as God had instructed him. In doing so, he saved himself and his family. Even though God did not specifically say not to, we are convinced that if Noah would have built the ark out of any other kind of wood than gopher, he would not have been saved. What is the point? Simply this: What God does not say is just as important as what He does say!
Nadab And Abihu As Negative Examples
In Leviticus 10:1, 2, the Bible says: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.” These men were priests of God and were involved in religious activity, but God was very displeased with their actions. They were clearly involved in unrighteousness in that the “strange fire” they offered had not been commanded by the Lord. In other words, what God has not commanded is just as important as what He has commanded. These two men were destroyed because they thought it was okay for them to go beyond what is written in God’s word. They were dead wrong!
The Priesthood Of Christ As An Example
In Hebrews 7:14, speaking of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the Bible says: “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.” Under the Old Covenant, Jesus could not be a priest because He did not come from the order of Aaron in the tribe of Levi. In regard to the Levitical priesthood, Moses said nothing about Judah. Consequently, in order for Jesus to be a priest, there would have to be a change of the law. Jesus, then, our current high priest, is the mediator of a “better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). Again, the word of God impresses us with the fact that what God does not say is just as important as what He does say! With this in mind, where does the New Testament say anything about…
- Sprinkling for baptism?
- Burning of incense in New Testament worship?
- Holy water?
- Baptizing infants?
- Elders over two or more churches?
- Instrumental music being authorized in N.T. worship?
- Women preachers?
- The use of the title “Reverend” by men?
Consequently, these things are not from heaven but from men!
Finally, we must keep in mind the difference between a general command (statement) and a specific command (statement). For example, when the Lord instructed His apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…,” He placed no restrictions on the means they would use to “Go.” This is what we call general authority, and it authorizes anything and everything that would aid in one’s going. But when God specifies something, like Gopher wood, for Noah, that eliminated every other kind of wood, did it not? Thus, when the Lord specified the kind of music He wanted (i.e., vocal music), and that He wanted us to psallo the heart, this eliminated every other kind of music and melody making did it not?
The God-Breathed Word Is Able To Make Us Complete
In 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, the Bible says: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The words “given by the inspiration of God” is a translation of the Greek word theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.” Therefore, Scripture, in order to be Scripture, must be God-breathed, that is, it must come from the very mouth of God. Scripture is authoritative because it comes directly from God. This is borne out by 2 Peter 1:20-21, which says: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It is further illustrated by 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, which says:
But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
In 2 Peter 1:3, the apostle Peter writes: “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” The knowledge we have of Jesus Christ through the God-breathed word of God provides us with “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.”
In conclusion, I believe all this to be definitive: Mechanical instruments of music are not authorized in our sacred assemblies—i.e., there is no book, chapter, or verse for such a practice.