Church Music & Hymns in the New Testament?

Church Music & Hymns in the New Testament? January 28, 2016


Photograph by “delphinmedia” [public domain / Pixabay]

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Some Calvinist, hyper-fundamentalists, and Church of Christ denominations do not allow any music in church.

The following passages (RSV) show that music in church is certainly conceivable and harmonious with Scripture, and sometimes specifically mentioned as occurring (presumably) in church in conjunction with worship and praise:

Romans 15:5-9 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, [6] that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [7] Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. [8] For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, [9] and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name“;

Singing in this instance is for the purpose of praise of God, and in a corporate context of living in “harmony” and “together” and “welcom[ing] one another”. All of that is perfectly consistent with the notion of hymns and other music in Church.

1 Corinthians 14:12-19 So with yourselves; since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church[13] Therefore, he who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. [14] For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. [15] What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also[16] Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how can any one in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? [17] For you may give thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified. [18] I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all; [19] nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 

Reference is made to singing in the direct context of “building up the church” and being “in church”.

Ephesians 5:18-19 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 

The phrase “addressing one another” suggests a group (and therefore possibly church) setting). Such singing to the Lord in large worship groups was certainly a common event in the Old Testament.

Colossians 3:15-16 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. [16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God

The ecclesiological reference to “one body” and the phrase “teach and admonish one another” suggest a church setting.

James 5:13-14 Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. [14] Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 

“Elders of the church” in the next verse suggest a possibility that singing in church is here referenced.

Revelation 4:10-11  the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, [11] “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 5:8-9 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; [9] and they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,

Revelation 14:1-3 Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. [2] And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps, [3] and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders.

Revelation 15:1-4 Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and wonderful, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended. [2] And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. [3] And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages! [4] Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed.”

The saved in heaven are certainly here singing together praises to God and worshiping Him: including playing harps. Why not, then, also on earth in church? Musical instruments used in worship of God is massively indicated in the Old Testament as well (along with much sacred singing), with numerous references to lyres, harps (referenced in the NT at Rev 5:8; 14:2), trumpets, timbrels, lutes, strings, pipes, cymbals, “musical instruments”, horns, tambourines, and castanets. Biblical searches of “sing” + “Lord” and “song + Lord” yield abundant results as well.


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