Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 5, 1964
NUMBER 43, PAGE 3,13d

Did God Authorize Instrumental Music In The Old Testament?

Bill McMurry

Certainly no serious student of the New Testament would contend for the use of the mechanical instrument of music in Christian worship. I do not for a moment condone their use. However, I feel it my obligation to point out some obvious fallacies in the thinking of many of my brethren in this respect. In "striving against sin" we must be constantly on our guard not to make statements which are too sweeping, if not completely mistaken, in our zeal for the truth. (Rom. 10:1-4, R.S.V.)

I have read carefully a number of articles by brethren who oppose the use of the mechanical instruments of music in worship. I heartily concur with their sentiments in this respect. It is my conviction, however, that they sometimes make statements which are not in harmony with the Scriptures in their zeal for the truth. One of the most commonly made mistakes, in my opinion, is that of asserting that God did not authorize instrumental music in the tabernacle and temple worship of the Old Testament dispensation. As a proof text of this statement brethren generally appeal primarily to the Old Testament Scripture "....who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David invent for themselves instruments of music ...." As much as I oppose the introduction of instruments into Christian worship, I must object to the use of this passage as proof that God did not authorize them in the Old.

God authorized many things in the Old Testament dispensation which He did not authorize in the New. If He did authorize mechanical instruments of music there, this can not be taken as proof of their authorization now, under the New Covenant. This no more follows than it would to say that God authorized animal sacrifices then and consequently we must or may use them now. We must take care not to become guilty of the very act for which we condemn others: lifting a passage, or a portion of one, from its context in order to apply it to a teaching which God did not intend. In line with this may I point out a number of things which brethren who use Amos 6:5 as proof of their contention need to demonstrate.

1. They should prove absolutely that the instruments spoken of by Amos are those employed by the Levites in the worship service, or that this passage has any reference to the worship at all.

2. They should demonstrate the fact that, if they are proved to be the same, this passage is condemning their use per se rather than their misuse.

I remember the sage rule of never taking a passage from its context. Certainly, this passage can not be applied specifically to the instruments used by the Levites without doing violence to its context. Read the entire chapter and see that God is denouncing His apostate people because they had become idle pleasure seekers while not grieving over the "affliction of Joseph." There is no reference made in this entire chapter to the worship, neither is this the primary theme of the book.

We must exercise caution not to set Scripture against Scripture in order to uphold our teaching. I believe that many do this unintentionally with reference to Amos 6:5 and its application to mechanical instruments in the worship. It has long been our claim that every Scripture must be understood in its relation to every other Scripture bearing upon the same subject. It is interesting to note that Lamsa translates 2 Pet. 1:20 as, "Knowing this first, that not every prophetic writing is made clear in its own book." Thus we must take care not to array this Scripture against others which might tend to demonstrate that God actually did authorize the use of the instruments in question under the Old Testament law, Of course, we are perfectly aware of our obligation to produce a passage that would so teach, and hasten to do so:

"And he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment and of Gad the king's seer and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the Lord through His prophets." (2 Chron. 29:25)

Several items in this passage should be seriously noted. First, observe that the king placed the Levites in the house of God (the temple) with instruments of music. Secondly, (and here many assume that David acted on his own will without regard to the divine command) it was by the command of David. Thirdly, notice that it was by the command of God through the prophets, specifically Nathan and Gad.

We therefore conclude that, since it can not be established that Amos 6: 5 refers to these instruments of music or to their use generally in the worship of that period, and since we have seen that the Lord did actually command them through the prophets, it would seem to me to be a dangerous thing to maintain that Amos 6:5 demonstrates that the Lord did not authorize instrumental music under the Old Testament law.

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