Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 25, 1960
NUMBER 41, PAGE 5a-7b

"Instrumental Music Can Be Justified

Bob Haddow, Temple City, California

The November 13, 1958, issue of the GOSPEL GUARDIAN carries an article on the editorial page, HOW CAN INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC BE JUSTIFIED? by Roy E. Cogdill. While I make no claim to superior knowledge along this line, I would like to try to answer Brother Cogdill's question. I sincerely believe the New Testament sanctions the use of instrumental music while singing psalms of praise to God. Consider the following evidence:

Meaning Of "Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs" In Eph. 5:19 And Col. 3:16

Has the reader ever asked what may be the possible distinctions between "psalms, and spiritual songs" in Eph. 6:19 and Col. 3:16? Why would Paul have used three terms to describe the scope of Christians hymnology if one would have sufficed? While there is doubtless some overlapping in meaning among these terms, it doesn't seem reasonable to me that Paul meant that we were to teach and admonish in "songs, songs, and songs" when he said "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," though any distinction in definition probably ought not to be too rigidly pressed.

First I introduce that outstanding Greek scholar, J. H. Thayer. The reader needs to know that the lexicon bearing his name is very largely Thayer's translation of a Greek-Latin lexicon prepared by Prof. C. L. Wilibald Grimm. Thayer says (in the preface) it was his purpose to let Grimm's work stand as is, and to introduce his own additions" . . . in such a form as should render them distinguishable at once from Professor Grimm's work" (p. vi). He further: says, "Brackets have been used to mark additions by the American editor" (p. xviii). Thayer was the American editor; thus we should not attribute to Thayer that which was merely Thayer's translation of Grimm, especially in a case where Thayer saw the need of making an addition to an entry treated by Grimm. Here is Thayer's addition, which obviously represents his position:

"Syn. humnos, psalmos, ode: ode is the generic term; psalm. and humn. are specific, the former designating a song which took its general character from O. T. 'Psalms' (although not restricted to them, see I Cor. 14:15, 26), the latter a song of praise. 'While the leading idea of psalm is a musical accompaniment, and that of hymn praise to God, ode is the general word for a song, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, whether of praise or on any other subject. Thus it was quite possible for the same song to be at once psalmos, humnos, and ode' (Bp. Lightfoot on Col. 3:16). The words occur together in Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19." (From page 637.)

Those who quote Grimm (p. 675) and attribute it to Thayer, do so without warrant. I am aware of the effort on the part of some, to evade the force of lexicons using such phrases as "musical accompaniment," by saying that of course they accept that, that the heart is the accompaniment here intended by the lexicographer. This seems absurd to me on the face of it. A fundamental law of interpreting language is to define words literally unless the context forbids it. To interpret "musical accompaniment" as the heart would be a metaphorical use, yet no lexicon I have seen so defines psalmos. Another way to test the validity of a figurative, heart "musical accompaniment" is to put "with the heart" in the definition, as follows: "While the leading idea of psalm. is a musical accompaniment (with the heart), and that of humn, praise to God (no heart accompaniment mentioned), ode is the general word for song, whether accompanied (with the heart) or unaccompanied (with the heart), whether of praise or on any subject." Who would make Thayer and Lightfoot contend that a song of praise could be either "accompanied or unaccompanied" with the heart? I see only two alternatives to take on Thayer's and Lightfoot's definition. You either accept the definition as correct and that they meant a literal, audible musical accompaniment, or else you reject their definition, as does J. W. Roberts of Abilene Christian College, so expressed to me in a personal letter.

I now introduce the very latest and best, unabridged dictionary in its field: A GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND OTHER EARLY CHRISTIAN LITERATURE (pub. 1957), translated and edited by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich from Bauer's Greek-German Lexicon of the New Testament, fourth edition, 1949-52. Of this lexicon, J. W. Roberts says, "This lexicon must now be accorded first rank in its field." (Firm Foundation, Dec. 24, 1957.) Hear this lexicon define psallo, the cognate verb of psalmos:

"In our literature, in accordance with O. T. usage, sing (to the accompaniment of a harp), sing praise with dative of the one for whom the praise is intended to onomati sou psalo Rom. 15:9 (Ps. 18:49)."

While the parenthetical phrase "(to the accompaniment of the harp)" was supplied by Arndt and Gingrich, that doesn't mean it is any less justified. At the end of their entries on psallo and psalmos, Arndt and Gingrich call attention to M-M: Moulton and Milligan's VOCABULARY OF THE GREEK TESTAMENT. This great work has for quite some time been considered a needed supplement to "Thayer's Lexicon" since it contains the more recent conclusions from Koine Greek inscriptions and Egyptian papyri. Arndt and Gingrich describe Moulton and Milligan's VOCABULARY as "invaluable" (see preface of lexicon). Bear M-M define psalmos: " 'psalm' or `song', sung to a harp accompaniment."

To substantiate this definition they cite a source reference from the Sylloge of Greek Inscriptions dated 2nd century A. D. This certainly proves that instrumental music accompaniment had not passed away from the meaning-potential of psalmos by New Testament times. Professor Gingrich, co-compiler of the latest lexicon agrees, as stated to me in a personal letter dated April 13, 1958:

"Yes, I agree that psallo and psalmos certainly can indicate that instrumental music was used to accompany the song, though they do not require the idea of such accompaniment. I also agree that the inscription from the 2nd century A. D. cited from Moulton and Milligan is clear proof of this. I agree also that 'heartily' is very good for Eph. 5:19."

This scholar's comment accords with Lightfoot's commentary on Col. 3:16 (the one used by Thayer), that the leading idea of psalm. is a musical accompaniment. Thus there is no need rigidly to press the idea of accompaniment as though one could not perform a psalmos without such accompaniment. Oftentimes words have varying shades of meaning within their definition. But what seems very clear is that the use of instrumental accompaniment is not at all foreign to the definition of psalmos in the New Testament period. Does Brother Cogdill reject the scholarly evidence I have presented? If so, why?

The Scope Of Making Melody

The Revised Standard Version renders Eph. 5:19 as follows: "Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart."

Those who oppose instrumental music admit that if the Lord said to make music, then Christians would have the right to make instrumental music as well as vocal. It is recognized that the word "music" or "melody" is a general word which may include either vocal or instrumental music. The fact that doesn't seem to be acknowledged is that Eph. says just that! The RSV reads, "singing (vocal) and making melody (vocal or instrumental) to the Lord with all your heart." To do something "with all your heart" is to do it in a heartfelt manner. Some have attempted to make this melody something figurative, made by the heart rather than being audible. I see absolutely no reason to make the "singing" of this verse literal and audible while making the "melody" figurative and inaudible. The fundamental law of interpretation is to define words literally wherever possible unless the context strictly forbids it. There is nothing in the above RSV rendering of Eph. 5:19 which forbids a literal interpretation. The following statement form Dr. Luther. A. Weigle of Yale University and Chairman of the Revised Standard Bible Committee, confirms this:

"I think this statement by Professor Moffat expresses the general judgment of our committee. Ephesians 5:19 does not refer to a silent inward melody of the heart as might be judged from the translation in the King James Version: 'Making melody in your heart to the Lord.' The American Standard Version sought to clear this up by translating it: 'making melody with your heart to the Lord.' The Revised Standard 'Version has sought to make it yet clearer by translating the passage: 'Making melody to the Lord with all your heart'

"The rendering adopted by the Revised Standard Version is justified by the Greek text adopted by Westcott and Hort and by Nestle at Eph. 5:19. This text simply has the Greek word to kardia in the dative singular, omitting the preposition en. It is the text of Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and the Chester Beatty Papyri. The construction is parallel to that in I Cor. 14:15, where the King James Version itself uses the translation 'I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also."

Other versions further substantiate the foregoing:

BERKLEY VERSION (1945), Zondervan Publ.: "heartily singing and making your music to the Lord." (Eph. 5:19)

MOFFATT'S VERSION: "praise the Lord heartily with words and music." (Eph. 5:19)

MONTGOMERY'S VERSION: "singing and with all your hearts making music unto the Lord."

AMPLIFIED NEW TESTAMENT (1958) Lockman Foundation: "offering praise with voices (and instruments), and making melody with all your heart to the Lord." (Eph. 5:19)

In preparing the AMPLIFIED NEW TESTAMENT, the scholars compared twenty-seven different translations. They also supplied justified, clarifying words, completely based on the Greek text, restoring meaning to many obscure words.

Besides enjoining singing, all of these versions specify making music or melody. The general word "music" or "melody" certainly allows instrumental music if done "with all your heart" or "heartily," meaning a heartfelt manner.

But someone may say, does not the American Standard Version's rendering, "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord," necessarily mean that the heart is the instrumental means by which the melody is made? Not at all. Such an interpretation depends upon defining the word "with" as means. A look in any dictionary will reveal at least eight or ten definitions for the word "with." One of these is "accompanied by," and it seems clear that this is what is meant by the ASV in Eph. 5:19. Compare 1Cor. 14:15 where the construction is parallel in the original as well as in the English: "I will sing with the spirit..." Non-instrument advocates never contend that this verse refers to singing that is done "with the spirit" rather than the voice. All can see that it means, "I will sing with (accompanied by) the spirit..." If the singing in 1 Cor. 14:15 can be audible (which it obviously is) and still be with the spirit, then both the singing and the making melody in Eph. 5:19 can be literal and audible and still be with the heart! If not, why not? Thus, the meaning of the ASV is, "singing (vocal) and making melody (audible, vocal or instrumental) with (accompanied by) your heart to the Lord." This perfectly harmonizes with the versions already quoted.

Instrumental Music At Home

Brother Cogdill says it's all right to have instrumental music "in the home" but wrong "in the church." I'm sure he knows the church is the assembly of Christians and not the building, and also that a church may meet in a home. I would like to ask, is it ever lawful to sing hymns of praise to God accompanied by instrumental music? Is it lawful to practice singing hymns with an instrument? If so, how would one avoid the appearance of evil, since from all outward appearances one would be doing the very thing he condemns? If a group were practicing "My Faith Looks Up To Thee" with the piano, and a spiritually minded brother could not keep his faith from doing what the words of the song would naturally suggest, would he be sinning against God? If so, why? Was he too spiritual?

How Authorized; How Condemned?

Before we can teach in song, it is necessary to teach all parts of a song. A song consists of words, pitch, tune, and tempo. How does Brother Cogdill teach the pitch of a song? I don't really know, but a great number of his brethren use a pitch pipe (mouth organ), which gives out mechanical pitch (another kind) to aid them in getting vocal pitch that is involved in singing. THERE IS AS MUCH AUTHORITY FOR MECHANICAL TUNE TO AID IN GETTING VOCAL TUNE AS THERE IS FOR USING MECHANICAL PITCH TO AID IN GETTING VOCAL PITCH! If not, why not? Pitch is no more essential to singing than tune.

It seems to me very safe to conclude that singing with an instrument is doing nothing more than the Lord commanded — singing and making melody — and teaching the tune component of the song.