Re: Congregational Singing Only In the New Testament

We recently received a thoughtful comment on YouTube regarding Brent’s sermon Is the Church of Christ “Legalistic”:

Mechanical Instruments Condemned, where is your example of congregational singing only in the New Testament? What “psalms” was Paul referring too?

Please read Brent’s full reply below:

I apologize in the delay in getting back to you in answering your questions. I was out of town conducting a gospel lectureship in the San Diego area.

The reason we sing congregationally is based upon the apostle Paul’s instructions to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae:

  1. Ephesians 5.19: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (nasb).
  2. Colossians 3.16: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (nasb).

The pronominal phrase in Eph. 5.19, “speaking one to another,” is known as a reflexive pronoun, which literally carries the idea: “speaking among yourselves.” It is also seen in Col. 3.16, “teaching and admonishing one another…” Furthermore, Paul’s declarative has the force of a command, and the Christians in these two congregations would have understood it as such. Therefore, by virtue of Paul’s teaching in these passages we engage in congregational singing in our worship to God.

As to the question about the “psalms,” in all likelihood it refers to the Old Testament psalms, which evidently were put to music and sung accordingly. Various sources assume the Greek words psallo (verb), psalate (verb), and psalmos (noun) inherently suggests the use of mechanical instruments of music. There is no doubt that instruments of music often accompanied the singing of psalms, but were not demanded. All three of the words are from the root word psao, defined as “to rub, wipe; to handle, touch” (Thayer). In ancient Grecian literature, psallo had been used to describe the plucking of a carpenter’s string, and also of plucking a hair. All three words necessitate a plucking or twanging of something, but what was being plucked may differ. In both the above passages, the speaking, the singing, the teaching, and the admonishing were to be done with or in your hearts. Paul emphasizes in both passages that what is being touched or plucked is the spiritual heart, one’s mind and emotional senses. This was achieved without the use of mechanical instruments. What’s inherent in these words is the action to rub or pluck, but the object of the verb has to be seen and defined within the context of the verse.

The Scriptures provide a fascinating comparison:

Psalm 98.5 [Septuagint]: “Sing (psalate) to the Lord with the harp (en kithara) and the sound of a psalm” (psalmos). The object being plucked is the harp!

Eph. 5.19 [Greek N.T.]: “making melody (psallontes) in your heart to the Lord” (en kardia). The object being plucked is the heart.

The lexical analysis clearly coincides with the historical facts; while instruments of music were commanded under the Old Law and Temple worship (2 Chron. 29.25), there is absolutely no historical evidence of the New Testament church, under the authority of the inspired apostles, of any use of mechanical instruments in the assembled church.

I know this is a relatively brief answer to your questions, but I hope it will be helpful in your understanding as to why we do not use instrumental music in our church assemblies. I would be more than happy to send you a booklet I have written on the issue that is far more extensive. I just need your snail-mail address.

Thank you for viewing [our YouTube channel] and asking the questions!

Brent Willey, evangelist & elder – Los Osos Church of Christ