Monday, July 25, 2011

What God says about singing the Psalms

This is a portion of Doug Comin's book 'Worship From Genesis to Revelation".. the portion I have chosen is from the book of Ephesians.
" God's inspired songs are the expression of our covenant union.  (Ephesians 5:15-21)
Having admonished the Ephesians to 'walk in love' and to 'walk as children of light,' Paul now urges them to 'walk in wisdom'.  he lays great stress upon 'redeeming the time' in order to underscore the urgency of capturing every moment and conforming every activity to the service of the Lord.  We are not to waste our time in the pursuit which profits us nothing, but to 'understand what the will of the Lord is' and to do it.
The only way to understand what the will of the Lord is, of course, is to consult His written Word.  It is in this context that Paul commands the Ephesians to 'be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord'. (vs 19)
Many have appealed to this verse as a justification for the composition of 'hymns' and 'songs' in addition to the Psalms of the Bible for use in the worship of the Church.  Others have suggested that this passage has nothing to do with the formal worship assemblies of the Church, and therefore has no bearing upon the question of appropriate worship songs.
The first argument is easily refuted by two considerations.  First, we must not interpret Biblical terms according to our modern conceptions, but understand what they meant in their historical context.  We cannot take our modern conception of the word 'hymn' for example and read it back into the text of Scripture to justify a current practice.  Biblical words must be understood in the context of their use during the time in which they were written.  This is a basic principle of sound Biblical interpretation which is not followed by those who latch on to the word 'hymn' and conclude: Paul authorizes us in this passage to use our modern hymnals in worship.  Here is the plain fact of the matter:  The terms of psalms, hymns and songs were understood in Paul's day to the synonyms for the compositions of the Hebrew Psalter. 
Michael Bushnell writes: "It almost goes without saying that these three  musical terms did not necessarily mean the same thing to Paul and his readers as they do to us now.  Their meaning here must be determined by an examination of their use in New Testament times as well as  from the contextual considerations of the passage before us.  The meanings of the religious terms used in the New Testament were conditioned to a  large extent by the usage of  those terms  in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the old Testament in common use at that time.  The three terms psalmos, odee, and humnos are used very infrequently in the New Testament, and much of the time the content of the songs referred to is not determinable from the context.  This makes the study of the use of these terms in the Septuagint all the more important for the determination  of how the original readers of the New Testament would have understood them."
When we turn to the Septuagint, what do we find?
Psalmos occurs some 87 times in the Septuagint, some 78 of which are in the Psalms themselves, and 67 times in the Psalm titles.  Humnos occurs some 17 times in the Septuagint, 13 of which are in the Psalms, 6 times in the titles.  Odee occurs some 80 times in the Septuagint, 45 of which are in the Psalms, 36 in the Psalm titles.  All three of these terms are used frequently in various combinations by the Biblical writers as well as post-Apostolic sources to refer to the Biblical Psalms.  among the Psalm headings in the Septuagint the terms psalms and odee occur togethr 12 times in a variety of formats:'a psalm of David, a song', a 'a psalm of a song', and 'a song of a psalm'.  Psalmos and humnos appear  conjoined twice as ' a psalm of David among the hymns'.  Psalm 75 contains all three terms together.  The heading for that Psalm reads: 'For the end, among the hymns, a psalm for Asaph, a song for the Assyrian'."

"In light of the clear use of the terms psalms, hymns, and songs in the Septuagint version of the Psalter, it would appear most likely that Paul is using these terms synonymously in Ephesians 5:19 to express the fullness of the praise that is offered to God when His word is sung to His praise and the edification of the Church.
The word 'spiritual' means 'inspired' and modifies all three terms.  The most accurate rendering of the verse would therefore read, 'speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and songs spiritual, singing and making melody with  your heart to the Lord.'  There is no justification here for the composition of uninspired songs for use in worship.
Concerning the second argument, Michael Bushell writes: 'It would seem apparent that some form of gathering for worship is in view simply from the fact that mutual or corporate edification in the singing of praise to God is at the heart of the passage'.  But even if more 'casual' gatherings are intende, an argument from the lesser to the greater is valid.
Thus John Murray and William Young wrote: 'This consideration does not remove these texts from relevancy to the question of the public worship of God.  For, if Paul specifies psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as the media through wihch believers may mutually promote the glory of God and one another's edification in those more generic Christian exercises, this fact has very close bearing upon the question of the apostolically sanctioned and authorized media of Praise to God in the more specific worship of the sanctuary.  In other words, if the apostolically enjoined media or materials of song in the more generic exercises of worship are psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,  then nothing inferior to psalms, hymns and spritual sons would be enjoined for use in teh more specific exercises of worship in the assemblies of the church.'
Paul's point is that edification in the Spirit comes through the singing of His inspired songs of praise.  These 'spiritual songs' are the glorious inheritance of the Gentile converts for the magnification of God's manifold wisdom."

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