Stephen Pribble

Joe[1] was brought up in a Christian home and came to faith in Christ at an early age. While in college he became acquainted with Reformed theology through some books lent to him by a friend. Later his acquaintance turned into a growing commitment. He began to attend meetings of a Reformed student fellowship and worshiped at a nearby church where Calvinism was eloquently defended. After graduation he married and took a job in another city. He and his wife Barbara joined a conservative Presbyterian church and became active members.

Subsequently Joe read a book which convinced him that the church should sing only the Psalms in worship. He eagerly shared his new insights with Barbara, who also became persuaded of this position. Joe and Barbara continued to worship at their church but felt they must remain silent whenever the congregation sang hymns. Other worshipers began to notice and questioned them about it. Joe and Barbara quietly explained their new commitment to the regulative principle of worship. Many of their close friends still desired to sing hymns, and a few felt hurt that their worship no longer came up to Joe and Barbara’s standards.

Among conservative Presbyterian and Reformed congregations today there are men and women like Joe and Barbara who have become convinced that the Bible requires exclusive Psalmody. They feel constrained to remain silent during the singing of hymns. Moreover, there are whole denominations that exist to promote exclusive Psalmody. It is an emotional issue. Those who sing hymns feel their Psalm-singing brethren have an attitude of superiority (“My worship is purer than your worship”). Psalm-singers are positive their hymn-singing brethren either do not understand the regulative principle or betray a glaring inconsistency when it comes to the matter of music. Hymn-singers are often at a loss to come up with Scripture verses to back up their practice, or else they justify it with the Lutheran argument, “The Bible does not forbid the singing of hymns,” rather than demonstrating a positive command to sing hymns.

The Scriptures affirm, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). However, since all churches use song in worship, music is one of those areas where Christians remain divided. One preacher was recently heard to exclaim in exasperation, “I recommend that we pass a law forbidding all music in worship for the next hundred years!” Is there any hope of Christians coming to agreement in this fundamental area? What do the Scriptures teach concerning music in worship? We shall consider the following questions: (1) Are we commanded to sing the Psalms in worship? and (2) Must we sing only inspired songs in worship?

The Regulative Principle

The regulative principle of worship requires man to worship God only as He has commanded in His Word. To add elements of human innovation into the worship of God brings His just displeasure.[2] As defined by the Shorter Catechism, “The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.”[3] Presbyterian office holders take a solemn vow to uphold this fundamental principle.

Advocates of exclusive Psalmody reason that since God has commanded the singing of Psalms in worship, to sing anything else in worship is contrary to Scripture and a violation of the regulative principle. One writer has asserted, “Since the Psalms are clearly prescribed for worship in Scripture, the burden of proof, insofar as Scripture is concerned, rests squarely on the shoulders of those who would introduce the singing of uninspired hymns into the worship of God.”[4] If the Scriptures command us to sing the Psalms in worship, then the regulative principle would demand that the Christian church sing nothing else. But is it true that “the Psalms are clearly prescribed for worship in Scripture”? As surprising as it might seem, the answer is no.

The Vocabulary of Praise

It is a phenomenon of language that words can have both a general and special sense[5]; the word psalm, even in English, is one such word. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word psalm[6] may be defined as “1. In a general sense: Any sacred song that is or may be sung in religious worship; a hymn [7]: esp. in biblical use.... Also more generally, any song or ode of a sacred or serious character.... 2. spec. Any one of the sacred songs or hymns of the ancient Hebrews which together form the ‘Book of Psalms’...; a version or paraphrase of any of these, esp. as sung (or read) in public or private worship.” Thus, the word psalm can refer to a song generally or to one of the sacred songs in the Old Testament Psalter particularly.

Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible there are four different nouns translated psalm: zimrah, zamir (plural zemirot), mizmor, and tehillah.[8] Of these there is one word which always refers to the psalms contained in the Psalter: mizmor. This word occurs only in the Hebrew Psalm titles and can be regarded as a technical term for Psalm.[9]

It is highly significant that nowhere in Scripture are we specifically commanded to sing mizmor, the technical term for Psalm. Instead, in commands to sing unto the Lord, Scripture uniformly uses terms meaning “praise” in a more general sense. Thus, we are commanded to sing zemirot and zimrah; we are also commanded to “zammeru” (plural verb form). These are related words from the same root as mizmor, but similarity does not prove equality.[10] We will examine all the Scripture references that command the singing of psalms.

In two places we are urged, “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works” (1 Chr. 16:9, Ps. 105:2). Though the English translation makes it appear that God is commanding the singing of the book of Psalms, there is actually no Hebrew noun for psalm in these verses. Rather, the Hebrew uses a verb meaning “sing, sing praise, make music.”[11] This same verb is translated elsewhere in the following ways: “I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel” (Jdg. 5:3). “Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings” (Ps. 9:11). “Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name” (18:49). “I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD”(27:6). “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (30:4). “To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever” (30:12). “For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding” (47:7). “Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing: for God is my defence, and the God of my mercy” (59:17). “But I will declare forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob” (75:9). “I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing” (101:1). “I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being” (104:33). “Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant” (135:3). “While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being” (146:2). “Sing unto the LORD; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth” (Isa. 12:5). Thus, the directive, “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him,” rather than specifying the singing of the Psalter, as it might appear, is actually of a more general nature and commands the singing of praise to God, which Christians are thus bound to do.

Further, we are exhorted, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Ps. 95:2). In this Scripture there is a noun referring to the content that is to be sung, but again it is not the technical term mizmor but the more general term zemirot, songs. That this word does not uniformly refer to the Old Testament Psalter is evident from its usage elsewhere: “Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night” (Job 35:10). “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). “From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous” (Isa. 24:16). The word is even used of “the enemies’ hostile song of triumph”[12]: “Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in a dry place; even the heat with the shadow of a cloud: the branch of the terrible ones shall be brought low” (Isa. 25:5).

The English of Psalm 98:5 appears to make a closed case for exclusive Psalmody: “Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.” Likewise we read, “Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery” (Ps. 81:2). The word for psalm used in these verses is zimrah, another related general term meaning melody or song.[13] This word is likewise translated various ways: “The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation” (Ex. 15:2, cf. Ps.118:14). “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation” (Isa.12:2). “For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (51:3). “Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Am. 5:23).

In all these commands it is noteworthy that general terms meaning “praise” are used (the authoritative Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon does not even list “Psalm” as a possible definition of zimrah or zamir). Exclusive Psalmodists have not proven the usage of the more restrictive sense: the Psalter. Understanding the general sense “praise” does no violence to any Scripture passage, and as we shall try to show, it makes better sense of the whole of scriptural teaching.

New Testament. The Greek word psalmos can also have a more general meaning, “song of praise,” or the more special meaning “Psalm.” It is related to the verb psallo, meaning “sing (to the accompaniment of a harp), sing praise.”[14] Moreover, in the special sense it has a variety of meanings: it can refer either to the book of Psalms as a whole (Lk. 20:42, Ac. 1:20), an individual Psalm (Ac. 13:33) or even the whole third division of the Hebrew Bible known as the “writings,”[15] of which the book of Psalms was the first and largest (Lk.24:44). None of these particular Scriptures in Luke or Acts commands singing in worship.

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:26 makes an allusion to a practice current in Corinth: “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” Here the term psalm could be taken in either the general sense (song of praise) or the special (a Psalm); the context does not make this clear. At any rate, what is commanded is not the bringing of a psalm (of whatever kind), doctrine, tongue, revelation or interpretation, but that all things in worship “be done unto edifying.”

The reference in James 5:13 (“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms”) actually does not contain the noun psalmos, as it might appear, but the verb psallo, “sing (to the accompaniment of a harp), sing praise.” It could be rendered simply, “Let him sing.” It is rendered by the NIV, “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.”

The two final New Testament references are classic texts and deserve a special discussion: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16), and “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). The mention of psalms in these verses probably refers to the Old Testament Psalter, used as it is in a list showing various categories of song. Neither the Ephesian nor Colossian text specifically refers to the public worship of God; these Scriptures do not command the singing of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” in worship. As such, there really is no immediate bearing upon the issue at hand. But even granting that there is an application in these verses to Christian worship, it must be stressed that the full phrase “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” as it is used by Paul is surely comprehensive and not restrictive; it includes all lawful song used in worship as determined by the whole of Scripture. If the Holy Spirit speaking through the inspired Apostle had meant to teach the use of the Psalms exclusively it would have been easy to have said, “teaching and admonishing one another en biblo psalmon [with the book of Psalms]” (as in Lk. 20:42, Ac. 1:20), leaving out entirely any mention of hymns and spiritual songs. It is argued that the Greek terms used, psalmois, humnois and odais, appear in Psalm titles in the Septuagint, and this is true.[16] But this does not prove that they are technical terms referring to the Psalms exclusively.[17] The fact that these words are used in a Greek translation of the Old Testament in reference to the Psalms does not prove that they invariably refer to the Psalms and cannot refer to anything else, or that Paul’s use of them in either context requires them to refer to the Psalter.[18] More on this later.

The Breadth of Scriptural Song

It has been argued that Paul’s term pneumatikais, spiritual, refers to songs inspired by the Holy Spirit.[19] But are the biblical Psalms the only spiritual songs in this sense? No, the existence of other inspired songs in Scripture, besides those collected in the Psalter, cannot be denied. There are the songs of Moses (Ex. 15:1-18, Deut. 32:1-43), Miriam (Ex. 15:21), Deborah and Barak (Jdg. 5:2-31), David (2 Sam. 22:1-51, 1 Chr. 16:8-36), Habakkuk (Hab. 3:1-19), Mary (Lk. 1:46-55), Zechariah (1:67-79), the heavenly host (2:14), Simeon (2:29-32), the Apostle John (Rev. 1:5-7) and the saints in glory (4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12-13; 7:10, 12,15-17; 11:15-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:1-8). There is an entire book called the Song of Solomon. The book of Lamentations is a collection of five psalms, including four acrostic psalms. The prophecy of Isaiah is literally filled with songs. It is probable that Paul included hymns in his epistles (Rom. 11:33-36, Phil. 2:6-11, 1 Tim. 3:16). It is difficult to believe that God would include so many songs in the Bible and not intend for them to be sung!

But actually, God’s ancient people the Jews sang a much wider repertoire in worship than the book of Psalms, for throughout the Hebrew Old Testament the reader may observe a system of some 27 separate accent marks used in 36 of the books, together with a system of 21 special accent marks used only in the books of Job, Psalms and Proverbs.[20] As noted by Gesenius, “their primary purpose was to regulate minutely the public reading of the sacred text. The complete transformation and amplification of the system..., which soon caused the Jews to forget its real origin, is clearly connected with the gradual change from the speaking voice in public reading to chanting or singing. The accents then served as a kind of musical notes.”[21] Thus it is evident that the Jews of old sang not just the Psalter but the whole Old Testament!

There is evidence right in the Scriptures that some of the prophets sang their prophecies. God told Ezekiel, “And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not” (Ezek. 33:32). Does this not set an inspired precedent for the singing of biblical prophecy?

The song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 was written at the explicit direction of God in order to teach the people (“Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel.... Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel” [Deut. 31:19, 22]). Its apparent purpose was to inspire worship (“...ascribe ye greatness unto our God” [32:3]). Since the general pattern of Scripture is that human beings are required to continue doing that which God commands unless He Himself orders them to stop, reason suggests the legitimacy of the continuing use of this song in worship. Can anyone demonstrate from Scripture when it became sinful to sing this non-Psalm in worship?

Singing a New Song

Besides the command to sing praise, numerous times in Scripture God’s people are commanded to sing a new song: “Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise” (Ps. 33:3). “And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD” (40:3). “O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth” (96:1). “O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory” (98:1). “I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee” (144:9). “Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints” (149:1). “Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof” (Isa. 42:10). “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9). “And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” (14:3). It is evident that the term obviously can refer to songs other than those found in the biblical collection of Psalms proper (see Rev. 5:9). Since we are clearly commanded to sing a new song in worship to God, does not adherence to the regulative principle demand that we do just that?

One Old Testament example of a “new song” sung in worship is the song godly Hezekiah composed after his close brush with death: “The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness” (Isa. 38:9). This eloquent song concludes with the inspired aspiration: “The LORD was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD” (38:20). What is significant is that Hezekiah uses the possessive plural “my songs.”[22] Hezekiah expresses his desire to sing songs of his own composition in worship to God. Since the song in Isaiah 38 is the only song of Hezekiah found in sacred Scripture, it is evident that at least one of his songs which he desired to sing in the house of the Lord is not even inspired, and the other (the one here) is not in the book of Psalms! It must be asked, did Hezekiah in this instance express a godly or wicked desire? In answer it is noted that he is never censured for expressing this desire. If his desire was proper, it constitutes an implied command to sing uninspired hymns.

Who Has the Burden of Proof?

In view of the rich variety of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs used in the Bible, the burden of proof rests upon the exclusive Psalmodist to demonstrate that terms having an established general sense, when used in commands to sing praise, are restricted to a special sense. It will not do to show that a certain term may mean the Old Testament Psalter; rather, evidence must be produced that such a term must mean such. With regard to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 the exclusive Psalmodist must (1) show how the context, and not merely a word study based upon early Christian literature, requires that the terms psalmois, humnois and odais refer to the psalms in the Psalter only, and that Paul cannot have meant by these general terms any other kind of song; (2) demonstrate how Paul’s original readers in Ephesus and Colossae, recent converts from a pagan not Jewish background, and not having grown up in an environment permeated by the LXX, would have intuitively understood such terms, employed without further clarification, to refer to the Psalter, and (3) explain how Paul could so casually and with no explanation introduce a radical new limitation on appropriate song, one at variance with the rest of Scripture and more than fifteen hundred years of practice by the church from the time of Moses to the apostolic age.[23] Unless the exclusive Psalmodist can do these things he must acknowledge that his exclusive Psalmody is a matter of personal preference merely, and not divine command.

Exclusive Psalmodists urge the church to consider what the Apostle Paul meant by psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (this is good, for it is always beneficial to try to understand the original intent of Scripture). They unsettle their opponents with the question, “Could Paul possibly have meant the songs of Fanny Crosby?” But the question of what Paul meant cuts both ways. It must also be asked, are the metrical Psalms of today what Paul had in mind as he penned these inspired words? Does the practice of singing the Psalms in meter go back to apostolic times? One cannot justify a metrical paraphrase on the same basis one would justify a translation; a metrical paraphrase is not a translation, but a paraphrase of a translation, and therefore one step removed from a translation. Singing a metrical Psalm is not the same as singing inspired Scripture; Psalms in meter are in fact hymns of human composition paraphrasing the Psalter, and not identical to inspired Scripture.[24]

Exclusive Psalm-singers maintain that the Scriptures require the use of inspired song in worship. But in practice the issue is not a dispute between those who use only inspired song and those who use uninspired song, for it must be remembered that there are few, if any, churches that sing or chant the Psalms right out of the Bible and reject the use of metrical paraphrases altogether.

The Regulative Principle and Hymnody

In the absence of a specific command concerning the exact content of the songs to be sung in worship, what are the biblical principles that govern the church’s choice of praise songs? Is the church given a carte blanche with full authority to innovate in this area? No, the regulative principle precludes that. How, then, does the regulative principle apply? Applied to music the regulative principle must be formulated something like this: God has commanded His people to sing praise to Him in worship, and the Scriptures are replete with examples of the kind of songs to be used. The repertoire includes far more than the actual book of Psalms. The content of appropriate song is a matter that must be determined from the abundant biblical examples.

It is my strong conviction that Christians should sing the biblical Psalms in both public and private worship. This is shown by the numerous biblical examples of singing the Psalms. If the churches were faithful to this principle it would revitalize their understanding of Scripture and give the saints an unwavering hope in God’s power to accomplish His purpose. The singing of musical settings of the standard translations of Scripture should be encouraged, though admittedly the tunes are generally irregular and harder to learn. Recognizing the inherent difficulty, I believe the next best thing is to supplement these with the singing of the metrical Psalms. All 150 Psalms should be sung, and thankfully there are excellent metrical Psalters containing all the Psalms.

But let not the church hesitate to sing hymns of human composition based upon other Scriptures besides the Psalms. Let gifted Christians, in the spirit of godly Hezekiah, utilize their God-given talents in writing new songs of praise to God for all His benefits. Let the church carefully evaluate the music of worship in terms of its faithfulness to the Word of God; if we are going to teach and admonish one another through music, then the elders of the church cannot escape responsibility to insure that correct doctrine is being taught in the songs that are sung in the pew as well as in the sermons preached from the pulpit. The church’s hymnody must be “spiritual” (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16); a working definition of “spiritual song” is a song containing the spiritual truths taught in the Holy Scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.[25]

Is this position confessional? The Westminster Confession of Faith, in enumerating the “parts of the ordinary religious worship of God,” lists “singing of psalms with grace in the heart” (21:5). It is noteworthy that the term “psalms” is used in its general sense of “any sacred song...sung in religious worship” (Oxford English Dictionary); the Confession does not specify “singing of Psalms” or “singing of the Psalms.”[26]

Is this position historical? It is noteworthy that John Calvin, who among the Reformers “formulated this regulative principle with clarity and applied it with great consistency in the Reformation at Geneva,”[27] led his churches in the singing of metrical Psalms as well as various hymns: the metrical decalogue (Ten Commandments) followed by the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) after each law, the Lord’s Prayer in a long paraphrase, the Apostles’ Creed sung, and the Nunc dimittis (Lk. 2:29-32) in meter.[28]

The Apostle John was given a glimpse at what was going on in heavenly worship. There the assembled saints sing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (Rev. 5:12). The church is instructed to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Does this not show that it is God’s express desire that the Lamb be likewise praised by the assembled saints on earth?[29]

Is there a command to sing the Psalms in worship? No. While there are general commands to sing praise to God, there is no command to sing the Psalms specifically, and an analysis of worship-song in Scripture reveals that other materials besides the Psalms are sung in worship. Must the church sing only inspired songs in worship? No. There are repeated commands to sing a new song; moreover, godly Hezekiah expressed a holy desire that the people of God sing uninspired songs in the house of the Lord, and he is never censured for this; his desire constitutes an implied command to sing uninspired hymns. Let the church praise and exalt Him who died and rose again through the use of God-honoring sacred song sung in the Spirit and with the understanding, to the glory of our heavenly King.


[1] A fictional character for the purpose of illustration.

[2] Note how severely God punished such a human innovation in Leviticus 10:1-2: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.”

[3] Answer to question 51.

[4] Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion (Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant Publications, 1980), p. 49.

[5] Note, for instance, book, the book; supper, the supper; house, the house; lord, the Lord.

[6] As explained by the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word psalm derives from the Greek “psalm-os, a twitching (of the strings of the harp), the sound of the cithara or harp, a song sung to the harp, from psallein, to twitch, twang, play (with the fingers), sing to a harp (in LXX and N.T.).”

[7] In a quotation (c. A.D. 1175) cited by the Oxford English Dictionary, the word psalm is applied to the Creed: “The salm thet heo alle thus writen wes ihaten .Credo. efter than formeste word of the salm.”

[8] This term, related to hillel, to praise, is used in the title to Psalm 145, tehillah ledawid. The entire phrase is translated by the KJV “David’s Psalm of praise” (understanding tehillah to mean “of praise” and supplying the italicized word Psalm for clarification). The standard reference work, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, edited by Francis Brown, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906 [1980]), pp. 239-40, lists one of the meanings of tehillah: “3. praise-song, as title, tehillim ledawid [Psalm 145:1] (so NH [new Hebrew] sepher tehillim &; tehillim, tehillim = Psalms).”

[9] So identified in Brown, Driver, Briggs, op. cit., p.274. Mizmor is found in 57 Psalm titles: Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31, 38, 39, 40, 41, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 73, 75, 76, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 88, 92, 98, 100, 101, 108, 109, 110, 139, 140, 141 and 143. The KJV adds the term psalm (indicated by italics) where there is no Hebrew equivalent at 1 Chronicles 16:7 and in the titles to Psalms 11, 14, 18, 25, 26, 27, 28, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37, 52, 53, 54, 55, 61, 69, 70, 72, 81, 103, 138, 144, and 145; there is no Greek equivalent at Acts 13:35. Neither zimrah nor zamir occurs in Psalm titles.

[10] A similar phenomenon exists in English: canticle, cantata, chant, enchantment and incantation all come from the same root word, but there is no confusing them. We would fire the choir director if he did an incantation instead of a cantata!

[11] R. Laird Harris; Gleason L. Archer, Jr.; and Bruce K. Waltke; eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:245. Brown, Driver, Briggs, op. cit., gives the meaning “make music, melody.”

[12] Brown, Driver, Briggs, op. cit., p. 274.

[13] Ibid.

[14] W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, ed., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 899.

[15] Hebrew kethubim, comprising Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and the two books of Chronicles.

[16] Several facts need to be kept in mind when dealing with evidence from the Septuagint (LXX). First, it is a translation and therefore does not have equal authority with the original Hebrew. Moreover, in the Psalms it is not generally regarded as a careful translation but an interpretative paraphrase. It is classified with “popular style texts” as distinguished from “conservative style texts” (Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible [Chicago: Moody Press, 1968], p. 265). Nix wrote, “As to quality of translation, the XX is not consistently executed.... [It] varies from slavishly literal renderings of the Torah to free translations in the Writings” (“Versions, Ancient and Medieval” in the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia [Chicago: Moody Press, 1975], p. 1771). As an illustration of its tendency toward free paraphrase, note that it adds titles for the following Psalms where none exist at all in the Hebrew (all English numbering): 33, 43, 71, 91, 93, 94, 96, 97, 99, 104, 105, 107, 114, 116, 117, 118, 119, 135, 136, 137, 146, 147 and 148. It omits “of David” where the Hebrew has it in the titles of Psalms 122, 124, 131 and 133; and “of Solomon” where the Hebrew has it in the title for Psalm 127. It adds “of David” where the Hebrew does not have it in the titles of Psalms 33, 43, 67, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 104, and 137.

[17] Murray’s observations concerning the usage of the terms psalmos, humnos and ode in the LXX would be more compelling if the practice throughout the Scriptures was the uniform practice of the singing of the collected Psalms exclusively in worship (The Scriptural Warrant Respecting Song in the Public Worship of God as Stated in the Minority Report of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God Submitted to the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1947, republished by The Publications Committee, Presbyterian Reformed Church, Vienna, Virginia, n.d., pp. 9-11). It must be noted that the LXX does not limit its usage of the terms psalmois, humnois and odais to the musical selections collected in the book of Psalms. Habakkuk’s psalm is called an ode (Hab. 3:1, 19); likewise, the songs of Moses (Ex. 15:1, Deut. 31:19, 21, 22, 30, 32:44), Deborah and Barak (Jdg. 5:12), David (2 Sam. 22:1)and Solomon (1 Kgs. 4:32). Isaiah 42:10 exhorts us to sing a new humnon. In Amos 5:23 God wishes to be rid of Israel’s odes and psalms, and in 8:10 He threatens to turn their odes into weeping (probably not references to the Psalms as it is unlikely that the northern kingdom was still faithfully singing the Psalter while given over to idolatry). N.T. usage is comparable. In Revelation 5:9 and 14:3 the new song of the saints in glory is called an ode; likewise in 15:3 the song of Moses (which begins “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (not from the Psalter) is also called an ode.

[18] Even the exclusive Psalmodist Bushell recognizes that “On rare occasion the term psalmos can have reference to the songs of the ungodly (Job 21:12; Lam. 3:14)” (op. cit., p. 72).

[19] Murray, op. cit., p. 13.

[20] For a complete list see the “Tabula Accentuum” included with the Hebrew text Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1967-77).

[21] A. E. Cowley, tr. and ed. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar as edited and enlarged by E. Kautzsch), second English edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 910 [1982]), pp. 57-58.

[22] The word for “my songs” in this instance is neginotay, a plural suffixial form of neginah (compare the plural form neginoth in the titles to Psalms 4, 6, 54, 55, 67 and 76), “music (of stringed instr.)” or “song (with string accomp.?),” from the verb nagan, meaning “touch (strings), play a stringed instrument” (Brown, Driver, Briggs, op. cit., p. 618). The prophet Habakkuk uses the same word at the close of his inspired song: “To the chief singer on my stringed instruments” (Hab. 3:19). It is noteworthy that Hezekiah says, “we will sing my songs” (referring to his own compositions), not “thy songs” (referring to songs God had given by divine inspiration).

[23] Merely to argue that the terms psalmois, humnois and odais must refer to the biblical Psalms because that’s what the words mean is to employ a similar line of reasoning used by Baptists when they contend (based on usage in extra-biblical literature) that the word baptizo means immerse; therefore, whenever we find it in Scripture it must mean immerse and cannot mean anything else.

[24] What Bible-loving Christian would settle for a metrical paraphrase as his only Bible? We believe in verbal inspiration; that is, that the very words of Scripture are inspired, and ought to be preserved, as accurately as possible, in our English versions. We are rightly disturbed at the looseness of the Living Bible and the inclusive language of the New RSV. Does not each of us want to have the most accurate translation possible?

[25] For example: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8), “ Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee”(Ps. 5:3), “Holy, Holy, Holy!” (Rev. 4:8), “ Merciful” (Ex. 34:6) “and mighty” (Ps. 24:8), “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!” (Matt. 28:19, Mk. 14:61).

[26] Exclusive Psalmodists make a good case that the Westminster divines’ own practice was exclusive Psalmody. But even granting this, it remains true that the final wording they adopted was “singing of psalms” not “singing of Psalms” or “singing of the Psalms.” Given their tendency to over-capitalize (e.g., Atheism, Baptism, Godhead, Idolatry, Holy Scripture, King, Mediator, Original Sin, Priest, Prophet, Supreme Judge, Surety, Trinity, Virgin Mary, etc.), it makes their choice of the small letter p in “psalms” all the more significant. Presbyterians are not bound by the divines’ practice but by the wording of the Confession.

[27] William Young, The Puritan Principle of Worship (Vienna, Virginia: Publications Committee of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, n.d.), p. 4.

[28] “Calvin’s French Rites at Strasbourg and Geneva” in William D. Maxwell, A History of Christian Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, [1936] 1982), pp. 112-119.

[29] The word “lamb” does not occur in the book of Psalms; “sheep,” when it occurs, refers to an animal (8:7), the saints (44:11, 22; 74:1; 78:52; 79:13; 95:7; 100:3; 119:176; 144:13) or the wicked (49:14), not Christ.