Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs in the Septuagint

Thanks to Adam B. who posted on the Puritanboard a chart that stimulated this post. The chart has been modified slightly by numbering the Psalms to conform to the Septuagint (LXX).

According to tradition, based on the letter of Aristeas, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in the second half of the 3rd century BC. It is called the “Septuagint” (LXX) because legend has it that it was translated by 72 scholars in 72 days. Whatever one makes of the story or even the quality of the translation (it varies from book to book) “the importance of the Septuagint,” says NT scholar Stanley Porter, “cannot be underestimated.” He continues by noting that the “Septuagint constituted the set of sacred writings for early Christians….” The first-century (apostolic) church used the LXX more than any other form (translation) of the Old Testament.  The NT writers, under the inspiration of the Spirit, quoted one OT book, from the LXX, more than any other: the Psalms. Of the Psalms the most quoted is Psalm 110. We cannot doubt that the NT church was familiar with the 150 Psalms.

At the top of the Psalms in the LXX were titles or superscriptions. Those superscriptions described each Psalm, they categorized the psalms in 4 classes or groups:

  • ψαλμος [Psalms] (2-8, 10-14, 18-24, 28-30, 37-40, 42-43, 45-50, 61-67, 72, 74-76, 78-84, 86-87, 91, 93, 97-100, 107-109, 138-140, 142)
  • [συνεσις; understanding (31, 41, 43-44, 51-54, 73, 77, 87-88, 141)]
  • υμνος [Hymns] (5, 53-54, 60, 66, 75)
  • ωδη [Ode/Song] (3, 17, 29, 38, 44, 47, 64-67, 74-75, 82, 86-87, 90-92, 94-95, 107, 119-133)

Three of those four superscriptions or categories should seem familiar. Paul invokes them in Colossians 3:16.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (σοφίᾳ), singing psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Arguably, even though the nouns for “wisdom” or “understanding” are different, we can say that here Paul invokes not just three of the categories but all 4: wisdom, psalms, hymns, and [Holy Spirit-given] songs. He says virtually the same thing in Ephesians 5:19.

addressing one another in psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart….

There is disagreement among OT scholars about the authenticity of the superscriptions, i.e., do they date to the origin of the Psalms or were they added later, but there seems to be little doubt about their antiquity. What matters for this discussion is that they were an established feature of the Scriptures as received and used by the NT church. The LXX or other Greek translations of the Psalms would have been familiar to the NT church and would have influenced the reception of the Psalter in the NT period.

When we seek to determine the meaning of the expression “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in Colossians 3;16 and Ephesians 5:19 we cannot do so without reckoning with the high probability that the NT authors would have been familiar with these pre-existing categories. If Paul was invoking familiar categories of Psalms known to his readers, then, on analogy with the usage of other OT texts, e.g., the repeated quotation of and allusion to Psalm 110, the author expects the readers (or hearers) to understand that this is an invocation of more than just the verse quoted or to which allusion is made.

If Paul is invoking familiar (to them) categories of Psalms then we cannot assume that “hymns and spiritual songs” are either non-canonical or or uninspired songs or a license for the creation and use of the same. Our problem, of course, is that as we receive the Psalms in our English Bibles we do not see these superscriptions (headings or titles). Even in the modern critical editions of the LXX the superscriptions are noted by relegated to a footnote. So, in that way, our experience of the Psalter is different from that of the NT church. We cannot, however, read our experience back into that of the NT church. If we are to understand Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 we must discover what those apparently formulaic expressions meant in their original context. The form of the Psalms in the Septuagint, including the superscriptions, would seem to be useful, even important as we seek to understand them properly.

This argument isn’t, in itself definitive for what the church should do today but it does help frame the question and push us toward the answer. If Paul was invoking familiar categories that pre-existed the NT church by 250-300 years then we must account for that in our interpretation and application of these two passages.

34 comments

  1. I’m sure this question has been asked and answered before, but anyways…

    Hymnodic material in the new testament, like I Tim 3:16, is cited as if the writer and readers were all familiar with it; was the apostolic church sinning to have sung these hymns before it the endorsement of enscripturation?

  2. Hi Rube,

    Yes, I get this question. The question seems to assume a couple of things, e.g., that 1 Tim 3:16 is a hymn. It may be. It also seems to assume a different relation between the canonical and post-canonical periods than I do. The church did things, under the direct inspiration of the Spirit, that we do not do in the post-apostolic age. In the apostolic age the NT Scriptures were in the process of formation. In the post-apostolic age we’re not receiving direct revelation from the Spirit. The Spirit does illumine the Word for us and does testify to us about the truthfulness of Scripture and does operate through the ministry of Word and sacrament, so He is not inactive but he does operate differently now than He did then.

    Warfield notes the importance of the adjective “pneumatic” (Spiritual). The NT songs, assuming they exist, were Holy Spirit-given songs. Thus, if the Spirit gave songs to the apostolic church they were appropriate to sing. I tried to deal with this somewhat in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

    There might be a 3rd assumption lurking in your question. As we have the passage, it is canonical Scripture so I’m happy to sing it. It was the Word of God when it was given. It didn’t become the Word when it was received as canonical. That is, the reception of texts as canonical doesn’t confer upon them the status “Word ofGod.” They were recognized as the Word because they were the Word. We know that there was Spirit-given revelation that was not preserved for us as canonical Scripture. Thus, all revelation is the Word but not all revelation was preserved for the canon. However 1 Tim 3:16 was used (e.g., as a confessional statement or a song) it was divinely given and appropriate for use.

  3. Excellently done, brother! Much better than my original post. Thanks for expanding on it with helpful detail.

    Cheers,

    Adam

  4. Good stuff! Thanks! I have recently brought up the idea to several NAPARC leaders , elders and pastors, that we Reformed churches should really re-consider a fresh look at why Calvin and many Reformers primarily stuck to only singing God’s Word and with no instruments at that. You would have thought that I was suggesting we take a fresh look again at the idea that the earth is flat! Today in most Reformed churches we have (in Practice) 4 sacraments. Not necessarily in this order.
    1. The Lord’s supper
    2. Baptism
    3. Small community groups. Because that is where the real important stuff happens don’t ya know, where we get in touch with our Reformed Oprah.
    4. Instruments and praise band ethos, etc.

    This audio link below is interesting. Rick Phillip’s gives his view and comments of the 40th GA and the PCA in general. Interesting to me is that he spends 30 min of the 60 min saying that the lack of RPW in the PCA is one of the bigger problems. I think he is right.

    http://confessingourhope.com/blog/2012/07/01/an-analysis-of-the-40th-pca-general-assembly/

    Grace & Peace,

  5. Great book! Every Reformed Pastor and member in America should read it. Indeed I recommended it and sent a link. I hope they check it out, though references to avoiding the pitfalls of “traditionalism” and “legalism” were sent my way in response. So I’m not sure how open the minds really were.

  6. Thanks for this post! I was not aware of this connection.

    Also, the Hebrew Masoretic Text also has the titles as part of the text itself. This fact is probably obscured in English translations that include non-inspired chapter and section headings.

  7. Dr. Clark,

    It’s great to see you back blogging, the posts and conversations over at the old HB was very formative for me as my family made the transition into a Reformed congregation. I am looking forward to similar discussions here in the future.

    As to the issues you bring up here, and in RRC, I do think you make a very compelling case for Scripture being the sole source of congregational worship and song. It has definitely sparked some questions in my mind. I’ll shoot a couple your way here:

    1) If the Psalms represent the people of God communicating to him in praise, prayer, and lament (and more), which flowed from reflection on God’s prior work and self revelation in history and in their canon, presumably comprised of at least the Torah, in the forms and idiom of the music and poetics of Ancient Near Eastern culture, what precludes us from similar patterns of dialogical worship based on our own reflection on Scripture in our own cultural forms today?

    2) Would you say your views on worship flow from direct Scriptural references or commands, or from good and necessary consequence based off of the implications of Scripture, as informed broadly by the Regulative Principle?

    I think your work in this area certainly deserves to be dealt with carefully; and certainly think that at minimum singing from Scripture should figure prominently in our worship. But, like a lot of practices in Reformed churches (and EP/Scripture singing certainly has been a historical practice in our churches) are so foreign to my own presuppositions that it takes a lot of time and reflection to accept them. But if I went so far as to have my kids baptized, I am certainly not willing to rule out your arguments on this matter just because the concept seems so foreign.

    • Hi Jed,

      I appreciate this. The answer to your first question is similar to the answer to Rube. We’re not canonical actors. We not in the period of the formation of the canon. I’m a fairly severe cessationist but I think most of the Ref’d tradition has been (contra, e.g., the Anabaptists who had an open-ended view of revelation). If there is a bright line between the canonical period and now then we are recipients of the canon, not makers of it or actors in it. The question I keep asking on this score is: If there is anything for Scripture is intentionally and completely sufficient it is the public worship of God. What does Scripture lack that we must supply?

      To your second question, the answer is both/and. I wouldn’t like to say that it’s “my” view. That’s not really accurate. It was the view of the Reformed Churches in Europe and the British Isles for a long time. As I document in RRC the reasons for changing our views were not exegetical or theological. They were, as far as I know now, practical. To be clear, the RPW, is no inference. It’s revealed quite clearly in Scripture. The dialogical principle (God speaks, the people respond) is a good and necessary inference.

      I sympathize with the struggle. It took me a very long time to get where I am and understand the need to be patient. I’m grateful for those who were patient with me.

  8. Dr. Clark,

    If there is a bright line between the canonical period and now then we are recipients of the canon, not makers of it or actors in it.The question I keep asking on this score is: If there is anything for Scripture is intentionally and completely sufficient it is the public worship of God. What does Scripture lack that we must supply?

    Certainly Scripture lacks nothing, and I would hope that everything we do on the Lord’s Day is grounded and warranted in the Word. But, if we were to dig back into the OT period, Scripture was most certainly clear on what was to be offered in the sacraficial system, which is where Nadab and Abihu found themselves cooked a little past well done. If I were to draw a comparison, NT sacraments seem to fall under the same regulative strictures. However, unless I am missing something, I don’t see any direct regulation on how responsive worship such as psalm singing or prayer was to be handled, specifically at the Temple, which I think would inform our worship in the church. From what I understand, in the 2nd Temple period, worship during the sanctioned feasts was more formalized and the Psalms themselves seem to have been compiled in their final form with a liturgical order in mind. For what it’s worth, your post here does go a long way to arguing that Paul may have had these categories in mind in his epistles when he addresses singing.

    I guess where I am a little lost is, while the prayers and songs in Scripture were revelatory, they were also what I would think to be warranted existential responses of Israel (or the Chruch) to the presence (or hiddeness) of God and his acts in history. I think the historic Reformed view you are advocating definitely has a good deal of strength in not wanting to allow new revelation within the worship of the church, or the infiltration of man-made ideas into our weekly dialogue with our heavenly Father. It also picks up on a very valuable and under-emphasized aspect of our doctrine of Scripture, namely that the Psalms (and other Scripture) are not merely the voices of past saints directed to God, but it is also our voice, a language given to us to respond to God as they did long ago, since we are part of the same spiritual community.

    However, I don’t think I have ever conceived of worship as a revelatory act in itself, rather a responsive act that picks up on the Revealed word and returns it to God in a truthful, yet relatable way. I can see the biggest shortfall of introducing non-Scriptural elements in worship is that it can loose it’s bearings on truth, when we are to be worshiping in spirit and in truth. But can’t we end up running a ironic form of cultural imperialism into our worship when we demand that worship be rendered in Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman forms – since these were the cultural mediums in which Scripture was communicated. Can we, by careful reflection on God in history and Scripture also include worship that arises from our own historical and cultural contexts?

    Anyway, that’s all I have for tonight, you have definitely given us a lot to think about, so thank you for that.

    • Jed,

      Haven’t you subtly changed the terms of discussion? You say,

      I would hope that everything we do on the Lord’s Day is grounded and warranted in the Word.

      That’s not the RPW of HC 96 or WCF 21. Our principle is not that everything we do is grounded or warranted but everything we do is commanded either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence/inference. To say that everything must be “grounded” or “warranted” is essentially adopt the normative principle, that whatever is not forbidden is permitted or if we have an example in Scripture then we can do it. The Roman practice of memorial, propitiatory eucharistic sacrifice is justified on the basis that it is warranted by the biblical example (never mind that the entire sacrificial system has been fulfilled by Christ and abolished in his death!).

      You write,

      I don’t see any direct regulation on how responsive worship such as psalm singing or prayer was to be handled, specifically at the Temple, which I think would inform our worship in the church.

      Take a look at the chapter in RRC on worship. I deal with this question at length there. In the NT the temple is NOT the paradigm. Nor was it the paradigm in the Apostolic Fathers (early 2nd century). When the temple became the paradigm ministers became priests and the supper became a sacrifice. That didn’t work out well. The historic Reformed understanding was that the synagogue formed the pattern for early Christian worship.

      The basic structure of biblical worship is evident in Scripture: God speaks and his people respond. Again, there’s material on this in RRC. See also this earlier attempt to lay out this structure.

      As to worship being revelatory, well, the only point I’m trying to make is that we’re not in the canonical era. We’re not in the time of canon making. The prophets and apostles were. God was revealing himself then in ways that he is not now. That’s the bright line to which I refer. to be sure there special revelation was periodic in the old covenant (and the typological period more broadly). In the NT period special revelation seems to have been more consistent. Not all those revelations were preserved for us in Scripture as canonical for all time but they were canonical for that time. Thus there is considerable discontinuity between what we are commanded to do and what they were commanded to do. E.g., 1Cor 11. I take it that females were to cover their heads when they stood to pray and prophesy in the assembly. The canon being closed such revelatory activity (prophesy) has ceased. Discontinuity. We have a completed canonical revelation with which we are to be satisfied.

      At the end of your question/post, you seem to return to the beginning, i.e., the assumption of a normative rather than regulative principle. Therein seems to lie our chief difference. If the regulative principle is as the Reformed Churches have confessed then certain consequences seem logically unavoidable. Namely, our worship ends up looking more like that of the 16th and 17th century Reformed Churches. If we change the terms of the premise, however, then the conclusions are changed.

  9. Dr. Clark,

    I wasn’t trying to be subtle, because frankly I am not so good at it. And I agree that we are in a post-canonical (cessationist) period. I’ll have to go back and re-read your chapter on worship in RRC to refresh my memory on your more detailed arguments, and so I don’t raise questions you have already answered. But, if I am tracing your argument correctly, you are maintaining that if we use hymns and/or instrumentation, we are basically employing a normative framework as opposed to a regulative framework that comports with Scripture and our confessional witness – even if we say we are employing the regulative principle. Have I represented you fairly here?

    I think your arguments certainly make sense, and I don’t want to reject them off hand. But, honestly because they are so foreign to my own understanding, it will take some time for me to drill down into the relevant sources before I can say I am fully persuaded one way or the other. So, I’d say I am more or less on the fence on the matter. After I am done re-reading that chapter in RRC, I might shoot some more questions your way. Thanks again.

    • Jed,

      I don’t mean to say that the shift from RPW to NPW is intentional but it’s what happens. It happens regularly in conversation about the RPW. People will say to me, “I believe the RPW” and then go on to talk as if we operate under the NPW. There are probably several reasons but one is that we’re just unfamiliar with it. The other is the assumption (that I challenged in RRC) that whatever we do is Reformed because we’re doing it.

      My question is this: if we’re accepting the very same principle adopted by the framers of the confessions then why is our practice so different from theirs? They sang God’s Word without instruments and we sing non-canonical songs with instruments. Can both practices be derived from the same principle? There is evidence that, in fact, the principle shifted. Take a look at the preface to the 1934 Psalter Hymnal, which I did not discuss in RRC. There is clear evidence that the principle shifted from RPW to NPW and no one seems to have noticed.

      Perhaps it’s possible logically to get from their principle to our practice but I’m not aware that anyone has made that case. During the research for RRC I looked for the theoretical justification for our practice, for that book that explained how Calvin and the Westminster Divines were wrong and how we are right to do what we do on the basis of the RPW. I don’t believe that book exists.

  10. Jed,

    I wanted to add an argument I’ve thought about recently with regard to your first question to Dr. Clark. You wrote,

    “1) If the Psalms represent the people of God communicating to him in praise, prayer, and lament (and more), which flowed from reflection on God’s prior work and self revelation in history and in their canon, presumably comprised of at least the Torah, in the forms and idiom of the music and poetics of Ancient Near Eastern culture, what precludes us from similar patterns of dialogical worship based on our own reflection on Scripture in our own cultural forms today?”

    I’m curious if you have you done a study about the original creation of the Psalter. The creation of the Psalter was strictly regulated by God and was a detailed process that is discussed in several places in the OT. Not everyone could write a Psalm. They had to be given explicit direction to write the Psalm, and even then it had to be approved afterward. Who are the people that God gives that authority and by what regulations may they add to our corporate worship? Is this an area that Christians function as though we are under the NPW?

  11. Joel,

    Yes, I have studied the formation of the Psalms, and I think it is a really interesting subject, because it is so involved, and the final form of the canonical Psalter took some time to come into being. The history and theology of the OT is my particular area of interest. When it comes to the Psalms, authorship is a little less than cut and dry. While I don’t subscribe to the positions of historical, or even the more prominent form critics of the psalms, since many of their views are conjectural and driven by assumptions I do not share as a Reformed inerrantist, I do think some of their observations are valid. Currently, I would describe my views on the authorship and compilation of the Psalter as a mediating view that acknowledges some of the historical observations arising from manuscript and secondary source material. That said, psalmnic material is not confined to the psalms, and there are examples of individuals such as Hannah who held no prophetic office that offered more or less ad hoc praise to God – which indicates that this may have been a common practice amongst the worshiping community in response to the favorable intervention of God on their behalf. It also appears that David commissioned many psalms, and we know from the historical narrative that David’s (commissioned and personally authored) psalms were more extensive than what was included in the Psalms.

    I do believe that every iteration of the Psalter, up to it’s final canonical form was superintended by God, so that every Psalm that he intended to be preserved was. However, to say that it was “strictly regulated by God”, is to draw conclusions that I don’t see Scripture being clear on. I believe that the canonization of the Psalms followed the contours of the rest of Scripture – the covenant community (Old and New) recognized the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture and so they were included in the canon. So we can affirm that the Spirit was as active in canon formation as he was in the authoring of Scripture. But, if we are looking for iron-clad historical proof of canon, we will be disappointed, because the process itself was always a contested one. We believe and hear the Word of God based on faith, and certain theological presuppositions about the character of God and his ability to preserve a canonical witness to his Word. This isn’t to say that I don’t think there are rational historical bases on which we can argue for the canonicity of Scripture, it simply acknowledges the messiness of history, placing confidence in the God who speaks more than our ability to parse the contours of history and God’s Providence in it.

    My questions to Dr. Clark about the convention of psalm formation has more to do with the fact that it was a convention of God’s people communicating to him whether in praise, prayer, lament, or imprecation in the context of their own cultural forms, and whether or not it is appropriate for us to worship God within the framework of our own historical and cultural context. However, what I do see lending strength to the historical Reformed position Dr. Clark is trying to see restored is that it isn’t dependent as much on analysis of historical or cultural forms (even though this is important), but rather it is based on a theological presupposition that is clearly present in Scripture – namely we don’t get to worship God in any way we please. Just as Israel was judged for inserting their “good ideas” such as worshiping Yahweh in private shrines (i.e. “high places”) when he had restricted all worship to the Tabernacle and later, the Temple; we cannot simply bring our “good ideas” to worship, as we are bound to worship God “in Spirit and in Truth”.

    I’ll freely admit, my default position is similar to many Reformed Christians today, and that is God can be worshiped both through Psalms, and through the church’s theological reflection as reflected in hymnody. But, it may well be the case, as Dr. Clark states, we are simply sneaking the Normative Principle in the back door in RP clothes, and that hymnody represents our “high places” where we are worshiping in a way God has not commanded. I simply have assumed, like many that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs has given the church warrant to craft hymns and spiritual songs from Scripture reflection. But, maybe that isn’t the case – which is why I will revisit the matter, because I could very well have this wrong. While it is somewhat hard to accept that the worship I offer to God now, and the worship a good deal of the church offers to him is in fact based off of flawed assumptions that lead us to worship in a way not commanded by Scripture, it wouldn’t be the first time (nor the last) I would need reforming according to Scripture, nor would it be the first time for the church. But, I don’t want to mindlessly jump to that conclusion.

  12. After reading and thinking about the ways in which the Psalms were authorized for worship within Israel, you still conclude that anyone could have written a Psalm and use it within corporate worship without it undergoing some substantial thought and effort by approved people under the King? I ask, because the kings of Israel seem to be a typological mediators of worship. Without approval, it seems as though the common worshiper would need no mediator.

    Sorry if my arguments seem a little unwieldy, I haven’t really discussed or met much opposition on these points, so you might have to consider them with a little extra charity.

    On your final point about offering worship in error, it seems as though this will be life as sinner/saints. It occurs to me that perhaps the tunes to the Psalms were not properly transmitted to us, or perhaps we don’t recognize how to use them due to our own errors, or a whole host of other errors in practice. I can’t imagine offering truly perfect worship to God, but am constantly forced to rely on Christ as Mediator of our worship as well as our prayers.

    • Joel,

      I don’t take your arguments to be anything but charitable, as I would hope if you are convinced of the “Historic/Exclusive Scripture” view of song in worship that you would defend it vigorously. Without such pushing it would be hard to convince anyone of the merits of the position. But let me back up and clarify – I do believe that anyone could have written a Psalm in a qualified sense. Scripture in general was written by common men like you and me, what set them apart was the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring their words. So let’s look at a hypothetical scenario – a common Israelite writes a Psalm of praise in response to God’s intervention in a specific situation (a common motif in the Psalms), he can write the Psalm all he wants, but there is no way it would be included in the Temple liturgy without prior approval by the priests, the king or both. In a similar modern context, if a church member were to compose a hymn, there should be no way that the hymn would be included in worship without the approval of the pastor(s) or by the session. But, we have no evidence of such scenarios in Scripture, so I don’t think discussing this matter further would have much bearing on which position is right.

      I think a more fruitful track would be this: Dr. Clark has gone a long way to argue that this position is necessitated by Scripture. The argument is the first necessary step to proof. I am not a church officer, so my opinions on the matter have little bearing on the matter. But if the mechanism of sessions and presbyteries were employed to investigate the matter of whether or not the current practice of instrumental psalm and hymn (and praise songs in some churches) comports with the Regulative Principle and Scripture or not, while evaluating the arguments of Dr. Clark and others. This is how, as I understand it, necessity is established, or at least has been historically. The church convenes in synods and councils, and interprets Scripture under the rubric of catholicity – which is how we came up with establishing the necessity of doctrines such as the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union of Christ’s Divine and human natures, etc. From this basis, the practice of the church has an actionable impetus to be changed. For me, I would submit to the findings of such a study.

      I am not trying to say this absolves me of the responsibility to think thouroughly and conscientiously through the matter. I plan on devoting more time to the question. Forums like this one are supremely helpful because they allow for ideas to be shared, defended, and adjusted accordingly.

  13. How is our worship acceptable to God based upon our response? We receive grace from God when he condescends to us in worship. This through the element of preaching and the sacraments . We respond with gratefulness once we recieve. My question is, it necessary to divide prayer and song into two distinctive elements of responsive worship?

    I noticed Calvin in his foreward to the Epistle to the Reader to the 1543 Genevan Psalter write:

    “As to the public prayers, these are two kinds: some are offered by means of words alone, the others with song. And this is not a thing invented a little time ago, for it has existed since the first origin of the Church; this appears from the histories, andd even Saint Paul speaks not only of praying by word of mouth, but also of singing.”

    Are songs prayer and the elements of worship three : preaching, prayer, and the sacraments?

    The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended. (Psalm 72:20)

    It seems that both fixed and spontaneous prayers are supported by the example of scripture. I Cor. 14:15

    Where is the explicit command or the good and necessary consequence that prayer is distinct from song in responsive worship?

  14. Thank you Kevin. This is very helpful. It was exactly that comment of Calvin’s that pushed me to my present view. There are essentially two elements in public worship: Word and Prayer (response) and the latter includes the singing of his Word.

  15. I have on more than one occasion been asked the following questions and have had them myself, which seem to be valid concerns about tune inspiration. What say you to the following?……………………….

    As far as I know, the Psalters I know of are written to “fit” meter. Would these versions (I use that in the Biblical translations, paraphrase versions sense of the word) of the Psalms not at least begin to stretch beyond the inspired Word toward non-connical expressions and therefore non-inspired? Is the preservation of God’s Word extended to these Psalters? Shouldn’t the phrase be Psalms only without instruments and only an authorized translation. I don’t have any idea what tunes these Psalms are sung to but my experience has been they are often put to a tune that is well know like the music that would be used in many hymns. How does this practice fit? Does this practice not lack in purity as well? What are your thoughts?

  16. Dr. Clark, (or anyone with a good answer)

    Here are some other concerns I have heard that also seem valid. Tell me what you think or how you would address the following…………

    If we are to get to the ‘root’ meaning of these words “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” – we must go back to the Masoretic text and see how these words and the ‘superscripts’ to the psalms were used in the context of the OT. Granted, the LXX is a useful tool that allows us to see how some Hebrew words were interpreted in light of the Hellenistic world and understanding, but the LXX is really no different than any other ‘translation’ of the scriptures. It ends up being simply a translation – someone’s best interpretation of how a word is used. It is not considered inspired and does in its original form include many apocryphal books that we do not include in our canon of Scripture.

    What do you think?

  17. Eric,

    The NT was written in Greek. The MT is important but the LXX is just as important for understanding the background of the NT than the MT. To be sure, in Matthew and perhaps Hebrews, the Hebrew text will be more useful but as far as the vocabulary and usage in the NT, the LXX is indispensable.

    You’re right that it’s a translation but it THE translation used by the NT authors so its not just some translation or any translation.

    Yes, the LXX included the Apocrypha but that doesn’t invalidate the NT use of the LXX and the way the LXX informs our understanding of the NT.

    We can’t make the LXX go away. That formula in Col and Eph didn’t just drop out of the sky. It has a context and a source.

  18. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you! That does make a ton of sense and is helpful. What about the questions in my previous post?

    Grace & Peace

    Eric

  19. There also needs to be some discussion of the chiastic syntactical structure of Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. Whatever these three words mean, they are being used as synonymous terms (just like the following terms singing and “making melody” or psalm-singing) and so spiritual psalms, hymns, and songs cannot be made to represent three entirely different categories. At least, it clearly seems so to my limited skills of interpretation.

    • Repetition/parallelism is a feature of Hebrew and the Psalms. We can affirm the literary qualities of the passage (the internal structure) and the LXX (the objective) as source.

  20. I think my syntactical point leads in the direction that all three terms refer to the Psalter, but perhaps I’m taking a different route in getting there than your argument does. However, in any case I wasn’t disagreeing with your point that the terms come from Psalm titles in the LXX.

  21. Thank you all, for the post and comments – very interesting!

    Jed, you write:
    “However, I don’t think I have ever conceived of worship as a revelatory act in itself, rather a responsive act that picks up on the Revealed word and returns it to God in a truthful, yet relatable way.”

    Is there a difference to you between ‘relatable’ and ‘with understanding’? I want to understand what you mean by relatable.

    Do you struggle to relate to the Psalms? If so, what about the Psalms makes it hard for you to relate to them as you would other songs?

    We know nothing except what we have been taught, and we can’t relate to *anything* except we have instruction in it. So a level of explanation is needed, but when it is understood (to any level) in my experience I have no problem relating to the Psalms.

    Every blessing!

  22. Dr. Clark,

    I have on more than one occasion been asked the following questions and have had them myself, which seem to be valid concerns about tune inspiration and changes the text slightly in some Psalms to fit a tune. I think I’m understanding a bit more , but what would be your answer to the following?……………………….

    As far as I know, the Psalters I know of are written to “fit” meter. Would these versions (I use that in the Biblical translations, paraphrase versions sense of the word) of the Psalms not at least begin to stretch beyond the inspired Word toward non-connical expressions and therefore non-inspired? Is the preservation of God’s Word extended to these Psalters? I don’t have any idea what tunes all Psalms are sung to but my experience has been they are often put to a tune that is well known, like the music that would be used in many hymns. How does this practice fit? Does this practice not lack in purity as well? What are your thoughts?

    Thanks so much for your feed back!

    • Hi Eric,

      Right. Got it. Thanks. As far as I know, tunes are morally indifferent, provided that they are appropriate to the text and public worship. That’s why I’m not exercised by the “worship wars.” The “conservative v progressive” argument doesn’t get at the real issue.

      We have positive biblical warrant to translate Scripture into the language of the congregation (1Cor 14). We have no inspired tunes but we know that God’s people sang the Psalms in the OT and in the NT. They sang them to some tune. Thus, we must create fitting tunes. I understand this to fall under the heading “circumstances.” WCF 1.6 says,

      there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

      Tunes come under “light of nature, and Christian prudence….”

  23. Dr. Clark,

    Seems like a very reasonable and sound answer to me. I am rather convinced by it. I am also delighted to be singing only God’s Word and with no instruments, however I don’t know if I would object to singing a Biblically sound modern hymn with instruments. Perhaps this is in the area of “Christian Prudence” as well.

    All that said, while I find it very frustrating that singing without instruments and only singing God’s Word is view as a “Flat Earth” position by most modern Christians, I can also very much understand why most modern Chrsitians think that way. To borrow a phrase a bit……….”We are all Normative now.” Sad , but true. My heart is not troubled by it, as He is King and still in control.

    If I can also borrow another phrase from more modern Christian tunes………. He still has the whole world in His hands! What a great place to be.

    Thanks so much for the feed back!

    Grace & Peace,

    Eric

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