On The Absence Of Musical Instruments From The Synagogue

Ancient Jewish cultic music was valid only in connection with the cult, and the cult was valid only at the Temple in Jerusalem. When Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE, and the Temple destroyed, the cult ceased, and with it cultic music. Hope that the city and the Temple would be rebuilt and cultic worship restored nevertheless persisted, as is witnessed by the Mishnah (m. ‘Abot 5:20; m. Tamid 7:3, end), and persists still among the devout. It may have been this hope that inspired the compilers of the Mishnah to include in its tractates details of the measurements and more important rites of the Temple (116).

—John Arthur Smith, Music in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (Ashgate, 2011), 116 (HT: Noah Frens)

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25 comments

  1. This looks like a good resource; thanks for drawing it to my attention. To be fair, though, according to the review in Church History, Smith not only argues that musical instruments were absent from the synagogue but that singing was also absent. I think he is right in that, which is a problem for the common Reformed move to try to ground the practices of the early church in the synagogue, as opposed to the temple. Apologetically, that move is attractive because all of the things that Romanists argued for (candles, priesthood, incense etc) are associated with the temple. But historically, it seems untenable, and theologically I think it is better to see the church as the new temple than the new synagogue. That requires us to make better, more Biblical theological, arguments for lines of continuity and discontinuity than some of our Reformed forebears.

    • Hi Iain,

      I am completely sympathetic with the biblical-theological argument that the church is the new covenant, semi-eschatological temple by virtue of our union with Christ. Amen! But as I noted in RRC, the New Testament never makes the temple the pattern for Christian worship.

      I think there is evidence that the synagogue sang a cappella. The second century church certainly sang a cappella. They learned that from the synagogue.

      It wasn’t only anti-Romanism that caused the Reformed to do what they did or to take the position they took in the 16th and 17th centuries.

      The history of the Christian church from the fifth century to the 16th century is a witness to what happens when we moved from the synagogue to the temple as the pattern for the church. Ministers became priests, sacraments became sacrifices, psalmody was replaced with hymnody, voices were augmented with instruments, and eventually we we re-constructed the Old Testament cultus and civil structure. In the process, we lost much more than we gained.

      My concern is that we should not think that we can do in our time what the late patristic/early medieval church was unable to do or rather that we can do the same thing they did and emerge with different results.

  2. Hi Scott,
    I’d love to have you point me to good evidence that there was singing in the synagogue prior to the fall of the temple in 70 AD (when a number of temple functions, including benediction were moved over). So far, in my research in this area, I’ve come up with nothing. It appears that Smith, who has done far more work in this area than I have, also found nothing. I’m open to be convinced, and it may simply be that we don’t have the data to work with, but most of the experts I’ve read on early synagogue worship don’t talk about singing. Instead, they seem to think that it was an educational rather than doxological community. That path leads to David Peterson and the Sydney Anglican’s view of church, where worship is only in the broad sense and when we come together it is only for edification.
    In contrast, I think it is rather clear that the New Testament church was a doxological community, of which singing the word of Christ was an essential part. According to the current consensus, they must therefore have learned that from the temple rather than from the synagogue. And the language of a community of living stones indwelt by the presence of God in the shape of the Holy Spirit is surely that of the new temple, not some “new synagogue”. There is a promise of a new temple in Ezekiel, which finds its fulfillment in the New Jerusalem to which we ascend week by week when we come together in worship. Am I missing something?

  3. “It wasn’t only anti-Romanism that caused the Reformed to do what they did or to take the position they took in the 16th and 17th centuries.”
    While I agree with this, I do think we have to be careful not to minimize the significance of anti-Romanism. Recall what Calvin wrote about Gregorian Chant, it brings to mind what some say of the demonic beat in heavy metal now days and it had nothing to do with instruments.
    You say:
    “The history of the Christian church from the fifth century to the 16th century is a witness to what happens when we moved from the synagogue to the temple as the pattern for the church. Ministers became priests, sacraments became sacrifices, psalmody was replaced with hymnody, voices were augmented with instruments, and eventually we re-constructed the Old Testament cultus and civil structure. In the process, we lost much more than we gained.”
    I think perhaps there is, logically speaking, a bit of ‘does not follow’ here, [and ‘guilt by association’, the error of the Roman understanding of the mass is not of the same order as instruments in worship, granting for the sake of argument that instruments are an error]. I agree that, historically speaking, cooperate worship saw change in the period referenced, and that some of the arguments made to justify those innovations were based on OT temple worship. However, I suspect that there were more issues involved in the visible church becoming a Synagogue of Satan besides the fact that elements of OT temple worship were inappropriately adopted. I think you are reading too sharp of a distinction between what the apostolic church gained from temple worship and what they gained from the synagogue back into history. Yes, certainly correlations can be drawn and it’s logical to assume that Jewish Christians at least were influenced by those sources, but only to a point. They had just experienced a major revelation from God in the person of Jesus Christ, and clearly some things would be new (for example, consider the fact that they started meeting on the first day of the week instead of the seventh, and how significant that was). I agree that “the New Testament never makes the temple the pattern for Christian worship”, but I don’t think it makes the synagogue a pattern either, does it? Being reformed and adhering to the regulative principle, we do what the NT church did, the Word is read and expounded, songs are sung, there is prayer, and the sacraments are administered. I have difficulty seeing instruments as something other than a circumstance, so we have different perspectives, but I fail to see how a strong correlation between the Synagogue and the NT church can be drawn in a way that advances the conversation significantly. If we had definitive proof that, prior to the destruction of the temple, psalms were regularly sung only acapella in the synagogues, would that really tell us that much about what the practice of the NT church was?

    • Mark,

      I don’t think I am being sufficiently clear. The argument is not guilt by association. The argument is that as the church turned to the temple for the paradigm that led to other changes. The changes followed from the paradigm.

      I accept fully the notion that the church, the body of Christ, is the temple. What I have more difficulty seeing is the connection between our status as temple and our practice in worship. Historically it is a matter of fact that when we began to turn to the temple for our model for worship the various consequences that I described above occurred.

      I would like someone to show me how we can repeat what happened in the fifth, sixth, abd seventh centuries without having the same outcome.

      How do we think that the church came to think that it was appropriate to have a ritual, memorial, propitiatory sacrifice of Christ? There is no evidence for this conception in the second and third centuries. Circumstances, context matter. The turn to the temple as model was a key part of the conceptual shift that occurred between the 2nd century and the 13th, when the Roman sacrificial system was ratified formally.

      There is nothing wrong with the biblical-theological conception or teaching of the church as temple but we shod make proper use if it.

      Iain,

      When I did the book I relied on Dugmore (1944), which is dated. Since then I’ve read Vitringa (and other older writers) on the connections between synagogue and Christian practice. I’m happy to be corrected re synagogic practice.

      As a matter of BT, do you see the NT authors moving from our status as temple to worship practice?

      Do you understand my concerns about abandoning the RPW and replicating the medieval pattern?

    • Professor
      I seem to have failed to make my point clear, as you basically restated what you said earlier, so in turn I’ll try to clarify a few of my points, but we may just have to agree to disagree.
      The parenthetical guilt by association comment I inserted means I resent the continued inference that those who disagree with you as to whether or not instruments are a circumstance are on a slippery slope towards advocating a memorial, propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, or other theological errors that could be derived from the acceptance of the OT temple as a paradigm for modern Christian worship.
      I share your concerns about abandoning the RPW and repeating medieval errors. Nor am I advocating the Temple as a model for Christian worship. I’m not sure I would base as much on the adoption of the OT temple paradigm by the medieval church as you do. In other words, much like modern evangelicalism, I suspect they often adopted what they desired to adopt for various reasons, and used the OT temple to justify it. However, cart or horse, horse or cart, I agree that we need to make a clear argument that while the church is the new covenant, semi-eschatological temple by virtue of our union with Christ, the New Testament never makes the temple the pattern for Christian worship, and we need to show, from the NT, why it shouldn’t be the pattern.
      But, I also don’t see a Biblical warrant for using the synagogue as a model for Christian worship. I disagree with your specific interpretation of the RPW (and yes, I realize it’s not just yours but that it was once a majority opinion in many reformed circles). I’m saying that if the 2nd-3rd century church sang acapella, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the pattern for Christian worship laid out in the NT requires it. If I were to grant for the sake of argument that they came to do that because it’s something that they learned from the synagogue, I don’t see that as helping your case. Wouldn’t the fact that they learned it from the synagogue make it merely a cultural preference, not something they derived from NT Scripture? There are more prosaic reasons they may have sung acapella. For example, being involved with some small reformed church plants, we often sang acapella because we didn’t have a musician, perhaps small persecuted house churches had a similar issue and a tradition arose that way? Presuppositions matter when discussing the RPW on this issue. Many people, associate instruments with singing. From that perspective, if we are to sing in corporate worship because the NT tells us to, then the NT is telling us to use instruments also. While I value history greatly, just because some did things a certain way doesn’t mean we should necessarily emulate them. We need to ask why. Many sermons/ writings of that period are allegorical, should we emulate that? For that matter, most of the early writings about instruments I recall (and it doesn’t seem to have been a hot topic then) are rather allegorical, the main context/point seems to be that the church should avoid worldliness. Perhaps the point on music we should draw from them is to avoid imitating the world, not that instruments are necessarily wrong for worship.
      I do appreciate the opportunity to dialogue on this, “iron sharpens iron”

  4. Hi Scott,
    Good to interact on this subject. Hebrews 12:22-29 is the obvious example of the connection of temple and worship practice: our worship practice (v. 28) is shaped by the reality that when we come together we ascend the heavenly Mount Zion (the home of the temple; v.22). But asking for a NT proof text is a bit like asking for a NT proof text of paedobaptism; it’s in the warp and woof of their thinking. See Clowney’s chapter on the church as the qahal of God . qahal (“assembly”) is usually translated as ekklesia in the Septuagint, so has significant implications for what NT believers would have thought they were doing as the church. The language of the presence of God with his people when they come together is temple language, not synagogue language (e.g. 2 Cor 6:16). Where do you see the NT authors moving from our supposed status as synagogue (where is this in the NT?) to worship practice? If the church is the temple of God, how could that not affect their worship practice?

    As far as synagogue practice not including singing, I’d simply start with the book you cited, which matches my other reading. Do you have any ancient primary sources/recent secondary works that demonstrate to the contrary? If so, I’d honestly like to know what they are so that I can make sure I speak correctly when I teach on this.

    I absolutely share your concerns about the medieval pattern, which in my view built an overly linear case from OT temple to church. But your argument is a bit like those who want to ditch paedobaptism because they are afraid of opening the door to paedocommunion. Good biblical theology traces the lines of continuity and discontinuity throughout the Scriptures, and my point is that in this area we haven’t always drawn the best lines. If we’ve made some assumptions that served our apologetic purposes but can’t actually be supported biblically, we are hardly defending the RPW. That’s why I’d like to be corrected if I am on the wrong track here.

    By the way, the Reformers didn’t completely throw out the line of continuity between OT priests and NT pastors, in spite of their rhetoric. Benediction is a priestly/temple practice in the OT; I don’t think it entered the synagogue liturgy until after the fall of the temple. Yet in Reformed circles, the first thing a newly ordained man does typically is to pronounce the benediction. If an unordained man leads the worship service, many Reformed churches speak of a closing prayer rather than benediction. So that would seem to be one obvious way in which we do see a line of continuity between temple and worship.

    • Iain,

      Hebrews 12 is exactly where I go but I think we may draw different inferences. As I understand Heb 12 (which I’m preaching this Sabbath AM, Dv), the writer/pastor is contrasting the old, typological, literal, inferior, Mosaic system/mountain with the real, eschatological, new, superior, system/mountain, at the top of which is God the Son incarnate. To be sure, God the Son was thundering atop Sinai but with the view to driving them and us to Zion.

      The great point of Hebrews is not to go backward, to the types and shadows, to the temple–which was about to be destroyed. So, as we seek to appropriate the imagery of the temple, we have to be sure that we are going upward, as it were, and forward to Zion and not backward to the temple mount in Jerusalem.

      My great concern is that we’ve been witnessing a largely unreflective regression back to the earthly temple since the mid- to late-18th century. That is the pattern in church history. The new covenant gradually slips away from us and always with the best of intentions but always with disastrous results.

      Clowney’s syllabus on the church has been massively influential in my journey on this matter. I agree entirely that we are the Qahal, gathered at the foot of the mountain — but that mountain in Zion, not Sinai, and it the imagery pre-dates the tamale.

      As for the archeology of the 1st century, it seems to be difficult for everyone since the data is so sparse. I don’t have time to dive into presently but I will do some more looking as I can. We do know that the Jesus and the disciples sang (Matt 26:30 and it seems to be generally accepted that they sang certain psalms) and that Paul makes reference to the Corinthians singing psalms (1Cor 14:26).

      As to proofs, this isn’t quite like infant baptism, though not unrelated. We’re really talking about the RPW and the very nature of the principle is that we must do only what is commanded. We cannot, in my view, set up a paradigm that says: “the temple is our model” as if that is adequate. If we do that then we shall have paved the road to the return of the medieval errors, and we don’t need that! We’re already well on our way. I see Reformed/Presbyterian pastors wearing Roman collars. The organ and grown, naturally, into bands. Intinction is replacing the cup. Mercersburg/Anglo-catholicism continues to gain traction. Virtually everyone today, laity, elders, pastors and ministerial candidates thinks that the RPW = “if it isn’t forbidden we may do it.” When CRC published their first psalter-hymnal in the mid-30s the introduction used this formula when it explained the rationale for adding hymns to psalms. As I noted in RRC, that Reformed stalwart R. B. Kuiper was mocking the RPW in the 1920s.

      So, I’m not asking for proof texts but I am asking for good and necessary inferences/deductions. We must make use of the temple imagery. 1Pet 4 has been formative in my conception of the church as the semi-eschatological new covenant temple, but e.g., in that case Peter doesn’t move to worship practices but to our status as pilgrims and aliens suffering in the in-between time, waiting for the parousia.

      To anticipate an objection (not that you would make this but other readers might be tempted), yes, the Revelation does make use of temple imagery but it makes use of a great lot of imagery doesn’t it? To what end? It’s certainly not a handbook for worship practice! That would lead to disaster and further it’s a very poor hermeneutic since it requires us to read literally figurative images in way that we would not do in, e.g., ch. 20.

  5. Thank you, Scott, Ian and Mark.
    Great discussion. As a PCA minister I believe that I am really learning something from all this, and I would like to see this discussion continued. I would like to hear more from the reformers and later theologians of reformed orthodoxy on worship. What books in particular might you recommend?

    • Hi David,

      There are bibliographic leads in the chapter on worship in RRC.

      Here’s the HB archive on the RPW. That will give you leads to sources.

      See this essays: “Calvin’s Principle of Worship,” in ed. David Hall, Tributes to John Calvin: A Celebration of his Quincentenary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 247–69. This vol. is available in hardcover and via kindle.

      For classic sources start with William Ames, Fresh Suit… this was his critique of the Anglican (and today, broadly evangelical and dominant) principle of worship that whatever is not forbidden may be done.

      There’s a wonderful new edition of English Popish Ceremonies just out. Highly recommended.

      There are a number of modern books on worship. The best of these is Hart and Muether, With Reverence And Awe. There are others, which I discuss in RRC. There are three classes of modern lit:

      1. Those that argue for the RPW as historically understood and practiced.
      2. Those that seek to conserve the status quo but do not call for a return to the historic practice
      3. Those that call for more progressive revisions away from the RPW (e.g., Frame and Gore)

      I recommend most strongly books in the 1st category and appreciate books in the second, though they ultimately disappoint since they tend to make the RPW theoretical rather than practical. As far I remember from my reading none of them explains why the original understanding was wrong and why the changes we made in the 18th and 19th centuries were correct. They seem to assume the status quo and the impossibility of returning to the original practice.

      The third class tend to be mistaken exegetically, historically, and theologically and are helpful only as an illustration of what not to do.

  6. Er, um, the Synagogue does include singing. Piyyutim were introduced in the early Christian centuries. Also, the prayers, Torah selections, and Haftoroth were canitllated, givine employment to generations of Chazzans.

    It’s musical instruments that were lacking. Most orthodox Ashkenazim held that instruments should not be played on Shabbes and festivals. “By the Rivers of Babylon, we hung up our harps…” (from Ps. 137). At least it’s what some of the rabbis said. The musical instruments were for the Beit haMikdosh, not the Shul.

    So how did Jews become so musical? I’ve even heard from an Iraqi Muslim, speaking shortly after the overthrow of Sadam Hussein, that the best practitioners of native Iraqi music ended up in Israel (to say nothing of what the Jews did for European music)! Well, nothing wrong with musical instruments at home, for get-togethers, etc. Besides, musical entertainment’s a great occupation for outcasts, it seems (maybe it’s why the Roma excel at it, too).

  7. I do share this concern and agree with you about it’s significance: “My great concern is that we’ve been witnessing a largely unreflective regression back to the earthly temple since the mid- to late-18th century.”
    But I think Iain’s comment agrees with that and voices my contention better than I could, so I’ll leave by quoting it:
    “I absolutely share your concerns about the medieval pattern, which in my view built an overly linear case from OT temple to church….. Good biblical theology traces the lines of continuity and discontinuity throughout the Scriptures,…….in this area we haven’t always drawn the best lines. If we’ve made some assumptions that served our apologetic purposes but can’t actually be supported biblically, we are hardly defending the RPW.”

  8. Since the discussion seems profitable, perhaps we may continue it. I don’t wish to trespass on Scott’s goodwill here, but good discussions of this subject seem rare. Unfortunately, most advocates of musical instruments seem content with the “I like it so it must be OK” argument. I’ve yet to see an adequate response to Girardeau’s treatise, for example. Since I am venturing outside my area of expertise into the realm of Church history, please correct me in areas where I may be wrong.

    The early church fathers were certainly against instruments, but to me their reasoning sounds a lot more like a 60’s fundamentalist rant against drums in church than a reasoned Biblical argument. Clement of Alexandria says “When a man occupies his time with flutes, stringed instruments, choirs, dancing, Egyptian krotala and other such improper frivolities, he will find that indecency and rudeness are the consequences. Such a man creates a din with cymbals and tambourines; he rages about with instruments of an insane cult…Leave the syrinx to shepherds and the flute to superstitious devotees who rush to serve their idols. We completely forbid the use of instruments at our temperate banquet”.

    As to the instruments in the OT, these are seen as either an accommodation on God’s part to the dullness of the Jews, a lesser evil to draw them away from the greater evil of idolatry (Chrysostom; Theodoret) or else they explained them away by allegorically interpreting the “instruments” as representing the human voice (Clement of Alexandria).

    Calvin similarly viewed the use of musical instruments in the temple as an accommodation on God’s part to the immaturity of his Old Testament people: “I have no doubt that playing upon cymbals, touching the harp and the viol, and all that kind of music, which is so frequently mentioned in the Psalms, was a part of the education; that is to say, the puerile instruction of the law: I speak of the stated service of the temple. For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to him.”

    The argument that musical instruments in worship are an accommodation to Israel’s childish condition in the Old Testament seems problematic, however, because they are strikingly absent from the most “childish” period of Israel – the time of the patriarchs and the pre-monarchic state. If they are intended to help immature Israel to worship the Lord, why only institute them almost five hundred years after Israel came out of Egypt. Or to put it the other way round, if the ideal state of worship is without instruments, and Israel worshipped in that ideal condition for five hundred years why spoil a good thing by introducing them as a required part of temple worship in the time of David?

    Girardeau seeks to demonstrate that a) musical instruments in the temple were specifically associated with sacrifice, and therefore are part of a complex of events which are typical of Christ; b) he suggests, following earlier scholars, what instrumental music is typical of: namely, spiritual joy.

    Were the musical instruments specifically associated with sacrifice, however? Doubtless, they were played as part of the sacrificial ritual (as in 2 Chron. 29:25-26), but they also served a more general function within temple worship. The Talmudic description of the temple worship at the Feast of Tabernacles is particularly striking: pious men danced with torches in their hand all night, singing songs and hymns, while the Levites, arranged upon the fifteen steps (corresponding to the fifteen songs of degrees; Ps. 120-134), accompanied them on harps, ciathras and numerous other instruments. The probable antiquity of this statement is reinforced by the similarity it bears to the description of Hezekiah’s passover in 2 Chronicles 30:21:

    The Israelites who were present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests sang to the LORD every day, accompanied by the Lord’s instruments of praise.

    Similarly, at the dedication of the wall in Nehemiah’s time, the choirs and Levitical accompaniment circled the walls in sacred procession, singing all the way (Neh. 12:35-36). Sacrifices were also offered that day, but since they must have been offered in the temple, there is no direct connection between the Levitical praise here and the sacrifices. So while the sacrifices in the temple were made to the accompaniment of Levitical vocal and instrumental praise, these are not inseparable events. There were sacrifices before and apart from instrumental music, and instrumental music in public worship apart from sacrifice.
    Nor is it clear how precisely the instrumental music is typical of “spiritual joy”. Instrumental music in the Bible can reflect both joyful and sad emotions: it accompanies the wedding party and the funeral procession (cf. Matt. 9:23). Normally a key element of typology is that there is a clear line of connection from the type to the antitype. Thus, the sacrifices of the Old Testament point forward typically to Christ. That they are ceremonial law is not difficult to demonstrate; likewise, the tabernacle points forward typically to Christ as the One in whom the glory of God “tabernacles” in our midst. Exegesis in which there is no such inner connection between the things linked is not typological but allegorical. Thus Girardeau’s exegesis must be judged to stand in the line of allegorizing of musical instruments which goes back to Clement of Alexandria, a long but not particularly distinguished history.
    Besides, in spite of his protestations to the contrary, it seems to me that if Girardeau’s argument stands for instrumental music, it stands similarly for the singing of the psalms. For the instrumental music of the temple is clearly in general an accompaniment for the Levitical singing, so if the former is a temporary, typical feature accompanying sacrifice and abolished along with it, why not also the latter?
    In particular, account must be taken of the New Testament references to instrumental worship in the Book of Revelation (in spite of Scott’s protestation; as with the temple, there is continuity and discontinuity with the heavenly state; we are not dispensationalists). There harps are clearly being employed in the heavenly worship (Rev. 5:8), and unlike the accompanying tabernacle/temple symbol of incense, they are given no explanation other than their evident literal purpose. Here, it appears to me, is clear warrant for the continuing practice in between the times of employing musical instruments in the public worship of God.

    Again, my goal here is simply to further a good discussion, and I am eager to be corrected in areas where I am wrong. But I think that sometimes bad arguments arguments are used (on both sides) and that there is a need for precision in our exegesis and application.

    • Hi Iain,

      Happy to have this discussion. That’s part of why I wrote RRC.

      1. Before we get to the Fathers we need to reckon with some considerations and facts:

      • First, musical instruments were absent from the church until the 7th or 8th century and remained controversial through the 12th century. Thus, their universal use, occurred only a few hundred years before the Reformation.
      • Their introduction was associated with and I believe caused by a paradigm shift within the church as her self-conception turned from that of minister of the Word to priest. It occurred at the same time our conception of the sacrament was transformed (beginning in the 9th century) to a sacrifice. There were certain reasons for this transformation. One was the 2nd century challenge by the Gnostic and other dualists (e.g., Valentinians). In reaction to that radical OT/NT dualism the church came to so stress the unity of the covenants (that was the category they used; much of the early 16th-century covenant theology, e.g., Bullinger’s, was quite similar to that found in Barnabas and Irenaeus) that they began to speak of “old law” and “new law” (no law/gospel distinction) and so stressed the unity of the covenants that the distinctiveness and superiority of the old covenant was effectively lost. That tendency and response was strengthened in the 12th and 13th centuries by the response to the Cathars/Albigenses, who were seen as resurrecting the old dualism. Much of 20th-century covenant theology has mimicked the 2nd-century and 13th-century response to dualism in its response to Dispensationalism/evangelicalism.
      • ALL the Reformed churches (not just individual theologians expressing personal opinions as in a systematic/dogmatic theology) rejected musical instruments as belonging to the typological temple cultus. Geneva, Zurich (not just for the reason that many assert; Zwingli did sing, yes he was influenced by Plato but the story is more complicated and Bullinger and the Swiss Germans continued for reasons like Calvin’s), Heidelberg, England, Scotland, France, Lowlands, and the Netherlands (where it was a great struggle because the laity loved the organ and fought the ministers on this). This was uniform practice across the Reformed churches from the mid-16th century through most of the 18th century. The rejection was thorough, principled, and ecclesiastical.
      • Third, when instruments were restored, there was, so far as I have been able to discover, no principled explanation. Everything I’ve seen suggests that it was done for pragmatic reasons: to facilitate religious experience and to address some practical problems that had arisen with the way psalms were sung in the period. For more on this see RRC. To the best of my knowledge we have effectively repudiated both the catholic consensus of the first 7 centuries and the consensus of Reformed churches for 200 years without so much as a howdy do ma’am.

      2. The Fathers rejected instruments formally, because of their association with pagan religious and sexual association. First, the broader social context is the strong impulse by the Christians to remove themselves from any association with paganism. Remember their context. They weren’t concerned about the rise of paganism, as we are, they were swimming in a culture that was unapologetically pagan, that practiced blood rituals, that practiced gross sexual immorality in connection with the cultus, in some instances. The Christians weren’t fundamentalist reactionaries. They very deftly (and sometimes not so deftly) appropriated terms and concepts from the pagans, when it helped them but they needed a clearly distinct identity in worship because early on they were suspected of being a variety of different things e.g., a death/burial cult, a guild, and a new secret bacchanal group with associated sexual practices. They took very seriously the apostolic injunctions to morality. Indeed, arguably their concern not to appear immoral came to eclipse clarity on the gospel in some cases. Second, they rejected instruments at the very same time they adopted a covenantal response to Jewish critics. In that response they worked out a view of the history of redemption regarding continuity and discontinuity that looked very much like the early Reformed response to Rome in the 1520s-40s. Because pathologists don’t often come from Reformed backgrounds, this aspect of their identity formation and theological development is usually overlooked. Thus, while their formal grounds for rejecting instruments had to dow with distinguishing themselves from paganism, a real concern, it happened within a context in which they were explicitly rejecting the insistence that they needed to return to types and shadows. The later argument, that the instruments were part of the types and shadows didn’t just drop out of the sky. It had roots in this early covenantal response to Jewish critics.

      3. Calvin did appeal to immaturity but that was arguably redemptive-historical code for “progress of revelation.” It was not identical to the Hegelian-inspired 19th-century appeals to “maturity.” Further, Calvin’s arguments cannot be reduced to “maturity” since I’ve provided clear evidence on the HB (and in print) that he rejected instruments on the basis of his reading of redemptive history. He, with the churches, agreed that instruments are not appropriate to the new covenant. They are all splattered with the blood of bulls and goats (that’s a close paraphrase of one passage).

      4. For the Reformed churches, the use of instruments was part of the development of the temple. Hence the 500 year delay. Why is anything delayed in the history of redemption? Progressive revelation pointing to Christ.

      5. Girardeau was, by the 19th century, with Robert Nevin and a few others, a voice crying in the wilderness now dominated by virtual neo-Anabptism (2nd Great Awakening) Anglo-Catholicism, and general presbyterian (and Dutch-Reformed—the RCA had already given up Reformed practice in favor of instruments. The CRC was a micro-denom in the 1850s). Nevertheless, I don’t think his argument can be so simplified. It’s been a while since I read him but certainly the older arguments cannot be so simplified and dismissed. Yes, they argued that instruments were an illustration of spiritual joy but they were also, as I keep saying, covered in the blood of sacrificial animals. The Reformed judged those blood stains were permanent, that instruments were never intended to be used after the cross.

      6. If we can find a way to save instruments from the holocaust of the cross, what else can we save out of the typologies? How far may this approach be taken and to what result? This is what concerns me about “the offering.” We were discussing this yesterday. We once collected alms but in a free-church (i.e., no state church) situation we’ve adopted the language of “offering” in which cash is now an offering. Sometimes it is brought forward and laid on the Lord’s Table. We know speak frequently of “sanctuaries” (not auditoriums) and the table is called an “altar.” Pictures/icons of God the Son incarnate and the 3rd person of the Trinity are now widely accepted. We got rid of the choir in the Reformation and in the modern period we’ve brought them back. The linguistic and conceptual framework for a slide back into Romanism is gradually and unconsciously being adopted. Notice how Rainolds linked Romanism to Judaism.

      7. In the 19th century Robert Nevin argued, re the connection of instruments to sacrifice:

      The use of instruments in worship was admittedly part of the Temple service. It had no place in the Tabernacle before David’s day, beyond the use of two silver trumpets made by Moses, in the hands of the priests. There is not a particle of evidence to show that it entered into the ordinary worship of the family or the synagogue. We are now prepared to take a step further, and note that, in the Temple service, it was uniformly and most closely associated with sacrifice and the burning of incense.

      …[T]he playing on instruments was confined to those bands of Levites whom David was training in anticipation of the building of the temple—these acting in this for and as representing the whole people.
      …1 Chron xxiii.26–32. It is very plain from this passage that the service of praise as conducted by the Levitical choirs with musical accompaniment, was associated with the regular morning and evening sacrifice, and with other sacrifices.

      In another post I worked through a series of passages connecting instruments to Levitical worship and noted Calvin’s comments on some of them. The evidence seems quite strong. Since it’s already done I won’t rehearse it here.

      You seem to assume the legitimacy of choirs in new covenant worship. I agree with the original Reformed theory and practice. They’re gone too.

      In short, what survives the holocaust of the cross are the two elements of worship: Word and prayer. Everything else goes away.

      8. We know, from the NT, that the Psalms themselves, unlike musical instruments, weren’t regraded as covered in the blood of sacrificial animals. We know the NT church sang psalms. To be best of anyone’s knowledge, they didn’t use instruments. That should be instructive for our reading of redemptive history, hermeneutics, and practice. If we construct a theory that leads to d different outcome, that should be problematic.

      9. We should also be wary of making the very same kinds of arguments that the Roman critics of the Reformation made. I understand that it’s not the case that if Roman apologists made an argument that it’s ipso facto wrong but in this case we’re having the same discussion about the same topics, for the same reasons. The Romanist apologists wanted to save the instruments from the holocaust of the cross. The Reformed, of course, did not. This is part of my broader concern about rejecting the Reformed conception of the church, the Reformed approach to worship, and expecting to have a different outcome than we had in the medieval church. We should not think that we are special or specially endowed such that we can get away with it. The evidence is growing that we cannot, that we’re not very far away even in some NAPARC circles, from slipping back into medieval patterns. To wit: the return of Roman collars on ministers and other even more troubling priestly vestments (not Genevan robes but actual, priestly vestments). The return of paedocommunion. Intinction (and the ostensibly more innocuous practices listed above). There is a reason that bright young men, dissatisfied with Bob Jones are turning to Doug Wilson and Pete Leithart and sometimes thence to Rome. We’ve been too dismissive of our own tradition and made it seem implausible. If we don’t believe our own tradition then why wouldn’t those young men look to Rome or Constantinople, where, ostensibly, they seem to still believe theirs? [I say ostensibly because the story is more complicated but troubled young men looking for evidence that we grown ups really believe what we confess will notice our inconsistencies]

      10. The arguments from the Revelation do not move me primarily because they fail to account for the genre of the Apocalypse. That hermeneutic is unsustainable. The Revelation was never meant to be a guide to our worship. I address this in RRC.

  9. The arguments against instrumental music often boil down to two: 1) they weren’t used in the early church, and 2) there’s no specific authority for them.

    1) Although it seems that the early church did not use instruments of music, is that a result of doctrine or of circumstance? If it’s a result of doctrine, it seems odd that it’s not a doctrine clearly stated in the New Testament, but rather one that must be sussed out using a jigsaw-puzzle methodology.

    Whereas the “old covenant”, the Law of Moses, was full of very specific regulations, the “new covenant” is surprisingly lacking in such specifics. Many in the church have concluded that this lack of specific laws merely means that God has replaced one covenant with its difficult and deadly law system with another covenant having an easier and more forgiving law system.

    But is that the case? New Testament passages may be cited which indicate that the new covenant is not a covenant of laws, of observing the letter, but one of spirit, of having an inner spiritual connection with God, making us free of meticulous law-keeping per se (don’t touch, don’t taste – Col 2:21). If this latter view is correct, then the early church’s use or non-use of musical instruments should not be construed as a “law” for us to observe, especially since that law is no where stated in the scriptures but must be wrestled out of the texts using fallible human logic and reasoning. Jesus had some harsh words for such processes leading to new “laws” that can’t actually be found in God’s Word (Matt 15:1ff), referring to them as “commandments of men”, and saying that teaching them as doctrine is “vain worship”.

    2) There’s no specific authority for using musical instruments. Oftentimes the story of Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-3) is used to bolster this argument, that adding unauthorized elements to God’s prescribed worship instructions is deadly. Yet Jesus didn’t seem to have gotten that lesson from their story, because he had drinking beverages as part of his last Passover, although he would have been thoroughly unable to provide a scriptural authorization for adding the element of a drinking beverage to God’s prescribed instructions for eating the Passover. He also had the habit of attending synagogue, for which he also had not one smidgeon of scriptural authority.

    But even if the authority argument is valid, Paul instructs us, in two separate places (Eph 5:19, Col 3:16) to speak to / teach one another in psalms. Unless Paul meant “psalms, except for those which many of you have sang since childhood, and which are found in the Hebrew scriptures we apostles have urged you to study”, then Paul has instructed us to teach one another using the psalms Moses and Miriam sang after crossing the Red Sea (Ex 15), and the psalm David instructed Asaph to sing (1 Chron 16), and Psalm 1, and Psalm 2, and all the rest of them up until Psalm 150, which, incidentally, instructs us to praise God with all sorts of instruments.

    Since the New Testament writers often use some of these exact psalms to teach us, I don’t see how Paul could be excluding them from his instruction to teach using psalms. Else, those writers used unauthorized teaching material in their teaching.

    If the New Testament writers could use the Biblical book of Psalms in their teaching, and if Paul instructs us to use psalms in our teaching, then how are we not authorized to teach one another to “praise Him with harp and lyre” (Ps 150:3b)?

    • Kent,

      I have addressed these arguments here on the blog and in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

      I think there are some false premises in your argument. For example, you appeal to Colossians but the very thing that Paul is addressing there is “will worship.” When the Reformed rid the churches of instruments they did so on the basis of that very principle, that instruments were imposed on the church without positive sanction.

      Please take a look at the other posts in this category and at RRC.

  10. Kent,

    If you don’t know the real argument, your criticisms of it are going to be hit and miss at best.

    As above and elsewhere, the classic argument is that musical instruments were only brought into the ceremonial worship of the temple by David who was commanded by God to do so.

    2 Chronicles 29:25  And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.
    26  And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

    Two, when the Book of Hebrews tells us that the ceremonial worship of the temple was fulfilled in Christ and abolished at Calvary and instruments were part of that worship . . . . connect the dots.

    IOW let’s not make the position more difficult than it really is/break the ninth about the second.

    • Perhaps my two points were not understood; they had nothing to do with following historical precedent, or Temple practice vs Synagogue practice, or what ancient church fathers/leaders (outside of the Bible) said, etc.

      My points were two (and a half):

      1) Don’t make laws where God has not made law.

      Has God specifically demanded musical instruments? No. Has he specifically forbidden musical instruments? No. Then let’s not make our own law about the issue.

      Instead, following the principle of Romans 14, we should not judge one another as “wrong” because we come to different conclusions on a particular issue that generates disputation, and each person should follow his own conviction on such matters, so long as it doesn’t trample on a brother.

      1.5) Is the new covenant even a “letter of the law system”, or is it a “spirit of the law” system?

      If the latter, finding laws between the lines, such as “thou shalt not use musical instruments”, seems very … off-task.

      2) Paul exhorts us to teach one another in psalms.

      Regardless of what the Temple/Synagogue/Ancient ceremonial practices were, Paul exhorts us to teach one another using psalms, and the Book of Psalms is filled with psalms that instruct us to praise God with instruments (and dancing, and clapping, and singing, and with lifted hands, “with all that is within me”, and “with the whole of my being”). It seems odd that we interpret this to mean “praise God with all of my being except with my God-given talent of musical ability”. It seems even more odd to interpret Paul’s exhortation to mean “teach one another in psalms, except for those found in Holy Writ”.

      • Kent,

        You are not quite understanding the RPW. That principle says we may do only what God has positively commanded in worship either explicitly or implicitly.

        You admit that there is no positive command for instruments. Therefore, we may not use them.

        The RPW does not say that if it is not forbidden we may do it. That is the Lutheran principle.

    • It’s not that I don’t understand the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW); I grew up with it. It’s that I’m questioning its validity.

      1) The RPW is only valid if the New Covenant is a law system like was the Old Covenant. Thus my first point and a half — “Don’t make a law where God has not made a law” (Jesus condemned man-made laws taught as doctrine), and “Is the New Covenant a ‘letter of the law’ system or a ‘spirit of the law’ system?” (I suspect Paul would answer that it’s a “spirit of the law” system, not like the covenant made with the houses of Israel and Judah when YHWH led them out of the land of Egypt, which was a “letter of the law” system, having its laws written in stone).

      2) Jesus seems to have not bought into the RPW, accepting the synagogue and drinks at Passover, despite neither having been authorized.

      If we accept the RPW, then yes, instrumental music is forbidden. But in light of the two issues above, I think we need to consider if the RPW is really valid.

      A correction:

      You say that I “admit that there is no positive command for instruments”.

      No, what I said was, “Has God specifically demanded musical instruments? No”.

      I then showed that there is however an indirect positive command for instruments, in the command to teach one another with psalms, which themselves positively command us to use instruments. This is a “necessary inference”, a system of logic that we’ve used a long time to prove our own pet ideas. I don’t hold that it’s binding; but I do hold that it is indeed a positive command for instruments just as valid as any other conclusion arrived at by using the principle of “necessary inference”.

      I understand that you don’t accept my reasoning; I’m okay with that. I just thought it worthwhile to put it out there.

  11. Hi Dr. Clark,

    Would you recommend Ralph Martin’s arguments re: the influence of the synagogue in his Worship in the Early Church? I see that you reference him in RRC, p. 272, foot note 167. He makes a strong historical and biblical argument for the primary influence of the synagogue on early Christian worship. It followed its basic pattern, including praise-prayer-Scripture reading-instruction, with the addition of the Lord’s Supper. As to the place of singing of psalms in synagogue worship, Martin argues that this was taken from the Temple worship, and developed especially among the synagogues of the dispersion. The early church had the psalter “in hand” as it were, and Paul’s exhortations re: psalm singing in Col 3, Eph 5, & 1 Cor 14:26 seem to assume a prior familiarity with psalm singing, at least among the converted Jews in these churches.

  12. Do we know for a fact that the musical service of the temple remained by the time of Jesus’ incarnation? That”s what seems more unlikely to me, considering the need for finding musicians and singers of right descent trained in the instruments of David. Also the negativeness of the high visibility such show would have been to the Roman administrators make its presence seem more unlikely. In that case, the synagogues would have provided the preservation of the singing of God’s people, for they have surely always sung together. There certainly seems to have been long familiarity with the singing of (memorized!) psalms, as evidenced by Christ and his disciples and by the apostle Paul in Acts, as examples. God’s people continued to sing through captivity in Babylon—they had learned to sing together outside the temple mount.

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