Of Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs And The RPW

The Regulative Principle of worship is a principle based on the sufficiency of Scripture which teaches that everything we do in the worship of God must have positive warrant in His Word. Every part of worship must be expressly commanded by God or be clearly deducible from Scripture. It is not enough to say God has not forbidden it, therefore it is allowed. Worship is never merely allowed by God; it is always required, and if He does not require it, we should not give it. An example of this is found in Leviticus 10:1-3 when Nadab and Abihu were killed by God for offering ‘strange fire’ before Him. They used something God had not authorised and when God explains their error in v1, ‘which he commanded them not’, He means they did something He never told them to do.

This is seen again in Jeremiah 7:31 when God is condemning the idolatry of His people: ‘And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart’. God is teaching us in such places that it is His prerogative alone to appoint what should be given to Him as worship. When we apply this to the singing of praise in worship we should ask first, Why do we sing? Because God commands us. Then, What will we sing? Again we will sing only what God tells us to sing. If we sing Psalms it is because God tells us to and if we want to include any other songs in the worship of God we must show that God commands us to do this or else we are in breach of His Law.

…So does the New Testament now command (not merely allow) the church to sing something other than inspired materials of praise in the worship of God? The text most often offered as warrant for the introduction of uninspired materials of praise is Ephesians 5:19 and its parallel reference in Colossians 3:16. A study of this verse will sufficiently answer our question. We will open up the text and develop the argument under six
main headings.

…The Greek words used by Paul are psalmos meaning psalm; humnos meaning hymn; and ode meaning song. A common mistake made in interpreting these words is to take what these words have come to mean in the 21st century and impose these meanings on the text. Then a psalm may be one of the compositions in the Biblical Psalter; a hymn might be something written by Isaac Watts; a song is then linked with something lighter – perhaps a chorus. Then having imposed this understanding of the words on the text, the conclusion is made that songs other than the inspired songs of the Biblical Psalter are commanded for worship today.

If you were in Ephesus when Paul’s letter arrived, and you had a Bible in your church, it was a Septuagint. As you browsed through the Book of Psalms three terms would keep appearing in the titles and you would be quite familiar with them – psalmos, humnos and ode. In 67 Psalms the word psalmos is found eg Psalm 23; in 6 titles the word humnos appears eg Psalm 8; in another 35 Psalms ode is in the title eg Psalm 45. Furthermore, in 12 Psalms the words psalmos (psalm) and ode (song) are found together in the title e.g. Psalm 65, and in 2 titles psalmos (psalm) appears with humnos (hymn) eg Psalm 6. If you had studied the title of Psalm 76 all three terms are found in the Septuagint title, ‘For the end, among the hymns, a psalm for Asaph; a song for the Assyrian’. The Ephesian Christian would know that one Psalm could be a psalm and a song, or even a psalm and a song and a hymn together. All three terms were found in the titles of the Psalms and even in the title of one composition in the Book of Psalms. Paul exhorted them in biblical terms they were familiar with.

…Someone might still object, ‘But why does Paul employ three terms in Ephesians 5:19, if what you are saying is that all three refer to the Book of Psalms? Is that not a bit redundant, a bit like saying Psalms, Psalms and Psalms?’ In answer to this objection we have already seen that the Psalms themselves do this, eg the title of Psalm 76, Psalm 65 in the title and v1. In addition to this we should also note how frequently in Scripture God employs a three-fold statement to refer to the same thing, a Biblical triplet of terms. So laws can be ‘commandments, statutes and laws’ (Gen.26:5), miracles can be ‘Miracles, wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22), and prayers can be ‘Prayers, supplications and intercessions’ (1Tim.2:1). So why should it be thought a strange thing that God should use three terms in the one verse to refer to His divinely inspired book of Psalms?

—Rev. Gavin Beers, “Psalms Only—Tradition Or Scripture?” (Here is the original sermon.)

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  1. Hello,

    I have a question: in your form of worship as you use Psalms only, does it not then become impossible to worship Jesus by name? I’m sure you can say “Christ” per Psalm 2 in the Greek, but otherwise, is it not odd that a new covenant congregation cannot sing new covenant songs a la Revelation 5 et al (to Jesus)?

    Thank you,


    • Hi Shane,

      Here are lots of posts discussing the RPW (with lots of discussion in the comments of some posts)


      I discuss your question directly in Recovering the Reformed Confession<.

      The short answer is this:

      1. What songs did Jesus and the disciples sing? (Psalms. 1Cor 14:26 says, in the Greek text, “each one has a psalm”).

      2. Take a look at the NT songs recorded in the NT, e.g., in the Revelation. They sound quite like Psalms and don’t mention Jesus by name. In Rev 5, which you cite, Jesus’ name does not appear explicitly. That song is virtually identical to the Psalms. The name Jesus appears 12 times in the Revelation and never in a song.

      3. I’m all in favor of singing Jesus’ name. That’s why, in RRC, I advocate the singing of all of Scripture and not just psalms. The point of reposting sections of Gavin’s article (which began as a sermon in 2010) is to let people see the historic Reformed understanding of the RPW and those passages to which people sometimes appeal as ground for singing uninspired songs in worship.

      4. Finally, when we sing the name Yahweh (LORD or Jehovah) in the Psalter, are we not singing Jesus’ name? Jesus = Yahweh shall save his people! God the Son was revealing the Father even in the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures. Shouldn’t we read the Psalter the way the NT read the psalter? (e.g., the NT use of Ps 110)? Doesn’t that substantially relieve the problem?

      Take a look at RRC.

    • Jeff,

      Yes, of course, but how? That’s the question.










      Instruments were associated with the sacrificial priestly system. Psalmody (or, more broadly, the singing of God’s Word) survived the cross. Instruments did not. They went away with the shedding of blood and did not return until about the same time the priestly system began to be restored. Musical instruments first appeared in Christian worship in the 8th century. In the 9th century a Western theologian would theorize about transubstantiation. Those two things are not mere accidents. They were indicators of a shift away from biblical ways of thinking about and practicing worship.

      One of the first thing the reformers did was to rid the churches of instruments on the grounds that they tended to take the church back to Aaron, back to the typological worship. Again, they appeared in the churches as we lost hold of our principles and practice.

    • I will comment with regards to Mr. Downs question about Habakkuk as one who is coming from a psalms only position…

      Many people have tried to make the case that the song of Habakkuk 3 was used in the Temple worship because of the ending of verse 19 “To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.” I have contended that the word “Natsach” in this verse and in other verses is mistranslated and should not be “To the chief singer”. That the proper rendering of this word is “To Him that Excels”, or to in context of the passage “To him that excels on my stringed instruments.” We see this word translated as such in 1 Chronicles 15:21,

      1 Chronicles 15:21 “And Mattithiah, and Elipheleh, and Mikneiah, and Obededom, and Jeiel, and Azaziah, with harps on the Sheminith to (natsach) excel.” KJV, 1611

      At other times when I had contended for this I provided a Older Jewish English Translation of the Psalms to prove my point, which was not enough for the party involved. They wanted a Christian translation that showed the point. I have since learned that the Geneva Bible of 1599 uses the word “excels” for the word “natsach” throughout the Psalms for the translation of the word. Thus throwing into doubt that Habakkuk 3 was ever sung in the Temple worship.

      In addition, Dr. Lightfoot of the Westminster assembly, the great authority on the temple service, says not a word about this song in his monumental work, “The Temple Service,” though he set for himself the task of giving all that was connected with the subject, writing a book of more than two hundred pages on the subject, quoting the Talmud and Mishna, Maimonides, and all the Jewish authorities with great accuracy and fulness.

      But, there is evidence that Habakkuk borrowed from the Psalter for this song, “It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places” see Psalm 18:32:33 with Habakkuk 3:19. So in some way we do sing parts of this song in the Psalter.

      So this might not be enough evidence for all parties but in my mind it convinces me that Habakkuk 3 was not sung as a whole within worship. Here is the evidence from the Geneva Bible of 1599

      Psalm 4:1 “To him that excelleth on Neginoth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 5:1 “To him that excelleth upon Nehiloth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 6:1 “To him that excelleth on Neginoth, upon the eight tune. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 8:1 “To him that excelleth on Gittith. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 9:1 “To him that excelleth upon Muth Labben. A Psalm of David.” Geneva 1599
      Psalm 11:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 12:1 “To him that excelleth upon the eight tune. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 13:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 14:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 18:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, which spake unto the Lord the words of this song (in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul) and said,” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 19:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 20:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 21:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 22:1 “To him that excelleth upon Aijeleth Hashahar. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 31:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 36:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 40:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 41:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 42:1 “To him that excelleth.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 44:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 45:1 “To him that excelleth on Shoshannim, a song of love to give instruction, committed to the sons of Korah.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 46:1 “To him that excelleth upon Alamoth, a song committed to the sons of Korah.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 47:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 49:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 51:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David, when the Prophet Nathan came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 52:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David to give instruction. When Doeg the Edomite came and showed Saul, and said to him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 53:1 “To him that excelleth on Mahalath. A Psalm of David to give instruction.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 54:1 “To him that excelleth on Neginoth. A Psalm of David, to give instruction. When the Ziphims came and said unto Saul, Is not David hid among us?” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 55:1 “To him that excelleth on Neginoth. A Psalm of David to give instruction.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 56:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David on Michtam, concerning the dumb dove in a far country, when the Philistines took him in Gath.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 57:1 “To him that excelleth. Destroy not. A Psalm of David on Michtam. When he fled from Saul in the cave.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 58:1 “To him that excelleth. Destroy not. A Psalm of David on Michtam.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 59:1 “To him that excelleth. Destroy not. A Psalm of David, on Michtam. When Saul sent and they did watch the house to kill him.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 60:1 “To him that excelleth upon Shushan Eduth, or Michtam. A Psalm of David to teach. When he fought against Aram Naharaim, and against Aram Zobah, when Joab returned and slew twelve thousand Edomites in the salt valley.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 61:1 “To him that excelleth on Neginoth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 64:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 65:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm or song of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 66:1 “To him that excelleth. A song or Psalm.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 67:1 “To him that excelleth on Neginoth. A Psalm or song.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 68:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm or song of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 69:1 “To him that excelleth upon Shoshannim. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 70:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David, to put in remembrance.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 75:1 “To him that excelleth. Destroy not. A Psalm, or song committed to Asaph.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 76:1 “To him that excelleth on Neginoth. A Psalm, or song committed to Asaph.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 80:1 “To him that excelleth on Shoshannim Eduth, A Psalm committed to Asaph.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 81:1 “To him that excelleth upon Gittith. A Psalm committeth to Asaph.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 84:1 “To him that excelleth upon Gittith.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 85:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 88:1 “A song or Psalm of Heman the Ezrahite to give instruction, committed to the sons of Korah for him that excelleth upon Mahalath Leannoth.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 109 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 139:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599
      Psalm 140:1 “To him that excelleth. A Psalm of David.” Geneva, 1599

  2. What lyrics (assuming it is not simply instrumental) would Habakkuk be speaking about? Seems to be a verse that would contradict Psalms only position.

    • Okay, sorry. I completely missed your point.

      As I keep saying, I’m not arguing for exclusive psalmody. I’m arguing for the exclusive use of inspired texts.

      Nevertheless, Gavin’s essay does a fine job of exposing the weakness of any argument that would substitute uninspired texts for inspired text on the basis of Eph and Col. Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs does not = “Psalms, Fanny Crosby, and Graham Kendrick”

      The verse reference is Hab 3:19.

      • I understand where you are coming from (not advocating Psalms only). I wanted to get your thoughts on that particular verse (yes, Hab. 3:19). 🙂

        • Well, those superscriptions in the Psalms and this subscription, as it were, are a little cryptic aren’t they?

          Are we meant to take that sub-script as instruction on how to sing a part of Habakkuk or something else? It’s not entirely clear.

          Gavin mentions the Song of Moses and Miriam (Ex 15) and there are couple of other stray Psalms/songs (Deut 32; Judges 5; 1 Sam 2) and the NT songs of Mary and Zechariah (Luke 1-2).

  3. Hello,

    I appreciate that you do not write off Exclusive Psalmody as insane like some do.
    With that being said, I just wanted clarification about your personal view. Do you 1.Sing only TEXT from scripture as worship,
    2.Sing only SONGS found in scripture (Psalms, Miriam’s song etc..) as worship, or
    3.Sing whatever is in ACCORD with scripture although not the text of scripture itself?

    Thank you

    • Charles,

      I will sing scripture. As I mentioned to Keith, as a practical matter, in our setting, that means singing paraphrases or not at all. When it’s an out-and-out hymn and not even an attempt to paraphrase a passage of Scripture (a psalm or some other) then I don’t believe that I’m authorized to say that to the Lord in a public worship service.

      So, I aim for #2 but not #3.

      When I can’t sing the words, then I hum the tune so as to make a joyful noise and to cooperate with my brothers and sisters in worship.

  4. First of all, a bit of an aside. Gavin’s quoting ‘For the end …’ without question (as I would have for many years) illustrates our tendency to overestimate the scholarship of those who give us interlinear versions (I fell into this trap when I followed Wigram/Ricker Berry into forgetting that plural neuter objects take singular verbs). In fact outside the NT, “telos” can also mean the end of the buck’s path, i.e., a governor, magistrate, etc. (Please don’t think I really know Greek – I just happened to look it up in Liddell and Scott – yes, that particular Liddell WAS the father of Alice-In-Wonderland Alice), which is much closer in meaning to “chief musician”.
    For the word rendered “spiritual” in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, Paul’s choice of Greek words included pneumatikais and theopneustais. The only word that exclusively means “inspired” is theopneustais, and one would have thought that if God had meant us to sing only songs that were inspired AS SONGS, the Holy Spirit would have caused him to use this word. Pneumatikais has a much wider meaning (e.g., a person in his daily life can be pneumatikos), and furthermore, every other item listed in 1 Corinthians 14:26 constitutes more than can be obtained simply by Old Testament recitation. One would think, then, that the psalm Paul refers to in this verse would be of a similar nature, and that its significant contents would now be preserved for us, like the significant contents of the other items produced at the time, in the canonical scriptures both old and new. Thus Paul’s requirements in the Ephesian and Colossian passages would be met by sincere singing of any lyrics that were totally faithful to the whole of Scripture, which would include singers not being inherently presumptuous in what they sing (Of course, there’s something wrong with worship that does not include SOME actual psalms of Scripture – we know we’re absolutely safe with the Psalms, the Songs of Moses, the Song of Barak and Deborah, Song of Songs, Song of the Vineyard, Prayer of Habakkuk, and Songs of the Apocalypse).

  5. My comment is a question regarding the singing of all of scripture (which I agree with): How much latitude do we have in the translation or paraphrase of i.e. NT texts? Any text for that matter. Do we then get into the translation debate? Can I put music to Psalm 2 or Matthew 28 using the term “ethnic group” and not “nation”?

    • Keith,

      Presently I sing the paraphrases in the Blue (1959/1976; CRC) Psalter-Hymnal. I would prefer to sing settings that are more faithful to the text. That is one of the jobs of the joint OPC/URC Psalter-Hymnal committee, to produce a more faithful psalter.

      As with any translation, we want to be as faithful as possible to the original text. Where fidelity creates problems in a setting I would err on explaining the text rather than by translating it more loosely.

  6. Could you comment on the singing of the statutes of God mentioned in Psalm 119:54b. That verse is consistent with an “inspired content” criterion, but prima facie seems to militate against exclusive Psalmody. The irony obtains that we would be permitted to sing a verse in Psalm 119 that commends singing something not permissible to sing under an exclusivist paradigm. Or so it would seem.

    • Martin,

      I’m not sure to whom your comment is addressed. I’m not advocating exclusive psalmody but only that we sing canonical texts. I would submit happily to EP but I’m not arguing for it.

    • Martin, a while back this very verse was quoted in someone’s letter to the English Churchman as evidence FOR exclusive psalmody (without any supporting comment)! I suppose it could be claimed that the Psalms contain the total poeticising of God’s statutes, but I remain to be convinced of that – I could find no cross reference in The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge from the fifth commandment to anywhere in the Psalms, for instance; neither can I do better in this respect than the Treasury – Even Psalm 50:2o stops at the brother. Perhaps you, Dr Clark, or Gavin can? (I concede that the PROMISE of this commandment, polygamized away from the specific commandment, may be found in Psalm 34)

    • It depends how narrowly you may look at each command. I suppose a helpful tool would be the Larger Catechism exposition of the 5th command which I know references Psalm 127 as a proof text. Similar psalms would also be relevant e.g. Psalm 128 and duties of superiors to inferiors. Also the duties of kings to subjects and vice versa e.g. the psalmists declaration in Psalm 119 that he would speak God’s word to kings may also be relevant. That remains a responsibility of the church to the civil magistrate….. but lets not get into the 2 Kingdom debate here!

  7. The argument that Scripture “employs a three-fold statement to refer to the same thing, a Biblical triplet of terms” is exceedingly weak, almost to the point of embarrassing. Sure, “commandments, statutes, and laws” are basically equivalent, but are “faith, hope, and love”? Or, in 2 Corinthians 13:14, are the Lord Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit the same person? So just because a set of three things are related, or similar, or have something in common, does not at all mean they are identical.

    It seems to me that this argument won’t be resolved by people arguing “Obviously these three things are the same” vs. “Clearly they aren’t.” What is needed is some source contemporary to Paul, using the same or a similar phraseology, with enough context to determine whether the saying refers to a specific group of religious lyrics or to religious songs in general. One might be pessimistic that this would ever happen, given that it hasn’t happened yet; but maybe, just maybe, this was enough of a well-known phrase that Paul’s readers in Ephesus and Colossae would have been familiar with it.

    • A Triadic Expression was very common in Hebrew culture and is compared to our exclamation mark.

      But there are two kinds of Triadic Expressions.. One that defines the emphasizes in exact detail such as the holiness of God, “Holy, Holy, Holy” but there is also a Triadic Expression that is an emphasis with slight different nuances. In this kind the three-fold expression is more than emphasis. The Bible contains many examples of these triadic expression. For example: Exodus 34:7—“iniquity and transgression and sin”; Deuteronomy 5:31 and 6:1—“commandments and statutes and judgments”; Matthew 22:37—“with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (cf. Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27); Acts 2:22—“miracles and wonders and signs”..

      “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” is Triadic Expression of the second form. All three refer to the same thing, the book of Psalms but there are slight nuisances within each category that are found in the Psalter, different Psalms are called by the slight different category, One a Psalm, One a Song, One a Hymn, one a Hymn and a Song”…

      The same applies the Commandments, Statues and Judgments.. They are all part of the one law but they give slight nuisances within the One law of God with different emphasis. These categories are the direct reason why the Reformers divided the law into the three categories.

      The commandments, statues, and judgments are similar, but they do add a unique content to the overall concept of the emphasis.

    • Don, here are some of the closest historical quotes nearest to Paul on the issue other then the Septuagint which Pastor Beers already covered.

      Josephus (37 – 100) called the Psalms “Hymns”, “And now David being freed from wars and dangers, and enjoying for the future a profound peace, composed songs and hymns to God of several sorts of metre; some of those which he made were trimeters, and some were pentameters. He also made instruments of music, and taught the Levites to sing hymns to God, both on that called the sabbath day, and on other festivals. ” -Josephus: The Complete Works

      Philo ( 20 BC – 50 AD), a first century Jewish philosopher, always uses the word “hymn” when referring to the Psalms of the Old Testament.

      Tertullian (160 – 225) on the Letter of Pliny (61 – 112) and the singing of Psalms to Christ,

      ”David ille apud nos canit Christum, per quern, se cecinit ipse Christus,” which maybe freely rendered thus: That David, of whom I have been speaking, sings among us Christ, by whom Christ himself has sung (or celebrated) himself. Found in Tertullian’s treatise, De Carne Christi

      Eusebius (c. 260–c. 340), bishop of Caesarea said, “The command to sing Psalms in the name of the Lord was obeyed by everyone in every place”

      Council of Laodicea (360), it was decreed that no psalms composed by uninspired men should be used in the Church service. The compositions thus excluded are styled in the language of the Council, “psalmoi idiotikoi,” which means psalms not pertaining to the canon of Scripture, or at least not the direct product of supernatural inspiration.

      and in 563 Council of Laodicea was reaffirmed in Braga,

      ”Ut extra psalmos vel canoni-carum Scripturarum Novi et Vctcris Tcstamenti nihil podice compositum in ecdesia psallatur.” first Council of Braga, held A. D. 563, no poetic composition be sung in the Church except the Psalms of the sacred canon..

  8. A few Comments:

    First to John on the word ‘spiritual.’ Of course there is the theopneustais alternative but the fact it is not used, of itself does not prove your point. Nor does the more general use of pneumatikais defeat the argument for the verse referring to the Psalter. It is simply another layer of evidence that strengthens the case, having already established that up to this point in Scripture there are no examples of uninspired material of praise being used in worship. So when you see the term pneumatikias being used, it is in this wider Biblical context and revealed theology of worship. I suggest this is a bigger problem to get around that you posit. I don’t know if you have read the full article or listened to the whole sermon but this might help you read the section Scott has quoted above in its broader setting.

    Then to Don. If the argument from biblical triplets is exceedingly weak and embarrassing then how are ‘statutes laws and ordinances basically the same.’ You seem to concede the point you (boldly) attack. Again please understand that the presence of a triplet in the said texts is not of itself conclusive to the case for EP. It is a layer of evidence on the back of all that was previously presented in the article/sermon which backs up why here I would suggest the three words be interpreted in this way. Denying that they basically refer the same songs, you will also discover a world of confusion in the suggestions made by scholars who try to tell us what they mean. The point of agreement between them seems to be ‘not the biblical psalter.’ The conclusion also requires the rejection of the use of the terms interchangeably and together in the text of the LXX psalms (with sufficient room for nuance between them). If the triplet argument is so embarrassingly weak what does the terms mean in the LXX title of Psalm 76?

    • Thank you for your response. It probably would have been clearer if I had written “does not at all mean they are *necessarily* identical.” I am not attacking the idea that the three items of a given triad could all refer to the same thing, I’m challenging the idea that they must be synonyms. Specifically, there is a leap from saying that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs all have something in common (being an appropriate musical way to worship God) to saying that they refer to something identical (the 150 Psalms). Clearly, faith, hope, and love are related godly qualities but they are not the same quality. What bothers me is not that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs can be used as synonyms, it is the assertion that in Paul’s writing of this triad, that they must be synonyms.

      I realize that this triplet is not conclusive for the EP case, but I suppose you realize that if the three terms are not synonyms for the 150, then there is not much case that is left for EP.

      Regarding Psalm 76, I suppose there was a reason why it was originally labeled not just as a psalm but also as a song, but I don’t know what that implies for the original Hebrew usage of the psalm. In contemporary use, I suppose the heading means we’re commanded to sing it with guitar accompaniment.

  9. R. Scott, my question about the impact of Ps. 119:54b on the debate was directed to any who’d be under obligation to account for it. That text even has a bearing on other questions posed here, because the Hebrews versified the laws in order to sing them, suggesting some liberty was taken in respect to the form of the wording. So we are led to ask, is the content still canonical if the words are rearranged for metrical purposes? My view is that Ps. 119:54b cuts across many different categories being discussed here.

    • Martin Luther said of the Psalter, “It might well be entitled a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended.”

      Coupled with The singing of praise was commanded with an explicit delineation of content: “the words of David, and of Asaph the seer” (2 Chronicles 29:30), we can be confident that the Psalmist is referring to the Psalms which briefly comprehended the entire bible.

      John Gill stated regarding this verse, “the songs he (the Psalmist) made and sung were composed out of the word of God; and which may serve to recommend the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, made by him, the sweet psalmist of Israel, to the Gospel churches, to be sung by them, Ephesians 5:19.”

      Basil wrote, “The Book of Psalms is a compendium of all divinity”.

      So, this verse does not give us express warrant to sing outside of the Psalter. By the inspiration of the Spirit the 150 psalms were added to the song book of the church and had the Spirit wanted to have either the other songs of the scripture to be sung or other scriptures put into rythmn to be sung, the Spirit would have added them to the song book. The fact that these other songs have not been added to the song book is sufficent for us that they are not to be sung in the worship of God.

    • Michael, whatever Martin Luther, John Gill and Basil wrote, one of the ten commandments is too important a part of scripture to be ignored by something that’s supposed to comprehend the entire Bible. I ask again, where in the Psalms is the Fifth Commandment specifically handled?

    • Remember John, The Ten commandments are not the total of the moral law but a summary. They are synadoche…

      But I will give two Psalm references to the fifth commandment..

      Psalm 106:16-17 ” They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the Lord. The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan and covered the company of Abiram.”

      In this verse they did not honor their superior either in church (Aaron) or state (Moses).. And so God opened the Earth up and swallowed them. They were guilty of not respecting their lawful authority nor showed honor.

      The Westminster Larger Catechism uses Psalm 127:3-5 as a proof text under the Fifth Commandment,

      Psalm 127:3-5 “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. ”

      Here we see the positive response to the fifth commandment with regards to parents. The children shall not be ashamed and they show honor and respect in how they speak of their father with the enemies in the gate.

      Singing these Psalms should make me think of the Fifth Commandment and mediate on this law and all that is required of me.. There are more within the Psalms but these two examples should be enough..

    • It depends how narrowly you may look at each command. I suppose a helpful tool would be the Larger Catechism exposition of the 5th command which I know references Psalm 127 as a proof text. Similar psalms would also be relevant e.g. Psalm 128 and duties of superiors to inferiors. Also the duties of kings to subjects and vice versa e.g. the psalmists declaration in Psalm 119 that he would speak God’s word to kings may also be relevant. That remains a responsibility of the church to the civil magistrate….. but lets not get into the 2 Kingdom debate here!

  10. In what direction do you see the URC/OPC Psalter going? Do you see it as being even more conservative than our current Psalter? I think I recall some Getty music being added in. Is that difinitive or still on the table. I have been fearing that the new Psalter would be very contemporary. What are your thoughts, Dr. Clark?

    • Hi Gabriela,

      I’ve not heard a great deal but from what I understand, the goal is to produce a Psalter that is faithful to the biblical text. I think the goal is to move away from the loose paraphrases that are in use now in the Psalter-Hymnal.

      I don’t know much about the hymnal section.

  11. The old Eph 5:19/Col 3:16 is why we do or don’t sing those commanded psalms exclusively issue.

    A few thoughts as I read the comments:

    1. I am not absolutely convinced public worship is in view, but it seems compelling that the LXX uses those specific titles.

    2. Triadic expressions in the Hebrew are not only warranted, but used in theologically-related ways: the law(s) of God, the sin(s) of man, the works of God, and the worship of God (heart, mind, soul, and strength).

    3. No matter what one’s interpretation of 5:19/3:16, there remains no warrant for composing uninspired song for use in public worship.

    4. I am unaware of any (consistent) application of RPW that would allow for instituting new songs: “The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word” (WLC A108) and “The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself” (WLC A109).

  12. Dr. Clark, Gavin Beers, Martin Selbrede, and John Rokos:

    I was thinking about a comment that was made concerning Psalm 119:54. I’ll quote from the standard English version (KJV) to remind other readers of the verse.

    “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”

    I was reading John 10, particularly verse 34, and thought it might have some bearing on the discussion. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, Ye are gods?”‘” The Scripture he was referencing is Psalm 82:6. Equally important, Jesus calls the place where it is contained “law.” Avoiding the exegetical work, I think a reasonable case could be made that God treats as statutes, laws, and commandments all that he instructs and that much of this instruction is contained in the Psalms. Also, the Spirit (and Jesus) refer to the place where Psalms are written as “law.”

    So, in my judgment, unless it can be shown that statutes exclusively refer, in Psalm 119:54, to the Ten Commandments as penned in Exodus 20:3-17 and Deuteronomy 5:7-21, then EPers would heartily agree that in singing the psalms, we are satisfying the very requirements God has placed upon us in the Psalms. Moreover, the psalmist in Psalm 119 is desirous to have respect unto all of the commandments (v. 6). Singing is a means by which the psalmist (and we) learn his statutes, but it is not the only way. Singing the Psalms would certainly cover the fifth commandment, but, if one feels deficient in that particular commandment, he or she may certainly read it, meditate upon it, and speak about it with others.

    • Some issues with the proposed handling of Ps. 199:54b — (1) it reverses the predicates (as if David had written “Thy songs have been my statutes”). (2) It neglects the fact that David is recording a historical practice that he himself adopts (Williams pointed out that “In the early ages, it was customary to versify the laws, that the people might learn them by heart, and sing them.”). (3) It equivocates between the term “statutes” (individual moral imperatives revealed) and the summary notion of “the Law” (wherein a descriptive assertion is conflated with individual imperatives). (4) Since the verse speaks of David’s historic practice, it excludes his singing of Psalm 119, which is in mid-composition — not quite one-third written — when he penned this assertion. (5) In the interest of the theory being defended, it requires a redefinition of the word “statute.” The evidence offered for this specific word (not some non-coterminous but related summary term) is inadequate to overcome the suspicion of eisegesis. (6) Despite the fact that the 176 verses of this Psalm magnify the multi-faceted aspects of the Law of God, the proffered interpretation looks beyond the scope and context of its host psalm to find a meaning that will fit the theory. (7) David, in the very verse in question, distinguishes between songs and statutes, and explains the relationship. Both of these teachings are jettisoned without exegetical justification from within the psalm being exposited. (8) The application of a context from John 10 ignores the OTHER rule about context arguments: we must also take into account what a verse CONTRIBUTES to its context. In this instance, the verse is actually muzzled and re-routed, and what it contributes to the biblical context is rewritten to something foreign to David’s meaning.

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