Are Mechanical Musical Instruments Commanded in Worship?

Jerry C. Brewer

The following email exchange was precipitated from our website in 2002 and is reprinted for our readers’ study of the issue of mechanical instruments of music in worship. This respondent not only believes musical instruments are permissible in worship to God, but that they are commanded.

Original Question

July 10, 2002, 12:20 p.m.

What is you[r] teaching on the instrument?

Beulah Wall, OKC.

My Reply

July 10, 2002, 1:23 p.m.

My teaching on the instrument is that which the Bible teaches. Since we are to do all things by the authority of Christ (Col. 3:17) and He does not authorize mechanical instruments of music in worship (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), therefore we are not permitted to use them. One can as easily pray to God with machinery as to sing to Him with it.

There are two kinds of music—instrumental and vocal. The Bible authorizes us to “sing” (Eph. 5:19). That’s vocal music. In the absence of authorization for us to “play,” (instrumental music) we must conclude that the only kind of music God ordains in worship is vocal. Thank you for your inquiry.

Jerry Brewer, Editor

Her Answer, Number 1

July 10, 2002, 5:49 p.m.

Apparently you have never studied the Greek “psallo” for the word “sing”. It means accompanied in a few places (I Cor. 14:15 is one). Even if we did not know that, the instrument is actually commanded. In the Old Testament in 2 Chron 29:25, and the book of Rev. speaks of Moses and the Lamb, and the new song. The book of Psalms commands us to sing this new song with lots of instruments. In fact, we are commanded to sing psalms in Eph. 5:19, and psalms are always accompanied.

My Answer, Number 2

July 11, 2002, 7:40 a.m.

You wrote, “Apparently you have never studied the Greek “psallo” for the word “sing.” It means accompanied in a few places (I Cor. 14:15 is one). Even if we did not know that, the instrument is actually commanded. ….The book of Psalms commands us to sing this new song with lots of instruments. In fact, we are commanded to sing psalms in Eph. 5:19, and psalms are always accompanied.”

My Reply: Yes, I have studied psallo. Lexicons generally define it as a verb, meaning, “to pluck, to strike, to rub, to pull, to twang.” But the object of a verb is not part of its definition, and no instrument is inherent in the word. Pluck what? Strike what? Twang what? So the question is, “psallo what?” If it mentions the bowstring, it doesn’t mean the hair. If it mentions the harp, it doesn’t mean something else, and Paul said psallo the heart. The instrument that is to be “psalloed” is specified in Ephesians 5:19 and that instrument is the heart.

Of course our singing is accompanied! It is accompanied by plucking the spiritual strings of the heart. We are to psallo in the heart. That is what accompanies the singing of psalms and that is the exact meaning of Paul’s statement in both Ephesians 5:19 and 1 Corinthians 14:15. Singing (psalloing) in the New Testament is not only “accompanied in a few places,” but in every place and the instrument which accompanies it is the heart.

Your assertion that the mechanical instrument is “actually commanded,” requires you, and every person who sings in worship to God with you, to play an instrument. If God commands the mechanical instrument, then its omission would be a sin. If not, why not?

You wrote, “In the Old Testament in II Chron. 29:25, and the book of Rev. speaks of Moses and the Lamb-and the new song.”

My Reply: Where do you find “Moses and the Lamb-and the new song” in 2 Chron. 29:25? I can find cymbals, harps and psalteries there, but no mention of “Moses and the Lamb-and the new song.”

In the verse just prior to that one, it says, the priests killed he goats and “made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel: for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel” (2 Chron. 29:24). Will you argue for sacrificing goats as a sin offering today? The same chapter from which you derive your authority for mechanical instruments also authorizes killing goats and offering their blood upon an altar.

Sincerely,
Jerry Brewer

Her Answer, Number 2

July 12, 2002, 9:35 a.m.

Yes, the problem is that I have for around 15 years studied “psallo” (and also its counterpart Hebrew zamar). And the problem is, that I do not agree with your teaching. These words always include the instrument, but the instrument is not always named when either of these words is used. Just the “psa” in psalms should remind people of some sort of rubbing, striking strings. Even Webster agrees that psalms are accompanied.

The object of the verb does not become part of the definition? That is exactly what happened in the later years during the development of the definition of “psallo.”

I am sick and tired of people saying that Paul said to psallo the heart. It is the biggest lie ever told. He did not want lip service, but sincere singing. And now, even to applying that to I Cor. 14:15 is disgraceful.

I do not see God as being so strict he would not allow singing without the instrument. In fact, the word “sing” (“ado”) in Eph. 5:19 is without the instrument. They did not even sing in the early church worship mentioned. They broke bread and Paul preached to them. Oh, you say, just because the singing is not mentioned is no sign—I could come back and say just because the instrument is not mentioned in I Cor. 14:15 is no sign it was not used.

Why in the world would God demand all those instruments in the Old Testament and then call them sin in the New Testament. That is not my God.

I’m sure you have Kurfees book with the 17 definitions of “psallo.” The only ones who do not agree that the instrument inheres in “psallo” are Greeks. The early church, because the pagans used it, I think was the main reason, removed the instrument. They felt so guilty they put it back in allegorically. It was commanded in 2 Chron 29:25. The Greeks never put it back in. In about 600 A.D. the Catholics put it back in. This is the most erroneous teaching I have ever heard, that they were the originators of using the instrument in worship. The Lost books of the Bible mention instruments, also the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I would hate to be in Kurfees skin when he gets to God. He is about the biggest liar I have ever heard, and has caused thousands of people to sin concerning this word “psallo.” After those 17 definitions he said what you are still saying today—the instrument is the heart. Not a single one of them even used that word.

My Answer, Number 3

July 12, 2002, 12:45 p.m.

Hello Beulah, and thank you for your reply.

You wrote, “Yes, the problem is that I have for around 15 years studied ‘psallo’ (and also its counterpart Hebrew ‘zamar’). And the problem is, that I do not agree with your teaching.”

My Reply: I’m sure that a lot of people do not agree with my teaching. Not everyone agreed with Jesus either. That’s why He was crucified at the instigation of the religious leaders of His day. I don’t get upset when someone disagrees with my teaching. But the Bible teaches what it teaches whether we agree with it or not. Our perception of it does not change Truth.

You wrote, “These words always include the instrument, but the instrument is not always named when either of thes[e] words is used. Just the ‘psa’ in psalms should remind people of some sort of rubbing, striking strings. Even Webster agrees that psalms are accompanied.”

My Reply: I do not dispute the fact that psalms are accompanied. What I do dispute is your contention that a mechanical instrument of music is inherent in the word psallo. The instrument which is rubbed, plucked, or twanged must be specified in the context and that’s what Paul does in Ephesians 5:19.

Webster does not speak for God—Christ does (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 1:1-2).

You wrote, “The object of the verb does not become part of the definition? That is exactly what happened in the later years during the development of the definition of Psallo.”

My Reply: So, according to the above statement, the original use of the word “psallo” was insufficient and had to await “development of the definition” before it could be understood. What did the first century Christians do about the word while they awaited the “development” of its definition?

You wrote, “I am sick and tired of people saying that Paul said to psallo the heart. It is the biggest lie ever told. He did not want lip service, but sincere singing.”

My Reply: What did Paul say to psallo in Ephesians 5:19? Are you “sick and tired of that?” Do you know the difference between the heart and the lips? To psallo (twang) the strings of the heart is not the same thing as lip service. That was made clear by Jesus: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matt. 15:9).

Notice the distinction between the lips and the heart in this passage. To make melody in the heart is not the same thing as lip service, but the lips will express what is in the heart. (Matt. 15:18-20).

You wrote, “I do not see God as being so strict he would not allow singing without the instrument.”

My Reply: Can you “see God being so strict that he would not allow” fried chicken and gravy as elements of the Lord’s Supper? Can you see Him being “so strict that he would not allow” sprinkling for baptism?

You wrote, “Why in the world would God demand all those instruments in the Old Testament and then call them sin in the New Testament. That is not my God.”

My Reply: God never called an instrument sinful. There is nothing sinful about a guitar, banjo, trombone, flute, harp, or any other instrument. I have a guitar and love to play country music. I also had brisket yesterday for lunch—which is not sinful—but if I take my guitar and try to worship God with it I have sinned as surely as I would if I took that brisket and ate it for the Lord’s Supper. The sin is not in the instrument itself. The sin is in a failure to respect the authority of God, expressed through Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

You wrote, “I’m sure you have Kurfees book with the 17 definitions of ‘psallo’. The only ones who do not agree that the instrument inheres in ‘psallo’ are Greeks.”

My Reply: No, I don’t have the Kurfees book, but I’ve heard of it. It’s interesting that you mention that the only people who do not agree that the instrument inheres in psallo are the Greeks. Isn’t that a Greek word? Who would know the Greek language better than Greeks? The Zulus? The Japanese, or Koreans, or English?

You wrote, “The early church, because the pagans used it, I think was the main reason, removed the instrument. They felt so guilty they put it back in allegorically. It was commanded in 2 Chron 29:25. The Greeks never put it back in. In about 600 A.D. the Catholics put it back in. This is the most erroneous teaching I have ever heard, that they were the originators of using the instrument in worship. The Lost books of the Bible mention instruments, also the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

My Reply: Where is your scriptural documentation that the early church removed the instrument because pagans used it? You are good at assertions without documentation. Furthermore, the passage in Second Chronicles 29 does mention the instruments. I haven’t disputed that point either. On the other hand, you never answered my point about Second Chronicles 29:23-24 which is in the same context. Shall we offer the blood of a goat for sins? That’s in the same context from which you derive authority for mechanical instruments of music.

You mention the “Lost books of the Bible.” What are those? My Bible tells me that “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect; throughly furnished unto all good works,” and that God’s divine power “hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3).

Do you mean to say the Bible I’ve been reading cannot be trusted since some of the books were lost? Did God lie when He inspired Peter to tell us that we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him…?” Is God guilty of a falsehood by having Paul to write that all scripture is inspired and able to furnish us “throughly” or completely to every good work? Which “good work” will the “Lost books of the Bible” supply if we do not now have all of God’s word? If I cannot trust Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, how do you know 2 Chronicles 29:25 can be trusted?

You wrote, “I would hate to be in Kurfees skin when he gets to God. He is about the biggest liar I have ever heard, and has caused thousands of people to sin concerning this word “psallo”. After those 17 definitions he said what you are still saying today—the instrument is the heart. Not a single one of them even used that word.”

My Reply: How did Kurfees cause people to sin? Do you mean to say that the word psallo requires a mechanical instrument of music? If so, do you play a mechanical instrument when you worship? Does everyone else who worships with you play a mechanical instrument? If your assertion were true, then any person who fails to play an instrument in worship would sin. It seems that your assertion—not Kurfees’ teaching—causes people to sin.

Of course, the word “heart” isn’t in psallo. Neither is the word guitar, or harp, or mandolin, or fiddle. Psallo means “to pluck or twang, or rub.” I can psallo by plucking my eyebrows or my guitar. I can psallo by rubbing my stomach or the strings of a fiddle, but the word psallo alone does not define what is to be plucked, rubbed or twanged. That must be determined by the context and within the context of Eph. 5:19, Paul defines the heart as that which is to be psalloed.

Sincerely, In love of the Truth,

Jerry C. Brewer

Her Answer, Number 3

July 13, 2002, 12:27 p. m.

You say the Bible teaches what it teaches whether we agree or not. That is true. The problem is that people hear things all their lives and do not check them out for accurracy (sic). I do not feel that I am infallible in my interpretation. I just pray God to give me wisdom. I have a degree in English, so my ability to read and understand should be at least average. Webster is not speaking for God, not putting words in God’s mouth. He just is telling us what God said. You seem to think you are better able to define what God said than Webster. What kind of education have you had that makes you so superior?

The Greek lexicographers needed a word to define “to sing accompanied” and this word was developed from the same word they used to rub kernals (sic) off the corncob—that sorta represented rubbing the strings of the harp. You must be a whiz to know more than Webster in his dictionary.

Surprise of surprises! You actually say you do not dispute that psalms are accompanied! I guess I did not make myself clear. The word psallo I think just means to sing accompanied—no particular instrument is mentioned, but it has to be one that requires rubbing, as the strings of the harp. That is in every definition I have seen. Please, please, tell me where God says to rub the strings of the heart. Who ever heard of the heart having strings? People must be getting a good laugh out of that one and think what a bunch of dummies we are.

What did the early Christians do about the word while they awaited [t]he development of the definition. Nothing. It had not even as yet been put into writing. Everything was oral.

Twang the strings of the heart?”—I thought that one had gone out years ago. People must think the church of Christ people are awfully dumb. Yes, Jesus indicated at times that people were insincere. He hated insincerity. What comes from the lips is what is found in the heart. I never even indicated that the lips and the heart were the same. The lips express what is found in the heart. The scripture “make melody with the heart” means that what words you sing should come from the heart, have meaning. In other words, not a bunch of nonsense. Know what you are saying, and make it worthwhile, not just a bunch of jibberish.

God’s chief interest is not the instrument. It is us. There are people around who have been taught this tradition all their lives. They would not change if God himself told them they were wrong.

Fried chicken and gravy”—too stupid to even address. The problem is that you are so steeped in traditional teachings that even if you knew the truth, you would refuse to accept what the New Testament really teaches.

Psallo being a Greek word had absolutely nothing to do with the decision of the Greeks not to use the instrument. I have it in some of my studies—I think it was so as not to be confused with an unbiblical church in the area that used the instrument. They knew the language, just as the early Christians did. These Christians knew it was unbiblical not to use the instrument. That is why they put the instrument in allegorically.(I think I got that from Ferguson’s A Cappella Music. I learned right off only to use his references, and never, never what he said. He distorts, and changes them to suit his traditional beliefs).

I’m surprised you have not had church history. What education do you have? Justin Martyr, I believe is one that is mentioned as removing the instrument.

You must remember that godly men had to choose what to put in the Bible. They had lots of books to review. They chose the four gospels out of many. The Lost books were among those. They mention the harp.

The name of the instrument in psallo is never spelled out—it could even be canned music. The accompaniment is unimportant. Singing praises to God is what is important. And also what is very important is that people quit lying about it. Lying is sin.

In Christian Love,

Beulah Wall

My Final Answer, Number 4

July 13, 2002, 5:13 p.m.

You wrote, “You say the Bible teaches what it teaches whether we agree or not. That is true. The problem is that people hear things all their lives and do not check them out for accurracy (sic). I do not feel that I am infallible in my interpretation. I just pray God to give me wisdom. I have a degree in English, so my ability to read and understand should be at least average.”

My Reply: Yes, that is a common problem, isn’t it? People have a tendency to cloud their own understanding by a failure to go to the Bible like the Bereans did (Acts 17:10-11).

I have never made a claim of infallibility, but the word of God is infallible and teaches what it teaches, regardless of what you or I think it teaches.

You wrote, “Webster is not speaking for God, not putting words in God’s mouth. He just is telling us what God said. You seem to think you are better able to define what God said than Webster. What kind of education have you had that makes you so superior?”

My Reply: When the prophets spoke, God put the words in their mouths, they did not put words in His. Neither did I claim Webster was doing that. You are the one who cited Webster as an authority in religion. I prefer to let God Himself define what He said, rather than doing so myself or listening to Webster in matters religious. As for my “education,” that’s a low blow in an otherwise reasonable and amicable discussion. Did I claim superiority? Please send me the quote in which I made such a claim.

You wrote, “The Greek lexicographers needed a word to define ‘to sing accompanied’ and this word was developed from the same word they used to rub kernals (sic) off the corncob—that sorta represented rubbing the strings of the harp. You must be a whiz to know more than Webster in his dictionary.”

My Reply: There you go again—to quote a famous President. You are making fun of my education by saying “you must be a whiz to know more than Webster in his dictionary.” How did we get off on Webster anyway? I thought we were discussing instrumental music.

You wrote, “Surprise of surprises! You actually say you do not dispute that psalms are accompanied! I guess I did not make myself clear. The word psallo I think just means to sing accompanied—no particular instrument is mentioned, but it has to be one that requires rubbing, as the strings of the harp. That is in every definition I have seen.”

My Reply: You’re having fun at my expense, aren’t you? I don’t have a degree in English, so you are poking fun at me and punctuating your sentences with exclamation points.

Yes, you made yourself perfectly clear, and I agreed with you. Psallo means “to sing accompanied—no particular instrument is mentioned, but it has to be one that requires rubbing, as the strings of a harp.” I agree with that statement.

The problem is that you claim a harp — or some sort of instrument — is inherent in the word psallo. Psallo is a verb, like the word “pick.” Neither of those verbs contains the object that is to be “psalloed” or “picked.” Since you like Webster, we will let him define “pick.” Here’s what he says, in part, about this word:

Pick\pik\vb – 1: to pierce, penetrate or break up with a pointed instrument [~ed the hard clay] 2 a : to remove bit by bit [~meat from bones] b : to remove covering or adhering matter from [~the bones] 3 a : to gather by plucking [~apples] b : CHOOSE, SELECT [tried to~the shortest route] [she~ed out the most expensive dress] 4 : PILFER, ROB [~pockets] 5 : PROVOKE [~a quarrel] 6 a : to dig into : PROBE [~his teeth] b : to pluck with a pick or with the fingers [reputed to~a mighty mean guitar—G. S. Perry] c : to loosen or pull apart with a sharp point [~wool] 7 : to unlock with a device (as a wire) other than the key [~a lock]. (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1979, p. 860).

Now, Beulah, you can pick meat from bones, or you can pick apples, a short route, an expensive dress, pockets, a quarrel, your teeth, a guitar, wool, or a lock, but none of those things is inherent in the word “pick.” You can pick a friend, a teammate, or your nose, but none of those words inhere in the verb “pick.”

You can “psallo” a harp, a guitar, a piano, a wash board, your stomach, a banjo, or a mandolin, but none of those words is inherent in the verb “psallo.”

You wrote, “Please, please, tell me where God says to rub the strings of the heart.”

My Reply: In Ephesians 5:19—Singing, accompanied by the music that comes from the grateful, worshipful heart.

You wrote, “Who ever heard of the heart having strings? People must be getting a good laugh out of that one and think what a bunch of dummies we are.”

My reply: The soldiers in Pilate’s hall got a good laugh out of Jesus, as did Herod’s men. The same was true as those near Christ’s cross reviled him and mocked and had fun at his expense. But their perception that Jesus was an imposter— a “dummy”— did not change the fact that He was who He claimed to be, and was proven so by His resurrection.

Does the heart have a foreskin? It can be circumcised (Deut. 10:16). Moreover, the heart can be melted (Josh. 5:1). Does it have weapons? It can smite (1 Sam. 24:5). Does it have yarn or thread? It can be knitted (1 Chron. 12:17). Does the heart have a voice? It can sing (Job 29:13), and utter things (Prov. 23:33). Does it have a conscience? It can be pricked (Acts 2:37). Does the heart have a door? It can be opened (Acts 16:14). Does the heart have strings? It can be plucked (Eph. 5:19).

You wrote: “What did the early Christians do about the word while they awaited [t]he development of the definition. Nothing. It had not even as yet been put into writing. Everything was oral.”

My Reply: Am I to understand, then, that spoken words have no definitions? They are only given definitions when they are written down?

You wrote, “Twang the strings of the heart?—I thought that one had gone out years ago. People must think the church of Christ people are awfully dumb.”

My Reply: A lot of people think the teaching that Christ established only one church went “out years ago,” but the Bible still teaches that. Again, what people think does not change what the Bible teaches.

You wrote, “What comes from the lips is what is found in the heart. I never even indicated that the lips and the heart were the same. The lips express what is found in the heart. The scripture ‘make melody with the heart’ means that what words you sing should come from the heart, have meaning. In other words not a bunch of nonsense. Know what you are saying. And make it worthwhile, not just a bunch of jibberish.”

My Reply: Again, there’s no disagreement here. The lips vocalize what is played in the instrument of the heart.

You wrote, “God’s chief interest is not the instrument. It is us.”

My Reply: Neither was gopher wood God’s chief interest, but when He told Noah to use it, he thereby excluded every other kind of wood. Do you suppose Noah could have substituted pine or oak and still pleased God?

You wrote, “’Fried chicken and gravy’—too stupid to even address. The problem is that you are so steeped in traditional teachings that even if you knew the truth, you would refuse to accept what the New Testament really teaches.”

My Reply: Now, you’re calling me “stupid.” That hurts, but I’ve been called worse, and I don’t believe you’re the kind of person who would stoop to worse names.

You wrote, “I do not see God as being so strict he would not allow singing without the instrument.”

My Reply: I simply asked, Can you “see God being so strict that he would not allow” fried chicken and gravy as elements of the Lord’s Supper? That was an honest question and a parallel to your statement about God not allowing “singing without the instrument.” Would God be “so strict” that we couldn’t also use other food in the Lord’s supper besides the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine? You name the food. Perhaps you dislike fried chicken and gravy and therefore believe it’s “stupid.”

You wrote, “Psallo being a Greek word had absolutely nothing to do with the decision of the Greeks not to use the instrument. I have it in some of my studies. I think it was so as not to be confused with an unbiblical church in the area that used the instrument. They knew the language, just as the early Christians did. These Christians knew it was unbiblical not to use the instrument, that is why they put the instrument in allegorically. (I think I got that from Ferguson’s A Cappella Music. I learned right off only to use his references, and never, never what he said. He distorts, and changes them to suit his traditional beliefs).”

My Reply: I’m sure the early Christians knew Greek, since Koine’ Greek was the universal language of the Roman Empire and the New Testament was written in that language. Where in the Bible can you find that “These Christians knew it was unbiblical not to use the instrument?” That brings us to the same point I’ve been making since this discussion began, but which you have never addressed—If the instrument is “biblical” and “commanded” then every person who engages in worship must play an instrument. Do you? Does everyone else who worships with you? If you don’t, then you sin by omitting it if the instrument is inherent in Ephesians 5:19. If not, why not?

You wrote, “I’m surprised you have not had church history. What education do you have?”

My Reply: Now you’re giving me an inferiority complex. You keep questioning my education which doesn’t seem germane to the discussion of instrumental music.

You wrote, “You must remember that godly men had to choose what to put in the Bible. They had lots of books to review. They chose the four gospels out of many. The Lost books were among those. They mention the harp.”

My Reply: So you believe the Bible is an anthology, compiled by fallible men from various sources? That is the philosophy of an infidel. The Bible is verbally, plenary, inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:16-21; 1 Cor. 2:9-13). What “Lost Books” are you talking about and where do “they mention the harp?” There is only one gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). Where did you get the idea that there were “four gospels out of many?”

Your documentation of all you have asserted in this discussion is absolutely nil. Did your English major require documentation of papers you wrote, or were you allowed to just assert something without citing proof for your assertions? If you do not believe the Bible is the word of God, delivered through Holy Spirit inspired men and written down as we have it today for all men for all ages, then there is little point in continuing this discussion.

Yours Sincerely,

Jerry Brewer

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