W. Curtis Porter
A sermon was delivered near where I live by a Christian Church preacher who contended that instrumental music is authorized by the silence of the New Testament. But after saying that the New Testament said nothing about instruments in the early church and that instrumental music was, therefore, unscriptural, but not anti-scriptural, he went on to use several passages of scripture to “prove” that instruments were used in the early church.
To say in one part of a sermon that the New Testament is silent about instrumental music in the worship, and then in another part of the same sermon to try to prove by the New Testament that the early church had instrumental music, is just one of the inconsistencies of false teachers. Here are some of the scriptures he used in an attempt to “prove” instrumental music in the New Testament:
First Corinthians 14:7
The preacher alleged that this statement by Paul the apostle to the church at Corinth proves the church there had instrumental music in its worship. In this text, Paul says, “And even without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?” The conclusion was drawn, therefore, that the Corinthian church used pipes and harps in its services. But the man who would use this text to prove instrumental music in the church is hard pressed for a proof text.
The very next verse says, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” If verse 7 proves they had pipes and harps in the church, verse 8 proves they had trumpets and carnal warfare! Are advocates of instrumental music ready for this? Were the Corinthian Christians blowing their trumpets to get people lined up for carnal battle? The idea is preposterous. Neither verse 7 nor verse 8 proves instrumental music in the church. Just as one would not know what is piped or harped if no distinction in sounds were given, and just as an army would not prepare for battle if the trumpet should give an uncertain sound, “so likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air” (1 Cor. 14:9). The thing in the church to which Paul referred was “words spoken by the tongue,” and he compared them to the sounds of pipes, harps, and trumpets elsewhere to show the importance of speaking words that could be understood. No distinction in sounds would ruin music anywhere, and an uncertain sound of the trumpet would leave the army in doubt. Just so, a language that could not be understood by the audience would make the speakers and the audience barbarians to one another. Even a Christian Church preacher, if he will lay aside his ardent desire to find instruments in the New Testament, can understand this passage.
First Corinthians 12:28
This was another passage in which the preacher alleged that instrumental music is in the New Testament. In this passage we find this language: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” Can you find the mention of instrumental music in this passage? If not, you must not be a very close observer, for it is there, according to this Christian Church preacher. But where does he find it? In the word “helps.”
Instrumental music, he says, is a “help” in the praise service, and since there were “helps” placed in the Corinthian church, they must have had instrumental music. With this understanding—or, rather, misunderstanding—of this passage, we might find authority for many things. I have often called for the text of scripture that authorizes the mourners’ bench system of “getting religion.” From the interpretation given by this Christian preacher to First Corinthians 12:28, I suppose I have at last found it. The mourners’ bench “helps” to get people to profess religion, and since God set “helps” in the church, that must include the mourners’ bench. That argument could be made by the Baptists with as much reason as the digressives use in applying it to instrumental music.
In this text, Paul speaks of “psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,” telling the church to admonish and teach one another with such. The speaker claimed that Greek authorities say that “psalms” means “with or without an instrument,” and that “spiritual songs” were songs sung with an instrument. I have known for a long time the argument that has been made with respect to the word “psalms,” but this is something new concerning “spiritual songs.”
If “spiritual songs” were songs sung with an instrument, and Paul said to use “spiritual songs,” how could there be any choice left to us? And how could we say the New Testament says nothing about them? Paul said to use “spiritual songs,” and if that means songs with an instrument, then Paul said to sing with an instrument. Could we then leave off the instrument and obey this divine injunction? But the fact is that “spiritual songs” means no such thing. Certainly the instrument could not be found in the word “spiritual.” The word does not mean instrumental music, for we read of spiritual gifts, spiritual men and such like. If instruments are involved in this, it must be found in the word translated “songs.” But that is not true. The word “songs” is from the original word hodais, which is the plural number, dative case, of the word hode. This word simply means, “a song, lay, ode, or strain.” It suggests nothing about instrumental music, and such is not found in this portion of the New Testament.
“And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” This is often used in attempts to prove New Testament sanction of instrumental music, for John heard “the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” Of course, those who attempt to use this passage to prove New Testament approval of instrumental music overlook the symbolism of Revelation and want to make it all literal. The American Standard Version of this passage reads this way: “And the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” The as in this verse is in the original Greek.
So John heard a voice from heaven. It was not the voice of many waters, but it was as the voice of many waters for rhythm. Neither was it the voice of a great thunder. It was as the voice of thunder for volume, and it was not the voice of harpers, but it was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps for melody. But verse 8 tells what the voice was—the voice of singers as they sang a song before the throne, and that voice of singing contained rhythm as the voice of many waters, volume as the voice of thunder and melody as the voice of harpers harping with their harps. There is not a single vestige of New Testament proof for instrumental music in worship.