Creating Needless Confusion (II)

By Ron Halbrook

Sing To God Only?

One more example of creating needless confusion will be given, though many could be found. Passages like Col. 3:16 are sometimes misconstrued by those who think they are “going all the way back to the Bible in its original meaning.” They tell us the passage does not really instruct us as it appears to in its present punctuation: “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . . ” The passage really says, “Let the word’of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom (change “,” to a “,” and keep reading-RH) teaching and admonishing one another (insert ” ” or at least a “,” to show break in thought here-RH) in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Thus the true meaning of the verse is that we should sing only songs of praise directly to God and not any songs which primarily teach and admonish one another.

Brethren have not picked this point up from being extra-ordinary Greek scholars, but from at least three possible sources. (1) The Authorized or King James Version was revised in 1881; separate English and American committees did their own work, then exchanged the results of each and conferred. When it was all said and done, the American committee still wanted a few more changes; “The New Revised Version” or the Revised Version carried the English committee’s preferences and listed the few remaining American suggestions in an appendix. Although one or two words of Colossians 3:16 were changed from the A. V. in the new R.V., no punctuation changes were made: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.” In the appendix of American suggestions, the semi-colon after “wisdom” is omitted and one is placed after “richly.”

An “American Revised Edition” was published in 1882 incorporating the preferences of “The American Committee of Revision” and putting the English preferences in an appendix; the semi-colon change mentioned above is thus made in the text-., But an additional change is made: a semi-colon is added after “one another,” seeming to separate the teaching and admonishing from the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It is difficult to know exactly why this punctuation is added; both the English and American committees used “what is sometimes called the heavier system of stopping” — “a larger use of colons and semicolons than is customary” for “convenience in reading aloud” (Preface to American Revised Edition). This was done “especially in the Epistles” such as Colossians.

Whatever the reason for that extra semi-colon, the American Revision Committee reviewed all the work that had been done to revise the K.J.V. and in 1901 issued the “American Standard Edition of the Revised Bible,” or the American Standard Version. It was acclaimed by competent scholars as the most accurate version ever given to the public. The Preface to this new work said that “the somewhat ponderous and peculiar system of punctuation of the original edition” was basically reproduced but with a renewed effort at improvement. In Col. 3:16, they returned to the punctuation of the K.J.V. and of the R.V. (1881), as being the best. The New American Standard Bible was issued in 1970 and retains this punctuation. Still, someone picking up a copy of the American Revised Edition might think he had discovered a more accurate punctuation of Colossians 3:16. Such a brother needs to be informed that when the American Revision Committee did its final and best work, it settled with the “traditional” punctuation and threw the altered one out.

(2) Another source for the idea could be some modern speech translations. The ones which translate Col. 3:16 so as to apparently make all singing .”to the Lord” and none to “one another” are not noted for accuracy. The New English Bible says, “Sing thankfully in your hearts to God, with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” William F. Beck’s New Testament in the Language of Today translates, “With thankful hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” Good News for Modern Man likewise separates all the teaching of “each other” from the singing, and apparently makes all singing directed to God only; the whole verse reads, “Christ’s message, in all its richness, must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God, with thanksgiving in your hearts.”

It is doubtful these translators were trying to make the point some brethren try to make, i.e. that no songs of teaching and admonition to one another should be sung. The New English Bible says on Eph. 5:19, “speak to one another in psalm’s, hymns, and songs; sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord . . . ” Beck also says, “speak psalms, hymns, and songs to one antoher,” and Good News For Modern Man says, “Speak to one another in the words of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing hymns and psalms to the Lord . . . ‘ Likewise, the American Revised Edition referred to above translates Eph. 5:19 to show that both teaching and admonishing one another as well as praising God are appropriate in songs.

We should also notice that many of the thoughts in Ephesians and Colossians are parallel, even identical. This is certainly the case regarding 5:19 and 3:16. Compare “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” with “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Compare “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” with “singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

The Bible teaches that our singing has a two-fold purpose: teaching one another and praising God. Generally, songs which do one, also do the other to some extent; but they may stress either one and be entirely scriptural. In any case, we are to sing “psalms,” and the ones provided in the Bible sometimes stress teaching and sometimes praising. So even if the phrase “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace . . . to the Lord” were separated from the “teaching and admonishing” in Col. 3, the verse still would not exclude songs which primarily teach and admonish. To the contrary, we are commanded to sing such!

(3) Many brethren have Adam Clarke’s fine commentaries in their homes, which is a very likely source of the idea being discussed. Clarke gives his translation of the verse with a comment following: `Let the doctrine of Christ dwell richly among you; teaching and admonishing each other in all wisdom; singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord, in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. This arrangement the original will not only bear, but it absolutely requires it, and is not sense without it.” That was his opinion on the word order for that verse, but it is not clear that he meant to make the point brethren make. Again, on Eph. 5:19 he says, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms, ” and comments on songs, “to magnify God and edify men.”

But his comment on the word order in Colossians is in error. Not the least evidence of his claim can be found by searching the Greek scholars: M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, pp. 915-916; H. Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. III, pp. 237-238; Kenneth S. Wuest, Eph. & Col. in the Greek New Testament, pp. 226-228; R. C. H. Lenski, St. Paul’s Epistles, pp. 177-178; A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 505, and his Paul and the Intellectuals: The Epistle to the Colossians; and several other Greek scholars. The main point they discuss is whether “in all wisdom” should be connected with “dwell in you richly” or with “teaching and admonishing.” Every one of them agrees that “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” is a connected phrase.

The actual order of the Greek words can be seen from an interlinear: “The word of Christ let (in) dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing yourselves, in psalms, hymns, (and) spiritual songs in (or, with) the grace singing in the hearts of you to God.” The leading thought is: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. This clause is modified by two participial phrases, each of which is apparently introduced by a prepositional phrase: (1) in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, (2) in (or, with) the grace singing in your hearts to God. As the word of Christ indwells us, we will both teach and admonish one another in songs and we will praise God in songs. David Lipscomb puts it well, “What is sung must be the outgrowth of the rich indwelling of the word of Christ in the heart. The purpose is to praise God and teach the word of Christ” (Eph., Phil., Col., p. 299).

In teaching Greek, Brother E. V. Srygley impresses his students with a very important maxim: A little knowledge of Greek can be a dangerous thing! Most brethren who “know a little Greek” know a very little (including your’s truly). It has been often observed that there is not a single truth necessary for our salvation which cannot be found and understood in the English Bible. Helpful insights may be gained from the Greek-nearly always confirming and illuminating what the English already says-but a man does not have to know Greek to get to heaven. The claim has been made that the view of Col. 3:16 exposed above is required by the Greek; that is not so. Let us be reminded: We should not get brethren all confused and upset over matters about which we know very little to begin with and which are not necessary to our souls’ salvation.


Brethren, let us be cautious lest we cause needless confusion. Rather than pressing our personal preferences and opinions so as to create chaos, let us keep them to ourselves. After a “love affair” with some such idea, we may “cool off” and “straighten out” ourselves. In the meantime, what about those brethren we have needlessly confused? Instability may plague them the rest of their lives or they may be driven entirely away from the Lord by the confusion. Young people may be sent off on tangents from which they will never return. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! For it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!” (Matt. 18:7). In trying to appear “independent,” we can become dangerously eccentric.

Truth Magazine XXI: 4, pp. 58-59
January 27, 1977