By John McCort
The most popular argument used to justify instrumental music in worship is an argument drawn from the word “Psalms” (psalmos) in Eph. 5:19. The argument made is that in the Old Testament psalms were sung to an instrument of music. It is claimed that the instrument of music is inherent in the singing of psalms. Several authorities can be produced which state the psalms (psalmos) were to be sung to the accompaniment of an instrument of music. (See Thayer & Vine on psalmos)
Lei us assume momentarily that their argument is correct that the instrument of music is inherent in the word psalms. If this is true then it would be sinful, if not impossible, to sing psalms without an instrument of music. For example, immersion is inherent in the word baptism. Would it not then follow that it would be sinful, if not impossible to baptize without immersing? Since all are commanded to sing psalms (Eph. 5:19) would it not also follow that all persons singing psalms would be required to play an instrument of music? Where is the authority for one person to play an instrument of music for all of the congregation if the instrument of music is inherent in the word psalmos. (I wonder if one person could be baptized for the whole congregation?) What happens when a farmer is out plowing a field after a bountiful harvest and he feels like singing psalms of praises to God? Does farmer Brown have io jump down off of his tractor, run four miles home, and pick up his guitar before he can sing psalms? If instrumental music is inherent in singing psalms then playing the instrument would not be optional.
“Psalmos” In The New Testament
Examine how the word “psalm” is used in the New Testament.
Lk. 20:42, “The Book of Psalms”
Lk. 24:44, “Written . . . in the Psalms”
Acts 1:20, “. . . the Book of Psalms”
Acts 13:33, “. . . the second Psalm
1 Cor. 14:26, “Everyone . . . hath a psalm . . .
Eph. 5:19, “Speaking . . . in psalms . . .”
Col. 3:16, “. . . Admonishing in psalms . . .”
The instrument of music is not mentioned in connection with the reading, speaking, or singing of psalms, The translators must not have thought that the instrument of music was inherent in the singing of psalms. In the Old Testament the instrument of music had to be named in addition to the word psalmos (Psa. 81:2; 98:4; 149:3). Since the instrument of music had To be named in addition to the word psalmos this demonstrates that ,he instrument of music was not inherent in the word.
Both psallo and psalmos come from the same root psao. Psao means “to rub, wipe; to handle, touch” (Thayer, p. 675). Psallo is the verb form of the root psao while psalmos is the noun form. Psallo, in its virgin definition, merely means to pluck, twitch, or twang. The object of the pluck, twitch, or twang must be named in context. No object of the pluck is inherent in the word psallo. Sometimes the word psallo was used to describe the plucking of a carpenter’s string or the plucking of a hair. One cannot pluck (psallo) without something to pluck. Thus, there is no object inherent in the verb psallo. It is true that in the Old Testament the word psallo is often used to describe the strumming of an instrument of music. It is important to note that when the instrument of music is the object of the strum or pluck (psallo) it is always named in addition to the word psallo. Psa. 98:4-5, “. . . Break forth and sing (psalate) for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises (psalate) unto Jehovah with the harp (en kithara). Psalate is translated ” sing praises” and the harp (kithara) is named in addition to the word psalate demonstrating the fact that the instrument of music is not inherent in psallo.
Note the parallel between psallo and baptizo. Baptizo means to immerse, submerge, dip, etc. There is no element inherent in the verb baptizo (baptize). The New Testament speaks of baptizing in water (JD. 3:23), baptizing in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11), baptizing in fire (M at t. 3:11), etc., demonstrating the fact that there is no element inherent in the verb baptize. Likewise psallo merely means to pluck, twitch, or twang, and no element or instrument is inherent in the word psallo.
In Eph. 5:19 both psallo and psalmos are used. “Speaking one to another in psalms (psalmos), hymns, and spiritual songs, singing (adontes) and making melody (psallontes) in your hearts to the Lord.” Notice ilia! the object of the psallo is named. “Singing (adontes) and making melody (psallontes) in your heart (en kardia). Compare “Sing praises (psalates) . . . with the harp (en kithara)” (Psa. 98:4) with “. . . making melody (psallontes) in your heart ten kardia) . . .” (Eph. 5:19). In Eph. 5:19 the psalloing is done in the heart.
Psalmos is nothing more Than a noun form of the verb psallo. What would hold true for psallo would also hold ,rue for psalmos. Let us suppose. momentarily, that the words baptize and baptisin are used in the same passage. Let us further suppose that the command is given to baptize with water. The verb baptize describes the action and water is the element used in the action of baptizing. When the element water is specified as the element this automatically excludes all other elements because the element has been specified. When the command to “baptize with water” is given this would necessarily exclude all other forms of baptizing such as baptizing in the Holy Spirit, suffering, fire, etc. The element water is not inherent in the word baptize but when water is specified as the element this altioniatically excludes all other elements. Baptism is nothing more than a noun form of the verb baptize. If the word baptism was used in the same passage as the phrase “baptize with water” the word baptism would automatically mean water baptism. The element water would automatically be transferred from the verb baptize to its noun form baptism. Would not the word baptism automatically mean water baptism to the exclusion of all other forms of baptism in that particular passage?
There is an inescapable parallel between psallo and baptizo, and between psalmos and baptism. In Eph. 5:19 the object of the psallo, the heart, is specified. This automatically excludes all other forms of psalloing in this particular passage in the same way that the phrase “baptize with water” would automatically exclude all other forms of baptism in that passage since the element has been specified. Psalmos is the noun form of psallo and thus the object of the psallo is naturally transferred to Psalmos in the same way that the element water in the phrase “baptize with water” is transferred to baptism if the word baptism were used in that same passage. Thus the instrument of music could not be included in the word psalmos since the object of the psallo has alreal been specified in the passage.
When the scholars define the word psalmos as being a psalm sting to “the instrument of music” we must realize that they are giving the applied definition of the word rather than its virgin definition. The instrument of music is not inherent in either psallo or psalmos. This can be illustrated by Thaver’s definition of the word baptizo. “2. to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water.” He cites Mark 7:4. The only problem is that the element, water, is not inherent in the word baptizo. The instrument of music is not in the word psalmos anymore than water is inherent in the word baptism. This demonstrates that the scholars sometime give the applied meaning of a word rather than iis virgin definition.
None of the translators have ever translated the word psallo, in the New Testament, as meaning to play an instrument of music or of even meaning to sing and play. The silence of the Scriptures with regard to the instrument of music in worship is deafening.
Truth Magazine XX: 38, pp. 605-606
September 23, 1976