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 the 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 that psalms (psalmos) were to be sung to the accompaniment of an instrument of music. (See Vine & Thayer on psalmos.)
Let us momentarily assume 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. 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 singing psalms would be required to play an instrument of music? If the instrument of music is inherent in the singing of psalms, then the instrument of music is not optional to the singing of psalms; it is demanded. Where is the authority for one person to play an instrument of music for all of the congregation, if the instrument is inherent in the singing of psalms?
1. Psalmos In The New Testament
Examine how the word “psalm” is used in the New Testament. Luke 20:42–“The Book of Psalms”; Luke 24:44–“written . . . in the Psalms”; Acts 1:20–“The Book of Psalms”; Acts 13:33–“The second Psalm”; 1 Cor. 12:26–“Everyone . . . hath a psalm”; Eph. 5:19-“Speaking . . . in psalms”; and Col. 3:16–“Admonishing . . . in psalms.”
The instrument of music is not mentioned in connection with the reading, speaking, or singing of psalms. In the Old Testament the instrument of music had to be named in addition to the word psalm. (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 the instrument of music was not inherent in the word.
2.Psallo and Psalmos
Both psallo (making melody, Eph. 5:19; sing, Rom . 15:9) and psalmos come from the same root word “psao.” Psao means to “rub, wipe; to handle, touch.” (Thayer, p. 675.) Psallo is the verb form of psao and 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 is used to describe the plucking of a carpenters 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), it is always named in addition to the word psallo. Psa. 98:4-5: . . . break forth and sing praises (psalate) for joy, yea, sing praises. Sing praises (psalate) unto Jehovah with the harp (en kithara).” Psalte 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 the word psallo.
Note the parallel between psallo and baptizo. Baptizo, defined, means to immerse, submerge, plunge, dip, etc . . . There is no element inherent in the verb baptizo. The New Testament speaks of baptizing in water (Jn. 3:23), baptizing in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11), and baptizing in fire (Matt. 3:11), demonstrating the fact that no element is inherent in the verb baptize. Likewise, psallo merely means to pluck, twitch, or twang with no element or instrument being inherent in the word psallo.
In Eph. 5:19 both psallo and psalmos are used. “Speaking one to another in psalms (psalmois), hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody (psallontes) in your hearts to the Lord.” Notice that the object of the psallo is named. “Singing (adontes) and making melody (psallontes) in your heart (en kithara . . . .” The object of the psallo is the heart. Compare Psa. 98:4, “Sing prases (psalates) . . . with the harp (en kithara)” with Eph. 5:19, “. . . making melody (psallontes) in your heart (en kardia).” In Eph. 5:19 the “psalloing” is done in the heart. In Psa. 98:4 the “psalloing” is done on the harp.
Psalmos is nothing more than a noun form of the verb psallo. What would hold true for psallo would also hold true for psalmois. Let us momentarily assume that the words baptize and baptism are used in the same passage. Let us further suppose that the command is given to baptize with water. If the noun baptism were used in the same passage, then the baptism would be water baptism, to the exclusion of all other forms of baptism. The verb baptize describes the action and the word water is the element used in the action of baptizing. When water is specified as the element, this automatically excludes all other elements in that context. Water baptism would automatically exclude that baptism from being a baptism in fire or Holy Spirit baptism. The element water is not inherent in the word baptize, but when water is specified as the element, this automatically excludes all other elements. Baptism is nothing more than a noun form of the verb baptize. If the word baptism were 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 kinds of baptism in that particular context?
There is an inescapable parallel between psallo and baptizo, and between psalmos and baptisma. In Eph. 5:19 the object of the psallo, the heart, is specified. This automatically excludes all other kinds of “psalloing” (such All Things as plucking a carpenter’s string, plucking a harp) in this particular passage in the same way that the phrase pertaining to Life “baptize with water” automatically excludes all other kinds of baptizing. Psalmos is the noun form of psallo and thus the object of psallo is naturally transferred to psalm os in the same way that the element water, in the phrase “baptize with water,” would be transferred to its noun form “baptism.” Thus the instrument of music could not be included in the word psalm os since the object of psallo, the heart, has already been specified in the passage.
When the scholars define the word psalm os as being “a psalm being sung to the instrument of music” we must realize that they are giving the applied definition of the word rather than its virgin meaning. The instrument of music is not inherent in either psallo or psalmos. This can be illustrated by Thayer’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. But, the ELEMENT, WATER, IS NOT INHERENT IN THE WORD BAPTIZO. The instrument of music is not in the word psalmos anymore than the element water is inherent in the word baptimos. This demonstrates that the scnolars sometimes give the applied meaning of a word rather than its virgin definition.
None of the translators have ever translated the word, psallo, in the N.T. as meaning to play an instrument of music or of even meaning to sing and play. Nowhere in the New Testament is instrumental music ever authorized in worship to God. This article has not attempted to deal with the historical evidence against instrumental music, how to establish Bible authority, or any of the other arguments against instrumental music in worship. I have merely attempted to deal with one small argument that is raised in defense of instrumental music.
Truth Magazine XXI: 19, pp. 298-299
May 12, 1977