Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A Cappella Singing

A cappella versus Instrumental Accompaniment

One approach promoting the singing in church accompanied by musical instruments is an argument from the Greek verb psallo (and the related noun psalmos).

“Furthermore, in Eph 5:19, the phrase ‘making melody’ is the Greek word, psallo which means, ‘1) to pluck off, pull out, 2) to cause to vibrate by touching, to twang, 2a) to touch or strike the chord, to twang the strings of a musical instrument so that they gently vibrate, 2b) to play on a stringed instrument, to play, the harp, etc. 2c) to sing to the music of the harp 2d) in the NT to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song.’ We can see that the making melody to the Lord involves the use of musical instruments.”[i]

Psallo is used 5 times in 4 verses in the New Testament, translated “sing” in Romans 15:9 and 1 Corinthians 14:15, “sing psalms” in James 5:13, and “making melody” in Ephesians 5:19.[ii]  Pointing to the etymology of the word (to pluck a string), advocates say the command to psallo means to sing with the accompaniment of musical instruments. This etymological fallacy attaches a word’s etymology to its usage and meaning. For example, the etymology of the word “goodbye” tells us it means “God be with you.” Nevertheless, most people who utter the word “goodbye” simply mean to express courtesy upon a departure, without connection to whatever they believe about God. So with psallo. A look at a couple of New Testament scriptures will expose the fallacy to what should be a sudden and final death. No need to mine the depths of the Greek language; a little logic will go a long way. 

If a musical instrument inheres in psallo – if it always means to sing with musical accompaniment – then the command to psallo demands a mandatory obedience of singing with musical accompaniment. A cappella singing would be ruled out when the command is “to psallo.” So the merry one of James 5:13 must hold her peace if she does not have or does not know how to play an instrument. The spirit-filled believer of 1 Corinthians 14:26 who “hath a psalm” must remain silent if he left his accompaniment at home! Who can believe it?

In addition to the psallo argument, the next often cited argument probably derives from the normative principle:

“The fact that the New Testament nowhere condemns musical instruments indicates that the Old Testament practice was continued in the New Testament church.”[iii]

This is an application of the normative principle – “whatever is not forbidden is acceptable.”[iv] Further, it is a misreading and misapplication of the Scriptures. We cannot exclude things because Scripture does not specifically address (forbid) them! This approach opens the door to the inventions and imaginations of men regardless of whether Scripture supports them.

This argument should remind us, though, that musical instruments are not inherently sinful, and that God has accepted worship by and with them in the past. Therefore, it is not a matter of moral right or wrong, but rather a matter of what is commanded. However much we might enjoy musical instruments, however much God may be worshipped with them in the past or in the future, there is no command, precept or example – neither necessary inference – for it in the New Testament. If one will argue from the Bible that musical instruments should be used in church worship, sometimes other than these two arguments should be posited.

[i] From Can we use musical instruments in the church? by Matt Slick.
[ii] Sing in Ephesians 5:19 is ado.
[iii] From Are we supposed to use musical instruments in church? at GotQuestions.Org
[iv] For normative principle, see Principles of Worship. The regulative principle more closely follows the intent of Scripture. Interestingly, exclusive psalmodists who forbid musical instruments place themselves in the peculiar position to sing the commands to use of musical instruments in public worship, but cannot use them because the New Testament church is not commanded to use musical instruments.

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