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Exclusive Psalmody and Singing Jesus’ Name by Daniel Kok

Exclusive Psalmody and Singing Jesus’ Name


One common objection against exclusive psalmody is that if we only sing the psalms we will fail to sing the “name that is above every other name” (Philippians 2:9). I believe this objection fails for a number of reasons:

1) Of the supposed[1] hymnic fragments found in the New Testament, only one actually uses the name Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11).

2) Even this passage does not command us to sing the name of Jesus, as other exclusive-psalmodists point out. Rather, the command is that every tongue confess Him. Furthermore, the confession is not limited to simply saying the name Jesus but that Jesus Christ is Lord. Arguably, this is done every time we sing Psalms 16 & 110.

3) If it is commanded (i.e. required) that we sing ‘Jesus’ name, does this have to be done every time we gather together? In every song?[2] The latter would require the exclusion of the psalms as songs of the church even though many advocates of hymns, and more importantly the scriptures themselves, require us to sing psalms. So in what way is this to be fulfilled?

4) If we literally are called to sing the name ‘Jesus’, we would have to do so (it would seem) with the original Greek in mind. Very few Christians, if any, would ever speak the name Ἰησοῦς(Iēsous) from the NT Greek. This is ironic since hymnodists often accuse Psalm singers of inconsistency since they do not sing the original Hebrew of the Psalms and often sing them in rhyme and meter.

5) Even the heavenly songs of Revelation (as found in chapters 4,5,7,11&15) do not use the name Jesus. If the name Jesus is so important to be sung, surely one or more of these songs would record His name.
6)  In no instance do Jesus’ closest disciples ever speak of Him with that name. Never once is Jesus Himself called by that name as an address to Him by others except by the demons and the notable exception of the blind men at Jericho and the lepers in Samaria who called Him “Jesus, Master.” Typically when He is addressed by others He is simply called “Lord” “Master” or “Teacher.”
7)  As Richard Bacon points out, Jesus did not include His name in the baptismal formula (Matthew 28:19).[3]If we are not required to be baptized in Jesus’ name, why would we be required to sing Jesus’ name in order to honor Him?

8) Jesus name is also not found in institution of the Lord Supper. It is “my body” and eaten in “remembrance of me” but not, strictly, in ‘Jesus’ name. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul speaks of the “body of Christ” and the “blood of Christ” but not that of Jesus. Likewise in chapter 11, the apostle speaks of proclaiming “the Lord’s death.” Furthermore, the song that was sung after the celebration of the first Supper was a psalm and, therefore, did not contain the name Jesus (Matthew 26:30).

9) The Psalms, however, contain the titles of Jesus (Anointed, Son etc.) and even the very words of Jesus (Psalm 22:1 for example). Psalm singers never fail to honor Jesus even if they do not literally mention or sing his name.
10) That Psalm singers do call upon the name of Jesus is evident from the names given to Him at His incarnation. In Isaiah 9:6 we read that “his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” For “Wonderful Counselor” see Psalm 16:7; for “Mighty God” see Psalms 24:8 & 45:3; for “Everlasting Father” see Psalm 45:6 & 145:13 and for “Prince of Peace” see Psalm 72:7.
12) The name ‘Jesus’ refers to His saving work (saving His people from their sins – Matthew 1:21). As others have noted, the Psalms are richly filled with references to His salvation for us.[4]

13) That psalms can be properly sung unto or in Jesus’ name without having to use the name ‘Jesus’ is demonstrated in the New Testament. In Acts 2 Peter addresses his fellow Jews with a message about Jesus of Nazareth. He references Psalms 16 & 110 as speaking of “this Jesus” (vs. 32).

[1] I have used the word ‘supposed’ quite deliberately: “[I]t has been alleged for years that we have fragments of such ‘new songs’ in Philippians 2, First Timothy 3 and elsewhere. Frankly, it is always disappointing to find advocates of hymnody appealing to the alleged presence of Apostolic hymn ‘fragments’ in the New Testament. In the face of an utter lack of evidence for their existence, the attempt to find them should simply be given up. They are less likely to be found than Atlantis or the Abominable Snowman! If these ‘fragments’ are anything more than exalted prose they could just as easily be fragments of early creeds. However, it is important to remember that the whole exercise is one in sheer scholastic speculation – the kind of speculation indulged in by academics who have given up the study of what is revealed in exchange for the pursuit of novelty and spurious originality – not to mention academic degrees! The stubborn fact remains that hymnody is an enduring art form and the utter absence of hymns from the first 200 years (and more) of post-Apostolic church history is a huge problem for those who believe that they were sung by the Apostles and their successors. Indeed, their absence is as much of a problem for the advocates of hymnody as the absence of musical instruments in the first 800 years of church history is for the advocates of instrumental music. This is particularly the case if these ‘hymns’ were so important as to be partly incorporated into the New Testament letters. If they really did exist and if they were known and memorised by the Apostles and were incorporated into their letters, their disappearance from the record of history becomes simply and utterly inexplicable.” Rev. Kenneth Stewart “Which Songs Should We Sing in Worship?”

[2] This would exclude the singing of “Amazing Grace” which does not use Jesus name.


[4]See the second point in this article:

Another common objection to exclusive psalmody is that since scripture speaks of singing a new song we are permitted (if not required) to write new songs in every generation. This argument dates back to the 17th century and has been used frequently ever since.[1]

There are 9 new song references in the scriptures 6 of which are found in the Psalms alone: Psalms 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9 & 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9 & 14:3.

1) In every reference the command or the description is that of a “new song,” (singular) not new songs (plural). This would appear to be significant in that new songs would refer to an ongoing collection of songs to be written whereas new song would refer to a particular song with its own particular elements and requirements. 

2) This is supported by the command that accompanies these descriptions. The new song is to be sung, not composed. The new song must then be provided by God Himself: that is an inspired source other than the singer or singers who are called to praise God.[2]

3) This is demonstrated in the Psalms, where the phrase “new song” is primarily placed at the beginning (not the end) of the Psalm suggesting that it is, in fact, the content of the new song. 

4) In Psalm 144:9 (where this is not the case) David says “I will sing a new song” (emphasis mine). Of course this does not necessarily rule out others from joining in, but the context indicates that the previous statement is a personal one: “the one who gives salvation to kings, who delivers David his servant” (emphasis mine). In any case there is no command here to compose a new song. David by the inspiration of the Spirit is the composer; we are the choir. 

5) We see this clearly in Psalm 40:3 which reads “He has put a new song in my mouth.” In this verse David, who was the “sweet Psalmist of Israel,” acknowledges that the new song has been given to him by God.. This could not more clearly refer to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

6) In Isaiah 42:10, the prophet borrows the idea of a new song from the Psalms and applies it to a new people, namely to the Gentiles (“from the ends of the earth” cf. vs. 6 where Israel will be a light to the Gentiles). This could either mean that, with the inclusion of the Gentiles new songs would have to be written to celebrate the creation of a “new man” (Ephesians 2:15), or the ‘old’ songs would take on new meaning by being sung by the Gentile converts. It would seem the latter is the case since in Psalm 96 the Psalmist speaks of singing to the Lord a new song in vs. 1 and then calls upon the nations in vs. 7ff. to join him in his praise of God). 

7) In fact the singing of Psalms (as a canonical book) is more suitable to the new covenant church than it ever was to the old. The Psalms prolepticaly anticipate the day when Japheth will dwell in the tents of Shem.[3] So the language of Israel’s faith as applied to the Gentiles becomes a ‘new song’ i.e. new in meaning without being newly written. In fact it is impossible that a ‘new song’ could only refer to a new situation (i.e. the necessity of songs to be written as the Gentiles were enfolded into Israel) since Israel was commanded to sing a new song before the inclusion of the Gentiles.

8) This understanding of new song meaning an old song sung with new meaning is reinforced by Luke 24:44-45: “How must the words of Psalm 2, or 22, or 45, or 110, or 118 have sounded like new songs to those who had been accustomed to singing them in the shadows of unrevealed realities! The effect of the light of the Gospel upon the remnant of Israel redeemed by His grace was to cause them to sing “as it were, a New Song” unto the Lord – not “new” in substance or content, but “new” in richness of meaning and fullness of glory to the God and Savior of men! Seen in this light, the song of the redeemed, which was “as it were, a new song,” and which could only be learned by them, shows us the wonderful way in which the Psalms come alive with meaning in the full light of Christ’s redemption to those whose eyes are opened to see their testimony concerning Jesus.” Douglas Comin, Worship from Genesis to Revelation

9) In Revelation (5:9 & 14:3) a “new song” is sung in the heavenly realm where the saints are ‘contributing’ to the prophetic whole of the book. It is not a new song in terms of being written by someone for a particular occasion (as with an uninspired hymn). Rightly then G.I. Williamson has noted: “To learn a new song, taught by the Lord, is very different from writing a new song of our own” (The Singing of Psalms in Worship). Furthermore the song in Revelation 14:3 cannot even be learned except by the redeemed of God. That the church is a mixed multitude here below reinforces that this song cannot be an example of new compositions in the militant church for we are not all redeemed in the here and now. 

10) The new Jerusalem descends from above; it is heavenly in origin and God’s creation (Revelation 21:2). Likewise the new song does not originate with man but with God (see Michael Bushell, Songs of Zion, page 96). 

11) Furthermore there are many examples of new ‘things’ in scripture, none of which require that something entirely new or fresh be made or recognized but only that which was old be renewed or restored to its former glory.

There is a “new commandment” John 13:34; a “new covenant” 2 Corinthians 3:6-7; Hebrews 8:8; we are a “new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17 and a “new man” Ephesians 2:15 and there is a “new heavens and earth” 2 Peter 3:13. In each of these instances we do not have something entirely new but the old or previously existing commandment, covenant, character and creation renewed, revived and reclaimed. For example, R.L. Dabney argues from John 13:34 that Christ’s new commandment “was only ‘the old command renewed,’ only a re-enactment with an additional motive: Christ’s love for us” (Systematic Theology, page 357). 

[1] “It was Benjamin Keach, and not Isaac Watts as is commonly thought, who was the first Puritan to write hymns of human composition. The first hymns of Watts were published in 1694, while those of Keach had appeared thirty years earlier. Commenting on the phrase ‘a new song’ found in the Psalms and in Rev. 14:3, Keach writes, ‘A new song,’ signifies a new song which praises God for new benefits received from him… This shows other spiritual songs may be sung besides David’s psalms in gospel days.’” [quoting Benjamin Keach “The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship” page 129] John Price, Old Light on New Worship: Musical Instruments and the Worship of God, pages 118-119.
[2] This is consistent with the composition of the song in scripture which is frequently (if not always) inspired of God. As Michael Bushell argues, “they [commands to sing a new song] do not constitute a warrant for us to produce uninspired worship song any more than they did for the Old Testament saints.” The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody

[3] For more on this point see “Ashamed of the Tents of Shem?” by J.G. Vos SpindleWorks, Sharing Reformed Christian Resources Around The World

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