Additional Arguments Defending Exclusive Psalmody by Pastor Daniel Kok

Another common argument against exclusive psalmody concerns the existence of songs in the scripture outside the Psalter (e.g. Song of Moses, Song of Hezekiah, songs in Revelation etc.). If we are to sing only the Psalms, then why did God allow for these other songs to be composed, sung and subsequently recorded in the Bible. Does not their very presence in scripture teach us that we need more than the Psalms to praise God with song?

1) We must remember that the Psalms are not just a random collection of songs but part of a finished, canonical work. As such they cannot be added to by men, even with material within the canon of scripture itself. That is to say, the book of Psalms will always be the book of Psalms (i.e. 150 inspired individual works compiled in one volume).

2) Connected to this thought is that the Psalms, as a collection, are a unique genre in scripture: “If we care about genre—and we should—then we have to grapple with the question: if God gave us a book of praise songs, who are we to add to them? [ed. Michael] Bushell points to exclusive Psalmody as the logical consequence of sola scriptura. Why? First because of the importance of the genre of Book of Psalms within the scope of the canonized Bible.” Rosaria Butterfield. Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

Thus this songbook in scripture is the songbook in scripture.

3) The oldest psalm is that of Moses (Psalm 90) and the ‘newest’ is probably Psalm 137 (which is dated to the 6th century Babylonian exile). So even though the Psalms do not incorporate so called New Testament songs, they do extend over many ages of church history (note even those which, like our time, did not have the benefit of a temple and priestly ministry i.e. after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians). It appears then that some songs written during the time in which the book of Psalms were being written and subsequently compiled were not included for good reason.

For example, Solomon wrote a total of 1005 songs (1 Kings 4:32) yet only one has his name connected with it (Psalm 127). This demonstrates the peculiarity of the canonical psalms i.e. those chosen have good (divine) reason to be in the Psalter whereas others are left out in God’s wisdom.

4) This, of course, underscores the notion that God knows best what content His praise is to consist of. The Psalms are not, after all, a mere collection of Israel’s ‘top ten favourites’ but the only perfect book of praise. “God knows what balance we need in our theology and instruction, and has provided that balance in the Psalter. The Psalms contain a much greater variety of theological material than all the merely human compositions. God gave to the entire Church throughout much of its history what it needs to sing. We must remember that God doesn’t need us to worship him as we want to. He wants us to worship him as we need to. We want to worship him with our own offerings. We need to worship him with the compositions that he has given us.” James R. Hughes, In Spirit and Truth: Worship as God Requires

5) Whatever one believes about the limitations or purpose of the Psalms, the scripture everywhere makes it plain that not all truth is included in its pages (John 20:23). Therefore it would be consistent with the nature of biblical truth that not every song (i.e. inspired) that could have been included was included in the song book of scripture.

6) At the same time, there is considerable overlap between the Psalms and these other songs in scripture. One finds similar themes, wordings and the like that, should these songs be included in the corpus of songs that the church sings from, would not add anything substantial that is not already present in the book of Psalms.[1]

Thus to suggest that the Psalms are inadequate due to the existence of similar ‘sounding’ songs scattered throughout the scriptures is like suggesting the inadequacy of my wife’s cooking for our family because so many other women in the church make similar dishes. Certainly I am free to imbibe of their food when I am outside of the home, but whenever I am home my wife’s cooking suffices.

7) The very presence of these other songs in scripture, in fact, works against the hymnodist’s presuppositions since every one of them is inspired. Surely if these non-psalmodic songs were an indication of the need for an expanded song book, it would only argue for the inclusion of those songs in the church’s singing and nothing more.[2] Thus in the scenario where such songs were adopted for use in the church, the EP would see this as a distinct improvement on the current situation when they are used in place of man’s uninspired words.

Furthermore, it would only prove an inconsistency in the exclusive psalmodist’s conviction, not an actual contradiction. At most he may have to modify his practice but he does not need to undermine his own basic conviction regarding the use of inspired songs in worship by adding more inspired songs to his song book. Thus the exclusive psalmodist’s insistence on inspiration as the standard for sung praise of God stands.

8) Some, however, are of the opinion that the Hezekiah’s song (as recorded in Isaiah 38) is proof that uninspired songs were sung in the temple alongside the biblical Psalms. Besides being as assumption, let us carefully note the usual pattern in divine worship which Hezekiah follows:
“In biblical worship, it is the king who leads the congregation into worship, and it is the king’s own songs that the congregation sings with him. This principle is seen in the royal oversight of the hymn workshops of 1 Chronicles 25. It is also seen in the pattern of worship described throughout the Scripture (page 43)…. Hezekiah wrote this song (in Isaiah 38) to celebrate God’s healing from an illness. The king was near death, apparently because of sin. But he cried out for mercy, and God forgave his sins and restored his health. Hezekiah composed this praise and took it to the temple for all Israel to sing with him (vs. 20). Why would God’s mercy to deliver the king from death become the basis for all Israel to praise? From Adam to Jesus, Scripture shows us that God’s dealings with the head of his people is a mark of his disposition toward all the people. Hezekiah’s testimony about God’s mercy on him became the basis for the whole congregation to praise with him (page 49).” Michael Lefebvre, Singing the Songs of Jesus

9) It should be clear that some of these songs are clearly for a particular time and place and were not intended to be used in public worship. For example, “[t]he “second Song of Moses” (Deuteronomy 32) was not given, even in its original context, as a worship song, but as a song of warning to the children of Israel. It was not given to be “sung to the Lord” but as stated in Deuteronomy 31:19-22 as a witness of the Lord speaking to His people, against them. It is clear from the Lord’s stated use of this song that it was never intended by Him to be a song “vertically oriented” that is, going up to Him as an offering of the lips (Hebrews 13.15) but a song of witness and warning from Him to His people.” Rev. Todd Ruddell[3]

The so called songs of Zacharias, Mary & Simeon (in Luke 1&2) are, in fact, prophetic sayings more than they are sung praise and clearly for particular times and people (see Luke 1:47,76 & 2:26) which, though significant for our redemption (as they pertain to the incarnation and salvation of the Lord Jesus), do not necessarily imply that they be used for the corporate sung worship of God’s people. In fact, we see no evidence in scripture that they were intended to be used in corporate worship.

Also consider the case of the songs of Revelation: “1. These songs are all inspired by the Spirit of God… Therefore these inspired songs can afford no ground whatever for the use of uninspired compositions in the worship of God. 2. They are sung almost exclusively by angels and glorified saints. 3. They are sung in heaven. Hence, they do not pertain to this world.” W.G. Moorhead “The Psalms in the New Testament Church” (page 117) The Psalms in Worship (1907), edited by John McNaughter

10) There is a natural, redemptive historical development that is revealed in the Psalms that demonstrate their application to the age of the New Testament church. That is to say, it is apparent that God intended that the Psalms would become our one and only hymnbook: “The particular collection of 150 Psalms preserved in the canon was prepared in the post-exilic period, when there was no longer a king in Jerusalem. Arguably, the edition of the Psalter contained in the Bible is a selection of Psalms, specifically chosen and compiled for the expected Messiah (f. 28 page 53)” Michael Lefebvre, Singing the Songs of Jesus

11) This is all the more striking that when we come to the New Testament era we not only see the adoption of the Psalms without alteration but also no indication that anything was composed or adopted as a replacement or amendment for a New Testament song book. This indicates that the Psalms were meant to function as the church’s ‘hymnal’ until the Lord’s return.

[1] This also emphasizes the uniqueness of the content of biblical song as a type that is rarely, if ever, reflected in uninspired hymns.

[2] It certainly would not justify the glut of hymns that typically ‘crowd out’ the psalms of scripture in most song books.

[3] Question #17: What about the other “songs” in the Bible? Is it ok to sing other inspired portions of Scripture? | Exclusive Psalmody


More from D. Kok:

“Psalms” & Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

This is my sixth response (in a series) to common objections to exclusive psalmody. The first is found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here & the fifth here.

For years I thought that exclusive psalmodists (EP) were in denial. How could they contend that the biblical Psalms were sufficient for congregational worship when Paul speaks of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16)? It seemed obvious that if Paul meant to reference the Psalms exclusively he would have done so i.e. with the moniker “psalms” or “book of psalms.”

But having come across the argument as to how an EP would understand this phrase in Pauline usage, I was struck by its simplicity and it required me rethink my previous objection. After some time of study and prayer I became convinced of the position.

As I reflect on these matters again, I see the need to publish another defense of the EP position contra one of the more popular arguments used by hymnodists against it. The reader will see that these are mostly, if not exclusively (!), arguments borrowed from other EP writers. I do not claim to write or propose anything new: I have simply catalogued them here for convenience.

1) The command in both Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16 is to “sing.” Paul assumes an extant collection of songs i.e. he does not propose for any to write but to sing those that already exist. One might argue that the command to compose is implied but that would be gratuitous.

“These are not commands to make hymns, but to use hymns and Spirit-given songs such as were already at hand. These could be found only within the volume of inspiration… W.I. Wishart, “The Psalms the Divinely Authorized and Exclusive Manual of Praise” (page 55)The Psalms in Worship (1907), edited by John McNaughter

As others note, this is supported by the fact that no gift of song writing or a new songbook is ever attributed to any NT author.

2) The standard EP explanation is that Paul is simply using a ‘standard’ three-fold phrase to refer to one collection of songs: “This use of “psalms, hymns, and songs” to refer to the collected Book of Praises thus echoes the OT summary for the Law of Moses, “commandments, testimonies, and statutes” (1 Chronicles 29:19), or Jesus’ summary of the Bible, “the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44).” Christian Adjemian, Psalms in Worship

“Jewish writers would list three identical or synonymous words or phrases, or list three aspects of a thing to emphasize perfection or completeness. See Ex 34.7; Dt 30.16; Is 6.3; Jer 7.4; Lk 24.44; Acts 2.22; 2 Cor 12.12; 1 Thess 5.23; 1 Tim 2.1” James R. Hughes, In Spirit and Truth: Worship as God Requires

3) Does it seem reasonable to conclude that Paul would place the biblical Psalms in the same category as uninspired material?

“if the Psalms of Scripture are intended by the word ‘psalms,’ as is assumed for the present, it is quite unthinkable that Paul would link human compositions with those of the Spirit of God, and direct that they be used for the same end… It was he who distinguished the Old Testament writings, inclusive of the Psalter, as “God-breathed” literature, clothed with inviolable sanctity… It seems incredible, therefore, that in this instance he should trample upon a distinction which elsewhere he guards jealously and put uninspired songs in competition with those inspired as having equal teaching worth.” John McNaughter “A Special Exegesis of Colossians 3:16 & Ephesians 5:19” (page 131) The Psalms in Worship (1907), edited by John McNaughter

4) The NT scripture, including its wording & phrases, is not an entirely ‘new creation.’ Consider how many words and allusions are inspired from the Old Testament and this three-fold phrase takes on old(er) meaning:

“What shall we sing? Why, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. How shall we know what these are? We must look in scripture, where these words are used. Now we find them nowhere explained so properly as in the Old Testament; where they are the usual titles of David’s psalms, and the songs of other holy men, and no other use of them expressed in the New” Cuthbert Sidenham, A Gospel Ordinance

“In Psalm 137:3 (LXX) we read: “There they who took us captive demanded of us words of songs (ᾠδαῖ), and they who led us away said, ‘Chant us a hymn (ὕμνοι) out of the songs (εκ των ωδων) of Zion.’ Here the word “songs” (ᾠδαῖ) covers all the Psalms and a “hymn” may be selected at random from these “songs.” John McNaughter “A Special Exegesis of Colossians 3:16 & Ephesians 5:19” (page 140) The Psalms in Worship (1907), edited by John McNaughter

See also

5) The grammatical phrasing of this Pauline expression is also instructive: “The structure of “psalms and hymns and songs spiritual” can be re-written in transformation syntax as: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. A noun phrase equals either a single noun (psalms or hymns) or a noun plus an adjective (songs spiritual). The conjunction, of course, is “and.” “And” is a coordinating conjunction in Greek, as it is in English. “And” places the things it coordinates in the same plane or gives the elements coordinated an equality relationship.

The structure of Ephesians 5:19, the syntax of Ephesians 5:19, is illustrated several other times in the New Testament. Matthew 28:19 is a parallel structure. The New American Standard Version translates Matthew 28:19 “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is a correct rendering and it indicates that there is one Name, and three Persons. The relationship between the name and the persons is clearer in the Greek. “…baptizing them into the Name of the Father and (into the Name) of the Son, and (into the Name) of the Holy Spirit.” The parentheses are implied by the cases of the nouns, but are not written on the surface structure” of Matthew 28:19. Rewriting this structure in transformational terms we have: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. The first noun phrase is “into the name of the Father” the second noun phrase is “of the Son” and the third noun phrase us “of the Holy Spirit.”

II Corinthians 13:13 reads: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” The structure of I Corinthians 13:13 in Transformational terms is: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. Luke 24:44 reads: “(Jesus) said unto then.., that all things must needs be fulfill which are written in the law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms, concerning me.” The underlined words can be expressed in the Transformational terms: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase.

The argument is that the syntax of Ephesians 5:19, Matthew 28:19, II Corinthians 13:13 and Luke 24:44 is the same in form: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. The point is that the intimate and precise relationships of the elements in the four passages, Ephesians 5:19; Matthew 28:19; II Corinthians 13:13; Luke 24:44 are guarded by syntax. There is no more intimate, close, and indissoluble relationship than that of the Trinity. This is expressed, syntactically, in terms: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. To use this same structure in Ephesians 5:19 indicates that the terms psalms, hymns and songs are related very closely. It means that if any one of these terms is Scripture, then all of the terms have the authority of Scripture, i.e. are the equal of Scripture.

This is exactly the conclusion we are approaching. The terms psalms, hymns, and songs are equal in authority by reason of their syntax. Psalms is already acknowledged to be a reference to Scripture. Songs, modified by the adjective, spiritual, would also be a reference to Scripture, and therefore hymns must be Scripture. (page 200) Edward A. Robson, An Exposition of the Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16. Taken from “The Biblical Doctrine of Worship”[1]

6) Thus the adjective spiritual should not be understood to modify ‘songs’ only but all three words and thus does not have reference to some special kind of song but rather Paul is noting the inspired source of these songs:

“The question, of course, arises: why does the word pneumatikos qualify odais and not psalmois and humnois? A reasonable answer to this question is that pneumatikais qualifies all three datives and that its gender (fem.) is due to attraction to the gender of the noun that is closest to it. Another distinct possibility, made particularly plausible by the omission of the copulative in Colossians 3:16, is that “Spiritual songs” are the genus of which “psalms” and “hymns” are the species. This is the view of Meyer, for example. On either of these assumptions the psalms, hymns and songs are all “Spiritual” and therefore all inspired by the Holy Spirit. The bearing of this upon the question at issue is perfectly apparent. Uninspired hymns are immediately excluded.” Minority Report of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God Submitted to the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

“when the apostle calls for the use of such songs of praise as he designates “spiritual,” he enlists a word which in all but one of its twenty-five occurrences in the New Testament refers to what belongs to or is determined by the Holy Spirit; never does the word designate merely a religious function, or what is produced by the human spirit.[2] When the word is used of men, as in I Cor. 2:15, 3:1, and Gal. 6:1, it indicates men savingly renewed and led by the Spirit. But when the term is applied to words and texts, as it is in Rom. 7:14 and I Cor. 2:13, it plainly denotes Spirit-indited, in the sense of revelatory prophecy;[3] the only other instances in which it is used with respect to words and texts are Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16” Sherman Isbell, The Singing of Psalms

7) If these references do not speak of the biblical Psalms, then a quandary exists for those who advocate uninspired songs in worship. What, after all, is a hymn?[4] How is it to be distinguished from a ‘spiritual song?’ Do modern hymn books actually distinguish between all three?

“we must make an effort to understand what the words “psalms, hymns, songs” meant to the apostle and to his hearers. Most scholars today agree that it is difficult to draw distinctions between the three Greek terms ψαλµος, υµνος, and ωδη (psalmos, hymnos, ode). Some older commentators look to the etymology of the words to identify three classes of song, but this has proven fruitless. Modern lexicography considers them to be nearly synonymous, drawn from a single semantic field of ‘religious song.’ All commentators note the frequency of occurrence of these three words in the LXX, and especially in the book of Psalms” Christian Adjemian, Psalms in Worship

8) Many early church fathers & our Reformed forebearers have spoken very clearly on this matter:

In the early Christian church, similarly, the three terms [ed. of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs] were used interchangeably to describe the book of Psalms. Justin Martyr was referred to before as endorsing the LXX translation of “hymns” in Ps. 72:20. Clement of Alexandria must have been contemplating either Eph. 5:19 or Col. 3:16 when he said: “The apostle calls the psalms ‘a spiritual song.'”[5] Lactantius called David, “the writer of divine hymns;”[6] and the apostolic constitutions could not be any clearer: “sing the hymns of David.”[7] Matthew Winzer, Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land

and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which the Apostle useth, Ephes. 5.19, Col. 3.16.” subscribed by Thomas Manton, Henry Langley, John Owen, William Jenkyn., James Innes, Thomas Watson, Thomas Lye, Matthew Poole, John Milward, John Chester, George Cokayn, Matthew Meade, Robert Francklin, Thomas Dooelittle, Thomas Vincent, Nathanael Vincent, John Ryther, William Tomson, Nicolas Blakie, Charles Morton, Edmund Calamy, William Carslake, James Janeway, John Hickes, John Baker, Richard Mayo. David Silversides, The Development of the Scottish Psalter

See also…itualsongs.htm