PsalmodyExclusive Psalmody Explained and Defended: a compilation-data derived from the Facebook group, ‘Exclusive Psalmody’.
Starting with the foundation of the Regulative Principle of Worship, that whatever is not commanded is forbidden, we see nowhere in Scripture where God prescribes the use of uninspired hymns for worship. On the contrary, when we let the content and canonicity of the Psalter speak for itself, we see that God has given His people an inspired song book of praise for His worship. Furthermore, we clearly see from Scripture that the Psalter was and is to be sung in God’s worship (2 Chronicles 29:25, 30; Psalm 9:11; 18:49; 27:6; 30:4, 12; 47:7; 59:17; 75:9; 95:2; 98:5; 101:1; 104:33; 105:2; 119:54; 135:3; 146:2; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
Some Common Objections Answered
We see the OT saints, in Scripture, singing songs of praise that are outside of the Psalter.
Firstly, this doesn’t constitute a warrant for us to compose hymns to sing for the worship of God because every single song of praise recorded in the Old Testament was one of inspired prophesy.
Secondly, it was only the Psalter that was instituted for the corporate worship in temple services (2 Chronicles 29:25-30). God has commanded His people to sing the Psalter in His worship. Also, some portions of Scripture were excerpted and incorporated into certain Psalms under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is another reason why we wouldn’t sing other Scripture songs, because the Holy Spirit could have put those in the Psalter if He wanted them to be of perpetual use. Some examples are 2 Samuel 22 being basically the same as Psalm 18; 1 Chronicles 16:8-22 corresponding with Psalm 105:1-15; 1 Chronicles 16:23-33 with Psalm 96:1-13; 1 Chronicles 16:34-36 with Psalm 106:1, 47-48.
The Bible says that we are to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
The terms “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” are a reference to the Psalter. This isn’t forcing the Apostle to be saying that we are to sing “psalms, psalms, and psalms” because each of the terms is used as a title to refer to the different passages within the Psalter itself.
The titles of the Psalms in the Septuagint are as follows:
ψαλµος (psalm) (3-9, 11-15, 19-25, 29-31, 38-41, 43-44, 46-51, 62-68, 73, 75-77, 79-85, 87-88, 92, 94, 98-101, 108-110, 139-141, 143)
υµνοις (hymn) (6, 54-55, 61, 67, 76)
ωδη (song) (4, 18, 30, 39, 45, 48, 65-68, 75-76, 83, 87-88, 91-93, 95-96, 108, 120-134)
It’s interesting to note that Psalms 4, 30, 39, 48, 65, 66, 68, 75, 76, 83, 87, 88, 92, & 108 are called BOTH a psalm and a song in their headings. Psalm 67 has hymn and song. For instance, Psalm 4 has the heading, “For the end: in psalms: an song by David.” Pressing this further, Psalms 67 and 76 have ALL THREE DESIGNATORS in their headings. The heading in Psalm 67 is, “For the end, in hymns; a psalm of an song”. The Psalm 76 reading is, “For the end, in hymns; a psalm for Asaph, an song to the Assyrian.”
When we let Scripture interpret Scripture, rather than forcing our modern understanding of what the biblical terms may mean, we clearly see that “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16) is a synecdoche to reference the whole Psalter.
The Apostle Paul’s point is simply that we sing praises to God as those who are filled with His Spirit. Besides, God accepts my worship because I am in Christ who presents me holy to God.
The problem with that is that he, along with the rest of Scripture, doesn’t only tell us HOW we are to sing (filled with the Spirit… singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord), but also tells us WHAT we are to sing (psalms and hymns and spiritual songs). And no. Just because we are in Christ does not mean that we are free to worship God any way that we choose. This is antinomianism.
The Psalms were only sung in temple worship. If temple worship has been abrogated, why hasn’t Psalm singing as well?
The Psalms were not ONLY sung in temple worship. One example of them being sung outside of the temple is Christ singing the Egyptian Hallel (Psalms 113-118) at the Last Supper with His disciples.
In Scripture, we see the singing of psalms distinguished from and preferred over the ceremonial law – “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.” (Psalm 69:30-31)
Even with the abrogation of the Old Covenant, God commands that we worship Him by singing His praises and the book of Psalms remains the song book that we are to sing from exclusively. We see this in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, for example.
I object to EP because no one knows the melody the original Psalms were sung to.
The religious significance of the tunes that we use to sing the psalms has been abrogated under the New Covenant. We no longer have a Levitical sacrificial system under the ceremonial law, where the Levites were appointed to play musical instruments in Temple worship. So we are no longer required for a chief musician to give us a certain sound with musical instruments. We are to sing the psalms and what tune or melody we use is a circumstance of the aspect of worship that is unavoidable and has no religious significance attached to it specifically.
If you demand that we are to only sing the Psalms, then to be logically consistent, you must also demand that they only be sung in the original Hebrew.
The argument that if one demands that we sing only psalms then to be consistent we must only sing them in Hebrew is both inconsistent (due that we don’t demand that the public reading of Scripture be done from the original languages) and unconfessional:
1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 1: Of The Holy Scriptures
8. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope. (Romans 3:2; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28; Colossians 3:16 )
EP means that we aren’t ever able to sing the name of Jesus.
The argument that we must sing the English pronunciation of “Iēsous” has no support in Scripture and is an abandonment of the Regulative Principle of Worship. What name has the Father given Jesus that is a name which is above every name? – LORD. And we sing that all throughout the Psalms.
If we can preach and pray in our own words in worship, then we can sing in our own words.
Before we too quickly assume; how do we know that we really can use our own words in preaching and prayer? The Regulative Principle of Worship – because God has commanded that we do.
There is no example or command to bring our own human composed songs before God as worship like there is for using our own words in preached sermons (Nehemiah 8:8; Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; 2 Timothy 4:2) and in prayers (Matthew 6:9; Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 John 5:14). The pattern of Scripture is that worship songs were always composed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, either for temporary and special occasions, or for perpetual use in public and private worship.
To argue that if we can preach and pray in our own words, then we can sing in our own words is an unscriptural argument that undermines the RPW and is actually an illogical argument that leads to many absurdities. One could use the same argument to say that if singing is a mode of prayer, teaching, or exhortation, then only ordained men may sing. Or that it is inconsistent to say that women can admonish the body of Christ by singing spiritual truths, but not by preaching them.
Due that we have new revelation of Christ in the New Testament, the Psalter alone is doctrinally insufficient for singing in New Covenant worship.
This not only undermines the sufficiency of God’s appointed and inspired song book that He has provided, but undermines the whole of the New Testament itself, for the Psalms are quoted throughout it more extensively than any other Old Testament book to proclaim the person and work of Christ. The Psalter shows us glorious things of Christ that we don’t find elsewhere.
They tell us of His divinity (Psalm 14:6), His eternal sonship (Psalm 2:7), His incarnation (Psalm 8:5), His meditorial offices [prophetical (Psalm 111:9-10), priestly (Psalm 110:4), kingly (Psalm 14:6)], His betrayal (Psalm 41: 9), His agony in the garden (Psalm 22:2), His trial (Psalm 35: 11), His rejection (Psalm 22:6), His crucifixion (Psalm 22), His burial and resurrection (Psalm 16:9-11), His ascension (Psalm 47:5), and His second coming (Psalm 50:3-4).
The Bible commands us to sing a new song.
One way in which we can understand the command to sing a new song within the Psalter is that the psalm being sung was a new song itself. We have to let the context tell us what the text means by “new.” To interpret the command to mean that we are to sing songs other than the ones found within the Psalter would cause the command to collapse on itself. The command would mean, “Stop singing this song, write a new one, and sing that one.” If it meant that, not only does it not make any sense, but why would God have His people sing that in the Psalm?
Imagine the saints singing Psalm 98… “O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous thi…” and then someone objecting, “Guys, stop! We are supposed to be singing a new song! Not this one!”
This is fallacious, for Scripture’s command to sing a new song does not constitute a warrant for us to produce uninspired worship songs any more than it did for the Old Testament saints. The command to sing the psalms AND to sing a new song are not in opposition to one another, not because we are to additionally sing uninspired hymns of our own composition (that’s called eisegesis), but because Scripture tells us what that new song is… “Sing unto the LORD a new song… Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and *the voice of a psalm*” (Psalm 98:1, 5).
What about the songs that are sung in Revelation, that aren’t in the Psalms?
As far as the songs that are actually sung in the book of Revelation go, what does the inspired worship of the angelic hosts (in apocalyptic literature, mind you) have to do with the divine institution of non-inspired hymnody for New Covenant worship? Upon that same argument, we must also construct altars upon which to offer incense (Revelation 8:3). This objection is wild speculation and abandons the RPW.
There is no explicit command that we are to sing all of the 150 Psalms.
Firstly, let the canonicity of the Psalter speak for itself as God’s appointed and inspired song book that He has provided for us to sing in His worship. To try and argue that we are not bound to sing all of them is absurd and would be equivalent to someone trying to argue that we aren’t bound to publicly read or preach from the New Testament, because the Apostle Paul was directly referring to the Old Testament Scriptures in 2 Timothy 3. It is clear from the Psalter itself (see the titles and headings) that all of the Psalms were to be sung.
Is “all Scripture given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16) both the Old and New Testaments? Open up your Bible and look at the Table of Contents. Emphatically, we say, yes. Is “the book of Psalms” (Luke 20:42) all of the 150 Psalms? Open up your Psalter and look. Emphatically, we say, yes.
Furthermore, when we let Scripture interpret Scripture, rather than forcing our modern understanding of what the biblical terms may mean, we clearly see that “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16) is a synecdoche to reference the whole Psalter.
We see hymnic passages in the New Testament (such as Luke 1:46-55; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Peter 2:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; etc.) that were sung by the early church.
Many scholars basically claim that because of the way that these passages are seen in the Greek, they are clearly fragments of hymns that were sung. But how do they know it’s a hymn and not a poem or a confession being quoted? If these passages are supposedly remnants of hymns that were sung by the 1st century church, it is remarkable that there isn’t a shred of undisputed historical evidence of the hymn actually being used in the Church of the 2nd century. Also, where is the rest of the hymn? Wasn’t the entire hymn important?
When we look at the text itself, the claim that these were hymns is pure conjecture and has no support within the text itself nor the rest of the New Testament. There is no evidence within Luke 1:46-55, for example, of Mary’s words being a song. The text says that Mary “said” (λέγω), not that she “sung” (ὑμνέω). Based upon many assumptions that have no hard evidence, the hymn fragment theory cannot be supported from the text of Scripture.
Can’t we sing hymns that are based off of the Psalms, like a paraphrase? If not, then how do you justify singing the Psalms translated into meter, since that’s not how they were originally sung?
We are commanded to sing the Psalms, not a paraphrase of them. Just as it would be unlawful in God’s worship to use a paraphrase in the public reading of Scripture, it would be unlawful to sing paraphrases of the Psalms.
A metrical psalter does not violate this, given that it is a faithful translation of the book of Psalms. Neither does it violate the RPW due that the tune or meter is simply a circumstance of worship, not an element. To chant the Psalms from a non-metrical Psalter, like the KJV, is wonderful, but it’s also permissible to sing them from a faithful, metrical Psalter, like the 1650 Scottish Psalter. In the same way that it is permissible to sing David’s Hebrew songs in English words, so also it is to sing his poetical verses in English poetical meter.
Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 14:26 permit us to use psalms of our own composition?
When we look at the context of 1 Corinthians 14, this is not speaking of a man-made hymn, but seems to be speaking of an inspired song by the Holy Spirit from the mouth of a prophet. And if the Apostle Paul is speaking here of some kind of charismatic hymn-singing, it in no way negates EP any more than it negates a closed canon.
Furthermore, this strengthens the EP position due that the same rule applies here just as it did in the Old Testament; that every single song of praise used in the worship of God must be one of inspired prophesy. The difference is that this verse is not speaking of congregational singing at all, but an individual spontaneously using a special gift for the edification of the congregation, under the charismata of the early church, not for perpetual use.
EP prevents us from being able to praise the Lord for what He has done in our lives, recount all of His works, and sing of the whole of our Christian experience.
This is not true. The book of Psalms encompasses the whole of the Christian life and is sufficient to identify our every circumstance, whether good or bad. It speaks of loneliness (25:16), love (18:1), awe (33:8), sorrow (31:10), regret (38:18), contrition (51:17), discouragement and turmoil (42:5), shame (44:15), exultation (21:1), marveling (118:23), delight (1:2), joy (4:7), gladness (9:2), fear (118:6), anger (4:4), peace (4:8), grief (6:7), desire (10:17), hope (33:22), brokenheartedness (34:18), gratitude (35:18), zeal (69:9), pain (69:29), confidence (27:3), etc. Not only are we able to sufficiently sing praises unto the Lord for what He has done in our lives through the Psalms, but they more accurately identify the heart of what we may be experiencing and perfectly declare the faithfulness of God to us. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son” (1 John 5:9).
The Psalms refer frequently to ceremonial laws under the Old Covenant. Singing them exclusively forces God’s people to sing of that which they are no longer under, as New Covenant saints.
When we sing of the ceremonial laws that were in place under the Old Covenant, we sing of the Old Testament symbolism in light of their New Testament realities. Obviously, we don’t argue for sacrifices, altars, temples, incense, etc. which the Psalms speak of, but see Christ in them. Just as we don’t throw out the book of Leviticus (along with the rest of the Old Testament) for preaching and reading because we aren’t under the Old Covenant ceremonial laws, we don’t throw out the Psalms for singing nor count the types and shadows as worthless, but continue to sing them in light of all that they represented.
When we sing of burnt offerings (Psalm 51:19), we do so in light of the New Testament reality that “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). When we sing of the temple (Psalm 68:29), we do so in light of the New Testament reality that Jesus’ body was the temple that was torn down and raised up in three days (John 2:19-21). When we sing of incense (Psalm 66:15), we do so in light of the New Testament reality that “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2).
What about the Imprecatory Psalms?
It’s important for us to remember that the Psalms, as the “word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16), give us a whole picture of the character and attributes of the Lord Jesus. He is loving, gracious, merciful, and forgiving, but He’s also holy, just, wrathful, and righteous. The Psalms, along with the rest of Scripture, give us this this complete doctrine. In the Gospels, for example, we see Christ healing the sick, forgiving sinners, and receiving tax collectors. But, at the same time, we also see Him condemning the scribes and pharisees, cursing the fruitless fig tree, and pronouncing eternal judgment upon Judas Iscariot, calling him “the son of perdition” (John 17:12). Christ fulfills His office as King and we see both His grace and wrath in the Old and New Testament. When we read the imprecatory Psalms, let us remember that they are ultimately speaking of the Son of Man who will come again, in judgment, with His eyes as a flame of fire and a two-edged sword coming out of His mouth (Revelation 1:13-16).
Also, if God has promised that it is His will to judge the wicked, both temporarily and eternally, then it is proper for us to be able to pray that His will be done in that way. If David was able to pray these Psalms and hate the wicked with a perfect hatred, then it must be proper for us to do so as well, granted that it be in the proper way, at the proper time, and with the proper motives. We see that such imprecations are no foreign thing to the New Covenant saints (see Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Timothy 4:14; Revelation 6:10). They are in the Psalter for a reason and are intended for our perpetual use. It is a great blessing and comfort to be able to sing the imprecatory Psalms, resting in God’s sovereignty over wickedness and trusting Him to execute justice. This is something that no uninspired hymn can do, for who would have the audacity to try and compose an imprecatory hymn, without any blemish? The imprecatory Psalms remind us that He is a just Judge and as we look upon the wicked that hate Him and persecute His people we know that He perfectly deals with sin, either on the cross through the atoning sacrifice of Christ or in Hell for all eternity. May we sing them, while heeding to the words of the Apostle Paul, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
If we are to receive preaching as the Word of God, then we can receive hymns as the Word of God too, and singing hymns is no different than singing psalms.
Preaching is the word of God only insofar as it is delivered by a minister and is in accordance with the written word of God. This comes from an ordained office. For this objection you would have to prove that hymn writer is an office in the church that God ministers through.