Worship: The singing of Psalms with grace in the heart

The following arguments are premised upon the belief that the Scriptures alone are our source of information about the worship of God, and that the Scriptures alone are our guide in what ought to characterise our praise of him.

The Psalms (150 scripture songs) are manifestly a portion of God’s word and they are intended for use by God’s people in their sung praise of Him.  Old and New Testament practice confirms this view.

There is no evidence in either the Old or New Testament that uninspired hymns or songs were used in the public worship of God. There is no indication in the New Testament that new, uninspired songs are to be composed for use in public worship.  While some Corinthians were encouraged to bring a psalm, no one was encouraged to compose a song for use in the pubic praise of God; not in 1 Corinthians 14 nor anywhere else in the New Testament.

Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 indicate that Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs are to be sung when God’s people meet (speaking to one another by them).  This practice is encouraged so that they ‘might be filled with the Spirit’ and that ‘the word of Christ might dwell in [them] richly in all wisdom’.  It might be objected that Psalms are only one of three categories of songs mentioned in these two verses, but I think that there is more than sufficient reason to believe that only the Psalms are meant (see 1. below), or, at least, only songs that are given to us in the Word of God (see 2. below).

  1. These three words (Psalms, Hymns and Songs) are all used to indicate the 150 Psalms of the Bible. Note the titles of the Psalms. The descriptor, ‘Psalm’, is used at the head of Ps.3-6; 8-9; 12-13 15, 19-24, 29-31, 38-41, 47-51, 62-68, 73-77, 79-80, 82-85, 87-88, 92-98, 100-101, 108-110); for ‘Hymn’ see Ps.5, 54-55, 61 and 72 (Ps. 72 refers to all of David’s psalms as ‘hymns’ or sung prayers); for ‘Song’ see Ps.18, 30, 46-47, 48, 66-68, 75-76, 83, 87-88, 92, 108 and 120-134. The Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX) was the Bible version used throughout the Christian world in the first century AD. The LXX added several titles to the Psalms, which our Hebrew text left untitled. The early Christians would have recognised ‘psalms, hymns and songs’ as referring to these titles of the Psalms. Matthew 26:30 uses the word ‘hymn’ to refer to paschal Psalms, which were given no titles in the Hebrew OT. From these facts it may be argued that Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 refer exclusively to the Psalms of the Old Testament.
  2. Even if the three words do not refer exclusively to the 150 Psalms, they are each referred to as ‘spiritual’ (pneumatikais).  The fact that this adjective is feminine (ostensibly referring only to odais, songs) is no barrier to this idea. It is in fact a strong confirmation of it.  The adjective, spiritual, is used in such a way as to indicate that it refers to each of the three words.  Now, the adjective pneumatikos is used to refer to a person or thing that is the particular work of the Holy Spirit, and ‘spiritual’ for this reason. For example, the things of the Spirit of God are not received by the natural man, for they are foolishness to him, but the spiritual man (the one who is so by virtue of the infallible work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration) is now able to discern and receive what the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).
  3. The Psalms are the most obvious source of Scripture Songs. There are very few examples of any others (Ex. 15, Habakkuk 3, Rev. 4:11, 5:9-10 & 12, 11:17-18 (maybe), and Rev. 15:3-4).  Mary might have sung the words in Luke 2:46-55 (as might Zacharias and Simeon their significant comments in Luke), but we are not told this.  Even if they had, these are not examples of congregational singing.

The scriptures are now complete. No new revelations of the Spirit are to be expected, and so no songs other than Scripture songs can now fall into the category of ‘spiritual’ songs.

Some advantages of Psalm singing:

  • It is a way to get to know a large portion of God’s word (the book of Psalms), a portion of the Bible that Martin Luther called the Bible in miniature.
  • It avoids unnecessary subjectivism in worship. Very few of the ‘I’s in the Psalms refer to us, but rather to the Lord’s anointed, or the Christ. Further, Psalm singing is a public, group proclamation of the word of God. This gives, I think, a helpful and sensible reading to women prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11:5. The whole congregation is prophesying (making God’s will known) by means of the Psalms. I Corinthians 14 also refers to the whole congregation prophesying (referring, I believe to their Psalm singing) with a powerful effect upon visitors.
  • It avoids unscriptural teaching. Of course, as with any other portion of scripture, we need to understand the word. In this way, singing Psalms also becomes a teaching opportunity.