Music is an essential part of the Christian’s faith and worship. Christians should act diligently to make melody in worship and in edification as Jesus would have true worshipers to do.
With this affirmed, this study considers whether Jesus’s music for His church is only singing or included musical instruments. By giving honest diligence in defense of both singing only and using instruments, the Scriptures show whether the use of psalms and psallo include worshiping with musical instruments.
How does the Greek Old Testament use the Greek word psallo? In the Old Testament, the act of psallo generally means to “make melody” or to “make music,” which can refer to playing instruments alone (1 Sam 16:16ff), by singing only by words and the lips (2 Sam 23:1; 1 Chr 6:31–33; 9:33; 2 Chr 20:21; Ps 71:23), or both singing and instruments (2 Chr 5:13; 15:16, 27; 2 Chr 5:12; 29:28). In the Old Testament, the word psallo neither meant nor necessitated musical instruments. Psallo may or may not have included musical instruments.
How does the New Testament use the word psallo? The New Testament defines psallo as singing. Romans 15:6–9 described psallo by glorifying God with one mouth. This is how Christians worship by psalm. First Corinthians 14:15 teaches that psallo is to make melody with understandable words (1 Cor 14:9–15). Ephesians 5:19 instructs all Christians how to psallo by speaking to one another. In the New Testament, the word psallo does not infer to musical instruments any more than the English reference to “making melody” implies instruments. The New Testament teaches only singing for good reasons. The words are what are important. Understandable words make the worship. The fruit of the lips make praise (Heb 13:15), and Christians can no more change the fruit of our lips in praise as they can change the fruit of the grapevine in the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:29).
What is the difference in Old Testament worship and New Testament worship? Jesus revealed a change in worship from OT worship in Jerusalem to NT worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21–24). In the New Testament, no longer is the temple physical but rather a spiritual temple, the church (1 Pet 2:5). No longer is there a high priest according to the Law of Moses, but now, the eternal high priest is Jesus Christ (Heb 9:11). Actual temple priest no longer exist but rather a spiritual priesthood (1 Pet 2:5). Literal physical sacrifices no longer exist but rather spiritual offerings (1 Pet 2:5). As spiritual priests, Christians offer spiritual sacrifices of the fruit of our lips in God’s spiritual temple (Heb 13:15–16; cf. Psa 51:16–17; 119:108). “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb 13:15).
Can Christians worship like David in the Psalms? Christians are to speak teaching and admonishing with psalms (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). The Psalms contain many references to musical instruments. However, Christ changed worship since David’s psalms. Jesus declared, “the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father” (John 4:21). Where did David worship? He worshiped in Jerusalem, but this is no more the worship of true worshipers. Jesus explained,“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23). The Law of Moses with its physical rituals of worship are no longer binding upon believers (Gal 3–5; 2 Cor 3; Col 2:13ff; Heb 7–9).
The Book of Psalms is not an authority for New Testament praise and worship as the references to offering animal sacrifices in the Psalms do not show Christian worship (Ps 20:3; 27:6; 50:5, 8; 51:19; 54:6; 66:13, 15; 96:8; 107:22; 116:17; 118:26–27). Why worship with musical instruments and not with animal sacrifices of thanksgiving? Christian sacrifices have changed to become spiritual (1 Pet 2:5, Heb 13:15–16). The references to Old Testament worship in the Book of Revelation include altars, incense, and harps, and these Old Testament forms are symbolic of the spiritual forms of worship in the New Testament (Rev 5:8; 14:2; 15:2).
David’s example of Old Testament worship is no more authoritative for Christians than David’s numerous wives permit Christians to have multiple spouses (Matt 19:9; 1 Cor 7:2; 1 Sam 25:43; 2 Sam 5:13). Christ never explicitly commanded that a man cannot have multiple wives, but He did speak specifically about marriage being between one man and one woman. Likewise, Christ never explicitly spoke against instrumental music, but He did specifically speak about making music with words of praise.
Can Christians worship like Christ taught? When Jesus is in the midst of His church, He sings (Heb 2:12; cf. Matt 18:20). He does not play an instrument. Jesus sang after instituting the Lord’s Supper before going to the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30; Mark 14:26). Jesus’s disciples followed like pattern (16:25). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed singing (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). Disciples of Christ are to make melody with one accord and with one mouth (Rom 15:6). With no specific mention of singing with musical instruments in the New Testament, Christ’s ideal music is only verbal singing.
With no specific mention of using musical instruments in New Testament worship, Christ’s ideal music is simply singing and purely verbal. However, blind guides are misguiding many to disregard the perfect completion of Jesus’s teachings and in this sense ultimately rejecting Jesus. Jesus’s words are spirit and life (John 6:63), which words He gave to His Apostles (John 17:8; cf. 15:20; 16:12–13). By the Apostles’ doctrine and the Holy Spirit’s revelation, Christ directs the church (Acts 2:42; Eph 3:3–5). By Christ’s Spirit, the Apostles delivered the doctrine of Christ in the Scriptures that the person of God could be complete equipped to every good work (2 Tim 3:16–17; cf. 1 Tim 5:18). Jesus singing praises in the assembly is Christ’s ideal for music in His church (Heb 2:12).
Believers cannot change any of Christ’s words. Again, the believer must recognize this truth: if Christians cannot change the fruit of the grapevine in the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:29), how could they consider changing praise instructed for Christ, which is the fruit of the lips (Heb 13:15)?