What About “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs?”

Regarding the sermon “Do Churches Have The Right To Determine Worship Styles?” at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=113102317200

Harvey BrownContact via email (12/12/2013)  from Smoky Mountains of Tennessee:

Pastor, I am appreciative of your stated desire to honor God and be faithful to the Scriptures.

All of us who believe share the common challenge of interpreting the Scriptures accurately. In simple terms, the ultimate test for the Bible student is to discern what portions of Scripture are prescriptive (declaring what must be done), and what portions of Scripture are descriptive (describing what was done).

I believe that your message came from a good heart. But I am perplexed at how you could draw your conclusions considering the full witness of the Bible. “Hymn” or “hymns” occurs more times in the New Testament than “psalm” or “psalms” (seven vs. six).

Immediately after instituting the Lord’s Supper, Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn (not a psalm).

Paul’s and Silas’ jailhouse worship included singing hymns — and there was some rocking and rolling going on as a result (I couldn’t resist).

The result of Christ’s becoming servant to the Jews was to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs, and open the way for you and me (among the Gentiles mentioned) in order that we may “glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” (Rom. 15:9)

Note the word “hymns,” not psalms.

Dear Mr. Brown,

Thank you for your irenic letter. One of my frequent prayers is that I will always be teachable: “Rebuke not a scorner, lest he hate thee: but rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.” “Iron sharpeneth iron, so doeth man sharpen the face of his friend” (Prov. 9:8; 27:17).

As I trust you know, the Bible is its own dictionary and is its own commentary. As believers, we must turn to God’s Word to understand God’s words. Thus we must always be watchful that we are not unconsciously putting modern definitions upon words in the Bible, including “hymns” and “songs.” We should look to the Bible to determine the meaning of those words. We should ask ourselves, “what do they mean in the language of Scripture? What did the words mean to the writer and to his first century audience?”

The misunderstanding of what is meant by “psalms,” “hymns,” and “songs” in the New Testament is because many believers do not know that the 150 compositions in the book of Psalms were titled as “psalms” (Heb. (mizmohr) , “praise” (t’hillah)” and “songs” (sheer) .

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), which was the Bible used by the believers in Ephesus and Colossae, the book of Psalms is of course also divided into “psalms,” “hymns” and “songs” – thus Paul’s use of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” in Eph. 5:19 and Col 3:16 to refer to the entire book of Psalms, not to uninspired compositions. (“Spiritual” means “inspired by the Holy Spirit.”)

The Greek word psalmos is the equivalent of mizmohr and is translated “psalms.” Humnos is the Greek word that is the equivalent of t’hillah and is translated “hymn” or sometimes “praise.” Odee is translated “song.” Psalmos, humnos and odee follow the Old Testament, of course, and are used often in the titles of the Psalms in the Septuagint. Sixty-seven are titled psalmos. Six are simply titled humnos. Thirty-five are titled odee. Twelve of the titles are both psalmos and odee, and two are both psalmos and humnos. And Psalm 76 is titled with all three: “psalmos, humnos and odee” (“psalm, hymn and song”).

We no longer make the distinction between the three titles of inspired compositions and refer to all of them as simply the psalms. Sadly, this has resulted in the widespread belief that when the Bible says “psalms” it means the book of Psalms and when it says “hymns” and “spiritual songs” it means uninspired compositions.

When the writers of the New Testament used the terms translated in our English Bibles as “psalms,” “hymns” and “songs” they were referring to the inspired psalms. They were certainly not referring to uninspired compositions. Every first century believer, Jew or gentile, who heard “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” knew immediately that the reference was to the inspired compositions in the psalter. That is how the compositions were titled. It would never occur to them to think that “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” meant “inspired psalms and uninspired compositions.”

The hymn Jesus and the disciples sang in Mt. 26:30 and Mk. 14:26 was undoubtedly the hymn that was ALWAYS sung at the conclusion of Passover, part or all of the Great Hallel, psalms 113-118.

In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas sang a hymn. The 1599 Geneva Bible translates it correctly: “Now at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang Psalms unto God, and the prisoners heard them.”

The quote of Rom. 15:9 you cite is from the NIV. I am very sorry to see that the translators simply inserted the word “hymns.” The word is not in the verse in the Greek nor in any other English translation I have consulted. Not even humnos is in that verse (even if it was, it would simply mean one of the psalms). The KJV and the Geneva Bible both translate the verse accurately: “…For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.” (KJV) “…For this cause I will confess thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy Name.” (Geneva Bible).

Please accept my brotherly urging to use a version more faithful to the original text; one that is based on the Received Text (Textus Receptus). I recommend the Geneva Bible of 1599/1560 from Tolle Lege Press.

There is much more to be said, but to keep my response reasonably brief, there is no evidence whatsoever, Biblical or historical, direct or inferential, that “hymn” or “song” in the Bible ever means an uninspired human composition.

In fact, uninspired hymns have been usede to introduce heresy into the church. A very interesting book is “Hymns, Heretics and History” by Louis F. DeBoer at http://www.amprpress.com/hymns_&_heretics.htm I highly recommend it.

In addition, I would appreciate it if you would take the time to prayerfully study the resources at http://wp.me/p1q0BF-5f

The bottom line is:
No one has ever found a commandment in Scripture to sing uninspired songs in worship.

Please think and pray about that.

Yours in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Mencarow

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