Ezra 3, Union With Christ, And Exclusive Psalmody
Vern S. Poythress
[Published in Westminster Theological Journal 37/2 (winter 1975) 219-235. Used with permission.]
In the preceding article1 we argued that Christ is the leader, the model, and the motivator of New Testament congregational singing. We tried to show also that Christ “sings” the whole of Scripture to the congregation. In the present article we shall examine the function of singing in public worship, and argue thereby that the Bible authorizes us to sing any words that we may legitimately use in teaching.
Even a cursory examination of the songs in the Bible shows that singing has many functions. The psalmists pray, confess sin, make petitions, offer praises, teach, admonish, instruct, etc. For simplicity’s sake we shall concentrate on one function of singing, namely, the function of teaching.
8. Singing in the Old Testament in general
First, the Old Testament in general presents singing as (among other things) a form of teaching. This is shown by the mere fact that 1 Chronicles 25:1 describes the singers as “prophesying with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.” Their singing is a particular variety of prophesying, namely a prophesying with harps, etc. Moreover, in the very first case where the Lord makes explicit provision for continued congregational singing, namely in Deuteronomy 32, his design is to give to Israel certain words which will witness against them (Deut. 31:19, 21–22, 28, 32:44–47) . The whole context speaks of ensuring by various means the continuedteaching of the law: writing (31:9), reading (31:10–13), exhortation (32:45), ap-
pointment of a successor (31:1–8), threatening (31:24–29), and singing. Because the Israelites have all these means available to teach them, they will be without excuse when they do not obey.
9. Singing in Ezra 3
Next, the structure of Ezra 3 confirms the teaching function of singing. We have already seen that Ezra 3:10–13 speaks of a third ministry, a prophetic ministry, complementing the priestly (3:1–7) and kingly (3:8–9) ministries of the rest of the chapter. But there is something more that we can glean from Ezra 3, namely, some general features of song in the time of promise, compared to the time of fulfillment (Christ).
(A) Song is addressed to-the Lord, in order to praise him (Ezra 3:10–11; 1 Chr. 16:4ff. ; 23:30 ; 6:32 ; Exod. 15:1; Ps. 9:1; 13:6 ; etc.). (B) People sing in the presence of others so that they hear what God has done (Ezra 3:13; 1 Chr. 16:8, 9, 13, 23, 24, 28, 30, 34, 35, 36 ; Exod. 15:21; Ps. 18:49 ; 57:9 ; 108:3 ; etc.).
10. Singing in the tune of fulfillment
A similar dual function of singing occurs in the time of fulfillment. Christ sings the new song to the Lord (the aspect of praise), in the presence of other people (the aspect of preaching or teaching) (cf. Ps. 18:49).2Moreover, Christ’s singing among the Gentiles constitutes a gospel call to them (1 Chr. 16:23 ; Ps. 117:1–2 ; 96:1; 98:1, 3 ; cf. Isa. 52:10ff.) . This means that his singing is a form of preaching. Of course, we do not intend to deny that his singing may be other things as well (e.g., prayer, Ps. 42:8). We have already pointed out that his singing to God includes praise. But such should be true of all good preaching. If modern preaching is to be modeled after the pattern of the Savior, it should be preaching in praise to
God (cf. Isa. 8:11–13; 1 Pet. 3:15) among the Gentiles, preaching full of praise and including prayer.3
Hence there is no obstacle to saying without qualification that Christ’s singing is a way of preaching. And now the conclusion follows: as Christ brings the word of God to the Gentiles in song, so we are to bring the word of God to our brothers and Gentiles in song. Hence we may sing anything we may preach.
As an added confirmation, 1 Corinthians 14 also connected singing and teaching (14:15, 26) . Both singing and prophesying, Paul says, should “be done for edification” (14:26). Hence, in the congregation, they need to be uttered in a language that the hearers understand (14:15) . It is apparent even from this much that Paul puts singing in the same general functional category as prophesying and teaching (cf. apokalupsin, didachēn of 14:26) . One may claim that the prophesying and singing of 1 Corinthians 14 were inspired, and hence not parallel to the “prophesying” (i.e., teaching) and singing of today. But this does not affect the fact that Paul puts teaching and singing in the same category and applies to them the same principles for verbal utterance in worship. We certainly do want to say that the general principles and arguments of 1 Corinthians 14 would be just as valid for (non-inspired) congregational utterance today.
11. Applying the word of God
Teaching by song is an application (not merely a reiteration) of the word of God. The same arguments used to show that preaching may consist both in reading a translation of the Bible (1 Tim. 4:13) and in other words, may be used to show the propriety of singing both a translation of the Bible and other words. In both cases, we are not concerned simply to duplicate Scripture, but to apply Scripture to others and to ourselves, in our concrete situation.
These considerations are reinforced by certain facts about Christ’s prophetic ministry. Christ’s own “singing” has given
us Scripture, in the original manuscripts, once and for all (see § 6.3) . There is no need for this to be duplicated; indeed, it is impossible to duplicate it. Now, derivative from that once-for-all written Scripture, Christ singsin us to write the law on our hearts (Heb. 8:10). This is part of the application of redemption and the application of Scripture. Technically speaking, a translation of Scripture is already a kind of preliminary application, rather than simply being identical with Scripture. (It applies Scripture to a particular linguistic environment. And it is authoritative only insofar as it teaches what the original does.) And because our hearts are stubborn and hard, because we do not naturally receive Scripture into our heart, Christ has instituted the teaching of Scripture, using other words besides reading and repetition of a translation. If singing has this teaching function, it is right that gifted men should, in the wisdom of Christ, reword the teaching of Scripture in various songs to help us apply the word to our lives.
Finally, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 confirm the association of teaching, singing, and application. A literal translation of the two passages, one above the other, gives the following:
Eph. 5:18–19: And not be-drunk with wine, in which is debauchery, but be-filled with the Spirit, Col. 3:16: The word of Christ let-dwell in you richly, speaking to one another in all wisdom teaching and counseling one another (with) psalms and hymns and songs (spiritual), (with) psalms, hymns, songs spiritual, singing and psalming (with) your heart with grace singing with your hearts to the Lord. to God.
If one combined the two passages, he would thus obtain:
Do not be drunk with wine, in which is debauchery, but be filled with the Holy Spirit, and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and counseling one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with grace singing and psalming with your heart(s) to the Lord God.
The combination shows (a) that the phrase “psalms (and) hymns (and) songs (spiritual)” probably goes with the preceding, rather than the following, verb in Ephesians as well as
Colossians4 (b) that the structure of singing here is a precise reflection of the structure of Christ’s singing that we worked out from the Old Testament psalms. Christ sings to the Lord God among the congregation, thusteaching and counseling them with his words. We do the same.5 (c) In Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, one of the functions of singing is teaching and counseling (admonishing). Jay Adams has shown that counseling (nouthetein) includes dealing with specific weaknesses and sins of the person counseled; it is pointed application of the Scripture.6 The man who always did nothing more than quote Scripture would not be an adequate biblical counselor-preacher any more than the man who imported his own ideas beyond Scripture or unrelated to Scripture.7 Christ by his Spirit
and wisdom equips counselors to be spiritual men (1 Cor. 2:15 ; 3:1), so that they are his ministers in speaking spiritual songs which write the law of God on our hearts (Heb. 8:10).8
Exclusive psalmists generally interpret “spiritual” in Colossians 3:16 as meaning “inspired.”9 But in 1 Corinthians 3:1 and Colossians 1:9 Paul clearly thinks it possible for Christians to become spiritual rather than carnal, without their thereby becoming somehow “inspired” men. And presumably a spiritual man, in the sense of 1 Corinthians 3:1, would speak spiritual
words. This confirms the interpretation that our singing should be a teaching with the Spirit’s wisdom, but not necessarily always a reading of a translation.
Since Christ teaches his word to us in song (Heb. 2:12; 1 John 2:27; John 16:13–14), and we are commanded to walk in him (Col. 2:6), to follow his steps (1 Pet. 2:21), we must also teach and counsel one another in song. And Christ has called men to teach both by reading and by preaching Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13). Hence, to accomplish this, we have warrant to use other songs besides translations of the psalter.
We should understand, of course, that this does not mean that we should sing all kinds of songs at all times, any more than we sing all 150 psalms at all times. Rather, as the occasion and opportunity demand, we sing a song which most effectively brings the word of Christ home to the hearers and most effectively addresses God with appropriate praise, request, teaching in his name, confession, etc.
And now, let us draw a few further corollaries to what we have said.
13. Singing and teaching
First, we cannot draw a rigid distinction between teaching by singing and ordinary teaching. This is so for both biblical (13.1) and linguistic (13.2) reasons.
13.1 Unity of singing and teaching in the Bible
In the course of our argument we have incidentally exhibited a profound unity between Christ’s singing and his proclaiming among the Gentiles (Ps. 117; Heb. 2:12; Ps. 98; etc.). What he sings he proclaims and what he proclaims he sings. This singing takes place not only during his earthly life, but in exaltation he sings the New Testament through his apostles and prophets, and he sings to all nations (Ps. 105:1) through the voice of his Church. Hence we believe that Scripture teaches the
impossibility of separating the singing and proclaiming of Christ. What he proclaims he proclaims so joyously that it merges into “song.” The “song” now extends to cover all the proclaiming of God’s redemptive works.
But an objection arises: if singing is a form of proclaiming, why should the Bible mention singing at all? Why devote any attention to it as a separate entity? The Bible does give us some hints as to why singing is the most effective way of doing certain kinds of teaching. In Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32, and Ezra 3:11 one of the obvious reasons for using singing is that the rhythm allows a large number of people to keep their voices together, while the fixity of the words of the song allows them to say the same thing at the same time. But such teaching with rhythm and with fixed words is still teaching. It is merely the special form of teaching needed to do the job of keeping everyone together. In Deuteronomy 32 a possible additional reason appears: perhaps the musical form is one of the factors that help the people to remember the words (31:21–22).
Yet another distinctive factor in song appears to be its heightened capacity for expressing and arousing the emotions of the singers. Thus we tend to find song appearing during times of emotional crisis and turmoil in the Old Testament. The overwhelming joy of the eschatological day of salvation makes the Gentiles break out in singing (Isa. 42:10–11; 44:23 ; 49:13 ; 52:7–10; 54:1).10 This is why, when Christ comes with joy (John 15:11) , singing and teaching coalesce in his Person.
As for present-day congregational singing of believers, we regard teaching-by-singing and teaching-in-the-narrow-sense as simply two forms of teaching, each particularly effective in meeting certain needs and expressing certain aspects of Christian doctrine. Each has its advantages and limitations, due to the nature of the medium of expression. We challenge the exclusive psalmist position to prove from Scripture, rather than assume, that teaching-by-singing and proclaiming are “two separate elements of worship.” To us they appear little more “separate” than preaching to a visible audience versus preaching
over the radio. If the unity of Ezra 3 is to be maintained, Christ’s work cannot be divided into fragments, and neither can our worship in Christ.
13.2 Linguistic problems
An additional difficulty arises in trying to separate linguistically between the speech-acts of singing and speaking.11 Singing is a kind of speaking with extra-systematic pitch and rhythm patterns.12 Few non-linguists realize that English along with all other human languages has a complex intonational system and rhythmic system.13 Deviation from this norm toward “song” is a matter of degree, not of “yes” or “no.” The series speaking—responsive reading—chanting—singing can be filled in with infinitesimal gradations of pitch and rhythmic pattern.
Furthermore, what does one say about tone languages with emic register systems?14 To English ears, such languages, when spoken normally, already sound somewhat like song. What does one say about whistle-languages where pitch carries a good deal of the informational load?
13.3 Singing as communal utterance
One final resort might be to say that singing is distinguished by communal utterance, not by its melodic character. In that case, different rules from God’s word would presumably apply to simultaneous utterance by a congregation than apply to the
monovocal utterance by a proclaimer or teacher or counselor. This position would then allow the singing of a non-canonical solo in public worship, but not congregational utterance of anything but canon.
I am not aware of anyone who holds to such a position. It is difficult to supply a reason why what two people can say to a congregation in identical words at different times, they may not say at the same time. Furthermore, our corporate union with Christ authorizes corporate utterance (Rom. 15:5–6).
14. Translation and preaching
The Bible does not allow for a rigid distinction between words of a translation on the one hand and words of preaching and counseling on the other. We believe that the difficulty here is similar to the difficulty above of drawing a clear-cut line between singing and preaching. Both the translation of Scripture and words of preaching and counseling are phases or aspects of application of the canonical word of God to people. The translation has to be relatively close to a one-to-one (formal) rendering, since it must serve for many, many varieties of application that believers will then derive from it. Preaching and counseling are relatively more dynamic and interpretative renderings of Scripture, since they are directed more to a specific application. But a continuum lies between the two.15 The argument that Williamson (legitimately) uses to point out that a translation can still be the word of God also shows that preaching and counseling can faithfully communicate the word of God.16
Now we include final remarks in order to deal with some remaining objections which G. T. Williamson and others bring to bear in favor of exclusive psalmody.17
15. Objection 1
When hymns beyond the psalter are used, “there is no unanimity.” Men must decide what hymns shall be sung, and “when even a few object, there is a violation of conscience.”18
Violation of conscience is indeed a serious matter. But in reply, it should be noted:
(1) To maintain this objection in full force, one must defend oneself, not only against positions 4 and 5, but also against positions 2 and 3. Particularly in the case of position 3, since it is difficult to have in one volume allof Scripture in song, song books will presumably differ. And then the differences between song books are “decided by men.”
(2) Conscience may be “violated” even with a psalter version, if the singer disagrees with the rendering of a difficult passage.
(3) Whether hymns are taken from the 150 or not, a singer who disagrees can refrain from singing.
(4) Therefore we do not see how this problem of conscience fundamentally differs from the similar problems in connection with normal preaching. For preaching, the problem is, how can one receive preaching which is not the word of God? Certainly we want preaching to be the pure word of God, and we want deviations from the word of God to be diligently corrected by
the elders. This is parallel to correcting deviations in a songbook. If the individual parishioner disagrees on some point he can refrain from accepting the teaching or song.
“But,” it may be said, “the case of singing is different, inasmuch as the parishioner is enjoined to speak, not merely listen to the words.” Well, in the case of preaching, do not the elders in effect enjoin him to heed and believe the words of preaching? In the case either of singing or of preaching, if he disagrees, he disobeys the officers.
Of course, we do not maintain that congregational singing and monovocal prose preaching are parallel in every respect. The point is simply that problems of judgment arise in connection with any application of the word of God. Such problems need not be insuperably more difficult in the case of teaching by singing than they are in the case of ordinary preaching.
16. Objection 2
Song is not parallel to preaching, because preaching is directed to our particular situation, but “in praise we exalt the unchanging God … . the appropriate songs of praise are the same from age to age.”19 To this objection we reply with several cautions.
16.1 Unchanging praise
First, the statement about praise has truth in it. But it is also true that in preaching “we exalt the unchanging God …. the appropriate preaching is the same from age to age” (namely, preaching of the cross and the gospel of Christ; the gospel is still the same).
16.2 Praise and preaching overlap
Second, we refuse to accept as scriptural a simple dichotomy between praise and preaching. Frankly, we do not see how any gospel preacher with a heart in him can refrain from praising
God as an integral part of his preaching. That need not mean that praise is always the explicit focus of preaching discourse. But neither is praise always the explicit focus of the psalter itself. In a sense praise is its final purpose, even as praise (the glory of God) is the final purpose of preaching (see the discussion in § 10). But song is also for confession (Ps. 51), petition (Ps. 22), teaching (Ps. 1; 119), counseling (Ps. 32:8; 34:11ff).
It is said that “singing the gospel to men and singing praise to God are two different things.”20 How so? The gospel is to be preached “in the sight of God” (1 Tim. 6:13–14; 2 Tim. 4:1–2). Suppose that Christ sings Psalm 1 to God among the Gentiles. Is it praise or gospel?
An additional difficulty arises because those who dichotomize praise and preaching thereby open the door to “singing the gospel” as a form of preaching even if not as a form of “praise.” Thus James Grier criticizes gospel-singing because “God is not so much in mind as men.”21 (Is this true of all non-psalter songs? Is it then true of all preaching?) But then he adds, “Even if we concede somewhat of good to the use of ‘gospel hymns,’ those who stand for the ordinance of praise in its purity and entirety, as we do, cannot afford to use them in public service, because (a) they take the actual place of praise to God … (b) … they would take the place of Psalms in the minds of the unthinking.” Here there is no longer an appeal to what is warranted from Scripture (is Grier conceding that one could find scriptural warrant for singing the gospel?), but only appeal to expediency. “Cannot afford,” he says.
Even if one grants Grier’s dichotomy between “gospel” and “praise,” can he not continue to sing the psalter as the exclusive manual of “praise” in Grier’s special sense, but also sing the gospel? This is basically all that the didascalia-position maintains.
This leads us to a third point.
16.3 Singing and praising
Third, we object to any shifting of the question from song-in-public-worship to sung-praise-in-public-worship, particularly
when the shift is made without explanation. Such a shift takes place, we feel, in Grier’s article, but even more blatantly in J. B. Johnston.22 In his introduction, Johnson starts with the theme of “exclusive use of inspired songs” (p. 10), then continues for the rest of the book with the theme of “the matter of our … praise” (p. 12). From “sing” (p. 14) he goes without hesitation to “songs of praise” (p. 23). He should first prove (what we do not believe) that song in worship has only the purpose of praise, or that it could be included in worship only as a manifestation of the “element” of praise. And, if he held to position 1 (exclusive psalmody), he would even then have to reckon with the occurrence of praise outside the psalter (e.g., Jer. 31:7; Isa. 38:18; 1 Chr. 29:13; Isa. 12:1–6; Jer. 33:11; Isa. 25:1) . Do we have warrant to sing this praise?
This whole problem can be put in another way. One basic difference between the exclusive-psalmody position and the didascalia-position is this. The exclusive-psalmody position tends to see “singing” as a separate “element” of worship alongside prayer and preaching. The didascalia-position sees singing as another means, alongside poetic speech and prose speech, of praying, praising, confessing, teaching, preaching, admonishing, etc. In this latter case, singing does not actually need a separate justification at all. It is justified simply by the fact that praying, praising, confessing, teaching, etc., are justified. Our article, then, is written not because singing “needs” a separate justification, but because there are those who think that it does.
17. Objection 3
We cannot produce an “express command” to sing other than the 150, even if we can obtain such a result by “inference.”23
In the long run, we think that this third objection will prove the most difficult to deal with. Indeed, we confess that we are even at a loss how to understand what objection 3 means. What is and what is not an Express Command? What is and is not an Inference? Let the following observations and questions suffice for a reply.
17.1 The regulative principle again
We suspect that objection 3 eventually boils down to a fundamental difference, between us and the objectors, over the meaning of the regulative principle of worship. As we argued from Ezra 3, the essence of the regulative principle is that our worship must be in Christ: it is conformity in thought, word, and deed, heart, soul, mind, and strength, corporately and individually, to the sovereign, glorious, exalted ministry of Christ, as prophet, priest, and king, at the right hand of God (§ 5) . From one end of Scripture to the other, the Spirit describes to us, by way of anticipation (OT) or fulfillment (NT), the sufficiency of that ministry, and the Spirit’s scriptural instruction about Christ is sufficient. Therefore we may by no means go beyond Scripture, or add to the command: walk in him (Col. 2:6), follow him (1 Pet. 2:21) . We insist that we do not go beyond Scripture, but with the wisdom of Christ seek to understand Scripture, when we say that this Scripture (as we have argued) enjoins us to sing with both the 150 and other songs, as the needs of teaching may require.
By contrast, the person who, at this point, still demands an “Express Command” may well understand the regulative principle in another sense. Namely, he may mean that one must produce a (single?) imperative statement in Scripture which, without much exegetical labor, can be “shown” (how cogent must the proof be?) to include the case at hand. We do not think that a regulative principle of this latter kind has scriptural backing.
Secondly, we do not think that Scripture gives us grounds for dismissing informal inferences from Scripture, purely on the ground that they are “mere” inferences. To break the force of an inference, one must give reasons, supported by Scripture, for thinking that the inference is invalid.
17.3 Express Commands cannot be clearly separated from Inferences
Now let us look at some examples, to see how fuzzy the distinction between Express Commands and Inferences is.
Consider the following hypothetical dialog:
“Is there an express command not to gamble?” “Yes, Exodus 20:15.”
“But the word ‘gamble ‘is not found in Exodus 20:15. You need some kind of inference, don’t you?”
“Gambling is a form of stealing.”
“How do you know? Can you prove it from Scripture?”
The inquirer here may be genuinely puzzled. But after we have mustered our evidence about the teaching of Scripture on property, on the casting of lots, on preserving one’s neighbor’s property, we will not permit the inquirer to continue to press, “Can you prove it?” unless he is able to exhibit some counter-evidence of his own.
So in the present case. We are unmoved by abstract, general objections against inferences. We insist that an objector give us some solid reasons, based as much on exegesis as ours are, to show that our inferences are wrong, to show that at some point we have twisted and misunderstood Scripture.
17.3.2 Preaching other than a translation
Consider another case. Is there an express command to preach or teach using other than canonical words? We think that this question is particularly revealing, because of the parallel or other overlap) that we have tried to establish between song and teaching. From our point of view, it appears little harder to prove that teaching-by-singing may use non-canonical words than to prove that teaching-in-the-narrow-sense may use them. Both teaching-by-singing and ordinary teaching are part of the basic prophetic task of applying the word of God to men’s hearts.
On the other hand, from the exclusive-psalmist viewpoint, the same literalistic, narrow-regulative-principle arguments used to prove exclusive psalmody can be used with (superficially) excruciating successfulness to prove exclusive-canonical-words preaching. One can almost hear the argument. “Are we not to preach the word of Christ, and that alone (Col. 3:16) ? What could that be but Scripture itself? Can you find a command to preach uninspired words? Can you find a single approved example in Scripture where uninspired words are preached, or
where we are enjoined to preach such? If we expand preaching beyond this, we become subject to the tyranny of men. By appropriately selecting our text of Scripture and reading it from the heart, by the Spirit, we may deal with all the needs of men. In 1 Timothy 4:13 ‘reading,’ ‘exhortation,’ and ‘doctrine’ are all three terms which, in their NT and LXX usage concerning worship, refer to inspired teaching. Therefore our teaching must be exclusively the reading of Scripture translations. Etc.”24
17.3.3 Singing all psalms
We are not sure that we can produce an express command to sing the 150. Colossians 3:16 says to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” but it does not say “all psalms.” Might it be that some psalms are not appropriate for singing in our age,
though all are appropriate for reading? Could one prove (in a strict sense that all 150 are included in the injunction of Colossians 3:16?
The immediate answer might be, since the psalms were sung in the Old Testament, we need an express prohibition in the New Testament if we are to forbid their use. All right, but it seems difficult to prove that all 150 psalms of the Old Testament were sung in public worship, and not at all difficult to prove that other songs were sung (Exod. 15 ; Deut. 32 ; Ezra 3:11) . At the very least, this leads us back to position 2.
17.3.4 An Express Command beyond the 150?
Psalm 119:54 seems to us to be something like an express command, or at least an observation, that would allow one to sing any “statute” (cf. § 6.3.1) . This leads us back to position 3.
We do not claim that the last word has been said on exclusive psalmody. But we claim to have answered the usual arguments advanced by exclusive psalmody defenders in the past. So the obligation is now on them to produce further arguments, or to elaborate and refine past arguments, if they think that the exclusive-psalmody position is still defensible.
Westminster Theological Seminary
1 “Ezra 3, Union with Christ, and Exclusive Psalmody, I,” Westminster Theological Journal, 37. References to §§ 1–7 refer to this article.
2 One can see that Ps. 18 is Christological by comparing 18:38–39 with the clearly Christological Ps. 45:4–6. Incidentally, the Christological import of Ps. 18 confirms our earlier interpretation of the ‘I’ of Rom. 15:9 as referring to Christ (§ 6.2.1).
4 Here we follow Heinrich Schlier, TDNT, I (1964), p. 165 ; Schlier, Der Brief an die Epheser (Düsseldorf: Patmos-Verlag, 1957), p. 246; and E. K. Simpson and F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), on Col. 3:16; against Delling, TDNT, VII (1972), p. 498, n. 64.
5 “Das Singen der Gemeinde geschieht gleichsam nach zwei Richtungen: mit dem Gesicht auf die anderen Gemeinde-glieder hin and mit dem Gesicht auf Gott hin”—“The singing of the congregation takes place, as it were, in two directions: facing the other members of the congregation and facing God” (Oskar Söhngen, “Theologische Grundlagen der Kirchenmusik,” Leiturgia, 4 (1961), p. 14).
7 G. I. Williamson apparently disagrees with our interpretation that “teaching” and “counseling” include speaking other words besides canonical words. He says: “We are to teach and admonish one another with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” in order that we may be filled with Christ’s Spirit and Word. It certainly follows that these must be the psalms and songs of the Bible, for only these can properly be called the spiritual or inspired word of Christ. Only inspired words are appropriate for teaching and admonishing the Church of God. To receive instruction or admonition from uninspired words is wrong” (G. I. Williamson, “The Singing of Psalms in Worship,” Blue Banner Faith and Life, 25 (1970), p. 111, italics mine). We find ourselves unable to take what Williamson says here at face value. The same argument that he uses to exclude singing other than the 150 also and for the same reason excludes preaching, teaching, and counseling in any other way than by explicitly quoting from Scripture. Hence it proves too much. The problem is that Williamson dichotomizes between inspired/uninspired, whereas a more accurate division would be threefold: (a) canonical words (i.e., inspired words written once-for-all in the original manuscripts), (b) words of Christ communicated by his translators, ministers, preachers, teachers, and counselors (not canonical, but still spiritual, 1 Cor. 3:1), and (c) purely human words arising from our own deceits or human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:20 ; Tit. 1:10–11; Col. 2:20–23, 8. This is against John McNaugher, ed., The Psalms in Worship (Pittsburgh: The United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1907), pp. 131ff, and H. Schlier, “ᾠδή,” TDNT, I (1964), p. 164, who both appear to have Williamson’s dichotomy.
8 Cf. Oskar Söhngen, op. cit., pp. 1-15. On Col. 3:16 he comments: “Die Einwohnung des Wortes bewirkt das Lehren and Ermahnen and Singen der Gemeinde”—“The indwelling of the word produces the teaching and admonishing and singing of the congregation” (p. 6). And later on: “Während das Christus-Wort vom Apostel im Kerygma and in der Lehre weitergegeben wird, sind für die Gemeinde als ganze die Psalmen, Hymnen und geistgewirkten Oden die Form, in der sie sich gegenseitig belehren and ermahnen Boll”—“Whereas the word-of-Christ of the Apostle is passed on in the kerygma and in the teaching, for the congregation as a whole the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are the form in which it (the congregation) should mutually teach and admonish” (p. 7). And of the Reformers: “In der Zeit der Reformation wird das Singen öfter als der Teil des Presdigtdienstes bezeichnet, welcher der Gemeinde zufalle … . Auch dem Singen ist Macht gegeben, Verkiindigung zu sein and das Evangelium auszubreiten”—“In the time of the Reformation singing was repeatedly designated as the part of the preaching ministry which fell to the congregation … . To singing also is power given to be preaching and to spread the gospel” (p. 14).
9 See G. I. Williamson, op. cit., p. 115: “And there is no doubt that the term ‘spiritual’ means ‘inspired.”‘ What will Williamson do with Eph. 6:12? B. B. Warfield, whom Williamson quotes (Presbyterian Review, July, 1880), suggests the renderings ‘Spirit-given,’ or ‘Spirit-led,’ or ‘Spirit-determined,’ which are not quite the same. Every pastor should pray and strive that all his sermons may be pneumatikos, Spirit-given and Spirit-led. But he would be shocked at the bare suggestion that his sermons are inspired. An additional difficulty arises in drawing the line between the authority of a translation and the authority of a well-constructed biblical sermon. See § 14.
11 As a matter of fact, this lack of sharp boundaries characterizes the Greek vocabulary of song itself. “Between the spoken word and song the distinction is fluid” (“ᾄδω,” TDNT, I (1964), p. 164). Cf. our earlier discussion of ὑμνεῖν, § 6.2.1, n. 10.
12 In most English-speaking churches, singing consists in vocal production of English discourse, which discourse has (a) the extra-systematic pitch pattern of the Western twelve tone scale (usually major or minor scale) and (b) syllable timing and stress in a simple rhythmic pattern (usually 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, etc.). This leaves chanting, responsive reading, lyrical poetic sermonizing, monotone sermons, “amens,” and the like in a kind of no-man’s land between singing and normal speaking.
15 The reader not convinced of this should consult publications of professional translators, e.g. Eugene A. Nida, “Translation or Paraphrase,” The Bible Translator 1 (1950), pp. 97-106; Nida, The Theory and Practice of Translation, (Leiden: Brill, United Bible Societies, 1969); John Beekman, ed., Notes on Translation with Drills (Santa Ana: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1965).
16 “It is the Word of God in translation … . There is such a thing as a faithful translation of the psalms” (Williamson, op. cit., p. 119). Williamson acknowledges that we cannot in this life produce a perfect version of the psalms (p. 119). Yet he apparently thinks that we should strive after producing an inspired version (such being necessary in order to fulfill perfectly the command to sing “inspired” song). What does “inspired” mean? Suppose “inspired” is used in a broad sense to cover faithful translation. Then it can also cover faithful Bible exposition. Both are authoritative insofar as they say what the original says. Suppose on the other hand that “inspired” is used only with reference to what is without qualification the word of God, i.e. to the autographs. Then, to our mind, the call for an “inspired” version is already a challenge to the sufficiency of the Scripture. We do not need an “inspired” version, because the inspired autographs are sufficient. What we need is to apply them to our lives, to have the Spirit write them on our hearts, and for this we need (as a first aspect of application) “faithful translation.”
19 Here we have tried to anticipate how Williamson’s argument (ibid.) against drawing an analogy between prayer and song might be adapted to argue against the continuity of preaching and song.
22 J. B. Johnston, Psalmody. An Examination of Authority for Making Uninspired Songs, and for Using Them in the Formal Worship of God (St. Clairville, Ohio: John Stuart, 1871).
24 We have found an explicit argument, by the exclusive psalmist J. B. Johnston (op. cit., pp. 25ff), to the effect that preaching is not confined to canonical words. However, the argument is so disgracefully inadequate that we can only feel that Johnston is relying on the intuitions of his hearers rather than on cogency. He appeals to the fact that the Bereans were commended for bringing sermons to the test of Scripture; he concludes that such sermons must not have been inspired. To which the reply is that (a) the Bereans were following the injunctions of Deut. 13 and 18 which apply to inspired prophets, yes, even to the Lord Jesus himself (cf. Acts 3:22’s application of Deut. 18:15–16) ; (b) that among the preachers that they heard was the apostle Paul (Acts 17:10), who from time to time insists that his spoken word has plenary authority (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Cor. 2:13; 3:10).
Later on, Johnston alludes to 1 Tim. 4:13–15, Acts 20:27, 2 Tim. 2:16, 25, Tit. 3:9. These texts are more to the point. But the obstinate might resist even these texts by interpreting them as referring to (a) inspired preaching, (b) reading Scripture rightly (i.e., picking the right passage and reading with the right feeling), (c) private conversation, (d) temporary and occasional rather than permanent practice of the church. Or it might be said that some of the verses are purely negative statements about things to avoid.
Granted that other arguments can be constructed that show clearly the warrant for non-canonical preaching, we think that a point has been made. Namely, the “difficulty” of producing good arguments for the didascalia-position, and the plausibility of objections from exclusive psalmists, are suspiciously similar to the corresponding “difficulty” and plausibility with respect to non-canonical preaching. Both are illusions produced by the method of argument.