John T. Willis

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sing and Make Melody

The expression "sing and make melody" [Hebrew is shir and zamar] occurs 12 times in the Hebrew Psalter:

Psalm 21:13: "We will sing and make melody to your power."

Psalm 27:6: "I will sing and make melody to the Lord."

Psalm 33:2-3: "Praise the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
Sing to him a new song,
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts."

Psalm 57:7: "I will sing and make melody."

Psalm 68:4: "Sing to God, make melody to him who rides upon the clouds."

Psalm 68:32: "Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
make melody to the Lord."

Psalm 104:33: "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will make melody to my God, while I have being."

Psalm 105:2: "Sing to him, make melody to him."

Psalm 108:1: "I will sing and make melody."

Psalm 144:9: "I will sing a new song to you, O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp I will make melody to you."

Psalm 147:7: "Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre."

Psalm 149:1b, 3b: "Sing to the Lord a new song; . . .
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre."

In addition, 23 passages occur in the Hebrew Psalter using the term "make melody:" Psalms 7:17; 9:2, 11; 18:49; 30:4, 12; 47:6-7; 57:9; 59:17; 61:8; 66:2, 4; 71:22-23, 75:9; 98:4-5; 101:1; 108:3; 135:3; 138:1; 146:2.

A careful, attentive student of the Bible arrives at several significant conclusions:
1. "Sing and make melody" was a very common practice throughout the history of God's people. These two practices are inseparable as one.
2. "Sing" is vocal; "make melody" is instrumental. Psalms 33:2-3; 144:9; 149:1, 3 make this crystal clear. Amos 5:23 further verifies this reality.
3. Singing and making melody is acceptable to God ONLY when worshippers perform GENUINELY FROM THE HEART and IN HARMONY WITH RIGHT LIVING ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL. Amos 5:23 clearly makes this point.
4. Ephesians 5:19 makes this same point. Singing to the Lord must be "in your hearts," not merely external words. Making melody to the Lord must be "in your hearts," not merely external instrumental tones. Paul uses the expression "sing and make melody" from the Hebrew Bible, and assumes vocal singing and instrumental music in the New Testament church.

Share YOUR thoughts and ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

40 Comments:

  • I have read and studied on the instrumental music "issue" for many years and I have never traced that phrase through the Hebrew Bible. very illuminating. Thank you for your insight.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

    By Blogger Stoned-Campbell Disciple, at 9:01 AM  

  • Dr. Willis, thank you for your thoughtful explanation of this.

    By Blogger Mark, at 4:35 PM  

  • Thank you for adding to my understanding of this topic. I've never examined the OT usage of the phrase before.

    I would add that in the Swiss Reformation, Ulrich Zwingli read Eph 5:19 a little differently. He took it to mean that we are to sing and make melody "in our hearts" to the Lord, and therefore he found no authorization for vocal congregational singing. (Discovering Our Roots, Allen and Hughes, p 27) So not only did he eliminate instruments from worship, but also congregational singing. The differences in the conclusions people reach from the same brief passage amaze me.

    By Blogger Alan, at 5:04 AM  

  • Thank you for this clear, simple explanation. I appreciate the straightforward presentation, absent of the usual caveats. Truly "speaking where the Bible speaks".

    By Blogger Torrey, at 5:52 AM  

  • So if we let the Bible interpret the Bible we find what the text is truly focused on rather than just using a scripture to "prove" a point. Very interesting. Thanks for your insight.

    By Blogger David, at 6:14 AM  

  • I appreciate the useful list of passages from the Hebrew Bible, however I must respectfully disagree with your conclusion. My understanding of the meaning of "make melody" is identical to yours, sir, but I believe Paul specified "your heart" as the instrument. In the Hebrew passages the instruments are specified, else we could have no certainty that they were in view. I believe to assume that because instruments were often specified with the use of the term in the Hebrew Bible that they are implied in Ephesians 5 is presumptuous. I would be interested to read any thoughts you have to the contrary with as open a mind as I can muster.
    ---JLP

    By Blogger Joshua L. Pappas, at 6:27 AM  

  • Brother Willis, I've been involved with a lot of discussion about IM in the Old and New Covenants but this is the first time that this phraseology has been explored to my knowledge. Thank you so much for adding something new and significant to our understanding of Paul's instructions... I appreciate your honesty with the test !!

    By Blogger Price, at 6:28 AM  

  • Brother Willis, that was an very insightful contribution to the IM discussion. I don't recall anyone ever pointing out the phrase comparison between Old and New Testament... I appreciate the honest handling of the text !!

    By Blogger Price, at 6:31 AM  

  • It amazes me sometimes what I (we?) miss when I (we?) read these passages over and over. Thank you for putting this together so succintly and clearly.

    Perhaps we should pay more attention to Old Testament usage of phrases found in New Testament writings? After all, the rabbinical practice of referring to a passage by one of its opening phrases is known to us. Why not trace the root passages and find out 'the rest of the story', as Paul Harvey used to call it?

    Brother Willis, you have helped encourage a scholar-wanna-be today. May God richly bless you.

    Glenn

    By Blogger Glenn Ziegler, at 10:27 AM  

  • How is it we so often miss the background of phrases we find in the New Testament? Is it because we do not know that rabbinical teaching often referenced OT passages with just a phrase from those passages?

    I (we?) have too often cheated Myself (oursleves?) of a deeper appreciation for the meaning of such references in our NT. Thank you for putting two and two together.

    Of course, with this 'revelation' (discovery/uncovering) comes the realization that many of our old approaches to Ephesians 5 were missing vital background information that would have been common knowledge to Paul and the recipients of his letters, at least those even somewhat familiar with rabbinical teaching practices and the OT scriptures.

    In the 'old way' of teaching I grew up with in the 60s and 70s, we would have added two plus two and ended with three.

    I thank God for the scholars who can communicate so simply and non-threateningly where we have missed the fact that two and two equals four.

    May God richly bless you and multiply the readers of your posts.

    Glenn 'Grizz' Ziegler

    By Blogger Glenn Ziegler, at 10:35 AM  

  • Instrumental music in the New Testament assembly is such a huge issue for the church of Christ. This one topic has brought about so much division between believers. Very insightful. Thank you for pointing us to these scriptures. I will share this info with others along with your blog site.

    By Blogger Patricia, at 12:24 PM  

  • This is a most valuable practical/theological point.

    It's obvious conclusion is ecclipsed only by it's SOTM-like reframing of the heart issue.

    Thank you Dr. Willis.

    Wish this straightforward and simple conclusion had been shared at any point over the past 150 years. Maybe it would have provided grounds for unity.

    By Blogger Steve, at 1:37 PM  

  • Dr. Willis,
    I have to echo the comments previously posted. In all of the discussions I heard, blogs, articles, and books and other materials I've read about the subject of instrumental music in the New Testament worship, I have NEVER heard or read any reference to the source of this expression in the Hebrew OT. As I previously learned to appreciate your scholarship in the study of the prophets and the Psalms back in my Lipscomb days, I still find you challenging me. I am grateful.
    Tom Snell

    By Blogger Tom, at 1:51 PM  

  • With this rich background in the Psalms (one of the types of songs Paul instructs us to sing), can we continue to take seriously the arguments against instrumental music that I heard as a youth?

    Jerry Starling

    By Blogger Jerry, at 5:00 PM  

  • Thank you for making Paul's comment so relevant and connected to the context in which he lived.

    By Blogger LEANN, at 4:08 AM  

  • Thank you for making clear Paul's comment the the setting and context familiar to him at the time of his writing.

    By Blogger LEANN, at 4:09 AM  

  • if singing and playing are inseparable, then one must always sing and play. That lets me out, I can play no instruent.

    By Blogger ancil, at 12:46 PM  

  • Drt. Willis: I found this exact information many years ago by using Quickverse for windows. But, preachers have just ignored my presentations. You see I did not get to attend college. I pray that your presentation will be honored and understood. Yuo have explained it very understandable.

    By Blogger olddad!, at 7:48 PM  

  • Joshua, if we were to make melody in our hearts and in our hearts ONLY, then how could we sing? One cannot sing without making melody...

    By Blogger WendyC, at 3:11 PM  

  • If singing and playing is commanded, or even expected, do you not find it strange that it was hundreds of years before any professed Christians practiced the use of instrumental mucic? They merely sung--making melody in the heart--not WITH instruments. Also, a long list of early church protestant leaders were clearly against the use of instruments in worship.

    By Blogger Robert, at 3:29 PM  

  • Ancil wrote: "if singing and playing are inseparable, then one must always sing and play. That lets me out, I can play no instruent."


    TWO OBSERVATIONS...

    1. singing is vocal and making melody is instrumental as Dr. Willis has shown rathe convincingly. What we should also note is that NEITHER singing nor making melody is commanded in Ephesians 5. The command/imperative is to be filled with the Spirit. Singing and making melody are just two ways Paul suggested for believers to do that.

    2. This is group instruction, NOT individual instruction. It requires individuals within the group to participate in order to follow these suggested modes of being filled with the Spirit, but Paul does not break it down into who ought to do which part or parts of these suggested examples concerning being filled with the Spirit. If you can sing, sing with all your heart. If you can serve, serve with all your heart. If you can make melody, make melody with all your heart. The imperatives are that the Spirit is filling and the heart is responding. Paul gives several examples of how that looks, not commands. Use the gift(s) given to you by the Spirit.

    Does that help, Ancil?

    Glenn

    By Blogger Glenn Ziegler, at 4:39 PM  

  • Some of can't sing well either.

    By Blogger Robert, at 6:33 PM  

  • Some of us can't sing all that well without instrumental help.

    By Blogger Robert, at 6:35 PM  

  • Thanks for the simplicity of this. Now we need to contrast the Evert Ferguson work that the chruch chose acapella for the first 500 years. If their choice was to skip instruments, should we?

    By Blogger larrshort, at 2:18 PM  

  • Note to Ancil: Not everyone played in OT, so its OK if you don't. Obviously the trumpeters could not do both, sing and play.

    By Blogger larrshort, at 2:22 PM  

  • I've always found it interesting that the church chose not to use instruments for so many of the early years. Since God commanded their use, where is the scriptural authorization to remove them ?? Perhaps they felt the freedom to choose. However, in these discussions one often hears of "adding" instruments to worship when in fact it was God Himself that put them there in the first place...and symbolically in heaven to come..

    By Blogger Price, at 4:05 PM  

  • Wendy C asked me a question. Unfortunately I don't have time to debate the issue here. I am merely disappointed with bro. Willis' poor scholarship (IMO), and also that he has been unwilling to respond to my genuine request.

    If you want to debate my understanding you can do it on my blog. I have a post about as brief and un-scholarly as bro. Willis' on IM there.

    ---JLP

    By Blogger Joshua L. Pappas, at 1:46 PM  

  • We can still sing without an instrument if we choose. Using those verses it says to do both, no exception.

    Dancing would fit too since dancing is included in Spirit filled worship. Sure scriptural.

    I remember the canvas tent meetings we used to attend of the Church of God where they sang, played instruments and danced and even rolled in sawdust from being Spirit led and felt. Maybe they weren't as far off as we thought?

    Having instrument(s) and singing is OK, but tying the two as a MUST as those verses do, Spirit led or filled or not,is not right.

    By Blogger sopricon, at 8:52 PM  

  • Sopricon wrote: Having instrument(s) and singing is OK, but tying the two as a MUST as those verses do, Spirit led or filled or not,is not right.

    Glenn replies: I do not believe either singing or playing an instrument is imperative in Ephesians 5:19. Each is a possibility, according to the apostle Paul, but the only imperative is that we be filled with the Spirit. Singing and playing an instrument (making melody/psalming) are only suggested alternatives for demonstrating that filling with the Spirit.

    Dr. Willis suggests a permissive connection here, not an imperative connection, and the Greek shows this to be the way Paul uses the terms in this passage. Perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to the difference between imperatives and participles that may follow those imperatives.

    Glenn

    By Blogger Glenn Ziegler, at 6:30 PM  

  • I see several problems with your logic and reason and pray that you will take time to consider my response.

    First, you said that “make melody” in Ephesians 5:19 is instrumental music. This is nothing more than the “psallo” argument. Biblically speaking, the only time “psallo” ever carries (or includes) the idea of a mechanical instrument is when the mechanical instrument modifies psallo (LXX).

    Second, one cannot soundly use psallo as argumentation to justify mechanical instruments in the context of the New Testament. Consider these facts: (1) whatever “psallo” means, we are commanded to do it. Something doesn’t have to be in the imperative to be essential (i.e. only twice is the word "immersion" in reference to salvation in Christ in the verbal form used in the imperative mood: Acts 2:38; 22:16. Most of the time the indicative mood is used: Acts 2:41; 8:12, 38; 9:18; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; Rom. 6:3; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27). The imperative is to “be filled” and we are told how to do that. When God tells us what to do and how to do it, then the indicative is just as essential as the imperative. If “psallo” is not essential in that context, then none of these actions are. Aside from that, psallo is in the imperative in James 5:13; (2) Out of every single main stream reputable translation available, none of them translate “psallo” as to play or even include a mechanical instrument. (3) The Bible teaches that the first century Christians sang (when they followed the command to “psallo”). Even historically we know that no mechanical instrument was brought into worship of any so called "Christian" assembly until AT LEAST the 600's. So, if in the context of the NT, “psallo” carried the idea of “playing a mechanical instrument” when Paul wrote to Christians, how come none of the Christians for at least 5-7 centuries knew it or incorporated them into their assemblies? This shows us that they did not take the word “psallo” to mean play a mechanical instrument in the context of the NT; (4) Lexicons and Dictionaries are going to tell you that the word “psallo” in the context of the NT means to sing: (William Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary): “psallo means to sing” (659); (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology): “psallo has the sense to sing hymns of praise” (Bartels 672); (The New Analytical Greek Lexicon): “in the N.T to sing praises” (Perschbscher 442); (Vines Expository Dictionary): “in the NT, to sing a hymn, sing praise” (402); (The Analytical Greek Lexicon): “in the N.T, to sing praises” (Moulton 401); (The Reader’s Greek New Testament): “psallo: I sing, sing praise” (Goodrich 426); (A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament): “in the NT, to sing a hymn, sing praises” (Abbot-Smith 487); (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament): “in the N.T, to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in song” (675).

    I am open to sincere refutation. If my arguments can be proven invalid, then I will be open to listen as to why. I will only listen to logic, reason and sound argumentation.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:27 PM  

  • I appreciate the comments from "unknown" and am fully willing to offer some very relevant and informative material concerning "psallo" and its first century meaning and usage in all of the contemporary literature of the first century.

    Send me an email at grz311(at)yahoo(dot)com and I will be happy to attach it to you there in a .pdf for your review.

    Blessings

    By Blogger Glenn Ziegler, at 3:46 PM  

  • == Simply put, the use of musical instruments in a gathering of believers cannot be an imperative. Otherwise, such a meeting would require an instrument and one who can play it. Probably, among Christians I know, only one in a hundred can play an instrument. Countless believers have met, for nearly 2000 years, with no music at all, e.g. as when secrecy is req'd.

    By Blogger wfrodgers, at 3:47 PM  

  • Ironically, the one musical instrument--which all humans can play--is their own vocal cords: an instrument crafted by God, Himself.
    We can speak, hum, sing--all with the same living audible device.
    And, of course, the term 'a capella' literally means, "as the chapel" or "in chapel style"

    By Blogger wfrodgers, at 2:52 PM  

  • When considering the value of any activity that is a part of our liturgy, should we be asking ourselves these questions? Does that element of the service direct our thoughts towards God or distract us from Him? Is the physical and sensual part of our natures primarily engaged by what happens, or is our spirit and intellect affected by what is taking place? To what extent does our appreciation of the activity depend on its aesthetic appeal? Or does that portion of the service promote those deep-seated, TIMELESS responses to God-the object of our worship-which are universally common to Christians: adoration, awe, fascination, humbleness, contrition and gratitude?

    As C. S. Lewis has written in his “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer”, Letter 1), "It looks as if they [clergymen] believed people can be lured to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service... Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don't go to church to be entertained... The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was "for what does it serve?" "'Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god."

    By Blogger wfrodgers, at 4:29 PM  

  • The hard truth for some who are easily distracted,is that ease of distraction points to a heart focused somewhere other than worship.

    By Blogger Glenn Ziegler, at 6:25 PM  

  • Observation 1 - Eph 5:19 tells us that to one another we are to "speak", whereas to God we are to "sing & make melody in our hearts". There is no authorization here to sing with our lips & vocal cords, or even to each other, but only to God in our hearts. We can, however, "chant", or speak, to one another.

    Observation 2 - We claim to go by the Bible only. But in hypocrisy we turn to extra-Biblical sources to define our terms instead of letting the Bible define its own terms. If we let the Bible define its own term, then when we speak to one another in psalms, we'll be speaking to one another using those "psalms" that the Bible has defined for us, including Psalm 150. There's your authorization for musical instruments: Paul tells us to teach one another in psalms, and the psalms tell us to praise God with instruments.

    These same observations work with Col 3:16 also.

    Am I trying to "prove" we can't actually sing, or that we are authorized to use instruments?

    No. I'm just pointing out that the same logic we use to "prove" some other viewpoint can also be used to "prove" these viewpoints.

    By Blogger Kent West, at 10:28 AM  

  • Observation 1 - Eph 5:19 tells us that to one another we are to "speak", whereas to God, we are to "sing & make melody in our hearts". There is no authorization here to sing with our lips & vocal cords, or even to each other, but only to God in our hearts. We can, however, "chant", or speak, to one another.

    Observation 2 - We claim to go by the Bible only. But in hypocrisy we turn to extra-Biblical sources to define our terms instead of letting the Bible define its own terms. If we let the Bible define its own term, then when we speak to one another in psalms, we'll be speaking to one another using those "psalms" that the Bible has defined for us, including Psalm 150. There's your authorization for musical instruments: Paul tells us to teach one another in psalms, and the psalms tell us to praise God with instruments.

    These same observations work with Col 3:16 also.

    Am I trying to "prove" we can't actually sing, or that we are authorized to use instruments?

    No. I'm just pointing out that the same logic we use to "prove" some other viewpoint can also be used to "prove" these viewpoints.

    By Blogger Kent West, at 10:29 AM  

  • To Kent West. Read Psalm 66. Even though I'm devoted a cappella worship, I'm not trying to prove with this that IM in worship is sinful, but that NT teaching to sing the Psalms doesn't mean everything in the Psalms applies to Christian worship. If it does, then we need to start making burnt offerings.

    I really do say in all humility, the issue isn't quite that simple.

    ---JLP

    By Blogger Joshua Pappas, at 12:23 PM  

  • You may want to look at Amos 6:5and the surrounding context. From the list of translations offered for Amos 6:5 (at http://biblehub.com/amos/6-5.htm), you will see the preponderance of opinion, from the translators, is basically one thought: criticism and condemnation of the behavior of God’s people.

    Note the various references made to King David:
    = New International Version =
    You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.

    = New Living Translation =
    You sing trivial songs to the sound of the harp and fancy yourselves to be great musicians like David.

    = English Standard Version =
    who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music

    = New American Standard Bible
    Who improvise to the sound of the harp, And like David have composed songs for themselves =

    = King James Bible =
    That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David

    = Holman Christian Standard Bible =
    They improvise songs to the sound of the harp and invent their own musical instruments like David.

    = International Standard Version =
    chanting to the sound of stringed instruments as if they were David, composing songs to themselves as if they were musicians, like David

    = NET Bible =
    They sing to the tune of stringed instruments; like David they invent musical instruments.

    = GOD'S WORD® Translation =
    How horrible it will be for those who make up songs as they strum a harp. Like David, they write all kinds of songs for themselves.

    = Jubilee Bible 2000 =
    that chant to the sound of the flute and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David;

    = King James 2000 Bible =
    That chant to the sound of the harp, and invent for yourselves instruments of music, like David;

    = American King James Version =
    That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David;

    = American Standard Version =
    that sing idle songs to the sound of the viol; that invent for themselves instruments of music, like David;

    = Douay-Rheims Bible =
    You that sing to the sound of the psaltery: they have thought themselves to have instruments of music like David;

    = Darby Bible Translation =
    that chant to the sound of the lute, and invent them instruments of music, like David;

    = English Revised Version =
    that sing idle songs to the sound of the viol; that devise for themselves instruments of music, like David;

    = Webster's Bible Translation =
    That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David;

    = World English Bible =
    who strum on the strings of a harp; who invent for themselves instruments of music, like David;

    = Young's Literal Translation =
    Who are taking part according to the psaltery, Like David they invented for themselves instruments of music;

    By Blogger wfrodgers, at 3:37 PM  

  • Amos 6:5 - and the verses around it in context - are intriguing, especially because of the reference to King David that appears. What do we do with this verse, particularly in light of the predominant rendering of the passage. See Biblehub.com, for example.

    By Blogger wfrodgers, at 4:07 PM  

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