3 Apr 2017

“Making Melody to the Lord …” Paul’s Debt to the Psalter When Talking About Worship

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Ephesians, Exegesis, Paul, Psalms, Septuagint, Unity, Worship

Latin Penitential Psalms

The Old Days

Many years ago I began to pray thru the Psalms from beginning to end each month. There were a lot of reasons for this but it has truly altered my experience of the entire biblical text. I grew up with very little exposure to the “Old Testament” beyond a VBS level of instruction. The most consistent emphasis in my memory was that the “Old Testament” was largely irrelevant to “New Testament Christianity.”  There was major discontinuity between the “Old Testament” and “New Testament Christianity” in fact.  Its worship had nothing to do with Christians for it was grounded in ritual, legalistic, and was the opposite of “spiritual” worship thus it was “nailed to the cross.”

But I started to develop a love affair with the Hebrew Bible while in undergraduate college at what is now Heritage Christian University. I took my first Hebrew class in the fall of 1987 with Stephen Broyles. I ended up taking all the Hebrew classes available (Broyles was the only teacher, later I would take more Hebrew with Dr James Smith at Florida Christian College when I lived in Kissimmee and then at Harding Grad) majoring in the “Old Testament.” Broyles was the first to tell me to check to see “how the NT used the OT” a thought that never occurred to me. Why would Paul “use” the “Old Testament” when he was an inspired apostle and could speak on his own authority (something Paul rarely does btw).


Several years ago I picked up a used book by Henry Shires by the title Finding the Old Testament in the New. It is an older book dating back to 1973. I read it with great profit. Nearly one third of the book, chapter 6, was devoted to “The Book of Psalms in the New Testament.” Even though I had worked my way thru the Psalms many times by then I was blown away with how deep the NT writers are immersed in the Psalms.

This immersion carried forward into the early history of the church. And because it is impossible to exaggerate the Psalms in the early church, if a person truly wants to understand “New Testament Christianity” the Psalms are going to be involved in whatever they mean by the historical reality of first century Christianity.

I used to imagine early Christians were just like us. Everyone had a Bible! But in fact NO ONE had a Bible. No one owned even a portion of it. “Books” were scrolls and later a codex. These were incredibly expensive so books were kept in communal locations. They were read orally never silently to oneself. The Psalms was one of the single most important books in early Christianity. The Shepherd of Hermas was immensely important. If you want something besides a fantasy of early Christianity, Hurtado is essential.

I repeat, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Psalter in the life of Jesus or early church. I noted not long ago that of all the Christian manuscripts that survive from the first 3 centuries, the Psalms outnumber every book of the NT by magnitudes of order except Matthew and John both beat the Psalms by 1.  See my linked Psalms and the Temple: : What Jesus and the Early Way Experienced.

There are few things that have hindered (in my opinion) the appreciation of biblical faith more than the inherited Dispensationalism of the Stone-Campbell Movement. This misguided tool foists upon the “New Testament” text categories that simply did not exist in the first century. But it has been useful in polemical debate. We have to use it to get rid of instrumental music, circumcision, holy days … and Huldah!!

But the use of the “Old Testament” by the writers of the New Testament proves beyond reasonable doubt that for them it was authoritative.

But that does not solve, in my mind, how the NT writers sought out the “Old Testament” (a phrase that no biblical writer ever used in reference to the books of the Hebrew Bible) to guide the “Gatherings” in the first century. See for example my linked Paul and the Unquestioned Authority of the Old Testament.

Ephesians 5.19 and the Psalms

Take Ephesians 5.19 as today’s example. For years we have gone to battle over the meaning of ψάλλω.

It is an inconvenient truth that all admit the word “at one time” included instruments. But the argument is, that, when Paul used the word it had changed and no longer included it. Debaters will say that TODAY’S Greek the word does not include instruments.  But there is a two thousand year leap. What did the word mean to the Jew whose Bible was the LXX (Septuagint)?

And then there is Josephus, a contemporary of Paul, who uses the word multiple times to describe Levites singing and playing on harps in the temple. But the claim is that Josephus is imitating classical Greek rather than koine. It really is quite complex in fact (and then you have those folks that say you don’t have to have a PhD to read and understand the Bible but then they mark arguments on ψάλλω that are so complex that many PhDs cannot follow them!). All lexicons will tell you the word means to play in the LXX which is also koine Greek but debaters will not tell you that! Standard lexicons like Liddel and Scott will say the word includes instruments. Finding evidence for ψάλλω including instruments is not difficult to do.

But while we fought over ψάλλω, I missed something vitally important, largely because I did not know the “Old Testament” like Paul and the first century church. I knew that Paul told the believers to sing … Psalms. This is why in the Church Fathers we find such devotion to the Psalter. Paul did not direct that disciples just sing. Paul commanded that we sing the PSALMS.

Down through the history of the church there are numerous examples of believers holding the opinion that the only “authorized” words to give back to God in praise was the book of Psalms itself. The Regulative Principle forbade the use of “humanly made words” in the worship of God. Most have not taken this position but it is not a rare one (many in the Reformed tradition have held this position especially, they rejected humanly authored songs just as they rejected instrumental music).

What I missed for a long time, was that Paul’s entire directive comes from the Psalter itself. That is Paul literally quotes the Book of Psalms. Paul does not say just sing Psalms. Paul says,

sing and make melody to the Lord in your heart …”

sing and make melody [to the Lord]” is a directive that occurs in the Psalter no less than five times. The exact Greek phrase, “sing and make melody to …” occurs no less than three. Here they are.

I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
I will sing and make melody to the LORD {ᾄσομαι καὶ ψαλῶ τῷ κυρίῳ}”
(Psalm 27.6 = 26.6, LXX)

Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
Praise the LORD with the lyre;
make melody {ψαλῶ} to him [the Lord]
with the harp of ten strings

(Psalm 33.1-2)

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody {ψαλῶ} to our God on the lyre
(Psalm 147.7, we recall that Paul mentions thanksgiving as well in 5.20)

Other parallel texts but not the exact Greek but very close …

O God, my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody
(Psalm 57.7)

My heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make melody …”
(Psalm 108.1)

What is noticeable is how closely associated the word ψάλλω is to the phrase Paul quotes and its use in the Psalter. Is there any indication that Paul uses ψάλλω in a manner differently than in source material he quotes?? It clearly, and unambiguously, can quite naturally include playing instruments in these texts.

These last two texts, Psalm 57.7 and 108.1, also mention Paul’s other debt to the Psalter, “the heart.

The “heart” is one of the most common words in the Psalms occurring a whopping 105 times. It is beat out by “hesed” (steadfast love in NRSV).

You have put gladness in my heart” (Ps 4.7)

God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart” (Ps 7.10)

Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his [Yahweh’s] face!” (Ps 27.8)

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him
(Ps 28.7)

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king
(Ps 45.1)

“I give thanks to you, O LORD my God,
with my whole heart
and I will glorify your name forever.”
(Psalm 86.12)

I will praise you with an upright heart
(Psalm 119.7)

We can multiply these quotations but this is sufficient to make the point. Paul is not giving the Ephesian congregation some new “spiritual” directives for worship of God. Paul is literally channeling the Book of Psalms. The Psalms proclaim loudly, and clearly, that the values of a human being, the loves, the desires, the grateful worship with thanksgiving comes from the heart and are expressed in singing joyfully with music to the Lord.

So some conclusions:

When Paul instructs believers to sing the Psalms he uses language from the Psalms themselves to do it. This testifies to how deeply ingrained they are in his own heart.

When Paul tells us to “make melody to the Lord” he is quoting the Psalter itself. We “make melody to the Lord” (Psalm 27.6/Eph 5.19)

Making melody, as we have seen, is the sound of “thanksgiving” being offered to the Lord as we see Paul say the next verse in Ephesians 5.20, this too comes from the Psalms. That sound included instruments in the very texts Paul quotes to the “Ephesians.”

When the apostle conceived of a life of song, a life of praise, a life of thanksgiving, a life of worship, he framed it according to the Hebrew Bible and specifically the Book of Psalms.

The “Old Testament” taught the “New Testament” church how to worship the God of Israel.  This is also why all the words that the New Testament uses for “worship” come straight out of the Septuagint … there are no exception to this.

The apostle that wrote these words in Ephesians 5.19-20, and the manner in which he did, is exactly why we can see this very same apostle going to the temple in the book of Acts to “worship” (Acts 24.11, cf 21.26-27) and declares to the anti-Semitic Roman believers that “the worship” belongs to the Israelites (Romans 9.4, a passage that is routinely silenced in Protestant churches).

I knew that Paul mentioned singing Psalms in Ephesians 5.19. The significance of that never sunk into my consciousness however. But what I did not know for many years, was that Paul quotes the Psalms, when he tells us to sing the Psalms from the heart and given thanksgiving.

The reason I did not know was because I did had not studied one of the most important books in the first century church, the Psalms.

11 Responses to ““Making Melody to the Lord …” Paul’s Debt to the Psalter When Talking About Worship”

  1. Charles Stelding Says:

    I appreciate the way you have rightly pointed out the influence of the Psalms in the early Christian assemblies. Most won’t disagree that the Eph. 5:19 is a well-known expression taken directly from the Psalms as you’ve pointed out.

    G. Delling says the same thing in his article in the TDNT (8, p. 498f): “The expression ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες in v. 19b underscores v. 19a. The combination of verbs in this order is found in the OT, Psa 26:6; 56:8; 104:2; 107:2. The literal sense ‘by or with the playing of strings,’ still found in the LXX is now employed figuratively.” TDNT 8 498f.

    It might be questionable that the early Christian assemblies took up all the liturgical patterns of the Temple as described in the Psalms and elsewhere. I’m not sure if this is what you’re trying to say. We know so very little about the first and second century assemblies. In my view, even if we knew everything, that does not necessarily mean that should be the norm. I say this because they lived in a different time and culture. Their singing would probably not go over too well in a West Texas country church.

    Anyway, it looks like the church went it’s own way (differently than the Temple or Synagogue). That is not meant to say that there was no influence from them. As far as I can tell, the early church assembly looked more like the Passover feast (supper, prayer, singing, conversation, teachings, collection).

    Most importantly, I think both the a capella and instrumental church would agree that we need to seek a proper theology of the assembly. What is the purpose, goal and function of our coming together as a church? It seems that Paul addressed the purpose of the assembly in order to explain that some activities are not appropriate to the purpose.

    On a similar note: Am I wrong to say that the Temple musical worship had nothing to do with “theatrics”? I’m reading that churches are struggling with the theatrical phenomenon of music which depresses singing participation. The early church fathers (like Cyprian) warned against such theatrics. Eusebius of Caesarea in his commentary on the Psalms reflects a widely, if not universal view in the early church its negative view of instruments. Of course, there have been many suggestions of why there was such a negative attitude, as you are well acquainted.

  2. Dwight Says:

    David wrote and sang the psalms, so is there any scripture that links them to the Temple and Temple worship? I don’t know of any.
    They were songs of worship to God in any and all context, many of them were personal in context (see lamenting over his sin of Bathsheba), etc.
    If they did sing songs, they would have as Jews sang the psalms, after all these were the words of David a prophet.
    As noted, the early church assemblies looked not like the Temple, but the Passover feast as done in the home, so the regulations of the Temple were not only done away with, but never existed in the home, thus allowing what one would do in the feast into the context of the assembly.

    It is thus strange when we speak of “proper theology of the assembly”?
    The purpose of us, we, coming together was to “edify each other. Heb.10:25 and this had nothing to do with “the assembly”, but rather assembling.
    The Lord’s Supper is an example of assembling for this purpose.
    Worship to God doesn’t change whether we are one or ten or 100, except in added people.

    Initially the God commanded only two trumpets for the Temple, but incorporated David’s instruments, thus creating a larger and more complicated footprint. It was perhaps theatrical, knowing David, but dedicated to God.

    Many of the ECF were against anything that appeared Jewish or pagan and sought to create a different culture not Jewish and not pagan, by command, without using any actual commands. Many of them were unabashedly anti-Semitic. IM was one tool to do this with.
    But it is interesting that we can argue that the assembly did not look like the Temple, but the Passover and then come back to argue that Temple worship had nothing to do with theatrics as if it mattered in our worship and assembly, but this is something we do constantly in the church.

  3. Bobby Valentine Says:

    @Charles Stelding as we discussed the other day there is no either or of synagogue vs temple when it comes to influence on the early church.

    A lot of scholarship has gone by since the anti-Jewish world of TDNT.

    That the church “went its own way” seems to be a post first century phenomenon. Richard Bauckham and James Dunn among others have written extensively on this in recent years. See also Jacob Jervell’s essay The Mighty Minority.

    Josephus, Testament of Job, Liddell and Scott , etc are nor quite so sure that about this figurative sense.

    Finally, I do not know of any negative comment about instruments by Christian writers prior to AD 200.

    The arguments of the Fathers are, as far as I know not scriptural. They are 1) anti pagan and 2) anti-Jewish. There was a massive rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the Empire in the wake of the bar Kochba revolt and this certainly is seen in the Fathers for years to come.

    Just some musings as I think on your reply. I always appreciate your input.

  4. Dwight Says:

    Bobby, the “Law of Silence” dictates that silence means that God disapproves of something or else he would have said something, unless we decide He doesn’t disapprove of course.
    This means that even if God says nothing negative about IM, He still can disapprove of IM by not saying anything at all, unless of course we decide that nothing said means that God isn’t making an opinion at all, but this only applies to all things not IM.
    IM is the fulfillment of the Law of Silence.

    God is and was never vague…unless we who know better decide He is and then we must fill in the theological gaps of our choosing, because we know what was so important that He couldn’t say it.

    This is the theological tail wagging the dog.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      @Dwight. I confess that what you just wrote is confusing to me. I’ve never read of the “law of silence” in scripture. And the scriptures are hardly silent about music singing or otherwise.

  5. Dwight Says:

    Bobby, Sorry, I was being wholly facetious and of course you won’t find it in the scriptures, but you will find in our conservative churches. It is a perverted version of A. Campbell’s “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent”. So if the bible doesn’t say something (silence) in the NT, then you can’t do it. Strangely this line of reasoning is reserved for IM and not other things that we do within the silence.
    Or perhaps you were being facetious as well.

  6. Ken Sublett Says:

    Psallo means “plucking with the fingers but never with a plectron” or guitar pick. It is primarily rooted in Apollo (Apollon) who shot arrows into his enemies and shot hymns into his friends. Psallo always names an instrument if one is intended.

    You will have noted that the command is to SPEAK the Biblical text. The Speak words based on Logos or the regulative Principle is defined as the opposite of ODE. That is why teaching demands speaking exclusive of Ode or Psallo which never means musical melody.

    The Jacob-cursed and God-abandoned Levites made noise to “make the lambs dumb before the slaughter.” Those not abandoned were quarantined to their local are where the practice was to PREACH the Word (Dabar-Logos) by Reading the Word. You can never stretch any of the Psao (Sop) words to use a guitar pick, blow a pipe or beat on a percussion instrument. No one ever tried to use Psallo before the Disciples-Christians in the year 1878.

    Logos is defined as the Regulative or Governing Principle of God to debunk Hermes-Mercury-Kairos as gods of thieves and liars.

    Too bad people will never dialog.

  7. Dwight Says:

    Did they even have guitar picks back then, as they didn’t have guitars?
    Psallo is related to psalms and thus predates Apollo by many, many years.
    Psallo, Greek is a transliteration of the Hebrew psalms and thus retains its original meaning. Much like baptism is from baptizo and means immersion either way.
    Ezek.33 doesn’t mention “make lambs dumb before the slaughter”, so why is it in quotations? I does talk of people who hear words, but do not do them. It is not condemning speaking or instruments, but lack of doing.
    The testing of our own understanding:
    If your daughter came to you and said she was going to sing to you and pulled out a guitar and started playing and singing, would we instantly condemn her? She obviously doesn’t understand that this is not singing, but rather singing and playing. She obviously lied to you.
    Her statement of one (singing) should, because we have Biblical understanding, exclude the other (instruments).
    Why doesn’t she know this?
    Would we in our understanding of what constitutes singing, which excludes IM, also relate this to everything else on the same level?
    We don’t.
    How can we possibly listen to the radio and say, “this person is singing”, when there are instruments in the background, unless singing or to sing doesn’t exclude IM?
    We are not consistent in our assessment in how we understand things.
    We are told to “work with our hands”, but this doesn’t automatically exclude all other things done with our hands.
    In fact whatever we do in “word or deed” should be in the name of Jesus, thus even playing the guitar in any context is done with Jesus in the oversight.

  8. Duane Says:

    What Dwight said!

  9. Brian Birdow Says:

    Thank you, you have challenged me to read and study more! Excellent article!


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