Exclusive Psalmody and the Interpretation of Scripture

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Puritan Board Junior

In observing the discussions that go on concerning the topic of Exclusive Psalmody the emphasis on both sides (at least from a Reformed perspective) is that of the Regulative Principle of Worship. But what appears to me is that what is really being debated is the interpretation of certain passages in the Scriptures.

Therefore, instead of discussing the application of the Regulative Principle of Worship, I would like to take a different track. To discuss the interpretation of various passages in Scripture concerning Exclusive Psalmody to see if such an understanding is Biblical. In order to do this we all need to be on the same page concerning the principles of the interpretation of Scripture. Thus, I would ask all who would respond here to submit to the Westminster Confession (or London Baptist Confession) which says:

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly, 1:9.
Thus, the question is posed to both EP and Non-EP'ers alike - How do you define your understanding of the passages in question from the Scriptures?

Ephesians 5:19: Speaking to yourselves in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

How does the Bible define the bold above? Psalms? Hymns? and Spiritual Songs?

I think that we all would agree that the word "Psalms" means the Book of Psalms? Those who may disagree will have to explain why such is not the case.

The heart of the matter is this word found in the Scriptures called "Hymns." How does the Bible define the word?

I will put forth one argument that I believe is compelling concerning the interpretation of this word, "Hymns."

In the Greek the word that Paul uses here, and in Colossians 3:16, is the word "ὕμνοις" transliterated "humnois." The word is used in the New Testament in only two passages - here in Ephesians, and there in Colossians. So we are at an impasse concerning the interpretation of the passage.

(In Mt 26:30 and Mark 14:26 the verb form is used "ὑμνήσαντες" hymnesantes in which all commentators - EP and non-EP alike - claim that Jesus and His disciples were singing exclusively from the Psalter - what is called the "Egyptian Hallel" - Psalms 113-118.)

We can, however, look at how the word, "ὕμνοις" is used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Septuagint, or, LXX). In doing so, we can come to an understanding of how the Hebrew words were commonly understood by those who translated them into Greek.

There are 18 uses of the word "ὕμνοις" in the Greek translation of the LXX. Sixteen of them are found in the Psalms. A sampling of them would be:

2 Ch 7:6, ...ἔλεος αὐτοῦ ἐν ὕμνοις Δαυιδ... "mercy of Him in the hymns of David..."

Here we find that the Church was singing exclusively the hymns that David wrote.

Neh 12:46, ...ᾀδόντων καὶ ὕμνον καὶ αἴνεσιν τῷ θεῷ... "sing a hymn of praise to God..."

They sang "hymns of praise to God" given to them by David and Asaph.

Ps 39:4, ...καινόν ὕμνον τῷ θεῷ... "a new hymn to God."

This is often interpreted in an eschatological sense - that is - that these "new hymns" are the new songs sung by the Church today - "Amazing Grace", "And Can It Be", etc... However, the accusative singular found here, as well as the context, lends the interpretation of the phrase "new hymn" to be the Psalm itself. That is, what the Psalmist is singing is the "new song/hymn." This is evident in the other uses of "new song" so I will pass on from here.

Ps 71:20, ἐξέλιπον οἱ ὕμνοι Δαυιδ τοῦ υἱοῦ Ιεσσαι, "this ends the hymns of David the son of Jesse."

The Psalter here is referred to as the "hymns of David."

Ps 75:1, εἰς τὸ τέλος ἐν ὕμνοις ψαλμὸς τῷ Ασαφ ᾠδὴ πρὸς τὸν Ἀσσύριον, "in the end the hymns, psalms of Asaph songs with the (harp?)"

Here we have all three classifications that Paul uses in Ephesians and Colossians - "hymns, psalms, and songs (odes)." The three terms here specifically refer to the Psalter.

Is 42:10, ὑμνήσατε τῷ κυρίῳ ὕμνον καινόν ἡ ἀρχὴ αὐτοῦ δοξάζετε τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἀπ᾽ ἄκρου τῆς γῆς... "Sing to the Lord a new hymn in the beginning of Him and Praise the name of Him to the ends of the earth..."

Here is an eschatological reference wherein Isaiah is foreseeing the Gentiles will sing the praises of God just as the Israelites. The Gentiles will come into the same salvation as the Jews, vs 6, then they will also posses the same songs, vs 10. It is a new thing for the Gentiles to do so, because the oracles of God were given only to Israel, and, the "new hymns" were also the peculiar treasure of the Jews. However, in the New Testament the praise of God is opened up to the Gentiles, and now they partake of the praises of God in the Psalter. Before, the Jews were unable to sing God's praise in a strange land, Ps 137:2-4. But, now, in the New Testament, the songs of Holy praise and joy will be sung to the ends of the earth.

I find there are interpretative difficulties in trying to understand the term "hymns" as used by Paul in his epistles to mean anything other than the Psalms of David. One could even look at 1 Corinthians 14:26 and see that "hymns" and "songs" are included in the word "Psalm."

The challenge, then, is for the non-EP group to come up with an interpretation of the passages in question without assuming the modern day understanding of the term "hymn." But, instead, showing that the 1st Century Christians understood the term as not being the Psalter.

I look forward to an interesting discussion.


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