Discussion in 'Music' started by Ryan&Amber2013, Apr 2, 2018.

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  1. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    The Greek word "psallo" strictly means to twitch, twang, then, to play a stringed instrument. Why is it translated as "sing" when there is a Greek word for that "ado"? Shouldn't it always say something like "make music"? So confusing. Thank you!
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
  2. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    What's your source for this? I find it unlikely that a word should be restricted to one or even a few English translations. If there was anything I learned in my (admittedly brief) study of Greek, it is that many Greek words have a far broader semantic range than English ones.

    I hope someone with a knowledge of Greek will be able to comment.
  3. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    The word, ψαλλω, has five appearances in the New Testament. I do not see any of them speaking to anything other than the voice: Rom 15:9; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:1; James 5:13.

    The noun form of the word appears seven times, Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33, 1 Cor 14:26; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16.

    While an argument can be made that prior to the New Testament the meaning of the word included musical accompaniment, in the New Testament it seems to me to be used as relates to human singing. A consultation with BDAG appears to confirm the same.

    I think the claim to "strictly means" is a wee bit infelicitous. ;)
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  4. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    That would be incorrect, as Patrick kindly pointed out. It is not restricted to solely those ideas.

    In Greek, ψάλλω is a derivative of ψάω psaō (to rub), which gives us the idea of playing an instrument, however, the word is not restricted to the use of the idea to pull, twitch, or twang (more directly, play with a snap). As Patrick pointed out, its meaning more prominently involves to sing. In that we find the five NT references to mean, "making melody (1), sing (3), sing praises (1)," and Paul uses this idea of making melody with the heart (which one can't pluck or twang). Whenever the NT uses the term, it is always referring to David's Psalms. Such is specifically employed in singing the music of the harp, i.e. used extensively of the LXX for singing David's Psalms. Its variation ψαλμός psalmos comes from striking of musical strings, but is more employed with the idea of singing a psalm or psalms, as in the Psalms of David. It is closely related to another word for "praise" ὑμνέω humnéō; a hymn, meaning to sing a hymn (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26), i.e. a psalm. It can also more broadly mean to praise with a hymn or hymns, to sing hymns to someone, to praise in song, e.g., God (Acts 16:25; Heb. 2:12; Sept.: 2 Chron. 29:30; Isa. 12:4). Though in the NT the idea ψάλλω relates the voice, the OT did not discount this. Since Temple worship included instruments, to pluck and sing were not mutually exclusive. For example, זָמַר (zāmar) "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises [zamar] unto thy name, O most High:" (Psa. 92:1), which means "I, sing, sing praise, make music." Nathaniel Homes says, "These the Hebrews calls Mizmorim, of Zamar to sing." The ψαλμός of Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16 are the inspired Psalms of the Hebrew Canon (Psalm 95:1 and the superscripts in Psalms 3, 4, 5, etc., cf. Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33. Zanchius says that ψαλμὸι, Psalms, are such songs which were sung with other instruments besides the tongue (i.e. the tongue is also considered an instrument in this regard).

    Cuthbert Sydenham (1622-1654) helps with explaining all three words for psalm, hymn and song. My purpose in quoting this extensively is to show his relation to the Hebrew words and use of Psalm as asked in its meaning for the purpose of the thread.

    "That the three Hebrew words, viz. מִזְמוֹר Mizmor, שִׁיר Schir,תְּהִלָּ֗ה Trebillim, to which these three, ψαλμοῖς and ὕμνοις and ᾠδαῖς (Eph. 5:19) fully answer, are used in the Psalms one for another, without distinction. And sometimes two of them joined together as the title of one Psalm. Sometimes all three are joined together in one title. We could heap examples in this kind. In Judges 5:3 Deborah says, אָנֹכִ֣י אָשִׁ֔ירָה אֲזַמֵּ֕ר לַֽיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ “I will sing, I will sing unto the Lord.” It is translated by the Greek translation of the Hebrew in the Septuagint (i.e. the LXX), ἐγώ εἰμι ᾄσομαι ψαλῶ τῷ κυρίῳ τῷ θεῷ Ισραηλ. Here is two words. The one used for a Psalm, the other for an ode or song put to express one act. In 1 Chronicles 16:9, the two same words are translated thus in the LXX, ᾄσατε αὐτῷ καὶ ὑμνήσατε αὐτῷ, “Sing unto the Lord, sing an Hymn unto the Lord.” In Psa. 105:3, which is the same Psalm, only inserted into the body of the Book of Psalms, the former word שִֽׁירוּ־ל֭וֹ is rendered by ψάλατε “sing Psalms.” And thus the same words in the same verse are expressed by these two words, yet hold forth one thing. In Isa. 12:5 “sing unto the Lord,” in Hebrew is זַמְּר֣וּ יְהוָ֔ה is rendered ὑμνήσατε in Greek. In the title of Psa. 38:1, the Hebrew Mizmar is rendered by (ode) ᾠδὴ which is here translated “Song.” And in most titles one is used for another without distinction. And שִׁיר Schir, which is most usually rendered by ᾠδὴ “a Song,” yet is also rendered by ψαλμός “a Psalm,” in Psa. 45:1 and Psa. 47:1. And by ὕμνον, “a Hymn,” in Isa. 42:10. As for the other word Tehillum, it comprehends fully both hymns and songs. It is the general title of the Book of Psalms, where their variety are contained. And as some particular psalms are called Greek hymns or odes according to the two former words, so this word I put at the top, holding forth the significance of all the rest, and distinguishing the Psalms from all other books of Scripture, as these that know the superscription of that book of Psalms understands. It signifies the most universal and full way of praising God, especially by singing, and it is expressed by various words, ἔπαινον (Eph. 1:12) “to praise,” or its use “to command or set forth the reputation of another;” δοξάζων (Luke 18:43) “to glorify or discover the glory of another”; εὐλογίαν (Rev. 5:12) “to bless,” with many other expressions. So in particular ὑψώσω (Psa. 145:1) “I will extol thee”, but most especially in this last word תְּהִלָּ֤ה which is a word for all Psalms expressed by the Greek ὕμνος “a Hymn,” as 2 Chron. 7:6, 23:13, Psa. 39:4, 2 Chron. 29:30, Psa. 21:13, 64:1, and 99:3, where the one word is translated by the other.
    For their conjunction of each of them together in one title of a Psalm is very usual and often inverted: The title of Psa. 29:1 in Hebrew is מִזְמ֗וֹר לְדָ֫וִ֥ד Mizmor Schir. In the Greek translation ψαλμὸς ᾠδῆς “a Psalm of a Song,” or “a Song and a Psalm.” So also see Psa. 64:1 and 47:1 and 86:1. But in Psa. 65:1, the title is לְדָוִ֥ד שִֽׁיר and translated εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ, “Song of a Psalm,” or “a Song and Psalm.” See also the same in Psa. 82:1. But the title of Psa. 75, the LXX Greek interpreters (from whom these words are borrowed in the New Testament) add all the three together. εἰς τὸ τέλος ἐν ὕμνοις ψαλμὸς τῷ Ασαφ ᾠδὴ πρὸς τὸν Ἀσσύριον (Psa. 75:1), “A Psalm to Asaph in or with Hymns; a Song to the Assyrians."" (The Puritan on Exclusive Psalmody, p. 158)
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
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  5. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    Thank you for the detailed reply. In the book "Singing and Making Music" by Paul Jones, he says in Friberg's lexicon that the word strictly meant "to strike the strings of an instrument." Vine's says "primarily" used this way. I read that the word meant this only in ancient Greek, but then evolved to take on more aspects such as singing, in the time of Christ. Basically the word evolved. Is this true? Thank you!
  6. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    So how does this work? The proper definition always stayed the same, but we can tell by the context of the NT that it became more broad in meaning? Thank you!
  7. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    @Ryan&Amber2013, I just wanted to point out one little piece of the puzzle that could help things come together for you. It's that words are not solely, or even primarily defined by their etymologies, but rather by their usage. Think of the word hotdog--does its etymology tell you anything about what people eat when they have a hotdog at a baseball game? Of course not! It's the usage that counts, primarily.

    Actually, limiting a word's definition to its etymology is a recognized fallacy, known (conveniently) as the etymological fallacy. Wikipedia defines the etymological fallacy as "a genetic fallacy that holds that the present-day meaning of a word or phrase should necessarily be similar to its historical meaning."
  8. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks so much! That is very helpful.
  9. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    That quote seems confusing to me. Since the NT Greek use of the word restricts itself in its translated form, as Patrick commented, on vocal singing, (i.e. in the heart for example), to say the Greek word psalmos, "strictly means to strike the strings of an instrument" is off kilter. In other words, Mr. Jones cited only part of what Friberg said and "restricted" the idea too much. Quoting Friberg, "ψάλλω, "strictly strike the strings of an instrument; hence sing to the accompaniment of a harp; in the NT sing praises." It seems he did the same thing with Vine's quoting only the OT use.

    In the NT it does not "strictly mean" strike the strings of an instrument, unless one wants to press the idea into the vocal cords or ability to sing with skill. It would have included that in the OT, but also would have included singing. In the NT it is restricted in its use to singing.

    (None of the other Greek Lexicons and such use the idea of "strictly meaning" for the word - and you can check Louw-Nida, Thayer, Moulton, Gingrich and others).
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
  10. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    I am not following what you mean by "the proper definition". What is the proper definition in your opinion? Seems to me the posts by Rev. McMahon were very illuminating when it comes to "the definition" of Greek words.
  11. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    The history of the Greek language extends back about fifteen centuries before Christ. The era called the “classical” period was from around 900 B.C. (the time of Homer) to the conquests of Alexander the Great (c. 330 B.C.). During this time psallocarried the basic sense of “to touch sharply, to move by touching, to pull, twitch” (Liddell, p. 1841). Note these examples:

    • Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), the Greek playwright, used the word of “plucking hair” (Persae, p. 1062).
    • Euripides (480-460 B.C.?), another Greek writer, spoke of “twanging” the bowstring (Bacchae, p. 784).
    • Psallo was used of “twitching” the carpenter’s line so as to leave a mark (Anthologia Palatine, 6.103).
    • Finally, in Plutarch the verb also could convey the sense of “plucking” the strings of an instrument (Pericles 1.6).
    Surely it is obvious that in these various passages the object of what is touched was supplied by the context.

    Languages change over time
    Scholars are aware, however, that languages change with time.

    In 1952, F. F. Bruce wrote: “Words are not static things. They change their meaning with the passage of time” (Vine, 1997, p. vi).

    This concept must be understood if one is to arrive at the meaning of psallo as used in the New Testament.
  12. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Other than literally quoting Mr. Jackson's words to me couched as your response to my question, what is your conclusion of the meaning as it is used in the NT?
  13. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    I'm not too smart when it comes to languages, so I was trying to figure it all out. After learning more it seems that the word started and was defined meaning one thing, and then took on broader meaning. I think this justifies its use as "sing" in the NT. Thank you for the help!
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2018
  14. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    Also- and I don’t know if I’ll express this well, but there is the idea that in using “psallo” with its attachments in history to the idea of playing upon a musical instrument, Paul is expressing something related to the new covenant end of the use of musical instruments in worship. Psallo is the Greek equivalent to zamar in the Hebrew. This plucking upon the strings is now accomplished only “with” or “in” the heart. This may also help in understanding why Paul even uses psallo- he’s not saying “singing and singing to the Lord with your heart” in Ephesians 5:19, he is using “psallo” to express the idea of the making of melody, once accomplished with lyre and cymbals, now accomplished by singing with grace in the heart as expressed in the parallel passage in Colossians 3:16. It’s why the KJV and ESV (maybe others) translate psallo as “making melody.”
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