"Spiritual" - Adjective Modifying Which Nouns?

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De Jager

Puritan Board Sophomore
Good morning,

I have been investigating the warrant for singing Psalms exclusively.

I was listening to a sermon on this topic and the preacher pointed out that in the greek text, the phrase in Ephesians 5:19 is rendered psalms and hymns and songs spiritual.

He pointed out that the adjective "spiritual" could in fact modify all three nouns instead of just "songs" - that the greek grammar allows for this.

I was then reading an article against the EP position, and the author said that the adjective "spiritual" could only modify the word song, because "spiritual" and "song" are both feminine while "Psalms" and "Hymns" are masculine.

I guess my question is...which is it? Can the adjective "spiritual" be taken to modify only "songs", or all three words?


Izaak De Jager


Puritan Board Junior
Hendiatrys - Three words used to describe one thing. If that's the device used it can modify all three. Could be feminine just for sound sake. And in the end, the psalms and hymns and odes in the book of Psalms are Spirit-breathed.

But even if it did only modify the last word, what would it prove? Humneo is used to describe psalm singing in both the OT LXX and NT. Psalmoi is the LXX title for what we call the book of Psalms. Even if you eliminated the word pneumatikais you have to ask if Paul had the psalms in mind when he used these words. Hard to think he wouldn't. Taken from this angle, there's a command to sing the Spirit-breathed songs that fall under psalmois and humois kai odais, whether or not pneumatikais is used with them.
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Staff member
Dr. Bacon does an excellent job discussing this topic of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs on a Podcast William F. Hill use to do. William gave me permission to post it.



Puritan Board Senior
From John Murray in the OPC minority report (although the argument that the psalms, hymns, and songs excludes or does not necessarily refer to uninspired hymns does not depend on this detail of the exegesis): http://www.westminsterconfession.org/worship/song-in-the-public-worship-of-god.php

"The question, of course, arises: why does the word pneumatikos qualify odais and not psalmois and humnois? A reasonable answer to this question is that pneumatikais qualifies all three datives and that its gender (fem.) is due to attraction to the gender of the noun that is closest to it. Another distinct, possibility, made particularly plausible by the omission of the copulative in Colossians 3:16, is that "Spiritual songs" are the genus of which "psalms" and "hymns" are the species. This is the view of Meyer, for example.

On either of these assumptions the psalms, hymns and songs are all "Spiritual" and therefore all inspired by the Holy Spirit. The bearing of this upon the question at issue is perfectly apparent. Uninspired hymns are immediately excluded."

Edit: Also, see Colossian 1:9.
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JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
Also of great relevance is what "spiritual" actually means - for most it just means "relating to spiritual matters" as opposed to about life in general like secular songs.
But is that what it means? B.B. Warfield clearly answered that question over a 100 years ago - it means (from memory) in all but one or two cases "from the Holy Spirit" or in plain terms "inspirited" i.e. at the very least songs taken from Scripture.
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