Archive for the ‘Exclusive Psalmody’ Category

Just Psalms? How about Ephesians and Colossians?

January 19, 2015

From time to time, people ask me about why Christians might sing only Psalms in the worship of God. One of the more understandable arguments they sometimes present is an appeal to one or both of these verses:

Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

My response to them on this is that we need to look at how the terms Paul uses would have been understood to people in a 1st century context. In that context, there was no “Trinity Hymnal” nor any “Praise Song” transparencies or the like. So, Paul wasn’t speaking about three different sources, i.e. the Psalter, the Hymnal, and the Praise Songs licensed by CCLI.

What was Paul referring to? He was referring to the Psalter. This may seem surprising, because we have so closely associated the term “Psalm” with the book of Psalms, whereas we have associated the word “Hymn” with songs that aren’t in the Psalter.

Nevertheless, the terms translated “psalms,” “hymns,” and “songs” are three of the four words commonly used in the Septuagint titles of the Psalms. Specifically: ψαλμοσ (Psalm)(66 times), συνεσεοσ/συνοισ (understanding or wisdom)(13 times), υμνοισ (hymn)(6 times), and ωδη/ωδησ (song or ode)(36 times). (see more detailed analysis here)

Mariolatry Exemplified

December 17, 2009

Steve Hays (and others) have already pointed out a Roman Catholic Psalter to Mary (link to Steve Hays’ post)(link to “psalter”). I’m not sure the depth of the blasphemy involved is fully appreciated by most readers. In the following post, I will give both some high level information as well as a specific example, so that it can be seen just how idolatrous this “Psalter” is.

I. High Level Comparison

Here are a few things to note: the psalter numbers the “psalms” 1-150, including multiple parts for the number corresponding to Psalm 119, as well as additional “canticles” designed to imitate various extra-psalter songs in Scripture. Not content with parodying (that’s not really the right word, is it) Scripture, the “psalter” even comes up with a Marian version of the “Te Deum” (an ancient song attributed to Ambrose) and a Marian “creed” imitative of the Athanasian creed. It is not too extreme to say that if you wanted to worship Mary in the same way you worship God, this is how you would go about it.

II. Detailed Comparison By An Example

It is not simply a matter of copying the number of the psalms in the Psalter, but even the content of the Psalms is converted from worship of the LORD to worship of the Lady. Here’s one example. First, the Psalm section (Schin from Psalm 119/118):

Psalm 119:161-168 (SCHIN)
Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.
I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.
I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love.
Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.
Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
LORD, I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments.
My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly.
I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.

I’ve broken off the Psalm there, because it is the natural breaking point for that particular Psalm, based on the spelling of the first word of each line. In fact, as we’ll note below, the author of the Marian “psalm” actually continues on a few verses further.

Below you will find the Marian version (designated Psalm 118J in the translation at this source). I’ve provided footnotes to assist the reader in further identifying how closely the “psalm” imitates the divinely inspired psalm.

Marian “Psalm” 118J
Princes have persecuted me without cause [FN1]: and the wicked spirit fears the invocation of thy name [FN2].
There is much peace to them that keep thy name [FN3], O Mother of God: and to them there is no stumbling-block [FN4].
At the seven hours I have sung praises to thee, O Lady [FN6]: according to thy word give me understanding [FN7].
Let my prayer come into thy sight [FN8], that I may not forsake thee, O Lady, all the days of my life[FN9]: for thy ways are mercy and truth [FN10].
I will long forever to praise thee, O Lady [FN11]: when thou shalt have taught me thy justifications [FN12].
Glory be to the Father, etc.

[FN1] Direct copy of Psalm 119:161.
[FN2] Seeming allusion to Deuteronomy 28:10 (Douay-Rheims Version) And all the people of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is invocated upon thee, and they shall fear thee. It would seem ironic as an adaptation of the remainder of Psalm 119:161.
[FN3] Adaptation of Psalm 119:165.
[FN4] The fact that this whole line is adapted from Psalm 119:165 becomes more apparent when one looks at the Douay-Rheims version of this verse: Psalm 119:165 (Douay-Rheims Version) Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling-block.
[FN6] Adaptation of Psalm 119:164.
[FN7] Direct copy from second half of Psalm 119:169 (Douay-Rheims Version) Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in thy sight: give me understanding according to thy word.
[FN8] Adaptation from the first half of Psalm 119:69 (see FN7).
[FN9] The allusion here is not clear, perhaps: Isaiah 38:20 (Douay-Rheims Version) O Lord, save me, and we will sing our psalms all the days of our life in the house of the Lord. or
[FN10] Apparent allusion to Psalm 25:10 (Douay-Rheims Version) All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, to them that seek after his covenant and his testimonies.
[FN11] Note FN12, but praising God forever may be found in various psalms. One example is Psalm 30:12 (Douay-Rheims Version, where it is numbered as verse 13) To the end that my glory may sing to thee, and I may not regret: O Lord my God, I will give praise to thee for ever.
[FN12] Adaptation from Psalm 119:171 (Douay-Rheims Version) My lips shall utter a hymn, when thou shalt teach me thy justifications.

For the reader’s convenience, here is the Douay-Rheims version of the paraphrase/parodied/imitated portion in its entirety.

Psalm 119:161-171 (Douay-Rheims Version)
161 Princes have persecuted me without cause: and my heart hath been in awe of thy words.
162 I will rejoice at thy words, as one that hath found great spoil.
163 I have hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved thy law.
164 Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgments of thy justice.
165 Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling. block.
166 I looked for thy salvation, O Lord: and I loved thy commandments.
167 My soul hath kept thy testimonies and hath loved them exceedingly.
168 I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies: because all my ways are in thy sight.
169 Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in thy sight: give me understanding according to thy word.
170 Let my request come in before thee; deliver thou me according to thy word.
171 My lips shall utter a hymn, when thou shalt teach me thy justifications.

(I should point out that this sort of thing is a great example of why Calvin and the Puritans wanted to avoid hymns of human composition – while I should also point out that the abuse of human composition, as here, doesn’t prove that the whole category of human composition is bad.)

– TurretinFan

Athanasius Praising the Psalms

September 21, 2009

The man who was God’s instrument to bring me to faith in Christ recently brought to my attention a letter from Athanasius. The letter is Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus. If it were not in the form of a letter, I’d be tempted to call it has work “In Praise of the Psalms.” Here are some excepts that I found particularly interesting:

Briefly, then, if indeed any more is needed to drive home the point, the whole divine Scripture is the teacher of virtue and true faith, but the Psalter gives a picture of the spiritual life. And, just as one who draws near to an earthly king observes the formalities in regard to dress and bearing and the correct forms of words lest, transgressing in these matters, he be deemed a boor, so he who seeks to live the good life and learn about the Saviour’s conduct in the body is by the reading of this holy book first put in mind of his own soul’s condition and then supplied with fit words for a suppliant’s use.

– Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus

Isn’t it nice how Athanasius manages to work in a reference to the unique teaching role of Scriptures in his letter? It is hard for him to talk about his sole rule of faith and consequently we see it bursting forth, even though the subject matter at hand does not really require it. Isn’t it also nice how, in effect, he works in the concept of the regulative principle, reminding his readers that we should learn from the Scriptures how God wishes to be worshiped? After all, the regulative principle of worship is the other side of the coin of Sola Scriptura.

Yet Athanasius is not content simply with praising the Psalms. Athanasius seems to have been one who would not have been fond of Watts’ attempted improvements of the Psalms, just as doubtless he would have been opposed to the modern tendency to derogate the Psalms to a relatively minor role in worship:

There is, however, one word of warning needed. No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too. For as the saints’ lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail, provided only they be uttered from a righteous heart. For with these words they themselves pleased God, and in uttering them, as the Apostle says, they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, women received their dead by resurrection. [Heb 11:33-36]

– Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus

For those interested in reading more, including some very exact suggestions as to which Psalms are particularly fitting for various occasions, see the following link (link).

To the Glory of God, whose mercies endure forever and whose grace never fails (Psalm 136),


Reformed Worship – Resources

May 26, 2009

One important aspect of the Reformation was the reformation of worship, a recognition that God wishes to be worshiped according to the patten that he himself has laid out in Scripture rather than according to the imaginations of men. I was pleased to find a web site that is promoting this worship of God and providing a range of resources for metrical Psalm-singing. Already there are number of mp3s that can be listened to, and apparently there is much more to come. (link)

One of my favorites.

To the glory of our Great God and King!


Explanations of Psalmody’s Decline

October 22, 2008

Jonathan Moersch at Detergere has provided an interesting, if cursory, discussion on the causes of the sad decline among American Evangelicals in the singing of the divinely inspired Psalms. (link)

H.T. to R. Scott Clark for pointing this out to me (link).


Calvin on the Psalms

October 15, 2008

I found an interesting jewel from Calvin on the Psalms at Adiophora(link) I’d love to follow my usual path here, and quote something similar from John Wesley, but of course Wesley was one of the main promoters of “Protestant” abandonment of Psalmody. Still, even Wesley wrote:

WE have now before us one of the choicest parts of the Old Testament, wherein there is so much of Christ and his gospel, as well as of God and his law, that it has been called the summary of both Testaments. The history of Israel; which we were long upon, instructed us in the knowledge of God. The book of Job gave us profitable disputations, concerning God and his providence. But this book brings us into the sanctuary, draws us off from converse with men, with the philosophers or disputers of this world, and directs us into communion with God. It is called, the Psalms, in Hebrew Tehillim, which properly signifies Psalms of praise, because many of them are such; but Psalms is a more general word, meaning all poetical compositions, fitted to be sung. St. Peter styles it, The book of Psalms. It is a collection of Psalms, of all the Psalms that were divinely inspired, composed at several times, on several occasions, and here put together, without any dependence on each other. Thus they were preserved from being scattered and lost, and kept in readiness for the service of the church. One of these is expressly said to be the prayer of Moses. That some of them were penned by Asaph, is intimated, 2 Chron. xxix, 30, where they are said to praise the Lord, in the words of David and Asaph, who is there called a seer or prophet. And some of the Psalms seem to have been penned long after, at the time of the captivity in Babylon. But the far greater part were wrote by David, who was raised up for establishing the ordinance of singing Psalms in the church of God, as Moses and Aaron were for settling the ordinance of sacrifice. Theirs indeed is superseded, but this will remain, ’till it be swallowed up in the songs of eternity. There is little in the book of Psalms of the ceremonial law. But the moral law is all along magnified, and made honourable. And Christ the foundation, corner and top-stone of all religion, is here clearly spoken of; both his sufferings, with the glory that should follow, and the, kingdom he would set up in the world.

– John Wesley, “Introduction to the Psalms,” from his Commentary on the Whole Bible.

H.T. to R. Scott Clark at the Heidelblog for bringing the Calvin selection to my attention.


Reductio Argument for Psalmody

September 20, 2008

Jason Robertson at Fide-O has provided what he belives is the “greatest argument for psalmody only.” (link) As much as I am happy for arguments for the Regulative Principle of Worship, I think what makes these videos so glaringly bad is their violation of the third rather than that second commandment: their irreverent and even absurd tone (as well as some bad theology mixed in).

As much as I desire my brethren to be united in the singing of the inspired songs, these sort of reductio arguments have limited value, since we would not prohibit alcohol simply because of a few videos of men doing foolish things while drunk. Even so, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to take refuge in exclusive psalmody simply because of the abuses of the “normative principle” illustrated in these videos.


Bentlism vs. Exclusive Psalmody

August 3, 2008

I ran across this post (link) which provides a useful pair of videos. If you are not already sick to death of Bentley’s demonic anti-Christian “revival,” you may want to watch the first clip in its entirety (especially the reminder at the end). Otherwise, for the point I am making, you need only to watch the first minute or so of each. The post is provided by the blog titled (in this case somewhat unexpectedly) Let My People Read, by someone who is more charismatic (in both senses) than I am.

Now, for the comparison, watch the video embedded in this post (link).

One form of worship shows us the imitation of the world: the other shows the transformation of the world. One video shows man-made worship: the other inspired worship. One is the logical conclusion of strange-fire innovations in worship: the other a restoration of Orthopraxy.

Thankfully most folks who reject the Regulative Principle of Worship (or who consider the lyrics of praise merely an element) do not take it to this absurd logical conclusion.


P.S. It’s worth noting that the Psalms are still sung in “Orthodox” churches, normally (if not always) as the Apostles would have done in the synagogues, a capella. There have been some innovative additions in the song of EO worship as well (various Troparia, for example), but less addition is found there (in that regard) than one finds in a typical church that has innovated more freely. A post today by the Romanian Orthodox poster, Lvka provides some examples: (link – there may be some objectionable icons in some of the still images that accompany the audio in the clips Lvka has embedded).

Exclusive Psalmody Resources

June 29, 2008

Jonathan Mattul at Presbyterian Pastures has republished a letter from Pastor Rob McCurley that provides a useful guide to some excellent resources on the issue of Exclusive Psalmody. (link)

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