I recently wrote a blog post titled “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: How Shall We Worship?” As it stands, it garnered a certain amount of attention. After having an in-depth discussion with a fellow brother, I felt the need to share my continued thoughts in blog format. To maintain respect and demonstrate love, I won’t name my brother, though this post will primarily cover some of his objections to the post linked above. If you haven’t read it, I recommend clicking the hyperlink and doing so now before reading on. Perhaps this will help you in a future discussion on the topic.
One of the assertions made was that I merely looked up the etymology of words in the Strong’s Concordance while leaving it at that. If that were true, I would certainly agree with the objection at hand. In fact, D.A. Carson has a full chapter dedicated to such faulty methods of interpretation in his book Exegetical Fallacies. While I absolutely find the meanings of the words to be helpful, my research didn’t end with that. In coming to my position, I spent time cross referencing Scripture, consulted multiple commentaries to include historic biblical culture, read the writings of seventeenth-century scholars (which I’ll quote down below), in addition to utilizing a concordance and Greek lexicon. To imply the method of interpretation is an immature form of Strong’s research simply isn’t true in any sense. There was quite a bit of sound research, utilizing the same methods of certain Particular Baptists, that went into forming my position. That said, please don’t think I’m dismissing those with a differing view or saying they have performed less research because of it. I merely expect the same acknowledgement in return.
Ultimately, it comes down to asking what “psalmos kai hymnos kai ode pneumatikos” really means. Is it three distinct words used in a casual reading of the text or is there a spiritualized/theological meaning behind the phrase? I argue for the former while some argue for the latter. Since I’ve refuted the assertion of me employing the exegetical fallacy of concordance interpretation, it really comes down to seeing who has more evidence for their position and who can asset it in a consistent manner.
In my discussion, the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LBCF) was brought up. It was used to promote sound interpretation methods of those who have gone before us. It was also suggested that the Confession demands finding theological readings in the text, citing paragraphs 1.6 and 1.9 as an example. As a Particular Baptist, I’d like to begin with that as it’s the Confession I subscribe to. As I alluded to above, it was exactly those Particular Baptists who held to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as being three types of songs, and not merely varying titles of the psalms. This can be seen in the purposeful revision to the wording in 22.5 when compared to the Westminster Confession of Faith. At the very least, this demonstrates a historic opposition to the Exclusive Psalmody (EP) position. That said, I’d like to review a couple paragraphs from Chapter 1 that were brought up to refute my position.
Paragraph 1.6 is actually very interesting. While it does say all things necessary for God’s glory, salvation, faith, and life are found in Scripture, it also admits there are some circumstances concerning worship that are left to Christian prudence while still abiding by the rules of the Word. This would very much be in line with the singing of hymns and spiritual songs that aren’t found in Scripture but are deeply rooted in the theology of it.
Paragraph 1.9 is by far the more pertinent of the paragraphs mentioned (though I did enjoy paragraph 6 backing my position). In this paragraph, it gives the basic truth of Scriptura Scripturae interpres. I would agree that we should let Scripture interpret Scripture, and I believe that is exactly what I have done. However, I also admit there are useful tools in interpretation that can further solidify one’s position. This marks the difference between Sola Scriptura and the lame joke of Solo Scriptura. Otherwise, we’d forsake all commentaries, concordances, lexicons, or other writings by uninspired Christian men.
In all of those, I would agree with the statements, feel I have stayed in line with the relevant ones, and have also adhered to a very pertinent line about worship in paragraph 6 that was seemingly missed. While in and of themselves they neither back my position nor the position of my brother in Christ, they also do not condemn either position. They merely set the stage to show that we both have an argument to be made at this point.
Another objection raised was that Scripture has a theological meaning that I must ignore to come to my conclusion. I can’t argue the former, but I do reject the latter. The Old Testament is littered with types and shadows that were revealed in Christ, all the way down to the smallest of details. No student of the Word should ever try to deny that there are many texts with a deeper theological meaning. However, does that mean all things in Scripture are to be spiritualized or read through a theological lens of interpretation, or are some things just as the normal reading of the text would indicate? I argue the latter. Relying solely on a concordance is just as much an exegetical fallacy as it is to spiritualize everything.
Again, while theological intention is indeed a thing in Scripture, we shouldn’t begin there. We should always begin with a plain reading of the text and then look to see if there are any plain and clear theological undertones or parallels. To begin with the theological undertones is in and of itself an exegetical fallacy. Just because something exists doesn’t necessitate that it always be the case. This is where I would disagree with the method employed in the refutation of my initial post. He seemed to imply that all Scripture has an undertone that we must extract instead of simply beginning with the Scripture itself. In fact, I’d argue that there are many facets of interpretation that must precede the assumption that there is an underlying theological parallel, such as literary style, cultural context, plain reading of the text, etc. His method employed is simply putting the cart before the horse if I’m to be blunt.
One area that struck me as interesting was when he used a critical word: possibility. In showing specific passages of Scripture that have clear theological meaning, he said it shows, “the possibility that the phrase contains an intended theological meaning…” I’ll admit it does show the possibility, but I’d also argue there’s enough evidence that also more than justifies the likelihood that psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are three distinct forms of acceptable worship. The opposing evidence is through assumed theological meaning, coupled with the fact that some of the psalms contain hymnos and ode in their titles. One must then find nonassociated examples of theological meaning to demonstrate that the possibility of such interpretation does exist. To me, it seems like a backwards method of interpretation that isn’t rooted in the historical method claimed earlier. On the contrary, my evidence consists of a casual reading, etymology, uses of the words in pagan culture of that era, historic arguments in favor of the position, and even the backing of the very Confession that both my refuter and I clearly hold dear. Add to that the fact that EP necessitates the incorporation of uninspired music, or even the use of metrical psalms which change the entire wording and structure of the inspired psalms, and we’re left with a very inconsistent position.
As I stated above, some of the very people who wrote our Confession held very strongly to the position that EP was not biblical. Benjamin Keach was one such opponent of the position. Part of his argument for hymns and spiritual songs (of which he wrote many for use in corporate worship) is summed up in a great quote:
“Our Sermons are no more made for us in God’s Word than our Hymns are, and we have equal direction in both these weighty cases; and I must tell you, this way of arguing you use is enough, if people did observe it, to overthrow all visible Worship and Ordinances, unless we could make it appear, that we had the immediate extraordinary help of the Spirit in the discharge of them. Away, saith one, with your carnal and human preaching, tis a Form invented and done by Art, will you call this Gospel-preaching? The Apostles spake as they were moved by a mighty Spirit within them; you must preach by immediate Inspiration and not precomposed Sermons, or else your sermons are formal. Thus you open a Door for Quakerism, and throw Stumbling blocks before the weak: I intreat you to consider of it.” — Benjamin Keach
Coming full circle, this puts us back at the very beginning where we see the caveat made within the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Paragraph 6. To recite a portion of it again, “Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”
To add a bit more to the historic aspect, I’d like to close with a quote that goes well beyond our Confession by dating back to the 1500’s. This is an excerpt from John Calvin’s commentary on Colossians 3:16. If this has been a topic of struggle in your life, may this post, coupled with the previous part, be helpful to you as you worship the Lord with reverence and adoration.
“Psalms, hymns. He does not restrict the word of Christ to these particular departments, but rather intimates that all our communications should be adapted to edification, that even those which tend to hilarity may have no empty savor. “Leave to unbelievers that foolish delight which they take from ludicrous and frivolous jests and witticisms; 453 and let your communications, not merely those that are grave, but those also that are joyful and exhilarating, contain something profitable. In place of their obscene, or at least barely modest and decent, songs, it becomes you to make use of hymns and songs that sound forth God’s praise.” Farther, under these three terms he includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way — that a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles. For this has a connection with his argument. The clause, in grace, Chrysostom explains in different ways. I, however, take it simply, as also afterwards, in Colossians 4:6, where he says, “Let your speech be seasoned with salt, in grace,” that is, by way of a dexterity that may be agreeable, and may please the hearers by its profitableness, so that it may be opposed to buffoonery and similar trifles.” – John Calvin
~ Travis W. Rogers