Vol.XIV No.I Pg.4
March 1977

Instrumental Music

Robert F. Turner

A tract (VOCAL MUSIC AND ITS FRUIT) from Portland, Or., proclaims: "The highest scholarship in the world testifies that the word psalmos (Greek word for "psalm") in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 properly means a song sung with musical accompaniment. So says the eminent Joseph Henry Thayer." He then quotes, NOT THAYER, but Bishop Lightfoot on Col. 3:16. Thayer has quoted Lightfoot (p.637) for his comments on the synonymous character of bunions, psalmos, and ode; and NOT to give the N.T. meaning or use of psalmos. This is a flagrant misuse of Thayer, which must be first charged to the unsigned tract writer, and then to all who use the tract to justify(?) their cause.

Thayer quotes Lightfoot in his discussion of humnos, NOT of psalmos, as the tract would have you believe. In Thayer's discussion of psalmos (p.675) he recognizes the verbal root meaning of "striking, twanging;' shows its association in early Greek literature with striking the chords of a musical instrument, and says, "hence a pious song, a psalm, Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; the phrase echein psalon is used of one who has it in his heart to sing or recite a song of the sort,..."

Thayer, on the verb psallo, shows much the same progression of the word and says, "in the N.T. to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praise of God in song, Jas. 5:13." Now why did not the tract writer use that quotation???

I am reminded of an earlier time when a zealous young man showed me that Thayer said (?) "absolutely to play on a stringed instrument, to play the harp." He didn't know that "absolute" referred to a grammatical usage. Too, Thayer cites only secular writers for such interpretation; and translates Jas. 5:13 "sing." The lexicon of Arndt and Gingrich cites Jas. 5:13 as "absolute" and translates, "sing praise." Moulton and Milligan say of psallo: "properly- 'play on a harp,' but in the N.T. as in Jas. 5: 13, -'sing a hymn. "'(emph. mine, rt)

New Testament translators (K.J., A.S., R.S.V., etc.) seem to have no problem with the words psallo (verb) and psalmos (noun). The first they translate "sing" or "make melody" (Eph. 5:19). The second they translate "psalm" or "Psalms" (of David). This uniformity of scholarship must put great pressure on those who try to authorize instrumental music in N.T. worship with psallo. Else why would they make such bizarre and unscholarly use of Thayer and other lexicographers? It is not to their credit. Perhaps this is why most users of the instruments have long ceased to look for New Testament "authorization."

Psao, the root word, originally meant to pluck or twang, and the object had to be supplied. One psao-ed a hair from the head, or a chalk line. Later it was applied to twanging the strings of a harp; hence, psallo-ing. As such psallo-ing accompanied singing, the noun form (psalmos) came to be applied to such praise songs. Then, as the lexicographers testify, in the N.T. it means, "to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praise of God in song." The object or instrument is not inherent in the verb psallo; but the Holy Spirit supplies one: "making melody with your heart..." (Eph. 5:19). (continued next page)