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Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs?

We have two similar questions regarding Psalm singing for this issue. One asks: "Have you any strong evidence that the 'Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs of Colossians all refer to Psalms? I am sure they do as to my knowledge there were no hymns at that time." The other asks: "In the church I attend we use a hymn book. I believe that in your church only Psalms are sung. Do you not think that Ephesians 5:19 authorizes the singing of songs of worship other than just Psalms? Incidentally, I attend a ... church which uses the old Elim Redemption Hymnal - a Calvinistic Church with a largely Arminian hymn book."

The second question is interesting because it spotlights one of the problems with the singing of man-made hymns. Many of these hymns are Arminian or worse and thus heresy, as the saying goes, is sung into the church.

We would point out, too, that those who defend man-made hymns, while using the verses from Ephesians and Colossians to prove their point, really pay very little attention to these verses. One would expect, on the basis of those passages that approximately one third of the songs sung in their churches would be Psalms. In fact, this is almost never the case. With the exception of Psalms 23 and 100 these churches usually sing almost no Psalms at all. Indeed, it is difficult if not impossible to introduce the singing of even one Psalm per service in such churches.

Such, however, are not principle objections to hymns, since there are Calvinistic hymns - hymns that contain no doctrinal error. The case for Psalm singing rests on much stronger ground.

Let us note, first, that these words, "psalms, hymns, spiritual songs," all refer to the Psalms in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT and the version that is usually quoted in the NT. In it, 67 Psalms are called "psalms," 34 are called "songs," and 6 are called "hymns." Thirteen have the double title, "psalm and song," three have the double title, "psalm and hymn," and one (Ps. 76) has all three terms in its title.

Second, the other references to "hymns" in the NT (Matt. 26:30 and Mk. 14:26) do not refer to human compositions but to the so-called "hallel" or praise Psalms that were sung during and after the Passover (Psalms 113-118).

Third, Colossians 3:16 tells us that it by the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs that we let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. It is difficult to see how this can refer to anything but the Scriptures themselves.

We would add that the Psalms are in a unique sense the word of Christ in that He Himself speaks in them (cf. especially but not exclusively Ps. 22, 40, 69, also I Pet. 1:10-11). Indeed, Christ often "borrowed" the words of the Psalms as His own. How much more profitable to sing the words of Christ than the words of men, however, beautiful they may be!

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 6
  • Issue: 5
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017


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