Is It Okay To Play? (Part 2)

Intro: This morning’s lesson is a conclusion; part 2 of 2. Under the heading of worship, last week we began an investigation of instrumental music in worship. We focused on the use of the instrument in the worship of the OT (the tabernacle, the temple… from Moses to David to the prophets).

  • The Jews utilized musical instruments in their worship, both in the tabernacle and the Temple. The instruments they played, who played them, and when they played them was regulated by God through His revealed words. When they played they were following the commandment of God. It is not difficult to understand why they used instruments. Should we? Do we have such commandments to follow?

Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

  • Luke’s description of the first church at Jerusalem has profound implication, even today. They continued in the apostles’ doctrine. This does not mean that the apostles’ themselves were the legislators for the church, but that the will of Christ was being disseminated in precisely the way Jesus planned and predicted it – through the inspired message given through the apostles. If we are to know what God desires today, we must look to the message of the apostles of Christ, found in scripture. This is the key to holiness and unity among God’s people. In our study of singing in worship, and specifically the use of instruments in worship this principle is crucial.

OT vs NT: it needs to clear that we cannot appeal to the OT scriptures for authority in worship or The Law of Moses was a covenant law to the Jews alone, and has been “nailed to the cross”, as Col. 2:14 states it. Even those who hold to a distinction between the moral and ceremonial aspects of the abrogation of the Law of Moses would have to place the uses of instruments in the Temple worship by the priests (as we viewed this morning) under the ceremonial (abrogated) heading. The existence of instruments in OT worship does not speak to their use in worship today.

  • Can we know what was practiced by the NT church? What does the NT teach about worshipping God in song?

I. The Words and Usages of Music in the New Testament: This morning we viewed the use of instruments in worship in the OT. What do we find in the NT? As we mentioned this morning, the NT does not contain any command for playing instruments in worship, as found in the OT. This silence is prohibitive by nature.

A. There are basically three words that pertain to music, and there are 12 passages that refer to singing in (Albert read 8 for us).

1. ADO-“tosing”–This word is used in Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19 (Also used in another form in the verses in Revelation – Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3)

2. HUMNEO – to hymn” to sing a hymn – used in Heb. 2:12 (OT quote), Mark 14:26, Matt. 26: 30 and Acts 16:25

3. PSALLO – “to pluck, to cause to vibrate, to make melody, to sing” – used Rom. 15:9 (sing), Jas. 5:13 (Sing), 1 Cor 14:15 (sing) and Eph. 5.19 (make melody) – psallo argument? – no inherent subject for the verb. What is it in Eph. 5:19?

B. No mention of playing. First, we remind ourselves that there is no mention of the use of instruments in the NT. There are passages that describe the early Christians praying, observing the Lord’s supper, fellowshipping by giving into a common treasury, teaching the word, and singing. But where is the example of Christians playing an instrument in worship to God? What we find is silence.

1. How are we to interpret this silence? Was the playing assumed by the apostles and thus not stated? Or does it mean that the instrument was not included in apostolic instruction, and did not exist in the apostolic church?

II. The Historical Evidence: There are historical facts that give evidence to how we should interpret this silence.

A. The practice in the Jewish synagogue. The origin of the synagogue can be traced back to the time of the captivity of Israel, and their removal from the land of Judea. Desiring to commune and know the law the Jews met together to read and hear the law. They prayed and sang together. It was distinct from the temple worship that was officiated by the priests in Jerusalem. A synagogue in every city by Jesus’ day. Paul wrote in Acts 15:21 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

1. The historical evidence is clear that there were no instruments used in the synagogue. Even though the worship of the Temple included them, the synagogue did not.

B. The early church did not use instruments of music. Looking beyond the scriptures themselves to the historical record of the early church provides a uniform picture of acapella singing. (the word acapella comes from a old English term that means the “as in the chapel, or church”)

1. Religious historians almost unanimously agree that the music of the early church was vocal.

a. “There can be no doubt that originally the music of the divine service was everywhere entirely of a vocal nature.” – Emil Nauman, THE HISTORY OF MUSIC, Vol. 1, p.177

b. “We have no real knowledge of the exact character of the music which formed a part of the religious devotion of the first Christian congregations. It was, however, purely vocal.” – Dr.Frederick Louis Ritter, HISTORY OF MUSIC FROM THE CHRISTIAN ERA TO THE PRESENTTIME, p.28

c. “Both the Jews in their temple service, and the Greeks in their idol worship, were accustomed to sing with the accompaniment of instrumental music. The converts to Christianity accordingly must have been familiar with this mode of singing … But it is generally admitted, that the primitive Christians employed no instrumental music in their worship.” — Lyman Coleman (Presbyterian), THE APOSTOLIC AND PRIMITIVE CHURCH, pp.368-369

2. The church fathers (those uninspired writers who lived just after the apostolic period) condemned the use of instruments. The second century and the centuries following provide a uniform testimony to vocal singing without the use of any musical instruments. The unaccompanied human voice became the norm for Christian worship following the death of the apostles. James McKinnon states, “The antagonism which the Fathers of the early Church displayed toward instruments has two outstanding characteristics: vehemence and uniformity.” Girardeau writes, “Instrumental music had no place in the early Christian churches.” Edmund S. Lorenz writes in Church Music that in regard to the singing of the early church, “there was no instrumental accompaniment.”

a. Consider some testimony from these early disciples:

1) Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165) was the leading apologist of the early church in the face of intense Roman persecution. His defense of Christianity ultimately lead to his martyrdom. Concerning the distinction between Old and New Covenant worship, Martyr wrote about A.D. 140, “The use of singing with instrumental music was not received in the Christian churches as it was among the Jews in their infant state, but only the use of plain song.” Plain song refers to singing with the voice unaccompanied by musical instruments. Martyr also writes, “Musical organs pertain to the Jewish ceremonies and agree no more to us than circumcision.”

2) Clement of Alexandria (I50-ca. 215), an apologist of the early church, based his objection to musical instruments upon their association with idolatry and immorality. “Leave the pipe to the shepherd, the flute to the men who are in fear of gods and are intent on their idol- worshiping. Such musical instruments must be excluded from our wineless feasts… ” Clement believed that the instruments of the Old Testament were now replaced by the instruments of the human body, “‘Praise Him with harp,’ for the tongue is a harp of the Lord; ‘and with the lute, praise Him,’ understanding the mouth as a lute moved by the Spirit…

3. The historical evidence of unaccompanied singing in both the Jewish synagogue before the apostles and the church of the second century after the apostles provides the most powerful evidence in interpreting the silence of the New Testament. How can it possibly be assumed that musical instruments existed in the apostolic church when they were absent from the periods immediately prior and following?

a. This means that, by these historical facts, the silence of the New Testament must be interpreted to mean that musical instruments did not exist in the early churches. Those who hold to the regulative principle of worship believe that the church today should follow the apostolic model, don’t we? Under whose authority do we bring them into the church today?

b. There is certainly no evidence that Jesus ever worshiped with an instrument. He prayed, taught, read scripture, sang hymns, observed the Jewish feasts, etc. But he never worshiped with an instrument. Having seen the absence of the instrument in the synagogue and the Temple, did He leave a command to his church to depart from that order, and introduce instrumental music into its worship? He did not; and the defect of such a command is sufficient to settle the question of the meaning of silence here.

4. Even more modern commentators and theologians from religious bodies that use instruments have voiced their objection to their use. The convictions of men do not constitute authority of us. Never have. But many religious people simply assume that instruments have always been used, always been accepted in worship. Such is not the case…

a. PRESBYTERIAN – “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to Him.” – JOHN CALVIN, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. I, p.539

b. METHODIST – “I have no objection to instruments of music, in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.” – JOHN WESLEY

c. METHODIST – “Music as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity.” – ADAM CLARKE(commentator)

d. LUTHERAN – “Martin Luther called the organ an ensign of Baal’.” – MCCLINTOCK & STRONG’S ENCYCLOPEDIA

e. BAPTIST – “I would as soon attempt to pray to God with machinery as to sing to Him with machinery.” – CHARLES H. SPURGEON

1) Why did these men object so strongly to instrumental music in the worship of the church? Because they properly realized that there was no NT authority for its use, and it was a carry over from the law of Moses.

2) They also recognized that as such it was out of harmony with the SPIRITUAL nature of NT worship. That it rightfully belonged to the Old Law with its “shadows” and not the TRUE worship of the NT


The regulative principle of worship applies to musical instruments just as it does to every other aspect of God’s worship. We have seen from the Old Testament Scripture that God has established His authority over musical instruments in public worship. This principle has been clearly set forth by explicit divine commands through which alone musical instruments were introduced into worship; by numerous examples of the men of God looking only to His command for their use in worship. God has not given men the liberty to introduce elements into His worship.

When we come to the New Testament, we see that the Temple worship in all of its outward ceremonies and rituals is completely fulfilled and removed by the coming of Christ. We can no longer look to the ceremonies or rituals of the Temple for any of the elements of worship in the church. We must look to Christ and His apostles in the New Testament Scripture alone.

We have seen the evidence of the historical record – the apostolic church did not use instruments. Men of the scripture have vehemently opposed their use for centuries, as they were not authorized by God.

The issue before us is simple.

  • Will we respect the authority of the scriptures alone? 1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, his speech should be like the oracles of God;

Will we leave this issue where God has left it, or will we add our own thoughts to His Word? Does it matter? – 2 John 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.

Are you a Christian? Where would you go to find out? The scriptures alone. He that believes and is baptized will be saved. – Mark16:16

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