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Singing in the New Testament

  • Jesus and the apostles sang a hymn prior to going to the Mount of Olives before His betrayal (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26).

  • Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns at midnight in prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25).

  • Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.” (Rom. 15:7-9)

  • Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say? For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified. I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue. ... How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Cor. 14:12-18, 26)

Note: The emphasis of Paul's instructions in 1 Cor. 14 was on the importance that the church be edified by what occurred when the church met, including singing.

  • See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spiritspeaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. 
    (Eph. 5:15-21)


  1. These commands in Eph. 5 were given to individuals ("See that YOU walk..."), forming a miniature pattern for Christian living. The text does not indicate that these instructions to sing were dealing specifically with church assemblies. Church meetings certainly provide a logical time for singing, but Paul's instructions were most definitely not exclusive to congregational assemblies.

  2. Our [individual] singing should be a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

  3. Why does the Spirit use all three terms (psalmshymnsspiritual songs)? Note the definitions of the Greek words, per Strong's Concordance:

    • Psalm—a set piece of music, i.e. A sacred ode (accompanied with the voice, harp or other instrument; a "psalm"); collectively, the book of the Psalms—psalm.

    • Hymn—Apparently from a simpler (obsolete) form of hudeo (to celebrate; probably akin to aido; compare abowt); a "hymn" or religious ode (one of the Psalms)—hymn.

    • Spiritual—From pneuma; non-carnal, i.e. (humanly) ethereal (as opposed to gross), or (daemoniacally) a spirit (concretely), or (divinely) supernatural, regenerate, religious—spiritual.

    • Songs—From aido; a chant or "ode" (the general term for any words sung; while humnos denotes especially a religious metrical composition, and psalmos still more specially, a Hebrew cantillation)—song.

    It is my conclusion that GOD chose to use the three types of songs (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) intentionally, that the definition of these words should carry as much weight as other definitions in Scripture, and that we should not seek to "explain away" GOD's choice of words. Also, I conclude that by the Spirit using the word "psalms," He is including the Jewish psalms, which were often accompanied by—even ordered (by inspiration) to be set to—instruments.

  4. The NKJV translates v19 as "speaking to one another...", however, other translations (including KJV and YLT) read "speaking to yourselves." Regarding this Greek word, Strong's says it means, "alone, herself, himself, itself, own."

    Putting all of this together, I understand the Spirit to be saying that when we sing spiritually-focused songs we are teaching ourselves and thereby fulfilling this command whenever we sing or listen to spiritual music—whether with or without instruments.
  • Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankfulLet the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songssinging with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. 
    (Col. 3:12-17)

Note: Colossians parallels Ephesians closely, and as such, we see the same thing in Col. 3:12-17—these instructions (which include singing) are given in the context of individual Christians' lives, not specifically dealing with congregational meetings.

  • For it was fitting for [Jesus], for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: " I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” 
    (Heb. 2:10-12)

  • Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 
    (Jam. 5:13)

  • Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” 
    (Rev. 5:8-10)

Note: There are instruments in heaven.

  • Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harpsThey sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. 
    (Rev. 14:1-3)

  • Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete. And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of GodThey sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.” 
    (Rev. 15:1-3)

Note: The harps in heaven are "of God."

Conclusions from the New Testament

  1. Jesus thought singing was important. It's one of the last things He did before being arrested and crucified.

  2. Singing is to be an important part of the Christian's life. Singing expresses thanksgiving, joy, rejoicing, and it also teaches, corrects and instructs the participant(s) and listener(s). It is my strong belief that it is this result (i.e., the outcome of having learned something, been touched or reminded of a truth or the need for repentance, etc.) that GOD is looking for. I see no indication in the NT that GOD is concerned about whether the singing is accompanied by an instrument(s).

  3. It is important to note that, after Jesus' singing with the apostles, we have no recorded example or details regarding the church singing collectively, with or without instruments (unless you count Paul and Silas singing in prison in Acts 16). 1 Cor. 14:26 says that each individual "has a Psalm" when they assembled, which, as noted previously is a Greek word that indicates the accompaniment of instruments. These songs could have been sung collectively or as solos by individuals, we aren't told.