Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16)
Richard Bacon

Copyright 1998, The Blue Banner

Now, the Scripture at Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 gives us a command (considering both passages together) to speak, teach, and admonish one another using Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. In the view of Exclusive Psalmodists, this triad of terms consists of a figure of speech known as a synonymia. For example, when in Exodus 1:7 we learn that "the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased, and multiplied" we do not suppose that three things were going on, but one. Deuteronomy 8:4 has a similar "piling on" of synonyms when Moses said, "Ye shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice; and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him." Are six different things going on or only one?

Examples of synonymia could be multiplied, but these examples give the general idea. So the question naturally arises, if Ephesians. 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 use the terms "Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" as synonyms, then what are they synonyms for? The Exclusive Psalmodist points to a book of 150 Psalms, which were compiled under the supervision and direction of the Holy Spirit. He further points out that for these nearly 2000 years the church has continued to sing them and has understood them as compiled in part for the purpose of singing.

It is certainly possible that Paul intends other portions of Scripture in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 -- i.e.. we cannot rule out such an interpretation on any a priori principles of the RPW. However, I can find no evidence that indicates all portions of Scripture have the same status as public worship song that the Psalms are given. If we were to claim that such Scripture portions as Habakkuk chapter three, which seems to contain musical direction similar to that contained in the Psalter (i.e. the direction that it is "on Shiggianoth"), we are basing a considerable departure on a rather obscure word -- which until the last couple of hundred years was interpreted simply as a direction for the people of God to pray to God even when they had committed sins in ignorance.

So, where specifically are we given commands (the term "command" understood not only as a precept but also as necessary implication and approved example) to sing the entirety of Scripture? God has placed a songbook in the middle of the Bible. Some of those Psalms are found in other places of Scripture (e.g. Psalm 18) either in whole or in part. But most are not. Most are rather clearly unique and the Psalter itself had a unique position in the life of the church in the time of Christ and his apostles, as indicated by such passages as Luke 20:42 cp. Matt. 12:36-37; Luke 24:44; Acts 1:20; Acts 4:25 cp. Acts 13:33. That is simply to say, Christ and his followers regarded the Book of Psalms as having a separate, compiled existence.

In the absence of a clear command to sing anything else, and with the presence of a clear command to sing the Psalter, the Exclusive Psalmodist says simply: "I will sing what I can verify Scripturally pleases my Lord and will refrain from singing that which may offend him."