A gracEmail subscriber writes: “Was there a Greek word in the first century that meant singing without an instrument? In other words, could Paul have said “sing a cappella” if he had wanted to? Was a Greek word with that limiting idea available to him? Many of the psalms speak of singing and then you find out in another portion of the psalm that they are doing that with instruments.”
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To a sizeable percentage of gracEmail readers (and a similar segment of the universal church), discussion concerning the propriety of musical instruments in Christian worship seems about as irrelevant as those famous medieval arguments about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Yet millions of Christians through the centuries have considered the use of instruments in church to be a woeful mistake if not a serious sin. These include ancient church fathers, notable Reformers and believers associated with the Eastern Orthodox, Covenanter Presbyterians, conservative Mennonites, Primitive Baptists and Churches of Christ.
Most often, critics of instruments have based their opposition on the fact that someone else used them, from whom they wished to distinguish themselves, whether that be the Jews, the pagans, the Catholics or “the denominations.” However, some objectors argue that God himself disapproves of instruments in worship. They point out that the New Testament does not expressly require instruments, concluding from that silence that instruments are divinely forbidden.
In Classical Greek, the adjective psilos (literally “naked” or “bare”) was sometimes used to indicate singing without instrumental accompaniment. The New Testament does not use this word, which apparently occurs one time in the Greek Old Testament with its basic meaning of “naked” or “bare.” However, even without the word psilos, any New Testament writer could have specified singing without instruments by simply joining a verb to a few modifiers just as I did in the middle of this sentence. The reality is that the New Testament nowhere either orders or prohibits instruments in worship. It is thus entirely a matter of choice.
Underscoring that is the fact that the Greek word for “psalm,” a worship resource which the New Testament does approve (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), originally referred to a song sung with an instrument. The word later broadened to include any song, whether accompanied or not, but it never excluded songs sung to instrumental accompaniment. For these reasons, among others, I conclude that while God cares a great deal about the hearts of those who worship him, whether they sing with instruments or not is entirely beside the point.