What Is the Bible’s View?
Instrumental Music—Proper in Christian Worship?
MUSIC is made prominent in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. As the Oxford Companion to Music notes: “Throughout the ancient history of the Jewish people . . . we find music mentioned with a frequency that perhaps exceeds that of its mention in the history of any other people. Every sort of popular rejoicing is accompanied with music.” In a similar vein, musicologist Kurt Sachs tells us that “among the world’s books, few can lay claim to greater importance for the history of music than the Bible.”—The Rise of Music in the Ancient World.
Bearing this out is the fact that as early as Genesis 4:21 we learn that Jubal “proved to be the founder of all those who handle the harp and the pipe.” In the days of the ancient patriarchs singing and the use of musical instruments were common. (Gen. 31:27) In particular was the tambourine used on occasions of rejoicing.—Ex. 15:20; Judg. 11:34.
Since music served a fine purpose, especially on occasions of rejoicing, we find that the Israelites made good use of musical instruments when rejoicing in their God Jehovah. The psalmist, King David, sang: “Do awake, O my glory; do awake, O stringed instrument; you too, O harp. I will awaken the dawn.” And he called on others to “give thanks to Jehovah on the harp; on an instrument of ten strings make melody to him.” (Ps. 57:8; 33:2) Interestingly, David was the Bible’s most notable musician. He was a highly skilled harpist; he organized temple musical worship involving thousands of singers and instrumentalists, and he even had a reputation for developing new musical instruments!—1 Sam. 16:16-18; 1 Chron. 25:1-31; 2 Chron. 7:6; 29:27.
With such emphasis on music in the secular as well as the religious life of the Hebrews, it was natural for them to make music prominent in their formal worship. We find a list of the instruments used when David first tried to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, and a slightly different list when he finally succeeded in doing so. And what a chorus and orchestra King Solomon had on hand at the time of the dedication of the temple he had built to Jehovah! There were musicians playing cymbals, harps and other stringed instruments, as well as 120 priests blowing trumpets. Was all this music-making pleasing to Jehovah? Most assuredly, for as soon as God was praised and thanked with instruments and song, the glory of Jehovah filled the temple. (1 Chron. 13:8; 15:28; 2 Chron. 5:11-14) No wonder we are told that no nation of antiquity made such extensive use of music in their worship as did the Hebrews!
In spite of such wide use of music in praising Jehovah, both by individuals and in organized temple worship, there are some persons and religious groups who strongly object to the use of instrumental music in Christian worship. Not generally known is the fact that such Protestant reformers as Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox opposed the use of organ music to accompany singing in church services. According to them, the organ was “an ensign of Baal” and instrumental music was as little needed in Christian worship as were “the incense and the candlestick.” While their followers, in the main, have adopted instrumental music in their religious services, there still remain a number of smaller groups who scruple against the use of instrumental music in Christian worship.
What objections do these raise, or what arguments do they make to support their position? They make a great deal of the fact that there is no mention in the Christian Greek Scriptures of the early Christians using instrumental music in their worship. But that of itself proves nothing. Certainly the use of instrumental music is not vital to Christian worship. First-century Christians might have used instrumental music at their gatherings for worship, but simply did not think that it was necessary to mention this fact. Or again, it could well be that the use of instrumental music was considered so immaterial that it was neither commanded nor forbidden.
A further objection is raised on the basis that musical instruments were part and parcel of a ceremonial form of temple worship that no longer is practiced by Christians. True, priests blew the trumpets at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, and Levites assisted with songs and other musical instruments. But let it be noted that such use of instrumental music was not employed at the direct command of the law of Moses, as were the incense, sacrifices, the special garb the priests wore, and the tabernacle and its furnishings. Such typical things did pass away when their realities came. If the use of musical instruments likewise was typical, the question then is, What did it picture?
It is further argued that the early Christians patterned their meetings after the synagogue, not after the temple; so Christians would not have used musical instruments, since nothing is recorded about the Jews using instrumental music in their ancient synagogues. Whether instrumental music was used in the ancient synagogues or not, the fact remains that Christian worship was not patterned after the synagogue in every detail. So, it could well be that the early Christians saw nothing objectionable in using harps or other stringed instruments.
Rather, it could reasonably be argued that since the Jews were such a musical people and were accustomed to hearing music during their worship at the temple, the Christianized Jews may well have resorted to using instrumental music at their Christian meeting places.
True, objection can be raised if the music serves to exalt creatures, including the ones playing the musical instruments. But what harm can come from the judicious and modest use of instrumental music to accompany the singing, or that played before or after meetings for worship? As one well-known religious authority puts it, to ban instrumental music in Christian “congregational worship is a mistake savoring of asceticism.” Due to the lack of musical education today, instrumental music really helps the worshipers to sing the right notes at the right tempo, the use of recordings by the Christian witnesses of Jehovah being a case in point.
In this regard it might be noted that the recordings of Kingdom songs as provided by the Watchtower Society are a great aid to Christians wishing to carry out the instructions given by the apostle Paul at Ephesians 5:18, 19: “Do not be getting drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but keep getting filled with spirit, speaking to yourselves with psalms and praises to God and spiritual songs, singing and accompanying yourselves with music in your hearts to Jehovah.”
Truly, there can be no valid objection to the use of instrumental music in Christian worship so long as it is not overdone.