An Argument Against Exclusive Psalmody

Let it be known at the beginning of this post that I love the Psalms, and that I believe the Psalms should be sung in worship frequently, just not exclusively. I heard this argument recently from a new friend of mine in the OPC, by name, the Rev. Brett Mahlen. He used to be EP himself, and so he knows the position from inside, as it were. The argument goes like this: the way most EP proponents phrase the matter is that we can only sing in worship words that are inspired, and that the Bible commands us only to sing the Psalms (usually they interpret Colossians 3:16 to refer to the Septuagintal division of the Psalter into psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). The argument from my friend addresses the first half of the statement. If we may only sing inspired words, then we cannot sing in English, since the translation into English is not itself inspired; only the autographs are inspired. If we then say that the English translation (into meter, which involves considerable paraphrasing!) is inspired, then we are undermining our doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration. English metrical Psalms, as beautiful as they can be (and most worthy of being sung, I might add!), are not inspired Scripture.

Furthermore (and this is now my addition to the argument), by saying that only the very words of the Psalter may be sung, proponents of EP commit a word-concept fallacy. To remind ourselves, the word-concept fallacy is an error in logic that happens when people believe that words are the same thing as ideas, whereas the truth of the matter is that we use words to express ideas, even though those ideas could be expressed with different words. To flesh it out a bit more, an idea can be present even though a specific word is not used. Similarly, just because a specific word is present does not mean that the idea is also present. In this case, the word-concept fallacy is committed by saying that what is meant in the Psalter can only be obtained by singing the very words themselves. Then the error is compounded by saying that the English metrical Psalters can fit the bill of singing the ipsissima verba (the very words) of Scripture. Ironically, in other places in their Reformed theology, EP proponents would not commit this fallacy. For instance, Reformed EP proponents all (as far as I know) hold that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word “Trinity” nowhere occurs in the Bible. They recognize that the concept of the Trinity is very much present (even obviously so!), and yet the word “Trinity” is not present. The word “Trinity” is our shorthand to express the fact that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God. So there is not a consistency here with EP proponents: they say that we may only sing the very words of the Psalter, and yet they advocate English metrical Psalters to accomplish this, which English Psalters are not the very words of the inspired Psalms.

To push the point a little further, we may remember that several commentators on the Psalms have said that the Psalter is a mini-Bible. My description of the Psalter would be that it is an emotional commentary on all of Scripture, mostly in the form of prayers. The Psalter thus extends its influence on all the rest of Scripture in one way or another. If this is so, then it is by no means unreasonable to assert that any hymn that is biblical in content reflects the teaching of the Psalter.

Of course, no case whatsoever can be made for a position that says we must all learn Hebrew so that we will sing the Psalter in the original language. That would again commit the word-concept fallacy. The content of Scripture can be translated into other languages, and it is the content of Scripture that we want available to us. Translation of Scripture is implied in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, among other places.

So the EP proponent, if he admits the force of this argument, might respond by saying, “Well, as long as we have the content of the Psalter, then we are good.” However, once one has gotten over the hump of the word-concept fallacy, the whole game is given away, because of what I wrote two paragraphs ago. It seems to me that the claim that we must only sing the inspired Psalms is an essential linch-pin in the EP argument. Without it, the whole thing collapses to the ground. The EP proponents singing metrical Psalms in English are not singing the inspired Psalms, because they are not singing the original Hebrew.

My position is that we must sing only what is biblical. But by the term “biblical” I mean what is biblical in content. We do not need to sing only the very words of Scripture. Otherwise we would have to sing in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. We need to sing the content of Scripture. There is a continuum, therefore, of “biblicalness” when it comes to what we sing. Some can only marginally be called Scriptural. Songs like “In the Garden” have content that can be argued as being anti-biblical (really, an experience that none other has ever known? Are you the recipient of direct divine revelation or something? What kind of walking and talking with me is the song singing about?). We should aim, therefore, to ask the right question: is this hymn biblical in its content?



  1. June 20, 2017 at 10:32 am

    “It seems to me that the claim that we must only sing the inspired Psalms is an essential linch-pin in the EP argument. Without it, the whole thing collapses to the ground. The EP proponents singing metrical Psalms in English are not singing the inspired Psalms, because they are not singing the original Hebrew.”

    Except here you have not dealt with the simple command that we have to sing Psalms only. You can take your ‘inspired’ Scripture only argument. It doesn’t matter, if what you have left is the Lord who has still commanded us to sing Psalms only. This means we must sing only Psalms. Perhaps that would be a different post, and if so, your “linch-pin” comment needs to go by the wayside and be clarified. Because truly the linch-pin of the EP view is that God commands us to sing Psalms only in His worship, and therefore we can and must sing only Psalms in his worship.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 20, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Yes, Andrew, that would have to be a separate post. I am addressing the part of the argument that says that one reason we can only sing the Psalms is because only they are the inspired hymnody of the Bible. That is the part I am contesting here, not whether or not Jesus commanded us to sing only Psalms. That question would, of course, have to dig deep into the interpretation of Colossians 3:16.

  3. Stephen Welch said,

    June 20, 2017 at 11:24 am

    I used the same arguments against EP without instruments until I came to embrace it several years ago. You can argue the “inspired” Scripture only argument all you want, but historically the Reformed churches; ARP, RPC, CRC, etc. all sang nothing but the Psalter. Every good Reformed thinker knows that Paul did not have the New Testament, so the song, hymns, and spiritual songs would not have been some modern category created. If a candidate for pastoral ministry does not hold to EP, he would have to take exception to the Westminster Standards particularly in Chapter 21 section 5 where it states that religious worship commands that we sing Psalms with grace in the heart. Very few men in the PCA or OPC take this exception, but will defend the singing of anything except the Psalms. Interestingly the PCA published a Psalter years ago, but few use it. I am grateful that some PCA congregations are implementing the singing of Psalms in worship.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    June 20, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Stephen, the argument in the post is not addressing the points you are raising. EP folks often say, “we have inspired Psalms, you have Amazing Grace,” to which I respond, “You don’t sing the inspired Psalms.” That, and that only, is the point I am raising. Neither you nor Andrew have answered this point yet. Whether Jesus commands only singing Psalms or whether He says something else is not the point I am raising, nor is it directly relevant to the exact point at issue.

  5. June 20, 2017 at 12:45 pm


    Thanks for this post and the irenic tone. I remember Carl Trueman once lamenting that some critics of EP act like the most pressing and dangerous worship issue is that some sing too much of the Bible. Thankfully, I don’t think that’s the spirit of your post!

    However, I’m curious about two things: 1) Personally, as an EP I don’t use the “linch-pin” argument of inspired or non-inspired, but canonical and non-canonical. Nevertheless, if English translations (prose or metrical!) aren’t inspired can we still tell people’s it’s the Word of God—or, is it only a translation of the Word of God? I’ve found it interesting that, for instance, the author of Hebrews even when quoting from the Septuagint is still comfortable saying: “As the Holy Spirit says…” 2) What is the qualitative difference (if there is one) between a metrical English translation of Psalm 46 and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”? Or, maybe analogously, when it comes time in worship to read God’s Word—a separate element of worship—would you be comfortable reading from Calvin’s Institutes because it it reflects the teaching of the Bible? Just think of that…a pew copy of Calvin’s Institutes (I like it!). ;)

    I’m not trying to be a pain–these are sincere questions (and maybe I’ve misunderstood you!). Unfortunately EPers have the WORST public relations, and so I seldom engage in public discussions on this.


  6. June 20, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Great stuff, bro! I would also add that, from a musical perspective, we have no inspired tunes. I believe that when singing, the music and the words are equally important. This is simply yet another argument bolstering the conclusion that it is not possible to “sing the Psalms” the way the EP’ers claim.

  7. June 20, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Hey Adrian! I know your comment wasn’t at all addressed in my direction so I hope you don’t mind me butting my nose in. If music and words are *equally* important then why do we have the preservation of the words and not the tunes the Psalms were sung to? Butting my nose out…Cheers!

  8. Rowland Ward said,

    June 20, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    I think there are problems with your argument. You claim that singing an English translation is not singing the inspired words. But is it not true that the a faithful translation carries the inspiration of the original? Scripture is not simply marks in ink on a page but the meaning of those marks.

    Another point for Stephen. WCF 21.5 in regard to “psalms” was not intended to fix the limits of sung praise, at least not for the Church of Scotland Assembly in 1647. For the day after they approved the Confession they directed Zachary Boyd to do work on the other songs of Scripture with a view to their approval and use. This didn’t actually occur in that form but the Scottish Paraphrases of the 18th century ultimately resulted which took non-song parts of Scripture too and turned them into metre.

    The principle was still Scripture only in public worship, and as Murray and Young argued about 1948, was it, in their Minority report to the OPC, we know the psalms are intended to be sung and it is wiser to keep to them in public worship. And I guess it’s only in the NT that the Psalms come fully into their own – which is why at least 110 of them are quoted or alluded to in the NT.

    I am EP in practice although my theoretic underpinnings are not narrowly EP. The subject needs to be kept in proportion.

  9. Alan Strange said,

    June 20, 2017 at 8:13 pm


    For a bit of a different, but complementary, approach to the same subject, I offer this recent article, “Why We Also Sing Hymns” from New Horizons in the OPC:

  10. Blake Law said,

    June 20, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Dear Rev. Keister, we exclusive psalmodists are well-versed already concerning the word-concept fallacy. We have to explain it every time someone tells us it’s wrong to sing the psalms only because, “They don’t mention the name of Jesus!”

  11. June 21, 2017 at 1:34 am

    Murray and Young’s 1947 Minority Report to the OPC GA on Song in Worship conceded:

    1. There is no warrant in Scripture for the use of uninspired human compositions in the singing of God’s praise in public worship.

    2. There is explicit authority for the use of inspired songs.

    3. The songs of divine worship must therefore be limited to the songs of Scripture, for they alone are inspired.

    4. The Book of Psalms does provide us with the kind of compositions for which we have the authority of Scripture.

    5. We are therefore certain of divine sanction and approval in the singing of the Psalms.

    6. We are not certain that other inspired songs were intended to be sung in the worship of God, even though the use of other inspired songs does not violate the fundamental principle on which Scripture authorization is explicit, namely, the use of inspired songs.

    7. In view of uncertainty with respect to the use of other inspired songs, we should confine ourselves to the Book of Psalms.

  12. June 21, 2017 at 1:35 am

    I meant “concluded” above.

  13. Reed Here said,

    June 21, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Rowland, Glenn, correct me if I’m wrong. Does not the Murray-Young Minority Report rest upon exegeting all three terms in Col 3:19 as different ways to refer to inspired psalms, I.e., essentially as synonyms?

    If this exegesis is incorrect, then the Scriptures teach something other than EP. Accordingly it would seem that debate/discussion around those kinds of issues would be most valuable.

    If so, I’d appreciate challenges to Lane’s charge of the word-concept fallacy.

    (It is exegesis of Col 3:16 that persuaded me of a position different EP).

  14. Steve Curtis said,

    June 21, 2017 at 8:36 am

    I completely agree that the Bible, in English, is the very Word of God. However, does that extend also to the metrical adaptation of the Psalms? How far can we ‘stretch’ the original (Hebrew and, accordingly, English) text to make it ‘fit’ the meter/tune/etc. before we have moved away from “the speech of the Holy Ghost” and toward merely the consistent, biblical language, for which Lane would seem to be arguing must undergird all that we sing in corporate worship?

  15. greenbaggins said,

    June 21, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Kyle, welcome to the blog. I appreciate your irenic spirit as well. It should be noted (as most historically aware Reformed folk are) that EP has very strong pedigree indeed in Reformed history going back a long way. It is a position that must be treated with respect. This is not a question of orthodoxy and heresy (either way). It is a question of how the Bible is to be interpreted, and good Reformed men differ on this question. That context needs to be kept in mind; otherwise the two positions can quite easily start snapping and snarling at each other, something I desire most fervently to avoid. Light, not heat.

    Kyle and Rowland, the point in the original blog post has to do with the technical definition of inspiration. What my friend Brett and I sense from many, if not most EP’ers, is that the EP position requires the exact wording of the Psalter. But the exact wording of the Psalter is not present in any English metrical Psalter. Therefore, the EP proponent cannot say that Amazing Grace is less biblical than the English metrical Psalters. What I am trying to get at here is that “more literalness” does not necessarily equal “more biblicalness.” So yes, of course, we can say that an English Bible is “inspired,” if we are using the term in the looser sense of “reflecting as faithfully as it can the original languages.” It is in this sense that we can assure people that they have the Word of God in English, if they have a reasonably faithful translation. However, the translation itself, as a translation, is not inspired in the technical sense. So I am using the term “inspired” in the technical sense in the argument above.

    This gets at the point Blake is making about the word-concept fallacy. While I am sure that Blake is correct about EP’ers being aware of the word-concept fallacy applying when it comes to the name of Jesus Christ (although I think there is a way of formulating that criticism of the EP position that does not commit the word-concept fallacy), I do not think that the EP position has considered this other application of the word-concept fallacy mentioned in the post, and so far, no one has addressed it in the comments. To put it in its sharpest form, any biblical hymn falls within the teaching of the Psalms, and there is no Scriptural evidence that the exact wording of the Psalter is required in order to be singing the Psalms. Therefore, if a hymn is biblical in its content, it should not fall foul of the strictest interpretation of the RPW.

    Now, to answer Kyle’s point about Calvin’s Institutes, I think that preaching is in a different category from singing on this particular point. In preaching, the preacher should be concerned with teasing out with minutest care the exact meaning of Scripture, and the exact wording can (not always!) affect the meaning. Words do matter, even though they are not the same thing as ideas. “Rightly dividing the Word of truth” is said about preaching, not about singing. So no, I would not feel comfortable putting Calvin’s Institutes in as the text of Sunday morning’s sermon, nor, for that matter, the catechism, for which statement I will probably get into trouble with my Dutch Reformed brothers.

    One last point: I appreciate Kyle’s formulation of “canonical and non-canonical” versus “inspired and non-inspired.” This is a bit clearer, and will advance the discussion. I will (hopefully) address whether the Bible requires canonical singing or not in future posts. For now, I would assert that the Bible requires singing that is biblical in content. I am not convinced by the EP exegesis of Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 that says that the passages are requiring canonical material to be sung in worship.

  16. June 21, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Lane, thanks for that response! I don’t want to follow rabbit trails that lead away from the primary point of your post, so if I am let me know!

    You say: “The exact wording of the Psalter is not present in any English metrical Psalter. Therefore, the EP proponent cannot say that Amazing Grace is less biblical than the English metrical Psalms.” So: a) Would it be right to say that there’s no qualitative difference between a metrical translation of Psalm 46 and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”? b) Could this reasoning allow someone to say: “The exact wording of Scripture is not present in any English translation. Therefore, one cannot say Calvin’s Institutes is less biblical than the English translation of the Bible”? I guess both (a) and (b) are asking about he difference between translations of the Bible and other biblically faithful compositions.

    I look forward to future posts on Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19. Personally, I think determining exactly what “hymns” and “songs” refers to is not a simple exegetical task (nor is distinguishing their differences!). Again, personally I’m convinced that Murray and Young offer the best explanation to how we should understand those words. But I might add (as a point of charity) that it’s not only “EP exegesis” that reads Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 as a triple-reference to the Psalms of David. For instance, even though he wasn’t EP, Thomas Manton notes that he agrees with the observations of the learned that the words “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” recommend to us the book of David’s psalms. That is to say, Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19 don’t factor into his reason why we can sing other songs than the Book of Psalms.


  17. greenbaggins said,

    June 21, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Kyle, I think that there is no question but that “A Mighty Fortress” is qualitatively different than metrical translations of Psalm 46. “A Mighty Fortress” is obviously far more periphrastic than a metrical translation would (probably!) be. That wouldn’t make “A Mighty Fortress” less biblical, however. We are dealing with a continuum of “closeness” to the wording. Lines can be difficult to draw, it seems to me. Again, as I stated above, I think preaching is a different category from singing, and therefore should not be judged on the same basis. Some works fall more into the category of “good and necessary consequence” in terms of how they are biblical. WCF 1 tells us that “good and necessary consequence” falls into the category of the whole counsel of God. See the argument about the Trinity in the original post.

    I agree that determining what “hymns” and “songs” are is quite difficult. I am seeing that the grammar of those two passages is not easy, either.

    Thanks for the irenic discussion.

  18. June 21, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks, Lane!

    I should add that when I ask about reading Calvin’s Institutes I wasn’t applying that to preaching. The WCF notes that the reading of Scripture is an ordinary part of religious worship distinct from preaching. I’m trying to make a point by analogy and I’m either failing to do so, or maybe I shouldn’t even be attempting to. Sorry!

    Maybe I’m completely misunderstanding you, but you seem to suggest that because a metrical translation can only reproduce the content of the Bible and not the “exact words of the Psalter” we should also be able to sing Amazing Grace which, though it’s not the exact words of the Bible, is true to the content of the Bible. My point (by analogy) is that it’s not only metrical translations that don’t give us the “exact words,” it’s all English translations. So when we’re commanded to “[read] the Scriptures with godly fear” (WCF 21.5) are we confined to the sixty-six books of the Bible as we have them translated for us, or is reading anything that has biblical content sufficient (e.g. Calvin’s Institutes)?


  19. Blake Law said,

    June 21, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Let’s try something, shall we? Psalm 117 is the shortest in all the psalter.

    Here’s the Hebrew text, which is agreed to be the Word of God:

    הַֽלְל֣וּ אֶת־יְ֭הוָה כָּל־גּוֹיִ֑ם שַׁ֝בְּח֗וּהוּ כָּל־הָאֻמִּֽים׃
    כִּ֥י גָ֘בַ֤ר עָלֵ֨ינוּ׀ חַסְדֹּ֗ו וֶֽאֱמֶת־יְהוָ֥ה לְעוֹלָ֗ם הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃

    Here’s a faithful English translation (AV), which the Standards (WCF 1.8) would also call the Word of God:

    O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
    For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.

    This is Psalm 117 as it appears in the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter:

    O give ye praise unto the Lord,
    all nations that be;
    Likewise, ye people all, accord
    his name to magnify.

    For great to us-ward ever are
    his loving-kindnesses:
    His truth endures for evermore.
    The Lord O do ye bless.

    I, for one, see no altering or mangling of Psalm 117 in the Scottish Psalter. I see an honest attempt to furnish the people of God with the Word of God so that “they may worship Him in an acceptable manner”, just as our Standards commend.

    Saying the metrical version of Psalm 117 is no longer the Word of God would be a little like saying a double-translation of Scripture can’t be God’s Word anymore. If a man only knows English and Italian, and quotes Scripture in Italian that he has translated in his mind from English, it isn’t the Word of God anymore? Metrical Psalms are even less questionable than that scenario, because the Hebrew has been translated one time, into the language of English verse.

  20. David Koenig said,

    June 21, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I’m not EP, but this seems to be a different standard than we apply to the rest of scripture.

    We do not follow the Muslim practice of only using the word Qur’an to refer to the Arabic original, and specifically calling it a translation or a paraphrase or “the meaning of the Qur’an” when describing an English translation. We read at length from translations, and call that section of liturgy the scripture reading. The more high-church types will end it with the literal sentence “this is the word of the Lord”.

    Therefore, shouldn’t we be comfortable treating a metrical psalter as equally “the word of God”, provided it is in fact a translation directly from the Hebrew and not a free paraphrase?

  21. June 21, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    A translation IS inspired.

    The distinction is the original languages are “immediately” inspired whereas a translation is “mediately” inspired…and is therefore the Word of God to the degree it agrees with the original.

    One could rightly then say the Psalter in English is the inspired word of God. One could not say “Amazing Grace” is the inspired word of God. No, not even “mediately” so.

  22. Rowland Ward said,

    June 21, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Reed, Yes Murray/Young do offer an exegesis along that line (after noting that the passages in question may not refer to public worship) and conclude:

    (a) There is no warrant for thinking that “psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs” can refer to uninspired human compositions. These texts provide us with no authorization whatsoever for the singing of uninspired songs in the worship of God.

    (b) There is warrant for concluding that “psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs” refer to inspired compositions. These texts provide us, therefore, with warrant for the singing of inspired songs in the worship of God.

    (c) The Book of Psalms provides us with psalms, hymns and songs that are inspired and therefore with the kind of compositions referred to in Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16.

    In a chapter I wrote in Beeke/Selvagghio (eds) Sing a New Song (RHB 2010) I argue
    (1) the meaning of the three terms cannot be distinguished in actual usage, (2) The three terms cannot be limited with absolute certainty to the Psalter, (3) The adjective ‘spiritual’ almost certainly qualifies all three terms, (4) the context is communal not individual thus the distinction between ‘in the church’ and ‘at home’ applies.

    If the sense of the qualifier ‘spiritual’ is Spirit-inspired then we are confined to songs drawn from Scripture. If the sense is Spirit-prompted (as, it seems, in Col 1:9) then we can sing material that is biblical. Comparing Col 1:28 with 3:16 we could conclude that songs for church are essentially explanatory of Scripture.

    But given we have a hymnbook in Scripture that could not be fully understood before the NT but only after it (Luke 24:44), and which is accordingly widely employed in the NT, we should sing the psalms and in fact seek to understand them better.

  23. Reed Here said,

    June 21, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks Rowland. We might need Lane to tease out what he means by “biblical content”. But from previous discussions on this topic here, I suspect the position you outline above is only slightly on the other side of the fence from his position. E..g., you might say “metrical version of Ps 46 only,” whereas Lane might say, “and A Mighty Fortress,” are faithful to the Bible’s commands.

    Might the word-concept fallacy play a role in the difference?

  24. Reed Here said,

    June 21, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    And to all that, let me add a strong amen to your last paragraph. I’m not EP, but I am, “if you’re not singing psalms youre seriously missing.”

  25. Bob S said,

    June 21, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    As per 19&20, the argument of the OP is a fallacy. If we can’t sing the Psalms because they are not in Hebrew, we also don’t have an English Bible to read.
    IOW we’re all Musselmen now! When’s the group cruise to Mecca leaving? Is it BYOB affair? The kuffars want to know.

  26. Ron said,

    June 22, 2017 at 8:11 am

    If a candidate for pastoral ministry does not hold to EP, he would have to take exception to the Westminster Standards particularly in Chapter 21 section 5 where it states that religious worship commands that we sing Psalms with grace in the heart.


    To allow for hymns in corporate worship is to deny that we must sing psalms with grace in the heart?

  27. June 22, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Dr. Strange (#9):

    Thanks for the article link. As an EP I’ll admit there are good arguments against EP and then there are bad arguments. Your article would represent the former :)

    A couple of quick questions if you’re still following this discussion: 1) Is non-canonical hymnody commanded? That is, are churches who restrict themselves to the singing of only the Psalms violating the RPW? 2) What if someone were to say that the closest parallel to singing wasn’t preaching or praying but the reading of the Scriptures where we are confined to only the Bible? 3) Can you help clarify how one moves from other canonical songs (e.g. the songs of Revelation) to giving warrant for the composition and singing of non-canonical songs?


  28. Larry Wilson said,

    June 22, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Winchester RPCNA (#26),

    Warm greetings.

    Obviously, I cannot answer for Dr. Strange. But here is my stab at answering some of your questions —

    In a different vein, let me say that Rowland Ward — hi, Dr. Ward — has done a book, _The Complete Book of Psalms for Singing: with study notes_. Those study notes are very helpful for pastors and worship leaders who wish to give a Christ-centred introduction to the Psalms they lead in worship. Dr. Ward, would you consider making those available in pamphlet form? Dr. Strange, maybe the OPC Committee on Christian Education would want to look into making that available with the forthcoming Psalter Hymnal?

  29. June 22, 2017 at 12:55 pm


    Thanks for linking me to that. I appreciated your winsome tone. Also, please know the warm and affection and respect is reciprocated for my brothers and sisters who disagree with me on this point.

    Unless I’m really dense I think my question(s) still remain. So, if I can (gently in a spirit of charity!) note: 1) You ask: “Where did our Lord actually command his church, including the old covenant church, to sing the Psalms in public worship?” Does 2 Chron 29:30 and the “words of David and Asaph the seer” provide an OT example of the singing of the Psalms? Setting aside for a moment what Paul meant by “hymn” and “song” in Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16, does “Psalm” there refer to the corporate singing of the Book of Psalms? It doesn’t appear to me that God’s only concern is that we sing. But he does care what we sing. 2) You say: “Before the coming of Christ, Israel added new psalms in response to each significant step in redemptive history.” What do you think the character of those “new psalms” was? That is, were they of private composition or were they songs given by the inspiration of the Spirit? My point is, how does the addition of inspired songs to Israel’s hymnbook give sufficient warrant for the inclusion of songs merely of human composition? Does Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 90 really give warrant for “Amazing Grace”? 3) You say: “The Lord does seem explicitly to command his church to compose and sing new covenant hymns.” So, it’s fair to say that you do believe a church that restricts itself only to the Psalms is in violation of the RPW because God has commanded us to sing hymns? I won’t fault you for that consistency…I’m just curious.


  30. Rowland Ward said,

    June 22, 2017 at 5:17 pm

    Hi Larry,

    Thanks for your nice comment. My OPC friends have only to ask and it shall be given – gratis.

    Heading to US and Canada next week. Hope its warmer than wintry Melbourne.


  31. June 22, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    I would have to come from the history angle on this topoc as well. If the Apostle Paul meant only the Psalter when he spoke, then the Greek speaking church disobeyed him literally less than a century later with the Oxyrhynchus hymn and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent (based on Habbakuk).

  32. Rowland Ward said,

    June 22, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Check your dates. Neither of those two songs are earlier than about AD 275. Interestiungly enough, while Oxyrhynchus has Greek metrical structure the passages in the NT often alleged to be hymn fragments do not.

  33. Rowland Ward said,

    June 22, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Check your dates. Neither of those two songs are earlier than about AD 275. Interestingly enough, while Oxyrhynchus has Greek metrical structure the passages in the NT often alleged to be hymn fragments do not.

  34. Don said,

    June 23, 2017 at 9:35 am

    It seems to me that the argument for EP relies on “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” referring exclusively to the 150 Psalms. This does not seem very convincing to me, since the Psalms are not consistently categorized in these categories. For example, quite a few Psalms have no heading (or just “Of David”), but some (e.g., Ps. 66) have two (“A song. A Psalm.”).

    I think a resolution to this question depends on a clear understanding of what “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” means, rather than the prevailing assertions “Obviously, it [does/does not] refer to the 150 Psalms.” So my question is, are there any uses of this phrase that are roughly contemporary to Paul? Maybe Second Temple literature, Greek poetry, anything like that?

  35. Blake Law said,

    June 23, 2017 at 10:05 am

    “We do not need to sing only the very words of Scripture. Otherwise we would have to sing in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.”

    The EP position is not “we have to sing the very words of Scripture”, but “we are commanded to sing the Psalms” and “command to sing compositions besides the Psalms in worship is lacking”.

    Since I think we would all agree that there is command for us to sing the Psalms, I wonder if you think singing “Amazing Grace” would demonstrate obedience to this command? Since you say the hymn contains sentiments and concepts that are found in the Psalms.

    To me, saying “Amazing Grace” is acceptable as a Psalm would be like saying grape juice is acceptable as wine.

  36. Alan Strange said,

    June 23, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    With respect to #28, my dear friend Larry Wilson answers very well for me! And I thank him!

    Yes, Dr. Ward’s material is very helpful. We are hoping on the website that will accompany the Trinity Psalter Hymnal to have such material with respect to Christ in all the Psalms. For example, the project’s Hebraist (Dr. Estelle) has furnished us with a fine treatment of such, including the imprecatory psalms (and why it is fitting for Christians to sing such with a proper redemptive-historical understanding).

    I am obviously not an EP partisan, but all who love the Psalms should rejoice in the recovery that is occurring with respect to singing all the psalms (even if they demur in joining us on the hymns, of which I believe this new book contains an excellent selection).

    Terry Johnson, who served on our Composition Subcommittee, is a prime example of an ardent psalm lover, who also sings hymns, and who rejoices in the upcoming release (within the next 6-9 months) of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal. Stay tuned!

    And thanks again, Larry. I look forward to seeing you in August in the great land to the north! I also pray for safe travels and great blessings upon Rowland in his North American travels. Perhaps our paths will cross!

  37. June 25, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    @32 Thank you for correcting me. I was coming off of a 12 hour shift and my brain was a little fuzzy! But the the argument still exists: If Paul meant only the Psalms were to be sung, how does the EP position account for so early a departure from the Apostolic witness without falling into the fundamentalist Baptist trap of disdaining the Early Church?

  38. Rowland Ward said,

    June 25, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    @37 I wouldn’t say AD 275 is all that early. I’m afraid church history teaches us many faulty understandings earlier than this, as the NT anticipates too, and this can be acknowledged while still recognising and valuing the church of the early centuries.

  39. Bob S said,

    June 25, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    28 Larry, having read your link with interest, some comments are in order.

    1. According to the minutes of the Assembly (May & June 1646) the divines were well aware that Scripture commands us by precept, G&N consequence and approved example. IOW the fundamentalist/only explicit command version of the historic & confessional RPW has been foisted upon us by Dr. Frame and his Worship Children. Whatever his excellencies as an apologist (according to Rock Reymond), on worship the gentleman is unreliable.
    2. The ordinance or element of song (psalms) was only introduced into the OT worship by divine command under David. There was no singing in Mosaic worship previously that we know of according to the record of Scripture.
    3. Not only is Worship In Spite of the TruthSpirit and Truth a horrid little book, it is a gross non sequitur to conclude that because new songs accompanied new acts and deliverances of God in Scripture, that new uninspired songs are necessarily warranted after the close of canon.
    4. Ditto the new songs in Revelation. It is one thing to sing the same, another to assume they are a warrant for new uninspired songs. That proposition needs be proved, not merely asserted.

    All that to say that nowhere else in Scripture are we repeatedly urged, exhorted and commanded to praise God by singing praise, songs and psalms than in the . . . Sepher Tehellim, the Book of Praises/Songs/Psalms, one of the most quoted OT books in the NT.

    That, if not Rowland’s closing remark in 22:

    But given we have a hymnbook in Scripture that could not be fully understood before the NT but only after it (Luke 24:44), and which is accordingly widely employed in the NT, we should sing the psalms and in fact seek to understand them better.

    But not only is God seeking those who will worship him in spirit and truth, his seeking is not in vain. And for that we can be thankful.


  40. June 25, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    […] is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is pastor of Momence OPC in Momence, IL. This article is used with […]

  41. Don said,

    June 27, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Blake Law #35,

    I’m not sure I follow your third and fourth paragraphs. Is anyone seriously claiming that “Amazing Grace” is a Psalm? That’s not the issue; clearly it’s a hymn. The issue as I see it is in your second point, whether or not the “command to sing compositions besides the Psalms in worship is lacking.”

  42. greenbaggins said,

    June 27, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    No, Amazing Grace is not a Psalm, per se. But that is not my point, nor is it especially helpful to the argument against my position. I will seek to explain it again.

    There is a continuum of closeness to the biblical text. Metrical Psalms would be closer to the original language than Amazing Grace would be (Amazing Grace could only be called a Psalm in the sense that, by good and necessary consequence, it sings of things that the Psalms also sing about). However, metrical Psalms are still at least two steps removed from the original Hebrew Psalms. They are translated, and they are metricalized. My point is this: by what biblical injunction could we draw a hard line between something that is two steps removed from the Psalms and something which is three or four steps removed? There is no biblical mandate that draws any line there. There is nothing that says that the Psalms may only be sung if they are word for word, versus singing them in a “good and necessary consequence” type of way. So this is why I have argued that any biblical hymn reflects the teaching of the Psalms, because the Psalms are a mini-Bible.

  43. greenbaggins said,

    June 27, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    In other words, the EP position commits the same type of word-concept fallacy that eliminates good and necessary consequence from a discussion, say, of the Trinity. It is what we might call biblicistic.

  44. Bob S said,

    June 28, 2017 at 2:35 am

    (Man, am I glad to see that bad arguments are not the exclusive property of psalmsingers.)

    42 Lane, the argument is Amazing Grace doesn’t explicitly mention the name of Jesus (name-person fallacy?), one of the objections against the Psalms.

    Two, I’m pretty sure in the OT the command to sing the Psalms of David, Asaph and Korah which accompanied the reformations and revivals under Hezekiah and Nehemiah was understood to be exactly that.

    Neither did the Assembly divines understand their work on what eventually became the Scottish Psalter as something other than a translation.
    FTM WCF1:8 says

    The Old Testament in Hebrew . . . and the New Testament in Greek . . . being immediately inspired by God . . . are therefore authentical. . . . (T)herefore they are to be translated in to the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that, the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner

    And while I welcome the discussion it has engendered, the thesis of the OP is a fallacy in that it proves too much.
    If we can’t really sing the Psalms because they are not in Hebrew, but only a translation, it’s curtains for an English Bible. Do we really want to go there? That the Hebrew and the Greek are the very ipsit dixit Word of God while the translations are only the substance does not mean they are cream cheese or a comic book.

    IOW will we be staying over with Osama Bin on our pilgrimage to Mecca or just roughing it in a tent with the camels tied up outside?
    After all the Eastern Antichrist goes further than the Western in insisting the Koran cannot be translated, while Rome only insists the Latin is the authentic Scripture.


  45. Reed Here said,

    June 28, 2017 at 7:45 am

    Bob, you’re proving Lane’s point. Thx .

  46. Bob S said,

    July 2, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    45 No I don’t think so, Reed.
    The argument is that because the Psalms are a translation, thought for thought is good enough, not – as much as possible – word for word and therefore hymns that are doctrinally sound are faithful to the command to sing (supposedly generic) psalms.

  47. Reed Here said,

    July 3, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Maybe, but certainly you’re not actually engaging his challenge.

    Word-concept fallacy.

    All you’ve said is thouht for thought (dynamic equivalence?) is o.k. for psalms sung in worship. Aside from that being a novel argument, it does not actually counter Lane’s biblical content argument.

  48. Bob S said,

    July 4, 2017 at 1:57 am

    Word – concept fallacy?

    In the beginning was the Concept and the Concept was with God and the Concept was God?

    IOW all I see going on as far as a word – concept fallacy is word/psalm – concept/suspend rational argument.

    If, as the OP states, the Psalter is a (metrical) translation and not the inspired Word of God, reductio ad absurdum just what exactly is the English Bible?

    Granted one is a singing translation, while the other is a reading translation, but they are both translations and there is a continuum between the two rather than the Grand Canyon as there would be if we were to compare the Psalter to the Church Order, never mind the NYT.

    Again, the argument proves too much, otherwise we could substitute the 33 chapters of the WCF for the 31 of Proverbs and 2 of Haggai and call it good.

    Much more it is representative of the deleterious effect of John Frame’s ambiguous theology of worship. For example, in his Worship In Spite of the Truth, he considers preaching = teaching = instructing = praying = praising/singing thereby blurring all the salient distinctions in order to substitute his novel “applications” for the elements and circumstances of worship. Needless to say this is not the position of the WCF – never mind his fundamentalist/contra confessional take on the Second Commandment and the RPW. (FTM acceptance of the NIV and its thought for thought principle of translation has also arguably eroded the doctrine of Scripture and its implications for the P&R).

    Yet it is understood that a translation is not the same as the Scripture in the original languages, but neither is a translation of inspired Scripture an uninspired confession or catechism.

    Nor is it even an orthodox hymnbook.
    Rather other and better arguments need to be fielded in order to make the case against EP.

    Happy 4th.

  49. John Hartley said,

    July 4, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    I enjoyed this discussion very much. For those coming here also wishing to dig into the Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 texts, this piece by Scott Sanborn provides an important contribution. He argues that we must objectively sing of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Lord born of a woman, born under the Law, if we will properly admonish one another in all wisdom. With that said, may Psalm singing increase and abound.

  50. Blake Law said,

    July 10, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    The new song of the New Covenant is already present in the Psalms. We sing the new song when the Psalms are sung with Christ in mind.

  51. Bob S said,

    July 11, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    49. Thanks for the link, John.
    The eschatological jargon aside, what better way to celebrate the mystery in Ephesians of “our unity in the Spirit” than with “the only hymnbook which can claim to be universal in its acceptance by the whole of Christendom”, as Trueman puts it in his cleverly titled The Marcions Have Landed?

  52. David R. said,

    July 12, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    Carl Trueman’s article links this wonderful defense of Psalm-singing by Athenasius:, which gives the following caveat:

    “There is, however, one word of warning needed. No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments whatever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too. For as the saints’ lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail, provided only they be uttered from a righteous heart.”

  53. Reed Here said,

    July 13, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Hmm, so Athanasius would support Lane here? At least in terms of the inappropriateness of using a translation of the Greek text? Let alone metrical arrangements?

  54. Ryan said,

    July 17, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    With Rev. Lane’s permission, an audio version of this entry can be found here:

  55. Brett Mahlen said,

    July 10, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    Dear Lane, commenters, and future readers,

    I have been meaning to write this for some time. Allow me to take a moment formally to renounce my former belief which was accurately explained by Pastor Lane Keister in the first paragraph of his entry. I now believe English translations of the Psalms are inspired. As far as inspiration of Psalters go I believe this is especially the case with the 1650 Psalter, though it is true of others as well.

    Previously, I used the argument above as a “gotcha” when someone would say, “Let’s sing inspired songs,” (referring to the Psalter), I would say that the English is not inspired but the Hebrew was.

    Allow me to explain my former rationale and my change. At the time I was making that statement I had been involved in apologetics with Muslims. In my research and debates with Muslims I began to appreciate how they considered the Koran in the original Arabic to be inspired but translations not so. My interactions with this belief influenced me to the point that I adopted their view, except that I believed only the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible were inspired, not translations. There were other things going on as well, with controversy in other areas, but I must withhold discussion of those things from you to protect the guilty. Needless to say, I think Friedrich Nietzsche (broken clock; correct twice a day) was correct when he said, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” I trust that we all know how analogies work and that I am not calling Muslims monsters; the point is, I had adopted the view of my opponents. I now see that by doing so, though well intentioned, was wrong. I had fallen into a species of unwitting Barthianism concerning the English Bible, believing the words were not inspired, but the concepts were. Put another way, it was like believing the English Bible contained the word of God rather than being the word of God.

    I renounce this view and I see that it is out of step with Reformed History. Calvin writes of the French translation of the Psalms in the preface to the French Psalter:

    “Now what Saint Augustine says is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God unless he has received them from him. Wherefore, when we have looked thoroughly everywhere and searched high and low, we shall find no better songs nor more appropriate for the purpose than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit made and spoke through him. And furthermore, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts the words (les paroles) in our mouths, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory.”

    The WLC seems to be against my old view as well:

    WLC 157 How is the word of God to be read? A. The holy scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence, and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.

    I was aware of both of these references when I held my former view but I had ways of wiggling out of the consequences. Now I see how I was deceiving myself.

    It may be helpful to talk about the Greek and Hebrew as “immediately inspired” (WCF 1:8) and a translation as “mediately inspired,” mediated through translation but still inspired; there is warrant for this concept in some 16th and 17th century Systematic Theologies. At the end of the day, the English Bible is inspired.

    Jesus and the Apostles quote the Old Testament in translation and they never have to apologize and say, “Now I know this is a translation but…” They quote translations as authoritative. A number of times the epistle to the Hebrews say, “As the Holy Spirit says,” and then it quotes a translation of the Old Testament.

    I now see that my former view was reactionary and I was holding a higher standard for translation than God Himself holds. Only a fool thinks he has higher standards than God.

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