HistoryGuy posed some challenging questions in the comments. I thought I’d try my hand at a response.
(1) What is your evidence that the Ephesians of Paul’s day used instrumental music?
There is no evidence that conclusively says they did or did not use instrumental music. The possibility that instrumental music was used is suggested by Paul’s command to sing “psalms,” which were written to be sung to instruments. Psalmos refers to an accompanied song.
Liddell-Scott’s Greek Lexicon defines psalmos —
twitching or twanging with the fingers, of a bow, Eur.
II. mostly of musical strings: the sound of the harp, Pind., Aesch.
2. later, a song sung to the harp, a psalm, N.T.
And so Paul said to sing a “song sung to the harp, a psalm.” You can’t insist that the Ephesians were necessarily a cappella based on Paul’s word choice.
Just so, Paul writes,
(Rom 15:8-11 ESV) 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”
These are references to Old Testament passages, quoted by a rabbi. He meant to use the words as used in their original contexts.
“Sing” in v. 9 is psallo. He is quoting the Septuagint, and in the Septuagint, psallo meant to sing with instrumental accompaniment.
Again, to a First Century reader, familiar with the Septuagint, a cappella would have been far removed from the language Paul quotes. Indeed, when the Septuagint was written, the words were an encouragement to sing instrumentally. This is surely a strange way for an apostle to argue if he intends to be understood as “no instruments allowed.”
Borrowing from Clyde Symonette’s work, we have to consider this Kingdom prophecy —
(Jer 31:4, 7, 12-13 ESV) 4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. …
7 For thus says the LORD: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ …
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
Was this prophecy fulfilled? Why would God inspire a prophecy that the Messiah’s Kingdom would be marked by instrumental music if he intended to ban instrumental music from its worship?
The “Odes of Solomon,” written around 100 to 130 AD, include these songs —
And because of his salvation He will possess everything. And the Most High will be known by His holy ones:
To announce to those who have songs of the coming of the Lord, that they may go forth to meet Him and may sing to Him, with joy and with the harp of many tones. The Seers shall go before Him, and they shall be seen before Him.
And they shall praise the Lord in His love, because He is near and does see.
“The harp of many tones” doesn’t seem like a metaphor. Indeed, it sure reads like an exhortation to instrumental music.
I poured out praise to the Lord, because I am His own.
And I will recite His holy ode, because my heart is with Him.
For His harp is in my hand, and the odes of His rest shall not be silent.
I will call unto Him with all my heart, I will praise and exalt Him with all my members.
“I will recite His holy ode … For His harp is in my hand” doesn’t read like a metaphor. Indeed, “I will … exalt Him with all my members” is an obvious reference to physical worship (such as plucking the strings of a harp). And the Odes are entirely consistent with Jeremiah 31, not to mention the commands to sing psalms.
On what basis could someone insist that the early church was exclusively a cappella? The scriptures don’t say so — and even suggest to the contrary. The earliest hymns outside of scripture that we’ve found contradict that theory. Therefore, the theory is, at the least, unproven. In fact, I find no evidence for it at all, other than reading later church history back into the First Century, a highly suspect methodology indeed.
(2) What is your evidence that the word “psalm,” without supporting context, permits the use of instrumental music?
The Greek lexicons. I’ve already quoted Liddell-Scott. Moulton and Milligan, in Vocabulary of the New Testament, define psalmos —
“psalm” or “song,” sung to a harp accompaniment: see Syll 524 ( = (3 )959)(10 (ii/A.D.), where kitharismos and psalmos are distinguished, the former, according to the editor, being “de eo qui plectro utitur,” the latter “de eo qui ipsis digitis chordas pulsat.” See also Preuschen-Bauer Wörterb. s.v.
I don’t know Latin, but the last phrase is translated by Google as “of a man who strikes the strings, even of the fingers.” I’m sure it could be better phrased, but it’s clear enough that psalmos is used of lyrics written for instrumental accompaniment.
You have to figure that a reference to a “psalm” would be heard in a Christian context, in a church founded by Jewish rabbis among Jews, as primarily a reference to the Old Testament psalms, which repeatedly exhort the reader to instrumental worship and which were written to be accompanied by instruments. The word is saturated with instrumental context.
(3) Upon what evidence do you tell the early church fathers they were wrong to reject instrumental music?
I never made such a claim. Instrumental music may well have been contra-missional in the late second and later centuries. The use or non-use of instrumental music is morally neutral as it has nothing to do with the gospel.
In a given culture, the use of instrumental music may well be missionally inappropriate. See further below.
(4) If the Apostles did not teach the didactic nature of Christian worship where a cappella flourished and instrumental music was irrelevant, who did?
There were pressures among Jews and secular Greeks to sing a cappella, quite independent of any supposed apostolic command. Again, borrowing from Clyde Symonette’s article —
Marsha Edelman writes,
The destruction of the Second Temple also served as the catalyst for a vast change in the music of worship. In the Temple, the Levites had employed instruments — drums, cymbals, horns, lyres, trumpets — but after the destruction of the Temple, the rabbis forbade the use of instruments during prayer. Two reasons for this proscription have been suggested. First, the absence of musical instruments would serve as a sign of mourning for the Temple. Second, the rabbis of the Talmud opposed the use of instruments in prayer services because of their anti-Hellenistic sentiments.
(Marsha B. Edelman, “Synagogue and Religious Music,” My JewishLearning).
Further, Eliyahu Schleifer tells us that there were Halakhic prohibitions on instruments —
The simplicity of the music in the early synagogue was influenced by the halakhic [rabbinic] prohibitions against playing musical instruments, or, under certain circumstances, even singing. These prohibitions stem from three different sources: rules of Sabbath observance; the mourning over the destruction of the Temple; and the struggle against what the Rabbis took to be promiscuity.
(Eliyahu Schleifer, Sacred Sound and Social Change: Liturgical Music in Jewish and Christian Experience (University of Notre Dame Press), republished at Jewish Liturgics, Chant Development, “Jewish Liturgical Music, Part II”)
The Wikipedia (“A Cappella“) cites Philo as one source of Jewish objection to instrumental worship —
The popularization of the Jewish chant may be found in the writings of the Jewish philosopher Philo, born 20 BCE. Weaving together Jewish and Greek thought, Philo promoted praise without instruments, and taught that “silent singing” (without even vocal chords) was better still. So strong was his influence that the Jewish sect of the Pharisees even came to oppose the temple instruments.
And the early church remained very Jewish for years after the apostles. In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity, by Oskar Skarsaune, explains how tightly the early church was tied to Judaism in the early years — only to later working to expunge its Judaism for ignoble reasons.
Philo reflects the Greek contempt for instrumental music.
In short, there were both Jewish and secular Greek cultural trends opposing the instrument. I presume some of this came from Platonic thought — the idea that physical things are unholy. Certainly Platonic thought eventually made its way into the church, leading to the very asceticism that Paul so roundly condemned in Colossians and elsewhere.
I think the apostles had very little interest in the instrumental question. They would have been happy celebrating with instruments, were there no cultural reasons not to. Indeed, doing so would have honored prophecy, emulated the worship of heaven as pictured in the Revelation, and would have been true to the heart of David — the man after God’s own heart.
But God neither commands nor prohibits the instrument. In cultural settings where the instrument would harm the gospel, the instrument takes a backseat to the gospel. And evidently, this very thing happened in the Second Century.