Ezra 3, Union with Christ, and Exclusive Psalmody

p. 74

Ezra 3, Union With Christ, And Exclusive Psalmody

by Vern S. Poythress

[Published in Westminster Theological Journal 37/1 (fall 1974) 74 -94. Used with permission.]

1. Introduction

Reformed churches have long debated the propriety of singing uninspired songs in public worship. As a result, the exegetical evidence concerning the three musical terms in Col 3:16 has almost been squeezed dry. But debaters have left much of the Biblical teaching about singing in comparative obscurity. On this unsqueezed biblical “juice” we intend to concentrate.

The question is this: what words ought we to use for our congregational singing1  in the public worship of God? The most popular answers are that only the following words may be so used:

(1) words of a translation of the 150 psalms (the exclusive-psalmody position) ;

(2) words of a translation of any song of Scripture, viz. the 150 psalms plus Exod. 15, Deut. 32, Judg. 5, etc. (the “inspired-song” position) ;

(3) words of a translation of Scripture (the “inspired-words” position) ;

(4) words that communicate the teaching (didascalia) of Scripture (the didascalia position) ;

(5) any words which are “edifying,” whether or not they go beyond Scripture (the edification position). Positions 1, 3, and 4 are frequently held in Reformed circles; position 5 is frequent in non-Reformed churches.2

p. 75

Our subsequent discussion will argue that, working from Ezra 3 and the doctrine of union with Christ, one can establish position 4 as the biblical one. In this article (Part I) we lay the foundation for our discussion by examining the singing of Christ. In a subsequent article (Part II) we discuss the relation of congregational singing to teaching.

We begin with an examination of the bearing of Ezra 3 on song. It is not necessary for our purposes to do an exhaustive exegesis of Ezra 3 ; rather we wish to trace some of the connections of this passage with God’s work before and after the return from exile.

2. The Regulative Principle

Ezra 3 deals with the regulative principle of worship and with song. Indeed, we find a decided emphasis on the regulative principle. The passage says again, and again, implicitly or explicitly, that worship was conducted in accordance with the law of Moses and the appointments of David (see Table 1).

Moreover, the emphasis in Ezra 3 on following the word of God in worship is reinforced by the attention in the whole book of Ezra to the ability of the word of God to reconstitute the people of God (1:1, 2; Isa. 44:28, 45:13) and to comfort and purify them (Ezra 5:1–2, 6:3, 7:6, 21, 25, 26, 9:4, 10, 10:3). Finally, Ezra 3:11 makes specific mention of singing according to the directions of David the king, thus applying the regulative principle to singing.

Granted that Ezra 3 exhibits the application of the regulative principle to singing, how do we relate it to our time? We must work out the answer in several stages. In §3 we briefly trace the fulfillment of worship as a whole in Christ, and from Christ to us. Next, we must consider how different aspects of worship,


p. 76

Table 1
The Regulative Principle In Ezra 3

Language in Ezra 3

Biblical Text(s) Involved

A. Explicit References to the Law Exod. 38:1–7? Lev. 1
As it is written in the law of Moses,
the man of God (2)
As it is written (4)
Exod. 23:16, Lev. 23:34–44, Deut, 16:13–16
According to the direction of
King David of Israel (10)
1 Chr. 6:31, 16:1–43, 25:1
B. Implicit references to the law
The seventh month (1) Lev. 23:34, 49
As one man (1) Deut. 16:15–16
Built the altar of the God of Israel (2) 2 Chr. 4:1
Morning and evening (3) Num. 28:3, 4, 1 Chr. 16:40
A continual burnt offering (5) Num. 28:3, 1 Chr. 16:40
Also for the new moons (5) Num. 28:11–15
And for all the fixed festivals of the
Lord that were consecrated (5)
Num. 28:16–29:40
A freewill offering (5) Lev. 23:38 Num. 29:39
They gave money to the masons
and carpenters (7)
2 Kgs. 12:11–12
Food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians
and to the Tyrians (7)
2 Chr. 2:10
According to the permission they had
from Cyrus king of Persia (7)
Isa. 44:28, 45:13
Appointed the Levites from twenty years
and older to oversee the work of
the house of the Lord (8)
1 Chr. 23:4, 23
The priests stood in their apparel (10) Exod. 28, 39
With trumpets (1) 1 Chr. 15:24
The Levites the sons of Asaph
with cymbals (10)
1 Chr. 15:16–22
They sang praising and giving thanks
to the Lord (11)
1 Chr. 16:7ff
For He is good, for His lovingkindness
is upon Israel forever (11)
1 Chr. 16:34, 41, 2 Chr. 5:13, 7:3, 6, 20:21, etc.
All the people shouted with a great
shout (11)
1 Chr. 15:28

p. 77

singing among them, are related to the teaching concerning comprehensive fulfillment in Christ (§4). This is followed by a discussion of the fulfillment of the regulative principle in particular (§5). Only at that point are we ready to ask, “What words may we sing?” (§6).

3. Worship In Ezra 3 Finds Fulfillment In Christ

Several principles of interpretation combine to reinforce one’s expectations that the patterns of worship in Ezra 3 point forward to Christ. We note these one by one.

3.1: Spiritual Warfare

The book of Ezra as a whole describes the role of the word of God in spiritual warfare, as the people of God build the house and city of God. Since God is the same God from age to age (Mal 3:6, Ps 102:25–28, etc.), one expects that the same basic principles will be involved every time that God builds a house and city for himself.

3.2: House-Building

In each climactic deliverance, in the course of the history of redemption, one finds the pattern: (a) a deliverance from the bondage of the oppressor, (b) a house-building, and (c) an ordering of worship by the word of God.3  One sees this pattern


p. 78

Table 2
Deliverance, House-Building, And Worship

Time The Oppressor Deliverance House-building Worship
Moses Exod. 1-2 Exod. 3–14 Exod. 19; 25–27; 36–38 Exod. 28–29; Lev.
David 1 Sam. 17 1 Sam. 17; 2 Sam. 7:1; 8 1 Chr. 28; 2 Chr. 2–4 1 Chr. 16; 23–26
Post-exile Isa. 47 Ezra 1–2 Ezra 3:8–9; 5:1–2 Ezra 3
Christ’s resurrection Heb. 2:14; Acts 2:24 Ps. 118:21–22 John 2:13–22 Heb. 5:5 ; 8:1–10:18
The church Eph. 2:1–3 Eph. 2: 4–9 Eph. 2:11–22 Eph. 2:18 ; Heb. 10:19–39; 13:15–16
The consummation* 1 Cor. 15:24–26; Rev. 13, etc. Rev. 17–20 Rev. 21:1–21 Rev. 21:22–26; 22:3

* This assumes an amillennial interpretation of Revelation.

with Moses, with David, with the return from exile, with Christ’s resurrection, with the church, and finally with the consummation (see Table 2). We, as part of God’s house now a-building, share in the fulfilled house-building that Christ experienced when he rose from the dead (John 2:19, 22, Acts 15:16).

3.3 : Promise and Fulfillment

We know in general that the Old Testament represents a time of promise and anticipation over against the New Testament fulfillment (Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:6, 11, 1 Pet. 1:11-12). The germinal deliverance from exile promises a greater future deliverance (compare Ezra 3:12 with Hag. 2:3, Zech. 4:6-10; Hab. 2:6-9 with Heb. 12:25-29; also Isa. 48:20, 52:11, 2 Cor. 6:17). This promise is fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

3.4: Worship

The particular pattern of worship in Ezra 3 is fulfilled, and at the same time transformed, in the final heavenly ministry of


p. 79

Christ (Heb. 8:1–6). The sufficiency and perfection of Christ’s ministry (Heb. 10:8–31) make it impossible to regard Ezra 3 as pointing in any other direction. The key to applying Ezra 3 to present-day worship is to see that, according to Hebrews, the worship of the New Testament church is grounded in and patterned after Christ’s own heavenly ministry (Heb. 12:22–29 ; 10:19–25 ; 13:8–16). To worship in Spirit (John 4:23 ; Eph. 2:18) involves being in Christ (John 14:20; Eph. 2:21–22) and hence growing up into the pattern of the Head (Eph. 4:7-16).

Thus the historical development goes from Moses and David (establishment of patterns of worship) to Ezra (typical restoration of worship), to Christ (antitypical fulfillment of worship), to us (in Christ). This may sound abstract, but as a matter of fact we can trace the historical development separately in each of the main aspects of worship: priestly ministry, kingly ministry, and prophetic ministry (§4). Then, with reference to the prophetic ministry in particular, we may obtain implications for song (§6).

4. Worship As Priestly, Kingly, And Prophetic

Worship is a priestly, kingly, and prophetic ministry that Christ has given to his church from the fullness of the gifts of his Messianic office.

4.1: The Priestly Ministry (Ezra 3:1-7)

Christ is the final priest who offers the final burnt offering and celebrates the final feast of ingathering, which Joshua and Zerubbabel’s works typify (Ezra 3 :1–7). The typical character of Ezra 3:1–7 appears in several ways.

First, the priestly and kingly figures Joshua and Zerubbabel typify a coming Messianic Branch: Zech. 6:11–13. So close is Joshua’s identification with the Branch that, from the immediate context of Zech. 6, one might not be sure whether the Branch is Joshua himself or someone else. The Branch will be both priest and king (6:13), symbolized by putting a crown (kingly symbol) on the head of the high priest Joshua (6:11). Again, while in one place it is said that the Branch will build the temple (6:12-


p. 80

13), in another place one hears that Zerubbabel will build it with the power of the (eschatological) Spirit (4:6–10). Note also the Messianic language used of Zerubbabel in Hag. 2:5 (cf. Isa. 11:1–3, 42:1, 61:1) and Hag. 2:23 (cf. Isa. 42:1, 43:10).

Second, the burnt offerings of Joshua and Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:2–6) point to Christ’s offering up of himself. We need not dwell on this point, in view of the explicit New Testament teaching about Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament sacrifices (Eph. 5:2 ; Heb. 9:6–10:18, esp. 10:8–10).

In the case of the feast of ingathering, or feast of booths, in Ezra 3:4, the connections with the New Testament are not so explicit, but they are none the less clear enough. Not only are there special sacrifices in connection with the feast that must find fulfillment in Christ,4  but Jesus claims to fulfill the water pouring ceremony that the Jews performed in connection with the feast (John 7:37–39, cf. 7:2).5   By making his remarks “on the last day of the feast” (7:37), Jesus in effect lays claim to the whole feast. Interesting also in Zech. 14:16–19, which pictures the eschatological feast of booths not as a gathering of material harvests (Exod. 23:16, Deut. 16:13–15), but a gathering of nations. It is not hard to show the connection of this nation gathering with the pictures in Isaiah (19:23, 25:6, 56:3–8, 60:3–16, 61:5–6, 66:18–21), which in turn the New Testament connects with the new era inaugurated by Christ (Luke 4:18–19, 2:31–32, 1:79, Rom 10:20, cf. John 10:16, 12:32).6

Finally, we may ask how Christ’s high priestly ministry is a model for us. The answer is plain. He has made us also high priests who come boldly before the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16, 10:19–22). The sacrifices we offer are sacrifices according to the model of Christ: sacrifices of love (Eph. 5:1–2), of praise (Heb.


p. 81

13:15), of steadfast confession (10:23), of good works and sharing (13:16).

4.2: The Kingly Ministry (Ezra 3:8-9)

Christ is the final builder-king who builds the final house of God that the post-exilic temple typifies (Ezra 3:8–9). We have already noted that the Branch builds the temple of the Lord that Zerubbabel’s temple typifies (Zech. 6:13, 4:9). Hence the line from Ezra 3:8–9 to Matt. 16:18, 1 Pet. 2:4–10 is a natural one.

We classify house-building as a kingly ministry, not only because of the Near Eastern traditions about kings who celebrate deliverance by house-building,7  but also because the biblical material itself associates temple-building with the royal figures of David and Solomon. Nevertheless, we must not separate the three offices of priest, king, and prophet in an overly schematic fashion. When Christ the king builds the New Testament temple, he does so in exercise of prophetic as well as kingly powers (Eph. 2:20, 3:5, 1 Cor. 3:10–12 ; note the connection of the foundation with true doctrine). And the temple itself is inevitably associated with the priesthood.

As in the case of the priestly ministry, so in the case of the kingly ministry. Christ not only acts as king, but gives his people the model for their own ministry. As kings we are to build on his foundation (1 Cor. 3:10–12) , exercising the power of the keys only at his bidding (Matt. 18:18–20, “in my name”; 1 Cor. 5:4).

4.3: The Prophetic Ministry (Ezra 3:10–13)

Christ is the final singer-prophet who sings the final word revealing the lovingkindness of the Lord forever upon Israel, the song to which Ezra points forward. The easiest way to establish this connection is by notingwho it is who leads the singing: priests and Levites (3:10). We know from the Book of Hebrews that the ministry of Old Testament priests, even in its details, prefigures the final ministry of Christ (Heb. 8:5–6, 9:1–14, esp. 9:5). The same is true of the Levites. They had a role in assist-


p. 82

ing the priests (Num. 3:6ff; 18) and in teaching the people (Mal. 2:5–9, Neh. 8:9–12). And David appointed some divisions of the Levites, as part of their prophetic ministry, to lead the temple singing (to “prophesy with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals,” 1 Chr. 25 :1–31).

In the time of fulfillment, when the Branch comes, the same song of the Lord’s lovingkindness will be sung, and the Levitical priests will have their role restored (Jer. 33:10–22, Mal. 3: 3). But the covenant of peace of which Mal. 2:5 speaks can now be restored only in Christ the Prince of Peace.

A second line of connection with Christ is established by Ezra 3’s description of how the people react: with shouts of joy and weeping. Haggai, in alluding to the weeping, points to the time when, in the fulfillment, there will be cause only for joy (Hag. 2:2–9). And the song of joy properly begins at the resurrection of Christ (John 16:19–24).

A third and final connection lies in the fact that the New Testament describes Christ as one who sings in the congregation (Rom. 15:9, Heb. 2:12, Matt. 26:30). Because this teaching about Christ’s singing is so central to the issue at hand, we intend to provide a fuller discussion of it in §6. This will help us to decide how to model our own singing after Christ’s: how now, in Christ, to sing his words in his Spirit (Col. 3:16).

We have seen how Christ fulfills the typical priestly, kingly, and prophetic ministry of Ezra 3. It remains now to note that this fulfillment includes the regulative principle exemplified in Ezra 3 (see §2).

5. The Regulative Principle In Christ

The regulative principle of worship finds its final, decisive expression when Christ fulfills the law of Moses and the ordinances of David with superabundant fulfillment and richness. The fulfillment has two stages: in Christ as head, and in his people.

5.1: Christ as Head

The fulfillment of the regulative principle of Ezra 3 (§2) is of a piece with the fulfillment of the priestly, kingly, and pro-


p. 83

phetic ministry of Ezra 3 (§4) : all is fulfilled in Christ. As the typical worship of Ezra 3 is in accordance with law, so the antitypical worship of the Messiah is in accordance with law. As the typical worship does not gobeyond law, offering “strange fire” that the Lord has not commanded (Lev. 10:1–3), so the antitypical worship does not go beyond law. Jesus’ own words confirm this:

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does the Son does likewise. (John 5:19).
And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him. (John 8:29).
For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me. (John 12:49–50).
But I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. (John 14:31).

Cf. also John 5:20, 30, 43, Matt. 4:3–11, 5:17–20, 26:54, Luke 22:42.

5.2: The People of Christ

What does Christ’s conformity to law imply for those in Christ? It means that we must follow him by internal conformity to the law. (a) In our worship we are to strive for complete conformity to the law, bending all our efforts and finding all our joy in fulfilling it (not going beyond it with inventions). (b) Moreover, it is conformity which is internal. We must have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), by the Spirit, in understanding the law. We must see that Christ himself is the definitive embodiment of true righteousness. Thus we must not fixate only on so many precepts, but understand also God’s personal purposes, and the way that these purposes climax in Christ and come to us through him. Christ, for example, was not literally a Levitical priest, and did not literally bring the blood in before gold cherubim in a stone sanctuary. Yet he knew that he was not breaking or destroying the Old Testament law, but fulfilling it (Matt. 5:17). Thus he teaches us how to understand the Old Testament, and how truly to worship in conformity to it.


p. 84

Now we are finally ready to ask how the regulative principle applies to singing.

6: What Words Are We To Sing?

We divide our discussion into several parts. First, reasons for rejecting the “edification” position (6.1) ; second, reasons for broadening singing beyond the 150 psalms (6.2) ; third, reasons for broadening singing to the whole of Scripture (6.3).

6.1: The Edification Position Rejected

The fact that Christ is the final singer-prophet (§4.3) already eliminates position 5 (the view that we may sing any words that are “edifying”). For there can be no higher worship than the heavenly worship and singing of Christ before the Father. And this pattern of Christ’s worship is revealed sufficiently for us in Scripture (2 Tim. 3:17). To go “beyond” Scripture is to deteriorate and to despise our union with Christ seated at the right hand of God.

The singers and dancers of Old Testament times saw that all their springs were in Zion (Ps. 87:7). How much more true will it be now that all the “springs” of our singing are in the heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:22), and in the One who gives us springs of living water (John 7:37–39).

6.2: More Than 150 Psalms

Christ sings other words besides the 150 psalms. Evidence for this comes from Heb. 2:12, Ezra 3:11, and Ezra 3 in general.

6.2.1: Heb. 2:12

Heb 2:12 pictures Christ as announcing God’s name in its full, eschatologically deepened meaning, of which the psalms give only a provisional taste. We must remember that in the context of Old Testament revelation a person’s name is not merely a vocable but is meant to describe his character (Gen. 17:5, 15 21:5–6, 25:25–26). This is also true of the name of God (Exod,


p. 85

3:13–16, 6:3, Gen. 32:28–29, Judg. 13:17–18).8   Hence to “proclaim thy name” is to proclaim God’s character. Now, in the fullness of time, God’s name is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” “the God who raised Christ Jesus from the dead”! Furthermore, Heb. 2:12 pictures Christ as singing to the congregation the account of the eschatological deliverance of God’s chosen One (cf. the context of Ps. 22), which the psalter speaks of only in provisional form.9   Hence Christ sings more words than the 150 psalms.

Against this interpretation of Heb. 2:12 there might still be three possible objections: (a) that the singing of Heb. 2:12 is due to commence at the consummation, not in this age; (b) that since the word “sing” occurs only in the LXX and Heb. 2:12 (the Hebrew of Ps. 22:22[23] has ‘praise’), it cannot be shown that the writer of Hebrews wanted to say that Christ “sings” rather than merely “speaks” his words of praise; (c) that the word itself can mean simply “praise.”

In reply to (a) : the author’s main reason for introducing the quotation in Heb. 2:12 is to confirm his point that Christ calls his people brothers (2:10–11). His argument is seriously weakened if Ps. 22:22 applies only to the consummation, because then, for all we know, it may be only at the consummation that Christ is willing to call men brothers. Clearly the author of Hebrews feels justified in assuming that Christ is now willing to use such words as Ps. 22:22.

Furthermore, the “present-tense” interpretation of Ps. 22:22 is confirmed by the context of Ps. 22. The purpose of proclamation to the brethren is that the message of salvation and the worship of God may spread to all the earth (22:25–31). Hence Ps. 22:22 is in a pre-consummation setting.


p. 86

In reply to (b) : on the one hand it is true that a New Testament quotation from LXX need not endorse the detailed accuracy of the LXX as a translation. Nevertheless, we would be surprised and somewhat disturbed to hear that a New Testament author had quoted as authoritative something that he did not agree with; or worse, something which was not true. Hence, though the author of Hebrews is not necessarily implying that the LXX of Ps. 22:22 is the best translation, he is implying that it is an acceptable description of what Christ’s proclamation is like.

Furthermore, the teaching of Heb. 2:12 is paralleled and reinforced by Rom. 15:9. These two verses show several similarities to one another: (1) both Heb. 2:12 and Rom. 15:9 are quotations from Old Testament psalms; (2) both represent Christ as speaker;10  (3) in both cases the Gentiles are addressees; (4) the first of two parallel lines mentions speaking, and the second line singing; (5) the name of God is the content of the proclamation. Fortunately, Rom. 15:9 is free from the special problem of Heb. 2:12, inasmuch as the Hebrew behind Rom. 15:9 does contain the word ‘sing’ (אֲזַמֵּֽרָה).

Hence Rom. 15:9 confirms our statement that Christ sings the name of God in fullness to the congregation. At the same time Rom. 15:9 obviates objection (c), because the word ψαλλεῖν of Rom. 15:9 is free from the ambiguity of ὑμνεῖν.11


p. 87

6.2.2: Ezra 3:11

In Ezra 3:11, which is to be fulfilled in Christ, the people (or at least the priests and Levites) sing words that are not found in the 150 psalms. More precisely, the “upon Israel” is not found anywhere else following the refrain “for his steadfast love


p. 88

(lovingkindness) endures forever.”12   A general principle for song seems to be involved here, namely that with the progress of the history of redemption new richness and elaboration appears in the songs of God’s people.

6.2.3: Ezra 3 In General

Even without these specific texts, we might legitimately infer that Christ sings other words besides the 150 psalms, because of the unity of worship in Ezra 3 and the unity of its fulfillment in Christ. Christ is final priest, king, and prophet, and in all three offices he goes beyond the letter of the Old Testament (§4). In view of his superiority to the Old Testament order at every point, we must say that he sings more words. David, the lesser, composed psalms when delivered (Ps 144:5). Shall we deny this to the greater when he receives a greater deliverance?

6.3: Christ Sings All the Words of Scripture

Though the above arguments may show that Christ sings words other than the 150 psalms, we have yet to show that he sings all of Scripture. We exhibit several arguments below that lead to this conclusion. Most of these arguments could stand on their own feet even without the support of §6.2but we have preferred to explore the biblical teaching by gradual steps.


p. 89

6.3.1: Statutes and Ps: 119:54

Christ sings statutes. Ps. 119:54 says, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” For the application of this verse to Christ’s public ministry to be convincing, we should establish (a) that Ps. 119 is a Christological psalm in which Christ is the antitypical speaker and (b) that the singing takes place in public worship.

In regard to (a) : who, may we ask, is the “I” of Ps. 119? We claim that the “I” is Christ (not, to be sure, as an isolated individual, but as head of his people). Even a casual reading of the psalm should prove that no one can rightly say these words who has not kept the whole law with his whole heart (119:14, 20, 22, 56, 60–63, 97–104, etc.). Moreover, the psalmist says, “The Lord is my portion” (v. 57), words parallel to Ps. 16:5. And of Psalm 16 Peter says that David, in writing it, “foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ”, i.e. David wrote Ps. 16 first of all about Christ and not about himself (Acts 2:29–31). Therefore, we think that it is not going too far to say that Ps. 119 was also written in view of Christ. Any believer can take the “I” on his lips only because he is in Christ. Therefore, in particular, it is Christ who says, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”

In regard to (b): what is this “house of my pilgrimage”? The idea of pilgrimage goes back to the time of the patriarchs’ unsettled life (Heb. 11:9, 13–16). A house of pilgrimage is a temporary dwelling that one has when he has not settled in his permanent home. Such a figure comes naturally to mind when the psalmist is surrounded by wicked and godless men (119:51, 53). In these circumstances he feels how little at home he is, how alien to the corruption around him. The ordinances and statutes comfort him by recalling to him his proper allegiance and citizenship (119:52, 54). Like the pilgrim-patriarchs, he is looking for a heavenly habitation (Heb. 11:10, 16).13

What does this mean in antitypical form in Christ? The house of his pilgrimage is the world itself, into which he has come and


p. 90

which he leaves (John 1:9–11, 17:11, 13, 16:28, 8:14). Hence we may conclude that Christ’s singing takes place publicly.14

Finally, we may ask what is the range of “statute.” Just what parts of Scripture are statutes? In Ps. 119 “statutes” (חקים), “ordinances” (משפּטים), “commandments” (מצות), “precepts” (פּקדים), “word” (אמרה), “law” (תורה), “testimonies” (עדות) occur almost in free variation with each other. The psalmist wants to say everything laudatory that he can about all God’s word, especially its legal parts. Hence, for doctrinal purposes, it is not wrong to apply almost any statement of Ps. 119 to any legal part of Scripture, or perhaps even to absolutely all Scripture. The word אמרה, for example, is general enough to cover all words of God, and תורה is used of the whole law of Moses (apparently including the nonlegal portion of the Pentateuch: Josh 1:7–8, 2 Kgs. 14:6, etc.). In short, there seems to be every reason for saying, on the basis of Ps. 119:54, that Christ could sing the whole of Scripture in “the house of his pilgrimage.”

6.3.2: The Recital of the Deeds of God

Christ tells the deeds of God in song. Ps. 107:22 says, “And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in


p. 91

songs of joy.” We claim that this command applies to Christ. For the command is addressed to the redeemed of the Lord in general (107:2), and to those in particular who “because of their iniquities suffered affliction; … they drew near to the gates of death” (107:17–18). Christ, of course, is head of the redeemed, having himself been redeemed from the pit (cf. Ps. 40:1–3, 9–10 and 40:6–8 ; Col. 1:18 ; Ps. 22:4, 20–21). Moreover, the afflictions described in Ps. 107:17–20 are similar to Ps. 22:24 and Isa. 53. If so, and if Christ fulfills the law (cf. §5), we expect that Christ will “tell of his deeds in song of joy.” Other passages make it clear that he cannot stop short of telling all the great deeds of God (Ps. 105:2, 9:1, 11, 89:1 (“mercies of the Lord,” plural)).

The connection that we are drawing between Ps. 107:22 and these three other psalms (105, 9, 89) is not an artificial one. It is not only that all four psalms mention congregational singing about the Lord’s marvelous deeds of deliverance. In each case there are other more subtle parallels. For example, Ps. 105 has much subject matter in common with Ps. 106, which in turn has in common with Ps. 107 the refrain “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his lovingkindness endures for ever” (106:1, 107:1). Ps. 9 has the theme of affliction and the gates of death in common with Ps. 107 (9:12–14, 107:17–22; cf. also 89:45–49). The care for the poor and destruction of enemies in 9:17–21 calls to mind 107:39–43.

To cap it all, in each of these psalms Christ can be regarded as the principal singer. He is an “offspring of Abraham his servant [Gal. 3:16], a son of Jacob, his chosen one [Isa. 42:1, compare 43:1 with 49:1; Luke 9:35]” of Ps. 105:6. He is the suffering one (Ps. 9:13) who can truly say to God, “Thou hast maintained my just cause” (9:4). He is the anointed servant of the Lord of Ps. 89, bearing the score of the peoples (89:49–51).

Because of all these connections, we feel justified in applying to Christ such exhortations as “sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works” (105:2). Hence we conclude that Christ sings also the New Testament deeds of salvation, including such deeds as his appearance to Thomas, his conversation with Peter in John 21, etc. -needs not explicitly mentioned in the 150 psalms. The point is, Christ sings New


p. 92

Testament words as well as the 150 psalms. He sings not only to God, but among the nations (Ps. 105:1, 7, 9:11, 89:5, 12, 18:49, 108:3, 57:9). It is public worship.

7: Preliminary Conclusions About Our Singing

Now we can draw implications concerning the position that we have attained so far.

7.1: Positive Conclusions

Inasmuch as we are in Christ, our singing before the congregation can be as wide as his.15   This eliminates position 1 (exclusive psalmody) and 2 (inspired songs).

7.2: Area of Uncertainty

We have not yet decided between positions 3 and 4 (inspired-words position vs. didascalia position). Nevertheless, we have made significant progress. For, in practice, we suspect that people in position 3 will have fewer problems of conscience than people in positions 1 and 2. Many hymns in (say) the Trinity Hymnal16 that are not taken directly from the psalter have their lines composed of loose paraphrases of various parts of Scripture. Hence, though from the point of view of position 3 they may not be ideal translations of Scripture, they are singable in public worship. We can sing translations of Scripture.

7.3: The Bearing of Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19

If we are right in finding scriptural grounds for eliminating position 1, it means that the minute exegesis of “psalms, hymns,


p. 93

and spiritual songs” in Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19, such exegesis as is found in typical exclusive-psalmody arguments,17 is not of crucial importance in deciding the issue before us. To be sure, if it could be shown that Paul refers in Col. 3:16 to uninspired as well as inspired words, then positions 1, 2, and 3 would be eliminated. On the other hand, supposing that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” refers only to the 150 psalms,18  it actually works somewhat against position 3 in favor of position 4. For, we have established that the corpus of congregationally singable words is larger than the 150 psalms, hence larger than the reference of Col. 3:16. It is then difficult to see how the exegesis of “psalms, hymns, and songs” can settle the question of how much larger the corpus is.

There may be many reasons for confining ourselves to translations of inspired words, but the exclusive-psalmody argument from Col. 3:16 is not one of them, because it proves too much (namely, it “proves” position 1). Too much ink has been spilt arguing for position 1 (or 2; sometimes it is not clear what an author thinks19)  vs. position 4, when the real argument, constructed on a different basis, should be between positions 3 and 4.

7.4: Position 2

Position 2 (the inspired-songs position) has special difficulties, in comparison to positions 1 and 3, because sometimes it is not


p. 94

clear whether a portion of Scripture is or is not a song. Are Acts 4:25–31, 1 Tim. 3:16 songs, as Robert Marsden argues?20

To decide between positions 3 and 4, we must explore what function or functions are served by song in worship. This will be the topic of our next section.

University of Cambridge.

(to be concluded)

[The second, concluding part is “Ezra 3, Union with Christ, and Exclusive Psalmody (Sequel),” Westminster Theological Journal 37/2 (1974) 218-35.]



1 On the difficulty of defining “singing,” see §13 (sections 8 and following are to appear in Part II).

2 Many congregations have not even consciously reflected on the question, what songs should be sung. Thus it is in some sense fairer to assign them no position at all rather than position 5. Nevertheless, in such cases pastoral judgment and tradition (including a favorite hymnbook I) will in practice set definite limits to singing. Another difficulty arises in connection with the definition of “edification:’ As we shall see in §§10 and 11,true edification in song is but another way of describing profitable teaching in song. Hence, according to the Biblical notion of “edification,” positions 4 and 5 coalesce. We have nevertheless treated position 5 as a separate position, because we are here using ‘edification’ in a subjective sense rather than in a strictly biblical sense (thus: “what seems and feels to me to be edifying, what I enjoy singing in a religious atmosphere”; not “what in fact does build up the saints according to Scripture”).

3 Cf. the discussion in relation to ancient Near Eastern epics in Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), pp. 79-88. In an argument such as this, so intimately related to the principle of sola scriptura, it is perhaps the more necessary to affirm explicitly that the footnote references to nonscriptural sources (especially works by liberals) are included as scholarly apparatus, but not as anessential contribution to the structure of the argument. If necessary, the argument could be presented with the same conclusiveness, although without the same convenience, using no extra-biblical material except for certain observations on the nature of language, song, praise, and the like. The argument in favor of exclusive psalmody sets forth (or else presupposes) a certain view of the nature of “song” in relation to “praise,” “preaching,” and “prayer.” Hence a certain amount of reckoning with the sociolinguistic structure of song cannot be avoided by either side.

4 Ezra 3:4; Num. 29; and especially the day of atonement, Lev. 16, cf. Heb. 9:7.

5 Cf. the discussion by Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (8th ed.; New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1900), II, Ch. 7; and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, IV, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), pp. 277-278 (henceforth cited as TDNT.)

6 Cf. Joachim Jeremias, Jesus’ Promise to the Nations (Naperville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, 1958), pp. 58ff, on the features of the “eschatological pilgrimage of the Gentiles to the Mountain of God.” Also Johan Bavinck,An Introduction to the Science of Missions (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1960), pp. 17-24.

7 Meredith G. Kline, op. cit., pp. 79-88.

8 Cf. the article ὄνομαTDNT, V (1967), pp. 255-261.

9 Hence we can agree with James Grier (The Psalms in Worship, ed. John McNaugher, Pittsburgh: The United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1907, p. 456) that the psalter “distinguishes personally” and sets forth Christ, as the “Anointed, the Son, the Shepherd.” If anything, we would go further than Grier in our affirmations about the Christological character of the psalter. That is not the question. The question is whether one can do justice to the unveiled character of Christ’s revelation of the name of God in the New Testament (John 16:25 ; 2 Cor. 3:16–18). Neither is it a question of abandoning the psalter. As we shall see, Christ sings the partial (OT) and complete (NT) ; so therefore do we.

10 That Christ is the speaker in Rom. 15 :9 is shown by the connection with 15:8. Christ came (a) to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs and (b) that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. He causes the Gentiles to glorify God for his mercy by proclaiming God’s name among them (cf. William Sanday and Arthur Headlam, Critical and Exegetical Commentary ox the Epistle to the Romans (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, n. d.), on Rom. 15:9; cf. Acts 13:47–48). We could add to this the Old Testament evidence that David speaks 2 Sam. 22 and Ps. 18 as king typifying Christ (cf. especially Ps. 18:51; Ps. 18:3–6 is parallel to Ps. 69:1–4, and to Ps. 107:17–22 which we discuss below, §6.3.2).

11 It is true that ὑμνεῖν can be used of praise not literally sung (TDNT, VIII (1972), p. 490; and Theologisches Begriffslexikon sum Neuen Testament, II, ed. Lothar Coenen, Wuppertal: Theologischer Verlag Rolf Brockhaus, 1969, p. 907). But it is equally true that the LXX translates הלל (praise) almost always (approximately 70 times) by αἰνεῖν, and only 3–5 times by ὑμνεῖν. Of the three times when הלל is definitely translated by ὑμνεῖν, two are instances when the praise in question almost certainly took the form of song (2 Chr. 29:30). The third is our problem passage Ps. 22:22. The evident reason for using ὑμνεῖν in Ps. 22:22 and Isa. 12:4 (where Heb. has הודו) is that praise takes place in the congregation. Because of the analogy with the Levitical congregational praise of 1 Chr. 23:25, it is perhaps natural to think of such praise as taking the form of song. This leaves us only one clear instance where the LXX appears to us of praise in general (Isa. 25:1). The nuclear or most frequent meaning of ὑμνεῖν does appear to be “to praise in song.” Moreover, since the boundaries between praise and song in ancient Israel were fuzzy to begin with, we have little reason for drawing such a boundary in Ps. 22:22 or Heb. 2:12.

We would, of course, agree with Delling (TDNT, VIII, 1972, p. 499) that in the most prosaic, literal sense of “sing,” Christ did not “sing” the name of God in all its richness to the congregation (especially since this congregation must include all the brethren, Heb. 2:10–3:1). But this does not bar a metaphorical use of “sing” to mean “joyous praise and proclamation”. Nor does it bar us from saying that Christ “sings” to the congregation using the mouth of his people. (If we are to believe Schlier (TDNT, I, 1964, p. 165), Ignatius of Antioch uses this very metaphor in Ign. Eph. 4:1: χριστὸς ἅδεται — taken in the middle sense, “Christ sings about himself”; and ἅδητε ἐν φωνῇ μιᾷ διὰ Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ τῷ πατρί, … μέλη ὄντας τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ — “that you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father … being members of his Son.” To say that Christ sings through his people is just as natural as saying that God calls men to himself, using the mouth of his preacher heralds.

That is, Christ himself “sings” in causing his people to “teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. When his own people (and in a special sense his apostles and prophets) speak his words, in a real sense he speaks through them. We would not limit Christ’s “singing” to this particular mode, but we would suggest at least that this is one of the ways that his singing takes place. For further discussion of the mode of Christ’s singing, cf. §§10, 11. At any rate, with G.I. Williamson (“The Singing of Psalms in Worship,” Blue Banner Faith and Life, 25, 1970, p. 114) we agree that the biblical usage of terms must remain primary. If ὑμνεῖν includes forms of utterance which we moderns do not consider “song” in a narrow sense, we nevertheless classify all such utterances together as “hymns” in a biblical sense.

12 It seems to us not possible to establish with certainty whether the Levites led the people in singing or whether they alone sang and the people responded only with a (non-sung) shout. (In favor of the first alternative, cf. 2 Chr. 7:3.) It makes little difference, however, to our conclusions. Christ is now priest (or rather high priest) par excellence, and we all have become priests in him (Isa. 66:21, Heb. 10:19–20, 1 Pet. 2:9). Hence we have greater scope in song than Old Testament priests. Another problem arises in connection with the question, whether the clauses “for he is good, for his lovingkindness endures forever upon Israel” represent a part of the words sung by the Levites (so RSV, NASV) or merely the comment of the writer of Ezra on why they sang. There is no grammatical necessity to choose either alternative. However, because of the obvious liturgical character of the clauses, plus their frequency of appearance (in variant form) in connection with song lyrics elsewhere (cf. especially 1 Chr. 16:34, 41; 2 Chr. 20:21), we have no doubt that they were sung on this occasion. Cf. also §16 on “praise.”

13 “The saints are pilgrims in this world, and must be regarded as God’s children and heirs of heaven, from the fact that they are sojourners on earth. By the house of their pilgrimage, then, may be understood their journey through life” (John Calvin, Commentariesad. loc.). Cf. also Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 250.

14 Some difficulty might still be occasioned by the possibility that a person might sing in the world (the “house of pilgrimage”), yet only to himself and to God (i.e., privately). Ps. 119:49–56 definitely does put the emphasis on the comfort and edification which the psalmist himself receives, vv. 49, 50, 52, 56. Christ’s songs, it appears, result in benefit primarily to Himself and the Father. It is right that this should be so. But a “congregational” side to the singing cannot thereby be excluded, for the following reasons. (a) The public character of the “house” makes it extremely plausible that the psalmist’s words were heard by others. (b) Public speaking is explicitly mentioned in vs. 42, 46, and this in a similar context of focus on the psalmist’s own benefit; cf. vs. 41–48. (c) Even if it were granted that the psalmist sings only to himself and God, one can still argue for our participation even in this intimate circle, because we are Christ’s body. “House of pilgrimage” points to the time when Christ was fulfilling his Messianic office, to the time when he “sanctified himself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). As Christ’s members (1 Cor. 6:15), we also participate in Ps. 119:54 in a derivative sense: both corporately and individually we are called to say, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” In particular, the corporate side of the church’s calling involves congregational singing of the statutes.

15 There are also differences between Christ’s singing and ours. He inaugurates a new age of redemption; we only follow. He sings new inspired songs; we follow his singing. At this point, we are concerned only to affirm that there can be nothing suspect’ about the words that he sings before the Father; hence there can be nothing suspect in our bringing to the Father the same words in his name. Later (§§10–14) we discuss whether we may sing noncanonical words.

16 (Philadelphia: The Committee on Christian Education, Inc., The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1961).

17 E.g., John McNaugher, ed., op. cit., pp. 128-158; John Murray and William Young, “Minority Report of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God; Submitted to the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church,” Minutes, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, General Assembly 14 (Philadelphia, 1947), pp. 58-66; Frank Frazer, “Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Song,” Blue Banner Faith and Life, 22 No. 1 (1967), pp. 23-25; M. C. Ramsay, Purity of Worship (Sydney: Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, 1968), pp. 17-21; G. I. Williamson, op. cit., pp. 111-122.

18 G. I. Williamson seems to hold this position: “So psalms, hymns, and songs are the inspired compositions of the Psalter, in the language of scripture itself” (ibid., pp. 114-115).

19 Cf. G. I. Williamson, ibid., p. 111: “That in the worship of God the inspired book of Psalms should be used to the exclusion of the uninspired compositions of men.” Should or should not inspired Scriptures other than the psalms be used? Williamson does not say.

20 Robert Marsden, Minutes, The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, General Assembly 14, 1947, pp. 55-58.


Sign up to receive new posts via e-mail