Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, and Westminster’s View



Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16:

A Special Exegesis of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 –Prof. John McNaugher, D. D., LL.D

Exclusive Psalmody: A Biblical Defense – Brian Schwertley

Minority Report of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God Submitted to the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church -John Murray and William Young

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) -A Collection

“Psalms” & Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs -Rev. Daniel Kok

Of Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs And The RPW -Rev. Gavin Beers (via R Scott Clark)


Westminster’s View:

Westminster and Worship Examined: A Review of Nick Needham’s essay on the Westminster Confession of Faith’s teaching concerning the regulative principle, the singing of psalms, and the use of musical instruments in the public worship of God. -By Matthew Winzer. An Extract From The Confessional Presbyterian (2008) 253–266.

Exclusive Psalmody: A Biblical Defense, Appendix The Westminster Confession and Psalmody -Brian Schwertley

The Westminster Assembly and Psalm Singing -A Collection and Further Study




“The first-century (apostolic) church used the LXX more than any other form (translation) of the Old Testament. .. At the top of the Psalms in the LXX were titles or superscriptions. Those superscriptions described each Psalm, they categorized the psalms in 4 classes or groups: ψαλμος [Psalms], συνεσις; [understanding], υμνος [Hymns], ωδη [Ode/Song]. .. Paul invokes them in Colossians 3:16. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom (σοφίᾳ), singing psalms (ψαλμοις) and hymns (υμνοις) and spiritual songs (ωδαις πνευματικαις), with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” .. If Paul was invoking familiar categories that pre-existed the NT church by 250-300 years then we must account for that in our interpretation and application of these two passages.”

– Dr. Scott Clark


“Among the psalm headings in the Septuagint the terms psalmos [psalms] and odee [song/spiritual song] occur together 12 times in a variety of formats: ‘a psalm of David, a song,”a song of David among the psalms’, ‘a psalm of a song’, and ‘a song of a psalm.’ Psalmos and humnos (hymns) appear conjoined twice as ‘a psalm of David among the hymns.’ Humnos seems to function as a collective term of some kind. In the Psalm headings it is used only in the plural, always as part of the phrase ‘among the hymns.’ Psalm 75(76) contains all three terms together. The heading for that Psalm reads: ‘For the end, among the hymns [humnos], a Psalm [psalmos] for Asaph, a song [odee] for the Assyrian.’ Psalm 136(137):3 is especially interesting: ‘For there they that have taken us captive asked of us the words of a song [odeen], and they that had carried us away asked a hymn [humnon], saying, ‘sing us one of the songs [odeen] of Zion.’ The combination of singing and psalming, as in Ephesians 5:19, is found in other forms in several places in the Psalter (e.g. Psa 26:6, 56:8, 104:2, 107:2).”

– Michael Bushell, Songs of Zion, p. 228. Norfolk Press (2011)


Bushell also says:One of the most common objections against the idea that in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 Paul is speaking of the book of Psalms is that it would be absurd for apostle to say, “sing psalms, psalms, and psalms.” This objection fails to consider the fact that a common literary method among the ancient Jews was to use a triadic form of expression to express an idea, act, or object. The Bible contains many examples of triadic expression. For example: Exodus 34:7—“iniquity and transgression and sin”; Deuteronomy 5:31 and 6:1—“commandments and statutes and judgements”; Matthew 22:37—“with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (cf. Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27); Acts 2:22—“miracles and wonders and signs”; Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16—“psalms and hymns and spiritual song.” “The triadic distinction used by Paul would be readily understood by those familiar with their Hebrew OT Psalter or the Greek Septuagint, where the Psalm titles are differentiated psalms, hymns, and songs. This interpretation does justice to the analogy of Scripture, i.e., Scripture is its own best interpreter.


“Good Reader,

’Tis evident by the common experience of mankind, that love cannot lie idle in the soul. For every one hath his oblectation [way of enjoyment] and delight, his tastes and relishes are suitable to his constitution, and a man’s temper is more discovered by his solaces than by any thing else: carnal men delight in what is suited to the gust [i.e., taste] of the flesh, and spiritual men in the things of the Spirit. The promises of God’s holy covenant, which are to others as stale news or withered flowers, feed the pleasure of their minds; and the mysteries of our redemption by Christ are their hearts’ delight and comfort. But as joy must have a proper object so also a vent: for this is an affection that cannot be penned up: the usual issue and out-going of it is by singing. Profane spirits must have songs suitable to their mirth; as their mirth is carnal so their songs are vain and frothy, if not filthy and obscene; but they that rejoice in the Lord, their mirth runneth in a spiritual channel: “Is any merry? let him sing psalms,” saith the apostle (James 5:13). And, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage,” saith holy David (Ps. 119:54).

Surely singing, ’tis a delectable way of instruction, as common prudence will teach us. Aelian (Natural History, book 2, chapter 39) telleth us that the Cretans enjoined their children to learn their laws by singing them in verse. And surely singing of Psalms is a duty of such comfort and profit, that it needeth not our recommendation: The new nature is instead of all arguments, which cannot be without thy spiritual solace. Now though spiritual songs of mere human composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter and words are of immediately divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” which the apostle useth (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But then ’tis meet that these divine composures should be represented to us in a fit translation, lest we want David, in David; while his holy ecstasies are delivered in a flat and bald expression. The translation which is now put into thy hands cometh nearest to the original of any that we have seen, and runneth with such a fluent sweetness, that we thought fit to recommend it to thy Christian acceptance; some of us having used it already, with great comfort and satisfaction. (Thomas Manton D.D., Henry Langley D.D., John Owen D.D., William Jenkyn, James Innes, Thomas Watson, Thomas Lye, Matthew Poole, John Milward, John Chester, George Cokayn, Matthew Meade, Robert Francklin, Thomas Dooelittle, Thomas Vincent, Nathanael Vincent, John Ryther, William Tomson, Nicolas Blaikie, Charles Morton, Edmund Calamy, William Carslake, James Janeway, John Hickes, John Baker, Richard Mayo.”) – A Preface to the 1650 Scottish Metrical Psalter


Henry Ainsworth (1571-1622), English Puritan, scholar in Hebrew and Rabbinics, commenting on Psalm 3: “There be three kinds of songs mentioned in this book: 1. Mizmor, in Greek psalmos, a psalm: 2. Tehillah, in Greek humnos, a hymn or praise: and 3. Shir, in Greek ode, a song or lay. All these three the apostle mentioneth together, where he willeth us to speak to ourselves with ‘psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs,’ Ephesians 5:19.”


Thomas Manton (1620-1677), English Puritan, commenting on Ephesians 5:19: “The learned observe, these are the express titles of David’s Psalms, mizmorim, tehillim, and Shirim, which the Septuagint translate, psalmoi, humnoi, and odai, ‘psalms, hymns, and songs,’ [and] seem to recommend to us the book of David’s Psalms.”


“No authority has been given to make or sing in the praise of God other songs besides those contained in the Bible. Such authority has been claimed, and the present practice of the large majority of professing Christians in the world would seems to indicate that there must be some good ground on which to base the claim. In this intentionally brief article, we cannot even note all the considerations that have b;en advanced in favor of using hymns of human composition in the worship of God. Most of these are of little moment, and do not at all touch the vital question of authority. In these late days that question is rarely referred to. The right to make and use hymns in worshiping God is assumed. When the question of authority is introduced, the reference is to Eph. v. 19, and the parallel passage in Col. iii. 16. It may be safely said (hymn-singers themselves being judges) that if there be not authority in these two texts of Scripture, for making and singing hymns in Gcd’s worship, the authority is not in the Bible. We therefore quote the passages, and consider them. In Eph. v. 18, 19, Paul says : “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” The parallel passage in Col. iii. 16 is, ” Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” That these passages do not authorize the making and singing of hymns in the worship of God, seems to us to be clear from such considerations as these : (1) The word ” Psalms,” refers to the psalms of the Bible. This is so generally admitted by commentators that it may be regarded as a point settled. (2) The presumption is therefore that the terms ” hymns” and ” spiritual songs ” likewise refer to the Scripture psalms. It can hardly be believed that the Apostle would link compositions of men with those of the Spirit of God; put them on the same level; assign to them the same use as matter of God’s praise, and give to them the same efficiency in filling believers with the Spirit, and equal virtue as matter with which believers are to exhort one another. All this we must believe he has done, if ” psalms ” means the psalms of the Bible, and ” hymns and spiritual songs” mean the uninspired compositions of men. (3) The three terms used by the apostle, have corresponding terms in the Hebrew psalter— psalms, hymns, songs. Those to whom the Apostle was writing were familiar with these in the Greek version of the Scriptures. They would readily understand him as referring to these. (4) The very Greek words which he employs are in the titles to the psalms in the Septuagint or Greek version. Paul and those to whom he wrote, no doubt, familiarly used this version. It is, therefore, morally certain that he referred to the scripture psalms, fs) The word “spiritual” qualifying “songs,” is properly that which is produced by the Spirit. So Dr. Hodge regards it in every instance in which it occurs in the books of the New Testament on which he has commented, except in /his single instance. Mr. Barnes might be referred to as sustaining the same view. (6) The apostle is urging the right use of the ” Word of Christ —that is, the Bible. Hymns and songs made by men are not the word of Christ. (7) If the reference in ” hymns and spiritual songs,” be to the compositions of men, then the apostle enjoins Christians without exception to make as well as sing these—an injunction with which the vast majority of Christians could not possibly comply. (8) It is inconceivable that the apostle would make it the imperative duty of the members of the Church at Ephesus and Colosse to make hymns with which to praise God. The most of them were just out of heathenism. What a hopeless task would our missionaries now assign their new converts, if they would impose on them the making of hymns of praise ! (9) If a work so important as making songs with which to praise God, has been assigned to the Church, it is amazing that no promise of the aid of the Spirit has been given for this end. We have the promise of help in prayer; but we have no promise of assistance in making hymns. (10) If the Church was commanded to make and sing her hymns, it is unaccountable that we have no record of an early attempt on her part to fulfil this obligation. Certainly no serious effort was made in the days of the apostles, or for a length of time after them. No hymns of those days have come down to us. Mr. Barnes candidly admits this. The oldest Christian hymn known to be in existence was written some two hundred years after Christ. In view of all these considerations, we submit that there is not authority in these passages of Scriptare for making and singing hymns in the worship of God. The great God whom we worship has given us hymns in his Word with which to praise him. He has not authorized uninspired men to make others. In the whole history of the Church given us in the Bible, there is no evidence that God was ever praised with an uninspired hymn. It is not his will that he should be so praised.” – W.W. Barr, The Psalms and Their Use

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