Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16

“The names [ed. psalms, hymns, spiritual songs] are borrowed from the Greek translators of the Old Testament, and there is no distinction of them in the New; neither can anyone tell what they mean, but as by their use in the Old Testament. Now these names were used there as peculiar characters to express and distinguish the works of David, and the rest, which were penned to be sung in the church. Let these which are against singing David’s psalms, and of other holy men, shew us any one word or syllable in the New Testament where any of these words are taken in any other sense than as they were in the Old, and yet we are commanded to sing them in the New; on this ground the case would be soon concluded; when the question is propounded (granting this is a command for singing), What shall we sing? Why, psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. How shall we know what these are? We must look in scripture, where these words are used. Now we find them nowhere explained so properly as in the Old Testament; where they are the usual titles of David’s psalms, and the songs of other holy men, and no other use of them expressed in the New.” [1]

“if the Psalms of Scripture are intended by the word ‘psalms,’ as is assumed for the present, it is quite unthinkable that Paul would link human compositions with those of the Spirit of God, and direct that they be used for the same end… It was he who distinguished the Old Testament writings, inclusive of the Psalter, as “God-breathed” literature, clothed with inviolable sanctity… It seems incredible, therefore, that in this instance he should trample upon a distinction which elsewhere he guards jealously and put uninspired songs in competition with those inspired as having equal teaching worth.” [2]

“Of the twenty-five instances in which the word occurs in the New Testament, in no single case does it sink as low in its reference as the human spirit; and in twenty-four of them is derived from πνεῦμα, the Holy Ghost. In this sense of belonging to or determined by the, the Holy Spirit, the New Testament usage is uniform with the one single exception of Eph. 4:12, were it seems to refer to the higher, though fallen superhuman intelligence. The appropriate translation for it in each case is Spirit-given, or Spirit-led, or Spirit-determined.” [3]

“In Psalm 137:3 (LXX) we read: “There they who took us captive demanded of us words of songs (ᾠδαῖ), and they who led us away said, ‘Chant us a hymn (ὕμνοι) out of the songs (εκ των ωδων) of Zion.’ Here the word “songs” (ᾠδαῖ) covers all the Psalms and a “hymn” may be selected at random from these “songs.” [4]

“[Referencing Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16] These are not commands to make hymns, but to use hymns and Spirit-given songs such as were already at hand. These could be found only within the volume of inspiration…It is not likely that the Apostle would put inspired and uninspired songs upon the same basis, and speak of them as equal in devotional value and spiritual profit.” [5]

“The question, of course, arises: why does the word pneumatikos qualify odais and not psalmois and humnois? A reasonable answer to this question is that pneumatikais qualifies all three datives and that its gender (fem.) is due to attraction to the gender of the noun that is closest to it. Another distinct possibility, made particularly plausible by the omission of the copulative in Colossians 3:16, is that “Spiritual songs” are the genus of which “psalms” and “hymns” are the species. This is the view of Meyer, for example. On either of these assumptions the psalms, hymns and songs are all “Spiritual” and therefore all inspired by the Holy Spirit. The bearing of this upon the question at issue is perfectly apparent. Uninspired hymns are immediately excluded.” [6]

“But we shall have to allow for the distinct possibility that the word “Spiritual,” in the grammatical structure of the clause, is confined to the word “songs.” On this hypothesis the “songs” are characterized as “Spiritual,” and therefore characterized as inspired or indited by the Holy Spirit. This, at least, should be abundantly clear. The question would arise then: is it merely the “songs” that need, to be inspired while the “psalms” and “hymns” may be uninspired? The asking of the question shows the unreasonableness of such an hypothesis, especially when we bear in mind all that has already been shown with reference to the use of these words. On what conceivable ground would Paul have insisted that the “songs” needed to be divinely inspired while the “psalms” and “hymns” did not need to be? In the usage of Scripture there was no hard and fast line of distinction between psalms and hymns, on the one hand, and songs on the other. It would be quite impossible to find any good ground for such discrimination in the apostolic prescription. The unreasonableness of such a supposition appears all the more conclusive when we remember the Scripture usage with respect to the word “psalms.” There is not the least bit of evidence to suppose that in such usage on the part of the apostle “psalm” could mean an uninspired human composition. All the evidence, rather, goes to establish the opposite conclusion. We see then that psalms are inspired. Songs are inspired because they are characterized as “Spiritual.” What then about the hymns? May they be uninspired? As already indicated, it would be an utterly unreasonable hypothesis to maintain that the apostle would require that songs be inspired while psalms and hymns might not. This becomes all the more cogent when we recognize, as we have established, that the psalms and songs were inspired. It would indeed be strange discrimination if hymns might be uninspired and psalms and songs inspired. But it would be strange to the point of absurdity if Paul should be supposed to insist that songs had to be inspired but hymns not. For what distinction can be drawn between a hymn and a song that would make it requisite for the latter to be inspired while the former might not be? We, indeed, cannot be sure that there is any distinction so far as actual denotation is concerned. Even if we do maintain the distinct colour of each word there is no discoverable reason why so radical a distinction as that between inspiration and non-inspiration could be maintained. The only conclusion we can arrive at then is that “hymns” in Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16 must be accorded the same “Spiritual” quality as is accorded to “psalms” by obvious implication and to “songs” by express qualification and that this was taken for granted by the apostle, either because the word “Spiritual” would be regarded as qualifying all three words, or because “Spiritual songs” were the genus of which “psalms” and “hymns” were the species, or because in the usage of the church “hymns” like “psalms” would be recognized in their own right and because of the context in which they are mentioned to be in no other category, as respects their “Spiritual” quality, than the category occupied by psalms and songs.” [7]

“The usage data in koiné Greek for “psalms, hymn, songs” suggest that Paul is effectively piling up synonyms, all of which are drawn from the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The terms together most logically refer to the Hebrew “praises” (tehillim) of the book of Psalms, which are of 14 various sorts. “Psalms, hymns, songs” are three of the most common descriptions of the types of “praises” in the LXX titles.” [8]

“Hymn” is mostly translated “praise” in our English versions, but the Hebrew to which it corresponds means a song of praise. For example, in Psalm 119:171, the word translates the Hebrew הלָּהִתְּ tehillah “song”; also in Psalms 40:3; 65:2; 148:14. Psalm 119:171 My lips shall utter praise, הלָּהִתְּ υµνον For You teach me Your statutes. Also in Psalm 100, we are commanded to enter “with songs of praise.” Psalm 100:4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise . הלָּהִתְבִּ εν υµνοις One remarkable example which shows that the compositions of the Book of Psalms are understood to be both praises and prayers, is reflected in Psalm 72:20, where the Hebrew has “prayers” and the LXX “hymns:”
       Of these 27 occurrences, 10 refer to non-Psalter songs: the songs of Moses and of God (Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:19, 21, 22, 30; 32:44), Deborah’s song (Judges 5:12), the 1005 songs of Solomon (1Kings 4:32 [Heb, LXX 5:12] ), and Habakkuk’s prayer (Habakkuk 3:1; 19). The rest all have reference to David’s psalms or the temple singing of the Levites (2Samuel 22:1; 1Chronicles 15:16, 22, 27; 1 Chronicles 16:42; 2Chronicles 5:13; 7:6; 23:18; 34:12; Ezra 3:12; Nehemiah 12:27, 36; Amos 5:23; Amos 8:10
       We conclude that Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 use synonymous Greek terms which grouped together refer most naturally to the praises of the Psalter. This is the most reasonable conclusion about what these terms meant in the language spoken by both Paul and his hearers and readers. Paul is directing the Church to use the Praises of the Bible to edify one another and to praise the Lord. This use of “psalms, hymns, and songs” to refer to the collected Book of Praises thus echoes the OT summary for the Law of Moses, “commandments, testimonies, and statutes” (1 Chronicles 29:19), or Jesus’ summary of the Bible, “the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44) [9]

“[Paul] uses the adjective “spiritual” (πνευµατικαις). The adjective agrees directly with the last noun, “songs” (ωδαις dative, feminine plural). However, since the entire set of nouns is governed by the dative case, the adjective in fact governs the whole set of nouns making up the dative phrase. This is further evidence that the three terms should be taken as a collective. Many modern commentators agree that the adjective governs all three nouns.” [10]

“Both these NT texts include the commandment to sing praise to God from the heart. Colossians 3:16 directs us to be “singing in your hearts to God,” and Ephesians 5:18 says to be “singing and ‘psalming’ in your heart to the Lord.” The heart is the one instrument that the Lord is concerned to see properly tuned in his Church. It is the one instrument with which all believers can make music to the Lord, even the deaf or mute. The music that the Lord desires is that praise which comes from thankful hearts.” [11]

“λαλεω [‘speak’] bears great weight in the Pauline writings. With few exceptions it refers to communicating profound truth, often divine revelation. Paul frequently uses [this verb] in relation to his apostolic witness (e.g., 1Corinthians 2:6-7; 2Corinthians 17; 12:19; 13:3; 1Thessalonians 2:2,4). It is also the verb of choice for communicating divine truth in the congregation. [1Corinthians14, cf. Ephesians 4:25]. It is thus a fitting alternative to the verbs in Colossians 3:16, [‘teach, admonish.’]” (Neufeld 2002, 241) O’Brien points out that, Given the frequent repetition of keywords, cognate terms, and synonymous expressions in Ephesians, the parallelism of this verse suggests that the two halves should be taken closely together (O’Brien 1999, 394). Indeed, verse 19 of Ephesians 5 presents a chiastic parallelism in the style of Hebrew poetry: speaking to one another singing and psalming in psalms and hymns and songs spiritual in your heart to the Lord λαλουντες εαυτοι ς [εν] ψαλµοι α δοντε ς Notice: και ψα λλοντε ς και υµνοις και ω ς τη καρδια υµων τω κυρι psalms…psalming; ψαλµοις… ψαλλοντες songs…singing; ωδαις…αδοντες (from αειδω) to one another…to the Lord δαι ς πνευµατικαις, ω , Similarly, in Colossians 3:16 “teaching and admonishing” is paralleled by “singing.” Both clauses are introduced by a qualifying prepositional phrase functioning adverbially (“in all wisdom…,” “in grace”). In both passages, the singing and speaking are not separate and individual activities: they are simultaneous and collective. [εν παση σοφια] διδα σ κοντε ς και νουθετου ντε ς πνευµατικαις [εν [τη] χαριτι] α δοντε ς εαυτους, ψαλµοις υµνοις ωδαις εν ταις καρδιαις υµων τω θεω in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 13 The acts of speaking are addressed to “one another” and the singing, “to God.” As we sing to the Lord, we are teaching and admonishing one another. We praise God and edify one another with his praises at the same time. In this way we are building up the body of Christ. Nearly all commentators agree that this speaking and singing takes place when the church is assembled for worship or for prayer. Some commentators suggest that the singing in the church (to one another) was antiphonal (Bruce 1988), but there is little in our texts to support this idea. The context, then, is life in the church, most particularly in ecclesiastical fellowship and worship. To further understand these verses accurately, we must make an effort to understand what the words “psalms, hymns, songs” meant to the apostle and to his hearers. Most scholars today agree that it is difficult to draw distinctions between the three Greek terms ψαλµος, υµνος, and ωδη (psalmos, hymnos, o de). Some older commentators look to the etymology of the words to identify three classes of song, but this has proven fruitless. Modern lexicography considers them to be nearly synonymous, drawn from a single semantic field of ‘religious song.’ All commentators note the frequency of occurrence of these three words in the LXX, and especially in the book of Psalms.” [12]

“The structure of “psalms and hymns and songs spiritual” can be re-written in transformation syntax as: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. A noun phrase equals either a single noun (psalms or hymns) or a noun plus an adjective (songs spiritual). The conjunction, of course, is “and.” “And” is a coordinating conjunction in Greek, as it is in English. “And” places the things it coordinates in the same plane or gives the elements coordinated an equality relationship.
      The structure of Ephesians 5:19, the syntax of Ephesians 5:19, is illustrated several other times in the New Testament. Matthew 28:19 is a parallel structure. The New American Standard Version translates Matthew 28:19 “…baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is a correct rendering and it indicates that there is one Name, and three Persons. The relationship between the name and the persons is clearer in the Greek. “…baptizing them into the Name of the Father and (into the Name) of the Son, and (into the Name) of the Holy Spirit.” The parentheses are implied by the cases of the nouns, but are not written on the surface structure” of Matthew 28:19. Rewriting this structure in transformational terms we have: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. The first noun phrase is “into the name of the Father” the second noun phrase is “of the Son” and the third noun phrase us “of the Holy Spirit.”
        II Corinthians 13:13 reads: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” The structure of I Corinthians 13:13 in Transformational terms is: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase.
       Luke 24:44 reads: “(Jesus) said unto then.., that all things must needs be fulfill which are written in the law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms, concerning me.” The underlined words can be expressed in the Transformational terms: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase.
        The argument is that the syntax of Ephesians 5:19, Matthew 28:19, II Corinthians 13:13 and Luke 24:44 is the same in form: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. The point is that the intimate and precise relationships of the elements in the four passages, Ephesians 5:19; Matthew 28:19; II Corinthians 13:13; Luke 24:44 are guarded by syntax. There is no more intimate, close, and indissoluble relationship than that of the Trinity. This is expressed, syntactically, in terms: Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase plus Conjunction plus Noun Phrase. To use this same structure in Ephesians 5:19 indicates that the terms psalms, hymns and songs are related very closely. It means that if any one of these terms is Scripture, then all of the terms have the authority of Scripture, i.e. are the equal of Scripture.
       This is exactly the conclusion we are approaching. The terms psalms, hymns, and songs are equal in authority by reason of their syntax. Psalms is already acknowledged to be a reference to Scripture. Songs, modified by the adjective, spiritual, would also be a reference to Scripture, and therefore hymns must be Scripture.” [13]

“Paul used the three terms [psalms, hyms and songs] because they are the three terms used in the titles in the Psalter. He also, likely, used the three terms to express completeness. Jewish writers would list three identical or synonymous words or phrases, or list three aspects of a thing to emphasize perfection or completeness. See Ex 34.7; Dt 30.16; Is 6.3; Jer 7.4; Lk 24.44; Acts 2.22; 2 Cor 12.12; 1 Thes 5.23; 1 Tim 2.1” [14]

“when the apostle calls for the use of such songs of praise as he designates “spiritual,” he enlists a word which in all but one of its twenty-five occurrences in the New Testament refers to what belongs to or is determined by the Holy Spirit; never does the word designate merely a religious function, or what is produced by the human spirit.[15] When the word is used of men, as in I Cor. 2:15, 3:1, and Gal. 6:1, it indicates men savingly renewed and led by the Spirit. But when the term is applied to words and texts, as it is in Rom. 7:14 and I Cor. 2:13, it plainly denotes Spirit-indited, in the sense of revelatory prophecy; [16] the only other instances in which it is used with respect to words and texts are Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16.” [17]

See also Testimony of Reformed Fathers to the Meaning of “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs”The Use of “Psalms,” “Hymns” and “Spiritual Songs in the Septuagint”

1Sidenham, Cuthbert. A Gospel-Ordinance: Concerning The Singing of Scripture-Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs; the Lawfulness of that Ordinance. London: 1653, page 6. PDF e-book.
2McNaughter, John. “A Special Exegesis of Colossians 3:16 & Ephesians 5:19” in The Psalms in Worship (1907). Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992, page 131.
3McNaughter, pages 132-133.
4Ibid., page 140.
5Wishart, W.I. “The Psalms the Divinely Authorized and Exclusive Manual of Praise” in The Psalms in Worship, page 55.
6Murray, John & William Young. “Reports of the Committee on Song in Worship (Minority Report of the Committee on Song in the Public Worship of God Submitted to the Fourteenth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church).” http://www.opc.org Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Web. January 9, 2016.
8RPCNA Synod’s Study Committee on Worship. “The Psalms in the Worship of the Church.” Submitted to the Synod of the RPCNA, June 2004. First Reformed Presbyterian of Cambridge. PDF article.
10. Ibid.
13Robson, Edward A. “An Exposition of the Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16” in The Biblical Doctrine of Worship. Pittsburgh.: Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, 1974, pages 199-200.
14Hughes, James R. In Spirit and Truth: Worship as God Requires (Understanding and Applying the Regulative Principle of Worship), 2009, page 58. PDF e-book.
15The author’s footnote reads: “Benjamin B. Warfield, “Notes on Pneumatikos and its opposites in the Greek of the New Testament,” Presbyterian Review 1 (1880): 561. The occurrences are Rom. 1:11, 7:14, 15:27, I Cor. 2:13, 2:15, 3:1, 9:11, 10:3-4, 12:1, 14:1, 14:37, 15:44, 15:46, Gal. 6:1, Eph. 1:3, 5:19, 6:12, Col. 1:9, 3:16, and I Pet. 2:5.” 
16The author’s footnote reads: “John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1967), 1:254.”
17Isbell, Sherman. “The Singing of Psalms.” The Westminster Presbyterian. Presbytery of the United States, in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Web. January 9, 2016.