New Songs (Required by Scripture)

“it would be strange or different now for uninspired songs to be written as the basis of a new song when previously they were inspired.”[1]

“Whether major advances in God’s plan of salvation, or signal deliverances of His People, were always celebrated in new Psalms is a doubtful inference. But if it were a principle of God’s dealings with His People that new divine deeds are recounted in newly written songs, then the New Testament should contain a collection of new songs. It does not. God did not inspire His saints to write a collection of new songs to add to or replace the book of Psalms in the Church’s praise, nor did he tell the Church to write uninspired songs to sing.”[2]

“1. John refers to “a new song” (singular), rather than “new songs” (plural). He is therefore not referring to the composition of a collection of songs, but to the concept of Song, as an expression of adoration before the Throne of God. 2. John uses a particle of comparison, the Greek word w`j [pronounced “hoce”], which is translated “as it were.” From this it is evident that his intention was not to identify the song that he heard as “new” in a definitive way, but rather to describe it in terms of simile, as being “like” a new song. A similar form of this particle is used in Luke 22:44 where we are told that Jesus prayed earnestly and “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” The intention was not to say that Jesus actually sweat drops of blood, but that his sweat was “like” great drops of blood. Likewise, John does not intend us to understand that he heard an actual “new song,” but that what he heard was “like” a new song. 3. John says that “no one could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.” Again, it is apparent that he is not speaking of the content of a specific song, for anyone can learn the music and lyrics of particular songs, regardless of whether or not they are redeemed. John refers instead to the meaning of the Song that he heard, which was concealed from the minds of those who did not have the understanding of faith. With these important considerations from the text in mind, is it not possible – even probable – that John’s words here make perfect and glorious sense when seen in the light of the Church’s use of the Psalms of David in its worship assemblies? Remember that the Psalms were the exclusive praise songs of the apostolic Church. Man-written hymns were not introduced until hundreds of years after John wrote. When a Jew was converted to Christ, the Psalms of David, which he had sung from his infancy, suddenly became – in a very real sense – “new songs!” Did not Paul say, “For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14). And what do we find in the case of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in … the Psalms concerning Me. And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). How must the words of Psalm 2, or 22, or 45, or 110, or 118 have sounded like new songs to those who had been accustomed to singing them in the shadows of unrevealed realities! The effect of the light of the Gospel upon the remnant of Israel redeemed by His grace was to cause them to sing “as it were, a New Song” unto the Lord – not “new” in substance or content, but “new” in richness of meaning and fullness of glory to the God and Savior of men! Seen in this light, the song of the redeemed, which was “as it were, a new song,” and which could only be learned by them, shows us the wonderful way in which the Psalms come alive with meaning in the full light of Christ’s redemption to those whose eyes are opened to see their testimony concerning Jesus.”[3]

“Jesus told the disciples that he was giving them a ‘new command’ (Jn 13.34). What was this command? “Love one another.” The essence of this command is found in Leviticus 19.18 and 19.34. What did Jesus mean by ‘new’? He did not mean new in essence, or even new in form. Rather, he seems to mean new in spirit or application. Compare also John’s instructions in 1 John 2.7, 8, where he indicates that his new command isn’t really new. In the same way, some of the Psalms that speak of singing a ‘new song’ may not be referring to a song that presents a different message from what has been heard, but rather may be exhorting a renewal of spirit in those singing (Ps 96.1; 144.9; 149.1). The other references in the Psalter to ‘new songs’ (Ps 33.3, 40.3; 98.1) and in Isaiah (Is 42.10) may also be referring to a renewed spirit. As Brian Schwertley has observed, ‘Some think that “new” in new song merely means that the psalmist is asking God’s people to sing an inspired song of which they are not yet familiar. Others think that the phrase “sing a new song” is a liturgical phrase equivalent to “give it all you’ve got.” Calvin regards new as equivalent to rare and choice’ “[4]

“The phrase “new song” in the Old Testament can refer to a song which has as its theme new mercies or new marvels of God’s power (e.g., 40:3; 98:1). But keep in mind that this phrase is only used to describe songs written under divine inspiration. This fact limits “new songs” to the inspired songs of the Bible. Since the phrase “new song” is only used to describe songs written by people who had the prophetic gift, and did not apply to just any Israelite, it therefore certainly does not apply to Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, or any other uninspired hymn writer.”[5]

“they [commands to sing a new song] do not constitute a warrant for us to produce uninspired worship song any more than they did for the Old Testament saints.”[6]

“[referencing the new songs in Revelation 5:9; 14:3] To learn a new song taught by the Lord, is very different from writing a new song of our own.”[7]

See also Psalmody and a “New Song”

1RPCNA 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.
3Comin, Douglas. Worship from Genesis to Revelation. Unpublished manuscript.
4Hughes, James R. In Spirit and Truth: Worship as God Requires (Understanding and Applying the Regulative Principle of Worship), 2009. PDF e-book, page 71.
5Schwertley, Brian. Exclusive Psalmody: A Biblical Defense. Reformed Online. Covenanted Reformed Presbyterian Church, 2002. PDF e-book.
6Bushell, Michael. Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody (Third edition). Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 1999, page 95.
7Williamson, G.I. “The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God.” Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. Ed Welsh. Web. January 23, 2016,