Saturday, November 13, 2010

Music in Scripture - An Overview

Copyright (c) 2010 Robert Hinchliffe

In the words of the final Psalm, No.150 we read:

"Praise him with trumpets. Praise him with harps and lyres.
Praise him with drums and dancing. Praise him with harps
and flutes. Praise him with cymbals. Praise him with loud
cymbals. Praise the Lord, all living creatures! Praise the

The Psalms are often referred to as the Old Testament
hymnbook. This psalm would suggest that instrumental music
as well as vocal music was widely used as part of worship
in those days. We can certainly look to the psalms for
information about the use of music in scripture.

The previous Psalm, No.149, also makes a number of
allusions to music in worship:

"Sing a new song to the Lord"

"Praise him with dancing; Play drums and harps in praise of

"Let God's people rejoice in their triumph And sing
joyfully all night long."

Other psalms too make reference to both vocal and
instrumental music being used in worship and at other times
of religious celebration. It would seem that the use of
what today we would refer to as "worship bands" were very
much in evidence.

Other examples of music in scripture occur elsewhere in the
Old Testament. We regularly read of occasions when music is
used. After the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction
of Pharaoh's army we encounter the passage often referred
to as the "Song of Moses":

"Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
I will sing to the Lord, because he has won a glorious
victory; He has thrown the horses and their riders into the
sea. The Lord is my strong defender; he is the one who has
saved me. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's
God, and I will sing about his greatness."

When the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem
during the reign of King David, there was a great
procession, led by the king himself, when the glory of the
occasion was enhanced by the use of music. In Chronicles we
read of the rededication of the Temple where music again
played a huge part in the worship and in the celebrations
which surrounded it; all adding to the grandeur of the

The New Testament gives us far fewer references of music in
scripture. In his letters to both the Ephesians and the
Colossians, Paul refers to the use of psalms, hymns and
sacred songs. When Paul and Silas were in prison in
Philippi we are told that they passed the time by "praying
and singing hymns to God". We also read in the Gospels that
after the Last Supper the Disciples "sang a hymn and went
out to the Mount of Olives".

These are the main references to music in scripture to be
found in the New Testament. It must be remembered that the
situation was very different for the early Christian church
when compared to the long established Jewish tradition. The
early Christian Church was run on a house-church basis so
the use of music on any significant scale was simply not
possible. It would appear that some psalm and hymn singing
was part of worship but on a very small scale.

As the church grew over the next few centuries a music
tradition developed which has produced a massive repertoire
of wonderful music in many styles and idioms; - a fantastic
resource on which we can draw today.

Robert Hinchliffe is a professional musician and Methodist
local preacher. He is an oboist and composer; - also a
writer of worship songs. This article is a result of his
recent research into the development of music in Christian
worship. For more details visit and find out how
you can access a FREE copy of Robert's new Christmas song,
"The Greatest Gift".

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