Questions about Instruments

By Royce Frederick

Throughout the world, there are millions of Christians in churches of Christ who do not use instrumental music as part of worship. We often hear good questions from sincere people who ask, “Why do you not use instrumental music?”

The answer is very simple: “We do not include instrumental music because Jesus did not include it in His New Testament instructions about worship.”

Jesus is the Lord of every Christian and the Lord of His church. Since He is the one who died for the church, built it, and is Head of it, we want to let Him decide how we worship. We are not perfect individuals, nor perfect churches. But our determination — our goal — is to honor Jesus as Lord by respecting His revealed instructions in all things, including the way we worship. 

Other Questions about this Topic

Our Lord prayed for unity among His followers (Jn. 17:20-21). If all people would choose to follow only His instructions about worship, that would easily settle the matter. There would be no need for deeper discussions. However, many people have additional questions which may come from: (1) a desire to know more, or (2) a desire to use instrumental music in worship. We welcome every question, and we are happy to examine each one in the light of God’s word. Jesus tells us, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). It is our desire to present this material with repect and patience toward all people (1 Pet. 2:17; 2 Tim. 2:24), and we hope you will read and study it in the same manner.

Can We Use Instruments in Worship Because DAVID Did?

Before we examine the will of Christ, let’s consider instrumental music in the Old Testament.

“Does Amos 6:3-5 condemn instrumental music in Israels worship?” No. Amos 6:3-5 is not about worship. It is a message about selfishness. “Woe to you…who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David...but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” Amos also mentions many other pleasures which the selfish, rich leaders enjoyed while the poor people suffered (Amos 6:1-8). Hundreds of years earlier, Joseph’s brothers enjoyed eating their food while they ignored Joseph’s cries from the pit — where they had thrown him (Gen. 37:23-25; 42:21). Likewise, Amos says the leaders in his time cared more for their pleasures than for their brothers. It is possible for us to fall into a similar condemnation today (see Lk. 8:14; 2 Tim. 3:4; Jas. 4:1; 5:5, 19-20; 1 Jn. 2:15-17; 3:17; Heb. 11:25). All of us need to ask ourselves, “Do I care more about my pleasures food, entertainment, comforts, possessions than about the spiritual and physical needs of my brothers?” Also, on the same topic of selfishness, it is good to ask ourselves, “Do I desire instrumental music more than unity with my brothers who do not worship with instruments?”

“Did God permit instrumental music in worship during the LAW of MOSES?” Yes. Prophets of God said, “Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp” (Ps. 149:3). “And he [Hezekiah] stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets” (2 Chron. 29:25).

“Since God did permit instrumental music during the Old Law, does that mean it is okay TODAY?” No. The Law of Moses was fulfilled and removed when Jesus died: “...He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14; see Eph. 2:15); “...the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ...we are no longer under a tutor(Gal. 3:24-25). That clearly says “we are no longer under” the Old Law. The New Covenant of Christ replaced the Old Covenant (Heb. 8:6-9; 9:15-17).

The New Testament contains many instructions which are the same as some of the Old Testament instructions. For example, both covenants tell us not to lie, murder, steal, commit adultery, or worship idols. But the Old Testament also included many instructions for Israel which Jesus did not include in His New Testament instructions for Christians. For example, Israel had one national place of worship, animal sacrifices (every day), gold furniture, jeweled garments for the high priest, and the death penalty for some violations of God’s laws. These and many others are not part of the will of Christ for His church. Today, we must go to the New Testament to find the Lord’s instructions about how He wants us to worship.

“Can we worship with musical instruments because they are mentioned in the Psalms?” We would encounter some serious problems if we did everything which we find in the Psalms. The Psalms do contain many beautiful statements which perfectly agree with the will of Christ for us today. But we need to remember that the Psalms were written during the Old Covenant, and they sometimes contain things which were only for the Old Testament nation of Israel. Here are some examples:

(1) Sacrificing Animals. “May He remember all your offerings, And accept your burnt sacrifice...” (Ps. 20:3). “...Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” (Ps. 118:27). “...Build the walls of Jerusalem...Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar” (Ps. 51:18-19). “I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows...I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, With the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats...” (Ps. 66:13, 15). Jesus does not instruct us to worship in these ways.

(2) Vengeance on Enemies. One Psalm asks God to “Break the arm of the wicked and the evil man” (Ps. 10:15). Should we ask God to do that today? Another says, “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations...” (Ps. 149:6-7). That second part is not for us today. Jesus teaches us, “love your enemies” and “pray for our enemies, not against them (Matt. 5:44).

Because of these verses, we know that the Psalms contain some instructions which we cannot follow today. So, we also know that the verses in the Psalms which mention instrumental music do not give us approval from Jesus to use it in worship today.

“Can we FOLLOW ONE PART of the Old Law?” No. Anyone who obeys one part “ a debtor to keep the whole law” (Gal. 5:3; see 5:2-4). We would need to also offer animals as burnt offerings (Ex. 20:24, etc.), kill any of our brothers who work on the seventh day of the week (Ex. 20:8-11; Num. 15:32-36), apply the death penalty for many other sins, and so on. No religious group follows all of the Law of Moses today. Jesus did not merely change some of the Old Testament. He removed all of it (see Matt. 5:17-18).

We can and must learn many lessons from the Old Testament (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). But the Old Law was given to the nation of Israel, not to us (Deut. 5:1-3). When we study the Old Testament, we need to always examine its messages in the light of the will of Christ in the New Testament. Then we will be able to draw many riches from its pages (see Matt. 13:52).

What is the Will of Christ?

“What is the Lord’s will in the New Testament?” After Jesus died, the Old Law was replaced by the New Testament of Christ (Heb. 8:6-9; 9:15-17; 10:9; Matt. 28:18). His word will judge us (Jn. 12:48). He said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth(Jn. 4:23-24). He said to God, “...Your word is truth (Jn. 17:17). We must worship God from our spirit according to His word.

The New Testament pertains to spiritual things. Jesus gave Himself once as our only sacrifice for sin (Heb. 7:27). The church throughout the world is God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16), because His Holy Spirit lives within each member of the church (1 Cor. 6:19). Our feast is simply the partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). Our adornment, armor, and warfare are spiritual (1 Pet. 3:3-4; Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:11-17). And our music is composed of spiritual songs from the heart and lips of each worshiper.

EPH. 5 —“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-20). Pagan feasts often included getting drunk, singing carnal songs with harp and timbrel, and praising the “gods” of carnality. But Christians should be full of the Spirit, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in our heart to the Lord.

COL. 3“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” (Col. 3:16). We are “filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5) when we study and yield to the word of Christ” (Col. 3). (See Col. 3:17; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:15; Rom. 10:17; 8:14; Gal. 5:25). The Spirit should direct our steps and songs.

HEB. 13 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15). This includes praising God in song and prayer — the fruit of our lips, not our fingertips.

JAS. 5 “...Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (Jas. 5:13). Our grateful songs should praise the Giver of every good gift (see Jas. 1:17).

I COR. 14 “...I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15). Paul is saying he will sing in a manner which can be understood by others. Singing is a way of “speaking to one another” (Eph. 5:19). “...Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue [language], has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). Each of these should convey a message to build up the hearers — not mere sounds which cannot be understood: “...unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air” (1 Cor. 14:9; see 13:1). Instruments send sounds into the air, not messages into the heart.

“Do ‘HARPS’ in HEAVEN mean it is okay to use instruments in worship in the church?” No. “...the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). Revelation contains many symbols, such as “incense” representing “prayers.” Since Revelation mentions horses, living creatures full of eyes, crowns of gold, and a street of gold, should we have these in worship today?

Heaven is different from earth. Today, marriage is honorable (Heb. 13:4). But “ the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). “Harps” in heaven does not mean we should use them in worship.

“Did ANY New Testament prophet give permission to use musical instruments in worship?” No. Jesus told His apostles, “...when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth...” (Jn. 16:13). He kept that promise (2 Pet. 1:3). In the first century A. D., His apostles and prophets revealed the complete New Testament. The message of faith was “...once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

If one New Testament prophet had said it was okay to use musical instruments in worship, it would be okay. But when the New Testament had been completed and the last prophet had spoken, not one of them had told us to use musical instruments in worship.

Instruments in GREEK Words?

“Do the Greek words PSALMOS and PSALLO include musical instruments?” Words often change in meaning. In 1611, when the King James Version was translated, “prevent” meant “go before.” Today it means “hinder and stop something before it happens.”

In ancient days, “psalm” was often used to describe a song accompanied by instruments (see Ps. 149, 150).

Before the New Testament era, “psalm” had lost its strong connection with instruments. A “psalm” was the song itself, with or without musical instruments. And psallo “meant to sing...all the other meanings having entirely disappeared.” (M. C. Kurfees, Instrumental Music in the Worship, pages 44, 45.)

“What do TRANSLATORS say?” The best way to learn what psalmos (noun) and psallo (verb) meant during the time the New Testament was written is to examine major translations of the New Testament: King James Version (1611), American Standard Version (1901), Revised Standard Version (1946), and New King James Version (1979). These all agree that psalmos simply meant “psalms” (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16) and “psalm” or “hymn” (1 Cor. 14:26); psallo meant “sing” (1 Cor. 14:15), “sing psalms” or “sing praise” (Jas. 5:13), and, in a verbal form, “making melody” (Eph. 5:19). The Lord tells us where to make the melody: “singing and making melody in your heart(Eph. 5:19). These translators did not include instruments in translating these two words.

“What did GREEK PEOPLE believe?” The words of historians are not from God, but they give us many insights. “The Greek word ‘psallo’ is applied among Greeks of modern times exclusively to sacred music, which in the Eastern Church has never been any other than vocal...Never has the organ or any other instrument been employed in public worship in Eastern churches; nor is mention of instrumental music found in all their liturgies, ancient or modern.” (McClintock & Strong’s Cyclopedia, Vol. VIII, p. 739). “In the Greek church the organ never came into use….” (The Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II, p. 1702). Greek people tell us “psalms” do not require musical instruments.

“What did JEWS believe?” “The synagogue music was an adoption without music instruments of the Temple music.” (Winford C. Douglas, Church Music in History and Practice, p. 15). “The instrument was first used in the Jewish synagogue in Berlin in 1815 under violent opposition by many of its members.” (V. E. Howard, Mechanical Instruments of Music in Worship, p. 10). Jewish people did not believe that the singing of psalms required musical instruments.

“What did the EARLY CHURCH believe?” Emil Nauman: “There can be no doubt that originally the music of the divine service was everywhere entirely of a vocal nature.” (The History of Music, Vol. 1, p. 177). Dr. Curt Sachs, musicologist, Columbia University: “All ancient Christian music was vocal.” (Batsell Barrett Baxter, The Use of Instrumental Music in Worship, p. 10). William Dool Killen: “In the early church the whole congregation joined in the singing, but instrumental music did not accompany the praise.”(The Ancient Church, p.423). Also, a cappella (“in chapel style”) means only vocal music. These show that singing in the early church was only vocal.

“When did instrumental music enter churches?” “...Vitalian is related to have first introduced organs into some of the churches of western Europe, about 670….” (The American Cyclopedia, Vol. 12, p. 688). Historians say instruments were not widely used until hundreds of years later — under much protest. A famous leader, Thomas Aquinas (1225?-1274), said: “Our Church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God….” (Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. II, p. 483, London Edition.)

In the first century, psallo and psalmos caused the church of Christ to sing, and did not cause the use of musical instruments. The same seed, the word of God (Lk. 8:11), should produce the same results today.

Does SILENCE Give Consent?

“Since the New Testament does NOT say, ‘DO NOT use instrumental music in worship,’ is it okay?” No. God told Noah to build the ark with gopher wood (Gen. 6:14). He did not say, “Do not use teak, pine, oak, sandalwood....” He did not need to. He said what He did want, and that excluded all others.

Jesus did not say, “Do not add rice and bananas to the Lord’s Supper.” Is it okay to add them to the worship? Could we add whistling, sewing, or running in circles? It’s a matter of respect. We only worship God in the ways Jesus instructs us in the New Testament, because He is the Head of His church. If we added other forms of worship, we would be doing our own will, not the Lord’s will.

Jesus told His apostles to baptize people and teach them to “observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; see Lk. 6:46). If we follow men instead of God in religion, our worship is “vain” (Matt. 15:9). “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son(2 Jn. 9; see Lev. 10:1-2; Deut. 12:32; 1 Sam. 15:22; Prov. 30:5-6; Gal. 1:6-10; Rev. 22:18-19).

God is not silent about how to worship today. We sing, pray, give, partake of the Lord’s Supper, and listen to preaching because He tells us to — and we do not play instruments because He does not tell us to.

Seek Pleasure in Worship?

“Should we seek pleasure in worship?” We humans often confuse spiritual with sensual. Many sights and sounds please us and “lift our spirits.” God says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine...” (Prov. 17:22).But we must not be “...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:4). How something makes us “feel” is not a safe guide: “...It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23);“...we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Faith comes by hearing God’s word (Rom. 10:17). Using instruments today is not in God’s word, is not from faith, and “...whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

“Who is the audience?” God. Worship is the time to do His pleasure, not ours: “...if I still pleased men [self or others], I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). We may enjoy musical instruments, acrobatics, or magic, but they do not belong in worship. Preaching (2 Tim. 4:2-4) and all else we do in worship should not be aimed at pleasing our ears. However, faithful preaching which is presented well, and psalms sung well by many voices, are beautiful sounds to faithful Christians! And, a faithful Christian finds great pleasure in knowing that he or she is worshipping God according to the ways which He has revealed in His word.

“Is my musical talent worthless?” No. You could use your talent to bring joy to others, such as the elderly, by playing entertaining songs in their homes.

My Instrument or My Brother?

“Are musical instruments more important to me than my brother?” Division displeases God. Jesus prayed for unity (Jn. 17:20-21), died for unity (Eph. 2:16), and pleads for unity (1 Cor. 1:10). Instruments divide. One man believes he cannot use instruments and please God. Another man believes instruments are “optional,” and uses them. Paul says we must not destroy our brother, and God’s work, by holding to things which we think are “optional” (Rom. 14:15-23).

Almost everyone agrees it is okay to sing without instruments: “...Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God...” in prison (Acts 16:25). Let us leave off man’s additions so we can approach God in unity! There is great satisfaction in knowing we are pleasing Him (see Jn. 4:34)!

We appreciate the many historians and faithful preachers who have written on this topic. Please feel free to reprint these questions and answers as separate articles, or as one article.



What Kind of Music Does God Want?

Is it COMMANDED in the New Testament?

Singing ——————YES Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Jas. 5:13

Playing Instruments NO

Are there EXAMPLES in the New Testament?

Singing ——————YES Acts 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26

Playing Instruments NO

Is it IMPLIED by psallo or psalmos in the New Testament?

Singing —————— YES Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26

Playing Instruments NO

Which Accomplishes God’s Purpose?

PURPOSE                               VOICE      INSTRUMENT

speak (Eph. 5:19)                      Can             Cannot

teach (Col. 3:16)                       Can             Cannot

admonish (Col. 3:16)                Can             Cannot

praise (Heb. 13:15)                    Can             Cannot

communicate clearly                

to hearers (1 Cor. 14:15)            Can            Cannot

communicate an edifying

message (1 Cor. 14:26)              Can            Cannot