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Were the Israelites Exclusive Psalmists?

A very good point concerning why adherents to the Regulative Principle of Worship need not be exclusive psalmists.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.

3 Responses to Were the Israelites Exclusive Psalmists?

  1. Jeri Tanner says:

    Scott, this is an area of growing interest to me, for I so want the churches to sing according to God’s will. I appreciate T. David Gordon and once corresponded with him most helpfully (to me) about issues of congregational music. Possibly the accuracy of the assertion that the Israelites weren’t exclusive Psalm singers depends on when in their history you are talking about. We know from the texts that they sang the songs of Exodus and Deuteronomy in Moses’ time, but I have these questions: Do we know for certain that they continued to use these songs in corporate worship through the times of David and Solomon? And can we know whether the songs in Judges (from Deborah and Barak) and in 1 Samuel 2 (the prayer of Hannah) were ever sung corporately by Israel? David’s song in 2 Samuel 22 is, from what I understand, very close to Psalm 18. And Habakkuk 3 is a psalm, but again, is it possible to determine if it was sung in corporate worship by Israel? I have no problem with any of that being the case, I just wondered if these examples do make the case. We know for a fact that the Israelites were exclusive word of God singers, for all these passages as well as the Psalms were inspired—prayed, spoken and sung prophetically, and recorded as Scripture. Interesting!

  2. Scott Aniol Scott Aniol says:

    Those are valid points, Jeri. I would only push back a bit to say that we do not necessarily know for a fact that “the Israelites were exclusive word of God singers.” I say this for two reasons.

    First: we don’t necessarily have recorded in Scripture every single thing they sang. We might, but we don’t know that for sure. In fact, it is at least possible that they sang other God-inspired songs that are not inscripturated, and thus also possible that they sang other songs in worship that were not God-inspired, nor inscripturated.

    Second, although every Word in Scripture is, of course, inspired, this does not necessarily mean that every Word was direct revelation from the Lord. In other words, it is at least possible that inspired words of songs that we have recorded in Scripture were not given by direct revelation from the Lord originally, but were man-written words that were then inscripturated by inspiration.

    Again, each of these points is speculation, but it at least softens the “we know for a fact that the Israelites were exclusive word of God singers,” and further corroborates the argument that they were not exclusive psalmists.

  3. Jeri Tanner says:

    Thanks for the pushback, Scott. I usually need to ponder a bit before I answer; I so appreciate even having this conversation. Let me say that I’ve not yet come to the inalterable conviction that we are to sing the Psalms or the word of God exclusively (although I am finding the Scriptural case for it increasingly compelling). It’s such an important question; I feel we must be careful to base arguments for and against it from Scripture.

    So a little pushback to your pushback! :) On your first point: …”it is at least possible that they sang other God-inspired songs that are not inscripturated, and thus also possible that they sang other songs in worship that were not God-inspired, nor inscripturated”; I suppose that’s possible. But when we’re looking to form a doctrine or rule for practice, what else do we have except those things that are specifically told and modeled for us in Scripture? I’m sure this is the basis of the regulative principle. Suppose we want to wave streamers in church as we sing. Can we justify doing so on the basis that since it’s not recorded in Scripture, we can’t know for sure that such a practice is forbidden? But what we do is have the command of God in the OT to sing the words given through his prophets.

    On your second point: I agree with your statements that “although every Word in Scripture is, of course, inspired, this does not necessarily mean that every Word was direct revelation from the Lord,” and “it is at least possible that inspired words of songs that we have recorded in Scripture were not given by direct revelation from the Lord originally, but were man-written words that were then inscripturated by inspiration.” That’s true, for instance, of Lamech’s boast in Genesis 4:23-24. His words seem to be considered a poem—a song he sang, perhaps?—yet would definitely not have been something the Israelites would have sung in worship!

    But all of Professor Gordon’s examples of songs are inspired prophecy (since spoken by prophets), except perhaps for Hannah’s; however, Matthew Henry identifies her prayer as prophetic, and I imagine many more do, too. She certainly ends the prayer on a Davidic/Messianic note: “He will give strength to His king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

    I still don’t know that we have an example from Scripture of a song possibly sung by corporate Israel that was not the prophetic word of God. I’d still like to see a stronger case made for that than the one made by Professor Gordon in his article! Thanks for the dialogue, Scott; I’ll keep studying and searching it out.

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