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Aesthetic Correspondence

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series

"Biblical Authority and the Aesthetics of Scripture"

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aesthetics-of-scriptureIn this series of essays, I have argued that Scripture presents God’s truth to us, not merely in didactic propositions, but also (in fact, mostly!) through various aesthetic forms. Therefore, when we attempt to translate the truth of Scripture into contemporary forms of communication, we must be certain that the meaning of the original text is accurately rendered in the new translation, and meaning is found in words, grammar, syntax, history, culture, and aesthetics. I’ve argued that this is a natural extension from the doctrine of verbal-plenary inspiration.

Belief in verbal-plenary inspiration does not imply, however, that when we express God’s truth, we may only do so in the exact words (or even forms) in which that truth was originally expressed. We may put God’s truth “in our own words” as we teach, preach, catechize, and formulate doctrinal confessions. Nevertheless, even these extra-biblical expressions of biblical truth must accurately correspond to Scripture. This is not quite the same as translating Scripture into new languages, but the principle is very similar. What we say about God and his truth in our own words must mean something consistent with what the Bible means, and this implies more than mere factual correspondence; it must also include aesthetic correspondence.

This is true for creeds and confessions, and this is certainly true of Christian songs that are meant to express God’s truth and/or responses of worship toward God. Belief in verbal-plenary inspiration does not mean that we may only sing the exact words of Scripture—otherwise, we should be singing only in Hebrew and Greek. Nor does belief in this doctrine mean that we may only sing exact translations of Scripture. We may—indeed, we must—compose song texts that put God’s truth “in our own words,” but these new expressions must accurately correspond to Scripture.

This is fairly straightforward with regard to what the Bible says. Any theologically conservative Christian will insist that the texts of Christian songs accurately correspond to the truth of Scripture. However, I am extending this further to the way the Bible expresses truth. We may—and should—express God’s truth in new ways, but the aesthetic way we choose to newly express biblical truth should accurately correspond to the aesthetic way God chose to express truth in his Word.

I am not arguing what the one reviewer’s caricature of my statement in By the Waters of Babylon suggested, that we must take a “formal equivalence” approach to transmitting the aesthetic forms of Scripture into modern worship forms. I am not arguing, for example, that since the psalms employ poetic parallelism and that they don’t use meter or rhyme, then our songs should use parallelism and not meter or rhyme.

Rather, what I am arguing is that if we affirm verbal-plenary inspiration, then the meaning of the aesthetic forms we employ in our contemporary worship must accurately correspond to the meaning Scripture’s aesthetic forms had in their original context.

I’ll explore this assertion a bit more next week.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, 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 four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

5 Responses to Aesthetic Correspondence

  1. “Nor does belief in this doctrine mean that we may only sing exact translations of Scripture.”

    That is a good point. A lot of people mistakenly refer to 1 Corinthians as the “love” chapter at weddings and they even use this word, when the Bible says no such thing. The bible never uses the word “love” and it is “charity” instead. A lot of song writers have taken the liberty to make songs referencing this chapter with the word “love.” I don’t think it harms anything doing this, even though it is not scriptural in the true sense.

  2. Another minor example is The Lord’s Prayer. The Bible says “Thy will be done IN earth.” The song version is “Thy will be done ON earth.” This is pretty minor.

    Although, I am surprised how many people actually think that 1 Corinthians 13 actually is the “love” chapter in the Bible when it says no such thing. “Charity” and “love” are fairly similar words, so I don’t think it’s a problem. But I am surprised at the Biblical ignorance.

  3. I do not claim to be some “expert” or “holier-than-thou” type. But with that being said, I really am surprised at the Biblical ignorance out there in our churches. Even sometimes of the pastors! For example, awhile ago I was visiting my in-laws and went to church with them. They were studying Paul’s missionary journeys in Sunday School. The pastor said that Paul had a couple of sons, allegorically speaking, “in the spirit.” Timothy is considered this as well as some say Titus. But the pastor said that no mention is made in the Bible of Paul’s biological family or son. I was just floored that a pastor could be that naive of the Bible! Had he not ever read 1 Peter 5:13? I was just waiting for him to also say that he had never heard of the church at Babylon. (He didn’t say that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was news to him as well.)

  4. Sheila,

    1 Peter 5:13 was written by Peter, not Paul.

    And, in all likelihood Peter meant the same thing about Mark that Paul meant about Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18 where he calls Timothy his son in the same way. We know from elsewhere that Timothy’s father was a Gentile, while Paul was a Jew (Acts 16:1; Phlippians 3:5). Peter was probably referring to Mark as his son in the faith.

    The Bible, in every translation, is full of metaphorical language like this. That is part of the reason that translations vary among each other.

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