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Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Can Music Be Sinful?

The first question in our discussion goes to Shai Linne:

Shai_Bio-300x300Scott, in your recent post where you explained your comments on the NCFIC panel, you spoke of rap as “a form of music that is inherently denigrating.” My first question to you is this: Are you saying that music, apart from lyrics, can be sinful in and of itself? If so, what is your Scriptural basis for such a claim?

Scott-thumb-300x300This is an excellent question, and I’m glad we’re starting here; it reveals our shared commitment to the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God.

Yes, I believe that music, apart from lyrics, can be sinful in and of itself. Here is my biblical support:

I begin with 1 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Scripture governs absolutely every area of our lives; there is nothing the Bible does not address, either by precept, principle, or example, including our music.

The question then becomes, what in Scripture governs our music? To answer this question, we must understand the nature of music itself.

Music is not a thing; music is an action. Specifically, music is an action of moral human agents. While God created the “stuff” of music (sound, pitch, rhythm, timbre, etc.), moral human agents create songs.

Scripture is clear that the actions of moral agents are either good or evil. By the common grace of God, people can do good things (Luke 6:33; Rom 2:14-15). They can also do sinful things (1 John 1:8).

Specifically, music is communication. Although Scripture is not intended to be a music textbook and should not be viewed that way, Scripture at least implies that music communicates. Here are just a few examples:

Instrumental music can express victory or defeat (Exod 32:17-18), calm (1 Sam 16:1-23), mourning, weeping, and wailing (Job 30:31; Isa 16:11; Jer 48:36), joy (1 Chr 15:16), and pomp (Isa 14:11). This kind of communication may be common to all people or specific to a culture, or even specific to a certain person. Again, Scripture doesn’t teach that music communicates, but it implies what we know by experience.

Scripture says that human communication must be evaluated. Communication can express anger, wrath, malice, and obscenity (Col 3:8). Communication can be corrupt or edifying (Eph 4:29). Furthermore, Scripture’s principles concerning communication apply to all forms of communication like body language or facial expressions (even a “look” can express pride [Prov 6:17]), not just propositions.

Thus, what Scripture says about communication must be applied to music. In particular, music communicates similarly to tone of voice and body language. Assuming what we say is good, if our tone of voice expresses love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control, it is good; and if our tone of voice expresses impurity, sensuality, enmity, strife, or fits of anger, it is sinful (Gal 5:19-20, 22). It can express these things even if we don’t intend them, such as when I speak harshly to my wife after a long day even though I do not intend to.

Making evaluations about what tones of voice express what emotion is not always easy; it requires wisdom and judgment. But if we long to be conformed to the image of Christ, we’ll make those judgments about all of our communications.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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.