Bible Bites

Bible Bites

Historical Evidence About Instrumental Music

The New Testament teaches vocal music is the proper and exclusive music to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). “That with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6, NASB; see Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 13:16; 1 Peter 2:5).

But many scholars also admit that historically early Christians did not use mechanical instruments of music.

“There is no record in the NT of the use of instruments in the musical worship of the church. In this regard, early believers followed the practice of the Hebrew synagogue music” (“Music”, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, p, 1163).

The background antecedent of early Christian worship was Jewish synagogue worship. Our Lord Jesus attended and participated in the synagogue (Luke 4:16). It did not use instrumental music.

“Jingling, banging, and rattling accompanied heathen cults... The voices of nonconformists were emerging from places of Jewish and early Christian worship... Early synagogue song intentionally foregoes artistic perfection, renounces the playing of instruments, and attaches itself entirely to “the word” — the text of the Bible” (“Music”, Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 12, p. 566).

Other historians, religious and secular, agree that the early Christians only used vocal music in worship.

“The rejection of all musical instruments from Christian worship is consistent among the [Church] Fathers. They were associated with pagan, orgiastic rites” (“History of Sacred Music,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, p, 106).

“Singing formed an essential part of the Christian worship, but it was in unison and without musical accompaniment” (Lars Qualben, A History of the Christian Church, p. 112).

“The development of Western Music was decisively influenced by the exclusion of musical instruments from the early Christian Church” (Paul H. Lang, Music in Western Civilization, p. 54).

“The primitive Christian community held the same view, as we know from the apostolic and post-apostolic literature: instrumental music was thought unfit for religious services; the Christian sources are quite outspoken in their condemnation of instrumental performances. Originally, only song was considered worthy of direct approach to Divinity” (“The Music of Post-Biblical Judaism,” The New Oxford History of Music, Vol. 1, p. 135).

For evidence of this widely held belief, we cite two quotes from around 400 A.D. The first one is from a work called Questions and Answers for the Orthodox, the second from On the Utility of Hymn Singing, as quoted in Everett Ferguson’s A Cappella Music.

“It is not simple singing that belongs to the childish state, but singing with lifeless instruments, with dancing, and with clappers. Hence the use of such instruments and the others that belong to the childish state is excluded from the singing in the churches and simple singing is left” (A Cappella Music, p. 53).

“Only the corporal institutions have been rejected, like circumcision, the sabbath, sacrifices, discrimination in foods. So, too, the trumpets, harps, cymbals and timbrels. For the sound of these we now have a better substitute in the music from the mouths of men” (A Cappella Music, p. 54).

Faithful Christians today enthusiastically worship God with “a cappella” music, as authorized in the New Testament. The term a cappella itself has an interesting history.

A cappella comes from the Latin by way of Italian and means “in the style of the church,” “as is done in the church.” The classical form of church music is unaccompanied song” (A Cappella Music, p, 83).

The purpose of these quotes is not to establish authority for vocal music solely by historical tradition. Ultimately, we must have revealed, divine authority for all we do (Colossians 3:17). But we have seen that mechanical instruments of music were foreign to early worship and have been introduced by man long after the apostolic age.

— From Christianity Magazine, December 1985, p 5