Instrumental Music in the New Testament

by William J. Stewart

We have in previous articles looked at instrumental music in the book of Revelation, and in the Old Testament. This week, we focus on the occurrences of instrumental music in the New Testament, from Matthew through Jude, investigate the manner of music to be used in New Testament worship.

The following five texts represent the occurrences of instrumental music in the New Testament.

  • “When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, ‘Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.’ And they ridiculed Him.” (Mt 9:23-24)
  • “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not lament.'” (Mt 11:16-17)
  • “And the Lord said, ‘To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not weep.'” (Lk 7:32)
  • “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1)
  • “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?” (1 Cor 14:6-7)

Notice, though each of these texts speaks of instrumental music, none of them are in the context of worship. In fact, there is not a text in the New Testament which associates instrumental music with worship in the New Testament church. Consider what the New Testament reveals about worship in song:

  • “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”(Mt 26:30)
  • “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”(Mk 14:26)
  • “…at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Ac 16:25)
  • “Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: ‘For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.'” (Ro 15:8-9)
  • “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1 Cor 14:15)
  • “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…” (Eph 5:18-19)
  • “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. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col 3:16-17)
  • “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.'” (Heb 2:11-12)
  • “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” (Jms 5:13)

The testimony of the New Testament is that to praise God in song, we are to sing. If our desire is to be God’s people, doing things in God’s way, then we’ll not seek to do above or beyond what God has authorized us to do in worship.

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