Church Music and Colossians 3:16 -- By: David F. Detwiler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:631 (Jul 2001)
Article: Church Music and Colossians 3:16
Author: David F. Detwiler


Church Music and Colossians 3:16

David F. Detwiler

[David F. Detwiler is Associate Pastor, Branch Community Church, Harleysville, Pennsylvania.]

James Dunn has noted that Colossians 3:16 “is in fact one of only a handful of passages that give us some insight into the content and character of earliest Christian worship and enable us to say anything at all about it.”1 Ralph Martin goes a step further, declaring that here exists “the best evidence we have that the early church, even in New Testament times, was a singing church.”2 It is therefore surprising to discover that this crucial verse has received little in-depth attention in theological journals. This article seeks to rectify this situation and to encourage other Christian leaders to focus their attention—and especially their exegetical and theological skills—on what the apostle Paul said about music and worship in the church.3

The problem, however, as William Smith puts it, is that Colossians 3:16, presents “questions of syntax to which the interpreter is exceedingly hard put to find a certain answer.”4 Comparing some of the best English translations of this verse makes it clear that there is considerable lack of agreement as to what it is actually saying.

The New Revised Standard Version, for example, translates the verse in such a way that each of the three clauses appears to have imperatival force in an independent sense (i.e., they read like three separate commands): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with

gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” The New International Version is similar, although the latter two clauses are related to the opening command (suggesting attendant circumstance): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

However, the New American Standard Bible translates the verse quite differently, with the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” being connected with “teaching and admonishing”: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God....

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