Ezra 3, Union With Christ, And Exclusive Psalmody -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 37:1 (Fall 1974)
Article: Ezra 3, Union With Christ, And Exclusive Psalmody
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Ezra 3, Union With Christ, And Exclusive Psalmody

Vern Sheridan Poythress

1. Introduction

Reformed churches have long debated the propriety of singing uninspired songs in public worship. As a result, the exegetical evidence concerning the three musical terms in Col 3:16 has almost been squeezed dry. But debaters have left much of the Biblical teaching about singing in comparative obscurity. On this unsqueezed biblical “juice” we intend to concentrate.

The question is this: what words ought we to use for our congregational singing1 in the public worship of God? The most popular answers are that only the following words may be so used:

(1) words of a translation of the 150 psalms (the exclusive-psalmody position) ;

(2) words of a translation of any song of Scripture, viz. the 150 psalms plus Exod. 15, Deut. 32, Judg. 5, etc. (the “inspired-song” position) ;

(3) words of a translation of Scripture (the “inspired-words” position) ;

(4) words that communicate the teaching (didascalia) of Scripture (the didascalia position) ;

(5) any words which are “edifying,” whether or not they go beyond Scripture (the edification position). Positions 1, 3, and 4 are frequently held in Reformed circles; position 5 is frequent in non-Reformed churches.2

Our subsequent discussion will argue that, working from Ezra 3 and the doctrine of union with Christ, one can establish position 4 as the biblical one. In this article (Part I) we lay the foundation for our discussion by examining the singing of Christ. In a subsequent article (Part II) we discuss the relation of congregational singing to teaching.

We begin with an examination of the bearing of Ezra 3 on song. It is not necessary for our purposes to do an exhaustive exegesis of Ezra 3; rather we wish to trace some of the connections of this passage with God’s work before and after the return from exile.

2. The Regulative Principle

Ezra 3 deals with the regulative principle of worship and with song. Indeed, we find a decided emphasis on the regulative principle. The passage says again, and again, implicitly or explicitly, that...

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