Music in the New Testament Church

10. The singing of psalms


1. The traditional designation of “Psalms” refers to the canonical Old Testament Psalms

2. The term “Psalms” may also be used to describe the following:

a. A musical composition (i.e. other than O.T. Psalms) but having the character of an Old Testament Psalm, which were characterized by these three distinctive elements:
i. exaltation of God (Psalms 146-150)
ii. adoration of God (See Psalms 95-100)
iii. offering of Praise to God ()Psalms 8, 57,71 ,95).

b. Songs composed in the spirit and manner of the Old Testament Psalms. The Old Testament Psalms displayed the following spirit and manner:
i. a yearning after God (Psalms 42, 43, 63),
ii. joy in God’s House (Psalms 84, 122)
iii. a Passion for God’s Presence (Psalms 91, 23),
iv. a steadfast faith in God in all circumstances (Psalms 10, 18,25), and
v. a Love for God’s Word (Psalm 1,119).

The term “Psalms” can be used to describe either the canonical Old Testament Psalms, all songs using Scripture as lyrics or a “new” song of praise which bears the character, spirit, and manner of the Old Testament Psalms.

This is seen in I Corinthians 14:26 which exhorts those who come together in the assembly, “. . . everyone of you has a psalm. . .” Also in I Corinthians 14:15 Paul says that he would “. . . sing [Greek, psallo, .’psalm”) with [in) the Spirit and I will sing [“psalm”) with the understanding also.

Singing of new psalms includes those sung in tongues. Singing in tongues is just as certainly a new psalm as one sung in one’s own language. These are not equated with the Old Testament Psalms but because of their “Godward” focus belong in the same musical category as O.T. Psalms.

James associated the singing of songs of praise. (psalms) with joy and rejoicing.

(James 5:13 NIV) Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Christ sings songs of praise to the Father through His body, the church, as they assemble together in worship.

Psalms have a dominant vertical thrust. They are primarily sung to God to exalt His name. They are man’s expression of praise to God in response of His revelation of Himself. An excellent example is the Psalm sung by Mary that could be a guide to any believer in worship of the Eternal.

(Luke 1:46-55 NIV) And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord [47] and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, [48] for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, [49] for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. [50] His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. [51] He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. [52] He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. [53] He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. [54] He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful [55] to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”

As a general term Psalms may include all songs from Scripture. Therefore, as distinguished from the other two categories of “hymns” and “spiritual songs”, all Scriptural choruses are included in this grouping.

(Col 3:16 NIV) 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.

1. It Instills God’s Word in the Heart.

The Greek word for “dwell” means “to make residence”. The Word of God effectively makes its home in one’s heart through the singing of Scripture. Singing helps the memory in a way that rote memorization seldom achieves. Children as well as adults can store a large amount of God’s Word in their hearts through learning Scripture choruses.

2. It Enlightens One’s Understanding of God’s Word.

Psalms and Scripture songs teach God’s Word and bring greater understanding of God’s ways. As seen above, some of the O.T. Psalms bear the heading of the Hebrew word maskil which denoted a particular kind of Psalm which has the distinctive purpose of teaching rather than worship.

3. It Corrects One’s Christian Walk.

Psalms and Scriptural choruses also function to warn us of sin and areas of our life which need correction. Through the singing of Scripture, the “Sword of the Lord” can pierce the hardened hearts of those away from God.

Composition of melodies for scriptural choruses

The notes that follow are to help in the composing of song that will be passed on to the church for their enjoyment and use in worship. Remember that there are many songs that are “for the moment”. Sometimes they are just for you to share a precious moment with the Lord. Others spring forth under the anointing as the church gathers in worship. These “for the moment ” songs are prophetic in nature and are not meant to be repeated.

Preparing the heart

The Lord might desire to use you to compose a melody to a Scriptural passage. Musical ability or background is not essential

a. As a particular Scripture speaks to your heart, ask the Lord to give you a melody for it. As certain Scriptural passages are quickened to you by the Spirit consider this passage for a Scriptural chorus. If you ask in faith, the Lord will give you a melody for the Scripture. Don’t strive or work hard at composing the melody. If it does not come to you rather easily within certain compositional guidelines, leave it for a while and come back to it prayerfully at a later time.

b. Sing the Psalms and other Scriptures spontaneously in your Devotions. A tremendous spiritual blessing can be realized by regularly singing Scriptural passages spontaneously in your devotions. As a melody seems to be uniquely fitting to a passage, it may be refined according to the guidelines mentioned below and taught to the congregation as opportunity is afforded.

c. Be on top Spiritually. Spiritual depression is not the atmosphere in which melodies are to be composed to Scripture. As Israel hung up their harps on the willow trees during spiritual defeat so the believer does not have “new” melodies birthed in a spirit of defeat.

d.Have a “song in your heart’. The presence of a song in the heart comes from a joyful heart. Isa. 30:29 , “You shall have a song as in the night. . .” This was a figurative allusion to the joyful singing of the Israelites on the festal night before the Passover. Out of joy comes singing of melodies. Ephesians 5:19 after mentioning the singing of psalms, states, “. . . making melody in your heart to the Lord”. The Greek word used for “making melody” is psallo, the word for singing of psalms. God wants us to “make melody” to His Word.

e. Realize that times of tragedy or testing are great opportunities for God to give a Scriptural song The singing of Scripture can provide great spiritual strength in these times. Times of testing can be a great time for Scriptural choruses to be birthed in your heart. Song comes as a response to the spiritual victory and joy in your heart.


Although musical training helps it is not necessary as a song can spring spontaneously from a heart that is lifted up in praise. The following will help to keep the result in a form more easily accepted into the church singing range and ability.

a. Keep it Simple.

The melodic line should be simple. Complex melodies are difficult for a congregation to learn. Some people think that a more complex melody will be viewed as a better musical composition. Usually such Scriptural choruses are short-lived.

b. Keep it Short.

The melody is not to be an artistic work but is rather medium for conveying God’s Word. Long and involved melodies are difficult for a congregation. Usually, any Scriptural chorus whose melodic line is longer than four lines [two melodic sentences) is too long, unless a refrain is repeated with the four lines.

c. The music must match the Lyrics.

Sometimes certain minor words can be omitted or even altered so as to match the melodic cadence. However, one must never cause a change so as to alter the truth conveyed by the Scriptural passage.

d. Limit the Melodic Range.

A melodic range of a chorus that fluctuates too much can be difficult or even impossible for a congregation to sing. Generally, a Scriptural chorus to be sung by the congregation should not have a melodic range more than one octave.

e. Some Melodic or Lyrical Repetition is acceptable. Repetition of words and melodic lines is good if not overdone. They allow for easy learning of the chorus by the congregation. Repetition of words in two lines is the best procedure while such repetition in three successive melodic lines should be done sparingly.

f. The Musical character should be consistent with the Musical Style of the people.

A musical balance should be the norm for the congregation. A caution towards more conservative musical style is the safest approach. The character of the musical composition should be close to the norm of the songs already sung by the church. The usual congregation may not readily accept sudden innovative approaches in composition.