The Old Testament and Christian Worship

by Jeff Asher

"Then he stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the King's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets."

The quotation above comes from 2 Chronicles 29:25. We have quoted it here to establish that God commanded the use of mechanical instruments of music in connection with the worship of the temple designed by David and built by Solomon. Furthermore, a study of the context reveals that the particular Levites of this passage were those stationed by Hezekiah in his work of restoring the service of the temple after the Jews had failed to properly worship the Lord. The restoration would not be complete until the instruments were properly used in the temple worship.

This passage is important to a study of the relation of the Old Testament to Christian worship. The passage has been used by many in an attempt to bring mechanical instruments of music into Christian worship. However, the passage is actually as strong an argument against the instrument in Christian worship as can be made.

Instruments of Music in Worship Before and During Moses' Law

Instruments are introduced to us in Genesis 4:21. They were invented by Tubal, the son of the wicked Lamech. However, we do not read of their being connected with the worship of God. We do see that instruments were used frequently at festivals and celebrations not connected to worship (Genesis 31:27). Therefore, we conclude that instruments were not first invented for God's praise, but for man's pleasure.

The first instance of any instrument used in worshiping God is that of Miriam and the women of Israel praising Jehovah upon crossing the Red Sea before the Tabernacle worship was instituted (Exodus 15:1, 20, 21). We observe that she did this as a prophetess but not in connection with burnt offerings.

Moses commanded the use of instruments, two silver trumpets (Numbers 10:2–10). However, these trumpets were not used in praise with singing; rather, they were used to call the people to worship, announce the beginning of the month and the various feasts and order the movement of the camp. Their use parallels that of a bell call to assembly—not an organ in worship.

When one considers the instructions pertaining to the construction of the tabernacle and the manufacture of the various articles associated with it, instruments are conspicuously absent (see: Exodus 25–40, Leviticus 1–9, 16, 23; Numbers 7-9, 28–29). It is apparent that there were no instruments associated with the worship of the tabernacle.

By What Authority Did David Add Instruments To The Temple Worship?

Since there were no instruments commanded in the tabernacle worship by Moses, and none are found in worship unto God prior to the command of David, it is obvious that he is the one who set them in the temple. Furthermore, their use there constitutes an alteration of and addition to the worship authorized by the Law of Moses. Now, by what authority did David put them there? One of three possibilities exists. Some would argue that David placed the instruments in the temple as a matter of his own personal preference and without regard for the Law. Amos 6:5 is often cited as a condemnation of David's putting instruments in the temple. However, Israel is being condemned for its pride and luxuriant lifestyle in the context - not David for his instruments in the temple. It is rather hard to imagine David behaving in that manner after the experience at Perez-Uzzah with the ark (2 Samuel 6:1-9; I Chronicles 15:1-15).

Others suggest that the instruments were not additions but aids and were, therefore, expedients, i.e., a matter of liberty. To be consistent, those who reason thus cannot argue for the instrument in Christian worship on any ground but this. If a thing is a matter of liberty it cannot be specified. Therefore, there is no Old Testament commandment for the use of instruments in worship, but only a general command for praise with music, any kind of music. Yet, this is contradictory, because Hezekiah placed the instruments in the temple in accordance with David's commandment. Those who argue David had general authority have him binding on the entire nation forever what would have been a matter of liberty which would constitute a violation of Moses' Law (Deuteronomy 4:2).

The only logical view of David's actions is he moved according to the precise instructions of God which he received from the prophets Gad and Nathan (cf. 1 Chronicles 28:12, 13, 19). This does not create a dilemma which makes those who oppose instruments in Christian worship to God inconsistent. Numerous examples of a thing previously allowed under one dispensation, but forbidden under another can be produced. It is no more inconsistent to argue against the instrument in Christian worship on the ground it is no part of the New Testament, than to oppose the continuation of animal sacrifice, the Aaronic priesthood or the feast of Tabernacles for the same reason.

The Principle Contained In 2 Chronicles 29:25

We indicated in the beginning that 2 Chronicles 29:25 was as strong an argument against the instruments in Christian worship as could be made. This is so because it reveals a principle for establishing authority relative not only to worship under Moses' law but to any command of God.

The general survey of the Old Testament established clearly that instrumental music was no part of divine worship prior to the command of David. Furthermore, its inclusion in the temple was an addition. However, it was an authorized addition, God commanded David by a prophet to do it. Consequently, Hezekiah included it in his restoration of the temple service as a matter which would be established by approved example.

Now, granting that the Old Testament does not authorize anything relative to Christian worship (Colossians 2:14: Ephesians 2:15; 2 Corinthians 3:7–11; Hebrews 8:13; etc.), we do see how we may establish whether or not there is authority for instrumental music in Christian worship by the New Covenant.

We can show from the New Testament nine references to music in worship which instruct us to sing (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25: Romans 15:9: 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13). Unlike Hezekiah, we are unable to produce evidence of a command to play an instrument or an approved example from which we might infer instruments of music in Christian worship. Those who introduce instruments into the worship follow the example of David in 2 Samuel 6:1–9 and not the approved example under consideration in the text.


The following comment from Adam Clarke is noteworthy on this point and summarizes this matter well. He writes:

"But were it evident, which it is not, either in this place or any other place in the sacred writings that instruments of music were prescribed by Divine authority under the law, could this be adduced with any semblance of reason that they ought to be used in Christian worship? No; the whole spirit, soul, and genius of the Christian religion are against this; and those who know the church of God best, and what constitutes its genuine spiritual state, know that these things have been introduced as a substitute for the life and power of religion; and where they prevail most, there is the least of the power of Christianity." (The Instrumental Music Question, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. 62)