Friday, September 26, 2014

Instrumental Music in the Early Church

There is no indication of musical instruments being used in the non-Jewish Christian assemblies during the first six centuries or so after the Resurrection. Therefore it seems to me that a modern-day assembly that worships without instruments more closely resembles the church we read about in the New Testament.

But lacking a specific command that explicitly forbids instrumental music (some misconstrue their inferred understandings as God's commands, but this inventing of commands which God has not explicitly made is a dangerous path, which Jesus condemns in Matt 15), one must consider that perhaps this lack of instrumental music is more an accident of history than an intentional design feature.

The "ekklesia" (the "called out ones", the body of Christ, the "church") had its earliest beginnings in the Jewish Temple and Jewish homes and the Jewish synagogues. In these early days, while they were still exclusively Jewish and still doing Jewish things, like meeting in the Temple, like they had done all their lives, they considered themselves as nothing more than Jewish people, the chosen of God, who had finally found the long-awaited Messiah. They weren't something "new"; they were simply Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah.

As Jews, these Christians:

  • still continued to worship in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12, 42; 22:17);
  • still thought they were to not associate with non-Jews (Acts 10);
  • still participated in Jewish rituals and sacrifices (Acts 21:24-26; 24:18);
  • still considered themselves as part of the Jewish sects, such as the Pharisees (Acts 15:5; 23:6);
  • still meticulously observed the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:5; 21:24);
  • still participated in the great Jewish feasts (Acts 20:16; 24:11).
These earliest Christians, being Jewish, and still worshiping in the Temple and participating in the worship on the great feast days, participated in worship wherein instrumental music was used.

I don't believe Peter went into the Temple and refused to worship while he was there because of the instrument; if that were the case, I think Luke would have mentioned it. And if he had, it surely would have caused a stir with his fellow Temple-goers, worthy of Luke's mention. It seems to me that Luke's silence on the issue is best explained as Peter simply having no qualms with being in a place of worship wherein instruments were being used.

The same could be said of Paul, who specifically says he "went up to worship in Jerusalem" (Acts 24:11) where his enemies found him, not stirring up trouble, but simply "ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar" (that is, worshiping, not evangelizing - Acts 24:18). It would seem that Paul simply had no qualms with worshiping in a place wherein musical instruments were being used.

By the time the focus moved away from Jerusalem and its Temple, the dominant meeting place was the synagogue, wherein instrumental music was unknown, not because God had forbidden it, but because it was the Jewish tradition from their days as exiles in Babylon, being too sad to play their music (cf Ps 137:1-4; it might also be noted that not only was it tradition to not use instrumental music in the synagogue meetings, the synagogue meeting itself was based on tradition, not on any authorization from God; and yet, Jesus supported this non-authorized tradition as his habit - Luke 4:16). It was this non-instrumental assembly that became the normative model for Christian assemblies by the end of the first century.

So yes, by the time we have any significant records of the habits of Christian assemblies (mostly from outside of the Bible, and mostly after the first century had passed, with only a few hints within the Bible), instrument music was not part of the assemblies, at least in what we might call the mainstream assemblies. But this seems to be more an accident of history than an intentional design from God.

Originally published at:

No comments: