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A Biblical Theology of Music (part four)


Theological Importance of Music

The third element to build a biblical theology of music is to understand some of the key passages about music in the Bible. This dissertation does not intend to cover all the passages dealing with music but rather to look at some of the key passages, such as Psalm 40, which is one of the key passages on which to build a biblical theology of music. David perceived the world through musical eyes. He understood that music is close to God’s heart. The psalmist sings with musical accompaniment, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord” (Ps 4:3). Craigie comments,

The hymn of praise was in all probability a victory hymn, celebrating not only God’s deliverance, but also the impact of the victory on observers; in perceiving God’s act, they would fear (v 4b)…These past victories and acts of deliverance now form not only the precedent for the king’s supplication, but also the substance of his public declaration of God’s greatness and past achievements.[1]

As David sings this hymn of victory, there are many principles to observe. First, God is the source of music—“He put” (Ps 40:3). Not only does David see God as the source of his music but also of his strength (v.1-2). Instead of defeat and slavery, the Lord gives David the sweet experience of victory and freedom. Second, God creates the context of music—“new song” (Ps 40:3).[2] This is not necessarily a new composition but rather a newness and freshness from God received and revitalized through song. Third, God gives David the content of music—“song of praise” (Ps 40:3). In proper response to God’s help, David renews his praise to him. This song is God-directed as David gives God due praise. Fourth, God intends music to have a target—“many will see and fear.” The magnificence of God’s deliverance in David’s life inspired the kind of awe and wonder that evoked a response in those who heard him sing. Fifth, David expresses the result of music that praises God—“will trust in” (Ps 40:3). Listeners have a response of intellect—“see,”[3] emotions—“fear,”[4] and will—“trust”[5] to God-honoring music. This response to God-honoring music includes the whole person. Sixth, God always brings music back to the source, namely himself—“the Lord” (Ps 40:3). Thus, when the music and song have come to an end, the praise and glory goes back to the one who initiated it. Only this time, many others join the song. Don Wyrtzen writes:

Released from distress, he [David] moves quickly from anxiety to a joyous celebration of God’s power. This fresh vision of God gives David exciting material for a “new song.” He may have arranged an old hymn—and discovering its genius—added fresh color and new insights. Or perhaps, in the rush of creativity and exhilaration, he composed an entirely new song. Inner joy results in music![6]

The development of a theology of music draws several lessons. First, music is God’s gift—“He put” the song into David’s life (Ps 40:3). Music is given as a general revelation from God. Second, music is for edification—it was a “new song” from God’s presence (Ps 40:3). The freshness of a new song gives new strength and vitality. Third, music is for exaltation of God—it is “a song of praise to our God” (Ps 40:3). Christian musicians praise God deeply in his heart. Fourth, music is for engagement—as a musician shares his music, “many will see and fear” (Ps 40:3). A Christian’s music will be heard. Fifth, music is to draw people to God—they “will trust” (Ps 40:3). Not every song or musical performance will have this effect on the audience, but overall the music of the Christian will impact people for Christ. Then sixth, music is for God’s glory—they will trust “in the Lord” (Ps 40:3). Biblical music always goes back to its source—God. Wyrtzen concludes:

This event, and other miraculous deliverances in David’s life, have been the inspiration for many of his great hymns of praise shared with his congregation and recorded for generations to come. As a result, thousands “fear and put their trust in the Lord.” Worship becomes witness! I also will be used of the Lord today to the extent that I place my faith and trust in Him and lead others to do so. This is the source of both my joy and my music.[7]

God’s Redemptive Plan Foundational for Music

The fourth element to build a biblical theology of music is to build on key biblical doctrines such as the character of God as Creator, his image reflected in humans, the fallen and marred image of man, and then the artistry God displayed in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring redemption to those who believe. This section will look at the biblical doctrines of creation, fall and redemption.

The doctrine of creation teaches that God is the supreme Creator. The first verse of the Bible says that God created the world in an artistic and imaginative way (Gen 1:1-2:3). First, he gathered his materials—ex nihilo—by making matter out of nothing. Next, he gave structure and shape to what was previously “formless and empty” (Gen 1:2). Then in six days, he ordered the universe. Then, like a composer developing variations on a melodic theme, God took the forms of creation and added life. He filled the water with sea creatures, the sky with birds, and the land with animals of all kinds. Finally, at the grand finale, he created man and woman and at the last chord declared his divine aesthetic creation to be “very good” (Gen 1:31).

Creativity comes from God’s creation and impacts every area of life. God’s nature is to create. Hendricks says, “The exuberance of God’s creative handiwork overwhelms His human creature; but it also serves to provoke adoration and provides a template for humanity’s own endeavors.”[8] David understood the wondrous creation when he sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19: 1), and he understood the wondrous creation of humans when he praised God for the complexity of his birth (Ps 139:14). Man’s desire to create, ability to make concepts tangible and pleasure in playing music are all reflections of God’s original “let there be” and “it was good.” Leland Ryken summarizes, “Artists create because God created first. Genesis 1 is the starting point for thinking Christianly about artistic creativity (Gen 1:31).”[9]

The doctrine of the fall teaches that the wrong in the world comes from humanity’s original rebellion against God. All acts of sin are a reflection of that rebellion (Gen 3). Though created wonderfully in God’s image, Adam and Eve were thrown out of God’s intimate presence. Their image was not lost, but it was marred. The world was cursed but not destroyed. Man was isolated and in constant longing to return to Eden. Everything, including the greatest art and music, is marred and one of the powers of music is to remind people of their longing for redemption.[10]

This is why the doctrine of redemption is such a wonderful and fundamental doctrine in the Bible (Gen 3:15; Rom 3:23-24). The truth that God has a plan of salvation completes the picture. On the cross Jesus Christ redeemed the world unto himself (Eph 1:7; Heb 9:15). Ryken comments on the difficulty to understand the cross as the centerpiece of God’s salvific art:

The center of God’s masterpiece of salvation was an event of appalling ugliness and degradation. This masterpiece was the cross where Christ was crucified for sin, and there was nothing beautiful about it, at least not in physical terms. The crucifixion was an ugly, ugly obscenity—a twisting, bleeding body of pain...Why would the God of all glory and beauty do something so ugly, and then make us look to it for our salvation? The cross screams against all the sensibilities of divine aesthetic. God did this because it was the only way that he could save us.[11]

Through the masterpiece of salvation on the cross each believer is a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). Therefore, musicians who come to know Christ are able to present the beauty and moral standard of God’s original creation. Beauty exists in the universe and the musician is able to use his redeemed creative skills to portray that. Hendricks concludes, “A cleansed imagination is one of the by-products of a regenerated intellect. It’s a thinking capability, an imagination, released from its prison of the ordinary and liberated to become what God redeemed us to be.”[12]


[1] Peter C. Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” Volume 19 of Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1983), 315.

[2] The Hebrew חָדָשׁ “new” refers fifty-one times to something new in the sense that it has not been before. The word can also refer to something not previously experienced like getting married (Deut 24:5 “newly” married). The word can also refer to newness (Ps 40:3; 33:3; Rev. 14:3), freshness (Job 29:20) and renewal (Ps 51:12) that continually come to the psalmist. This is the meaning here. And the שִׁיר “song” is most often translated “sing” or “song” but is also translated as “music” or “musical instruments” in relation to the temple worship (1 Chron 15:16; 25:6; 2 Chron 5:13; 7:6; 23:13; 34:12). Here it refers to a song because God gave him a song sing with his בְּפִי “mouth” or “lips.” F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed., (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 294; and W. Gesenius, and S. P. Tregelles, Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003), 263.

[3] The Hebrew יִרְאוּ “see” can also be translated “examine” as when the priest would examine a person’s physical and spiritual condition (in Lev 13 the word is used 22 times), or to “consider” or “think deeply” about ones life or God’s work (Ezek 18:28; Eccl 7:13). In Psalm 40 the person would not only see a performance but rather consider and examine deeply the content and expression of the song. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 906; and Gesenius and Tregelles, Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, 748.

[4] The Hebrew word וְיִירָאוּ “fear” can refer to “reverence” (Lev 19:3, 30; 26:2) and to be “God-fearing” (Neh 7:2). Bratcher and Reyburn write, “The result of the psalmist’s experience on those who hear about it is that they will see and fear. (In Hebrew there is an effective alliteration: yiru … yirau.) This act of seeing probably is to be understood as a reference to the public recital in the Temple (notice our God in verse 3b) of what Yahweh has done for the psalmist. The psalmist’s fellow worshipers will be filled with fear, awe, the proper reverence for God that all his people should have (see 34:7, 9). frcl translates and fear as a separate line, ‘they will recognize the authority of the Lord.’” R. G. Bratcher and W. D. Reyburn, A Translator's Handbook on the Book of Psalms (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 382; and Gesenius and Tregelles, Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, 364.

[5] The Hebrew word וְיִבְטְחוּ “put their trust in” is several times used in the context of “putting ones confidence in” (Ps 27:3; Job 40:23; Judg 9:26). The meaning in the Psalm would be that as a result of examining and gaining reverence the people trust or place their confidence in God. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 105; and Gesenius and Tregelles, Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, 112.

[6] Don Wyrtzen, A Musician Looks at the Psalms (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 115.

[7] Wyrtzen, A Musician Looks at the Psalms, 115.

[8] Howard Hendricks, Coloring Outside the Lines: A Revolutionary Approach to Creative Leadership (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1998), 29.

[9] Leland Ryken, Culture and Christian Perspective (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1986), 65-66.

[10] For examples see Appendix 6: Examples of Music as Theology.

[11] Ryken, Art for God’s Sake, 54-55.

[12] Hendricks, Coloring Outside the Lines, 35.

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