Some groups of Christians hold to exclusive psalmody, that is, they believe that the only songs that may be sung in public worship must come from the canonical Book of Psalms. These Christians have to deal with two passages in particular that on at least a cursory reading seem to command singing more than just the Psalms: Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. The latter of these reads:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [ESV]

In response, the common argument made by exclusive psalmodists is that this entire phrase refers only to the Book of Psalms; for example, by Brian Schwertley.

When we examine the Septuagint, we find that the terms psalm (psalmos), hymn (humnos), and song (odee) used by Paul clearly refers to the Old Testament book of Psalms and not ancient or modern uninspired hymns or songs. ("Exclusive Psalmody: A Biblical Defense," 10–14; see also Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion)

Psalms have been used exclusively or primarily in worship by some groups since the early church, so I wonder – who was the first Christian writer to make the argument that Paul, in referring to "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," was referring only to the Book of Psalms?

1 Answer 1


The earliest I know of is in the late 1500s, where several English Puritans took this position.

John Cotton (1584-1652), New England Congregationalist theologian:

In both which places (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16), as the apostle exhorteth us to singing, so he instructeth us what the matter of our song should be, to wit, Psalmes, hymnes, and spirituall Songs. Now these three be the very titles of the Songs of David, as they are delivered to us by the Holy Ghost himself: some of them are called Mizmorim, that is Psalmes; some Tehillim, that is Hymnes; some Shirim, that is Songs, spirituall Songs. Now what reason can be given why the apostle should direct us in our singing to the very titles of David’s Psalms, if it were not his meaning that we should sing them? … The words of David and Asaph, as they were the words of Christ in the mouth of David and Asaph: so they were the words of Christ also in the mouths of the sonnes of Corah, or any other singers in the Temple.

George Swinnock (1627-1673), English Puritan, commenting on Colossians 3:16:

The Holy Ghost when he commandeth that the word should keep house with us, doth also enjoin us to ‘teach and admonish one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.’ (which are the titles of David’s Psalms, and the known division of them, expressly answering to the Hebrew words, Shurim, Telhillim, and Mizinurim, by which his Psalms are distinguished and entitled, as the learned observe.) ‘singing and making melody with grace in our hearts to the Lord,’ Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19, Jam. 5:13.

I have heard that Jerome speaks in the matter but I don't have an English translation of his writings, so I cannot confirm it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .