Were the Israelites Exclusive Psalmists?

I (Shane) typically don’t reference web articles/blogs here because I don’t typically read articles/blogs on the internet.  But I do keep track of an online publication of the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) called Ordained Servant.  I recently read a helpful piece there by T. David Gordon called “The Israelites Were Not Exclusive Psalmists (Nor Are We)”.  I’ll give a few excerpts of this article below; follow the link to read it in its entirety since the quotes below do not give the entire argument.

“The Old Testament not only contains a record of these non-Psalter songs [Ex 15, Deut 32, Judg 5, 1 Sam 2, 2 Sam 22, and Hab 3]; it contains approval of those who composed and sang them.  Yet the compilers of the five collections that eventually constituted our canonical psalms did not hesitate to omit them.  Had those compilers thought that their collections would have been regarded as exclusive, they almost certainly would not have excluded such well-known songs.  If a strict view of exclusive psalmnody were held, we would be permitted to sing the 150 canonical psalms, but not permitted to sing these six other songs that are recorded elsewhere in the Old Testament.  The Israelites could have lawfully sung them (and did), but we could not.”

“If one reads the canonical psalms, it is not at all surprising to learn that they were composed over the course of many generations, because so many of the psalms command the people of God to praise and extol him for his works or deeds of judgment and deliverance.  In doing so, such passages command God’s visible people to compose such songs in response to all of what he has done. [Ps 9:11, Ps 13:6, Ps 66:1-3, etc.]”

“God disclosed himself much more supremely and definitively through his incarnate Son than he had ever before in any of his acts of judgment and deliverance in Israel; how could we possibly fail to sing praises for the greater and fuller act of judgment and deliverance in God’s own Son?”

“What the Colossians sang in their psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs were rich with the message/word about Christ” [Col 3:16].

T. David Gordon, “The Israelites Were Not Exclusive Psalmists (Nor Are We)” Ordained Servant, February 2014.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

2 thoughts on “Were the Israelites Exclusive Psalmists?”

  1. Hi Shane,

    This isn’t a defense of EP (since I’ve argued that we may sing any canonical text in public worship) but a couple points by way of response and defense of the reasonableness of what was, for a two centuries, the majority view of the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches:

    1. There’s a good case to be made that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” was, in fact, intended as a reference to the 150 psalms (the psalter).

    2. The psalms are rich with the Word of and about Christ, aren’t they? That’s how the NT seems to read them.


    1. Thanks for the note, Scott. Hope you’re enjoying the “winter” in Southern California. It’s snowing like crazy this morning on top of the 15 inches we already have! We’re in Carhartt country here.

      I’m familiar with the discussion you bring up in your point #1 above. I’m not convinced of it exegetically, however, especially in the context of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5. Also, I’d say “Yes, absolutely” to your point #2 above, but I hesitate to say “the word of Christ” in Colossians 3 only refers to the psalter.

      Anyway, I’m not a big fan of blog comment dialogue, but I always value your insight, and it’s helpful for our readers as well.



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