The Role of Musical Worship in the Corporate Gathering [διδάσκοντες καὶ νουθετοῦντες ἑαυτούς ψαλμοῖς ὕμνοις ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς (Col 3:16)]


(for all you fellow Greek nerds, this is a pic of Sinaiticus)

WARNING: This is a nerdy (but relevant) post.

What does the Bible say about the role of music in the corporate gathered worship service? Does it speak plainly to this issue? I’m quite sure that this will not be the last time that I write on Colossians 3:16, and anyone around me knows the centrality of this passage when it comes to my own philosophy of corporate worship. I have taught on it, preached on it, and will be presenting on it at the annual Evangelical theological Society meeting this November in California. In my mind, this text is central.


Let me tell you why. A brief survey of popular English translations demonstrates that translators have been at odds with one another regarding the proper translation of “singing,” especially as it relates to “teaching and admonishing,” as well as “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” This verse should be translated as follows:


Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you (plural), with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with/by means of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.


Notice the underlined portion. This is similar to the New American Standard translation. Now, compare that to how one of my favorite translations, the ESV, translates this verse:


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. (Col 3:16 ESV)


Do you notice the difference? Depending on where you put the term “singing,” determines how Paul intended Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to be used. The first translation above demonstrates that corporate music has a teaching and admonishing function, with its end being that the word of Christ would richly dwell in the Colossian believers. Putting a comma after “wisdom,” in the ESV, effectively separates “teaching and admonishing/instructing” from Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. (For all of you Greek nerds, the participle “singing” is not grouped with “teaching and admonishing,” rather it comes three words after “spiritual songs” and nine words after the first two participles.) Furthermore, I am not alone in making this point. If you have studied the book of Colossians in much depth, and you have likely use the works of Doug Moo and Peter O’Brien. Their commentaries on Colossians rank among the best. To varying degrees of both of them are inclined precisely to this translation and meaning of the text.


I will be writing more on this in the future, and specifically some of the implications of this, but let me just go ahead and announce the goal: musical worship in the gathered service is to teach and admonish believers so that the word of Christ will richly dwell within them. Here is an interesting note on “teaching and admonishing/instructing” – the only other time these two words (participles) occur together in the Pauline writings (in any verb form) is in Colossians 1:28, where Paul is describing his own ministry. This alone will be a fun point to explore.


This is only the opening salvo when it comes to this text. If I am right, then there are many implications. We will begin to explore such implications in short order. In the meantime, as you prepare yourself for corporate worship on Sunday, read the paragraph of Colossians 3 beginning at verse 12, and consider what I have said here regarding verse 16 as you gather together with your brothers and sisters in the faith to lift high the name and the word of Christ. {implication #1 – don’t be 15 minutes late to the gathering}


(See, I told you this post was nerdy!)

Dr. J



Posted on June 3, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. You go, Barry.

    The Psalms, the hymns, and the spiritual songs we (should) sing are liturgical, logikhn latreian, and integral to the teaching.

  2. Excellent post! Can’t wait to see the rest of the argument.

  3. I am grateful to God that you take your role of worship leading so seriously. Thank you for seeking to make our time of singing a faith-shaping time and not just good songs with truth in them.

  4. Kaalil Muhammad

    Thanks Dr. Joslin…. You make even the nerdy of us feel like “3rd Ward Soldiers”! for the Gospel!

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