Friday, January 22, 2016

Objections to Psalmody: Psalm Singers Can’t Sing the Name of Jesus

The Short Answer:

Psalms are “Songs of the Lord.” Psalm 137:4

“For David the book of Psalms… calls Him ‘Lord’” (Luke 20:42,44). Notice...David had only one Lord, and that was the LORD God. So the “Lord” in this passage is not only the Son of David, but also his God! In other words, Jesus is claiming, on the basis on Psalm 110:1, that He is both the LORD of the Psalms, the covenant LORD of Moses and Abraham, the great “I Am” of Exodus 3:14 and the long-expected human son of David. Christ is saying that David in Psalm 110 called him by name, the same name that the disciples all used when addressing Him, namely “Lord” (Kurios). the LORD of the Psalms is the Lord of the New Testament. David knew Him by both names. Christ is telling us that when we address the “LORD” and the “Lord” in the Psalms, we are addressing Him by name. (Songs of Zion, Michael Bushell, 4th edition, p.61)

The Long Answer: 

(Adapted from Bryan Schwertley's Exclusive Psalmody: A Biblical Defense)
One of the most popular arguments against exclusive psalmody is that “if we only sing the Psalms then we deny the church the opportunity to praise our Savior using His name as the divine‐human mediator (Jesus).” Although many people consider this to be the strongest argument against exclusive psalmody, it in reality is nothing more than an appeal to sentimentality with no scriptural foundation. There are a number of reasons such an argument is fallacious.

First, nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to sing the name “Jesus”. If God preferred the name Jesus over other biblical designations for our Lord (e.g., Immanuel, Yahweh, Lord, Savior, Jehovah Tzidkenu [cf. Jer. 23:5-6], the Prince of Peace, Messiah, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Son of Man, etc.), then He would have revealed His will concerning this matter to us in the Bible.

Second, it is not the word “Jesus” that we are to serve, exalt, worship and glorify, but what or whom the name points to or represents. There is nothing intrinsically sacred, mystical or holy regarding the word “Jesus.” We respect the word and do not use it in an irreverent manner because of the Person behind the name. Bible scholars recognize that even the biblical expression in the name refers to a recognition or acknowledgment of the person who is named.

When Paul says, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil.2:10), he refers to a recognition of the power, authority and majesty of Jesus. Matthew Henry writes, “At the name of Jesus; not at the sound of the word, but the authority of Jesus; all should pay a solemn homage.

And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord—every nation and language should publicly own the universal empire of the exalted Redeemer, and that all power in heaven and earth is given to him, Matthew 28:18.”35 John Calvin concurs,

"...Paul speaks of Christ’s whole dignity, to restrict his meaning to two syllables, as if any one were to examine attentively the letters of the word Alexander, in order to find in them the greatness of the name that Alexander acquired for himself. Their subtlety, therefore, is not solid,
and the contrivance is foreign to Paul’s intention. But worse than ridiculous is the conduct of the Sorbonnic sophists, who infer from the passage before us that we ought to bow the knee whenever the name of Jesus is pronounced, as though it were a magic word which had all virtue included in the sound of it. Paul, on the other hand, speaks of the honour that is to be rendered to the Son of God—not to mere syllables."

John Gill makes this important observation, "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" Which is to be understood, not of the outward act of bowing the knee upon hearing the name, and the syllables of the mere name Jesus pronounced; for in the bare name there can be nothing which can command such a peculiar respect; it was a name common with the Jews: Joshua is so called in Heb. iv. 8 and the name of Elymas the sorcerer was Bar-Jesus; that is, the son of Jesus, Acts xiii. 6. Now, how monstrously ridiculous and stupid would it be, for a man, upon hearing these passages, and upon the pronouncing of this word, to bow the knee? Moreover, the words ought not to be rendered at, but in the name of Jesus; that is, in and by reason of the power, authority, and dignity of Jesus, as exalted at God’s right hand, every creature is to be subject to him."

Since the Psalms eloquently and thoroughly recognize the power, authority and majesty of Christ as well as define His character and ministry, they exalt His glorious name because they exalt His person. To ignore this point and demand the use of the word “Jesus” in singing praise is superstitious and irrational.

 Third, the idea that synonyms for the word “Jesus” are biblically inadequate for praise is disproved by the fact that God Himself did not consider a providential preservation of His own covenant name to be important. God’s covenant name (YHWH) is the triune God’s most frequent designation in Scripture occurring 5,321 times. This name was personally given to Moses when he asked God to reveal His name to the children of Israel (Exodus 5:13). God responds by revealing His covenant name—the Hebrew tetragrammaton (i.e., four consonants) YHWH translated as “Lord” (KJV, NKJV, RSV, NIV, NASB, A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text), “Jehovah” (ASV), or “Yahweh” (Jerusalem Bible). When God spoke this name to Moses, Moses heard the proper pronunciation (i.e., he knew what the proper vowels were) and relayed the correct pronunciation to the covenant people. Over time, however, the proper pronunciation of the word was lost forever because the Jews out of fear of violating the third commandment never pronounced God’s covenant name. Instead when they came to YHWH they would say “Adonai” or “Lord,” another name for God. As a result all the modern transliterations of YHWH (e.g., Jehovah, Yahweh) are at best educated guesses. Therefore, various cults that regard Protestant Bibles as corrupt because they use the word LORD instead of Jehovah or Yahweh are ignorant of history.

The whole point of this discussion regarding God’s covenant name is that God did not consider a providential preservation of His own covenant name to be important. When we sing the Psalms or read our Bibles (no matter what the translation) we are not reading or singing God’s covenant name. We are, however, reading or singing a synonym which seems to be just fine as far as God is concerned.

Fourth, Jesus Christ himself regarded biblical synonyms as perfectly acceptable for public worship. Note the baptismal formula from our Lord’s own lips: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The only people that this author is aware of that require saying the word “Jesus” during baptism are anti-Trinitarian “Jesus only” Pentecostals. Christ teaches us that we do not need to say the word “Jesus” for a biblical baptism. A reference to the second person of the trinity is sufficient. Therefore, following our Lord’s own reasoning, the Psalter’s abundant references to the person and work of Christ are perfectly acceptable as New Testament praise.

Fifth, the New Testament authors writing under divine inspiration substituted the Greek word kurios (Lord) for the Hebrew word signifying God’s covenant name (Yahweh or Jehovah) when quoting Old Testament passages (e.g., Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3; Acts 2:20 21; Joel 2:31,32; Mark 1:3; Isaiah 40:3; Acts 2:25; Psalm 16:8; Acts 2:34; Psalm 68:18, etc.). In doing so they were usually following the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX) commonly used by Greek speaking Jews of their own day. If there were something special or unique about the word Jehovah itself rather than the truth or meaning behind the word, then such a substitution would have been unbiblical. If we know that the word Lord in the Psalter refers to Jesus Christ, then to sing that word is every bit as honoring as pronouncing the word “Jesus” itself.

Sixth, those who appeal to the idea that we must sing Jesus’ name are inconsistent. The divine-human mediator was never called Jesus. His name was Yehoshua, not Jesus. We know of no uninspired hymns which speak of Yehoshua (with the exception of the Messianic Jewish movement). One may object by saying, “Yes, but Jesus is a transliteration of the Greek word Iesous which is a transliteration of the Hebrew word Yehoshua. Therefore the English word Jesus represents Yehoshua.” That point is true. However, it does not prove that the word Jesus “is more important to have on one’s lips than other names by which God makes Himself known.”

When psalm singers praise the Redeemer by singing the inspired songs of Scripture they are worshiping Jesus Christ in the way that He has commanded. This is what pleases God. There is no evidence that God prefers the name of Jesus over other designations. The Jesus name argument is an assumption without evidence.

Seventh, the name Jesus or Yehoshua means “Jehovah is salvation.” The name was given by an angel to Mary to indicate the mission of the child. “You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The purpose of the name is to teach us about Christ’s role as the redeemer of God’s elect. Do the Psalms teach us about Christ’s role as the Savior? Yes, they do so abundantly (e.g., Psalms 2:7-12; 8:5; 16:9-11; 22; 24:17-10; 35:11; 40:7-9; 41:9; 45:6ff.; 47:5; 50:3-4; 68:18; 69; 72; 110; etc.). Given the fact that the Psalter gives us a clear picture of Christ and His redemptive work, the idea that we must sing Jesus’ name to worship Him properly is simply not true. Once again it must be emphasized that it is what the name represents or points to that is what is important. Once one understands the doctrinal riches contained in the Psalter he will understand that the Jesus name argument is really just an excuse to depart from the all sufficient manual of praise that God has given us—the Psalms.


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