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"The Evolution of Worship Music in the Bible and Throughout History"

Updated: May 5, 2023


Researcher and author: M0usa Rasaei

To what extent has the Bible promoted the use of instruments and singing in collective worship? Has music imposed itself on Christian worship over centuries and over time? Why was the role of music in Christian worship so limited in the early centuries, and what were the reasons for the changes we see today or the varying attitudes of the church towards music in worship?


To answer these questions, we must first explore the perspective of the Bible on this subject, and then examine the influence of historical developments and subcultures on the approach of the people of God to musical worship in order to arrive at a comprehensive and complete answer.


1- The Bible's perspective on worship music


Since there are numerous verses and signs in the Bible regarding worship music, this article will mention only some of them relevant to the topic under discussion.


what is the origin of music?

It came from God. It was given for a divine purpose, prior to creation. Job 38:6-7 says that during creation, the morning stars sang together, and the angels shouted for joy! The Bible alone provides an acceptable explanation for the origin of music and musical instruments. We read in Scripture that God surrounds Himself with angelic choirs and the songs of the redeemed sinners (Rev. 14:2–3). A heavenly choir of angels sang at the birth of Christ. From these verses, we can infer that not only does God have no problem with music and musical instruments, but their role and significance in heaven and before creation are apparent.


In the personal experiences that the prophets of the Bible had with God, we can see that they were inspired by God for their worship. For example, in Psalm 40:40, the prophet David says, "He put a new song in my mouth." It means that it is actually written with divine inspiration and introduces God himself as the bestower and writer of new songs.


At times, God of the Bible commanded His people to sing prophetic messages in song to remember them and not forget them in the future. (Deuteronomy 19:31) The key point is that the Lord utilizes the power and influence of music as a means and tool to establish His words.


Singers and musicians had a special respect and place among God's people, and they were always in ministry, performing during grand celebrations and holidays. "The Musicians were the heads of Levitical families and lived in the rooms of the temple, free from other duties, and were occupied with their work day and night. "It means that music was so important in worship that some people spent all their time learning and practicing it. (1 Chronicles 9:33) King David had some musicians and singers under his education and obedience, of whom Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun were their leaders. These three had 24 children who were actually the heads or supervisors of 24 groups of musicians in the God's temple. (1 Chronicles 25) At that time, the number of musicians who praised the Lord was 4,000! (1 Chronicles 23:5)


There are many verses in the Bible that show that the people of God used musicians and even big orchestras for worship in ceremonies. (For example, see first Samuel 10:05, first Chronicles 15:15-29, second Chronicles 29:25-30)"


An interesting point to note is that among the Musicians were also women . (Nehemiah 67:7, Ezra 2:65, and second Samuel 19:31-35) Sometimes these women, worshiped the Lord in his presence with dancing. For example, when the Israelites came out of Egypt and were saved from Pharaoh, on that day they sang a new song, and Mary, the sister of Aaron, along with all the women, had tambourines in hand and worshiped the Lord by dancing. (Exodus 15:20)


The book of Psalms, which is the longest book in the Bible, is a collection of 150 worship hymns.


In the New Testament, we see Jesus Christ singing worship hymns with his disciples. (Matthew 26:30, Mark 26:14) In some verses, the believers are encouraged and commanded to sing hymns together "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, James 5:13) The book of Revelation also refers to the magnificent and glorious worship that is always taking place in heaven. (Revelation 5:8, 14:2 and 15:2)


Based on the Bible verses we have mentioned and examined, the God of the Bible commands worship accompanied by music. before the creation of humans and the world, and even after its end, worship music still exists and has never been mentioned in the Bible as something to be removed or opposed to, and worship music has always been an essential and inseparable part of the ceremonies and events of God's people.


2- Affecting factors on Jewish worship (six centuries BC)


Worship music in early churches and the first century AD cannot be compared to the magnificent worship music of BC. There is no doubt that early churches used worship hymns in their sessions and rituals. However, worship music was based on vocal music and only used the voices of men without instruments.


The interesting question is what happened that caused the magnificent worship accompanied by a grand orchestra in the ancient covenant to decrease to such an simple in the first century. Researchers speculate that "the worship of the people in the ancient covenant was not inferior to today's polyphonic music." The reasons for such a transformation is hidden in the six centuries BC period:


After the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the exile of Jews to Babylon, and in the absence of a temple and a place to gather for the worship of God, synagogues were established. The synagogue was a place where the people of God gathered, listened to the word of God, learned divine teachings, and worshiped Him. After returning from exile in 539 BC and the reconstruction of the temple, this way of life and worship continued in the synagogues and became a natural part of the religious life of Jews, even prospered. There are many references in the Bible who Jesus going to synagogues to proclaim the kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23, 12:9, 23:4, etc.).


The process of holding sessions in synagogues at that time was as follows: reading the Bible, explaining the word and teaching it, singing psalms melodiously, and then reciting prayers (previously written prayers).

There is a significant and noticeable difference in worship and ceremony practices before and after exile: Before the exile and the destruction of the temple, the focus was on sacrifice, lengthy worship, and music (vocal and instrumental). But after the exile and in the synagogues period, the focus was not on public worship but on education and contemplation of divine law, such as reading the word of God, interpreting it, reciting prayer-like prayers, and singing psalms.


In synagogues, three types of singing or chanting have been common:


A) Singing Psalm (which were actually worship hymns)

B) Chanting Bible Scriptures ( Sing Melodically bible words)

C) Chanting pre-written prayers


There is no exact evidence regarding the style and type of music used in worship. However, it seems that it had a simple and distinctive musical form and focused more on the words than on the music. Researchers have named this style "chant," which words are sung in a rhythmic and melodic way.


The reason why music (instrumental and vocal) suddenly became less prominent is not entirely clear, but

Researchers suggest several possibilities:


1-The exposure of the Jewish people to Babylonian culture during the exile and their adoption of it had a negative impact on the development of music in Jewish worship. Although after the return from exile and the reconstruction of the Temple, the worship music regained its past glory and similarity, but this period did not last long and returned to the same silence and stagnation of the exile period.


2-It seems that the return from exile was accompanied by the influence of Jewish rabbis, and from 200 BC, the synagogues were under the influence and control of the Pharisees, who placed great emphasis on teaching divine law. Jewish rabbis learned a life of piety and correct religious practice and sought to gain more knowledge from the Bible. This approach may have had a significant impact on the marginalization of the role of music in worship.


3-For Jews, working on the Sabbath is prohibited. On the other hand, musicians were sometimes forced to repair or transport their instruments on this day, which was considered a type of work. Such an approach may have led to a decrease in the prominence of music.


4-The effects of the exile and the destruction of the Temple still remained in the minds of the Jews. Perhaps verses such as Hosea 9:1, "Do not rejoice, O Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute at every threshing floor. ," led them to believe that the accompaniment of music and instruments and singing was an act contrary to this verse, and they wanted to keep the shadow of their suffering from fading away.


5-The Rabbinic scholars were more concerned about sexual and moral impropriety than they were about adherence to religious law and purity. They believed that the sound of women's voices could lead to shame and immodesty. To them, it was like placing straw and fire next to each other for men to sing and women to respond. However, this fear, rather than causing sexual impropriety, led to the separation of women from men and ultimately singing left single, while singing remained exclusively for men in the synagogue.



3- Worship music in the first century

Since the early Christians were also Jews, they began their worship in the same synagogues and held their religious meetings almost in the same pattern as the synagogue. Until the Jews added pressure on Jewish Christians, driving them out of the synagogues and forcing them to hold ceremonies in homes or elsewhere besides the synagogues. After non-Jewish Christians converted, they did not see it necessary to hold ceremonies in the manner and form of the synagogue (without musical instruments and women's singing). The pressure of Jewish Christians on some of the laws and customs (such as circumcision, impure and pure, holy and unholy, etc.) was no longer sensitive. Therefore, worship in the new church gradually became independent, took on a new form, and even influenced Greek music. This process has continued to this day, and the role of worship music in church has taken on a new style, to the extent that we see the glory and splendor of worship music from the Renaissance period in the West (1400 AD onwards) like the Prophet David period.


Conclusion:

1- In fact, for about a millennium (600 BC to 400 AD), Worship music underwent significant changes and transformations and has overcome great dangers. Although the role of worship music has diminished throughout those days, its shadow is always visible in worship. This fact indicates that the church has never had any ambiguity about the principle and essence of music, but rather about how to use it in worship.


2- To understand the opinion of God about any subjects, the Bible itself is the only criterion, not the actions or ideological views of God's people throughout history. As explained, the role of music in worship had fallen victim to the erroneous of Jewish rabbis perspective.


3- Unfortunately, the Persian churches are currently affected by a prevailing perspective of non-specialized, superficial, and marginal understanding of worship and worship ministry. This attitude contradicts the biblical view of worship and does not serve the purpose of true worship.

From the perspective of the God of the Bible, music is not just a good thing, but rather very important and significant. The God of the Bible not only has no problem with music, but the word of God says that He is the creator and writer of music and worship songs, even before creation. In the Old Testament, they selected the best musicians, trained them, and then God anointed them to offer the best worship to Him. Music has been the most important part of major religious ceremonies and sacrifices, just as a great and magnificent orchestra accompanied the ceremony. In wars, worship music was present, and the orchestra marched ahead of the army. Some people were chosen to ministry at the worship music field and had nothing to do all day but to learn and teach music, practice, and prepare for worship.

Considering the importance of worship from God's perspective and the significant role of music in worship in the Bible, we must be careful about some misconceptions we sometimes hear. For example, the statement, "It doesn't matter how you play the instrument or how you worship, what matters is your heart and intention, which are acceptable to God." Maybe this statement is correct in our personal relationship with God, but it gives many people the permission to offer the least valuable pieces of music as worship to God in church gatherings, and sometimes they record and present them with incredible audacity and impertinence, ignoring the fact that they humiliate and belittle God by doing so. If God is valuable, we should offer valuable worship to Him. Reconciliation with God and intimacy with Him in the concept of grace should not give us permission to offer the least valuable things to Him unless we have a different definition of intimacy!


4-The worship part is the most significant and essential part of our church gatherings. Therefore, we should give importance to the training of worship leaders and individuals with expertise and mastery in this field.


There is no obstacle to using this article by referring to the author

Researcher and author: M0usa Rasaei


References:

Catholic Encyclopedia, “Congregational Singing”, (www.newadvent.org/cathen.)

Collins, Ken, “Worship, Prayer, and Liturgy”, (www.kencollins.com/glossary/liturgy.htm)

Edersheim, Alfred, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, (Chapters 16-17). (www.piney.com/chap17.html) Elwell, Walter A. (ed), Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology ,

Articles on “Synagogue” by Joseph L. Trafton and “Worship” by Andrew E. Hill, Grand Rapids:

Baker Books, 1996. Gantt,

Samuel et al. Jewish Liturgics; Early Christian Liturgics, (www.liturgica.com)

Justin Martyr, The First Apology of Justin, (http://bible.crosswalk.com/History/AD/EarlyChurchFathers)

Orr, James, (ed), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,

Articles on “Synagogue” and “Worship”). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939.

Sadie, Stanley, (ed) The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, London: Macmillan Press Ltd. (Musical Forms: Plainchant. (http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/g_plainchant.html).

Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church (Volume 1; Chapter 9: “Worship in the Apostolic Age”, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910. Sherrane, Robert, Music History 102: a Guide to Western Composers and their Music, New York:





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