Textual Criticism for Dummies

One issue that we can’t ignore when it comes to the Bible is that sometimes those using certain Bible versions have extra words, and occasionally verses and even passages that most Bible versions don’t have. This difference is due to the different Greek manuscripts that the translations are based on.

Often debates about this can get emotive and heated – especially when the ‘missing’ words are claimed to have a special importance. One less emotive passage however is in Colossians 1v2: ‘To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.’

That’s from the ESV – some translations however add the words – ‘and the Lord Jesus Christ’, which fits with how Paul starts his other letters. Why do they do that? Or should they always have been there in the first place?

In the sermon below (from just before the 18 minute mark), Dave Reese sets out the problem and explains how we can know which is right.

R. Scott Clark on hymns and instruments

A mass of evidence from the Heidelblog to show that unaccompanied psalm singing has been the majority position of the church, and especially the Reformers.


What Did the Divines Mean By “Psalms”?
“In [Calvin's] treatises, including his 1559 Institutes, where the word psalm occurs about 500 times, the word psalm seems to refer almost invariably to a canonical psalm…I searched about 114 orthodox Reformed texts (from Junius, Perkins, Bucanus, Cartwright, Twisse, Gilespie, Diodati, Paraeus) from 1600 to 1640 and found no obvious evidence of psalm used to include an extra-canonical song.”

Calvin: We Sing Psalms In Public Worship
“Only let the world be well advised, that instead of songs partly vain and frivolous, partly foolish and dull, partly filthy and vile, and consequently wicked and hurtful, which it has heretofore used, it should accustom itself hereafter to sing these heavenly and divine songs, with good king David.”

Gavin Beers (!): Of Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs And The RPW
“But why does Paul employ three terms in Ephesians 5:19, if what you are saying is that all three refer to the Book of Psalms? Is that not a bit redundant, a bit like saying Psalms, Psalms and Psalms?’ In answer to this objection we have already seen that the Psalms themselves do this, eg the title of Psalm 76, Psalm 65 in the title and v1. In addition to this we should also note how frequently in Scripture God employs a three-fold statement to refer to the same thing, a Biblical triplet of terms. So laws can be ‘commandments, statutes and laws’ (Gen.26:5), miracles can be ‘Miracles, wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22), and prayers can be ‘Prayers, supplications and intercessions’ (1Tim.2:1). So why should it be thought a strange thing that God should use three terms in the one verse to refer to His divinely inspired book of Psalms?”

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs in the Septuagint
“At the top of the Psalms in the LXX were titles or superscriptions. Those superscriptions described each Psalm, they categorized the psalms in 4 classes or groups:

  • ψαλμος [Psalms] (2-8, 10-14, 18-24, 28-30, 37-40, 42-43, 45-50, 61-67, 72, 74-76, 78-84, 86-87, 91, 93, 97-100, 107-109, 138-140, 142)
  • [συνεσις; understanding (31, 41, 43-44, 51-54, 73, 77, 87-88, 141)]
  • υμνος [Hymns] (5, 53-54, 60, 66, 75)
  • ωδη [Ode/Song] (3, 17, 29, 38, 44, 47, 64-67, 74-75, 82, 86-87, 90-92, 94-95, 107, 119-133)

…Arguably, even though the nouns for “wisdom” or “understanding” are different, we can say that here [Col 3:16] Paul invokes not just three of the categories but all 4: wisdom, psalms, hymns, and [Holy Spirit-given] songs.”


The 1559 Geneva Bible On Musical Instruments
“Psalm 150:3: Exhorting the people only to rejoice in praising God, he maketh mention of those instruments which by God’s commandment were appointed in the old Law, but under Christ the use thereof is abolished”

The Church Fathers Reject Instrumental Music In Public Worship
“The vehement and unanimous objections of the Church Fathers to musical instruments apparently succeed in suppressing their use in Christian worship for many centuries. Indeed…at least one instrument, the Greek hydraulic organ, appears to have been largely forgotten in the West…..The demise of the organ as a common instrument in the West was so complete that when one arrived as a gift at the court of the Franks in 757 it was regarded as a great novelty.”

Calvin: Diligently To Inquire What Worship God Approves
“…But the Chaldeans thought to satisfy their god by heaping together many musical instruments. For, like other persons, they supposed God like themselves, for whatever delights us, we think must also please the Deity.”

Dabney: Moral Courage in Defence of that Vital Truth
“Hence such instruments are excluded from Christian worship. Such has been the creed of all churches, and in all ages, except of the Popish communion after it had reached the nadir of its corruption at the end of the thirteenth century, and of its prelatic imitators.”

Aquinas: The Use Of Instruments In Public Worship Is Judaizing
“In the Old Testament instruments of this description were employed, both because the people were more coarse and carnal—so that they needed to be aroused by such instruments as also by earthly promises—and because these material instruments were figures of something else.”

Calvin On Instruments: Not Given For Us To Imitate

Bit a both!

Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Instruments In The Latin Bibles
“Most of the time the shift from the original Reformed practice to our practice is either accepted without question or ignored. Sometimes we assume (as I did for a number of years) that our current practice is the historic practice. Sometimes, however, the original Reformed understanding of worship is ridiculed. One sees this in the discussion of the proper interpretation of the expression in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18: “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The older Reformed writers tended to interpret this phrase as a reference to the 150 Psalms…
…The Reformers knew their history, that the early church accepted these principles and worshipped without musical instruments for the first 7 centuries—8 if we count the Apostolic church. They knew that the reintroduction of musical instruments mean the return to types and shadows, to the priesthood and that is exactly what happened. By the 9th century medieval theologians were theorizing about the transformation of the elements of the Supper into the body and blood of Christ. After that, increasingly ministers became regarded as priests who were making offerings. Indeed, by the 9th century the Holy Roman Emperor is increasingly being seen as a new Davidic king. What had expired on the cross was being resurrected and the church was returned to types and shadows. The Reformers rejected the new priesthood, the new (memorial, propitiatory) sacrifices just as they rejected the medieval neo-levitical reintroduction of instruments.”

Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Instruments In The Latin Bibles (2)
In short, the Reformed orthodox would not have understood the objection against interpreting Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 against the background of the Psalter. In their minds, the two were bound together.
…Second, it would have been very difficult for the Reformed orthodox, for whom the Junius/Tremellius/Beza Latin Bible became the study Bible (apart from the original text), not to think of musical instruments as inextricably tied to the typological period of redemptive history and to the sacrificial ministry of the Levites. Where our translations sometimes encourage us to thing of a vocal choir, their translation encouraged them to think of the use of musical instruments in the psalms.
…It is useful to know that most (but not all!) of us no longer agree with our Reformed sources. We need to wrestle honestly with the facts. It is simply not satisfactory to say, “Well they were wrong.” That might be the case but we cannot simply assert that. We must show why they were wrong. Why were they wrong to read “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in light of the superscriptions in the psalter? Why were they wrong to see the cultic (i.e., the use in public worship as distinct from the general, cultural) use of musical instruments as inextricably bound up with the types and shadows of the temporary, Israelite, national cultus and polity? It is an a fact of redemptive history that Levites played musical instruments so long as the burnt offerings were being made (2 Chron 29). They stopped with the sacrifices stopped. It is a fact of redemptive history that the same psalms that exhort us to dance and play musical instruments also exhort us to holy war against God’s national enemies.
When our theologies were being written and when our confessions were being framed, this was the understanding that informed them as they confessed that we may do in worship only that which God has commanded. In light of their understanding of redemptive history they removed instruments from the churches and sang only God’s Word (usually psalms) in response to God’s Word. They did not see musical instruments as circumstances. They saw them as elements just as the sacrifices were elements.

Podcast: Heidelcast: The Psalms in Worship and Living

Reading God’s Words or Man’s Words?

A Satirical Response to Mark Jones’s Post on the Reformation 21 Website Entitled:
“Singing God’s Words or Man’s Words?”

by Pastor Dave Reese (Springs Reformed Church, RPCNA)

Years ago I was asked the following question by someone who holds to exclusively using the Bible alone for public readings in worship: “Do you think it is better to read God’s words or man’s words?” My answer: we should never read man’s words. But I say this as someone who would read sections of great Christian literature as public readings in worship (i.e. Calvin’s Institutes).

As much as I love Douglas Bond novels or Eugene Peterson devotionals many Christian novels and inspirational books simply cannot be compared to God-breathed Scriptures! When I am depressed or miserable, I turn to the Bible. It is the marrow of my never-dying soul.

Nonetheless, with some trepidation, I believe that exclusively using the Bible for the public readings in worship has certain limitations. Believe me, you do not want to walk down a dark alley with a book by Francis Chan or the PCA’s BCO in your hand and bump into a couple of guys who hold that you should only be reading from the Bible in public worship! They are as zealous for the Bible in worship as the TRs in the PCA are for blue blazers and Banner of Truth conferences.

So are the inspired words of God in the books of the Bible to be preferred over man-made texts in corporate worship? Should we give up reading Into the Word in worship and replace it by just limiting ourselves to the Word?

Quite apart from the fact that many Christians in the past and present do not hold that you should use only the Bible for public readings in worship, I believe John Owen allows us to answer the first question I raised above in a manner that might enable those opposed to reading just the Bible in worship to understand why we have readings from other sources outside of the Bible.

We do not only believe that the Word of God is binding on us, but the inferences and meaning are also binding. Not only what the Scripture says, but also what it means is infallible.

Here is Owen’s argument:

“For if it is unlawful for me to speak or write what I conceive to be sense of the words of the Scripture, and the nature of the thing signified and expressed by them, it is unlawful for me, also, to think or conceive in my mind what is the sense of the words or nature of the things; which to say, is to make brutes of ourselves, and to frustrate the whole design of God in giving unto us the great privilege of his word.”

Thus, for Owen, as we declare the truth of the Trinity, “we may lawfully, nay, we must necessarily, make use of other words, phrases and expressions, than what are literally and syllabically contained in the Scripture, but teach no other things.”

Words such as “substance”, “essence”, “person”, and “trinity” are all words that are lawful to use. But Owen goes further. If these words convey the sense or meaning of the Scriptures, including the nature of God, may we express the truth of God in the following words, “God is one essence in three persons”? If so, then this sentence is God’s truth.

This is where Owen’s argument becomes hugely important:

“For howsoever the lines be drawn and extended, from truth nothing can follow and ensue but what is true also; and that in the same kind of truth with that which it is derived and deduced from. For if the principal assertion be a truth of divine revelation, so is also whatever is included therein, and which may be rightly from thence collected. Hence it follows, that when the Scripture reveals the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be one God, seeing it necessarily and unavoidably follows thereon that they are one in essence (wherein alone it is possible they can be one), and three in their distinct substances (wherein alone it is possible they can be three), this is no less a divine revelation than the first principle from whence these things follow.

Those words, “this is no less a divine revelation than the first principle from whence these things follow,” are hugely significant for me in my own thinking about the way one does theology. Perhaps “divine truth” would be more appropriate than “divine revelation,” but I agree with his general point.

Are there readings that are divinely true because they convey the accurate meaning of God’s word? If they accurately capture the sense of Scripture then we are dealing with God’s truth, and not merely “man’s words.” The truth of God’s word gives rise to truth:

“I think God is really way bigger than all other powers in the whole wide world. I think He could snuff every bad guy on the planet if He wanted to right now. And Jesus is God also so He could too.”


“God is the holy Creator. He created donkeys and every rock that is in existence. He picked the color of the sky and therefore it is blue because He wanted it to be blue. Jesus and the Holy Spirit also participated in creation and they wanted to the sky to be blue also.”

What shall we say about these readings?

  1. Saying things like those that are said in the paragraphs above, which contain God’s truth (not merely man’s words) enables me to distance myself from a Jew or a Mormon who would likely read the Bible with me. But, they cannot affirm the last line of those two paragraphs above, which is why the Mormons have their own readings.
  1. Publicly reading things like Calvin’s Institutes provides the church with an excellent tool to convey, state, defend, and enjoy the truth of God’s word in a manner that even preaching and praying cannot. There is far less chance for error in selecting a biblically true section of Knowing God than a sermon and prayer. After all, how many “pastoral prayers” ask God to “just” do this or “just” do that, and then go on to ask a whole bunch of other things he can “just” do. And how many sermons are riddled with some interpretative error?
  1. I think we can refer to public readings of Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcomed Guest? during the worship service as reading the “words of God” on the same grounds that Paul referred to his own preaching as the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).

Of course, there are words in many Christian books that are untrue. “Justified on the basis of the whole life lived” from the book, What Saint Paul Really Said is not read in our church. There are many imperfect older theological works and in modern Christian literature. Quite what “That isn’t to say my wife writes the pastoral prayers, by the way, since I allow myself to be ‘blown by the Spirit’” means, I have no idea. Good Morning, Holy Spirit by Benny Hinn has words that make me want to vomit. And John Owen’s point about the truths of Scripture being able to be stated in words other than biblical words: What does “this is no less a divine revelation than the first principle from whence these things follow,” mean? Theological statements are to give the true meaning of Scripture, not leave us needing another statement to interpret the statement.

Fortunately, I can deal with these errors by not allowing them in the order of worship. (That isn’t to say my wife writes the pastoral prayers, by the way, since I allow myself to be “blown by the Spirit”).

In summary, the first question raised above puts us on the horns of a false dilemma. The real question should be:

Must we confine ourselves to only God’s words in the public readings during worship or can we also read uninspired men’s writings, which articulate the true meaning of God’s words?

I’m off now to a worship service with my congregation in which I will read Morning and Evening, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology as the “infallible”, “words of God” for the public readings (1 Tim. 4:13).

RP Sermons App

reformedvoice sermonaudio

The website ReformedVoice.com probably isn’t as well known as it should be. It’s basically a version of the SermonAudio website but with only sermons from RP broadcasters (ie churches). The site is run by the RPCNA but also has sermons from the other RP denominations. One advantage it has over the full site is that you can just right click a link to add it to huffduffer.


I recently discovered that it also has its own iPhone app. To find it, you have to search for the main SermonAudio app in the App Store, then on the ‘Details’ tab scroll down to ‘Developer Apps’ (see picture below).

reformedvoice sermonaudio app

It’s very iOS 6-y and more basic than the main SermonAudio app (which itself doesn’t exactly set the world alight) but hey, finally you can use ‘RPCI’ and ‘App’ in the same sentence!

On Your Owen

Following on from the last post, here are some more quotations from John Owen in response to Mark Jones trying to use Owen against exclusive psalmody. All taken from the Goold (incidentally a theological professor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland) edition of Owen’s Works.

God’s Words v Man’s Words

“Unto this end there is a more glorious power and efficacy in one epistle, one psalm, one chapter, than in all the writings of men, though they have their use also. He that hath not experience hereof is a stranger unto the power of God in the Scripture”. iv, 190.

On the introduction of hymns (context is the imposition of set forms of prayer but hymns are still listed as a ‘Trojan horse’).

“Whatever forms of prayer were given out unto the use of the church by divine authority and inspiration, as the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms or Prayers of David, they are to have their everlasting use therein, according unto what they were designed unto.
And be their end and use what it will, they can give no more warranty for human compositions unto the same end, and the injunction of their use, than for other human writings to be added unto the Scripture…So the orthodox and the Arians composed prayers, hymns, and doxologies, the one against the other, inserting in them passages confirming their own profession and condemning that of their adversaries. Now, however this invention might be approved whilst it kept within bounds, yet it proved the Trojan horse that brought in all evils into the city of God in its belly.”

…Had the churches of Christ been left unto their primitive liberty under the enjoined duties of reading and expounding the Scripture, of singing psalms unto the praise of God, of the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and of diligent preaching the word, all of them with prayer, according unto the abilities and spiritual gifts of them who did preside in them, as it is evident that they were for some ages, it is impossible for any man to imagine what evils would have ensued thereon that might be of any consideration, in comparison of those enormous mischiefs which followed on the contrary practice”. iv, 240-6

On the elements of worship

“Offering prayers and praises to God in the name of Jesus Christ, reading the holy Scripture and expounding of it, singing of psalms to God, preaching of the word, with the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, in a religious observation of the Lord’s day unto these ends, all according as God doth enable them by his Spirit, is the sum and substance of the worship of the catholic church, wherein all Christians are agreed. These things the Scripture doth prescribe, and these things the church in all ages hath observed. All differences about this worship, which have filled the world with inhuman contentions, arose from men’s arbitrary addition of forms, rites, modes, ceremonies, languages, cringings, adorations, which they would have observed in it; whereof the Scripture is silent and primitive antiquity utterly ignorant. And it may be it will be one day understood, that the due observance of this catholic worship, according as God enableth any thereunto (leaving others at liberty to use such helps unto their devotion as they shall think meet), is the only communion of worship in the church which the Scripture requires, or which is possible to be attained. About the imposition of other things, there ever were, since they were, and ever will be, endless contentions”. xvi, 218-9.

Elements v Circumstances of Worship

Element: “Q. 17. Which are the principal institutions of the gospel to be observed in the worship of God?
A. The calling, gathering, and settling of churches, with their officers, as the seat and subject of all other solemn instituted worship; prayer, with thanksgiving; singing of psalms; preaching the word; 5administration of the sacraments of baptism and the supper of the Lord; discipline and rule of the church collected and settled” xiv, 477

(From Owen’s Short Catechism – proof texts for the ‘singing of psalms’ are Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 – very similar to WCF, which also has James 5:13).

Circumstance: “And it is merely from a spirit of contention that some call on us or others to produce express testimony or institution for every circumstance in the practice of religious duties in the church, and on a supposed failure herein, do conclude that they have power themselves to institute and ordain such ceremonies as they think meet, under a pretence of their being circumstances of worship; for as the directive light of nature is sufficient to guide us in these things, so the obligation of the church unto it makes all stated additions to be useless, as on other accounts they are noxious. Such things as these are:…translations and tunes of psalms in singing” xiv, 232.

What about music?
“And this proved the great means of the apostasy of the Christian church also: for, to maintain some appearance of spiritual affections, men introduced carnal incitations of them into evangelical worship, such as singing, with music and pompous ceremonies; for they find such things needful to reconcile the worship of God unto their minds and affections, and through them they appear to have great delight therein.
Hence Austin [Augustine] tells us that singing in the church was laid aside by Athanasius at Alexandria; not the people’s singing of psalms, but a kind of singing in the reading of the Scripture and some offices of worship, which began then to be introduced in the church. And the reason he gave why he did it was, that the modulation of the voice and musical tune might not divert the minds of men from that spiritual affection which is required of them in sacred duties”. vii, 424-5

The Psalms ‘immediately inspired’ and appointed for use in church

“The argument will not hold, so far as it is usually extended at least: “God himself hath prescribed some forms of prayer, to be used by some persons on some occasions; therefore, men may invent, yea, and prescribe those that shall be for common and constant use.” He who forbade all images, or all use of them, in sacred things, appointed the making of the cherubims in the tabernacle and temple.
David’s Psalms were given out by immediate inspiration, and were most of them mystical and prophetical, appointed to be used in the church, as all other Scriptures, only some of them in a certain manner, namely, of singing, and that manner also was determined by divine appointment.” iv, 349


Finally, in response to Jones’ implication that hymns have an advantage because a Jew or Mormon would have problems with them that they wouldn’t have a psalm – Owen shows clearly that the Jew or Mormon singing a psalm is still singing about Christ whether they realise it or not!

Owen argues for the pre-eternity of Christ from Psalm 2
“3. It cannot be proved that these words are spoken at all of David so much as typically, nor any thing else in that psalm from verse 7 to the end; yea, the contrary is evident from every verse following, especially the 12th, where kings and rulers are called to worship him of whom he speaks, and threatened with destruction if they do not; and they are pronounced blessed who put their trust in him; which cannot be spoken of David.” xii, 241.

We have communion with each person of the Trinity when we sing psalms
“There is no act, part, or duty of gospel worship, wherein the worshippers have not this distinct communion with each person in the blessed Trinity.” ix, 57.

Owen Goal

Reformation 21 have added quite a few new authors recently, which has resulted in an increase in the number of posts, if not in quality. Bucking the trend however has been Mark Jones. After a slightly embarrassing early post in which he claimed to be a football fan but talked about the ‘FIFA’ World Cup, his contributions have been top notch.

That is, until the other day when he posted what I would lovingly and respectfully call unadulterated twaddle – arguing that the fact that something you’re singing is true means it makes the song ‘God’s Words’. I was just going to leave it as another example of people who should know better embarrassing themselves when trying to argue against Exclusive Psalmody. However a former classmate emailed me the link the other day with the subject ‘Shall We Sing must respond!’ – so how could I resist?!

Rather than attempting to take such a gifted theologian to task on something like the doctrine of Scripture, I’ll just give John Owen himself the chance to respond. After all, we all know it’s a schoolboy error to try and take something someone has said in another context and quote them against themselves.

Starting at the end, Jones finishes with the cheap dig: “I’m off now to sing with my family psalms, psalms, and psalms (Col. 3:16)”. Ironically, by doing this he’s actually having a go not primarily at poor, maligned C21st exclusive psalmists, but some obscure C17th century figures. In fact, some of them signed their names to a document for such a time as this – including a Mr Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, Matthew Poole, Thomas Vincent, Edmund Calamdy…and a certain John Owen, D. D. They say:

“Now though spiritual songs of mere human composure may have their use, yet our devotion is best secured, where the matter & words are of immediately Divine inspiration; and to us David’s Psalms seem plainly intended by those terms of Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, which the Apostle useth, Ephes. 5.19. Col.3.16.”

preface to smv - owen watson etc big - rouse 1673
Preface to a 1673 edition of the Scottish Metrical Version

In one sentence Owen et al destroy both Jones’s attempt to put uninspired hymns on the same level as the psalms, and state that the interpretation he mocks is the one they see as ‘plainly intended’ by the Apostle Paul. Oh dear.

Just in case we feel that Owen was giving in to peer pressure there, I’ll post some relevant quotations from his own Works later.