Revelation 14:2 and Musical Instruments in Worship

One of the verses I see most quoted in the arguments surrounding the propriety of using Musical Instruments in stated corporate worship is Revelation 14:2. This verse is used by many of the proponents of Musical Instruments as being a source text that we can point to for showing a New Testament example of the use of Musical Instruments in worship after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the short exegetical piece after the pericope I will show how the citation of this verse is folly and ripped out of context for those who wish to use it for the purpose of supporting the use Musical Instruments in worship.

Revelation 14:1-5

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.

The above section of Scripture from Revelation 14 (specifically the highlighted part in verse 2) is often used as a proof text (and we wonder why the Puritans were not too keen on proof texting)  against the view that instruments should not be used in stated corporate worship.  However the problems with using this verse as a proof of “New Testament instrument use in worship” are many.

1) It is a dangerous thing to do, in my opinion, to use the visions of John to support practically anything we do, because hermeneutically and logically if we do it here in Rev. 14:2 then why should we not do so for the other places in Revelation where worship is described in heavenly places? (cf: Rev 4: 9-11, 5: 13-14, 7:11, 11:16, etc…)

2) The Greek grammar in this passage, specifically verse 2, is full of simile. In Greek, just as in English, simile is not meant to be taken literally. The passage uses the Greek word ως before describing the many waters (ως φωνην υδατων πολλων), the loud thunder (ως φωνην βροντης μεγαλης), and the harpers playing their harps (η φωνη ην ηκουσα ως κιθαρωδων κιθαριζοντων). I have never seen “many waters” or “loud thunder” used in corporate worship, but if we take the third clause in that way why should we exclude them? Also we would never use verse 1 in this passage to support writing God’s name on our foreheads so why would we use a like, as simile statement to support what we do in worship?

3) Even more so this passage has nothing to do with the church gathered for worship, on earth or in heaven. Remeber who/what is John describing in verse 2? He is describing the voice from heaven, not what the 144,000 are doing.


11 thoughts on “Revelation 14:2 and Musical Instruments in Worship

  1. Point 2 is quite good. Point 3, not so good. Point 1, not good at all. One must wonder, if John is not actually describing worship, what he is describing and why he would do it in such a confusing way.

    I think the whole instrument discussion is, frankly a bit silly. The Puritans, in their commendable desire to be obedient and keep worship pure, wandered into rank legalism from time to time.

    Personally, I think Rev. 5 provides a great argument against exclusive psalmody in worship.

  2. First of all John is describing a vision using terms we can understand and in doing so he is not expecting us to think literally. Just as we should not take the 144,000 as a literal number of the elect we cannot take the visions of John at any point as a literal description in his word pictures of what we should do. This is one way in which Scofield Dispensationalism has infected the way we read the Book of Revelation. No one, even Anabaptists, read the Book of Revelation as a source book for anything we do in our normal Christian life until the advent of Dispensational theology 150 years ago in the writings of Darby and others. It is foreign to Reformed theology especially. There is a good reason Calvin never wrote a commentary on the Book of Revelation.

    As far as Instruments in worship the non-use of them in worship is not a “Puritan invention” by any means. It was the unison position of both East and West up until the 12th century (the Eastern Orthodox still do not use them) and was condemned by Thomas Aquinus as well as being a point of contention at the Council of Trent. Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, Heinrich Bullinger, etc… are all in agreement on this point. The use of instruments was not seen by the Lutheran church until well after Luther’s death. In the Reformed world (not including the Anglicans, even though there was still discussion on this up till the 19th Century) it was spoken against by all the members of the Second Reformation in Holland (A Brakel, Witsius, and others). I could go on but the truth of the matter is that the use of instruments in worship is by far the minority position for the majority of the history of the Christian Church worldwide. Another notable historical notation is that in the Orthodox Jewish synagogue worship they have never used instruments in worship even to this day. Because they believe instruments were tied to the Temple, which no longer exists.

  3. Revkev,

    Why is the whole discussion silly? The early fathers didn’t use instruments for two reasons: 1) It was considered pagan; 2)They saw them as Mosaic and fulfilled by Christ. In other words, they didn’t use instruments for the same reason they didn’t continue to slaughter animals in worship: It was a type fulfilled by Christ. The return to typological worship by the medieval church was part of the rise and re-institution of Temple worship. The Reformed Reformation was a rejection of the return to the temple. They argued for non-instrumental worship on the basis of the 2nd commandment, in terms of what we now call the RPW.

    These are not frivolous things. The modern return to instruments by many Reformed churches is symbolic of the 1) the lack of understanding of the reasons for which the church historically rejected instruments, 2) pragmatism, and 3) poor biblical exegesis.

    How can we do what the medieval church did without producing the same results? (sacerdotalism etc)?

    That seems like a “big deal” to me.

  4. “Personally, I think Rev. 5 provides a great argument against exclusive psalmody in worship.”

    Whether or not that is correct, I must confess that I never recall being in a non-EP church when Rev. 5 was sung.

  5. So, ultimately what is your personal position on musical instruments as part of a worship service?
    As to the ARP question from Keith I am assuming that he’s referring to the ARP position of Psalm only hymns – though that is not a profusely held mandate in many congregations.

  6. It’s a good denomination. I miss it. I only ask because I’m wondering if your position on instruments is a preference or conviction. The ARP wrestled with this issue long ago and changed from EP/A capella to IP/instruments.

  7. Who is saying I am pro-Acapella or anti-Acapella? My main point in all of this is if the Pro-Instrument argument is going to be made that it be made with strong exegetical arguments for it, not just emotional and haphazard ones. Those making the argument for cannot just point to every verse that has the word “instrument” in it and say “hey there ya go, Acapella is wrong”, especially when it comes to the visions of John in the Book of Revelation, which practically every commentary points to as either allegorical or at least symbolic. We owe it to the vast multitudes in the history of the Church till the last 150 years or so to give them good reason to know why they were wrong and the current Church is right with its position on non-human voice Instrumental usage in stated corporate worship.

  8. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight, man. Just trying to feel out how strongly you feel about the issue, since, if I read you right, you will find resistance to it in the ARP.

    BTW, it would probably be more accurate to say “the vast majority of Reformed commentaries.” Also, one cannot make an appeal to church history and ignore the Catholic tradition, though I’m sure you did not mean to imply that in your post. My only point was that the Church has hardly been monolithic on the issue of musical instruments. Perhaps we should not be completely dogmatic on it either.

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