Revelation 5 and Musical Instruments in Worship

Below I wrote a short little piece on Revelation 14:2 and its relation to the use of Instruments in Worship in the New Testament. Rev. Kevin Carroll said, “Personally, I think Rev. 5 provides a great argument against exclusive psalmody in worship.” So we’ll take a look at it and see if Revelation chapter 5 makes this argument.

But first I want to make a point about categories. There is some misunderstanding as to what “Exclusive Psalmody” argues and what I am talking about here. Whether or not the Psalms are to be sung exclusively is a completely separate argument as to the discsussion we are having over if we should accompany our singing with musical instruments aside from the human voice. There are plenty of examples of denominations and churches that have and do use musical instruments but limit the verse to the 150 Psalms of the Book of Psalms. Now this all being said Revelation 5 has nothing to do with instrumental worship. The only verse that mentions instruments at all is Rev 5:8 which says, ” 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

The question then would be for those wanting use this as a support for instrumental accompaniment is two-fold.

1) Why do you not also have all of your elders carry golden bowls full of incense?

2) Are the bowls of incense literally the prayers of the saints? Yes or No? If No then why is the harp literal then?

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.