Hermeneutics and Biblical Interpretation – part seven: A Trial Run

Previously I had intended to apply and examine all three methods in the same post. I’ve decided that nine pages (in Microsoft Word) is a little too long for one post. So we’ll just take them one at a time. That being said, here’s the first of three posts.

We’ve covered the three prominent methods of interpretation used among the Churches of Christ. Now let’s take them out for a spin on a practical issue: musical instruments. Not since the pre-millennial controversy in the early 20th century has an issue divided Christians like musical instruments. If we’re going to test these three models, we might as well start at the top.

Like any experiment, and that’s really what we’re doing here (of course the subjects being tested are the methods, not the Scriptures), it’s difficult not to let bias get in the way. Here’s what I mean. There is no such thing as an inspired model of interpretation. Some are definitely better than others. But they are all man-made; which in theory makes them equal. If I admit that now, I must be consistent and admit that after I have plugged in the data (i.e. the Scriptures) – regardless of the outcome. Now, we need to point out that all three aren’t necessarily equal in terms of quality. Just that being man-made makes them fundamentally equal. So let’s get started.

Command/Example/Necessary Inference

This method is rooted in the Authority principle – which is to say that there must be explicitly expressed authority to do “something.” In other words, silence restricts. It does not permit. This is a principle, not a law as some have argued. God never gave this directive. However, there are scriptures that point to this principle. Because this model is based on authority, there must be a direct command, an inspired example or an inference that needs to be made.

We start by asking the question: is there a direct command to use instruments? The answer is no. The New Testament Scriptures are completely silent on the use of instruments. On the contrary, it is argued by opponents of musical instruments that there is a command to sing (and only to sing). Again, this is a derivative of the Authority principle. Since there is no command and no authority to use instruments they are inherently not approved by God.

The next question: is there an inspired example that provides the authority to use instruments? That answer is easy to find – no. In fact, there is no example of the Church using instruments for much later. Maybe as much as 1000 years later. Though 1000 years argument isn’t as strong as some have made it seem. There is some limited evidence that suggests it might not be accurate.

The last question: is there an inference that needs to be made in order to understand a scriptural reference to the issue? Hmm . . . Well, no not really. I suppose that if you wanted to dig a little then you could get into the Greek and argue and about the word psallo (which many people have done) in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. This is the word that is usually translated as “making melody” or “making music.” The argument is over the meaning of the word in when Paul wrote Ephesians. More specifically, what did Paul mean when he used the word. Did he mean “to pluck,” which is the original definition? Or was he using it more generically as “making music” or “making melody?” Well, I would go with the more generic definition – which is usually the case with most all of the translations. So that means that there is really not an inference that needs to be made.

The result of this method: instruments are not allowed.

That was really kind of quick and easy. The next two . . . not so much.


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