[B-Greek] Spiritual psalms, hymns and songs?--Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16‏

Leonard Jayawardena leonardj at live.com
Thu Jul 22 05:21:44 EDT 2010



Thanks to everyone who responded to my inquiry.

Now that we have got any grammatical objection to translating "YALMOIS (KAI) hUMNOIS (KAI) WiDAIS PNEUMATIKAIS as "spiritual psalms, hymns and songs" out of the way--as George F. Somsel mentioned, Robertson cites DWRA TE KAI QUSIAI MH DUNAMENAI (Heb. 9:9), where the adjective takes the gender of the last noun, which is feminine--the path is clear for me to show that the translation "spiritual psalms, hymns and songs" better expresses the apostle Paul's intention.

1. The traditional translation would normally be explained by postulating that PNEUMATIKAIS qualifies WiDAIAS to distinguish it from secular songs, with YALMOIS and hUMNOIS understood as already possessing a religious connotation and so not needing a qualification with PNEUMATIKOS. This is the way R. C. Trench explains it: "St. Paul, on the two occasions when he employs it, adds [PNEUMATIKH] to it; and this, no doubt, because WiDH by itself might mean any kind of song, as of battle, of harvest, or festal, or hymeneal, while [YALMOS], from its Hebrew use, and [hUMNOS] from its Greek, did not require any such qualifying adjective" ("Synonyms of the New Testament," lxxviii, p. 300). He further says, "it was of the essence of a Greek [hUMNOS] that it should be addressed to, or be otherwise in praise of, a god, or of a hero, that is, in the strictest sense of the word, of a deified man..." (ibid, p. 297). "In all probability the psalms of Ephes. v. 19, Col. iii. 16, are the inspired psalms of the Hebrew camon" (ibid., p. 296).

But I think that not only YALMOS but all three words refer to the contents of the book of Psalms. As Trench himself writes, "The Psalms of the O.T. remarkably have no single, well recognized, universally accepted name by which they are designated in the Hebrew Scriptures. ... They first obtained such in the Septuagint" (ibid, p. 296). It is true that the book of Psalms is designated YALMOI in LXX but all three words, viz., YALMOS, hUMNOS and WiDH, appear numerous times in the book of Psalms in the Septuagint. For example, the title of Psalm 75 in LXX reads EIS TO TELOS, EN UMNAIS, YALMOS TWi ASAF, WiDH PROS TON ASSURION ("For the end, among the Hymns, a Psalm for Asaph; a Song for the Assyrian"). None of the three words is an exclusively biblical word and all appear in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures.

The verb hUMNEW occurs four times in the NT. In Matthew 26:30 (and its para. in Mark 14:26), Jesus and his disciples sing a hymn and go out to the Mount of Olives. In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas sing hymns in prison. In all these cases, the hymns involved are psalms of the OT. In Hebrews 2:12, EN MESWi EKKLHSIAS hUMNHSW SE, the words are quoted from the book of Psalms (Ps. 22:22). In addition to Ephesians and Colossians, WiDH occurs four times in the book of Revelation (Rev. 5:9; 14:3 [dis]; 15:3), where the references are to certain songs of the Hebrew scriptures. In addition to the passages in Ephes. and Col., YALMOS occurs five times in the NT, all of which except one refer to the book of Psalms or a particular psalm in that book. YALMOS in Corinthians 14:26 does not refer to any psalm in the OT book of Psalms.   
It is safe therefore to say that the words YALMOS, HYMNOS and WiDH (and their verb forms) were used in a religious sense in the first century church. Furthermore, as mentioned in the preceding para., these words were known to Paul's readers in a religious sense from YALMOI in the Septuagint. It is difficult therefore to understand why only WiDH should be qualified by PNEUMATIKH as if it was liable to be misunderstood by Paul's readers if not so qualified. At any rate, even if the words YALMOS and jUMNOS had a special association with the Christian faith not shared by WiDH--which I don't think was the case in the first century--the ejusdem generis principle would have ensured that "songs" in "psalms, hymns and songs" possessed the same character common to both the preceding two words in the mind of Paul's readers (or hearers of his letter).

2. On the translation "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs," how are we to understand Paul's exhortation to the Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16? Did Paul exhort the Christians he addressed to speak to one another with the exact words of the OT psalsms and other Christian hymns and songs? How are we to also understand the words hADONTES KAI YALLONTES THi KARDIA hUMWN TWi KURIWi if literal psalms of the OT and literal hymns and songs are meant?

I think Paul uses the word PNEUMATIKH in the two verses under consideration to mean "spiritual" not in the sense of religious as opposed to secular, but spiritual as opposed to earthly or fleshly--the same sense that the word has in OIKOS PNEUMATIKOS (1 Peter 2:5), PNEUMATIKAS QUSIAS (1 Peter 2:5) and hHTIs KALEITAI PNEUMATIKWS SODOMA KAI AIGUPTOS (adverbially, Rev. 11:8). The reference is to the contents of the book of psalms, which were sung in the Jerusalem temple as part of its ritual, but they are seen as being fulfilled in a spiritual sense in the NT church. The words KAI YALLONTES THi KARDIA hUMWN TWi KURIWi support that interpretation: Paul often uses KARDIA to mean "spiritual" as opposed to "literal," e.g., PERITOMH KARDIAS EN PNEUMATI OU GRAMMATI (Romans 2:29).

A discussion of what exactly "speaking to one another" in "spiritual psalms, hymns and songs" means--or, for that matter, what "spiritual house" or offering of "spiritual sacrifices" means--would take us beyond the scope of this forum. The bottom line is that what is in view in these two passages is not literal singing or reciting of OT psalms and other hymns or songs.

Leonard Jayawardena 		 	   		  
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