Brass or Bronze?

Compare Bible translations or references and you may notice a difference in how the Hebrew word nechosheth (Strong’s H5178) is treated. There are three possible translations that are asserted: copper, brass, or bronze. Which is accurate?

The KJV translates nechosheth as “brass” or “brazen” 131x. It can also be translated as other things, such as “fetters” or “chains” based on context. It has a very broad application. Strong’s defines it as “copper; hence, something made of that metal, that is, coin, a fetter; figuratively base (as compared with gold or silver): – brasen, brass, chain, copper, fetter (of brass), filthiness, steel”.

Is brass a proper and acceptable translation of nechosheth? Some claim it cannot be, by asserting:

  • “In ancient Israel there was no such metal known as brass.” [source]
  • “The word translated ‘brass’ in the King James Version would be more correctly translated bronze, since the alloy used was copper and tin (Ex 27:4).” [source]
  • “[Brass,] which is an alloy of copper and zinc, was not known till the thirteenth century. What is designated by this word in Scripture is properly copper (Deuteronomy 8:9).” [source]
  • “The word nechosheth is improperly translated by ‘brass.’ In most places of the Old Testament the correct translation would be copper, although it may sometimes possibly mean bronze a compound of copper and tin.” [source]

We may simplify these claims into two arguments: (1) the term brass is anachronistic and inaccurate, and (2) brass did not exist in the ancient world.

Is brass an inaccurate term?

In modern English, the word brass refers to a specific alloy of copper, but until the 1700’s is would be a more general term for any copper alloy.

The Online Etymological Dictionary states that brass was “originally any alloy of copper, in England usually with tin (this is now called bronze), later and in modern use an alloy of roughly two parts copper to one part zinc.” The same source also states: “In Middle English, the distinction between bronze (copper-tin alloy) and brass (copper-zinc alloy) was not clear, and both were called bras”.

So, etymologically and historically speaking, brass has been a much broader term to refer to any copper alloy. This changed in the 1700’s when advances in science made it easier to discern different elements and alloys, which also brought a need for more technical terminology. Wikipedia states of brass: “…its true nature as a copper-zinc alloy was not understood until the post-medieval period because the zinc vapor which reacted with copper to make brass was not recognised as a metal.” As part of this new knowledge of metals, the term bronze was first used around 1721 (see Online Etymological Dictionary and Merriam-Webster).

Therefore, we see that brass is historically as broad of a term as nechosheth. In the English of the KJV, it is the best and most accurate term.

But, with what we know today about the differences between brass and bronze, is brass still an accurate translation for today’s world? This can only be answered if we are absolutely sure that nechosheth refers exclusively to bronze and that brass is an impossibility.

Did brass exist in the ancient world?

It is clear that the alloy we today call brass was present in the ancient world. Conclusive evidence and scholarly opinion establish this fact. A few examples:

  • The Roman dupondius coin used in the early Roman Empire was often struck in a type of brass called orichalcum [source]
  • “Calamine brass” was being made in Asia Minor as far back as the 1st millennium B.C. [source]
  • “…numerous copper-zinc alloys (e.g. brass, gunmetal) that have been found in prehistoric contexts from the Aegean to India in the 3rd to the 1st millennium BC.” [source]
  • Brass artifacts have been discovered from 5th millennium B.C. in China [source]

Since (1) brass existed in the ancient world, (2) since nechosheth is vague at best about the precise alloy of the metal, we can therefore safely say it is plausible that the metals described could be actual brass.

Do we know what the metals were?

Since the term nechosheth, and even the Greek word chalkos (Strong’s G5475), are vague terms for copper or its alloys, we simply cannot say for certain the precise metal they are speaking of. The terminology is too vague and the ancient metallurgists themselves almost certainly did not have the sophisticated understanding of metal composition we have today.

It must be state that according to history and archeology that bronze was in far greater use than brass. It was far cheaper and easier to produce, and it would appear that ancient brass was considered to be more valuable. We might assume that because bronze was more common that it is more likely that bronze and not brass is being referred to. But this is purely supposition and we cannot rule out that at least some appearances of nechosheth could be referring to brass. We simply do not know since we cannot examine every object made of nechosheth.

Conclusion

The truest definition of nechosheth would need to be vague and inclusive, so “a copper alloy” is probably the best definition. In modern English, there just is not a simple, concise word to use that has that same meaning and “copper alloy” fails to be an workable translation. To try to force nechosheth to be simply bronze is inaccurate: an interpretation rather than a translation. We cannot honestly say what the metals used were by modern classification. It is like trying to take the English word snow and determine which of the dozens of terms of snow used by Eskimos it should be.

The word brass in its classic, KJV English definition is the best equivalent term to be found. It is the same broad term for any copper alloy that we see in nechosheth.

Hebrew Words For Praise

Image by Robert C from Pixabay

While studying the history and philosophy of Praise & Worship music, I encountered a particular study that is commonly used by its proponents. As noted in Ruth and Hong’s A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship, much of the basis for Praise & Worship has been found in the book of Psalms. This is found even in its earliest days (1940-50’s):

“Part of [James] Beall’s presentation of this restored divine order was a use of proof texts from Psalms to justify specific practices: Psalm 150 to ground the use of a variety of musical instruments, Palm 134 or the lifting of hands, and Psalm 47 for clapping hands. In the surge of teaching materials in the next historical periods such us of proof texts – especially from Psalms – would become a standard teaching device.”

A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship, p. 41 [Emphasis added]

“The use of psalm proof texts to develop a liturgical schema points to the fourth core theological conviction: Praise & Worship was approached as a biblically derived, God-given pattern for worship. Convinced that this was the way of worship God had given in the Bible, its practitioners taught it with the confidence they had in the Scriptures themselves. Their tone was neither experimental nor cautious since Praise & Worship was not human-created, according to this theology. Rather, it was God’s gift to renew the church. Consequently; the Bible as God’s Word outlined its underlying promise (God desires to dwell with his people and does so through their praise) and its specific methods.

“Not surprisingly, this conviction about the biblical basis for Praise & Worship generated a method for theologizing. It had three regular features: The first was a predilection for undertaking studies of biblical words and then using key words to compile a group of passages from which to form a synthesis. For example, what Reg Layzell did in 1946 (see chap. 1), Judith McAllister did forty years later when the criticalness of praise first hooked her: she immersed herself for days in Bible study tools like concordances, skipping nearly a week of college classes. Her goal was to see when and how the Bible used the word “praise.” The second regular feature was an attraction to typology drawn from Bible stories, especially from the Old Testament and especially from narratives about David. (The book of Revelation was a favorite of some too.) Praise & Worship teachers used these stories to develop types instructive for how and why Christians should worship. The third regular feature of the theological method was, as mentioned above, a predilection for using the Psalms to provide the details about the specific dimensions of Praise & Worship, especially those involving physical expression. Therefore, the biblically derived theology of Praise & Worship was a very embodied theology, because the Psalms drew a picture of worshipers fully engaged with their whole persons.

A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship, p. 127 [Emphasis added]

The same process of using the Psalms, its imagery and its vocabulary, is alive and well today. A quick search on Amazon will reveal works like Worship Actions & Attitudes: Understanding 10 Hebrew Words For Praise and Worship by Rob Stiles, Holy Roar: 7 Words That Will Change the Way You Worship by Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead, and The Power of Praise: The 7 Hebrew Words for Praise by David Chapman. There is not shortage of online resources on the subject either: such as here, here, or here.

Before we move on, let me say that just because a person uses Scripture or language studies to back their beliefs it does not guarantee that they are correct. Verses can be taken out of context (looking at you, Jeremiah 29:11) and words can be redefined. You can also use faulty scholarship or logic. Too often I see people, even those I agree with, defend their positions through eisegesis and not exegesis. As a side note, let me say as someone that is pro-KJV that I get nervous when I see someone who generally doesn’t use the KJV quote from it (see uses of Proverbs 29:18 for an example). It is a sign of cherry picking verses with just the right wording in order to support an argument, which is an application of eisegeses.

As far as I can tell, no one across the multiple millennia of the history of worshipping the God of the Bible ever used the Hebrew language (including Psalms) to discover or defend charismatic-style ecstatic worship practices until the mid-twentieth century. Centuries of rabbinical thought and debate did not uncover it. Centuries of Bible scholarship did not discover it. Millions of believers who earnestly sought how to properly express their worship and praise through diligent study of Scripture did not discover it. Who did discover this? According to the afore mentioned A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship it was likely the Latter Rain branch of the Pentecostal movement that developed and propagated it as they believed God had “restored” through them the lost and forgotten truths of how He wanted to be praised.

But I am not putting this together to talk about history (please, just go and read A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship already). I want to present a more balanced exegetical study of the Hebrew word studies they promote. I do not claim to be any sort of expert on the Hebrew language, but most of the pro-P&W writers who have also written on this subject are clearly not either. The entire presentation is obviously built around looking up words in a Strong’s Concordance.


Alphabetical List of Words


Halal

  • Hebrew: הָלַל
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: H1984 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 165x total, 94x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: praise (117x), glory (14x), boast (10x), mad (8x), shine (3x), foolish (3x), fools (2x), commended (2x), rage (2x), celebrate (1x), give (1x), marriage (1x), renowned (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to be clear (orig. Of sound, but usually of color); to shine; hence, to make a show, to boast; and thus to be (clamorously) foolish; to rave; causatively, to celebrate; also to stultify — (make) boast (self), celebrate, commend, (deal, make), fool(- ish, -ly), glory, give (light), be (make, feign self) mad (against), give in marriage, (sing, be worthy of) praise, rage, renowned, shine.

The common P&W definition is “to praise, to make a show or rave about, to glory in or boast upon, to be clamorously foolish about you adoration of God”. I that find exact definition copied and pasted across multiple websites without acknowledging its original source.

I find a much truer emphasis should be placed on the ideas of “shining”, “focusing”, or “revealing”. It used to describe light sources emanating their light (Job 29:3, 31:25), revealing through action an inner madness or insanity (I Samuel 21:13, Jeremiah 50:38), boastful claims from a prideful heart (Psalm 10:3, Proverbs 27:1), and revealing outwardly an inner foolishness (Job, 12:17, Psalm 75:4)

There is no hint of “raving” or being “clamorously foolish” in the proper use of halal. Those that claim so misapply the connection with madness to the broader application of the word.

The best way I can describe the true meaning of halal is the idea of a spotlight. When we praise God, we are not focusing on ourselves but spotlighting His worthiness and greatness. When we boast, we are spotlighting our prideful self. When someone is foolish or insane, their actions are spotlighting their inward condition.

So when we praise God, we are putting all the attention and glory and honor onto Him. When halal is applied to praising God it has little or no focus on the one praising. When we praise Him we step into the shadows and so that He can shine.

For further reading, see this post by Daniel Rodriguez.

Barak

  • Hebrew: בָרַךְ
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: H1288 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 330x total, 75x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: bless (302x), salute (5x), curse (4x), blaspheme (2x), blessing (2x), praised (2x), kneel down (2x), congratulate (1x), kneel (1x), make to kneel (1x), miscellaneous (8x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration), and (vice-versa) man (as a benefit); also (by euphemism) to curse (God or the king, as treason) — X abundantly, X altogether, X at all, blaspheme, bless, congratulate, curse, X greatly, X indeed, kneel (down), praise, salute, X still, thank.

The common P&W definition is “to kneel or bow, to give reverence to God as an act of adoration, implies a continual conscious giving place to God, to be attuned to him and his presence”. This definition is also copied and pasted around the internet, including many with attuned misspelled as atuned.

This word carries the ideas of kneeling before someone as in homage or reverence (II Chronicles 6:13, Psalm 95:6), to acknowledge through salutation (I Samuel 13:10, II Kings 4:29), to pronounce a desire of goodwill and bountifulness upon (Genesis 12:2-3, 49:28), or to be specially granted goodness and favor (Psalm 5:12, Proverbs 3:33). In a negative sense, it can mean to denounce or wish evil upon (Job 2:9, I Kings 21:10).

When applied to our worship of God, we see the ideas of humility (kneeling down), acknowledgement, honor, and reverence. The primary targets of our blessing is either God Himself (Psalm 103:1-2) or His name (Psalm 113:2). This is a heartfelt reaction to God’s glory (Psalm 104:1) and His great works (Psalm 28:6). I want to press the point of humility here: when we bless God, we are acknowledging His greatness in part by bowing (literally or figuratively) before Him. The focus is on God and not the worshipper.

Where the aforementioned P&W definition errs is in its application toward God’s presence and in “giving place”. There is no consistent connection with blessing God and being in His presence. The teaching of God’s omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-18, Isaiah 57:15, etc.) greatly undermines any need to acknowledge His appearance. As to the idea of “giving place” or yielding, I see no connection at all to this word.

See also this post.

Shabach

  • Hebrew: שָׁבַח
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: H7623 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 11x total, 7x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: praise (5x), still (2x), keep it in (1x), glory (1x), triumph (1x), commend (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; properly, to address in a loud tone, i.e. (specifically) loud; figuratively, to pacify (as if by words) — commend, glory, keep in, praise, still, triumph.
  • Note – an Aramaic form of the word (Strong’s H2624) is used 5x in Daniel and translated as “praise”.

A P&W definition found here is “to address in a loud tone, a loud adoration, a shout, proclaiming with a loud voice (unashamed), to glory, triumph, power, a testimony of praise”. This word does not make it onto all the word study lists, probably because of the scarcity of its usage, but it is the source for the title of Chris Tomlin and Darren Whitehead’s popular book Holy Roar.

The primary emphasis the that P&W supporters focus on is “loud” as expression of boldness in sound volume. This is interesting because not all dictionaries, lexicons, etc. agree on that emphasis. Strong’s definition shown above uses it, but the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, New American Standard Concordance, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, and Ancient Hebrew Lexicon do not mention anything about loudness. Another Hebrew word study I stumbled across mentions shabach while discussing Shavuot and describes it as “praise, happy praise, but also: calm down, appease”. So far, Strong’s is the only language resource I have found that mentions loudness. The idea of loud volume actually contradicts the context of all but the uses in I Chronicles and Psalms.

The consensus on the root definition appears to be “to soothe or stroke”. A much safer application to praise would be “praising in/through peace”, which is the complete opposite of the P&W materials I have examined.

Since I mentioned Holy Roar earlier, let me say that that book is a terrible book (you just don’t have to take my word for it). It is extremely faulty and misleading in its presentation. When it presents shabach in chapter 7, it states with no reference or foundation: “Quite literally, it means to raise a holy roar.” (p. 99) It does recognize that word only appears 11x, “but each time, it has powerful effect.” (p. 99). It then goes on to only reference 3 of the 11. What about the other 8? Is there not enough “powerful effect” in them? The reason why other references are not used is because doing so destroys the presented definition and argument.

Here are the verses that are referenced:

  • Psalm 63:3 – “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise [shabach] thee.”
    • NOTE – They wrongly identify the appearance of shabach on p. 99. They place it in verse 4, which is actually: “Thus will I bless [barak] thee while I live…”
  • Psalm 117:1 – “O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise [shabach] him, all ye people.”
  • Psalm 145:4 – “One generation shall praise [shabach] thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.”

Below are the verses that the “powerful effect” wasn’t enough to include:

  • I Chronicles 16:35 – “And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to thy holy name, and glory [shabach] in thy praise.”
  • Psalm 65:7 – “Which stilleth [shabach] the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.” 
  • Psalm 89:9 – “Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest [shabach] them.”
  • Psalm 106:47 – “Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph [shabach] in thy praise.”
  • Psalm 147:12 – “Praise [shabach] the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.”
  • Proverbs 29:11 – “A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth [shabach] it in till afterwards.”
  • Ecclesiastes 4:2 – “Wherefore I praised [shabach] the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.”
  • Ecclesiastes 8:15 – “Then I commended [shabach] mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.”

So, maybe three more might could have been used to support their argument (I Chronicles 16:35, Psalm 106:47, Psalm 147:1). But where is the “powerful effect” of raising a “holy roar” in stilling/calming (Psalm 65:7, 89:9), keeping/holding (Proverbs 29:11), praising the dead (Ecclesiastes 4:2), or commending mirth/pleasure (Ecclesiastes 8:15)? You cannot claim the word means “holy roar” or has a “powerful effect” each time it appears when in half of it uses it cannot mean what you claim. If you do some digging it appears obvious that there is no basis for equating shabach with a “holy roar” other than taking Darren Whitehead’s word for it.

Yadah

  • Hebrew: יָדָה
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: H3034 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 114x total, 67x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: praise (53x), give thanks (32x), confess (16x), thank (5x), make confession (2x), thanksgiving (2x), cast (1x), cast out (1x), shoot (1x), thankful (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; used only as denominative from yad; literally, to use (i.e. Hold out) the hand; physically, to throw (a stone, an arrow) at or away; especially to revere or worship (with extended hands); intensively, to bemoan (by wringing the hands) — cast (out), (make) confess(-ion), praise, shoot, (give) thank(-ful, -s, -sgiving).

A thorough P&W definition is “to use, hold out the hand, to throw (a stone or arrow) at or away, to revere or worship (with extended hands, praise thankful, thanksgiving)” and a concise definition is “to worship with extended hands.”

The primary root is “to cast with the hand”. That can be applied to shooting arrows (Jeremiah 50:14), throwing a rock (Lamentations 3:53), or expelling someone (Zechariah 1:21). However, the overwhelming majority of uses of this word have nothing to do with literally throwing anything. Instead, we find this word translated as “confess”, or “give thanks”, or “praise”. The connection seems to be in acknowledging one’s guilt by raising hands in identification or surrender (Leviticus 5:5, Numbers 5:7), in expressing thankfulness by pointing toward or marking its object (II Samuel 22:50, Psalm 92:1), or in raised hands to God in giving Him honor (Genesis 29:35, Psalm 33:2).

The issue we have in interpreting the correct meaning of the yadah is determining if the “casting with the hand” root is applied literally/physically, figuratively, or if it is even relevant at all. A similar case I came across a while back is qavah (Strong’s H6960), which implies twisting or binding (as in the strands of a rope), yet is generally translated as “waiting” in Isaiah 40:31. Many Hebrew words have “actions” in them that may be illustrative of the word’s meaning but not always applied in its definition. Sometimes there just isn’t a logical connection to be made.

Another question with yadah is whether the emphasis is on the hand or what the hand casts. Perhaps the emphasis is not on the raised hand in praising God but on the praises that are cast out to Him. An illustration of this is Psalm 33:2, where we find praising (yadah) God with an instrument. Is there literal hand-raising to God, a literal hand extended to the harp, or are the praises being figuratively thrown out towards God? I think this could also make sense in regards to confessing sins in that you are casting your guilt out before others.

I did find reference to Psalm 134:2 in regards to this word (“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary”), but the actual word yadah is not used here. Two other words are: nasa (Strong’s H5375) meaning “to lift” and yad (Strong’s H3027) meaning “hand”. On closer examination, this particular reference in Psalm 134 does not support the ideas of P&W . This is an exhortation to the priests serving at night time in the Temple, not to the congregation of Israel (vs. 1). Any study of nightly activities in the Temple will not show any times of exuberant praise. It must be also noted that in the language of Psalmody that nighttime is a time of darkness and despair, not joy and happiness. The general understanding of the lifting of hands here and in general is that of prayer and not praise (see commentaries here and here).

A deeper look at many of the proof texts of raising hands in joyous worship are actually in context speaking of something quite different (see here for a further discussion of this). We actually see the lifting of hands as a sign of lamentation or desperation in places such as Psalm 28:2, 63:4, 141:2, and Lamentations 2:19, 3:41. A few other references like Genesis 14:22 and Deuteronomy 32:40 have the lifting of hands as part of taking a oath. While these references may not be the focus of our present study, it is important to note they fail to show the lifting of hands in exuberant praise.

For further reference, here is someone that goes a bit deeper in the Hebrew.

Tehillah

  • Hebrew: תְּהִלָּה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: H8416 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 57x total, 30x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: praise (57x).
  • Strong’s definition: From halal; laudation; specifically (concretely) a hymn — praise.

One P&W definition is “to sing hallal, a new song, a hymn of spontaneous praise glorifying God in song”. Another (also seen here) includes: “Singing scripture to instruct and encourage”.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (p. 185) highlights four applications of the word. First, it may denote praiseworthiness (Deuteronomy 10:21, Isaiah 62:7). Second, the words or song used to express praise (Psalm 22:22,25). Third, a term for a song (see heading of Psalm 145). Fourth, deeds that are worthy of praise (Exodus 15:11).

I think this definition is clear if you have the definition settled for halal, which we covered before. This is basically the noun form of that verb. It is almost disingenuous to make it a separate word.

What is interesting to me are the two very different additions to the core definition of a song of praise we see in the P&W definitions. One says it is a “spontaneous” song and the other a “scripture” song. Honestly, I think the definition is broad enough to include both cases. I would take exception to the “spontaneous” song if I knew for sure it was used as an expression of prophetic worship (and I assume it is), but that is a whole other subject for another time.

An important appearance of this word is in one of earliest and most frequently used verses as a foundation for P&W theology: Psalm 22:3. I hope to deal with that verse more fully in the future, but I can say that if you see that verse applied to Christian worship I can practically guarantee you are dealing with some Charismatic theology or influence.

Zamar

  • Hebrew: זמר
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: H2167 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 45x total, 41x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: praise (26x), sing (16x), sing psalms (2x), sing forth (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root (perhaps ident. With zamar through the idea of striking with the fingers); properly, to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. Play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music — give praise, sing forth praises, psalms.

P&W definition #1: “Make music by striking the fingers on strings or parts of a musical instrument. When we play instrumentally to facilitate a holy atmosphere, it’s not just church cocktail music, it’s zamar.”

P&W definition #2: “‘Zamar’ means to pluck the strings of an instrument…. Zamar speaks of rejoicing. It is involved with the joyful expression of music. Zamar means to sing praises or to touch the strings. It speaks of involving every available instrument to make music and harmony before the Lord. It is God’s will that we be joyful. Use Zamar when you are rejoicing after God has done something great for you.”

By itself, zamar means to play a musical instrument (Psalm 33:2, 144:9), but it appears to be a more inclusive word including instrumental and vocal music, probably together. It is interesting to note that zamar occurs in the same (and sometimes adjacent) verses with other praise or musical terms in 39 of its 45 appearances:

  • 12x in the same verse with sir (Strong’s H7891, “to sing”) – Judges 5:3, I Chronicles 16:9, Psalm 21:13, 27:6, 57:7, 68:4, 68:32, 101:1, 104:33, 105:2, 108:1, 144:9
  • 11x in the same verse with yadah (Strong’s H3034, “to praise”) – II Samuel 22:50, Psalm 7:17, 18:49, 30:4, 30:12. 33:2, 57:9, 71:22, 92:1, 108:3, 138:1
    • 1x in close proximity to yadah – Psalm 9:2 (see vs. 1)
  • 4x in the same verse with halal (Strong’s H1984, “to praise”) – Psalm 135:3, 146:2, 147:1, 149:3
  • 2x in the same verse with nagad (Strong’s H5046, “to declare”) – Psalm 9:11, 75:9
  • 2x in the same verse with ranan (Strong’s H7442, “to rejoice”) – Psalm 9:11, 75:9
    • 2x in close proximity to ranan – Psalm 59:17 (see vs. 16), Isaiah 12:5 (see vs. 6)
  • 2x in the same verse with shachah (Strong’s H7812, “to worship”) – Psalm 66:4 (2x)
  • 1x in the same verse with anah (Strong’s H6030, “to answer”) – Psalm 147:7
  • 2x in close proximity to rua (Strong’s H7321, “to noise”) – Psalm 66:2 (see vs. 1)

This leaves only the 5x it appears in Psalm 47:6-7 and 1x in Psalm 61:8.

Since the preponderance of uses seem to combine instrumental and vocal terms, I think it is safest to assume it will generally mean a combination of the two. I think the fact that so many other terms appear around it means it is a very generic word.

Examining the P&W definitions, once again the core is close: we are certainly talking about instrumental and vocal music. This is certainly not creating an “atmosphere”: the worshippers here are active and not passive. It is also by no means glorifying “every available instrument”: only specific ones that were acceptable to the Jews are mentioned. I realize this again touches on larger topics that are outside the scope of this study. But that is part of why I am doing this study, because these P&W studies are putting ideas and thoughts into the text (eisegesis) that are simply not there.

Oh, and seriously… “cocktail” music”??? That reference is so absurd. I did need that laugh though.

See also this post.

Taqa

  • Hebrew: תָּקַע
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 8628 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 69x total, 2x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: blow (46x), fasten (5x), strike (4x), pitch (3x), thrust (2x), clap (2x), sounded (2x), cast (1x), miscellaneous (4x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to clatter, i.e. Slap (the hands together), clang (an instrument); by analogy, to drive (a nail or tent-pin, a dart, etc.); by implication, to become bondsman by handclasping) — blow ((a trumpet)), cast, clap, fasten, pitch (tent), smite, sound, strike, X suretiship, thrust.

This one is not found on many of the P&W lists I referenced, but the definition here is “Clap, applaud. Expresses joy and victory.”

Of course the reason why it is not on many lists is because it barely even occurs in context with worship. It is used to “blow a trumpet” 50x, but this is not musical. These trumpet blasts were signals and calls and far more primitive than more modern bugle calls used in the military. There is nothing about making music in these references.

Basically, this verb means to “hit or strike”. Look at its objects when it is used: nails, daggers, tents, darts. When using blowing a trumpet they are just sounding it, or “hitting a note” if I could be pardoned to apply that stretch here.

We have only one true reference to clapping (“striking hands together”) in Psalm 47:1. In Nahum 3:19 someone claps their hand over their mouth but that is quite a different thing. There are two additional references to clapping that use different words: II Kings 11:12, Isaiah 55:12 (see macha). We can see in those that there is a connection between clapping hands and joyous celebration.

Karar

  • Hebrew: כָּרַר
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 3769 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 2x total, 0x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: dance (2x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to dance (i.e. Whirl) — dance(-ing).

Defined simply here for P&W as “Dance. ‘David danced before the Lord with all his might.’ Expresses joy and celebration.

This word only appears in the account of David celebrating the return of the Ark of the Covenant in II Samuel 6. This is a singular act by a singular person at a singular time. To extrapolate this into a command to dance in worship is unsound at best. There are other words used for dance that we will get to, but since I find this word on a few lists I feel the need to cover it although it is essentially worthless in arguing for charismatic worship.

(I would recommend you reference Scott Aniol’s Changed from Glory into Glory: The Liturgical Story of the Christian Faith, p. 43-45, for better analysis of this. It’s too long for me to post here.)

Tephillah

  • Hebrew: תְּפִלָּה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 8605 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 77x total, 32x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: prayer (77x).
  • Strong’s definition: From palal; intercession, supplication; by implication, a hymn — prayer.

A very straightforward definition found here: “Prayer, often sung as intercession and petition.”

Okay, this the first word that we have looked at that I really don’t have any problem with. It means prayer, spoken (I Kings 8:28) or sung (Psalm 17 heading). Perhaps some P&W teachings go beyond this simple definition but the places I am referencing seem to have this one right if they mention it at all.

Todah

  • Hebrew: תּוֹדָה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 8426 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 32x total, 12x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: thanksgiving (18x), praise (6x), thanks (3x), thank offerings (3x), confession (2x).
  • Strong’s definition: From yadah; properly, an extension of the hand, i.e. (by implication) avowal, or (usually) adoration; specifically, a choir of worshippers — confession, (sacrifice of) praise, thanks(-giving, offering).

A P&W definition found here: “an extension of the hand, avowal, adoration, a choir of worshipers, confession, sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving”

Basically we have here the noun form of yadah. I will refer you to the previous examination of that word.

(Honestly, you can tell some of the foundation for these lists of “Hebrew words for worship” just got the words from a Strong’s concordance without really digging into them at all. Otherwise, words like todah and yadah would be classified together. See this article which couples todah, not with yadah as would be logically and grammatically correct, but with shabach.)

See also this post.

Shachah

  • Hebrew: שָׁחָה
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 7812 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 172x total, 17x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: worship (99x), bow (31x), bow down (18x), obeisance (9x), reverence (5x), fall down (3x), themselves (2x), stoop (1x), crouch (1x), miscellaneous (3x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to depress, i.e. Prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God) — bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.

Your P&W definition, found here and here: “to depress or prostrate in homage or loyalty to God, bow down, fall down flat”

When we discuss worship I believe this is the key word. In a secular sense (which is about half of its uses), it means to “bow down”, as one would do in reverence to a ruler (Genesis 42:6, Esther 3:2). It is is sign of humility on the one bowing down and a sign of honor to the one bowed down to. It also implies service to something (Exodus 20:5).

This is not loud or ecstatic. It is quiet. It is not celebratory. It is reverential. It is not proud. It is humble. It is not accidental. It is intentional.

I like the image of bowing down. It puts all the glory and honor on the one being worshipped and not on the worshipper. We bow ourselves out of the picture and let all the attention and glory go to God. We worship according to His commands and expectations, not our own. That is true worship.

It does not require a band. It does not require being worked up into frenzy. It does not require a precursory time of praise. It does not require being at a church or even gathered with other believers. We simply acknowledge our ever-present God and His ceaseless majesty.

(Can you tell I preached a sermon on this not too long ago?)

Shir

  • Hebrew: שִׁיר
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 7891 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 87x total, 27x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: sing (41x), singer (37x), singing men (4x), singing women (4x), behold (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or (the original form) shuwr (1 Sam. 18:6) {shoor}; a primitive root (identical with shuwr through the idea of strolling minstrelsy); to sing — behold (by mistake for shuwr), sing(-er, -ing man, – ing woman).

A rather simple P&W definition found here: “strolling minstrelsy, to sing, singer (man or woman)”

This one is another very direct and basic word that essentially means “to sing”. The only real headscratcher to me is Strong’s addition of “strolling minstrelsy”, which appears to come from a similar root shur (Strong’s H7788) which means to journey or travel. I am not so certain this word means anything about being minstrel but may rather be a description of singing (changing tones and moving rhythms), perhaps related to the term shiggaion (Strong’s 7692). Again, I am no expert here, but I am not seeing anything similar to “strolling minstrelsy” in other reference works.

Alats

  • Hebrew: עָלַץ
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 5970 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 8x total, 4x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: rejoice (6x), joyful (1x), triumph (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to jump for joy, i.e. Exult — be joyful, rejoice, triumph.

This is another case where the action part of the word may be more figurative than literal. For instance, Hannah said: “My heart rejoiceth [alats] in the LORD” (I Samuel 2:1) We have a similar expression today in saying “our hearts leap for joy” which is figurative.

Alaz

  • Hebrew: עָלַז
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 5937 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 16x total, 7x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: rejoice (12x), triumph (2x), joyful (2x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to jump for joy, i.e. Exult — be joyful, rejoice, triumph.

A similar word and case to alats.

Anah

  • Hebrew: עָנָה
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 6030 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 329x total, 39x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: answer (242x), hear (42x), testify (12x), speak (8x), sing (4x), bear (3x), cry (2x), witness (2x), give (1x), miscellaneous (13x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; properly, to eye or (generally) to heed, i.e. Pay attention; by implication, to respond; by extens. To begin to speak; specifically to sing, shout, testify, announce — give account, afflict (by mistake for anah), (cause to, give) answer, bring low (by mistake for anah), cry, hear, Leannoth, lift up, say, X scholar, (give a) shout, sing (together by course), speak, testify, utter, (bear) witness. See also Beyth ‘AnowthBeyth ‘Anath.

Nothing crazy here. Basically means “to give attention to or answer”.

Chagag

  • Hebrew: חָגַג
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 2287 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 16x total, 2x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: keep (8x), …feast (3x), celebrate (1x), keep a solemn feast (1x), dancing (1x), holyday (1x), reel to and fro (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root (compare chagra’chuwg); properly, to move in a circle, i.e. (specifically) to march in a sacred procession, to observe a festival; by implication, to be giddy — celebrate, dance, (keep, hold) a (solemn) feast (holiday), reel to and fro.

This means “to keep a religious festival or ritual”. The first reference in Psalms means to participate in or observe a Jewish festival (Psalm 42:4). The second means to dance or move as a drunk person (Psalm 107:27). Wide variety in those two.

Chuwl

  • Hebrew: חוּל
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 2342 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 62x total, 12x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: pain (6x), formed (5x), bring forth (4x), pained (4x), tremble (4x), travail (4x), dance (2x), calve (2x), grieved (2x), grievous (2x), wounded (2x), shake (2x), miscellaneous (23x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or chiyl {kheel}; a primitive root; properly, to twist or whirl (in a circular or spiral manner), i.e. (specifically) to dance, to writhe in pain (especially of parturition) or fear; figuratively, to wait, to pervert — bear, (make to) bring forth, (make to) calve, dance, drive away, fall grievously (with pain), fear, form, great, grieve, (be) grievous, hope, look, make, be in pain, be much (sore) pained, rest, shake, shapen, (be) sorrow(-ful), stay, tarry, travail (with pain), tremble, trust, wait carefully (patiently), be wounded.

Used for “dance” in Judges 21 and nowhere else. Has the idea of “writhing” or “shaking”. The uses in Psalms are not noteworthy in our present study as they do not refer to worship.

Qol

  • Hebrew: קֹל
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 6963 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 506x total, 57x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: voice (383x), noise (49x), sound (39x), thunder (10x), proclamation (with H5674) (4x), send out (with H5414) (2x), thunderings (2x), fame (1x), miscellaneous (16x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or qol {kole}; from an unused root meaning to call aloud; a voice or sound — + aloud, bleating, crackling, cry (+ out), fame, lightness, lowing, noise, + hold peace, (pro-)claim, proclamation, + sing, sound, + spark, thunder(-ing), voice, + yell.

Basically means the sound something makes. Could be an animal (I Samuel 15:14), thunder (I Samuel 12:18), or water (Psalm 42:7). It does not necessarily mean something is loud, but doesn’t rule it out either. In many uses it means the human voice (Genesis 3:7, Psalm 3:4) or even God’s voice (Genesis 3:8, Psalm 103:20).

Kabad

  • Hebrew: כָּבַד
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 3513 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 116x total, 11x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: clap (3x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to rub or strike the hands together (in exultation) — clap.

“To be heavy”. Can be in the sense of honor (Exodus 20:12, Daniel 11:38) or glory (Leviticus 10:3, Psalm 22:23). Can be negative in these sense of hardening a heart (Exodus 8:15, I Samuel 6:6) or something extreme (Genesis 18:20, Isaiah 9:1). The most common use in Psalms is to denote glory (Psalm 86:9,12).

Macha

  • Hebrew: מָחָא
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 4222 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 3x total, 1x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: honour (34x), glorify (14x), honourable (14x), heavy (13x), harden (7x), glorious (5x), sore (3x), made heavy (3x), chargeable (2x), great (2x), many (2x), heavier (2x), promote (2x), miscellaneous (10x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to rub or strike the hands together (in exultation) — clap.

Used twice for anthropomorphic clapping (Psalm 98:8, Isaiah 55:12). I suppose someone may say those set some sort of precedent for clapping in worship since the rivers and trees are seen doing it, but there are better verses to build that case with. I would like to point out that both also appear to picture the earth celebrating the arrival of the Millennial Kingdom.

Used once for Ammon celebrating the Jew’s despair (Ezekiel 24:6).

Machowl

  • Hebrew: מָחוֹל
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 4234 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 6x total, 3x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: dance (5x), dancing (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: From chuwl; a (round) dance — dance(-cing).

The noun form of chuwl. Scott Aniol in Changed from Glory into Glory (p. 43-44) states that is is the only Old Testament term that corresponds to what we call dancing today. He describes it as a joyful folk dance of celebration. It is used to convey the idea of utter joy (Psalm 30:11, Jeremiah 31:13, Lamentations 5:15)

I also want to go ahead and note that the plural form of the word, mechowlah (Strong’s H4246) is used to describe the celebratory dancing after crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20), Japhthah’s victory over Ammon (Judges 11:34), David’s victory over Goliath, (I Samuel 18:6, 21:11, 29:5) and in a more negative context in the worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32:19). Scott Aniol does not differentiate between the singular and plural forms in his discussion. That isn’t a problem at all, but someone not paying attention and cross-referencing with a concordance may be confused since there will be multiple Strong’s numbers in play.

In discussing the uses of machowl and mecholah in Psalm 149:3 and 150:4, Aniol points out that the emphasis is not necessarily on corporate worship but rather on praising God at all time. In Psalm 149 for example, we see the times of praise including while the congregation is assembled (vs. 1), while the saints are resting in their beds (vs. 5), and while the nation is at war (vs. 6-9). In Psalm 150 we see praising God in His sanctuary (vs. 1) but also a command that every living thing should praise the Lord (vs. 6) which is a much broader application.

Mechowlah

  • Hebrew: מְחֹלָה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 4246 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 8x total, 0x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: dance (5x), dancing (2x), company (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: Feminine of machashabah; a dance — company, dances(-cing).

See previous notes on machowl. This is the the plural form of that word and is referenced in that discussion.

Nasa

  • Hebrew: נָסָה
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 5375 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 654x total, 48x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: (bare, lift, etc…) up (219x), bear (115x), take (58x), bare (34x), carry (30x), (take, carry)..away (22x), borne (22x), armourbearer (18x), forgive (16x), accept (12x), exalt (8x), regard (5x), obtained (4x), respect (3x), miscellaneous (74x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or nacah (Psalm ‘eb‘abad (‘abad)) {naw-saw’}; a primitive root; to lift, in a great variety of applications, literal and figurative, absol. And rel. (as follows) — accept, advance, arise, (able to, (armor), suffer to) bear(-er, up), bring (forth), burn, carry (away), cast, contain, desire, ease, exact, exalt (self), extol, fetch, forgive, furnish, further, give, go on, help, high, hold up, honorable (+ man), lade, lay, lift (self) up, lofty, marry, magnify, X needs, obtain, pardon, raise (up), receive, regard, respect, set (up), spare, stir up, + swear, take (away, up), X utterly, wear, yield.

A general verb meaning “to bear or carry”. In Psalms it used in many ways, including to lift up heads (Psalm 24:7), lift up hands (Psalm 28:2), bearing reproach (Psalm 69:7) taking or bringing (Psalm 72:3, 81:2), lifting up soul (Psalm 86:4), forgiving (Psalm 99:8), and lifting up eyes (Psalm 121:1). I think there usage is too varied to draw any concrete conclusions about worship solely from this word.

Nagan

  • Hebrew: נָגַן
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 5059 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 15x total, 2x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: play (8x), instrument (3x), minstrel (2x), melody (1x), player (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; properly, to thrum, i.e. Beat a tune with the fingers; expec. To play on a stringed instrument; hence (generally), to make music — player on instruments, sing to the stringed instruments, melody, ministrel, play(-er, -ing).

Means “to play an instrument” and by extension “those that play instruments.” Nothing earthshattering here.

Neginah

  • Hebrew: נְגִינָה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 5058 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 14x total, 9x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: Neginoth (6x), song (5x), stringed instruments (1x), musick (1x), Neginah (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or ngiynath (Psa. ‘abal:title) {neg-ee-nath’}; from nagan; properly, instrumental music; by implication, a stringed instrument; by extension, a poem set to music; specifically, an epigram — stringed instrument, musick, Neginoth (plural), song.

Means “music of stringed instruments.” Found in the headings of multiple Psalms (4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76) to note that those songs had musical accompaniment. The idea of musical accompaniment is also seen in Isaiah 38:20. There are a few cases that in their context show their music to be satirical or mocking in nature (Job 30:9, Psalm 69:12, Lamentations 3:14), but these applications shouldn’t define the other uses.

Patsach

  • Hebrew: פָּצַח
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 6476 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 8x total, 1x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: break forth (6x), break (1x), make a loud noise (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to break out (in joyful sound) — break (forth, forth into joy), make a loud noise.

This is a case where the Strong’s definition is taking into account the object or effects of the verb and ignoring the words actual meaning. Patsach means “to break or to burst”, as in the breaking of bones in Micah 3:3. It can then have an object that says what is breaking out. Five of the uses involve the anthropomorphic descriptions of the earth or nature “breaking out” and singing coming forth (Psalm 98:4, Isaiah 14:7, 44:23, 49:13, 52:9, 55:12). The lone use where it is people breaking out in song is Israel in Isaiah 54:1. It would be hard to apply this to our worship.

Pazaz

  • Hebrew: פָּזַז
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 6339 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 2x total, 0x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: made strong (1x), leaping (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root (identical with pazaz); to solidify (as if by refining); also to spring (as if separating the limbs) — leap, be made strong.

Strong’s definition is almost longer than the verses this word appears in. The NAS Exhaustive Concordance make it far more concise: “to be supple or agile”.

There are only two uses of this word in Hebrew Scripture. The first is in Genesis 49:24 in Jacob’s blessing of Joseph speaking figuratively about Joseph’s strength as being enhanced by God using the imagery of pulling back a bow string.

The second is when David was “leaping” as he danced before the arriving Ark of the Covenant in II Samuel 6:16. That lone appearance is why this word may appear on some of the more exhaustive P&W lists. For a deeper look at David’s dancing, see notes on karar.

Raqad

  • Hebrew: רָקַד
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 7540 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 9x total, 3x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: dance (4x), skip (3x), leap (1x), jump (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; properly, to stamp, i.e. To spring about (wildly or for joy) — dance, jump, leap, skip.

The best idea of this word is “skipping, jumping, or leaping”. We see chariots bouncing at high speed (Nahum 3:2, Joel 2:5), the children of the wicked dancing or jumping around (Job 21:11), animals leaping about (Isaiah 13:21), and anthropomorphized mountains and trees skipping like animals (Psalm 114:4, 114:6, Psalm 29:6).

I want to examine the two remaining cases where it means “dancing”. The first I want to note is in Ecclesiastes 3:4 where joyful dancing is the opposite of mourning. This is not prescriptive but descriptive.

The second case is, of course, David dancing before the Ark in I Chronicles 15:29. For a deeper look at David’s dancing, see notes on karar. (Spoiler: its not a command or example we are called to follow.)

Renanah

  • Hebrew: רְנָנָה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 7445 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 4x total, 2x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: joyful voice (1x), joyful (1x), triumphing (1x), singing (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: From ranan; a shout (for joy) — joyful (voice), singing, triumphing.

The connotation of this word adds the idea of “rejoicing or joyfulness”. The two occurrences in Job 3:7 and 20:5 are not instructive in a study on worship. The two references in Psalm 63:5 and 100:2 are instructive that we should joyfully praise or God.

Rinnah

  • Hebrew: רִנָּה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 7440 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 33x total, 15x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: cry (12x), singing (9x), rejoicing (3x), joy (3x), gladness (1x), proclamation (1x), shouting (1x), sing (1x), songs (1x), triumph (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: From ranan; properly, a creaking (or shrill sound), i.e. Shout (of joy or grief) — cry, gladness, joy, proclamation, rejoicing, shouting, sing(-ing), triumph.

This word can be an expression of grief (Psalm 106:44, 142:6) or joy (Psalm 30:5, 126:5). Roughly 1/3 of the uses are expressing grief or desperation.

Rua

  • Hebrew: רוּעַ
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 7321 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 46x total, 12x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: shout (23x), noise (7x), ..alarm (4x), cry (4x), triumph (3x), smart (1x), miscellaneous (4x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to mar (especially by breaking); figuratively, to split the ears (with sound), i.e. Shout (for alarm or joy) — blow an alarm, cry (alarm, aloud, out), destroy, make a joyful noise, smart, shout (for joy), sound an alarm, triumph.

Rua essentially means “to shout” but is applied in varied ways. It is the shout of Israel when the circled Jericho in Joshua 6. It can be a cry of alarm (Numbers 10:7, Joel 2:1). It can mean shouting in triumph (Psalm 41:11, 108:9), which can also mean defeat (Proverbs 13:20).

As far as the uses in Psalms, we see shouting for victory and joy (Psalm 47:1, 65:13), the aforementioned triumphs (Psalm 41:11, 108:9), or the “joyful noise” (Psalm 66:1, 81:1, 95:1, 95:2, 98:4, 98:6, 100:1). To read more about the “joyful noise”, here is an GotQuestions.org article. I may need to revisit that in a future study.

Samach

  • Hebrew: שָׂמַח
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 8055 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 152x total, 52x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: shout (23x), noise (7x), ..alarm (4x), cry (4x), triumph (3x), smart (1x), miscellaneous (4x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; probably to brighten up, i.e. (figuratively) be (causatively, make) blithe or gleesome — cheer up, be (make) glad, (have, make) joy(-ful), be (make) merry, (cause to, make to) rejoice, X very.

This word means to “to rejoice” or “be glad or happy”. Not any controversy here that I see.

Sason

  • Hebrew: שָׂשׂן
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 8342 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 22x total, 5x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: joy (15x), gladness (3x), mirth (3x), rejoicing (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or sason {saw-sone’}; from suws; cheerfulness; specifically, welcome — gladness, joy, mirth, rejoicing.

Pretty clear. No comments needed.

Raam

  • Hebrew: רָעַם
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 7481 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 13x total, 4x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: thunder (8x), roar (3x), trouble (1x), fret (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: A primitive root; to tumble, i.e. Be violently agitated; specifically, to crash (of thunder); figuratively, to irritate (with anger) — make to fret, roar, thunder, trouble.

I’ll be honest and I say that I don’t recall which list I saw this word on. I thought it was maybe here but its not. It must have ended on my list for a reason so I will go ahead and look at it.

This word means “to roar or thunder” or by extension “to tremble”. We see the roar of the sea (I Chronicles 16:32, Psalm 96:11, 98:7), literal thunder from the sky (I Samuel 2:10, 7:10), and God’s voice associated with thunder (Job 37:4-5, 40:9, II Samuel 22:14, Psalm 18:13, 29:3). The two references to being troubled or trembling are in I Samuel 1:6 and Ezekiel 27:35.

That’s all. Not sure why this would appear in a P&W Hebrew word list but I guess it did somewhere to make it on my list.

Shaon

  • Hebrew: שָאוֹן
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 7588 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 17x total, 4x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: noise (8x), tumult (3x), tumultuous (2x), rushing (2x), horrible (1x), pomp (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: From sha’ah; uproar (as of rushing); by implication, destruction — X horrible, noise, pomp, rushing, tumult (X -uous).

Picture a “tumultuous uproar” and that fits practically every appearance. This is never applied to praise to God and never used in a positive sense.

Though it appears on a list here, the listed references do not even contain the word (they appear to be for rua). Not sure why it would be listed unless they are pushing an idea of tumultuous or uproarious worship but the word is never used in a way to support that idea.

Shiyr

  • Hebrew: שִׁירָה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 7892 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 89x total, 43x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: song (74x), musick (7x), singing (4x), musical (2x), sing (1x), singers (1x), song (with H1697) (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or feminine shiyrah {shee-raw’}; from shiyr; a song; abstractly, singing — musical(-ick), X sing(-er, -ing), song.

A generic word for “song, singing, or music”. I’ve got nothing to add. Moving on…

Sus

  • Hebrew: שׂוּשׂ
  • Verb
  • Strong’s: 7797 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 27x total, 9x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: rejoice (20x), glad (4x), greatly (1x), joy (1x), mirth (1x).
  • Strong’s definition: Or siys {sece}; a primitive root; to be bright, i.e. Cheerful — be glad, X greatly, joy, make mirth, rejoice.

Another straightforward definition. I’ve got nothing to add.

Teruah

  • Hebrew: תְּרוּעָה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 8643 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 36x total, 5x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: shout (11x), shouting (8x), alarm (6x), sound (3x), blowing (2x), joy (2x), miscellaneous (4x).
  • Strong’s definition: From ruwa’; clamor, i.e. Acclamation of joy or a battle-cry; especially clangor of trumpets, as an alarum — alarm, blow(- ing) (of, the) (trumpets), joy, jubile, loud noise, rejoicing, shout(-ing), (high, joyful) sound(-ing).

Noun form of rua. I will refer you to that previous study for the meaning here.

Zimrah

  • Hebrew: תְּרוּעָה
  • Noun
  • Strong’s: 2172 – BibleHubSudyLightBlueLetterBible
  • Uses: 4x total, 2x in Psalms
  • KJV translations: melody (2x), psalm (2x).
  • Strong’s definition: From zamar; a musical piece or song to be accompanied by an instrument — melody, psalm.

Noun form of zamar. I will refer you to that previous study for the meaning here.

Book Review: A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship

As I have been preparing to teach a course on church music in the near future, I have been assembling a small library of books old and new. Some are practical, some philosophical, some historical. When I found out about the recently published (December 2021) book A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship I was intrigued, and when Scott Aniol recommended it, I knew I had to buy it.

I will be clear in the start that I am no fan or supporter of either contemporary or praise & worship music in church worship. I do not even enjoy either privately. I don’t think I am the target audience of this book at all, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The reason I can enjoy this book along with those that do love these modern worship trends is because it is all dealt with fairly and at “face value”. The authors do a fantastic job of letting the people and events speak for themselves without providing commentary. It is honest, straightforward history, which is a rare thing in Christianity today. I personally could not write something like this, as I would want to point out along the way all of the fallacies and flaws I found in the movements.

The authors trace the origins of modern church music to two sources that they describe as “rivers”. The first is Praise & Worship (I am keeping the ampersand since they purposely use it), which traces back the Latter Rain movement, a controversial offshoot of Pentecostalism in the 1940’s that has been widely influential in more recent Charismatic movements. The second is Contemporary Worship which has many tributaries, like the Jesus People and the Church Growth movement, which all attempted to make religion more accessible or relatable to modern culture. By the late 1990’s these essentially merged into the approach used in so many churches today.

I would label the two sources as “Pentecostal” and “Pragmatic”. The first focuses on praising to the point God shows up and then intimately worshipping Him. It is founded primarily on a novel interpretation of Psalm 22:3 and some unfounded typological conclusions regarding the Tabernacle(s). It is based on human experience, emotion, and expression. The second focuses on relevance to the world outside the church. It is founded on a misconception that the church must continually adapt to culture and a rather extreme application of I Corinthians 9:22. It is based on comfort, camouflage, and compromise. (See why I just can’t be impartial?)

There is hardly a page in my copy that I did not underline a name or note some statement in the text or footnotes. There is truly a wealth of information here, most of which I believe would surprise or shock conservative Christians.

Well-written, well-researched, and well-received, this book is a great read for anyone interested in the origins of, not just the music, but of the landscape of modern American Christianity.

The Pseudo-Fundamentalism of Today’s Reformed Movement

As we look back over the centuries, we can discern movements and counter-movements in the history of Christianity. One that easily discernable today is the resurgence in America of Reformed theology and tradition. I believe this is largely a reaction to the theological drift of American Christianity toward liberalism, “wokeism”, and (dare I say it?) apostacy.

So many Christians today are seeking more from Christianity than what a modern seeker-focused megachurches are teaching. They want deeper theology and richness in their Christian walk. Just hop on any social media platform and see these modern day Puritans denounce men, movements, and messages they deem as heretical and unscriptural.

What are these people turning to? In turning from the modern they seek the ancient. In turning from the emotional they turn to the logical. In turning from the shallow they turn to the profound. They are turning more and more to the the tenets of Calvinism and Reformed theology.

The influence of Charles Spurgeon in this is tremendous. Spurgeon himself reacted to the theological drift of his day by embracing the past preachers and theologians. He promoted the writings of the Puritans like no one else.

I see a parallel to this modern Reformed movement in the Fundamentalism of the early 20th century. I am certain they will crucify me for even suggesting that if they ever read this. But at that time so many across a broad spectrum of denominations were rejecting modernism and liberalism while embracing the “old time religion”. Fundamentalism was and is a reactionary movement to the theological drift towards liberalism. It was a movement towards conservative theology and historical practice.

The same things are are driving the modern Reformed movement. They are embracing and promoting practices such as singing of traditional hymns (even resurrecting some long forgotten ones) and the use of the liturgical calendar. I like to joke that Fundamentalism wants to keep things like they were in the 1950’s, but the Reformed movement honestly tries to keep their faith and practice in the 1700’s if not the 1500’s.

The modern Reformed movement and historic Fundamentalism are born of the same desires, reacting to similar concerns of theological drift, embracing traditionalist forms of worship, and rejecting unorthodox teachings and practice. Both promote the basis of Sola Scriptura in defining faith and practice. Both embrace their heritage, some of which overlaps as in the case of Charles Spurgeon. Today both can be seen taking similar stands on issues such as the use church music or their stances on abortion. You can watch these new and upcoming Reformed leaders come to the same realizations that Fundamentalism did a century before.

While they are similar, there can still be quite a bit of difference depending on what group you are examining. I, for one, reject the liturgical calendar as an unnecessary and extra-Biblical tradition. I reject the practice of infant baptism as unscriptural though classic Reformed theology promotes it. I reject the entire Calvinist-Arminian scale for measuring theology as outdated, unnecessary, and impractical. I reject much of the ecclesiology (I find the Baptist positions more in line with Scripture) and eschatology. I would not define the doctrines of election, predestination, or atonement the same as any Reformed theologian though thankfully I believe we are in agreement in “salvation by grace through faith”.

As a side note, the one area that I am surprised that the modern Reformed movement has not taken is the promotion and use of an historic translation of the Bible such as the KJV or the Geneva Bible. They have no problem reading authors or singing songs that read more like Shakespeare than any modern literature. I find it odd that in so many ways they embrace the theology, writings, and songs from the past yet use a Bible that does not reflect the same traditions.

To conclude, I believe what we are seeing in American Christianity is another repeat of a reaction to theological drift. Just as the Fundamentalists took at stand in the early 20th century against liberalism we are seeing Reformed leaders take a stand against apostacy in the church. These two are not the same but the similarities are striking.

The Secret Charismatic Invasion

Image by pangloy from Pixabay

I have been collecting material for the past few months to put together a course on church music for a nearby Bible college. If you know me, you will not be surprised that I am going overboard. The stacks of books on my desk and bookshelves (not to mention my growing Amazon wish list) will testify to this. However, I have been alarmed at the number of people who have recommended books on church music or worship that are written by openly charismatic authors.

Allow me to be careful of defining charismatic. Not every one of the authors or works openly claim that name. Merriam-Webster.com defines the noun as “a member of a religious group or movement that stresses the seeking of direct divine inspiration and charisms (such as glossolalia or healing)”. There are various Christian sects that promote the use of charismatic gifts such as healing, tongues, and prophecy. Historically, these generally stem from the Holiness or Restorationist movements in 1800’s America. The so-called Asuza Street Revival is the movement’s watershed moment.

Baptists have historically been cessationists, believing that the gifts of the Spirit were temporary and their use limited to the time of Apostolic leadership in first century Christianity. A key Baptist belief is the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture, which goes against the “continued revelation” of charismatic theology. I cannot say that charismatic Baptists do not exist (looking at you, Baptistcostals), but these are a minority – a growing minority.

Those last three words scare me. I am certain that one hundred years ago the use of ecstatic tongues by a Baptist would have been scandalous. Yet today, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention allows for its missionaries to practice the use of ecstatic tongues. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which promotes the use of tongues and other charismatic gifts, is sold by Lifeway and used in many Southern Baptist churches and institutions. This has not happened without notice or debate, but the trend is that groups like the SBC are becoming more accepting of and even promoting charismatic doctrine and practices.

Sadly, I am becoming more and more aware of the growing acceptance of charismatic doctrine and practice in Independent and Fundamental Baptist circles. While no one may be speaking in tongues in a church service yet, I am afraid the stage is set for that to soon become acceptable in those circles. The foundations have been laid for it to happen.

I want to share few thoughts on how charismatic doctrine and practices are infiltrating our churches and how we can guard against them.

1. Through Private Christian Liberty

I believe strongly in the liberty of the individual Christian believer. It is reiterated time and time again in Scripture and is a key concept of Baptist doctrine. We have liberty to serve God according to our consciousness of our personal relationship with Him.

But the danger of Christian liberty is its abuse. Liberty does not mean licentiousness. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1 that we are to: “Stand fast… in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free…”, but shortly after that says in 5:13 that we should: “…use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Liberty has bounds. It is bound by love for each other, as we see in Galatians 5. It is also bound by the clear commands of Scripture. We see such an example see the case of gross sin of I Corinthians 5:1-2.

How has this allowed for an incursion of charismatic doctrine and practice? Simply because it allows for institutions (church, college, etc.) to have a strong, Scriptural stand against something while also allowing individuals leeway to have a different stand.

Let me give you the best example I know of: the use of a prayer language. The first time I was exposed to this idea was when a fellow teenage staff member at a Baptist summer camp who talked about doing it. This lesser form of glossolalia is generally not practiced in public so it may go unnoticed or overlooked. It is this practice that opened the door for the afore mentioned International Mission Board to accept speaking tongues. Let me warn you that was is practiced in private will eventually be practiced in public.

2. Through Music

As I stated in the opening paragraph of this post, my research on church music is what prompted this article. I am shocked at how charismatic philosophy and practice have infiltrated our churches through music.

It is not secret that contemporary praise and worship music is rooted in charismatic practices. The book Sing with Understanding (p. 313-314) ties the Praise and Worship style with a “charismatic Renewal” of the late 1900’s. It beginnings were simple Scripture choruses (“As the Deer”, “Seek Ye First”, etc.) that originated among charismatics in New Zealand in the late 1960’s. The use of these repetitive choruses was described in some churches as “with the objective of increasing the emotional fervor of worship to a point of ecstasy, often climaxed by shouted hallelujahs or speaking in tongues”. Other songs listed as coming from this source include “Alleluia”, “He is Lord”, “Majesty” and “This is the Day”.

This goes back further into historic charismatic practices. In Pentecostal or Holiness churches of the early 1900’s it would be normal to use music to “work up” the congregation. This would be done with emotionally-driven songs with swaying rhythms, fast-paced songs with driving beats, and encouragement to physically express yourself by raising hands, shouting, speaking in tongues, or rolling in the aisle. While those services may not have the modern synthesizers or stage setups of today’s charismatic churches, the essential elements and purposes are all present. The music drove the people to an emotional state of frenzy they called “worship”.

No matter how people may try to gird modern praise-and-worship-style services with sound theology or good intentions, they are fundamentally corrupted in their origin and design. They are built on manipulating the emotions of a worshipper into feeling and experiencing what they call a state of worship. No such practice or idea is found in Scripture.

The difficult part of discerning the charismatic influence in praise and worship music is because it is not highlighted. For example, Bob Kaughlin, head of Sovereign Grace Music, openly identifies as a charismatic in his book Worship Matters (p.86) though he prefers the term “continuationist”. He claims that he exercises the charismatic gift of prophecy as he sings spontaneously composed lyrics on stage. (p. 140). Yet, his book was recommended to me as often as any other. Sadly, his was not the only book with charismatic ties that was recommended to me.

3. Through Megachurch Influence

Who doesn’t want to be part of the biggest congregation with the nicest facilities? Many naïve Christian leaders have drunken from tainted waters in search of church growth idea. Combining this point with the previous on music, the book Te Deum (p. 315-316) states that many of the first megachurches like Willow Creek Community Church incorporated charismatic praise choruses into their “seeker sensitive” services. Other churches began to model after them and their perceived success and growth.

The earliest identified megachurches were often theologically conservative or fundamentalist. However varied they may be, the services at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle or J. Frank Norris’s First Baptist Church of Fort Worth have little in common with the practices of similarly-sized congregations today. The modern megachurch trend has instead largely been built on promoting an experience rather than doctrine.

With this lessened emphasis on doctrine, many megachurches have downplayed or forsaken denominational ties. I just checked Outreach100.com‘s list of the largest churches in America. Today (1-21-22) only 5 of the top 20 have a denomination in their church name (Baptist, Christian, etc.) though many seem to have some denominational ties when you dig deeper. I have found it funny that nondenominational is itself a denomination now.

What is often hidden in this nondenominational branding is whether or not the churches are charismatic. Case in point, Gateway Church of Southlake, Texas. It is not something they promote (or detail in their public statement of faith), but the church and its leadership are charismatic. Pastor Robert Morris will speak or write on it from time to time. They are also now the home of The King’s University, a school founded by Pentecostal leader Jack Hayford. I was also told by someone who attended there a few times that they encountered a woman there who was prophesying – as in saying such-and-such will occur at such-and-such time and place. Yet most of this takes a backseat to the music and motivational messages so I honestly believe some who attend there do not even realize what sort of church it is.

On Defending the KJV

I love the King James Bible. I’ve used it my entire life and do not plan on changing. There is so much about it to love: the majestic flow, the time-honored phrasing, and much else. However, I feel that much of the reasoning for and against using the KJV can be quite absurd.

So, here I would like to examine some of these arguments and test their soundness.

Some Poor Arguments for the KJV

1. The KJV is not copyrighted

Actually, it is. Just depends on where you are at. In the United States it is considered public domain. In the United Kingdom, however, it is technically copyrighted. The rights to printing and publishing the KJV are held by the Crown.

I will add here that I personally would feel better about modern translation attempts if they would make their work public domain. I realize there are costs involved in creating a Bible translation but if the goal is producing a better translation of God’s Word why would anyone add restrictions to its use and propagation?

2. Thousands of changes in other translations

It is a common tactic in arguments to use very large numbers to impress a point without justifying the number. My response would be that you need to produce this list. Many of these “thousands” of changes are no very substantive, such as Ye to You or maybe a The to an A.

Another issue with this argument is that it is based on a foundation that will not be agreed on by both sides. It is based on the assumption that the KJV is superior. Someone who is critical of the KJV can simply dismiss this argument by stating that thousands of changes were necessary.

3. Attacking Westcott and Hort

Who cares? These attacks are very dated and really have no bearing on modern translations. Poor texts and translations predate Westcott and Hort and they are not necessarily seen as giants in the field today.

4. Other languages need the KJV

No, people who speak Spanish, Swahili, or any other language do not need the KJV. They need a Bible faithfully and accurately translated into their own language. Using the underlying principles of translation that the KJV translators used is fine, but the source of the translation should not be an English translation. It has to go back and be based on the Greek and Hebrew texts for accuracy.

5. KJV is required for Salvation, Revival, etc.

This is one of the most absurd arguments you will hear. Did no one get saved before 1611? Must you speak English to have a revival?

Is your faith in God or His Book? You cannot have His Book without Him. He is greater. Now, we know Him and His will through His Book, but we must remember that we worship God and not a book. Don’t allow the Bible to come before the God Who gave you His Word.


Some Poor Arguments against the KJV

1. Their are better alternatives to the KJV

This is a biased opinion and cannot be proven empirically. You may try to support this with facts or studies but it boils down to a personal opinion. Not a sound argument and comes off as elitist.

2. The language is archaic, dated, difficult to understand, etc.

Granted, the language of the KJV is not something that is spoken on the average street corner. There are words (“milch kine” for example) that would be quite different in modern English.

However, the language is a large part of the beauty of the KJV. The rhythm and flow of the words and phrases are closer to Shakespeare that they are to Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton or J.K. Rowling. We all run across a new word in an article or book that we have to look up the definition to. That reading the Bible could require a specialized vocabulary is not something that may be avoided as there are specialized words with theological meanings. I don’t see the issue in adding a few more words to that list.

3. There are better manuscripts that are available now that weren’t available in 1611.

I think there are two theories about finding purity. One is to seek it at the source as close to that as possible. The other is to test and purify the substance. I illustrate this by asking where the purest water is found: is it at the source before it may be contaminated or after it has been filtered and any contaminants removed? It depends. Leaning on ancient manuscripts is like trying to go back as close to the source as possible. Trusting in the Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text is like trusting something that has been filtered and processed over time.

The attempts to rewrite Scripture and Christian history based on fragmentary manuscript evidence is almost laughable at times. The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” made headlines a few years ago. A piece of papyrus the size of a business card excited conspiracy theorists with the possibility that Christianity had covered up that Jesus was married. After further vetting it was uncovered it is likely a forgery. I bring this story up as an extreme example of using fragmentary evidence is used to rewrite overwhelming evidence.

The Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text that the KJV is based on were made from attempts to see the available texts and find a standard. They were made to reflect the text that the Jews and Christians felt was a pure text.

Sometimes the Dead Sea Scrolls come up in this line of argument. There are two ways of looking at more recent find like this compared to the accepted body of thought. One is focus on small differences that may exist from those first century scrolls to the text we use today and assuming those small differences found are more accurate than every other texts we have available. The other is is to focus on how well the vast majority of the text we have matches the those first century scroll and assume that the small differences are variants that are not authoritative. It is a matter of perspective and rarely is there any balance found in those that engage in arguing in this arena.

4. Which KJV? 1611? 1629? 1762? 1769?

At it root, this is reflecting an attack made against other versions. The NIV for example has undergone several revisions. You will see copyright notices noting major changes in 1978, 1984, and 2011. Fans of the KJV like to poke fun at this by showing the ever-shifting language and often controversial changes made each time. KJV opponents won’t see an issue with a continually changing and updating text but like to deflect this argument back because many KJV users are ignorant or sensitive to this charge.

There were minor changes made to the KJV, some of which were simply printing errors. Many spelling updates were made also, including famously incorporating the letter J in the 1629 revision. Almost none of these are substantive, especially compared to revisions made to other translations.

5. It is not the language of the common man

The definition that needs to be made in this argument is what exactly the common man’s language is. What age group? What region? What education level? Spoken or written?

It is common to read a higher level of language than is spoken. Better attention is paid to syntax and structure when writing. Transcripts often do not read as well as the oral communication that was originally delivered.

Is the KJV in the language of the average reader? No, and no translation will be because language is constantly shifting and evolving. The case can be made that the being in a higher or older form of English further cements the meaning and understanding of the words.

I think the better question is, “Is the KJV understandable?”. The answer to that is affirmative.

6. You need to know the original languages to understand the Scriptures.

Not exactly a KJV issue but it often comes up in these conversations. The goal of any translation should be to put the words of scripture into another language that can be fully understood without constantly checking back to Greek or Hebrew.

Is studying the original languages profitable? Yes. Necessary? Should not be.

7. There is no perfect translation

So why criticize the KJV? Oh, you just want to aggravate KJV users…

8. Why don’t other languages have KJV-like translations?

The English language is blessed to have a masterpiece such as the KJV. Other languages, such as Spanish, have struggled with having a reliable translation.

I believe the existence of the KJV is an example of God’s providence. English has been the dominant business language of the world for maybe 200 years. Children in schools across the globe learn English as a second language because it opens so many opportunities. God knew the how widely used the English language would be in our time and so provided a reliable, beautiful translation.

9. We need a another/better English translation.

I did some research. There are around 7,000 languages in the world. 3,300 have at least a portion of the Bible translated into them. About 1,500 have a complete New Testament and only 700 have a complete Bible. As far as I can tell, there are more English translations of the Bible than in any other language. The numbers I found cited were that English has about 450 translations, French has about 50, Spanish has about 50, and Russian has about 20.

When 90% of the world’s languages lack a complete Bible, it is a very poor use of our time to add to the piles of English Bibles.

My suspicion is that many of the modern translations are born out of arrogance or financial concerns. It is arrogant to say that no one before or present can produce a better translation and therefore only these particular translators have proper understanding to do it correctly. As far as finances go, I do not believe every new translation is a cash grab, but I have heard how profitable Bible translations are and how it helps large publishing companies to have their own in-house translations they can use freely in their own works.

Does Acts 20:20 Teach Door-to-Door Evangelism?

One of the greatest obstacles I see in studying the Bible is that we sometimes read into the Bible’s words more than we read from them. We humans have a tendency to put definitions into words that are not justified by context or culture. We also like to prove what we believe rather than believe what we can prove.

I’d like to give an illustration of problem in Acts 20:20. Paul tells the church elders from Ephesus:

“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house,…”

In my background and training I have heard this verse used many times to prove that Paul went door-to-door soulwinning and thus we should too. I had doubts about this position and even offered an alternative interpretation to some who used this verse thus. My response would be practically dismissed out of hand with no willingness to discuss the verse.

Here, I’d like to lay out my argument against this verse promoting door-to-door evangelism, offer another interpretation, and say a few words against the means leading to misunderstanding this verse.

1. Contextual Analysis of Paul’s Address

Paul is speaking here to the elders from Ephesus (Acts 20:17). In this address to them he is defending his ministry among them and exhorting them to be strong in the difficulties ahead.

Let’s examine the first sentence (vs. 18-21):

Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Paul is speaking of his faithfulness and consistency in his ministry. Troubles did not stop him. Situations did not alter his message. Whoever the audience was the message was the same: salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

Next two sentences (vs. 22-24):

And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. 

Paul is headed toward Jerusalem and has awareness of his fate there. Knowing the trials that lie ahead he is pressing forward.

Next three sentences (vs. 25-27):

And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.  For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. 

Paul is appealing to his record and testimony that he has been faithful and full in his minsitry.

Next three sentences (vs. 28-30):

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 

Here he is challenging the Ephesian elders to follow his example and stay strong and faithful.

Now the final four sentences (vs. 31-35):

And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.  I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.  I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. 

We see here further defense of his ministry and the example he set for these church leaders to follow.

I believe it should be obvious that, taken as a whole, this speech is not an address on evangelism. When Paul touches on that subject it is secondary to the defense of his faithfulness. He exhorts his brethren to be strong and steadfast like he had been, but we do not see him commanding them to do exactly as he had done.

As to the meaning of “from house to house”, I do not see clarification from the larger passage. That Paul was preaching the Gospel we have no doubt whatsoever (vs. 21, 24, 25). That Paul did so in the midst of hardships, we have no doubt (vs. 19). That he was consistent and thorough in his teaching we have no doubt (vs. 21, 27, 35). But I don’t think we can definitively explain what “house to house” means quite yet.

2. Grammatical Analysis of Acts 20:18-21

Let’s dig deeper into verse 20 and I think we will begin to get some clarity. Again, the entire sentence is found in vs. 18-21:

Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Paul is appealing to his testimony and record here. He has been faithful in adversity and in consistent in message. The main subject is “ye”, the hearer is thus the Ephesian elders. The main verb is “know”. What do they know? Two things: “after what manner I have been” and “how I kept back nothing”. Everything else branches off from these two.

It is to that second object, “how I kept back nothing” we now focus. He expands on that thought: “but [I] have shewed you, and [I] have taught you”. Both of these relating back to how he “kept back nothing”.

Let’s keep going. Paul said “[I] have taught you”. How? Both “publickly, and from house to house”. This combination of adverb and prepositional phrase are linked in their description of how Paul taught.

We finish the sentence by further describing how Paul showed and taught the Ephesian elders, by “testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks” – another couplet of descriptors. And of what was he testifying? “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Thus, the use of “house to house” in grammatical context is descriptive of how Paul taught in Ephesus, as witnessed by and likely direct at the Ephesian elders. It is further related to how he taught “publickly”. I therefore contend that Paul is speaking in vs. 20 of how he taught both publicly and privately, just he taught both Jew and Greek. It is to show the consistency and faithfulness of Paul’s ministry. It is not emphasizing a method of going house to house, but rather that his private teachings were consistent with his public teachings.

3. What is a House?

Words have meanings, which may not be consistent across time and distance. Let’s see examine the word house here and make sure we understand its meaning.

The Greek word translated as house here is oikos (Strong’s #G3624). It can carry multiple meanings. First, a physical house or dwelling (examples: Matthew 9:6-7, 11:8) Second, the members of a household or family (examples: Acts 7:10, 11:14). It has many other applications and uses that extend from these basic definitions.

Either of the preceding two definitions work in Acts 20:20. He could be teaching from “dwelling to dwelling” or “family to family”. Here we possibly see something against reading door-to-door evangelism into this verse. If it is “dwelling to dwelling” then it could work, but “family to family” sounds more like a modern in-home Bible study.

But I’d also like to offer one more possible definition of “house”: it could be referring to church gatherings. We see Paul write to Timothy of the “the house of God, which is the church of the living God” (I Timothy 3:15). We also see multiple references to churches meeting in homes (Romans 16:5, I Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2). I also think these church meetings are meant by house in Acts 8:3 when Paul was persecuting the church at Jerusalem.

After Pentecost we see the following description of Christian gatherings: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,…” (Acts 2:46). These Christians met in the public courtyards of the Temple complex or in private homes. No one seems to question that the breaking of bread in this verse took place in Christian meetings in private homes. I haven’t found anyone who sees door-to-door evangelism in Acts 2:46.

So, I offer that there are now three possible definitions of house as used in Acts 20:20: (1) a physical dwelling, (2) a household, and (3) a gathering of the church in a home. Both (1) and (2) we have already seen as possible meanings. I contend that (3) is also. Using this definition, Paul would be teaching both publicly and in private church assemblies. Not only does this maintain the descriptive comparison of public/private, but it enhances that comparison by further describing public to be outsiders from the church and private to be insiders of the church. I am inclined to believe (3) is the best definition to be used, but I don’t know how dogmatic we can be on it.

4. How Paul Preached in Ephesus

What Paul did in Ephesus is no secret. If you simply look back one chapter to Acts 19 you will see the account of it. A brief overview:

  • Paul’s encounter with the disciples of John the Baptist – Acts 19:1-7
  • Paul preaching in the synagogue – 19:8
  • Paul disputing in the school of Tyrannus – 19:9-10
  • The sons of Sceva – 19:11-20
  • Demetrius’ riot – 19:21-41

Only the first ten verses shed any real light on how Paul ministered in Ephesus. The rest of the chapter could be seen as the impact of Paul’s ministry.

What can we learn of Paul’s method of evangelism in those first ten verses? The account regarding John’s disciples is not clear on how it took place, but I would assume an exclusive meeting with them that was likely private. Paul preaching in the Synagogue is something he did quite often, and a very public affair that likely opened doors for private meetings.

The one element that stands out is Paul’s time in the school of Tyrannus. Though we have no archaeological or historical evidence to give us further information on this person or his school, we can readily identify this a place for lecture and debate. In the Greco-Roman culture listening to lecturers, orators, lawyers, and teachers was a prime pastime. It is in his preaching at the school of Tyrannus for two years that find that “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

If there is any major and effective method for spreading the Gospel in Ephesus in Acts 19 it is Paul’s preaching at the school of Tyrannus. It was there that he preached “publickly”, as described in Acts 20:20. It was there the Gospel spread into all Asia Minor. No mention or hint of a door-to-door campaign.

What about Paul’s ministry at other times and places? We see the same combination of preaching in a synagogue and in a public place at Athens in Acts 17:17 – “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.” This appears to be the modus operandi of Paul’s ministry. To the Jew first in the synagogue and then to the public in a proper forum.

5. Would House-to-House Evangelism Work in the First Century?

My understanding is that it likely would not.

The poor lived in cramped, one-room tenements. They slept and ate at home. When it was dark they went home and shut the door. In the daylight hours these tenements would likely be largely deserted. People would be away working or gathering in the public areas of the city.

The middle class or wealthy would have multi-room homes. They would receive their clients and some visitors. They would host meals with guests. It is doubtful than an itinerant preacher would gain much of an audience. Not just anyone gained entrance into a Roman home and its family. Especially not a Jew, an even more especially one that spoke of this unknown Christ.

Safety and security were important to these ancient families. Most people did not venture out after dark because of dangers such as robbers. Usually the door was bolted shut and not opened until morning (Luke 11:7). Socialization with strangers would far more likely take place in a public area during daylight hours.

Ignoring the opportunities that may not be there, door-to-door evangelism is really only effective when you are dealing with people with some knowledge of the Bible or Christianity. This was not the case in the ancient world. The average citizen in the Roman empire in the mid-First Century might have a cursory knowledge of what made the Jewish religion different than the polytheism around it. I doubt that most rudimentary understanding was enough to instantly comprehend the tenets of Christianity.

Many of us do not comprehend what it is to share the Gospel with someone that does not possess some knowledge of what sin is or who Christ was. If you will speak to missionaries who work with people groups that have no concept of Christianity you will find it takes much longer than five minutes or even an hour to see someone trust in Christ. In America the question is often used by soulwinners, “If you died right now, are you 100% sure you will go to Heaven?” This presupposes the hearer believes in life after death, understands the Christian-defined Heaven, implies some knowledge of Hell as the only other alternative, and other information assumed be comprehended by both parties. Imagine Paul asking a random pagan that question. What is in their mind? From what we understand of ancient Greek culture there appears to be little emphasis on the afterlife although they believed in one.

Bottom line, in all likelihood “house to house” evangelism would be an ineffective method of evangelism in the First Century A.D.

6. History of Door-to-Door Evangelism

Search the histories of Christian movements, denominations, ministries, evangelists, and churches. You will likely not find any mention of anything that resembles door-to-door soulwinning older than 100 or 150 years.

The earliest reference that I have ever found to something resembling a modern organized door-to-door evangelistic effort is in the Life and Sayings of Sam Jones. I do not see a date given, but I think its around 1880:

At West Point there was a great revival, which resulted in many accessions to the different churches in the town. There was a moral reformation wrought that changed the aspects of the place. When Mr. Jones went there, the people were so dead, religiously, that the attendance was quite small. It was a morning service in a weekday. It seemed the most hopeless outlook for a meeting. There were but four people to hear him preach his first sermon. After his sermon he said, “Now, I want us to have an altar service.” Mr. Jones and the pastor and two noble women knelt for prayer. After they had reconsecrated themselves to God, Mr. Jones said : “I want the pastor to go with me to every business house in this town, and we will say to the men as we meet them, just one thing, and that is, ‘You are going to hell,’ and then we will move on. I want you good women to go all over this town, ring the door bell, and when the women meet you, just look them squarely in the face and don’t say but one things and that is, ‘You are going to hell.’ ” They made him the promise, and that afternoon practically every woman in the town was so addressed, while Mr. Jones and the pastor met men and warned them in that startling way. Some of the women slammed the doors in the faces of the two good women, while others had their curiosity aroused. The men got very angry, and it was with much difficulty and shrewd reasoning that fights were avoided. That night the whole town was out to church, and Mr. Jones preached one of his most scathing sermons. A great revival broke out which swept over the entire place, until finally the men who were notoriously opposed to religion were in constant attendance upon the services.

In the Christian biographies and histories I have read, I do not recall an older account than this. I am certain there are more and better ones, but their scarcity proves my assertion that door-to-door evangelism is a more recent development.

How did the Gospel get out if not by door-to-door soulwinning? Of course the Gospel was preached in churches. But what other means were used?

Like in ancient times, many preachers took to the open air. Whitefield and the Wesleys famously did so. I’ll quote here an account by Z.N. Morrell, one of the first Baptist preachers in Texas, of one such sermon in 1836 as recorded in his book, Flowers and Fruits in the Wilderness:

An election was in progress when I reached the town. This was the law and custom of the country in that day. Here was a large crowd of Americans, Mexicans, and Indians of several different tribes. My mule was soon tied, and after consultation with my great Master – for I had no one else to consult with – I decided to preach, and began looking around for a suitable place. Near by the vast crowd I saw the foundation timbers of a large framed building already laid. No floor had been laid, nor upright pieces raised. No sooner discovered than I selected one corner of this for a pulpit,- the sills and sleepers already laid and well adjusted would answer for seats. I held up my watch in my hand, and cried at the top of my voice, “O-yes! o-yes! o-yes! everybody that wants to buy, without money and without price, come this way,” – and commenced singing the old battle-song: “Am I a soldier of the cross?” Before I finished my song there was around me a large crowd of all sorts and sizes and colors. A brief prayer was offered, and the two verses sung, “‘Tis religion that can give,” amidst profound silence. Astonishment, rather than reverence, was stamped upon their features. Across the street was a large upper gallery, and by this time it was full of ladies and gentlemen. Just at this point some wagons and a carriage, evidently belonging to movers, drove up close to where I was standing, and I recognized brother Win. Whitaker and family, from Hardiman County, Tennessee, three of whose daughters I had baptized in the old State. The preacher who reads this will understand the effect this produced upon the speaker. My text was announced from Isaiah xxxv. 1: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” Never did the cane-brake preacher receive better attention. God blessed me with great liberty for one hour, amid many tears shed all around me. The congregation was dismissed in due form, and there were many hearty shakes given the strange preacher’s hand. My soul was full to overflowing, and at that moment I believed the text. God has not disappointed me.

Of course there were the revivals and the camp meetings that sprang up in the 1800’s. There was the work done in the early Sunday School movement. There were ministries where ladies simply went to the homes of the poor and uneducated and read the Bible to them. There are the mass evangelistic campaigns by men like D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and later Billy Graham. There have been printed tracts, radio broadcasts, Salvation Army bands, and a host of other methods to spread the Gospel. One of my favorites is from Louis Arnold (1914-2015) who flew a plane around Kentucky that was equipped with loudspeakers blasting out a recorded gospel sermon.

Bottom line is that history is full of innovative and effective methods to proclaim Christ’s Gospel. What works in one place and time may not work in another situation.

As near as I can tell, door-to-door evangelism probably arrived with the Christian worker programs and mass evangelistic efforts of men like D.L. Moody in the mid-1800’s. The growing urbanization of America in the late-1800’s on into the mid-1900’s provided ample doors to target. The rise of the suburbs after World War II played a part. Also the increased mobility because of the automobile widened the range of labor beyond a church’s immediate neighborhood. American culture in those days was largely open to having people (family, salesmen, neighbors, soulwinners, or whatever else) stop by a home. Rising amounts of leisure time meant people were more likely to be home when someone called on them. In short, it was the perfect environment for door-to-door evangelism to grow and flourish.

7. Commentaries on Acts 20:20

What say other men who have studied and commented on Acts 20:20? I have gathered below a few quotes from men of varying backgrounds and opinions. Let us see what we can learn from them.

John Gill (1697-1771) comments:

“…as he visited the saints at their own houses, to know their personal cases, and the state of their souls, he instructed them privately and personally one by one; he taught the same publicly as privately, and privately as publicly: and took every opportunity of instilling Gospel truths into them, and of enriching them with a larger knowledge of them; which shows his affection and zeal, his laboriousness, industry, and indefatigableness in the ministry.

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) comments along similar veins:

And from house to house – Though Paul preached in public, and though his time was much occupied in manual labor for his own support Act_20:34, yet he did not esteem his public preaching to be all that was required of him, nor his daily occupation to be an excuse for not visiting from house to house. We may observe here:
“(1) That Paul’s example is a warrant and an implied injunction for family visitation by a pastor. If proper in Ephesus, it is proper still. If practicable in that city, it is in other cities. If it was useful there, it will be elsewhere. If it furnished to him consolation in the retrospect when he came to look over his ministry, and if it was one of the things which enabled him to say, “I am pure from the blood of all men,” it will be so in other cases.
“(2) The design for which ministers should visit should be a religious design. Paul did not visit for mere ceremony; for idle gossip, or chit-chat; or to converse on the news or politics of the day. His aim was to show the way of salvation, and to teach in private what he taught in public.
“(3) How much of this is to be done is, of course, to be left to the discretion of every minister. Paul, in private visiting, did not neglect public instruction. The latter he evidently considered to be his main or chief business. His high views of preaching are evinced in his life, and in his letters to Timothy and Titus. Yet, while public preaching is the main, the prime, the leading business of a minister, and while his first efforts should be directed to preparation for that, he may and should find time to enforce his public instructions by going from house to house; and often he will find that his most immediate and apparent success will result from such family instructions.
“(4) If it is his duty to visit, it is the duty of is people to receive him as becomes an ambassador of Christ. They should be willing to listen to his instructions; to treat him with kindness, and to aid his endeavours in bringing a family under the influence of religion.

Charles Ellicott (1819-1905) says:

Publicly, and from house to house.—The first word points probably to the teaching in the synagogue and the lecture-room of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), the second to the meetings of disciples which were held in private houses, such as that of Aquila and Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:19). It may, however, include even more personal and individual counsel.”

Matthew Poole (1624-1679) writes:

And from house to house; privately, as Acts 2:46; not only speaking publicly and in general, but secretly and particularly, as everyone’s condition did require, exhorting some, reproving others. And indeed a good shepherd will labour to understand the state of his flock, and to supply them with what is necessary and suitable for them. Jacob says, Genesis 31:39, that he bare the loss, and was fain to answer for all the sheep unto Laban. And of how much more value are the souls of men, to be sure, in God’s sight, who will require an account of them!

W. Robertson Nicoll in the Expositor’s Greek Testament:

publice et privatim, another and a further glimpse of the Apostle’s work at Ephesus: publicly in the synagogue and in the school of Tyrannus, privately as in the Church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, 1 Corinthians 16:19.

E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913):

from house to house = in your houses. Greek. kat” oikon, as in Acts 2:46.

John Calvin (1509-1564) writes:

Publicly, and throughout every house. This is the second point, that he did not only teach all men in the congregation, but also every one privately, as every man’s necessity did require. For Christ hath not appointed pastors upon this condition, that they may only teach the Church in general in the open pulpit; but that they may take charge of every particular sheep, that they may bring back to the sheepfold those which wander and go astray, that they may strengthen those which are discouraged and weak, that they may cure the sick, that they may lift up and set on foot the feeble, ( Ezekiel 34:4) for common doctrine will oftentimes wax cold, unless it be holpen with private admonitions.

Wherefore, the negligence of those men is inexcusable, who, having made one sermon, as if they had done their task, live all the rest of their time idly; as if their voice were shut up within the church walls, seeing that so soon as they be departed, thence they be dumb. Also, disciples and scholars are taught, that if they will be numbered in Christ’s flock, they must give place to their pastors, so often as they come unto them; and that they must not refuse private admonitions. For they be rather bears than sheep, who do not vouchsafe to hear the voice of their pastor, unless he be in the pulpit; and cannot abide to be admonished and reproved at home, yea, do furiously refuse that necessary duty.

H.A. Ironside (1876-1951) said this while preaching from this passage:

And then he was so true to his commission. He said, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.” He was not simply a man of the pulpit. As he stood on the platform he was faithful in giving out the Word of God; he sought to be just as faithful when he visited the people in their homes.

It is pitiable, I think, that to a great extent the good old fashioned custom of pastoral visitation has almost died out. A strange thing occurred to me once. While speaking in a certain city, I learned of a dear soul who was very ill and longed to come to our meetings but was greatly disappointed because she could not come. So I thought, / will look her up. I found her address and went to see her. I had a most delightful visit, and then I asked, “Shall we read a little from God’s Word?” “Oh,” she replied, “how I wish you would!” So I read a portion of Scripture, then bowed with her in prayer. And our hearts were moved. But this was the strange part: when I was leaving, she said, “This is the first time in twenty years that I have ever had a minister read God’s Word or pray with me when he visited me.” “Well,” I said, “perhaps you haven’t been visited often.” “Oh, yes,” she answered; “our minister comes about once a month, and he usually tells me the latest good story and tries to cheer me up a bit.” Isn’t it pitiable? I do not know any more precious ministry than that of going into the homes of God’s dear people and opening up the Word and then lifting up the heart to God in prayer. This is true apostolic service.

Arthur Peake (1865-1929) simply noted:

Acts 20:20. in houses: e.g. of Aquila.

Joseph Benson (1749-1821) notes:

publicly — In worshipping assemblies; and from house to house — As God gave me opportunity; inculcating, in visits and in private meetings, the same great doctrines which I declared in the synagogue and other places of concourse and resort.

A.T. Robertson (1863-1934) wrote:

By (according to) houses. It is worth noting that this greatest of preachers preached from house to house and did not make his visits merely social calls. He was doing kingdom business all the while as in the house of Aquila and Priscilla (1 Corinthians 16:19).

John R. Rice (1895-1980), on p. 495 of Dr. Rice, Here Are More Questions…, makes this comment on Paul’s soulwinning efforts after referencing Acts 20:20 and 31:

Earnest soul winning, publicly and from house to house, night and day with tears – that is the picture given of Paul’s ministry.

B.H. Carroll (1843-1914) says on this passage:

When we get a three years’ sample of a man’s preaching we can have some idea, especially if he is preaching every day and every night in that three years, as to the matter, the scope, and the manner of his preaching. Of course, if he hasn’t got much to preach, he could not preach three years right straight along – he would run out of material – but Paul was brimful, and the scope of his preaching is expressed in two ways: (1) That he had withheld nothing that was profitable. (2) That he had not shunned to teach the whole counsel of God. That would have been a fine seminary course if we could have been there three years; could have taken that three years in the Bible by the greatest expounder since the Master went to heaven. He preached at every town, and particularly in preaching to the unconverted, he says, ‘Is testified both to the Jews and to the Greeks) repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Some preachers go around and leave out repentance. He ought to preach the gospel, and he should preach repentance as he preaches faith, and he needs to preach it in the order – repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As to the manner of his preaching, notice the address itself, how he describes it. He says, ‘Why, brethren, you know that I was with you in humility. By the space of three years, publicly and privately, from house to house, day and night, with tears, I ministered unto you.‘”

TO SUMMARIZE: There is no consensus view. Some see pastoral visitation, a few see church gatherings, others see something of evangelism.

8. CONCLUSION

I find little basis in the exegesis of this text or in the recorded history of Christianity to support the conclusion that “house to house” must be door-to-door evangelism.

1st, Acts 20:20 is part of a discourse by Paul defending his ministry in Ephesus. He appeals to his example of faithfulness. He does not tell the Ephesian elders to do exactly as he did, but rather to rather to follow in his example of his selfless and thorough care for the church.

2nd, the phrase “house to house” is coupled to the “publickly” to show the breadth of Paul’s ministry and his faithfulness in it. He is speaking to the Ephesian elders, saying that the has taught them faithfully and thoroughly in both public and private settings no matter the audience.

3rd, the word “house” does not clearly define who Paul is speaking about teaching. If dwelling to dwelling, then door-to-door evangelism is possible but not guaranteed. If household to household it is possible but less likely as it would lean more toward pastoral visitation. If church assembly to church assembly, it cannot be door-to-door evangelism. If we accept the similarity of the same phrase in Acts 2:46 and apply it here then it most certainly is speaking of church assemblies and not evangelism.

4th, the account in Acts 19 of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus makes no mention of door-to-door evangelism, instead highlighting the preaching of the school of Tyrannus as being the special impetus behind the spread of the Gospel.

5th, it is unlikely that door-to-door evangelism would have been effective in the first century according to what we know of the culture.

6th, there is no record known to me of door-to-door soulwinning being practiced before the 1800’s. If there exists any it would must to be a rare occurrence and not pattern followed from the New Testament.

7th, the comments on this passage by pastors and scholars do not prove definitive. But it does appear that interpreting “house to house” as door-to-door evangelism is of modern vintage.

Therefore, I believe we have before us a simple case of eisegesis, defined by Merriam Webster as “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas”. Instead of letting the Bible speak for itself, some well-meaning Christians put a new meaning into this text. I do not think there was any deceitfulness on their part, just a simple mistake.

So, which came first: the practice of door-to-door evangelism or finding door-to-door evangelism in Acts 20:20? I’m afraid the practice came first, then the interpretation. If not so, many great Christians over many centuries completely missed, overlooked, or ignored it. The older commentaries cited in Section 7 are more likely to see “house to house” as pastoral ministry and not evangelism.

9. Defense Against Critics

The most difficult part of putting this information together is knowing that, based on personal experience, those who incorrectly see door-to-door evangelism in Acts 20:20 will not be convinced otherwise. They value their practice of evangelism greater than their loyalty to Scripture. They can break down the nuances of a difficult verse like Acts 2:38 to counter baptismal regeneration and then rattle through a ready supply of verses on salvation by grace through faith, yet they stumble in the simple interpretation of Acts 20:20.

One issue I find is that people who hold that position on Acts 20:20 view any criticism on door-door evangelism as an attack on evangelism. It is a classic misdirection that deflects the responsibility of defending their position. I am absolutely for evangelism, but I’m also for honest Bible interpretation. If you use a verse like Acts 20:20 to defend you position, be prepared to defend its use.

What we see then is an unfortunate logical error that equates evangelism as door-to-door soulwinning. To that group, the method for accomplishing the Great Commission simply is door-to-door evangelism, or perhaps a broader term like “confrontational soulwinning”. I believe that to say that there is only one method for propagating the Gospel is gross negligence on their part. It places limits on the power and providence of God.

When I propose that door-to-door soulwinning is not found in the Bible, the counter from this group is almost assuredly to be something like, “Well, how are they going to hear if we don’t tell them?” That supposes I am attacking evangelism (which I am not) and also based on their false assumption that evangelism equates to door-to-door soulwinning. Or perhaps, “Well, how many souls have you won?” That supposes we are in a competition (which we are not) and resorts to a weak ad hominem attack instead of having an honest discussion. I’ve heard, “Well, do you have a better idea?” Why, yes, I do: faithfully interpret the words of Scripture and keep trying to reach the lost by all means possible.

I have never and will never say that you can not or should not go door-to-door soulwinning. But I will not limit the work of evangelism to just that one method. I am not against door-to-door soulwinning. I am for any method that is lawful, Scriptural, moral, and effective. What I am against is saying the only Biblical method of evangelism is door-to-door soulwinning, or even that such a method is taught in Scripture. I find no scriptural basis for those claims. I am also against a mentality that says, “If you do not evangelize as I do, you are not truly following God.”

Let us conclude with this: there is an obvious, Biblical mandate to reach the lost with the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20 is the easiest example). I find that there is simply no mandate to do so in the form of door-to-door soulwinning. It is not in Acts 20:20, nor anywhere else in the Bible. Those that hold such a position are guilty of reading something into the Scriptures that is not there.

The Purest Sources

I would like to share a theory that I have been playing around with concerning the sources of doctrine and practice. I have come to realize that there are two types of sources people tend to favor, I will call them Origin Sources and Structured Sources.

Origin Sources try to get back to the original source of the belief or practice or as close to the origin as possible. You can see this play out a few different ways. One is by seeking Scriptural foundations (II Timothy 3:16-17). Another is by looking at the early church in Acts as an example to model.

Structured Sources don’t ignore their origins, but they do build on them. For example, if I were to study the deity of Christ I could study seek the source (read the Gospel of John, for example) or I could pick up a theology book and turn to the chapter on that subject. In that theology book I may find a structured, logical presentation of the doctrine and even discussions of its development.

Which of these is superior? I am not sure either is inherently superior to the other.

I thought of an analogy involving water. If you wanted to drink the purest water you can find, where would you turn? Well, we see essentially the same two sources.

You can find water at its source, before it could be polluted or contaminated. Remember that in the case of a river the cleanest water is at its head before it has picked up sediments and run off from its tributaries. That is essentially the same as Original Sources.

You may also get water that has been processed and filtered to have any contaminates removed. By sufficiently treating the water chemically or filtering it mechanically we could theoretically be left with only H2O molecules. This is essentially the same as Structured Sources.

Which source of water is superior: pure from the source or pure from filtration? Chemically speaking I suppose you could say both could be equal if the water is tested and proven to be similar. The choice is largely up to you if you would rather buy a bottle of water that is labelled as being straight from a natural spring or another bottle that is labelled as being filtered thoroughly through reverse osmosis .

Returning to our discussion on matters of belief and practice, which type of source is superior? I would contend that both Original or Structured Sources are acceptable as they should produce similarly sound positions. I can trust the Original Sources of the Scriptures, the example of Christ, and the model of the early church. I can also trust doctrinal positions and presentation that has been filtered through the centuries and tried in the flames of debate and controversy.

Why is this important? In large part because the body of fundamental doctrines and practice has been purified and forged throughout the centuries since Christ. Through that time we have developed systematic positions based on Scripture that have stood up to the tests of time, analysis, and debate. There is little need to seek to reinvent the fundamental doctrines or practices because they are tried and true. We may test them, which I would recommend for your own benefit, but they will prove true.

There is danger in rejecting we have founded on Structured Sources to seek primarily from Origin Sources. Often I see articles claiming something has been re-discovered about the Christian faith that has been lost for centuries. Examples that have made headlines in recent years include the spurious Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and Gospel of Judas. I would also include the various Restorationist movements that seem to multiply and thrive in America since the early 1800’s. One of the earmarks was a desire to seek the Original Sources and while rejecting Structured Sources.

There is an error that is bred into this line of thinking is that all sources except the Original Sources are corrupt and unfit for use. For example, the Charismatic movement ignores centuries of theological analysis of the subject of spiritual gifts, especially in regards to tongues, to reinterpret the teachings of the Original Sources. In essence they claim that a vital (in their estimation, anyway) doctrine was lost to Christianity for centuries until rediscovered. Even that position they will defend by saying it is a sign we are in or approaching the End Times. Personally, I cannot see how an omnipotent God could allow vital truth to completely disappear from the earth as even in the darkest of days there is a faithful remnant to be found (examples: Genesis 6:5-9, I Kings 19:13-18).

It is that very thought process concerning “lost tenets” of Christianity that I have been contemplating for some time now and has led me to further develop the water analogy I shared earlier. I strive to hold to the traditional Baptist position of basing as much of what we believe or practice on the sure foundation of the Scriptures. The Original Source of the Scriptures is, and does merely contain, the very words of God, and are thus as reliable as God Himself. But how we interpret and apply the clear teachings of the Scriptures may be largely built upon Structured Sources.

Is that an issue? Not necessarily, and that is point of this article. The harmony of Original and Structured Sources is vital to our faith. These two sources work in unison to present us with the purest teachings on which to build our faith. We must both trust in God’s Word (Original Sources) and that which is tested and proven true (Structured Sources). But we also cannot forget that the most untrustworthy link in our chain of understanding of God’s message is not the sources but is instead ourselves. Our understanding and logic is faulty because we are fallible beings.

To conclude, no matter what path we take we are seeking truth. To quench your physical thirst you will seek good a pure water to drink and its source may vary. When we seek the most fundamental or orthodox points of Christian doctrine we likewise must realize that it is truth that we seek. How that truth is arrived at is not unimportant, but the most important element is the pure truth we seek and hold. Just realize that we may find that truth through differing but not incompatible means.

J. Frank Norris and Donald J. Trump

I can’t wait for this picture to make it onto Google Images! – MBG

On more than one occasion I have been asked to whom we can compare J. Frank Norris to today. Some preachers have imagined themselves as a spiritual heir of Norris and there are some with similarities, especially among those who were influenced by him and his ministry. Some preachers are polarizing like Norris, some are controversial like Norris, some are trailblazers like Norris, but I have yet to find another man whose life and ministry parallels that of Norris.

A couple of years ago, I had an epiphany on the matter. I saw that the presidency and actions of Donald Trump show many similarities to the ministry and methods of J. Frank Norris. I have mulled over this comparison since then and feel that I can finally articulate it enough to foster a discussion on its merits.

Now, let me say up front that there are many areas in which the two could not be more different. For instance, I do believe Norris was sincere in his faith while Trump is not (and I probably just lost a lot of readers with those two statements). The greatest attack on Norris is that he did shoot and kill a man, which was ruled to be self-defense in a court of law, and I do not see a parallel in Trump’s life. The many instances of immorality in Trump’s life and business career are different than the questionable and debatable actions of Norris. It has only been in recent years, almost seventy years after his death, that accusations made against Norris concerning improprieties with women have been put into print and gained acceptance among his detractors. Quite a different situation than the cases brought against Trump by multiple women. Also let me say that I am looking largely at the five or so years of Trump’s candidacy, election, and term in office while looking at many decades of Norris’ ministry.

What I want to emphasize here is the similar mindset and methods of these two men. How one reacted to opposition is similar to the way the other did. How one promoted his agenda is similar to the way the other did.

With no particular order, let me begin with:

I. Norris and Trump both utilized cutting-edge media to reach their audiences and were both had their message censored or ignored by traditional media outlets.

Trump was legendary for the use of his Twitter account to attack his enemies and push his message. When Trump’s message was ignored or attacked in major media outlets, he promoted upstart networks or promoted it himself online.

Norris did not have modern social media, but he was as effective as anyone at using the media of his day. He was a pioneering radio broadcaster, which is a fact that is largely unmentioned today. He used his personal paper, known by various names like The Searchlight and The Fundamentalist, to disseminate his sermons and launch attacks on his foes and even on his allies. Local newspapers and denominational publications would reject Norris’ material in their pages but his message still went out. If Norris had been able to have a Twitter account, I think he would have used it almost exactly like Trump did.

II. Norris and Trump both demeaned and demonized their opponents through name-calling and personal attacks

Trump famously gave nicknames to his opponents. “Sleepy Joe” for Joe Biden and “Pocahontas” for Elizabeth Warren are some well-known examples. His enemies, not mattering if they were in his own party, would expect to be treated to constant accusations and attacks that Trump used to transform their message or person into a caricature.

Norris had his nicknames also. For example, he said he was attacking “Dawsonism” (named after J.M. Dawson) instead of just Modernism in the Baptist denomination. He used Dawson to personify these attacks. The attacks on Dawson are legendary, but I’d like to point out that Dawson did openly and unapologetically hold modernist positions in areas such as Creation and Inspiration of the Scriptures. But Norris could not keep the battle in the theological realm and instead made it personal.

III. Norris and Trump both developed extremely loyal followings that dwindled over time and after controversy.

As I write this we are less than a month from Trump’s successor Joe Biden being sworn in as President. Yet I still see Trump flags and signs displayed proudly. Not as many as a few months ago though. After the riot at the Capitol, even some of his strongest supporters where ready for his departure. Now his own party is largely ready to move on from Trump’s time in office.

Norris had an entourage of extremely loyal followers and supporters. I have heard more than one preacher who claimed to be Norris’ “right hand man” before embarking on their own pastorates. I have seen reports that Norris would hold meetings at the same time and place as denominational conventions and outdraw those meetings. Even today, a few preachers are fiercely loyal to and quick to claim the name of Norris, but they are not many. His contemporary and somewhat rival George W. Truett is not afforded the same popularity and loyalty.

IV. Norris and Trump both used the “cult of personality” to their gain.

Trump promoted Trump. When press conferences were held in the early days of the COVID pandemic he was front and center. His campaign was largely on the name TRUMP and not the ticket of Trump/Pence.

Norris promoted Norris. Other men came and went, like John. R. Rice or G.B. Vick, but Norris was the center of attention. Roy Kemp tells of him preaching about selling J. Frank Norris to the crowds so people would come hear the Gospel. From page 17 from Kemp’s Extravaganza!:

“Then Norris – his soul on the wing – soared up, and up, and up! And for what purpose? Answer: To get his people to sell J. Frank Norris to the masses – by house to house visitation – in order that they might get the sinners out to hear him. And then, he pressed upon them, the claims of Christ, unto eternal salvation, and service in the Lord’s church; yes, and Heaven!”

V. Norris and Trump both attacked their own institutions and made enemies of those of similar beliefs.

Trump was largely and outsider to the political realm. He did not spend time strengthening his party’s influence or strength. He made enemies of some of the most influential party leaders like Romney and McCain. Many in his own party were prepared to lose a presidential election just to rid themselves of Trump.

Norris held few loyalties in his life. I think the only major denominational leader of his time that he did not attack was B.H. Carroll. He attacked leaders and programs of the local, state, and national Baptist conventions of which he began his ministry strongly advocating. He attacked his alma mater Baylor University when evidence of modernistic teachings came to light. His own followers split over Norris’ leadership when many broke away and formed the Baptist Bible Fellowship in 1950. Over the course of his life many of his enemies had earlier been in the ranks of his allies.

VI. Norris and Trump both used populism to push their agenda.

Trump appealed to the “every man” in his message. I have spoken to many people that were convinced Trump had the back of the common man. Much of his message could be interpreted as common man vs. the elite.

Norris appealed often to the common Christian layperson. He accused the denominational institutions of moving in directions that rank-and-file Baptists would not approve of. He appealed not to intellectualism, but to the ordinary faith of the ordinary Christian.

VII. Norris and Trump both thrived on controversy and upheaval and eschewed bipartisanship and compromise.

Many of Trump’s more memorable acts were in the heat of battles. I’ve already mentioned the demeaning names which he would lambast his enemies with. Those usually flew around when he was forced to work with those individuals in effort to throw pressure on them to accept his proposals. We can see much of Trump’s demeanor in the first presidential debate of 2020 in the way he went on the offensive against both Biden and the moderator Chris Wallace.

Norris fostered controversy and many of his attacks had little impact on the issues. He had an ability like P.T. Barnum to market any situation to his advantage. He used sensationalist and controversialist methods that alienated him from potential allies and often hindered any progress to address the issues at hand.


I’m sure these observations are not exhaustive but I hope that the reader can see the same conclusion that I have come to; that is, we finally have someone in Donald Trump in which we can use in comparison to foster a greater understanding of the ministry and methods of J. Frank Norris.

Regarding II Chronicles 7:14

Image by SEspider from Pixabay

If we are not careful we can easily misinterpret the Scriptures. One of the easiest ways this happens is by ignoring Scriptural or historical context. This happens often when we focus on a verse or phrase that can have a different meaning when removed from that context.

A perfect example of this is the use among America Christians of II Chronicles 7:14. This verse is printed on posters, shirts, and coffee mugs in any Christian store you walk into. It will be preached on and quoted as a Biblical command that if America would get right with God then He could bless America like He did in the “good ol’ days”.

But is that the true teaching of the verse? I believe if we would examine this verse in its proper context we will see its primary application does not correspond to America at all.

Context

To get a feel for the context of II Chronicles 7:14 we can get a good feel for the context by looking at the events leading up to it. We can trace this by looking at the the preceding chapters of II Chronicles.

  • Chapter 1 – the early reign of Solomon, includes God appearing to Solomon in Gideon when Solomon asked for and received wisdom.
  • Chapter 2 – preparation for building the Temple
  • Chapter 3 – The construction of the Temple
  • Chapter 4 – The making of the furniture and implements for the Temple
  • Chapter 5 – Beginning the dedication of the Temple
  • Chapter 6 – Solomon’s address and prayer at the dedication of the Temple
  • Chapter 7 – Ending the dedication of the Temple, followed by God’s second appearance to Solomon.

So we see that after the construction and dedication of the Temple, God appears to Solomon and speaks in chapter 7 from verses 12 to 22. What is the purpose of the message of this passage? God Himself tells us in vs 12: “I have heard thy prayer”. What prayer? The prayer of Solomon in chapter 6. For what purpose? The dedication of the Temple, as God also says in vs. 12: “and [I] have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice”.

So the passage begins as a response to the dedicatory prayer of Solomon in chapter 6. Here let’s look at a remarkable feature of the next verse of chapter 7 is that they are largely God expressing His response to Solomon’s prayer by practically quoting it:

God in chapter 7

Solomon in chapter 6

“If I shut up heaven that there be no rain,…” – 7:13

“…when the heaven is shut up, and there is no rain,…” – 6:26

“…or if I command the locusts to devour the land,…” – 7:13

“…if there be blasting, or mildew, locusts, or caterpillers;…” – 6:28

“…or if I send pestilence among my people;” – 7:13

“…if there be pestilence,…” – 6:28

“If my people, which are called by my name,…” – 7:14

Solomon refers to Israel as as “thy people” or as “thy people Israel” a total of ten times in his prayer.

“…shall humble themselves,…” – 7:14

This phrase has no parallel to chapter 6 in letter but does in spirit.

“…and pray,…” – 7:14

“…if they pray…” – 6:26

“…and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways;…” – 7:14

“…if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin,…” – 6:26

“…then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin,…” – 7:14

“Then hear thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants,…” – 6:27

“…and will heal their land.” – 7:14

“…send rain upon thy land,…” – 6:27

“Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.” – 7:15

“Now, my God, let, I beseech thee, thine eyes be open, and let thine ears be attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. ” – 6:40

Verse 16 finishes the first section of God’s message to Solomon with the promise concerning God’s dedication to the Temple: “For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever: and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. “

The final six verses of chapter 7 are God reaffirming the Davidic Covenant with Solomon. That details of that covenant can be found in II Samuel 7:1-12.

To summarize, the surrounding passage of II Chronicles 7:14 is about God responding to King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

  • Who is God addressing in this passage? Solomon.
  • What is God responding to? The dedication of the Temple and Solomon’s dedicatory prayer.
  • Who is the “my people” of 7:14? Israel.
  • Where is the land that God promises to heal in 7:14? The Promised Land.
  • What is that land healed from? The drought, famine, pestilence, etc., that God would send to bring Israel out of their sin and back to Him.

Can these verses apply to America?

In their primary application, no. These verses are clearly linked to Israel. They are not addressed to the church or America.

Why then do we see it so often as a patriotic promise in America? Largely through lazy application of the Scriptures and the commercialization and politicization of Christianity in America.

I see something similar in the use of Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD”. Note that it does not say, “if a nation has God then it is blessed.” It is not a conditional statement at all. It is acknowledging the fact that there exists a people or nation that was chosen by God. This is amplified in the rarely quoted second half of the verse: “…and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” What nation was chosen by God in the days of the writing of the Psalms? Israel.

Another reason this verse may be misinterpreted is through the use of Replacement Theology. This false teaching holds that God has replaced Israel in His plan and promises with either Christianity or another nation such as Britain or America.

Can we still learn from these verses?

Absolutely! Paul wrote in Romans 15:4, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Though II Chronicles 7:14 was not addressed to us we can still find countless truths in it that can find applicable in our lives.

Here’s a few examples of some truths we can apply from this passage:

When sin caused Israel to turn away from God they were commanded to repent and seek Him. We too are commanded to repent of our sin and seek God, first in our salvation and then when we backslide in our relationship with God.

II Chronicles 7:14 begins with the word “if” which makes it a conditional statement. If man would repent, then God will respond.

Note that God said “my people” needed to get right with Him. Not the wicked. Not the Edomites, Jebusites, Amalekites, or any other nation. If only we applied this today! We try to get everyone else to repent but ourselves!

God doesn’t just seek for us to perform the actions or repentance or service to Him. It is our heart that needs to be affected. It is not enough to speak words in prayer or to flee from wickedness. He wants us to humble ourselves. That is not an action, it is an attitude.