Rethinking the Reformation

I picked up my son from school and he started telling me some of the things they had learned about in his high school history class. He said that they had studied the Reformation that day. I joked and asked him if he wanted me to tell him everything they got wrong. He looked at me strangely so I spouted off a few tidbits that I knew didn’t match the perspective that most history textbooks take. Kind of surprised him I think.

The way many people present the history of the Reformation, its reasons and its impact, is tainted by overly-simplified historical narratives and denominational propaganda. Yes, even a lot of Baptists get much of the Reformation wrong.

What is the Reformation?

The Reformation is a period of great social, political, and religious upheaval that took place around the 1500’s in Europe. It is a period of transition from the Middle Ages into the Modern Age. Its scope is vast and there is no section of European society and culture of the time that is not affected by its influence. The term Reformation does not have a clear technical meaning. It could refer to attempts to reform Christianity and Catholicism or it could refer to the general way Europe was “re-formed” during this time.

The general narrative that is usually told is that Martin Luther disagreed with aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice so he “protested” (that is the root of the word Protestant, those that “protest” aspects of Catholicism). It is often presented that the starting point of the Reformation is Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. Then from Luther’s influence other leaders and groups emerge to challenge the Catholic religion and authority (which was also highly secular during this time).

A general timeline of the history of Christianity is sometimes presented as:

Countering the Narrative

If you spend any time studying history you will realize how vast and practically infinite the influence are that shape our world. As a Christian, I do believe that God’s hand is behind all of this (Daniel 2:21, etc.). Our finite human understanding tries to make sense of what appears to be turbulent chaos by detecting patterns, causes, and effects. We constantly reassess the story of humanity in light of new theories and discoveries. We are bound by our own times, mindsets, theories, cultures, languages, and a host of other factors. As much as we want to say that history is a fixed study, it is not.

I open with the above observation to show that anyone’s opinion on the Reformation must be flawed and differ from the true history. The one thing we have today that others have not had is five centuries of perspective and analysis. I am humbly adding my own to that multitude of opinions.

I have what I describe as a “low view” of the Reformation. While I acknowledge its importance in the development of Western Civilization and applaud some of the its core tenets, I do not see it as one of the greatest events in the history of Christianity. In fact, I think the wrong view of the Reformation greatly damages how that history is viewed.

Let me give you some points to consider to defend my position:

I. Catholicism did not have a monopoly on Christianity.

This is the oversimplified view illustrated in the diagram I presented before. It presents the Roman Catholic church as the only very of Christianity, even if you believe their teachings and practices to be false in the centuries before Luther.

The fact is that Catholicism was only a single branch of the family tree of Christianity. Granted, it became an extremely powerful branch (especially in Western civilization). A more accurate diagram of the history of Christian denominations might look like:

To view the Roman Catholic church as the primary expression of Christianity in history is to (1) have an extremely Eurocentric view of history and (2) buy into the Catholic propaganda that they are the one true church. There are countless other sects that have existed, some so small and so localized to have escaped the notice of historians. So many of these existed long before the true beginning of Roman Catholicism in the fourth century. So many of these were not birthed by opposition to Roman Catholicism. Millions of believers have lived that had no attachment to Roman Catholicism.

II. Protestantism did not discover anything new.

The most basic presentation of Reformation theology is the Five Solas: sola scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), soli Deo gloria (God’s glory alone). None of these positions were new, though men like Luther may have found them on their own. There is plenty of evidence for this for those who wish to study it out.

III. There were Reformers before the Reformation.

The date of 1517, when Luther presented his Ninety-Five Theses, is commonly given as the beginning of the Reformation. This is completely arbitrary. There were many so-called “proto-Protestant” leaders and movements before this date. Examples include Peter Waldo and the Waldensians, John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus and the Hussites.

IV. The Reformation was largely political.

This in part because the ideas of State and Church were so interwoven. But it cannot be overlooked that impetus behind the establishment of the Protestant Church of England had much to do with the politics of Henry the VIII. It cannot be overlooked that Martin Luther’s work was only successful because of the political backing of men like Frederick III, Elector of Saxony. It cannot be overlooked that John Calvin’s work was largely successful because of political intrigue in Geneva between the Grand Council and the Duke of Savoy.

I am not saying that the Reformation was completely political and ignoring any spiritual victories it gained. What I am saying is that it is not simply a grassroots theological movement that shook the world. Behind many aspects of the Reformation are kings and princes vying for earthly power and dominion. Many of these were simply tired of papal authority over them and seeing Rome drain their wealth and resources.

V. Some Reformers did not reform enough.

While some leaders like Calvin or Zwingli sought to establish a form of Christianity based solely on Scriptures, others kept much of the Catholic traditions and trappings. Lutheranism and Anglicanism are two that kept much of the liturgy and practices of Catholicism. Most of the most famous reformers still tried to keep a union of church and state.

VI. Groups existed that did not participate in reform.

As I mentioned before, the tenets of the Reformation were not new. They had both existed before historically and were actively held and practiced in Europe before, during, and after the Reformation. Often these are mislabeled as “Radical Reformers”, even if they did not directly attempt any reforming of Catholicism.

My contention is that throughout the history of Christendom that small, independent groups existed that help to a simple, orthodox Christianity like the Reformers promoted. These go by many names in history and are often lumped together with other groups the Catholics considered heretical. Yet, if you read carefully between the lines of history, it is clear that there always existed groups that held the Bible as sole authority, taught salvation by grace through faith, rejected infant baptism, and refused to pray to Mary. These groups did nor build grand cathedrals or run nation-states. They existed in the background of society and faced persecution and ridicule.

During the Reformation era, many of these were lumped into the Anabaptist category. That is such a broad term that it includes pacifists like the Amish and the warmongers that led the Münster rebellion. Many of these faced persecution and propaganda from both the Catholics and Reformers.

Misinterpreting the Reformation

I think one of the main reasons that the Reformation is misinterpreted is that of bias. For Americans, we owe a great debt to the spiritual, cultural, and political effects of the Reformation. For Protestants, they want to aggrandize their own history and accomplishments. If you are an Italian Roman Catholic I am sure you have a very different view. The same would go for many others across the globe.

The biggest problem I have with embellishing the Reformation is that it can actually weaken the positions held by Protestants. If you hold that true Christianity is based on Scripture alone, you must logically also hold that the truths of the Reformation preexisted it. You must hold that anyone with a Bible can and will come to the same conclusions about true Christianity. To hold any other position says that either (A) true Christianity was lost for centuries between the first centuries A.D. and the Reformation or (B) that the ideas of the Reformation are only another evolution of Christianity that was bred by discontent with Catholicism. Either of these greatly undermines the defense of Reformation ideas.

A Baptist Position

I am a Baptist. I cannot find from history how the Reformation invented the distinctive Baptist beliefs and therefore do not count myself as a Protestant. While I share many positions with my Reformed brethren, I do not count myself as a product of the Reformation. When I trace the history and heritage of Baptists, it is clear to me that men and women that believed like me existed during and before the Reformation. Whether or not you want to fully embrace Baptist successionism as found in J.M Carroll’s Trail of Blood is beside the point. It is clear from history that the core positions of the Baptists predate the Reformation, just as the Reformation’s own positions do.

While I am thankful for many of the benefits of the Reformation, especially the renewed call of salvation by grace through faith, I cannot ignore that not every aspect of it was positive. The ties of church and state were only strengthened in many areas. Some Reformers became persecutors of those that disagreed with them. Many errors in Catholic theology and practice were not completely eradicated in some denominations.

I would challenge the reader to research the full story of the Reformation. It is not nearly as simple of a story as a revival of true Christianity as many make it to be.

Physical Expression in Worship

There has been great debate throughout the history of Christianity on how to properly and acceptably express worship through physical expression. The debate is usually presented as a false dichotomy: you are either for physical expression in worship or you are not. Actually, there is a vast spectrum of opinions on the matter.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

If we were to be honest, how we express our worship to God has much to do with our culture. Some cultures are far more physically expressive than others and it tends to bleed into how they worship. This is evident here in America, where many have observed that church services in the south are typically livelier than those in the north. A church service in Central America may be even livelier, while one in Europe may not be lively at all. Each of these situations is caused by the culture of the people.

Culture is something that must be considered when discussing this topic. Our modern American culture has some overlap with that of ancient Israel but there are also great differences. For instance, we do not express lament or mourning by tearing our clothes, wearing sackcloth, and putting ashes on our heads (II Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6, etc.). Yet we know what these actions represent in that culture.

The bottom line is that physical expression is worship is an area of Christian liberty. There are many verses that condone it and few that condemn it. As Paul said in Romans 14:5: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

The issue today is that there is a great push for physical expression in worship that is not based on sound interpretation of Scripture. In this chapter, I want to look at four commonly promoted physical expressions and examine the Biblical case for each.

Bowing/Kneeling/Prostration

The primary Hebrew and Greek words used for worship carry with them the idea of bowing or prostration. The Hebrew shachah (Strong’s H7812) is defined as:

“A primitive root; to depress, that is, prostrate (especially reflexively in homage to royalty or God): – bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.”

The Greek proskeneo (Strong’s G4352) is defined as:

“to fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.”

So obviously there is a connection between worshipping and humbling oneself by lowering ourselves toward the ground. I do not think anyone would deny that.

The issue then is whether that physical expression is figurative or literal for us today. Can this be done?

We must consider that in Hebrew especially there is a tendency to express abstract concepts with concrete imagery. That is, things that cannot be interacted with via our human senses are explained with things that are. A great example of this is the word qavah (Strong’s H6960) which is translated as “wait” in Isaiah 40:31. The Strong’s definition for this word is:

“to bind together (perhaps by twisting), that is, collect; (figuratively) to expect: – gather (together), look, patiently, tarry, wait (for, on, upon).”

Thus, the abstract idea of waiting is expressed in the concrete imagery of twisting and binding, such as braiding a rope from individual fibers. We see this meaning in Genesis 1:9 and Jeremiah 1:17 where qavah is translated “gathered”.

Does “waiting” (qavah) on the Lord mean that I must be twisting and binding? I do not think anyone would take those implied actions as literal. Instead, we would enhance our understanding of “waiting” to include preparing, strengthening, or producing so that waiting does not mean idleness.

So, does “worshipping” (shachah) mean that I must bow myself to the earth to truly worship? I would contend that it is a similar case to that of qavah, in that the implied action should be applied figuratively. It is therefore important to humble ourselves before God in our spirit, which may or may not be expressed physically.

Let me be honest here. I do not see any sort of command or precedent for physically bowing in our worship today. But of all the physical expressions we will discuss, this is the one that I would have the least problem with because it is the truest to the original sense of the words. Personally, I often lay prostrate on the ground in private prayer. I do think it would be out of place in corporate worship.

Clapping Hands

Clapping hands is a sign of joy or appreciation in our American culture. We may clap when our sports team wins or after a piano recital.

There is a little more nuance to the action when it appears in the Bible. It is chiefly an expression of joy or appreciation. However, it is also used in a mocking or derisive sense. Let’s look at the appearance of clapping and what each represents.

The first group are verses in which clapping hands is a clear expression of joy:

“And he brought forth the king’s son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony; and they made him king, and anointed him; and they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king.” – II Kings 11:12

“O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.” – Psalm 47:1

The second group are verses in which anthropomorphic rivers and trees clap their hands in joy:

“Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together” – Psalm 98:8

“For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” – Isaiah 55:12

The third group are verses in which clapping hands is derisive or mocking, like gloating over a defeated enemy:

“Men shall clap their hands at him [wicked man], and shall hiss him out of his place.” – Job 27:23

“For he [Job] addeth rebellion unto his sin, he clappeth his hands among us, and multiplieth his words against God.” – Job 34:37

“All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?” – Lamentations 2:15

“For thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thou [Ammon] hast clapped thine hands, and stamped with the feet, and rejoiced in heart with all thy despite against the land of Israel; Behold, therefore I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD.” – Ezekiel 25:6-7

“There is no healing of thy [Assyria’s] bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?” – Nahum 3:19

Those nine references are all the references to clapping in the Bible. None of the five references in the third group are instructive for us as they do not relate to worship. Neither does II Kings 11:12. I would say that both Psalm 98:8 and Isaiah 55:2 are artistic representations of joy and not instructive to us.

This leaves us with one verse – Psalm 47:1 – to build a case for clapping our hands in worship of God. Here I believe we see the joyful praise of the Messiah in His Kingdom (see vs. 7-9) expressed through clapping (applause), shouting (vs. 1), and singing (vs. 6-7). Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The most natural and most enthusiastic tokens of exultation are to be used in view of the victories of the Lord, and his universal reign. Our joy in God may be demonstrative, and yet he will not censure it.”

I do believe that clapping is an acceptable means of expressing our joy toward God. I do think this refers to applause and not keeping rhythm to a song.

Raising Hands

Over the past few decades, the act of raising hands has become an almost ubiquitous expression of worship. Even in conservative churches there is often a grudging acceptance of the act even if it is not actually promoted or practiced.

I believe there is a great misunderstanding on the subject that is based on people reading a different definition or motivation into the appearance of raising hands in the Bible. To try to avoid confusion, we will look at the references to the practice grouped according to what the act of raising hands is referring to. I do acknowledge that some of these could fit into different or even multiple categories.

First, there is a group of references where raising hands is part of pronouncing a blessing:

“And Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them, and came down from offering of the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and peace offerings.” – Leviticus 9:22

“And he [Christ] led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.” – Luke 24:50

Second, there is a group of references where raising hands is part of swearing an oath:

“For I [God] lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.” – Deuteronomy 32:40

“And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” – Nehemiah 8:6

“And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” – Daniel 12:7

Third, there is a group of references where raising hands is an act of violence or opposition:

“And Ahimaaz called, and said unto the king, All is well. And he fell down to the earth upon his face before the king, and said, Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.” – II Samuel 18:28

“Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews.” – Esther 8:7

“Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.” – Micah 5:9

Fourth, there is a group of references where raising hands is an act of beckoning or welcoming:

“Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.” – Isaiah 49:22

“I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;” – Isaiah 65:2

Fifth, there is a group of references where raising hands is an act of prayer or pleading:

“And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.” – I Kings 8:54

“And he [Solomon] stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands:” – II Chronicles 6:12

“And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. ” – Ezra 9:5-6

“Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.” – Psalm 28:2

“If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;” – Psalm 44:20

“Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.” – Psalm 63:4

“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” – Psalm 68:31

“Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.” – Psalm 88:9

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.” – Psalm 134:2

“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” – Psalm 141:2

“I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah” – Psalm 143:6

“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” – Isaiah 1:15

“Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.” – Lamentations 1:15

“Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” – Lamentations 3:41

“Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.” – Lamentations 2:19

“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” – I Timothy 2:8

Sixth, there is a group of references where raising hands is simply the act of raising hands with no clear meaning behind the act:

“And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the LORD’S.” – Exodus 9:29

“Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.” – Psalm 10:12

“LORD, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see: but they shall see, and be ashamed for their envy at the people; yea, the fire of thine enemies shall devour them.” – Isaiah 26:11

“The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.” – Habakkuk 3:10

“My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” – Psalm 119:48

“For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers.” – Jeremiah 4:31

The sixteen verses of the fifth group regarding prayer are generally the ones used to promote raising hands in worship. This goes against not only a straightforward interpretation of the phrases, but also fails to discern how often these prayers are linked to lament or despair. I would challenge the reader to study out the setting for each of these verses, especially the ones from Ezra, Psalms, Isaiah, and Lamentations. What you will find is that the act of lifting hands in prayer is often tied to lament and desperation.

I firmly believe that careful study of raising hands in Scripture has little to do with worshipping or praising God. I believe that modern readers are reading a meaning into the action that is not consistent with a plain reading of the references.

Dancing

Dancing, like clapping or shouting, is a common expression of joy (Exodus 15:20, II Samuel 6:14). In Ecclesiastes 3:4 and Psalm 30:11 it is seen as the opposite of mourning.

Here again we need to consider the culture of ancient Israel and not let our modern actions creep into our understanding of Scripture. The dancing of the Jewish people is folk dancing. It is very different than modern or popular dances today. The emphasis is on communal activity and not individuals. It is to be participated in by a group of people and not for performance. It is also not so sexually charged as much of today’s dance is.

The question is not whether the Jewish people danced, but rather did they dance as an act of worship. There is little evidence from Scripture to suggest they did. The Mosaic Law has no mention of it. There are two commonly cited references that we need to discuss.

The first is the example of David, who danced when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem (II Samuel 6:14-16, I Chronicles 15:29). If seen through the lens of Jewish culture, this appears to be a celebratory folk dance like those following the Red Sea crossing in Exodus 15:20 or Goliath’s defeat in I Samuel 18:6. If it is an act of worship, it is the only record of such. Frankly, there is no indication this David’s dance is an example for us to follow.

The second is the final two Psalms. Those who defend the use of dancing say that these Psalms detail how we should worship and praise God because they begin with commands to “sing… his praise in the congregation of saints” (Psalm 149:1) and “praise God in his sanctuary” (Psalm 150:1). They will often claim this is descriptive of Temple worship.

However, Psalms 149 and 150 are not exclusively about Temple worship. They are the grand climax of the Psalms that extol all people at all times in all places to praise God. Psalm 149 is clear on this. Vs. 5 talks about praise in the nighttime – “let them sing aloud upon their beds.” Vs. 6 and following talks about praise in battle – “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged word in their hand.” To be consistent, if you claim 149:3 commands or commends dance in worship then you should also see the same emphasis on using beds and swords.

Another issue with using Psalms 149 and 150 is the artistic language of the Hebrew poetry. Many well-meaning people misinterpret Hebrew poetry by taking it too literally or doing so inconsistently. Psalm 150 is a great example of this. It is not commanding us to praise God only with trumpets, psalteries, harps, timbrels, dances, stringed instruments, organs, and symbols. It is not even saying we must use those means. It is poetically imploring us to joyfully praise God with any proper means at our disposal. It is like the famous Winston Churchill quote about defending Britain from Nazi invasion: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Churchill is not saying that beaches, landing grounds, fields, streets, and hills are the only places they would fight. He is artistically stating that they will fight the foe on any ground.

Why?

I have attempted to be honest and open-minded in approaching the subject of physical expression in worship. I cannot find a good Scriptural basis for the promotion of it as we see so much of today. However, I cannot find clear prohibitions against it.

Like I said in the opening of this chapter, we are dealing with a subject that is largely governed by Christian liberty. To each his own, right? Sort of.

The biggest issue is why would we encourage physical expression in worship. This question is often overlooked in the discussion as we chase down verses and definitions and such. We must address why to clear up the entire debate.

Some will claim that the why is an attempt to be obedient to the clear teaching of Scripture. I think I have demonstrated in this chapter that this is not the case.

Some will claim the why is an attempt to restore a true means of worship that has been forgotten or lost. I highly doubt God would let His people forget how to properly worship Him for over two thousand years.
Some will claim the why is breaking down barriers in our hearts so that we can experience unbridled worship. This is New Age philosophy and not Bible doctrine. We are nowhere commanded to “follow our hearts” because our fallen and depraved nature is untrustworthy (Jeremiah 17:9).

Some will claim the why is to allow the Holy Spirit to move believers. This creates something like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are promoting actions that you think the Holy Spirit would do, then you are also promoting people perform those actions as proof of the Holy Spirit’s working. You are getting what you expect and denying what you do not.

I think the why is that people are not satisfied with what God has already given them as means to worship. They want to worship God on their own terms. It is the same motivation as Caan’s offering in Genesis 4. It is the same motivation that led to the creation of the golden calf in Exodus 32. It is the same motivation that led Peter to want to build three tabernacles in Luke 9:33. It is the same motivation that led many early believers to be burdened with the customs of the Mosaic Law. All these thought they too had found a better, newer, more effective way of worshipping God.

Christian Maturity

Careful study of the Scriptures will show that it is not unbridled passion or exuberant praise that marks a mature believer. It is the opposite: temperance, sobriety, and soundness of mind. Note the following verses and the underlined words and phrases:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23

“Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” – I Timothy 3:8-9

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” – II Timothy 1:7

“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” – Titus 1:7-9

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” – Titus 2:1-2

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” – Titus 2:11-14

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” – I Peter 5:8-9

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.” – II Peter 1:5-7

It is clear that a spiritually mature believer is not marked by reckless abandoning themselves in uninhibited worship. If anything, that description would apply to the weak or immature believer. These need to be encouraged “to put away childish things” and grow into richer and deeper understanding of worship.

Book Review – “Worship and the Ear of God”

Rarely do I read a book and immediately feel the need to review it. That is just what has happened as I finished “Worship and the Ear of God” by Dave Hardy, published in 2017 by The Global Baptist Times. The book is quick read at 87 total pages, 70 of which are to be read (the body and first appendix).

As I have been studying on worship during the past couple of years, I have been saddened that not very many books on the subject are written by Independent Baptists or even conservatives for that matter. I had heard mention of Bro. Hardy but had not taken the opportunity to buy and read his book until now. I hoped it may finally be a book from someone of my stripe that addressed worship in a meaningful way.

I was disappointed to say the least.

The major flaw of Bro. Hardy’s book is its fundamental premise: that worship and physically bowing are intrinsically connected. That overemphasis on a physical expression of worship influences every chapter and every argument made.

Much of Bro. Hardy’s vigor comes from the Greek and Hebrew words and their definitions. He is correct in highlighting the bowing aspect in both shachah and proskeneo. I cannot think of another author though that so stringently applies to us today the idea of bowing to the physical. Every author or resource I can recall highlights the idea of bowing as humbling oneself before God. The common approach is similar to the way we handle the ceremonial and sacrificial laws; that is, that we are not literally bound to obey them but there are principles we can learn from them.

I was taught that if you come up with an idea that no one else has had, be very careful. But I wanted to give this author the benefit of the doubt and see if he could back up this position. The entire book hangs on the assumption that to worship we need to physically bow. If that argument fails, the rest of the book has not foundation.

Yet, the argument fails.

First, the no clear argument is made for physical bowing outside of the Greek and Hebrew definitions. On p. 17: “Since the idea of bowing is inherent in the translation of the word worship, there should be no need for additional encouragement.” This fails to understand that one of the basic tenets of language is words can have ideas, pictures, or actions attached to them that are literally part of their meaning. The word qavah in Isaiah 40:31 is translated and understood to mean “wait”, yet Strong’s definition is: “to bind together (perhaps by twisting), that is, collect; (figuratively) to expect: – gather (together), look, patiently, tarry, wait (for, on, upon).” To follow the author’s logic, we should be twisting threads and winding rope as we wait on God, and if we are not twisting and winding we must not be truly waiting.

Why settle on bowing? He mentions being prostrate a few times, but wouldn’t that be better? What about the aspect of proskeneo that is related to a dog licking his master’s hand? Should we be licking in worship? How can we choose only one expression of these words?

Second, it is simply assumed the argument is correct. On p. 11: “The fact that so few Christians kneel in worship on Sunday during a service labeled as such suggest a lack of understanding of the primary application of the word.”

Third, the author continually undermines his own argument. On p. 15, he gives the Strong’s definition of proskeneo as “to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand; to fawn or crouch to; to literally or figuratively prostrate oneself in homage; to do reverence to; to adore.” [emphasis added]. This definition contradicts his assertion by acknowledging a figurative bowing/humbling is possible.

On p. 27: “I have heard a pastor or song leader say, ‘Let us worship the Lord in song, in our giving, in our praise, and in our prayers.’ I have no problem with worshipping the Lord in any or all of these ways…” This acknowledges there are many ways to worship besides bowing.

Fourth, the author acknowledges the novelty of his own approach: On p. 17, “Nevertheless, I confess to placing a greater emphasis on the physical act of bowing than most I have read so far.”

Fifth, the author states that worship is more than physically bowing, yet continues to focus on that aspect. On p. 17: “I have previously stated that I clearly understand that worship involves more than bowing the knee…”

Sixth, the author argues from the Bible’s silence to support his position. On p. 17: “…but I fail to see good reason in the Bible not to bow the knee.”

Seventh, the author does not consistently apply his approach to words other than worship. On p. 22: “The physical posture for praise is not as specifically articulated as it is for worship.” A lot of charismatics would argue otherwise. He argues against a straw man on p. 27 that inconsistently does word studies on baptize and not worship. I and many others have done both and are consistent in our approaches.

Eighth, the author acknowledges worship still occurred without bowing. On p. 25: “Did we never worship the Lord all those Sundays for sixteen years? I am convinced that we did worship, but with less than full understanding. I am also convinced that our Heavenly Father accepted and reveled in our worship.” So what does the bowing do? (I’ll answer that later).

Ninth, the author inserts his beliefs into the silence of Scripture. On p. 31: “That vision hit Isaiah like a stroke, and as some commentators suggest, he groveled in the dust of his unworthiness.”

Tenth, the author inconsistently identifies the first mention of worship in Scripture. On p. 9, he acknowledges the first appearance of the Hebrew word shachah in Genesis 18:2. On p. 35 when speaking of the “Law of First Mention”, he acknowledges the first appearance of the English word worship in the KJV.

Eleventh, the author downplays the act of bowing when it is not convenient. On p. 40 describing his feelings while on a plane: “I cannot bow during those times, though I prefer to, but there is definitely a connection with my Maker.” You cannot claim its importance and apply it at convenience.

Twelfth, the author appeals to pragmatic results. On p. 43: “After preaching on worship at our church and incorporating it into the Sunday morning service, I began to notice an increase in the number of people coming to the altar during invitation time at the close of our service.” I would argue for a practical reason for this: you expected and encouraged physical reaction and it took form outside of bowing in worship.

Thirteenth, the author appeals to a flawed illustration. On p. 46-47, we have the illustration of aliens visiting earth and not thinking what most Baptists do is worship. To be honest, I have used a similar illustration in the past. However, there is no impartiality of the aliens in his version. He says: “We will further assume that they have acquainted themselves with our theological jargon, which would give them an understanding of worship. They know that the original words mean to bow before their sovereign – their king.” So, if the aliens believed as the author did, they too would assume the same as him that our worship is flawed. Also in that scenario, he appeals to the example of Islamic practices of bowing as closer to true worship than most Baptists churches. That comparison is fraught with issues.

Fourteenth, the author claims that England has a better understand of worship because they have a king and they bow to him. On p. 49: “The point is, the people of England, under King James and later, understood the term worship.” I think I know what he is getting at, that Americans typically treat leaders more as equals, but that intent is lost in the content. (A) Why start with James? They didn’t understand it before him? Could anyone before 1611? (B) Back on p. 10, the author argues that our understanding of worship in English is flawed because of the word’s etymology. Is that not true in England? Did worship have a different’ etymology in 1611?

Fifteenth, all of chapter thirteen, “Worship and Revival” is based on misappropriating II Chronicles 7:14 to us instead of Israel. I have commented on that before.


Worship and the of God suffers from the same problems that most books on worship have that are written by charismatics.

First, it offers some new and exciting take on old and tired worship that somehow Christianity missed for a couple of millennia.

Second, it equates worship with physical action, even if the author denies it.

Third, it relies on flawed Greek and Hebrew word studies.

Fourth, it promotes “experiential” worship and feeling over substance.

Fifth, it downplays other forms of worship. I would argue that singing a hymn, giving an offering, praying, and listening to a sermon can all be acts of worship.

Sixth, it begs the slippery slope comparison. I recognize the weakness of this argument, but once you go down the path of physically expressive worship where do you stop? On p. 62 he endorses raising hands in praise while discussing Nehemiah 8:6. My careful study of that verse leads me to believe the raised hands were as part of an oath, not praise. The correlation between raising of hands and praise is a charismatic development.


I can not recommend this book. The few good parts are not worth it. Independent Baptists both deserve and need a better treatment of worship that this.

Is “Tyrant” Missing From The KJV?

From time to time I hear a claim that King James I interfered with the translation of the Bible he sponsored by demanding words or phrases not be used. There is no evidence of this ever occurring. The only directions we are aware of are fifteen guidelines for the translation process.

Today, I came across a claim on Twitter (original video above) that James did not want the word tyrant used in his translation. That video claims, “But King James didn’t like this word, so he took it out and replaced it with something different.” James was an advocate of the divine right of monarchy to rule (and wrote about it), and so it is claimed that he would be sensitive to criticism of a such a monarchy as “tyranny”.

Translation Comparison

The primary comparison used is KJV with the Geneva Bible, with some attention paid to other earlier translations like the Bishop’s Bible or the Coverdale Bible. Using BibleHub and BibleGateway, here are the relevant verses compared:

  • Job 3:17
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H7267
    • Geneva Bible – “The wicked have there ceased from their tyranny, and there they that labored valiantly, are at rest.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale.
    • KJV – “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.”
    • Other translations use words like “trouble” or “raging”
  • Job 6:23
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “And deliver me from the enemy’s hand, or ransom me out of the hand of tyrants?”
      • In Bishops but not Coverdale
    • KJV – “Or, Deliver me from the enemy’s hand? or, Redeem me from the hand of the mighty?”
    • Other translations use “ruthless, except the NASB which does use tyrant”.
  • Job 15:20
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “The wicked man is continually as one that travaileth of child, and the number of years is hid from the tyrant.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days, and the number of years is hidden to the oppressor.”
    • Other translations are mainly “ruthless”
  • Job 27:13
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of tyrants, which they shall receive of the Almighty.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of oppressors, which they shall receive of the Almighty.”
    • Other translations: NASB has “tyrants” while others vary.
  • Psalm 54:3
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “For strangers are risen up against me, and tyrants seek my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah.”
      • In Bishops but not Coverdale.
    • KJV – “For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah.”
    • Other translations mainly have “ruthless” or “violent men”
  • Isaiah 13:11
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “And I will visit the wickedness upon the world, and their iniquity upon the wicked, and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will cast down the pride of tyrants.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”
    • Other translations have a mix of words like “tyrant” or “ruthless”
  • Isaiah 49:25
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “But thus saith the Lord, Even the captivity of the mighty shall be taken away: and the prey of the tyrant shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children,”
      • Not in Bishops or Coverdale
    • KJV – “But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.”
    • Most other translations have “tyrant”.
  • Jeremiah 15:21
    • Hebrew – Strong’s H6184
    • Geneva Bible – “And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the tyrants.”
      • Also in Bishops and Coverdale
    • KJV – “And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible.”
    • Other translations mostly have “cruel”, “ruthless” or “violent”, but a few do have “tyrant”.
  • James 2:6
    • Not found in Greek.
    • Geneva Bible – “But ye have despised the poor. Do not the rich oppress you by tyranny, and do they not draw you before the judgment seats?”
      • Also in Bishops, but not Coverdale or Tyndale.
    • KJV – “But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?”
    • Most other translations do not have a parallel, a few have “exploit”

Regarding the Geneva Bible

The Geneva Bible was a tremendous achievement. It is essentially the world’s first “study Bible”, with notes, maps, and other features found in most Bible printed today. It did a great job of translation and was the primary Bible of English Protestantism for almost a century.

However, the downfall of the Geneva Bible is likely attributed to the added notes, in which are found many strong political statements. Remember that the Reformation was not just religious, it was political. For example of political commentary is found in a note in Daniel 11:36 states “So long the tyrants shall prevail as God hath appointed to punish his people: but he showeth that it is but for a time.” Simply put, the Geneva Bible was a politically disruptive force.

Historical Language Analysis

Today word tyrant might mean “an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution” or “a ruler who exercises absolute power oppressively or brutally”.

In the ancient world it was a little different. The word tyrant comes from Greek, where it described opportunists that seized power with little or no right to do so. Originally it did have any connotation, good or bad, but developed a bad one over time.

As Western society progressed into the Enlightenment, tyranny became something to be despised. John Locke described it as “the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to; and this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private, separate advantage.”

Old Testament Language Analysis

Because of the Greek heritage of the word and idea behind a tyrant, there really is not clear equivalent in ancient Hebrew.

Hebrew – Strong’s H7267

The Geneva Bible translated this word as “tyrant” only in Job 3:17.

Strong’s defines as “commotion, restlessness (of a horse), crash (of thunder), disquiet, anger — fear, noise, rage, trouble(-ing), wrath.”

Conclusion – Tyranny is probably not the best word here. It is describing the actions of the wicked as being turbulent, nothing inherently tyrannical here.

Hebrew – Strong’s H6184

This word is translated 7x in the Geneva Bible as “tyrant”. It occurs 20x overall

Strong’s defines as “fearful, i.e. Powerful or tyrannical — mighty, oppressor, in great power, strong, terrible, violent.”

Conclusion – Tyrant is not a bad translation of this word, but it is one application of a broader idea, which is “something to be feared that is mighty and oppressive”. Some appearances like Proverbs 11:16 or Jeremiah 20:11 do not contain the idea of being a tyrant. Again, “tyrant” is not an inaccurate translation in some cases but it is definitely not an equivalent for the Hebrew word.

New Testament Language Analysis

As we saw above, the only appearance of “tyrant” in the Geneva Bible’s New Testament in James 2:6 does not appear to have a textual basis. I’ll leave figuring that out to someone else, but I will show you the one time “tyrant” appears in the Greek New Testament: Acts 19:9. Yes, the name Tyrannus (Strong’s G5181) literally means “tyrant”.

Conclusion

So, according to the argument presented in the beginning, King James I did not like the word tyrant because it could be thought of as critical of his monarchy. He then supposedly directed the translators of the KJV to not use the word “tyrant”. We cited the references in the Geneva Bible (and others) that use the word tyrant where the KJV does not.

Case closed, right?

No, because the presented argument is critically flawed.

All we must do to utterly destroy the argument is show that the KJV does include the word tyrant. This completely undermines the foundation for the argument.

But didn’t we admit that the KJV does not contain the word tyrant? Yes and no.

What we proved above is that tyrant is not found in the Old or New Testaments of the KJV.

Here is the fatal flaw: no one that presents this argument bothered to look in the Apocrypha of the original KJV. If anyone had bothered to do so, you will quickly find that the word tyrant appears 3x in the KJV Apocrypha:

  • Wisdom of Solomon 12:14 – “Neither shall king or tyrant be able to set his face against thee for any whom thou hast punished.”
  • II Maccabees 4:25 – “So he came with the king’s mandate, bringing nothing worthy the high priesthood, but having the fury of a cruel tyrant, and the rage of a savage beast.”
  • II Maccabees 7:27 – “But she bowing herself toward him, laughing the cruel tyrant to scorn, spake in her country language on this manner; O my son, have pity upon me that bare thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee such three years, and nourished thee, and brought thee up unto this age, and endured the troubles of education.”

It should not be a surprise that Wisdom of Solomon and II Maccabees were originally written in Greek. The original writes used the Greek term for tyrant and the English translators used the English equivalent.

So, to counter the original argument:

  • King James could not have forbidden the use of the word tyrant because it does appear in the work of the translators within the Apocrypha.
  • The Greek etymology and heritage of tyrant makes it anachronistic to use in ancient Hebrew, meaning there is not equivalent that must be translated as such.

Oh, and I guess since the word “pudding” isn’t used in the KJV that James must have directed the translators to not talk about British desserts.

Acts 9:31 – “Church” or “Churches”?

Why do some Bible translations use “church” and others “churches in Acts 9:31? Which is the correct reading?

Photo by Dan Mall on Unsplash

I recently came across a difference between Bible translations that I feel greatly affects what the Bible teaches about the nature of the church. I found very little information regarding this, so I thought I would share what I have found so far in studying it.

Background Context

The first 3/4s of Acts chapter 9 is the record of Saul’s conversion. Saul of Tarsus had menaced the church at Jerusalem after Stephen’s death, causing many believers to flee from Jerusalem to surrounding areas. But God had greater plans for Saul, and through a divine encounter on the road to Damascus Saul was wondrously converted.

Saul proved to be a controversial convert. Many Christians feared him because he had so recently persecuted them. He also proved zealous to the extreme, preaching so boldly that twice his enemies sought to kill him. He is sent back to his home in Tarsus to escape these threats.

This brings us to verse 31, which tells that state of the believers. The believers that had been centered in Jerusalem are now found throughout the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Their faith and numbers continued to grow through the blessings of the Lord.

Singular or Plural?

When comparing different English translations of the New Testament, there is a marked difference in the opening words of Acts 9:31.

VersionText
King James VersionThen had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria…
New International VersionThen the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria…
New Living TranslationThe church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
English Standard VersionSo the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…
New American Standard BibleSo the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
Legacy Standard BibleSo the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…
Christian Standard BibleSo the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
American Standard VersionSo the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria…
New Revised Standard VersionMeanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria…
Geneva Bible (1587)Then had the Churches rest through all Iudea, and Galile, and Samaria…
Coverdale Bible (1535)So the congregacions had rest thorow out all Iewry, and Galile, and Samaria…
Tyndale Bible (1526)Then had ye congregacios rest thorowoute all Iewry and galile and Samary…
Douay-Rheims BibleNow the church had peace throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria…
Source – BibleHub

While the King James Version and other older translations have a plurality of churches/congregations, almost all recent translations have a singular church.

The issue also appears when comparing the various Greek texts.

Greek TextGreek WordSingular/Plural
Beza (1598)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Stephanus Textus Receptus (1550)ἐκκλησίαιPlural
Scrivener’s Textus Receptus (1894)ἐκκλησίαιPlural
Tischendorf (1872)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Greek Orthodox (1904)ἐκκλησίαιPlural
Westcott and Hort (1881)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Nestle (1904)ἐκκλησίαSingular
Source – BibleHub

Commentaries

In my opinion, most commentaries that touch the subject do very poorly, as seen in this roundup of those found on BibleHub:

  • Ellicott’s Commentary – “The better MSS. have ‘the Church’ in the singular.”
  • Meyer’s NT Commentary – “Observe, moreover, with the correct reading ἡ μὲν οὖν ἐκκλησία κ.τ.λ. the aspect of unity, under which Luke, surveying the whole domain of Christendom, comprehends the churches which had been already formed (Galatians 1:22), and were in course of formation (comp. Acts 16:5).”
  • Expositor’s Greek Testament – “αἱ ἐκκλησίαι—if we read the singular ἡ ἐκκλ. with the great MS. the word shows us that the Church, though manifestly assuming a wider range, is still one: Hort, Ecclesia, p. 55, thinks that here the term in the singular corresponds by the three modern representative districts named, viz., Judæa, Galilee, Samaria, to the ancient Ecclesia, which had its home in the whole land of Israel; but however this may be, the term is used here markedly of the unified Church, and in accordance with St. Paul’s own later usage of the word; see especially Ramsay, St. Paul, pp. 126, 127, and also p. 124.”
  • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges – “In the best texts the noun and all the verbs agreeing with it are in the singular number, and what is meant is the whole Christian body, not the various congregations.”
  • Vincent’s Word Studies – “The best texts read the church; embracing all the different churches throughout the three provinces of Palestine.”
  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown – “Then had all the churches rest—rather, ‘the Church,’ according to the best manuscripts and versions.”
  • Gill’s Exposition – “The Alexandrian copy, and some others, the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Ethiopic versions, read in the singular number, ‘the church’: but the several countries hereafter mentioned shows that more are designed…”

Lange’s Commentary has this footnote (note – the bracketed sections are in the original, not added by me):

  • “Acts 9:31. H—ἐκκλησία—ἐπληθύνετο; this is the reading of A. B. C., and. as it has recently appeared, also of Cod. Sin. as well as of many manuscripts of the second rank, of the majority of the Oriental versions, and also of the Vulgate, and of Dionysius of Alex. On the other hand, the plural [text. rec.], (αἱ—ἐκκλησίαι (πᾶσαι E.) ει̇͂χον .. ἐπληθύνοντο) is found in E. G. H. and some other manuscripts. As the latter generally belong to a later period, and as most of the ancient versions exhibit the singular, this is far better attested than the plural, and has been preferred by Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf and Bornemann [Stier and Theile, and Alford, with whom de Wette concurs. Meyer had, in earlier editions, espoused the opposite view, but in the last edition of his Commentary (3d, 1861) unhesitatingly adopts the singular as the original reading, and as ‘expressive of the apostolical conception of the unity of the Church.’—TR.]. The plural is to be regarded as an explanation. [The word ἐκκλῃσία, in the singular, used for the whole body of Christians, or the Church universal, occurs, e. g., in Matth. 16:18; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 10:32; 12:28; Eph. 1:22.—TR.]”

William Kelly has this footnote:

  • “The singular is read by ABC Vulg. Syr. Pst., Sah. Cop. Arm. Æthiop, Erp Arab., et al., as against the plural of the Text. Rec. HLP Syr. Hcl (and E, ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι).”

Better/Best Manuscripts?

As you can see, many of the commentaries above support the singular church in Acts 9:31 on the basis of it being in the “better” or “best” manuscripts. This level of hubris is common after the rise of Higher Criticism in the 18th and 19th centuries. It assumes that the Bible texts used by Protestant and other non-Catholic groups (basically the Majority Text) since the earliest days of Christendom was seriously flawed with various corruptions and errors. It assumes that variant readings are superior to the historically accepted ones if their source document is (a) older or (b) deemed more trustworthy through various factors. Thus new Critical/Eclectic Greek texts are produced incorporating the textual changes.

Certain problems arise. First: there is a general assumption of doubt as to the reliability of the word of the traditional textual readings. Second: much of the criteria for determining alternative readings has openings for error. For example, the rule of “older is better” assumes the older document is less corrupt based on age, with little regard to any possibility that it could be more corrupt and less trustworthy. Three: the final authority shifted from the text itself to the opinions of scholars. Four: the temptation to achieve notoriety and prestige pushes scholars to seek corrections even when not warranted instead of supporting an established text.

The support for a singular church in Acts 9:31 comes primarily from accepting the “older is better” argument. It is argued that older manuscripts like the Vaticanus (4th century) or older translations like the Vulgate (4th century) contain the singular church. It further ignores other “old” manuscripts that support a plural churches, as in the Laudianus (6th century):

Source (see fol. 78)

Since there are both “old” manuscripts that attest to a plural churches and a centuries-long tradition of interpreting the verse as such, it is disingenuous to ignore that there is a case to be made for its acceptability.

If the textual evidence is inconclusive, then let us look at the theology.

Usage of Ecclesia in Acts

Luke is an astute and careful chronicler of history. Time after time the language he uses has been tested and proven correct. I would contend that the same goes for his uses of the church or churches.

The chart below shows every use of ecclesia in the Book of Acts according the the Textus Receptus. I am including notes to show that each singular use of ecclesia refers to singular church, while each plural use of ecclesia refers to a plurality of churches. I also am including the references for ecclesia that do nor refer to the Christian church.

ReferencesGreekSingular/PluralNote
Acts 2:47εκκλησιαSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 5:11εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 7:38εκκλησιαSingularThe singular nation of Israel.
Acts 8:1εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 8:3εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 9:31εκκλησιαιPluralThe plural churches of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria
Acts 11:22εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 11:26εκκλησιαSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 12:1εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 12:5εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 13:1εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 14:23εκκλησιανSingular“each church” – churches of Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe
Acts 14:27εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 15:3εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Antioch.
Acts 15:4εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 15:22εκκλησιαSingularThe singular church at Jerusalem.
Acts 15:41εκκλησιαςPluralThe plural churches of Syria and Cilicia
Acts 16:5εκκλησιαιPluralThe plural churches of Lystra, Iconium, and Asia Minor
Acts 18:22εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Caesarea.
Acts 19:32εκκλησιαSingularThe singular political assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 19:39εκκλησιαSingularThe singular political assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 19:41εκκλησιανSingularThe singular political assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 20:17εκκλησιαςSingularThe singular church at Ephesus.
Acts 20:28εκκλησιανSingularThe singular church at Ephesus.

I contend that Luke’s use of the singular or plural ecclesia is instructive. When he refers to a singular church there is a singular local church to be the object. When he refers to plural churches there is a region or multiple cities containing many churches.

Excluding Acts 9:31, there is not a single other reference where a singular church refers to a anything but a singular local church. Acts 15:41 and 16:5 prove that a plural usage is acceptable and appropriate, and there appears to be no debate as to whether or no those be plural.

Acts 15 clearly shows that the singular ecclesia should refer to a local church and not a universal church. The church at Antioch is upset by the teaching of some visitors from the church at Jerusalem. In vs. 3, Paul and Barnabas are sent by the church at Antioch to the church at Jerusalem and stop and visit with other believers along the way. This shows at least two distinct churches, with other churches or gatherings along the way. In vs. 4, the church at Jerusalem welcomes Paul and Barnabas. In vs. 22, the church at Jerusalem decides to send men back to the church at Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. In vs. 41, Paul and Silas visit multiple churches in the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

So then, when the Book of Acts is examined as a whole it is clear that Luke purposefully and appropriately uses the singular and plural forms of ecclesia. When referring to a singular church in a singular city, he uses the singular. When referring to a plurality of churches in a region or groups of cities, he uses the plural.

Why then would he break from this consistency to use a singular church in Acts 9:31 to refer to many assemblies of believers in a region? Because he does not. Our survey shows that the plural churches must be the correct word based on how Luke uses it.

Theological Implications

The traditional Baptist interpretation of the Scriptures holds that there a many local assemblies of believers that a called churches. It holds that each is autonomous in government. It rejects the ideas of a “universal” or “invisible” church as being incompatible with how the Bible describes the local assemblies.

If Acts 9:31 does indeed have a singular church, then it would stand against the idea of local congregations being individual churches. It would go against how Paul writes about to and about churches. It would go against how Christ deals with the Seven Churches in Revelation. It would open the door to ecclesiastical hierarchy. It would stand against autonomous governance of local assemblies.

If you are unfamiliar with the idea of ecclesia and church referring to local congregations and not a larger conglomeration of congregations, then I would challenge you to study how the Bible describes churches. If there are plural churches, there cannot be one universal church.

Final Thoughts

We are left to assume that an error has crept into Biblical texts. Where it came from we do not know but surely it came very early.

The question is whether church or churches is the mistake in Acts 9:31. The two are incompatible so one must be correct and the other false.

Yes, a case can be made from extent Biblical manuscripts that church is correct. Yet, that case is not as sure as it is presented. If there is logically an error that has been introduced, why not conclude that these manuscripts contain error? Can you conclusively prove otherwise?

I realize much will come down to opinion. Someone will read this and mock me as being foolish and ignorant regarding textual criticism and its intricacies. Yet, the nature of that field of study at its highest levels assumes that everything must be continually questioned. Why not question which word is appropriate in Acts 9:31?

My basis for accepting the plural churches in Acts 9:31 are as follows:

  • There is a reasonable case to be made that it is the correct word based on textual history.
  • It has been the standard interpretation for much of Christianity for much of the time.
  • It is the correct word based on Luke’s consistent usage of it.
  • It is consistent with the usage in the rest of the New Testament.
  • There is more to gain by purposefully altering the word from plural to singular than vice versa.

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.