A Strange Inconsistency 

Recently, reading in Galatians 4, my wife and I were wondering if there was an indication of Paul’s “infirmity of the flesh” and “my temptation which was in my flesh” in the following v. 15 “for I bear you record that if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me”? Or, was this simply a saying, used here to express how the Galatians cared for Paul?

We consulted commentators. Mathew Henry makes no connection. William Hendriksen, in part, says the following:

“Yet, in reality we know nothing about the nature of the illness………. The idea that verse 15 (cf 6:11) points to an affliction of the eyes is not well grounded, since in that passage the apostle is no longer speaking about his physical infirmity. And so it is with the other guesses that have been made. Those who immerse themselves in such matters sometimes miss the real intention of the passage”.

A careful response! So why my heading at the start “A Strange Inconsistency”?

Well, a little later we came to 1 Timothy 3:16. We wondered about the meaning of “great is the mystery of godliness” in connection with the remainder of the verse… “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory”..

So we consulted William Hendriksen. He was so helpful. He illustrated that a paraphrase might go like this:

“We confess in our God given worship and service of Christ (our godliness) that He is great above all measure for God was manifest in the flesh…..”

But what staggered us was that Hendriksen also launched into a two and a half page explanation of how this verse 16 was actually 6 lines extracted by Paul out of a New Testament Church “Hymn.” I looked at the context and the text. Where did he get this from? This was the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writing in heartfelt earnestness to his “son in the faith” Timothy.

Paul, by the Holy Spirit soared and exulted in places such as Ephesians 1, Colossians 1 and Romans 8:29-39. Here in 1 Timothy 3:16 he also soars and exults in a chiastic (poetic) form of language.

Yet another inconsistency 

Hendriksen helped us again with 2 Timothy 2:13—“if we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself”. Hendriksen explains that verse 11 and verse 12a speak of the blessings of faith and 12b and 13 speak of the judgment on unbelief i.e. no faith or feigned faith and God abides faithful in that He will execute His threatened judgment against the faithless.

But again, we were taken aback by Hendriksen’s bold opinion that this faithful saying in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 was an extract from an early Christian “hymn.” He claims that a line or lines preceded these quoted and that Paul added “he cannot deny himself” because it is not part of the original “hymn.”

Hendriksen airs the view that this would have been a “hymn” sung by those suffering for Christ or those to be martyred. These are extraordinary conjectures bordering on flights of fancy. I know of no foundation in Scripture or very early Church history for such ideas. (Except for some man made hymn singing in heretical groups).

Hendriksen appears to be subtly attempting to build a case for the regular composition and singing of man’s “hymns” for the worship of God in the Apostolic Church. Certainly others cling to such conjectures as evidence that man made hymns were in use in New Testament Public Worship. 

The strange inconsistency is that what Hendriksen does here is condemned by his own conservative approach with Galatians 4:13-15. In that text there was a plausible possible connection in the actual words the Holy Spirit used i.e. “infirmity of the flesh” and the “you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.” Hendriksen correctly sets aside such connection as guesswork and declares that in reality we know nothing about the nature of Paul’s infirmity and declares that those who immerse themselves in such matters (guesswork) miss the real intention of the passage. Yet in these passages in Timothy he enters into guesswork about things for which we have no evidence and immerses himself in lengthy explanations of why his conjectures are true.

One thing is fact in 2 Timothy 2:11 – the Holy Spirit says “It is a faithful saying”, not “hymn.” A more plausible possibility for 2 Timothy 2:11-13 is that it was a saying summarising Apostolic teaching which was composed in an easy to be remembered word structure in an infant church where the Canon of Scripture had yet to be completed, oral teaching and memorising was the norm, and very few had books (scrolls).

An Argument for Psalms Only 
Consistent with the Facts 

Without entering into the great scripture doctrine of the Regulative Principle of Worship, it can be categorically stated that in the New Testament Church, the Psalms only were sung in the Church’s Worship and it follows that those suffering or martyred for Christ would sing one of their God’s Psalms. (For such trials many Psalms come to mind e.g. 116:4-16; 118:16-23; 16:8-11; or why not Psalm 2 or 3 or 63 - perhaps the reader can think of others?). In fact, apart from heretical groups, only Psalms were sung in Church worship up into the three hundreds AD.

The evidence is there in the New Testament that the Psalms God gave to His Church were central in teaching and worship. Why would this not be so – the riches latent in the Psalms are brought to full bloom by the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Redeemer, and His reign in power and glory at the right hand of the Father.

The Psalms are replete with the joy of God’s people individually and collectively in the outworking of God’s Covenant of Redemption and Grace with The Elect and in Him with all His elect. Also, in God’s great faithfulness, the Psalms do not fail to tell us, in fearful language, of His most terrible judgments against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (cf Rom 1:18).

Some of the Evidence For Psalms Only 

What is some of the evidence that the Psalms were well known, a focus, well used and sung in the New Testament Church?

1. In my Bible I figure there are well over 400 margin cross references from the Psalms to the New Testament writings. But, more than this, there are in the New Testament, according to Naves Topical Bible, about 66 direct quotes from about 45 Psalms.

2. The Psalms were well known to the Jewish converts who probably numbered tens of thousands. They were in use in all the synagogues where the early missionaries went first. The Psalms were spread around the Empire by God to facilitate the singing of God’s praises by new converts. Just as the Pax Romana was spread around by God to facilitate the rapid growth of His Kingdom – so God spread abroad in the synagogues His Psalms in writing ready for singing.

3. Christ taught from the Psalms e.g. John 10:34, Mark 12:35-37, Luke 24:44-45. The Apostles preached Christ from the Psalms e.g. Acts 2:25-31, Acts 13:33-37. The Apostles taught of Christ from the Psalms – the Letter to the Hebrews has numerous wonderful illuminations of Christ’s person and work from the Psalms, the New Testament Church prayed on the basis of the Psalms in Acts 4:24-31.

4. Most agree that the “hymn” sung at the first Lord’s Supper is something those present knew well. It was a Psalm out of the ‘great hallel’ (Pss 113 to 118) as was the practice at the Passover (Mt 26:30).

5. There are clear injunctions in the New Testament to sing the Psalms and there is an evident delight in the Psalms sung in the New Testament Church (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16).

6. Negatively, not one man made hymn has come down to the Church from the New Testament Church era – not one. A man made New Testament hymn book (scroll) used in the New Testament Church has never been discovered or referred to. Many, wishing to justify their will worship, search the scriptures to find “fragments” of manmade hymns which have (according to them) found their way into God’s inspired Word. They use arguments such as the wishful conjectures about 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13 mentioned above to put into people’s minds the thought that hidden behind these “insertions” in the inspired word is a wide spread practice of the use of manmade hymns in the worship of the church in the New Testament. This is wishful thinking – there is no evidence.

In Summary 

The pervasiveness of the Psalms across the New Testament Church is evident. From their Divine origin and authority and from this pervasiveness in teaching, in preaching, in praying, and from scriptural injunctions to sing the Psalms, the singing of them flowed universally in the worship of the Church of the early centuries with great understanding and joy.

Conclusion – A Serious Inconsistency

The chief psalmist, David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13 v22), the sweet psalmist of Israel spoke by the Spirit of the Lord and the Spirit’s word was in his tongue (2 Sam 23:1-2).

Our Saviour God gifted the 150 Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs to His Church for praise in the public assembly of His Church and in the home. He has given no other such book. He has commanded no other sung praise. Such was the view of the mature Reformation Churches of the 1500s and 1600s.

What a strange, serious inconsistency that the greater part of the Protestant Church from the 1800s on has more and more relegated Psalm singing to the status of being irrelevant and/or unsuitable. In the place of God’s Psalms various persons at various times have put together varying and changing collections of men’s limited thoughts and offered these instead. What folly!

This folly has occurred despite the fact that the Psalms respond to the whole counsel of God in all His word as no other praise can; and the fact that the Psalms correspond with the complete revelation of God as no other praise does or ever can. By this folly the Church has been seriously impoverished. Gone is that perfect harmony between all that is conveyed in praise by the Psalms and the Spirit’s work in testifying of Christ (Jn 15:26) and in reproving the world of sin and of righteousness and judgment (Jn 16:8-11).

The Psalms of our Triune, Covenant keeping, Saviour God in their collective harmony shine with a glory like to the sun in the heavens.

By comparison, men’s hymns are like little individual hand held sparklers – without the light of the sun they give us childish delight, but when the light of the sun comes to our eyes, their relative poverty is manifest.

Oh pray earnestly that God would work reformation in His Church again. Pray that there may be a mature delight, joy and blessing in singing His Psalms which is thoroughly consistent with the command of God, New Testament worship, and the Church of the Reformation.

Instead of being satisfied with childish titillation in men’s hymns, may God grant that the Church may discover again that joy unspeakable and full of glory in praise that is perfectly and beautifully consistent with the everlasting Covenant of Redemption and Grace in Jesus Christ – in praise that enriches as no other praise can.

—Elder Peter Torlach, EPC Brisbane