The Music-Authority Issue—Again

By Wayne Jackson

Did you ever encounter an “argument” so absolutely “off the wall” that you instinctively knew it really was unworthy of an acknowledgment, but, due to the bizarre novelty of it, you somehow felt drawn to a retort anyway? Such an experience recently robbed me of my will-power.

A few weeks back, in our weekly Question & Answer column (“What about Mechanical Instruments of Music in Christian Worship?”), I replied to an inquiry as to why churches — patterned after the New Testament order — do not utilize mechanical instruments of music in their worship services. The short answer to that query is this: There is no New Testament authority for the use of such, and to act in the absence of that authority is to be guilty of religious presumption, otherwise called “will-worship” (Col. 2:23). And will-worship is sin.

In response to that discussion, I received a considerable volume of mail — a significant portion of which was intensely hostile. Not a few of these electronic missiles were from digressive souls who, one would surmise, once valued Bible authority, but who, along the way, have arrogated themselves to voices that speak ex cathedra.

One such note came from an anonymous writer who was brutally honest in his admission that there is no New Testament sanction for musical instruments in Christian worship. Furthermore, he doesn’t care! His entire argumentative construct essentially was this: we do many things for which there is no authority; so why fret about an additional indiscretion? Frankly, that is a most distressful attitude.

The gentleman then listed several items that he feels rival the addition of the instrument (and thus, in his mind, several “wrongs” may constitute one “right”). One of these alleged innovations particularly engaged my attention.

Our friend contended that if a church is restricted to practicing only that for which it has New Testament authority, it then could never utilize a translation of the Bible.

The Bible, you see, was written originally in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Since there is “no commandment” providing authorization to translate the initial tongues into modern dialects, a church would be compelled to stay with the primitive languages — that is, if our “need-for-authority” argument is valid. In almost half-a-century of Bible study, I have never encountered this line of argumentation.

The issue is a very simple one. Is there, then, any authority for translating the Scriptures from one tongue into another? Reflect upon the following points.

  1. Authorization for a practice is not restricted to “commands.” Authority may be established in a variety of ways, e.g., by statements, certain examples, inference, principle, etc. This point is so obvious as not to require development at this time.
  2. Christ himself sanctioned the principle of scripture translation. In the third century B.C., a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language was made in Egypt, the purpose of which was to facilitate Greek-speaking Jews with access to the Old Testament. This version, called the Septuagint, was the common Bible of the Hellenistic Jews of the first century. During his preaching ministry, Jesus frequently quoted from this Greek version, even characterizing the passages quoted as being that which “was spoken … by God” (cf. Mt. 22:31). This fact demonstrates that true translation does not nullify inspiration. There is no higher authority for the validity of scripture translation than that of the Son of God himself.
  3. The inspired writers of the New Testament explicitly endorsed the concept of translation. In recording the agonizing cry of Jesus from the cross, Mark writes that the suffering Savior cried: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (Mk. 15:34). The expression is a Hebrew-flavored, Aramaic phrase, which, in Greek, translates to: “Ho theos mou, ho theos mou, eis ti egkatelipes me?” Or in English: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark does not hesitate to translate. Translation is divinely sanctioned.
  4. In his Great Commission, Christ declared that the gospel must be proclaimed to “every creature” among “all the nations” (Mk. 16:15; Mt. 28:19). The original verbal gospel message has been deposited in the sacred writings of the New Testament. Unless God made it a requirement that all souls who would know the gospel must learn koine Greek, then it must be inferred necessarily that translation of the gospel message into various languages is approved by God.
  5. That the inference suggested above is valid, may be demonstrated by the phenomenon of Pentecost, on which occasion the Spirit of God empowered the apostles to preach the gospel of Christ in the respective dialects of the peoples assembled in Jerusalem that day (Acts 2:4-11). We presume that most folks, who profess identification with the Christian movement, would accept the action of the Holy Spirit as an authoritative precedent.

One almost feels compelled to apologize for consuming the time to “argue” a proposition that, to any reasonable Bible student, is so self-evident. This circumstance does demonstrate, though, how very desperate men become when they are determined, at any price, to “prove” the non-provable.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.