What Are Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs?

A querist asked:
I’m seeking input on the difference, if any, on psalms, hymns and spiritual songs ( Eph 5:19 & Col 3:16). And, if we are to be singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, should we be singing at least one from each category at each worship service?

James replied:
I take ‘psalm’ to be the common usage in the scripture, that is, one of the 150 psalms set to music. Ed Fudge published a song book several years ago where he set quite a few psalms to common tunes.

A hymn is a song praising God. A spiritual song is a song with a religious message that strengthens the inward man.

Most of the modern controversy over instrumental music centers around the word ‘psalm’. The ancient psalms were sung and often accompanied by instruments of music (see Ps 150). Because the NT uses ‘psalms’, many have seen this as a license to introduce instruments of music. However, God specifies “speaking to one another” by psalms (Eph 5:19), and organs do not speak. He also specifies that psalms are to be sung (Jas 5:13). When God specifies, He excludes all else. God’s specification of singing excludes playing.

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
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