Does knowing music help understand the Bible?

James Jordan affirms and explains:

Does it help to be a musician to understand the Bible? Yes, because the Bible indicates that this is so.

First, music is the God-appointed way of worshipping Him with His own words. The psalms are to be set to music and sung, and in fact a great deal of Western art music developed out of the complex ways in which psalms were set by art musicians. More than that, however, we find in the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Old Testament a whole system of pitch marks, which indicate the chanting lines for the text as it existed when the Masoretic text was produced. A French musical scholar named Haik-Vantoura has offered a decoding of these pitches, but whether she is right or not in her suggested system, there is no doubt but that the text was originally chanted in worship. Sung worship is typical of all pre-modern worship all over the world.

Second, the Spirit is given to help us understand the Word, and the Spirit is the Glorifier. He is the Breath, the sounding forth of the Word. Whenever words are said out loud, they are said musically. Your speech goes up and down, is loud and soft, is punctuated rhymically by consonants and emphasis, assumes various tones (timbres; such as rough, kind, whiny, etc.). In short, all speech is quasi-musical. The Spirit inspires music, and He is the Music of God, who is Author, Word, Music. Thus, being musical and learning about music should add to our ability to grasp the text.

Third, we find that the priests and Levites were established as the teachers of the Word in Israel; but they were also set up as the musicians in the Temple. By linking these two things, God was saying that a teacher of the Word would be wise also to be a musician. (Levites were also guards, and some familiarity with what that means is also good for a teacher/elder in the Church.)

Thus, we see that God programmed music into the minds and hearts of those set apart to interpret the Bible, and into the minds and hearts of all those in Israel who would encounter the text more generally.

In sum, if we want to train people in understanding the Bible more fully, it is good to train them in musical understanding. Music should be part of the educational preparation of anyone engaged in Biblical study and hermeneutics.

Why isn’t this done today? Because of the influence of Western rationalism, especially through the “science ideal” of the Enlightenment. Poetry, which used to be sung, is sung no longer. Many people don’t realize that even post-Renaissance poetry should be read out loud; it should be heard, if not actually sung. (I have a lot of hope for what may eventually develop out of rap music, despite its sorry beginnings today; it moves toward a restoration of the original form of poetry.) We read silently. We no longer sing or whistle while we work. Philosophy, which is contemplative rather than active and liturgical, has influenced theology and Bible study way too much.

Thus, we don’t live in a social and ecclesiastical context that would enable us to read and understand the Bible as well as we might. Restoring music to our lives will help.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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