Tolerated but not Permitted?

By Eusebio Tanicala

Some preachers use the case of divorce based on the text of Matt. 19:1-10 as parallel to the issue of instrumental music in worship. Their idea is that God wanted a “till death do couples part” marriage which was meant for Adam and Eve. But the Israelites, these preachers claim, forced Moses to insert into the Law a decree on divorce. The conclusion is “God reluctantly tolerated divorce from the days of Moses until the coming of the New Covenant.” In like manner, it is claimed by some, that there was no instrumental music from Adam to the days of King David, that King David “invented and introduced” instruments of music which God reluctantly tolerated, but in the New Covenant it is no longer allowed, the claim goes.

Presumptions on the two cases are flawed, hence the parallelism is wrong. We’ll show why.

Their line of argument about divorce based on Matt. 19:1-10 includes the following:

  1. A God-arranged or ideal marriage as in the case of Adam and Eve was a “till death do the couple part.”
  2. Moses, on his own discretion being the leader of Israel, introduced divorce due to the insistence and hardness of heart on the part of Israel.
  3. God was not pleased with the divorce decree, He didn’t permit it but merely tolerated its practice.
  4. But now in the NT, divorce is prohibited in the church.
  5. The above line of argument is carried over on to the case of instrumental music in worship as follows:
  • A God-arranged or ideal worship was one without mechanical instrument from the time of Adam and Eve.
  • King David, on his own discretion being the leader of Israel, invented and introduced instruments of music.
  • God was not pleased with instruments of music, He didn’t permit them but merely tolerated their use.
  • But now in the NT, instrument of music is prohibited in the church.

Let’s analyze the case of divorce decree found in Deuteronomy and the instruments of music of King David.

Firstly, the ideal husband-wife perfect relationship was defined by God in Genesis 2:26, but the ideal worship was not defined in Genesis.

Secondly, it is not true that it was Moses’ own private discretion that the divorce decree was inserted into the Law. All of the statutes and judgments in the book of Deuteronomy were inspired by Yahweh God. Please see Deut. 5:1; 6:1; 7:12; 8:6; 10:12; 11:1; 12:1; 28:1 & 15; 29:1. The provision on divorce is found in Deut. 22:19-29 and Deut. 24:1-4. All of Deuteronomy is God’s law. The Law of Moses is God’s Law.

Thirdly, at the time of Christ on earth, there were two views about the divorce in Deut. 24:1-4: (a) the School of Hillel which claimed that a man could divorce his wife for any cause, and (b) the School of Shammai which claimed that a man could divorce his wife only on the ground of sexual sin.

Jesus Christ repeated the interpretation of Shammai. The pronouncement of Christ in Matt. 19 means that divorce on the ground of adultery was allowed/permitted to give justice to the innocent party. NKJV on Matt. 19 uses “permitted” while other versions like RSV, Contemporary English Version, Easy-to-Read Version, English Study Bible, The Simple Enlgish Bible, Rick Berry’s Greek-Interlinear render it “allowed you to divorce your wives.”

The term “suffer” means to allow as in the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. It is different from the term “longsuffering.” So the claim that “divorce was not allowed” is not based on scriptures.

Fourthly it is not true that King David invented and introduced for the first time instruments of music. David became king of Israel in 1010 B.C. (See 2 Samuel 2), but thousands of years before David was born we read in Genesis 4:21 that Jubal and his sons made and played the harp and flute. Also Yahweh commanded the Hebrew priests, long before David was born, to make trumpets for use in religious services. Please see Num. 29:1; Lev. 23:24 & 25:9.

About a thousand years after Moses died, Yahweh commanded King David to design and manufacture instruments for the tabernacle choir. This command given to King David was coursed thro the palace prophets Gad and Nathan. Please refer to 2 Chron. 29:25. We also love to cite 2 Samuel 23:2 to prove King David’s inspired instructions for Israel. Furthermore, the word “invent” (chashab in Hebrew) in Amos 6:5 means “to think, to devise, or to design” (Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, page 519). It doesn’t mean to bring into existence and use for the first time. It is also a fact that the school of the prophets before Saul became king of Israel was using musical instruments in accompanying their prophesying. See. 1 Samuel 10:5-16. It is clear that instruments of music were used in religious activities prior to David becoming king.

While the use of instrument of music in worship was commanded in the OT on one hand, there is no authority for its use in the NT on the other hand. No command, no inference/implication, no symbolism whatsoever is given in the NT that authorizes instrumental music. The strongest argument appealed to by those who use instruments of music in the worship of God is “Silence of the NT scriptures permits freedom.” But his hermeneutical axiom is dangerous. Worship of God will be governed by the desires and devises of humans and not the instructions of a Majestic, Fearsome, Awesome God and King of the Universe.

The above comparison and contrast considered, I suggest that the issue on divorce be not viewed as a parallel to the case of musical instruments in worship. It is a weak argument. It is a wrong argument. Weak and wrong arguments encourage instrument users to continue on their unauthorized practice.

Please allow me to quote Jack P. Lewis’ advice about using Amos 6:5 in arguing against musical instrument in worship: “How to harmonize the spirit of these two passages, one in Amos and one in 2 Chronicles, perplexed me. As I studied the prophets more, I became conscious that proof-texting is not a proper way to settle the meaning of a passage of Scripture. The use we were making then of Amos 6:5 had done just that…This old proof passage should no longer be cited as a part of the argument about worship. It has no convincing power.”(The Question of Instrumental Music in Worship, TRUTH FOR TODAY, March 2008, page 4).

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