Question #22: The Bible tells us to sing a “new song”. This seems to suggest we should not be limited to singing only the Old Testament Psalms. Isn’t that also proof that we should compose new hymns?
For the Encouragement and Preservation of Biblical Worship
6 thoughts on “Question #22: The Bible tells us to sing a “new song”. This seems to suggest we should not be limited to singing only the Old Testament Psalms. Isn’t that also proof that we should compose new hymns?”
I heard this one again recently. I noticed it was not on the question list so I am adding it here. Please chime it with any thoughts or quotes that might be helpful to those who are investigating EP.
Yes! You’re right! ‘hymns and spiritual songs.’ Reverent and reformed hymns celebrating the glories of the new covenant.
From Brian Schwertley’s A Brief Examination of Exclusive Psalmody found here:
“Some writers appeal to the “new song” mentioned in Revelation 14:3 as scriptural authorization for the composing of “new songs” today. A study of this phrase in Scripture, however, will prove that the biblical phrase “new song” has nothing to do with composing new uninspired songs after the close of the canon.
The phrase “new song” in the Old Testament can refer to a song which has as its theme new mercies or new marvels of God’s power (e.g., 40:3; 98:1). But keep in mind that this phrase is only used to describe songs written under divine inspiration. This fact limits “new songs” to the inspired songs of the Bible. Since the phrase “new song” is only used to describe songs written by people who had the prophetic gift, and did not apply to just any Israelite, it therefore certainly does not apply to Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, or any other uninspired hymn writer. Another meaning of “new song” refers not to a song describing new mercies, but rather to singing a song anew; that is, with a thankful, rejoicing heart; with a new impulse of gratitude. The song may in fact be very old, but as we apply the inspired song experimentally to our own situation, we sing it anew. This is probably the meaning of “sing a new song” in the Psalms, which use the phrase, yet do not discuss new mercies. For example, Psalm 33 uses the phrase “sing a new song,” and then discusses general well-known doctrines: creation, providence, and hope and trust in God. Also, there is a sense in which all the Old Testament songs are “new songs” for the new covenant Christian, in that we sing the Psalms with an understanding and perspective unknown to Old Testament believers. Because of God’s expression of love in and by Christ, Jesus and the Apostle John can even refer to a well-known Old Testament commandment (Lev. 19:18) as a “new commandment” (Jn. 13:34; 1 Jn. 2:7; 2 Jn. 5).* ”
* “40 Some think that “new” in new song merely means that the psalmist is asking God’s people to sing an inspired song of which they are not yet familiar. Others think that the phrase “sing a new song” is a liturgical phrase equivalent to “give it all you’ve got.” “Calvin regards new as equivalent to rare and choice” (W.S. Plumer, Psalms [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth,  1975], p. 408). Speaking of the phrase “new song” in Revelation, Bushell writes: “The concept of ‘newness’ in the Book of Revelation is thus used as a poetic device to express in a heightened sense the fullness and scope of the eschatological redemption of all things. The ‘new song,’ the ‘new name,’ the ‘new heavens,’ the ‘new earth,’ and the ‘new Jerusalem’ are all yet future. The fact that we have in these visions a present anticipation of this newness, provides no more warrant for the production of ‘new’ worship song than it does for the building of a ‘new Jerusalem.’ Quite the contrary is the case. It is very significant, in fact, that worship song is placed in the category of the ‘new’ things of John’s vision. The distinguishing character of the ‘newness’ attributed to these objects is its divine origin” (The Songs of Zion, p. 96).”
‘A new song’ in the Psalms very simply has reference to a ‘song of praise’ to the Lord as Psalm 40:3 well illustrates: ‘And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: …’ Of course ‘praise unto our God’ in public worship refers to the Psalter as this site so well demonstrates.
There is no need to get tripped up with the word ‘new’ in new song, since apart from referring to the composition of praise songs in the Psalms, it reflects on the ‘old’ sorry songs we once sang. Spurgeon wrote: ‘… The song is for Jehovah alone. The hymns which chanted the praises of Jupiter and Neptune, Vishnoo and Siva are hushed forever; Bacchanalian shouts are silenced, lascivious sonnets are no more. Unto the one only God all music is to be dedicated. Mourning is over, and the time of singing of hearts has come. …’
Go to the new and deliciously different lyrics of the Psalter and find there the very words which will thrill your heart and give your mind words which it and Jehovah Jesus will not find more fitting and satisfying anywhere else. Go to them again another time and find the very words new once more, fresh with new discoveries of your soul’s expression and fellowship with the Father.
Pastor Daniel Kok explained this well!!
From his website:
Psalmody and a “New Song”
One of the more common objections to exclusive psalmody is that since scripture speaks of singing a new song we are permitted (if not required) to write new songs in every generation.This argument dates back to the 17th century and has been used frequently ever since. 
There are 9 new song references in the scriptures, 6 of which are found in the Psalms alone: Psalms 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9 & 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9 & 14:3.
1) In every reference the command or the description is that of a “new song,” (singular) not new songs (plural). This is significant in that ‘new songs’ (plural) would refer to an ongoing collection of songs to be written whereas ‘new song’ (singular) would refer to a particular song with its own particular elements and requirements.
2) This is supported by the command that accompanies these descriptions. The new song is to be sung, not composed. The new song must then be provided by God Himself: that is an inspired source other than the singer or singers who are called to praise God.
3) This is demonstrated in the Psalms, where the phrase “new song” is primarily placed at the beginning (not the end) of the Psalm suggesting that the Psalm is, in fact, the content of the new song.
4) In Psalm 144:9 (where this is not the case) David says “I will sing a new song” (emphasis mine). Of course this does not necessarily rule out others from joining in, but the context indicates that the previous statement is a personal one: “the one who gives salvation to kings, who delivers David his servant” (emphasis mine). In any case there is no command here to compose a new song. David by the inspiration of the Spirit is the composer; we are the choir.
5) We see this clearly in Psalm 40:3 which reads “He has put a new song in my mouth.” In this verse David, who was the “sweet Psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1), acknowledges that the new song has been given to him by God. This could not more clearly refer to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
6) In Isaiah 42:10, the prophet borrows the idea of a new song from the Psalms and applies it to a new people, namely to the Gentiles (“from the ends of the earth” cf. vs. 6 where Israel will be a light to the Gentiles). This could either mean that, with the inclusion of the Gentiles new songs would have to be written to celebrate the creation of a “new man” (Ephesians 2:15), or the ‘old’ songs would take on new meaning by being sung by the Gentile converts. It would seem the latter is the case since in Psalm 96 the Psalmist speaks of singing to the Lord a new song in vs. 1 and then calls upon the nations in vs. 7ff. to join him in his praise of God).
7) In fact the singing of Psalms (as a canonical book) is more suitable to the new covenant church than it ever was to the old. The Psalms prolepticaly anticipate the day when Japheth will dwell in the tents of Shem. So the language of Israel’s faith as applied to the Gentiles becomes a ‘new song’ i.e. new in meaning without being newly written. In fact it is impossible that a ‘new song’ could only refer to a new situation (i.e. the necessity of songs to be written as the Gentiles were enfolded into Israel) since Israel was commanded to sing a new song before the inclusion of the Gentiles.
Moreover, the missionary zeal of the Psalmist is especially suited for our day and age as throughout this majestic book the nations are not only called to bow before the God of Israel but were also promised as one day joining God’s people in worship. Though this had not yet occurred at the time the Psalms were collected as a book, as believers sing the Psalms today we see these rich and precious promises being fulfilled before our very eyes (see Romans 15:8-12).
8) This understanding of new song meaning an old song sung with new meaning is reinforced by Luke 24:44-45: “How must the words of Psalm 2, or 22, or 45, or 110, or 118 have sounded like new songs to those who had been accustomed to singing them in the shadows of unrevealed realities! The effect of the light of the Gospel upon the remnant of Israel redeemed by His grace was to cause them to sing “as it were, a New Song” unto the Lord – not “new” in substance or content, but “new” in richness of meaning and fullness of glory to the God and Savior of men! Seen in this light, the song of the redeemed, which was “as it were, a new song,” and which could only be learned by them, shows us the wonderful way in which the Psalms come alive with meaning in the full light of Christ’s redemption to those whose eyes are opened to see their testimony concerning Jesus.”
9) In Revelation (5:9 & 14:3) a “new song” is sung in the heavenly realm where the saints are ‘contributing’ to the prophetic whole of the book. It is not a new song in terms of being written by someone for a particular occasion (as with an uninspired hymn). Rightly then G.I. Williamson has noted: “To learn a new song, taught by the Lord, is very different from writing a new song of our own.” Furthermore the song in Revelation 14:3 cannot even be learned except by the redeemed of God. That the church is a mixed multitude here below reinforces that this song cannot be an example of new compositions in the militant church for we are not all redeemed in the here and now.
10) The new Jerusalem descends from above; it is heavenly in origin and God’s creation (Revelation 21:2). Likewise the new song does not originate with man but with God.
11) Furthermore there are many examples of new ‘things’ in scripture, none of which require that something entirely new or fresh be made or recognized but only that which was old be renewed or restored to its former glory.
There is a “new commandment” John 13:34; a “new covenant” 2 Corinthians 3:6-7; Hebrews 8:8; we are a “new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17 and a “new man” Ephesians 2:15 and there is a “new heavens and earth” 2 Peter 3:13. In each of these instances we do not have something entirely new but the old or previously existing commandment, covenant, character and creation renewed, revived and reclaimed. For example, R.L. Dabney argues from John 13:34 that Christ’s new commandment “was only ‘the old command renewed,’ only a re-enactment with an additional motive: Christ’s love for us.”
-Daniel Kok © 2017
1. “It was Benjamin Keach, and not Isaac Watts as is commonly thought, who was the first Puritan to write hymns of human composition. The first hymns of Watts were published in 1694, while those of Keach had appeared thirty years earlier. Commenting on the phrase ‘a new song’ found in the Psalms and in Rev. 14:3, Keach writes, ‘A new song,’ signifies a new song which praises God for new benefits received from him… This shows other spiritual songs may be sung besides David’s psalms in gospel days.’” [quoting Benjamin Keach “The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship” page 129] John Price, Old Light on New Worship: Musical Instruments and the Worship of God, a Theological, Historical and Psychological Study, Avinger, Texas: Simpson Publications, 2005, pages 118-119.
2. This is consistent with the composition of the song in scripture which is inspired of God. As Michael Bushell argues, “they [commands to sing a new song] do not constitute a warrant for us to produce uninspired worship song any more than they did for the Old Testament saints.” Bushell, Michael. Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody (Third edition). Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, 1999, page 95.
3. Vos, Johannes G. “Ashamed of the Tents of Shem?: The Semitic Roots of Christian Worship.” The Blue Banner. Faith Presbyterian Reformed Church. PDF article.
4. See, for example, Psalm 67.
5. Psalms 22:27-31, 72:11 & 86:9.
6. Comin, Douglas. Worship from Genesis to Revelation. Unpublished manuscript.
7. Williamson, G.I. “The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God.” Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. Ed Welsh. Web. January 23, 2016.
8. Bushell, page 96.
9. Dabney, R.L. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985, page 357.
The calls to sing a new song are very few in the OT. There are only six in the Psalms and one in Isaiah. Does it mean that we should make new songs for public worship and service unto the Lord? Not necessarily for otherwise we should continue to make burnt offerings on the basis of Psalms 20:3; 66:13; 66:15. We must always ask ourselves when it was written and to whom.
It was written before the completion of the Psalter, i.e., when there were still inspired prophets who could compose new sacred songs. Some psalms were even composed during the Babylonian exile (e.g., Psalm 137). Isaiah was a pre-exilic prophet who lived long before the Exile. Thus, it is not odd to find such calls to sing a new song given that not all songs were yet composed. As long as there were prophets, the canon of sacred songs was open.
And to whom it was written to sing a new song? I believe that it was written to a special class of priests known as the Temple singers, who were prophetically inspired to compose new sacred songs (cf. 1 Chronicles 25).
Compare this with Paul’s instruction to Christians in Corinth on how to practice the gift of prophecy. His instruction to “covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39) was to Christians who lived in a period of prophetic activity. This prophetic activity was gone when the Canon was closed. It was written for them, and not for us.
It is interesting that the expression “new song” would not appear before the last book of the Canon, namely the Book of Revelation. There is no mention of “a new song” in the NT except in Revelation, where we read that the redeemed saints will sing a new song in Heaven. Why is it called “a new song.” For simple reason that they only sang the old songs of the Psalter in their lifetime on earth, and in Heaven they sang for the first time a new song.
In brotherly love,