Manual The Early Church & Today, Vol 1: A Collection of Writings by Everett Ferguson

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One Pastor per Church? Ferguson dedicates one chapter to the question of whether the First Century synagogues had congregational singing, in particular, a cappella singing. You see, until recently, many scholars have assumed, without any real analysis, that the Talmud and Mishnah describe the synagogue and other Jewish practices as they existed at the time of Jesus. But this is hardly a safe assumption. Thus, the Talmud, a vast collection of the Jewish Oral Law, is centuries — even half a millennium — after the time of Jesus. A lot happened in the Jewish community during those years!

These events dramatically changed how Judaism was practiced, as the rabbis had to wrestle with the long-term absence of the Temple, the further scattering of the Jews across the Empire, and increasing persecution. The loss of the Temple forced a dramatic reconsideration of the Law of Moses, for example. What about animal sacrifices? The song service?

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The instrumental service? And the rabbis concluded that the Temple was irreplaceable and so the synagogue should not seek to duplicate the services held at the Temple. However, over time, the synagogues took up singing, and until the last century, this singing was a cappella.

These sources are largely the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus. These works are clearly dated to this time frame. Philo was born fewer than 20 years before Jesus. The Apocrypha was part of the Septuagint and so predates Jesus by two or three hundred years, but teaches us a great deal about the period between the testaments.

The pseudepigrapha were written largely during this period. It was also a brilliantly conceived idea to preserve Judaism and Torah study while the Jews were dispersed throughout the Empire, far from Judea.

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We know from the New Testament that synagogues were an ordinary part of Jewish life in Judea, Galilee, and where Paul conducted his missionary journeys, meaning it was a mature, established institution by then. But we know little else. Thus, these scholars argue, there is no evidence of congregational singing in the synagogues until well after apostolic times. James W. Therefore, these scholars conclude, there is no reason to suppose that the early Christian assemblies were based on the synagogue practices. This argument, that is made for reasons quite independent of the Church of Christ concerns with a cappella music, defeats the argument that the early church was necessarily a cappella in its singing because the First Century synagogue was a cappella.


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He writes,. There is a similar lack of first-century sources for musical practices in the synagogues. Here the situation is more controversial, however, because there are first-century references to other activities in the synagogues [in additional to prayer and scripture study]. It is generally agreed that instrumental music was absent from the synagogue meetings, but some have argued that singing too, and particularly psalm-singing, was also absent.

The argument from the silence of first-century sources about psalmody proves too much. The sources cited mention only scripture reading and its interpretation; if these sources were all we had to go on, we would have to omit prayer from the synagogue service in the first century.

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Kindle Locations Ferguson next argues that there is evidence of reading or recitation of certain of the Psalms in the First Century synagogue. The Mishnah, compiled around AD , gives instructions about the congregational reciting of the Hallel. The tractate Rosh HaShanah 4. Megillah 32a; Sopherim 3. A lot happened between then and the writing down of the Mishnah. Rather, the idea is that by adding variations in pitch to the spoken word, in something of a chant, the scriptures are more easily understood and remembered. Great celebration, leading to spontaneous singing at the prospect of reading Torah, followed by a sing-song reading style in which the words are given pitch but not melody.

After all, nowhere are we told that the Jews assembled for a one-hour Sabbath meeting similar to our congregational worship services. Is cantillation singing?

Early Christian Periodizations of History - Dr Everett Ferguson

We cannot equate this to the congregational singing as a distinct act of worship as found in our polemics. Therefore, even if the Mishnah is referring to practices years earlier, the reciting of the Psalms, which might have been by cantillation, is no argument for a cappella congregational singing in the First Century synagogues. Really… Dr. How odd is that? What we should emulate as a binding example from an example which contradicts our position on where binding examples should come from… Odd indeed.

It is true that Everett Ferguson is a brilliant mind, and his knowledge of the early church is well respected in the evangelical community. However, brilliant minds, like others in their fellowship, feel compelled to defend their traditions. The truth is if you were to put before other scholars of the Christian world the arguments against instrumental music, against church corporation and against multiple communion cups, while they would certainly see them coming from different wings of the Restoration Movement, would still see them as coming from the same mindset, that of needing to recreate the one true church.

The synagogue being a point of reference may be of some interest to them, but it would not hold any authority. They see the physical cup as tradition, beautiful, and that which preserves the solemnity of the worship; but, never something worth the time of debate. Is the conclusion that Ferguson holds instruments in worship to be wrong? I have not read him, but from other sources I get that idea.

Why is that? Why is something like singing with our without instruments so important? I think the honest answer says more about us than we care to admit. You are quite right to point out the irony. Al Maxey, I think, made that point some time ago. I just spoke with a friend in another state whose church just added a second service — with instruments. They lost half their members and contribution despite excellent preaching and leadership. And there are other churches that made the transition without such a dramatic loss.

It is interesting to wonder whether the tradition of a cappella might survive well as just a tradition? You rightly point out that the Episcopalians are one-cuppers. The Orthodox are growing despite being AC. On the other hand, the legalism and attitudes of superiority that AC often produces are huge disadvantages to evangelism. How do you keep the traditional practices and yet get rid of the traditional doctrines and attitudes that accompany them? Yes, Ferguson provides the scholarly backbone for the argument that instruments are sinful.

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His arguments are much more honest than the usual, meaning that there are few hidden assumptions. We accept their testimony on every other tenet of faith, but when we approach the issue of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we often look at other sources than the testimony they gave. But the best place to start is the Scripture itself, not looking at the practices of the 1st century synagogue in order to support some pet doctrine. Don, There are several church of Christ congregations that now have instrument accompanied services.

It defies the English language and the Greek by the way , and human logic to say those folks who attend those services are not singing. That appears to be your line of reasoning. Jay, A couple of observations.