Ephesians 5:19 (NASB)
speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;

  • "singing" translates Strong's #103 - ᾄδω - áidō - verb
  • "making melody" translates Strong's #5567 - ψάλλω - psállō - verb

Can psállō mean "playing an instrument", or "singing" and "making melody with your heart" are used interchangeably to mean "singing"?

Also, if psállō means exclusively "playing an instrument", given the fact that it is the imperative tense, I strongly doubt God commands us to play un instrument.

2 Answers 2


The text strongly indicates that "making melody with your hearts to the Lord" is used to summarize, in a way, what Saint Paul said earlier in the verse.

This may also be a case of parallelism, which is very commonly used in the Hebrew language. This is an example from the book of Psalms:

Psalm 34:3 KJV — O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

"magnify the LORD with me" means the same exact thing as "let us exalt his name together".

While Saint Paul was speaking in Greek, as a native speaker of Hebrew and a Jew, it is expected that he would employ this style of writing while writing in Greek.

  • @robin Thank you. I understood parallelism before, but, once someone on StackExchange pointed out how exactly it was used in Hebrew, I was able to notice it everywhere in the Old Testament, and, as we see, in the New Testament also. You can find it in abundance in the book of Job, Psalms, the books of prophecy (but especially Isaiah, I believe), and even some parts of Exodus, for example.
    – CMK
    Dec 3, 2017 at 3:57
  • @robin Yes, by Hebrew, I do mean the Old Testament, although I would expect parallelism to be used by Jesus and by Paul in his letters besides the time that I suggested. Also, it is more likely than not that Paul didn't write the book of Hebrews because of the style of writing. I personally believe that Luke wrote the book; it's style is very similar to that of Luke and Acts. Thanks for the welcome.
    – CMK
    Dec 3, 2017 at 4:15
  • @robin The similarity of Hebrews' doctrine to Paul's is exactly why I believe that it was written by Luke, coincidentally. What do you do?
    – CMK
    Dec 3, 2017 at 4:29
  • @robin I see. So you study the Pauline letters and Greek, among other things. I don't have much to put on my profile. It has been an interesting conversation, but I have to go now. Thanks.
    – CMK
    Dec 3, 2017 at 4:37
  • @robin Oh, that stinks. I just saw this comment. I probably don't have enough points to use the chat though.
    – CMK
    Dec 3, 2017 at 4:38

Good question, good follow-up ...I'd not noticed this before, but CMK's observation about Paul's Judean heritage and the possibility of this being a case of parallelism is interesting.

λαλοῦντες ἑαυτοῖς ψαλμοῖς καὶ ὕμνοις καὶ ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς, ᾄδοντες καὶ ψάλλοντες ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν τῷ κυρίῳ, (RP2005)

5:19* speaking unto~yourselves [in] psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs; singing and psalming in with~the heart of~yours unto~the Lord; (~robin)

If we were to view this as two parallel, but alternating halves:

a) speaking unto~yourselves [in] psalms, and hymns, and spiritual song b) singing and psalming in with~the heart of~yours unto~the Lord

Then, there's the noticeable balance of:

1) unto~yourselves

2) unto~the Lord

And the additional balance of:

3) speaking [in] psalms, and hymns, and spiritual song

4) singing and psalming in with~the heart of yours

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (NASB)

If the question is ... Q1: Does singing and making melody (psalming) ... mean different things?

Then, if this is an intended parallelism, shouldn't we also be asking ... Q2: Does speaking in psalms, hymns, and spiritual song ... mean different things?

Also, notice (the asterisk) that there are source text variations in this verse; that is, the preposition "in" is present before "psalms" is some texts, and not in others ... And the "in" before "the heart" is present in some, and not in others (see the variants list below).

The reason I mention this is that this proposition is another dividing point, in both of our parallel halves ...

3) speaking [in]

psalms, and hymns, and spiritual song

4) singing and psalming in

with~the heart of yours

This has the appearance, then, if we continue with the idea of parallelism being involved, of "speaking" being one thing, and alternately of"singing and psalming," also, being one thing (so to speak).

And yet, "adontes kai psallontes" are obviously two different words, two different verbs "singing {0103 V-PAP-NPM} and {2532 CONJ} psalming {5567 V-PAP-NPM}" ... the obvious emphasis, here, being that they are, in fact, different, different words that mean different things, different actions.

Q: Can psállō mean "playing an instrument", or "singing" and "making melody with your heart" are used interchangeably to mean "singing"?

So, even though the parallel balancing would group these two, together, over against the opposite side's singular "speaking," that's really not sufficient reason to think of "singing" and "psalming" as a singular/ equal something.

Also, you suggest that "psállō" might mean exclusively "playing an instrument," but you didn't really say how this idea is supported. I'm not sure that one could say "exclusively," but it is associated with "psElaphaO" (to touch lightly, twang, or snap), which does sort of relate to playing a stringed instrument. However, it also is used in a more general way to signify making music in any fashion, so it could extend to "making music" in any manner, such as simply singing praises or psalms to God, whether with or without instruments. [Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary].

Also, I noticed that you interjected the thought that you strongly doubt that God "commands" us to play an instrument, even though the verb is in the imperative tense. Interesting how the idea of "command" comes up here and in another recent question when in neither topic threads, there's any thought of there being a "command" involved in their verses? And just to further clarify, neither verb... "singing {0103 V-PAP-NPM} and {2532 CONJ} psalming {5567 V-PAP-NPM}" are imperative, they are present, active, participles [imperative, by the way, is mood, not tense].

And, as long as I'm quibbling, why would the NASB have properly read "psalmois" as "psalms," but then have gone so far afield and translated "psallontes" with the the poor reading of "making melody?"

lalountes heautois psalmois kai humnois kai Odais pneumatikais adontes kai psallontes en tE kardia humOn to kuriO

5:19* Addition

ψαλμοῖς ‭א A D F G Ψ 1881 Byz vgms Tertullian ς WH

psalmois unto~psalms {5568 N-DPM}

*en psalmois in {1722 PREP} unto~psalms {5568 N-DPM}

ἐν ψαλμοῖς p46 B P 0278 6 33 1739 pc it vg (NA [ἐν])

5:19* Deletion

ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ Ψ 0278 33 Byz ς

en tE kardia in {1722 PREP} unto~the [one] {3588 T-DSF} unto~a~heart {2588 N-DSF}

*tE kardia unto~the [one] {3588 T-DSF} unto~a~heart {2588 N-DSF}

τῇ καρδίᾳ p46 ‭א* B 1739 1881 WH

  • Thank you for your help. I meant imperative mood, i apologize. However, the context is imperative: Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit. Be filled is imperative mood. And Paul explains how to be filled, by singing... Xrefs: Colossians 3:16; James 5:13. It is not an opinion based instruction. God expects us to sing. Unless I am mistaken somewhere... Dec 6, 2017 at 14:00
  • @TruthSeeker You are, indeed, correct, God expects us to joyfully sing (at times; everything in its place), but I can find no imperative mood in this verse. It's possible I'm missing something (?), so please clarify your point. And Yes, Eph 5:18 is, indeed, imperative, but I'm not sure how we might justify carrying over the mood from that previous verse to this one ... Yes, that seems a reasonable assumption, but if that were truly so, then wouldn't Paul have consistently carried-over/ used that mood, here, in the following verse? It's an arguable point, but I see no facts to support it?
    – robin
    Dec 6, 2017 at 20:52
  • Colossians 3:16 "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God". James 5:13 "Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises". If God expects us to do something but we do not meet His expectation, how different would that be from disobeying Him? Dec 6, 2017 at 21:28
  • @truthseeker We are looking at Paul's letters to us, not James; however, you are correct about Col 3:16 being imperative at one point, "be there indwelling richly among with~you, the word of~the Anointed," but do notice that there's a break, and the following two verbs, "to~yourselves teaching and mind-setting" are not imperative, AND, it's here that we get the parallel thoughts, about the mean of doing so, via "with~psalms, and with~hymns, and with~spiritual songs, in with~a~grace singing in with~the hearts of you" That is, this is Paul's good advice, not some command to be happy (or else).
    – robin
    Dec 6, 2017 at 21:41
  • How can you demonstrate singing is a good advice, and not an expectation? Dec 6, 2017 at 21:50

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