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Wordwise Insight, Issue #018 -- sacred music, best Bible version, hymn stories
June 14, 2006

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. Some principles regarding music ministry, and insights about "God's Workshop," plus an important study on "Truth in Our Trials" and a critique of The Da Vinci Code

READER Q & A. The background of a number of our traditional hymns

IDEAS FOR YOUR CHURCH. Finding the best Bible version for you

NEWS & REVIEWS. A free Bible on the Internet that you may find useful


Both vocal and instrumental music were used in the Jewish temple. The choosing and training of musicians and other factors suggest some sound principles for preparing music and musicians for church ministry in the Age of Grace.

Overall, one gets the impression of careful preparation in Israel, a high standard of excellence, and a strong sense of responsibility before God–any or all of which are sometimes lacking today. Consider the following points from First Chronicles:

1) The musicians were specifically chosen for this ministry by those in leadership (15:16). Who chooses the musicians who serve in your church? And are they selected for the right reasons to engage in this important and spiritual ministry?

2) They were freed from other duties, so they could concentrate on this ministry and make it as effective as possible (9:33). Overworked workers who take on too many jobs will quickly lower the standards, because they simply do not have the time to prepare properly.

3) There was vocal music (15:16, 19), and instrumental music from stringed instruments (15:16, 20, 21), wind instruments (15:24), and percussion instruments (15:16, 19). It is interesting that drums are never once mentioned in the Bible. Possibly they were associated so much with carnal and pagan practices that God’s people avoided them.

4) The musicians were trained for their work by experienced and skillful leaders (15:22, 27). We are sometimes satisfied to ignore proper training, or leave it to chance. The result is too many times mediocre, and not truly honouring to God who deserves our best.

5) The proper dress of the musicians was also considered (15:27). This can be a major problem in our day. Sloppy or immodest dress detracts from the message and draws attention away from the Lord. Faded or tattered jeans, tight or skimpy clothing, these have no place in the house of God, let alone on the platform. (Do you mean to say you would go dressed in your best to a job interview or a wedding, but not to stand in the Lord’s house and represent Almighty God?)

6) The focus of the music they presented was the Lord Himself (16:6, 8-9; cf. Ps. 22:3). They were not putting on a performance to entertain the people. This is surely another major problem today. Consumerism has taken over the church. What will tickle the ear? What will attract a crowd? Hear the words of Archibald Brown from many years gone by: “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church of Christ that part of her mission is to provide entertainment for people, with a view to winning them to the ranks....Here now is an opportunity for gratifying the flesh and yet retaining a comfortable conscience. We can now please ourselves in order to do good to others.”

7) The instruments they used were made and dedicated (I expect exclusively) for that purpose (16:42; 23:5). Too many times the theory seems to be, “Let’s make our music sound just like the music in the unsaved world. Then people will feel more at home in the church.” My father once asked pointedly, “How come some churches won’t allow a liberal in the pulpit, but they’ll allow him on the instruments?” The music of the church ought to be distinctly different, dedicated to its sacred purpose, not simply a clone of what is heard elsewhere.

8) Their work was to be done consistently and thoroughly (16:37). This has to do with faithfulness, and with a serious commitment to duty. Tardiness, and absenteeism are not glorifying to God. When you are scheduled to be there! To quote my musician father once more, “God doesn’t want your spare time.”

9) They were carefully organized, and each knew his responsibility and the schedule for his ministry (25:1, 8; cf. 23:5). This is a function of leadership. It takes time and effort, and some administrative skill. And it is important.

10) They were united in ministry, meaning likely there was a unity in their technical execution and in their inner heart and purpose (II Chron. 5:13-14; cf. I Cor. 14:15, 33, 40). It is jarring when musicians do not play or sing together. (Usually it indicates more training and practice were needed.) But beyond that, the music of the church should provide an outward picture of the unity and harmony which should prevail in the church. But this takes effort (Eph. 4:3).

Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand that we should walk in them.”

Take a look at the various tools in a workshop. Most of them seem designed to hurt something! They are made for hitting, cutting, chopping, drilling, scraping, grinding, pinching, twisting, and bending. Ouch! That does not sound pleasant at all. None of the tools is going to leave the object being worked on just as it was. They are agents of change. And described out of context they sound destructive and harmful–as indeed they can be. What makes the difference?

1) First, it is the GOAL and PLAN of the workman. He needs to have an end result in view that is beneficial, and perhaps even beautiful, and he needs a practical plan to achieve his goal. Think of how this applies to the Lord. He has a goal and plan in mind: that we display the character of Christ (Eph. 1:4; cf. 4:1), and engage in an effective ministry for Christ (Eph. 2:10).

2) The second factor is the ABILITY and persistent CARE of the workman. He needs the strength and skill to do the job, and the commitment to do his work with care to its completion. Again, we can see these things in the Lord, with regard to His work in us. He is a God of great power (Eph. 1:18-20; 3:20-21), and great love (Eph. 2:4; 5:2, 25). And “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it” (Phil. 1:6).

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.

THE DA VINCI CODE is often in the news these days. The novel by Dan Brown claims to be based on fact. Is it? Check out the resources in this newsletter, as well as the following article The Da Vinci Code.


Most often when I receive a question about church music it is a request to provide background on a particular hymn. But one day I received an e-mail asking about a whole list of hymns. Here is my response.

LIKE A RIVER GLORIOUS. Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) is sometimes called “England’s Consecration Poet” A voluminous writer, both of devotional prose and poetry, she was a godly woman whose pen became the means of effective ministry for the Lord. Says a contemporary, “Simply and sweetly she sang the love of God and His way of salvation....The burden of her writings is a free and full salvation, through the Redeemer’s merits, for every sinner who will receive it.” In 1874 she produced a hymn she called “Perfect Peace.” As with many of our hymns, it now takes the opening phrase as its title.

The song begins, “Like a river glorious / Is God’s perfect peace, / Over all victorious / In its bright increase; / Perfect, yet it floweth / Fuller every day, / Perfect, yet it groweth / Deeper all the way.” Then, the stately dignity of the tune carries the singer into the confident testimony of a refrain that applies the image more directly to the experience of the child of God: “Stayed upon Jehovah, / Hearts are fully blest; / Finding as He promised, / Perfect peace and rest.”

The prophet Isaiah speaks to the Lord in a similar vein, saying, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isa. 26:3). To express the richness of God’s gift, “perfect peace” is, in the original Hebrew, shalom shalom--peace peace, a peaceful peace. And the word Isaiah uses connotes such ideas as wholeness and soundness, safety and security, tranquility and contentment. The Amplified Bible enriches our understanding of the prophet’s words, with: “You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.”

COME, THOU ALMIGHTY KING. The Bible tells us,“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake...” (I Pet. 2:13-14). But the Christian also has allegiance to another kingdom. God’s Word says, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:3). This raises the issue of a possible conflict between the two. And when they are in clear and significant conflict, the believer must always obey God.

For some in our world, this is more than a theoretical concept. Totalitarian governments and religious extremists persecute them for their love of Christ. Churches are often closed and religious observances forbidden. Christians are jailed, tortured, and even killed for their faith. This is happening in over 60 countries today, and we must not suppose it could never happen to us. The Bible says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse” (II Tim. 3:12-13).

In 1757 a hymn was published in England entitled “Come, Thou Almighty King.” We do not know the author, and there may have been a good reason he withheld his name. A few years before, “God Save the King” had been written, an anthem extolling the British monarch. It is believed the hymn may have been composed as a spiritual counterbalance to it. Perhaps it was intended to be a reminder that our allegiance to God must always take precedence, if the two are in conflict. The hymn was originally sung to the tune of “God Save the King (or Queen).” And the two songs have several phrases in common, reinforcing the connection. The hymn says, “Come, Thou Almighty King, / Help us Thy name to sing, / Help us to praise: / Father, all glorious, / O’er all victorious, / Come and reign over us, / Ancient of Days.”

THE DOXOLOGY. On one occasion, Paul and Silas were cruelly beaten and taken to the Roman prison in Philippi. Their feet were fastened in the stocks and they were locked in a dismal cell to await an uncertain fate. But their painful situation did not dampen their joyful faith. Scripture says, “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). The song of the redeemed cannot be stifled by social custom or even adverse circumstances.

In a much different setting, something similar happened to a hymn written by a man named Thomas Ken (1637-1710). Bishop Ken lived at a time when the English church sang nothing but the Psalms. To attempt the writing of a new congregational hymn was blasphemous in the eyes of some. It was like trying to add something to the Bible. Thomas Ken was both a fine preacher and an able musician. But he knew his songs would never be welcomed in the churches of his day. In 1674, he published a book called A Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Scholars of Winchester College (a boys’ school he himself had attended). In his book, Bishop Ken included three lovely hymns he had written, but they were accompanied by the strict instruction that they never be sung in public! They were simply to be used by the boys in their private devotions.

It is ironic, therefore, that the last verse of all three hymns has likely become the most frequently sung hymn in the Christian church. It says, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; / Praise Him all creatures here below; / Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Once again it seems that when praise to God is due, it must come, even if it be in spite of binding tradition or human opposition. Regardless of Bishop Ken’s stern insistence, for over three hundred years the church has been singing his hymn of praise to God.

PRAISE THE LORD, YE HEAVENS ADORE HIM. London’s Foundling Hospital was an orphanage that became famous for singing. It was founded in 1739 by a merchant named Thomas Coram who was also involved in promoting the Wesleys’ evangelistic efforts. By the early 1800s it was quite in vogue for Londoners to visit Sunday services at the orphanage where the children were led in singing by trained musicians. Handel was so fond of the institution that he donated a chapel organ and gave a number of benefit performances of “Messiah” to raise funds for it. The Foundling Hospital is remembered today chiefly through a hymn book called Psalms, Hymns, and Anthems of the Foundling Hospital, London, which was published by Coram in 1796.

Pasted into the jacket of that hymn book were the words to this hymn. Though there is much conjecture about the authorship of the text, each theory has been refuted, and it remains anonymous. The first two verses are a paraphrase of Psalm 148 which shows all of creation praising the Lord, from the angels and heavenly hosts above, to the creatures of the sea and land below. The third verse was added in 1836 by Edward Osler in his journal Church and King.

CROWN HIM WITH MANY CROWNS. There is a relatively brief reporting of what happened to Christ at Calvary. John says simply, “They crucified Him” (Jn. 19:18). But there is passage after passage in the epistles explaining the spiritual and eternal meaning of the cross. The death of Christ is so significant God has planned for us to have eternal reminders of it. In effect, the cross planted on Golgotha’s hill towers upward to the very throne of God. We know the resurrection body of Christ, a glorified body, still bore the wounds of Calvary (Jn. 20:26-28). And apparently those identifying marks will be visible in heaven. In Revelation, John sees a vision of Christ in the midst of God’s throne appearing as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6).

Matthew Bridges (1800-1894) was an English poet who spent the latter years of his life in Canada. In 1851, he wrote the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Twenty-three years later, an Anglican clergyman named Godfrey Thring (1823-1903) added some verses of his own. In our current hymn books, stanzas one, two and four are usually Bridges’, and the third verse Thring’s. The song is based on the words of Revelation 19:12, “On His head were many crowns.” It pictures our worship of the Saviour around the heavenly throne. Verse four says, “Crown Him the Lord of love! Behold His hands and side, / Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified: / All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou hast died for me: / Thy praise shall never, never fail, throughout eternity.”

There is striking imagery there, as our attention is drawn to Christ’s “rich wounds, yet visible above.” In that realm of infinite perfection, when all the saints have been clothed in glorified, resurrection bodies, do you expect your body to retain the scars and imperfections of earth? I don’t! Yet apparently there will be one jarring exception to that, the scars in the hands and feet and side of Jesus. But far from being distracting and repellent, those wounds will be, for us, heaven’s most beautiful sight. Why? Because of the richness of their meaning. Because they are the evidence of God’s matchless love. The emblems of Christ’s passion will forever remind us of how we came to be there.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.


Wise King Solomon once said, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc. 12:12). He might well have been talking of English versions of the Scriptures. For about three centuries the Authorized (or the old King James) Version of 1611 (the OKJV) was the Bible used by the Protestant church. But during the last century there has been virtually an explosion of translations and paraphrases, each claiming its own distinctions and benefits. It is impossible in a brief note to argue the pros and cons of which English Bible is best. For some this is a heated topic on which they hold a narrow and dogmatic view. Even a thorough discussion of the subject would not change their thinking. However, let me make a few comments to explain my own position.

No English translation is flawless. But some are definitely better than others. In this newsletter, and on the Wordwise website, the New King James Version is used almost exclusively. The New Testament of the NKJV was produced in 1979, with the whole Bible made available three years later. I like it because it is consistently clear and accurate. And though the English has been updated for the modern reader, it retains much of the phrasing and word order of the OKJV, so those who use the latter can follow easily when it is read. Many today use the New International Version (NIV). It is certainly very readable, but I find it paraphrases too often, giving us an opinion about the text, rather than the actual text. I prefer a more literal rendering of the original languages. If I were not using the NKJV, I would likely choose the New American Standard Bible (NASB) for study and preaching.

I recognize there are some who insist on using the “King James only.” They believe the OKJV is always correct and accurate–some even going so far as to consider it inspired and infallible Scripture. But I simply cannot agree. There have been numerous revisions of the 1611 text over the years, and the version most often used today was produced in 1769. (So it must be asked which OKJV is the inspired and infallible Bible?) Even the 1611 translators admitted that “some imperfections and blemishes” might be found in their work. Men such as John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon spoke similarly. And John William Burgon, a critic of Westcott and Hort’s revision of 1881, said, “We do not, by any means, claim perfection for the Received Text.”

Without question some benefits have been lost with the proliferation of versions. Bible memorization and the congregational reading of the Scriptures have suffered. On the other hand, the many versions have their use in Bible study, especially for the reader who lacks a knowledge of the original languages. A comparison of several translations or paraphrases will often give a better understanding of the text. Though we cannot dictate which Bible others must use in most settings, there is value in encouraging God’s people to choose the best version possible. In the church, it will benefit the listener if he has before him the version being used in the pulpit. If pew Bibles are provided, this should be kept in mind.

Certainly, I would strongly advise people to steer clear of a paraphrase for regular reading. (In a paraphrase, the translator expresses the meaning, phrase by phrase, in his own words, as opposed to seeking the most accurate rendering of the words used in the original Hebrew or Greek text). Yes, there are figures of speech and unique constructs in the original languages which must be accommodated. But getting as close to the wording of the original is possible is to be preferred. According to the Lord Jesus, not only the words of Scripture were divinely inspired, and therefore completely authoritative, but also the letters of each word, and even the parts of each letter (Matt. 5:18)!

Many of the modern versions seem intent on bringing the text of the Bible down to the level of all, even if it will mean a misrepresentation of the original. An insightful criticism of this practice has come from a rather unexpected source. In the May 1990 edition of the Reader’s Digest, Prince Charles is quoted as follows: “It should not be our task to express our worship (whether in word or song) in terms of the lowest common denominator. We exalt the separateness of God by unique expression reserved only for Him....A good many changes were made [in modern Bible versions] just to lower the tone, in the belief that the rest of us wouldn’t get the point if the Word of God was a bit over our heads. But the Word of God is supposed to be a bit over our heads. Elevated is what God is.” Well said!

The misguided tinkering of modern translators is both wrong and dangerous. Often it is motivated by a desire to make God’s Word acceptable to those following the fashion of the day. A couple of examples.

A few years ago the concern was that some would find the message of the gospel too violent and gory because of the Bible’s many references to the shed blood of Christ. Thus, in Today’s English Version (1966), “having now been justified by His blood” (Rom. 5:9, NKJV) becomes “By his death we are now put right with God,” and “you were...redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ” (I Pet. 1:18-19, NKJV) becomes, “You were set free by the costly sacrifice of Christ.” That which to God is “precious” has been wrenched from the text because it might offend some. The words of the Apostle Paul are relevant here: “Do I seek to please men?...If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

More recently, an insistence on absolute gender equality has caused some to alter references to “brethren” and the like. Paul’s “I beseech you therefore, brethren...” (Rom. 12:1, NKJV) has become, “Brothers and sisters...I encourage you...” (God’s Word, 1995), and “Dear Christian friends, I plead with you...” (New Living Translation, 1996). The audacity of the former in describing itself officially as “God’s Word,” and of latter in calling itself “living” (which the Word of God is, Heb. 4:12), is most troubling--in view of the fact that Paul never mentions “Christian friends,” or “sisters.” And it would seem to come perilously close to adding to the Scriptures, a practice condemned in both the Old and New Testaments (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5-6; Rev. 22:18-19).

It is hoped these few thoughts will aid you in settling on a clear and reliable text of Scripture for daily use.

Prepare a sturdy box which can stand up to reuse. One possibility is to purchase a good-sized lunch pail for the purpose. You could paint Mystery Box on the side of it, or perhaps scattered question marks. Inside the lid of the box, glue the following instructions.


God has designed the physical world around us to be full of illustrations of spiritual truth. Everything from rainbows to rocks, wind to weeds, and more, is used in the Bible to teach important lessons. For example, Proverbs says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard [you lazy person]! Consider her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6). In the verses that follow, ants are used to teach the importance of hard work and careful preparation for the future.

Using this principle of comparison, we can illustrate many valuable lessons using objects we find around the house. Think! What lesson might by illustrated with a mirror, or a postage stamp, or a glass of water, or a packet of seeds? Here is your assignment–something the whole family can work on together:

1) Choose a familiar small object. It should be something recognizable to the pastor and to most of us in the church, or the lesson may be lost.

2) Decide on a good lesson that can be illustrated by the object. Discuss this together. You could ask your family and friends for ideas. Some clues: Ask yourself what the item is used for. What are its characteristics? What would happen if you didn’t have one? And how is something here like what we have, or need, in our Christian lives?

3) Place the object in the Mystery Box, and bring it to church. Wrap it carefully, if it is something that could spill or get broken.

4) During the morning service, the pastor will take a quick look at the object, and try to come up with a lesson that could be illustrated by it.

5) If you stump the pastor–if he can’t think of a good less from the object you brought–you can share a lesson you came up with.

In introducing this project, the pastor himself should choose the items for several weeks, so everyone understands what is required. Then, he can ask for a volunteer–either an individual or a family– to take the box home and come up with something themselves. You could do this for several weeks, and then take a break from it. Use your own judgment. Don’t let the activity become stale.

The objective behind this little game is to teach the use of analogy. Much of the wisdom of Proverbs uses this technique. By being observant and using some imagination, we can find wonderful illustrations of spiritual truth all around us. This should become a habit!

3) The best Bible study tool ever! At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

4) Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

5) Check out a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.


The NET Bible
The NET Bible is available on the Internet, free of charge. (It would be a good idea to bookmark the address–and perhaps even put an icon on your desktop, as I have done--so you can refer to the work easily.) When you go to the site you will see that you can call up any verse in the Bible and find a fresh translation, with lots of helpful explanatory notes. This Bible claims to be, “a translation done by evangelicals whose highest commitment is to represent the meaning of the text as accurately as possible.” Not all will agree that the result always lives up to this, but it is helpful more times than it is not.

Dr. Charles Swindoll says, “There are many wonderful things I could say about the NET Bible, but the most important is this: the NET Bible is a Bible you can trust. The translation is clear, accurate, and powerful. And the notes, those wonderful notes! They bring to the layman scholarly insights and discussions that have up till now been accessible only to those trained in the biblical languages."

Check out this useful tool at: The NET Bible.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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