Rhythm in the Church: A Seventh-day Adventist Perspective

By Written: April 2016



In light of a recent discussion regarding whether it is appropriate to strum the guitar in church, thereby emphasizing rhythm, I thought that it would be good to do a study of the inspired writings to determine what counsel is available to us on the topic of rhythm. What I found in my study significantly broadened my understanding. I had expected to encounter only a few passages on the topic. However, I found in the Old Testament an extensive, clear chain of instruction and practice. (I did not find any relevant passages in the New Testament.)

This paper will focus first on music in the Bible, specifically as it pertains to rhythm. Then, it will turn to the writings of Ellen White and explore the relevant counsel she offers.

The Bible

The musical setting of the Bible

We have no direct knowledge of the exact music used in Bible days because no musical notation, if it even existed at that time, is now extant. The closest we have is the cantillation marks added to the Hebrew Bible some 400-plus years after Christ. These marks, however, are more directions on how the synagogue cantor should chant the words than they are musical notation as we understand it today.1 In addition, we have no sufficiently detailed descriptions of biblical music that would enable us to recreate the music of the Old or New Testaments.2

Because we have no musical notation, we don’t really know what the music of the Bible sounded like. However, we can draw some inferences from the descriptions that do exist and from archaeological information regarding the various instruments.

First, the Bible is full of references to singing. The words “sing,” “sings,” and “singing” occur no fewer than 133 times.3 Clearly, singing is an integral part of the music of the Bible.

In addition, there are a number of musical instruments mentioned. For example, the music of the temple included various instrumental ensembles in addition to singing.4 These instruments fall into the principal categories of instruments that we have today. Stringed instruments included the harp, lyre, lute, and zither. Woodwinds included the flute and possibly the pipe. Brass instruments included the trumpet. Finally, the percussion section included the tambourine, cymbals, castanets and gong. This list is in no way exhaustive. All of them had their function, not only in ordinary life, but in the music of the sanctuary.

Our study will focus on one category of instruments in particular.

The rhythm section

Since we have no direct knowledge of the exact role of rhythm in the Bible, we will examine some of the instruments used and draw inferences from those instruments.

First, though, some definitions: A percussion instrument is one where sound is produced by directly or indirectly striking the instrument. The most obvious examples of percussion instruments include drums, cymbals, and xylophones. The piano is also a percussion instrument, though it is generally classified as a keyboard instrument.

Percussion instruments can be either pitched or unpitched. A pitched percussion instrument plays notes at a precise pitch (sound frequency) and must be tuned. Examples include xylophones, timpani, and pianos. An unpitched instrument plays notes that are not of an exact pitch. While there may be relative differences between unpitched instruments in terms of pitch, the pitch has no direct bearing on the music. Examples of unpitched instruments include snare drums, tom toms, cymbals, and tambourines.

While pitched percussion can serve a variety of musical functions, unpitched percussion is only capable of playing rhythm. It may outline the basic metrical structure of the music (as when singers clap or snap to the beat), it may weave layers of altogether new rhythms on top of the music (as in the more complex African drumming), or it may fall somewhere in between the ends of this spectrum (as in most music). Alternatively, it may serve a reduced role as musical punctuation (as in the occasional crash of a cymbal or gong in many orchestral works). Thus, it is fair to call unpitched percussion the rhythm section, although nearly every instrument is capable of functioning as a rhythm instrument.

Rhythm in the Bible

The percussion mentioned in the Bible is unpitched. The primary instruments are tambourines and cymbals. (See Appendix A for a description of the biblical versions of these instruments.) Both are associated with joyous occasions. The tambourine is in all but a few cases associated with the worship of God. The cymbals are always mentioned in connection with the worship of God. Appendix B contains a complete list of every place these two instruments are mentioned in the Bible; it also lists the occasion and/or purpose for each passage. The only other percussion instruments I found mentioned in the Bible are castanets and gongs. With the important exception of tambourines,5 drums were apparently unknown to the ancient Hebrews.

Occasions where rhythm instruments are used in the Old Testament6

Parties and celebrations

On several occasions, rhythm instruments are mentioned in connection with celebrations which have no direct connection, or no connection at all, to the worship of God.7 In Genesis 31:27, after Laban caught up with the fleeing Jacob, he complained, “Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre?” Laban, perhaps falsely, claimed that he would have thrown Jacob a farewell party complete with mirth and music. This music included the tambourine as a rhythm instrument.

Isaiah 5:12 contains a message of woe to those who hold drunken parties. The prophet admonishes, “They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.” The criticism is not of their music, but of their failure to recognize God’s work.

On a more positive note, there are several places where the rhythm section is employed to celebrate God’s deliverance. Exodus 15:20 tells of Miriam leading the women of Israel in playing the tambourine8 and dancing while singing praise to God for His deliverance at the Red Sea. Likewise, after David’s return from defeating Goliath, 1 Samuel 18:6 records that “the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul [and David], with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments.”

There is also a figurative sense. Isaiah 30 describes God’s future deliverance of Israel and punishment of Assyria, in a passage that seems to also be relevant to God’s final judgment at the end of time. God’s punishment is symbolically described as having the sound of tambourines and lyres, because His deliverance brings about rejoicing. In verses 29, 31, and 32 we read: “You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. . . . The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. And every stroke of the appointed staff that the Lord lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them.”

Worship and praise to God outside the sanctuary service

Another time the percussion section is employed is whenever God is worshipped and praised outside of the sanctuary service. First Samuel 10:5, 6 mentions rhythm instruments being used while prophesying.9 Samuel told Saul of the sign that would show that he had been chosen to be king: “After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim. . . . And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”

We find another example when Nehemiah and the people of Judah had finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem and held a dedication service. Nehemiah 12:27 records that at the outset of the dedication, “they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.”

One final example comes from Jeremiah 31. In a passage where God promises to deliver a remnant of Israel out of the coming judgment, He describes the reversal Israel will experience. In verse 4, God promises, “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.” God’s deliverance results in dancing and rhythm!

Worship and praise to God in the sanctuary service

By far, the most commonly mentioned use of rhythm instruments was in the sanctuary service. Out of the 24 Old Testament passages which mention cymbals and/or tambourines, 11 of them (46%) relate to the sanctuary, its furniture, or its environs. This is many more than for any other single purpose. In addition, with only one Old Testament exception,10 cymbals are exclusively linked to the sanctuary service.

Percussion was used when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the tent of meeting, and when it was moved to the temple. In 1 Chronicles 13, we read of David’s first attempt to bring the Ark from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem. Verse 8 describes the procession: “And David and all Israel were rejoicing before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.” Thus it is seen that percussion was used specifically in reference to the sanctuary and its furniture. The other passages that relate to the movement of the Ark from the time of David onward always include cymbals and occasionally tambourines.

Rhythm instruments were not just used in special circumstances. First Chronicles 25:1-6 records how David organized the music for the sanctuary services. Verse 1 tells us: “David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.” This was an ongoing responsibility, not a one-off event.

Perhaps the most important verse relating to instrumental music in the sanctuary service is found in 2 Chronicles 29. The story is Hezekiah’s restoration of temple worship as part of his efforts to return Judah to following God. In verse 25, we read that Hezekiah “stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the Lord through his prophets.” This means that when David organized the sanctuary musicians, he didn’t just make their duties up. The instructions he followed came from God via His prophets. Thus, the music of the sanctuary—including cymbals, harps, and lyres—was specifically endorsed by God. Those who claim that rhythm instruments or styles are inappropriate in the sanctuary have this verse to contend with.

The meaning of rhythm instruments in the Old Testament

Throughout the Old Testament, rhythm instruments are closely associated with celebration and rejoicing.11 This can be secular in nature, or even perverted for sinful purposes, but celebration and rejoicing—and thus rhythm instruments—are considered in the Old Testament to be particularly appropriate for worshipping and praising God.

Psalm 149 is a call to praise God with a new song, with dancing, tambourine, and lyre. This is a poetic way of commanding a celebration of praise, and the celebration includes rhythm instruments.

More to the point is Psalm 150, which according to verse 1 is concerned with the sanctuary. Verses 3-5 command (the verbs are imperatives): “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” Note that verse 5 emphasizes the cymbals, which are associated with the sanctuary. Note further that these cymbals are anything but quiet. This is jubilant praise in the sanctuary, in which the rhythm section features prominently. Remember, the purpose of unpitched percussion instruments such as cymbals and tambourines is to enhance the rhythm in some way.

Summary of the Bible on rhythm

So, what does all this mean in a modern setting? Since the music of the Old Testament, especially the sanctuary service, featured rhythm instruments, it is difficult to condemn the use of rhythm instruments in today’s church services. While the instruments readily available to us today differ from the instruments of the Old Testament, and while we have no exact knowledge of how music was performed in Bible times, the intrinsic nature of cymbals and tambourines teaches us that we can make modern applications of rhythm. Rhythm guitar emphasizes the rhythm no more strongly than cymbals do. In fact, even modern drums differ from Old Testament percussion only in timbre.12

This is not to argue that all music is acceptable to God. Nor does it mean that all so-called Christian music is good. But condemning music solely on the basis of a strong rhythmic component is unfounded from a biblical perspective.13

The writings of Ellen White

Like the Bible, Ellen White does not directly address the topic of rhythm. Nearly all of her writings on music are irrelevant to the topic of this paper. As with the Bible, in order to infer her thoughts on rhythm, we will have to consider her descriptions of particular instruments.

In the previous section, we examined the Old Testament passages which mention cymbals and tambourines, as they were the chief percussion instruments of the day. Ellen White makes no mention of the tambourine, and only mentions cymbals while discussing or alluding to the Old Testament passages which mention cymbals, or in discussions of sanctuary rituals.14

Ellen White was not necessarily opposed to new forms of music. In Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists, she describes an Adventist church she visited in Grythyttan,15 Sweden. This church was “one of the oldest companies of Sabbath-keepers in Sweden. They number about fifty. . . . Here a plan quite common in Sweden, but new to us, was adopted to supply the lack of an organ. A lady who occupied a room adjoining the meeting-hall, and who had charge of the building, was a skillful player on the guitar, and possessed a sweet, musical voice; at public worship she was accustomed to supply the place of both choir and instrument. At our request she played and sung [sic] at the opening of our meetings.”16 The guitar is frequently played as a rhythm instrument; in this case, however, there is no record of the style in which it was played. Regardless, this passage shows an openness to a variety of ways to perform music in church.


Whether or not the guitar was used as a rhythm instrument, Ellen White does make occasional mention of another rhythm instrument, more common in her day than the percussion instruments of the Old Testament: the drum. What may be surprising, though, is what she has to say about drums. Since many of the times she mentions drums are in passing and irrelevant to this topic, only a sample will be discussed.

In the December 22, 1886 issue of the Youth’s Instructor, she describes military drills which take place outside the Adventist printing facility in Basel, Switzerland. She notes in passing that drums form a part of military training17 and admonishes her readers to take their role as soldiers of Christ as seriously as do the soldiers-in-training that she observed.

Another occasion to mention drums came as Ellen White described some open-air temperance meetings in Australia, at which she spoke. Her primary focus was on the success of the meetings, how they effectively combatted prejudice and changed lives. In passing, she mentions that there were a number of Salvation Army members present, and she remarks of them that “they can learn that meetings can be held in the open air without the drum, without the jumping and the gesticulations that create a laugh and rob the service of God of its solemnity. Our meetings were very orderly.”18 In the original, unedited letter, she mentions that instruments were not even necessary.19 Of note is that her point is not that rhythm instruments are wrong, but that drums, jumping, and gesticulations create an environment that is not proper. Her focus, repeated throughout her letter, is on orderliness, not rhythm or even musical instruments.

Drums and the 1900 Indiana camp meeting

The best-known passage in which Ellen White discusses drums was written in response to a letter she received from S. N. Haskell describing the 1900 Indiana camp meeting. Before we study her reply, though, some background is in order. The compilers of Selected Messages, volume 1, present this helpful description of the setting:

A fanatical teaching termed “The Doctrine of Holy Flesh” was started in 1900 in Indiana, leading the conference president and various workers into serious error. This theory alleged that those who follow the Saviour must have their fallen natures perfected by passing through a “Garden of Gethsemane” experience, thus acquiring a state of physical sinlessness as an essential preparation for translation. Eyewitness accounts report that in their services the fanatics worked up a high pitch of excitement by use of musical instruments such as organs, flutes, fiddles, tambourines, horns, and even a big bass drum. They sought a physical demonstration and shouted and prayed and sang until someone in the congregation would fall, prostrate and unconscious, from his seat. One or two men, walking up and down the aisle for the purpose, would drag the fallen person up on the rostrum. Then about a dozen individuals would gather around the prostrate body, some singing, some shouting, and some praying, all at the same time. When the subject revived, he was counted among those who had passed through the Gethsemane experience, had obtained holy flesh, and had translation faith. Thereafter, it was asserted, he could not sin and would never die. Elders S. N. Haskell and A. J. Breed, two of our leading denominational ministers, were sent to the camp meeting held at Muncie, Indiana, from September 13 to 23, 1900, to meet this fanaticism. These developments were revealed to Mrs. White while she was in Australia in January, 1900, and she bore testimony of warning and reproof against it.20

It is worth noting that these methods are similar to the then-nascent Pentecostal movement. It appears that, at the time, these methods were commonly associated with the Salvation Army. In a letter dated September 25, 1900, Haskell wrote of the camp meeting: “Their revival effort is simply a complete copy of the Salvation Army method and when they get on a high key, you cannot hear a word from the congregation in their singing, nor hear anything, unless it be shrieks of those who are half insane. I do not think I overdraw it at all.”21 This is perhaps why Ellen White frequently characterized the camp meeting as a “bedlam of noise.”22

With this background in mind, we will now turn to Ellen White’s words. She writes: “The things you have described as taking place in Indiana, the Lord has shown me would take place just before the close of probation. Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting, with drums, music and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit.”23 She continues in the next paragraph: “The Holy Spirit never reveals itself in such methods, in such a bedlam of noise. This is an invention of Satan to cover up his ingenious methods of marking [sic] of none effect the pure, sincere, elevating, ennobling, sanctifying truth for this time. Better never have the worship of God blended with music than the [sic] use musical instruments to do the work which last January was represented to me would be brought into our camp meetings. The truth for this time needs nothing of this kind in its work of converting souls. A bedlam of noise shocks the senses and perverts that which, if conducted aright, might be a blessing. The powers of satanic agencies blend with the din and noise to have a carnival, and this is termed the Holy Spirit’s working.”

From the context we have examined so far, it should be clear that the issue is not merely the fact that rhythm was emphasized in the music at the Indiana camp meeting, nor was the primary issue the presence of drums. She does not condemn any particular instrument, or the presence of a rhythm instrument. The issue was the “bedlam of noise” and the emotionalism which pulled people away from the influence of the Holy Spirit. The issue here is with the complete package. And indeed, the events described as taking place during that camp meeting are similar to the events which take place even today in many Pentecostal gatherings.

Ellen White continues: “When the camp meeting is ended, the good which ought to have been done, and which might have been done by the presentation of sacred truth, is not accomplished. Those participating in the supposed revival receive impressions which lead them adrift. They cannot tell what they formerly knew regarding Bible principles.”24 The problem with the program at the Indiana camp meeting was that, instead of being convicted by God’s truth, the people were brought to a temporary emotional high by the “bedlam of noise”—a high that could not be sustained after the program was over.

Putting it all together

Now that we have studied what the Bible and Ellen White have to say regarding rhythm, we can reiterate our conclusions:

First, it is quite possible to use rhythm instruments in an appropriate way in a worship service. The Old Testament makes this point crystal clear. In fact, the use of cymbals in the sanctuary was even commanded by God, according to 2 Chronicles 29:25.

As can be expected, Ellen White does not condemn rhythm instruments, either. However, she does caution against the use of music to suppress reason and produce a faith based on emotionalism.

So, is it acceptable to strum a guitar in church? Yes.

Appendix A: What were ancient tambourines and cymbals like?


The instrument translated “tambourine” (KJV “timbrel”) is known in Hebrew as תֹּף (tof or toph, depending on the transliteration method). Of it, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) writes:

The toph25 . . . was a shallow, round hand drum, consisting of a wooden frame about 25 cm. (10 in.) in diameter covered on one side with a parchment membrane. “Tambourine” is an accurate translation but misleading to the modern reader since, to judge from preserved illustrations, the toph was never provided with the metal jingles found on the modern instrument. . . . In Mesopotamia and Egypt, the hand drum was a feminine instrument. In Israel, too, the toph seems to have been played mainly by women, despite several instances that might be construed otherwise. . . . The instrument provided rhythmic accompaniment to singing, dancing, and instrumental music.26

Further describing this instrument, Yelena Kolyada writes:

The word “tof” occurs in the Bible 17 times, once (Ezek. 28:13) in a non-musical sense. . . . The tof is never referred to in descriptions of the temple music. However it was used in religious and semi-religious feasts and in secular festivals as a means of laudatory appeal to God (2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chr. 13:8; Pss 81:2; 149:3; 150:4). It is often mentioned together with other instruments (mainly with the kinnor; 2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chr. 13:8) or as an accompaniment to the singing of prophets (1 Sam. 10:5). The tof expressed the joy of the women when meeting the men after a victorious battle (Exod. 15:20; Judg. 11:34; 1 Sam. 18:6-7). It accompanied the women’s round dance (Ps. 68:26; Jer. 31:4) and other public festivities (Isa. 5:12). Sometimes quite unexpectedly it became a formidable weapon against the enemies of Israel (Isa. 30:32).27

Although Kolyada is correct when she states that the tambourine was never used in the music of the temple itself, Appendix B shows that it was used in David’s procession of the Ark of the Covenant to the sanctuary (1 Chronicles 13:8), as well as in a figurative depiction of God’s armies triumphantly processing to the sanctuary (Psalm 68:25).


The ISBE has this to say about cymbals:

Two synonymous terms for the cymbals were derived from the onomatopoeic root ṣll,28 [Hebrew צלל] “to ring, tremble.”

Meṣiltayim [Hebrew מְצִלְתַּיִם], the more common term, is a dual: “pair of cymbals.” . . . Ṣelṣelim [Hebrew צֶלְצְלִים] is a plural, and occurs only in 2 S. 6:5 and Ps. 150:5.

Preserved examples of cymbals have been found at Ugarit, in Egypt, and at numerous sites in Israel dating from the 14th to the 8th cent. B.C. Generally found in pairs, they take the form of round flat plates, 10-15 cm. (4-6 in.) in diameter, with central bowl-like depressions. . . . They were made of bronze (cf. 1 Ch. 15:19) and were fitted with (iron) finger rings. . . .

In Ps. 150:5 the phrases ṣilṣelê-šāma‘ [Hebrew צִלְצְלֵי־שָׁמַע], “cymbals of (pleasing?) sound,” and ṣilṣelê terû‘â [Hebrew צִלְצְלֵי תְרוּעָה], “cymbals of alarm,” . . . are thought to refer to a difference in size or manner of playing. A difference in loudness or relative pleasantness is certainly implied by the early translations. . . . Bayer, however, stressed that the size of the cymbals excavated in Palestine remains unchanged over a considerable period of time, even though, by Josephus’s time, they may have become larger.29

According to Jeremy Montagu, “Many cymbals have been found archaeologically in the Holy Land, some large enough that they must have been hand-held, others small enough to be held on the fingers, as is still done over much of northern Africa and the Near East, or fixed on the ends of a pair of wooden or metal tongs, as in a number of Egyptian finds. Diameters vary from 40 mm to 105 mm and the latter corresponds, as nearly as one can judge, with those held in the hands of pottery figurines, many of which have also been found in the area.”30

In addressing the different cymbals found in Psalm 150, Kolyada notes:

Some Temple tseltselim [cymbals] whose sound was alleged to be heard as far away as Jericho (as described in the Talmud in m. Tamid III:3; y. Sukkah V:3) may also be identified as the “noisy cymbals”. Some archaeological specimens found in good condition were played experimentally, and were shown to have excellent resonance. On the other hand the ancient tseltselim with a very gentle sound that had for many centuries been kept in the Temple belonged, as the Talmud says (b. ‘Arak. 10b; y. Sukkah V:6), to the category of “clean” instruments. According to these sources the Temple tseltselim were damaged and the rabbis sent to Alexandria for craftsmen (perhaps the Jews did not know the secret of the alloy), but after the repair the instrument lost its gentle timbre. To restore it the results of the repair had to be reversed.31

So, how were cymbals played in Old Testament times? Today, crash cymbals are normally played in one of two ways. First, in a lot of orchestral music, cymbals are struck together only on occasion to punctuate the music. The other use occurs in marches and other rhythmic music where the cymbals are struck in a regular pattern, such as once per beat. But what about the Bible? The simple answer is that we don’t really know. According to Johannes Reuchlin, the cymbals were held vertically and either struck together or rubbed against each other.32 Referring to what he presumes to be David’s first Temple orchestra mentioned in 1 Chronicles 16:5, Montagu writes: “The cymbal player is also the chief, presumably giving stop and start signals with his cymbals or perhaps marking the rhythm.”33

Appendix B: Tambourines and cymbals in the Bible

Gen. 31:27Tambourine and lyre34Farewell party for Jacob
Ex. 15:20TambourineSong and dance praising God for deliverance from Egypt at the Red Sea
Judg. 11:34TambourineCelebration of Jephthah’s safe return from war
1 Sam. 10:5Harp, flute, tambourine, and lyreUsed by prophets of God in prophesying
1 Sam. 18:6Tambourine and other unspecified instrumentsWomen of Israel celebrating David’s victory over Goliath
2 Sam. 6:5Lyre, harp, tambourine, castanets, and cymbalsProcession to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem
1 Chron. 13:8Lyre, harp, tambourine, cymbals, trumpetProcession to bring the Ark to Jerusalem (parallel with 2 Sam. 6:5)
1 Chron. 15:16, 19, 28Harps, lyres, and cymbalsSecond attempt to bring the Ark to Jerusalem
1 Chron. 16:5Harps, lyres, and cymbalsPlacing the Ark in a tent in Jerusalem
1 Chron. 16:42Harps, lyres, and cymbalsOngoing ceremonial use before the Ark in Jerusalem
1 Chron. 25:1, 6Lyres, harps, and cymbalsDavid’s organization of the sanctuary service35
2 Chron. 5:12, 13Cymbals, harps, and lyresProcession of the Ark to the newly constructed temple
2 Chron. 29:25Cymbals, harps, and lyresHezekiah’s restoration of temple worship36
Ezra 3:10Trumpets and cymbalsLaying the foundation of the second temple
Neh. 12:27Cymbals, harps, and lyresDedication of the Jerusalem wall37
Job 21:12Tambourine, lyre, and pipeThe wicked have joyous celebrations
Ps. 68:25TambourineFigurative procession to the sanctuary
Ps. 81:2, 3Tambourine, lyre, harp, and trumpetJoyful song to God at a new moon feast
Ps. 149:3Tambourine and lyreCommand to praise God through music in a variety of circumstances
Ps. 150:3-5Trumpet, lute, harp, tambourine, strings, pipe, and cymbalsCommand to praise God through music in the sanctuary
Isa. 5:12Lyre, harp, tambourine, and fluteThe wicked have celebratory feasts, but they don’t recognize God’s work
Isa. 24:8Tambourine and lyreParties cease at the judgement of God
Isa. 30:32Tambourine and lyreThese instruments accompany God’s deliverance of Israel from their enemies
Jer. 31:4TambourineWhen God delivers Israel from their enemies, Israel is pictured as a dancing virgin
1 Cor. 13:1Gong and cymbalGood deeds without love are just noise38


  1. For an overview, see this Wikipedia article

  2. There are those who claim to have reconstructed the original music for the Psalms. However, such theories are speculative at best and have not been widely accepted. 

  3. Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references and statistics are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV). Also, note that my count only includes present tense verbs, and so certainly underestimates the true total, likely by a lot. 

  4. See, for example, 1 Chronicles 15:16 and 2 Chronicles 7:6. 

  5. Appendix A shows that the ancient tambourine was a kind of drum. 

  6. There are no New Testament passages which are relevant to the study of rhythm in the Bible. 

  7. The examples mentioned below and in the following sections are intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive. An exhaustive list is found in Appendix B

  8. Interestingly, in the Old Testament the tambourine is usually associated with women. 

  9. So does 1 Chronicles 25:1-6, although it is in the context of the sanctuary. 

  10. The exception is Nehemiah’s dedication of the wall mentioned in Nehemiah 12:27. 

  11. The tambourine is associated with dancing and rejoicing, and the cymbals are associated with praising God in the sanctuary service. 

  12. While it is true that there are other differences, such as attack, decay, sustain, etc., such differences are insignificant for our purposes. 

  13. Just how strong the evidence for this is is something I learned while doing research for this paper, and is the reason I devoted so much space to it along with including a complete listing of each text which mentions cymbals and/or tambourines in Appendix B

  14. My source for these assertions is a search of, restricting the search to lifetime works in order to reduce duplication. 

  15. She actually writes Grythyttehed, which is apparently an alternative or misspelling for Grythyttan. When typing Grythyttehed into Google Maps, a map of Grythyttan is shown instead. In addition, Google Docs marks Grythyttehed as a misspelling and suggests correcting it to Grythyttan. 

  16. Ellen G. White, Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists, p. 194 ¶5. This is Ellen White’s only mention of the guitar. 

  17. Ellen G. White, in Youth’s Instructor, December 22, 1886, par. 1

  18. Ellen G. White, Experiences in Australia, p. 115 ¶8

  19. Ellen G. White, Letter 68, 1893 (October 23, 1893) ¶8

  20. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 2 p. 31 ¶1 

  21. Quoted in Stephen Bohr, “Lessons from the Indiana Camp Meeting,” p. 5. 

  22. Ellen G. White, Letter 132, 1900 (October 10, 1900) ¶23 and several other places. 

  23. Ibid., ¶22

  24. Ibid., ¶24

  25. The transliteration method has been changed from the original due to typographical limitations. 

  26. “Music” (Geoffrey W. Bromily, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 444). Found in Google Books

  27. Yelena Kolyada, A Compendium of Musical Instruments and Musical Terminology in the Bible. Translated from Russian by Yelena Kolyada and David J. Clark. (Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2009), pp. 109-110. 

  28. The Hebrew letter ṣadhe (צ) is pronounced, and sometimes transliterated, ts. 

  29. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 444. 

  30. Jeremy Montagu, Musical Instruments of the Bible. (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002), p. 55. 

  31. Kolyada, p. 123. 

  32. Cited in Kolyada, p. 122. 

  33. Montagu, p. 63. 

  34. The lyre was a stringed instrument. 

  35. This service includes the named instruments being used to prophesy. 

  36. This passage also tells us that the musical situation was commanded by God to David via prophetic instruction; it wasn’t merely David’s idea. 

  37. This is the only time that cymbals are mentioned in the Old Testament not in the context of the sanctuary service. 

  38. This is the only reference to cymbals in the New Testament (tambourines are not mentioned at all). The reference is markedly different from the Old Testament usage.