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Article 94 - Psallo

The Meaning of the Word "Psallo"

Jon Gary Williams

The Greek word psallo is found five times in the New Testament - Romans 15:9, I Corinthians 14:15 (twice), Ephesians 5:19, James 5:13. Without exception all standard translations render psallo as "sing, sing psalms, sing praise, make melody." This word in its root verb form carries the idea of "plucking" or "twanging," but no instrument is inherently found in it.

To find the instrument to be plucked one must go outside the word. This is much like the word baptisma (baptism) which means immersion, but contains no element. One must go outside the word to find the element, whether it is the baptism of fire, of suffering, of water, or of the Holy Spirit.

At no time did the word psallo, of itself, mean anything other than "pluck" or its equivalent. However, in ancient days various acquired usages were attached to it, for example, plucking the strings of a musical instrument. And, yet, no musical instrument was ever a part of the word. (It was even used to describe a woman plucking the hairs of her husband's head, but his hairs were not a part of the word psallo.)

In the New Testament the instrument to be plucked is specifically mentioned. The apostle Paul told the Ephesians that their worship included, "making melody (psallo) in your heart." Hence, in Christian praise, the instrument to psallo is the heart.

The word psallo, with the use of an instrument, was known during the days of Classical Greek prior to New Testament times. But by the first century A. D. Classical Greek had faded away and was replaced by Koine (common) Greek, that is, the language of the common people. It is this form on Greek in which the New Testament written.

Psallo and Greek Authorities

J. Henry Thayer, known as one of the greatest Greek lexicographers of all times, gives this rendering of psallo: "In the New Testament, to sing a hymn, to celebrate the praises of God in

W. E. Vine clearly states that psallo, "denotes in the New Testament, to sing a hymn, sing praise."

Moulton and Milligan say of psallo, " the New Testament, as in Jas. 5:13 - sing a hymn."

Abbot-Smith states that psallo, " the New Testament, to sing a hymn, sing praise."

W. Grenfield said that psallo meant, " sing praises to, celebrate in song or psalm."

Thomas Green said, "in the New Testament, to sing praises."