Some believers hold that all musical styles are inherently moral. I have been investigating for many months now all that I can find in Scripture that might pertain to this position.
Meditating on various passages about music early in human history led me recently to examine Genesis 6:5, a verse that I had never previously considered for its relevance to the issues of our day concerning music. In particular, does this key statement about all humanity support the view that all musical styles are inherently moral?
Musical Development before the Time of Noah
Genesis 4 provides the earliest information in Scripture about human music. Jubal, the eighth in the ungodly line of Cain (Adam, Cain, Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methusahel, Lamech, Jubal [Gen. 4:17-21]), “was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ” (Gen. 4:21).
This text reveals that Jubal and others played musical instruments, but it does not mention that they sang as well when they played. Although it is likely that these people were also singing at least some of the time when they played their instruments, lack of any Scriptural mention about human singing at this time or at any time prior to it requires that we focus on the nature of their playing the instruments that they possessed.
In order for any musical instrument to be played intelligibly, the player must produce a distinction of tones with the instrument (1 Cor. 14:7). How he chooses to make those distinctions is guided by his thought processes.
Regardless of whatever style or styles of music Jubal and those who followed him devised for playing the harp and the organ, we can be certain that those styles were the products of human mental activity. As such, they would necessarily reflect what was in their hearts.
Extensive Musical Development by the Time of Noah
Genesis 4:21 is the only explicit information in Scripture that we have about human music prior to time of Noah. As we saw, it teaches us that men in the ungodly line of Cain were playing musical instruments in the eighth generation from Adam.
Genesis 5 reveals that Noah was the tenth in the godly line of Seth (Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah [Gen. 5:3-29]). Given that Noah was two generations later in his line than Jubal was in his line, we can be certain that human musical ability in playing those instruments had developed extensively from the time of Jubal to the time of Noah.
Can we know anything more about that development? Because Scripture does not give us any explicit revelation about human music in the time of Noah, some would say that we are unable to know anything more about that development. A close examination of Genesis 6 in comparison with Genesis 4-5, however, proves otherwise.
Profound Musical Degeneracy by the Time of Noah
Genesis 6 does not provide any explicit information about music. It does provide, however, key implicit information that has profound relevance for our understanding of music by the time of Noah.
From when Jubal originated playing the harp and the organ to the time of Noah, human beings had degenerated so profoundly that God assessed them to be only continually evil in every intent of their thoughts:
Gen 6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Does this statement include the musical imaginations of the thoughts of their hearts? As discussed above, human production of music necessarily reflects the thinking of those who produce the music. For this reason, this statement must also pertain to their musical imaginations.
Moreover, because God had already explicitly noted earlier in Genesis the musical activities of ungodly men who lived long before this time, we know that God wants the reader of Genesis to have in mind that humans had been playing music for quite some time by the time of Noah.
Based on both of these considerations, we have no basis to think legitimately that Genesis 6:5 does not also apply to human musical endeavors at the time of Noah. We must understand rather that every imagination of the thoughts of human hearts in Noah’s time concerning music was also only evil continually.
Were There Profoundly Degenerate Musical Styles at the Time of Noah?
When Jubal became the father of all that play the harp and the organ, he and the others who learned to play those instruments obviously had to use their mental abilities to use those instruments to produce the sounds that they wanted to create. By necessity, whatever music they did play had to be of one or more styles because musical styles are nothing more than “distinctive man-made musical patterns of sounds that the player uses his mental processes to create for whatever purpose or purposes he desires to use those sounds” (my definition).
Because playing the harp and the organ originated in the ungodly line of Cain, we might infer that the styles that they played on those instruments were also ungodly (in keeping with their character). Although this inference may be valid, we do not have enough information to prove its validity rigorously.
By the time of Noah, however, much time had elapsed and mankind became increasingly evil. In fact, all humanity had profoundly degenerated to such an extent that God infallibly declared that every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
Because musical styles necessarily reflect the thought processes of those who originate or use those styles, we have no basis for saying that there were not musical styles of corrupt humanity at this time that matched the corruption of their hearts. On the contrary, man’s profound degeneracy at this time guarantees that there were profoundly degenerate musical styles at the time of Noah.
From what we have learned through studying Genesis 4-6, we conclude that Scripture does not support holding that all musical styles are inherently moral because immoral musical styles certainly existed at the time of Noah. People may nevertheless raise various objections to this conclusion and the reasoning from Scripture employed to arrive at it.
Some may say that the musical degeneracy of the people in Noah’s time was in the words that they sang but not in their styles of playing the instruments. This is an invalid objection for at least two reasons.
As discussed above, Scripture provides no explicit evidence that these people were also singing when they played. To argue that their degeneracy was in what they sang, therefore, has no basis in Scripture.
Furthermore, regardless of whether they were singing or not, human production of instrumental music requires the use of mental processes to play the instruments, and what people play reflects their thinking. Because mankind was utterly corrupt in its thinking at this time, their musical styles were also certainly corrupt.
Another objection that some may offer to this conclusion is that “common grace” from God “insulated” their musical styles from being corrupt. Genesis 6:5 pointedly refutes this objection by saying explicitly that every intent of their thoughts was evil. We would need explicit biblical revelation or indication to hold legitimately, therefore, that “common grace” somehow insured that their musical styles were an exception to the force of this revelation.
The successive revelation further implies that this objection is invalid. Moses makes clear that Noah and seven members of his family were the only human beings to receive saving grace from God so that they were not destroyed. By the grace of God, Noah alone was found righteous in the sight of God at this time.
Because the rest of humanity did not receive such grace from God, we can be certain that their musical styles were not insulated somehow from the pervasive corruption of their intents concerning all other areas of their lives. “Common grace” did not prevent their musical styles from being degenerate.
Sound biblical reasoning applied to Genesis 4-6 teaches us that there were evil musical styles at the time of Noah because their musical styles necessarily reflected the pervasive corruption of all their thinking. We, therefore, know that the position that all musical styles are inherently moral is incorrect.
In light of this biblical evidence (as well as other biblical data), Christians who wish to continue holding the opposing view have the burden of proof of showing from Scripture that their position is nonetheless valid in spite of what Genesis 4-6 reveals about human music.