In his first rebuttal to Scott Aniol on the subject of “Christian rap,” Shai Linne asserts, “Scripture clearly refutes” the notion “that music, apart from lyrics, can be sinful in and of itself.” More fully, he writes:
You [Scott] said:
“Yes, I believe that music, apart from lyrics, can be sinful in and of itself.”
I wholeheartedly disagree and I believe Scripture clearly refutes that notion. A few relevant texts:
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5 )
“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself…” (Romans 14:14)
Those are amazing statements coming from the Apostle Paul, a Jewish man who was familiar with the many old covenant dietary restrictions. The key phrase in Romans 14:14? “in itself”. Paul is saying that food doesn’t have inherent moral value. The heart of the one eating it determines how God views the act, not the food itself.
You yourself said, “God created the ‘stuff’ of music (sound, pitch, rhythm, timbre, etc.)”. Agreed. Music is simply the result of human beings arranging that “stuff” that God created. Can it be arranged with evil intent? Sure. And the person who does that will have to give an account for it. But no matter how evil a musician’s intentions, he doesn’t have the power to transform something that God created and called good into something inherently sinful. 
Is what Shai Linne asserts here a valid handling of these passages? Various considerations from Scripture combine to answer this question.
Does Paul Teach That Food Does Not Have Inherent Moral Value?
Concerning Romans 14:14, Shai asserts, “Paul is saying that food doesn’t have inherent moral value.” If that were what Paul is saying in Romans 14:14, then Paul would be contradicting himself because he explicitly says in the other passage that Shai quotes that everything that God has created is good: “For every creature of God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4).
Contrary to what Shai asserts, therefore, Paul teaches that food does have inherent moral value because what God has created as food for man is good. Neither 1 Timothy 4:4-5 nor Romans 14:14 teaches that food does not have inherent moral value.
Do 1 Timothy 4:4-5 and Romans 14:14 Support Shai’s Understanding of Music?
About music, Shai says, “Music is simply the result of human beings arranging that ‘stuff’ that God created. Can it be arranged with evil intent? Sure. And the person who does that will have to give an account for it.” With these statements, he acknowledges that people can arrange the ‘stuff’ of music with an evil intent and that they will have to answer to God for doing so.
He then, however, asserts, “But no matter how evil a musician’s intentions, he doesn’t have the power to transform something that God created and called good into something inherently sinful.” When he says this, Shai clearly is asserting that man cannot do something, but what exactly does he mean by what he says here?
If what he means by this statement were that the various elements (the musical “stuff”) that God created (such as individual musical tones) cannot themselves be transformed into something inherently sinful, that would be one thing. Because, however, he means that the resulting product of the human arrangement also cannot be inherently sinful, he is saying something far beyond what either of these passages is saying because neither passage directly addresses what happens when man alters or combines good things that God has made.
Can Man Create Something That Is Inherently Sinful from Something Good That God Created?
Because neither 1 Timothy 4:4-5 or Romans 14:14 actually does what Shai asserts, we have to look elsewhere in Scripture to see if it teaches anywhere one way or the other whether man can take something good that God has created and make something that is in and of itself evil. Deuteronomy 9 provides revelation that addresses this matter explicitly and decisively.
In Deuteronomy 9:1-7, Moses reminds the Israelites of their previous wickedness in the wilderness. He then rehearses their exceeding wickedness in the Golden Calf incident (Deut. 9:8-21).
Moses notes multiple times in this passage that they sinned by making a molten image (Deut. 9:12, 16, 21): They quickly “turned aside out of the way” that God had commanded and “made them a molten image” (Deut. 9:12). They “sinned against the Lord [their] God” and “made . . . a molded calf” (Deut. 9:16; cf. Exod. 32:31).
When he speaks for the third time in the passage about the calf that they made, he says,
Deu 9:21 And I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount.
The exact wording of this third reference to their making the calf is striking: “your sin, the calf which ye had made.” Saying this, Moses puts “the calf which ye had made” in apposition to “your sin.”
Moses thus referred to the calf that they made as their “sin”! He thus said that the calf was itself sinful.
It was not just their evil intent for the calf or their evil use of it that was sinful—the calf itself was a sinful object! These people took gold, an inherently good and highly valuable substance that God created (cf. Gen. 2:12), and made an object out of it that was in and of itself sinful.
Although the gold itself did not become inherently sinful, the golden calf was a manmade fashioning of that gold into something that was inherently sinful! Based on what Scripture says about what man did with gold on this occasion, we understand that this passage refutes the basic principle underlying what Shai asserts is true about the musical “stuff” that God created: “But no matter how evil a musician’s intentions, he doesn’t have the power to transform something that God created and called good into something inherently sinful.”
As a key basis for his support of “Christian rap,” Shai Linne asserts that humans cannot take something inherently good that God has created and make something out of it that is in and of itself sinful. Deuteronomy 9:21 refutes this assertion by showing that man did take something inherently good that God created and make it into something that was inherently sinful.
It is important to note that the gold that they made the calf from was from their earrings (Exod. 32:2-3), and we have no indication that their possessing and using gold that had been fashioned into rings to be worn in their ears was sinful. When they took the gold of those earrings, combined it, and molded it into the calf, however, the resulting object that they made for an evil purpose was wicked.
On the one hand, man’s use of his creative powers to make something out of the gold (the earrings) was not sinful. On the other hand, when they through “art and man’s device” (Acts 17:29) made the golden calf, they sinned by making an object that was in and of itself sinful (Deut. 9:21).
Moreover, the golden calf could not be “redeemed.” In spite of the fact that the gold that constituted it was a precious good metal that God had made as good, the golden calf that had been made for and used for a wicked purpose had to be obliterated (Deut. 9:21).
Neither 1 Timothy 4:4-5 nor Romans 14:14 supports the view that man cannot take musical elements and arrange them to make instrumental music that is inherently sinful. Scripture does not “clearly refute” the view “that music, apart from lyrics, can be sinful in and of itself.”
In fact, Deuteronomy 9:21 shows that Scripture provides a clear basis for saying that human beings can take good things that God has made and create something out of them that is inherently sinful. Applying this principle to what many biblical passages reveal about music provides believers with ample justification to say that instrumental music made for and used for wicked purposes is inherently wicked music.
 Multiple translations confirm this understanding: “I took your sinful thing, the calf which you had made” (NAU); “As for your sinful thing that you had made, the calf” (NET); “Also I took that sinful thing of yours, the calf you had made” (NIV); “Then I took the sinful thing, the calf that you had made” (ESV); I took the sinful calf you had made” (CSB).
 For another argument that establishes the same point see this post.
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You misunderstood what Shai was saying: You and he (and Scott) are using “inherent” differently.
Scott said that ALL rap music, by nature of being rap music, was inherently sinful: Sinful in and of itself, apart from lyrics or context (he made the same claim today with Metal music). That the beat and musical composition of rap, when considered in isolation, was evil.
To use your example, that would be like saying that everything composed of metal is inherently sinful, divorced from context and intent. In actuality, however, it is quite clear that the context and intent that went into the image were what made it sinful. It was sinful NOT because it was golden, and not because it was a calf, and not because it was artificially shaped: It was sinful and evil because of the purpose for which it was made, and the context it was made in. In fact, you yourself hint at that, saying “the resulting object *that they made for an evil purpose* was wicked.”
That’s the distinction. I believe Shai would actually agree with what you’re saying when applied properly to rap. A particular rap song, taken as a complete communication–which includes context, intent, lyrical content and tone, musical content and tone–can definitely be judged as “inherently evil.” However, you cannot then judge rap AS A WHOLE to be evil when you divorce it from all of those things. That would, again, be like saying that all gold artifacts are evil.
Thanks for your feedback. I do not think that I misunderstood what either Shai or Scott was saying. I agree with Scott that music, apart from lyrics, can be sinful in and of itself, and I do not think that either of the passages that Shai cited as clear refutation of that view do any such thing.
The difficulty may lie in part in the use of “music” in two related senses: musical elements vs. the resulting product when those elements are arranged to form a musical piece. Scott, Shai, you, and I all agree that musical tones cannot be sinful in and of themselves.
Where we strongly differ concerns the validity of the view that no arrangement of musical elements to make instrumental music that has no lyrics can be wicked. Scott and I both hold that instrumental music without lyrics can be inherently sinful.
Although the constituent tones themselves in such sinful instrumental music are not sinful, how those tones are combined, arranged, etc. is sinful—apart from any lyrics. Scripture provides no basis for holding that such combinations are also inherently good—in spite of evil intent—simply because there are no lyrics.
If you believe that Scripture does teach somewhere that all combination of musical elements, including those that have been combined for evil purposes, are still inherently moral if there are no lyrics, I would love for you to show me where and how Scripture teaches that. To reiterate, the passages that Shai cited do not establish that point in any way.
Of course, I did not say that anything made of metal would be inherently sinful. In fact, I pointed out that we have no evidence to hold that the earrings made of gold were sinful.
The calf itself was sinful because it was a human shaping of a substance that God made into an object that was created and used for a wicked purpose. Similarly, instrumental music without lyrics that is produced and used for wicked purposes is wicked music.
You continue bringing up evil intent. You say the calf was sinful “because it…was created and used for a wicked purpose. You also suggest that “evil intent” can play a part in making a particular musical composition evil.
I agree completely, and I suspect Shai would as well. I believe that a music composition can be evil WHEN PLACED IN CONTEXT. That is, if the music was created with an evil intent (an intent to encourage unrighteous anger or lust or what-have-you), then that particular composition can certainly be called “evil.”
The key question is this: Are those same arrangements of notes (or a similar arrangement of notes) evil in and of themselves, when they are DIVORCED from that context?
If they weren’t composed with an evil intent, are the notes in and of themselves evil? Or is it the evil intent that makes the composition evil?
See, that is what Scott is arguing. However, since you continue bringing up intent and context and all that good stuff, I hold out hope that you would not argue for that.
So which is it? Is certain rap music sinful because of the heart and purpose of the composer? Or is ALL rap sinful because of something inherent in the rhythm itself?
When notes are arranged in a particular distinctive way for an evil purpose, the composer has arranged them in a way that he thinks would best fit his evil purpose. Your assertion that that arrangement of notes can be divorced from its context misses the fact that the composer arranged it the way that he did because he believed that the distinctive arrangement of the notes in that way themselves–without any lyrics–serves his evil purpose. Because the arrangement itself accomplishes the evil purpose, using that arrangement of notes (i.e., style) but putting “holy” lyrics to them instead of evil lyrics does not take away the evil effects of that distinctively evil way of arranging musical elements.
To argue that there are no distinctively evil way of arranging notes is to go right back to the original false assertion that music without lyrics cannot be sinful. Many rock musicians themselves say that the rock music itself–apart from the words–accomplishes evil purposes. Scripture provides no basis for believing that they are mistaken when they make such assessments.
You know what? Let’s not argue generics. Because I’ve found that people unfamiliar with rap tend to envision this one omnipresent, all-powerful beat that inherently drives people to sin.
So in opposition to that omnipresent, generic, inherently sinful beat, let’s look at an ACTUAL Christian rap song. Just one. Just two minutes and 20 seconds of your time. Just give it a listen, and tell me what evil affects this song has.
This is “The Size of Grace” by Beautiful Eulogy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8wjMYNPn98
Enough of the generic “rap” beat. Look at this solid example, and explain to me the sin it embodies. Don’t appeal to the authority of secular rappers or rock musicians: Appeal to Scripture.
My appeal is this: This song portrays the Truth of the Gospel. It is true, it is noble, it is right, it is pure, it is lovely, it is admirable, it is both excellent and praiseworthy…at least, as much as any work by fallen man can meet those criteria. As such, it is entirely worthy of a Christian people.
That is my argument. What is yours?
Thanks, Mackman, but no thanks. I do not believe from Scripture that I have the burden of proof to show what is specifically sinful about a specific song, etc.
You say, “Don’t appeal to the authority of secular rappers or rock musicians: Appeal to Scripture.” The apostle Paul teaches us in Titus 1 that it is biblical for us to cite secular authorities who validly assess evil aspects of humanity: https://apeopleforhisname.org/2012/03/titus-1-and-the-ccm-debate/
My desire is to help people handle Scripture validly. I do not by any means have all the answers to all the issues that anyone might raise about music. I believe that I can serve God best by pointing people to Scripture as much as I possibly can and as best as I understand it. I welcome further interaction with you that concerns what Scripture teaches; for other kinds of discussions, the posts on Scott’s site and other sites provide you with many opportunities to discuss and interact with others on matters that concern you.
May God sanctify us all entirely and may our spirits and souls and bodies be preserved blameless until our Lord returns (1 Thess. 5:23).
Unsaved film score composers are well aware of the fact that music without lyrics DOES indeed deliver a message. If that were not the case, they would be out of a job. In a tense scene, they play certain notes, adopt a syncopated rhythmic structure etc.. Regardless of any composer’s moral or theological convictions, he or she is unmistakably communicating a message or emotion. Neutrality could only possibly be demonstrated by the ABSENCE of music from a scene. As a Christian composer and film director, I believe this really is observable fact. The only people who seem to repeatedly argue against this inescapable reality are Christians with favourite genres of music they believe can somehow be redeemed for worship. Would Playboy magazine be an acceptable Christian publication if it had Christian content and changed its name to Prayboy? Or would the simple pun evident in the revised name AND ALL PRIOR ASSOCIATIONS OF THAT MAGAZINE, render it unacceptable? Whether we care to admit it or not, all music not only carries associations, but some form of emotion, apart from its lyrics. The question then becomes “is that message or emotion appropriate for a Perfect, Holy God, as worship?” Perhaps the answer here – rather than debating genres as a whole, acceptable instruments or composer intent – could simply be this… If one listened to nothing more than the instruments and backing, what message or emotion do they convey? Mushy sentimentality (where God is appealed to as a boyfriend)? Frivolity (where God is praised as a light-hearted party buddy)? Anger (where God’s message of love in Christ is conveyed with harsh, staccato percussion)? etc.. Are those emotions in accord with the God of Scripture? Do they convey awe, reverence, transcendence, or similar attributes that align with His Holy Character? If not…one’s personal musical preferences are irrelevant. Maybe it really is as simple as that. For all of the claims of legalism that have been made – because no verse can be found that tells us explicitly what biblically sound music is – I believe the Spirit of our agreement with God and our view of Him (as evidenced in Scripture) must dictate what we bring before Him as worship. So Who is the Lord to us personally? And what is He worthy of? Because that…is the very essence of wor(th)ship. It is for Him. Always. Not for us.
Good thoughts, Jonathan. “Mushy sentimentality” or frivolity certainly are unfitting emotions for people to have or for music to elicit in divine worship. Righteous anger might seem to be fitting for the singing of a few of the Psalms (58, 79, 83), but the lack of any Scriptural direction for God’s people to sing angrily leads me to reject that possibility. It will be great when all these “worship wars” will end when the Lord returns!
Good point, Rajesh. Not only did the Israelites take a good and valuable gift from God and transform it into something evil…in Exodus 32:4 Aaron actually went so far as to claim this was a material representation of Yahweh. He didn’t say this was a false god. He declared the calf’s authenticity and blithely believed this would be okay with the One True God. Another example, which illustrates the point of inappropriate worship by Godly ordained worshippers, is Leviticus 10. Here, Nadav and Avihu – the divinely appointed priests – actually managed to offer a sacrifice in a MANNER that wasn’t pleasing to God. Were they sincere and under the impression they were doing God’s will? We have no Scriptural evidence to indicate anything to the contrary. So Shai Linne’s point about human intent (be it evil OR good) is irrelevant to a Perfect Holy God Who most definitely does care about the form in which His creatures worship Him. If form is irrelevant to the Lord, why do we find chapter upon chapter of precise instructions for the form of the temple, the constitution of the incense, the garb of the priests etc. To say that we are no longer under OT Law by no means negates the inescapable fact that worship form mattered greatly to the King of Kings. That applies to yesterday, today and forever. It takes only a brief glance into Revelation to see the enormously reverent worship that takes place before the throne. Nothing like ten thousand times ten thousand “well meaning” individuals (in glorified bodies) bringing The Lord whatever praise they see fit. This argument is simply Cain and Abel reiterated ad infinitum. CAIN: But I’m a farmer, bringing good and lawful things, that God made, back to Him. What’s the big deal?
Thanks, Jonathan. Scripture does provide many examples of ungodly worship that is ungodly for varying reasons. The challenges come when we do not have many particulars spelled out for us in minute detail. Even then, God has provided truth in His word to guide us to please Him in all our ways. He has also given us His Spirit to direct us in ways that cannot be fully understood because He is God who lives directly in us.
I think that there is a difference between a specific instance of something becoming inherently sinful and a whole category becoming inherently sinful. Let me explain.
We all agree with the golden calf incident. We all agree that certain rap songs (or metal, or even classical) are sinful. We could perhaps even agree (not sure, but there is the possibility) that certain particular compositions of music, apart from lyrics, are sinful because they were composed sinfully.
But we are talking about whole genres of music, not of particular compositions. To classify a whole genre of music as sinful, it is not enough, in my mind, to say that the genre started with particular sinful compositions. We agree those particular compositions were sinful. But what logic can you use to carry that to the whole genre? If intentions are important, you can’t carry the intentions of some people in that genre and superimpose those intentions on everyone who composes in that genre.
The golden calf idol did not make sinful all golden calves, did it? The only sinful golden calf was that particular golden calf. The whole “genre” of golden calves figures did not become inherently sinful. If the whole “genre” had become inherently sinful, then anyone who has a golden calf figurine today — even a kid with a toy golden calf from some Chick-Fil-A cartoon that has absolutely no association with idolatry — would be in sin. Indeed, if that were the case, we should look into the history of any art symbol we find, lest even inadvertently we have a symbol that was at one time associated with idolatry — even if no one knows about that association today.
To use another analogy, Greek was used, before Christ, almost exclusively by Pagans. It was, as far as we know, invented by Pagans — and definitely used for Pagan thought and worship. Does that mean it is evil for the New Testament to have been written in Koine Greek? Did all Greek become inherently sinful?
Brilliant. This right here is what I’m talking about. Well said.
Thanks for your feedback. How exactly do you see that Scripture teaches us that the default position that we must or should take is that there is a vital difference between what evil men do on a specific instance versus what they do in regard to a whole category? To hold that a whole category of music could not be inherently evil because some later people had different intentions when they played the same style of music strikes me as a roundabout way of asserting that the style never was inherently evil itself. If the style of music was invented by wicked people for wicked purposes, the problem was not just their intent; the problem is also with the distinctive product that they invented.
The Golden Calf incident was the first of a vast number of times when the Israelites were wicked because they made idolatrous objects of various shapes from various materials (cf. for example, Jer. 11:13). The underlying sin of the Golden Calf incident has been repeated by mankind on countless occasions throughout human history (Rom. 1:23). Such will be the case throughout the remainder of human history prior to the Millennium (cf. Rev. 9:20).
Scripture shows that Aaron was not the only one to make a sinful golden calf. Jeroboam made two sinful golden calves and greatly perverted God’s people through what he did (1 Kings 12:27-33; see also Hosea 8:4-5; 10:5-6). Acts 14, 17, and 19 show that the sin of making manmade sinful objects of false worship was very widespread. Acts 17:29 is especially noteworthy in this regard.
The Lord be with you.
I just saw your reply. In brief:
>> “strikes me as a roundabout way of asserting that the style never was inherently evil itself” Well, of course, this is the point of contention, isn’t it? For the record, I don’t see where Scripture says the musical styles are evil. You are attempting to provide arguments for it, and I am saying those verses can be explained quite well without assuming the style is inherently evil.
>> “style of music was invented by wicked people for wicked purposes”
I don’t believe people invented the category of chairs, but only specific chairs. The category of chairs existed in God’s mind from eternity. I don’t believe people create musical genres either. They make specific musical pieces that fall within that genre, and those pieces have to be judged within their context and by their intent. The genre is just a category.
>> “Scripture shows that Aaron was not the only one to make a sinful golden calf.” So is your argument then that every golden calf is inherently sinful? Poor kid that plays with a golden calf action figurine, he is an idolater, not because of what he is doing, but because of what someone else, long, long ago, did with the golden calf. That’s my point.
Allow me to expound a little on something I said.
>> “style of music was invented by wicked people for wicked purposes”
I think one could say that perhaps communities invent genres of music, just like one could say communities invent languages. One could say the Greek people invented Greek — it doesn’t make much sense to say a particular person such as Homer invented Greek, however influential he may have been in its early development.
In that sense one could say Pagans invented many languages, and they invented languages to communicate Pagan thought. Indeed, it is widely accepted that Greek is better at communicating Pagan philosophy than Hebrew is. But you wouldn’t say because of Greek origins that Greek is inherently evil, would you? And if that’s true with the best form of communication we know of, language, why do you think it is any different with lesser forms of communications, such as music?
Sorry, Nick, I think this whole direction of reasoning and discussion is unprofitable because it would involve having to discuss a vast amount of Scriptural teaching concerning human languages, which I have not studied carefully, as I have with music. Furthermore, specifically concerning Koine Greek, I suggest you contact someone who is an expert on that area of study and take up your debate with him. God gives each of us only a certain amount of time, and we all have to make choices of how we are going to redeem that time. For me, beginning this discussion about languages and Scripture and culture, etc. would not be a wise use of my time.
For the record, this post was not intended to lay out a full argument for why musical styles can be inherently sinful; this post was to refute specific assertions made about the impossibility of any musician’s producing any music that was inherently sinful. I have written a number of other posts to address the broader issue and refer you to them for that discussion.
You assert, “The category of chairs existed in God’s mind from eternity. I don’t believe people create musical genres either.” What Bible do you have to support your belief?
Concerning the golden calf, you asserted that only that particular calf was sinful. I falsified your claim by showing that other golden calves were also sinful. Because we are not given any specifics about what these sinful golden calves looked like, whether a present-day re-creation of a golden calf is inherently sinful or not is a debatable point that we do not have enough information to settle.
Because I believe in being as careful a Christian as possible, I would not sanction the production of any golden calves, regardless of purpose. To prevent any possibility of recreating a calf that is identical or a close facsimile of the sinful calves that Scripture speaks of, I have no problem in asserting that people should not make golden calves as children’s toys, regardless of whether there was a movie that had such a character or not.
Nick, I think that continuing this discussion with you along these lines, especially what I am addressing in the last paragraph is not a profitable use of my time. If you would like to continue this discussion specifically with respect to Scripture or things closely related, I’d be glad to continue.