A Christian recently advised me, “Don’t appeal to the authority of secular rappers or rock musicians: Appeal to Scripture.” He holds a view that many believers today hold about what sources of authoritative information are valid concerning the moral aspects of music. Is this view correct?
Two key Scripture passages answer this question by showing that both believers and unbelievers have validly assessed the shamefulness of people in various respects. The first passage records that both believers and unbelievers did so at a time when the sinfulness of God’s people even included their producing ungodly music.
Righteous Believers Validly Assessed the Ungodliness of Music Produced by Some of God’s People
The Israelites’ profound sinfulness in the Golden Calf incident included music that two righteous believing authorities recognized from a distance as being music unfitting for worship by God’s people:
Exo 32:17 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.
18 And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.
19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
Although he was at a distance from the camp that did not allow him to know exactly what the people were doing, Joshua discerned that the composite sound that they were producing was a rough-sounding noise of people who were wildly excited, a sound that apparently was quite similar to the noise produced by people engaged in (all-out?) combat. Moses, however, from the same distance that prevented knowing what the words being sung were, was able to discern accurately that the raucous and frenetic noise that these reveling people were producing was the noise of people who were singing.
Moses, therefore, was able to tell from a distance that these out-of-control people (Exod. 32:25) were wildly reveling people who were producing an ungodly sound that certainly was not the sound of Spirit-filled people singing godly music (cf. Eph. 5:18-19). Arriving at the camp, he saw that their reveling also included sensual dancing of such vulgarity that it (and the idol that he finally saw in person) incited him to righteous flaming anger (Exod. 32:19).
Moreover, we know that these people who were singing and dancing wildly were people who had partaken of meat offered to an idol (Exod. 32:6). Having partaken of that meat, these wildly singing and dancing people were people who were doing so after having come into direct contact with demons (1 Cor. 10:20).
These demon-influenced Israelites were thus engaged in an immoral “playing” (1 Cor. 10:7) while they were supposedly observing a “feast to the Lord” (Exod. 32:5). Although they undoubtedly thought they were singing acceptably to the Lord, righteous Israelites who were not influenced by demons on this occasion validly assessed their great wickedness, including the ungodly sounding music that they were producing.
Both Joshua and Moses were able to discern the unfitting-for-divine-worship composite sound of their music from a distance that did not allow them to know at all what they were singing. Regardless of what the words were that they were actually singing, the sound of their singing from a distance was ungodly.
This passage, therefore, teaches us that righteous believers can make a valid assessment that music of people who are supposedly worshiping the Lord is ungodly by assessing the nature of the overall sound produced even by people who are singing words. As Joshua and Moses did, such valid assessments can be made without knowing what the lyrics are that the people are singing.
Even Ordinary Unbelievers Validly Assessed Their Shamefulness
Not only righteous believers, but also their unrighteous enemies validly assessed the great sinfulness of these uncontrolled revelers on this occasion:
Exo 32:25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies.
This text shows that Scripture records an instance when unbelievers could and did make valid moral assessments about unrighteous worship by God’s people (Exod. 32:17-19)! The people among the Israelites who engaged in the Golden Calf incident had became so openly sinful at this time that even their enemies were ashamed of them.
This passage is especially telling because it shows that a high-level leader among God’s own people sinned so egregiously on this occasion in how he allowed God’s people to get out of control that even the sinful enemies of God’s people plainly recognized that what they were doing was ungodly. Not only were they able to assess validly the immoral behavior of these people, but also they regarded their behavior to be shameful!
Moreover, the passage provides no indication that these who regarded the behavior of the Israelites as shameful at this time were expert authorities on various aspects of human morality. Rather, the passage shows that even ordinary unbelievers validly made these moral assessments about their unrighteous religious activities!
Apostolic Recognition That Unbelieving Experts Can Make Valid Moral Assessments
In agreement with Exodus 32, Titus 1 reveals that the apostle Paul held that unbelievers do have the ability to make valid moral assessments of unrighteous human behavior (of various types) by unbelievers (Titus 1:12). Moreover, Paul shows us that it is righteous for Christians to heed such assessments when they are made by unbelieving experts who confirm the believers’ own assessment of such unrighteous behavior (Titus 1:13; see this post for a full explanation of this key point).
Scripture shows that righteous believers can make valid assessments of purported worship of the Lord that is in reality ungodly behavior by believers whose religious activities include producing music that is ungodly (Exod. 32)! Amazingly, it even shows that such assessments of singing can be made without knowing what the lyrics are of such ungodly music.
Scripture also provides us with clear teaching that shows that unbelievers can make valid assessments of unrighteous human behavior both by God’s people (Exod. 32:25) and by other unbelievers (Titus 1:12). Moreover, it is right to heed and appropriately make use of such valid assessments (Titus 1:13).
Applying all this biblical data to the issues concerning music in our day, we learn that Scripture teaches us that Christians should heed the warnings of secular musicians and music experts who warn us about music that is immoral and unfitting for Christian worship (for example, see this brief testimony).
 Although the passage does not mention their playing any musical instruments, based on the available Scriptural data concerning human feasting (cf. Gen. 31:27; Exod. 15:20; Luke 15:22, 25; etc.), it is highly probable that they were. Either way, the term composite signifies the totality of the sound that they were producing, whether through singing alone or through both singing and playing.
 NAU Exo 32:25 Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control– for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies–; NET Exo 32:25 Moses saw that the people were running wild, for Aaron had let them get completely out of control, causing derision from their enemies; NIV Exo 32:25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies; NKJ Exo 32:25 Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies); ESV Exo 32:25 And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies). What all these translators recognize is that the people became profoundly and openly sinful at this time.
 Although the passage does not elaborate at all who these enemies were or what the extent of their knowledge of the Israelites’ sinfulness on this occasion was, we can be certain that what they knew about the ungodly reveling of these Israelites caused them to be ashamed of them.