Music and Morality

Is there an inherent morality to the rhythm or beat of music, or is its morality simply tied to the culture it is associated with? In other words, are there some sorts of music that are simply “out of bounds” for Christians because of the musical style, or is it only a matter of the associated words or actions that go with it? 

Music, as far as I can tell, is amoral. That is, it is neither moral nor immoral, neither good nor evil of itself. The first musician mentioned in the Bible is an ungodly man, Jubal, the son of Lamech the bigamist murderer. Jubal was “the father of all such as handle the harp and organ” (Gen. 4:21). That does not make melodies on the harp and organ inherently wicked. If a man uses a harp or an organ to seduce someone to commit sin, that is another matter, but he does not do so because of any inherent quality in the music itself. We know, for example, that the ungodly press everything, even music, into the service of sin. The same harp, organ, trumpet, or even drum can be played to the glory of God.  

Another example is the orchestra of Daniel 3, which includes “cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music” (vv. 5, 7, 10, 15). There was nothing sinful as such about those musical instruments, and many modern musical instruments today, but they were used in idolatrous worship. A good musical instrument can be used in idolatry and to glorify God at one of our school concerts. The issue is the heart of the one who is using it. 

The morality of music, which in itself is amoral, depends on its content. That rule applies to other artforms as well. Much of modern popular music is out of bounds for Christians not because of its beat or rhythm, but because of its sexually suggestive, lascivious, violence-promoting, and rebellion-glorifying content, not to mention its open blasphemy. The same thing, by the way, applies to movies, TV shows, video games, and the internet.   

Even rap, which many of us find distasteful, is not inherently evil, although you would find it difficult to find a “clean” rap artist whose words are not full of offensive filth. Often so-called Christian music is offensive too because of its grossly heretical content, not because of its rhythm and style. Singing lies about God and our Lord Jesus Christ is as offensive as hearing such lies in the preaching. Slapping a Christian label on it does not sanctify it.  

“Whatever can entice men thereto,” that is, to “unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires,” is forbidden by the seventh commandment.1 That includes the lyrics, and the associated dancing, of much music. “That neither in thoughts, nor words, nor gestures, much less in deeds, I dishonor, hate, wound, or kill my neighbor” is the requirement of the sixth commandment.2 That includes the violent lyrics of much music. Tunes, rhythm, melody, and other matters are, as I said, amoral, a matter of Christian liberty.  

Sing praises to God. Play music to the glory of God. Be careful what you hear. Listen to what promotes holiness. Avoid all enticements to evil.