Does “Laud” in Romans 15:11 Authorize Clapping in Worship?
A recent contention that has surfaced among some Christians, in an effort to justify handclapping in worship to God, is the notion that the term in Romans 15:11 translated “laud” in both the KJV and NKJV includes the idea of handclapping. Never mind the fact that students of the Bible, scholars, and faithful Christians have been pouring over the text of the New Testament for nearly 2,000 years, with Romans 15:11 having been read and studied by thousands of individuals for centuries; and yet, through all those years, how many concluded that handclapping could be found in the verse? To ask is to answer. Even as proponents of instrumental music have imagined that psallo in Ephesians 5:19 includes a manmade, mechanical contraption, only recently has someone invented the novel notion that “laud” in Romans 15:11 includes handclapping.
Let’s be honest: can there be any doubt that someone had to be looking for a place in the New Testament to impose his bias on the text? Even as a person could read Ephesians 5:19 over and over and over for the rest of his/her life and never see any instrumental music in that verse, even so, reading Romans 15:11 would never lead an unprejudiced person to conclude that God encourages or endorses handclapping in worship. The heart that approaches God’s Word with an agenda—a predisposition to find what he or she wants to find—is by biblical definition a wicked heart (Job 13:7; Jeremiah 23:16; Isaiah 8:20). To then compound that sin by teaching and promoting the concocted viewpoint is inexcusable and unconscionable. Corrupting the pure worship of the Almighty is deadly (Leviticus 10:1-3). Think of the innocent souls endangered by the wolves that advance their wild, unsubstantiated theories. Tragic. Sad, indeed.
The English term “laud” comes from the Latin word laudare (present active infinitive of laudō) meaning “to praise, commend, extol, honor, compliment.” This action is achieved orally with words. It has nothing to do with clapping. On the other hand, the English term “applaud” comes from the Latin word applaudere (from plaudō/plaudere), meaning “to strike, beat, clap.” Hence, “applaud” is defined as “to clap the hands (hit the palms of the hands together) as an expression of approval, appreciation, acclamation, etc.” (Lewis & Short, 1879). Conclusion: “laud” and “applaud” are separate and distinct Latin terms. They are not synonyms. (Interestingly, in Romans 15:11, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate had magnificate, to “magnify” or “extol”—et iterum laudate omnes gentes Dominum et magnificate eum omnes populi).
Of course, the Holy Spirit did not give us God’s Word in English or Latin. So we must go to the original languages to make certain we are grasping God’s intended meanings. The Greek term translated “laud Him” (NKJV) in Romans 15:11 is epainesatosan from epaineo meaning “to praise or commend.” The term occurs only six times in the New Testament, the other uses being Luke 16:8 and 1 Corinthians 11:2,17, and twice in vs. 22 (Moulton, et al., 1978, p. 351). In Luke, the master “commended” the unjust steward because he had acted shrewdly. In 1 Corinthians 11, the term is used to denote the “praise” (or lack of it) that Paul expressed toward the Corinthians—so translated all four times. Hence, in all six occurrences of the word, the idea of clapping is completely absent. Compare the following 20 English translations on Romans 15:11, where the word in question is indicated in bold type and underlined:
“Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people” (KJV).
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” (NKJV).
“Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; And let all the peoples praise him” (ASV).
“Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him” (NASB).
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples” (NIV).
“Praise the Lord, all Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him” (RSV).
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him” (ESV).
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him” (NAB).
“Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and magnify him, all ye people” (Douay-Rheims).
“All Gentiles, praise the Lord; let all peoples praise him” (NEB).
“Praise the Lord, all you heathen, and let all nations sing his praises” (Goodspeed).
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the nations of the world do him honour” (Knox).
“All you nations, praise the Lord, and all the people should praise Him” (Beck).
“Let all the pagans praise the Lord, let all the peoples sing his praises” (Jerusalem Bible).
“Praise the Lord, all Gentiles; praise him, all peoples!” (TEV).
“Extol the Lord, all Gentiles, let all the peoples praise him” (Moffatt).
“Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles, and let all the nations extol Him” (Weymouth).
“Praise Adonai, all Gentiles! Let all peoples praise him!” (Jewish N.T.).
“Praise the Lord, all ye gentiles; and let all the people praise him” (Phillips).
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; and sing his praises, all you peoples” (Confraternity).
No known English translation translates Romans 15:11 with the word “clap.” Those who advocate such a meaning apparently think they know more about the original language than the hundreds of Greek scholars who produced our English translations.
Since Romans 15:11 is actually a quotation of Psalm 117:1, one must examine the underlying Hebrew term. That word is shahvach, which occurs eight times (in the Piel) in the Old Testament (Wigram, 1980, p. 1225). The Hebrew authorities (Davidson, 1848, p. 697; Gesenius, 1847, pp. 800-801; Holladay, 1971, p. 358; Brown, et al., 1906, p. 986) identify three meanings:
to soothe, calm, quiet, hush, or still, as in Psalm 89:10 (still the waves) and Proverbs 29:11 (calm one’s anger);
to pronounce happy, commend, or congratulate, as in Ecclesiastes 4:2;
to praise, laud, glorify, as in Psalm 63:4, 117:1, 145:4, 147:12, and Ecclesiastes 8:15.
It is meaning #3 that underlies the quotation of Psalm 117:1 in Romans 15:11. Like its Greek counterpart, it bears no connection to the meaning “clap.” The Hebrew language had other words for clapping (e.g., tahka—Nahum 3:19; sahphak—Job 27:23; nahcah—2 Kings 11:12; mahchah—Psalm 98:8).
Since the Bible is its own best interpreter, simply turn to Psalm 63:3 where the term is translated “shall praise.” The verse says, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.” Would those who insist that the word means “clap” contend that lips clap? That would be an interesting thing to see.
May God help us to be content with simple New Testament worship (John 4:23-24). May we seek to have God’s permission (authority) for everything we do in worship (Colossians 3:17). May we refrain from fleshly expressions that have their origin in human will (Colossians 2:23), human impulse (2 Samuel 6:6), and human pride (2 Chronicles 26:16). May we worship God—not to please ourselves—but to please Him (Galatians 1:10).
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles B. Briggs (1906), A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004 reprint).
Davidson, Benjamin (1848), The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970 reprint).
Gesenius, William (1847), Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint).
Holladay, William (1971), A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Lewis, Charlton T. and Charles Short (1879), A Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Moulton, W.F., A.S. Geden, and H.K. Moulton (1978), A Concordance to the Greek Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark), fifth edition.
Wigram, George V. (1980 reprint), The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).