Spiritual Songs

The 2011 update of the NIV is starting to filter down into everyday use here at DTS as more people read that edition and use it in their Bible software. The changes between the two editions are not numerous, but they are noticeable, and some students have asked me about them. One interesting place is Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, two passages which are very similar in wording. Here's the Ephesians passage:

NIV (1984): Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

NIV (2011): speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,

Here's the Colossians passage:

NIV (1984): Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

NIV (2011): Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

The question I received about these passages concerns the phrase "spiritual songs" (NIV 1984) and "songs from the Spirit" (NIV 2011): Could this change be related to some theology of the sign gifts and speaking in tongues? Within charismatic theology, the phrase "song from the Spirit" could be construed to refer to an utterance in tongues. I can't speak for the translators, and as far as I can tell there has not been any publication or explanation on this particular translation change, but I don't think that it is meant to imply any point of charismatic theology. 

The phrase in question in each verse is ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς. The noun is ᾠδή, which means "hymn" or "song," and the modifying adjective is πνευματικός, which generally means "related to the spirit." The translation question which has created the change between the two editions of the NIV is really an exegetical one, whether "spirit" here is the human spirit or the Holy Spirit (both are legitimate options). The earlier NIV appears to take this adjective as referring to the human spirit, while the later NIV clearly specifies that the Holy Spirit is in view. Does this refer then to a spiritual utterance in another tongue? I don't think it does. I draw this conclusion not because of this word πνευματικός but because of the noun ᾡδή. That word is not used to describe anything related to the gift of tongues; it simply refers to songs sung in worship to God. The new edition of the NIV interpreted the motivation for this worship to be from the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the human spirit; the updated translation is not a commentary on any point of charismatic theology.