Patrick Etoughé Anani is studying for his Ph.D. at AIIAS (Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies), Philippines.


The custom of clapping seems to walk hand-inhand with human history and conventions. It has been proved that clapping formed part of Egyptian culture and history. According to Herodotus, Egyptians clapped their hands or used castanets and rattles during festivals in their processions2 as they traveled from town to town.3 In a fresco from Tell Ahmar/Til Barsip, two of the three Assyrian dignitaries can be seen clapping their hands. According to Plutarch, the felicitas was a political phenomenon in which a popular audience was involved. He reports that Pompey envisioned entering the theater for its dedication while the people were clapping.4 At Corinth, citizens would greet Timoleon and show his preeminence by sending him on his way with shouting and clapping.5

The ancient Romans had a set ritual of applause for public performances, expressing degrees of approval: snapping the finger and thumb, clapping with the flat or hollow palm, or waving the flap of the toga, for which the emperor Aurelian substituted handkerchiefs (orarium) that he had distributed to the Roman people.6 In Roman theater, at the close of the play, the chief actor called out “Valete et plaudite!” and the audience, guided by an unofficial choregus, chanted their applause antiphonally. This was often organized and paid for.7 Extravagantly and falsely, according to Tacitus the historian, “it was their traditional custom to flatter any ruler with reckless applause and meaningless zeal.”8 The context of handclapping was games and theater, where spectators saluted the names of their heroes.9

Applause (Latin applaudere, “to strike upon, clap”) is primarily expressed by clapping or striking the palms of the hands together to show appreciation via some degree of noise for whatever is being executed. Audiences are usually expected to applaud after a performance, such as a musical concert, speech, or play. The custom of clapping is perceived as an audience’s nonverbal communication that could indicate its relative appreciation of a performance; the louder and longer the noise, the stronger the crowd’s approval.


Clapping during the church worship service is forcing its way into many churches today. It is thought that clapping is an expression of religious feelings (cf. Ps. 47:1); however, clapping as the church practices it today may not resemble the biblical paradigm. In the Old Testament, four main terms express the act of clapping: macha’, nakah, saphak, and taqa’. These terms are used in connection with the Hebrew kaf (palm) or yad (hand), and they connote the act of clapping or striking something or someone. They are also used with different meaning.

The term saphak (clap one’s hand) is combined with kaf in Numbers 24:10 as a sign of King Balak’s strong disapproval of Balaam blessing Israel. The context seems to indicate that the clapping of the pagan king was intended to prevent the prophet’s speech. Called to curse Israel, not only did Balaam bless them (Num. 24:1-9a), he also returned the curse against Moab, saying, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you” (verse 9b, ESV). The word saphak is also a sign of derision or mockery. In this context, it is used in association with shaqû (hiss) and yani’û (shake the head) (Lam. 2:15; cf. Job 27:23).

The meaning of the verb nakah ranges from beating to killing. It could be used for someone hitting another person (Exod. 2:11, 13), striking someone on the cheek (Ps. 3:7, 8; Lam. 3:30), and to indicate clapping as a sign of the coronation of a king (2 Kings 11:12). The priest Jehoiada, the captains, and the temple guards presented their honors to Jehoash by clapping, a conclusive act of his coronation and anointment. Thus, though the anointing took place in the house of the Lord (verse 4), clapping concluded the coronation ceremony. 

Of all these words, the term taqa’ appears to be the most controversial, since it appears in Psalm 47:1 when the psalmist invites all people to clap their hands and “shout to God with loud songs of joy.” The context seems to be eschatological (verses 5-8), though here it may indicate an action of joy; the same term is used derisively at the downfall of Assyria (Nahum 3:19). In the book of Proverbs, the word indicates the conclusion of a legal action securing a pledge with a third party in a treaty (Prov. 6:1; 11:15; 17:18; 22:26; cf. Job 17:3). 

In Psalm 98:8, natural elements are called to clap their hands before the Lord’s coming for judgment. The term used is mâcha (to clap the hands). The rushing river and the trees of the field clap the kaf and yad respectively in signs of joy when the prophet uses a personification of the trees (Is 55:12). It is “the rushing rivers recently filled from the thunderstorm which sounds like a grand audience clapping hands, and the rain-drenched mountains sing for joy” (98:8). As in Psalm 29, this storm is a theophany of the Lord, “who comes to judge the earth” (96:13; 98:9).10 When it is done as sign of joy or jubilation because of God’s promises and everlasting deliverance, it is used with the word shâmach (joy). Finally mâcha is used as a sarcasm toward the Ammonites after they rejoiced over the fate of Israel by clapping their hands to indicate their scorn of the land of God’s people and His sanctuary (Ezek 25:6). It is coupled with the stamping of feet for merriment.

As in Josephus, applauding in the New Testament was equal to crying out loudly (epiphôneô).11 Later on, with the propagation of Christianity, customs of the theater were gradually adopted by the churches. Eusebius says that Paul of Samosata encouraged the congregation to applaud his preaching by waving linen cloths (othonais; οθοναις), and those who did not do so were threatened.12


Historically, early Adventists understood that clapping entered in the early church during a period of accommodation with pagan cultures in an effort to “win” them. Thus, E. J. Waggoner placed the origin of this observance during the time of Chrysostom, Patriarchate of Constantinople, in A.D. 398–404. Chrysostom opposed the custom of clapping and found it a custom fitted for the world but not for the church: “Chrysostom mourns over the theatrical customs, such as loud clapping in applause, which the Christians at Antioch and Constantinople brought with them into the church.”13

John, Bishop of Rome in the fourth century, was also skeptical when he heard loud clapping during his homily. He rebuked it and said to the people, “The apostles, even Christ Himself delivering the Sermon on the Mount, have been listened to without interruption. Much better than noisy applause, the proper place for which was the theater or the public baths, was the secret approbation of the hearts as one reflects . . . on the words spoken.”14

Ellen G. White asserted that clapping was associated with the holiness movement at a Methodist camp-meeting at Burton. “Some things at this camp-meeting perplexed me exceedingly. I could not understand the exercises of many persons during the conference meetings at the stand and in the tents. They shouted at the top of their voices, clapped their hands, and appeared greatly excited.”15 Mrs. White believed that applause was acceptable for Jesus’ coming but not for worship. She warned about its dangers as “the food of world” and one of “the iniquitous practices of the world.”16 In fact, she said that “popular applause” is a “low standard of right and wrong” and leads people to seek men’s approval, where no man is safe, rather than the commendation of God.17 In addition, she portrayed applause as having the same stimulating powers as wine and identified it as a “snare.”18 Finally, applause is contrary to the Spirit of Jesus, for “Jesus did not seek the admiration or the applause of men.”19


Theologically, applause has no real base in biblical tradition; it seem that churches that introduce this custom into worship are just following the entertainment industry or imitating the religious services of charismatic movements and churches. Thus, though acceptable by worldly standards, applause during worship is neither biblically appropriate nor approved by church pioneers. There is no evidence that clapping was a part of worship. For the Old Testament, clapping was social and cultural, not a religious practice. What we have in the churches today is nothing but a borrowed Greek and Roman “spectacle” heritage influenced by contemporary cultural norms. Manuel Angel Rodriguez, from the Biblical Research Institute, says, “I suspect that we incorporated clapping into our services from our cultural environment. Clapping is usually associated with the entertainment industry but has become very popular in evangelical televised religious services. Perhaps we copied it from them.”20

In worship, applause may steal God’s approval from worshipers and become a snare for their spiritual lives as they continue to seek men’s approval rather than seeking a personal commitment to God. If clapping is made to express welcome, enjoyment, and approval (as we see in the intense or prolonged applause in the worship service as it is done with the secular “applause meter” to select winners of a competition), the church does not need to follow the world in that matter. The word “amen” (from ʾâmen) is generally used when one regards something as trustworthy (Exod. 4:8; 1 Kings 10:7; Isa. 53:1; Ps. 106:24) or proved to be firm according to God’s will (Gen. 42:20; 1 Kings 8:26). As with pisteuô, ʾâmen would refer to “to the relationship between reality and the essence of the subject in question.”21

1 J. Stephen Lang, 1,001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Holy Spirit (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 37.
2 In antiquity, wooden or hand-shaped rattles served to give the rhythm when clapped together like castanets. An Assyrian relief shows a few musicians; some play the harp while others clap their hands. 1000 Bible Images (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2009). See also, eight women and eight priests are depicted clapping their hands in measure. James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958), 314, 374, 470.
3 Herodotus, Historiae 2. 60.1.
4 Plutarch, Pompeius 46; at 68 (cf. Nicolaus of Damascus, Caes. 42); see, 169; Millar, Fergus “Popular Politics in the Late Republic,” in Leaders and Masses in the Roman World: Studies in Honor of Zvi Yavetz, eds. J. Malkin and Z. W. Rubinsohn (Leiden: n.p., 1995), 106.
5 Plutarch, Timoleon, 38. 
6 George Long, “Ora’ruim,” A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 2nd ed., imp. and enl., (Boston: Little-Brown, 1870), 843.
7 Böttiger, Über das Applaudieren im Theater bei den Alten, Leipz, 1822.
8 Tacitus, Historiae 1.32, 35, 90; 2.90 (Moore, LCL).
9 Ibid., 2.55, 91.
10Mark D. Futato, “r0’m,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Willem A. VanGemeren, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 3.
11Acts 12:22; 21:34; 22:24; Luke 23:21; cf. Josephus, Antiquities 4.66; 6.22, 194; 7.352; 10.266 (Thackery, LCL).
12 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History Book 30.7.
13 E. J. Waggoner, Sunday: The Origin of Its Observance in the Christian Church (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1891), 104. 
14 J.N.D. Kelly, Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom: Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (New York: Cornell University Press, 1995), 130, 131. See in Gen. Sermo 2.1 (PG 54.586); in Act. Hom 30.4 (PG 60.266-7). Cf. J.P. Migne, ed., Patrologia graeca, 162 vols. (Paris, 18576–1886).
15 Ellen G. White, Signs of Times, January 20, 1876, par. 14. In addition, James White, Life Incidents (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press of the Seventhday Adventist Pub. Assn., 1868), 157, mentions an episode with the Holiness Movement in New Hampshire where “noise of shouting and clapping of hands” took place.
16 Ellen G. White, The Southern Work (Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1966),
17. 17 Ellen G. White, Patriarch and Prophets (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), 650.
18 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 3:185, 186; Special Testimony to Ministers and Workers, No. 4, 1895, 25.
19 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 197.
20 See Angel M. Rodríguez, “Clapping in Church,” Adventist Review, May 1997; available on the Biblical Research Institute website:
21H. Wildberger, “ʾâmen,”Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), 1:136. 

Patrick Etoughé Anani is studying for his Ph.D. at AIIAS (Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies), Philippines.