Although now generally defined as "a singer of folk songs," minstrel is used, only twice, by some English-language Bible translations for either, in the Old Testament, a player on a stringed instrument (who could also have been singing) or, in the New Testament, a flute player (who could obviously not also have been singing). The Old Testament Hebrew word is pronounced naw-gan, and literally means to play, and sing along with, a stringed instrument. The New Testament Greek word is pronounced ow-lay-tace, and literally means to play the flute.
Harps and Flutes
In the Old Testament, "minstrel" is used for the player of a stringed instrument that played while the prophet Elisha, who at first assisted, and later succeeded Elijah after Elijah's retirement (see Where Did Elijah Go?), proclaimed a miraculous sign:
"And Elisha said, "As The Lord of hosts lives, whom I serve, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah [see Kings of Israel and Judah], I would neither look at you, nor see you. But now bring me a minstrel."
"And when the minstrel played, the power of The Lord came upon him. And he said, "Thus says The Lord, 'I will make this dry stream-bed full of pools.' For thus says The Lord, 'You shall not see wind or rain, but that stream-bed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your cattle, and your beasts.' This is a light thing in the sight of The Lord; He will also give the Moabites into your hand, and you shall conquer every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop up all springs of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones."
"The next morning, about the time of offering the sacrifice, behold, water came from the direction of Edom, till the country was filled with water."
"When all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to put on armor, from the youngest to the oldest, were called out, and were drawn up at the frontier. And when they rose early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, the Moabites saw the water opposite them as red as blood. And they said, "This is blood; the kings have surely fought together, and slain one another. Now then, Moab, to the spoil!" But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose and attacked the Moabites, till they fled before them; and they went forward, slaughtering the Moabites as they went." (2 Kings 3:14-24 RSV)
In the New Testament, "minstrel" is used to refer to flute players who played as part of a mourning ritual for a girl who had just died. Their "tune" no doubt changed when Jesus Christ restored her to physical life:
"While He spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped Him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did His disciples." (Matthew 9:18-19 RSV)
"And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels [i.e. flute players] and the people making a noise, He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed Him to scorn. But when the people were put forth, He went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land." (Matthew 9:23-26 KJV)
Fact Finder: Did Jesus Christ ever sing?