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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

The hymns of the Apostolic Church included the OT Psalms and the Evangelical Canticles of Luke 1, 2. We possess also some fragments embedded in NT writings, which show how they were used to express religious emotion both in public and in private. St. Paul suggests further that they should be used for instruction and warning ( Colossians 3:16). He distinguishes (as in  Ephesians 5:19) between three kinds-psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (odes) (see Psalms, Spiritual Songs). The word ‘psalm’ ( 1 Corinthians 14:25,  James 5:13) properly includes the idea of a musical accompaniment (Basil, Hom. in Psalms 44  ; Greg. Nyss., Hom. in Ps. , ch. 3). The word ‘hymn’ might be used of a song of praise to God whether accompanied or not. The word ‘song’ (‘ode’) applies to all forms of song, and was in fact a general term for lyrical poetry. In  Ephesians 5:19 the terms ‘singing’ and ‘playing’ correspond with the words ‘hymns’ and ‘psalms.’ They are to be addressed ‘to the Lord,’ just as Pliny in his famous letter to Trajan ( Ep. x. 97) describes the Christians as meeting before dawn and singing a hymn to Christ as God antiphonally ( secum invicem ).

The fragment in  Ephesians 5:14

‘Awake, thou that sleepest,

And arise from the dead,

And Christ shall shine upon thee’

is possibly a fragment of a hymn addressed to a convert at baptism.

Another fragment is  1 Timothy 3:16 :

‘He who was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the spirit,

Seen of angels,

Preached among the nations,

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory.’

Such examples throw light on the difficult question of the source of the quotation in  1 Corinthians 2:9 which is apparently a free translation or paraphrase from the Hebrew of  Isaiah 64:4. Clem. Rom. ( ad Cor . xxxiv.) mixes it up with the Septuagint. According to Jerome, the passage occurs in the Ascension of Isaiah and the Apocalypse of Elias . Origen (on  Matthew 27:9 [Migne, Patr. Graeca , xiii. 1769]) says St. Paul quotes from the latter. As Lightfoot puts it ( Notes on Epistles of St. Paul , 1895, p. 177), ‘If it could be shown that these apocryphal books were prior to St. Paul, this solution would be the most probable.’ But they are not. So we fall back on the suggestion that St. Paul (and they also?) quoted an early Christian hymn based on Isaiah like the Sanctus of the liturgies.

The doxologies in  1 Timothy 1:17;  1 Timothy 6:16,  2 Timothy 4:18 may likewise have been fragments of hymns. Only one of the hymns in the Apocalypse alludes to the situation described in the vision, i.e.  Revelation 5:9, referring to the opening of the Book with the Seven Seals. The rest express generally the praise which the Church offers to God and to Christ. It is quite natural that reminiscences of Christian hymns should find their way into the seer’s book. On the other hand, if they are the first effort of an inspired imagination, we may regard them as types of future hymnody. The Song of Moses in 15:3, like the older Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, which was used as a Sabbath hymn in the Jewish liturgy, found its way into the liturgical Psalter of Codex Alexandrinus .

The Song of the living creatures in 4:8 varies from the Sanctus of Isaiah’s vision which is followed in the Liturgies and the Te Deum . It is addressed to God as Almighty, and evokes the response of the elders, who in the words ‘our God’ claim ‘a rotation to Him which the Creation as such cannot claim’ (H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2, 1907, p. 74).

In 5:12 the angels offer a fuller doxology to the Lamb, and the response of all creation with a fourfold doxology, and of the living creatures with the familiar ‘Amen’ which ended the eucharistic thanksgiving of the Church on earth, is ‘highly suggestive of the devotional attitude of the Asiatic Church in the time of Domitian towards the Person of Christ’ (Swete, op. cit. p. 84). Of a similar character is the Song inserted in the prophecy (11:15-18) when ‘great voices’ announce the coming of the kingdom, and the elders respond:

‘We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty,

Which art, and which wast;

Because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign.

And the nations were wroth,

And thy wrath came,

And the time of the dead to be judged,

And to give their reward to thy servants, the prophets,

And to the saints,

And to them that fear thy name,

The small and the great;

And to destroy them that destroy the earth.’

The writings of the Apostolic Fathers add nothing to our knowledge, though Ignatius delights in the thought of the hymn of praise for his martyrdom which the Church in Rome will sing ( ad Romans 2 ): ‘that forming yourselves into a chorus in love ye may sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, for that God has vouchsafed that the bishop from Syria should be found in the West, having summoned him from the East’ (cf. Ephesians 4 ).

From these hints we may construct an outline of the psalmody of the early Church, to which we may probably add a very interesting collection of private psalms recently discovered by Rendel Harris and published by him in 1909-the Odes of Solomon ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ). He found them with the Psalms of Solomon in a manuscriptof the 15th or 16th cent. from the neighbourhood of the Tigris. He thinks that they were written in Palestine about the year a.d. 100 (Batiffol [ Les Odes de Salomon , Fr. translationby Batiffol and Labourt, 1911] gives the date as 100-120). On the other hand, Harnack ( Texte and Untersuchungen , 3rd ser. v. 4 [1910]) regards all the Christian allusions as interpolations of the date c. [Note: . circa, about.]a.d. 100 in an earlier Jewish collection of c. [Note: . circa, about.]a.d. 70. He calls the finding of the Odes the most important discovery since the Didache , and epoch-making for the higher criticism of the Gospel of John, because these Jewish Odes (not only the Christian edition) contain all the essential elements of the Johannine theology, together with its religious tone. F. C. Burkitt, however ( Journal of Theological Studies xiii. [1912-13] 374), who has found a Nitrian manuscriptof the 15th cent. in the British Museum, regards them as later, as ‘part of the literary activity of the Syriac Monophysite community in Egypt.’ He attributes absence of direct references to Baptism and the Eucharist to the fact that the author was ‘writing in the style appropriate for pseudepigraphical composition.’ One feels that superhuman skill would be required by a writer who attempted to reconstruct the undeveloped theology of the Odes without betraying his later standpoint.

Harnack, with justice, calls the writer an original poet, whose metaphors and similes are excellently chosen and arrest attention by their beauty and strength. His mystical teaching on peace and joy and light and living water is thoroughly Johannine.

Ode 4 opens with a historical allusion to some attempt to alter the site of the Lord’s Sanctuary, probably a reference to the closing and dismantling of the temple or Onias, at Leontopolis in Egypt, by the Romans in a.d. 73: ‘No man, O my God, changeth thy holy place; and it is not [possible] that he should change it and put it in another place: because he hath no power over it.’

As a specimen of the style Ode 7 may be quoted: ‘As the impulse of anger against evil, so is the impulse of joy over what is lovely, and brings in of its fruits without restraint. My joy is the Lord and my impulse is towards Him: this in my excellent path: for I have a helper, the Lord. He has caused me to know Himself, without grudging, by His simplicity: the greatness of His kindness has humbled me. He become like me, in order that I might receive Him: He was reckoned like myself in order that I might put Him on; and I trembled not when I saw Him: because He is my salvation. Like my nature He became that I might learn Him, and like my form, that I might not turn back from Him … and the Most High shall be known in His saints, to announce to those that have Songs of the Coming of the Lord; that they may go forth to meet Him, and may sing to Him with joy and with the harp or many tones. The seers shall come before Him and they shall be seen before Him, and they shall praise the Lord for His love: because He is near and beholdeth, and hatred shall be taken from the earth, and along with jealousy it shall be drowned: for ignorance has been destroyed, because the knowledge of the Lord has arrived.’

It would be easy to multiply quotations, but this is impossible here. There are many phrases which arrest attention, like the first words of Ode 34, which Harnack calls the ‘pearl of the collection’: ‘No way is hard when there is a simple heart.’ But even more attractive than the phrases and the metaphors is the consistent spirit of joyfulness: ‘Grace has been revealed for your salvation. Believe and live and be saved.’ Thus the last words of Ode 34 lead up to the triumphant ‘Hallelujah’ which closes each hymn. Whatever may be the final verdict of critics as to the date, the beauty of the thoughts is an abiding possession for all who are interested in early Christian hymns.*[Note: The Christian teaching includes references to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (19, 23), the Son or God and Son of Man (36, 3), born of a Virgin (19), the pre-existent (19), who became Man (7), suffered (31), died on the Cross (27, 42), descended into Hell (42), was justified (31), and exalted (41).]

Literature.-H. Leigh Bennett, article‘Greek Hymnody,’ in Julian’s Dict. of Hymnology 2, 1907; F. Cabrol, article‘Cantiques,’ in his Dict. d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie , 1909; E. A. Abbott, Light on the Gospel from an ancient Poet , 1912; see also the series of articles on ‘Hymns (Christian)’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics .

A. E. Burn.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [2]

These occur in this order: 'psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.'  Ephesians 5:19;  Colossians 3:16 . The word 'psalms' is the same as the Greek ψαλμοῖς; so the word 'hymns,' ὕμνοις; for 'spiritual songs' it is ᾳ.δαῖς πνευματικαῖς, spiritual odes or songs. There can be no doubt that the Psalms of David had been used by the devout of Israel as songs of praise, and some of these may have been used in the early church, such as   Psalm 23 ,  Psalm 103 , etc., which in substance have found their way into nearly all modern hymnals.

But the new dispensation required new songs of praise, and some may have been written that retained the name of psalms; others were called hymns, which apply to those compositions which are addressed to the Father or the Son, or directly to God. The word used for 'songs' is employed in  Revelation 5:9 for the song of the redeemed; and in   Revelation 14:3 for the new song; and in   Revelation 15:3 for the song of Moses, the sentiments of which are often repeated in the Psalms: cf. also   Exodus 15:1-19;  Deuteronomy 32:1-44 .

It will be noticed that the passages in Ephesians and Colossians do not refer to singing in the assembly, and the one in Colossians may be punctuated thus: "in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." The Lord sang a hymn with His disciples at the last passover; and we may be sure that there was singing in the assemblies. The heathen Pliny bore testimony that the Christians sang 'odes to Christ as God.' Christ is twice represented as praising God, in the midst of His congregations, that is, in the assembly, and in the great congregation of Israel and those associated with them.  Psalm 22:22,25 . Among hymns generally it is easy to see that some are hymns of praise; others recount what God has done; others speak of what Christ has suffered; others refer to future blessing; and again others are really prayers.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

Hebrew tehillim; in direct praise to God ( Acts 16:25;  James 5:13). Not restricted to church worship; but used to exhilarate Christians in social parties. "Psalms," mizmor , were accompanied with an instrument, carefully arranged. "Songs," Greek oodai , Hebrew shir , were joyous lyric pieces on sacred subjects; contrast the reveling, licentious songs of pagan feasts ( Amos 8:10). The accompaniment is the "melody of the heart," not the lyre. Tertullian (Apology, 39) records that at the love feasts (agapae ), after the water was furnished for the hands and the lights lit, according as any remembered Scripture or could compose (compare  1 Corinthians 14:26, "improvised psalms"), he was invited to sing praises to God for the general good. The heart is the seat of true psalmody, "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" ( Colossians 3:16;  Ephesians 5:19).

Some generally accepted confession, in the form of a hymn, appears in  1 Timothy 3:16; the short unconnected sentences, with words similarly arranged, almost in the same number of syllables, the clauses in parallelism (the principle of Hebrew versification) antithetically arranged, each two forming a pair which contrasts heaven and earth, the order reversed in each new pair, flesh and spirit, angels and Gentiles, world and glory; the first and the last clauses correspond, "manifested in the flesh . . . received up into glory." So Pliny, 1:10, ep. 97: "the Christians are wont on a fixed day, before dawn, to meet and sing a hymn in alternate responses to Christ as God." Christ and His disciples sang a hymn after the Passover and the Lord's supper ( Matthew 26:30;  Mark 14:26). Probably it was the Great Hallel or paschal hymn, usually sung after the Passover by the Jews, namely, Psalm 113-118.