One of the things we most often do when we gather together as believers is sing. One of the primary things that can attract or turn-off someone to joining a church is the music. Music is deeply important to our faith and it has been since the beginning.
In a largely illiterate society, singing the faith was an easy and helpful way to teach doctrine. Even today one of the primary ways we pass on the faith to our children is through catchy songs that teach them things like the books of the Bible, names of the apostles, or the fruits of the Spirit. The same idea was probably operative in the early centuries of the Church: teach a catchy tune to remember important things about the faith.
1 Corinthians 14 indicates that by the influence of the Spirit some Christians brought hymns with them to service. This is probably intended to talk about more than merely bringing a psalm from the Book of Psalms or another known hymn. It was probably a hymn that certain Corinthians who were musically inclined wrote and brought to Church hoping to sing their songs. So it seems it was quite common for early Christians to write hymns and try to use those hymns in worship gatherings.
In the New Testament there are also many places where scholars have thought there is evidence of hymns or hymn fragments or doxologies that were quoted by the New Testament authors in part or in whole. Here is a list of some of the places that might be hymn or hymn fragments or doxologies in the New Testament:
- Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2: 14, 29-32
- Romans 8:31-39; 11:33-36
- 1 Corinthians 13:1
- Ephesians 1:3-14; 5:14, 19
- Philippians 2:5-11
- Colossians 1:15-20
- 1 Timothy 1:17; 3:16; 6:15-16
- 2 Timothy 2:11-13
- Titus 3:4-7
- Hebrews 1:3-4
- Revelation 4:8, 11; 5:9b-10, 12-13; 11:17-18; 15:3-4; 19:6-8
It is not unanimous opinion that these are actually hymns or parts of hymns, but at the least we may be able to say these passages are hymn-ish. They are beautifully written and very carefully worded with a beauty that is present in the original language and in the translated language as well.
One of the most widely agreed upon of these hymns is Philippians 2:6-11 which is often referred to as the “Christ Hymn.” In many modern translations (purposefully not the NASB or ESV) these verses in Philippians are set out in such a way to indicate that they are poetic lines.
Whether or not you are convinced that these are hymns or parts of hymns that have been discerned in the New Testament, maybe we can at least agree that our faith is and has been since very early on a poetic and musical faith. The sheer number of potential hymns and hymn fragments in the New Testament speaks volumes to me about the nature of the articulation of our faith. I would argue that an attempt to describe our faith without beautiful and poetic language is a failure to describe the faith at all.
In communication it is often said that you can not separate the message from the method. The way something is communicated is inseparable from what is communicated. Thus, to fail to communicate our faith in beautiful and poetic terms is a failure to communicate our faith at all.
I have been working on this little hymn for several years now based on the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2:6-11: