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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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The generic term given to vocal praise in the Bible.

Old Testament Ceremonial religious singing is mentioned in the Old Testament in connection with important events, such as the songs in celebration of the Hebrews' passage through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21 ), Deborah and Barak's triumph song after the defeat of the forces of Jabin, king of Hazor (Judges 5:1-31 ), and the women's song at David's victorious return from battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:6-7 ). Moses also gave the Israelites some of his last warnings in a great song (Deuteronomy 32:1-43 ). The Book of Psalms is a hymn book. The hymns in it were written by different authors over a long period of time and used by the people of Israel in their worship. The collection of 150 psalms eventually was included in Hebrew Scripture. Hymn singing in the Jerusalem Temple was led by trained choirs, sometimes using instrumental accompaniment (2 Chronicles 29:25-28 ). The people joined the choir in singing hymns in unison, responsively, and antiphonally.

Hymn is also the technical term for a specific literary type of material in Psalms. In this sense a hymn expresses the congregation's praise of God's greatness and majesty, usually addressing members of the congregation and inviting them to praise God. A hymn usually includes a call to the congregation to join in praise (Psalm 33:1-3 ), a list of reasons to praise God (Psalm 33:4-19 ), and a concluding call to praise or statement of trust (Psalm 33:20-22 ).

New Testament The Bible makes it clear that the singing of spiritual songs was a part of the early Christian church. Among the songs in the New Testament are several outstanding songs that have become a part of liturgical Christian worship: Luke 1:46-55 , Mary's song—”The Magnificat”; Luke 1:68-79 , Zacharias' prophetic song—”The Benedictus”; and Luke 2:29-32 , Simeon's blessing of the infant Jesus and farewell—”The Nunc Dimittis.” Numerous doxologies (Luke 2:14; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:15-16; Revelation 4:8 , for example) doubtless were used in corporate worship. Other passages in the New Testament give evidence of being quotations of hymns or fragments of hymns (Romans 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 13:1; Ephesians 1:3-14; Ephesians 5:14; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Titus 3:4-7 ). As for references to the word itself, the New Testament states that Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn at the end of the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26 ). Most Bible students think they sang part of Psalm 115-118 , hymns known as the Hallel, which traditionally were sung after supper on the night of Passover. The division of Christian song into psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16 ) should not to be taken to mean that there were three distinct types or styles of vocal music in use in those days. The reference indicates that Christian song was used in worship, to instruct in the faith, and to express joy. In another New Testament reference, Acts 16:25 , the mention of singing “praises” to God obviously means that Paul and Silas sang hymns in prison. The author of the Book of Hebrews stressed in Acts 2:12 (a quotation of the messianic Psalm 22:22 ) that Jesus will declare His name to the church, that He will “sing praise,” or hymns. Today, the hymnal is known as the companion to the Bible because hymns play a large part in Christian life.

J. William Thompson

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Hymn'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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