Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Odes (Colossians 3:16)

<<Please note that since 2008, my views on this interpretation have changed. When time permits, these reflections will be amended to reflect that change of view. In the meantime, this has been left here as a historical marker and as a reminder that as we grow and mature, sometimes the nuances of our theology do change.>>

“Let the word of Christ dwell richly in you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing with psalms, hymns, and spiritual odes, in thanksgiving in your heart, to God.”

(Colossians 3:16)

This passage is the passage that has often been cited in the debate over what kind of music should be allowable in the worship of God’s people.  Some have argued that “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” all refers to the singing of the Psalms from the Old Testament, but such a statement carries with it very little textual support.  Paul uses three distinct words in the Greek to express what he commends the Colossian church to be doing; he uses the term yalmo/ß (psalmos), from which we get the English word “psalm,” the term u¢mnoß (humnos), from which we get the English word “hymn,” and the word wˆjdh/ (ode), from which we get the English word “ode.”

In Greek, the word “psalms” obviously refer to the 150 psalms which compose the book of the same name.  These psalms were used as part of the worship of God’s people in the Old Testament.  The word “ode” refers to those songs sung as part of the church liturgy and were not limited to the 150 Psalms; for example, Moses’ song in Exodus 15 is called an “ode” in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  “Hymns” on the other hand referred to any song with religious content.  The very fact that the Old Testament is filled with hymns that are not part of the book of Psalms and the very fact that the New Testament is filled with song fragments should remind us that God never intended that his people limit worship to the 150 psalms found in the Old Testament.  In addition, the saints in heaven are described as singing “a new ode” (Revelation 5:9), implying that even in heaven, God’s people are continuing to compose new songs of praise to our God and King.  The reality is, there are not enough words in all of the languages of all of the peoples of the world, nor enough combinations of notes or instruments to adequately praise our God for who he is and for what he has done, and this means that every new generation of believers has an obligation to continue to add to the body of the hymnody for the glory of our Redeemer.  Oh, how heaven will be filled with song!  Let us look forward to that time as we sing praises to our God and King as well!

Beloved, what an important part singing praises to God has in the life of the believer, and note just how closely we see Paul connecting the singing of praises with the dwelling of Christ’s word in your heart.  This leaves us with a very important principle that marks a good hymn from a bad one.  Good hymns lead your heart into God’s word: they either contain scripture or are built upon scriptural truths.  Good hymns reinforce God’s word within you; good hymns point to God and His Word, not to the hymn or to the singer.  The singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual odes is not an end in and of itself, but rather is meant to draw you more deeply into Christ and into his word—if they do this, no matter the tempo, the instrumentation, the longevity, or the pedigree, they are good hymns; if they do not draw you more deeply into Christ, they are wasting your time.

All glory, laud, and honor

To thee, Redeemer, King,

To whom the lips of children

Made sweet hosannas ring!

Thou art the King of Israel,

Thou David’s royal Son,

Who in the Lord’s name comest,

The King and blessed One!

-Theodulph of Orleans

About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on July 30, 2008, in Expositions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Keep the helpful post coming, I have been able to get what I needed from it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: