In the book of Acts, when Paul and Silas were in prison, they sang hymns. The book of Psalms is widely known as the hymn book of the kingdom of Israel. Song is an influential and powerful tool that is used throughout history to encourage, teach, share and general lift up a group of people and propel them into action in a specific direction.
The earliest records of church services all record singing as a common way to worship God. And Paul specifically encouraged the people of Ephesus and Colossus to sing when they gathered together. James also encouraged people to sing when they gathered together.
The first Christian songs came directly from Luke’s gospel. The Magnificat, which is found in Luke 1:46-55, is the song that the virgin Mary sang while pregnant with Jesus. The Benedictus was sung by Zacharias, the father of John the Baptizer, found in Luke 1:68-79. The third song is the Nunc Dimittis, it was sung by Simeon as he held the baby Jesus in Luke 2:29-32. All of these songs are still sung in the Catholic, Anglican and orthodox traditions.
One of the earliest hymnals known in Christianity is the Odes of Solomon. it was complied in the first century and is a collection of forty-one psalms that celebrate the best way to achieve salvation and communion with God.
Ode 16 goes like this:
- My love is the Lord;
- Hence I will sing unto him.
- For I am strengthened by his praises,
- And I have Faith in him.
- I will open my mouth,
- And his spirit will speak through me.
- The glory of the Lord and his beauty,
- The work of his hands,
- And the labour of his fingers;
- For the multitude of his mercies,
- And the strength of his Word
Often times people puzzle and wonder over the rapid spread of Christianity through the ancient world. Maybe one of the reasons is the truth of our Saviour wrapped up in simple hymns sung with love and heard with wonder by those who had ears to hear.