Old Christian Hymns

An old hymnal called Christian Hymns (three editions) was used in my parents’ early history in the South.  This blog is not about that book, nor is it about any other hymnal per se.

There’s a common misunderstanding in Christendom:  that a “hymn” is an older Christian song or a song from a hymnal.  This blog is not about that fallacy.  (See Song Book Content or Hymns — definitions, and one good example for more on this point.)

This blog is, however, about early Christian hymns.  Gary Collier has recently shared a more or less commonly known, neat listing of apparent hymn texts that appear in our New Covenant scriptures:

  1. Phil 2:6-11
  2. 1Cor 13
  3. Rom 3:24-26; 6:1-11; 8:31-39; 11:33-36
  4. Col 1:15-20
  5. Eph 1:3-14; 1:20-23; 2:14-22; 5:14
  6. Titus 3:4-7
  7. 1Tim 3:16
  8. 2Tm 2:11-13
  9. Heb 1:3
  10. 1Pet 1:3-5; 1:18-21; 2:21-25; 3:18-22

While not all of these texts qualify as hymns “proper” from a lyrical standpoint, the fact that they have been identified as a) poetic, b) lyric, and c) likely to have been sung by early believers is significant.  I will not attempt to comment on all of these but will begin with the first in the list.

In Philippians 2, Paul gives no hint that he is quoting from an external source.  The inherent Christology (≈ word about Jesus’ nature and person, His Christ-hood) is very direct:  e.g., the name that is above every name is lavished upon Jesus.   This name is not “Jesus,” despite all those worship songs that link “Jesus” with “name above all names.”  Rather, Gary Collier and others have asserted that YHVH, God’s divine namewhich is now tantamount to KURIOS (LORD)—is that name.

The International Standard Version has shown great care in rendering this and other poetic passages in English poetic form.  I would like to share a sample here, and I may share a musical setting of this soon, too.

In God’s own form existed He
and shared with God equality,
deemed nothing needed grasping.
Instead, poured out in emptiness,
a servant’s form did He possess,
a mortal man becoming.
In human form He chose to be
and lived in all humility,
death on a cross obeying.
Now lifted up by God to heav’n,
a name above all others giv’n,
this matchless name possessing.
And so, when Jesus’ name is called,
the knees of everyone should fall
wherever they’re residing.
Then every tongue in one accord,
will say that Jesus the Messiah is Lord,
while God the Father praising.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-forever by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY.  Used by permission.

Addendum, a week after initial composition of this blogpost:

For two different reasons, I floated questions about this Philippians 2 “hymn text” to two different internet groups.  And for multiple reasons, members of each group were somewhat critical of this ISV rendering.  Perhaps I have been too quick to gravitate to the ISV attempt here.  Perhaps my standards are wishy-washy when it comes to translation.  Perhaps my standards are too low when it comes to poetry.  Still, I applaud what I take as a fine intent of the ISV folks to render poetry poetically.

Herman Ootix is a high-maintenance guy

Herman Ootix (hermeneutics) definitely requires our attention.

The hermeneutical process, of course, is all about interpretation — interpretation of a text by a reader or hearer.

Image from http://www.postost.net/lexicon/hermeneutics-pictures
Image from http://www.postost.net/lexicon/hermeneutics-pictures

An important-yet low-level hermeneutical concern is seen in this quotation:

The question of [ ___________ ] has been bandied about so much and now carries so much baggage with it that it has become nearly impossible simply to ask, “What does the Bible say on the matter?”  It is hard to know the difference anymore between what the Bible says about the subject and what we have already concluded about the subject.  It is like being in a room with loud music while trying to carry on a conversation with somebody. After a while you simply want to turn off the music so you can hear the person you are talking to!

–  Gary Collier, “A Models Approach:  A Revolution for Approaching Important Topics,” in Reading the Bible like Jesus and Paul, 2008

What Gary speaks of here (the specific question is immaterial; he could’ve made the same statement about many other matters) is the tendency to make the “word of the Lord” into “the word of us.”  Please go . . .

and here (more substance)
and here (a few lines buried deep within the overall rant)

. . . for prior mentions of the tendency to reinterpret God’s word, morphing it into our own.

Although the proclivity to paste Bible “verses” around (e.g., on bumper stickers and walls and church bulletins and signs), tends to come from sincere, devoted hearts, it is often a manifestation of shallow, hermeneutically weak practice.  Even (especially?) preachers and high-profile Bible study gurus can be guilty of this same kind of practice when they call into service isolate Bible “verses” by flinging them willy-nilly into new contexts without respect for the original contexts.  After so many years of using something in Galatians 6, Romans 8, Philippians 2, Acts 2, etc., to mean what we want it to mean, it’s difficult to filter out the loud music so we can hear the conversation God was originally having with some of His people.  (Exceptions might be certain uses of Proverbs and Psalms, and other texts that tend to stand alone in smaller bits.)

As I am able, I much prefer to dig into a larger context, attempting to discern the original meaning to the original readers . . . only thereafter attempting to apply the text to the current day.

Please examine these further thoughts on exegeting biblical texts, in order to stimulate your own thinking.  Here, I am not saying I know how to do this very well.  I’m only saying we all could benefit 1) from recognizing when exegesis is not being done well, and then 2) from trying to do it better.

  1. https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/journalism-and-exegesis/ (on context)

  1. https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/commencing-exegesis/ (a brief encouraging example, with links to definitions)

  1. https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/exegesis-non-ad-hominem/  (thoughts on a non-exegetically sound essay, with emphasis on inference and presumption)

  2. https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/in-praise-of-exegesis-999a/ (an ode to the exegetical ideal, with suggested resources)

Voices: Gary Collier on pulsating churches

The following is transcribed from an online video:

When we talk about building a church that is close-knit, vibrant, and pulsating, we normally think about a praise team with music that echoes into the four corners of the city and a preacher that makes us laugh and cry in the same sentence, and a new state-of-the-art worship center that all by itself will go out and bring people to God.

None of us believes this, but we actually act this way – that if we have all these things in place . . . we can kind of dance down the hallways, you know, because it’s so pulsating and so marvelous . . . then we’re getting there . . . and if we’re a quiet group, then that means we’re kind of a dead church.

Now, look … these things are fine; I’m not really criticizing any of the things that I just mentioned, necessarily, but they do not define a close-knit, vibrant, and pulsating church, and that’s the point that I’m getting at.  We can have all those things and still be a dead church.

We can have all those things and have God still say to us, “I hate . . . your times of worship. . . .”

. . .

A church that is close-knit, alive, vibrant, and pulsating

  • Might run up and down the aisles, or it might stand stone-cold still.
  • Might have an awesome praise team, or some person who starts the singing from the third row.
  • Might have a preacher as well known as Billy Graham, or as dry and stiff as Gary Collier, 🙂 or no preacher at all.
  • Might have a brand-new, multimillion-dollar worship complex, or it might meet in a basement.

– Gary D. Collier, Coffee With Paul Ministries, Inc., transcribed from a live, Internet-delivered lesson on church community


I recommend to my readers Gary’s online bible study program.  Find more info at http://coffeewithpaul.com/.  A new session begins this Saturday, June 15 — studying Galatians.

In praise of exegesis (999a)

If you’ve got a detail in a score that’s hard to hear, that’s not an excuse for not hearing it!

– Ken Ward, The Bruckner Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1 (March 2008), p. 41

Spoken with reference to complex musical texts (a/k/a “scores”), the above is also easily applicable to investigating the riches of scriptural texts.

[This is blogpost #999a.  (#999b has now been inserted, but that’s a dull story.)  As I write, I have a rough idea of what #1000 will be, and then I’m going to take a break, probably posting some more “voices” from the past, things I read, etc. — but not doing much new, original writing for a while.  I have loose plans for some beginning to write three different series, but no one will see those for weeks or maybe months.]

Anyway, it seemed appropriate that this near-last (for a while) post be on biblical exegesis — a topic close to my head and heart.  This is no primer on exegesis; I wouldn’t be able to write one if I tried.  It is merely intended to 1) motivate by highlighting the importance of the topic, and 2) offer a few particulars.

wpid-2013-02-19_17-22-52_366.jpgI believe that Christians should be consistently engaged in seriously investigating — and submitting to — scripture texts.  Toward that end, to state a sort of conceptual baseline:  we may not elevate any scripture text out of its historical and literary contexts, in order to respect a specific religious tradition or an individual interpretation.  Neither may we discard a text for those reasons or any others.  (The problem comes not so much in the positing or the believing or the dreaming, but in the doing.)

I suppose that, given my book-oriented Christian upbringing, I ought to feel I’ve studied scripture more than most.  But the more I come to understand the exegetical mindset and mode, the less I think I’ve actually studied scripture exegetically in the past.

Exegesis is not a particularly “religious” word but has perhaps come to be associated more with the serious study and interpretation of biblical texts than other types of texts.  Exegesis is not hermeneutics, exactly, but the two are related.  Exegesis is inextricably associated with the enterprise of digging into a specific text, and using available means to understand that text on its own terms.

One way of envisioning this type of goal is articulated by Dr. Greg Fay in his forthcoming two-volume series on the Bible (and here, I’ve taken a couple liberties with his statement):

The challenge is to stop interrupting God when He’s speaking to us — digesting scripture fully, even holistically, in its historical, literary, and sometimes very personal contexts, as if we were present in the defining moments of God’s first conversations with his people.

One way of “interrupting God” is pasting a “verse” (yanked from here or there) on top of another “verse” that comes from a completely different context.  Or, as Gary Collier’s imagery has it, we get things mixed up when we put a bunch of different text-ingredients into a blender and press “puree.”  If on the other hand we get into a single text and attempt to understand what it is about, we stand to gain immeasurably.  We may use various ways and means, including reading and re-reading the text itself, reading multiple Bible versions in English, delving into the original languages, investigating the cultural/historical background in which the text was written, highlighting recurring words, analyzing the structure of the text, reading multiple commentaries, and more.  (A sample listing of some possible exegetical tools may be found here, and a portal to many others, in the red section of this page.  A Christian college offers a master’s-level concentration in Biblical Exegesis; oh, that this were a required concentration for the majority of those training for jobs in official Christian capacities.)

When you think of exegesis, you might think “Exodus,” when the people came out of Egypt. The literal roots of the word “exegesis” have to do with being 1) guided or led 2) out of something.  So many people seem to want to read onto or into (eisegeting) instead of drawing a well-founded interpretation out of (exegeting) a text.  This trend is as disconcerting from a broad perspective as it is unhelpful to the individual who wants to continue in the way of discipleship.  Initially, at least, exegetical study is the way to go.  It does not preclude a more subjective, devotional approach, but some solely devotional approaches can be wispy and not true to the text.  It can be very exciting to dig into the original texts more intentionally, peering over the obscurant mountain built by centuries of ignorance and decades of Christian marketing.

Effort is required in digging into texts, extracting their riches.  But as the writer said in relation to a musical score, having to expend some effort for the reward is no excuse for not expending said effort.  The details can be incredibly illuminating!

One aspect of digging into some texts involves, conveniently enough, digging!  (Excavating and exploring uncharted territory may add to the imagery here.)  Biblical archaeology (which is a bit of a clumsy term that refers to excavating sites of biblical significance, not to digging into the Bible itself) can be an enticing field, and I recently had opportunity to hear Dr. John Monson in an insightful (online) lecture on the value of “Physical Theology.”  I’d like to offer the following quotes as appetite-whetters, hoping you’ll click the link below when you have time to listen to a lecture online.

Increasingly, the academy and the church are propelled by the prevailing intellectual trends of our time.  Many scholars and theologians discount such concepts as reliable history and purposeful text, while the community of faith is often complacent toward biblical context as the Bible’s central role continues to decline.

The urgent quest for personal religious experience often displaces Scripture, not to mention the archaeological and linguistic material that can elucidate and enliven the biblical text.  It is a supreme irony that the Bible’s original context is often dismissed or discounted by the academy and the church precisely at the moment that corroborative evidence abounds like never before.  – Dr. John Monson, lecture, “Physical Theology: The Bible in its Land, Time and Culture,” Feb. 11, 2012, Lanier Theological Library lecture series (web-housed recording accessed 3/13/13)

Commencing exegesis

Today is the first day of a new learning opportunity for me, and I’m enthused.  As part of this new endeavor, several will be studying Paul’s (and Silas’s and Timothy’s) letter known as “1 Thessalonians.”  Far from “devotional Bible study,” although that has its place from time to time, this is to be a serious, responsible, contextual study of the text.

One key factor in good exegesis is awareness of the literary context.  A sense of the entire document at hand aids in prevening unhelpful eisegesis.  Toward awareness of the contextual whole, those involved directly in this new study opportunity read the entire letter (some more than once, but I was pressed for time, and somewhat moody this week — forgive me).

Here are some thoughts related to themes, shared anonymously, from others in the group:

  • “How dear the Thessalonians were to Paul, how thankful he was for them, and the lengths to which he was willing to go for them—and perhaps they for him.”
  • “Themes?  Hope, grounded on Faith (objective), and lived out in a Loving manner.”  (This writer astutely ties in the hope, faith, love trifecta that appears twice in the book, as such.)
  • One student chose this sentence as the prime driving force for the letter:  “You saw it for what it truly is, the Word of God, powerfully active in you who are believers.”

My own ideas on themes in 1Thess, at this relatively early stage of studying the document, arise somewhat from how I’ve read and studied Colossians, Philemon in recent times.  So far, however, I’m relying more on rate of recurrence of phrases and words than on anything deeper in the structure of the document.  Here’s what I have, in no particular order:

Relationship (intimacy, face-to-face visits)
Living patterns, holiness
Last things/end times
Persecution & trouble/Jews

Let the studying begin, and let the message of this letter — one of the two earliest in Christian history — begin to be more clear than ever!

Summin’ and rockin’

In the home of some former friends, a group of six adults gathered for a time of worship.  One of the spiritual calisthenics involved trying to sum up worship, narrowing a description to just a few words.  At first, it was five or six words.  Then we tried to narrow it to two or three.  Feel free to try this at home!  It’s great for centering, without much hint of New Age thought.  🙂  More on this specific exercise tomorrow.

But if you had to sum up the message of Jesus in just a few words, how would you do it?

Purposeful death and attesting resurrection?

God come to earth?  Incarnate holiness?

Grace and truth?

Love God, and love humankind?

A recently launched blogsite summed up the Messiah’s message this way:  “Come with me and die . . . and I will give you life.”  Strikes me as eminently on-target.  Isn’t this one way to sum up the core of the gospel message?  I have found this summary, here presented a message of Matthew, strongly corroborated in Mark’s gospel, as well (perhaps not so much in Luke’s or John’s?).

Personally, I find the “Rockin‘” stuff (you know, like “let’s rock!” or “that really rocks!” or “catch you later … gotta rock-n-roll!) a little tiresome, but that’s just me, and it’s likely a legacy the blog author inherited, to some degree.  (I also don’t see how anyone can watch the ridiculous TV series “Glee” with a straight face.  I’m embarrassed for the creators of this show, but I also know people who like it.  At least they could have given it another name, because the “glee club” tradition is light years away from the pathetic subject[s] of this series.  Oddly, I am amused and not embarrassed by “Happy Days” reruns, but that’s beside the point.)  Regardless of their chosen name, the Rock Church in Indiana certainly have themselves a solid “teaching pastor” in Gary Collier.  I know Gary to be committed to, and passionate about, exegetical Bible study.  And he has the tools to carry it forward.

Browse the Rockin’ blog sometime, and consider subscribing.  I did.

Understanding authors

If I want to understand Mark Twain’s socio-political scruples as implied in The Prince and the Pauper, I probably won’t get much from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

I’ve admired several of Frederick Buechner’s writings. If I want to dig into his life, I won’t get insight into the impact of his father’s suicide, which is detailed autobiographically in The Sacred Journey, by reading his fictional interpolation of Abraham and Isaac (Son of Laughter).

If I want to know who Horton is and why he hears a Who, I probably won’t find much help in the legend of the green eggs and ham. Sure, I get a little surface insight by reading another Geisel/Seuss work–something is clear about the author and his overall bent–but not much more than that.

Just wondering why we Christians are typically so careless with this type of thing. . . .

I mean, yeah, Paul wrote Galatians and 1 Timothy and was somehow divinely inspired to do so, but they’re different letters, written at different times, to different people, for different purposes.  Paul wrote them both, so, as with Seuss, we can get a general idea of his M.O. by reading two distinct letters, but one doesn’t help all that much to interpret the other.

This didn’t start out to be a plug, but I feel called to plug now. Two men whose spirits and intellects I respect greatly are working toward related Bible-reading goals. Gary Collier (http://www.CoffeeWithPaul.com and http://www.CoffeeWithPaul.com/aroma/index.html has embarked on a voyage of significant “instructive devotion” as he teaches how to read New Covenant scripture with careful attention to literary context (yes, with some Greek). Gary’s learning and gift with words, together with his insight into relationship, uniquely qualify him for this pastoral task.

Greg Fay is simultaneously writing a magnum companion-volume set on how to read the Bible. Yes, this type of thing has been done before, or so it would seem if you just look at the title. But I submit to you that if these books are published, the modern Christian world (and more) will have its best-ever methodologies for how to read scripture. I’ve been privileged to read the chapters as he writes them; I know both the wealth of content and the well-supported logic in the writing. Greg’s diagnosis is, essentially, that we read scripture verses sort of like “ink-blots,” isolating them from all context and imbuing them with meanings that sound good in Christianese but that are causing us to miss God’s original intent. The therapy for this malady is also prescribed by Dr. Greg.

If both Gary’s and Greg’s works are disseminated and utilized by as many people as they should touch, we could see a mass biblical intelligence boost that changes the face of Christendom. Wishful thinking, yes. But perhaps you would ask God to accomplish His purposes through these works, elevating the labors of these men’s minds and hands as they attempt to bolster God’s Kingdom?

To the sisters who sought recently to explain Romans 5 by appealing to 1 Corinthians 13 (or, further afield, to James or 2 Peter!): you are victims of a decades-old problem with the hermeneutical control tower that directs our scripture-reading flights. It’s not all your fault.