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.