In Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19 Paul bids his readers sing "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Gregory of Nyssa (4th century) distinguishes these as follows: the Psalms were accompanied by instruments, the hymns were mainly vocal, and the song, ode, was a general term comprehending both. This distinction might suggest that the psalm belonged especially to the public worship of the church, while the hymn was the production, more or less spontaneous, of the individual member. The inference is, however, inconsistent with 1 Corinthians 14:26, and it is probable that in the apostolic age, at least, the terms were used indiscriminately. Of Christian psalms or hymns we have examples in the New Testament. Luke 1 and 2 contain such hymns in the songs of Mary, Zacharias and Simeon. The Apocalypse is studded with hymns or odes, many of them quite general in character, and probably borrowed or adapted from Jewish books of praise. In the Epistles of Paul, especially the later ones, fragments of hymns seem to be quoted. Lightfoot detects one in Ephesians 5:14, and others readily suggest themselves.
It is probable that the hymn mentioned as having been sung by Jesus and the disciples after the Passover (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) was the second part of the Hallel, i.e. Psalms 115-118, and the hymns of Paul and Silas were most likely also taken from the Psalter. But the practice of interpolating and altering Jewish non-canonical books, like the Psalter of Solomon and the recently discovered Odes of Solomon, shows that the early Christians adopted for devotional purposes the rich store of sacred poetry possessed by their nation. For the music to which these psalms, etc., were sung, see MUSIC; SONG.
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