Posted by: rcottrill | June 1, 2009

Hymns and the Bible

Hymns and the Bible go together like lightning and thunder, like spring and springing flowers. Or they should. (A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to see the ground covered with snow. Snow! In mid-May! What should go together doesn’t, always!) Anyway, back to my point. In Christianity, the Bible and the hymn book are closely associated. And a biblical faith is a singing faith.

  • Psalms, the longest book in the Bible, is actually an ancient hymn book. The Psalms were written to be sung.
  • Over 400 times in our English Bibles words such as music and singing are used–and “praising” God often means singing His praises.
  • Nine times in the Bible we are told that believers have a “new song” to sing. (Not necessarily meaning that it was written recently. The idea seems to be that it expresses a fresh experience with God.)
  • Singing will be an eternal occupation of God’s people. The book of Revelation pictures the scene in that coming day, saying, “They sang as it were a new song before the throne [of God]” (Revelation 14:3).

About Church Music
The early church was give some important instruction with regard to singing. Colossians 3:16 says:

Let the word of Christ [God’s Word, the Bible] dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing [exhorting, urging] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace [or thanksgiving] in your hearts to the Lord.

Notice several things there:

  • Our singing in church makes use of different kinds of music. (In a later blog we’ll go into the difference between “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”)
  • Our singing is aimed in two directions at once. We’re singing to “one another,” and we’re singing “to the Lord.”
  • Our singing is to be instructional and motivational, as we urge each other forward in our life and service for Christ.
  • Our singing is also to be an expression of worship and praise to God, in gratitude for all He’s done for us.
  • Our singing is to be Bible-based, rooted in the richness of insight gained from our meditation on the Scriptures.

The Most Important Thing
This brings us back to the connection between hymns and the Bible. There may be lots of reasons church congregations sing, and many different styles of singing. (Some of them worthy, and some that definitely need to be challenged!) But Colossians 3:16 tells us what God is looking for.

Our first concern about our hymnody (our sacred songs) should not be: Is this the newest on the market? Is it sung by such-and-such a recording star?  Is it popular? Does it have a great beat? Is it fun to sing? Does it show what good singers we are?

Our first concern must be: Is it biblical? Does it clearly communicate the truths of the Word of God? And is the setting (the tune and the musical arrangement) suitable to support and enhance the biblical message? Lord willing, these crucial tests will be at the heart of any discussion of what songs we will use in the services of the church.


  1. […] HYMNS AND THE BIBLE. For some, it seems that factors such as “Is it the newest and latest?” or “Is it one of our old favourites?” are the basis for their choice of hymnody. But I would argue that first and foremost must be this question: Is it biblical? I invite you to check out my article on the subject. […]

  2. Wow! What a guideline. Your article is a must-study for Protestant Churches as they celebrate Christian Education month. –David, Philippines

    • Thanks for your encouragement. In over 40 years of ministry, I’ve learned that folks identify hymns as “favourites” for all kinds of reasons. Usually, it’s the catchy tune, or it’s one that Grandma used to sing to them when they were kids. Far less often, it’s because the song expresses biblical truth so well. I’m doing my best to help us rethink this whole subject. God bless


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