Psalm - Trench's New Testament Synonyms
Psalmpsalmos (G5568) Psalm
hymnos (G5215) Hymn
ode (G5603) (Spiritual) Song
Psalmos, hymnos, and ode are all used together in the same order in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, passages that are nearly identical (cf. Ps. 66: title). Some expositors refuse to attempt to distinguish these words, arguing that Paul did not intend to classify different forms of Christian poetry. Although this statement is true, Paul would not have used three words if one would have served his purpose equally well. Although it is reasonable to question whether "psalms," "hymns," and "spiritual songs" can be differentiated and whether Paul did so, it is nevertheless true that each word must have its own distinctive meaning. Even though we may discern these meanings, we may not be able to classify the Christian poetry of the apostolic age under these three heads.
Remarkably, the psalms of the Old Testament have no single, well recognized, and universally accepted name by which they are designated in the Hebrew Scriptures. They were first called Psalmos in the Septuagint, a title that properly means "touching," then "touching of the harp or other stringed instruments with the finger or with the plectrum," then "the instrument itself," and finally "the song sung with this musical accompaniment." The last meaning is the one used in the Septuagint and by the church. In the Lexicon ascribed to Cyril of Alexandria, psalmos is defined as "a musical composition, when an instrument is struck rhythmically in harmonious modes." Basil the Great emphasized the differences between the "psalm" and the "ode" or "spiritual song." According to Basil, "it is a song [ode] and not a psalm [psalmos] because by voice alone, without any instrument accompanying it, it has been transmitted with melodious utterance." In all probability the psalmoi of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 are the inspired psalms of the Hebrew canon. This is certainly true on all other occasions when psalmos occurs in the New Testament, with the possible exception of 1 Corinthians 14:26, though this passage also probably refers to the Old Testament psalms. The "psalms" the apostle wanted the faithful to sing to one another are the psalms of David, Asaph, or some of the other sweet singers of Israel. Because of the nearly synonymous words that are used with it, psalmos seems to have this narrow meaning.
Although by right of primogeniture "psalms" is the oldest form and occupies the foremost place in the church, the church is not restricted to singing only "psalms" but is free to bring new things as well as old out of her treasure house. Thus, in addition to inheriting the psalms bequeathed to her by the Jews, the church will produce "hymns and spiritual songs" of her own. A new salvation demands a new song (Rev. 5:9), as Augustine often delighted to remind us.
The essential idea of a Greek hymnos was that it addressed or praised a god or a hero (a deified man). Callisthenes reminded Alexander that by claiming hymns or allowing them to be addressed to him, he was implicitly accepting not human but divine honors. The gradual breakdown of the distinction between the human and the divine that marked the fallen days of Greece and Romea time when men usurped divine honorsresulted in hymnos increasingly being applied to men, though not without remonstrance. When hymnos was adopted by the church, this essential distinction still belonged to it. A "psalm" might be a De profundis("Out of the Depths"), the story of man's deliverance, or a commemoration of mercies he had received. The same sort of thing could be said of the "spiritual song," but a "hymn" (more or less) must always be a Magnificat(cf. Luke 1:46-55), a direct address of praise and glory to God. Thus Jerome wrote: "In brief, one must sing hymns, which proclaim the power and majesty of God and always marvel at his benefits and deeds." Gregory of Nyssa wrote: "A hymn [hymnos] is a praise dedicated to God for the benefits we have." In several places Augustine gave what he considered to be the three essentials of a hymn: it must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God. Thus Augustine wrote:
Hymns are praises to God with singing; hymns are songs containing praises to God. If there is praise but not to God, it is not a hymn; if there is praise and it is to God but is not sung, it is not a hymn. It is necessary, therefore, to be a hymn that it have three things: praise, and to God, and singing.
Again Augustine noted:
Do you know what a hymn is? It is a song with praise to God. If you praise God but do not sing, you do not call it a hymn; if you sing but do not praise God, you do not call it a hymn; if you praise something which does not pertain to God's praise, even if it is in song, you do not call it a hymn. A hymn, therefore, has these three elements: a song, praise, to God.
According to Gregory Nazianzene: "Laudation [epainos] is to speak well of anything I possess; praise [ainos] is an august laudation [epainos] to God; the hymn [hymnos] is praise [ainos] with melody, as I believe."
Although the church had freely adopted the term hymnos by the fourth century, it is not clear that it had done so earlier. The authority of Paul's usage notwithstanding, hymnos does not appear in the writings of the apostolic fathers, Justin Martyr, or in the Apostolic Constitutions. Tertullian used it only once. This may be due to hymnos's association with heathenism and profane usages that desecrated the term. There were so many hymns to Zeus, Hermes, Aphrodite, and other heathen deities that the early Christians instinctively shrunk from using the term.
What was the character of the "hymns" that Paul desired the faithful to sing among themselves? We may assume that these hymns followed the rules and directly addressed praise to God. Inspired specimens of hymnoi are found in Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; and Acts 4:24. Paul and Silas probably sung hymnoi from the depths of the Philippian dungeon. The Te Deum, the Veni Creator Spiritus, and many other examples show how noble and magnificent uninspired hymns can be. Even if we lacked supporting evidence, we could be certain that the church used hymns to praise God for the new, marvelous, heavenly world into which she had been brought. There is, however, abundant evidence to this effect. More than one fragment of a very early hymn is probably embedded in Paul's own epistles. It seems quite impossible that the Christian church, as it moved away from the Jewish synagogue, would fall into the mistake later made by some Reformed churches of using only "psalms" in the liturgy. The early church used "hymns" and sang them to Christ as to God, though this practice occurred more frequently in Gentile, than in Jewish, churches.
Ode is the only word of this group used in Revelation (5:9; 14:3; 15:3). Paul used it twice and added pneumatike (G4152) to it, probably because ode by itself might refer to any kind of songbattle, harvest, festal, or hymeneal.When pneumatike was applied to "songs," it did not imply that they were divinely inspired any more than the aner (G435) pneumatikos is an inspired man (1 Cor. 3:1; Gal. 6:1). These songs were composed by spiritual men about spiritual topics. How are we to distinguish these "spiritual songs" from the "psalms" and "hymns" that Paul grouped with them? If the "psalms" represent the heritage of sacred song that the Christian church derived from the Jewish Scriptures, then the "hymns" and "spiritual songs" are what the church itself produced, with the following qualification. Hymns were a direct address to God, but Christian thought and feeling soon expanded to a wider range of poetic utterances. In Herbert's Temple, Vaughan's Silex Scintillans, and Keble's Christian Year, there are many poems that are certainly not "psalms," nor do they possess the characteristics of "hymns." These "spiritual songs" are found in almost all of our collections of so-called "hymns," though it would be more correct to call them "spiritual songs." Calvin would only agree in part with the distinctions we have made:
Under these three terms Paul has included every type of songs, which usually are distinguished as followsa psalm is one in which some musical instrument besides the voice accompanies the singing; a hymn strictly speaking is a song of praise, either with mere voice or otherwise sung; an ode contains not only praises but exhortations and other admonitions.