Hughes Oliphant Old Describes the Earliest Christian Hymnal

The Odes of Solomon is the earliest collection of Christian hymns.

The forty-two odes in the collection were most likely composed in the late first or early second century by a Jewish Christian(s) in the region of Syria.

The plural pronouns and congregational references in the odes suggest that they were composed for use in Christian worship.

Hughes Oliphant Old says,

The Odes of Solomon is the only sizable collection of Christian hymns which has come down to us from the earliest centuries of the church. They seem to have been composed at the close of the first Christian century. Originally they were composed in Syriac. They are the praises, not of the Western church, but the Eastern church, a church still very close to the Semitic roots of Christianity.

The Odes of Solomon are Christian psalms in a way very similar to the canticles in the Gospel of Luke. That, of course, is implied by the title of the work. Just as Solomon, the son of David, continued the doxological service of his father by writing the Song of Solomon, so Christians continue the doxological service of the Son of David, anointed by the Spirit, by singing Christian psalms. The title is a sort of apologetic for Christian hymnody.

There are more than forty of these odes, each a Christian elaboration of one of the canonical psalms. Although sometimes the imagery is a bit strange to our modern Western ears, these ancient hymns are great Christian poetry. It probably gives us about as clear a picture of the worship of the early church as any document that has come down to us.

The spirit of New Testament worship is found in these hymns with an amazing freshness and vitality. And even if their language comes from the ancient Orient, they seem to have a classic evangelical quality about them. They are as eloquent about Christian love as ever the Franciscans, about grace as the Calvinists, about holiness as the Wesleyans, and they are as filled with the Spirit as ever any charismatic could wish.

I visited Hughes Oliphant Old the day after the following interview was recorded. He told me, “Someone dropped by yesterday to ask me about the Odes of Solomon.”

Here’s a clip from the interview in which he describes the Odes of Solomon and explains their original purpose. Speaking purely off the cuff…

The Odes cast a spell. Something beautiful is happening here.

It has a literary integrity I think that’s very important.

The Odes are very unusual in the different imagery that they come up with. But that imagery is used again and again.

One place where the Odes seem to have mined this imagery is the Book of Psalms.

And Rendel Harris, the great scholar who really brought the Odes to the attention of the modern world, refers to these Odes as Psalm pendants.

It’s as though the congregation might have sung a particular Psalm, and then, the Odes would’ve been sung as a response to it.

And so many of the Odes when one reads through them one realizes that the imagery of Psalm 45 is being used or Psalm 63 is being used.

And that’s one of the beautiful things about these Odes is that they’re so close to scripture.

For more on the Odes of Solomon, see Michael Lattke’s commentary in the Hermeneia series.


Ex-PCA Pastor Awards Calvin a Dunce Cap

Rumor has it that when Pope Leo X read Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, he said, “What drunken German wrote this?”

It is also rumored that when Martin Luther read Jason Stellman’s post on The Biblical Basis of Man-Made Liturgy, he said, “What drunken Ex-PCA pastor posted this?” I’m sure that’s just a rumor. Continue reading

The Lord’s Prayer in Reformed Worship, Pt. 4

“Thy kingdom come.” The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is about the ultimate hope of God’s people—the coming of the kingdom of God.

As devout Jews in the first century were waiting for the kingdom of God, they prayed earnestly for the appearance and reign of the Messiah.

Luke tells us that when the elderly prophet Simeon, who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” held the child Jesus in his arms, he blessed the LORD for answering his prayers. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).

Likewise, Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, was “looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43).

So devout Jews in the first century were waiting and praying for the appearance and reign of the Messiah. Most of them, no doubt, had wrong ideas about the nature of the messianic kingdom, but they were praying for its arrival.

We see examples of this in the prayers of the synagogue.

And Jerusalem, Your city, return in mercy, and dwell therein as You have spoken; rebuild it soon in our days as an everlasting building, and speedily set up therein the throne of David. Blessed art thou, O LORD, who rebuilds Jerusalem (Amidah 14).

Speedily cause the offspring of David, Your servant, to flourish, and lift up his glory by Your divine help because we wait for Your salvation all the day. Blessed art thou, O LORD, who causes the strength of salvation (Yeshua) to flourish (Amidah 15).

Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name in the world that he created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom, and may his salvation blossom and his Anointed one be near … speedily and soon (Kaddish).[1]

The kingdom of God is not simply God’s eternal, universal reign over the world but his redemptive reign in the person of Jesus Christ, who, as the only mediator between God and man, exercises the offices of prophet, priest, and king.

The nature of the messianic kingdom is not geopolitical or earthly, and it is not confined to the Jews but includes all nations. The kingdom of God is spiritual and heavenly; present and future; already and not yet.

To pray for the coming of the kingdom suggests that it has not yet fully come. The petition—“Thy kingdom come”—has in view the as yet incomplete nature of the kingdom.

The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a cry for the consummation of the kingdom like the prayer of the primitive church: “Come, Lord”; “Maranatha” (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20).

Until the consummation, the kingdom of God will grow and advance throughout the world. “Thy kingdom come” is an eschatological prayer for the consummation of the kingdom, the return of Jesus Christ.

But it is also a missionary prayer for the advancement of the kingdom through the spread of the gospel.

“Thy kingdom come” prays for the reign of Christ, the growth of the kingdom, the salvation of the lost, the subjection of Christ’s enemies, the destruction of Satan’s kingdom, the return of Christ, and the consummation of his kingdom at the end of the age.

All of these ideas are included in the simple petition: “Thy kingdom come!”


[1] See C. W. Dugmore, The Influence of the Synagogue Upon Divine Office (London: Faith Press, 1964). Though a bit dated, this book is still a helpful resource on the Jewish roots of Christian worship. More recent scholarship tends to be skeptical with regard to what we know about synagogue worship in the first century.

Hughes Oliphant Old on Worship

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my teacher Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old and reflecting on his insights into Reformed worship.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from his writings.

What is worship?

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being…. When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to the same basic principle; God created us to worship him. Surely it is here that we must begin when as Reformed theologians we ask what worship is. Worship must above all serve the glory of God (Worship Reformed According to Scripture).

Why study the Reformers?

One often asks why today we should study the Reformers. We study the Reformers for the same reason the Reformers studied the church fathers. They are witnesses to the authority of Scripture. The Reformers studied the patristic commentaries on Scripture because they enriched their own understanding of Scripture. Today we study the Reformers because they throw so much light on the pages of the Bible. They were passionately concerned to worship God truly, and they searched the Scriptures to learn how. We study the Reformers because their understanding of Scripture is so profound (Worship Reformed According to Scripture).

Worship and the Holy Spirit?

If there is one doctrine which is at the heart of Reformed worship it is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is the belief that the Holy Spirit brings the Church into being, that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church and sanctifies the Church. Worship is the manifestation of the creative and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. If we are to understand the worship of the early Reformed Church we must recognize that they went to worship not to do something for God, nor even so much to get something from God, but far more to be something with God (The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship).



The Lord’s Prayer in Reformed Worship, Pt. 2

The Lord’s Prayer may be divided into three sections (cf. LC 188).

It begins with an invocation, “Our Father in heaven.” The middle section consists of six petitions. It ends with a doxology, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”[1]

The word invocation comes from the Latin word invocare, which means to call upon, to appeal to or to invoke in prayer. An invocation is when one calls on the name of the Lord. Continue reading

The Origins of the Church Calendar


Now that Easter is over, this is a good opportunity to reflect on what just happened yesterday and to share some thoughts on the origin of the church calendar.

As we noted in our previous post, Christians have been celebrating Easter (or Pascha) at least since the end of the second century.

Easter was the earliest feast day on the church calendar. Continue reading