Hebrew tehillim; in direct praise to God (Ac 16:25; Jas 5:13). Not restricted to church worship; but used to exhilarate Christians in social parties. "Psalms," mizmor, were accompanied with an instrument, carefully arranged. "Songs," Greek oodai, Hebrew shir, were joyous lyric pieces on sacred subjects; contrast the reveling, licentious songs of pagan feasts (Am 8:10). The accompaniment is the "melody of the heart," not the lyre. Tertullian (Apology, 39) records that at the love feasts (agapae), after the water was furnished for the hands and the lights lit, according as any remembered Scripture or could compose (compare 1Co 14:26, "improvised psalms"), he was invited to sing praises to God for the general good. The heart is the seat of true psalmody, "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19).
Some generally accepted confession, in the form of a hymn, appears in 1Ti 3:16; the short unconnected sentences, with words similarly arranged, almost in the same number of syllables, the clauses in parallelism (the principle of Hebrew versification) antithetically arranged, each two forming a pair which contrasts heaven and earth, the order reversed in each new pair, flesh and spirit, angels and Gentiles, world and glory; the first and the last clauses correspond, "manifested in the flesh. .. received up into glory." So Pliny, 1:10, ep. 97: "the Christians are wont on a fixed day, before dawn, to meet and sing a hymn in alternate responses to Christ as God." Christ and His disciples sang a hymn after the Passover and the Lord's supper (Mt 26:30; Mr 14:26). Probably it was the Great Hallel or paschal hymn, usually sung after the Passover by the Jews, namely, Psalm 113-118.
These occur in this order: 'psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.' Eph 5:19; Col 3:16. The word 'psalms' is the same as the Greek ???????; so the word 'hymns,' ??????; for 'spiritual songs' it is ?.???? ????????????, spiritual odes or songs. There can be no doubt that the Psalms of David had been used by the devout of Israel as songs of praise, and some of these may have been used in the early church, such as Psalm 23, Psalm 103, etc., which in substance have found their way into nearly all modern hymnals.
But the new dispensation required new songs of praise, and some may have been written that retained the name of psalms; others were called hymns, which apply to those compositions which are addressed to the Father or the Son, or directly to God. The word used for 'songs' is employed in Re 5:9 for the song of the redeemed; and in Re 14:3 for the new song; and in Re 15:3 for the song of Moses, the sentiments of which are often repeated in the Psalms: cf. also Ex 15:1-19; De 32:1-44.
It will be noticed that the passages in Ephesians and Colossians do not refer to singing in the assembly, and the one in Colossians may be punctuated thus: "in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another, in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." The Lord sang a hymn with His disciples at the last passover; and we may be sure that there was singing in the assemblies. The heathen Pliny bore testimony that the Christians sang 'odes to Christ as God.' Christ is twice represented as praising God, in the midst of His congregations, that is, in the assembly, and in the great congregation of Israel and those associated with them. Ps 22:22,25. Among hymns generally it is easy to see that some are hymns of praise; others recount what God has done; others speak of what Christ has suffered; others refer to future blessing; and again others are really prayers.