We know what Jesus’ songbook was. His songbook is as near to you as your Bible. It is in your Old Testament. It appears just between Job and Proverbs. You may be forgiven for being confused because your English translation of Matthew 26:30 might say, “when they had sung a hymn…”. The text actually says, “after they had sung” (ὑμνήσαντες). The songs they sang were Psalms 115–18. The insertion of the English word hymn in that context creates a false impression because it makes the English reader think of his hymnal rather than of Jesus’ songbook, the Psalter (150 Psalms). It was Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted on the cross, not an uninspired hymn. Not only was the book of Psalms Jesus’ songbook, it was, from all that we actually know from the New Testament, the songbook of the Apostolic church. It is speculative (inferring from an uncertain premise to a conclusion) to conclude that the psalm (ψαλμὸν) of 1 Corinthians 14:26 was a non-canonical hymn. Further, it was the songbook of the early post-apostolic church. It was not until the 4th century (and not the 2nd century as the 1959 Psalter-Hymnal claims) that we began to sing so-called “ancient” hymns such as the Gloria Patri. It is actually quite difficult to nail down with complete certainty second-century non-canonical hymns but we know that the earliest Christians sang God’s Word from the Psalms. Indeed, for most of the history of the church, even after non-canonical songs were introduced, which was controversial in some places through the late Patristic period, the Psalms continued to be the primary songbook of the church. According to most significant monastic rules (think church order) monks sang through the Psalms. The Reformed churches diligently worked to produce psalters, in the language of the people, for congregational singing. The Reformed churches sang principally songs and other portions of Scripture through the 17th century.
Since the 17th century, however, things have changed dramatically. Relative to the history of the church you and I live in unprecedented times. Never before, in the history of the church, have Christians been so ignorant of the Psalms. Christians under 30 years of age may never have sung a psalm in public worship. I regularly meet younger (Millennial) Christians who, through no fault of their own, know the words to “Like a Sloppy Wet Kiss” but who have never sung Psalm 23 or Psalm 100 in a public worship service.
Never before has the church needed so much help to recover God’s songbook for use in public and private worship. So, we may be thankful for the good work of my old friend (and former student) Dan Kok. He is an RPCNA minister and he has just published some resources on psalmody. There are six categories:
- General (considerations)
- Exegetical (considerations)
- Answers to Objections
Here are more resources toward recovering the Psalms for worship.