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Psalms, Hymns and (Spiritual) Songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16):
A Quick Survey

Rev. Martyn McGeown


The book of Psalms uses three words to describe the songs in the Psalter (in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament).

These are ψαλμὸς ("psalm"), ὕμνος ("hymn" [song of praise]) and ᾠδή ("ode" [song]).

In addition, "hymn" in either its noun or verb form is found in Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26 (Jesus and His disciples sang a "hymn" from the Hallel Psalms, Psalms 113-118, as all agree), Acts 16:25 (Paul and Silas "hymned," in the dark prison at Philippi, Psalms that these Jewish men had memorized) and Hebrews 2:12 (a quotation from Psalm 22:22).

Therefore, if the Colossians and Ephesians were looking for hymns to sing they had an abundant supply in the Psalter of the Old Testament. The word "hymn" must not be defined as modern people define it but we must allow Scripture to define words for us.



Psalm 6:1 <To the chief Musician [lit. "to the leader in hymns"] on Neginoth upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David.> O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.

Psalm 40:3 And he hath put a new song [lit "a new hymn"] in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.

Psalm 54:1 <To the chief Musician [lit. "to the leader in hymns"] on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David, when the Ziphims came and said to Saul, Doth not David hide himself with us?> Save me, O God, by thy name, and judge me by thy strength.

Psalm 55:1 <To the chief Musician [lit. "to the leader in hymns"] on Neginoth, Maschil, A Psalm of David.> Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication.

Psalm 61:1 <To the chief Musician [lit. "to the leader in hymns"]  upon Neginah, A Psalm of David.> Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

Psalm 65:1 <To the chief Musician, A Psalm and Song of David.> Praise [lit. "a hymn"] waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed.

Psalm 67:1 <To the chief Musician [lit. "to the leader in hymns"] on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song.> God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.

Psalm 72:20 The prayers [lit. "hymns"] of David the son of Jesse are ended.

Psalm 76:1 <To the chief Musician [lit. "to the leader in hymns"] on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song of Asaph.> In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel.

Psalm 100:4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise [lit. "with hymns"]: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

Psalm 119:171 My lips shall utter praise [lit. "a hymn"], when thou hast taught me thy statutes.

Psalm 137:3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth [lit. "a hymn"], saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

Psalm 148:14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise [lit. "hymn"] of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the LORD.



Psalm 4:1 <To the chief Musician [lit. "to the leader in psalms"] on Neginoth, A Psalm [lit. "a song (ode)"] of David.> Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer."

In addition, Psalms 18, 29, 39, 45, 48, 65-69, 75-76, 83, 87-88, 92, 108, 120-133 are all called songs or "odes" in their titles. The titles of Psalms 67 and 76 contain the three words (psalm, hymn and song) together.

So, it ought to be clear what Paul meant (and what the Colossians and Ephesians understood) by "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).