New Testament hymns to Christ celebrate what he did before Creation, his mission of incarnation and reconciliation, and his present exalted position as Lord of the universe. In so doing, they counter heretical ideas that were influencing some segments of the early church.
Singing hymns to deity was an established practice in the Greco-Roman world long before the emergence of Christianity. Christian hymns differed from pagan hymnody, however, in celebrating a redemptive historical event; they have a “prophetic” quality.
Early Christian hymnody was influenced by the tradition of psalm singing in the temple. The hymns of the New Testament church served both a doxological and an apologetic function.
Synagogue worship consisted of three main elements: praise, prayer, and instruction. The earliest Christians, who were Jews, would have been familiar with this pattern, which in Christian worship gave shape to what is called the service of the Word.
Prior to the first Christian century, Judaism began to develop traditional interpretations of the Law that would eventually be written down to regulate Jewish life and worship. Judaism was influenced by Greek culture, resulting in the rise of a class of scribes and segments of the Jewish community which was more thoroughly Hellenized. The groupings formed during this period set the stage for the various sectarian movements within Judaism of the early Christian era.
The return of Israel after the Exile brought renewed interest in worship; the temple was rebuilt and sacrifices were reinstated. The synagogue, originated during the Exile, now became the focal point of a non-sacrificial worship.
Although Solomon completed and dedicated the temple, the foreign influences and faulty civil policy that set in during his reign eventually led to the demise of the Israelite commonwealth.
Under David’s leadership, worship was established in Jerusalem. David organized the functions of the priesthood, placing special emphasis on the use of music in worship.
In Canaan Israelite worship incorporated elements from pagan worship, especially that of Ba‘al, and Israel went through periods of apostasy and reform.
After the Exodus the worship of Israel became more formalized, characterized by the Mosaic institutions and regulations. The commitment to the law of the covenant became the central feature of Israelite worship.