Biblical songs for corporate singing are to be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The earliest recorded song is the Song of Moses (Exod. 15:1–18), and the last song is found in the book of Revelation (Rev. 19:1–8). This article lists the most important biblical songs, which are sometimes called canticles, and notes how these biblical songs are sung in the contemporary church.
From the beginning of the New Testament experience, the believer’s response to Jesus Christ has included song. Most of the New Testament songs or hymns have found their way into the enduring liturgy of the church, including the Magnificat, the Benedictus, the Gloria, and the Nunc Dimittis. New Testament music in worship included psalmody, hymns composed in the church, and spiritual songs—alleluias and songs of jubilation or ecstatic nature. Further, many of the elements characteristic of later liturgical practice are rooted in New Testament actions and elements of worship.
Music was an important element of both temple and synagogue worship. Undoubtedly this music and its forms influenced the form and use of music in the early Christian church. Both Jews and Christians revere a transcendent God and both give honor to Scripture. For these reasons and others, Jewish synagogue worship and modern Christian services are similar in content and spirit.
There appears to be a distinction in early Christian worship between the Jewish tradition (fixed forms, with a somewhat didactic preaching) and gentile worship (free worship with ecstatic utterances). Paul’s preaching appears rational and exegetical, as do his remarks to the Corinthian community (1 Cor. 12–14). Paul’s sermon preached in Athens (Acts 17:22–31) is a prime example of logic and coherence. It begins with a thesis statement and builds an argument from the premise that moves toward a logical conclusion. This sermon was a model for the more systematic and academic sermons that appeared in the Middle Ages. It also influenced Protestants, who were drawn to its pedagogical approach.
In the account of the sermon Jesus delivered in his hometown, three necessary elements of preaching are evident. First, there is the liturgical element: Jesus’ sermon was in the context of worship. Second, there is the exegetical aspect: Jesus interpreted a text. Third, there is the prophetic element: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” These three elements—worship, exegesis, and prophecy—have figured significantly in the history of preaching; they constitute the essential framework for the sermon.
Reconciliation, as a result of Christian worship and community life, is an important New Testament concept. Reconciliation is mediated through the practice of the apostolic vocation of all believers and supremely through the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Although there is no specific rite of reconciliation in the New Testament, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, have sacramental implications in the process of reconciliation through communion with God in Christ.
In biblical cultures, the celebration of marriage was not a religious rite but a festival of common life involving family, friends, and community. Although Scripture contains some poetry for use in marriage celebrations (Song of Songs, Psalm 45), it does not describe marriage as a religious ceremony. However, in both the Old and New Testaments the institution of marriage is viewed as sacramental, as a symbol of the relationship between the Lord and the covenant community.
The specific terminology of ordination is not found in the New Testament, although several occasions are described on which people were set aside for special tasks of ministry. A fuller development of the theory of ordination took place in the post-New Testament church.
Anointing, as a physical action pointing to a spiritual reality, had its origins in the practical use of oil for cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. Anointing became a symbolic expression of blessing or of the setting apart of a person or object for purposes that transcend the profane or common dimension of life. The title Christ or Messiah applied to Jesus means “Anointed One.”
While foot washing is not one of the traditional sacraments of the church, it is recognized as a sacramental action in many segments of the Christian faith.