The New Testament of the Bible opens with the birth of Christ fulfilling the Messianic prophecies. Matthew’s first chapter tediously lays out the lineage of Christ to prove this point. Matthew, along with Mark and Luke, all present varying takes on the life of Christ, while the book of John focuses more on the deity of Christ.
After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, the book of Acts chronicles Jesus’ early followers forming the Christian church. The rest of the New Testament is a collection of letters, mainly from the Apostle Paul, laying out the foundation for the Christian faith. Finally, in Revelation, John receives a vision about the end of time and Christ’s return.
There is more music in the Old Testament than in the New Testament, but this does not denote a lack of artistic endeavors. The early Christians simply saw themselves living out Judaism fulfilled. They saw no need to create their own liturgy. As a matter of fact, neither Jews nor Christians, formalized their music until six or seven hundred years after Christ.
Music in Luke
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all begin with a version of Christ’s birth. Luke, however, opens with music. Referred to as Mary’s Song, the reader sees the blessed virgin in a song of praise and surrender to God. (Lk. 1:46-55).
Luke’s narrative moves quickly to the Song of Zechariah. (Lk. 1:68-79). The father of John the Baptist had been mute for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy. He received his voice back and burst into song. In the first part, he sings thanksgiving to God for the Jewish Messiah and his hopes for his country. Zechariah then proceeds with a song about his child and about his hopes for his son.
The second chapter of Luke begins with an angelic song. Upon the birth of Jesus, angels appeared to shepherds lying in fields nearby. They sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (Luke 2:14).
Finally, Luke closes this operatic narrative. Luke 2:29-32 introduces a man named Simeon. Simeon had been told that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. In this prayer/song, he takes the Christ child in his arms, and declares that he is now dismissed from his life. He had seen the Christ.
Music in the Epistles
There is little known about the music of the first century Christian church. Some scholars believe Paul may have written some of the early hymns, although there is no concrete evidence. In Philippians, there is record of an early hymn. The authorship and background are uncertain, but the early Christians used it widely. (Phil 2:6-11) Regardless of whether Paul wrote hymns and what they were, he did exhort the early Christians to sing on three different occasions. (I Cor 14:15, Eph 5:18-19, and Col 3:16).
Each of these passages speaks of singing spiritual songs and hymns of praise to God. Ephesians 5:18-19 says, “Be filled with the Spirit. Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts.”
In The Story of Christian Music, Andrew Wilson-Dickson writes this was to encourage the Christians who were writing their own new songs to celebrate their faith. They did not have to stick to Jewish liturgy. They could make new songs. He further writes, “Paul also probably means to include spontaneous praise in song under the influence of the Holy Spirit – which many Christians today call, ‘singing in tongues.’”
Music in Revelation
The final book of Revelation is not silent on the topic of music. There are sixteen different hymns in the book. Several verses from Revelation are combined to create the song Agnus Dei, Latin for “worthy is the lamb.” In Revelation 5, the 24 elders sing a rather lengthy hymn, called The New Song. “
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing…To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and glory and honor and glory and might forever.’” (Rev. 5:19-14)
Finally, Revelation 15, records the Song of the Lamb. Song of the Lamb, is also the Song of Moses from the Old Testament. This time, it is sung by the redeemed believers of Christ.
The New Testament of the Bible is full of music. The Gospel of Luke opens with several songs on the coming Messiah.In the Epistles, there are a number of references to singing and music, and the book of Revelation records over sixteen hymns. For any musician looking for Biblical support for their music, this religious text has plenty of relevant passages.
Herbert Lockyer Jr., All the Music of the Bible (Hendrickson Publishers, 2004).
Andrew Wilson-Dickson, The Story of Christian Music (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003).