Hymn Fragments in the New Testament

“[I]t has been alleged for years that we have fragments of such ‘new songs’ in Philippians 2, First Timothy 3 and elsewhere. Frankly, it is always disappointing to find advocates of hymnody appealing to the alleged presence of ‘Apostolic hymn fragments’ in the New Testament. If these ‘fragments’ are anything more than exalted prose they could just as easily be fragments of early creeds. But the stubborn fact remains that hymnody is an enduring art form and, this being so, the utter absence of hymns from the first 200 years (and more) of post-Apostolic church history is a huge problem for those who believe that they were sung by the Apostles and their successors… This is particularly the case if these ‘hymns’ were so important as to be partly incorporated into the New Testament letters. After all, the argument for their existence is based on supposed fragments appearing in these letters. However if they really did exist and if they were known and memorised by the Apostles, sing regularly in their worship and incorporated into their letters, their disappearance from the record of history becomes simply and utterly inexplicable. Indeed, the fact of their apparent ‘disappearance’ becomes almost conclusive evidence against their alleged existence in the first place!… However, the purpose of all this is just to show that the attempt to find fragments of hymns in the New Testament is futile. The attempt to identify them has long since become an exercise in scholastic speculation – the kind of speculation indulged in by academics who have given up the study of what is revealed in exchange for the pursuit of novelty and spurious originality – not to mention academic degrees! In the face of an utter lack of evidence for their existence, the quest to find them should simply be given up – they are less likely to be found than Atlantis or the Abominable Snowman. In point of act, in this kind of debate, there should be no appeal to these so-called fragments anymore and the appearance of any such appeal must be interpreted as an admission of weakness in the argument on the part of those who make it.”[1]

1Stewart, Kenneth. “Which Should We Sing in the Worship of God?” in Songs of the Spirit: The Place of Psalms in the Worship of God. (Digital version). Bathgate: Reformation Scotland, 2015.