ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Earliest Christian Hymns

Updated on January 18, 2018


From the very beginning of the church Christians have gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread and give thanks to God in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus – Christ’s victory over death1. They would study the scriptures*, offer prayers to God, and sing hymns to their savior. Pliny the younger, writing to the Emperor c. 112 A.D., describe this practice in brief:

“On an appointed day they…meet before daybreak, and…recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ, as to a god…3

Here we will consider two very important examples of the earliest known hymns of the Christian church.

A depiction of an early Christian gathering known as love feasts
A depiction of an early Christian gathering known as love feasts

The Carmen Christi

The earliest known hymn comes to us in the text of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, chapter 2:6-11. Although written smoothly into the surrounding text, most major scholars agree that this passage, known as the “Carmen Christi,” is a portion of an ancient hymn familiar to the church at Philippi (at least). As Paul almost certainly died in the great Neronian persecution of between 64-68 A.D.5, the Carmen Christi represents a hymn sung in the first half of the first century; a prize for any historian!

"Though he [Christ] existed in the form of God

did not regard equality with God

as something to be grasped,

but emptied himself

by taking on the form of a slave,

by looking like other men,

and by sharing in human nature.

He humbled himself,

by becoming obedient to the point of death

– even death on a cross!

As a result God highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee will bow

– in heaven and on earth and under the earth –

and every tongue confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord

to the glory of God the Father6"

This song of Christ’s voluntary humiliation is also known as the “Kenotic” or “Kenosis” Hymn. [from Greek “Kenosis” – an emptying7] Aside from its elegance, this hymn is notable for its theology, as it denotes a worship of Christ and recognition of his equality with God that predated Paul's epistle. By integrating this hymn, Paul is appealing to a hymn both be and the church to which he was writing knew well, denoting an already established recognition of a fundamental Christian doctrine.

Manuscript P46 contains a 2/3rd century copy of the book of Philippians
Manuscript P46 contains a 2/3rd century copy of the book of Philippians

The Oxyrhynchus Hymn - P.Oxy1786

Among the many writings unearthed in the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, is P.Oxy 1786, a Hymn to the Trinity. At first glance, this document might seem underwhelming. Fragmentary and written on the back of a financial account, this hymn is dated rather late (at the turn of the 3rd/4th century), but what makes the Oxyrhynchus hymn so notable is that it contains the earliest musical notations known on a Christian hymn8.

“Let it be silent
Let the Luminous stars not shine,
Let the winds…and all the noisy rivers die down;
And as we hymn the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Let all the powers add “Amen Amen”
Empire, praise always, and glory to God,
The sole giver of good things, Amen Amen9.”

P.Oxy 1786
P.Oxy 1786


* During the first century this would include only the Old Testament books (“writings of the prophets”) and individual epistles sent to a church by the apostles. When the gospels were written, these too joined the ranks of readings and seem to have been first to be regarded as having equal authority with the Old Testament scriptures. Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, references these gatherings on the first day as being opened with a reading from “The memoirs of the apostles or…the writings of the prophets.”2 See The New Testament Canon

1. The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 2 and 20, Hebrews chapter 10 verse 25

2. Justin Martyr, First Apology, sighted from Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, vol. I, page 109

3. Pliny the Younger, Harvard Classics “Letters and Treatises of Cicero and Pliny”

4. Dr. James White, Beyond the Veil of Eternity, CRI publication 298,

5. Justo Gonzalez, the Story of Christianity, Vol. I

6. Philippians 2:6-7, New English Translation,

7. Online Etymological Dictionary,

8. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts, page 24 note #56 , p 226

9. M. L. West, Ancient Greek Music – Oxford university Press, according to Dr. David May


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)