Word Study #90 — Praise

It was only during work on the previous post, “bless” (#89), that it became evident that “bless” and “praise” have sometimes been used interchangeably as translations for the same word, and often appear together, especially in the praise scenes in the Revelation. There is also frequent implicit overlap with the use of “glory” (W.S.#74) and “honor” (W.S. #73). Consequently, the idea of praise to the Lord, throughout the New Testament, is far more ubiquitous than the use of any of the specific words so translated, which include six nouns and three verbs.

In three of these instances, it is an aberrant translation of a word more commonly rendered differently: “praise” is used only once for eulogeo (against 43 x “bless”) – Lk.1:64; once for arete (against 4x “virtue”) – I Pet.2:9; and four times for doxa (against 144x “glory”) – Jn.9:24, 12:43 (2x), I Pet.4:11.
Twice, it is the only translation of a rarely used word – ainesis, which is only seen in Heb.13:15, and ainos in Mt.21:16,Lk.18:43. This narrows our study conveniently to one noun and three verbs.

The most frequently appearing word is the noun epainos, which even so is only used 11x. It is classically defined as “approval, praise, or commendation”, and is applied equally to gods and men. The New Testament uses bear out that division, with Rom.2:29, 13:3; I Cor.4:5, II Cor.8:18, I Pet.1:7 and 2:14 referring to praise accorded to people, and Eph.1:6,12,14; Phil.1:11, and possibly 4:8 to the praise of God.

Second is the verb aineo, which makes 9 appearances. This too, classically, spoke of “praise or approval, and a recommendation or advice”, as well as “a way courteously to decline an invitation.” It is a very frequent admonition in the LXX, describing or urging praises to God, although it is also used disparagingly of praises to pagan gods. Aineo describes the praises of the heavenly host announcing Jesus’ birth (Lk.2:13), the awe-struck shepherds (Lk.2:20), and the jubilant crowd on Palm Sunday (Lk.19:37), as well as the constant praises offered by the empowered disciples both before (Lk.24:53) and after Pentecost (Ac.2:47), and the joyful celebration of the healed man in Ac.3:8. Rom.15:11 is quoted from the LXX, and Rev.19:5 casts “a voice from the throne” as a holy cheerleader calling both small and great to praises.

Epaineo, the verb form of epainos, common in the LXX, is less so in the New Testament, translated 4x “praise”, and once each “laud” and “commend.” All but the LXX quote in Rom.15:11 refer to people – most of whom (I Cor.11:17,22, and Lk.16:8) were not behaving very well. Its classical definitions are very parallel to those listed for the noun.

Finally, we have the four appearances of humneo: “to sing praises, to celebrate or commemorate in a hymn, to tell over and over, or ‘harp on’, repeat, or recite.” The classical epics would fall in this category, as would the later efforts of troubadours, celebrating the triumphs of gods, heroes, and conquerors. However, it is also how Paul and Silas passed the night in their Philippian jail (Ac.16:25), and how Jesus and his disciples concluded their final Passover together (Mt.26:30, Mk.14:26), in addition to the LXX quote in Heb.2:12 (from Ps.22:28).

Although the word is used at least 16x in the LXX, Trench notes that the connection with pagans celebrating their gods and heroes led to some degree of avoidance in both Jewish and early Christian practice. Alexander had been criticized (3rd century BC) for accepting “hymns” to himself and his accomplishments instead of deferring to the gods. Among the “church fathers”, notably Origen and Jerome, it became a requirement that a “hymn” be a direct address of praise and glory to God.

Some historians see in passages like Lk.1:46-55, 68-79; Ac.4:24, 16:25; Eph.5:14, I Tim.3:16, and II Tim.2:11-14 snippets of what they interpret as an early hymn. Others call them “creeds”, which is another problem altogether!

Whether or not any specific examples remain for us, music was certainly included in the worship of the New Testament church. Paul encouraged the churches at Ephesus and Colossae (Eph.5:19 and Col.3:16) to “keep teaching and admonishing each other with psalms (psalmois), hymns (humnois), and spiritual songs (odais pneumatikais), singing in the thankfulness [grace] that’s in your hearts, to God.”
“Psalms” are the most ancient, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition. These were probably some of the ones preserved in the Old Testament records. The word is derived from the verb, “to touch, or to pluck a stringed instrument”, with which the singing was usually accompanied. With “hymns”, the lyrics were predominant, as they celebrated honor and mighty deeds, whereas “songs” could be dirges, joyful songs of praise, or simply a recitation of lyric poetry. Singing is also part of the agenda Paul described in Corinth (I Cor.14:15), both “with [by means of] the Spirit and by means of [using] the understanding [mind]” – with either prescribed or Spirit-led language and music. It is the suggestion of James (5:3) for celebrating one’s rejoicing, and one of the vehicles of praise and tribute to the King in his consummated Kingdom (Rev.5:9, 14:3, 15:3).

In our day, as throughout the history of the people of God, “singing praises” may still be either rightly or wrongly focused. As someone has observed, “you can’t always tell whether they’re singing to/about the Lord or their girl/boyfriend!”
In the third century, Augustine, coming out of a culture not all that different from ours, prescribed three requirements for “Christian” music:

  1. It must be sung.
  2. It must be praise.
  3. It must be to/about God.

That might still be an appropriate guide!

Songs of praise have habitually accompanied movements of renewal among the Lord’s people, both the source and the expression of great joy.

After all, by his gracious provision, (Eph.1:6), “We exist for the praise of his glory!”

We might as well start practicing!

“Let everything that hath breath, praise the Lord!” (Ps.150)

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