7 Reasons to Stop Changing Words to Beloved Hymns

"Then again, I’m cool with singing 'Hark! the Herald Angels Sing' instead of 'Hark How All the Welkin Rings' this Christmas Eve, so…"  - Aigner

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Bert Perry's picture

....is that when the author cautions against excessive familiarity in hymnody ("No, abba doesn't mean daddy"), he is actually arguing for the use of the more formal "you" vs. the informal "thee/thou".  The AV translators, and the Geneva Bible translators before them, deliberately followed Luther's lead from the German by choosing, for the most part, the informal forms of you.

In the same way, yes, "Abba" is an intimate and familiar way of addressing one's father, far closer to "daddy" than the more distant "father."  If you hang out with Jewish families, that's a term you'll still hear the kids use to refer to their fathers.  (I once climbed Long's Peak with a mostly Jewish group--my wife and I were the only Gentiles as far as we could tell)

So we can quibble on whether the language is archaic, or on whether the hymn authors actually did intend it to be intimate, or whether that intimacy is appropriate to the hymn's message, but I think the author's got a few things wrong here.

One thing to add is that when hymns use grammatical gender, they're reinforcing a lesson that's needed to understand basically any document older than about 40 years old.  So failure to understand this really isolates a person from pretty much everything worth reading and singing.

Overall, I'm not terribly keen on the logic this author uses to make his points.  I personally prefer older music, and love digging through the older language and what that meant to those who wrote it, and strongly endorse learning the older language as part of the price of being the citizen of a Republic.  I just don't think Aigner makes the case here.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture


I didn't quite go along with all the logic of the author either, but I mostly agree with the conclusion nonetheless.  One of the last times our church put up the words to "How Firm a Foundation" on the overhead (since we're in Covid season, we're trying to have a way for people to not need the hymnals), the language was notably changed removing all the supposed archaisms.  I decided to obviously sing the original anyway, which is my typical practice when that type of thing is changed in hymns.  In the past, my church has used the Majesty hymnal, and that hymnal changes the words in a number of songs as well.  I just refuse to sing the new version.  I suspect that will increase the older I get as more and more songs get changed in that fashion.

Our pastor uses the ESV as well, but since I'm most familiar with the KJV, I still use and quote that one when responding to a question, etc.  People can think of me what they will, but I'm happy with what I know.

Dave Barnhart