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"Ebenezer" – biblical literacy and singing hymns

Before pastors discredit lines of hymns because they are “archaic” or “don’t make any sense today,” perhaps they should make sure that what they are complaining about isn’t a direct biblical allusion.

I’ve recently heard several pastors — with theology degrees, leading large churches — complain about the word “Ebenezer” in the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

“What’s with that? How many people in your congregation know what that means?”

Dismissing the word as a mere “archaism,” little do they realize that “Ebenezer” is actually a direct biblical reference to 1 Samuel 7:12:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”

Hardly a mere “archaism,” “Ebenezer” is a rich, biblical picture.

How many people in our congregations know what that means? Perhaps few. But this is a revelation of their biblical illiteracy, not cause to dismiss (or change) a biblical allusion in a hymn.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.