“We Three Kings” doesn’t have much biblical backbone, but for many, it’s the main source of information about the wise men.

This made me think about the other Christmas hymns we sing. I’m not talking about “Jingle Bells,” “Let It Snow,” or “The Littlest Angel”—I mean the carols in the old burgundy books that sit in your piano benches 11 months of the year.

These are the tried-and-true hymns of the season, but does Scripture support them?

I’ll be taking a spin through some of these hymn lyrics to see how biblically-backed they are. This is partly a tongue-in-cheek exercise—we’re talking about poetry, after all—but most people know the songs better than the Bible, so why not use them as a means of getting to know the good book a little better?

Let’s take a look at the lyrics to O Holy Night.

O Holy Night

These lyrics are based on the  French poem “Minuit, chrétiens” (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau. If you haven’t heard it yet, here’s how it goes.

(I use Logos all the time. It’s the best.)

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.

  • “Holy” means “set apart,” and there certainly is no night like this one.
  • Jesus was, in fact, born at night (Lk 2:8).
  • Still, we have no biblical record of the stars being especially bright that night. We aren’t even sure that the “star of Bethlehem” was brighter than the average star.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

  • The world was indeed cursed after Adam’s sin (Gn 3:17–18), long before Jesus was born.
  • The world didn’t stop pining after Jesus’ appearance. Actually, the whole creation still groans in anticipation of the glory to come (Ro 8:22).
  • The “soul felt its worth” line is rather ambiguous. But we do know that God loved us enough to sacrifice His only Son (Jn 3:16)—a testament to our worth. Jesus also taught us how the Lord values righteous (Mt 6:26).

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

  • This is in line with Paul’s teaching in Romans chapter 8: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [. . .] For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? (Ro 8:19–21, 24)
  • Indeed, the next dawn saw the Savior of the world in flesh for the first time. But even today, Christians hope another glorious dawn is on its way: “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Ro 13:12)

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night divine!

  • Our response to Jesus should indeed be one of worship: “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:10–11).
  • Likewise, the angels did give “glory to God  in the highest” (Lk 2:14).

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.

  • This is a poetic way to describe how we remember His birth, but Jesus is no longer a baby, nor is He in a cradle. He is seated at the right hand of God in majesty (Heb 1:3).

So led by light of a star so sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.

  • The wise men did in fact journey from the East as they followed a star.

The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;

  • Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:16).
  • Jesus was laid in a manger (Lk 2:7).

In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

  • Not only does Jesus know our needs, but He also met our need for a Savior. Now the Father supplies all our needs “according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Php 4:19).
  • The writer of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus is our great high priest, one who was tempted as we are and can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15).

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.

  • Jesus taught that His people would be known by their love for one another (Jn 13:34–35), and He says that loving your neighbor is the second greatest commandment (Mk 12:30–31).
  • The book of Deuteronomy lays out the law: love God and obey God. Paul sums it up in Romans: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Ro 13:10).
  • Jesus’ gospel brought peace between the Jews and Gentiles in the church: “He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near” (Eph 2:17).

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.

  • In Paul’s letter to Philemon, Paul describes a runaway slave thusly: “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Phm 16).
  • In John’s vision of the new heaven and earth, God declares that He will “wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Re 21:4).

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

  • This could have been lifted from Colossians: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we;
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!


“O Holy Night” is pretty biblical

It has a few instances of poetic license here and there, but nothing drastically counterbiblical.

Whew! I’m glad, because this is one of my favorites.

Any ideas on hymns to analyze next?

I used my favorite Bible study tool, Logos Bible software, to do research that made this post possible. If you're a Bible geek like me, you might want to check it out.