Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.
In the late 1990s, Southern Gospel songwriter Ray Scarbrough hosted Holy Land tours. He wrote “Glory to God in the Highest” on a hotel room balcony on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Eastern Gate of the Old City.
“One morning,” he recalls, “I woke up on the Mount of Olives in the hotel that I was staying in, going out on my balcony before dawn. Later that day, we were actually supposed to be visiting the shepherds’ field in Bethlehem. I was pondering what actually happened at that place.”
His songs have a recognizable fingerprint. “The way that I learned how to write is to have a Biblical message in the first verse and a practical message in the second verse. The chorus always has this nice little bow that ties everything together.”
But he had an idea that would make the song unique: “While I was there in Jerusalem, my intent was to actually find somebody to actually translate a chorus of it into Aramaic. The problem is, given the fact that it’s an ancient language, if you can find somebody who actually speaks Aramaic, they likely as not couldn’t write it or translate it for you. So the easiest thing for me to do was have someone translate a chorus of it into Hebrew.”
The Talleys recorded it on their 2000 It’s Christmas album. Roger Talley discovered the song when he produced an album for a group Scarbrough ran, Lion Heart. “I knew I had Roger coming in to produce,” Scarbrough recalls. “I was trying to draw from his strength as a producer in writing the songs. I was aiming for material that that more progressive Southern type material like the Talleys would do.” It worked; the Talleys ended up cutting two other songs from that Lion Heart album, “Pray” and “There’s Not a Cry.”
Scarbrough recalls that the Talleys recorded the track with the specific purpose of including it on a Gaither Christmas video taping (Christmas: A Time For Joy, released in 2001). Bill Gaither, as he recalls, prompted a change in the song’s title. “The original title was actually ‘What I Had Been.’ I think it was Gaither’s idea to title it ‘Glory to God’ and make it sound more Christmasy.’” (“What I Had Been” is the chorus’s closing line; “Glory to God” is its opening line.)
Mike Speck also released the song as a Christmas choral arrangement.