Odes and John: Determining Literary Dependence (Part 2)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

Developed by Bruce M. Metzger, the second important tool for ascertaining literary connections in ancient literature is that of attribution simplicity. This principle states that when the wording of any possible reference may be explained on the basis of a known source, attribution to that source remains preferable to claiming dependence on an unknown source or the “persistence of primitive tradition.”[1] Attribution simplicity does not constitute a hard and fast rule—instances of where a variant citation is used multiple times, for example, may be taken to suggest an unknown source—yet this criterion offers a way forward through the quandary of locating possible but non-extant sources.[2] These two tools suggest, first, that the lack of any direct ‘quotation’ between the Odes and John cannot indicate that the Odist did not know that Gospel, and second, that where multiple instances of strong verbal similarity exist, it remains methodologically preferable to attribute these parallels to literary dependence rather than  to a “common milieu” of tradition.

Considerations of genre are likewise important for constructing an adequate methodology, especially when comparing different types of literature. The Odes, by nature of their composition as liturgical verse, were crafted quite differently than prosaic pieces of Christian literature from the same time. While a parallel term such as “living water” might not be enough evidence to suggest, for example, that the prose of the Epistles of Ignatius relied upon the Gospel of John, in a poetic work such as the Odes—which must deal in composite and stylistic elements—that term may be the only possible way in which the Odist could reveal his reliance on that Gospel.[3]

Furthermore, the impact of linguistic difference cannot be neglected in determining literary dependence. Translation is never a one-for-one process, suggesting that instances of literary connection across linguistic boundaries may be masked by translation and interpretive differences. The likelihood that the Odes were written in Syriac while John was written in Greek reinforces the real possibility that something may have been literarily lost in translation.[4] Furthermore, geographical considerations are also important for crafting a contextual methodology of citation.[5] The application of geographical considerations to the study of the Odes suggests that if other Antiochene writings demonstrate awareness of John’s Gospel—which they do[6]—it becomes more likely that the Odist had access to the Fourth Gospel as well.


[1] Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 73 n47. Prahlow, Discerning, 8. Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger, The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity (Wheaton: Crossway Publishers, 2010), 144.

[2] Ibid. Franz Stuhlhofer, “Der Ertrag von Bibelstellenregistern für die Kanonsgeschichte”, ZAT 100 (1988): 244-261. See also Richard Glover, “Patristic Quotations and Gospel Sources”, NTS 31 (1985): 235-51.

[3] Kugel, Traditions, 23-6. Charlesworth, Reflections, 233.

[4] Charlesworth, Reflections, 233. Also worth noting is J. T. Sanders’ attempt to problematize a Syriac-to-Greek thesis by noting several occasions where terms shift more than translation would indicate. See Sanders, “Nag Hammadi,” 56.

[5] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Changing Shape of Church History (Saint Louis: Chalice Press, 2002), 7-79.

[6] See the connections between the Odes, Matthew, the Apocalypse of John, 1 John, Ignatius of Antioch, Theophilus of Antioch, the Syrian Apostolic Constitutions, and Chrysostom’s homily noted above.

What I Read in 2019

I know that I’m a couple weeks late to the party with my list of what I read in 2019, but my reading list from this past year is below.  Before that, however, couple of notes.

First, you’ll see that there are many churchworld books included in this list, be they instructional-type books or commentaries. This is one benefit of my work in vocational ministry: I get to read deeply and widely on theological and scriptural topics.

Second, one of my goals for 2019 was to read more fiction, so I categorized those reading separately. In recent years, I had found myself reading only a couple works of fiction a year, so my 2019 reading in this area stands as a significant improvement, one that I hope to continue in 2020.

Third, note a couple of special categories: books followed by a [re-read] designation are books that I’d read before but re-read for whatever reason. Additionally, books followed by an * (and also hyperlinked) are what I view as the best-of-the-best, reading that really stood out. I won’t choose a “top book” or anything like that, but if I did, I would come from these selections.

Finally, as a big proponent of holding oneself accountable for goals, I note that I aimed to read 150 books in 2019. This list contains 165. And so, without further ado, what I read in 2019 (presented in chronological order by category): Continue reading

Odes and John: Determining Literary Dependence (Part 1)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

However, the perspective of “common milieu” is not without its problems, for affirmations of this relationship are often founded upon an inexact methodology of determining literary dependence. This approach often precludes the possibility of finding clear connections between pieces of literature by arguing that only direct quotations may demonstrate such dependence. To explain parallels between extant texts scholars often fall back on the least common denominator—often “oral tradition” but here “common milieu”—instead of taking into consideration how literary culture, geographical and linguistic factors, communal memory, and exegetical practice effect how existing pieces of literature were co-opted and employed ancient writers for their new compositions.[1] Unfortunately, many scholars have simply affirmed the “common milieu” of the Odes and John without considering the way in which this milieu would have functioned for both the Odist and Gospel writer.[2] An informed contextual methodology for the examination of the Odes of Solomon must move beyond mere affirmation of common milieu or terminology and recognize the manner in which literary citation, genre, linguistic difference, geography, memory, and literary purposes influence considerations of textual dependence.

Deciphering literary relationships, especially possible instances in early Christian texts, remains a complex task. Fortunately, those in Early Christian Studies have developed two important tools for discerning the existence and meaning of literary citation in extant texts: definitional clarity and attribution simplicity.[3] Definitional clarity involves the application of strictly defined terms in order to differentiate the varying ways in which ancient authors made use of the sources available to them. Typically this involves drawing distinctions between formal quotation, quotation, strong allusion, loose allusion, and reference, and determining the implications of these types of usage within a text.[4] While the existence of a single, well-marked “formal” quotation may sufficiently demonstrate the dependence of one text upon another, it is also possible that several strong allusions or multiple less-clear forms of citation may sufficiently indicate textual connections.[5] For example, the hymns of the fourth century poet Ephrem the Syrian often do not formally quote any written works, but nonetheless are commonly understood as literarily dependent upon Christian texts. To briefly demonstrate, consider Ephrem’s Hymn on Faith 7.4:

The sea saw him and shook.

Its waves crashing,

It lowered its back and carried him—

Better than a foal it bore him.

When he was sitting in the boat,

The shipmates supposed he was human.

When he descended and subdued the sea,

Those on board were astonished by him.

They did not investigate him at all,

They simply marveled at him:

They glorified and stood silent in awe.”[6]

Although here Ephrem does not explicitly quote any Biblical passages, in this hymn he quite clearly references the story of Christ walking on the water recorded in the gospels, especially when his concerns for poetic meter and theological meaning are taken into account. [7] However, if the type of reading often applied to the Odes of Solomon were applied to Ephrem’s hymn, then little more than a common milieu of stories about Jesus could be affirmed.


[1] Ibid., 71-4.

[2] Brownson, “Odes,” 51.

[3] As noted earlier, see Gregory and Tuckett, 61-82 and Prahlow, 1-16.

[4] Julie Hughes, Scriptural Allusions and Exegesis in the Hodayot (Studies on the Texts of the Deserts of Judah, LIX; ed. Florentino Garcia Martinez; Boston: Brill, 2006), 35-62. Gregory and Tuckett, 64-5. There are also the rightly noted problems of non-extant materials (since many early Christian writings are no longer extant, there may be quotations present from materials which are undetectable) and textual criticism (even when there is access to the modern form of the text, this does not necessarily indicate this form matches that which would have been known by an ancient author), which add even further complexity to this issue. Definitional clarity seeks to overcome these concerns by indicating that claims of literary dependence are only possible in the case of extant sources and by noting the assumption of relative textual stability. For a discussion of these issues, see Prahlow, Discerning Witnesses, 5.

[5] Ibid., 65.

[6] Jeffrey Wickes, Hymns on Faith (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, forthcoming), 56, especially n238.

[7] Matthew 14:22-36 and Mark 6:45-52. Cf. John 6:16-21. Ephrem almost certainly had access to the Syriac edition of the Diatessaron, which combined the Gospel accounts and negates any consideration of finding reliance on a specific account. For a possible reconstruction of Ephrem’s Diatessaron text of the account of Jesus walking on the water, see Diatessaron Leodiense (ed. C. C. De Bruin; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970), 101. Also see J. Hamlyn Hill, The Earliest Life of Christ Ever Compiled from the Four Gospels: Being the Diatessaron of Tatian: Literally Translated from the Arabic Version and containing the Four Gospels woven into One Story (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2001), 77-78, especially 18.44-19.13.

Odes and John: Perspectives on Relationship

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

Much has been written concerning the connections between these two pieces of early Christian literature, beginning with Harris in the first publication on the Odes.[1] Since then, scholars have consistently noted that, “The Odes and John share numerous, striking, and often unique expressions.”[2] To outline some of the most common themes, references to Love, the rest of God, Life (including God as the source of life, eternal life, and Life in Christ), and the Holy Spirit run throughout both John’s Gospel and the Odes.[3] Most pervasive are discussions of the Word (λóγος, ܡܠܬܐ)—including an assumption of Word Christology—and the need for living water in order to receive eternal life.[4] Such parallels, thematic resonances, and shared elements are simply too ubiquitous to ignore. However, some of these themes are not limited to the Odes and Johannine literature—for example, the imagery of living water is paralleled in numerous other sources.[5] In no small part due to the complexity of properly attributing the source of such non-specific thematic parallels, scholars remain divided on the possibility of literary dependence between the Odes and the Fourth Gospel.[6]

Additionally, numerous textual affinities exist between the two writings. Charlesworth notes twenty-six strong potential parallels between the Odes and John, with another ninety-two less clear but still possible references.[7] Yet none of these uses appears to be a direct quotation in either direction.[8] That is, in no place do the Odes of Solomon present material from the Gospel of John using a formulaic introduction—“it is written”, the Syriac partical ܠܐܡ (lâm), or otherwise—nor is any passage a verbatim reference to the Gospel. The same is true in the opposite direction. This lack of direct quotation, or at least the implications of this fact, often leads scholars to conclude that there is “no demonstrable literary relationship” between the Odes and Fourth Gospel.[9] In the words of Brian McNeil, “None of these verbal parallels [between the Odes and Johannine literature] has by itself a probative character….”[10]

Because of these connections and concerns, scholars have taken five basic positions concerning the relationship between the Odes and Fourth Gospel[11]: John is reliant upon the Odes; the Odes display thematic dependence on John; the Odes exhibit literary dependence on John; both rely on a third source; and that both are independent but share a “common milieu.” Early specialists often suggested that the Odes preceded John and influenced the writing of the Gospel.[12] This was the view of Harnack, Grimme, and Bultmann, but is not widely held today because it places the composition of the Odes appreciably earlier than the Fourth Gospel, which cannot have been written much later than 100 CE.[13]

More popular recently are the perspectives on the Odes’ thematic or literary dependence on Gospel of John.[14] Those in favor of thematic dependence argue that the Odist knew John’s writings but did not directly use or quote them, instead recalling some of the Gospel’s characteristic themes in the creation of the Odes.[15] Those in favor of literary dependence posit that the Odist knew, used, and adapted the Fourth Gospel while crafting the Odes, [16] though he may not have had the final edition of the Gospel before him while writing. Some form of these perspectives is affirmed by J. A. Robinson and Brian McNeil,[17] despite Charlesworth’s adamant argument in 1998 that, “no critical evaluation” has confirmed this perspective.[18] As literary dependence is the perspective of this paper, I will present arguments for such a relationship in more detail below.

The fourth perspective on the relationship between the Odes and Gospel of John posits that both writings were influenced by a third source, most commonly thought to be an Essene source like the Dead Sea Scrolls.[19] Jack T. Sanders suggests that the Odes, Trimorphic Protennoia, and Fourth Gospel all come from the same context of non-rabbinic speculative Judaism of the Roman Diaspora period.[20] Martin Hengel, however, problematizes this view by noting that no specific evidence appears early enough to fit this hypothesis. Consequently, few scholars affirm this perspective.[21]

Much more prevalent are suggestions regarding the independence but shared milieu of the Odes of Solomon and Fourth Gospel. Adherents to this perspective argue that the Odes and John were composed entirely independently of each other, except for their common experience of the religious environment of Antiochene theology and popular culture.[22] As Charlesworth notes, for this perspective, “It is clear that the Odes and John contain numerous and impressive parallels, and that these neither suggest that the Odes depend on John nor the reverse. Both reflect the same milieu… and both were probably composed in the same community.”[23] This perspective has been affirmed by many of the more recent studies on the Odes of Solomon, including those of Grant, Massaux, Dodd, and Charlesworth.[24]


[1] Harris. See also Brownson, “Odes,” 49.

[2] Charlesworth and Culpepper, “Odes,” 300.

[3] Ibid., 300-3.

[4] Charlesworth, Reflections, 25. Harvey, “Syria,” 355. Charlesworth and Culpepper, “Odes,” 310-4. Robert C. Stroud, “The Odes of Solomon: The Earliest Collection of Christian Hymns,” The Hymn 31 (1980): 271.

[5] Kugel notes that Wisdom/Truth is portrayed as streams of water not only in John and Odes 6, 11, 12, and 30, but also in Sirach 25:25-7 and traditions concerning the Water at Mamra (Kugel, Traditions, 627-8). Thus, the possibility exists that these two works draw on another, third source.

[6] Charlesworth, Reflections, 25 Brownson, “Odes,” 49.

[7] Charlesworth, Reflections, 258-9.

[8] McNeil, “Odes,” 110. Robinson, Odes, 31; Brownson, “Odes,” 49.

[9] Brownson, “Odes,” 49.

[10] McNeil, “Odes,” 109.

[11] Charlesworth, Grant, and McNeil all outline only three positions, combining all perspectives on the Odes dependence on John and neglecting to account for the argument for a common shared source.

[12] Charlesworth, Reflections, 25. Grant, “Antioch,” 368.

[13] Charlesworth, Reflections, 252-7. The rejection of Harnack’s interpolation hypothesis, Grimme’s Hebrew hypothesis, and Bultman’s concept of Gnosticism have played a significant role in the downfall of this view. On the dating of John, see D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; ed. D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 82-7 and Harold Attridge, “Johannine Christianity,” in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1: Origins to Constantine (ed. Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 126.

[14] Charlesworth and Culpepper, “Odes,” 318. Grant, “Antioch,” 368. McNeil, “Odes,” 110.

[15] Robinson, Odes, 31. McNeil, “Odes,” 121-2.

[16] Brownson, “Odes,” 50.

[17] Robinson, Odes, 31. McNeil, “Odes,” 121-2.

[18] Charlesworth, Reflections, 251-2.

[19] Ibid., 192.

[20] Sanders, “Nag Hammadi,” 59.

[21] Martin Hengel, “Qumran and Early Christianity,” in Earliest Christian History: History, Literature, and Theology: Essay from the Tyndale Fellowship in Honor of Martin Hengel (ed. Michael F. Bird and Jason Maston; trans. Lars Kierspel; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012), 523-531.

[22] Grant, “Antioch,” 368. Brownson, “Odes,” 49-50. Charlesworth, Reflections, 255-6.

[23] Charlesworth, Reflections, 257.

[24] Ibid., 255-6.

Odes and John: Introduction to the Odes of Solomon

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

Following J. Rendel Harris’ publication of the Odes in 1909,[1] scholars came to the consensus that they represented an early hymnbook which had quite possibly influenced the Gospel of John.[2] For example, Adolph von Harnack believed that the Odes predated the Fourth Gospel and influenced its author.[3] For much of the 20th century it was assumed that the Odes were a “Gnostic” text, though this perspective has become increasingly rejected.[4] As for who composed the Odes, little can be said with any degree of certainty—the attribution to Solomon is clearly pseudonymous and accurate authorial attribution seems lost to time.[5] The consensus for the dating of the Odes offers more solid conclusions, as most contemporary scholars place their composition firmly between 100 and 125 CE.[6]

As for the language of original composition, though some posit theories of a Hebrew or Armenian formation, the linguistic and stylistic features of the Odes indicate their composition in either Greek or Syriac. [7] Unfortunately, scholars remain divided on the original language of writing. On the one hand, James Charlesworth concludes that “the Greek hypothesis is no longer tenable” and that the Odes were clearly composed in Syriac.[8] On the other hand, Michael Lattke argues that the Odes were originally composed in Greek and very quickly translated into Syriac, writing that “no cogent argument” has been offered for a Syriac original.[9] Compounding this problematic is the obfuscating style of Biblical allusions, which are too imprecise to clearly attribute to either the Syriac Peshitta or Greek Bible.[10] This study takes the position that the Odes of Solomon were composed in Syriac for the following reasons: the shared milieu of the Odist and certain Jewish interpreters,[11] the textual variants which may be best explained by an original Syriac manuscript, and the literary characteristics and word plays of the Odes which are evident only in Syriac.[12]

Numerous geographical locations have been suggested for the origin of the Odes, Alexandria, Ephesus, Edessa, and Antioch being the most common.[13] The parallels between the Odes and John’s Gospel make Ephesus or Western Syria appear likely.[14] Syria—either Edessa or Antioch—seems probable given the argument that the Odes were composed in Syriac.[15] Furthermore, the rapid bi-lingual transmission again suggests Antioch or Edessa, both of which would have been sufficiently Syrian and Greek to account for both a Syriac original and Greek translation of the Odes.[16] While there are unquestionable connections between the Odes and the Jewish Scriptures—most notably the numerous Psalm-like qualities of these hymns[17]—the most striking references to written sources involve those writings often connected to early Antioch.[18] There are numerous parallels to Matthew’s Gospel,[19] the Apocalypse of John,[20] and Pauline literature,[21] which—while not specifically suggesting Antioch—do suggest the Odist’s situation within a center which had access to a profusion of Christian literature. Further suggestive of Antioch is James Brownson’s argument that the Odes represent a successionist community which has split from the “orthodox” community of Antioch, a split which Brownson finds indicated in both 1 John and the Odes’ numerous “co-options” of Johannine literature.[22] Most convincing are the connections between the Odes and non-canonical Antiochene literature, such as the Epistles of Ignatius,[23] the Ad Autolycum of Theophilus,[24] the Syrian Apostolic Constitutions,[25] and—though significantly later—the “Prayer for the Catechumens” found in John Chrysostom’s “Second Homily on Second Corinthians.”[26] The conclusion best fitting this evidence, therefore, is that the Odes were composed in or around Antioch in Western Syria and experienced significant circulation in that region during the early second century.

Having surveyed the general contours and background of the Odes of Solomon and found that they are an early Christian hymnbook of unknown authorship written in Syriac between 100-125 CE in or around Antioch, we now turn to the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of John.


[1] J. Rendel Harris, An Early Christian Psalter (London: James Nesbit, 1909). For a survey on the early reception of the Odes, see Charlesworth, Reflections, 21.

[2] Charlesworth, Reflections, 21: “Harris contended that they were a hymnbook of the first-century church. J. H. Bernard claimed they were written in the last half of the first century.”

[3] Adolph Harnack and John Flemming, Ein Jüdisch-Christliches Psalmbuch aus dem ersten Jahrhundert (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1910).

[4] Michael Lattke, “The Apocryphal Odes of Solomon and New Testament Writings,” ZNW 73, 3 (1982): 296. James H Charlesworth and R. Alan Culpepper, “The Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of John,” CBQ 35, 3 (1973): 299 n4. Han J. W. Drijver, “The 19th Ode of Solomon: Its Interpretation and Place in Syrian Christianity,” JTS 31, 2 (1980): 337-8.

[5] Michael Lattke, “Die Oden Salomos: Einleitungsfragen und Forschungsgeschichte,” ZNW 98 (2007): 283-5. Han J. W. Drijvers, “The Peshitta of Sapientia Salomonis,” History and Religion in Late Antique Syria (Brookfield, V.T.: Variorum, 1994), VI.16-17. Michael Lattke, Odes of Solomon: A Commentary (ed. Harold W. Attridge; trans. Marianne Ehrhardt; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 5. W. R. Newbold’s argument that Bardaisan stands behind the Odes is intriguing, but ultimately speculative; see William R. Newbold, “Bardaisan and the Odes of Solomon,” JBL 30, 2 (1911): 161-204.

[6] Charlesworth and Culpepper, “Odes,” 314. Robert Murray, Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition. (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2004), 25. Grant, “Antioch”, 369. Lattke, Commentary, 10. Worth noting is Han Drijvers’ dating of the Odes to the “second half of the third century”; Hans J. W. Drijvers, “Apocryphal Literature in the Cultural Milieu of Osrhoene,” Apocrypha 1, 1 (1990): 245. For an excellent introduction to the history and textual tradition of the Odes of Solomon, see Lattke, Commentary, 1-26 and Lattke,“Die Oden Salomos”, 277-307.

[7] Murray, Symbols, 24. Charlesworth, Reflections, 133. J. A. Emerton, “Notes on Some Passages in the Odes of Solomon,” JTS 28 (1977): 512-9. The issue of bilingualism must at least be considered as a possibility for the author of the Odes, especially given the work’s rapid transmission in both Greek and Syriac. On the topic of bilingualism in the ancient world, see J.N. Adams, Mark Janse, and Simon Swain (eds.), Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

[8] Charlesworth, Reflections, 133.

[9] Lattke, Commentary, 10-1: “The quotations in the Pistis Sophia and in Lactantius’s magnum opus are without doubt translated from the Greek. That, however, has not decided the question whether the original language was Greek.”

[10] Murray, Symbols, 24. Sebastian Brock, The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, Second Revised Edition (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2006), 3-35. See also Brock’s Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity, ii-iv (London, 1984) and Studies in Syriac Christianity, x (London: Variorum, 1992). For some discussion on the relationship between Syriac texts and their interaction with Greek manuscript traditions, see P. J. Williams, Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels (Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literatures Third Series; ed. D. C. Parker and D. G. K. Taylor; Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2004), 1-22.

[11] Charleworth, Reflections, 133.

[12] Lattke, Commentary, 79. For a particularly striking word play, see Ode 6.7.

[13] Lattke, Commentary 11. Murray, Symbols, 25.

[14] Lattke, Commentary, 11. Charlesworth, Reflections, 23. In arguing for the Odes connection with Antioch and the Fourth Gospel, I am not arguing that the Fourth Gospel was composed and/or completed in Antioch, only that the Antiochene church would have had access to the Fourth Gospel by the end of the first century.

[15] Charlesworth, Reflections, 23. Drijvers, “Apocryphal Literature”, 236-7, 244-7. Grant, “Antioch,” 375-7. Grant postulates thus: “the Odes of Solomon, composed in Syriac at Edessa, were known to the bi-lingual Ignatius either there or at Antioch. Perhaps he obtained them from the Docetists, as Serapion was to obtain the Gospel of Peter. The Fourth Evangelist, who was perhaps the teacher of Ignatius, did not know the Odes, but was influenced by the spiritual atmosphere of the city. Afterwards he made public his Gospel at Ephesus.”

[16] Murray, Symbols, 24. Charlesworth and Culpepper, “Odes,” 320. Charlesworth, Reflections, 23.

[17] James H. Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon (SBLTT 13 and SBLPS 7; ed. Robert Kraft; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1977), 20 n5. Jack T. Sanders, “Nag Hammadi, Odes of Solomon, and NT Christological Hymns,” in Gnosticism and the Early Christian World: In Honor of James M. Robinson (ed. James E. Goehring et al; Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1990), 60. J. A. Robinson, The Odes of Solomon (Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, Third Series; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912; repr. Nendeln/Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint Limited, 1967), 26-7. Brian McNeil, “The Odes of Solomon and the Scriptures,” OrChr 67,1 (1983): 104. James Kugel has also noted possible connections with Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical literature such as Sirach, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Judah, and Testament of Issachar. James L. Kugel, Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 49, 133-4, 211-2. Also suggesting a Western Syrian provenance are parallels between the Odes and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

[18] Susan Ashbrook Harvey,“Syria and Mesopotamia,” in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1: Origins to Constantine (ed. Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 353-7.

[19] Ode 24.1 and Matthew 3.16; Ode 22.12 and Matthew 16.18; Ode 23.19 and Matthew 28.19. See Robinson, Odes, 27-8. McNeil, “Odes”, 116-7.

[20] Michael Anthony Novak, “The Odes of Solomon as Apocalyptic Literature,” VC 66:5 (2012): 527-550.

[21] Lattke, Apocryphal Odes, 299-300.

[22] James Brownson, “The Odes of Solomon and the Johannine Tradition,” JSP 2 (1988): 52. Brownson argues that the Odes represent the theological perspective of a group which has separated from the main Johannine community, as represented in 1 John. While this theory is fairly persuasive—providing a useful model for explaining the Johannine epistles, the extenuating circumstances of Ignatius of Antioch, and influence of Bardaisan—it is not my purpose here to investigate this claim, but only to note the connections of the Odes to the Antiochene community.

[23] Charlesworth, Reflections, 23. Grant, “Antioch,” 370-2. Prahlow, 80. Virginia Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), 69-72. Possible references include Ode 38 in Trallians 6:2 and Ode 11 in Romans 7:2. This connection would likely one of milieu, although if the Odes were written closer to 100 CE, it is possible Ignatius would have used them in the Antiochene liturgy.

[24] Grant, “Antioch,” 372; See also J. R. Harris and A. Mingana, The Odes and the Psalms of Solomon ii (1921).

[25] Robinson, Odes, 63-4.

[26] Ibid., 63-4. See also Ode 8.

Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John: Common Milieu or Literary Dependence?

The Odes of Solomon are a collection of hymns generally veiled and relatively neglected by those studying early Christianity. Yet this “Earliest Christian Hymnbook” [1] contains numerous insights into how first and second century followers of Jesus conceived of such important matters as worship, scripture, and interpretation. Here, I investigate one of the many facets of this ancient Christian text, namely, the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

Comparison of these two texts is not without precedent. As far back as J. Rendel Harris’s original publication of the Odes in 1909, scholars have consistently noted that, “The Odes and John share numerous, striking, and often unique expressions.”[2] No less a figure than Adolph von Harnack believed that the Odes predated the Fourth Gospel and influenced its author.[3] More recent scholarship, such as the works of James H. Charlesworth and Robert M. Grant,[4] has suggested a relationship of “common milieu” between the Odes and John’s Gospel. Unfortunately, this methodology of milieu largely neglects the insights garnered by those studying other Christian writings of the post-Apostolic period, especially those findings which are useful for understanding instances of literary dependence.[5] To address this lacuna, there are two major emphases of this project: an examination of the methodology used by those studying the Odes of Solomon and consideration of the direct relationship between the Odes and John’s Gospel.[6] In accordance with this dual focus, I argue that by reevaluating the contextual methodology surrounding literary citation, genre, linguistic difference, geography, and purpose in writing, we may discover the telltale signs of literary dependence which exist between the Odes and John’s Gospel.

After considering the background of the Odes and the various perspectives which scholars such as Charlesworth and Michael Lattke have taken on these hymns’ relationship to the Gospel of John, this study turns to consideration of some problems with the methodological assumptions of contemporary scholarship on the Odes, offering a reevaluation of several important principles for understanding and determining literary dependence in the ancient world. Next, this project analyzes the relationship between Odes of Solomon and John’s Gospel, paying special attention to Ode 3’s connections with the Upper Room Discourses of John’s Gospel. In the end, the application of reassessed methodological criteria indicates that minimalist perspectives regarding the literary relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John are no longer preferable.


[1] Term taken from James H. Charlesworth, The Earliest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon (Eugene, OR: Cascade Publishers, 2009).

[2] J. Rendel Harris, An Early Christian Psalter (London: James Nesbit, 1909). For a survey on the early reception of the Odes, see James H. Charlesworth, Critical Reflections on the Odes of Solomon: Volume One: Literary Setting, Textual Studies, Gnosticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of John (JSPSup 22; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998), 21. James H. Charlesworth and R. Alan Culpepper, “The Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of John”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35, 3 (1973): 300.

[3] Adolph Harnack and John Flemming, Ein Jüdisch-Christliches Psalmbuch aus dem ersten Jahrhundert (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1910).

[4] Charlesworth, Reflections, 255-7. Robert M. Grant, “The Odes of Solomon and the Church of Antioch,” JBL 63, 4 (1944): 368.

[5] For a discussion of such insights, see Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher Tuckett, “Reflections on Method: What constitutes the Use of the Writings that later formed the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers?,” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, (ed. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 61-82, and Jacob J. Prahlow, Discerning Witnesses: First and Second Century Textual Studies in Early Christian Authority (Wake Forest University, 2014), 1-16.

[6] Of course, these emphases are closely connected, for without a contextualized methodology one cannot properly understand the relationship between the Odes and Fourth Gospel

The Fathers on Psalm 139

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 139

Lord, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
far too lofty for me to reach.

Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.
If I take the wings of dawn
and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,
and night shall be my light”
Darkness is not dark for you,
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one.

You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you know.
My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.

How precious to me are your designs, O God;
how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sands;
when I complete them, still you are with me.
When you would destroy the wicked, O God,
the bloodthirsty depart from me!
Your foes who conspire a plot against you
are exalted in vain.

Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you?
Those who rise against you, do I not loathe?
With fierce hatred I hate them,
enemies I count as my own.

Probe me, God, know my heart;
try me, know my thoughts.
See if there is a wicked path in me;
lead me along an ancient path.

Athanasius: “Considering temptations as your testing, if you want to give thanks after the temptations you have Psalm 139.”[1]

Hilary of Poitiers: Therefore, intent on the study of truth, my mind took delight in these most pious teachings about God. For it did not consider any other thing worthy of God than that he is so far beyond the power of comprehension that the more the infinite spirit would endeavor to encompass him to any degree (even though it be by an arbitrary assumption), the more the infinity of a measureless eternity would surpass the entire infinity of the nature that pursues it. Although we understood this teaching in a reverent manner, it was clearly confirmed by these words of the prophet: Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, Even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast. There is no place without God, nor is there any place which is not in God. He is in heaven, in hell and beyond the seas. He is within all things; he comes forth and is outside all things. While he thus possessed and is possessed, he is not included in anything nor is he not in all things.[2]

Pseudo-Athanasius: In this psalm, the prophet David indicates the incomprehensible profoundness of God’s wisdom and the calling of the Gentiles. As he trusts that he has firm faith in Christ—not having any association with those who crucified him—he calls as his witness the fashioned of hearts, he who also knows the impulses and thoughts of the mind, and seeks out every measure of the path (that is, our activity). Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all. And because he knows that there is no deceit on my tongue, for this he made me worthy of the imposition of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach. Yet I wondered at your knowledge and I was no match for it. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea…. If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light.” For no one can be concealed from you anywhere: neither if he ascends to the heavens, nor if he descends to Sheol; or is hidden in the extremity of the sea and in the darkness that comes from luxury. Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one. You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. For all these are clear to you and evident, as to the one who also established our ordering, who are causes of fear of you. While I was still being carried in the womb, your providence was guarding me. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. Therefore, I will confess you, for your works are awe-inspiring. My bones are not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Even my first forming and decay into dust are known by you before their coming into being. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Therefore also, your friends have been honored by me, so that for their sake I may obtain the honor that comes from you. When you would destroy the wicked, O God, the bloodthirsty depart from me! Your foes who conspire a plot against you are exalted in vain. Those who hate you—the men of blood—I have hated because they are quarrelsome in their thoughts. For such actions are characteristic of heretics, those who are anxious to seize your holy cities in their erroneous vanity. Do I not hate, Lord, those who hate you? Those who rise against you, do I not loathe? For this reason they were also enemies to me. Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts. But search me and known my heart and my ordering. See if there is a wicked path in me; lead me along an ancient path. Straighten every impious path of mine and lead me to eternal life.[3]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 98.

[2] On the Trinity 1.6. FC 25:7-8. His igitur religiosissimis de Deo opinionibus veri studio detentus animus delectabatur. Neque enim aliud quid dignum esse Deo arbitrabatur, quam ita eum ultra intelligentias rerum esse, ut in quantum se ad aliquem praesumptae licet opinionis modum mens infinita protenderet, in tantum omnem persequentis se naturae infinitatem infinitas immoderatae aeternitatis excederet. Quod cum a nobis pie intelligeretur, tamen a propheta haec ita 6 dicente manifeste confirmabatur: Quo abibo a spiritu tuo, aut a facie tua quo fugiam? Si adscendero in coelum, tu illic es; si descendero in infernum, et ibi ades. Si sumpsero pennas meas ante lucem, et habitavero in postremis maris: etenim illuc manus tua deducet me, et tenebit me dextera tua. Nullus sine Deo, neque ullus non in Deo locus est. In coelis est, in inferno est, ultra maria est. Inest interior, excedit exterior. Ita cum habet, atque habetur; neque in aliquo ipse, neque non in omnibus est.

[3] Syriac. CSCO 387, SYRI 168V, page 87. For Greek and Latin, cx. PG 23: 529-536.

The Fathers on Psalm 119

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 119

Athanasius: “In anyone is concerned for those who suffer, let him speak these words. In this way, he will show his true and firm faith and help them because when God sees this, he offers the perfect remedy to those in need. Knowing this, the holy one said in Psalm 119….”[1]

But that the providence and ordering power of the Word, over all and toward all, is also attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where people who speak of God say, Through all generations your truth endures; fixed to stand firm like the earth. By your judgments they stand firm to this day…[2]

Diodore of Tarsus: “In any approach to holy Scripture, the literal reading of the text requires some truths while the discovery of other truths requires the application of theoria. Now, given the vast difference between historia and theoria, allegory and figuration (tropologia) or parable (parabole), the interpreter must classify and determine each figurative expression with care and precision so that the reader can see what is history and what is theoria, and draw his conclusions accordingly…. Now if one understands Psalm [119] in this way, namely, as fitting (the circumstances) of those who first uttered it as well as those who come after them, one is entirely correct. But this is not a case of allegory; rather, it is a statement adaptable to many situations according to the grace of him who gives it power.”[3]

Hilary of Poitiers: “But the hope instilled by the Lord consoles him in these wars endured in his weakness, and he is lent life by the utterances of God. By these he knows that the glory of his weakness is outstanding in heaven. He knows that his soul, renewed by the utterances of God, contains within it, so to say, the nourishment of eternal life. He lives by God’s utterances and is untroubled by the empty fame of the proud, for he knows that his need is richer than their wealth. He knows that his fasting is abundantly fed by the blessing of heaven and the gospel, that his humility will be rewarded by the glorious prize of honor. So he added, Though the arrogant utterly scorn me, I do not turn from your law.”[4]

Pseudo-Athanasius: In this psalm, David delineates the entire way of life of the saints like a skilled painter: the struggles, the torments, the conflicts, the attacks of the demons, the victory over them by endurance and through support from above, the crowns, and the reward. Blessed those whose way is blameless, who walk by the law of the Lord. Blessed those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with all their heart…. May my ways be firm in the observance of your statutes…. I will praise you with sincere heart as I study your righteous judgments. And he says that blessed are those who are without spot, who travel in the way (that is, in Christ), who act according to his law (that is, the gospel), who ask in prayer that their paths be straightened to observe his decrees, and who offer him their right confession. How can the young keep his way without fault? Only by observing your words. And because youth is full of ramblings, he shows that he who is a child in knowledge thus straightens his path by keeping the words of God….

I know that your judgments are conducted in righteousness and instruct us for our benefit. May your mercy comfort me in accord with your promise to your servant…. Shame the proud for leading me astray with falsehood, that I may study your testimonies. But send also your mercy to console me, in order that the arrogant demons and those who wrong me may be put to shame. May I be wholehearted toward your statutes, that I may not be put to shame. But may me own heart be without blemish. My soul longs for your salvation; I put my hope in your word. My eyes long to see your promise. When will you comfort me? Furthermore, my soul was consumed in your salvation and my eyes in your word, as it is said, “When will you console us through your mercy, through our Lord Jesus Christ?” Indeed, he is our consolation and the atonement for our sins.[6] I am like a wineskin shriveled by smoke, but I have not forgotten your statutes. For his sake I even made myself like a wine-skin in hoar-frost, as through the toils of constancy I kill the old self in order that I may be suitable for the new teachings of the Gospel. The arrogant have dug pits for me; defying your law. As for those who told me nonsense—that is, the old Jewish wives’ tales, the teachings and commandments of men which are not in accordance with your law, O Lord—these also I despised with the wisdom of this world, for I know that your word eternally remains in heaven, your truth from generation to generation….

Your word gives understanding even to infants, but heretics do not comprehend them. And he urges: Free me from human oppression, that I may observe your precepts. Let your face shine upon your servant; teach me your statutes. Save me from their slander and make your face shine upon me (that is, your only-begotten Son). You are righteous, Lord, and just are your judgments. Because his judgments are righteous and very just, he imposes fitting compensation on every man. My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not observed. Therefore, my eyes will shed rivers of tears for those who do not keep your law, who for that reason will be sent to eternal torments….

I cried out to you with all my heart, and even in the trails that surrounded me, I did not cease to seek your decrees. My eyes greet the night watches as I meditate on your promise. I shall rise early in the morning and meditate on your worlds. Though my persecutors and foes are many, I do not turn from your testimonies. And if those who persecute and torment me are many, yet I have not turned away from your testimony….[5]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 21.

[2] Contra gentes 46:2 ὅτι δὲ καὶ ἡ διὰ πάντων καὶ ἡ εἰς πάντα τοῦ Λόγου πρόνοια καὶ διακόσμησις ἀπὸ πάσης θεοπνεύστου γραφῆς μαρτυρεῖται, ἀρκεῖ τὰ νῦν λεγόμενα δεῖξαι τοῦ λόγου τὴν πίστιν, ᾗ φασιν οἱ θεολόγοι ἄνδρες· Ἐθεμελίωσας τὴν γῆν, καὶ διαμένει· τῇ διατάξει σου διαμένει ἡ ἡμέρα·

[3] Copied from Karlfried Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church (Edited by William G. Rusch, Sources of Early Christian Though, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 87, 93.

[4] Homily on Psalm 118, MFC 17:184. Copied, not translated from Psalms 51-150 (IVP), 322.

[5] Syriac. CSCO 387, SYRI 168V. Page 77-80. For Greek and Latin, cx. PG 478-510.

[6] Cx. 1 John 2:2

The Fathers on Psalm 118

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 118

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
his mercy endures forever.
Let Israel say:
his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Aaron say,
his mercy endures forever.
Let those who fear the Lord say,
his mercy endures forever.

In danger I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is with me; I am not afraid;
what can mortals do against me?
The Lord is with me as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on my foes.
Better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put one’s trust in mortals.
Better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put one’s trust in princes.

All the nations surrounded me;
in the Lord’s name I cut them off.
They surrounded me on every side;
in the Lord’s name I cut them off.
They surrounded me like bees;
they burned up like fire among thorns;
in the Lord’s name I cut them off.
I was hard pressed and falling,
but the Lord came to my help.
The Lord, my strength and might,
has become my savior.

The joyful shout of deliverance
is heard in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand works valiantly;
the Lord’s right hand is raised;
the Lord’s right hand works valiantly.”
I shall not die but live
and declare the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord chastised me harshly,
but did not hand me over to death.

Open the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and thank the Lord.
This is the Lord’s own gate,
through it the righteous enter.
I thank you for you answered me;
you have been my savior.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice in it and be glad.
Lord, grant salvation!
Lord, grant good fortune!

Blessed is he
who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God and has enlightened us.
Join in procession with leafy branches
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, I give you thanks;
my God, I offer you praise.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
his mercy endures forever.

Athanasius: “When you feel the need to give thanks, sing Psalm…118.”[1]

But if the Gentiles are honoring the same God who gave the law to Moses and who made the promise to Abraham and whose words the Jews dishonored, why are the Jews ignorant (rather, why do they choose to ignore) that what the Lord foretold in the Scriptures has been revealed in the world and appeared as if in bodily form, as the Scripture said: The Lord is God and has enlightened us; and again, He sent his Word and healed them;[2] and again, Not a messenger, not an angel but the Lord himself saved them[3]? Their state may be compared to that of someone insane, who sees the earth illuminated by the sun but denies that the sun illuminates it.[4]

Pseudo-Athanasius: Through this psalm the new people that was established from the people and the Gentiles is instructed to confess Christ and to call him alone succor. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his mercy endures forever. First of all, he commands the former—those who come from the people—to begin confession, since they were called first through the preaching of the Gospel. In danger I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me? And they learn in tribulations to rely on and call ‘refuge’ no one else but him. All the nations surrounded me; in the Lord’s name I cut them off. They surrounded me on every side; in the Lord’s name I cut them off. They surrounded me like bees; they burned up like fire among thorns; in the Lord’s name I cut them off. I was hard pressed and falling, but the Lord came to my help. The Lord, my strength and might, has become my savior. For not only does he bring great relief to those who are afflicted for his sake, but he also brings them into the tabernacles of the just, in which the voice of exultation and salvation is heard. The joyful shout of deliverance is heard in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand works valiantly; the Lord’s right hand is raised; the Lord’s right hand works valiantly.” For he is the Father’s right hand, which he stretched out to us, that by it we might be raised from the gates of death and he might open for us the gates of righteousness, in order that when we enter through them we may confess the Lord. This is the Lord’s own gate, through it the righteous enter. But the Lord’s gate—through which the just enter—is wisdom, justice, purity, and spiritual valor. When the just are beautiful in these virtues and are purified—that is, contented—through torments, they will enter in and see God, whom only the pure see. I thank you for you answered me; you have been my savior. And they will confess him who heard and saved them. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. For he was our chief cornerstone, through which he bound the people and the Gentles, spiritually fashioning both of them into one new man. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes. This especially showed his wonder, by which he destroyed death and made life and incorruption shine. And on the glorious day of his resurrection, he made us rejoice and exult, saying: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord—that is, in the glory that befits God and in the dominion and greatness which surpasses all, when he comes to call every man and make him rejoice. Thus the prophets foretold concerning him: The Lord is God and has enlightened us. Join in procession with leafy branches up to the horns of the altar. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us, and he has made his house for those who have believed in him. For those who will also arise he commands a festival, as they are gathered in love and spiritual concord, so that because of their multitude they will reach as far as the horns of the altar and the Cherubim, who with their wings were veiling the mercy seat. You are my God, I give you thanks; my God, I offer you praise. We are also commanded to confess and exalt him as the true God, Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his mercy endures forever. We declare that he is good by nature and his mercy is forever.[5]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 125.

[2] Psalm 107:20 (LXX)

[3] Isaiah 63:9 (LXX)

[4] On the Incarnation 40, LCC 4:94. Εἰ δὲ τὸν Μωϋσῇ δεδωκότα τὸν νόμον καὶ τῷ Ἀβραὰμ ἐπαγγειλάμενον Θεόν, καὶ οὗ τὸν λόγον ἠτίμασαν Ἰουδαῖοι, τοῦτον τὰ ἔθνη σέβουσι, διὰ τί μὴ γινώσκουσι, μᾶλλον δὲ διὰ τί ἑκόντες παρορῶσιν, ὅτι ὁ προφητευόμενος ὑπὸ τῶν γραφῶν Κύριος ἐπέλαμψε τῇ οἰκουμένῃ καὶ ἐπεφάνη σωματικῶς αὐτῇ, καθὼς εἶπεν ἡ γραφή· «Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἐπέφανεν ἡμῖν», καὶ πάλιν· «Ἐξαπέστειλε τὸν Λόγον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἰάσατο αὐτούς», καὶ πάλιν· «Οὐ πρέσβυς, οὐκ ἄγγελος, ἀλλ’ αὐτὸς ὁ Κύριος ἔσωσεν αὐτούς.» Ὅμοιον δὲ πάσχουσιν, ὡς εἴ τις παραπεπληγὼς τὴν διάνοιαν, τὴν μὲν γῆν φωτιζομένην ὑπὸ τοῦ ἡλίου βλέποι, τὸν δὲ ταύτην φωτίζοντα ἥλιον ἀρνεῖται.

[5] Syriac. CSCO 387, SYRI 168V. Page 76-77. For Greek and Latin, cx. PG 475-80.

The Fathers on Psalm 116

This post is part of an ongoing series offering translations of various early Church father’s commentaries on the Psalms.

Psalm 116

I kept faith, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted!”
I said in my alarm,
“All men are liars!”
How can I repay the Lord
for all the great good done for me?
I will raise the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
Dear in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his devoted.
Lord, I am your servant,
your servant, the child of your maidservant;
you have loosed my bonds.
I will offer a sacrifice of praise
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Hallelujah!

Athanasius: “Do you have faith, as the Lord said, and do you believe the things you say while praying? Say Psalm 116:9-17.”[1]

When we read Lord, I am your servant, your servant, the child of your maidservant; you have loosed my bonds. I will offer a sacrifice of praise and call on the name of the Lord, we correctly understand that Solomon was a natural and genuine son, and do not consider him a servant just because we hear him so called. So also concerning the Savior, who is confessed in truth to be the Son and Word by nature, as the saints say, “Who was faithful to him that made him,” or if he says of himself, “The Lord created me,” and, “I am your servant and the son of your handmaid,” and similar claims. Let no one on this account deny that he is the true Son of the Father and from him. As in the case of Solomon and David, let them have a correct understanding of the Father and the Son.[2]

Pseudo-Athanasius: I kept faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted!” I have believed, say the people who were summoned by Christ’s calling. And in addition, I spoke, saying: I shall please the God who saved me. I said in my alarm, “All men are liars!” But because I know that every man is false and not guiltless before God, I believe that he will strengthen and help me in my strivings on his behalf. So I may even meet death rejoicing because of his holy name. How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me? And by this I will compensate the true Lord like a servant, for by death I shall honor his death on my behalf. Dear in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his devoted. Lord, I am your servant, your servant, the child of your maidservant; you have loosed my bonds. I will offer a sacrifice of praise and call on the name of the Lord. By his death he loosed and cut me away from the bond of sin and death, so that now, not by sacrifices of blood, I will offer sacrifices of praise and confession to his holy name. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, In the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Hallelujah! And I will render him spiritual vows, not as formerly in the temple in Jerusalem, but before all people in his holy churches—or rather, in the heavenly Jerusalem.[3]


[1] Benjamin Wayman. Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms (Brewster, M.A.: Paraclete Press: 2014), 214.

[2] Discourses Against the Arians 2.14.4. NPNF 2, 4:350. Ὥσπερ τοίνυν ἀναγινώσκοντες ταῦτα διανοούμεθα καλῶς καὶ ἀκούοντες δοῦλον τὸν Σολομῶνα οὐ νομίζομεν αὐτὸν εἶναι δοῦλον, ἀλλὰ φύσει καὶ γνήσιον υἱόν, οὕτως ἐὰν καὶ περὶ τοῦ σωτῆρος τοῦ ἀληθῶς ὁμολογουμένου υἱοῦ καὶ φύσει λόγου ὄντος λέγωσιν οἱ ἅγιοι· «πιστὸν ὄντα τῷ ποιήσαντι αὐτὸν» ἢ αὐτὸς περὶ ἑαυτοῦ ἐὰν λέγῃ· «κύριος ἔκτισέ με» καὶ «ἐγὼ δοῦλος σὸς καὶ υἱὸς τῆς παιδίσκης σου» καὶ ὅσα τοιαῦτα, μὴ διὰ τοῦτο ἀρνείσθωσάν τινες τὴν ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ ἰδιότητα, ἀλλ’, ὡς ἐπὶ Σολομῶνος καὶ τοῦ Δαβίδ, διανοείσθωσαν ὀρθῶς περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ πατρός.

[3] Syriac. CSCO 387, SYRI 168V, pg.75-76. For Greek and Latin, cx. PG 27: 473-474.