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

Did God Command Genocide?

In Joshua 8:2, Yahweh seems to command the indiscriminate killing of the inhabitants of the city of Ai: “And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” If this were said today, it would widely be regarded as a command to commit genocide.[1] The severity of the command seems validated by what Joshua records about the battle (vv. 24-25):

24 When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. 25 And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai.

This account—and others like it in the Old Testament[2]—are often viewed as problematic for contemporary Christians. How can a God of love command murder? How can the God who says “love your enemies” have ordered their destruction? These are, in my estimation, entirely legitimate questions worth wrestling with.

In what follows, I hope to breakdown some of the key aspects of thinking through the question of whether or not God commanded genocide and (some of) what that means for Christians today. Continue reading

How to Approach Difficult Bible Passages

As a teacher, I am regularly asked about Bible passages and the theology they convey. Sometimes the questions are straightforward; other times, not so much. Some time back, for example, as I was innocently trying to lead our community group through Romans 8:18-30, I was asked how to interpret verses 29-30 in light of that not-at-all-discussed-among-Christians topic of Predestination and Freewill. It happens.

The vast majority of the time, I am more than happy to dig into a text and explain what I think and why. Having been privileged to study under some brilliant Biblical scholars (and having read many more), I am all too eager to hold forth on the Scriptures, and I genuinely hope that my discussion helps those listening. However, in the past several years I have discovered a more fruitful approach to addressing these questions: walking through Bible passages with people and training them how to read and interpret wisely. Continue reading

An Argument for Prima Scriptura

This post originally appeared as a contribution at Conciliar Post.

One of the great privileges of being a part of the Conciliar Post community is the opportunity to have meaningful conversations about substantive theological issues while remaining charitable toward our interlocutors. Not that we are the only website that promotes this type of dialogue. But in an era of increased incivility and rhetorical debauchery, it is a welcome relief to have a conversation rather than a shouting match. Continue reading

On the Misuse of Christian Tradition: A Response

sola_scriptura_forumsThe proper relationship between the authority of Christian Scripture and authority of Christian Tradition avails itself to no easy answers. From a historical viewpoint, much of the early development of both remains hotly debated. From a theological perspective, centuries (and sometimes millennia) old debates continue to shape thinking and lead toward answers long before any explicit consideration of this relationship comes into focus.

Yet there seem to be boundaries—a “highway of orthodoxy” if you will—which suggest (or perhaps demand?) a certain perspective on the Christian understanding of the interplay between Scripture and Tradition, a stance which holds a) Scripture as inspired and authoritative (overly precise definitions aside); b) Tradition as important for properly interpreting Scripture (or, if you prefer more Protestant phrasings, “interpreting within the community” or even “Scripture interpreting Scripture”); and c) both Scripture and Tradition as necessarily in conversation with one another (i.e., neither allowed to dominate the other). Continue reading

The Day That Jesus Died

When students are first introduced to the historical, as opposed to a devotional, study of the Bible, one of the first things they are forced to grapple with is that the biblical text, whether Old Testament or New Testament, is chock full of discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable…. In some cases seemingly trivial points of difference can actually have an enormous significance for the interpretation of a book or the reconstruction of the history of ancient Israel or the life of the historical Jesus.”—Bart D. Ehrman1

Bart D. Ehrman

As this statement from contemporary (and popular) New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman indicates, there those who study Christianity—its scriptures and history—who argue that the canonical gospels2 do not present a historically accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Around Easter every year, scholars and journalists of this perspective often pen pieces on the ”Why the Resurrection Story is a Myth” or ”Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” In more nuanced versions of these discussions, the credibility of early Christian accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection is called into question, even on facts as seemingly mundane as the day on which Jesus was crucified.3 Such is the position of Ehrman, who argues that the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Gospel of John portray Jesus as being killed on two different days, thus revealing their historical inaccuracy and untruthfulness.4 As is my Good Friday custom, in this post I examine this claim and explain why the canonical gospels indicate that Jesus died on the same day: Good Friday. Continue reading

Book Review: NLT Illustrated Study Bible

9781496402035The means by which one encounters the Scriptures are formative and important. That is to say, the Bible that you use—read, study with, take to Church, consult when times are tough—helps shape who you are as a Christian. Choosing the right Bible(s), then, can be a very important decision. But so many of the Bibles available today seem bland or boring, especially when compared to the increasingly technological and visual culture of the 21st century. Not so Tyndale House’s latest edition of the New Living Translation, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015). Continue reading

The Marcion Problem: Conclusions

This post is the final in the series examining Marcion of Sinope and his influence of the formation of the New Testament canon.

Sacred ScriptureBy way of closing both our section on modern perspectives on Marcion as well as this series as a whole, I offer the following conclusions. First, upon the review of the various schools of thought concerning Marcion’s impact on the development of Christian views on scripture, canon, and authority, we may conclude that the Canon Refinement School appears to make the best sense of textual evidence and offer the most satisfying overall explanation of Marcion’s theology. This school argues that Marcion’s canon, while the first closed specifically Christian canon, neither formed the Christian ideas of scripture, canon, and authority, as in the view of the Canon Formation School, nor did he influence a major redaction of scriptural literature, as in the view of the Canon and Literature Formation School. Continue reading