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

A Brief History of Communion: Origins

Christians of all sorts partake of some form of communion. Known by different names—the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Breaking of Bread, Mass—and taken at different frequencies—daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly—this practice involving bread and wine stands as a testament to both Christian unity as well as divisions. What do contemporary Christians believe about the Lord’s Supper? To begin answering this question, we must first look at the history of communion, beginning today with what the early Church said about the practice and meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Bibliography

This post is the final in the series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Ancient Sources

Clement of Alexandria. Quis Dives Salvetur. Edited by P. Mordaunt Barnard. Texts and Studies 5, 2. Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1967.

English Standard Version Bible. New York: Crossway, 2010.

Epistle of Barnabas. Translated by Bart D. Ehrman. The Apostolic Fathers: Volume Two. Loeb Classical Library 25. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Conclusions

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

RevelationThis study has undertaken an investigation of the Christology of the Apocalypse of John, seeking to fill a lacunae that has only been rarely and partially addressed in contemporary scholarship. This project has not sought to exhaustively address any of the issues mentioned above, only to draw together piecemeal existing studies and offer a unified argument for Revelation’s portrayal of “Jesus as Lord.” Much work remains to be done on this topic, especially the expansion of this project into a more detailed and comprehensive examination of the names, images, and actions of Jesus in Revelation.[1] Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Modern Christianity (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Long BeachRevelation also highlights the importance of doxology in the contemporary world. Throughout the history of Christological development, interpretations of who Jesus is necessarily took place in the context of the place given him in Christian devotional practices.[1] While there are obviously limits to defining doctrine based on the sensus fidei, the fact remains that contemporary Christian doxology may fruitfully inform understandings of who Jesus is and how he is appropriately worshiped. Revelation also encourages active and vibrant doxological practice in today’s church communities, calling Christians everywhere to join in the worship of God and Jesus along with the saints across time and place. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Modern Christianity (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Sacred ScriptureThe Apocalypse holds a unique position within the Christian scriptures, being the only piece of explicitly Christian prophetic material to make the canonical cut. First and foremost, Christians must engage Revelation’s prophetic utterances within a context of Old Testament prophecy, much of which ultimately points towards the coming of Yahweh’s kingdom on earth. Second, interpreters should take seriously Bauckham’s dictum that, “Biblical prophecy always both addressed the prophet’s contemporaries about their own present and future immediately impending for them and raised hopes which proved able to transcend their immediate relevance to the prophet’s contemporaries and to continue to direct later readers to God’s purpose for their future.”[1] Third, a preterist approach to Revelation—arguing that most of the Apocalypse’s prophetic material has been fulfilled—should find value in Revelation as not only as a demonstration of the faithfulness of God and how he works in the world, but also as a source for purging and refurbishing the Christian imagination. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Modern Christianity (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Early Church FathersAs a professing Christian standing in the Great Tradition of the Church, I believe that the faith and practices of early followers of Jesus form an important authority for contemporary expressions of Christianity. Regarding devotional practice, worship of Jesus remains not only acceptable, but is in fact required for those professing orthodox Christian faith. The appropriateness of Jesus devotion remains not only a facet of Church tradition, but also of the earliest Christians faiths recorded in the New Testament, which testify to the fact that Jesus was and is Messiah, Redeemer, Coming Judge, and Lord, all within the context of monotheistic belief in one God. The identification of Jesus with Yahweh was not a later accretion. Rather, Jesus’ identification with God—Yahweh come to earth—was a hallmark of the earliest Christian communities. Those who diverge from this (minimally) “binitarian” understanding of God-Jesus stand outside the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. Therefore, contemporary followers of Jesus are called to affirm with the Great Church of history that “Jesus is Lord” and worthy of worship. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Early Christianity (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Chester Beatty Papyrus (Romans)While early Christian literature remains maddeningly obscure in its identification of source texts, theological influences, and employment of traditional materials—thereby rendering futile many attempts at identifying a single source as the genesis for any given idea or practice—Revelation’s general conception of the boundaries of Jesus devotion nonetheless seems to have coordinated with other now–New Testament writings in the formation of limits concerning what constituted acceptable Christian confession and practice. Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Early Christianity (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

New TestamentOf course, the profusion of Jesus devotion in Revelation is not unique to the Apocalypse alone, but rather stands in continuity with other now–New Testament literature. John’s Christology—especially the implicit recognition of the divinity of Jesus, his identification with Yahweh, and worthiness of devotion—unsurprisingly parallels most closely the Christology of the Fourth Gospel, although Hurtado’s consideration of high Pauline Christology contains numerous similarities to the Christology of the Apocalypse as well.[1] Continue reading

Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: Implications for Early Christianity (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

Shepherd Early ChristianityIt is now the place to examine the implications for early Christianity derived from this study of Revelation. Before proceeding, this project would be remiss to extract the Christology of Revelation from its larger rhetorical and theological aims, which convey to readers that God—through the Messiah Jesus—will fulfill his promises and defeat the forces of evil and wickedness in the world, vindicating with heavenly salvation those who follow the example of the Lamb and do not compromise the good news of Jesus.[1] This larger message stands in the background of all that Revelation reveals about early Christian understandings of the Apocalyptic Lord. This section examines four realms of Christological insight for the earliest hearers and readers of Revelation: devotional practice, coordination with other New Testament Christologies, a binitarian godhead, and the definition of “heresy” and “orthodoxy.” Continue reading