Semi-Charmed Life: Lessons from James

Things have been busy, fun, and hectic over at Arise Church, were I serve as pastor. We’re in the midst of a series right now called Semi-Charmed Life: Lessons from James, where we’re using hit songs from the 90s as the hooks for our lessons from James. It’s been a ton of fun so far.

If you want to check out our recent messages, you can watch them here.

Work and Rest

As Americans, we’re obsessed with being busy. Even during a pandemic, we’re preoccupied with how much we’re getting done. Our culture fixates on and rewards efficiency and productivity, even at the expense of our own health and relationships. It’s even how we talk to one another. People always ask, “What are you doing this week?” or “What have you been busy with?” I’ve never once been asked, “Did you get nine hours of sleep last night?” … or “Did you get enough vacation time this year?” The reality of life is that we’re busy—we’re tired—and we simply don’t get enough rest.

But we know rest is important. Countless studies show that there are all sorts of mental, physical, emotional, and relational benefits to rest. Whether it’s getting the right amount of sleep, standing up from your computer every hour, using your vacation days, taking a recovery day from your workout routine, or simply breaking up the monotony of your work, rest is good for us. Forbes recently wrote, “You can only work so hard and do so much in a day. Everybody needs to rest and recharge.” Whether you work 9 to 5, work from home, stay at home, or are retired—we all need to rest!

Before we dive into this article, I want to encourage you to stop for a moment and just breath…. Enjoy a moment of rest…. Alright, that’s enough. Back to reading and thinking about rest.  Why? Because Scripture reveals that everyone was made for purposeful rest!

Purposeful Rest

How do I know? Well, in addition to the significant number of scientific reasons for rest, I know that we were made for purposeful rest because Jesus said so. As it turns out, Jesus was pretty good at purposefully resting. In the language of his day, he was a master “Sabbath-keeper.” The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew Shabbat, which marked the designated day of rest for God’s people. In Jesus’ time, the day of rest had become pretty ritualized. There were whole libraries of literature devoted to discussing how to rest on the Sabbath. In fact, the religious leaders of the day had determined there were thirty-nine kinds of work that were prohibited on the Sabbath.

It’s in that context that we hear from Jesus about rest—and that all of us were made for purposeful rest. In the words of Mark 2, One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions. Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2.23-27, NIV)

So Jesus and his disciples work on the Sabbath, the religious leaders aren’t pleased with it, and what does Jesus do? He quotes the Bible to show that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is, human beings were not created for the explicit purpose of observing the holiness of the Sabbath day; rather, the Sabbath was created for our benefit. The day of rest is important—Jesus agrees—but the Pharisees forgot why it was important. They thought the Sabbath was a sacred day, something that was special because of itself. But Jesus says that the Sabbath is special because of what it provides for us: a time to stop and rest.

When God created humanity, He made rest part of the order of things. Indeed, the seven-day week is the only non-physical unit of time that we regularly use? Years, months, days, hours, minutes, seconds—they’re all based on the sun, moon, earth’s rotation, or (in modern calculations) the rate of decay for two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom…. But not the week. The week doesn’t have a physical origin—it has its origins in scripture, which in the words of Eugene Peterson, says that every seven days we should take some “uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing.”

We Were Made for Purposeful Rest

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. We were made for purposeful rest. And both parts of that statement are important—that we were made for rest and that rest is meant to be purposeful.

In the desire to rid ourselves of the strict Jewish legalism about Sabbath-keeping, many followers of Jesus have actually gone too far: we don’t rest at all. Lauren Winner, who is a convert to Christianity from Judaism, writes that, “There is something in Jewish Sabbath that is absent from most Christian Sundays: a true cessation from the rhythms of work and world, a time wholly set apart….” Many of us simply don’t rest.

To be honest, that’s the way I am. Several weeks ago, I got toward the end of my work week and realized that I was only going to work 50 hours that week—and a wave of guilt washed over me for not working more. There was so much more to be done that I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll just work a little on my normal day off to get more done….” If that resonates with you—if you’re thinking similar things—you need to repent, you need to stop living and thinking that way. Because we weren’t made to work all of the time; we were made for purposeful rest.

Some of you are workaholics like me; and others of you are unequivocally not workaholics…. Rest is something that comes naturally to you; no one needs to remind you to clock out after your forty hours. No one needs to make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. The lesson here for those folks is that they need to be more purposeful with their rest. Rest does not mean doing nothing—it doesn’t mean binging Netflix for 15 hours on your day off or watching whole seasons of Game of Thrones every weekend. No, the kind of rest that the Bible describes is more intentional than that.

Purposeful rest is rest that is God-focused and refreshing. It’s rest with intentionality, rest that’s restorative. It’s rest from work, but it’s also rest for work. Some of us have physically demanding jobs—maybe you’re a mechanic, plumber, or nurse. If so, at the end of your week, you need to refresh yourself by resting physically. When I was working as a handyman over the summers while I was in grad school, at the end of the week I needed a nap—I was physically exhausted. If that’s you, rest! Other work isn’t necessarily physically demanding, but is draining mentally, emotionally, or relationally. Perhaps you’re a teacher, counselor, or work in an office. Rest in those vocations may involve taking a nap too… but it may actually involve some physical exertion, like going to the gym or working on a project around your home. We are all made for purposeful rest—rest that is truly restorative for who we are and what we do.

Several Scriptural Suggestions for Successful Sabbathing

For the rest of this article, I want to share three ways to purposefully rest. Or, as the lead pastor at church might label them: “Several Scriptural Suggestions for Successful Sabbathing.” As we think about these practical ways to purposefully rest, I want to make clear that doing these things isn’t going to make Jesus love us any more—He already loves us! These are simply ways to live in love and obedience as a response to what Jesus has already done for us.

The first way to purposefully rest is to Plan to Rest. Whether you have trouble with resting or with being purposeful in your rest, it’s not going to happen without intentionally making the choice to purposefully rest. Every one of us has to decide when and how to Sabbath.

When God told Israel to Sabbath, he didn’t just leave it up to their whims, wants, and busy schedules. He actually gave pretty clear guidelines. Exodus 20 says, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. (Exodus 20.8-10, NIV)

Those are some pretty clear directions on when and how to rest. Notice how Israel was expected to set aside the time for Sabbath. Their rest was clearly planned.

My mom has always been a good example of planning her Sabbath rests. Even as a homeschooling mother of five kids who ran a farm, she would plan her life around rest and spending time with God. Mom would routinely get up at some ungodly hour of the morning to call and pray with her friends, to spend time searching the scriptures. She took intentional, restful time for herself and God amidst the busyness of her life. When my parents built their house, she actually had her closet specifically designed to be large enough to store her Sabbath-keeping books and journals. Mom didn’t just expect her resting to happen—she planned her Sabbaths and made sure they happened.

That’s what each of us needs to do as well: intentionally plan our rest. Years ago, I heard Pastor Eugene Peterson say that in order to make sure that he rested, he had to put it on his calendar. So that’s what I do. Months out, I schedule “rest” on my calendar. And then when something “important” comes up, I treat that scheduled rest like any other appointment or meeting—“Sorry, I’m not available then.”.

The second thing to do is Protect Your Rest. This goes hand in hand with planning our rest, because once we plan it, we have to protect it—that is, prevent it from being overrun by other seemingly important things.

In the Old Testament, there are some pretty serious protections placed around the Sabbath. Exodus 31.15 (NIV), for example, says For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. Sounds like the Sabbath is pretty important, huh? Similarly, Leviticus 23.3 (NIV) says There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.

The Old Testament makes the significance of Sabbath rest quite clear—it’s something serious and needs to be treated as such. Likewise in the New Testament, the author of the letter to the Hebrews entreats followers of Jesus to continue observing the Sabbath: There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. (In other words, the Sabbath is still important, because God set the example of rest for us in his work of creation.) Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4.9-11, NIV) Let us make every effort to rest, the author of Hebrews writes. Let’s do whatever it takes to protect our rest.

The Practicalities of Rest

The world’s greatest fast food restaurant (don’t @ me) is a testament to this fact. Chick-fil-a is famously closed on Sundays. But few people know the explicit reason why Chick-fil-a is closed on Sundays. According to founder Truett Cathy, it’s so that “employees [can] set aside one day to rest and worship if they choose.” In other words, Chick-fil-a recognizes the importance of rest—so they protect that rest for their employees by simply not opening on Sundays.

We can all learn from Chick-fil-a on how to protect our rest. I have three really practical suggestions for how to do this.

  • First, protect your rest by making it so you cannot work. Some of us need to turn our phones off, mute our text conversations, and make it so we cannot check email on the weekend. Leave your computer at the office; use the mute function on your phone. Give it a try sometime—make it so you can’t work. You’ll find that the world can go on without your constant work.
  • Second, protect your rest with accountability. Tell others when you’ve planned your rest so that they can help keep you accountable to that. One of the former elders at my church does a good job of this. He knows that my Sabbath typically takes place on Mondays, so he checks in with me from time to time about how I’m resting—and he very intentionally does not call, text, or email me on Mondays. Find a few people who can help you remain accountable to your plans for purposeful rest.
  • Third, protect your rest by encouraging rest in others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—especially when it comes to rest. Don’t always expect other people to always be working. Give people grace when they don’t immediately respond to your messages. Be understanding when people take time for themselves and don’t attend your social event. Encourage the people in your life—your boss, coworkers, spouse, friends, anyone—to be purposeful with their rest.

In her book, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath, Priscilla Shirer writes that, “God always and eternally intended the Sabbath to be a lifestyle—an attitude, a perspective, an orientation that enables us to govern our lives and steer clear of bondage.” Protecting our planned times of purposeful rest is a crucial part of making God-honoring rest part of the fabric of our lives.

The final way for us to purposefully rest is to Rest in Jesus.  One of my favorite things Jesus says comes in Matthew 11, where He says, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11.28-30, NIV)

Jesus knows that life is hard. He knows that we’re weary and burdened by our work. He knows that we need rest. So he invites us to follow him, to take up his yoke. In the ancient world, a yoke was a symbol of servitude—something that represented the hardships and oppressions of life. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that following Him will make all of our work or troubles disappear. Rather, when we follow Him we have our heavy burdens replaced: first with rest and then with the yoke of Christ—the expectations of following Jesus.

Amidst all our busyness and work, don’t forget to stop and rest. Because we were made for purposeful rest.

What about you: What are your patterns of rest and Sabbath? How do you make sure you’re getting enough regular rest?

Book Review: Galatians: Freedom Through God’s Grace

Paul’s letter to the Galatians has long held a place of importance for those seeking to understand the power of the Gospel. One of the first books of the New Testament to be written, Galatians forcefully presents many of the Apostle Paul’s most central ideas and themes of grace and justification, displaying in brief, impassioned terms the theological categories and concepts that would find later expression in his letters to Rome and Corinth. If one hopes to understand the message of Christianity, Galatians offers a worthy starting point.

It was therefore with eager anticipation that I engaged Phillip Long’s Galatians: Freedom Through God’s Grace. And indeed, I walked away informed, encouraged, and impressed.

This is no technical commentary thickly layered with Greek exegesis, nor is it the kind of sweeping systematic commentary that one might expect a preacher to regularly consult. Rather, this is a reader’s commentary, the kind of book that any inquisitive Christian mind can bring with them as they thoughtfully engage Galatians.

Long’s prose is clear and compelling; his structure, simple and easy to follow. Readers are informed, without being overwhelmed, by historical details, the nuances of Greek, and the history of scholarship. Long includes snippets of those things, of course, but in ways that illuminate the text rather than insulate it from understanding.

The commentary proceeds section by section, with each section’s chapter including an introduction, conclusion, and discussion questions. Each section is divided into pericopes, and important aspects of each pericope are commented on. Footnotes to secondary literature are limited, but helpful when included. As with other commentaries, this one is best read next to an open Bible; unlike many other commentaries, however, you can actually consult this book section by section alongside your reading of Scripture.

Especially noteworthy is Long’s treatment of the chronology of Galatians and Acts. For those invested in understanding any biblical writing, there are few pieces of context more important than the audience and setting of a writing. In a reasoned but non-argumentative manner, Long suggests that Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. While this is not a majority position among contemporary New Testament scholars, the book’s argument is clear and compelling, and Long suggests a chronology that provides useful answers for some of the otherwise difficult parts of Paul’s letter.

In short, I want more commentaries like this; commentaries that are at once brief and helpful for the busy academic or pastor, while also accessible for the lay reader. This is the kind of slim book that’s worth its weight in gold for those who are engaging Galatians, whether for the first time or the hundredth. In terms of audience, this is not a commentary for the technical preacher or graduate student working in the minutiae of Galatians. However, it is an exceedingly helpful volume for the vast majority of people who want to better understand Galatians, be they pastors, small group leaders, or new Christians. I plan to use this commentary in the future as I lead groups through Galatians, and I know readers of all backgrounds and purposes will benefit greatly from Long’s insights.

Phillip J. Long, Galatians: Freedom through God’s Grace (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019), 156 pages. I received a complimentary copy of this volume in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Odes and John: Bibliography

This post concludes the series examining the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John.

Bibliography

Adams, J.N., Mark Janse, and Simon Swain, Editors. Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Attridge, Harold W. “Johannine Christianity.” Pages 125-143 in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1: Origins to Constantine. Edited by Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Bernhard, J. H. The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Introduction and Notes. Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature 8, 3. Edited by J. Armitage Robinson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912. Repr., Nendeln, Lischtenstein: Kraus Reprint Limited, 1967.

Brock, Sebastian. The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, Second Revised Edition. Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2006.

Brooke, George J. “Memory, Cultural Memory and Rewriting Scripture.” Pages 119-136 in Rewritten Bible After Fifty Years: Texts, Terms, or Techniques?: A Last Dialogue with Geza Vermes. Edited by Jozsef Zsengeller. Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 166. Lieden: Brill, 2014.

Brownson, James. “The Odes of Solomon and the Johannine Tradition.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2 (1988): 49-69.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. Edited by D. A. Carson. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1991.

Charlesworth, James H. Critical Reflections on the Odes of Solomon: Volume One: Literary Setting, Textual Studies, Gnosticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel of John. Edited by James H. Charlesworth and Lester L. Grabbe. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 22. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

–. “Odes of Solomon.” Pages 721-771 in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. New York: Doubleday, 1985.

–. The Earliest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon. Eugene, OR: Cascade Publishers, 2009.

–. The Odes of Solomon. Edited by Robert Kraft. Society of Biblical Literature: Texts and Translations 13 and Society of Biblical Literature Pseudapigrapha Series 7. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977.

–. The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.

Charlesworth, James H., and R. Alan Culpepper. “The Odes of Solomon and the Gospel of John.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35, 3 (1973): 298-322.

Corwin, Virginia. St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960.

De Bruin, C. C., ed. Diatessaron Leodiense. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970.

De Jonge, Henk Jan. “The Use of the Old Testament in Scripture Readings in Early Christian Assemblies.” Pages 377-392 in The Scriptures of Israel in Jewish and Christian Tradition: Essay in Honour of Maarten J.J. Menken. Edited by Bart J. Koet, Steve Moyise, and Jospeh Verheyden. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 148. Boston: Brill, 2013.

Drijvers, Hans J. W. “Apocryphal Literature in the Cultural Milieu of Osrhoene.” Apocrypha 1 (1990): 231-247.

–. East of Antioch: Studies in Early Syriac Christianity. London: Variorum Reprints, 1984.

–. “The 19th Ode of Solomon: Its Interpretation and Place in Syrian Christianity.” Journal of Theological Studies 31, 2 (1980): 337-355.

–. “The Peshitta of Sapientia Salomonis.” Pages 15-30 in History and Religion in Late Antique Syria. Brookfield, V.T.: Variorum, 1994.

Ehrman, Bart D. The Apostolic Fathers, Volume I. Edited by Jeffrey Henderson. The Leob Classical Library 24. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

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

Emerton, J. A. “Notes on Some Passages in the Odes of Solomon.” Journal of Theological Studies 28 (1977): 507-519.

Frankenberg, Wilhelm. Das Verstandis der Oden Salomos. Zeitshrfit fur die alteestamentliche Wissenschaft 21. Gießen: Topelman, 1911.

Glover, Richard. “Patristic Quotations and Gospel Sources.” New Testament Studies 31 (1985): 235-51.

Grant, Robert M. “The Odes of Solomon and the Church of Antioch.” Journal of Biblical Literature 63, 4 (1944): 363-377.

Gregory, Andrew F. and Christopher Tuckett. “Reflections on Method: What constitutes the Use of the Writings that later formed the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers?” Pages 61-82 in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. Edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Changing Shape of Church History. Saint Louis: Chalice Press, 2002.

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

Harris, J. Rendel. An Early Christian Psalter. London: James Nesbit, 2009.

Harvey, Susan Ashbrook. “Syria and Mesopotamia.” Pages 351-65 in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 1: Origins to Constantine. Edited by Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Hengel, Martin. “Qumran and Early Christianity.” Pages 523-31 in Earliest Christian History: History, Literature, and Theology: Essay from the Tyndale Fellowship in Honor of Martin Hengel. Edited by Michael F. Bird and Jason Maston. Translated by Lars Kierspel. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.

Hill, Charles E. “’In These Very Words’: Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century.” Page 261-81 in The Early Text of the New Testament. Edited by Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Hill, J. Hamlyn. 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.

Hughes, Julie. Scriptural Allusions and Exegesis in the Hodayot. Studies on the Texts of the Deserts of Judah, LIX. Edited by Florentino Garcia Martinez. Boston: Brill, 2006.

Kostenberger, Andreas J., 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.

Kugel, James L. Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Lattke, Michael. “Die Oden Salomos: Einleitungsfragen und Forschungsgeschichte.” Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Alteren Kirche 98 (2007): 277-307.

–. Oden Salomos. New York: Herder, 1995.

–. Odes of Solomon: A Commentary. Edited by Harold W. Attridge. Translated by Marianne Ehrhardt. Hermenia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

–. “The Apocryphal Odes of Solomon and New Testament Writings.” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älteren Kirche 73, 3 (1982): 294-301.

Massaux, Eduard. The Influence of the Gospel of Matthew on Christian Literature before Irenaeus. Translated by Neirynck. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1990.

Marttila, Marko, Juha Pakkala, and Hanne von Weissenberg (Editors). Changes in Scripture: Rewriting and Interpreting Authoritative Traditions in the Second Temple Period. Berlin: DeGruyter, 2011.

McNeil, Brian. “The Odes of Solomon and the Scriptures.” Oriens Christianus 67, 1 (1983): 104-122.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Murray, Robert. Symbols of Church and Kingdom: A Study in Early Syriac Tradition. Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2004

Newbold, William R. “Bardaisan and the Odes of Solomon.” Journal of Biblical Literature 30, 2 (1911): 161-204.

Novak, Michael Anthony. “The Odes of Solomon as Apocalyptic Literature.” Vigiliae Christianae 66, 5 (2012): 527-550.

Pierre, Marie-Joseph. Les Odes de Salomon: Traduction, Introduction et notes par. Belique: Brepols, 1994.

Prahlow, Jacob J. Discerning Witnesses: First and Second Century Textual Studies in Early Christian Authority. MA Thesis. Winston-Salem: Wake Forest University, 2014.

Robinson, J. A. The Odes of Solomon. Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, Series 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912. Repr. Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint Limited, 1967.

Sanders, Jack T. “Nag Hammadi, Odes of Solomon, and NT Christological Hymns.” Pages 51-66 in Gnosticism and the Early Christian World: In Honor of James M. Robinson. Edited by James E. Goehring, et al. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1990.

Schoedel, William R. Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Edited by Helmut Koester. Hermenia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985

Stuhlhofer, Franz. “Der Ertrag von Bibelstellenregistern fur die Kanonsgeschichte.” Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche wissenschaft 100 (1988): 244-261.

Stroud, Robert C. “The Odes of Solomon: The Earliest in Collection of Christian Hymns.” The Hymn 31, 1 (1980): 269-275.

Trevett, Christine. “Approaching Matthew from the Second Century: The Under-Used Ignatius Correspondence.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 20 (1984): 59-67.

Wickes, Jeffrey. Hymns on Faith. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, forthcoming.

Williams, P.J. Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels. Edited by D. C. Parker and D. G. K. Taylor. Texts and Studies: Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literatures Third Series. Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias Press, 2004.

Odes and John: Conclusions

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

This study has sought to recast the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John by calling for the application of contextualized methodological criteria in a comparison of these two texts. Such a methodology was argued to incorporate considerations of literary citation, genre, linguistic differences, geography, and purposes in writing as important aspects of understanding possible instances of literary connection between ancient texts. Instead of affirming a “common milieu” connecting the Odes and Fourth Gospel, the application of this contextual methodology illustrates that signs of literary dependence exist between the Odes and John’s Gospel, especially Ode 3’s apparent use of an exegetical motif derived from the Upper Room Discourses of John 14 and 15.

While this study is by no means comprehensive, such a conclusion does suggest that perspectives which fail to recognize the literary connection between the Odes and Gospel must be reevaluated. Methodological precision will only further clarify scholarship intending to understand early Christian literary culture. Another implication of this study indicates that greater care must be taken in attempting to recognize exegetical motifs at work in early Christian writings, especially those which are liturgical or poetic in nature. Further, the insights of this study suggest further cross-specializational analysis among scholars of early Christianity, as the methods of those studying the Apostolic Fathers have proved useful in this study of the Odes. In this regard, it is somewhat puzzling that the Odes are largely not studied along with other early Christian writings from a similar period and provenance. Such a project may prove insightful in the future.

Continued investigation of the Odes of Solomon remains a field ripe with opportunity, especially through the application of contextually informed methodological principles for discerning the use of scriptural themes and language in early Christian literature. It is my hope that this paper may provide some starting point for discovering more fully the manner in which worship, scripture, and interpretation functioned in the early Christian Church.

Odes and John: Ode 3 and the Upper Room Discourses

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

In Ode 3, the relationship between the Odes of Solomon and Gospel of John becomes even clearer, as this ode is quite clearly a reflection on theme of the Love of Christ found in John’s Upper Room Discourses.[1] While the first lines of Ode 3 are missing, the eleven accessible verses claim no fewer than ten parallels with Johannine literature, six of which come from chapters 14 and 15 of the Gospel.[2] In line with the paradigm of “common milieu”, however, none of these parallels constitutes a direct quotation in either direction. As is standard for the Odes, nowhere does Ode 3 present material from the Gospel of John using a formulaic introduction. However, this lack a formulaic quotation does not undermine the stronger verbal and thematic similarities between this Ode and the Fourth Gospel.

Consider the following connections: Ode 3.2 reads, “And his members are with him, /And I am dependent on them; and he loves me” (ܘܗܕܡܘܗܝ ܠܘܬܗ ܐܢܘܢ ܃ ܀ ܘܒܗܘܢ ܬܠܐ ܐܢܐ ܘܡܚܒ ܠܝ)[3] and John 15:16 says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you…” (Οὐχ ὑμεῖς με ἐξελέξασθε , ἀλλ’ ἐγὼ ἐξελεξάμην ὑμᾶς…).[4] Both thus point toward the dependence of the believer on the love of God. Ode 3.3 seems to be reliant upon either 1 John 4:9-10 or John 14:21, as both underline how believers continuously love the Lord only through His love.[5] Ode 3.5 parallels John 14.2-3, where believers are said to have a place in the Father’s house.[6] Ode 3.8—“Indeed he who is joined to Him who is immortal, / Truly shall be immortal” (ܗܘ ܓܝܪ ܕܡܬܢܩܦ ܠܗܘ ܕܠܐ ܡܐܬ ܃ ܀ ܐܦ ܗܘ ܕܠܐ ܡܘܬܐ ܢܗܘܐ)[7]— represents perhaps the clearest structural continuity between this Ode and Gospel, which reads, “Because I live, you also will live” (ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ , καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσεσθε.).[8] The language suggests some development, from the ἐγὼ ζῶ (I live, I will live) of John to the ܠܐ ܡܘܬܐ (lȃ mwtȃ: not dead, immortal) of the Odes. Yet the thought it similar, as even Charlesworth writes, “In both the Odes and John the Lord is the source of life, even eternal life, which is a present reality resulting from the indwelling of the believer in the Lord and also the Lord in the believer, [elsewhere in the Odes] symbolically represented by the drinking of life-giving water, and by the garland and vine with branches.”[9] Ode 3.9[10] most clearly parallels John 11.25, especially in the Greek, though Lattke notes that the passage also bears striking resemblance to John 14.19.[11] Ode 3.10, “This is the Spirit of the Lord, which is not false, / Which teaches the sons of men to know His ways.” (ܗܕܐ ܗܝ ܪܘܚܗ ܕܡܪܝܐ ܕܠܐ ܕܓܠܘܬܐ ܃ ܀ ܕܡܠܦܐ ܠܒܢܝܢܫܐ ܕܢܕܥܘܢ ܐܘܪܚܬܗ),[12] also incorporates the language of John 14.17 and 26, “…even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you….But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας , ὃ ὁ κόσμος οὐ δύναται λαβεῖν , ὅτι οὐ θεωρεῖ αὐτό , οὐδὲ γινώσκει αὐτό. Ὑμεῖς δὲ γινώσκετε αὐτό , ὅτι παρ’ ὑμῖν μένει , καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσται ….Ὁ δὲ παράκλητος , τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον , ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατὴρ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου , ἐκεῖνος ὑμᾶς διδάξει πάντα , καὶ ὑπομνήσει ὑμᾶς πάντα ἃ εἶπον ὑμῖν).[13] This final instance adds yet another instance of parallelism demonstrating the thematic explication of the concept of Christ’s love.[14]

While there are no instances of direct quotation, the numerous examples of verbal parallelism and continuous co-option of terminology from the Upper Room Discourses suggest the literary dependence of Ode 3 on the Gospel of John. Again noting the difference of genre and language between these two sources, it is not surprising to see considerable flexibility when translating the theme of Christ’s love from prose to poetry, and Greek to Syriac. The connection between the Odes and Antiochene literature has already been discussed, but it is more than mere possibility that a Syrian Odist would have known and been able to access to some form of John’s Gospel in early second century Antioch. The purposes of this Ode are both theological and liturgical, demonstrating reliance upon Johannine theology and recasting that theology for a liturgical setting. Not only do the Odes of Solomon display thematic connections or a similarity of milieu with John’s Gospel, but Ode 3 stands as an example of recapitulation by exegetical motif, a hymn reflecting on the love of Christ as displayed in John 14 and 15. Thus, much like the example from Ephrem, while there exists no clear quotation of John by the Odist, the evidence available suggests that the contents of Ode 3 demonstrate literary dependence on the Gospel of John.


[1] Charlesworth, Reflections, 234. See also Eduard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Matthew on Christian Literature before Irenaeus (trans. Neirynck; Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 210.

[2] McNeil, “odes,” 110-111.

[3] Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 19. See also Charlesworth, Critical, 234.

[4] ESV.

[5] John 14:21 Ὁ ἔχων τὰς ἐντολάς μου καὶ τηρῶν αὐτάς , ἐκεῖνός ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαπῶν με · ὁ δὲ ἀγαπῶν με , ἀγαπηθήσεται ὑπὸ τοῦ πατρός μου · καὶ ἐγὼ ἀγαπήσω αὐτόν , καὶ ἐμφανίσω αὐτῷ ἐμαυτόν . “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” ESV. ܠܐ ܓܝܪ ܝܕܥ ܗܘܝܬ ܠܡܪܗܡ ܠܡܪܝܐ ܃ ܀ ܐܠܘ ܗܘ ܠܐ ܪܚܡ ܗܘܐ ܠܝ ܂. “For I should not have known how to love the Lord, / If he had not continuously loved me.” Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 19, 20 n4. See also Robinson, Odes, 28 and 47 n3. Lattke, Commentary, 37.

[6] John 14:2-3 Ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ πατρός μου μοναὶ πολλαί εἰσιν · εἰ δὲ μή , εἶπον ἂν ὑμῖν · Πορεύομαι ἑτοιμάσαι τόπον ὑμῖν. Καὶ ἐὰν πορευθῶ καὶ ἑτοιμάσω ὑμῖν τόπον, πάλιν ἔρχομαι καὶ παραλήψομαι ὑμᾶς πρὸς ἐμαυτόν · ἵνα ὅπου εἰμὶ ἐγώ , καὶ ὑμεῖς ἦτε. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” ESV. ܘܘܘܘ ܡܚܒ ܐܢܐ ܠܪܚܝܡܐ ܘܪܚܡܐ ܠܗ ܢܦܫܝ ܃ ܀ ܘܐܝܟܐ ܕܢܝܚܗ ܐܦ ܐܢܐ ܐܝܬܝ. “I love the Beloved and I myself love Him, / And where His rest is, there also am I.” Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 19, 20 n8. Pierre also notes that the discussion of “belonging” in Ode 3.6 parallels John 1.10 (Pierre, Las Odes, 62.).

[7] Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 19.

[8] See Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 20 n10.

[9] Charlesworth, Reflections, 235. Also noteworthy, Pierre suggests that the idea of union with God through the spirit found in Ode 3.8 parallels John 3. See Pierre, Las Odes, 63.

[10] ܘܗܘ ܡܨܛܒܐ ܃ ܀ ܚܝܐ ܢܗܘܐ. “And he who delights in the Life / Will become living.” Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 19.

[11] John 11:25 Εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς , Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή · ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμέ , κἂν ἀποθάνῃ , ζήσεται. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” ESV. Lattke, Oden Salomos, 95. Charlesworth, Syriac Texts, 20 n12. Lattke, Commentary, 44.

[12] Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 19.

[13] John 14:17, 26. ESV.

[14] Lattke, Oden Salomos, 96. Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 20 n13. See also the Qumranic notion of amt rvch, especially of IQS 3.13-4.26.

Odes and John: General Connections

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

Drawing on this reevaluation of methodology for determining literary relationships in early Christian writings, I now trace the relationship between the Odes of Solomon 6, 8, and 3 and Gospel of John. Especially important are the connections between Ode 3 and the Upper Room Discourses of John 14 and 15, where verbal and thematic connections suggest the Ode’s literary dependence on the Fourth Gospel.

In Ode 6, there are several clear linguistic connections to the Fourth Gospel. First, Ode 6.8 references the Temple in a manner reminiscent of the Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan women in John 4.[1] Next, one encounters the especially Johannine expression “eternal life” (ζοή αιώνιος) in Ode 6.18.[2] Finally, there is a reference to “living water” in 6.18, the third parallel between this Ode and John 4.[3] While each of these three allusions standing alone would likely not suggest the literary connection of this Ode to John, the fact that multiple distinct allusions occur in the same Ode and come from the same narrative in John’s Gospel suggests something more than mere common milieu. While there is clearly more going on in this Ode than just reflection upon Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan Woman found in John 4, that narrative does seem to be influencing the language and theology of this particuar Ode. While the relationship between Ode 6 and John 4 is at least thematic parallelism,[4] the application of the methodological criteria of literary dependence (where attribution to John makes more sense than any other source) and exegetical motif (this Ode building on John 4) posit that the Odist knew and recast the language of John 4 in this passage.

Turning to Ode 8, one finds several references to John’s Gospel, though not from the same passage as in Ode 6. Numerous scholars have noted parallels between Ode 8.12-14 and John 10.14.[5] Ode 8.12-13 reads, “For I turn not my face from my own, / Because I know them. / And before they had existed, / I recognized them; / And imprinted a seal on their face.”[6] John 10.14 reads “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me….”[7] The common rejoinder to claims of literary connection between these two passages rests in the fact that they come from different contexts,[8] although the practice of transposing texts with one meaning and purpose into entirely different contexts is not unheard of in ancient literature.[9] Parallels have also been noted between Ode 8.9 and John 6.63,[10] Ode 8.19 and John 15.9f and/or 17.11f,[11] Ode 8.22 and John 15.9-10,[12] and assurance of answered prayer found in Ode 8.23 with John 17.9-11.[13] While these parallels do not neatly point to reliance upon a single Johannine passage, they nonetheless demonstrate the Odist’s consistent reliance upon Johannine theology and language, suggesting that Ode 8 also exhibits characteristics of literary dependence upon the Fourth Gospel. Thus, even a cursory look at Odes 6 and 8 demonstrates some level of literary connection exists between the Odes of Solomon and Fourth Gospel.


[1] Marie-Joseph Pierre, Les Odes de Salomon: Traduction, Introduction et notes par (Belique: Brepols, 1994), 71.

[2] ܛܘܒܝܗܘܢ ܗܟܝܠ ܠܡܫܡܫܢܗܝ ܕܗܘ ܡܫܬܝܐ ܃ ܝܗܒܘ ܚܝܠܐ ܘܢܘܗܪܐ ܠܥܝܢܝܗܢ ܗܠܠܘܝܐ  All Syriac texts are from the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon and James W. Bennett unless otherwise indicated. Lattke, Commentary, 43. This phrase occurs only a few times in the Odes, in 6.18; 9.4; 11.16; and 41.16.

[3] See especially John 4.10-11 (Ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ , Εἰ ᾔδεις τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ θεοῦ , καὶ τίς ἐστιν ὁ λέγων σοι , Δός μοι πιεῖν, σὺ ἂν ᾔτησας αὐτόν , καὶ ἔδωκεν ἄν σοι ὕδωρ ζῶν. Λέγει αὐτῷ ἡ γυνή, Κύριε , οὔτε ἄντλημα ἔχεις , καὶ τὸ φρέαρ ἐστὶν βαθύ · πόθεν οὖν ἔχεις τὸ ὕδωρ τὸ ζῶν;). Cross reference John 7.38; Revelation 7:17; 21:6; and 22:1, 17. Also, see Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 33 n24 on potential parallels between this passage and the Qumran Scrolls (IQH 8. 7, 16 and CD 19.34); Jubilees 24:19, 25; 1 Enoch 17:4; Ignatius’s Epistle to the Romans 7:2; and Didache 7:1-3.

[4] Charlesworth, Reflections, 237. There may also be reliance on another source, as Emerton argues (Emerton, “Notes,” 507-512).

[5] Lattke, Oden Salomos, 115. Charlesworth, Reflections, 238. Wilhelm Frankenberg, Das Verstandis der Oden Salomos (ZAW 21; Gießen: Topelman, 1911), 76. Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 44 n. 15.

[6] Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 42.

[7] Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός , καὶ γινώσκω τὰ ἐμά , καὶ γινώσκομαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐμῶν.

[8] Charlesworth, Reflections, 238.

[9] Charles E. Hill, “’In These Very Words’: Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century,” in The Early Text of the New Testament (ed.Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012),  261-81.

[10] Pierre, Las Odes, 78.

[11] Charlesworth, The Odes of Solomon: Edited with Translation and Notes, 44 n. 18.

[12] Lattke, Commentary, 127.

[13] Ibid., 128.

Odes and John: Determining Literary Dependence (Part 3)

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

Next, the implications of memory, especially cultural memory, must be further explored in thinking about early Christian writing and interpretation.[1] When considering instances of potential literary dependence, the chief question raised by consideration of memory is whether or not an author needs to have a text in front of them in order to be able to label their use of a text as literary dependence. Many Ignatian scholars, for instance, do not find it necessary to presume that the second century bishop of Antioch had immediate access to the sources he was citing in his letters.[2]

As an example, consider Ignatius’s Letter to Polycarp 2.2, where he writes “Be wise as a serpent in all things and always pure as the dove” (φροωιμος γνιοθ ως οφις εν απασιω και ακεραιος εις αει.).[3] While there is no marker of citation, this passage reads verbatim from Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Ἰδού, ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων · γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις , καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί.).[4] Ignatius and Matthew both wrote in prosaic Greek, suggesting that strong levels of verbal similarity should exist between these passages if Ignatius was relying upon Matthew. The slight modifications which Ignatius makes to this verse can easily be explained on the basis of his use of memory—he almost certainly did not carry a copy of the Gospel with him—and literary purposes, namely, this passages context of exhortation for Polycarp to avoid sinful things and seek eternal life. Thus, the application of contextual methodological criteria to Ignatius’s Letter to Polycarp and its relationship to the Gospel of Matthew indicates that in this instance he cited that Gospel, a conclusion which is widely affirmed by Ignatian scholars.[5]

The question for this study is how consistently this principle may be applied to the Odes. It is of course possible that the Odist had a non-canonical version of John in front of him as he wrote, or that he simply recalled the Gospel from another setting.[6] Such theories are increasingly speculative. Much more convincing is a methodology of literary dependence which takes into account the literary and theological contexts of first century Syria—including those of “rewritten Bible”[7]— and gives proper place to the modes of literary dependence which are less exact that contemporary Western academic preferences.

A final methodological point indicates that the purposes of a particular writing may impact the manner in which two texts are related. The Odes have long been posited as hymns for early Christian liturgical gatherings.[8] This being the case, they should be considered in light of other literature of similar period and purpose, where the modern distinction between writing and interpretation was not in place.[9] This is of critical importance when considering a document such as the Odes of Solomon, which appears to draw upon and recast numerous themes and frameworks of earlier writings. Especially important for properly understanding and interpreting literature of this type are “exegetical motifs.” In the words of James Kugel,

An exegetical motif is an explanation of a biblical verse (or phrase or word therein) that becomes the basis for some ancient writer’s expansion or other alteration of what Scripture actually says: in paraphrasing or summarizing Scripture, the ancient writer incorporates the exegetical motif in his retelling and in so doing adds some minor detail or otherwise deviates from mere repetition or restatement of the Bible.[10]

For writers employing exegetical motifs, while there is limited textual reference to a narrative or passage of scripture, the meaning evinced by these references plays an important role in the overall feel and meaning of text employing the motif. Additionally, there may be differences from an original source in the theology or meaning of the text employing an exegetical motif.[11]


[1] George J. Brooke, “Memory, Cultural Memory and Rewriting Scripture,” in Rewritten Bible after Fifty Years: Texts, Terms, or Techniques? A Last Dialogue with Geza Vermes (Supplements for the Study of Judaism 166; ed. Jozsef Zsengeller; Leiden: Brill, 2014), 119-136.

[2] William R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (ed. Helmut Koester; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 5. Corwin, Ignatius, 3. Prahlow, Discerning, 75 n25. Christine Trevett, “Approaching Matthew from the Second Century: The Under-Used Ignatius Correspondence,” JSNT 20 (1984), 59-67. Trevett lists thirty-six possible allusions and quotations to Matthew in Ignatius’s corpus, the most clear being Ephesians 5:3 (Matt. 18:19-20), Ephesians 16:2 (Matt. 3:12), Ephesians 17:1 (Matt. 26:6-13), Magnesians 10:1 (Matt. 5:13), Trallians 11:1 (Matt. 15:13), Philadelphians 3:1 (Matt. 15:13), Smyrneans 1 (Matt. 3:15), Smyrneans 6 (Matt. 19:12), Polycarp 1:3 (form of Isaiah 53:4 found only in Matt. 8:17), and Polycarp 2:2 (Matt. 10:16).

[3] Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers, Volume (The Leob Classical Library, LCL 24; ed. Jeffery Henderson; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 312-3.

[4] All Biblical passages are from the English Standard Version Bible (New York: Crossway, 2014) unless otherwise indicated. All Greek citations are from the public domain Robinson-Pierpoint Byzantine Textform 2005 and are cross-referenced with the Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition (ed. Kurt Aland et al; Westphalia: Deutsche BibelGesellschaft, 2011).

[5] Prahlow, Discerning, 75 n25. Scholars affirming this position include F. F. Bruce, Bruce Metzger, Eduoard Massaux, Raymond Brown, Virgina Corwin, Milton Brown, Derek Kruger, Allen Brent, Paul Foster, the Oxford committee on the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, Charles Thomas Brown, and W. D. Kohler.

[6] Brownson, “Odes,” 50. Brooke, “Memory,” 119-136.

[7] See Marko Marttila, Juha Pakkala, and Hanne von Weissenberg (eds), Changes in Scripture: Rewriting and Interpreting Authoritative Traditions in the Second Temple Period (Berlin: DeGruyter, 2011), especially pages 21-121.

[8] Charlesworth, Reflections, 21.

[9] Kugel, Traditions, 895.

[10] Ibid., 27.

[11] See also Julie Hughes’ distinction between verbal and interpretive parallels (Hughes, 52-54). In this model, exegetical motifs may display verbal similarities, interpretive similarities, or both.

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.

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.