Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Conclusion

After analyzing the major texts (Phil 2; 1 Cor 8; Col 1; Gal 4/Rom 8; 1 Cor 10), it is clear that Paul manifestly did present a pre-existence Christology. Firstly, there are a number of clear references to the idea within the undisputed Paulines and several appear within hymn or creedal-like material, which suggests that Paul was not inventing the concept, but was relying upon even earlier Christian tradition. The presuppositional nature of this is remarkable. Paul does not argue for it, but argues from it, as in Phil 2:6-11 (v. 4) and 1 Cor 10:4, 9 (v. 14). This is important, for it shows that Paul was not indulging in speculative theology for its own sake, but was acting as a pastoral theologian. This indicates that the idea of Christ’s pre-existence was already well known and considered authoritative, for otherwise his arguments would have carried no conviction. Apparently, ‘pre-existence’ was simply part of Paul’s and his readers’ symbolic universe.

Yet, this brings us to an important point. When constructing a Pauline perspective, are we to read the individual letters in the light of one another or in isolation? For example, Dunn isolates each text, and, by suggesting an alternative meaning to pre-existence for each, he is able to cast doubt on the whole concept. However, is this methodologically sound? Should a text which might assume pre-existence (2 Cor 8:9) be read in the light of a more explicit one (Phil 2:6-8)? How do we come to an authentically Pauline view? With due caution to preserve the integrity of each letter, my own view is that we must allow the more explicit references to aid us in our interpretation of those where assumptions and presuppositions are at work. Thus, when we employ a cumulative approach, both Dunn’s and Kuschel’s cases become increasingly improbable until eventually they collapse under the weight of evidence.

Moreover, although Dunn attributes Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence to Christ, this is unlikely. Firstly, I concur with Moo’s assessment that the presence of Wisdom in Paul has been “exaggerated”. There is little evidence for the concrete influence of Wisdom beyond 1 Cor 1-4 and often there are much closer parallels to hand (e.g., 1 Cor 10:4 and the ‘rock’ traditions). Further, we must judge what the application of a background tradition means in its new context, not assume its complete and immutable transfer. Thus, what pre-existence connotes must be determined by its Pauline uses, which are defined by the person of Jesus Christ. As Gathercole observes,

“Just as the New Testament identifies the risen and exalted Lord with the Jesus who was born, lived and died, so also the New Testament identified this one who was put to death and exalted with the one through whom all things were made.”

In other words, we have in view the personal continuity of the eternally pre-existent one, through whom all things were created, who existed in the form of God and was equal with God, was active in Israel’s history, but choose to empty himself, to become incarnate in accordance with the Father’s will, sent in order to redeem fallen humanity. Therefore, although Paul provides us with very little in terms of quantity on Christ’s personal pre-existence, to reject it and thus his pre-temporal relationship with his Father, gravely erodes the extremity of divine love which lies at the heart of Paul’s proclamation. At stake is nothing less than the image of the Christian God who was manifested in Christ to reach out to the world at great cost and risk in love (see Rom 8:32, 39).

Series Link.


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One Response to “Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Conclusion”

  1. Pre-existence of the Son of God in Paul? Series Link « Introspective Cogitations Says:

    […] Introspective Cogitations 2 Cor. 13:5 "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves." « Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Conclusion […]

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