Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

Pre-existence of the Son of God in Paul? Series Link

November 6, 2010

Phil 2;
1 Cor 8;
Col 1;
Gal 4/Rom 8;
1 Cor 10;

Complete pdf file with notes and bibliography.


Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Conclusion

November 6, 2010

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.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? 1 Cor 10

November 5, 2010

1 Cor: 10:1-14: I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.

As our last little exegetical post, we’re going to look at “the rock was Christ”. Dunn states baldly that “There is no evidence that any NT writer thought of Jesus as actually present in Israel’s past”. This is incorrect with respect to the NT as a whole (e.g., John 12:41; Isa 6:10), and probably also with regard to the Pauline materials. In 1 Cor 10 Paul relates the OT story of the Israelites in the wilderness to the Corinthians’ own story. According to Dunn, in 1 Cor 10:1-4 Paul was using “a sort of allegory to warn his readers”: the ‘fathers’ experienced a type of baptism and Lord’s supper, and drank water from the spiritual rock which ‘followed them’, and to make the correspondence complete, Paul identifies this rock – ‘the rock was Christ’. Nonetheless, despite such blessings, they suffered a dreadful end and the Corinthians’ dallying with paganism was putting them in danger of befalling a similar  fate. Thus, in this type of allegorical reading there is no thought of the pre-existent Christ as actually active in Israel’s history. Paul was simply doing something similar to Philo who identified the rock allegorically as Wisdom (Leg. All. 2.86). Thus, Kuschel comments that, “just as the fathers once had a ‘spiritual rock’ which constantly went with them, so too the Christians today have such a rock in Christ.” On this basis, we should not press the metaphors and imagery for historical or doctrinal insights. In addition, Dunn notes the past tense (ἦν), and suggests that if Paul intended a “historical rather than a typological equation”, then, as in 8:6, it is Wisdom’s role which is being attributed to Christ (cf. Wis 11:4).

However, this interpretation is open to question. Firstly, my earlier critique of Dunn’s method of attributing personified Wisdom to Christ equally applies here. Moreover, rather than rock = Wisdom = Christ, it is more likely that Paul made the direct association of Christ with the ‘rock’ traditions, which are often linked to God’s redemptive actions (the ‘rock of salvation’, ‘my rock and my redeemer’; Ps 19:14 etc.). Thus, as it would have been natural to think of God’s greatest redemptive work in Christ, Paul may have shifted ‘rock’ from God to Christ, just as he had done with ‘Lord’. Further, as the ‘following rock’ emphasized God’s continuing graciousness, and Christ is the source of every spiritual gift (1:4-7), then as the instrument of creation (8:6) it would only be a short step also to see Christ as the source of the spiritual food and water that nourished Israel in the wilderness. Secondly, Paul is not allegorizing here, but employing typology (10:6; τύποι). As Thiselton explains, typology “is grounded in history and presupposes corresponding events”, whereas allegory “is grounded in a linguistic system of signs or semiotic codes and presupposes resonances or parallels between ideas or semiotic meanings.” In 10:4, Paul appears to make a historical reference, for if he were allegorizing he would say that the rock is Christ, instead he says that the rock was Christ. This must be granted its full weight, for it places Christ “back there” in Israel’s history rather than in the “here and now.” This is corroborated by 10:9, which states that the Israelites also ‘put Christ to the test’. Therefore, Paul wrote that ‘the rock was Christ’ in order to emphasize the typological character of Israel’s experience, stressing the historical continuity between Israel and the Corinthians. Thereby, he warned the Corinthians of the dangers which their flirtation with paganism entailed, for the same Christ who nourished both them and Israel, would also bring down judgment on them too if they continued to court idolatry. Although it would be wise not to press or over-literalize the reference to Christ as the rock, Fee seems correct that the argument does appear to reflect “not just analogies but, from Paul’s perspective, actualities… [For] it is precisely the presence of Christ in Israel’s story that will make all of this work as a warning to the Corinthians.” With the appropriate caution in dealing with these sorts of statements, the past tense and the reference to putting Christ to the test seem to indicate that Paul really did think of Christ as pre-existent and in some sense present in the OT events, not simply there in a purely figurative way.

Up next: Summation. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Gal 4 & Rom 8

November 2, 2010

Gal 4:4-7: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

It is often argued that ‘God sent his Son’ (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3; cf. John 3:17; 1 John 4:9, 10, 14) recalls an early Christian confession about the pre-existent Son being sent from heaven to earth. However, as Dunn argues, it would be wrong to read later Johannine theology into these Pauline statements, for not only are the ‘sending’ verbs different, but if Paul had intended to imply the incarnation of a pre-existent being “he would have been taking a radically new step…[and] we would have expected his earliest recorded intimation of it to be a much more explicit and careful exposition”. Further, Dunn argues that this sending language is due to Jesus being thought of as God’s son and of his commissioning in the manner of the prophetic tradition. In particular, he suggests that the origin of the specific wording is drawn from the parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12. The motif may well have its roots in Jesus’ parable, but with respect to Gal 4, as Marshall objects, the additional qualifying clause ‘born of a woman’ “suggests a different ‘field of meaning’ for ‘sent’ from that in Mark 12:6.” Yet, as Dunn states, ‘born of a woman’ does not refer to a heavenly being who is born as a human, but was a familiar Jewish phrase denoting ‘man’, who is “by definition ‘one who is/has been born of a woman’. So the reference is simply to Jesus’ ordinary humanness, not to his birth.” Moreover, Dunn retorts that if a different field of meaning is sought, it lies in Adam Christology. Thus, ‘born of woman, born under the law’ indicates that Jesus wholly shared the lot of fallen Adam in order to redeem and “to recover for the ‘sons of Adam’ the status of ‘sons of God’ (cf. Luke iii.38).” Indeed, the whole focus of Gal 4:4-7 is soteriological. Thus, according to Dunn, we should not conclude that Paul believed in the real pre-existence of Christ.

This position has not gone unchallenged. Firstly, although Dunn correctly notes that the verb ἐξαποστέλλω does not necessarily connote the ‘sending forth’ of a heavenly being, he treats it as if it probably does not. Fee argues that it cannot mean ‘commissioning’ in this context, for it is deliberately paralleled to the ‘sending forth’ of the Spirit. Indeed, Dunn inadequately deals with the implications of this double sending for the Son’s identity even though he also recognizes the ‘Father, Son, Spirit’ structure of 4:4-7. Secondly, although ‘born of a woman’ may connote ordinary humanity, Paul uses the participle γενόμενος (‘having come to be’) rather than γεvvwμενος, the ordinary verb for “birth”, which he does use when he later refers to Ishmael’s birth (4:23, 24, 29). Thus, in Dunn’s analysis ‘born of a woman’ is a redundant phrase which Paul does not pick up again, whereas, as Fee notes, the fact that it is used to emphasize “the Son’s human condition seems to suggest that the sending word presupposes a prior existence that was not human.” Overall, while the passage is primarily soteriological, it might well assume the prior existence of the Son before he becomes human, but what tips the balance is the same formula in Rom 8:3.

Rom 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: (literally) God’s own Son sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh

Dunn and Kuschel treat Rom 8:3b (ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας) similarly to Gal 4:4, missing some significant differences (see esp. Aletti’s analysis, with which I basically concur and am following here). Firstly, as Aletti notes, the reflexive ἑαυτοῦ, “highlights the being-son of the Son”, indicating that the Son is unique and not to be “confused with any other being”. This suggests a pre-existing relationship, for by placing ‘God’ and ‘Son’ together before the participle πέμψας, “the sonship of the Son is literally affirmed before mention is made of his being sent for our salvation. In other words, it is not the sending which determines the being-son of the Son.” Further, although Dunn asserts that ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ “probably has the same function in Rom. 8.3f as the phrase ‘born of woman, born under the law’ had in Gal. 4.4f”, this does not follow, for ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ follows ‘sent’, not ‘Son’. Thus, “Against Dunn, we must also maintain that ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ constitutes a modality of the sending by God and not primarily a component of the becoming-son of the Son.” As such, the most natural way to read the phrase is “as indicating the consequence of the sending for the One sent, namely, that he comes to have a human existence”. Therefore, prophetic commissioning will not suffice in this context, for Paul’s precise wording does seem to entail “the Son’s preexistence as he articulates his message of what this divine Son has done for us by becoming a man and suffering death on our account.”

Up next: 1 Cor 10: 4, 9. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Col 1

October 29, 2010

Col 1:13-20: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Christology is a major concern of Colossians. The Colossians’ fascination with or perhaps anxiety over ‘the powers’ was threatening to dethrone Christ as Lord of all. Thus, the letter was written to put ‘the powers’ in proper perspective and to argue for Christ’s absolute supremacy. A christological high point is found in the hymn-like passage 1:15-20, which looks like a further elaboration of the content of 1 Cor 8:6b: vv. 15-17 expands ‘through whom all things’, while vv. 18-20 elaborates on ‘we through him’. The basic movement of the passage is fairly clear. As Dunn notes, “from Christ’s (pre-existent) role in creation (first strophe) to his role in redemption (second strophe), from his relationship with the old creation (protology) to his relationship with the new (eschatology).” Indeed, although the hymn praises the exalted Son, the phrases ‘in him’ and ‘through him’ (1:16) leave “little doubt that a role in the original creation of the cosmos is attributed to God’s Son”. However, Dunn objects to reading this “imaginative metaphor in a pedantically literal way”, for assigning a real role in creation to the pre-existent Christ would constitute ditheism in his view. Instead,

“It must mean rather that the powerful action of God, expressed by the metaphor of the female Wisdom, in and through whom the universe came into being, is now to be seen as embodied in Christ, its character now made clear by the light of his cross and resurrection (1:18, 20).”

Again, according to Dunn’s construal, it is only Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence which is attributed to the Son. Yet, this suffers the same problems as his earlier analysis of 1 Cor 8:6 regarding both what constituted monotheism and how wisdom traditions may be applied to new situations. For instance, responding to Dunn, Schnabel states that “Paul asserts in Col. 1:16a that the act of creation (aorist ektisthē) depended causally on Christ—an assertion which does not make sense if Christ was not present at creation.” In other words, 1:16 entails the personal agency of the pre-existent Son. Thus, a solely, ideal pre-existence is inadequate. This is corroborated by the statement that the Son is ‘before all things’ (1:17), which connotes temporal priority to creation as well as pre-eminence over it. Further, a good case can be made that Wisdom is not in view in this passage either, for as Dunn acknowledges, εἰς (1:16; final causation) is not applied to wisdom in the tradition and so his straightforward identification of Christ with Wisdom is somewhat fragile. In fact, ties to Israel’s story of covenant and redemption are both explicit and closer than the alleged allusions to wisdom traditions. For example, ‘image of the invisible God’ picks up Gen 1: “The pre-existent lord of the world has become the human lord of the world, and in so doing has reflected fully… the God whose human image he has now come to bear.” (Wright) Further, as Keay argues, while ‘firstborn’ can refer to birth order, as Israel’s covenantal history progresses this meaning fades in significance, while the sense of ‘birth right’ which emphasizes special status, gains in importance. Eventually, this would centre on the promised Davidic king, so that in Col 1 we should understand ‘firstborn’ to connote a special kind of pre-eminence: messianic pre-eminence. Finally, the Son also holds all things together (1:17). Thus, in order to highlight Christ’s supremacy, Col 1:15-20 emphasizes that the Son is the eternal, pre-existent creator, the incarnate, messianic redeemer, and the sustainer of the universe. As such, the overall result is a letter in which Christ, the Son of God and exalted Lord, is absolutely preeminent – past, present, and future. And it is this pre-existent Son who was sent to rescue fallen humanity.

Up next: Gal 4:4-6; Rom 8:3-4. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? 1 Cor 8

October 27, 2010

1 Cor 8:4-6: Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth– as in fact there are many gods and many lords– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

As we saw in Phil 2, Christ’s pre-existence is both real and personal, and includes equality with God. However, other texts add a new dimension to this pre-existence. Although, conceivably, Christ might have pre-existed as an angel or some other intermediary figure who later took on human form, texts such as 1 Cor 8:6 and Col 1:15-20 assert that ‘all things’ came into being through him (cf. Heb 1:2; John 1:3), which entails that he was therefore uncreated and, hence, eternally pre-existent. In 1 Cor 8-10, Paul has provided the Corinthians with a christological centre on which to base their beliefs and actions within a pagan world. Within this explicitly monotheistic argument Paul modifies the Shema (1 Cor 8:6, cf. Deut 6:4: The Lord our God, the Lord is one), glossing ‘God’ with ‘the Father’ and ‘Lord’ with ‘Jesus Christ’. Thus, Paul declared both the Father and the Son as intrinsic to the divine identity (i.e., who God is), and redefined Jewish monotheism as “christological monotheism”. To reinforce his argument, Paul also splits a familiar statement about God’s all-encompassing work of creation between Father and Son (cf. Rom 11:36a “all things are from, through, and for God”). There was no more unequivocal way to characterize God’s unique identity than to describe him as the creator of all. Thus, to speak of Christ as the instrumental cause of creation (δἰ οὗ τὰ πάντα), not only confirms his divine identity but also affirms his eternal pre-existence. Importantly, Paul does not argue for this but uses it as a position to argue from, which demonstrates as Fee notes, “that it can scarcely be other than the common stock of early Christian belief.” Nonetheless, there have been a number of objections to this conclusion.

Firstly, Kuschel argues that ‘all things’ does not refer to the totality of creation, but only to the new creation. Thus, Christ as the exalted lord is the one through whom the new creation was brought into being. Consequently, there can be no question of pre-existence. Yet, ‘all things from, through, and for’ was familiar God-talk and there is no evidence that Paul means anything less than Jewish writers normally meant by this phrase. Moreover, although by comparison with Rom 11:36 only one of the three prepositions is applied to Christ, “this does not mean that they no longer all describe the Creator’s relationship to the whole of creation. On the contrary, it means precisely that Christ is included in this relationship as the instrumental cause of creation.” (Bauckham)

Secondly, Giblin also denies pre-existence is connoted by ‘through whom are all things’ by arguing that it has a solely soteriological function. However, his interpretation is dependent on denying any connection to the similar phrase in Rom 11:36, and this is not convincing. Indeed, in 1 Cor 8:6b, ἡμεῖς δἰ αὐτοῦ is used to emphasize Christ’s redemptive role. Thus, both Christ’s creational and salvific roles are incorporated into Paul’s Christianized Shema.

Finally, Dunn says that there is pre-existence in view in 1 Cor 8:6, “But it is the preexistence of divine Wisdom. That is, the preexistence of God.” Thus, it is “not so much that Christ as Jesus of Nazareth had preexisted as such, but that preexistent Wisdom was now to be recognized in and as Christ.” So Christ is not the real and personal, pre-existent agent of creation, rather, he may be assigned only Wisdom’s ideal pre-existence. However, this is both artificial and improbable. As Hurtado responds “The problem with this is that it is not what the Pauline passage says.” Firstly, it is debatable that Wisdom is even in view here, for διά is never used to describe her role in creation. Further, whatever background traditions are drawn upon, we must allow for their adaption when applied to new situations. Thus, unlike Wisdom, since Christ is a person, his personal preexistence is presupposed. In fact, it seems certain that Christ’s pre-existence must be real and personal, for the same preposition is used to describe both his historical work of salvation and his role in creation (δἰ οὗ; δἰ αὐτοῦ). Therefore, although Dunn recognizes “conceptuality in transition”, he does appear to apply it inadequately on this issue. Indeed, Christ’s sharing in God’s eternal transcendence as the pre-existent agent of creation is even more explicit and apparent in Col 1:15-17.

Up next: Col 1. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul? Phil 2

October 26, 2010

Phil 2:5-11: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For many, the only proper place to start this discussion is Phil 2:6-11, which is the scene of the most intense fighting over the question of pre-existence in Paul, especially 2:6-8. As Dunn observes, “Phil 2.6-11 certainly seems on the face of it to be a straightforward statement contrasting Christ’s pre-existent glory and post-crucifixion exaltation with his earthly humiliation.” Yet, he and others argue that this natural reading is in fact mistaken and that pre-existence has been read into the hymn by its subsequent interpreters. The most convincing argument for a purely human Christ is one which contends that Adam-theology is the hymn’s context: that the self-sacrifice of the human Jesus is contrasted with the Genesis story of Adam’s hubris in grasping at divinity. Like Adam, Christ was in the form/image of God, but instead of choosing to grasp at equality or likeness to God, Christ emptied himself, freely receiving the form of a slave (i.e. Adam’s condition after the fall), and became in the likeness of men who are now subject and enslaved to sin and corruption. Thus, Christ humbled himself, choosing “to embrace Adam’s lot, the fate which Adam had suffered by way of punishment”, being obedient even unto death. Therefore, in contrast to Adam’s condemnation and disgrace, God exalted Christ to cosmic lordship, which fulfils the destiny God had always intended for humanity. Thus, according to Dunn, it follows that “If Christ walks in Adam’s footsteps then Christ need be no more pre-existent than Adam.” Indeed, the very notion of pre-existence is more a “distraction than a help to interpretation.” However, this construal is riddled with difficulties.

As Dunn admits, his interpretation is “not immediately obvious.” In fact, “No mention is made of Adam” and his case is entirely based on “the recognition of allusions to Adam”. Thus, firstly, showing that μορφή and εἰκών are “near synonyms” is insufficient to demonstrate that ‘form of God’ is intended to refer to Adam as in the ‘image of God’. As Hurtado makes clear, the issue is whether “the specific expression en morphē theou is actually used interchangeably with eikōn theou in Greek texts.” And while ‘image of God’ is consistently used by subsequent writers to allude to this idea, “By contrast, morphē theou is never used anywhere in any allusion to Adam… [nor] in any other pre-Pauline Greek writing.” Dunn’s attempt to surmount this linguistic difficulty by appealing to poetic allusion will not do, for how could this be caught as an allusion, when even the prepositions of Gen 1:26 and Phil 2:6 are different (κατά; ἐν)? Secondly, for a purely human Christ, τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ must connote something which neither Adam nor Christ possessed, but at which Adam grasped (ἁρπαγμός), while Christ did not. However, as Wright points out, this is unlikely, for τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ must be held “in close connection with ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων [which] is the regular usage of the articular infinitive (here, τὸ εἶναι) to refer to ‘something previously mentioned or otherwise well known’.” Thus, as they function in a “nearly appositional way”, Christ already possesses equality with God. Furthermore, although “ἁρπαγμός” has been much debated, a growing consensus has emerged around Hoover and Wright’s analysis, which treats οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο as an idiomatic expression which refers to “the attitude one will take towards something which one already has… specifically, to the question of whether that attitude will or will not consist in taking advantage of this possessed object.”

Therefore, in this case, 2:6 indicates that Christ already possessed divine equality but refused to take advantage of it, thus affirming both his divinity and his attitude toward it. On this basis, 2:7 (‘but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness’) must be interpreted as the pre-existent Son choosing to become incarnate. Thus, as ‘emptying’ is the consequence of Christ’s free choice, it is also the crucial factor marking off a pre-existence that is truly personal from one that simply amounts to being elected, with respect to role and destiny, in the mind or purpose of God. Furthermore, the dramatic sequence of Christ ‘being in God’s form’ to ‘having taken a slave’s form’ does clearly seem to imply in this context the transition from one state (divine pre-existence) to another (human existence). Dunn recognizes this problem and argues that taking a slave’s form reflects Christ’s entire life, but this blurs the clear-cut nature of the exchange and the three aorist participles make this intrinsically unlikely. A traditional three-stage Christology (form of God, form of slave, exaltation) makes the best sense of the hymn. It is unnecessary to rule out completely any echo of Adam grasping at that to which he had no right by contrast with the humble Christ who refused to exploit what was already his. However, using an Adamic framework as an interpretive straightjacket to deny pre-existence, in the end, seems untenable. Dunn himself even admits that it is possible to conclude there is an allusion here to Adam without that ruling out pre-existence. Overall, in contrast to oriental despots, the pre-existent one who became known as Jesus understood his divine equality, not as something to exploit, but as involving self-negation even to the point of redemptive suffering and death. His humility thus serves as the supreme example for the squabbling Philippians to follow (2:1-4).

Next up: 1 Cor 8:4-6. Series Link.

Pre-existence of the Son in Paul?

October 25, 2010

Mark Goodacre’s latest NT Podcast fairly and succinctly argues that Paul did believe in the pre-existence of Jesus the Son of God. However, while scholars tend to agree that the attribution of a full-blown notion of pre-existence to Christ is found in the later Johannine literature, there is far less consensus with respect to Paul. Indeed, with the greater interest in all things christological in recent years, the denial of a Pauline doctrine of pre-existence by Kuschel and others has become something of a flashpoint in contemporary discussions of Pauline Christology.

Moreover, this division is compounded because the historical question of what exactly the ‘pre-existence of Christ’ connotes, elicits no simple answer. For example, at one end of the spectrum, Kuschel and Dunn (who must be major conversations partners in this discussion) argue that only an ‘ideal’ pre-existence is attributed to Christ by Paul; something similar to the ‘pre-existence’ of Wisdom or of the Torah in later rabbinic thought. However, while this ‘ideal’ pre-existence is essentially the same as divine foreknowledge or predestination, it is in stark contrast to the traditional Christian view of Christ’s ‘real’ pre-existence: the belief that the one subsequently known as Jesus Christ somehow had a personal history with God prior to his human life. In fact, its denial has prompted several robust responses for it seems to stab at the very heart of the Christian doctrines of Christ’s deity, incarnation and his redemptive actions, in which the pre-existent Son embarks from heaven on a mission to rescue fallen humanity. Just as sheer indulgence, I’m going to blog some musings this week on the focal points in the debate – those texts which garner the most support for a Pauline doctrine of real pre-existence, namely: Phil 2:6-8; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17; Gal 4:4; Rom 8:3; 1 Cor 10:4, 9.

Series Link.

I.C.’s Guide to… Why Paul Wrote Romans

August 20, 2010

In honour of JohnDave, who recently suffered the excruciating agonies of being compelled to choose a course on either Christology or Romans, I thought I’d carve out a mini-guide as to why Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans. (This “I.C. Guide to…” assumes that someone has read the letter).

Romans has been interpreted in many different ways, among others: as a theological treatise primarily concerned with justification by faith, or; as Paul’s ‘last will and testament’, or; as a road map for gaining salvation. Nonetheless, the clue is in the title – it’s a letter written by Paul with specific recipients in mind – the Christians in the city of Rome. Consequently, the most likely reasons that Romans was written will lie in a combination of these factors. The spectrum of scholarly answers is due to which one is stressed. This mini-guide will attempt to unravel the enigma.

Romans was written because of the nature of Paul’s own circumstances

It seems that Paul wrote Romans in approximately AD57 during his three-month stay in Corinth at the end of some 20-25 years of missionary work in the east (cp. Acts 20 with Rom 15:25; 16:1-2). In fact, having preached ‘from Jerusalem as far round as Illyricum’ (Rom 15:19), Paul is now setting out on a new phase of his ministry and intends to turn his attention to fresh mission fields ripe for harvest in the west, namely Spain (15:24). Paul remains a Jew, but his understanding of God is now refracted through the Christ-event. He hasn’t left his old religion behind and found a new one. Rather, he has found the final expression of the faith into which he was born. Many scholars argue that Paul wrote Romans primarily in the light of his own situation and these interpretations may be helpfully categorised according to a location-focused agenda.

  • Spain – perhaps Paul wrote Romans because of his intended mission there. Rome would be a perfect base for such an operation – a place in which he could receive both spiritual and material blessings (15:24, 29). So Paul wrote to the Roman Christians to enlist their help and support. Thus, writing to a group of Roman house-churches which he didn’t found, he sets out his credentials and introduces both himself and his gospel. Maybe he is even demonstrating his ‘orthodoxy’, to show he is worthy of their support. Nonetheless, if this is why he wrote, why does he not further elaborate on his proposed mission? Should we not have expected this to have greater emphasis in the letter? Moreover, it does little to explain why Paul appears so concerned with the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) in the purposes of God. On its own, this interpretation doesn’t seem fully satisfactory
  • Galatia – perhaps Paul wrote Romans due to his experiences of the calumny at Corinth and Galatia (e.g., read Gal 2). When the dust had settled and the heat of the moment no longer forced him into polemical corners, Romans sets out his calmer reflections. While there is certainly truth in this, why send these reflections to the Roman Christians? This alone does not seem a sufficient reason for why Paul wrote Romans.
  • Jerusalem – perhaps Paul wrote Romans because of his impending visit to the home of the Christian movement. It is obvious that he writes with some apprehension about this visit (15:30-32), for his mission up to this point had been greatly marred by an increasingly tense relationship with the Jerusalem church. On this visit he intended to deliver a collection gathered from his Gentile converts, which he desperately hoped would be ‘acceptable to the saints’. Paul knew it would not just provide material support but that it resonated with powerful symbolism, for to accept the money would be to endorse the Gentile mission and the unity of the church. Crucially, this would involve acknowledging Paul’s work and its basis: the Law-free gospel. Thus, the primary content of Romans (1:18-11:36) is his “collection speech”, or more precisely, the defence which Paul planned to give before the church leaders in Jerusalem. Therefore, Paul writes to the Romans not only as a kind of dress rehearsal, but because he wants their support in Jerusalem. However, Paul writes as if he is just about to leave for Jerusalem, which makes it unlikely that any supporters from Rome could have arrived in time. Further, there is much in the letter that would not play well in Jerusalem, such as the olive tree metaphor or Paul’s definition of, and identification with ‘the strong’. Jerusalem clearly loomed large in Paul’s mind as he wrote, but there’s nothing to suggest its primacy. Moreover, one might think that Paul’s desire to visit Rome has something to do with his reason for writing.

Romans was written to address a specific situation in the Roman church

Condensed and Basic Historical Background Information:

– The followers of Jesus naturally tended to begin spreading the good news among their fellow Jews in the synagogues (Acts 13:42-44; 14:1-6).
– Christianity arose out of a very loosely structured Judaism. It’s more than likely that the existence of newly converted Christians alongside the traditional members of the synagogue led to tensions and disputes.
– As is generally accepted, the reference by the Roman writer Suetonius to disturbances within the Jewish community in Rome because of ‘Chrestus’ (Latin), was likely a misconstrual of ‘Christos’ (Greek for ‘Christ’; the vowel sounds similar). For this to have been serious enough to warrant the attention of the authorities, we might need to envisage a sizeable number of Christians. Moreover, to outsiders this disturbance looked like a very Jewish affair.
– Consequently, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome around AD49, which must have led to a very different Christian community (all the Christian-Jews were gone). Those left were presumably the former ‘God-fearers.’ These were Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism and attached themselves to synagogue congregations with varying degrees of adherence. It’s quite possible that a form of Judaism with less emphasis on the particularly ‘ethnic’ aspects would likely have been attractive to these God-fearers (circumcision was seen as disfigurement to the Greek).
– Thus, given the social pressures within pagan Rome (anti-semitic), the Gentile-Christian community that was left would likely have distanced itself from the Jewish law and used the period of Jewish expulsion to articulate their identity in non-Jewish terms.
– Presumably, anyone else converted to Christianity during the expulsion was also Gentile.
– Even with the gradual moderation of the eviction edict which began permitting Jews to return to Rome (according to Wiefel’s understanding of Dio Cassius, Romana 60.6.6), synagogues were still prohibited for some time. As such, even Christians would have needed to develop new organisational forms. These resulted in the semi-legal house-churches. Importantly, this indicates that Christians could only assemble in Rome, if they as a group had broken ties with the synagogue. With the lapse of the full expulsion edict on Claudius’ death, the returning Christian-Jews who had been members of the synagogues found themselves faced with a Christian congregation that was totally new, both structurally and spiritually. Thus, it is into this situation that Paul wrote: a group which was predominantly Gentile with a minority of Christian-Jews; a minority that would have felt distinctly uncomfortable, for their ties with the Jewish community must have become virtually impossible to maintain in the light of their Gentile counterparts’ Law-free attitude.

If this historical reconstruction is plausible, the primary reason that Paul wrote Romans would be to provide counsel on the particular and difficult scenario created by Jewish- and Gentile-Christian relationships in Rome. The details of the letter seem to bear this out.

Paul appears to be addressing a congregation that he considers to be generally Gentile in complexion (1:5-6, 13-15; 11:13-22; 15:7-22). In addition, particularly in Chapters 12-15, there appears to be evidence of discord among the community very roughly reflecting a Jew-Gentile split. Given the historical situation we’ve sketched out, it wouldn’t be surprising if there had been friction over questions such as status, leadership and Torah observance. If Paul knew of this split, he may well have felt the need to explain the basis of membership within the people of God.

God’s righteousness demanded that the covenant be kept regardless of the faithlessness of Israel, and that through Christ, Israel’s representative, God had upheld his side of the bargain. Consequently, all those who have faith in Christ are declared righteous (chaps. 1-4). Yet, although membership within the people of God is on the basis of faith in Christ not on carrying out the ethnic aspects of Torah, ‘law-free’ does not mean ‘all is lawful’. Thus, Paul feels the need to write about leading a virtuous ‘life in the Spirit’ (chaps. 5-8). Paul’s great emphasis on glorifying the virtues of Israel in chaps. 9-11, might well suggest that there was actually Gentile prejudice towards the Jews among the Roman Christians. Anti-Semitism was already rife at that time, and Paul wishes to make sure that the Gentile Christians do not display such an attitude (11:17-18; the olive tree metaphor seems designed to warn against any notion of Gentile superiority). Indeed, there is a sense in which Chapters 1-11 set up the general frame of reference within which specific problems may be addressed (chaps. 12-15).

Further, 13:1-7 is a reference to the unrest over indirect-taxation. Under the circumstances, Paul cautions against drawing any unwise attention to the Christian community, simply ‘pay your taxes’ and submit to the governing authority. Also, in dealing with the ‘strong and the weak’ it would appear that Paul is trying to give advice to a Gentile majority, on how they should properly respect the sensitivities of their Jewish brethren in matters of table fellowship. As Kasemann observes, ‘it should not be overlooked that the discussion in 15:7ff leads on to the theme of the unity of Christians as composed of both Jews and Gentiles. These are the components of a reality which may with great caution be postulated as that of the Roman community.’ Finally, all of Rom 15 emphasises Christian unity in worship, ‘together’ in ‘one voice’.

There seems no reason why Paul could not have been well-informed of the circumstances in Rome given that it only took 7-8 days in good weather to send mail from Rome to Corinth. And if Rom 16 is original, it is impressive evidence that Paul’s lines of communication were functioning well.


Our historical sketch coheres well with what we find in the letter. As such, Paul appears to have been very well-informed about the situation in Rome and wrote accordingly. He provides not only practical advice on diet, but on relationships and how to live together in Christian unity – for the separated house-churches to ‘greet’ one another (Rom 16). [I don’t think I’ve fallen victim to the circular-reasoning of drawing inferences and then using them to understand the text.] During the absence of Christian-Jews in Rome, the Gentiles’ dominance seemed to have led them to a feeling of superiority both to them, and more generally, all things Jewish. Thus, Paul wishes to make sure that when Christians-Jews return from expulsion to Rome, the church will be a place for all believers. Summed up in 15:7, ‘Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.’ It seems that Paul was faced in Rome with the mirror opposite problem of that in Antioch. He wrote to correct any Gentile-Christian notion of superiority, without providing any opportunity for a corresponding Jewish-Christian superiority to fill its place.

Nonetheless, a balanced perspective would suggest that the historical situation among the Roman Christians does not alone account for what Paul wrote. His own situation matters too. Paul feels pastorally responsible for the Roman Christians as their apostle – the apostle to the Gentiles (1:11-13). It is fitting that he should associate with them and that his letter would function as his introduction to a church he did not found but has wanted to visit for some years to which he has some spiritual gift to impart. But it’s clear that he has in mind his own mission to Spain too, which he obviously hopes will be aided by the Roman church. Paul’s ‘missionary strategy’ must not be endangered by any discord among the Christian house-churches, or general sidelining of Christian-Jews. Moreover, it shouldn’t surprise us if Paul wrote with his trip to Jerusalem in view as well, reflecting the stresses under which he currently strained. In fact, the presentation of the collection brought several issues to a head: how do Jews and Gentiles fit into the purposes of God? How do they relate to one another, and to Israel’s heritage? Thus, in asking for the Romans’ prayers, he forced them to address these issues, to which his letter was supposed to provide the answers.

Paul was desperately keen to promote Christian unity, and the views he gives on the ‘big’ issues (chaps. 1-11), arise out of his past experiences and his knowledge of the particular situation in Rome. There is no single reason for why Paul wrote Romans, whether missionary, pastoral, or based purely on his own circumstances – there are many reasons, which hang together and reinforce one another. To choose between either Paul’s situation or that of the Roman church is to create a false dichotomy that only serves to distort why Paul wrote. Doubtless he wrote to an actual situation in Rome, but as Moo puts it, ‘these issues are ultimately those of the church–and of the world–of all ages.’
Rict Text File for this I.C. Guide to…

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