Book review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Pt 1.
A review of Gordon D. Fee's Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2007)
(My sincere thanks to the kind folk at Hendrickson for a review copy)
Believe it or not, this impressive volume is the first serious scholarly attempt to grapple with Pauline Christology and so fills something of a surprising void in scholarship. It is thus a delight to review this major event in Pauline scholarship on my blog.
His important introduction sets forth his program, and will thus here be overviewed with necessary detail. He first defines his understanding of a study of Christology as a study of the person, not the work, of Christ. While he admits that Paul didn't divide matters like this, he insists that the approach that has sought to bridge the two, narrative Christology, fails to deal with Paul's christological presuppositions. He notes his appreciation of this approach in that his study will not be dominated by titles but still wants to 'look at Christology on its own right and not to have it overladen with soteriology' (2 n. 2). Noting further difficulties with his approach, he asserts that: 'Our christological task is to try to tease out what Paul himself understood presuppositionally about Christ, and to do so on the basis of his explicit and incidental references to Christ' (3-4). He further notes that 'we are seldom reading Paul's argued Christology, but rather his assumed Christology' (4). 'Our best hope for getting it right, as it were, is to focus on those kinds of statements that are repeated throughout the corpus in a variety of ways' (4). Hence, Fee wants his study to be primarily exegetical, as a narrative Christology can overlook what does not fit the prior construction of the narrative. But this is not simply another study of so-called christological titles; he also wants to respect 'the grammar of the theological discourse' as L. Keck has urged (5). This leads to his definition of Christology: 'So Christology in this study has to do with Paul's understanding of the person of Christ, as it emerges in his letters both in explicit statements about Christ and in other statements full of shared assumptions between him and his readers' (5). By Paul here, he means the canonical Paul. This usage of all of the canonical 'Pauline' letters will safeguard, he argues, from the circular reasoning involved in authenticity claims.
However, Fee is also clear about the problems involved in a study of Pauline Christology, namely the theological difficulty of asserting a high-Christology in light of Paul's monotheism. Particularly noteworthy, in this context, is his following claim:
'[T]he attempt to extract Christology from Paul's letters apart from soteriology is like asking a devout Jew of Paul's era to talk about God in the abstract, without mentioning his mighty deeds of creation and redemption. Although one theoretically may theologize on the character and "person" of God on the basis of the revelation to Moses on Sinai ..., a Jewish person of Paul's era would hardly imagine doing so. What can be known and said about God is embedded in the story in such a way that God's person can never be abstracted out of the story' (8).Furthermore, whatever else can be said in Paul one cannot so easily separate his Christology from his theology. Christology is, in other words, a focused theological concern (9). He concludes his approach:
'At issue in this book is the singular concern to investigate the Pauline data regarding the person of Christ in terms of whom Paul understood him to be and how he viewed the relationship between Christ, as the Son of God, and the one God, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (8).Rather surprisingly he continues to define a 'high' and a 'low' Christology entirely in terms of the question of pre-existence (9). In light of this he continues:
The first concern is to offer a close examination of the texts in the Pauline corpus that mention Christ ... Here the evidence seems conclusive that Paul belongs on the "high Christology" end of the spectrum.' (10)
It becomes clear that the question of pre-existence is one that will occupy much of Fee's analysis. Following this, Fee proceeds to detail what questions have busied scholars in the last century, namely the question of origins (Kramer, Bousset), titles (Cullmann), Wisdom Christology (Hengel), pre-existence (Dunn), conversion experience and Wisdom (Kim), and the divine identity and worship of Christ (Bauckham and Hurtado). Fee stated that he particularly wants to 'follow in the train' of Hurtado and Bauckham (15).
Fee then notes what he considers to be the basic matters of Pauline Christology. To do this he overviews the significance of three texts, 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17 and Phil 2:6-11 and asserts that 'these three primary christological texts have embedded in them all the key elements of that Christology' (20).
He completes this extensive introduction by analysing his claim that Paul knew and used the Septuagint in his letters, a matter of considerable importance as Fee hangs much of his christological claims on the kurios = Adonai = Yahweh logic in Paul's use of the Greek translation of Israel's scriptures. He asserts: 'Paul and his churches show evidence that a text very much like the Septuagint was in use in the Jewish Diaspora' (21 n. 48). Would Paul's readers have been aware of this usage? If Luke-Acts is anything to go by, one would surely expect familiarity with the Jewish scriptures amongst the Gentile Christian populace.
All of this sets the groundwork for his exegetical section. The final section is a synthesis of themes uncovered in the exegetical section.