Wednesday, July 25, 2007

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.

Fee's introduction

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.

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At 7/26/2007 9:39 PM, Anonymous Brandon Jones said...


I'm looking forward to this review. Perhaps Fee will get on my good side again.

At 7/26/2007 11:24 PM, Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

Likewise looking forward to this. I hope you will comment on Fee's ruling Wisdom christology out of the mix, and what you think of that.

At 7/27/2007 12:51 AM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...

I had to spend like $23 on my copy -- how do I go about getting review copies for free? Did you win a raffle or something?

At 7/27/2007 3:32 AM, Anonymous El Bryan Libre said...

I've been reading through it and it has been a great read, and amazingly faith affirming. He really has it out for Wisdom Christology in this book!
Bryan L

At 7/27/2007 5:24 AM, Anonymous mike said...

Chris, I'm looking forward to your review.

My wife bought me my copy for my birthday - a great gift.

Its been a great read so far

At 7/27/2007 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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."

Considering that the Septuagint was the Bible of the early Church and that the majority of OT quotations found in the NT, come from it. Fee's view seems very reasonable.

Sounds like a great read.


At 7/27/2007 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Chris,

Is it true that Fee has supplied translations for all the Hebrew and Greek texts referenced?
If so, I think I'll order his book.

Thanks for the review.


At 7/27/2007 11:18 PM, Anonymous Derek Brown said...


Fantastic summary. Fee's lecture for the launch of the book here in Vancouver was excellent. He really went after, as many are picking up on, certain scholars (namely Dunn) who advocate a Pauline Wisdom Christology. Of course, he has done this previously in a couple articles, but I have found that his critique of of Wisdom Christology followed by his own argument for a Kyrios Christology to be rather convincing.

Look forward to the rest of the review.

At 7/29/2007 4:53 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Hi Doug, I don't think I'll go into too much depth on the Wisdom Christology issue. For the record, I have thought the whole Wisdom issue has been exaggerated for a while, before I read Fee. Possibly there is a little overkill in Fee's arguments, and I think had he used the same hermeneutical desire to find Wisdom as he did pre-existence, the results would have been different, but basically I am in agreement with Fee.

Nick, no, I got a copy because of my good looks.

John, this is an issue that Fee may get into trouble about. Septuagint experts will certainly wriggle uncomfortably with fee's confidence that Ralfs version was Paul's, or even one very like it.

At 7/31/2007 6:45 AM, Anonymous David W. Congdon said...

I think Fee's attempt to separate out christology from soteriology is extremely problematic and at least potentially a fruitless exercise in abstraction. Most of the problems in the history of theology can be chalked up to the attempt to separate being from act (divine essence apart from the economic Trinity, two natures apart from the mission of reconciliation, identity of the church apart from the ministry of reconciliation, etc.). I understand why Fee is doing it that way, but I see more problems than answers.

At 8/01/2007 3:49 PM, Anonymous E said...

Chris Tilling said:
"John, this is an issue that Fee may get into trouble about. Septuagint experts will certainly wriggle uncomfortably with Fee's confidence that Ralfs' version was Paul's, or even one very like it."

Why is that? Why would LXX experts argue against this? Is it because they think that it was only later Christian LXX editions that changed the archaic Hebrew YHWH to κυριος, whereas Paul's LXX would still have had Hebrew characters where YHWH had been in the Hebrew text?


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