Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Book Review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Part 2

The second part of my review of Gordon D. Fee's Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 2007).

Part 1: Fee's Analysis

After the introduction the book is divided into two main parts. The first is an exegetical analysis of the Christology of the various Pauline letters. This study works through the letters in chronological arrangement and includes all of the canonically Pauline letters, namely also the disputed 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, and even the Pastoral Epistles. The order of Fee's study is as follows: 1 Thess, 2 Thess, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal, Rom, Col (and Phil), Eph, Phil, 1 Tim, Titus and 2 Tim. Given that Fee's study in this section is rather repetitive, to obtain a flavour of the sort of analysis Fee pursues it will only be necessary to overview in more depth a couple of these chapter. Below is an overview of his treatment of Christology in 1 Thess and the next post looks at his analysis of 1 Corinthians, the former as he there sets forth his programme and the latter as it is the most extensive of the chapters in this section.

Fee's analysis of Christology in 1 Thessalonians

In the introduction, Fee claims that:

'The Christology that presents itself in these letters is especially noteworthy, first of all because there is not a self-consciously christological moment in either of them. That is, there is no passage where Paul is deliberately trying to set forth a Christ as divine (or human, for that matter) or to explain the nature of his divinity' (32)

But, he continues, a 'remarkably high Christology ... [is] presupposed at every turn in the most off-handed of ways ... [including] statements that by their very nature would seem to put considerable pressure on ... monotheism' (33). To flesh these claims out, Fee examines first Jesus as messianic/eternal Son of God.

He argues that with the first mention of the title Son in the NT, 'the presuppositional beginning point for this title is Jewish messianism' (40). But there is also a double sense: the Son is reigning as Jewish Messiah, but also as the eternal Son. He asks: 'But would this double sense have been available to the Thessalonians? Most likely so' (40). Why? These Christians knew their bible. 'One may therefore also assume that they themselves had already been instructed in the (now) double sense of Jesus as Son of God' (41).

Turning to an analysis of Jesus as the kurios of Septuagint Yahweh Texts, Fee claims that the title was used presumably in deliberate contradistinction from Caesar as kurios, and notes that the title is never employed (apart from in certain citations from the LXX), to refer to God. God is Father or Qeos. He continues:

'This usage in 1 Thessalonians can be conveniently packaged under two headings: (1) the intertextual use of the Septuagint's kurios, where the Tetragammaton (YHWH) has been so translated but where the kurios of those texts now refers to Christ; (2) texts where Christ as kurios shares in the divine purpose and activities with God the Father, especially where prayer is freely offered to Christ as it would be to God the Father' (42).

These general comments are followed by examination of numerous passages: First, 1 Thess 3:13, which he examines in light of Zach 14:5: 'Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him'; 'And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints'. Fee concludes: 'the future coming of Yahweh is now to be understood as the future coming of "our Lord Jesus' (44). The LXX text is too similar to be an accident. He next examines 1 Thess 4:16 ('For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven') in light of Ps 46:6 (LXX): 'God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet'. Once again the significance of speaking of the Lord Jesus in light of the Lord Yahweh of the LXX text is noted.

This leads into a section that notes other kurios phrases and language in 1 Thess that echo Septuagint usage, namely: 'The word of the Lord', 'I charge you by the Lord' (1 Thess 5:27 and Gen 24:3), 'The day of the Lord' (1 Thess 5:2 and Joel 1:15, 2:1), 'The Lord as avenger' (1 Thess 4:6 [Fee powerfully contradicts those who challenge if Paul really means 'Christ' by this 'Lord' - 47 n. 50]; Ps 93:1 LXX), and 'the Lord our Hope' (1 Thess 1:3; Ps 31:24; 33:22).

Finally, Fee devotes a section to analyse the texts in 1 Thess in which he examines how God and the kurios share in divine purposes and activities. First, the Church exists in God and Christ (1 Thess 1:1), God and Christ being joined by the same preposition. Importantly, he notes: 'The church exists simultaneously in relationship to the heavenly pair' (49). Demonstrating the importance of Fee's understanding of the hermeneutical significance of Paul's thinking as it is expressed in 1 Cor 8:6, he argues that the designations 'God' and 'Lord' are to be understood in terms of the Shema. In an important section Fee examines Paul's understanding here of the Divine Presence at the Parousia:

'In the OT the divine Presence is closely associated with the divine Glory, as the interchange of these terms regarding tabernacle and temple makes certain. For Paul the final goal of everything is to be at last in the divine Presence, now shared equally by Father and Son' (51).

The final subsection examines the material in 1 Thess that demonstrates that Christ the Lord was invoked in prayer. This is clear from the Grace Benediction of 1 Thess 5:28 (which would be universally recognised as a prayer-benediction were only God involved - cf. 52), and the important passage, 1 Thess 3:11-13. He notes that Paul can pray to both God, then the Lord.

'Here is a strict monotheist praying with ease to both the Father and the Son, focusing first on the one and then the other, and without a sense that his monotheism is being stretched or is in some kind of danger' (54).

In conclusion, Fee notes that clear distinctions have always been kept, in 1 Thess, between God and Lord Jesus. However, and second, and citing Fee at more length:

'[P]recisely because Christ as the messianic Son of God is also seen as the present reigning Lord in heaven, Paul can speak of either God or Christ in ways that reflect their shared purposes and activities. At the same time, however, he feels quite free to pray to both together or to one or the other, depending on the perceived need and situation. And Paul can do this as a thoroughly monotheistic Jew, for whom the living and true God is the one and only God over all pagan idolatries ... it requires us to expand our own understanding of the identity of the one God, which can embrace both Father and Son while still being only one God' (77-78).

Fee thus speaks here of a 'christological modification of this monotheism', stating that '[t]he one God has a Son who, as the exalted Lord, shares the divine identity and the divine prerogatives' (78).

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At 8/02/2007 7:38 PM, Anonymous Timothy said...

The book looks very interesting! Seems like something I might need to buy.
I just recently posted something about Wright's thoughts on Pauline corpus and found it interesting that Fee takes all of the canonical letters into account. Is there a certain reason why he does this?

At 8/03/2007 12:33 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Many thanks for the link. I've promtly added your great looking blog to my google side bar reader.

At 1/31/2008 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read Hyam Maccoby's "Myth Maker: Paul and the invention of Christianity" if you want some really informative and sound data on Paul and his myth...


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