Thursday, August 23, 2007

Book Review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Part 8

For the series outline, click here.

Chapter 14: 'Jesus: Jewish Messiah and Son of God'.

Fee maintains that Paul's 'Son of God Christology' is best tied to messianic themes explicated through an analysis of the basic narrative of Judaism in the scriptures. Christ is the Davidic Son of God. Furthermore, in this context Fee also argues that for Paul Christ is also the eschatological king, and the pre-existent (and thus) eternal Son. Indeed, this is the first of two of Paul's 'primary categories for understanding the person of Christ', namely that 'the risen Jesus was none other than the preexistent Son of God, who came present among us to redeem' (530).

After detailing how the Jewish story lends specifically messianic import to Paul's 'Son of God' language, in a key passage Fee writes: 'But that history [read: scriptural story] ... does not explain how he [Paul] came also to understand Christ as the eternal Son of God; so this is taken up at the end of this chapter, with the emphasis on his understanding of Christ as the preexistent (thus eternal) Son of God' (531). Key to his understanding of the Son of God as eternal is the association of Christ with 'the Father' in 1 Cor 8:6, as well as in Col 1:15-16. Later in the chapter he explains in full that 1 Cor 8:6 is an explicit spelling out of the pre-existence of the eternal Son of God (552). In terms of the 'Son of God' language, '[i]t is still rooted in Jewish messianism; but because of Paul's conviction of the Son's preexistence, the language is also used to refer to his prior existence as God before he became one with us in his incarnation' (544 – for this use of God with reference to Christ, cf. also p. 529). Both tensions are held together in Col 1:13-15. Further developing his perception of Paul's understanding of Christ as the pre-existent, eternal Son of God, Fee naturally turns to Phil 2:6-8. He writes:

'It was the One who was eternally in the form of God, and thus equal with God and fully divine, whose humble obedience to his Father in his incarnation led to his death on a cross ... This understanding of salvation – we have become God's children through redemption by God's Son – is what lies behind Paul's utter devotion to Christ the Son' (547).

In an interesting note Fee chides Kim for missing the 'relational aspect of this [Son of God] christological perspective' (548 n. 27). Fee means by this the relationship between Father and Son. Indeed, the echoes of the Abraham and Isaac story from Gen 22 in Eph and Col 'push us beyond a merely positional understanding of the eternal Son of God to a relational one ... And even though Paul himself does not emphasize the relational aspect of the Son to the Father, the language itself pushes us to think in these terms' (550). While on the subject of relationship, Fee moves his discussion on to Gal 2:20, 'to the very personal, and very rare, way Paul expresses his own relationship to the Son of God' (550). Picking up the relation between Father and Son, Fee continues to detail the nature of this relation to creation: 'If the Father is the source and goal of all things, the Son is the divine agent of all things' (552). But what is the origin of this pre-existent Son of God Christology? While Fee provides a couple of potential reasons, he admits that we cannot be sure, but whatever is believed about questions of origin, 'Son of God Christology is not peripheral to Paul's theological enterprise but rather is an essential part of it' (554).

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At 8/23/2007 5:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Can you explain what 'positional' means in this context?


At 8/23/2007 6:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The relational aspect intrigues me as well. Instead of just "God" and "Son of God", one gets "Father and Son" talk where the Son is somehow a true Son by nature (apart from any earthly kingship) and we get his same status by adoption. This latter notion seems far removed from a politicized notion of messianic sonship to me.

But for that reason I'm wondering why Fee thinks Jesus' Sonship should be read within somewhat conventional Jewish messianic categories. I take it he reads 1:3-4 as providing just different points of view of the same reality (from the human and from the divine side?). Can you give details there?

I really think Paul is making a stronger contrast than that. The Messiah seems to be a supra-Jewish apocalyptic character, the world's messiah not Israel's messiah. Paul never justifies or feels the need to justify Christ's legitimate status as a Jewish Messiah which one might have expected (a la Wright). There certainly there is some redefinition or changing of categories going on here. Why does Paul reject Jewish privilege if Christ is the "Jewish messiah"?

How should 2 Cor 5:16 be read alongside Rom 1:3 then? Doesn't it mean his human ancestry is not defining for his significance (my read of Rom 9:5)?

This subject is pretty boring to most. They say 'Jesus is Jewish and human', how uncontroversial let's move on. I think there is something huge (tectonic for Paul's thinking) being missed.

Your 'flesh' on the brain commenter,

At 8/26/2007 8:44 PM, Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Er, why is Jesus so light-skinned in this photo? Is that the negative? Surely Jesus would be as dark as any Sephardic Jew--or your average Palestinian???

At 8/27/2007 9:59 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Michael, Jesus was British.

At 8/27/2007 10:06 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi David,
"Can you explain what 'positional' means in this context?" To be honest, I've kind forgotten, and now I'm in England without Fee's book to hand. I'll have a look and post some more details on the main blog page when I return (if, as I hope, I remember). Likewise, I shall have to return to Germany before i can give any more details on this aspect of Fee's argument - I wrote this all to brief summary a good while ago.

In terms of Rom 1:3-4, I seem to remember that Fee insists that this passage presupposes pre-existence...

One aspect of Fee's presentation that I'm simply not convinced by is his lumping a number of abstract matters together under a supposed “Son of God” Christology. I tend to doubt Paul was thinking in such terms. I think Fee does lump together the messianic together with divine pre-existent sonship as part of Paul’s “theological enterprise” (as he puts it). There is not so much synthesis on Fee’s part at this point, more description of these supposed various aspects of Paul’s “Son of God” Christology

“How should 2 Cor 5:16 be read alongside Rom 1:3 then?”
A fascinating question! A counter question that arises from my sleepy mind asks why Paul would be so interested in detailing Christ’s relation to Israel’s story in Gal 3 if Christ’s relation to the Jewish story was something to be simply left behind (as one reading of 2 Cor 5:16 could be read).

Sorry I can‘t be more engaging at the mo. Not only am I without the book, but I‘m nicely wined up and on holiday! *Hic*.

Oh, by the way, I wonder if you could e-mail me. I had a thought I wanted to share with you behind the blogging scenes. My e-mail can be found on my blogging profile. I hope to hear from you!

All the best,


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