Monday, August 27, 2007

Book Review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Part 9

For the series outline, click here.

Chapter 15: ‘Jesus: Jewish Messiah and exalted Lord’

This important chapter gathers a lot of material together, data that is, Fee argues, ‘the absolute heart of Pauline Christology’ (558). Essentially Fee asserts that the ‘Name’ Christ has inherited is none other than the substitute name for God in the Septuagint, kurios. Important here is Fee’s analysis of 1 Cor 8:6, a matter he takes as hermeneutically significant for Paul’s use of the title ‘kurios’ elsewhere in the canonical Pauline corpus. Three further subsections maintain the christological significance of Jesus the Lord in terms of the risen Lord as eschatological judge, prayer to the risen Lord and the sharing of divine prerogatives between Christ and God. The material in this chapter demands ‘that we either give up ... monotheism ... or find a way to include the Lord Jesus Christ within the divine identity of the one God’ (559).

Taking his point of departure from Paul’s usage of Ps 110:1 and the apostle’s understanding of Christ’s lordship in a messianic eschatological frame, he notes that the title ‘kurios’ is 1) never used as a reference to God but exclusively of Christ, and 2) that the title is ‘used predominantly of Christ’s present reign and anticipated coming, rarely of his earthly life’ (561). This is so, Fee argues, because it is the title Paul uses to include Christ in the divine identity (562). This is seen in the ‘name above every name’ language in three important passages which indicate this name is the substitute name for God. Turning once again to 1 Cor 8:6, Fee argues that in countering Corinthian gnosis:
‘Paul first accepts the correctness of the basic theological presupposition [of the Corinthian ‘strong’], “There is only one God”. However, he vehemently rejects what they are doing with it, ultimately for two reasons: such an action on the part of the “knowing ones” plays havoc with the other believers for whom Christ died but who cannot make these fine distinctions; moreover, they have misunderstood the demonic nature of idolatry’ (563).
Fee’s exegesis makes much of both 1 Cor 8:6 and 10:26 concluding that Paul’s argument ‘not only presuppositionally places Christ the Lord as the preexistent agent of creation, but also sees him as the Lord of Ps 24:1, to whom the whole of creation belongs’ (564).

The second key passage is Phil 2:10-11. Fee concludes that:
‘[T]he risen Christ is not Yahweh, who is always referred to by Paul as qeos (God); rather, the preexistent Son of God returns to receive the honor of having bestowed on him the substitute name for God, which then becomes a title for Christ as “Lord”’ (564).
In this passage, as with so many others, ‘[i]n Paul’s repeated citations and intertextual use of the Septuagint he consistently identifies the kurios = Yahweh of the Septuagint with the risen Lord Jesus Christ’ (565). This point is then traced through Rom 10:9-13 and 1 Cor 1:2.

This sets the scene for the understanding of the christological assuming of roles that traditionally belonged to God alone. This is seen in the Lord Jesus as eschatological judge, the offering of prayers to the risen Lord, and Christ’s sharing of divine prerogatives with the Father. Of importance are the following points: In terms of eschatology, Fee argues that:

‘Paul applies to the Lord, Jesus, the language of the psalms that refers to Yahweh. Christ is not Yahweh; but as the exalted Lord, he is understood by Paul to assume the role of Yahweh at his coming’ (570).
Similarly, in relation to 2 Thess 1:7-8 Fee concludes:

‘Thus, as before, the risen Lord is not identified as Yahweh’; rather, by his having had “the Name” bestowed on him, he assumes Yahweh’s divine roles when he comes as judge’ (571).
What Fee is doing here is not denying Christ is included in Yahweh’s identity or denying that he is ‘God’, as Fee asserts elsewhere. Rather he claims that Paul’s intertextual usage of the Septuagint predicates full divinity to Christ without having to call him God as such (cf. 573). This intertextual usage is seen to included the material in Paul which speaks of boasting in the Lord, having the mind of the Lord, plus the ‘Lord be with you’ and ‘the Lord is near’ language. The impressive list of divine prerogatives which Christ shares with God in the Pauline corpus is then listed by Fee: Christian existence in Christ/God, the grace of the Lord/of God, the peace of the Lord/of God, walking worthy of God/of the Lord, the divine presence at the parousia, the Lord/God who strengthens believers, the Word of the Lord/of God, the faithfulness of the Lord/of God, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus/of God, the glory of the Lord/of God, etc.

Finally, in terms of the Spirit of the Lord language, Fee claims:

‘Moreover, however one is finally to articulate the relationship between the one God and the one Lord [in terms of the Spirit], this kind of thing can be said by Paul only because believed that the incarnate Son and now exalted Lord was eternally and thus fully equal with the Father’ (584).
While he doesn’t develop this insight in much depth, he asserts that in this second strand of Paul’s primary categories for understanding Christ, ‘the emphasis is altogether upon the exalted Christ’s relationship to us and to the world’ (530).

In conclusion, Fee argues that Christ’s receiving of ‘the Name’, not Yahweh but the replacement divine name, allows Paul to ‘include the Son in the divine identity in a complete way, but without absolute identification (merging the two into one) and without the Son “usurping” the role of God the Father’ (585).

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At 8/28/2007 4:15 AM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...

Wow! When I read Fee I think the same things... (said with tongue firmly in cheek) =)~


As always, nice summary. Thanks for making it easier for me to act like I've read the whole thing through! ;)

At 8/29/2007 1:58 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...


You should do humanity a favor and translate (maybe with Jim West?) your summary into German. God knows Fee's Christology will never cross the Rhine, as it were...but you could do it, my friend, in small part!

At 8/31/2007 1:15 AM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

I keep wondering how Fee interprets 1Co. 15:28, "When all things are subjected to [God], then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all."

I am inclined to make that a starting point for the discussion of Christ's relationship with God. It describes their relationship in eternity. The consummation of salvation history arrives when the Son is made subject to God, in order that God may be all in all.

There's an obvious correlation here with Fee's observation that Paul does not call Jesus "God" (but rather distinguishes the one Lord from the one God, though Fee evidently glosses over that).

Evangelicals typically accept that Jesus was subordinate to God during the period of the incarnation, but they claim equality between Jesus and God in heaven, both before and after the incarnation. Fee apparently follows this standard interpretation.

What, then, of 1Co. 15:28? Doesn't it indicate precisely that Jesus is eternally subordinate to God? Isn't it therefore an error to describe Jesus as God's equal? The use of the word "equal" is a grave step beyond what the New Testament teaches, in my view.

At 8/31/2007 3:04 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

I think Fee (per Chris' summary anyway) does address the Lord/God distinction, Q. That was done not only in the summarized chapter but in previous ones. Fee's conclusion is that Paul considers 'Lord' to be the title for 'God', but wants to emphasize both the Son's distinction as a Person from the Father _and_ the Son's identification with the same 'God' the Father is. Therefore Paul routinely assigns the divine names between Persons.

As to how an orthodox Christian considers 1 Cor 15:28 ontologically--actually I did that in my first comment here in this thread, at some length, and also back in one of the universalism discussions.

So, be the discussions right or wrong (from Fee or otherwise), it isn't like they _haven't_ been discussed recently. Even very recently. {s}


At 9/02/2007 1:52 AM, Anonymous TJ said...

I'm still waiting for the Küng-interview you promised almost a year ago.

At 9/03/2007 2:21 AM, Anonymous ntWrong said...


I presume you're referring to statements such as,

As an action in history (at least in this history of our nature), the begetting, submitting in death, and raising to life, would only have to be done once, even though in God's own eternal ('eonian', age-transcending) self-existence it happens as an eternally constant and consistent action: like a dynamo at a rate of infinite speed.

I don't mean this as an insult, but metaphysical castle-in-the-air spinning of that sort causes my eyes to roll back in my head. Probably I'm just an ignorant blockhead, but I find it utterly unpersuasive as a justification of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

I understand your argument to mean that Jesus was, in fact, only subordinate to the Father during the incarnation, but that epoch of submission is eternally present in God's "ever-now". Therefore Paul isn't really saying that Jesus will be subject to God in eternity, it's just a nod to Jesus' subjection long ago (from our finite perspective). But really, Jesus is equal to God (as Fee maintains) despite the clear statement of 1Co. 15:28.

In my view, what you're really doing is flat out denying what Paul says, while dressing it up in fancy philosophical talk. Honestly, I don't mean that as an insult — it's just my visceral response to your comment.

Personally, I prefer to work with the text of scripture. I don't believe Paul ever says that Jesus is equal to God. Your argument is just another instance of "orthodox" Christians going beyond what scripture says, even if they have to explain away certain biblical texts to do so.

At 9/03/2007 2:33 AM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

I should add that Fee doesn't, to my knowledge, employ the kind of metaphysical speculative language that you're using. You're coming from a very different place than he is.

Fee has written a commentary on 1 Corinthians. Does anyone own it? What does he say about 1Co. 15:28?


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