Friday, August 03, 2007

Book Review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Part 3

Christology in 1 Corinthians

In his introduction to this, the largest of his chapters in part 1, Fee, albeit tentatively, suggests that 1 Corinthians evidences 'an early crisis in Christology' (84). To pursue this case he notes the following: In 8:1-11:1 'Paul's initial response to [the problems in Corinth in relation to food sacrificed to idols] ... is to broaden their understanding of the "one God" so as to include the "one Lord", whose death for the person with the "weak conscience" is being brushed aside' (84-84). Much will hang on his understanding of 1 Cor 8-11:1 as shall be seen. Second, in relation to the Lord's Supper he notes that 'the failures and differences within the community are reflected in their dishonoring Christ himself at the meal in his honour' (cf. 11:20) (85). He then notes 16:22, the anathema and the Maranatha.

Before he turns to his main examination of specific texts, he somewhat out of the blue writes: 'Indeed, it is Paul's utter devotion to Christ that must catch our attention, since it is the devotion that a devout Jew could give only to his God' (86). Finally turning to the texts in more depth he first examines material under the heading: 'Christ: Preexistent Lord and Agent of Creation'. Importantly he claims: 'The proper starting point for examining the Christology of this letter is 1 Cor 8:6, which could well serve as the starting point for any discussion of Pauline Christology' (88).

To allow Fee to summarise his own course of argumentation in this chapter, from here the data to be examined are grouped under three heads:

'(1) texts that pick up on the theme of Christ's preexistence; (2) texts that reflect a "Son of God" Christology with roots in Jewish messianism; (3) texts that reflect the kurios Christology that dominates the Thessalonian correspondence. At the same time, we will look at the issue of Wisdom Christology, Adam Christology, and Spirit Christology as these are argued from various texts ... We will conclude by examining two miscellaneous texts (3:23; 11:3) that do not easily fit these three major categories' (94).

Christ as pre-existent with Israel. Naturally Fee examines the import of 10:4 and notes: 'It is precisely the presence of Christ in Israel's story that will make all of this [argument] work as a warning to the Corinthians' (94). Furthermore, he rather convincingly provides reason that 10:4 is not about pre-existent Wisdom at all (96-7). There is a great discussion on the textual variant in relation to 10:9, and the Christ/Lord matter. Arguing that 'Christ' is the original, he concludes:

'Paul has no qualms in pointing out that the "Lord" whom they are putting to the test is the same Christ whom Israel tested in the desert and that the Israelites were overthrown because of it. It is the presuppositional nature of this assertion that is so striking, since Christ's preexistence is what makes such an argument possible at all' (98).

Second, Jesus as Messianic/Eternal Son of God. Fee wants to show that 'the Son's role as the Jewish Messiah, Israel's hoped-for eschatological king' is evident in 1 Cor to a great extent. I.e. Christ is not just the 'eternal Son of the Father' (cf. 99). To make this claim he examines numerous texts. In light of 1 Cor 1:13-2:16, Fee argues that vv. 18-25 are such that Christ should best be translated as Messiah.

This leads to an excurses on the Crucified Messiah and Jewish Wisdom in which he torpedoes the idea of Wisdom Christology on p. 102-6. In relation to 1 Cor 1:30 and 2:7 Fee similarly waxes against the influence of 'Wisdom Christology'. With all of this Fee is asserting that such texts do not lend to Wisdom Christology, but rather to a messianic understanding of Paul's use 'Christ'. Such messianic overtones Fee finds in a lengthy examination of 1 Cor 15:23-28. Naturally Fee is obliged to address the apparently subordinationist Christology in vv. 27-28. Fee responds:

'Although it could easily be argued that this implies some form of "eternal subordination" of the Son to the Father, it is unlikely that Paul is thinking in terms of Christ's person here, but rather of his role in salvation history' (113).

In the next subsection, Fee addresses the meaning of Jesus as Second Adam in 1 Cor. He essentially battles a Spirit-Christology, the amalgamation of Spirit with Christ in 1 Cor, and affirms the notion of Christ as the image of God.

However, Paul's primary way of speaking of Christ in 1 Cor is with the title kurios. The next, and substantial, section examines Paul's understanding of Jesus as kurios in numerous passages in 1 Cor. First, he asserts that 1 Cor 16:22 is 'one of the most significant uses of this title in the entire corpus' (120). Accepting the covenantal context of the verse (120 n. 93) he writes:

'It is therefore of more passing interest that both of the contrasting uses of anathema in this letter focuses on a possible attitude toward the lordship of Christian this early Christian community. And thus in each case Paul both asserts that lordship and urges love for the Lord as absolutely basic to Christian existence. This carries its own christological weight. Elsewhere Paul can speak of "loving God"...; only here does he speak of loving Christ. The fact that Paul can make such an interchange is in itself a noteworthy christological moment' (121)

Turning to 1 Cor 5:6-8; 10:16-17; and 11:17-34 – the Eucharist meal texts – Fee notes that 'meals in honor of a deity were part of the entire ancient Near Eastern world, including Israel' (122). He adds:

'What seems certain, the, on the basis of the passing reference in 5:7, is that Paul and the early church understood this meal as a replacement of the Passover meal, so that Christ the Lord has assumed the role of honoree that in Judaism had for centuries belonged to Yahweh alone and that in surrounding cultures belonged to the various "gods" and "lords" of the pagan cults' (123).

Fee then notes, in relation to 1 Cor 12:3, the significance of confessing the name of the Lord by the Spirit: 'The devotion that was once the special province of Yahweh alone is now to be directed toward Christ himself: the Lord is Jesus' (124). Hence 'this confession presupposes not just Paul's high Christology but that of the entire early church' (124).

Further, in 1 Cor 12:4-6 Fee widens his perspective onto what he calls 'the Divine Triad':

'Paul simultaneously includes the Spirit and the Lord within the divine identity, while placing their work within the larger context of God the Father. Our present concern is to point out the considerable christological implications of such a text. In this letter in particular, where Christ's preexistence is explicitly put forth as presuppositional to our present understanding of God (8:6), this passage assumes this reality, just as it does of the Spirit ... A high Christology is simply presupposed in such texts' (125)

Finishing this section on Jesus as kurios, Fee examines 1 Cor 9:1 and Paul's encounter with the risen Lord. He concludes that the words 'Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?' 'serves for us as the primary key to our understanding Paul's passion for the gospel and his utter devotion to Christ' (127).

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At 8/04/2007 2:54 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

Having read your first three posts, I'm forming a very negative impression of Fee's book. It seems to me that you're describing an utterly ahistorical exegesis of Paul's letters.

Fee must surely begin with an analysis of Second Temple Judaism; and then he must provide an explanation of how Paul's thinking could develop from a strict monotheism to incorporate the Lord Jesus into a triune godhead. This Fee fails to do.

For example, you quote Fee: Indeed, it is Paul's utter devotion to Christ that must catch our attention, since it is the devotion that a devout Jew could give only to his God.

Really? Where's the supporting material for that assertion, that a Jew of the Second Temple period can express such devotion only to YHWH? Dunn's book on the topic rigorously illustrates the devotion expressed toward the Spirit and Wisdom in particular. Thus Fee assumes too much that must in fact be demonstrated from extrabiblical sources.

Likewise, when Fee says that Paul stretched his monotheism to incorparate the Lord Jesus, we must wonder what precedents within Second Temple Judaism prepared Paul to make that enormous shift. This of course leads back to my earlier point: the earlier veneration of the Spirit and Wisdom.

You say that Fee rejects Dunn's Wisdom christology, but the effect is to suggest that Paul's supposed trinitarianism was a de novo: that it struck like lightning out of a clear blue sky, bearing no relation to anything that preceded it in Second Temple Judaism. Hence my charge that Fee's exegesis is utterly ahistorical.

It simply won't do to assume that Paul's Damascus Road made a trinitarian of Paul with no scaffolding to facilitate the mental transition. What was present in Second Temple Judaism that might have served as stepping stones to the idea that there was a second (or third) person alongside YHWH in the godhead?

I've read one of Fee's earlier articles, and I was quite unimpressed. What he does is read back into the pauline texts the full-blown trinitarianism of the fourth century Church. He merely reiterates a pre-critical, ahistorical, evangelical reading of the texts. I don't see how that advances the scholarly endeavor in the slightest.

At 8/04/2007 3:53 PM, Anonymous ntWrong said...

Now that I've identified my core objection to Fee's book, I have a second criticism to offer. It concerns Fee's handling of 1Co. 10:4, which is perhaps paradigmatic for his exegesis in general.

When Paul says that the Israelites all "drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ", what is the exegetical point at issue here?

The issue is, How far should we press Paul's language? Does he mean, literally, "the rock was Christ"? Or should we understand the statement to mean, "the rock was a type of Christ"?

The distinction is crucial, because it is the point at issue with respect to all of Paul's christological statements. How far should we push Paul's language? Surely Paul doesn't mean to identify Jesus with YHWH absolutely! If the identification is not absolute, then how thorough-going is it? Where does Paul draw the line and say, Beyond this point I no longer identify Jesus with YHWH?

Returning to 1Co. 10:4 —
Fee wants to demonstrate the preexistence of Jesus, and he says, "There it is, plain as day, in 1Co. 10:4". But one can't assume the text means that Christ was literally the rock in the desert. On the contrary, it seems reasonable to assume that Christ was not, in fact, incarnate as a rock.

We're in the realm of metaphor, as is often the case. So how far should we push the metaphor? Does 1Co. 10:4 necessarily entail preexistence? That's the point at issue, and Fee can't simply assume (pre-critically) that the answer is self-evident. He's got to make a case.

At 8/06/2007 12:24 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Stephen, these are great thoughts. I wonder if you may like to read my critique of Fee and offer some feedback - I won't be posting it here (it will be a chapter of my doctorate when it is finished). Perhaps you could tell me your e-mail address again? My own thesis tries to interact with the sort of thoughts you suggest.


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