Book Review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Part 6
For the series outline, click here.
Chapter 12: 'Christ: preexistent and incarnate Savior'.
This chapter is essentially a defence of Paul's presuppositional understanding of the pre-existence of Christ, an understanding that evidences a thematic coherence in the numerous contingent circumstances of his letters. He argues for 'Paul's understanding of Christ as preexistent, since it is otherwise nearly impossible to account for such Christ devotion by an avid monotheist unless his understanding of the one God now included the Son of God in the divine identity' (481).
He first turns to material in Paul's argument in 1 Cor 8:1-11:1. Paul includes Jesus in the divine identity in 8:6 'since the one God of the Jews was regularly identified vis-à-vis all other "gods"' (503). However, this is presuppositional 'since nothing christological is at stake here' (504). Naturally, his argument examines Phil 2:6-8 noting that pre-existence must be assumed for a number of reasons, not least because '[o]ne who is already only and merely human does not "become human"!' (507). In light of these explicit statements of pre-existence, the 'sending passages' must be read, he urges. Thus 'Christ's preexistence is the predicate of the whole sentence', Gal 4:4-7 (509-10), as well as assumed in Rom 8:3-4 (510). What is the importance if the incarnation of the pre-existent Christ for Paul? 'The first and most obvious point to make is that Paul clearly understood Christ the Savior himself to be divine; he was not simply a divine agent' (511). Furthermore, and this is a key claim:
'[I]t is surely this greater presupposed reality that accounts in large measure for Paul's Christ devotion ... To be sure, Paul speaks only rarely of "the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20); but the very fact that in this case he identifies Christ as "the Son of God" suggests that what overwhelms Paul about such love is not simply Christ's death on his behalf. What lies behind such language is the overwhelming sense that the pre-existent, and therefore divine, Son of God is the one who by incarnation as well as by crucifixion "died for me"' (512).