New publications on Adam in Second Temple Judaism

I see that the recent volume of articles from the 13th conference of the Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Associated Literature (Tradition, Transmission, and Transformation from Second Temple Literature through Judaism and Christianity in Late Antiquity, edited by M. Kister, M. Segal, and R. A. Clements, Leiden: Brill, 2015) includes two important articles dealing with Jewish and early Christian traditions about Adam:

Menahem Kister, “Hellenistic Jewish Writers and Palestinian Traditions: Early and Late,” pp. 150–230.

Sergey Minov, “Satan’s Refusal to Worship Adam: A Jewish Motif and Its Reception in Syriac Christian Tradition,” pp. 230–72.

In recent decades some New Testament scholars have sought to downplay the existence of well-defined traditions surrounding Adam in Jewish thought that might have informed early Christian, especially Pauline, ideas about Christ as a new or second Adam. Both Kister and Minov concur with the approach I take in Jesus Monotheism (in, for example, volume 1, chapter 7), that there were indeed a number of traditions that explored Adam’s originally exalted, “divine” (my word) or cosmic status. They each make fascinating observations on the likely continuity between such traditions as they appear in a variety of Second Temple sources (especially Philo and the Pseudepigrapha) and later Christian sources and Jewish ones (rabbinic texts, piyyutim, targums).

Both also favour the view, for which I argue in depth in Jesus Monotheism, Volume 1, chapter 7, that the now famous story of the angels worshipping Adam as the image of God in the Latin Life of Adam and Eve 12–16 is pre-Christian and Jewish. Indeed, Minov makes a number of observations that buttress my argument that the story makes very little sense as the product of a Christian author, but very good sense as the work of a Jewish exegete explaining the meaning of the idol language in Genesis 1:26–28.

I particularly appreciate Minov’s discussion of the ways that The Worship of Adam story figured in later Christian debates with Muslims, who evidently knew a form of the legend and included it the Quran (see Quran 38:71–78; 2:30–36; 7:10–19; 15:26–35; 17:61–65; 18:50; 20:116–17). Minov notes the evidence that in the medieval age some Christian authors rejected the story (though some also affirmed it) because it was treated as authoritative by Muslims. I did not include any discussion of this feature of its tradition history in Jesus Monotheism. Volume 1. But I would now add Minov’s data to the case for thinking that the absence of The Worship of Adam story from some versions of the Primary Adam Books (known to us in Latin, Greek, Georgian, Armenian and Slavonic) is best explained on the theory that, over time, Christian scribes, editors and redactors of an originally Jewish collection of Adam stories removed the adoration of Adam because of it was theologically and apologetically embarrassing. Minov’s discussion suggests that for some Christian tradents of older, traditional Adam stories, The Worship of Adam story was awkward because, inter alia, it seemed to support Islamic tradition and thought. To what degree this was a factor in its suppression, I am not competent to judge. But that it was a factor is surely likely.

Audio Interview on Jesus Monotheism 1

For those interested, there is a 47 min interview with Matthew Bates over at OnScript about my Jesus Monotheism Volume 1.

The interview may be useful for anyone wanting an audio summary of the argument of the four volumes and of volume 1 (5:15 – 17:31 minutes into the recording).

I was also struck by the way a good deal of the discussion that Matthew led focused on an excursus at the end of volume 1. When writing the first volume I had not anticipated that that part would garner so much interest. Others, besides Matthew, have indicated to me that to their mind it is an important part of my unfolding argument.

In that excursus I offer a new explanation of the fact that in the Jewish and biblical texts there is both a clear and strong distinction between God the Creator and his creatures, on the one hand, and that there is also plenty of evidence that Jews were happen to use “divine” or “god” language for angels and for exalted or divinely chosen human beings. Until now scholars have played these two phenomena off against each other. Richard Bauckham, for example, insists that the absolute distinction between the Creator and creation and his understanding of that distinction means he plays down or denies the presence of “divine” or “god” language for created beings. Others, for example James McGrath, have used the presence of such “divine” and “god” language for created beings to challenge the view that first century Jews held to the kind of distinction between Creator and creatures on which Bauckham insists. In Excursus B I offer a theological model that can explain both the clear and strong distinction between the Creator and the creation and also the presence of “divine” or “god” language for creatures. In short, because God is God he is sovereign and therefore he is able, in his sovereign freedom, to share his own life and identity with whomever, or whatever, he chooses. A kind of “deification” or “theosis” was possible for first century Jews precisely because God is God and because he is utterly distinct from all that he creates he is also, paradoxically, not bound by, or constrained within, his own otherness. He is able to enter time and space, take on materiality, manifest himself in a creature (in being and action), and take up creaturely existence into his own eternal divine identity.

In the interview Matthew Bates indicated that he was intrigued by this proposal, though not that he is yet convinced by it. (He had only read that part of the book the night before). I am also keen to know what others think of it. But I do think that it gets to the heart of some underlying problems in the recent history of the study of the earliest beliefs about Jesus. My sense is that many (or most?) New Testament scholars have worked with questionable and unexamined assumptions about what it means to be God and what it might or might not mean for first century Jews to have said “Jesus is God/divine” in a first century Jewish context. 

For example, I agree with Larry Hurtado that all talk of Christ’s divinity is an essentially theocentric matter; it has to do with who God is and God’s relationship to Christ, as Hurtado has recently reminded his readers in his two most recent blog posts (for July 19th and 20th, 2016). However, I part company with Hurtado when he appears to deny to the human Jesus of Nazareth his own divine identity and self-consciousness. I have the impression that Hurtado’s denial of that possibility is largely the result of his conviction that Jewish theology could not have allowed such a possibility. No Jewish man could have thought of himself in the terms that everyone agrees John describes and that many of us also think the Synoptics describe. And if I read him rightly, Hurtado seems to think that it really does not make sense, within the conceptual framework of Jewish monotheism, to say that the man Jesus of Nazareth is divine (and therefore worthy of worship). As I have explained at length in volume 1 of Jesus Monotheism, for Hurtado (and for many other modern NT scholars) it is only the exalted and glorifed Jesus, the Christ, who is divine and worthy of worship. This all makes clear and tidy conceptual sense if the Jewish God has the kind of identity that Bauckham has described. Hurtado operates, it seems to me, with a similar understanding of God to Bauckham.

On the other hand, if first century Jews took for granted the kind of understanding of the divine identity that I have sketched in Jesus Monotheism Excursus B, then it might well make sense that the historical Jesus thought of himself as “divine” and that, within the conceptual framework of Jewish monotheism, there would be reasons for concluded that he was right about that self-understanding. Our theological categories and philosophical assumptions bear directly on the historical task of assessing what Jesus of Nazareth could or did say and think.



Jesus’ “Equality with God” in John’s Gospel

I have just returned from an enjoyable and stimulating conference in Italy on John’s Gospel and Jewish Messianism organised by the Enoch Seminar. The invitation to give a main paper to an international group of specialists on John and Judaism gave me the opportunity to explore my thinking on John’s testimony to the character and origins of the earliest beliefs about Jesus and his divine identity.

In short, I argued that we can make best sense of the dramatic altercation regarding Jesus’ work on the Sabbath and his “making himself equal with God” in John 5 once we situate that episode in the setting that the author of the Fourth Gospel has given it (an episode in Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem in the 30s C.E.). John 5 presents a plausible account of an event in the life of Jesus the Jew, once we recognise that the logic of the drama relies (1) on first century Jewish responses to patterns of pagan Ruler Cult in which kings are given “honours equal to the gods” (isotheoi timai) and (2) biblically-grounded and well-known beliefs about the “divine” identity of Israel’s high priest and a coming high priestly “one like a son of man”.

On my fresh reading of the passage, John 5 is a valuable witness to one part of the account of Christological origins that I will lay out in volume 4 of my Jesus Monotheism. So I was encouraged that the paper was well received and that it generated a lively and positive discussion.

I have posted a copy of the paper (that includes a fuller abstract) on my page.

N. T. Wright and Israel’s Representative Messiah

I’m getting ready to speak at a symposium on the theme of Divine Sonship at St Andrews (Scotland). My paper tackles a question raised by N. T. (Tom) Wright’s work on Paul and offers new evidence to support one of Tom’s more controversial claims.[1]

Wright thinks (as a growing number now do) that when Paul uses the word “Christ” he means “Messiah”. Christ is not simply a name (as in “Crispin Fletcher”). It is a title or an honorific that identifies Jesus as Israel’s (royal) messiah (not unlike “Crispin the Arrow Maker”). Wright also contends (more controversially) that Christ and Messiah both refer to a king who is a representative figure; someone who sums up in himself the people of God, Israel, and who as a truly human being is the true Adam. For Wright this helps explain other features of Paul’s theology, such as his language of being “in Christ” and his talk of justification by faith. It is also one feature of Wright’s work that has been less convincing than others, since there seems to be very little real evidence that Jews (and the Bible) thought of the Messiah as such a representative figure. Many Pauline scholars think it is possible to make good sense of Paul’s theology without the representative messiah idea.

One subplot to the main argument of my Jesus Monotheism project will be to argue that Wright is right about the representative connotations of the words “christos” (Greek) and its Hebrew equivalent (mashiach), and that there is good evidence, mostly passed over by scholarship in the twentieth century, that Jews took for granted the notion that the Messiah gathers up in himself a set of stories about the world, humanity and God’s chosen people. At least, this is all true provided we remember that “the Messiah”—the Anointed One—can mean the (true) high priest. There is lots of really obvious evidence—along with some hidden away in less well known or only recently discovered texts—that most of what Wright claims the word “Messiah” meant was indeed taken for granted in the biblical and Jewish understanding of the high priest messiah. I will get to that evidence in Jesus Monotheism volume 3. And it goes with some other evidence, that I will discuss next week in St Andrews, that there were times when the (true) king was also thought of as a representative figure and that God’s people could think of themselves as being “in the king”.

Wright himself has highlighted texts in 2 Samuel (19:41–20:2) and 1 Kings (12:16) where the people talk about having “a share” or “inheritance in the king” and their being “in David,” their representative. In St Andrews I present the evidence for thinking that, between those two texts, the important description of the early years of the reign of king Solomon also describes him as a representative figure. In 1 Kings 3–4 Solomon is a representative of God who makes the Creator truly present to his people and the world. In a sense he is God’s image and likeness; a true Adam.2 And he incorporates the people in such a way that in him, their representative leader, the people find the fulfilment of their own destiny; they get to be the people they were created and called to be. There won’t be time to explore this fully in St Andrews. But, in due course, I will argue that as a part of 1 Kings 3–11—a central text for the overarching conceptual structure of the whole of Genesis-2 Kings (the Primary History)—1 Kings 3–4 is a key witness to the development of a sophisticated biblical understanding of the true (priestly and royal) Messiah’s multifaceted, representative, identity.

[1] N. T. Wright, Paul and the faithfulness of God (Christian origins and the Question of God 4; London: SPCK, 2013).

[2] My argument at this point is indebted to three recent discussions of 1 Kings 3–4:

P. J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), pp. 42–52.

G. K. Beale, A New Testament biblical theology: the unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).

J. A. Davies, “‘Discerning between Good and Evil’: Solomon as a New Adam in 1 Kings,” Westminster Theological Journal 73 (2011): 39–57.

The high priestly office and Jewish messianic hope

In late October last year I gave a paper at a conference at the University of Gloucestershire dedicated to 1 Enoch and Contemporary Theology. My topic was the political theology of the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En. 37–71) in its ancient context. The paper will likely appear in a published volume from the conference before too long. In the meantime I have posted a copy on my page

Building on an earlier publication in which I had argued that some of the distinctive features of theSimilitudes’ messianism is a response to patterns of Greco-Roman ruler cult (at the end of the C1st B.C. or the early decades of the C1st A.D.), I argue that it is also indebted to an older and well-established, biblically-based, distinction between the priestly office and the person of the king. The high priest is an office not a person. The office transcends the identities of those who hold it. The way that works is especially clear in Ben Sira 50. The office pre-exists each incumbent and it will continue to exist after their death. The Similitudes, I contend, projects that distinction on to a mythological, eschatological, horizon. The Son of Man-Messiah (and Elect One) in 1 En. 37–71 is almost wholly devoid of personhood. He is simply the one-God-made-manifest with no separate, individual, identity (or personality) that would threaten the identity of the one God. He is, then, to the eschatological scenario what the high priestly office is within the liturgical context of the temple-as-microcosm.

This argument will make a small contribution to the account of biblical and Jewish theology that I will lay out in volume 3 of my Jesus Monotheism.

Peter Leithart on divine and human creativity

I am writing a conference paper on Solomon (in 1 Kings 3–4) and have been rereading the wonderful commentary on 1 and 2 Kings by Peter Leithart. In his discussion of Solomon’s achievements, Leithart eloquently explores a point that I make in my Jesus Monotheism Volume 1 (p. 146) about the relationship between the Creator and the human calling:

“Humans are created in the image of a God who creates, and humans are therefore created to be subcreators. Human making and creativity are not secular concerns in Scripture, but central to humanity’s imaging of the transcendent God. … Made in God’s image, the human is homo creator, and just as the Father is never without eternal “art,” so human artifacts are not a secondary reality grafted onto a more basic “natural” existence but fully equiprimordial with humanity itself (Milbank 1991, 22).[1] Since human making reflects the eternal trinitarian nature and the continually creative work of God, however, it is not secular or neutral but a reaching for transcendence and an imitation of and participation in the ongoing creative action of God. Reflecting the divine making, human art even partakes of the ex nihilo of the original divine creation. Though the original creation is unique, it implies that the essence of created existence is ongoing origination, a continual bringing-into-existence of new things and new states of affairs. A table is not “rearranged lumber”; it is an ontologically new thing, which did not exist before being built. Human invention brings into being entire new classes of things—lightbulbs, books, and computer terminals.”[2]

This understanding of the foundational matter of what it means to be human has far reaching implications for our theology, for life and our understanding of the human Jesus of Nazareth. In his discussion of 1 Kings 3–4 Leithart ably demonstrates its basis in the biblical text.

[1] J. Milbank, The Religious Dimension in the Thought of Giambattista Vico, 1668-1744, Part 1: The Early Metaphysics (Studies in the History of Philosophy 23. Lewiston NY: Mellen, 1991).

[2] P. J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Brazos theological commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 73–74.

“The Name above all names” (Phil 2:9)

Earlier this week I presented a paper at the St Andrews Divinity School Biblical Studies Research Seminar. The paper was warmly received, several responses have helped me further strength my case and none, as far as I could tell, seriously questioned or undermined my argument. I have posted a (slightly worked up) copy of the paper on my site and have created a 30 day feedback session there so folk can view and comment if they would like.

Here is a brief summary of the argument.

The majority of scholars think that in Phil 2:6–11 Paul reminds his readers of a piece of Christian tradition; a poem or a hymn in praise of Christ. In the second stanza of that piece (vv. 9–11) the poem says that God gave the risen and exalted Christ a new name—a “name above all names”. There has been considerable debate about the identification of that supreme name. Most scholars now advocate one of three options:

  1. The name is “Lord” (Greek: kyrios).
  2. The name is God’s own name; Yhwh or Kyrios in the sense that the Greek word “Kyrios” functioned as a translation of the Hebrew word that Jews used as a substitute for the name of God—adonai.
  3. The name is “Jesus”.

An argument can be made for each of these. A careful reading of the Greek of Phil 2:9–11 in its original first century historical context gives grounds for each of them. Although there is no consensus, the majority (including leading voices in the study of NT Christology such as Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham) now vote for option 2.

However, there are seriously problems with each of these three. Option 2, for example, surely implies that Paul believed that Jesus somehow became YhwhKyrios at his exaltation. If he was divine already in pre-existence (where he is “in the form of God” in v. 6), at v. 9 he is exalted to a higher position as a result of his receipt of the divine name. (For an example of the way this reading works and its implications for an account of the origins of the earliest beliefs about Jesus, see a recent blog post by Larry Hurtado).

In the paper I gave at St Andrews I argue for a different approach to the one that almost all modern scholars currently take. I agree that Christ is identified with the divine name. The citation of language that describes the nations’ prostration to the one God in Isa 45:23 in vv. 10–11—“every knee shall bow … every tongue confess”—makes that clear. But there are numerous reasons to doubt that the name that Jesus receives for the first time in v. 9 is Yhwh-Kyrios. There is no clear parallel to this idea anywhere else in the earliest Christian documents where is, on the contrary, rather widespread and consistent evidence for the belief that Christ was identified with Yhwh-Kyrios already in pre-existence.

My approach is not entirely unprecedented. It is present, for example, in Maurice Jones’s commentary (published in 1918) and it is anticipated by two recent articles (one by Sam Vollenweider and the other by Michael Martina and Bryan Nash). Vollenweider, Martin and Nash propose that the “name above all names” actually refers to two names. Following Jones, I go one step further and argue that the supreme name is clearly stated in v. 11. The Greek of that verse is usually translated:

And every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (so e.g. ESV, NRSV, NIV)

However, the grammar of that verse is ambiguous and an equally, if not more likely, translation supplies the answer to the question, “what is the name above all names?” I translate the whole of verses 9–10 this way (with explanatory paraphrasing in brackets):

9 “Wherefore, God also highly exalted him,
and gave to him the name (onoma)
above all names,
10 in order that at the (utterance of) the name Jesus,
every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
11 and every tongue confess/acclaim,
“Lord/LORD Jesus Christ,”
to the glory of God the Father.

The name above all names is the three-part name-title “Lord/LORD Jesus Christ”. The name Yhwh-Kyrios is not given to Christ at his exaltation after death. The onoma that is “given” is a multi-part name title that is given in the sense that, for the first time after his death and resurrection, Jesus is publicly known and recognised as—and to be worshipped as—the one who is also Kyrios and Christos. His name-title contains the divine name (Yhwh-Kyrios), but it specifies the divine person for whom the hymn provides a brief biography as the one who has now (at the end of days) uniquely manifested the divine identity: Yhwh-Kyrios-Jesus-Messiah. 

This understanding of the divine name makes sense of the Greek expression κύριος Ἰησοῦς χριστός (that I have translated “Lord/LORD Jesus Christ”) in the context of both Philippians (cf. 1:2; 3:20; 4:23) and the rest of Paul’s letters. It also makes very good sense given the various ways names and titles functioned in the first century Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds (especially in texts honoring and praising human and divine persons). The three-part name title beautifully sums up the description of Christ in the hymn, where he is portrayed as: (a) a sovereign “Lord,” (b) “Yhwh-Kyrios” made-manifest, (c) the man Jesus of Nazareth (exalted to heaven), and (d) the Messiah who sums up in his life story the identity of all humanity (as a new Adam).

The Greek of v. 11 is ambiguous. (There are multiple, deliberate, ambiguities all the way through the hymn). First century readers or hearers of the piece would construe the Greek in several ways, all of which would help to unpack the primary sense that the one who was “in the form of God” in pre-existence is now known and worshipped as “kyrios Iēsous Christos”.

LXX Isaiah 40:2: “O Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem”

In a fine paper by Dr Alison Salvesen at the Oxford OT Seminar yesterday there was mention of a passage in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT) that I had not seen before. It says:

O Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem; comfort her,
because her humiliation has been fulfilled, her sin has been released, because she has received from the Lord’s hand double that of her sins.

The Hebrew does not have “O Priests”. Evidently, the Greek translator(s) thought it was important that those whom the prophet summons to announce the good news of forgiveness to Jerusalem were priests.

Interesting. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the NT claims the first verses of Isa 40 were fulfilled by John the Baptist—a priest (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4–6; Matt 3:3, cf. Luke 1:76).

Perhaps this Septuagint text (and others like it) ought to guide our interpretation of passages where Jesus of Nazareth announces the forgiveness of sins.

I’m just saying.

Wesley Hill on Paul and the Trinity

HillTrinityWesley Hill has written an important book about Paul’s theology, developing the work of his doctoral supervisor Professor Francis Watson (of Durham University, UK), on some ways in which trinitarian theology us understand the shape of Paul’s language about God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Spirit: Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Eerdmans, 2015). Sadly I came to it after completing volume 1 of Jesus Monotheism, but I am happy to report that its arguments dovetail with my own understanding of Pauline Christology, and in several ways it makes a timely contribution to the study of NT Christology.

The highlights:

  • A clear and readable overview of recent approaches to Trinitarian theology that makes technical discussions among systematicians accessible to NT scholars trained in traditional historical and literary methodologies.
  • A compelling discussion of the need to account for all the evidence for the relationship between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through simultaneous descriptions of the ways they are and the ways they are not differentiated from one another—a “redoubled” discourse that does justice to their asymmetrical mutuality.
  • One of the clearest and best exposition of 1 Cor 8:6 that I know of.
  • Some incisive criticisms of the work of leading voices in NT Christology scholarship (Dunn, James McGrath, Hurtado and Bauckham).

In arguing for a trinitarian reading of Paul Hill provides an astute analysis of mainstream modern scholarship for whom it has been a badge of honour that the interpretation of Paul is not contaminated by anachronistic patristic categories. Reading Paul’s talk about God, Christ and the Spirit in terms of the relations between persons also produces some invaluable exegetical insights. He does a fine job, for example, critiquing the common view that the last phrase in Phil 2:6–11 (“to the glory of God the Father”) is a rear guard action designed to ensure that there is no suggestion of competition between the one God and the exalted Christ.

In one respect, this book will, I hope, change the field forever: Hill calls out and challenges the assumption that it is right to frame discussion of NT Christologies in terms of whether, in a particular passage or at a point on a historical line of development, there is a “low” or “high” Christology (esp. pp. 18–30, 168–9). As he rightly notes, the standard question in twentieth century has been “the degree of Jesus’ divinity” (quoting Raymond Brown). Hill proposes that that the texts should be discussed within a different framework—one that respects the traditional Christian language of divine persons and relations. God the Father, Christ and the Spirit all belong within a web, or skein, of relations, rather than on a vertical axis (p. 169). In this, he makes a cogent case that should help direct the terms of all future discussion NT Christology. I have long had my doubts about the high-low framework and I touched on this issue in Jesus Monotheism, Volume 1 (ch. 3). In the wake of Hill’s book I propose the high-low Christology language should either be abandoned or used with great care and a consciousness of the theological and methodological assumptions that it makes.

Three critical observations:

1. Hill is right to challenge the dominant historical model that insists we must interpret NT theology solely through the categories of Second Temple Judaism (comparing Christ to angelic or divine mediator figures, for example). However, at times the baby is thrown out with the bathwater and Hill abstracts Paul’s letters from their historical context. And this means his trinitarian reading of Phil 2:6–11 is unlikely to convince because he does deal adequately with the historical objections to it. There are weighty reasons for thinking that in that Passage Paul cites a hymn that ascribes to Chirst the language of the divine ruler and ideal emperor, and that the text’s primary context is an early Christian political theology rather than a later trinitarian one. For several specialists, Samuel Vollenweider1 and Adela Yarbro Collins2 among them, that context means the hymn cannot be anachronistically interpreted through fourth century categories. It is surprising that Hill does not engage this political reading of the passage.

A robust engagement with Paul’s historical context should not be feared. Hill argues it is a mistake to read the last phrase of Phil 2:11c—“to the glory of God the Father”—and hear a concession to Jewish monotheism that ensures Christ and God the Father are not in competition with each other. I agree with him on this point. (There is no reason to think that among the earliest Christians anyone would think that the rest of Phil 2:6–11 would suggest competition between God (the Father) and the Lord Jesus Christ. That explanation of v. 11c  tells us far more about modern notions of Jewish and early Christian theology than it actually reflects first century views or debates). But I am surprised that Hill does not comment on the Philippians context of the hymn. That might help his case. Is it a coincidence that Paul is bothered by a competitive culture of honour and glory in Roman Philippi (on which see Joseph Hellerman, Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Podorum, 2005), and that the hymn supports his call for a unity of relations among his readers (Phil 1:27–2:4, cf. 4:2)? In the surrounding literary context “glory” and “vainglory” (i.e. competition for honour and glory) are concerns at the forefront of Paul’s argument (1:11; 2:4; 3:18–21; cf. 4:1). In this context, I suggest, the hymn presents a harmonious relationship between divine persons as a model or warrant for harmonious relations between human persons. The usual scholarly view (that Hill rejects) concedes the point to those who fear a competition for honour and glory between God the Father and the exalted Christ. That usual view, in effect, implicitly endorses the (cultural and philosophical) assumptions in pagan Philippi: persons, including divine ones, compete for honour and glory.

2. A danger in reading Paul through the lens of later Trinitarian theology is the likelihood that the particularities of individual texts will be ignored. This, I think, has happened in one detail of Hill’s exegesis of Phil 2:6–11. He says our interpretation should recognise the asymmetrical relationship between the divine persons in that God sends Jesus (p. 81, 109). But he doesn’t, does he. And that is one of the ways Phil 2:6–11 is such a remarkable passage: the one “being in the form of God” comes from pre-existence of his own volition (v. 7) and in light of his discerning correctly on the issue of equality with God (v. 6b–c). He is not sent. He is his own person, even in pre-existence. Hill seems to have collapsed Phil 2:6–7 into other incarnational statements in Paul’s letters (e.g. Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4).

3. I agree with N. T. Wright’s (appreciative and constructive) critique of Hill’s book when Wright complains that Hill has ignored all the ways in which the biblical story and theology (especially Adam as God’s image, the Temple, and the Exodus story) provided raw materials and categories for Paul’s presentation of the relationship between God and Christ. What we need now, in the light of the work of both Wright, Hill and others, is a creative conversation between a robustly historical approach to Paul’s (implicitly) trinitarian theology and the later (patristic) construal of that theology in terms of persons and relations.

Such a conversation would no doubt mean that the early interpreters of Paul will sometimes illuminate his writings. But it will also lead us to conclude, I am sure, that, in some ways, the apostle was closer to the inner meaning and full ramifications of the Christ event and its biblical context than were those who established a trinitarian orthodoxy in the fourth century and beyond. In the end, the question is not who best helps us understand a (Pauline or some other) text (exegesis), but who, or what, most faithfully represents and interprets the life death and resurrection of Jesus (history).


1. S. Vollenweider, “Der ‘Raub’ der Gottgleichheit: Ein religionsgeschichtlicher Vorschlag zu Phil 2.6(-11).” New Testament Studies 45 (1999): 413–33.

2. A. Y. Collins in A. Y. Collins and J. J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), pp. 113–116, 208–9.