On Pauline Christology and the Glory of Israel’s Messiah

In my last post I offered a few thoughts on Joshua Jipp’s new book Christ is King. I’ve enjoyed reading Joshua’s work ever since I came across his insightful and well written book on divine visitations and hospitality to strangers in Luke-Acts. (I have particularly benefited from his article on Paul’s Areopagus speech in Acts 17—published in the Journal of Biblical Literature vol. 131 2012—which anticipates my own reading of that passage that I will lay out in another volume of Jesus Monotheism).

My blog post focused on Joshua’s argument in the third chapter of Christ is King that biblical and Greco-Roman kingship traditions are the most important “historico-religious framework” for the origins of the belief in Jesus’ divinity. Joshua himself commented on my post. And I’m glad to see that Joel Willits, who is an expert on the relationship between the royal messiah and early Christology, has now weighed into the debate with his own blog post over at Evangelion in which he both reviews Joshua’s third chapter and adds some comments on my comments.

This blogsphere interaction highlights two important questions that, to my mind, are pressing for current discussion of Pauline and early Christology.

1. If kingship is so important for Pauline Christology, then why does Paul never use the word “king” for the risen Christ? Why is Greek kingship and Emperor language (sōtēreuergetēs, for example) either rare or unattested in Paul. (This is a question which also, I think, needs to be put to N. T. Wright’s account of Pauline Christology and its origins. Wright also places considerable weight on royal messiah as the meaning and historical background of Paul’s Christ language. Perhaps Tom has an answer to that question somewhere. If so, I’ve not seen it). Why, to repeat a point I made in my last post, does Paul steer well clear of the classic Old Testament kingship and royal messiah texts (Isa 9, 11; Pss 2; 72; 45; 89; Gen 49:8–12; Num 24:17; Zech 6:12)? If you take an hour or so to read all the relevant contemporary Jewish messianic texts (in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the pseudepigrapha and related material) and then read Paul, you find a startling difference: the classic royal and Davidic Scriptures that crop up again and again in the Jewish material are missing from the apostle’s letters. Why is this?

2. In my last post I questioned whether there is really any evidence (as Joshua, and now Joel, claim) for the association of the royal messiah with God’s glory (Heb. kavod) in the biblical and Jewish texts. (In Jesus Monotheism 1:230-33 I point out that the lack of any association between God’s own glory and the king/royal messiah has to be balanced by some much-overlooked evidence that the high priest was identified with, or ascribed, God’s own glory). On this issue Joel appeals to the important description of a royal messiah in (the first century B.C. Jewish text) Psalms of Solomon. In particular, he quotes Ps. Sol. 17:30b–31:

“And he [i.e. the royal Messiah] will purge Jerusalem and make it holy as it was even from the beginning, for the nations to come from the ends of the earth to see his [Messiah’s] glory (tēn doxan autou) to bring as gifts her children who had been driven out, and to see the glory of the Lord with which God has glorified her (‘autēn’).”

If Joel is right about this passage, then, to my mind, the Psalms of Solomon would be an exception to the rule that divine glory in the biblical and Jewish tradition is withheld from the king and royal messiah. As it is, and to quote from my own published words (in JM 1, p. 231, n. 59), “I agree with [Richard] Bauckham (God of Israel, 228–29) that Ps. Sol. 17:31 does not refer to the glory of the coming royal messiah as the glory of Yhwh-Kyrios … The context and other references to the glory of Jerusalem (in Pss. Sol. 2:19, 21; 11:7) show that the reference is to the glory of the restored holy city.”

I might have added two points that explain and back up Bauckham’s view.

  1. The feminine singular pronoun “autēn” in the last clause (“God has glorified her”) shows that the “glory of it” earlier in the verse must be “the glory of Jerusalem,” not the messiah’s glory. (The Greek Ierousalēm, mentioned in the previous verse, is a feminine noun).
  2. The whole of verse 31 evokes the language and themes of the closing chapters of Isaiah (esp. Isa 60:3-4, 9, 19; 61:3, 62:2; 66:20) where it is Zion and all the people of God that become the location of God’s glory and that the nations come to see.

So, instead of the translation in J. H. Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1, p. 667) that Joel follows, a better translation of the Greek of Ps. Sol. 17:31 would be:

“… for the nations to come from the ends of the earth to see its [Jerusalem’s] glory to bring as gifts her children who had fainted, and to see the glory of the Lord with which God has glorified her.”

The meaning of this passage seems pretty clear to me. But perhaps I have missed something. And if there are any texts from the time of the writing of the New Testament that closely associate Israel’s king with God’s own glory I would love to know. (The difference between divine glory for the high priest and no-divine glory for the king is a small, but important, part of the model of Christological origins that I will offer in Jesus Monotheism, vols. 3 & 4).

What do you think, guys?!

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