Monday, August 20, 2007

Book Review: Fee’s Pauline Christology Part 7

For the series outline, click here.

Chapter 13: 'Jesus as second Adam'.

While tying his findings into the broader Pauline theme of new creation, this chapter primarily asserts the humanity of Christ in terms of Adam and eikon language. In the latter, Fee isolates a twin emphasis: 'first, that the eternal Son of God perfectly bears the divine image and, second, that he did so in his own identity with us in our humanity' (521). And while there is an Adam Christology in Paul, 'in terms of actual language and echoes from Gen 1-2, it is limited to two kinds of passages: first, explicit contrasts between Christ and Adam ... and, second, where the incarnate Christ is seen as the true bearer of the divine image' (523). Fee once again affirms, under the heading 'the Pauline Emphasis – A Truly Human Divine Savior', that:

'Paul nowhere establishes a Christology as such; rather, because for the most part he is dealing with issues in his churches that need correcting – and need good "theology" as the way of doing so – his references to Christ are either soteriological in their focus or put emphasis upon his present reign as Lord' (523-24)

The next two chapters gather the Pauline material under what Fee considers to be 'the two primary christological emphases that emerge regularly in the corpus and that arguably hold the keys to Paul's answer to the question "Who is Christ?"' (482). The two emphases are Christ as the messianic/eternal Son of God and Christ as the messianic exalted 'Lord'.

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At 8/20/2007 3:06 PM, Blogger Danny Zacharias said...

That is a beautiful self-portrait Chris.

At 8/20/2007 10:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the eternal Son of God perfectly bears the divine image and, second, that he did so in his own identity with us in our humanity' (521)"

If I wander off topic here a little it is because I think this topic deserves extra attention from a different angle. I suppose in a book on Paul's "Christology", it is inevitable that one might come at the text with a Chalcedonian question like "According to Paul, was Christ human?" and find that yes indeed he was. But
I wonder if Fee is too quickly flattening out Paul's point in the Adam comparison/contrast in doing so.

Is Paul really concerned with proving that Christ was human 'like us'? I doubt it. That is merely a step (one prized by our theology) in his actual argument.

Following 1 Cor 15:45-50, it seems more important to Paul that we who are 'like Adam' now (and not like Christ yet) will become like the pre-existent, now resurrected 'man from heaven' someday in the future. That present man/likeness may exist now internally/spiritually but still awaits being undressed from the body and reclothed later (2 Cor 5).

Though Christ might have taken our fleshly form or likeness (Rom 8:3,Phil 2) in order to truly die, he did this in order that he might LEAVE BEHIND Adam's flesh and become a "life-giving spirit". He took on our likeness for awhile yet is "like us" no more. Rather in Paul's argument we are going to made into HIS (not Adam's) new likeness and thus image God (, 1 Cor 15:49, 2 Cor 3 where again the Spirit makes us into Christ's likeness). So I guess I'm saying for Paul, Christ's humanity(flesh) is not a final stop. He truly images God in his pre-existent and present non-flesh state. Paul doesn't speak of Christ's human state or sojourn (contra Fee) imaging God. Likewise he came not to vindicate our present human state but redeem us by delivering us from our fleshy Adamic state.

It's not so much that he would argue against Christ's former humanity just it is a minor detail in his greater argument's goal: our deliverance from the flesh. This is needed because as he goes on to say "flesh and blood can't inherit the kingdom of God" 1 Cor 15:50).

More importantly this antagonism to the bodily flesh of Adam explains much of Paul's thinking elsewhere. It explains how flesh and Spirit as terms realted to bodies can be conflated into seemingly ethical categories elsewhere. It explains in 2 Cor 5 why he no longer regards Christ 'according to the flesh' (Adamic likeness) but according to the the Spirit (his non-human, for lack of a better word, identity). It also explains why Christ descent "according to the flesh" (Rom 9:5) is useless to the Jews because he never should have been regarded according to his Adamic (human flesh) identity. In fact no one should be measured according to such outward appearance (2 Cor 5).

This also explains Paul's disinterest in Christ as David's son and all of the nationalistic deliverance that would entail. That is Christ's identity "according to the flesh" (Rom 1:3-4). His true identity as "the Son of God" is made clear or declared at the resurrection. But why the resurrection? Not because of some early adoptionist theology but because the resurrection is the time for Paul when Christ was delivered from the Adamic (and Davidic) flesh, so he could be identified properly for who he 'truly' was.

This explains why the Law and its ethnic trappings are irrelevant (circumcision="flesh" and Adamic irrelevance etc.). It also explains why Paul does indeed play the material/bodily/external off the internal/spiritual. Despite nearly unanimous howls against such dichotomies from every modern evangelical, this did not start in the Enlightenment.

But finally and perhaps most importantly for today, this is why Paul doesn't care for Jesus's life in the flesh (i.e. what we might think of as the historical Jesus or synoptic Jesus). To Paul this was apparently merely a worldly role he played that mostly played no significance in the real drama of the descent, death, and ascent of the Son of God.

If Christ as second Adam simply means Jesus was "like us", then I'm afraid it misses the intended contrast with Adam and the ripple effects this has on Paul's entire theology.

Submitted for your approval,
David Wilkerson

At 8/20/2007 10:49 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hi David, nice to hear from you.
I'll ponder your comment a little more before I try to interact. Just one point:

You wrote: "Is Paul really concerned with proving that Christ was human 'like us'?"

I'm pretty sure Fee would agree with your negative answer. For Fee, Paul's Christology is presuppositional, not stated, it is to be found in the pressupositions of Paul's arguments, not the arguments themeselves. Of course, in relation to this the whole question of Fee's definition of Christology is another issue worth debating (person as opposed to work), but now I'm side tracking!

As I said, I'll ponder your thoughts - my own reaction every now and then was 'yes, but ...' but I need to check if that instinct is misinformed before I expose your heresy ;-)

At 8/20/2007 10:50 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Danny, did you notice Adam has a Belly button here? That's heresy isn't it?

At 8/20/2007 11:12 PM, Anonymous Shane said...

On another tangent (related to your other posts), one of the arguments of creation scientists is that Paul's christology assumes a literal Adam. I am of the view that Paul probably did believe in a literal Adam, but that I can come to a different conclusion to him on that matter, and still agree with the thrust of his argument - that in Christ is to be found the solution to the problem of sin (identified symbolically with Adam).

Two questions 1)do you agree, and 2) as a self-proclaimed evangelical, is it acceptable for you to disagree with Paul at certain points (or to hold different beliefs)?

At 8/20/2007 11:26 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hi Shane, great question. In answer to your first my answer is basically 'yes' - I posted about this very issue briefly before, here.
In answer to your second question I'll stick my kneck out and say that I think we can disagree to an extent and understood in a certain way. But as you point out, this is not to detract from the main issue of Christ redeeming the world from sin, it simply admits that in light of scientific knowledge and better understanding of the Pentateuch, the early Genesis story is not to be understood as literal. Perhaps Paul would agree with us on this point were he to live in this day? My 'to an extent' above naturally needs some kind of expansion, but I should get to bed now. It is a good idea for a post, actually.

At 8/21/2007 1:17 AM, Anonymous steph said...

God is a woman - that is why Adam has a tummy button.

At 8/22/2007 1:33 PM, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

… second, where the incarnate Christ is seen as the true bearer of the divine image.

Here I go, dragging Dunn into the dialogue again.

Dunn argues (as I'm sure you know) that the famous hymn in Php. 2 is an instance of Adam christology — that this is the lens through which that much-contested passage is properly understood.

It serves Dunn's broader argument that Paul doesn't present Jesus as preexistent, contra the usual interpretation of his epistles. Jesus was no more preexistent for Paul than Adam was: i.e., perhaps as an idea in the mind of God, but not literally preexistent.

The challenge in Php. 2 comes with the opening phrase, "who was found in the form (morphe) of God". Was Adam in the form of God? Yes, in the sense that he was created in the likeness of God according to Gen. 1 and, as Paul says elsewhere, he bore the glory (doxa) of God.

And so Dunn argues that "morphe theou" should be understood not as literal, preexistent divinity, but in a weaker sense: that Jesus, like Adam, was found in the likeness (bearing the image) of God.

If we grant Dunn's interpretation of the opening phrase, the rest of the passage follows very neatly as a recapitulation of Adam, except that Christ humbled himself even unto death whereas Adam snatched at the opportunity to become like God.

Hence I quoted Fee at the beginning of my comment: "… second, where the incarnate Christ is seen as the true bearer of the divine image". That is, Php. 2 may be understood as an instance of Adam christology, according to Fee's own criteria, thereby undermining Fee's argument that Paul testifies to Jesus' preexistence.

I'm not sure that morphe will bear the meaning that Dunn ascribes to it; I lack the expertise to make such a judgement. But Dunn does offer some texts in an attempt to show that morphe is a near synonym for "image" and "likeness" elsewhere. As ever, I think it's a position that must be responded to with a substantive argument, rather than dismissed reflexively.

At 8/22/2007 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the rest of the passage follows very neatly as a recapitulation of Adam"


I think there is still too much left unexplained on that reading. Paul has Christ move from the form(image) of God to a form of nothingness, the form(image?) of a servant. These are clearly contrasts and show a time progression or movement that doesn't apply to Adam. And note Christ "makes HIMSELF" nothing. This is not descriptive of an earthly human choice to submit to God's will similar to Adam's, but a description of becoming a human or at least taking on the "likeness" (v7, Rom 8:3) or "appearance" (v8) of man. It is a primordial choice, pre-existence. It fits perfectly with the 2 Cor 8:9 picture of the "rich" one who became poor for our sakes, and (contra Tilling) the "sent" Son of Rom 8 and Gal 4.

It is precisely this difference of nature (not their similarity) between Adam and the "man from heaven" as Paul calls him in 1 Cor 15 that is significant for Paul. This is what I was clumsily pointing out in response to Chris. The Last Adam (not the "second" or, god forbid, "True" Adam a la Wright) delivers us from the "likeness" of Adam to the "likeness of the man from heaven" (1 Cor 15:49). The spiritual likeness to God which the Son shares in his spiritual body outside the flesh of Adam is the image of the "invisible" God. We do not have this image yet except in deposit form as the Spirit within us while we wait to throw off the flesh.

Because of this I don't think you would catch Paul saying Adam was the "image of God". Paul is uncomfortable enough having the true image of God be a human. He is something more that that makes an "appearance" in the "likeness" of man. He dies like a human, but is effective precisely because he is more than the "flesh". Thus he is not to be understood "according to the flesh" (2 Cor 5).

The contrast with Adam is not just ethical as in Romans 5, but a contrast of bodily substances. This is why I said the conclusion to any Adam Christology surely can not be that "yes, Christ was human like us". Paul is very nearly screaming the opposite.

David Wilkerson

At 8/22/2007 11:59 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hi Stephen, I think Fee's section on the Philippians hymn was one of his best parts of the book. His exegesis examined Dunn's claims in depth, and I felt Fee was basically on top of the argument there. My summary was all too brief of Fee at this point.

David, thanks for your comments. I recently wrote a 20,000 word critique of Fee's work, much of which will no probably make it into my doctorate after a few reworks. You comments are promoting me to post the part of that paper that relate to Fee's claims about pre-existence. It is not that I claim pre-existence is definetly not to be read in light of the sending passages, but rather that it these passages do not explicitly make this claim (as Fee writes) - and I thus find his claims a little exaggerated. But not just here, also in relation to a few verses in Rom 8 and 1 Cor 1.

A question while I chew on your thoughts: What do you make of the potential Adam overtones in the Phil 'hymn'? Present or absent?

At 8/23/2007 12:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I would say there are no overtones of Adam. Of course Paul's thinking of a "man" who "obeys" God and shares in "death" is informed by a certain implicit view of Adam's disimilar role (Romans 5). But it is not explicit here (and definitely not according to your exacting standard of explicitness :) that is, I don't think Paul is referring to Adam being in the image(morphe) of God.

David Wilkerson

At 8/23/2007 4:01 AM, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I think the interpretation of Php. 2 hinges on the paradigm or motif through which we view the passage. That is particularly so because many of the individual words are unusual in the New Testament. Therefore we have few NT parallels to compare them against, and the interpretation of one crucial word after another is hotly contested.

So what paradigm governs Bultmann's interpretation of Php. 2? — the fantastic gnostic redeemer myth. I gather that it has been largely discredited, though I'm not expert enough to make such claims. I only know that Bultmann's controlling paradigm never held any fascination for me. It is imported from outside the biblical worldview that I regard as the true starting point for all of Paul's thinking.

Hence the Adam christology has more intrinsic appeal to me. The question then becomes, does it fit the hymn without forcing the interpretation?

I think it does. Here's how I read the text:

who, though he was in the form of God
I've been looking at Hawthorne's commentary on Philippians tonight. It seems that the term morphe means a manifestation (perceptible to the senses) of one's nature. (Hawthorne doesn't use the word "manifestation", but I think it accurately captures his meaning.)

Morphe theou thus tells us that Jesus manifested God's nature. I don't deny that doctrine, which is taught everywhere in the New Testament. It doesn't necessarily entail pre-existence or deity, however. It may mean only that Jesus was extraordinarily sensitive to and submissive to the Spirit of God and the will of God, so that his conduct was godly to a revelatory degree.

I would go further and say that what we see in Jesus is unfallen man. This is the attribute Jesus shared in common with Adam (i.e. before Adam sinned). Whether this took some kind of intervention by God at Jesus' conception to protect Jesus from "original sin", I don't presume to know. In any event, that's my (perhaps idiosyncratic) interpretation of morphe theou: Jesus was an unfallen human being who therefore manifested God's likeness (= image) as no other human being since Adam.

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
Did not regard absolute equality with God as something he should snatch at. This in direct contrast to Adam, who ate the forbidden fruit in an attempt to become like God.

but made himself nothing
That is, "emptied himself". I think the phrase is a synonymn of "denied himself" — the terminology that Jesus uses in the synoptic Gospels. I'm not sure whether anyone else makes that connection: perhaps because they're looking for something of deeper significance.

Hawthorne writes, "One need not imagine that the phrase ['emptied himself'] means that Christ discarded divine substances or essences. Rather, it is a poetic, hymnlike way of saying that Christ poured out himself, putting himself totally at the disposal of people."

Hawthorne then points out a play on words between verse 3, kenodoxia ("vain conceit"), and verse 7, ekenosen ("emptied"). Vain conceit "characterized those [people in Philippi] who were demanding their rights and insisting on their own way." "Self-emptying" characterized Jesus "in terms of setting aside his rights and in not insisting on his own way."

I will add (what Hawthorne does not) that the play on words is again consistent with the Adam paradigm, since Adam sought his own advancement whereas Jesus set aside self-interest in the service of others.

taking the form of a servant
To me, this phrase signifies absolute obedience/submission to God's will/Christ's appointed destiny. A slave, after all, is someone who does what he is bidden to do without talking back or otherwise resisting his master's will. Again, the contrast between Adam's disobedience and Christ's obedience is unforced.

Some interpreters see here an allusion to the Servant of YHWH in Isaiah 53, which also seems reasonable to me. Hawthorne writes, "the expression 'he emptied himself' is equivalent to Isaiah's 'he poured out his soul unto death'. … Note also that the Isaiah-poem strikes the same theme as is struck at the conclusion of the Philippians hymn — 'Behold my servant … will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.'"

We are not forced to choose between the Servant of YHWH paradigm and the Adam paradigm, of course. They can both exert an influence on the text.

being born in the likeness of men
That's the ESV translation I'm quoting. But genomenos doesn't strictly mean "born", as if we're discussing the pivot between preexistence and incarnation. It means beginning. In form, it is a participle of simultaneous action, according to Hawthorne: meaning that Christ's beginning to be in the likeness of a human being happened simultaneously with his self-emptying or self-denial.

My interpretation is this: Jesus accepted the lot common to all human beings — hunger, obedience to authority, suffering, death, etc. This doctrine, too, is taught throughout the New Testament, and I have no desire to deny it. It is parallel to the earlier statement about not snatching at absolute equality with God (as Adam had done). Jesus could have demanded special treatment: exemptions from the hardships of human existence, based on his extraordinarily intimate with God (sonship) — which in turn was based on his unfallen condition.

No sin stood between Jesus and the Father. Satan says, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." Jesus answers, "No way, God's word is that I must live as any other human being, with no special perks, despite my sonship."

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

This seems to me to be a recapitulation of everything said above, but extended to the ultimate test of obedience: a refusal to rebel against God's will even when he was appointed to die an excruciating death.

Throughout the hymn, the Adam paradigm is clear and unforced. I see no reason to turn away from it to embrace Bultmann's fantasy of a gnostic redeemer myth — which isn't taught anywhere but must be cobbled together from multiple, disparate sources.

At 8/23/2007 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It seems to me your reading suggests less an explicit Adam Christology than a reflection on the virtues of Jesus' historical life which can in many quite random ways be contrasted with Adam. There are few direct references to Adam on your own reading. I find little that suggests Paul is leading that way. Your readings are creative and but how could we know Paul intended them? The analogies aren't forced but they are 'forced' on Paul.

More problematic however is that the reading doesn't flow. You take verses 6-7 as a broad description of Jesus as obedient, unassuming, unfallen humanity, not of any particular event in his life. Paul however is listing a series of concrete events in this hymn, a movement with distinct episodes. The death and exaltation are clear, but your prelude to them becomes some generalized mush when Paul intends it to describe the first concrete moment, the choice of "the descent". It is this particular concrete choice which Paul is asking the Phillipians to imitate. I hasten to add Paul refers to it elsewhere specifically for the same purposes (2 Cor 8:9).

You reason too directly out of the synoptics for me concerning Paul's ideas of Jesus. You may think that is using a biblical worldview but I think it is begging the question. Whether it's Jesus' virtues (like his "sensitivity and submission to the Spirit", "denying himself", or the mundane fact of being at the "total disposal of others") or Jesus' mission options, Paul nowhere shows any interest or knowledge of a moment in Jesus' life when he chooses servanthood, to become poor, or when has the ability to opt-out of the whole mission or its environmental conditions if he had wished. It is exceedingly unlikely that Paul is making veiled references to these events or qualities when he never does elsewhere. They don't fit conceptually in Paul.

You speak of Jesus' "godly conduct" as "revelatory", yet Paul never does. You speculate about Jesus conception and original sin wanting Jesus to be like "pre-fallen" Adam. Paul simply says the Son took on the "likeness of sinful flesh" becoming "sin" or alternatively so sin could be condemned in his flesh. Paul is not interested in Jesus' "unfallen" humanity as an example or as revelatory of anything. Rather Paul is interested in Christ's death as sin or as a sin offering in the 'fallen' flesh. The instrumental usefulness of that death is key, not his virtuous life. Paul is not after simply a "good Adam" who gets it right, setting the example for right living, but a man from heaven who delivers us from Adam's sin and his bodily substance, flesh, which is the ultimate problem (Rom 7).

Again, you see the references to his "form", "equality", "lack of grasping", "making himself nothing", "taking the nature of a servant", "being made in human likeness" as a cataloging of some general qualities of Jesus. But where else does Paul praise these earthly virtues? Contrast that with the fact that Christ's death is mentioned repeatedly in Paul's letters as significant, and not surprisingly, Paul gives it a swift direct mention here. It certainly makes one wonder if Paul in Phil 2:6-7 isn't also just speaking more explicitly of the 'sending' or 'becoming poor' of the Son that is evident elsewhere in his letters as well. May I suggest Occam's razor.

Two particular pieces of exegesis come off unconvincing as well:

"• taking the form of a servant —
To me, this phrase signifies absolute obedience/submission to God's will/Christ's appointed destiny."

If Christ were human than being an obedient servant would be appropriate. No historic change is needed or being noted here on that reading. What is more likely here however is the Son/slave contrast that is elsewhere in Romans and Galatians. Christ is giving up sonship and becoming 'enslaved' under the bondage of the law and flesh. It is much more negative reading of 'servant' highlighting how despicable it is in comparison to the freedom of the previous sonship. It does not seem to be extolling how admirably obedient Jesus was living out a 'servant' lifestyle. And in any case for Paul, Christ's obedience is his death not his life of service (Rom 5:18ish).

And finally in reference to vs 7 and eliciting a "Huh?":

"Christ's beginning to be in the likeness of a human being happened simultaneously with his self-emptying or self-denial."

Yours truly,

P.S. Chill out on the Bultmann Bogeyman.

At 8/23/2007 12:39 PM, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

(1) I didn't intend to depict Bultmann as a bogeyman. I just think the gnostic redeemer myth is a (clever, learned) fantasy — also extrabiblical; also post-pauline, though I neglected to say as much in my earlier comment — and therefore it's the wrong choice of paradigm for interpreting Php. 2.

Did I say anything that would constitute an ad hominem attack? If so, mea culpa. I intended to critique only Bultmann's interpretive framework, not the man himself.

(2) Regarding my use of the synoptics —
I take your point. However, it's also worth remembering that Paul didn't write the hymn, he is merely quoting it (which adds another layer of complexity to its interpretation).

I believe that traditions about Jesus were in circulation when Paul was writing his letters. We can certainly see (from the Gospels and Acts) that texts like Psalm 110:1 and Isaiah 53 were being taken up by the Church and developed as interpretive lenses for understanding the events of Christ's life.

I'm suggesting that this hymn is an example of a similar activity, using a different scriptural model: depicting the events of Jesus' life as a recapitulation of Adam's history, but with a happier ending.

Who wrote it, we'll never know. Insofar as the terminology is uncharacteristic of Paul (e.g. morphe, which appears only here in the NT), it was unlikely to have been composed by Paul or under his direct influence. Maybe it was written by someone in one of his churches, after he had introduced the concept of Adam christology, and after he had moved on to another place?

(3) I'm aware that my interpretation is relatively static compared to Bultmann's. In my interpretation, several lines are essentially different ways of saying the same thing: Jesus didn't act in his own self-interest, but humbled himself to obey God and serve others. In Bultmann's more dynamic interpretation, each line of the hymn constitutes another step downward in Jesus' descent (self-emptying).

The question is whether my interpretation shows too little movement from one line to the next, or whether Bultmann is overinterpreting the text. And part of my defense would be to remind you that this is a hymn. It isn't a theological treatise (though we tend to treat it as such): it's a worshipful meditation on the salvation wrought by Christ.

If the lines evoke the same marvelous truth multiple times in different words — I think that fits with its function as a hymn.

It is this particular concrete choice which Paul is asking the Phillipians to imitate.

Paul is asking the Philippians to put one another's interests ahead of their own — which is precisely how I interpret the hymn. Our mistake is to press its meaning into a tale of Jesus' preexistence and incarnation, which takes us far beyond Paul's intent in quoting the hymn.

(4) Re Paul's interest in the earthly Jesus —

Paul is not after simply a "good Adam" who gets it right, setting the example for right living.

Again, I disagree with Bultmann on this point. Paul's emphasis is on the crucifixion / resurrection as salvific, no question. But a close reading of his letters demonstrates that he frequently alludes to the ethical teaching of Jesus in ways that closely parallel the text of the (later) synoptic Gospels. In other words, Paul wasn't as ignorant of, or as disinterested in, the historical Jesus and his ethical teaching as Bultmann supposed.

In any event, Paul didn't write this hymn; some other devout Christian did. And Paul takes it up for the very narrow purpose of exhorting the Philippians to put one another's interests ahead of their own.


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