What was Paul's view of Jesus?


1. Introduction
2. Jesus Christ as a Human Being
3. Binitarian Statements
4. The Pre-Existence of Jesus Christ
5. The Identification of Jesus Christ with God
      5.1. Phil 2:6-11
      5.2. Col 1:15-20 (Col 2:9)
      5.3. 2 Cor 4:4
      5.4. Explicit Naming of Jesus Christ as God
          5.4.1. Rom 9:5
          5.4.2. Titus 2:13
          5.4.3. 2 Thess 1:12
          5.4.4. "Lord" (Kurios)
       5.5. "Spirit of God" Interchangeable with "Spirit of Christ" 

6. Paul’s Subordination of Jesus Christ to God
   6.1. Son of God
       6.1.1. The Second-Temple Use of Son of God
       6.1.2. Paul's Use of Son of God
   6.2. Statements about Christ that Imply Subordination
       6.2.1. 1 Cor 3:22b-23
       6.2.2. 1 Cor 8:6
       6.2.3. 1 Cor 11:3
       6.2.4. 1 Tim 2:5
   6.3. "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"

7. Conclusion





1. Introduction


Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. After this experience, he changed his understanding of Jesus accordingly. It can be taken for granted that, after his conversion, Paul began to identify Jesus as Israel's Messiah; this is implied by the fact that Paul refers to Jesus as “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Jesus,” or simply “Christ.” Before his conversion, Paul probably thought that Jesus was a Messianic pretender, whose execution refuted his claim to be Israel’s Messiah. Jesus' anti-Pharisaic stance on many issues no doubt confirmed this judgment about Jesus' identity. Also it goes without saying that Paul came to believe that Jesus, who had been crucified, was now alive. Paul's understanding of the nature of Israel's Messiah, Jesus (the) Christ, who or what exactly he is, is the subject of this inquiry. Only once does the apostle write about the identity of Jesus as his primary purpose (Col 1); his other christological statements are secondary, being made in the service of other topics. This adds to the difficulty of the task. In addition, it must be noted that Paul does not clearly separate christology from soteriology, so to do so is artificial, the dissection of an organic whole.

2. Jesus Christ as a Human Being


Paul believes that Christ was and still is a human being, which would not be at all contested by Paul's Jewish contemporaries. To express the idea of Jesus Christ as a human being, Paul uses various anthropological terms in his description of him and his salvation-historical work. In Rom 5:15 and 1 Cor 15:21, he refers to Jesus Christ as a man (anthrôpos), in comparison and contrast to the first man, Adam. (Paul qualifies this by saying that Jesus Christ is the "second man from heaven" as opposed to the "first man from earth" [1 Cor 15:47-48].)  Similarly, in 1 Tim 2:5, Paul calls Jesus a man (anthrôpos), the mediator between God and human beings.


Paul also uses the term "flesh" (sarx) to describe Jesus' humanity; the term refers to physical or bodily existence. Paul writes about how God sent his own son "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (en homoiômati sarkos hamartias) by which he means that Christ appeared in history as a human being, under the constraints imposed upon the human race by sin (Rom 8:3). Paul does not uses the phrase "in the likeness of" in order communicate that Christ only appeared to be flesh, in which case likeness would mean something like resemblance. Rather Paul's intention in using "in the likeness of sinful flesh rather than simply "in sinful flesh" is to imply that Christ was not only sinful flesh but was something else that was sent by God in order to take on sinful flesh, or fallen physical existence (Phil 2:7 "in the likeness of human beings"). In other words, it would be an error to conclude that, because he appeared to be a human, Christ was only a human being. Another possible interpretation is to take homoiôma (likeness) to mean form or nature without any suggestion that Christ merely appeared to be a human being. Likewise in 1 Tim 3:16, he quotes from a hymn whose first line is "He appeared in flesh" (ephanerothê en sarki), by which is meant that Christ appeared in history as a human being with a physical body. Finally, in Eph 2:14-15, Paul speaks of Christ's "abolishing in his flesh (sarki)" the enmity between Jew and gentile; he is referring to Christ's soteriological work as a human being, or as having "flesh." Paul also refers to Jesus' body (sôma) in Rom 7:4 ("through the body of Christ"), by which he means Christ's physical existence, and in Col 1:21-22 he says that Christ reconciled "you" "by the body of his flesh" (en to sômati tês sarkos autou); this difficult phrase refers to Christ's body as composed of flesh, or his physical body. Paul also gives to God the salvation-historical designation of "the one who raised Jesus from the dead" (Rom 8:11; see 1 Cor 15:15 "He [God] raised Christ). This uniquely Christian title for God implies that Jesus had a human body, for otherwise there could be nothing raised from the dead.


Paul affirms that Jesus Christ as a human being was a Jew. In Rom 1:3, he writes that, "according to the flesh (kata sarka), i.e. with respect to his physical descent, Jesus Christ was from the "seed of David," by which he means that he was a descendent of David. Likewise in 2 Tim 2:8, Jesus Christ is described as "from the seed of David." In Rom 9:5 he says that he, according to the flesh (kata sarka), was from the Israelites: "Israelites...from whom is the Christ according to the flesh." In Gal 4:4, Paul says that "God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law," which implies that he was not only a human being but also a Jew. Finally, Paul makes reference to “James, the brother of the Lord”; to have James as a brother implies that Jesus Christ is both a human being and a Jew, since James was a Jew (Gal 1:19).


It should be noted, however, that Paul holds that Jesus Christ as a human being did not "know" sin in the sense that he did not experience sin and so was sinless: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf" (2 Cor 5:21).(1) (The Suffering Servant was sinless [Isa 53:9], and it was sometimes affirmed in Second-Temple texts that the Messiah would be without sin [Pss Sol. 17:40-41; T. Jud. 24:1; T. Levi 18:9].) He is also described as righteous and obedient to God: "Through one act of righteousness...through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous" Rom 5:18-19). His sinlessness and righteousness set him apart from the rest of humanity. (Jesus Christ is also said to have humility, unlike most other human beings [Phil 2:6-11].)


Although Paul clearly believes in the humanity of Jesus, he makes little use of the gospel tradition in his letters, although he apparently had access to it (see 1 Cor 7:25). That Paul makes little use of the gospel tradition is probably accidental, and does not reflect any prejudice against it.  On three occasions, Paul makes use of gospel traditions that eventually found their way into the canonical gospels are: 1. 1 Cor 7:10: Paul cites Jesus’ authority for his prohibition of divorce (= Mark 10:2-12 pars.);  2. 1 Cor 9:14: Paul cites the Lord (Jesus) as an authority supporting the financial support of the apostles (= Matt 10:10; Luke 10:7)  3. Paul cites Jesus’ words of institution in his dealings with the problem that the Corinthians were having at their celebration of the Lord’s Supper (= Mark 14:22-25 par; Luke 22:14-20).



3. Binitarian Statements


Frequently in his salutation and benedictions, prayers or charges, Paul makes statements in which he mentions God the/our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus our Savior or Christ Jesus our Lord, together in such a way that a unique relationship between them is implied. These are in addition to the trinitarian statements that Paul includes in his letters (Rom 15:16; 15:30; 1 Cor 6:11; 12:4-6; 2 Cor 1:21-22; 13:13; Gal 4:6; Eph 1:13-14; 2:18; 2:19-22; 4:4-6; 2 Thess 2:13-14; Titus 3:5-6).


3.1. Salutation

  • "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; 2 Thess 1:2; Phlm 3) (see Col 1:2 "Grace to you and peace from God our Father.")
  • "Grace and peace from God (the) Father and Christ Jesus our Savior." (Titus 1:4)
  • "Grace, mercy and peace from God (the) Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2)

3.2. Benediction, Prayer or Charge

  • Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 6:23)
  • May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thess 2:16-17)
  • Now may our God and Father himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you. (1 Thess 3:11)
  • I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 4.1)


4. The Preexistence of Jesus Christ


In Paul's view, Jesus Christ is more than simply a human being, which is evident from the fact that there are passages in his letters in which Paul affirms the pre-existence of Jesus before his historical appearance.(2) He says in Gal 4:4 that when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the Law. For God to send forth implies the pre-existence of the one sent, because one must already be in order to be sent; in this case, the son as pre-existent takes upon himself a human existence ("born of a woman"). Similarly, in Rom 8:3, Paul refers to how God did what the Law could not by "sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh," in order to condemn sin in the flesh. Again the fact that God sent his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh implies the son's pre-existence. Also Paul describes how Jesus, though rich, became poor, in order that believers may become rich through Jesus' poverty (2 Cor 8:9). Paul is alluding to Jesus' pre-existence as "rich" and his becoming a human being, thereby becoming "poor." Somewhat enigmatically, Paul identifies Jesus as the spiritual rock that followed the Israelites around in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4). Whatever Paul meant exactly, it is clear that in his view Jesus pre-existed his historical appearance. Finally, in the two pre-Pauline hymns quoted by Paul (Phil 2:6-11 Col 1:15-20) Christ is assumed to pre-exist his historical appearance. The question that now arises is what did Paul think Jesus Christ was before his appearance in human history as a human being.


There is one strand of post-biblical Messianic expectation in which the Messiah is conceived as pre-existent. This is perhaps derived from a messianic interpretation of "one like a son of man" in Dan 7:13-14, and is evidenced in the Similitudes of 1 Enoch (48:1-7; 62:7-10) (which may or may not be post-Christian) (see below) as well as the post-Christian texts of 4 Ezra 7:28; 13:1-58 (see 13:32) and 2 Bar 29:3. In this regard, we should look at John 7:25-27: there were those who apparently believed that the origins of the Messiah would be unknown, and, since they knew where Jesus was from, they rejected him as the Messiah. The notion that the Messiah's origins are unknown seems to be a reflection of the view of the pre-existence of the Messiah who appears suddenly in human history from the presence of God.


1 Enoch 48:6-7:  "For this purpose he became the Chosen One; he was concealed in the presence of the Lord of Spirits prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity. He has revealed the wisdom of the Lord of the Spirits to the righteous and holy ones..." 


1 Enoch 62:7-9"  "For the Son of Man was concealed from the beginning, and the Most High preserved him in the presence of his power; then he revealed him to the holy and elect ones. The congregation of the holy ones shall be planted, and all the elect ones shall stand before him."


5. The Identification of Jesus Christ with God


In spite of his use of different and even unsystematic terminology, the undeniable conclusion is that Paul identifies Jesus Christ with God. This is a remarkable position for a second-Temple Jew to hold, so much so that scholars sometimes cannot believe that Paul has such a high Christology. It should be noted that in his letters, Paul quotes from two early Christian hymns that bear a greater Hellenistic influence than what one would nornally find in Paul's writings. He probably believed that borrowing from Hellenistic sources was desirable because there were not the conceptual tools available to him from Palestinian Jewish sources, written in Hebrew and Aramaic, in order to express his understanding of Jesus Christ for his churches.


There is debate over whether second-Temple Jews ever equated any mediatorial figure with God in any way, thereby compromising a rigid monotheism. As L. Hurtado argues, against W. Bousset's classic work, Die Religion des Judentums im späthellenistischen Zeitalter, the evidence suggests that neither Palestinian Jewish theology nor the more accommodating Hellenistic Jewish theology ever attributed a divine status to an angel or especially to a historical figure—exalted or otherwise (One God, One Lord [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988]; id., Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003]; id., How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,2005). Thus, the identification of Jesus with God is a unique development in pre-Pauline Christian theology, which Paul accepts and further develops. (In the case of hypostaseis, since these are attributes or functions of God and not independent beings, such as angels or human beings, to attribute deity to these is not a compromise of a strict monotheism.)  According to Hurtado, Judaism—both Palestinian and Hellenistic varieties—provided the early church with the conceptual background of pre-existent and exalted mediatorial agents with which it interpreted Jesus as such a figure. There was what Hurtado calls a "mutation" in early Christianity, however, insofar as the early church attributed divine status to Jesus as a mediatorial figure, something unprecedented in any form of Judaism. Paul's christology belongs to the history of this theological mutation. On this topic, see also A. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (SJLA 25; Leiden: Brill, 1977); Paul the Convert. The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) chap.2; H. Bietenhard, Die himmlische Welt im Urchristentum und Spätjudentum (WUNT 2; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1951; L. Stuckenbruck, Angel Veneration and Christology (WUNT 2.70; Mohr-Siebeck, 1995); C. Rowland, The Open Heaven. A Study of Apocalyptic in Judaism and Early Christianity (London: SCM, 1982); J. E. Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord. The Origins of the Idea of Intermediation in Gnosticism (WUNT 1.36; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1985; A. Chester, "Jewish Messianic Expectation and Mediatorial Figures and Pauline Christology," Paulus und das antike Judentum (ed. M. Hengel; U. Heckel; WUNT 58; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1992) 17-89); R. Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).


5.1. Phil 2:6-8 (9-11)

6 Who [Christ Jesus], existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, coming to be in the likeness of human beings. And being found in outward appearance as a human being, 8 he humbled himself, becoming obedience unto death, even the death of a cross.


Paul likely did not write this composition, for it contains too many instances of non-Pauline vocabulary (morphê theou; isa theô; doulos; huperupsoein; harpagmon hegomai; katachthonios) words and usages (kenoein used metaphorically of Christ; Christ as the indirect object of charizomai) to have originated with Paul.(3) (Whether Paul modified the original hymn or interpolated elements into it has been long debated.) Rather, Phil 2:6-11 is probably a pre-Pauline hymn that he quotes (thereby signaling his agreement with its content) to make his point that Jesus Christ was humble (and so should the Philippians be); but the hymn says much more about Christ Jesus than just this.(4) Who composed the hymn and how it was used are questions that must remain unanswered.


5.1.1. “In the morphê of God” (2:6)


Before his coming in the likeness of a human being (en homoiomati anthrôpôn), Christ Jesus is said to have been in the form of God (en morphê theou). The meaning of morphê is varied in Greek literature and in Jewish texts written in or translated into Greek. In Greek and Jewish texts written in Greek meaning, most commonly the term morphê means outward appearance or shape. There is, however, a less common and philosophical meaning for morphê of "essential being" or "nature." This is found in Plato's writings and and especially in those of Aristotle. (It should be noted that the scholarly discussion on this topic has been immense, far too much to consider exhaustively.)


Methodologically, one must first seek to determine the meaning of the term morphê in Phil 2 from the context, rather than simply import a meaning from other texts alleged to be conceptual parallel.(5) The word morphê appears again in the hymn: Christ Jesus is said to have taken the morphê of a (human) servant, becoming made in the likeness of men (2:7). (The word morphê only occurs only these two times in Paul’s letters, so that one cannot determine its meaning by comparing it to his other uses of the term.) This does not help much in determining the meaning of the term morphê, but does help some, as will be seen. Outside of the hymn, in the New Testament, the term morphê occurs in the longer ending of Mark (16:12) with the meaning of outward appearance. There are occurrences of morphê in the LXX and other Jewish literature written in Greek; in these the term also means outward shape or figure or some other, related meaning:  LXX Judg 8:18; Tobit 1:13; Job 4:16; Wis 18:1; Isa 44:13; Dan 3:19; 4 Macc 15:4; T. Benj. 10:1) (In T. Benj. 10:7 there is a likely Christian interpolation based on Phil 2:6: ton basileia tôn ouranôn ton epi gês phanenta morphê anthôpou tapeinôseôs). The term is used of God or the gods, but with the sense of visible, outward appearance (Plato, Rep. 380d; 381b-c; Xenophon, Mem. 4.3.13; Philo, Leg. ad Gai. 110).


Even though morphê in the New Testament, the LXX and second-Temple texts written in Greek has the more common meaning of outward appearance or shape, this does not seem to be the meaning in Phil 2. Given the parallelism between the morphê of a servant and the morphê of God, the translation of "outward appearance" or "shape" does not seem to work, because neither has a specific outward appearance or shape. The other, more philosophical meaning for morphê, however, does make sense in the hymn in Phil 2:6-11. As indicated, in addition to meaning "outward appearance" or "shape," morphê can be used to mean "essential being" or "nature," that which defines a thing. Aristotle, in particular, uses the term morphê as the equivalent in meaning to "eidos" ("idea") or to ti en einai ("essence") (lit. "the what it is"). But Plato also differentiates between the eidos ("idea") and that which has the same morphê of the eidos ("idea") (echei de tên ekeinou morphên aei). An eidos ("Idea") can be said to have an morphê when speaking about an individual thing that participates in the Idea. He explains that the name of the eidos ("Idea") obviously applies to the eidos ("Idea"), but can also be applied to the individual things that share the morphê of the eidos ("Idea") (Phaed. 103e). As Plato uses the term, the individual thing shares the morphê of an Idea insofar as it is an exemplification of the Idea: the morphê is an Idea exemplified in an individual thing. As used in the hymn in Phil 2:6-11, Christ Jesus is both God and servant in his essential being or nature, that is, he has the morphê of each. To be "in" the morphê of God denotes existence "in" the same ontological realm in which God exists, which is to say divine being. In this way Christ is not simply identified with God, as if they are merely two names for the same being.(6) Nevertheless, each is what the other is, although that which is the morphê, i.e., Christ Jesus, is ontologically secondary to that of which is it the morphê, i.e., God. Correspondingly, Christ Jesus in the morphê of a servant is to have the nature of a servant, which implies a human nature. The problem with asserting that Christ Jesus is in the morphê of God, however, is that for Paul God is numerically one, so that logically there should be nothing that is in the image of God since this implies that there are two with the same morphê. Paul seems to be assuming that even though he distinguishes God and Christ Jesus who is in the morphê of God there is still only one God, in which case he would be identifying Christ Jesus with God.


It is probably too much, however, as Lightfoot suggests, to claim that the author of the hymn intends the full semantic field derived from Aristotelian philosophy (ousia [essential being] and phusis [nature]) be imported into an interpretation of the text, as if the author were an peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosopher. Lightfoot argues that the author meant by saying that Jesus was in the morphê theou that he participated in the divine ousia or phusis. This is contrasted with his appearance (schêma) as a human being, schêma referring to external appearance rather than essence.(7) The meaning is probably looser and less rigorously Aristotelian than this, but still with the general meaning of essential being or nature.(8) (Actually, Aristotle is not always consistent and exact in his terminology.) One should probably assume that this looser philosophical meaning was current in the first century and it was used as a means by which to communicate Christ's relation to the God by whoever was responsible for the composition of the hymn that Paul quotes in Phil 2:6-11.


Confirmation of this interpretation is found in the fact that the Jewish historian Josephus, who originated in Palestine, seems to use the term morphê theou with the implicit sense of "essential being" or "nature," insofar as he affirms paradoxically about God that "His form and magnitude surpass our powers of description" (morphên de kai megethos hêmon aphatos). If the morphê of God surpasses all description, then morphê does not mean outward appearance, since what has an outward appearance can be described. (It is clear that, for him, morphê does not mean outward appearance because Josephus adds, "No materials...are suitable to make an image [eikôn] of him [God] [Apion 2.190-91]). One need not, however, follow Käsemann in postulating a Jewish Gnostic background for the hymn's assertion that Christ pre-existed in the morphê of God. According to him, the hymn originally referred to the Heavenly Man ("Urmensch") who alone existed in morphê of God. The central idea of the hymn is that Christ Jesus became a human being, not appeared in human history as the pre-existent Heavenly Man.(9) (See also 2 Cor 8:9 where Paul says that Christ though he was rich yet became poor for the sakes of the Corinthians.)


There have been attempts to avoid the philosophical interpretation of morphê (even the diluted philosophical interpretation) by arguing that morphê is indistinct in meaning from the equivalent terms eikôn and homoima, from which it follows that morphê in Phil 2:6 has the general meaning of “image of God,” and does not necessarily mean that Christ has the same essential being or nature as God.(10) This is because all three Greek words are used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew zelem ("image"), and in Gen 1:26-27 Adam, who is not divine, is said to be the zelem ("image") and demuth ("likeness") of God. Indeed, some interpreters argue that the hymn is actually contrasting Christ and Adam along the lines of Rom 5:12-19 and 1 Cor 15:45-49 and that it is not the intention to say anything about Christ as pre-existent or his sharing in the divine nature.

J. Dunn argues that the hymn in Phil 2:6-11 should be understood against the conceptual background of Adam christology (Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980] 114-21). It presupposes a two-stage christology of Christ's acceptance of the human lot leading to death and then his exaltation to status of Lord over all. In the hymn, there are two sets of contrasting terms: "form of God" / "form of a servant" and "equality with God" / "likeness of human beings." What is said of Christ Jesus in the hymn was first said of Adam. Understood against the background of Gen 1-3, the creation and fall of Adam, the phrase morphê of God refers to Adam as having been in the "image" (LXX eikon) of God with a share of the glory of God, for the visible form of God is his glory. By contrast, "form of a servant" (morphê doulou) refers to what Adam became after his fall. In the second set of contrasting terms, "equality to God" alludes to Adam's temptation in Gen 3:5, his attempt to take by force an "equality with God," while "likeness of human beings" refers to what Adam became as a result of his sin. The point of the hymn is that that Christ Jesus, being, like the pre-fallen Adam, in the morphê of God, chose to become like fallen human beings. Unlike, Adam, he did not grasp at "equality with God" but willingly assumed the "likeness of human beings," in order to nullfiy the effects of the first Adam on the human race. Jesus was faced with the same choice and chose to empty himself of Adam's glory and accept the lot of fallen Adam. Thus, it is not the point of the hymn to say anything about the pre-existence of Christ, but to compare him to Adam. Dunn's intepretation is too complicated to be convincing. See also the antecedents to Dunn's view: J. Murphy-O'Connor, "Christological Anthropology in Phil II.6-11," RB 83 (1976) 25-50; G. Howard, "Phil 2:6-11 and the Human Christ," CBQ 40 (1978) 368-87.


Without further evidence, the connection between morphê of God in Phil 2:6 with zelem and demuth in Gen 1:26-27, however, is far too tenuous to posit a connection between Adam and Christ. It has also been suggested that morphê is equivalent in meaning to doxa (glory), since both morphê and doxa are both used to translate the Hebrew temuna ("form" or "shape"); the assumption is that these two terms in certain contexts are synonymous. If so, Christ as the morphê of God could mean Christ as the glory of God, the visible manifestation of God. In this case "glory" is the morphê of God insofar as it is the outward appearance of God, the most common meaning of morphê. To call Christ the morphê of God in the sense of the glory of God is to say nothing necessarily about his ontological status in relation to God.(11) (Meyer, however, argues Christ as the glory of God implies necessarily his identity with the essence of God.)(12) It seems awkward, nonetheless, to identify morphê with glory, for the parallel phrase "morphê of a servant" seems incongruous if morphê of God is equivalent to the glory of God. Finally, E. Schweizer, interprets the phrase morphê of God to denote Christ's status or position as equal with God; the phrase carries no necessary implications concerning the essential being or nature of Christ.(13) Apart from Tobit 1:13, however, morphê does not have such a meaning. Context determines meaning, and the context in Phil 2:6 rules against such interpretations of morphê of God.(14) Since, in Phil 2:6b, it is said that Christ Jesus did not consider “equality with God" (to einai to theô) as something to be used to his advantage, to be in the morphê of God must mean to have the essential being or nature of God, for otherwise Christ could hardly be said to have equality with God.

5 .1.2. “Equality with God”


In the hymn quoted by Paul, Christ Jesus is said to have had equality with God, but nonetheless assumed the morphê of a servant. It seems that to be in the morphê of God is, by definition to be equal with God. Indeed, grammatically, the articular infinitive to einai isa theô ("to be equal with God") is used to refer to something previously mentioned, namely, the fact that Christ Jesus is in the morphê of God. The implication is that the latter is explicative of the former. In other words, being equal to God is a necessary implication of having the same morphê, or essential being or nature as God, for otherwise there would be no basis for a claim to equality. Although this is much-disputed question, to say that Christ Jesus did not consider equality to God—as a present possession—to be a harpagmos is to say idiomatically that Christ did not regard his equality with God as something to be used for his own advantage.(15) Thus, in his appearance in the morphê of a servant, neither his divine morphê nor his equality with God is abandoned. Again the problem with asserting the equality of Christ Jesus with God is that, since God is numerically one, there should be nothing equal to God. Paul could be interpreted as identifying Christ Jesus with God.

5 .1.3. The Self-Emptying of Christ Jesus


The author of the hymn has asserted that Christ Jesus was of the same morphê or essential being or nature as God, and did not consider this equality or equal standing with God as something to be used for his own advantage. Rather Christ “emptied himself” by surrendering, not his morphê or equality with God, but the rights that he had by virtue of this ontological status.(16) (Other uses of "to empty [kenoô] include: Rom 4:14; 1 Cor 1:17; 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3; the meaning is “nullify,” “render void” or “eliminate.”)  What it means for Christ to have emptied himself is explicated in the two participial clauses that follow: "taking the form of a servant, coming to be in the likeness of human beings." To take the form of a servant is to become a human being, "coming to be in the likeness of human beings" (en homoiomati anthrôpôn), and then to act in the manner of a servant by submiting willingly to the humiliation of crucifixion. In this state, Christ Jesus appeared to be nothing more than a human being, but was much more than that, even though he had emptied himself and thereby had renounced the advantages of his equality with God. The author of the hymn also says that Christ Jesus came to be (or "was found") in outward appearance as a human being (schêmati euretheis hôs anthrôpos): the point is that Jesus Christ's essential being or nature, his morphê, was divine, although he appeared to be only a human being. There have been attempts to find allusions to the Isaian suffering servant (Isa 52:13-53:12) in the description of the self-emptying of Christ Jesus and his taking the form of a servant.(17) The phrase "taking the form of a servant" has been interpreted to mean assuming the role of the suffering servant (even though in the LXX the Greek word doulos is not used of the servant); likewise, the phrase "he emptied himself" is thought to be another way of describing the fact that the suffering servant "poured out his soul (to death)" (Isa 53:12). Thus, in this case, for Christ Jesus to empty himself does not describe the incarnation, but his death on the cross. There is, however, insufficient evidence to conclude that the hymn in Phil 2:6-11 is influenced by the motif of the Isaian suffering servant.(18)


In conclusion, it is clear from Phil 2:6-7 that Paul sees Christ Jesus as pre-existing before his becoming a human being as a being in the morphê of God, or having the essential being or nature of God, with the result that he had equality with God. Christ Jesus emptied himself of all the advantages of his equality with God and adopted the morphê of a servant, being a human being, and appearing to be only a human being.


5.2. Col 1:15-20 (Col 2:9)


1:15 Who ["the son of his love"] is the image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation, 16 because in him all things in heaven and upon earth were created, both seen and unseen, whether thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities. All things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things and all things hold together in him.18 And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning (archê), the firstborn of the dead, in order he become preeminent in all things, because 19 he [i.e., God] was pleased to have all the fullness dwell in him 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross.

2:9 Because in him dwells all the fullness of deity bodily


Paul writes in the context of the Colossians' worship of angelic beings that Christ ("the son of God") is qualitatively different from these beings, being their creator. To make his point, he probably quotes from an early Christian hymn (1:15-20), the origin of which is unknown.(19)


The fact that there are several hapaxlegomena in Col 1:15-20 supports the conclusion that Paul did not compose this hymn himself: horatos (1:16); thronoi (1:17); sunestêkenai used intransitively(1:17); archê as Christ (1:18); prôteuein (1:18); eirênopoiein (1:20). In addition, the phrase "the blood of his cross" is without parallel in Paul’s letters


The poem can be divided into a bipartite structure (1:15-17; 1:18-20); the first part deals with Christ as agent of creation, whereas part two treats Christ as agent of redemption.(20)

Some exegetes suspect that Paul has interpolated phrases into the hymn, but there is disagreement over what exactly his contribution was to the hymn in its present form. On the basis that they disurb the parallelismus membrorum of the hymn, G. R. Beasley-Murray argues that Paul expanded upon ta panta ("all things") to include "in the heavens and upon earth, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or powers or authorities" in 1:16. He also suggests that Paul added the purpose clause in 1:18c "in order that he may have the supremacy in all things" in 18c and the adverbial phrase "whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross" in 1:20b ("Colossians 1:15-20: An Early Christian Hymn Celebrating the Lordship of Christ," Pauline Studies. Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce on His 70th Birthday (ed. D. A. Hagner; M. J. Harris; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 169-83. Assuming that he did, Paul may have made these modifications to the hymn in order to make it even more useful against the false teachers in Colossae, who may have exalted certain spiritual beings above Christ and may have denied Christ's actual death. Other exegetes make different suggestions. Citing Käsemann, Lohse suspects that 1:18a "head of the body the church" was a Pauline addition; the removal of "the church" then makes the reconsructed first strophe relate only to the cosmic Christ, so that Christ is the head of the body understood as the cosmos (Colossians and Philemon [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971] 42-43). According to Lohse, the fact that some texts have another through-phrase (dia): "through the blood of his cross, through him" may be explained as evidence that Paul interpolated the other through-phrase "through the blood of his cross." Some subsequent copyist then deleted the now redundant, though original phrase through-phrase "through him," while others did not (43). But as already indicated the phrase is without parallel in Paul's letters and so could be interpreted as original or as interpolated by someone other than Paul. It is doubtful that the alleged original form of the hymn will ever be reconstructed given the present state of the evidence.


The religious-historical background of this hymn is to be found in Jewish Wisdom theology, according to which God is depicted as both creator and redeemer (election of Israel). So, not surprisingly, personified mediatorial figures in Jewish Wisdom theology are understood as God's agents in creation and redemption. The hymn found in Col 1:15-20 should be understood along these lines, which is borne out by the bipartite division of the poem in which Christ is portrayed as both creator and redeemer. It is the Hellenistic expression of Jewish Wisdom theology in particular that provides the author of the hymn with some of the basic concepts by which he interprets the nature of Christ, so that it is not surprising to find general parallels with Greek philosophical thought.(21)

H. Ridderbos rejects the suggestion that the religious-historical background of Col 1:15-20 is Jewish Wisdom theology, and attempts to connect the hymn with the idea of Christ as the second Adam (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 78-86). According to Ridderbos, the terms "image of God" and  "firstborn" are unmistakable allusions to Adam: "What happens in Colossians 1:15, therefore, is this, that Paul applies the same 'Adamitic' categories  (Image, Firstborn) with which he describes Christ's significance in 'eschatology' to his place in 'protology' as well" (Paul, 81-82). In my opinion, Ridderbos does not make his case. E. Käsemann argues that the religious-historical background to Col 1:15-20 is a pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer hymn ("A Primitive Christian Baptismal Liturgy," Essays on New Testament Themes, 149-68). This assumes wrongly that there was such a thing as a pre-Christian gnosticism from which the early church could borrow.

5.2.1. The Image (eikôn) of God


The hymn asserts that Christ is the image (eikôn) of the invisible God. The term eikôn has the literal meaning of physical image or copy. It is also used non-literally to denote that something is formally identical but ontologically secondary to another thing insofar as that which is an image (eikôn) of another thing derives from that thing and is dependent upon it for its existence. The term image (eikôn) occurs in Jewish religious texts written in Greek as applying to personified attributes of God functioning as mediatorial figures. Philo uses the term in relation to the Logos (word or reason), which is said to be the image of God, meaning that the Logos is formally identical to God, but derivative of God (De opf. mund. 31; De leg. all. 3. 96; De conf. ling. 97, 147). The author of Wisdom of Solomon, after referring to “her” as “the fashioner of all things” (7:21), “pervading and penetrating all things on account of her purity” (7:24), "the effulgence of God’s glory" (7:25), “the reflection of eternal light” (7:26), calls sophia (Wisdom) the "image of his [God’s] goodness” (eikôn tês agathotêtos autou) (7:26). Taken in context, to say that Wisdom is “the image of the goodness of God” is to affirm that Wisdom derives from God and formally bears the image of the goodness of God, which is probably a way of describing God as good. In Col 1:15 something similar is intended: Christ as the “image of the invisible God” means that Christ derives from and formally shares the essence of God. Whatever God is, so is Christ, but Christ is ontologically dependent upon God. (The fact that Christ is the image of the invisible God, which is to say incorporeal, implies that he is not a physical image or copy of God.) The significant advance beyond Jewish Wisdom theology represented by the hymn in Col 1:15-20, however, is the fact that Christ, a historical figure of recent memory, and not a personfied attribute of God like Logos or Wisdom, is said to be the eikôn of God. So the possibility of interpreting "the son of his love," i.e. Christ, as a personification of some attribute of God, like Wisdom, is excluded. As Wright puts it, "Paul has modified Jewish monotheism so as to place Jesus Christ within the description, almost the definition, of the one God.”(22) Although the hymn in Col 1:15-20 appears to be Hellenistic in origin, Paul believes that it expresses well his views on Christ, especially in the Colossian context.(23) The theological problem that Paul creates in citing this hymn is explaining how Christ can be the image of God who is numerically one.


The LXX translates zelem (image) in Gen 1:26-27 as eikôn:  in this passage, it is said that Adam was created in the image (and likeness) of God.  As already indicated, H. Ridderbos connects 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15 with Gen 1:27, so that Christ as the image of God is understood as the second Adam (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 68-78).  Because eikôn and morphê are synonyms, the same is true of Phil 2:6. This conclusion is probably not justified, since Paul makes no reference to the first man in Colossians or Philippians.

5.2.2. Means of Creation and First-Born of Creation (prôtotokos)


That Christ is not part of creation is clear from the context, because it is said that all things (ta panta) were created "in him" or through Christ (1:16-17) (The use of en is instrumental) (see the parallel affirmation in 1 Cor 8:6 "the Father from whom are all things and we exist for Him and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom are all things…”). (All things includes all the spiritual beings, who are designated as "thrones," "dominions," "rulers," and "authorities.") The religious-historical background against which to understand such a statement is Jewish Wisdom theology, in which Wisdom or the Logos as a personfied attribute of God is viewed as being the means by which God created the cosmos. In the Book Proverbs, God created the earth by his Wisdom (see Prov. 3:19 "Yahweh by wisdom founded the earth"; 8:30 "Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him"). In the Jewish Hellenistic text Wisdom of Solomon, it is said of sophia (Wisdom) that she is the "fashioner of all things" (hê pantôn technitis) (7:21) or "the fashioner of all that exists" (tôn ontôn technitis) (8:6) and that she "orders all things well" (dioikei ta panta chrêstôs) (8:1) (see also Philo, De fug. 109). In addition, in Wisdom of Solomon, the Logos (word) of God is said to be the means of creation: "O God...who made all things by your word" (Thee...ho poiêsas ta panta en logô sou) (9:1). Similarly, Philo of Alexandria frequently attributes to the Logos the function of being the means by which all things are what they are. Thinking along Platonic lines, he describes the Logos as the mind of God in which is contained all the (Platonic) Ideas, from which all things derive their formal, or essential,identity and reality. He writes, "God, having sharpened his own Logos, the divider of all things, divides the essence of the universe which is destitute of form, and is destitute of all distinctive qualities" (Rer. Div. Her. 140). Similarly, expressing himself in more Stoic terms, he states, "If there is anywhere anything consolidated, that has been bound by the Logos of God, for this Logos is glue and a chain, filling all things with its essence. And the Logos, which connects together and fastens every thing, is peculiarly full of itself, having no need whatever of anything beyond" (Rer. Div. Her. 188) (see also Cher. 35; Agr. 45; Rer. Div. Her. 130, 234; De opf. mund. 20, 36, 139, 146; De leg. all. 96).(24) The difference between the Colossian hymn and Jewish Wisdom theology, as already indicated, is that Christ is not a personified attribute of God, but a recent historical figure.


Not only were all things were created in Christ but it is further said that "All things continue to exist in him" (ta panta en autô sunestêken) (1:17). The verb sunestêkenai is used in the sense of "to continue to exist or endure." There are parellels to this use of the verb in ancient Greek sources. In Ep. Arist. 154 it is said, "Life continues to exist through nourishment" [to zên dia tês trophês sunestanai]). Likewise, Philo refers to how the body, consisting of clay and blood, continues to exist (sunestêke) and is made alive by the providence of God (Rer. Div. Her. 58). In Plato's cosmology the verb sunestêkenai is used to refer to how the artisan of the heavens put the heavens together and all that is in them and causes them to continue to exist (houtô sunestanai tôi tou ouranou dêmiourgôi auton te kai ta en autôi) (Rep. 530a; see the use of the verb in Tim. 61a). Likewise, in the Greek magical papyri the following statement occurs: "I call upon you, author of all creation, who spread your own wings over the whole world...who fitted all things together by your power (ta panta sunestêken) (PGM 4, 1769). The point is that all things are fitted together and continue to be fitted together by the supreme God. Finally, the closest religious-historical parallel to Col 1:17b is found in a Stoic text by Pseudo-Aristotle: it is said that the cosmos is a unity because, "All things are from God and continue to exist through God" (ek theou panta kai dia theon sunestêken) (De mundo 6). What is meant is that God in an imminentalist Stoic sense holds all things together in the unity in which they are found in the cosmos. At some point, the early church transferred the idea of the sustainer of the cosmos to Christ, so that it is Christ who holds together in a unity all the diverse parts of the cosmos. What is presupposed is that Christ is not a part of "all things" (ta panta) but is that by which they remain what they are, collectively the cosmos.


A similar thought is expressed in the Greek version of Sirach 43:26 "By your word all things hold together" (en tô logô sugkeitai ta panta) different from the Hebrew. The hypostatized logos is said to be the means by which the cosmos in its diversity is contained as a unity. Likewise, Philo says that God is "the bond of all things" (tôn holôn desmos) and "the one who holds them together and binds them fast, which in themselves are dissoluble" (sunechôn auta aluta kai sphiggôn dialuta aonta ex heautôn) (Rer. Div. Her. 23)


Thus, Christ as first-born (prôtotokos) cannot mean “first created,” in the sense that he was the first being in the cosmos brought into existence. Rather, the term denotes the privilege and authority that the first-born would have, not that Christ was in any way brought into being by God. Philo also calls the Logos the firstborn, referring to its supremacy over all angels (De conf. ling. 146 ). The author of this hymn means something similar, but not referring to a personification of God, unlike Philo, but to Christ.


5.2.3. Archê


It is difficult to know how to interpret archê in Col 1:18a: "who is the beginning (archê)."The word has the meaning of "beginning," but in what sense Christ is a beginning is not stated explicitly. It is possible that what is meant is that Christ is the beginning in the sense of being the firstborn from the dead, so that archê and “firstborn of the dead” are in apposition, being synonyms (see 1 Cor 15:20, 23 Christ as “firstfruits” (aparchê) of those who sleep). In other words, Christ is the first to raised from the dead, and others will follow him. The word archê also has the meaning of "first principle" in Greek philosophy, that which causes other things to exist. This interpretation is certainly consistent with what is said about Christ in 1:15-17 as the instrument of the creation of all things and the one who holds all things together and sustains them in the unity of the cosmos.


5.2.4. Fullness (of Deity)


In Col 1:19, it is said that "He [i.e., God] was pleased to have all the fullness (to plêrôma) dwell in him."(25) Later in the letter, Paul reiterates this idea in his own words, "Because in him dwells all the fullness of deity (to plêrôma tês theotêtos) bodily (sômatikôs)" (2:9). Both statements should be taken as expressing the same theological point about Christ. All the fullness (of deity) means the sum total of what God is, the complete divine essence or nature; thus the divine essence or nature dwells in Christ bodily, meaning that it dwelt in the historical Jesus. What prompted Paul's statement in Col 2:9 may have been the Colossian heresy: "fullness" (plêrôma) may have been a key theological term for those who were threatening the apostolic faith there. In later Gnosticism, "fullness" is used to described the eternal first principle, from which emanated all the aeons, or derivatively-divine beings; these beings may be identical to the elemental spirits (stoicheia) to which Paul refers in his letter (Col 2:8, 20; see also 2:18).(26) (Thus the occurrence of the term "fullness" in the hymn in Col 1:15-20 would have been a happy coincidence for Paul.)  It is difficult to know the exact nature of the Colossian heresy and its theological vocabulary; it is possible, but not ultimately provable, that Paul is addressing a heresy in which divinity is said to reside in numerous emanations from the one God. Nevertheless, Paul's point is clear: that only in Christ does the "fullness" of deity dwell.


5.3. 2 Cor 4:4


In 2 Corinthians, Paul says in passing that Christ is the image of God (eikôn tou theou). He writes that Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the mind of the unbelieving in order that they may not see the light of the good news of the glory of Christ. He means that Satan prevents people from recognizing the good news that he preaches is true; that good news has for its content Christ's glory, by which he means the salvation that Christ makes possible (see 2 Cor 3:9 "For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory"). Unlike Col 1:15-20, Paul is not quoting from a hymn, so that this represents his own choice of words, although he may have been influenced by an early Christian hymn to add the relative clause "who is the image of God." The term “image of God” probably has the same meaning as its occurrence in Col 1:15. Christ as the “image of the God” means that he derives from and formally shares in the essence of God. The idea is that Christ is the same as God but also owes his existence to God and is secondary to God. The theological problem is explaining how the numerically one God can have an image of himself that is not a personified attribute.


Hypostatized Divine Attributes


The hypostatization of divine attributes was fairly common among Jews in the second-Temple Judaism, both inside and outside of Palestine. (To hypostatize is to ascribe substantial, independent existence to an attribute or a property of a person or thing.) Hypostatized divine attributes are aspects or attributes of God that are described as having a quasi-separate existence from God. As already indicated, this religious-historical background serves partially to illuminate Paul's christology (contrary to Fee, Pauline Christology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 165-67). Nevertheless, in his affirmations about Jesus Christ, Paul exceeds his religious-historical precedents because for him Jesus Christ is not merely a hypostatized divine attribute, but exists in his own right and has a relationship with God (the Father).




In the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is hypostatized, being personfied as a woman (1:20-33; 3:13-18; 8:1-9:12). Of special interest is the fact that Wisdom says that she was present with God before the creation of world (8:22-31). Likewise, in Wisdom of Ben Sira, written during the second-Temple period, there are two hymns to a hypostatized Wisdom (Sir 1:1-10; 24). Wisdom in this texts is said to have been created before all other things (1:4); the Lord, the only wise, created Wisdom, and "poured her out upon all his works" (1:9). In the hymn in chap. 24, Wisdom is said to be prominent over the heavenly host (24:2), and to have cosmic supremacy (24:3-6).


The hypostatization of wisdom is developed further in the Hellenistic Jewish text Wisdom of Solomon (Wis 6:12-11:1). Like the hymn in Col 1:15-20, the author calls sophia (Wisdom) the "image of his [God’s] goodness” (eikôn tês agathotêtos autou) (7:26). Taken in context, to say that Wisdom is “the image of the goodness of God” is to affirm that Wisdom derives from God and formally bears the image of the goodness of God, which is probably a way of describing God as good. In addition, in Wis 9:9, it is said of Wisdom (sophia) that she was present with God when he made the world: "With you is Wisdom, she who knows your works, present when you made the world." Moreover, in Wis 7:22 Wisdom is called "the "fashioner of all things" (hê pantôn technitis), “pervading and penetrating all things on account of her purity” (7:24); she is referred to as a "only begotten spirit" (pneuma...monogenês). In Wis 8:5, Wisdom is said to be "the one who works all things" (tês ta panta ergazomenês). She is also called an "associate" (hairetis) of God's works in 8:4. It seems that the author has come under some Stoic influences because it is affirmed that Wisdom "pervades and penetrates all things" (7:24) and "reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well" (8:1). Both statements tend towards Stoic pantheism. Wisdom is also said to be the one by whom God "formed man" (9:2). She sits by God's throne (9:4, 10), and knows and understands all things (9:11).


In Wis 7:25-26, the author refers to Wisdom as "the effulgence of God’s glory" (7:25) and as the "reflection or radiance" (apaugasma) of eternal light” (7:26). In this context, apaugasma could be translated as "radiance" or "reflection," for light could radiate or be reflected from its source. The author intends to communicate that wisdom is both the same as her source, God, but is to be distinguished from it, in the same way that reflected or radiated light is the same as its source but distinct from and derivative of it. He uses other parallel phrases to describe Wisdom as both being what God is but also deriving from God: "For she is a breath of the power of God, a pure emanation from the glory of the apaugasma of the eternal light and the unspotted mirror of the work of God and the image of his goodness." It is clear that Wisdom is subordinate to God, because she originates from God. The two phrases before "an apaugasma of the everlasting light" are emanationist and so have an active meaning: both breathe and light emanate from their respective sources. The two phrases following "an apaugasma of the eternal light," however, have a passive meaning: "the spotless mirror of the working of God and the image of his goodness." Thus, it is not clear how the author intends that the phrase "an apaugasma of the eternal light" be understood, as active as a radiance or passive as a reflection. Which meaning should be assigned to apaugasma, however, seems to be irrelevant to the author's purpose.




In several places in his writings, Philo of Alexandria described how a hypostatized Logos (word or reason) is preeminent in the cosmos. As indicated, he affirms that the Logos (word or reason) is the image of God, meaning that the Logos is formally identical to God, but derived from God (De opf. mund. 31; De leg. all. 3. 96; De conf. ling. 97, 147). What he writes about the Logos is varied, imprecise and somewhat confusing at times. There is also a distinctly Stoic flavor to Philo's teaching about the Logos. According to Philo, the Logos is the agent of creation (Rer. div. her. 130-236; Spec. leg. 1.80-81; 3.83, 207; Migr. Abr. 6; Deus Imm. 55-58; Cher. 125-27; De fug. 95; Agric. 51; Som. 1.215). Not surprisingly, he attributes many exalted titles to the Logos. It is called "first-begotten," "archangel," "name of God" and "son of God"; angels are subordinated to the Logos (conf. ling. 146). In another place, Philo calls the Logos the "governor and administrator of all things" (Quaest. Gen. 4.110-11). He also calls the Logos God's viceroy (huparchos) (De. agr. 51), whom God commissioned to lead the Israelites: "His own right reason, his first-born son, who is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the viceroy of the great king; for it is said somewhere, "Behold, I am he! I will send my messenger before your face, who shall keep you in the way" (Exod 23:20) (see also Quest. Exod. 2.13; Migr. Abr. 174). The Logos is said to stand between the creator and the creation, making supplication on behalf of the former (Her. 205). Because it is a mediator, the Logos is called High Priest (Migr. Abr. 102; De fug. 108-18; Somn. 2.183).


The Logos is equated with the image of God described in Gen 1:26-27 "Then God said, “Let us make man in our image etc." (De leg. all. 3.96; see Her. 230-31). Along the same lines, Philo says that the Logos "is not like any of the things that come under the external senses, but is itself an image of God" (De fug. 101). The Logos is even called the second God (ton deuteron theon) (Quaest. Gen. 2.62). In another passage, Philo says that God is primary being (to genikôtaton) and the Logos of God is second (deuteros) to God (De leg. all. 2.86). On one occasion, Philo identifies the Logos of God with the Wisdom of God (De leg. all.1.65).


Even though they are sometimes spoken of as in quasi-divine terms, hypostatizations of attributes of God are never viewed as actual beings, ontologically distinct from God. It was always understood that Wisdom and the Logos were merely hypostatizations, literary and theological devices to communicate something about the one God. Therefore, even if he may draw upon the categoty of the hypostasis, Paul moves far beyond it in his description of Christ.


Ruling Angels


In some second-Temple Jewish texts, there is identified one exalted angel who is over all other angels in heaven; this angel has a unique status and authority in creation. In the text Joseph and Aseneth, an angel who appears to Aseneth identifies himself as "the chief of the house of the Lord and commander of the whole host of the Most High" (14:7). He remains unnamed, however. There are references to an angel is known as the "angel of peace" in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (T. Dan 6.5; T. Asher 6.5; T. Benj. 6:1; see Isa 33:7). This angel seems to be the principal or ruling angel. In Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice, there is evidence that there is one angel presiding over all other ranks of angels. The use of the singular "leader" (nshy') in 4Q401 frg. 23.1 and "prince" (šr) in 4Q403 frg. 1, col. 2.23 suggests the existence of such a heavenly being. Similarly, 4Q403 frg. 1, col. 2.24 has the phrase "head of priests of inner sanctum" (rwsh mkwhn qwrb), which implies that one of the angels of the inner sanctum has authority over the rest. There are also two probable references to Melchizedek as one of these heavenly beings in Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice: [mlky]tsdq kwhn (4Q401 frg. 11.3) and [ml]ky tsdq (4Q401 frg. 22.3). If these two references indeed are to Melchizedek then it is probable that he is this one angel who has authority over the others. Indeed, in 11QMelchizedek, the angel Melchizedek functions as the eschatologial savior of Jews who identify themselves as the “inheritance of Melchizedek” (2.5) and "men of the lot of Melchizedek" (2.8). It is the angel Melchizedek who “will execute the judgments of God on Belial and the spirits of his lot (2.12–13). In this context, Ps 82:1–2 is interpreted eschatologically of Melchizedek’s judgment of the fallen angels: the elohim (“god[s]”) who takes his stand in the assembly of el ("God") is the heavenly being Melchizedek; he will judge in the midst of the other elohim (“gods”) (11QMelch 2.9–14). These other “gods” or angels will assist Melchizedek in the execution of judgment on Belial and the spirits of his lot: “He will raise up the holy ones of God ('el) for deeds of judgment (11QMelch 2.9). The fact that in 11QMelch 2.11 it is said that 'el ("God") will judge the peoples, citing Ps 7:8, indicates that the angel Melchizedek is the instrument of God’s eschatological judgment. The statement “Your elohim reigns” in Isa 52:7 is interpreted to be the reign of Melchizedek. This unique salvation-historical role implies his preminence among the angels.


In 4Q177 (Catena) 4.12, it is said that "the angel of truth will ransom the sons of light from the power of Belial." This one angel acts in order to protect the righteous from the pernicious influence of his evil counterpart. The implication seems to be that this angel has authority over all other angels. Similarly, in the War Scroll (16.13-17.9), the angel Michael is portrayed as leading the angelic army in support of the sons of light: "He has set an everlasting help to the lot whom he has [re]deemed through the might of the majestic angel (ml'k h'dyr). (He will set) the authority of Michael in everlasting light....He will exalt over the elim the authority of Michael and the dominion of Israel over all flesh" (1QM 17.6-7; see 4QM1 frg. 11, col. 1.18-19). The angel Michael is probably identical to the figure called "the prince of light" (šr m'wr) under whose authority are all the "spirits of truth" (rwchy 'mth). His task is to assist Israel, to whom has been given a destiny of light (1QM 13:10). The evil counterpart to the prince of light is Belial, who has authority over "angels of destruction" (1QM 16.13-17.9).


It is probable that the heavenly being known as the "prince of lights" (šr 'wrym) found in the Two-Ways Teaching in the Rule of the Community (3.13–4.26) is to be identified with the "prince of light" mentioned in the War Scroll. It is said that somehow associated with the "spirit of truth," which is a human disposition or propensity, is the "prince of lights" (3.20) or angel of truth (ml'k 'mt) (3.24), whereas the angel of darkness (ml'k chwšk) (3.21) is associated with the "spirit of deceit," the opposite human disposition or propensity. In which spirit or basic disposition a person “walks” depends on which of these two spiritual beings holds sway over him. Those who walk "in the ways of light," the sons of righteousness, are under the dominion of the prince of light and those who walk “in the ways of darkness” are under the dominion of the angel of darkness (3.20–21). In effect, the prince of lights rules those in the Qumran community, while those on the outside are consigned to the angel of darkness. AIong the same lines, in Visions of Amram, Amram has a vision of the two opposing angels who have been given control over all the sons of Adam. Amram asks the good angel about “this watcher," i.e., the evil angel (4Q544 frg. 2, col. 3.12). The watcher about which he is inquiring is then identified as "king of evil" along with other names that are now lost (4Q544 frg. 2) and so is the counterpart to good angel with whom he is conversing.


The archangel Michael is also distinguished from other angels as the supreme angel in 2 Enoch (22:6; 33:11; 71:28; 72:5). He is called archstratig, Slavic for chief officer. Likewise, in Recension A of Testament of Abraham, Michael is called "commander-in-chief" (1:4; 2:2-12). In T. Moses, the archangel Michael is probably the one described as follows: "Then will be filled the hands of the messenger, who is in the highest place appointed, and he will at once avenge them of their enemies" (10:2). Clearly, Michael is the rulng angel who will bring judment and destruction to Israel's enemies.

Finally, in the Apocalypse of Abraham, God commands an angelic figure named Yahoel to consecrate and strengthen Abraham: "Go, Yahoel of the same name, through the meditation of my ineffable name, consecrate this man for me and strengthen him against trembling (10:3-4). (The name Yahoel is a combination of Yahweh and El [God].) This angel is said to be indwelt by the ineffable name (10:8; see Exod 23:20-21). Yahoel has been given control over living creatures who surround God's throne and the Leviathans, which suggests that he is the supreme angel. (He is described in other-worldly terms in 11:1-4.)


In spite of the unique status and authority of the ruling angel, it is clear that Jews in the second-Temple period never viewed any ruling angel as other than a created being. There is no evidence that they believed that a ruling angel was ontologically equal to God and identifiable with God. Perhaps this is the reason that Paul does not use the religious-historical concept of the ruling angel as a mean by which to express his christology.



5.4. Explicit Naming of Jesus Christ as God


There are three passages—each of which is unjustifiably disputed—in which Paul explicitly names Jesus as God.(27) Unlike other statements in his letters, he does not distinguish between God (the Father) and Christ.


5.4.1. Rom 9:5


In Rom 9:5, Paul says of Christ that "he being over all, God blessed forever" or "he being God over all, blessed forever." On either translation, however, Paul has equated Christ with God without distinguishing them. Objections to understanding of Rom 9:5b as a relative clause are unwarranted.(28) The most natural way grammatically to translate this phrase is as a relative clause, and not as an independent doxology. Were it not for what was said about Christ no one would balk at reading ho ôn as modifying ho Christos; only the fact that on this interpretation Paul actually identifies Christ with God causes exegetes to look for other ways of interpreting the passage. In addition, independent doxologies would typically begin with the predicate nominative (see 2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3), whereas doxological appositions typically would follow a relative pronoun (see Rom 1:25; 2 Cor 11:31).(29) It is circular to argue that Paul would not identify Christ with God and then call him blessed forever because in two other passages in his letters he refers to God as blessed forever: Rom 1:25 "the Creator, who is blessed forever"; 2 Cor 11:31 "The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever"). The argument assumes as a premise the conclusion that, because in two instances he refers to God as blessed forever, Paul believes that only God can be said to be blessed forever. Equally unconvincing is the argument that the participle on is unnecessary if it refers to Christ, so that one could argue that it is introduced precisely because Paul intends a change of subject from Christ to God.(30)


5.4.2. Titus 2:13


In this passage Paul refers to “the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.” Some would like to see the phrase as denoting two subjects, but the omission of the definite article from "savior" (sôtêros) should be taken to mean that the two are in apposition. This means that Jesus Christ is both God and savior.(31)


5.4.3. 2 Thess 1:12


In 2 Thess 1:12, Paul writes, “According to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.”  Because there is no definite article before “Lord Jesus Christ,” grammatically the phrase should be understood as standing in apposition to “our God.”  If so, then Paul has identified Christ with God. Many exegetes prefer to see an implicit definite article before “Lord Jesus Christ,” so that Christ is distinguished from God.(32) To do so, however, one must argue that Paul was careless in the composition of 2 Thessalonians, which seems less likely than he meant to identify Christ with God, since if he were so careless he would be commiting the theological blunder of identifying Christ with God.


5.4.4. "Lord" (Kurios)


The most common title Paul uses in relation to Jesus Christ is “Lord” (kurios); the title obviously has the connotation of authority, and should be understood in connection with Pauline soteriology, i.e., what Jesus accomplished redemptively. In each of his salutations of his thirteen letters (with the possible exceptions of Colossians and 1 Thessalonians), Paul sends greetings from God the Father and the Lord (kurios) Jesus Christ.  In some instances, when he refers to Jesus as Lord, Paul is ascribing the tetragrammaton (the four letter name of God in the Hebrew Bible) to Jesus. Kurios is used in the LXX to translate YHWH; in quoting Old Testament passages in translation, Paul often uses ho kurios to mean YHWH in accordance with the Old Testament usage (e.g., Rom 4:8 = Ps 32:2 (LXX 31); Rom 9:28-29 = Isa 10:22-23; Isa 1:9; Rom 14:11 = Isa 49:18/45:23; Rom 15:11 = Ps 117:1 (LXX 116); 1 Cor 1:31 = Isa 40:13; see 2 Cor 6:17-18 where Paul adds “the Lord (almighty) says,” meaning YHWH to a catena of Old Testament texts. On three occasions, however, it seems that, when quoting an Old Testament passage where ho kurios = YHWH, Paul is referring to Jesus Christ.


A. Rom 10:12-13 = Joel 2:32: Quoting Joel 2:32, Paul says that "anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."  Paul means by “Lord,” however, Jesus, so that Jesus is identified with YHWH (see Acts 2).


B. 2 Cor 10:17 = Jer 9:24: Quoting Jer 9:24, Paul says that anyone who boasts should boast in the Lord; the context suggests that Paul understands “Lord” to refer to Jesus, so that he is identifying Jesus Christ with YHWH. (Although, usually, when he uses the term Lord, Paul means Jesus Christ, there are some cases where it is somewhat ambiguous as to whom Paul is referring by the term Lord. In such cases, one should assume that the term “Lord” means Jesus Christ, since Paul does not use the term to refer to God. Examples of instances of this ambiguous use include 1 Cor 7:25; 1 Cor 7:32-39; 14:37; 16:7; 3:17-18; 2 Cor 8:19, 21; Eph 2:21; 5:8, 10, 17.)


C. 1 Thess 5:2 = Joel 1:15; 2:1: In 1 Thess 5:2, Paul writes, "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." By the phrase "day of the Lord" Paul is referring to what he later calls "the parousia of Christ" (2 Thess 2:1-12), which is second appearance of Christ. But the phrase "the day of the Lord" may also be an allusion to Joel 1:15; 2:1, where "Lord" is YHWH but is translated in the LXX as ho kurios. If so, then Paul is implying that Jesus Christ is to be identified with Yahweh.


5.5. "Spirit of God" Interchangeable with "Spirit of Christ"


There are a few instances in his letters where Paul uses the phrase "Spirit of Christ" as a synonym for "Spirit of God." In Rom 8:9-11 Paul begins by affirming that believers are not "in the flesh" because "the Spirit of God" (pneuma theou) dwells in them (8:9a). Immediately afterwards he says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ (pneuma christou echein), this one does not belong to him” (8:9b). The easy transition in this passage from "spirit of God" to "spirit of Christ" suggests that that these two phrases for him are synonymous, which implies that God and Christ are to be identified in some manner, for otherwise the two phrase would not be synonyms: there would be two spirits. Similarly, in Gal 4:6, Paul also refers to the spirit as "the spirit of his [God's] son" and in Phil 1:19 as "the spirit of Jesus Christ." Again this implies that in Paul's understanding the spirit of God is also the spirit of Christ, presumably because in some unexplained way God and Christ are to be identified. If this was not his intention, then Paul avoidably causes confusion in the more astute readers and hearers of his letters.


6. Paul’s Subordination of Jesus Christ to God


Although he identifies him with God in various ways, Paul also subordinates Jesus Christ to God. It has been seen already that to call Christ the "image of God" implies, not only that he formally shares the essence of God, but also that he is ontologically dependent on God (Col 1:15; 2 Cor 4:4).


6.1. Son of God


A common designation for Jesus Christ in relation to God in Paul's writings is "son" (of God); when Paul uses the term God, with the exception of the passages already mentioned, he means God as distinct from Jesus Christ / son (of God). Paul never explains what he means by son; no doubt, he takes over this christological title from the theology of the early church and from Jesus' own use of the term to refer to himself. Son is a relational term used metaphorically to denote the eternal relationship between God and Christ, the son. The title also has connotations of subordination. References to son (of God) in Paul’s writings include Rom 1:3, 4, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor 1:9; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 1:16; 2:20; 4:4, 6; Eph 4:13; Col 1:13; 1 Thess 1:10.(33)


6.1.1. The Second-Temple Use of Son of God


In 2 Sam 7, God promises to relate to David's son, Solomon, as a father relates to his son. It was naturally assumed that God would all the more relate to David's greater son, the eschatological Davidic king, as a father to a son. In Ps 2, upon his installation as king, the "Anointed One" is said to be God's son; on the day that he becomes king God becomes his father (2:7). Similarly, since that Ps 2 was interpreted to be a description of the installation of Israel's eschatological king, the Messiah came to be known as the son (of God). The term son (of God) becomes a synonym for Davidic Messiah..


A. 4Q246 (Aramaic Apocalypse)


This fragmentary Aramaic text probably makes reference to the eschatological Davidic king and his kingdom, but refers to him as "son of God." In col. 1 line 9 there is a probable reference to this eschatological ruler : "...great will he be called and he will be designated by his name." This figure shall be called by a name, and it is probably the case that the verb "will be called" is a divine passive, so that it is God who is the one calling him by this name. If the antecedent of "he" is this Davidic king, then arguably the clause must have been an appropriate title of this Davidic king. In col. 2, the following is said of the eschatological Davidic king: "He shall be hailed as the son of God, and they shall call him the son of the most high" (brh dy 'l yt'mr wbr `lywn yqrwnh kzyqy'). The two phrase "son of God" and "son of the most high" are synonymous (see Luke 1:32 "And [the] son of the most high he shall be called" [kai huios hupsistou klêthêsetai] and Luke 1:35 "the holy child shall be called the son of God [huios tou theou]). It is probable that calling the eschatological Davidic king "son" reflects a messianic interpretation of 2 Sam 7:14 "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me" and Ps 2:7 "He said to me, 'You are my son; today I have begotten you." This "son of God" or "son of the Most High" will lead and represent a people, which explains the reference in 2.4 "Until the people of God arises." No doubt this people is restored Israel. In contrast to the temporary but oppressive kingdom that precedes his own, the kingdom of the eschatological Davidic king will be eternal and peaceful: "His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom" (col. 2.5-6; see 2.8) (see parallels in Dan 3:33; 7:27).


B. 1 Enoch 105:2


Traditionally known as the Epistle of Enoch, 1 En 91–105 literarily consists of two sections: the Apocalypse of Weeks (93:1–10 + 91:11–17) and Enoch’s “letter” to his sons (see 1 En 100:6), which consists of exhortations to the righteous (including his children) and woes to sinners. The probable date of the composition of the Epistle of Enoch is the early second century BCE. In 1 En 105:2, it seems that the author has God say, "Until I and my son are united with them forever." If God is indeed the subject of the sentence, then it is probable that God's son is the eschatological Davidic king, based on the fact that "son of God" is used as a messianic title in other second-Temple texts.


C. 1QSa 2:11-12


This passage could be interpreted to mean that God will "beget" his Messiah, possibly reflecting a messianic interpretation of Ps 2:7. This requires that the verb be reconstructed as ywlyd (He [God] begets" rather than ywlyk ("He [God] leads forth"). If so, then the title "son" (of God) may be applied to the eschatological Davidic king.


D. 4Q174 (4QFlorilegium or Midrash on Last Days)


This text is what remains of a collection of Old Testament texts considered messianically and eschatologically significant along with some commentary. The author interprets an abbreviated version of 2 Sam 7:11c-14a as messianic, on the assumption that God is referring not to Solomon but to David's greatest "son" or descendent, the eschatological Davidic king.

10 [And] Yahweh has [de]clared to you that he will build you a house (2 Sam 7:11c). I will raise up your seed after you (2 Sam 7:12). I will establish the throne of his kingdom 11 f[orever] (2 Sam 7:13). I wi[ll be] a father to me and he shall be a son to me (2 Sam 7:14). He is the branch of David who will arise with the interpreter of the Law who 12 [      ] in Zi[on in the la]st days according as it is written: "I will raise up the tent of 13 David that has falle[n] (Amos 9:11), who will arise to save Israel.

In his commentary on this passage, the author explicitly identifies the "son" in 2 Sam 7:11c-14a as the "the branch of David." This means that the author has identified David's "son" in 2 Sam 7:14 with the eschatological Davidic king described metaphorically as the "branch of David" in Jer 23:5; 33:15. In 4Q174 1.12b, Amos 9:11 is quoted as referring to the appearance of this Davidic king: ""I will raise up the tent of David that has falle[n] (Amos 9:11), who will arise to save Israel." (1.13). He is destined to "save Israel" (lhwšy` 'th yšr'l), by which doubt is meant a political and military deliverance. Similarly, in 4Q174 1.18, Ps 2:1 is quoted and interpreted: 18 "[Why] do the nations [rag]e and the people im[agine] a vain thing? [Kings of the earth] ris[e up] and [and p]rinces conspire together against Yahweh and against [his anointed] (Ps 2:1-2). 19 [In]terpretation of the saying [concerns na]tions and th[ey    ] the chosen of Israel in the last days. Although the text is not complete, it is clear that Ps 2:1-2 is being interpreted messianically. The anointed one, against whom the nations rage, is called the "elect of Israel in the last days," meaning the eschatological Davidic king.


E. 4Q369


In the Prayer of Enosh occurs the statement: "You have purified him everlasting light and you have established him as a firstborn his as a prince and ruler for all the territory of your land." Most likely, the individual to whom this fragment refers is the Davidic Messiah, since he is established as "prince and ruler for all the territory of your land." If so, then to call him "firstborn son" probably reflects a messianic interpretation of Ps 2:7.


F. Psalms of Solomon


It should also be noted that there is a hint of the influence of Ps 2:9 on the description of the Davidic Messiah in Ps. Sol. 2:9: "To smash (ektripsai) the arrogance of sinners like a potter's jar (hôs skeuê kerameôs)." In LXX Ps 2:9, it is said to the anointed king, the one declared to be "son": "You "will smash (suntripseis) them [the nations] like a potter's jar (hôs skeuê kerameôs)." (Although it only survives only in Greek translation, Psalms of Solomon was not originally composed in Greek and so would not have been influenced directly by the LXX translation of Ps 2.) This echo of Ps 2:9 in Ps. Sol. 17:23 probably indicates that the author and his readers understood Ps 2 as messianic, in which case the Messiah is the "son."


G. 4 Ezra


In the post-New Testament 4 Ezra, the Messiah is called the son (filius), most likely in dependence on a messianic interpretation of Ps 2 and 2 Sam 7:14 (7:28-29; 13:37, 52; 14:9).)(34)


4 Ezra 7:28-29: "For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. 29: And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. "

4 Ezra 13:37: "And he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness."

4 Ezra 13:52: "He said to me, "Just as no one can explore or know what is in the depths of the sea, so no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day."

4 Ezra 14:9: "For you shall be taken up from among men, and henceforth you shall live with my Son and with those who are like you, until the times are ended."


6.1.2. Paul's Use of "Son of God"


In his letters, Paul uses the term son (of God) more as a relational term than as Messianic title (as Jesus himself did). No doubt, "son" (of God) as an accepted messianic title is presupposed in Paul's use of the term; nevertheless, in most cases Paul's designation of Jesus Christ as the son expresses the relationship of subordination between him and God. Even so, it must be stressed that Jesus alone has the status of "son," so that even as expressive of his subordination, the title is equally expressive of his unique ontological status in relation to God.


A. 1 Cor 15:28 


In this passage the son's relationship of subordination to God is expressly stated: "When all things are subjected to him, then the son himself also will be subjected to the one who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all." The son will be made subject to the one who subjected all things under his feet in order that God will be all in all. This described the eschatological subordination of the son to God.


B. In the other references to Christ as son in Paul’s letters, the relationship of subordination is implied by the use of “son.”

  • Rom 5:10  Paul speaks about being reconciled and saved by the death and life of his (God's) son.
  • Rom 8:3  Paul says that God sent his son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Clearly Jesus Christ as son preexisted as such).
  • Rom 8:29  Paul speaks about being conformed to the likeness of his (God’s) son.
  • Rom 8:32  Paul says that God did not spare his son, but delivered him up.
  • 1 Cor 1:9  Paul speaks about being called into the fellowship of his (God's) son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • 2 Cor 1:19  Paul speaks about the son of God, Jesus Christ, preached among the Corinthians.
  • Gal 1:16 Paul explains that God set him apart to reveal his son in me, in order that Paul preach him among the gentiles.
  • Gal 2:20  Paul says that he lives in faith in the son of God.
  • Gal 4:4  Paul says that God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law.
  • Gal 4:6  Paul says that God sent the spirit of his son into our hearts.
  • Eph 4:13  Paul refers to the knowledge of the son of God.
  • Col 1:13 Paul refers to the kingdom of his (God's) beloved son.
  • 1 Thess 1:10  Paul speaks about waiting for his (God's) son from heaven whom he raised from the dead.
According to the history of religion approach (as adopted by R. Bultmann), the christological title "son of God" as used by Paul originates with the Hellenistic church; Paul adopts this title in his own theology because of his need to find meaningful christological terms for his gentile converts (see R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament [2 vols.; New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1951, 1955] 1.128-33; H. J. Schoeps, Paul. The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 155-58). In the Palestinian church, the title "son of God" was merely a synonym for Messiah (for an explanation, see above 4.1.1.). In the Hellenistic world, however, being the son of God meant having a divine origin and nature, and, of course, the powers that accompany having a god or goddess as a parent. Thus there developed the category of the "divine man" (theois anêr) in the Hellenistic world, which was applied to extraordinary men, men of superhuman accomplishment. According to Bultmann, when Paul calls Jesus "son of God" he is asserting his divine nature. It is true that the use of the title "son of God" used in a unique relational sense exceeds anything found in second-Temple Judaism, but it is not clear that such a religious category originates in Hellenism. 


C. Rom 1:3-4

Concerning his son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was declared the son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.


An exception to the use of son as primarily a relational term is Rom 1:3-4 (see Acts 13:33), which is in agreement with the Messianic use of "son of God" in second-Temple Judaism. Paul says that Jesus was declared to be the son of God through the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead. Rom 1:3-4 displays something of a chiastic structure, diagrammed as follows.(35)

peri tou hiou autou                                                  A

            tou genomenou                                                       B

                        ek spermatos Dauid                                               C

                        kata sarka                                                                D

            tou horisthentos huiou Theou en dunamei           B'

                        kata pneuma hagiôsunês                                       D'

                        ex anastaseôos nekrôn                                          C'

Iêsou Christou tou kuriou hêmôn                          A'

Paul attaches a series of relative clauses to the phrase “his [God’s] son”: “who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was appointed Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness from the resurrection from the dead.” The verb horizein means to delimit and by extension to appoint.(36) Paul states his belief in the Davidic descent of Christ “according to flesh” (kata sarka), that is, according to his human nature, and then says that he was declared “the son of God with power” because of the resurrection from the dead. Implicitly, he is contrasting Christ’s pre-resurrection status, which remains unnamed, with his post-resurrection status identified as “son of God with power.” The reference to the appointment of the son to the status of the “son of God in power” is probably an allusion to Ps 2:7 messianically interpreted: “I will proclaim the decree of the Yahweh. ‘You are my son; this day I have begotten you’.” In this psalm, the eschatological Davidic is decreed to be the Son or appointed to this position. In an adaption of this interpretive tradition, the son is appointed “son of God in power.” (Paul explicitly interprets Ps 2:7 messianically in his speech in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch [Acts 13:33].) Paul is contrasting the son of God before his appointment to the salvation-historical status of “son of God in power” with his status after his appointment. (The adverbial phrase “in power” could modify either “declared” or “son of God”; given the context the latter is more probable because of the allusion to Ps 2:7.) For Paul, Christ’s resurrection was the time of his appointment as “son of God in power,” because it was the cause of his defeat of death (1 Cor 15) and all demonic powers (Eph 1:20-22; 2:1-7; Col 2:13-15). (The use of the proposition ek [ex anastaseôs nekrôn] has a causal sense: because of resurrection from the dead.) Jesus became qualified to be called the son of God (Messiah) after his resurrection, a sort of adoptionistic Christology. (Of course, Paul believed that Christ was the son before his appointment as son of God in power, because the grammatical subject of the relative is “his [God’s] son.” But he was not yet “son of God in power”) It was “according to spirit of holiness” that the son was appointed son of God in power. In what sense this is true is not clear. The phrase “spirit of holiness” (pneuma hagiôsunês) probably refers to the Holy Spirit, even though Paul normally uses the term to pneuma hagion to refer to the Holy Spirit. (In fact, this is the only occurrence of the term pneuma hagiôsunês in biblical Greek; this may be evidence that Paul is citing a pre-Pauline Christological formula.(37) If so, then Paul may mean that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ was raised from the dead. If so, then the preposition kata has the meaning of “according to,” denoting in effect the reason for Christ’s resurrection. This is consistent with what he writes later in Rom 8:11: “The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead.” On this interpretation, the phrases kata sarka and kata pneuma hagiôsunês are semantically parallel. (The word hagiôsunê occurs in the LXX five times: LXX Ps 29:5 (30:4); 95:6 (96:6); 96:12 (97:12); 144:5 (145:5); 2 Macc 3:12. It also occurs twice more in Paul’s letters (2 Cor 7:1; 1 Thess 3:13). It is conceivable that Paul uses son of God both as a relational term and in this adoptionistic sense.


Other interpretations of the problematic phrase pneuma hagiôsunês include:


1. As a parallel to the phrase “according to flesh” (kata sarka), Paul could be referring to Jesus’ own “spirit” or fundamental spiritual disposition as characterized by holiness, in contrast to Jesus’ “flesh” or body. In this case, it is because of Jesus’ obedience to the will of God that he was raised from the dead to be appointed Son of God in power (see Heb 5:7-10) (W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, The Epistle to the Romans [ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1902] 9)


2. It is also suggested that the parallel terms “according to flesh” (kata sarka) and according to spirit of holiness (pneuma hagiôsunês) may denote the two salvation-historical realms of “flesh” and “spriit.” D. J. Moo writes, “In Jesus’ earthly life (his life in the ‘realm of the flesh’), he was the Davidic seed, the Messiah….Jesus is also in ‘the realm of the Spirit’, the powerful, life-giving Son of God” (The Epistle to the Romans [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996] 50) (see Fee, God’s Empowering Spirit, 478-84).


3. Some have argued that the phrase kata pneuma hagiôsunês refers to the Holy Spirit as given to believers and as proof of Christ’s status as Son of God in power. The Holy Spirit “is the manifestation of His power amd majesty, and so the guarantee of His having been appointed Son of God in might” (Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 1.64; see F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Romans [rev. ed.; TNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985] 73).


4. The older interpretation is to take kata pneuma hagiôsunês as coordinate with the phrase kata sarka; it then refers to the fact of Christ’s divine nature in contrast to his human nature denoted by the phrase kata sarka (C. Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976]). While the phrase according to flesh (kata sarka) does denote the Son’s human or corporeal nature, there is no reason to take the alleged coordinate phrase “according to holy spirit” to denote his divine nature.

6.2. Statements About Christ that Imply Subordination


There are examples of statements about God or about Jesus Christ's relation to God that imply God's supremacy and Jesus Christ's subordination.


6.2.1. 1 Cor 3:22b-23


Paul says to the Corinthians, “All things are yours, and you are Christ's and Christ is God's.”  (The genitives in this passage are  possessive). Paul's statement that all things belong to the Corinthians, while they belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God implies a subordination of believers to Christ and of Christ to God. Now what Paul intends by saying that all things belong to the Corinthians is unclear. It could be related to his assertion that believers will be judges of the world (1 Cor 6:2): perhaps in addition to being judges, the Corinthians will also inherit the world. Their future status as those who possess all things is conditional, however, on the fact that they belong to Christ. Christ, however, belongs to God.(38) According to Diogenes Laertius, the Stoics held that  "All things belong to the wise man," by which they meant  that the Law had conferred upon the wise a perfect right to all things, by virtue of their status of being wise [Lives, 7.125].  Paul seems to mean, however, that the possession of all things by believers is eschatological. Whereas the Corinthian believers belong to Christ, Christ belongs to God or "Christ is of God." What it means for Christ to belong to God is not clear, except that Christ exists in a relation of subordination to God. Perhaps Paul is referring to Christ's ontological derivation from God.

6.2.2.  1 Cor 8:6


In the context of his discussion of the ontological status of pagan gods (peri tôn eidôlothutôn), Paul explains to the Corinthians, "But for us there is one God, the Father (heis theos ho patêr), from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ (heis kurios Iêsous Christos), through whom all things came and through whom we live." In contrast to pagans, who recognize many gods and lords, for the believer there is only one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ. Paul does not identity Jesus as God or Father, but as Lord. The distinction between them is found in their respective roles in creation. Paul says that all things are from God (ex hou ta panta), meaning that God is the origin of all things; this is why God is metaphorically called the Father. By contrast, Paul says of "the one Lord Jesus Christ," that through him are all things (di' hou ta panta). God the Father is the source and goal of everything while the Lord Jesus Christ is the divine agent of creation and redemption.(39) Naturally, the pre-existence of Jesus Christ is presupposed in this formulation, but there is also a subordination of Jesus Christ to God the Father, since the latter is the creator whereas the former is the means of creation. In other words, while God is the creator of all things, Jesus Christ is the agent through which that creation took place.(40) Believers as created are for the sake of God (eis auton), and it is because of the Lord Jesus Christ that they exist as created (di' autou).


It is arguable that Paul's statement is actually an modification of the shema (Deut 6:4-9; see 11:13-21 and Num 15:37-41) (see m. Ber. 1-3). Deut 6:4 in the LXX reads: kurios ho theos hemôn heis estin ("The Lord God is one") (In the LXX, the proper name of God, the tetragrammaton, is translated by "Lord" [kurios)].) By referring to the Father as one God and to Jesus Christ as one Lord, Paul has divided the shema between the God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The implication is that each is the one God confessed in the shema, but that each is also distinguished from the other.(41) One could argue that Paul takes the two names in Deut 6:4, God and Lord (Yahweh), and gives one to the Father and the other to the Son. If so there is an identity of the two even though the subordination of Jesus Christ to God the Father is stressed over the identity.(42)



6.2.3. 1 Cor 11:3


In discussing the issue of behavior in worship among the Corinthians, Paul says that "The head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is a man and the the head of Christ is God.”  In so doing, Paul subordinates Christ to God analogous to the way that a woman is subordinate to her husband.


6.2.4.  1 Tim 2:5


Paul says, "There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ."  In this passage Jesus has the status of a human being who functions as a mediator between human beings and God. There is an implication of Christ's subordination to God.


6.3. "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"


On a few occasions Paul even refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 11:31; Eph 1:3), “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:17), or "God Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Col 1:3). Such an identification implies the subordination of "Lord Jesus Christ" to his God and Father; to call God the Father of Christ implies that Christ has his origin in God, so that metaphorically he is the offspring of God. Such statements, however, could almost be interpreted to point to Christ's humanity, so that it is Jesus Christ as a human being who has God as his God and Father..


7. Conclusion


Paul believes that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), a title synonymous with some of his uses of the term son of God. As the Christ, Jesus was a human being, although without sin. In his binitarian statements, Paul implies that a unique relationship exists between God and Jesus Christ. In Paul's view, Jesus preexisted his appearance in human history, existing in the morphê of God and being the eikôn of God, which is to say, sharing the essential nature of God. Thus, in the historical Jesus all the fullness of God dwelled bodily. Paul even calls Jesus God, and assigns to him the name of God (ho kurios); he can refer to the Spirit as either the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ (or synonymous term). The theological problem that Paul creates is explaining how the numerically one God can have plurality. Paul also Jesus Christ to God. As the son (of God) Jesus exists in an eternal relationship of subordination. Paul can even refer to the God of Jesus Christ.






(1) G. Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 165-67.

(2) F. Amiot, Les idees maitresses de saint Paul (2 ed.), 78-80.

(3) E. Schweizer, Erniedrigung und Erhöhung bei Jesus und seinen Nachfolgern, 93; P. T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (NTGTC), 199; P.-G. Klumbies, Die Rede von Gott bei Paulus in ihrem zeitgeschichtlichen Kontext, 1992, 131.

(4) See M.D. Hooker, "Philippians 2:6-11," in Jesus und Paulus. Festschrift für W. G,Kümmel zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. E. E. Ellis and E. Grässer, 151-64; Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 386.

(5) D. Giorgi argues that the background of the hymn is Jewish wisdom, in particular the Righteous One in the Wisdom of Solomon ("Der vorpaulinische Hymnus Phil 2,6-11," Zeit und Geschichte. Dankesgabe an Rudolf Bultmann zum 80. Geburtstag (ed. E. Dinkler), 263-93). In the "developing myth" found in the Wisdom of Solomon the Righteous One becomes identified with pre-existent Wisdom, insofar as the latter indwells the former. According to Giorgi, it can be said that the Righteous One as identified with Wisdom was in the form of God. Moreover, the Righteous One loses all individual traits and comes to typify the existence of the righteous in general. This figure suffers and dies at the hands of the wicked and thereby becomes the Suffering Servant; his suffering and death is a "turning point" (271). The myth found in the Wisdom of Solomon is then applied to Jesus in Phil 2. It is probably better, however, to interpret the hymn without explicit regard to a particular religious-historical background.

(6) See J. Jervell, Imago Dei, 227-31.

(7) J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 110, 127-33.

(8) See M. R. Vincent, Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon (ICC), 57-58, 84; R. G. Hammerton-Kelly, Preexistence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man. A Study of the Idea of Preexistence in the New Testament, 156-58; 192-94; G. F. Hawthorne, Philippians (WBC), 84; T. Wong, "The Problem of Pre-Existence in Philippians 2,6-11," ETL 62 (1986) 267-82.

(9) E. Käsemann, "A Critical Analysis of Philippians 2:5-11," JTC 5 (1968) 45-88.

(10) J. Hering, "Kyrios Anthropos," RHPR 16 (1936) 196-209; O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament,176-77; J. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, 114-21; T. Wright, "Jesus Christ is Lord: Philippians 2.5-11," The Climax of the Covenant, 56-98.

(11) See R. P. Martin, Carmen Christi. Philippians ii.5-11 in Recent Interpretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship, 108-200; O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 210-11.

(12) H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Philippians and the Colossians, 80.

(13) Schweizer, Erniedrigung und Erhöhung bei Jesus und seinen Nachfolgern, 93-96; see O. Hofius, Der Christushymnus Philipper 2,6-11, 57-58.

(14) Hawthorne, Philippians, 84; Wright, "Jesus Christ is Lord: Philippians 2.5-11," The Climax of the Covenant, 83; O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 216. See BDF para 399 (1).

(15) R. H. Hoover, "The HARPAGMOS Enigma: A Philological Solution," HTR 64 (1971) 95-119.

(16) See J.B. Reid, Jesus, God’s Emptiness, God’s Fullness: The Christology of St. Paul.

(17) See L. Cerfaux, "Le hymne au Christ-Serviteur de Dieu (Phil 2,6-11 = Is 52,-53,12)," Recueil Lucien Cerfaux. II. Etudes d’exégèse et d’histoire religieuse, 425-37; J. Jeremias, "Zur Gedankenführung in den paulinischen Briefen," Studia Paulina in Honorem J. de Zwaan (ed. J. N. Sevenster; W. C. van Unnik), 146-54; N. T. Wright "Jesus Christ is Lord: Philippians 2.5-11," The Climax of the Covenant, 57-62; Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 386.

(18) See O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 268-71.

(19) There has been many studies of this passage, which do not agree with one another. It is possible that there is not enough evidence to draw detailed conclusions about the origin and nature of this hymn.

(20) N. T. Wright, "Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1.15-20," The Climax of the Covenant, 99-119.

(21) Contrary to Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 317-25.

(22) Wright, "Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1.15-20," The Climax of the Covenant, 115.

(23) See A. Segal, Paul the Convert. The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee, chap. 2, however, for information on mediatorial figures in second-Temple Jewish theology, who began as historical figures but were transformed to become beings who were sometimes nearly equated with God; most of texts considered are not of direct Hellenistic origin.

(24) It is argued that the phrase "in him" in Col 1:16is used in a metaphorically local sense parallel to Philo’s use of "in" to describe the Logos as the place where the Ideas, the intelligible world (noêtos kosmos) are found. But there does not seem to be any direct Platonic influence evident in this hymn.

(25) This is contrary to Fee, who argues that the subject of verb is "the fullness of deity" and not implicitly God (Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 310-11).

(26) See R. P. Martin, New Testament Foundations (2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978) 2.213.

(27) Ridderbos, Paul. An Outline of His Theology, 68; Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, 312-14.

(28) C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans (ICC n.s.; 2 vols.), 2.464-69. This is contrary to Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 272-77.

(29) Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, 312-13.

(30) Contrary to Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 276-77.

(31) Contrary to Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 440-48.

(32) E. Best, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (BNTC), 272-73.

(33) On this topic, see Werner Kramer, Christ, Lord, Son of God; M. Hengel, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion.

(34) Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, 274.

(35) G. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 479.

(36) Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 1.61-62.

(37) P. Beasley-Murray, "Romans 1:3f. An Early Christian Confession of Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" TynB 31 (1980) 147-54.

(38) H. Conzelmann sees a Stoic flavor to Paul’s statement "All things are yours" (1 Corinthians, 80).

(39) See Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 189-94; P.-G. Klumbies, Die Rede von Gott bei Paulus in ihrem zeitgeschichtlichen Kontext, 128-30.

(40) A partial parallel to Paul’s statement from Hellenistic Judaism occurs in Philo’s writings. Philo has a similar dualism between God and the Word (logos): "We shall see that its [the cosmos’] cause (aition) is God, by whom (huphhou) it has come into being...its instrument the word of God, through which (di’ hou) it was framed" (Cher 127; see Leg. all. 3.96; op. mund. 24-25). But, of course, it must be stressed that Philo does not view the Word as having an independent ontological status, but is more of a personfication of an attribute of the one God. (Philo also includes the four elements as the material [hulê] from which the cosmos was compounded and God’s goodness as the cause of construction [tês kataskeuês aition]. Along the same lines, the Stoic Marcus Aurelius writes, "O Nature (phusis): from you are all things, in you are all things, to you are all things (ek sou panta, en soi panta, eis se panta) Meditations 4.23). But Paul does not seem to be directly influenced by Stoicism in his formulation. J. Murphy-O’Connor argues that the phrase ta panta in 1 Cor 8:6 does not refer to everything that exists in the cosmos but to the blessings and privileges of salvation ("I Cor., VIII 6: Cosmology or Soteriology," RB 85 [1978] 253-67). He bases his conclusion on the fact that Paul uses ta panta soteriologically in 1Cor 2:10-13, 12:4-6; 2 Cor 4:14-15, 5:18, Rom 8:28, 31-32. The context of 1 Cor 8, however, requires that ta panta be interpreted cosmologically, because Paul is discussing what exists in the cosmos: many gods and lords or one God and Lord Jesus Christ (see Col 1:15-20 for a parallel use of ta panta). Besides, contrary to Murphy-O’Connor, not every other use of ta panta in Paul’s letters is soteriological.

(41) L. Hurtado, One God, One Lord, 97-98; Dunn, Christology in the Making, 180; Wright, "Monotheism, Christology and Ethics: 1 Corinthians 8," The Climax of the Covenant, 128-30.

(42) See C.H. Giblin, "Three Monotheistic Texts in Paul," CBQ 37 (1975) 527-47; R. Kerst, "1 Kor 8.6—Ein vorpaulinisches Taufbekenntnis?" ZNW 66 (1975) 130-39; R.A. Horsley, "The Background of the Confessional Formula in 1 Kor 8:6," ZNW 69 (1978) 130-35; Fee, Pauline Christiology. An Exegetical-Theological Study, 88-94.




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