Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study. By Gordon D. Fee


Pp. xxxi, 707 , Hendrickson Publishers , Peabody, Massachusetts , 2007 , £22.99 .

So many general books on Paul state that Christ or Christology lies at the basis of his theology, so it seems extraordinary that until the publication of this book there has been no substantial single volume devoted specifically to Paul's Christology, there have only been chapters in more general works on Paul or on Christology. Of course, as anyone who has taught a course on Paul will confirm, it is difficult to pull together his Christology from all over his letters and this Christology, as Gordon Fee repeatedly affirms, is never developed explicitly or systematically but is presupposed in what he says to his readers about other things. Fee notes the difficulty of deriving coherence from the contingencies of a scattering of letters to disparate communities where Paul was not concerned with setting out a Christology. Only one passage is intentionally Christological, Colossians 1.15–17; for the rest it is implicit in Paul's main preoccupation: soteriology. The author makes an early distinction between Christology and soteriology that comes from the old distinction between the person and the work of Christ, and this long book deals solely (except in passing) with the former. It has still taken the retired Professor Fee a decade to write it.

Fee says he has a twofold purpose. ‘The first concern is to offer a close examination of the texts in the Pauline corpus that mention Christ, and especially to offer a careful but focused exegesis of those texts deemed to have or, in some cases, not to have christological significance. Here the evidence seems conclusive that Paul belongs to the ‘high Christology’ end of the NT spectrum. The second part of the study will then offer a thematic analysis of these data with the ultimate goal of determining how we might best speak theologically about Paul's Christology in its first-century setting.' Fee has structured the book so that it can be dipped into by clergy in a hurry or academics with a deadline by examining each letter in turn, but it would be hard to make full sense of the hundred or more pages of thematic synthesis at the end without referring in some way to the preceding exegesis. The author has provided a full range of relevant texts in Greek with his own English translations.

Increasingly academic authors on Paul restrict themselves to the seven definitely authentic letters. Here Fee excludes nothing from the canon. He keeps an open mind on the authorship of some of them, though he inclines towards Paul having written Colossians and Ephesians, but he justifies his decision to include these and Pastoral Letters by showing that their Christology is entirely consistent with that of the other letters and so express an authentically Pauline Christology regardless of who put pen to papyrus.

Professor Fee notes Paul's total devotion to, indeed love of Christ, but he also notes that Paul never ceased to be a strict Jewish monotheist. In incorporating Christ into God's work of salvation, Paul never ceased to believe in the oneness of God but he was able to offer a Christian representation of the Shema at 1 Corinthians 8.6 which includes both the Father as theos and Jesus Christ the son as kurios. This distinction is crucial. Jesus Christ the kurios is repeatedly assigned roles that belong to ‘the Lord’ in the (Greek) OT but Paul never called him theos. Although Fee ascribes a very high Christology to Paul that holds to the idea of pre-existence, he does not need to resort to an interpretation of Romans 9.5 and Titus 2.13 that sees Christ as theos. The titles theos and kurios are Paul's way of preserving a distinction within the Godhead while including the Father and pre-existent Son in the Godhead. In also bringing out the humanity of Jesus in Paul's writings, Fee presents an incarnational understanding of Paul's Christology and so cuts across the non-incarnational line of Dunn's big book on the apostle. Fee underpins his interpretation with a methodological principle which understands the texts as they stand and moves towards synthesising a Christology from the texts, rather than presenting the supposed origins of Paul's thought in order to explain what Paul's theology might mean in the light of those origins. The latter approach has been common in much recent writing on Paul and Fee will have none of it.

At the same time Fee launches a full assault on those who find a Wisdom Christology in Paul, for he says ‘there is simply no parallel of any kind in Paul's writings between Christ and personified Wisdom’. He is surely right when he says that this Christology has been imported into Paul; there is no textual support for it and Fee argues his case in a lengthy appendix. He also reins in the extent of Paul's Adam Christology as you find it in some authors (Dunn again, and Wright). Yet he adopts more than a minimalist approach that looks only at the explicit Adam texts in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, particularly by looking at ‘image’ texts, where Adam loses the divine image that the human race once had and which Christ sets out to restore. However, he makes surprisingly little of 2 Corinthians 4.6.

There is far more detail in the book than can even be hinted at in a review. The book has been much need and the treatment of its theme is nothing less than magisterial. Even if the reader finds something to quibble at – and this would not be surprising in a work of 600 pages of main text – he or she is likely to be swept along by its presentation. How will the book change the scene? No longer will any serious scholar be able to suggest that Paul has a low, non-incarnational Christology, in which there is no pre-existent Christ involved in creation and later effective in redemption and the process of restoring the divine image to mankind. I also think we will have seen the last of a Wisdom interpretation of Paul's Christology, and maybe a diminution in presentations of Paul's Adam Christology. This is a book that must be on the shelf of every serious student of Paul, for it is not likely to be superseded for some time.