Review: Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study

Article by   August 2008
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Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study
By Gordon D. Fee
707 p.
Hendrickson Publishers (March 2007)
Reviewed by Josh Walker



Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College in
Vancouver, Canada, is one of the preeminent New Testament scholars in the evangelical
community. Many of his works have set the bar for academic studies: How to Read the
Bible for All Its Worth, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors,
and God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. His latest work,
Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study, is another such work. I. H.
Marshall's, Honorary Research Professor of New Testament at the University of
Aberdeen, has high praise for Fee's new book and his comments are right to the point.
"Gordon Fee has done it again! Having given us the standard work of Paul's
understanding of the Holy Spirit, he has now filled a surprising gap in Pauline studies by
writing a remarkably comprehensive and detailed account of Pauline Christology" (back
of the book).

Fee begins this volume with an introduction to Pauline Christology, covering
issues such as: the definition of Christology, theological difficulty, the modern discussion
and other basic matters (1-27). In the first section Fee makes a helpful observation (1-6).
He states that "'Christology' in this study is used exclusively to refer to the person of
Christ--Paul's understanding of who Christ was/is, in distinction to the work of Christ--
what Christ did for us as Savior (soteriology). But this is also our first difficulty, since a
distinction between Christology and soteriology is not one that Paul himself makes" (1,
emphasis original)." In other words, Fee points out that the modern distinction between
these two loci of theology are helpful, but not one that Paul clearly made. This is an
observation that needs to be remembered in the area of exegesis. If this observation is not
kept in mind, texts that deal with Christ's work will lose their value in understanding his
person (i.e. Ephesians 2:8-9).

The next section of the Introduction deals with two basic theological difficulties
in formulating Paul's Christology (7-10). The first is how to understand Paul's statements
about Christ given his strict monotheism. "[W]hatever else is true about Paul...he was an
avid monotheist" (7). Thus, all of Paul's comments about Christ must be seen in this
light. The second difficulty Fee addresses is the fact that "the primary focus in all the
Pauline letters is on salvation in Christ,...[however] Paul regularly speaks of Christ in
ways that indicate that 'the Son of God' is also included in the divine identity" (7,
emphasis original). Now that Paul is converted out of Judaism, his religious affection is
turned particularly to Christ. The difficulty lies in how to understand Paul's monotheism
in light of his high Christology. This difficulty is resolved by Fee through the book by
affirming that Paul saw Christ as the one true God of Israel.

With these difficulties laid out, Fee gives his two fold purpose for this volume;
"first...to offer a close examination of the texts in the Pauline corpus that mention Christ...[and] second...to 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 firstcentury
setting" (10, emphasis original).

The third main section of the Introduction focuses on the literature on Pauline
Christology in the twentieth century (10-15). This section lament at the fact that there is
no literature on this topic in the history of New Testament scholarship except Werner
Framer's Christ, Lord, Son of God, and "Kramer's study is less interested in Paul per se
than in Paul's role in the 'development' of early Christology" (10). After a brief history
of Pauline scholarship, Fee concludes this section by again stating his goals, "in this case
by putting most of the emphasis on the exegesis of all the significant texts, while at the
end pointing out the christological implication of the exegesis" (Fee, 15).

In the final section of the Introduction, Fee provides a brief overview of three key
Pauline texts--1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:13-17 and Philippians 2:6-11 (16-20, see
below). He also takes up the question as to whether or not Paul used the Septuagint
(LXX) (20-25). Fee concludes that Paul did use the LXX and that for Paul "ku,rioj =
Adonai = Yahweh of the Septuagint" (20). He gives two lines of reasoning to support
this conclusion.

First, Paul refers to the Greek Bible in a variety of ways. In some instances
he "cites" texts that are verbally identical to the text of the Septuagint
known to us. In other cases he "cites" with a degree of freedom, while in
still others he echoes the language of the Septuagint with enough precision
to give one confidence that it is the ultimate source of his own
language...Second, there are enough instances where Paul agrees with the
Septuagint's rendering of the Hebrew text in places where the translator
had several choices, both with words and word order, to make one think
that Paul is citing a common Bible rather than imagine that this happened
independently in some way (20-21).

In addition, Fee also gives two lines of reasoning for thinking that Paul's readers were in
fact aware of this usage. The first is the fact that Paul so frequently cites the LXX that it
would be hard to image that he did not think his readers were familiar with the LXX. And
second, which brings back the original point, Paul regularly transfers biblical language of
Yahweh to Christ. "At the end, therefore, both the volume and the nature of these biblical
echoes give evidence of an assumed high Christology between Paul and his churches"
(25), thus showing that in fact ku,rioj (Lord) equals Adonai (Lord). Fee ends this
section with a chart where the singular and combinational uses of ku,rioj (Lord),
VIhsou/j (Jesus), Cristo,j(Christ), ui`o,j (son) and qeo,j (God) are used in the Pauline
corpus (26-27).

These introductory matters are vital to Fee's project. It is in these pages that Fee
sets the course and agenda for the book. Further, it is here where Fee lays out his basic
framework for understating Paul's Christology. This is important because he draws on
this material later in the book to show what Paul is or is not saying in a particular
passage. In other words, the three key texts from above are used as an interpretive grid
for Fee in understanding Paul's overall understanding of Christ.

After the Introduction, Fee examines the Christology of each of the Pauline
letters, in their chronological order, that is, the order in which Paul wrote them, and Fee
does believe Paul wrote them (chs. 2-10). He begins with the Thessalonian letters (31-
83), then moves to 1 Corinthians (84-159) and 2 Corinthians (160-206). From there, he
moves to a discussion of Galatians (207-36), then Romans (237-88), Colossians and
Philemon (289-338). Finally, he deals with Ephesians (339-69), Philippians (370-417),
and the Pastoral Epistles (418-78). A few key features for each of these chapters is that
Fee includes background information about each letter, such as the date and other
relevant details, and he also includes excursus that are key to the exegesis of the texts in
that particular letter or Paul's letters in general. For example, in the first exegetical
chapter Fee includes an excursus on the use of the definite article with ku,rioj (Lord)
(35). These excursuses are very useful in understanding the exegesis that follows.
In addition to these features, Fee also provides the Greek text of every passage,
with it phrased and his own translation. He also does something that makes this volume
extremely helpful and user friendly, he underlines references to God the Father, bolds
references to Christ and the occasional references to the Holy Spirit are put in italics. This
is done in both the Greek text and his English translations to aid in following Paul's line
of reasoning. Further, after each exegetical section, Fee offers appendices. In these
appendices Fee puts the text (both Greek and English, his own rendering) and a statistical
analysis of the passages that have direct relevance to Christ, with a textual apparatus
discussing the combinations of names and tiles that are in that particular letter.

To be sure, it is beyond the scope of a review to provide a detailed analysis of the
content of each chapter, but Fee does give a summary of the main points that he finds in
the Pauline corpus. Fee does this by discussing three key Pauline texts that deal with
Christology--1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:13-17 and Philippians 2:6-11 (16-20). In
these texts, Fee points out the "two most significant features of Pauline Christology": (1)
Christ as the Son of God and (2) Christ as Lord (16). In the 1 Corinthians passage, Fee
recognizes "a classic example of Paul's use of the Septuagint's ku,rioj = Adonai =
Yahweh as a reference to Christ as the 'Lord' of these OT passages. For here the
fundamental theological reality from Paul's Judaism, the Shema, has been divided up so
as to embrace the Son along with the Father" (17). Further, Fee understands in this text
the "first passage in the corpus where Paul asserts, as something assumed between him
and his reader, that Christ is both preexistent and the mediatorial agent of creation" (17).
Fee then moves to a discussion of the high points from his exegesis of Colossians
1:13-17 (289-338). This text is "the first instance where scholarship has invested
enormous capital trying to demonstrate that Paul is here citing a 'hymn' that had prior
existence in the church" (18). Though Fee thinks this could be a hymn, he warns against
reading too much into this. Just because Paul might have used a hymn does not mean that
Paul did not believe the content of that hymn, as some scholars argue.

The last passage mentioned in his overview is Philippians 2:6-11. Fee argues that
this text teaches the fact that Christ has two natures (he points out that both are on display
here, with humanity taking center stage). "This is the primary passage in Paul's writings
that will not allow one to assert Christ's divinity without taking seriously the full
humanity of his incarnation (19, emphasis original). In other words, at the incarnation,
Jesus became all that it means to be human. These two points, Christ as Lord and as the
Son of God, are the key to understanding Pauline Christology, according to Fee. "[T]hese
three primary christological texts have embedded in them all the key elements of that
[Paul's] Christology (20).

Though Fee does affirm the full divinity of Christ as a Pauline teaching, he does
not believe that Romans 9:5 or Titus 2:13 support this doctrine. These two passage have
been the bed rock for the doctrine of Christ's divinity for centuries since, historically,
they have been understood explicitly to refer to Christ as qeo,j (God). On exegetical,
grammatical and theological grounds, Fee argues that both of these passages do not call
Jesus God. For instance, in discussing Titus 2:11-14, Fee notes that there are three
options [for understanding the VIhsou/ Cristou/ (Jesus Christ): (1) "our Savior" alone,
(2) the combination of "our great God and Savior," or (3) the word 'glory' in the longer
phrase "our great God and Savior's glory." The main difficulty in understanding this
passage is the fact that it is one continuous sentence with "the grace of God appeared" as
the central phrase (441). However, following F. J. A. Hort and O. H. Towner, Fee opts
for the third option. He translates this passage as, "the blessed hope and appearing of our
great God and Savior's glory, Jesus Christ" (443, emphasis original).

In support of this view that Titus 2:13 does not explicitly refer to Christ as God,
Fee makes the following arguments. First, he argues from the structure of this text and a
parallel text, Colossians 2:2 and concludes that "it is only the distance from what it stands
in apposition to...that has caused us historically to read 'Jesus Christ' as in apposition to
either 'our Savior' or 'our great God and Savior'" (444, emphasis original). Second, he
gives a positive argument for why "Jesus Christ" should be seen in apposition to (or
modifying) "glory." Fee argues that "in favor of 'glory' as apposing word for 'Jesus
Christ' is the fact that this is very much a Pauline idea" (445, emphasis original). Third,
Fee argues that it seems difficult for Paul "to have created the anomaly of referring to
Christ as qeo,j" (445). Fourth, Fee argues that "since the 'grace of God' and the 'glory of
God' are what are being manifested in Christ's two 'appearances,' there is every good
contextual reasons to think that Paul in this passage has simply brought forward the
previous reference in v. 10 to 'God our Savior' in order to emphasize whose glory is
being manifested in the coming of Christ" (446).

It is important to keep in mind that both of these texts that Fee brings into
question are at the heart of the biblical teaching on the deity of Christ. As stated above,
Fee does not deny this teaching; he simply does not find support for it in Romans 9:5 or
Titus 2:13. Since this doctrine is so central to our faith, a few responses are in order.
First, it is true that "the glory of Jesus Christ" is a Pauline idea, but Christ as deity is just
as much a Pauline idea, which Fee agrees with in numerous places. For instance, as stated
above, Fee agrees that Philippians 2:6-11 teaches the deity of Christ. It is not a far leap
from saying Jesus is in the form of God, as Philippians 2 states, to saying that Jesus is in
fact God. Second, "Jesus Christ" would most naturally modify the closest word cluster,
which in this case is "our great God and our Savior." This would make option two,
above, the preferable one (which is the reading adopted by most modern English
translations). Third, and finally, the charge that Paul would not create this anomaly seems
to be special pleading. After all, referring to Jesus as God would not be unique to Paul.
John 1:1 and John 20:28 both refer to Jesus as God. In addition, Paul does not shy away
from teaching "new" things. Paul teaches the "anomaly" of the incarnation, as an
example. Why must we think that this anomaly would be out of line with the rest of
Paul's "anomalies?" Fee's arguments do not seem to be compelling to the point where the
Church should drop the interpretation it has had of these texts for thousands of years.
After the exegetical section of the book, Fee offers a synthesis of the material
gathered from his exegesis (481-593). In this section, Fee reviews the passages, but this
time from a thematic approach rather than a chronological one. Chapter 11 (481-499)
discusses Christ as the divine Savior. Fee highlights Christ's role as the central
instrument in God's plan of salvation and he illustrates the impact that worshiping Christ
has on Paul's view of Christ. Christ as preexistent and incarnate is the theme of Chapter
12 (500-512). One of the most interesting chapters in the book is chapter 13 (513-529)
which covers the role of Jesus Christ as the second Adam. This chapter includes a broad
range of topics: Paul and New-Creation theology, Sin and Death, Christ as the image of
God, and Christ as the truly human and divine Savior. Chapter 14 (530-557) deals with
Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God. This chapter deals with one of the two
key features of Paul's Christology--Jesus as the Son of God. This is one of the few
chapters in the book where Fee deals with the Old Testament scriptures in a detailed
fashion. The other key feature of Paul's understanding of Christ is dealt with in chapter
15 (556-585)--Jesus as Lord. This chapter covers the "most significant of the
christological motifs that emerge in Paul's letters and thus to the absolute heart of Pauline
Christology: Jesus as o` ku,rioj (the Lord)" (558). The final chapter of this thematic
section is chapter 16 (586-593) which focuses on Christ and the Spirit as they relate to
Paul's Trinitarian theology. Fee prefers the term "proto-Trinitarian." He sees Paul as
setting the trajectory for the doctrine of the Trinity. The book ends with two
appendices--one on Christ as personified wisdom and the other on Paul's use of Lord for
Christ in citations that echo the Septuagint.

Without a doubt, this book represents a significant contribution to Pauline
scholarship. It fills a noticeable void in some key areas of the discipline, such as Paul's
Christology, with an in depth exegesis and synthesis of the Pauline material. Fee's work
and scholarship are second to none. Further, it may be observed that this book is not one
that will be picked up and read cover to cover by most. It will no doubt be used by most
as a reference work, which it is well suited for. However, Fee anticipated this and, as
such, he has equipped the book with an extremely useful table of contents to aid the
reader. This book has set the stage and the standard for all future Pauline studies on
Paul's Christology. Any book in the future that deals with this topic must also deal with
this academic tome.

Josh Walker is an MDiv Student and teaching assistant at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS.

For more books on Pauline theology please visit Reformed Resources.


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