July 8, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

Christological Monotheism

I’ve had a dialogue on the Shema and whether it is the background of 1 Cor. 8:6


The Unitarian has now moved on to used James D. G. Dunn to try to undermine the idea that the Shema is the background to 1 Cor 8:6. Here is what he quotes:

However, the point is not quite as clear cut as Bauckham suggests. For the question arises as to whether Paul did indeed intend to ‘split the Shema’. It is quite possible to argue, alternatively, that Paul took up the Shema, already quoted in 8.4 (‘there is no God but one’), only in the first clause of 8.6 (reworded as ‘for us there is one God, the Father’); and to that added the further confession, ‘and one Lord Jesus Christ:37 Bauckham argues that ‘the addition of a unique Lord to the unique God of the Shema’ would flatly contradict the uniqueness of the latter’.38 But if anything the fuller confession of 8.6 could be said to be a more natural outworking of the primary conviction that ‘the Lord (God) had said to the Lord (Christ), “Sit at my right hand … “‘ (Ps. 110.1), a confession set precisely in contrast to the gods many and lords many of Graeco-Roman worship.

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? by James D. G. Dunn(Page 109).

This is also tied to the fact that Dunn wishes to interpret along different lines. His alternative is to tie Christ to Philo’s logos and wisdom tradition. So, this is no way continues to help portray Christ as a mere human but rather portrays him as the Divine instrument that ushers in creation(both old and new).

I provide comments on Wisdom Christology in a moment, but first, let’s just focus on the similarities of the two text:

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

yet for us

there is only one God, the Father,
    from whom everything came into being
        and for whom we live.
And there is only one Lord, Jesus the Messiah,
    through whom everything came into being
        and through whom we live.

There lacks anything regarding the Father saying to the Son, nothing about sitting at his right hand, nor anything about enemies being made a footstool. These passages hardly have anything in common or even relevance to one another. Firstly, he assumes the Unitarian understanding of Psalm 110. It rather would still indicate the divinity of Christ if it were referring to Psalm 110, this has been discussed here and here. Even the late Steve Hays addressed this, here. Secondly, the passage on his understanding presents a merely human Messiah. But this doesn’t fit with the fact that the Son is the instrument in which the world was made. God’s agent in creation. Thus his appeal to Dunn backfires. Another issue is whether the language is accurate to what is meant by “split the Shema”. Larry Hurtado said:

As to 1 Cor 8:4-6, I can’t recall saying that Paul “split the Shema”. Paul does appear to use the terminology of the Shema in acclaiming “one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ,” and in substance does exhibit the “dyadic” “mutation” in Jewish confession and devotion that I’ve written about for 30 yrs. However you slice it, and whatever you do with it subsequently, there is this novel “two-ishness” to earliest Christian belief and devotional practice.

In fact, he ties with the Wisdom Tradition. This itself has both it’s biblical basis and further, it has to tie into with Alexandrian wisdom traditions. I don’t believe this is the background to these statements and am fine with the Binitarian understanding behind these verses. This usually is dependent upon the scholar’s interpretation of other key texts (John 1:1, Col. 1:15-20). These are out of the scope of which I will discuss. What lacks from this passage is any mention of Sophia(wisdom) and it hardly is apparent that it has any relevance here. It seems that they confuse something in the background with something in the foreground.

There are several different strands in that conversation. There are those dealing with OT wisdom literature, others dealing with Alexandrian Wisdom traditions, or a divine attribute. It is actually usually thought that Wisdom is a divine attribute being personified. This often is constructed and the passages are forced through these lenses.

It is often connected to Christ’s mediation of creation to that of wisdom, Logos, etc role in creation. Dunn viewed that it isn’t about Christ’s preexistence, but rather that Christ is the wisdom of God in the sense that his death and resurrection fulfill God’s plan of salvation. Christ is the creative power of God in the sense that his present Lordship entails his sharing in God’s creative and governmental functions.

That’s rather alien to the passage. It’s merely his grid for understanding the passage. It is highly implausible that this is referring to Christ in this manner. Firstly, it still undermines any idea that Christ is merely human. It doesn’t make sense that Christ as a mere human would be the instrument of God’s creation. Secondly, Philo’s Logos is understood often in relation to a platonic metaphysics. It is unlikely Paul shared this same conceptual grid. Even the proportions used by Philo are not the same in regards to what is used by Paul. As Dr. Gordon Fee points out:

In his commentary on Romans, J. D. G. Dunn comments that “the use of prepositions like [these three] when speaking of God and the cosmos . . . was widespread in the ancient world and typically Stoic” (Romans 9-16 [WBC 38B; Dallas: Word, 1988], 701). But apart from the three Pauline texts (Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16-17), he lists only six others, in none of which is there another instance of all three prepositions occurring together. Elsewhere. Dunn has further suggested that one of the texts (Philo, Cher. 125-127) serves as an illustration of one who has niade “a similar division in the ‘by, from, and through’ formulation, between the originating role of God . . . and the instrumental role of the Logos” (Theology of Paul, 209). This is true, but Philo’s concerns and language differ from Paul’s. Apparently picking up Aristotelian usage (see the note by Colson and Whitaker. LCL, vol. 2, pp. 486-87), Philo’s prepositions are ὑφ᾽ οὗ (by which), ἐξ οὗ (from which), 8i’ ov (through which), 8i’ 6 (for which), three of which apply to God, while the Logos is involved only in the third (“through whom”). Thus, although there are conceptual similarities, in fact the combination of prepositions found here (and Rom 11:36; Col 1:16-17) is apparently unique to Paul in antiquity.

Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Page 92).

This doesn’t truly entail Paul didn’t have the same idea in mind that Philo had, but it cast doubt as no linguistic parallels can be made. In fact, they diverge from each other on their usages. Stoics used the same phrases but hardly is it apparent that Pauline cosmology reflects a pantheistic or platonic cosmology.

The passage should be understood since Christ is the creator of the world, he is also the universal Lord(Yahweh). His Lordship touches over everything he has created. This is parallel to the same thing as the Father being the unique Elohim(God) of this world because he created it. This theme is found commonly in Biblical polemics against ANE deities. As one author wrote on the topic:

Richard Bauckham has proposed that the uniqueness of God can be found in his unique role of creator and ruler of all. A closer look suggests that the sovereignty of God is based on his role at creation. God rules above all because he created all. Now, 1Cor 8:6b has identified Jesus as the ruler of all (via εἷς κύριος) and as the creator of all (via δι᾽ οὗ τὰ πάντα). The participation of Jesus at creation is the basis for his universal lordship.

The same author notes that the passage creates many dissimilarities between Christ and wisdom. The logos wasn’t a personal creator of the world:

First, Wisdom is conceived as the means of creation whereas Christ is a unique personal creator. Second, Wisdom is the personification of a divine action or attribute while Christ is conceived as a divine unique person. Thus, if Wisdom is just a personification of a God’s attributes, the identification of Jesus with Wisdom is actually an identification of Jesus with God himself. Third, Wisdom is never associated with YHWH-Kyrios name, but Jesus is.

Furthermore, Steve Hays also shared his thoughts on the topic of Wisdom Christology connections with Christ(in another place but the same content is applicable here):

The personification of wisdom occurs in a conspicuously allegorical context (e.g. Prov 8), whereas the prologue belongs to a different genre–historical narrative.

When personified, wisdom is feminine. Lady Wisdom or God’s daughter. That’s incongruous for a male figure.

Scholars who take this approach quickly shift from the unmistakable Genesis background to a speculative Wisdom background. The postulated Wisdom Christology then bears the primary weight of interpretation. That becomes an exercise in misdirection. I agree with scholars like Ridderbos and Bauckham that a Wisdom paradigm is the wrong frame of reference.