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Gordon Fee: Jesus the Lord according to Paul the Apostle, reviewed by Craig S. Keener

Some connections depend on Fee’s identification of Jesus as always the referent of “Lord” in Paul’s writings, but the pattern does appear remarkably consistent there. Some of his proposed allusions (e.g., Ps 47:5 in 1 Thess 4:16) seem more debatable, even if the OT passages might supply some vocabulary or imagery. Why, for example, must God as avenger in 1 Thess 4:6 refer to Ps 94:1 rather than, e.g., 99:8 (LXX 98:8)? Nevertheless, the number of clear quotations is sufficient to make Fee’s point: there is a clear intertextual pattern of Paul applying divine texts to Jesus. Commentators have noticed individually most of the stronger allusions that Fee cites, but I find their cumulative force for a Pauline YHWH Christology enlightening.

The point is clear: Paul applied divine texts to Jesus.

Although Fee’s articulation of high Christology in Paul is persuasive (at least to me), some lacunae do appear in his argumentation for some aspects of that Christology. Fee speaks of the early church’s rejection of the subordination of “the Son and the Spirit to the Father,” a subordination that he considers “thoroughly unbiblical and … outside the parameters of the orthodox Christian faith” (119-20). Yet at least in this short book he does not address the problem posed for this approach by a passage such as 1 Cor 15:28 (which might seem to portend the later Johannine balancing of Jesus’s deity and his submission to the Father). Is this a retrojection of subsequent standards of orthodoxy into Paul? While Fee would surely offer a vigorous answer to this question, it does not appear clearly within this book.

Fee plausibly connects most Christological images in Paul with LXX roots, drawing heavily on the Pentateuch and especially the language of the creation and exodus narratives.

Fee plausibly connects most Christological images in Paul with LXX roots, drawing heavily on the Pentateuch and especially the language of the creation and exodus narratives.

If one traditional Christian theological topic could be more controversial when applied to Paul’s letters than Jesus’s deity, it might be discussion of the Spirit as a distinct person alongside the Father and Son. Fee addresses this especially in his conclusion, which he subtitles, “Paul as a Proto-trinitarian.” Whereas Paul often links the Father and the Son, as already noted, he sometimes links the Spirit together with them in an analogous role (1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14; Eph 4:4-6; cf. 1 Cor 6:11; 2 Thess 2:3-14; Gal 4:4-6).

Moreover, Fee shows that the Spirit acts as a person in various Pauline passages: for example, the Spirit teaches (1 Cor 2:13); cries out (Gal 4:6); has desires opposed to those of the flesh (5:17); leads believers (5:18; Rom 8:14); bears witness (Rom 8:16); intercedes (8:26-27); and is grieved (Eph 4:30). If the evidence is less overwhelming than that for Paul’s application of OT language about YHWH to Jesus, it will nevertheless come as a surprise to those influenced by the scholarly orthodoxy that such ideas began to emerge only much later in history.

Fee does not always force one to choose between alternatives in apparent tension; he embraces both royal Davidic son of God Christology and eternal Son Christology (e.g., in Rom 1:4, p. 98). Yet in some cases I believe that he has too quickly ruled out other, potentially complementary areas of exploration. Given his emphasis on divine Christology, his exclusion of Wisdom Christology may seem understandable, but I believe that it is unfortunate. I believe that his conviction that “wisdom Christology has not an exegetical leg of any kind on which to stand” (xix; cf. 88) prematurely rules out far too much data. Against Fee, I do find echoes (albeit admittedly not quotations) of the Wisdom of Solomon in Paul, and Philo testifies to views certainly in circulation in this period. As for Paul himself, he does seem to speak fairly explicitly of Christ as divine Wisdom (1 Cor 1:24, 30). (Fee’s detailed response, by contrast, appears in his Pauline Christology, pp. 595-630.)

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2019

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. sites.google.com/site/drckeener. Twitter: @keener_craig

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