After all, the Christ Paul is seeking to imitate will color everything about our own attempts to wrestle with his words. I fear we tend to forget this because, so often, Paul is seen primarily as a theologian, a man who wrote treatises that we must dissect and systematically piece back together, a collection of important doctrines written for our education. But this is not the Paul of Acts, or even of his epistles. The Paul we have recorded in the Bible is a missionary and pastor, concerned with the spiritual and physical well-being of those he meets and pointing them to Christ. Even his most detailed doctrinal passages are not written to seminary students but to struggling believers that he is attempting to help and guide. He is feeding sheep, not arguing from an armchair, and that which he feeds those sheep is always Christ. Everything he says goes back to the Christ who has given him the call to ministry, the Christ who appeared to him on the road outside of Damascus, the Christ who showed him all he must suffer while he sat blind in a stranger's home.
There is a surprising lack of material on Paul's understanding of Christ, considering this is the very foundation upon which everything else we have of him is built. In seeking resources for this, I found only two books that spilled any ink on Paul's understanding of Christ, and one was citing the other. If there are journal articles that handle this matter in any detail, they were lost in hundreds of pages of results that seemed to exclusively contain more doctrinal arguments than anything. Paul urges strangers to encounter Christ, he tells his readers to look to Christ in all they do, he strives to live a life that can be rightly said to be Christ living through him. If we treat Paul as a theologian writing doctrine in a vacuum, we will get a lot of very good theology, but we will miss the point of what Paul was trying to communicate. In all things, Paul is writing about Christ.
“Pauline Christianity forms the heritage of western Christianity to this day, and therefore it is all the more important to understand as fully as possible Paul’s conception of Jesus Christ.”
Stanley E. Porter, "Images of Christ in Paul's Letters," in Images of Christ: Ancient and Modern, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes, and David Tombs (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 96.
Some notes on content before we begin. This post places Hebrews outside the corpus of Pauline writings. There is no statement about authorship being made by this. The origins of this post come from a New Testament survey class that centered on Acts and the Pauline epistles that did not include Hebrews; the decision was somewhat made for me. That being said, I probably could have included Hebrews if I really wanted, but I don't think attempting to would have had much benefit. While much is said of Christ in Hebrews that may have been useful, the attempts to explain its inclusion when there is no consensus of authorship would surely occupy more space than this topic can really spare for it. This may be influenced by my own opinion that Paul did not write Hebrews, but that seems like a matter for another post entirely.
Also, while I identified a host of passages about the work of Christ and His current status in regards to the present age, this post will focus entirely on the actual nature of Christ, whether eternal or incarnational. I am hoping to cover the other passages over the course of summer break, and now that I think about it I'd like to do a similar study as this with other Bible authors. May God grant me time on this Earth to write everything I want to write about this.
The initial limiting factor for my research into this project was that, whatever Paul may be directly talking about in a passage, the passage must say something specific about Christ in the process. As it turns out, calling Jesus Lord or Christ is saying something important about who He is, but I had to trim away any passage where that was the only thing that was being said about Him because it was nearly impossible to sift through everything with that pile mixed in. Except the passage above, which I kept just so Philemon wouldn't go ignored if I'm honest.
The fact is, Paul almost never says the name of Jesus without appending a title, either Lord or Christ in our translations. This is the most fundamental truth of who Jesus is as far as Paul is concerned: he is God, and every mention of Him is apparently lacking if it does not in some way acknowledge that fact. This is, in fact, the first thing he learns about Jesus during his conversion; in Acts 9:5, Paul recognizes that whoever is speaking to him is certainly the Lord, but asks for further identification. When he receives the answer that this Lord is none other than Jesus, he immediately obeys Him. This fact will inform everything else Paul ever says or does concerning Jesus. Clarifying what it means for Jesus to be Lord, then, will tell us a great deal about everything else.
“What is perhaps even more noteworthy, however, is that there are a number of passages where Paul appears to apply Old Testament passages referring to the Lord to the figure of Jesus Christ.”
Stanley E. Porter, "Images of Christ in Paul's Letters," in Images of Christ: Ancient and Modern, ed. Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes, and David Tombs (London: T&T Clark International, 2004), 101.
While this would be best addressed in length elsewhere, Paul also consistently takes the Jewish idea of the Day of the Lord and ties it to the return of Christ; he even goes so far in Philippians to refer to this as the Day of Christ (1:6, 10, 2:16). Not only is Christ to be given the title of Lord, but the ultimate victory of God is understood through the lens of being the ultimate victory of Christ.
The God of Israel was never like the gods of the surrounding lands. There was no image of Him, no statues decorating their landscapes and homes bearing the face of divinity. They were, in fact, forbidden from even attempting to display Him. Nevertheless, this was a God who sought a relationship with His people, maintaining access at His temple and carrying on conversation with and through prophets. Moses, seeking a deeper relationship, asked to see God, only to be informed that to see His face would kill the man; he was allowed to see, at most, the divine back.
It emphasizes, however, how deeply relational this God is. It was not enough to show His people only a temple, or a mercy seat, or a fleeting glimpse of His back. He had to walk with us, dine with us, cry with us. The God that Paul knows in Christ is driven to reveal Himself to us as much as possible, ultimately promising to dwell with us forever.
“In that sense images of Christ are for Paul also in some ways images of God.”
Son of God
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
This is no light language, either. A lot of the terminology Paul uses for Jesus play into positions of authority across the full spectrum of time. Whether this is about preeminence or calling Him firstborn or heir of God (Romans 8:16-17, 29; Colossians 1:18; etc.), describing Him as the head/husband of the church and all things (Ephesians 1:19-23, 4:15; Romans 12:4-5; etc.), or the supreme judge and ruler at the end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Timothy 4:1, 8; etc.), Paul regularly views Christ as bearing the full authority of God.
But the work the Father had for the Son was not to take place entirely on a throne in Heaven.
Jesus was the fulfillment of a great number of promises, and two of them relate to His ancestry. The first is that He was to be a descendant of Abraham, which Paul identifies as true of Him (Romans 9:3-5, Galatians 3:16). The other is that He was the son of David that would sit forever on the throne (Acts 13:22-23, Romans 1:3-4, 2 Timothy 2:8). His specific family is noted in Galatians 1:19, where He is stated as the brother of James.
The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
“In summarizing this passage, we can see that several of the Pauline christological images are maintained. He uses the composite name, Christ Jesus, to describe both earthly and exalted status and events, with the figure moving between them. Although he is seen to be in the appearance of God, and equal with him in some way, Jesus Christ also is subordinate to him, being obedient to the point of death and consequently being exalted by him to a position of preeminence in the universe.”
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Gods At War
Gospel Of John
Gospel Of Matthew
Small Town Summits
Stanley E Porter
The Good Place
Who Is Jesus