Jesus, The First Born of Creation: An Offer of Peace to a Hostile World

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The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,

Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.

He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.

He is the head [i.e. source of life] of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,
and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

Identity

The story of our relationship with Jesus does not begin in a manger. In Colossians we learn that the story of the Incarnation in relation to us goes back further than one might have first thought—to creation. Our access to God and life has always come through Christ, Jesus and we were in fact, created by, for and through him.

Regarding the latter, an interesting way to understand in what way we were created through the Son is to consider that something “other” than God can exist because there is distinction within the Trinity. Creation and humanity can exist on the basis of the Son’s free self-distinction from the Father (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology Vol 2, 30). Further, our existence as image bearers has always been based in the natural image of the invisible God—Jesus—and of course that gets into some very odd, yet highly plausible understandings of time.

*Exiting the Dr. Who universe now.

That said, we have always had access to God in Christ. Our very identities as image bearers are premised off of his identity and ultimate unity with us by nature. We were called to represent God in this world of whom Jesus is the perfect representation.

In the beginning we were created to be like priests or divine images set up in God’s temple, the earth (Genesis uses Near Eastern temple language to describe creation such as for example the 7 days/time periods among other things) . We were told to rule the earth together and to see one another as counterparts (i.e. the correspondence language all over Genesis).

And yet, we rejected God’s vision for us. We rejected our calling.

Rebellion

Our ancestors and the rest of us when we pattern ourselves after them, choose “wisdom” apart from God. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not an “evil” or bad tree, but we were told to depend on God and not partake of it at the time. We thought we could live well apart from the source of all life and wisdom. We decided to rebel against the God we were supposed to represent, the one whom all rule and authority was created for and as a result we sought to dominate one another, avoid responsibility, exploit and even murder.

The earth itself suffered. And continues to. Romans describes creation itself as groaning.

God sent us many messengers and envoys and made many accommodations to our warped understandings of power (i.e. Israel insists on a King and God finally relents). Yet we killed his messengers and refused to follow his ways again and again. And we all suffered. And most of our suffering comes from other humans.

Finally, the true and perfect “image of the invisible God” was sent to offer us peace and help us pattern ourselves after him. We killed him.

But what hate destroys, love resurrects.

God Shows Us How To Be Human

The birth , life, death and resurrection of Jesus stand concretely as a declaration of God’s power and love and hope for our future. While we were “estranged and hostile in mind” to God’s purposes, he reconciled with us with his own body. He showed us a new life orientation, one that surrenders zero-sum understandings of power, grandiosity and self-love at the expense of others.

Our egos and desperate efforts to have pride of place at the table were met by the true owner of the table who took the last place and welcomed those we looked down upon to it. He dared to side with the marginalized in front of us. He found those people we exploited and labeled as undesirable “sinners” and not only welcomed them but told "telling” stories in front of us all where they were set as the heroes, true sons, or valued and we were cast as the “sinners” or in rebellion against God (i.e. the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, The Two Sons, The King and Debtors…etc). He named our sins in front of everyone. He outsmarted us as we tried to trap him into saying something to get himself killed. It didn’t work and so we made stuff up and found him guilty in secret so no one could call us out for our evil.

He not only valued and raised up the marginalized, he became the marginalized. And he knew he would. He knew what kind of people we were when he came. He knew how tightly we held onto power and our false gods, ourselves. He kept living, modeling how we were called to act and would not stop. He did say that in order to truly live one must be willing to be brutally killed for living the way we were supposed to live—pure allegiance and devotion to our true calling.

In the end, we had to crucify him. We had to humiliate him, distort who he was and get rid of him so that we could continue what we were doing. People liked him too much and they started to think in ways that were not so beneficial for us. And really, he did say he was willing to pay this price. But nor our evil narratives nor the crushing power of Rome would have the final say.

God Unveils His Future

The physical body of Jesus was brought back to life but in such a way that transcended even a prefall state. God had sent us an offer of peace in human form and we more than rejected it. Jesus’ resurrection not only vindicated his message (he was not cursed by God), stood as God’s answer to injustice, but renewed the offer for peace. He lived the life we could not live as God’s representative and paid the ultimate price for it uniting the human with the divine and opened up the doors for us to also live as he did and except the offer of peace with God by the Holy Spirit. His resurrected body is also the first of many. His resurrection is a sign pointing out our own future and what it could be and look like, a reversal of the damage and transformation into something godly.

Our next move?

"Christ Became Poor:" Preexistence, Poverty, and the Patristic Reception of 2 Cor 8:9

"The question concerning the identity and divinity of Christ is one born and raised in controversy."[1] Much of this ancient and modern debate centers on the variants of 'low' and 'high' Christology and subsequently most modern commentators have centered their attention on Pauline texts such as Phil 2:5-11, 1 Cor 8:4-6, 15:20-28 and Col 1:15-20[2]—among others.[3] Although modern New Testament scholars have also pursued understanding ancient economics and poverty in relation to Paul's thought,[4] the terrain is ripe for integrative theological reflection on reception history in light of both his Christology and ancient conceptions of poverty. The goal of this essay is simple: to assess the patristic reception of an often-overlooked Pauline text (2 Cor 8:9) with intent to synthesize a modern reading informed by earliest Christianity.[5] To accomplish this, I will begin by briefly surveying modern scholarly opinion on 2 Cor 8:9, and then I will provide an additional survey of the economic topography that modern scholarship has unearthed in relation to Paul's own theology before evaluating the reception history of Paul. As I will show, the patristic consensus of 2 Cor 8:9 is fertile ground for modern interests in merging ancient poverty and Pauline Christology into a coherent theological worldview.[6]

1. Incarnation or Not?: Modern Scholarship on 2 Cor 8:9

In recent New Testament scholarship, a debate has emerged concerning this specific text, and whether or not Paul is alluding to the incarnation of the Son. A well-known representative of a 'non-incarnation' reading of 2 Cor 8:9 is James Dunn. He believes that "the most obvious way to take 2 Cor. 8:9 is as a vivid allusion to the tremendous personal cost of Jesus' ministry and particularly the willing sacrifice of his death."[7] Hence, for Dunn, Paul is about the historical life of Jesus as opposed to Jesus' forsaking divine rights in a preexistent state of equality with God the Father. Calvin J. Roetzel also seems reticent to affirm a form of preexistence in 2 Cor 8:9, as he thinks the relationship between Phil 2:6-11 and 2 Cor 8:9 are "faint."[8] He does affirm preexistence in the Philippians text but seems to object to a similar reading in the text under discussion. He offers several reasons why, including a lack of commentary on the exaltation of Christ to the Father, and also a lack of Christ becoming 'poor' in Phil 2:5-11.[9] Similarly, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor states, "such a meaning [incarnation of 2 Cor 8:9], however, has no basis either in Paul's theological perspective or in the immediate context."[10] For Murphy-O'Connor, the text under question refers to "the radical impoverishment" of Christ as human.[11] Christ, in essence, is the ideal human being for this view, and thus the incarnation is placed outside the scope of interpretive options. There are objections to these arguments. For instance, the phrasing of Phil 2:7a (ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών) appears to contradict Roetzel's claim, as slaves in the ancient world were not known for being wealthy. Indeed, wealth itself was restricted to the elites.[12] Also, Paul's referring to Christ as becoming a δούλου emphasizes in a holistic way the poverty he was "born" (2:8a: γενόμενος) into. The exchange of status symbols thus makes Roetzal's claim highly unlikely.[13] Also, Murphy-O'Connor relies too much on equating "image of God" and "form of God," an exegetical fallacy that has been persuasively challenged.[14] Despite their well-constructed arguments, Dunn and Murphy-O'Connor appear to be within the minority of New Testament exegetes. Most modern commentators[15] on the Greek New Testament have pushed back against this thesis, and Margaret Thrall is the best representative. She states that the "traditional interpretation [i.e. the preexistence son becoming poor through the incarnation] of the verse is preferable to the other possibilities suggested,"[16] and Dunn's 'non-incarnational' option is indeed excluded by her critique. Thrall concludes:

[Christ's] self-impoverishment in the whole event of incarnation was for the spiritual enrichment of believers. We have the same principle of interchange as in [2 Cor] 5:21. The riches are not further defined, and are probably to be understood in a comprehensive sense as all the blessings of eschatological salvation.[17]

In summation, the incarnational reading of 2 Cor 8:9 appears to be the preferable option amongst modern exegetes, illustrating continuity with the history of interpretation, especially as we now consider the socio-economic context of the ancient world.

2. The Economic Landscape of the Ancient World

The economic terrain of the Greco-Roman world was largely contingent upon who controlled what. Walter Scheidel and Steven Friesen have demonstrated "that the vast majority of the population lived close to subsistence but cumulatively generated more than half of overall output [of wheat]."[18] As the Roman Empire was the largest force in the ancient during the time of the New Testament, it stands to reason that this economy affected the majority of early patristic sources, at least implicitly if not explicitly as we shall see. Juvenal writes, "most people who lived in Rome could not afford to own a house and therefore lived in rooms or apartments that they might own or rent" (Satires 3.193-202).[19] An economic elitism seems to lie at the heart of the ancient Roman economy,[20] with a majority of the population living at or beneath the level of subsistence:[21] this also includes Paul and a vast majority of first-century Christians.[22] When we talk about poverty, then, we are not talking about merely symbols of status, but of actual life and death.[23] The issue of poverty as a self-imposed state in "Late Antiquity and early Byzantium" is also reflected in the literature, [24] which is a concept that will be explored later. For instance, Schachner writes concerning this period, "Chosen poverty was an ideal to follow one's quest for spirituality and eternal salvation."[25] Thus, when patristic writers interpret Paul's epistles, they are indebted to their socio-economic context, and this comes out quite clearly in their reception of 2 Cor 8:9. The scope of poverty is nearly universal and concentrated. The self-impoverishment of the Son of God will now be examined through the lens of Paul's earliest recorded interpreters.[26]

3. Impoverishment and the Son of God: The Patristic Reception of 2 Cor 8:9

The majority of allusions or direct citations of 2 Cor 8:9 come from a later period, as the literature from the Apostolic Fathers does not appear to contain any direct reference to the text in question.[27] The records of the early Apostolic Fathers are silent regarding any citing or alluding to this text as far as can been seen, although there are deep echoes of the Trinity therein.[28] The majority of references recorded are in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. We begin with Gregory Thaumaturgus.

For the rest of my paper, enjoy it here.

NQ

[1] Chris Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 1.

[2] For a reframing of several of these texts, see Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

[3] For a fascinating exploration of Paul's divine Christology that does not focus on the standard biblical texts, see Tilling, Paul's Divine Christology.

[4] C.f. Bruce W. Longenecker, Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), Justin J. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998) and David J. Downs, The Offering of the Gentiles: Paul's Collection for Jerusalem in its Chronological, Cultural, and Cultic Contexts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).

[5] For an excellent and expansive treatment of Pauline soteriology through a patristic lens, see Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). The scope of my proposal is far more modest, although my intent is similar. 

[6] The totality of Patristic evidence on this verse cannot be displayed. I have limited myself to key representatives and interpretations that appear to be consistent, revealing an interpretive thread that links all of these sources together.

[7] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of the Apostle Paul (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 292. It must be said that this 'non-incarnational' view may not represent Dunn's personal view, only his view on what Paul said and believed.

[8] Calvin J. Roetzel, 2 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 46.

[9] Roetzel, 2 Corinthians, 46.

[10] Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Theology of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 83.

[11] Murphy-O'Connor, Theology, 83.

[12] C.f. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival, 99

[13] It also may be said that the human life of utter impoverishment of Christ (the emphasis pressed by both Dunn and Murphy-O'Connor) does not necessarily rule out his incarnation. Indeed, contra Murphy-O'Connor (pp.83-84), it highlights the 'emptying' of the Son, who forgoes his divine status on behalf of those who are indeed impoverished. Murphy-O'Connor has missed the entire point of ancient theories of economics and status, and how this plays in Christ's self-abandonment of his status.

[14] See D. Steenburg, "The Case against the Synonymity of Morphē and Eikōn," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34 (1998): 77-86; Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 121-122.

[15] C.f. Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996), 215-217; Raymond C. Collins, Second Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 171-172; George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015), 406; Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 578-579; Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians (Vol. 40: Waco: Word Books, 1986), 263-264; Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 330.

[16] Margaret E. Thrall, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 534.

[17] Thrall, 2 Corinthians, 534.

[18] Walter Scheidel and Steven J. Friesen, "The Size of the Economy and the Distribution of Income in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Studies 99 (2009): 61-91, 62-63.

[19] Reference found in Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History. Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 63.

[20] This appears to be the case in Corinth during Paul's time. The social context of the Corinthians should be contrasted by their "pride in their economic status," per Hans Deiter Betz, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 63.

[21] Longenecker, Remember the Poor, 45.

[22] See specifically Steven J. Friesen's table (1.3) in his article "Injustice or God's Will?:" Early Christian Explanations of Poverty" in Wealth and Poverty in Early Church and Society (ed. Susan R. Holman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 17-36, 29. Paul's placement in Friesen's "poverty scale" (PS) in section 6 appears to best explain the data in the New Testament.

[23] See the documentation in Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival, 53-57.

[24] Lukas Amadeus Schachner, "Social Life in Late Antiquity: A Bibliographic Essay" in Social and Political Life in Late Antiquity (Edited by William Bowden, Adam Gutteridge and Carlos Machado. Volume 3.1. Boston: Leiden. 2006), 48-50, 48.

[25] Schachner, "Social Life," 48.

[26] All of the sources I cite occur, most probably, before the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE. The relevance of these sources is they are by prominent members of the early Christian community.   

[27] The text consulted was Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English. Third Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006).

[28] C.f. Stephen M. Hildebrand, "The Trinity in the Ante-Nicene Fathers" in The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity (ed. Gilles Emery and Matthew Levering; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 95-107.