May 18, 2009

Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology

This important book by professor Fee is truly a monumental achievement and an important contribution to the study of Paul and of Christology more broadly. When I decided to buy this book a few months ago, I scanned the contents and, noting that the first two thirds of the book was largely exegetical, figured I would maybe graze through a few sections of that, but mostly focus on the synthesis portion at the back (still more than 100 pages of discussion). But, in reading the book, I found that Fee's exegesis of Paul, going book by book and passage by passage, was too rich to pass up, so instead of mostly skipping over the first four hundred pages of the book, I read almost the entire portion. There is no doubt that this book will become an important reference for me as I study any passage on Paul that touches on Jesus Christ. His in-depth discussions of some of the key christological passages in Paul is extremely worthwile. As should be no surprise, 1 Cor 8:6, Philippians 2, and Colossians 1, among others, receive sustained attention. But the careful and sustained exegetical attention given to each of Paul's letters (both the undisputed and "disputed" letters) helps Paul's own thoughts to come through clearly, and builds a very powerful cumulative argument for Paul's high christology.

Fee argues that Paul holds a very high christology. Paul envisions Christ as the Preexistent One who became incarnate as the human Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus died and was raised again, proclaimed to be the risen Lord, receiving "the Name" and exalted to the highest place. It is this same Jesus who shares in a large array of divine prerogatives, is worshipped as God, and who along with the Father sends the Spirit.

The details of Fee's work, both exegetical and synthetic, are too many and varied to communicate here, but the value of his work is easy to ascertain. Interesting among is emphases is that much of Paul's christological discussion comes in the form of assumptions that seem to be held in common with his audience (Colossians 1 being the primary exception, where christology is the primary focus). Fee repeatedly emphasizes that this lends great weight to these inherent assertions, since they were so fundamental to both parties that they could be assumed.

In all, this book is a great statement of Paul's understanding of Christ, and demonstrates how the data from Paul's letters, along with that of John and Hebrews, led the church down the road to Nicaea and Trinitarian Orthodoxy. While Paul wasn't overtly Trinitarian, the way he talks of Christ (and the Spirit) shows that these developments find rich soil in Paul's thought. I highly commend this great study. It's ambition is clearly matched by its execution.