The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn (§10)

In this chapter we move from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. Just what is the relationship between Jesus’ death and resurrection? We know that his death is Paul’s most important theme—is his resurrection an afterthought or something more significant?

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Chapter 4: The Gospel of Jesus Christ

§ 10: The risen Lord

Jesus’ death and resurrection form the center of Paul’s gospel proclamation. Indeed, Paul’s first recorded statement of faith is, “we believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). While Jesus’ sacrificial death was complete in itself, it is mere despair without a subsequent resurrection. Paul stressed the importance of the resurrection in the “how much more” phrase of Romans 5:9-10. The early church, and Paul along with them, merged the twin themes of a crucified Messiah being vindicated in righteousness. Jesus’ resurrection, although highly unusual, was not unthinkable to a culture where  the spiritual and material interact. What  was unusual is the following belief that this even ushered in a new age—the last days. Paul’s reflection on the resurrection follows two directions: its bearing on Christ himself, and those who are found in Christ.

Jesus is the last Adam, as 1 Corinthians 15 makes clear. The first Adam began with creation, and in him all die. The second Adam began with resurrection (new creation), and all in him live. The disjunction between Adam and Christ is like that of a seed and a plant. Taken together, Adam and Christ span creation from first to last.

Jesus is the Son of God in power. While Paul speaks rarely of Jesus as God’s Son, where he does, resurrection is usually in view. Somehow Jesus’ resurrection led to his appointment (not adoption) as God’s son in power (Romans 1:3-4). Paul also uses sonship language when speaking of his own conversion (Galatians 1:16), and in his summary of his preaching to the Gentiles (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). 1 Corinthians 15:28 is a bit of an anomaly in that the new role granted to Christ by his resurrection is a temporary one, eclipsed by his subjection to God.

Jesus is the Lord. The title kyrios (Lord) is the most common Christological title Paul uses. This title gives Jesus a special status and dignity. Indeed, one of the shortest summaries of Paul’s preaching is “Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). The resurrection is the decisive event in Jesus becoming Lord (Philippians 2:6-11 is the clearest example of this). Let’s look more closely at what kyrios means.

  1. Kyrios denotes the dominance of a superior over an inferior.
  2. Kyrios is used of Egyptian gods, deified Egyptian rulers, and the Roman cult of emperors. Paul was aware of the many uses of Kyrios (1 Corinthians 8:5). He insists that Jesus is the sole kyrios.
  3. Paul combines Psalm 110:1 with Psalm 8:6 to stress that Christ as kyrios is the fulfillment of God’s plan for Adam.
  4. The most important aspect of kyrios is that it was commonly used to refer to YHWH. This comes most clearly to view with the aforementioned hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. It was based on one the most monotheistic passages in the Old Testament, Isaiah 45:21-23! Christ’s resurrection exalted him to Lordship that gives glory to God.

Is Jesus God? Let’s look at this topic in three parts:

  1. Jesus’ Lordship in no way challenges Jewish monotheism. Indeed, figures like Enoch, Elijah, Ezra and Baruch were spoken of as exalted in heaven and even sharing some of God’s roles like exercising judgment. 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 is an obvious example that shows how Jesus’ Lordship doesn’t challenge God the Father.
  2. There is one text (Romans 9:5) where linguistically Paul may have referred to Jesus as God. However, contextually, it is most likely the case that the theos (God) spoken of is the Father. If this was a reference to Jesus as theos, then it is remarkable that Paul abandoned this way of describing Jesus in other exaltation passages.
  3. Paul speaks of the veneration offered to the exalted Christ in different terms than the worship of the Father. Paul’s thanks (eucharistein) are always addressed to God, and never to Christ. Also, normal Greek prayer, service, and worship terminology almost always refer to God the Father, not the exalted Christ. In the passage where Paul speaks most directly about worship (1 Corinthians 14), Christ is absent from the text. The early church quickly overcame this and began to worship Christ as God, but Paul was more highly nuanced in his terminology.

Jesus is a life-giving spirit. This discussion is based on 1 Corinthians 15:45 where Adam’s “living soul” is contrasted with Christ’s “Life-giving spirit”. In scripture, the role of making things live is almost always reserved for God and his Spirit, which makes us question whether the Holy Spirit is in consideration here. Since Jesus is identified with Glory and Wisdom, his identification with Spirit should not be a shock. The resurrection realigned God’s interaction with the world and his rule in heaven. Our consideration of this text has opened up a window into the worshiping world of the early church. The same Spirit causes spirit-inspired believers to cry both Abba Father, and Lord Jesus.

Jesus’ resurrection was the decisive exaltation of Jesus as both the last Adam and the co-regent with God. The church experienced this risen Christ through the Spirit, within the bounds of traditional monotheism. Paul was brilliant in his ability to wrestle with concepts and stretch ideas to fit this new post-resurrection reality.

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Dunn certainly unpacked the significance of the resurrection in this chapter! I had never considered the difference between the worship of Jesus and the Father before. (I was always too busy looking for proof-texts to explain the Trinity in theology exams!) Dunn’s assertion—that the resurrection reordered God’s rule in the heavens and earth—is bold, but nothing short of what Paul believed.

I’m looking forward to preaching the resurrection on Easter Sunday!

< § 9: Christ crucified

§ 11: The preexistent one >

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