An Interview with Chris Tilling
Chris Tilling

Your book, Paul’s Divine Christology is about to be republished by Eerdmans. Why republished?

This book already saw the light of day in 2012 in a German academic series, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, by Mohr Siebeck.

 

So what does this new Eerdmans edition offer?

First, this new edition has fewer grammatical mistakes and errors, thanks to the efforts of particularly Professors Douglas Campbell and Tom Wright.

Second, Douglas Campbell has written a wonderful 10 page foreword to the Eerdmans edition. It not only gets to the heart of what my argument attempts to achieve, but also categorises key scholarly works in a way that will, I think, give some readers an important “penny drop” moment.

But third, and most importantly I suspect for many, the Eerdmans edition is much, much cheaper!

 

To back up a little, then, what is Paul’s Divine Christology all about?

This book tackles an important question about early Christology – the doctrine of Christ – and it does so in a rather specific way. The basic issue that I am addressing is whether, or to what extent, Paul understood Jesus to be “on the divine side of the line that monotheism must draw between God and creatures”. Although the Church has long confessed faith in the full divinity of the Son, that Jesus Christ is “the same substance as the Father”, as the creeds put it, some doubt Paul thought the same way. Eminent scholars indeed say that Paul’s letters are only a step towards a “divine Christology”, but they don’t go the whole way, a development that takes place only later. But if they are right, we are then suggesting that the author of a large part of the New Testament, Paul, didn’t or perhaps even couldn’t affirm what the creeds say is central to Christian faith. It is a crucial question, for the academy and the church: Is Paul’s Christology divine, or is it something else?

 

So what do you argue? How do you contribute to this debate?

Although my book tackles the debate about whether Paul’s Christology is fully divine or not, my answer involves making a number of unique moves. First, I make a point about methodology. This will sound obvious, but in answering whether Paul’s Christology is divine, or not, I insist we must focus first and foremost on Paul’s letters.

 

Don’t other scholars do this?

To a certain extent, but usually the procedure runs in a different direction. The question of whether Paul’s Christology is divine or not is assumed to be focused on a few “key” Pauline texts, such as Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Romans 9:6 etc. Crucially, most work is then done in an attempt to understand the significance of these texts, and/or other related themes and language considered to be decisive for the debate, in light of an extensive survey of relevant background literature from the wider Jewish world. In other words, the major focus often becomes background concepts and debates about heuristic categories and such like, rather than Paul’s own letters.

 

Give me an example!

Larry Hurtado is a good case in hand. In one major publication he focuses his efforts on 1) the nature and sort of so-called “intermediary figures” in second Temple Judaism, and 2) the matter of cultic worship. So, corresponding to this, he understands Paul’s Christ as a kind of intermediary figure, an exalted agent next to God. But he also suggests that Paul’s Christ is something more than this, and this, he argues, is clear when we factor in evidence in Paul that shows Christ is accorded cultic worship.

While all of this is good and useful, the problem is quite simply that the interrelation and mixture of Paul’s own language inevitably becomes side-lined to a greater or lesser extent. The “cultic worship” of Christ is significant for the divine Christology debate, yes, but so is a lot of other data in Paul’s letters which is mixed up with this kind of “worship” language.

 

Ok, so your book makes a methodological point. In a couple of paragraphs, what does your argument look like?

In a nutshell, keeping Paul’s letters at the centre helps things come into focus. I argue that the extensive language in Paul that describes the relationship between the risen Lord and Christians corresponds, as a pattern, only to the language Judaism used to describe its relation to the one God. This, I show, links with Paul’s “relational” way of knowing, theology which is expressed as relationship. And the upshot is that all of a sudden Paul’s divine Christology becomes obvious and can be extensively supported across Paul’s letters, in chapter after chapter, verse after verse. What is more, when things are put like this, supposed counter-arguments are neatly dealt with by using a slightly cheeky thought-experiment, and Paul’s understanding of the Holy Spirit finds important expression, too. But you’ll have to read the book to see what this looks like in practice!

Perhaps more surprising for some, and as I explain in the book, Paul’s divine Christology, so understood, also leads us to consider our own communal relationship with the risen Lord. Paul’s divine Christology, in other words, is not just “back then and over there”, but becomes very much about us today, and our own discipleship. The nature and shape of Paul’s own divine Christology means that Christology cannot be a matter merely for spectators. It is ultimately about the way we live, love and relate to each other and to the risen Lord by the Spirit.

 

For the Eerdmans promotional video interview with Chris click here.

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