Theology Essays - Christology & Pauline Corpus

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How and why is the Christology contained in EITHER the Pauline corpus OR Hebrewsdistinctive?

Christology is a discipline thatreflects on the person, works and significance of Jesus in Christian thoughtand tradition. Christology, Bultmann (1972) argues began with the events of thefirst Easter and in some Christian thinking, particularly in places of thePauline corpus, Christ is synonymous with God. Some scholars argue that thiswas a necessary reaction to Jesus' death by crucifixion because to die that waywas regarded as a scandal, it was a death usually imposed on thieves andmurderers rather than someone of Jesus' stature. The post-Easter faith was a wayof transforming the scandal of the crucifixion into a saving event (Bultmann,ibid). Thus Paul writes in Romans of a Jesus, who was put to death for ourtrespasses and raised for our justification.

This paper will document the majorfacets of the Christology that is present in the Pauline corpus. It will thenassess how this Christology might be said to be distinctive.

Paul and the development of hisChristology

The Apostle Paul was not acontemporary of Jesus and at first glance it might seem that his Christologyhas little to do with the living human being who walks the pages of theGospels. In spite of this impression most scholars will concede that the Gospelthat Paul preaches is very closely allied to what Jesus taught in the four Gospels.As is usual with Paul it is difficult to interpret his thinking withoutreference to the circumstances of his life as many of his letters were writtenwith particular churches and situations in mind. The facts about Jesus thatPaul would have been familiar with are that he was born a Jew, that heexercised a ministry in and around Galilee and that he was betrayed by one ofhis followers and suffered death on the cross. Paul would also have known thatJesus was believed to have risen from the dead and to have appeared to some ofhis followers (O'Collins, G. 1995).

Many scholars take the view thatPaul's Christology developed as a direct result of his conversion on the roadto Damascus.This most particularly relates to the doctrine of justification by faith as itis found in the letter to the Romans.A central concern of Paul is his Christology and what God has accomplishedin the Christ event (Ruemann, 1991:85). Central to Paul's argument isJesus' death on the cross, Paul preaches Christ crucified. For Christians thisis the basis of faith and of life in the Spirit.Paul's Gospel or good news is founded on Jesus' death and subsequentresurrection. Paul acknowledges Jesus' message of the kingdom but it issecondary to his Christology. For Paul the kingdom of God is Righteousnessand peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

The primary content of what Paulhas to say is that concerning justification through faith. Because of thelegalistic behaviour of some Jewish Christians Paul was keen to demonstratethat righteousness and justification before God was not achieved throughadherence to the Law but through faith in the risen Christ. In the Hebrew Biblethe law reveals God's righteousness but in Paul this righteousness is onlyrevealed in the Gospel and through faith in Christ. Through the Christ eventjustification takes place now rather than at some point in the future and forthe Christian there is no more condemnation.The justification of the Christian leads to a life centred on Christ and to thebaptism in the Holy Spirit. It was this feeling of being justified in the sightof God that Paul experienced through his conversion at Damascus and which hewas intent on communicating to others. Bultmann (1964) says of Paul'sChristology that:

Paul proclaims the incarnate,crucified and risen Lord; that is, his kerygma requires only the 'that' of thelife of Jesus and the fact of his crucifixion. He does not hold before hishearer's eyes a portrait of Jesus the human person, apart from the cross ( Gal.3:1), and the cross is not regarded from a biographical standpoint but as savingevent. The obedience and self-emptying of Christ of which he speaks ( Phil.2:6-9; Rom. 15:3; 2 Cor. 8:9) are attitudes of the pre-existent and not of thehistorical Jesus . . . the decisive thing is simply the 'that' (Bultmann,1964:20).

We have seen however, that althoughPaul does not place great emphasis on the details of Jesus' life he certainlydoes acknowledge certain of the known facts. In other respects Paul's Christ issimilar to that of the fourth Gospel in that Christ is seen as pre-existent withthe Father. The early Church moved through a number of different phases intrying to work out the meaning of Jesus and his life. The early followers inGalilee and Jerusalem concentrated on what Jesus had done in his time on earthand they looked forward to the Second Coming (Reumann, 1991). In the book ofActs the general New Testament Christology develops through the idea of God'ssending of his Son who now reigns as the Christ. It was leading up to andduring Paul's time that the idea of the pre-existent role of Christ in creationbecame dominant all though each of these developments can be found in thePauline corpus. The Hellenistic Church were the first to name Jesus Lord (orKyrios, a term which Paul uses often) and also the Son of God. Bultmann (1972)says that this came to mean the divinity of Christ, his divine nature byvirtue of which he is differentiated from the human sphere; it makes claimsthat Christ is of divine origins and is filled with the divine power.Bultmann (ibid) further argues that this development meant that the EarlyChurch were forced to defend the fact of Jesus'humanity against the Gnosticswho regarded flesh and matter as evil. In view of this Paul's theology couldnot be said to be Gnostic (as some early commentators maintained) because hisis an anthropological view i.e. his theology is based on man's (humanity's)condition and his own experiences as a man. In Paul's thinking the presence ofJesus in a believer's life is confirmed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.Thus he writes in his letter to the Romans that the Divine Spirit bearswitness to our spirit that we are God's children (Romans, 8:16). Thispoints to another feature of Paul's Christology where Christ and the Spirit areclosely intertwined and at points almost indistuingishable.

In Paul's Christology Christ is adistinct person thus he writes in his letter to the church in Galatia:

For through the law, I died tothe law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and itis no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:19-20).

At the same time, when Paul speaksof the Christ event he is not so much referring to the person of Christ as thesituation and events that were connected with his life (Knox, 1958). So inPaul's Christology, although the person of Christ comes first it isinextricably tied up with what Paul calls the Christ event. For Paul thetwo things are closely intertwined because it is only through life events thatwe can truly see and appreciate the character of a person (Knox, 1958).What is a clearly distinctive feature of Paul's Christology is his Christologicalway of speaking about Jesus. Jesus is the Judge of the world. Romans 14:9 says Forto this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the deadand of the living and as Bultmann (1972) maintains contains within it theidea of Jesus as Judge of the world and which co-inheres with the apocalypticJewish view of the Son of Man as Messiah. However, Paul's Lord and Judge is thecrucified Jesus of Nazareth There was a prevalent view in the early churchthat the death of Jesus took place to expiate or wipe away the sins ofhumanity. Bultmann (ibid) contends that this view of Jesus' death was notspecific to Paul but can be seen in a number of writings of the time. This hasbeen interpreted in a number of different ways, as a kind of Passover sacrificethat availed for everyone and also for the individual. It is from this latterthat the idea of Jesus as personal saviour (prevalent in contemporaryevangelical thinking) developed.

Human beings avail themselves ofthis sacrifice through the act of faith. Faith in Paul's terms is acceptance ofthe message that he delivers what Bultmann (ibid) says is the Evangel. In thisway faith was not simply a matter of belief but came to denote humanity'srelationship to the Divine.

Paul believed that we could onlytake part in justification and in what Christ had to offer as a result of ourfaith. The message of the Christ event is what generates faith in the heartsand minds of believers, thus for Paul faith in God is God given. It is onlythrough this faith that humanity can be free from sin. This was where some ofthe Jews had made their mistakes. They believed that if they strictly observedthe law then they were righteous but instead they had made themselves a slaveto the law and thus to sin because they tried to achieve justification in theirown right. Bultmann says:

Sin's deceit (Rom 7:11)consists in deluding man to think that if he follows his 'desire' he will gainlife, whereas he only acquires death. Victimised by this deceit, man does notknow what he is doing: for what I am bringing about I do not know (v.15a)i.e. he does not know that by what he is doing he is only reaping death(Bultmann, 1972:248).

In Paul's thinking Christ is viewedas the second or last Adam. The first Adam brought sin into the world and thesecond came to redeem the world from sin. Bultmann (ibid) contends however thatin this area Paul who may have come under Gnostic influence because of the viewthat all mankind has suffered for the sin of one, avoids this pitfall by sayingthat sin came into the world because of sinning. He further contends that inspite of this sin has been understood in the earlier form and that this posesan ethical problem if all are viewed as guilty for the sin of one. Sin cameinto the world and death was the consequence. It was to redeem humanity fromthe full consequences of this death that Christ came and died on the cross. Asthe new Adam Christ represents a new form of God's relationship to humanityrather than a specific person (Bultmann, 1972). It is arguably the case thatalthough Paul's Christology may be seen in terms of the wider benefits to thewhole of humanity, it may also be that the macrocosm is reflected in themicrocosm, and as Bultmann suggests the human situation and relationship to Godis also that of the individual. In this way the coming from death to life ofwhich Paul speaks about in his own experience may be the heritage for eachindividual Christian.


Paul's thought is not always easyto decipher and many scholars attest to this. It is also difficult to give anadequate account of Paul's Christology in such a short paper. However, based onthe evidence presented here it would seem to be the case that thedistinctiveness of Paul's Christology lies in the notion of Jesus as the secondAdam. It is the second Adam that brings and end to the law or perhaps in Jesus'own terms, brings it to fulfilment and through his sacrifice on the cross andhis subsequent vindication establishes a new covenant between humanity and God.


Bultmann, R. 1964 The PrimitiveChristian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus in Braaton, C. and Harrisville, R.(eds) The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ New York, Abingdon,1964 pp 15-42

O'Collins, G. 1995 Christology:A Biblical, Historical and Systematic Study of Jesus Oxford, OxfordUniversity Press

Knox, J. 1958 Jesus Lord andChrist New York, Harper and Brothers

Reumann, J 1991 Variety andUnity in New Testament Thought Oxford, Oxford University Press

Romans 4:25