Often times Christians will be asked, “Is Jesus God?” and go to the Bible to try and find a verse saying that very thing. By so doing we’re on the back foot immediately and miss so much of what the Word has to say about Christ by looking only for a few ‘proof-texts’ and missing out on the treasure trove of Christology available from close attention to context and flow of thought.
For example, there is only one passage in Paul’s writings that is purposefully Christological, Colossians 1:15-17; and yet we can learn multitudes about Paul’s Christology by reading the presuppositions behind his statements and the shared belief about the person of Jesus amongst those to whom he wrote.
We don’t see a lot of passages setting out and defending the person and divinity of Jesus because Paul primarily wrote his letters to correct problems in the churches and virtually all the early churches appeared to be in full agreement with Paul in this area. The fact that Paul didn’t have to argue for anunderstanding of Christ’s person but rather from it also tells us that the early churches (even those not planted by Paul) had a robust and shared Christology for Paul to work from.
For example, in reading Philippians 2:1-11 one will notice that Paul isn’t trying to prove anything about Jesus’ nature to his readers. Instead, he works from their shared beliefs and draws attention to Jesus’ attitude to His divinity and incarnation as an example for the Philippians to follow in Christlike service. Paul doesn’t need to argue for this Christology, the Philippians already believed it. This is all the more certain if Phil 2:5-11 is a pre-Pauline hymn, which is outside the bounds of this discussion.
Another example is found in 1 Thessalonians, which is widely considered to be Paul’s earliest letter. In the first sentences we find Paul calling Jesus Christ, Lord (1:1), and God’s Son (1:10), terms that had meaning to Paul and his readers. We also see the Paul considered the Thessalonian church as existing ‘in God the Father’ and ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1:1, ESV), a concept that is not explained here, but reveals a shared understanding between Paul and his readers.
Beyond the presuppositions, there are three texts that cover Paul’s main views regarding Christ’s person: 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:15-17, and Philippians 2:5-11. In the next post we’ll begin with 1 Corinthians 8:6.
This material is influenced by Gordon Fee’s excellent Pauline Christology, which I’ve reviewed here.