Was Paul a Monotheist?

Update: I’ve transferred all of the articles of interest to my Monotheism & Christology page which will be updated as I come across new material.  This post will no longer be updated.

Mark Goodacre recently posted some thoughts on and links to some of Paula Fredriksen’s articles in which she challenges the idea of monotheism in antiquity.  Sean from Primal Subversion weighed in with a few comments of his own, seeking a more careful definition of monotheism.  I have to agree with Sean that “surely within the Judeo-Christian worldview it designates loyalty or worship to one god, not just belief in one god. What made Paul a monotheist, was not just his belief but his adherence, allegiance and devotion.”

My own thoughts on the issue are quite simple.  As the Psalmist said: “For all the gods of the nations are worthless idols, but Yahweh made the heavens” (Ps. 96:5).  It’s not that ancient Jews didn’t believe in other gods (or things that they called gods) — Yahweh is called the ‘God of gods’ (Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:2; Dan. 2:47; 11:36) — it’s that they didn’t believe that these were ‘true’ gods and therefore didn’t devote themselves to them lest they become idolaters (and we do know that Israel had a sordid history of idolatry).  For Paul the thought is the same which is why he can speak to the Galatians and say: “formerly when you didn’t know God you were enslaved to those that are by nature not gods” (Gal. 4:8).  To borrow Bauckham’s designation of ‘divine identity’ these so-called gods were never included in the divine identity of Yahweh (i.e., they were creatures like all other non-Yahweh reality).  To use the post-Nicene terminology, these gods do not possess or share in the divine ousia/hypostases.

Articles of Interest:

Mandatory retirement: Ideas in the study of Christian origins whose time has come and go — Paula Fredriksen

Gods and the One God — Paula Fredriksen

What Do We Mean By “First Century Jewish Monotheism”? — Larry Hurtado

Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity — Richard Bauckham

Monotheism:  A Misused Word in Jewish Studies? — Peter Hayman


Update (5:37 PM): This article may also be of interest.

‘Two Powers’ and Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism — James McGrath & Jerry Truex

10/24/07 Update (4:33 PM): More articles of possible interest.

Visions of the Heavenly Council in the Hebrew Bible — Paul Sumner

Monotheism and the Hierarchy of Divine Beings in Second Temple Judaism — Blake Olster

The Construction of Biblical Monotheism: an Unfinished Task — Chiara Peri

2 Corinthians 4:4: A Case for Yahweh as the ‘God of this Age’ — Donald E. Hartley

10/25/07 Update (1:05 AM): One more from James McGrath

Are Christians Monotheists? The Answer of St. John’s Gospel — James F. McGrath

10/25/07 Update (2:27 PM): A few more articles.

Monotheism, Polytheism, Monolatry, or Henotheism? Toward an Honest (and Orthodox) Assessment of Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible — Michael S. Heiser

Michael S. Heiser also has a number of other articles related to the issue at http://www.thedivinecouncil.com/

10/26/07 Update (8:18 PM): James Crossley of Earliest Christian History offers his view on Moses and Monotheism to which Jim West replies.

10/31/07 Update (12:26 PM): Chris tilling throws his hat into the ring with a post on Monotheism where he offers up some book recommendations and a few quotes from my personal favorite book (Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ).

11/2/07 Update (10:40 AM): Mark Goodacre blogged yesterday about the absence of the Paul and monotheism posts from the latest Biblical Studies Carnival.  I also have just come across another post from Sean at Primal Subversion where he gives a very helpful quote from Thiselton.

11/6/07 Update (9:40 PM): Chris Tilling offers some more thoughts on monotheism.  And another article of interest is:

First Century Jewish Monotheism — Larry Hurtado

This essay is a re-write of the article linked to above.  Both are worth checking out.

3/03/09 Update (7:14 PM): Mike Heiser links to articles that I thought were under copyright and therefore never posted:

Metatron as the Deity: Lesser YHWH — Andrei A. Orlov

The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John — Daniel Boyarin

The Boundaries of Divine Ontology: The Inclusion of Metatron in the Godhead — Daniel Abrams

Jewish Monotheism as a Matrix for New Testament Christology: A Review Article — Paul Rainbow

3/30/09 Update (9:14 PM): Andrei Orlov maintains a website on the Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism.  There are a number of articles of interest to those interested in this subject, especially those listed under theme 22: Divine Mediators Figures: Jewish and Christian Traditions.  The Edinburgh Research Archive has a number of articles and books chapters (both published and pre-publication) from Larry Hurtado on this very subject.

11/3/09 Update (10:11 AM): I just discovered the Oxford University Research Archive and came across Paul Rainbow’s doctoral thesis:

Monotheism and Christology in 1 Corinthians 8.4-6 — Paul Rainbow

Also of interest is the 5th chapter in James McGrath’s The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context:

Monotheism and Worship in the Book of Revelation — James McGrath

11/15/09 Update (12:05 AM): I commend to your attention Bogdan Bucur’s homepage on which he features many of the articles, book chapters, and book reviews he’s written.  Of particular interest to this topic are the articles on angelomorphic pneumatology and christology.

2/9/10 Update (8:58 PM): Here’s the 4th chapter of N. T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?:

Paul and Jesus — N. T. Wright


6 thoughts on “Was Paul a Monotheist?

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