Responding to Recent Reviews, Part 3: Novenson, Tilling, & the Entailment of Conclusions

This is the third post in response to recent reviews of Chris Tilling’s Paul’s Divine Christology. Matthew Novenson leveled three points of criticism in his review in The Expository Times 124/12 (2013): 619. We now turn to the third point, which was that “Tilling does not prove that Paul’s concept of the ‘Christ relation’ actually entails (rather than just suggests or is compatible with) the divinity of Christ.” In many ways this is the most difficult point to respond to. For starters, it’s an opinion, and opinions differ. But it’s also nebulous, lacking any real form. We can’t begin to guess what exactly Novenson would consider “proof” of a Pauline divine Christology. What sort of data would “entail” rather than “suggest” or simply be “compatible” with the divinity of Christ? We’re not told.

So lacking the reasons for Novenson’s criticism I’d simply respond by pointing out that one would have to challenge a key point of Tilling’s thesis to make such a criticism stick. But Novenson says nothing of Tilling’s case for Paul’s relational epistemology (which he seemingly takes for granted!) or his treatment of Paul’s relational monotheism. Tilling’s argument stands unless either of these legs are cut out. Put another way, Tilling argues that there was a pattern of “God-relation” data which marked Israel’s God out as unique in Second Temple Judaism. He shows this through an examination of biblical and extra-biblical literature. He then examines Paul’s letters and discerns a pattern of “Christ-relation” data that has as its only analogy the pattern of “God-relation” data in Second Temple Judaism. If Paul is a monotheist then it is reasonable to conclude that the “Christ-relation” does “entail” the divinity of Christ.

This concludes my response to Novenson’s review. I would have liked to have said more here but this particular criticism lacked teeth. There’s one thing I’d like to respond to in the summary portion of Novenson’s review before I move on to my response of Nijay K. Gupta’s review. Novenson summarizes chapter 9 of PDC:

“Chapter 9 assesses several exalted figures in ancient Jewish texts (Ben Sira; Life of Adam and Eve; and Parables of Enoch) in order to show that Paul’s portrayal of Christ corresponds to none of them, only to the biblical portrayal of God.”

In point of fact, Tilling’s argument is much more devastating as it shows that Paul’s portrayal of Christ corresponds not only to the biblical portrayal of God, but also to the portrayal of God in these extra-biblical texts! In other words, Tilling, much like Novenson in his own monograph, is concerned with how Paul’s view of Christ fits into the wider matrix of Second Temple Judaism. Focusing solely on biblical texts (i.e., the Hebrew Bible) to the exclusion of the broader body of literature would undermine Tilling’s thesis. This is one of the things that makes PDC so convincing and such a valuable contribution to the study of Christology. It’s a shame that Novenson seems to have missed some of this brilliance (no hyperbole intended).

B”H

2 thoughts on “Responding to Recent Reviews, Part 3: Novenson, Tilling, & the Entailment of Conclusions

  1. That’s an interesting objection by Novenson; namely, that Tilling only shows that his view is only consistent with but doesn’t prove a divine Christology. If anything though, wouldn’t Tilling’s view show that the data is actually inconsistent with a Unitarian understanding? I would like to read Novenson myself, but I’d be curious as to how he explains the Christ-relation data within his paradigm.

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