Responding to Recent Reviews, Part 5: Too Much with Too Much Yet Somehow Not Enough?

Continuing along in my response to recent reviews of Chris Tilling’s Paul’s Divine Christology I’d like to briefly address Nijay Gupta’s identification of an alleged weakness in Tilling’s work. Early on in the review Gupta says, “There were some weaknesses in Tilling’s work, particularly ones he was made aware of in his own doctoral defense, especially that he tried to do too much with too large an amount of epistolary material” (123).

It seems to me that this is one of the strengths of Tilling’s overall thesis. He purposely refuses a myopic focus on select “key” texts because such a focus couldn’t possibly yield an overall view of Paul’s Christology, nor could it lead to discerning a pattern—that when considered in light of all that Paul wrote and how it fits within the broader spectrum of Second Temple theological literature—seems quite deliberate.

If we view Tilling’s broad examination as a weakness then we’ve missed the point of what he set out to accomplish, namely a full-orbed view of Paul’s understanding of the existential relationship between the risen Lord and believers, based on Paul’s epistemology (way of knowing) and his monotheism. One could argue, in fact, that Tilling could have examined even more texts by including the deutero-Pauline material!

The idea that he tried to do too much with too much is based on a faulty (and God willing soon to be outdated) approach to thesis writing. Tilling should be celebrated for bucking the trend that begins with Second Temple literature before turning attention to Paul (or whatever NT writer) and then only examine a few sentences in depth! Tilling’s approach is much more responsible if we actually want to know what Paul thinks and says about Christ, which certainly wasn’t limited to a few “key” texts!

But I think that this view of Tilling’s method colors the remainder of Gupta’s review as can be seen when he fleshes out the perceived weaknesses of Tilling’s work. The third weakness noted says that, “there is a whole category of Christological paradigms that seem to have passed by ostensibly unnoticed by Tilling—mediating constructs such as Temple Christology, Wisdom Christology, eikon Christology, Torah Christology, and so on” (127). I think the answer to why these alleged christologies have been passed over is easily answered in the fact that none of them are primary for Paul. 

We can challenge that there actually exists a Temple or Wisdom Christology in Paul at all. Aquila H. I. Lee and Gordon Fee have both brought devastating arguments against Wisdom Christology. And while there is a discernible Temple Christology in John’s Gospel, there isn’t one in Paul’s epistles. Paul repeatedly refers to believers, not Christ, as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). Much the same argument could be made for Torah Christology, which is much more at home in Matthew and John’s Gospels than in Paul.

Eikon Christology, while there, doesn’t feature prominently in Paul either. Twice he refers to Christ as the “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15) and he says the same of man in 1 Corinthians 11:7. The brief mentions that these alleged christologies do receive can be accounted for by Tilling’s relational emphasis. For example, 2 Corinthians 4:4 has “the god of this world” keeping unbelievers from the existential reality that believers experience in Christ as seen in the context of the passage where the glory of God in the face of Christ has been shone in the believers’ hearts! The Colossians passage has a relational emphasis as well where Paul focuses on Christ’s role in creation/new creation.

The point is that when and where these alleged christologies do appear, they appear as a part of the larger pattern that Tilling focuses on. To focus on any one of them would lose the broader theme that Tilling examines and as I’ve stated repeatedly above, that was intentionally avoided on Tilling’s part. None of these are a focal point for Paul; not even in the contexts in which they do appear. Can we honestly fault Tilling for not doing what Paul himself didn’t do? I think not.



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