Joshua W. Jipp’s new book Christ Is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology perked my interest the moment I read the title. I picked up a copy at SBL last week and started reading it. Josh isn’t someone I know super well, but I have worked with him on a project and have a high respect for him as a scholar. I also have several friends who count him as among their close friends, so I feel like I know him better than I do. What’s more, he just teaches up the road at TEDS and lives in the neighbourhood of NPU. We really should grab coffee Josh!
I’ve been curious about Paul and the Davidic Messiahship of Jesus for a long time, although I’ve yet to write on it extensively – but I’ve got plans for a Davidic Christology of the NT to be published by Eerdmans someday(!). I have published an article in the JSPL (2012 vol. 2.2. pgs. 143-61) on Galatians and Davidic Messiahship. When Matthew Novenson’s book titled Christ Among the Messiah’s (2012) was published a few years ago, I was enthusiastic; it was a game changer on the question of Paul’s use of Christos, although it’s contribution is still be judged by the field – old interpretive habits die hard!
Josh’s book has significant potential to build on Novenson’s work and move the discussion forward. I’m looking forward to getting into the thick of it.
In a series of six posts, I’m going to engage with the book’s six chapters. I’ve asked Josh to respond to my short engagements. He has thankfully agreed – Thanks Josh! So this should be an interesting conversational engagement with his important book.
The posts will consist of (1) my interaction with his chapter in one post and (2) his response to my critical reflection on his chapter in another. The first post is on the first chapter: Paul’s Christ-Discourse as Ancient Kingship Discourse
The central theme of the chapter is the pervasiveness of kinship discourse (kingship talk) in Paul’s world. The chapter presents both a diachronic and synchronic summary of evidence of widespread and diverse reflections on the character of ideal kingship in both the Greco-Roman and Israelite-Jewish sources. In both a brief and anecdotal fashion, Josh presents his case by chronicling some of the Greek and Roman discussions of kingship as well as the Jewish sources within biblical Israel and post-biblical Judaism. It provides a quick and accessible summary of the evidence. There are several places I will return to in the future to follow up on discussions he just mentions.
Josh is preeminently interested in the sources Paul would have had at his disposal for crafting Jesus’ kingship for his audiences: he writes, “I am interested in the conceptual and lexical sources for Paul’s christological language” (29). Josh seeks to identify the sources of Paul’s Christ language which he reinterpreted and reworked in his letters for his purposes. He wants to “demonstrate that Paul’s linguistic and conceptual resources for these Pauline texts are notions of the good king” (41). What’s more, Josh believes that Paul constructs an ideal king Jesus’ ideal to stabilize and secure the identity of his ecclesia. He writes,
I suggest that the evidence we will see is strong enough to hazard that Paul was attempting to rework the symbolic universe or social imaginary of his churches in order to reorder the allegiances and practices around the reign of Christ the King. One of Paul’s agendas, in other words was to create a new royal ideology, out of the conceptual and linguistic resources at this disposal, and thereby to proclaim the rule of Christ over Paul’s churches. Paul, in other words, legitimates the people around Christ the king by upstaging every other royal competitor as he adapts and reworks aspects of ancient kingship discourse to portray the total sovereignty and power of the Messiah . . . This new Pauline royal ideology plays a crucial role in . . . “the establishment and legitimation of a new people of God” (11-12).
Second, and perhaps more significantly, is a methodological question I have. Josh speaks a number of times about Paul’s “reworking” or “reordering” or “creating a new royal ideology” or “remapping. Josh says this, “I understand Paul’s ‘Christ the king’ construct to provide evidence that he has assimilated the ideals of the good king as a means of remapping, reordering, and stabilizing the world for the early Christian communities.” (16). Or in another place, “I will focus on his reworking and fashioning of this discourse” (17). Or again, “The following four chapters will exemplify some of the most important ways in which Paul created a new royal ideology that could remap the symbolic universe and the social existence of his churches” (42). This way of putting things strikes me as lacking precision at best and inaccurate at worst. Let me pose my concern as a question: Can we really believe that Paul would have been able to stand so far outside his received tradition and cultural frame, that he would have been able to freely select source material available to him for conceiving of Jesus as a king and then independently and intentionally choose and manipulate these ideas toward a new end? Is it really conceivable that Paul created a “new royal ideology” from these diverse sources? Aren’t we giving him too much agency here? Did an ancient Jewish eschatological thinker have that kind of autonomy of thought that Josh’s methodology presupposes? As a man of his time and place and station, would not it more likely be that Paul was conceiving of Jesus as the Lord Messiah because his own social imaginary was shaped by particular concepts and practices? So he wasn’t so much shaping social imaginary as reflecting one? It may be true however that writing and training pagans of the Roman empire he would have been constructing social imaginary for them. But it would have been from his own unconscious and unintentional embodiment of the social imaginary of the diverse Second Temple Jewish world.
To me Josh’s language of Paul’s autonomous use of the sources he has identified seems overdone and inappropriate. Paul was not so free and independent. His own social imaginary was limited and his preaching of Jesus as Messiah, the Davidic Messiah to be specific, was itself pregnant with meanings, some he was intentionally leveraging, some was simply assumed in the use.
Josh over to you!