I am reading Joshua Jipp’s book Christ Is King: Paul’s Royal Ideologyin dialogue with Josh. I’m so thankful Josh was willing and able to engage his work with me. This has been such an enjoyable way to review a work. I also have enjoyed that this has opened up lines of conversation and connection with Josh for which I’m personally thankful.
Kingship Ideology and the Thorny Pauline Questions
In previous posts I wrote a response to the first chapter and Josh responded. By the way, we had some further discussion in the comments of his post so you might want to check those out too. Besides ripping me for being a Yankee’s fan, I like Josh a lot and I’m coming to appreciate the contribution he has made in this book. It is high time New Testament scholarship takes a serious look at the texts of the New Testament as royal, and more precisely, Davidicly royal.
One of the things that I didn’t mention in the first post, but will be important going forward through the rest of the book, is Josh’s contention that many of the thorniest issues in Pauline studies can be better answered when kingship discourse is considered as the backdrop of Paul’s arguments about Jesus and his significance for Pagan converts to Israel’s Messiah. Here is what Josh says in the first chapter:
Paul’s use of kingship discourse as a source for his christological language has explanatory power for resolving some classic scholarly conundrums: Given Paul’s seemingly negative statements regarding the Torah and its inability to grant justification and life, is Paul simply being playful or haphazard in his command to the Galatians to fulfill “the law of Christ”? How was it possible for a Jewish monotheist to conceptualize and articulate the worship and cultic veneration of a second divine figure next to Yahweh? What conceptual resources, in other words, make the rise of early Christianity possible? And how did he even begin to develop this participatory soteriology that dominates his discourse and conceptualization of salvation? Is it possible to more precisely identify the meaning of Paul’s justice/righteousness language in Romans? And what did Paul hope that this construction of Christ the king would accomplish in the lives, rituals, social existence, and communal ordering of his churches? (11)
Now I’ve already quibbled with the language of “construction” which Josh uses in the final sentence, but I think Josh is absolutely correct here: The (Davidic) kingship tradition is the framework within which these questions of theology and practice will be understood. The subsequent 4 chapters are Josh’s attempt to work this out in four topics: King and Law (ch 2) King and Praise (ch 3), King and Kingdom (ch 4) and King and Justice (ch 5).
The Living Law and the “Law of Christ”
In the second chapter of the book Josh deals with the question of the meaning of Paul’s enigmatic phrase “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:22). His thesis is “Paul’s construction of the “law of Christ” and his statements regarding Christ’s fulfilment of the law are best understood with the context of ancient political discussions of the king as the living enactment of the law.” (p. 75). Josh demonstrates this by, first, describing the Greco-Roman evidence for the idea that the king is the living embodiment of the law. Marshalling evidence from a wide range of sources which together show a deep pattern of thought among Greek and Roman thinkers about the nature of good kingship. The best king is one who exemplifies the law in their disposition and practices. The are “a law unto themselves” you might say. The are not above the law, but neither do they need to live “under the law”. In their wise judgments and in their patterns of life they represent fully what the law attempts to create. What’s more, this ideal king’s presence transforms the people and creates a harmonious society. The argument moves from the Greco-Roman evidence to that of the Old Testament. Here Josh shows that the Jewish scriptures present a similar understanding of the relationship between the God’s Torah and God’s king. Focusing attention primarily on the law of the king in Deut. 17, but also on the praise of Josiah (2 Kgs 23) and the Davidic Psalms of praise to the Torah and praise of the Davidic promise (e.g. Psa 1-2). In both categories of source material the ideal king is a “living law”.
Josh’s argument in the chapter finally then turns to Paul’s statement about the “law of Christ” in Galatians and 1 Corinthians. In addition, he shows that the structure of Paul’s argument in Romans 13—15 shares the same logic and foundation, though the phrase does not appear in Romans.
Through a rather detailed and complex argument, Josh demonstrates that ancient kingship discourse about the king as the living law is what animates Paul’s phrase. Far from an ironic turn of phrase or even a new coinage, Paul is channeling established conceptions of ideal kingship. But Paul does not merely echo these established patterns of thought. For Paul, according to Josh, Paul’s phrase “law of Christ” is the “living law whose embodiment of Lev. 19:18 brings the Torah to completion” and “reconfigures it around Christ’s self-giving death” (p. 68). So fundamental to Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ kingship is the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The “living law” conception is modified by Jesus’ story.
At the heart of Josh’s argument is his understanding of the relationship between Gal 5:14 and Gal 6:2. It is fair to say, I believe Josh will agree with me, that his interpretation of the meaning of “law of Christ” – the whole argument related to Paul is dependent on this piece of the argument because 1 Cor 9:22 is even more enigmatic and Romans is paradigmatic but not explicit – rises or falls on whether one is convinced by his exegesis here. Josh presents the case on pages 61-64.
Josh is Right
Before I raise two critical issues. I want say that I am a big fan of Josh’s primary point in his chapter that the “law of Christ” is best explained in light of the context of kingship discourse, the political discussion of the king as a living law. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s Torah; Jesus’ life, teaching, death and resurrection (and ascension?) function as “the authoritative, focal point for Christians such that they conform themselves to and imitate his character and thereby fulfil the law of Christ” (64-65).
I think this argument can help us crack the code on Paul’s statement in Gal 2:19 “Through the Law I died to the Law”. But you’ll have to read my essay in a forthcoming Festschrift for Scott Hafemann (don’t worry he already knows about it) on the Antioch Incident to see how!
Surely, the “law of Christ’ is a reference to the Torah of the Mosaic Covenant, embodied and interpreted now by the Davidic Messiah in the eschatological age of the New Covenant. Messiah’s people, both of the circumcised and uncircumcised, are unified in their corporate embodiment of the Torah’s foundation Torah of Lev. 19:18, love of neighbor. But this must be true without the erasure of what makes them continue to be essentially and distinctly Jew and Gentile, namely, the specific Torothof Torah. I’m not sure that Josh would agree with this statement – more on this below.
Now to the two critical issues and very briefly.
Where is Psalms of Solomon?
First, I was really surprised that there was no discussion of material from the literature of Second Temple Judaism. There would have been significant source material in addition to Philo, who Josh does deal with – but it seems Philo alone represents Second Temple Judaism. Also, I wonder if he would have helped by rabbinic discussion of the Rabbi as the embodiment of the Torah. While I’m not going to hunt references down here, the is an assumption that the Rabbinic sages as much embodied the Torah in the way the lived as in what they taught.
I was most surprised, however, that Josh made no reference to Pss. Sol. 17 here. He is of course aware of the importance of Pss. Sol. 17 for this entire discussion, but in general he makes so little use of it in the whole book, a mere four reference in the entire monograph according to the index. I think this is a big deal. In the case of the present discussion, because one of the things that the Psalmist envisages about the coming “son of David” is he will be one who is a “righteous king . . . taught by God.” This taught-by-Godness is an echo of Isa. 54:13 which has overtones of the New Covenant. What’s more, according to the Psalmist, because of his taught-by-Godness, “There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah” (17:32). The people will be ethically transformed by the Messiah’s obedience to God’s Torah. Here we see that ancient kingship perspective “as goes the king so go the people”. The Psalmist evidently shares the “living law” ideology so that by the first century, Davidic Messianism presupposed this ancient kingship ideology.
Davidic Kingship is the Bomb
This leads me to make a related point about Josh’s approach to Paul. While I think the Greco-Roman material is illuminating, not least to deepen the understanding of the development of the Davidic material in the Second Temple Period showing, for example, just how thoroughly Hellenized Judaism had become, I think a focus on Davidic traditions alone would be all one needs to come up with the same conclusions Josh draws. In other words, I think all that Josh needs to make his argument is all there in the Davidic materials of Second Temple Judaism. Again I think reference to the wider Greco-Roman literary field deeps the investigation, but Paul is a thoroughgoing Davidic thinker – at least that’s my contention.
The Theo-Culture of Israel’s Torah
This post is already way to long. So I’ll just offer the second point as a statement of concern. I am uncomfortable with Josh’s “completion” language that he so strongly makes use of. It relates I think to the question of continuity and discontinuity to which he makes reference on page 60. I’m sense is that Josh has continued the flaw of Pauline scholarship in speaking about the Torah in the abstract. He may not recognize himself in this statement given the emphasis on living out Lev. 19:18. But it should be noted that while Jesus taught the same thing (which Josh not only notes but uses significantly in his argument), he still lived the specific Toroth which distinguished him as Jew. So let me put it this way: If Paul envisaged an ecclesia that was comprised of both the circumcised and the uncircumcised we must greatly nuance what we mean when we say Jesus brought the Torah to its “completion”. This cannot mean, what I think most think it means, that the Torah’s theo-culture for Israel has expired (cf. Gal 3), so made obsolete and abrogated. From the argument, this is what I think Josh means. I’m very interested to hear his response to this.
Now Josh over to you!