One of the oddities of the past two centuries of Pauline scholarship is the standard view that despite close to 300 instances of Paul referring to Jesus as "Christ" in his epistles, Paul (supposedly) did not regard Jesus as Israel's Messiah in any meaningful way. In almost every instance of the occurrence of Christos in Paul's epistles, so the theory goes, the term has lost its conventional titular meaning and has been turned into a proper name. Novenson's work seeks to undo this paradox by arguing that in Paul Christos does, indeed, mean Messiah. Rather than focus on titles/key terms or Jewish texts as parallels or background information, Novenson wants "to know what conventions existed whereby ancient Jewish authors spoke of messiahs and how Paul's use of the word fits among these conventions" (p. 5). In other words, he is not attempting to discern what ideas or texts may have influenced Paul, but rather "what the linguistic system was in which ancient Jewish messiah texts, including Paul's letters, made sense" (p. 9).
Chapter 1 sets forth the "state of the question" and shows how the study of Messiah-language in Paul has often been influenced by and wed to other concerns. So for F. C. Baur, Paul's use of Christos cannot mean anything like Israel's anointed Messiah given that Paul's mission is to free Christianity from the gross particularism of Judaism. For Wilhelm Bousset and the religionsgeschichtliche Schule, it is the Hellenistic "Lord-cult" and the title "Lord" that is important for Paul, not the early Jewish confession of Jesus as Messiah that would have had no significance for Gentile churches. Nils Dahl's essay on the matter argues by way of four philological and grammatical observations that Christos as Messiah may be assumed by Paul but is not emphasized. In the wake of the renewed interest in the Jewishness of Paul, however, there have been some recent voices hinting that the majority interpretation may not provide the best take on the Pauline evidence.
Chapter 2 argues that Paul's messiah-language does not depend upon its conformity to a Jewish messianic ideal or to the possible psychological messianic expectation of Paul's hearers, but rather "could be used meaningfully in antiquity because it was deployed in the context of a linguistic community whose members shared a stock of common linguistic resources" (p. 47). The Jewish Scriptures, of course, provide precisely this shared linguistic resource wherein Paul's messiah-language can be understood. Novenson notes that messiah-texts almost invariably draw upon a small pool of biblical passages and develop them in creative ways to talk about their messiah (e.g., Gen 49:10; Num 24:17; 2 Sam 7:12-13; Isa 11:1-2). Novenson refers to the transformation of these sources as "creatively biblical linguistic acts," of which Paul's messiah passages have been wrongly excluded by scholarship.
Chapter 3 argues that Paul's use of Christos is neither a proper name nor a title, but is rather an honorific that can be used in combination with the individual's proper name or can stand in for the proper name. Octavian, for example, took the honorific "Augustus" after his defeat of Antony at the Battle of Actium. The Hasmonean patriarch Judah ben Mattathias took the honorific "Maccabee" in lieu of his military exploits. And the Seleucid kings are well-known for attaching honorifics to their names (e.g., "Seleucus the Victor," "Antiochus God-Manifest"). These examples are neither titles of office nor mere names, but honorable names granted to its bearer because of military victories, accessions to power, or some honorable deed. Thus, Paul uses Christos as an honorific for Jesus to identify his "inalienable uniqueness" (p. 97).
Chapter 4 sets forth the relevant Pauline Christ-phrases to decide whether they are relevant to the issue of messianism in Paul. He argues that Paul's varied usage of the "Christ," "Jesus Christ," and "Christ Jesus" makes sense within the conventions of Greek honorifics. He responds to each of Dahl's grammatical arguments against Christos meaning messiah in Paul, and he concludes that they are faulty as a means for determining, either negatively or positively. whether Christos means Messiah.
Chapter 5 is the heart of Novenson's book, and it is here that he sets forth specific texts where "Paul does all that we normally expect any ancient Jewish or Christian text to do to count as a messiah text and that in no case does he ever disclaim the category of messiahship" (p. 138). Thus, in Gal 3:16, Paul interprets the Abrahamic promises through the promises made to David for a royal successor. In 1 Cor 15:20-28, Paul uses Davidic psalms as testimony about the Messiah. In Rom 9:4-5, Paul constructs a "messianically oriented history of Israel" that culminates in the messiah (p. 151). In Rom 15:3, 9, Paul adduces the royal Pss 69 and 18 as the spoken words of Jesus the Messiah. And in Rom 15:7-12, Novenson claims that Paul understands his mission to bring forth "the obedience of the Gentiles" as "dependent on his conviction that Jesus is theχριστός spoken of in the scriptural oracles" (p. 160). Novenson concludes,
[I]n these and other passages, Paul's prose does all that we normally expect any ancient Jewish or Christian text to do to count as a messiah text. He writes at length and in detail about a character whom he designates with the Septuagintal word χριστός, and he clarifies what he means by this polysemous term in the customary way-by citing and alluding to certain scriptural source texts rather than others. Paul's letters meet all of the pertinent criteria for early Jewish Messiah language. (p. 172)
I heartily concur with Novenson's thesis that the Messiahship of Jesus is crucial for understanding Paul's epistles and is one of the most important sources of his thinking. While others have gone before Novenson in suggesting this (one thinks of N. T. Wright, Richard Hays, and William Horbury, to name only a few), I expect his full-length study will contribute to overturning the scholarly consensus that Christos is an insignificant proper name in Paul's letters and will also open avenues for further research. While I had hoped for more exegetical rigor and creativity in his final pay-off chapter, the way is prepared for further examination of Paul's messianic discourse.