The first sentence of Joshua Jipp’s book fires a shot: “Despite the fact that, as Francis Oakley has reminded us, ‘[F]or several millennia at least, it has been kingship and not more consensual governmental forms that has dominated the institutional landscape of what we today would call political life,’ the ancient institution of kingship has not seemed to most to be a particularly relevant resource for understanding Paul’s depiction of Christ” (p. 1). Jipp attributes this neglect in part to “the longstanding scholarly consensus that within Paul’s letters Χριστός was a proper name that had lost its titular connotations” (p. 4). Nevertheless, extending lines of argument from William Horbury’s Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (London: SCM, 1998) and Matthew Novenson’s Christ among the Messiahs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), Jipp contends that “Paul used, reworked, and applied ancient conceptions of the good king—both Greco-Roman and Jewish—to Christ in order to structure reality or the symbolic universe of his congregations” (p. 9).
The first chapter introduces and outlines the book, and provides an anecdotal sketch of kingship discourse in Greco-Roman writings, material remains, Israel’s Scriptures, and Second Temple texts. In chapters 2–5, Jipp demonstrates how an understanding of kingship discourse has “explanatory power for resolving some classic scholarly conundrums” (p. 11). The first conundrum he tackles is the meaning of “the law of Christ” in Gal 6:2, though his discussion also touches on Gal 5:14, Rom 8:1–4, 1 Cor 9:22, and Rom 13:8–15:13. Jipp surveys Greek and Hellenistic kingship discourse and then the Old Testament for portrayals of the ideal ruler as a “living law,” who functions as a model of obedience for his subjects. Jipp then applies this concept to Galatians, arguing that Christ embodies the Torah. However, as the perfect pattern that Christ offers in himself is only a part of his people’s transformation, Jipp could have done much more to integrate the Spirit’s role into his discussion, especially with reference to Galatians and Rom. 8:1–4 While Jipp notes that “the king’s presence somehow stimulates and enables the peoples’ [sic] obedience” (p. 65, italics added) in Old Testament and Greco-Roman texts, he never explains how Paul develops this concept in his letters in ways that transcend the preceding kingship discourse.
Chapter 3 examines hymns and encomia to rulers in Greco-Roman texts and the Old Testament, which leads into an extended exegesis of Col 1:13–20 and a briefer treatment of Phil 2:6–11. Jipp argues that these Christ-hymns should be interpreted within the widespread ancient practice of praising kings and that realizing this may open a window onto the development of the earliest Christology. Chapter 4 investigates Paul’s participatory soteriology—what does it mean to be “in Christ”? Jipp helpfully explains how Christ, as an ideal king, serves as a “bridge figure” between God and his people, mediating God’s rule and presence to his people and acting as the representative of the people to God. The chapter focuses on Romans but includes reflections on Ephesians and 1 Corinthians as well. Despite repeated claims that believers’ participation in Christ entails more than simply receiving benefits from him (see, e.g., pp. 148, 150, 199), Jipp does not clarify how this was so.
In Chapter 5 Jipp confronts head-on the massive and related issues of God’s righteousness, Paul’s indictment of humanity in Rom 1:18–3:20, the meaning of Paul’s thesis in Rom 1:16–17 (including the referent of “the righteous [one]” in 1:17), the interpretation of Rom 5:15–21 and 6:7, and how Jesus’s resurrection as the Davidic Messiah in Rom 1:3–4 must inform all of the above. As in previous chapters, Jipp’s attention to kingship discourse leads him to take fresh angles on well-known problems. In particular, Jipp’s discussion of how God’s righteousness is manifested in his resurrection of the righteous, suffering, Davidic king—that is, how God shows himself to be righteous by doing the right thing for Jesus—was thought-provoking. The final chapter reviews Jipp’s conclusions and mentions avenues for further research.
Aside from a couple small gaps in Jipp’s analysis that I have noted above, one remaining question concerns Jipp’s foundational claim that ancient kingship discourse outside of the Old Testament is a “source” for Paul’s Christological language. At times it seems as if kingship discourse in Plato, Xenophon, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, and the like provides a context in which our interpretation of Paul may be guided and enriched; at other times, he seems to suggest that Paul is consciously adopting and adapting this discourse. The term “source” is a slippery one and proving that Israel’s Scriptures are only one strand “of Paul’s linguistic and conceptual resources for understanding the good king” (p. 7) is a daunting task. It is not clear that Jipp demonstrates at any point that Paul cannot be properly interpreted apart from an understanding of kingship discourse outside of the Old Testament; in other words, this book does not set forth evidence that Greco-Roman kingship texts are ever used by Paul as a source that is distinct and independent from the Old Testament. Nevertheless, this does not call into question the usefulness of this discourse to the interpreter of Paul.
In summary, although a clear grasp on ancient kingship discourse is not a panacea to cure all that ails Pauline interpretation, Jipp has certainly illuminated a neglected topic that must factor strongly into our interpretation of Pauline Christology. The writing style is technical, and at times repetitive, and thus may be challenging for a non-scholarly audience. Even so, I would highly recommend this book to all readers who seek to comprehend Paul’s portrayal of Christ as (the) king.