Back to issue

This is a lightly revised version of Tilling's PhD thesis completed under Max Turner in 2009. Tilling presents the case for viewing Paul's Christology as divine. While others have recently argued for a similar conclusion, Tilling's work represents a significant methodological step forward in securing the validity of a divine Christology for Paul.

Tilling begins by presenting a history of research, concentrating on post-1970s scholarship and the works of Fee, Hurtado, and Bauckham in particular. Tilling essentially agrees with each of these scholars in their shared conclusion regarding a divine Christology for Paul. However, he also argues that each of their proposals is methodologically limited, thus rendering their (otherwise valid) conclusions vulnerable to critique. So, Tilling argues, while Fee attempts a primarily exegetical treatment of Paul's Christology, he fails to recognize how much his approach is shaped by 'Aristotelian, and unPauline, metaphysics' (p. 5). This is particularly seen in his concentration on pre-existence as a defining christological category. Similarly, regarding Hurtado's approach (viz. considering Paul's Christology from the angle of cultic devotion), Tilling wonders to what extent Hurtado's understanding of devotion is something Paul himself would recognise (p. 5). Further, it has been claimed that devotion to Christ in Paul's letters does not actually equate to worship (e.g., Dunn, Schrage, Casey).Finally, Tilling notes the weakness in Bauckham's approach, namely, the category of divine 'identity' may not be quite as water-tight as his thesis requires (e.g., the Son of Man in the Similitudes of Enoch).

Tilling does not deny the legitimate aspects of the approaches of Fee, Hurtado, and Bauckham but offers what he sees as a more comprehensive and, in the end, more Pauline articulation of Paul's Christology, namely, that it be considered in terms of the relation between Christ and believers. Tilling suggests that the pattern of 'relation' is fundamental to Paul's theology and his epistemology. It is thus a valid lens through which to view the Pauline data. When it is examined, Tilling maintains that Paul sees the relationship between believers and the risen Lord as corresponding to the language concerning the relationship to YHWH in Second Temple Judaism.

The heart of Tilling's thesis occurs in chapters 5-8, where he examines the Pauline data in detail. He begins with an examination of 1 Cor8-10. This chapter is a model of careful exegesis, and Tilling convincingly shows how Paul expresses his commitment to faith in the one God as opposed to idols and that he expresses this commitment christologically in terms of the relationship between believers and the risen Lord. Further, he expresses this relation in terms and categories drawn from 'the complex of themes and concepts that, in the Jewish scriptures, describe the relation between Israel and YHWH against idolatry' (p. 76). That is, for Paul the relationship between Christ and believer corresponds to the Israel-God relation in Scripture and Second Temple Judaism. Chapter 6 then surveys this relational pattern across the undisputed Pauline letters. This is the longest chapter in the book, and in it Tilling is seeking to grasp the key contours and aspects of Paul's 'Christ-relation'. Tilling convincingly shows that the relation between believer and risen Lord is portrayed with the same character (and in some places the same language) as the relationship between Israel and YHWH in the writings of Second Temple Judaism. Chapter 7 steps back to argue that the category of 'relation' is not simply authentically Pauline, but centrally so. Chapter 8 concludes this section of the thesis by offering an extended treatment of 1 Cor16:22.

Tilling then turns to consider how his thesis is able to withstand the critiques which have been levelled against Hurtado and Bauckham in particular. So chapter 9 examines Jewish devotion to figures other than God (e.g., praised Ancestors in Sirach 44-50, Adam in Life of Adam and Eve, the Son of Man in the Similitudes of Enoch). This devotion is often used to criticise the idea that 'worship' in Second Temple Judaism can be used to establish the strict transcendent uniqueness of God. Tilling shows that these texts do repeatedly assume a strict Jewish monotheism but that this is maintained not in terms of worship, but in terms of a broader God-relation. Thus, he argues, these texts essentially parallel the relation found in the Pauline letters between the believer and the risen Lord.

The book concludes with a helpful summary chapter and an appendix that suggests how the christological insights-and in particular this relational methodology-might have wider implications for theological discourse and the Christian life.

This is an extremely well-argued, clear and convincing thesis. It is a genuinely stimulating work and is the antithesis of the all-too-typical dense and turgid published PhD thesis. The subject matter and conclusions could hardly be more significant, and as such, I think Tilling has provided us with an extremely important work which deserves the widest possible circulation.

Peter Orr
Melbourne School of Theology
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia