Following a bit of an exchange on Facebook, I have been looking again at the now widely accepted contention, associated especially with Wright, Bauckham and Fee, that in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul has taken the extraordinary step of including Jesus in the Shema and therefore in the divine identity. The Shema reads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4 LXX). The argument is that Paul has taken this traditional confession and divided it between the Father and the Son: “for us one God, the Father, from whom all things and we for him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we through him” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).
So, for example, Wright in his essay “Monotheism, Christology and Ethics: 1 Corinthians 8” in , 129:
There can be no mistake: just as in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1, Paul has placed Jesus within an explicit statement, drawn from the old Testament’s quarry of emphatically monotheistic texts, of the doctrine that Israel’s God is the one and only God, the creator of the world. The Shema was already, at this stage of Judaism, in widespread use as the Jewish daily prayer. Paul has redefined it christologically, producing what we can only call a sort of christological monotheism.
And Fee in , 90:
What Paul has done seems plain enough. He has kept the “one” intact, but he has divided the Shema into two parts, with θεός (God) now referring to the Father, and κυριός (Lord) referring to Jesus Christ the Son.
I argued in my review of Chris Tilling’s chapter in that what we have in 1 Corinthians 8:6 is not a bifurcation of the Shema but a convergence: Paul brings together the Jewish monotheistic confession and the apocalyptic narrative about Jesus, who suffered, died, was raised, and was given authority to rule at the right hand of God. I am still inclined to hold to that view. What follows overlaps with other posts on this subject (see below), but I have tried to take greater account of the overall pattern of thought in the letter.
1. The statement “there is no God but one” in verse 4 looks like an allusion to the Shema, but kyrios, which occurs twice in the Shema, has already been dropped. Why has Paul not actually quoted the Shema in full here, especially if he means to divide it between “one God, the Father” and “one Lord, Jesus Christ”? Why should we not suppose that he has in mind to say one thing about God and another thing about Jesus.
2. In view of this, Paul’s argument about the oneness of God, who is the Father, is closer to Malachi 2:11-12 LXX than to the Shema—or perhaps more precisely, it draws on the Shema by way of the sort of argument against Jewish idolatry that we find here:
Did not one God create us? Is there not one father of us all? Why then did each of you forsake his brother, to profane the covenant of our fathers? Judah was forsaken, and an abomination occurred in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah profaned the sacred things of the Lord with which he loved and busied himself with foreign gods. The Lord will utterly destroy the person who does this until he has even been humiliated from the tents of Jacob and from among those who bring sacrifice to the Lord Almighty.
3. The further point could be made that the Malachi passage differentiates between the “father” who created Israel and the “Lord” who will “utterly destroy the person who does this”. It is the same God, of course, but it may suggest a plausible literary-conceptual background for Paul’s argument. Jesus as Lord is cast as the eschatological judge, as part of the apocalyptic narrative, in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; 5:5; 11:32.
4. In 1 Corinthians 8:5 Paul asserts first that there are “so-called gods”, then that “there are many gods and many lords”. In the argument of verses 4-5, therefore, even though the Shema has seemingly been invoked, the kyrioi are introduced as a separate category—or perhaps a sub-category having in view deified rulers. In other words, the premise for verse 6 would appear not to be that God as Lord is one; it is that God is one, whom Israel is to love “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (cf. 1 Cor. 8:3), and there are also “lords” to be reckoned with.
5. Whether or not verse 6 reflects the Shema—I’m not ruling it out completely—we have to keep in mind that the affirmation that Jesus is kyrios is not simply a statement of identity but sums up a narrative. Jesus was raised as Lord (1 Cor. 6:14; 15:20). He has been given authority to reign at the right hand of the Father “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (15:25). At some point in the future he will be revealed to the world (1:7-8). Finally, he will give the kingdom back to the Father and be subjected to him (15:24, 28). This coherent apocalyptic narrative about Jesus as Lord presents him not as an integral part of the divine identity but as an independent agent. If this agent is in any sense included in the divine identity, as Fee argues (91), it would appear that he must retain sufficient autonomy to renounce the title of “Lord” at the end. It is at best a temporary arrangement.
6. Fee insists that “there is nothing in this passage or in its surrounding context that would even remotely suggest that Jewish wisdom lies behind Paul’s formulation” (93). That raises too many questions to address here, but I will suggest that 1 Corinthians 8:6, nevertheless, has important points of contact with the particular argument that Paul puts forward earlier about the wisdom of God.
The cross is the wisdom of God, by which he is bringing “to nothing things that are” and causing the “rulers of this age” to pass away (1 Cor. 1:21-24, 28; 2:6; cf. 7:31). Because the weak and foolish Corinthians are “in Christ Jesus”, they will be instrumental in this eschatological process and will inherit the age to come (cf. 6:9).
The language that Paul uses to speak of this participation, however, anticipates the statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Or so it seems to me. On the one hand, it is from God (ex autou) that the Corinthians are “in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1:30). So later: “from whom (ex hou) all things and we for him”. On the other, Paul writes in a different context but still with reference to the foolishness of the wisdom of this age: “all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:21–23). In other words, “all things” are through Jesus—indeed, those “called to be saints” in Corinth owe their very existence as such to him.
In neither case is the correspondence exact because the argumentative context is different, but when Paul speaks about the being of believers in relation to all things in language which (pace Fee) has been thought by many to echo a Jewish Wisdom theology, there seems to be a reasonable case for starting with the prior argument about the wisdom of God.
If we read 1 Corinthians 8:6 in the light of Paul’s wisdom argument—rather than of a general Wisdom theology—the “one God, the Father” may appear not as the original creator but as the one who is forming a new world by means of a foolish wisdom, and Jesus Christ is the one Lord through whose suffering the “all things” of this new world has become possible. In other words, Paul is making a statement about new creation, not about the original creation.
Here, though, as in Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus is Lord because he suffered, because he became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. It is this persistent narrative, rather than the Shema, as Dunn has argued, that determines the sense of the affirmation “for us… one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things and we through him”. It is the whole narrative—right through to the “end”—that accounts for, and sets limits to, the association of Jesus as Lord with God the Father.