Stone Chapel podcast with David Capes

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I did a couple of podcast episodes recently with David Capes for The Stone Chapel Podcasts, talking about my book In the Form of a God: The Pre-existence of the Exalted Christ in Paul.

David is one of the editors for Wipf & Stock’s excellent Studies in Early Christology series, along with Mike Bird and Scott Harrower. He is a self-confessed “card-carrying member of The Early High Christology Club,” so I greatly appreciated his willingness to engage seriously and at some length with a thesis that contests the traditional view that in texts such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Philippians 2:6 Paul envisages Jesus as a pre-existent divine being.

In brief, I don’t think Paul includes Jesus in the Shema, as is often argued; on the contrary, he excludes future sovereignty over the nations from the confession of Israel’s one God because YHWH has assigned that “political” lordship to Jesus.

And what we have in the first part of the Christ encomium in Philippians 2 is a condensed account, from a pagan perspective, of how Jesus, being in the outward appearance of a god (the only possible way of reading en morphēi theou, I think), nevertheless did not seize the opportunity (the only possible way to read ouch harpagmon hēgēsato, I think) to attain god-equal or Caesar-like rule over the peoples of the empire, emptied himself of vain ambition, and in the end appeared to the world as a wretched and very mortal slave-like figure, executed—“in the likeness of sinful flesh”—on a Roman cross.

In the first podcast, David asks about my “big idea” for the book, and he sums up the answer thus:

His unique approach situates Christology within Paul’s eschatology. To say it another way, Perriman begins with eschatology rather than Christology, because he regards eschatology as Paul’s major concern. For Perriman, Paul is less concerned about the Son’s relationship to the Father than he is about mission and history (what is to come).

So yes, the big idea is not that Paul did not assert the pre-existence of Jesus; it is that Paul’s christology was shaped by his eschatology.

New Testament eschatology presupposes a thoroughly Jewish perspective on what YHWH was up to, but as the church settled in the Greek-Roman world and became increasingly “European” both in its geopolitical and in its philosophical outlook, the eschatological vision had effectively run its course, and the “ontology” of Jesus’ relation to the Father became a problem that desperately needed solving.