New book coming soon: In the Form of a God: The Pre-existence of the Exalted Christ in Paul

I have a new book coming out with Wipf & Stock before the end of the year. It’s called In the Form of a God: The Pre-existence of the Exalted Christ in Paul. It looks like it will be the first in a new series of Studies in Early Christology, edited by Michael Bird, Scott Harrower, and David Capes. I take that as an honour. Here’s what the series is aiming at:

Martin Hengel famously said that the earliest Christology was also the highest and more development happened in the first twenty-years of the Christian movement than happened in rest of the formation of christological dogma over the succeeding centuries. Many scholars, such as Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham, have developed and defended his line of enquiry in a burgeoning area known as “early high christology.” However, the claims of “early high christology” have been contested as the nature of Jewish monotheism, Jesus’ self-understanding, the christology of Paul and the Evangelists, and other areas have all been contested (see e.g., Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God). Therefore, the purpose of the Studies in Early Christology (SEC) is to engage in a study of these disputed areas with a view to clarifying the issues, responding to criticisms, furthering the debate, and—most of all—offering compelling accounts of the emergence of early christologyJesus devotion by Christian groups in the Greco-Roman world.

I certainly wouldn’t put myself in the Bart Ehrman camp, but at least with regard to the question of whether Paul attributed a heavenly pre-existence to Jesus, I am constructively contesting the early high christology line. I think that there is actually something much more interesting going on. That, of course, remains to be seen. I’ll let you know when the book is available—you might want to start saving up. In the meantime, here’s what’s on the back cover.

The central question addressed in this book is whether Paul thought that Christ Jesus pre-existed in heaven, “in the form of God,” through whom all things were made, before being sent into the world to be born of a woman, in the likeness of sinful flesh. A significant body of scholarship these days, both conservative and critical, supports the view that he did. Andrew Perriman examines the assumptions and reasoning that underlie this consensus, and makes a thorough and innovative case for reading the relevant texts from the narrow and distinctive perspective of the gentile mission. How would pagans and post-pagan believers have heard and retold the back-story of the one whom they knew only as the exalted Lord who would one day rule the nations? Such an angle of enquiry sheds fascinating, and sometimes quite startling, new light on the many exegetical difficulties that attend this aspect of Paul’s Christology—not least in respect of the opening lines of the extraordinary Christ encomium in his letter to the Philippians. But it also yields compelling insight into the significance of Jesus for the Pauline mission and, indeed, for the ancient pagan world.

“When reading Paul’s letters, to what degree does context determine content? For Andrew Perriman, the answer is ‘quite a lot’—and that context is first-century Mediterranean paganism, the matrix of Paul’s gentile mission. How would his pagan audience have heard Paul’s claims about Christ? In the Form of a God answers this question through recreating, with sympathetic imagination, Paul’s reception within his gentile assemblies. Perriman’s fresh reading offers a refreshed Christology.”

—Paula Fredriksen, author of Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle

“In his latest book In the Form of a God, Andrew Perriman has shown himself once again to be an incredibly creative and insightful thinker. If you are at all interested in New Testament Christology, you simply cannot afford to skip reading this book. It will lead you to ask new questions and make you think even if you have given sustained attention to the key christological passages in the New Testament.”

—James F. McGrath, Butler University


I’m just curious, why the focus on heavenly preexistence?

That you. The focus is actually on earthly pre-existence. But I got there by way of a lot of thought given to the classic heavenly pre-existence text Philippians 2:6-7. I think that Paul’s use of the wisdom motif is intriguing but has been misunderstood by the mainstream tradition. And I would argue that the early high christology thesis has got hold of the wrong end of the stick, missing or obscuring the real thrust of Paul’s christology.

I am thrilled :-) will see the deep insights of your approach. 

Congrats on the new book.  I look forward to reading it, and pre-ordered it.  I have read THE FUTURE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD, and HEAVEN IN HELL IN NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVE, and have learned much from them.  I expect IN THE FORM OF A GOD to be just as informative and insightful.  

Samuel Conner | Sun, 11/20/2022 - 15:48 | Permalink

Just starting into your new book, Andrew.

For personal reasons, this line — which I just encountered — leapt out at me: “… I take it that Paul is thinking historically and contingently for the most part, not cosmically and universally, and that this has important implications for his Christology” (p.3).

A couple of decades ago, I encountered the view (from a very conservative person — a Young-Earther) that the praises of The Lamb in Rev 5:9 are contingently grounded (as they manifestly are in the plain sense of the text). At the time, this was inconceivable to me; I was thoroughly steeped in predestinarianism and a strong conception of the divine decrees.

It has been painful for me to “climb down” from “cosmic and universal” readings of the text, but I have come to suspect that this is truer to what the authors were thinking. Thank you for this, and for your prior and ongoing stimulating work.