Symposium Introduction

To say that Joshua Jipp is a rising star in New Testament studies is somewhat of an understatement. Already assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Christ Is King is his second monograph, following hot on the heels of his Brill volume, Divine Visitations and Hospitality to Strangers in Luke-Acts (which, at time of writing, is selling for a plum £585.92 on . . .) Jipp’s command of wider scholarly literature on the primary sources is exceptional, and his clarity of writing makes summarising his work a pleasure. Hence, the economy and elegance of Jipp’s argument deserves the critical interaction offered by the conversations facilitated by Syndicate. We are delighted that Matthew Thiessen, Joel Willitts, Erin M. Heim, and Janelle Peters, all important Pauline scholars in their own right, will interact with Jipp’s thesis in the following symposium.

But first a summary of his argumentation. In a nutshell, Jipp maintains that the messianic = royal identity of Jesus “was seen, at least by some early Christians, to be critically important for rightly understanding Jesus” (2). In the wake of Bousset, royal associations with Paul’s language of “Christ” tended to be downplayed, but Jipp builds on an emerging consensus which insists that Christ means “Messiah,” and as such “retains its royal connotations” (4).1 For Paul, in other words, Messiahship is Davidic (Jesus is “a descendant of David” [Rom 1:3]; the “Root of Jesse” [Rom 15:12]) and hence royal.

It follows from this, that to understand Paul’s Christ-discourses, one needs to attend to the breadth of themes prevalent in the various kingship discourses in which Paul lived, moved and had his being, i.e., those embedded both in the scriptures of Israel and in the wider Greco-Roman world. This is not to say that Paul derived his understanding of Christ as King from specific textual sources, but that Paul “adopts and adapts the cultural scripts, generic conventions, and topoi popularly associated with the good king” (9). In speaking about Jesus as Christ, Paul strategically reworks these royal scripts as part of an ideological task which offered space for the early Christians to conceptualise “their own social existence based on this ideal King,” namely Jesus the royal Messiah (13).

Jipp then outlines the nature and variety of those royal cultural scripts, and in so doing sheds light on particular aspects of Paul’s Christ-language. While Jipp admits that his presentation of these scripts is anecdotal, a scholarly abstraction, and that there was no homogenous conception of the “good king,” he still insists that “there is a recognizable discourse for discussing kings in antiquity” (17). Furthermore, Jipp’s focus will be on the way Paul refashioned kingship discourse, and so his thesis does not require a complete accounting of all variations of kingship discourse across the Jewish or wider Greco-Roman sources.

Nevertheless, Jipp proceeds to offer an overview of kingship discourse in ancient Israel and Jewish writings, in Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman writings and in “material remains” such as temples, monuments, statues, coins and such like (see 26). The prevalence and relative consistency of these kingship tropes suggests fruitful ways for engaging with particular Pauline questions, which is the burden of Christ Is King. But in each chapter, Jipp does not assume the presence of such kingship discourse as outlined in his first chapter. Rather, he consistently makes his case for the presence of particular aspects of this royal discourse in order to illuminate specific Pauline themes, namely Christ’s relationship to the law (ch. 2), divine Christology (ch. 3), participatory language (ch. 4), and Paul’s δικ- words (ch. 5). In other words, Jipp wants to shed light on a broad range of central themes across the Pauline letters, which, if executed well, will make his book required reading for all engagements with the Apostle Paul.

Chapter 2, which received the Paul J. Achtemeier award (2013), explores the relationship between Christ as King and the law in Pauline discourse. In particular, it focuses on the thorny debates surrounding Paul’s positive statements regarding the relationship between Christ and the law, encapsulated in the phrase “the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Jipp notes that in various Hellenistic sources, the ideal ruler is depicted as a “living law,” which further means that, “by imitating the king, the subjects are ethically transformed and attain internal harmony” (46). Likewise, in the literature of Second Temple Judaism, the “good king submitted himself to the Torah, obeyed it, and functioned as a model of obedience for the people” (46). This enables Jipp to articulate Paul’s phrase “the law of Christ” directly within the context of kingship discourse. The result is that the phrase is seen to involve at least three aspects usually held apart, but which, in light of Jipp’s procedure, come together. Namely, the “law of Christ” indicates (i) the Law of Moses, (ii) Jesus Christ’s embodiment of the Torah (particularly as summed up in Lev 19:18) in his act of self-giving love, and (iii) Jesus’s teachings.

The third chapter contends that “the conceptual and linguistic resources for understanding the Christ-hymn of Col. 1:15–20 should be situated within the widespread practice of praise of kings, emperors, and rulers” (79). The Colossians hymn utilises typical royal language in its description of Christ as King, but it does so by subverting these very parallels by going beyond them. Hence Christ not only rules the cosmos but is preexistent, and so on. This is an aspect of Paul’s “world construction” ideological procedure, which Jipp maintains is a central thrust in the apostle’s deployment of kingship discourse. Christ is the King, and this kingship is revealed in self-sacrificing love for the other. And so all other claimants are seen to be poor, and false reflections of this one true king.

In overviewing hymns to rulers in the Hellenistic and Roman texts, Jipp consistently draws attention to the relationship between honours given to powerful leaders for their benefactions. He notes that a frequently occurring motif “is the praise of the ruler for creating or re-creating a peaceful new world order” (90). Turning to the praise of the Davidic King in Israel’s Scriptures, Jipp alights on LXX Psalms 44, 71, and 109 to secure his case that the Davidic Kings could be praised and that this is related to participating in YHWH’s rule in establishing peace.

In the Colossians hymn, the “son of his love” (1:13b) is “unambiguously troped as a royal figure, for he has his own βασιλείαν” (101), a fact confirmed by numerous other details, such as the “sonship,” “image,” and “firstborn” language. Proceeding through the entire hymn line by line, Jipp attempts to explicate the language in terms of kingship discourse. The creation of the lesser rulers (1:16), Christ’s preexistence (1:17), cosmic harmony (1:17b), Christ as κεφαλή (1:18), and such like, are all given a particular hue in view of Jipp’s interpretive strategy. And he successfully shows how royal tropes penetrate almost every line of this hymn, especially when Paul turns to the language of the creation of peace in 1:20. This overall picture is, Jipp contends, confirmed by the language of the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6–11.

Crucially, all of this allows Jipp to claim that the “linguistic and conceptual resources that provide Paul with the discourse to set forth Christ as simultaneously distinguishable from God as his agent and as sharing in God’s status and functions are ancient royal ideologies of the good king/emperor” (128, italics his). The upshot is that “the journey to Nicaea where Jesus is confessed as one substance with God and yet fully human must traverse through kingship discourse.” This is indeed the most plausible “historical-religious framework for the simultaneous affirmation of Jesus as both human and divine” (137, italics his).

Chapter 4 in a sense continues the argument of the previous chapter. As indicated by 2 Cor 1:21–22, just as Christ the Messiah was understood in terms of his royal identity, so too are Christ followers “consecrated into the same royal identity” (140, italics suppressed). By receiving Christ’s Spirit, his people are included in the royal family, and as such Jipp can articulate participation in Christ as an aspect of royal discourse. To make this case he completes his analysis of Col 1:15–20 and relevant texts in Philippians (following on from the previous chapter). Not only is Christ presented as King, and not only do Christ-followers benefit from this benevolent reign, they are notably participants in that sovereign rule.

In other words, this fourth chapter aims to present the conceptual apparatus for understanding many (though not all) instances of Paul’s “in Christ” language, and the associated suite of participatory discourse. Just as Israel’s king was both the son of God who shared God’s throne (and therefore participated in divine kingship) and God’s Spirit, the king also represented God’s people in such a way that meant the people could share in the king’s rule.

This conceptual grammar is then used to read Romans in such a way that justifies Jipp’s move in claiming that Paul’s participatory language is grounded in royal discourse. His analysis of Romans 1:3–4; 5:12—8:39, as well as other passages in Ephesians and in 1 Corinthians, serve to demonstrate this thesis. Jipp is well aware that not all of Paul’s participatory discourse lends itself to be read in terms of kingship language, but he seeks to demonstrate Christ’s “sharing in God’s own kingship and his representation and embodiment of his people in his person, provides the logic for Paul’s participatory discourse even where explicit royal motifs are absent” (209).

In chapter 5, Jipp turns his attention to Paul’s δικ- words, and the heated debates surrounding the translation of the noun phrase δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ, the verb δικαιόω, and the adjective δίκαιος. Romans 1:2–3 claims that the gospel concerns God’s Son who is descended from David, while 1:17 continues that this same gospel reveals the δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ. Hence, there is prima facie reason to claim an association between Paul’s use of δικ- words and kingship discourse.

Indeed, the relationship between Jesus as royal Messiah and the revelation of God’s righteousness can be clearly articulated when kingship discourses are given their interpretive weight. In those discourses, it is the right thing for God (or “the deity”) to rescue the righteous king, and when this conclusion is granted, God’s righteousness is seen to be particularly revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from that great act of injustice, the crucifixion. The liberative and salvific overtones involved in this understanding of Paul’s “righteousness” language thus hark back to Käsemann’s proposals, even if Jipp reaches his similar conclusions via different means, by focusing on kingship discourse.

Jipp traces this thesis through Romans 1–8 to affirm the claim that for Paul, God’s righteousness is revealed in the rescue of the Messiah. Furthermore, God is right in resurrecting Jesus the Messiah, because Jesus alone is δίκαιος, and this righteousness of God is further displayed by incorporating sinners into Christ’s victory over sin and death and into the Messiah’s righteousness.

Hence, by focusing on the historical locatedness of the Pauline letters, Jipp seeks to provide a conceptual grammar for better understanding a number of thorny issues in Pauline studies. Each chapter is an important contribution to a suite of very different concerns, and as such deserves the attention of our symposium respondents. Is Jipp’s foregrounding of kingship discourse equally appropriate in each of the engaged topics? Are other discourses inappropriately sidelined as a result? Has Jipp given too much hermeneutical weight to what is a self-confessed “scholarly abstraction”? Or, has Jipp indeed hit the nail on the head, and provided a fruitful approach for resolving some of the most hotly debated themes in Pauline theology?

  1. Particularly important in all of these debates is Matthew Novenson’s monograph, Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), which demonstrates that Paul uses Χριστός as an honorific. Hence the phrase “Jesus Christ” does not deploy Christ as a “surname,” as in, e.g., Joshua Jipp, but as, e.g., “Archbishop” in Archbishop Rowan Williams.

Matthew Thiessen


“Christ Is King” and Genealogical Participation in Davidic Royalty

In 2001, Troels Engberg-Pedersen published an edited volume in which he sought to move the study of Paul past the “Judaism/Hellenism Divide.”1 The underlying conviction of that collection of essays was that scholars must not pit Judaism against Hellenism in the study of Paul; rather, one must draw upon a wide range of Greco-Roman sources, Jewish and non-Jewish, in order to appreciate fully Paul’s thought and writings. Any attempt to distinguish between what is Jewish and what is Greek in Paul’s thought tears apart the very fabric of his mind.2 To what degree Joshua Jipp consciously feels himself indebted to this conviction, I do not know, but Christ Is King is a book that admirably situates Paul’s Christology within the Jewish and non-Jewish political ideologies of the wider Mediterranean world. When it comes to the question of Paul and empire, then, Christ Is King should be one of the first places scholars turn, for it convincingly shows the manifold ways in which Paul is indebted both to Roman imperial ideology and to Mediterranean rulership discourses.

The importance of this broader argument notwithstanding, I would like to focus on Jipp’s fourth chapter, “King and Kingdom: Sharing in the Rule of Christ the King.” Here he makes a compelling case that Paul not only portrays Christ as king, using various facets of the political ideologies of his day, but also envisages believers participating in Christ’s rule themselves. Thus Paul can speak of believers ruling (basileuō) with Christ (1 Cor 4:8; Rom 5:17), judging the kosmos and angels (1 Cor 6:2–3), and trampling Satan under their feet (Rom 16:20). This claim that Christ followers would co-rule with Christ springs out of Paul’s conviction that believers have received Christ’s pneuma and are now, in some way, identified with him. They will be divinely transformed so as to share Christ’s image (eikōn, Rom 8:29). The language of Christ’s eikōn evokes all sorts of Mediterranean literature regarding royalty: most famously, the priestly creation account’s portrayal of humanity as God’s royal image (eikōn, Gen 1:26–28 LXX), as well as Seneca’s claim that Nero passes on his likeness to all in the empire (Clem. 2.2.1).3

Similarly, Paul’s understanding of the way in which Christ’s pneuma holds the body together (e.g., 1 Cor 12) fits within a larger political ideology that equates the Roman emperor with the soul of the empire. As Jipp notes (205), Paul’s contemporary, Seneca, calls Nero the spiritus of the empire, which serves as the emperor’s body (Clem. 1.4.1). According to Stoic thought, the emperor is to the empire as the supreme god, who is pneuma, is to the kosmos, and as the soul is to the body. God, the emperor, and the soul enliven and organize, respectively, the kosmos, the empire, and the body (e.g., Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 7.139; Alexander of Aphrodisias, Mixtures 223.25; 224.14; Plutarch, Against the Stoics 1085C–D). Conversely, the kosmos, the empire, and the body participate, again respectively, in the life of god, the emperor, and the soul. This is precisely the shape of Paul’s thinking with regard to Christ and those who trust in him. Christ lives in believers and organizes them into a cohesive body, just as pneuma knits together fleshly bodies. He does this because he is Israel’s Messiah and this is how numerous people in the Greco-Roman world, Jews and non-Jews, thought of rulers.4 Simply put, Paul’s thought here is indebted to Jewish and non-Jewish Greco-Roman thought in a way that makes it impossible to untangle the two.

Jipp’s fourth chapter, therefore, makes an important contribution to larger discussions of Paul’s participatory language. Already in 1930 Albert Schweitzer challenged traditional readings of Paul that placed justification by faith at the center of Paul’s thought.5 Instead, Schweitzer contended that Paul’s en Christō (“in Christ”) language pointed to mysticism, or union with Christ, as the center of Paul’s thought. Like Schweitzer, Jipp argues that many of the en Christō statements Paul makes are both instrumental and locative or participatory: “Believers, then, are not only the recipients of God’s actions by means of the Messiah, but they are also said to share with the Messiah in his identity and his rule” (199).6 They have become the messianic body, if not quite the Messiah himself (cf. Gal 2:20).

In Paul and Palestinian Judaism, E. P. Sanders reasserted this same thesis, characterizing the core of Paul’s thought as “participationist eschatology.”7 Yet Sanders did not provide an account of what such language signifies for Paul. As Richard Hays puts it: “What in the world does such language actually mean? To what experiences or realities does it refer? If it is not simply speculative fantasy, how is it to be understood?”8 Recently, in a volume dedicated to Sanders, both Hays and Stanley Stowers have taken up this question, coming to rather different answers.9 For his part, Hays suggests four complementary models for understanding this participatory language: familial, political/military, ecclesial, and narratival. Nonetheless, he argues that the latter two categories, ecclesial and narrative participation, are “epistemologically primary.”10 Jipp’s work provides a textured account of the way in which Paul’s participatory thought is actually rooted in the wider political discourses (Hays’s second model) of the Greco-Roman world. This political understanding of participation is, I would insist, epistemologically primary.

But I would maintain that the familial sense of participation is just as epistemologically primary as the political. Here I turn to the aforementioned essay of Stowers, which builds upon the work of Caroline Johnson Hodge and focuses on the familial understanding of Paul’s participatory language.11 According to Johnson Hodge and Stowers, Paul’s participatory language relates to Paul’s belief that Christ’s stuff, his pneuma (understood in the Stoic sense as a type of matter), creates a real and material connection between Christ and believers. As they show, Paul believes that gentiles become sons and seed of Abraham through the reception of Christ’s pneuma. This pneuma, then, interpenetrates gentiles and not only forges a connection to Christ, but also creates a genealogical connection or lineage to Abraham, since Christ is Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:16).

For Paul, this familial link to Abraham relates closely to Jipp’s work on the political participation in the Messiah. Scholars have long puzzled over Paul’s claim that Christ is the seed (sperma) of Abraham (Gal 3:16), but I have elsewhere argued that Paul makes this claim because he has connected two similarly worded passages (admittedly, more similar in the MT than in the LXX): 2 Sam 7:12 and Gen 15:3–5.12 The first text contains God’s promise to establish the kingdom of David’s sperma, who is described as coming out of his loins (cf. Ps 131:11 LXX). Some later Jews, including Paul presumably, interpreted this oracle as a promise of the Messiah (e.g., 4QFlorilegium; Psalm of Solomon 17; Heb 1:5). Paul associates this reference to seed that comes out of David’s loins with God’s similar promise that he would give Abraham seed (sperma), which would also come out of Abraham (LXX) or even out of Abraham’s loins (MT). In other words, Paul identifies David’s seed, the Messiah, with Abraham’s seed. (Compare the way in which Matthew likewise links the Son of David to the Son of Abraham; Matt 1:1.) Since Jesus is the Christ, the seed of David (Rom 1:3; cf. 2 Tim 2:8), he must also be Abraham’s promised seed.

To Paul’s mind, then, there is a close connection between Abrahamic descent and Davidic descent. Paul explicitly argues that his readers in Galatia and Rome are sons and seed of Abraham (Rom 4:11–13; Gal 3:7, 26–29) because he needs to convince his gentile readers that they are, via Christ’s pneuma and apart from circumcision, heirs of God’s promises to Abraham. But, and here I admit that I am extrapolating beyond Paul’s letters, I think that Paul would say the same thing about his readers becoming Davidic sons and seed. In order to inherit the kingdom promised to David’s seed, people must become Davidic seed. And one obtains the status of Davidic seed by being interpenetrated by the pneuma of Christ, the seed of David. When Paul looks at Gen 17:5, then, he may well believe that the royal seed of Abraham refers to the messianic seed, Christ, as well as to all those who are in Christ and share his stuff (pneuma).

Thanks to Jipp’s work, what we see better in Paul is the belief that, via Christ’s pneuma, believers gain a lineal connection to both Abraham and David. Participation is both familial (descent from Abraham and David through Christ, the seed of Abraham and David) and political inasmuch as Christ followers, by becoming seed of David, inherit the kingdom God promised to David’s seed and now rule with David’s seed, Christ. It is, to address Hays’s remaining two categories, also ecclesial,13 in the sense that Paul thinks that believers participate communally in Christ’s body, again, via his pneuma. And, to be sure, Paul’s readers are called, so to speak, to read themselves into Paul’s story of Christ Jesus who reigns with his followers. But such a narratival participation is secondary, not primary, to Paul’s conviction that his readers have been genealogically (one might even say biologically) connected to Christ, the seed of Abraham and the seed of David. This genealogical connection is fundamental to all other models of participation. They are to live as seed of Abraham and seed of David precisely because Israel’s God has made them into Abrahamic and Davidic seed via the pneuma.

What is remarkable to my mind is the way in which Paul’s thinking reflects how deeply committed he remains to matters of genealogy and descent. Gentiles must become sons and seed of Abraham to inherit the promises God made to him. Likewise, his readers must become Davidic seed in order to rule with Christ. As seed of David, those in Christ are now genealogically qualified to rule. Sirach makes explicit the genealogical assumptions common to Judaism (and the broader Greco-Roman world) that Paul shared:

Just as a covenant was established with David,

son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah,

that the inheritance of the king [is] only from son to son,

so the inheritance of Aaron [is] also for his seed alone. (45:25)14

This succinct statement encapsulates the importance of genealogical descent in early Jewish thinking. Just as the priesthood is a genealogical inheritance, so too is kingship. Those who rule must be sons and seed of David. When Paul talks about Christ followers reigning or inheriting the kingdom he assumes that they do so by virtue of having been infused with the pneuma of the Davidic ruler, and thereby having become pneumatic seed of David. The entirety of Jipp’s Christ Is King serves to further our understanding of the centrality of messianism to Paul’s thinking. Here I have focused on Jipp’s fourth chapter in order to draw out some of the implications of Jipp’s work which emphasize the genealogical substructure of Paul’s thought because I am excited by the critical and welcome contribution his book makes to larger debates about the nature of Paul’s participationist eschatology.

  1. Engberg-Pedersen, ed., Paul Beyond the Judaism/Hellenism Divide (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001)

  2. Similarly, in relation to ancient Near Eastern elements in Greek literature and thought, see Carolina López-Ruiz, When the Gods Were Born: Greek Cosmogonies and the Near East (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010).

  3. The second-century BCE Rosetta Stone (OGIS 90) and a third-century BCE papyrus of unknown provenance also refer to kings as “the living image of Ze[us . . .]” (εἰκὼν ζῶσα τοῦ Δι[ός]). See S. R. Llewelyn, ed., New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1986–87 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), §38.

  4. See John K. McVay, “The Human Body as Social and Political Metaphor in Stoic Literature and Early Christian Writers,” BASP 37 (2000): 135–47.

  5. English translation: The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, trans. William Montgomery (London: A. & C. Black, 1931).

  6. For a helpful discussion of the locative sense of the preposition en in Paul’s thought, see Frederick S. Tappenden, Resurrection in Paul: Cognition, Metaphor, and Transformation, SBLECL 19 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016), 175–227.

  7. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).

  8. Hays, “What Is ‘Real Participation in Christ’?: A Dialogue with E. P. Sanders on Pauline Soteriology,” in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders, ed. Fabian E. Udoh et al., Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity 16 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 336–51 (338).

  9. Stowers, “What Is ‘Pauline Participation in Christ’?,” in Redefining First-Century Jewish and Christian Identities: Essays in Honor of Ed Parish Sanders, ed. Fabian E. Udoh et al., Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity 16 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 352–71.

  10. Hays, “What Is ‘Real Participation in Christ’?,” 347. Hays (340, 342) refers to both the familial and political/military models as “metaphorical.”

  11. Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

  12. I attempt to unpack the way in which Paul came to this conclusion in Paul and the Gentile Problem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 122–27.

  13. Admittedly, I am uncomfortable with the term “ecclesial,” given its modern connotations (= “church”) as an exclusively religious, and particularly Christian, institution. As Anders Runesson argues: “When we hear ‘church,’ we associate the term with a non-Jewish Christian religious institution. But this was not what Paul and his contemporaries heard when ekklēsia could be a referent to a democratic-like Greek or Roman institution, a Jewish public institution, or a Jewish voluntary association.” Runesson, “The Question of Terminology: The Architecture of Contemporary Discussions on Paul,” in Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, ed. Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 53–77 (71–72).

  14. The NRSV follows the Greek manuscripts of Sirach here. The Hebrew (MS B), in contrast, reads נחלת אש לפני כבודו (“an inheritance of fire in the presence of his glory”) instead of υἱοῦ ἐξ υἱοῦ μόνου (“passes from son to son alone”). Additionally, MS B speaks of all his [i.e., Aaron’s] seed (לכל זרעו), whereas the Greek states “also to his seed” (καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ).

  • Joshua Jipp

    Joshua Jipp


    Response to Thiessen

    Both Thiessen’s research and my fourth chapter of Christ Is King have wrestled with the religious-historical origins of Paul’s participatory soteriology/eschatology. Both of us, as Thiessen notes, are indebted to the conversation stimulated by E. P. Sanders’s claim that participation is at the heart of Paul’s theologizing and have been further stimulated by Sanders’s confession that he did not know of a contemporary discourse, or a “category of perception,” whereby he might signify what such language means.1 I have argued that royal messianism provides the most fruitful linguistic resources for both Paul’s articulation of the narrative and work of Messiah Jesus and for Paul’s mapping of this messianic identity onto the Messiah’s people. In other words, Paul speaks of the relationship between the Messiah and his people as one of a relationship between a ruler and his subjects with the king’s people sharing in the rule of the crucified, resurrected, and enthroned Messiah. I think this makes good sense not only of the conceptual and linguistic resources drawn upon by Paul, but also of a vast swath of Paul’s most important participatory statements and especially its fullest articulation in Romans 5–8 (which, I argue, is an expansion of the christological confession in Rom 1:3–4).

    Thiessen agrees with me that Paul’s notion of participation as political is “epistemologically primary” and numerous aspects of his response depend upon understanding Paul’s language as messianic/kingship discourse. But Thiessen also maintains that “the familial sense of participation is just as epistemologically primary as the political.” And it is here that I suspect Thiessen thinks my own work, in order to be convincing as a historical-religious explanation, needs more emphasis upon Paul’s genealogical argument that believers are able to share in the Messiah’s rule (the political) because they have actually become Abraham’s and David’s seed (the familial) by virtue of receiving the pneuma of the Messiah. If Thiessen is right, then the political/royal and the familial are interwoven together as part of the same discourse. I am persuaded of Thiessen’s argument with respect to Paul’s interpretation of 2 Sam 7:12 and Gen 15:3–5 in Gal 3:16, an interpretation that identifies David’s seed—the Messiah—with the seed of Abraham. Texts such as 2 Sam 7:12 which make divine promises to David for coming seed and Ps 72:12 which speak of the Abrahamic promise to bless the nations in the Davidic king are the kinds of scriptural texts which, as Matt Novenson has also argued, enable Paul “to read the scriptures in such a way that the seed of Abraham actually is the seed of David, the Christ.”2 In fact, the Abrahamic narratives may provide the best context for understanding Paul’s phrase “in the Messiah” as Novenson and others have argued.3 These promises of “seed” to Abraham were later interpreted as messianic/Davidic promises, and this presumably enabled Paul to claim that the Abrahamic promises looked forward to the Gentiles being blessed “in Messiah Jesus” (Gal 3:14a).4 And this takes place for Paul by means of gentiles receiving the promised Spirit (Gal 3:14b).

    I think Thiessen, Novenson, Juel, and others are absolutely right on this point. And given that the “seed of Abraham” is, both in Paul and in earlier Jewish traditions, explicated as Davidic seed, we are still in the realm of messianic discourse. And as Thiessen has noted, this would mean that the political and familial/genealogical are interconnected and function together as epistemologically primary for Paul’s participatory soteriology. Further, it makes good sense to me that “genealogical participation” might presume and logically precede the political sense of participation. All of this is exciting to me as a possibility for providing a convincing historical explanation for the roots of Paul’s participatory soteriology.

    But this brings me to my primary question. As far as I can tell, Thiessen’s argument works remarkably well for Galatians and also Romans.5 But what about Paul’s other letters? As I argued, the letters to the Philippians and Colossians present those in Christ as sharing in numerous aspects of the Messiah’s rule, hence the close connection between what is said about the Messiah in the hymns (Col 1:15–20 and Phil 2:6–11) and the identity of those who are in the Messiah (Col 2:9–15; 3:1–4, 9–11; Phil 3:20–21). Paul (or the author of 2 Timothy) appeals to his audience to “remember Messiah Jesus, raised from the dead, from the seed of David” but he unpacks this primarily as participating in the Messiah’s character, destiny, and rule (2 Tim 2:11–13) and not genealogical participation. I have not been able to detect a strong emphasis on genealogical participation in 1 and 2 Corinthians (except perhaps in 1 Cor 12), Ephesians, or 1 Thessalonians. In my view, the political seems to overshadow the genealogical at least in terms of the frequency of its usage in Paul’s letters. In other words, Paul’s genealogical thinking seems to be on display clearly in Galatians and in Romans, but it seems to me as though Paul’s genealogical argumentation is less obvious in most of his other letters. And nowhere does Paul explicitly speak of his converts as becoming Davidic seed. Is this a problem for Thiessen’s argument that both the political and the genealogical are epistemologically primary? Does Paul’s genealogical thinking need to be present or primary in his other epistles in order to sustain Thiessen’s claim that it is epistemologically primary? Or was it the particular historical factors that led to the rise of Galatians and Romans that pressed Paul to make his genealogical reasoning for gentile believers clear.

    I confess that I hope it is not a problem! In my view, Thiessen’s correction and amplification of my emphasis on participation as sharing in the rule of the Messiah would demonstrate the relationship between Abraham and David in Paul’s thinking, and most importantly would nicely explain how it is that believers truly share in the Messiah by virtue of Christ’s pneuma.


    1. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 522–23.

    2. Novenson, Christ Among the Messiahs Christ among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 142. See here also Matthew Thiessen, Paul and the Gentile Problem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 122–27.

    3. Novenson, Christ Among the Messiahs, 119–26; Nils A. Dahl, “Promise and Fulfillment,” in Studies in Paul: Theology for the Early Christian Mission (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1977), 121–36.

    4. Important here is Donald Juel, Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 85–87.

    5. Thiessen rightly points here to Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), esp. chs. 3–5.

    • Matthew Thiessen

      Matthew Thiessen


      Further Thoughts on Genealogical Participation in Paul

      In my initial thoughts on Christ Is King, I explored some of the implications of the book for the participatory thought that undergirds Paul’s thinking: Christ followers participate in both Abrahamic and Davidic descent via Christ’s pneuma, because Christ is both the seed of Abraham and the seed of David. In response, Josh states that my argument “works remarkably well,” but qualifies this assessment by noting that it does so primarily for Galatians and Romans. What about Paul’s other letters, such as the Corinthian correspondence, or Colossians and Ephesians?

      Here he puts his finger on an important issue in attempting to make any sort of generalizing claim about Paul’s thinking: can something be central to Pauline thought if it only occurs in one or two letters? In this case, does the absence of Abraham in numerous letters point to something local and specific to the communities in Galatia and Rome? Especially with the letter to Galatians, scholars frequently suggest that Paul was unconcerned with Abraham and Abrahamic descent until his competitors began preaching a gospel that called gentiles to become sons of Abraham through the rite of circumcision. Perhaps Paul’s entire argument about faith and Christ’s pneuma forging a connection between gentiles and Abraham was a rhetorical argument that Paul deployed only to defeat his missionizing competitors, but otherwise cared little about. While certainty eludes us here, Paul’s argumentation in Galatians 3–4 and Romans 4 is so intricate that I find it difficult to believe that it was not integral to Paul’s thinking, despite its absence elsewhere.

      For that matter, Paul only refers to the figure of Adam twice in his letters (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), yet many scholars, rightly to my mind, believe his Adam Christology to be central to his thinking. In fact, I would argue that Adam provides yet further evidence for participation in Paul’s thinking. Both passages portray humanity being in Adam, and, as a result, suffering the consequences of Adam’s actions: sin and death. Again, I think this in language indicates genealogical descent and, therefore, participation in the Adamic condition. Such a reading of Romans 5 does not require one to follow Augustine in understanding the ambiguous phrase ἐφ᾿ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον to mean “in whom [i.e., Adam] all sinned.” Instead, one could point to Tertullian’s reading of Paul that Adam seminally transmits his sinful and mortal condition to all of his descendants (De testimonio animae 3.2). In the fifth century, Theodoret nicely captures how genealogical descent from Adam entangles all of humanity in both mortality and immorality: “All [humanity], therefore, on the grounds of their lineage from this man, had a nature subject to death; such a nature is in need of many things—food and drink, clothing and habitation, and diverse skills. Use of these things, however, often stimulates the passions to intemperance, and intemperance generates sin” (Commentary on Romans 5:12).

      Interestingly, Josh himself convincingly argues at numerous points that, for Paul, humanity participates in Adam’s kingly dominion (e.g., pp. 181–86; cf. 112–17, 156–57, 186–217, 268–80). The figure of Adam, then, shows the thick connections in Paul’s mind between the seemingly disparate things that Josh mentions in his response to my initial thoughts, such as genealogical descent (being in Adam), the political (being under the dominion of Adam), character (being sinful), and destiny (being subject to death). Consequently, Paul’s use of the figure of Adam lends further confirmation of the significance of participation, genealogical and political, in Paul’s thinking.

      Participation in or union with Christ is one of the foundational themes in Paul’s mind. Such participatory thinking, though, is multifaceted. As such, Paul’s letters, being occasional in nature, simply cannot be expected to give evidence to all that is entailed in participating in Christ. In Romans and Galatians, two letters clearly devoted to convincing gentiles not to judaize as an effort to become Abrahamic sons and seed, Abrahamic descent through Christ surfaces. In 1 Corinthians, where, amongst other things, people questioned the nature of the resurrection, Paul examines Adamic participation in mortality and corruptibility, and contrasts it to participation in Christ, which leads to immortality and incorruptibility.
      As Christ Is King convincingly shows, in Colossians and Ephesians the political aspect of participation comes to the fore. Nonetheless, I would suggest that the familial also appears in Ephesians in terms of sonship (1:5) and family/household (2:18–19). In fact, Ephesians 2–3 seems to provide another point at which political and familial participation come together: gentiles, who were aliens to Israel’s commonwealth and strangers to the covenant of promise (2:12), have now, through and in Christ (2:13, 16), become fellow citizens (συμπολῖται) and kinspeople (οἰκεῖοι) of God (2:19). Consequently, gentiles in Christ are fellow heirs (συγκληρονόμα) with Jews and part of the same body (σύσσωμα) (cf. Eph 4:15–16). While unexpressed, it seems likely to me that the author of Ephesians could have, if pressed, developed this familial and political language in relation to both Abraham and David.

      In *Inheriting Abraham*, Jon D. Levenson states, “Were Paul truly intent on transcending the difference between Jews and Gentiles, would he have so stressed the man known as the father of the Jewish people? And would he have advanced the claim that those who have faith in Jesus had, by that very act, become nothing short of descendants of Abraham?” (157). Levenson’s questions pose something of a challenge to much Christian scholarship on Paul, which often portrays Pauline thought as open, inclusive, and universalistic. This stream of scholarship depicts Paul as one who breaks out beyond the particularistic boundaries of the Judaism of his day. Given such narratives about Paul, it is no wonder that some scholars have downplayed the Davidic and the Abrahamic in Paul’s thought. Christos, in this line of thought, retains none of its messianic significance for Paul; rather, it serves as an empty title. Abrahamic sonship, again in this line of thought, is insignificant to Paul’s gospel; only divine sonship matters to Paul. To downplay either Abrahamic or Davidic participation, though, is to oversimplify, and thereby misunderstand, Paul’s participatory gospel. Again, I am grateful for the way in which Christ Is King moves us forward considerably in understanding how participation in Christ’s Davidic dominion functions in Paul’s thought.

Joel Willitts


The Davidic Messiahship of Jesus in Paul’s letters

I have been curious about the topic of the Davidic Messiahship of Jesus in Paul’s letters and theology for a long time.1 I had grown discontent with the conventional assumption by scholars of every perspective, traditional and new and even the radical perspective, that Christos meant little more than Jesus’ surname. To me this didn’t jive with Paul’s explicit references to David and Davidic Messianism evidenced in Romans (1:3 [“seed of David”]; 15:12 [“root of Jesse”—Isa 11:10]) and 2 Tim 2:8 (“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, seed of David according to my gospel”). Although the latter example of course is considered by many to be post-Pauline, both texts give an initial indication that Davidic messianism may be more fundamental to Paul’s Christology than has been admitted.

Possible corroborating evidence for the significance of Davidic messianism in Paul may come from Luke’s biography of him in Acts. According to Luke, when Paul preached in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, he briefly narrated Israel’s story in Jewish Scripture focusing on the subject Israel’s kingship. The sermon is likely paradigmatic, intended to show the kind of sermon Paul was remembered to have preached when addressing synagogue audiences comprised of both Jews and God-fearing Greeks (13:16). In converse fashion, it is equally likely that this is the function of Acts 17 and Paul’s sermon in Athens to exclusively Greeks (17:22–“men of Athens”). The brief narrative selectively culminated with the appointment of David and skipped directly to the story of Savior Jesus, David’s descendent (Acts 13:21–23). It is reasonable to think that this represents a genuine remembrance of Paul’s preaching, albeit in the voice of Luke. Paul is remembered to have preached Davidicly focused sermons when in a synagogue.2

When Matthew Novenson’s book Christ Among the Messiahs appeared in 2012, I was enthusiastic. Novenson’s book, the published version of his Princeton doctoral dissertation, all but demolished that modern scholarly assumption about Paul’s use of Christos. Novenson effectively demonstrated that Paul’s use of the term Christos retained its messianic import as a linguistic category. Of course, the exact significance of the term is debated, but the implication of Novenson’s argument is that for Paul the term continued to carry messianic freight.

Joshua Jipp’s book Christ Is King explicitly builds on Novenson’s work and seeks to move the discussion forward in new directions (4–7). Jipp is interested in unearthing the linguistic resources Paul employed in creating his “Christ discourse,” his Christology. He writes, “I am interested in the conceptual and lexical sources for Paul’s christological language” (29). Jipp seeks to identify the sources of Paul’s Christ language which, according to Jipp, Paul reinterpreted and reworked in his letters for his purposes. Jipp wants to “demonstrate that Paul’s linguistic and conceptual resources for these Pauline texts are notions of the good king” (41). What’s more, Jipp believes that Paul constructs an ideal king Jesus to stabilize and secure the identity of his ecclesia.

He agrees with Novenson that Israel’s Scriptures are a significant and primary source for Paul’s Christ language. But Jipp wishes to expand the linguistic field by showing that Paul also drew heavily on the resources of ancient kingship discourse of the ideal or good king. Jipp claims, “Paul’s Christ-discourse is heavily indebted to his own creative reflection upon ancient royal ideology, as activated through the fate of Jesus and the early Christians’ continued experience of him” (9). Jipp claims further 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” (9).

I am in sympathy with most of Christ Is King. The works of both Novenson and Jipp present significant resources for rethinking Paul’s Christology in terms of Jewish messianism; something nearly unthinkable just a decade ago. The scales have finally tipped in favor of N. T. Wright who has been making a point about the significance of messianism in Paul for decades with only a few making common cause.3

Christ Is King is a significant contribution. I agree fully with the central assertion of the book that kingship is a fundamental category for Paul, one that has been largely ignored by scholars. What is more, I agree that the concept of kingship has the potential for untangling the thorniest Pauline conundrums: Paul and the law, justification and righteousness language, Paul’s so-called “Christological monothesism,” participation language and the life of the ecclesia to name a few of the issues.

In each of these cases, ancient kingship ideology may be the framework within which questions of Paul’s theology and practice finally will be coherently explained. The first chapter of Christ Is King presents the case for the wide and pervasive purchase of kingship discourse in Paul’s Jewish and Greco-Roman world. The subsequent four chapters attempt to illustrate the explanatory power of kingship discourse for Paul’s christological language under four topics: King and Law (ch. 2) King and Praise (ch. 3), King and Kingdom (ch. 4) and King and Justice (ch. 5).

In this response to Christ Is King, I will raise three interrelated questions; I’ll call them “points of curiosity.” These are topics that I found myself wrestling over with Jipp as I was reading him. These are not questions about which I have definitive answers. Reading Christ Is King has invited deeper curiosity in me over questions such as these. No doubt my future work on Davidic Christology will be sharpened by Jipp’s book.

So to my questions.

1. How much of a free and independent agent should we envisage Paul to be, standing as it were above his own cultural heritage to borrow, rework, and adapt at will content from Jewish and Greco-Roman kingship ideology?

Jipp seems to imagine Paul as quite independent and as a free agent who has the capacity to choose linguistic elements from Jewish and Greco-Roman sources of royal ideology to create his own in accordance with his conviction about Jesus. In this sense Paul comes across as a man of modernity. Beholden and constrained by little except perhaps his “presupposition” about Jesus, Paul can take elements from diverse sources which suit his pragmatic goals. So, Paul comes off as a pragmatist whose primary interest in selection is the creation of a new social imaginary for his new social entity, the churches.

Jipp repeats many times the refrain that Paul is “reworking” or “reordering” or “remapping” or “inventing a new royal ideology of Christ the King.” On one occasion, he writes: “I understand Paul’s ‘Christ the king’ construct to provide evidence that he has assimilated the ideals of the good king as a means of remapping, reordering, and stabilizing the world for the early Christian communities” (16). In another place: “I will focus on his reworking and fashioning of this discourse” (17). Or again: “The following four chapters will exemplify some of the most important ways in which Paul created a new royal ideology that could remap the symbolic universe and the social existence of his churches” (42).

Jipp’s presentation of Paul’s creative deployment of ancient kingship discourse is well illustrated in this sentence:

My basic argument, then, is 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. (9, emphasis mine)

Another example I find of this comes in Jipp’s statement about the significance of the Septuagint for Paul’s Christ-language. He writes,

Except in those instances where Paul quotes or alludes to the Greek Old Testament, my argument is that Paul adopts and adapts the cultural scripts, generic conventions, and topoi popularly associated with the good king. . . . In other words, given Paul’s ethnic and religious background within ancient Judaism, his explicit citations of the Greek Old Testament, and the historical-religious derivation of Paul’s churches, I generally emphasize and give pride of place to the Greek Old Testament as providing the sources for Paul’s language. (9–10)

Let me pose my concern as a question: Can we really believe that Paul would have been able to stand far enough outside his “ethnic and religious background” (and foreground!), that he would have been able to freely select source material available to him for conceiving of Jesus as a king and then independently and intentionally choose and manipulate these ideas toward a new end? Is it conceivable that Paul created a “new royal ideology” from Greco-Roman and Jewish sources? Aren’t we giving him too much agency here? Did an ancient Jewish eschatological thinker have that kind of autonomy of thought that Jipp presupposes? As a man of his time and place and station, would not it more likely be that Paul was conceiving of Jesus as the Lord Messiah because his own social imaginary was shaped by particular ideas and practices much of which were under his consciousness? Was he shaping social imaginary or reflecting one?

I don’t doubt that Paul and other early Jewish believers in Jesus adapted, revised and intensified their messianic expectations in view of the unique circumstances and results related to “this Jesus” (Acts 2:36). But I agree with William Horbury that these adaptations, if we call them that, are best explained as a development of Jewish messianism.4 Jipp seems to tip his hat to Horbury, but then appears to retract his affirmation immediately. Jipp presents Paul as standing outside of Jewish messianism it seems to me. I say this because Jipp states that he “front-grounds how Paul “reinterpreted and reworked notions of kingship discourse’; presumably those very notions within Jewish messianism” (7, emphasis his).

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what Jipp means to say; and, indeed, I wonder if the confusion is more rhetorical than real because it seems that what he ends up presenting in the book is a Christ the King within a Jewish messianism shaped uniquely of course by the story and experience of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet Jipp’s language of invention and the like causes me to wonder if he sees Paul in the ways similar to recent apocalyptic interpreters (e.g., J. L. Marytn and his followers) in which Jesus Christ is over and against all other previous forms of religion and culture, even Jewish ones. Thus, there is an ultimate eschatological discontinuity at work. A sentence like this one bends in that direction:

Paul’s creative invention of this new royal ideology helps to establish the internal stability of the church and is the invisible web that helps sustain the existence of Paul’s churches in the midst of competing religious alternatives in the ancient Mediterranean world. (276, emphasis mine)

This leads me to my next question.

2. To what ethnic group was Paul’s Christ the King social imaginary project aimed? Jews or Gentiles or both? Did Paul differentiate between the ethnicity and the cultural heritage of the Jews and that of the non-Jews?

Consider this passage from Jipp:

I suggest that the evidence we will see is strong enough to hazard that Paul was attempting to rework the symbolic universe or social imaginary of his churches in order to reorder the allegiances and practices around the reign of Christ the King. One of Paul’s agendas, in other words was to create a new royal ideology, out of the conceptual and linguistic resources at this disposal, and thereby to proclaim the rule of Christ over Paul’s churches. Paul, in other words, legitimates the people around Christ the king by upstaging every other royal competitor as he adapts and reworks aspects of ancient kingship discourse to portray the total sovereignty and power of the Messiah. . . . This new Pauline royal ideology plays a crucial role in . . . “the establishment and legitimation of a new people of God.” (11–12)

Notice here again Paul’s pragmatism and independence envisaged by Jipp. Paul is creating “a new royal ideology” from the “conceptual and linguistic resources at his disposal.” What I really want to call attention to, however, is the end to which this construction project was aimed: “Paul’s churches.” This “new Pauline royal ideology” was intended to establish a “new people of God.” So what would this mean for the “old” people? What would this mean for those like Barnabas, a Jew how who presumably awaited a Davidic messiah? Does Christ the King represent a new symbolic universe for them?

If Jipp is arguing here a more ethnically differentiated point, that because Paul was pastoring “ex-pagan pagans,” to use a phrase from Paula Fredriksen, he sought to radically enculturate—dare I say Judaize?!—them as non-Jews into a Jesus-oriented Jewish messianism, I would be complete in support.5 This would explain the need for Paul to creatively adapt Jewish tradition and halakhah to his churches since he would be in the unprecedented position of bringing Gentiles into the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 15:18; 16:26). What is more, if Jipp proves correct that Paul selects topoi of the good king from sources outside of the treasure trove already a part of Jewish messianism, this would perhaps make sense given he is addressing Gentile audiences who are immersed in the Roman imperial ideology.6

But Jipp seems not to be making that point given the double use of the adjective “new” in the above quotation. The last paragraph of Christ Is King confirms that Jipp conceives of a fundamental discontinuity in Paul’s thinking.

Paul’s reworking of the linguistic and conceptual resources of ancient kingship discourse functions to create a new royal ideology that reorients Paul’s churches to Christ as the singular supreme ruler whose rule establishes and stabilizes Paul’s churches. This new Pauline ideological construct of “Christ the king” has resulted in a new worldview, a new locus of absolute power that subsumes all other alternative possibilities for Paul’s churches. (281, emphasis mine)

I do think there are indications in Paul’s letters that the Jewish social imaginary too needed adaptation given the unique profile and story of Jesus the Messiah. But Paul differentiates between Jewish and non-Jewish in this regard. Consider for example Rom 15:9–12. Here Paul distinguishes between Christ’s unique self-giving service to the Jews, on the one side, and the Gentiles, on the other. Galatians too seems to suggest something similar at several points. Explicitly, in Gal 3:13–14 Paul differentiates between Jew and Gentile in the application of the work of Christ’s self-giving. The Jew, on the one hand, is redeemed from the curse of the law so that, on the other, the “blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” There are also of course those statements in Romans about the value of Jewish ethnicity (e.g., 3:1–2; 9:3–5).

Thus, it seems unlikely that Paul thought a Jewish believer in Jesus needed the same kind of radical reorientation that a non-Jewish pagan convert would need. Furthermore, while Paul asserts that the appearance of the Messiah meant nothing short of the inauguration of the new creation, this was still in keeping with Jewish messianic expectations. In this sense, it was not a “new worldview,” at least for the Jew expecting a new world order to come through the agency of the Messiah.

3. Was Paul’s messianism Davidic, and, if so, what difference does that make?

A final question I raise in response to Jipp’s work is his view of the influence of especially Davidic messianism on Paul. If Rom 1:3–4 has anything near the significance Jipp affords it in defining Paul’s gospel, more reflection is needed on the function of Davidic messianism on Paul’s Christology. Jipp eloquently writes,

The δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ that has been revealed in the gospel has as its content God’s resurrection of his royal [Davidic] son from the dead and the enthronement of this son to a position of powerful lordship over the nations. . . . God’s righteousness is revealed in the rescue of God’s righteous Davidic son, and this makes perfect sense of Paul’s situation the revelation of God’s righteousness (Rom 1:17) within the gospel of his resurrected and enthroned Davidic Son (1:3–4). (249, 251)

Yet, Jipp does not devote the kind of attention to the possibility of a particular Davidic kingship discourse in Paul as one would have hoped or expected. Obviously the first question is whether one can even speak of a coherent Davidic messianism in early Judaism. Although this “older view” has become unfashionable today, I am inclined, with William Horbury, to keep the possibility open given its presence in Christianity and later Judaism.7

I was surprised at how little attention was paid to a text like Psalms of Solomon in Jipp’s overall discussion, a mere ten references according to the index (370). It seems to me that Psalms of Solomon is significant and unparalleled comparative material for a discussion Paul’s conception of Christ is King for a few reasons.

First, Psalms of Solomon is a late Second Temple Jewish document which predates Jesus’ career and the apostolic documents by nearly a century and already exhibited the employment of Greek and Roman kingship ideology within a Jewish messianism. For this reason, Horbury makes significant use of Psalms of Solomon in his Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ, referring to it some forty-five times (211–12).

Second, Psalms of Solomon 17 represents one of the few traces we have of a thoroughgoing Davidic messianism in early Jewish literature outside the New Testament.

And third, each of the four topics Jipp covered in the book (chs. 2–5) could be fruitfully compared with material in Psalms of Solomon 17: (1) King as the living law (Pss. Sol. 17:32); (2) Royal Encomia (Pss. Sol. 17:30); (3) Sharing in the rule of Christ especially the sharing of kingship with God and the representative role of the king (Pss. Sol. 17); and (4) God’s righteousness and the righteousness of the king (Pss. Sol. 17:26, 32).

Unfortunately, Psalms of Solomon has been erroneously disregarded by many modern New Testament scholars having been deemed inappropriate comparative material for the New Testament Christology because of misunderstandings of its type of messianism.8 So, I ask: what would a Davidic Messiah mean for a Pauline Christology? Both the recent work of Novenson and Jipp now make a question like this possible.


I am in significant agreement with most of what Joshua Jipp is doing in this essential monograph, Christ Is King. I receive it as a very welcome addition to the discussion of Messiah in Paul alongside Matthew Novenson’s recent work. On nearly every page, there are a whole number of exegetical and biblical theological points, both small and large, I could raise with him. However, in this brief response essay, I’ve focused on three interrelated points of curiosity that his work raised as I read it. I look forward to listening to Josh’s response to these curiosities and hope to continue to sharpen my own thinking by means of his. In truth, I believe we are far closer in our respective outlooks on Christ as king in Paul than we are apart.

  1. I am working on a large project on the Davidic Christology of the New Testament to be published by Eerdmans. I have also published an article on Galatians and Davidic Messiahship (“Davidic Messiahship in Galatians: Clearing the Deck for a Study of the Theme in Galatians,” JSPL 2.2 [2012] 143–61), which engages significantly with Matthew V. Novenson, Christ Among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). Novenson in fact responded to my essay in the same volume: “The Messiah ben Abraham in Galatians: A Response to Joel Willitts,” JSPL 2.2 (2012) 163–69.

  2. See Craig Keener’s discussion: “He [Luke] certainly provides here at least the kind of exposition Paul was known to offer especially in synagogues” (Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, vol. 2, 3:1—14:28 [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012], 2053).

  3. N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991). In J. D. G. Dunn’s 1998 Theology of Paul, he referred to Wright as a “lone voice” in arguing that Christos in Paul should regularly be read as “Messiah” (Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 199n88). See Wright’s recent essay “Messiahship in Galatians?,” in Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter, ed. Mark W. Elliott et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 3–23.

  4. William Horbury, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (London: SCM Press, 1998), 109–19.

  5. See Paula Fredriksen’s provocative essays: “Judaizing the Nations: The Ritual Demands of Paul’s Gospel,” New Testament Studies 56.2 (2010) 232–52; and “Why Should a ‘Law-Free’ Mission Mean a ‘Law-Free’ Apostle?,” JBL 134.3 (2015) 637–50.

  6. See the recent work of Bruce Winter, Divine Honours for the Caesars: The First Christians’ Responses (Grand Rapids: Eedrmans, 2015), which chronicles the pervasive nature of imperial ideology and early Christians’ response to it.

  7. William Horbury, Messianism among Jews and Christians: Twelve Biblical and Historical Studies, 2nd ed. (London: Bloomsbury T. & T. Clark, 2016 ), 1.

  8. In an essay on the Gospel of Matthew and the Pss. Sol., I make a similar criticism and attempt to show the similarities between the messianism of the two. I suspect something similar could be demonstrated with Paul. See “Matthew and Psalms of Solomon’s Messianism: A Comparative Study in First-Century Messianology,” BBR 22.1 (2012) 27–50.

  • Joshua Jipp

    Joshua Jipp


    Response to Willitts

    Thirty years ago James Charlesworth concluded an essay on the relationship between Jewish messianism and early Christian Christology with the negative conclusion: “Suffice it to be stated now that Jewish messianology does not flow majestically into Christian Christology.”1 While Charlesworth makes some important correctives with which I am in full agreement, not the least of which was demonstrating the diversity of Jewish beliefs about messiah figures, I am pleased that there seems to be a growing group of scholars who do indeed find Jewish messianism and kingship ideology to be fundamental to interpreting the earliest Christian discourse about Jesus of Nazareth.2 If this is indeed the case, as Willitts agrees, then Paul’s Messiah-Christology may, ironically enough given its marginalization in the past centuries, provide a center for Pauline theology as well as open up new windows into some of the most important conundrums in Pauline studies such as the origins of Paul’s participatory soteriology, the meaning of righteousness/justification language, and the origins and development of early Christian Christology.

    As Willitts notes, and I fully agree, the messianic significance of Jesus’s identity is not unique to Paul. The author of Acts appeals to the Davidic psalms in order to explain the resurrection of Jesus and his royal enthronement at God’s right hand (Acts 2:22–36; 13:17–37); the Gospel of Luke appeals to Jesus’ messianic identity and the sufferings of the Davidic king in order to convince his readers that it was necessary for “the Messiah to suffer” (Luke 24:26, 46); the author of Hebrews begins his sermon with a scriptural catena that depicts God’s firstborn royal son entering into heaven and sharing God’s throne (Heb 1:5–13); Jesus is Matthew’s Davidic Shepherd King who heals and gathers his lost sheep (Matt 2:6); in Revelation Jesus Christ is “the firstborn from the dead and ruler over the kings of the earth” who is simultaneously the conquering lion “from the tribe of Judah, the root of David” and the slain lamb (Rev 1:5 and 5:5).3 My simple point here is that Jesus’ royal messianic identity is central to a number of NT compositions, as many others have of course seen, and it may in fact serve as the unifying center for New Testament theology.4

    Thus far, Willitts and I are, I believe, in strong agreement with one another. But Willitts wonders if I give too much creative agency to Paul and his ability to shape, reorder, and fashion his messianic discourse. Do I stress Paul’s innovation with respect to messianism so much, in fact, that Paul is seen to be standing almost above his religious heritage and independently selecting and manipulating messianic and kingship language in order to create something entirely new? Willitts’s concern here is, I suggest, of one piece with the third question he poses to me: Was Paul’s messianism Davidic? By Davidic messianism I take Joel to refer to a coherent and stable set of beliefs and expectations, such as one finds in Psalms of Solomon, about a coming messianic son of David. If Paul’s messianism was Davidic, then perhaps Paul’s messianic language simply reflects a social imaginary, rather than creates one. And if this is the case, then it would also probably follow that I have paid much too much attention to Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman notions of the good king (which are obviously not Davidic).

    So do I stress Paul’s creative agency and innovation too much out of a failure to recognize that Paul’s Christology is a particular kind of Davidic messianism? I certainly think that Paul’s belief that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah is the catalyst that causes him to rework and appropriate the Greek Old Testament (and Messiah-texts) in his depiction of Christ and this is clearly evident in places like Rom 1:1–5; 15:7–13; 1 Cor 15:20–28; 2 Tim 2:8; etc. The language of “creates” and “invents” with respect to any ideology or social imaginary is admittedly strong. I do not claim, however, anything that would justify Joel’s suggestion that I imagine Paul standing outside his tradition. I argue, rather, that “Paul inhabits these royal scripts. They are, for him, stitched as one important thread within the interwoven fabric of his social imaginary” (13). I affirm that Paul, a Second Temple Jew navigating the complexities of Roman imperial influence, stood within linguistic communities that confessed Jesus as Messiah. So throughout the work, I argue that Paul’s royal ideology was shaped “through the fate of Jesus and the early Christians’ continued experience of him” (9). In other words, Paul had precursors. He did not invent the confession “Jesus is Messiah,” his attraction to Psalm 110 (e.g., Rom 8:34; 1 Cor 15:20–28; Eph 1:20–23) runs across numerous early Christian texts, and it still seems likely that the christological confession in Rom 1:3–4 predates Paul’s use of it.

    First, using this language can give the appearance that Paul is simply applying Davidic motifs and language to Christ when, in reality, those Davidic motifs, scripts, stories, and texts are transformed by the Christ-event. I do not think it does justice to Paul’s messiah-language to suggest that he was only unintentionally and unconsciously reflecting prior royal traditions. In fact, many have assumed that Paul’s Christ-language cannot be Messiah-language precisely because of the impressive differences between the two. Ideologies and social imaginaries, in other words, often remain invisible until some kind of pressure is exerted to make them visible. And this is precisely what has happened, I suggest, with the early Christian confession that a crucified criminal had been raised from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand, and is the Lord’s Anointed. Thus, the meaning of the messianic texts from the Greek Old Testament are transformed and reshaped when they are read through the particular fate of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, the events of Good Friday and Easter have decisively transformed and shaped the meaning of Paul’s royal discourse.

    Second, as I’ve indicated, it seems to me that even if pride of place goes to the Greek Old Testament, Paul’s belief that Jesus is the King enables him to use, rework, and transform other royal ideologies in service of his depiction of Christ. Let me set forth something of a thought experiment based on my third chapter (“King and Praise”): what would I have not seen in my analysis of the hymns in Colossians 1 and Philippians 2 had I restricted my lens to only a kingship that was Davidic.

    1. I would not have known of the existence of a specific genre of prose composition that set forth how to praise kings and emperors.
    2. I would not have understood nearly as well that hymns functioned as a form of cultic praise as a form of bestowing divine honors in exchange for powerful, god-like benefactions.
    3. I do not think I would have seen the importance of the head-body language (Col 1:18a) unless I had seen its prevalence in imperial discourse, such as Seneca says to Nero: he is “the bond by which the commonwealth is united, the breath of life which these many thousands draw” (De Clementia4.1); “the commonwealth needs the head” (1.4.2–3); “the gentleness of your mind will be transmitted to others . . . it will be diffused over the whole body of the empire, and all will be formed in your likeness for health springs form the head” (2.21).
    4. The same argument goes for understanding the language of “reconciliation” and “making peace” (1:20) as well as “celebration of a triumph” (2:15)—both of which derive from Hellenistic-Roman kingship ideology.
    5. I almost certainly would not have seen how, in Phil 2:6–8, Paul depicts Christ as the kind of ruler who rejects the pursuit of god-like status as an act of hubris.


    The examples could be multiplied, but my point here is that while Paul certainly believed that Christ was the Davidic Messiah, the very promised Son of David, who was superior to all other kings and rulers, these beliefs enabled Paul to appeal to a variety of royal tropes, metaphors, and images.

    Third, I’m not entirely sure what is to be gained by the adjective Davidic when describing Paul’s Christology. Certainly, Paul believed that Jesus was the son of David (e.g., Rom 1:3; 15:7–12; cf. 2 Tim 2:8), as did the Gospels of Matthew (1:18—2:23) and Luke (1:31–35), as did the author of the Fourth Gospel (John 1:19–51; 7:41–42), as did the author of Hebrews (Heb 1:5–13; 8; 7:13–14), as did the author of Revelation (5:5–6; 22:16). The list could be extended. But the point here is that all of these authors believed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, the son of David, and thereby creatively interpreted and reinterpreted these royal traditions. There is not a single and uniform Davidic script or model which these authors follow. This is where Matt Novenson’s argument becomes key. Novenson argues that Paul’s Christ-language is messiah language not because it conforms to a coherent messianic ideal or expectation but rather because the language “could be used meaningfully in antiquity because it was deployed in the context of a linguistic community whose members shared a stock of common linguistic resources.”5 Thus, Paul, Acts, John, Hebrews, and Revelation are messianic texts, but this is not because they share a stable and coherent set of messianic expectations that conform to what we find in the Chronicler or Psalms of Solomon. They are messianic texts, rather, because they appeal in creative ways to a variety of texts, traditions, images, and topoi that speak of a Davidic royal figure. In other words, it would be a methodological mistake to expect Paul’s Christ-language (or any of the other NT compositions) to follow a particular model or script. But this is what I find truly interesting and promising for future studies, namely, the opportunity to examine and compare how the NT writings share common messiah language and traditions in order create diverse and innovative Christologies.


    1. J. H. Charlesworth, “From Jewish Messianology to Christian Christology: Some Caveats and Perspectives,” in Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era, ed. Jacob Neusner et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 225–64, here 255.

    2. Deserving pride of place here is William Horbury, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (London: SCM, 1998); Matthew V. Novenson, Christ Among the Messiahs: Christ Language in Paul and Messiah Language in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4 of Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013); Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017).

    3. I have argued this point in more detail in a variety of individual articles. E.g., Joshua W. Jipp, “Luke’s Scriptural Suffering Messiah: A Search for Precedent, a Search for Identity,” CBQ 72 (2010) 255–74; “The Son’s Entrance into the Heavenly Word: The Soteriological Necessity of the Scriptural Catena in Hebrews 1.5–14,” NTS 56 (2010) 557–75; “‘For David Did Not Ascend into Heaven’ (Acts 2:34a): Reprogramming Royal Psalms to Proclaim the Enthroned-in-Heaven King,” in Ascent into Heaven in Luke-Acts, ed. David W. Pao and David Bryan (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016), 41–59.

    4. If one thinks a center or central theme can be found, that is.

    5. Matthew V. Novenson, Christ among the Messiahs, 47.

Erin Heim


Christ Is the Ideal King—Now What Does That Mean to Paul?

Joshua Jipp’s book is an ambitious project that in many ways disrupts current conversations in Pauline studies by proposing a new center of Paul’s thought, which is also the title of his book: Christ Is King. In four substantive chapters in his book, Jipp argues that Christ as the “Ideal King” is the living embodiment of the law, (43–76) receives praise and encomiums fitting only of a king, (77–138), is God’s representative to the people who enables people to participate in his rule, (139–210) and establishes his righteousness through a “just rule” over his subjects and the entire cosmos.) (211–72). Jipp’s argument is elegant, compelling, and takes seriously the religious and political discourses of various Hellenistic sources, the Roman empire, and ancient Judaism. There is much to commend in this book, and I want to affirm at the outset that I think Jipp’s project is largely successful in demonstrating that the category of “kingship” is central to Paul’s Christology. Since I think Jipp is largely successful in demonstrating that kingship is a central category for Paul, I want to use the space below to probe a bit more into exactly what Paul might mean by Christ as the “Ideal King.”

To make his argument, Jipp employs the historical-critical method, drawing comparisons from a wide array of sources on ancient kinship discourse (e.g., Ps 89, 2 Sam 7:14, the Res gestae divi Augusti, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, and many others). Jipp’s purpose in gathering this data and setting it alongside the Pauline text is to show the prevalence of kingship language in ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish sources, and then to argue that a close reading of Paul shows that the “linguistic and conceptual resources for these Pauline texts are notions of the good king” (41). At the outset of the project he hints at moving beyond the historical-critical method since one of his stated goals is to show that “Paul strategically reworks and applies these royal scripts to Christ such that this king now stabilizes their assemblies and is the focal point for their symbolic world” (13). Since Jipp made such a statement, I expected that his chapters might explore how Paul’s kingship discourse moves beyond what I would term “lexical and conceptual borrowing” to being generative in its own right. In other words, I expected that Jipp might also treat the theology of Paul’s texts, especially where that theology shows a “reworking” of the categories of kingship, and I was disappointed that this reordering of their symbolic universe is not given a good deal of attention in the main chapters of Jipp’s study. It is here where I have to wonder if the historical-critical method leaves his conclusions a bit short of where other forms of analysis might have taken him, and I’ll say more about this a bit later in my response.

Since Jipp sets out to demonstrate that Paul’s overarching christological framework is that Jesus is the “Ideal King,” I want to spend a bit of time probing the notion of what “ideal” might mean in Paul’s thought, especially in relation to the chapter on the Christ-hymns. Of the Colossian hymn, Jipp argues that Christ is depicted as “God’s elected royal (Davidic) viceregent, who . . . creates, sustains and rules over creation, and . . . rules over his people and establishes peace between them and God by reconciling the entire cosmos to God” (100). Taking the “prose hymn” phrase by phrase, Jipp shows how each of the phrases parallels other ancient kingship discourse on the ideal king. However, when he comes to the final line of the hymn “through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20), Jipp concludes, “What cannot be paralleled in any ancient kingship document is the means whereby Christ enacted this pacification” (127). Since Jipp has identified that part of this hymn is unparalleled, I had hoped that he might have more to say about how a statement like this one “reworked the symbolic universe” of ancient kingship discourses. What might this reworking say about who Christ is as Paul’s “Ideal King?”

Likewise, Jipp’s treatment of the Philippian hymn focuses largely on the first line of the hymn, “being in the very form of God did not think equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Phil 2:6), and argues that “true divine rule and power is revealed, then, in the Messiah’s refusal to exploit equality with God” (132), and further, “while the preexistent Christ already shared in God’s status, his obedience to God and willing humiliation on the cross—the greatest of all benefactions to humanity—is the act that legitimates his rule, grants him universal authority, and qualifies him to receive divine worship” (134). Jipp does briefly mention Christ’s humility and sacrificial death here, but there is only a glancing countenance of the form Christ assumes. In my mind however, that the “Ideal King” in Philippians 2 is a shamed and humiliated slave who was executed on a cross deserves more attention, since it is a shocking departure from the other examples of kingship discourse that Jipp engages.

Although I appreciate and find helpful Jipp’s illumination of the concept of kingship in these hymns, what is most noticeably absent for me are the notions of Christ as “humiliated,” “cursed,” or the one who “became sin.” In short, what is missing in Jipp’s construal of Paul’s Christology is a robust notion of the divine exchange that I see as central in texts like 2 Cor 5:21, Gal 3:13, and Rom 8:3–4. In these texts Jesus is decidedly not the “righteous sufferer,” but rather the “cursed one,” who “became sin,” or who came “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Likewise, the logic of each of these texts is that of exchange. In Galatians Christ becomes the “cursed one” so that he might redeem “us” from the curse of the Law. In 2 Cor 5:21 Jesus, who knew no sin “became sin” so that those who are “in him” “might become the righteousness of God.” In Rom 8:3–4 Jesus came in the “likeness of sinful flesh for sin” and in doing so he condemned “sin in the flesh,” yet the righteous requirement of the law is not met “in him,” but rather “in us” (Rom 8:4). In these texts, Christ is portrayed not as “innocent victim,” or “righteous sufferer,” but as the embodiment of “sin” who takes the wrath of God upon himself. If he is only the righteous sufferer, as Jipp seems to claim in his chapter on righteousness,1. why should his death vindicate all of humanity? In my view, these texts speak to Christ’s dual vocation as the “righteous one” who is simultaneously the one “cursed by God.” One might also point to Christ as the “hilasterion” in Romans 3 who is not Jipp’s “righteous sufferer,” but rather is the sacrifice outlined in Leviticus 16 who bears the sin of the people and delivers them from God’s wrath. The “realness” of Christ’s assumption of our sin is imperative for the diversion of God’s wrath in Galatians, Romans, and 2 Corinthians. If Christ does not really trade places with us; if Christ does not really become “the sinner,” then what hope have we of deliverance from sin? So I must ask here, does this notion of Christ becoming “sin” or becoming “a curse” fit within the framework of Pauline kingship as Jipp has outlined it? Perhaps this is where he might spend a bit more time examining Paul’s reworking of Jesus as the “cursed king” or the “humiliated king” or the “sacrificed king.”

I found his fourth chapter, “Sharing in the Rule of Christ,” novel, and in many ways compelling, as much of my own research has been focused on the adoption metaphor in Romans 8. In this chapter, Jipp’s desire is to show that Paul’s intention was to persuade his churches that they themselves participate in the reign and rule of Christ by creating “a discourse that makes the closest possible connection between king and subjects” (140). He does so by demonstrating that Paul’s argument is dependent upon “Israelite royal ideology,” which according to Jipp sets forth a Davidic king who shares both in God’s divine kingship and also represents the people of Israel (187). Thus Paul, drawing on this “Israelite royal ideology,” and incorporating other themes prevalent in royal discourse such as “election,” “sonship,” “firstborn,” and “image” indicates not only that Christ is a sovereign ruler, but that his subjects participate in this rule. One minor point I want to make is that it might have strengthened Jipp’s argument in his chapter if he had connected the “adoption” of believers to “adoption” in Roman discourse, since the adoptions of Roman emperors were broadcast widely through inscriptions and coins.2 However, my primary concern with this chapter stems from largely the same questions I raised above, which is that Jipp’s picture of sharing in the kingship is just a bit too triumphant for me, and doesn’t quite address what it might mean to share in the kingship of the “Ideal King” who for Paul is also the “Humiliated King” and the “Cursed King.” Jipp mentions that Christians “share in the sufferings (8:17–18) and creational bondage (8:20–23), that mark Adam’s dominion” (195), but he quickly moves to the resurrected Messiah who has lordship over suffering (197). In my view, Jipp’s brief treatment of this material risks minimizing the severity of the suffering in this passage, and also risks smoothing over the centrality of suffering to Christ’s own kingship, and by extension, what it means for Paul’s audience to share in that kingship. In Romans 8, Paul’s audience members are called “sons” and will be glorified with Christ if they also share in his sufferings (8:17).3 Elsewhere in Romans Paul encourages the believers to glory in their sufferings (Rom 5:3), which is connected to their justification in Christ through whom they have peace with God. In short, suffering is central to what it means for Paul’s audience to share in the kingship of Christ. In his treatment of Christ as the embodiment of the royal law, Jipp rightly connects justification and peace with Christ’s kingship, (80–81) but I think he would do well to connect suffering to Christ’s kingship in a more meaningful way in his exegesis of Romans, Philippians, and indeed many other Pauline passages could be added here (e.g., 2 Cor 1–2; Gal 3:4; 1 Thess 3).

In sum, I would reiterate that I think Jipp’s study is an important contribution to Pauline scholarship, and I appreciate the depth of his comparative analysis between Paul’s letters and other ancient sources. I think that Jipp has definitively shown that Paul’s Christology must necessarily be understood in terms of kinship, and yet I wonder how Paul’s exposition of “kingship” alters and subverts the category. My final observation of this project is that, since at its outset, Jipp indicated that he wanted to show how Paul reworked the topoi of ancient kingship discourses to reframe kingship for his own audiences, I have to wonder if another form of analysis might have given him useful tools to better articulate this reworking. In large part, my own research has focused on how metaphors work to create meaning and identity for their audiences, and while I concur with Jipp that “kingship” as a background is important to Paul, I think more attention could be paid to how Paul is blending the kingship metaphors with other images and texts to create his own figuration of kingship. For Paul, it is the “suffering king” who is the “ideal king.” In his letters, Paul fuses the “righteous one” of Habakkuk with the “suffering servant” of Isaiah, and overlays both with the language of sacrifice drawn from Leviticus 16. The result is a complex and compound figuration of Christ’s kingship, which is unique and without parallel in the kingship discourses Jipp includes in his analysis. It is with this complex and compound figuration of Christ’s kingship that his followers must come to terms.

  1. See especially Jipp’s discussion of the “good king” as the “righteous one” (245–71)

  2. See especially Christopher Howgego, Ancient History from Coins (London: Routledge, 1995), 80–82; Michael Peppard, The Son of God: Divine Sonship in Its Social and Political Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 69; Lily Ross Taylor, The Divinity of the Roman Emperor (Philadelphia: Porcupine, 1975), 106, 131; Robert Brian Lewis, Paul’s “Spirit of Adoption” in Its Roman Imperial Context, Library of New Testament Studies 545 (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), chs. 3–4.

  3. I note here that Jipp mentions this passage, but he does not discuss it in detail.

  • Joshua Jipp

    Joshua Jipp


    Response to Heim

    I am pleased that Erin Heim voices strong agreement with the central claim of my book, namely, that kingship is central to Paul’s Christology. Yet Heim claims that while “Jipp has definitively shown that Paul’s Christology must necessarily be understood in terms of kingship, . . . I wonder how Paul’s exposition of ‘kingship’ alters and subverts the category.” I understand Heim to be voicing at least two concerns here, the first formal and the second material. First, does my commitment to the historical-critical method result in an analysis of Paul that overemphasizes similarity between Paul’s kingship discourse and that of his broader ancient Mediterranean world? More specifically, might the results of my study have looked different and, perhaps, more radical and innovative if I had paid more attention to how Paul transforms kingship language through his blending it together with other metaphors? Readers of my exchange with Joel Willitts may enjoy the irony here, as Willitts was concerned precisely with the opposite, namely, that I had given Paul too much agency in working with and reshaping kingship language. Heim has a second concern here, namely, whether my approach results in a portrait of Christ as king that overemphasizes the triumphant enthroned rule of the Messiah and fails to give enough attention to Paul’s depiction of Christ as a humiliated, cursed king.

    I have little with which to disagree from Heim’s response. In fact, I fully agree with her that it would be of great interest to see how Paul blends kingship metaphors with other conceptual fields of discourse and that Paul’s conceptual blending might be where some of Paul’s real genius lies. Vernon Robbins has argued that the early Christians’ combination of metaphors “produced a continually increasing combination of cognitions, reasonings, picturings, and argumentations. This interactive process continued in Christian discourse throughout the centuries, and it continues in our present day.”1 The early Christians’ creativity was on profound display in their surprising combinations of cultural scripts and metaphors which gave rise to innovative discourses. Thus, I agree with Heim here, and I think it would be worthy of further examination to ask whether, for example, Paul has combined wisdom metaphors with kingship language in Col 1:15–20. How does Paul blend adoption imagery with kingship discourse in Romans 8? Priestly imagery with messianic language in Romans 15? Domestic and household metaphors with kingship discourse in Ephesians and Colossians? And if he has blended these metaphors, why has he done so? What is their rhetorical function or goal for his communities?

    That said, when I was writing Christ Is King I did not think that I could assume what Heim supposes I have shown in this book, namely, that kingship is a crucial category for understanding Paul’s most important christological statements. In many ways, as I discuss in my first chapter, the history of scholarship on Paul has not seen kingship discourse or Jewish messianism to provide an important context for Paul’s language (despite a few notable exceptions, Matt Novenson, N. T. Wright, Julien Smith, and William Horbury). In other words, before one can engage in an analysis of how Paul blends “kingship metaphors with other images and texts to create his own figuration of kingship” (Heim), one must first be able to recognize that the metaphor of kingship is actually present in the text in the first place. And to do this requires, in my view, traditional methods of historical critical analysis.

    Thus, for this work to be truly convincing, I think one must first engage in something akin to historical critical examination or what Heim refers to (perhaps pejoratively?) as “lexical and conceptual borrowing.” She seems to think that the depiction of Christ as a humiliated, cursed, and sacrificed king is unique, without parallel, and perhaps stretches the kingship metaphor to a breaking point. Yet, I would argue that while Paul’s portrait of Christ as a humiliated slave who embodies sin and the curse in his crucified body is unique, it is still recognizably messianic/royal discourse. A ruler who protects his people and sacrifices for them even at great cost to himself is exactly what a good king or ruler does. It is, in fact, common to speak of king’s loving their subjects and subjects responding to their king’s gifts and blessings with love as well (e.g., Rom 8:31–39; 2 Cor 5:14–15).2 Thus, Paul portrays Christ like a good ruler who refuses to grasp after divine honors as do honor and power hungry tyrants (Phil 2:6–8; pp. 127–35); he draws upon Davidic royal psalms to make sense of the Messiah who suffers insults and curses on the cross (Rom 15:1–3; cf. Ps 68:10 LXX; pp. 70–75); he pacifies his cosmic and earthly enemies and reconciles his people to himself (Col 1:20; pp. 122–27); as a good ruler he takes on and destroys sin and death in his own body and thereby liberates humanity from his enemies (Rom 8:3–4; pp. 182–86). To speak of a royal figure who liberates, delivers, and saves his people from their enemies and thereby grants them the gifts of salvation, peace, life, and righteousness is, of course, to speak of a royal benefactor.3 In other words, before one engages in conceptual blending, I suggest one must first be able to recognize what kind of language this is. Only then does it make good sense to start asking questions about how the blending of this metaphor with another, or how the unique events of Jesus’ sufferings and crucifixion, produced some profoundly creative and new formulations of discourses, metaphors, and phrases.

    More examples could be provided. But here I simply want to commend Heim’s call for this kind of analysis that focuses on conceptual blending, and as one whose research interests have led her to focus on the meaning and function of metaphors, I would be both excited and pleased if she and/or others engaged in exactly the kinds of analysis she calls for. And I have no doubt that this kind of study could further refine and add clarity to my own work on Paul.


    1. Vernon K. Robbins, “Conceptual Blending and Early Christian Imagination,” 11 (unpublished paper).

    2. On which, see Jon D. Levenson, The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 1–58.

    3. See here especially Donald Dale Walker, Paul’s Offer of Leniency (2 Cor 10:1): Populist Ideology and Rhetoric in a Pauline Letter Fragment, WUNT 2.152 (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2002), 150–51.

Janelle Peters


Paul the Apostle

Joshua Jipp is not the first to tackle the royal ideology of Pauline letters. Though Ephesians may not be authored by Paul, it is universally thought to be influenced by Paulinism and relatively early. Julien Smith’s dissertation at Baylor produced the 2011 WUNT entry Christ the Ideal King: Cultural Context, Rhetorical Strategy, and the Power of Divine Monarchy in Ephesians. Jipp uses the categories in Smith’s book to look both at letters agreed to be written by Paul and the overlapping letters of Ephesians and Colossians. By showing a common thread of royal ideology across these Pauline letters, Jipp claims to demonstrate a means by which early Christian theology could have developed the Christology of the gospels so quickly (with its Jesus who is not only aware of his own divine identity but the cosmic schema of time and his “Hour” in it). As Jipp has it, Greek audiences would have been well-acquainted with divine kingship tropes and would have easily applied them to Jesus.1

It would seem as though the point of a forum of reviews to which the author might respond is to give the author space to elaborate on points the editors at Fortress would not allow him. Accordingly, I will focus my remarks on Paul’s own conception of his apostleship and the inheritance in which his communities share.

In exegeting Romans, Jipp argues that it “seems likely that Paul views his apostolic task as securing the inheritance of God’s Son through his apostolic ministry.” Romans envisions the resurrected and enthroned Lord above all nations, and Paul anticipates being the executor of the inheritance of God’s Christ (Rom 1:4–6). This point could be extended and connected to other letters. Paul’s humble administrative function occurs elsewhere in Paul, as has been discussed by Aletti, myself, and others.2

Likewise, Jipp’s point about Christ as a living law could be developed further. Jipp notes this is a summary of Leviticus both in Paul and in the Gospels.3 As a living law, his messianic mission brings believers into obedience to the Torah. Paul’s placement of himself as a mere functionary to the body of Christ is consonant with his implosion of the Roman political theory that the emperor breathed life into the hierarchical body politic he ruled. While Christ is still the head of the body, each believer becomes a child and heir of God and one with the body.

In anticipation of righteousness-language in Romans, Jipp quotes a section of Plutarch on Numa at length. Numa, as those who have taken a class with Hans Dieter Betz will know, was a founder figure on par with Paul. Numa was Rome’s second king, following in the wake of the ascent to heaven of Romulus and his wife to join the council of the gods.4 According to Plutarch, Numa’s righteousness changed the physical and emotional character of the Roman people:

Not only was the Roman people softened and charmed by the righteousness and mildness of their king, but also the cities round about, as if some cooling breeze or salubrious wind were wafted upon them from Rome, began to experience a change of temper, and all of them were filled with longing desire to have good government, to be at peace, to till the earth, to rear their children in quiet, and to worship the gods . . . honor and justice flowed into every heart from Numa’s wisdom. (Num. 20.1–4)

Thus, Numa is not only an example of a good king, but his reign produces somatic effects within his people. Where once they were hard and warlike, the Romans let their muscles relax and their political discussions demonstrate complexity. They display, to borrow from Christian terminology, “the fruits of the Spirit.”

Jipp, who has done the work of providing a succinct rendering of Numa, does not fully connect this with Paul’s royal imagery. There is, of course, no direct borrowing from texts on Numa and those on Christ. However, one may assume that this cultural milieu of kingship and bodies means therefore that it is not surprising that Paul sees Christ working changes in the believer’s bodies. Jipp notes that it is not just the Roman audience of Paul who is exhorted to view itself in terms of being the heirs of God. The Colossians also share “in numerous aspects of Christ’s rule.” (143) The idea that Paul pictures believers as children and heirs of God rather than mere subjects in the body politic is undoubtedly true.

Jipp then wonders how Paul emancipates believers from what can be a body image that reifies the status quo. In Romans, Paul contrasts the reign of Adam and sin with that of Christ and salvation. Believers are freed from the enslavement to sin, permitting them to participate fully in the body of Christ. Paul simply oversees their inheritance.

However, neglected in Jipp’s fine argument is 1 Corinthians 4, where Paul chastises the Corinthians for their adherence to their “many pedagogues” but neglect of “one father.” Paul reminds the Corinthians of his founder status.5 The apostle ranks himself as the last of all apostles, as “one untimely born.” He does not attempt to placate the unruly Corinthians by placing himself as a middle figure in the emperor’s arena. Rather, Paul finds himself squarely in the arena and fears being disqualified. I do not think that the crowns of 1 Corinthians need participate in the royal imagery as I have argued that the crowns evoke different imagery in Paul. While Christ is indeed depicted regally in Paul’s letters, the heavenly politeuma (Phil 3:20) is one which allows Paul and the community to potentially envision themselves outside of the constraints of Hellenistic or Roman kingship and within a semi-autonomous—and potentially democratic—polity.

In sum, though I agree with much of Jipp’s argument on the image of Christ as king and applaud this contribution to Pauline scholarship, I think that there are indeed moments when Paul does not need to be referring to a kingdom. Paul’s politeuma is not a kingdom, and this is precisely the image’s genius.6 Paul may extricate his communities from Rome’s grip without directly confronting the power of Rome itself. I also think that it should be noted Paul’s denigration of his own power is highly paradoxical. While he presents himself as the last of all, in the arena, and living in the bowels of Christ, he also portrays himself as a father and authority figure.

  1. Jipp argues against Richard Bauckham and Larry W. Hurtado, who stress the unique character of Christian belief.

  2. See the discussion in my article “Crowns in 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and 1 Corinthians,” Biblica 96 (2015) 76.

  3. As Jipp says on p. 73, “Furthermore, one cannot avoid the likelihood that Paul is following the example of Jesus himself, who also used Lev 19:18 to summarize the Torah (Matt 22:40; Mark 12:30–31).”

  4. Anne Gosling, “Sending Up the Founder: Ovid and the Apotheosis of Romulus,” Acta Classica 45 (2002) 51–69.

  5. Eva Maria Lassen, “The Use of the Father Image in Imperial Propaganda and 1 Corinthians 4:14–21,” Tyndale Bulletin 42 (1991) 127–36.

  6. The word politeuma can be found in ancient political theory. See Adriel M. Trott, Aristotle on the Nature of Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 163.

  • Joshua Jipp

    Joshua Jipp


    Response to Janelle Peters

    I appreciate that Janelle Peters draws attention to an interesting but underdeveloped theme in Christ Is King, namely, Paul’s conception of his own apostolic task of securing the inheritance of the nations for the enthroned Messiah. In Peters’s reflections upon Paul’s apostolic task, she frequently draws attention to Paul’s metaphor of the assembly as a body, which, of course, has important resonances with ancient political theory and reflection upon the good king. This provides me with an opportunity to reflect upon Paul’s task of creating political messianic communities which share in, and thereby reflect, the particular rule of the Messiah. Here I want to suggest that Paul saw his task as creating messianic communities that embodied the peaceful, hospitable, and cruciform pattern of Christ the King. Similarly, these communities were intended to be places where ethnic strife had been eradicated and hierarchical power subverted. In order to establish this point, I want to take an extended look at one Pauline text and then briefly mention three more.

    In Ephesians, “Paul” conceptualizes the church’s participation in the Messiah’s rule through the imagery of “head” and “body.”1 It is God’s enthronement of his Messiah that results in God “appoint[ing] him [i.e., the Messiah] to be head over all things for the church” (1:22b) and establishes the church as the Messiah’s body (1:23a).2 Those who are united with the Messiah participate in the Messiah’s reconciled, peaceful body politic, a sacred assembly where the Messiah’s peaceful reconciliation, accomplished through his death, has eradicated all ethnic dissension (Eph 2:11–22). Paul engages in ethnic stereotyping as a means of highlighting the state of ethnic discord between Jew and Gentile as he refers to the former animosity between the “Gentiles in the flesh,” namely, “those called the uncircumcision” and “the so-called circumcision in the flesh with human hands” (2:11). The former state of the Gentiles was one of alienation from Israel’s politeia, as excluded outsiders from God’s covenants, and with no knowledge of God (2:12). The messianic king conquers and kills the “hostility” between Jew and Gentile, not through the weapons of political warfare, but by means of his bloody death on the cross (2:13). The Messiah is like a conquering king who eradicates the social enmity: he “destroys . . . the enmity in his flesh” (2:14); “he tears down the law with its decrees and commands” (2:15a); “he reconciles both groups into one body for God through the cross” (2:16a); and “he kills the enmity by [the cross]” (2:16). Paul’s language of the Messiah as “destroying,” “tearing down,” “reconciling,” and “killing” conforms well with depictions of conquering kings who pacify through violence, and yet Paul transforms this trope by declaring that the Messiah has created a new people by absorbing their enmity and hostility in his flesh, that is, through his bloody death on a cross. The result of the Messiah’s death is the accomplishment of peace between Jew and Gentile thereby creating a unified body politic. And his portrait of the Messiah as a peaceful king echoes Isaiah’s own peaceful depiction of the Davidic King and God’s eschatological kingdom (Isa 9:5–6; 52:7; 57:19). The result of the Messiah’s establishment of peace is the eradication of the social “enmity” between Jew and Gentile (2:14b, 16b) and the creation of “one new people” (2:15), that is, a peaceful unified “single body” (2:16). Thus, the defining marker of this new community is no longer ethnic or religious but is rather union with the messianic king.

    In Colossians Paul describes the church as able to share in “the peace of the Messiah” (Col 3:15) given that Christ has reconciled the Colossians by “making peace through the blood of the cross” (1:20). Further, just as Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (1:15a), God is creating a new humanity into the image of Christ—a new humanity that does not exclude or privilege based on ethnicity, ancestral religion, class, or socioeconomic status (3:10–11). Given that Christ is the singular supreme ruler who is “all in all” (3:11b), this may be why Paul describes everyone in the household code as slaves, especially masters “who have a Master in heaven” (4:1). Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul refers to the assembly as “the Messiah’s body” (12:27). But as is well known, Paul uses what is a traditionally hierarchical and conservative metaphor as a means of arguing for greater respect and care to be shown toward the members of the body who are seemingly weak and without honor (12:22–23). And this, of course, leads into Paul’s call to the Corinthian body to love one another and seek the good of others ahead of one’s own (1 Cor 13–14). Given that the highly exalted Christ has received his position of power through humiliation and renunciation of status and rights, Paul expects that the Philippians too will “have the same pattern of thinking” (Phil 2:5) and thereby be able to have communal harmony and agreement (Phil 2:1–4; 4:2–3). I won’t repeat what I wrote in chapter 2 about the law of Christ, but suffice it to say that Paul attempts to establish communities of messianic hospitality (Rom 13:8—15:13) and sacrificial burden bearing (Gal 5:14—6:2) through calling his communities to renounce their so-called rights and love one another.

    There is more that could be said, but I trust that I have said enough here to establish my claim that Paul believed that one of his fundamental apostolic tasks was establishing messianic and political communities who implemented the character and rule of their sovereign king. Thus, Paul sought to subvert notions of imperial violence, hierarchical power, and exclusionary practices based on ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. In their place, Paul sets forth the peaceable, hospitable, and cruciform character of their messianic king.


    1. For the sake of this response I’m not interested in matters of authorship. If Ephesians was written by a later Paulinist, it would provide strong evidence for how a very early interpreter understood Paul’s mission and legacy of establishing “Christian” communities.

    2. I have written on this text in much more detail in Joshua W. Jipp, “Sharing in the Heavenly Rule of Christ the King: Paul’s Royal Participatory Soteriology in Ephesians,” in In Christ In Paul: Explorations in Paul’s Theological Vision of Participation, ed. Michael J. Thate et al. (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2014), 251–75.