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 Amazon.co.uk . . .) 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?
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.↩