Kevin Brown launched a discussion across a handful of blogs when he asked whether or not 1 Cor. 8.6 (“…there is but one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through him.”) is an interpretation of the Shema (Deut. 6.4). James McGrath maintained his well-established position that it is not. Daniel Kirk follows suite emphasizing that the Apostle only calls the Father “God”. Joel Watts suggest that an answer may be found in henotheism (i.e. Jesus as a divine figure somehow lower than God the Father). Tom Verenna moves in a similar direction seeing the Apostle as wrestling with his monotheism while not denying the existence and right to worship other powers. I am sure there have been more responses and more that are on the way.
I want to present another reading that just came to mind so I welcome criticisms or further suggestions. What if in the context of this passage (whether or not Paul consciously or unconsciously had the Shema in mind) is meant to present Jesus as the only “idol” of the true God? Paul is telling the Corinthians to avoid things sacrificed to idols and he clarifies his view on idols: they’re nothing really and there are no other gods besides the true God (v. 4). Yes, these so-called “gods” seem to exist and they are recognized (Paul believes in powers and superior beings other than the true God which these idols powerlessly represent). But we only have one God.
Then Jesus is mentioned as Lord. Could Paul be saying that Jesus is the only “idol” we have through which to access God? Even if you take Colossians as Deutero-Pauline it does seem to indicate that in the Pauline tradition it was easy to speak of Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1.15). While I think this has imago Dei, neo-Adam connotations it could very well have “image” = “idol” connotations as well. If Paul wrote Colossians than this could affirm that he was comfortable with such a concept.
Another thing I wondered is how the Apostolic Fathers read this passage. No, they likely would not have spoken of the Shema, but they may provide insight into whether or not the earliest Christians read Paul as saying something about Jesus’ divinity. After searching I could not find any quotation that was from an authentic work. All three quotations come from spurious epistles attributed to Ignatius of Antioch:
(1) In Epistle to the Philippians 1-2 there is Jesus is tucked between the Father and Spirit in both discussions in a sort of Trinitarian formula.
(2) In Epistle to the Tarsians 4 the author speaks of Jesus as “God the Word” before pearl-stringing 1 Cor. 8.6, 1 Tim. 2.5, and Col. 1.16-17 together to support Christ’s identity as Creator.
(3) In Epistle to Antiochins 4 there may be a reference to 1 Cor. 8.6 again tying it will 1 Tim. 2.5 saying, “…those very apostles who said, ‘there is one God’, said also that ‘there is one mediator between God and men.’ Nor were they ashamed of the incarnation and the passion. For what says, ‘The man Christ Jesus, who gave himself’ for the life and salvation of the world.” This author uses this passage as a proof-text for the incarnation.
Apparently some early Christians thought this passage spoke of Jesus’ divinity, but that doesn’t say a lot.
That is all I can contribute to this discussion at this juncture. I’d be interested to hear responses to either (A) my “Jesus as idol” suggestion or (B) these quotations from epistles falsely attributed to Ignatius.
My thinking on this is far from mainstream, but I suspect Paul did not think of Jesus as an idol or as a God, per se, but as a mediator between God and man. I argue this to some great detail in my forthcoming treatment, due out in a collection of essays hopefully before the year is out. But to summarize, I see Paul has viewing Jesus as a revelatory tool which is accessed, through initiation and replication of a mystery tradition, in a manner that might in many ways be represented by the sayings Gospel of Thomas or even the concepts behind Eugostos the Blessed/Pistis Sophia. This is something I will argue more in another publication in the future, after my initial treatment is available.
Richard Bauckham deals with this Scripture in his book, “God Crucified.” – Christology in its Jewish context.
It seems that some of your question will have to be qualified with weather or not you’re reading from a “Confessional” perspective or a “Higher Critical” one.
As for the apostolic fathers, they don’t really “quote” scripture all that often (at least authentic Ignatius and Polycarp do not). There are dozens of allusions, echoes, and any number of subtle appropriations of Paul (and Jesus tradition), but he doesn’t really quote Paul.
However, high Christology is quite evident in Ignatius. In his letter to the (authentic) letter to the Ephesians, you have:
“and of Jesus Christ our God” right at the beginning of the letter. A potentially interesting parallel from Ignatius’ Ephesians 7:2 imitates 1 Cor 8 somewhat:
“This is one physician, of the flesh and of the spirit, begotten and unbegotten, in his human life God, and in death true life … Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1 Corinthians is actually the letter that Ignatius’ alludes to the most, so it’s quite possible that this little passage was inspired by 1 Cor 8:6.
@Tom: It will be interesting to hear how your concept develops once you iron out the details.
@Lemuel: Yes, Bauckham’s view has been mentioned in a couple of the posts to which I linked.
@Bobby: Yes, this can have an impact on one’s interpretation, though I think someone can confessionally support Jesus’ deity while not seeing this passage as saying such a thing (e.g. Daniel’s take).
@Alex: Thanks for the insight. I haven’t done any work in the AF so it was a cursory glance at places where they seem to have quoted the words of 1 Cor. 8.6.
@Brian: I’m not sure I’m convinced of this reading. It’s interesting to see that the LXX version of the shema, in the Greek is “kurios ho theos hemon kurios heis estin.” Paul, in his reformulation of the Shema in this passage, reuses all of the Greek found in the LXX. I think he is deliberately showing that Jesus is somehow within identity of the God Paul has always worshipped. It’s an identity thing, as Bauckham would argue.
Something that is crucial to not be overlooked is the fact that Paul also says “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. ” As Bauckham has extensively shown, almost every second temple Judaic text (with the exception of Christianized ones) refers to God as the one who is the creator of “all” things.
So this passage makes two explicit statements that point to Jewish monotheism through and through. The inclusion of Jesus within the Shema reformulation and the assertion that “all” things are through Jesus.
@Daniel: I don’t think Bauckham’s thesis necessarily contradicts what I proposed here anymore than saying that b/c Jesus is the “image” in Col. 1.15 that this someone removes association with the divine identity. What I said doesn’t depend on Bauckham being correct but neither does it exclude his view if correct. Of course, my view may not be correct and that wouldn’t impact Bauckham in that direction either.
Brian, I agree. I was just taking note of a previous comment to mine 😉 .
@Brian: Sorry, Brian. I actually am in the middle of reading the Fee commentary on Revelation, when it hit me! I didn’t clarify that I disagreed with your interpretation, but that it doesn’t necessarily conflict with Bauckham’s. My mistake!
@Daniel: You rejected my interpretation! Hmm, our friendship is at stake. 😉
@Brian: No! I’ll accept your interpretation, just don’t fire me from Near Emmaus!
Unfortunately, that sounds like common worries amongst clergy in churches.
@Brian & @Daniel: No, the only clergy that ever had friendship at stake were Luther and Zwingli. 😀
@Daniel: True, now I know why people aspire to be denominational officials.
@JohnDave: Or Luther and EVERYBODY! 🙂
@Brian: Yeah, although Zwingli was the first recipient. 🙂 About your idol connection, I don’t think it’s so plausible, given that the term idol throughout the New Testament is given a fairly negative connotation. In a couple of places (like 1 Thessalonians 1), it could be read that Jesus as the true idol is contrasted to false idols, the writers always seem to place Jesus beyond any kind of idol.
@JohnDave: Jesus as idol may be misleading. It may be better to postulate something like Jesus as anti-idol. Idols present these not-God gods and should be avoided. We have one God, the Father, whom we access through the not-idol icon, Jesus.
Great things to ponder! I think the degree of certainty (as to whether or not the shema is found in this passage) has to be, at best, seen as “possibly implied,” but not clearly asserted. With a passage like this short chapter, with its author’s intent so clearly revealed (“Now concerning things sacrificed to idols…”), the implied teachings and truths found in it decrease in certainty the further away they are found from that basic, stated goal of the author–to address the issue of Corinthians who ate meat that they’d purchased from the temple-markets. That being said, wouldn’t it be a bit unusual for Paul to include a NT reiteration of what is arguably THE central statement of Judaism (at least Judaism of Jesus’ day), in such a clandestine, obscure manner? It seems that if his intention was to formally restate the shema for his Gentile and Jewish Christian readers, he would have given it greater emphasis and clarity….
@Brian: I think your reformulation is better, but could you make it slightly less dizzying? 🙂
Threefold formulas seem to have influenced the doctrine of the Trinity, but it isn’t clear that the reverse was always the case. The Apostle’s Creed has as key points belief in one God, the Father, and in Jesus, and in the Spirit. I wonder whether some of the early threefold formulas reflect the use of a threefold summary of the faith, rather than belief in a threefold God, as it were.
@Ken: It would seem that something like the Shema would be more clearly articulated, yet that is one of the funny things about Paul, he often assumes the biblical literacy of his audience so that when he comments on Scripture he can merely say something that alludes to something else and he expects his audience to hear the broader message (metalepsis). This may be one of those moments (so argues Bauckham), but it may not.
@JohnDave: I learned from my Barthian friends that if you say something in a complex manner it makes it both true and deep! 🙂
@James: Even at the time of Athanasius of Alexandria and Basil the Great there was caution regarding saying Jesus or the Spirit = God because they feared this would confuse their identity with the Father. So I have no trouble firmly agreeing that at the time of the Apostle’s Creed they will seek to preserve language that presents the Father as God (High God?) with Jesus and Spirit coming from the Father in some sense. Even in the NT where we see Jesus tied into God’s identity (esp. Johannine prologue) there is care to make sure that Jesus and the Father are not convoluted. We do need to be careful not to be anachronistic by saying that someone like Paul would be “Trinitarian”, per se (though it would be a common Christian confession to see him as “proto-Trinitarian).
I am open to hearing what you mean by the triune formula reflecting the community, but that would seem to need clarification. When one is baptized into the “name of the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit” what does this say about the early church from a Matthean angle? It does seem to be saying something about God, but I am not sure what to say when it comes to the early Christian community.
Brian: I don’t see much to commend the idol/image reading especially when 1 Corinthians 8-10 is read in light of Deuteronomy. Paul is obviously arguing against idolatry; you recognize this in your post. But even if we switch out “image” for “idol” I don’t think that tells us what’s going on here. One of the points Paul is making seems to be that God and Christ alone deserve exclusive devotion. Not images, which they have, but the real thing, which we have. That Paul is calling for such exclusive devotion to God and Christ is one of the strongest things in support of Jesus’ inclusion within Paul’s reformulated Shema.
Ken: I think the best we can get is that it’s “definitely” implied. The worst would be a “probably.” I can’t see “possibly” as a legitimate option. The question isn’t whether or not Paul cites the Shema—he clearly does—the question is what is he doing with the Shema. 1 Corinthians 8 marks the beginning of an extended argument spanning three chapters on the issue of idolatry and exclusive devotion to God. Idol meat is just the foil for Paul to speak about this issue. And contextually, Paul echoes Deuteronomy in significant ways, so what he’s doing with the Shema isn’t as obscure as you seem to be suggesting. The Shema is a call to exclusive devotion to YHWH over and against idols. Paul is doing precisely the same thing with regard to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in this section of 1 Corinthians. The emphasis is as great as I can imagine it could be. I also happen to think it’s pretty clear given the great deal of verbal correspondence between Paul in these three chapters and Deuteronomy.
@Nick: Good point (it seems no one likes my idol/image theory), and I think one aspect that I am trying to emphasize (which may not even be there) is that in contrast to the idols which point to gods that are not God when we come to Jesus we do find the one who does point us to the true God. I am sure this general concept is acceptable, but I thought I’d toss out the question as to whether the idols in this passage help us at all. Doesn’t seem likely though.
@Nick: Also, Bauckham has been mentioned. Is there anyone else who argues this position that you would recommend? Has Hurtado covered it?
@Brian: Are you asking about other people who have viewed this as a Pauline reformulation of the Shema?
Brian: I get what you’re saying but let me elaborate on my point just a bit. If Jesus is the true-idol that represents the true God as opposed to the false-idols that represent the false gods, we’re still left with an anemic view of Jesus’ place in this passage. Jesus becomes little more than a go-between, a representative, and while I’m sure that McGrath and Kirk would probably agree with that, I don’t think Paul would, at least not in this section of Scripture. Jesus along with the Father is the recipient of this exclusive devotion. In chapter 10 he’s contrasted with the pagan idols/gods in terms of being the recipient of sacrifice in the cultic meal. He’s not the means to get to the object, but the object itself.
Here’s some recommendations:
James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; 1989), 180; idem. The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 253; Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Ancient Christian Devotion and Early Jewish Monotheism (2nd ed.; London: T&T Clark, 1998), 97; idem. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 114; N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992), 129; idem., The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992), 362; Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, MA: Hendricksen, 2006), 89-94; 502-04; 562-64; Erik Waaler, The Shema and the First Commandment in First Corinthians (WUNT II/253; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008); Paul A. Rainbow, “Monotheism and Christology in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6” (D.Phil. diss., University of Oxford, 1987); Chris Tilling, “Paul’s Divine-Christology: The Relation Between the Risen Lord and Believers in Paul, and the Divine-Christology Debate” (Ph.D. diss., Brunel University, 2009).
@Daniel: Yes, or critiqued the idea.
@Nick: That is an important nuance and I think you are correct to point to the difference. Thanks for this list. It’s amazing!
Do you know if/when Chris is going to publish his dissertation?
Oh, and one more: D. R. de Lacey, “‘One Lord’ in Pauline Christology,” in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology Presented to Donald Guthrie (ed. Harold H. Rowdon; Leicester: InterVarsity, 1982), 191-203.
Fee’s “Pauline Christology” handles it in a robust fashion. As well as him, Hurtado covers it in “Lord Jesus Christ.” I’m pretty sure Wright somewhere discusses it as well.
Look at that, Nick has a full range of publications on it.
Brian: I know that Chris is going to publish and I’ve heard rumors of with whom he’ll be publishing (I’m sworn to secrecy but let’s just say that I’ll be very happy if it’s published with this particular publisher!) but I don’t know when. I pray to God it’s soon. I really need this thing in book form!
@Daniel: I’ve wanted to read Fee’s Pauline Christology. It is on my long list.
@Nick: The sooner the better!
@Nick: You would agree this passage is primarily not about Christology, but Soteriology, right? And that even in the midst of being Soteriological it has many Christological ramifications.
@Brian, I think what a threefold formula said about early Christian communities is that their identity (not necessarily God’s) was characterized by this threefold focus: on the one God, on Jesus through whom salvation was accomplished, and through the Spirit who actualized the experience of salvation.
@James: I don’t know if this is an either-or here (though now we are beginning to talk theologically). If the church came to know God in this three-fold experience (many Christians talk this way, e.g. Father elects, Son redeems, Spirit sanctifies or something like that) then it may be that God was trying to say something about himself, but this moves us beyond the tools of historical research to a discussion on things like revelation.
I wonder if the end of 1 Cor 8:4 relates to the Shema – So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.”.
@Scott: It seems likely, esp. in light of Nick’s above statements that 1 Cor. 8-10 should be read with Deut. in mind.
Daniel: I think the primary focus in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is relationship (someone more Reformed than I might like to say something like covenant; or a New Perspective type might like to talk about the human end of covenant faithfulness, I don’t know…), i.e., the relationship between believers, which is rooted in their relationship with God/Christ. In the midst of all this talk about devotion to God/Christ there’s all types of stuff of soteriological and Christological significance but I think these things are more presuppositional to Paul’s whole argument.
Scott: I’d say so. It’s likely that Paul is quoting the Corinthians on this point. They try to use the Shema to defend their freedom (i.e., they have the ‘knowledge’ that there is only one God so eating idol food is okay since those idol gods have no real existence) but Paul flips it on them by showing them how there’s more to the Shema than God’s uniqueness; there’s a devotional aspect to it, which requires loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, but wrapped up in loving God is faithfulness and obedience to God. Causing fellow believers to stumble is antithetical to loving God—remember, knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1). Sinning against a brother or sister in such a way is akin to sinning against Christ himself (1 Cor. 8:12).
While I don’t agree with all his conclusions, Mogens Muller has an excellent book on Christology via the Copenhagen International Seminar:
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