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.

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