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Paul’s Divine Christology

Chris Tilling’s important book Paul’s Divine Christology has been published in America by Eerdmans.   I paid nearly $100 for it 2 years ago. Now you can get it on Amazon or through Eerdman’s for $25 or so.  I recommend it highly if you have interest in how early Christians thought about and assessed the significance of Jesus.  Here are excerpts from an earlier post that laid out the thesis of the book.Tilling Eerdmans book

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About 18 months ago I purchased a copy of Chris Tilling’s book Paul’s Divine Christology (WUNT 2.323; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012).  Because I was busy writing and  traveling, I had not had a chance to do anything more than browse it. This summer I’ve had a chance to sit down with mechanical pencil and highlighter in hand.

Chris is part of a new generation of scholars interested in the historical development of early Christianity.  Born in 1975, Chris studied at the University of St. Andrews and completed his PhD at the London School of Theology.  Although I don’t know exactly where he is teaching now, he has served as a tutor in New Testament at St. Mellitus College in London.

Chris Tilling

Chris Tilling

 

I don’t intend to do a full review of the book here but simply to alert you to a book which I—and many others—regard as an important contribution to the field.  I’ll engage him more fully in a new book I’m working on tentatively entitled An Early High Christology: Paul, Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel.  That one, God willing, will be published in 2017.

Paul’s Divine Christology is Tilling’s contribution to a debate which has been going on over the last 30 years regarding whether Paul’s Christology can properly be described as “divine,” in what sense, and how it came to be.  Tilling answers the question in the affirmative: Paul’s Christology is indeed a divine Christology.  Other scholars (Gordon Fee, Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and I) have been arguing a similar point.  Assuming the work of others on this topic (Cullmann, Hengel, and Moule, for example), each of us has offered something unique to the discussion.  Tilling does a good job in setting the table, working through the primary and secondary sources, and offering a new pattern of data which had been noticed (by C. F. D. Moule) but not fully described.

A phrase which carefully summarizes Tilling’s approach is this: “the Christ-relation is Paul’s divine-Christology expressed as relationship” (p. 3). For those who have dabbled in Paul you realize that Christ-relation language is significant so significant that some scholars regard the center of Paul’s theology to be “participation in Christ,” a shorthand way of describing the many ways in which the Christ-believers stand in relationship to and participate in the life of Christ.  Christ’s relation to his people stands in direct continuity with YHWH’s relation to his people Israel.  To put it another way, when Paul speaks about the relation between Christ-believers and the risen Jesus, he used the same language and themes found in second temple Jewish texts to speak of Israel’s relation to YHWH.  Tilling consistently says the data forms a pattern which Paul himself would have recognized.  In Tilling’s own words:

[I]t will be maintained that this pattern of Christ-relation language in Paul is only that which a Jew used to express the relation between Israel/the individual Jew and YHWH.  No other figure of any kind, apart from YHWH, was related to in the same way, with the same pattern of language, not even the various exalted human and angelic intermediary figures in the literature of Second Temple Judaism that occasionally receive worship and are described in very exalted terms. (p. 73, italics original)

In brief, I think Tilling is on to something important which scholars have noticed but frankly  neglected.

I wrote the article “Christology” for Oxford Bibliography On-line.  When I revise the article—which I have been asked to do recently—I will be sure to include Tilling’s book. It is one of the most important books on Paul’s Christology written in the last few decades. If you’re interested in these matters, go out and buy your own copy of Tilling’s book.  If that is not possible, borrow a copy from your local library.  Even if the library does not have it, most will have some sort of interlibrary loan program.

Paul's Divine Christology (Mohr-Siebeck 2012)

Paul’s Divine Christology (Mohr-Siebeck 2012)

English or Biblish?

I remember a conversation I had with a friend years ago.  He was lamenting the fact that modern Bible translations like the New King James Version and the New American Standard Version had dropped words like “Thee,” “Thou,” “Thine,” “art” (as in the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven . . . “) and “hast.”  These words were typical of the 16th and 17th centuries but have long since fallen out of use with most English-speaking people. The only time people may have heard or used them was “in church.”  For my friend, the Bible was not the Bible if it didn’t sound . . . well “Biblish.”    kjv_bible

(I’m grateful to Mark Strauss and Gordon Fee for bringing this word to my attention in their excellent book, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007]).  Modern translations, he felt, had left behind the formal language of heaven (God’s language) preferring instead the mundane language of “this world.” The translation he loved sounded more “spiritual” to him than the newer ones, so he was against them, pure and simple.  Like many people, my friend had a deep emotional connection with the King James Version of the Bible based on all the years he spent in church and Sunday School.

As a seminary graduate and a recently minted PhD in New Testament, I tried to explain to him all the complexities of Bible translation. I talked about translation theory, the ins-and-outs of determining word meaning, the difference between functional and formal equivalence. I defended the need for newer translations.  But it didn’t matter.  His mind was made up.

The basic concern we had as a translation team on The Voice was to render Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic sentences (our source languages) into meaningful, natural English (our target language).  In other words, the goal of any English translation must be English not Biblish.  As Strauss and Fee note: “Biblish results when the translator simply replaces Hebrew or Greek words with English ones, without sufficient concern for natural or idiomatic English” (p. 21).   Translation is not about exchanging this Greek word for that English word or this Hebrew word for that English word.  Translation is not that easy. It involves knowing both the source and target languages well enough to be able to move back-and-forth between them.  It entails an understanding of culture—then and now—and recognizing how language is one of the key vehicles of culture.  Translation, I have come to understand, is not a science; it is an art.

I’m not sure what my friend would think about The Voice. I haven’t seen him in years.  I hope he would have mellowed a bit and would appreciate what we have tried to do.  In the last year I have met a number of people who prefer the KJV but now read regularly from The Voice.  But, if I’m honest, I’d be disappointed to learn that my friend had lost his deep, emotional connection with the KJV.  The KJV is a great, historic translation, even if it is no longer in our language.

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