(10-minute read). 

In this study of Paul’s Christology, I will research the essential Christological idea that Paul was affirming from the earliest Christian community. The foundational text for my study will be from Paul’s letter to the Philippians in chapter 2 verse 5-11(Bowman and Komoszewski 2007:166-167). I will show that Paul is quoting an early doxological hymn affirming a high Christological view of the pre-existing incarnate Lord of all Jesus Christ that was worshiped as God, and seen as ultimately exalted to the very throne of the Father. I believe that the Carmen Christi shows that Paul was clearly incorporating already established ideas about Christ when writing to the earliest Christian communities (Martin 1964:31).

I will also look at the understanding of the New Testament Scriptures and incorporate the earliest witness that would affirm Paul’s Christology as received from the earliest Christian community. In the second section, I will investigate three aspects that have been under scholarly scrutiny the last few years that tried to downplay Paul’s understanding about Christ’s pre-existence, as well as him being the recipient of worship in His incarnate state and His perceived ascension and exaltation to the place of Yahweh (Hagner 2012:397). I feel it is essential to my overall search for a true interpretation of the text as well as the identity of Jesus Christ to investigate claims made against the Carmen Christi (De Silva 2004:660). Some scholars have endeavored to give alternative explanations for these three tenets in Scripture. Dr. Bart D. Ehrman casts incredible doubts as to the actual pre-existence of Jesus Christ and tries to assimilate a pre-existence that seems to be ‘notional’ only in the mind of God. Jesus was therefore not in any way actually ‘pre-existing’, but rather pre-existed in the mind of God.

As a result, Ehrman laments on the back cover of his book ‘How did Jesus become God’ that the very heart of the Christian faith speculates that Jesus was and is God, but that his original disciples nowhere believed this during His lifetime, neither did they proclaim or attribute to Christ anything that would hint that it was indeed so (Ehrman 2014:2). I will also investigate James D.G. Dunn’s assertion that Christ did not receive the same quality of Worship that is only given to the One God. Dunn also shows that other creatures received forms of worship that are not in violation of the worship of God and therefore Jesus being worshipped attributes to Him no ontological status as the One true God (Dunn 2010:28). Lastly, I want to look at Geza Vermes’ speculation that the Carmen Christi was an interpolation that was inserted late into the text (Vermes 200:86). He then tries to show that Jesus was ontologically inferior to the Father and could therefore not have been seen as God (Vermes 200:88). I undertake to illustrate that Paul is “Christ-centered” in his understanding of salvation, eschatology, God’s identity, history, and his future expectation, and this is due to the early or primitive Christological influence from the first Christian community.

Paul’s use of the Carmen Christi (Philippians. 2:5-11).
Paul’s use of various strophic arrangements in the structure of this portion suggests that: (a) asymmetrical hymn structure is apparent and; (b) the linguistic form and conceptual content of the hymn indicate Paul slightly abbreviating a pre-Pauline text used to emphasize a specific point (Kümmel1975:335). Paul is writing to a Church that is amongst temples of Greek deities such as Zeus, Apollo, Dionysus, and Artemis. This Church, therefore, finds itself coexisting alongside imperial cults and temple religions, having to hold to the centrality and exclusivity of Christ by professing sole eminence to Jesus Christ alone. This obviously brought tension between the Christian community and the world where Paul now tries to encourage them to hold to Christ’s centrality and humility (De Silva 2004:642-643). Paul uses this early hymn as his apotheosis pointing to the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ (Phil.2:6-11). Here is what Paul is saying about Jesus in the full context of the letter:

  • Christ is central in our allegiance to the Father and our community (1:1)
  • Christ is central to our emotional well-being (1:2, 3:1, 4:4)
  • Christ is central in our affections (1:8)
  • Christ is central to us fulfilling God’s righteous prerequisites and the Christian’s salvation (1:11, 3:9, 20-21)
  • Christ is the central consolation in our suffering (1:13, 29)
  • Christ is central to the message we preach (1:14-15, 18)
  • Christ is central to our apologetic (1:15-18)
  • Christ is central to life and death (1:21)
  • Christ is our eternal abode (1:23, 3:14,20)
  • Christ is the central example of the Christian ethic (1:27)
  • Christ is the center of the Christian belief system (1:29)
  • Christ is the Christians central motivation and attitude (2:1, 5)
  • Christ is central to the Christian cognition (2:5)
  • Christ is the central example of humility (2:7-8)
  • Christ is our supreme example of Divinity (2:9)
  • Christ is the central object of our prayer and worship (2:11)
  • Christ is central to our confession (2:16, 3:3)
  • Christ is central to the Christian vocation and interests (2:21;28-30)
  • Christ is central to the Christians being (3:7)
  • Christ is central to the Christians knowledge (3:8)
  • Christ is central to the Christians total inheritance (3:8)
  • Christ is central to the Christians preservation (3:12)
  • Christ is central to the Christians Eschatological expectation and fulfillment (3:21)
  • Christ is central to the Christian’s proximity to reality (4:5)
  • Christ is essential to the Christian’s potency and vigor (4:13)
  • Christ is central to the Christian’s economic stance and well-being in this world (4:19)
  • Christ is the elemental quality in Christian hospitality (4:21)
  • Christ is the central contributor of grace (4:21-23)
  • Christ is the potency of the Christian’s spiritual condition (4:23).

It could be affirmed, therefore, that Paul wrote the ‘Carmen Christi’ with an early creedal understanding of who Jesus evidently was in the early Christian community.

Contemporary Scholarship on Paul’s use of the Carmen Christi.
New Testament scholar W. G. Kummel affirms that Paul incorporated early shaped elements from the primitive traditions evident in the Church in selected parts of his letters (e.g. 1Cor.15:3-5; Rom.1:3-4; Phill.2:6-11; Col.1:15-20) (Kümmel 1975:249). Another scholar, David A. De Silva, mentions that this pre-Pauline hymn describes Paul’s message and goals he would like to instill and solidify within the Philippian community. Paul aims to affirm the personality, centrality, and morality of Christ as central elements in the community (De Silva 2004:660). Paul’s use of this Hymn expressed his full agreement with its affirmations revealing a three-stage Christology of (1) pre-existence, (2) incarnation, and (3) exaltation (Hagner 2012:397). H.C.Hewlett comments that the apostle mentions the most supreme example of Christ’s mind, looking to the interest of others, by humbling Himself even to the point of death. He also shows that this hymn may outline three aspects of Christ’s career: (1) pre-existence, (2) life on earth and; (3) subsequent exaltation. The second and third phases of the hymn seem to reflect on the fourth Isaianic Servant Song (Isa.52:13-53:12) (Bruce 2008:1455). Dr. James White also verifies Paul’s use of the Carmen Christi presents Jesus as having existed in the very form of God, having eternally possessed equality with the Father. As a result of Christ’s great love for us, He voluntarily laid aside those privileges so He could give His life as a ransom for our sins (White 1998:127).

Gordon Fee does not deny the poetic form of this passage in Philippians but mentions it is rather better suited as “exalted Pauline prose”. He points further that the absolute centrality of Paul’s message was Christ and his writings put forth a very ‘high’ Christological picture of Christ (Fee 2007:370-371). Martin Hengel affirms what Fee indicates by showing that the very use of this passage as a hymn celebrates the saving death and exaltation of Jesus Christ and thereby affirms a very high Christology (Hengel 1983:92). Another contemporary scholar Ralph P. Martin mentions that the prayers and praises used in Pauline Christology evident in the Carmen Christi, explicitly endow Jesus with praise which belongs properly to God Himself (Martin 1964:31).

Professor Larry Hurtado affirms that Paul expected his readers to recognize and affirm what they already knew, that Jesus was both exalted and pre-existent. This ultimately leads to the conclusion that Jesus was affirmed to be pre-eminent over all (omnipotent) as well as eternally self-existing (omnipresent) in the Christian community (Hurtado 2005:87). The Carmen Christi is therefore devoted to celebrating the work and significance of Christ exhibiting the earliest observable stages of enthusiastic Christian reflection. This is evidently done in the earliest Christian community by singing hymns in Christ’s honor (Hurtado 1998:101-102).

Noteworthy strengths of Paul’s Theological message as it relates to the primitive Christology in Philippians 2:5-11.
In the previous section, we see various scholars affirming that in this Christ-hymn Jesus is exalted and praised with a Worship which belongs only to God Himself (Martin 1964:31). This indicates that Paul, as well as his predecessors, placed Christ in the center of their worship as the ‘One God’. In this confession and cultus of Jesus as the exalted Lord and Christ, we find the foundational elements of all later Christology (Hunter 1961:82). Paul, therefore, emphasizes the saving death and the exaltation of Christ to the divine throne receiving the worship due to the One God of Israel affirming the eschatological hope of Israel (Hengel 1983:92). In this Paul shows the absolute centrality of Christ in our lives not only as a theological deliberation but as a central truth that is found throughout Paul’s writings in a variety of ways (Fee 2007:370-371).

When we look at the Carmen Christi I think it reveals three very important aspects of the earliest Christian community that led them to believe Jesus was God. First, we identify that the earliest extant documents in the New Testament affirms that Jesus pre-existed and secondly the community emphatically declared the fulfilled expectation of God becoming a man. Lastly, we also recognize that the earliest Christian community saw Jesus as enthroned as Lord overall. I will unpack this in detail beneath under three titles of Christ being: Pre-existing, Incarnate and enthroned (Hagner 2012:397).

Christ as Pre-existing (2:6-7).
Two of the most profound references appear in the prison epistles of Paul found in the Carmen Christi (Phil.2:5-11) as well as in the book of Colossians (1:15-20). My central claim is that Scripture shows Christ existed in a previous divine state, coming to earth by total self–renunciation to save the lost dying for them and returning to His previous place of glory (Mic.5:2, Joh.1:1, 8:58, 17:5; 24, Col.1:15; 17, Heb.1:11-12, 7:3, 1 Joh.1:1-2, Rev.22:13) (Andrews 1949:154). Scripture clearly shows that the existence of the Son was literal and not notional. Jesus refers to Himself as descending wilfully from a previous place of residence (Joh.3:13, 6:33; 38). ‘Ideas’ do not express willful decisions or occupy the previously held residence. Jesus even says he is from ‘above’ and not ‘of this world’ (Joh.8:23). He also refers to the religious Jews as ‘from below’ and ‘of this world’ (v/23). Jesus again depicts a personal inhabited place of residence just as the Jews are the residence of this earth. The difference is that Christ shows He occupies a previous place as a personal entity with His own will and consciousness (v/21-23). Jesus affirms this by referring to a previously commissioned state before His incarnation where He heard the One who sends Him (v/26, 28, 42). Even more convincing is Christ saying He is speaking about what he has seen ‘in the presence of the Father’ (v/38). We can therefore clearly note that Jesus is mentioning a previous present state of consciousness with the Father.

Further, Jesus replies to the Jews that He is ‘before Abraham’ (v/58) which insists that He Identifies Himself as the ‘existing One’ of the Old Testament (Ex.3:14, Isa.43:10). Paul explicitly mentions that Christ pre-existed ‘with’ the Father in eternity past (Col.1:15-20, Phil.2:5-11). In his letter to the Colossian Church, he emphasizes that Christ ‘created everything’ (v/16) and that Christ ‘were before all things’ (v/17). If Christ created all things as Paul mentioned, then Jesus was clearly ascribed to share the identity of the one true creator God (Gen.1:1, 26-27, Neh.9:6, Isa.44:24, 45:12) (Bauckham 2008:183). In his letter to the Philippians, he highlights a pre-existing Christ (Phil.2:6-7) ‘taking on the likeness of a man’. Here we see a willful ‘consideration’ on Jesus’s part, ‘existing’ before the actual incarnation, ‘assuming’ a form of flesh, and ‘taking’ on a likeness of man. We can, therefore, note that as a collective whole the scriptures indicate personal, and not ideal, pre-existence of Christ (Andrews 1949:154).

Christ Incarnate Worshipped (2:6-8).
The very first promise in the Old Testament is the promise of the ‘seed’ that will come and crush the head of the evil one (Gen.3:15) and the sign of the ‘Son’ being ‘Immanuel’ which means “God is with us” (Isai.7:14, 9:6-7). Old Testament allusions constant refer to the promises God extends to His people, promising them that He will come to dwell on the earth (Hab. 3:2-5,  Mic. 1:3, Ps. 50:1-14, Zech. 2:11, ) and bring salvation (Isai.49, 53:1-6, 10-12, 61:1-3). When we look at the life of Christ, He is the exact fulfillment of these realities. Christ is the promised seed that would crush the head of Satan (Luk.1:26-35, Rom.16:20, Rev.12:9-10) and dwell as Immanuel ‘with us’ (Matt. 1:22-23, Luk.1:26-31, Joh.1:1, 14). We see Christ walk the face of the earth as the fulfilled expectation of God being with His people (Joh.1:14) worthy to receive worship (Joh.20:21, Rev.4-5). In fact, John the Baptist herald’s the coming of the ‘One’ who is Yahweh who He is not even worthy to tie His shoelaces (Isa. 40:3, 5, 8-10, Mark.1:1-7, cf. Ex. 23:20, Mal.3:1). John also avows that this is the very ‘lamb of God’ that will pay for the sins of the World (Matt.20:28, Mark.10:45, Joh.1:29; 3:16-18, Rom.5:9).

When Paul uses the Carmen Christi he affirms this expectation that the earliest Jewish community professed to be fulfilled amongst them. Paul shows Christ, in a pre-existing form of God, to be the promised Messiah ‘assuming the form of a slave’ and ‘coming as a man’ (Phil.2:7) but ultimately exalted and worshipped (v/9-11). Paul then writes of the ‘humiliation’ of Christ becoming man and also the ‘humiliation’ of Christ becoming ‘obedient to the point of death’ and even ‘death on a cross’ (v/8) for the very purpose of Salvation (v/9). Paul makes it clear that the very plan of the Father was to save us through the incarnation, work, and person of Jesus Christ (Eph.1:7-10, 2 Cor.5:19-21). The Ultimate expression of exaltation would then be the Worship of Jesus as the One Lord and God (Heb. 1:6, 10, 12; Rev.4-5, 21).

Christ Exalted (2:9-11).
Paul shows us the effect of Christ’s death and obedience on the Cross and the result of the perfect sacrifice that was given. I have already explained above that it is essential to understand that Paul and the New Testament authors emphasize the previously exalted state of Christ as well as the very nature of Christ. Paul’s Christology expressed in the Carmen Christi is therefore concerned with the person as well as the work of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter also mentions in the sequence of Christ’s enthronement Christ: ‘preached to the spirits in prison’ (descended), ‘saves you by the resurrection of Christ’ (Exalted Victor), ‘gone into heaven’ (Risen Lord), and ‘is at the right hand of God’ (ascended and session) (1 Pet.3:18-22). When Paul looks at Christ being enthroned he focuses on four concepts: Christ descended; Christ as Victor, Christ as the Risen Lord and, Christ’s ascension and session. All four of these concepts belong together as a single unity called exaltation (Oden1989:430).

Christ descended: In the Carmen Christi Paul cleverly uses the words, ‘humbled’ (v/8), and ‘emptied’ (v/7). Paul clearly assumes a state of exaltation from was Christ descended, and now placed Himself in creation as a vulnerable baby (John 1:14, Heb.2:9, Matt.1:22-24) as well as into the nether world to declare His victory over hell and death (1 Pet.3:19, 4:6). Christ’s ‘humility’ and ‘self-emptying’ were necessary to fulfill the requirements of the law, for redemption, for our adoption and for restoring us relationally to the Father (Gal.4:4-7).

Christus Victor: Christ’s exaltation consists in a full resumption of the divine prerogatives and power He constrained during His birth to the Cross. Christ laid aside his role as ‘slave’ and he assumed the role of ascended Son. The Carmen Christi shows Christ victorious over death (v/9) and Christ victorious over every name or all over mankind (v/9).

The Risen Lord: Resurrection without descent, ascent, and intersession would be incomplete in the full cosmic manifestation of Christ (Oden 1989:430). The Word Lord has a variety of uses and not everyone who called Jesus Lord sought to affirm His deity (Bowman and Komoszewski 2007:157). Jesus as Risen Lord though;  affirms he is the Lord of all and exalted, which means He will judge all (Rom.14:10, Rev. 4:2; 5:1; 20:11) and sustaining everything by His word or decree (Heb.1:3).

Ascension and Session: Paul describes God’s superlative exaltation of Christ to reveal God’s divine intention where all creation should reverence Jesus as ‘Kyrios’ (Hurtado 2010:62). The reference to Christ being exalted and the fact that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confesses”; refers to one of the earliest monotheistic affirmations about God. It also confirms a passage in the Old Testament that refers directly to Yahweh in Isaiah 45:23 revealing Christ’s true exalted status (Bowman and Komoszewski 2007:166-167).


A Response to alleged weaknesses of Paul’s Theological message as it relates to primitive Christology.

Bart D. Ehrman’s “exalted Christ” evaluated. (Pre-existed).

When we evaluate Dr. Ehrman’s view on pre-existence as found in the Carmen Christi, he calls for a revision of the very meaning of the word “grasped” [harpagmos]. Ehrman shows that the Greek word “harpagmos” in verse 6 indicates that “something to be grasped after” refers solely to something that was not in possession before. He says that before any Christian can claim that Jesus was in the “form” of God, they need to realize that Paul also showed Jesus did not try to “exploit” or “take advantage” of his equality with the One God of Israel. The question then is what Paul meant when he spoke of “equality with God?”  Ehrman insists that “harpagmos” derived from “harpazo” shows something not previously possessed. How can one, therefore “carry off” [harpassai] the strong man’s property which was not in possession before (Matt.12:29) or even has the “word” snatched away [harpazei] which was sown in the heart (Matt.13:19). Ehrman goes even further and shows that “no one” can be snatched [harpasei] out of God’s hand whom the Father gives to the Son (Joh.10:28) Ehrman notes that nowhere in the Carmen Christi is Jesus explicitly called “God” or pictured as “God Himself”. Jesus is, therefore, inferior to the One God, distinguishable from the One God and ontologically inferior to Him. Christ was therefore not ontologically pre-existent with the Father but awaits the exaltation given by the Father before He becomes the exalted Christ and was not regarded as God by anyone during His earthly lifetime (Ehrman 2014:263).

Prof. Ehrman’s claims evaluated:

Hoover shows that the expression; “grasped after” [harpagmos], belongs to a cluster of idiomatic expressions that does not relate to a literal notion of ‘robbery or violent’ seizure’ (Hoover 1971:95). This means that this is not an expression of ‘seizing that’ which has not been previously owned but rather, not “taking advantage of” that which is in possession of. Gordon Fee shows that Christ was “equal with God” but didn’t “take advantage” of His previous ‘state’, but rather poured Himself out (Fee 2007:381-382). Ehrman’s assumed notion that Jesus was “the Father Himself” is simply fallacious and a straw man argument that is irrelevant to the discussion (Ehrman 2014:263). Ehrman also ignores the overall scope of Scripture that depicts Christ as pre-existing working with the Father in Creation and attributes to Christ titles such as “everlasting Father” or “Father of eternity” (Isa.9:6). Jesus was present “in the beginning” (Joh.1:1), referring to a point in time in eternity past. Christ is also depicted as being present before creation (Col.1:15) as well as before Abraham (Joh.8:58) being present at the very exodus of the Israelites (Jude 4). Jesus also shows His clear heavenly origin that shows emphatically He did pre-exist (Joh.1:15; 18; 30, 3:13; 16, 6:33; 42; 50-51; 58, Eph.1:3-5, 1 Pet.1:18-20). Christians are not confused as to the distinctive “personhood” evident in the Scriptures between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Joh.14-17) or the ontological unity of Son’s essence with the Holy Spirit and the Father, as well as their individual functions with the Trinity (Joh.5:16-30) (Bird 2014:146).

James D.G. Dunn on “the Doxologies of Paul” evaluated. (Incarnation).
Prof. James Dunn indicates that the early Christian community’s ‘language of Worship’ includes various words ascribing Worship to God (Dunn 2010:12-22).  Even though these words were often used in the New Testament doxologies and benedictions; they were never expressively applied to the person of Jesus Christ. He makes a very vague statement and says these words were used, ‘only occasionally’, ‘with some reserve’ or ‘generally no’; when ascribing exclusive worship to Jesus (Dunn 2010:28). Dunn affirms that Carmen Christi involves Christ as the subject but not as an object of adoration. He shows that these hymns are praising God for Christ and mentions that praise being offered to God naturally entails praise to the plenipotentiary himself (Dunn 2010:41). Jesus is, therefore, a semi-divine figure and nothing else functioning in His divinely ordained ministry as God’s agent (Dunn 2010:133). This leaves us with quite a vicarious result because even Dunn admits that Jesus was central to the earliest Christian Worship, petitions in prayer, as well as their future eschatological hope. Dunn insists though that this does not show Christ to be ontological ‘one’ with the Father, rather shows God’s use of ‘agency’ when communicating with the physical realm (Dunn 2010:57). He offers various examples of agency in Second Temple Judaism and explains the exalted place of Christ as normative to the understanding of the Jewish use of intermediaries [Angels, Exalted Humans, Spirit, Wisdom, and Word] without violating the exclusive worship and person of the One God of Israel (Dunn 2010:66-90).

Prof. Dunn’s claims evaluated:

I personally do not find Dunn’s argument convincing for two reasons, first, we see that Jesus sends His angel to the Churches (Rev.22:6, 16) and this angel denies any form of worship rebuking John for attempting to do so (Rev.22:8-9). If Dunn is correct, as God’s agent, the angel would have received worship on God’s behalf and he would have identified himself as ‘God’. Unfortunately, neither is evident in Scripture and we see this angel even denying any form of identity as God but shows he is a fellow ‘slave’ of John (v/9). Agency cannot explain the full range of Christ’s person and function (Joh.1:1-5, 5:16-27) or explain Christ being the recipient of worship (Joh.20:28, Rev.4-5). Dunn, as Dr. Ehrman, seems to assume that Christ and the Father are the same Person (Dunn 2010:67) and agrees that the Angel of Yahweh, and Yahweh, is the same ‘person’ but still distinct. He adds that God communicates through the Angel without being the Angel, so, His transcendence is intact by using an immanent means of communication (Dunn 2010:68). This argument will not work with the full imperative of Paul’s Christology because he shows Christ to be a distinct person from the Father but also of the same nature as the Father (2 Cor.4:6, Rom.15:6, 2 Cor.1:3, Col.1:19, Col.2:9) (Grindheim 2011:220). In the Carmen Christi Paul also shows that the Worship of Yahweh relates directly to the Worship of Christ (Isa.45:23, Phil.2:10).

Geza Vermes’ “the Christ of Paul” evaluated. (Exaltation).
Prof. Geza Vermes specific task is to show that Paul asked the central question on if the Father was in any way equal with the Son. He rightly admits that there are two appearances in the New Testament that hints at this idea when read on a surface level (Vermes 2000:85). He also mentions that the “equality” motif mentioned in verse 5 of the Carmen Christi shows similarities to heretical gnostic speculations of a later period which affirms that this portion was inserted post-Pauline. Vermes assert that the Carmen Christi was an existing liturgical composition that was inserted into the letter of the Philippians but not by Paul himself, but rather by a later editor. He dismisses the ontological unity of the Father and the Son as chronologically incompatible with the earliest strata of Christianity (Vermes 2000:86). Vermes also mentions that in Paul’s prayers and liturgical blessings we can clearly affirm Jesus is ‘distinguished’ from the Father (Rom.8:15, 30; 9:5; 1 Cor.1:4, 14:18, 25; 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14, 8:16, 9:15,11:31, 13:7). Paul’s Jewish mind instinctively distinguishes between the Father and Son as his prayers are directed to the Father through the mediation of Jesus Christ, who is above ordinary mortals, but below the transcendent Father God. Paul explains that as the man is superior to the woman, so Christ is superior to mankind, and God is above Christ (Vermes 2000:88).

Prof. Vermes claims evaluated:

As for the assumed gnostic speculations Vermes accuses the Philippians of, we see clearly that the whole book contradicts seemingly Gnostic tendencies. Paul affirms the goodness and exemplification of our natural bodies in Christ (Phil.1:6, 11, 20-27) but Gnostics abhorred the body. Gnosticism focused on a secret idea of knowledge about Christ, where Paul focuses on Christ as the essence and virtue of Christian understanding (Phil.1:21, 3:7-8). Christ in Gnosticism is a ‘guru’ like figure that speaks in riddles, Christ in the book of Philippians is Lord and life (Phil.1:3, 21) (Marshall 2007:62-64). Vermes also disputes not only the chronology of the book of Philippians but also the essential nature of Christ throughout the New Testament. What we find in the Carmen Christi is Christ exalted (2:9-11) being the ruler of all things and in the Colossian ‘Hymn’ Christ is the Creator God (Col.1:15-20). This leads leading Jesus Scholar Dr Richard Bauckham to affirm that we can observe in a variety of Second temple Jewish literature Christ as being both the sole ruler of all things as well as the sole creator of all things (Bauckham 2008:9). In fact this leads Bauckham to affirm that the earliest Christology was a “high” Christology, and the earliest affirmations of Christ were emphatic that He was One “being” with the Father. Christ’s Divinity is therefore not a Gnostic construction but a Jewish affirmation and the Jewish theological context shows emphatically that the earliest post-Easter beginnings of Christology included Jesus, ‘precisely and unambiguously’, within the unique identity of the one God of Israel. Dr. Bauckham affirms strongly that the earliest Christology was already the highest Christology as even evident in Paul’s use of the Carmen Christi (Bauckham 2008:5).


In my research paper, the central thesis was to show that Paul describes his understanding of primitive Christology to originate with the earliest community of faith which affirmed Jesus as (1) pre-existing, (2) incarnate, and (3) exalted (Hagner 2012:397). I undertook to make it clear that Paul’s Christology found in the Carmen Christi is focussed on both the Work and Person of Jesus Christ.

Christ pre-existing – Prof. Bart Ehrman tried to show Jesus was not elevated to a place that He did not previously occupy nor does the text explicitly identify Jesus as ‘God’ (Ehrman 2014:263). I tried to show that Paul proofs the opposite when we look at the full pericope of Scripture in that Christ emphatically indwelled a pre-existing state where He resided before His incarnation, in communication with the Father, present in time and reality (Joh. 8:26, 28, 42). Christ did not express a ‘notional’ pre-existence but an ‘actual’ existence before even Abraham (Joh.8:58) witnessing the fall of the evil one (Luk.10:18). Paul is drawing on the early Christian community to identify the orthodox idea of Christ existing before time, ‘emptying’ Himself (Phil.2:7) for the very purpose of Salvation (v/8). I then showed that Paul makes it clear that the reason for the incarnation was to make God known in visible form to be the prime example to all mankind (2:6-7). There is again the notion of a pre-existing state of glory that was abdicated for the purpose of becoming a man (v/7-8). As a man under the law, He became our perfect substitute as well as the very object of our worship (Gal.4:4-7, Phil.2:9-11, Heb.1:1-14, Rev.4-5).

Christ Incarnate worshipped – The very purpose for the incarnation was so that Jesus as the perfect man could become the very substitute for our Sins (Heb.2:14-18), but also so that we could have a perfect object of Worship (Joh.1:18). Prof. James Dunn disagreed that Jesus could properly receive the Worship due to the One God of Israel and mentions that  Jesus was a semi-divine figure and nothing more (Dunn 2010:41). What I tried to show is that Jesus receives the very Worship of the One God of Israel from His Disciples (Matt.14:24-33. Joh.20:28), Angels (Ps.96:7, Heb.1:6) and other people (Joh.4:39-42, 9:38). Paul even goes as far to say that everyone will worship Jesus to the Glory of the Father (Phil.2:10-11) and to worship Him if he was just a man would be idolatry, and to withhold worship from Him if He was God would be apostasy (Bowman and Komoszewski 2007:42). Scripture clearly shows that Jesus both occupied the place of God and received the Worship of God Himself (Rev.4-6).

Christ ascended on the throne of God – The third strength I wanted to highlight, was the fact that Paul is showing the descent of Christ ‘from’ a previous place of exalted status (Phil.2:-6-8) humiliating Himself, being exalted back to the place He previously occupied with the Father (v/9-11). Even though Prof. Geza Vermes suggests that the Carmen Christi was post-Pauline and from Gnostic ideas, he, unfortunately, falls short when the New Testament clearly mentions a Christ exalted and Worshiped as God (Vermes 2000:86-88). Paul displays this reality by portraying Christ in four stages of the procession: Christ descended (v/6-7); Christ as Victor (v/8), Christ as the Risen Lord (v/9) and, Christ’s ascension and session (v/10-11). As the Risen Lord Jesus is placed on the very seat that belongs to the One Lord of Israel receiving the Glory and Honour and dominion that belongs to Him alone (Ezek.1:28, Isa.45:23, Joh.17:24, Phil 2:9-11) (Bowman and Komoszewski 2007:166-167).


Rudolph P. Boshoff

Annotated Bibliography: 
Andrews E. 1949. The meaning of Christ for Paul. Parthenon Press. Nashville Tennessee, USA. Andrews’s studies Paul’s Christology of ‘experience’ tries to show Christ’s relation to mankind as well as His relation to God. He also investigates the very origins of Paul’s Christology and asks what the earliest roots could have been.

Bauckham R 2008. God Crucified, God Crucified, Monotheism & Christology in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. The basic thesis of the book is that the very earliest Jewish community saw the Worship of Jesus Christ as compatible to their Worship of the One God of Israel. Bauckham also endeavour to show that Jesus was clearly participating in the divine identity of the One God of Israel.

Bird MF, Evans CA, Gathercole SJ, Hill CE, Tilling C. 2014. How God became Jesus: The real origins of belief in Jesus’ divine nature – a response to Bart Ehrman. Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This book seeks to reply to Dr Bart Ehrman’s book “How Jesus became God: The exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee”. Five different scholars look at the historical, exegetical and theological claims made by Dr Ehrman and give their expert opinion on why his views seem to lack cogency. They also affirm that Jesus was regarded as part of God’s identity in a full sense and not just an invention of the Christian community which developed over time.   creative stuff 020 - Copy

Bowman RM, Komoszewski JE. 2007. Putting Jesus in His place. Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This resource shows from the beginning that Jesus Christ was God and they use five distinct ways to affirm this notion: Christ shares the honours due to God, the attributes of God, the names of God, expresses the deeds of God and, ultimately shares the seat of God’s throne.

Bruce FF. 2008. Zondervan Bible Commentary. One volume Illustrated addition. Zondervan Grand Rapids Michigan.

DeSilva DA 2004. An introduction to the New Testament, Contexts, Methods and Ministry Formation. InterVarsity Press.

Dunn JDG. 2010. Did the first Christians worship Jesus? The New Testament evidence. Westminster John Knox Press. In this book Prof James Dunn looks to investigate the very nature of Worship attributed to Jesus and how the early Christians tried to reconcile Christ’s place with the God of Israel that was worshipped.

Ehrman BD 2014. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. HarperCollins Publisher. Dr Ehrman tries to show that the long held belief of “orthodoxy” that Jesus was God did not originate with the earliest disciples but was rather a progressive idea that only become solidified as a result of later councils and ideas.

Fee GD. 2007. Pauline Christology: An exegetical theological Study. Hendrickson Publisher Inc. This is an exegetical-theological study of Paul’s understanding of who Christ is by reviewing the Pauline Corpus.
Grindheim S. 2001. God’s Equal: What we can know about Jesus’ self-understanding in the Synoptic Gospels. Published by T & T Clarke International. Prof. Sigurd Grindheim shows that Jesus claimed both Equality and ontology with the Father. Even though Jesus was distinct from the Father he appropriates to Himself metaphors exclusive given to Yahweh of Israel which surpasses intermediary beings in Second Temple Judaism.

Hagner DA. 2012. The New Testament: A Historical and theological introduction. Baker Academic Publishers.

Hengel M. 1983. Between Jesus and Paul. Wipf and Stock Publishers. Prof. Martin Hengel shows that a lot more happened between the time of Jesus and Paul then in the subsequent history of the Church in the next seven centuries. The Early Christians were pretty emphatic about the person of Jesus Christ and Paul found within an already existing confessional community affirms what was the earliest strata of believe in that Jesus was God.

Hunter AM. 1961. Paul and his predecessors. The Westminster Press. Prof. Archibald M. Hunter assembles fragments of pre-Pauline Christianity and shows Paul was wholly dependent on a pre-Pauline Christian tradition. He investigates the early Christian Hymns quoted by Paul, the kerygma of the community and the solidification of the earliest Christian text as well as the liturgical formulas and the eschatological hope of Christ’s return.

Hurtado LW. 1998. One God, One Lord: Early Christian devotion and Jewish monotheism. Published by Continuum. London.  In this book Prof Larry Hurtado shows in what way monotheistic Judaism could have been the ‘cradle’ of early Christian belief by investigating divine agency prevalent in early Judaism.

___________ 2005. How on earth did Jesus become a God? William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, U.K. In this book Dr Larry Hurtado investigates the intense early devotion to Jesus which seemed to have emerged with great speed after Christ’s resurrection.

___________ 2010. God in New Testament Theology. Abingdon Press. U.K. In this book Dr Larry Hurtado provides an in-depth historical study of Christ’s place in the religious life, beliefs, and worship in the earliest Christian community.

Hoover.RW. 1971. “The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution”. The Harvard Theological Review Vol. 64, No. 1 (Jan.1971), Pg. 95-119. Prof. Hoover expresses that the word “harpagmos” belongs to a cluster of idiomatic expressions used to does not denote a lack of previous possession as Ehrman suggested.

Kümmel WG.1975. Introduction to the New Testament. SCM Press Ltd. Abingdon Press.

Marshall D. 2007. The Truth about Jesus and the ‘Lost Gospels”. Harvest House Publishers. David Marshall compares the recent ‘Lost Gospels’ with the Bible showing the lack of cogency amongst the books.

Martin RP. 1964. Worship in the Early Church. Printed by Fleming H. Revell Company Westwood NJ. Dr Ralph P. Martin looks at the very nature of worship and liturgy and how that was attributed to Jesus Christ.

Oden TC. 1989. The Word of Life. Systematic Theology Volume 2. Harper San Francisco. Dr. Thomas C. Oden gives a systematic study of the person and work of Jesus Christ as espoused from the earliest resources available by the Church Fathers and New Testament authors.

Vermes G. 2000. The Changing faces of Jesus. Published by the Penguin group, NY. Prof. Geza Vermes looks at the first two millennia of the Christian faith and speculates as to what defined their worship, practice and belief revealing the true person of Christ from John’s Gospel back to the earliest setting of Christ.

White JR.1998. The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the heart of Christian Belief. Bethany House Publishers. Minnesota.