Psalms, Philippians 2:6-11, and the Origins of Christology

In: Biblical Interpretation

Abstract

Students of early Christianity recognized long ago that the canonical psalms of the Jewish Bible provided a framework of meaning in which the followers of Jesus could make sense of his crucifixion. This novel hermeneutic is evident in the allusions to the Psalms in the passion narrative of the Gospel according to Mark. It appears also in the Markan Jesus's explanation of the need for the Son of Man to suffer. Most students of the New Testament today understand Philippians 2:6-11 as a pre-Pauline hymn that was composed for early Christian worship. More recent studies suggest that it is exalted prose rather than poetry. The hypothesis of this article is that Paul composed it, either for worship or for the purposes of the argument of his letter to the Philippians. In doing so, he adapted a common social practice of the local culture. The "theologos" was an official in the organized worship of an ancient deity whose duty it was to compose brief speeches, sometimes in prose, sometimes in poetry, in honor of the deity. The organized worship of the emperor included such officials. Paul acted as a "theologos" in writing a brief speech in exalted prose honoring Jesus Christ, whom he had taught the Philippians to honor instead of the emperor.

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