Paul’s Letters are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus (AD 40 to 65 ). They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus.
According to Bart Ehrman,
“There are seven letters that virtually all scholars agree were written by Paul himself: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. The “undispusted” letters are similar in terms of writing style, vocabulary, and theology. In addition, the issues that they address can plausibly be situated in the early Christian movement of the 40’s and 50’s of the Common Era, when Paul was active as an apostle and missionary”- Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 288.
Richard Bauckham and Paul’s Christology
In his book Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity, Richard Bauckham has asserted that while some Jewish writers in the late Second Temple period did utilize some of the Greek metaphysical language, their understanding of God is not a definition of divine nature- what divinity is- but a notion of the divine identity, characterized primarily in ways other than metaphysical attributes. Bauckham suggests that in studying the relationship between Jewish monotheism and early Christology, it is imperative to understand the religious sects during Second Temple Judaism. The one God of Second Temple Jewish belief was identifiable by His covenant relationship with Israel. Various New Testament scriptures demonstrate that while the early Christians used titles to describe Jesus as God, they also clearly believed Jesus was God as evidenced by assigning attributes to Him which were clearly reserved for God. Moreover, they did so in a distinctly Jewish way that at the same time adhered to the monotheistic tradition of first- century Judaism.
While Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God’s divine identity. The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Is. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2) The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Ps. 97:7; Is. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).
Jesus’ divine identity is affirmed by the fact that He was seen by his followers as having the same attributes as God. Through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus comes to participate as God’s sovereign Ruler over all things (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44;26:64; Acts 2:33-35; 5:31; 7:55-56; 1 Cor.15:27-28; Phil. 2:6-11; Eph. 1:21-22; Heb. 1:3; 1 Pet. 3:22). Jesus is seen as the object of worship (Matt. 14:33; 28: 9,17; Jn. 5:23; 20:28; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8-12). He is also the recipient of praise (Matt. 21:16-16; Eph. 6:19; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rev. 5:8-14) and prayer (Acts 1:24; 7:59-60; 9:10-17,21; 22:16,19;1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor.12:8). Jesus is also the Creator of all things (Heb. 1:2; Jn. 1: 1-3; Col. 1:15-16; 1 Cor. 8:6).
In this article by Bauckham called Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity, he says the following about one of the earliest statements about Paul’s Christology in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6:
“For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
The context of this passage in Paul’s discussion of the issue of eating meat offered to idols and participation in temple banquets supplies its clear monotheistic concern. The issue is the highly traditional Jewish monotheistic one of loyalty to the only true God in a context of pagan polytheistic worship. What Paul does is to maintain the Jewish monotheistic concern in a Christian interpretation for which loyalty to the only true God entails loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first place we should note the statement which Paul takes up in verse 4, in order to explain it in the following verses: ‘we know that there is no idol in the world and that there is no God except one (oujdei;” qeo;” eij mh; ei|”).’ No doubt, the statement comes from the Corinthians’ letter, but they may be citing back to Paul what he himself had taught them, and in any case the statement is a typically Jewish monotheistic one. The designation of other gods as ‘idols’ can, of course, only be Jewish.The statement is reminiscent of the very common Jewish monotheistic formula which claims that there is no other God besides YHWH,39 especially those versions of this formula which give it an explicitly cosmic context, like the ejn kovsmw/ (‘in the world’) of 1 Corinthians 8:4, which Paul echoes in the ei[te ejn oujranw’/ ei[te ejpi; gh’” (‘in heaven or on earth’) of the following verse, and especially also those versions of the formula which link it with an allusion to the Shema‘‘s assertion of the uniqueness of God. For example:
YHWH is God; there is no other besides him…. YHWH is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other (Deut 4:35, 39).
For there is no other besides the Lord, neither in heaven, nor on the earth, nor in the deepest places, nor in the one foundation (2 Enoch 47:3J).
There is an ancient saying about him: ‘He is one…. And there is no other’ (Pseudo-Orphica, lines 9-10, 17).
He is one, and besides him there is no other (Mark 12:32).
This sets the context of strict Jewish monotheistic belief within which Paul works in his discussion with the Corinthians that follows. He fully accepts the statement in verse 4 (though not, as becomes clear, the implications for behaviour which the Corinthians draw from it). But he goes on to give in verse 6 a fuller monotheistic formulation, which is remarkable in that, while it follows the structure of Jewish monotheistic assertions, it also incorporates Jesus Christ into the unique divine identity. This is probably Paul’s most explicit formulation of what we have called christological monotheism. That Paul has here produced a Christian version of the Shema‘ has now rightly been recognized quite widely,41 but the fully decisive way in which he has here included Jesus in the Jewish definition of the unique identity of the one God can be appreciated only in the light of the account of Jewish monotheism that we offered in the first section of this paper. In verse 5 Paul acknowledges the context of pagan polytheism against which the Jewish monotheism he continues to maintain is polemically opposed. His point is not to affirm the existence of many gods and many lords, and certainly not to affirm their existence as gods and lords, but to introduce the contrast between the allegiance of pagans to the many whom they call gods and lords and the exclusive, monotheistic loyalty of Christians, which is specified in verse 6 (‘but for us…’). He is, in fact, shifting the emphasis from the mere existence or otherwise of gods (which the Corinthians’ use of the statement quoted in verse 4 stressed) to the question of allegiance, devotion and worship. There is nothing alien to Jewish monotheism in this shift. The monotheism expressed in the Shema‘ is precisely a matter not merely of believing that only one God exists, but of according this God (‘YHWH our God’) the exclusive and whole-hearted devotion that his uniqueness requires. Hence it is entirely appropriate that it should be by means of a version of the Shema‘ that Paul in verse 6 formulates Christian monotheism. However, verse 5 prepares for this version of the Shema‘ also in another way. When Paul moves in this verse from calling the pagan deities ‘gods’ to calling them not only ‘gods’ but also ‘lords’ (kuvrioi), he introduces a term which was in fact used in many pagan cults, but he introduces it in order to provide a more complete contrast to the version of the Shema‘ which is to come in verse Whereas pagans profess allegiance to many gods.