Skip navigation to content

P.M. Casey

ABSTRACT: "MONOTHEISM, WORSHIP AND CHRISTOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE PAULINE CHURCHES"

P. M. Casey

In the Second Temple period, Jews gradually committed themselves to a strict form of monotheism, according to which only the LORD himself was regarded as genuinely God. Moreover, several texts state this in a clear way as being the difference between being Jewish and Gentile. Acccordingly, we must regard Jewish monotheism as a boundary marker of the Jewish community. At the same time, they developed a number of messianic and intermediary figures in many varied ways. There was no bar to the development of these figures other than perceived violation of monotheism, and some of them took over functions of God himself. This is the cultural background against which Paul could develop the figure of Jesus beyond that of existing figures of this kind.

Paul's view of God was basically that of Jewish monotheism, significantly modified by his belief in salvation through Christ, for Gentiles as well as Jews. The worship of God was fundamental to the religious experience of Pauline Christians. Worship of Jesus played a very small role in the development of Christology in the Pauline churches, hardly extending beyond the use of the acclamation "_maranatha_." The religious experience of believers was however crucial, and a major aspect of their experience was that of meetings at which they worshipped God, and the position of Jesus in bringing salvation to Gentiles was quite central. Their experiences included the major and much interpreted ceremonies of baptism and the eucharist, the interpretation of scripture, and the reading of epistles which included vigorous portrayals of the role of Jesus in salvation history (e.g. Phil 2.6-11). The best model for understanding the relationship between these experiences and Christological development is a dialectical one. It was people who already felt that Jesus was a very important figure who began a process of Christological development which caused people to undergo other experiences, and adopt interpretations of their experiences, which raised the Christology higher. In this process, the needs of primarily Gentile churches were responded to. In the Pauline epistles, the result is a serious development of monotheism which goes beyond anything found in non-Christian Judaism, and the raising of Jesus to a position beyond that of any messianic or intermediary figure. At the same time, this was not perceived by Paul or those who heard him to be a breach of Jewish monotheism. Nor have we really reached the historical origins of the worship of Jesus, though some steps in that direction have been taken.


Summary of response by Carey C. Newman:

This response focuses on Casey's treatment of Phil. 2:6-11. He argues that the criteria for describing a passage as a "hymn" (better, a "pre-formed tradition") have never been satisfactorily determined. Yet such criteria do exist and the passage in Philippians 2 conforms to them: (1) there are textual indicators (in this case particularly the use of the relative pronoun _hos_) which mark quoted material; (2) the passage possesses both thematic coherence and textual cohesiveness; and (3) the content of the passage is comparable to other confessional/hymnic fragments in the NT (e.g., Col. 1:15-20; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 1:2b-4; 1 Pet 2:21-25; and, possibly, John 1:1-18). The startling application of Isa 45:23 indicates that Jewish monotheism was now being (re)defined through Jesus.

In fact, Paul uses a full Christology to distinguish between his communities and paganism, on the one hand (1 Cor 2:6-8) and Judaism, on the other (2 Cor 3:15-18; 2 Cor 4:6). Early Christianity become convinced, through the (experience of) resurrection, that Jesus had become Yahweh's equal, this conviction occurred early, and early Christian liturgy was driven by this conviction. (JRD)


(c) 1998
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the authors.

Contact details

St Mary's College
The School of Divinity
University of St Andrews
South Street
St Andrews
Fife KY16 9JU
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 462850
Fax: +44 (0)1334 462852