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TRINJ 32NS (2011) 3-18

THE REGAL STATUS OF CHRIST


IN THE COLOSSIAN "CHRIST-HYMN":
A RE-EVALUATION OF THE INFLUENCE
OF WISDOM TRADITIONS
JOHN ANTHONY DUNNE*
1. INTRODUCTION
The majority of scholarship is in basic agreement that Wisdom
themes pervade the christological "hymn" found in Col 1I15-20.1 As
James D. G. Dunn asserts, "Indeed, few issues in recent NT theology
have commanded such unanimity of agreement as the source of the
language and imagery used in [this passage]...."2 The attempt of this
study is ostensibly engaging in an uphill battle: to reevaluate the
material contained in the "hymn" and to point to the possibility that
the proper emphasis is upon the regal status of Christ. We will begin
by assessing the influence of Wisdom traditions on the background
of the "hymn," and then explore the extent in which regal motifs can
be seen as providing part of the conceptual background.

*John Anthony Dunne will receive an M.A. in Old Testament and Semitics from
Talbot School of Theology in May 2011 and will begin doctoral studies at the
University of St. Andrews in Scotland in the Fall of 2011.
lr
The designation "hymn" will be used throughout the present study without
necessarily implying that the material is pre-Pauline. Further, it is placed in quotations
because even if it is pre-Pauline it is not necessarily an actual hymn, as its genre could
have been merely poetic. See S. E. Fowl, The Story of Christ in the Ethics of Paul: An
Analysis of the Hymnic Material in the Pauline Corpus (JSNTSup 36; Sheffield: Sheffield,
1990), 31-45. As Fowl opines, the position of pre-Pauline authorship tends to assume
that the writing process was spontaneous, yet we have no reason to assume that it
could not have been more reflective or occurring in more than one session. See ibid.,
38. . T. Wright, for one, suggests that Paul could have been the author of the epistle
as well as the "hyrnnic" material ("Poetry and Theology in Colossians 1:15-20," NTS
36/3 [1990]: 464). For the argument that the author of the "hymn" and the document
is the same person, but not Paul, see Vincent A. Pizzuto, A Cosmic Leap of Faith: An
Authorial, Structural, and Theological Investigation of the Cosmic Christology in Col 1:15-20
(Biblical Exegesis & Theology 41; Leuven: Peeters, 2006), Uff.; George H. Van Kooten,
Cosmic Christology in Paul and the Pauline School (WUNT 171; Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck,
2003), 115-21. The present study is not dependent upon any theory of authorship,
although I do assume the letter to be authentically Pauline.
2
James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1998), 269.

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II. WISDOM

TRADITIONS

The issue of detecting Wisdom influence on the ''Christ-hymn/'


and the broader christological formulations of early Christians,
ultimately stems from the Jewish worldview of monotheism. How
did early Christians uphold Christ's divinity within Jewish
categories? It is argued that the traditions regarding Wisdom
allowed for early Christians to affirm Christ's divinity alongside a
strict monotheism, 3 just as Wisdom provided a way for God's
immanence to be expressed alongside his transcendence within
Judaism. 4
This point is allegedly demonstrated through the terminological
and conceptual Links between the "Christ-hymn" and various texts
within the Wisdom traditions. In Wis 7.26 LXX, Wisdom is said to be
the image of God's goodness ( ). Philo Alleg.
1.43 refers to Wisdom as "the beginning (), the image (), and
the sight of God." Similar statements are also made concerning
God's "Word" in Philo, which is often said to be virtually
synonymous with Wisdom. 5 T. J. Sappington suggests that the verbal
parallel of with the " h y m n " is strengthened by the conceptual
parallel regarding revelation. Both Wisdom and Christ are portrayed
as revelatory agents who reveal God. 6 Furthermore, Wisdom's
agency m creation 7 is thought to parallel the idea that all things were
created through Christ.
Despite some of the connections briefly mentioned above, and
the adamancy of some of the proponents of this view, 8 the priority of
Wisdom tradition for understanding the background to Col 1:15-20
is worth reconsidering. It should be noted at the outset that the key
terms of the " h y m n " that allegedly come from Wisdom texts (e.g.,
, , ) had wide circulation in Judaism. S. E. Fowl's
perceptive comments are worth citing here:
Unless one is willing to claim that Paul is consciously relating his
description of Christ to Philo's description of the Logos or Wisdom,
3

Ben Withenngton, Jesus the Sage (Minneapolis Fortress, 1994), 289, James D G
Dunn, Christology in the Making A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine
of the Incarnation (2d ed, Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1996), 167, Wright, Colossians
and Philemon
(TNTC, Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 2007), 69
4
Roy Yates, The Epistle to the Colossians (Epworth Commentaries, London
Epworth, 1993), 18, James D G Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon
(NIGTC, Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1996), 88
5
Chnstopher Beetham, Echoes of Scripture in the Letter of Paul to the Colossians
(Leiden Brill, 2008), 122, Douglas J Moo, The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon
(PNTC, Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 2008), 113 Cf Philo De Conf 97, 147, De Fug 101,
De Som 1 239, 2 45, Spec Leg 1 81, where the Word is also called the "image of God "
See Dunn,
Colossians and Philemon, 98
6
Thomas J Sappington, Revelation and Redemption at Colossae (JSNTSup 53,
Sheffield
Sheffield Academic, 1991), 173
7
For example Prov 8 22, Wis 9 1-2, Tg Neofiti Gen 11, Philo Virtues 62
8
Beetham calls the connection with Wisdom tradition "virtually certain" (Echoes
of Scripture, 130)

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or that Philo's descriptions used vocabulary reserved only for


descriptions of the Logos or Wisdom, such a term such as "Wisdom
9
language" seems misleading.
This critique is certainly helpful to consider. However, some scholars
who emphasize the influence of Wisdom traditions on the "hymn,"
such as C. Stettler, have argued that the connection is not made with
the Wisdom traditions of Hellenistic Judaism, but rather from the
10
OT. Yet the critique is the same: the verbal overlap between the
Colossian " h y m n " and Wisdom traditions, regardless of the source,
should not be pressed strongly if it can be demonstrated that there is
11
"strong material difference" between the sources.
One area of particular dissimilarity arises from one of the key
12
terms of the hymn, . This is especially so because
Wisdom (i.e., "Lady Sophia") is never called , since the
13
term implies firstborn son. W. Michaelis notes that Philo uses
instead of to refer to the Word, 1 4 and G. Fee
observes that although does occur 45 times in Philo, it
always refers to an actual firstborn son or animal. 1 5 In one interesting
instance that creates a problem for the association of Wisdom with
, Philo speaks of Wisdom, not as "firstborn," but as a
mother alongside God who is pictured as father, with the world as
their "only son" {Ehr. 30-31). Although the term is not
used for Wisdom, the sense of "firstborn" that can be attributed to
Wisdom is not a titular sense of primogenitureas we will argue is
the case in regards to Christ in the " h y m n " b u t the sense of being
the first created thing. 1 6 This is something that neither fits the
teaching of the " h y m n " regarding Christ's prexistence before all
things, or the broader confines of Pauline theology.
Furthermore, in regards to this issue of prexistence, a sizeable
distinction emerges between the comparison of Christ, a person, with
^owl, Story of Christ, 120.
10
He states, "Es ist nicht ntig, fr den Hintergrund der ersten Strophe auf
Weisheitsspekulationen eines starker helleniweisheitlichen Aussagen der ersten
Strophe erklren sich aus zentralen (spat-)alttestamentlichen Traditionen heraus"
(Christian Stettler, Der Kolosserhymnus [WUNT 131; Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000],
339).
11
Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (trans. John Richard De
Witt; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 80.
12
Contra Dunn who asserts that the dependence on Wisdom tradition through
this term is "strong" (Dunn, Christology in the Making, 189). Similarly, Stettler states
that the identification of Wisdom and the Messiah is expressed in Col 1:15 through the
title since Wisdom is the "first-fruits of all the works of God" (my
translation)
(see Stettler, Der Kolosserhymnus, 338).
13
Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 2007), 301.
14
Wilhelm Michaelis, "," TDNT 6:875.
15
Fee, Pauline Christology, 320.
16
Cf. Sir 1:4, 9; 24:9. There is some debate regarding p3H in Prov 8:22 MT,
however, the reading in the LXX demonstrates how many interpreters likely
understood the text.

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Wisdom, a personification.17 This point is worth considering because,


as H. Ridderbos notes, there is no evidence of any connection
between Wisdom and the Messiah in any Jewish sources.18 Since
Christ is a person, and not merely an attribute, we have in Col 1:1520 an affirmation of the prexistence of Christ, because to attribute
creation to a person is to suggest actual involvement.19 This is the
case even though the focus of the "hymn" is on the exalted Christ.
The references to Christ's participation in creation demonstrates that
the Colossian "hymn" is describing the prexistent Lord in terms of
his revelation in history, i.e., his incarnation. It is the same as
referring to the fifth birthday of the President of the United States.
This reference is not anachronistic because it refers to the same
person. Thus, even if the author of the "hymn" utilized Wisdom
motifs, his understanding of Christ is certainly broader than
Wisdom.
It also should be noted that Wisdom motifs are not very
prominent in Colossians, although certainly present. Paul does use
six times in this letter to refer to the attribute of Wisdom.20 As
Fee notes, the manner in which Paul speaks of Wisdom itself is not
reminiscent of broader Wisdom traditions. This is most notable in
the fact that Paul frequently quotes and alludes to the Hebrew Bible,
but does not cite Wisdom texts such as Sirach or Wisdom of
Solomon. Interestingly, when Paul does cite Wisdom sources, such
as Proverbs, it is not for christological purposes.21
Perhaps the most important reason scholars have made the
connection with Wisdom here in Colossians is the reference to
creation, since it is often argued that Wisdom was viewed as the
mediator of creation. It is at this point that Wisdom traditions have
the most correspondence with the "hymn" and Paul's thought
elsewhere (cf. 1 Cor 8:6). However, Fee has argued that there are no
unambiguous texts that describe Wisdom functioning as the
mediator of creation, especially not to the degree to which Paul

17

If in fact it is true that Wisdom is consistently understood within Judaism as


merely a personification, as Dunn suggests (see Dunn, Christology in the Making, 17076; idem, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 272). However, note Philo's statement in
Quaest. in Gn. 2 Fragment 62 that the Word is a "second god" ( ), which
implies a separate entity (cf. also Philo Prov 1:1). Furthermore, Philo Confi 146 refers to
the Word as an angelic figure ( and ).
18
Rightly Ridderbos, Paul, 79. Contra Stettler who argues that there is an
equation of the Messiah and Wisdom in the Enoch tradition (Der Kolosserhymnus, 337).
19
Rightly Wright, "Poetry and Theology/' 459; Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul: Apostle
of God's Glory in Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006), 175. Contra Dunn who
thinks that the language is merely identifying Christ as the embodiment of God's
creative power "without the implication being intended that Christ himself was active
in Creation" (Christology in the Making, 190,193-94).
20
Fee, Pauline Christology, 318.
21
Gordon D. Fee, "Wisdom Christology in Paul: A Dissenting View," in The Way
of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke (ed. J. I. Packer and Sven Soderlund;
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 252,266.

DUNNE: REGAL STATUS OF CHRIST

speaks of Christ in this regard.22 The idea seems to be more related to


the fact that God "created wisely/'23 Although Wis. 8.5-6 does refer
to Wisdom as one that "works all things" ( ) and
calls her a "craftsman" (), this need not imply that Wisdom
was an original agent of creation. It fits best as a personified
expression implying that God's actions are accomplished wisely.
Sirach 24 is another text often addressed in this discussion since it
describes Wisdom flowing throughout creation, yet this text is not
concerned with Wisdom's role in creation, but rather in finding a
proper dwelling place within Israel (Sir 24.8), presumably as
expressed through the Torah. The connection between Wisdom and
Torah in Wisdom traditions is all the more interesting when one
considers that is surprisingly absent from Colossians.
To conclude this brief survey, the suggestion that the dominant
background of the "Christ-hymn" stems primarily from Wisdom
tradition is not persuasive. This does not necessarily preclude the
idea that Wisdom traditions have influenced the composition of the
"hymn" to some degree, especially as it relates to Christ's
involvement in creation. However, in light of the survey offered
here, it seems appropriate to reconsider the prominence attributed to
Wisdom's influence on the "hymn," both conceptually and
terminologically. It will be argued that there is more prominence
given to regal motifs within the "hymn" and the epistle as a whole. It
is to this analysis of the "hymn" that we now turn.
Ill A REGAL INTERPRETATION OF THE "CHRIST-HYMN"
The structure of the "hymn" is virtually agreed to comprise two
different strophes introduced by the relative pronoun .24 If we are
in fact dealing with "hymnic" material that pre-dates the
composition of the document then we would have an "invisible
antecedent" for these pronouns.25 Rather than reconstruct
hypothetical referents for the alleged original "hymn," we should
deal with the nearest antecedent that the author of Colossians has

^Fee, "Wisdom Christology in Paul/' 261-66. Michael F. Bird also notes that
there are no texts which teach that the world was created for Wisdom (Colossians and
Philemon: A Nezv Covenant Commentary [NCCS; Eugene, re.: Cascade, 2009], 48^9).
Even Sappington admits that the claim that all things were created for Christ (
) and that he "holds all things together" () goes beyond anything found
in the Wisdom traditions (Revelation and Redemption, 174). Likewise, Fowl suggests
that a major difference between Paul's assertions about Christ and much of the
literature on Wisdom is that Wisdom is not viewed as a redeemer (Story of Christ, 11821).
23
For instance, Prov 3:19 LXX states that the earth was founded "in wisdom" (T9
), which amounts to the simple assertion that his deeds were wisely performed.
Further, Ps 104:24 states that all of God's works were done "in wisdom" (v ).
24
Withermgton, Jesus the Sage, 269.
25
Wright, "Poetry and Theology," 445.

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provided. Recognizing this point can also help us discern how the
key terms of the "hymn" are being used.26
The referent for the pronouns comes in v. 13: "the Son of [God's]
love." As Fee notes, the grammar utilized by Paul suggests that vv.
15-20 are part of a longer sentence that begins in v. 12.27 This
observation has huge implications since these verses have often been
treated in isolation, yet the immediate context provides multiple
clues for how the author understood the "hymn." Indeed, in the
verses immediately preceding the "hymnic" material, it is stated that
believers have been transferred by God into the kingdom of the Son of
his love (Col 1:13). By "Son," the author does not mean to refer to the
Second Person of the Trinity. Rather, as Beetham notes, the
designation uiou conveys strong covenantal
language associated with the kingly lineage of David (cf. 2 Sam 7:14;
Pss 2:7; 89:26-27).28 Thus, we have regal imagery as well as Davidic
imagery applied to the referent for whom the relative pronouns of
the "hymn" refer. This should be kept in mind as we look at the
specific terms used in the "hymn."
. and Genesis 1

The first strophe of the "hymn" opens by referring to the Son as


the 29 of the invisible God. The idea of an "image" here, in light
of the juxtaposition with the invisibility of God, suggests that the
26
Contra Dunn who states that the earliest form of the hymn seems to have been
shaped by Wisdom language and was "taken over by Paul without much
modification" (Christology in the Making, 188). Despite the various suggestions made
regarding the background, authorship, and layers of redaction related to the "Christhymn," we would do best to follow the caution of Wright who states, "[A]ll
reasonable hope of reconstructing [the hymn] in its hypothetical original form must be
abandoned" ("Poetry and Theology," 445). Thus, the text as it stands should be our
primary concern, in order to understand how the " h y m n " fits within Colossians as a
whole. Even if it is granted that the "hymnic" material pre-dates the composition of
the letter, as many suggest, our concern methodologically should not be to discern
what the " h y m n " originally meant for the one(s) who composed it, but rather what it
means fior the author of the letter (unless, of course, we are dealing with the same
person). As G. K. Beale rightly asserts, "Since we do not have the context of the
preexisting hymn against which to interpret Paul's use, we must concentrate only on
how Paul is using the wording in its context" ("Colossians," in Commentary on the New
Testament Use of the Old Testament [ed. G. . Beale and D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids:
Baker, 2008], 851).
27
Gordon D. Fee, "Old Testament Textuality in Colossians: Reflections on Pauline
Christology and Gentile Inclusion in God's Story," in History and Exegesis: Neio
Testament Essays in Honor of Dr. E. Earle Ellis for His 80th Birthday (ed. Sang-Won
[Aaron] Son; London: & Clark, 2006), 202-3.
28
Beetham, Echoes of Scripture, 109. Cf. also Beale, "Colossians," 850-51; Fee, "Old
Testament Textuality in Colossians," 211-12.
29
Although is anarthrous, it is definite because a predicate noun that
follows an verb often lacks the article. This also applies to and
in this passage. See Murray Harris, Colossians & Philemon: Exegetical Gv\ide to the Greek
New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 4 3 ^ 9 . Contra Hay w h o renders
as an indefinite noun (David M. Hay, Colossians [ANTC; Nashville: Abingdon, 2000],
55).

DUNNE: REGAL STATUS OF CHRIST

humanity of Christ is in view.30 This specific idea of ''image" has no


parallel in Wisdom tradition.31 Instead, it seems preferable to view
the use of as an allusion to Gen l:26-28.32 In coherence with
other Pauline texts, we have here a picture of Christ as the true
human, the Last Adam (cf. Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:45-49).33 In 2 Cor
4:4-6, alongside the affirmation of Christ as the "image of God/' we
also have an allusion to Genesis ("Let light shine out of darkness").34
Likewise, and occur together in Rom 8:29 in a
broader context concerning the original fall of creation and its
restoration. Despite the connections elsewhere in Pauline literature
between the key terms of the "hymn" and the original creation story,
many scholars deny this connection in Colossians, asserting that
creation would not be ascribed to Adam (cf. 1:16), and thus the
author is not developing an Adam-Christ typology here.35 However,
as we have already discussed in relation to Christ's prexistence, the
author is merely ascribing to Christ in protology what is true of him
in eschatology.36

30
Contrary to some early church fathers (though not all), such as Origen,
Chrysostom, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others, who thought that the
"image" must be of the same invisible nature as God (Peter Gorday, ed., Colossians, 1-2
Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon [ACCS New Testament DC; Downers Grove:
InterVarsity, 2000], 10-12).
Some suggest that the background of Merkabah mysticism is in view here and
that the author's point is that one does not need to ascend into the heavens to see God
in visible form (Andreas Kstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle,
The Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the Nexo Testament [Nashville: B&H, 2009],
616; cf. the use of this background for generally in Seyoon Kim, Paul and the Nexo
Perspective [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002], 175). However, such a point seems
rather elusive here in Colossians, especially as the theme is not addressed elsewhere
in the letter.
31
Fee, 'Old Testament Textuality in Colossians/' 215.
32
See Jacob Jervell, Imago Dei: Gen l,26f im Sptjudentum, in der Gnosis und in den
paulinischen Briefen (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960), 200; Fee, 'Old
Testament Textuality in Colossians/' 212-15.
33
Note the work of Kim who argues that Paul derived his concept of Christ as the
Last Adam based on his prior acknowledgment of Christ as the "Image of God/'
which he derived from the epiphany of Christ on the road to Damascus (Paul and the
Nezo Perspective, 166-67).
M
See Ridderbos, Paul, 71.
^So Matthew E. Gordley, The Colossian Hymn in Context (WUNT 228; Tbingen:
Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 215; Beetham, Echoes of Scripture, 132; Dunn, Christology in the
Making, 188.
3
As Ridderbos, Paul, 81-82, rightly stated. Note also JervelTs comment, "Was
Christus in der Urzeit war, ist er auch in der Endzeit" (Imago Dei, 203).

10

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Although many scholars have denied an echo37 of Genesis 1 here


because of the influence of Wisdom traditions,38 there are several
indications elsewhere in Colossians that this allusion is warranted. In
Col 3:10 we have another reference to the "image of God," which
appears to be a clear allusion to Gen 1.-26-28,39 and it would seem
appropriate to understand 1:15-20 in a similar way.40 This
suggestion seems to be justified since it appears that the author has
been reflecting upon themes from Genesis and the broader
Pentateuch throughout the verses immediately preceding the
"hymn." Colossians 1:6 declares that "in all the world" 41 the gospel is
"bearing fruit and growing" ( ), and
likewise in v. 10 the author exhorts the Colossians to "bear fruit"
() in their efforts and "grow" () in their
knowledge. The language echoes the commission of Gen 1:28 to "be
fruitful and multiply."42 Many have also suggested that vv. 9-14
contain many echoes of Israel's exodus from Egypt with the use of
transfer language (/),43 suggesting that the author

37
I n the past, scholars tended to use the terms / / allusion , / and "echo"
interchangeably. However, recently there has been an emphasis on using the terms
with a specialized nuance. See esp. Beetham, Echoes of Scripture, 11-40. In terms of
distmguishing echo from allusion, Hays opts for a simple approach, defining allusions
as more obvious and echoes as more subtle. However, he lists seven criteria for
detennining the existence of an allusion/echo, which are (1) Availability, (2) Volume,
(3) Recurrence, (4) Thematic Coherence, (5) Historical Plausibility, (6) History of
Interpretation, and (7) Satisfaction (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of
Paul [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989], 29-32). Commenting on these criteria,
Porter notes that criteria 4-7 are more concerned with the interpretation of the text
and are not as helpful for determining an allusion. Further, for criteria 1-3 these do
not help determine singular echoes/allusions but merely make suggestions more
plausible (Stanley Porter, "The Use of the Old Testament in the N e w Testament: A
Brief Comment on Method and Terminology," in Early Christian Interpretation of the
Scriptures of Israel: Investigations and Proposals fJSNTSup 148; ed. Craig A. Evans and
James A. Sanders; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997], 79-96). For our
purposes, the presence of multiple themes from Genesis in Colossians satisfies the
first three criteria since the echoes are multiple and Genesis itself was a beloved book
within the Torah. It should be noted, however, that methodologically,
allusions/echoes should be assessed on the basis of whether or not it is plausible for
the author to make the allusion/echo, and not based on the audience's ability to
recognize it. The inability of the audience does not diminish the intentionality of the
author.
38
So R. McL. Wilson, Colossians and Philemon (ICC; London: & Clark, 2005),
131; Yates, Colossians, 22.
39
Beetham, Echoes of Scripture, 231.
40
So G. B. Caird, Paul's Letters From Prison (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1976), 177; Fee, Pauline Christology, 324; Beale, "Colossians," 865-68.
41
N o t e the connection between Col 1:6: and Gen 1:28 LXX:
. See Beale, "Colossians," 842.
^Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 59; Moo, Letters, 88, 96-97. Beetham notes that
although there is correspondence between Paul's echo and the LXX through ,
the use of corresponds more to the MT (ma) than the LXX () (Echoes
of Scripture, 41-55).
45
G a r y S. Shogren, "Presently Entering the Kingdom of Christ: The Background
and Purpose of Colossians 1:12-14/' JETS 31/2 (1988): 176; Caird, Paul's Letters, 172;

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11

is here reflecting upon the creation narrative as well as the story of


Israel.
In light of these echoes, there is further warrant in suggesting
that the "hymn" was interpreted by the author of the letter (whether
he wrote the "hymn" or not), in terms of the Genesis narrative, as
these allusions likely triggered the use (or creation) of the "hymnic"
material. C F. Burney argues that the key terms of the "hymn"
(, , , , ) can all be used to render
the same Hebrew word wm, which is significant since Gen 1:1 begins
with rrwD. 4 4 If this assertion is correct, as some scholars have come
to accept,45 then there is further warrant for viewing the "hymn" in
light of Genesis. This is made more evident by the fact that a central
part of the "hymnic" material concerns the creation of all things in
V.16.

However, I disagree with Burney at a crucial point. He argues


that Gen 1:1 is alluded to here in the "hymn" through the lens of
Prov 8:22 MT, which portrays Wisdom "with God" in the beginning
(nnwi).46 This line of argumentation has been taken up by other
scholars, such as Stettler, who state that the hymn was created as an
"implicit christological midrash on Gen 1:1 connected with Prov
8:22."47 This detour through Prov 8:22, however, is not necessary as it
is already clear from the preceding context of Colossians that the
author is thinking about the original Genesis narrative. As Michaelis
notes, the reliance upon Prov 8:22 is mitigated by the fact that
mediation of creation is actually not present there.48
The allusions to the original Genesis narrative help demonstrate
that Christ is indeed the supreme ruler of creation. This fact is clear
enough from the assertion that he created all things. Most tellingly in
regards to the regal nature of his role in creation is that the author
specifies his creation of all "thrones, dominions, rulers, and
authorities." Still, the allusion to Genesis 1 is further suggested by
the use of . Although some have tried to look to Hellenistic
philosophy for understanding this term,49 and many theologians
through the centuries have debated what human faculties best

Wright, Colossians and Philemon, 60-63; Fee, Pauline Christology, 297; Beetham, Echoes of
Scripture, 81-95; Beale, "Colossians," 846-51.
U
C. F. Burney, "Christ as the ARXH of Creation," JTS 27 (1926): 176.
45
Caird, Pauls Letters, 180; Wright, "Poetry," 448.
46
Burney, "Christ as the ARXH of Creation," 174.
47
My translation; "impliziter christologischer Midrasch von Gen 1,1 verbunden
mit Spr 8,22" (Stettler, Der Kolosserhymnus, 344).
48
See Michaelis, TDNT 6:879.
49
Eduard Lohse, A Commentary on the Epistles to Colossians and Philemon
(Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), 46; Richard R. Melick, Philippians,
Colossians, Philemon (NAC; Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 214-15; Robert W. Wall,
Colossians & Philemon (IVP New Testament Commentary Series; Downers Grove:
InterVarsity, 1993), 66; David Garland, Colossians-Philemon (NW Application
Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 87.

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constitute the nature of the "image,"50 it is preferable to understand


the "image of God" within the conceptual framework of the
Ancient Near East.
This concept was used to refer to kings, as they were the chief
representatives of the gods.51 There are many examples of this, so we
will cite a few that are representative. A letter from the exorcist
Adad-shumu-utsur to the Assyrian king Esarhaddon states, "The
father of the king, my lord, was the image of Bel and the king, my
lord, is also the image of Bel."52 In another letter the same exorcist
writes, "The king, the lord of the world, is the very image of
Shamash."53 It appears that this understanding of the relationship
between the deity and the king was further extended to images of
the kings themselves. In Assyria, kings would establish images of
themselves wherever their rule extended.54 The association of
"image" with kings in the Ancient Near East is in slight contrast with
Genesis, however, since it is humanity broadly that is created as
God's "image."55 This suggests that the dominion over creation is the
purpose for which God created mankind.56 The Adamic commission
to "subdue and rule" creation coheres with this idea and aligns with
the meditation upon humanity's relation to creation in Psalm 8.
Subsequent Jewish literature also understood Adam as a "ruler" in
the garden.57 Thus, the "image" was understood as an office or
50
John F. Kilner rightly suggests that this debate has occurred because of a faulty
assumption that the "image" is conflated with the individual human being, and
further that being "in the image of God" constitutes the fact that humans are similar to
God in some way ("Humanity in God's Image: Is the Image Really Damaged?" JETS
53/3 [2010]: 601-17).
51
Ian Hart, "Genesis 1:1-2:3 as a Prologue to the Book of Genesis," TynBul 46/2
(1995): 318; Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987),
30; Werner H. Schmidt, The Faith of the Old Testament: A History (trans. John SturdyOxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), 194.
52
As cited in Edward M. Curtis, Man as the Image of God in Genesis in Light of
Ancient Near Eastern Parallels (Ph.D. Diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1984; Ann
Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1985), 81-82.
53
As cited in Simo Parpla, Letters from Assyria and Babylonian Scholars (Helsinki,
Finland: Helsinki University Press, 1993), 159.
M
D. J. A. Clines, "The Image of God in Man," TynBul 19 (1968): 83; John H.
Walton, Genesis (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 130;
idem, "Creation," in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (ed. T. Desmond
Alexander and David Baker; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 160; idem, Ancient
Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the
Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 212.
55
Schmidt, The Faith, 197.
56
SorightlyJ. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1
(Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 54-55.
57
2 Enoch 30.12 states that the first man was "appointed as ruler." 1QS 3.17-18
mentions that mankind was intended to rule over the world. In the Midrashic
literature the relationship between man and God is sometimes compared to the
relationship between a king and his statue (cf. Midr. Rob. Gen 8:8). This comparison is
further explicated to mean that ill-treatment of the statue is ill-treatment of the king
(Midr. Rab. Exod 30:16; Midr. Rab. Deut 2:30). The opposite corollary is also true for
positive treatment of statues of the king (Midr. Rab. Lev 34:3). See Beetham, Echoes of
Scripture, 239. Furthermore, William Dumbrell notes that there are ancient texts where

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13

position in relation to the world.58 In the opening of the Colossian


"hymn," then, we likely have an assertion that Christ is restoring the
rule that humanity was meant to have.59
.
The second significant term of the "hymn," , is likely
intended to possess Davidic significance. The term primarily
conveys the right of primogeniture, as it was applied to Israel and
the king in the OT.60 Psalm 89:27 provides the most relevant
contribution to this point since is paralleled by the
description, "the highest of the kings of the earth" in the second half
of verse.
In the Colossian "hymn," Christ is given this position of
authority as because he created all things (as made clear by
the explanatory ), including the hostile spiritual powers.61
is used again in the "hymn" in the second strophe in a
parallel position to the first. Here Christ is declared to be the
"firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18). Again, we not only see his
position of authority over the dead by virtue of being the first to rise
from the dead, but the imagery rings with Davidic overtones as Paul
often associates the resurrection of Christ with the Davidic covenant
(Rom 1:4; 1 Cor 15:23-28; Eph 1:20-23; Phil 2:9-11; cf. Acts 2:22-36;
13:26-37). Furthermore, this association is implicit in the rest of
Colossians. Most notably, Col 3:1 affirms that Christ has been raised
and is sitting at the right hand of God in a manner that echoes Ps
110:1.62 It is for this reason that Christ is said to be the "master"
() in heaven (Col 4:1). These texts demonstrate that there is
the monarch was described as the "gardener" of the deity ("Genesis 2:1-17: A
Foreshadowing of the New Creation," in Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect [ed.
Scott J. Hafemann; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002], 56).
^Schmidt, The Faith, 197; Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, Colossians: A Nexo
Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB; New Haven: Yale University Press,
2005), 249.
59
For God's intention to rule the world through h u m a n vice regents, see Dan G.
McCartney, "Ecce Homo: The Coming of the Kingdom as the Restoration of H u m a n
Viceregency," WTJ56 (1994): 1-21.
%
Exod 4:22; Isa 64:8; Jer 31:9; Ps Sol 18.4; 4 Ezra 6.58. See Garland, ColossiansPhilemon, 87-88.
61
I t is often suggested that the " h y m n " did not originally contain the references
to the fourfold powers, but was inserted by the author of the letter. See Lohse,
Colossians and Philemon, 42-43. To reiterate again, even if this " h y m n " has been
redacted (why edit a known hymn?), and if this suggestion is accurate, then it was of
particular importance to the author. Further, regardless of one's view of the "hymn,"
at least it is agreed that these words come from the author of the letter. Thus, we need
to reckon with the fact that he was emphasizing Christ's supremacy over the
"powers" for a specific reason.
62
See Beetham, Echoes of Scripture, 219-30; Beale, "Colossians," 863-65; Fee, "Old
Testament Textuality in Colossians," 209. Note the correlation between Ps 109:1 LXX
( be ) and Col 3:1 ( ). However, Beetham does
not see the Davidic significance of in Col 1:15-20, preferring instead the
background of the Wisdom traditions ( Echoes of Scripture, 133).

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good reason to associate with regal and Davidic


significance.
C.
Another key term from the "hymn" that conveys regal imagery
is . Christ is said to be the "head" of the church (Col ). 63 In
Ephesians, Christ is declared to be the "head" by virtue of his
resurrection and ascension above all powers (Eph 1:20-23). A similar
idea may be understood in the Colossian "hymn" due to the
conceptual overlap of the resurrection and other terminological
parallels between the two texts.64 Furthermore, in Col 2:10, Christ is
declared to be the "head" over all rule and authority (
), which can only mean that he has authority over
them. In Col 2:19, the idea of Christ's headship is elaborated to
include more than authority, as there is a sense of provision and
sustenance provided by Christ for the church. As C. Arnold shows,
Paul's use of this terminology is consistent with ancient medical
writers and philosophers on the relationship between the head and
body. In those writings the head is both the ruling part of the body
as well as the "supply center of the body, since it is the source of
sensation, movement, and will."65 Thus, with we have
another affirmation of Christ's supremacy and authority.66

63
By using this imagery Paul is not suggesting that Christ is the head of the
cosmos as Ernst Ksemann suggests ("A Primitive Christian Baptismal Liturgy," in
Essays on-Nezo Testament Themes [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982], 151-52). Deterrriining
whether or not is original is a mute point since the final form dictates
what the author of the letter intends, which is clearly a genitive of apposition. Rightly
Clinton Arnold, "Jesus Christ: 'Head' of the Church (Colossians and Ephesians)," in
Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament
Christology, (ed. Joel B. Green and Max Turner; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 363; F.
F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 420.
Gordley notes that is integral to the hymn on the basis of rhythmic
patterning and meter (Colossian Hymn, 219-21). Furthermore, the use of this phrase is
consistent with Paul's use of elsewhere to refer to the church (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor
12:12; Eph 4:4).
^ N o t e the overlap of terminology: (a) , (b) , (c) ,
(d) , (e) , and (f) .
^ Arnold, "Jesus Christ: " H e a d " of the Church," 366; cf. Moo, Letters, 128.
66
Bruce suggests that the body imagery stems from the Hebrew concept of
corporate personality (Paul, 420). The idea of union with Christ is prominent in
Colossians (cf. esp. Col 2:10-13, 20; 3:1-4) and may ultimately convey the idea of
"membership within the royal family, the Messiah-people," especially as the notion of
solidarity with the king was common in the Psalms. See . T. Wright, "Paul's Gospel
and Caesar's Empire" in Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation (ed.
Richard A. Horsley; Philadelphia: Trinity, 2000), 166. If this suggestion is correct, then
we would not only find more regal imagery through the use of , but we would
also find the subtle expressions of union with Christ as possessing regal connotations.

DUNNE: REGAL STATUS OF CHRIST

15

D.'Apxn
The second strophe of the "hymn" begins by asserting that
Christ is , which denotes primacy, whether temporally or in
rank.67 Most scholars prefer to translate here as "beginning,"
usually with the idea that Christ constitutes the beginning of the new
68
creation. Yet there is good reason to translate as "ruler" in
keeping with our arguments regarding the regal imagery of
Colossians.69
In the LXX, whenever is used in relation to a person it
conveys a position of authority or leadership. There are no instances
in which the temporal use of modifies a human figure in an
adjectival or predicate position.70 A regal interpretation of in
the "hymn" would provide a nice parallel designation with a regal
interpretation of since both terms introduce the two strophes
through the relative pronoun . Furthermore, both and
are qualified by . In light of the regal/Davidic overtones
of as we have already addressed, it is likely that is
primarily emphasizing Christ's regal authority which he received

67

Cf. Gerhard Delling, "," TDNT 1:479.


P . T. O'Brien, Colossians-Philemon (WBC; Waco: Word, 1982), 50; John Calvin,
Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and
Thessalonians (trans. John Pringle; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 153; Thomas R.
Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 328; Moo, Letters, 129;
Bird, Colossians and Philemon, 55; Wilson, Colossians and Philemon, 148; Dunn, Colossians
and Philemon, 97-98; Gordley, Colossian Hymn, 222-24; Stettler, Der Kolosserhymnus,
339-40.
69
Clinton Arnold suggests that both senses of are used here (The Colossian
Syncretism: The Interface betiveen Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae [Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1996], 260-61). It might be considered curious why the author would use a
feminine noun here if regal status was intended. However, the masculine noun
rarely occurs in Pauline literature (Rom 13:3; 1 Cor 2:6, 8; Eph 2:2). Furthermore,
although is ferriinine, it clearly does not mean that the referent is ferninine. It can
be used to refer to earthly figures (Gen 4:20-22 LXX; Exod 6:25 LXX; Luke 12:11; 20:20;
Titus 3:1; 1 En. 6.8; 89.45; 4 Mace 4.15) as well as spiritual figures (Rom 8:38; 1 Cor
15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; Eph 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10,15). It should also be noted that
is a feminine noun but often has a masculine referent when used metaphorically.
70
Cf. uses of in the LXX to convey h u m a n rule or leadership (Gen 40:13, 2021; 41:13; Deut 17:20; Neh 9:17; Dan 2:37; 7:27; Amos 6:7; 1 Mace 10.52; 2 Mace 4.10, 50;
13.3). Note especially Isa 9:5-6 LXX, which uses twice to refer to the dominion
and authority of the future Messianic leader. However, it should be noted that there
are two instances in Rev 21:6 and 22:13 where the temporal use of is used as a
predicate, the latter referring to Christ in emphasis on his divine nature. Revelation
3:14 is also relevant in this regard as Jesus states that he is the of the creation of
God. Most translations interpret temporally here (so KJV; ESV; NASB; NLT;
RSV), although the NIV renders as "ruler." There is good reason for this regal
interpretation. Verse 14 is part of the letter to Laodicea which ends with a promise for
those who overcome to sit on Christ's throne (Rev 3:21). The regal imagery in the
letter to Laodicea should be informative for the meaning of in Rev 3:14. This is
consistent with other regal themes in the letters to the seven churches (cf. Rev 2:26-27;
3:7).
68

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through his resurrection and exaltation. 71 The close association of


and in Rev 1:5 is suggestive of how should be
interpreted here in relation to .72 Christ is therefore the
supreme by virtue of his resurrection from the dead. It is also
worth noting that the temporal use of is rare in Pauline
literature, occurring only in Phil 4:15. The three other occurrences of
this word in Colossians refer to spiritual demonic forces (Col 1:16;
2:10,15), which makes it quite possible that the author is here further
affirming Christ's supremacy to these beings. If, as many scholars
suggest, that the Colossian "philosophy" is related to problems with
the and ,73 then this would provide another strong
connection between the " h y m n " and the rest of the epistle.
.
Towards the conclusion of the "hymnic" material we receive a
rather revealing affirmation about Christ. He is the "firstborn from
the dead" so that he might have preeminence (). This word
rather obviously conveys the sense of superiority in rank; possessing
the "first place" in relation to all other things. In my estimation, this
term should be understood as the aim of the other terms (hence the
telic iva). In other words, preeminence of position and authority is
essentially the summation of the message of the "hymn."
F. Reconciliation and Empire
The " h y m n " finally concludes by noting that the fullness of God
dwells in Christ (Col 1:19), the one who reconciles ()
and makes peace () with all creation (Col 1:20). With this
language we also have connotations of a figure with regal authority
establishing justice over the realm of his kingdom. H. O. Maier notes
that this language was "especially at home in ancient diplomatic and
political contexts to describe the cessation of hostility and the
reconciliation of hostile parties." 7 4 In fact, these ideas are used to
describe the goal of the Roman Empire through Caesar's rule, who is
likewise called a "peace-maker" and one who reconciles by pacifying
his enemies. 7 5
71
Gordley rightly notes that the idea here likely suggests that Christ is "King of
the Dead/' yet he argues that is polyvalent and contains the connotations of
authority while still emphasizing that Christ constitutes the beginning of a n e w
creation (Colossian Hymn, 223).
72
Craig Koester, ' T h e Message to Laodicea and the Problem of its Local Context:
A Study of the Imagery of Rev 3:14-22/' NTS 49 (2003): 412; Barth and Blanke,
Colossians, 208.
^See especially Clint Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between
Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996).
74
Harry O. Maier, "A Sly Civility: Colossians and Empire/' JSNT 27/3 (2005):
329.
75
Caesar is called an in Dio 44.49.2; Dio Cassius 72.15.5. Further in
Philo (Leg. Gaius 145-47), Caesar is the one who (a) destroyed the evident and unseen

DUNNE: REGAL STATUS OF CHRIST

17

It is fascinating to consider that in all of Pauline literature the


term kingdom () appears only fourteen times yet it occurs
twice in this short letter (Col 1:13; 3:24). In fact, beyond the material
within the ''hymn7' for which we have proposed a regal background,
the text of Colossians contains many other regal motifs, including
specific allusions to Caesar and his Empire. Whereas Caesar would
bring his foreign enemies to Rome in a triumphal procession, Christ
"triumphed over" () the greatest enemies; the hostile
spiritual forces (Col 2:14-15). The scene described here in Colossians
is taken from the infamous "Roman Triumph/' 76 which included a
disgraceful disrobing (cf. in 2:15) of the conquered
foes to symbolize the loss of power. There would also be a
ceremonial "putting on" of a new robe by the Emperor (cf.
in Col 3:1).77 The language of Roman ideals are also
expressed throughout Colossians. Whereas the Pax Romana held
sway in the first century, Paul desires the peace of Christ to "rule" in
the hearts of believers (Col 3:15). Instead of the "good news" of the
Empire extending throughout the world, the of Christ is
spreading throughout all of creation (Col 1:23).78
The Imperial language cited above does not appear to be
coincidental. Perhaps the regal imagery of the "hymn" is utilized
specifically to mimic the authority of the contemporary regal figure
of the known world, Caesar. In summing up this point and other
imagery from the Colossian "Christ-hymn," B. Walsh and S.
Keesmaat state that the poem is "nothing less than treasonous"
because Paul "subverts every major claim of the empire."79 Some
scholars have specifically sought to undertake how Paul's broader
theology was intentionally directed towards the Roman Empire80
wars, (b) made harmonious those nations that were formerly hostile, and (c) is called
"the guardian of peace" ( ). See Maier, "A Sly Civility/' 332, for more on
this subject.
76
Wilson, Colossians and Philemon, 212-13.
^Maier, "A Sly Civility/' 344.
78
Ibid., 325-26.
79
Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 84.
80
John Dominic Crossan notes that when the titles given to Caesar are attributed
to Jesus, a lowly Jewish peasant, it is either a case of 'low lampoon or high treason"
("Roman Imperial Theology," in In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a
History of Faithful Resistance (ed. Richard A. Horsely; Louisville: Westminster John
Knox, 2008), 73.
Recently there has been some question as to whether Paul's counter-Imperial
language would also include reference to the Imperial cult. Miller argues that the
evidence suggests that the Imperial cult was "marginal" in Paul's day and thus it is
anachronistic to speak in terms of a widespread religious phenomenon. See Colin
Miller, "The Imperial Cult in the Pauline Cities of Asia Minor and Greece," CBQ 72
(2010): 314r-32. Perhaps new evidence will continue to point in this direction despite
the claims of previous scholars that the Imperial cult was vibrant by the middle of the
first century. For those who suggest that the Imperial cult is relevant for Pauline
studies, see S. R. F. Price, Rituals and Power: The Roman imperial Cult in Asia Minor
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 78, who notes, "The Imperial cult
was extremely widespread throughout the Roman Empire . . . and modern scholars

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(although this has not included enough study of the so-called


deutero-Paulines, such as Colossians81). Conversely, there have been
some who have tried to downplay this theme. For instance, S. Kim
argues that Paul's language should not be considered as
intentionally subversive towards the Roman Empire noting that the
language is ultimately "politically innocuous/' He adds that Rom
13:1-7 is the "Achilles' Heel" of anti-Imperial readings.82 The
problem with Kim's position is that he apparently leaves no room for
counter-Imperial language that is not seditious in nature. Although
the author did not intend to start a rebellion,83 his language
demonstrates that he is intentionally utilizing Imperial terminology
to suggest that Christ is the supreme ruler; greater even than Caesar.
IV. CONCLUSION
The problems associated with primarily attributing Wisdom
influence to the "hymn," coupled with the emphasis on the authority
of Christ throughout Colossians, calls for a re-reading of the
"hymnic" material. I do not wish, however, to overstate the case. The
priority given to regal imagery in this study is intended to
demonstrate the legitimacy of identifying regal motifs as a major
background to the "Christ-hymn," something far too neglected in
favor of Wisdom imagery. Although the two backgrounds are not
conceptually exclusive (kings needed wisdom to rule appropriately),
the "hymnic" material was probably understood by the author of
Colossians to depict the regal primacy of Christ, in relation to world
powers (Caesar) and otherworldly powers (the and ).84

have long recognized that it was particularly common in Asia Minor." Furthermore,
Paul Zanker notes that the Imperial cult spread earliest in the Eastern part of the
Empire ("The Power of Images," in Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman
Imperial Society [ed. Richard Horsley; Harrisburg: Trinity, 1997], 77). Cf also Mover
Hubbard, Christianity in the Greco-Roman World (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2009), 129;
Wright, "Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire," 161.
81
Note this critique in Warren Carter's survey of the SBL group "Paul and
Politics" ("Paul and the Roman Empire: Recent Perspectives," in Paul Unbound: Other
Perspectives on the Apostle [ed. Mark Given; Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010], 25).
82
See Seyoon Kim, Christ and Caesar: The Gospel and the Roman Empire in the
Writings of Paul and Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 30,36.
83
However, the opposite should also be rejected. Contra Bruno Blumenfeld, who
suggests that Paul "admired and endorsed" the Roman political system, stating,
"Paul's political objective was to make the empire endure, to ward off its decay by
steeling it with a Christian ribband" (The Political Paul: Justice, Democracy and Kingship
in a Hellenistic Framework [JSNTSup 210; London: Sheffield, 2001], 210).
^1 would like to thank Dr. Clint Arnold for his helpful comments on an earlier
version of this study.

^ s
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