My Paper Accepted for the 2016 SWCRS Entitled, “A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?”


I am excited to announce the acceptance of my paper proposal for the 2016 annual meeting of the Southwest Commission of Religious Studies on March 11-13. This paper has slowly developed out of the research for my upcoming article in the 5.2 volume of the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters entitled “‘So Shall Your Seed Be’: Paul’s Use of Gen 15:5 in Rom 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” I shared the idea for this paper with Matthew Thiessen of Saint Louis University two years ago at the annual meeting of the SBL in Baltimore which resulted in him citing me in his upcoming book Paul and the Gentile Problem being published with Oxford Press and due to come out in March of this year. The need for this study was apparent from the defense of my paper against NT Wright’s push back in the Pauline Epistles section last year where my friend Brant Pitre also came to my defense using the same text (1 Cor 15) and told me afterwards my paper “blew his mind” (that was very cool coming from a scholar of his caliber because his stuff has blown my mind as well).  After conversations with Michael Heiser and Daniel Streett regarding my argument, I feel confident about finally presenting on the topic. The abstract of the paper is as follows:


A Neglected Deuteronomic Scriptural Matrix to the Nature of the Resurrection Body in 1 Cor 15:39-42?


In the Pauline discussion regarding the nature of the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15:35-49, he employs the metaphor of the sowing of the natural (or earthly) body and the raising of the spiritual (or heavenly) body. Both kinds of bodies differ in glory and are fit for different habitats. In order to demonstrate this, in 1 Cor 15:39-42 Paul enumerates a list of the creatures who inhabit the earth followed by those who inhabit the heavens, the resurrection body being likened to the later. Scholars have generally understood the background of this list to be found in the creatures from Genesis 1, even though they do not follow the same order (as recognized by Fitzmyer, Ciampa, Rosner, etc.). Other scholars have put forth reasons for this discrepancy by suggesting that the list evokes the cosmology of popular Greek philosophy (i.e. Martin). This paper seeks to propose an alternate answer to this problem. The list of earthly and heavenly creatures here in 1 Cor 15:39-42 follows the same order of creatures as enumerated in the aniconic discourse of Deut 4:15-19. If this is in fact the text Paul is alluding to, he is more than likely participating in an exegetical tradition in the Second Temple period which reads Deut 4:15-19 as part of a wider Deuteronomic scriptural matrix employed to describe the nature of the cosmos as constructed and administered by God, appointing the celestial bodies as the gods or angels in his cosmic polis as attested in Philo, Spec. Laws 1.13-19. Reading the present text within this scriptural matrix not only supplies a strong argument for this particular enumeration of creatures, but also provides a more robust reading of the passage in its wider context, connecting the language of the abolishing of the principalities and powers in 1 Cor 15:24 with the earlier discussion in 1 Cor 6:2-3 regarding the judgment of the cosmos and the angels.

Well, hope to see you there, and look forward to some critical engagement and dialogue. This will build off of a similar construct in my previous work and hopefully be a welcome contribution to the conversation of deification in Paul as well as conversations regarding Paul’s Judaism.

My First Paper Presentation at SBL in the Pauline Epistles Section


The national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature will be held in the beautiful city of San Diego this year! Good things.

I’m excited about the acceptance of my first paper proposal to the Society of Biblical Literature‘s Pauline Epistles section at the national conference in San Diego on November 22-25, 2014. I will be presenting in a special joint session of the following program units: Pauline Epistles, Paul and Judaism, Disputed Pauline Epistles, Pauline Soteriology, Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making, and Systematic Transformation and Interweaving of Scripture in 1 Corinthians. This special joint session will be made up of a panel of four presenters and three respondents. Each presenter will submit their papers in advance allowing for a formal response to be written by the three respondents. The three scholars who will be responding to our respective papers are NT Wright, Pamela Eisenbaum, and Ward Blanton. For a lowly student such as myself, I am humbled and honored for the opportunity to present in the company of such accomplished scholars. The four presenters and their respective abstracts are in alphabetical order by name as follows (the second one being mine):

A.      Michael Patrick Barber and John Kincaid

“Cultic Theosis in Paul and Second Temple Judaism: A Fresh Reading of the Corinthian Correspondence”

Since the rise of the Käsemann school the centrality of apocalyptic eschatology in Paul has been widely maintained across the spectrum of contemporary Pauline scholarship, ranging from such diverse scholars as Stuhlmacher and Campbell. In addition to this, there has been the more recent emergence of the place of theosis for comprehending Pauline soteriology, as initially suggested by Hays and later demonstrated by Gorman, Blackwell, and Litwa (e.g., 2 Cor 3:18; 5:21; Col 2:9–10). In this paper we will suggest that these two strands are directly linked by means of second temple Jewish hopes for an eschatological temple and cult, and actualized in Paul. As is becoming increasingly clear (e.g., Tuschling), apocalyptic eschatology was inextricably tied to cultic worship (e.g., 1QHa 19:10-13, 1Q28b 3:25–26). Indeed, building on the work of Deismann, Aune has suggested that apocalyptic eschatology was understood to be realized within the cult in early Christianity (e.g., John 4:23). We will suggest that Paul is no exception. In order to demonstrate this, we shall turn our attention to the Corinthian correspondence, where these themes serve as a leitmotif in Paul’s discussion. Beginning in 1 Corinthians 2:6, Paul speaks of this age passing away yet this gives way to the discussion of a new temple in chapter 3. Paul then elucidates the life of this new temple in the following ways: keeping the feast in chapter 5, linking becoming one spirit with Christ and temple imagery in ch. 6, and, finally, the cultic explanation of participation in Christ in terms of the eucharist in chs. 10-11 and baptism in ch. 12. These cultic emphases continue in 2 Corinthians with the explicit temple language in ch. 6 and almsgiving as liturgical offering in ch. 9.

B.      David A. Burnett 

“‘So Shall Your Seed Be’: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions”

In Romans 4:18 Paul cites verbatim the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your seed be” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).” It is widely recognized that Paul reads the promise to Abraham of becoming “the father of many nations” synonymously with Genesis 15:5 as his seed becoming as the stars of heaven. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants. Conversely, early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 such as Philo, Ben Sira, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively, to be transformed into the likeness of the stars of heaven. This paper will argue that this early Jewish interpretation could provide a better explanation of the relationship Paul sees between these two texts. This would place Paul in context of already well-established deification (or angelomorphic) traditions in early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the gods (or angels) of the nations. This will be demonstrated first by considering the promise of becoming as the stars as it is repeated to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:17 and 26:4 in the broader framework of the Hebrew Bible in its cosmological context. Secondly, it will be demonstrated that this particular interpretation of the promise as seen in early Jewish literature contemporary with Paul should be understood in terms of early Jewish deification (or angelomorphic) traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 could make clear the relationship between a nexus of complexly related concepts in Romans 4 such as what it means that the “promise” to Abraham was to “inherit the kosmos,” “become the father of many nations,” and his seed to be as the stars of heaven.

C.      Matthew E. Gordley 

“Psalms of Solomon and Pauline Studies”

A number of surface features of the Psalms of Solomon suggest their potentially high value for understanding the world of thought from which Paul emerged and with which he engaged: they are among the few documents known to have been written, edited and translated in or around Jerusalem less than a century before the time of Paul; they offer rich theological reflection on several ideas that were central to the Judaism with which Paul engaged (deuteronomic theology; the covenant; divine justice; sin; messianic renewal); and, though not necessarily a Pharisaic composition, they are about “as close as we are likely to come to a specifically Pharisaic text” (Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 127). In spite of this confluence of important Pauline touch-points, the Pss Sol have received limited treatment within Pauline studies since the now almost two-decades-old study by Michael Winninge (Sinners and the Righteous). This state of affairs is all the more surprising given the renewed interest in viewing Paul as someone who saw himself remaining closely connected to his Jewish heritage (as recent book titles like “Paul and Judaism Revisited” suggest). This paper briefly reviews the treatment of Pss Sol in several recent major monographs (including those of N. T. Wright and Douglas Campbell), for an indication of how the Pss Sol are being employed in Pauline scholarship today. Noting the limited ways in which these psalms have been utilized, this paper points to an additional area in which further study of Pss Sol could illuminate Pauline studies: namely, in the recognition of the extent to which Pss Sol provides a unique instance of a kind of scribal resistance to the Roman imperial messianic narratives that were being embraced and promoted by Herod the Great (cf. Horsley; Schalit). Reading Pss Sol within the historical context of Herodian propaganda that associates the fulfillment of the covenant promises with the rise of Augustus allows for a greater appreciation of the subtlety and complexity of Jewish resistance to imperial ideology in the form of the otherwise seemingly innocuous genre of biblically-styled psalmody. Attention to this dynamic within Pss Sol allows a new dimension of Paul’s implicit anti-imperial narrative to come into view, particularly in a passage like Phil 2:5-11 with its complex web of biblical allusions. Though Paul writes in the context of a different set of imperial pressures, nevertheless, by comparing the method and the mode of resistance in Paul and Pss Sol we gain a greater understanding of the message of Paul, as well as a path to considering other ways that the Pss Sol might be employed to illuminate Paul’s writings.

D.      Hans Svebakken

“Roman 7:7-25 and a Pauline Allegory of the Soul”

Two distinct lines of contemporary research into Romans 7:7-25 fruitfully explore key aspects of the passage, but they have not fully engaged one other. One line of research focuses on allusions to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3, addressing related questions, such as whether the “I” (ego) of the passage speaks in the character of Adam or Eve (e.g., Stefan Krauter in ZNW 99 [2008]), or how the prohibition of desire in Romans 7:7 (ouk epithumeseis) might represent a version of the command issued to Adam and Eve in Paradise (e.g., Jan Dochhorn in ZNW 100 [2009]). Another line of research focuses on the discourse of moral psychology, addressing related questions, such as which philosophical perspective (Stoic or Platonic) the passage represents, or precisely what moral condition it describes (cf. the respective positions of Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Emma Wasserman). This paper proposes an interpretive framework capable of accounting for and integrating the respective insights of both lines of research by reading the passage in light of Philo of Alexandria’s allegory of the soul, which treats the story in Genesis 3 as a story about moral psychology. The paper has two basic parts. Part one posits the existence of a Pauline allegory of the soul by first identifying the characteristic features of Philo’s allegory then noting analogous features in Romans 7:7-25. Part two explains how attributing a rudimentary allegory of the soul to Paul not only solves specific exegetical problems but solves them in a historically plausible way: comparing Paul’s approach to Genesis with a contemporary Jewish exegete versed in ancient philosophy, not with later Christian theologians articulating a doctrine of original sin (e.g., Augustine).

It will be a stimulating section to attend and I hope to see many of you there. I have hoped to one day participate in critical dialogue at this level, but I have only dreamed of presenting alongside one of my Christian intellectual heroes throughout my biblical education, NT Wright. I am blessed beyond belief to participate at this level and I am grateful to the Pauline Epistles section of the Society of Biblical Literature for affording me this opportunity.


… and I just can’t hide it.

My Paper Presentation for HBU’s “Paul and Judaism” Conference

imagesI was delighted to hear that my paper proposal was accepted for HBU’s Conference on “Paul and Judaism” on March 19-20. The delight of course has been accompanied by a great deal of fear and trepidation seeing as how this will be my first paper presentation at an academic conference, especially amidst scholars of this calibre. The keynote speakers include NT Wright, Beverly Gaventa, and Ross Wagner. I am also honored to present alongside one of my academic mentors and friend Daniel Streett whose paper proposal was also accepted (if you are curious about his paper, see the abstract here). I am thankful for the encouragement and well-wishing I have received as of late from many of you and I’m sorry I have not had the time to entertain some of the questions regarding what my paper is about. As a result, I thought I would post a brief description here on the blog.

The title of my paper is So Shall Your Seed Be: Paul’s Use of Genesis 15:5 in Romans 4:18 in Light of Early Jewish Deification Traditions.” The following is the abstract I sent in: 

In Romans 4:18 Paul cites verbatim the “promise” to Abraham in the LXX of Genesis 15:5 “so shall your seed be” in relation to what it means to “become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).” It is widely recognized that Paul reads the promise to Abraham of becoming “the father of many nations” synonymously with Genesis 15:5 as his seed becoming as the stars of heaven. Modern scholars have traditionally understood the relationship between these two texts quantitatively, both promising a vast multitude of descendants. Conversely, early Jewish interpreters of Genesis 15:5 such as Philo, Ben Sira, and the author(s) of the Apocalypse of Abraham understood the promise qualitatively, to be transformed into the likeness of the stars of heaven. This paper will argue that this early Jewish interpretation could provide a better explanation of the relationship Paul sees between these two texts. This would place Paul in context of already well-established deification traditions in early Judaism that see the destiny of the seed of Abraham as replacing the stars as the gods (or angels) of the nations. This will be demonstrated first by considering the promise of becoming as the stars as it is repeated to Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:17 and 26:4 in the broader framework of the Hebrew Bible in its cosmological context. Secondly, it will be demonstrated that this particular interpretation of the promise as seen in early Jewish literature contemporary with Paul should be understood in terms of early Jewish deification traditions. Thirdly, it will be demonstrated that this interpretation applied to Paul’s use of Genesis 15:5 makes clear the relationship between a nexus of complexly related concepts in Romans 4 such as what it means that the “promise” to Abraham was to “inherit the kosmos,” “become the father of many nations,” and his seed to be as the stars of heaven. 
I look forward to seeing old friends and new ones in Houston next month. If you are interested in this topic and want to hear more, unfortunately you will have to wait until Thursday March 20 sometime between 2:00-4:30pm. To register for the conference, you can pay online here. It is only $40 for both days which is a steal considering the nature of the conference. A big thanks to Ben Blackwell and the HBU crew for putting this together. Hope to see you there!

Mark 13.24–27 Revisited: A Proposal for a Corporate Son of Man and Its Implications

There is nothing like mulling over a concept for a few days to engender new ideas. The problem is that sometimes these new ideas conflict with previous thoughts. And this seems to be the case with my new thoughts in relation to my last post on Mark’s apocalyptic discourse, specifically his use of the “coming of the Son of Man.” In that post I argued that the phrase “coming of the Son of Man” represented Jesus’ enthronement and vindication, which portrays Jesus as the new Temple. I further argued that Mark did not anticipate, or at least did not write about, a parousia. However, upon (re)reading Thomas Kazen’s article in JSHJ entitled, The Coming of the Son of Man Revisited, I would like to propose a different (although similar in many ways) view: i.e., the Son of Man should be identified as the holy ones, or the faithful remnant.

Much of this argument rests of the notion that the Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7 speaks of a faithful remnant. Thus, the ascension of the Son of Man is the vindication of the remnant, who receives the kingdom and dominion. This is the view that Kazen promotes in his article, to which he applies to the Gospel accounts, specifically Mark and Matthew. However, before he explicates how this view makes sense of some odd passages in Mark, he first deals with the parousia tradition in Paul. Dealing specifically with 1 Thess 4.13–18, he notes that while Jesus is directly linked to the parousia (v. 15; i.e., Jesus is expected to return), the Son of Man imagery is instead reflected upon the believers[1]. Note that v. 17 envisions the holy ones as being “caught up in the clouds” and so vindicated. Thus, while the Son of Man imagery and the parousia are linked, their only connection is that they are incorporated into the same event, not that they represent the same person! Furthermore, if this is Paul’s understanding of the Danielic “Son of Man” imagery, we are confronted with evidence that at least some Jews interpreted the imagery in a collective sense, representing kingdom restoration for the faithful remnant.

This interpretation alleviates some critical tensions with my previous view of Mark 13.24–27 (although, it may engender other tensions). One major problem was the question of where the parousia tradition began and how to account for its absence or presence in certain NT authors. If the tradition originated with Jesus, we would certainly expect Mark to pick up on it. If it did not originate with Jesus, did Paul invent the anticipation of a second coming and why? But with Kazen’s insight into Paul’s restorative anticipations, Mark’s account becomes clearer and even harmonizes with an early tradition (against my last post)[2]. Thus, what we find in Mark is the destruction of the Temple (13.24–25) followed by the Son of Man tradition (13.26), which, in this view, represents the vindication of the holy ones[3]. Verse 27 alludes to Isa 11.12 as “he” will gather the elect. If the one who sends the angels is to be identified as Jesus, we may find here an expectation of parousia. Mark’s account does not necessarily indicate a descending Jesus as much as an appearing Jesus, but nevertheless, it can easily be seen as referring to the same event. But there is a key distinction to be made, that while Mark does indicate a parousia, Jesus and the parousia are only connected with the Son of Man tradition via an event and not because the latter is personified by former. In this sense, the parousia is not directly identified with the Son of Man tradition but is rather identified with the gathering of the saints and the restoration of kingdom! Therefore, what we find in Mark 13.24–27 is the anticipated restoration of the kingdom to the remnant (Dan 7 and “Son of Man”) and the gathering of God’s people (Is 11.12)[4].

One implication of this interpretation is that Jesus is no longer being set up as the new Temple in and of himself. With the claim of destroying the Temple only to build another in three days (14.58), it is difficult to remove Jesus from the Temple imagery. But this does not mean that the holy ones cannot be assumed into the new Temple at restoration and thus become a part of its structure.

In line with the last consideration the idea of Theosis is prominent in Mark 13.24–27 and certainly applicable to this new Temple ideology. The holy ones are mentioned in a context containing theophanic imagery: “clouds” (Exod 16.9–10; 24.9–17) and “glory” (Exod 16.9–10; 24.9–17; 34.18)[5]. Furthermore, the vindication follows the distress of the “stars,” which fall from heaven, and the “powers” (angels? gods?). Notice also that the shaking “powers” are most likely those who see the holy ones coming in “power” (Mark 13.25–26), possibly emphasizing the replacement of roles and positions. In other words (if I may get back to my main point), it seems plausible that Jesus and the holy ones constitute the new Temple, as the holy ones are portrayed in theotic imagery. Thus, in the same way we see Paul anticipating a future resurrection in light of the resurrection of Jesus, Mark anticipates the believers’ constitution of the new Temple in light of Jesus’ as the already reconstructed new Temple.

Overall, with this interpretation there are many facets to be examined and many more books to be read.


[1] Coming, 159; Contra Plevnik, Paul and the Parousia, who asserts that 1 Thess 4.16–17 is unique in that it is the only passage in which believers are in the clouds. He makes this case by presuming that the Gospel accounts speak of the “Lord” coming in the clouds (60). But this interpretation reflects an a priori assumption that the Son of Man is Jesus in the Gospel accounts.  Edwards Adams also recognizes that the clouds are associated with the believers but fails to make a connection between the cloud imagery of 1 Thess 4.17 and the Son of Man imagery in Daniel 7.13 (“The ‘Coming of God’ Tradition,” in Biblical Traditions and Transmissions, 14). Major commentaries follow suit in affirming Jesus as the Son of Man in the Gospels, which proves seminal for their interpretations of the cloud imagery primarily reflecting Jesus and only secondarily connect to the remnant (Fee, Thessalonians, NICNT, 180; Wanamaker, Thessalonians, NIGTC, 175; Malherbe, Thessalonians, AB, 276–77; Bruce, Thessalonians, WBC, 105).

[2] Coming, 168–69.

[3] This view, in my opinion, removes the tension of Jesus’ double vindication associated with identifying Jesus as the Son of Man, in which he is vindicated following the destruction of the Temple, and his vindication at the resurrection, when he assumes the role of the new Temple (Mark 14.58). In the present view of this post, Jesus’ vindication is at the resurrection and the vindication of the Son of Man is reserved for the holy ones.

[4] While Daniel 7 includes a judgment on the fourth kingdom, Mark does not explicitly reflect a judgment at this time. While it may be assumed, it is Matthew’s account that explicitly emphasizes judgment and identifies Jesus as judge (Kazen, Coming, 169; Sim, David C. Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 88 SNTSMS. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1996.

[5] Burnett has a good article on Paul’s realized theotic expressions in Colossians, in which he provides many Biblical and extrabiblical references for theophanic imagery involving “clouds” and “glory.” In fact, much of what David suggests is being revealed in Paul’s language could be transferred to Mark’s account.

Rival Jewish Mysticisms at Colossae: Paul’s Realized Angelomorphic/Theotic Participatory Messianism in the Epistle to the Colossians (Part 3)

“Delivered us from the Domain of Darkness and Transferred us to the Kingdom of His Beloved Son”


The forgiveness of the Gentiles’ sins and entrance into the heavenly kingdom is inextricably linked in Colossians to the Messiah’s triumph over the heavenly rulers and authorities, as they are likewise caught up with him through faith and participation “in Messiah”. Paul refers to Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah as “our Lord” (1:2) insinuating that those in Colossae now share the same “Lord” as he himself does. The Messiah has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (1:13-14).” This language echoes that of God’s deliverance of a people enslaved and their redemption in the Exodus.[1] Those who were “once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (1:21) and “dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (2:13) have now died to the “στοιχειων του κοσμου” or “elemental spirits of the world” (2:1).

Paul’s narratival understanding of the Messiah-event is cosmically Exodus-shaped. The mystical participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism (2:12) is understood for Paul as a new Exodus, this time not from Pharaoh, but from the “elemental spirits of the world”. Through the Colossians’ baptism into Messiah, he envisions a very real mystical participation in the new Cosmic Exodus as may be outlined in this way: the purchase of the people from cosmic slavery through participation in his death (1:12) and their being led forth in freedom through participating in his resurrection (1:12).

There has been much debate over the meaning of the phrase “στοιχειων του κοσμου”[2], but after a consideration of its use here within the narratival framework of a new Cosmic Exodus, it may become apparent that these elemental spirits should be understood, as by Wright, in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition as the angels over the nations.[3] The context demands that the “elemental spirits of the world” (2:8, 20) be understand as the “rulers and authorities” (2:10, 15). Through Messiah, God would “reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His (Messiah’s) cross” (1:20). In the Colossians’ baptism they “have been buried with Him” (2:12) and with Messiah have “died to the elemental spirits of the world”. They were “also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God” (2:12) sharing in the exaltation of Him who is “the head of all rule and authority” (2:10). Now they are to let the peace of Messiah rule in their hearts” (3:15). In keeping with the narratival idea of a Cosmic New Exodus in Messiah, the angelomorphic translation and exaltation with Messiah of the “holy ones” in Colossae is not only a rescue from the “domain of darkness” but the superior theotic hope of assuming the role of the inheritors of the cosmos and rulers of the nations, evocative of that previously demonstrated in the Jewish apocalyptic expectation of Daniel and the Wisdom of Solomon.

Participatory Messianism


“In Him the Fullness of Deity Dwells Bodily, and You Have Been Filled in Him”

As it has been demonstrated previously, Paul recognizes those in Colossae to have assumed the title of God’s “holy ones” who look forward to the full enjoyment of their angelomorphic inheritance in light, as well as being delivered from and exalted above their former oppressive regime of angelic patrons; all this is realized due to their faith and participation “in Messiah”. The Participatory Messianism of the apostle to the Gentiles is seen in no greater light than in the expression “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority (2:9-10).” As the Messiah Jesus had been filled with deity in bodily form, so those who are in him also share in the fullness of deity.[4] Some commentators regard the language of being “filled” in 2:10 to be rhetorical or hyperbolic if it appeals back to verse 9 and the “fullness of deity”,[5] while others say grammatically it would be asserting too much.[6] The problem with both of these views is that the utilization of the language of “fullness” in 2:9-10 as a deliberate echo of that in the Messiah Hymn of 1:19 must be downplayed or ignored for either to be the case.[7] How to understand the idea of being “filled with deity” may be best explained by the use of what can be recognized as interchangeable expressions for Paul in the same context, especially as aided by the shared nexus of ideas that can be found in early Jewish apocalyptic and mystical literature.

For Paul it is clear that what makes Jesus “Messiah” is his being filled with “the fullness of deity” (1:19). Similarly, it follows that what allows Paul to say the Colossians share “in Messiah” is due to their sharing in “the fullness of deity” (2:9-10). What may be apparent as interchangeable expressions for Paul are those that pertain to glory and enthronement such as: “He is the image of the invisible God” (1:15) and “Messiah in you, the hope of glory” (1:27) as explained further in the subsequent text, “If then you have been raised with Messiah, seek the things that are above, where Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Messiah in God. When Messiah who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (3:1-4). We see contextually a shared nexus of ideas (that of the image of God, the glory, and enthronement) in Jewish apocalyptic and mystical literature that may help to understand what Paul means when he says, “in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him” (2:9-10).

“The Glory of YHWH” in the HB could be understood at any number of angles. In Exodus the “glory” appears to be a hypostasis of God himself: “Come near before YHWH… and behold, the Glory of YHWH appeared in the cloud” (16:9-10). Also in 24:9-17 using all these titles interchangeably: “the Elohim of Israel”, “the cloud”, and “the Glory of YHWH” whose appearance was “like a devouring fire.” Moses in chapter 34 asks of YHWH, “show me your glory” (34:18). God responds saying, “I will make my glory pass before you and proclaim before you my name YHWH” (34:19 LXX). Later in the next chapter recounting what had taken place the author says, “YHWH descended in the cloud and stood with him there… YHWH passed before him” (34:5-6). In chapter 40 you can observe the same pattern of terms used: “the cloud”, “the Glory of YHWH”, “the Cloud of YHWH”, and “the fire” (40:34-38).[8]

Ezekiel portrays “the Glory of YHWH” as an angelomorphic human figure who is enthroned on the Merkabah, the chariot throne of God. In the vision in the first chapter we see one “… seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance… (a description of his appearance) so was the appearance of the Glory of YHWH. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of the one speaking. And he said to me, ‘Son of Man, stand to your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me” (1:26, 28-2:2). He speaks with Ezekiel through chapter 2, and then is described again in 3 as “the Glory of YHWH stood there, like the Glory I had seen by the Chebar canal, and I fell on my face” (3:23). The “spirit entering” Ezekiel is what allowed him to stand in “the glory’s” presence and to hear his words (2:2; 3:24).

As scholars have observed, the Ezekiel account of the “Glory of YHWH” may be the backdrop for the vision in Daniel 7. In the vision we notice “with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man (i.e. human being, possibly with a human appearance), and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (7:13-14a). When the explanation of the vision in Daniel 7 is given, we find out that the one “like a Son of Man (or human being)” corresponds to (or represents) the “holy ones of the Most High” who “shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever” (7:18). As it is further stated, “the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time came when the holy ones possessed the kingdom” (7:22). It is clear that in Daniel the cloud riding one “like a Son of Man (human being)” is seen not only as an individual figure, but shares a corporate identity with the “holy ones of the Most High”.

Another essential component in exploring the understanding of the “glory” is the close correlation with the HB and subsequent Second Temple literatures’ understanding of mankind made in the “image of God”. It is not uncommon to speak of those faithful to the God of Israel throughout history as sharing the “glory”. Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira 44:1 states in reference to the great figures throughout Israel’s history such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc.: “Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning.”[9] Proceeding forth five more chapters through the long genealogical list to the end you see expressed “Shem and Seth were honored, but above every other created living being was Adam” (49:16). The implication is that Adam was apportioned a greater glory than any in Israel’s history, or the history of the world for that matter.

In the Greek reception of 3 Baruch, Adam was “stripped of the glory of God” and subsequently men have “become distant from the glory of god” (4:16).[10] Fletcher-Louis discusses what seems to be a liturgical fragment from Qumran, probably preserving a prayer for the first day of the week, acknowledging that Adam was made “in the likeness of Your Glory” (4Q504 fragment 8).[11] In the Life of Adam and Eve, Satan falls because he will not obey a heavenly command to “worship the Image of God” (14:2). Reflecting a high interpretative tradition of texts like Genesis 1:26-27 and Psalm 8, Life of Adam and Eve, along with a great deal of Second Temple Material, see humanity in it’s original form as having an angelomorphic/theotic state, exalting their position over the angels themselves and having heavenly dominion.[12]

We see the “glory” and the Adamic “image of God” meet in texts like 1QH saying God has “raised an eternal [name], [forgiving] offence, casting away all (the community’s) iniquities, giving them as a legacy all the glory of Adam [and] abundance in days” (4:14-15 [17:14-15]).[13] Similarly another text reads “and their descendants forever” possess “all the inheritance of Adam” (4Q171 3:1-2).[14] In other sources we find even possible allusions to the intended purpose of all the hosts and angels is to serve Adam and minister to him (4Q381).[15]

In Colossians, the Messiah is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (1:15), the Adamic Lord of the Cosmos who restores the Glory of humanity. He is the one in whom “the fullness of deity dwells” (1:19; 2:8) in whom those in Messiah are also “filled”. This is the heavenly “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to the holy ones” (1:26) that is “Messiah in us, the hope of glory” (1:27). The apocalyptically anointed human being who is the “Glory” and those who are baptized into him are “hidden in God” (3:3). Those being “in Messiah” share in the “fullness of deity” (2:10), redeemed in the Cosmic New Exodus and share “in the inheritance of the holy ones in light” (1:12). When compared with Paul’s opponents, their form of mysticism pales in comparison as to his thoroughly developed Messianic thought: one that could be characterized as Realized Angelomorphic/Theotic Participatory Messianism.

[1] Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, Colossians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (trans. A. B. Beck; AB 34b; New York: Doubleday, 1994), 190; Dunn, Epistle to the Colossians, 77; Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon (Herm; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 36; Margaret Y. McDonald, Colossians and Ephesians (ed. Daniel J. Harrington; SP 17; Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2000), 51; Peter T. Obrien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC 44; Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 27; N. T. Wright, The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians and Ephesians: An Introduction and Commentary(TNTC; Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 101-102.

[2] Cf. Arnold, Colossian Syncretism, 158-194; “Returning to the Domain of the Powers: Stoicheia As Evil Spirits in Galatians 4:3,9,” NT 38 (1996): 55-76; Dunn, Epistle to the Colossians, 148-151; Ernest De Witt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Galatians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1921), 515-518; Lohse, Colossians, 96-99; Smith, Heavenly Perspective, 80-87; Wright, Colossians, 101-102.

[3] This is not to say that the actual employment of the term “στοιχειων του κοσμου” is explicit within the context of Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic literature to denote the angels of the nations, but it has been argued elsewhere that the terms scope of meaning could certainly include this concept. Cf. Wright, Colossians, 101-102.

[4] Barth and Blanke, Colossians, 315.

[5] Dunn, Colossians, 152.

[6] O’Brien, Colossians, 113.

[7] It is ironic that in Dunn’s comments on 1:19 he says the idea of the “fullness” presented there is strong enough “to be merging into the idea of incarnation”, and in his comments on 2:9 he recognizes the relationship between 1:19 as he says “the later Christology of ‘divine nature’ and ‘essence’ is clearly prepared for but it by no means yet present” while then saying 2:10’s use is merely rhetorical or hyperbolic. Cf. Dunn, Colossians, 102, 151-152.

[8] Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology, 78-80.

[9] Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 91.

[10] Ibid., 91.

[11] Ibid., 92.

[12] Cf. David Steenburg, “The Worship of Adam and Christ as the Image of God,” JSNT 39 (1990): 95-109. Steenburg uses his legitimacy principle to attempt to see the origin of the worship of Messiah in Colossians.

[13] Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 96.

[14] Ibid., 96.

[15] Ibid., 98-99.

Rival Jewish Mysticisms at Colossae: Paul’s Realized Angelomorphic/Theotic Participatory Messianism in the Epistle to the Colossians (Part 1)

A vast range of difficulties regarding the contested Pauline epistle to the Colossians[1] have long plagued new testament scholars by putting forth a fragmentary constellation of ideas that permits us to “see through a mirror dimly”, to use a Pauline metaphor, into the occasion for the letter and to identify or to categorize Paul’s presumed opponents. In scholarship since the seminal work of Francis and Meeks[2] which challenged the validity of the dominant views of the period (e.g. Käsemann’s theory of Gnostic origins[3]), the current prevailing view seems to be that the “philosophy and empty deceit” (2:8)[4] being taught or practiced in Colossae could most adequately be understood as Jewish apocalyptic mysticism[5].

Though this may be the case, one quickly becomes conscious of the terminological and conceptual quandary when attempting to enter the conversation of how one categorizes religious or cultic phenomena in ancient texts. Scholarship in general has shown that many attempts to categorize early Jewish or Christian sources by a strict attribution and maintenance of specific genre labels can be problematic. Scholars who point out the conflation of certain genres such as “apocalyptic”, “mystical” and “Sapiential” that may have traditionally been applied individually is needed to bring about a more satisfactory and robust understanding of what is actually going on in any said text[6].

Similar kinds of questions arise when facing the difficulties in attempting to reconstruct what, or identify whom, Paul was actually reacting to on the ground in Colossae. For example, is it has been rightly questioned whether or not one can speak of “false teachers” at Colossae[7] or the existence of an actual “Colossian heresy”, as if there had been some sort of formal “Christian orthodoxy” that could be spoken of at this time[8]. Dunn states further “This is true to such a degree that if one persists with the idea of ‘orthodoxy,’ it would be hard to deny that some of the forms of earliest ‘Christianity’ would be better designated as ‘heresy,’ at least as judged by the subsequent course of theology.”[9] The present study attempts to demonstrate precisely this point.

In attempting to identity the opponents in Colossae as “Jewish Mystics” one might be faced with the historical question of how to characterize Paul’s own views. Using the appellation “Jewish Apocalyptic Mystics” for Paul’s opponents may reflect a presupposition and an inadequate characterization of Paul as the defender of a not-yet- invented Christian orthodoxy. This is of course not to say that his opponents are no longer to be understood as “Jewish Apocalyptic Mystics” themselves, only rather that after an analysis of Paul’s own theological convictions as demonstrated in the epistle to the Colossians, one might find that he himself may be more amply situated in the category of “Jewish Apocalyptic Mystic” than even his opponents. If once the evidence from the epistle is treated fairly and these conclusions can be demonstrated, we may further conclude that the occasion of the epistle when depicted as “Paul’s defense of ‘Christianity’ versus the Jewish Mystics” may be unfavorable or inadequate.  Rather it may be best to describe the scenario as “Rival Jewish Mysticisms in Colossae”; Paul’s own Mysticism versus that of his opponents’.

To approach the question of whether situating Paul may rightly be understood in etic terms[10] of Jewish mysticism, it is necessary to provide a functional definition. As DeConick states, the term “identifies a tradition within early Judaism and Christianity centered on the belief that a person directly, immediately and before death can experience the divine, either as a rapture or one solicited by a particular praxis.”[11] Assuming the validity of DeConick’s explanation for the present study, there are many elements of Paul’s teaching in Colossians that would lead us to situate him in the matrix of Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism. Though this may be the case, due to the limited scope of this study, we will highlight only a few such elements that give us entry to a similar nexus of ideas shared by Paul and Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism: Jewish Angelomorphic[12] or Theotic[13] traditions, participatory Messianism[14], and realized eschatology.[15] As the present study will attempt to show, the thing that separates Paul from his presumed opponents in Colossae is that all these Jewish expectant or realized traditions can only be experienced or realized through participation “in Messiah”.

[1]Pauline authorship will be assumed in the following paper, although is not detrimental to any arguments therein, assuming one from the “Pauline School” could adequately mirror Paul’s own convictions on the matters contained in the present epistle.

[2] Fred O. Francis and Wayne A. Meeks, Conflict at Colossae: A Problem in the Interpretation of Early Christianity by Selected Modern Authors, rev. ed., Sources for Biblical Study 4 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975).

[3] Ernst Käsemann, ‘Eine urschristliche Taufliturgie’, Exegetische Versuche Und Besinnungen, 3rd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964), 1:34-51.

[4] The ESV will be the default translation used throughout this paper unless otherwise noted, as may frequently be the case due to many nuanced translations by the present author.

[5] See cf. Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996); Jarl E Fossum, “The Image of the Invisible God: Colossians 1:15-18a in the Light of Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism” in The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology (NTEOA 30; Freiburg, Schweiz: Universitätsverlag, 1995), 13-39; though Fossum still maintains remaining influence of what might rightly be understood as “proto-Gnosticism”; Christopher Rowland and Christopher R. A. Morray-Jones, The Mystery of God: Early Jewish Mysticism and the New Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 156-65; Thomas J. Sappington, Revelation and Redemption at Colossae (JSNTS; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991); Ian K.Smith, Heavenly Perspective: A Study of the Apostle Paul’s Response to a Jewish Mystical Movement at Colossae (Library of New Testament Studies; London: T & T Clark, 2006); Loren Stuckenbruck, Angel Veneration and Christology: A Study in Early Judaism and in the Christology of the Apocalypse of John (WUNT 70; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1995).

[6] Cf. John Collins, Seers, Sybils, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 54; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 317-385; Grant Macaskill, Revealed Wisdom and Inaugurated Eschatology in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2007); Smith, Heavenly Perspective; Daniel R. Streett, “Apocalyptic Wisdom in the Epistle to the Colossians” (Unpublished Manuscript; Yale University, 2002).

[7] Cf. Morna D. Hooker, “Were there False Teachers in Colossae?” in From Adam to Christ: Essays on Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 121-36.

[8] Cf. James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 1996), 24-26.

[9] Ibid., 24. See also as cited by Dunn: Walter Bauer, Robert A. Kraft, and Gerhard Krodel, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).

[10] “So ‘mysticism’ is an etic term, a modern typology, contemporary analytic vocabulary that we are imposing on the ancients in order to investigate their religiosity. It serves the modern scholar heuristically as a taxonomy, aiding our engagement in historical investigation and research.” Quote taken from April D. DeConick, “What is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism” in Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism (Edited by April D. DeConick; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), 2.

[11] Ibid., 2.

[12] “Angelomorphism” is to function in the following study as a soteriological category as articulated in works such as Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Leiden: Brill, 1998); Crispin Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 42; Leiden: Brill, 2002); Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology, and Soteriology, (WUNT 94; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997); “The Worship of Divine Humanity as God’s Image and the Worship of Jesus” in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus. (Edited by C. C. Newman, J. R. Davila and G. S. Lewis; Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 63; Leiden: Brill, 1999), 112-28.

[13] “Theotic” referring categorically to soteriological traditions that may be best described by the adjectival form of the term “Theosis” as later frequently employed by the Greek Church fathers. It remains to be thoroughly argued that the idea is conceptually rooted well within the context of Second Temple Judaism, yet in the limited scope of this study, an ambitious yet truncated attempt will be made.  “Theotic” in the present study originates from a shared semantic constellation of similar terms such as Theosis, Christosis, Theoformity or Christoformity. Cf. Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Pauline Soteriology in Light of Deification in Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria (Ph.D. diss., University of Durham, 2010); “Deification and Colossians 2:10” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the SBL; Atlanta, Ga., November 22, 2010); Gregory Glazov, “Theosis, Judaism, and Old Testament Anthropology” in Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology (ed. S. Finlan and V. Kharlamov; PTMS; Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2006), 16-31; Stephen Finlan, “Can We Speak of Theosis in Paul?” in Partakers of the Divine of the Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christians Traditions (ed. M. J. Christensen and J. A. Wittung; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 68-80.

[14] Though “Participatory Messianism” is the determined terminological denotation in the following study, the realization that other terms such as “Corporate Messianism” or “Messianic Solidarity” could similarly serve to describe the Pauline conceptual framework effectively. The functional nuance of “participation” rather than terms such as “corporate” or “solidarity” is that they seemingly carry an implicit notion of passivity, functioning merely as identity markers. The use of “participatory” stresses the notion of active involvement in not merely the identity of Messiah but in status, woes (or afflictions), and glorification.

[15] “Realized” eschatology is the preferred designation in place of “inaugurated” in this study of Colossians due solely to its frequent reference to the already appropriated or available aspects of deity, heavenly mystery, wisdom, power, glory, etc. This being the case, the framework of Paul’s eschatological thought can certainly still be adequately represented by the idea of “inauguration”. Though the three ideas from Jewish Apocalyptic Mysticism may appear here as separate categories, they share the same matrix of ideas through the overlapping use of many of the same texts that could be described from a number of different terminological and conceptual angles; the present author merely chose three.