At the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
Thus, Philippians 2:10.
Paula Fredriksen in Paul, the Pagan’s Apostle asks about the ontological status of these “knees”. Knees in heaven”? Knees under the earth? Obviously some of these “knees” do not belong to earth-dwelling humans.
This odd language points us to Paul’s world-view, which I referred to the other day as not exactly monotheism. Paul and other New Testament writers lived in a world where certain spiritual entities, whether gods or spirits, were acknowledged as real. They were not part of some paranormal realm. They were recognized in perfectly normal public and family life. They were part of the reality that Paul and his assemblies dealt with all the time.
According to Fredriksen, Paul believed in the God of Israel as the high god. He required his pagan congregants to turn away from worshiping all others. Many spiritual entities were still believed in, but in the light of the return of Jesus as a divine king, part of the last things would be that even the pagan gods and ancestral spirits would worship the high god through his son and messiah, Jesus.
She does not think that Paul and the hymn in Philippians 2 make Jesus the equal of YHWH. She thinks the English convention about capitalizing words referring to divinity is partly to blame for a confusion that construes Philippians 2:6 as though it said that Jesus was “in the form of God” and had “equality with God”. She reinterprets the verse to say that Jesus had the form of a god and divine status.
So she thinks that there is a large gulf between Paul and Nicea, the church conference that defined the orthodox Christian view of the divinity of Christ.
Fredriksen does not believe Colossians was a genuine letter of Paul. It would be interesting to know how the hymn in Colossians 1:15-20 would affect her thinking if she thought it was from Paul. That passage still participates in the idea of the reality of the “principalities and powers”. But it seems to me “image of the invisible God” would bring Paul somewhat closer to Nicea, though it is still a far cry from the more philosophical language of “substance”.
Even if Colossians was not Paul, it must have been a very early interpretation of Paul.
But concern about a precise doctrine of Christ might sidetrack us from an important understanding. The coming of the kingdom, according to Paul, would not just include the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment. It would include an acknowledgment of God through Jesus by the whole pagan world, both human and divine.
The last things, described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4, Philippians 2, 1 Corinthians 15, and Romans 8, include from Fredriksen’s perspective:
1. Jesus comes from heaven with his angels in a royal, military and glorious display of divine power.
2. All the dead now arise, as Jesus had done just a few years earlier.
3. The entire cosmos, especially divine and human authorities, submit to Christ.
4. This reestablishes the house of David and fulfills all the promises from Hebrew scriptures about the kingdom of God under a Davidic king.
She says that Paul, in his own way, did have a high doctrine of Christ. He saw Jesus as from heaven, as having divine status. He saw him as the son of God, as the son of David, and as the Lord. All of these meant the same thing to Paul.
With this in mind, the statements in Romans 10:9 and 13 that all who confess or call on the name of the Lord will be saved are not points in some plan of salvation. They are eschatological declarations. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord meant joining the whole cosmos in recognizing Jesus as as the “final Davidic, royal messiah”. Crying out “come Lord Jesus” embodied salvation.