Joshua Jipp Interview: Christ is King, Paul’s Royal Ideology
1) What made you write Christ is king, Paul's royal ideology? How long did it take you to write this beautiful book? (Yes, it's a beautiful message that you are conveying)
It all started with the second chapter of the book “King and Law: Christ the King as Living Law.” In that essay I explored the possibility that Paul’s phrase “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) is best understood within the ancient political context of the king as the royal embodiment of the law, law incarnate so to speak. I was surprised and grateful when the essay won the SBL Paul J. Achtemeier award. This encouraged me to continue to pursue the possibility of Paul and kingship discourse, and so I wrote the rest of the book in the span of about three years. I started working on it not long after I finished and defended my dissertation Divine Visitations and Hospitality to Strangers at Emory in spring of 2012.
But the genesis of the book goes back to 2006 or so. There were a lot of ideas swirling around in my mind at that time and influences from excellent professors at Duke Divinity School. I was discovering the importance of the Psalter and the royal aspects therein for the early Christians’ articulation of Jesus’ identity; I was exposed to Hellenistic and Roman kingship discourse in the neo-Pythagorean philosophers, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch, Seneca, and on and on; I was impressed by the royal depiction of the Messiah and his people in a paper I wrote on 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. I was also learning that the history of NT scholarship had not seen Paul’s use of the term “Christos” as having royal freight and was surprised by this. I was also noting that Paul frequently uses royal motifs and language to describe the identity of Christ. These were some of the seeds that led to the idea of the book much later on.
2) In Chapter 4 you talk about sharing in the rule of Christ, can you maybe elaborate for readers what it means to share in Christ' rule and reign? What are the implications for believers and does this have to do with a participation soteriology?
New Testament scholars have struggled to explain the origins of what is probably Paul’s most important soteriologial discourse, namely the participation of Christians in the identity and story of Jesus. In ch. 4 I argue that Jewish messianism and the notion of the participation of the subjects in the rule of the king can help explain both Paul’s articulation of the narrative of Messiah Jesus and his mapping of this narrative onto the people of the Messiah.
Let me give two examples. The Identity of Christ the King - In Colossians 1:13-20 we find a hymn (or something to that effect) that centers upon worship of the royal Son who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, the head of the body, the firstborn from the dead, and who reconciles his people to God and creates peace. Sharing in the Rule of Christ the King - The language that is used to describe Christ as the messianic king in this hymn is then used throughout the rest of the letter to describe how the church participates in every aspect of the rule of the king. So the church is the new humanity that is renewed “according to the image of the one creating it” (3:10); as the Messiah is the head of every power and authority, so the church shares in the Messiah’s victory over the powers (2:10, 14-15); as the Messiah is firstborn from the dead, so the church has been raised together in him (2:12, 13).
I think this is most clearly seen in Romans. The Identity of Christ as King is given in Romans 1:3-4. Christ’s narrative and identity is the christological foundation for Christians’ Sharing in the Rule of Christ the King as articulated in Romans 5 – 8. If I can quote myself: “Thus, Christ’s messianic identity as seed of David who shares in human flesh, his installation as God’s powerful Son, resurrection from the dead, his resurrected state as marked by God’s Spirit, and enthronement to a position of lordship over the nations are cosmically reworked by Paul as royal events in which humanity participates. In order for humanity to be saved out of the situation of death, sin, enslavement to hostile cosmic powers and to share in divine sonship, resurrection, and the Spirit, it is necessary that Israel’s Messiah share in these realities and, so to speak, thereby open up the way for humanity to experience them by virtue of participating in his own royal identity and narrative. As simultaneously sharing in God’s kingship as God’s son and as representing Israel and sharing in its fleshly existence, Christ is uniquely positioned as the only one who can extend and share God’s rule and its benefits with humanity” (p. 180).
3) Why did the early Christians use hymns for Christ? What is the significance of this? Also, was this a common practice in the ancient world? (can you give some examples)
It was an incredibly common practice to give praise to the divine through hymns and songs. Less common but by no means rare was the use of song to praise kings and heroes. In fact, there are ancient Greek and Roman handbooks that give instructions for how to praise kings. Hellenistic kings as well as Roman emperors even hired or had as part of their retinue those who would compose verses and sing them in their honor. There are also poetic compositions that were penned on behalf of the coming messianic ruler and can be found in some of the poetic seams in the Pentateuch and in the Psalms. Psalm 44 (LXX) directly addresses the king and says: “out of my heart erupts a good word, I speak my works to the king” (vv. 1-2a); he goes on to address the king as God and to have an eternal throne (v. 7; see also its quotation in Hebrews 1). These hymns functioned as a way of bestowing honor upon the ruler. In many of these hymns, the king is portrayed as God’s earthly representative who shares the divine throne, rules in behalf of the divine, and bestows gifts and benefactions upon the people.
Pliny, the governor of Bithynia in the early 2nd century C.E., told Trajan that the early Christians “were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god” (Epistle 10.96). Given that the early Christians believed Christ to be the Lord’s Anointed one, who not only ruled on his behalf but even shared in creation, and who provided the powerful benefactions and gifts of reconciliation, peace, and defeat of the cosmic powers – it is not surprising that they honored him from the very beginning with hymnic praises. When the church in Colossae sings this hymn (see Col. 3:16), it helps to counter their preoccupation with other powers and aids them as they participate in the rule of the true king. I say it like this: “Paul’s hymn draws the audience into joining their voices with Paul such that they bestow divine honors, namely worship, upon the sole king and ruler of the universe and are thereby socialized into a symbolic world where they share in the reign of the king who is lord over every power and authority” (pp. 80-81).
4) One of my favorite chapters was 5, where you unpack "King and Justice" God's righteousness and the righteous king in Romans. Can you maybe briefly unpack what you mean by King and justice/ God's righteousness and righteous king in Paul's letter to Rome? How does God's justice (right-ness) play into Paul's royal Ideology? Do you also think that Paul's audience would have understood this language better than our contemporary world?
In short, I argue that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel (Paul says as much in Rom. 1:17). It is important to recognize that Paul has defined this gospel in Romans 1:3-4 as centering upon a Davidic king who is resurrected and enthroned as son of God in power by means of the Spirit. Thus, God’s righteousness is revealed when he resurrects and thereby vindicates his own Son as the only one who is righteous. This resonates with numbers Septuagintal passages where the king (the Davidic psalmist, the Isaianic servant, etc.) pleads with God to look upon the king’s righteousness and to thereby save him from his unrighteous persecutors. OT scholars know that the first responsibility of the king was justice and righteousness (see here especially Moshe Weinfeld, Social Justice in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East). God’s revelation of his righteousness in resurrecting the Messiah has salvific consequences for the Messiah’s people, in light of the relationship between the Messiah and his people. God’s justification of the ungodly, then, depends upon God’s prior act of justifying and resurrecting his righteous Messiah who was unjustly executed by unrighteous humanity. This, then, results in the Messiah’s establishment of a righteous dominion, not unlike what the Prophets and the Psalmist hoped for (see esp. Ps. 72), and Paul speaks of how the Messiah establishes his people in a righteous dominion throughout Romans 5:12-8:39.
5) What do you hope readers will take away (glean) from your book?
This may sound odd, but a lot of what I write I actually write for myself. I usually write in order to try to give clarity and answers to my own questions, and I hope and trust that this improves my teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The book is geared more toward the NT scholarly guild than anyone else, and I hope it helps introduce kingship discourse into NT studies, makes a contribution to some notorious historical and exegetical cruxes/questions, and causes scholars to look at some texts in new ways.
That said, I believe that what Paul wrote is fascinating, creative, innovative, unbelievably interesting, but most of all I believe it is true. So when I write about Christ’s kingship I am also writing about the one to whom I try to give my own allegiance. In other words, if Christ is king then any attempt to write about him is also an attempt to clarify my own beliefs, commitments, practices, and allegiances. I hope that readers who share these commitments will also be encouraged by the vision of Christ the King.