Book Review (part 18: The Development of Paul’s Christology by Ignatius) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

Good news, everyone. I am almost finished with the book (less than 100 pages to go). I will probably have about five more posts before I pursue something else (a new book on Christology perhaps). Anyways, this is the eighteenth post on my recap/review of James Dunn’s volume Neither Jew nor Greek.

I wanted in this post to draw upon an interesting section in Dunn’s chapter about the lasting impact of Paul within the NT and the second century believers (Apologists, Church Fathers, Marcion, and Gnostics). Being such a pivotal figure in the expansion of the Gentile mission Paul certainly made an impact, attracting both friends and critics alike. Very often students of church history look upon how Paul was interpreted by his earliest readers in order to find clues as to what Paul might have meant in his letters, especially in some of the more cryptic and difficult-to-understand passages (even 2 Peter 3:16 states that Paul is difficult). Perhaps Paul’s earliest interpreters possess some insight which has been lost over the last 2,000 years.

iconHowever, it is also plausible that some of the earliest interpreters either misrepresent, misunderstand, or develop Paul beyond what was originally intended. No one doubts that the Gnostics misunderstood (and very likely abused) Paul’s teachings to further their own docetic doctrines and agendas. After examining how the apostle Paul was taught by Ignatius, the Bishop of Syria who was martyred during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117), Dunn concludes that a considerable shift has taken place which makes Ignatius uniquely stand out among this contemporaries (Clement of Rome, Epistle of Barnabas, Aristides, Odes of Solomon). Dunn argues in particular that:

it can quite readily be argued that Ignatius’s emphases represent understandable developments from Paul’s theology…particularly in regard to christology (p. 691)

Dunn notes that Ignatius polemizes an emerging docetic teaching and suggests that this best explains the shift from Paul’s own teachings. Note how Ignatius responds to his theological opponents in his letter to the church in Tralles:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer… then why am I in bonds?…But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, He became man in appearance [only], that He did not in reality take unto Him a body, that He died in appearance [merely], and did not in very deed suffer…I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance, but in reality…God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb (Trall. 10, trans. Roberts-Donaldson)

This allows Ignatius the personal justification to describe Jesus as the one “who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible” (Eph. 7.2, trans. Roberts-Donaldson).

What is especially interesting is that Ignatius’s stress on the ‘flesh’ of Jesus brings him to actually argue that Jesus rose from the dead in the flesh. The particular quote comes from Smyrn. 3.1,

For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now.

This goes against the lengthy argument of Paul in 1 Cor. 15:35-50 where the apostle differentiates the mortal body of flesh from the resurrection body of spirit. Dunn notes that Ignatius is well aware of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, noting thirteen places where it is cited or echoed within the Ignatian corpus. Therefore, it seems that Ignatius has taken Paul’s arguments regarding the body of Jesus beyond what was originally intended. Dunn even notes a development in Paul’s ecclesiology in the writings of Ignatius, further contributing to the above conclusion.

In sum, Dunn observes that Ignatius has taken the arguments of Paul’s views of Christ and significantly developed them within polemical discussions with docetic Christians in the early decades of the second century CE.



3 thoughts on “Book Review (part 18: The Development of Paul’s Christology by Ignatius) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

  1. Hey Dustin, I had a quick peek at your potential next book project. It says from the off that it assumes that Jesus was likely aware of his divinity, which seems like a step back in time. What would your approach be and reasons for reviewing? Thanks.

    1. I simply wanted to review it and offer my comments. It’s the first of a four part book series, so I imagine others will be interacting with it as well.

  2. Dustin

    Thanks for providing an obvious to all example of Ignatius’ defective Christology. I believe there are textual issues – not the least of which the earliest extant text here is – well, good Lord, at least the 5th C or something crazy..:-) Well, an add to that how many spurious epistles claiming Ignatian authorship?? Dubious… very dubious… I would say.

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