In this video I demonstrate that the ‘citizenship’ Paul is discussing in Phil. 3:20 is not about one’s Christian hope in the afterlife but rather about loyalties to a particular empire and its ruling savior/lord. Paul summons the Philippian Christians to place their citizenship with Jesus, the true savior and lord, who will descend out of heaven to consummate the empire (kingdom) of God.
There is an interesting discussion ensuing concerning whether or not Jesus being called “Lord” in the New Testament is an indicator of high christology. Recently, Nijay Gupta has offered a response to James McGrath, who was responding to Gupta’s response to Ehrman (I feel like I am explaining the trajectory of communication mentioned in Rev. 1:1). I thought I would throw in my two cents and draw attention toward some neglected evidence which I hope would bring this discussion toward areas of agreement.
I continue to be amazed that the most cited and alluded text from the Hebrew Bible, Psalm 110:1, wherein Yahweh speaks to another lord (“my lord”), fails to get enough press in discussions concerning the significance of Jesus being called Lord. I repeat, Psalm 110:1 is the New Testament’s favorite text from the Hebrew Bible to reference in regard to Jesus, his relationship to Yahweh, and his position of exaltation. It seems fairly obvious, to me, that the various New Testament authors regarded Jesus in terms of this second figure on Psalm 110:1. The “my lord” in this psalm, is the Hebrew adoni, which in every single of its 195 occurrences within the Hebrew Bible denotes a human superior, husband, and sometimes even an angel. However, in not one of those 195 occurrences does adoni refer to the God of Israel. Not once! I’ve actually verified each reference to confirm this fact, but hey [insert LeVar Burton voice] you don’t have to take my word for it…
In Psalm 110:1 we have Yahweh speaking to an exalted human figure, “YHWH says to my lord, sit at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” This seems to indicate on the plain reading of the text that this human figure, summoned to the right hand of God, is to be distinguished from Yahweh. And it is this sort of relationship, I argue, that the New Testament writers repeatedly portrayed in their writings. Jesus is Lord indeed, but this does not make him Yahweh. Rather he is Lord in the sense described in Psalm 110:1, an exalted human figure who is distinct from Yahweh, but is God’s “right hand man” (pun intended).
Since Gupta correctly suggests that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest Christian correspondence which has survived, I’ll use the opening lines from that letter as an example:
constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1:3)
When Jesus here is called “our Lord” this certainly cannot mean “our Yahweh.” Such a phrase does not exist in the Hebrew Bible. Too often scholars have assumed that kyrios language identifies Jesus with Yahweh without stopping to think if this even makes sense, especially in regard to the multiple instances where Jesus is called “our Lord.” This point is shared by James Dunn, so I reckon the McGrath shares it as well.
I also suggest that 1 Cor 8:6 makes better sense if it is informed by Psalm 110:1. Both passages have two figures: God and an exalted human lord. Gupta never comes out and says this, but he implicitly seems to think that the Shema is split in 1 Cor 8:6, making the one Lord Jesus Christ be read as if Paul meant “the one YHWH Jesus Christ.” However, McGrath has persuasively refuted the nonsense of ‘Shema splitting’ theology in regard to 1 Cor 8:6 in his book ‘The Only True God.’
I suppose that the terminology regarding “High Christology” is not very helpful. If the human Messiah Jesus is exalted to the right hand of Yahweh, this is definitely a high view of Jesus. He is no ordinary man. He is God’s vice regent. But he is not Yahweh. However, many of those who read “God the Son” language into the New Testament regard the phrase “High Christology” as an indicator that Jesus is to be equated with Yahweh. I therefore suggest we need sharper terminology. While we are at it, let’s jettison the “divine” language. It likewise is too slippery.
In short, I contend that modern interpreters take Psalm 110:1 more seriously in their reconstruction of early christology. The writers of the New Testament regarded it as their chief reference from the Hebrew Bible to understanding Jesus. We should follow suit.
Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is often argued that, if our citizenship is in heaven, then we are going to go there, presumably at the moment of our death. Is this really what Paul is teaching? Let’s take a closer look…
- One has to first put yourself in the shoes of the original readers of Philippians. They were Gentiles living in Philippi, which was a Roman colony. A colony like Philippi was established because of the over-crowded problem of Rome. Therefore, ‘colony status’ was given to these major satellite cities, so that their residents could maintain all the privileges that they had in Rome. One of those privileges was the assurance of safety by the Roman military. Living on Caesar’s doorstep was a peaceful assurance for many of Rome’s citizens. But the promise was made for those who were relocated to a colony like Philippi that “if things ever got out of hand in your city, the Emperor will come out from Rome with his legions in order that the situation would be dealt with.”
- Now, consider the parody that Paul is making. He is now saying that the Philippians’ citizenship is not in Rome, but rather in heaven. If things got bad, it is the true savior and lord, Jesus, who would come and rescue them from their dire times of distress. These titles (“savior” and “lord”) were regularly used of the reigning Roman emperors.
- Since the Philippians were never thinking of ‘returning’ to Rome as their place of citizenship, Christians should not read this passage to think that Paul is promising a home in heaven. Rather, their citizenship is in heaven, but the kingdom of God will come down and be consummated on this earth. The point of the verse is that it is a parody of the protection promised by Rome for those living in Philippi.
- Readers must note that ‘heaven’ is the location “out of which we eagerly await” the return of Jesus. Heaven is not the destination, but rather the starting point from which Jesus comes from.