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Philippians 2:6-11 and Adam Christology

When I was preparing for my sermon, the argument I found that raged the strongest was whether or not there is an Adam Christology present in the passage. What thinketh I? Well I'm glad you asked! If you listened to my sermon, you might get the idea that I do subscribe to the Adam Christology theory. To channel my inner Lee Corso, 'not so fast my friend!' At the same time I want to say, 'of course there's an Adam Christology here!'

What gives? If one is doing a historical-critical reading of Philippians 2:6-11, I do not think that there is a tie back to Adam. The alleged parallels (like the alleged form/image parallel) simply are not strong enough to make the claim that Paul was intentionally playing Jesus against Adam (I won't rehash the argument here - see, O'Brien 263-8). However, does that mean that it's illegitimate to contrast Jesus and Adam when discussing this passage? Absolutely not. I'll have my cake and eat it too. It's a perfectly valid inference from the text at the level of biblical theology and it's certainly not in tension with the original meaning of the passage. The Philippians themselves very well may have made the same connections when listening to Paul.

This point is similar to one that Michael Bird makes in The Saving Righteousness of God (a fantastic book, by the way), when discussing imputation. In his opinion, no text of Scripture directly teaches imputation, but that doesn't make it an invalid concept in systematic theology. It's necessary to see more in the text than the human author intended. There's no reason why sensus plenior can't apply to the New Testament as well. Yes there are difficulties in doing this, but if we don't rise above the level of merely describing the original intentions of the author we have a dead text. We need to use and develop the ideas of the biblical author, and do it in conversation with the rest of the cannon. However, we need to be clear that that's what we're doing. I find too often that this work is often mistakenly understood to be unpacking the original meaning of a text, it's not. It's at a level removed.

So is there an Adam Christology in Philippians 2:6-11? Yes! and no. It just depends on what type of interpretation you're doing.


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