Karl-Josef Kuschel on
Christ and Adam
The following extract is from pp.251-252 of Karl-Josef Kuschel’s Born Before All Time? The Dispute Over Christ’s Origin (Crossroad, NY, 1992, translated from the German). It touches on several related topics: Christ and Adam; Christ as “the form of God”; and Christ’s preexistence. The value of Kuschel’s book is evident from its high scholarship and the fact that its Foreword was written by Hans Küng.
Already in the 1960s and 1970s Anglo-Saxon exegetes had paid more attention than representatives of German exegesis to the basic alternative that in this text Christ is not celebrated as a pre-existent heavenly being, but in good Jewish fashion as a human counterpart to Adam.29 That view cannot be completely false, simply because in other passages in his correspondence Paul also compares Christ with Adam (Rom.5:12-21; I Cor.15:21f., 45-47). In fact we can ask: is not Adam, the first, original man, here replaced and surpassed by Jesus as the definitive, ultimately valid man? In that case we should regard Gen.1-3, the creation and fall of the first man, as the traditio-historical background.
Linguistically, this seems to be supported simply by the fact that one can virtually identify ‘form of God’ (morphē theou)—thus literally, and better than ‘he was like God’—with doxa (glory) or eikōn (image) of God.30 The same holds for the Greek word homoioma (‘and in the likeness of men’) of v.7, which, moreover, is occasionally translated ‘in form like a man’.31 So the first line of the hymn would speak of Christ, who like Adam was created ‘in the image’ of God and like Adam participated in the ‘glory’ of God before his fall. The contrasting term to ‘form of God’ would further confirm this derivation: ‘form of a slave’ is evidently an allusion to Adam’s fate after the fall. The second contrasting pair at the beginning of the text would point in the same direction: ‘likeness of God’ probably alludes to Adam’s temptation (he wanted to be like God, Gen.3:5) and ‘likeness of men’ in turn to Adam’s state after succumbing to sin.
The phrase ‘being like God’ (Greek isa theou), too, may not simply be translated with terms like ‘equality to God’, ‘being like God’, as often happens. That would require the form isos theos. What we have in the text is the adverb isa, and that merely means ‘as God’, ‘like God’. So there is no statement about Christ being equal to God, and this in turn tells against an interpretation in terms of pre-existence. So on both traditio-historical and linguistic grounds, according to the Catholic exegete and Jerusalem Dominican Jerome Murphy-O’Connor there is ‘no justification for interpreting the phrase of the hymn in terms of being of Christ’.32
So this text would be a piece of Adam christology, of the kind that also emerges in other contexts in the New Testament. It would be a further example of the widespread two-stage christology of the earliest Jewish-Christian communities (life-death/resurrection-exaltation of Jesus Christ) which we have already analyzed, and thus would not be in the context of mythical tradition, but of Old Testament tradition. So there is no question here of a pre-existent heavenly figure. Rather, Christ is the great contrasting figure to Adam. To be specific, was it not Adam who wanted to become even more like God and thus succumbed to hubris and the primal sin? Was it not Adam who then as punishment had to live a kind of slave’s existence? And is not the Christ of this hymn precisely the opposite? Did he not give up his being in the image of God voluntarily? Did he not take on the form of a slave, not as a punishment, but voluntarily and obediently, so that he was then appointed by God to his heavenly dignity? That, then, would be the contrast, the great antithesis in this hymn: Adam the audacious man—Christ the man who humbled himself; Adam the one who was humbled forcibly by God—Christ the man who voluntarily humbled himself before God; Adam the rebellious man—Christ the man who was utterly obedient; Adam the one who was ultimately cursed—Christ the one who was ultimately exalted; Adam who wanted to be like God—and in the end became dust; Christ, who was in the dust and indeed went to the cross—and is in the end the Lord over the cosmos?
Thus in this hymn Christ seems to be the new Adam who has finally overcome the old Adam. There is no question of a pre-existence of Christ with the scheme of a three-stage christology: pre-existence, humiliation, post-existence. Instead of this, the author celebrates the whole earthly-human life of Christ as a life of voluntary self-surrender to lowliness, as obedience which extends to the existence of a slave and a shameful death. In so doing he makes two things clear. It is only because of, only through lowliness that Jesus could also become the pantocrator; and conversely, the pantocrator bears for ever the features of the humbled man, indeed the crucified slave.
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor can therefore draw the basic conclusion:
‘Strophe 1: As the Righteous Man par excellence Christ was the perfect image (eikon) of God. He was totally what God intended man to be. His sinless condition gave him the right to be treated as if he were God, that is, to enjoy the incorruptibility in which Adam was created. This right, however, he did not use to his own advantage, but he gave himself over to the consequences of a mode of existence that was not his by accepting the condition of a slave which involved suffering and death.
Strophe 2 : Though in his human nature Christ was identical with other men, he in fact differed from them because, unlike them, he had no need to be reconciled with God. Nonetheless, he humbled himself in obedience and accepted death.
Strophe 3: Therefore, God exalted him above all the just who were promised a kingdom, and transferred to him the title and the authority that had hitherto been God’s alone. He is the Kyrios whom every voice must confess and to whom every knee must bow.
Thus understood, the original hymn represents an attempt to define the uniqueness of Christ considered precisely as man. This is what one would expect at the beginning of Christian theology.’33
[The following are endnotes 29 to 33 in Kuschel’s book]
29. This position is represented by J. Harvey, ‘A New Look at the Christ Hymn in Phil.2.6-11’, Expository Times 76, 1964/65, 337-9; C.H. Talbert, ‘The Problem of Pre-existence in Phil.2.6-11’, Journal of Biblical Literature 86, 1967, 141-53; J.M. Furness, ‘Behind the Philippian Hymn’, Expository Times 79, 1967/68, 178-82; Dunn, Christology in the Making, 114-21; R. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple. The Life, Loves and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times, New York 1979, 45f. Among the German exegetes is H.-W. Bartsch, Die konkrete Wahrheit und die Lüge der Spekulation. Untersuchung über den vor-paulinischen Christushymnus und seine gnostische Mythisierung, Frankfurt am Main 1974. More recently in Catholic American theology, T.N. Hart, To Know and Follow Jesus, New York 1984, 93-100; L.Swidler, Yeshua. A Model for Moderns, Kansas City 1988, 23-6.
30. Cf. F.-W. Eltester, Eikon im Neuen Testament, Berlin 1958, who draws the parallel to II Cor.4.4 (133). Cf. similarly J. Behm, ‘morphe’, TDNT IV, Grand Rapids 1967, 742-52, esp.751 : ‘The morphe theou in which the pre-existent Christ is simply the divine doxa: Paul’s en morphe theou hyparchon corresponds exactly to John 17.5.’
31. Thus e.g., Neues Testament, translated U. Wilckens, Hamburg, Cologne and Zurich 1970, 1971
32. J.Murphy-O’Connor OP, ‘Christological Anthropology in Phil.2.6-11’, Revue Biblique 93, 1976, 25-50: 39.
33. Ibid, 49f. Against the theses of Murphy-O’Connor: G. Howard, ‘Phil.2.6-11 and the Human Christ’, CBQ 40, 1978, 356-76; I.H. Marshall, ‘Incarnational Christology in the NT’, in Christ the Lord. Studies in Christology presented to D. Guthrie, ed. H.H. Rowdon, Leicester 1982,1-16; L.D. Hurst, ‘Re-enter the Pre-existent Christ in Phil. 2.5-11’, NTS 32, 1986, 449-57; C.A. Wanamaker, Phil.2.6-11: Son of God or Adamic Christology?’, NTS 33, 1987, 179-93.
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