Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Disputed Questions About Paul Of Tarsus: A Dialogue (Part 3b)

The following series was originally written by Carlos A. Segovia (marked CAS below). It is here translated into English and features additional responses by Thomas W. Hudgins. Part 3 of this series deals with the preexistence and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Can the expression "son of God" in Paul refer to the Roman imperial ideology, in a critical sense?

CAS: In my view, we should seriously consider the possibility. It would be interesting to compare the texts of Paul, especially Romans and Galatians, with Roman propaganda literature of the same time period and examine whether or not there are two thought processes in conflict with each other. Something similar has been shown not only Horsley, Borg, and Crossan (which are the only authors that David Alvarez Cineira echoes, rather than an oblique echoe trying to tame the revolutionary character of the Pauline message and make it acceptable to the Church), but above all, N. Elliot, D. Lopez and B. Kahl; the semiotic analysis of Davina Lopez and Brigitte Kahl (think, for example, about the study of semiotics with the Roman arena that Kahl has in her book Galatians Re-imagined) are so detailed and fascinating, and they are very convincing!


AP: Without a doubt there is a reference to the Roman imperial ideology, but this isn’t the main point. And it’s certainly not the only point. Primarily the title “Son of God” refers to a Messiah and the kingdom that belongs to him. You say that this goes against Caesar. Well, that’s true, it does; but Paul did not think of it as his primary reference. No, he viewed what you are referring to as an unavoidable consequence; Paul’s message was focused beyond this world scene as its final end.


TWH: I simply see no basis for arriving at a conclusion like that.


  1. I think they are referring to the use of divus filii by Roman emperors when referring themselves and their predecessors, by natural, biological sonship, and adoption as well. AP and CAS are probably indicating, as Cineira, that the use of the Roman imperial cult language is intended to contrast Jesus, the real Son of the real God, with the deified emperors. But if you do believe that in one way or another Jesus is the Messiah and, after all, the Son of God, how can you express that point?

    AP objection makes full sense since we have examples of the Messiah being considered as son of God, although maybe not as a divine figure (which can be on discussion, I guess). As happens with religious rituals in the Mediterranean bassin (the involvement of bread, wine, water and blood in reiligios rituals are a constant), and as AP remarked in the past, we have strong limitations in language, symbols, etc. when referring and relating to deity. So, before thinking on copycat theories or conscient use of language, we should consider these limitations in first place. For example, in Septuagint we could find the use of Roman imperial cult language avant la lettre!

    And maybe CAS, in his previous discussion about the probable Paul's binitarism, the fact that Roman emperors, after their death (or even meanwhile they are still alive!), are deified and considered as gods too.

    1. J.P., thanks for your comments. Definitely insightful. I enjoyed reading them.

      The title "Son of God" (υἱός θεοῦ) would have had a little more familiarity in first-century Gentile contexts than the title Χριστός. (See Yigal Levin, “Jesus, ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of David’: The ‘Adoption’ of Jesus into the Davidic Line,” JSNT 28:4 (2006): 419–420.) Some heirs of the Roman Empire were called divi filius (“son of a god”). And many emperors presented themselves as gods (e.g., coinage with their likenesses in the form of the Jupiter). They were worshiped as gods and the Empire’s subjects were expected to treat them in such a way (e.g., through sacrifices, offerings).

      Despite this familiarity, Gentile Christians would have needed serious instruction to understand exactly what the title refers to in places like Mark 1:1. After all, Jesus is not the self-declared “Son of God.” The early church identified Jesus as the Son from divine revelation (e.g., at Jesus’ baptism, Peter’s confession in Caesarea Philippi, and Jesus’ transfiguration). His works performed by the Spirit were the evidences of his sonship. Christians in the first century onward gain a proper framework for understanding both titles given in Mark 1:1 through the regular exposition of the Scriptures.

      Merry Christmas, J.P. Thanks for posting!

  2. Some typos (non exhaustive):

    The involvement [...] is

    And maybe CAS [...] misses the fact

  3. Thanks, Thomas, for your comment, greetings and the reference!

    Yes, I agree that Christians needed and had instruction about the new faith. After all, we know that sacraments were not administered to neophytes. I think that ancient people were aware that imperial cult was only flattering and domination. I don't think they really believed that emperors became gods after the emperor seized power (very often by violence!) or after Senate proclamation. I am becoming more convinced that people were not truly faithful of the official cults and that's the reason why new religions succeeded in the Roman world. They noticed the lack of sincerity. So, I say yes, they did need serious instruction as you say.