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|A Hymn of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11 in Recent Interpretation & in the Setting of Early Christian Worship|
|by Ralph P. Martin|
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A scholar's eye view of the Kenosis Hymn.,
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This review is from: A Hymn of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11 in Recent Interpretation & in the Setting of Early Christian Worship (Paperback)Ralph P. Martin's "A Hymn of Christ" is an encyclopedic analysis of Philippians 2:5 - 11. Philippians 2:5-11 is Paul's famous description of a Christ as a divine figure who emptied himself taking on the form of a servant. Martin's approach is that of bible criticism. Martin marshals the last century of bible literary criticism in order to examine the Kenosis hymn line by line. Along the way the reader receives an exhustive view of the various interpretations and controversies that have arisen in the contemplation of this piece of Pauline text.
This is not a particularly easy book for the layperson. Martin does not disdain from the use of Greek orthography in discussing key concepts like Logos, doulos, morphe and other words. Having a passing familiarity with these concepts and a Greek lexicon, however, handles that difficulty. Beyond that the text is dense with much in the way of inside game arguments.
And, yet, it is a fascinating discussion.
I came to Martin's book by way of Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth because Ehrman touts Martin's book as an example of the many conflicting interpretations that make the core of Paul's kenosis hymn indeterminable. Ehrman also appears to think that the kenosis hymn has been read in such a way as to deny Christ's pre-existence.
Ehrman's claims were not borne out by Martin's book. There is in fact a consensus about much of the kenosis hymn and there appeared to be a near universal agreement that Paul was describing Christ's pre-existence as a divine being. More importantly, although Ehrman claims that there were no "rising and dying gods" myths in the ancient world, Martin's book notes "similarities between the hymn and Hellenistic parallels in the stories of gods who came down and thereafter were apotheosized...." (p. 281.) This leads me to wonder whether Ehrman was pulling one of his patented moves where he leads his readers to believe that he's making a claim broader than he actually is making because it sure seems that bible form critics do spend time discussing and contemplating the value in pagan parallels, which if you read Ehrman's book, you would be led to believe is something that is only done by non-professional mythicists.
On the other hand, Martin does look at various pagan parallels and finds them wanting. Likewise, for all the interest in pagan parallels, it appears that the idea of a redeemer was an idiosyncratic Christian contribution to the storehouse of religious idea. (p. 128, n. 1.)
The Kenosis hymn is famous for being both one of the earliest creedal statements and having a high Christology. The general consensus seems to be that the Kenosis hymn is "pre-Pauline." This belief stems from the form of the hymn, which is, well, "hymnic" and doesn't seem to fit the writing style that we associate with Paul. According to Martin, it also appears to be liturgical, used in Communion or baptism. There is no reason that Paul could not have written the hymn, except we don't see him launching himself into verses like the Kenosis hymn as a frequent matter.
Martin doesn't answer the authorship question, but he does hint that the author could have been Stephen the proto-martyr. (p. 304.) This is interesting speculation, but there is simply no way to confirm this as anything other than speculation.
I am no form critic or bible student, but I found this book fascinating for giving me a grounding in the Kenosis hymn and raising issues that I had assumed were settled.
In the near future, we will be visited with a text from Bart Ehrman on why the earliest followers of Jesus believed that he was just a man and that the belief in his divinity was something that occurred in an evolutionary development later in the First Century or even the Second Century. The problem for Ehrman and people like him is that the Kenosis hymn can be traced to within a few short years of the crucifixion, and attests that the earliest belief of Christians was in a "high Christology," i.e., that Christ was divine. The Kenosis Hymn stands as a roadblock in the way of people like Ehrman who constantly misrepresent that the earliest Christians believed only in Christ's humanity. Since Ehrman has a tendency to get wildly inaccurate in his claims, while asserting that his position represents the mainstream of biblical scholarship - well, at least biblical scholarship which is not "fundamentalist" or "conservative" - it is a good idea to have Martin's book around to fact check the professor.