Hill, Wesley. Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 224 pp. Pb; $26. Link to Eerdmans with a twelve minute video “book trailer.”
Wesley Hill attempts a theological reading of several important Pauline texts with respect to the Trinity in order to find a new way through the “Low Christology” vs. “High Christology” debate. In the introductory section of the book, he suggests a method for approaching Pauline theology that reads later patterns of Trinitarian theology alongside several classic Trinitarian texts. The result is a “Trinitarian retooling of Christological discussions” (p. 31). In order to achieve this goal, Hill suggests follows the work of Francis Watson and others by defining God in relation to Jesus. This theological use of relationships within the Trinity is not new since the early church used similar language in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, although it has been challenge
Hill begins his book by comparing several approaches to Pauline Christology usually designated as “high” or “low” Christology. For low Christology begins with the work of James Dunn and James McGrath. Starting point for low Christology is Paul’s Jewish, monotheistic heritage. Paul simply would not have conceived of the relationship of God and Jesus and Trinitarian terms. McGrath argued Paul expanded or split the shema. God and Jesus together do not constitute a single God, but rather there is “one God” and there is “one Lord.” In both Dunn and McGrath, there is a conscious effort to bracket out later Trinitarian theology, since Nicaea would “allow an alien question…to obscure what was at stake in Pauline Christology” (p. 19).
High Christology, on the other hand, begins with the idea of Jesus and God are equal. As has been pointed out by Larry Hurtado, the earliest Pauline Christians worship Jesus, considering him in the closest possible relationship to God the Father. Hurtado and others have pointed out “worshiping Jesus was for the early Christians actually a requisite demonstration of the reverence for God ‘the father’” (p. 64).
Hill thinks the high/low Christology discussion is not particularly helpful for understanding “Paul’s God.” Therefore in the the second part of the book Hill discuss is God’s relationship to Jesus. In order to do this, he examines a series of texts in which God is identified by actions done by/to/in Jesus primarily through Paul’s description of the God of Abraham as the same as the God of Jesus. The same God Abraham trusted is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. Galatians is not only a battle for the right interpretation of Abraham’s faith, but also for a right identification of God himself. As Hill concludes, “There is no ‘monotheism’ with Christology” (p.74).
In the third section of the book Hill reverses the direction of the relationship and examines Jesus’s relationship to God in the most significant Pauline texts for understanding the Trinity, Philippians 2:6-11. Hill argues the identities of God and Jesus are “mutually determined” (p. 77). After careful exegesis of Phil 2:6-11, he concludes there is both a unity between God and Jesus in the text as well as distinctions between the two. The Trinitarian pieces are on the table, so to speak, and by applying the insights of Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, and Augustine, Hill concludes the two aspects of Phil 2:6-11 are “irreducible to one another, equally ultimate and non-overlapping” (p. 108). Yet there is a kind of asymmetrical relationship since Jesus is subordinate to the Father in some ways. But for Hill, this does not render the relationship any less mutual.
In the fourth section of the book examines Jesus’ relationship to God in two important texts from 1 Corinthians. First, in 1 Cor 8:6 Paul affirms there is but one God, but also that there is one Lord, Jesus. Hill considers this interpretation of shema to contain the same unity between God and Jesus found in Phil 2:6-11, but also a distinction between Father and Son. Dunn would see this as an example of Paul “splitting the shema” to emphasize the distinction between the two. McGrath rejects this as an unwarranted division since the same kind of formulation appears in 2 Sam 7:22-24. Bauckham, on the other hand, find this statement to be a strong affirmation of the unity between the Father and Son. Hill sees this text as an example of “non-competitive and mutually complementary” Trinitarianism. God the Father and Jesus belong together as the “one God” of the shema as distinct agents.
He finds the same elements in the “second Adam” Christology of 1 Cor 15:24-28. Hill concludes that this asymmetrical mutuality or “redoublement” does justice to both the priority of the Father (who sends the Son) as well as their unity, since the Father depends on the Son in order to be identified as the Father. The Father and Son are interdependent, but they are not interchangeable (p. 135).
The final section of the book examines the role of the Spirit in relation to God and Jesus. Just as the Father and the Son are asymmetrical mutual, so too the Holy Spirit conveys the presence and activity of the risen Lord and is therefore God- and Christ-determined. Texts such as 1 Cor 12:3 indicate the activity of the Spirit is dependent on the Father and Son since no one can confess Jesus as Lord unless through the Spirit. Yet when Paul speaks of the Spirit, it is the Spirit of God who identifies the Father and Son through their mutual relationships. Hill wants to avoid so-called “binitarianism” associated with C. F. D. Moule, although this perspective itself is guided by the high/low Christology discussion. It is the relationship For Hill the Spirit is the “means whereby Jesus mediates his power or presence to and among believers” (p. 164).
Conclusion. Hill recognizes early on that his method can be described as a projection of categories on to the Pauline texts, resulting in exactly the kind of results he expected in the first place (p. 45). This is of course the danger any theological reading of the New Testament faces, since in many ways the conclusion is assumed from the beginning of the project. By treating Pauline theology and later Trinitarian theology in a kind of dialectic, he opens himself to the charge of petitio principia, begging the question. Fourth century dogma can guide exegesis, or as Hill puts it, “theology and exegesis are, or ought to be, mutually dependent” (p. 47).
There are therefore two things going on in this book. First, Hill offers a correction to the high/low Christology discussion. He think both sides fail to adequately describe Paul’s view of the relationship between Father and Son primarily because they consciously ignore later theological discussions of the Trinity. Second, Hill demonstrates a theological exegetical method which balances the historical critical method with a kind of “rule of faith” common in these sorts of studies. His exegetical discussion of Phil 2:6-11 is excellent. Although I personally would not look to Augustine as an exegetical guide, Hill does a good job showing how later Trinitarianism sheds light on the passage. While Hill achieves his goals, scholars who have been active in the high/low Christology debate may not consider Hill’s goals their own.
NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
4 thoughts on “Book Review: Wesley Hill, Paul and the Trinity”
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Third, when Hill suggests a relational reading of statements about “the God who raised Jesus” and the like, the argument requires more than these phrases can supply. Here I found his treatment of Romans 4 particularly unconvincing, which is a shame since he makes it foundational.