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Joshua Jipp is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (or TEDS), and, in his book Christ is King, writes that “one of the ways early worshippers of Christ made sense of the significance of Jesus and their experience of him was through using royal tropes* and motifs to depict Christ as king” (3).
Jipp’s basic argument is that “Paul used, reworked, and applied ancient conceptions of the good king—both Greco-Roman and Jewish—to Christ in order to structure reality or the symbolic universe of his congregations” (9).
This does not mean that Christ was simply another king among many. “Paul clearly portrays Christ as absolutely set apart from and superior to any other ruler” (10). Thus we can’t (and won’t) fully understand Paul’s language unless we understand that Paul is “frequently . . . setting forth a vision of Christ as the king” (11).
In his introduction, Jipp lays out his basic argument, surveys kingship discourse in Greek, Hellenistic, Roman writings, and in the remains of temples, statues, coins, etc. Next he surveys Israel’s conception of their king by looking through the Old Testament (especially the Psalter) and Second Temple texts.
In the next four chapters Jipp shows that Paul and the Christian community thought of Jesus Christ as the good king. He was the Son of David and the enthroned Son of God.
Chapter 2 looks at Christ the king as living law, and Jipp tries to make sense of the phrase “the law of Christ” (Gal 6.2; 1 Cor 9.22). If Christians no longer have to follow the Law, how are we to live under the one who fulfilled and embodies the Law? Christ is a living law and we are to imitate his example by loving the weak.
Chapter 3 looks at the Christ hymns found in Colossians 1.15-20 and Philippians 2.6-11. Hymns were written about Greco-Roman kings for the benefactions they gave to their people. Christ, the Son of God, was elected by God, shares his throne, rules on his behalf, and brings peace and harmony. Christ is worthy of divine worship.
In chapters 2 and 3 Jipp presents both Greco-Roman writings and Jewish writings as evidence that Paul viewed Christ as king. I would likely never have seen these Greco-Roman writings had it not been for Jipp. For example, Jipp paraphrases a Greek maxim, “[I]f gods are those who exercise power, then a king is god-like” (85). Kings were seen to have created/re-created a new peaceful world order. Augustus was the “beginning of the breath of life” and he “brought war to an end and set everything in peaceful order” (91).
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.18b).
“And through Christ to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1.20).
Paul is not clicking the cut-and-paste button and plagiarizing from Greco-Roman writers. Only Jesus made peace by his own blood, that blood which has been shed on the cross, and it is through this shed blood that Christ triumphs over his enemies (Col 1.20; 2.14-15).
In chapters 4 and 5 Jipp sets his sights on Israel’s conception of kingship and looks primarily at the psalter. In chapter 4, since we are in Christ’s kingdom, we share his Holy Spirit, he is the first fruits of the resurrection (a resurrection that believers will surely experience), believers share “in numerous aspects of Christ’s rule” (143). Christ participated in our lowly, destitute estate so that we could participate with him in his glorious kingdom.
In chapter 5 Jipp contributes to a notoriously difficult discussion: the righteousness of God, and he does this while looking at how God’s righteousness is seen in the righteous King in Romans. Wicked humanity has killed the only truly righteous King. But God’s righteousness is seen because God doesn’t let this King rot in the ground, but instead resurrects him and seats him on his heavenly throne. God will then judge the wicked through Jesus Christ the King, all while saving his people, those who participate in Christ’s kingdom, those who give him divine worship and who follow in his image in loving and sacrificing for others.
I have nothing negative to say about this book. I only wish it were longer! Jipp is scholarly, well-researched, and interacts with both modern works and primary sources, yet his writing is clear and understandable. He has clarified many difficult concepts for me and has helped me better understand my King and the position I and other believers have under our King.
Jipp succeeds in his mission to show how Paul reworked the “good-king” system that the rest of the culture used to represent their own faulty kings. Christ is the true, perfect, loving King who brings peace and who allows us to participate with him in his righteous kingdom. He will not leave us to rot in our graves, but will come back to resurrect us into an eternal life with him.
* a trope is a figurative or metaphorical use of a word/expression
- Author: Joshua Jipp
- Paperback: 388 pages
- Publisher: Fortress Press (December 1, 2015)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Fortress Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.