Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth– as in fact there are many gods and many lords– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8.4-6)
6 ἀλλ᾿ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς δι᾿ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾿ αὐτοῦ.
James Dunn finds in 1 Cor. 8.6 a reference to the ideal pre-existence of Wisdom. In other words, it isn’t that Jesus actually pre-existed and created things, but that the Wisdom of God is now to be found and recognized as Christ. While I would agree with Dunn that Paul elsewhere uses the Wisdom motif in relation to Christ, I am not utterly convinced of its usage here. It’s possible but it doesn’t leap out at me like it does elsewhere.
Richard Bauckham, on the other hand, believes that Paul has taken the Shema and developed it so as to include Jesus within the “divine identity”. This idea is further supported by Paul including Jesus as an agent in the creation.
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deut. 6.4)
ἄκουε Ισραηλ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν
Bauckham’s argument goes along the lines that Paul adopts the two terms from the Shema (θεὸς and κύριος) which have same referent in Deuteronomy, but supplies a new referent for κύριος, namely, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, by adding the phrases “from whom” (ἐξ οὗ) and “through whom” (δι᾿ οὗ) are all things, Paul includes Jesus in creation which is meant to be an act performed solely by God. This inclusion of Jesus in Paul’s interpretation of the Shema, along with Jesus’ agency in creation, is what brought Jesus into the divine identity of God. Because of this Bauckham considers it appropriate to label this Christological Monotheism.
It is a pretty compelling argument when you read it from the pen of Bauckham. However, I do have a few qualms regarding his case. His approach does not really seem to do justice to the way the “divine identity” could be shared in Second Temple Judaism through the use of God’s name (e.g. the Little Yahweh of 3 Enoch, or Yahoel in the Apocalypse of Abraham).
Another aspect of Bauckham’s case which I question is the claim that:
If Paul were understood as adding the one Lord to the one God of whom the Shema speaks, then, from the perspective of Jewish monotheism, he would certainly be producing, not christological monotheism, but outright ditheism. (pg. 224)
Again, from my readings of other Jewish literature of the time period, it just isn’t such an open and shut case as to whether adding Jesus to the Shema would be ditheism. Though, I can’t really think of any other instances in early Christian literature where a supplemented Shema is found, although 1 Tim. 2.5 does seem to perhaps fit this category (though it is perhaps a much later pseudo-Pauline piece of writing). Yet, I still can’t see as to why adding a highly exalted person to the Shema necessarily needs to be conceived as promoting ditheism; it just doesn’t seem too strange of an idea considering what else I have read in Jewish literature about exalted agents and patriarchs.
On another note, 1 Corinthians 8.6 has always reminded me of Ephesians 4.4-6
There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Like 1 Cor 8.6, a plain reading of the text just seems to indicate that Paul considered that Jesus being Lord as something quite distinct from the Father being God. Also, I bet that if the references to baptism and faith were excised from this passage people would be pointing to it as another appropriation of the Shema by Paul (perhaps even a more fuller Trinitarian version considering that “Spirit” is mentioned).
Regarding the creation phrases in 1 Cor. 8.6 he says that there is “one God, from whom all things and us for him”, and that there is “one Lord, through whom all things and us through him”. As with the Wisdom literature, God is seen as the ultimate source of everything and as the goal which we should aim for, with an agent through whom God makes himself known. This is quite similar to the Wisdom tradition, and reminds me explicitly of one passage in Philo: “Wisdom, by whose agency the universe was brought to completion” (Det. 54). Perhaps Dunn is right to read the Wisdom tradition into this passage.
To summarize my scattered thoughts, I don’t think it is too unreasonable to understand this passage as being monotheistic yet also as depicting Jesus as the “second power” from God. That is to say, that Paul is declaring allegiance to God (the Father) and God’s exalted principal agent, Jesus. After all, there was a burgeoning phenomenon in Jewish literature which suggested that God had a principal agent (e.g. Enoch, Moses, Adam, Michael, etc). Perhaps this could be the tradition which Paul is drawing upon, albeit as an even more highly exalted agent than how any of the other ones were depicted. Is this idea correct? I couldn’t say, but it seems just as reasonable as Bauckham’s approach.
All in all, I would definitely agree with Bauckham (and Wright, Hurtado, et al) that Paul’s appropriation of the Shema in reference to God and Jesus does constitute an acclamation of Jesus in the most highly exalted way possible. It reminds me of Bauckham’s often quoted phrase: “the earliest Christology is already the highest Christology”. Whether Paul means to include Jesus in the divine identity in a way that can be later extrapolated into an orthodox Trinitarian sense, well on that point I just am not totally convinced.
I think I need to study this passage in the overall context of the letter before I make any firm judgments (especially in light of such subordination passages as 3.21-23 and 15.25-28).