Morna Hooker on Adam-Typology in the Philippian Christ-Hymn (2:5-11)

Commentators on Philippians have long debated whether we should (and can) read Adam typology into the Christ Hymn of Philippians (2:5-11). Is Christ an anti-Adam in this story? Many scholars err on the side of caution – there is no clear verbal parallel between Phil 2 and Genesis 1-3. It would be typological and thematic, but it is not a perfect comparison/contrast because Adam was (only) human, Jesus was more than human. In that sense, we wouldn’t be looking at apples and apples.

I appreciate the caveats and we should not over-blow the potential parallels, but I am still convinced (with Wright and M. Hooker) that it would have been hard for Torah-aware readers not to think about Adam (whether Paul, the author, or the readers the letter was sent to). Thus, I find Hooker’s interpretation convincing overall, despite lack of verbal connections and the obvious differences between Jesus and Adam.

“The relationship between Adam and Christ is not that of two successive competitors in a task, the first of whom fails while the second succeeds. Rather, Christ has to undo the failure of Adam, reverse his disobedience, and bring life where Adam brought death. Christ is thus greater than Adam…Christ is the true ‘image of God,’ after whom Christians are now being re-created, while Adam is the distorted copy, whose disobedience resulted in humanity’s becoming enslaved to sin and death.” (“Philippians” NIB, 504-5).
What are the liabilities of this reading, other than potentially taking too many hermeneutical liberties with the text?
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9 thoughts on “Morna Hooker on Adam-Typology in the Philippian Christ-Hymn (2:5-11)

  1. From what we know of the Philippian church, and Philippi, can we assume that the audience were Torah-aware readers? Is the allusion to Adam overt enough for former pagans to recognise it? I’m not sure it is.

  2. Ferdie – thanks for the comment. It would be nice, but they have both written so much, I think they’ve laid the issue to rest!

    Sean – I gave a paper on this issue at SBL a few years back. My view is that we should not let “audience education” limit our reading. We just don’t know what the audience is like and we don’t know how much Paul took that into account. The conclusion of my paper was that it appears to me Paul does not write for the audience he has (per se), but the audience he wants. How does he make-up any deficiencies? He started the Philippian church, so it is reasonable for me to think he already taught them about the connection between Adam and Christ (esp. given the prominence of such teaching as evidenced in 1 Cor and Rom). Secondly, it could be that he trained the courier to explain such allusions or background matters (or at least be available to answer questions).

    Luckily, we have the advantage of having Romans and 1 Corinthians, so we can see Paul’s theology at work more broadly. We can read it back into Philippians and make sense of it because we see how he thinks. Just because we are not sure about the education of the Philippian believers does not, I think, preclude making these connections.

    Thanks for your concerns. Caution is always wise. Forgive me – I am a maximalist!

  3. I’d be a little cautious about describing Jesus as more than human, as this suggests he’s not fully human, as confessed in the Nicene Creed. To say that Jesus is more than human could suggest that he’s some kind of tertium quid. But I do appreciate that this isn’t what you’re saying. :)

  4. The superiority of Christ is emphasised over and above that of Adam. And at the same time Paul compared and constrasted betweeen the law and grace in the book and implored his reader to stand for the superioty of the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

  5. If Paul is here quoting a hymn or confession that preceded him, doesn’t that have some effect on how we understand the passage? If it preceded him, for example, it only has to buttress the point he’s trying to make, not speak only and exclusively to the point he wants to make, eh?

  6. Nijay, I had a nice chat with Prof Morna yesterday at the Cambridge New Testament Seminar, and also told her about your kind post about her work on Adam-Typology. She was very glad to hear about it and also said she remembers you….

    Best regards!

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