Regarding the excellent book by Zeba Crook, Reconceptualizing Conversion, Sean du Toit asks: “Can we be more specific about Paul’s patron [God]? Along the lines of including Jesus in that identity?”
Last July I wrote a review of this book on the Corpus Paulinum mailing list and touched on the issue raised by Sean. Crook insists that in the New Testament — but especially Paul — there is no basis for equating the broker Jesus with the patron God:
“Throughout Paul’s letters and the New Testament, Jesus is depicted solely as God’s divine broker and thus is the agent through whom salvation was now to be attained. Since he was the deliverer of salvation, such a grand benefaction in the eyes of Mediterranean people, the honor that had to be directed at Jesus was great, and because of this it became ever greater throughout the centuries and people mistook the role of the broker for that of the patron… Significantly, however, in the letters of Paul, Jesus the broker is always subordinate to God as the divine patron. The confusion of the two for one is a later theological development that, from the perspective of patronage and benefaction, would have appeared foreign to Paul. Paul is consistent on this: Jesus must be honored — as God’s broker his benefactions are utterly indispensable to Paul — but he is the broker and not therefore to be confused with the divine patron. Indeed, such a confusion would have been quite insulting to the patron.” (Reconceptualizing Conversion, pp 195-196)
This is how I responded in the review:
“But Paul is actually, infamously, inconsistent on this point. Sometimes he subjects Jesus to God (I Cor 15) and sometimes he equates the two (Philip 2). Crook’s claim becomes even more hazardous by bringing the entire NT into view, since the NT as a whole attributes more divine characteristics to Jesus than the mere fact that he is owed ‘praise, gratitude, and loyalty’. The NT claims he is sovereign, exalted over angelic powers, worshipped, and pre-existent. These can only point to equality with God, not only by Jewish standards, but by the conventions of Greco-Roman patronage/benefaction. These attributes are patronal, almost be definition, and they indicate something much stronger than the ‘praise, gratitude, and loyalty’ which can be naturally given to brokers as much as patrons. The issue cannot be settled here, of course, but scholars (like Bauchkam, Esler, Witherington, etc) are becoming increasingly convinced that Paul (and most, if not all, NT authors) equated Jesus with God. The broker is the patron in this case (and Crook knows very well that brokers can be either clients and/or patrons at the same time; see p 73).”
I wonder if Richard Bauckham is getting any closer to completing his two-volume series on Christology in the New Testament, which is supposed to expand on the arguments in God Crucified. In that book he argued that the equation between Jesus and God happened early on account of the importance in Jewish thought of God’s identity (“who” he was) rather than his nature (“what” he was). Hypostatizations like wisdom, word, and spirit (included in the divine identity) could conceivably trigger the divinization of a human being, if the person was associated with any of them.
But aside from this point (and a couple of other quibbles), I’ve nothing but praises for Zeba’s book. It answered many of my own questions about the nature of conversion in anti-introspective societies.