Is the earliest hymn an apologetic excuse?

Cato the Younger (Rome character)
Cato the Younger (Rome character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We know the familiar hymn found embedded in Paul’s Dio Chrysostom-like-letter to the Philippians,

who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2.6-8 NASB)

Scholars often point to this as an early Christian hymn.

Note, I do not intend for this to be that sort of scholarly post filled with footnotes — consider this a few thoughts along the way.

In Lucan’s Civil Wars, Cato, Caesar, and Pompey are presented by the narrator as inept at knowing their import to Roman history. While Pompey and Caesar may serve as a model for examining how myth is created, Cato better fits our concern due to an already identified connection between Civil Wars and the Gospel of Mark.

Throughout the poem, Cato pictured as a divine-man, favored by the gods, but not fully knowing his destiny. He does, at some point, come to the realization he will die and Rome will fall. However, what awaits the memory/myth of Cato is far greater than Caesar’s Rome — Cato’s memory lives on and grows. This is something Lucan points out as unknowable to the General. How could he, if Cato was to be the consummate Stoic, care about what lies beyond himself. His goal was to accept fate and move on. Fate is thankless and you met it with the same manner.

Another comment — Epictetus (55-135) built on previous Stoics to suggest we were given a part of the divine substance as our soul. We operate with Fate (an image Lucan nearly abuses in his poem) to bring about the ultimate goal.

If Jesus was understood through a Stoic lens, could we not wonder if he refused to speculate about his fate (which includes the pre-existence and teleos) but marched onward. Thus, he never entertained the idea of his divine status awarded to him, according to Paul, after the resurrection when he would have been unrestrained by the restrictions of not knowing (the fetters of humanity). For Socrates (mixing philosophers here, I know), while he sought to rely on reason, there were times he relied on daimonion. In other words, Socrates knew there were times he was “blocked” from divine wisdom and thus fell to his human ways.

Anyway, what if the hymn was an apologetic for what Jesus wasn’t, and thus an allowance for later Christians to worship him through myth/memory rather than a defense of who Jesus was?

Here’s some more thoughts…

You cannot prove a negative, even a negative defense. Is this a defense of a negative stance? In other words, where the believers in Jesus having to defend against the idea of the crucified messiah and worse, the ignorant and crucified messiah?

“Jesus forget everything he knew when he passed through the veil of forgetfulness.” “See, that’s why he didn’t know much and just stood there in the rain.” “But then we was given deity status.”

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

2 thoughts on “Is the earliest hymn an apologetic excuse?

  1. Anyway, what if the hymn was an apologetic for what Jesus wasn’t, and thus an allowance for later Christians to worship him through myth/memory rather than a defense of who Jesus was?

    Hi Joel
    What wasn’t Jesus? Who was Jesus?

    Be Nice:)

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