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A Hymn of Christ Paperback – 1 Nov 1997

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From the Back Cover

Philippians 2:5-11, long cherished and mined for its riches, has shaped the very language and architecture of orthodox Christian confession of Christ. Yet few scriptural texts have generated as much interpretive comment and controversy. Ralph Martin's study of this passage was originally published in 1967 under the title Carmen Christi and then reissued in 1983 with a new preface. Now reissued as A Hymn of Christ, this classic work includes a new preface that brings readers abreast of critical issues in the interpretation of this text since 1983.

About the Author

Ralph Martin (1925-2013) was a distinguished New Testament scholar and a significant figure in the post-World War 2 resurgence of British evangelical scholarship. Born in Anfield, Liverpool, England, his early education was interrupted in 1939 by the war, and he was conscripted to work in the coal mines of Lancashire. After the war he pursued ministerial training at Manchester Baptist College and in 1949 earned his B.A. at the University of Manchester. In 1963 he completed his Ph.D. at King's College, University of London. In 1969 Martin joined the faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he would serve as professor of New Testament from 1969 to 1988, and director of the graduate studies program beginning in 1979. He resumed his teaching there in 1995 as Distinguished Scholar in Residence. Throughout his academic career he stayed involved in preaching, teaching laypeople and other pastoral ministry. He was the author of numerous studies and commentaries on the New Testament, includingWorship in the Early Church, the volume on Philippians in The Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, and 2 Corinthians and James in the Word Biblical Commentary, for which he also served as New Testament editor.

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5.0 out of 5 stars A scholar's eye view of the Kenosis Hymn. 7 July 2012
By Peter S. Bradley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ralph P. Martin's "A Hymn of Christ" is an encyclopedic analysis of Philippians 2:5 - 11. Philippians 2:5-11 is Paul's famous description of a Christ as a divine figure who emptied himself taking on the form of a servant. Martin's approach is that of bible criticism. Martin marshals the last century of bible literary criticism in order to examine the Kenosis hymn line by line. Along the way the reader receives an exhustive view of the various interpretations and controversies that have arisen in the contemplation of this piece of Pauline text.

This is not a particularly easy book for the layperson. Martin does not disdain from the use of Greek orthography in discussing key concepts like Logos, doulos, morphe and other words. Having a passing familiarity with these concepts and a Greek lexicon, however, handles that difficulty. Beyond that the text is dense with much in the way of inside game arguments.

And, yet, it is a fascinating discussion.

I came to Martin's book by way of Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth because Ehrman touts Martin's book as an example of the many conflicting interpretations that make the core of Paul's kenosis hymn indeterminable. Ehrman also appears to think that the kenosis hymn has been read in such a way as to deny Christ's pre-existence.

Ehrman's claims were not borne out by Martin's book. There is in fact a consensus about much of the kenosis hymn and there appeared to be a near universal agreement that Paul was describing Christ's pre-existence as a divine being. More importantly, although Ehrman claims that there were no "rising and dying gods" myths in the ancient world, Martin's book notes "similarities between the hymn and Hellenistic parallels in the stories of gods who came down and thereafter were apotheosized...." (p. 281.) This leads me to wonder whether Ehrman was pulling one of his patented moves where he leads his readers to believe that he's making a claim broader than he actually is making because it sure seems that bible form critics do spend time discussing and contemplating the value in pagan parallels, which if you read Ehrman's book, you would be led to believe is something that is only done by non-professional mythicists.

On the other hand, Martin does look at various pagan parallels and finds them wanting. Likewise, for all the interest in pagan parallels, it appears that the idea of a redeemer was an idiosyncratic Christian contribution to the storehouse of religious idea. (p. 128, n. 1.)

The Kenosis hymn is famous for being both one of the earliest creedal statements and having a high Christology. The general consensus seems to be that the Kenosis hymn is "pre-Pauline." This belief stems from the form of the hymn, which is, well, "hymnic" and doesn't seem to fit the writing style that we associate with Paul. According to Martin, it also appears to be liturgical, used in Communion or baptism. There is no reason that Paul could not have written the hymn, except we don't see him launching himself into verses like the Kenosis hymn as a frequent matter.

Martin doesn't answer the authorship question, but he does hint that the author could have been Stephen the proto-martyr. (p. 304.) This is interesting speculation, but there is simply no way to confirm this as anything other than speculation.

I am no form critic or bible student, but I found this book fascinating for giving me a grounding in the Kenosis hymn and raising issues that I had assumed were settled.

In the near future, we will be visited with a text from Bart Ehrman on why the earliest followers of Jesus believed that he was just a man and that the belief in his divinity was something that occurred in an evolutionary development later in the First Century or even the Second Century. The problem for Ehrman and people like him is that the Kenosis hymn can be traced to within a few short years of the crucifixion, and attests that the earliest belief of Christians was in a "high Christology," i.e., that Christ was divine. The Kenosis Hymn stands as a roadblock in the way of people like Ehrman who constantly misrepresent that the earliest Christians believed only in Christ's humanity. Since Ehrman has a tendency to get wildly inaccurate in his claims, while asserting that his position represents the mainstream of biblical scholarship - well, at least biblical scholarship which is not "fundamentalist" or "conservative" - it is a good idea to have Martin's book around to fact check the professor.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous source book on Philipians 2:5-11. 15 Feb. 2014
By The Old Prof - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Philipians 2:5-11. Just seven verses. Yet, here is a book with 372 pages dedicated to that short passage! First issued in 1967 under the Latin title of Carmen Christi, it was presented in a second edition in 1983 and a third edition in 1997 under the translated title: Hymn of Christ. In the latest editions Ralph P. Martin dedicates an additional 35 page preface to update his previous (second) which already had 39 pages to up-date his previous (first) edition. The book is both a broad set of brush strokes as well as an in-depth probe into the many interpretations of this piece of literature. How do you summarize a book of this magnitude? Perhaps Martin says it best: “It is not surprising that scholars have been able to detect a bewildering array of categories, so that the verses of this short tribute appear like a Christological miscellany with many contributions: A Son of Man dogmatic; oriental or Greek mythology (Lucifer? The Titans? Herakles?); the first-second Adam speculation of Jewish thought; Hellenistic Jewish concepts of Wisdom; the Servant of Yahweh concept, a ‘Paidology’; an Emperor motif; a divine Hero, Theos aner, Christology; an enthronement ritual of an oriental monarch; an Iranian or Gnostic redemption myth; all these categories have been suggested, with varying degrees of plausibility.” (p. 297). This is the “go to” book as a resource for past research and a springboard into future studies.

And Martin is committed in his tribute to the German scholar, Ernst Lohmeyer’s 1928 Kyrios Jesus, which the majority acknowledge was a major turning point in the study of these verses. Lohmeyer’s work was never translated into English. (However, students of this passage should also turn to Colin Brown's succinct article analyzing Lohmeyer’s work. See “Ernst Lohmeyer’s Kyrios Jesus” pp. 6-42, in Ralph P. Martin, Brian J. Dodd (Eds.) Where Christology Began: Essays on Philipians 2, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1998).

The copious footnotes are detailed. Martin has included an extensive select bibliography, an index of authors, an index of passages quoted from ancient literature, an index of Greek, Latin, and Semitic words, and a Supplementary bibliography.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing discussions, which may strike a cord with many Christian scholars, was Martin’s reference to the examination, by Martin Hengel, of the Greek Old Testament (LXX) which took the divine name of God—the tetragrammaton in Hebrew--and translated it with the Greek title “Kyrios” (following the Hebrew “Adonai” (Lord)) but which, in this song becomes, in the Exaltation portion, no, not the name “Jesus” but rather the Greek “onoma” (“name” [meaning the divine name of the Old Testament; i.e. “the name that is above every other name”] “). In other words, taking a lead from Daniel 7, elevating Jesus to status of divine and who—In the vision of St. Stephen--sits at the right hand of God. (See Martin, Hymn of Christ, p. lxiii, n. 40). (See also Colin Brown’s reference in his discussion of “Ernst Lohmeyer’s Kyrios Jesus” (in R. P. Martin and Brian J. Dodd, Where Christology Began…” p. 42, fn. 156).

For those who would further probe the depths of this poetry in Philipians 2:5-11, this is a book to be highly recommended. The last word has not been issued on this passage.
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