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Gordley’s New Book on NT “Christological Hymns”

August 18, 2018

While I’m temporarily at home, I can’t resist drawing attention to a splendid new book by Matthew Gordley, New Testament Christological Hymns:  Exploring Texts, Contexts, and Significance (IVP Academic, 2018).

He  carefully discusses all the passages in the NT often thought to be, or to reflect, early Christian “hymns”, and so to reflect also early Christian worship practices (Phiiippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; John 1:1-18; and several other shorter texts including Ephesians 2:14-16; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1-4; the Lukan nativity-narrative songs; and (often overlooked) the hymns of Revelation.  He engages more recent questions about whether these texts (such as Philippians 2:6-11) really are (as often thought previously) pre-formed hymns plugged into epistles, or (as Gordley grants) perhaps more likely compositions by the authors of the various NT writings.  But he also cogently argues that they likely incorporate hymnic elements from early worship, and so are indirectly indicative of such practices.

I’m very impressed with the coverage of scholarly work in the book.  Of course, this is Gordley’s third book relating to these hymnic texts and related issues.

One of his further contributions is to emphasize the original social and historical contexts in which christological praise and hymnic devotion were expressed.  The texts all posit Jesus as the true universal saviour and ruler, which poses an obvious contrast with the Roman imperial narrative of Rome as the world ruler, and the emperor in particular as rightful object of worship.  Gordley posits a “spirituality of resistance” reflected in these texts.  Not open resistance/revolt against Rome, to be sure, but an advocacy of an alternate grand narrative and hope that treats the emperor as only a human ruler, and not the divine being in Roman propaganda.

I’ve endorsed the book as the “go-to book on the texts often cited as New Testament hymns,” and I stand by that.

In addition to the excellent scholarly analysis of the texts and issues, Gordley concludes with some gentle but probing questions and suggestions about how contemporary Christian worship and hymnody might benefit from close attention to these NT texts.

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