“[T]o say that ‘our Lord’ is ‘the Lord’ is what the [ancient] Romans called majestas, or high treasons. And Paul’s quite casual and consistent intermingling of the two titles – our Lord as the Lord – is itself an imperial insult.” – Marcus Borg & John Crossan, The First Paul
Taking a break from baptism for a bit, I decided to revisit my study of Paul’s Christology, starting with the seven authentic letters and then working my way into the other six. To help, I’ve acquired Borg and Crossan’s short book, The First Paul. These two don’t deal with Paul’s Christology too much; their focus is on other things. But this passage gets right at the heart of Paul’s beliefs about Jesus.
With the more I read both the words of Scripture and various points of insight from scholars, the more political messages I see within the Bible – specifically the New Testament. This whole “Lord” thing is a major one. As Borg and Crossan indicate, it wasn’t uncommon to refer to someone as “our Lord”; that “Lord” was thought of as someone local – like a king or ruler of a certain district (i.e. King Herod being ruler of the Galilee district). But when you start calling someone “the Lord,” you were forsaking the Caesar.
I don’t think there’s really a comparison with American politics because we have the 1st Amendment; we can call Jesus the President all we want to, but we won’t get in trouble because of our laws. Not so in Roman antiquity. Caesar, especially during Paul’s time, was considered a “son of god” or “son of the gods” and therefore heaven’s answer to earthly turmoil. Caesar was the “conqueror,” “savior,” and even “redeemer” of the entire world – not just Rome. To say anyone else was the Lord was to say that Caesar was not. You would then be considered, in modern day terms, an enemy of the state.
“It would have been impossible – yes, we mean impossible – for Paul to call Jesus theou huios (“Son of God”) in Greek without creating a confrontational echo with that title of Rome’s inaugural emperor,” Borg & Crossan.
Keyword here being “confrontational,” as if Paul was saying, “You must decide who’s your king; Caesar or Jesus. You cannot pledge your allegiance to both.” As many Christians found out, claiming Christ as the Lord would cost them their lives. In America, we do not know what this looks like. We don’t have to have our churches underground to hide them from the government. We don’t have post lookouts as we read Scripture, pray, or worship. And we don’t have lethal injection for saying Jesus is above every name. By comparison, we get off pretty easy in the States.
Seriously, what’s the worst you experience for saying Jesus is Lord? A little embarrassment? Maybe a little family division? Sure these can feel extreme, but we still keep our lives. We might get tossed out of our homes, get shunned in classes, or become the laughing stock at work, but we aren’t lynched. Seeing what was truly at stake for Paul and the early Christians makes it clear to me that Paul’s political statements have been terribly overlooked.
What Borg and Crossan also discuss in this same chapter is how different Paul’s Lord was from the Lord of Rome. Evaluating what it meant to bring “peace” to the Roman world, Borg and Crossan say that for Caesar, it meant military victories. Similar to American ideologies today, to bring about “peace” in the Roman world meant spilling the enemy’s blood to quell all the threats. Then and only then would you have “peace.” In Paul’s idea of a peace-maker, blood is still spilt, but not from any military.
Highlighting Romans 13:8-10, Borg and Crossan say that – according to Paul’s theology – peace would reign on earth “when all is fair and just.” Christ’s death on the cross – His voluntary self-sacrifice – foreshadowed a God-centered life looked like all the way to the end, even forsaking current political leaders. No sword, arrow, gun, tank, or even atomic bomb will do the trick. Peace reigns when we live like our Lord; the Lord Jesus Christ.