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Corporate Personality.

Term describing the instinctive unification of the soc. group and the individual in ancient cultures (“law of participation”), differing from the modern W antithesis bet. the collective and the individual.

H. W. Robinson* tried to demonstrate corporate personality in the OT Just as the individual implicated the entire group in his reprobation or blessing among primitives, so also, argued Robinson, such an oscillation of unification bet. the individual and the group (family, tribe, nation) is to be found in the OT Achan implicated his entire family when he plundered Jericho; his family suffered with him for his crime (Jos 7). Descendants of Saul were executed to expiate the Gibeonite blood Saul had shed. (2 Sm 21)

Robinson held that hist. individual Israelites who figuratively represented the nation demonstrated corporate personality by their representative functions. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the king, the prophet, the priest, or even a layman (Neh. 1:6) are such representatives. Some scholars suggest that the concept of corporate personality provides the key to understanding the “I” of the Psalms as an individual-collective fluidity differing from the modern antithesis bet. the collective and the individual. Ps 44 may provide an example of such fluidity. Others contend that the Servant Songs of Is (42:1–9; 49:1–9a; 50:4–11; 52:13–53:12) are best understood as examples of fluid corporate personality. For many yrs. debate has raged as to the nature of the Servant in these Songs; corporate personality enables the Servant to be both individual and nat. in character.

Only if the group is considered primary may the phenomenon of corporate personality occur. Israel's fluid interdependence of the individual and the group arose not from a blood relationship in the group, but primarily because the covenant with Yahweh was the people's covenant. In view of the unifying covenant, Amos (3:1) addressed his contemporaries as those whom Yahweh brought out of the land of Egypt. The covenant group, with maximum fluidity bet. the individual and the collective, was bound by no time barriers; corporate personality erased the strictures of time. On the other hand, the individual was not lost within the covenant-people. The Decalog* was directed to individuals.

Bible scholars have tried to use the concept within the NT T. W. Manson* understands some of the “Son of Man” sayings of Jesus in this light. According to some, the Adam-Christ parallel of Ro 5 and Paul's understanding of the ch. as the body of Christ are more readily apprehended in the light of corporate personality. Others hold that the “body” of 2 Co 5 is to be understood in this way.

O. Eissfeldt, “The Ebed-Jahwe in Isaiah xl.–lv. in the Light of the Israelite Conceptions of the Community and the Individual, the Ideal and the Real,” The Expository Times, XLIV (1932–33), 261–268; A. R. Johnson, The One and the Many in the Israelite Conception of God, 2d ed. (Cardiff, 1961), pp. 1–22; E. Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. A. W. Heathcote and P. J. Allcock (London, 1958), pp. 153–156; T. W. Manson, The Servant-Messiah (Cambridge, 1953); J. A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (London, 1952), pp. 55–67; H. W. Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel, ed. J. Reumann (Philadelphia, 1964); L. Lévy-Bruhl, How Natives Think, tr. L. A. Clare (New York, 1926). JEG

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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