Monday, February 26, 2018

5.1 Fully Human, Fully Divine

1. The central tenets of the Nicene Creed and Chalcedonian definition are that 1) God is three distinct persons but one substance and 2) Jesus is one person with two natures. Further, Jesus' human nature is not trivial. His temptations were real, meaning that there was a genuine tension between his human desires and his divine will.

These positions represent four centuries of Christian debate and discussion about who Jesus actually was. Along the way, the following perspectives at some point were deemed false teachings:
  • Docetism/Gnosticism: Believed that Jesus only seemed to be human but did not truly take on human flesh
  • Ebionites: Believed Jesus was a prophet but not divine
  • Adoptionism: Belief that Jesus was "adopted" as God's Son either at his baptism or resurrection
  • Modalism/Sabellianism: Belief that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all one person changing "modes."
  • Arianism: Believed that Jesus was the first and most exalted creation but not of one substance with God the Father
  • Apollinarism: Belief that Jesus had a human body but a divine mind
  • Nestorianism: presented Jesus' humanness and divinity as so distinct that Jesus almost seemed to be two persons
  • Eutychianism: considered Christ's humanity as so insignificant that Jesus might just as well only have one nature (monophysitism)
  • Monothelitism: A sense that Jesus only had one will, a divine will
Clearly there was a desire on the part of the early Christians to see Jesus as truly and fully human while also being truly and fully divine.

2. In addition to these dead ends in the deliberations of some four hundred years, we have to take into account the original meanings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are our primary sources and indeed, the true centers of a biblical theology of Jesus. To what extent were the conclusions of the early church in continuity with the perspectives of the biblical authors?

There are many points at which the message of the Bible can be true regardless of historical questions. For example, whether Daniel reflects the voice of a sixth century prophet or an anonymous voice from the second century BC, it presents truth. What that truth is may be slightly different because the context turns out to be different. But the truthfulness of the text arguably is not in question.

By contrast, the historical nature of Jesus is material to the truth of Christianity itself. Christianity does not rise or fall on the question of whether the book of Jonah is a novella of sorts or a historical story. But Christianity as we know it is simply not true if Jesus never really existed. If Bultmann were right and Christianity were only a myth of authentic existence, it would not be Christianity any more in any substantial sense.

For these reasons, the historical Jesus matters. From the standpoint of historic Christianity, it matters whether the human Jesus was the second person of the Trinity incarnate. It is not enough to give these texts a theological interpretation that fits with later Christian orthodoxy. There must be a historical foundation here that supports that orthodoxy.

3. Quick overview of source criticism of the Gospels
  • Most scholars have concluded that Mark was the first of the four Gospels.
  • Most scholars have concluded that Matthew used Mark as its primary source. Matthew must then have some other source as well, especially for a lot of Jesus' teaching.
  • The idea of a source of Jesus' sayings (often called Q) remains common, although this hypothesis has lost a great deal of ground. I continue to think that Papias' description of the Gospel of Matthew sounds more like Q than the Greek Gospel of Matthew we have.
  • Luke is thought to have used Mark as a source and then either a) Q as well, the traditional view, b) Matthew and Mark, the Goodacre view, or c) Matthew, Mark, and Q (my hunch).
  • The reason why Goodacre has not convinced me is that Luke's versions of many sayings, as well as its distributed packaging of the sayings, seems less edited than Matthew's. 
  • John is clearly a Gospel of a different color. Unlike the Synoptics it has no exorcisms, no parables, is filled with signs when Mark says Jesus will give none, doesn't mention the temptation, doesn't say the Last Supper is a Passover meal, proclaims Jesus' identity openly as opposed to keeping it a secret, doesn't talk much about the kingdom of God or the final judgment, emphasizes faith in Jesus himself while the other Gospels focus more on faith in the good news of God's kingdom, etc.
  • Clement of Alexandria called John a "spiritual Gospel." It is clearly far more symbolic in its presentation of Jesus than the other Gospels.
4. Jesus' Divine Attributes
I would suggest the following negotiation of orthodoxy with the biblical texts to form a biblical theology of Jesus that is both orthodox and yet exegetically justifiable:
  • Jesus "presented" as a real human being. In other words, in his early life he did not present as omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. Mark 13:32 unashamedly indicates that the early Jesus did not know the day of his own return.
  • The understanding of Jesus developed over time in the decades after his death. The Gospel of John reflects a more advanced understanding than we find anywhere else in the New Testament. This fact confirms that Jesus "presented" as a true human.
  • Yet a kenotic approach is technically unorthodox. Jesus cannot be of one substance with the Father and cease to have any of his divine attributes. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus had omniscience while on earth but did not use it. He was omnipotent but did not use his power.
  • There is much to commend a view that Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit while on earth in order to show us both what true humanity is and what is possible for all humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit. This approach fits with very common NT language that speaks of God doing things through Jesus rather than speaking of Jesus himself doing them.

Previous "chapters"
Chapter 1: What is Biblical Theology?
Chapter 2: Theology of God
Chapter 3: Creation and Consummation
Chapter 4: Sin and Atonement
Interlude: A Theology of Israel

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