Thursday, March 15, 2018

5.4.3 The Divinity of Christ

Current chapter:
Chapter 5: Jesus the Christ
5.1 Fully Human, Fully Divine
5.2 The Theology of Jesus of Nazareth
5.3 Jesus is Lord!
5.4 The Development of Christology

5.4.1 Models of Christological Development
5.4.2 The Pre-Existence of Christ

5.4.3 The Divinity of Christ
Christians believe:
  1. There is only one God.
  2. God the Father is God.
  3. Jesus was not the same person as God the Father.
  4. Jesus was "ontologically" God.
  5. Jesus was not the same person as the Holy Spirit.
1. The first three are easy to demonstrate biblically. We presented the oneness of God earlier under our consideration of the theology of God. Similarly, in the New Testament, it is clear that God the Father is the default reference in relation to the use of the word God, as the examples below demonstrate.

As Christians, we might argue that the Trinity is indicated with any reference to God in the Old Testament, but if so, this is an example progressive understanding. It seems very unlikely that any Old Testament author had any such comprehension. Finally, we will consider the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the other members of the Trinity in a later chapter.

2. It is thus the fourth claim that is most ambiguous in the New Testament. To say that Jesus is "ontologically" God is to say that Christ as a person literally existed from all eternity past as God. As the Nicene Creed states, he was "eternally begotten of the Father... true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father." This is what historic, orthodox Christians believe.

The opposite approach is to say that Jesus was "functionally" God. That is to say, he did things that are uniquely characteristic of God. This approach might say that Jesus was God's representative on earth or that in some way he was the embodiment of God on earth without actually being of one substance with God. A famous approach of this sort is an adoptionist Christology, considered a heresy early on. In this approach, Jesus becomes God's Son at some point after not having been so before.

3. Before we consider passages to address Jesus as ontologically God, we should look at those passages that clearly distinguish God the Father and Jesus as different persons. Such passages include:
  • 1 Corinthians 8:6
  • 1 Corinthians 12:3-6
  • 1 Corinthians 15:27-28
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14
  • Ephesians 4:4-6
  • 1 Peter 1:2
  • Hebrews 2:10
  • Matthew 28:18-20
1 Corinthians 15:27-28 is of particular interest, for here God (the Father) subordinates all creation to Christ and then Christ subordinates himself and the creation to God (the Father). This passage is central to debates over hierarchy within the Trinity. On the one hand, historic Christianity has rejected any subordination within the Trinity since the time of Nicaea. [2]

The historic solution to this conundrum is to see the humanity of Jesus as what is subordinated to God here. Exegetically, such an interpretation goes well beyond anything Paul indicates. It is an example of the need to believe by faith that God clarified or made the understanding of the Trinity more precise in the first few centuries of the Church. We simply would not come up with such an interpretation on the basis of the 1 Corinthians text--only through the eyes of later debates. What is clear is that the person of Jesus and the person of God are considered distinct here by Paul.

All of these passages distinguish God (the Father) from Jesus the Son. 1 Corinthians 8:6 says there is "one God" and "one Lord," the first is presumably the Father, the second is obviously Jesus. Ephesians 4:4-6 is also quite clear in distinguishing the "one Lord" from the "one God and Father of us all." Hebrews 2:10 distinguishes God (the Father) as the one "for whom and through whom everything is" from Jesus as the pioneer of our salvation.

4. There are passages that we believe by faith that God used as seeds to lead the Church to full-blown Nicaean faith. The Gospel of John was especially key in this regard. On the one hand, the New Testament authors clearly understood Jesus to be the Son of God. However, we have seen that this title was, more than anything else, a royal title and susceptible to an adoptionist interpretation.

There are two or three instances where the title Lord might be taken to identify Jesus with YHWH in the Old Testament. If the "name above every name" in Philippians 2:9 is "Lord" in 2:11, then Jesus is given the name YHWH at the point of his exaltation to God's right hand. However, again here, the giving of the name at a particular moment is susceptible to an adoptionist interpretation. [1]

A much more substantial connection between Jesus and YHWH is implied in John 8:58. Here Jesus states that "before Abraham was, I am." This verse seems to equate Jesus with YHWH at the burning bush. We have already seen that the Gospel of John is very explicit about the personal pre-existence of Jesus. John also indicates the oneness of Jesus with God the Father: "I and the Father are one" (10:30). It is not clear that John himself had the full understanding of Nicaea, but these statements emphasize the oneness of Christ with God in a way that goes back "before the worlds began" (John 17:5).

5. A passage that does not contribute to this discussion is the older version of 1 John 5:7-8, still found in the King James and New King James Versions...

6. Romans 9:5 debate...

7. Hebrews 1:8-12 calls Jesus both God and Lord...

8. Titus 2:13...

9. Revelation and the worship of the Lamb... e.g, 1:17-18; 5:8

[1] Richard Bauckham has suggested a similar understanding of "Lord" in Hebrews 1:10, connecting it to the name Jesus inherits in 1:4. However, most see the name as "Son."

[2] The issue has been revived because of the question of hierarchy within the family. However, the two issues are not necessarily connected.

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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