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Survey of Theology 3. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus, Part 1. Classic Christology

PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) and .doc files (Microsoft Word format) of the overheads used in this presentation are available from the Survey of Theology Page or the Download page.

 

Topics

These topics are taken primarily from: Chapter 11 “The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus” in: Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2001

 

1. The Place of Jesus in Christian Theology

1.1. Introduction

1.2. Jesus is the historical point of departure for Christianity

1.3. Jesus reveals God

1.4. Jesus brings salvation

1.5. Jesus defines the shape of Christian life

2. New Testament Reflections on Jesus

2.1. Introduction

2.2. Jesus is the Messiah

2.3. Jesus is the Son of God

2.4. Jesus is the Son of Man

2.5. Jesus is Lord

2.6. Jesus is God

3. The Early Church’s Debate Over the Person of Jesus

3.1. The Council of Chalcedon Doctrine on the Person of Jesus

3.2. Ebionitism, Docetism

3.3. Arianism

3.4. Alexandrian School versus the Antiochene School

3.4.1. Unity Versus Integrity of the Human and Divine Natures in Jesus

3.4.2. Monophysitism

3.4.3. Nestorianism

3.5. Apollinarius

Primary Reference

 

 

1. The Place of Jesus in Christian Theology

1.1. Introduction

Jesus hold a pivotal position in Christian thought. In particular:

  • 1. Jesus is the historical point of departure of Christianity

  • 2. Jesus reveals God

  • 3. Jesus brings salvation

  • 4. Jesus defines the shape of Christian life

 

 

1.2. Jesus is the historical point of departure for Christianity

The event of Jesus in history brought Christianity into being:

  • Christianity is thus a historical religion

  • The event of Jesus is a the point of departure which all Christian theology must return to

 

Christianity can be described as “a sustained response to the questions raised by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (McGrath)

Scripture is important because it is the only authentic document embodying the Church’s understanding of Jesus

 

 

1.3. Jesus reveals God

All statements we make about God must be consistent with the person and work of Jesus

 

“The importance of the confession ‘Jesus in Lord’ is not  only that Jesus is divine but that God is Christlike”

- Arthur Michael Ramsey

 

 

1.4. Jesus brings salvation

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection makes salvation possible

 

 

1.5. Jesus defines the shape of Christian life

Jesus both makes redeemed life possible, and defines the shape of that redeemed life. That is:

  • Jesus is basis of salvation, and is a moral example

 

New Testament speaks of a life “conformed to Christ”

The narrative of Jesus’ life gives flesh to the otherwise abstract values and virtues of the Christian life

 

 

2. New Testament Reflections on Jesus

2.1. Introduction

Jesus is confessed / affirmed in the New Testament as:

  • 1. Messiah

  • 2. Son of  God

  • 3. Son of Man

  • 4. Lord

  • 5. God

 

 

2.2. Jesus is the Messiah

Hebrew mashiah (usually anglicalized as “Messiah”) = Greek Christos = “one who has been anointed”

primarily reserved for anointing of kings

  • kings regarded as appointed by God

  • anointing was a public sign of having been chosen by God for kingship

 

Jewish expectations for the Messiah during the time of Jesus:

  • were strongly associated with nationalistic feelings

  • envisioned a victorious Messiah who would liberate Jews from Rome

 

Some were attracted to Jesus because they thought he would be the messianic liberator from the rule of Rome.

 

Jesus did not let his disciples call him Messiah (the “messianic secret”), perhaps because he did not want people to misunderstand him as a political liberator. Jesus was not the kind of Messiah the people of his day expected.

In confessing Jesus as the Messiah, the Church was saying Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations of a Messiah

 

 

2.3. Jesus is the Son of God

Old Testament used the term “Son of God” in the sense of “belonging to God”

  • people of Israel (Exodus 4:22)

  • Davidic kings (2 Sam. 7:14)

 

Paul used “Son of God” for both believers and Jesus

  • believers: “sons” by adoption

  • Jesus: “God’s own Son”

John in his Gospel uses separate terms for believers and Jesus:

  • tekna (children): believers

  • huios (son): reserved for Jesus

 

 

2.4. Jesus is the Son of Man

“Son of Man” = Hebrew ben adam, Aramaic bar nasha

In the Old Testament, "Son of Man" has three usages:

  • 1. form of address for prophet Ezekiel

  • 2. the future suffering figure of Daniel 7:13-14, whose coming signals end of history and coming of divine judgment

  • 3. to contrast lowliness / fragility of human nature to transcendence / permanence of God and the angels (Num 23:19; Ps. 8:14)

 

Jesus as “Son of Man” is used in New Testament:

 

“to indicate his essential unity with mankind, and above all with the weak and humble, and also his special function as predestined representative of the New Israel and bearer of God’s judgment and kingdom.”

- George Caird

 

 

2.5. Jesus is Lord

“Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9) was one of the earliest Christian confessions of faith.

 

Lord = Greek kyrios, Aramaic mar

  • had powerful theological associations

    • kyrios used to translate the Old Testament Tetragrammaton = YHWH, the sacred name of God, too holy to pronounce

  • came to be regarded as a term reserved for God

 

 

2.6. Jesus is God

There are three instances where Jesus is called God in the New Testament:

  • 1. opening of Gospel of John

  • 2. confession of Thomas (John 20:28)

  • 3. opening of the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 1:8)

 

There are also New Testament passages where Jesus, although he is not explicitly called God,  is described as functioning as God:

  • 1. Jesus savior of humanity

    • passages: Matt 1:21, Acts 4:12, Heb 2:10, Luke 2:11

    • symbol of fish used for Jesus was a sign for Jesus the Savior: the five Greek letters spelling out fish (I-CH-TH-U-S) represented slogan “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”

  • 2. Jesus is worshipped. God and God alone could be worship, yet early church worshipped Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2)

  • 3. Jesus reveals God: “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

 

 

3. The Early Church’s Debate Over the Person of Jesus

3.1. The Council of Chalcedon Doctrine on the Person of Jesus

451 AD: Council of Chalcedon declared that Jesus is:

  • fully God and fully Human

  • equal to God the Father

  • existed from all eternity

 

This formulation was the result of a struggle over the first few centuries of the church to understand:

  • the degree of humanity versus divinity in Jesus

  • the separateness and integrity versus the unity of Jesus' humanity and divinity

 

 

The tension between these aspects of Jesus' person led to views now considered "heresies" by the standard of the Chalcedon definition (Jesus is one person with two natures, a fully human nature, and a fully divine nature):

 

 

3.2. Ebionitism, Docetism

Two early views were rejected as heretical:

  • 1. Ebionitism

    • Jewish sect

    • regarded Jesus ordinary human being, human son of Mary and Joseph

  • 2. Docetism

    • Greek dokeo “to seem or appear”

    • Jesus only seemed or appeared to be human, but was in fact totally divine

    • Jesus’ suffering only appearance, not real

 

 

3.3. Arianism

Arius: priest in Alexandria

  • sought to protect the inaccessibility and transcendence of God

  • taught:

    • there was a time when God was not yet Father, when the Son did not exist

    • the Son was created / begotten by God, and is the first among the all created creatures of God. “Son” is a metaphoric, honorific title

 

Criticism of Arius' views by Athanasius:

  • 1. Only God can save

    • yet New Testament and Christian liturgical tradition regard Jesus as Savior

  • 2. Only God should be worshipped

    • yet Christians worship and pray to Jesus

 

 

3.4. Alexandrian School versus the Antiochene School

3.4.1. Unity Versus Integrity of the Human and Divine Natures in Jesus

Alexandrian School:

  • emphasized the unity of the human and divine natures in Jesus

  • redemption = being taken up into the life of God = deification

  • deification is possible only if God assumes / unites with human nature: God became human, in order that humanity might become divine

 

Antiochene School:

  • emphasized the integrity and separateness of the human and divine natures in Jesus

  • salvation based on the moral obedience of fully human nature of Jesus, reestablishing the obedient people of God

 

 

3.4.2. Monophysitism

Antiochene School: accused Alexandrian position led to a “confusion” / “mingling” of the natures

  • “Heresy” of Monophysitism: Jesus has one nature, a “fused” human and divine nature

 

Chalcedonian position of two natures in Jesus (one fully human, one fully divine) was never fully accepted by all Christians

Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, and Abyssinian churches accept Monophysitism (Jesus has one nature, a united divine and human nature) as orthodox

 

 

3.4.3. Nestorianism

Alexandria School: accused Antiochene position led to a “doctrine of two sons” – Jesus two persons, one divine, one human

  • Heresy of “Nestorianism:” Jesus two persons, one divine and one human

 

Nestorius: Bishop of Constantinople

  • Argued Mary not "bearer of God" = theotokos, but bearer of the human part of Jesus: anthropotokos = “bearer of humanity” or Christotokos = “bearer of Christ”

  • As a result, accused of dividing Jesus into two persons, one human (whom Mary gave birth to) and one divine (whom Mary did not give birth to)

    • Nestorius denied this; said Christ “the common name of the two natures”

 

3.5. Apollinarius

Apollinarius worried the unity of the human and divine natures emphasized by the Alexandrian school led to God getting contaminated by human weakness

To avoid this, Apollinarius suggested that in Jesus the human mind and soul (“the source of human sinfulness”) was replaced with a divine mind and soul

  • Jesus thus had an incomplete human nature, was more divine than human

 

This view was condemned:

 

“If anyone has put their trust in him as a human being lacking a human mind, they are themselves mindless and not worthy of salvation. For what has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved. . .”

- Gregory of Nazianzus

 

 

Primary Reference

Chapter 11 “The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus” in: Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2001

 

 

 

 

Survey of Theology

 

1. The Doctrine of God

2. The Doctrine of the Trinity

3. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus, Part 1. Classic Christology

4. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus, Part 2. Modern Views and Concerns

5. The Doctrine of Salvation in Christ

6. The Doctrines of Human Nature, Sin, and Grace

7. The Doctrine of the Church

8. The Doctrine of the Sacraments

9. Christianity and the World Religions

10. Last Things: The Christian Hope