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Christ, Christology

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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In studying ‘Christology’ the object is to ascertain what were the opinions, convictions, or dogmas regarding the Person of Christ which were held by particular authorities or by the Christian Church as a whole at any particular time. In the period now under review ‘dogmas’ do not enter into consideration, seeing that the Apostolic Age does not furnish any instance of common opinion enforced by authority, which is what ‘dogma’ consists in. On the other hand, the limits of our period are set not by the ‘Age of the Apostles’ strictly understood, but by the documents which form our NT, even though some of them may be held to proceed from a generation subsequent to that of the apostles.

It has been usual to divide the subject into pre-Pauline and Pauline (with post-Pauline) Christology; and the division only does justice to the great place occupied by St. Paul in the interpretation of Christian experience and the correlation of Christian thought. But the classification is open to a two-fold objection. In the first place, it tends unduly to depreciate the importance, indeed the normative value, of Christian experience and reflexion anterior to St. Paul; and, in the second place, by grouping the other forms of Christology as ‘post-Pauline’ or ‘sub-Pauline,’ it assumes or alleges a relation of dependence between them and the Christology of the Apostle; whereas the fact of this relation and the measure of it are parts of the whole problem, and call for careful investigation. It is preferable, therefore, to consider first primitive Christology, and then sub-primitive Christology, without assuming any continuous line of development.

I. The Christology of the primitive community

1. Sources.-The material for the study of this period is far from copious, and its value has been much disputed. Yet its importance is so great that it demands careful examination. The possible sources may be classified under three heads: (1) the Acts of the Apostles, especially the earlier half; (2) certain statements and allusions in St. Paul’s Epistles as to views held in common by himself and the primitive Christian community; and (3) certain elements in the Synoptic Gospels, in which, it has been suggested, we find reflected the Christological idea of a later generation. We shall take these in the reverse order.

(1) The Synoptic Gospels.-Here it is not proposed to make any use of what some claim to recognize as ‘secondary’ material in the Synoptic Gospels. Firstly, even if the presence of such material be admitted as a possibility, there is the greatest uncertainty as to its amount and its distribution. While there has undoubtedly been a tendency in some critical writers to exaggerate the influence of later theology on the Synoptic record, it is also quite possible that the criteria to which they appeal may need to be revised. Neither the absolute nor the relative dates of the NT documents have been ascertained with sufficient certainty, nor yet has the inner history of the period been realized with sufficient precision, to make the discrimination of such material anything but very precarious. But, secondly, even if there were much more certainty than there is as to the Synoptic material which is really secondary in character, it would be of little use for our purpose, seeing that the criterion by which it is distinguished is precisely its harmony with the views of a later period; and on that account it cannot be expected to yield any new and positive information as to the opinion held in the period to which ex hypothesi it belongs.

(2) The Epistles of St. Paul.-These provide at least valuable confirmation of what may be otherwise ascertained as to the opinion held by the primitive community, portly through direct statement by the Apostle as to what was the gospel he had ‘received,’ and partly through inference which may be made from his own views, as to that out of which they had developed. But beyond this we cannot go. The Epistle of James, even if its date be early, would add nothing to our knowledge of the primitive Christology. The First Epistle of Peter, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse all represent a stage in some degree in advance of the common basis from which they started; and the Johannine Gospel and Epistles embody the results of still longer experience and deeper analysis.

(3) The Acts of the Apostles.-There remains, as the chief source of material for constructing the pre-Pauline Christology, the Book of Acts, more especially the first eleven chapters. Not many years ago it would have been difficult to justify at the bar of scholarly opinion the use of this document as a trustworthy source. No book was so seriously discredited as a historical source by the representatives of the ‘Tübingen theory.’ Now, however, that the governing historical principle of that theory has been shown to be untenable, and the conclusions based upon it have been either abandoned or seriously modified, the way has been opened for a reconsideration of the Acts as to both its date and its historical value. In the opinion of most competent scholars, the authorship may now be restored to St. Luke and the date placed within the first century, some assigning it to the nineties, some to the eighties. Quite recently a strong case has been made out by Harnack for the still older view that it was written in the sixties before the death of St. Paul.

But what is more important for our purpose than the possible revision of the date is the abandonment of the charge of history-making for party (or eirenical) purposes, and the recognition that St. Luke was not simply an echo of St. Paul (see Jülicher, Introd. to NT, Eng. translation , 1904, p. 437; J. Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., 1911, p. 301). In particular there is an increasing disposition to acknowledge that in the speeches of the earlier chapters we have the thought of the primitive community preserved and reproduced with singular fidelity. The admission of Schmiedel in his article on the Acts (Encyclopaedia Biblica i. 48) is significant:

‘A representation of Jesus so simple, and in such exact agreement with the impression left by the most genuine passages of the first three gospels, is nowhere else to be found to the whole NT. It is hardly possible not to believe that this Christology of the speeches of Peter must have come from a primitive source.’

In the Acts of the Apostles moat of the material is contained in the five speeches of Peter and the speech of Stephen, those of Peter being (a) on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14 ff.); (b) in Solomon’s portico (Acts 3:12 ff.); (c) the first before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8 ff.); (d) the second before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29 ff.); and (e) the short speech at Joppa (Acts 10:34 ff.). When we proceed to collect and classify the relevant statements in this part of the Acts, we find that they point to the following conclusions (i.) The Christians of the early days identified Jesus with the Messiah. (ii.) They appealed for confirmation of this conviction to the fact that God had ‘raised him from the dead’; and also that He had been ‘exalted’ by, and to, the right hand of God, the Resurrection and Exaltation marking a decisive moment in the Messiahship. (iii.) At the same time they referred back behind the Resurrection to facts and characteristics of His earthly ministry. (iv.) In spite of the dignity and authority to which they believed Him raised, they consistently referred to Him in terms of humanity, as to one who had been, while upon earth, a man among men. (v.) They promptly began to attach to Him certain OT titles and types, some of which had already been recognized as Messianic, others possibly not; e.g. ‘Son of Man,’ ‘Servant of God,’ ‘Leader of Salvation,’ ‘Saviour,’ ‘Judge,’ and ‘Lord.’ (vi.) They connected the death of Jesus, on the one hand, very definitely with the determined purpose of God; and, on the other, with the blotting out of sin. And for these reasons this Jeans was the subject of the ‘good news’ (Acts 5:42), the object of faith (Acts 9:42; Acts 11:17), and the cause of faith in men (Acts 3:16).

(i.) The first point hardly requires to be illustrated. Not only the speeches but the narrative as a whole bear witness to the fact that the ‘disciples,’ to use St. Luke’s word, identified Jesus who had died but risen again with the Messiah of Jewish expectation. This was indeed the one point which at the outset distinguished them from the other Jews in Jerusalem. Other grounds of distinction, ultimately leading to separation, were doubtless latent in their minds-recollections of the Master’s teaching, of His attitude to the Law and the ritual of the Temple. But in the meantime ‘the disciples’ are found haunting the Temple and observing the formal hours of prayer; St. Peter proudly claims that no unclean or forbidden food has passed his lips (Acts 10:14), and, thirty years later, St. James can assure St. Paul that all the thousands of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are ‘zealous of the law’ (Acts 21:20). But with an enthusiasm which no scorn could quench, a determination which neither threats nor imprisonment could weaken, they proclaimed to high and low their conviction that the Jesus they had known was the Messiah. It is one of the water-marks of the primitive character of St. Luke’s narrative that he everywhere shows his consciousness that this is the meaning of χριστός. He never employs it as a proper name. His name for our Saviour is either ‘Jesus’ or ‘the Lord’; and χριστός when it stands alone always means ‘Messiah.’ This is specially significant in passages where ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus’ occur together, in apposition; e.g. Acts 3:20, ‘that he may send the Messiah who has been before appointed-Jesus’; Acts 5:42; Acts 17:3; Acts 18:5; Acts 18:28, ‘shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.’ The completeness with which this fact is attested must not blind us, however, to two uncertainties, which immediately arise. The first may be stated thus: What did the disciples understand by the Messiah? What character, rôle, or function did they assign to Him? And the second thus: At what point did they understand Him to have entered on His Messiah-ship? They identified Jesus with the Messiah of Jewish expectation; but did that mean that He had been (and was still, and was to return as) Messiah, or that the Messiahship was a dignity conferred on Him after death and at the Resurrection? The answer to these questions follows on the examination of the other elements in the primitive conviction.

(ii.) That conviction rested upon, and appealed to, the Resurrection as the conclusive proof of the Messiahship of Jesus. But the Resurrection was uniformly connected with the Exaltation to the right hand of God, or with its equivalent-the participation of Jesus in the Divine ‘glory.’ In each of St. Peter’s recorded speeches these two factors are significantly combined (Acts 2:32-33; Acts 3:13; Acts 7:55; Acts 10:40; Acts 10:42). The Resurrection is thus regarded as the externally visible side of a great transaction which has its true significance in the Exaltation of Jesus to Messianic rank and honour in heaven; it was a public declaration of His station; the man whom they had seen crucified now occupied the place of dignity and authority which prophecy and apocalyptic had assigned to the Messiah. God had now ‘made him both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36). The word ‘Lord’ (κύριος), like ‘Christ,’ is probably used as an official title; but in any case the phrase witnesses to the belief that the Resurrection and Exaltation had marked a decisive moment in the Messiahship of Jesus.

(iii.) At the same time, St. Peter is careful to emphasize on more than one occasion the ministry which had preceded the Crucifixion and Resurrection. He marks the limits of that ministry (Acts 1:21-22) in accordance with those set by the Gospels. In his first speech (Acts 2:22 ff.) he describes its character-‘Jesus the Nazaraean (cf. Acts 3:6; Acts 4:10; Acts 6:14; Acts 22:8; Acts 24:5 and Acts 26:9), a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and signs and wonders, which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know.’ And specially in the address preceding the baptism of Cornelius (Acts 10:36 ff.), St. Peter, having begun with words which make echoes of Messianic passages in Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7; cf. Nahum 1:15), proceeds to remind his hearers of something already familiar to them-the ministry of ‘Jesus the one from Nazareth,’ which began from Galilee after the baptism proclaimed by John. Him God had anointed with the Holy Spirit, and He had gone about doing deeds of kindness and healing all who were tyrannized by the devil. Of all that He had done also in Judaea and Jerusalem (as well as of the Resurrection) St. Peter and his comrades were appointed to bear witness. The only epithets applied to Jesus which might throw light on the impression He had made are ‘holy’ and ‘righteous’ (Acts 3:14; Acts 4:27; [cf. Acts 4:30] Acts 7:52; [cf. Acts 22:14]). The ascription of the characteristic ‘righteous’ is probably due to a reminiscence of a description already traditional for the Messiah (cf. En, 38.2, 46.3, 53.6), and the collocation of ‘holy’ and ‘servant’ may have a similar origin; but inacts Acts 3:14, where both epithets are applied to the historical Jesus, the contrast drawn in the following paragraph with the ‘murderer’ for whom the Jews had asked suggests that the words at the same time connote the consciousness that they fitly describe the character of Jesus.

(iv.) This Jesus, whether He be referred to in the days of His flesh or in His present Exaltation at the right hand of God, is consistently represented in terms of humanity. It cannot be said that any special stress is laid on His human nature. The time had not yet come when it was necessary to emphasize His true manhood over against Docetic or Gnostic tendencies. If some slight emphasis is to be detected, it is due rather to wonder that One to whom so much honour is assigned, through whom so much is expected, was One with whom the disciples had been on familiar terms. This is suggested by the frequency with which the simple name ‘Jesus’ is used (three times as often as the title ‘Christ’), by the reiterated designation ‘Jesus the Nazaraean,’ and by the emphatic demonstration which occurs more than once-‘This Jesus did God raise up’ (Acts 2:32; cf. Acts 2:36). It is ‘Jesus’ whom Stephen sees standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55), and ‘Jesus’ who speaks to Saul from heaven. It was in the fact that St. Peter and St. John had been companions of ‘Jesus’ that the members of the Sanhedrin found some explanation of their boldness and powers of speech (Acts 4:13). It was in the name of ‘Jesus’ that they taught (Acts 4:18), and in the same name that they wrought miracles. The miracles of Jesus Himself were not ascribed to His independent initiative; they were wonders which ‘God did by him’ (Acts 2:22); and the explanation of His power which is given elsewhere (Acts 10:38) is that God had anointed Him with the Holy Ghost, and that God ‘was with him’ (Acts 10:38). For God had ‘raised him up’ in the sense in which He ‘raised up’ prophets of old, and ‘sent him to bless’ His people in turning away every one of them from their iniquities (Acts 3:26). In all this we see the tokens of a very early form of Christology; one, moreover, which would be very difficult to account for either as the invention or as the recollection of a later generation.

(v.) But this is not a complete account of the Christological phenomena of these chapters. There are numerous indications that from the very outset the minds of some at least of the disciples were at work on the material provided for them by (a) their recollection of what Jesus had been, said, and done; (b) the facts of His Crucifixion and Resurrection; and (c) the promises and predictions of the OT, together possibly with some of the language of the apocalypses. The result of this reflexion is seen in the ascription to Jesus as Messiah of certain important titles and functions which indicate more precisely the relation in which He stands towards God or the function He discharges towards men. In his speech on the day of Pentecost St. Peter was ready with a quotation from Psalms 16, and an exegetical interpretation of it which was sufficiently in accord with contemporary methods of exegesis to commend it to his hearers. Not long after, we find him making the definite general statement that God had fulfilled the things which He foreshowed ‘by the mouth of all his prophets that his Christ should suffer’ (Acts 3:18; cf. also Acts 3:24; Acts 10:43). We are justified, therefore, in looking to the writings of the prophets for the sources of phrases and ideas now connected with Jesus as the risen Messiah.

(α) The Servant of God.-That is undoubtedly the source of the striking description, τὸν παῖδα αὐτοῦ (sc. θεοῦ), which occurs twice in St. Peter’s second speech (Acts 3:13; Acts 3:26) and twice (τὸν ἅγιον παῖδά σου) in the prayer of thanksgiving (Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30). The rendering familiar to English ears through the Authorized Version translates παῖδα by ‘Son’ in the first two passages, by ‘child’ in the last two. But according to the view now generally held it is the alternative meaning of παῖς which is here intended, viz. ‘servant’; and we have in the phrase a deliberate echo of the language of Deutero-Isaiah concerning the ‘Servant of the Lord.’ Such a usage, in the first place, is a further indication of the primitive character of St. Luke’s material. It is found elsewhere only in Clement, the Didache, and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. It is an early Messianic title for our Lord which is not repeated in the later books of the NT (see further A. Harnack, Date of Acts and Synoptic Gospels, Eng. translation , 1911, p. 106; History of Dogma, Eng. translation , i. [1894] 185, note 4).

Further, the application of this title to Jesus is very significant, whether it is traced to independent reflexion on the part of the apostles, or whether it be due to appreciation on their part of the same factor in the consciousness and in the utterances of Jesus. Its effect was to link on to the traditional conception of the Messiah a series of ideas of quite a different character, including humility, submission, vicarious suffering and death. The importance of this identification is illustrated by the exposition of Isaiah 53:7 given by Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35 ‘beginning from this scripture he preached unto him Jesus’); and the same interpretation probably underlies St. Paul’s statement, ‘Christ … died for our sins according to the scriptures.’

(β) Prince and Saviour.-The same OT context is probably the source of another striking designation, ἀρχηγὸν καὶ σωτῆρα. ‘Him did God exalt unto his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour’ (Acts 5:31; cf. Acts 3:15 ‘ye slew the Prince of life’; and Hebrews 2:10 ‘the author (prince, or captain) of their salvation’; also 12 author and finisher’ [Westcott, ‘leader and consammator’]). The variety in the renderings reflects an ambiguity in the word ἀρχηγός. It describes one who both inaugurates and controls; and the ἀρχηγός τῆς ζωῆς at once inaugurates and controls the Messianic experience of salvation here described as ζωή. There is thus a close parallelism between the two phrases ‘Prince of life’ and ‘Prince and Saviour’; and when they are taken together, and weighed with the context in which the first is found, their connexion with the language of Isaiah becomes plain, e.g. Isaiah 60:16 ἐγὼ Κύριος ὁ σώζων σε, and Isaiah 55:4 ἰδοὺ μαρτύριον ἐν ἔθνεσιν ἔδωκα αὐτὸν, ἄρχοντα καὶ προστἀσσοντα τοῖς ἔθνεσιν. The ‘sufferings of the Christ’ had been foretold ‘by the mouth of all the prophets’; and the same prophecies, to the study of which the apostles had been led by His death, supplied forms for the expression of their faith in Him.

(γ) Son of Man.-This title for Jesus occurs once only-in the account of the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:55). Stephen ‘looked up stedfastly to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said. Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.’ Two things are clear: the name ‘Jesus’ and the title ‘Son of Man’ are already felt to be interchangeable, and the title belongs to Jesus as the Messiah. There is no other instance of the phrase in the NT outside the Gospels, Revelation 1:13 being no exception. It provides, as Bartlett says (ad loc.), ‘a water-mark of the originality of this utterance,’ and even the most cautious critics admit that this speech of Stephen reached St. Luke from a very early source. These two facts-the early date to which the phrase must be assigned and its uniqueness outside the Gospels-point to its being a reminiscence of what is attested by the Gospels-our Lord’s custom of describing Himself by this title, and describing Himself with a veiled allusion to His Messiahship. But even if the primitive community was itself responsible for this identification, and did not take it over from our Lord Himself, that would not diminish the significance of the phrase for the primitive Christology. ‘This identification of the historical Jesus with the “Son of Man” of Daniel and Enoch is very significant, because directly it is accomplished, the further thought can no longer be resisted, that Jesus of Nazareth is not simply a man, who in the future is to be exalted to heavenly glory, but an original heavenly being, who came down to accomplish this work of his on earth’ (J. Weiss, Christ, Eng. translation , 1911, p. 59f.). The community, for which this was a just and intelligible description of Jesus, was preparing and prepared for any interpretation of His being which is contained in the NT.

(δ) The phrase Son of God is also used, but only once-in Acts 9:20. St. Paul ‘preached Jesus, that he is the Son of God.’ but the title is used in its Messianic and official sense, founded on Psalms 2:7 (cf. Matthew 16:16, John 1:49); and the sentence implies no more than the dosing words of Acts 9:22 ‘proving that this is the Christ.’ A later generation failed to recognize this, and the consequence is seen in the TR [Note: Textus Receptus, Received Text.] of Acts 9:20, where ‘Christ’ has been substituted for ‘Jesus’-a useful illustration of the way in which the copyists felt the lack of the word ‘Christ’ as a name, and therefore introduced or substituted it (some nine times in all in Acts).

(ε) The Lord.-Χριστὸς, παῖς θεοῦ, ἀρχηγὸς τῆς σωτηρίας, ἀρχηγὸς καὶ σωτὴρ, υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου-these are elements out of which a rich Christology might rapidly develop. And there is still one to add, which is probably the most pregnant of all-the title ὁ Κύριος. The Synoptic Gospels witness to the habit of addressing the Master, or speaking of Him, as ὁ Κύριος; and there it is simply an expression of profound respect. As such the word was also in common use among the Hellenists of the Empire applied alike to gods and to Emperors. St. Paul snows himself conscious of this when he says (1 Corinthians 8:5) that there are in fact many ‘gods and lords so-called.’ But when he asserts the claim of Jesus to the title in a unique sense, he is only doing what the infant Church had done before him. ‘Indubitably therefore let the whole house of Israel know that God has made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified’ (Acts 2:36). ‘He is Lord of all’ (Acts 10:36). This became in fact the chosen and prevailing appellation of Jesus Christ, especially among the Gentile Christians, where the historical significance of ‘Christ’ was unfamiliar. But how far the usage was from originating in Gentile circles we learn from its familiarity there in the Aramaic form of ‘Maran atha,’ i.e. ‘Our Lord comes’ or ‘Our Lord, come.’ That St. Paul could count on this being understood by the Christians at Corinth betokens antecedent and wide-spread usage of the formula in Palestinian circles.

The special and unique significance of the title as now applied to Christ arises out of its use in the Septuagint as the usual euphemistic equivalent of ‘Jahweh.’ For those familiar with the OT in the Greek version, ὁ Κύριος was a synonym for God; the outstanding fact in connexion with the Christology of the Acts and Epistles is that the same word has become the common, the preponderating designation of Jesus Christ. And the connotation which is involved in its application to Him is the same. This follows from the transference to Christ not merely of the title but also of phrases from the OT, the original reference of which was to Jahweh. When the believers on Christ are described as οἱ ἐπικαλούμενοι τὸ ὄνομα τοῦτο, ‘those who call upon this name,’ sc. the name of Jesus our Lord (Acts 9:21; cf. Acts 9:14; Acts 2:21; Acts 22:16 and Romans 10:12, 1 Corinthians 1:2), language is appropriated to Christ which in the OT had been used to describe the worshipper of the true God (cf. Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8, 2 Kings 5:11). Stephen dies ‘calling upon (the Lord) and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’; and Peter postulates universal dominion of the same Person-‘He is Lord of all’ (Acts 10:36).

‘There cannot be the least doubt,’ says J. Weiss (Christ, p. 46f.), ‘that the name has now a religious significance. To make clear the religious import of the use of the name “Lord” by the early Christians, one would have to cite the whole of the NT. For in the expression “Our Lord Jesus Christ” the whole primitive Christian religion is contained in germ. Dutiful obeisance, reverence, and sacred fear lest he should be offended, the feeling or complete dependence in all things, thankfulness and love and trust-in short, everything that a man can feel towards God, comes in this name to utterance.… That which is expected from God, the Lord can also impart.’

Corresponding with these significant titles there are certain functions ascribed to the risen Christ, which throw valuable light on the conception of Him which prevailed in the primitive community. He is represented (a) as One whom it is natural to approach in prayer, (b) as One who can forgive and save, and (c) as One who is destined to be the Judge of quick and dead.

(a) The practice of addressing prayer to Christ is established in the case of St. Paul (see below), and his references to the practice give no ground for the supposition that it was a novelty which originated with him. Rather do they suggest a practice which was already familiar, and requiring no defence, and so serve to confirm the evidence of the Acts to the effect that from the beginning the disciples addressed the Risen Lord in prayer. It is in this sense that the Christians in Damascus are described by Ananias as ‘those who call upon thy name’ (Acts 9:14), with this significance that the dying Stephen cries, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’ and ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,’ and it is at least possible that the same idea underlies St. Peter’s quotation from Joel (Acts 2:21), for the speech to which it is prefixed leads up to the conclusion that Jesus has been made Lord and Christ (see Zahn, Die Anbetung Jesu5, 1910).

(b) The words of Stephen are addressed to One who has the power to forgive; and the title of ‘Saviour’ is no empty form. That ‘salvation,’ which, whatever be the precise contents of the term, always stands for the highest good, can be obtained through Him, and through no other. In Acts 4:12 (‘there is no other name,’ etc.) St. Peter is probably contemplating Jews only, and salvation as conceived by them, i.e. as the Messianic deliverance of the future. This Jesus, who is the Christ, is to return, after ‘seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord’ at ‘the time of the restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21). That return will prove the culminating and final fulfilment of predictions made by Moses and the prophets who followed him, concerning both the glories and the judgment of the Messianic times.

For, (c) when He comes, Christ will fulfil the function for which He has been destined by God; He will act as Judge of quick and dead (Acts 10:42).

These last are the only references in the early chapters of Acts to the Parousia of Christ and its attendant circumstances. We have to observe therefore the sobriety and the reticence of the expectation, especially when compared with the exuberance of earlier and contemporary writing on the subject. There is no reference to the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, or to the humiliation and destruction of Israel’s foes-features of the future which were part of the common form of Messianic expectation. In fact, the tone of these speeches is strangely different from what we should have expected from a Jew speaking under the conviction that the Messiah had been manifested in Jesus, and would shortly return to fulfil the Divine programme. We miss even the eschatological scenery connected with the Return, with which the apocalyptic sections of the Synoptic Gospels have made us familiar, and also that emphasis on the imminence of the Return which appears in the early Epistles of St. Paul. And yet, in the announcement that Christ comes to judge the quick and the dead, St. Peter ascribes to Him a function which sets Him on the plane of God (see Scheel in RGG [Note: GG Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart.] i. 1743, foot). The exalted Jeans, despite the clearness with which He is defined as a man, is yet One to whom men pray, One who exercises the Divine functions of forgiving, saving, and judging. And ‘what is honoured in worship stands wholly and without qualification on the side of God’ (Bousset, Kyrios Christos, p. 185).

(vi.) Further light is shed upon the conception of Christ held by the primitive community by the significance assigned to His death. It is true that the references to this subject are unexpectedly few, brief, and general. The early chapters of Acts present a very exact reproduction of the natural situation in which the death of Jesus was a fact known to all, one which called for explanation, and, in the absence of explanation, was without religious value; but one for which an explanation was emerging under the guidance partly of the OT, partly of reminiscences of the Master’s teaching, and partly of the spiritual experience of the disciples. The following points are to be noted.

(α) The death of Jesus was very definitely referred to ‘the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23). Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and the Jews as a people had only carried out what had been ordained to happen by the hand and will of God (Acts 4:28). In this there is nothing that goes beyond the Jewish doctrine of the Divine foreknowledge; but the statement of it involved a problem which was calling for solution. To what end had God ordained the death of the Messiah?

(β) This death, though the fact had hitherto been ignored, had actually been predicted by the prophets of the OT. ‘Those things which God before showed by the mouth of all the prophets that his Christ should suffer, did he thus fulfil’ (Acts 3:18; cf. Acts 10:43, 1 Peter 1:10, Luke 24:25 ff., Luke 24:44 ff.). The repeated emphasis on ‘all the prophets’ (cf. Acts 3:24) is not to be explained as due merely to hyperbole. It arises from, and illustrates, the conviction that Christ was the goal and the fulfilment of the whole prophetic anticipation of redemption; though St. Peter might have found difficulty in quoting many prophetic words directly bearing on the death of Christ, the conviction he expresses is that that death must now be recognized as an essential element in the working out of the redemptive purpose.

(γ) The disciples commemorated the death of Jesus by a frequently repeated eucharistic meal in which they ‘showed forth the Lord’s death.’ That this practice began so promptly after the birth of the community (Acts 2:46) is a fact which must be due to recollection of the Last Supper, and so involves conscious remembrance of the significance which the Master had attached to the breaking of the bread, at least according to the shortest form in which the words are reported: ‘This is my body which is on your behalf, (1 Corinthians 11:24). Behind that would lie recollections of other things He had said bearing upon His death which had been vague and cryptic at the time.

In those factors-the correlation of the death of Jesus with the whole redeeming purpose or God, the foreshadowing by prophecy of the vicarious value attaching to the death of the innocent servant of God, and the remembered attitude of Jesus towards His own death-we have the conditions for a rapid evolution of a doctrine of reconciliation through the Cross. The doctrine itself is not here; but distinct approximation to it can be traced in the collocation of Jesus as suffering Messiah with an appeal for ‘repentance unto remission of sins’ (Acts 3:18-19). In Acts 2:38 when the people have heard the declaration that God has made Jesus Lord and Christ, and ask, What are we to do? the answer is ‘Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ unto remission of your sins.’ There is a superficial similarity to the summons issued by John the Baptist. but a fundamental distinction in that the ground of the apostolic appeal is the fact of Christ, a fact as yet unanalyzed; and the baptism is to be ‘in the name of Jesus Christ.’ i.e. it involves and symbolizes the confession of Jesus as the Christ, and heart-felt submission to His Personality. In Acts 5:31 (‘Him did God exalt to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance and remission of sins’), if, as is probable, ‘God’ is to be understood as the subject of the infinitive clause (cf. Acts 11:8 and Romans 2:4), the Exaltation and indirectly the death have remission of sins in part for their object and result.

More cannot be said. The nature of the connexion between the death of Jesus and the Divine plan remains obscure. To explain it was the work of a longer Christian experience, a deeper comprehension of sin, and a higher conception of the ethical demands of God. But when the explanation came, it was an unfolding of the primitive conviction that there was a profound connexion between the death of Jesus and the removal of sin. On this point, as on others, investigation of the primitive consciousness entirely confirms, as it is confirmed by, St. Paul’s statement of the gospel as it had been communicated to him, that ‘Christ … died for our sins according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).

(δ) The summary of the ‘gospel’ here given by St. Paul, while it is notably lacking in certain elements which are commonly supposed to be essential to Paulinism, corresponds very closely with the impression concerning the missionary preaching which is made by the later chapters of Acts. It is of course maintained by many scholars, and by some regarded as axiomatic, that the similarity between the speeches of St. Peter and those of St. Paul is due to the fact that they were all the work of one man, neither St. Peter nor St. Paul, but either an unknown writer in the second cent. or St. Luke working up old material at the end of the first. The alleged similarity calls for careful examination. The result will probably be the recognition that it arises from an inward harmony between the two apostles as to the essentials of their message, and especially as to their conception of Christ. combined with a diversity of tone and emphasis which is specially marked when the speeches of St. Paul are compared with one another, and extends to his speeches as a whole when compared with St. Peters. And whatever explanation be given of the composition of the speeches of St. Paul, the primitive character of the Christology they present remains a fact, and one which is more easily accounted for if they reproduce the essentials of the Apostle’s mission preaching, than if we have to suppose St. Luke, with the knowledge of St. Paul’s later preaching which he must have possessed, deliberately excluding what was characteristically Pauline. The discrepancy between the Christology reflected in St. Paul’s speeches in Acts and that of his Epistles may actually he reflective of the true facts of the case.

In regard to their Christology the speeches of St. Paul witness to practically the same elements as those of St. Peter, and to no other, or at most to one. Just as in the speech of Stephen, and (less conspicuously but not less really) in the speeches of St. Peter, so in the speech of St. Paul at Pisidian Antioch, Jesus of Nazareth is set forth as the goal of Israel’s history and the crowning fulfilment of Jewish prophecy. The good news of the gospel which its messengers proclaim is the promise to the fathers now fulfilled (Acts 13:32; cf. Acts 26:8, Romans 15:8). From Thessalonica we have a specimen of St. Paul’s missionary preaching, according to which for three Sabbath days or ‘weeks’ (Revised Version margin) he reasoned with the Jews ‘from the scriptures,’ to the effect that the Christ ‘was bound to suffer,’ and the same appeal to Scripture is repeated in Acts 26:22; Acts 28:23; cf. Acts 13:27. The object of the appeal is to show both that this is the Messiah, and that His death is part of the redemptive process. He refers to Christ in the same striking way as ὁ δίκαιος (Acts 22:14; cf. Acts 7:52), and describes Him as the One appointed by God to judge the world (Acts 17:31). St. Paul further presents Christ as an object of faith (Acts 22:19 cf. Acts 9:42; Acts 11:17, and possibly Acts 3:16), and claims that the consistent burden of his preaching has been ‘repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20:21; cf. Acts 26:20). In Acts 13:38 he declares ‘through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins.’ If in the following verse (‘and from all the things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses, by him is justified every one that believeth’) St. Paul seems to cress the line into ‘Paulinism,’ he does not go very far. ‘Justified’ has the same significance here as it has in the Parable of the Pharisee and Publican (Luke 18:14); and ἐν τούτῳ δικαιοῦται involves the saint: conception as the words of St. Peter in Acts 15:11 διὰ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ Κυρίου Ἰησοῦ πιστεύομεν σωθῆναι, or in Acts 4:12 οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἄλλῳ οὐδενὶ ἡ σωτηρία. There is one phrase, however, in which St. Paul, as reported in the Acts, states in dogmatic form a conviction to which we find no verbal parallel in the speeches of St. Peter, In Acts 20:28 he refers to τὴν ἐκκλησίαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἣν περιεποιήσατο διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ ἰδίου. (The probability is strong that υἱοῦ has been accidentally omitted from the text at a very early stage; otherwise ἰδίου must be construed as a substantive = ἀγαπητοῦ.) Here we have undoubtedly a seed-thought of much that we recognize as specifically Pauline. But it is still in the form of a seed. Psalms 74:2 in the Septuagint runs μνήσθητι τῆς συναγωγῆς σου ἧς ἐκτήσω ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς | ἐλυτρώσω ῥάβδον τῆς κληρονομίας σου. St. Paul, echoing the thought rather than quoting the words, takes the two words ἐκτήσω and ἐλυτρώσω, combines them, then breaks up the compound into two new elements-purchase and price; and, guided further by such phrases as ‘I have given Egypt for thy λύτρονʼ (Isaiah 43:3), ‘He smote all the first born of Egypt’ (Psalms 78:51), he sets the fact that ‘Christ died for our sins’ in this pregnant form: that the new holy community like the old one has been redeemed at the cost of blood, the blood of God’s own beloved Son.

2. Primitive conception of Christ

(1) Jesus as the Messiah.-We have now examined the material available for answering the question with which we started-What significance did the primitive community attach to the Messiahship of Jesus, and what led them to recognize Him as Messiah and as a Messiah with this significance? It would not further our inquiry to enter on an examination of antecedent or contemporary Jewish conceptions of the Messiah and the functions He was to discharge. These conceptions were at once so various and so fluid, and the extent to which any one of them prevailed at any particular time is so difficult to estimate, that even when we know all there is to know on the subject, we have only a bewildering variety of possibilities. We must and can find what we want within the NT. We begin by marking the two extremes between which the conception of the Messiah moved. The one is presented quite clearly at the opening of Acts, before the experience of Pentecost. The disciples put the question to the Risen Christ: ‘Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6)-a question reflecting the same conception as the words of the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:21), viz. that of a Messiah whose function was primarily and mainly the political enfranchisement of the nation. The other extreme is found in such a saying as ‘Christ also suffered for sins once … that he might bring us unto God’ (1 Peter 3:18), or in 2 Corinthians 5:19 ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.’

The way to test any conception of the Messiah is to observe from what He is expected to deliver-from the tyranny of the earthly oppressor or from the tyranny of moral and spiritual evil. Now, when we apply this test to the conception which lies behind the language of the primitive community, we find that, while it has very definitely moved away from the political, it has not yet reached a developed consciousness of the ethical deliverance. We find the reiterated and triumphant assertion that Jesus is the Messiah, but no trace subsequent to Pentecost of any idea that He is to restore the kingdom to Israel. On the other hand, the record of the early days, furnishes no clear exposition of the character of the deliverance He brings. We learn that in no other than Christ is σωτηρία; but the nature of the σωτηρία remains undefined. This is true in spite of allusions to ‘remission of sins’ in connexion with this manifestation of His death. According to contemporary Jewish thought, ‘remission’ or ‘blotting out’ of sin was a condition antecedent to, not part of, the Messianic salvation. There is, therefore, something really new in the presentation of the Christian Messiah as instrumental in the remission of sins. It was to antedate His traditional activity. ‘Unto you first,’ says St. Peter (Acts 3:26), ‘God, having raised up his Servant, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.’ That had been a function of Jesus in the days of His flesh; and the saying indirectly testifies to one of the felt consequences of His fellowship. But now, says St. Peter, ‘repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 2:38). So in Acts 10:43 (‘Through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins’) the declaration is followed, and so confirmed, by the bestowal of the Holy Ghost. This gift of the Holy Spirit is recognized as the first-fruits of the Messianic salvation and a pledge of its ultimate completion. The condition of receiving it is the remission of sins; and that follows on ‘believing on him,’ or, what is synonymous, ‘repenting and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.’ which again signifies the solemn confession of belief in Jesus as the Christ. Christ is not described as the One who bestows forgiveness (though the prayer of Stephen shows the near emergence of the idea) or as One for whose sake forgiveness is bestowed; but He is set in such relation to forgiveness that all is ready for the next step. When His disciples begin to have a deeper conception of sin, and to emphasize the idea of salvation as deliverance from it, a profounder explanation of the Messiah’s relation to sin and its removal will be demanded. Meanwhile, the conception of His function is plainly transitional, cut loose from the Judaic but only approximating to the Pauline.

The burden of the testimony borne by the primitive community was to the effect that Jesus is the Christ; He is also to return as the Christ; had He been the Christ while yet on earth? No conclusion to the contrary can be drawn from Acts 2:36, seeing that there is no indication of the point of time at which the ‘making’ took place; and even though it appears most natural to connect it with the Resurrection (cf. Romans 1:4), the ‘making’ probably implies the further recognition and promulgation of a status, rather than the bestowal of it. On the other hand, there are not wanting indications which seem to carry back the Messianic status into the earthly ministry. He had been ‘raised up’ by God (Acts 3:26; cf. Acts 7:37; Acts 13:33) as it had been predicted by Moses that God would raise up ‘a prophet’ (Acts 3:22). He had been sent by God as one blessing His people, and by God ‘anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power’ (Acts 10:38). This last expression probably means ‘appointed as Messiah,’ the occasion referred to being the Baptism of Jesus. ‘Since Isaiah 11:2 the conception of the Messiah in Jewish theology had been indissolubly linked with that of the Spirit. The Messiah is the bearer of the Spirit’ (Brückner, in RGG [Note: GG Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart.] ii. 1208), so that the anointing with the Spirit is equivalent to installation as Messiah.

(2) The Resurrection and the Messiahship.-To what was the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah due? It is sometimes easily assumed that it was produced by the Resurrection. But taken by itself the Resurrection was not sufficient to create belief that Jesus was the Messiah. It is not as if there had been any antecedent expectation that the Messiah would rise from the dead; such an expectation was indeed excluded by the absence of any idea that death was an element in the Messiah’s experience. There is no reason to suppose that when St. Peter appealed to the versos in Psalms 16, he was guided in the interpretation he gave of v. 10 by any tradition concerning the Messiah. Nor was there in the fact of resurrection itself any demonstration that such a rank belonged to the subject of it. It had been reported concerning John the Baptist that he was risen from the dead (Mark 6:14), but the only inference drawn was that ‘therefore do these powers work in him.’

The Resurrection did not create faith in Jesus as Messia

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Christ, Christology'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​c/christ-christology.html. 1906-1918.
 
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