corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.11.19
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Person of Christ

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

PERSON OF CHRIST

I. Christology of the Synoptic Gospels. In so brief an article as the present no attempt can be made to detail the stages in the self-revelation of Jesus, or to assign each partial disclosure to a fixed period. Nor is it possible to inquire critically how far the picture of Jesus in the Gospels has been coloured by later experiences of the Church. Accepting the substantial authenticity of the narrative, and of the view of Jesus’ Person and teaching it embodies, we are led to examine chiefly the various significant titles in which His religious claim was expressed. But we must glance first of all at the human portrait drawn by the Evangelists.

1. Humanity of Jesus. Everywhere in the Synoptics the true humanity of our Lord is taken seriously. His bodily and mental life are both represented as having undergone a natural development. He is hungry and athirst, capable of the keenest suffering, possessed of a soul and spirit which He yields up to God in death. Joy, sorrow, distress, peace, love, anger every wholesome human emotion is felt by Him. He prays to God the Father, looking up to heaven habitually in lowly trust, for strength and guidance to do His appointed work. Out of the sinless Impulse to use His powers in furthering and defending His own life there rose temptations, not merely at the outset but repeatedly later, which involved Him in a real conflict. He is pictured as sharing in the common secular beliefs of His age and country. Certainly He exhibits at times an extraordinary degree of penetration into the thoughts of men; but to speak of Him as omniscient, whether in regard to the past or the future, is simply to desert our sources ( Mark 13:32 ). He asks questions to elicit information; He feels and expresses surprise; He looks to find fruit upon the fig-tree, and there is none. So far from being manifestations of omnipotence, His miracles are done through faith in the power of God, the gift of which is sought in prayer and acknowledged with thankfulness ( Mark 7:34 , Matthew 14:19 ). Finally, it is impossible not to feel that most theological attempts to vindicate for the Jesus of the Gospels a ‘double consciousness’ or ‘double will’ the one human and limited, the other infinite and Divine not merely destroy the unity of the impression He makes on us, but are really due to a tendency, devout but mistaken, to cast back upon those earthly years the glory of the risen Lord. This totally ignores the difference in Jesus’ status which the uniform teaching of the NT considers to have been made by the Resurrection, while it also obscures the fact indicative of the vast redeeming sacrifice of God that the life of Jesus, the Son Incarnate, was a life in the flesh, a distinctly human phenomenon which moved within the normal lines of a human mind and will.

2. Messiah. The first article in the creed of the Apostles is the Messiahship of the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth. Certain scholars have recently denied that our Lord claimed this title for Himself; but we may fairly say that on such terms the Gospel narrative becomes a chaos. The title Messiah (‘Christ’), familiar to Jewish religion from Psalms 2:1-12 , denotes in general the anointed Head of the Kingdom of God, the new King of a redeemed people; and Jesus, retaining the outline of the traditional idea, infused into it a new spiritual meaning, which, as applied to Himself, signified that He was not a new Teacher or Lawgiver or even the Founder of a new faith, but the Bearer and Finisher of divinely wrought salvation. Full consciousness of His Messianic function must have come to Him not later than His baptism the manner of its coming is for us inexplicable and at that crisis a wonderful bestowal of the Spirit equipped Him with the knowledge and power demanded by this vocation. His self-avowal as Messiah was, however, marked by a singular reserve. It followed from His novel view of the Kingdom of God, as the spiritual reign of a Father over His children (no doubt in eschatological perspective), that His conception of His own Kingship also moved on novel lines. Hence the almost insurmountable difficulty of revealing Himself as the expected Deliverer without fanning into flame such political passions as would have made men deaf to His gospel. It is noticeable, therefore, that at Nazareth He announced Himself not as Messiah, but as a prophet ( Luke 4:18 ).

We are probably right in saying that St. Peter’s confession at Cæsarea Philippi (Matthew 16:16 ) was the earliest point at which the Messianic dignity of Jesus became the explicit subject of conversation between the Master and the Twelve; this may be inferred with certainty from the wording of His question and the joy He evinced at the reply. He greets St. Peter’s answer with extraordinary emotion, as seeing in it a proof that the men nearest to Him had gained a clear religious view of the meaning of His life; while He is able to check any secular anticipations they might also form by at once adding the prediction of His death. To the world at large, however, He first declared His Messiahship when arraigned before Calaphas.

Our Lord’s reply to the Baptist’s message from prison (Matthew 11:2 ff.) gives us, perhaps, our clearest look at His own conception of the Messianic office. But it is to be observed that He did much more than modify the ancient idea ethically; He superseded it by unheard-of personal claims. ‘Jesus was condemned by His heathen judge as a usurper of the throne, by the Jewish tribunal as One who pretended to such a dignity as had never been conceded even to the Messiah’ (Dalman). He was all that the prophets had spoken, and much more . But although He put into the title an immensity of meaning which burst its real limits, and in a sense antiquated it, yet the historic name remains to teach that the hopes of men towards God have not been vain, and that it is through a personal Deliverer that God’s redemption comes. Furthermore, while the idea of a suffering Messiah may not have been altogether unknown to Rabbinical theology, it was Jesus who first made it current spiritual coin. Brooding meditation on the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:1-12 may well have revealed Him to Himself. It was in this mode through the felt need and reality of saving vicarious sorrow that the conception of Israel’s Messiah was so glorified as to pass into that of the Redeemer of the world. But, even apart from this, a straight line can be drawn from the Messianic claim of Jesus to the later Christology of the Apostles. ‘With the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah the closest possible connexion was established, for every devout Jew, between Jesus’ message and His person, for it is in the Messiah’s activity that God Himself comes to His people, and the Messiah who does God’s work and sits at His right hand has a right to be worshipped’ (Harnack).

3. Son of Man. This title is used only by Jesus, and applied to Himself alone; the earliest mention of it in the Synoptic narrative being Mark 2:10 ; Mark 2:28 . It is scarcely probable, as Dalman inclines to think, that Jesus employed it for the first time after St. Peter’s confession; yet at least that crisis does mark an incipient understanding of its significance on the disciples’ part. But it was only at His trial ( Mark 14:62 ) that its meaning dawned on the general mind. Its absence from NT writings other than the Gospels (except Acts 7:56 ) is intelligible if we consider that ho huios tou anthrôpou is a phrase which, to any one but a Jew, would require too much explanation for convenience. The virtual disappearance of the title, however, proves conclusively that it was no invention of the primitive Christian Society.

In the Synoptics the name is found on Jesus’ lips about 40 times. Various writers have noted that the passages where it occurs naturally divide into two groups, as they refer ( a ) to Jesus’ work on earth, and particularly His passion, or ( b ) to the final glory of His Parousia. It is observable that the ratio of apocalyptic passages is greater in the closing than in the earlier sections of the narrative.

The ultimate source of the title is not a question of first-rate importance, and anyhow it is insoluble; but we are justified in regarding Daniel 7:13 as at all events its proximate source, since Jesus obviously refers to this passage in His self-avowal before the Sanhedrin. We must also be prepared to allow for the influence of Psalms 8:1-9 and perhaps Ezekiel 2:1 ff. Whether in Daniel 7:13 ‘one like unto a son of man’ denotes the ideal Israel or an idealized person, it is hard to say, but the exegetical probabilities are decidedly in favour of the former explanation. Later Jewish thought, however, read the passage in a Messianic sense; and in the Similitudes of the Book of Enoch (probably b.c. 96 64) the Son of Man is a supernatural person, pre-existent, and (perhaps) identified with the Isaianic Servant of the Lord. Nothing can be more likely than that Jesus was familiar with this circle of ideas; and in practically every case His use of the title is intelligible only if it denotes an individual. Recently the argument has been used that the distinction existing in Greek between ‘man’ and ‘son of man’ could not have been expressed in Aramaic, and that we are consequently debarred from supposing that by the expression Jesus meant more than simply ‘man’ as such; but Dalman, followed by Driver, has put forward convincing reasons for denying this. Hence we may reasonably assume both that Jesus called Himself ‘the Son of Man,’ and that He did so frequently.

In asking what Jesus meant by this self-designation, we ought to remember that a given expression may have one meaning for the speaker and another for his audience. Still, one or two things are clear. It is quite un-Biblical to interpret the title as equivalent to ‘the idea of man’ or ‘the ideal man’; this conception is Hellenic rather than Jewish, and though it is embodied in the character of the Son of Man as realized in Jesus, it is not strictly present in the name. Again, the term was certainly not meant by Jesus as a dogmatic assertion of His true humanity; for of that no one was in doubt. What we judge to have really happened is this: taking the title freely as given in Daniel 7:1-28 , and possibly influenced by the Similitudes of Enoch or kindred ideas, Jesus began by using it to mean special or representative humanity as appointed to transcendent glory and dominion; but later He defined and enriched this meaning in a singular way by introducing the idea of suffering. On His lips, indeed, the name always had an educative aim. It was, as it were, a suggestive mystery, as much a problem as a disclosure. The title was traditional, yet it awaited final interpretation; and this Jesus gave by stamping on it the impress of Himself. Its educative value lay in this, that while in no sense can it be called a popular or transparent designation of the Messiah otherwise Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:13 is meaningless it yet hinted Messiahship to those who cared to search deeper. Thus, breaking the bounds of the past, Jesus poured into the name a significance of His own, outstripping all previous Messianic ideals, as, e.g ., when He claimed that the Son of Man had power on earth to forgive sins ( Matthew 9:6 ||). It is a title which denotes the vocation rather than the nature of Him who bears it; and we are led to think that Jesus chose it deliherately in order to veil, for a time, His personal claim to Messiahship.

As used by our Lord, then, the name ‘Son of Man’ is intrinsically a paradox. It binds Jesus to humanity, yet singles Him out from other men. It predicates of Him alike supramundane glory and earthly humiliation. It unites in itself the contrast of anticipation and reality, of the future and the present. Yet this seeming contradiction, far from being fatal to the internal coherence of the idea, is really constitutive of it. It is just through present suffering and indignity that He who is to be Saviour and Judge passes to His Kingdom. ‘The “Son of Man,” in the mature mind of Jesus, is the Person who unites a career of utmost service and suffering with a sure prospect of transcendent glory. And herein we touch at once the depth and height of His originality’ (Muirhead). He trained the disciples to grasp this novel view of what it meant to be Messiah; and when they at last understood Him, what their minds dwelt on, and held fast, as indicated by the title so interpreted, was not the Divine origin of Jesus; it was rather His Divine calling and the Divine destiny that awaited Him. For them ‘Son of Man’ pointed to the future more than to the past.

4. Son of God. There are several occasions in the Synoptic narrative on which this title is addressed to Jesus e.g . by the possessed ( Mark 3:11 ), by unbelieving Jews ( Matthew 27:40 ), by the centurion ( Mark 15:39 ), and constructively by Caiaphas ( Matthew 26:63 ) where it cannot have anything like its full significance for a Christian mind. It is at most only a synonym of Messiah. Even when at the Baptism a Divine voice hails Him as God’s beloved Son, the words denote simply His definitive consecration to the Messianic office, as is shown by the clear echo of Psalms 2:7 . In the OT, we should note, the title ‘Son of God’ is applied to the chosen people, to the theocratic king who rules and represents it, and to the perfect King who is to come. The outer side of this relation to God consisted in the possession of His power and glory; the Inner side was the enjoyment of His love as its chosen object.

It was on the inner side of this relation that the mind of Jesus dwelt. In the Synoptic records He does not Himself use the full title ‘Son of God’; probably because it was too familiar as a designation of the Messiah. But there are indications that the name which He chose to express His own view of His Person is simply ‘the Son.’ Not only does this form occur in three important passages (Matthew 11:27 , Mark 13:32 , and possibly Matthew 28:19 ), certain pieces of indirect evidence also bear on the point, such as His veiled reference to His Sonship in the parable of the Vineyard, His question to St. Peter as to the taxing of kings’ sons, and His conversation with the scribes about David’s Son and David’s Lord. Much more significant, however, is His habit of naming God ‘my Father’ ( Matthew 7:21 ; Matthew 10:32 ; Matthew 12:50 etc. and ||), a phrase which, beyond all serious doubt, puts His relation to God in a place distinctly by itself. St. Luke represents the dawning consciousness of this unique Sonship as already present at the age of twelve ( Luke 2:49 ).

The classical passage bearing on this point is Matthew 11:27 : ‘All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.’ Here we ought to note distinctly the unqualified assertion that the mutual relation existing between Father and Son is a perfect one. Not only is the Father’s nature open to Jesus, without that sense of mystery of which prophets and saints have always been conscious, not only is the knowledge which Jesus has of God complete, final, and unattainable by others except as mediated through Him; but in like manner Jesus’ nature is open to the Father, and to Him alone. He stands to God in a relation of intimacy such as no other can share, since even those who become the sons of God through Him are sons only in a secondary and derivative sense. God and Jesus belong together in a fashion transcending man’s intelligence; their personal life is one; and it is constituted by a reciprocal fellowship in which Fatherhood and Sonship are uniquely perfect. This is not merely a new idea; the new idea is the expression of a new fact.

What has been said is enough to cast some doubt on the correctness of Harnack’s finding. ‘The consciousness,’ he writes, ‘which Jesus possessed of being the Son of God is, therefore, nothing but the practical consequence of knowing God as the Father and as His Father. Rightly understood, the name of Son means nothing but the knowledge of God’ ( What is Christianity? p. 131). But we are not justified in confining the relation of Sonship to the sphere of special knowledge; a unity which is nothing if not personal is not thus to be lowered to the plane of mere cognition. We are aware that there was a time when our knowledge began to he; but Jesus’ filial relation to God, so far at least as His own words suggest, had no beginning, none at all events of which He was conscious. In Dalman’s words, it seems ‘to be naturally bound up with His person; for, in distinction from every one else, just as it is by birth that a son becomes heir, so the prospect of universal rule and the possession of immediate knowledge of God were His.’ For Jesus’ mind, as we can study it in the Synoptics, the secret and origin of His own Person lay hid in God’s creative love. So far, alike in His self-disclosure and in the estimate of disciples, we have no sign of a strict doctrine of incarnation or of two natures united in one person; what we do have is the subduing delineation of One who, in virtue of a career of patient service and of suffering unto death, is the perfect Revealer of God and the destined Ruler of the world. But it is made undeniably plain that His Sonship lifts Him out of the context of sinful humanity, and puts Him in a relation to God which cannot be fully interpreted by any of the general categories of human life. By calling Himself ‘Son’ He describes what He is for God; but He does so without giving any explanation of it, or explicitly following it backwards or forwards in its eternal relations. Not that these relations are thereby denied, or made of no account in the interpretation of the name. All that the Apostles say of the pre-existing glory of Christ with God, or of creation as mediated through His agency, takes a place quite naturally as part of its implicit content. But at first Jesus used the name to convey simply His perfectly filial human consciousness, as filled, or rather constituted, by personal fellowship and ethical solidarity with God.

This conscious Sonship is for Jesus the supreme reality; and in the light of it He recognized from the first with perfect clearness the work God had given Him to do. It was not that He knew Himself to be Messiah, and rose from this to the certainty that God was His Father; the connexion of the two facts is just the reverse. He is Son of Man, and Head of the Kingdom of God, because of the still deeper consciousness that He is Son of God. The roots of His vocation are in the uniqueness of His Person. Yet in the last resort we cannot separate these two aspects. The loftier in the scale of being a human character stands, the more entirely personality and vocation coincide; and in the case of Jesus Christ the coincidence was absolute.

5. Self-assertion of Jesus. A part from specific and, as it were, technical modes of self-designation, the Synoptics picture Jesus as in many ways assuming an attitude to God and men which is scarcely intelligible except upon a positive view of His higher being. A whole series of features point in the direction of the more developed Christology of the Apostles. He who could speak of Himself as meek and lowly of heart exhibits also an unparalleled loftiness and majesty of bearing. His disciples, the crowd at Nazareth, and the possessed are alike conscious of this singular elevation. The personal trust and allegiance which He never scrupled to ask from men, putting even natural affection in the second place, is yielded almost instinctively. Nor does the source of the impression thus produced lie in His miracles; it lies in the feeling of His supreme authority. He spoke uniformly in the tones of One who had the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and with whom it rested to declare the conditions of entrance. He put aside the ancient ordinances of the Law. He called all the weary to Himself for rest; most amazing of all, He claimed the power to forgive sin, and actually bestowed forgiveness on the sick of the palsy and the dying malefactor. His entire demeanour makes the impression of perfect acquaintance with the mind of God His thoughts towards men, His hearing of prayer, the grounds of His condemnation and His pardon. With apparently not a single interval of doubt, He knew Himself to be the chosen One of God, by whose presence the powers of evil were already vanquished, who should redeem many by His death, who should rise from the dead and come hereafter with Divine power as the Judge of the world. It gradually became clear to the disciples that no comparison was really possible between Jesus and the great figures of the OT. No prophet had ever called upon men to confess his name; no prophet had declared that the relation of men to him would decide their final destiny; no prophet had ever said: ‘All things are delivered unto me of my Father.’ But Jesus repeatedly puts Himself forward as the object of saving faith, and gives to those who trust Him the sovereign promise that, as they gather in His name. He will be present in their midst. These are features of the Synoptic portraiture of Jesus which it is impossible to eliminate; and while they do not amount to a doctrine of His Person, they insist on doctrinal interpretation. In view of such things it is futile to say blankly, with Bousset, that Jesus simply places Himself at the side of ordinary humanity, and reserves for Himself only the distinction of a unique vocation. On the contrary, even in the first three Gospels the Person of Jesus has factors of mystery in it which lead the mind towards the Apostolic doctrine of His transcendent relation to God.

6. Sinlessness of Jesus. The NT belief in the sinlessness of Jesus, which we may suitably consider at this point, is not really an a priori dogma though as Lamb of God He was viewed as being necessarily without spot or blemish; it is a conclusion drawn from convincing facts at which we have a clear look in the Synoptics. Nor, on the other hand, is it quite accurate to say that the NT bids us regard the sinlessness of Jesus as something which only a believer can grasp or assent to, and which, from the nature of the case, cannot be established historically. As against this, there is great force in Dr. Forrest’s argument ( Authority of Christ , p. 22ff.), that even as historians, and irrespectively of any judgment of faith, we are bound to accept the Apostolic Interpretation of the facts, since ‘the facts concerning Him must have been such as to sanction and necessitate the interpretation.’

The Synoptic Gospels, it is true, contain no express claim on Jesus’ part to be sinless; certainly nothing so strong as John 8:46 . Yet we find traits in His demeanour which reveal His self-consciousness more plainly than even words could do. He called men to repentance; He condemned the ‘righteous’ unsparingly; He predicted that He should one day judge the world; He urged confession upon His disciples, and put the Lord’s Prayer upon their lips: yet He Himself never uttered the cry of the burdened conscience, never spoke one word of contrition. We do not need to defend Him against the charge of harsh judgment ( Matthew 12:34 ), or a lack of family affection ( Matthew 12:48 ), or an excess of passion ( Matthew 21:12 ); these, surely, are intelligible manifestations of fidelity to His Messianic task, and it has been fitly said that their final justification is that such a one as He should have done such things without any subsequent regret. The really decislve fact is that in the mature mind of Jesus there is no trace of old defeats, no memories of weakness overcome, no healed scars. It may be said, indeed, that one may be sinful without being conscious of it, but the familiar distinction is inapposite; for the moral pain of Jesus’ answer to Peter’s suggestion ( Matthew 16:23 ) proves with what infinite sensitiveness He felt the movings of sin in another, so that He could not have been unconscious of its presence in Himself. Besides, in view of His duty to remove a mistaken impression on such a point, His silence, were He aware of the slightest imperfection in His own nature, would have been an added hypocrisy. Finally, on every page of the Evangelists we read demands for perfect obedience, as well as promises of grace and help, which it would have been an enormity for a sinful man to utter. From these facts the only permissible conclusion is that Jesus had no experimental, interior knowledge of moral evil. Nor may His participation in the baptism of John be urged against this; for that was ‘a great act of loving communion with our misery,’ In which He identified Himself with sinful men, and took all their burdens and responsibilities as His own (cf. Denney, Death of Christ , p. 21). His repudiation of the epithet ‘good’ ( Mark 10:18 ) has perplexed many, and must certainly not be explained away; but, in the first place, it is surely obvious that Jesus meant very much what the writer to the Hebrews means by the words ( Mark 5:8 ): ‘He learned obedience by the things that he suffered.’ He was being made perfect from the outset to the end; and we see now that to attribute to Him the eternal, changeless perfection of God Himself would be to forget the ethical conditions of incarnation. And, in the second place, should we have thought more highly of one who calmly accepted the facile word of praise? Are not even we pained by careless eulogy?

Many recent writers, in view of the apparently negative character of the term ‘sinlessness,’ have preferred to predicate of Jesus absolute fidelity to His vocation. And it is true not merely that this conception brings out a fact of the utmost significance, but that several NT passages which are commonly adduced as proofs of our Lord’s sinlessness ( e.g . 1 Peter 2:21 , Philippians 2:7-8 , 1 John 3:5 ) may more suitably be referred to the other category. Yet the idea of sinlessness is not one with which we can dispense. We need some term which will include, not merely Jesus’ actual fulfilment of His Divine commission, but the ebb and flow of His inner, spiritual life and the sinless development of the early years. It is true that such a sinless development is incomprehensible to us. To ethical psychology it remains an undecipherable mystery. All we can say is that it is because no one ever so felt His utter dependence upon God, and hence knew how much in God He had to depend upon, that, from first to last, Jesus kept His holiness pure (cf. Du Bose, Gospel in the Gospels , ch. 13). When we think out the idea of sinlessness, however, and consider how adult manhood rises with organic continuity out of childhood and infancy, we can hardly escape the inference that Jesus’ stainless life had from the first a different personal content from ours. The theological expression for this would then be, that in His case Divinity was the basis and condition of perfect humanity.

7. Virgin-birth. In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke the Divine Sonship of Jesus is viewed as being mediated in part by the bestowal of the Spirit at His baptism, in part by the supernatural character of His conception. Weight may justly be laid on the fact that both Evangelists, divergent as their narratives of the conception are in certain points, agree in affirming the special action of the Holy Ghost. On the other hand, no reference to the Virgin-birth is to be found elsewhere in the NT. It is not present in Galatians 4:4 or Romans 1:3 ; and few would say with Westcott that the fact of the miraculous conception, though not stated, is necessarily implied in John 1:14 . This silence might, indeed, have led men to ask whether any statement on the subject ought in wisdom to form part of the Creed; and yet again, it would be a mistake to overstrain the argumentum e silentio . The very fact that the eternal Divinity of Christ could thus be held and interpreted without recourse to the idea of virgin-birth proves that that idea did not arise as a psychologically inevitable religious postulate, and may therefore claim to have genuine tradition behind it. The present writer can only say that to him supernatural conception appears a really befitting and credible preface to a life which was crowned by resurrection from the dead. That an abnormal fact in the sphere of nature should answer to the transcendent spiritual element in the Person of Christ is both a Scriptural and a profoundly philosophical thought. Nevertheless, the Christian faith of many will always shrink from the assertion that virgin-birth is a sine qua non of real incarnation, or that, in any ultimate sense, it explains the wonder and glory of Jesus’ Person.

II. Primitive Apostolic Doctrine. As representing this stage of thought, we may take, with some caution, the discourses of St. Peter in Acts, checking our results later by comparison with his First Epistle.

1. St. Peter’s discourses in Acts. The Christology of these discourses is, on the whole, extremely simple. It would have been strange, indeed, had the Apostolic mind come to understand the Person of Christ otherwise than gradually. The words ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs’ ( Acts 2:22 ), are the earliest Petrine description of Jesus, and the rudimentary nature of the suggested doctrine is characteristic. A parallel to this is the later verse, from the sermon in Cornelius’ house: ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, … for God was with him’ ( Acts 10:38 ). The gist of St. Peter’s gospel is that this Jesus is the promised Messiah, attested as such by wonderful works, resurrection, and ascension to glory ( Acts 2:22-24 ; Acts 2:33 ; Acts 2:36 ). Hence the name ‘Jesus Christ’ now appears; ‘Christ,’ when it occurs by itself, being an official, not yet a personal title. The ministry of Jesus as teacher is scarcely referred to, except in Acts 10:36 . But His death, as Divinely ordained and foreknown, and above all His deliverance from death, with the exaltation which followed, are the themes to which the speaker perpetually recurs.

A tendency has been shown, in view of the fact that Jesus is thus described as ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit,’ as ‘the holy one and the just’ (Acts 3:14 ), and as a great prophet ( Acts 3:22 ), to infer that the primitive Church held a merely humanitarian view of His Person. We have already conceded, or rather asserted, that the doctrine is rudimentary. Specially deserving of note is the eschatological light in which the whole is viewed Jesus being represented as gone meanwhile into heaven, thus affording the Jews time for repentance, upon which will ensue His return to a restored creation ( Acts 3:19-21 ). All is as yet within the limits of nationalistic Messianism. Yet when we look more closely there are clear indications of another kind. Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God, and made Lord of all things; He is the giver of the Holy Spirit ( Acts 2:33 ); He knows the hearts of all men ( Acts 1:24 ); He is the Judge of quick and dead ( Acts 10:42 ). He is set forth quite definitely as the theme of the gospel and the object of faith, from whom repentance and forgiveness come. Prayer is freely offered to Him ( Acts 1:24 , Acts 7:59 ). Again and again His name, i.e . He Himself as revealed and known, is proclaimed as the only medium of salvation ( Acts 2:38 , Acts 3:16 , Acts 4:12 , Acts 10:43 ). Hence, while no attempt has yet been made to define His Person, the attitude of believers to Him is quite clearly one of faith and worship. We can scarcely overestimate the significance for Jews of this ascription of universal Lordship to One with whom they had eaten and drunk, and of whose death they had been witnesses.

2. The First Epistle of St. Peter. The interest of this Epistle lies rather in soteriology than in the doctrine of Christ’s Person. The sufferings of the Cross are viewed as having been predestined by God and foretold by prophets, and, in connexion with the atonement accomplished thereby, the sinlessness of Jesus as sacrificial victim is insisted on ( 1 Peter 1:19 ). One significant fact indicating the writer’s favourite view of the Saviour’s Person, is that, whereas the name ‘Jesus’ is nowhere used by itself, ‘Christ’ has become a proper name; and it is natural to interpret this change as ‘due to the fact that the person of Jesus is contemplated by the Christian exclusively in His specific quality as Mediator of salvation’ (Weiss). It is a disputed point whether 1 Peter 1:11 in which the Spirit of Christ is said to have been present in the prophets, and 1 Peter 1:20 which represents Him as foreknown before the foundation of the world, do or do not imply His real pre-existence. The arguments on either side are given in the commentaries; the present writer can only say briefly that the language of 1 Peter 1:11 appears to him to be satisfied if we take it to mean that the Divine Spirit, now so entirely bound up with Christ that it can be called His Spirit, was previously active in the prophets; while the words ‘foreknown before the foundation of the world’ no more necessarily involve the personal pre-existence of Christ than the words ‘He chose us in him before the foundation of the world’ ( Ephesians 1:4 ) demand a similar conclusion as to believers. Thus foreknown and predicted, then, Christ has been manifested at the end of the times for our sakes. In His incarnate Person ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ are to be distinguished ( Ephesians 3:18 ); and a careful investigation proves that by ‘spirit’ is meant the Divine principle in a potency higher than that in which it dwells in man, and possessed, for that reason, of an inherent and indestructible energy of life. In Acts 2:24 the ground of Jesus’ resurrection is determined by prophecy; here the further step is taken of referring it to the power of life that was in Him through the unction of the Spirit which constituted Him Messiah. We need not pause at present on the enigma of the descent to Hades ( 1 Peter 3:19 ; 1 Peter 4:8 ; is it connected with Ephesians 4:9 and 1 Timothy 3:10 ?), the clue to which has been lost; but at all events the writer means it as an illustration of the victorious and unparalleled powers of life that dwelt in Christ even prior to His resurrection, as well as of the wonderful redemptive efficacy of His death.

The Christology of 1Peter is thus seen to be slightly more full and elaborate than that of the early chapters of Acts; but its primitive character cannot be mistaken. Still, there are distinct tokens of the specifically Christian estimate of Jesus’ Person. Thus, the Spirit of God is named ‘the Spirit of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:11 ); and although the title ‘Son of God’ is not employed, we find in 1 Peter 1:13 the full-toned phrase ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ with a clear implication of His special Sonship. The statement ( 1 Peter 3:22 ) that angels and authorities and powers are subject to Him is a declaration not merely of His exalted state, but of His participation in the Divine power, whose instruments angels are. The doxology in 1 Peter 4:11 equivalent to that applied to God in 1 Peter 5:11 is most naturally interpreted of Christ; and in 1 Peter 3:15 a phrase which in Isaiah 8:13 refers to Jehovah is used of our Lord expressly.

III. Christology of St. Paul. The field of inquiry for the purposes of this article will include not only the four great Epistles of the earlier period (Romans 1:1-32 and 2 Cor., and Gal.), but also the Epistles of the Imprisonment. We shall use them with equal confidence, although now and then it may be necessary to mark a difference of accent in the later Epistles. But if, as appears to be the case, Romans 9:5 contains a definite affirmation of the Godhead of Christ, we should have to treat with suspicion theories which imply that the Christology of Phil, and Col. is conspicuously higher than what preceded.

Much interest attaches to the question of the genesis of St. Paul’s view of Christ. Holsten, following the lead of F. C. Baur, argued for many years that the Apostle’s Christology took shape purely as the result of a logical process in his mind. Faced by the death upon the cross, as an event in which he felt the will of God for man’s salvation to be revealed, St. Paul yielded to what was really an intellectual compulsion to abandon the Jewish theology which he had been taught, and to substitute for it the conception of Jesus Christ we are familiar with in his writings. Others have held more recently that Saul the Pharisee was already in possession of a complex of ideas as to a superhuman Messiah conceived as revealer of God and heavenly King which owed much to mythical elements drawn from Oriental faiths; and that the subjective experiences of his conversion led him simply to identify the Jesus whom he seemed to behold in Divine glory with this antecedent notion of Messiah, and in consequence to assert such things of Him as that He existed before the world and shared in its creation. Hence we may infer the Christ of St. Paul has nothing particular to do with the Jesus of history (Brückner). To make but one criticism, both these related theories manifestly presuppose that St. Paul’s vision of Christ on the way to Damascus had no objective reality. But if we find it an incredible supposition that a mere illusory process in the Apostle’s fancy should have instantly revolutionized his life, or that he could have persuaded the primitive Christian society to accept, or even tolerate, a view of Christ so engendered, we shall naturally seek for some more solid basis and justification of his beliefs. And this, with the utmost certainty, we find in his actual relations to the glorified Lord, not merely at his conversion, though most memorably then, but also in his personal life as believer and Apostle. ‘It is this feature, its being borrowed from his own religious experience, that distinguishes Paul’s idea of Christ from a philosophical conception’ (Somerville).

The system of St. Paul’s thought is entirely Christocentric; not only so, his conception of Christ is entirely soteriological. From the saving efficacy of the death of Christ, as the fundamental certainty, he moves on to an interpretation of the Divine-human personality. He who died for all must stand in a unique relation to mankind. The work and the Person always go together in his mind. His creed in its simplest form is that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Corinthians 12:3 , Romans 10:9 ; cf. Philippians 2:11 ); and although starting, like the other writers of the NT, from the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, he at once transcends the current Messianic idea, and grasps the significance of Jesus, not for the Jews only, but for the whole world. Nowhere does he employ the title ‘Son of Man,’ and for him the ‘Kingdom of God’ is virtually merged in the Person of Jesus Christ.

1. It may be taken as certain that St. Paul was acquainted with the Evangelical tradition as to Jesus’ earthly life . He appeals to the words of the Lord as of supreme authority. Yet no allusion is made to His miracles or to His ways and habits among men. His human birth, His sinlessness, His institution of the Holy Supper, His death by crucifixion and His resurrection on the third day these and a few more details are reported. The truth is that St. Paul’s mind dwelt chiefly on the decisive acts of redemption, and the blessings won thereby; hence it is not surprising that he should say little or nothing as to Jesus’ human development. At the same time the real humanity of our Lord is to him an axiom. Jesus was made of a woman, of the seed of David according to the flesh. There is nothing inconsistent with this in the remarkable expression ( Romans 8:3 ) that God sent His own Son ‘ in the likeness of sinful flesh’; which simply means that the sinful flesh of man is the pattern on which Christ’s sinless ( 2 Corinthians 5:21 ) flesh was formed; in Him alone we see the flesh in perfect relation to the spirit. Moreover, human nature, as He wore it on earth, was a form of being intrinsically and unavoidably inadequate to His true essence. Originally He belonged to a higher world, and left it by a voluntary act; indeed, on the whole, it may be said that what St. Paul puts in place of a full-drawn picture of Jesus’ earthly activities is the great act of the Incarnation. The fact that He should have lived as man at all is more wonderful than any of His words or deeds.

2. In addition to a body of flesh and blood, the unique constitution of Jesus’ Person included spirit , ‘the spirit of holiness’ ( Romans 1:4 , on which cf. Denney’s note in EGT [Note: Expositor’s Greek Testament.] ), which completely dominated His nature, and was not merely the power energizing in His life in the flesh, but the active principle of His resurrection from the dead. To this spiritual being St. Paul would probably have referred for an ultimate explanation of what he meant by Christ’s pre-existence.

3. The main reason for St. Paul’s comparative silence as to Jesus’ earthly career is that the Person with whom he was directly in relation, habitually and from the first, was the risen Lord of glory . This is the starting-point of his Christology, and it determines it to the last. The attitude is no doubt common to the NT writers, but it has been accentuated in St. Paul’s case by his singular history, and his passionate faculty of faith. All redeeming influences, whether they concern the individual or the world, and bear on sin or death or principalities or powers, flow directly from the risen Christ. This pre-occupation with Christ as glorified is expressed forcibly in 2 Corinthians 5:16 , ‘Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more.’ The present majesty of the Lord is something other and better than the earthly life now past. Yet again the counter-stroke always follows the Exalted One is also the Crucified, who has in Him for ever and ever the redemptorial efficacy of His death.

We can hardly put the fact too strongly, that for St. Paul’s mind it was after the Resurrection that the manifested Being of Christ took on its full greatness. The classical passage on this is Romans 1:4 : ‘appointed (or declared) Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.’ The implication is that Divine power, acting through the medium of the Resurrection, set Christ free from the limitations of life on earth, limitations which had permitted to His Divine Sonship only a reduced and depotentiated expression here. In His exaltation that Sonship is displayed fully. With this we may compare Philippians 2:9 and Romans 14:9 , the latter being a somewhat remarkable statement: ‘For to this end Christ died, and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.’ In these and all parallel passages the two ideas are combined: first, that Christ has ascended up to be Lord of the world, assuming this place for the first time at the Resurrection, and still retaining His humanity; secondly, that there was in Him from the beginning that which fully qualified Him for this transcendent glory.

It is rewarding to pause for a moment upon this concrete, working conception of Jesus Christ as it inspired the Apostle’s heroic life. The Redeemer is to him a Divine Being, clad for ever, as on the way to Damascus, in the glorious radiance which is the mark of Deity. He has reached a position from which He can make effectual the reconciling and redemptive work achieved in His passion. He is more than Head of the Church; He is omnipotent in the fullest sense. God has set Him far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come (Ephesians 1:21 ). Vast as His glory is, He has not yet come to His full triumph; for it is God’s purpose yet to sum up all things in Christ, the things in heaven and the things on earth (v. 10). His sway will culminate in His advent at the last. And this royal Lord is not far off, inaccessibly high above believers, but rather within and beside them always, to guide, warn, inspire, comfort with infinite might and love; so that St. Paul could speak of himself as being in Christ, of his life as being not his own, but the life of Christ living in him, and could pray for his converts that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith ( Galatians 2:20 , Ephesians 3:17 ). Were our subject the personal religion of the Apostle, much more would have to be said as to his immediate certainty of Christ as alike dwelling in and embracing our spiritual life the ideas of ‘Christ in us’ and ‘we in him’ alternate but here it must suffice to have noted this profound and ever-present mystical note. The passage about the thorn in the flesh ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-21 ) shows us the reverential fellowship in which St. Paul lived with the risen Lord, and the natural spontaneity with which he prayed to Him.

What are the Apostle’s reasons for giving Christ this Divine place? ( a ) The first is the relation which He sustains to humanity as Redeemer, and which is indicated by the title ‘Second Adam.’ As Adam was head, representative, and type of the race that derived from him, so Christ by death and resurrection is Head and Representative of a new, redeemed humanity ( Romans 5:1-21 ). For human development has these two stages, the earthly or carnal and the spiritual. Now ‘the one element in the conception of Christ that ruled the thoughts of the Apostle was that of Spirituality’ (Somerville). The spirit of holiness is the inmost and deepest reality of His own life, and of the life that emanates from Him; He is the organic Head of a new spiritual creation, and, as such, mediates to men the renewing grace of God.

Many scholars, not altogether unnaturally, hold that St. Paul borrowed this turn of thought from the Jewish-Hellenic conception of a pre-existent heavenly Man, the archetypal model of man’s creation, and that he accordingly conceived Christ as having existed as Man in heaven prior to His being incarnate. Certainly we can perceive that the Apostle was acquainted with these ideas. Nevertheless, no decisive proof can be given that he allowed them to exercise any particular influence on his view of Christ. At all events, this is true of the parallel he draws between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12 ff.; and in the passage in which this ‘Heavenly Man’ theory has its chief support, 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 , two points may be noted which lessen the probability of Alexandrian descent first, that the Heavenly Man, for whom Philo’s designation is the ‘First Man,’ is by St. Paul called the ‘Second Man‘; secondly, that the important concluding phrase ‘the second man is from heaven,’ is referred by many of the best exegetes to the glorified Lord, the sense being that at His resurrection Christ became the life-giving head of a new race. It is all but incredible that this ‘Heavenly Man’ idea, which can only be proved to exist in one chapter of one Epistle, really was the fons et origo of the Apostle’s Christology; and in any case it is out of keeping with his undoubted ascription of personal Divinity to Jesus. On the other hand, it was eminently natural that Jewish theology should often supply the framework of his argument, or supply him with terms by which to give expression to truths springing directly from his faith in Christ. That faith, we have seen, grasps Jesus Christ as Redeemer of the world, and thereafter proceeds to view Him reflectively as sustaining a unique relation to God and to mankind.

( b ) St. Paul’s second reason for placing Christ so high is that he believes Him to have been Son of God originally, in a heavenly life prior to incarnation. The incidental fashion in which allusion is made to this fact, as to something familiar to all Christians, is very impressive. As to specific passages, we may not be able to lay very much weight on the expression: ‘God sent forth his Son’ ( Galatians 4:4 ), for it might conceivably be used of one who came into the world simply with the commission of a prophet. But the underlying idea becomes plainer in 1 Corinthians 10:4 , which affirms that the rock which followed the fathers in the desert, and from which they drank, was Christ; In other words, He is represented as having personally intervened in OT history. And no doubt at all is possible as to 2 Corinthians 8:9 : ‘Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich,’ where it is unmistakably asserted not only that His life on earth was less glorious than His life in heaven, but a yet more sublime idea that His entrance upon the lower estate of being was a voluntary act. Real pre-existence, i.e . independent and self-conscious life, is even more deliberately affirmed in the great passage Philippians 2:5-11 . Here it is stated and the entire appeal hinges on the statement that before He came as man Christ was in possession of a Divine form of being, and spontaneously renounced it to assume the form of a servant. Without permitting himself to speculate as to the transcendent relations of the pre-existent Christ to God, St. Paul clearly pictures Him as enjoying, in that prior life, the same kind of being as God enjoys. And the ethical motif of the passage is the great conception that while it was open to Christ so to use the infinite powers inherent in His Divine nature as to compel men, without more ado, to worship Him as God, He resolved to reach this high dignity of Lordship recognized and adored by the path of humiliation, suffering, and death. But while we are justified in saying that Jesus was constituted Lord by His exaltation, and that this was in some sense the reward of His self-emptying, we must avoid every kind of language which suggests that to St. Paul the ascension of Christ was a deification. To a Jew the idea that a man might come to be God would have been an intolerable blasphemy. ‘It is to be noted that the increased glory which St. Paul and all the NT writers regard as pertaining to Christ after His resurrection has only to do with His dignity, His “theocratic position,” not with His essential personality. He has simply become in actuality that which He already was substantially’ (Kennedy).

4. In view of all this, it is not surprising that the Apostle should ascribe to Christ a part in the creating of the world and an original relation to man . This comes out especially in the Epistles of the Imprisonment, notably in Colossians 1:13-18 , of which Lightfoot gives the following luminous paraphrase:

‘The Son of the Father’s love in whom we have our redemption, is the image of the invisible God, the first-begotten of all creation. For in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible; all things have been created through Him and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. This is He who is the Head of the Body, the Church. In both spheres, the natural and the spiritual, He has the pre-eminence.’

The chief predications which are made here should be noted: (1) Christ is the instrument of creation; (2) He sustains all; (3) all moves on to Him as goal. The words ‘in him were all things created’ ought to be taken in correlation to these other clauses, ‘in him all things consist,’ and ‘he is the head of the body, the church’; and when we take them so, they assert that Christ was appointed by God Creator of all things qua the Person in whom the world, through the work of reconciliation, now finds its organic centre. His function as Creator is proleptically viewed as conditioned by His subsequent work as Redeemer; but the expression of the thought is rendered well nigh impossible by the mysterious relations of eternity and time. Just as even in his conception of the pre-existent One, St. Paul never loses sight of the crucified and risen Saviour, neither can he think of Christ as Creator and Sustainer of the world except as he mediates the idea to his own mind through the present certainty of Christ the Redeemer. In a word, the Creatorship of Christ is never dwelt upon for its own sake, but always in relation to His Saviourhood. It is strikingly so in a verse which in various ways forms a parallel to the verses just commented on, 1 Corinthians 8:6 , ‘To us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him.’ Here the ideas of creation and redemption are held and envisaged together, redemption being the experimental idea from which the mind starts, as it also is the exalted Lord who is the subject of predication. It is a noteworthy fact that the risen Christ should thus be bracketed with God the Father in a verse which actually insists on monotheism.

On the other hand, one of the most baffling problems of NT theology is just the fact that St. Paul should combine with these plain assertions of Christ’s Divinity a number of statements of a different complexion. No candid exegete will deny that over and over again Christ is somehow given a place inferior to God, His entire redeeming Work and position being traced back directly to the Father. We have such expressions as ‘God sent forth his Son’ (Galatians 4:4 ), ‘He that spared not his own Son’ ( Romans 8:32 ), ‘God hath highly exalted him’ ( Philippians 2:9 ); in which either the gift of Christ to the world, or the bestowal of exalted glory on Christ Himself, is declared to be God’s act. All is accepted, endured, achieved ‘to the glory of God the Father.’ Still more explicit is 1 Corinthians 11:3 ‘The head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God’; and in 1 Corinthians 15:28 a passage which strangely touched the imagination of the Greek and Latin Fathers Christ is portrayed as delivering up the Kingdom to God, and as finally submitting even Himself to a higher, ‘that God may be all in all.’ These statements, as we have seen, are to be found on the same pages which unambiguously affirm Christ’s real Deity. It may be that St. Paul nowhere names Christ ‘God,’ and that 2 Thessalonians 1:12 , Titus 2:13 , and Romans 9:5 must all be otherwise explained; yet a verse like Colossians 2:9 ‘in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,’ asserting that in Christ there is given as a unity, or in organic oneness, the whole sum of qualities and attributes which make God to be God, is quite decisive as to the Apostle’s real belief. St. Paul does not give us much help, perhaps, in solving this antinomy. Questions as to the origin of Christ’s being in God, or the relation of the personal energies of the Son to those of the Father, did not, apparently, come before him. It is possibly a true exegesis which holds that in verses of a subordinationist tendency the subject of predication is Christ viewed as a historic person, the Incarnate Mediator, One who has fulfilled on earth a certain vocation for humanity, and, from the nature of the case, has submitted Himself to God in the fulfilment of it. But there is at least as much help for the intelligence in the view that while a certain subordination of Christ indubitably forms part of NT teaching, we may still think of Him as being one in nature with God, in the light of certain human analogies which are our only guide. Father and son, or ruler and subject, may still be of one nature, although there exist between them relations of higher


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Person of Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/p/person-of-christ.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
ADVERTISEMENT
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Persis
Next Entry
Peruda
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology