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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Incarnation (2)

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INCARNATION

Introduction.—The idea of union with God: (1) in the ethnic faiths; (2) in Greek philosophy—(a) the Stoics, (b) Philo; (3) in the religion of Israel.

The message of Christianity—Union with God in the Person of Christ.

A. The Character of Christ.—

1. Perfect goodness.

(1) Relation to God: (a) perfect knowledge, (b) perfect love.

(2) Relation to men: perfect knowledge and love.

2. Absolute sinlessness: evidence of contemporaries; His own consciousness; inference as to His Person.

B. The self-witness of Jesus: the method of His self-disclosure.

i. His claims:

1. Teacher: (1) the solitariness of the office, (2) the note of authority, (3) the originality of the teaching, (4) the future of the teaching.

2. Legislator.

3. Messiah: His conception of Messiahship. Illustrative passages: (1) the Baptism, (2) the sermon at Nazareth, (3) the reply to John the Baptist, (4) the estimate of John the Baptist, (5) the threefold call of the disciples, (6) the answer to Peter, (7) later or more explicit announcements.

4. Saviour: (1) the function, bestowal of forgiveness and of life; (2) the response, personal trust.

5. Lord.

6. Worker of Miracles.

7. Creator of the New Israel.

8. Judge.

ii. His self-designations.

1. Son of Man: (1) Whence did Jesus derive the title? (2) How did He use it? (3) What does He reveal as to His own Person in it?

2. Son of God: (1) use by demoniacs, (2) use by high priest, (3) ascription by Peter, (4) our Lord’s use, (5) Divine attestation.

Inference as to the constitution of our Lord’s Person.

C. The witness of the Apostles.

The primary fact, a living experience. Then, the Christologies.

i. The earlier chapters in the Acts of the Apostles.

ii. The minor Christologies:

1. James.

2. First Epistle of Peter.

3. Jude and 2 Peter.

4. Apocalypse.

iii. The Christology of St. Paul: (a) its origin in his experience, (b) its relation to the common belief of the Church, (c) its development.

1. Christ in His relation to God.

2. Christ in His relation to men.

3. Christ in His relation to the Cosmos.

iv. Hebrews.

v. Fourth Gospel: Prologue, use of the term Logos.

Conclusion and Outlook: Christ known in history and experience as God and Man.

1. The Person of Christ, the solution of the problem of union with God.

2. The Person of Christ, a problem for faith. The knowableness of Christ.

(1) Christ known as God

(2) Christ known as Man.

(a) The origin of His earthly life.

(b) The relation of the human and Divine aspects of His personality. Theories under control of dualism. Psychological theories.

Literature.

Introduction.—Christian theology has employed many ruling ideas in order that, by means of them, it might harmonize and systematize the mass of material presented in Scripture and in experience. Each of these, e.g. ‘the Fatherhood of God,’ or ‘the Kingdom of God,’ has meaning and value; but they all lie within the supreme and commanding truth, which is the declaration of Christianity, viz. union with God. This truth has both a personal and a cosmic aspect. God is the life of man. Only as man thinks the Divine thoughts, wills the Divine will, and acts in the Divine strength, does he reach the truth of his own nature, or realize his ideal self. When man is most truly himself, he finds himself to be a partaker of the Divine nature; and what he is most profoundly conscious of is not himself, but the God in whom he lives, who is the source of all that is most truly human in his personal activities. The end, in attaining which life and satisfaction for the individual and for the race are to be found, is God. God is also the life of the universe. Christian theology has thrown off the blight of the old Deism, listens with delight to the expositions of Science, and names the thought, reason, law, life, force, whose operations science can trace, but whose essence she can never define, God, the same God who is the life of man. Between the power manifest in the physical universe and the power operative in the spiritual sphere there is no opposition. Both are expressions of the same Divine energy.

(1) What is thus stated as a Christian doctrine is found to be present either implicitly or explicitly in all the great productions of the human spirit, which are also, most surely, productions of the Divine Spirit, as it impels and quickens the mind of man. Union with God is at once the presupposition and the promise of the great religions, which have awakened the emotions and determined the aspirations of men.

Therianthropic polytheism, as in the religion of Egypt, however gross and repulsive it may seem to be, finds its strength in the demand for vital union with the Divine source of life. Anthropomorphic polytheism, as in the religion of Greece, even though its religious aspect may be overlaid by its aesthetic beauty, has yet its roots in the elemental demand for union with the Divine principle of being. In those religions which for good or evil have recoiled from all contact with space and time, as in the pantheism which is the substratum even to-day of the Hindu consciousness, the demand has become clear and passionste. For this purpose shrines are multiplied and austerities practised, that the soul of the worshipper may be united with the God, and so he carried on the tide of a lesser Divine life to the Diviner ocean of absolute Being. The whole field of Comparative Religion, from polydemonism up to the highest ethical and universal religions, might be laid under contribution to illustrate and confirm the conclusion that the deepest passion of the human heart has ever been union with God.

(2) The idea of union with God is, further, the presupposition and the ruling category of philosophic thought. To think at all, implies that there is present to the mind the ideal of a unity in and to which the manifold details of the universe exist. Philosophy is simply the verification and application of this ideal. Philosophy, accordingly, however great its quarrel may be with any existing religion, is itself fundamentally religious. It seeks to accomplish, in thought and for thinkers, the harmonizing of all reality in and with God.

This is the effort of early Greek thought, though as yet the distinction of spiritual and material had scarcely emerged. From Xenophanes, with his assertion that nothing is save Being, and Heraclitus, with his counter assertion that all is flux, the problem of the higher synthesis is handed on to thinkers who, philosophizing imperially, seek to exhibit the ultimate unity of the universe as ‘the Good,’ or ‘Thought of Thought.’ From them, again, it has descended, in ever deepening complexity, to the days when the absolute idealism of Hegel is met by the demand to do justice to the reality and independence of the Self. And, in general, union with God is the need and aspiration of the human spirit. The deepest fact regarding human personality is that it is imperfect even in the broadest-minded, largest-hearted specimens of our race, and that consequently, in spite of its intense consciousness of itself, the human self is ill at ease till it enters into the life of the universal Self, and becomes its organ and its reproduction. This fact forces its way to intense conviction and impassioned utterance in every human family which has reached a certain stage of spiritual culture. In India the date may be picturesquely fixed in Buddha’s ‘great renunciation.’ For the Western world the hour had come in the 1st cent. of our era. Two systems, the one born on Greek soil, the other on Jewish, occupied the minds of educated men, and supplied them with the instruments of thought.

(a) One was Stoicism. The systems of Plato and Aristotle had been pierced by dualism, which these masters had sought in vain to overcome. Their supreme merit is, that they did not disguise the intensity of the opposition between the rational and the irrational, between form and matter. To Stoicism, speculation is growing weary of the effort to heal this schism of the universe, and is hoping to make things easy for itself by seizing one of the opposing elements, and making that supreme. The Universal, the Rational, is the ultimate principle. Differences, the obstinate facts of a world which contains so much that is evil and irrational, are not so much resolved or harmonized with the supreme good, as resolutely denied or ignored. Stoicism begins at the furthest extreme from the universal, in an intense individualism. It directs the individual to turn away from a political sphere which has no longer a true, satisfying life to offer him, and to turn inward on himself. It promises, however, that there, in the inner world of his spirit, he will find a rational universal element which is identical with the life and being of the universe. Thus, as the Master of Balliol has pointed out (Theol. in Gr. Philos., Lect. xvii.), Stoicism passed by one step from individualism to pantheism. It laid passionate hold on the conception of one all-embracing principle, one all-comprehensive, ever victorious good. High above the world, with its evil and its irrationality, is the realm of truth and goodness. To it the good belong. The message of Stoicism accordingly is, ‘Live in accordance with this Reason, or Logos, which is immanent in the universe and germinally present in every man.’ Such a faith as this was bound to have great issues, both in lives made sublime by cherishing it, and in wider achievements. The benefits conferred by Stoicism on civilization are patent and imperishable. At the same time, simply because it was no more than faith in an idea, it was bound to fail. Its most strenuous exponents toiled at what they knew was a hopeless task, and though they carried their burden nobly, their hearts were pierced with the sorrow of their failure. Belief in a purpose which links all the discords of the world into one plan, conquers all things evil, and makes them subservient to good, requires some surer basis than the meditations of a philosopher, however true or noble these may be. The failure of Stoicism is obvious now; but in the Hellenic world, in the early years of the Roman Empire, it permeated educated society like an atmosphere, and supplied thinking men with a point of view whence they might look out on life not wholly dismayed or despairing.

(b) The other system, which expresses the demand of the age for union with God, and which helps us to understand the attitude of the Greek mind toward Christianity, when it came forth with its great message of reconciliation accomplished, was that which originated with Philo, and which at a later stage, as elaborated by Plotinus, presented itself as a rival to Christianity. Philo’s idea of God is Jewish only in name. It is essentially Greek; and yet it is Greek with a difference. The ‘idea’ of Plato and the ‘pure form’ of Aristotle have alike proved incapable of gathering into one the diverse elements of the universe. Philo rises not only above the anthropomorphism of the OT, but even above the intellectualism of Greek philosophy. God is indescribable by any forms of thought. Everything which could determine His being must be laid aside, for to determine is to limit. God is thus the indeterminable. To Him no predicates apply. Philo’s dualism is thus wider and deeper than that of the Greek thinkers. It is a dualism, not between God conceived as pure thought and the world condemned as material, but between the transcendent God who is too high to be expressed in the loftiest category of thought and the realm of the finite as such. His problem, accordingly, is to find a medium of transition from this remote transcendent God to the time and space world. This bridge, if we may so describe it, Philo built of elements borrowed both from Judaism and from Greek philosophy. In Jewish theology, as the ethical qualities of God are subordinated to the supposed majesty of His transcendence, Divine acts are attributed to personified metaphysical properties. In particular, there is a tendency to hypostatize the Word of God and to ascribe to it almost as to a person the functions of creation and of judgment. At the same time Philo, as a student of Greek philosophy, found in Stoicism the conception of the Logos or immanent reason of the universe. From this twofold attitude of mind, Jewish and Greek, Philo reached the conception of a principle which is Divine and yet distinct from God, which serves as mediator between the transcendent God and the material world. To this principle he gave the name Logos, which thus gathered to itself the import of the double lineage of thought from which it is descended, and thus to Jew and Greek alike came laden with not entirely dissimilar associations. This famous designation stands as the symbol of the highest effort the mind of man has ever made to reach a synthesis of the seemingly discordant elements of the universe, and to discover a medium whereby the spirit of man can ascend into union with the distant incomprehensible Deity. The situation in the 1st cent. is not adequately described by saying that a great many individuals were adherents of the Stoic philosophy, or of the Alexandrian theology; rather must we imagine an intellectual atmosphere full of the speculations which find a shorthand expression in the term Logos. This phrase is continually on the lips of men. It tells at once of what they sought and of what they thought they had found. Any new message coming to such a world must reckon with this phrase and all it stood for. That the Logos doctrine, whether in its Stoic or Philonic aspect, failed to solve the problem which awakened self-consciousness was stating so fully, and failed to regenerate either the individual or society, is the obvious fact. The reason of its failure is that the reconciliation which it offers is in idea merely, not in historic fact; in thought, and not in life. The opposition between God and the world is so stated as to make the conquest of it not merely difficult, but impossible. On the one side is God, conceived as pure thought, or as something still more remote, ethereal, indescribable. On the other is the universe of matter, in which man is immersed, finding in his body and its relations with the material world his sepulchre and his shame. How shall these two ever meet? The Logos bridge which God throws across the gulf cannot reach to the other, the lower side. The Logos is too ethereal, too Divine, to take to itself any particle of the material world, or to redeem any life which is bound up with matter. Man, for his part, cannot reach, stretch or leap as he will, even the extremity of that gleaming bridge. Matter will not be so easily got rid of. In the semi-physical ecstasy, which was man’s last effort to reach the confines of the spiritual world, the flesh found itself still the victor. God and man belong to too disparate universes. They cannot be at one.

(3) In order to complete even so hasty a sketch of the spiritual situation in the Hellenic-Roman world at the advent of Christianity, it is necessary to note the fresh and more hopeful point of view presented by the religion of Israel. (a) Its presupposition is not the contrast, but the affinity of God and man. On the one hand, God is like man. Anthropomorphism is not false, for human nature is the reflex of the Divine, and the attributes of man do therefore, inadequately but not falsely, represent the attributes of God. On the other hand, man is like God, capable of communion with Him, as one person is with another, finding in that fellowship his true life. The Greek dualism of God and the universe, of form and matter, is unknown to the OT. Whatever mediation is wanted is found in man himself, who is creation’s crown, to whom nature is bound by community of substance, in whose destiny, for weal or woe, nature is profoundly implicated. (b) Its analysis is wholly different from, and far deeper than, the Greek. It lays bare, not distance between God and man, as between two disparate natures, but a breach, as between two persons who ought to have been at one, but are now, through the action of the dependent personality, woefully opposed. The gulf to be bridged, therefore, is not that between form and matter, but between will and will. To overcome this no one of the Divine attributes, but God Himself alone, will suffice. (c) The goal of the religion of Israel, accordingly, is the indwelling of God in man. The coming of Jehovah in His fulness is the end to which the prophets of Israel look. When He comes, Israel will be restored, and the universe, sharing the blessing, will itself be renovated. They conceived this coming of the Lord without perspective, and in the forms belonging to the world of their own day. In this way alone could the hope of the coming of the Lord have sustained and comforted their own spirits; only in such forms could they have proclaimed it to others who, like themselves, waited for the consolation of Israel. The spiritual history of the devout in Israel, accordingly, is one of continual disillusionment. Form after form broke like mist; and still the perfect form in which the presence of Jehovah would be fully realized did not come. It is little wonder, therefore, that the hope of Israel did not retain its purity and spirituality, save in the hearts of an inner circle of whom the theologians and politicians of the time took no account,—the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the pure in heart. Comparison between the two lines of development, that of Greek philosophy and that of the religion of Israel, shows that the ruling idea of both was union with God, and, through this, the unifying of all the elements of the life of man and of nature. On neither line had the goal been reached. In the one there was at best an occasional and intermittent experience of ecstasy. In the other there was, in the deepest natures, a hoping against hope, that God would yet visit His people.

Into such a world, Jewish and Hellenic, Christianity entered, with the declaration that what men had been seeking had come to pass, that union with God was no longer a mere dream or a wistful hope, but an accomplished fact. God, so the announcement runs, has united Himself with one Man, so that all men may, in this Man, who is both Christ and Logos, become one with God. The reconciliation of God and man is effected not merely in idea, but in a historic Person. He is both God and man, through Him men have access to God, in Him man and the universe are gathered into unity, and are perfected in their being. He is, with respect to the Divine purpose, at once ἀρχή and τέλος, the active cause of its fulfilment, and the goal of its accomplishment. It is plain that the heart of this announcement is the Person of Christ. Do the facts regarding Him warrant the transcendent claim made on His behalf? Is this man Divine as well as human? Does He indeed meet the demand for union with God? These questions must not be approached with any dogmatic presuppositions. The answer to them must he sought in the portraiture of the historic Christ, and in the impression which His personality made on those who came under its influence.

A. The character of Christ.—It is remarkable that all study of Christ necessarily begins with His character. It is not so with other great men, even the founders of religions. What primarily drew adherents to them was not the goodness of their characters, but some gift or power which they possessed. Believers in the greatness of these heroes have been able to retain their faith, even while admitting the moral defects of those to whom they prostrated both intellect and will. It is not so with Jesus Christ. He rules the minds of men by the impression of His personality, and in this impression His character forms an integral part. Prove Him guilty of sin, and at once the spell is broken. He has achieved nothing, if He can be classed among other frail, failing, sinful mortals. All Christology, therefore, must begin with a character study of Jesus. An attempt at such a study has been made in the article Character of Christ, the details of which need not be repeated here. We may, however, restate the results of that article—the results, as we believe, to which the study of His character must necessarily lead. Contemplating Him as He is presented to us in the Gospels, two features of His character stand out supreme and unmistakable.

1. The first is positive, His perfect goodness. This quality is to be sought, and is found, in all the relations in which Jesus stood to His fellowmen and to God. (1) Between Him and God the relations were such as never existed in the case of any other man. They include: (a) perfect knowledge, (b) perfect love. Jesus knew God directly and fully, with the complete intimacy of a Son, nay, of one who, in comparison with all other men, is the Son (Matthew 11:27). He beheld Divine realities with immediate vision, and reported what He had seen and heard (John 1:18; John 6:46; John 8:38; John 15:15). We see in Jesus one whose vision of God was absolutely undimmed, whose intercourse with God was unhindered by any incapacity on His part to receive, or to respond to, the communications of God to Him. Jesus, moreover, loved God with the strength of a nature which had never been injured by any breach with God. In His love for God there is no trace of the compunctions, the heart-breaking memories, which make the love of the redeemed a thing compounded of tears and pain, as well as of adoration and gladness. It shows itself in serene and unbroken trust, which continually depends on the Father’s gifts (John 5:20; John 5:30; John 7:16; John 14:10; John 14:24), and in perfect and comprehensive obedience, which owned no other will than the Father’s (Luke 2:49, John 4:34; John 6:38). Thus loving God, He was aware that God loved Him, and did continually pour upon Him the fulness of a Divine love which found no limitations in the spiritual receptivity of its object. The Divine love, which returns from every other object restrained by incapacity or wounded by misunderstanding, is concentrated upon Christ, abides and has free course in Him, and returns to its source in God completely satisfied and rejoicing with eternal joy. Nothing less than complete mutual indwelling and perfect mutual joy of fellowship are unveiled to us in the communings between Jesus and God, to which the narratives reverently admit us.

(2) Between Jesus and His fellow-men the relations are no less perfect. It is true, He could not realize in His own case all possible circumstances in which a man might be placed. But He could, and did, hold such an attitude to men as would enable Him to enter with perfect sympathy and entire appropriateness into any situation into which Divine Providence might conduct a man. In a word, He loved men. It is abundantly evident that He knew them, both in the broad qualities of humanity and in the individual features of the lives which came before Him. The amazing fact, accordingly is, that, in spite of such knowledge, He loved men, believed in their high destiny, yearned to save them, and was ready to give the supreme proof of His love by dying for them.

We conclude, then, that Jesus was good, not merely as being one of a class of men upon whom we may pass this verdict without setting them thereby apart from their fellows, but as standing alone in the completeness of His ethical achievement. His character bears the mark of attainment and finality. All other goodness is to be estimated by the measure in which it approximates to His. This is not matter of dogma but of observation. It is a clear inference from the moral history of the race subsequent to His appearing. It is a fact that He is the ethical head of humanity. To say this, however is to define Him as more than man. However we may construe His person, it will be impossible to confine ourselves to a merely humanitarian interpretation of it. ‘He who alone stands in this universal relation to humanity cannot be merely a member of it’ (Forrest, Christ of History, etc. p. 66).

2. The second is negative, His absolute sinlessness. The evidence of the portrait constrains us to conclude, not merely that Jesus was a very good man, in whom there was ‘the minimum of sinfulness’ and ‘the maximum of holiness,’ but that in Him was no sin. The testimony of His contemporaries might not suffice to establish this result, though it is, indeed, most impressive to note how those who knew Him intimately bear unanimous and most solemn testimony to His sinlessness, and ascribe to Him an office which could be held only by an absolutely holy person (1 Peter 1:19; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:1; 1 John 3:5, Acts 3:14; Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14). The weight of proof lies in His own consciousness. It is beyond question that in that consciousness there was no sense of personal unworthiness, of shortcomings or failures, even the slightest. He who taught others to pray for forgiveness, and never besought it of the Divine mercy for Himself; He who proclaimed the necessity of regeneration for all men, and Himself never passed through any such phase of experience; He who in tenderest sympathy drew close to the sinner’s side, and yet always manifested a singular aloofness of spirit, and never included Himself among the objects of the Divine compassion; He who made it His vocation to die for the remission of sins, must have been, in actual fact, sinless:—either that, or He must have been sunk in a moral darkness more profound than sin ordinarily produces, even in the worst of men. The sinlessness of Jesus is a fact whose possibility ought not to be questioned through mere unwillingness to admit the inferences which follow from it. If Jesus is sinless, He stands alone in the moral history of the race. He cannot be classed along with other men, however good and great. They are approximations to an ideal. He is the Ideal. This uniqueness, moreover, cannot be interpreted as that of a lusus naturae, or a special product of creative power. The difference between Jesus and other good men is this, that while He has produced a conviction of sin immeasurably more profound than they have evoked among their admirers, He has also awakened a confidence and a peace which they have never wrought in their closest imitators. Unnumbered multitudes of human souls have come under regenerative and sanctifying influences, which, without doubt, have emanated from His personality, and which have wrought in them a type of character which is the reflex of His. There is only one place in which a reverent and open-minded study of the character of Christ can set Him, and that is beside God, as essentially Divine. He is certainly human. The closer we draw to Him, the more clearly do we discern His humanity. There is nothing, sin excepted, to divide us from Him. Pain and sorrow, temptation and conflict, discipline and growth,—He knows them all. In His universality all the endless variety of human experiences is comprehended; so that He is kinsman of every family on earth, contemporary of every generation, neighbour and friend of every soul that breathes and suffers. Yet this very humanity is the unveiling of Divinity. If, because of His humanity, we have been inclined to draw Him into our ranks, we soon find that He will not be thus classified. He is man, yet more than man—the Holy One of God. He was born a man, yet His birth was not the inevitable product of physiological and racial conditions; it was the entrance into humanity of one whose home and native air were elsewhere. They were within the circle of Divinity. See, further, art. Sin, § 7.

A study of the character of Christ does not provide us with a ready-made dogma of the constitution of His person. Two things, however, it does effect: (a) it sets the person of Christ in the centre of Christianity as its main declaration and its most cogent proof; (b) it makes a merely humanitarian construction of His personality for ever impossible. We are constrained to conceive of the sinless Christ, not as the bloom and efflorescence of humanity, but rather as One who has entered into humanity on an errand of profound significance for the moral history of the race. We turn, therefore, once more to the portrait in the Gospels, to see if the consciousness of Jesus reveals any traces of a uniqueness of personal constitution corresponding to the uniqueness of His character. If such there be, they will both sustain the impression of His sinlessness, and derive from it their true interpretation. Supernatural functions and gifts would mean nothing for mankind apart from ethical perfection.

B. The self-witness of Jesus.—It is noteworthy that Jesus does not discuss the constitution of His Person, and gives none of the definitions with which theology has been rife. This is an indication of the truthfulness of the narrative, and shows that it has been to a wonderful degree untouched by the doctrinal development which we know had preceded its earliest written form. It suggests, moreover, that the very highest construction that can be put on the words of Christ is no more than the truth. If, in truth, Jesus be the highest that is said of Him, this is precisely the method which He would adopt in order to disclose the transcendent aspect of His being. He would make no categorical statements regarding it, but would leave it to be apprehended through the total impression of His personality.

i. His claims.—As soon as we return to the portrait, we are impressed by the extraordinary claims which Jesus makes on His own behalf. He is perfect in humility; and yet, combined with the utmost gentleness, the most winning loveliness, there is an assertion of His own supreme importance, which is at once profound and sublime. These claims are sometimes stated explicitly; more frequently they are implied in what He says and does. In any case, they are inseparable from what He believes Himself to be. They enter into the very texture of the narrative. They are wrought of the very fibre of the personality of Him who makes them. Whatever quality of being is required to make them valid, we must impute to Him who deliberately advances them. Without presuming to make a complete enumeration, we note the following among the offices and functions which Jesus avowedly claims to hold and fulfil.

1. Teacher.—In Jesus’ discharge of this office, certain features at once attract attention.

(1) The solitariness of the office. There were in Jesus’ day many teachers of religion, and the title of Rabbi, commonly given to them, He accepted (Mark 14:14, John 13:13-14). These others, however, were prepared to be followed by successors who might wear their title and inherit their honours. But Jesus claimed to be a teacher in a sense in which He could not be followed by any of His disciples, however learned and pious (Matthew 23:8). He did not aim at raising up men who should succeed Him in this office. His office of teacher is His alone. No doubt there came to be in the Church certain men upon whom the Spirit of God conferred a special gift of knowledge, who were accordingly recognized as ‘teachers’ (1 Corinthians 12:28). But teachers after the pattern of Christ were not to be instituted, and were not needed in the new Society (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 John 2:27). This solitariness of His office is a remarkable fact. He was, then, the bearer of a message which could not be pronounced by other lips than His, which originated in the depths of His consciousness, and owed all its significance and value to the personality of Him who declared it.

(2) The note of authority.—This could not be missed, and, in one who had not received the special training of a school Rabbi, it was profoundly impressive. When the people heard His first sermon in Capernaum, ‘they were astonished at his teaching: for he taught them as having authority, and not as the scribes’ (Mark 1:22). The source of this authority lies in the quality of His mind, which directly sees things Divine. His teaching is not the issue of a dialectic process; it is of the nature of a report, and implies that the Teacher lives in a habitual intercourse with God, such as no other man ever enjoyed (John 3:11). His authority, therefore, is His own absolutely. He quotes no other Rabbi, leans on no human opinion, however sound and wise. Move amazing still, He does not use the formula which marks the supernatural authority of a prophet, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ For this He substitutes the simpler, more astounding phrase, ‘I say unto you.’ ‘He speaks at all times with the same absolute conviction and consciousness of His Divine right. There is majesty in His least utterance, and it is nowhere more easily recognized than in the unvarnished record of the Gospel according to St. Mark’ (Swete, Studies in the Teaching of our Lord, p. 64). Many men have been intoxicated by their own conceit; but the swelling vanity of their tone has easily been detected. When Jesus employs the note of authority, He is simply being true to His own inner consciousness, which, to its inmost core, is clear, genuine, and reliable.

(3) The originality of the teaching.—It would be a mistake to attribute to Jesus the independence of a mind which excluded all possible sources of information or instruction, and operated only in a medium of its own imaginations or conceptions. Relations may be traced between the teaching of Jesus and ideas which found lodgment in other minds than His; yet His originality is not thereby infringed. Thus, for instance, His teaching was couched in the terminology and in the forms of thought common to the religious teaching of His day. A parallel might easily be drawn to illustrate this (cf. Shailer Mathews, The Messianic Hope in the NT, p. 71 ff.). This, however, in no way lowers the value of the teaching of Jesus. Ideas are not necessarily valueless, because found in Rabbinical theology. By taking them up into His larger and loftier thought, Jesus has placed upon them the stamp of His authority. The central idea of the teaching, moreover, is not borrowed from contemporary thought. The spirituality of the Kingdom of God is Jesus’ special contribution to the religious life of His day. This conception is all His own, and is the organizing power of all His teaching. Attempts to set aside certain parts of His teaching as derived from external sources, and as being, therefore, of no permanent value, wreck themselves upon the fact that He was certainly no eclectic, and that His teaching has none of the features of a patchwork. His originality consists in the synthetic, transforming power of His mind. Again, His teaching is not independent of, rather is it rooted in, the OT. He Himself repudiated the idea that He was breaking with the religion of Israel. He does claim, however, to ‘fulfil’ the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).

Law and Prophets, which are thus conjoined in Jesus’ speech (Matthew 7:12; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 22:35-40), are equivalent to the OT taken as a whole, and viewed, in its ethical and spiritual significance, as the utterance of the Divine mind regarding the relations of God and man. This, therefore, i.e. the inspired record of God’s revelation, Jesus claims to fulfil, to preserve and perfect, to retain and develop. We are not to water down the implicit claim. Who can undertake to give the true inwardness of the Divine thought, and carry to completion the eternal purpose? Through the prophets God speaks ‘by divers portions.’ When He speaks finally and fully, His spokesman can he none other than His Son (Hebrews 1:1).

Once more, the originality of Jesus appears most strikingly in the fact that He traces all His teaching to His Father (John 7:16). The very refusal of the claim to be independent of God is itself a claim of the most stupendous kind. He whose words and deeds are entirely the speaking and acting of God in Him, between whom and God there is complete intimacy and uninterrupted reciprocity of thought and purpose, stands apart from all human teachers, even the most brilliant and the most original. His teaching is not His own. It is the message of Another, even of Him who sent Him to carry it to the human race.

(4) The future of the teaching.—Teachers die: their great thoughts perish not. Socrates passed from the market-place; but Plato and Aristotle, those real Socratics, took up the threads of thought, and wove them into systems which have dominated the intellectual world ever since. It is noticeable, however, that this has not been the history of the ideas of Jesus. He uttered them, and then passed from the scene of His labours. But no disciple took them and expanded them into a system. No philosophical or theological system to-day can claim to be His. He Himself predicted a much more remarkable future for His teaching. He would have a successor, indeed, but not St. Peter with his vigour, or St. John with his speculative gift. The successor of Jesus in the teaching office is none other than the Spirit of God (John 16:12-15). He will take the thoughts of Jesus and unfold their meaning, and apply their vitalizing power to the questionings of all successive generations of men, till, finally, all uncertainties are resolved in the light of the eternal day. It is certain that He who ‘sat thus by the well’ and talked with a woman, who preached in synagogues, and taught in the Temple, had this consciousness of Himself as initiating a teaching which was destined to continue, through the power of the Spirit of God, unfailing, imperishable, and indefeasible. In respect of this also, Jesus stands apart from and superior to all other teachers of men.

2. Legislator.—Jesus is more than a teacher, whether of the type of a Jewish Rabbi or of that of a Greek philosopher. The disciple band is more than a group of docile souls, who may be expected to assimilate and propagate the ideas of their Master. The analogy of the Schools fails to give us Jesus’ point of view. He has before Him the Kingdom of God, which has existed throughout the past ages of Israel’s history, and is now about to pass into a new stage of realization. He speaks, accordingly, not so much in the character of a communicator of new ideas, as in that of a legislator laying down principles upon which the community of God shall be built or rebuilt, delivering laws which shall guide it in its future history. The tone of Jesus is not that of a prophet who, standing within the Kingdom, a member of it, like those whom he addresses, speaks out of the circumstances of his age, and addresses to his fellow-citizens words of warning, of counsel, of rebuke, and of hope. Jesus stands consciously on a far higher platform, and does not class Himself with those whom He addresses, as though He and they bore the same relation to the Law. They are not His fellow-citizens. They are His subjects, citizens of the community of which He is head and lawgiver. The laws of the Kingdom He promulgates by His own personal authority. Six times in the Sermon on the Mount He sets aside ‘that which was spoken to them of old time,’ and substitutes a rule of His own. In doing so, however, He is no mere revolutionary, He is taking the inner spiritual principle of the old Law, and liberating it from the restrictions which had protected it in the time of man’s pupilage. After the same manner He interprets and applies the Sabbath law (Mark 2:27-28). In dealing with perversions of the Law He is still more peremptory and drastic; e.g. as to fasting (Mark 2:18 ff.) and ceremonial purification (Mark 7:5 ff.). The consciousness of One who thus legislates for the Kingdom is not that of a prophet, not even of the greatest of the prophets, who was God’s instrument in the first founding of the community, and received the law at His hands. It is rather that of One in whom God comes to His people, who is the Divinely appointed King in Israel, whose relation to God is closer than any mere man’s can be, who speaks, therefore, with the very authority of God Himself.

3. Messiah.—The sense in which Jesus claimed the title of Messiah is certainly not to be gathered from any views regarding the Messiah entertained by His contemporaries. The clue is to be sought in Jesus’ attitude towards the OT. (a) He regards the OT as a unity. Critical questions are not before His mind, and upon them He pronounces no judgment. ‘David, ‘Moses,’ ‘Isaiah’ are simply terms of reference. What He does lay hold of is the unity of the revelation. One mind is revealed. One self-consistent purpose moves amid these varied scenes and ages. (b) He conceives the Divine purpose in the OT to be redemptive. The heart of the OT is union with God, the formation of a spiritual fellowship in which God is fully known and men enter upon the position and privilege of sons. In this connexion He preaches the Kingdom not merely as at hand (Mark 1:15), but as present in commanding power (Matthew 12:28). Thus He appropriates to Himself as descriptive of His own work the picture language of Isaiah 61:1-4. So also in the most solemn hour of His life, when He was on the verge of laying it down, He claimed redemptive efficacy for His death in accordance with the oracle of the new covenant (Matthew 26:28, Jeremiah 31:31). This was central in the consciousness of Jesus. An eschatology, no doubt, He had; but it was subordinate to the spiritual conception of redemption, and represented in terms of current thought the consummation of redemption in the world to come. Messiahship, accordingly, meant for Jesus the vocation in which the redemptive purpose of God, which had been growing to completion through the history of Israel, would be fulfilled. We can understand, therefore, how unwilling He would be to receive such a title, when its meaning in the minds of those who used it differed widely from His own conception of it; how glad He would be to accept it when it was applied to Him, not because of His supposed fulfilment of popular requirements, but in spite of His obvious non-fulfilment of these demands; and how careful He would be to train those who clung to Him as Messiah in the apprehension of His own transformed idea of it.

The passages which may be adduced as proof of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus all exhibit His own interpretation of Messiahship, as the calling of the agent of a Divine work of redemption.

(1) The Baptism.—(For discussion of Baptism and Temptation, see art. Character of Christ, p. 285f.) This is evidently much more than installation into a prophetical office. It was the solemn acceptance by Jesus of the vocation of Messiah interpreted with reference to the taking away of sin. For such an office, a personal rank superior to that of all other men, and a personal endowment of the Spirit in a measure which no other man could receive, were essential.

(2) The sermon at Nazareth. Here the Messianic era is described in terms of intense spirituality; and the Speaker claims to be the Messiah in a sense which identifies Him with the Servant of the Lord (Luke 4:16-30).

(3) The reply to John the Baptist. To the question ‘Art thou he that cometh?’ He makes a reply which is at once an affirmation and an interpretation. He is the Messiah, not after a political sort, employing external or catastrophic instrumentality, but of a far higher order, employing means which reach to the depth of man’s necessity (Matthew 11:2-6, cf. Isaiah 35:5-6).

(4) The estimate of John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:10 John is the messenger of Malachi 3:1 who prepares the way for Jehovah, or for the Angel of the Covenant, who is identified with Jehovah. In Mark 9:12-13 John is Elijah, the precursor of the Messiah; while in Mark 1:2-3 he is identified with the ‘voice’ of Isaiah 40:3-5. The implied claim on the part of Jesus, which the Evangelist repeats, is to a personal dignity not less than that of One whose coming is, at the same time, the coming of Jehovah to His people.

(5) The threefold call of the disciples. The call mentioned in the Fourth Gospel (John 1:35-41) is necessary to render intelligible that which is mentioned first by the Synoptists (Mark 1:16-20, Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 5:10-11). The third call in the ordination to Apostleship (Mark 3:13-14) is the culmination of the series. Messiahship and Apostleship thus receive progressive interpretation. The Kingdom, the King, and high rank even like that of prince in a tribe of Israel, are all to be interpreted in a manner that confounds and contradicts popular theory.

(6) The answer to Peter. Into one moment of intense emotional strain and profound spiritual instruction are compressed (a) joyous recognition of faith’s insight and grasp (Matthew 16:17); (b) solemn illumination of the truth which faith had thus, with little intelligent apprehension, made its own (Mark 8:27-31). The Messianic calling has an aim which is reached through death and resurrection. He who is competent to carry out such a scheme does not stand in the same rank of being with other men. Jesus’ doctrine of His person is never dogmatically announced. It is none the less, rather all the more, impressively taught, because He allows it to grow upon the minds of believers as an irresistible inference.

(7) It is significant that Jesus’ claims to Messiahship become more explicit toward the close of His career. No doubt the explanation is that misapprehension was scarcely now possible. If He be—as He is—a King, it is through humiliation He passes to His glory (Mark 11:1-11; Mark 11:15-19; Mark 13:5-6; Mark 14:61-62; Mark 15:2).

4. Saviour.—(1) Jesus’ view of sin, in respect of its guilt, and power, and pollution, was the very gravest. Yet He did not hesitate to announce Himself as able to save men from an evil for which the OT provided no institute of deliverance. He forgave sin (Matthew 9:6). He restored the outcast (Luke 7:48-50; Luke 19:10). He died to make good His claims as Redeemer (Matthew 26:28). This negative form of salvation, however, is not that upon which alone, or even usually, He dwells. He dwells rather on the positive aspect of salvation, and claims to be able to bestow upon men the highest blessing of which the OT revelation can conceive, viz. life. Not merely does He promise it in the future, but He bestows it in the present. He possesses life (John 5:26). He bestows life (John 6:57). His words convey life (John 6:63). Those who believe in Him are media of life to others (John 7:38). Life consists fundamentally in knowledge of God, and of Himself as the Christ (John 17:3). If we admit that the Fourth Gospel has reproduced the teaching of Jesus with substantial accuracy, it is impossible not to recognize the superhuman nature of Jesus’ self-consciousness. The Jews might well strive with one another (John 6:52) as to what His words meant. They certainly conveyed a claim which no mere man could offer in his own behalf.

(2) There is only one possible response on the part of men to the Divine saving act, viz. faith, as personal trust. There can be no doubt that Jesus did require faith in Himself, and, in so doing, consciously stood toward men in a place that can be filled by God only. It is true that the words ‘believe in me’ occur but rarely in the Synoptics (Mark 9:42, Matthew 18:6). But if they have not the phrase, they have the fact. In Beyschlag’s well-known words, ‘the conduct of those who sought His help, to whom He says so often “thy faith hath saved thee,” is, at bottom, a faith in Christ.’ So also, confessing Him (Matthew 10:32), praying in His name (Matthew 18:20), coming to Him and learning of Him (Matthew 11:28-30), are, in essence, religious acts. What is implicit in the Synoptics becomes explicit in the Fourth Gospel (John 11:25; John 12:46; John 14:1; John 16:9, in which cases the use of εἰς implies trustful giving up of self to the personal object of faith). Surely there is only one justification for the man who speaks in such phrases and adopts such an attitude toward His fellows, viz. that, human though He be, He consciously occupies a relation to God radically distinct from that which can be held by any mere man. Jesus accepted a worship that can be rendered to God only. Yet He never by a breath suggested that He was a rival to Jehovah in the faith and love of men. Whom, then, did He conceive Himself to be? Whom must they, who thus worship Him, believe Him to be, if they are to be free from the error of man-worship?

5. Lord.—He who is Saviour has the right of absolute lordship. Such sovereignty Jesus claims, unhesitatingly, unceasingly. (1) He commands rather than invites discipleship (e.g. Matthew 4:19; Matthew 8:22; Matthew 9:9; Matthew 19:21). (2) He enjoins on His representatives a similar usage (Matthew 10:12-15). (3) He demands entire surrender, placing Himself first in the regard of the human heart (e.g. Matthew 10:37-38, Luke 9:59-62). (4) He decides infallibly on the spiritual cases set before Him, and deals with them in a manner which would be an invasion of elemental human rights, if it were not warranted by a unique function, which, in turn, is rooted in a unique personality. (5) He appoints the whole future of His disciple’s, both here and hereafter (Matthew 10:16-20, John 14:2-3). In all this there is implied a sovereignty over man which cannot be wielded by one who is no more than man.

6. Worker of Miracles.—If we take the standpoint of monism, that there is only one substance, and only one set of laws appropriate to it, or that of dualism or parallelism, that spiritual and material facts belong to two distinct and incommunicable orders of being, we shall find it impossible to believe in miracle; and we shall condemn, as mistaken, Jesus’ evident belief that He was able to seal His redemptive activities by works of superhuman power in the realm of physical nature. If, however, we hold the theistic position, which Jesus Himself held, that between God and the universe there is neither pantheistic identification nor dualistic separation, but that God maintains constant contact with the world which He has made, and directs the activities of which He is the source, towards ends in harmony with His own nature, then we shall find it possible to believe in those interventions of spiritual power in the domain of physical nature, which we call miracle. The only question we shall ask—apart from that of evidence—is that of need. In a perfect universe there might be no need for miracle. In the universe as we know it there is abundant need. Redemption is needed, at once ethical and cosmical. The Kingdom of God is miraculous in its very nature. Miracles, therefore, naturally will attend its advent into the realm of time and space. They are altogether congruous with the mission of Jesus. They are ‘signs’ of the Kingdom, the characteristic ‘works’ of Him in whom the Kingdom comes. Such, in any case, was the conviction of Jesus. Before the forces of nature, and of the obscure spirit-world that borders on the physical, in presence of disease and death, He did not own Himself conquered. He bore Himself as Master, as One to whom God’s universe lay open, so that its powers were at His disposal for the furtherance of the cause committed to Him. This commanding authority of His was an element in that impression of supernatural greatness which He made on those who came under His influence (Mark 1:27, Luke 5:8).

7. Creator of the New Israel.—The word ἐκκλησία is but once heard on the lips of Jesus in its special significance; but the occasion is one of solemn import (Matthew 16:18). Peter has made his inspired confession, and Jesus makes reply, ‘Thou art Petros, and on this Petra I will build my Ecclesia; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’ Those who heard could not fail to identify Ecclesia with Israel, as though Jesus had said, ‘on this Rock will I build my Israel’ (Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, p. 11). This claim has reference to the past. That community, which originated at the first Passover, which endured through the vicissitudes of Israel’s history, which cannot be identified with the nation which has rejected Christ, is now rebuilt, or built, by Jesus in His capacity as Messiah. It has reference to the future. To the Ecclesia, or community of believers in Jesus, He gives the seals of the Supper and Baptism; to it He gives the commission to carry on His work; in it He promises to dwell by His Spirit. Regarding it He predicts that it will prove invincible in face of the powers of Hades. He, Jesus of Nazareth, undertakes to erect on the bed-rock of that group of loyal disciples a new Israel, a spiritual dominion which shall not pass away while time endures. It is vain to characterize a consciousness such as this as merely human. Jesus, in His own belief, stands above humanity, Revealer and Representative of the everlasting God, superior to the lapse of time.

8. Judge.—Our view of eschatology will depend on our conception of history. If we believe in the progressive accomplishment of a Divine purpose we shall anticipate a climax, in which the whole movement will be complete. In that case we shall not be able to set aside ‘Messianism’ as irrelevant to the essence of religion. Our Lord certainly regarded redemption as a process to be continued through a lapse of time, whose culmination would form the completion of the world’s history; and, at the highest point of that culmination, He placed Himself. Amid the many difficulties, textual and other, which surround the eschatology of Jesus, it seems clear that He keeps close to the OT representations, without committing Himself to the details elaborated in later literature. In one all-important point, however, He modifies the OT representation; where the OT placed Jehovah, Jesus places Himself as Judge (Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:11-12; Matthew 25:31 ff., Luke 13:25-27).

In the Fourth Gospel there is another judgment, one which belongs to the present time, and is carried out through the presence or the word of Christ (John 3:17-21; John 12:47-48). This, however, is not inconsistent with a final judgment, but is rather its precursor; while the final judgment itself is not absent from the representations of the Fourth Gospel (John 12:48; John 5:27-28; cf. 1 John 2:28; 1 John 4:17).

Here, then, is the climax of our Lord’s self-assertion. There is manifest in this claim a consciousness which we should pronounce insane were it not that of the humblest and sanest man the world ever saw. Nothing can warrant such a claim, nothing justify such a consciousness, save the hypothesis that Jesus had a higher being than appertains to men, and that, as arising from this constitution of His person, He had universal functions which none other than Himself could exercise.

ii. His self-designations.—The claims of Jesus, accordingly, direct us to conclude that He believed Himself to be human indeed, yet at the same time One who was related to God, in the ground and origin of His being, as no other man could be. From this consciousness the functions He claimed relative to humanity must have been derived. It must have been on the ground of what He was, and knew Himself to be, in the inherent quality of His being, that He set Himself forth as tailed and enabled to do certain acts in and for mankind.

It was impossible for men to listen to His claims without inquiring as to His person. Nay, He Himself stimulated the inquiry, and displayed, if one may so say, an anxiety to know what men were thinking of Him. What help, if any, does He give us in seeking for an answer? It is certain that He will not give us definitions after the style of the creeds, or analytic descriptions in the manner of a modern handbook of psychology. The most, and the best, He can do for us, is to grant such unveilings of what was and must remain His secret, as shall enable us, under the requisite spiritual conditions, to know Him and to trust Him. Christ is not a proposition to be proved, or an object to be dissected. He is a Person to be known. By what names, then, does He will to be known? Among the titles or descriptive phrases by which He designates Himself, two are of supreme importance. The discussions regarding their meaning form a kind of register of the history of modern Christology. If the Person of Christ be the centre of the Church’s faith, and the apprehension of it be the note of the Church’s growth, these discussions cannot be expected to reach sc


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Incarnation (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/i/incarnation-2.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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