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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Pre-Eminence

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PRE-EMINENCE (of Christ).—The expression is St. Paul’s. We shall take the passage in which it occurs as our starting-point, and work from that.

I. St. Paul’s conception

1. The statement of it.—The locus classicus is Colossians 1:13-20. In that and its context St. Paul represents Christ as Head of both creations, the natural and the spiritual, the Cosmos and the Church. Of the former He is Creator, Upholder, and End. Its ground of existence is in Him (ἐν* αὐτῷ); He is before it and over it, even its highest intelligences (πρὸ πάντων), and shapes it to His purpose (εἰς αὐτόν). Of the second He is ἀρχή, at once Source and First; Redeemer, Reconciler, Saviour (Colossians 1:20 f.); Fountain of Life (Colossians 3:4); Treasury of Wisdom (Colossians 2:3); Hope of Glory (Colossians 1:27); All in All (Colossians 3:11). He is sole Mediator in both (Colossians 1:16-20), through whom all streams of creative, providential, redeeming light and power go forth, and in whom all lines of creaturely approach to God converge. Of both, therefore, He is rightful Lord, as is implied in πρωτότοκος (Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18; see Lightfoot, in loc.), βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ (Colossians 1:13), and ἐν δεξιᾷ τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενος (Colossians 3:1),—a phrase that everywhere carries with it (a) subordination to the Father, (b) rule over all else. In both He is pre-eminent (Colossians 1:18). And this, not for any arbitrary reason, but because of what He is, which explains both the place He occupies and the work He has done. For He is God’s Son in a unique sense (Colossians 1:3; Colossians 1:13—the phrase ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ in the former being common in St. Paul and other NT writers); He is the image—the visible Revealer—of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15); and in Him dwells permanently in a bodily manifestation the fulness of the Deity (Colossians 1:19, Colossians 2:9), i.e. ‘the totality of the Divine attributes and powers’ (Lightfoot). His eternal Divinity shines out in ἔστιν (Colossians 1:17), while γένηται (Colossians 1:18) reflects the humanity which He has assumed and glorified.

Similar teaching is found in the other Epistles of the same group. In Ephesians the ἐν αὐτῶ of Colossians becomes the dominant note. Christ is Head, Husband, and Saviour of the Church (Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:25). All blessing is in Him (Ephesians 1:3); all things are summed up in Him (Ephesians 1:10). In Him all, both Jew and Gentile, are built up a holy temple, Himself the Chief Corner-stone (Ephesians 2:20-22). He is the Supreme Revealer of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:7) and wisdom (Ephesians 3:10), the one Lord (Ephesians 4:6, Ephesians 6:7-10) seated at God’s right hand and exalted above every other present or future power (Ephesians 1:20-22). Here, again, it is because of what He is—the Son of God (Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 4:13)—that He brings us to perfection, and that all these facts can be true of Him. In Philippians He is all-subduing Saviour (Ephesians 3:20-21); through Him come righteousness (Ephesians 1:11), peace (Ephesians 4:7), joy (Ephesians 4:4), strength (Ephesians 4:13). In Him we glory (Ephesians 3:3); compared with Him all else is as refuse (Ephesians 3:8); He is our life’s mainspring (Ephesians 1:21) and highest goal (Ephesians 3:14). Essentially God, He laid aside the manifested glory of Deity, and assumed humanity with its sinless manifestations and deepest sufferings. Therefore God exalted Him, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Him Lord (Ephesians 2:6-11). It is probable that the title ‘Lord,’ when used of Jesus by St. Paul, carries with it always (as, indeed, it does in the rest of the NT) the fulness of meaning which it has here. The letter to Philemon is saturated with the conception expressed by the phrase ‘in Christ,’ which indeed forms the basis and strength of St. Paul’s appeal.

According to this group of letters, Christ is pre-eminent primarily because of His Divine dignity, and secondarily because of His work in nature and in grace—as Creator, Mediator, Saviour, Lord. In St. Paul’s mind these ideas are bound up inseparably with Him, and the probability is that he meant to express them in the full title—the Lord Jesus Christ—which he so frequently employs.

2. Genesis of this conception.—(1) It must be prior to all St. Paul’s Epistles, for it is clearly present in all of them. To take the second group first. In 1 Corinthians Christ is God’s power and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30), the only Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), the true Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), our perfect Example (1 Corinthians 11:1), and the Second Adam, who gives life to all in Him (1 Corinthians 15:45). The Church is His body (1 Corinthians 12:27), of which, though not expressly stated, Christ must be the Head (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3). Especially worthy of note are 1 Corinthians 8:6 (where He holds the same place in both creations as in Col.) and 1 Corinthians 15:27 (which tallies with Ephesians 1:20-22 and Philippians 2:11). In 2 Cor. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21) we have language substantially the same as Colossians 1:19-22; Colossians 4:4-8 answers to Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18 implies pre-existence (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4); 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 10:5 claim for Him unreserved obedience. In both these letters He is God’s Son (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 15:28, 2 Corinthians 1:19). There is no need to quote specific passages in Gal. and Rom. [Note: Roman.] representing Him as the only Saviour, for they are full of that thought. His universal Lordship is declared in Romans 9:5; Romans 14:9; His Sonship in Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 4:4-6 and Romans 1:4; Romans 5:10; Romans 8:3; Romans 8:32; His Deity implicitly in Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:10-12 (in the contrast between Him and man), and expressly in Romans 9:5. Even in Thessalonians we have the following: Deliverer (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 3:2) and Saviour (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10); Victor over evil in its mightiest manifestations, and Judge (1 Thessalonians 5:2 f., 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12); God’s Son (1 Thessalonians 1:10), and associated with God in salutation and prayer (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1 f. and 1 Thessalonians 3:11). This linking of Christ and the Father in salutation, and the ascribing to Him what is ascribed to God, are regular features of St. Paul’s writings. It should further be noted that in practically all these letters the comprehensive title—Lord Jesus Christ—is applied to Him, and that frequently the strongest statements are made incidentally in such a way as to indicate that they belong to the common Christian conviction.

(2) St. Luke’s account of St. Paul’s preaching harmonizes with this. Acts 16-28 is, roughly speaking, contemporaneous with the first three groups of St. Paul’s letters. In these chapters Jesus is represented as Saviour and Lord, and, as such, worthy of our utmost devotion (Acts 16:31; Acts 20:21-24; Acts 20:35; Acts 26:18); as the Christ, the burden and goal of prophecy and the Hope of Israel (Acts 17:3, Acts 18:5, Acts 24:14, Acts 26:6-7; Acts 26:22, Acts 28:20; Acts 28:23); as Judge of the world (Acts 17:31), and even as God (Acts 20:28 text of אB). The book closes by summarizing the subject-matter of St. Paul’s preaching as the Kingdom of God and the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, where the full title is significantly given, as it is by St. Peter in his summary of the creed-content of the faith of Cornelius and his friends (Acts 11:17). Working backward, we have in ch. 13 an extended report of St. Paul’s address at Pisidian Antioch, which stands as representative of his teaching, at least during the First Missionary Journey. Certainly it must represent the view of Barnabas also; and its striking resemblance to St. Peter’s Pentecost address is also noteworthy. In it Jesus is the Son of David, predicted by the prophets, and surely, therefore, Messiah (Acts 11:22 f.); God’s holy and incorruptible One (Acts 13:35); God’s Son (Acts 13:33); the Saviour (Acts 13:23), through whom alone are remission of sins and justification (Acts 13:38 f.), who is the channel of grace (Acts 13:43), the source of eternal life (Acts 13:46), the light of the world (Acts 13:47, cf. Ephesians 5:8-14, Philippians 2:15 f.). In Acts 14:23 He is called Lord in a way which implies that the thought of His lordship was inseparable from faith.

The conception of Christ’s Sonship here may seem to be quite different from that commonly found in the Epistles. But a comparison with Romans 1:4 may show that the two at root agree. Both here and in Romans the Resurrection is due to His holiness (Acts 13:35). In Rom. [Note: Roman.] , further, the holiness is due to His sonship, of which the Resurrection is God’s formal declaration, or (as Meyer) into which the Resurrection instates Him. May this not be the idea here also? Linguistic usage permits; for the priest was said ‘to cleanse’ the leper when he officially pronounced him ‘clean’; so may it not be that the thought in Acts 13:33 is that in the Resurrection God formally declared Jesus to be His begotten Son? On the other hand, the occurrence of the term ‘justified’ (Acts 13:39) shows how precarious a procedure it is to assert development of doctrine according to the occurrence or non-occurrence of a particular expression in brief letters addressed to different local conditions. The word here shows that St. Paul’s doctrine of justification was not born just at the time of writing to the Galatians, even though it is not formally stated in the Thessalonian or Corinthian letters. The three accounts of St. Paul’s conversion in Acts (Acts 9:22; Acts 9:26) show how the details of an event may be varyingly presented according to the character of those addressed and the purpose of the speaker.

(3) To find the genesis of St. Paul’s view of Christ, we must go back to his conversion. There his conviction, at least as to the Person and preeminence of Christ, seems to have been settled. For (a) the light that shone about him, brighter than the Syrian noon-day sun (cf. Revelation 1:16), was a light out or heaven. To him, as a well-instructed Jew, that was the Glory of God’s revealed presence. Would it not be natural for Saul, with his great conscientiousness, zeal for God, and hope of attaining to the promise made to the fathers (Acts 26:7), to conclude immediately that the Lord had again visited His people, and that the august Person who appeared to him was none other than Jehovah Himself (cf. Isaiah 6 and 1 Corinthians 9:1)? If so, we can understand the pre-eminent place that Person for ever after held in his thought. The words of rebuke and heaven-laden pity naturally stun and bewilder him, and lead to the strange mingling of surprise and faith that breaks out in his question, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ The definite answer, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest,’ however it may have wrenched his soul, compelled his conversion. He surrendered unreservedly, and henceforth Jesus is his unchallenged and peerless Lord. Would such an unqualified surrender be justifiable had he not identified Jesus with the Jehovah of his people’s history? Does any other view as fully explain all the facts?* [Note: A sample fact would be the use of the word Κύριος, which in LXX is used to translate Jehovah, in the Gospels ‘usually designates God, and in the Epistles, especially St. Paul’s, most frequently Christ’ (Winer; cf. Cremer, and Somerville, St. Paul’s Conception of Christ, p. 295; and esp. Knowling, Witness of the Epistles, 261 ff.). The view here taken obviates Cremer’s difficulty. For it would then be natural to use θεός of the invisible God (as in John 1:18), and Κύριος of God manifesting Himself as Jehovah in OT or as Christ in NT.] (b) Unquestionably Saul was at once committed to the acceptance of Jesus as He was preached by those whom he was persecuting. For he must have been quite familiar with the claims made on behalf of Jesus by the Apostles and their associates. That Jesus was the Messiah, for example, he must have heard again and again. And what they declared Him to be, Jesus here plainly endorses. These two facts touching Christ’s Person as Divine and His office as Messiah, Saul probably apprehended in the order here given. The record of his early preaching seems to follow the same order. For there he is represented as first preaching that Jesus is the Son of God, and later proving that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 9:20-22).

Doubtless he experienced some intellectual bewilderment. It was one thing to feel that the Mighty One who had appeared to him was Jehovah, and another to understand how the Man Jesus of Nazareth could be verily God. It might seem to strike at Jewish monotheism, and yet the two facts are before him. His mind must find some solution. Possibly it flashed upon him that God was essentially invisible (hinted at in Exodus 33:17-23; cf. Colossians 1:14, 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16), and that therefore Jehovah, the august Person who was wont to appear to men and had now appeared to him, did not exhaust the mystery of God. Possibly he remembered that in the OT the closest relation to God was expressed by ‘sonship’ (2 Samuel 7:14, Hosea 11:1). Perhaps he had heard from Christians utterances which suggested distinctions of Persons in the Godhead. For certainly the language both of St. John and of the Synoptists implies them, and in the baptismal formula mention would be made regularly of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is quite possible that in the light of his new experience some or all of these may have led him to the assertion that Jesus is the Son of God as the first declaration of his faith. But Galatians 1:15 may mean that some special access of revealing light was given him. In either case, the probability is that when he proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God he did so in a sense transcending the ethical, equalling in significance its use on the lips of Jesus, and in full harmony with the Trinitarian conception. Jesus is God, Jesus is also Son. Certainly, if the meaning of the expression was specially revealed to him, the term chosen by St. Luke (ἐκήρυσσεν, Luke 9:20) becomes peculiarly appropriate, as representing not so much something which he had laboriously reasoned out, as something which he received by so direct a revelation that he can come forward proclaiming it with all the certainty of a commissioned herald.

II. Conceptions of the Twelve and their associates in the Acts.—Our discussion has brought us to the early preaching of the Twelve. Let us see more particularly the way they had come. Their approach was the opposite of St. Paul’s. They began with the Man Jesus of Nazareth, and advanced slowly to the higher thought of Him; he, as a believer, began with the Divine Lord, and swiftly adjusted all else to that. They marched from earth to heaven; he came down from heaven to earth. The two forms of expression—‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Christ Jesus’—may represent the two lines of experience as well as the two regular standpoints of thought to which Lightfoot has called attention.

1. Statements by Peter, Stephen and Philip, and James.—St. Peter may be considered as representing the Twelve, including St. John, and his teaching may be summed up thus: Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and Messiah, exalted at God’s right hand (Acts 2:36; Acts 10:36); into His name, i.e. into allegiance to Him, believers are baptized (Acts 2:38, Acts 10:48, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13); He is the Holy and Righteous One, the Suffering Servant of God, the only Saviour for men anywhere under heaven, and so Prince (ἀρχηγός—Author as well as Ruler) of Life (Acts 3:14 f., Acts 4:27-30, Acts 4:12); the Corner-stone (Acts 4:11); the last and greatest of the prophets, who becomes the touchstone of destiny (Acts 3:22 f.); the Judge of living and dead (Acts 10:42). In St. Stephen’s address several of these notes recur. Jesus is Lord (Acts 7:59 f.); the Righteous One of whom the prophets spoke (Acts 7:52); the Son of Man who in Divine glory stands at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56), the designation being especially appropriate as indicating that He did not lay aside His humanity when He ascended (cf. Philippians 2:10 the name Jesus); while the whole trend of the argument is that as Joseph and Moses were God-appointed deliverers, so Jesus is the Supreme Deliverer and Saviour (Acts 7:9-14; Acts 7:22; Acts 7:35; Acts 7:37) St. Philip preaches Him as the Messiah and as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, which carries with it the ideas of Saviourship and Supremacy (Acts 8:5; Acts 8:12; Acts 8:32-35). Of the passages quoted, three (Acts 2:39, Acts 4:12, Acts 10:36) indicate the universality of Christ’s pre-eminence, at least so far as men are concerned. This involved His being Saviour and Lord to Gentiles as well as Jews. That great fact of Christ’s personal relationship to all men St. Peter seems to have seen clearly: what it involved for Judaism he had not yet apprehended,—an illustration of the fact that a great central truth may be grasped long before it is fully understood in its implications.

Whether St. Peter’s conception of Christ’s pre-eminence went beyond the world of men to that of higher intelligences, and the universe generally, is not so clear. And yet is it not implied in the frequent phrase ‘at the right hand of God’? And might it not be understood from the prefatory words to the great Commission (Matthew 28:18), which would be still ringing in his ears? Further, does not the language employed compel us to see in his thought of Christ more than mere manhood? Is this not suggested by the use ‘of the word Κύριος in the Pentecost discourse? (See, e.g., Acts 2:25; Acts 2:34; Acts 2:36; Acts 2:39, where it is certainly applied both to Jehovah and to Jesus). It is a phenomenon that persists in the NT. We have noticed it already in connexion with St. Paul’s experience. Another phenomenon equally persistent is found in Acts 2:17; Acts 2:33, where the outpouring of the Spirit is ascribed first to God and then to the exalted Christ. This, of course, if it stood alone, might be explained on the principle that what one does through another he does himself. But it does not stand alone. His sinlessness, here repeatedly asserted, demands some adequate explanation. To be Judge of the world demands knowledge more than human. Similar phenomena occur in St. Stephen’s address (Acts 7:30-32), where God, the Lord, and the Angel appear to be the same One, between whom and the people Moses mediated (Acts 7:38).

We notice next the view of St. James, as gathered from Acts 15 and his Epistle, which is here accepted as of early date. On the understanding that the letter of Acts 15:23-29 was drafted by him, we have two points worthy of note in that chapter. The full title ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ is given (Acts 15:26), and the ‘our’ as well as the quotation (Acts 15:16-18) show that St. James saw clearly that the sovereignty of Jesus would be accepted by the Gentiles, as well as by the Jewish world. In his Epistle there is added to the full title the phrase ‘of glory,’ which ‘certainly attributes to Jesus a superhuman character’ (Stevens, Theol. of NT, p. 287), and probably a Divine one (cf. Acts 7:2). In Acts 5:7-11 Κύριος is used first of God and then of Christ. In Acts 4:12 the Judge seems to be God; in Acts 5:9 Christ is Judge. Is there any simpler explanation of this than that they were regarded as the same Person, and identified with the gracious Jehovah of the OT? He is probably also the Righteous One of Acts 5:6, and undoubtedly the Saviour in whom saving faith rests. Such expressions from a brother in the flesh who had lived with Jesus from childhood are surely commandingly striking. The Lord of Glory stands forth in the thought of St. James as at least the Supreme Lord and only Saviour of men.

2. Genesis of their conception.—This takes us back to the Gospel history, and that to the prophecies of the OT. (1) Andrew and John were led to follow Him through the testimony of John the Baptist. Others were doubtless directly or indirectly affected by John’s ministry. And John links us inevitably to the OT and the prophecies that went before concerning the Messiah. With these John and most of his hearers, these first disciples among them, were familiar. It is not necessary to go into the details here (they may be found in Drummond, Stanton, Edersheim, Westcott, Kirkpatrick, and a recent book by Willis J. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise). But the heart of prophecy is God’s close personal relation to man, His loving interest in man and gracious purpose for him. Thus there was in it a fact and a promise—the fact of God’s kindness and grace, the promise of a Divinely—wrought deliverance. The former was the vital religious force in Israel’s history, the latter its hope. Through unequalled suffering and by the might of His power the promised Deliverer was to crush the adversary, save His people, and set up an everlasting Kingdom that should fill the whole earth. Language is almost exhausted in depicting the greatness of that Deliverer and the glory of His reign (e.g. 2 Samuel 23:1-8, Psalms 72, 89, Ezekiel 37:21-28, Isaiah 26, 52, 53, Daniel 7:9; Daniel 7:27). Some passages identify the Deliverer with Jehovah Himself appearing among men as their Saviour and King (e.g. Isaiah 9:6 f. and, in its light and that of Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:8-15; Isaiah 40:3-5 comp. with Matthew 3:3 ||; Isaiah 45:21-25 comp. with Acts 4:12 and Philippians 2:10 f.; Jeremiah 23:5-8, where Jehovah our Righteousness is the Branch and King; Zechariah 12:1-10, where the pierced one is identified with Jehovah; and Malachi 3:1).

Whatever may be dark or disputable in these Scriptures, the pre-eminence of the Coming One is clear. John the Baptist was the last of the prophets. In his utterances the earlier are summarized. Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’ who bears the world’s sin, and ‘the Son of God’ as possessing permanently and without measure the Spirit of God (John 1:29-34, cf. the Evangelist’s elaboration in John 3:34 f.). He is executor of God’s wrath as well as of His grace, baptizing in fire as well as in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:10-12); He is the Bridegroom, even as Jehovah was Husband to His people (John 3:29). In His presence John feels his own inferiority and confesses it. He is not fit to loose His sandal-strap. At best he is His herald and friend (Matthew 3:11; Matthew 3:14, John 1:23; John 3:29). John can tell them to repent, and can baptize them in water as a symbolic declaration of repentance; but only this greater One can deal with them in the realm of reality and baptize in the Spirit (Matthew 3:11 || John 1:26; John 1:33). In the light of Christ’s tribute to John’s greatness (Matthew 11:7-11), what a testimony John’s utterances form to the pre-eminent greatness of Christ. It was the beginning of the disciples’ faith.

(2) John’s testimony was confirmed to them and strengthened by Christ’s own personality, words, and deeds. His personality captivated and mastered them. The hallowed influence of the first day’s fellowship (John 1:39), issuing in strengthened faith and open confession, is a sample of what was continuously at work thereafter. The calm and confidence, serenity and majesty of His demeanour; His absolute rectitude and sinlessness; His artless yet reverent familiarity with God and absolute devotion to His will; His exquisite tenderness, quick sympathy, abounding compassion, and unwearying beneficence, filled them with wonder, awe, admiration, and affection, and steadily ripened their faith. His words were clothed with unparalleled authority, and were full of wisdom and grace. In this setting His deeds of might and mercy accredited Him as from God, and attested His Lordship over nature as well as His Saviourship to men (see Mark 1:27; Mark 4:41, Luke 4:22 et al.).

To all this experience, and interpreting it, were added His own imperial claims, most fully presented in the Fourth Gospel (see art. Claims of Christ).

(3) To the testimony of John and that of His own character and claims was added the testimony of His enemies, both men and demons (John 7:46; John 19:6, Mark 1:24; Mark 3:11), of angels (Matthew 28:6), and of the Father Himself (Matthew 3:17 and Luke 9:35). The last passage is especially strong, because intended to rebuke the thought of putting Moses and Elijah on the same level with Him.

The effect of this growing body of testimony is seen in the confessions made from time to time. The early ones in Jn. needed deepening. The disciples had misconceptions, the removal of which might stagger their faith. They had as yet but poor knowledge of their own sinfulness; while of the path of suffering Jesus must take to His glory they knew nothing. The new consciousness of sin which came to St. Peter as he beheld the miraculous draught of fishes (Luke 5:8), and the deeper sense of it that came with his denial (Matthew 26:75), are waymarks of progress on the one side; the testing times in the Capernaum synagogue, when not only most of the multitude but even professed disciples forsook Him (John 6:60-71), and at Caesarea Philippi, whither He had gone from the growing hostility in Judaea and Galilee, mark their progress on the other. It is for this reason that that confession of His Messiahship is treated as so important (Matthew 16:13-20); their faith in Him holds when others desert. Immediately the way of the cross and the stern terms of discipleship are announced. We can see how it shook them. The Transfiguration, with its double message of death and glory (Luke 9:31 f.), served to steady them during the dark months that were coming; and the voice of the Father declared Jesus’ Sonship and superiority to the greatest of the olden day. That scene was perhaps a means of answering the Master’s prayer that their faith should not fail. Nor did it fail utterly. Peter’s tears are the proof. But though their faith in Him personally held, it was intellectually eclipsed. It was the Resurrection, His subsequent teachings, and the coming of the Spirit that finally established it in clearness and power. That great conviction is expressed emphatically by Thomas when he hails Him as his Lord and God (John 20:28)—a declaration which Jesus endorsed. In keeping therewith is the closing scene in Matthew 28:16-20, where, on the one hand, Jesus claims all authority in heaven and on earth, and, on the other, they worshipped (Κύριος) Him,—a term which should perhaps be understood here and in Luke 24:52 in the full religious sense. Thus in the closing scenes of the Gospels these men are consciously face to face with One whom they joyfully hail as their ‘Lord and God,’ and the closing words fold back and into the opening quotation from the prophet that the Coming One should be ‘Immanuel—God with us’ (Matthew 1:22 f.). When men so thoroughly steeped in monotheism as these Jews, and with the lofty thought of God all Jews had, so believe and receive Him, how for them could there be any doubt about His absolute pre-eminence? Many adjustments of their views on other things will yet be necessary; but this conviction will abide and become the centre, the touchstone of truth for them, the central fact into which all others must be fitted. As St. Paul expresses it, they will hold the Head and so increase with the increase of God (Colossians 2:19).

III. Conception of the later NT books

1. Hebrews.—The very purpose of this letter is to forestall apostasy by showing Christ’s superiority to all others, including Moses and Aaron, the prophets, and all the angels. The first chapter is equal in strength and fulness to the great passages in Col. and Philippians. He is God’s Son, the express image of His Person, the effulgence of His glory; Maker of the world; God’s last and perfect Spokesman. The angels worship Him. The Father Himself addresses Him as God, who made all things, and outlives all things; whose throne stands for ever, whose sceptre is righteousness, and to whom all enemies shall become subject. In subsequent chapters He is represented as Captain (ἀρχηγός, Author and Leader, Hebrews 2:10) of our salvation; eternal High Priest made higher than the heavens, a Son perfected for evermore (Hebrews 7:21-25), who by the sacrifice of Himself obtains for us eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12), and secures us in an eternal covenant (Hebrews 8:7; Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 9:15, Hebrews 13:20); the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2); and the great Shepherd of His sheep (Hebrews 13:20). He is the One who speaks from heaven, rejection of whom is doom (Hebrews 12:25). He is our supreme goal. Others change and pass away; He abides the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever (Hebrews 13:8); and to Him belongs the glory for ever and ever (Hebrews 13:21).

2. First Peter.—Many of the terms with which we have become so familiar are here. He is the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3). We must sanctify Him as Lord in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15). He is seated at God’s right hand, angels and principalities being made subject to Him (1 Peter 3:22). As Saviour He bears our sin (1 Peter 2:24), redeems us with His blood (1 Peter 1:19), is the Chief Shepherd, the Bishop of Souls (1 Peter 5:4, 1 Peter 2:25), and mediates all God’s gifts to man (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 4:11). He is the Chief Corner-stone (1 Peter 2:6); Sonship unique is implied in 1 Peter 1:3, His place in a Trinity in 1 Peter 1:2, pre-existence in 1 Peter 1:11 (cf. ‘manifested’ in 1 Peter 1:20); His identity with Jehovah in 1 Peter 2:3 (where an OT declaration about Jehovah is referred to Him). In keeping with this is the contrast between His ‘blood’ and ‘corruptible things’ in 1 Peter 1:19 f. (cf. Acts 20:28).

3. Second Peter is equally emphatic about His lordship (2 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16), and more explicit about His Sonship (2 Peter 1:17) and Deity (2 Peter 1:1, cf. 2 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 2:20, 2 Peter 3:2; 2 Peter 3:18; for the order of words is the same, and the presumption is that in each case but one person is referred to—Jesus Christ is God and Saviour as well as Lord and Saviour). The day of the Lord, ushered in by His coming, marks the time of His full triumph and glory (ch. 3), and His Kingdom is eternal (2 Peter 1:11).

4. Jude has in common with 2 Peter the use of the full title and of the term δεσπότης (Judges 1:4, 2 Peter 2:1, cf. 2 Timothy 2:21)—a term expressive of special absoluteness of authority, and made the stronger here by the μόνον. This Epistle has in common with 1 Peter what looks like a knowledge of His place in a Trinity (Judges 1:20 f.).

5. St. John’s Writings.—In Acts, St. John was linked with St. Peter, and it is instructive to note how emphatically he harks back in his Epistles to that which they had from the beginning (e.g. 1 John 1:1 ff., 2 John 1:5 f.). He seems anxious to guard against any change from that early conception of Christ which is summed up in his Gospel in the confession of Thomas and in his own declaration (Acts 20:28; Acts 20:31).

The Prologue of St. John’s Gospel restates it in the light of all the currents of thought that he has been meeting with in the intervening years. It stands, in its lofty conception of Christ, beside Colossians 1, Philippians 2, and Hebrews 1, and forms the great thesis which the historic testimony marshalled in the Gospel was meant to establish. That testimony has been already referred to. All its strands are bound together here,—Creator, Light, Life, Revealer of God, Saviour of Men,—and all are grounded in His Godhead. What ‘the Son’ on the lips of Jesus involves and what the Evangelist expresses by ‘the only-begotten Son’ (John 3:16), is here (John 3:18) expressed by ‘only-begotten God,’ which after all is the only adequate explanation of the phenomena, however incomprehensible to us it may be in itself. For He was in the beginning; He was face to face with God; He was God. The last statement guards against any form of Unitarianism (θεῖος would admit that), while in the use of θεός it provides for the Trinitarian conception which ὁ θεός might be understood to exclude, and fits in with the previous πρὸς τὸν θεόν, which implies two Persons in face to face fellowship. Being God, He creates the Universe and becomes incarnate, and so reveals God. Of this fact John the Baptist had some glimpse (John 1:15). It is here assigned as the reason for his sense of inferiority.

St. John’s Epistles assume all this, as the opening verses show, and are intended to point out that a life of righteousness, truth, and love is necessarily involved in that fellowship with God which faith in Christ effects. The liar is the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22); he who believes that is born of God (1 John 5:1). He who denies the Son hath not the Father, and will deny both Father and Son. Such is antichrist (1 John 2:22 f.). Jesus Christ is the true God (1 John 5:20). This is final truth, beyond which none can go and have God (2 John 1:9).

In the Apocalypse the Apostle is given a vision of Christ in His ineffable glory, and a panoramic view of His march to acknowledged pre-eminence. All the main features already sketched reappear here in most striking fashion. He is the Lamb slain, the Redeemer who in His blood loosed from their sins (Revelation 1:5) and purchased unto God men out of every nation (Revelation 5:8 f.); the Living One who holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18) and gives life (Revelation 22:17); the Ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5), the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14); the Son of God (Revelation 2:18, Revelation 1:6) worshipped as God is (Revelation 5:8-14 cf. with Revelation 4:8-11) and as no other should be (Revelation 22:8 f.). Between Him and God other parallels are drawn that find explanation and warrant only in His Deity, e.g. each is the Temple and Light of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22 f.); they have a common throne (Revelation 22:3), and the title Κύριος is applied to both.

It is clear that all the NT writers regard Jesus Christ as pre-eminent by virtue of His Person, His work, and the place which the universe of created intelligences shall yet accord Him. For, though some of them have written briefly, all that they do say fits in with this general conception. And it must be remembered that these early leaders formed a compact body, consciously bound together by the holiest ties, breathing the same atmosphere, receiving the same body of historic facts, professing the same vital religious experience, and drawn the closer together by the very opposition they encountered; and that, however they may have differed in minor matters, there is no symptom of difference or dispute among them as to the unapproachable greatness of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or as to the fact that He is the coming Universal King. See also artt. Divinity of Christ, Incarnation.

Literature.—This is very extensive. Material may be found in the leading Commentaries, Lives of Christ, and works on Biblical and Systematic Theology, esp. those that deal wholly with the Person and work of Christ. Valuable lists may be found in Cave’s Introd. to Theol. and its Literature. Two very valuable books there named might easily be overlooked, namely, Alexander Maclaren’s ‘Colossians’ (Expos. Bible), and R. W. Dale’s Ephesians. With them may be named Guthrie’s exposition of the Colossian passage, entitled Christ and the Inheritance of the Saints. The following may also be consulted with advantage: M’Whorter, Jahweh Christ; Stalker, Christology of Jesus; Somerville, St. Paul’s Conception of Christ; Forrest, The Christ of History and of Experience; R. J. Drummond, Apostolic Teaching and Christ’s Teaching; Broadus, Jesus of Nazareth; A. T. Robertson, Keywords in the Teaching of Jesus; A. H. Strong, The Greatness and the Claims of Christ (in First Baptist World Congress); D. Fairweather, Bound in the Spirit, p. 265; G. A. J. Ross, The Universality of Jesus.

J. H. Farmer.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Pre-Eminence'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/pre-eminence.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, August 14th, 2020
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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