Christology

The study of the person of Christ. Our Lord is unambiguously called God by the NT writers (John 1:1,18; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8,10). The truth of His divinity pervades all strata of NT witness and teaching. He is called the Son of God, and while this does refer to His sonship by incarnation (Luke 1:35; John 1:34; Rom. 1:4; Heb. 1:2), it is not limited to the Incarnation because the terms relate Him to the Father as His “own” Son in a special way (Matt. 11:27; John 5:18). In John the terms “Father” and “Son” are not used only temporally but on the footing of eternity (John 3:13; 17:5; 1 John 4:10). “Son of God” is certainly a title of and claim to deity (Matt. 16:16; 26:63-65; Luke 22:70,71; John 19:7). “Only Begotten Son” is to be understood in relation to Christ's preincarnate dignity and privilege (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15-18; Heb. 1:6) and in the special sense of “begotten from everlasting,” begotten from the being not the will of the Father. The begetting is an eternal fact of the divine nature.

Christ is the Word of God. “Logos” in John 1:1-18 is not explained, but is simply used to declare Christ's deity. Omission of the definite article in “the Word was God” means the Word is identified with the essential nature of God (cf. Rom. 9:5). OT titles ascribed to Him are inexplicable unless Christ is being identified with the nature of Yahweh (cf. Matt. 3:3 with Isa. 40:3; Acts 13:33 with Ps. 2:7, etc.). He is honored and worshiped as God (John 20:28; Phil. 2:10,11; Rev. 5:12-14, etc.). His name is associated with the Father and the Spirit on equal terms in the baptismal formula (Matt. 28:19), in the benediction (2 Cor. 13:14), and in the bestowal of eternal life (John 5:23,24). Finally, the whole biblical structure rests on the claim that redemption belongs to God alone (2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 2:5). The heart of Athanasius's great argument against Arius was that only God could redeem and reconcile.

The pressure of NT witness to the truth of Christ's humanity is intense, including His birth at Bethlehem (Luke 1:35), boyhood and growth at Nazareth (Luke 2:39-52), fasting and temptation (Matt. 4:1-11), weariness (John 4:6), and death (John 19:28-30; Acts 2:23,36). His true humanity is in part the condition of the work of redemption (Acts 2:22; Rom. 5:15; Phil. 2:7; 1 Tim. 2:5). NT Christology is concerned to show the ideal and normative character of Christ's humanity. His uniqueness is variously shown and emphasized including His birth from the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34,35), His knowledge and foreknowledge (Matt. 11:27), His moral perfection (Luke 1:35; 2 Cor. 5:21), His teaching (Matt. 5-7), and His transfiguration and exaltation (2 Pet. 1:16-18).

In the patristic period Christology developed chiefly under pressure of the fourth-century Arian heresy. The creeds of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381) reaffirmed Christ's full deity and full humanity. They insisted on the faith that Christ is truly God, not an intermediate being (which safeguarded the biblical doctrine of creation against Greek forms of thought), and that Christology must be adequate to the facts of redemptive experience, i.e., only God can redeem.

At the Council of Chalcedon* (451) the unity of Christ's person was affirmed, influenced by the differing traditions of the Alexandrian* and Antiochene* schools. Chalcedon does not purport to define the mystery, but to set limits outside which believing Christians cannot go: our Lord took on human nature, not an adult personality, the Godhood and Manhood are each whole and perfect, the two natures are united in one person, and we confess the one Christ.

Classical controversies in the early church reflect divergent viewpoints on the divinity and humanity of Christ. Those who started from the Manhood but failed to do justice to the Godhood of Christ included: Ebionites and Cerinthians who said Jesus was a man specially endowed by God for his mission (cf. 1 John 5:6- 12); Adoptianist and Dynamic Monarchians who taught the Incarnation as the inspiration of Jesus by the Spirit at His baptism; and Nestorians who kept Christ's natures apart in the union, i.e., they advocated a prosopic rather than real union of the two natures in the one person. Others started from the Godhood but failed to do justice to the Manhood of Christ. They included: Docetists who made of our Lord's humanity merely appearance; Modalistic Monarchians who made of Christ a revelatory mode of the Father; Apollinarians who substituted the divine nature for the human nature; and Eutychians who said the human nature was swallowed up by the divine nature.

Modern christological controversy follows upon the quest for the historical Jesus. While the quest has been largely abandoned, recent NT scholarship nevertheless concludes that the inner witness of faith came to the disciples who knew Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh as a historical personality. It is not possible ultimately to bifurcate Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ of faith. Kenotic Christology has attempted to probe the meaning of Christ's self-emptying (Phil. 2:7). It has been fiercely attacked (W. Temple,* D.M. Baillie*), but most christological formulations attempt to take account of Christ's self-limitation in some way.

Modern Adoptianist Christology (the American theologian John Knox) is widespread. Through Jesus' goodness, the divine broke through into human life historically, which should be paralleled in our lives. This, however, is not the coming of the eternal Second Person of the Trinity into actual human existence. Others deny that revelation implies factual assertions (Paul Tillich*), which means for Christology that it is irrelevant to our faith if Jesus Christ had never actually lived on earth. The Incarnation becomes the projection of the Christ-Spirit into the world within man through the Christ-event. This sets up metaphysical and existential categories of interpretation rather than those of historical fall, incarnation, and redemption.

Christians confess the true and full Godhood and Manhood of Jesus Christ and the indivisible unity of His person. No theological formula is adequate to this greatest of all Christian mysteries. The Incarnation means the Son of God experienced fully the conditions of personal and individual manhood in such a way that as man He was yet one person with the Son of God. Christians confess they do not know the intensity of unity of the two natures necessary to achieve this, but they accept the apostolic witness. In Jesus Christ is revealed the perfection of God for man (Rom. 5:8-21; Heb. 2:14-18) in virtue of whose response to the Father's will men can respond in faith to become like Him by His Spirit.

See also Athanasian Creed and Trinity.

B.B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory (1907); H.R. Mackintosh, The Person of Jesus Christ (1912); A.E.J. Rawlinson (ed.), Essays on the Trinity and the Incarnation (1928); L. Hodgson, And Was Made Man (1933); D.M. Baillie, God Was in Christ (1948); J.K. Mozley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation (1949); T.H. Bindley, The Oecumenical Documents of the Faith (1950); R.V. Sellers. Two Ancient Christologies (1954); J.M. Creed, The Divinity of Jesus Christ (1964); D. Jenkins, The Glory of Man (1967).


CHRISTOLOGY. The doctrine of the person and work of nodetitle; the study of His relationship to God, and His relationship to men. By origin, the word ought to mean “the study of the doctrine of the Messiah,” for “Christ” is clearly a tr. of this old Jewish title; in NT times however, the concept is altered and deepened to include all that Jesus is to the eye of faith. This is not only the faith of His followers, but also the faith of Jesus Himself; a part of any Christology is to consider what Jesus believed and taught about Himself. In later controversial days, Christology became the discussion of the person of Christ, and Soteriology the study of His work; such distinctions are foreign to the NT, where the interest is not philosophical but practical, and where Christ’s person is usually defined in relation to His work.

The subject will be treated under the main titles used to describe Jesus in the NT: 1. Christ. 2. Lord. 3. Son of man. 4. nodetitle. 5. Servant. 6. Word. 7. Savior. 8. Other titles.

Christ


In the NT, some have sought a pattern by which Christ’s messiahship is first recognized by the demons; then by His disciples, then by His enemies and, with that, His death was made certain. Whether or not the full implications of “veiled Messiahship” are accepted, it seems clear that Jesus did not at first openly claim this position for Himself (though Vincent Taylor seems wrong when he states that Jesus scarcely ever used it). Doubtless this was due to the popular misconception of the messiahship, which appears to have been held by Peter (Matt 16:22). Instead, Jesus waited until His disciples themselves confessed it (Matt 16:16): this is hailed as proof of divine revelation. From that moment, while accepting the title, Jesus redefines messiahship in terms of suffering and death (16:21). John places this confession both early (John 1:41) and later (6:68, 69), but the content is virtually the same.

It is uncertain whether, at the trial before the high priest, Jesus actually admitted being the Messiah or no; the question turns on the meaning of “you have said so” (Matt 26:64 and parallels). If there was deliberate ambiguity, it was not because Jesus was denying messiahship, but because the Jewish concept of messiahship was not His. The “crucified Messiah,” a stumbling block to any devout Jew, soon became creedal confession to every Christian (1 Cor 1:23) and the subject of all early Christian preaching (Acts 3:18).

Lord


To the Gentile, kurios meant “emperor” or “king,” when He proclaimed Himself “Dominus et deus,” “Lord and God.” Here it expresses authority primarily, with, no doubt, religious overtones. It also meant the particular god of a group or city or state; and finally it was used of several of the “great gods” of late heathendom, esp. those of the syncretistic mystery religions. It was in deliberate opposition to all of these that the Christians called Jesus “Lord.” To their heathen compatriots, there were “many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’” (1 Cor 8:5), but to the Christian only one Lord, Jesus Christ (8:6).

Son of man


It is extremely likely that the term was used in Peter’s speeches in Acts (2:22, etc.) where Jesus is described as an ἄνθρωπος, G476, (man) attested by God. It appears in the speech of Stephen (7:56). It is clear from the context that the heavenly “Son of man” is meant, not the earthly figure. It is thus a false distinction to see “Son of man” as expressing Christ’s human nature. “Son of man,” understood in the sense of Daniel, expresses Christ’s heavenly origin at least as strongly as “Son of God,” as is clearly brought out in John’s gospel (John 3:13).


Son of God


In the OT, “sons of God” seems to mean “angels” (Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; and Dan 3:25). Presumably, by Sem. idiom, they were identified as being “like God,” for they had a spiritual, not corporeal, nature. More significant is the use in the Psalter, by which the ideal Davidic king is called God’s son; language is at times used which suggests full divinity (Ps 45:6). This appears to be the sense in which Jesus accepted the title; the Jews regarded it as tantamount to a claim to equality with God (John 5:18) and reacted accordingly. If then, “son of man” means “man” in the generic sense, “son of God” means “God.” That the concept of sonship includes and involves dependence and obedience is clear from the NT (Heb 5:8). Therefore, it is true that the path of sonship necessarily involved suffering.

“Son of God” asserts Christ’s deity, but no more surely than the title “Lord”; a parallel set of passages bluntly call Jesus “God,” but they concede little more than has been already accorded Him as “Son of God” (John 20:28; Heb 1:8; and prob. John 1:18).

The Servant of Yahweh

(עֶבֶד־יְהוָ֖ה; δου̂λος). This concept, drawn from the latter half of Isaiah, involved suffering and death with an ultimate triumph. This thought entered into the deepest self-understanding of Christ. It is also found in Acts and 1 Peter as a major “theme,” while it reappears as one strand among many in the richness of Pauline Christology. In the representative nature of the “servant” of the “Lord,” and the way in which the servant is at times collective, at times individual, this title merges with that of “Son of Man.” Similarly, if modern understanding of the Aram. substratum of the gospels is correct, it is one with the title “Lamb of God” in John 1:29 (ἀμνὸς του̂ Θεου̂, Aram. טַלְיָא דִי אֱלָהָא, meaning either God’s lamb or God’s servant). If this is not accepted, the comparison of the Servant to a lamb in Isaiah 53:7 would make this identification probable.

The voice from heaven salutes Christ as the one “with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). This is clearly taken from Isaiah 42:1; thus, the concept of servanthood appears at the outset of Christ’s ministry. There is also the evidence of the evangelist Matthew (Matt 12:17), where the healing ministry of Jesus is directly equated with the fulfillment of the servant-song of Isaiah 42. The saying of Christ in Matthew 20:28 is even clearer; He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” recalling Isaiah 53. To this the words of the institution at the last supper (“my blood...poured out for many”) also refer (Matt 26:28).

In the early speeches of Acts, if RSV is correct in tr. παι̂ς, G4090, (boy) as “servant,” it is a dominant category (Acts 3:13). The term δίκαιος, G1465, (righteous one) almost certainly refers to the Servant (Isa 53:11). Acts 3:14 gives Christ this title, used by Peter, Stephen and Paul, showing its universality.

Apart altogether from such direct reference, the thought occurs frequently in later NT passages. First Peter, for instance, repeats the “lamb” motif of Isaiah 53:7 (1 Pet 1:19), while Philippians 2:7 describes Christ as “taking the form of a servant.” It is probable that the habit of the Apostle Paul of introducing himself as “servant of Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:1, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:1) comes from this source.

Word

(λόγος, G3364; OT דְּבַר־יְהוָ֔ה; Targum מַאֲמָרָא). In Gr. thought, logos has a long history, going back to the philosopher Heraclitus and the Stoics. Nevertheless, this is more a linguistic preparation than theological, for even the Stoic σπερματικοὶ λόγοι (laws of generation) are abstractions. Philo personalized the concept, but not in the full Christian understanding of the word. Later Gnosticism and the religions of the “great gods” of Egypt used the term in a way closer to the NT; but Gnosticism shows clearly that any incarnation of such an intermediary Logos would be an impossible thought, except in a Docetic sense. There is thus no true parallel to the Christian doctrine, whereby the Logos becomes flesh (John 1:14).

In spite of Cullmann, it does not seem that there are any clear antecedents in the DSS (Manual of Discipline, 11:11). Neither דַּ֫עַת, H1981, (knowledge) nor מַחֲשָׁבָה, H4742, (thought) are personalized; nor are they the same as Logos. But in the OT, the děbar-Yahweh (LXX ὁ λόγος του̂ Θεου̂) is the creative word, either as uttered by God, or as communicated by Him to prophets to utter in His name; for such a Word, there can be no failure in fulfilling the divine purpose (Isa 55:11). This Sem. antecedent for the NT doctrine is continued by the Aram. mēmrā, both used as a tr. of da’at and also as a reverential substitute for the divine name. In this sense, the “word of God” is already almost personified.

Outside of John’s gospel, logos is used as a title for Christ only in 1 John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13. Even in the gospel it is not used after ch. 1, so that the term cannot be said to dominate the fourth gospel. Nevertheless, the two thoughts that it conveys, that of preexistent creational activity, and perfect expression and revelation of God, are characteristic not only of John (John 1:1-5) but also of Paul (Col 1:15-20) and of Hebrews (Heb 1:1-3). In both of these last, the closely connected category of Wisdom is involved.

Savior

(OT מוֹשִׁ֖יעַ; NT σωτήρ, G5400). Cullmann remarks that the Aram.-speaking church could hardly use this as a title for Jesus, since His very name already conveyed this idea (Matt 1:21, where the play on words is conscious). In the OT, the noun is an epithet of God (2 Sam 22:3), so in the NT it may still be applied directly to Him (Jude 25) or to those raised up by God to save His people (Isa 19:20). The cognate verb is freely used, but in all cases the sense is material and this-worldly (Matt 1:21, in applying it to salvation from sins, is a far deeper concept).


Possibly, as Vincent Taylor suggests, the noun was used sparingly in early days because of its wide application in non-Christian circles to kings, and to gods of mystery-cults, as well as to healers like Asclepius. Scholars have long pointed out that, from the start, it must have been part of Christian creedal confession, since it corresponds to the last letter of ἰχθύς, G2716, (fish), the early anagram and symbol of Christianity (̓Ιησου̂ς Χριστὸς Θεου̂ υἱὸς σωτήρ, Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior). Thus Savior, with Son of God and Messiah, must have been considered basic titles.

Other titles


See nodetitle.

Bibliography

(For books before 1953, see the Bibliographies of any standard work.) L. Koehler, Hebrew Lexicon (1953); E. Stauffer, Theology of the NT, 5th ed. (1955); R. Bultmann, Theology of the NT (1955); O. Cullmann, The Early Church (1956); W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT (1957); A. Wikenhauser, NT Introduction (1958); A. M. Habermann, Megilloth Midbar Yehuda (1959); G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, 3rd ed. (1960); C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the NT (1962); O. Cullmann, Christology of the NT, 2nd ed. (1963); J. Danielou, History of Early Christian Doctrine I (1964); J. Danielou, and H. Marrou, The Christian Centuries (1964); R. H. Fuller, The Foundations of NT Christology (1965); W. G. Kummel, Introduction to the NT (1966).

See also

  • Person of Christ