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Person of Christ
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Method of the Article
I. THE TEACHING OF PAUL 1. Philippians 2:5-9
(1) General Drift of Passage
(2) our Lord’s Intrinsic Deity
(3) No Examination
(4) our Lord’s Humanity
2. Other Pauline Passages
II. THE TEACHING OF THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
Hebrews 2:1 ff
(1) Background of Express Deity
(2) Completeness of Humanity
(3) Continued Possession of Deity
III. THE TEACHING OF OTHER EPISTLES
IV. THE TEACHING OF JOHN
1. The Epistles
2. Prologue to the Gospel
(1) The Being Who Was Incarnated
(2) The Incarnation
(3) The Incarnated Person
3. The Gospel
V. THE TEACHING OF THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
VI. THE TEACHING OF JESUS
1. The Johannine Jesus
(1) His Higher Nature
(2) His Humiliation
2. The Synoptic Jesus
(1) His Deity
(a) Mark 13:32
(b) Other Passages:and
(c) Matthew 11:27; 28:19
(2) His Humanity
(3) Unity of the Person
VII. THE TWO NATURES EVERYWHERE PRESUPPOSED
VIII. FORMULATION OF THE DOCTRINE
Method of the Article:
It is the purpose of this article to make as clear as possible the conception of the, in the technical sense of that term, which lies on--or, if we prefer to say so, beneath--the pages of the . Were it its purpose to trace out the process by which this great mystery has been revealed to men, a beginning would need to be taken from the intimations as to the nature of the person of the Messiah in prophecy, and an attempt would require to be made to discriminate the exact contribution of each organ of revelation to our knowledge. And were there added to this a desire to ascertain the progress of the apprehension of this mystery by men, there would be demanded a further inquiry into the exact degree of understanding which was brought to the truth revealed at each stage of its revelation. The magnitudes with which such investigations deal, however, are very minute; and the profit to be derived from them is not, in a case like the present, very great. It is, of course, of importance to know how the person of the Messiah was represented in the predictions of the Old Testament; and it is a matter at least of interest to note, for example, the difficulty experienced by our Lord’s immediate disciples in comprehending all that was involved in His manifestation. But, after all, the constitution of our Lord’s person is a matter of revelation, not of human thought; and it is preeminently a revelation of the New Testament, not of the Old Testament. And the New Testament is all the product of a single movement, at a single stage of its development, and therefore presents in its fundamental teaching a common character. The whole of the New Testament was written within the limits of about half a century; or, if we except the writings of John, within the narrow bounds of a couple of decades; and the entire body of writings which enter into it are so much of a piece that it may be plausibly represented that they all bear the stamp of a single mind. In its fundamental teaching, the New Testament lends itself, therefore, more readily to what is called dogmatic than to what is called genetic treatment; and we shall penetrate most surely into its essential meaning if we take our start from its clearest and fullest statements, and permit their light to be thrown upon its more incidental allusions. This is peculiarly the case with such a matter as the person of Christ, which is dealt with chiefly incidentally, as a thing already understood by all, and needing only to be alluded to rather than formally expounded. That we may interpret these allusions aright, it is requisite that we should recover from the first the common conception which underlies them all.
I. Teaching of Paul.
1. Philippians 2:5-9:
(1) General Drift of the Passage.
We begin, then, with the most didactic of the New Testament writers, the apostle Paul, and with one of the passages in which he most fully intimates his conception of the person of his Lord,
(2) Our Lord’s Intrinsic Deity.
The terms in which these great affirmations are made deserve the most careful attention. The language in which our Lord’s intrinsic Deity is expressed, for example, is probably as strong as any that could be devised. Paul does not say simply, "He was God." He says, "He was in the form of God," employing a turn of speech which throws emphasis upon our Lord’s possession of the specific quality of God. "Form" is a term which expresses the sum of those characterizing qualities which make a thing the precise thing that it is. Thus, the "form" of a sword (in this case mostly matters of external configuration) is all that makes a given piece of metal specifically a sword, rather than, say, a spade. And "the form of God" is the sum of the characteristics which make the being we call "God," specifically God, rather than some other being--an angel, say, or a man. When our Lord is said to be in "the form of God," therefore, He is declared, in the most express manner possible, to be all that God is, to possess the whole fullness of attributes which make God God. Paul chooses this manner of expressing himself here instinctively, because, in adducing our Lord as our example of self-abnegation; his mind is naturally resting, not on the bare fact that He is God, but on the richness and fullness of His being as God. He was all this, yet He did not look on His own things but on those of others.
(3) No Examination.
And here it is important to observe that the whole of the action adduced is thrown up thus against this background--not only its negative description to the effect that our Lord (although all that God is) did not look greedily on His (consequent) being on an equality with God; but its positive description as well, introduced by the "but ...." and that in both of its elements, not merely that to the effect (
An impression that Paul means to imply, that in entering upon His earthly life our Lord had laid aside His Deity, may be created by a very prevalent misinterpretation of the central clause of his statement--a misinterpretation unfortunately given currency by the rendering of English Revised Version: "counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself," varied without improvement in the American Standard Revised Version to: "counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself." The former (negative) member of this clause means just: He did not look greedily upon His being on an equality with God; did not "set supreme store" by it (see Lightfoot on the clause). The latter (positive) member of it, however, cannot mean in tithesis to this, that He therefore "emptied himself," divested Himself of this, His being on an equality with God, much less that He "emptied himself," divested Himself of His Deity ("form of God") itself, of which His being on an equality with God is the manifested consequence. The verb here rendered "emptied" is in constant use in a metaphorical sense (so only in the New Testament:
See also KENOSIS.
(4) Our Lord’s Humanity.
The language in which the act by which our Lord showed that He was self-abnegating is described, requires to be taken in its complete meaning. He took "the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men," says Paul. The term "form" here, of course, bears the same full meaning as in the preceding instance of its occurrence in the phrase "the form of God." It imparts the specific quality, the whole body of characteristics, by which a servant is made what we know as a servant, our Lord assumed, then, according to Paul, not the mere state or condition or outward appearance of a servant, but the reality; He became an actual "servant" in the world. The act by which He did this is described as a "taking," or, as it has become customary from this description of it to phrase it, as an "assumption." What is meant is that our Lord took up into His personality a human nature; and therefore it is immediately explained that He took the form of a servant by "being made in the likeness of men." That the apostle does not say, shortly, that He assumed a human nature, is due to the engagement of his mind with the contrast which he wishes to bring out forcibly for the enhancement of his appeal to our Lord’s example, between what our Lord is by nature and what He was willing to become, not looking on His own things but also on the things of others. This contrast is, no doubt, embodied in the simple opposition of God and man; it is much more pungently expressed in the qualificative terms, "form of God" and "form of a servant." The Lord of the world became a servant in the world; He whose right it was to rule took obedience as His life-characteristic. Naturally therefore Paul employs here a word of quality rather than a word of mere nature; and then defines his meaning in this word of quality by a further epexegetical clause. This further clause--"being made in the likeness of men"--does not throw doubt on the reality of the human nature that was assumed, in contradiction to the emphasis on its reality in the phrase "the form of a servant." It, along with the succeeding clause--"and being found in fashion as a man"--owes its peculiar form, as has already been pointed out, to the vividness of the apostle’s consciousness, that he is speaking of one who, though really man, possessing all that makes a man a man, is yet, at the same time, infinitely more than a man, no less than God Himself, in possession of all that makes God God. Christ Jesus is in his view, therefore (as in the view of his readers, for he is not instructing his readers here as to the nature of Christ’s person, but reminding them of certain elements in it for the purposes of his exhortation), both God and man, God who has assumed man into personal union with Himself, and has in this His assumed manhood lived out a human life on earth.
2. Other Pauline Passages:
II. Teaching of the.
The conception of the person of Christ which underlies and finds expression in the Epistle to the Hebrews is indistinguishable from that which governs all the allusions to our Lord in the Epistles of Paul. To the author of this epistle our Lord is above all else the Son of God in the most eminent sense of that word; and it is the divine dignity and majesty belonging to Him from His very nature which forms the fundamental feature of the image of Christ which stands before his mind. And yet it is this author who, perhaps above all others of the New Testament writers, emphasizes the truth of the humanity of Christ, and dwells with most particularity upon the elements of His human nature and experience.
Hebrews 2:1 ff:
(1) Background of Express Deity.
The great Christological passage which fills Hebrews 2 of the Epistle to the Hebrews rivals in its richness and fullness of detail, and its breadth of implication, that of Philippians 2. It is thrown up against the background of the remarkable exposition of the divine dignity of the Son which occupies Hebrews 1 (notice the "therefore" of 2:1). There the Son had been declared to be "the effulgence of his (God’s) glory, and the very image of his substance," through whom the universe has been created and by the word of whose power all things are held in being; and His exaltation above the angels, by means of whom the Old Covenant had been inaugurated, is measured by the difference between the designations "ministering spirits" proper to the one, and the Son of God, nay, God itself (1:8,9), proper to the other. The purpose of the succeeding statement is to enhance in the thought of the Jewish readers of the epistle the value of the salvation wrought by this divine Saviour, by removing from their minds the offense they were in danger of taking at His lowly life and shameful death on earth. This earthly humiliation finds its abundant justification, we are told, in the greatness of the end which it sought and attained. By it our Lord has, with His strong feet, broken out a pathway along which, in Him, sinful man may at length climb up to the high destiny which was promised him when it was declared he should have dominion over all creation. Jesus Christ stooped only to conquer, and He stooped to conquer not for Himself (for He was in His own person no less than God), but for us.
(2) Completeness of Humanity.
The language in which the humiliation of the Son of God is in the first instance described is derived from the context. The establishment of His divine majesty in chapter 1 had taken the form of an exposition of His infinite exaltation above the angels, the highest of all creatures. His humiliation is described here therefore as being "made a little lower than the angels" (
The proximate end of our Lord’s assumption of humanity is declared to be that He might die; He was "made a little lower than the angels .... because of the suffering of death" (
The completeness of our Lord’s assumption of humanity and of His identification of Himself with it receives strong emphasis in this passage. He took part in the flesh and blood which is the common heritage of men, after the same fashion that other men participate in it (
(3) Continued Possession of Deity.
III. Teaching of Other Epistles.
IV. Teaching of John.
1. The Epistles:
2. Prologue to the Gospel:
From the point of view from which we now approach it, the prologue to themay be said to fall into three parts. In the first of these, the nature of the Being who became incarnate in the person we know as Jesus Christ is described; in the second, the general nature of the act we call the incarnation; and in the third, the nature of the incarnated person.
See JOHANNINE THEOLOGY, III; JOHN, GOSPEL OF, IV, 1, (3), 2.
(1) The Being Who Was Incarnated.
John here calls the person who became incarnate by a name peculiar to himself in the New Testament--the Logos or "Word." According to the predicates which he here applies to Him, he can mean by the "Word" nothing else but God Himself, "considered in His creative, operative, self-revealing, and communicating character," the sum total of what is divine (C.F. Schmid). In three crisp sentences he declares at the outset His eternal subsistence, His eternal intercommunion with God, His eternal identity with God: `In the beginning the Word was; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God’ (
(2) The Incarnation.
Now, John tells us that it was this Word, eternal in His subsistence, God’s eternal fellow, the eternal God’s self, that, as "come in the flesh," was Jesus Christ (1
(3) The Incarnated Person.
That in becoming flesh the Word did not cease to be what He was before entering upon this new sphere of experiences, the evangelist does not leave, however, to mere suggestion. The glory of the Word was so far from quenched, in his view, by His becoming flesh, that he gives us at once to understand that it was rather as "trailing clouds of glory" that He came. "And the Word became flesh," he says, and immediately adds: "and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth" (
That nothing should be lacking to the declaration of the continuity of all that belongs to the Word as such into this new sphere of existence, and its full manifestation through the veil of His flesh, John adds at the close of his exposition the remarkable sentence: `As for God, no one has even yet seen him; God only begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father--he hath declared him’ (
3. The Gospel:
The same may be said of the other Gospels. They are all dramatizations of the God-man set forth in thetical exposition in the prologue to John’s Gospel. The, written by a known companion of Paul, gives us in a living narrative the same Jesus who is presupposed in all Paul’s allusions to Him. That of Mark, who was also a companion of Paul, as also of Peter, is, as truly as the Gospel of John itself, a presentation of facts in the life of Jesus with a view to making it plain that this was the life of no mere man, human as it was, but of the Son of God Himself. Matthew’s Gospel differs from its fellows mainly in the greater richness of Jesus’ own testimony to His Deity which it records. What is characteristic of all three is the inextricable interlacing in their narratives of the human and divine traits which alike marked the life they are depicting. It is possible, by neglecting one series of their representations and attending only to the other, to sift out from them at will the portrait of either a purely divine or a purely human Jesus. It is impossible to derive from them the portrait of any other than a divine-human Jesus if we surrender ourselves to their guidance and take off of their pages the portrait they have endeavored to draw. As in their narratives they cursorily suggest now the fullness of His Deity and now the completeness of His humanity and everywhere the unity of His person, they present as real and as forcible a testimony to the constitution of our Lord’s person as uniting in one personal life a truly divine and a truly human nature, as if they announced this fact in analytical statement. Only on the assumption of this conception of our Lord’s person as underlying and determining their presentation, can unity be given to their representations; while, on this supposition, all their representations fall into their places as elements in one consistent whole. Within the limits of their common presupposition, each Gospel has no doubt its own peculiarities in the distribution of its emphasis. Mark lays particular stress on the divine power of the man Jesus, as evidence of His supernatural being; and on the irresistible impression of a veritable Son of God, a Divine Being walking the earth as a man, which He made upon all with whom He came into contact. Luke places his Gospel by the side of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the prominence it gives to the human development of the Divine Being whose life on earth it is depicting and to the range of temptation to which He was subjected. Matthew’s Gospel is notable chiefly for the heights of the divine self-consciousness which it uncovers in its report of the words of Him whom it represents as nevertheless the Son of David, the Son of Abraham; heights of divine self-consciousness which fall in nothing short of those attained in the great utterances preserved for us by John. But amid whatever variety there may exist in the aspects on which each lays his particular emphasis, it is the same Jesus Christ which all three bring before us, a Jesus Christ who is at once God and man and one individual person. If that be not recognized, the whole narrative of the Synoptic Gospels is thrown into confusion; their portrait of Christ becomes an insoluble puzzle; and the mass of details which they present of His life-experiences is transmuted into a mere set of crass contradictions.
See also GOSPELS, THE SYNOPTIC.
1. The Johannine Jesus:
The Gospel narratives not only present us, however, with dramatizations of the God-man, according to their authors’ conception of His composite person. They preserve for us also a considerable body of the utterances of Jesus Himself, and this enables us to observe the conception of His person which underlay and found expression in our Lord’s own teaching. The discourses of our Lord which have been selected for record by John have been chosen (among other reasons) expressly for the reason that they bear witness to His essential Deity. They are accordingly peculiarly rich in material for forming a judgment of our Lord’s conception of His higher nature. This conception, it is needless to say, is precisely that which John, taught by it, has announced in the prologue to his Gospel, and has illustrated by his Gospel itself, compacted as it is of these discourses. It will not be necessary to present the evidence for this in its fullness. It will be enough to point to a few characteristic passages, in which our Lord’s conception of His higher nature finds especially clear expression.
(1) His Higher Nature.
(2) His Humiliation
2. The Synoptic Jesus:
(1) His Deity.
(a) Mark 13:32:
We know how this apparently contradictory mode of speech has arisen in Keble’s case. He is speaking of men who are composite beings, consisting of souls and bodies, and these men come to be designated from one element of their composite personalities, though what is affirmed by them belongs rather to the other; we may speak, therefore, of the "blood of souls" meaning that these "souls," while not having blood as such, yet designate persons who have bodies and therefore blood. We know equally how to account for Paul’s apparent contradictions. We know that he conceived of our Lord as a composite person, uniting in Himself a divine and a human nature. In Paul’s view, therefore, though God as such has no blood, yet Jesus Christ who is God has blood because He is also man. He can justly speak, therefore, when speaking of Jesus Christ of His blood as the blood of God. When precisely the same phenomenon meets us in our Lord’s speech of Himself, we naust presume that it is the outgrowth of precisely the same state of things. When lie speaks of "the Son" (who is God) as ignorant, we must understand that tie is designating Himself as "the Son" because of His higher nature, and yet has in mind the ignorance of His lower nature; what He means is that the person properly designated "the Son" is ignorant, that is to say with respect to the human nature which is as intimate an element of His personality as is His Deity.
When our Lord says, then, that "the Son knows not," He becomes as express a witness to the two natures which constitute His person as Paul is when he speaks of the blood of God, or as Keble is a witness to the twofold constitution of a human being when he speaks of souls shedding blood. In this short sentence, thus, our Lord bears witness to His divine nature with its supremacy above all creatures, to His human nature with its creaturely limitations, and to the unity of the subject possessed of these two natures.
(b) Other Passages: Son of Man and Son of God:
(c) Matthew 11:27; 28:19:
In the former of these utterances, our Lord, speaking in the most solemn manner, not only presents Himself, as the Son, as the sole source of knowledge of God and of blessedness for men, but places Himself in a position, not of equality merely, but of absolute reciprocity and interpenetration of knowledge with the Father. "No one," He says, "knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son ...." "varied in Luke so as to read: "No one knoweth who the Son is, save the Father; and who the Father is, save the Son ...." as if the being of the Son were so immense that only God could know it thoroughly; and the knowledge of the Son was so unlimited that He could know God to perfection. The peculiarly pregnant employment here of the terms "Son" and "Father" over against one another is explained to us in the other utterance (
(2) His Humanity.
(3) Unity of the Person.
These manifestations of a human and divine consciousness simply stand side by side in the records of our Lord’s self-expression. Neither is suppressed or even qualified by the other. If we attend only to the one class we might suppose Him to proclaim Himself wholly divine; if only to the other we might equally easily imagine Him to be representing Himself as wholly human. With both together before us we perceive Him alternately speaking out of a divine and out of a human consciousness; manifesting Himself as all that God is and as all that man is; yet with the most marked unity of consciousness. He, the one Jesus Christ, was to His own apprehension true God and complete man in a unitary personal life.
VII. The Two Natures Everywhere Presupposed.
VIII. Formulation of the Doctrine.
Meanwhile the wards remain complicated. Even in the case of our own composite structure, of soul and body, familiar as we are with it from our daily experience, the mutual relations of elements so disparate in a single personality remain an unplumbed mystery, and give rise to paradoxical modes of speech which would be misleading, were not their source in our duplex nature well understood. We may read, in careful writers, of souls being left dead on battlefields, and of everybody’s immortality. The mysteries of the relations in which the constituent elements in the more complex personality of our Lord stand to one another are immeasurably greater than in our simpler case. We can never hope to comprehend how the infinite God and a finite humanity can be united in a single person; and it is very easy to go fatally astray in attempting to explain the interactions in the unitary person of natures so diverse from one another. It is not surprising, therefore, that so soon as serious efforts began to be made to give systematic explanations of the Biblical facts as to our Lord’s person, many onesided and incomplete statements were formulated which required correction and complementing before at length a mode of statement. was devised which did full justice to the Biblical data. It was accordingly only after more than a century of controversy, during which nearly every conceivable method of construing and misconstruing the Biblical facts had been proposed and tested, that a formula was framed which successfully guarded the essential data supplied by the Scriptures from destructive misconception. This formula, put together by the, 451 AD, declares it to have always been the doctrine of the church, derived from the Scriptures and our Lord Himself, that our Lord Jesus Christ is "truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son,. Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures-inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and Only-begotten, God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ." There is nothing here but a careful statement in systematic form of the pure teaching of the Scriptures; and therefore this statement has stood ever since as the norm of thought and teaching as to the person of the Lord. As such, it has been incorporated, in one form or another, into the creeds of all the great branches of the church; it underlies and gives their form to all the allusions to Christ in the great mass of preaching and song which has accumulated during the centuries; and it has supplied the background of the devotions of the untold multitudes who through the Christian ages have been worshippers of Christ.
The appropriate sections in the treatises on the Biblical theology of the New Testament; also A. B. Bruce, The, 2nd edition, Edinburgh, 1881; R. L. Ottley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation, London, 1896; H. C. Powell, The Principle of the Incarnation, London, 1896; Francis J. Hall, The Kenotic Theory, New York, 1898; C. A. Briggs, The Incarnation of the Lord, New York, 1902; G. S. Streatfeild, The Self-Interpretation of Jesus Christ, London, 1906; B. B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory, New York, 1907; James Denhey, Jesus and the Gospel, London, 1909; M. Lepin, Christ and the Gospel: or, Jesus the Messiah and Son of God, Philadelphia, 1910; , The Christology of Jesus, New York, 1899; D. Somerville, Paul’s Conception of Christ, Edinburgh, 1897; E.H. Gifford, The Incarnation: a Study of Philippians 2:5-11, London, 1897; S.N. Rostron, The Christology of Paul, London, 1912; E. Digges La Touche, The Person of Christ in Modern Thoughts, London, 1912.
(NOTE.--In this article the author has usually given his own translation of quotations from Scripture, and not that of any particular version.)
Benjamin B. Warfield