Archive | Christology

Why the Name “Jesus” Means Very Little

The name, “Jesus”, means very little. What I mean to say is that the actual handle  J-E-S-U-S does not carry too much value in my opinion. When someone says that they love “Jesus”, I don’t bite. It takes a lot more than that, before I will acknowledge anyone’s claims to hope in Jesus’ name.

I was listening to a debate between a Christian and an atheist the other day. One of the hang-ups the atheist had was that God, if He existed at all, had not done a very good job of making sure that the Jesus story remained pure. After all, this atheist argued, there are dozens of religious groups out there, all claiming “Jesus” in some significant way, but they could not even agree on who He was.

This is frustrating, indeed! I would prefer not to second-guess or doubt anyone’s confession of Christ. I would rather to let it be, when they say they know and worship Jesus. However, such is not the case. It is apparent that the atheist is correct: There are a lot of Jesus’ out there. If we fail to realize this, Jesus will soon become a postmodern hodgepodge of whatever people claim.

Nevertheless, I do object to this reality becoming a smudge on God’s character, much less it being asserted as an argument for His non-existence due to impotence. You see, the multiple Jesus culture in which we live is not the product of years of religious evolution. It is not the product of God’s inability to keep Jesus’ name pure. It is, in fact, nothing new. From the very beginning there have been multiple Jesus’ proffered to the world. And from the very beginning, God has been more than aware of this fact.

Notice this question that Jesus asked while He was still on the earth:

Matthew 16:13 Continue Reading →

How Jesus Became God—or How God Became Jesus? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s New Book and a Concurrent Response

Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God, released just yesterday, is the most recent example of a scholarly tradition of books with similar titles offering to explain how Christianity turned a simple itinerant Jewish teacher into the Second Person of the Trinity. Two of the earlier, notable such books were Richard Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God (1999) and Larry Hurtado’s How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? (2005). In what may be an unprecedented publishing event, a book by evangelical scholars critiquing Ehrman’s book was released at the same time yesterday, entitled How God Became Jesus. The concurrent publication of the rebuttal book was facilitated by the fact that its publishing house, Zondervan, is owned by HarperCollins, which published Ehrman’s book under the HarperOne imprint.

Ehrman, of course, has more name recognition in the English-speaking world than any other biblical scholar today, due especially to his de-conversion story (enthusiastically disseminated in the mainstream media) of abandoning evangelical Christian belief and becoming an agnostic. Sadly, he is probably a hundred times better known than any of the five scholars who contributed to How God Became Jesus. In particular, it is a shame that Craig A. Evans is not better known. Evans is also the author of what I consider the stand-out chapter responding to Ehrman. More on that later.

An Overview of the Two Books

Ehrman’s thesis is that Jesus was not viewed, by himself or his disciples, as in any sense divine during his lifetime, but that belief in his divinity arose almost immediately after his disciples had visions of Jesus that they interpreted as meaning that God had raised him bodily from the dead. Continue Reading →

Was Jesus Married?

The world recently ignited a scandalous conversation about Jesus. Was Jesus possibly married? A newly discovered manuscript seemed to suggest the Son of God was also a hubby. New Testament scholar Dan Wallace did a great job in this post walking through the early details of the new manuscript discovery.

The world pondered the reality of a scandalous Jesus for about two weeks. It now appears the manuscript was a fake. There is enough doubt about its authenticity that Harvard Theological Review decided a few days ago to not even publish the findings of the manuscript.

Why am I now wasting my time writing about a has-been story? The scandal is over. All the news networks have moved on looking for the next big thing. Well, I refuse to budge. I don’t want to leave the scandal.

When I first heard the “Jesus was married” scandal on the news I sat close to my television hanging on every one of Diane Sawyer’s words. Biblical archaeology fascinates me so I was all ears trying to soak up every scandalous detail. She finished delivering the facts she knew up to that time and I sat back and thought, “So, that’s it?” I was disappointed at the news. I was disappointed Diane Sawyer was so eager to communicate this scandalous story.

I think they could have done better. The realities of Jesus are far more scandalous than the rumors about Jesus. The Hypostatic Union is the scandalous news story of the cosmos. The second person of the Trinity, the God of the Universe, became a man. A man with bowel movements. That’s scandalous. He didn’t just become a man, however, he continued being fully God. In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). An elephant becomes an ant while fully remaining an elephant. Scandalous.
Continue Reading →

Could Jesus Have Gotten a Math Problem Wrong?

Can you imagine it? Jesus, five years old, sitting in math class, 1 A.D. (Okay, maybe he was homeschooled, but just roll with me here!) He gets back the quiz he took the previous day. The result? 95%. Jesus missed one! But wait…could Jesus have erred?

Back up. Pop quiz.

  • Did Jesus ever stumble and fall down?
  • Did Jesus ever get sick?
  • Did Jesus have any grey hairs?
  • Did Christ ever get depressed?
  • When did Jesus know he was God?
  • Could Jesus have gotten a math problem wrong?

These are interesting questions, as they all center around the relationship of Christ’s humanity to his deity while here on the earth. I think I know the answer to most of these. I am sure that Christ could have misstepped and fallen down. Yes, I imagine he got sick from time to time. Grey hairs? Why not? No, he did not have a sin nature, but he did live in a fallen world whose inhabitants suffered the effects of the fall. Concerning being depressed, I imagine that Christ was depressed from time to time. He was a “man of sorrows” and even cried.

When did Jesus know he was God? That is a good question. I am not sure about this one. It seems as if he knew by the time he was twelve, at least, as he expresses this self-realization in Luke 2:42-49. But how long before that? Who knows? However, I do think his understanding was a realization that was communicated to him by the Father and the Holy Spirit according to “the plan.” In other words, I don’t think he knew it from his time in Mary’s womb. I think his human self had to grow as any normal human would; therefore, his knowledge was limited by his humanity. After all, Luke 2:52 says that Christ “grew in wisdom.” In other words, he went from the lesser to the greater in his humanity, even in knowledge and wisdom.

This brings us to the question of the hour: Could Jesus have gotten a math problem wrong? Here are some options and their implications:

1. Yes, he could get a math problem wrong. He was human. Continue Reading →

Why Didn’t Christ Know the Time of His Coming?

What is the most confusing passage of Scripture? I know, I know, it’s hard to choose. There are a lot of passages that make us scratch our heads. For example, who were the “sons of God” who married the daughters of men in Genesis 6:4? And who were the “men of renown” that were their offspring? Why did God enlist a deceiving spirit in 1 Kings 22:19-23 at his own instigation? Or what does it mean to be “baptized for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29? However, one that has to make the top ten list of almost every Evangelical is when Christ said that he did not know the time of his second coming. We read about it in Matthew 24:36: “No one knows about that day or hour [of my coming], not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36). I mean, come on . . . I can understand the angels not knowing, but Christ? Christ not knowing anything at all is confusing. How could Christ, being the eternal, transcendent, and omniscient (i.e. he knows everything) not know something? Yet we find these odd times, here and there, where Christ seems to lack information which his omniscience should have provided. Another possible example is when Christ did not seem to know who touched him and was healed (Mark 5:31). Or when he prayed for the cup of suffering, if possible, to pass from him (Matt. 26:39). Or when Luke says that Christ “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). The question is this: how can God be ignorant of something?

Those who deny the deity of of Christ often use this passage in Matthew 24 (and others like it) to say that Christ must not have truly been God. After all, if Christ was God, they would argue, he would have known everything. However, I think that this represents a very common and fundamental misunderstanding of the mission of God in Christ and the relationship between Christ’s divine nature and his human nature.

Now, lets start with a chart!

Continue Reading →

The Virgin Birth: Why It Is Important

The reality of the Virgin Birth has been affirmed by the church at least as far back as when the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written.  It is affirmed in the Church’s earliest creedal affirmation, The Old Roman Symbol  (or the Roman Baptismal Creed), dating from no later than the second century (during which time it is cited by both Tertullian and Irenaeus).[1]

The only real debate in which the virgin birth played a central role was the translation of Isaiah 7:14 by the RSV (Revised Standard Version) in 1952.  The translators rendered the Hebrew term alma (עַלְמָה) as “young woman.”  Conservatives railed against the translation as trying to discredit the virgin birth.  But in point of fact, while the term may refer to a virgin, that is not a necessary nuance of alma.  When the translators of the RSV translated the Matthean passage citing Isaiah 7:14, Matthew chose the Greek term parthenos (παρθένος), which does mean virgin.[2]  Clearly Matthew understood the conception of Christ to have been both virginal and a divine miracle.

The fact of the virgin birth is key in understanding the importance afforded Mary in both the Catholic and Orthodox communions. The Catholic Church has taught the immaculate conception of Mary (that she was born without original sin) to further theologically guard the sinlessness of Jesus, i.e., that he was born into unfallen Adamic humanity.  While Protestants have eschewed the Immaculate Conception, they too have asserted that Jesus inherited unfallen humanity from his mother.

 In general[3], throughout the centuries, only pagan critics of Christianity and rationalists have denied that Jesus was born of Mary without a human father.  Discussions of the virgin birth over the past two centuries have fallen largely in the realm of apologetic defenses of its reality.[4]

For example, Charles Briggs (who, in 1893, was convicted by the Northern Presbyterian Church of denying inerrancy) saw the virgin birth as a touchstone doctrine, the denial of which put one on the proverbial “slippery slope” towards theological apostasy.

It is not merely the virgin birth that is in ques­tion, in the interest of the more complete hu­manity of our Lord; it is also the doctrine of original sin and the sinlessness of Jesus; it is also his bodily resurrec­tion and ascension. . .  It is the whole nature of the atonement and Christian salvation with the doc­trine of sacrifice and propitiation.  All these doc­trines are hanging in the balance in those minds which doubt or deny the virgin birth.  Those who give up the virgin birth will be compelled by logical and irresistible im­pulse eventually to give up all of these. [5]

Indeed, Briggs desired to have A. C. McGiffert, his former student and later President of Union Seminary New York, fired from his post at Union for denying the Virgin Birth.[6]

During the 1930s, J. Gresham Machen published his magisterial The Virgin Birth of Christ, a volume that has never been equaled in comprehensiveness and scholarship on the topic. It too was apologetic in nature.

During the era of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, the Virgin Birth attained a quasi-official touchstone status as one of the five fundamentals of the faith.  The rationale was that accepting the virgin birth was a quick and easy test to see if someone believed in miracles.

Surprisingly, despite its professed importance as being foundational to the Christian faith, relatively little profound theological reflection has taken place regarding the virgin birth.  In fact, prominent evangelical theologian Millard Erickson (who does accept the truth of the virgin birth) denies its necessity, as does Wayne Grudem (who also accepts the doctrine), to name just two. Erickson says,

But, we must ask, is not the virgin birth important in some more specific way? Some have argued that the doctrine is indispensable to the incarnation. Without the virgin birth there would have been no union of God and man.38[7]If Jesus had been simply the product of a normal sexual union of man and woman, he would have been only a human being, not a God-man. But is this really true? Could he not have been God and a man if he had had two human parents, or none? Just as Adam was created directly by God, so Jesus could also have been a direct special creation. And accordingly, it should have been possible for Jesus to have two human parents and to have been fully the God-man nonetheless. To insist that having a human male parent would have excluded the possibility of deity smacks of Apollinarianism, according to which the divine Logos took the place of one of the normal components of human nature (the soul). But Jesus was fully human, including everything that both a male and a female parent would ordinarily contribute. In addition, there was the element of deity. What God did was to supply, by a special creation, both the human component ordinarily contributed by the male (and thus we have the virgin birth) and, in addition, a divine factor (and thus we have the incarnation). The virgin birth requires only that a normal human being was brought into existence without a human male parent. This could have occurred without an incarnation, and there could have been an incarnation without a virgin birth. Some have called the latter concept “instant adoptionism,” since presumably the human involved would have existed on his own apart from the addition of the divine nature. The point here, however is that, with the incarnation occurring at the moment of conception or birth, there would never have been a moment when Jesus was not both fully human and fully divine. In other words, his being both divine and human did not depend on the virgin birth[8] Continue Reading →

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part Five: Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

This is the fifth (and long overdue) installment in my series responding to Dan Peterson’s recent article, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” As explained in the first part of this series, Peterson quotes from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, an unnamed Jewish source, and a few church fathers to illustrate the Mormon belief that Joseph Smith’s doctrine of exaltation restored an ancient doctrine. Specifically, Peterson says:

“With this doctrine of exaltation or human deification, though, Joseph Smith wasn’t actually moving away from Judeo-Christian tradition. He was returning to a forgotten strand of it. For ancient Christians and Jews also had a doctrine of human deification, which scholars call ‘theosis.’”

Scholars do indeed use the term theosis for what can be called a doctrine of human deification. Continue Reading →

Why Didn’t Christ Know the Time of His Coming? or “How Can Christ Really Relate to Us?”

The Bible tells us that Christ can sympathize with us in all our weaknesses and that he has been tempted like us in everything (Heb 4:15). Many times I don’t really believe this. Do you ever think to yourself, Riiiggghhhttt…but you were God. Think about it. There are some things Christ just was not tempted to do. For example, Christ was never tempted to tell a lie to cover up another lie! As well, I have certain weaknesses which Christ does not seem to have had. For example, I don’t know the future. Because of this, decision making is very difficult. If I knew the future, this life would be much easier. Exhaustive knowledge of all things would be even better. So many problems and so much weakness would be done away with, for all of us. Think about how easy the questions that plague humanity would be if we had exhaustive knowledge of all things: Whom should I marry? How many kids should I have? What vocation should I pursue? Why do I have this pain? Should I send this email or not? How exactly should I respond in this or that difficult circumstance? If we could draw upon omniscience, all of these questions – all of these weaknesses – would be a snap. We would always know exactly what to do.

What were Christ’s limitations? Did he have any? What did Christ know and when did he know it? What could Christ do and how could he do it?

Most Christians view Christ, first and foremost, through his deity. Sure, we believe that Christ is both God and man, but when it comes to our default understanding of him as we read the Scriptures, we normally see only his deity. If he knew something which ordinarily could not be known, we attribute it to his deity. If he did something that could not normally be done, we credit his divine nature.

However, when it comes to some of the more troublesome passages, we find ourselves scratching our heads. For example, when Christ was in the Garden and asked that the cup of suffering pass from him (Lk 22:42), we are confused. When he asks the Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” from the cross (Mk 15:34), we don’t know how to take it. And (here is the big one) when he says that he does not know the day or the hour of his coming (Matt 24:36), we are baffled. In fact, so confused was one early scribe concerning Christ’s confession of ignorance here, he omitted the phrase “nor the son” from the manuscript.

The question is: How could Christ, who is God, not be omniscient (knowing everything, including the future)? Why didn’t Christ know the time of his coming? I think if we answer this question, we will find answers to the others as well.

There are a few options:

1. Christ really did know; we just don’t know why he said this.

2. Christ did not know for some unknown reason, but he knew everything else.

3. Christ did not know because, being a man, he was no longer omniscient.

4. Christ did not know since he did not access his omniscience due to the rules of the incarnation.

My contention is that number four is correct.

Let me be brief and clear with my thesis:

Although Christ was fully God, he never independently accessed any of his divine powers or knowledge while incarnate. All of his miraculous deeds and understanding were the result of his submission to God, and came by way of the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, if Christ had at any time accessed his own power or omniscience independently, he would not be qualified as the second Adam and could not represent us in redemption. Continue Reading →