Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jesus, the Word of the Kingdom and the Royal Road to Immortality by Anthony Buzzard

Presented at Atlanta Bible College's 11th Annual Theological Conference, Feb. 9th, 2002

The Identity of Jesus

For some two thousand years the notion has prevailed in Christendom that the NT’s central, saving figure is really a preexisting, pre-historical, pre-human, pre-earthly Person, the second member of an eternal Triune Godhead. It is admitted on all hands that this concept of God as three is nowhere stated directly in the Bible. The Oxford Companion to the Bible says, with a rather annoying British understatement, that the Trinity “cannot be easily detected within the confines of the canon.” (Cockneys would say bluntly and more honestly; It ain’t there nowhere!) But the prevailing opinion continues to assert that an eternal “God the Son” is nevertheless clearly in Scripture by implication and is to be embraced with unquestioning conviction. Failure to do this, many say, will result in being burned for ever and ever.
Don’t let anyone tell you, “doctrines don’t matter”!
Now this is a challenging theological world to live in. Michael Servetus paid with his life-blood for daring to question this amazing Trinitarian proposition. Calvin, the reformer, who also read the Sermon on the Mount, authorized Servetus’ judicial murder in 1553. But then John Calvin was fiercely unsympathetic to those of us “pestilent Anabaptists” (as he called them) who believed that the dead are actually dead until the resurrection. Calvin also accused the trained disciples and Apostles of Messiah of completely misunderstanding what the Kingdom of God is. Calvin, you will remember, in his commentary on Acts 1:6, “Is this the time to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” declared that in asking this question the Messiah’s students committed “more errors than there are words in that question” — some 11 errors!
I propose that we dissenters marshal our case against the Trinitarian dogma, which features in Christian book after Christian book, in tract after tract, and systematic theology text after systematic theology text. We are up against a huge industry and propaganda, and, I think, a colossal ecclesiastical muddle, defended by astonishing verbal complexities and obfuscations. Our task is to witness on behalf of “the only one who is truly God” (John 17:3; cp. 5:44). Jesus identified that God as his Father. I propose that we urge Bible readers to go back to the beginning as Jesus did, to explain who he is. “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets Jesus expounded to them in all the Scriptures all the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Note the Messiah’s method in his Bible lecturing.
I would like to have attended that seminar.
It is impossible to imagine, if one has read Deuteronomy 18:15-18, that the Messiah was going to be God Himself. That text, a favorite of Peter’s and Stephen’s (Acts 3:22, 7:37), expressly states that the Messiah will not be God. The Savior is to be one who originates in the family of Israel, a prophet like Moses arising from among the Israelites. How appallingly confusing, nay, misleading, if God were then eventually to send a Messiah who was actually God Himself, existing consciously from eternity. This would be to overthrow the sacred testimony of Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and many other equally unambiguous Old Testament promises.
The Messiah, so the Jews were informed by their holy writings — and this is their belief today — was to be “the seed of Eve,” “the star arising in Israel,” the son of Abraham and the seed of David. The record of his origin dated back to early times (Micah 5:2, NASV). He was to be born in Bethlehem, and he was to be a superior Moses. In the OT’s most celebrated divine utterance (Ps. 110:1, very prominent in the NT[3]), the Messiah was to be “my lord” (adoni). Adoni in all of its 195 appearances is never a reference to the Deity. God did not speak to God, but to His human agent. Jesus loved that psalm (Matt. 22:41-46) and used it to settle all disputes.
If, after all, the Messiah was an uncreated eternal being, how, on this evidence, could Israel, or anyone else, have recognized the Messiah when he came, if in fact he claimed to be God Himself? No Jew would have countenanced the notion that God was going to be the son of David or of Eve! What in post-biblical times became the “orthodox,”[4] required view of the Son of God implies a tricky curveball thrown at Israel. It contradicts the plain expectations about who the Savior was to be, as described in the pages of their Holy Scripture.
It also contradicts the earliest pages of the New Testament. Matthew has in fact not presented us with an uncreated, eternal Son. Matthew could not possibly therefore have believed in the Trinity.
If we begin at the beginning of the New Testament we can make our case with success. Matthew has given us a detailed account of the origins of the Messiah. He is first said to be the descendant of Abraham and David (1:1), just as we would expect from the OT promises. But more than this, in Matthew 1:18 Matthew addressed the specifics of the “origin” of Jesus Christ. “Now the genesis[5] [origin, creation, origination, beginning] of Jesus was like this: When his mother, Mary, was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she found that she was pregnant through the action of the holy spirit.”
What could be clearer? Matthew speaks of the genesis of the Messiah, not just his birth. Admittedly birth in the Bible, and outside, means that a new person enters into life, but genesis points to how that life originated. Matthew 1:20: “Do not be afraid, Joseph, to take your wife home, for what was begotten in her (to en autee genneethen) is from holy spirit.” Note the slightly clouded translation in our versions, “conceived.” Mary certainly did conceive but what the text emphasizes is the activity of the Father begetting, generating, initiating the life of a new person. We have already had that same verb “beget” 40 times in Matthew 1 (“so and so begat so and so”). It would be a grave contradiction of this matchless narrative to import into it the idea that in fact a previously existing Son of God was transmuted or transformed, or indeed transformed himself, into a new person or fetus. That whole idea is more akin to reincarnation. It is reminiscent of the very pagan idea that “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men” (Acts 14:11) or of Nicodemus’ na├»ve question about entering from outside into the womb of one’s mother. What Matthew has described is the beginning, the origin, the creation, indeed, of a new personality in the womb of his mother. The miracle is local and historical. And that person is the Son of God. At that moment of history the Son of God comes into being. There is no suggestion that he is exchanging one form of existence for another. (All of what I have just said here, is of course, “heresy” by modern standards.)
Gnostics are not keen on history and fact, and so the story was changed in the second century by gnostically-minded Christians. Gnostics, the first “theologians,” were the ones who sought to make Jesus less of a Jewish figure and more of a universal member of the Pantheon. This is the age-old ecumenical tendency: Let’s make Jesus a universal religious figure! Would he not then be more attractive to a greater diversity of people? What good would a Jewish Messianic Jesus be? (So the argument went.) The Gnostic twist showed good promotion techniques, maybe, but it was fundamentally false to the true, original Messiah. It promoted the ever-present danger of “another Jesus.” And that other “Jesus” was a religious figure, certainly, and he was offered as Savior, but was he the Jewish Yeshua Hamashiach (Jesus Messiah) of divine revelation, the seed of Abraham?
So, then, a “larger-than-life” fictional, legendary dimension was added to the portrait of Jesus, superimposed on the biblical text, to the effect that the Son had not in fact been given existence in his mother’s womb but had engineered his own “conception” in Mary. A false halo was added to Jesus. He suffered the fate of other religious leaders like the Buddha. He was divinized. He was really not a human being after all but a visitor from another world. The remark of a Roman Catholic priest on TV was entirely explicable on the basis of the new, revised story: “God came to Mary one day and said ‘Mary, will you please be my mother?’” This amazing new twist on the story is reflected in the early second century when Justin Martyr begins to speak of “another God and Lord under the Creator,” arithmetically other than the Father.[6] And this Son comes, according to Justin, through Mary and no longer as Matthew says from, out of (ek) Mary (Matt. 1:16), originating in Mary.
With this amazing alteration in the identity of Jesus, “the historical Jesus completely disappeared” (Martin Werner, The Formation of Dogma, p. 298). The same author, who was professor of Systematic Theology at Bern, Switzerland, observed that early Catholicism was really a new Hellenistic mystery religion with “Jesus” at its center.
Professor Loofs described the changing of Jesus into God as “the camouflaged introduction of polytheism into Christianity.”[7]

Luke’s Jesus

Luke’s account of the beginning of the Son of God is equally clear. Neither he nor Matthew could possibly have been Trinitarians or even Binitarians, and would have been automatically disqualified from pastorship in the main denominations today. Thus Luke in his brilliant and succinct account of the visitation of Mary by Gabriel: “Holy spirit will come over you [Mary], and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason precisely the one being begotten will be called Son of God.” “For that reason…” There is a clear causal connection between the Sonship of Jesus and his miraculous begetting. Jesus is the Son of God, not because of any prior existence in eternity (Trinitarianism) or from just before the Creation of the world (Arianism), but because he is the new creation in Mary and in history, under the direct influence of the Father through holy spirit. This, surely, is the coming into being of the last Adam. This is God’s ultimate Son, who arises as a blood descendant of David, as the prophecies demand for the Messiah. When the Solomon line was cursed in Jehoiakin (Jer. 22:28: “Is this man Coniah [Jehoiakin] a despised broken idol? Why are they cast out, he and his seed, into a land which they do not know? Oh earth, earth, earth, hear the word of God…Write this man down as childless, for none of his seed will prosper sitting on the throne of David and ruling any more in Judah”), Jehoiakin’s natural descendants were disqualified from sitting on the royal throne of Israel. Another Davidid was apparently “borrowed” from the line from David through Nathan (Luke 3:27-31), and thus the blood line from David to Jesus was established. Jesus was related to David through his mother and legally so through his father.[8] His real Father of course was God, who undertook the New Creation of the Last Adam, and he worked within an Israelite maiden. Paul confirms that this is the proper order of events when he says that the “first Adam was of the earth, earthy; the second Adam is to be the Lord from heaven.” But “the spiritual man was not first” (see I Cor. 15:45-47).
As early as the beginning of the second century, this story was being turned on its head: 2 Clement: “Christ, the one who saves us, being first spirit became flesh.” “That,” observes Harnack, “is the fundamental theological and philosophical creed on which the whole Trinitarian and Christological speculations [note the word!] of the Church of the succeeding centuries are built, and it is thus the root of the orthodox system of dogmatics” (History of Dogma, Vol. 1, p. 328).
What we are proposing about Matthew’s and Luke’s understanding of who Jesus is has been powerfully affirmed by the celebrated Roman Catholic scholar, the late Raymond Brown, in his detailed work on the Birth of the Messiah (Doubleday, 1979).

Raymond Brown and Preexistence

He shows conclusively that neither Matthew nor Luke believed that the Son of God had existed literally before his birth. Thus these writers could not have been “orthodox” in the modern sense. For them the creation/begetting/coming into existence of the Son was by miracle in Mary. They promote a Jesus alien to the Trinitarian Jesus of post-biblical Christianity.
The idea that Jesus merely changed form from spirit to flesh at his birth is foreign to the whole NT. “Incarnation” is in fact more like transmigration or reincarnation. If the Son was alive before his begetting he was not really born at all. Birth implies the coming into existence of a new person. Jesus, the Son of God, was not in transit between two worlds or forms of existence. His beginning was in about 2 or 3 BC.
“Matthew and Luke press [the question of Jesus’ identity] back to Jesus’ conception. In the commentary I shall stress that Matthew and Luke show no knowledge of preexistence; seemingly for them the conception was the becoming (begetting) of God’s Son. The harmonization whereby a preexistent Word takes on attested only in the [later] NT period” (p. 31).
“The fact that Matthew can speak of Jesus as ‘begotten’ (passive of gennan) suggests that for him the conception through the agency of the holy spirit is the becoming of God’s Son. [In Matthew’s and Luke’s “conception Christology”] God’s creative action in the conception of Jesus begets Jesus as God’s Son...There is no suggestion of an incarnation whereby a figure who was previously with God takes on flesh. For preexistence Christology [Incarnation], the conception of Jesus is the beginning of an earthly career but not the begetting of God’s Son. [Later] the virginal conception was no longer seen as the begetting of God’s Son, but as the incarnation of God’s Son, and that became orthodox Christian doctrine. This thought process is probably already at work at the beginning of the second century in Ignatius of Antioch (Hoben, Virgin Birth, 20-21); Aristides, Apology 15:1; Justin, Apology 1:21 and 33; Melito of Sardis, Discourse on Faith 4” (pp.140, 141, 142).
“Just as one should not confuse the conception Christology found in Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives with the preexistence Christology of John’s prologue[9]...[one cannot speak of] an incarnation in Matthew and Luke. Also one should not read ‘God with us’ in a Nicene sense, as if it were identifying Jesus with God. For Matthew Jesus is the expression of God’s presence with His people. Matthew is not one of the NT works which begins to call Jesus ‘God.’ And of course no NT work achieves the clarity of the council of Nicea in calling him ‘true God of true God’” (p. 150).
Luke 1:35: “’Will be called’ — calling brings to expression what one is, so that it means no less than ‘he will be’ (cp. Matt. 5:9: ‘will be called Sons of God’ and Luke 6:5: ‘you will be sons of the Most High’)” (pp. 289, 290, 291).
“The combination of spirit and power is very Lukan, occurring in Luke 1:17, 4:14, Acts 1:8, 6:5, 8, 10:38). Not knowing the rules of parallelism in biblical poetry which make it clear that ‘power from the Most High’ is synonymous with ‘Holy Spirit’ some patristic and medieval theologians thought that the ref. in 1:35, b, c, were respectively to the Third and Second Persons of the Trinity, so that ‘power’ was the Second Person descending to take flesh in Mary’s womb. As we shall see there is no evidence that Luke thought of the incarnation of a preexistent.”
Luke 1:35: “‘Therefore’ — Of the nine times dio kai occurs in the NT, three are in Luke/Acts. It involves a certain causality and Lyonnet (L’annonciation, 61.6) points out that this has embarrassed many orthodox theologians since in preexistence [orthodox] Christology a conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s Son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine Sonship for him.
“‘Will be called Son of God’ — It is tantamount to saying ‘he will be.’ And so I cannot follow those theologians who try to avoid the causal connotation in the ‘therefore’ which begins this line, by arguing that for Luke the conception of the child does not bring the Son of God into being, but only enables us to call Him ‘Son of God’ who already was Son of God.”
“However, there is no evidence that Luke had a theology of incarnation or preexistence; rather for Luke (1:35) divine Sonship seems to have been brought about through the virginal conception ...Jesus was conceived and born, and that is solidarity enough with the human race” (p. 432).
“First, in orthodox Christian belief, Jesus would be God’s Son no matter how he was conceived, since his is an eternal Sonship not dependent upon the incarnation...In Matthew and Luke the virginal conception was connected with an articulation of the divine Sonship of Jesus” (p.529). “Both narratives develop the Christological insight that Jesus was the Son of God from the first moment of his conception” (p. 561).
“Later Christian orthodoxy understood Jesus to have preexisted as God’s Son in a non-corporeal manner from all eternity...that view [does not correspond to any Lukan thought]” (p. 90).
Luke and Matthew: “There is more of a connotation of creativity. Mary is not barren, and in her case the child does not come into existence because God cooperates with the husband’s generative action...Rather Mary is a virgin who has not known man, and therefore the child is totally God’s work — a new creation....I have stressed...that Luke does not think of a preexistent Son of God...Only in second-century writings do we find the Lukan and Johannine concepts combined into an incarnation of a preexistent deity (see Ignatius, Ephesians 7:2, Smyrnians 1:1, combined with Magnesians 8:2, also Aristides, Apology 15:1, Justin, Apology, 1 21, 33. Melito, Discourse on Faith, 4)” (p. 314).
“Luke had no difficulty in stating that Jesus grew in wisdom and God’s favor…This saying caused great difficulty for later Christian theologians raised upon a Nicene Christology of eternal preexistence, for they could not admit that an incarnate Word could grow in wisdom or grace. Renie lists their theories on how such a growth could not mean a growth of grace of union or sanctifying grace, but only the exterior manifestation of a grace already possessed. Today we would see these as problems of systematic theology rather than of exegesis” (p. 483).
I think that the backing of a distinguished NT scholar for our view of Jesus is of great value as we present Jesus to the public. We might add that Paul speaks of the Son of God who “came into existence from a woman” (Gal. 4:4; Rom. 1:3). Paul uses the word ginomai = to come into being, rather than the ordinary word “was born” (gennao). In Galatians 4:23, 29 he speaks of the birth of Esau using the normal word for birth (gennao). Paul appears to be stressing that the birth of Jesus, the Son of God was not only his birth but his entrance upon existence.

[3] One German author refers to Ps. 110:1 as the master Christological text.
[4] The Trinity did not become set in stone until the councils of Nicea, 325, Constantinople, 381 and Chalcedon, 451.
[5] It is interesting to note the attempted corruption of the text in some MSS which replace the word “genesis,” origin, creation, with the less explicit term gennesis (with two n’s), meaning birth. See The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, by Bart Ehrman, Oxford University Press.
[6] Dialogue with Trypho, 56.
[7] For a fascinating account of the long struggle to change Jesus into God, see When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome, by Richard E. Rubenstein.
[8] Joseph may also have been related to David through the Nathan line.
[9] For us Socinians, even John knew nothing of a literal preexistence of the Son, but only of the word — AB


     Every Christian is called to be a Truth-seeker. When he has found it he becomes an agent for Truth willing to communicate the Truth to others in a spirit of love and concern. So absolutely essential is the enthusiastic pursuit of Truth that Paul wrote these awful words:
     “The coming of the wicked one is the work of Satan. It will be attended by all the powerful signs and miracles of the Lie, all the deception that sinfulness can impose on those doomed to destruction. Destroyed they shall be because they did not open their minds to love of the Truth, so as to find salvation” (II Thess. 2:9, 10, New English Bible).
     In the mind of the Apostle a love for the Truth is equivalent to a love for the Christ who is the Truth and who spoke the Truth. But let us be most careful not to misunderstand Paul. A love for Jesus and God, his Father, means a whole-hearted love for the Truth of all that Jesus taught. It is all too easy for someone to say, “I love Jesus,” while failing to search out and love the Truth of the Message which he taught.  When this happens professing to be a Christian becomes a hollow boast. We must, as Paul says, open our minds to love the Truth. This means giving up our own ideas, however cherished, and replacing them with Truth, as we learn it through God’s spirit from the Bible. We do not learn it all at once. We must grow in grace and knowledge (II Pet. 1:5, 3:18). We may not always be popular when we abandon old ideas and learn the Truth of Scripture.
How Error Works
     It is of the essence of error that it parades as Truth. That is why the deceptive work of Satan is so successful. “The whole world lies in the Devil’s deceptive grip” (I John 5:19). Exponents of error, so Paul said, masquerade as angels of light (II Cor. 11:13,14). They preach “Jesus,” but it is a false Jesus, not the real Jesus of the Bible. They preach “the Gospel,” but it is a distorted gospel which omits vital saving information. They speak of “spirit” but it is a counterfeit of the holy spirit (II Cor. 11:4).   
     In view of this threatening environment in which the Church must continually see through the evil one’s tactics, does the Bible provide any tests for telling the difference between the fake and the genuine? Can we unmask the false versions of the faith propagated by the enemy? Can we detect the camouflage behind which error hides?
The Theological Test
     John, the Apostle, instructs us to apply the theological test. This yard-stick is to measure our own understanding of the person of Jesus. Who is the real Jesus? The test is as follows:
“This is how you may recognize the spirit of God: Every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is from God, and every spirit which does not thus acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (I John 4:2, II John 7).
     What does it mean to recognize and acknowledge that Jesus has “come in the flesh?” Since the phrase “come in the flesh” is hardly one current in contemporary English, let us turn for help to the Translator’s New Testament, a fine document produced by thirty-five scholars, seventeen being New Testament specialists in universities and theological colleges and eighteen missionary linguists (published by the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1973).
     Here is their rendering of II John 7:
“Many deceivers have gone into the world who do not accept that Jesus came as a human being. Here is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
     How would this vital test apply today? Are there systems of theology existing in our time which deny that Jesus came as a human being?
The Official Definition of Jesus
     According to the “official” definition of the person of Jesus, decided on at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), and written into the creeds of nearly all denominations, Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Many who subscribe without question to this understanding of Jesus are unaware of the implications of this description. When we examine the meaning of the Chalcedonian definition more closely some very remarkable facts emerge.
     In his recent book, To Know and Follow Jesus (pub. Paulist Press, 1984), the Roman Catholic theologian, Thomas Hart, is critical of the traditional understanding of Jesus enshrined in the creeds of mainstream Christianity by the Council of Chalcedon:
“The Chalcedonian formula [Jesus is fully God and fully man] makes genuine humanity impossible (p. 46, emphasis added).
     Hart explains:
 “The conciliar definition says that Jesus is true man. But if there are two natures in Him [divine and human, ie., he is fully God and fully man], it is clear which will dominate. And Jesus becomes immediately very different from us. He is omniscient [all-knowing], omnipotent, and omnipresent.... This is far from ordinary human experience. Jesus is tempted but cannot sin because he is God.  What kind of temptation is this? It has little in common with the kind of struggles we are familiar with” (p. 46).
     Thomas Hart then describes the official view of Jesus further:
     According to the Council of Chalcedon,
“Jesus is called ‘man’ in the generic sense, but not ‘a man.’ He has human nature, but is not a human person. The person in him is the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus does not have a human personal center. This is how the Council gets round the possible problem of split personality” (p. 44, emphasis added).
Is This Jesus Really a Human Being?
     We want to stress the significant fact that the Jesus of the Church Council (and of the creeds of nearly all denominations calling themselves Christian), whose decision is taken as binding by millions of church-goers, “is not a human being,” “does not have a personal human  center.” So says this Roman Catholic theologian. Lest anyone should be puzzled that the Jesus of the churches’ creed is not a human person, we can confirm that this is in fact the official teaching by quoting from a leading Protestant source:
“If we affirm that Jesus was a human person, we are driven into an impossible conception of double personality in the incarnate Son of God...” (Oliver Quick, D.D., Doctrines of the Creed, p. 178, emphasis added).
     Dr. Quick obviously finds himself unable to affirm that Jesus was a human person. He then goes on to admit,
“If we deny that Jesus was a human person we deny by implication the completeness of his manhood” (ibid.).
     But he and the Council did in fact deny that Jesus was a human person! Dr. Quick is not prepared to affirm that Jesus was a human person!
     From these official statements about the person of Christ it appears that the Jesus of the churches — the Trinitarian Jesus — is not a human person. The churches are forced into this position because of their conviction that the person of Jesus is the eternal second member of the Trinity. Jesus for the churches is primarily God Himself who later puts on human nature.
     When another theologian was first exposed, during his training, to this official Trinitarian Jesus he expressed his bewilderment as follows:
    “During my theological formation I was well instructed in the traditional account of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. I distinctly remember being told that the Word of God when he assumed human nature, assumed impersonal humanity: that Jesus did not possess a human personality; that God became man in Jesus, but that he did not become a man.... Two considerations have persuaded me that this traditional Christology is incredible” (Grace and Truth, A.T. Hanson, p. 1, emphasis added).
    Because many of our readers will be unaware of the extraordinary definition of Jesus derived from the Church Councils, we add a further statement from a book entitled, What Think Ye of Christ? by Leslie Simmonds:
 “Now the doctrine of the Incarnation [and therefore of the Trinity] is that in Christ the place of a human personality is replaced by the Divine Personality of God the Son, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ possesses a complete human nature without a human personality. Uncreated and eternal Divine Personality replaces a created human personality in Him” (p. 45, emphasis added).
Is This Official Jesus the Jesus of the Bible?
     These quotations demonstrate that the Jesus of the Council of Chalcedon, in whom all the major denominations believe, is not a human person. He became “man” but not “a man.” The Roman Catholic writer we cited earlier is rightly unhappy with this official definition. Having pointed out that the Chalcedonian Jesus is not fully a human person, he insists:
“Jesus is one person. Jesus is a human person. Both points are clear in the New Testament” To Know and Follow Jesus, p. 64, emphasis added).
     There appears to be a radical flaw in the churches’ understanding of the central figure of the faith. We must remember that the vital Truth-test we are to apply to any system of teaching has to do with the belief that the true Jesus is a real human being (I John 4:2, II John 7). But as Thomas Hart states clearly: “The Chalcedonian [Trinitarian] formula makes genuine humanity impossible” (To Know and Follow Jesus, p. 46). And on page 48 he admits: “The Chalcedonian formula has a meager basis in Scripture.”
     Astonishingly, the God/Man of traditional belief is not a genuine human person. Could a person whose ego — his personal center — is fully God really be a human person, when the human part of him consists only of “impersonal human nature”?  Could the promised descendant of David have lived before David and still be considered his descendant? Can a single person be 100% God and 100% man? Can God die? If Jesus is God, and God cannot die (I Tim 6:16), Jesus cannot have died!
   And if Jesus is God he must be omniscient. Yet the Jesus of the Bible said he was not all-knowing. He did not know the day of his future coming (Mark 13:32).
Wise Words from Cambridge
     The late Regius Professor of Theology at Cambridge was one of many who are critical of the Chalcedonian, Trinitarian definition of Jesus. He argued that if Jesus preexisted his human life as God, and was therefore fully God, then he could not also be fully human. This, as we have seen, is admitted by the writers quoted above. They confirm that a person who is not a human person cannot be fully man! The late professor at Cambridge, Geoffrey Lampe, describes the unfortunate and confusing implications of the traditional dogma that Jesus is God possessing “impersonal human nature”:
“The [Trinitarian] concept of the preexistent Son reduces the real, socially and culturally conditioned personality of Jesus to the metaphysical abstraction ‘human nature’.... According to this Christology, the ‘eternal Son’ assumes a timeless human nature... which owes nothing essential to geographical circumstances; it corresponds to nothing in the actual concrete world; Jesus Christ has not, after all, come in the flesh” (God as Spirit), p. 144, emphasis added).
     Such a Jesus is not the real Jesus of the Bible (I John 4:2, II John 7). The Professor, ending a long and distinguished career of reflection on the person of Jesus, concluded that the Jesus of traditional Church theology could not be considered a real human personality, genuinely “come in the flesh.” The Jesus who is supposed to be fully God cannot by definition also be fully man. The creeds thus deny to Jesus a human “personal center” or ego in the interests of maintaining that He is really God. The metaphysical Jesus of the creeds does not therefore qualify as a human being. In the professor’s words, “he has not, after all, come in the flesh.” According to the Apostle John’s “Truth-test” (I John 4:2, II John 7) such a non-fully human Jesus must be regarded as antichristian!
Reading John’s Language with Care
     Neither sincerity nor majority opinions are safe guides to the Truth of the Bible. The spirit, or character, of every religious system must be examined before its teaching can be accepted. We are commanded to “test the spirits” (I John 4:1), that is, to test the teachers and teachings we are offered in the name of Christianity:
       “Many false teachers have gone out into the world” (I John 4:2).
    Interestingly, the word used by John to describe the appearance of the false teachers is a form of the word “come”; that is to say that they have “made their appearance in public.” The same verb “come” describes the appearance of Jesus: “He came as a human being” (I John 4:2, II John 7).
     To “come as a human being” does not imply that one has existed before one’s birth. It is force of habit which makes readers of the Bible understand the word “come” in that sense when used of Jesus. It is often forgotten that John the Baptist also “came” (Mat. 11:14). He was, like Jesus, “sent” (John 1:6). The disciples, too, were sent into the world, just as Jesus was sent into the world (John 17:18): “As Thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” Moreover, the prophet — the Messiah  — whom the Jews expected would “come into the world” (John 6:14; Deut 18:15-18) was the prophet destined to be born. Jesus, Himself, equated being born with “coming into the world” (John 18:37).

Jesus, a Real Human Being

     John urges us to believe in a Jesus who is authentically a human being, not an angel who became man, nor an eternal Son of God who became a man. Throughout the New Testament we are exhorted to believe that Jesus is the Christ. The Church is to be founded on Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Mat. 16:16). John wrote his entire gospel to persuade us to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). The early church in Acts “kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). Paul “proved that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22, cp. Acts 17:3, 18:5, 18:28). It is the “Man Messiah” who is the one mediator between the One God and man (I Tim. 2:5). No wonder, then that the spirit of antichrist denies that Jesus is the Messiah. This is the arch-lie: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” (I John 2:22, 5:1).
     It is crucially important to understand that the Messiah promised by the Old Testament was to be a real descendant of David (II Sam. 7:14). God would be the Father of this descendant, according to the promise, but the Messiah would be “the fruit of David’s body” (Psalm 132:11).  There is no hint here or elsewhere in the Old Testament that God had been the Father of the Messiah for all eternity, much less that the Messiah was to be the uncreated member of an eternal Trinity. Rather, he was to be a “prophet like Moses” raised up from an Israelite family (see Deut. 18:15-18, Acts 3:22, 7:37). The traditional Jesus of the creeds is alien to this Biblical picture of the Messiah. (See also our article, “Luke 1:35: Systems in Conflict.”)
     The real Jesus of history in whom Luke believed was the Son of God, not because He had been God from eternity but because of his miraculous conception. In Mary’s womb a real human person came into existence. Note the direct causal link between Jesus’ coming into being as the Son of God and the miracle which happened to Mary:
“The holy spirit will come upon you [Mary] and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
      This Jesus is a genuinely human person, though supernaturally conceived. He is the descendant of David. If he were not he could not prove his claim to be the Messiah. If, however, this person is actually God, putting on “impersonal human nature,” why would his descent from David matter? Could one not receive “impersonal human nature” from a mother of any nationality? The theory that the person of Jesus is not that of Mary’s Son begotten by the Father in Mary (Matt. 1:18, 20), but that of a preexistent person surely destroys both the genuineness of Jesus’ humanity and his descent from David.
     The Jesus of Trinitarian and Chalcedonian theology is officially not a human person — ”man” but not “a man.” Such theological jargon, as many realize, is in desperate need of revision. The most important question of all is whether the Chalcedonian Jesus, in whom millions profess belief, qualifies as the one who came “as a human being” (I John 4:2). The difference in John’s mind between the real human Jesus and the one who only appears to be a man is the difference between light and dark, Christ and antichrist. One may profess to believe in Jesus as Messiah but negate this confession by denying that he is a fully human person. This the ancient creeds, so long hallowed by tradition, appear to do.
     A theologian who discussed the history of belief in Jesus claimed that most of the so-called orthodox leaders of traditional Christianity were in fact Apollinarians. Apollinarius was convicted of the heresy of denying that Jesus was fully a human being (Dr. C.E Raven, Apollinarianism, cited by O.C. Quick in Doctrines of the Creed, p. 178). In other words “orthodoxy” has harbored a subtle form of a heresy which it condemned in others — that Jesus was not authentically human. Maurice Wiles, formerly Professor of Theology at Oxford University, was right when he said:
“The church has not usually in practice (whatever it may have claimed to be doing in theory) based its understanding of Christ exclusively on the witness of the New Testament” (The Remaking of Christian Doctrine, p. 55).
     The following extraordinary admissions by prominent Trinitarian writers, experts on the creeds, should be carefully noted:
“In the debates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Leonard Hodgson (The Doctrine of the Trinity, 1943, pp. 220,223) points out that ‘the unitarians [those who believe with the Bible that the Father only is the True God, John 17:3; 5:44; I Cor 8:4-6] as well as their opponents accepted the Bible as containing revelation given in the form of propositions, and concludes that ‘on the basis of argument which both sides held in common, the unitarians had the better case. And yet for all that it was not the unitarians who won the day. Christological doctrine has never in practice been derived simply by way of logical inference from the statements of Scripture” (Maurice Wiles, The Remaking Of Christian Doctrine, p. 55, emphasis added).
     Protestants who claim to derive their faith exclusively from the Bible should give careful attention to this remarkable statement!
    John’s Truth-test (I John 4:2, II John 7) is critically relevant to our times. Belief in Jesus as the Christ, a real human descendant of David is still the Biblical criterion for proof that one is drawing inspiration from the spirit of Truth. It remains as true as ever that the fundamental doctrinal test of the professing Christian has to do with his view of the person of Christ. The denial of the humanity of Jesus is the fatal flaw detected by the Johannine test. God’s Son is the Son of Mary and of David. Of sonship prior to His conception in history the Bible has nothing to say. Such a notion is destructive of Jesus’ genuine humanity and genuine descent from David. Jesus, the Jewish-Christian Messiah, needs urgently to be reinstated at the heart of Christian devotion. Belief in Him and in His Father, the only true God, leads to salvation (John 17:3).

Appendix to “Testing for Truth”

     The following comment and historical note about the proceedings at the Council of Chalcedon, which decided that Jesus was fully God and man, comes from an unnamed author of Jesus the Messiah (London, 1982):
     We are told that “at four great Councils against four great heresies, the Church promulgated her four great formulae on the existence of her Lord — truly, perfectly, indivisibly, distinctly  — truly God, perfectly man, indivisibly God and man, distinctly God and man,” (Farrar, The Witness of History to Christ).  But this proves simply nothing, unless it be at the same time maintained that the Established Church of England is heretical when it declares, in its twenty-first Article respecting councils, “Forasmuch as they be assemblies of men, whereof all be not governed with spirit and word of God, they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God.”
     To many learned, pious, and sincere Christians, quite as capable of interpreting the Scriptures as any of the Ecclesiastics assembled at those four or any other Councils, the words used by them, as cited above, are nothing more nor less blasphemous. Without going so far as the first Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, by whom the Nicene Fathers who settled the Symbol of Faith that still rules Christendom were declared to be “a set of demoniacs driven by evil furies or malignant passions,” it may be well to show how their successors acted at the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth of the seven General Councils, and in numbers and in dignity far the most distinguished of them all, when the Nicene Creed was authoritatively modified. The following extraordinary scene is taken from the Report of the Council itself, as quoted by Dean Stanley in his Lectures on the Eastern Church:
     The moment is that of the Imperial officers ordering that Theodoret, the excellent Bishop of Kars, well known as the commentator and ecclesiastical historian, should enter the assembly.  And when the most reverend Bishop Theodoret entered, the most reverend the Bishops of Egypt, Illyria, and Palestine shouted out, “Mercy upon us! The faith is destroyed. The canons of the Church excommunicate him. Turn him out! Turn out the teacher of Nestorius!”  On the other hand, the most reverend the Bishops of the East, of Thrace, of Pontus, and of Asia shouted out, “We were compelled [at the former Council] to subscribe our names to blank papers; we were scourged into submission. [A nice “orthodox” way of settling Articles of Religion!]  Turn out the Manicheans; turn out the enemies of Flavian; turn out the adversaries of the faith!” Dioscurus, the most reverend Bishop of Alexandria, said, “Why is Cyril to be turned out? It is he whom Theodoret has condemned.” The most reverend the Bishops of the East shouted out, “Turn out the murderer Dioscurus! Who knows not the deeds of Dioscurus?...”
    The most reverend the Bishops of Egypt, Illyria, and Palestine shouted out, “Long life to the Empress!” The most reverend the Bishops of the East shouted out, “Turn out the murderers!” The most reverend the Bishops of Egypt shouted out, “The Empress turned out Nestorius; long life to the Catholic Empress! The Orthodox Synod refuses to admit Theodoret.”  Theodoret being, however, admitted by the Imperial officers, and, taking his place, the most reverend Bishops of the East shouted out, “He is worthy, worthy!” The most reverend the Bishops of Egypt shouted out, “Don’t call him bishop; he is no bishop.  Turn out the fighter against God; turn out the Jew!” The most reverend the Bishops of the East shouted out, “The Orthodox for the Synod. Turn out the rebels; turn out the murderers!” The most reverend the Bishops of Egypt, “Turn out the enemy of God. Turn out the defamer of Christ. Long life to the Empress; long life to the Emperor; long life to the Catholic Emperor! Theodoret excommunicated Cyril. If we receive Theodoret, we excommunicate Cyril.” At this point — and it was high time — the Imperial Commissioners who were present put a stop to the clamor, as being unworthy of a meeting of Christian Bishops.
     And these are the most reverend Fathers of the Church who are imagined to have been competent to pronounce authoritatively on the nature of our Lord Jesus!  At the present day would such as they be held to be qualified to instruct the veriest tyro in the rudiments of the Christian religion?

The Real Jesus of the Bible by Anthony Buzzard

Will the real Jesus step forward from behind the mists of church tradition which have shrouded him in obscurity?

In post-biblical tradition he arrives, avatar-like, from the sky, from a previous existence. This is the stuff of legend, but it has been forced into John’s gospel by improper capitalizing of logos (Word) which should be “word,” the expression of the One God (John 1:1).

The word “pre-existence” is thrown around, but what content does the word have? We all understand that if you sign up for insurance and you already have a disease, you have a “pre-existing” condition. But how does a person, a self, preexist? What does this mean? If Jesus preexists, what is the object of the verb preexist here? Jesus preexists what? Himself? He preexists himself? How can you do that? How can you be before you are? Let the exponents of “preexistence” tell us what they really mean, and in so doing, they may find themselves at a loss for clear understanding. This will lead to a change of mind.

There is a perfectly good word “preexist” in the Greek even of the NT but it is never, ever referred to Jesus!

What really is meant by this foggy term “preexist”? Is it that there is a person (according to the theory the Son of God or God the Son) who really never gets begotten (brought into existence) in the womb of his mother? How can he really begin to exist (since to be begotten means to begin to exist), if he already exists? So then, if the Son of God antedates his own conception and begetting, you are being invited by the Church to believe the impossible! Luke and Matthew say Jesus begins to exist in the womb, not that he already existed! Can you begin to exist if you already exist?

Thus on the theory of preexistence the Son does not have a beginning of existence (i.e. is not brought into existence = begotten in Mary), because on the theory he already exists.

So what hides behind this fog language is really a theory of “transformation” from one form of existence to another. The Son of God would be in transit from a non-earthly existence to another form of existence. But if he is already in existence before he exists, it seems that his coming into existence = being begotten, is in fact imaginary, a non-event. You can’t begin to exist if you already exist.

A friend, urging the Trinity, said, “Remember your Church creed: ‘begotten not made.’” But a much better procedure would be: remember the Scripture: begotten and made. To beget is a form of creation, making, procreation. Luke, working out of Isaiah 9:6, spelled all this out — astute doctor and historian that he was, privileged, talented and erudite enough to write more of the NT than any other writer!

In Isaiah 9:6 the Hebrew text says, “To us a child has been begotten, to us a son has been given.” The well-recognized rules of Hebrew parallelism tell us that the two bolded statements reinforce each other. They say the same thing twice for emphasis and clarity. The being begotten of the child is equivalent exactly to the gift of a Son. 

The “being begotten” (passive form) has no subject and we naturally infer that this is what grammarians call a divine passive, i.e. God is the subject. God is the one who caused the child to be begotten, brought into existence, and God is the one who gave this Son. This is exactly “God loved the world in this way: that He gave His uniquely begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Luke unpacked this in greater detail, working out of this grand prophecy of the Messiah, who is to be begotten, though no human father is mentioned (Isa. 9:5-6). That is beautifully clarified in Luke 1:32-25. God is the procreator, begetter of the Son by miracle in Mary and “for that reason exactly [and for no other] the Son so procreated, to be begotten, will be the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Of course! The story is entirely coherent if you know your Old Testament prophecies. Of course, too, the text in Isaiah 7:14 spoke of a sign by which a virgin would conceive and bear a child and call him “with us is God” (Immanuel). The child indeed would embody the activity of God who worked in and through him. “God was IN Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). Not “God WAS Christ,” making, horror of horrors, two GODs.

Psalm 2 had made a similar, spectacular prophecy when it spoke of an oracle directed to a Son of whom it would be said: “You are my Son. Today I have begotten you” = brought you into existence = caused you to begin to exist. Nothing at all about the Son being in existence or alive before he began to exist (was caused to exist)!

The people of Israel would have been severely deceived if they were meant to gather from these sublime, beautiful prophecies that there was a pre-human Son who underwent a transformation into a human Son. After all, what had Israel been taught to look forward to as Messiah? When they protested that they did not want to hear the voice of YHVH literally again, God granted their request. 

In place of God’s literal voice, they were promised, “I will raise up a prophet like Moses originating from the family of Israel” (see Deut. 18:15-19). All quite straightforward and clear, as prophecies need to be if they are to have a coherent and recognizable fulfillment.

Many have noted that the Church has had a tendency to be anti-Semitic. How true! What is the greatest act of anti-Semitism? It is surely to reject the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of the Jewish Jesus and replace him with a strange triune God. This would be the greatest possible slur against the Jewish people. “Salvation is from the Jews,” Jesus observed (John 4:22), and surely the Jewish definition of God would be the only valid one, the one guarded by the Jews “to whom the oracles of God were entrusted” (Rom. 3:2). Jesus agreed entirely with the Jewish, Hebrew view of God as One Person (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29).

Is it credible that the Jews, as custodians of and faithful adherents to the unitary monotheistic creed of Israel, could have sanctioned a switch to a Triune God? Jesus certainly never envisaged such a monumental shift. He is on record as agreeing wholeheartedly with a fellow Jew that the greatest of all commands is “Listen, Israel, the LORD our GOD is one LORD.” How could this be a three-in-one Lord? Could the Jew so have understood Jesus, when he echoed back the words of the Master: “You have well said that HE is one and there is no other than HE” (He-three?). But are we listening? Or has our cherished tradition made us deaf to the words of Jesus? Was that not the constant complaint of Jesus, that it is possible to be “in error, not knowing the Scriptures…” ?

Every historian of the Bible knows that Jesus here confirmed the One God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the only true God. In John 17:3, not contradicting the rest of John of course, Jesus uttered these stupendous and clear words: “This is the life of the age to come, that they come to know you [Father], the only one who is true God.”

This, we submit, is a very plain unitary monotheistic definition of God, following the whole of Israel’s heritage and history. And Jesus, who asserted that “salvation is from the Jews,” confessed and instructed us to believe in that one God of Israel, his own God.

Shocking indeed is the subsequent history, as a new definition of God replaced Jesus’ own definition. The church fathers displayed a lamentable anti-semitism when they admitted that in defining who God is they “rejected the Jewish error” (Jesus’ view of God as unitary!) and put in its place an “improved” version of who God is. Church father Gregory of Nyssa, one of the architects of the detail of the later Trinitarianism, explained that in place of the Jewish error they preferred a midway or mean between the two extremes. One extreme was the Jewish error (a unitarian view of God — Jesus’ view!) and the other was the tritheism or polytheism of the pagan world. The Trinity was touted as being the ideal between the two positions, rejecting the “coldness” of the strict monotheism of Israel and favoring the “warmth” of paganism with its concept of God as community. In fact it was a blatant compromise with paganism, and a clever one!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dunn on John by John Robinson

In the illuminating encounter in the March number between Maurice Wiles and James Dunn on Johannine Christology one thing was agreed between them, namely, that Dunn is right in understanding John-and within the New Testament John alone to speak of the personal pre-existence of Jesus as a divine being. Wiles regards this as a disastrous step, from which we should seek to distance our Christology. Dunn disagrees, unless this is 'interpreted in terms of our modern idea of personality', or, in historical terms, 'the Gnostic redeemer myth'. I fully agree that this last is not what John intends. But I also agree with Wiles that the effect of viewing incarnation as the coming to earth of a heavenly person is destructive, though not primarily, as Dunn supposes, for its threat to monotheism (the subordination of the Son to the Father, 'the one true' and 'only' God, is never in doubt in john), but for its threat to the genuineness of Christ's humanity. But clearly John has no intention of being docetic either, as the reaction in the Epistles to those who take him that way fully bears out.

This raises the question whether the two are in fact right in what they agree upon, that John does understand Christ as having pre-existed from all eternity as a divine person, who then assumed human nature. It may indeed look to us as it this is what he is saying, but, as Dunn rightly insists of Paul and the others, we must make the effort 'to understand their words as they would have intended, to hear them as their first readers would have heard them' (Christology in the Making, p. 9). And for all the critical acumen and masterly judgment of his study I am not convinced that he has put his finger on the right place in identifying the difference or describing the distinctiveness of John.

There is no doubt whatever that there is a decisively new situation introduced with Jesus. As Dunn puts it elsewhere, with him the boundary is crossed between inspiration and incarnation: Jesus is 'the man Wisdom became-not merely inspired, but became' (p. 212). But this is said-and very well said-of Paul and Hebrews. Similarly he recognizes the decisive step introduced at John 1.14 as the transition 'from impersonal personification to actual person' (p. 243), for which only the language of incarnation is appropriate. In Jesus the Logos is ‘identified with a particular person'. This is the great new thing. But is it the great new thing of Christianity or of John?

I suggest it is the former-and that it is precisely what Paul is saying, e.g., in Col. 1.19, that 'in him the complete being of God, by God's own choice, came to dwell'. The subject in each case is the self-expressive activity and being of God. Dunn recognizes that up to John 1. 14 there is nothing in the Prologue that would be strange to a Hellenistic Jew. The Word is 'the utterance of God personified' and it is merely incidental that in Greek logos is masculine, rather than feminine like wisdom or neuter like spirit (p. 243)—rhema might have established itself, as in Acts 10.37. But in verse 14 the Logos be- comes personalized and not just personified, comes into being as a particular person: 'The Word of God is identified with a particular historical person'; but he goes on, 'whose pre-existence as a person with God is asserted throughout' (p, 250). It is this latter clause that I would question, of John as much as of any other New Testament writer.

On the contrary I would say that John's position is essentially contained in statements Dunn makes on p. 262:

Initially at least Christ was not thought of as a divine being who had pre-existed with God but as the climactic embodiment of God's power and purpose…God's clearest self-expression, God's last word. The Christ-event defined God more clearly than anything else had ever done.

'Incarnation' means initially that God's love and power had been experienced in fullest measure in, through and as this man Jesus, that Christ had been experienced as God's self-expression (italics his).
This I believe is exactly what John sums up in 1.18 when he says that Jesus Christ as Son of God has given an exegesis of the Father.

Where I would differ from Dunn is in my conviction that John gives us the richest and most mature interpretation of this 'initial' doctrine of incarnation, not that he changes it into something else which, Dunn claims, can for the first time properly be described as a 'myth', that of a heavenly divine figure who becomes man. Yet the personification of Wisdom as God's companion and agent in creation is surely just as 'mythical': it is merely a different myth.

What I contend John is saying is that the Word, which was theos, God in his self-revelation and expression, sarx egeneto (1.14), was embodied totally in and as a human being, became a person, was personalized not just personified. But that the Logos came into existence or expression as a person does not mean that he was a person before. In terms of the later classic distinction, it was not the Logos which was hypostatic (a person or hypostasis) who then assumed human nature as well as his own, but that the Logos was anhypostatic until the Word of God finally came to its full expression not merely in nature and in a people but in an individual historical person, and thus became hypostatic (so Piet Schoonenberg, The Christ) pp. 54-66, 80-9 1).

This distinction, I believe, is vital in order to guard John's Christology, and our own, from the charge of docetism, to which it has so often been subjected (supremely of late by Kasemann), namely, that Jesus was a heavenly being, a divine person, living as a human, passing through this earth on the path of a parabola yet always a few inches off the ground. For John, I am convinced, as for all the other New Testament writers, Jesus is genuinely and utterly a man (he uses anthropos of him more often than all the other Gospels together) who so completely incarnates God that whoever has seen him has seen the Father. This is precisely what John Bowker seems to be saying in the restatement in modern terms, considerably less pellucid than John's, which Dunn commends (on p. 352, n. 7), of Jesus as 'the wholly God-informed person'. 'It is possible on this basis', concludes Bowker, 'to talk about a wholly human figure, without loss or compromise, and to talk also of a wholly real presence of God so far as that nature . . . can be mediated to and through the process' of a human life. This quotation occurs in a footnote to Dunn's statement (p. 265) that 'we honour [John] most highly when we follow his example and mold the language and conceptualizations in transition today into a gospel which conveys the divine, revelatory and saving significance of Christ to our day as effectively as he did to his'. For prior to this (p. 264) Dunn shows himself uneasily conscious that the way John put it (as he interprets it) cannot really be ours today, and indeed that he was perhaps being taken for a bit of a ride by the 'cultural evolution' of the late first century.

It could be said that the Fourth Evangelist was as a much a prisoner of his language as its creator ... That is to say, perhaps we see in the Fourth Gospel what started as an elaboration of the Logos-Son imagery applied to Jesus, inevitably in the transition of conceptualizations coming to express a conception of Christ's personal pre-existence which early Gnosticism found more congenial than early orthodoxy.

I agree that this happened, but I believe it happened to John rather than in john, and that he was 'taken over' by the gnosticizers. In evidence I ·would cite the Johannine-Epistles, which are saying in effect: 'If that's what you think I meant, that I was teaching a docetic-type Christology, denying Christ come in the flesh and trying to have the Father without the Son, then this is very Antichrist'. Kasernann and others like him, as E. Schweizer pointed out, ignore the Johannine Epistles and the vehement repudiation they contain.

Yet John is so near as well as so far. It is entirely explicable that he should have been taken in this way. For the 'retrojective process' was probably inevitable, which Geoffrey Lampe so well described in his God as Spirit, of reading back the revelation of the Logos as 'a son', that is, as a human being who perfectly imaged God, like an only son his father, on to the revelation of 'the Son', a heavenly being, later the second person of the Trinity, who took on a human nature. The content of the Christian revelation of God in and as an individual human person was combined with the cultural transition ~n late first-century Judaism and Gnosticism to the notion of fully hypostasized pre-existent heavenly figures to produce this result.

Now the parable 'as in a son', to use Theodore of Mopsuestia's language and indeed John's too (for in 1.14 there are no articles: he employs a simile from human life-'glory, or reflection, as of an only son of his father'), is already allegorized as 'the Son' in relation to 'the Father' not only in John (we can watch the process in the 'hidden parable', as Dodd called it, of 5.19) but in Mark (13.32) and Q (Matt. 11.27 = Luke 10.22). Yet, as Dunn rightly argues, that does not imply the personal pre-existence of a heavenly being in the theology of the Synoptists, let alone in the consciousness of Jesus. But when he comes to .John he contends that the combination of the Wisdom-Logos Christology of the Prologue hymn (which he thinks, I believe improbably, is pre-Johannine, but agrees does not itself speak of a pre-existent Person) with John's dominant Son of God Christology produces an entirely different situation. And in fact it is this latter Son of God language rather than the Logos language as such which compels him to this conclusion.

Yet is John really so divergent at this point from the rest of the New Testament? Dunn fully accepts that initially this language 'had no overtones of pre-existence' (p. 244), and even when Paul speaks of God 'sending his own Son' (Gal. 4.4) or of 'the second man from heaven' (1 Cor. 15.47) this does not necessarily imply personal pre-existence. I would agree with him. Moreover I have long interpreted Phil. 2 along the same lines as he does, as telling not of a divine being who became man but of a man whose entire being was shaped by God (en morpheii) theoui, perfectly reflecting his nature and glory, who yet chose to live the poverty-stricken, humiliating form of existence common to all other men. The deepest veriest significance of Jesus Christ, what at bottom he really was (hyparchon), is phrased not so much in terms of pre-existence as of true existence. So it is with the Johannine Son of Man whose whole life, as the authentic man, has its source, centre and goal in God. This true existence is of course given expression in terms of eternal existence, primacy in terms of priority, of the above rather than the below, the heavenly rather than the earthly. Thus there are constantly two stories, two answers to where Jesus comes from-out of the Father as well as out of Nazareth or Galilee. He is sent from God, but that does not mean for John any more than for Paul that he is not also born of woman, a genuine product of the natural process. And the same language which .John uses about Jesus being 'from God' or 'sent into the world' he uses also of other men (for the details I would refer to my Human Face of God, pp. 172-5). As son of God and as children of God (for Jesus alone truly embodies the role of, son') Jesus and believers are not born of fleshly birth; but that does not mean that as human beings they are not so born. Jesus is the son because he is always in the Father's house, listening to what he says, doing what he does, totally 'at one' with him, saying nothing 'of himself, but transparent always to the Father's will. Everything the Father has is his because everything he has is the Father's. Heaven is where he 'belongs', in the bosom of the Father, and he alone can thus share and communicate to others, his glory, his 'name'. But he does this completely as a man, the uniquely normal man, the son that all are called but fail to be. Hence his claim to be 'son of God' (again with no articles) is no blasphemy: it could be refuted only if the moral correspondence could be shown to be lacking (10.36f.).

The trouble starts when the two sets of language are mixed up, as they are by Nicodemus, and the eternal Word he embodies is confused with the ego of the human Jesus and the utterances of the one crossed with the utterances of the other. This happens when the words of Christ in this Gospel are judged by the criterion of psychological verisimilitude rather than of theological verity. For the ego of the human Jesus is no more pre-existent than that of any other human being, and to suggest that he is reminiscing at that level about a state which he enjoyed with the Father before the world began is clearly to throw in doubt the genuineness of his humanity. But at the level of theological verity the voice with which he speaks and the authority with which he acts and claims allegiance are those of the Word which transcends time and space. 

There are two ways in which Jesus' lalia is misunderstood and his word therefore cannot be 'heard' (8.43) which are reflected in the Fourth Gospel and in its subsequent interpretation. The first is to takejesus' talk at the level of the ego of western empiricism, the second as usurping the divine name and thus speaking blasphemy, as the Jews assert (10.33) and as, for instance, Stauffer in Jesus and His Story understands the 'I am' of this Gospel. Neither interpretation is, I believe, true to it. On the contrary, the 'I' of this Gospel is the totality of the human self, such as Jung speaks of in contrast with the ego, the 'I' of the mystics, of Meister Eckhardt and the Angelus Silesius, of the Sufis or the Upanishads, where atman and Brahman are completely united as in John 10.30: 'I and the Father are one thing.' But it is Buber the Jew-shall we say the Israelite without guile ?-who perhaps gets nearest to what John means:

How powerful, even to being overpowering, and how legitimate, even to being self-evident, is the saying of I by Jesus! For it is the I of unconditional relation in which the man calls his Thou Father in such a way that he is simply Son, and nothing else but Son. Whenever he says I he can only mean the I of the holy primary word that has been raised for him into unconditional being (I and Thou, tr. R. Gregor Smith, pp. 66f.).

There is nothing there that is not utterly and 'superly' human, as well as being totally transparent of God. To have seen the one is to have seen the other, without either being dissolved in the other.
What John is doing here as elsewhere is, I believe, drawing out what is already implicit in the rest of the Christian tradition-not making up, but taking up the things of Jesus and truly seeing them in the most deeply penetrating .light of the Spirit. For the 'I' of this Gospel is already in principle that of the tradition behind Matthew and Luke, of the Son who lives in the relation of perfect mutual knowledge with the Father, who in the name of the divine Wisdom speaks the invitation of God and sends his messengers, the 'I' of the Sermon on the Mount who goes behind what was said not merely by but to them of old time and who in Mark as the Son of Man on earth forgives sins, quells the powers of demons and of nature, and exercises before the time the prerogatives of the last judgment. In John this is portrayed and projected, backwards and forwards, in terms of the pre-existence and post-existence of a heavenly person. But that is the language of myth, picturing the other side, as Bultmann would put it, in terms of this side. It is pushing back the truth of the sonship that Jesus embodied to the very beginning of God's purpose-as well as, in the Synoptists, to its end. For John, as for the writer to the Hebrews, it is through the Son and on account of the Son and the bringing of many sons to glory that all things are done that are done. But this is but bringing to recognition the full cosmic significance of what was disclosed in the glory of this utterly human life.

John, I believe, differs simply in the maturity with which he draws out the 'initial' understanding of incarnation, common in principle to all the New Testament writers. He has not, I think, as Dunn suggests (even if only in the form of a question expecting the answer 'yes'), 'left behind the earlier idea of God acting in and through the Christ-event' by presenting 'Christ...conceived as a heavenly being distinct from God' (p. 263).

When writing of Paul, Dunn says perceptively on p. 255:

Did he think of Christ as a man, a created being, chosen by God for this purpose, perhaps even appointed to this cosmic role as from his resurrection? or alternatively, as a heavenly being who had pre-existed with God from the beginning? Texts in 'Paul could readily be interpreted either way. The more plausible interpretation however is that such alternatives had· not yet occurred to him: his overwhelming conviction was that God himself had acted in and through Christ, that what happened in the whole Christ-event was God himself opening the way for man for righteousness and redemption, and that this had been the same power and purpose through which and for which God had created the world.

I believe that with little modification of phraseology the same statement could be made about John. The alternative he poses is, I suggest, a false one for both of them. Each has statements which, as he says, could be pushed in either direction, and I am persuaded that he sets up a polarization between John and the rest of the New Testament by taking the statements of Paul and Hebrews and the Synoptists one way and those of John the other. The issue is not for either camp a choice between a 'mere man' Christology and a 'divine being' Christology. Paul, Hebrews and John are I believe much closer than he allows in presenting a real, and not merely what he calls an 'ideal', pre-existence and a genuinely incarnational theology, though not of a heavenly being who came to earth in the form of a man but of a man shaping and embodying in its fullness the self-expressive activity of God from the beginning.

John Robinson was Dean of Trinity College Cambridge.