Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jesus of Nazareth was God's Word or God's Son.

At the risk of sounding like a heretic, let me be very transparent for a moment: when one thoroughly studies the trinitarian and christological controversies throughout the first millennium, one might often wonder if the heretics were actually correct. Afterall, they do make so much sense! The Church continually pushes forward paradoxes that make the average person frustrated at some level. I personally understand why Arius believed based on pure exegesis alone that Jesus was not ontologically equal with God the Father. Many might throw a bunch of proof texts at me, or rather give me instances where "Jesus could not have done _______ or said _______ unless He was truly God!" But to be honest, I find those sorts of approaches very unconvincing. Afterall, there does seem to be speech about "sending", being "sent", "submission" to the Father's will, and language about Sonship ... not to mention the term "begotten" which has gotten the Church in a frenzy and still continues to cause controversy up to the present. While I struggle with the seeming lack of on-the-surface biblical warrant for Jesus' identity as fully God, I nonetheless believe and confess such doctrine every Sunday when I recite the Nicene Creed. Despite this, I still find typical approaches to "proving" or "providing account" for His full divinity rather porous.

In light of everything above, I was deeply comforted after reading the following passage from Karl Barth in paragraph 13 of the Church Dogmatics. Barth is very honest about the fact that sheer exegesis can't get one to the full divinity of Jesus Christ. But that doesn't mean the Church must abandon such a confession. In short, he reminds the Church of the necessity for dogmatics! Read and behold:
We come now, on the basis of the New Testament witness, to speak more specifically of this simple, once-for-all reality of Jesus Christ. The Word or Son of God became a Man and was called Jesus of Nazareth; therefore this Man Jesus of Nazareth was God's Word or God's Son. Before attempting to understand the content of this statement we have also, in view of its place and significance, to make the following points clear.

1. In regard to the exegetical question, it must be said that this twofold statement, whether as such or in its two constituent parts, is not very often found in so many words in the New Testament. As a rule, only one of its two parts appears at certain solemn climaxes in the New Testament witness, where it is manifestly the writer's business to gather up what has been said before coming to the ultimate fact, i.e., before coming to the name Jesus Christ itself. But this confession does not seem to come easily from their lips. Nor is it frequent. On the whole they prefer other ways of laying bare its truth to explicit articulation. There is, moreover, no single passage in which this confession is formulated with the dogmatic exactitude which we might like, or in which it is actually formulated at a later period. The christological dogma, like that of the Trinity, is obviously not the text but the commentary on the text. No where in the Bible is it found word for word. It must also be noted that this confession simply does not appear at every point at which its appearance might be expected. There are important passages in the New Testament witness where it is even lacking.

As a rule it is to be found between the lines and inferred by the reader or hearer from what is otherwise said directly or indirectly about the name Jesus Christ. It awaits, as it were, the reader's or hearer's own confession. These facts might weigh heavily upon a dogmatics especially eager for as clear, comprehensive and precise an answer to its questions as possible. They cannot surprise us. The New Testament is an instrument of proclamation and witness; it is neither a historical exposition nor a systematic treatise. The modest task of dogmatics it has left to the Church, to us. But it is possible that by the very reserve with which it handles the confession at this central point, it might direct us more forcibly to the twofold statement as being well-nigh the final import of its utterances.

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I.2, 13-14, emphasis mine.

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1 comment:

Marc Belcastro said...


Interesting thoughts.

Can you elaborate on what you mean by “on-the-surface biblical warrant”? Are there any paradigmatic examples? Although John 1:1 isn’t immune to the uncertainty which might be exploited by the persistent skeptic, it seems to me that it plausibly approximates something like “on-the-surface biblical warrant.” But perhaps, even if this is granted, there aren’t enough instances of “on-the-surface biblical warrant” to sustain the doctrine.

If approaching the question of Jesus’ divinity—or of His ontological equality with the Father—by considering the so-called proof texts is “very unconvincing,” what motivates your belief that He is divine and ontologically equal with the Father? Would you say that your primary motivation arises from a reason or source other than certain textual considerations, like the witness of the Spirit? Or would you say that textual considerations are indeed central, but that, as Barth suggests, this foundational aspect of Christology “is to be found between the lines and inferred by the reader or hearer”?

Sorry about all of the questions. =)

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