Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
>>   Theses
TAGS: Christianity; Interfaith dialogue; Women
> add/edit tags

Selected Topics of Comparison in Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith

by Peter Mazal

previous chapter chapter 2 start page single page chapter 4 next chapter

Chapter 3

Son of man and Son of God:

Concepts of Christologies in the New Testament

In the Gospels we find different titles that were attributed to Jesus. He preferably spoke of himself as the Son of man (Hebr. ben adam), he was addressed as "Teacher" (Hebr. rabbi), and revered as Son of David, Son of God, Lord (Hebr. mar, Gr. kyrios), the Word (Gr. logos), the Saviour, and the Messiah (Hebr. masiah, Gr. christós). Each of these designations was in fact more than just a title, they revealed certain perspectives, understandings, expectations and beliefs people had, and they could in a sense be regarded as seeds of various Christological concepts. In this chapter, we will focus on the designations Son of man and Son of God and examine their different meanings.[1]

Son of Man

This is the title that, according to the Gospels, Jesus more or less consistently used for himself. This title is the one most explored during the last hundred years of biblical scholarship. It has different layers of meaning and so it is not surprising that scholars have come to different conclusions.[2]

Some scholars have argued that Son of man is no title at all. It had been used in an indefinite sense, without concrete expectations, simply meaning "I" (Vermes), "someone" (Bauckham), or "mortal one" (Fitzmeyer). That Son of man has been used interchangably with "I" in the Gospels can be detected in several places.[3] However, to assume that this exhausts the meaning of the term is a somewhat minimalist position, as we will see.

It is also self-evident that this term denotes the human station of Jesus. He was the 'son of humanity'[4], so to speak, and was fully involved in this earthly life. He showed signs of physical exhaustion (John 4:6), of strong emotions (John 11:33-5), and was bound to suffer and die (Matt. 17:22-3). In the apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas, the generic meaning is clearly intended, when Jesus' human station is juxtaposed with his divine nature: "See again Jesus, not as son of man, but as Son of God, but manifested in a type of the flesh" (Barnabas 12:10).

On the other hand, this designation is linked to Jewish messianic expectations, most prominently formulated in the apocalypse of Daniel. If understood in such a context, the self-reference includes an eschatologic aspect as well.

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7:13-14).
Daniel's use of a simile ("one like the Son of man") is quite telling. The two dimensions, the human and the messianic one, seem to be merged. The future messiah will appear in a human form, but he is so much more. In the discourse on his return, Christ referred explicitely to Daniel (Matt. 24:15) and alluded to his apocalypse several times, including the passage cited above:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:29-30).

A messianic use of the term Son of Man can also be found in the (Ethiopian) Book of Enoch, one of several apocalyptic texts circulating at the time of Jesus' ministry.[5]

And there I saw One who had a head of days, And his head was white like wool, And with him was another whose countenance had the appearance of a man, And his face was full of graciousness, like one of the angels. And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the secret things, concerning yonder Son of man, who he was, and whence he was, (and) why he went with the Chief of Days? And he answered and said unto me: This is the Son of man to whom belongs righteousness And righteousness dwells with him: And all the treasures of that which is hidden he reveals Because the Lord of spirits has chosen him And whose cause before the Lord of spirits triumphs by uprightness for ever.[6]

Enoch's vision bears striking parallels to Daniel's one. In both cases, the human-like and yet angelic Messiah figure is situated next to God (called the Ancient of Days, respectively the Chief of Days). He is depicted with great glory, chosen to reveal the wisdom of God and establish an everlasting dominion. Whether Jesus knew and alluded to apocryphal apocalypses such as Enoch's as well, remains uncertain, but they are instructive in illustrating the prevalent messianic expectations.[7]

Jesus' self-references as being the Son of Man certainly reminded his Jewish audience of their rich apocalyptic heritage with its messianic theme. David Flusser has even argued that "[t]he one like a man [the Son of man] who sits upon the throne of God's glory, the sublime eschatological judge, is the highest conception of the Redeemer ever developed by ancient Judaism."[8]

It is easy to see how Jesus' description of his return fitted the apocalyptic messianic imagery of his Jewish audience. The challenge for them was to come to terms with Jesus' own messianic claims, which could not, if understood literally, be harmonized with their eschatological expectations. It became a main apologetic task of early Christianity to remove the "stumblingblock" and justify the apparent "foolishness" of a suffering and crucified Messiah (1 Cor. 1:23).

But Jesus reminded his listeners that the Scriptures not only spoke of the glorious station of the
Messiah, sitting on the throne of David. They also told of the servant of God, a "man of sorrows",
"despised and rejected by men" (Isaiah 53:3)[9], who sacrificed his life for mankind, and through whose sacrifice his kingdom will be raised.[10] In merging the images of Isaiah's suffering servant and Daniel's portrayal of the victorious Son of man, Jesus' use of this term reveals its depth and explains its ambiguity.

Brad Young has rightly criticized the notion of scholars who opt exclusively for either a generic or a messianic meaning of the term Son of Man. He suggests merging those two levels into "a complex combination of the two previous meanings as in the passion predictions of Jesus." That would mean that we regard Jesus "as a human being in his sufferings and death (first meaning), and also he is more than an ordinary human being in his resurrection and triumph (associated with second meaning)." He acknowledges that the generic meaning may sometimes be intended, but recommends that "the context of the Gospels should be studied in order to determine if a deeper significance is given to the name."[11]

Unfortunately, Young falls short of his own advice, when he quotes Matt. 12:32 as an example for a mere generic use of ben adam.[12]

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven;
but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven,
either in this age or in the age to come.

While it is certainly possible to understand Son of man in a generic sense in this passage, the deeper meaning that Young advocates to look for may be lost. In analyzing the passage, Young notes "the beauty of strong parallelism" and the "son of man" being "the antithesis of the Holy Spirit", the latter often used as referring to God in Jewish tradition. According to this reading, to say something evil against other human beings or to oppose them strongly (connotations of the Hebrew idiom "to speak against") would be forgiven, but not to turn against the Holy Spirit (God). However, when we include verse 31 into our analysis, we see that this meaning is already expressed there.

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

The first line of verse 32 would thus only be a repetition of the one in verse 31, and even a less emphatic one. From a stylistic and rhetoric point of view, it seems more plausible to read the first line of verse 32 as a climax, rather than a weak repetition. Even if one turns against the (messianic) Son of man, he would be forgiven, as long as this person does not oppose the light of the Holy Spirit (God) itself. Following such an interpretation, Jesus would make a distinction between himself (his specific mission), and the Holy Spirit (God). While such a reading may be rejected with a trinitarian
concept in mind, it should be noted that Jesus on several occasions did make such a distinction.[13]
It is also interesting to note that Jesus mentions blasphemy apart from "all manner of sin". To be blasphemous, is to show disrespect for God or religious matters. The climax would then be that one, out of prejudice, fanaticism, or ignorance, can show disrespect even for God's Messenger (not just to secondary religious matters, such as sacred objects) and be forgiven, as long as one does not turn against the Source of all good itself. Such an interpretation is also confirmed from a Bahá´í point of view. In the words of ´Abdu´l-Bahá, elucidating the biblical verse in question:

The meaning is this: to remain far from the light-holder [i.e. the Son of Man] does not entail everlasting banishment, for one may become awakened and vigilant; but enmity toward the light [i.e. the Holy Spirit] is the cause of everlasting banishment, and for this there is no remedy.[14]

The implications of such an understanding can not be elaborated upon here. Suffice it to say that they are far-reaching in terms of challenging an exclusivist concept of salvation, and providing a broader basis for an inclusivist or pluralist perspective for interfaith dialogue.[15]

Having extensively argued that Matthew 12:32 is an important reference for the messianic rather than merely the human dimension, I would like to propose that similar enriching insights could be gained, whenever we take the messianic (as well as the moral and allegorical) aspect of the Son of man sayings (or incidents) into account.[16] In other words, it was always the Messiah speaking, with spiritual implications and challenges, for those "who have ears to hear" (Mark 4:23).

Let us look briefly at one such instance, which is commonly understood as a reference to Jesus' humanity (Matt. 8:19-20, Luke 9:58):

And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

Certainly this statement bears vivid testimony to the kind of life Jesus led during the three years of his ministry. Several aspects contributing to his homelessness can be identified in the reports of the Gospels. He had left his temporary residence at Capernaum and any material comfort he might have had behind, in order to preach throughout Galilee (Mark 1:38-39, Luke 10:1). As his fame as inspired teacher and healer spread, crowds of people beleaguered him everywhere he went (Mark 6:56). Often he was forced to retreat (John 6:15) but could not for long remain in hiding (Mark 7:24). Many times his teachings provoked opposition and he had to withdraw (John 8:59, 10:39), and at other times he was rejected and no hospitality was shown towards him and his disciples
(Luke 9:52-56). It was after such an occasion that Jesus commented on his homelessness.[17]

Recognizing the context of being rejected and homelessness, it will be instructive to view Jesus' fate in the light of the messianic 'Servant of God' paradigm. As portrayed in Isaiah's songs, the Servant of God "is despised and rejected of men" (Isaiah 53:3). This may at first glance seem contradictory to the above-mentioned fact of people crowding around him. But the initial enthusiasm of people seeking healing and miracles often turned into rejection when challenged by Jesus' "hard sayings" (John 6:60), which also prompted many of his followers to abandon him (John 6:66).

In a moving passage, alluding to this quote, Bahá´u´lláh also views rejection and enmity as reasons for Jesus' homelessness:

Reflect how Jesus, the Spirit of God, was, notwithstanding His extreme meekness and perfect tender-heartedness, treated by His enemies. So fierce was the opposition which He, the Essence of Being and Lord of the visible and invisible, had to face, that He had nowhere to lay His head. He wandered continually from place to place, deprived of a permanent abode.[18]

Following the classical (Christian) fourfold level of interpretation[19], I want to briefly look for possible allegorical readings of this quote. In one sense, Jesus regarded the Temple ("the House of God") as his true home (Matt. 21:13, Luke 2:49). Being "homeless" then, might refer to the desecration of the Temple (Mark 11:17), or his being continually harrassed by the priests, whenever he wanted to teach there (Luke 19:47). In another sense, the "true home" of the spirit of Christ is in the hearts of the believers. The lack of hospitality shown to him in the Samaritan village would then be the outer image of people's inner reality, refusing to let the spirit of Christ dwell in their hearts. Bahá´u´lláh in the Hidden Words has repeatedly described such a symbolic relationship:

O SON OF DUST! All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.[20]

Here of course the allegorical and moral levels of interpretation merge. And it is the latter one that I feel is the most relevant to investigate. After all, Jesus' statement was given as response to a learned Jew who wanted to become a disciple. Jesus wanted the scribe to be aware of the consequences of such a decision. Jesus was not complaining about his own fate but indirectly asking the man if he were prepared to give up his home and material comfort if that is what was needed. Following Jesus' footprints calls for detachment and spiritual strength, for the readiness to accept suffering and even martyrdom, in order to gain eternal life:

And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 10:38-39).

Luke and Matthew do not tell us how the scribe decided. But the relevance of the moral level of interpretation is that it is not about the historicity of the event, but about our own personal response. Moral interpretation invites contemplation and a renewal of personal commitment. To what extent are we prepared to follow the Son of man?

The predominant use of the term Son of man in the Gospels gives way to the title Son of God in the Pauline (and Apostolic) letters. Paul has been often accused of having started the process of Christ's deification, but it has been overlooked that Paul's usage of this term had eschatological messianic connotations as well, as will be shown below. Furthermore, the complementary use of both these titles can be gleaned from the Gospels themselves.

Whenever people addressed Jesus as Son of God, he never rejected this title as unqualified but exhorted them not to disclose it. Several times this happened during the process of healing obsessed people:

For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues. And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.[21]

Similarly, Jesus exhorted his disciples not to disclose his station prematurely (Mark 8:30; 9:9). This strategy of gradually unfolding his messianic claim has been coined as "messianic secret". That the title Son of God was used and understood in this messianic context, will be discussed in more detail below.

Son of God

This term is equally multi-faceted as the former one discussed. The prevalent understanding adopted by the Christian churches is based on the Johannine diction of the "only begotten Son" (John 1:18). Before dealing with this statement and the doctrines that evolved from it, I would like to address older meanings of this term as they were used and understood in Judaism.

In Christian polemics, the God of Israel has usually been depicted as a God of wrath, as opposed to the God of love in the New Testament. Furthermore, his remoteness and unaccessibility has been contrasted with the intimate relationship that Jesus as the Son had with God, whom he called abba (Father). That this is a simplistic characterization and a polemic contrast can be easily deduced from the Hebrew biblical texts.

God assures Moses of his help to liberate his people from the Egyptian bondage and instructs him to proceed as follows:

And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn (Ex. 4:22-23). The image of the father-son relationship is carried on through the fourty years of exodus in search for the Promised Land. Whenever the Israelites got discouraged, Moses would assure them of the continuous help and assistance of God and remind them "that the LORD thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place" (Deut. 1:31).

This theme is then greatly expanded by the prophets following Moses who depicted God as Father figure for the people of Israel. Isaiah, in one passage (Isaiah 63: 15-16) recalls how God has saved Israel in the past and implores him to do so again, calling upon him as father:

Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory:
where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me?
are they restrained? Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel
acknowledge us not: thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.

In Jeremiah (3:19-22) it is God speaking through the prophet's voice who laments over the faithlessness of Israel and urges his "sons" to return.

"'I thought how I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most
beauteous of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from
following me. Surely, as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been faithless to me,
O house of Israel, says the LORD.'"

In this passage the image of God as the Father calling his children, and as the husband grieving over his wife's faithlessness, are intertwined. The latter image is often employed by Isaiah and Jeremiah and appears again in the New Testament, when Jesus refers both to himself and the eschatological Christ as the bridegroom (see Mark 2:19-20; Matt. 1:1-13). God's call (in the passage above) does not remain unheard, the children repent and return (the topic is taken up again by Christ in the parable about the prodigal son):

A voice on the bare heights is heard, the weeping and pleading of Israel's sons,
because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the LORD their God.
"Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness."
"Behold, we come to thee; for thou art the LORD our God."

So we can summarize that there has always been a love relationship (characterized as parental or marital) between God and the people of Israel. This relationship is characterized by alternate stages of closeness and alienation, of loyalty and betrayal, of happiness and suffering, of rebellion and return. The prophets have always been sent to renew the eternal Covenant and to call the children back to the Father.[22] Unique as Christ's position is in many ways, it has also to be seen within this framework of perpetual divine guidance, which is both specific (in the context of Judaism) and universal.

As discussed above, we are all God's children but it is through our love to God and following his laws that we deserve to be called as such. Similarly, Christ declared that "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9).
In a more specific sense, God has promised King David through the prophet Natan that through his seed the kingdom of God will be raised and that God will regard David's descendant as his own son:

And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee,
which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my
name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son.
If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:
But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine
house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.[23]

This is the earliest reference that nourished the hope for a royal Messiah to come and re-establish the kingdom of Israel.[24] Such hopes were eventually defeated and subsequent prophets presented different perspectives of the Messiah-King figure.[25] However, at various times throughout Jewish history these hopes were revived, and Jesus was equally faced with such hopes and expectations (e.g., Matt. 21:9) and had to explain that his kingdom was about spiritual transformation (e.g., Luke 17:20-21) as opposed to rebel against the Romans. This of course was a radical redefinition of the original concept as it was commonly understood, and a rejection of political aspirations to establish a dynastic Monarchy again.

Nevertheless, it is important to realize that when Jesus was addressed as Son of God in the Gospels, it predominantly was done so in the context of the messianic expectations outlined above. This is clearly shown in the following dialogue where Jesus responds to the royal messianic expectations of Nathanael, "an Israelite in whom is no guile" (John 1:47), with linking them to Daniel's eschatological scheme:

Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King
of Israel.Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the
fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God
ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:49-51).

The oldest text that preserved the Jewish messianic expectations is the socalled "small messianic hymn" in Luke 1:32-35, with the angel Gabriel foretelling the greatness of Christ:

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give
unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there shall be no end...that holy thing which shall be born of thee
shall be called the Son of God.

When interrogated by the High Priests (Mark 14:61-62), Jesus not only confirmed that he was the
Son of God (verse 61), but immediately linked this title to the eschatological Son of man concept
(verse 62), just as in the dialogue quoted above. The merging of the messianic and eschatological
concepts happens also by combining the images of Ps. 110:1 ("Sit thou at my right hand") with
Dan. 7:13 (coming "with the clouds of heaven") in verse 62 itself.

Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power,
and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Jesus confirms to be the Messiah and the Son of God in speaking of his eschatological function, in other words, he accepts and "interprets" Messiahship as a primary (if not exclusive) reference to his future mission at the time of his return (Gr. parousia). The Gospel of Mark certainly reflects the oldest messianic concept and it is interesting to see how Matthew and Luke have rendered their accounts of this scene in a slightly different way, extending the role of Jesus' Messiahship and Sonship to his earthly mission as well.[26]

Such an original (eschatological) understanding of Messiahship can still be detected in the early tradition of the Hellenistic Community.[27] When Paul praises the Thessalonian community for their exemplary belief and steadfastness, he goes on to say that they

turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven,
whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:9-10).

The coming "from heaven" and Jesus' role as redeemer (Gr. soteros) from "the wrath to come"
allude to the apocalyptic Judgement Day. More importantly, as can be seen in this passage, the designation Son (of God) is not yet used as a general title, but specifically to describe Jesus' eschatological function.

Equally challenging as the understanding of "kingdom" was the understanding of the relationship between God and his "adopted" son. The Gospel of Mark starts with the baptism of Jesus, and for many early Christians this constituted the event of God "adopting" Jesus as his son, showering his spirit upon him to start his mission. God's affirmation, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11) provides the basis for such a belief. It links this act to the messianic adoption (Ps. 2:7) and to Isaiah's model of the Servant of God (Is. 42:1). It is interesting to note that Paul's letter to the community in Rome starts out with such an "adoptionist" description as well:

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David
according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according
to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:3-4).

If taken to an extreme, this perspective would crystallize in a belief that Jesus was an ordinary human being and his divinity rests solely on his being "adopted" as Son of God. Proponents of such a view have come to be known as "Adoptionists" and their Christology proved influential until the third century.[28]

At the other end of the spectrum, equally one-sided, would be the belief that the divine Sonship of Jesus implies his absolute divinity. Proponents of this view were called "Modalists" because they regarded, in trinitarian terms, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit only as different appearances (L. modi) of the one (undivided) God. Modalism was equally influental during the early time of Christianity and even, as Deschner pointed out, official Church doctrine during the reign of at least three consecutive popes.[29]

In order to understand how such a doctrine could have developed, we have to analyze yet another Christological concept as it is expressed in the Gospel of John.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not...
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world...
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory
as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth...
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the
Father, he hath declared him (John 1:1-5, 9,14, 18).

Here we encounter a radically different image of the Son of God. He is the embodiment of the Word (Gr. logos), which is one with God, pre-existent, the creator of the universe, and the universal source of guidance and illumination. We find similar descriptions, in hymnal form, in some letters of Paul (Phil. 2:6-11; Hebr. 1:3-4; Col. 1:15-20).

No other theologian has been more critized and misunderstood than Paul, the 'Apostle to the Gentiles'. He has been accused of having changed the 'Faith of Jesus' into 'Faith in Jesus'. "Pauline heresy", so Schonfield, "served as the basis for Christian orthodoxy, and the legitimate Church [i.e., Jewish Christianity] was outlawed as heretical".[30] Similarly Schoeps, who regards the Ebionites (see note 27) as "Conservatives who could not go along with the Pauline-cum-Hellenistic elaborations".[31]
A great deal of the criticism is directed against the 'deification' of Christ, of changing the messianic title Son of God into "an ontological reality".[32] It seems unfair that Paul gets all the blame, when John is equally "guilty" of subscribing to such a cosmology. Furthermore, many scholars agree that the hymns mentioned above are actually pre-Pauline and reflect the thinking and belief of the Hellenistic Judaeo-Christian community.[33]

In one of these hymns, the station and mission of Jesus is summarized thus:

Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made
in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became
obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him,
and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should
bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue
should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6-11).

The theme of these hymns is the myth of pre-existent Wisdom (Gr.sophia) transferred to Jesus. In the form of a cosmic drama (Gr. dromenon), the various scenes of pre-existence, descent, ascent (return), and exaltation are applied to the life of Jesus. The parallels between the Hellenistic-Jewish concept of sophia and the logos or Wisdom Christology of John (and Paul) are indeed striking.

Sophia is pre-existent and involved with the creation of the cosmos (Ps. 33:6; Prov. 8:22-29). She[34] is pictured as God's beloved child ("Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him" [Prov. 8:30].)[35]. She is being sent down to earth to reveal the will of God (Prov. 8:32-36), and returning unto Him after having fulfilled her mission (Is. 55:
10 -11). She is the light of guidance (Prov. 4:18; 6:23; Ps. 119:105), offering heavenly food (Prov. 9:1-6; Sir. 15:3; cf. with John 6:35). So it is not surprising that from very early on Jesus has been identified as perfect expression of sophia.[36] Rather than assuming "pagan" influences, we can attest that Wisdom Christology has strong roots in Jewish Wisdom literature and is complementary with (not contradicting) the other Christological concepts.
We should not overlook that references and allusions to the complex of Wisdom literature can also be detected in the Synoptic Gospels.[37]

This is not to deny that Hellenistic cosmology and terminology shaped the Greek speaking Jewish community in the Diaspora. But the notion that due to this Zeitgeist (whether through Paul or anyone else) the "true" character of Christianity had been changed and perverted is not correct and
cannot remain unchallenged. The Hellenistic Jews, as Schillebeeckx pointed out, who had moved to Jerusalem out of religious reasons, were deeply imbued with Biblical spirituality and more authentically "Jewish" than the established orthodoxy. Converted to Christianity, these Diaspora Jews proved to be the most active members of the community.[38] Wisdom Christology then is one of the strands of pluralist concepts that have been developed and intertwined in the Judaeo-Christian community but it eventually became the dominant (orthodox) view, providing the basis for the Nicaean creed.

When challenged from both Jewish and (pagan) Greek side, how the reverence of Jesus (as
expressed in the developing liturgy) could be reconciled with their claimed Monotheism, the early
Christians had to resort to sometimes complicated apologies. Either they would play down the divinity of Jesus as it was confessed in the communal prayer or they felt obliged to deny any difference between God and Jesus, in order to avoid "Di-Theism". The former strategy led to "Adoptionism" mentioned above, or " dynamic Monarchianism", as it is also referred to.[39] The latter led to "Modalism" (or "modalistic Monarchianism"), in which Jesus and God are seen as alternate expressions of one and the same reality. This latter view gained more popularity because it provided the theological justification for the growing reverence for Christ. The tension between Jesus' humanity and divinity and the attempts to explain the "inexplicable" have characterized the Christological discussions ever since.[40]

While the extreme variants of "Monarchianism" represented only minority views, most theologians of the second and third century would concede that Christ had a divine nature/essence (Gr. hypostasis), which was subordinate to God's essence. It is often said that Arius caused a major schism because of his extreme view of Christ being subordinate to the Father (and the logos to the Son). What is often overlooked or downplayed, is that subordinate Christology was the common Church doctrine during the second and third century. Proponents of subordinate Christology had strong Scriptural evidence for their claims. Even in the Gospel of John, which presented (in contrast to the synoptic Gospels) Christ as pre-existent incarnation of the logos, Christ attested to the superiority of the Father (see John 14:28). For Paul, God was the head of Christ, just as Christ was the head of man (1 Cor. 1:3). Tertullian declared that "there was a time (before creation) when God had no Son".

Based on Jesus' statement that even he does not know the hour of his return (Mark 13:32), Church teacher Irenaeus declared that the Father stands above all and is also greater than the Son. Origines, the greatest theologian of the first three centuries, defended the transcendency of God by claiming that the "immutable God" is not affected by experiences – in soul or body – of the human Christ.

When in the fourth century, in Alexandria, Arius propagated his views, he could refer to a long and
well established tradition. Not surprising, his views were quite popular and threatened the authority of his Bishop Alexander who had him expelled to Antiochia. There, Arius sided with the followers of Origines who likewise championed a subordinate position of Christ. Prominent Christians such as Bishop Euseb of Caesarea (the Church historian) or Bishop Euseb of Nikodemia embraced Arius' views. The dispute between Antiochia and Alexandria soon threatened to divide the whole Eastern Church.[41]

Emperor Constantine tried unsuccessfully to mediate between the two rivalling parties and finally summoned in 325 C.E. an ecumenical council (a universal gathering of all bishops) in his summer residence of Nicaea. Constantine was less concerned about the theological side of the dispute but rather to foster the political stability in his empire by the means of a uniting (and united) Christian belief. Arius' claims were refuted and a creed, based on the Syrian-Palestinensian credo with certain additions, was formulated. The additions were necessary because the original creed was so general that Arius' views could fit into it as well. The key passage of the creed (with the additions in italics)[42] reads as such: [Christ is] begotten as the first-born out of the essence of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not created, of one (the same) essence with the Father.

The catchword that was introduced to refute Arius' theology was the one of the "same essence" (Gr. homousios). Whether Constantine imposed this term on the council, as Deschner claims (p. 395), or it repesented the common consensus of the majority of the Bishops, remains unclear. But one can safely say that the will and theological orientation of the Emperors of that epoch determined, which Church doctrine was "right" or "heretical".[43]

The new concept of homousios was too ambiguous and unreflected and gave rise to further disputes among the Christian clergy. Many theologians rejected the idea of God's essence being the same as Christ's and preferred to speak of the similarity (Gr. homoeios) of the essences. A compromise was agreed upon at the Synod of Alexandria (362 C.E.), which allowed Christians to speak of three natures (hypostasis) but also of one, when referring solely to God.
Meanwhile, the Cappadocian theologians Basilius, Gregor of Nazianz and Gregor of Nyssa developed the concept of the Trinity (one God in three persons). This doctrine, which elevated the Holy Spirit as being of the same essence as the Father and the Son, was officially accepted at the Second Council of Constantinople (381 C.E.). The similarity to ancient Greek and Egyptian religious concepts has not gone unnoticed and many scholars hold such influences responsible for
the development of this doctrine.[44] The famous German theologian Adolf von Harnack has analyzed
Jewish and Hellenistic concepts, which have provided "an abundance of mythologies and
meanings" for the development of dogmatic theology. The equally prominent Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann writes about the influence of Gnostic mythology.[45] Deschner even suggested that the special interest of the three Cappadocian theologians in developing the doctrine of Trinity could be explained by the popularity of pagan Trinities in that region.[46] While it might have been the case that these theologians were directly influenced by pagan concepts, it seems more likely that they rather tried to present Christianity in such a way that it appealed to their countrymen.

The Bible itself provides hardly any evidence for the Trinitarian concept. The combination God, Christ and the Angels can be found many times[47], which might have prompted Justin (around 150) to speak even of the Quaternity of God-Father, Son, the army of Angels, and the Holy Spirit. But the combination of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost) is so rare that one of the most famous New Testament interpolations was added, probably sometime during the fourth century, the socalled "Johannine Comma". In the first letter of John, the statement "And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one" (1 John 5:8) lent itself to an addition, which found its way into various Codices: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (1 John 5:7).
Most scholars likewise agree that Jesus' command, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matt. 28:19) is a later interpolation.

The term "Holy Ghost" is most often used for the power of inspiration, which had inspired the prophets and ordinary people alike.[48] Sometimes it refers to the indwelling spirit of humans.[49]
It is the force, which begot Jesus (Matt. 1:18; 20) and led him into the wilderness after his baptism (Luke 4:1). Blasphemy against it can never be forgiven, but any other blasphemy, even against Jesus, could (Luke 12:10). It is also equated with the Comforter (Gr. paraklet) that Jesus foretold (John 14:26).[50]
It is evident that not all of these concepts can be easily reconciled with the doctrine of Trinity.
In order to find additional support for this doctrine, theologians have sometimes stretched the interpretation of certain verses. Gregor of Nyssa for instance interpreted Ps. 33:6, "By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" in such wise that the "word" refers to Jesus, and the "breath" to the Holy Ghost.

Anti-Nicaean sentiments have never died out though, and in the sixteenth century, several critics have voiced their reservations. In 1553 C.E., in his polemics "Restoration of Christianity", the Spaniard Michael Servet recapitulated all the major arguments against the doctrine of Trinity and, refusing to recant, was burned at the stake the same year in Geneva. Georg Biandrata and Fausto Sozzini, arguing from different perspectives, reject the doctrine of Trinity as well.[51] Within Protestantism, the Unitarian congregation does not accept Trinity. Harnack, alluding to Augustin's maxim "credo quia absurdum esse" ("I believe because it is absurd"), observes not without irony that the most paradox doctrines were appreciated most, because they seem to guarantee that divine wisdom is being offered, as opposed to merely human and unreliable thinking.

Be that as it is, it remains a fact that for all the major Christian denominations this dogma represents the foundation, on which further doctrines concerning the nature of Christ and the interplay of the Holy Spirit rest.

Having agreed on the homousios of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit, the next question that needed to be clarified was about the human nature of Jesus in its relation to the divine one. Two rivalling positions can be identified. On the one side, the Alexandrian school of thought stressed the union of the two natures of Christ. Patriarch Cyrill of Alexandria spoke of a physical unification and of "one nature of the incarnate logos". In other words, the logos did not enter a human being, but became truly human, remaining divine at the same time. For this reason, Cyrill pleaded to call the Virgin Mary "Mother of God" (Gr. Theotokos).[52] On the other side, the Antiochean school of thought stressed the full humanity of Christ and placed both natures independently next to each other. The logos took residence, so to speak, in the temple of the human Jesus. Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople (an Antiochian) therefore rejected the title "Mother of God" for Mary and suggested to use the term "Mother of Christ" (Gr. Christotokos) instead.

The Council of Ephesus (431 C.E.) was supposed to clarify this issue. The Antiochian delegation had not yet arrived, when Cyrill opened the Council and, not surprisingly, his position was confirmed. When the Antiochian Bishops arrived, they initiated a counter-Council and the two sides excommunicated each other. Emperor Theodosius II had to temporarily detain the two main opponents, Nestorius and Cyrill. The former had to abdicate (and was granted retreat in his Antiochian Monastery, but was exiled several times later on) and the latter bribed his way back to his Alexandrian Patriarchate. This was a fateful precedence for finishing off any opponent through manipulation and "the terror of Council".[53]

Nestorius' concern that an unreflected belief in only one Christ-nature would threaten the true humanity of Jesus proved right when Cyrill's successors developed his teachings further and saw the two natures of Christ completely merged into one. The human nature of Christ would get dissolved in the divine one like "a drop of honey in the ocean". Monophysitism (Gr. mono [one] phusis [nature]) in effect cancelled the human nature in Christ, implying that his humanity was substantially different from ours.

This doctrine was branded as heretical at the Council of Chalcedon (451 C.E.), declaring the doctrine of the "hypostatic union" (i.e., two natures/substances/essences [Gr. hupostasis] unmixed and inseparable, in one person) as dogmatical. At the same time, the "heresy" of Nestorius was confirmed, although he was "factually rehabilitated"[54] through the (refined) doctrine of Christ's two natures. About this decision and its consequences for the Eastern Empire, Fowden writes:

But the theological definition Chalcedon offered was heavily influenced by Constantinople's
wish to keep in step with Rome, which always followed a two-nature Christology. The price
of this tribute to the West, to the old Roman ideal of a single Mediterranean world, was the
alienation of the East – and so of any prospect of world empire. By excluding them, Chalcedon
gave impetus and sharper profile to the two doctrines, Monophysitism and Nestorianism, that
did so much to focus the Byzantine Commonwealth's self-awareness.[55]

Nestorians had thus no choice but to emigrate and their denomination became particularly successful in the Persian Empire, where it established its doctrinal independence in 486 C.E., at the Synod of Seleucia-Ctesiphon.[56] Their inner force was demonstrated by a highly developed theology (Schools of Seleukia and Nisibis) and an impressive missionary zeal.[57]

Monophysitism violently opposed the Council's decisions and continued to spread in the Eastern Empire. In 490 C.E. Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch had Monophysist Patriarchs. In the sixth century, Monophysitism was preferred over Chalcedonism in Nubia, Ethiopia and Southern Arabia in the South, and in Armenia and Iberia (Southern Georgia) in the East.[58]
Chalcedon had presented an unsolvable predicament for the Byzantine Emperors. Either they identified themselves with and enforced the decisions of Chalcedon, which resulted in the dogmatic-national emigration of the Cyrillic-monophysite East, or they tried to reconcile with and appease the Monophysites, which promptly endangered the confessional unity with Rome. The history of the following centuries provides enough examples for both policies. It can safely be said that the seed for the eventual schism between East and West (1054 C.E.) was planted at Chalcedon.

With the Eastern Provinces having been reconquered from the Persians and the rise of Islam in the seventh century, the need to unify and strengthen the Byzantine Empire was more urgent than ever before. To re-establish ecclesiastical unity between the Chalcedonian and Monophysite Churches was therefore once again on top of the agenda of the Byzantine Emperor. Patriarch Sergios of Constantinople and others developed a formula that should reconcile the Monophysites with the Chalcedonian creed.

The compromise found was expressed in the formula of Christ having "two natures but only one will", a doctrine called "Monotheletism". Accepted even by Pope Honorius I, Monotheletism became Imperial Law in 638 C.E.[59]

However, the attempt to unify the Empire was only partial and with the Oriental Provinces being lost again, this time to Islam, the compromise formula became obsolete. Emperor Constans II tried
to end the theological dispute that had risen over this formula[60] by forbidding its use (648 C.E.).

This was the occasion for the newly elected Pope Martin I to challenge the Imperial authority on religious grounds by convening a Synode in Rome (649 C.E.) where Monotheletism and its proponents were declared as heretical. Because of their opposition and the political implications this Synod had (challenging the authority of Constantinople and reinforcing the latent danger of schism), both the Pope and Maximus, the main proponent of this dispute, were tortured and exiled.

However, under Constantine IV, the issue was taken up again at the sixth Ecumenic Council, again in Constantinople (680/681 C.E.). Monotheletism was rejected and the Chalcedonian doctrine was confirmed, by affirming that Christ had not only two natures, but also two wills. These two wills, the Council decreed, were not in conflict with each other, rather Jesus' human will must be thought of having completely and voluntarily surrendered to God's will. This did not annul Jesus' freedom of choice, since surrendering one's will to God constitutes the highest expression of human liberty. This Council basically confirmed, respectively anathematized the old (Chalcedonian) positions and marks the end of the "dogmatic epoch".

From a "post-dogmatic", end-of-twentieth century's point of view one can only pause and wonder with what vigour, violence and fanatism the "representatives" of Christ had opposed each other. In developing ever more complex (critics would say abstruse) doctrines about the ontological reality of Christ, and in an attempt to define the "undefinable" with increasingly sophisticated (and often ambigious) terminology, the "object of study's" basic message of love and unity seems to have been largely ignored.

Again I say to you, that if two of you shall agree on the earth concerning any matter,
whatsoever it may be that they shall ask, it shall come to them from my Father who is in [the] heavens.
For where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them
(Matt. 18-20, Darby).

Christ's statement to his disciples seems to be both a promise and an admonition. Agreement and unity of vision, it is suggested, are the key ingredients for attaining wisdom (following Solomon's example) or whatever united and faithful souls may ask for. Applying this spiritual principle to the various Counsels where hundreds of Bishops were "gathered together unto [Christ's] name" and contrasting it with the "terror" of verbal and physical abuse, of manipulation and intrigues that were so characteristic of these meetings one seriously wonders how "inspired" all the decisions and formulas were.

More seriously than the nature of the conduct in which the Councils were held is the fact that their outcome was to a large extent already predetermined. Depending on the theological (and political) orientation of the Emperors who convened (and often controlled) the Councils, it was clear beforehand, which positions would be rejected, or even anathematized and declared as "heretical" and which one would become official and "orthodox" doctrine. "Dogmatical orthodoxy and political loyalty", as Beyschlag remarks, "became inseparable and can be considered as interchangable terms" (116, translation mine).

This is not to reject out of hand and entirely all the insights that the Church has gained about the nature of Christ over the centuries. But to postulate that they were divinely inspired and of equal value as the Gospels themselves, is more a political than a theological statement, meant to secure the position of power and authority.[61] To oppose one of the Councils' dogmas is still today considered formally as heresy. In the words of Harnack, the author of the classic seven-volume Dogmengeschichte (History of Dogma), "according to the conception of the church, dogma can be
nothing else than the revealed faith itself."[62]

Of course, the equation of dogma (revealed doctrine) with Christ's revelation itself is problematic, given the various Christologies that exist, as the historical overview has shown. Such an exclusivist view is therefore rejected by all other Christian denominations that nevertheless share the claim of Christian exclusivity.[63] This claim for exclusivity, in turn, is rejected by most other religions, which, ironically, have similar claims of their own. In the light of interfaith dialogue however, this position has to be respected and addressed as well[64] and the following chapter will deal with these Christological questions from a Bahá´í point of view.


´Abdu´l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá´í Publishing Trust, 1981.

Bahá´u´lláh. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá´í Publishing Trust, 1988.
-----. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá´u´lláh. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá´í Publishing Trust, 1983.
-----. The Hidden Words. Oxford: Oneworld Publ., 1992.
-----. The Proclamation of Bahá´u´lláh. Haifa: Bahá´í World Centre, 1972.

Beyschlag, Karlmann. Grundriss der Dogmengeschichte II (Gott und Mensch), Teil 1 (Das
christologische Dogma). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1991.

Buck, Christopher. Paradise and Paradigm. Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Bahá´í
Faith. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1999.

Dembowski, Hermann. Einführung in die Christologie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft, 1976.

Deschner, Karlheinz. Abermals krähte der Hahn. Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1979 [1962].

Fazel, Seena and Fananapazir, Khazeh. "A Bahá´í Approach to the Claim of Eclusivity and
Uniqueness in Christianity." The Journal of Bahá´í Studies 3.2 (1990-91): 15-24.

Fowden, Garth. Empire to Commonwealth. Consequences of monotheism in late antiquity.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Franzen, August. Kleine Kirchengeschichte. Freiburg: Herder, 1975 [1965].

Hahn, Ferdinand. Christologische Hoheitstitel. Göttingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1995 [1963].

Heaton, E.W. A Short Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets. Oxford: Oneworld Publ., 1997

Hünermann, Peter. Jesus Christus. Gottes Wort in der Zeit. Eine systematische Christologie.
Münster: Aschendorff, 1994.

McLean, J.A. "Prolegomena to a Bahá´í Theology." The Journal of Bahá´í Studies 5.1 (1992):

Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus. Die Geschichte von einem Lebenden. Freiburg: Herder, 1992.

Schäfer, Udo. The light shineth in darkness. Oxford: George Ronald, 1979 [1977].

Swidler, Leonard and Mojzes, Paul, eds. The Uniqueness of Jesus. A Dialogue with Paul F. Knitter
(Faith meets Faith Series). Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1997.

Young, Brad. Jesus. The Jewish Theologian. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publ., 1995.


[1] Of course it would be too simplistic to assume that any of these titles is exclusively related to and the origin of one specific Christology. These designations had various layers of meanings, and were consequently used in different contexts, as will be shown.
[2] For a detailed philological overview of the various scholarly positions on the five most important christological titles (Son of man, Kyrios, Christ, Son of David, Son of God) see Hahn, Christologische Hoheitstitel.
[3] Cf. e.g. "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God"
(Luke 12:8) with " Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is
in heaven" (Matt. 10:32).
[4] It should be noted that the Hebrew word adam not only refers to someone of the male gender, but also to a human being in the generic sense.
[5] Heaton writes that between 300 BC and 300 CE apocalyptic writings "emerged and flourished in Judea", and he lists The Book of Enoch, The Apocalypse of Abraham, The Assumption of Moses and The Testament of Job. However, only the book of Daniel has been accepted into the canon of Hebrew scriptures (see Heaton, A Short Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets 157).
[6] 1 Enoch 46:1-3, quoted in Brad H. Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian 248.
[7] The Apocalypse of Enoch is included in the Abessinian Bible, and one reference to it can be found in the apocryphal Gospel of Jude (verse 14, referring to Henoch 1:9). Quoted in Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn 20.
[8] Flusser, Jesus in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, quoted in Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian 243.
[9] In four songs, embedded in the 'Book of Consolation' (chapters 42, 49, 50, 52-53), Isaiah describes the
sufferings and ultimate victory of the 'Servant of God'. See also Ps. 22, which thematizes the sufferings and hopes of
the 'Just One', and whose opening line ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?") Jesus quotes on the cross,
before rendering up his spirit (Matt. 27:46).
[10] See Luke 22:37 for a direct reference to Isaiah 53:12. Other, more general allusions, Luke 22:19-20, Mark 10:45.
[11] Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian 244, 247.
[12] Young, Jesus the Jewish Theologian 246. Young uses the RSV translation. All other quotes (unless mentioned otherwise) are taken from the King James Bible.
[13] See, for example, Matt. 19:17, 20:23, 24:36, 26:39, John 5:22, 5:30, 8:28 a.o.
[14] ´Abdu´l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions 128.
[15] John Hick has identified these three perspectives: the exclusivist one (accepting only one's faith as true and rejecting all others as false; the inclusivist one (giving some credence to other religions but claiming the "full truth" for one's own: and the pluralist one (regarding all religions as equally "true" and valid). Needless to say that for Hick, the most appropriate approach for interreligious dialogue would be the latter one. The advantages and limitations of this model will be discussed in the next chapter.
[16] Traditional Biblical exegesis has made use of a fourfold level of interpretation: the literal, the moral, the allegorical, and the eschatological (messianic) level.
[17] This connection is only described in the Gospel of Luke, not in Mark.
[18] Bahá´u´lláh, Gleanings 57. It was for this reason, Bahá´u´lláh explains in another context, that Jesus did not marry and lead a family life (see Proclamation of Bahá´u´lláh 95-6; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf 49-50).
[19] The four recognized ways of interpreting the Bible are the literal one, the allegorical (symbolic) one, the moral one, and the eschatological (referring to the 'end-time') one.
[20] Bahá´u´lláh, Hidden Words, Persian No. 27. See also Nos. 26, 28-31. These admonitions are reminiscent of Matt. 6:19-24.
[21] Mark 3:10-12. For similar instances, see Mark 1:24 (where Jesus was addressed as "the Holy One of God");
Mark 1:34; Luke 8:28.
[22] It is important to remember that the eternal Covenant, as it was firstly established with Noah (Gen. 9), and subsequently renewed with Abraham (Gen. 12:3), included all humanity. The privileged position with which God eventually favoured Israel (by inference, Judaism and Christianity) can therefore not be understood as excluding other peoples and religions from divine grace and guidance. Furthermore, this privilege is conditional, based on the twin obligation to love God and keep his laws (Deut. 7:6-12).
[23] 2 Samuel 7:12-16. The parallel report in the Chronicles (1 Chr. 17:11-14) omits the reference to the potential chastisement of the Messiah, possibly out of theological concern.
[24] The statement "I will be his father, and he will be my son" is a socalled formula of adoption or inthronisation (see also Ps.s 2:7, 89:21, 110:3), originally used to anoint a king, later also the Judges, priests and prophets. In this way, the term "messiah" (the anointed one) combined the notions of royal authority with the spiritual functions of guarding the (divine) Law and living a sanctified life.
[25] Ezekiel calls him "Prince" (as opposed to "King") and stresses his mediating and guiding (shepherd) functions (Ez. 34:23-24; 37:24-25); Zechariah describes the spiritual qualities (justice, humility) of the future Saviour (Zech. 9:9-10); Isaiah even lets the Persian king Cyrus take the role of the (political) Messiah (Isa. 45:1), while at the same time he develops the model of the suffering and humble "Servant of God" to bring spiritual liberation (see n. 6); and Daniel had his apocalyptic visions of a superhuman figure coming "with the clouds of heaven" (see above).
[26] Matthew (26:64) divides Jesus' answer in confirming the question and foretelling his return; Luke (22:67-70) goes even further and separates the question so that Jesus' confirmation to be the Son of God is detached from its eschatological context.
[27] See Hahn, Christologische Hoheitstitel 289-292.
[28] Prominent advocates of this belief were Theodotos of Byzantium (excommunicated end of the 2nd cent.), Artemon in Rome (around 235), and Paul of Samosata (d. after 272). It should also be noted that several Judaeo-Christian sects, already extinct in the fourth century, have rejected the notion of Jesus being "divine" (Ebionites, Nazarenes).

See Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn 375-405, for more details of the following historical overview; Huenermann, Jesus Christus, Gottes Wort in der Zeit 128-56, for a parallel theological (Catholic) overview. The differences between these two positions could not be more profound. Deschner attacks mercilessly the development of the (Catholic) Church as "deviation" from the historical religion. Huenermann, on the other side, describes the gradual unfoldment and maturation of the Church, from early "unreflected" to ever more complex understanding of the transcendent verities.
[29] See Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn 389. Important protagonists of Modalism were Bishop Noetos of Smyrna, Sabelius and Praxeas (all around 200). Ironically, Pope Victor I who excommunicated the Adoptionist Theodotos (see n. 27) did so under the premises of Modalism.
[30] Schonfield, Those incredible Christians 118, quoted in Schaefer, The light shineth in darkness 83.
[31] Schoeps, Theologie und Geschichte des Judenchristentums 322, quoted in Schaefer, The light shineth in darkness 83.
[32] Schaefer, The light shineth in darkness 82. It is unfortunate that Schaefer, a prominent German Bahá´í scholar, joins in the chorus of such critical one-sided voices. Space does not permit to even list (let alone dispute) all the allegations that have been brought up against Paul. (An apology doing justice to Paul from a Bahá´í point of view has yet to be written.) Suffice it to say that Paul never claimed that "God in his essence was walking on earth", as Schaefer insinuates. In fact, Paul's description of Christ being the "image of God" (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) is quite compatible with the prominent 'Sun – Mirror' metaphor (describing the relationship between God and his manifestations) in the Bahá´í Writings.
[33] See Hahn, Christologische Hoheitstitel ch. 5; Schillebeeckx, Jesus 380-83; Commentary of Neue Jerusalemer Bibel to Phil. 2:6-11.
[34] Wisdom is a feminine noun in Hebrew (hokma) and Greek (sophia). Furthermore, the feminine gender is employed here, because Wisdom is being discussed in the context of the Hebrew Writings, where she is portrayed as Solomon's bride (Wis. 8:2, 8:9), and also likened to a Mother figure (Sir. 15:2).
[35] Further personifications of sophia can be found in Prov. 1:20-33; 3:16-19; 8 and 9.
[36] At least on one occasion, Jesus identifies himself with Wisdom (Matt. 11:19). Paul refers to Christ as "the power and wisdom (sophia) of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). The Church Fathers (Justin, Origen, Tertullian) regarded sophia, logos and "First-born" as synonymous expressions of the Holy Spirit (see Sours, "The Maid of Heaven, the image of Sophia, and the Logos. Personification of the Spirit of God in Scripture and Sacred Literature", Journal of Bahá´í Studies 4:1).
[37] Apart from the direct reference (see n. 35), Jesus also claims to be greater than Solomon (Matt. 12:42) who was known as embodiment of Wisdom. The incidents where Jesus exorcises evil spirits who know that he is the Son of God (cf. Matt. 8:29; Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41; 8:28) remain puzzling unless brought into context with Christ being superior to Solomon who had power over all evil spirits (who knew and dreaded him).
[38] Schillebeeckx, Jesus 430.
[39] God is defined as one Universal Cause (Gr. arche), Jesus as human being, empowered with this arche.
[40] A complete survey, however brief, of all the Christological models would go way beyond the scope of this chapter. The following historical and theological overview therefore covers only the first few centuries, during which the basic creeds were formed and refined. Suffice it to say that each epoch (from Medieval Scholasticism to Enlightenment Scepticism to Postmodern Pluralism) has produced different outlooks and insights into the Christological question.
For current (pluralistic) discussions see, e.g., Swidler and Mojzes, eds., The Uniqueness of Jesus. A Dialogue with Paul E. Knitter.
[41] In the West, as Deschner pointedly notes, the intellectual level of the theologians was not so advanced at that time, to be able to follow this theological dispute. The two only eminent theologians in third century Rome were counter-popes, Hippolyt (constantly opposed) and Novatian (excommunicated). It is also noteworthy that, at the Council of Nicaea, only seven delegates (out of approximately 300) were from the West.
[42] Quoted from Huenermann, Jesus Christus 144-5, in my translation.
[43] The Arian dispute is a good example for this political influence. When two years after the Council Constantine changed his mind, he summoned the Bishops to another Synod in Nicaea (327), where Arius was rehabilitated again. His main opponent Bishop Athanasius, on the other hand, was exiled five times under Constantine and his successors. During the reign of Constantine's son Constantius Arianism became official Church doctrine, but was forbidden again under the Catholic emperors Gratian (375 – 383) in the West and Theodosius (379 – 395) in the East.
[44] Aristoteles regarded the number three as sacred and defined threeness as number for the whole because it embraces beginning, middle and end. Already Xenokrates (400 BC) postulated a Trinity at the peak of the universe, and all the Hellenistic religions had trinitarian concepts, such as the "three-in-one" God Hermes in the theology of Hermes Trismegistos, or the triad of Zagreus, Phanes and Dionysos in the Dionysian religion. Among the Roman triads were Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, and in Egypt Isis, Sarapis (Osiris) and Horus (see Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn 381-82).
[45] See Huenermann, Jesus Christus 151-52.
[46] See Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn 386.
[47] See e.g. Matt. 16:27; 24:36; 25:31; Eph. 1:15; 1 Tim. 5:21; Rev. 3:5.
[48] See Mark 12:36 for David; Luke 1:15 for John the Baptist; for Christ himself (Luke 3:22; 4:1), and for pious people (Luke 1:41 and 1:67 for John the Baptist's parents; Luke 2:25 for Simeon; Acts 2:4 for the believers at Pentecoast; Luke 12:12 or Acts 5:5 for the apostolic mission).
[49] See 2 Tim. 1:14; Titus 3:5 speaks about the "renewing of the Holy Ghost" in the hearts of the believers.
[50] Christians believe that this prophecy found its fulfillment through the outpourings of the Holy Spirit at Pentecoast. Muslims regard this as a reference to Muhammad, and Bahá´ís see an archetypal function in the role of the Comforter, which is being displayed with the coming of every Manifestation of God. The latter perspective is supported by Stephen's final speech prior his martyrdom, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (Acts 7:51).
[51] It is interesting to note that those critics argue from "classical" points of view. Servet from a Modalist perspective, Biandrata from an Arian one, Sozzini takes up Ebionite thoughts (Dembowski, Einführung in die Christologie 147-8.
[52] Cyrill was an active promoter of the cult that developed around the figure of the Virgin Mary. He established two Holy Days (Mary's Annunciation and Mary's Ascension), both overlapping with (and meant to surpress) pagan celebrations of Goddesses (see Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn 368).
[53] Beyschlag, Grundriss der Dogmengeschichte 53.
[54] Ibid. 134.
[55] Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth. Consequences of monotheism in late antiquity 117. "Constantinople's wish to keep in step with Rome" was in fact a political turn, initiated by Theododius' II sister who (together with General Markian, her future husband and emperor-to-be) seized power after her brother's sudden death in 450. The threat of the Alexandrian Patriarch Dioskur becoming too powerful was one of the reasons for the approach towards Rome (see Beyschlag, Grundriss der Dogmengeschichte II 57-8).
[56] Today recognized as a misnomer, more appropriate designations would be East Syriac Christianity, or "Church of the East"(self-designation), or "Persian Christianity" (referring to the community in the Sasanian Empire). However, the term "Nestorianism" continues to be used out of convenience (see Buck, Paradise and Paradigm 4).
[57] Missionaries established communities in Malabar/India and Chinese Turkestan; in the ninth century they came as far as Central China and Tibet. The East Syrian Church "became the most influential form of extra-Roman Christianity" (Buck, Paradise and Paradigm 38), before it was destroyed and its adherents decimated by the Mongols. Parts of the Syrian Church (Chaldeans, Malabar Christians) united with Rome in the sixteenth century and today there are an estimated 80.000 believers in Irak, Iran and Syria, 5.000 in India, and 25.000 in America (Franzen, Kleine Kirchengeschichte 84).
[58] Fowden identifies political as well as theological reasons for such a preference. In the case of Armenia, for example, Nestorianism's growing success in Iran may have made it seem less attractive to Armenians. More significantly, the tensions against Constantinople who did not support them against the Persians, led the Armenians eventually to reject the Council of Chalcedon's decision and opt for Monophytism. The rise of Monophysitism in Ethiopia and Southern Arabia was similarly a symptom of the Byzantine Commonwealth's scope for independence, or, from Constantinople's viewpoint, disloyalty. This is best illustrated by Ethiopia's national epic, Kebra Nagast (The Glory of Kings), which provokes a counterclaim to universal authority by asserting to be even superior to Byzantine, because of their king's descension to Solomon's firstborn. Nubia (today Sudan) converted to the Egyptian (Coptic) brand of Monophysitism and, despite of being cut off from other Christian countries, remained Christian until its eventual Islamization in the sixteenth century (see Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth ch. 5).
[59] Sergios originally proposed the concept of "two natures and one energy", which was opposed by the Jerusaleme Patriarch Sophronius. He then converted to the notion of "one will", hardly more than a change of name. Concerning the Pope's consent it is said that he was not familiar enough with "Greek theology" to realize the Monophysite "disguise" of the formula (Franzen, Kleine Kirchengeschichte 88). When the formula was rejected in 681 and, as usual, their proponents anathematized, Pope Honorius was cursed as well. The "fall" of that Pope was brought to light again in 1870, during the preparations for the dogma of Papal Infallibility, and caused quite some embarrassment.
[60] The leading figure of the Chalcedonian orthodoxy's opposition was Maximus Confessor. He argued that the faculty of will belongs to the two natures of Christ, not to his one hypostasis. Christ therefore has two natures, two will, and two energies.
[61] Emperor Justinian was the first to make such a claim. For Beyschlag, this proves the "surpassing dignity in dogmatic- historical respect" (130, translation mine) of the (first four) Councils. For me, this is rather a dubious reference, given that under Justinian the persecution of "pagans" and "heretics" reached their climax. Not to accept the official Church doctrine and to engage in any other form of religious activity could lead to capital punishment. He also introduced coercive conversion and baptism and placed all non-Christians and non-orthodox Christians outside the law. Furthermore, he completely controlled and regulated internal Church affairs. As a typical representative of "Caesaropapism" even the Pope had to surrender to his will (see Deschner, Abermals kraehte der Hahn 327, 395-6, 450, 470). The political nature of this argument (and its devastating consequences for "heretics" and non-Christians) is equally valid for the Roman Catholic Church in the West, once it had assumed a similar role of secular leadership (from the eleventh century onwards).
[62] Harnack, History of Dogma 1:9, quoted in J.A. McLean, "Prolegomena to a Bahá´í Theology." The Journal of Bahá´í Studies 5.1 (1992): 34.
[63] "Christian exclusivity was later summarized in the traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, which stated that outside the Church there is no salvation, and in its Protestant missionary equivalent, that outside Christianity there is no salvation" (Fazel and Fananapazir, "A Bahá´í Approach to the Claim of Exclusivity and Uniqueness in Christianity." The Journal of Bahá´í Studies 3.2 (1990-91): 18).
[64] The struggle of Christian theologians engaged in interfaith dialogue to redefine and come to terms with the concept of "Christ's uniqueness" so that it does not become an impediment to "real dialogue", is well documented in Paul Knitter's "Five Theses on the Uniqueness of Jesus" and its twenty responses (Swidler and Mojzes, eds., The Uniqueness of Jesus. A Dialogue with Paul E. Knitter). The compatibility of many of these concepts with the Bahá´í Faith will be explored in the next chapter.
previous chapter chapter 2 start page single page chapter 4 next chapter
Back to:   Theses
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
. .