Criswell Theological Review 6.1 (1992) 91-130.
Copyright © 1992 by The
THE IDENTITY OF JESUS
CARL F. H. HENRY
Lecturer at Large
Prison Fellowship Ministries
Nowhere is the tension between historically repeatable acts and a
once-for-all event focused more dramatically than in the conflict over
the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. Shall we explain him as the ideal
model of mankind and expound divine incarnation by philosophical
analysis of what is humanly possible, or shall we depict him rather in
terms of the christologically unparalleled?
The Gospels provide our only significant information about Jesus'
life and work. Skeptical critics thrust upon these sources tests of reliabil-
ity that they do not impose upon other historical writing. If universally
applied, those same criteria would in principle invalidate ancient Greek
and Roman accounts that secular historians routinely accept as factual.1
Efforts to destroy the credibility of gospels often betray a bias
against the supernatural. Gerald G. O'Collins recalls "the official Soviet
thesis (which appears recently to have been abandoned) that Jesus
never existed and was a purely mythological figure.”2 Consistent Marx-
ists would need to reject the theology-of-revolution view that the his-
torical figure of Jesus nurtures its liberationist challenge to an
alienated world. The assumptions of evolutionary naturalism likewise
lead to a rejection of Jesus as in any way normative and decisive for
* This essay represents the two lectures read at the Criswell Lecture Series,
1 Cf. A N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testa-
ment, (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1963).
2 "Jesus, in The Encyclopedia of Religion (M Eliade, ed. in chief;
92 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Jews and Jewry
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia3 escapes the larger
question of the significance of Jesus by a generalized comment that
"certain sections [of the Gospels] seem to reflect ideas and situations
in the developing Christian church rather than those of Jesus' own
day."4 Were the editors to apply this complaint consistently to all the
biblical data, they would need to devalue also the Old Testament
whose reliability they assume. Curiously, whenever these same edi-
tors charge the evangelists with "anti-Jewish sentiment" they accept
at face value the Gospel representations they so interpret.
The controversy over the identity and importance of Jesus arose
initially in the context of Hebrew history and religion. This spiritual
community devoutly expected a messianic deliverer, an expectation
grounded in Yahweh's special prophetic revelation. The Jewish com-
munity divided in Jesus' day over Jesus' messianic role. The Gospels
detail the conflict among Jesus' religious contemporaries over
whether to receive or to repudiate the Nazarene as the promised mes-
siah and divine Son of God.
The Christian church was at its beginning overwhelmingly Jew-
ish in composition. Jews were faced by a choice that the New Testa-
ment still thrusts upon its readers, whether to affirm Jesus' divinity or
to repudiate him as a blasphemer and messianic pretender. Simply to
tribute him as humanity at its best was not an option.
But modern critical thought sought to eviscerate the messianic es-
chatology of Jesus, even his Jewishness, and to obscure his life, resur-
rection and ascension, and turned him instead, as Stanley Hauerwas
says, into a teacher of noble ideals, "the pinnacle of the highest and
best in humanity. . . civilization's very best. "It was a short step,"
Hauerwas, adds, "from the biblical Christ--the highest in humanity--
to the Nazi Superman."5
First-century antagonists dismissed Jesus as either a deceiver or a
megalomaniac. Toledot Yeshu and other early Talmudic stories cast
aspersions on Jesus' origin and character. Presuming to speak for most
present-day Jews, rabbi Yachiel Eckstein contends that Jesus was
merely another martyred Jew, one of the many false prophets and
3 Ed. C. Roth and G. Wigoder (London: W. H. Allen, 1975).
4 Ibid., "Jesus," 1042.
5 Resident Aliens; Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989)
6 What Christians Should Know About Jews and Judaism (
Books, 1984) 242.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
In striking contrast, some recent modern Jewish leaders unhesi-
tatingly applaud the man Jesus. Even the Jewish rebel Spinoza, while
disavowing the divinity of Christ, nonetheless considered Jesus the
greatest and noblest of all prophets (Epistle 21). C. G. Montefiore
(1858-1925) and Joseph Klausner (1874-1960) paid him notable tribute.
Montefiore significantly commends Jesus over the whole talmudic in-
heritance: "We certainly do not get in the Hebrew Bible any teacher
speaking of God as 'Father,' 'my Father,' 'your Father,' and 'our Fa-
ther' like the Jesus of Matthew," he writes. "We do not get so habitual
and concentrated a use from any Rabbi in the Talmud."7 Many writ-
ers not victimized by a skeptical view of history now readily concede
that Jesus towers above the stream of mankind as an individual of
rare spiritual sensitivity, devotion, and compassion.
In the book The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus8 Donald A Hagner
acknowledges that most contemporary Jewish scholarship and Jewish-
Christian dialogue still reflects long-standing differences from the
evangelical view of Jesus. But he considers "remarkable and significant"
the current extensive Jewish research and the evidence it gives of "a
drastic change in the Jewish appreciation of Jesus."9 To be sure, the
Jewish theological stance remains hostile to the Christian doctrines of
incarnation, atonement, and the Trinity, and it refuses to connect Jesus
with any significant transformation of the world-order and any new
decisive historical inbreaking of the
reading of the Gospels increasingly overcomes the ready complaint that
Christianity is anti-Semitic, and it more and more elicits a sporadic ac-
knowledgement of their claims to historical trustworthiness, as does
Pinchas Lapide's admission of the resurrection of Jesus. Alongside this
be noted the clusters of secret believers in the state of
the remarkable conversion to Christ of many Jews in other lands. It is
safe to say that tens of thousands of modern Jews affirm that Jesus
fulfills the Old Testament prophecies and is "the Christ, the Son of the
Ironically, as David Novak observes, some Jewish thinkers have
judged Islam more favorably than Christianity because of Islam's sup-
posedly stricter monotheism and absolute prohibition of images, in
contrast with Christian trinitarianism and the use of images in wor-
ship by some major branches of Christianity.10 In the later Middle
7 The Old Testament and After (New York: Arno Press, 1972, reprint of 1923 ed.)
8 Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
9 Ibid., 273.
10 “A Jewish Theological Understanding of Christianity in Our Time," First
Things 9 (Jan. 1991) 28.
94 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Ages, however, Jews took a more positive view, one that judged Chris-
tianity not idolatrous and which acknowledged trinitarianism to be
not necessarily as a commitment to a different God than Yahweh.
The Manifold Views of Jesus
When we speak of Jesus, do we then nonetheless in fact deal
simply with a man who like other founders of religion made unique
claims about genuine spiritual experience? Was he a notably inspired
and inspiring prophet who confronts us with a specially lively sense
of the supernatural? Was he a man through whom God superlatively
manifested himself, and perhaps performed works unmatched in
However honorific, such views do not conclusively modify a per-
spective that begins and ends with man. Is Jesus then only an ancient
Semite that literary embellishment has lifted from an obscure life on
the outposts of Hellenistic-Roman civilization?
Is he merely a devout Jew engaged in a dispute with fellow Jews
over the proper interpretation of Judaism? Is he but a Christian alter-
native to the Hellenic savior-gods, one fashioned in miracle stories set
in Palestinian Semitic context?
Was Jesus of Nazareth, as Jane Schabert declares, a biologically
natural son born to Mary through rape or seduction in a disgraceful
paternity that the gospel accounts turn to glory?11 Is Jesus the
Wunderkind of the apocryphal gospels, a child genius who worked
miracles even while at play?
Is he an itinerant Galilean Semite imaginatively sharing his peo-
ple's apocalyptic hopes, or as Nietzsche contends,12 simply a dread-
filled hypersensitive type, a religiously-obsessed fanatic warning of
the End of all ends?
Is he a contemplative sage offering words of wisdom as did Con-
fucius, Socrates, and Epictetus, a majestic guru imparting universal
truths about life and mortality? Was he, as speculative psychologists
have suggested, extraordinarily endowed with extra-sensory percep-
tion? Is he the prophet of the "New Age" consciousness, a model of
human insights creatively open to depths of divinity in one's own in-
ner selfhood? Does he transcend the merely human as an historical
presence that discloses our overlooked possibilities and enlivens our
imaginative powers? Is he an invisible comrade, the lively memory of
whose earthly example still supplies inspiration and courage for the
facing of life's problems?
11 The Illegitimacy of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).
12 The Antichrist (New York: Amo Press, 1972, reprint of 1930 ed.).
Carl F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF NAZARETH 95
Shall we say with Paul Van Buren, that Jesus is "the perfect em-
bodiment of divine love"?13 Was he so venerated that his colleagues
could not believe that he was dead? Is he, as Rudolf Bultmann viewed
him, a man whose crucifixion cut short his earthly life but who in the
church's proclamation became God and accumulated such aspects of
supernatural mythology as virgin birth, incarnation, atonement, resur-
rection and ascension? Is he merely a literary fiction of the gospel evan-
gelists, a mythical depiction that externalizes and objectifies an inner
experience of new being? Is he rather, as Gnostics held, the phantas-
mal appearance that illuminates the dark world of a supreme but oth-
erwise unknowable God? Does he, as Paul Tillich puts it, stand in
complete relational participation with the Ground of all Being?14
Is the term "Christ" simply a semantic symbol for whatever sa-
tisfies human craving for a fuller life, and hence an expression ser-
viceable to atheists and materialists as well as to biblical Christians?
Does he exhibit human nature at its best, as at once the restorer of au-
thentic humanity, and the consummator of mankind? Is he the ethical
norm by whose example humans in all generations must measure vir-
tue? Shall we with John A. T. Robinson say that he is a complete em-
bodiment "of what was from the beginning the meaning and purpose
of God's self-expression," a human person who "embodied the divine
initiative and saving presence so completely that he was declared at
his baptism and confirmed at his resurrection to be everything God
himself was"?15 Is he, as Piet Schoonenberg portrays him, the ulti-
mate of human-ness in whose person we find God's complete pres-
ence?16 Is Hans Kling right, that Jesus "represents the permanently
reliable ultimate standard of human existence"?17
Is he, as L. S. Thornton suggests, founder of a new humanity that
towers above mankind today even as homo sapiens now transcend the
lower animal creation.18 Is he a super-Apollo, a spiritual athlete, as
Renaissance art at times seems to depict him in a mediating effort to
a Christian advantage from emerging humanism? Is he, as
Teilhard de Chardin avers, the focus of cosmic evolution as its final
unification and "christification" of all reality? Or is he the "political
Christ"--the prophet of social revolution and catalyst for the revolu-
tionary overthrow of social structures--as Gustavo Gutierrez would
13 Discerning the Way (New York: The Seabury Press, 1980) 118.
14 Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951-63) 2.148.
15 The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973) 77, 162.
16 The Christ (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971) 7,136.
17 On Being a Christian (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976) 443, 450.
18 The Incarnate Lord (
1928) 35, 367f.
96 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
have it?19 Must we, in contrast to early Latin credal christology, ac-
commodate current Latin American alternatives like the "charismatic
Christ" and the “guerilla Christ”? Is he a social humanitarian con-
cerned for liberation of the working class, a defender of lesser, land-
holders against their landlords?
Is Jesus, as Pannenberg holds, not a virgin's son, but nonetheless
by his resurrection attested as the eternal Son of God and manifest
thereby as preexistently sharing the divine essence?20 Is Jesus, as Oscar
Cullmann concedes, not only the sinless bearer of messianic self-
consciousness, but one whose deity we properly affirm in view of God's
distinctive revelatory activity through him, yet concerning whose divine
essence and dual natures it is useless to speculate?21
This incomplete sampling of current views of the Nazarene, re-
markable for its disagreements, leaves little doubt that modernity has
blurred Jesus into history's most displaced person. In a recent book,
Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture,22
Jaroslav Pelikan reflects the many diverse images and cultural under-
standings of Jesus through which the biblical portrait tends to lose
normative theological significance. Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi move-
ment's official philosopher, even held that Jesus could not have been a
Jew, but depicted him rather as a Nordic anti-Semite.23 So multiform
are the views of the Nazarene that an atheist is said to have jeered
that "there is no god, and Jesus is his problem." As Douglas Groothuis
says, "No other name has inspired greater devotion, evoked greater
reverence, or ignited greater controversy."24
Must we then concede with Albert Schweitzer that the historical
Jesus is "to our time a stranger and enigma"?25 Must we rather re-
mind our generation of the baneful influence of alien speculative the-
ories? Respectful mention of Jesus' name embarrasses much of our
secular society. A liberal elite is prone to avoid introduction of the
Nazarene as socially disruptive. The mass media seem at times to re-
serve the name of Jesus for use only in profanity. Yet serious discus-
sion of the significance of the Nazarene cannot be removed from the
contemporary agenda. The twentieth-century space age has set the
discussion of Christ in the near-neighbor context of Buddhists, Hin-
19 A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 1973).
20 Jesus-God and Man (2nd ed.,
21 The Christology of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963) 93,
266, 277, 306.
23 cr. Richard Morris, Evolution and Human Nature (
man, 1983) 82.
24 Revealing the New Age Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990) 9.
25 The Quest of the Historical Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1910) 396.
Carl F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF NAZARETH 97
dus, and Muslims who press the question of Jesus' identity even if
some Christians prefer to suppress it.
Many scholars who reject the Chalcedonian formulation that
Jesus is true God and true man, and who instead hold to a one-nature
view of Jesus, nonetheless distinguish him from the entirety of the
human race. Tributes paid to Jesus even by scholars who disavow the
historic christological creeds not only revere the Nazarene above his
contemporaries, but elevate him as well above all human beings an-
cient and modern. These assessments of Jesus Christ exhaust ordinary
anthropological categories in explanation of him. In contrast to the in-
herited view of Jesus Christ as the full revelation of God in the flesh,
Teilhard de Chardin holds that "Christ is not yet fully formed”26 and
that he will not be until we are united in co-creative union with the
Eucharistic Cosmic Christ.”27 The universal Christ-idea or Christ-
principle seems more important to Teilhard than is the Jesus of his-
tory. As James M. Houston comments, "Teilhard makes much of the
cosmic Christ, but has little to say of the incarnate Christ.”28 Yet stu-
dents of the life of Jesus repeatedly refuse to dwarf him simply to a
superman like Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Winston
Churchill, or to a superguru like Gandhi.
The Koran and the Nazarene
Despite its nontrinitarian theology, for example, even the Koran
nevertheless distinguishes Jesus from the rest of mankind by affirm-
ing his virgin birth, sinlessness, messianity, and ascension to heaven
prior to the endtime resurrection of all humanity. The Koran portrays
Jesus as Word of God (Kalimah), even if it does so in less than ortho-
dox Christian terms. To be sure, Islam declares Jesus to be "merely a
prophet, a sent one, a word" and thus excludes his divinity, whereas
the Christian revelation affirms him to be the Sent One, the incarnate
Word. Some Muslims assuredly welcome as a constructive contribu-
tion to interreligious dialogue only christological affirmations that pre-
clude divine incarnation in Christ.
Yet it is all too easy, as Thomas O'Shaughnessy remarks, to level
Muhammad's view of Jesus to that of simply another human being,
and to ignore his intimation of a considerably higher view.29 One
could in fact "construct a rudimentary Life of Christ," remarks F. P.
26 Hymn of the Universe (New York: Harper & Row, 1961) 133.
27 The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper & Row, 1960) 131£.
28 I Believe in the Creator (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980) 170.
29 The Koranic Concept of the Word of God (
98 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Cotterell, from the reference to Jesus (Isa) in the Koran, although some
materials, e.g., childhood miracles attributed to him, have an apocry-
phal rather than biblical basis.30 Muhammad claims, of course, that
the entire content of the Koran came as a divine revelation from the
Preserved Tablet and not from earthly sources. It is unlikely that an
Arabic version of the Gospels was available to him, and orally circu-
lating late tradition could readily have mixed fact and legend.
While the New Testament calls Jesus Son of God twenty-five
times and Son of Mary only once, the Koran uses the title Son of Mary
twenty-three times. The Koran is less explicit than the New Testa-
ment on the subject of Mary's virginity, although it does not preclude
this and even implies it. The Koran affirms that the conception of
Jesus was through the Word of God (Sura 3:47).
Yet, as Cotterell notes, the Koran is not much interested in the
events of Jesus' earthly life and ministry. We are told that Jesus had
disciples and performed miracles. Alongside New Testament sources,
however, the Koranic account seems often slurred and confused. The
most striking difference is the Koranic notion that Jesus did not die
upon the cross (Sura 4:157). The conventional interpretation is that he
was translated into heaven without crucifixion and that another per-
son replaced him (one fanciful theory nominates Judas). A rival inter-
pretation is that he was impaled on the cross but did not die there;
recovering in the tomb, he escaped to
allegedly subsequently died. In either case the Koran here is at odds
with all historical scholarship. As Geoffrey Parrinder remarks, "No se-
rious modern historian doubts that Jesus. . . was crucified, whatever
he may think of the faith or the resurrection."31 Even in respect to
this major historical event the Koran therefore shows itself to be less
than a trustworthy guide. Parrinder discusses32 E. E. Elder's sugges-
tion that we interpret the Koran to mean that Jesus' death upon the
cross was a divine act, not a human act. But this is unhelpful, since in
that event the significance of Jesus' passion is wholly ignored.
A Growing New Consensus
Any attentive reader of the Gospels will soon discover that the
founder of the Christian religion differs greatly from the representa-
tions even of many philosophers, religious commentators, and social
reformers who pay the Nazarene quite lofty compliments. He is, as Os
30 "The Christology
of Islam," Christ the Lord (ed.
H. S. Rowden;
Varsity, 1982) 282.
31 Jesus in the Qur'an (Oxford University Press, 1977) 116.
32 Ibid., 119ff.
Carl F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF NAZARETH 99
Guinness reminds us, neither "the gentle Jesus meek and mild" as
many project him, nor the theatrical "'Jesus Christ Superstar' with his
tortured doubts and personality problems Such views. . . are not
borne out by the objective evidence of the life of Christ. . . .The radi-
cal Christ of Pasolini's film The Gospel According to St. Matthew, the
socialist Christ of much liberal activism, the Hindu Christ--these are
not so much anti-Christian as unhistorical."33 The insistent Gospel
witness to Jesus has, in fact, repeatedly made itself felt over against
skeptical, imaginative, and mythical portrayals that rashly discount
the New Testament writings.
"Surely," as Robert F. Berkey remarks, "no issues of Christian
thought have gone through more thorough analyses in this century
than those problems pertaining to the New Testament affirmations of
the unique, unprecedented, once-for-all character of the person of
Jesus.”34 The outcome, moreover, contends Berkey, is that the theolog-
ical climate has radically changed: a century that began with "no clear
consensus" now insists that in any attempt to understand New Testa-
ment faith we must give full weight to christological affirmations and
to the "once for all" significance of the person of Christ.35
In 1913 Wilhelm Bousset presumed to set forth in Kyrios Chris-
tos36 "a history of belief in Christ from the beginnings of Christianity
to Irenaeus." Bousset projected a pre-Pauline Hellenistic Christian
community that differed from Palestinian Jewish Christians by
affirming a supernatural miraculous Jesus who was to be worshipped.
On Palestinian soil and in Semitic context, Bousset held, Jesus was in-
voked simply as 'master.' Only later, in Gentile context and under the
influence of the Hellenistic savior-cults, was Jesus acclaimed as 'Lord.'
This view bequeaths as its "fundamental problem," as Hendrikus
Boers observes, the notion that New Testament christology must be
considered "not historically true of Jesus himself," so that the New
Testament ceases to express "the truth about the historical Jesus.”37
Bousset sought to escape the devastating theological implications
of this emphasis by contending that Jesus' teaching survives as a dis-
tinctive truth about God even when divested of certain later accre-
tions. But Rudolf Bultmann more thoroughly applied the view that
33 The Dust of Death (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973) 355f.
34 "Christological Perspectives: The Context of Current Discussions," Christoiogi-
cal Perspectives. Essays in Honor of Harney K. McArthur (ed. R F. Berkey and S. A
Edwards (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1982) 3-23.
35 Ibid., 22.
Abingdon, 1970, from the 5th German edition of 1964).
37 "Jesus and the Christian Faith: New Testament Christology since Bousset's
Kyrios Christos," JBL 89/4 (1970) 452.
100 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
New Testament christology is a product of early Christianity. Bult-
mann disavowed entirely any reliable historical portrait of Jesus and
declared the Gospels to be merely an expression of human self-
understanding.38 Herbert Braun dissolved New Testament Christol-
ogy into an understanding of man mutually held by Jesus, the apostles
and the earthly church, one that loses any special knowledge of Jesus
in a general anthropological outlook.39
Whatever we must in fact affirm about Jesus of Nazareth, his hu-
man nature must in no way be essentially impaired. The Christian
doctrine of divine incarnation centers in a specific individual born in
else the New Testament view of incarnation may require, the central
figure of the Christian faith was during his earthly ministry, as Paul
writes Timothy, nothing less than "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5).
No theory can be squared with the biblical doctrine of incarnation if
it regards Jesus as an intermediate being, a demigod distinct from
mankind. Nor is the notion acceptable that God merely assumed hu-
man disguise, the semblance of humanity, or even the suggestion that
God for three decades merely adopted a human body and indwelt it
as divine mind or spirit inhabiting a human physique. Nor is divine
incarnation merely a superlative example of God indwelling mankind
universally. It involves nothing less than a singular relationship of
God to human nature without precedent or parallel in the realm of
being or in the history of thought.
The modernist allegation that any affirmation of the divinity of,
Jesus Christ necessarily involves an obliteration of his humanity was
already widely propagated in the closing decades of the nineteenth
century. Adolf von Harnack deplored suppression of the real histori-
cal Jesus by the "fictitious"" preexistent Christ.40 Harnack defined the
essence of Christianity as an agenda of moral and spiritual values that
Jesus the teacher had stipulated.
To preserve Christ's full humanity, John Caird, in his end-of-the-
century Gifford Lectures on The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity
(1895-1896), insisted that Christ's divinity "was capable of being ex-
pressed in a human life and through the words and acts of a human
personality." "Whatever of Divinity could not. . . breathe through a
human spirit," said Caird, "could not be present in one who. . . was re-
ally and truly human." Christ's divinity was that "of a divine nature
that suffused, blended, identified itself with the thoughts, feelings,
38 Cf. Jesus Christ and Mythology (London: SCM Press, 1960),
39 "Der Sinn her neutestamentlich Christology," ZTK, 54 (1957) 341-77, reprinted
in Gessammelte Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt (1962) 243-82.
40 Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
volitions of a human individual."41 The result was an emphasis not on
two natures united in one person, but on Christ's unitary nature, and
a redefinition of divinity basically in terms of unbroken human-divine
This formulation inadequately states what the New Testament
signifies by the deity of Christ. As John Stuart Lawton notes, it is
merely an embellished unitarianism; it affirms the humanity of
Christ's nature and personality yet disallows speaking of him as "per-
Somewhat similar was the view of William Temple, who found
Christ's deity in his unity of purpose and harmonious willing with the
Father.43 H. R. Mackintosh hailed this view as a great theological ad-
vance.44 But one cannot logically categorize a human being as intrin-
sically divine simply because he perfectly obeys the will of God, since
unbroken obedience was God's intention for all humanity at the cre-
ation. An honorifically-conferred divinity fails to affirm the unparal-
leled metaphysical unity of Father and Son that the New Testament
asserts; instead, it accommodates unitarian theism. In the apostolic
moral man living a life in harmony with the will of God; in fact. . . we
are told singularly little about Christ's thoughts or relationships. . . in
which a man's moral character is most clearly displayed. We are pre-
sented with a figure who, in the first place, possesses and exercises di-
vine powers--he performs miracles of healing, control over nature,
and superhuman vision: above all, he enters and leaves the world in a
manner in which other men cannot. This figure, moreover, makes far-
reaching claims for himself: he can remit the eternal guilt of sin, he
proclaims himself equal with God, and foretells that he himself will
sit as judge over all men at the grand assize."45
Despite its deep ecclesial inroads, modernistic theology failed to
stifle transcendent christology. Modernism's christological inconsis-
"In the realm of pure Christology," he comments, it is "inexcusable. . .
to begin with Christ's humanity and human life, and. . . to work up-
wards. . . to the confession of his Deity. Those who do not begin with
The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity (2
42 Conflict in Christology, a Study of British and American Christology, from
1889-1914 (London, S.P.C.K.., New York: Macmillan, 1947) 313.
43 Cf. Nature, Man and God (Gifford Lectures
Press, 1934) 445f.
44 The Person of Christ (
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942) 297.
45 Conflict in Christology, 323.
102 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the fundamental Christian assumption that 'the Word was made flesh,'
but. . . attempt to show how . . . a complete man as they suppose Christ
to have been was united to God" cannot but end in confused and self-
Early repudiation of the modernist Jesus came not only from
evangelical-orthodox expositors but on the one hand from faith-
versus-reason champions of Christ's divinity paced by Soren Kierkeg-
aard, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner, and on the other from humanists
who stressed the irreconcilability of liberal claims for Jesus' unique-
ness with the scientific method which modernism professed to cham-
Kierkegaard affirmed that Christianity's towering truth--the in-
carnation--prompts a leap of faith that appropriates its consequences
in life. By depicting the incarnation--the one solitary man Jesus Christ
who is simultaneously the eternal God--as a paradox beyond the grasp
of reason, Kierkegaard went beyond the early church fathers. When
they wrote of the incarnation as a paradox they did not disavow all
rational comprehension of its reality. By connecting God's incarnation
in Christ with a sheer leap of faith to which logical tests are irrelevant,
Kierkegaard needlessly sacrificed the cognitive criteria that could in-
validate unacceptable religious alternatives to Christian beliefs.
Barth also unqualifiedly affirmed the divinity of Christ as the
eternal Word made flesh. He sharply contrasts the Son's relation to
the Father with the saints' relation to God, and decisively rejects the
modernist emphasis on moral obedience as a complete definition of
Jesus' divinity. To be sure, Barth's commendation also of the divinity
of Scripture and of church proclamation (neither of which he consid-
ers infallible) raises problems, as does his insistence that the Logos
assumed fallen human nature. Yet Barth waved aside contemporary
theologians who first of all view Jesus as a Palestinian Jew, as do
Waldrop considers Barth's view Alexandrian rather than Antiochene
in that he affirms Jesus Christ to be essentially and by nature divine
rather than merely a fully human individual who can also be declared
divine.47 In line with this approach Sir Edwyn Hoskyns and Noel
Davey likewise stress that the divinity of Jesus Christ is the forefront
emphasis of the New Testament.48
While neo-orthodoxy turned to the Bible to vindicate its claims
that modernism is a heretical deviation from the central witness of
46 Ibid., 323f.
47 Karl Barth's Concept of the Divinity of Jesus Christ," HTR 74/3 (1981) 241-53,
48 The Riddle of the New Testament (London: Faber and Faber, 1931).
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
the Scriptures, naturalistic humanism struck at modernism from the
left. Modernism had declared evangelical Christianity prescientific
and antiscientific in view of its insistence on miraculous supernatural-
ism. It replaced the divine Christ by the human Jesus viewed as hu-
manity's moral exemplar. Modernism held, in short, that following
the example of Jesus' superlative devotion to the Father ideally will
deliver one from inner tension and discord to an integrated personal-
ity. To the humanist the modernist regard for Jesus as the exclusive
spiritual catalyst conflicts with the tentative and revisable nature of
empirical observation, and that other persons and even other causes
may achieve the same ends. Modernism no less than evangelicalism,
the humanists protested, applied scientific method and testing only in
a limited way that prejudiced its christology. It was neither modern-
ism nor neo-orthodoxy that increasingly permeated secular university
education, but rather humanism, which looked upon Jesus at best as
an outstanding religious leader.
Less than a half century after Harnack and other European mod-
ernists declared orthodox christology passe, the World Council of
at its organizing assembly in
that Jesus Christ is "God and Savior." Although vulnerable to existen-
tial and perspectival deployment, the formulation placed christologi-
cal concerns once again near the heart of ecumenical faith-and-order
interests. The question was again insistently raised: May not Jesus of
beside-God, God come in the flesh in the stupendous miracle of di-
Old Testament and New Testament
Earlier generations appealed more eagerly than ours to the pre-
dictive content of the Old Testament. Modernism with its denial of
the miraculous and dialectical and existential theology with its insis-
tence on the uniformity of nature and its internalization of miracle,
disavowed predictive prophecy.
The first Christians were, as Hodgson says in a preface for the
paperback edition of his Gifford Lectures, "Palestinian Jews trying to
fit their faith in the risen Lord into their inherited Jewish theology."49
Yet their inherited religion had itself supplied prophetic intimations
and anticipations of the exceptional role and nature of Messiah whose
coming was divinely pledged. The fact that some modem interpreters
have read back into the Old Testament christological intentions and
49 For Faith and Freedom (Gifford Lectures 1955-1957; London: SCM Press, 1968)
104 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
meanings that seem foreign to it is no reason for minimizing the ex-
tensive basis which the New Testament writers, and not least of all
the authors of the Gospels, found in the Old Testament for accredit-
ing Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. "Christian faith began," Hodgson
notes, "with the acceptance of his claim to be the fulfillment of God's
messianic promises given through the Old Testament prophets. Had
been no previous history of
The evasion of supernatural prediction is reflected in Claus Wes-
termann's treatment of "The Psalms and Christ" in which he sets
aside messianic prophecy for what he describes as "a more profound
and comprehensive" Old Testament anchoring of the Christ-event.51
But if God cannot foretell the future in specifics, can he prefigure
them in generalities? The writers of the Gospels and of the Epistles
unhesitatingly appealed to the Old Testament predictions of the com-
Although Jewish and Gentile sources both supplied linguistic
factors for the early Church's identification of Jesus as God-man, the
Christian doctrine of Jesus Christ did not spring from a simple bor-
rowing of existing Hebrew or Greek semantic elements. Jesus' own
teaching and life impacted notably and transformingly upon Logos
and Wisdom theology. Christianity's ties to Judaism, moreover, are
firmer than the links that comparative religious scholars often postu-
late between Christianity and Greek thought. Discovery of the Dead
Sea Scrolls encouraged new investigation of Old Testament back-
grounds, rather than of Gentile religion or philosophy as the context
illuminating New Testament thought. W. D. Davies had emphasized
already a generation ago that the religious background of Pauline the-
ology is Judaic rather than Hellenistic.52 Recent New Testament
scholarship has looked more to the Jewish and less to the Gentile re-
ligious milieu to illumine christological titles such as Lord and Son of
God. This verdict, that New Testament christology has roots in the
Old Testament rather than in Graeco-Roman philosophy and religion,
is immensely important.
Yet Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ turned even
more decisively on the events and teachings of the Gospels than on
We cannot, of course, gloss over highly conflicting perceptions of
the Gospel writings. Bultmann declares the Gospel tradition histori-
cally unreliable. He makes the early Church's creative imagination
50 Ibid., 82.
51 The Psalms: Structure, Content, and Message (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980) 27.
52 Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (New York: Harper & Bros., 1948, 1967).
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
decisive for christology; the kerygma is confinned not by historical
data but by resurrection-faith. Thus Bultmann wholly severs christol-
ogy from Jesus' self-understanding, from his self-disclosure, from the
testimony of eyewitnesses, from a carefully controlled oral tradition,
and from any reliable narrative of Jesus' life and teaching.
Contrary to Bultmann's insistence that John 20:28 ("my Lord and
my God") is the only New Testament passage to designate Jesus as
God53, Raymond E. Brown stipulates "three clear instances" John 1:1;
20:28; Heb. 1:8) and five probable instances. The post-apostolic designa-
tion of Jesus as theos, Brown declares, is therefore "a continuation of a
usage already begun in New Testament times."54 Brown recognizes
that the affirmation by Thomas is "strongly confessional and existen-
tial," and that "most of the other instances" are liturgical or confes-
sional. Bultmann would take any and all such statements not as
dogmatic descriptions or objectifying statements but rather as declara-
tions of personal significance: "The formula, 'Christ is God,'" he con-
tends, "is false in every sense in which God can be understood as an
entity which can be objectivized."55
Yet an unbiased reader can hardly avoid the New Testament's
ontological claims for Jesus. Some leading Scandinavian, British and
American New Testament scholars pointedly reject a form-critical ap-
proach, and disavow even more especially the philosophical assump-
tions to which Bultmann welded it. The Swiss scholar Oscar
Cullmann vigorously assailed Bultmann's form-critical method and
rejected existential philosophy as tendential and destructive.
Many Swedish scholars insist that the Gospel writers preserve a
professional oral tradition, while Anglo-American scholars emphasize
that the New Testament need not be considered creative myth simply
because it reflects the views of the early Church. The prime issue is
whether claims for Jesus made by the first-century Church represent
a fundamental break in the way Jesus' disciples conceived of him and
in the way Jesus their teacher conceived of himself. The early
Church's christological outlook no doubt discloses a development. But
is there, for all that, an essential continuity between its preresurrec-
tion and postresurrection representations?
The Christological Titles
C. F. D. Moule contents that the substance of the main christolog-
ical titles-Son of man, Son of God, Christ, the Lord--is present already
53 Essays: Philosophical and Theological (London: SCM Press, 1955) 276.
54 Jesus, God and Man (New York: Macmillan, 1967) 28£.
55 Op. cit., 287.
106 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
in the very thought and teaching of Jesus, and moreover, that his claims
are not merely functional but ontological.56 I. Howard Marshall simi-
larly locates christology within Jesus' self-affirmation.57 Martin Hengel
too rejects the notion that the early Church's christology breaks deci-
sively with Jesus' own claims.58 The preresurrection message of Jesus,
he holds, provided indispensable struts for the christology of the early
Church. Despite the vigorous counterclaims of Bultmannian and post-
Bultmannian critics, many scholars share this emphasis that christology
begins with Jesus of Nazareth. The synoptic titles thus stand impres-
sively linked to the "I am" declarations of the Gospel of John.
Jesus' self-testimony is best considered under two aspects, the
names or titles he applied to himself, and his references to his own
The titles Son of David, Son of God, and Messiah were used of
Jesus by others, but not used by Jesus of himself. Most widely used of
the titles are the Son-of-man sayings which bear importantly on Jesus'
messianic self-consciousness. This title is, Berkey says, "the only pre-
sumed messianic designation that the synoptic writers have placed
directly on the lips of Jesus" as used by him in the third person.
Moreover, in Mark 14:62, Jesus indirectly applies the title to himself
in the context of an express claim to be the Messiah. To be sure,
P. Vielhauer considers all the titles inauthentic and Bultmann regards
them as sheer inventions of the early church. But the Gospel evange-
lists indicate that, as Cullmann emphasizes,59 Jesus wished to be un-
derstood as "Son of man."
Bultmann concedes that Jesus used this title. But he holds that
Jesus referred it not to himself but to an apocalyptic figure; the early
Church only later, Bultmann contends, identified this figure with the
resurrected Jesus. More recent redaction critics widen the gap be-
tween Jesus' proclamation and the later Church's christological claims
by removing each and every Son-of-man saying from the earliest lay-
ers of authentic Jesus-tradition. But the Gospel record depicts Jesus as
being tried and sentenced for its use.
Barnabas Lindars insists that Daniel 7:13 has a collective or com-
munity sense and dismisses the claim that Jewish messianism used
the term as the title of an eschatological figure.60 Lindars holds that
56 The Origin of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
57 The Origins of New Testament Christology (
58 The Son of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976).
59 The Christology of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959).
60 Jesus-Son of
Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) 158.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
the Gospel writers subsequently applied the title to Jesus. But if so,
the absence of a Son-of-Man christology in the remainder of the New
Testament is difficult to explain. Slim though the evidence may be,
there is some support for Jewish use of the title for an apocalyptic
figure, but no conclusive basis for the theory that the church indepen-
dently imposed the term on the Nazarene.
F. F. Bruce stresses, however, that in Jesus' day "the Son of man"
was not a current title "for the Messiah or any other eschatological
figure." Jesus' use was derived, he holds, from the reference in Dan
7:13f. to "'one like a son of man'... divinely vested with authority."
Jesus fused this title with the figure of a suffering servant--"probably
the Isianic Servant." Bruce concludes that "a 'Son of man' theology
could be nothing other than a theology based on what can be ascer-
tained about Jesus' understanding of his identity and life-mission."61
But Martin Hengel, Der Sohn Gottes, connects the idea of divine
sonship with Jesus' own proclamation, and traces to Jesus himself the
affirmation of his divine incarnation and vicarious atonement. In con-
trast to H. J. Schoeps and other Religionsgeschichte partisans who
declare "the 'Son of God' belief the sole, albeit decisive, heathen
premise of Pauline thought,"62 Hengel insists the title can be under-
stood only on Jewish assumptions.63
A J. B. Higgins insists that Jesus expected a vindication of his
ministry by exaltation that included "judgmental functions tradition-
ally associated with the apocalyptic Son of Man."64
Bultmann had rejected--appropriately enough, but not for good
reason--the modernist appeal to a non-miraculous historical Jesus
behind the Kerygma. But he then lifted the gospel texts from an his-
torical setting and turned them into speculative abstraction. Post-
Bultmannians sought to narrow the gap between the preached Christ
and the historical Jesus. But their form-critical method continued to
limit the objective factuality of the Gospels, and moreover they had
no interest in probing Jesus' messianic awareness. The beginnings of
christology, in their view, lies not in claims made by the Jesus of his-
tory or in the pre-Eastern proclamations of disciples influenced by his
life and teaching, but essentially in the early Church as a post-Easter
community of faith.
61 The Background to the Son of Man Sayings,” Christ the Lord (ed. H. S. Row-
62 Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish History (
63 Cf. W. R Long, “Martin Hengel on Early Christianity,” Religion Studies Review
15/3 (1989) 232.
64 The Son of Man in the Teachings of Jesus (New York/Cambridge:
University Press, 1981).
108 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Marcus J. Borg depicts Jesus as "a Spirit-filled," charismatically-
motivated person who regarded himself as prophet and may have
thought of himself as the Son of God, but did not publicly proclaim
himself to be such.65 Much the same verdict is given by Ragnar
Leivestad66 and by James H. Charlesworth.67
There is growing acknowledgement of the need to move beyond
the many contradictory critical discussions of christology to a reexam-
ination of the New Testament documents. If contemporary Gospel
studies reflect any trend, it is a resurgent interest in the Jesus of his-
tory, including larger attention to Jesus' message and works. C. F. D.
Moule notes the "unexamined false assumptions behind a good deal
of contemporary New Testament scholarship." Moule specially faults
the notion that "the genesis of Christology . . . can be explained as a
sort of evolutionary process" whereby what began with a view of
Jesus as a Palestinian rabbi evolved gradually into the affirmation of
"the divine Lord of a Hellenistic Saviour-cult."68
Moule readily grants a "development" in New Testament christol-
ogy. But he insists that this unfolding articulates and refines what Jesus
and his followers had affirmed from the outset. With an eye on the Ar-
amaic term maranatha, found in the earliest Pauline literature (1 Cor
16:22), Moule comments that one does not "call upon a dead rabbi to
'come'.”69 The term in fact echoes the longing of the community of be-
lievers for the Lord's glorious return. Moule stresses that, as the
ran scrolls attest, the Semitic term mar ("Master") was used not simply
of a rabbi or human master but of God or gods also. In speaking of Jesus,
moreover, monotheistic Jews who spoke Greek employed not simply
the term Kurios current in the Greek world of their day but even and
especially Kurios--passages from the Septuagint translation of the Old
Testament. Reginald Fuller notes that Jesus had prepared the way for
the highest sense of mar when during his earthly ministry he asked,
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and not do what I tell you?"70
This assertion of an apostolic continuity with Jesus' own christo-
logical claims Moule bases not mainly on Jesus' words but more
broadly on evidence that "from very early days, Jesus was being inter-
preted as an inclusive Israel-wide-indeed, Adam-wide-person: one
65 Jesus: A New Vision (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987).
66 Jesus in His Own Perspective: An Examination of His Sayings, Actions, and
Eschatological Titles (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1987).
67 Jesus Within Judaism: New Light from Exciting Archaeological Discoveries
(New York: Doubleday, 1988).
68 The Origin of Christology, 1f.
69 "The Distinctiveness of Christ," Theology 76/641 (1973) 562-65.
70 The Foundations of New Testament Christology (
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
who, as no merely human individual, included persons and communi-
ties within him, and upon whom Christians found converging all the
patterns of relationship between God and man with which they were
familiar from their Scriptures.”71 Jesus was held obediently to fulfill
divinely given vocation in which
tament writers who are not explicit about the larger ontological impli-
cations nonetheless assign Jesus "more than individual implications"
in their "conceptions of him as the convergence-point of all the Old
Testament patterns of relationship between God and his people, and
as1he universal Saviour," says Moule; moreover, "Paul's understanding
of Jesus is like a theist's understanding of God--that he is personal but
more than individual," and even in those parts of the New Testament
Christ is conceived of much more individualistically, he is
ertheless conceived of a "definitely transcendent and divine.”72
"Jesus is certainly called God within the New Testament (John
20:28 and probably Tit 2:13)," Moule emphasizes.73 Bruce M. Metzger
holds, moreover, that Jesus was expressly being called "God" as early
as the Pauline letters,74 a circumstance that would demolish the notion
that the ascription of divinity reflects a non-Jewish borrowing from
The person of Jesus himself, Moule contends, is one way or an-
other the source of the remarkable estimates of him as 'the Son of
Man,' 'the Son of God,' 'Messiah,' and 'Kurios.'
From an analysis of the titles of Jesus found already in the Gos-
pel of Mark,75 Ferdinand Hahn argues that a hellenistic Jewish Chris-
tianity existed alongside a Palestinian Jewish Christianity and a pre-
Pauline hellenistic Christianity.76 This accommodates a smoother link
between Palestinian Jewish and hellenistic Jewish and hellenistic
Christian belief, and implies a direct continuity between Jesus and
the New Testament christology.
Donald Guthrie expounds New Testament christology on the
premise that Jesus' divinity is a biblically given datum guaranteed by
divine revelation.77 His appeal to Scripture as decisive for the doctrine
of Christ has the clear advantage of escaping constantly changing
71 The Origin of Christology, 136.
72 Ibid., 138.
73 Ibid., 137.
74 "The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5," Christ and Spirit in the New Testament (ed.
Lindars and S. S. Smalley;
75 Especially Son of Man, Lord, Christ, Son of David, Son of God.
76 The Titles of Jesus in Christology: Their History in Early Christianity, (Gottin-
gen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1963;
77 New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981).
110 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
alternatives reflecting novel metaphysical principles or extra-canoni-
cal post-apostolic documents. But it does not of itself assure interpre-
tations of the biblical data on scripture's own terms. The appeal to the
New Testament was made, for example, by advocates of a "kenotic"
christology and by proponents of a "moral union" christology, both of
which comprised the deity of Jesus Christ through their imposition of
tendential assumptions on the scriptural data
Karl Rahner holds that the "titles of dignity" reflect Jesus' own
belief in the Johannine and Pauline teaching of the doctrine of divine
preexistence of the Son-Logos and claim to have been divinely sent.
But he contends that the New Testament goes beyond Jesus' witness
to himself.78 The Judeo-Hellenistic doctrine of a wisdom anterior to
the world, he holds, would have led to faith in Jesus' preexistence and
hence the affirmation of a divine incarnation.79 But then, as Joseph
Siri indicates, the inference is difficult to avoid that Nicea and Chalce-
don crystallized a post-resurrection affirmation that Jesus is God in-
carnate, a view presumably not held earlier either by the evangelists
before the resurrection or found in the self-consciousness or self-
revelation of Jesus of Nazareth during his three year ministry.80 The
implication is that ascending theological speculation transformed
headlong a more primitive view of Jesus into the doctrine of the in-
carnation of a preexistent Word-Son.
More recently James D. G. Dunn presumes to find a variety of chris-
tological views in the New Testament and regards the preexistent Logos
subsequently incarnate in Christ as but one of these options. To be sure,
Dunn shows that the Christian doctrine of Christ's incarnation was not
dependent upon a Gnostic redeemer myth, contrary to some skeptics.
He concedes that as a feature of the Fourth Gospel John 1:14 in affirming
the incarnation of the preexistent Logos-Son sponsors a fully personal
doctrine of the divine preexistence of Jesus Christ.81 Even in the text of
John 1:1-13, however, Dunn finds not an emphasis on the Logos' per-
sonal preexistence, but rather only a personified utterance of God.
Dunn needlessly sacrifices other substantial supports of New Tes-
tament christology. He finds no explicit doctrine of the incarnation in
the Pauline writings, and contends moreover that not even Hebrews
offers a fully personal doctrine of preexistence. He writes: "Only in
78 K. Hahner ed., Sacramentum Mundi: An Encyclopedia of Theology (6 vols.;
80 Cf. Gethsemane Reflections on the Contemporary Theological Movement (Chi-
cago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1980).
81 Christology in the Making. An Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the
Incarnation (London: SCM Press, 1980).
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
the post-Pauline period did a clear understanding of Christ as having
preexisted with God before his ministry on earth emerge, and only in
the Fourth Gospel can we speak of a doctrine of the incarnation."82
But G. B. Caird affirms the preexistence doctrine to be an intrinsic
feature of Pauline christology.83 C. F. D. Moule points out, moreover,
that Dunn's sweeping dismissal of the Pauline corpus rests on question-
able exegesis of such passages as 2 Cor 8:9, Phil 2:5ff. and Col 1:15ff.84
The New Testament affirms more than that Jesus Christ embodies and
discloses the nature of the invisible creative powers and the spirit of
love that sustains the world Dunn's emphasis that the Pauline letters
refer only to Jesus' post-resurrection status and contain no intimation of
Christ's ontological preexistence and incarnation, and that even He-
brews affirms preexistence only as a conceptual idea rather than as ac-
tual personal preexistence, rests on biased aprioris in reading passages
like Rom 8:3, Gal 4:4 and Phil 2:6-7, and Heb 1:2-3, 2:6-9 and 7:3.
L. William Countryman protests likewise that Dunn's argument
rests on weak and highly vulnerable assumptions.85 Dunn contends, for
example, that the several New Testament christological titles (Son of
man, new Adam, Son of God, etc.) depict distinct christologies, and that
terms like Logos and Wisdom can mean only what pre-Christian writers
meant by them. In these circumstances Dunn overlooks the possibility
that christological titles may to some extent have been used interchange-
ably, and that Logos and Wisdom in the New Testament have significant
personal overtones. What Dunn considers central in New Testament
christology, Countryman adds, he expresses in language that is incom-
patible with the biblical texts.86
While there is a developing christology in the New Testament,
Dunn's exposition of a gradually emerging incarnational view prejudi-
cially assigns the stimulus for incarnational theology not to apostolic
revelation or to Jesus' knowledge of himself, but rather to enlarging
Christian faith. The notion that in its early stages the exaltation of
Jesus was distinct from belief in his divine preexistence87 seems
moreover to jeopardize the monotheism on which the New Testament
Donald Guthrie responds to the recent tendency, especially among
redaction critics, to find in the New Testament not an integrated
82 Ibid., 259.
83 "The Development of the Doctrine of Christ in the New Testament," Christ for
Us Today (ed. N. Pittenger;
84 "Reviews," JTS 33/1 os (1982).
85 Review of Christology in the Making, CH 51/3 (1982) 335.
86 Ibid., 335.
87 Christology in the Making, 63, 1;62f.
112 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
theological perspective but rather a reflection of supposedly diverse
views of the several biblical writers. Guthrie responds that the New
Testament writers do not expound independent creative theologies:
the corpus does not contain “a collection of different theologies rather
than. . . a unified New Testament theology."88 The unprejudiced inter-
preter “is not at liberty to pick and choose" from the New Testament
data, Guthrie cautions, in order to conform its representations to pre-
Cullmann holds that the early Christian christological formula-
tions articulate what is already presupposed in the earliest literature
about Jesus. But while Cullmann insists that “christology already un-
derlies the New Testament," he holds that christology is less inter-
ested in the nature of Jesus than in his function. He stresses that the
New Testament answers the question of the function of Jesus not in
terms of myth but in terms of “actual events. . . that involve his life,
work, death and presence and actions after his crucifixion.”89
Reginald Fuller complains that Cullmanns disposition to view
New Testament christology as almost exclusively functional disregards
the latest stratum of the biblical literature, and lacks continuity with
the still later patristic contribution.90 Philippians 2, for example, is no
less expressly ontological than is John 1, and should not be taken as
merely the translation into Greek of earlier asserted functional
To affirm Christ's personal divine preexistence is simultaneously
to deny that Jesus Christ is a man who gradually became God. Al-
though Jesus' contemporaries, even his disciples, may only gradually
have perceived the deity of the God-man, he was not, for all that, a
devout human being who acquired divinity in the course of spiritual
development, or, was he, as D. M. Baillie adds, God or the Son of God
“transformed into a human being for a period of about thirty years.”91
New Testament Christianity depicts Jesus as at one and the same
time both God and man.
Nothing in the Gospels indicates that Jesus arrogantly or ostenta-
tiously displayed his deity or overwhelmed even his closest disciples
by it. Yet John's Gospel records his magisterial I ams as overt claims.
Guthrie comments that “it is difficult to escape the conclusion that in
the mind of Jesus there was a connection with the great I AM as the
name of Jehovah" in the Old Testament, particularly in view of John
88 New Testament Theology, 71.
89 The Christology of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959) 316.
90 The Foundations of New Testament Christology, 247, 257.
91 God Was in Christ. An Essay on Incarnation and Atonement (
and Faber, 1948) 82.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
8:58.92 An implicit christology lies in the tender term abba93 and in
the insistence on his unique sonship (cf. Matt 11:25-30), which imply
that the Father and the Son share the same essential life. The con-
junction of Jesus' name with that of both the Father and the Spirit
supports this. His divine prerogatives, as his life and teaching make
clear, include the forgiveness of sins in his own name, and the future
judgment as well of all humanity.
The Resurrection and Divinity
The resurrection of the crucified Jesus holds in Christianity a piv-
otal importance for the affirmation of Jesus' divinity. Bultmann scorns
all talk of an empty tomb or of the crucified Nazarene's bodily appear-
ances; the only resurrection he allows occurred not
in the believer's internal response to the preaching of the apostles.
The beginnings of christology for Bultmann therefore lie not in any
historical ontological happening on "the third day" but in an existen-
tial event whose character is functional.
"Whether one argues that Christology began within the con-
sciousness of Jesus, or later somewhere within the life and faith of
the early Christian community," Berkey comments, "the substance of
Christology is always shaped by, created by, understood through the
New Testament's resounding affirmation 'He is risen!'”94
Moule is surely right that Christianity does not rest solely or
merely on "certain antecedent claims made by or for Jesus. . . but
rather on the implications of his life, his actions, his teaching, his death,
and most notably its extraordinary sequel.”95 The Easter verdict seems
to Moule decisive because he finds it "impossible to account for. ..ex-
cept as an intimation traceable only to Christ himself”96 and because
subsequent history supplies no evidence for reversing that verdict.
Can historical investigation alone, however, provide a solid basis
for an irreversible verdict on the permanent aliveness of Jesus Christ?
Granted that a conclusively negative verdict on the factual resurrection
of the crucified Jesus would devastate Christian faith, the question re-
mains whether empirical historical inquiry can decisively adjudicate
the question of Jesus' present aliveness and high priestly ministry.
92 "Jesus Christ," The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1975) 3.569a.
93 Cf. J. Jeremias, The Central
Message of the New Testament (
tress, 1965) 9ff.
94 "Christological Perspectives," 18.
95 The Origins of Christianity, 163.
96 Ibid., 173.
114 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
It is not to historiography--"new" or old-that we look for valida-
tion of Jesus' claim to reveal God, but only for verification that he
made such a claim and worked certain acts and lived in a certain way
and said certain things that seem quite inconsistent logically with any
other claim. When Van Harvey tells us that "there is no one true
significance of an event"97 he arbitrarily presumes to tell us that the
importance of the life and death of Jesus is not to be identified in
terms of a divinely revealed meaning, and hence that the attribution
of such significance to it is untrue.
Is the resurrection to be seen as a confirmation of Jesus' divine
teaching and work, or is it rather the event in which christology took
its rise? Michael Walsh resurrects the modernist thesis that Jesus' vic-
tory over death was a matter of faith more than a historical fact: "all
that really matters is that those who followed Jesus believed the res-
urrection to have taken place and they acted on that belief."98
W. H. C. Frend argues that only because Jesus was already ac-
cepted as unique could the Easter story. have gained currency.99
Surely something about Jesus' life and ministry contributed to the
credibility of the resurrection reports. But the Gospels in no way sup-
port a theory that the resurrection is grounded in the disciples' psy-
Peter Carnley asserts that New Testament faith in the resurrec-
tion was grounded in an encounter exempt from rational inquiry into
the basis of belief.100 Carnley stresses the post-crucifixion role of the
phenomena of "appearance" and "presence," the former only to believ-
ers (or in Paul's case to one acquainted with Jesus), and yet sufficiently
ambiguous, Carnley thinks, to allow doubt. Yet the experience is not
merely private, but also "communal and publicly shared." The Holy
Spirit's presence, Carnley contends, is a presence of Jesus Christ.
Carnley's treatment lacks a careful statement of the particular roles of
appearance, of experience and of liturgical remembrance in assuring
the reality of the resurrection of the Crucified One, and he does not
work out implications of the pre-Eastern ministry of Jesus contribut-
ing to this assurance.
Among current literature that goes behind psychology to a larger
historical rootedness for Jesus' message and mission--although not
necessarily to adequate discussion of the words of Jesus--are E. P.
97 Ibid., 221.
98 The Triumph of the Meek: Why Early Christianity Succeeded (
Harper & Row, 1986).
99 The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 55.
100 The Structure of Resurrection Belief (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
Sanders's Jesus and the Spiral of Violence,101 and Marcus J. Borg's
Jesus: A New Vision.102 These works, as Borg himself comments, halt
short of both direct quotation by and specific attribution to Jesus, do
not argue for historical exactitude in details, and are especially inter-
ested in sociocultural implications.103
The case for the objective historical resurrection of the crucified
Jesus has been maintained not by evangelical orthodox scholars alone,
but by others also who emphasize both the empty tomb and Jesus' res-
urrection appearances. Wolfhart Pannenberg considers Jesus' resurrec-
tion decisive for every christological concern. He does so, however, in
a controversial way: in his view, the earthly life of Jesus is "kenosis"--
a condition in which his divinity was imperceptible and in which his
fellow-Jews could only regard him as a blasphemer.104 Pannenberg
speaks of "Jesus' nonmessianic ministry" as being "transformed into
Christology only in the light of the resurrection," and insists, as Berkey
notes, that what "divides the nonmessianic historical Jesus from the
Christ of faith is not an affirmation but an event.”105 The resurrection
he considers a real, external, nonexistential historical event, not a
mythical existential reinterpretation. Yet in doing so he also sacrifices
a Logos-theology. Contrary to Barth, Lawson, Moule, Guthrie, and oth-
ers, he develops christology "from below." He rules out the virgin birth
legend, and derives from the
pels ascribe to Jesus. Divine authority was merely "implicit" in Jesus'
three-year ministry; only the resurrection vindicates it. The resurrec-
tion thus displaces the incarnation as the starting-point for the discus-
sion of Jesus' deity.106
Yet Pannenberg denies revelation in the form of scriptural proph-
ecy and insists instead that revelation is given in self-interpreting his-
tory. He critically rejects the unity of Scripture, forfeits canonical
inspiration and defers to noncanonical materials, and professes to find
the meaning of history in history itself, rather than in Scripture. While
he contends for a unified history centered in the figure of Jesus, his crit-
ically concessive view of the Gospels leads him to depict Jesus as mis-
takenly expecting an imminent end of world history and leads him also
to deny that Jesus portrayed himself as the coming Son of man. Instead
103 “A Renaissance in Jesus Studies,” T Today 45/3 (1988) 280-92.
104 Jesus-God and Man (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968).
105 "Christological Perspectives," 20.
106 Cf. E. Frank Tupper, The Theology of Wolfhart
116 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
of appealing to divinely authoritative and historically reliable Scripture,
he insists that Jesus' resurrection "is not made certain by faith but only
by historical research" and then adds the significant qualifier, "to the ex-
tent that certainty can be attained at all about questions of this kind."107
But history is in fact not self-interpreting, nor is empirical histor-
ical investigation capable of yielding more than high probability. In-
spired Scripture speaks prophetically of the resurrection of the
Crucified One. Jesus' disciples at first heeded neither the biblical inti-
mations nor their Master's anticipations of that event. Yet the apostle
Paul gave Jesus' resurrection due centrality (1 Cor 15:3-4), insisting
both on its scriptural prediction and its historical factuality.
Although radical form-criticism and redaction criticism shroud
the Gospels in historical uncertainty, archaeological discovery contin-
ues its sporadic confirmation even of the Bible's obscure details.
Nonetheless, Pannenberg attaches little more theological significance
to Jesus' messianic consciousness and words and deeds than do most
post-Bultmannian scholars. The tradition of the resurrection appear-
ances and that of the empty tomb, he holds, arose independently. Yet
their complementarity makes Jesus' historical resurrection "very
probable and that always means in historical inquiry that it is to be
presupposed until contrary evidence appears";108 certainty will not
come until there is eschatological verification. But is it enough to say
that apostolic Christianity proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus Christ
merely as highly probable?
John Cobb, who accepts the historical probability of the resurrec-
tion, considers the empty tomb reports cognitively more vulnerable
than the appearances. At the same time he finds confirmation of the
tradition of Jesus' appearances in present-day visionary "appearances"
of the dead,109 a comparison that wholly misses the theological and
eschatological significance of Jesus' resurrection. Cobb emphasizes
that Jesus' appearances lack features usually associated with a body,
but thinks the differences are minimized by focusing on one's post-
mortem spiritual life rather than on the nature of bodily resurrection.
Speculative considerations here override the importance of an au-
thentic New Testament witness.
Pannenberg affirms the resurrection not only to be decisive for
the recognition of Jesus' divinity, but also as ontologically constitutive
of the reality of his divinity. It is the more remarkable, therefore, that
he seems in the face of rival theological and exegetical expositions
increasingly to shy away from Jesus' resurrection as an historical
107 Ibid., 99.
108 Ibid., 105.
109 "Wolfuart Pannenberg's 'Jesus-God and Man,'" JR 49 (1969) 199ff.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
even110 or at least to consider all approaches to Jesus' resurrection to
be merely provisional. He insists, on the one hand, that if the resurrec-
tion claim is valid it is so as an historical act in the past. Yet, on the
other hand, he declares it "quite difficult to affirm this event as a fact in
the same sense as other facts I presuppose that history does not re-
quire homogeneity of all events which are designated as historical."111
Many conservatives initially hailed Pannenberg for his rejection
of neo-orthodox fideism and for his insistence on divine revelation in
history, and the importance of historically attested divine acts as indis-
pensable to the Christian faith. These revelatory acts reached their cli-
max in the history of Jesus consummated by his resurrection, attesting
Jesus' divinity, emphasized particularly in the empty tomb accounts
and the Pauline report of the resurrection appearances. Pannenberg
questions Willi Marxsen's view that the Easter witnesses claim only to
have seen Jesus who was crucified, and not to have seen him rise (be-
cause admittedly there were no human eyewitnesses of the resurrec-
tion event per se). Their reflective interpretation, says Marxsen, was
that God raised Jesus.112 Marxsen's approach could in principle di-
vorce the appearances from any linkage whatever to Jesus. Pannen-
berg concedes that only in the eschatological end-time will we speak
clearly about what happened in Jesus' resurrection. The revelation
God gives in the Risen Jesus is proleptic--that is, an advance disclosure
in Jesus the individual of a comprehensive end-time consummation;
moreover, it is paradoxical and metaphorical, in short, doxological, and
not given in the form of universally valid truth.113 Pannenberg holds
that "the appearances reported in the Gospels, which are not men-
tioned by Paul, have such a strong legendary character that no one can
scarcely find a historical kernel of their own in them."114 Such radical
criticism cannot but reflect negatively on claims for Jesus' resurrection.
According to Pannenberg, Jesus' resurrection must be verifiable
in principle by historical reason independently of faith. Jurgen Molt-
mann counters that such historical verification would require a con-
cept of history that would anticipate the prophesied end of history,
one dominated by an expectation of universal end-time resurrec-
tion.115 Pannenberg has modified his view to hold that in history we
110 Cf. Gerald O'Collins, "The Theology of Revelation in Some Recent Discussion"
(Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge University, 1968).
111 Cf. Tupper, Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, 284f.
112 "The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical and Theological Problem," The
Significance of the Message of the Resurrection for Faith in Jesus Christ (ed., C. F. D.
113 Ibid., 187, 397.
114 Jesus-God and Man, 107.
115 Theology of Hope (London: SCM Press, 1967) 82.
118 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
have only "pointers" to the resurrection and that the resurrection of
Jesus will "possess and retain the character of revelation for us."116
But, as Avery Dulles comments, if divine promise is, as Pannenberg
implies, only the anticipation of revelation, and if at the moment
that Jesus becomes the fulfillment of the promise he passes beyond
the limits of history," it would seem that as long as history lasts we
are doomed to be deprived of revelation itself.117
The Jewish New Testament scholar Pinchas Lapide grants that
the crucified Jesus arose from the dead.118 No other explanation, such
as vision or hallucination, he says, can explain the revolutionary trans-
formation of Jesus' disciples after Easter weekend. Although Lapide
concedes the material facticity of Jesus' resurrection, he dismisses as
pious fraud such narrative details in the Gospel accounts as the disci-
ples' discovery of the empty tomb and the appearance of angelic crea-
tures in white garments. He asserts that the resurrection experience
helped advance the divine plan of salvation, and declares that Jesus
could be the Messiah of the Gentiles. Yet he denies that Jesus was the
long-awaited Jewish messiah or divine Son of God.
The ground and hope common to the Old and New Testaments,
however, precludes any such distinction. Messiah is Saviour of the
world, not simply of Jews and of Gentiles, and his third-day resurrec-
tion attests messianity in the context of the biblical hope and prospect
of a final resurrection of all mankind.
Historical research by itself is incompetent to establish the New
Testament's most significant statements about Jesus Christ. It may in-
attest that Jesus lived and died in
with authority." But it cannot confirm that he was conceived by the
Holy Ghost, or that he is the eternal Logos become flesh and veritable
divine Son through whom God has ushered in the last days, or that he
arose from the dead never to die again, or that God has made him both
Lord and Christ, or that he will return in omnipotent power and glory.
What role has Jesus' own self-consciousness in respect to affirma-
tions of his divinity? Unless the substance of the claims made by early
Christianity can be legitimately referred back not to Jesus' contempo-
raries only, but also to what Jesus affirmed about himself, christology
is in jeopardy. Christianity cannot persuasively claim for Jesus what
116 Jesus--God and Man, 107
117 Models of Revelation (Garden City, NY: Doubleday: 1985) 65.
118 The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
he did not and does not claim for himself. We may have no access to
Jesus' self-consciousness except through his words and acts as re-
flected in the Gospel records, but neglect of data concerning Jesus'
own self-consciousness will obscure the contribution made by his own
life and teaching to the attitude of the first Christians toward him.
All the gospels contain passage in which Jesus affirms his divinity
(e.g., Matt 11:21; Luke 10:22; John 16:14f.; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). The weight
of the evidence is that Jesus believed that he was and is God's incom-
parable Son, standing in God's place with divine authority and right,
and determining the destiny of human beings according to their re-
sponse to his life and work. Herbert Brown nonetheless declares it
"probable" that Jesus lacked any messianic self-understanding.119
The challenge to the divinity of Jesus Christ in the second decade
of this century was projected on the ground that the historical Jesus of
the Synoptic Gospels made no supernatural claims for himself. But
this contention crumbled under research showing that Jesus depicted
himself as the messiah of prophetic promise, and that he implied a
unique relationship not only to mankind but to God.120 Burton Scott
Easton remarked that "too many moderns treat" Jesus' messianic self-
consciousness ''as if it were something almost any religious man
might possess," for example, the fervent conviction that in the future
judgment of the world one would "not be on man's side but on
God's”121 would in any other figure have aroused countercharges of
delusion. Leonard Hodgson stressed that what Jesus "thought of Him-
self involves, if it be true, such a supernatural office as justifies the be-
liefs about him stated in the Christian creeds, and that if these
elements in His thought are set on one side, whatever remains is not
the historic Jesus.”122
Oscar Cullmann does: not hesitate to affirm that Jesus Christ be-
lieved himself to be Messiah.123 Prior to the Easter-experience both
"Jesus' own self-consciousness" and "his person and work" provided a
starting point of christological thought. "From the moment of his bap-
tism Jesus was conscious of carrying out God’s plan.124
As already mentioned in passing, Pannenberg considers the early
Church the source of all the christological titles ascribed to Jesus; the
titles therefore, as he sees it, do not directly attest Jesus' consciousness
of unique unity with God. Pannenberg's rejection of the christological
119 Jesus of
120 Cf. William Manson, Jesus the Messiah (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1943).
121 The Gospel Before the Gospels (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1928) 160.
122 And Was Made Man (London: Longmans, Green, 1928) 67.
123 The Christology of the New Testament, 314ff.
124 Ibid., 317.
120 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
significance of the titles reflects the influence of questionable theolog-
ical assumptions and prejudgment. The ontological structure of Jesus'
divine-human consciousness he connects with a progressively devel-
oping self-understanding in intimate community with the Father's
revelational presence, rather than with a Logos consciousness. While
Pannenberg seeks to protect Jesus' sinlessness, he denies that he was
free from error. Jesus erred, says Pannenberg, by expecting the arrival
of God's Kingdom in his own generation.125 This lack of knowledge ex-
tended additionally to his own person. His complete dependence on
and unity with God, with whose will he was functionally one in pre-
actualizing the coming Kingdom, did not presuppose a messianic self-
consciousness.126 Yet Pannenberg holds that Jesus' sinlessness was a
consequence not of incarnation in a specially purified humanity that
constituted him incapable of sin; it presupposes rather that Jesus as-
sumed sinful flesh existentially structured by self-centeredness, but
that his resurrection attests that he conquered sin under the very con-
ditions of human existence in bondage to sin.127 Jesus' personal com-
munity with the Father defines him as the Son of God. The
resurrection of Jesus attests that God's will to establish the Kingdom
governed his life and work. God raised Jesus as the One who in his
mission was unreservedly dedicated to him and who self-sacrificially
remained so dedicated even amid the seeming failure of that mission.
The End (whose nearness Jesus proclaimed) did not come in the way
in which (so Pannenberg holds) Jesus and his disciples expected-the
appearance of the heavenly Son of Man, universal resurrection of the
dead, the last judgment--but rather in the manner of Jesus' own sin-
gular proleptic resurrection.
Karl Hahner affinns that Jesus "knew he was indissolubly united
with his God."128 Pannenberg, like Rahner, holds that Jesus' reflective
messianic self-consciousness was an aspect of his personal intellectual
history, and not due to an intrinsic and historically unconditioned
awareness of the divine Logos. Jesus' self-knowledge arises in relation
to the Father rather than to the Logos. Pannenberg regards the Hebrew
religious heritage as crucial, particularly its emphasis on the nearness
about his own person, although he knew himself to be functionally one
with God's will,129 and knew his ego to be other than that of the Father.
125 Jesus-God and Man, 226.
126 Ibid., 334.
127 Ibid., 354££.
128 Theological Investigations, Vol. I, God, Christ, Mary, Grace (14 vols.; New
129 Jesus-God and Man, 334.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
Jesus' personal community with the Father identifies him as the Son of
God, and the resurrection confirms his whole activity to be in dedica-
tion to God's purpose to establish the Kingdom. Pannenberg contends
that as human existence gains integrated personality through depen-
dence on God the Father, Jesus too received his life-integrating person-
ality in personal communion with the Father.130 In the revelation of
Jesus as the Son of God Pannenberg finds Jesus' ultimate identification
with the Lordship of God, and hence his entry into kingly rule over all
creation in extension of God's Kingdom,131 his headship of humanity as
an aspect of cosmic reconciliation, and his eschatological consummation
of the world and historical process. Although Pannenberg does not re-
gard salvation as automatically universal, he nonetheless considers uni-
versal salvation a theological option.132
James D. G. Dunn holds that much as one must acknowledge that
Jesus claimed to be "the eschatological prophet" and to speak as "the
final envoy of Wisdom, with an immediacy of revelatory authority that
transcended anything that had gone before... there is no indication
that Jesus thought or spoke of himself as having preexisted with God
prior to his birth or appearance on earth."133 But this verdict can be
achieved only by dismissing such requests as John 8 and John 17 as
late forms of tradition that cannot be traced back to Jesus.
Moule is reluctant to find in Jesus' own consciousness an aware-
ness of divine preexistence, a hesitancy that seems strange in view of
John 17:5 ("and now, O Father, glorify Me with the glory which I had
with you before the world was"). Yet he retains the idea of Jesus' pre-
existence and thinks that John (in 1:1-18ff.) and Paul (in Col 1:15ff.)
draw out "the implications of their experience of him as transcending
the temporal."134 This inference centered especially, Moule thinks, in
their relation to Jesus as one who, beyond crucifixion, had without
waiting for the end of history entered into absolute life. Thus the Eas-
ter-belief of the disciples that Jesus had passed through death into
"life absolute, life eternal" is for Moule the decisive factor in affirm-
ing Jesus' supertemporal existence.
It is one thing to say, as Bultmann did, that Christology is the cre-
ative invention of the post-crucifixion Christian community, and very
much another thing to say, as does Moule, that the resurrection-event
congealed the latent Christian conviction of Jesus' transcendent status.
But did not still earlier factors, perhaps including Jesus' self-awareness,
130 Ibid., 345.
131 Ibid., 365ff.
132 Ibid., 271f.
133 Christology in the Making, 253ff.
134 The Origin of Christology, 138f.
122 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
already contribute to the shaping of this slumbering conviction? In con-
ceding this latter possibility Moule goes beyond Pannenberg's insis-
tence that: "Until his resurrection, Jesus' unity with God was hidden
not only to other men but above all, which emerges from a critical ex-
amination of the tradition, for Jesus himself also. It was hidden because
the ultimate decision about it had not been given."135 Moule to the con-
trary stresses that the New Testament writings share a common "devo-
tion to the person of Jesus Christ, the historical Jesus acknowledged as
Messiah and Lord,"136 a veneration that did not first emerge after Jesus'
resurrection (cf. Luke 24:21).
Moule does not specifically address the question of Jesus' virgin
birth, stating only that "even. . . at its most reduced level. . .
[of] . . . myth, one might still maintain that it was an expression of that
transcendental quality which, from the very beginning, seems to have
attached to Christ. . . .”137 But in that case might not Christ's preexis-
tence, empty tomb, resurrection and ascension ministry be assimi-
lated similarly to this reductionist level? Moule's declaration that the
canonical writings need not as such be regarded as wholly trustwor-
thy138 serves only to widen doubts about historical factuality. It is not
enough to reject as inadequate, as Moule indeed does, J. L. Houlden's
view that the new life that early Christians found in Jesus, and their
consequent experience of a new world, constrained them to view
Jesus as the preexistent agent of its creation.139 To reinforce Houl-
den's view only by Moule's emphasis that the first Christians "experi-
enced Jesus himself as in a dimension transcending the human and
the temporal”140 insufficiently illumines the transcendent basis of
that experience and the validity-claim attaching to it. The earliest
Christians, Moule avers, were "driven to their conclusions by the
force of what was happening to them.”141 Yet this appeal to the impli-
cations of apostolic experience for the transcendent nature of Christ
is vulnerable through Moule's failure to elaborate an adequate revela-
tion-grounded theology of the person and work of the Redeemer.
Reginald Fuller finds in the historical Jesus more than an express
basis for the apostolic Kerygma. He emphasizes that there exists "a
direct line of continuity between Jesus' self-understanding and the
church's christological interpretation of him.”142 "Jesus understood his
135 Jesus-God and Man, 321.
136 The Birth of the New Testament (London: Black, 1966) 9.
137 The Origin of Christology, 140f.
138 Ibid., 136f.
139 "The Place of the New Testament," What About the New Testament? Essays
in honor of Christopher Evans (London: SCM Press, 1975) lO3ff.
140 The Origin of Christology, 138.
141 Op. cit., 162.
142 The Foundations of New Testament Christology, cf. 15, 108, 254.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
mission in terms of eschatological prophecy" and as actually initiating
in his own words and works the expected future salvation and judg-
ment. "Take the implied self-understanding of his role in terms of the
eschatological prophet away, and the whole ministry falls into a series
of unrelated, if not meaningless fragrnents."143
Yet Fuller contends that Jesus never publicly proclaimed himself
the Messiah, nor did he impose a christology on his disciples.144
When Peter identifies him as Messiah, Jesus charges his disciples not
to broadcast the news but begins to speak of his impending suffering
(Mark 8:29-31). Only at the end when, condemned to die as a messi-
anic pretender, he was asked if he was the Messiah and, about to be
crucified, answered "I am" (Mark 15:2, 9, 26).
Peter Stuhlmacher insists that the explicit post-Easter christology
He declares wholly unacceptable the alternative that the Kerygma is
essentially a human product, as Bultmann and post-Bultmannians held.
To ground Jesus' deity upon the faith of believers is to rest the claims of
Christianity on interpretation rather than on historical actuality and
substitutes superstition for truth.145
The high Christology, says J. L. M. Haire, "is in the words of Jesus
Himself, in His 'But I say unto you,' His knowledge of the Father, and
His victory over the powers of evil."146
Where it suits their purposes, mediating writers often secretly
rely on a conservative rather than a critical view of the biblical ac-
counts. And yet it is not only conservatives like R. T. France, who con-
sider it "probable that some, and perhaps all, of the gospels were
written in substantially their present form within thirty years of the
events, and that much of the material was already collected and writ-
a decade or two before that."147 For
is here not dissimilar from that of the critical and quite radical New
scholar John A T. Robinson, except for
of Robinson's vulnerable dating method.
Significance of Miracles
Once the question of historical facticity of the Gospels is raised
earnestly, the subject of miracles is unavoidable. Not only do the Gos-
pels attribute remarkable miracles to Jesus before his death and
143 Ibid., 130.
145 Jesus van Nazareth-Ghristus des Glaubens (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1988).
146 “On Behalf of
147 The Evidence for Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,1986).
124 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
resurrection, but they also assign to these acts a role and importance
that distinguish Jesus from other miracle-workers. As Colin Brown em-
phasizes, the miracles fulfill John the Baptist's prophecy of Messiah's
coming in demonstration of the Spirit. The Hebrew religious hierar-
chy, by contrast, sees the miracles as wonders that detour the masses
from orthodoxy, and in view of this call for the destruction of Jesus.148
G. F. Woods thinks a high degree of probability attaches to claims
for the resurrection and many New Testament miracles. Yet he empha-
sizes that what seems beyond human power is not axiomatically divine.
Our secular technocratic age notably dwarfs the evidential value of mir-
acles. Even if we could show that some events are not human, it does not
necessarily follow that they are supernatural.149 But it should be em-
phasized also that one will consider no event whatever truly miraculous
if he disbelieves in the supernatural. An Anglo-Saxon philosophical nat-
uralist would insist not simply that miracles have ceased in post-biblical
times, but that they have never occurred. Even if he were present at the
Second Coming of Christ, he might at first insist that he was the victim
of a cosmic illusion or afflicted by a brain tumor. The notion that the bib-
lical writers believed in miracles because as prescientific men they
were ignorant of the laws of nature is preposterous. One is tempted to
say they knew enough biology and physics to know that the virgin birth
and the resurrection of Jesus were once-for-all historical acts.
But that way of putting it would only sustain the misconception
that observational science can identify once-for-all events, whereas in
fact it is impotent to do so. For all science knows, there may have
been or may still be other virgin births and resurrections. Science in
the future may even simulate biblical happenings, but such simula-
tion would have no bearing on what occurred in
than ignorance of science and its inferences and assumptions that ex-
plains the scriptural insistence on the miraculous in biblical history.
The New Testament does not permit us to see the universe either
as a closed mechanical system of unbroken regularity or as an open
haphazard chaos of only contrived predictability, or of capricious de-
terminations by mythical divinities. The Christian theist holds that
the sense of the universe is to be found in the purposive revelation of
God who is personally sovereign and free in sustaining both cosmic
continuities and unique once-for-all events.
148 That You May Believe: Miracles and Faith Then and Now (
149 The Evidential Value
of Biblical Miracles,” Miracles,
Their Philosophy and
(ed. C. F. D. Moule,
Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1965) 21ff.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
One of the church fathers, Athanasius, author of On the Incarna-
tion, suggests the cosmic Christ became incarnate so that those who
did not recognize his works in nature would acknowledge him
through his works done in the flesh. As C. S. Lewis puts it, "the Chris-
tian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian
assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is
uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended
into his own universe and rose again, bringing nature up with him.”150
Indeed, Jesus is himself the Miracle--the One who binds Satan
and releases the penitent from Satan's grip. If one accepts the reality
of divine incarnation in Jesus Christ, the possibility of miracles is im-
plicit in the Great Miracle; as Colin Herner comments, it is "a natural
corollary of that Weltanschauung.”151 The Enlightenment hostility to
miracles, he adds, arose not from "freedom from presupposition," but
from contrary presuppositions.152
The central thesis of the Gospel of John is that Jesus' works are
signs of the nearing fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of re-
demption, and manifesting Jesus as Christ, the Son of God. The raising
of Lazarus after his death and burial serves notice that Jesus has life-
giving power beyond death and is a foregleam of the coming general
resurrection in which Jews believed.
Yet for all that, the Gospel of Luke makes abundantly clear that
the disciples did not grasp Jesus' predictions of his own third-day res-
urrection. In those resurrection appearances Jesus makes unmistak-
able connections with his precrucifixion ministry.153 The resurrection
is not to be wholly detached from the contribution of Jesus' preresur-
rection teaching and works to his designation as Lord.
The first Christians, as Hodgson says in a preface for the paper-
back edition of his Gifford Lectures, were "Palestinian Jews trying to fit
their faith in the risen Lord into their inherited Jewish theology."154
Yet their inherited religion supplied prophetic intimations and antici-
pations of the exceptional role and nature of Messiah whose coming
was divinely pledged. The fact that some modern interpreters have
read back into the Old Testament christological intentions and mean-
ings that seem foreign to it is no reason for minimizing the extensive
150 God in the Dock, Essays on Theology and Ethics, (ed. Walter Hooper, Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans 1970) 80.
151 The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (
152 Ibid., 443.
153 Cf. C. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (6 vols.;
Books, 1979) 3.159ff.
154 For Faith and Freedom, Gifford Lectures 1955-1957 (London: SCM Press, 1968)
126 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
basis which the New Testament writers, and not least of all the authors
of the Gospels, found in the Old Testament for accrediting Jesus of
coming 'Son of David' born in the Davidic line, the Suffering Servant,
the supernatural 'Son of Man,' and the transcendent intervention of
God to establish his Kingdom. "Christian faith began," Hodgson notes,
"with the acceptance of his claim to be the fulfillment of God's messi-
anic promises given through the Old Testament prophets. Had there
no previous history of
Worship of the Risen Lord
In recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah, his disciples sub-
scribed to Jesus' own belief about himself, even if they only glimpsed
some aspects of all that messianity meant to him. It was not worship
uninformed by cognitive considerations that motivated the disciples'
attitude toward Jesus. D. A. Carson thinks it premature "to minimize
the Christological implications of Jesus' historical self-disclosure."156
He finds many subtle claims of Jesus to deity in Matthew's Gospel
alone even if full understanding awaited the resurrection.157 In his
quotation of Psalm 110 in which the Messiah is not only the Son of
David but also David's 'Lord,' Jesus applied this title to himself (Matt
22:41-46). Psalm 110 becomes in turn the Old Testament's most
quoted referent in the New Testament
The critical effort to set the Synoptics over against the Fourth
Gospel in respect to affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ was un-
availing. Even the least dogmatic of the Synoptics, the Gospel of
Mark, which uses the Old Testament references sparingly, nonethe-
less opens with two Old Testament passages (Isa 40:3; Mal 3:1) that
speak of the messenger who prepares for the historical arrival of the
Lord. John the Baptist heralded "the Coming One" whom the inspired
prophets had foretold, and Jesus' own ministry begins with the em-
phasis on the
4:23, 9:35; Mark 1:14f,; Luke 4:18-21, 4:43, 8:17).
Leonhard Goppelt says pointedly that in referring to the Kingdom
Jesus" . . . was not introducing a new term. He proclaimed not that
Testament often depicted God as King, spoke of his sovereign rule, and
155 Ibid., 82.
156 "Christological Ambiguities in Matthew," Christ the Lord, 97-126.
157 Ibid., 110.
158 Theology of the New Testament, 1.45.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
of his future eschatological reign. Jesus claims to be David's lord (Mark
12:35-37) and he identifies himself to the high priest in terms that pre-
cipitate a charge of blasphemy. It cannot be maintained convincingly
that prior to the Gospel of John, which some on that account have dated
late, we find no expression of "the essential bond between Jesus and
God." For, as Goppelt notes, scattered instances are found elsewhere (in
the baptismal formula of Matt. 28:19, in 1 Cor. 15:28, and in Heb. 1:8):59
More than this, the early Church worshipped Jesus not only as
Lord but, as D. R. de Lacey stresses, as the "one Lord" (1 Cor 8:6).160 In
short, "Paul presents a 'Christianizing' of the shema.”161 “To Paul the
lordship of Jesus is so fundamental that there is a sense in which it
challenges, or at least significantly modifies, the heis theos to which as
a Jew he was totally committed."162 In Oscar Cullmann's words, "early
Christianity does not hesitate to transfer to Jesus everything the Old
Testament says about God."163
The weight of evidence is that Jesus believed he was God's in-
comparable Son, standing in God's place with divine authority and
right and determining the destiny of human beings according to their
response to his life and work. Radical critics contended that the
claims of Jesus to be the divine Son of God originated from the early
Church, while they also argued that sayings of Jesus could be consid-
ered historical if they present motifs not found in earlier Judaism.
Here Jesus' claim to personal divinity would surely qualify. To insist
that the Church constructed the Jesus of the Gospel is like saying that
a son has generated his own father.
Jesus expected both his approaching suffering and death, and be-
yond the grave, the Father's vindication of his obedient trust. This ex-
pectation was grounded not merely in a common Jewish belief in the
appearance of an eschatological prophet, but in Jesus' own special re-
demptive mission. Jesus anticipated that vindication in a future eschato-
logical Kingdom. But as Hans F. Bayer contends, he did not mistakenly
expect the Kingdom to be introduced at his resurrection,164 but rather
interposed a significant interim between his resurrection and his return.
Contrary to the inclination of many critics to dismiss such passages,
Bayer stresses the authenticity of the Gospel texts in which Jesus pre-
dicts his resurrection and vindication.
159 Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981) 1.204, n. 64.
160 "One Lord' in Pauline Christology," Christ the Lord, 199.
161 Ibid., 200.
162 Ibid., 201.
163 The Christology of the New Testament, 307.
164 Jesus' Predictions of Vindication and Resurrection: The Provenance, Meaning
and Correlation of the Synoptic Predictions (Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1986).
128 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Hodgson identifies himself with what he calls "the central core"
of the biblical testimony, "the belief that in Jesus Christ we see God
at work in the history of the world, personally incarnate for the pur-
pose of rescuing his creation from the evil with which it had become
infected,"165 The Christian affirmation is not simply that "God was in
Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor 5:19) for, Hodgson
observes, these words standing alone might be compatible with the
notion that God was working more fully, but not singularly and defin-
itively, in Jesus Christ.166 Hodgson allows, however, that "our belief in
Jesus as God incarnate may have appeared in His mind as no more
than a conviction of messiahship."167
Hodgson jeopardizes not only the beliefs of the inspired biblical
writers and his own beliefs, but those of Jesus of Nazareth also, by his
insistent emphasis that human thought-forms are necessarily condi-
tioned by the age in which one lives.168 Concerning Jesus, Hodgson
asks: "If in Jesus Christ God was genuinely 'made man,' lived, thought
and taught as the subject of experiences mediated through a body
of the Jews in
we not regard His teaching as conditioned by the outlook of His time
and place and racial origin?."169 Hodgson's answer helps us little. On
the one hand, we are told that Jesus "burst the bounds" of a limited
selfhood; on the other, that "we have no experience enabling us to
know the extent to which perfect self-dedication to the finding and
doing of God's will in a life of unbroken communion with God in the
unity of the Spirit, would enable a man to deal with his own particu-
lar circumstances in such a way as to reveal principles of universal
relevance,"170 But if universal principles or truths could be revealed
to and in the mind of Jesus by the Spirit, why could objective truth
not also have been revealed by the Spirit to divinely inspired proph-
ets and apostles who in the biblical record profess to give us informa-
tion valid for all times and places?
This faith that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God preceded the
crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, But it was decisively confirmed
by the resurrection of the Crucified One, who brought forgiveness of
sins and imparted new life by the Spirit, The Book of Acts and the
New Testament epistles affirm that Christ is the personal presence of
God in the community of faith. The very first Christian sermon, by
165 For Faith and Freedom, 1.82, 2.M
166 Ibid., 2.68.
167 Ibid., 2.89.
168 Ibid., 1.49.
169 Ibid., 2.89.
F. H. Henry: THE IDENTITY OF JESUS OF
Peter at Pentecost, within weeks of the crucifixion of Jesus, stressed
that Jesus is risen and ascended, that he has effected forgiveness of
sins for the penitent, and that he has gifted the Holy Spirit to his fol-
lowers. Messiah's redemptive mission included as its "central aim," as
Hodgson observes, his forming "a fellowship of forgiven sinners"171
despite the fact that many Jewish religious leaders spumed Jesus be-
cause they were expecting a political messiah. Messianic cancellation
of personal sin was clearly a feature emphasized by John the Baptist
(John 1:29, 30) and in turn by Jesus (Mark 2:7); it had in fact been an-
ticipated by the sacrificial system of the Old Testament economy
awaiting decisive fulfillment (Heb 9:23, 26). Hodgson emphasizes that
Christians can justify their belief in the incarnation not merely as a
matter of subjective consciousness but as a prior objective fact "if we
think of what was done as having been done by God Himself.”172
Hodgson orients belief in the divinity of Christ too much in post-
apostolic considerations, however, when he remarks: "The history of
the doctrine of the Incarnation in the first four centuries is the history
of the Church discovering that Jesus could not have been God's Mes-
siah and done God's saving work without Himself being God,"173 for
that "discovery" had been made much earlier. The belief that gives
the Christian confession its singularly unique character, that in Jesus
dwelt "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (
integral and definitive aspect of the New Testament teaching; it is
affirmed and reiterated by the apostles who were contemporaries of
Jesus. Hodgson concedes in fact that "within the New Testament pe-
riod Christians were already, in practice, adopting an attitude towards
Christ which implied the recognition of Him as God." But he consid-
ers it "doubtful whether these first Christians thought out the theolog-
ical implications of their religious belief and practice."174
That Jesus Christ was "God personally incarnate," writes Hodg-
son, "is the ground of the claim of Christianity to be the true religion
for all mankind."175 Hodgson considers that the evidence for the virgin
birth and resurrection of Jesus is "as good as one can reasonably ex-
pect historical evidence to be" and that one who believes the high
view of Jesus Christ is justified in accepting it at its face value."176 But,
in contrast to the creeds of Christendom, he thinks these doctrines can
be detached from genuine faith in Jesus Christ as God incarnate.
171 Ibid., 2.71.
172 Ibid., 2.75.
173 Ibid., 2.70.
174 Ibid., 2.76.
175 Ibid., 2.70.
176 Ibid., 2.91.
130 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
But did Jesus of Nazareth then by his own faith inspire the belief
of others in his messianic sonship and divinity? Does Christian faith
in Jesus Christ rest finally upon the impression of Jesus' personality
and on claims he made for himself? He indicated the value and limits
of the Baptist's testimony without nullifying the importance of his
own messianic consciousness: "I receive not testimony from man; . . . I
know that the witness he witnesseth of me is true" (John 5:34, 32).
Yet Jesus warned against claims made independently by himself
or anyone else. "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true"
(John 5:31). He set his own witness in the larger context of that of the
Father, of Scripture, and of his own works (John 5:32-39).
Yet for Paul and the Gentile churches it is not Jesus' public min-
istry but especially his resurrection from the dead that is the histori-
cally decisive point for the Christian community. The Easter faith
was, to be sure, indispensably linked to the incarnation, earthly life
and ministry of Jesus. New Testament theology nowhere justifies
Bultmann's dismissal of the supernatural Jesus of history in the inter-
est solely of an inner "resurrection"-encounter. Indeed, the Gospels
leave no doubt that Jesus' own intimations of his impending crucifix-
ion and resurrection seemed confusing to the disciples, and that they
were both dismayed by his death and unexpectant of his resurrection.
It was not their unexpected confrontation by the risen Jesus alone,
but the Old Testament prophetic teaching also concerning the coming
One that finally illumined Messiah's death and triumph over it in
terms of divine prophecy and fulfillment.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted