Criswell Theological Review 6.1 (1992) 91-130.

                          Copyright © 1992 by The Criswell College. Cited with permission.    





                          THE IDENTITY OF JESUS

                                    OF NAZARETH*




                                                     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

human destiny.


            * This essay represents the two lectures read at the Criswell Lecture Series,

Criswell College, January 1991.

            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; New York:

Macmillan) 8.266




                                    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 (Waco, TX: Word

Books, 1984) 242.




            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

and decisive historical inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. Yet careful

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

may be noted the clusters of secret believers in the state of Israel, and

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

living God."

            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.




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

human history?

            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.).




            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

gain a Christian advantage from emerging humanism? Is he, as Pierre

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 (London-New York-Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co.,

1928) 35, 367f.




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., Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977) 156, 353.

            21 The Christology of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963) 93,

266, 277, 306.

            22 New Haven, Yale University Press, 1986.

            23 cr. Richard Morris, Evolution and Human Nature (New York: Seaview/Put-

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.




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 (Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico,

1948) 15.



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;

supposedly recovering in the tomb, he escaped to Kashmir where he

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; Leicester: Inter-

Varsity, 1982) 282.

            31 Jesus in the Qur'an (Oxford University Press, 1977) 116.

            32 Ibid., 119ff.



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.

            36 Gottingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1913, 1921 (Nashville and New York:

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.




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

Bethlehem, reared in Nazareth, and crucified in Jerusalem. Whatever

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 (4th ed., Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1909) 1.704f.




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-

sonally God."42

            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

witness, as Lawton remarks, "We do not simply find... a primarily

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-

tency Lawton traces to a vulnerable and indeed "wrong starting-point."

"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


            41 The Fundamental Ideas of Christianity (2 vols.; Glasgow: MacLehose, 1904)


            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 1932-34; New York: St. Martin's

Press, 1934) 445f.

            44 The Person of Christ (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1913, reprint, New York,

Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942) 297.

            45 Conflict in Christology, 323.




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-

contradictory views.46

            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

Caird and Temple and, more recently, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Charles

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).



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

Churches at its organizing assembly in Amsterdam in 1948 affirmed

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

Nazareth, after all, be the Son of God and promised Messiah, God-

beside-God, God come in the flesh in the stupendous miracle of di-

vine incarnation?


                        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)




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

there been no previous history of Israel, there would have been. . . no

New Testament."50

            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-

ing Messiah.

            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

pre-Christian considerations.

            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).




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.



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 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,


            58 The Son of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976).

            59 The Christology of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959).

            60 Jesus-Son of Man. A Fresh Examination of the Son of Man Sayings in the

Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) 158.



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-

den; Leicester: InterVarsity, 1982) 50.

            62 Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish History (Philadelphia,

WEstminster) 158.

            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: Cambridge

University Press, 1981).




            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 Qum-

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 (London: Lutterworth Press,

1965) 119.




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

the divinely given vocation in which Israel had failed. Even New Tes-

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

where Christ is conceived of much more individualistically, he is nev-

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

pagan sources.

            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.

B. Lindars and S. S. Smalley; Cambridge: University Press, 1973) 109.

            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; London: Lutterworth Press, 1969; New York and

Cleveland: World, 1969)-

            77 New Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981).




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.;

New York: Herder and Herder, 1969) vol. 4.

            79 Ibid.

            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).




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

eyerywhere insists.

            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; London: SCM, 1968) 68ff.

            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.




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-

conceived theories.

            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 (London: Faber

and Faber, 1948) 82.



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 Jerusalem, but

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 (Philadelphia: For-

tress, 1965) 9ff.

            94 "Christological Perspectives," 18.

            95 The Origins of Christianity, 163.

            96 Ibid., 173.




            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-

chological condition.

            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 (San Francisco:

Harper & Row, 1986).

            99 The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 55.

            100 The Structure of Resurrection Belief (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).




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

as legend, and derives from the Early Church the titles that the Gos-

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


            101 San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

            102 San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.

            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 Pannenberg (Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1971).




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.




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.

Moule, Naperville, IL: Alec R Allenson, Inc., 1968) 3Of.

            113 Ibid., 187, 397.

            114 Jesus-God and Man, 107.

            115 Theology of Hope (London: SCM Press, 1967) 82.



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-

deed attest that Jesus lived and died in Palestine, and that he "taught

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.


                                    Messianic Self-Consciousness


            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 (Minneapolis; Augsburg Press,




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 Nazareth: The Man and His Time (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979) 26.

            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.



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

of the Kingdom of God. Jesus lacked complete preknowledge, even

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

York: The Seabury Press, 1974) 158.

            129 Jesus-God and Man, 334.



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.



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.



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

of the Early Church is grounded in Jesus' pre-Easter self-understanding.

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-

ten a decade or two before that."147 For France's view of early sources

is here not dissimilar from that of the critical and quite radical New

Testament scholar John A T. Robinson, except for France's avoidance

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.

            144 The Mission and Achievement of Jesus (Chicago: Alec R Allenson, Inc., 1954) 116.

            145 Jesus van Nazareth-Ghristus des Glaubens (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1988).

            146 “On Behalf of Chalcedon,” Essays in Christology for Karl Barth (ed. T. H. L.

Parker; London: Lutterworth, 1956) 96.

            147 The Evidence for Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity,1986).




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 Bethlehem and

Jerusalem in A.D. 1-30. It is knowledge of God and his purposes rather

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 (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1985).

            149 The Evidential Value of Biblical Miracles,” Miracles, Cambridge Studies in

Their Philosophy and History (ed. C. F. D. Moule, London: A R Mowbray & Co.; NY:

Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1965) 21ff.




            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 (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr,

1989) 442.

            152 Ibid., 443.

            153 Cf. C. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (6 vols.; Waco, TX: Word

Books, 1979) 3.159ff.

            154 For Faith and Freedom, Gifford Lectures 1955-1957 (London: SCM Press, 1968)





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

Nazareth as the Christ. The Old Testament nurtured expectation of the

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

been no previous history of Israel, there would have been. . . no New



                                    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 Kingdom of God now "at hand" (Matt 4:7, 10:7; cf. Matt

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

there was a Kingdom of God, but that it was now coming."158 The Old

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.




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).



            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

born of the Jews in Palestine not quite two thousand years ago, must

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.

            170 Ibid.




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

Christ dwelt "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col 2:9), is an

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.



            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.




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