John Owen on Christ’s Great Condescension: Divine Glory Veiled in Flesh

While Peter de Rosa’s verses on the humanity of Christ may be heart-felt and evocative, John Owen’s reflection on Christ assuming humanity is suffused with contemplation and prayer. For Owen theology ends with doxology. Given below is a much abbreviated and stylistically modernized version of Owen’s reflection of the Incarnation as Christ’s act of self-humiliation – Christ veiled his divine glory in the flesh.*

The Glory of Christ’s Humbling Himself
Christ, being in the form if God, says Paul, willingly took himself the form if a servant. He willingly humbled himself. He willingly made himself of no reputation and was obedient even to the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). It is this willingness to humble himself to take our nature into union with himself which is glorious in the eyes of believers.

Such is the transcendent glory of the divine nature, that it is said of God that he ‘dwells on high’, yet ‘humbles himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth’ (Psa. 113: 4-6). God is willing to take notice of the most glorious things in heaven and the lowliest things in the earth. This shows his infinite humility… Continue reading “John Owen on Christ’s Great Condescension: Divine Glory Veiled in Flesh”

The Babe of Bethlehem’s Genuine Humanity

Peter de Rosa is evidently a rationalist who is skeptical about the historical veracity of the gospel accounts of Jesus. He doubts the virgin birth and Jesus’ miracles, rejects the atoning significance of Christ’s death and regards the resurrection accounts as creative stories designed to open the eyes of faith. Not surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church removed him from his position of Vice-Principal of Corpus Christi College, London.

Nevertheless, de Rosa’s book, Jesus Who Became Christ (Fountain/Collins, 1974) is sprinkled with delicate and evocative verses which show a seeking heart in conflict with a skeptical head – he reminds me of Paul Tillich. Surely, one of the great mysteries of the universe is that some people continue to affirm their adherence to Christian faith, albeit, expressed in figurative and symbolic language, even though they have abandoned the traditional doctrines held during their youthful days, after they have being exposed to critical and corrosive criticism during their theological studies.

Here is a sample of de Rosa’s evocative, heart-felt verses related to the events of the birth, childhood and genuine humanity of the Incarnate Christ. Continue reading “The Babe of Bethlehem’s Genuine Humanity”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 3/3: Resurrection and Pauline Soteriology

Our earlier discussion on the resurrected Christ as the life-giving Spirit leads us to consider how crucial the resurrection of Christ is in Pauline soteriology, seen especially in 1 Cor. 15. There is a debate over who Paul’s Corinthian opponents really were. /1/ Some suggest that they were those who because of Hellenistic philosophy denied the resurrection of the body or flesh and looked for a survival of the immortal soul beyond the grave. /2/ However, this view implies that Paul missed the point of his opponents and that he failed to argue why a disembodied survival is not an adequate hope.

William Dykstra observes that Paul responds to the denial of resurrection not with a simple logical argument but with a salvation-historical argument. For the Corinthians could still accept Christ’s resurrection and at the same time deny any future resurrection for others, Christ’s case being a unique one for them. As such, a good case can be made for arguing that the Corinthians were guilty of the error of over-realized eschatology, as it gives a more consistent reading of the rest of the epistle. /3/ Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 3/3: Resurrection and Pauline Soteriology”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 2/3: Resurrection and Pauline Christology

What was Paul’s new perception of the resurrected Christ after his conversion through an encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus? We shall consider Rom 1:3-4, 2 Cor. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 15:45 as the pivotal points in our discussion of this question.

A. Romans 1:3, 4
We can trace a clear development of what Paul has to say about Christ in this long introduction to the epistle. In verse 1, Jesus is the Messiah. In verse 3, the Messiah is God’s Son. In verse 4a, this Messiah Jesus, whose sonship was veiled in the days of his flesh, is suddenly (by the resurrection) revealed as ‘Son of God in power’. Finally, the climactic stage in the progressive revelation of Jesus is Paul’s confession that “Jesus is Lord”.

A pattern of parallels and contrasts is also evident in verses 3 and 4:

Verse 3 Verse 4
1. born (γενομένου, genomenou) – declared (ὁρισθέντος, horisthentos)
2. according to the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα, kata sarka) – according to the spirit of holiness, ie., the Holy Spirit (κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης, kata pneuma hagiōsynēs) /1/
3. of the seed of David (ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ, ek spermatos Dauid) – by the resurrection of the dead (ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, ex anastaseōs nekrōn)

Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 2/3: Resurrection and Pauline Christology”

The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 1/3: Resurrection and Apostolic Commissioning

I. Apostolic Witness
Any discussion on the resurrection of Christ must take seriously the testimony of Paul’s first-hand account of the resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ. In Paul that we have immediate access to an eye-witness to the resurrection, a witness who could say, “last of all… he also appeared to me” (1 Cor. 15:8). Furthermore, he is a witness whose radical transformation of life only underscores the veracity of his testimony when he changed from being a persecutor bent on the destruction of the early church to becoming its foremost defender. Jesus, who he once rejected as a pretended Messiah, he now preached as the resurrected Lord, exalted at the right hand of God. Before the Damascus experience he could only regard Christ from a human point of view (2 Cor. 5:16), i.e., he applied worldly (Pharisaic) standards to his understanding of Christ, judging him according to the concepts of the Messiah at that time. /1/ This worldview was shattered on Damascus Road and was then substituted by another anchored solely on the risen Christ. /2/ Such a change, we submit, is neither due to the process of Paul yielding to the logic of the early witnesses, nor to be reduced to a fruition of psychological preparations in his life. /3/ Rather, it was because as Paul himself testified, he was confronted by the risen Christ on Damascus Road. It was a revelation of Jesus Christ, ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (apokalypseōs Iēsou Christou, Gal. 1:12). This phrase is probably not a subjective genitive (i.e., from Jesus Christ; NIV) but is an objective genitive, i.e., God revealed Jesus Christ and the gospel. /4/ As F.F. Bruce writes, “The gospel and the risen Christ were inseparable; both were revealed to Paul in the same moment. To preach the gospel (Gal. 1:11) was to preach Christ (Gal.1:16).”/5/ Continue reading “The Resurrection of Christ in Pauline Theology. Part 1/3: Resurrection and Apostolic Commissioning”

The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Origins and Theological Significance

Alleged Pagan Origins
(1) A wonder birth or a supernatural birth is one of the commonest ideas in folk-tale and myth. In not all of these, however, is there what can strictly be called virgin birth. The latter certainly does not occur where ancient myths of the birth of heroes, great men, or kings are concerned. In spite of direct evidence of true human descent, myth told how a god was their real father…In these myths also the mother is already wedded, and the divine parent is father in a purely physical sense and has a material form, in that form taking the place of the husband…the woman is already married, and the birth is not, strictly speaking, a virgin birth…

Those who regard the Virgin Birth as mythical trace it to (a) Jewish, (b) pagan sources. (a) The Jewish source is found in Is 7:14. No Jew, however, ever applied this to the birth of the Messiah, though it was in accord with Matthew’s method to use it as pointing to an event otherwise known to him. Other critics have conclusively proved that the myth of virgin birth was unknown to Jewish thought. Continue reading “The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Origins and Theological Significance”

Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 5. The Son from Pre-existence to the Consummation of Creation

A. Two Fundamental Roots of Christology – Promised Messiah and Resurrection
It is observed that various elements from the Old Testament and Jewish sources were incorporated in the development of the Son of God Christology in the first twenty years of the infant church leading to the development of Paul’s mission after the Apostolic Council. However, the Jewish categories were transformed through a creative process that was stimulated by the extraordinary event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Martin Hengel explains:

First and foremost, we must remember that what happened cannot just have been a simple reproduction of earlier Jewish speculations about hypostases and mediators. Earliest christology has a quite original stamp, and is ultimately rooted in the contingent event of the activity of Jesus, his death and resurrection appearances. A history-of-religions comparison can only explain the derivation of individual themes, traditions, phrases and functions, and not the phenomenon of the origin of christology as a whole. At the same time, we must also consider the possibility of ‘unparalleled’ innovation. [Martin Hengel, The Son of God (Fortress Press, 1976), pp. 56-57]

Hengel identifies two fundamental roots of Christology based on Rom. 1:3-4. First, the earthly Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise that the messiah is from the seed of David. Second, the crucified Jesus is declared to be the Son of God in power by virtue of his resurrection from the dead. Continue reading “Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 5. The Son from Pre-existence to the Consummation of Creation”

Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 4 – Reading on the Son of God in the Fourth Gospel

One of the most distinct differences between the Synoptics and John is the different role Jesus’ sonship to God plays. In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus is reticent to speak of his sonship and God’s Fatherhood. Pater is used by Jesus of God in Mark four times, Q eight or nine, Matthew some twenty-three times. In the Synoptics this form of speech is confined to the latter half of his ministry, and is used by Jesus only when speaking to his disciples. However, Jesus speaks of God as Father 106 times in John, and the usage is not restricted to any period of his ministry or to any group of hearers. He speaks of “my Father” twenty four times in John, eighteen in Matthew, six in Mark, three in Luke. It is obvious that Jesus’ sonship is the central christological idea in John, and that he writes his Gospel to make explicit what was implich in the Synoptics. The Gospel is written that people may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but more than Messiah; he is the Son of God (John 20:31)… Continue reading “Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 4 – Reading on the Son of God in the Fourth Gospel”

Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 3 – The Origin of Paul’s Divine Christology

Why bother to collect water with leaky buckets from distant wells when one can draw fresh water from the well in one’s backyard? [cf. endnote 7]

One of the most dramatic stories in the Bible is the transformation of Paul after he had a vision of the risen Christ. Paul was bent on destroying the church, but he suddenly turned into a preacher whose influence on the development of Christianity is second only to that of Jesus Christ. F.F. Bruce describes the significance of Paul’s conversion experience on Damascus Road,

No single event, apart from the Christ-even itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul. For anyone who accepts Paul’s own explanation of his Damascus Road experience, it would be difficult to disagree with the observation of an eighteenth century writer [G. Lyttelton] that “the conversion and apostleship of St. Paul alone, duly considered was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a divine revelation.” /𝟏/

The cradle of Christianity was Judaism and Paul could rank himself as among to the finest elite of Judaism: He was born a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” sat at the feet of the outstanding teacher, Gamaliel, who was the grandson of the great rabbi Hillel. He was an emerging leader of the strict sect of the Pharisees who boasted that he was blameless in his observation of the Law (Phil. 3:6). He shared the same dogmatic assurance with his religious cohorts that the tradition handed down to them by their learned rabbis contained the whole truth of the religion. As such, there is no need for new revelation from God. Continue reading “Historical Origin of Divine Christology Part 3 – The Origin of Paul’s Divine Christology”

Historical Origin of Divine Christology. Part 2 – Exaltation Christology in Luke-Acts

I. Luke 22:69
It was understandable that Caiaphas demanded an explicit answer from Jesus to the question whether he was the Messiah. Perhaps a display of miraculous power would be in order. After all, God will not abandon his Anointed One in the face of deadly opposition. But Jesus refused to call upon legions of angels to rescue him. What could Jesus be thinking about himself, his relationship with God and his mission when he allowed himself to be arrested and abused by his enemies?

Jesus refrained from any public declaration of himself as the promised Messiah because he did not want to pander to the political and nationalistic expectations of the Jews. His ambiguous answer to Caiaphas was intended to expose the insincerity of his questioner. Nevertheless, he was fully assured that he was God’s chosen servant despite facing adverse circumstances. It is significant that Jesus corrected the high priest by substituting the ‘Son of Man’ for the ‘Messiah’. By referring to the ‘Son of Man’, Jesus answered the question on his own terms and stressed the transcendent character of his mission against all political misinterpretations. /1/ Continue reading “Historical Origin of Divine Christology. Part 2 – Exaltation Christology in Luke-Acts”