CHRIST.ology – Part 1

January 28, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment


Today begins a three-part series of blogs I plan to post on Christology.  These are based on a three-week Bible study I am leading at Concordia’s Men’s Bible Breakfast on Tuesday mornings.

“Christology” is a compound word.  The suffix “-ology” means “the study of” and the word “Christ” means, well, “Christ.”  Thus, Christology is “the study of Christ.” And indeed, there is no important topic – or, more accurately, there is no more important person – to study.  Martin Luther explains:

I have perceived and noted in all histories of all of Christendom that all those who have correctly had and kept the chief article of Jesus Christ have remained safe and secure in the right Christian faith. Although they may have sinned or erred in other matters, they have nevertheless been preserved at the last. For whoever stands correctly and firmly in the belief that Jesus Christ is true God and man, that he died and has risen again for us, such a person has all other articles added to him and they firmly stand by him…On the other hand, I have also noticed that all error, heresy, idolatry, offense, misuse, and evil in the church originally came from despising or losing sight of this article of faith in Jesus Christ. (AE 34:207-208)

If we lose a proper Christology, Luther argues, we lose all of theology and quickly lapse into rank heresy and wickedness.  Therefore, Christology is foundational for everything we believe, teach, and confess.  This is why it’s so important.

Classically, theologians have talked about two natures in Christ – a divine nature and a human nature.  And yet, even though there are two natures, there is one Christ.  Over the next two weeks, I will write about how people have gotten the two natures in Christ wrong as I survey the historical heresies that have plagued Christology.  I will also write about how the two natures in Christ relate to each other.  But in this blog, I just want to briefly comment on two passages of Scripture which I believe are foundational to properly understanding Christology.  The first passage is Matthew 16:13-16:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Two things are especially notable about this exchange between Jesus and his disciples.  First, the answers of the people as to Jesus’ identity are notable, especially when considered in light of Mark 6:14-15: “King Herod heard about Jesus’ miracles, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’” These answers to Jesus’ identity of John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets were apparently stock answers.  Herod Antipas believes that Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life to haunt him because he had earlier beheaded him.  Peter however, has a different answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter defies all the stock answers and affirms Jesus’ divinity as “the Son of the living God.”  He confesses good Christology.  And this leads to the second especially notable thing about this passage.  When Jesus asks, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?” the “you” is plural.  It’s “y’all.”  In other words, even though Peter is one who answers Jesus’ question, Jesus is positing this question others as well.  Indeed, this is a question that Jesus asks every disciple, including you.  And this means that every disciple must answer for him or herself, including you.  Thus, Christology is vital because Jesus himself asks us to confess who he is.  Do you have an answer to Jesus’ question?

The second passage that is especially pertinent to Christology is 2 John 7-11:

Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

In Matthew 16, the Christological problem is that those outside of Christ’s church are being deceived as to Christ’s identity.  In 2 John, the problem is that some inside the church are trying to deceive others as to Jesus’ identity.  And interestingly, they do this not so much by denying his divinity as they do by denying his humanity:  “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming into the flesh, have gone out into the world” (2 John 7).  This heresy seems to be rooted in a philosophy called Gnosticism, which denied that the eternal God could or would ever want to become human.  Thus, there were teachers who taught that even though Christ seemed human, his humanity was merely an illusion.  We’ll look at this heresy more in-depth when we study the Docetists.  For now, suffice it to say that John thunders against such people:  “Do not take these people into your house or welcome them” (2 John 10).

But doesn’t this seem a little harsh?  After all, isn’t Jesus known as a man who “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).  Yes, but those “sinners” were people outside the faith who Jesus was evangelizing so that they might believe.  In John’s case, there are people inside the faith – supposedly, at least – who are, through their false teaching, seeking to drag faithful Christians away from Christ.  To them, John responds the same way that Jesus responded to the religious leaders of his day who also supposed themselves to be in the faith while leading people astray: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good” (Matthew 12:34)?

Thus, in these two passages, we read of the heart and soul of Christology.  Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  That is, Jesus is true God.  But Jesus has also “come into the flesh” (2 John 7).  That is, Jesus is also true man.  True God.  True Man.  This is Christ.  And this is Christology.

Christology.  Yes, it’s a big word.  But it’s also central to everything we believe.  I hope that this blog has helped you understand why.  So, until next Thursday, I’ll simply leave you with these questions:  Who do you say Jesus is?  What’s your Christology?  I hope that you can confess along with Peter and the church, “I believe, teach, and confess that Jesus, true God and true man, died and rose again for my forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”

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Entry filed under: Christian Doctrine. Tags: , , , , .

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