I know you know this, but the Nicene Creed, a core statement of faith for many churches, says that Jesus was “begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.” Maybe you’re more of a Chalcedonian man—and who doesn’t aspire to be?—and you go for the more concise “truly God and truly Man” when describing Jesus.
Ascribe to either, and you’re saying what orthodox Christians have said for almost as long as the gospels themselves have been around. The Council of Chalcedon met in 451; the First Council of Nicaea over one hundred years earlier in 325. That’s a long time for believers to be saying, in essence, Jesus is God.
On this issue, the science, as they’re saying now, is settled.
But here’s an interesting question: When did the science get settled? If you go back beyond AD 325, were Christians saying “Jesus is God” before then? And if we go all the way back to the actual gospels, is that what they were saying about Jesus?
Well, when it comes to John, yes. He more or less settles the science on the first page. There’s no question John’s Word is Jesus, and John is reasonably explicit: “The Word was God” (Jn 1:1).
Still, it only takes a minute to see that the other gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—are of a different sort than John. None of these Synoptic Gospels (so called because they tell very similar types of stories about Jesus) makes the same kind of outright attribution of divinity to Jesus. Was Jesus God for Matthew, Mark and Luke?
Enter J.R. Daniel Kirk, who just a few months ago released a substantial study asking this interesting question: What are the Synoptic Gospels trying to say about Jesus on the humanity-deity spectrum?
I thought we said the science was settled? What kind of heresy is Kirk trying spread in A Man Attested by God?
Well, none heresy. Kirk isn’t questioning whether Jesus is God. Rather, he recognizes things the gospel writers say about Jesus that we have typically taken to mean “Jesus is God”—walking on water or raising the dead—but maybe they weren’t meant to. Perhaps they meant something different to the Jewish Christians who first heard and read these stories.
In short, perhaps saying Jesus was a human being meant a lot more to Jewish Christians in the first century than we allow today. I suppose we could say, biblically speaking, we’re not giving humanity as much credit as God does.
Or, we should say, we do not give enough credit to what Kirk calls “idealized human figures”. His words:
“Idealized human figures” refers to non-angelic, non-preexistent human beings, of the past, present, or anticipated future, who are depicted in textual or other artifacts as playing some unique role in representing God to the rest of the created realm, or in representing some aspect of the created realm before God (3).
Say it plainly, Mike. OK. There are plenty of instances throughout Jewish literature—both biblical and otherwise—where Jews could conceive of people doing Godlike things without themselves being God or God’s authority being usurped or compromised. More, it may well be that this is what human beings were supposed to be like all along.
Applied to Christ, we again turn to Kirk’s own words: “Human Christology can be divine Christology, without imputing inherent divinity to the human in view, because God creates humanity in God’s own image and likeness, to exercise God’s sovereignty over the earth in God’s stead” (4).
Now that’s interesting.