Monday, June 22, 2009

Creating Jesus 19: A complementary soteriology

The christology known to Antiochean sources especially is what I call "embodiment" christology. What this means is that Jesus was perceived as a full human being possessed by a spirit or angel from the womb. The important point is that he is a full human being, with his own psyche (=soul) and physical body. The spirit or angel is an extra something that he has from conception or quickening. Jesus functions as a container or vessel for the resident angel.

The rest of the Jerusalem paradigm survives intact. He still dies and is exalted to heaven where he is (re)-installed. As this great angel YHWH he will be revealed in the heavens, descending with a cry of command, the archangel's call. He will usher in God's kingdom after he destroys its enemies. He will sit in judgment. This tradition is carried on as late as the testimony of the Ebionites who taught that Christ was created like one of the archangels and was appointed by God to rule over the future age (Epiph., Pan. 30.16.2-4). This is also evidence that some of the Jerusalem sources were aware of this tradition, although it is impossible for me to tell if they picked it up after the paradigm was developed in Antioch, or were responsible for creating it in the first place and passing it on to Antioch.

What kind of soteriology is set into place when this christology is developed? Consider again the Jerusalem paradigm where Jesus' transformation into a glorified, divine being happened as the result of his righteous actions and piety, as a reward for upright behavior and obedience. It meant that anyone could imitate him and expect a similar reward - gradual transformation and eventual resurrection and divine body-status-immortality.

This soteriology could only work if Jesus was just like you and me. But what happened once he was an embodied angel from birth? A son of God from conception? Jesus didn't have to work for his divinity. He had already in the womb.

The road to salvation had no choice but to shift. It had to engage the power of the divine Jesus rather than the human Jesus. Redemption had to happen because of a divine action rather than a human action that could be imitated and repeated. This meant a fuller engagement with martyrological interpretations of Jesus' death which were already existing anyway. This is what Mark is about. So the efficacy of his death for sin atonement of sins of Israel was drawn out and universalized.

This doesn't mean that the behavioral soteriology from Jerusalem vanished or was replaced by the divine redemptive action. No. It survives and fuses with the sacrificial so that the sacrificial emerges dominant while the behavioral recedes into the background. It caused trouble though. Consider it. If a divine action redeemed the human being, then what was the benefit of good behavior? Paul has to face this trouble and he tries to explain it in Romans 12-13, where he says that good behavior is the outcome of a person's redemption and transformation, rather than the cause.

More on Paul in the next post in this very long series.


Bob MacDonald said...

I think you mean complementary- that is that each pole completes the other. I heard a prayer at Compline yesterday that was devotional bordering on idolatry for those who would emphasize the behavioural pole. Paul is very successful in combining the polarities and his conclusions are psychologically sound - even physiologically sound. When one stops damaging oneself by 'putting to death' the deeds of the body, then the body heals itself. There must always remain a human explanation. Such an explanation does not salve the fears of the linear and time-bound so the metaphysical constructs and conjectures creep into the Christological mix in an attempt to theologize the human. Without human value and the resulting tension between the poles, the theology can take over and manipulative powers give themselves privilege. Those manipulative powers must themselves allow for their own disarmament to restore the balance. Then the embodiment attributed to the Anointed becomes the believer's also - individually, severally, and collectively.

I think this has implications beyond the 'anyone' that you note. I.e. it is more than individual, though it is that too. But it also shows since polarities are hard to handle - why there is so much of dispute and power struggle in the religious history.

PAULYR said...


Jim Deardorff said...

Hello April,

I find this Antiochean christology akin to key aspects of Hinduism. I.e., Jesus was possessed of a spirit while in the womb, just as all are, within Hinduism. His spirit might be called an "angel" because it was so advanced, like that of a very advanced avatar.

So he was still subject to death, just as we all are.
He functioned as a container or vessel for his resident soul or "angel," just as we all do, within Hinduism.

After death he's exalted into the other world, or spiritual world of God, from which he eventually, if he had not been an ultimate avatar, reincarnates again, as we all do, within Hinduism. So at this point the Antiochean christology diverges from Hinduism.

It diverges most from the Jerusalem paradigm you set forth. His upright behavior and righteousness, within the Hindu concept, was a consequence of his high degree of spiritual evolution, rather than vice versa. said...

"Paul has to face this trouble and he tries to explain it in Romans 12-13, where he says that good behavior is the outcome of a person's redemption and transformation, rather than the cause."

It is relatively easy to see how Romans 13 has been edited. Obedience of the Spirit automatically fullfilled the law.
The original had nothing to do with "governing authorities". This was written to keep everyone quiet.

13.1.Everyone must [submit himself to] {OBEY} the [governing] {SPIRIT’S} [authorities] {COMMANDS},

[for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

13.2.Consequently,] he who rebels against the [authority] {SPIRIT} is rebelling against [what] God [has instituted], and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.

13.3.For [rulers] {THE SPIRIT} hold{s} no terror for those who [do right] {OBEY HIS COMMANDS}, but for those who [do wrong] {DISOBEY}. Do you want to be free from fear of [the one in authority] {JUDGEMENT}?
Then [do] {OBEY} [what is right] {HIS COMMANDS} and he will [commend] {CLEANSE} you.

13.4.For he is God's [servant] {SPIRIT} to [do you good] {CLEANSE YOU}. But if you [do wrong] {DISOBEY}, be afraid, [for he does not bear the sword for nothing]. He is God's [servant] {SWORD}, an agent of wrath to bring [punishment] {JUDGEMENT} on the [wrongdoer] {DISOBEDIENT}. said...

And how about this:

13.8.Let no [debt] {COMMAND} remain [outstanding], except the [continuing debt] {COMMAND} to [love] {OBEY} [one another] {THE SPIRIT}, for he who [loves] {OBEYS} [his fellow-man] {THE SPIRIT} has fulfilled the law.

13.9.The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: [“Love your neighbour as yourself”.

13.10.Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love] {OBEDIENCE OF THE SPIRIT} is the fulfilment of the law.

In the original text there was one rule or command. Obey the Spirit. The contrived nature of the extant text is apparent. said...

Perhaps it should be 'obedience IN the Spirit'.

Servetus the Evangelical said...

With all due respect Professor DeConick, I don't think you are right that the Bible teaches that Jesus was divine or God, nor that he was possessed by an angel of YHWH. Jesus never provides any support in his gospel sayings that he thought of himself as divine or God. And the writer of Hebrews clearly denies that Jesus was in any way an angel. Paul's second Adam christology requires that Jesus was fully human as we are, and Luke relates that he developed physically and psychologically just as the rest of humans do. Jesus' virgin birth merely made him like Adam in that originated supernaturally and therefore began life with an inherited, fallen, sinful nature.

Servetus the Evangelical