Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Creating Jesus: To Chalcedon?

Pastor Bob has asked me to take us to Chalcedon in terms of christology. I can certainly do this...but I don't want to bore my readers with the same subject for an extended period of time. I can cover all the controversies to Nicaea, Nicaea, and its fallout, but only if this is something that will interest you.

As for James McGrath's post today, arguing for a possession christology in John. I do not find these arguments convincing. There is no prophetic tradition from Judaism in which the prophet is ever God. No prophet would ever claim "I AM" for himself or "I and the Father are one." Now the Kavod and Angel of the Lord traditions do help to explain this, as they also help to explain the distinction that Jesus is the son and a mediator figure (which I have explained in earlier posts in this series). But prophet traditions do not. The spirit in prophetic tradition is always a temporary possession of a full human being and never makes the possessed God himself.

This is not to say that prophetic traditions have not influenced early strata of Johannine traditions. They have, particularly Samaritan understandings of the Prophet-like-Moses. But these traditions have been reconfigured within a Hellenistic model of anthropology in which the Logos descends into flesh. The language is not language of descent into a full human being, into a "man", but of the descent of God's Reason into flesh. This is ensoulment language not possession language.

Perhaps it would be helpful to know that in Hellenistic philosophy, particularly that influenced by Plato, God was conceived as The Good and The One. When he thinks (which is all he can do) he is Mind-Logos within which exists all thoughts and patterns for the universe. Plato perceived these to be "forms." Some of the first Christians thought of them as little logoi. Origen, in fact, says that these little logoi became our souls when their love for God began to cool off and they fell down into matter and became psyches. Only one little logos remained completely attached to God and this is what Origen thought became Jesus' soul.

9 comments:

bill said...

Just want to say that I look forward to each new post in this series. I have no background in biblical scholarship. Just happened to follow a link here one day and kept coming back out of curiousity.

James F. McGrath said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure that the prophet otherwise known as Deutero-Isaiah said, speaking in the first person, things like "I am he" and "apart from me there is no God". :)

Wade G. said...

Yeah, but he wasn't claiming it for himself, was he? That was the point. Deutero-Isaiah was speaking in God's voice. It's hard to believe Jesus is supposed to be doing that when he says that "I and the Father are one." And surely if the author of John had meant that Jesus was speaking for God he would have used the trope like the Deutero-Isaiah prophet did something like "... This is what the LORD says to his anointed..." Again, though, it is hard to see that squared with "I and the Father are one."

James F. McGrath said...

Good points, but I think the possibility is being overlooked that "I and the Father are one" is a declaration of unity rather than identity. Unity is, after all, a key emphasis in John, and the unity between Father and Son serves as a model for the unity of Christians, who are supposed to be "one" in precisely the same way that Jesus and the Father are said to be "one", the language of indwelling coming up in that context.

As for the "I am" language, I understand that to basically be a claim similar to the Samaritan one (made much later) that Moses was vested with the divine name, the key difference being that in John we have the one to whom the name is given depicted as speaking in the first person.

Having made these points, I will add that I'm very much open to the possibility that John has moved beyond, and perhaps far beyond, an "inspiration" model of Christology. But I think that it is a crucial part of the author's heritage, at the very least, and reading the Gospel through this lens will help us (if nothing else) see how John's Christology builds on and works with earlier Christological motifs.

James F. McGrath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin said...

I can certainly do this...but I don't want to bore my readers with the same subject for an extended period of time. I can cover all the controversies to Nicaea, Nicaea, and its fallout, but only if this is something that will interest you.

Yes, please :)

Pastor Bob said...

I admit I'm mainly interested in the movement from Jesus as having God's soul to being fully God and fully human. I'm not interested in all the councils but rather the philosophical/theological changes that had to happen to make the changes

rameumptom said...

I would be interested in how Christology developed through Nicaea and Chalcedon. I'd like to know if there were other viewpoints rather than Athanasius and Arius', for example, on what constituted God.

I also think the statement of Jesus that "I and God are one" means in unity. John 17 clearly makes that point, as he also prays that the disciples may be one in him, as he is in the Father. Unless we're going to go into some esoteric idea that we are all going to become part of the substance of the Trinitarian God, then we need to take such statements in context.

pascal said...

April
I am slowly catching up on your posts, having been in hospital for some weeks, but I join with others in urging you to continue.
I feel if you think it's interesting then it probably is interesting...