Fundamentals #2: Deity of Christ

pantokratorI’m continuing a series on the fundamental truths of Christianity, as outlined 2 generations ago. The so-called “fundamentalist/modernist controversey” pitted conservative theologians against liberal theologians in the early 1900’s.  Marsden’s book, Reforming Fundamentalism, gives an excellent history.

Today’s fundamental is one of those truths that highlights the nature of theological development.  Theology is clarified and articulated in times of CONTROVERSY. When there’s doctrinal slippage — as in the outright denial of the deity of Christ — the church rightly reemphasizes historic truth.

Most conservative theologians hold fast to the deity of Christ; it’s the true humanity of Christ that needs emphasis today, but that’s for another post.

Here are some of the notes I use when I teach college/seminary classes on theology… Be nice… this is more of a fat outline than a well-written article, and it’s more academic than populist…

The Deity of Christ

The deity of Christ “may be called a prime article of revealed theology; effecting not only the subsistence of the Godhead, but the question of whether Christ is to be trusted, obeyed, and worshipped as God, the nature and efficacy of His atoning offices, the constitution of the Church, and all its rites.  He who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ is a Christian; he who does not (whatever his profession) is a mere Deist.” (Dabney)

We call ourselves Christians.  What do we believe about Christ, or more importantly, what do the Scriptures reveal about Christ?

I.  The Scriptural Texts Testifying to His Deity.

A. Isa 7:14, cited in Mt 1:21-23.

79-Holy Spirit ComingJesus is Immanuel – God with us.  Isaiah chapters 7-12 are often designated the Book of Immanuel and constitute a growing revelation of the person so named.  So, in 7:14 Immanuel is to be born of a virgin.  In 9:6 this same person is specifically named as God. NOTE: the phrase translated “Everlasting Father” is better translated “Father of Eternity” (S.L. Johnson).  In ch. 11, Immanuel is seen as ruler of earth.  This is one and the same individual, later named Jesus in the first gospel.

B. John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word..
en  archee    `een  ho logos
and the Word was with God….
kai ho logos `een pros ton theon
and the Word was God.
kai theos `een ho logos.

This verse sets forth John’s clear teaching that Jesus is God.    The opening phrase, an allusion to Gen 1:1, takes us beyond the beginning of creation.  The word “was”  is durative – it expresses an ongoing period.  The word “in”  is temporal – it expresses a “time when”,-here in language of accommodation.  There is no way for a human to describe the dateless past other than to simply say “In the Beginning…”

Logos is a Jewish-Platonic-Stoic term very familiar in intellectual circles in John’s day.  It had become a technical term just as “Messiah”.  “Neither term is a complete presentation of the Person of Christ, but both are useful.  It is however, very difficult to translate Logos into English because of the double idea in it of Reason and Expression.”  (A.T. Robertson)  John uses the term to indicate the eternal relation of the Logos to God and to outline broad features of the Incarnation.

The Logos “was with God.”  There are two important conclusions from this assertion: 1) that there is a distinction of some sort between God and Logos; and, 2) that there is an intimate, ongoing (the durative verb “was” again) relationship between God and Logos.  Thus, the two are distinct yet possess a certain relationship.  The next phrase states this relationship.

“And the Word was God.”  The literal word order in Greek is correctly rendered in this translation.  Greek word order differs from English word order.  Here is the rule: “In copulative sentences [sentences with the verb “is”], if expressions are convertible, then the article [the word “the”] distinguishes the subject from the predicate, though there are exceptions.”  (Moulton,Howard, and Turner, v.3, pp 182,3).    Therefore, in the Greek word order, the subject of this sentence comes after the verb, but we know that it is the subject because of the article.  So, while Gk word order says “god was the word” the  correct English order is “the Word was God.”

Note John’s use of the imperfect tense of the verb “to be”.  If John had simply stated that the Word “IS” God, using the present tense, he would have set up a confusing equation (God=Word).  But by using the imperfect (ongoing past) tense John avoids a complete equation, which is consistent with the distinction of persons implied by verse one.  Therefore, he says that the Logos is God, but not that all of God is the Logos.  The equation does not work both ways.  To say that Bill is human is not to say that all humans are Bill.  The only conclusion from this verse is that the Logos is eternal God yet distinct from the Father.

The Jehovah’s witnesses display a profound lack of integrity in their exegesis of this verse.  They claim that the Word was “a god”, overly pressing the fact that there is no article with “theos”.    First, this view mis-states the use of the article in copulative sentences.  Second, granting the blatantly false translation that the Word is “a god”, we wonder what this means?  It is inconceivable that there be a plurality of divine essences.  Are there many equal gods?  Or is Jesus the only one who fits in this category?  Or is Jesus an inferior God (which is non-sensical)? John had the option of a perfectly good word for “godlike” – instead of saying “theos”  he could have said “theois.”  Third, how are we to explain the role of the Logos in creation (v. 14), especially in light of the 1st chapter of Genesis?  Finally, how can we deal with the rest of John’s claims regarding the essential deity of this person?  The JW’s distort Scripture to suit their purposes. Continue reading

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Give me that Old Time Religion…

preachercrosspicThe little church that reared me belonged to a group that called itself Fundamentalist. I grew up thinking that fundamentalists were marked by what they didn’t do: no dancing, drinking, movies, playing cards, rock ‘n roll, or hip attire. Later, a movement arose called Evangelicalism, with the same core THEOLOGICAL beliefs, but a more accommodating stance toward CULTURE.  I was happy, because I could be an old-fashioned fundamentalist in my theology and still enjoy a good movie.

Since the 1980’s, “fundamentalist” has taken on a sinister meaning: a heavily armed, hard-line lunatic ready to start a war over his/her beliefs. I reject that sort of fundamentalism as sinful, unbiblical, and against God. You couldn’t find a violent bone if you tried among the kind of fundamentalists that reared me.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [not physical, not tangible, not a weapon you can buy in a store] but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5, NKJV.

As a theological system, old-time fundamentalism, and later evangelicalism, were right on. We just have to come up with new labels for these historic Christian truth-packages.

amishToday, even evangelicalism is being redefined. Various movements, like the emerging church (with its tendency toward universalism), Open Theism (which suggests that God doesn’t know the future), and old-fashioned  liberalism (racing toward pluralism), are each trying to reform evangelicalism, and attempting to claim the mantle of historic Christianity.

We’re like toddlers at a theological smorgasbord– too short of stature to see the big picture,  too greedy for anything sweet,  and too untrained to discern true nutrition from junk food.

We have sincere, sacrificial, great-hearted pastors and authors who are woefully untrained in theology, leading the church in directions the church shouldn’t go.

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” Hebrews 5:12, NKJV.

Every generation needs to LOVINGLY, but FIRMLY rearticulate what is theologically good and what is theologically bad for the church. Where do we draw the lines on our theological playing field? What is in bounds? What is out of bounds?

I believe our church leaders from the 1920’s drew the line perfectly when they identified five non-negotiables, or fundamentals, of the faith.  These define what came to be called fundamentalist theology, and later evangelical theology.

Five core truths have defined Christianity for generations:

1. The inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible
2. The deity of Christ and His virgin birth
3. The substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death
4. The literal resurrection of Christ from the dead
5. The literal return of Christ

These fundamentals are like fences around a five-sided yard. Within the yard, there’s plenty of room for debate on plenty of major theological issues. Just stay in the yard.

biblemanEach generation has to reaffirm the old truths of historic Christianity. The language may change, but the underlying truths must remain the same. Over the coming few posts, I’m going to review these 5 fundamentals… and I think, in our day, we need to add one more doctrine to the list. I hope you have a chance to stop by again a few times this week.

I’m glad I was reared with a theological foundation. I’ve never moved from it. My faith has an anchor that has stood the test of time. Does yours? Were you taught these fundamentals? Do you still believe them?