Early Christian views of Christ

The early Christians, including those who had been his most intimate companions, came to cherish very exalted views of Jesus. They named him Messiah, Christ, the anointed one. They called him Kyrios (Kupto^), "Lord." Indeed, the only creedal affirmation which seems to have been asked of the first converts was subscription to the declaration, "Jesus is Lord". While to those reared in a Greek or a non-Jewish Oriental background this term would bring to mind the many "lords" of the mystery religions with the assurance of immortality through being joined in union with the central figure of one or another of these cults, to those with a Jewish heritage the word Kyrios was the Greek term employed for the Hebrew Adonai, which meant God Himself, or, in one passage from the Psalms which Christians remembered, the Messiah as well as God. Sometimes Jesus was called the Wisdom of God, reminiscent of the Sophia ("Wisdom") in much of late Jewish thought which had been influenced by Hellenism, and in which Sophia had been almost personalized. Repeatedly he was called Son of God. In a famous passage in one of Paul's letters he is declared to have existed in the form of God but as emptying himself and being made in the likeness of man. In another well-known passage Christ is described as having been appointed by God to be "heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds," and as "the brightness of his glory and the express image of his per son," In the even more famous passage at the outset of The Gospel according to John, Jesus is identified with the Logos (Aoyo^) or "Word," which "was in the beginning with God" and "was God," by whom all things were made. The Logos is described as having become flesh in Jesus.

Scholars are by no means agreed as to the source from which the term Logos came into this passage and, therefore, as to the precise meaning which it had for the author. Some maintain that it was from a strain in current Hellenistic thought to which several schools of Greek philosophy contributed, and which in Judaism had its outstanding exponent in Philo. This held that the God Who is far beyond man's knowing maintains His contact with the created world through the Logos, who is subordinate to God. Another view identifies the Logos with the Wisdom which is found in Hebrew literature. Still another conjecture sees the influence of religious conceptions in contemporary nonChristian Syria and Asia Minor and which stressed the unity of God and yet His nearness in the life forces.

What The Gospel according to John emphasized, and where it differs from all these other conceptions, is its declaration that the Logos became flesh, and became flesh in a particular man, Jesus of Nazareth. While in places it seems to view the Logos so incarnated as subordinate to God, it makes much of the intimacy of the incarnate Son with the Father and declares that the two are one.

The early Christians stated in various ways what they believed to be the specific work of Christ. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself'; "He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him"; "The blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin"; "God commendeth his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us"; "Jesus Christ ... the propitiation of our sins and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world"; "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever be-lieveth in him should not perish but have everlasting life"; "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"; he "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel" — these are some of the phrases which at once come to mind. Christ was pictured as a judge. He was also named as saviour and as priest who once for all had offered up himself as a sacrifice and continues to make intercession for the faithful to God "who spared not his own son but delivered him up for us all." Jesus was also a prophet, speaking for God. He was king. He was alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. As God had created all things through him, so it was also the purpose of God to sum up all things in him, whether in heaven or on earth.

These first century Christians did not attempt to make a complete orderly statement of their beliefs about Christ. Here and there, as in The Gospel according to John and in Paul's Letter to the Romans, something of what they believed to be the place of Christ in the human drama and in the universe is set forth. Yet these early disciples were so carried away with the breath-taking vision of what they believed Christ meant and of what God had done and was doing in him that they could not put it in sober intellectual terms, nor did they attempt to answer all the questions which Christians would inevitably raise as they struggled with the problems presented by this unique and climactic person whom they had come to know. In their writings were passages to which appeal has been made to support divergent and even contradictory views. Across the centuries Christians have con tinued to be moved by the words in which the New Testament writers attempted to express what they believed Christ to be and what God had wrought through him. Again and again they have come back to them in the endeavour to enter fully into the reality to which they bore witness.

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