Jesus in Christianity

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The nature of Jesus is the central issue of Christology. Christian beliefs about Jesus have always been diverse, although many theologians have condemned as heresy beliefs opposed to theirs.

Protestant Christology

Most Protestant denominations use a more literal reading of the Bible. They believe that Jesus was the Son of God[1], fully God and fully human, having two natures and two wills, one human and one divine. They also believe that Jesus lived a life without committing sin, and thus was a fit sacrifice for humanity's sin, a view known as "substitutionary atonement". He is also considered to be the second person of the Trinity, unified in essence with the Father and Holy Spirit yet also a distinct person.

Early Christian beliefs

The Ebionites, an early Jewish Christian community, believed that Jesus was the last of the prophets and the Messiah. They believed that Jesus was the natural-born son of Mary and Joseph, and thus rejected the Virgin Birth. The Ebionites were adoptionists, believing that Jesus was not divine, but became the son of God at his baptism. They rejected the Epistles of Paul, believing that Jesus kept the Mosaic Law perfectly and wanted his followers to do the same. However, they felt that Jesus' crucifixion was the ultimate sacrifice, and thus animal sacrifices were no longer necessary. Therefore, some Ebionites were vegetarian and considered both Jesus and John the Baptist to have been vegetarians.[2] Shemayah Phillips founded a small community of modern Ebionites in 1985. These Ebionites identify as Jews rather than as Christians, and do not accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

The name "Gnosticism" has been applied to a vast collection of often unrelated figures and movements. While some Gnostics were docetics, most believed that Jesus was a human who became possessed by the spirit of Christ during his baptism.[3] Many Gnostics believed that Christ was an Aeon sent by a higher deity than the evil demiurge who created the material world. Some Gnostics believed that Christ had a syzygy named Sophia. The Gnostics tended to interpret the New Testament as allegory, and some interpreted Jesus himself as an allegory. Modern Gnosticism has been a growing religious movement since fifty-two Gnostic texts were rediscovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. The movement was also given a boost by the publication in 2006 of the Gospel of Judas.

Marcionites were 2nd-century Gentile followers of the Christian theologian Marcion of Sinope. They believed that Jesus rejected the Jewish Scriptures, or at least the parts that were incompatible with his teachings.[4] Seeing a stark contrast between the vengeful God of the Old Testament and the loving God of Jesus, Marcion came to the conclusion that the Jewish God and Jesus were two separate deities. Like some Gnostics, Marcionites saw the Jewish God as the evil creator of the world, and Jesus as the savior from the material world. They also believed that Jesus was not human, but a divine spiritual being whose material body, and thus his crucifixion and death, were divine illusions. Marcion was the first known early Christian to have created a canon, which consisted of ten Pauline epistles, and a version of the Gospel of Luke (possibly without the first two chapters that are in modern versions, and without Jewish references),[5] and his treatise on the Antithesis between the Old and New Testaments. Marcionism was declared a heresy by proto-orthodox Christianity.

The theological concept of Jesus as Christ was refined by a series of ecumenical councils beginning in the 4th century AD, the first and second of which produced the Nicene (or Niceno-Constantinopolitan) Creed. Referring to the Second Person of the Trinity, it affirms belief

...in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man:
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried:
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures:
And ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father:
And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose Kingdom will have no end [Anglican version]

These councils were convened in an atmosphere of politically-charged theological debate, and their conclusions do not represent a consensus of Christian views at the time. Indeed, each successive council resulted in the expulsion of yet another branch of Christianity: Arianism after the second; Nestorianism after the third, and so on. Today the Assyrian Church of the East (the so-called "Nestorian" church) recognizes only two such councils; the Oriental Orthodox (non-Chalcedonian) churches, the three; Eastern Orthodoxy, seven; and Roman Catholicism, twenty-one (the most recent being Vatican II).While Protestants do not usually accord the same authority to these councils as would Catholics or Orthodox (with some churches opposing the use of creeds as a violation of sola scriptura), they would not likely object to the content of at least the first seven councils. In church, mainline Protestants generally recite the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, and may have their own denominational statements of belief (such as the Westminster or Augsburg Confessions).

Most Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate, one of the three divine persons who make up the single substance of God, a concept known as the Holy Trinity. In this respect, Jesus is both distinct and yet of the same being as God the Father and the God the Holy Spirit.[6] They believe Jesus is the Son of God, and the Messiah. Following John 1:1, Christians have identified Jesus as "the Word" (or Logos) of God. Most further believe that Jesus has two natures in one person: that he is fully God and fully human, a concept known as the hypostatic union. However, Oriental Orthodoxy professes a Miaphysite interpretation, while the Assyrian Church of the East professes a form of Nestorianism.

Some Christians however profess various nontrinitarian views. Arianism, denounced as a heresy by the second council, taught that Jesus is subordinate to God the Father.[7] Binitarians believe that Jesus is God, although a separate being from God the Father, and that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. Unitarian Christians believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, and merely human. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) theology maintains that God the Father (Heavenly Father), Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings who together constitute the Godhead. Finally, most Jehovah's Witnesses believe Jesus to be Michael the Archangel, who became a human to come down to earth.[8]

Another crucial aspect of Christology is soteriology, the issue of how Jesus provides salvation. Paul of Tarsus wrote that, just as sin entered the world through Adam (known as The Fall of Man), so salvation from sin comes through Jesus, the second Adam (Rom 5:12–21; 1 Cor 15:21–22). Most Christians believe that Jesus' death and resurrection provide salvation not only from personal sin, but from the condition of sin itself. This ancestral or original sin[9] separated humanity from God, making all liable to condemnation to eternal punishment in Hell (Rom 3:23). However, Jesus' death and resurrection reconciled humanity with God, granting eternal life in Heaven to the faithful (John 14:2–3).

References

  1. See the Nicene Creed.
  2. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, Oxford, 2003, p. 102.
  3. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, Oxford, 2003, p. 124-125
  4. Wace, Henry, Commentary on Marcion
  5. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities, Oxford, 2003, p. 103, p. 104-105, p.108
  6. John 1:1; 8:58; 10:30
  7. John 14:28;
  8. "Jesus The Ruler "Whose Origin Is From Early Times", The Watchtower, June 15, 1998, p. 22.
  9. Western Christianity, following Augustine of Hippo, generally affirms that humanity inherited both the tendency to sin and the guilt of Adam and Eve's sin. The doctrine in Eastern Christianity is that humanity inherited the tendency to sin, but not the guilt for Adam and Eve's sin. This doctrine, also adopted by some in the Western Church as a form of Arminianism, is sometimes called semipelagianism. A minority of Christians affirm Pelagianism, which states that neither the condition nor the guilt of original sin is inherited; rather, we all freely face the same choice between sin and salvation that Adam and Eve did. Pelagianism was opposed by the Council of Carthage in 418 CE.

See also