The doctrine of Christology seems to have been overlooked in most of the church today, which is somewhat odd considering the fact that the Christian faith is based off of the story of Jesus Christ and who He is. For this reason, one might think the church would search to have a greater understanding of the character of Jesus, but throughout the years most Christians have simply accepted the fact that Jesus is both God and man and have not looked to find a greater depth to this duality.
This is probably due to the fear that an imbalance on either side of Jesus’ two-dimensional being would bring about heresy. After all, if we focus too much on Jesus’ humanity, He may seem no different than you and therefore could not bring us salvation. On the other side of the spectrum, if we focus on Jesus solely as God, we lose the very humanity that Jesus limited Himself to and may potentially believe His teachings as impossible.
Since this doctrine bends and breaks on an overemphasis of either side, we will look at it through the trusted lenses of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Together, these aspects make what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is a method that will help us balance our understanding on this doctrine. Again, since our entire faith is based off of Jesus, it is important to make sure we address this issue delicately.
There are very many verses in the Bible that emphasize the fact that Jesus took the form of man (Ph. 2:7), which is a bit startling to some since most Christians tend to focus on Jesus as God. But if we really pay attention, we will actually find these verses all over the place. We just tend to miss them simply because they are so human in nature.
For example, we know that Jesus (though He was immaculately conceived), had parents (Mt. 1-2; Lk. 1-2) whom He obeyed (Lk. 2:51). We also know that He had siblings (Mt. 12:46-47, 13:55; Mk 3:31-32, 6:3) and friends (Jn. 2:2). And though we do not know much about His childhood, we do know that He grew and that He learned (Lk. 2:40). And like any kid, He even made His parents nervous by running off (Lk. 2:42-50).
Jesus, in His humanity, also took part in society by working a job (Mk. 6:3) and paying taxes (Mk. 12:13-17). On top of that, He also celebrated holidays and went to the synagogue (Lk. 2:41). He even saw a side of society that most western Christians today would never expect to see, when He was arrested and taken to court (Mt. 26; Mk. 14; Lk. 22).
All of these things are proof that Jesus was habitually and customarily human, but there are still more attributes to Christ that let us see His humanity even more. Emotions, for example, greatly showed the mortality of Jesus. We can see in Scripture that He experienced the happiness of love (Mk. 10:21; Jn. 11:26), and that He also got angry (Jn. 2:13-16; Mk. 11:15-17), frustrated (Mk. 4:40; 9:19), and troubled in soul (Jn. 12:27) and spirit (Jn. 13:21). He even endured times of great sadness and cried (Jn. 11:33-35). The emotional pain of Christ grew even deeper towards His crucifixion. He was incredibly overwhelmed about His coming death (Mt. 26:38; Heb. 5:7), mocked and insulted (Mk. 15:16-20, 29-32), and in every Gospel He was rejected, denied, betrayed, and abandoned—He even felt abandoned by God (Mk.15:34)! Outside of all these things, He was, like all humans, tempted (Mt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:13).
And incase the humanity of Jesus is still not clear through these attributes, we should also mention that Jesus was connected to His physical body just as any other man or woman. He endured times of weariness (Jn. 4:6) and slept (Mk. 4:38) and was both thirsty (Jn. 4:7; 19:28) and hungry (Mt. 4:2) and ate food (Jn. 21:9, 13). And in the end, His mortality was especially shown by the fact that He bled (Lk. 22:44; Jn. 19:34) and died (Lk. 23:46).
I bring all of these things up because I believe that if we are truly going to understand the Christology of Jesus, we need to fully wrap our minds around the humanity that the Messiah restrained Himself to. But if we leave our study of Christ at what we have come to learn so far, we will be left with not just an incomplete picture of Jesus, but a blasphemous one. For while Jesus did “empty Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men,” (Ph. 2:7) He still “existed in the form of God” (Ph. 2:6).
This is a riddle to the human mind. How can one person be both God and man? Due to our confusion we are much more apt to just focus on one aspect of God rather than both, but again, doing so leaves our understanding of Christ incomplete. Whether we can fully comprehend it or not, Jesus is both the Son of God and man (Mt. 16:13-17). But considering how much time we have spent on the humanity of Jesus, let us make sure we fully understand that this does not make Him any less God.
We mentioned earlier that Jesus was immaculately conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18, 20; Lk. 1:34-35) as prophesied in the Old Testament (Is. 7:13-14). It should also be noted that Jesus existed even before His birth here on earth (Jn. 1:1), which makes His divinity all the more clear. These are obviously not human attributes.
The authority that Jesus moved in was not that of any human either. He made wild statements that would easily anger anyone who did not believe that He was the Messiah. But since He was the Messiah, He was given authority to forgive sins (Mk. 2:5-7), grant eternal life (Jn. 11:25-26), and speak with the authority of God like He did all throughout the gospels in general. It was also Christ who asked God to send us the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16; 15:26; 16:7; Ac. 2:33).
Outside of these aspects, the end of Jesus’ life was just as divine as the start of it, because He managed to live a sinless life (1 Jn. 3:5; Heb. 4:15; 9:14), which we humans know to be impossible in our fallen state. Not only did He keep this sinless status up to the time of His death, but He also denied death itself and was resurrected (Mt. 28:7; Mk. 16:6; Lk. 24:6; Jn 20:9; Ro. 1:4; Ro. 6:9; Ph. 3:10; 1 Pt. 1:3). And incase resurrection was not enough to make His divinity clear, He then went on to ascend into Heaven (Lk. 24:51; Ac. 1:9; 2:32-33).
We Christians also hold to a confusing doctrine that affirms the fact that Jesus was God. This doctrine, of course, is none other than that of the Trinity—the belief that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God in three persons. While there may not actually be a verse in the Bible that mentions the Trinity, there are plenty of verses that point towards this belief and believers have affirmed it true for centuries upon centuries. And with so many verses including Jesus as a part of the Trinity (Mt. 28:19; 2 Co. 13:14; 1 Co. 12:4-6; Ga. 4:6; Ep. 2:20-22; 2 Ts. 2:13-14; Ti. 3:4-6; 1 Pt. 1:2), we can only conclude that Jesus was in fact God. Therefore, we worship Jesus just as believers and heavenly creatures did in the Bible (Mt. 2:2; Jn. 9:38; Lk 24:52 Rv. 5:12-13; 19:10; Phil. 2:9-11; Hb. 1:6).
While very few evangelicals would disagree with the doctrine of the Trinity, there are present day arguments as to how much divinity Jesus had. This debate is fairly recent, as it had not really been thought over too much in the past. On one side of the issue, you have the classical view, which most Christians have grown up believing. Gregory A. Boyd sums up this view quite nicely in his book Across the Spectrum:
Though it took nearly four centuries to iron out the details (at Chalcedon), the orthodox church has always interpreted Scripture as teaching that Jesus Christ was and is fully God as well as fully human. For most theologians and laypeople throughout history, this meant that Jesus exercised the full range of divine and human attributes. Though theologians have worked this out in many different ways, most have affirmed that Jesus was at one and the same time omnipresent (as God) yet spatially located (as human), omnipotent (as God) yet limited in power (as human), and omniscient (as God) yet limited in knowledge (as human). Jesus is one person, not two, but he has two natures, not one. The church has always admitted that this teaching constitutes a profound mystery, but it has always denied that it constitutes a contradiction (Kindle, 1568-1584).
Despite the obvious contradiction that Boyd points out, this still tends to be the belief of most people today. Most seem too afraid to make an argument that Jesus could be any different because it would almost seem to lessen His divinity, which could put someone in a potential position to say that Jesus was not God. Instead, people tend to stick to traditional beliefs and not challenge their confusion on the subject. Others have simply been taught this way since they were born and have never really seen a need to question it. After all, our belief in the Trinity is just as confusing and in the end, it seems as though we just need to accept parts of Christianity on faith.
On the other end of the Christological debate is the kenotic view. This understanding of Christ has different levels of belief, but it essentially finds its basis in Philippians 2:5-8. The Greek word “kenosis” is used in this passage and it means emptied. Within context, it basically states that Jesus “emptied Himself.” Now it does become a question as to what exactly Jesus emptied Himself of, but the kenotic understanding does seem to have good Biblical grounding in this passage. Lucien J. Richard even makes this emptying sound Godly rather than blasphemous when pointing out, “What is called emptying is really fulfilling, kenosis is actually plerosis which means that the human limitations of Jesus are seen as a positive expression of his divinity rather than a curtailment of it” (104).
At its worst, the kenotic belief has potential to become a product of the Enlightenment and turn Jesus into a completely normal man whose miracles can be explained away rationally and metaphorically. After all, if one believes that Jesus relinquished His status as God in order to become human, then Jesus would not be able to do miracles, right?
Well there is yet another Christological belief known as Spirit Christology that says differently. Those who take this approach to Scripture would agree with the kenotic idea that Jesus laid down His divinity to become fully human, but would add in a focus on the Holy Spirit. In this understanding, Jesus operated completely at the will of the Spirit, which He was filled with (Mt. 3:16; Lk. 3:22). Jürgen Moltmann explains it this way:
The continuing presence of the Spirit in Jesus is the true beginning of the kingdom of God, and of the new creation in history. That is why in this power Jesus drives out demons, heals the sick and restores spoiled creation. This presence of the Spirit is the authority behind his proclamation. The spirit gives it the power of conviction, and the Spirit causes the proclamation to be accepted in faith… The divine Spirit who indwells Jesus, initiates and makes possible the relationship of the Father to the Son, and of the Son to the Father (92).
These are three of the main understandings of Christology. There are many other theories that land in between each of these, but it seems that altogether, most Christians have not looked beyond the contradictory classical view. For this reason, many Christians have perhaps held more tightly to tradition on this doctrine than they have on others.
At first glance, the Christological doctrine seems rather difficult to sort out reasonably—especially if we hold to the classical debate. After all, if our best explanation of Christ’s duality is that He can operate out of His humanity or divinity at any given time, we are more or less left with a doctrine of randomness rather than a methodical or reasonable doctrine.
The kenotic doctrine on the other hand, has more of an appeal to reason. Though the kenotic doctrine may have potential to go too far, at its core it is quite reasonable. It maintains the essential Christian belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully man and proves it logically. But if Jesus’ miracles just become metaphors, then I believe we have abused Scripture.
That is to say that the entire Bible is a book of miracles and phenomena and for that reason it is not illogical or unreasonable to expect such supernatural miracles from Jesus. After all, some of the craziest things in the Bible happened before His time on earth. Also, the very thought of God is a supernatural one, so why should we reasonably think that a supernatural God is restrained to the natural world which He built? And so instead of spending hours upon hours of time in attempts to disprove miracles, how about we at least consider the idea that miracles are a reasonable part of the Christian faith.
If we are willing to accept this, then we should find the most reasonable explanation of who Christ is in the understanding of Spirit Christology. If God has emptied Himself so that He may become human and we believe miracles to be reasonable, then we are left with the question as to how Jesus performed them, which is answered very well by the fact that He was filled with the Holy Spirit.
After all, typically when you saw mention of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, something very odd or supernatural would happen. Whether it caused mass numbers of people to prophesy (Num. 11:25; 1 Sam. 19:20-21), strip down (1 Sam. 19:23-24), or have supernatural strength (Judges 14:6), the Holy Spirit had always been doing odd things.
So let us say for a moment that we now see Spirit Christology as rational. Well here is a question then: why is the Spirit not doing the kinds of miracles Jesus did, today? After all, if every Christian has the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17), then why can we not do such miracles?
If you are asking these questions, then you are probably coming out of the same background that most evangelical Christians have come out of. The experience you have had so far has taught you that God does miracles on very rare occasions and that they are usually performed at the hands of doctors (hands which are, of course, “guided by the Spirit”). This is more of an enlightened way of thinking and those who live this way have typically not been taught that they have any power to exercise through the Holy Spirit. I myself lived in these shoes for almost my entire life thus far.
But over the past few years I have come to find in my own experience that there are believers out there who live in the power that God has given them. I have seen these people exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit—the same gifts that Jesus Himself exercised! I have seen people healed and watched many different supernatural phenomena happen. I have also heard prophecy, words of knowledge, and people speak in tongues. I’ve even experienced some of these gifts first hand.
Many do not have such an experience and have therefore found little reason to believe that the Spirit has any supernatural power in a believer’s life. However, if you begin to search for these things and actually find them, you will be faced with the decision as to what to do with it. And if you do come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is at work and doing supernatural things in the world, you may find your Christological understanding of Jesus to be much more important than it once was, as His power becomes your own.
My Christological Understanding
Due to the experiences I have had with the supernatural, I am especially interested in Christology. After all, the gifts I’ve seen fellow Christians practice seem an awful lot like those that Jesus practiced. But obviously, I know that my fellow Christians are not the Messiah, nor are they God incarnate. So then how are they moving in the same power as Jesus? What is the connection?
Though I have probably made it fairly clear as to what I believe, let me come right out and say it: I believe in Spirit Christology. In other words, I believe that the supernatural power that Jesus operated in, originated from the Holy Spirit that rested upon Him (Mt. 3:16; Mk. 1:10; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:32), and not from His divinity since He emptied Himself of it in order to become fully human (Ph. 2:7). This Spirit that Jesus has is the same Helper that Jesus sent to His disciples (Jn. 14:16, 26; 16:7). Or, “In the language of [Matthias] Scheeben and Pius XII, the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son anoints the human soul of Christ with the ointment of divinity… In other words, it is the overflow of the Spirit in Christ… that is the predicate for the gift of the Spirit to believers” (Colle, 77).
This is also the same Spirit that Paul attributes supernatural gifts to, such as words of knowledge, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues and their interpretation (1 Cor. 12:4-11). So already we see that the Holy Spirit is capable of doing the things that Jesus did.
If we look, we will see that Jesus used words of knowledge quite often. What I mean by “words of knowledge,” is that Jesus knew things that He could not have known in His humanity. Nathanael, for example, became a disciple simply because Jesus was able to identify him by name and point out that he had been sitting under a tree earlier (Jn. 1:47-50). Jesus had never met Nathanael before this time and so we realize that He knew these things supernaturally. He did something similar with the woman at the well. Though having just met her, he explained to her that she had gone through five husbands and that the man she was currently with was not her husband (Jn. 4:16-18).
After Jesus pointed this out, the woman perceived Him to be a prophet (Jn. 4:19). Not too many verses later Jesus is already prophesying about what the future of what worshipping God would look like (Jn. 4:21-23). And that’s just one example of Jesus prophesying. He prophesies time and time again while teaching. He even prophesies about His return (Lk. 21:25-36), which is foresight so significantly far into the future that we still wait to see it two thousand years later.
Jesus was also quite familiar with miracles. Early on in His ministry, He turned water into wine (Jn. 2:3-11). Later He walked on water (Mk. 6:48-50) and on more than one occasion, He multiplied small amounts of bread and fish so that giant crowds could share it together (Mk. 6:41-44; 8:6-9). Many would probably draw the line here and say that these miracles were things that only Jesus could do because He was God. However, I believe that when Paul refers to miracles, He is speaking of crazy phenomena such as these things. In today’s mindset we tend to think of miracles as people getting healed, and while such a thing is a miracle, Paul mentions healing separately from miracles when listing the gifts of the Spirit. Furthermore, if we want to assign the miracles Jesus did to God-side of Jesus, than we would also be pressured to say that Elijah was part God. After all, that prophet caused a bowl of flour and a jar of oil to be supernaturally filled (1 Ki. 17:14-16) time and time again, just as Jesus had done with the fish and bread.
We might also think that things like resurrection can only come from Jesus because He is God. But then if we look at Elijah’s life again, we can see that the prophet prayed for resurrection and saw a little boy come back to life (1 Ki. 17:17-24). We know that the Holy Spirit is capable of doing such things because of the gifts Paul ascribes to Him and so we see here the work of God through His Spirit. We also see another case of resurrection when a dead man fell on to Elisha’s bones (2 Ki. 13:21). Now this is a very curious passage, but if we attribute the Holy Spirit with the power of healing and resurrection, and combine this with the fact that Jesus often touched those whom He healed, we can see the Holy Spirit even at work in Elisha’s bones.
We could go on and on about all of the supernatural things that Jesus did, but I believe that in the end we can attribute much of His supernatural abilities to His cooperation with the Holy Spirit. After all, if He allowed Himself to do these things out of His dual nature, why then did He need to fast for forty days (Mt. 4:2) and pray until He sweat drops of blood (Lk. 22:44)? Surely He didn’t do these things for the sole purpose of setting an example of what Christianity should look like (granted, that may have been part of it).
So if we believe all of this, then the question becomes: how was Jesus any different from the potential any Christian today could achieve through the power of the Spirit? The fact that this question alone could almost derail our faith shows that we have connected Jesus’ dual nature all to closely with His supernatural ways. The fact that we too can do these miracles by the power of the Spirit does not make Jesus any less God, because there is nothing we could ever do to live an entirely sinless life or to take away the sins of the world. These two characteristics of Jesus are entirely God. There are also many other attributes that made Jesus God, as mentioned much earlier in this paper.
Spirit Christology is not simple. It takes a lot of discussion and sorting through to truly understand. It causes us to ask a lot of hard questions and at times find some difficult answers. But perhaps the reason it’s so hard to comprehend is because of the amount of faith it takes to believe. After all, if Jesus was able to do the things He did because the Holy Spirit was upon Him, and we as Christians have that same Spirit, then that means that we should be able to mirror Jesus in impossible ways, right? Sometimes that takes more faith than we are willing to possess and for that reason, we write simpler doctrine that does not make us uncomfortable.
Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002. Kindle.
Del, Colle Ralph. Christ and the Spirit: Spirit-christology in Trinitarian Perspective. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.
Moltmann, Jürgen. The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990. Print.
Richard, Lucien. A Kenotic Christology: in the Humanity of Jesus the Christ, the Compassion of Our God. Washington, D.C.: University of America, 1982. Print.