My opening statement for this debate is here.
This rebuttal is in response to
this opening statement and this rebuttal of my opening statement. [Ed. note: Unfortunately, this web site appears to no longer be operational so the links are no longer available.]
I can agree that there is a sense in which the identity of Jesus Christ is ambiguous. The trinity concept is itself ambiguous. And there are many Christologies – ancient and modern – the very variety of which promote ambiguity. Just because we are confused and disagreeing, however, does not mean that God is unwilling or unable to make Himself clear. As Moses wrote, “”The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The question is, therefore, whether or not God has revealed the identity of Jesus.
I can also agree that perceiving Jesus as an angel is a valid position – just as perceiving Him as a man is a valid position. For just as God could become a man, He could become an angel. Speaking more as to sequence, He could become an angel who became a man – which is just what He did. To say that Jesus of Nazareth was a man is not mutually exclusive with saying He was God, neither is it mutually exclusive with saying He was an angel.
I hold the Scriptures to be the word of God – the prophets producing what we call the Old Testament and the apostles producing what we call the New Testament. Thus the prophets and apostles spoke in the name of the Lord. Subsequent “church fathers” claim no such authority. In fact, even church councils issued their creeds and edicts in the name of the church for they knew they could not honestly say, “Thus saith the Lord.” Therefore, while I think what Justin Martyr said or what Arius said or what others have said since biblical times has historical value, and in some cases spiritual value, none of their statements carries the weight of Scripture itself – for none of them were prophets or apostles.
What we see in the Scriptures is a progressive revelation of Christ. This is consistent with the ways of our Creator, which we can view for ourselves in creation. An acorn becomes an oak tree by a progressive process. Winter becomes spring by a progressive process. The night becomes day by a progressive process. These physical manifestations provide illustrations of spiritual processes, for “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day” (Proverbs 4:18) and “Light is sown like seed for the righteous” (Psalm 97:11). Thus we should not be surprised if God reveals something to us – especially something so great and wonderful as the identity of Christ – by a progressive process.
We can see the progression of revelation regarding Christ unfolding before us in the Scriptures. By the time of Christ in the 1st Century C.E., there was built up in the Scriptures of the prophets a large volume of prophecies, foreshadowings, allusions, types, and other references to the Messiah of Israel. However, it was not clear how all these prophecies fit together. You could rightly say they were ambiguous. The scriptural term for such ambiguity is “mystery,” and you can see Paul use it in describing this state of affairs in Romans 16:25-27 (correlate this passage with Deuteronomy 29:29, mentioned above). Paul’s point there is that the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth is the revelation of the mystery, the solution to the ambiguity.
That said, there was more to reveal about Jesus Christ than what is written in the New Testament for the Lord and the apostles themselves spoke of revelation to come (Luke 17:30; 1 Corinthians 14; Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 1:5, 7; Revelation 1:1). That is, Jesus had been revealed to some as the Messiah prior to His resurrection, but that resurrection event emphatically declared Him to be Messiah to all men (Romans 1:4; Acts 17:30-31). This was not the end of the revelation of His identity but rather the beginning, for it set off a search of the Scriptures to see how all the prophecies fit together in Him (Acts 17:2-3, 11; Colossians 1:17). The disciples began learning more and more about the Christ as the ultimate intent of various passages of Scripture were revealed to them one by one (1 Corinthians 14).
There is a consensus among modern Bible scholars that the undisputed letters of Paul (namely: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon) were written 50-60 C.E. The consensus date for Jesus’ resurrection being 30-33 C.E., this puts 15-20 years between the resurrection and those letters. That’s how long the Christian movement had been growing when Paul wrote those letters. What is absolutely stunning in the light of all the Christological controversies since apostolic times is that those seven letters display no evidence whatsoever of any Christological controversy – even while they evidence controversy about a number of other subjects. The apostles and their disciples knew who Jesus was, but they were expecting to learn more. In fact, they were constantly learning more. The big revelation, however, was yet to come when all the New Testament documents were written.
In Matthew through John, Jesus was revealed as a man. In Acts through Revelation, He is revealed to have been a angel both before and after He was a man. In what we call the Second Coming of Christ, He was revealed to be God. The progressive revelation was thus completed in the Second Coming. The ambiguity need not remain. God became an angel that He might become a man that He might become an angel again (through the resurrection – see Matthew 22:30), that He might become God again.
For this reason there is no explicit, emphatic, and indisputable statement in the New Testament that Jesus is God. Those disciples were just beginning to grapple with the idea that He was more than a man. The dawn has to come first, and the noonday sun later – otherwise we become blinded by too much light too fast. Blessed be the apostles who put us in a position to receive the truth of Jesus Christ from the prophets.