Christology is related to questions concerning the nature of God like the Trinity, Unitarianism or Binitarianism. However, from a Christian perspective, these questions are concerned with how the divine persons relate to one another, whereas Christology is concerned with the meeting of the human (Son of Man) and divine (God the Son) in the person of Jesus.
Throughout the history of Christianity, Christological questions have been very important in the life of the church. Christology was a fundamental concern from the First Council of Nicaea (325) until the Third Council of Constantinople (680). In this time period, the Christological views of various groups within the broader Christian community led to accusations of heresy, and, infrequently, subsequent religious persecution. In some cases, a sect's unique Christology is its chief distinctive feature; in these cases it is common for the sect to be known by the name given to its Christology.
The Christological positions known as Arianism and Ebionitism - groups that in one manner or another denied the divinity of Christ - and other groups, in particular those that adhered to Docetism and Gnosticism, which denied the humanity of Christ - led the fourth and fifth-century Christians to affirm that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human.
The Christological controversies came to a head at the First Council of Nicaea (325), at which the church defined the persons of the Godhead and their relationship with one another. The decisions made at Nicaea were ratified at the First Council of Constantinople (381), after several decades of ongoing controversy during which the work of Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers were influential. The language used was that the one God exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); in particular it was affirmed that the Son was homoousios (of one substance) with the Father. The Creed of the Nicene Council made statements about the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus, thus preparing the way for discussion about how exactly the divine and human come together in the person of Christ (Christology).
The Council of Nicaea defined that Jesus was fully divine and also human. What it did not do was make clear how one person could be both divine and human, and how the divine and human were related within that one person. This led to the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian era.
The most important event in these controversies was the Council of Chalcedon, held in 451. The Council promulgated a Christological doctrine known as the hypostatic union. In short, this doctrine states that two natures, one human and one divine, are united in the one person of Christ. The Council further taught that each of these natures, the human and the divine, was distinct and complete. This view is sometimes called Dyophysite (meaning two natures) by those who rejected it.
The Chalcedonian Creed did not put an end to all Christological debate, but it did clarify the terms used and became a point of reference for all other Christologies. Most of the major branches of Christianity—Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and Protestantism—subscribe to the Chalcedonian Christological formulation.
The Council of Nicaea rejected theologies that entirely denied the humanity of Christ, affirming in the Nicene Creed the doctrine of the Incarnation as a part of the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in the person Jesus and was fully human.
Some of these views could be described as Unitarianism (although that is a modern term) in their insistence on the one-ness of God. These views, which directly affected how one understood the Godhead, were declared heresies by the Council of Nicaea. Throughout much of the rest of the ancient history of Christianity, Christologies that denied Christ's divinity ceased to have a major impact on the life of the church.
In the modern era, a number of denominations have rejected the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity, including the Christadelphians and the Jehovah's Witnesses. Mainstream Christian churches usually regard these groups as modern versions of the Arian heresy.
Subsequently, Nestorius of Constantinople (386-451) initiated a view that effectively separated Jesus into two persons—one divine and one human. Nestorius' theology was deemed heretical at the First Council of Ephesus (431). Though, as seen by the writings of Babai the Great, the Christology of the Assyrian Church of the East is highly similar to that of Chalcedon, many orthodox Christians (particularly in the West) consider this group to be the perpetuation of Nestorianism.
Various forms of Monophysitism taught that Christ only had one nature: that the divine had either dissolved (Eutychianism), or that the divine joined with the human as one nature in the person of Christ (Miaphysitism). A notable monophysite theologian was Eutyches (c. 380-456). Monophysitism was rejected as heresy at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which affirmed that Jesus Christ had two natures (divine and human) joined in one person, in hypostatic union (see Chalcedonian creed). While Eutychianism was suppressed into oblivion by the Chalcedonians and Miaphysites, the Miaphysite groups who dissented from the Chalcedonian formula have persisted as the Oriental Orthodox Church.
As theologians continued to search for a compromise between the Chalcedonian definition and the Monophysites, other Christologies developed that partially rejected the full humanity of Christ. Monothelitism taught that in the one person of Jesus there were two natures, but only a divine will. Closely related to this is Monoenergism, which held to the same doctrine as the Monothelites, but with different terminology. These positions were declared heresy by the Third Council of Constantinople (the Sixth Ecumenical Council, 680-681).
The controversy concerning the sinlessness of Christ focuses upon the human nature which Christ assumed. The question must be asked if it is possible to be fully human and not be a participant in the "fall" of Adam? Adam and Eve existed in an "unfallen" status before the "fall" according to Genesis 2-3.
The sinless nature of Christ involves two elements according to MacLeod, “First, Christ was free of actual sin.” Studying the gospels there is no reference to Jesus praying for the forgiveness of sin, nor confessing sin. The assertion is that Jesus did not commit sin, nor could he be proven guilty of sin; he had no vices. In fact, he is quoted as asking, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" in John 8:46. “Secondly, he was free from inherent sin (or "original sin").”
The temptation of Christ presented in the gospels affirms that Christ was tempted. Indeed, the temptations were genuine and of a greater intensity than normally experienced by human beings. He experienced all the frail weaknesses of humanity. Jesus was tempted through hunger and thirst, pain and the love of his friends. Thus, the human weaknesses could engender temptation. Nevertheless, MacLeod notes that “one crucial respect in which Christ was not like us is that he was not tempted by anything within himself.”
The temptations Christ faced focused upon his person and identity as the incarnate Son of God. MacLeod writes, “Christ could be tempted through his sonship.” The temptation in the wilderness and again in Gethsemane exemplifies this arena of temptation. Regarding the temptation of performing a sign that would affirm his sonship by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple, MacLeod observes, “The sign was for himself: a temptation to seek reassurance, as if to say, ‘the real question is my own sonship. I must forget all else and all others and all further service until that is clear.’” MacLeod places this struggle in the context of the incarnation, “...he has become a man and must accept not only the appearance but the reality.”
The Gospel according to Matthew and Gospel according to Luke suggest a virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Some now disregard or even refute this "doctrine" that most denominations of Christianity ascribe to. This section looks at the Christological issues surrounding belief or disbelief in the virgin birth.
A non-virgin birth would seem to require some form of adoptionism. This is because a human conception and birth would seem to yield a fully human Jesus, with some other mechanism required to make Jesus divine as well.
A non-virgin birth would seem to support the full humanity of Jesus. William Barclay: states, “The supreme problem of the virgin birth is that it does quite undeniably differentiate Jesus from all men; it does leave us with an incomplete incarnation.”
Barth speaks of the virgin birth as the divine sign “which accompanies and indicates the mystery of the incarnation of the Son.”
Donald MacLeod gives several Christological implications of a virgin birth:
Many people are dependent on Scripture to provide details of the resurrection. Most Christians hold to the Bible as a reliable source. The Bible says the tomb he was buried in was empty. Even those in Scripture who doubted his resurrection acknowledge that the tomb was empty, claiming that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb.
After Jesus had died, was buried, and was raised, Christians believe he appeared to others in bodily form. Some skeptics say his appearances were only perceived by his followers in mind or spirit – a sort of collective hallucination. The Bible also states that it was still a physical body because he talked, ate, was touched, and still retained visible wounds from the crucifixion.
Some who doubt his resurrection state that Jesus never died in the first place, rather that he merely passed out on the cross and later revived in the tomb – the swoon theory. This has been refuted by evidence of the Roman Army's methodologies - such as the 'replacement' consequences for soldiers if pronounced sentences were not fully executed - and medical comment regarding the actual likelihood of someone surviving 39 lashes followed by hanging on a cross for almost a full day (Roman soldiers had determined 40 lashes are what is required to kill a man). Some have also suggested that those who went to the empty tomb actually went to the wrong tomb. Again this is refuted by arguing that prominent Jews’ burial sites were frequently visited and not easily forgotten and that the Bible states a Roman guard was posted.
One cannot dispute that at the very least, a major world religion began at this point. The gospels tell us that the disciples believed they witnessed Jesus’ resurrected body and that led to the beginning of the faith. They had previously hid in fear of persecution after Jesus’ death. After seeing Jesus they boldly proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ despite tremendous risk. They obeyed Jesus’ mandate to be reconciled to God through repentance (Luke 24:47), baptism, and obedience (Matthew 28:19-20).
Jesus Christ, the Mediator of humankind, fulfills the three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. Eusebius of the early church worked out this threefold classification, which John Calvin developed and John Wesley discussed.
Christ is the mouthpiece of God as the Prophet, speaking and teaching the Word of God, infinitely greater than all prophets, who spoke for God and interpreted the will of God. The Old Testament prophet brought God’s message to the people. Christ, as the Word ()/Logos is the Source of revelation. Accordingly, Jesus Christ never used the messenger formula, which linked the prophet’s words to God in the prophetic phrase, Thus says the Lord. Christ, being of the same nature, provides a definitive and true exposition of God.
The Word/Logos is Light. As the true Light Jesus Christ exclusively enlightens humankind in the office of Prophet. Jesus affirmed his Divine identity and ultimate authority, revealing God to humanity, continuing His work into the future as the Light ().
Christ, whom we draw near to in confidence, offered Himself as the sacrifice to humanity as High Priest (). Old Testament priests declared the will of God, gave the covenant of blessing, and directed the processing of sacrifices. The priest represented humankind before God. While humankind took the office of priesthood in their weakness, Jesus holds the position with an indestructible power that overcomes the weakness of humanity as described throughout the book of Hebrews. As High Priest, Christ became one with humanity in human weakness, offered prayers to God, chose obedience through suffering, and sympathized with the struggles of humanity.
The atoning death of Christ is at the heart of His work as High Priest. Metaphors are used to describe His death on the cross, such as, “Christ, the Lamb of God, shed His blood on the cross as the sin offering for humankind.” Christ made one sin offering as High Priest in contrast to the Old Testament priests who continually offered sacrifices on behalf of humanity. Because of the work of Christ on the cross, humanity has the opportunity to have a living relationship with God. Conversely, the individuals that deny the work of God are described as dead in sin, without God and without hope.
Christ, exalted High Priest, mediates the sin that estranges humankind from the fellowship of God. In turn, He has full rights to reign over the church and world as King. Christ sits at the right hand of God, crowned in glory as "King of kings and Lord of lords.” God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church.
Theologians like Jurgen Moltmann and Walter Kasper have characterized Christologies as anthropological or cosmological. These are also termed 'Christology from below' and 'Christology from above' respectively. An anthropological Christology starts with the human person of Jesus and works from his life and ministry toward what it means for him to be divine; whereas, a cosmological Christology works in the opposite direction. Starting from the eternal Logos, a cosmological Christology works toward his humanity. Theologians typically begin on one side or the other and their choice inevitably colors their resultant Christology. As a starting point these options represent "diverse yet complementary" approaches; each poses its own difficulties. Both Christologies 'from above' and 'from below' must come to terms with the two natures of Christ: human and divine. Just as light can be perceived as a wave or as a particle, so Jesus must be thought in terms of both his divinity and humanity. You cannot talk about “either or” but must talk about "both and".
Christologies from above start with the Logos, the second Person of the Trinity, establish his eternality, his agency in creation, and his economic Sonship. Jesus' unity with God is established by the Incarnation as the divine Logos assumes a human nature. This approach was common in the early church - e.g., St. Paul and St. John in the Gospels. The attribution of full humanity to Jesus is resolved by stating that the two natures mutually share their properties (a concept termed communicatio idiomatum).
Christologies from below start with the human being Jesus as the representative of the new humanity, not with the pre-existent Logos. Jesus lives an exemplary life, one to which we aspire in religious experience. This form of Christology lends itself to mysticism, and some of its roots go back to emergence of Christ mysticism in the sixth century East, but in the West it flourished between the 11th and 14th centuries. A recent theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg contends that the resurrected Jesus is the “eschatological fulfillment of human destiny to live in nearness to God.”
The Christian faith is inherently political because allegiance to Jesus as risen Lord relativises all earthly rule and authority. Jesus is called "Lord" over 230 times in Paul’s epistles alone, and is thus the principle confession of faith in the Pauline epistles. Further, N.T. Wright argues that this Pauline confession is the core of the gospel of salvation. The Achilles' heel of this approach is the loss of eschatological tension between this present age and the future divine rule that is yet to come. This can happen when the state co-opts Christ’s authority as was often the case in imperial Christology. Modern political Christologies seek to overcome imperialist ideologies.
The doctrine of Perichoresis is the doctrine of how the three Persons of the Trinity are one in their threeness. Perichoresis is the mutual indwelling or mutual relatedness within the Trinity. Recently Perichoresis has been applied to the two natures, human and divine, of Jesus to help explain how they remain in perfect union yet unconfused, inseparable but not commingled. Further, “perichoretic realities” are considered to be somehow brought down into the world by the Incarnation. Jesus characterizes his relation to his Father in terms of mutual indwelling, "believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me" (John 14:11). Jesus also suggested that people can participate in these perichoretic realities - "I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us” (John 17:20-21).
1. Poetic Form (similar to the Wisdom poetry in Hebrew scriptures)
3. Two-Fold Meanings
5. Inclusions and Transitions
6. Parentheses and Footnotes
John uses all of these techniques together in order to draw in the reader and allow the reader to take the place of the person who is actually encountering Jesus so that the reader may find out who Jesus is ontologically. Wisdom Christology highlights that Jesus is Wisdom and able to offer the living water that will forever satisfy, also showing how he is unique and set apart from all other prophets who are not able to make this offer.