A doctrine of the Person of Christ, and the study of it, has been an essential part of rational thought about their beliefs once monotheistic Jews found that they were worshipping Jesus Christ as God. The figure of Jesus of Nazareth was from the start the centre of Christian preaching, and in the complementary presentation of him in the four biographical narratives of the gospels Jesus is a unique human body who, replacing the Torah, revealed God through words and deeds, and the death and resurrection. Down the ages it has taken many shapes, beginning with the application of ‘Christ’ (= ‘*Messiah’) to Jesus; this asserted the connection of Jesus with the aspirations and beliefs of the OT and the people of Israel, however interpreted.
After long and sometimes acrimonious debates the Church gave a final definition of its Christology at the Council of Chalcedon in Asia Minor in 451 ce, affirming belief in Jesus Christ as One Person in Two Natures, which are united without confusion. Much subsequent thinking started with the premiss that Jesus was the second Person of the Trinity and then speculated how he could have been man. An early suggestion had been that Jesus only appeared to have had a physical body (this became known as the heresy of docetism and was ruled out by stressing the genuine humanity of Jesus, descendant of David, 2 Tim. 2: 8). Nevertheless there continued a long tradition in the Church which emphasized the divine nature of Christ at the expense of his humanity.
Much recent Christology claims to work ‘from below up’, that is to say, to begin with the humanity of Jesus and go on to show that the evidence leads to a recognition also of his divinity. It is a procedure beset with problems; for it necessarily depends upon controversial assessment of the historical value of the gospels which recount words and deeds of Jesus within the context of an interpretative apparatus. Examples are the messages of angels at the beginning and end, voices from heaven (at the baptism and transfiguration), various theological reflections (e.g. Luke 23: 44–5), and constant references (especially in Matthew) to OT prophecies.
On the other hand, there is much in the narratives of the gospels which can be accepted as historically trustworthy and which provides a foundation for a modern Christology. Events which are recorded in spite of being obviously embarrassing to the early Church and which might therefore have been understandably omitted impress for their veracity; an example is the baptism of Jesus and the history of its treatment from Mark, through Matthew (3: 14); Luke (3: 21), where the baptism by John is not mentioned explicitly; and John (1: 33), which does not record the baptism of Jesus at all. Such a progress reveals the embarrassment felt that Jesus should have undergone a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mark 1: 4). It was his self‐identification with his people, but theological interpretation is evident: there is the mention of the heavenly voice, where Matthew uses a rabbinic image, the bath qol, to confirm the readers' inference that there is a pattern of events similar to that of the Exodus (of Israel). There can be no doubt about the crucifixion and little doubt that Jesus at the end cried, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15: 34), where Luke (23: 46) prefers the cry, ‘Into your hands I commend my spirit’. Equally authentic are the stories of Jesus consorting with disadvantaged, unpopular, and despised people, and the accounts of miracles of healing and exorcizing.
Subjects: Biblical Studies.