On Jesus: An Introduction

Last night I watched the movie Da Vinci Code star­ing Tom Hanks. It got me to think­ing. It presents one of two posi­tions that were deemed hereti­cal by the church, name­ly, Jesus was a mere man and not God. The movie goes so far as to pro­claim a rather far fetched fan­ta­sy that not only was Jesus mere man, but that he was mar­ried and had a child. The oth­er hereti­cal posi­tion was that the Son of God nev­er actu­al­ly was a man, that he nev­er became flesh. Both ideas have their foun­da­tions in the fact that it is very hard for us to under­stand how Jesus could be both ful­ly God and ful­ly human.

It is inter­est­ing that by the end of the first cen­tu­ry as seen in the writ­ings of the apos­tle John, the preva­lent thought that the church had to fight was the con­cept that Jesus nev­er was ful­ly human, that he nev­er was flesh and bones. This con­cept came to full fruition in the Docetists dur­ing the sec­ond cen­tu­ry. They taught that Jesus only appeared to be human but was nev­er actu­al­ly flesh. It was as if Jesus was a ghost of some sorts and an unknown man was actu­al­ly cru­ci­fied by the Romans.

The Docetists were a part of a larg­er group called the Gnostics. Gnostic thought was based a lot on Plato’s think­ing. Spirit and flesh were com­plete­ly sep­a­rate and our sal­va­tion comes when we can become 100% spir­i­tu­al and slough off the flesh. The name Gnostic comes from the Greek work gno­sis which trans­lat­ed means knowl­edge. They teach it is by the knowl­edge of God that we can become free.

The Gnostic chris­tians taught that if there was an actu­al man named Jesus, the Son entered him at some point to take on the role of the Messiah but the Son of God was not ever a man — how­ev­er, they also taught (or teach as there are still some Gnostics) that the Son of God was not actu­al­ly God either, rather he was the first cre­at­ed — the first Aeon as they would call him.

The Gospel of Mary which the movie refers to was a Gnostic writ­ing, prob­a­bly writ­ten some time dur­ing the sec­ond or ear­ly third cen­tu­ry. This is where the movie kind of mess­es up regard­ing the Gospel of Mary. The man Jesus was a sec­ondary, two bit part in their beliefs. It was the Aeon, the Son of God, the Spiritual being that was to be wor­shiped (if any­thing). Gnostic thought would not have cared about any phys­i­cal rela­tions, only spir­i­tu­al ones. To their way of think­ing, if there was a man named Jesus, it wouldn’t have mat­tered if he did mar­ry Mary Magdalene and had chil­dren — the Gnostics cer­tain­ly would not have tried to main­tain his blood line since it was irrel­e­vant and pos­si­bly sac­ri­le­gious. To the Gnostics which fol­lowed Christian beliefs (and most like­ly, there were Gnostics which total­ly reject­ed any Christian thought), it was the Aeon that mat­tered and not the flesh.

Gnostic teach­ings influ­enced a lot of oth­er third cen­tu­ry here­sies includ­ing Dynamic Monarchianism, Adoptionist, Modalist, and Arianism (not the Nazi stuff — the­ol­o­gy named after a man named Arius). All basi­cal­ly deny both the deity and human­i­ty of the Son of God to one degree or anoth­er. Some taught like the ear­li­er Gnostics that He was the first­born cre­at­ed. Others taught he was a man that because of his obe­di­ence to God was adopt­ed by God to become the Son tran­scend­ing his flesh or had his soul replaced by the Son of God.

All of these beliefs come about because of our inabil­i­ty to get our head around one of the foun­da­tion­al the­olo­gies of the Church, name­ly, the Trinity: one God but three dis­tinct per­sons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This inabil­i­ty results in anti-Trinitarian beliefs even today. The Unitarian church and the “Jesus Only” move­ment are both exam­ples of Christians who have reject­ed Trinitarian teach­ings. And of course, there are many who insists that Jesus was only a man, a good teacher, maybe even a prophet but not God.

The ear­ly church strug­gled over these the­o­log­i­cal con­cepts and I believe got it right as led by the Holy Spirit. The Trinity isn’t an easy doc­trine to under­stand but in the end, can we tru­ly under­stand who God is? It is when we try to put God into under­stand­able bound­aries that we reduce God to a god — mere­ly human for all that mat­ters.

I will con­tin­ue this study in future posts as we exam­ine who Jesus was and is and is to come. If I can find my copy of Harold O. J. Brown’s book, Heresies: the Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present, I will cer­tain­ly use it as a guide and out­line as well as oth­er resources at my dis­pos­al such as Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective, ed. Stanley M. Horton and the clas­sic Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Leave a Reply