20-21 How The Real Christ Was Lost
I feel I am obligated to make the point that the real, genuinely human
Son of God whom we have reconstructed from the pages of Scripture
is at variance with the Trinitarian perspective. The trinity grew
out of Gnosticism, which taught that life comes by leaving the world
and the flesh. But John’s Gospel especially emphasizes how the true
life was and is revealed through the very flesh, the very worldly
and human life, of the Lord Jesus. True Christianity has correctly
rejected the trinity and defined a Biblically correct view of the
atonement. But we need to make something of this in practice; we
must use it as a basis upon which to meet the real, personal Christ.
In the 2nd century, the urgent, compelling, radical,
repentance-demanding Jesus was replaced by mere theology, by abstracting
Him into effectively nothing, burying the real Jesus beneath theology
and fiercely debated human definitions. And we can in essence make
the same mistake. And I might add, it was this turning of Jesus
into a mystical theological 'God' which made Him so unacceptable
to the Jews. The preaching of the real, human Jesus to them ought
to be more widely attempted by our ecclesias. It must be realized
that the growing pressure to make Jesus 'God' was matched by a growing
anti-Judaism in the church. Some of the major proponents of the
Trinitarian idea were raving anti-Judaists such as Chrysostom, Jerome
and Luther. And in more recent times, Gerhard Kittel, editor of
the trinity-pushing Theological dictionary of the New Testament
was also a regular contributor to the official Nazi publication
on the Jewish 'problem'. It was Hitler who pushed the idea that
Jesus was not really a Jew, suggesting that the humanity of Jesus
should be de-emphasized and the divinity stressed, so that the guilt
of the Jews appeared the greater (1).
The point is, we have been greatly blessed with being able to return
to the original, Biblical understanding of Jesus, which worldly
theology and politics has clouded over for so many millions. But
we must use this to build a Christ-centred life.
The humanity of Jesus was more radical for the early Christians than
we perhaps realize. Against the first century background it must be remembered
that it was felt impossible for God or His representative to be frightened,
shocked, naked, degraded. And yet the Lord Jesus was all this, and is
portrayed in the Gospels in this way. To believe that this Man was Son
of God, and to be worshipped as God, was really hard for the first century
mind; just as hard as it is for us today. It’s not surprising that desperate
theories arose to ‘get around’ the problem of the Lord’s humanity.
We need to keep earnestly asking ourselves: ‘Do I know Jesus Christ?’.
The answers that come back to us within our minds may have orthodoxy
[‘I know He wasn’t God, He had human nature….’]. But do they have
integrity, and the gripping practical significance which they should
have for us? Too much emphasis, in my view, has been placed upon
this word ‘nature’. We’re interested in knowing the essence of Jesus
as a person, who He was in the very core of His manhood and personality.
Not in theological debate about semantics. Athanasius, father of
the Athanasian Creed that declared the 'trinity', claimed that "Christ...
did not weigh two choices, preferring the one and rejecting another".
This is total contrast to the real Christ whom we meet in the pages
of the New Testament- assailed by temptation, sweating large concentrated
blobs of moisture in that struggle, and coming through triumphant.
Trinitarians have ended up making ridiculous statements because
they’ve separated the ‘nature’ of Jesus from the person of Jesus.
“He permitted his own flesh to weep, although it was in its nature
tearless and incapable of grief” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary
in John, 7). “He felt pain for us, but not with our senses;
he was found in fashion as a man, with a body which could feel pain,
but his nature could not feel pain” (Hilary). “In the complete and
perfect nature of very man, very God was born” (Leo, Tome
5)(2). This is all ridiculous- because
these theologians are talking about a nature as if it’s somehow
separate from Jesus as a person. And we non-trinitarians need to
be careful we don’t make the same mistake. Forget the theological
terms, the talk about ‘wearing a nature’; but focus upon the person
of Jesus. The terms end up distracting people from focus upon Him
as a person; and it’s that focus which is the essence of true ,
Jesus-centred spirituality. The meaning and victory of the Lord
Jesus depend upon far more than simply ‘nature’. So much of the
‘trinity’ debate has totally missed this point. It was His personality,
Him, not the words we use to define ‘nature’, that is so
Wading through all the empty, passionless theology about Jesus, it becomes
apparent that the first error was to draw a distinction between
the historical Jesus, i.e. the actual person who walked around Galilee,
and what was known as “the post-Easter Jesus”, “the Jesus of faith”,
the “kerygmatic [i.e. ‘proclaimed’] Christ”, i.e. the image of Jesus
which was proclaimed by the church, and in which one was supposed
to place their faith. Here we must give full weight to the Biblical
statement that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Who
He was then is essentially who He is now, and who He ever will be.
This approach cuts right through all the waffle about the trinity,
the countless councils of churches and churchmen. Who Jesus was
then, in the essence of His teaching and personality, is who He
is now. We place our faith in the same basic person as did the brave
men and women who first followed Him around the paths over the Galilean
hills and the uneven streets of Jerusalem, Capernaum and Bethany.
Yes, His nature has now been changed; He is immortal. But the same
basic person. The image we have of Him is that faithfully portrayed
by the first apostles; and not that created by centuries and layers
of later theological reflection. We place our faith in the Man who
really was and is, not in a Jesus created by men who exists nowhere
but in their own minds and theologies. This, perhaps above all,
is the reason I am not a trinitarian; and why I think it’s so important
not to be.
Additionally, it seems to me that there has been a chronic and
even wilful failure to realize that Divine language can be applied
to a person without making them God Himself in person. There are
examples of this. And additionally, there are even non-Biblical
examples of it. The great Rabbi Hillel was fond of taking language
about God and applying it to himself- but this doesn't mean that
he claimed to be, nor was, God Himself in person(3).
(1) Hitler's Table-Talk: Hitler's
Conversations Recorded by Martin Bormann (Oxford: O.U.P., 1988)
pp. 76, 721.
(2) All quoted from T.H. Bindley,
The Oecumenical Documents of the Faith (London: Methuen,
(3) David Flusser, 'Hillel's Self-Awareness And
Jesus', in Judaism And The Origins Of Christianity
(Jerusalem: Magnes, 1988) pp. 509-514.