Monday, May 14, 2012

A Study of Early Christianity: Jesus is Divine

Jesus is Divine – “One Lord, Jesus Christ”

            Here Christianity parts ways with the monotheism of the Israelites. Faithful Jews stumbled at the idea of Jesus as “God with us”. How could it be that the “Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) if there is only one God? The Christian church struggled long and hard to understand this revelation.

            In spite of the intellectual difficulty of simultaneously maintaining the belief that there is only one God (which belief we have seen that the church did indeed maintain), there was no delay in accepting the revelation that Jesus was worthy to be worshipped as God. Jesus had told his first followers that he was eternal (John 8:24-58, 17:5; Rev 1:8), and that he was God in flesh (Luke 22:70-71; John 10:30-36). The first generation of Christians boldly proclaimed that Jesus was divine (John 1:1; 20:28; Acts 3:15; 4:12; 20:28; Galatians 1:1; Colossians 1:17; Philippians 2:6; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:6-8; 13:8) and directed prayers and worship to him (Prayers: Acts 7:59-60; 9:10-17, 21; 22:16-19; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 16:22;  2 Corinthians 12:8-9; Worship: Matthew 14:33; 28:9,17; John 5:23; 20:28; Philippians 2:10-11; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:8-14).

            The oldest extant Christian sermon, outside of the New Testament, is generally known as 2 Clement (though written by an anonymous Christian rather than Clement of Rome).[1] That sermon begins “Brethren, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ, as of God, as of the Judge of quick and dead.”[2] The Apostolic Fathers constantly bear witness that Jesus is divine.[3]  Ignatius addresses his epistle to the Ephesians to those who are elect by the will of “Jesus Christ, our God” and describes their hearts as “kindled in the blood of God.”[4] As if that were not clear enough, he then goes on to confess, "There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5] Ignatius’ hope and aspiration, as he was being led to martyrdom, was not to be delivered from his death sentence. Rather, he wanted to become an “imitator of the passion of my God.”[6] The earliest pagan reference to Christian worship (by Pliny the Younger) portrays them as “singing a hymn to Christ as though to [a] god.” It was only much later (c 318) that the Arian controversy brought the deity of Christ into question.[7]

[1] Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 173.
[2] J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (ed. J. R. Harmer; Baker Book House, 1997), 44.
[3]Shepherd of Hermas Ibid., 231.; Diognetus VII, ANF I p. 27; Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 90–101.; Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 173–91.
[4] ANF I p. 49
[5] Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians VII, ANF I p. 52; I followed Lightfoot’s translation in replacing  possible and impossible with passible and impassible.
[6] Ig., Romans VI, ANF I p. 76
[7] A key passage for the Arian controversy was Proverbs 8:22-31; Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 173, 191–210. Justo L. Gonzalez, Story of Christianity: Volume 1, The: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (2 Rev Upd.; HarperOne, 2010), 181–92.