Recapitulation: Jesus Is No Bobble-Headed Doll or Dashboard Crucifix

Jesus is no bobble-headed doll or dashboard crucifix. He sums up all things in himself, as Irenaeus emphasized in his doctrine of recapitulation, and which the Bible makes exceptionally clear (Ephesians 1:10; ESV). Jesus Christ is the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15) and the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead. God’s aim is that in everything Jesus might be preeminent (Colossians 1:18).  All the fullness of God dwells in him (Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9) and we have been given fullness in Christ (Colossians 2:10).

Irenaeus put the matter this way in Against Heresies:

He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam, and trampled upon his head, as you can perceive in Genesis that God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall be on the watch for your head, and you on the watch for His heel.” For from that time, He who should be born of a woman, [namely] from the Virgin, after the likeness of Adam, was preached as keeping watch for the head of the serpent. This is the seed of which the apostle says in the Epistle to the Galatians, “that the law of works was established until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” This fact is exhibited in a still clearer light in the same Epistle, where he thus speaks: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman.” For indeed the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man [born] of a woman who conquered him. For it was by means of a woman that he got the advantage over man at first, setting himself up as man’s opponent. And therefore does the Lord profess Himself to be the Son of man, comprising in Himself that original man out of whom the woman was fashioned, in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm [of victory] against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, V.21.1).

If Jesus recapitulates or sums up and transforms all of human history in his life, why do we so easily shrink him and reshape him (actually a caricature of him) into our own likeness? Some will argue that Jesus is the fiction; but I contend that when we lack imagination we turn him into a fiction that reveals our own pulp fictional lives. The more we lack imagination, the more likely it is that we end up making our images of Jesus look a lot like us–conservatives and liberals and moderates alike. Contrary to the claim that Jesus is one myth among many, where primitive people altered the facts, he is the myth that became fact, as C. S. Lewis claimed.

What needs to be altered is my caricatures of Jesus, where I reduce him to an extension or a reflection of me. The same goes for all of us, as we reflect upon him. Try as we like, we can never make him a bit player in our life stories’ scripts. He will always break out. After all, he is the author of the epoch story and its central character; and yet, he never treats us like bit parts or B-movie actors. Rather, as the last Adam, he shares the stage and bright lights with the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve–namely us–when it’s all said and done. If we could only get that large, unimaginable fact into our small heads.

This piece is cross-posted at The Christian Post.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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