Revising the “Deity of Christ” Discussion

Revising the “Deity of Christ” Discussion January 8, 2014

If you are listening to the theological discussions today the magical term is no longer “deity” but “identity.” So I’m happy to see Mike Bird, in his Evangelical Theology, open up the chp that talks about the deity of Christ (the chp title is “The Story of Jesus and the Identity of God”), with these words:

The gospel preaching in the NT nowhere makes explicit that Jesus is a divine person, coequal with the Father in being from all eternity, sharing in one divine substance.

OK, that’s a rather bold statement but once you read it you have to say, “Of course, those terms aren’t used.” He goes on:

What the gospel does make clear is that the epochal saving action of God is executed in his Son in such an intense way that the identity of God must now be (re)defined in light of the mission of the messianic Son. The gospel is a story about God, and the story within the story is Jesus the Messiah. In our God-storied gospel, Jesus is not a human being who was commissioned to speak and act on behalf of God; rather, Jesus speaks and acts from a viewpoint that represents God from the inside (460).

This says a whole lot, I have to admit, and it changes the discussion from “Is Jesus God?” to “How is Jesus God?” Bird then sketches the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Reformation discussions, but pulls us back to two NT facts: Jesus is Lord and the identification of this Lord with Israel’s God. The fact of the incarnation, not the content, is the presupposition of NT theology. I do think he could have focused more on this “identity” issue, but I see this chp as a step forward in our deity-of-Christ discussions. It’s Reformed orthodoxy revised by Bauckham and NT Wright.

His topics include the pre-existent Son, Jesus and the God of Israel, Made like his brothers, and hypostatic union.

Bird is a traditionalist on pre-existence: “Jesus had a personal and conscious preexistence as the Son of God” (468). This is both redemptive and chosen.

Jesus was a monotheist. He shares the honors due to God, the attributes of God, the names of God, the deeds of God, and the seat of God’s throne. The adoptionist temptation does not describe the enthronement texts of the NT.

Jesus was human. He came “in the flesh.” It connotes representative obedience, substitute sacrifice, mediation, fulfilling the original mandate to rule over creation, a pattern for life, a pattern for our redeemed bodies, and sympathize as high priest.


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  • Patrick

    1st chapter of John doesn’t explicitly claim Jesus created the universe? Jesus isn’t forever with God and was God? Come on Michael.

    As I see Jesus in the Gospels, to me He is acting as a unique human, not the Divine Son. Of course Christ is both and we cannot separate Christ.

    Jesus is the authentic man, THE MAN. Always deferred as a human to His heavenly Father. Having said that, when Jesus spoke, He did not speak as the Father’s agent like Isaiah or David.

    He did speak as a unique man ordained/validated by The Father for a unique role so when Jesus pronounced judgment, it was not with pretexts such as “Thus says Yahweh”.

    Jesus simply pronounces judgment as if Jesus is God. Yet, He Himself said all judgment had been handed over to Him, so even in these pronouncements, He is a unique agent of the Father’s in His earthly, human role, IMO.

    I don’t think Jesus ever acted from His Divine nature personally.

  • Jonathan

    I believe that all three members of the Godhead are humble and selfless and defer praise and love upon one another. If you look at John 13-17 you will see this played out. The Holy Spirit proclaims and speaks about The Son; the Father loves the Son; the Son speaks and acts in obedience to the Father– perfect humility and selflessness existing in the Trinity. As Ravi Zacharias pointed out, God is love; who did he love before he created the universe? Ravi says the answers lies in the Trinity–“unity in diversity.” Or as Scot McKnight might put it “oneness” in the Godhead. I think this helps in the understanding of the role the Son takes in his humility and self-sacrifice. So in a sense His actions are from His Divine nature–humility, obedience, love, self-lessness, etc. But that is just my dim understanding in a nutshell, and completely unoriginal.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “1st chapter of John doesn’t explicitly claim Jesus created the universe?”

    No .. . .

  • William

    In light of the pseudo-Christian cults like JWs, we must speak boldly and clearly about the Deity of Christ (vs Arianism, modalism, polytheism). Jn. 1:1 affirms the Deity of Christ and is only consistent with trinitarianism. We may call the issue something else or expand on it, but we need to be clear that Jesus is YHWH, not mere creature, fully God, fully Man, one person with two natures (parameters without exhaustive understanding).

  • Patrick

    Jonathan,

    Christ is a mystery of course. As a Divine Man.

    I agree His conduct was driven by Divine mandates/motivation,etc. I still think due to Philippians 2 He did His thinking in concordance with Divine mandates from His human will, always agreeing with the Divine view.