Biblical Essay God Holy In Spirit Theology


Reviewed by Andreas Köstenberger

In my work on a forthcoming monograph on the Holy Spirit, few volumes have proved as helpful as Trevor Burke’s and Keith Warrington’s edited volume Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit. The volume is well conceived in that the chapters helpfully break up the material into discrete sets of writings such as “The Pentateuch,” “The Historical Books,” “The Wisdom Literature, and so on. Also, the contributors were carefully chosen, in many cases having written their dissertations on their chapter topic (Wonsuk Ma, Mathias Wenk) or in other cases having contributed significantly to scholarship on the topic for many years (James Dunn, Max Turner).

That said, there is the inevitable unevenness among the contributions in this volume, in part because of different methodologies employed. Some follow a narrative, discourse-oriented approach (e.g., Dunn on Galatians), while others take a more topical tack (e.g., Keith Warrington on the Synoptic Gospels). Yet others blend the two approaches in some fashion, comingling narrative and topical aspects. There are also occasional differences in the criteria chosen for inclusion of certain passages as relevant for a biblical theology of the Holy Spirit.

What is more, most chapters focus almost exclusively on their respective corpus, which is appropriate but results in a lack of interconnectedness between the various chapters. This is especially unfortunate as it is the very purpose and nature of biblical theology to connect the dots among the biblical writings to trace thematic continuity or discontinuity and trajectories of development, both among different writers and within one and the same writer (e.g., Paul). An exception here is Craig Bartholomew, who in his chapter on the wisdom literature moves to the opposite side of the spectrum, spending surprisingly little time on the actual wisdom books while grounding them extensively in creation, in keeping with his conviction that creation theology is foundational to the theology of the entire canon.

Rather than reviewing each of the individual chapters one at a time, I will mention several insights regarding the scriptural teaching on the Holy Spirit that emerged from a close reading of the individual essays, both in their own right and in relation to one another. I will elaborate on these insights in my forthcoming monograph. The chapter on the wisdom literature certainly does a good job grounding the characterization of the Holy Spirit in the wisdom books in biblical creation theology. This connection is especially helpful as the wisdom literature is often the stepchild of Old Testament theology. Conversely, the chapter on Isaiah in my view suffers from an undue preoccupation with isolating distinct Spirit traditions in Isaiah (creation Spirit, wisdom Spirit); it would have been better to trace relevant references to God’s Spirit throughout the book, at least initially, before trying to connect the dots, both literarily and theologically.

A fascinating study of comparison and contrast emerged from the treatments of the Spirit in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, respectively. While both prophets ministered in the exilic period, and share several important parallel passages, their theology of the Spirit differs markedly. Ezekiel refers to the Spirit overtly as the life-giving and restoring agent of God for a renewed Israel and people of God. Jeremiah, on the other hand, features God’s ruach primarily as an emblem of divine judgment. Thus, it appears, Ezekiel takes a more optimistic approach while Jeremiah’s mood is more pessimistic.

The chapter on the Synoptic Gospels was perhaps the most disappointing in the volume as differences among the Gospels were obscured by the topical approach taken by the author. By contrast, the chapter on the book of Acts is very well done, even though it should be acknowledged that references to the Spirit in Acts are plentiful and it is easier to trace these references in a single book than treating three books jointly. What surprised me is that Acts contains a much more concentrated Spirit theology than Luke’s Gospel does, and in particular that there is a considerable paucity of references to the Spirit in the second half of the Gospel.

The chapters on Paul are generally well done, though, as mentioned above, it would have been helpful for someone to connect the dots among the different writings in the Pauline corpus. Max Turner’s chapter seemed to be more preoccupied with dealing with various scholarly debates regarding the Spirit than with a first-hand exploration of the biblical material itself. Nevertheless, I found it intriguing how the Spirit is presented in Ephesians almost exclusively as the divine agent of unity in the church. I also found it surprising how much the author of the chapter on Hebrews found to say about the book’s theology of the Spirit.

Overall, this is a well-conceived and stimulating collection of essays on the biblical theology of the Holy Spirit that makes an important contribution to the study of the scriptural teaching on the Spirit in both Testaments. The editors and the contributors are to be commended for their commitment to a biblical-theological approach which allows the teaching on the Spirit in Scripture to emerge organically from the biblical writings themselves and surfaces the various terminologies used for the Spirit as well as the various functions ascribed to him. Anyone seeking to do research or personal study on the Holy Spirit will do well to consult this volume.


Andreas J. Köstenberger is founder of Biblical Foundations™ and senior research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also the editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and editor or co-editor of several series in Biblical Theology, such as the Biblical Theology of the New Testament series and the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series. He is also Review Editor for New Testament here at Books At a Glance.

A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit

Cascade, 2014 | 312 pages

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"Christian doctrine" redirects here. For the United States court case known by that name, see G. L. Christian & Associates v. United States.

Christian theology is the theology of Christian belief and practice.[1] Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis and argument. Theologians may undertake Christian theology in order:

  • to help them better understand Christian tenets[2]
  • to make comparisons between Christianity and other traditions[3]
  • to defend Christianity against objections and criticism
  • to facilitate reforms in the Christian church[4]
  • to assist in the propagation of Christianity[5]
  • to draw on the resources of the Christian tradition to address some present situation or perceived need[6]

or for a variety of other reasons.

Systematic theology as a discipline of Christian theology formulates an orderly, rational and coherent account of Christian faith and beliefs. Systematic theology draws on the foundational sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophical evolution. Inherent to a system of theological thought is the development of a method is developed: one which one can apply both broadly and particularly. Systematic theology will typically explore:

Christian theology has permeated much of Western culture, especially in pre-modern Europe.

Prolegomena: Scripture as the basis of theology[edit]

Biblical revelation[edit]

Revelation is the revealing or disclosing, or making something obvious through active or passive communication with God, and can originate directly from God, or through an agent, such as an angel. One who has experienced such contact is often called a prophet. Christianity considers the Bible as divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired. Such revelation does not always require the presence of God or an angel. For instance, in the concept called of interior locution by Catholics, supernatural revelation can include just an inner voice heard by the recipient.

Thomas Aquinas first described in two types of revelation in Christianity as general revelation and special revelation. General revelation occurs through observation of the created order. Such observations can logically lead to important conclusions, such as the existence of God and some of God's attributes. General revelation is also an element of Christian apologetics. Certain specifics, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are revealed in the teachings in the Scriptures and can not otherwise be deduced except by special revelation.

Biblical inspiration[edit]

Main article: Biblical inspiration

Christianity regards varied collections of books known as the Bible as authoritative and written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Biblical inspiration is the doctrine in Christian theology concerned with the divine origin of the Bible and what the Bible teaches about itself. Different groups understand the meaning and details of inspiration in different ways. Most such as Evangelicals and Catholics, see the Bible as a truly human product whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors' works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style. This divine involvement, they say, allowed the biblical writer to reveal God's own message to the immediate recipients of the writings and to those who would come later, communicating God's message without corrupting it.

In many passages of the Bible it claims divine inspiration of itself. Besides the direct accounts of written revelation, such as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the prophets of the Old Testament frequently claimed that their message was divine with the formula "Thus says the LORD" or "the word of LORD came to me...". In the New Testament, Jesus treats the Old Testament as authoritative and says it "cannot be broken" in John 10:34–36. 2 Peter2 Pet 1:20–21 says that "no prophecy of Scripture ... was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" That epistle also claims divine authority for the Apostles in verse 3:2 and includes Paul's letters as being counted with the Scriptures in verse 3:16.

Christians who receive the Bible as authoritative generally think that the Bible is "breathed out by God". In English, 2 Timothy 3.16–17 reads: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness". The unusual word theopneustos is rendered in some modern English translations as "God-breathed" (NIV) or "breathed out by God" (ESV) to avoid the word inspiration altogether, since its connotation, unlike its Latin root, leans toward breathing in instead of breathing out.

Some[who?] argue that biblical inspiration can be corroborated by examining the weight of the Bible's moral teaching and its prophecies about the future and their fulfillment. Corroboration of this sort is a form of Christian apologetics. Others maintain that the authority of the Church and its counsels should carry more or less weight in formulating the doctrine of inspiration.

Biblical authority[edit]

Christianity regards the collections of books known as the Bible as authoritative and written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant (totally without error and free from contradiction, including the historical and scientific parts)[7] or infallible (inerrant on issues of faith and practice but not necessarily history or science).[8][9]

In addition, for some Christians, it may be inferred that the Bible cannot both refer to itself as being divinely inspired and also be errant or fallible. For if the Bible were divinely inspired, then the source of inspiration being divine, would not be subject to fallibility or error in that which is produced. For them, the doctrines of the divine inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy, are inseparably tied together. The idea of biblical integrity is a further concept of infallibility, by suggesting that current biblical text is complete and without error, and that the integrity of biblical text has never been corrupted or degraded.[7] Historians note, or claim, that the doctrine of the Bible's infallibility was adopted hundreds of years after those books were written.

Biblical canon[edit]

Main article: Biblical canon

See also: Development of the New Testament canon

The Protestant Old Testament is synonymous with the "Hebrew Scriptures" included in the Jewish canon, but not the Catholic Old Testament, which contains additional texts. Both Catholics and Protestants have the same 27-book New Testament Canon. Roman Catholic and Eastern Christians recognize 73 books as canonical, with 46 books for the Old Testament 7 more than Protestants.

The Old Testament canon entered into Christian use in the Septuagint, a Greek translation with a few books in Greek originally. In addition to the Septuagint, Christianity subsequently added various writings that would become the New Testament. Somewhat different lists of accepted works continued to develop in antiquity. In the 4th century a series of synods, most notably at the Synod of Hippo in AD 393, produced a list of texts equal to the 46 book canon of the Old Testament that Catholics use today (and the 27-book canon of the New Testament that all use). A definitive list did not come from any early Ecumenical Council.[10] Also, c. 400, Jerome produced a definitive Latin edition of the Bible, the contents of which, at the insistence of the Pope, was in accord with the earlier Synods. With the benefit of hindsight it can be said that this process effectively set the New Testament canon, although there are examples of other canonical lists in use after this time.

During the Protestant Reformation, certain reformers proposed different canonical lists of the Old Testament. The texts that are present in the Septuagint, but not included in the Jewish canon, fell out of favor and, in time, they would come to be removed from Protestant canons. These texts are referred to as Deuterocanonical books in Catholic Bibles, whereas in a Protestant context they are referred to as the Apocrypha. The "New Testament apocrypha" has a very different meaning. It is a poorly defined group of early writings in which, generally, none ever achieved acceptance by any widespread group.

Theology proper: God[edit]

Main article: God in Christianity

In Christianity, God is the creator and preserver of the universe. God is the soleultimate power in the universe, but is distinct from it. The Bible never speaks of God as impersonal. Instead, it refers to him in personal terms– who speaks, sees, hears, acts, and loves. God is understood to have a will and personality and is an all powerful, divine and benevolent being. He is represented in Scripture as being primarily concerned with people and their salvation.[11]

Attributes of God[edit]

Main article: Attributes of God in Christianity


Many Reformed theologians distinguish between the communicable attributes (those that human beings can also have) and the incommunicable attributes (those which belong to God alone).[12]Donald Macleod, however, argues that "All the suggested classifications are artificial and misleading".[13]

Many of these attributes are "negative", meaning that they only say what God is not. For example, saying he is immutable is saying that he does not change.


Some attributes ascribed to God in Christian theology[14] are:

  • Aseity—That "God is so independent that he does not need us."[15] It is based on Acts 17:25, where it says that God "is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything" (NIV). This is often related to God's self-existence and his self-sufficiency.
  • Eternity—That God exists beyond the temporal realm.
  • Graciousness—That God extends His favor and gifts to human beings unconditionally as well as conditionally.
  • Holiness—That God is separate from sin and incorruptible. Noting the refrain of "Holy, holy, holy" in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8, Calvinist minister R. C. Sproul points out that "only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree... The Bible never says that God is love, love, love."[16]
  • Immanence—That although God is transcendent and holy, He is also accessible and can be dynamically experienced.
  • Immutability—That God's essential nature is unchangeable.
  • Impassibility—That God does not experience emotion or suffering (a more controversial doctrine, disputed especially by open theism).
  • Impeccability—That God is incapable of error (sin).
  • Incorporeality—That God is without physical composition. A related concept is the spirituality of God, which is derived from Jesus' statement in John 4:24, "God is spirit."
  • Love—That God is care and compassion. 1 John 4:16 says "God is love."
  • Mission—That God is the supreme liberator. While the Mission of God is not traditionally included in this list, David Bosch has argued that "mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God."[17]
  • Omnibenevolence—That God is omnibenevolent. Omnibenevolence of God refers to him being "all good".
  • Omnipotence—That God is supremely or all-powerful.
  • Omnipresence—That God is the supreme being, existing everywhere and at all times; the all-perceiving or all-conceiving foundation of reality.
  • Omniscience—That God is supremely or all-knowing.
  • Oneness—That God is without peer, also that every divine attribute is instantiated in its entirety (the qualitative infinity of God). See also Monotheism and Divine simplicity.
  • Providence—That God watches over His creation with interest and dedication. While the Providence of God usually refers to his activity in the world, it also implies his care for the universe, and is thus an attribute. A distinction is usually made between "general providence" which refers to God's continuous upholding the existence and natural order of the universe, and "special providence" which refers to God's extraordinary intervention in the life of people.[18] See also Sovereignty.
  • Righteousness—That God is the greatest or only measure of human conduct. The righteousness of God may refer to his holiness, to his justice, or to his saving activity through Christ.
  • Transcendence—That God exists beyond the natural realm of physical laws and thus is not bound by them;[19] He is also wholly Other and incomprehensible apart from general or special self-revelation.
  • Triune—The Christian God is understood (by trinitarian Christians) to be a "threeness" of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that is fully consistent with His "oneness"; a single infinite being who is both within and beyond nature. Because the persons of the Trinity represent a personal relation even on the level of God to Himself, He is personal both in His relation toward us and in His relation toward Himself.
  • Veracity—That God is the Truth all human beings strive for; He is also impeccably honest. Titus 1:2 refers to "God, who does not lie."
  • Wisdom—That God fully comprehends human nature and the world, and will see His will accomplished in heaven and on earth. Romans 16:27 speaks about the "only wise God".


Some Christians believe that the God worshiped by the Hebrew people of the pre-Christian era had always revealed himself as he did through Jesus; but that this was never obvious until Jesus was born (see John 1). Also, though the Angel of the Lord spoke to the Patriarchs, revealing God to them, some believe it has always been only through the Spirit of God granting them understanding, that men have been able to later perceive that they had been visited by God himself.

This belief gradually developed into the modern formulation of the Trinity, which is the doctrine that God is a single entity (Yahweh), but that there is a trinity in God's single being, the meaning of which has always been debated. This mysterious "Trinity" has been described as hypostases in the Greek language (subsistences in Latin), and "persons" in English. Nonetheless, Christians stress that they only believe in one God.

Most Christian churches teach the Trinity, as opposed to Unitarian monotheistic beliefs. Historically, most Christian churches have taught that the nature of God is a mystery, something that must be revealed by special revelation rather than deduced through general revelation.

Christian orthodox traditions (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) follow this idea, which was codified in 381 and reached its full development through the work of the Cappadocian Fathers. They consider God to be a triune entity, called the Trinity, comprising the three "Persons"; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, described as being "of the same substance" (ὁμοούσιος). The true nature of an infinite God, however, is commonly described as beyond definition, and the word 'person' is an imperfect expression of the idea.

Some critics contend that because of the adoption of a tripartite conception of deity, Christianity is actually a form of tritheism or polytheism. This concept dates from Arian teachings which claimed that Jesus, having appeared later in the Bible than his Father, had to be a secondary, lesser, and therefore distinct god. For Jews and Muslims, the idea of God as a trinity is heretical– it is considered akin to polytheism. Christians overwhelmingly assert that monotheism is central to the Christian faith, as the very Nicene Creed (among others) which gives the orthodox Christian definition of the Trinity does begin with: "I believe in one God".

In the 3rd century, Tertullian claimed that God exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the three personae of one and the same substance.[20] To trinitarian Christians God the Father is not at all a separate god from God the Son (of whom Jesus is the incarnation) and the Holy Spirit, the other hypostases (Persons) of the Christian Godhead.[20] According to the Nicene Creed, the Son (Jesus Christ) is "eternally begotten of the Father", indicating that their divine Father-Son relationship is not tied to an event within time or human history.

In Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one being who exists, simultaneously and eternally, as a mutual indwelling of three Persons: the Father, the Son (incarnate as Jesus), and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). Since earliest Christianity, one's salvation has been very closely related to the concept of a triune God, although the Trinitarian doctrine was not formalized until the 4th century. At that time, the Emperor Constantine convoked the First Council of Nicaea, to which all bishops of the empire were invited to attend. Pope Sylvester I did not attend but sent his legate. The council, among other things, decreed the original Nicene Creed.


Main article: Trinity

For most Christians, beliefs about God are enshrined in the doctrine of Trinitarianism, which holds that the three persons of God together form a single God. The Trinitarian view emphasizes that God has a will, and that God the Son has two wills, divine and human, though these are never in conflict (see Hypostatic union). However, this point is disputed by Oriental Orthodox Christians, who hold that God the Son has only one will of unified divinity and humanity (see Miaphysitism).

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead.[21] The doctrine states that God is the Triune God, existing as three persons, or in the Greekhypostases,[22] but one being.[23] Personhood in the Trinity does not match the common Western understanding of "person" as used in the English language—it does not imply an "individual, self-actualized center of free will and conscious activity."[24]:pp. 185–6. To the ancients, personhood "was in some sense individual, but always in community as well."[24]:p.186 Each person is understood as having the one identical essence or nature, not merely similar natures. Since the beginning of the 3rd century[25] the doctrine of the Trinity has been stated as "the one God exists in three Persons and one substance, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."[26]

Trinitarianism, belief in the Trinity, is a mark of Catholicism, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy as well as other prominent Christian sects arising from the Protestant Reformation, such as Anglicanism, Methodism, Lutheranism, Baptist, and Presbyterianism. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes the Trinity as "the central dogma of Christian theology".[26] This doctrine contrasts with Nontrinitarian positions which include Unitarianism, Oneness and Modalism. A small minority of Christians hold non-trinitarian views, largely coming under the heading of Unitarianism.

Most, if not all, Christians believe that God is spirit,[John 4:24] an uncreated, omnipotent, and eternal being, the creator and sustainer of all things, who works the redemption of the world through his Son, Jesus Christ. With this background, belief in the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is expressed as the doctrine of the Trinity,[27] which describes the single divine ousia (substance) existing as three distinct and inseparable hypostases (persons): the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ the Logos), and the Holy Spirit.[1 Jn 5:7]

The Trinitarian doctrine is considered by most Christians to be a core tenet of their faith. Nontrinitarians typically hold that God, the Father, is supreme; that Jesus, although still divine Lord and Savior, is the Son of God; and that the Holy Spirit is a phenomenon akin to God's will on Earth. The holy three are separate, yet the Son and the Holy Spirit are still seen as originating from God the Father.

The New Testament does not have the term "Trinity" and nowhere discusses the Trinity as such. Some emphasize, however, that the New Testament does repeatedly speak of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to "compel a trinitarian understanding of God."[28] The doctrine developed from the biblical language used in New Testament passages such as the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19 and by the end of the 4th century it was widely held in its present form.

God the Father[edit]

Further information: God the Father

In many monotheist religions, God is addressed as the father, in part because of his active interest in human affairs, in the way that a father would take an interest in his children who are dependent on him and as a father, he will respond to humanity, his children, acting in their best interests.[29] In Christianity, God is called "Father" in a more literal sense, besides being the creator and nurturer of creation, and the provider for his children.[Heb 1:2–5][Gal 4:1–7] The Father is said to be in unique relationship with his only begotten (monogenes) son, Jesus Christ, which implies an exclusive and intimate familiarity: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."[Mt. 11:27]

In Christianity, God the Father's relationship with humanity is as a father to children—in a previously unheard-of sense—and not just as the creator and nurturer of creation, and the provider for his children, his people. Thus, humans in general are sometimes called children of God. To Christians, God the Father's relationship with humanity is that of Creator and created beings, and in that respect he is the father of all. The New Testament says, in this sense, that the very idea of family, wherever it appears, derives its name from God the Father,[Eph 3:15] and thus God himself is the model of the family.

However, there is a deeper "legal" sense in which Christians believe that they are made participants in the special relationship of Father and Son, through Jesus Christ as his spiritual bride. Christians call themselves adopted children of God.[30]

In the New Testament, God the Father has a special role in his relationship with the person of the Son, where Jesus is believed to be his Son and his heir.[Heb. 1:2–5]. According to the Nicene Creed, the Son (Jesus Christ) is "eternally begotten of the Father", indicating that their divine Father-Son relationship is not tied to an event within time or human history. SeeChristology. The Bible refers to Christ, called "The Word" as present at the beginning of God's creation.[John 1:1], not a creation himself, but equal in the personhood of the Trinity.

In Eastern Orthodox theology, God the Father is the "principium" (beginning), the "source" or "origin" of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, which gives intuitive emphasis to the threeness of persons; by comparison, Western theology explains the "origin" of all three hypostases or persons as being in the divine nature, which gives intuitive emphasis to the oneness of God's being.

Christology and Christ[edit]

Main articles: Christology and Jesus in Christianity

Christology is the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the nature, person, and works of JesusChrist, held by Christians to be the Son of God. Christology is concerned with the meeting of the human (Son of Man) and divine (God the Son or Word of God) in the person of Jesus.

Primary considerations include the Incarnation, the relationship of Jesus' nature and person with the nature and person of God, and the salvific work of Jesus. As such, Christology is generally less concerned with the details of Jesus' life (what he did) or teaching than with who or what he is. There have been and are various perspectives by those who claim to be his followers since the church began after his ascension. The controversies ultimately focused on whether and how a human nature and a divine nature can co-exist in one person. The study of the inter-relationship of these two natures is one of the preoccupations of the majority tradition.

Teachings about Jesus and testimonies about what he accomplished during his three-year public ministry are found throughout the New Testament. Core biblical teachings about the person of Jesus Christ may be summarized that Jesus Christ was and forever is fully God (divine) and fully human in one sinless person at the same time,[31] and that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life via his New Covenant. While there have been theological disputes over the nature of Jesus, Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human in all respects, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, yet he did not sin. As fully God, he defeated death and rose to life again. Scripture asserts that Jesus was conceived, by the Holy Spirit, and born of his virgin mother Mary without a human father.[32] The biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include miracles, preaching, teaching, healing, Death, and resurrection. The apostle Peter, in what has become a famous proclamation of faith among Christians since the 1st century, said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."[Matt 16:16] Most Christians now wait for the Second Coming of Christ when they believe he will fulfill the remaining Messianic prophecies.


Christ is the English term for the GreekΧριστός (Khristós) meaning "the anointed one".[33] It is a translation of the Hebrewמָשִׁיחַ‬ (Māšîaḥ), usually transliterated into English as Messiah. The word is often misunderstood to be the surname of Jesus due to the numerous mentions of Jesus Christ in the Christian Bible. The word is in fact used as a title, hence its common reciprocal use Christ Jesus, meaning Jesus the Anointed One or Jesus the Messiah. Followers of Jesus became known as Christians because they believed that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, prophesied about in the Old Testament, or Tanakh.

Trinitarian Ecumenical Councils[edit]

See also: Ecumenical council

The Christological controversies came to a head over the persons of the Godhead and their relationship with one another. Christology was a fundamental concern from the First Council of Nicaea (325) until the Third Council of Constantinople (680). In this time period, the Christological views of various groups within the broader Christian community led to accusations of heresy, and, infrequently, subsequent religious persecution. In some cases, a sect's unique Christology is its chief distinctive feature, in these cases it is common for the sect to be known by the name given to its Christology.

The decisions made at First Council of Nicaea and re-ratified at the First Council of Constantinople, after several decades of ongoing controversy during which the work of Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers were influential. The language used was that the one God exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); in particular it was affirmed that the Son was homoousios (of one substance) with the Father. The Creed of the Nicene Council made statements about the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus, thus preparing the way for discussion about how exactly the divine and human come together in the person of Christ (Christology).

Nicaea insisted that Jesus was fully divine and also human. What it did not do was make clear how one person could be both divine and human, and how the divine and human were related within that one person. This led to the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries of the Christian era.

The Chalcedonian Creed did not put an end to all Christological debate, but it did clarify the terms used and became a point of reference for all other Christologies. Most of the major branches of Christianity – Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and Reformed– subscribe to the Chalcedonian Christological formulation, while many branches of Eastern Christianity– Syrian Orthodoxy, Assyrian Church, Coptic Orthodoxy, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, and Armenian Apostolicism– reject it.

Attributes of Christ[edit]

God as Son[edit]

Main article: God the Son

According to the Bible, the second Person of the Trinity, because of his eternal relation to the first Person (God as Father), is the Son of God. He is considered (by Trinitarians) to be coequal with the Father and Holy Spirit. He is all God and all human: the Son of God as to his divine nature, while as to his human nature he is from the lineage of David.[Rom 1:3,4][34] The core of Jesus' self-interpretation was his "filial consciousness", his relationship to God as child to parent in some unique sense[11] (see Filioque controversy). His mission on earth proved to be that of enabling people to know God as their Father, which Christians believe is the essence of eternal life.[Jn 17:3]

God the Son is the second person of the Trinity in Christian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity identifies Jesus of Nazareth as God the Son, united in essence but distinct in person with regard to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (the first and third persons of the Trinity). God the Son is co-eternal with God the Father (and the Holy Spirit), both before Creation and after the End (see Eschatology). So Jesus was always "God the Son", though not revealed as such until he also became the "Son of God" through incarnation. "Son of God" draws attention to his humanity, whereas "God the Son" refers more generally to his divinity, including his pre-incarnate existence. So, in Christian theology, Jesus was always God the Son,[35] though not revealed as such until he also became the Son of God through incarnation.

The exact phrase "God the Son" is not in the New Testament. Later theological use of this expression reflects what came to be standard interpretation of New Testament references, understood to imply Jesus' divinity, but the distinction of his person from that of the one God he called his Father. As such, the title is associated more with the development of the doctrine of the Trinity than with the Christological debates. There are over 40 places in the New Testament where Jesus is given the title "the Son of God", but scholars don't consider this to be an equivalent expression. "God the Son" is rejected by anti-trinitarians, who view this reversal of the most common term for Christ as a doctrinal perversion and as tending towards tritheism.

Matthew cites Jesus as saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (5:9)." The gospels go on to document a great deal of controversy over Jesus being the Son of God, in a unique way. The book of the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of the New Testament, however, record the early teaching of the first Christians– those who believed Jesus to be both the Son of God, the Messiah, a man appointed by God, as well as God himself. This is evident in many places, however, the early part of the book of Hebrews addresses the issue in a deliberate, sustained argument, citing the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible as authorities. For example, the author quotes Psalm 45:6 as addressed by the God of Israel to Jesus.

  • Hebrews 1:8. About the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever."

The author of Hebrews' description of Jesus as the exact representation of the divine Father has parallels in a passage in Colossians.

  • Colossians 2:9–10. "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form"

John's gospel quotes Jesus at length regarding his relationship with his heavenly Father. It also contains two famous attributions of divinity to Jesus.

  • John 1:1. "the Word was God" [in context, the Word is Jesus, see Christ the Logos]
  • John 20:28. "Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'"

The most direct references to Jesus as God are found in various letters.

  • Romans 9:5. "Christ, who is God over all"
  • Titus 2:13. "our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"
  • 2 Peter 1:1. "our God and Savior Jesus Christ"

The biblical basis for later trinitarian statements in creeds is the early baptism formula found in Matthew 28.

  • Matthew 28:19. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name [note the singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. See also Great Commission.
Person of Christ[edit]

Main article: Person of Christ

Only divine?

Docetism (from the Greek verb to seem) taught that Jesus was fully divine, and his human body was only illusory. At a very early stage, various Docetic groups arose; in particular, the gnostic sects which flourished in the 2nd century AD tended to have Docetic theologies. Docetic teachings were attacked by St. Ignatius of Antioch (early 2nd century), and appear to be targeted in the canonical Epistles of John (dates are disputed, but range from the late 1st century among traditionalist scholars to the late 2nd century among critical scholars).

The Council of Nicaea rejected theologies that entirely ruled out any humanity in Christ, affirming in the Nicene Creed the doctrine of the Incarnation as a part of the doctrine of the Trinity. That is, that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in the person Jesus and was fully human.

Only human?

See also: Jewish Christianity

The early centuries of Christian history also had groups at the other end of the spectrum, arguing that Jesus was an ordinary mortal. The Adoptionists taught that Jesus was born fully human, and was adopted as God's Son when John the Baptist baptised him[36] because of the life he lived. Another group, known as the Ebionites, taught that Jesus was not God, but the human Moshiach (messiah, anointed) prophet promised in the Hebrew Bible.

Some of these views could be described as Unitarianism (although that is a modern term) in their insistence on the oneness of God. These views, which directly affected how one understood the Godhead, were declared heresies by the Council of Nicaea. Throughout much of the rest of the ancient history of Christianity, Christologies that denied Christ's divinity ceased to have a major impact on the life of the church.

How can he be both?
What sort of divinity?

Main article: Arianism

Arianism affirmed that Jesus was divine, but taught that he was nevertheless a created being (there was [a time] when he was not [in existence]), and was therefore less divine than God the Father. The matter boiled down to one iota; Arianism taught Homoiousia

Rembrandt's The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by an Angel.
"Holy Trinity" from the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, by Andrei Rublev, c. 1400, but more properly known as the "Hospitality of Abraham." The three angels symbolize the Trinity.
Major christological schisms and related early councils
The various Christological positions, and their names

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