Theologians and philosophers have been trying to question who Jesus is for hundreds of year now. This time in the form of what is called the contemporary study of Christology. The thrust of Christology is somewhat dependent upon which theologian one reads. Hans Kung calls his approach Christology from below. Others simply focus on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ (Cunningham); others are exploring His life and work on earth (Imbelli). Some deny the fact that Jesus is God (Kung), others express strongly that yes, Jesus is part of the Triune and is God (Cunningham and Imbelli).
“Christology” literally means the study of Christ. Christianity is founded on the belief that Jesus walked the earth and was given to humanity to die for our sins. You could say, Christianity is Christology because all Christian faiths study the life of Jesus Christ. One wonders how a person calling himself a Christian can deny Jesus as divine, like Kung says.
Thompson, on the other hand, offers a clear and more common definition of Christology: “Christology entails a “struggle” or “contest” over the true meaning of the Bible; that Christology and biblical studies are two aspects of a single inquiry into divine revelation; and that this kind of inquiry demands a “meditative” form (1996; p. 12).
While many people, like Chris and I, enjoy learning more about Jesus’ life on earth, His works and words, few will believe that Jesus was simply another prophet 2,000 years ago.
Another aspect of some points of view in Christology has to do with the formation of Christian Churches, especially the Catholic Church. Kung’s says that the student must begin with the historical life and teachings of Jesus instead of depending on the creedal interpretation of the early church which is still prevalent today. He believes that by negating what he believes is the “hellenistic paradigm”, dialogue with both Judaism and Islam would be a good thing for the world. Imbelli’s interpretation of Jesus’ place in the historical and spiritual worlds is more in line with the Bible. He suggests the question being asked by Christology is age-old: “Who do you say I am?” The responses found in the New Testament are: “You are the Messiah . . . the Son of God …the Image of the invisible God …the Word made flesh…Lord and God” (Imbelli, 1997; p. 25). To say that Jesus was one of the many prophets of the time negates His uniqueness, it just does not even come close to who this Person was….God in human form.
This current academic search for the historical Jesus has called Him a social reformer, a therapist, a cyruc philosopher, and even the protofeminist. While these labels may indeed capture some of His traits and characteristics, some of the philosophies He preached, these labels also reduce Him to a being Who can be categorized. That is just not the case. Jesus cannot be placed in a category. He is too large, too vast, too mysterious for labeling. In much of the current academic study that is what is missing — the mystery of Jesus. Instead, there is an effort to examine the “Jesus of history.” There is certainly nothing wrong with a historical study but if it ignores or denies the “Spiritual Jesus,” the “Christ of faith,” the study is a sham. It isn’t real, accurate, or valid. This type of study neither illuminates nor inspires the student and those who study Jesus to walk in His path are left without any sort of nourishment for the mind or the soul (Imbelli 27).
Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding the life and death of Jesus was His resurrection and then His presence among the Apostles and other disciples. This aspect of Jesus’ life is a focal point in some of the Christological studies. It was in the crucifixion, then in the resurrection that both the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ can be seen; it is called the hypostatic union (Imbelli 28).
One of the interesting aspects to come out the these kinds of studies was stated by Cunningham. The crucifixion of Jesus is treated as an historical event, one committed upon His human body that has had a dramatic effect on the minds and hearts of all believers. This event is significant to Christians who profess they are or they are trying to be disciples of Christ. At some point in the middle-ages, the crucifixion became separated form the resurrection. In the Pauline tradition, the crucifixion became something that happened “for us” and the mystery of the resurrection is all but forgotten (40). People typically remember that Easter celebrates the resurrection but there is far less emphasis placed on this day than there once was.
The study of Christology also recounts the history of various traditions that are taken for granted today in some faiths. People have been raised to perform certain rituals, all of which they do as a way of demonstrating their beliefs and devotion as well as their acknowledgment that they are lesser beings than Jesus Christ. Many of the signs of devotion are done before a cross, such as crossing oneself, genuflecting, kneeling, devotions to the five wounds, the service of the Stations of the Cross in the Catholic faith. Learning how these rites came about is a very interesting part of growing into the literature on Christology. Many already know that doing the sign of the cross on oneself was once a way to ward off the devil and evil spirits. As for kneeling, it is an act of supplications and respect to royalty. Followers knelt before Jesus as they would have knelt before Caesar. These acts of humility have carried on through the ages and will not doubt continue for millennia to come. There are more of these kinds of devotional rituals in some faiths, such as the Roman Catholic Church but all Christian faiths demonstrate at
Through recent studies the transformation of crosses has been clarified and from them one can understand the historical development of Christological piety. The early crosses with the corpus, once called a ‘crucifix,’ showed the wounds of Christ, the crown of thorns, the nails, the blood running down His body. Here was a man with only a loin cloth to cover him, a man in pain. The Renaissance period, according to Cunningham, made the figure anatomically correct and the masters like Velasquez and Rubens of the 16th and 17th centuries gave Christ the typical vee-shaped position with hanging head and arms above. Today we see far more crosses without body perhaps to protect the sensitivities of people (41).
Christology, like any study that involves the Bible and the meanings contained within it, is a complex academic endeavor. This latest effort to discover who Jesus was and is or to re-interpret the Bible has no effect on my own beliefs. The Bible has ‘lived’ for 2,000 years and the basic interpretations of the words in it have been the same throughout history in terms of who Jesus is. This academic search will not prove otherwise. As mentioned earlier, an historical perspective is intellectually interesting, but it really isn’t important. What is important is one’s belief and faith. Some things must be taken on faith – a very old idea but true. Humans will never understand the mysteries of Jesus; we do not have the capacity for such an understanding. If we did, we would be filled with more love and less hate and jealousies. If the Holy Bible is correct, we will understand these mysteries only when we die.
Cunningham, Lawrence S. “The Crucifixion of Jesus: History, Myth,
Faith.” Commonweal, (1996): Vol. 123, pp. 40 – 41.
Imbelli, Robert P. “Christology: A Systematic Study of Jesus.”
Commonweal, (1996): Vol. 127, pp. 25-28.
Kung, Hans. Christianity: Essence, History, and Future. (Boston:
Thompson, William M. The Struggle for Theology’s Soul: Contesting
Scripture in Christology. (New York: Crossroad, 1996.)