Colombo Telegraph

Jesus Christ: From Nazareth To Nicaea

By Jagath Asoka

Dr. Jagath Asoka

It would be almost impossible to find a human being who has not wondered, “Does God exist?” When you think of the biblical God, you think of the Trinity; when you think of the Trinity, you think of Jesus Christ: Jesus is the Messiah. Most of us would not wonder, “Did Jesus exist?” But most of us would wonder, “Is Jesus God? How did a man become God?” Because God cannot be a human being any more than a human being can be a rock.

During the time of Jesus, people believed that God would restore peace and justice to the world, which was governed by the evil forces because God, for some unknown reason, had relinquished control of the world to cosmic forces of evil that were wreaking havoc upon God’s creation.

Jesus was a Jewish apocalypticist, a preacher from Nazareth, who expected a catastrophic end to the world. He was crucified for his crimes against the Roman Empire. Almost after 300 years after his crucifixion, Jesus became equal with the omnipotent and omniscient Creator of the entire universe. Now, this story is worthy of our attention and rumination, as we celebrate Jesus’s birth. Virgin Birth and Resurrection are inseparable from Christian faith; Virgin Birth and Resurrection are not susceptible to any historical critical analysis any more than the Rebirth in Buddhism or Moksha in Hinduism.

Faith has nothing to do with facts, nothing to do with history, and nothing to do with memories of actual events. Everybody knows that the Bible has contradictions, discrepancies, later insertions, alterations, added prophesies to justify some actual historical events, and abominable and anti-sematic statements, such as in Psalm 137, “Blessed is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks,” and in John 8:42-44, where Jesus declares that the Jews are not children of God but “children of the Devil.” Whether you think that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant word of God or just mere fantasies and errant statements of fallible human beings, faith in God and Jesus has nothing to do with some of the abominable statements found in the Bible; because when it comes to faith in God, Jesus, Rebirth, Moksha, or Hell, our psyche is what our psyche does: we cannot artificially manufacture some contents of our psyche; these contents are produced spontaneously.

How did a crucified apocalypticist become God? Of course, this idea is not a modern idea. A human being becoming god, or a god becoming a human being is not a Christian invention; you find similar ideas in Hindu, Greek, and other mythologies.

In the New Testament, Paul was the first to write about the divinity of Christ. Before Mark, Mathew, Luke, and John.

According to the Gospel of John, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” These statements explicitly says that even before Jesus was born, he has always been with God, a preexisting divine being who is equal with God. In other words, Jesus was the incarnation of preexistent Word of God who was both with God and was himself God. Furthermore, Jesus not only died in the flesh, he was raised in the flesh.

Soon after Jesus’s death, the view that Jesus is God was held by different Christian groups; it meant different things to different Christian groups. The Ebionites were the first century Jewish Christians who believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, a human being, sent from the Jewish God to Jewish people; the adoptionists believed that Jesus was the adopted Son of God; God adopted Jesus at his baptism and was exalted to a divine status.

There was another view, known as Docetism, from Greek which means “to appear”: Jesus was not really a man but only appeared to be a human being: Jesus was completely divine, not human at all. Marcion was the best known docetist of the second century CE. Macion was a follower of the Apostle Paul and both of them believed that following the Jewish law could not make a person right with God; only faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus could make a person right with God. To Macion, the law was given by the god of the Jews; salvation was given by the God of Jesus. So, according to Marcion, these were two different gods. The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, and the God of the New Testament is a God of mercy.

So, adoptionists claimed Jesus was human, and docetists claimed Jesus was divine. But there was another group known as Gnostics, who held a different view: Jesus was two beings. A human Jesus was temporarily inhabited by a divine being; before Jesus died on the cross, the divine being abandoned him, and that is why Jesus said, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:34).

For Christian Gnostics, salvation came not through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus or through following the Jewish law, but through the knowledge of the secrets Jesus revealed to his followers. This world is a cosmic catastrophe; Jesus gave the secret, esoteric knowledge, the knowledge that would help us escape from this evil world.

By the end of the second century, most Christians thought that the views of the adoptonists, the docetists, or the Gnostics would lead them to eternal damnation. Later, most Christians embraced the theological conundrum that Jesus was a real human being who was also really divine, yet he was not two separate beings. It took them a long time to resolve this conundrum. So, what people thought of Jesus became more nuanced, sophisticated, and paradoxical. Even the ideas held by the modalists were heretical.

According to the modalists, Jesus and God were the same person. God exists in different modes, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, similar to the situation where a human being can be a father, a son, and a brother at the same time, which gave the impression that it was the Father who was crucified. The modalists rejected the view that the Son and the Father were two separate beings. Tertullian was the first Christian to adopt the term Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were distinct in number but the nature was the same. According to John, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” Jesus never said, “I am the Father,“ which would have given credence to the modalists’ view. Finally, in the Nicene Creed, Jesus is said to be “from the same substance of the Father: Homoousian, not homoiousian, is an adherent of the Nicene Creed that the Son is the same substance of the Father. Homoiousians believe that the Son is of the similar substance, not the identical substance, with the Father. To say that God and Jesus are of similar substance is blasphemy.

According to the Nicene Creed, Jesus was the only Son of God, eternally begotten from the Father, God from God…Through him all things were made…..he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

So, finally human beings have recognized another human being as God the Almighty. I sometimes wonder whether Satan would have a similar story. We have been suppressing Satan’s story; each one of us denies the Satan within us a thousand times before the cock crows. When we realize the devil is also within us, when we stop projecting everything that is evil on our neighbor, perhaps we will begin to “Love our neighbors as we love God.” Merry Christmas!

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