Man as the Image of God in Reverse

That human persons are created in the image of God is explicit from the first pages of the scriptures (Gen 1:27).  As a concept, removed from its particular purpose in the Genesis narrative, this fact has become the subject of a seemingly endless series of speculations as to exactly what this means.  In contemporary theology, this most often takes the form of seeking to identify ‘the image of God’ in man with some characteristic or characteristics of human person.  So it is proposed that rationality, or language, or freedom, for example, are the substantial meaning of God’s image.  All of these speculations, and this approach as a whole, have severe difficulties.  On one hand, as we advance in our knowledge…

The Spirit of God in the Old Testament

This week serves as a sort of epilogue to the recent series on Christ in the Old Testament.  These previous posts discussed the reality that Second Temple Judaism, through a close reading of the Hebrew scriptures, had developed the idea that there is a second hypostasis of Yahweh, the God of Israel.  The terminology for this within the Jewish world was to speak of the ‘Two Powers in Heaven’.  The identity and origin of this second hypostasis was the subject of much debate and conjecture in Jewish literature.  The New Testament authors clearly identify the second person of the Godhead as Jesus Christ, incarnate in their day.  In response to this core argument of the Christian proclamation, the Jewish community…

God’s Body

One feature of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue service is the hymn sung near its dismissal which repeatedly affirms that ‘God does not have a body’.  This particular hymn was added in the fourth or fifth century as a direct response to, and rejection of, Christianity.  On the surface, far removed as we are from the issues in the early debate between the nascent Christian and Rabbinical Jewish communities, we might assume that this is aimed at a rejection of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation.  In reality, however, the primary field of debate in that era was over the correct interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures which would become the Christian Old Testament.  The repeated reaffirmation that the Jewish believer ought…

The Son of Man

The title ‘Son of Man’ is best known by most readers of the scriptures as the title which Christ most often applies to himself in all four of the Gospels, a rare thread running through all four with utter consistency.  In fact, other than references to the Old Testament and a single instance in the Acts of the Apostles, this title occurs in the New Testament only as a form of self-reference by Christ.  When Christ uses this term, however, he is drawing on an Old Testament tradition which was already by that time well-defined.  Further, from this Old Testament tradition, the idea of a particular divine figure had formed within Second Temple Judaism, and many of Christ’s references are…

God the Word

Famously, the prologue of the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel speaks of the Logos, who has existed eternally with God from the beginning, and is God.  It became extremely common to read these statements in the prologue philosophically.  To read them as an attempt by St. John to philosophically represent the deity of Jesus Christ in relationship to the God of Israel as a Jewish monotheist.  Philo of Alexandria’s mention, as a Jewish Middle Platonist, of the divine Logos as an emanation of the one true God is seen as either a parallel or a precursor by this view.  Others looked to the idea of the logos in Stoic philosophy.  This line of thought has so permeated patristic studies…

The Angel of the Lord

There is within the Christian world, even among Orthodox Christian writers and scholars, a certain presupposed narrative regarding the ‘development’ of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity within Christianity.  It is presupposed that the people of the Old Testament were Unitarian monotheists, that they believed that only one God existed, and that that God was a single person.  It is then presupposed that through his teaching and deeds, culminating in his resurrection and ascension into heaven, early Christians came to believe that Jesus is also divine in some sense.  The development of Christian belief over the next several centuries is then seen in evolutionary terms, in which early ‘low’ Christology in which Christ is seen to be divine, but not…

Women Disciples of the Lord

The phrase “women disciples of the Lord” is enough of a commonplace in Orthodox hymnography that it moves past the modern ear with little notice.  It seems simply obvious at even a surface reading of the gospels that Christ had a number of followers, and that some of them were women.  Contained within this brief phrase, and in the use of the word disciple, however, is a massive transformation in the way in which women were viewed in the ancient world, and their perceived role within the Christian community.  As in a previous post, in the person of Jesus Christ, priesthood is reunited with masculinity as a calling, so too in the revelation of Jesus Christ attested by the New…

Priesthood and Masculinity

The theme of priesthood in the scriptures begins at the very beginning.  The first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis draw heavily on the literature and traditions of the surrounding nations, though always with alteration, and in some cases even inversion, of the pagan themes found therein.  The most obvious example of this is the story of the flood, which existed in many forms in the Ancient Near East before Genesis was written, and so Genesis both corrects these accounts, and serves as an apologetic for the true God of scripture against the various Near Eastern deities.  This is also true of the story of the creation of Adam itself.  In the Ancient Near East, the various pagan cultures…

Marriage and Sexuality According to Christ

While it has become a commonplace in modern rhetoric to minimize, or even deny, that Jesus himself had anything to say about sexual morality, this is simply not true.  In answering a question regarding divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, Christ directs us back to the first two chapters of the book of Genesis in order to illustrate God’s plan for gender, sexuality, and marriage in his creation.  By pointing to and reaffirming these passages, Christ in fact makes a strong statement which has consequences for the Christian understanding of issues as diverse as divorce, polygamy, and homosexuality.  Understanding this teaching of Christ presents an additional hurdle, however, as the Genesis narratives to which he points have themselves been the subject of…

St. Paul and the Law

As a conclusion to this series on the ongoing importance of the commandments of the Law in the New Testament and in the Orthodox Church, it is important to address directly St. Paul’s understanding of the Law.  It has become a commonplace since Martin Luther to read St. Paul as setting out a dichotomy between the Law on one hand, and the gospel which he proclaimed on the other.  This distinction has been read forward into the other New Testament writers, and also backward into the Old Testament.  That which is identified as Law, then, in the scriptures, or at least, portions of it, is allowed a continuing role in the life of the church and of Christians but that…