The Wrong Answer: Faulty Views of Jesus

In Mark 8:27-28 Jesus questioned his disciples about the truth of His identity.  Thanks to Mark we know that the conversation went something like this:

Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?”

They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.”

And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

And He warned them to tell no one about Him.

Much could be said about Christ’s questions and the disciples answers.  But today I want to focus on the wrong answers.  Apparently in Jesus’ day there were three prevalent–but incorrect–views about Jesus.   There was the view that 1) Jesus was the reincarnate spirit of John the Baptist; the view that 2) Jesus was not the Messiah but Elijah the forerunner of the Messiah; and finally the view that 3) Jesus was just another one the prophets.

These views all have a few things in common.  First, all of these view claim to be favorable toward Jesus.  Second, they all deny the full deity of Christ.  Third, they are all represented by historic heresies.  It is this third commonality that I want to focus on today.

The “Mystic” View of Jesus

  • John was dead so what people were really saying was that Jesus was the reincarnate spirit or John, or maybe that the ghost of John was empowering Jesus.  Either way this is a mystical view of Jesus.  The mystical explanation of Jesus has always been popular.  For the most part the mystical view of Christ is taken by those who are uncomfortable with the full humanity of Jesus.
  • Docetism & Gnosticism – The heresy that Jesus’ body “seemed” real, but only appeared that way.   In reality He was not fully human; he was not born; he did not posses a physical being because physical matter is evil. 
  • Sabbellianism/Modalsim/Monarchianism – “the teaching that God is but a single person who manifests himself successively as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are not distinct persons in the Godhead but rather are masks or roles in which God reveals himself to his creation. Thus, modalism denies the ontological Trinity, which is the view that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit refer to three actual, internal distinctions within the Godhead itself. For modalists the Trinity is purely an economic Trinity. Modalism is also called Sabellianism after Sabellius, an early proponent of the teaching. It is also sometimes called patripassianism, because by this theory the Father suffered on the cross in his manifestation as the Son.”[1] This view is exists today most notably in the theology of Oneness Pentecostals.
  • Apollinarianism – “Apollinaris regarded the human soul or mind as the seat of sin, he denied that the second person of the Trinity assumed a human soul or mind in the incarnation. He did teach that the Logos assumed a human body and possibly (depending upon how Apollinaris is interpreted) a human life principle or “animal soul.” Thus, according to Apollinaris, the mental life of Jesus is simply that of the Logos, operating in and through human flesh. His teaching was repudiated at a number of councils, most notably Constantinople in 381 and Chalcedon in 451.”[2]
  • Nestorianism – “According to this model, the two natures of Christ were held so distinct as to be virtually two persons. In Nestorianism, as in Antiochene Christology generally, the union of divine and human in the person of Christ is seen as that of indwelling, that is, the man Jesus is the temple in which God dwelt. Nestorianism was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431.”[3]
  • These ancient heresies that take a mystical view of Jesus may seem to be very far away from our culture today, but the mystical view of Jesus is making a strong comeback in today’s culture.

The “Historical Figure” View of Jesus

  • The view that Jesus was Elijah represents the view of Jesus that sees him as simply a historical figure.  This view saw him not as God or the Messiah, but rather an important historical figure.  Specifically they saw him as the fulfillment of the OT prophecy of the forerunner to the Messiah.  This view is usually taken by those who do not deny the existence of Jesus, but they are uncomfortable with the full deity of Jesus.
  • Ebionsim – According to the Ebionites Jesus was just a man.  A man with extraordinary gifts of power, righteousness, and wisdom, but not God.  They held that at the baptism “the Christ” descended upon the man Jesus, and then at some point before Jesus’ death the “Christ” departed.
  • Arianism – In the 4th Century Arius of Alexandria popularized the opinion that Jesus was not equal with God.  Instead, before the beginning of time Christ was created by the father.   Thus, Christ was neither fully man, nor fully God.  This view was condemned as heresy by the Nicean Council in 325.  The creed reads in part, “believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
  • These heresies, which view Jesus a just a historical figure, are still alive and well today.
  • Jesus Seminar & John Dominic Crossan – The Jesus seminar sought to find the “real” Jesus of history by evaluating the Gospel and deciding what really happened.  Needless to say, the distinctly supernatural aspects of the gospel were removed Thomas Jefferson style. 
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses – The theology of the JW is essentially Arian.  That is why when they come to your door they want you to believe that John 1 doesn’t really say that the “word was God”, but instead that the word was “a god.”
  • The Da Vinci Code (just a new form of Gnosticism) – Jesus was a historical figure who played a huge role in history, but he was not God.  In fact, he is most helpful for selling books not salvation.

The “Good Teacher” view of Jesus

  • Islam – Muslims thinks that Christians got it wrong with Jesus when we ascribed deity to him.  They believe in Jesus as a good teacher.  One Muslim wrote, “In the Muslim view, Jesus’ essential work was not to replicate magic bread or to test our credulity, but to complement the legalism of the Torah with a leavening compassion rarely expressed in the older testament. His actions and words introduce something new to monotheism: They develop the merciful spirit of God’s nature. Jesus confirmed the Torah, stressing the continuity of his lineage, but he also developed the importance of compassion and self-purification as crucial links between learning the words of God’s message and possessing the wisdom to carry it out.”
  • Buddhism – The Dalai Lama once said, “As a Buddhist, my attitude toward Jesus Christ is that he was either a fully enlightened being or a bodhisattva of a very high spiritual realization.”[4]
  • Liberation Theology – Jesus is not so much a savior, but a model for how to reform society.
  • Secular View – Many outside the church would express a respect for Jesus, and yet by deny his full humanity and full deity they reveal that they do not know who the real Jesus is. 
  • Many professing evangelical Christians – Unfortunately, many within the church know very little about who Christ really was.  They often ignore the deity of Christ and focus only on Jesus as a moral teacher and not the Divine Savior who bore the wrath of God on behalf of His sheep.  These are the folks that take the “w.w.j.d. only approach to Jesus.”

 

The reason why we need to know all of these wrong views about Jesus is because true disciples must have a right view of Jesus—a right Christology. This doesn’t mean we know everything.  This doesn’t mean our knowledge is perfect.  It does mean that in essence we know who Jesus is through the use of His word and learning from Church History. True disciples must recognize that Jesus was fully God (John 1), and that He was fully man (Phil. 2).  This is required so that 1) He can be a mediator between God and man; 2) He can provide us with imputed righteousness; 3) and He can reverse the curse set into motion by Adam (cf. Romans 5).


[1] William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 957.

[2] William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 952.

[3] William Greenough Thayer Shedd and Alan W. Gomes, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2003), 958.

[4] His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus, p. 83.

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2 Comments

  1. Regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “New World Translation” Bible and its rendering of John 1:1, it may interest you to know that there is soon to be published an 18+ year study (as of 10/2010), a thoroughly researched reference work in support and explanation of their wording of this verse (especially within the third clause with “a god”), as it will be entitled, “What About John 1:1?”

    To learn more of its design and expected release date, we invite you to visit:

    http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

    When finally published, you will see that there are some 400+ scholarly reference works which have opted to say something other than, “and the Word was God,” and that, among these, are included over 100 which had chosen to use “a god” within the third clause of their renderings.

    Agape, JohnOneOne.
    ~~~~~~~~~~

    1. 400 scholars wow. That is impressive. That is until you think of the 2000 years of church scholars who have totally disagreed with the position and the thousands of scholars who still disagree with it. Not to mention the fact that the Greek grammar just does not work. Add to that the fact that there are numerous other examples of Jesus claiming deity…

      …well I think you get the point as to where I stand on this issue.

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