Thursday, October 14, 2010

Christ but not Jesus?

In response to an earlier post on Christian preaching of the Old Testament Bob MacDonald makes the intriguing suggestion that perhaps not all NT references to Christ refer exclusively to Jesus.  I have to be honest I find this highly problematic on a number of fronts, but wasn't sure which particular texts Bob might have in mind.  When pressed he suggests Col 1:24, "in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church."  To me the reference to "affliction" (θλῖψις) unmistakably invokes Jesus' passion.  In the gospels this word is usually used of eschatalogical tribulation, not Jesus' suffering per se, but in Paul's letters it is mainly used to talk about suffering caused by external circumstances, e.g. Rom 5:3, 1 Cor 7:28, 1 Thess 1:6.  Not only that but in Colossians it is a particular suffering for Christ's body the church.  (This idea of the church as Christ's body frequently causes confusion, but it is simply a possesive genitive, the body corporate that belongs to Christ.)  Now in Paul's thinking who suffered for the sake of the church's salvation? Was it a nebulous formless cosmic "Christ" or was it the human Jesus, the Christ, who suffered and died "in his fleshly body . . . so as to present [the church] holy and blameless and irreproachable before him."(Col 1:23)? 

Now none of this solves the problem of what Paul finds lacking in Christ's sufferings, or how his suffering helps complete it, but that is a topic for another post.  Suffice to say I'm not convinved that the NT ever talks about Christ with out exclusively intending to denote Jesus.

10 comments:

  1. you make a good lexical point. I look forward to your thoughts on the other problems...
    "None of thsi solves the problem of what Paul finds lacking in Christ's sufferings..."

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  2. nebulous and formless - reminds me of tohu vebohu which is where we read that the Spirit of God broods. Perhaps when we say 'Christ' or 'truths' about Christ in our various confessions, we fail to remember how 'God is Spirit' - and thus fail to see how it is 'the Anointing' that makes us in God's image. It is not a nebulous and formless Christ - but a nebulous and formless us which is the subject of the specific brooding of this Spirit.

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  3. Thanks Justin and Bob.
    @ Bob, yes but even the Spirit finds concrete form as the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the slain and resurrected historical messiah of God's people. I For Paul the concrete realisation of the Spirit's presence (e.g. Gal 5, 1 Cor 12-14, Rom 12-14) is really not something that is fuzzy and vague but hard evidence of Christ's redeeming work.

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  4. Jonathon - 'yes but' is a response I recognize. It shows a failure to listen - hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. - the hearing is the hard part.

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  5. Tov - ani zaqen - pardon my being so blunt. I am not in search of answers as much as I want to refine the questions. My perception is that no one has the 'answer' right - or we would not be so at each other's throats.

    Generic citations of whole chapters of Paul are not helpful. I will continue to think of the issues over the next 6 months. I am still immersed in TNK - but today I visited some Christian shrines in Israel at En Kerem - so perhaps I am being called back into some NT work.

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  6. Sorry Bob, I thought you wanted to discuss the issue, I didn't realise that you weren't interested in evidence. My mistake.

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  8. Sorry about this - clearly a false start - and no finish possible in a short time. - I cannot pursue this further at the moment.

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