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Daniel Kirk has written an important new book entitled A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels (Eerdmans 2016). At the heart of his project is an attempt to resuscitate an idealized humanity at the heart of the Gospels. The tendency for many, he thinks, is to read Matthew, Mark, and Luke through the lens of John’s Gospel or of Paul’s divine Christology expressed in say, the Philippian hymn (Phil 2:6-11).
For Kirk Jesus is an extraordinary figure of history. But he is not just extraordinary because of his deity; he is extraordinary because of his humanity. The grand scheme of the Bible presents the God of Israel as One who does not give up on humanity. From the beginning (Genesis) God had a great plan and vision for what humanity was supposed to be. So Kirk proposes that the Synoptics offer a high human Christology (a play on words based on the emerging consensus of “an early high Christology”). In this case high does not equal divine, but a fully realized and idealized humanity. In other words the Synoptic Gospels present us with a Jesus who is everything humanity was created to be.
Now Kirk doesn’t deny the orthodox picture of a divine Christ. He just thinks the Synoptics are telling a different sort of story, a story that can be easily lost in accentuating Jesus’ divinity. As long as we stress Jesus’ divinity, we don’t have to take seriously what it means to walk as he walk, live as lived, love as he loved. In other words “following Jesus.”
Kirk’s monograph stands in contrast to recent work done on the Gospels by the likes of Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham, and even his own former teacher, Richard Hays. But more about this in another post.
I’ve been inspired recently by posts from Dr. Creig Marlowe and some comments I heard recently by N. T. Wright. There is some new thinking here for me, but as Ecclesiastes reminds us: “there is nothing new under the sun.”
It has to do with a series of binaries in Genesis 1. Here is a list:
1.1 heavens and earth
1.4 light and darkness
1.5 evening and morning
1.9-10 seas and dry land
1.14 sun and moon
1.27 male and female
These binaries form complementary pairs which are not only created by God but participate with God in the next steps of creation. In a way they become co-creators with God because they provide the raw materials for the coming days of creation. There is a logic to the days of creation which you have probably already noticed. Days 1-3 provide the raw materials and realms into which the creatures of days 4-6 live (I use the term “creature” here not so much as a living thing but a thing which is created):
Day 1 light Day 4 sun, moon, and stars
Day 2 sky and waters Day 5 birds and fish
Day 3 dry land Day 6 land creatures and humanity
This structure is intentional at several levels but it does show order coming from chaos, countering the formless and void state described in Genesis 1.2.
Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction. “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys. “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear. In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word “the universe.” “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then everything. That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing, the heavens above, the earth below . . . ”
Here again is our list of binaries with a suggestion of how to see the hendiadys.
1.1 heavens and earth = the universe
1.4 light and darkness = the progression of time
1.5 evening and morning = a day
1.9-10 seas and dry land = the earth
1.14 sun and moon = signs and seasons (again, the progression of time)
1.27 male and female = humanity
In each case God, as it were, turns to the created thing to invite it to work with him in the ongoing task of creation. So, for example, God says to the earth to bring forth vegetation, plants and seeds (1:11-12). He says to the waters/seas and the skies: bring forth fish and birds (1.20-23). Then God says to the land: bring forth land creatures of every kind (1.24-25). When God says, “let us make humanity . . . ” people have wondered about the “us.” Is God speaking to and for the Trinity? Not necessarily. That certainly is one way Christians have read the text. Given everything that has gone on so far in Genesis 1, however, I think God is speaking to the created order itself. The “us” would include God, the sun, moon, stars, waters, seas, dry land, and other land creatures. Human beings are made up of the same elements as the stars, the earth, and all the critters. Now, I’m not arguing that we should have a scientific reading of Genesis; what I am suggesting is that there is an internal logic to the creation story of Genesis 1: God creates something and then uses that creation to create the next thing. In this way all things are dependent and related. Genesis 2 reinforces this when it says that God sculpted Adam/humanity from the earth/dust and breathed in him the breath of life (2.7-9). So Adam is made up of previously created elements along with the divine breath.
The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention. Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God. But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei. Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God. It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process. Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:
The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.
In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation. God no longer creates ex nihilo. He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.
Last week I posed a historical question: when Jesus entered public life (at the age of 30) did he have all his teeth? It is a question which can’t be answered with certainty. There is no physical description of Jesus from contemporary sources to help us nor are there any physical remains, so to address the question you look analogically at what happens to 30 somethings who have limited access to dental care. Consider this: what would you look like today without the benefit of braces earlier in life? how about the bridges, the caps, the crowns, the whitening toothpaste? The chances are good you wouldn’t have that perfect, made for TV smile.
This historical question has a theological component. You see most people have some image of Jesus in their heads. As they read the Gospels or pray, they imagine Jesus looking one way or another. Those images have been laid down in our experience. It may have come from a painting you saw on the wall in Sunday School like Sallman’s the Head of Christ (1941; see the Warner Sallman Collection).
It could have come from a favorite movie like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Jim Caviezel is a dashing, leading man type who portrayed Jesus in Gibson’s 2004 epic drama.
Or perhaps your favorite is the Laughing Jesus who has a nice set of choppers.
But there is another place where our image of Jesus comes. From our theology. Orthodox theology tells us that Jesus is fully God and fully man. This means, at least in our sanctified imaginations, that Jesus is a perfect man, a man with no physical flaws or blemishes. A man taller than most, with eyes more penetrating than most, with teeth perfect and whiter than most. Our commitment to the divinity of Jesus often trumps our understanding of his humanity so that we could well imagine the infant Jesus speaking fluent Chinese from the manger.
But to embrace the incarnation, a central tenet of faith, we must take seriously Jesus’ humanity. A truly human Jesus would have to learn to speak proper Aramaic and Greek. He would have to practice his letters to form them properly. What else could Luke mean when he said that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2)? He would have had to apprentice with his father in the carpenter shop in order to make goods his neighbors needed. He would have had belly aches, vomiting, and diarrhea. He would have been laid up for days with the flu and had bunions and blisters on his feet. A truly human Jesus would have had toothaches and probably lost some teeth before he was in his 20s. Fortunately, his wisdom teeth would have come in about then in order to fill in the gaps and help chew his food.
We are not very comfortable with a truly human Jesus because we’re not comfortable in our skin. So I guess it makes sense that we would think Jesus had a different kind of skin, skin that wouldn’t blister in the sun, freckle or wrinkle with age. Our Jesus may have been the Word made flesh (John 1) but He had a different sort of flesh than ours.
The 2nd century Christians known as the Gnostics were so uncomfortable in their skin that they denied Christ his. He only appeared to be human. He only seemed to suffer for there can be no true participation of the divine in the ugliness of humanity.
If the incarnation is true, if God has become flesh and dwelled among us in the historic person known as Jesus of Nazareth, and if Jesus truly died on the cross and rose bodily from the grave, then this body we inhabit matters. It matters to God. It must also matter to us.