Not “the messiah”?

March 25th, 2010
by chris

At Henry Neufeld’s Energion site,, he asks:-

Was Jesus of Nazareth the Christ (Messiah/anointed one) as claimed in orthodox Christianity?


I have written before about my belief that both Judaism and Christianity have misinterpreted the Hebrew Scriptures at I do not myself think that those scriptures predicted a single messiah, a single person anointed of God. I do think he was anointed of God for a very special purpose, I am happy to consider that several of the Hebrew Scriptures envisioned a template which he filled, but I cannot in comfort say that he was THE messiah, THE anointed one; he was a messiah, an anointed one – and, so far as I am concerned, the single most important person to have claim to those titles.

However, I need to be cautious in reading the question (not merely because of the normal caution of a scriptural interpreter but also because I’m a lawyer by training and unable to do anything else). The figure of the Christ in orthodox Christianity is not just the messiah or anointed one of the Hebrew Scriptures, it is something far beyond that. There is nothing in the Hebrew messiah concept of the supernatural, non-corporeal Christ; that messiah is a priest-king who saves Israel for the most part, or in the suffering servant of deutero-Isaiah something more of a type of Israel (which is the part of the Hebrew Scriptures which I consider Jesus can most clearly be fitted to). The Jewish messiah is not an angel or other supernatural agent of the divine, and is definitely not God incarnate, a member of a trinitarian Godhead. This, far more than a messianic aspect, is what is claimed in orthodox Christianity.

However, is the Christ of orthodox Christianity actually able to be equated with Jesus of Nazareth? Clearly incarnational theology seems to say that it should be, and yet we would not have been likely to have a whole scripturally founded set of heresies (for example separationism, tritheism, some aspects of gnosticism, Nestorianism) which see serious distinction between the human figure of Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ if things were as simple as that. I have great sympathy with these heresies; even the Cappadocian fathers concluded that the trinity was a “holy mystery” and, essentially, did not make rational sense, and I cling to the feeling that, ultimately, reason prevails, even if we do not see it for the time being. My own instinct is to say that the supernatural construct which is the orthodox Christ postdates the time of Jesus’ life and did not actually pre-exist (though the Logos which was in him made flesh did…).

However, I do not think I need go as far as one of this clutch of heresies. In Phillipians 2:5-7, Paul says “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man”. The kenosis (emptying) of this statement is everywhere apparent in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ sayings, even in the Fourth Gospel, but as Paul goes on to say, post-mortem Jesus is again exalted. Thus it is reasonable to contend, as I do, that Jesus of Nazareth, the historical figure, is not equivalent to the Christ of orthodox Christianity, as he is temporarily emptied of a part of the fullness of that description.

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