Christology

From the Archives – Christmas: Redemption Provided

Adoration of the Shepherds (Gerard van Honthorst, 1622)

The second Person of the triune God added a human nature to His divine nature a little more than 2,000 years ago. This stupendous and miraculous event was revealed to God’s people from the beginning of the world. God announced to Satan not long after the creation of Adam and Eve (which occurred “at the beginning,” Matt. 19:4): “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed [the unbelieving community of mankind] and her seed [all true believers represented by their Savior]; [He] shall bruise thy head [a fatal, judicial blow delivered to Satan at the cross—John 12:31], and thou shalt bruise His heel [the crucifixion of Christ]” (KJV, Gen. 3:15).

Especially noteworthy is the emphasis on “the woman” (rather than “the man” or even “the man and the woman”). If Adam was the responsible head of that family unit (“by one man sin entered into the world,” Rom. 5:12; and “by man came death,” 1 Cor. 15:21), what function was Eve to have in the light of this prophetic announcement? Adam perceived that his wife, though instrumental in the fall (1 Tim. 2:14), would, by the amazing grace of God, be instrumental in bringing their Savior into the world. Therefore he named her Eve (i.e., “life” or “living”) “because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

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The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 5)

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What Did Jesus Mean by “These Commandments”?

This entry is Part 5 concerning what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:17-19. My focus here specifically is on what Jesus meant by “these commandments” in Matthew 5:19. This verse reads:

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus makes two key points here. First, anyone who “annuls one of the least of these commandments” will be called “least in the kingdom of heaven.” Second, whoever “keeps and teaches” the “least of these commandments” will be called great in the kingdom. Since Jesus’ message involves one’s status in the kingdom of God, getting “these commandments” right is important.

The word for “annuls” comes from luō which often means “loose,” “set free,” “dissolve,” or “destroy.” In this context, “annuls” probably means to “to do away with.” If one does away with “the least of these commandments” they can expect a lower position in the kingdom.

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The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 4)

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The Meaning of “To Fulfill”

In my previous post I addressed the meaning of “to abolish” in Matthew 5:17. Now I interpret the meaning of “to fulfill” in 5:17 with a view to understanding what Jesus meant when He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (emphases mine throughout).

What Jesus meant by “to fulfill” has been the subject of much debate with several differing views offered. At first, I considered discussing the various views and then presenting my particular understanding all in one post. But that is far too much for one entry. So my purpose here is to positively present the view I think is accurate.

Pleroō in the New Testament

The Greek term for “to fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 is plērōsai, coming from the verb, pleroō. A form of pleroō occurs 90 times in the New Testament. There are several ways the word is used (list is not exhaustive):

  • To fill up
  • To fill to the full or top
  • To complete or accomplish
  • To carry through to the end
  • To make complete or perfect
  • To show a correspondence with heightening
  • To realize or bring something to realization

Because the term is used 90 times, sometimes in differing contexts, the interpreter must determine which sense of pleroō is the precise meaning in any given example.

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The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 3)

Below is Part 3 of an ongoing series on “The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19.”

With my last post, I argued that “the Law or the Prophets” and “Law” in Matthew 5:17-18 referred to the Old Testament in its entirety. This is contrary to the popular idea that Jesus was addressing the Mosaic Law only, especially with Matthew 5:18. The purpose of this post is to examine the term, “abolish,” in 5:17. What did Jesus mean when He said that He did not come to “abolish” the Law or the Prophets?

A Word about Word Studies

This study and the one after this will focus on the meanings of the terms “abolish” and “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17-18. But first a note about words and word studies is appropriate.

As with all words, there is usually a range of meaning for a term depending on how it is used. If used extensively, most words have two or more meanings. That is how language usually works. For example, the Greek term pneuma in the New Testament, often translated “spirit,” can refer to the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), wind (John 3:8), breath (2 Thess. 2:8), the immaterial part of a person (Luke 8:55; Acts 7:59), angels (Heb. 1:14), demons (Matt. 8:16), and other things. Context will decide which sense was in the author’s mind.

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How Many Wills in Christ?

If you ask a conservative Christian how many wills Christ has had since the incarnation, he will likely respond, “one will!” This sounds good, but is it true? Orthodox Christology teaches that Christ, the Divine Person, has eternally existed. Each person has a specific nature, which can be described as a “complex of attributes.”1 A nature is, if you will, the constellation or package of attributes that color and shape you as a “person.” Personhood entails possession of this host of attributes, no matter what particular shape they take in your own life.

But, in the incarnation, something changed. Now, Christ’s divine complex of divine attributes (his divine nature) was coupled with a human constellation of human attributes (his human nature). Where does the idea of a volitional “will” fit into this picture? If you assume a “will” is an essential part of a person’s nature, then (logically) it follows that Christ must have two wills; the human and the divine.

This is the conundrum the Sixth Ecumenical Council met to discuss, and it was at this council that the doctrine of monothelitism (one will in the incarnate Christ) was condemned. Below is the full text of the decree of this council,2 so you can read the matter for yourself:

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The Meaning of Matthew 5:17-19 (Part 2)

Understanding “the Law or the Prophets”

In Part 1, I mentioned that a decision must be made concerning what Jesus meant by “the Law or the Prophets” in Matthew 5:17 and “Law” in 5:18. While this issue might not seem that significant at first glance, it is important for a correct understanding of Matthew 5:17-19. The purpose of this post is to survey the issues here and comment on what I think is the best understanding.

Before we start, though, I understand that the issues we are beginning to discuss are heavily debated And reasonable people can disagree with my findings.

To begin, note Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-18:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

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