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II. The Names and Natures of Christ


There are especially five names that call for a brief discussion at this point. They are partly descriptive of His natures, partly of His official position, and partly of the work for which He came into the world.

1. THE NAME JESUS. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Jehoshua, Joshua, Josh. 1:1; Zech. 3:1, or Jeshua (regular form in the post exilic historical books), Ezra 2:2. The derivation of this common name of the Saviour is veiled in obscurity. The generally accepted opinion is that it is derived from the root yasha', hiph., hoshia', to save, but it is not easy to explain how Jehoshua' became Jeshua'. Probably Hoshea', derived from the infinitive, was the original form (cf. Num. 13:8,16; Deut. 32:44), expressing merely the idea of redemption. The yod which is the sign of the imperfect, may have been added to express the certainty of redemption. This would best agree with the interpretation of the name given in Matt. 1:21. For another derivation from Jeho (Jehovah) and shua, that is help (Gotthilf) cf. Kuyper, Dict. Dogm.44De Christo, I, pp. 56 f. The name was borne by two well known types of Jesus in the Old Testament.

2. THE NAME CHRIST. If Jesus is the personal, Christ is the official, name of the Messiah. It is the equivalent of the Old Testament Mashiach (from mashach, to anoint), and thus means "the anointed one." Kings and priests were regularly anointed during the old dispensation, Ex. 29:7; Lev. 4:3; Judg. 9:8; I Sam. 9:16; 10:1; II Sam. 19:10. The King was called "the anointed of Jehovah," I Sam. 24:10. Only a single instance of the anointing of a prophet is recorded, I Kings 19:16, but there are probably references to it in Ps. 105:15 and Isa. 61:1. The oil used in anointing these officers symbolized the Spirit of God, Isa. 61:1; Zech. 4:1-6, and the anointing represented the transfer of the Spirit to the consecrated person, I Sam. 10:1,6,10; 16:13,14. The anointing was a visible sign of (a) an appointment to office; (b) the establishment of a sacred relationship and the consequent sacrosanctness of the person anointed, I Sam. 24:6; 26:9; II Sam. 1:14; and (c) a communication of the Spirit to the anointed one, I Sam. 16:13, cf. also II Cor. 1:21,22. The Old Testament refers to the anointing of the Lord in Ps. 2:2; 45:7, and the New Testament, in Acts 4:27 and 10:38. Formerly references to it were also found in Ps. 2:6 and Prov. 8:23, but to-day Hebraists assert that the word nasak, used in these passages, means "to set up" rather than "to anoint." But even cf. also Isa. 11:2; 42:1. Christ was set up or appointed to His offices from so the word points to the reality of the first thing symbolized in the anointing, eternity, but historically His anointing took place when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Luke 1:35, and when he received the Holy Spirit, especially at the time of His baptism, Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32; 3:34. It served to qualify Him for His great task. The name "Christ" was first applied to the Lord as a common noun with the article, but gradually developed into a proper noun, and was used without the article.

3. THE NAME SON OF MAN. In the Old Testament this name is found in Ps. 8:4; Dan. 7:13, and frequently in the Prophecy of Ezekiel. It is also found in the Apochrypha, Enoch 46 and 62, and II Esdras 13. The dependence of the New Testament usage of it on the passage in Daniel is now quite generally admitted, though in that prophecy it is merely a descriptive phrase, and not yet a title. The transition from the one to the other was made later on, and was apparently already an accomplished fact when the book of Enoch was written. It was the most common self-designation of Jesus. He applied the name to Himself on more than forty occasions, while others all but refrained from employing it. The only exception in the Gospels is in John 12:34, where it appears in an indirect quotation of a word of Jesus; and in the rest of the New Testament only Stephen and John employ it, Acts 7:56; Rev. 1:13; 14:14.

Dr. Vos in his work on The Self-Disclosure of Jesus divides the passages in which the name occurs into four classes: (a) Passages which clearly refer to the eschatological coming of the Son of Man, as for instance, Matt. 16:27, 28; Mark 8:38; 13:26, etc. and parallels. (b) Passages which speak particularly of Jesus' sufferings, death, and (sometimes) resurrection, as, for instance, Matt. 17:22; 20:18,19,28; 12:40, etc. and parallels. (c) Passages in the Fourth Gospel, in which the heavenly superhuman side and the pre-existence of Jesus is stressed, as for instance, 1:51; 3:13,14; 6:27,53,62; 8:28, and so on. (d) A small group of passages, in which Jesus reflects upon His human nature, Mark 2:27, 28; John 5:27; 6:27,51,62. It is hard to determine why Jesus preferred this name as a self-designation. Formerly the name was generally regarded as a cryptic title, by the use of which Jesus intended to veil rather than to reveal His Messiahship. This explanation was discarded when more attention was paid to the eschatological element in the Gospels, and to the use of the name in the apocalyptic literature of the Jews. Dalman revived the idea and regarded the title once more as "an intentional veiling of the Messianic character under a title which affirms the humanity of Him who bore it."55Words of Jesus, p. 253 The supposed proof for this is found in Matt. 16:13; John 12:34. But the proof is doubtful; the latter passage even shows that the people understood the name Messianically. Dr. Vos is of the opinion that Jesus probably preferred the name, because it stood farthest removed from every possible Jewish prostitution of the Messianic office. By calling Himself the Son of Man, Jesus imparted to the Messiahship His own heaven-centered spirit. And the height to which He thus lifted His person and work may well have had something to do with the hesitancy of His early followers to name Him with the most celestial of all titles.66The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, pp. 251 ff.

4. THE NAME SON OF GOD. The name "Son of God" was variously applied in the Old Testament: (a) to the people of Israel, Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9; Hos. 11:1; (b) to officials among Israel, especially to the promised king of the house of David, II Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:27; (c) to angels, Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps. 29:1; 89:6; and (d) to pious people in general, Gen. 6:2; Ps. 73:15; Prov. 14:26. Among Israel the name acquired theocratic significance. In the New Testament we find Jesus appropriating the name, and others also ascribing it to Him. The name is applied to Jesus in four different senses, which are not always kept distinct in Scripture but are sometimes combined. The name is applied to Him:

a. In the official or Messianic sense, as a description of the office rather than of the nature of Christ. The Messiah could be called Son of God as God's heir and representative. The demons evidently understood the name Messianically, when they applied it to Jesus. It seems to have this meaning also in Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32. Even the name, as uttered by the voice at the baptism of Jesus and at His transfiguration, Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35, can be so interpreted, but in all probability has a deeper meaning. There are several passages in which the Messianic sense is combined with the trinitarian sense, cf. under (b).

b. In the trinitarian sense. The name is sometimes used to denote the essential deity of Christ. As such it points to a pre-existent sonship, which absolutely transcends the human life of Christ and His official calling as Messiah. Instances of this use are found in Matt. 11:27; 14:28-33; 16:16, and parallels; 21:33-46, and parallels; 22:41-46; 26:63, and parallels. In some of these cases the idea of the Messianic sonship also enters more or less. We find the ontological and the Messianic sonship interwoven also in several Johannine passages, in which Jesus clearly intimates that He is the Son of God, though He does not use the name, as in 6:69; 8:16,18,23; 10:15,30; 14:20, and so on. In the Epistles Christ is frequently designated as the Son of God in the metaphysical sense, Rom. 1:3; 8:3; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1:1, and many other passages. In modern liberal theology it is customary to deny the metaphysical sonship of Christ.

c. In the nativistic sense. Christ is also called the Son of God in virtue of His supernatural birth. The name is so applied to Him in the well known passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which the origin of His human nature is ascribed to the direct, supernatural paternity of God, namely, Luke 1:35. Dr. Vos also finds indications of this sense of the name in Matt. 1:18-24; John 1:13. Naturally, this meaning of the name is also denied by modern liberal theology, which does not believe in the virgin birth, nor in the supernatural conception of Christ.

d. In the ethico-religious sense. It is in this sense that the name "sons" or "children of God" is applied to believers in the New Testament. It is possible that we have an example of the application of the name "Son of God" to Jesus in that ethico-religious sense in Matt. 17:24-27. This depends on the question, whether Peter is here represented as also exempt from the templetax. It is especially in this sense that modern liberal theology ascribes the name to Jesus. It finds that the sonship of Jesus is only an ethico- religious sonship, somewhat heightened indeed, but not essentially different from that of His disciples.

5. THE NAME LORD (Kurios). The name "Lord" is applied to God in the Septuagint, (a) as the equivalent of Jehovah; (b) as the rendering of Adonai; and (c) as the translation of a human honorific title applied to God (chiefly Adon), Josh. 3:11; Ps. 97:5. In the New Testament we find a somewhat similar threefold application of the name to Christ, (a) as a polite and respectful form of address, Matt. 8:2; 20:33; (b) as expressive of ownership and authority, without implying anything as to Christ's divine character and authority, Matt. 21:3; 24:42; and (c) with the highest connotation of authority, expressive of an exalted character, and in fact practically equivalent to the name "God," Mark 12:36,37; Luke 2:11; 3:4; Acts 2:36; I Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11. In some cases it is hard to determine the exact connotation of the title. Undoubtedly, after the exaltation of Christ, the name was generally applied to Him in the most exalted sense. But there are instances of its use even before the resurrection, where the specifically divine import of the title has evidently already been reached, as in Matt. 7:22; Luke 5:8; John 20:28. There is a great difference of opinion among scholars respecting the origin and development of this title as applied to Jesus. In spite of all that has been advanced to the contrary, there is no reason to doubt that the use of the name, as applied to Jesus, is rooted in the Old Testament. There is one constant element in the history of the conception, and that is the element of authoritative ownership. The Epistles of Paul suggest the additional idea that it is an authority and ownership resting on antecedently acquired rights. It is doubtful, whether this element is already present in the Gospels.


From the earliest times, and more particularly since the Council of Chalcedon, the Church confessed the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. The Council did not solve the problem presented by a person who was at once human and divine, but only sought to ward off some of the solutions which were offered and were clearly recognized as erroneous. And the Church accepted the doctrine of the two natures in one person, not because it had a complete understanding of the mystery, but because it clearly saw in it a mystery revealed by the Word of God. It was and remained ever since for the Church an article of faith, far beyond human comprehension. Rationalistic attacks on the doctrine were not entirely wanting, but the Church remained firm in the confession of this truth, in spite of the fact that it was once and again declared to be contrary to reason. In this confession Roman Catholics and Protestants stand shoulder to shoulder. But from the last part of the eighteenth century on this doctrine was made the butt of persistent attacks. The Age of Reason set in, and it was declared to be unworthy of man to accept on the authority of Scripture what was clearly contrary to human reason. That which did not commend itself to this new arbiter was simply declared to be erroneous. Individual philosophers and theologians now tried their hand at solving the problem presented by Christ, in order that they might offer the Church a substitute for the two- nature doctrine. They took their starting point in the human Jesus, and even after a century of painstaking research found in Jesus no more than a man with a divine element in Him. They could not rise to the recognition of Him as their Lord and their God. Schleiermacher spoke of a man with a supreme God-consciousness, Ritschl, of a man having the value of a God, Wendt, of a man standing in a continual inward fellowship of love with God, Beyschlag, of a God-filled man, and Sanday, of a man with an inrush of the divine in the sub-consciousness; — but Christ is and remains merely a man. To-day the liberal school represented by Harnack, the eschatological school of Weiss and Schweitzer, and the more recent school of comparative religion, headed by Bousset and Kirsopp Lake, all agree in denuding Christ of His true deity, and in reducing Him to human dimensions. To the first our Lord is merely a great ethical teacher; to the second, an apocalyptic seer; and to the third a peerless leader to an exalted destiny. They regard the Christ of the Church as the creation of Hellenism, or of Judaism, or of the two combined. To-day, however, the whole epistemology of the previous century is called in question, and the sufficiency of human reason for the interpretation of ultimate truth is seriously questioned. There is a new emphasis on revelation. And influential theologians, such as Barth and Brunner, Edwin Lewis and Nathaniel Micklem, do not hesitate to confess faith once more in the doctrine of the two natures. It is of the utmost importance to maintain this doctrine, as it was formulated by the Council of Chalcedon and is contained in our Confessional Standards.77Conf. Belg., Art. XIX; Heidelberg Cat., Qs. 15-18; Canons of Dort II, Art. IV.

1. SCRIPTURE PROOFS FOR THE DEITY OF CHRIST. In view of the widespread denial of the deity of Christ, it is of the utmost importance to be thoroughly conversant with the Scripture proof for it. The proof is so abundant that no one who accepts the Bible as the infallible Word of God can entertain any doubt on this point. For the ordinary classification of the Biblical proofs, as derived from the divine names, the divine attributes, the divine works, and the divine honor ascribed to Him, we would refer to the chapter on the Trinity. A somewhat different arrangement is followed here in view of the recent trend of historical criticism.

a. In the Old Testament. Some have shown an inclination to deny that the Old Testament contains predictions of a divine Messiah, but this denial is quite untenable in view of such passages as Ps. 2:6-12 (Heb. 1:5); 45:6,7 (Heb. 1:8,9); 110:1 (Heb. 1:13); Isa. 9:6; Jer. 23:6; Dan. 7:13; Mic. 5:2; Zech. 13:7; Mal. 3:1. Several of the latest historical scholars strongly insist on the fact that the doctrine of a superhuman Messiah was native to pre-Christian Judaism. Some even find in it the explanation for the supernatural Christology of parts of the New Testament.

b. In the writings of John and Paul. It has been found quite impossible to deny that both John and Paul teach the deity of Christ. In the Gospel of John the most exalted view of the person of Christ is found, as appears from the following passages: John 1:1-3,14,18; 2:24,25; 3:16-18,35,36; 4:14,15; 5:18,20,21,22,25-27; 11:41-44; 20:28; I John 1:3; 2:23; 4:14,15; 5:5,10-13, 20. A similar view is found in the Pauline Epistles and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Rom. 1:7; 9:5; I Cor. 1:1-3; 2:8; II Cor. 5:10; Gal. 2:20; 4:4; Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; I Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1-3,5,8; 4:14; 5:8, and so on. Critical scholars sought escape from the doctrine clearly taught in these writings in various ways as, for instance, by denying the historicity of the Gospel of John and the authenticity of many of the Epistles of Paul; by regarding the representations of John, Paul, and Hebrews as unwarranted interpretations, in the case of John and Hebrews especially under the influence of the Philonic Logos doctrine, and in the case of Paul under the same influence, or under that of his pre-Christian, Jewish views; or by ascribing to Paul a lower view than is found in John, namely, that of Christ as a pre-existent, heavenly man.

c. In the Synoptics. Some maintain that the Synoptics only furnish us with a true picture of Christ. They, it is said, portray the human, the truly historical Jesus, as contrasted with the idealized picture of the Fourth Gospel. But it is perfectly evident that the Christ of the Synoptics is just as truly divine as the Christ of John. He stands out as a supernatural person throughout, the Son of Man and the Son of God. His character and works justify His claim. Notice particularly the following passages: Matt. 5:17; 9:6; 11:1-6,27; 14:33; 16:16,17; 28:18; 25:31 ff.; Mark 8:38, and many similar and parallel passages. Dr. Warfield's The Lord of Glory is very illuminating on this point.

d. In the self-consciousness of Jesus. In recent years there has been a tendency to go back to the self-consciousness of Jesus and to deny that He was conscious of being the Messiah or the Son of God. Naturally, it is not possible to have any knowledge of the consciousness of Jesus, except through His words, as these are recorded in the Gospels; and it is always possible to deny that they correctly express the mind of Jesus. For those who accept the Gospel testimony there can be no doubt as to the fact that Jesus was conscious of being the very Son of God. The following passages bear witness to this: Matt. 11:27 (Luke 10:22); 21:37,38 (Mk. 12:6; Luke 20:13); 22:41-46 (Mk. 13:35-37; Luke 20:41-44); 24:36 (Mk. 13:32); 28:19. Some of these passages testify to Jesus' Messianic consciousness; others to the fact that He was conscious of being the Son of God in the most exalted sense. There are several passages in Matthew and Luke, in which He speaks of the first person of the Trinity as "my Father," Matt. 7:21; 10:32,33; 11:27; 12:50; 15:13; 16:17; 18:10,19,35; 20:23; 25:34; 26:29,53; Luke 2:49; 22:29; 24:49. In the Gospel of John the consciousness of being the very Son of God is even more apparent in such passages as John 3:13; 5:17,18,19-27; 6:37-40,57; 8:34-36; 10:17,18,30,35,36, and other passages.

2. SCRIPTURE PROOF FOR THE REAL HUMANITY OF CHRIST. There has been a time, when the reality (Gnosticism) and the natural integrity (Docetism, Apollinarianism) of the human nature of Christ was denied, but at present no one seriously questions the real humanity of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is at present an extreme emphasis on His veritable humanity, an ever-growing humanitarianism. The only divinity many still ascribe to Christ, is simply that of His perfect humanity. This modern tendency is, no doubt, in part a protest against a one-sided emphasis on the deity of Christ. Men have sometimes forgotten the human Christ in their reverence for the divine. It is very important to maintain the reality and integrity of the humanity of Jesus by admitting his human development and human limitations. The splendor of His deity should not be stressed to the extent of obscuring His real humanity. Jesus called Himself man, and is so called by others, John 8:40; Acts 2:22; Rom. 5:15; I Cor. 15:21. The most common self-designation of Jesus, "the Son of Man," whatever connotation it may have, certainly also indicates the veritable humanity of Jesus. Moreover, it is said that the Lord came or was manifested in the flesh, John 1:14; I Tim. 3:16; I John 4:2. In these passages the term "flesh" denotes human nature. The Bible clearly indicates that Jesus possessed the essential elements of human nature, that is, a material body and a rational soul, Matt. 26:26,28,38; Luke 23:46; 24:39; John 11:33; Heb. 2:14. There are also passages which show that Jesus was subject to the ordinary laws of human development, and to human wants and sufferings, Luke 2:40,52; Heb. 2:10,18; 5:8. It is brought out in detail that the normal experiences of man's life were His, Matt. 4:2; 8:24; 9:36; Mk. 3:5; Lk. 22:44; John 4:6; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28,30; Heb. 5:7.

3.SCRIPTURE PROOF FOR THE SINLESS HUMANITY OF CHRIST. We ascribe to Christ not only natural, but also moral, integrity or moral perfection, that is sinlessness. This means not merely that Christ could avoid sinning (potuit non peccare), and did actually avoid it, but also that it was impossible for Him to sin (non potuit peccare) because of the essential bond between the human and the divine natures. The sinlessness of Christ has been denied by Martineau, Irving, Menken, Holsten, and Pfleiderer, but the Bible clearly testifies to it in the following passages: Luke 1:35; John 8:46; 14:30; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 9:14; I Pet. 2:22; I John 3:5. While Christ was made to be sin judicially, yet ethically He was free from both hereditary depravity and actual sin. He never makes a confession of moral error; nor does He join His disciples in praying, "Forgive us our sins." He is able to challenge His enemies to convince Him of sin. Scripture even represents Him as the one in whom the ideal man is realized, Heb. 2:8,9; I Cor. 15:45; II Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21. Moreover, the name "Son of Man," appropriated by Jesus, seems to intimate that He answered to the perfect ideal of humanity.

4. THE NECESSITY OF THE TWO NATURES IN CHRIST. It appears from the preceding that, in the present day, many do not recognize the necessity of assuming two natures in Christ. To them Jesus is but a man; yet at the same time they feel constrained to ascribe to Him the value of a God, or to claim divinity for Him in virtue of the immanence of God in Him, or of the indwelling Spirit. The necessity of the two natures in Christ follows from what is essential to the Scriptural doctrine of the atonement.

a. The necessity of His manhood. Since man sinned, it was necessary that the penalty should be borne by man. Moreover, the paying of the penalty involved suffering of body and soul, such as only man is capable of bearing, John 12:27; Acts 3:18; Heb. 2:14; 9:22. It was necessary that Christ should assume human nature, not only with all its essential properties, but also with all the infirmities to which it is liable after the fall, and should thus descend to the depths of degradation to which man had fallen, Heb. 2:17,18. At the same time, He had to be a sinless man, for a man who was himself a sinner and who had forfeited his own life, certainly could not atone for others, Heb. 7:26. Only such a truly human Mediator, who had experimental knowledge of the woes of mankind and rose superior to all temptations, could enter sympathetically into all the experiences, the trials, and the temptations of man, Heb. 2:17,18; 4:15-5:2, and be a perfect human example for His followers, Matt. 11:29; Mk. 10:39; John 13:13-15; Phil. 2:5-8; Heb. 12:2-4; I Pet. 2:21.

b. The necessity of His Godhead. In the divine plan of salvation it was absolutely essential that the Mediator should also be very God. This was necessary, in order that (1) He might bring a sacrifice of infinite value and render perfect obedience to the law of God; (2) He might bear the wrath of God redemptively, that is, so as to free others from the curse of the law; and (3) He might be able to apply the fruits of His accomplished work to those who accepted Him by faith. Man with his bankrupt life can neither pay the penalty of sin, nor render perfect obedience to God. He can bear the wrath of God and, except for the redeeming grace of God, will have to bear it eternally, but he cannot bear it so as to open a way of escape, Ps. 49:7-10; 130:3.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY. What Old Testament persons bore the name 'Jesus,' and in what respect did they typify the Saviour? Is the bare title 'the Messiah,' without a genitive or a pronominal suffix, ever found in the Old Testament? How does Dalman account for its occurence in Jewish apocalyptic literature? Do the terms 'the anointed of Jehovah,' 'His anointed,' and 'my anointed' always have the same meaning in the Old Testament? Whence comes the idea that believers share the anointing of Christ? What about the idea that the name 'Son of Man,' reduced to its probable Aramaic original, simply means 'man'? How about the idea of Weiss and Schweitzer that Jesus employed the name only in a futuristic sense? Did He use it before Peter's confession at Cæsarea-Philippi? How do the liberals square their conception of Jesus as the Son of God only in a religious and ethical sense with the data of Scripture? What is the usual view of the origin of the Kurios-title? What theory was broached by Bousset and other liberal scholars? What accounts for the opposition to the two-natures doctrine? Is it a necessary doctrine, or is there some other doctrine that might take its place? What objections are there to the adoptionist doctrine;—to the Kenotic theories;—to the idea of a gradual incarnation;—to the Ritschlian view;—to Sanday's theory?

LITERATURE: Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. III, pp. 259-265, 328-335, 394-396; Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Christo I, pp. 44-61, 128-153; II, pp. 2-23; Hodge, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 378-387; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol. pp. 464-477; Vos, Geref. Dogm. III, pp. 1-31; ibid. The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, pp. 104-256; ibid. on the Kurios-title Princeton Theol. Review, Vol. XIII, pp. 151 ff.; Vol. XV, pp. 21 ff.; Dalman, The Words of Jesus, pp. 234-331; Warfield, The Lord of Glory, cf. Index; Liddon, The Divinity of our Lord, Lect. V; Rostron, The Christology of St. Paul, pp. 154 ff.; Machen, The Origin of Paul's Religion, pp. 293-317; Stanton, The Jewish and the Christian Messiah, pp. 239-250.

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