Thursday, August 4, 2011

Christology and Soteriology 101

My August 1st post on the person of Christ and the being of pastors has created quite a stir online. That particular post has had almost 1,000 separate hits in the past three days, a lot more than is typical. A quick glance on the internet indicates several people seem to be confused about how it is that Jesus saves both men and women.

To be sure, the Messiah was and is a man [Greek: aner; Latin: vir], Jesus of Nazareth, prophesied from of old and born of the virgin Mary, but his being a male human being is not essential for his work as the Redeemer. What is essential is that Jesus is a human being [Greek: anthropos; Latin: homo], the Second Adam, the One who has reconciled God and humankind in and through himself. What is theologically crucial is that the divine Logos [Word] of God became a mortal human being, who suffered death on the cross, who was raised from the dead on the third day, who has reconciled all human beings in his human body.

Perhaps some of the people who think that Jesus' maleness is essential to his being the savior of all slept through Dogmatics II, wherein Christology and Soteriology are normally discussed. One of the questions that undoubtedly gets a little attention is something like the following: "If the eternal, unoriginated Logos [Word] of God, of the same being [homoousios] with God, became a man [aner], and if "whatever the Logos has not assumed he has not healed" (Gregory of Naziansus, Letter to Cledonius against Apollinarius, Letter 101 [MPG 37, 181C], but see also Origen, Dialogue with Heracleides), then how could the man Jesus be the savior of women, since he did not assume female bodily organs or a female body?"

This question is not as ridiculous as it seems, since apparently there are quite a few individuals out there today who think that Jesus had to be a male to save humankind. While the prophets foretold that the Messiah would in fact be a Jewish male, the maleness of Jesus is not crucial to our salvation. That Jesus was a male [aner] is without question, but what counts for our salvation is that he is an anthropos, a human being, of human flesh and blood. The Apostle John proclaims that the Logos "became flesh" [sarx]--since Scripture "is in the habit of calling the human being" [anthropos = here "human being"; not aner = "a man"] "flesh" ( Athanasius, Orations against the Arians, 3:30). The Apostle Paul proclaims that the Son of God (a Messianic title that needs to be understood analogically and apophatically and not literalistically, that is, not biologically or anthropomorphically) was "born of a woman, born under the law." In other words, the Logos took on human flesh and became a human being and suffered on our account in the flesh (First Peter 4:1). The body of Jesus the Christ, sharing the same human nature as all people--male and female--a human nature and mortal body that he received from his mother, died for the salvation of humankind. By virtue of the hypostatic union of the Logos with the human body of Jesus, the death of all--male and female human mortals--was accomplished in the Lord's body, and that death and corruption, and the divine judgment against human sins, were wholly overcome and undone. The divine Logos not only took on human flesh [sarx], but became a complete human being [anthropos; homo; Mensch] with body, soul, and mind. Moreover, the resurrection of the body of Jesus is God's decisive act of renewing Adamic humanity--inclusive of male and female--in the image and likeness of the Logos. For we all, male and female, are made alive in Christ because we are reborn from above by water and the Spirit. Our human nature has been "logified," to use Athanasius' wonderful word, by the work of the Logos, who on our account became flesh, that is, became a human being, whose human nature is inclusive of both male and female.

There is no better classic presentation of this teaching about the human nature of the incarnate Logos than what one finds in Martin Chemnitz's De Duabus naturis in Christo [The Two Natures of Christ, 1578], chapter three. The two natures are, of course, the divine and the human. The latter is "the flesh of our body in Christ Jesus," a flesh that is common to both men and women. "For in the flesh of Christ God condemned sin (Rom. 8:3), and in the body of his flesh we are reconciled (Col. 1:20). We are justified in his blood (Rom. 5:9). He has laid down his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28)... The true teaching of the Scriptures is that the Son of God has assumed a true, complete, and total human nature which is of the same substance with us and possesses all the conditions, powers, and desires of our nature as its own normal properties, yet is not wicked, but is without sin, uncorrupted, and holy, but in which are the infirmities that have entered into our nature as the penalties of sin. He has willingly and without blemish assumed this for us in order that he might be made the victim for us" (Preus translation, 49).

The crucial issue of our salvation is that the Logos has assumed our human nature, not that the Logos happened to do this by being born a male.

One could give a good many quotations in support of this position from theologians in every century of the Christian church, but I'll end by merely referring to Dr. Luther's smaller catechism. When he there summarized the meaning of the second article of the Creed, he wrote that Jesus is "true God" and "true human being" [German: wahrhaftiger Mensch; Latin: verus homo]. Dr. Luther did not write "true man" [German: wahrhaftiger Mann; Latin: verus vir].


  1. Since you cross posted this at steadfastlutherans, I'll cross post my comment.

    So did God flip a coin to decide that Jesus would be male? Why doesn’t he call himself Mother? Or Father-Mother? Or Parent? And please don’t give the lame answer about old cultures being bound to outmoded patriarchy so God had to communicate with them in this MaleSpeak. Was God powerless to teach and create a society that was properly androgynous?
    I refer you to CS Lewis’s excellent little essay “Priestesses in the Church” for more on the distinction between male and masculine and female and feminine – something which you obviously do not put much stock in. Alas, Mr. Lewis’s church ignored his warnings and now the Anglican communion has come completely unglued by denying that gender really matters. But, of course, Dr. Becker you have also made clear in public fora that you approve of homosexuality, so I’m sure that this does not bother you.

  2. Pr. H. Curtis,

    Your questions are totally irrelevant. The Logos, who is not a male, assumed human nature, common to both men and women, so as to suffer death on the cross in order to achieve salvation for both men and women. If you assert that the Logos is male (or female, for that matter), then you are guilty of transgressing the most basic of Christian theological assertions, namely, that the divine nature can only be properly understood apophatically and analogically. The Logos is neither male nor female and remains ultimately incomprehensible to human beings. (If one went this route of ascribing human sexuality and gender to the divine nature, then one would have to conclude that God’s Spirit, the Ruach in the OT, is feminine, since Ruach is a feminine noun.) If you assert that Jesus saves us by being a male, then you are guilty of excluding women from the salvation that Christ has accomplished through his incarnation, death, and resurrection.

  3. Read the Lewis essay to learn the difference between male and masculine.


  4. Hi Dr. Becker,
    I am an ELCA pastor and graduate of Christ Seminary-Seminex. I wanted to let you know of my support of your important mission within the LCMS to the Gospel. The issues regarding Jesus' unique calling to be the one upon whom sin was (and is) applied so that sinners can be relieved of the burden of guilt and death (a burden thus placed upon this One unique historically posited Person upon whom God has designated for that to happen is FOR US AND FOR OUR SALVATION)are real issues that continue dedicated service. Thanks for using the Lutheran Confessions and the New Covenant responsibly. As Robert Bertram had urged us: those who act to overturn faithful mission to the Gospel may indeed be the same type who attempt to replace another gospel for THE Gospel. This is a constant struggle in any generation who take to heart what St. Paul was saying in Galatians.