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What Does Christology Mean and Why Is it Important for Christians to Know?

What Does Christology Mean and Why Is it Important for Christians to Know?

Jesus. The name evokes many ideas and reactions depending on the person. But who was he really? Knowing Jesus is essential to believers, and toward this end, the study of Christology is helpful.

What Is Christology and What Does Christology Mean?

Christology is the study of the identity and works of Jesus. This study attempts to answer the question that Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20). When Christians study Christology, we are seeking to know Jesus better by exploring his character.

Historically, people have attempted to answer this question in many ways. Some of the answers were deemed imbalanced or incompatible with orthodox Christian teaching and have been called heresies. Some of these heresies over-focus on Jesus’ divine nature while undermining or excluding his humanity, while others over-emphasize his humanity to the exclusion of his divine nature. Still, others de-emphasize his works on the cross, his resurrection, or his present ministry in heaven. Teachings that deemphasize Jesus’ divinity usually highlight his identity as a moral teacher, as one of the prophets, whereas, teachings that deemphasize his humanity view Jesus as a kind of superhero or demi-god who only appeared to be a man.

Because of the many false teachings circulating about the identity and works of Jesus, councils have met at various points in history to affirm what was shown about Jesus in the Bible, develop consensus among church leaders, and write creeds that were used to teach orthodox Christology in churches.

The Nicene Creed, developed in 325 AD, says the following about Jesus’ identity and works:

"I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.

He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end."

The Chalcedonian Creed, developed in 451 AD, was entirely about the nature of Christ. It reads:

"We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us."

5 Examples of Christology in the Bible

John 1:1-3, John 1:14 says: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

These verses show that the Word (Jesus) is God and that he took on flesh to dwell among us. Thus, his divinity and humanity are beautifully expressed together in one passage. Philippians 2:5-11 also captures the relationship between Jesus’ divine and human natures:

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, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Certain passages of Scripture highlight Christology from above or from below, that is, they shed light on his divine nature or his human nature but taken together they come to a balanced perspective. Colossians 1:15-20 is an example of Christology from above, showcasing the full divinity of Jesus:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

For examples of Christology from below, the genealogies (found in Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38) show a record of Jesus’ earthly origins, showing his full humanity.

Why Is Christology Important for Christians to Know About?

The idea that Jesus is fully God and fully man is called the “hypostatic union.” Affirming this belief is important for us as believers because it is only through this union that being made right with God is possible. Jesus had to be fully human in order to identify and represent humanity, and he had to be fully divine in order to overcome death and save those who receive him by faith. The study of Christology is not a dusty, academic pursuit. Rather, it is a celebration of God himself drawing near out of love for the people he created. Drawing so near, in fact, that he “took on flesh” to become fully one of us, while still retaining his divine ability to accomplish salvation for us.

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Photo credit: ©GettyImages/shuang paul wang

Jessica Udall author photoJessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.