‘A Two-faced God?’ is an intentionally provocative question. I do not mean to offend, but rather to bring into sharp focus the central issue I explore in this article.
In my previous post (found HERE), I made the case that Jesus of Nazareth is the full representation of the nature and character of the triune Godhead. In this article, I claim that any attempt to present God’s nature and character as anything other than that which is displayed in and through Jesus of Nazareth is tantamount to declaring God to be two-faced. By the way, I am using the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ as shorthand for ‘God incarnate in bodily form in the person of Jesus’.
The problem that some folk have with my contention that Jesus FULLY represents the Godhead, is that Jesus of Nazareth appears devoid of wrath and justice, but that these are divine qualities much in evidence in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation. Therefore, they reason that Jesus of Nazareth is the ‘fullest’ but not the ‘full’ representation of God. Crudely put, God has both a happy face and an angry face, much like the theatre masks worn by early Greek thespians. However, Jesus did speak of wrath and judgment and so we are able to apply a Jesus-perspective to these subjects.
Jesus in the Old Testament
Some people claim that Jesus, God in bodily form, appears throughout the Old Testament and therefore we can attribute the words and acts of wrath and justice associated with parts of the Old Testament witness directly to Him. A second claim is that as all of the Bible is inspired, we must regard any depictions of divine wrath and judgment attributed to God as pertaining to the triune godhead, which obviously includes Jesus.
Christologies and Angelologies
Apparent manifestations of God in a form tangible to human senses are known as theophanies, but on closer inspection can be separated into angelic appearances (angelophanies) and appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ (Christophanies). There are nine generally accepted theophanies in the Old Testament and in my assessment, four pertain to angels and five to the pre-incarnate Christ. In a short article of this nature, I cannot give much detail, but here is a brief outline of the Christophanies:
- Genesis 12:6-7 The Lord appeared to Abram and promised to give his descendants the land of Canaan. Abram built an altar to memorialise this theophany. The account reveals only benign intent.
- Genesis 17:1-22 Here the Lord appeared again to Abram to confirm and elaborate on the covenant He had made. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and his wife’s name to Sarah, introduced circumcision as the outward sign of the covenant, and blessed Abraham’s descendants, including Ishmael. Once again, the account reveals only blessing and benign intent.
- Genesis 18:1-33 What at first appeared to be three angles approach Abraham while on their way down to Sodom and Gomorrah, but it soon became evident that one of them was in fact God. The Lord told the two angels that He intended to disclose to Abraham his plans concerning the two cities of iniquity. The reason He gave was that He had chosen Abraham to teach his people to “keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just”. So, the question is ‘what did the Lord demonstrate to Abraham of His righteousness and His just ways?’
- Although the evidence was that the sin of the people of these two cities was great and grievous, He would personal verify this before acting against them.
- Even if there were only ten righteous people there, He would not destroy the city while they were in it.
- Chapter 19 tells just how wicked the inhabitants were and how the two angels led Lott (Abrahams cousin) and his immediate family to safety before destroying the area.
- Exodus 3:1-15 This is the account of how the Lord appeared to Moses from within a burning bush. Here He commissioned Moses to return to Egypt to bring the Israelites out of captivity. He revealed His name to Moses as ‘I Am’, which Jesus of Nazareth later attributed to Himself in the statement that, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). Once again, what can we learn of God’s nature and character from this account?
- That God was concerned with the suffering of His people in Egypt.
- That He cared enough to send Moses to Egypt as His envoy to secure their release and lead them into the promised land.
- Joshua 5:13-15 Here the Lord appeared to Joshua before he began the conquest of Canaan. He referred to Himself as the commander of the army of the Lord and stated that He was neither for nor against Joshua. The strongest evidence that this was a Christophany was the command to Joshua to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. Nothing particular concerning God’s nature and character is revealed in this encounter. However, His neutrality indicates that He was not necessarily endorsing Joshua’s subsequent violent actions.
In these five theophanies, God revealed Himself in ways consistent with His self-revelation in and through Jesus of Nazareth.
The four angelophanies are not relevant to discussing the nature and character of God in any direct way, but for the record, they are found in Genesis 32:1-30, Numbers 22:22-35, Judges 13:1-22, and Daniel 3:16-28.
Jesus in the book of Revelation
A major consideration here is that John developed this book almost entirely as a collection of vivid symbolic pictures. Very little in this apocalyptic work should be taken at surface-level. For instance, the Lord Jesus is depicted in chapter one as having burning feet and a sword instead of a tongue. In chapters five and six, He is imaged as a lamb, and in chapter nineteen, as a warrior mounted on a horse. The symbolism in these images speaks figuratively of His glory, His redemption, and His ultimate judgment.
Chapters two and three record seven letters to the churches that Jesus dictated to John. In my book Revelation in the Stars, I list His condemnations and warnings as well as His commendations and promises. Significantly, He accompanies His words of warning and condemnation to the churches with instructions on how to remedy their condition.
The later chapters of the book paint a terrible portrait of judgment, yet it would be a mistake to think that Jesus of Nazareth did not speak about these things.
The rationale for a two-faced God
Before, setting out my understanding of how we can interpret all of scripture form a Jesus-perspective, including the wrath and judgment passages, I want to attempt to describe how I understand why some scholars resist the idea of Jesus being the FULL representation of God.
The problems appear to be around the question of how to deal with the wrath and judgment parts of the Bible that do not appear to reconcile with how Jesus portrays the Godhead.
To put it another way, how to accept the divine self-revelation in Christ Jesus without compromising the inspiration and trustworthiness of the whole Bible, including its ethically and morally difficult bits. The solution for many is to contend that Jesus of Nazareth, whilst being the fullest revelation of God, is not the full revelation. In other words, they contend that there are other aspects of the divine character and nature not revealed in and through Jesus. As I have pointed out in my previous article, this flatly contradicts key texts in Paul’s writings as well as what Jesus said about Himself.
Once again, I am limited in an article of this nature but I have written other posts on this matter and you can find the latest of them here: Sabbath Sticks, Stones and Sacraments
I hold that the problem arises for many in not recognising:
- The actual nature and purpose of the Bible and that the scriptures faithfully and accurately record the thoughts, words, perceptions, and understandings both of God, and of humans who do not necessarily present God’s sentiments or motivations.
- That Jesus of Nazareth does, in fact, speak on wrath and judgment. The revelation of Jesus as presented in the Old Testament and the last book of the Bible is not in conflict with God’s self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus spoke of wrath and judgment and interpreted the most significant of all historical examples, the account of the great flood, giving vital insights into divine love and compassion in the context of judgment.
- That His life and the full body of His teachings give context to His statements concerning wrath and judgment.
Red Letter Christianity
Before I end this article, just a brief note on what theologians refer to as ‘a canon within a canon’. What they mean by this is the misguided idea of regarding the Gospels as a higher order of inspired scripture than the rest of the Bible. In years gone by, folk often referred to this as Red Letter Christianity because only the words of Jesus (printed in red in some Bibles) were deemed important. In our day the ascription Red Letter Christianity is applied to religious politics more than anything else. Folk with this agenda take the words of Jesus and apply them straight into their modern political framework with little regard for their original intended meaning. So, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount becomes a manifesto for a dominionist religious-political agenda, and so on.
I do not subscribe to either form of Red Letter Christianity. All of the Bible is inspired and necessary. Jesus fully presents the nature and character of the Godhead and therefore constitutes a reliable interpretive yardstick for the whole Bible. He is the primary interpreter of Scripture (note the word ‘primary’).
How I understand a Christocentric interpretation of scripture
My most succinct statement of this is in the article I wrote for Conspectus academic journal, which you can find HERE.
The shortest way I can state my Christocentric method of interpreting the Bible is as follows:
I interpret all of scripture through the lens of what Jesus said, did, and what He revealed of the nature and character of the Godhead. When something appears contradictory to this divine revelation in Christ Jesus, then I search for other ways of understanding the apparently contradictory testimony. If I cannot find a way to do this without potentially violating the integrity of any part of scripture, then I admit that I just do not understand adequately and I focus on what Jesus revealed. In doing this, I am not copping-out, but simply acknowledging the reality of divine mystery as well as my limited ability to adequately comprehend. In essence, I say to myself: “This I do not understand, but what Jesus has revealed I do understand. Therefore, I will focus on His self-revelation and leave the rest open to possible future understanding, either in this life or the next.” You can find many examples of my attempts to follow this methodology in my blog posts over the last few years.
I hope this and the previous article have been helpful. More and more scholars are writing and teaching on the centrality of Jesus and I am convinced that this is a subject currently on God’s heart. I trust that what I have written here will help provide insights into what others are producing as well as the body of my own work