I realise that an article titled ‘Jesus, the full representation of God’ is signalling a theological discussion that may not appeal to everyone. For this reason, and because it is a complex subject, I am going to start with a concise overview instead of ending with one.
I am a passionate advocate of Christocentricity (Jesus-centeredness). A vital part of this way of understanding the Bible, and life in general, is that the Lord Jesus Christ presents the full nature, character, values, principles, and priorities of the Godhead. This means that although the scriptures, in general, reveal the ways of God and humanity, Jesus will always be the plum-line of truth. If I want to know if something is ‘of God’ then I need only to look to Jesus.
However, other theologians contend that although Jesus is indeed the fullest revelation of the Godhead, He is not the ‘full’ revelation. In other words, they contend that some aspects of God’s nature and character are not manifested in Jesus but are found elsewhere in the Bible. In a crude sense, it is as though God has two faces, one benign and loving and the other apparently harsh and violent.
There are also some scholars who hold to a form of Christocentricity, as I define it, but contend that we find Jesus himself in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation where He is sometimes presented very differently to the Gospel depictions. Some also propose that because God is one (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) then anything attributed to ‘God’ anywhere in the Bible must equally apply to the Lord Jesus (God the Son). In this sense then, all biblical references to God would be Christocentric.
This article is the first in a two-part series on the centrality of Jesus, and in this post, I just seek to make the case that Jesus is the FULL representation of the nature and character of God.
A Concise Overview
The distinction between ‘full’ and ‘fullest’ is important. If we concede that Jesus of Nazareth is not the full representation of the Godhead then we, of necessity, have to find ways of reinterpreting key texts such as Colossians 1:19, 2:9, Hebrews 1: 1-3 and so on. These attempts can often end in a distortion of scripture.
Claims that God displays different character traits in the Old Testament to those manifest in Jesus have other implications and flatly contradict the Lord Jesus’ own statements such as “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
If we cannot rely on Jesus to adequately present the nature of the Godhead to us, then what can we know with certainty about God? Also, if Jesus, God manifest, is not our primary interpreter of scripture, then how do we rightly interpret the Bible?
On the positive side, knowing that Jesus is the full revelation of the nature and character of God gives us certainty and consistency. We know that we can know God because Jesus reveals Him fully and His life and words are faithfully recorded in the Gospels, within the context of the fullness of inspired scripture. It gives us a consistent standard against which we can evaluate and better understand all of the Bible as well as life in general.
The clearest biblical statements on the subject matter covered in this article are in Colossians 1:19 and 2:9. They read ‘For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’, and ‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’. Jesus himself said, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:7-9), and, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me” (John 12:44-45). Other key texts that bear on this subject are Hebrews 1:1-3, 1 John 1:13 and John 1:14 and 18. The point of the discussion, analysis and commentary in this article is to make the point that in Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of the Gospels, we have the FULL presentation of God’s nature and character.
Why the distinction is important
Before going any further, I want to stress that the distinction between ‘full’ and ‘fullest’ is important.
- If we concede that Jesus of Nazareth is not the full representation of the Godhead then we, of necessity, have to find ways of reinterpreting key texts such as Colossians 1:19, 2:9, Hebrews 1: 1-3 and so on. In my view, attempts to read these texts as anything other than straightforward statements of the full representational nature of Jesus often end in seriously distorting the scriptures.
- Claims that God displays different character traits in the Old Testament to those manefest in Jesus have other serious implications. Once again, those who hold this view are obliged to reinterpret the clear statement that ‘in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). Attempting to do this usually results in the claim that Paul’s declarations refer to the ascended Christ and not the Christ of the Gospels. However, this flatly contradicts the Lord Jesus’ own statements such as “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
While these are important considerations, the biggest problem inherent in the ‘fullest’ but not ‘full’ idea concerns our ability to know God. If Jesus Christ is not the full presentation of the nature and character of the triune God, then how are we to know and trust him? Are we to select those character traits that fit our concept of who God should be? Are we to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament and disregard what it reveals of divine holiness, justice, and judgment? If we cannot rely on Jesus to adequately present the nature of the godhead to us, then what can we know and what can we trust? If Jesus, God manifest, is not our primary interpreter of scripture, then how do we rightly interpret scripture? I will be touching on these concerns in my next article.
On the positive side, knowing that Jesus is the full revelation of the nature and character of God gives us certainty and consistency. We know that we can know God because Jesus reveals Him fully and His life and words are faithfully recorded in the Gospels, within the context of the fullness of inspired scripture. It also gives us a consistent standard against which we can evaluate and better understand all of the Bible and life in general.
I will try to cover some of these and other aspects of the discussion further on or in my second article, but first I must anchor the matter in the biblical evidence. It is important that this thesis is based on a responsible interpretation of scripture rather than an opinion.
Colossians 1:19 and 2:9
The clearest biblical statements on this issue are in two verses in Colossians. They read ‘For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’ and ‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’.
Colossians 1:19 is part of Pauls’ powerful declaration of the supremacy of Christ, which starts in verse 1 with the words, ‘He is the image of the invisible God’. Further, in verse 22 Paul refers to our reconciliation with God ‘by Christ’s physical body through death’. Then, in chapter 2 verse 9 he uses the words’ in bodily form’. So, the context of the two verses is the physical/bodily Jesus of Nazareth and not some mystical pre-incarnate or post-ascension Jesus.
In Colossians 1:19 three key words are ‘all’, ‘fullness’ and ‘dwell’. There are no particular difficulties in translating the underlying Greek here. ‘Pan’ (all) means ‘whole’ or ‘every’. ‘Pleerooma’ (fullness) means ‘repletion, fills, or full’. Robertson quotes Lightfoot (a well-respected theologian of a previous generation) as commenting that pleerooma is, ‘a recognized technical term in theology, denoting the totality of the Divine powers and attributes’. The third key word in the text (dwell) is ‘katoikeesais’ meaning ‘to house permanently, inhabit, or dwell’.
Colossians 2:9 contains the same three words and adds ‘soomahkoos’, which means ‘corporeal, physical, incarnate, or in bodily form’. Here Robertson asserts that, ‘all the pleerooma of the Godhead, not just certain aspects, dwells in Christ and in physical form’. He adds that Paul ‘asserts plainly the deity and the humanity of Jesus Christ in corporeal form’. (For those interested, these quotes are from Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament).
In a short article of this nature, I can’t go into all the details of the subtleties various commentators have applied to these two texts, but I think I should cite one well-known New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright. He writes, in commenting on Colossians 1:19 that, ‘God in all his fullness was pleased to take up permanent residence (this is the best way of taking the Greek verb) in him. The full divinity of the man Jesus is stated without any implications that there are two Gods. It is the one God, in his fullness, who dwells in him’.
Now, to even better understand Paul’s inspired statements, let me take you to some things Jesus said about himself.
What Jesus said
Jesus was talking to His disciples about the fact that He, in himself, was the only way to God the Father. Then He said, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:7-9).
Earlier in John’s account, he recorded Jesus as saying, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me” (John 12:44-45).
I have bolded the key words in these two texts and I don’t think they need any commentary.
Other key texts
Although there are several other texts that bear on this issue, I will cite just three. Hebrews 1:1-3(a): ‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…’
1 John 1:1-3 ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ’. This passage is an amplification of what John wrote in his Gospel that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).
Another relevant text is John 1:18 ‘No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’.
Conclusion and lead into the next article
The aim of this discussion, analysis and commentary is to make the point that in Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of the Gospels, we have the FULL presentation of God’s nature and character.
I cannot see how any other interpretation can be given to the texts I have referenced, but in the next article, I will explain why I think some scholars of our day do in fact attempt to reinterpret these key texts.
In my next article, I intend dealing with the following topics:
- Jesus in the Old Testament
- Jesus in the book of Revelation
- The rationale for a ‘two-faced’ God
- Red-letter theology
- How I understand a Christocentric interpretation of scripture.
For those of you who have read the entire article, and not just the ‘Concise Overview’, thank you. I hope it has been thought-provoking and helpful to you. I would appreciate your questions or comments, as always, but perhaps these would be more appropriate after you have read the follow-up article.