The Perfection of Christ

hypostatic-union-1

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Abinadi stood arraigned before King Noah and his priests. Abinadi’s preaching against the wickedness of the king and his court had angered the established authority but the king could not simply kill Abinadi and expect the accusations to fade away—he needed to prove that Abinadi had apostatised and committed heresy. The king’s inquisitors set about questioning the prophet and sought to ‘cross him, that thereby they might have wherewith to accuse him’ and when their initial efforts failed, one of the priests attempted to catch him out with a quotation from Isaiah; suggesting that one could identify true prophets because they preached an inevitable, irresistible, and universal salvation.[1] To this accusation, an indignant Abinadi replied: ‘Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things [salvation] mean? I say unto you, wo be unto you for perverting the ways of the Lord! For if ye understand these things [salvation] ye have not taught them. . . what teach ye this people?’[2] To this, the king’s priests replied, ‘We teach the law of Moses’.[3] On the face of it, this exchange is unremarkable: one fractious priest being disciplined by the hierarchy for unorthodoxy calls into question the orthodoxy of the inquisitors; both appealing to the scriptures for confirmation.

The remarkable part of this exchange occurred when, after explaining the expediency of righteousness, Abinadi appealed to the doctrine of the Incarnation, proclaiming, ‘have they not said that God Himself (sic) should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have the not spoken more or less concerning these things? Have they not said that God Himself (sic) should come down among the children of men, and take upon Him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?’.[4] Now Abinadi did not proclaim the Incarnation in order to excuse sin, indeed, the primary contention between Abinadi and the king’s priests was not about permitting sin, it was about how atonement for sin was to be made. The king’s priest taught the people that they could pay for their sins through observing the law—in other words, that so long as they made the requisite offerings for sin, they would be free from the consequences of their sinful behaviours.[5] The false doctrine of the king’s priests did not require true repentance for salvation—no change of heart was required, no striving against sin—merely payment in exchange for indulgent iniquities. Abinadi did not dispute the expediency of obeying the law but pointed out that the law existed for the sake of pointing towards redemption through the Messiah.[6] Perhaps sensing the king’s priests rebuttal about the ability of a mortal messenger to redeem mankind, Abinadi explained why the Messiah was uniquely able to atone for the sins of all. This article will not seek to articulate further on necessity of Christ’s atonement, instead focussing on who Christ is that He should be able to make atonement.

Christ is God Incarnate

Alma the Elder, who presumably made the record of Abinadi’s courtroom ministry, wanted to make sure that he was not open to misinterpretation and repeatedly stated that Abinadi taught that the Father and the Son are One God. Although Alma wrote in another context and era, his teachings veer towards a heresy which would later be named Modalism—the belief that God the Father and God the Son are indistinct from each other except in the way in which they are presented. This heresy was most popularly presented by the 3rd century priest, Sabellius, who argued that the scriptures clearly teach there is only one God, thus, it is impossible that there be more than one God, therefore, rather than admit three coequal and co-eternal persons within the Godhead, Sabellius articulated a theory that God the Father revealed Himself in different faces through his historical dealings with mankind. Through prophecy, Abinadi ensured that he could not be accused of modalism because he clearly distinguished between the Father and the Son, arguing that the Son took on flesh and subjected Himself to the will of the Father. Furthermore, Abinadi made clear that the Son was begotten of the Father ensuring that later critics could not read him in a way that defended the unity of persons in a modal manner.[7] This does not diminish from Abinadi’s understanding of Christ as fully God the Son, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father. The next issue arises, if Christ is God, what of His humanity? How can Christ be man, if He be fully God?

Christ is man

Alma the Elder’s account of the teachings of Abinadi is incomplete—it was not intended to be an exhaustive account of all of Abinadi’s preachings and is consequently not the Book of Abinadi. Thankfully, some of Abinadi’s teachings were also remembered by King Limhi, who, as the son of King Noah would probably also have been a first-hand witness of the courtroom drama. Limhi, speaking to Ammon remembered that Abinadi had articulated that Christ would take on the image of man, ‘and that it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon Him flesh and blood. . .’.[8] Abinadi’s understanding of the Christ to come is particularly expansive and more should be written about the implications of this statement on the Creation and what it means for man to have been made in the image of God; however, for the sake of this article, it is clear that Abinadi intended for us to understand that Christ would be God incarnate as a pre-lapsarian man—man as he would have been before the Fall corrupted his nature. In short, the passage suggests that Christ’s physical body was not imperfect—because it was already capable of immortality and was free from the stains of Adam’s transgression.

Two Natures:

This presents the problem which the early Christians wrestled with: How can Christ be fully God and fully man? The answer was to be found in the word dyophysitism. Dyophysitim is the concept of there existing simultaneously in the Body of Christ two completely unified and distinct natures; the one being divine and the other being mortal. These two natures exist in a hypostasis—that is, they are two natures which share one essence. In 451 AD, the leaders of the Christian Church met in Chalcedon for an Œcumenical Council—what Latter-day Saints might call a General Conference—and, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, produced this definition:

We all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.[9]

 

Abinadi on his own cannot be read conclusively in support of this declaration of dogma; however, if he is read in a way that is consistent with the teachings of modern revelation, then it appears his Christology is consistent with the Chalcedon Definition. Latter-day prophets have taught that Christ was sinless and that, while incarnate, He learned His Divine Mission, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’.[10] Furthermore, they have talked about Christ being made perfect, or complete, at Resurrection with a glorified body.[11] While this may seem at odds with Abinadi’s statement about a perfect God being made incarnate, it allows for some logical syllogisms that demonstrates the hypostases of dyophysite natures in Christ.

 

I.                 God is perfect.

 

I.                 Man and God’s other pre-glorified creations are imperfect

 

I.                 Jesus is the Son of God.

 

II.               The Son is God incarnate. II.               Imperfect man is glorified (made perfect). II.               The Son of God is perfect.

 

III.              Then God the Son is perfect.

 

III.              Jesus was Glorified and was not a creation.

 

III.              Man is imperfect.
  IV.             Then Jesus was an imperfect man. IV.             Then Jesus must be simultaneously and fully comprised of Two Natures, imperfect Man and perfect God.

 

Thus, it appears, that Abinadi, writing approximately 600 years before the Council of Chalcedon and without the benefit of an ancient Greek philosophic education was aware of the dyophysite nature of Christ, as fully man and fully God. Furthermore, by examining Abinadi’s Christology, Latter-day Saints can be more convinced of the Book of Mormon’s consistency with Biblical teachings as another witness of Christ.

 

References:

[1] Mosiah 12:19, 20-24 (Book of Mormon)

[2] Mosiah 12:25-27 (Book of Mormon)

[3] Mosiah 12:28 (Book of Mormon)

[4] Mosiah 13:34-35 (Book of Mormon)

[5] Mosiah 11-12 (Book of Mormon)

[6] Mosiah 13:33 (Book of Mormon)

[7] Mosiah 15: 1-5 (Book of Mormon

[8] Mosiah 7:27 (Book of Mormon)

[9] ‘Chalcedon Definition’, The Œcumenical Documents of the Faith, T. Herbert Bindley (ed.), (London: Methuen and Co, 1899), p. 225.

[10] Doctrine and Covenants: 98:12; ‘What Mormons Believe about Jesus Christ: Learn more about the Son of God and Creator of the World’, LDS.org.uk (2018)

[11] David A Edwards, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and Truths about the Body’, Ensign (April 2017)

Christology–The Study of Christ

Jesus Christ

 

Christology is the study of Jesus Christ and involves both the study of Christ’s nature (person, attributes, characteristics) and the study of Christ’s work (Mortal ministry, Atonement, and His establishment of sacraments and church).

Traditionally, theology can be divided into ten different focusses: Theology Proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Theological Anthropology, Hamartiology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Soteriology, Biblical Theology, and Angelology. As this blog’s purpose is to explore Latter-day Saint theology, posts, where possible, will be sorted into these sub-disciplines.