The Jewish Jesus
Another perspective on Dyophysitism
A central — perhaps the central — mystery of our Catholic faith concerns Jesus Christ being both fully God as well as fully human; simultaneously the divine Son of God as well as a man born to a Jewish mother through the intercession of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who became man “in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who ‘loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins: the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world,’ and ‘he was revealed to take away sins.’” O’Collins noted that this earliest Christian “struggle” concerning the dual nature of Jesus prefigured the Gospels themselves. Jesus’s humanity was “the human life of the Son of God, or God’s human way of being and acting...Jesus was the beautiful, human face of God.”
Before the now famous Johannine proclamation that “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), Saint Paul was proclaiming the dual humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ to those whom he converted to the faith. For example, in Galatians 4:4-5 Paul wrote that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” In Romans 1:3-4 Paul tells us that Jesus “was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead.” This Jewish Jesus becomes manifest in both the ways he referenced and used Jewish scriptures throughout His public ministry. In both language and imagery Jesus conveyed his Jewishness; in His parables and references to vineyards, harvests, feasts, and a merchant in search of fine pearls.
The place of the Jewish faith within the larger context of the Roman Empire, and Christ’s role in challenging earthly authority as the Son of God, is also a significant if largely overlooked aspect of His humanity. Indeed, it has only been rather recently, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-twentieth century, that the Jewish context of Christ and early Christianity has been afforded the analysis and attention it so richly deserves; including the diversity of Judaism during the life of Jesus and during the Apostolic Age which followed. The reconciliation of the Law to the Messianic mission of Christ was also prominent in the thoughts and writings of Saint Paul in converting souls to Christ in the establishment of the early Church.
Understanding the role of Judaism in the life of Jesus and the foundation Christianity is also to acknowledge that it all took place centrally within the sphere of influence and power politics of the Roman Empire. It was a fact of daily life within the Empire that the world in which Christ preached and Saint Paul converted was a place of suffering, abuse of power, hunger, deprivation, injustice and disease. As Carter notes: “The New Testament texts call followers of Jesus to active discipleship that continues the mission of Jesus to resist imperial abuses, to roll back nonviolently their damaging impact (hunger, disease, ignorance, tyranny, etc.), and to establish just and life-giving ways of being that anticipate the full completion of God’s good and just purposes for God’s creation.” Such principles at the core of the messianic mission of Jesus did not conflict with first century Judaism, they flowed from it.
The Son of Man became the ultimate vessel through which the ancient Law was fulfilled. The Jewish Jesus and the Jewish Saint Paul (Saul) integrated their Jewishness within their missions; one divine and one apostolic. For Saint Paul, as Horrell notes, “key concepts and characters...come from the Jewish scriptures, the Christian Old Testament; we can hardly make sense of Paul’s references to Adam and Abraham, to Moses and the law, nor even of terms like Christ (‘Messiah’), ‘the day of the Lord’, and so on, without knowing something of their use in scripture and Jewish tradition.”
Saint Paul and the other Apostles spread the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ by integrating essential elements of both the Law and Jewish traditions with the earth-changing mission of the Son of God, bringing the good news principally to non-Jews within the Empire. Perhaps Saint Paul integrated the Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ best when he wrote to the Romans: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
Carter, Warren. “Proclaiming (in/against) Empire Then and Now,” Word & World 25/2 (2005), 149-158.
Horrell, David G.. An Introduction to the Study of Paul (T&T Clark Approaches to Biblical Studies). Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.
Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011.
O’Collins, Gerald. Jesus: A Portrait. Darton, Longman & Todd LTD, 2008.