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Exploring the Christian Way of Life - The Identity of Jesus - Church History (Pre-Reformation) - Introduction and 2 Clement

As we noted at the end of our last paper, we start to see Christology develop in a different direction in the Gospel of John. The gospel is roughly contemporary with Revelation, which still seems to have a clear Messianic Christology. Towards the end of the first century, we are clearly seeing divergent Christologies.[1] There probably was diversity in belief even earlier, but no documentation of it has survived. Certainly in the second century, the diversity of beliefs increased and is better documented. Our goal in this paper is not to track down each variant belief and understand how it came to be. Instead we will focus on key figures and documents in the history of the church. We want to wrestle with the great minds of the church as they wrestled with the identity of Jesus. Specifically, we want to focus on how they developed what we found to be the key New Testament insight, that Jesus is the divine king. This will be our general methodological approach, to hear from our experts. Our path will be chronological, with our early focal points being 2 Clement, the works of Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus. From there we will move into Origen, Nicea, and Augustine. Then we will conclude with the Lombard and Aquinas before engaging reformation and post-reformation theologians (Calvin, Wesley, Schleiermacher, Newman, Barth, and von Balthasar) in our next paper.

The dating of Second Clement is an open question, but our best guess is that it probably dates to somewhere around the early-mid second century.[2] We bring it up not because of its importance to the growth of Christianity, but because it will serve as corroboration for the reading we laid out in our previous two papers. Christology is not something argued for in 2 Clement, rather it is argued from, it is conventional to its auditors,[3] which makes it all the more valuable as a witness to what was likely the dominant Christology of the early church. 2 Clement opens in 1:1 with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God, as judge of the living and the dead.”[4] This is a simple statement of functional equality, where Jesus is pictured as the eschatological judge.[5] The rest of 2 Clement assumes this fact and develops a series of ethical appeals on its basis.[6] Jesus’ status is morally foundational.[7]

Chapters 3-5 expand on this basic point. 3:1 plainly contrasts the Father with the dead gods that pagans sacrifice to. Jesus is then identified in verses 2 and following as God’s agent of salvation. Christians are to confess Jesus by doing what he says.[8] This all sounds very much like a king/subject relationship. This is made clear at the end of chapter 5; what Christ promises is, “rest in the coming kingdom and eternal life!” (5:5c). Again, it is important to note that Jesus’ role as divine king is fundamental for the unknown author of 2 Clement, and the whole thing still sounds very Jewish, or at least anchored to Jewish concepts and understandings of the Messiah and his kingdom. Justin Martyr holds a similar theology, and spells it out in more detail which will be good confirmation, again, of our thesis from the last paper.[9] We will see, though, some ways in which Justin is starting to innovate, and elements of his thought which may have begun the drift away from a Jewish Christology.

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[1] If von Wahlde’s reconstruction of the Gospel of John is correct, we can probably even push it back into the 60s, into the second edition of the Gospel, See von Wahlde 2010 pp. 397-430 for a full discussion of Christology in the Gospel and Epistles of John.
[2] This is the well-reasoned opinion of Tuckett 2012. See his discussion on pp. 62-64. C.f., Holmes 2007 pp. 133-35.
[3] 2 Clement was likely a sermon of some sort. See Holmes 2007 p. 133 and Tuckett 2012 pp. 19-23.
[4] All quotations of 2 Clement will utilize the translation of Holmes 2007.
[5] Tuckett 2012 ad loc.
[6] Ibid.
[7] A point which will be developed fully in a series of papers further down the road.
[8] Ibid. 
[9] In fact, according to Hurtado 2003 p. 647, all proto-orthodox texts from the second century portray Jesus as a subordinate divine figure.

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