Stages of Christ

The belief in the divinity of Christ does not imply the Trinity. There are distinctions to be made between what can be called an economic trinity and the doctrine of the Trinity

  • There was a sort of economic trinity arising in the Bible period, but nothing more.
    • Economic means activity, so the threefold wording was first linked to baptism and was salvic
      • (The liturgical terms relate to meaning in the Hebrew Bible like the wisdom of God and so on, so they were dynamic and fully monotheistic.)
There are a number of stages of understanding Jesus from Peter's side to Paul's side:

  • Post Easter - Christ is finally Exalted Messiah
    • (Either this or nothing, in the context of messianic expectation)
  • Christ as God's perfect servant - Peter's Jerusalem Church (Christ is not divine)
  • Christ as sole and universal mediator - Paul and Luke's hagiography
    • (Christocentrism but Christ is not divine - the son will ultimately yield up to the Kingdom and is subordinate because in 1 Corinthians 15: 27-8 Paul contradicts the Nicene Creed).
      • Paul may preach to Gentiles but is still using Jewish messianic reasoning
  • Paul also speaks of Christ active in the Hebrew Bible, so stages within Paul's reasoning:
    • Wisdom is God's heavenly companion
    • God made the world through wisdom
    • Post Easter - Christ is exalted Messiah
    • Christ is God's companion
    • Christ is to God is as wisdom is to God
    • Christ is the wisdom of God
    • God made the world through Christ
Pauline thought contains what is sometimes called an Arian proof text at Philippians 2:6-9:

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.
In John's development there is claim to divinity, but there is also:
  • John 14:28: You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you." If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.
    • This means the Son is subordinate. He is God but of Very God, the image of the Father, the offspring of the Father
      • To do this John has to move away from the earthly Jewish Jesus of the synoptics, and is on the road that eventually becomes Gnostic
Final stage is extra-biblical bringing to the full Greek philosophical concepts:

  • At 325 CE with the Nicene Creed
    • Christ as God the Son
      • (divinity, full and equal)
  • At 451 CE with the Chalcedonian Definition:
    • Christ is fully God and fully human without division
      • (unlike Gnostics who rejected his humanity, and other groups qualified the relationship).

Argument largely drawn from Cupitt, D. (1979), The Debate about Christ, London: SCM Press, and edited for appearance and clarity after posting on


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful


Last updated on May 02, 2006