©The Revd Barry Drake M.A.
In September 2000, I wrote the following:
“It is a passionate concern of my own that the Church in all its history seems to have exalted the divinity of Jesus, while making little effort to understand his teaching that ‘we are Gods all of us and sons of the most high’. In quoting the psalmist, Jesus clearly points us towards our divine origin; we are, after all made in God’s own image and likeness. I believe that Jesus was asking us to accept this fact in a very literal manner. In pointing to our divinity as human beings, he fully accepted his own divinity. As Christians or Jews, each of us ought to be able to do exactly as he did. If we are able to recognise our own divinity, we must recognise each and every other human person as divine. In doing that, there can never again be the devaluing of individual humans at any scale – especially devaluing of the scale that we have seen in the Shoah.”
At the very beginning of the Hebrew bible in the creation story is the phrase that God created humankind ‘in his own image and likeness’. This phrase is emphasised and later repeated. It seems to have some considerable importance. It seems to imply that humankind is, in some way, divine. In the Christian scriptures, Jesus makes reference to the divinity of humankind, and seems to have an understanding of this aspect of humankind which is rather more literal than the church has taught. What might we understand from this? And how does the ‘divinity of humankind’ fit alongside the Christian teaching about the divinity of Jesus?
It is my view that Jesus gained an awareness of his own divinity as a sudden revelation or insight, and I would place this insight at the point of his baptism. I believe it was this awareness that led to his subsequent ministry. The reaction of Jesus as recorded in the Christian scriptures suggest that this is the case, and further, that the insight that Jesus gained at this point did not in any way set him apart in his own mind from the rest of humankind. I suggest that in coming to terms with his own divinity, made as he was in God’s image, Jesus became aware of the divinity of the whole of humankind, and of the immense responsibility that this brings with it.
Since this view is based in the bible and its teaching, it will be necessary to look at the different ways in which those passages that imply the divinity of humankind have been interpreted by both Jews and Christians over the years. I intend to compare those passages, and their subsequent interpretations, with mystical insights offered by Jews and Christians in their writings in order to show the importance of the concept of ‘divinity’ to an understanding of our relationship with God. When considering the bible, (both the Tanach and the Christian books) I take the traditional (Catholic) view that the books of the bible are inspired by God, and can be regarded as God’s revelation of Godself and our relationship with Him.
For this reason, I intend to set out my own understanding of biblical interpretation with reference to the current broad range of understandings of how the bible is to be understood and studied. At the present time, views on the status, or authority of the bible vary from the extreme conservative, in which the bible is regarded as the ‘Word of God’ in its entirety, ‘inerrant’ in every aspect, through to the extreme liberal position in which the bible is regarded as a useful collection of writings which owe little or nothing to God’s revelation. My own position here is similar to Catholic doctrine which regards the bible as reliable, trustworthy and inspired by God.
In order to consider fully the rationale behind my interpretation of the bible, I will need to look at the nature of revelation, both in and beyond the scriptural writings. It is my view that the bible is based on God’s revelation of Godself, and that subsequent revelations or mystical experiences ought to illuminate our understanding of the revelations given in the bible. I would go so far as to suggest that revelations offered through World Faiths other than Judaism and Christianity might prove worthy of study, as, if they are given by the same one true God in whom we believe, they ought not to contradict Jewish and Christian insights and revelations. I hold that the bible is ‘revealed’ or inspired by God, but that the writers have included much that reflects their own personality and point of view. Martin Buber speaks of mystical writing as being akin to an organ which in its own way ‘modifies’ or gives voice to the wind which blows it.
During the last few decades, protestant theology and hermeneutics have been influenced most strongly by the work of Bultmann and Barth, who in turn were greatly influenced by the rationalist school, and the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Until very recent times, Evangelical scholars have been in the minority. Poythress points out that:
‘ ….. evangelicals have been less scholarly [than liberals] by any standard. Evangelicals, because of their views on the spiritual and eternal importance of biblical knowledge, have a natural concern to produce suitable popular and semi-popular literature. In addition the triumph of the historical-critical revolution has meant that few evangelicals were allowed to be scholars in the first place.’
He goes on to suggest that this situation has produced something akin to anti-intellectualism in some evangelical circles.
In spite of the above, it is true that there has been considerable negative reaction to theologians of the Bultmannian school from respected scholars from time to time. Of particular note is C S Lewis, in his paper ‘On Fern Seed and Elephants’. I would also offer as an example, the archaeologist and expert on ancient papyri, Sir Frederick Kenyon. Writing in 1948, Kenyon launched an attack on the work of a liberal Christian bishop of that time, Dr. Barnes. Kenyon demonstrated that Barnes had been extremely biased in his use of sources, and had neglected entirely the results of some then recent important archaeological discoveries because they did not suit Barnes’ argument. What concerns me here is that the dating evidence that Kenyon produced for the Christian Scriptures, and which has never since been challenged, is seldom if ever mentioned by scholars even today. Somehow, the rationalist liberal school seem to have led the way for much of the last century, sometimes to the detriment of faith in a living God who acts in the world, and interacts with His creation.
This position is changing. There are now a number of respected evangelical scholars, who are not anti-intellectual and who are able to use the critical tools that we now have without compromising their position on God’s inspiration and action in the world. It is this position with which I would largely align myself. As I see the situation, one extreme of biblical criticism seeks to rule out anything supernatural. This is in direct opposition to the evangelical position which holds that God not only interacted with His people in biblical times, but has done so ever since. And this includes belief in prophecy, the working of miracles and all the other supernatural events that occur in the bible.
In addition, liberal protestant scholarship has placed little credence on the accurate reporting of events during the life of Jesus, and indeed the words of Jesus as recorded in the Christian gospels. Bultmann and Barth had much to say about this aspect. It is interesting to note though, that Bultmann’s original thoughts about ‘demythologisation’ (1941) were so widely misunderstood, that he needed to offer not one but two further essays by way of explanation (1952, 1961).
Along with Kenyon and present day evangelical writers, I hold that the gospels were written temporally close enough to the events they record to allow good accuracy. I hold too that the words that Jesus is recorded as having said were so very important to early Christians that these above all would have been correctly reported, if not verbatim, then accurately reflecting the meaning of what he said. I take this view because in the main, the sayings were handed down in a largely non-literate society, and it has been shown that reporting is far more accurate in this kind of culture than in our own literate culture. It is known that the people whom Jesus had addressed and taught during his lifetime were very probably non-literate for the most part. It has also been shown that in a non-literate society, the spoken word is far better remembered than it is in a literate society such as ours.
In this study, I aim to show that Christianity has removed the concept of ‘divinity of humankind’ from applying to the whole of humankind and has instead divinised the person of Jesus to the point at which he and he alone is the ‘divine person’ made in God’s image. In so doing, I believe that Christianity has not only done itself a disservice, but has failed to respond to the teachings of Jesus on this point. In taking this line of argument, I intend to show that humankind as a whole is ‘divine’ and that Jesus is himself divine in the same sense that humankind is divine but has a different and more significant place as well.
The Christian scriptures show that Jesus after his death reappears and is in some way different. I intend to show that this ‘post crucifixion’ Jesus is seen by those who met with him as more evidently divine than the pre-crucifixion Jesus that some of his disciples had known. In claiming this, I refer to the statement I made above that I understand the words of Jesus to have been accurately reported – however, I would add a strong caveat here. The biblical Christian writers make no distinction between the revealed words of Jesus as they experienced them after the resurrection of Jesus, and the words that he was reported to have said to his disciples before his crucifixion. As I have said, the post-crucifixion Jesus was very different and his revealed words reflect this difference – this heightened divinity – that his followers encountered in him.
I want to suggest that the post-crucifixion Jesus – the ‘risen glorified Christ’ of the Christians is identical to the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel, with whom Jesus is often identified, but that this Son of Man is far more than Jesus alone. I will show evidence from mystics, from the bible and from commentators that from God’s viewpoint, the whole of humankind is this mythical ‘Son of Man’ both in its origin and in its completion. That is to say, every living human being throughout the whole of time is, or can be, incorporated into this ‘Primal Human’, which I believe is, or will be, one with God, and thus fully divine.
The implications for interfaith dialogue are considerable. But these can only come at the expense of a re-thought Christianity, and a re-worked Christology. However, in this postmodern age, there are a number of Christian thinkers who are calling for what they would describe as a lower Christology. As Pittenger puts the question, ‘Is Jesus different in degree or kind?’
I have mentioned above that some of the impetus for this dissertation came from the realisation that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the biggest hurdle imaginable in any interfaith dialogue.
The Christian concept of ‘the Trinity’ has never been an easy one, and has been and is a stumbling block for any interfaith dialogue. In the main, this is because other faiths understand that Christians see Jesus as being interchangeable with God the father. In fact, there is some justification for this view because this is the way in which many Christians view Jesus. In this, I will be looking at what the bible, in particular Paul, has to say about the person of Jesus. When, for example, Paul says: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death ….” (Phillipians 3:9), is he saying the same as John’s: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1). Neither of these statements put Jesus in the place of some kind of superhuman in which some Christians see him. This would in any case go completely against the formal teaching of the church, which has always said clearly that Jesus is to be regarded as ‘True Man’. The question I ask here is not, ‘Is the Trinity a reasonable concept?’ but rather, ‘Where are you and I (and Jesus) within the Trinity, made in God’s image as we all are?”
How are we to understand ‘Divine’ ?
Since the intention of this dissertation is to look at the concept of the divinity of humankind, I will begin by looking at what ‘divine’ and ‘divinity’ might mean. I want to suggest first and foremost that divinity has to do with the attributes of God. These might be some of the attributes of God as we see them in the bible, and in Jewish and Christian tradition: Omnipotence. Creativity. Loving. Keen sense of justice. Peacemaking/peacegiving.
It might seem to be obvious that humankind does not have the first of these attributes. However, what humankind does have is a need for, even a lust for, power. Freudian psychology makes much of this particular human (divine?) attribute. His follower, Jung said:
“Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other”.
I suggest that this aspect of human need is a result of our being made in the image of God – and it is an attribute which is the root cause of our separation from the Godhead. My intention is to look further at this aspect of human divinity in chapter 3 “The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures”.
Humans are creative. All human beings have a creative urge. It is part of our nature, and once again, I see it as a divine attribute.
Love is at the heart of all human relationships. Love is at the heart of the human family. Without love, there would be no future for humankind. And love is perhaps the most important attribute of the God of both Jews and Christians. 1 John 4:15 tells us that ‘God is love’. Love, too is as mentioned above, something which is in tension with the human need for power. It is at the heart of our human existence, and it is right at the centre of the bible’s teaching about God.
Justice and peace are something for which humankind has striven throughout recorded history – sometimes with considerable success. Justice and peace are also at the very heart of the Pentateuch, the prophets, and the Gospels. Perhaps the best example of this is Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
In Matthew 5:9 from the beatitudes, we have “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This seems to sum up not only the attitude of Jesus towards peace, but also the teachings that we find in the Pentateuch.
If one were to take an atheistic view – that God is nothing more than a projection of our human needs, then the divine attributes I have listed above would certainly be at the top of our list of needs, and their opposites would be seen as neuroses – perhaps even psychoses – which psychiatry might see as attributes which the disturbed mind might project onto the devil. As a believer, I would say that overall, there is good evidence here to speak of the ‘divinity’ of humankind simply because of the divine attributes which we possess. And it is evident that the attributes mentioned above can be used by individuals or by groups of individuals either for the good, or the harming of our fellow human beings, simply because each of those attributes has a dark side to it.
The Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures
I have stated above that I regard the Tanach and the Christian scriptures as being foundational in my understanding of both Jewish and Christian belief and that I hold it as being fully authoritative in presenting God’s revelation of Godself. For this reason, I am going to look first and foremost at what the bible says about the divinity of humankind.
“God created humankind in his own image” – Gen 1:27. This phrase implies that there is something special – something divine – about the human race. It occurs only three times in the Tanach as a direct reference to the ‘Image of God’, but the fact that it is repeated and emphasised – especially in Genesis 1:27 – suggests that this concept has great significance. Because of the importance of these passages, I quote them here in full.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen 1:26-27
This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. Gen 5:1-3
For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. Gen 9:5-6
In looking at these passages, one might note that the second clearly says that Adam’s son is also made in the image and likeness of God, and the third passage makes it clear that the whole of humankind, according to the Noahide covenant, remains in God’s image and likeness. This is significant as an argument against the understanding that humankind only existed as God’s image up to the fall.
In addition to the passages above, the Septuagint carries the book of Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach). Ecclesiasticus 17:3 on the creation of humankind says: “He endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image”.
These few references have brought a great amount of comment and speculation from Christian scholars and commentators beginning with the early church fathers and continuing through to later writers. I will look further at these in subsequent chapters. It is worth commenting that surprisingly little writing comes from Jews during the same period. In a later chapter I will offer some thoughts on the lack of Jewish material. Although the above bible passages are the only ones that refer directly to humankind being created in God’s image and likeness, there are passages in the Tanach which directly echo the concept.
Psalm 8 speaks of the dignity of humankind, and says: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour”. Ps 8:4-5  Another Psalm which implies the divinity of humankind is Psalm 82. “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you nevertheless, you shall die like mortals ….” Ps 82:6 
These then are the bible references that seem directly to point towards the divinity of humankind. Taking a broader view, it can be seen that that the entire Tanach supports the view that humankind and life itself, is sacred and is sacrosanct and could thus be said to be divine. Cairns points to the prophets. Their endless call for justice claim the justice of God for the whole of humankind, and not just for Israel. The Septuagint too is full of injunctions to care for our fellow human being. It is this that leads to one of the best known Talmudic comments. I refer to R. Hillel and his statement that the whole of Torah is summed up by the saying: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and never do to anyone else what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. The rest is commentary – now go and learn it.” 
The sacredness of humankind, the dignity of every single human life – I suggest the divinity of every single human being – is right at the centre of the whole of the Tanach. The thinking is this: If humankind is divine, then whatever we do to our fellow person, we are doing that to our God.
There is a further concept in the Tanach which deserves exploration in the connection of the divinity of humankind. This is the idea of the ‘Son of Man’.
The phrase ‘son of man’ as it appears in several places in the Tanach ought simply to mean ‘descendant of Adam’, or perhaps ‘Mortal Man’ as some bible versions have it. This is clearly the usage in, for example Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor the son of man, that he should repent”. It is used too as a form of address by God to the prophet Ezekiel. However, in Daniel, the phrase is used with a very different shade of meaning. Daniel 7:13 has:
“I was watching in the night visions, And with the clouds of the sky there was coming one like a son of man. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honour, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is an eternal authority which will not pass away. His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
Later in this chapter we will see how this phrase is taken and used by Christianity, however it is important first of all to look at the context and at the quotation from Daniel as it was understood before the church came into being.
My understanding is that the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision is, or at least represents, the divinity of humankind as it is pointed to by the creation story. Raymond Brown cites a number of scholars who regard this view of the apocalyptic Son of Man as a later development brought about by the Christian use of the phrase. I find the argument by Borsch, who looks at Gnostic texts alongside the Christian scriptures convincing, as he finds in those texts considerable evidence for Jewish thought before the time of Jesus on the early understanding of the ‘Son of Man’ in the way I have suggested above. Fuller sees the vision of ‘one like a son of man’ as ‘a collective symbol for the elect’ and this seems to me to be the direction to which mystical revelation points. I will come back to this.
Daniel is an apocalyptic book. Apocalyptic is a peculiar genre which is first and foremost of a revelatory nature, and concerns what might be called the ‘eschaton’ – the Kingdom of God which is to come. In short, it is visionary, and it speaks symbolically of a heavenly world rather than the earthly world that we know. It is the stuff of the supernatural, and cannot therefore be explained by mere logic. Jewish thought before the coming of Christianity simply took apocalyptic at face value and understood it more as one might understand poetry than anything else. The language is evocative and speaks straight to the heart. The vision of Daniel is a clear allusion to the creation in which the Son of Man (mortal man, offspring of Adam), is given authority and honour in the end times. It is highly unlikely that anyone would have understood ‘The Son of Man’ as seen by Daniel as an individual. The intention was more probable that humanity as a whole was here taken symbolically and glorified, or restored to the place it had before the fall. It is possible that some Jewish thought associated it with the expected supremacy of Israel, but there is little evidence for that point of view.
The passage from Daniel, with all its mystery and symbolism has had great influence on Christianity as we will see in the following section.
The Christian books
We have seen in the previous section that the concept of humankind ‘made in the Image of God’ is central to the understanding of the Pentateuch. One of the most Jewish of the letters in the Christian books is the letter of James:
“Nobody can tame the tongue — it is a pest that will not keep still, full of deadly poison We use it to bless the Lord and Father, but we also use it to curse people who are made in God’s image …. “ James 3:8-9.
This, it would seem is the same understanding that we discovered in the Hebrew bible; “whatever we do to our fellow person, we are doing that to our God”
The Christian scriptures make a great deal of reference to the phrase ‘Son of Man’ which occurs eighty-three times in the books of the Christian scriptures. Seventy-nine of these occurrences are in the four gospels and all of these are in quoted sayings of Jesus which are understood by Christians to mean that Jesus identified himself with the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision. Before looking further at this usage, I want to discuss the idea that we can see in the books of the Christian Scriptures two distinct and different views of the person of Jesus.
It is not difficult to see in the scriptures the historic Jesus who lived with and taught his followers. In addition, we find a different Jesus. Jesus after his death – the Jesus whom Christians describe as risen, ascended and glorified. This is the Jesus of revelation – the Jesus who revealed himself to Paul, to a number of his other followers and to countless Christians through the ages even up to the present day.
Dunn is quite clear that the early church ”seems to have regarded Jesus’ resurrection as the day of his appointment to divine sonship, as the event by which he became God’s son”.
When Alan Segal tells us that Paul ‘almost explicitly says that he identifies the mystical Kavod, God’s Glory, with Jesus the crucified messiah …’ and in support of this quotes 2 Cor 4:6, it seems that in his view, there is a way of looking at the risen Jesus in an eternal and very Jewish light. It is fitting to remember that in the same collection of essays, Monika Hellwig speaks of the concept of deification or divinisation of the believer which runs through the Eastern Christian tradition. She goes on to say: ‘The Glory, or revelation of God is the human person fully alive’.
Gerald O’Collins is very clear on this post-resurrection understanding of Jesus. For him, it is the glorified risen Jesus and only him that is of importance. He writes:
“Christology properly began with what we can call the ‘post-existent’ Jesus. After his death he was experienced and worshipped by his disciples as risen to new life, exalted in glory, and existing in power and dignity on the divine level.” He goes on to write: “Jesus was ‘adopted’ and became Son of God only as a result of his resurrection. Rather the sense that believers began to experience his powerful, heavenly existence in the aftermath of his resurrection from the dead – as opposed to the way people experienced Jesus in his earthly existence when he was born from the house of King David.”
From the above, I argue that the revealed, post-crucifixion Jesus was a bigger influence on the writers than was the rabbi who lived and taught among the people. That there is a difference seems clear. Paul says that God: “will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body.”  and John tells us that: “what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.” It is not completely clear from the Christian Scriptures as to whether the difference between Jesus and other human beings was one based on his glorification, or whether this difference was there in his lifetime. It was left to the later church to interpret and add to what was written in the scriptures.
If we hold to the assumption that Jesus has been accurately reported, then we can say with some assurance that Jesus did use the title ‘Son of Man’ of himself. The question here is, what did he mean? Christians have understood that he claimed for himself the entirety of the Son of Man from the vision of Daniel. The alternative would be that Jesus was aware of his divinity as a human being – the divinity promised in the creation story: the divinity in which we all share. Mark 8:38 has: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” This particular passage suggests that Jesus is anticipating the coming of Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’ in his judgment of those who reject the words of prophets and good teachers.
This line of thought does not hold true for all the ‘Son of Man’ passages in the gospels though. It is especially the case in John’s gospel. As an example, John 5:25-27 reads: “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live for just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man”. In this, as in many other passages, it might seem that Jesus is claiming that he, as an individual, identifies with, in fact is, the Son of Man from Daniel.
However, the idea that Jesus is making a claim to be the “Son of Man” in its entirety becomes less likely when taken alongside other statements. The passage in John 17:20-23 says:
“I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me. May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so perfected in unity that the world will recognise that it was you who sent me and that you have loved them as you have loved me.”
This suggests that Jesus is aware of a kind of unity to which the whole of humankind is called, and that does not fit well alongside any claim for Jesus and Jesus alone to be ‘The Son of Man’.
Fuller takes the view that as most of the Son of Man sayings are in the third person, they are simply recollections of Jesus’ teaching about the apocalyptic Son of Man which became mixed in with his sayings about himself.
In John’s gospel, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 when he is told: “you, though only a human being, are making yourself God”. Here, Jesus answers, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? Again, this does not fit well alongside a claim that he and he alone is the Son of Man. I suggest that to Jesus, his ‘son of man’ sayings mean that we (together) are the ‘Son of Man’ that Daniel writes of, although his claim was and still is, misunderstood as Jesus ‘making himself God’. The context here is that Jesus refers to God as ‘his father’. McGrath points out that the meaning of ‘Son of God’ in the Tanach was broad. “ … perhaps best translated as ‘belonging to God’. It was applied across a wide spectrum of categories, including the people of Israel in general”.
Fuller quotes H.E. Tödt commenting on one particular ‘Son of Man’ saying (Luke 12:8-9) as follows: “The mystery of this saying lies in the relation which exists between the fellowship of the disciples with Jesus and their participation in the salvation with the son of man.” There is thus, he adds, a “soteriological continuity, though not a christological identity between Jesus and the Son of Man”.
Moses makes close comparison between the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel and the Christian Transfiguration story. The fact that in the Transfiguration story, a kind of preview of the glorified Jesus is seen alongside glorified figures of Moses and Elijah makes any comparison with the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel point towards the composite nature of this ‘Son of Man’ figure.
James Moffatt, writing in 1912 was aware of a difference in the way Jesus is portrayed in what he believed to be the earliest parts of the gospels from what he sees in the later texts. He says that “The most casual reader can hardly miss alterations in one or both of the later synoptic gospels which were plainly due to the growing reverence for Jesus …. He sees this progression reaching its peak in John’s gospel which he views as the latest of the gospels. To me, this indicates the beginnings of a gradually increasing perception of Jesus which places him higher and higher as we move chronologically further away from his own lifetime. Effectively, this growing reverence, this elevated ‘christological thinking’, serves to place Jesus further and further out of reach!
A further problem is that of pre-existence. We shall see later that the thinking of Philo and others pointed to the Son of Man as seen by Daniel as a pre-existent figure being with God before creation. This attribute is given to Jesus in John’s gospel and is also seen in the letter to the Colossians.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together”.
In John’s Gospel, we have:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being”.
I will discuss the concept of ‘The Word’ further on in this chapter.
I conclude here that both of these examples come from personal experiences of the glorified Jesus, rather than from knowledge of him during his lifetime. Those who have met him in this revelatory manner claim to have seen him in his divinity, as ‘One like a Son of Man’, but as one like whom we are destined to become when we enjoy the fullness of our own divinity. In addition, they see him as identical with the ‘Primal Man’ – the Adam from before the fall, who, according to Philo, existed before the creation – an identity which is not solely for Jesus as an individual, but for us as humankind. For this reason, I believe that every one of the above examples from the Christian Scriptures point not to the divinity of Jesus alone, but to the corporate divinity of humankind which is yet to be fully realised. I also conclude that the later writings within the Christian corpus, and the interpretations that the church began to put upon them were influenced by the ever-increasing insistence on the deity of Jesus over and against the divinity of humankind.
At the same time, it is true that the church as a whole has been very insistent that Jesus is to be regarded as ‘true man’. Since apostolic times there has existed a tension between those who would strive to put him ‘up there, out of reach’, so to speak, and those who would want to bring him down to their own level. I will go on to cite mystical and revelatory insights during the time following the bible to show that understanding of the Christian (and Jewish) truths concerning the place of humankind is, as yet incomplete. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12; “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Something of the apostolic attitude may be seen in Paul’s letter to the Philippians in which he tells us that Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped at”. Philippians 2:5 “In the form of God” is, as we have seen in the Hebrew bible an attribute of humankind “made in God’s image and likeness”. To ‘grasp at’ equality with God is something we recognise only too well in the world! Paul is saying specifically that Jesus did not do, or attempt to do any such thing.
John, Paul and Philo
The use of ‘εν αρχη’ as the first two words of John’s gospel suggests that he is writing his gospel in the form of a midrash on Genesis. Borgen points out that Jewish thinkers in the period of the second temple were teaching about something significant prior to the actual creation. He suggests that it is this pre-creation ‘moment’ (one could hardly call it a ‘time’) that John wishes us to consider as ‘The Beginning’. And it is in this ‘Beginning’ that John places his ‘Word’. It is this ‘Word’ that we see in John’s gospel as wholly and entirely identified with the person of Jesus in verse 14 of John’s prologue in which the ‘Word’ becomes human. There seems to be general agreement among commentators that this ‘Word’ – the ‘λογος’
’ – of John’s prologue is based on the Greek concept of the divine spirit that is found in Stoic and Platonic philosophical thought. Philo of Alexandria is perhaps the most likely source for John’s concept of λογος .
There is a big difference between John’s personification and identification of the λογος with Jesus, and Philo’s thought. Philo makes it clear that God’s creative ‘Word’ is there, pre-existent at the very beginning. It is an idea, or a plan that God holds, and right at the centre of this plan is humankind ‘created in God’s own image and likeness’ (Gen. 1:26). And there is no doubt that in Philo’s understanding this means that humankind is Godlike in its divinity. At the same time, Philo is clear that humankind has yet to reach fulfilment. He says:
“And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born word, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word, and man according to God’s image, and he who sees Israel”
It seems likely that John has this in mind when he offers the identification between the λογος of contemporary philosophical thought, and Jesus.
We have seen above that John identifies the λογος so completely with Jesus that at first sight, he seems to leave little room for consideration of the divinity of the rest of humankind. Paul, however seems to have a broader view of what Philo is proposing. As is the case with John, it seems clear that Paul takes the view of the pre-existence of a divine plan before creation begins. Philippians 2:6 makes a similar identification between Jesus, and what John referred to as the λογος. However, he puts the concept somewhat differently elsewhere – in his first letter to the Corinthians, he says: “It is written, moreover, that: ‘The first man Adam became a living being” – here referring to Gen. 2:7, and he goes on to say:
“So the last Adam is a life-giving Spirit. But we should notice that the order is ‘natural’ first and then ‘spiritual’. The first man came out of the earth, a material creature. The second man came from Heaven and was the Lord himself. For the life of this world men are made like the material man; but for the life that is to come they are made like the one from Heaven. So that just as we have been made like the material pattern, so we shall be made like the heavenly pattern”.
Also in Romans 8:18-29 Paul seems to be making a similar statement about the place of humankind from the viewpoint of its divinity.
I want to suggest that there is a special consideration here that one ought to take into account. We can be fairly certain that neither John nor Paul met with Jesus prior to his death. Both of them, however, claim to have met him in some kind of religious experience at a later time. In each case, they believe that they are speaking of a person they feel they have met and known personally, but at the same time a person who, though still human has been in some way changed and perfected in his divinity. Paul goes on to say in verse 51 of the same passage from 1st Corinthians that:
“We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet call. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed”.
Similarly, in verse 18 of 2nd Corinthians, he speaks of all of us being transformed into God’s image. He clearly believes that this pre-existent divinity that Philo calls the logoV is not only a pattern or a plan for all of humankind, but a reality which all can expect to attain at the end of the age. Paul sees Jesus not as unique, but as ‘firstborn’ into the divinity which is an attribute of humankind.
For these reasons, I am convinced that ‘The Word’ (λογος) and the pre-existent ‘Divine Man” from Philo, and the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel are interchangeable.
While not suggesting common authorship of the first letter of John and of John’s gospel, I do suggest that John’s first letter comes out of the Johanine tradition. At the very least this suggests that the early Christian community was beginning to understand the divinity of Jesus alongside the divinity of humankind. In 1 John 3:1, we read: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”. Whatever the later Christian church may have made of Jesus, and however highly it exalted him, there was – and is – an understanding of the divinity of humankind not as being an exclusive attribute of Jesus, but as something to be shared among the whole of humankind. An attribute which is here in and among us, though not fully perfected in us, as yet.
What I am saying here is that there is a vast difference between the Jesus of the synoptic gospels which attempt to tell the handed down stories of the historical Jesus, and Jesus as he is seen through the eyes of Paul and John – and perhaps also the letters of John. This difference is even more evident in the Jesus presented by the writer of the book of Revelation. Bultmann was convinced that many of the sayings of Jesus in the gospels are actually later prophetic writings. He wrote:
“The Church drew no distinction between such utterances by Christian prophets (ascribed to the ascended Christ) and the sayings of Jesus in the tradition for the reason that even the dominical sayings in the tradition were not the pronouncement of past authority, but sayings of the risen Lord, who is always a contemporary for the Church.“.
In this, though, one needs to be aware of the conclusion reached by Bultmann, that from his point of view, it was the ‘Kerygma’ or core of the teachings of the church that mattered, rather than what was said by the man, Jesus, or even if it was said. Nevertheless, revealed prophetic teaching is and always has been as important to the Christian tradition as have been the actual teachings of the human Jesus. Jesus was known to Paul and to many others by revelation. It is very likely that words given prophetically – revealed – to the writers of the books of the Christian Scriptures were included as the words of Jesus. A specific example is that of all the sayings of Jesus in the book of revelation. The nature of some of the sayings in John’s gospel lead me to suspect that John is writing sayings revealed to him rather than reporting handed down words.
To summarise my position here, I am saying that there are two versions of Jesus present in the Christian scriptures and tradition – Jesus the man, Jesus the Jew, a rabbi who worked and taught in first century Israel, and who died there – and Jesus the divine being who has appeared to and who continues to be experienced by Christians ever since the death of Jesus the man. This should not present a problem for the Christian, but needs to be recognised and handled with great sensitivity in dialogue with Judaism and other faiths.
In a later chapter, I want to look further at the notion of truths revealed through religious experience compared with historical ‘facts’. I believe that this is important as part of an understanding of faith in the climate of modernism. The entire bible is full of revealed truths, and whether or not we choose to refer to this collection of revealed truth as ‘myth’ it is central and foundational both to the Christian and the Jewish faith. In this context, it is important to be aware of the meaning of the word myth. When Bultmann was forced to re-visit his work on demythologisation, it was largely because of popular (and scholastic) misunderstanding of the word ‘myth’. Myth is popularly understood to mean ‘untruth’. Bultmann defines his use of the word thus: “Myth is the report of an occurrence or an event in which supernatural, superhuman forces or persons are at work”. In my view, there are limitations in the application of human language to supernatural events. These events ‘stretch’ language beyond its normal bounds and lead to writing which contains ‘word pictures’ to try to convey a writer’s mystical experience which is beyond mere words.
Alongside all of this is consideration of the development of the way in which Jesus is seen in the early years of Christianity. James Moffatt held the view that there was a growing ‘tendency to magnify the person of Jesus Christ’ which reaches its highest level in John’s gospel as I have mentioned above. If this tendency can be seen so clearly in the Christian scriptures, which span relatively few years, how much further might this ‘growing reverence for Jesus as the Christ’ be taken in the years following the writing of those scriptures?
The Early Church Fathers and the Talmudic Rabbis
In the very early days of the church, this new Christian faith was exciting. In part the new Christians wanted to throw off the chains of tradition, which itself caused the problem that we call the ‘Council of Jerusalem’ (Acts 15). The church did, however feel a freedom to experiment, and at the same time, it felt less and less the need to listen to the wisdom of its elder brother. The faith that Jesus and his disciples had held dear began to be seen as dry and useless by Christians. At the same time, Judaism, in the desperate times that followed the destruction of the temple in 70 CE was undergoing a period of renewal and reformation. It too had become exciting!
During the first hundred years or so of the church’s existence, there was considerable dialogue and cross-fertilisation between church and synagogue. There were many who were happy to regard Christianity as a Jewish movement. As attitudes on both sides hardened, dialogue was exchanged for polemic. This is clearly seen in Ignatius of Antioch’s Epistles to the Ephesians to the Magnesians and to the Romans (some time before 107 CE). By this time, a Christian view of Jesus had developed which was totally unacceptable to Jews. To the Ephesians, he writes:
“There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true Life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
He goes on to give Jesus the title Son of Man and Son of God. In the epistle to the Magnesians, he wrote of the pre-existence of Jesus: “who was with the Father before the worlds and appeared at the end of time”. In the epistle to the Romans, he takes the exaltation of Jesus a stage further, and refers to “Jesus Christ, our God”.
Just a few years on, perhaps the middle of the second century, we find a continuation – we might say a progression – in the continued deification of Jesus. Clement of Alexandria, for example, takes a very high view of the divinity of Jesus. The Shepherd of Hermas (139 to 155 CE), a near contender for Christian scriptural canonicity, speaks of Jesus as “The Holy pre-existent spirit which created the whole creation, God made to dwell in flesh that He desired”. The Shepherd also identifies the Son of God with the Holy Spirit. It continues with: “The Son of God is older that all His creation, so that he became the Father’s advisor in His creation.”
By the time of Justin martyr (100-165 CE) the Christian attitude was becoming plain. It was beyond doubt antisemitic. A hundred years later, Cyprian’s treatise ‘Against the Jews’ showed a very well developed anti-Jewish theology. Central to the deepening division between Christian and Jew was the vexed question of the nature of Jesus. Was he human or divine? And if he were divine, what form did his divinity take? Cyprian himself actually refers to ‘Christ our God’ at one point. Parallel to this question was the Christian concept of the pre-existence of Jesus springing from the identification of Jesus with the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’ which we looked at earlier.
The question of the nature of Jesus caused a great deal of argument among Christians as well as making any dialogue between Christian and Jew well nigh impossible. The basis of the argument came out of scripture – both Christian and Hebrew, but scripture is subject to interpretation. There was thus a broad span of opinion. The leaders of the church took it upon themselves to resolve the differences and impose upon the church a complete answer. It seems likely when one looks at Cyprian that the church was teaching that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine from some time during the third century. The point here is that if Jesus were fully divine and there is only one God, then Jesus must also be God! This, of course avoids completely the question of the divinity of humankind. Because of this, I suggest that it was at quite an early point in Christian history that Jesus had become so high exalted above the rest of humankind that the church began to lose sight of the place of humankind in God’s plan.
The nature of Jesus was formulated and applied in a succession of credal statements. Athanasius (c. 296 – 373 CE) was responsible for much of the development of Christian thought on the nature of Jesus. The creed of the first council of Nicaea was set down in 325 CE . The work of Athenasius was completed by the work of the Cappadocian fathers. Up to the time of Athanasius, there had been two dissimilar views expressed by different people at different times. One view, which had been around since the first century, denied the divinity of Jesus, while the other saw him as God masquerading as a man – thus denying his humanity. At the time of Athenasius, the followers of Arius saw Jesus as something neither human nor divine – certainly not in any way the same as God. The creeds formulated in the fourth and early fifth centuries offered a Christology which is still held by most of the church today – and this says nothing about the divinity of humankind nor where humankind stands in relation to God and to Jesus.
This is not to say that the early church fathers said nothing of the ‘Image of God’ in humankind. Irenaeus (c. 130 – 200) declared that God had created humankind in his image, after his likeness – but that this ‘image’ had in some way been lost or damaged in the ‘Fall’. We have already seen that Genesis 9:5-6 suggests that this is not the case. Nonetheless, the view of Irenaeus was popularly held, and has continued to be held by the Christian church for the most part up to the present time. The present day conservative scholar Hoekma takes this same rigid view.
Professor Hopkins examines the various non-canonical writings of the early church – especially the so-called Gnostic texts. He sees these to be meeting a need for intermediaries less exalted than Jesus. In his examination of the Acts of Thomas, he sees Thomas, the twin brother of Jesus as such an intermediary. Hopkins is clear that the Jesus of history has, by the fourth century become exalted out of reach of ‘mere humanity’.
Augustine (354 – 430 CE) was one of the greatest of the early Christian theologians. His extensive work has had a profound influence on western Christianity right up to the modern era. Augustine was strongly influenced by a number of concepts out of Greek philosophy. One of these was the neo-Platonic idea that humankind is trapped in a kind of bondage to the material world, and the human soul can and should rise above the degradation which matter was seen to be. It is not surprising then, the Augustine writes of the ‘Image of God’ as being applied to the human soul only and not to the entire human being. Augustine writes extensively about the ‘Image of God’, both in his ‘City of God’ and in his ‘ of theTrinity’. He sees in the ‘Image’ a kind of reflection of the Trinity – and in particular, refers to God ‘breathing’ the Holy Spirit into Adam. This ‘breathing’ of God’s Spirit into humankind, Augustine sees as his furnishing humankind with its soul, which he sees as the only divine attribute of humanity. The Holy Spirit is, to Augustine, the Spirit of Jesus as much as it is the Spirit of God, and it is on this reasoning that he sees humankind as a reflection not of God but of the Trinity. Jesus, for Augustine is completely identified with God.
It seems fairly clear from the above, that a process which began within a few years after the death of Jesus resulted firstly in the teaching that Jesus was God, and secondly in the identification with Jesus as the sole contender for the divinity of humankind. Further than this: the whole concept of human divinity – of humankind created in the image of God – became overshadowed by Christian obsession with ‘The Fall’ which somehow destroyed the divine image!
During this formative period in Christian history, the Jewish Rabbis – the Talmudic Rabbis – were re-evaluating, one might almost say re-inventing, Judaism. What did it mean to be a Jew in exile from the land of Israel, with no Temple in existence? Christianity was growing rapidly – both in numbers and in political power. The Rabbis were very observant and well informed as to its teachings. The church was in the process of re-interpreting the scripture of the Septuagint in its own terms. Many passages of scripture came to have a very different meaning to Christians from the understanding of traditional Jewish interpretation. This is a process which began in the Christian scriptures themselves, and continued through the times of the Church Fathers and beyond. Of particular relevance to this paper, we can see that every piece of scripture telling of the divinity of humankind, and of the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’ was applied by Christians not to humankind as a whole, but to Jesus and to him alone.
I suspect that it is for this reason that the Talmud has comparatively little to say about the whole question of humankind made in the image of God. In Talmudic thought, the emphasis seems to be on the great value to be ascribed to each and every human life because humankind is made in the image of God. Cohen says:
“That the human being was created in the image of God lies at the root of the Rabbinic teaching concerning man. In that respect he is pre-eminent above all other creatures and represents the culminating point in the work of Creation. ‘Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God; but it was by a special love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of God; as it is said, “For in the image of God made He man” (Gen. ix. 6)’ (Aboth iii. 18).
This fact gives the human being his supreme importance in the economy of the Universe. ‘One man is equal to the whole of Creation’ (ARN xxxi). ‘Man was first created a single individual to teach the lesson that whoever destroys one life,  Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had destroyed a whole world; and whoever saves one life, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had saved a whole world’ (Sanh. iv. 5).
Moreover, since men are formed in the divine semblance, they must keep that knowledge always in mind in their relationship with one another. An affront to man is ipso facto an affront to God. R. Akiba declared the text, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Lev. xix. 18), to be an important basic principle of the Torah, and deduced from it the doctrine: ‘You should not say that inasmuch as I am despised let my fellow-man be despised with me: inasmuch as I am cursed, let my fellow-man be cursed with me. L Tanchuma said, If you act in this manner, know who it is you despise, for “in the image of God made He man”’ (Gen. R. xxiv)”
In addition, Urbach quotes Hillel as saying that the human race – in its entirety – is ‘The Image of God in the world’. He refers here to the whole of humankind together, which is very reminiscent of Philo’s concept of the logoV. Urbach makes it clear that this is an idea which was held by the later sages. It leads to the understanding that that killing destroys or somehow diminishes God. It leads too to the view that failure of humankind to procreate is also an offence!
In summary, then, during this formative period, Christianity placed so much emphasis on the divinity of Jesus, that it began to lose sight of the divinity of humankind – and therefore of the innate value – the sacrosanct nature – of every single human life! Judaism has never lost sight of this most important principle.
Growing tensions between the mystical and the doctrinal
During the middle ages, Christianity became more and more concerned with temporal power, perhaps more so than with its message. By the beginning of the middle ages, usually reckoned from the fifth century, Christianity had firmly established it’s key doctrines, in particular the doctrine of the Trinity, and was largely unanimous in stating precisely what one could and could not believe. By this time, Christianity held a very high Christology – one which put Jesus well out of reach – and although the official teaching was that Jesus is fully human, his divinity made him co-equal and co-eternal with God – he had become divinised to the point at which he was superhuman. From the church’s point of view, it was something to be encouraged. If Jesus were completely out of reach, it would need some kind of mediator to allow the ordinary Christian to relate to him. The church through its hierarchical priesthood took on this function. Attempts were made to make Jesus more human. These were stamped out as being heretical. An early example is the Acacian schism which took place between 484 and 519 CE.
It was during the medieval period that one of the greatest Christian thinkers, Thomas Aquinas, took his place among the church fathers. In his massive Summa Theologiae he attempted to give the church a complete systematic theology.
His view of the image of God in man is that this is ‘imperfect’, and that Jesus alone bears perfectly and completely the Image of God. Something of his thinking is seen in the following extract from the Summa.
“Reply to Objection 2. The First-Born of creatures is the perfect Image of God, reflecting perfectly that of which He is the Image, and so He is said to be the ‘Image,’ and never ‘to the image.’ But man is said to be both ‘image’ by reason of the likeness; and ‘to the image’ by reason of the imperfect likeness. And since the perfect likeness to God cannot be except in an identical nature, the Image of God exists in His first-born Son; as the image of the king is in his son, who is of the same nature as himself: whereas it exists in man as in an alien nature, as the image of the king is in a silver coin, as Augustine says explains in De decem Chordis (Serm. ix, al, xcvi, De Tempore).” Summa – Part 1:93
Aquinas apart, there is little new thought relating to the divinity of humankind during the whole of the period between Augustine and the reformation, which brings in the beginnings of the modern era.
There were, however a number of significant writings from Christian mystics. One in particular, Mother Julian of Norwich, offers us a striking picture of humankind. In chapter 51 of her revelations of divine love, she offers a vision of a Lord, and a servant. The Lord asks the servant to go on an errand for him, and the servant eagerly runs to do the Lord’s will, but falls into a ditch and can no longer move. Mother Julian sees this as ‘all of humankind’ – in her explanation of the vision, she says:
“The Lord that sat stately in rest and in peace, I understood that He is God. The Servant that stood afore the Lord, I understood that it was shewed for Adam: that is to say, one man was shewed, that time, and his falling, to make it thereby understood how God beholdeth All-Man and his falling. For in the sight of God all man is one man, and one man is all man.”
There is great similarity between this mystical picture, and the picture of the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel, restored to his former glory.
She goes on to say later in the same chapter:“When Adam fell, God’s Son fell: because of the rightful oneing which had been made in heaven, God’s Son might not [be disparted] from Adam. (For by Adam I understand All-Man.)”
Mother Julian, it seems sees all of humankind from God’s viewpoint, not as individuals, but as a composite ‘Son of Man’, who waits to be restored (healed) in God’s own good time.
It seems at this point in time, that Christian theologians are producing an increasingly higher Christology in which humankind is lowly and does not share in the divinity which they ascribe to Jesus, while mystics – Mother Julian at least – are seeing a different picture of the divinity of humankind.
While the church was theologising and increasing in political power and wealth, in the Jewish community during the middle ages, there was much scholarship and learned writing which was to become foundational to modern-day Judaism. The medieval period saw a great flowering of Torah study, and rabbinical wisdom. Among the many great names from this era are Rashi, (R. Shlomo ben Isaac 1040 – 1105), The Rambam (R. Moshe ben Maimon – better known as Maimomedes 1135 – 1204), and the Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nachman 1194 – 1270). The difference between Christian Theology and the Jewish wisdom of this period could not be greater. The Rabbis, far from producing theological doctrines were looking at the teaching of the Torah and of the earlier Rabbis to build practical interpretations and guides for the person who wishes to do God’s will.
Rashi is quoted as saying “Man came forth below just as God had depicted him in his own mind”. This seems to be in agreement with the pre-existent ‘Adam Kadmon’ of the Kabbalists (see Scholem below), or the logoV which we have seen in chapter 3 above in the section on John, Paul and Philo.
In his ‘Guide for the perplexed’, Maimonides does talk at length about the image of God in humankind. This he sees as relating to the human intellect alone. Maimonides seems here only to be giving some kind of guidance on the nature of the ‘image’ and ‘likeness’. He explains the meaning of the Hebrew words, and makes comments on the choice of these particular words. There is no suggestion that he wishes to lessen the place of humankind, or its importance in creation. This seems to be a Christian trait. For Maimonides, humankind is created in God’s image, and is thus precious and every human person must be treated with the respect we give to God.
As in the Christian tradition, there is a great deal of work during this period from the Jewish mystical tradition – the Kabbalists. Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572) is of particular note in the context of the divinity of humankind. He offers us the concept known as Tsimtsum, which means withdrawal or contraction. God made an empty space – God ‘withdrew’ so that there was a space, as it were, for creation to be placed in. This is coupled with the idea that we are then left with the task of Tikkun Olam – the repair, or the ‘making whole’ of the world. When God withdrew, he left behind ‘divine sparks’, and it is these that are found in the whole of creation. When all of these are brought together by us from within us, then Tikkun Olam has been completed – creation is complete. Gershon Scholem, a present day authority on Kaballah and the Kaballists, has the following:
“The intrinsic extramundane process of Tikkun [is] symbolically described as ‘the birth of God’s personality’ ….. The historical process and its innermost soul, the religious act of the Jew, prepare the way for the final restitution of all the scattered and exiled lights and sparks”
Scholem goes on to say that this process of Tikkun is the restoration of the Divine Light which flowed into the ‘Divine Adam’. In his later work ‘Kabbalah’, Scholem enlarges on this idea. After Tsimtsum, there exists ‘Adam Kadmon’, or primordial man. This is the residue of ‘Ein Sof’, the infinite.
This process of ‘Tikkun’ is remarkably similar to the concept that Christian mystics call ‘mystical union’ – and the ‘Adam Kadmon’ is much the same as the ‘Adam’ which Mother Julian made reference to (above). A similar concept to mystical union is to be found in many world faiths. For this reason, I take Athenasius’ saying that: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.” in a somewhat broader sense than that of incarnation in Jesus. Since I have shown that the ‘son of God’ and the ‘Adam Kadmon’ and ‘the Word’ are one and the same, the saying of Athenasius describes exactly how mystics from more than one World Faith have experienced incarnation as the creative process which is even now taking place.
Growing tensions between the rationalist and the experiential
The beginning of the eighteenth century saw the rise – or should I say ‘elevation’ of reason, around the time of the enlightenment. This led to some large changes in the way theology was done, and brought about different emphases within theology. If anything did not stand up to ‘reason’ and scientific method it began ultimately to present a problem. For Christianity, beginning perhaps with John Locke in 1695, Christianity came into painful contact – one might say conflict – with the ‘modern’ world. John Locke’s work ‘The reasonableness of Christianity’ could almost be said to represent the beginning of the end for the church. To satisfy the thinker of those days, one had to ‘prove’ scientifically all that one believed, and generally speaking anything we might regard as ‘supernatural’ could not be treated in this way. The supernatural was out, and the rational was all that could be relied upon. This concept was famously taken up later by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.
A major effect of this kind of thinking is that it sidelines the Transcendent God, and emphasizes God Immanent, and whilst this might be seen as making us look once more at the divinity of humankind, in fact, without the Transcendent aspect, God Immanent is reduced simply to the better side of human nature, with no supernatural power or glory. It is a very small step from that position to atheism.
The problem here is that God is not ‘Irrational’, but neither is God ‘Rational’. I would want to use words like ‘Supra-Rational, or maybe ‘Trans-Rational’. God – if there is a God – is simply above and beyond the limitations of human reason.
In short, the result of modern thinking, and thus, modern theology was to try to explain away anything that goes beyond our limited reason. Miracles had to go, and so ultimately did revelation. This has been of great concern to some commentators and theologians. Moffatt, in “An approach to the New Testament” sees a grave danger in taking the historical critical method of exegesis to its limit. He shows that it simply doesn’t have the mechanism for dealing with the supernatural and would therefore seek to rule it out altogether.. I cite especially C S Lewis, whom I have mentioned in the introduction. In ‘Fern seed and elephants’, speaking of the liberal theologians of his time he says: ‘ …. I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous did not occur …. ‘ (p113). He goes on to link this with complete non-acceptance of revealed truth and prophecy. He places this as the end result of thinking by enlightenment philosophers.. Whilst there have been many strands of thinking which differ right through the modern period, the effect that this rejection of God’s intervention in any form has had on Christianity seems little to have been influenced by those strands. If it were not for the inexplicable revival movements that broke out from time to time throughout this period, I doubt there would be any trace of Christianity left today.
Here, I see the big problem as being this: the bible full of ‘revealed truth’ – truth revealed by God to human persons. The bible contains revelations of God, by God through mystics down through the ages. The question here has to be: can a theologian who is not a mystic as well as a thinker actually ‘do’ theology? The Eastern Orthodox churches would probably say no to this. Gerald O’Collins writes:
“Theologians should have deeply experienced Christ in faith and been led by his Spirit before attempting a Christology. ……. In Christology holiness is a decisive factor that deep ‘knowing’ or experience of Jesus which St. Paul insisted on (Phil 3:8,10)”.
Among Jews, a process which was not dissimilar was taking place. The enlightenment in Jewish terms is known as Haskalah. The key figure in Haskalah was Moses Mendelssohn (1729 – 1786). Unlike Christian thinkers, Mendelssohn was not prepared to have the place of God, or of divine intervention, undermined. Mendelssohn conceived of God as a perfect Being and had faith in God’s wisdom, righteousness, mercy and goodness. He argued that, “the world results from a creative act through which the divine will seeks to realize the highest good.” He accepted the existence of miracles and revelation as long as belief in God did not depend on them. He also believed that revelation could not contradict reason. Like the deists, he claimed that reason could discover the reality of God, divine providence and immortality of the soul.” Mendelssohn took the view that for humankind, being made in the image of God meant that we are ‘faced with the choice between good and evil’.
It was Haskalah which let ultimately to the Liberal movement in Judaism. But once again, liberal Judaism was and is very careful not to undermine God, or the principle of divine revelation. Claude Montefiore, writing in 1912 makes this principle very clear. He is anxious that modern scholarship – especially bible criticism in its various forms should be taken on board by Jews just as it had been by Christians – but that is as far as he will go. Among Jews, then, we do not meet with the serious problem that modernism brought to Christians. This entry under ‘Man, the nature of’ from the 1978 printing of the Encyclopaedia Judaica sums up the modern view of the Image of God: “God is served in the righteousness of human relationships – in love between man and man, which reflects God’s image – as well as in divine worship. When the “Image” is wronged, religious service becomes an abomination”.
Gillian Rose, in “Judaism and Modernity” states firmly that rationalism has had comparatively little effect on Judaism quite unlike the impact it had on Christianity. Samuel Sandmel enlarges on this thinking when he writes:
“You Christians have had to handle the problem of how to maintain your traditional supernatural beliefs in the light of the emergence of an age which has so largely repudiated supernaturalism”.
He goes on to say that this is simply not a problem for the Jew.
“We, on the other hand, have had very little difficulty in such matters (for even the traditional among us have not been bound to the literal wording of the scriptures as most of you protestants have been).”
I have shown above that the Christian attitude towards revelation that follows the enlightenment as being a big problem – and I have also shown that this is less true of Judaism, although there is more than one progressive strand within Judaism, overall the movement seems far less extreme than within Christianity. Let us digress for a moment and look at the nature of revelation and revealed truth.
Religious experience and revelation
I want to begin this section with an illustration which is not part of either Christian or Jewish tradition. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the first of the Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak, went missing for three days. When he came back, his life had been changed by what had happened to him, and as a result, he went on to found the Sikh religion. He spoke of his experience as being a meeting with God. It is clear that it was a profound religious experience.
I offer this example because it took place in comparatively recent times, and is well documented. I offer it because in many ways it shows similarity to ‘experiences’ of God that are described in the tanach. The experience of Jacob in Genesis 22:32-30 is one of many such meetings with God – or with His angel. It is notable here that the person with whom Jacob wrestles is first of all described as a man, and then Jacob says that he has seen ‘a divine being’ in the JPS version or ‘God’ in most other translations. Here, it is the human form which the object of the encounter takes that is of interest: a divine being – or the Divine Being in human form. In a more controversial thought, both the encounter of Guru Nanak either with God or with a divine being, and the encounter of Jacob with such a being, bear some similarity with the many post-crucifixion encounters with Jesus. In every case, these encounters have been life changing for the recipient of the experience. I would want further to illustrate this kind of ‘encounter’ by looking at Genesis 18:16ff. In this passage, God says ‘I must go down and see …. ‘. God’s representatives – two men – (or are they angels?) – ‘go down to see’. In this case, it is God’s representatives – his sons – who ‘are’ God as far as the people of Sodom are concerned.
McGrath sees a considerable tension between those who reject the ‘experimental’ approach towards God and theology as ‘mere feelings’ and those who build their theological thinking on religious experience, both their own and that of others.
In 1941. Rudolf Bultmann published an essay ‘New Testament and Mythology’ which was to have a profound effect upon modern theology and theologians. Bultmann himself said that he was not really expounding any new thoughts: ‘everything that has been said up to this point, or something like it, could have been said thirty or forty years ago ….’ There had been a move since the beginning of the enlightenment to question the signs and symbols of religion and to bring in a ‘scientific’ understanding of all of these. Bultmann is aware that an understanding of the bible is needed which makes sense to a ‘modern’ audience – but at the same time he sees the need to dialogue with truths about the supernatural which have their basis in religious experience. If we were to disregard every supernatural event in the bible, we would lose entirely the core truths of Jewish and Christian faith. As Bultmann sees it: ‘demythologising undertaken by the critical theology of the nineteenth century was carried out in an inappropriate way – namely in such a way that with the elimination of the mythology, the kerygma itself was also eliminated.’ There is a profound problem here which Bultmann was grappling with. At the very centre of this problem is the divinity of humankind. He explores a tension between human beings as ‘Cosmic Beings’ and the human ability for self-determination and thus failure.
In Bultmann’s own view, he is attempting to re-interpret the spiritual truths of the bible into a modern age. This is, or ought to be, an ongoing and continuous process. It is, after all no more nor less that we have already seen Philo, John and Paul doing at the very beginning of the Common Era. It is the same kind of re-interpretation that the sages needed to carry out in order to give us post-temple Judaism. But it is what resulted from Bultmann’s writing that caused what is in my view a serious problem. In the first place, the word ‘myth’ had altered its meaning from the original. The word ‘myth’, far from having the meaning which Bultmann has to spell out in a later essay, “…. is the report of an occurrence or an event in which supernatural, superhuman forces or persons are at work’, but ‘myth’ had in common usage come to mean ‘untruth’. It was not long before Bultmann’s essay was understood as a kind of permission to understand every embarrassing supernatural event or occurrence in the bible to be an untruth. I use the word ‘embarrassing’ because in the first half of the twentieth century science – and especially ‘scientific humanism’ – was levelling harsh criticism towards theistic religion as being nothing more than outdated, outmoded superstition.
Ultimately, disregarding and discounting the supernatural must lead to the denial of God. Bultmann was aware of this, and needed to re-visit the subject of demythologisation. In his essay ‘On the problem of demythologising’ – 1952 – in which the above definition of myth appears, Bultmann is eager to point out that although the world of science is ‘closed against the intervention of non-worldly powers’, science itself is ‘open’ in the sense that it does not have all the answers. He re-iterates his earlier point – that his intention in demythologising is to understand and interpret the truth into his world – to ‘bring out the real intention of the myth’. John Robinson admits to being deeply influenced by Bultmann when he wrote ‘Honest to God’ in 1963 for a popular readership. Perhaps Robinson was misunderstood – but from that time on, a gap began to appear between modern ‘liberal’ Christians, and ‘conservative’ Christians. Liberalism reached its zenith in the ‘Sea of Faith’ movement, and conservatism reached its zenith in ‘Conservative Evangelicalism’ of an extreme degree. At the one extreme lies a ‘faith’ which denies the existence of God and becomes nothing more than a rather pale set of moralistic rules, and at the other extreme lies a fundamentalist-literalist view of the bible which defies – even contradicts – intelligent thought.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives careful consideration to this process in his letter of May 5th 1944 in ‘Letters and Papers from Prison’. Speaking of the ‘religionless Christianity’ earlier proposed by Karl Barth, he states that Bultmann has not gone nearly far enough in his process of demythologising. ‘You cannot, as Bultmann imagines, separate God and miracles …..’. Bonhoeffer is a prophetic voice. He is a contemplative and he is a mystic. His personal theology relies on the reality of religious experience – his own and that of many others. For this reason, Bonhoeffer is saying categorically that you can’t keep God and throw out the rest of the supernatural. The true liberal will inevitably need ultimately to throw out God as well as all the rest!
Where is this leading? What we are seeing here is a process – a process of understanding – a process of re-interpretation and learning which we call Theology. As we have seen, this is a process that began ‘in the beginning’ – that is to say with the divine revelation which was the start and centre of every theistic faith. It is a process of interpreting into every age the timeless truths to which those religious experences point us – and essential to those truths is the concept of the place of humankind in relationship to its God – a God who is sufficiently real and alive that He is perceived and encountered by people of many faiths. Jews and Christians alike have scripture which implies that humankind is divine, made in the image and likeness of its God. Christians have a scripture – a serious of scriptures even – which imply that in the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus, we have seen and met with humankind in all its perfected glory. In this section, we have seen that we can go only two ways with our argument. We can choose to believe that there is nothing supernatural at all – no God, and presumably therefore no after-life – or we can attempt to follow the guidance that scripture seems to be giving us and continue on a spiritual path seeking our own divinity for ourselves through our religious teachings and practices, and through further divine revelation. There seem to be no other options for the progress of theology into the future.
As we move from the ‘modern’ to the ‘Post Modern’ era, we no longer need be troubled by such thoughts as:
‘we cannot use electric lights and radios, and in the event of illness avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means, and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the new testament‘.
Certainly the need is, as always to re-interpret, but alongside that consideration, perhaps even above that consideration, is the need to re-mythologise – to learn once more to own, and to live our myth. In the present day mindset, this is becoming once more a possibility. Diogenes Allen writes a great deal in argument against the modernist and rationalist devaluation of revelation, and concludes that it is going to be very profitable for Christians to take note and compare the revelations received not only by Christians, but also by other World Faiths. This, Allen feels, is something that we may do with complete integrity.
I end this section with a quotation from the sermon given by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the occasion of his enthronement:
“Once we recognise God’s great secret, that we are all made to be God’s sons and daughters, we can’t avoid the call to see one another differently. No-one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We cannot assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us; those who so often don’t count in the world’s terms (the old, the unborn, the disabled) ”.
This gives me hope. If a church leader is willing to admit publicly to the divinity of humankind, there is a call once again to Christianity to teach the love for justice and peace that is the very core of the Bible.
In the present day, theologians are beginning to revisit and re-examine the Christian idea of revelation and the ‘Trinity’ in a way that takes into account insights given to other World faiths than Christianity.
The deification of Jesus – a high Christology leading to a diminished humankind
Today, we enjoy a very different climate in theology and faith issues. It is no longer fashionable to try to force theologians into a rationalist position. This means that we are free once more to take revelation seriously and accept it as a basis not only for Jewish and Christian belief, but also as some kind of basis for all the world-faiths that we encounter. In addition, the very frequent encounters between many world faiths that we see today bring a need for the development of interfaith dialogue, and this leads to considerable theological reflection. We have seen in earlier sections how the nature of Jesus moved from being human to a general acceptance that Jesus was God. This ran counter to the teachings of the church, which tried to insist that although divine, Jesus was and is fully human in every way. Today’s theologians are working hard on this aspect of Christian teaching. They see the high Christology that has developed over the centuries as a problem – especially in interfaith dialogue.
James Parkes deplores what he calls ‘the extreme christocentricity of the church’ in his ‘Prelude to Dialogue’. He says “It is surely time that the church faced the fact that a christocentric gospel has not only led them into deplorable beliefs and attitudes, but has failed of itself to meet the whole of human need”. In his ‘Foundations’ he reminds us that “For him [Paul] Jesus was never the equal of God; whatever of divinity has to be ascribed to him has to be so ascribed because God had willed and planned it thus”, and he points out that “Paul was not a Trinitarian ….. ”
John Hick, from his pluralist viewpoint expresses deep concern about the deification of Jesus. If what he calls ‘the Christian Myth’ is taken to its extreme, then Christianity and only Christianity would be the faith of God. It is that kind of thinking, he points out, that led to untold abominations committed by Christians in the name of their religion. Those abominations include, of course, the Shoah.
Norman Pittenger speaks of the modern high Christology in these terms:
“The first disciples and the early Christian Church would not have put their experience of companionship with the historic Jesus and the risen Lord in such terms [such as were used by Cardinal Newman] ..…… Jesus did not think of himself as God; nor did those who were his companions in his earthly ministry entertain any such ideas about the one with whom they associated themselves in response to his call to discipleship”.
Pittenger is concerned that the divinity of humankind is devalued by an over exalted Christology. He asks the question ‘Is Jesus different in degree or kind?’ Was Jesus
“the one in whom God actualised in a living human personality the potential God-man relationship which is the divinely intended truth about every man”
I see Pittenger’s last suggestion as being true of the ‘Son of Man’ which is for me, the same as Mother Julian’s ‘Adam’ and Luria’s ‘Adam Kadmon’
Hans Küng is deeply concerned about the way Christology has developed. He speaks strongly against the tendency to make God and Jesus equal. Jesus is ‘not simply God’ he declares, and he tells us that it is necessary to ‘defend the humanity of Jesus’. He also affirms that the gospels were written in the light of the exalted Jesus.
I want to look a little closer at this aspect by taking something with a mystical flavour to it. In a poem called ‘Well?’, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy – “Woodbine Willy” of First World War fame – wrote the following poem about judgement day. It is the tale of a young soldier’s dream. He sees the faces of all the people he has wronged during his life in the face of a man whom he assumes is Jesus.
‘Twere all men’s face yet no man’s face,
And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech,
“Ye did ‘em all to Me ……
For all their souls were Mine.”
All eyes was in ‘Is eyes — All eyes;
My wife’s and a million more;
And once I thought as those two eyes
Were the eyes of the London whore.
It seems to me that Kennedy is offering us something from his own religious experience here. And he is agreeing with my personal view of what the ‘Son of Man’ is – how the ‘Son of Man’ might be regarded – perhaps envisioned would be better – because we are looking at the language of revelation – of revealed truths – and when we encounter these we often run out of language.
One might be tempted to think that the more conservative wings of Christianity would be lagging behind the liberal component in attempts to re-think our position. This would not be true. A recent flyer from CAIRS – Churches agency for interfaith relations in Scotland quotes the Pentecostalist theologian, Amos Yong. He has three axioms on which he builds his conversation with people of other faiths:
God is universally present and active in the Spirit
God’s Spirit is the life-breath of the Image of God in every human being and is the basis of all human relationships and communities
The religions of the world, like everything else that exists, are providentially sustained by the Spirit of God for divine purposes.
Yong, and his Catholic opposite number to whom Yong refers in his writings, D. Gelpi, are looking at a pneumatological approach to common ground in interfaith dialogue. They feel that experience of God in all world faiths can be possible through the work of the Spirit of God which can be perceived and understood as one and the same Spirit of God in which Christians believe. This may useful – very helpful even – but it does avoid the problem brought about by the extreme deification of Jesus that we have seen to take place from apostolic times onward. Once again, I feel that we need to listen hard to what our mystics are saying, and be led by their experience of aspects of God as they see them. And in an interfaith climate, should we not be listening to mystics from all World Faiths, and comparing their experiences? One might consider in this context, the Hindu tale of the blind men and the elephant. Our perception and our putting into words of our religious experiences are determined by our cultural background and our point of view. It is at this point that we need to be exceptionally sensitive in our listening to the many voices around us.
In the Christian tradition, we can perceive the popular point of view best from our modern worship songs. The majority of Christian hymns and worship songs concentrate on God as Father and Jesus as saviour, and there is a distinction. Some however do not – as an example I would give ‘His name is higher than any other’. This contains the line ‘His name is prince of peace, the mighty God’, and clearly refers to Jesus. Hymns and songs such as this obviously reflect a very high Christology in which Jesus is seen not just as being in God, or equal to the Father, but as interchangeable with the Father. It would clearly be impossible to work effectively in interfaith dialogue at any level if this were an entrenched viewpoint.
As I have said already, it comes back to somewhat individual experience of God – and of Jesus. Many Christians would claim to have experienced Jesus, and I would include myself among that number. These experiences will naturally vary from person to person. But it is safe to say that the vast majority would feel that what they have experienced is not the man Jesus with whom the disciples met and whom they knew, but the ‘risen exalted’ one that some might describe as ‘the Jesus of faith’. From our earthly viewpoint, there would seem to be little difference between the ‘Son of Man’ which Daniel saw, and to whom the book of Revelation alludes, and God the Father. Martin Buber speaks of two kinds of mystical experience in which some kind of mystical union is felt to be attained:
“But what of mysticism? Does it not inform us how unity without duality is experienced? May we dispute the truth of its account?
-I know not of a single but of two kinds of happening in which duality is no longer experienced. These are at times confused in mystical utterances – I too once confused them.
The one is the soul’s becoming a unity. That is something that takes place not between man and God, but in man. Power is concentrated, everything that tries
to divert it is drawn into the orbit of its mastery, the being is alone in itself and rejoices, as Paracelsus says, in its exaltation. This is the decisive moment for a man.
Without it he is unfit for the work of the spirit; with it, he decides, in his innermost being, if this means a breathing-space, or the sufficient end of his way. Concentrated in unity, he can go out to the meeting, to which he has only now drawn quite close, with the mystery, with salvation. But he can also enjoy to the full this blessed concentration of his being, and without entering on the supreme duty fall back into dissipation of being. -Everything on our way involves decision, purposive, dimly seen, wholly mysterious: this in the innermost being is the primal mysterious decision, carrying the mightiest consequences for our destiny.
The other happening lies in the unfathomable nature of the relational act itself, in which two, it is imagined, become one: “one and one united, bareness shines there into bareness.” I and Thou are absorbed, humanity, which just before confronted the godhead, is merged in it-glorification, deification, and singleness of being have appeared. But when the man, illuminated and exhausted, falls back into the cares of earthly affairs, and with knowledge in his heart think of the two situations, is he not bound to find that his being is split asunder and one part given to perdition? What does it help my soul that it can be withdrawn anew from this world here into unity, when this world itself has of necessity no part in the unity-what does all “enjoyment of God” profit a life that is rent in two?”
Martin Buber is one of the most loved and most frequently quoted writers in what I would call the post-modern era. Would Buber have preferred to be known as a philosopher or a mystic? He certainly seems to have the attributes of each.
In his best loved work, ‘Ich und Du’, originally translated somewhat controversially as ‘I and Thou’, Buber concentrates on the intimate relationship between one person and another, and incidentally on the intimate relationship between a person and God. Buber sees that for every one of us, at our birth, we are ‘separated’ from a kind of oneness that we spend the whole of our lives searching for.
“Yet this connection has such a cosmic quality that the mythical saying of the Jews, ‘in the mother’s body man knows the universe, in birth he forgets it,’ reads like the imperfect decipherment of an inscription from earliest times. And it remains indeed in man as a secret image of desire. Not as though his yearning meant a longing to return, as those suppose who see in the spirit – confusing it with their intellect – a parasite of nature, when it is rather (though exposed to diverse illnesses) nature’s best flower. But the yearning is for the cosmic connection, with its true Thou, of life that has burst forth into spirit.”
And he goes on to speak of this deep need:
“The doctrines of absorption appeal to the great sayings of identification, the one above all to the Johannine ‘I and the Father are one,’ the other to the teaching of Sandilya: ‘The all-embracing, this is my Self in my very heart.”
Buber, from his own mystical experience seems to have no problem with the Johanine sayings of Jesus, realising that they are just like his own experiences of God – and come directly from the writer’s own experience. John’s gospel is a mystical gospel and needs to be understood as such. It is, in Buber’s words, a gospel of relation.
“Here is a truer verse than the familiar mystical verse: ‘I am Thou and Thou art I.’ The Father and the Son, like in being-we may even say God and Man, like in being-are the indissolubly real pair, the two bearers of the primal relation, which from God to man is termed mission and command, from man to God looking and hearing, and between both is termed knowledge and love. In this relation the Son, though the Father dwells and works in him, bows down before the ‘greater’ and prays to him. All modern attempts to interpret this primal reality of dialogue as a relation of the I to the Self, or the like-as an event that is contained within the self-sufficient interior life of man-are futile: they take their place in the abysmal history of destruction of reality.”
Whilst the work of Buber came to be treasured by theologians and mystics alike, it was also taken seriously by Frank Lake, the psychiatrist who in the 1960’s founded the then ‘Clinical Theology Association’. It was Lake who later published ‘Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling’ which contains a concept that he called ‘Blastocystic Bliss’. In regressing patients back to the womb, initially under the influence of LSD and later using ‘Phantasy Journey’ techniques, Lake came to the conclusion that we all have an experience of utter bliss when we are nothing more than a fertilised ovum, before implantation into our mother’s womb, at which point we exist as a blastocyst. If one may say with Buber, “… ‘I am Thou and Thou art I.’ The Father and the Son, like in being – we may even say God and Man, like in being – are the indissolubly real pair”. Then we have a mystical view of the relationship with the whole of humankind together – the ‘Adam Kadmon’ of Luria, and it represents – indeed is – a view of God, Father and Son which is arguably the same as the Christian Trinity, provided that the ‘Adam Kadmon’, the Son of Man, the Exalted Jesus, and the Adam of Mother Julian’s perception are one and the same as I believe and experience them to be. Pinchas Lapide admits that there is a Jewish mystical tradition which sees in God more that one aspect – the Kaballah, he tells us, speaks of up to ten distinct aspects of God. God is one – but it the ‘Adam Kadmon’ is seen by us from our limited point of view as at the very least, an aspect of God, and if, as Christians believe, Jesus – that is the glorified Jesus – is part of the ‘Son of Man’, then it seems to me that there is rather more convergence between our mystical traditions than there is between our somewhat inflexible intellectual understandings. Fred Moy puts the concept very succinctly:
“can it be seen that Mohammed and Jesus and Krishna and Bah’a’llah are one with God? And God is one”.
I have suggested that we ought to listen more than we do to our mystics – with an eye on the mystical traditions of all the World Faiths. In March 2004, there was an interfaith conference in Edinburgh. Most of the keynote speakers were mystics of different faiths. One of them, Dr. Neil Douglas Klotz, wants to take us back to the beginning – to creation. There, all faiths meet. Time and progress, he tells us are a modern Western concept. We need to look at our stories, creation in particular, and see it as a ‘moving past’, a living creation, a moving ‘caravan of life’, in which everything is moving including God. We have switched our beginnings for our endings. “I believe”, says Klotz, separates us. “In the beginning” unites us. He sees the perfection in the Garden of Eden at Creation as something which is to come.
In one of his books, ‘The Genesis Meditations’, he enlarges on that theme by looking at the ‘Primal Human’ as seen through various faith traditions including Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Klotz sees it as the idea of a primordial light filled human being – which is called the Muhammedan light in the Ismaeli and Sufi traditions.
It is mystics such as Klotz with whom I feel the future – both of Christianity and of interfaith relations – lies. And I feel that a re-think of the nature of the ‘Son of Man’, and of the post-crucifixion Jesus, though difficult for many Christians, would be possible in the light of their meditations.
Conclusion – back to the beginning
It would be irresponsible not to come to the conclusion that Christianity has failed itself and caused a major problem by allowing the development of a Christology which allows Jesus and God to become almost interchangeable. In this, it is essential that we give thought to the divinity of the whole of humankind, and welcome into our experience the views and opinions of the mystics, not only from the Christian tradition, but from the entire faith community. This view is now a commonly held one, and is challenging today’s church. It is a view that is more and more being driven by work on interfaith dialogue and it is to be welcomed.
This of course may offer a problem to the conservative Christian. How should one ‘understand’ the place and nature of Jesus? If we are able to accept the experience of the ‘Son of Man’ that I have shown above, then we can conceive a way forward. The ‘Son of Man’ is pre-existent. The ‘Son of Man’ is ‘The Word’. The ‘Son of Man’ is the coalescence of the whole of humankind, and Jesus is [in] the ‘Son of Man’, as, I expect are the great heroes of many World Faiths. But suppose that the person who is speaking in John’s gospel is more than Jesus alone? Suppose that this person is the ‘Son of Man’ in the entirety we have seen above? How much more sense does this make when we hear the words ‘No-one can come to the Father except through [incorporation into] the Son of Man’?
Earlier, I spoke of ‘attributes of God’, and in particular of power and love. Much has been said in the field of psychotherapy about the abuse of just these two attributes. Love, for example can be used – abused – when it becomes demanding on the one hand, or overwhelming ‘smother-love’ on the other. In the same way, the lust for power may be perverted to become overpowering and controlling, or demanding and manipulative in its helplessness and false humility (as Uriah Heep). In creation, God ‘cut the strings’ so that we would not be puppets – God gave us freedom out of his love.
Early Christians held the view the ‘God became man the man might become God’. As I see it, we have two opposite options for our divinity. We can ‘play God’; one might want to look at modern examples such as Hitler or Saddam Hussein, or one can ‘become God’ by allowing our ‘divine spark’ to coalesce with other ‘divine sparks’ as we grow closer to Divine Union. We might want to see this quality in the saints of the modern era – Ghandhi, perhaps, or Martin Luther King ….
 Theology rising out of the Holocaust – September 2000 – Some thoughts on Franklin Littell’s assertion that “Christians need the Jewish people as a “model” of peoplehood in God’s work in history, and they need the living interaction with the people of the Torah” Franklin Littell on the Holocaust
 The synoptic gospels speak of Jesus going into the desert to be tempted by Satan. The key phrase here is: “If you are the son of God ….. “ which precedes each of the temptations. This statement suggests that Jesus had grave doubts about his own ‘religious experience’ at the time of his baptism in the river Jordan. In addition his attitude towards the question of his divinity (and possibly that of his fellows) may be seen in John 10:33-34 to which I will refer later.
 I have referred to that part of the Christian bible that Christians call the ‘New Testament’ as the Christian scriptures since for me the term ‘New Testament’ suggests supersession. For the same reason, I have used the Jewish term ‘tanach’ to refer to the books that Christians call ‘Old Testament’.
 See the Catholic Encyclopaedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02543a.htm (March 2005) which offers the following: “It was declared by the Vatican Council (Sess. III, c. ii) that the sacred and canonical character of Scripture would not be sufficiently explained by saying that the books were composed by human diligence and then approved by the Church, or that they contained revelation without error. They are sacred and canonical “because, having been written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that have God for their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church”. The inerrancy of the Bible follows as a consequence of this Divine authorship. Wherever the sacred writer makes a statement as his own, that statement is the word of God and infallibly true, whatever be the subject matter of the statement”.
 “I and Thou” Kaufmann tr, p166
 Vern S Poythress writing in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation (Silva) p468
 Kenyon, The Bible and Modern Scholarship.
 Kenyon mentions the Chester-Beatty papyri and the Rylands papyrus. His dates for these appear to be confirmed by the Chester-Beatty web-site and such other evidence, as I have been able to find. However, this information does not so far appear in bible commentaries etc. These seem for example to place John’s gospel at a far later date than the Rylands fragment would suggest. I take this as evidence of the kind of biased scholarship that Kenyon is concerned about.
 Moises Silva, in his work “has the church misread the bible?” expresses concern that the WCC rreport on biblical authority was heavily influenced by Barth, and was, therefore “reluctant to base the authority of scripture on the notion of inspiration”. (Silva – p42) He states that the historical-critical method which has been widely accepted, actually rejects any question of divine intervention, and is therefore seriously to be questioned by evangelical Christian believers. For this reason, he is able to say that theological scholarship has largely excluded evangelicals until recent years.
 Here, I would cite Moises Silva, John Goldingay, Tremper Longman iii, Richard Muller, and V Phillips Long as well as the aforementioned Vern Poythress.
 Hopkins states that less than two percent of the apostolic Roman world could read and write.
 Alex Haley’s “Roots” gave a good example of this ability to record information accurately. It is a talent that is lost in a literate society.
 Mother Julian of Norwich had a mystical experience in which she describes God’s view of the whole of humankind. I will offer more on that in chapter 5 below.
 The creation story, in comparison with Daniel’s vision and the vision in Revelation will be examined in and alongside the things that Jesus is reported to have said about the Son of Man.
 There could be a lengthy discussion on the question of those who are to be excluded or damned. It is not appropriate to pursue this line of thought here. Suffice it to say that I trust in God’s mercy and that alone to make, in Mother Julian’s words, ‘all manner of things well’.
 The New Dictionary of Christian Theology points out that there was a great deal of argument in the middle ages as to whether or not God may be said to have attributes. Key players in this debate were Maimonides and Aquinas. The argument against God having attributes is that this might undermine the one-ness of God.
 MacQuarrie (p189) point out that “the notion of God’s ‘omnipotence’ has caused a lot of trouble ….” He considers that some theologians have focussed on this attribute of God to the point at which God becomes a ‘capricious despot’. McGrath and Ninian Smart also clearly see this as an ‘attribute’ of God. McGrath (p222ff) sees God as omnipotent, but self-limiting for the good of creation.
 This oft quoted phrase is a little hard to pin down. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Jung (March 2005) gives it as coming from: “The Psychology of the Unconscious (1943)”. I learned it many years ago while training for pastoral counselling with the Clinical Theology Association, as at that time, Jung’s ideas about power and love were widely used in a psychodynamic model called the ‘Power-Love compass’. There is little doubt that the roots of most if not all human neurosis and even psychosis lie in deep rooted feelings of powerlessness and lack of love.
 McGrath (p233ff) offers a lengthy discourse on God’s creativity, beginning with reference to the creation stories in Genesis. He refers to a number of different theological understandings of God as creator, but places centrally the fact that God created humankind in ‘the image of God’.
 McGrath (p244) reminds us that Augustine sees the Holy Spirit as the bond of love. He regards the Spirit as a bond of unity between Father and Son on the one hand, and between God and believers on the other. Ninian Smart devotes an entire chapter to love, in which he links it with the attribute of justice and peace, below.
 MacQuarrie (p192) talks of the attributes of ‘love’ and ‘mercy’. ‘… of all the attributes’, he says, ‘love has a supreme place’.
 In pointing out the extent to which love effects behaviour, Ninian Smart shows the ways in which Christian ethics lead to justice for the poor, and the under-privileged. This emphasis comes directly from the Pentateuch and its teachings.
 MacQuarrie (p193) talks of ‘love’ and ‘mercy’, which, he tells us, ‘are not really different from righteousness and justice’.
 Using the New Revised Standard version.
 There is a lengthy discussion on the uses of the plural form here to be found at: http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm in the notes to the NET bible.
 The NET bible translator’s note for this passage tells us of the two different terms in the Hebrew, which are generally translated ‘image’ and ‘likeness’. The note says: “In the Book of Genesis the two terms describe human beings who in some way reflect the form and the function of the creator.” http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm (March 2005)
 In this verse, the LXX translates God (here the Hebrew is ‘Elohim’), as ‘Angels’ and several bible versions follow this concept of Elohim (plural) signifying ‘divine beings’. The old JPS Tanach follows this practice, although the NJPS moves to ‘what is man that You have been mindful of him, mortal man that You have taken note of him that You have made him little less than divine …….”
 We shall see later that this psalm is quoted in the Christian scriptures as being cited by Jesus. For this reason, its use here brings big questions of how to interpret this passage.
 David Cairns – The Image of God in Man”
 Babylonian Talmud, “Shabbat”, 31a. tells of a man who came to Hillel asking to be taught the entire Torah during the time he could stand on one foot. He was told, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. This is the entire Torah. All the rest is commentary — now go and study.”
 The Encyclopaedia Judaica under the heading “man, the nature of” says “God is served in the righteousness of human relationships – in love between man and man which reflects God’s image – as well as in divine worship. When the “Image” is wronged, religious service becomes an abomination”. See below for more on this aspect.
 Beginning in Ezekiel 2:1, God uses this form of address in speaking to Ezekiel. The Net translator’s notes say: “The phrase son of man occurs ninety-three times in the book of Ezekiel. It simply means “human one,” and distinguishes the prophet from the nonhuman beings that are present in the world of his vision”. http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm March 2005
 Fuller, R. H. – The foundations of New Testament Christology p35
 The New Jerome commentary puts the case this way: “The [Apocalyptic genre] employed in chapters 7-12 consists in a certain mysterious ”revelation” received in fantastic visions or transmitted by angels, both about the past and present history, and about the eschatological establishment of God’s messianic kingdom”.
 Dunn p36
 Segal writing in Jews and Christians speak of Jesus (ed Zannoni), p132
 Hellwig writing in Jews and Christians speak of Jesus (ed Zannoni), p144-146
 O’Collins p14-15
 Philippians 3:21
 1 John 3:1
 Fuller – p199 ff
 John 10:33-34
 Christian Theology – p277. Cf Exodus 4:22 ‘Israel is my firstborn son.’
 A. D. A. Moses – chapter 4
 The Gospels and their Theology, p25
 I have some sympathy with JAT Robinson’s “The Priority of John” on this issue!
 Col 1:14-16
 John 1:1
 In a later chapter, I will be looking at the rôle of revelation in our faith understanding.
 See my thoughts on attributes of God in chapter 2 above.
 Borgen is very clear in his thought on this – although he goes back directly to the Hebrew text of Genesis and argues for John’s choice of words being based on the Hebrew text. The fact that the LXX also begins Genesis with the words ‘en arch ’ may suggest that John, writing as he was to Christians living in contact with Diaspora Jews, would expect them to have knowledge of the LXX and to relate his commentary to this Greek text.
 Philo – questions and answers on Genesis, part I “This man was created as perceptible to the senses, and in the similitude of a Being appreciable only by the intellect; but he who in respect of his form is intellectual and incorporeal, is the similitude of the archetypal model as to appearance, and he is the form of the principal character; but this is the word of God, the first beginning of all things, the original species or the archetypal idea, the first measure of the universe”. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book41.html March 2005
 “This is Moses’ doctrine, not mine. Indeed, in the next passage, recording the beginning of man, he confesses that (the human) was modelled after the image of God. Now if the part is the image of an image, it is clear that the whole is too. But if the entire sensible world — which is greater than the human — is a copy of the divine image, it is clear also that the archetypal seal which we say is the world of the mind is the very Word [logos] of God”.
— Philo, Creation 25 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/ March 2005
Philo – Confusion 146. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/ March 2005
 1 Cor. 15:45-49
 There is the traditional view that John was ‘the beloved disciple’ referred to in his gospel. The more usual view is that he became a follower after the death of Jesus.
 Bultmann – History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 127.
 Raymond Brown writes: “I think the sayings and deeds of Jesus reported in the gospels have been influenced by hindsight after the resurrection”. P24 Here, I understand Brown to be thinking more of reflection and redaction than the divine inspiration that I believe to have taken place.
 I am considering particularly the ‘I am’ sayings in John 14
 I am referring to the Christian use of the word ‘bible’, but the statement is especially applicable to the Tanach.
 1952 essay, Bultmann “on the problem of demythologising” from ’New Testament and Mythology’.
 Frend, in ‘Saints and Sinners in the Early Church’ holds that this was the case during much of the first three hundred years of the church.
 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ignatius.html March 2005
 “This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning, and before the beginning. The Saviour, who existed before, has in recent days appeared. He, who is in Him that truly is, has appeared; for the Word, who “was with God,” and by whom all things were created, has appeared as our Teacher. The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends”. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-exhortation.html March 2005 Clement of Alexandria, “Exhortation to the Heathen”.
 In the first three centuries of Christianity, the church found a variety of books and letters useful. Some of these were the subject of debate, and in the year 367 CE the word ‘Canon’ was first used by Christians to denote the writings that they considered ‘inspired’. The other works, which include the Shepherd and several others, were regarded as useful, though not to be held to have the same authority.
 All the writings of Cyprian are to be found at: http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-05/TOC.htm (March 2005)
 In his first book of ‘Against the Jews’, his opening chapter headings are: “1. That the Jews have fallen under the heavy wrath of God, because they have departed from the Lord, and have followed idols.
- Also because they did not believe the prophets, and put them to death. 3. That it was previously foretold that they would neither know the Lord, nor understand nor receive Him. 4. That the Jews would not understand the Holy Scriptures, but that they would be intelligible in the last times, after Christ had come. 5. That the Jews could understand nothing of the Scriptures unless they first believed on Christ.
- That they would lose Jerusalem, and leave the land which they had received. 7. That they would also lose the Light of the Lord.
 Valentinus, the gnostic Christian and heretic of the second century CE had an interesting angle on the pre-existence question. He held that at his baptism, Jesus became united with the pre-existent ‘Christ’ – which in his thinking seems to be identical with the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/valentinus.html March 2005
 We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father, through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. Those who say: There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten; and that He was made our of nothing; or who maintain that He is of another hypostasis or another substance [than the Father], or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or subject to change, [them] the Catholic Church anathematizes.
 This is very much a simplification of the many variations in christological thinking – especially among Gnostic Christians.
 It is outside the scope of this paper to look at the development and meaning of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Suffice it to say that this teaching has been a problem for many Christians throughout church history. It is a problem that will not go away: see Pittenger for further thought on this.
 Irenaeus ‘Against Heresies’. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/irenaeus.html March 2005. See also Hoekema and Cairns.
 Hopkins p158
 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.I_1.i.html March 2005
 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf103.iv.i.iii.i.html March 2005
 An example of this is to be found in Acts 2:34-36: “For David himself never went up to heaven, but yet he said: ‘The Lord declared to my Lord, take your seat at my right hand till I have made your enemies your footstool’ – for this reason the whole House of Israel can be certain that the Lord and Christ whom God has made is this Jesus whom you crucified.”
 Hershon refers to only one talmudic comment on the image of God: “Rav Yehuda said ….. When the Holy One, blessed be He! wished to create man, He first called into existence a set of ministering angels, and said to them: Is it your pleasure that we should make man in our own image?”
 Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud. P67ff
 (Cohen’s footnote) This is the original wording. There is a later interpolation, one soul of Israel‘ which destroys the universal character of the teaching.
 Urbach p277
 This schism began with argument over ‘Monophysitism’, the teaching that Jesus had one nature only. This was expressed in at least three complex formulae, all different. In the end though, it could be argued that the question revolved arouind power and power struggle rather than christology.
 The Summa can be found in an English translation at: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/home.html March 2005
 The complete text of Revelations can be found at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian/revelations.toc.html, and the chapter referenced is as p109 at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian/revelations.xvi.viii.html (March 2005)
 Arthur Green p186
 Maimonides, book 1 chapter 1 discusses at length the two Hebrew words which are translated into the English word ‘image’ (or form) and ‘likeness’ p13ff, and in the following chapter he expands on this, coming to the conclusion that it is only in the matter of our intellect that we are in any way like God.
 I have included a reflection of my own as appendix 2. This was written before I had heard of Tsimtsum, and describes the way in which I felt God was revealing Godself to me.
 Pp 273-274 Major trends in Jewish mysticism
 A new dictionary of Christian theology refers under the heading ‘Gnosticism’ to the idea of primal man, and the ‘divine spark’ as being around before New Testament times. The article says that this concept was taken up by Gnostic Christian groups, especially by the Manichees.
 A tender and poetic description of mystical union (Moy refers to it as Divine Union) is to be found in Fred Moy – The Exiles. “ ….. a total giving of self to the Divine Union. This union in not only a union in intellect, but the actual fusion of the total individual identity into the Absolute Source. The giving is complete as a stream loses its identity in the ocean or the light from a lamp is lost in the brilliance of the sun, or a spark falls into the Divine Fire.
St. Athanasius, Of the incarnation 54, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation.ix.html (Aqpril 2005)
 MacQuarrie uses the term ‘suprarational’ in his description of the tension that exists in a rational approach to an ‘understanding’ of God
 Tremper Longman offers an entire book in which he comes to this same conclusion.
 Collins preface; p xi
 Shira Shoenberg – a brief biography of Moses Mendelssohn found on the internet at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Mendelssohn.html March 2005.
 David Sorkin – ‘Moses Mendelssohn and the religious enlightenment’
 This entry shows the considerable influence of Martin Buber on modern Judaism. See below for more about Buber.
 Sandmel in his chapter headed ‘The responses to modernism’.
 McGrath cites Feuerbach and Schleiermacher as holding opposed positions on this issue.
 The first essay in the collection referred to under Bultmann in the bibliography.
 Bultmann – p11
 Bultmann, Mythology p11. It is of these earlier attempts to demythologise that James P Mackey says, particularly of D F Strauss, of the Hegelian school of philosophy, that he takes: ‘a too narrow view of ‘scientific’ reason, a closed view of human nature and human faith, a restrictive philosophical preconception, which makes him demythologise in the name of history and thus ruin the history of the origins of Christianity’. – Mackey p34.
 All the essays referred to appear in the collection referred to in Bultmann’s Mythology work in the bibliography. ‘On the problem …’ begins on p 95
 See also ‘The Honest to God Debate’.
 This takes its name from the book and the TV series by Don Cupitt in the late 1980’s. The ethos is summed up by the ‘Sea of Faith’ network’s statement that ‘Religious faith is a purely human creation’.
 Bultmann – Mythology, p4
 Rowan Williams at his enthronement, 27th Feb 2003
 Parkes – Prelude p209-210
 Parkes – Foundations p220
 Parkes – Foundations p219
 Pittenger p7
 Pittenger p114
 Küng – On Being a Christian
 Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy – “Woodbine Willy” From “The Unutterable Beauty” 1927). The Collected Poetry of GSK – complete version of ‘Well?’ in appendix 1.
 Flyer for ‘The Wind blows where It Wills’ – An Exploration of God’s Spirit in a world of many faiths – conference in Scotland. Yong is quoted from his work ‘Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions’. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. ISBN 0801026121]
 In its simplest form, there are three blind men (some versions have more men) who wish to ‘see’ an elephant. They are led to the elephant. One of them leans against its side. ‘It’s like a wall’, he says. Another takes hold of its tail. ‘It’s like a snake’. The third one puts his arms around a leg and declares that it’s like a tree. The point is that all of them are correct in what they describe, but there is a bigger picture. I can say with confidence that this is even more true of the God in whom I believe!
 Unusually, the Jesus with whom I had a mystical encounter some years ago was not the Jesus of faith. I felt that my encounter was with the Jesus of the temptations in the desert, immediately after his baptism. This was a very human Jesus who was, quite simply, staggered by what was happening to him – staggered by the enormity of the call which he had received, and needed to be by himself to reflect and to pray! This religious experience is reflected in my own attitude towards Christology and the nature of Jesus.
 p86 1959 Clark edition
 One might argue that Buber’s time was before the advent of the postmodern world. Perhaps his mystical reflection is timeless – certainly it fits well into the postmodern scene.
 p25 1959 Clark edition
 p84 1959 Clark edition
 p85 1959 Clark edition
 It was Lake’s work ‘Clinical Theology that caused a stir in 1967 when it was published, and which led to what has since been called ‘Primal Therapy’.
 While training as an assistant tutor with the CTA, I was encouraged to make one of these ‘Primal Journeys’. The experience of ‘bliss’ was for me being one with the universe or one with God – or perhaps one with the Son of Man who is part of God …. How does one put into words an experience such as this?
 Moy p61
 See Jonathan Magonet – the chapter ‘Did they fall or were they pushed?’ in ‘A Rabbi’s Bible.
  From Athanasius – see above.