Thinking and speaking (to leave aside worshipping and following!) of Jesus can be hard work. This is, no doubt, largely due to the mystery of the Incarnation. Is he God? Is he man? The Son of God in flesh? When we say son, do we mean it in the same way that I am the son of John?
So, we can be sympathetic perhaps to some of our greatest heritics who were deemed so often because they had a hard time getting the grammar right—understandably so.
Yet, the church has come to speak of Jesus in a particular way and indeed we must. Ben Myers, an Australian theologian, has put together this handy little 12 point list of “grammatical rules” to help us speak truthfully about Jesus. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful. Each is a negation followed by an affirmation:
1. Not to speak of Christ in any way that sidelines his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly human.
2. Not to speak of Jesus in any way that sidelines the divine depth beneath his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly God.
3. Not to divide Christ’s divinity and humanity, or to give the impression that he sometimes functions as God and sometimes as a human. Jesus Christ is divine and human in one person.
4. Not to give the impression that Christ’s divinity is fully contained within his humanity, or that his divinity is limited by his human experience. The human nature of Jesus is assumed by the person of the eternal Word.
5. Not to divide redemption from creation, or to give the impression that Christ invades a world that is alien to him. Human beings were created after the pattern of the same eternal Image that has become incarnate in Jesus.
6. Not to divide Christ’s person and work, or to give the impression that Christ is merely the instrument by which God achieves salvation. Salvation is a person: Jesus Christ.
7. Not to divide Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, or to give the impression that he achieves salvation at just one moment of his career. The total life-journey of Jesus Christ – from his birth, to his ministry of teaching and healing, to his death and resurrection – is the saving event.
8. Not to speak of Christ’s death as a mere preliminary stage on the way to resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Priest whose death abolishes the power of sin and death. He is the humble God.
9. Not to speak of Christ’s resurrection as a mere reversal of his death. Jesus Christ is the King whose resurrection exalts and glorifies human nature. He is the deified human.
10. Not to speak of Christ in any way that implies that he is absent, or to give the impression that the church’s task is to make Christ present. Jesus Christ is the Prophet who reveals himself. He is present always and everywhere as the divine-human light of the world.
11. Not to divide Christ from Israel’s history, or to give the impression that the New Testament abolishes the Old. As Prophet, Priest and King, Jesus Christ is the surpassing fulfilment of Israel’s messianic hopes.
12. Not to speak of Christ as if he were relevant only to some people in some cultures and circumstances. Jesus Christ is present to all people, in all times and places, as their divine-human Prophet, Priest and King. The church trusts and proclaims, but never possesses, this Messiah.