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Jesus as God’s Self-Interpretation

One of the central theses of Eberhard Jüngel’s book God’s Being is in Becoming is that the doctrine of the Trinity is our interpretation of God’s own self-interpretation.  For Jüngel, God’s revelation perfectly corresponds to Godself.  The triune God is the one who corresponds to himself.  His being is his act, and the revelation of the Trinity in Christ and the Spirit constitutes God’s self-interpretation.  The economic Trinity is God interpreting himself before us, it is God’s act of saying who and what God is within the realm of created being.

It seems to me that Jüngel’s construal of the Trinity as God’s self-interpretation might offer a helpful way to mediate the various debates surrounding the relationship between the man Jesus and the eternal trinitarian Son.  If Jüngel is correct that the economic Trinity is God’s self-interpretation, could we not argue that Jesus is the self-interpretation of the eternal trinitarian Son?  Thus, it isn’t strictly accurate to speak of the Logosas having an incarnate and an unincarnate state in a static sense.  Rather, the man Jesus himself is the eternal self-interpretation of the Son.  From all eternity the Son of the Father interprets himself as Jesus of Nazareth.  And because God’s act of self-interpretation is identical with God himself, the Son’s self-interpretation of himself as Jesus means that Jesus simply is the eternal trinitarian Son without remainder. 

And thus, as Jüngel says, God’s self-interpretation, the event of decision to be the God that he is identical with the eternal being of God.  God is the event of his own decision and that decision is “not to be understood only as a decision for God, but also . . . as a decision for humanity” (p. 81).  This “decision for humanity” which is eternally included in the event of the triune God is precisely the decision we see actualized in the man Jesus.  A proper understanding of the second person of the Trinity requires us to begin and end on this point.  If we grant that the actualistic ontology of Jüngel (and Barth, and perhaps Aquinas as well) is the most appropriate theological construal of being, then we are forced to conclude that the man Jesus is the eternal self-interpretation of the trinitarian Son.  Everything that we behold in Jesus belongs to the eternal identity of the triune God.  The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is the Nazarene.

7 Comments

  1. I cannot quite see the necessity of speaking about “the eternal trinitarian Son”. I think another way, more biblical and more compatible with our philosophy (but less “orthodox”), would be to speak of the man Jesus as pre-existent within God´s plan from eternity. The human Jesus is the center within God´s eternal vision, Jesus is God´s vision, God´s logos, materialized.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 12:09 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Jonas, the reason I adopt such terminology is precisely to insist on the equation between the eternal Son of God and Jesus. It is indeed Jesus who exists within the eternal life of the Trinity as the Son of the Father.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  3. Lucy wrote:

    “And because God’s act of self-interpretation is identical with God himself, the Son’s self-interpretation of himself as Jesus means that Jesus simply is the eternal trinitarian Son without remainder.”

    I want to probe a little more into this notion of “without remainder.”

    1) The immediate objection is that this blurs the Creator/creature distinction. Jesus is a creature. If this creature, as such, is the eternal Son, then a creature is the creator. How would you handle this line of thought?

    2) What is it that allows the Son to engage in this act of self-interpretation? Presumably I can’t interpret myself like the eternal Son does, because I am a finite creature. Must not there be a divinity of the Son in distinction from his humanity that allows the Son to interprete himself as Jesus?

    I’d be interested in your thoughts…

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Hi Lucy,

    In regard to your first point, I would agree that to make a statement such as I’m making is a pretty radical metaphysical claim. However, I think it’s pretty much the claim Paul makes in Colossians 1:16. It is Jesus, not some logos asarkos that is thought of by the biblical writers as the one through whom all things were created. I don’t think this blurs the distinction between God and creation, rather it simply affirms that the particular qualities of created being are not something that are foreign to the being of God. God can posess all the qualities that characterize createdness without that some how making him dependent on or confused with creation.

    Secondly, it isn’t that Son engages in an act of self-interpretation, it is rather that the person of the Son is identical with his self-interpretation as Jesus. Here I am presupposing an actualistic ontology in which God’s being is identical with God’s act. The idea that there must be some sort of latent divinity in the Son that allows him to become Jesus presupposes a substance ontology, the very sort of ontology I am wishing to call into question.

    I hope that helps.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  5. Lucy wrote:

    Yes, this is helpful.

    I know you are following Jenson quite a bit here, so allow me to probe a bit further.

    Jenson, if I read him correctly, marks off divinity from creation in two ways: He takes 1) Thomas’ notion that, for God, essence and existence are one and the same and 2) Gregory of Nyssa’s notion that the divine ousia is infinite.

    Regarding Thomas’ notion, it seems plausible that a creature, namely, Jesus of Nazareth, could have his essence and existence as one and the same. God determines himself as Jesus, and so Jesus’ essence and existence are one and the same because he is God’s self-interpretation. This makes him divine and human, but without there being two ‘substances’ to fit together.

    Regarding Gregory’s notion, the resurrection of Jesus is God’s infinity over the finity of death. God is infinite in that he is not held by any boundaries, including death. Because Jesus was raised by the Father he is the realization of God’s infinity and so divine, while also human.

    Thoughts?

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Yes, I think that is a good reading of Jenson, and I would affirm it. The positive definition of infinity is precisely the linchpin of the issue. God overcomes, rather than lacks boundaries.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  7. Lucy wrote:

    Good, I’m glad I read Jenson correctly. Backing up a step:

    “God can posess all the qualities that characterize createdness without that some how making him dependent on or confused with creation.”

    I think this statement needs elaboration. I agree, but is it possible to elaborate “can” in your statement? Why can God do this without making himself confused with creation? I would say because God is in some way “other” than creation. God is so transcendent that he is capable of immanence without loss to his deity. Now the question is does the Son possess this kind of transcendence? If so, how, if he is human with no remainder?

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

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