The process by which Jesus became God is not an event which happened to Jesus but a developing change in human thinking…. The process of religious thought by which Jesus became the Christ, as demonstrated by the New Testament, did not stop there but continued in the post-biblical period. For even at the end of the first century Christian thought was still a long way from what was to become the classical Christian teaching as proclaimed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 c.e.

Yet already, as the New Testament itself clearly acknowledges, a rift was beginning to emerge as a result of the speed with which thought about Jesus was developing. It is the rift between the first generation of Christians — the Jewish Christians — and the rapidly growing Gentile church spread by Paul.

The Jewish Christians, led by James and Peter (at least at first), still saw Jesus through Jewish eyes. In their view Jesus remained fully human like themselves. He fulfilled the role of Messiah but was not himself divine. The Jewish Christians rejected the later stories of the Virgin Birth and the doctrine of the Incarnation.

In the Letter of James we may have the best example of their thinking. They were expelled by the Romans from Jerusalem, their center, along with the Jews and they settled across the Jordan in Pella. They were rejected by the Jews because of their allegiance to Jesus and they were cold-shouldered and eventually rejected by the Gentile Christians as heretical. We hear no more of them after the fifth century.

It was the Gentile Christianity shaped by Paul which became the classical form of Christianity. The Gentile Christians increasingly saw Jesus through Greek eyes. Even Paul, though he gloried in his Jewishness, was very much a Hellenistic Jew. The New Testament largely reflects his thought and that of the Gentile Church and tends to hide from view what remains there of the thinking of the primitive Jewish church.

The Gentile mind had no trouble with regarding Jesus as divine. They saw him as the Son of God par excellence — the only Son of God. They had no expectation of a coming Messiah as the Jews had, so the word Christ (which translates Messiah) simply became used as a proper name.

Jesus the Messiah became Jesus Christ or just Christ. Indeed the problem soon became not how to proclaim his divinity but how to defend his humanity. The Gnostic wing of the Christian movement wanted to say that Jesus only appeared to be a man but was really wholly God all the time.

As the church struggled to maintain both the full divinity and the full humanity of Jesus it went through a series of theological controversies. Various solutions were rejected, most as heretical. At first the church tried to determine just how Jesus was related to God the Creator. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity resulted and Jesus was portrayed as the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

Then the church had to work out how human nature and divine nature could be united in the one historical personage. The debate was never universally resolved. Those who disagreed with the findings of the Ecumenical councils were simply excommunicated from the main body.

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~ From an article by Lloyd Geering, in: The Fourth R Volume 11,5, Sep/Oct 1998

How Did Jesus Become God – and Why?

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