The Radical Deformation

The New Testament documents, interpreted in their original, historical, and religious context teach that Jesus was a human being begotten by God via the holy spirit in the womb of his virgin mother, Mary. In other words, Jesus’ origin is found in his human birth, not in some pre-existent, spiritual existence. In this way Jesus is understood to be the literal descendant of the woman who was destined to crush the serpent (Gen 3.15); he is the descendant of Abraham through whom all nations (not just Israel) would be blessed (Gal 3.14, 16); he is the royal descendant of David (Luke 1.31-33) destined to rule on the Davidic throne in Jerusalem over Israel (and through Israel, the whole world, cp. Psalm 2.6-9). We are talking about a legitimate member of the human biological chain , begun by Adam and Eve in the beginning. This Hebrew idea of the human Messiah is at the heart of prophetic expectation throughout the Scriptures.

However, shortly after the writing of the various documents of the New Testament, the original, Hebrew, faith was beginning to mutate in different directions. Through the missionary efforts of Peter, Paul, John, Philip, and the other first generation Christians many Jews, God-fearers, and even Gentiles were converted to Christianity in the Greco-Roman World. However, in some cases the messianic faith was curiously blended with pagan ideas to form a new faith. People began thinking about what Jesus was/is rather than what Jesus taught. In other words, a shift developed from message to person.

Several groups sprouted during the 2nd century. Some came to be known as the adoptionists who maintained that Jesus was a pious man who obeyed the Law of God meticulously and was therefore chosen by God to be adopted as the son of God at his baptism. The second group, reacted against this and went in the opposite direction by arguing that Jesus was the son of God before his birth and even consciously existed with God as a spirit. Furthermore, others known as docetists believed that Jesus only seemed to be human and really was composed of spirit material (sort of like a hologram). Yet, none of these positions was the original.

Church historian, Adolf Harnack (1851 to 1931), documented the massive shift from believing that Jesus was foreknown to pre-existence by focusing on two texts: 1 Peter 1.20 and 2 Clement 9.5. In the first the Hebrew idea of foreknowledge implies that Jesus existed before his birth in the mind or plan of God. The second verse (probably written 50 years or so after the last book of the New Testament) states that Jesus was first spirit and then flesh (note how this also contradicts 1 Cor 15.45-46).

This shift in thought from Jewish ideas about foreknowledge to the Greek idea of literal pre-existence began a snowball effect that did not reach it its maximal shape until the Chalcedonian Council of a.d. 451 in which Jesus was declared to be fully God and fully Man. Several months ago, researcher, Alex Hall wrote a paper on this fascinating portion of early church history and called it The Radical Deformation. Furthermore, he has recently recorded a Byte Show on the same subject in which he explains the paper in a cogent, simple manner.

click here to download the paper [12 pages]
click here to listen to the mp3 audio file [64 minutes]

What is needed is a radical reformation in order to “un-deform” Christianity back into the shape of the original faith. Part of this process of restoration is to understand what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how we can avoid mutating the faith proclaimed by Jesus and the first century disciples. May God help us as we seek truth, without fear of how it may challenge our long held traditional ideas, in order that we may avoid conforming to the popular notions of this world (even Christian ones) and instead be transformed into the image of God’s dear son.


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