Torrance’s Incarnation 1.2: Jesus Christ and the New Testament Kērygma

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationWe cannot study Jesus from a neutral position. Faithfulness to this object of study demands that we conform to him. “We can approach Jesus only as sinners who need the mediation of Christ in order to go to the Father” (11). This is how the entire New Testament presents Christ—not as a merely historical Jesus.

The New Testament presentation of the Jesus of history as the Christ of faith (pp. 12-14)

Jesus in scripture is always clothed with the divine light made visible in his transfiguration—never as a mere human. As a God-and-man unity, Christ presents himself to us not only as historical fact, but as “fact-in-meaning, a fact-in-interpretation” (13). In the incarnation, the Word of God became flesh and proclaimed his own self to us (kērygma = proclamation). Furthermore, it is not our interpretation that clothes the fact, but Christ’s interpretation—the objective content of the kērygma: Christ himself.

a) Controlling factors in the New Testament witness (pp. 14-20)

The witness of Christ in the New Testament is controlled by three factors:

  1. Jesus is a historical fact. The truth of Christ cannot be divorced from Jesus’ real life on earth. This is why “historical ontology is so paramount in the Apostles’ creed” (16). When we move from historical fact to spiritual experience we lose who we are after.
  2. Jesus is an Israelite. Jesus is embedded in the “hard stubborn history of Israel” (16). Jesus is the fulfillment of the purpose of Israel’s history and the Hebrew Bible. The gospel is not some invention of the spirituality of the early church or even of the creative genius of Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s saving action toward humanity, as embedded in the Hebrew Bible.
  3. Jesus proclaimed himself. Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Christ through his words and actions together. Jesus’ words and actions cannot be separated. In this sense, Jesus is a true prophet—”one who under divine compulsion in his involvement in Israel, brings a divine message to God’s people” (19).

b) The self-presentation of Jesus in the apostolic kērygma (pp. 20-28)

To fully understand the kērygma of Christ, we need to note four more factors:

  1. Jesus’ word, deeds, and presence are inseparable. These three things are identical: the breaking in of the kingdom of God, the operation of the kingdom of God, and the king of that kingdom, Jesus the Christ. Therefore, Jesus’ word, deed, and presence are all “intertwined” (21).
  2. Jesus’ kērygma and his rabbinic-style teaching are inseparable. Jesus’ self-proclamation includes “considerable transmission of didachē (teaching).
  3. Jesus extended his kērygma to his apostles. Jesus said this concisely: “The one who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16 ESV). Just as the kērygma of Jesus was both in word and deed, so is the kērygma of his apostles. Jesus sent his apostles out with his own authority, analogously to the way in which Christ himself was sent by his Father. This is why the apostles have such radical authority (e.g. John 20:23 ESV: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”)
  4. The relationship between faith and kērygma. Jesus’ kērygma requires a unique form of transmission that marries word and deed. This form of transmission is faith. When I encounter Jesus’  kērygma, I am challenged to take “a decision to appropriate and trust in a decision which God has already made about me in the life, death, and resurrection of the historical Jesus Christ. (26). This decision is an act within man corresponding to the divine act in which Jesus became man—a decision requiring the Holy Spirit.

Some Reflections

When the centre of gravity shifts from the historical factuality of Jesus to the spiritual experience of men and women, then the historical Jesus is demoted to a purely secondary place as of only parabolic or perhaps of only mythological significance. (16)

The argument is tempting to many people: what matters is not whether or not Jesus actually existed but the impact his community has made. This sort of despair is not only unhealthy, it is nothing short of a denial of the Word of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

The historical Jesus is not only identical with God’s saving action toward man, but the fulfilled response of man toward that saving action. (18)


In Jesus Christ, God not only reached out to save humanity—he fulfilled humanity’s response. That’s the sort of understanding that you can only start to apprehend when you approach Jesus from the mystery of the God-man unity.

[Jesus] deliberately holds back revelation by word so that it may keep pace with revelation through the dynamic movement of his advance to the hour of eschatological completion on the cross. (21)

There are a few different ways to understand the “messianic secret.” I’ve always thought Jesus kept his identity secret for a time so he wouldn’t be forced to the cross before his pre-cross mission was accomplished. Torrance has made me rethinking my position with this quote. For Torrance, Jesus hid his identity so his teaching wouldn’t outpace his action. That’s the sort of understanding you come to when you hold Jesus’ kērygma as both word and deed combined.

Whereas for existentialist theology I am saved by my own act of faith or decision, according to the New Testament gospel what saves me is the obedience of Christ upon which I am summoned to cast all my reliance, for it is his obedience which saves me and it is Christ through his Spirit who gives me to share in his obedience. Thus my decision rests upon his decision for me: my faith is my reliance upon his faithfulness and a sharing in his faith. (27-8)

In this paragraph it seems like Torrance is trying to reach for a rhetorical way to maintain a Calvinistic view of election while still affirming some sort of human response. I love the phrase, “my decision rests upon his decision for me.” I suppose that encapsulates the election/free-will dichotomy as good as any.

← 1.1: The Relation of Christ to History
1.3: Procedure in Christology →

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