Torrance’s Incarnation 1.4: The biblical witness to Jesus Christ

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

Encounter with Christ in the witness of the New Testament

When we read the Bible we not only hear people’s thoughts about Jesus but are confronted by Jesus himself. Therefore, what is revealed about Jesus and how it is revealed are inseparable. When we start to look at what the scripture tells us of Jesus, we therefore also have to ask how this information is revealed.

Knowing Christ through knowing his salvation: the works of Melanchthon

Melanchthon wrote in 1521, “This is to know Christ, to know his benefits” (Loci Communes). This is true, but needs to be understood properly. He means that we know Jesus through his saving action on us as we hear his witnesses.

One danger is evident here: we must never interpret Christ as a human subject or we will wind up with a christology which is “essentially anthropocentric” (34). Ritschl, Schleiermacher, and Herrman have followed this path. Humans have no appropriate scale with which to evaluate Christ: He evaluates us.

Christ can only be understood in the light which his own person creates for himself

Knowledge of Christ is a supernatural act since “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27 ESV). Melanchthon meant that because Jesus is the Son of God, he brings us benefits.

Obedient acknowledgement of the whole Christ as true God and true man

God’s voice can never be subjugated to our ideas. He is the Lord of those who would approach him and requires surrender. As we approach in this manner, he forms in us the proper way to perceive him. This requires us to “yield to [his word] the obedience of our mind” (36). This knowledge requires denial and crucifixion which is always a painful experience.

Some Reflections

Now what God reveals to us in Jesus Christ and the manner of his revealing, the content and the mode of revelation, are inseparable. (33)

Marshall McLuhan’s famous dictum came to mind when I read the above quote: “The medium is the message.” While Torrance doesn’t go as far as McLuhan (at least in Christology), he does make it plain that we can’t know information about Jesus without accepting the mode by which he reveals that information. That is, we cannot know Christ without accepting his salvation.

[An anthropocentric knowledge of Christ] requires a prior store of human principles or tenets, categories or values, with which to measure out, in this or that coin, the market value of Christ. (34)

Torrance emphasizes the need for Jesus to define for us the way by which we learn about him. The more I reflect on this, the more the truth of it jumps out. Still, I have one question: Is it possible to understand anything wholly apart from human presuppositions? I don’t think it is. Torrance goes on to state that as we approach Jesus rightly, he forms those opinions in us. Still, does Jesus not work with the presuppositions and ideas that we already have? (A read through the Old Testament makes this plain pretty quickly.)

Maybe Torrance was overemphasizing this point to contrast those who recast Jesus in anthropological terms. (Or, maybe I just need to think this through a little more.)

← 1.3: Procedure in Christology
2.1: The incarnation and the old Israel →

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