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Theology is mainly concerned with the things of God as they are related to man and his [journey]. This statement, divine things made known to man, implies the capacity in our nature to receive Divine truth; indicates both the extent and the limits of its range as revealed specially for man, and explains the essentially human character which is impressed on its form and invests it with profound human interest.
(1) Man is, in a certain sense, the center of this science. He is specifically the center of one branch of it, technically called Anthropology, which has to do with his characteristics as a creature formed in the image of God; but, more generally, he is the object around which all revolves. The light of revelation is poured upon the human race, and in its fullness upon it alone.
Hence, the relation of mankind to the Supreme may be said to be one of the definitions of theology. But man is only one insignificant, and yet not insignificant, creature of God. His place in the vast creation, and the development of his wonderful career harmonizing with all other Divine designs, marks out his relation to theology universal. But this general truth must be viewed in two lights: man is the object of all revelation, as it concerns him and his destination; man is the subject of all revelation, as he is its recipient.
(a) Theology is concerned with the destiny of man in the universe. Its first lessons, the opening of the volume of the book, presents him as the head of the creation of God: the history of the origin of all things and of the slow formation of this world is only the preface to his introduction as the representative of his Maker upon the earth. His fall and his redemption are blended in one; the whole sequel of revelation is the record of the Divine method of retrieving in the Second Adam what in the first was marred, the Divine Image. The redemption of the human race, and the salvation of individual man, are interwoven into one great economy, stretching from the shutting of the earthly to the opening of the heavenly Paradise. There is not a revelation of God in His three Persons, as the Father, the Son Incarnate, and the Holy Ghost, which is not directly or indirectly connected with the salvation of mankind. Thus theology is simply the system of Divine truth which lies at the foundation of human religion or the spiritual fellowship between man and his Creator.
(b) But the same general principle may be referred to man as the recipient of revelation. Created in the image of God, he is an intelligent, free, and responsible creature, capable of separation from the Divine will and also capable of restoration to the Divine communion. The two first postulates of all theology are the Personality of the Infinite Being and the personality of man, His creature. Neither of these is a matter of demonstration in the holy prophets; both are assumed or taken for granted everywhere. To renounce either is to annihilate theological knowledge properly so-called. Although in the prosecution of this study, methods of proving both may be adopted, under the pressure of a necessity imposed on us by the waywardness of human skepticism, yet we must finally and always beg the question here. God is a Person who lowers himself in His dealings with man, and man is a person who is capable of God.
(c) The objective and subjective relations of man as the center of theological science meet in the word Religion, one of the largest and deepest terms with which we have to do. Its derivation has been much disputed, but its two leading explanations may be united for our present purpose. According to Lactantius, vinculo pietatis obstricti deo et religati (tied to God and bound by the bond of piety, Inst. Div. iv:28) sumus, unde ipsa religio nomen accepit, non, ut Cicero interpretatus est, a relegendo (we are, whence the religion itself took its name, not, as Cicero interpreted, from banishment). That is to say, the eternal bond which binds man to God is signified by religion, which is, therefore, the relation of the human creature to the Supreme Creator, as acknowledged and borne witness to in all forms of theological teaching and worship. Men have never been without a religion, for God has never left Himself without witness (Acts 14:17) in any age or land: there have been many gods and religions, though to us, only one God and one religion. The rejected interpretation of Cicero, however, demands to be heard: qui omnia, quæ ad cultum deorum pertinerent, diligenter retractarent et tanquam relegerent, (who carefully reviewed everything that pertained to the worship of the gods and, as it were, relegated them, De Nat. Deor. 2:28) sunt dicti religiosi, ex relegendo (they are said to be religious, from relegation). That is to say, the exercise of the human mind in pondering and considering Divine things is signified by religion, which is, as it were, an instinctive and woven or worked into the aspiration of human nature corrected and purified and directed to its highest issues in the true faith. We combine the two when we say that man is the center of all theology as it is the foundation of all true religion.
(2) Hence, the limitation that everywhere meets us. The relations of the vast universe, and of other creatures in it, with God are included only so far as they concern mankind. Revelation brings us tidings from without, from the outside universe; and its communications concerning the earlier probation of spiritual bits of intelligence, their division into orders, their interest and agency in the development of the Divine purposes, amount when systematized to a considerable department of revealed truth, to which the name Angelology is sometimes given. But it is always their connection with man that regulates the method and the amount of these disclosures. There is strict parsimony as to everything not essential to human destiny: the principle of Least Action is maintained in revelation as in nature. Hence, it is obvious that the responsibility of theology, so to speak, is limited to one subject. Those who study it must submit to this restriction. What is that to you? (John 21:22) has its meaning here for all who indulge too much in speculation both as to the past and as to the future. Concerning all other things afterward, you will understand: (John 13:7) there are many hints and earnests of a more abundant compensatory out-pouring of knowledge in due time. Meanwhile, this is the answer by anticipation to many objections of the skeptical spirit. We have but one leaf out of an enormous book; its page begins and ends, so to speak, in the middle of a sentence. Hereafter we shall see much more of this book. Now we know in part. (1 Cor. 13:12) We know ourselves apart from other creatures and other worlds. Then we shall know as we are known: we shall know other beings and worlds as they know us.
(3) There is an impression upon theology, whether in its Divine records or in its human science, which results from its adaptation to human faculties. We must here take it for granted that man is a creature capable of religion, that is, of communion with God, as a person related to a Person. The Scripture, which does not prove that God is, does not prove that man can know God: both are the fundamental presuppositions of theology. But, reserving the fuller demonstration of this, we must mark that as he is a creature on probation, his knowledge of Divine things is given in probationary forms, testing his character at every point. All are expressly adapted to his limited faculties and imparted to him in a way suitable to his present stage of existence. God has come down to us in the likeness of men (Acts 14:11) and speaks to them in their own language. As the Rabbins said of the Law, Lex Dei loquitur linguam filiorum hominum, the law of God speaks the language of the children of men. The entire Bible is pervaded by what is called Anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god) and Anthropopathy (the attribution of human emotions to a god): the former gives a name to the condescension of God in seeming to take a human form and human attributes; the latter includes also the peculiar affections of man, not excepting some that belong to his infirmities, such as hope and suspense. Not that the reality does not correspond. The Supreme gives us a true revelation of Himself, but it is a revelation that can be understood only in our world and by us men. Even things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12); so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known; (Eph. 3:10), but they cannot study them in our language.
(4) As human students of our own truth, we may be assured that we shall have full and sufficient guidance. Nothing that it concerns us to know has been or will be hidden from us: what is reserved is reserved for our discipline, as what is revealed is revealed for our instruction. He hath showed thee, O man, what is good: (Mic. 6:8) this must have its widest application. So also must that other saying, which contains the counterpart: The secret things belong to Jehovah our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut. 29:29) With what a profound human interest does this invest the whole domain of this sacred knowledge! Our life, our hope, our destiny, our all, is bound up with it: it is the record of our degradation and deliverance, our ruin and recovery, our woes and our redemption. How great is the dignity of man that he is the center, in any sense, of such a science! If the name of God gives it its surpassing majesty, that grandeur is reflected upon us. What is man that you are mindful of him? (Ps. 8:4) Our study cannot be conducted aright without a combination of the loftiest triumph and the deepest humility; we must always remember the dignity while we never forget the lowliness of the place we ourselves occupy in it. Approaching the revelation of Him who is our Wisdom, we hear: that no flesh may not boast before God; (1 Cor. 1:29–31) receiving that revelation, we again hear, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Lu. 2:32) Theology is a light shed upon all the universe; it is the glory of God’s creature, man. But this leads us to the eternal secret of our dignity. Our knowledge comes to us through One who is Man and also God; His incarnation in the fullness of time explains the Anthropomorphism of the Old Testament, and it is in Him that the theology of God and the theology of man become one.
BY JESUS CHRIST
Jesus Christ is Himself in Person and in Word, the revelation of God. He has confirmed and supplemented Natural Theology, or that which is independent of supernatural revelation. He has consummated the preliminary disclosures of His own earlier dispensations. He has discredited and condemned all teachers and teaching that reject His authority. Hence, the science which we study is essentially Christian theology.
The postulates of the general proposition will be more fully established hereafter: they are now only stated and assumed.
(1) In its technical sense, the term Christology generally refers to the doctrine of Christ’s Person as such in the unity of His two natures; but it may be said that Christology is Theology. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9) Although He reveals God as the Father who becomes visible in Him, He is, in a certain sense the manifestation of the entire Divinity. He is the Mystery of God, he is manifest in the flesh. (1 Tim. 3:16) The Old Testament, Behold your God! (Isa. 40:9) The New Testament, Behold the Man! (John 19:5) Our Lord is the ever-blessed unity of these: for both were spoken expressly of Him. His Person is the compendium of all that is Divine in human things, and in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:3) He is the substance of revelation in action and in word. He is Himself the one and supreme Theologian: no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matt. 11:27) He is the center of theology; all its doctrines revolve around Him: I am the Truth. (John 14:6) And, as mediator between God and men, (1 Tim. 2:5) making both one, He is in a peculiar sense the bond of perfectness in theology. In Him is its unity, and it is complete in Him. The superscription of the Apocalypse is the superscription of our science as a whole: it is the ἀποκάλυΨις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Rev. 1:1) of Him as its object, from Him as its source.
(2) The Supreme Revealer confirms and absorbs into His teaching the original revelations of nature: or what is called Natural theology. (1.) He presupposes the elements of this natural knowledge. He everywhere appeals to it. But by the mouth of His servant, Paul He has given the fullest exposition of what it includes. First, the Apostle speaks of the law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15) or on the reason of universal man, which is the indestructible evidence of a God in whose image he was created: for we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:28) Secondly, he appeals to the religious consciousness, or conscience, in man bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another according to the standard written or rather engraved on the reason; to the evidence of the eternal power and Godhead which were clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; (Rom. 1:20) and to a Providence, drawing men, in all ages, to feel after (Acts 17:27) the unknown God of a final revelation. Thus, the apostle Paul, as the preacher in the Acts and teacher in the Romans, traces the broad outlines of the primitive interior and traditional knowledge of mankind. He is himself pre-eminently the theologian of the finished revelation in Christ. Still, he indirectly and yet most clearly acknowledges the labors of a certain theology outside of supernatural revelation and preliminary to it. (2.) The New Teacher confirms and supplements the theology of nature. Our Lord came not to destroy but to fulfill this natural law and these natural prophets. Of these Scriptures also He silently says to the searcher: they testify of Me. (John 5:39) His coming reveals their imperfection; but His tribute to them, as the basis of His teaching, vindicates their Divine origin. The fanaticism of the Jews cried: Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? (John 7:35) He did both afterward by His Apostles, and the latter He had done long before. This will hereafter recur at more length.
(3) Christian Theology is the consummation of its own earlier economies. Christ was the Revealer from the beginning. But His revelations have been given by progressive stages, and now in the end of the world, He has gathered the whole into one great system of truth. We may therefore regard His perfect teaching as the consummation of its preliminary forms. It is the fulfillment of Old Testament theology as a vast body of preparatory truth, the ruling design of which is to prepare the way of the Lord. This one complex economy of past revelation is itself divided again into several branches: there is the Patriarchal theology, which had in it the earliest broad disclosures of the Divine will, the Gospel before the Law; the Mosaic theology, which is that of the chosen people, and its theocracy, and typical institutes, the Gospel under the Law; and the Prophetical theology, which is emphatically the Gospel in the Law. These branches of the earlier teaching were all under the guidance of inspiration: under the Spirit of Christ in them. (1 Pet. 1:11) They are all presupposed, confirmed, supplemented, and perfected by the New-Testament institution of Christ. This also must again be considered more fully.
(4) New-Testament teaching, which sanctions the religion of nature and the earlier disclosures of truth, both having the same common element of preparation, denounces every independent source of religious instruction. One is your Master, even Christ, (Matt. 23:8) ὁ καθηγητής or ὁ διδασκάλος. He has expressly shut out all others who had come before Him, or who might come after Him: the former, all that ever came before me, (John 10:8) since My appearance, whom the sheep did not hear; (Lu. 21:8) the latter, Go ye not therefore after them. He is not more jealous of the honor of His Father than of His own honor. He is the absolute Teacher; But I say unto you (Matt. 5:22) interdicts every other: the only supplement of His own words which He admits is that which He Himself gives in the person of the Spirit of truth. (John 16:13) And this is intended in the comprehensive saying of the last commission: πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην, all things whatsoever I have commanded. (Matt. 28:20)
The theological systems of religious teaching which are thus condemned are those which have been based upon perversions either of natural or of revealed religion.
(a) The former has assumed many forms, all of them having some common relation to the only truth. There has always been a Traditional theology among men, which, containing vestiges of primitive revelation perverted into error, has been woven into every imaginable form of Mythology, or legendary religion, varying with the culture of the nations. These have been connected, especially in the East, with elaborate religious systems, which may be called the Heathen Religions, flourishing especially in India, China, and Persia when Christ came into the world. Philosophy, which seeks the first principles of truth in the love of it, but without even professing to find it, has been in every age a human disguise of Divine revelation: anciently deeply religious, almost in every age the expression of religious sentiment, but in modern times led away by false fundamental principles. The theology proper of a perverted religion of nature is Deism, in its rather less anti-Christian form Theism, which retains a God but rejects supernatural revelation, especially that of Christ.
(b) The perversions of revealed religion have assumed also many forms. The most gigantic is that of Rabbinism, or Talmudism, as taught in the writings of the Talmud, the foundations of which were laid in the Judaism during the interval between the two Testaments. Next comes Mohammedanism, an imposture based upon the Holy Scriptures but reducing religion back again to the lowest conditions of nature: the strangest admixture of truth and error that history presents. And to them must be added that mass of Christian Traditionalism which is identified with the corruption of the Christian Faith. All these are the dark background of the science that the name of Christ sanctifies. We shall meet some of them again and again; and indicate them now only in outline.
(5) Christ, the Center of theology, is its Living Teacher also. As the test of all opinion and faith is the place it assigns to Him—Whom say ye that I am? (Mark 8:27–29) being the question that follows Who do men say that I am?—so His doctrine cannot be studied effectually save at His feet. By His Spirit, He guides His disciples, as the company of its believing students, into all the truth: no longer by a supreme inspiration, but by a secret instruction that gives the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, which is Christ, (Col. 2:2) to every believer united to Himself. Pectus facit theologum, the heart’s devotion makes the theologian: this word of St. Augustine holds good of all whose hearts are true to their Master. They are the holy brethren (Heb. 3:1) who are invited to consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. Of the unbelieving Jews, our Lord said: Why do you not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. (John 8:43) But His true disciples, down to the least, can hear His doctrinal word, λόγον, for they have learned by the Spirit its heavenly meaning as the word of eternal truth; therefore, they understand His speech, His λαλίαν, and receive His perfect doctrine. They know Him as their Master and His communications. But He gives His instruction through His Spirit, not only by secret and personal illumination but through the channels of teaching provided in His Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15) They receive both the elements and the developments of Christian doctrine as set forth among the people of God; the teachings of God are addressed to the household of faith: (Gal. 6:10) πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους τῆς πίστεως.
By William Burt Pope, edited by Edward D. Andrews