Preparing for Advent with Three Christological "Rules" for Reading

The Advent season—the season in which we remember and celebrate the miraculous incarnation and eagerly await the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—is just around the corner (Nov. 27th – Dec 24th) this year. There are numerous ways we can “prepare” for the great celebration of Christmas (after Thanksgiving, of course, for those of you already listening to Christmas music). Jokes aside, I’d like to propose just one way for pastors and church leaders who are entrusted to read and teach Scripture and to help others read and teach Scripture. How can we faithfully do such in this upcoming Advent season? Again, this is just a way, not the way or the only way, but nonetheless, a good way to help us prepare for Advent.

In their recent book, Biblical Reasoning, R. B. Jamieson and Tyler R. Wittman deliver a significant aid for interpretation of Scripture by showing Scripture’s own “rules” for interpreting Scripture, specifically in relation to its trinitarian and Christological content. Given that it’s almost “the most wonderful time of the year,” as even the pagans admit, let us consider three Christological “rules” from this book for interpreting Scripture as we prepare to celebrate and await Christ this upcoming season.

Three “Rules” 

We now come to three “rules” for accurate Christological reading. We’re beginning near the end of their book, so these are rules 7–9 of Biblical Reasoning. The following summarizes, in brief, their content.

Rule 7: The eternal, divine Son is the sole subject of everything Jesus does and suffers. Christ is one prison, one agent, one ‘who.’ Therefore, in reading Scripture’s witness to Christ we must never divine Christ’s acts between two acting subjects, attributing some to the divine Son and others to the human Jesus as if there were two different people” (p. 126).

In other words, because Jesus is one person, not two persons, we must approach Scripture knowing that whatever Jesus does, it is his one person acting—the divine Son.

Rule 8: Since Christ is a single divine person who subsists in both a divine and a human nature, Scripture sometimes names him according to one nature and predicates of him what belongs to the other nature. Scripture ascribes divine prerogatives to the man Jesus, and human acts and sufferings to the divine Son. So read Scripture in a way that recognizes and reproduces this paradoxical grammar of Christological predication” (p. 126).

In other words, because Jesus is one person—the second person of the Trinity, i.e., the eternal begotten, divine Son—who, in his incarnation, has two distinct natures, we predicate the things of both natures to his one person. Here we see what is commonly referred to as the communicatio idiomatum (“communication of attributes/properties/idioms”) (see pp. 141–145). All things of the Christ—divine and human—are said of his one person, which can seem to be a “paradox”: the divine Son is said to do human acts (eating, dying, etc.) and the man Jesus born of Mary is “Immanuel,” “God with us” who has authority to forgive sins (see pp. 146–148) and commands the wind and the waves (see pp. 148–149). 

Rule 9: Scripture speaks of Christ in a twofold manner: some things are said of him as divine, and other things are said of him as human. Biblical reasoning discerns that Scripture speaks of the one Christ in two registers in order to contemplate the whole Christ. Therefore read Scripture in such a way that you discern the different registers in which Scripture speaks of Christ, yet without dividing him” (p. 153).

In other words, because Jesus has two distinct natures—divine and human, and so is fully God and fully man—and since these natures remain distinct, it is not surprising for us to see “paradoxical,” to borrow a term from the authors (also see Jamieson’s book, The Paradox of Sonship), things being spoken of about the one person of Jesus, the divine Son. This is what they label as “partitive exegesis” (p. 156, 163–167) where Scripture talks about Jesus as “one ‘who’ with two ‘whats’” (p. 156). Jamieson and Wittman refer us to Romans for two clear examples of this.

First, in Romans 1, Paul says that “Christ Jesus” (v. 1), is God’s “Son” (vv. 2–4), and yet is the one “who was descended [γενομένου; genomenou] from David according to the flesh [κατὰ σάρκα; kata sarka]” (v. 3). Commenting on this verse, they show that the Greek of the passage tells us Jesus “came into existence ‘by means of the seed of David’ … So Paul names Jesus as God’s Son and narrates the event of his incarnation—his assumption of human life and lineage derived from his mother” (p. 157). They note that the “partitive qualifier ‘according to the flesh’ should pop off the page. No one speaks of their lineage this way, and for good reason. It would be inelegant and unnecessary—unless, of course, there is more to one’s lineage … Jesus is not only David’s son but also God’s Son” (p. 157.)

Second, in Romans 9, Paul writes, “To them [the ethnic Jews] belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (v. 5). Notice again Paul’s use of “according to the flesh” (identical Greek to Rom 1:3) here (see p. 157). And yet Paul calls Christ “God” (see pp. 157–158).

These three rules derived from Scripture itself help us read Scripture and confess Jesus for who he is and what he has done in a faithful manner. Understanding Scripture’s speech about Christ is integral for understanding and confessing who Jesus is—“the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). But what does it mean that Jesus is this anointed one? And what does it mean that Jesus is the Son? After all, others were anointed and we are called sons of God (Gal 4:5). These rules help us honor Jesus in confessing him as the enterally only begotten, divine Son of God, of one substance with the Father, who “became flesh” (John 1:1), as the creeds say, “for us and for our salvation.”