Thursday, January 28, 2016

Angelomorphic Christology

Back in 2009, I published a thread (LINK) that provided selections from three esteemed Reformed theologians (Calvin, Edwards, Gill), who identified the preexistent Jesus as Michael the Archangel.

In the combox of that thread, a link was provided to a ten page online document by Michael Daniels that cited more than a dozen theologians (from various traditions) who also taught that Jesus is Michael the Archangel (an updated, 2014 PDF edition available HERE).

Yesterday, a thread published by Dr. Edgar G. Foster (link), brought back to mind an informative and substantive work by Charles A. Gieschen: Angelomorphic Christology - Antecedents & Early Evidence. [A Google Books  preview is available online HERE.]

This book was originally published back in 1998, and I purchased and read it shortly thereafter. I did not start blogging until 2007, but I suspect that if my blogging endeavors had begun before I read the book, I would have devoted a thread to it. With that said, and thanks to Edgar's post, I am now going to share a few selections from Gieschen's masterful contribution, and then provide links to other germane works that I have found to be worth reading.

In the prologue, Gieschen provides a definition for the term "Angelomorphic";

"Angelomorphic" is an inclusive term which means having some of the various forms and functions of an angel, even though the figure may not be explicitly called an "angel" or considered to have the created nature of an angel... (Page 3, footnote #2)

He then writes:

The study of Angelomorphic Christology has been plagued by two foundational misconceptions. First, the lack of much overt "angel" terminology in first century Christology has misdirected our understanding of its influence far too long...The relative lack of labeling Christ as an angel in the pages of the NT does not warrant the conclusion that he was understood and depicted by NT writers without the significant influence of Jewish angelology. For this reason "angelomorphic" is a more helpful term to broaden the discussion beyond overt "angel" terminology. Furthermore, "angel" terminology also raises ontological questions that has moved some interpreters to dismiss a priori the impact of such concepts on early Christology. It is curcial to understand that distinctions which early Christian documents make between Christ and the "created" angels do not preclude the use of angelomorphic traditions in expressing Christology. Angelic forms and functions do not of necessity imply a nature that is less than divine. This conclusion is evident from the OT texts which equate God and his angel.

The second major misconception plaguing the study of Angelomorphic Christology is that many scholars believe that it developed at a later date and could not have influenced the origin and very early expression of Christology. (Page 4)

A couple of pages later we read:

This study will address this need by arguing the following thesis: Angelomorphic traditions, especially those growing from the Angel of the Lord traditions, had a significant impact on the early expressions of Christology to the extent that evidence of an Angelomorphic Christology is discernible in several documents dated between 50 and 150 CE. (Page 6)

On pages 27-29, he provides definitions for ANGEL, ANGELOLOGY, ANGELOMORPHIC, ANGEL CHRISTOLOGY, ANGELOMORPHIC CHRISTOLOGY, ANGELOPHANY, THEOPHANY, EPIPHANY, AND CHRISTOLOGY, and then made the following important distiniction:

ANGEL CHRISTOLOGY is the explicit identification of Jesus Christ as an angel. ANGELOMORPHIC CHRISTOLOGY is the identification of Christ with angelic form and functions, either before or after the incarnation, whether or not he is specifically identified as an angel. (Page 28)

Chapter one focuses on "History of Research" concerning angelomorphic traditions, referencing over thirty authors/theologians who have written on the subject.

Chapters three through six deals with the angelomorphic traditions found primarily in pre-Christian Jewish literature, including the OT.

Chapters seven through ten examines pre-Nicene Christian authors whose extant writings contain some form of angelomorphic Christology, and chapters eleven through fourteen reflects on the NT evidence.

The conclusion, chapter fifteen, ends with:

The seeds that were needed to express a sophisticated Christology were sown in the Israelite and Jewish texts from which early Christianity sought to understand Jesus as Lord. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that the angelomorphic traditions of this literature, among which the Angel of the Lord texts are foundational, were some of the oldest and more significant traditions that inspired the Christology which we now find in early Christian literature, including the New Testament. (Page 351)

I highly recommend this book to those folk who have an interest in Christological issues. It is informative and well written, and IMO worth its rather high cost.

In ending, I would also like to recommend the following related contributions (the links provided are Google Books previews):

Michael and Christ: Michael Traditions and Angel Christology in Early Christianity, by Darrell D. Hannah (LINK).

Angel Veneration and Christology - A Study in Early Judaism and in Christology of the Apocalypse of John, by Loren T. Stuckenbruck (LINK)

Two Powers in Heaven - Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism, by Alan F. Segal (LINK)

Grace and peace,