Monday, October 27, 2008

Lord, Saviour & Son of God

No, I'm not about to doubt that Jesus is any of these. So don't worry.

But I have been thinking of all the titles that Jesus is given in the New Testament, and I wonder if we really understand them in the way that the NT writers meant us to.

You see, everyone in the original readership of the gospels and the epistles was already familiar with concepts such as 'Lord' (kyrios), 'Saviour' (sōtēr) & 'Son of god' - Caesar was all of these!

Lord

Our contemporary understanding of the phrase 'Jesus is Lord' seems to be more or less equivalent to saying 'Jesus is God', that is, he is the ruler and creator of all things. Someone today can say that and it doesn't really have an impact on their life. Back when the NT was written though, the meaning was far more grounded, it meant 'Jesus is my master' and by declaring 'Jesus is Lord' people were more or less committing treason - in practice it meant 'Jesus is my master, Caesar is not'!

Romans 10v9: "...if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

These days, that verse has a very cerebral slant - all you have to do is say something (with your mouth) and believe something (in your head) and you will be saved (whatever that means, see below). But to the first century nobody would say 'Jesus is Lord' unless they had decided to change their lifestyle to follow Jesus. And the 'believe' (pisteuō) bit also implies action, not merely head-acknowledgement.

Saviour

These days we kind of understand salvation in terms of Jesus saving us from the world - when we die we will get to go to heaven, or something like that. But the first century concept of salvation was very much salvation in the world. Caesar was the saviour in that he had established peace (the 'pax Romana') in all the Roman world. The Greek word sōtēr has three meanings, saviour, deliverer and preserver. So when we say that Jesus is saviour, we're talking about an ongoing preservation of us in the world as well as any future aspirations. He's saved us and delivered us from our sins, enabling us to live in the Kingdom now - when we're in the world. There's a nice turn of phrase in Acts (2v47, also in I Cor 1v18 and 2 Cor 2v15) which speaks of the believers as being those who are being saved. Its not a one-off event, but an ongoing process. (That thought takes me back to an old sermon that is well worth a listen).

Son of God

Just a wee comment in passing, but 'son of god' was not a particularly radical assertion in the ancient world. Many of the Greek, Roman and Egyptian heroes were sons of gods. Many of the Roman emperors were proclaimed to be gods after they died, so their sons were (by definition) sons of a god. But, of course, in Jewish circles that was a radical assertion. It was claimed that Jesus was the only Son of the only God.

But in all these things, those who wrote about Jesus were being subversive. They were presenting Jesus - on many levels - as the one who should replace Caesar in the lives of Christians. Most of the letters were written to churches in the Roman world, presumably full of people whose self-identity was bound up in being a Roman. Yet the call of the NT writers is to completely change your self-identity. In every way that folks back then relied on Rome or Caesar for identity, support, authority, etc., etc., the subtle message in the NT is that Christ replaces, supplants or completely over-rules in all instances.

I wonder what that looks like today?

2 comments:

Mike Arthur said...

Great post Ricky and thanks, I feel this will help me understand the rest the NT a bit better than before!

Keep up the good work!

Ricky Carvel said...

Thanks Mike.

I have to say that these pearls of wisdom are not mine, but are third-hand, as I heard them in a sermon which was itself based on a book.

The book in question is "Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire" by Brian J. Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat. Its on my 'to read' list, but from what I've heard of it, its a really interesting book - puts a completely different spin on stuff you've read many times before.