The Names of Jesus:
In our reflections on the names and the titles for Jesus, we reflected on that strange expression in the Holy Scripture, a Hebrew, Aramaic expression, not a Greek expression, “the Son of Man.” And we saw how, in the Holy Scriptures, Jesus always refers to himself, in the pages of the four Gospels, as the Son of Man. And only in one place do other people refer to him as the Son of Man, and even there it’s where he himself called himself the Son of Man, and then they asked him a question about, “Isn’t the Son of Man supposed to remain forever?” and so on.
But generally speaking, Jesus is presenting himself as the Son of Man, and we know that in the Holy Scripture—the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets—there was that Son of Man, that particular Man, that one human who is going to be the Messianic king, who’s going to be enthroned at the right hand of the Father, who is going to be coming on the clouds to judge the living and the dead—that very Man. When we have that expression, “Son of Man,” it certainly affirms the humanity of Jesus, that he is really a man, a human being.
What we want to reflect on today is the fact that, in the Holy Scriptures, Jesus certainly appears as a human being. He appears as a man. The first contact with Jesus as it’s described in the Bible, in the Gospels, is as a man. You have Jesus as a boy; you have Jesus in the Temple; you have Jesus coming out; you have Jesus preaching; you have Jesus asking to be baptized; you have Jesus doing all the things that he did and saying all the things that he said. And certainly there can be no doubt whatsoever that he is a human being. And they ask, “Is this not the son of the carpenter? Is it not himself who is the carpenter? Is he not the son whose parents we know, Joseph and Mary?” Joseph, his legal father; Mary his mother.
So there can be no doubt whatsoever that according to Orthodox Christian teaching, Jesus Christ is a man. He is an anthrōpos, a human being. And here what we want to see is that, right from the beginning, however, there were questions about his humanity. How could he, being a man, say the things that he said? How can he, being a man, do the things that he did? And, in fact, in St. John’s Gospel, it even says that Jesus, being a man, has made himself God because of how he was behaving.
And then, of course, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, you have that question (Matthew 8:27, Mark 4:41, Luke 8:25): “What sort is this? What manner of person is this?” Sometimes in English it’s translated: “What manner of man is this, that even the winds are [subject] to him?” Actually, in that particular text, the word “anthrōpos” or “man” is not there; it just simply says, “What type is this one, houtos? Who is this one, that even the winds and the waves of the sea obey him?” and so on.
So you have this immediately in the Holy Scripture. As you read it, you see this fact, this reality as it’s presented. He’s a man, but different from other men. Doing things that no mere man could do. Saying things that no mere man can say. Nevertheless, he is certainly a man.
There are texts, of course, where he is simply called “the Man” or “a man.” Probably the most memorable of all, when we think of the term “anthrōpos,” human being, or “ho anthrōpos,” the human being, what comes to mind immediately when we think about this, is most likely St. John’s Gospel, the 19th chapter there, where, before Pontius Pilate, when Jesus is on trial, Pilate has Jesus brought out and presented to the people on that judgment seat. After Jesus is scourged, the soldiers plait a crown of thorns, they put it on his head, they array him in a purple robe, and they come up to him and they mock him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” they beat him with their hands.
And then it says that Pilate went out again and said to the people, “Behold, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.” And then it says:
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and Pilate said to them, (that is, to the crowd; then it says in English) “Behold the man—Ecce homo—Idou ho anthrōpos—Behold the man.”
In Slavonic: “Se chelovek”; and “chelovek” and “anthrōpos” and “homo”: it means a human being. That word means a human being. “Behold, the man.” Of course, that particular scene has inspired a lot of Christian artwork through the centuries, where you have the paintings of Jesus standing, bound, in purple garment, with the thorn on his head, and then it’s called “Ecce homo—Behold the man.”
So you have that expression, that he is really called “the man” or “a man, anthrōpos”; that means human being. And you have this other places in the Holy Scripture also, in the Gospels and even in St. Paul. You have also in St. John’s Gospel (John 9), for example, when the man born blind is healed and the leaders of the people are questioning him and testing him and trying to find out who did this and how it happened and so on, they come to that blind man and they say, “How were your eyes opened? Who did this?”
And then the blind man answers, “Ho anthrōpos ho legomenos Iēsus—the man called Jesus.” Ho anthrōpos: the man, the human being called Jesus. “He made clay and he anointed my eyes and he told me to go and wash.” But he is called the man, the man who is called Jesus. So you have that in St. John’s Gospel. You have also in St. John’s Gospel when Jesus is speaking and you have the people saying about him, “No one ever spoke like this one. No man ever spoke like this man.” And you have that expression (John 7:46): “Oudepote elalēsen houtōs anthrōpos hos aftos lalei ho anthrōpos”: no anthrōpos, no human being, has ever spoken like this human being. This human being has spoken like no others, and it’s “ho anthrōpos”: the human being.
So you have this expression, and you have it in many different ways, that he’s simply called “anthōpos” or “houtos”: “this one,” obviously meaning “this human being.” So there is no doubt whatsoever, on the pages of the Gospel, that Jesus is living and acting on earth as a real human being. He is a human being. He is a man.
In the writings of St. Paul and in the Book of Acts, you have also Jesus being referred to as a human being. For example, they’ll say that, “Through this man, God has saved the world” or “By that man.” In fact, in Acts 17, the term that is used is not “anthrōpos,” which means “human being,” but “anēr,” which means a male human being, a masculine human being, a man in the sense of a male. Very often, by the way, in the Psalms, where we have in English “man,” it’s actually a male human being that’s mentioned, not simply a human being, and that’s why it’s not right in some of these Bible translations when they just simply, because of so-called political correctness, want to say “human being.”
A good example of that [which] comes immediately to mind is the very first psalm. The very first psalm says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” Everybody knows that first line, the first verse of the first psalm: “Blessed is the man.” So sometimes in modern translations, they’ll just write, “Blessed is the one” or “Blessed is that one,” but actually in the original language, it doesn’t mean “human being,” it means a male human being: “Makarios anēr.” “Anēr” is a male human being, not simply a human being, like a man or a woman as a human being.
That’s very important because our interpretation of those psalms is that when it uses the expression “a male human being”... For example, that first psalm in Slavonic—”Blazhen muzh”—”muzh” is definitely “anēr.” It’s a male human being. Well, we see those sentences as referring specifically to Jesus, because Jesus is a male human being. For example, in the Book of Acts it will say, “By that Man God has saved the world,” and it would be “en andrē”: in that male human being.
In the Scripture, Jesus is not only called a human being, he’s called a man, a male human being, and that’s very, very important for our understanding of Jesus, that he is really a human being. Another text that comes immediately to mind when you think about the expression “human being”—it’s a text very often quoted, especially by those in the Protestant traditions who don’t appreciate the classical, ancient Christian understanding of holy people, holy people who are able to pray and intercede for us; very often certain Christians like to quote the line in I Timothy 2:5, well, beginning with I Timothy 2:3, it says:
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Then it continues:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
So that text is often known to people: “There is one mediator between God and men, the man, Christ Jesus.” And this is, again, very, very clear that it’s “anthrōpos.” “Eis kai mesitēs theou kai anthrōpōn anthrōpos Christos Iēsous”: one mesitēs (one mediator) of God and of men (of human beings), the human being, Christ Jesus.
Of course, we Orthodox Christians want to insist that there is only one mediator who saves us, and in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is even called the Mediator, even the Intercessor, before God the Father, of the whole human race, unique. But it is also, we have to mention here our conviction, that all human beings, men and women, who by faith and grace are filled with the Holy Spirit and are one in Christ and are in Christ, they also can be mediators for one another before God. In other words, we can pray for one another. The Scripture even says pray for one another, intercede for one another, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But those who are interceding, the Christians who are interceding and have the powers of intercession because they’re holy, as it says in the Letter of James, “the prayer of a just man is great in its effects and power,” so any righteous person can be a mediator, but it is our conviction, certainly our dogma, that there is the one mediator between God and man, the man—and here he’s called the man, anthrōpos—Christ Jesus. So that man is the mediator.
And then all of us, who are in his humanity, who are united to him, then of course, we have the relationship with God the Father that he has because he has poured the Holy Spirit upon us and given us the Holy Spirit, even making us to be sons of God. But what we want to see now, our point now is that Jesus is called “anthrōpos.” In the Scripture, he is called “anthrōpos.” He is a real human being.
Also, as we already mentioned, there was this puzzlement about Jesus as a human being: What manner of human being is [he]? What kind of potapos estin houtos (Matthew 8:27); what sort of person is this one, that he can do and say all the things that he says and does. No one ever spoke like this man. No one ever did what this man did. No one ever claimed what this man claimed.
And it’s very interesting, of course, also to remember that when Jesus was on the earth as a real human, being a real human being, an anthrōpos, when people bowed down and worshiped him, or fell down before him, or venerated him, never, once does he say, “Stand up; I’m just a man. Stand up; I’m just a man like you.” You never find that. You absolutely never find that, because, being a real man, a true human being, he is not a human being just like the rest of us.
And then here comes, of course, the great distinction, the great dogmatic distinction, and that is that Jesus is a real human being, but he is the real human being that the Son and Word of God has become. And in technical theological language, the way it was put in the development of Christian doctrine, certainly in the time of the fourth century when you had the big debates about the humanity and the divinity of Jesus, the formula would be: he is a real human being, a perfect human being, teleios anthrōpos, a real, authentic, genuine human being, but he is not a merely human being. He’s not a mere man, or, as it says in Greek a “naked man,” a “gymnos anthrōpos” or “psilos anthrōpos.” He is a real, genuine human, but not only human. He is the human being that the Son of God has become.
There are different ways that this is put in the Holy Scripture. The highest, you might say, the most powerful way, is in St. John’s Gospel, in the prologue, where it simply says, “In the beginning was the Logos, the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God, and he was in the beginning with God.” And then it says, “And the Word became flesh—kai ho logos sarx egeneto—the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
Of course, our Orthodox interpretation of “and became flesh” doesn’t mean simply that the Logos clothed himself with a body. Someone once said, like in a spacesuit, or as in a temple. No! He really became flesh. And we interpret that sentence in St. John’s Gospel, “the Word became flesh,” meaning he became a real, full, total, complete human being.
There are other places in the Scripture where that is clearly said, where the expression isn’t “the Word became flesh,” but where it says, “he became human,” he was found in the likeness of man. And probably one of the most—certainly, I should say—one of the most repeated places where that is claimed is in that early Christian hymn found in St. Paul’s letter to [the] Philippians, one of the earliest confessions about Jesus that you find written in the Holy Scripture. And that’s where it says—I’ll read it in the RSV (Philippians 2:5-11):
Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or to be held onto, to be clung to), but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (or a servant) and being born (or becoming) in the likeness of men (in the human likeness). And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the Cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
That is very, very important, because it says that although he was en morphē tou theou, he was in the form of God, nevertheless, he emptied himself, eafton ekenōsen, he emptied himself, poured himself out. And then it says, “morphēn doulou lavōn,” taking the form a slave, or the form of a servant. Then it says, “en homiōmati anthrōpōn genomenos,” becoming in the likeness, the similitude, of human beings, of men, of human beings. And by the way, that term, “homiōmati,” that would be close to the term in Hebrew that is used in Genesis where it says, “in the image and likeness.” It’s like “likeness”; “homiōsis” in Greek. “Eikon” is image and “homiōsis” is likeness. So it’s: “en homiōmati anthrōpōn genomenos,” becoming in the likeness of human beings.
Then it says, “kai”—and—”schēmati evretheis hōs anthrōpos”; translated in the RSV, it says, “being born in the likeness of humans and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient, even unto death.” So “evretheis” means “being discovered” or “discovered”—”schēmati”—in the schema, in the form—”hōs”—as—”anthrōpos”—a human being.
So it’s very, very clear that the one who was in the form of God emptied himself and took on the form of a slave, the form of a servant—actually the “suffering servant” of Yahweh; we’ll reflect on that later on, how Jesus is called the suffering servant—but then he is becoming in human likeness, in the likeness of human beings, genitive plural, human beings: “anthrōpōn.” And, being discovered as a human being, in the form of a human being. So it’s very clear that he is a human being; there’s no doubt about it.
Also, that same teaching is given in a different way in the Letter to the Hebrews, where it doesn’t say that he became a human being, or that he was found in the likeness of human beings, but it says this. It’s put in this way. It says that Jesus, “for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death. He came to taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). So he enters into the world, and he is made perfect by his suffering. But then, this is what it says, that he’s not ashamed to call human beings his brothers—brothers and sisters, brethren, actually that’s plural, so it could mean brothers and/or sisters, or brothers and sisters—meaning that he became exactly human as we are.
And then it is put this way, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise…” and it says in [the] RSV “partook of the same nature,” but in Greek there’s no “nature” there (Hebrews 2:14). What it says in Greek is that, since the children, meaning human beings, children of God, share in flesh and blood, it says simply in Greek, “He himself partook of the same.” That’s all it simply says, that he partook of the same. It’s a very wonderful expression: “partook of the same.” In Greek it goes like this: “kai aftos paraplēsiōs meteschen tōn aftōn—he suffered of the same.” So we are flesh and blood, and he shared of the same. He became the same flesh and blood that, through death, he can destroy death and the power of death that is the devil.
And then it even says that he didn’t take on angelic form; he took on human form. And then it says even that he himself was tempted, as we are tempted in human flesh, so that he could be compassionate and suffer together with us who are tempted. And it says, “He became and was made like his brethren (the human beings) in every respect.” He became like his human beings in every respect. That’s just a wonderful sentence: “kata panta tois adelphois homiōthēnai.” That’s the same word that you find in the Letter to the Philippians: was similar to, was found in the similitude of all of his brethren, “so that, being merciful, he might become the high priest for everyone and make propitiation for our sins” (Hebrews 2:17).
It says that he became like us in every single respect. Now it says, in every respect except sin. He was not sinful. And here’s a very important point, that in the Holy Scripture, and in Orthodox Christian understanding of humanity, to be a human being is not to be a sinner. Sometimes people say, “Well, if you’re a real human being, you have to be a sinner, because all human beings are sinners.” Well, we’ve got to be very careful with that, because that’s not true. In fact, to be a sinner, in some sense, is to destroy our humanity. When we sin, we ruin our humanity. Perfect humanity is not sinful. Perfect humanity has no sin or evil in it at all, so we cannot say that if Jesus didn’t sin then he’s not really human. No, that would not be true at all.
Taking all of these texts, and there are many, many more, many questions can be raised about them. For example, in these new books on atheism, like Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and so on, they speak about these things. For example, Dawkins refers to C.S. Lewis when C.S. Lewis said, “If the man Jesus said and did what he said and he did as recorded on the pages of the Scripture, then he’s either the Lord, or he’s a liar, or he’s a lunatic!” Either he really is the Lord; or he’s simply crazy, he’s a lunatic, he’s a madman; or he’s simply lying. Another way that they put that is not only “Lord, liar, or lunatic.” They say, “mad, bad, or God.” Either he’s mad, he’s crazy; or he’s bad, he’s evil and he’s lying; or he really is God.
Of course, Orthodox Christians of classical, orthodox, ancient Christian faith say, “He is Lord and God. He’s not a liar. He’s not a lunatic. He’s not bad and he’s not mad.” But Dawkins would say, “Well, maybe he was just genuinely mistaken. Maybe he was deluded. Maybe he was misled.” Well, if that’s the case, then he really was a lunatic. To be honestly mistaken, to think that you’re God and you’re not means that you’re crazy.
But another objection that is raised is “Maybe he never even said those things. Maybe all of this was just made up. Maybe the authors that wrote the Gospels put all these words in his mouth and made up all these events and they’re not really true.” Because there are some, I would say, some really insane people who say that Jesus never even really existed, the whole thing was made up. But we ancient Orthodox Christians who follow the ancient faith say, “No. He really existed and he really said and did the things in the Scriptures that claim that he said and did.”
We would certainly say that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the literary works of their respective authors, that they are put together in elegant form, that they are stylized, that maybe certain things are conflated. Maybe there are different traditions that are put differently in the different Gospels. Sure, that’s the case. And maybe even sometimes affirmations that [weren’t] made by Jesus in the Gospels, for example, St. [John’s] Gospel, are put directly into his mouth.
I would say, personally, speaking the truth as I understand it in love, if you take the Sermon on the Mountain in Matthew, or if you take the long, catechetical oration in St. John’s Gospel, from the 13th to the 17th chapter, I don’t think there’s anything [particularly] impious or blasphemous or incorrect to say these are compilations of sayings of Jesus put all together in that particular literary form. It’s not absolutely necessary to believe that they were all said on that occasion in exactly that same form, and we know very well that they weren’t said in that form, because you have different forms in the different Gospels according to the different authors who wrote down and are reporting what Jesus said, which was remembered orally.
But one thing that would be certainly the case for Orthodox Christianity, and that would be that there is this basic historical truth that Jesus the man really existed, and he really went around saying and doing things that led people into incredible questioning about who he was and what he did, and it’s certainly the case, even recorded on the pages of the Gospel, that some people, even his own brethren in Mark’s Gospel thought that he was “beside himself,” that he had lost his mind. Sure, he was confusing people. And then we know, according to the Scripture, certainly St. John’s Gospel, that he was actually killed for making himself God, being a man.
And it’s very interesting that it’s exactly put that way in the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel: “You, being a man, make yourself God—hoti sy anthrōpos hōn poieis seafton theon” (John 10:33). I mean, it can’t be clearer: “So that you, a man, anthrōpos hōn—being anthrōpos—poieis seafton theon—have made yourself God.” And that’s why he was killed. He was killed as a blasphemer, identifying himself with the heavenly Son of Man and with God himself and doing the actions of God as a man on the Planet Earth.
And here, this would certainly be a Christian conviction, that in the Holy Scriptures, everything that the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets apply to God the Father, to the most high God, to the God who revealed himself to Moses in the divine name, the [Tetragrammaton], who is called the Lord, those four letters in Hebrew: [YHWH], which I’ll be more careful not to just repeat casually, although it is pronounced “Yahweh,” that everything that is applied to this God in the Scripture—the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets—in the New Testament Scriptures, all those things are applied to the Man, the anthrōpos, the real human being, the anēr, the male human being, Jesus. That is clearly the teaching. And that is why, ultimately, when the doctrinal development takes place, that Jesus is claimed to be “perfect God and perfect man.”
Perfectly God, perfectly divine, with exactly the same divinity as God the Father—and that is what was formulated in Nicaea, and it’s the first part of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: “And I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not created, homoousios tō Patri”: of one very same nature, being, substance, essence, one very same divinity, one very same reality. That’s what “homoousios” means. “Tō Patri”: with the Father, to the Father. That is definitely the Christian confession. Jesus is divine, with exactly the same divinity as God the Father, being God’s Son.
But then the Nicene Creed continues: “Who for us human beings and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and enanthrōpēsanta—became a human being.” Became really, totally human. And that will be fought out for another hundred years or so in the development of Christian doctrine and all the controversies about Jesus.
But by the time you get to the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, in the middle of the fifth century, then you have the doctrinal statement being clearly formulated, which belongs to the Orthodox Church. In fact, this was mostly followed by Roman Catholics and Protestants, too, until recent times. And that is that Jesus, the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the man Jesus, is not only divine with the same divinity as God the Father, but he is human with the same humanity that we all share. He is exactly human the way we are human.
And Chalcedon will put it that way. They will say that he is homoousios tō Patri kata... according to his divinity, that he is of one very same divinity with God the Father according to his divinity and then it will say that he is homoousios to human beings; he is of the very same being, essence, nature, substance, reality, according to his humanity, with all human beings. So there’s a double consubstantiality. He’s consubstantial to the Father, and he’s consubstantial to all human beings. He is what God is, and he is what all human beings are. That’s what’s meant when Jesus is called “perfect man,” when he’s called “teleios anthrōpos.” And that would be the expression of Chalcedon, that he is perfect God, “telios theos,” and perfect man.
Now, what does that “perfect” mean? Well, it has a double meaning. It means, first of all, metaphysically or ontologically perfect. Those big words simply mean this: everything and whatever God is, he is, and everything and whatever humans are, he is. So, St. Gregory the Theologian, in the fourth century, before, long before the Council of Chalcedon, he was fighting against the heretic named Apollinaris who said that Jesus didn’t have a human soul. In other words, he had no human psychic realities; he was just a Logos in body, an enfleshed Logos. He was God, acting through a body.
And Gregory the Theologian says, “Oho no! He didn’t just take on a body. He became a real human being.” Totally human, with all elements that belong to humanity—mind, soul, spirit, passions, emotions, feelings, body, flesh—everything that belongs to [humans]. And that’s what Gregory the Theologian meant by the formula of “perfect man.” It meant whole, complete, nothing lacking.
So a very famous line of Gregory the Theologian is in his letter to Cledonius the Presbyter (Epistle 51), where he wrote to Cledonius and said, “What is not assumed is not healed. What the Logos has not taken up is not saved.” If there’s any element of humanity that he did not actually have and experience, that element of humanity is not united to the Godhead and it is not saved. So that became like a formula: what is not assumed is not saved, what is not assumed is not healed.
But then the teaching was: he assumed everything. He became everything that we are so that we can become everything that he is. St. Irenaeus already said that in the third century, in the 200s; he already said that. St. Athanasius said that before the Council of Nicaea. He said, “God became human to make human beings divine; God became man to make man [become] god.” But God became man, full human being, real, complete, and full human being.
So when we use the expression “perfect man” or “perfectly human,” that means that Jesus is perfectly human the way we are, as far as his qualities, characteristics, his humanity is concerned. It is no different from ours in any way whatsoever, none. Once he is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, then he becomes a fetus and he is formed and then he is born and then he lives on earth and he’s a baby and then he’s [an] adolescent and then he’s a juvenile then he’s a grown man. So all these things really belong to Jesus’ humanity.
It would be definitely the teaching of ancient Christianity and certainly Eastern Orthodoxy that in making this confession of faith and [saying] that Jesus is really a human being, then that means that he’s got to be a particular human being in a particular time, a particular place with a particular culture, with a particular language, with particular physical features and so on. And here, the teaching is very clear: he’s a first-century Jew. He’s a Jewish man. He’s not a Chinese man; he’s not a Ukrainian man; he’s a Jew. He lived in the first century. He didn’t live in the 20th century or anything; he lived in the first century. He lived when he lived. He lived in his place. He lived where he lived, and according to the teaching of the Church: born in Bethlehem, raised in Galilee, preaching in Judea, preaching in Galilee. That’s where he was. He wasn’t in Africa or Asia or wherever, North America. That’s where he was.
Also, if you’re a real human being, then you’re limited. You learn things as a human being, with a human brain. And this would definitely be the teaching, that, as a man, hōs anthrōpos, Jesus was not omniscient. He was not omnipresent; he was not all over the place. He could express divinity through his circumscribed—that would be a good expression of the Church Fathers—his bounded humanity. So through his Jewish, first-century humanity, he could pronounce forgiveness of sins. He could raise the dead. He could heal the blind. He could do wonderful, divine actions: calm the wind, walk on the water. But he does all this as a man, in his humanity.
Therefore, there are certain elements in him that are really human. If he were not really human, they wouldn’t be so. For example, Jesus didn’t know English. Jesus couldn’t speak English. Now, you could say, “Well, God could have infused in him the knowledge of English or something.” Well, perhaps God could; perhaps he could have infused it in anybody if he wanted to. It doesn’t seem very likely, but in any case, if Jesus is really human, then he is also ignorant of many things. He does not know the [theory] of relativity. He never read Charles Darwin. He didn’t know the Baghavad Gita. Maybe he even thought the earth was flat; who knows? He was a first-century, real human being.
And if the Incarnation is real, then all the limitations of humanity have to be his in his human form. And he can express his divinity within the limitations and the [circumscriptions] of his humanity. In other words, within the boundedness of what it means to be a human being. Because a human being is in time, is in space. Jesus weighed a certain amount. And, of course, he was a male human being, not a female human being.
There are some people who claim, “Well, if you take Gregory the Theologian’s teaching ‘What is not assumed is not healed,’ ” the would say, “Well, women are not saved, then, because Jesus was only a male.” or “Eating spaghetti was not saved because Jesus never ate spaghetti” or something like that. Well, according to our theology and our doctrine, that is simply ridiculous. It’s simply stupid, because if you’re going to become a human being, you have to be a particular human being. And he was a Jew and not a Gentile. And he was first-century and not 20th. But also, he was a male human being and not a female human being. But he was a real human being, so all human beings, whether they’re male or female, are saved by him, because the humanity of a man or a woman—a male human being and a female human being—is exactly the same humanity. There’s no difference [in] humanity, between the humanity of a man and the humanity of a woman. We are all with the same humanity, which is the humanity that Jesus had, albeit, although, he had it in Jewish, first-century, male-and-not-female form.
But that’s just understandable, because if you become a man, you’ve got to be a specific man. You can’t be man in general. You can’t be androgyne, although some people think perhaps Jesus was androgynous or something. And even speaking about that, it comes to the issue of sex. Because there are some people who will say, “Well, if Jesus never had sex, never had sexual intercourse with anybody, then sexuality is not saved.” And here, again, we would say that for our understanding, that’s complete nonsense. Jesus was a human being; he was a male; and he had all male parts.
But there are plenty of human beings, not only Jesus the incarnate Son of God, but his mother Mary and the Apostle and Evangelist John and St. Athanasius and St. Basil and St. Gregory and the other Gregory and the other Gregory and Maximus—many: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, who never had sex. You don’t have to have sex to be a real human being. Just like you don’t have to eat Chinese food to be a real human being. You have to be sexual. You have to be a man or a woman. You have to have sexual parts. You have to be sanely sexual. And we believe Jesus was, and many of the saints totally were—not like most of us. But certainly he is fully human.
But he did not have to be married or give birth to a child or have sexual intercourse in order to be a full, complete and human being. And that’s why we Christians of ancient faith, we would disagree with those who say, “In order to be a complete, full human being, you have to experience sex.” We would say that’s simply not true; it’s just plain not true.
Now, about sexuality and other temptations, we have to say the following. It says in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus was tempted as we are tempted. He became like his brethren in every respect. He became exactly like us. And then it says, in the fourth chapter, “Jesus, the Son of God, is not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested (or tempted or tried) as we are, yet without sin.”
When we say that Jesus was tempted and tested in every way that we are, this does not necessarily, again, mean specific details. For example, Jesus was not tempted to look at sex on a computer. He didn’t have a computer. The question is, when it says he was tempted or tested or tried, in every way, in ever respect, I think that that does not have to mean that every single possible way in which every single possible human being who ever lived at any time or any place was tempted, that he experienced that particular temptation. That would be silly to say.
But what is true to say is, as a first-century Jew, the incarnate Son of God who is the Messiah, he was tempted and tested and tried in every possible way. And we have even, in the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, how Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness to change the stone to bread and to jump off the Temple and to worship demons and so on. In other words, to try to get him not to be the Messiah, to try to get him to bypass the Cross, to try to get him to be a different kind of a teacher than the one God wanted him to be. You might even say he was tempted not to be the suffering servant, not to take upon himself the sin of the world. He had to say to God the Father, “O Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup from me. Nevertheless, your will be done, not my will be done.” So he was certainly tempted and tested in his humanity not to be the man that God wanted him to be.
Sometimes people will say, “Well, geez, if he’s God incarnate, the temptation is nothing! He’s just God, he can just dismiss it, just like that!” That’s not our teaching. Because if the Incarnation is real, and he became a real anthrōpos, a real human being, just like us in every respect, then he had to overcome the temptations as a man, hōs anthrōpos, as being human, in human form, as a real human being. And he had to struggle with all these trials and temptations in his humanity, with his human brain, his human will, his human passions, his human heart.
It might be—in fact, I think it is true to say—Jesus most likely was never tempted to sexual sin, because he was such a holy, holy, righteous human being, God incarnate in communion with God the Father even as a man his entire life in his humanity, and when a person is in communion with God, his temptations are different from [those of] a person who was not. So saints are tempted differently and tested differently by the devil than lechers and by people… And the devil always uses raw material. As one of my friends used to say God always creates out of nothing, but he always saves out of nothing, and until we become really nothing in the hands of God, we cannot really become divine. Whereas the devil uses all the raw material of our fallenness, our flesh, our body, our pride, our passions, our greed, our avarice, our lusts.
Here we would say that Jesus, being perfect man, having all the qualities of man, has to overcome every possible temptation as a man, in human form. And he does do that, but he does know what it is to be tried. He knows what it is to be tested. He’s a real human being, and that’s what the Letter to the Hebrews says. He can sympathize with us. He can co-suffer with us. He can take our suffering on himself, because he was in this world and he knew what it’s like to be in this world of sin and death. And as a matter of fact, he knew better than anybody, because he was crucified, he was killed, he was totally rejected.
When we use the expression “perfect man, teleios anthrōpos,” it means he has every quality and every characteristic, every attribute of what it means to be human. But it also means morally. Not only metaphysically or ontologically, but morally. We believe that Jesus was morally a perfect man. In other words, he never sinned. From his earliest childhood, from his fetal form inside Mary’s womb, until he breathed his last upon the cross, he never did evil. He never gave into the devil. And he did all of that as a man. He achieved it as a man, a real man. And that’s not magical. It wasn’t magical. There’s never magic, never. When you’re dealing with the true God, there’s never magic. Nothing’s ever magical; it’s never mechanistic; and it’s never like a fairy godmother. And when people want it that way, they depart from Jesus Christ and the one true God immediately. And I’m tempted to say that all religions are basically mystical and magical where Christianity is sober and realistic and takes seriously the human condition.
If God could save the world magically, he wouldn’t have to become human. He wouldn’t have to take on the sin of the world. He wouldn’t have to be tested and tried in human form. He wouldn’t have to give himself over unto death voluntarily. He would not have to be the ransom for our sin by being crucified. He could just magically save the world. But we believe that he can’t. And we believe that he didn’t. And he didn’t because he can’t. He can only save the world by incarnation and crucifixion and resurrection and glorification. That’s our conviction. That’s Christian faith.
Inherent in that faith, of course, is that Jesus of Nazareth is really the Man: “Behold the man!” the mediator between God and man, the man Jesus; and that he is really a man. We believe that what he said and did as a human being was not that he was a liar or a lunatic or a deceiver or a bad or in delusion or anything. We believe, and we believe that these were not words just simply put into his mouth…
In fact, C.S. Lewis would even say, “If somebody says that the Gospels are just mythology, they’re just created stories, sagas,” he would say, “well, I’d like to know how many stories and ballads and sagas that you’ve read.” C.S. Lewis said, “I spent my whole life reading this kind of literature. I read every possible Iliad, Odyssey, Baghavad Gita, Chanson de Roland, Beowulf, Icelandic sagas and everything else.” And C.S. Lewis says, “A literary scholar, when I read the New Testament Gospels, when I read the New Testament generally, it is not this kind of literature at all. It’s not that kind of stuff. It is something completely different, something absolutely unique.”
What we Orthodox Christians believe is that the Jesus that we have on the pages of the Gospels is the real Jesus. I mean, the way it’s presented could be in different forms. Certain of Jesus’ sayings could be catalogued in the Sermon on the Mountain or put together in the final discourse in St. John’s Gospel or even words could be put into his mouth by the evangelist, having him say things that were orally kept but the words that were put [wouldn’t] be his own. But we are convinced that Jesus was not honestly mistaken, nor was he a fool, nor was he a liar, nor was he a madman, nor was he a mythical creation of some people. No! He’s a real human being, a real man, who really lived, who was really on the earth, and who really said and did the things that the Scriptures said and did. And he was a real human being, a real anthrōpos, but he was the anthrōpos, the human being, that the Son of God who is theos has become.
So the formula would be: Jesus of Nazareth is the Man. He is a man, a real human being. He is anthrōpos and anēr, a human being and a male human being. And it’s real. It’s true. It’s genuine. It’s authentic. It’s just like us.
However—and that’s what makes Jesus absolutely unique and makes him our Lord and Savior—he is not a mere mortal man, born of flesh and blood in this world. He took on flesh and blood. He became like his brethren. But his Father is God, and his mother is Mary, and he’s truly divine and truly human.
But for today, for right now, what we are affirming according to the Scripture and accepted and taught and explained by the Councils and the Fathers of the ancient Christian Church, our holy Fathers and our holy Councils, is that Jesus of Nazareth is a real anthrōpos. He is a real human being. There is the Man, Jesus, who is a man in exactly the same way that we are human beings.
But we add: this man Jesus is God’s Son. He is perfectly divine, too, and he shows it through his humanity; in his humanity, he shows his divinity. But, as a man, he reveals his divinity always, and never without human form. The divinity of Christ is revealed through and in his humanity, and his humanity is real.
So we say, when we picture Jesus standing at the judgment seat before Pontius Pilate, clothed in a purple robe of mockery, a crown of thorns put on his head, bearing the marks of scourging and beating and spitting and lashing and ridicule, his hands tied together, a reed stuck in his hand as a mockery of his kingship, and Pilate says of him to the crowd, “Idou ho anthrōpos—Ecce homo—Behold the human being!” We say, “Yes, he is really and truly the Man.” A man, the man, Jesus, who is God incarnate and yet really and truly a man, a human being, just like you and just like me.