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The Real Presence of the Son in the OT

ChristOldTestament2The Real Presence of the Son Before Christ: Revisiting an Old Approach to Old Testament Christology by Charles A. Gieschen

Gieschen's conclusion gives his reason for writing:

If we are convinced that the Son is central to the identity of YHWH as he speaks and acts throughout the Old Testament, we can and should show forth the pre-incarnate Son when preaching from the Old Testament. To do this we do not need to have a messianic or typological prophecy in the text, nor do we need to set up elaborate comparisons between God in the Old Testament and then fast-forward to Christ in the New Testament. We can also let those to whom we preach see Christ by showing them the real presence of the Son in Old Testament events and speech.

Interesting within the article is Gieschen's recognition of Augustine as deviating from the christocentric OT interpretation prevalent in the early church:

It was Augustine who solidified the position against seeing the Son, or any other person of the Trinity, as visibly present in the theophanies of the Old Testament. He argued that the manifestations of God in Old Testament events were mediated by angels:

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, since it is in no way changeable, can in no way in its proper self be visible. It is manifest, accordingly, that all those appearances to the fathers, when God was presented to them according to his own dispensation, suitable to the times, were wrought through the creature. And if we cannot discern in what manner he wrought them by ministry of angels, yet we say that they were wrought by angels. (On the Trinity 3.21-22)

Augustine, writing between A.D. 400-420, is obviously reacting against those who were using the theophanies to prove the created nature of the Son or the difference of his essence from the Father. Unlike the Formula of Sirmium in the mid-fourth century, which included anathemas against anyone who denied that it was the Son who appeared to Abraham and Jacob, Augustine called for a much more moderate understanding:

We should not be dogmatic in deciding which person of the three appeared in any bodily form or likeness to this or that patriarch or prophet, unless the whole context of the narrative provides us with probable indications. In any case, that nature or substance, or essence, or whatever else you may call that which God is, whatever it may be, cannot physically be seen; but on the other hand we must believe that by creature control the Father, as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit, could offer the senses of mortal men a token representation of himself in bodily guise or likeness. (On the Trinity 3.25)

6 thoughts on “The Real Presence of the Son in the OT

  1. Cal

    I think Augustine's logic runs into itself for if "that nature or substance, or essence, or whatever else you may call that which God is, whatever it may be, cannot physically be seen" then what does that do to the Son? It creates a division in Christ which doesn't exist in Scriptures.

    Though his carefulness is also probably to preserve the uniqueness of the Incarnation. There is certainly a major difference in seeing the Messiah in the OT and then seeing the Messiah, in the flesh, in the NT. That was that in the OT, the appearances, while actually him, were pointers ahead to the actual life, death, and resurrection. The saint of Old had faith in the Messiah, which delivered them, but it was not realized. So Augustine, maybe, is trying to defend this with a convoluted logic.

    Like a lot of good oldies, while not committing a bad error, he opened the door for those bad errors to come. In this case, it was the destruction of the Messiah in the TaNaKh as the central figure. And thus, the OT lost its typological sense for a quest to find a purpose for it.


  2. Glen

    Yes, Augustine was definitely trying to defend against the Arians of his day (and so was wary of upholding Christ as, for instance, the Angel - given how Arians would interpret that). But he was the first theologian in the early church to deny that theophanies were christophanies or that the Angel of the LORD was the pre-incarnate Christ.

    His intention was to defend trinitarian orthodoxy (hence he is keen to specify that God the *Trinity* is mediated through created angels in these theophanies) but he undercuts the logic by which earlier saints had defended and articulated the trinity. That logic was shot through with an Angel-Christology that established from the OT that the One Sent from the LORD was Himself LORD. This God-from-God logic is precisely what enabled the early church to read the "One Sent" language of the Gospels as an articulation (rather than concealment) of divinity.

    Fascinating to see that shape to Augustine's theology. For Augustine, GOD (the Trinity) is understood as mediated through the creature (the angel-theophanies). For Justin etc, the Most High (Father) was mediated through the Son (who then took flesh). I think that for all Augustine's insistence that GOD really is Trinity, it becomes hard to maintain that without a determined 'Christ alone' account of revelation.

  3. Cal

    "I think that for all Augustine’s insistence that GOD really is Trinity, it becomes hard to maintain that without a determined ‘Christ alone’ account of revelation."

    Maybe because of the infusion of Greek thinking, Christ lost its inherently Trinitarian conotation for Augustine. He cannot be the Anointed One if there is no Spirit, and He cannot be the Son of God, if there is no Father. So he had to defend it by other means.

    I learned this from you, handing it down, as it were, from the past. Thanks for that :)


  4. Glen

    Hi John, I wouldn't go that far, no. But as regards the OT theophanies he went in that direction. (And you can understand it to some extent as he sought to give no support to Arians in his day, but nonetheless his teaching was a departure from what had gone before and I think it was in a modalist direction).

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