Making identifications and descriptions is what doing theology is all about. We do it everyday. And it is imperative for us to do it well, in accordance with the Word of God.
How does the Bible do theology?
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. 1 Tim 3.16
Look at 1 Timothy 3.16. This is an example of an early confession of faith. It’s a doctrinal statement. It’s an orthodox creed. It’s a mini-textbook of theology. In this confession of faith there is both identification and description.
Paul identifies himself with a set of beliefs in his letter to Timothy. He makes that identification with the simple words, “We confess.” Its hard not to think of confession as admitting our wrongdoing. It becomes difficult to think of a positive confession. But what is a confession? It is an open identification with something or someone. When we confess our sin, we are making an open identification with our sin, not acting as if we are unconnected to it. But this here, is a great mystery! How can there be a clear open identification with a great mystery? Isn’t that like the case of one kid speaking to another, and he says, “I’ve got something I’d like to tell you, but its a secret so I can’t”. This is a different mystery. It is mystery in the biblical sense. It is mystery “hidden for ages … but now revealed (cf. Eph 3.9; Col 1.26). It is something that God was not required to reveal, but that he has chosen to reveal. And so a confession of faith like 1 Tim 3.16 is a statement of identification with things God has chosen to reveal. It is Paul, identifying himself with Jesus Christ, making clear who this Christ that he is identifying himself with. It is not a Jesus that can’t be known. Jesus has been revealed. It is not a Jesus that can’t be identified. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It is not a Jesus who is so mysterious that nothing conclusively can be known about him. Whether it is emerging churches or academic theology, some are so enamored with the mysteriousness of mystery that they sound like the Gord Downie line from the Tragically Hip, “It’s so deep, it’s meaningless”. No, it is not so deep it is meaningless. It is deep, indeed ‘great is the mystery of godliness’. But it is a mystery that has been revealed, uncovered, spotlighted, unveiled, and displayed. It can be confessed and identified with while being proclaimed and heralded.
What follows is the content of this confession. It is noteworthy to discover that there are six short statements of similar syntax. They don’t rhyme. It’s not a song. (Many commentators think this is an early Christian hymn, and they may be right, but I think it is more likely to be a little confession of faith). But is is memorable. Especially when each statement can be neatly attached to the line, “He was ….blank.” First, He was manifested in the flesh. This is a concise statement about both the deity of Jesus and his humanity. It does not merely state that he was born, although he was. Rather he was manifested. The idea being that he had a pre-existence before showing himself ‘in the flesh’. This line doesn’t say everything that could be said on the topic of the Incarnation, but it is a description that can be identified with. Second, He was vindicated by the Spirit. Although no mention of the resurrection is stated in this line, it is clear that what is referred to is that event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The connection is clear when Paul says in Romans: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11) The Spirit had a role in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that capacity, the Spirit was the means through which Jesus was vindicated. In other words, Jesus was shown to be who he claimed to be. He was vindicated against false charges that seemed true when he died and was put in a hole in the dirt. He was vindicated in the court of public opinion, but more importantly, he was vindicated before the Father in the cosmic courtroom of heaven. In so doing, Jesus as the pioneer, recon officer, what Hebrews 2 calls the archegos, his vindication is the basis for our justification. Paul says: “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25) He was seen by angels. Jesus was resurrected, and this was witnessed not merely by the disciples around him, but with the armies of heaven alertly on standby to offer praise to the Risen Christ. preached among the nations This Risen Christ was the sum and substance of the preaching that was heralded to nations, not merely the Jewish nation, although that is where the first disciples came from, but to the nations and regions beyond ( Jerusalem Judea Samaria … utmost parts of the earth) Acts 1.8 believed on in the world Not merely was Jesus heralded among the nations, but nations responded and they put the allegiance of their souls under his risen Kingship. The put their deliverance of their souls into his redemptive hands. They put the destiny of their souls in his eternally living bosom. taken up in glory He is risen. He ascended. And it was a glorious ascent, because: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”” (Rev 5:12)