One of the first graduate courses I took at Concordia Theological Seminary (Ft. Wayne, IN) was “Studies in Early Christology” with Dr. Charles A. Gieschen. It really helped lay the foundation for my thesis work in the Gospel of Matthew, although it took almost the entire quarter for me just to figure out what questions to ask. Gieschen introduced me to the world of early (High) Christology and the work of Richard Bauckham, Richard B. Hays, Larry Hurtado, et. al. His dissertation “Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence” is a fascinating study of early Christology, in which he shows (among other things) the impact of angel traditions both in the Old Testament and Second Temple Jewish Literature on the Christological portrait of Jesus in the New Testament.
One of the most compelling points that Gieschen has emphasized both in his doctoral work and in recent scholarship is that when people in the OT saw a manifestation of God (Theophany) they were seeing a form of the pre-incarnate Son. A recent article in Concordia Theological Quarterly (April 2004) highlights this point, saying: “[…] this study will demonstrate that the numerous theophanies within the Old Testament after the creation narratives of Genesis 1-2 are manifestations of the Son” (p. 114). Gieschen takes seriously John’s statement: “No one has ever seen God at any time, the Only Begotten God, from the position alongside the Father, made him known” (John 1:18). According to Gieschen, the Son is the revelation of the Father “not only after the incarnation, but also in the before Christ (B.C.) events reflected in the Old Testament. The God, therefore, who is heard and seen in the Old Testament after the fall in Eden is the Son, who is the visible ‘image of the invisible God'” (Col. 1:15) (p. 109).
In this sense, OT Christology is not only a study of prophecies and types regarding the coming Christ, but rather a study of the real presence of the Son in the events and lives of God’s OT saints. The following excerpt from Gieschen’s essay aptly summarizes the thrust of his research:
A legitimate question arises: if one cannot see YHWH and live, and yet people are seeing YHWH and not dying, then who is this visible image of YHWH that is being seen? The Old Testament texts provide some assistance to our understanding of this phenomenon by often using a distinct title for the form of YHWH that people see: they often see him who is labeled variously as the Angel of YHWH, the Name of YHWH, the Glory of YHWH, or the Word of YHWH. There is some distinction between this visible form of YHWH and YHWH’s unveiled presence, even though this form of YHWH is certainly not separate from YHWH. Although some interpreters are quite willing to understand the figure “the Angel of YHWH” as the pre-incarnate Son, most concept-oriented Western thinkers understand Name, Glory, and Word as abstract, non-personal attributes of God rather than as visible and personal realities. Careful study of these theophanies leads to the conclusion that it is best to understand each as a hypostasis of YHWH, namely an aspect of YHWH that is depicted with indpendent personhood. These theophanic traditions testify to both the immanence and transcendance of YHWH as well as the complexity of the oneness of the God of Israel.
Gieschen’s thesis is supported not only by ample Biblical evidence, but also by other Biblical interpreters such as Justin Martyr and Martin Luther, who was not ashamed to say that the God who says in the First Commandment, “I, the Lord, am your God” is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. I’m convinced. What say you?