Just about everyone agrees that the understanding of who Christ was developed significantly over the years (and if they don’t, they should!). The views Jesus’ own disciples had right after his death around 30 CE were not the same as those that had been developed by very sophisticated thinkers around the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 CE; and two centuries later these Nicean views had been refined and deepened. Views of Christ developed over time.
But how, and why? I used to think that the changes were fairly “linear,” that is, that followers of Jesus at one time thought “A” and then later came to realize that instead it was “B” and eventually came to think “C” etc, — one view leading to another, as everyone changed their minds. This scenario, I now realize, is far too simplistic: different people believe different things at the same time, some people hold on to older views when others move to newer ones, and some people who come to believe newer views later change their mind and accept again the older views, etc. Changes in belief are not a straight line. It’s a very important point and I want to stress it.
But even so, the earliest followers of Jesus believed *something* about him at his death. What was that, and how / why did it begin to change?
Here I’ll say something about what appears to have been the oldest Christology, the oldest (known) “understanding of Christ.” Scholars have traditionally called this a “low” Christology in contrast to a later “high” Christology. These scholars arranged Christologies from “low” to “high” based on how exalted a view of Christ they contained. If some of Jesus’ followers saw him mainly as a very good human who was favored by God — not himself God, not pre-existent, not the creator of the world, but a HUMAN whom God favored, that would be “low,” putting Jesus down here with the rest of us mortals. Others (at some point) came to think Christ had always been a DIVINE being who had existed before his birth, who created the world, and had always been himself God in some sense. That would be “high,” placing Christ up there with God himself.
I do not think there was a linear/straight-line development from one of these views to the other. I think there were lots and lots of views competing with each other most of the time. Even so, along with lots of other scholars, I think that the earliest followers of Jesus who believed in him immediately after the resurrection indeed did have a low Christology. They thought he was a human God had exalted after his death.
It gets interesting here: what did Jesus think about himself? And why did the disciples come to think something different? Join the blog and you can keep on reading!