3. CHRISTIAN ESCHATOLOGY
3.1. THE BASIC ELEMENTS: THE BIBLE AND THE TRINITY
Christianity came into existence in the 1st century AD in the Roman province of Palestine through the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ. Given the fact that Christ and the first Christians rose in the middle of the Jewish people, the Romans saw Christianity as a radical reformed branch of Judaism. Besides, a good deal of the Judaic doctrine was absorbed by the Christian one, and in this way Christianity and Judaism became twin religions. The Torah became a part of the Bible and subsequently Christians became spiritual successors of Abraham.
The Bible is the holy book that lies at the basis of Christian eschatology and doctrine. The Bible became very much the image of the book it is today in 363 AD at Laodicea, Phrygia. On that occasion the synod sorted all the available religious texts into two categories: the canonical texts, which were accepted by the church and therefore must be obeyed, and the apocryphal texts, which were rejected and ignored. The selection of the texts in apocryphal or canonical was carried out by taking as reference the divinity, the teachings and the life of Jesus Christ. All the writings declared canonical were gathered in a single book generically called the “Bible” (Romanized Greek: biblos – “book”), the “Word of God” or the “Holy Scripture.” Every part of the Bible expresses the same thing: God’s message to humanity.
The Bible is divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is largely composed of the Jewish scriptures (the Tanakh and the Masoretic Text), while the New Testament contains four accounts of the life and teachings of Christ (the gospels) and a couple of other writings of the apostles. Except for the Book of Revelation, which was allegedly composed under direct divine guidance, the texts of the New Testament were written by people full of grace.
The relation between the two testaments is one of completion and subordination. Christians believe that the teachings of the Old Testament are valid, but the coming of Christ as the Messiah places his teachings above all the other commands, diminishing or eliminating precepts of the Mosaic Law (as circumcision, feeding limitations and the rituals of the Temple). Therefore, from a Christian point of view the relation between the Old and the New Testament denotes the superseding of Judaism by Christianity in the position of a New Israel (a theory called “supersessionism”). Jesus Christ describes Israel not as a geographical place, but as a way of life in accordance with God’s laws. So, the term “testament” reflects God’s covenant with the Jewish people through Moses in the Old Testament, and the covenant perfected by Jesus Christ with the Christian Church in the New Testament.
The Bible is also complemented by a large number of writings of Christian notables and church councils. Some denominations regard these additional writings as mandatory, while others believe that the Bible is infallible and contains all the knowledge and directives required for personal redemption (Latin: sola scriptura).
Jesus Christ is the key figure of the Bible, in the Old Testament through the prophecies about his coming,23 and in the New Testament through his actions and teachings. Jesus Christ is also occasionally called the “Son of God,” the “Messiah,” the “Savior” or the “Lord.”
“Jesus” is a Jewish first name, which has the same root as the first names “Joshua” or “Isaiah.” It seems to have the meaning of “Savior” or “the Lord who saves” (Matthew 1:21). On the other hand, “Christ” is a word of Greek origin, which has the meaning of “anointed,” “sent” or “chosen.” When the texts of the New Testament were translated into Greek, the Hebrew word “messiah” was translated as Christós (Romanized Greek). Due to the widespread level of Greek culture, the word “Christ” was adopted much faster than the Hebrew “messiah.” Thus, instead of saying Jesus the Messiah, people are currently saying Jesus Christ. Also, the name “Christ” is the root of the words “Christian,” which means “the one who believes in Christ’s teachings,” and “Christianity,” which means the totality of religions and cults that base their doctrines on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Most Christian beliefs derive their fundamentals regarding the image of the divinity from the conclusions of the First Council of Nicaea held in 325 AD and the Nicene Creed. Christian dogma describes God, as the Supreme Being, with the aid of three attributes: omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (God is present everywhere and is part of all that exists) and omniscience (all-knowing).
The main difference between Christianity and the other two Abrahamic religions is that Jesus Christ is concurrently the messenger of God and God. God incarnated himself in the person of Jesus Christ, led a life without sin, was crucified for the redemption of the world, died and was buried; he resurrected after three days, ascended to Heaven and “seated at the right hand of the Father” with the promise of coming on the earth for the second time. During his stay on the earth Jesus Christ had, like human beings, two sides. From the physical point of view, Jesus had all the characteristics of a normal human being. But from the spiritual point of view, Christ was unique because inside his body dwelled the divine. Therefore, the name “God the Son” refers to a person of the Trinity, while the name “Jesus Christ” designates the incarnation of God the Son. Christians pray and worship Jesus because believing in him and the use of his teachings is the path to salvation.
Christianity is a monotheistic religion, but not absolutely, differentiating itself from Judaism and Islam through its unique representation of God. The belief in Jesus as the Son of God and God alike gradually developed in the modern formula of the Trinity (Latin: trinitas – “triad”). God is a single entity, an oneness, unique in his nature, but threefold in his being. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit form the Holy Trinity. This image of God was officially adopted at the ecumenical councils of Nicaea (325 AD) and Constantinople (381 AD), and ever since it has remained virtually unchanged.24
The dogma of the Trinity has generated adverse reactions in the East. Muslims and Jews alike disapprove the state of Jesus Christ as the Son of God on the grounds that it is an ideological idolatrous intendment. On the other hand, Christians consider that the Islamic and Judaic perspectives about Jesus are insufficient. The issue of the Trinity was, is and will be controversial, being debated countless times both inside and outside Christianity. The word “Trinity” is nowhere in the Bible expressly mentioned, but it is clearly indicated in Jesus’s advice to his apostles: “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). In other cases the image of the Trinity results from textual interpretations. Abraham is visited by God in the form of three persons: “three men stood over against him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, My lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant” (Genesis 18:2-3); God speaks with himself in many stances in a plural sense: “And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8); “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26); “Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech” (Genesis 11:7); “And Jehovah God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Genesis 3:22); Jesus Christ says in Revelation that he is the beginning and the end of all things, the primordial and the final cause of all, aspects that place him in the position of God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).
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