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The Gospel of Transformation

Distinguishing the Discipleship & Ecclesiology Integral to Salvation 

Section I  God’s Relational Context and Process to Transformation


Chapter 2             The Unmistakable Face of God




Introducing the Face of God

The Deeper Profile of God's Face

Connecting with the Face of God

     Going Deeper Face to Face


Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 9

Ch 10

Ch 11

Ch 12

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of Contents

Scripture Index





May God, in his improbable trajectory, make his face to engage us,

that your relational path may be known in the human context

and your salvation among all persons.

Psalm 67:1-2




            What’s in a face? Basically everything if seen as a subject from inner out; and essentially not very much if seen mainly as an object from outer in. This forms the basic and essential questions of how God is perceived and thereby who emerges and what unfolds from God’s revelation.

            Whenever we see anyone, we don’t really encounter them until we see their face. Up to then, we may be introduced to different parts of them (parts of what they have or do) but the encounter doesn’t take place until their face is viewed. And connection with them doesn’t happen until their face and ours meet face to face. Otherwise, for example, we may share in the same space or activity at the same time but that is only a reduced convergence of our different parts without the significance of relationship together face to face (cf. social media today and even gatherings at churches and families). The significance of the face, however, and of face to face, depend on what view we have of the face. Consider the influence this has had on our theology and practice, and the impact it has made on the theological anthropology determining our ontology and function as a person, as God’s family, and even God’s ontology and function.



Introducing the Face of God

When we consider a face (even our own), the most immediate view we have focuses on that face from outer in. This focus commonly remains central unless there is a deeper profile of the face from inner out. Yet even with the basis for a deeper profile, until we are willing to go deeper into that profile, a face only gives us a limited view of a person. Hopefully, we are willing to go deeper than the face we see, for example, in the mirror each day, because that face doesn’t define the whole person—though many make that assumption. This view and focus also apply to God’s face. This points to our epistemic process and whether our epistemic field remains narrowed down or is open to go beyond our immediate view to engage a deeper profile of the face, namely the face of God. This chapter opens our epistemic field to engage the relational epistemic process necessary to distinguish the face of God unmistakably and thus deeper than commonly viewed.

            Philosophical theology would dispute that God has a face, much less an unmistakable face. Its proponents’ basis for this theistic view is important to understand as we consider what God has or has not self-disclosed. Their epistemic field is critical for the basis of their view. One skillful method to narrow the epistemic field is to expand the concept of uniqueness. This is accomplished by creating distinctions in categories such that some particular distinction stands alone (a unique or new category) and cannot be compared to others in that original or common category. For example, modern science made a distinction in the category of what exists by creating the category of the improbable, whose uniqueness then could no longer be compared to what else exists. This made it easier to take the approach that the improbable no longer needed to be accounted for because it could not be known; and therefore the conclusion follows that it didn’t exist—presumably based on probability, but it was a conclusion shaped more by a perceptual-interpretive framework from human contextualization since mathematics in itself imposes limits making it insufficient for conclusions beyond those limits.[1] Nassim Taleb further discusses the severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience, and the fragility of our knowledge based on probability, thereby creating a barrier to learning more from the

            Prior to the scientific method, the concept of uniqueness was expanded by Greek philosophy in the category of being. In contrast to our changing world of existence, Plato maintained there is a realm of being that is eternal and unchanging. A revised form of Platonism, known as Neo-Platonism, focused narrowly on the ultimate transcendence of God, all of which influenced early Christian thinking that there is one supreme transcendent God.[3] This philosophical lens was certainly congruent for the monotheism of Judaism and Christian theology but the use of reductionism made it incompatible epistemologically, ontologically and relationally for the whole of God’s revelation—most notably God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path. This narrow monotheism was unable to account for the triune God, and made it inconceivable to speak about the Trinity.

            In a narrowed epistemic field the uniqueness of God’s being cannot be accounted for and thus spoken about, much less known. The essence of that being, what it is and perhaps why, is beyond knowing and understanding—it is simply unique. Yet, this result was not only by design in making this distinction; underlying this method is the consequence from the epistemological, ontological and relational limits imposed by reductionism. The interaction between so-called designed results and the consequence of imposed limits cannot be ignored if we are to sufficiently address the following: the various critical issues converging to narrow the epistemic field and cloud our interpretive lens, and then adequately sort out these issues in the theological task in order to emerge clearly from any theological fog.

            In classical philosophical theology, God was made distinct in the category of the divine and was relegated to it without direct connection to our changing world. This view addresses the basic issue of the knowability of God and has engaged this conversation by seeking to define concepts with precision and rigor of argumentation. Concepts historically attributed to God—such as omnipotence, omniscience, simplicity, immutability and impassibility—may appear to describe the God outside the universe, but in essence they tell us more about the unknowability of God. This fragmentary epistemology emerged in the formalization of negative theology.

            When theologians speak of God with negations, they say, for example, that God’s goodness, power and wisdom are not the goodness, power and wisdom of created realities or persons because God’s are perfect and without any limits. As notably emerged from Aquinas, with roots in Aristotle, this forms the basis for philosophical theology.

          In Aquinas’ doctrine of divine simplicity, those within the universe cannot know the essence or being of God, nor are our words basically capable of speaking of the creator. This gave rise to the voice of negative theology. We can only make statements of negation, saying just what God is not or cannot be, thereby avoiding the limitation of language that is susceptible to falsifiability. In other words, Aquinas’ doctrine is not a description of God because it consists entirely of negations or attempts to declare what God cannot be. It does not ascribe any attribute or property to God since it explicitly denies that God has any attributes or properties.            

            For Aquinas the matter of divine simplicity depends on the notion of God as Creator. Simply stated: If there is a God who creates, then there have to be irreducible differences between God and creatures. Such differences, for example, cannot be distinguished by anthropomorphism. Thus, God cannot be perceived rightly in our terms—neither thought of as being one of a kind of which there could be others, nor thought of as owing his existence to any thing. In Aquinas’ words: “Now we cannot know what God is, but only what He is not; we must therefore consider ways in which God does not exist, rather than ways in which He does” (Summa Theologiae, Ia. 2, Conclusion).

            This view, and related views, of theism can be discounted yet there is a valid concern that must not be dismissed. Any theistic view that can be discounted emerges from a narrowed epistemic field, which then makes God unknowable (or less knowable) and our statements about God essentially statements by default—saying either less of what God is or simply not saying much of any depth. Certainly, the face of God would be incompatible with negative theology and its unmistakable presence would render negative theology void. That raises the valid concern from philosophical theology that we must not dismiss while discounting negative theology. The following questions frame the issue: Does God indeed have a face or is this feature what we impose on God as a human construction? And if God has a face, has God’s face been viewed mainly by human shaping? In other words, this raises the valid concern about anthropomorphism shaping or constructing our view of God, which we need to account for in our theology and practice.

            It is certainly correct that the difference of God is irreducible to human terms; and it is a necessary intention for any theological task to clearly distinguish this difference in order not to fall into any epistemological illusion by being defined or determined by any anthropomorphism from human contextualization. The subsequent issue, however, of insufficiently knowing and understanding God is a critical condition for theology to confront—given God’s declaration for human boast in Jeremiah 9:23-24—or be rendered to a different theological trajectory from God and consequently, at best, to ontological simulation of God’s being and human being.

            In response to the implication of the unknowability of God, Colin Gunton makes this statement:

One consequence of this for our language is that, as they stand, our words are simply incapable of speaking of the creator. That is the truth underlying what is known as the negative theology: that God can best be characterized by thinking away the limitations inherent in words designed—or so the theory goes—to speak of created things. However, what might appear to be a proper human modesty before the divine can turn into the supreme blasphemy of denying revelation. There is a fine line between a proper humility and believing that so long as we do not say anything positive we have somehow laid hold of, or come nearer to the truth about, the divine reality.[4]

This then raises the question of how knowable is God, given the whole of God’s self-disclosure. According to God, knowing and understanding God is the only valid “boast” (hālal, to boast, praise, celebrate) that humans can make (Jer 9:23-24); and Paul adds that in a comparative process this is the only legitimate boast humans have (1 Cor 4:6-7).

         This refocuses on the whole of God’s improbable theological trajectory and intrusive relational path. There is a necessary dynamic interaction between the transcendent God and the embodied Word. The breadth of God is his transcendence and the depth of God is his vulnerable presence in the human context and intimate involvement with human persons—that is, the depth constituted by the whole of who, what and how God is, the whole and righteous God distinguishing the Trinity. Both the breadth and depth of God are necessary and inseparable, thus ignoring one or emphasizing one over the other results in an incomplete or distorted view and understanding of God, certainly inadequate to define the whole of God—all of which is illuminated by God’s face. Yet, the face of God fits in the category of Taleb’s Black Swan (noted earlier), which constricts the improbable and creates a barrier to learning more of God from the intrusion of the improbable. This is evident most noticeably with the depth of God and God’s action in human context, which consistently has been reduced of its qualitative and relational significance such that God’s intrusive relational path is not accounted for, even if God’s improbable theological trajectory is. The consequential lack of relationally knowing God was the primary concern that the face of Jesus addressed in his disciples face to face, highlighting his primary purpose (Jn 14:9; cf. Mk 8:17-18). Without the embodied Word in whole illuminated in the face of Jesus, theology is rendered speculative (contrast Jn 1:18) and the gospel is re-formed (contrast 2 Cor 4:4-6). A God of breadth without depth becomes functionally deistic; a God of assumed depth without breadth is anthropomorphic—with both resulting from human shaping and construction.

            It is more than admirable not to speak of matters that we don’t understand, most notably of God. Yet, we cannot claim to be unexposed to the Other distinguished from beyond all creation and the assumed multiverse of modern science. That is, this claim is unacceptable except in a narrowed-down epistemic field that does not account for the improbable. In this sense, we also are unable to speak of anything too distinguished (even by negation) since we don’t know of it. Yet, epistemic and ontological humility are not witnessed here. The critical problem continues, in likeness of Job and Peter: Declarations are made of God who is not understood, and are made to distinguish God who is not known, that is, declarations by default emerging from human contextualization and the human shaping and construction signifying the epistemological, ontological and relational workings of reductionism. This problem continues in a negative form of hybrid theology (cf. convergence model of the gospel) until the epistemic field is opened to the whole of God. Moreover, Gunton discusses why this negative way is not as negative as it claims.[5] The key is understanding the way of causality by a process of analogy to construct from below a hierarchy from the lower levels of reality to the higher until its final cause is declared—a being who is totally other than it. As with Job and Peter, however, such declarations say more than they suggest, that is, speaking for this being who is not known and understood, therefore speaking more about oneself than the Other.

      In support of Aquinas’ thinking on divine simplicity, Brian Davies responds to contemporary theologians who do not agree:

Could it be that they are mesmerized by the formula “God is a person”? I suspect that many of them are, and that by God is a person they mean that God is an invisible being (like Descartes’s “I”), very like a human one, though lacking a body. If that is what they do mean, however, they are seriously out of step with what might be called the traditional Jewish/Islamic/Christian concept of God. If that is what they mean, perhaps we might also ask them if there is any reason at all to believe that God exists? You and I, corporeal things, things the essence of which does not guarantee our existence, things able to change in various ways as time goes on, things with attributes that come and go, are all, surely, things which raise the question, “And how come they exist at all?” The doctrine of divine simplicity is part of a complicated answer to this question.[6]

            In the philosophy of religion, such an omnipotent, omniscient, perfect God took creative action in the beginning to form the universe and all in it, after which this Being either left it on its own (deism) or continued to be involved with it—the extent of which varies with each specific view of theism. Both deism and theism depend on a particular interpretive framework which determines the epistemic process it engages. Perhaps deists need to return to monitoring the universe to listen to the signs of life coming from outside the universe. Yet, the classical theistic picture of God—as self-contained and all sufficient, impassible, etc.—is also not the God of thematic relational action found in the self-disclosures of the Word in and from the beginning that ongoingly distinguishes the face of God. The interpretive framework from human shaping and construction has dominated philosophy’s voice in this conversation. In part, this speaks to the Copernican shift in astronomy (the earth revolves around the sun) and its influence on philosophy: theocentricity was replaced by anthropocentricity. The direction of influence was no longer from certainty of God to certainty of the self but now from self-certainty to certainty of God. Hans Küng identifies this methodical beginning emerging from the human being, the subject, one’s reason and freedom, as a paradigm shift that culminates in a radical critique of the proofs of God.[7] Moreover, if we account for reductionism, it would be evident that human contextualization had previously been well established as the primary determinant. This formalization is just a later consequence of further narrowing the epistemic field to what we know and can rationalize.[8]

            Davies rebuttal to “God is person” also applies to the face of God. God’s face (paneh Yahweh) signifies the whole of God’s personal and vulnerable presence and intimate involvement, revealed ongoingly solely for the purpose and function of face-to-face relationship together—not to transmit referential information for us to form (and re-form) into doctrine. In the OT, on the one hand, God’s face has clarity: as Jacob experienced in direct interaction and named the place Peniel, The Face of God (Gen 32:30); and as Moses experienced in face-to-face relationship together (Num 12:8); and the ancient poet boldly declared (Ps 17:15); and as unfolds in God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26). On the other hand, there is ambiguity about God’s face: not only of claims to have seen God’s face but that they lived to tell it, since God said “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (Ex 33:20, cf. Jn 1:18); and yet Jacob confirmed that “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Gen 32:30, NIV). The OT does not preclude that God has a face. Yet, is face merely an anthropomorphic analogy used to represent God, perhaps as Davies claims about “God is a person”?

            In Hebrew, face (paneh and paniym) points to the front view of someone, the significance of which involves the presentation of the whole subject and not mere parts of the person— or merely an outward re-presentation of a person, as emerged in the primordial garden (Gen 3:7) and later formed a mask (prosopon, as worn in ancient Greek theatre). The front view of God as Subject and not a side view as Object is irreplaceable to know and understand God. A righteous face constitutes the presentation of the whole of who, what and how the subject-person is, and therefore can be counted on to be that person as subject (not object) in relationship together. For God, the face constitutes both this ontological reality of the presence of God as Subject and the relational outcome of the intimate involvement of Subject-God in relationship. Can we claim with the ancient poet above to be satisfied with anything less and any substitute of God?

            Our faith has to be involved further and deeper than in just the identity of God. If our faith is to go beyond referential terms and its narrowed-down epistemic field, then it has to connect with the front of the whole of God as Subject—that is, connect directly with the face of God revealed in face-to-face relationship together (cf. 1 Chr 16:10-11; Ps 24:6; 27:8-9; 67:1-2; 80:3,17,19). Therefore, there are two major interrelated issues of the face that need to be addressed: (1) anthropomorphism and the human shaping of God’s face, and (2) the face (prosopon) functioning as a mask (as in early Greek theatre) that presents a face from outer in, whose identity may not be congruent with the person behind the face-mask. The first issue is critical for our theology and the second is crucial for our practice. And both are interrelated for defining our theology and practice and determining our ontology and function, that is, as either whole or reduced.

            A face from outer in is just a re-presentation of a person (e.g. ours in the mirror), which may not be a deception but still cannot be counted on for the whole person. God’s face from outer in (i.e. in referential terms) is a reduced face of an Object that cannot distinguish the whole of God, and thus does not have the deeper profile necessary to be distinct from anthropomorphism. Only God’s face as revealed from inner out in relational terms distinguishes the whole of God as Subject—clearly distinguished from mere parts of God as Object. At the same time, God’s face from inner out does not distinguish the totality of God, only the whole of God; whole is neither totality nor parts.

            On the whole of God’s theological trajectory and intrusive relational path, the face of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement turned to engage us in relationship. The relational outcome of new relationship together in wholeness only emerges when Subject-Face makes relational connection with our face from inner out (distinct from a face-mask) for Face-to-face-to-Face reciprocal relationship together. This dynamic relational response of grace has been the face of God’s ongoing definitive blessing from the beginning that unfolded in the gospel of transformation to wholeness with the embodied face of Jesus’ whole person. In the OT, God’s face is clear but not fully distinguished. With Christ, however, the face of God is fully distinguished unmistakably. That is to say, fully distinguishing not the quantitative face of God (from outer in) but the qualitative face of God (in the depth of inner out), whose likeness Christ’s whole person bore in his embodied face (prosopon, 2 Cor 4:6; Col 1:15; Jn 14:9)—just as our human face from inner out bears our likeness as the subject-person we are. Thus, the prosopon of Christ should not be confused with the mask (prosopon) worn in Greek theatre but is only the fully distinguished counterpart to the paneh of God, the front of the whole of God.

            Ongoingly, to say the least, reductionism obscures God’s face and interferes with face-to-Face connection by diminishing the primacy of relationship together, even by our unintentional counter-relational work—all while promoting substitutes for epistemological illusion in theology and ontological simulation in practice. Therefore, the ongoing relational imperative for our theology and practice is simply stated by the ancient poet in relational terms: “seek his face always” (paneh, Ps 105:4, NIV)—the front view of God as Subject—rendered also “seek his presence continually,” signifying nothing less and no substitutes for vulnerable face-to-Face-to-face involvement (cf. Jer 2:27). Only ‘Face’ distinguishes who, what and how the whole of God is vulnerably present and intimately involved, without which our view of God is limited (perhaps to negative theology) and lacking the significance of relational connection.



The Deeper Profile of God’s Face

            On this whole basis (distinct from fragmentary), I readily acknowledge my lens focused on both the person and the face of God, yet in a reverse dynamic than what Davies pointed to earlier. The ‘person’ and ‘face’ essential to God and distinguished in the Trinity are embodied by Jesus’ whole person, who—as Paul made definitive theologically—is the exact and whole “image of God…in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:4,6). Yet, in spite of God’s self-disclosure in the incarnation, the deeper profile illuminating God’s face is commonly not distinguished in our view of Jesus. Given the primacy of the incarnation, what ‘face’ is perceived and received from the embodied Word is the critical challenge of face that defines and determines  what unfolds with the Word.

The person and face of Jesus are not concepts or anthropomorphism imposed on him but rather his vulnerable function as “the image of the transcendent God…in his person all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:15,19), “in his person the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). The face of Jesus is the epistemological, hermeneutical, ontological and relational keys to the whole of God. Moreover, his person as the image of God—along with the person of the Spirit, Jesus’ relational replacement (Jn 14:16-18; 16:13-15; 2 Cor 3:17-18)—is essential for the human person both to know the qualitative significance and to have whole understanding of what it means to be and function as the person created in the image of God. There are certainly irreducible differences between God as Creator and creatures. However, as the face of Jesus vulnerably disclosed (e.g. in his formative family prayer, Jn 17:21-23, cf. Col 2:9-10), there is also an irreducible likeness between the persons of the Trinity and the human person (including persons together) created in the image of the whole of God (cf. Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). Anything less and any substitute for God or humans are reductions.

            The person presents the further challenge of and for face. To meet this challenge our “ears” have to have priority over our “mouths,” which may not be as easy as it sounds. As the Father made imperative, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (Mk 9:7); and as Jesus made imperative for his followers: “Then pay attention to how you listen” (Lk 8:18), and “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mk 4:24). In other words, it is imperative to listen before we speak, giving priority to the sounds from Subject-Other, which is a necessary relational dynamic in all communication; unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, this dynamic has been reworked in the human condition. Quietly, for example, ‘method’ in scholarship imposes concepts on what we seek to know, giving priority to its own perception (view of Other), thus it essentially speaks before it listens.

            Furthermore, in this epistemic process our “eyes” are even a higher priority than our “ears” and must antecede both our “mouths and “ears” as the determinant for their function; this was the lesson Job deeply experienced (Job 42:3-5). Yet, this should not be confused with the priority of observation in the scientific method. This has less to do with the function of sight and critically involves how and what we see, most importantly the person in the face. When Jesus defines “the measure” (metron, metreo) used above, he identifies his followers’ perceptual-interpretive framework and lens, which determines what we will pay attention to and ignore and, therefore, what we see, hear and listen to. That is, to listen carefully and to understand what Jesus says, we not only need to understand the horizon (e.g. the defining context) of where Jesus is coming from, but we also need to account in this process for the horizon of where we are coming from—and the defining and determining influence our own context may exert as it converges with Jesus’ context.[9] Without knowing our own horizon and its influence on the framework and lens we use, we cannot openly listen to Jesus and Paul to speak for themselves on their own terms. ‘Method’, as noted above, signifies a generalizing bias of rationalizing from a scientific paradigm rooted in the Enlightenment, which reduces reality by narrowing down the epistemic field for better explanation. This modernist framework “speaks” before it listens, thereby defining the terms which determine the outcomes.

            As these two horizons converge, the primary determinant of how the words communicated are to be understood for the listener/reader must always come from the context of the speaker. Certainly, some secondary influence still remains from the listener’s side. Yet, in the relational epistemic process the hermeneutical dynamic involves successive interactions between listener and speaker, reader and text, in the reflexive process of a ‘hermeneutical cone’[10] for further and deeper understanding. Throughout the process, however, the speaker’s context emerges as the primary determinant without negotiation with the listener’s side. And Jesus’ context cannot be limited to historical human contextualization but needs to include “in the beginning” and his relational context from outside the universe. His defining-context horizon is both nonnegotiable to human terms and irreducible to human shaping and construction; and thus his defining context is never subject to human context, even though it certainly is subjected to human contexts.

            With this context and process in focus, consider the pre-Damascus-road Paul. Here was a Jew of religious conviction, impassioned to eliminate the embodied shape of his religious roots and the embodied reshaping of his religious convictions; he was dedicated to the demise of this new embodiment of Jesus—both Jesus’ distinguished Face and faces following—threatening his religion by redefining the terms. Consider the post-Damascus-road Paul. Here was a Jew of deeper conviction of faith, impassioned to eliminate instead the human shaping of the Face emerging from his religious roots and the human terms reducing the new depths of his faith and the whole gospel. What brought this change in Paul? The simple answer is who—the distinguished Face, who not only turned and shined on Paul but who was vulnerably present and relationally involved directly in Paul’s life, Face to face.

            The challenge of Face goes unmet by merely embodying the Face. Certainly, the incarnation is essential theology; and in spite of how ‘critical’ (historical, form, literary) the embodied Word has become in biblical studies, no human shape or construct distinguishes the Face unless the Face distinguishes his own Self. This goes further than the details of what the embodied Face disclosed of himself to more deeply account for how the Face was present and involved in the human context by the nature of what the embodied Face was. What unfolds from the Word and emerges clearly is the distinguished Face.

            If indeed the Word, who speaks for himself, is from outside the universe, then the Face, whom we tend to talk about, is not just another embodied face in the human context. That is, the Face is neither another in common life and practice whose presence is praiseworthy and above reproach, nor another within the context of what is ordinary who is involved with others in extraordinary ways. While such presence and involvement in the human context rightly give Jesus a special face in comparison to the other faces in the population, it is still another embodied face among the many in the same category of ‘common’ and of the same kind of ‘ordinary’. As philosophical theology does correctly identify in this process, which should not be discounted, any distinction in this category and of this kind can be special only in a comparative process within that category and kind; but the value-judgment ‘special’ does not distinguish it from that category and kind (cf. Isa 40:18).

            This becomes problematic for what we talk about for Jesus. For example, Jesus’ ethical practice is certainly special and would be beneficial to emulate. Yet, ethics is not what distinguishes the whole of Jesus, even though it is an important distinction commonly used for Jesus. There is an essential (critical if you wish) difference between a special Face and the distinguished Face. Both may be associated with the embodied Face (e.g. in a convergence model). A special Face, however, is attached to Jesus by a narrowing-down process from a conventional view inside the universe that attempts to better explain Jesus, notably from outer in by what he does (hence ethics). Even with good intentions, a special Face is incompatible with the embodied Face from outside the universe—and though complimentary in christological discourse about the Face on narrowed-down fragmentary terms, it is still unable to speak of the Face in whole terms. The distinguished Face emerges only from God’s relational dynamic in congruence with the whole ontology and function in the embodied face of Jesus from inner out. Therefore, the distinguished Face can only be distinguished when he distinguishes his Self in the constituting relational context and process of God’s relational dynamic, just as the embodied Face emerged. What emerges that is distinguished beyond a mere distinction of special?

            God’s relational dynamic has unfolded from the beginning in communicative action, which is conjointly qualitative from inner out, yet not mystical, and always in relationship, never isolated or disengaged (e.g. as some spiritual disciplines imply). This nature of God’s relational dynamic is evident in the embodied Face to fulfill God’s thematic relational response of grace. What becomes further evident of God’s relational dynamic unfolding is witnessed in how the Face distinguishes his Self and what he distinguishes, both of which are not distinguished by or in a special Face.

            A term used in the OT can present similar issues discussed for a special Face. This term is “wonderful” (pala, v., pele, n., pil’iy, adj.). ‘Wonderful’ (pele) is the name identifying Jesus in prophecy (Isa 9:6). The name ‘Wonderful’ could be attached to Jesus as a special name with the distinction similar to a special Face, or ‘wonderful’ could distinguish the Face of Jesus from any and all other faces. How the prophet used the term was later indicated in his description of the Lord of hosts: “he is wonderful [pala] in counsel” (Isa 28:29); pala also denoted to separate and distinguish, and is the root word for pele and pil’iy. The clear indicator of the term identifying the name came when Manoah asked for the name of the angel of the Lord and received this response: “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful” (pil’iy, incomprehensible, Judg 13:18). ‘Wonderful’ goes beyond a special distinction within the same category and kind, to distinguish a category and kind of its own that is too wonderful and incomprehensible for prevailing conventional terms of the common and ordinary, and is accordingly separated from all else.

            Moreover, in common or ordinary terms ‘wonderful’ is a value-attachment in the eye of the beholder to describe something; thus this view is actually less focused on the thing described since the value comes from the beholder’s attachment. ‘Distinguished’, however, defines the thing itself more than describes it and establishes its uniqueness set apart from all else, perhaps even in all the universe. This defined the name Manoah asked for; its uniqueness set it apart from all he could understand or comprehend. Such uniqueness set apart from all else is also inseparable from who is holy and what is sanctified. Perhaps ‘distinguished’ can be considered a synonym for ‘holy’ (cf. Isa 41:14,20; 43:3, 14-15; Lk 4:34; Jn 6:69). Together in function, we begin to understand the Face: whom Hagar named “You are El-roi” (Gen 16:13), that is, “You are the God who sees me” (NIV), and also said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”; as noted earlier, the name Jacob requested, who blessed Jacob there in the place he called “Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved’” (Gen 32:29-30); the Face who is set apart and distinguished from any and all other faces, whose definitive blessing “shall put my name on those in whole relationship together Face to face” (Num 6:27); whose relational dynamic unfolds conclusively in the face of Jesus whom the prophet named ‘distinguished’. As this relational process unfolded, ‘what’s in a name?’ became inseparable from ‘what’s in a face?’ and thus God’s name only has significance (even in worship and prayer) when distinguished unmistakably by the Face. Is this the face of Jesus who is distinguished when we commonly close our prayers “in his name”?

            Also important in the meaning of that which is separate, the process to be ‘distinguished’ implies that only the distinguished name can distinguish himself and cannot come from a value-attachment of a beholder. This was the issue others had with what is ‘wonderful’. When Sarah heard of her pending pregnancy from God, she used biological “science” to narrow down her knowledge for a conventional explanation from inside the universe. On this basis, she also spoke for the God from outside the universe, thereby making the face of God un-distinguished. Offended, God responded: “Is anything too ‘distinguished’ [pala] for the Lord?” (Gen 18:10-14). Job implied acknowledgment of the distinguished God (Job 21:22) yet he attempted to speak for what is distinguished (pala) from his view inside the universe, and consequently he also reduced the face of God to obscurity in the un-distinguished (Job 42:3).

            Sarah and Job contradicted what the ancient poet understood, the poet who did not attempt to grasp the distinguished ‘from above’ on the basis of what can only be indistinguishable ‘from below’: “Such knowledge is too wonderful [pil’iy] for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it” (Ps 139:6)—which is an assumption negative theology makes apart from God’s self-disclosure. Yet, the underlying issue in these examples is less epistemological and is rooted in the primacy of relationship. It is indispensable to understand that the distinguished Face does not and cannot distinguish himself in isolation or disengaged from relationship. If he did, he would no longer distinguish what the whole of God is and how God is. Relationship is always primary for God, whether in the beginning for the God outside the universe or from the beginning for the God now also inside the universe. The God inside the universe presents the challenge of Face who is vulnerably present and relationally involved.

Furthermore, inside the universe the face of God becomes distinguished for those ‘from below’ when he emerges from behind what is signified by ‘the veil’—a metaphor for the relational barrier/distance preventing significant  relational connection (e.g. Sarah) and deeper relational involvement (e.g. Job). The Face is not distinguished as long as a veil exists in the relationship, which results in not knowing and understanding God—that is, unmistakably as distinguished in the deeper profile of the face of Jesus’ whole person. Neither God’s face behind the curtain-veil nor our face in front of the curtain-veil allows for the relational connection necessary to be involved Face to face (cf. Heb 10:19-22). The relational dynamic of the Face converging with our face in Face-to-face relationship is disengaged when relational distance exists—either the relational distance of God’s face or our face. This relational dynamic was evident when Moses made relational connection with God Face to face without the veil, after which he had to cover his radiant face with the veil to meet the people who could only observe from their relational distance (Ex 33:9-11; 34:33-35). This relational dynamic was made conclusive by Paul for the relational consequence of the veil’s presence and the relational outcome from the distinguished Face removing the veil (2 Cor 3:13-18; cf. Mk 15:37-38).

            This further presents the challenge not only of face but also for face. Vulnerable involvement in relationship without the veil was the unfolding relational dynamic of how the face of God was distinguished. The vulnerable presence and relational involvement of the distinguished Face integrally distinguished his own Face and composed the relational connection necessary Face to face for relationship together in wholeness—contrary to, and in conflict with, fragmented, separated or broken relationship with the veil.

            The unfolding relational dynamic distinguishing the face of God became more definitive in relationship when the ancient poet requested from God: “Wondrously show [pala] your steadfast love” (Ps 17:7) or “Show the wonder of your great love” (NIV). The latter is easily rendered to comparative terms for a special distinction in the same category or kind of all love, hence the common pursuit for special love. Yet, the poet’s request implies for the relational dynamic of God to distinguish his own love, not merely to show a special love defined within the limits of all love in the universe. For the distinguished Face, there is still an element of mystery no matter how distinguished the Face is; and we can allow for and may be able to live with mystery for God. For love, however, we appear to need certainty and would not want any mystery about God’s love; and thus we try to explain God’s love in referential terms comparative to love inside the universe. Distinguished love cannot be constrained to these limited terms and, by its nature, will also still have an element of mystery no matter how distinguished by the distinguished Face. Yet, and this is important to embrace, this also accounts for distinguished love to be open-ended, that is, to be deeply experienced without limits or end, as only God can constitute (just as Jesus prayed, Jn 17:23,26). Nothing less and no substitute of this love is what the ancient poet requested from God. And any attempt to “fully” explain God’s love can no longer distinguish love from the God from outside the universe. Both the distinguished Face and distinguished love are contingent on God’s self-disclosure. Though God’s self-disclosure is complete in terms of being whole (pleroma, Col 1:19), we can never assume that the disclosure of the Face and love distinguished before us is complete in terms of the totality of God. Mystery remains by necessity for the distinguished Face and love, yet without the gap from anything less or any substitute of their being whole.

            Additionally, distinguished love is not about the wonders of what God is capable of doing—another reductionism of God defined by what God does, which invariably engages a comparative process in human terms with distinctions of more or less, special or so-so. This reduced lens also reinforces the limited perception behind the issue “what has God done for me lately?” which is evident in Israel’s history. The reality of ‘all love’ is its conventional definition about what to do, in which quantity exceeds quality and by which sacrifice achieves its highest rank (e.g. the sacrificial love of agape). Distinguished love certainly involves action; this action of love, however, is relational action that only defines how to be involved in relationship. In contrast to love defined by ‘what to do’—that may benefit a need of another without being involved with their person—distinguished love engages the depth of relational involvement with the other person(s) with nothing less and no substitute of one’s whole person, and on this basis vulnerably sharing one’s self, not merely giving one’s deeds or resources. The depth of relational involvement unique to distinguished love to set this love apart from all love can be and is fulfilled only by the face of God. This is evidenced in the covenant and Torah. The covenant was no mere framework for religious identity that the Torah served for its identity markers—although they easily become just that when perceived in referential language, as the people of Israel consistently did. The face of God turned to bring change and establish a new relationship together in wholeness, as promised, that is, the covenant relationship distinguished by love in the covenant of distinguished love (Dt 7:6-9). And the Torah is God’s terms (dabar, Dt 29:1,9) for reciprocal relationship together Face to face—the whole terms distinguished by distinguished love (Dt 7:10-13), which Jesus made definitive in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:17-48).

            The distinguished Face directly distinguished love in relational response to the ancient poet in a functional reality (not a conceptual reality) beyond what he asked or could have imagined; therefore, he sings out in reciprocal response: “Blessed be the Lord for he has distinguished his steadfast love to me” (Ps 31:21). And the poet could say confidently: “Truly the eye (‘ayin) of the Lord is on those who…hope in his steadfast love” (Ps 33:18). Yet if the face of God only watched from relational distance, the Face would be ambiguous most of the time and relational connection with the Face would often be elusive, which describes the history of Israel’s relationship with God. The term ‘ayin also denotes presence, the use of which distinguishes relational terms from mere referential terms; and the eye involves the Face whose presence distinguishes love. Therefore, the poet was confident that the Face does not merely watch from a relational distance but indeed is vulnerably present and relationally involved to ongoingly distinguish love (cf. Ps 34:15-16; 1 Pet 3:12).

            This goes far beyond a special distinction of wonderful love from a wonderful person with a special face, even if that love is perceived to be from God. When the distinguished Face distinguished love, he integrally distinguished how the face of God is vulnerably present and relationally involved with other persons in the human context, and also what is the qualitative ontology and relational nature of the whole of God (as in God’s glory) constituting the Face’s relational response. No human terms and categories can define or determine the how and what of the distinguished Face.

            This relational dynamic unfolds conclusively when distinguished love is enacted by the distinguished Face whole-ly embodied (Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4-7). Yet, the cross, as commonly perceived, was not what distinguished love; this perception of love involves comparative terms as sacrifice or service. The special distinction of sacrificial love is the basis for the cross usually lacking the distinguished Face, whose own relational communication while on the cross tends to be buried in referential language to transmit information without relational significance (cf. sermons on ‘the seven last words’). Paul does not highlight God’s love in comparative human terms because God demonstrates the whole of his own love in the innermost (synistemi, Rom 5:8; cf. Col 1:17), and this goes beyond any measurement from within the universe (hyperballo, Eph 2:7). An incomplete Christology as revolved around the cross lacks the distinguished Face prior to the cross, whose ongoing vulnerable presence and relational involvement distinguished love conclusively. This unmistakable Face emerged just by relational terms to meet the challenge of his face from inner out, and ongoingly emerges throughout this study to illuminate the depth of his presence and involvement that holds us accountable both for the deep profile of this face and to meet the challenge for face, our face also from inner out.

            Thus, when Paul directly asked Jesus “Who are you?” (Acts 9:5), he received a relational response beyond referential information about Jesus to have the relational epistemic connection to know the person in Jesus’ face. When Jesus unequivocally declared to the Father “I have made your name known” and “made your name known to them” (Jn 17:6,26), he was not referring to the transmission of information about the name but summarized his relational communication of the whole person to know only in relationship. The name in this ancient context is not simply an identity marker or title (cf. Gen 32:27-30; Ex 33:17-19). Name is indistinguishable from the person in relational language; yet in referential language the person is not always distinguished in the name. Jesus’ face presented only the person from inner out, and Paul’s experience of the whole person presented by Jesus defined his Christology (illuminated in 2 Cor 4:6).

            A person presented to others can become confusing, however, and this presentation needs to be understood as a composite process influenced by two factors shaping the person presented: (1) the person’s surrounding context and (2) how that person desires to be seen by others in those contexts.[11] Tension is likely between these two influences on the shape of any person presented until that person establishes an identity compatible to, if not congruent with, the surrounding context. The person Jesus presented certainly was neither immune to these influences nor untouched by that tension between them. Yet, how much these two sources of influence shaped the person Jesus presented remains for many a christological problem.

            This further challenges us in the ongoing issue of our interpretive framework and the epistemic process we engage, which Jesus already made imperative for seeing, understanding and responding to his whole person (Mk 4:24; Lk 10:21). The reality is that the ‘measure’ we use will determine the Jesus we get. Our ‘measure’, therefore, signifies our theological anthropology that actually antecedes our Christology and underlies the epistemic process of who and what we learn about or of the person presented. This is evidenced by the following: learning either quantitative information about a person from outer in and what he does in situations, or learning qualitative understanding of the person from inner out and how he is involved in relationships; either his referential words and teachings or his relational communication and messages; as a result learning about a less personal and fragmentary person or learning of the personal and whole person. This is the extent of the person defined from the working theological anthropology we use; accordingly, it also becomes the profile we can expect of that person. For the person presented by Jesus, the measure used is clearly definitive that results in either the further and deeper relational outcome (“still more will be given”) or the relational consequence of reductionism (“be taken away,” Mk 4:25).

            Theological interpretation correctly focuses on Scripture as communication, which helps put a face on those words in Scripture to hear as distinguished words from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3; Isa 40:5; 55:11; Mt 4:4). Yet it is insufficient to stop at communication because this communication is always in relationship—the relational function which should never be assumed, taken for granted or ignored. Its importance is evidenced in three relational messages that compose the significance of every communication: messages (often implied) defining what the communicator says (1) about himself, (2) about the person addressed, and/or (3) about their relationship together. These relational messages, whether explicit or implicit, are critical to understand since they provide deeper meaning to the content of the words communicated—for example, consider the relational messages in Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus (Lk 19:5, to be discussed in next chap.). This deeper meaning helps us interpret God’s relational purpose for the words communicated, which is necessary to establish their full context for whole understanding.

God’s communication always declares God’s relational nature, and this is enacted only in God’s relational context and process. Relationship, therefore, is not merely supplemental or supportive to the communication but the primary purpose for the communication. And what ‘face’ is put on the words of God determines what priority the relationship has. In terms of what ‘face’, it is critical to distinguish between anthropomorphisms in language about God (that result in allegorical interpretation) and the relational language of God. What may have the appearance of anthropomorphism in ‘the face of God’ is in reality the relational language of God’s relational nature, who created human persons with ‘face’ in God’s likeness only for relationship together (intrinsic to Gen 2:18,25).      

            The Face in and from the beginning makes definitive both the distinguished relational context and relational process of God’s whole ontology and function. The Face is inseparable from God’s relational context and process, in which the Face functions integrally to establish the primacy of relationship. Without the functional reality of the Face, any relational context of God is ambiguous and thus any relational process with God is elusive. What makes God’s blessing definitive from the beginning is the Face (paneh, signifying God’s whole presence) “turning and shining on you” in this distinguished relational context and relational process (Num 6:24-26). The lack or absence of this functional reality renders this blessing merely to the transmission of information without the relational significance either from God or to those receiving the blessing (e.g. just a perfunctory benediction).  

            Furthermore, what ‘face’ is put on the words of God determines whether we are listening to referential language transmitting information merely about God or to relational language for us to deeply know God. The former, for example, only hears (sees) the Word as Object to be observed with measured engagement, that is, from a relational distance, perhaps with a certain ‘method’. The latter is the relational outcome of listening to the Word as Subject with immeasurable relational involvement ‘Face to face’ in the relational epistemic process. Face to face is the distinguished involvement required to listen to the words from God’s mouth within God’s relational context and process. This involvement was distinguished with Moses, with whom “I speak face to face” (idiomatic use of peh, lit. “mouth to mouth,” Num 12:8; Ex 33:11). This was also the deeper relational outcome of Job’s epistemic humility in the relational epistemic process when he listened to God communicate in relationship (Job 42:4).

            It is necessary to further understand how the Face is irreducible to human shaping in order for the embodied whole of God to emerge in whole ontology, and to apprehend how embodying is nonnegotiable to human terms for this Face to function whole. Whole ontology and function are indispensable for the embodied Face (cf. Col 2:9-10), who constitutes the theological, hermeneutical and functional keys to all that unfolds (Jn 1:14,18; 14:6; cf. 2 Cor 4:6). Paul further embodied this whole theology (e.g. Col 1:19; 2:9) and the hermeneutic necessary to be whole (e.g. 1 Cor 14:33; Eph 2:14; Col 3:15), which he made definitive also for the Athenians (Acts 17:23).

            ‘Embodying of the theology and hermeneutic of the whole gospel’ means to go from distant, or more abstract, to functional reality. This necessarily involves the strategic, tactical and functional shifts unfolding with the Word (to be discussed in the next chap.), which take us from quantitative-referential beliefs or concepts of God to the qualitative-relational experience of the whole of God—just as Jesus initiated the strategic shift with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:21-26). The process of embodying is neither a conceptually distant reality nor an abstraction of reality, as the Samaritan woman witnessed (Jn 4:28-30). Relational embodying composes the theology of God’s presence further than the quantitative Object to be observed to the depths of this qualitative Subject present vulnerably for reciprocal involvement in relationship together face to face, with nothing less and no substitutes for either face.

            Moreover, it is critical for our whole understanding to be unequivocal about the following: Embodiment emerged with the incarnation but was enacted in its relational dynamic even before the creation of the universe (as Paul clarified theologically, Eph 1:3-5). The whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace from the beginning is the relational context and process that by necessity integrally contextualizes the incarnation together with those in human history. Therefore, the embodied Face is inseparable and indistinguishable from the face of God from outside the universe, and from the Face engaged in creation in its beginning (Jn 1:1-3). Furthermore, the embodied Face is inseparable and indistinguishable from the Face who turned and shined on us in definitive blessing from the beginning to “bring the change needed to establish new relationship together in wholeness” (Num 6:24-26). God’s thematic relational response of grace can certainly be called a metanarrative. This can understandably raise suspicion. Yet, those who object to metanarratives are correct only insofar as they discount any ideological construction and functional shaping that impose a template ‘from below’ on the universe and all in it. In this regard, there is a place for a hermeneutic of suspicion to retrieve the words unfolding from outside the universe[12]; and the deconstruction of human shaping and construction today are both necessary and urgent. Deconstruction, however, is insignificant and serves no purpose if that is all replaced by other human shaping and construction. This is our predicament if we are limited only to views ‘from below’ inside the universe. Most important, if those objecting to metanarratives also discount the metanarrative of the relational dynamic from outside the universe, the relational consequence is the absence of the whole’s presence and involvement and thereby the loss of ‘what holds together the world in its innermost’—making any notion of the whole ambiguous and experience of wholeness elusive. If hubris does not make secondary the concern for the human condition, we need to speak less and listen more to the words from outside the universe unfolding from the beginning.

            The whole of both the embodied Face and the gospel can only be seen, heard and understood in their relational beginning in God’s integral relational dynamic—the relational dynamic defining and determining nothing less and no substitutes—unfolding in the whole of God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition. Besides the hermeneutical issues identifying the whole of God and God’s communicative action in self-disclosure, this dynamic identifies the relational problem many persons throughout Scripture evidenced: first, in maintaining relational barriers/distance in their relations with God other than Face to face (as critiqued in Isa 29:13), and second, having similar relational barriers/distance notably with the embodied Face vulnerably unfolded before their faces—that is, of those from his hometown (Mk 6:1-6), of his disciples (Jn 14:9), and of religious leaders (Jn 5:16-40). The question now facing all of us then becomes, what is the deeper profile that distinguishes the whole of God’s face?

            As noted earlier about a face, a focus on God’s face in referential terms (outer in) remains central unless there is a deeper profile of God’s face from inner out. A referential view of God’s face does not tell us much about God and specifically for knowing and understanding Jesus’ whole person. This lack or gap was the relational issue for the early disciples, who followed a limited face of Jesus for three intensive years, prompting unavoidably “Don’t you now me even after I have been involved with you such a long time” (Jn 14:9). The disciples certainly knew volumes of information about Jesus, nevertheless they didn’t know the person in the face from inner out—perhaps a precursor to theological education. Yet, this limited view of God’s face and interrelated incomplete Christology continue to prevail in much theology and practice today.

            If our view of the person in Jesus’ face is to be complete, and thus whole, we need to look to John’s Gospel for primary significance of christological study—which is problematic for a historical-critical approach. The Gospel of John provides us with God’s view from outside the universe. More than a narrative account of aspects of Jesus’ earthly life, John gives us the cosmological view that extends beyond the universe. It is from outside the universe that the Word emerges (not originates) and arrived in human context (Jn 1:1-4, 10). Though quantitatively embodied, the Word was not received relationally (v.11) because the whole Word functioned qualitatively from inner out, that is, further and deeper than a quantitative interpretive lens (focused outer in) pays attention to, or if it can, it simply ignores. John’s Gospel helps us understand that the incarnation of Jesus’ person is both an epistemological issue and a hermeneutic issue (vv.12,14,18).

            The epistemic process of knowing the person presented is defined by either an outer-in framework primarily in quantitative referential terms, or by an inner-out framework primarily in qualitative relational terms. Interpretation of the life of Jesus is determined by each of these frameworks, and that framework forms our interpretive lens for the extent and depth of Jesus’ person it pays attention to or ignores. The consequence or outcome that unfolds is directly correlated to the perceptual-interpretive framework defining the epistemic process engaged and determining the hermeneutic employed. The quantitative framework with its outer-in lens is fragmentary and can only aggregate a view of Jesus from parts or aspects of his person; consequently this christological view is incomplete and lacks the whole person. The qualitative framework with its inner-out lens goes further and deeper in a relational epistemic process of syniemi (cf. Mk 8:17) for the whole knowledge and understanding of the person Jesus presented (synesis, cf. Col 2:2-4) to receive and connect in relationship together with the whole of God. This includes the three relational messages that deepen the qualitative presence and relational involvement of Jesus’ person and deepen our relational response in reciprocal relationship—just as Zacchaeus experienced from and with Jesus (Lk 19:6-10).

            Therefore, the epistemological and hermeneutic issues are critical for the Jesus we pay attention to both in and from the beginning, as the evangelist made definitive at the outset. For example, a historical-critical re-view of Jesus is only embodied in human contextualization, consequently restricting any account ‘in the beginning’ particularly from outside the universe. Whereas a foundationalism under-view attempts to give account in the beginning and beyond, it also labors under the limitations of similar modernist assumptions; as a result its accounts lack the qualitative and relational significance to be whole. Both approaches result in incomplete and/or distorted Christologies. The inadequacy of such a result then challenges our methodological assumptions in order to let Jesus’ person speak for himself. The deeper profile of Jesus’ face can only be expressed by his person. This further challenges our theological assumptions of what we can know of the person Jesus himself presented, and thereby understand who, what and how God is.

            Moreover, if we have moved beyond the obstructive theological assumptions at the heart of ‘the unknowability of God’ from philosophical theology, then the question becomes ‘how knowable is God?’ The significance of the answer mainly emerges or submerges with the person Jesus presented. And how his person is to be defined is further correlated to the three key definitive issues for all practice (i.e. in the created order, and notably of faith) discussed in the previous chapter:

  1. The significance of the person Jesus presented to others
  2. The integrity and quality of his communication to those persons
  3. The depth level of relationship his person engaged with those persons

What defines the person Jesus presented emerges primarily with these three definitive issues, which integrally unfolded from the beginning and throughout the incarnation and into post-ascension—particularly into Paul. Aside from human shaping, Jesus’ person presents unmistakably the deeper profile of God’s face from inner out.

            Since his birth, the earliest view of Jesus’ face happened when he was a young boy (Lk 2:41-52). Apparently even as a boy at twelve Jesus demonstrated the synesis of God’s whole, which amazed those present in his reciprocal Q&A interaction with the teachers in the temple. Revisiting Jesus as a boy at the temple, we get our initial view of his person and what developed the person Jesus presented even at that young age. Just prior to entering adulthood (beginning at thirteen in Jewish culture), this boy of twelve emerged in an improbable manner as a person distinguished from his sociocultural, religious, kinship group, household and parental contexts. This is not to say that Jesus’ identity formation was independent of those influences but to establish that his person was not defined by them. Jesus’ primary identity emerges at this point.

            When Jesus’ parents finally realized that he was missing from their caravan returning home from Jerusalem, they went back to find him at the temple. This boy was AWOL (absent without leave/permission), and his parents clearly let him know what was custom and legitimately expected of him (v.48). Yet, while respecting them and affirming his involvement in their surrounding context (v.51), Jesus simply asked them the questions (likely as an extension of God’s questions and a precursor to his questions, noted earlier): “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (v.49). Hearing “must be in my Father’s house” probably was shocking to them—especially for Joseph in a normative patriarchal family. Thus it would be reasonable that “they did not understand…” (syniemi, v.50)—after all, at this stage they had insufficient pieces to put together to understand the person Jesus presented (cf. Jn 2:1-5, to be discussed shortly). And apparently Jesus patiently accommodated them since he did not press the issue, at least at this stage (cf. v.51 and later in Jn 2:6-8).

            While Mary and Joseph could not yet learn and understand the person Jesus presented, we have the opportunity to engage the relational epistemic process with the Spirit to begin the process of syniemi for the synesis of the whole of Jesus’ person and thereby the whole of God. When Jesus said “I must be in my Father’s house,” he was neither identifying being in a certain place (like church today) nor merely defining certain things for him to do (as serving has become). These activities easily become reductionist substitutes that do not distinguish the significance of Jesus’ action (cf. Mt 21:12-16). This interaction reveals that even before adulthood Jesus’ face distinguished the person he presented in human contexts and clearly declared in relational terms (not referential terms) the identity of who and what he is. How so?

            “I must be in my Father’s house” reveals the significance of the person presented and disclosed in part how Jesus defined himself. By declaring “I must” (dei, necessary by the nature of things) we can understand the necessity of his action because of the nature of who and what he is. Dei is to be distinguished from opheilo which merely denotes a debt of obligation or acting under compulsion. Opheilo may have prescribed for Jesus his identity shaped by his surrounding context but dei identified his whole person based on who and what he is. Thus, the nature of who and what he is by necessity defined for Jesus how to be distinguished from primary determination by human contexts. With his declaration “I must by nature be” (eimi, to be, verb of existence and a copula connecting subject and predicate) we have a clear sense of this emerging person—a person who must be his whole person regardless of other contextualizing influences and pressures constraining him. And if the use of eimi as a verb of existence also has the sense of ginomai (to be, begin to be, enter into a state of being), this provides us with the ontology of the person Jesus presented and the personness he practiced—his whole ontology and function.

            In addition, “to be” (eimi as a copula) also connects Jesus’ person to the primary context that did define him: “be in my Father’s house.” The temple (or church today) is not a mere place but represents where God dwells intimately for relationship together (2 Sam 7:5-7; Jn 14:23; 1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:21-22; cf. Mk 11:17). In this disclosure Jesus addresses two critical issues about the presentation of his person: (1) how that person is defined, and also (2) what defines that person. How his whole person was defined was not primarily by human contextualization (though secondary influence remained) but by a further and deeper context: “be in” identifies the whole of God’s relational context of family. It is in this distinguished context that the main significance of the person presented is found—making secondary the influence of all human contexts. And what defined the person Jesus presented from this context was not about what he did (or the role he served) but rather who he was by being in relationship with his Father: “to be in my Father is who I am and by that nature how I must be,” to paraphrase Jesus (cf. Jn 10:37-38).

            In spite of all the things Jesus did—by which we usually define him—it was this relationship that defined his whole person (cf. Jn 5:19-21; 8:28; 10:38b; 14:20a; 17:21). As Jesus presented as early as twelve, “who his person is” was not Joseph and Mary’s son but the Son of his Father together in the whole of God (the Trinity); and “what his person is” was neither defined by human contexts nor by what he did in those contexts. To be defined primarily by human contexts and what one does in those contexts would be the result of reductionism; and re-defining Jesus’ person on these terms makes evident a theological anthropology of human shaping and construction that antecedes Christology to re-present Jesus’ person. Yet, even before adulthood, in the midst of tension with reductionist influence, the whole of Jesus’ person emerged.

            This whole person also emerged on the Damascus road as the person Jesus presented to Paul, whose presence must by the nature of his person be understood further and deeper than a Christophany. Though Jesus’ parents did not understand the whole person presented vulnerably before them, Paul was accountable to syniemi, as we are. By presenting his whole person and presence to others, Jesus’ communication and level of relational engagement with them challenged their theological assumptions—most notably their theological anthropology defining their ontology and function, and the related critical issues of how they are being defined and what is defining them. Theological anthropology and Christology begin their integral convergence with Jesus’ person and presence emerging to make definitive theological anthropology, rather than theological anthropology re-presenting Jesus and re-defining Christology. The latter is from reductionism, that which ongoingly challenged the person Jesus presented to submerge his presence and that we have to account for in our theology and practice.

            When we see the face of Jesus from inner out, this whole person keeps emerging to take us beyond a mere introduction to different parts of Jesus (namely his teachings and deeds) to encounter the face of the whole of God. Encountering the whole of God involved not only the deity of Jesus’ person as Son but equally involved the person of the Father. On this ontological and relational basis, Jesus was frustrated with Philip’s request to “show us the Father and we will be satisfied” (Jn 14:8). Obviously, Philip did not wake up that morning seeing God’s face as the ancient poet experienced (Ps 17:15). Jesus distinguished unmistakably the face of God, therefore “whoever has seen me, the person in my face from inner out, has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). Unless we are willing to go deeper to engage the whole profile of Jesus’ face, we can only have a limited view of his person—and, like the early disciples, will not know him, and thus know and understand the whole of God.

            A limited view of Jesus’ person is not the profile of his face that is ongoingly revealed. Jesus at twelve clearly distinguished his person to Joseph and Mary as well as his presence to Jewish leaders at the temple. After his interaction in the temple, Jesus does not reappear in the Gospel narratives until well into adulthood at around age thirty. This may suggest that he was isolated prior to that; perhaps this is true in terms of certain roles and functions he performed in his public ministry. Yet we do have indication that during this period he continued to extend his involvement in relationships, both with God and with others (e.g. Lk 2:52). One thing for certain is the embodied life of this person was not in a vacuum, isolated from human contexts. The person Jesus presented always functioned vulnerably in human contexts, in direct human interaction, in public (in contrast to sheltered in private). His whole ontology and function demonstrate the nature and extent of his presence and involvement, which are often not clearly distinguished by others in those contexts.

            As we go back to Jesus’ baptism, this may raise more curious thought about his need to “sanctify myself” (Jn 17:19). Why were these necessary for Jesus? Yet his baptism was not the same baptism that John the Baptist called for (Mt 3:1-2, Lk 3:3), since he had not sinned and did not need to repent. By what was necessarily his relational action, Jesus fully identifies in public with those who have repented and are prepared to receive the kingdom of God—not by ritual observance but by relational connection. Accordingly, his baptism makes evident to them that the person he presents is whole, complete and can be counted on to be who, what and how he is—that is, what is insufficiently rendered in referential terms but is “fulfilled” (complete, make whole, pleroo) in relational terms as “the whole (pasan) righteousness” (Mt 3:15), which Paul made conclusive as Jesus’ whole ontology and function for the church (Eph 1:23).

            Jesus therefore presents to them publicly in his baptism the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 12:28)—or in more relational terms, the whole of God’s family, as the Trinity converges openly in function in this distinguished interaction of the full presence of God (Mt 3:16-17). In the full significance of his baptism, Jesus discloses the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love (“my Son whom I love”), as well as demonstrates the redemptive nature (the old dies and the new rises) of the relational progression necessary for his followers to the whole of God. Moreover, “I sanctify myself” in human contexts only for this purpose “so that they also may be sanctified” in their ontology and function to be whole and thus also be distinguished in human contexts—the only purpose and outcome which compose the relational significance of his words. In these same words, the face of Jesus composes the gospel of transformation to wholeness—which is the basis for the Father making this relational imperative at the counterpart experience of Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7, NIV)    

The profile of Jesus’ face unfolds deeper as Jesus and his disciples, along with his mother—apparently Joseph had died since he is no longer mentioned—were at a wedding in Cana (Jn 2:2-11). Mary’s interaction with Jesus about the wine suggests uncertainty about how much syniemi (of the person Jesus presented) she had gained since the boyhood episode in the temple. While Mary was collecting the “pieces” of Jesus’ person (e.g. Lk 2:19,51), how well she was putting them together is unclear (cf. Mk 3:21,31-34). Whatever her understanding of his person at this stage, it is difficult to suggest she was requesting a miracle from the person she was aware of, even though she did imply Jesus would resolve the problem (Jn 2:5).

            Jesus’ response demonstrates the involvement of his person, revealing how his whole person (who, what and how he is) functioned in human contexts, in human interaction, in public. This disclosure is made less on the basis of what Jesus did (a miracle) and more in how his presence was. Focusing on the miracle tends to define Jesus by what he did, and this reductionist definition would be insufficient to understand his whole person.

            In this human context, Jesus is involved in three areas: (1) relationship with Mary, (2) the sociocultural situation, and (3) relationship with his Father. These areas of involvement are not to be separated because they converge in an interaction process on how Jesus functions in this context. Knowing how these three areas interact is crucial for understanding how the person Jesus presented functioned in his ‘regular’ life.

            Jesus’ response to Mary is no longer filial when he addresses Mary simply as “woman” (gyne, general term for woman, married or not). This redefines the nature of Jesus’ involvement with Mary from the human context to God’s relational context of family. Even though Jesus’ response is no longer filial, it is nevertheless distinguished as familial; and this distinguished the relational context that defined his person. As witnessed also in the boyhood episode, this interaction reflects the tension between the contexts defining Mary and Jesus respectively. This tension is heard in his question “why do you involve me?” (Jn 2:4, NIV), which is rendered more clearly “what concern is that to you and to me?” Assuming Mary was still defined primarily by the human context, she gave priority to this gathering and acted in obligation to communal responsibility in support of the wedding hosts. We can say that Mary merely acted in who and what she was as defined by that context. And this significance was not lost to Jesus in “what concern is that to you.” He clearly wanted Mary to know, however, what his priorities were and what and who defined him: “my time has not yet come”—his Father determines that (Jn 8:28,29; 14:31). Consequently, “what concern is that to me” cannot be defined by “what concern is that to you.” As most of his interactions reveal—which would include involving Jesus in what we ask for in many of our prayers—the person Jesus presented is continuously being challenged to redefine himself by others’ terms. In response, Jesus continues to address the two critical issues about the presentation of his person: how his person is defined and what defines his person.

            Yet, Jesus never removed himself from the human context (not to mean every situation), nor avoided the tension this created. This was not only the nature of his whole ontology and function but signified his particular purpose for his followers also to be whole in ontology and function in those contexts. Thus he was involved in his relationship with Mary and neither distanced his person from the sociocultural context represented in the wedding situation nor dismissed the cultural means used to define persons (in this situation, the honor of the wedding hosts who would have incurred shame without the wine). Contrary to an assimilation process, however, the significance of Jesus’ involvement is directly a relational outcome of the nature of who, what and how he is—his whole person that is never defined by what he does (miracles) nor by what he has (e.g. the means to do miracles). Jesus then could respond to Mary and accommodate the sociocultural situation as long as his person was not reduced and his function not diminished or minimalized.

            This helps us know how the above three areas of his involvement interacted, which is crucial for our understanding of how the person Jesus functioned in wholeness: while Jesus responded to (1) his relationship with Mary and lived vulnerably in (2) the sociocultural situation, neither (1) nor (2) defined for him (3) his relationship with his Father. Rather as his relational response of distinguished love (Jn 14:31), (3) always defined Jesus’ person and determined for him how to function in relationships like (1) and contexts like (2). This tells us the person Jesus presented not only involved who, what and how he is but also whose he is. Theologically, this is the ontology of the whole person. Functionally, this is the wholeness of personness (not merely the concept of personhood) engaged in ongoing relational involvement in the trinitarian relational context of family and relational process of family love. To function apart from this is to shift into reductionism of the person, which Jesus would not allow to happen to the person he presented, despite all the influences and pressures he faced to shape him in the reduced terms of anything less and any substitutes.

            How does his miracle fit this sociocultural situation? Did Jesus merely misuse his power in a rather insignificant situation with no apparent purpose? Or did Jesus diminish his purpose by this miracle? Taken out of context, either explanation can be made. Yet, given our discussion of the person Jesus presented, how is this miracle in this situation—about wine at a prolonged wedding reception (commonly up to seven days), perhaps in overindulgent celebration since they ran out of wine—significant for who, what and how Jesus is?

            In terms of the wine this really had nothing to do with the person Jesus presented; essentially, the situation was about “old wine” while Jesus constituted “new wine” (cf. Lk 5:37-39). The miracle itself also had nothing to do with the whole of Jesus’ person, that is, defining his person by what he did. Biblical miracles are not ends in themselves, used as reductionist substitutes for self-definition, though that is a prevailing perception and practice, even in Jesus’ time (cf. Jn 2:23-25). Miracles are “miraculous signs” (semeion) with a qualitative end and relational purpose, which lead to something out of and beyond themselves; that is, they are indicators, ‘fingermarks’ of God. As a result, a miracle is not valuable so much for itself as for the person it reflects, just as Jesus described and practiced (Jn 10:38).

            Since this Gospel narrative is the first recorded miraculous sign of Jesus (Jn 2:11), this happened early in his public ministry and in the disciples’ involvement with him. Jesus used this situation to take the opportunity to build further and deeper relationship with his disciples. Given that Jesus did not define his person by what he did, the miracle was neither to draw attention to himself nor for the benefit of the general public (cf. Jn 2:9)—as if apokalypto were his purpose. This semeion was a disclosure of his whole person presented to the disciples for relationship together—as phaneroo indicates in “He thus revealed his glory” (v.11, NIV). While it may be clear how disclosing “his glory” could have helped the disciples theologically, what is the functional significance of “his glory” that would take them further and deeper into relationship together?

            Earlier John’s Gospel summarized the relational nature of the incarnation and how “We have seen his glory” (Jn 1:14). They “saw” (theaomai, a contemplative process that carefully examines Jesus to perceive him correctly) not merely because they were good observers but because the person Jesus presented vulnerably disclosed “his glory” for relationship (cf. theoreo in Jn 12:45). Yet how did engaging this relational epistemic process take them beyond the outer-in aspects of Jesus and merely referential information about God?

            The answer to the above questions involves the “glory” that is “seen.” If “his glory” is merely perceived in referential terms as the abstract attribute of the transcendent God, we may claim some theological significance in knowing something about God but no functional significance to take us further and deeper in relationship to truly know and experience God. Yet, glory is one of those words in our Christian vocabulary (faith and grace are others) whose significance gets lost in familiarity. The word for glory in Hebrew (kabod) comes from the word “to be heavy,” for example, with wealth or worthiness. A person’s glory certainly then is shaped and seen on the basis of the perceptual-interpretive framework used for how a person is defined and what defines that person. The glory Jesus distinguished brings us further than an abstract attribute of the transcendent God and takes us deeper than a person defined by what he does and has. In the OT, kabod is used poetically to refer to the whole person (Ps 16:9; 57:8; 108:1).

            The main idea of ‘the glory of God’ denotes the revelation of God’s being, nature and presence to us, that is, the whole of who, what and how God is. Our initial introduction to God’s glory is revealed in creation (natural or general revelation, Ps 19:1-4), which does not distinguish the whole of God but has heuristic purpose (Rom 1:20) that is complete upon encountering the deep profile of Jesus’ face from inner out. Paul made conclusive that this disclosure of God’s glory was not in referential terms but relational terms from inner out (“who has shone in our hearts”) distinguished “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). In the incarnation the vulnerable disclosures of Jesus’ whole person and presence engaged us with God’s glory—that is, God’s being, nature, and presence with us: the who (being), the what (nature) and the how (presence) of God. Who, what and how Jesus is vulnerably disclose who, what and how God is—that is to say, phaneroo God’s glory only for relationship, not for systematic theology or doctrinal certainty. Therefore, the who, what and how in the distinguished face of Jesus is the hermeneutical key to the ontology of the glory of God, through whom we can know and understand who, what and how God is. And when the glory seen is the distinguished face of God, the person Jesus presents in whole ontology and function discloses the functional involvement of God’s being, nature and presence with us as Subject in face-to-face relationship, not merely an Object to be observed. Briefly the person Jesus presented openly disclosed the following in relational terms:

God’s being (who) as the qualitative heart of God from inner out—not a mere  part of God or some expression or conception of God but the very heart of God’s being—and nothing less, constituted in Jesus’ whole function with the primary importance of the heart signifying his whole person, with no substitutes.


God’s nature (what) as intimately relational, signified by the primacy of Jesus’ ongoing intimate relationship with the Father and the extension of this primacy of relationship by intimate relational involvement with others.


God’s presence (how) as vulnerably involved, made evident by Jesus’ vulnerable presence in disclosing his person to others and his openness to be negatively affected by them, including by his disciples.

Just as the distinguished Face’s whole ontology and function disclosed the glory of God, the whole of God’s being, nature and presence function for relationship together Face to face. Anything less and any substitutes are neither the distinguished face of Jesus nor the glory of God.

            That which is God’s glory is “his glory.” Who, what and how God is is who, what and how Jesus is (Jn 10:38b; 12:45; 14:9). Yet it is critical to distinguish that this disclosure (phaneroo) is not about the mere exhibit (apokalypto) by Jesus of the ontology of God; and any Christology that is embedded only in this for foundational purpose is insufficient and incomplete. The person Jesus presents is the vulnerable embodiment of the functional whole of God’s presence in relationship. Disclosing the whole of God in relationship is the incarnation principle of ‘nothing less and no substitutes’; a complete Christology must also be ‘nothing less and no substitutes’. This is who, what and how Jesus is and “his glory” disclosed in relational terms to his disciples for further and deeper relationship. Because Jesus vulnerably extended (the how) his whole person with heart from inner out (the who)—‘nothing less and no substitutes’—to them for intimate relationship (the what), the narrative of the wedding concludes with “his disciples trusted in him” (Jn 2:11)—not merely believed in him or had re-formed faith in him. That is, “his disciples could respond back and open themselves to him in further trust and deeper involvement”—not based on what Jesus did (a miracle) but based on his whole person and presence vulnerably presented to them. This was the further and deeper relationship together that Jesus opened to them in the relational epistemic process for the relational progression to the whole of God, who was illuminated only by the deeper profile of Jesus’ face to constitute this relational connection.

            It is vital to fully understand from this interaction in this human context at the wedding in Cana, that the presentation of “his glory” was contingent on the incarnation principle of ‘nothing less and no substitutes’. In other words, the person and presence in the face Jesus presented—whether with Mary, in the sociocultural situation, or with the Father—was the function only of his whole person because Jesus maintained in whole ontology and function the integrity of who, what and how he is—ongoingly without reduction or redefinition. ‘Nothing less and no substitutes’ functionally involves both of the following:

1.  Engaging the human context without losing the primary identity of who you are and whose you are.

2.  Participating, involving, partaking in situations and relationships without losing your priorities of what you are and therefore by nature how you are called to be.

            As Jesus experienced, the pressure to be redefined by reductionist influences is ongoing. Consequently, Jesus was vulnerably responsive to someone for relationship only on his terms, though he was vulnerably involved with anyone. Later in Jerusalem, many persons believed in him because of the miracles he was doing. Despite their response to him, “Jesus would not entrust himself to them” (Jn 2:23-25). Their response was not to his whole person (“his glory”) and for relationship on his terms. For Jesus to respond positively back to them would have necessitated redefining himself by their reductionist terms, which would not have involved relationship further and deeper with the whole of God. Jesus never compromised who, what and how he is for the sake of gaining followers (as in Jn 6:25-66). These were not the kind of followers he came to call, since his vulnerable presence and relational involvement constitutes the call to be whole, which then necessitates the call to be redefined, transformed and made whole in the depth of his relational context—while in human contexts.

            Moreover, by necessity Jesus’ whole ontology and function address the issue of being able to distinguish a person’s source of validation, confirmation and affirmation. What is our primary source of these and as a result where do we functionally entrust the ontology of our person and the personness or -hood we practice: the human context or God’s context? Jesus’ unwillingness to respond back to the desires of these so-called followers is a vital distinguishing indicator of leadership in contrast to those who build a following on reductionist terms, albeit with good intentions. It also points to the significance we give to ‘serving’ in order to validate, confirm or affirm our discipleship, despite Jesus’ clear relational terms for serving him (Jn 12:26). This further helps us distinguish in our life and contexts the difference between what I call ‘discipleshipisms’ (the reductionist substitutes signifying our terms) and what is the clearly distinguished discipleship of Jesus’ call to “Follow me, my whole person” in ongoing reciprocal relationship together face to face. For Jesus, discipleship is nonnegotiable to our terms and is irreducible to anything less and any substitutes for whole ontology and function.

            The revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus constitutes the whole profile of God’s face that is irreplaceable to distinguish unmistakably the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement for face-to-face relationship together. Even the most rigorous of spiritual disciplines will find God’s presence elusive apart from engaging this deeper profile of God’s face. We all are accountable for this face (“Don’t you know me yet?”), whether or not we are willing to go deeper to engage God’s face beyond an anthropomorphism to connect in relationship with our face beyond a face-mask. ‘Beyond our face-mask’ is pivotal for relational connection because our face from outer in can have many forms; and this can render our face to illusion and simulation even as we worship. For example, Jesus exposed this illusion and simulation in those who worshipped with “their lips” from an outer-in face, all while the heart of their person from inner out was “far from me” (relationally distant, Mk 7:6-8). Connecting with the unmistakable face of God requires compatible faces that are involved together in the relational process distinguished only by God’s relational terms—even over well-established religious traditions, as Jesus exposed.

            The challenge of Face thus distinguishes inseparably the unavoidable challenge for face in order for the relational outcome of the gospel to be distinguished.



Connecting with the Face of God

            In human life and practice, the surrounding context (namely culture) commonly establishes the priorities of what is important. To the extent that our identity is shaped and our function is determined by these priorities, we can say that we are products of our context or times. In our period of human history in the global context, the priorities of this larger context are having a profound effect on the priorities of the local context—partially positive but mainly negative. The limited positive effect involves helping people to look beyond a provincial identity and function for connection in the global community—albeit an elusive connection, if not an illusory community. The negative impact has been the conflict or the reduction that global priorities have had on any qualitative and relational priorities in the local context, therefore increasingly shifting, embedding and enslaving persons in the secondary (mainly for quantitative gains). And, as neuroscience would confirm, this development is taking its toll on the minds and bodies of those affected.

            Interestingly, the globalizing dynamic could be a metaphor for Jesus’ actions during the incarnation, although Jesus’ actions have deeper implications and effects for the qualitative and relational. As discussed in part previously, Jesus had significant connections throughout his earthly life. One of his most significant connections was with a family that included Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The dynamic that unfolds in this intimate family context has some parallel to what is happening today, not only in the global and local contexts but also in family contexts.

            The current period of globalization in human history is neither unprecedented as commonly perceived (cf. humanity in the beginning) nor sufficient basis to expect significant change as some propose (cf. the tower of Babel, Gen 11:1-4). Jesus connected this local family to the definitive larger context and deeper change necessary for human identity and function to become involved in the qualitative-relational whole, and therefore in what is primary and not merely secondary—namely, whole persons in the primacy of relationship together.

            Consider the interactions Jesus had with two of these close followers and examine the relational distance or depth of relational connection they had with the face of Jesus. These two were sisters, Martha and Mary, whom Jesus loved along with their brother Lazarus (Jn 11:5). When defined by what they do, these sisters are commonly characterized as different types: Martha oriented to a life of activity and service, while Mary by a life of contemplation and worship. We get a deeper and different understanding of their persons as Jesus interacts with them face to face in relationship. How they functioned in relationship together reveals where they truly are, and also deepens our understanding of the relational significance of Jesus’ whole ontology and function.

            Their first interaction takes place because “Martha welcomed Jesus into her home” with his disciples during his later Judean ministry (Lk 10:38-42). The term for “welcomed him” (hypodechomai) denotes a distinct act of caring for them by Martha, which she apparently initiated; also, identifying it as “her home” is unusual when there is a male in the family. Her hospitable and kind action was no doubt well received by this likely tired and hungry group, and could easily have been the basis for significant fellowship. But fellowship is a context in which the function of relationship is critical. Martha certainly cannot be faulted for what she did (hospitality and serving Jesus), yet she needs to be critiqued for how she did those deeds, and thus the nature of her discipleship. The crucial implication of the definitive context to which Jesus connected this family involves not just any kind of relationship.

            For persons like Martha, thinking relationally is always more difficult when the surrounding context defines persons in fixed roles and confines them to the performance of those roles. The non-fluid nature of their sociocultural context made individuality outside those roles an aberration; consequently the norm not only constrained the person but also limited (intentionally or inadvertently) the level of involvement in relationships. These barriers made the function of relationship critical for Martha since she was a product of her times—something we all can identify with in one way or another.

            The person Martha presented to Jesus was based on her role and what she did, which she seemed to perform well. By defining herself in this way, she focused quite naturally on her main priority of all the hospitable work (diakonia) to be done, that is, her service or ministry (diakoneo, Lk 10:40). This work, on the one hand, was culturally hers to do while, on the other hand, it was an opportunity for her to serve Jesus. Yet, defining her person by what she did and the role she had also determined what she paid attention to and ignored (from her perceptual-interpretive framework) in others, and thus how she did relationships with them. More specifically, Martha stayed within the limits of her role in relationship with Jesus, whom she related to based on his role, all as determined by her local context. In other words, Martha did not engage Jesus and connect with him in the quality of relationship made accessible to her from his larger and thus primary context. This can be seen clearly in their second interaction when Lazarus died (Jn 11:1-40), to which we turn before continuing in their first interaction.

            In this second interaction Martha quickly extends herself again to Jesus when her brother died (Jn 11:21); she appears not to lack in initiative. Her opening words to Jesus are exactly the same words (see Greek text) Mary would share with him in their encounter later: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (v.21, Mary in v.32). Yet, while expressing her discouragement and seemingly holding Jesus accountable, in the same breath she qualifies her words with an indirect statement: “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him” (v.22). Whether she was suggesting or requesting that Jesus do something, her indirectness was probably true to cultural form by not asking Jesus (Master, Teacher) for a favor directly. Furthermore, Martha stayed within the limits (functional barriers) of relationship between men/rabbi and women. Her indirectness evokes from Jesus a simple yet personal response of what will happen: “Your brother will rise again” (v.23), implying his relational involvement with them. Since Jesus had already taught about the future resurrection from the dead (Jn 5:28-29; 6:39-40), Martha must have learned that earlier, making reference to it here (v.24). These words by Martha are what a good student would be expected to say. On the surface of Jesus’ response, he then seems to take her on a short theological exercise, yet he is really trying to make deeper relational connection with her at the vulnerable level of her heart—“believes in me,” the intimate relational work of trust (vv.25-26). Martha responds with a clear confession of faith (v.27) but without the intimate relational connection with the whole person of her faith, who is kept at a relational distance as she goes back to call Mary. Later, even her confession is called into question, as she is tested relationally by reductionism: the fact of the situation vs. the person of her faith (vv.39-40).

            The priorities of Martha’s local context limited her identity to provincial terms from outer in and consequently constrained her person from being able to function from inner out and to engage Jesus accordingly—that is, both compatible and vulnerable to his person. How Martha was defined by her sociocultural context also determined the function of her person, which predisposed her to Jesus and biased how she did relationship with him. As a product of human contextualization, she shaped the relationship together with Jesus. With this cultural-perceptual framework, she paid attention to Jesus primarily in his role as Lord and Teacher but overlooked his whole person in this interaction; she concentrated on serving Jesus but ignored being relationally involved with him, as evidenced in the first interaction. Consequently, she neither exercises her whole person from inner out nor experiences her whole person with Jesus in the primary function of relationship imperative for his followers, which Jesus later made paradigmatic (Jn 12:26). As a substitute for what is primary, Martha occupies herself in what is secondary—not necessarily unimportant (as hospitality and serving Jesus evidence) yet clearly secondary to what is primary.

            This was the critique that Jesus had for how Martha functioned: “You are occupied and distracted by many things; there is need of only one” (Lk 10:41-42). Jesus refocused Martha on what is primary and redefined for her what is necessary, irreducibly and nonnegotiably. This obviously created conflict with the priorities of her cultural-perceptual framework. Jesus does not directly deny Martha her framework but shifts her to the deeper qualitative framework of his relational context from above to provide her with needed hermeneutic correction. Martha was embedded in the primacy of the secondary. Despite the work that needs to be done and the circumstances related to it, he basically tells Martha not to let that define her and determine their time together: “but only one thing is needed.” The term for “need” (chreia) means usage, act of using, employment, to signify that in which one is employed. Jesus is calling her to the primary priority (her vocation, as it were) in life: to his whole person in relationship together—not merely to occupy the same space as Jesus, nor merely to do what Jesus did (e.g. serve), but to ongoing relational involvement with him in intimate relationship. No greater priority can employ her life and practice, nor should any other priority determine how she functions. The primacy of relationship in whole reciprocal relationship together is irreducible to any other human functions and nonnegotiable to any human terms.

            The primacy of relationship is inseparable from discipleship as defined and determined by Jesus, especially for those who are committed to serve him (Jn 12:26). This necessarily involves the call to be redefined from outer in to inner out, transformed from reductionism and made whole in relationship together—in other words, the gospel of transformation to wholeness. For Martha, who shaped relationship together as a hospitable servant of Jesus, this implied her need for redemptive change. Though she took a small step to connect initially with Jesus in their second interaction, she needed to be redeemed (set free) to be involved in the primacy of whole relationship together with Jesus as Mary was. Moreover, this included her relationship with Mary and seeing her person from inner out also. In their last time together at another dinner given in Jesus’ honor, Martha continued to stay in her traditional place among the women to serve, even though the dinner was not in her home (Mk 14:3; Jn 12:2). Whether she was still occupied by the secondary is not clear; but she did not complain about Mary not serving, who was involved further and deeper face to Face with Jesus in the primacy of relationship (Jn 12:3; Mk 14:6).

            With all her dedication and good intentions, Martha essentially related to and served Jesus with reductionist substitutes and practices. In terms of how she related to Jesus under the influence of reductionism, what she paid attention to and ignored about both her person as well as Jesus’ person, including about their relationship, Martha inadvertently functioned to reinforce counter-relational work. Such practice takes place all too commonly among God’s people, even while serving Jesus. This raises the concern about what it means to serve him and a pervasive issue we readily practice when serving Jesus: defining ourselves by serving, and thus being focused primarily on the work to be done while guided by a servant model. Jesus says “whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be” (Jn 12:26). In these words he communicates a necessary condition to serve him is to follow him and be where he is; that is, as discussed earlier, this is the function of relationship in ongoing intimate involvement with his whole person. Serving does not come first to define what it means to follow Jesus. The word “to serve” (diakoneo) comes from the word for minister, servant, deacon (diakonos) and has the emphasis on the work to be done, not on the relationship between Lord and servant. This transposes the primacy of relationship to a secondary priority based on defining human persons by reduced ontology and function.

            This is a vital distinction for all his followers. Because in defining what is necessary to serve him, Jesus is also clearly definitive about what is insufficient to serve him: to focus primarily on the work to be done, or on related situations and circumstances, no matter how dedicated we are or how good our intentions. Jesus did not discount the particular service Martha was doing but how she engaged it. How we serve is just as important as whether we serve or not. Therefore, any reductionist substitutes and practices for serving him are not an option. For all his followers, Jesus makes paradigmatic for serving and imperative for discipleship: the function of intimate relationship together as the primary priority.

            While Jesus called Martha to his whole person for relationship, Mary already extended her person to Jesus for this relationship—whom Jesus fully receives, “Mary has chosen what is better” (Lk 10:42). The word for “chosen” (eklegomai) denotes simply the act of selecting Jesus, the naming of Jesus as the one desired, and thus expressing favor to his person chosen. Mary paid attention to Jesus’ whole person and focused on being relationally involved with him—the primary priority. And Jesus completely affirms her relational action: “and it will not be taken away from her” (v.42). “It” is a relative pronoun (hostis) from the basic relative pronoun hos (he who), which provides a better rendering for this context: “and he who is chosen will not be taken away from her.” The accessible Jesus vulnerably extends his whole person to her for relationship together.

            Yet, Mary’s choice was not a simple one to make. She cannot be characterized merely as a different personality type from Martha, which predisposed her to extend herself to make better connection with Jesus. In these two interactions Martha actually demonstrates more initiative than Mary. They also were both constrained by their sociocultural context to the same fixed role. Mary had neither the privilege of an optional role nor could she be an exception. This is the reason Martha legitimately expected Mary to be like her, and why she tried to manipulate Jesus (“Lord, don’t you care…”) to make Mary fulfill her role (Lk 10:40). What was culturally hers to do was culturally also Mary’s.

            Moreover, household roles and expectations were only part of the pressure Mary faced in her surrounding context. Mary seemed to ignore the work (diakoneo) that was culturally hers to do and chose instead to engage Jesus in a manner not customarily available to women. That is, she also goes against the religious culture by sitting at Jesus’ feet in order to be taught by the Rabbi (Lk 10:39); this is a privileged place forbidden for women and reserved only for men, particularly disciples (note also, that serious disciples usually were training for leadership). This takes place during an important period in Jesus’ ministry when he has intensified his private teaching of his disciples in preparation of their forthcoming leadership. Imagine then what his disciples thought (or even said in protest) when Mary sat next to them.

            Yet, Mary is willing to risk ridicule and rejection (even by Jesus) by going beyond any religio-cultural constraints in order to pursue the person Jesus. She effectively doesn’t allow reductionism to control her life and merely do what is expected and comfortable—that is, to diminish her person and limit her relational involvement. By her choice, she clearly acts only on what is important and necessary: the whole person in the function of intimate relationship together. Jesus fully receives her person for this relationship and, in openly doing so, teaches his disciples not only a lesson on the relational priority of discipleship but also on the relational function of leadership—lessons noticeably absent in theological education today..

            Her whole person functioning in intimate relationship with Jesus is even more evident as we see them in further interactions. Returning to Lazarus’ death and their second interaction, Mary quickly goes out to meet “the Teacher” who has asked for her (Jn 11:28-29). When she sees him she says the same opening words as Martha earlier (vv.32,21). These are her only spoken words, but not all she communicates to Jesus. When she sees him, “she fell at his feet” (v.32) and says the above while “weeping” (v.33a). Mary makes her whole person vulnerable and fully shares her heart (likely including some anger) with Jesus, which Martha doesn’t seem to do even with the same words. This points to the relational messages qualifying their words that Mary communicates profoundly with Jesus, thus deeply moving his heart to make intimate connection with Mary (vv.33b,35,38). In these moments, she experiences her Teacher (didaskolos) more deeply and came to know him as never before. Their intimate connection is qualitatively distinct from the connection between Martha and Jesus moments earlier. This is the relational outcome in redeemed relationship of the whole person functioning in intimate involvement together.

            Mary deepens her intimate connection with Jesus in a third interaction, which demonstrates even further how vulnerable her whole person is made to Jesus (Jn 12:1-8, par. Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9). Whether she follows the lead example of the prostitute (Lk 7:36-50) or acts spontaneously from her own creative heart, Mary makes another difficult and also costly choice (Jn 12:3). With the cost of the perfume (“worth a year’s wages,” v.5) added to her decision, she again acts contrary to prevailing cultural form and practice to literally let her hair down to intimately connect with Jesus—inappropriate conduct for both of them—and humbly with love attend to his needs. Mary is engaged in the deepest relational work of a disciple, which Jesus defines clearly for his disciples as “a beautiful (kalos, in quality and character) thing (ergon, work of her vocation) to me” (Mt 26:10, parallel account) because her action unfolds in the primacy of relationship.

            Mary’s action demonstrated the most relationally significant practice of diakoneo, in which she served Jesus while intimately involved with his person more than ever before. She gave her person to Jesus, and Jesus not only received her person but also received from her person. This continued to contrast with Martha’s diakoneo (Jn 12:2), though not to diminish that kind of service. Yet, we need to understand the ongoing choice of function involved here. Mary grew further in her person and experienced more of this relational outcome because she would not allow the counter-relational work of reductionism to prevent her from this opportunity to make intimate connection with Jesus face to face. Without the restraints of reductionism on her heart, she seized the opportunity of the vulnerable presence of Jesus’ whole person (as he said, “you will not always have me,” 12:8).

            Love functions this way, it always makes the person and the relationship most important—regardless of the need and work to be done. This is how Jesus functions with us and how he wants us to follow him and be with him. Thus, once again, the accessible Jesus not only received Mary’s person for intimate connection in the priority of their relationship, but he also clearly makes this relational process more important than even ministry to the poor—but not its reduction to outer-in serving because this involvement like Mary’s is how poor persons (among others, including Jesus) need to be served. Apart from Judas Iscariot’s motives (Jn 12:4-6), this was important to learn for the disciples who tried to reprioritize Mary’s act (Mt 26:8-9). While at this stage just days prior to Jesus’ death the disciples certainly have learned about wholistic ministry, they have yet to understand the significance of Jesus’ whole person (thus theirs also) and the primary function of intimate relationship together (cf. Jn 14:9). They would change but not without difficulty, and certainly not without redemptive change for the transformation to wholeness.


Going Deeper Face to Face

            The face of Jesus continues to challenge us to go deeper to connect with his whole person in relationship, that is, together face to face. Since Jesus’ self-disclosures are only for relationship (signified by phaneroo, Jn 17:6), shared in the whole of God’s relational context and process initiated from outside the universe, God’s self-disclosures must by their nature be received in that relational context and process. This reciprocal relational dynamic necessary for the relational epistemic process then excludes (if not prevents) our speculations and formulations ‘from below’ (i.e. from “the wise and the intelligent,” Lk 10:21) that merely signify our terms for the epistemic process, not the involvement of ‘vulnerable children’ who listen before they speak. Engagement in God’s relational context and process involves the reciprocal response that is compatible to openly receive and accordingly be accountable relationally for all of God’s self-disclosures in relationship. This compatible response is not the observations of Jesus’ person from “the wise and the intelligent,” who use an outer-in interpretive framework in a measured (distant or detached) relational connection with the person observed. That type of engagement results in fragmentary information to form the basis for those speculations and formulations re-presenting Jesus’ person.

            The compatible response to God’s self-disclosure receives the whole person Jesus presents from inner out, in the same openness of one’s own whole person (in child-like significance noted above). Receiving Jesus’ person with the openness of the whole person is to be relationally responsible to vulnerably engage Jesus in all his self-disclosures—as witnessed in Mary, in contrast to Martha and other disciples—and to fully connect them together in order to understand the whole of who, what and how God is. This understanding from the relational epistemic process is defined by the term syniemi denoting putting together the various disclosures by Jesus into its whole, like putting together pieces of a puzzle for a view of the whole picture. We need syniemi to understand the whole person Jesus presents in the various pieces of his life and practice, that process which his early disciples failed to engage for deeper understanding (as in Mk 8:17). Yet, syniemi is a function of the whole person, not merely the mind and the use of reason. The heart’s importance to signify the involvement of the whole person (composed by “in spirit and truth,” Jn 4:23-24) is defined by Jesus as fundamental for syniemi—“hearts hardened…fail to see…fail to hear” (Mk 8:17-18); and the failure of heart function in those who lacked syniemi describes those to whom Jesus spoke in parables (Mt 13:15).

            Before the relational outcome for Job experiencing God in relationship Face to face, there was Moses in open interaction with God (Ex 33:11ff). Moses engaged the relational epistemic process with God’s disclosures in Face-to-face relationship (Num 12:6-8). Both Job and Moses were important antecedents for Paul’s Damascus road experience and subsequent transformation, providing his roots in the whole of God’s thematic relational response. Most significantly, this is the Face who confronted Paul on that road for his epistemological clarification and hermeneutical correction, and the Face to whom Paul responded in the relational epistemic process (“Who are you, Lord?” Acts 9:5)—without his reductionist framework and lens—in order to listen to Jesus for the Face-to-face relational connection needed to be made whole. This is the Face that Paul, the learned Pharisee, certainly had information about from God’s definitive blessing (Num 6:24-26), but whom his own face apparently had long avoided in Face-to-face relationship to deeply know; his experience signified his own challenge of and for face. Even though Paul’s information about God from the Shema was correct in his monotheism, the Face challenged his monotheism, clarified it and deepened it beyond Paul’s reason and imagination. This did not change Paul from monotheism but changed his perceptual lens and interpretive framework to be qualitatively and relationally whole. This is the nature of the Face and ‘the challenge for face’ in his relational work; and this is the relational outcome of vulnerable involvement together Face to face. The Face turned to Paul and shined on him on the Damascus road to bring him the change needed for new relationship together Face to face with the whole of God and God’s whole. On this relational basis of Face to face, not on the basis of mere information (even if correct), the whole gospel for Paul embodied nothing less and no substitutes (Gal 1:11-12, cf. Mt 26:13). Anything less and any substitutes for Paul was in reality “no gospel at all” (Gal 1:7, NIV).

Paul defined Moses’ experience as temporary, not fragmentary but transitory (2 Cor 3:7,13); and the relational difficulty of not having direct relational connection with God is signified by ‘the veil’, which Paul used to indicate counter-relational work (2 Cor 3:13-18). The relational connection without the veil was completed and made whole when the Face emerged whole-ly embodied in the relational work for the permanence of intimate relationship together Face to face (Jn 17:3,26). What Job learned qualitatively and experienced relationally (Job 42:5), along with Moses, were the integral aspects of (1) the definitive nature of God’s self-disclosure and (2) the constitutive relational context and process of God’s communicative action. The unfolding of the Word from God was always a relational dynamic, not a mere dialectic, that cannot be reduced from its relational context and process and still be definitive. That reduction involves renegotiating the Word’s relational process to be shaped or constructed by human terms. On God’s terms, the Word can speak for his own Self only in God’s relational context and process. And the embodied Face speaks for himself secondarily as the object-Other in confirmation of the primary that more significantly communicates as Subject to be received in wholeness (neither fragmented nor disembodied and derelationalized) and to be responded to and experienced in whole relationship together Face to face. What Moses and Job were introduced to was now complete and made whole in new relationship together. This is what and how Jesus embodied as the whole of God’s Face; and as the relational outcome of Paul’s ongoing relational experience with the Face initiated on the Damascus road, this is Who, what and how Paul further embodied with the Spirit (Eph 1:17-18; Col 1:25).

            A related term to syniemi is synesis, which denotes the ability to understand concepts and see the relationships between them for the understanding of the whole, whole understanding. Paul’s clear purpose for the church was defined for us to have the necessary understanding of the whole (synesis, Col 2:2-3; cf. 1:9) in order that we would specifically know (epignosis, not just have information about, cf. Eph 1:17) the full significance of the various pieces of the mystery of God disclosed in the distinguished face and person of Jesus the Christ. Synesis is inseparable from the relational dynamic of syniemi and is thus only a relational outcome, not the result merely from the ability to reason (cf. Col 2:4; Eph 1:18). Paul claimed to have this synesis (Eph 3:4) but only as the unequivocal outcome of openly engaging the relational epistemic process from Jesus with the Spirit, which was initiated but not completed on the Damascus road (Gal 1:12; Eph 3:3,5). Yet, not all synesis activity is meaningful. During Paul’s fight against reductionism in the church and for the whole significance of the person of Jesus (“Has Christ been divided?” 1 Cor 1:13), he reminds us that some synesis is fruitless—notably the perception, discernment and comprehension of the rationalists (1 Cor 1:19-21). This suggests that synesis from a reductionist interpretive framework, determined ‘from below’ solely by the effort of human rationality, results in mere epistemological illusions of the whole. While such fragmentary observations and theories may have limited usefulness in particulate matters (e.g. in science), they are insufficient for understanding the whole in the innermost, God’s whole and the whole of God in the person Jesus presented. The resulting consequence for Jesus is re-presenting his person, as demonstrated at the church in Corinth and down through church history.

            Synesis is necessary for understanding the whole of Jesus’ person as he presented but it is not always sufficient for presenting that person, depending on the ‘measure’ we use. As defined by Paul’s relational purpose for the church, for those who vulnerably seek to know and understand God—as Subject presented, not merely an Object—synesis is necessary by the nature of (not out of obligation) relationship together. Hence, synesis is the reciprocal relational responsibility for which all Jesus’ followers are accountable, and must not by its relational nature be undertaken apart from the relationship. The level of understanding requires engaging the relational epistemic process, which the early disciples above failed to do, notably along with “the wise and the intelligent,” even in the academy today. Therefore, synesis, syniemi, or any other interpretive response, must be engaged in ongoing relational interaction with God for the relational outcome to be of significance for knowing and understanding the whole of God. In relational function for the relational epistemic process, this means the reading, exegesis, interpretation and involvement with Scripture (namely as the communicative Word unfolding) always necessitates being engaged (nonnegotiably) with the Holy Spirit, who mediates the interaction in the relationship—just as Jesus and Paul both made unequivocal (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 1 Cor 2:10-12). Jesus’ followers’ relational responsibility defines the reciprocal relational work ongoingly engaged together with the Spirit, and accordingly the Spirit’s own relational presence and function are certainly not to be forgotten, diminished or minimalized in this relational process, not to mention be given lip-service. Such distinguished involvement also means that the Spirit needs to be pursued as the ultimate determiner for knowing and understanding God Face to face, which includes transforming our relational response to the new relationship together in wholeness promised by the face of God, and now fulfilled by the distinguished Face in the whole person Jesus presented. This is who and what Paul himself experienced from inner out in relationship and therefore further made definitive in the innermost (2 Cor 3:17-18; 4:6).

            This understandably raises the issues of subjectivism (and the projections assumed by faith) overtaking reason in the epistemic process; and of reader-response ‘in front of’ the narrative of the unfolding Word ongoingly dominating the hermeneutic process; and how these matters can be accounted for to allow the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction needed to distinguish the presenting of Jesus’ whole person from a substitute re-presenting his person. As noted earlier, philosophical theology raises the further question of the use of ‘person’ to define God in the doctrine of simplicity, since person is associated with assumptions of the human person that essentially re-present God as not being simple.[13] Similar assumptions can also be used to re-present Jesus’ person in our image, which makes evident how our theological anthropology antecedes our Christology and underlies the epistemic process of the Jesus we get.

            At the heart of the issues of the person presented is the integral reality of ‘presence’: that is, the person present beyond the referential terms of the embodied Object—who can only be observed within the limits of those terms—to have the presence of Subject in relational terms, who is vulnerably involved to be experienced within the context of relationship, and therefore who is inseparable from the distinguished Face engaged in relationship Face to face (cf. paneh, presence, face, Ex 33:14). How the person Jesus presented is defined and how Jesus’ person’s presence is defined are both directly correlated to the three key definitive issues noted earlier, whose definition then also emerges with these related questions:

  1. Is there the significance of presence in the person presented?
  2. Is there the integrity and quality of presence in the person communicating?
  3. Is there the depth of presence in the person relationally involved?

            The integral reality of presence does not emerge from the Object, who is neither vulnerably present nor relationally involved but embodied simply to be observed and be the object of any faith, theological and biblical study. In pivotal contrast, it is the Subject’s vulnerable closeness and relational involvement that ongoingly defines this integral reality; and the reality of his presence only has significance in relationship, which then necessitates reciprocity compatible with his presence—as opposed to mere belief in the Object. This may require reworking our theological anthropology of defining the person from outer in to inner out and of restoring the primacy of relationship. Moreover, the Subject-person’s presence opens to others an integral reality beyond what may appear probable, seem logical or exceed the limits of convention. This is problematic for narrowed-down thinking in a conventional mindset (e.g. from tradition, a quest for certainty, or even just habit), consequently the depth of his presence is often reacted to by attempts to reduce it to the probable, the logical, and to renegotiate it to familiar (and more comfortable) referential terms,[14] or reacted to simply by avoiding his presence—all of which refocuses the primary attention to secondary things about his person at the loss of his real presence. Openness to his presence requires a compatible interpretive framework and lens that are conjointly qualitative and relational.

            On this basis then, ‘presence’ is least observed by those at a relational distance from the person observed and is most experienced by those relationally involved with the person presented. This is the reality that Jesus made definitive in Luke 10:21, which we need to take seriously for the epistemic process if we truly want to know and understand God. The relational connection of those involved with his presence deepens ongoingly in this process:

When it is necessarily made from one’s whole person without the absence of mind or loss of reason, and made in the hermeneutical cone with the epistemic humility affirming the primary determination by the Word to communicate whole knowledge and understanding—while openly engaged with any of one’s fragmentary information for the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction necessary to be whole in one’s knowledge and understanding.

In ongoing reciprocal relational involvement with the Spirit in this relational epistemic process, the above process adequately minimizes the human shaping and construction of the person Jesus presents and, most importantly, consistently allows for the epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction needed for any re-presenting of Jesus’ person.

            This relational epistemic process with the Spirit was evident in Paul’s witness for the wholeness in the gospel (1 Cor 2:12-13; Gal 1:11-12) and in his theology (2 Cor 3:17-18; Eph 2:14,22), both of which he did not fragment or reduce by comparative referential terms and human shaping (cf. 2 Cor 10:12) but, with epistemic humility, submitted to the primary determination by the Word (cf. 1 Cor 4:6-7). The relational outcome of presenting the whole of Jesus’ person and his presence is the whole understanding (synesis) and specific relational knowledge (epignosis) of the whole of God in relationship together face to face; and this was Paul’s relational purpose for the church’s relationship together in wholeness (Col 2:2-3).

            The dynamics of this relational outcome are distinguished most clearly by Mary, whose significance is vital for our relational epistemic process to Jesus’ person and presence. Further understanding Mary and her relational significance are indispensable for our epistemological clarification and hermeneutic correction. The interaction unfolding between Jesus and Mary initiates the relational outcome of the gospel, which is why their involvement is vital for us to understand and embrace in claiming, celebrating and proclaiming the experiential truth of the whole gospel—which indeed transforms to wholeness. On his way to the cross, Jesus stopped for this table fellowship together. As you recall, Peter previously had difficulty affirming Jesus’ whole person from inner out without distinctions (Mt 16:21-22). All the disciples had difficulty responding to Jesus’ person in the primacy of relationship together at this table fellowship—that is, all the disciples except for Mary. Her discipleship had already clearly emerged at an earlier table fellowship, in which she decisively broke through the constraints of human distinctions in a deficit identity and redefined her person in relational connection with Jesus (Lk 10:38-42). The relational progression of her discipleship took her deeper into the relational path of Jesus to “Follow me” and be with his person in the primacy of relationship together—rather than making the primary focus serving—just as Jesus clarified and made a relational imperative (Jn 12:26). Primacy given to serving over relationship is a contrary relational path to Jesus’s relational path that the other disciples often engaged, as demonstrated by their main focus in this pivotal fellowship. The primacy, however, of Mary’s relational involvement with Jesus deepened from disciple (in servant discipleship like the other disciples) to friend (as Jesus distinguished, Jn 15:15); and this constituted her ontology and function in wholeness to be vulnerable and intimate in new relationship together with Jesus face to face as never before. Her vulnerable and intimate relational work would be extended later by Jesus to the other disciples at his footwashing, also for the primacy of relationship together and not for serving as commonly interpreted (Jn 13:1-17).

            As Martha apparently served in the role of her distinction (Jn 12:2), Mary cleaned Jesus’ feet in an act somewhat parallel to the former prostitute (Lk 7:36-38). Mary’s action might be considered customary for guests to have their feet washed at table fellowship; if this all it were, Jesus would not have magnified it (Mk 14:9). Mary’s whole person from inner out, in person-consciousness (not in self-consciousness) with its lens of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, perceives Jesus’ whole person without distinctions of “Teacher and Lord” (cf. Jn 13:13)—which also demonstrated her syniemi, synesis, and epignosis of God’s whole presence (as Paul clarified above for the church). Not restrained by self-consciousness (as many of us are) her whole person thereby responds to his innermost person (cf. Jn 12:27; Mt 26:37-38). In this relational context and process with Jesus, the whole of Mary’s person from inner out, without the human distinction of gender and the secondary distinction of disciple, steps forth. Yet, her whole person could not be celebrated until she broke through the constraints of this dominant distinction and went beyond the limits of this secondary distinction in order to shift from self-consciousness to person-consciousness. Once again, her person further acts contrary to prevailing cultural form and practice to literally let her hair down to intimately connect with Jesus—inappropriate conduct for both of them that necessarily distinguishes the whole gospel’s relational outcome.

            It was critical for Mary to embrace person-consciousness over a pervasive self-consciousness, and to engage its lens of inner out instead of a prevailing outer-in lens in order to affirm personness and celebrate whole ontology and function. Equally important, this was necessary for her own person to live whole and thus be able to perceive and respond to Jesus’ whole person without distinctions—those barriers preventing intimate relational connection. If Mary doesn’t embrace personness and celebrate her whole person, she doesn’t embrace the innermost of Jesus and celebrate his whole person defined beyond those parts of what he does (even on the cross) and what he has (even as God). In other words, without Mary’s conscious action in personness this interaction cannot unfold with the significance of the relational outcome distinguishing the gospel, that is, only the gospel of transformation to wholeness.

            As Mary celebrates the whole person (both hers and Jesus’) without outer-in distinctions, she involved her person with Jesus’ in what truly signifies being “naked and without shame” (as originally created, Gen 2:25), that is to say, vulnerable and intimate without the relational distance and barriers signifying the self-consciousness of “naked and covering up” (and related face-masks, as substitutes for being whole, Gen 3:7). Mary celebrates being “naked and without shame” in the relationship together constituted in the beginning, fragmented from the beginning and now being reconstituted to wholeness. This celebration is not just a further taste of the new wine fellowship composed by Jesus but the celebration of its flow shared vulnerably and intimately as family together, the new creation family ‘already’ (Jn 14:18,23; 17:21-23). Therefore, the significance of her involvement and Jesus’ response must be paid attention to because it initiates this relational outcome of new relationship together in wholeness without the veil—the veil that Jesus is soon to remove to constitute God’s new creation family from inner out without distinctions (2 Cor 3:16-18; Eph 2:14-22; Gal 3:26-28; 6:15; Col 3:10-11). And even though the theology had yet to be formulated for Mary, its functional significance was whole-ly embodied by her.

            In spite of the experiential truth of the gospel unfolding, the other disciples object to such involvement together since they are focused on the outer in of self-consciousness, which gives priority to the secondary of servant discipleship over the primacy of relationship together (Mk 14:4-5). There is no celebration for them, only the obligation of duty (serving the poor, cf. “fast and pray” at the first new wine table fellowship, Lk 5:33-39). Even the taste of new wine is only a memory for them, as Jesus’ whole person is overlooked (notably at this critical point) and rendered secondary to serving (Mk 14:7, cf. Lk 5:34). Jesus’ rebuttal in relational language is revealing and magnifying.

            Jesus stops his other disciples from harassing her and defines clearly for them that Mary is engaged in “a beautiful thing to me” (Mk 14:6, NIV). It is misleading, if not inaccurate, to render Jesus’ words “performed a good service for me” (NRSV). Jesus is not speaking in referential language focused on the secondary of servant discipleship. “Beautiful” (kalos, quality) and “thing” (ergon, work of vocation or calling) signify the quality of Mary’s work. Yet, what is this work that Jesus deeply received and the other disciples rejected? First, Mary was not focused on the quantitative from outer in and thus not in self-consciousness about breaking cultural form or the expense of the perfume. Nor was she concerned about performing a good service. Her person-consciousness was focused on the qualitative from inner out, thereby focused on the whole person and the primacy of relationships. Her “beautiful thing” involved the quality of her relational work, which she engaged vulnerably and intimately not for Jesus or even to him but directly with the whole of Jesus in reciprocal relationship Face to face to Face. Mary’s significance unfolds as she (1) celebrated Jesus calling her to personness, and (2) celebrated the relational work of her primary vocation with the qualitative depth of her whole person without distinctions, in reciprocal response to Jesus’ whole person for the primacy of relationship together in wholeness without the veil, in order to (3) be vulnerable and intimately involved with the whole and holy God to celebrate life together in God’s whole family—and therefore fulfilling the challenge of Face and for face.

            The dynamics of the quality of Mary’s relational work converge to compose the above three-fold celebration. Her relational work provides the hermeneutical, ontological and functional keys to celebrating the whole that emerges solely from the relational outcome of the whole gospel. At this stage, the other disciples are still on a different relational path from Jesus, engaged in a fragmentary gospel while (pre)occupied in a renegotiated calling of self-conscious secondary work. Their lack of qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness, with related relational distance, has an unmistakable relational consequence (Jn 14:9), contrary to the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement embodied by Jesus (Jn 17:2-3) and what Jesus prayed to compose his whole family (Jn 17:20-26). Mary’s relational work is integral to constitute persons in reciprocal relationship together as composed by the experiential truth of the whole gospel. On this qualitative relational basis, Jesus magnifies Mary’s person as a key to the significance of the gospel’s relational outcome of new relationship together in wholeness, necessarily in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the Trinity (as Jesus embodied and prayed): “Wherever the whole gospel is proclaimed, claimed and celebrated in the whole world, her whole person’s vulnerable and intimate relational work will be told as a reminder to illuminate the whole ontology and function that necessarily unfolds from the relational outcome of the gospel of transformation to wholeness” (Mk14:9).

            The significance of Mary is not her gender, yet it does prompt the question: Where is this person in the gospel proclaimed by the church and why is she not highlighted by the church and celebrated in the church, whether local or global? I suspect gender has a role in this lack; and even though gender is not Mary’s significance it does point to a likely key for leading the church to wholeness, which we will have to address (to be discussed later). Nevertheless, we should not be distracted from the primary reality: Mary’s significance is distinguished in her whole theology and practice, which was constituted only by her whole ontology and function. It is not the name of Mary that Jesus magnifies but her person-consciousness integrally vulnerable and intimate in whole theology and practice, and thus her whole ontology and function integral to her personness transformed by the gospel. Mary is not mentioned in Paul’s letters, but the significance of her whole person—engaged in whole theology and practice as the relational outcome of the gospel that composes the church in new relationship together in wholeness—this whole significance of her person is indeed magnified in functional clarity and theological clarity by Paul. With her whole person assuming the lead, she initiated the relational outcome of the gospel that became the experiential truth of the whole of Paul and the whole in his theology and practice. Jesus into Paul is inseparable from Jesus into Mary.

            Mary’s whole theology and practice illuminate the keys for celebrating God’s whole. Her qualitative hermeneutic lens, her heart in the innermost of ontology, and her function from inner out were the keys both to engage God’s relational context and to be involved in God’s relational process necessary to celebrate the whole person without distinctions, new relationship without the veil to be whole together, and the whole and holy God in vulnerable and intimate reciprocal relationship Face to face to Face—all with nothing less and no substitutes. Her person-consciousness with qualitative sensitivity and relational awareness in the primacy of relationship together was distinguished from the other disciples’ self-consciousness engaged in secondary matter over the primary. The contrast between Mary and the others illuminates the conflict between the whole gospel and its reduction, which is the significance of Mary that Jesus magnifies and that Paul fights both for and against. Yet, this significance has not been sufficiently embraced and this fight has not been adequately engaged by the church to celebrate God’s whole. The church’s theological anthropology and view of sin as reductionism are the central issues involved, for which we continue to remain accountable in our theology and practice and must give account in our ontology and practice.


            The face of God has clearly turned to us and shines on us to bring redemptive change and establish the new relationship together in wholeness, as God promised from the beginning (Num 6:27). If the Face embodied by the person Jesus presented is viewed and interpreted by referential terms, then the face of God is refracted and Christology is incomplete. Both are often distorted by becoming overly christocentric in lieu of the whole equally of Jesus’ person and of his relationship with the Father and the Spirit, inseparably together as the whole of God. In relational terms, however, the presence of the Face is distinguished unmistakably by the presentation of Jesus as the integral person—not the central figure, as in an overly christocentric Christology—for the following: to the whole of God’s face; and to the whole of God’s thematic relational action in the beginning and thematic relational response to the human condition from the beginning; and to the relational outcome of the relational progression to the whole of God in ongoing reciprocal relationship together face to face.

            As the person Jesus vulnerably presented is received and responded to with the compatible vulnerable involvement in relationship together, along with the Spirit in the relational epistemic process, what unfolds increasingly in our theology and practice is the complete Christology and thus the gospel of transformation to wholeness. As the integral person, Jesus distinguished the most significant basis for knowing and understanding the whole of God, both theologically and functionally. This integral basis is most significant in three ways, which are sequential as well as a reflexive:

1.  Jesus provides the epistemological key to open the relational epistemic process with the Spirit for whole knowledge and understanding of God.

2.  Jesus provides the hermeneutical key that opens the ontological door through which the Spirit further discloses to us the whole of God, the triune God, the Trinity.

3.  Jesus also provides the functional key that opens the relational door to the whole of God’s ontology and function, the necessary way through which the Spirit transforms us to intimate relationship with the Father, belonging together as the whole of God’s family (new creation and church) constituted in the Trinity.      

The keys Jesus’ integral person presents—which Paul develops further—need to be understood as conjointly theological and functional since these aspects should always remain together—though being functional has often not been part of the theological task. Most notable, as discussed above, when the complete Christology defines our theological anthropology, it by necessity also determines our whole ontology and function for relationship together face to Face with the whole ontology and function of God, nothing less and no substitutes.

            Since the incarnation there have been various forms and shapes that discipleship has assumed—as evident even in Jesus’ interactions, notably with Martha and Mary. In “Follow me,” however, following is nonnegotiable to our terms and his person is irreducible in ontology and function. On this basis, Jesus’ relational imperative for discipleship to be involved ongoingly with his whole person becomes intrusive for our person—and perhaps no longer good news associated with the gospel—because it requires the unmistakable relational connection face to face to distinguish discipleship—in other words, as the relational outcome of the whole gospel and thus integral to salvation. On this relational basis, therefore, the face of Mary’s discipleship is illuminated by Jesus to distinguish the gospel of transformation to wholeness—also necessarily for our theology and practice today.

            This relational outcome emerges, unfolds and is completed only because Jesus’ whole person distinguished the unmistakable face of God and, therefore, the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and intimate involvement for reciprocal relationship together in wholeness as God’s family (just as Jesus prayed for his followers, Jn 17). And in his summary text of God’s theological trajectory and relational path, the first part of the psalmist’s prayer (Ps 67:1-2) has been responded to in these relational terms, beyond what he asked or could have imagined.

            The early disciples have not been alone in the limited face of Jesus they saw mainly from outer in. Jesus’ question to them (and to us) “who do you say I am” (Mt 16:15) still remained essentially unanswered in relational terms, even though they knew the correct information about Jesus in referential terms. Their lack of relational connection with the whole person distinguished in Jesus’ face from inner out had only one result: “Don’t you know me yet?” Indeed, not knowing and understanding the whole of God in the face of Jesus has been a pervasive result for Christians, church leaders and scholars—even after years of study, contrary to the Word of God (Jer 9:23-24; Jn 15:15; 17:25-26).

            As the unmistakable face of God, Jesus’ whole person not only presents us with the challenge of the Face in deepest profile but equally confronts us with the challenge for our face to be compatible with his whole person and congruent with our whole person. Fulfilling this challenge of and for face completes the relational equation for the whole gospel’s relational outcome of new relationship together in wholeness face to face. Anything less and any substitutes of Face and for face cannot add up together to be whole.



[1] For a helpful discussion on the limits of mathematics, see Marcelo Gleiser, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning.

[2] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Random House, 2007).

[3] Tony Lane provides an overview of this development in A Concise History of Christian Thought, completely revised and expanded edition (London: T&T Clark, 2006).

[4] Colin E. Gunton, Act and Being: Towards a Theology of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 36.

[5] Colin E. Gunton, Act and Being, 60-66.

[6] Brian Davies, “Simplicity” in Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 2010), 45.

[7] Hans Küng, The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 43-53.

[8] In spite of this history, philosophical theology will hear a clearer voice to respond to for engaging this conversation. This is demonstrated, for example, by current scholarly efforts to clarify how many voices from outside the universe there are. That work addresses the issue of the “Threeness-oneness problem” and involves the theological and hermeneutic issues of the Trinity. A descriptive overview of this work, in interaction with systematic theology, is found in Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

[9] See a discussion on two horizons by Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 42-46.

[10] This composite term is taken from what more accurately defines the process not as a circle but as a ‘hermeneutical spiral’, which James D.G. Dunn describes as a ‘three-dimensional cone’. “Criteria for a Wise Reading of a Biblical Text” in David F. Ford and Graham Stanton, eds., Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom (London: SCM Press, 2003), 51.

[11] For a classic social psychological study to help understand the second influence on this process, see Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959).

[12] For a discussion on the hermeneutics of suspicion and retrieval, see Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, 344-78.

[13] See Brian Davies, “Simplicity,” in Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 44-45.

[14] In life in general, McGilchrist locates this activity in the dominance of the left brain hemisphere. The Master and his Emissary, 140.





©2015 T. Dave Matsuo

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