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Jesus into Paul

Embodying the Theology and Hermeneutic of the Whole Gospel

Chapter 3

Presenting and Re-presenting the Person

Part 1



Presenting and Re-presenting

The Emerging Person

Reductionism Presented Explicitly

First Relational Test

Second Relational Test

Third Relational Test

The Person in Human Contexts

The Integral Peron, not the Central Figure


Ch 1

Ch 2

Ch 3

Ch 4

Ch 5

Ch 6

Ch 7

Ch 8

Ch 9

Ch 10

Ch 11

Ch 12

Ch 13

Ch 14

Printable pdf of entire study

Table of contents

Scripture Index



I have revealed you to those…have made you known to them.

John 17:6, 26 (NIV)


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 Jesus. 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. As discussed in the previous chapter, the name is indistinguishable from the person in relational language; yet in referential language the person is not always distinguished in the name. Jesus presented only the person, and Paul’s experience of the whole person presented by Jesus defined his Christology.

The person presented 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.[1] 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, as 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. 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”).

If our view of Jesus 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 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.

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 which deepen the qualitative presence and relational involvement of Jesus’ person and deepen our relational response in reciprocal relationship.

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; and it 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 last 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 unfolds from this chapter and throughout this study.


Presenting and Re-presenting

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) which 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 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 (discussed in the previous chap., 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 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).

A related term synesis 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. 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.[2] 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 the object of any faith, theological and biblical study. In critical 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,[3] 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 which 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 emerges 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; and this was Paul’s relational purpose for the church in wholeness (Col 2:2-3).



The Emerging Person

Apparently even as a boy at twelve Jesus demonstrated the synesis of God’s whole, that amazed those present in his reciprocal Q&A interaction with the teachers in the temple (Lk 2:41-52). Revisiting Jesus as a boy at the temple, we get our initial view of his person and what shaped 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, discussed in the previous chap.): “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 was patiently accommodating of 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 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 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 personhood he practiced—his whole ontology and function.

Furthermore, “to be” (eimi as a copula) also connects Jesus’ person to the primary context which 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.

In spite of all the things Jesus did—by which we usually define him—it was this relationship that defined him (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 which 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, 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—a process that we need to understand clearly before continuing.


Reductionism Presented Explicitly

At the heart of Paul’s confrontation by Jesus’ person on the Damascus road was ‘the presence of the whole’, Jesus’ presence. In the presence of the whole that Jesus’ person presents, two critical dynamics are put into motion: one dynamic is the exposure of any and all which are less than whole and thereby are in contrast and/or conflict with the whole; the other dynamic is the emergence of that which seeks to diminish, minimalize, fragment, separate or otherwise break down the whole, and consequently which is unequivocally opposed to the whole. What is exposed and what emerges in the presence of the whole is reductionism. Paul’s confrontation by the presence of the whole exposed the reductionism that defined who and what his person had been, and that determined how his faith had become. This dynamic (discussed further in the next chap.) was critical not only to expose Paul’s reductionism but necessary to make him whole. Paul’s transformation from reductionism to wholeness is at the heart of what became his signature fight both for the wholeness in the gospel (and the presence of the whole) and against reductionism.

Paul understood from his own experience with the presence of the whole that any and all forms of reductionism are always positioned against wholeness, the whole, God’s whole, the whole of Jesus—implied in “why do you persecute me?” That is the function of reductionism, the fact of which has no significance without the presence of the whole. This presence is who and what Paul further extended in the relational dynamic signifying Jesus into Paul. It was a given-reality for the whole of Jesus and Paul that reductionism emerged in their presence and had to be exposed.

Reductionism challenges the ontology of the whole person (divine and human), seeking to redefine the person based on secondary aspects (parts) from quantitative outer-in functions such as what the person does and has—without the qualitative significance of the heart signifying the whole person from inner out. This fragments both the ontology of who and what the person is and how the person functions, with the consequence of reduced ontology and function. This reduced contrast from wholeness was demonstrated in the primordial garden: “were both naked and were not ashamed”—inner out (Gen 2:25), and “were naked and covered themselves”—outer in (3:7). This reduced person then turns to substitutes for ontological simulation of the whole person (e.g. with “fig leaves…loin cloths”) and thereby interacts with others without the depth of vulnerable presence and relational involvement necessary for relationships together to be whole (e.g. “I hid myself,” “she gave me fruit from the tree,” 3:10-12). The loss of wholeness for both person and persons in the primacy of relationship are consequential of reductionism. In reductionism, the underlying theological assumptions of the person and of their relationships re-defined in this process are based on incomplete or false understanding (“Did God really say that?”), which essentially are lies serving as epistemological illusions (“You will not be reduced…you will be greater like God,” “was good for development…to make one wise,” 3:4-6)—all of which further serves the underlying goal of self-determination. The origin of such lies, and thus of reductionism, is understood conclusively in three pivotal interactions with ‘the presence of the whole’ following his baptism. Their review is important to understand the whole of the person Jesus presents and his presence unfolding.

While in the desert fasting for forty days, Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit…led by the Spirit” (Lk 4:1, signifying the whole of God’s relational context and process), is hungry (Mt 4:2) and encounters Satan. In these three interrelated interactions (temptations, tests), the importance of heart function from inner out for the whole person and its significance in relationship with the whole of God definitively emerge in what are basic relational tests. Matthew’s Gospel (4:1-11) has a different order than Luke’s (4:1-13) but we will examine Luke’s order for its progression in this relational process.

First Relational Test:

In the first test (Lk 4:3), Satan’s reductionist approach is apparent in what he tries to get Jesus to focus on: “stone to bread.” His test may appear to be about food and the circumstance of Jesus’ hunger, or even a test of Jesus’ deity (“if you are the Son of God…”) to prove what Satan certainly already knew. These initial words (“if you are”), however, challenged not the factual truth of Jesus’ whole person, the reality of which Satan is incapable to diminish. Rather Satan’s words seek to diminish the functional integrity of the presence of this whole person by trying specifically to confuse the basis on which Jesus defines his person. Satan ingeniously uses this moment, influenced by Jesus’ circumstances (hungry), to get at something deeper and more consequential: to re-define his person based on reductionist terms through the means of self-determination. More implicitly then, Satan is trying to get Jesus to see his own person in a reductionist way based on what he does (stone to bread) and has (resources, power), which Jesus exposes by responding: “a person [anthropos, man or woman, which implies all of us] does not live by bread alone” (4:4).

Since the tendency is to look at Jesus’ response referentially (“It is written”) apart from its relational context, the usual interpretation of his words is to prioritize the spiritual aspect of life over the physical (material), thus inadvertently substituting dualism for the whole person—as if Jesus spoke from a Greek philosophical framework. That would be too simplistic and inadequate to meet the challenge of Satan’s test. Jesus was neither reducing the whole of life nor the person into different aspects (parts) with the spiritual at the top of the priority list. By his use of reductionism, however, that is exactly how Satan was trying to get Jesus to see his person and function accordingly—which included the reduction of turning stone to bread as a quantitative miracle without the qualitative significance of the person it points to (the purpose of miraculous signs). Satan was trying to reduce the whole of Jesus’ person to only a part of himself because he knew the relational consequence this would have.

Satan cultivates this reductionism with the influential lie, which prevails today as the human norm of self-determination: The need and importance to see ourselves and therefore to define the person by what we do and have, as well as to define our life and practice by situations and circumstances. This perceptual-interpretive framework narrows down the epistemic field and gives priority only to the parts (or aspects) of the person and relationships, consequently re-defining theological anthropology, whose parts then in the function of faith make up ontological simulation and epistemological illusion. The consequence of this process becomes a life and practice with reductionist substitutes focused on secondary matter, not the primacy of the whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole. The prevalence of secondary matter and its preoccupation are clear indicators of the prevailing influence of reductionism. This is increasingly evident as Jesus’ presence of the whole unfolds.

As Paul learned dramatically and painfully, when we define our person according to this lie, we also define others (notably including Jesus) in the same re-defined theological anthropology. That is the Jesus we get. When our epistemic field is narrowed down to fragmentary aspects of Jesus, the only result is an incomplete Christology with a refracted view of Jesus. Furthermore, the truth (communicated words, not propositions) of God is nullified by this lie of self-determination because in our life and practice we function as if God also sees us and defines us in relationship on our terms shaped and constructed ‘from below’. As our whole person gets reduced, our life and practice gets reduced to secondary things, situations and circumstances, which is what Jesus experienced from many persons. When our attention is on secondary things, situations and circumstances, Satan essentially shifts our focus from inner out to outer in and away from the primacy of relationships. Then we function in all of our relationships (notably with God and the person Jesus presented) based on these secondary criteria instead of the importance of the whole person and the primacy of vulnerably involved relationships. Jesus refused to participate in this common process of self-determination, so Satan was unable to get Jesus to make this shift.

Paul appeared to make this reductionist shift back to the outer in when he defended his ministry (2 Cor 10-12). Yet here he merely indulged the Corinthians to expose the prevalence of reductionism in the church (10:7,12; 11:13-15). Later, Paul made conclusive the results of a narrowed-down epistemic field delimited by self-determination and its consequence on the epistemic process to know the person Jesus vulnerably presented (Phil 3:4-10). Paul engaged in neither ontological simulation nor epistemological illusion.

This makes explicit the two major goals of Satan, masked by a conventional goal of self-determination (seen initially in the primordial garden), which he failed to accomplish in his first test of Jesus:

  1. To reduce the whole of the person, specifically by a quantitative (outer-in) focus on what we do and have, thus functionally separating or distancing us from the qualitative (inner-out) importance of the heart signifying the whole person—the person created in the qualitative image of the whole of God.
  2. To separate or distance us from functioning in the relationships necessary to be whole, specifically by our function with a diminished, distant or detached heart, thus without our whole person, in order to diminish (or prevent) vulnerable involvement and deeper relationship with God—the reduction of relationship created in likeness of the relational ontology of the whole of God.

Satan initiated reductionism for an ontology and function based on lies—for example, false assumptions of theological anthropology, inadequate methodologies of the epistemic process with a narrowed epistemic field, incomplete practices without qualitative and relational significance—which he generates (as the author of lies, Jn 8:44) for this twofold purpose. In Satan’s challenge of God’s whole, he uses the process of reductionism therefore to effectively formulate two influential competing substitutes for whole ontology and function to accomplish his goals: one, an ontological simulation of the whole of God without the qualitative significance of the heart, and, two, an epistemological illusion of the truth of God without really knowing the whole of God in relationship Face to face. Consequently, Satan is ongoingly involved both in the work of reductionism as well as in its counter-relational work.

Satan’s challenge to whole ontology and function is ongoing and persistent. Yet, we will not fully understand the influence of his presence without qualitative awareness of and relational focus on ‘the presence of the whole’. That is to say, understanding the presence and workings of reductionism develops in direct correlation to understanding the presence and relational work of the whole.

Jesus connects us to the whole with his presence—for which there is no substitute—by the latter half of his response to Satan’s first challenge: “…but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (recorded only in Mt 4:4). Rather than focus on secondary things, situations and circumstances to define a person’s life and limit that person, Jesus’ presence illuminates the need to focus relationally by sharing these relational (not referential) words from Deuteronomy 8:3. The original OT words were given “to make you understand” (yada, to understand personally, to know intimately) in the Israelites’ hearts (8:2,5) that reductionist life focuses on secondary things, situations and circumstances (fragmentary parts like food in the desert), whereas, in contrast, wholeness in life involves the relational meaning of “by every word….” These words cannot be reduced to mere referential truths, propositions or beliefs, nor limited to the “spiritual” realm; that is, these words cannot be disembodied by referential terms. Consequently, those who adhere to God’s Word also “cannot live by words alone.” By his response Jesus did not echo referential words to suggest the unimportance of food. He illuminated their deeper relational significance beyond merely God’s provision of food to God’s relational response with his own presence. These words are “every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3). “Mouth” (peh, also used as an idiom signifying direct communication with Moses “face to face,” Num 12:8) signifies direct relational communication from God—a communicative act which necessarily engages the relational context involving the relational process for vulnerable connection. In the same relational dynamic, the embodied Word vulnerably discloses (phaneroo, not apokalypto) his whole person for his followers to experience his presence in the whole of relationship together Face to face. Jesus’ presence of the whole constitutes the primacy of relationship with the whole of God’s vulnerable presence and relational involvement in God’s distinguished relational context and process. Nothing less and no substitutes of this is either sufficient to be or can be whole.

Thus the person Jesus presents to Satan in this relational test is unequivocally making evident in his distinguished ontology and function ‘the presence of the whole’. And as Jesus clearly defines by these relational words, only the whole of God determines by God’s relational terms ‘from above’ the whole person from inner out and the primacy of relationships necessary to be whole. Self-determination is a false hope, no matter how good “the fruit” looks or “bread” smells.

Second Relational Test:

As this encounter continues, the reductionist occupation and its relational consequence emerge in the second relational test (Lk 4:5-7). As an interrelated extension of the first test, Satan further offers status, authority/power, privilege and possessions to Jesus to use as a means to better define his person based on the quantitative-secondary criteria of reductionism (used in the first test). Modern scenarios of this offer would involve areas of education, vocation, economic security or even the “possession” of certain relationships. Yet the pursuit of these reductionist substitutes comes with a cost that intentionally or unintentionally compromises the integrity of who and what the person is, and thus how that whole person functions in life and practice. This cost includes the relational consequence of less direct qualitative involvement, and as a result diminished depth of relational connection intimately with God Face to face. This compromise and relational consequence were overtly presented to Jesus by Satan in order for us to fully understand the reductionism intrinsic to “if you will worship me” (4:7).

What is overtly presented to Jesus, however, is rarely presented as explicitly to us. In “worship me,” ‘me’ can be rendered by any and all reductionist substitutes which essentially serve as idols to define us or determine how we function. If this compromise and relational consequence underlying this pursuit of reductionist substitutes are more obscure for us today, it reflects how Satan tweaks some truths with another major lie: To have any of these resources will make me a better person, or at least enable me to accomplish more—even with the intention, for example, to better serve God and others. While there is some truth that such resources can be helpful toward this purpose, in this process of reductionism we see the genius of Satan to blur the distinction between truth and lie. These resources become the legitimated means for confused efforts in self-determination; even though the object in this process may be about God and others, the primary subject remains about me. His influence is not accounted for when we give priority to defining the person by secondary aspects of what one does and has over the whole person—and consequently we do not distinguish between the importance of the qualitative inner out and the secondary significance of the quantitative outer in, both in our person and our relationships.

In this second relational test, Jesus counters Satan’s challenge with “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (4:8). We tend to hear his words merely as a rule of faith, which we either perceive with only quantitative significance from outer in (e.g. in the activity of what we do) or often take for granted with their familiarity in referential terms (e.g. as an obvious expectation or given obligation). Certainly we would worship God over Satan and serving Satan is not an option, that is, as long as these choices are always straightforward in our situations and circumstances, as it was for Jesus in this second test. We need to understand the relational significance of Jesus’ second response when he declared “worship” and “serve” using relational language, not referential. Because the presence of Jesus’ person is again connecting us to the whole, he opens our focus relationally on the context and ongoing process these relational terms provide. “Worship” and “serve” are not about ‘doing those things’ before and for God; if they were, “worshipping any resources” which will help me better ‘do those things’ would not be a problem. The acts of worship and serving, however, are relational actions, whose qualitative-relational significance is distinguished by ‘being involved in relationship’ deeply in vulnerable response to God. Jesus’ response in referential terms may signify a mere rule of faith to many, but in relational terms it constitutes the relational imperative necessary for whole relationship together. Jesus is defining as well as exercising the relational work necessary to be whole in order to negate Satan’s counter-relational work that reduces both the whole person from the heart and the primacy of vulnerable relationship necessary to be with the whole of God Face to face, with nothing less and no substitutes.

Moreover, Satan’s influence does not necessarily displace all the forms of worshipping and serving God, it only substitutes their practice with ontological simulation and epistemological illusion (cf. Mt 15:8-9; 2 Cor 11:13-15). Reductionism has no need to contend with these practices if they have no qualitative and relational significance. When the qualitative whole of God—namely, the heart of God and God’s intimately relational nature presented in Jesus’ person and presence—becomes secondary in defining our ontology and determining our function, we shift from inner out to the outer-in of reductionist substitutes for the whole. While this shift may not be apparent in our activity level related to God—but could even increase the activity—reductionist practices invariably further create a subtle shift in the relationship by displacing the functional centrality of God (not in doctrine or as the object of worship and servicing) with the relationship now functionally focused on us, that is, where the parts have priority over the whole. This becomes increasingly an inadvertent process of practicing relationship with God on our terms, which by implication is shaped and constructed ‘from below’, therefore re-defining our theological anthropology and re-presenting Jesus’ person without the presence of the whole. Reducing relationship with God to our terms is a reductionist coup, which is the major issue that emerges in Jesus’ third relational test.

Third Relational Test:

These three interrelated tests in Luke’s order reveal a progression in Satan’s counter-relational work and the comprehensive impact of reductionism. Since, at this stage, Satan has been unable to reduce Jesus’ person by distancing him from his heart or to divert him from intimate relationship with the Father, he now seeks to disrupt directly how that relationship functions, though in quite the opposite way one might expect (Lk 4:9-12).

The dramatics of this scene at the highest point of the Jerusalem temple should not detract from the important relational work going on here. Satan quotes from the Scriptures, yet not in the convention of reductionist proof-texting (4:10,11). He uses this quote (from Ps 91) to challenge Jesus to claim a promise from the Father—a proposal suggested often in the conventional practice of faith. His challenge, however, is not about building trust and taking God at his word. We have to focus deeply on relationship with God and what Satan is trying to do to the relationship.

Jesus counters Satan with the response: “do not put the Lord your God to the test” (ekpeirazo, test to the limits, see how far it can go, 4:12). How does this work? Sometimes the dynamics in relationships get complicated or confusing—as in confused efforts in self-determination—and Satan uses reductionism to compound the relational process. God certainly wants to fulfill his promises to us; yet, we must go deeper than the typical perception of this process which puts it in the referential limits of a proposition signifying reductionism. Limiting a promise from God to a proposition imposes a shift on the relationship that distances it from the whole of God—and the functional centrality of God. That is, we always need the whole (and the relational context of God’s view ‘from above’ beyond ourself) to keep in focus that God fulfills his promises only on God’s terms (in the relational process for the whole picture of God’s thematic relational response). If Jesus tried to evoke his Father’s promise in the manner Satan suggested, then he would be determining the relationship on his own terms (with the focus shifted to him and the limits he imposes). This is the real nature of this subtle relational test Jesus refused to do and the ongoing underlying temptation Satan presents to all of us: to test the limits of God and how much we can determine or even control (directly or indirectly) the relationship on our terms, even unintentionally, consequently reducing God’s thematic relational response down to the limit of our situations and circumstances. The false assumption here, of course, is the crucial lie, which functionally (not theologically) pervades our life and practice: That the relationship is negotiable and that God accepts terms for it other than his own.


These relational tests continue for Jesus in one form or another as the person he vulnerably discloses is now further presented to others. Yet the presence of this person Jesus presents is always whole and only for relationship, that is, on his terms. Many, including his own disciples, will attempt to renegotiate his whole terms for relationship, only to experience the relational consequence of anything less and any substitute. Because of his irreducible presence and nonnegotiable terms, reductionism and its subtle influence and substitutes will also persist to challenge Jesus, even to follow him in would-be disciples and in the early disciples themselves. Nevertheless, ‘the presence of the whole’ always exposes Satan’s counter-relational work intrinsic to reductionism; and Jesus’ whole ontology and function will clearly distinguish for our ontology and function the relational progression to partake of and participate in the whole of God. This complete (pleroma for Paul) Christology illuminates the whole of God’s relational context and process, which Jesus makes definitive for God’s self-disclosure and imperative for relationship together, as his person and presence extends out with nothing less and no substitutes.



The Person in Human Contexts

One of the primary issues many persons (past and present) have with the person Jesus presented is placing him in the correct context, that is, his full relational context. If, in any way, we diminish the relational context of God’s self-disclosure, this reduction reverberates throughout the whole of God’s thematic relational response (e.g. in the covenant and torah) to then shape the person in the incarnation—and by extension presented to Paul. Jesus (and Paul) and his (their) gospel emerge or submerge relative to the extent of the incarnation, and what he embodied for the completeness of Christology and fullness of soteriology.

The presentation of Jesus’ whole ontology and function established this deeper context of his whole person and presence—the specific relational context beyond any human context in which Jesus seeks to involve his followers, determine his disciples and make their ontology and function whole. The person Jesus presented from this deeper relational context is made vulnerable in human contexts as his whole person is relationally extended to others to “Follow me.” After Philip received his call from Jesus, he told Nathanael of the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 1:43-51). Nathanael spoke honestly of his skepticism, displaying his bias of a prevailing stereotype disparaging Nazareth: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked a logical question based on the common knowledge of Jesus’ human context. While Nathanael had this bias, he remained open to the epistemic challenge from Philip to “Come and see.” By openly engaging the relational epistemic process even with his bias against Jesus, Jesus did not rebuke him but instead affirmed Nathanael’s relational involvement (“in whom there is no deceit”) by further presenting his own relational involvement with Nathanael (“I saw you…before Philip called you”). The person and presence Jesus presented to Nathanael connected him to the deeper relational context that was necessary and sufficient for Nathanael to know who and what Jesus was (“You are…”). The depth of relational connection in Jesus’ relational context is vital to understand the deep response Nathanael and the others made to Jesus.

In contrast to the person and presence of Jesus whom Nathanael heard, we turn to those who followed Jesus because of what they saw about him: what he did in feeding the five thousand (Jn 6:1-66). Both these followers and Nathanael believed the person Jesus presented was the king of Israel (vv.14-15). Yet, the former saw his person only in human contexts from outer in, which Jesus exposed by his direct communication with them (vv.26-27) and the depth of his relational involvement with them (vv.53-58). Since they defined his person from outer in by human contextualization, the person and presence Jesus presented to them (“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood”) was no longer acceptable (v.60) or justified following (v.66). The underlying issue, however, is the challenge that Jesus’ person and presence presents in his call to “Follow me,” that is, his whole ontology and function, not just what he does and the title he has. The vulnerable presence and relational involvement of his whole person composes ‘the call to be whole’. And the call to be whole in human contexts by necessity involves the call to be redefined, transformed and made whole in the depth of his relational context.

This gets to the heart of theological anthropology and the person God created in the qualitative image and relational likeness of the whole of God. The human context is intrinsically shaped and constructed by the human condition, which has reduced both the human person from ‘inner out’ to ‘outer in’ (signified in Gen 2:25; 3:7) and the human relationship from its primacy to fragmentary substitutes (signified in Gen 2:18; 3:10,12). The good news for the human condition in all its contexts is the presence of the whole ontology and function in the person Jesus presented. The whole person, with his presence, calls persons shaped and constructed by the human condition to “Follow me” to be redefined back to ‘inner out’, transformed from their reductionism and made whole in the primacy of relationships together—the qualitative image and relational likeness of whom is constituted in the distinguished face of the person Jesus presented in human contexts. This is the face of the gospel whom Paul illuminated and made definitive theologically (2 Cor 4:4,6; Eph 4:24). Yet, this is good news only for those who follow the whole person and presence Jesus presented in the depth of his relational context and process (cf. Jn 6:60,66; 1 Cor 1:22-23; 2 Cor 3:14-18).

In the whole gospel, the relational process of the whole of God’s relational context is distinguished by the person and presence of Jesus in human contexts. This raises again the issue of our theological anthropology anteceding our Christology to define Jesus in fragmentary terms, or the complete Christology defining our theological anthropology in wholeness. If his person and presence are not clearly distinguished in and thus from human contexts, then his person becomes more acceptable to followers like those above and can be justified to follow by those of human contexts. If Jesus is vulnerably distinguished both in and from human contexts, Nathanael has both the basis to define Jesus’ person beyond Nazareth and the necessary call for his own person to be redefined, transformed and made whole from human contexts. For both Jesus’ person and his followers’ to be distinguished in human contexts is the ongoing challenge relationally for whole ontology and function, since reductionism is ongoingly challenging referentially in human contexts to be defined and determined by those contexts—the ongoing issue between ‘nothing less and no substitutes’ and ‘anything less and any substitute’.

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), that Paul made definitive of 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)—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 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.

Building on the previous discussion of a key experience early in his public ministry, 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 is 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 other 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 which is never defined by what he does (miracles) nor by what he had (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 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 an end in themselves, used as a reductionist substitute for self-definition, though that is a prevailing perception and practice, even in Jesus’ time (cf. Jn 2:23-25) as discussed above. 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” which 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. Paul made definitive that this disclosure 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, 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 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). 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.

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 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 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 discussed above, 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 personhood 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. 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” in whole relationship together.

Jesus’ whole ontology and function constituting his call to the first disciples to “Follow me” implies this whole call, which the relational messages in the quality of his communication help us understand in the absence of further narrative content of their call. These relational messages combine with the content of his call to form the integrity of his communication necessary to fully constitute his words. For example, consider the likely relational messages implied to Nathanael (Jn 1:50-51): (1) “I am who you say I am, but I am much more to confess in your faith, and more importantly to experience in relationship,” and (2) “I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to engage me further,” therefore (3) “Don’t stop here, Nathanael, but let’s go deeper in relationship together in order to understand the whole of my person—and along with the others, to experience in relational progression together the whole of God.” And further indicated, the relational messages implied in his call to Peter and Andrew that “I will make you fish for people” (Mt 4:19; Mk 1:17)—a call which by its nature must be neither subordinated nor preceded by what they do in mission, service or related roles: (1) “I am not defined by my role or by what I do, so don’t reduce my person to Messiah, Teacher, Savior, nor to my miracles, my behavioral examples, or even to merely my teachings,” and (2) “I don’t define you by your service, sacrifice, role or anything you do or have. I call you because you are important to me—your person, not what you can do for me or give me,” therefore (3) “With the heart of my whole person I am vulnerable and accountable to you for relationship together Face to face, and I want you to be vulnerable and accountable to me with your whole heart for this relationship.” This is not to suggest that the early disciples understood the full significance of Jesus relational messages. This does indicate that their rapid reception and deep response to his call signifies being stirred or touched deeply by the quality (in relational terms, not referential content) of Jesus’ communication. His presence was significant enough to open them to the need or desire to make this radical change in their lives: Simon and Andrew “left their nets and followed him” (Mt 4:20), also James and John “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him” (Mk 1:20), and after the catch of fish, the four together “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:11).

The experience when “they caught so many fish” (Lk 5:4-11) unnerved Simon in coming face to Face with Jesus, not so much by the quantitative difference (in what he did) of the person Jesus presented (which would be expected of God) but more so by the presence of the qualitative difference (the significance of who and what he was) of this person (vv.8-9). While at first this person’s presence was difficult to receive, Jesus’ relational messages had to have touched them from inner out to evoke their vulnerable response (vv.10-11). It seems highly unlikely that the mere content of his message—“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people”—could have assured them to be vulnerable with this person presented, much less evoked their radical response.

This call to be redefined, transformed and made whole is even more dramatic in Jesus’ call to Levi (Mt 9:9-13, Mk 2:13-17, Lk 5:27-32). Levi was a lower-level tax (toll) collector employed by a chief tax collector (like Zacchaeus in Lk 19:2) who was contracted by the Roman government in a system of collecting fees on the goods and services passing through. The system commonly lent itself to abuse and often employed unethical workers without loyalties who engaged in a loose, ritually unclean lifestyle. To what extent this describes Levi is unknown; nevertheless tax collectors were identified as the “enemy” by some segments of the Jewish community and were despised by practicing religious people, not to mention considered socially lower class.[4] With this background, Jesus finds Levi at his toll booth and, without any further narrative information, extends his call to “Follow me.”

How do we understand both Jesus’ behavior and Levi’s response? Jesus’ rebuttal to the Pharisees moments later, about compassion and who needs a doctor (Mt 9:12-13), gives us a partial answer. But this tends to focus only on what Jesus did, and his example and words here often are interpreted in referential terms apart from his person. Yet the whole person Jesus presented is more dramatically made evident in this interaction than in his earlier calls involving foreknowledge and the catch of fish. While Jesus never played to the audience (or crowd in this context, Mk 2:13), his person presented is a resounding statement in relational terms for all (including us) to embrace. This relational message reverberated of his whole person and presence: “who, what and how I am is not defined by the human context, and therefore is neither determined nor controlled by any human terms or situation.”

Jesus’ whole ontology and function necessarily always addressed the issue of how the person presented is defined and what defines that person. And the person presented must be congruent with the nature of who, what and how the person is from inner out. For this congruence to be the significance of the person presented (the first definitive issue for all practice) integrally involves the other two key issues of practice: (2) the integrity and quality of the person’s communication, and (3) the depth of relationship the person engages.

The significance of the person Jesus presented, the qualitative integrity of his communication and the depth of relationship he engages all emerge dramatically, clearly and integrally in his call to Levi. Given the background of this surrounding context, Jesus crosses social, cultural and religious boundaries to connect with Levi. It should be understood also that Levi crosses these boundaries (barriers for him) as well by receiving and responding to Jesus. What do they see in each other that warrants such a call and such a response?

The person Jesus presented functioned with a perceptual-interpretive framework congruent with who, what and how his person is, thus determining what he would see, pay attention to and ignore. With this lens, Jesus never pays attention to the Levi defined by the surrounding context. That is, Jesus sees Levi deeper than from the outer in of a reductionist quantitative framework which has reduced Levi to a lower stratum of this human context. Therefore he sees a person from the inside out experiencing reductionism who needs to be redefined back to ‘inner out’, transformed from his reductionism and made whole in the primacy of relationship together. The person Jesus presented pays attention only to this Levi, the person. And the significance of Jesus’ person and his distinguished presence are not overlooked by Levi, who is used to being treated with contempt. He well knows that for this Rabbi (and miracle worker at that) to engage him is radical, counter-cultural, and simply contrary to life as he has known. Yet, Jesus was not really making a sociocultural, political or philosophical statement. He vulnerably makes a relational statement of his whole person only for relationship together: “Follow me.”

Along with the significance of Jesus’ person engaging him, what can Levi understand of the quality of his communication? The content of Jesus’ message, linked also to his action to engage Levi while in this surrounding context, is qualified further by his implied relational messages, indicated as follows: (1) “I am not defined by reductionism nor is my action determined by it; who, what and how I am is whole in the relationships necessary to be whole, for which I make my person vulnerable to you,” and (2) “In spite of how others see you and you may feel about yourself, nevertheless I see you in your whole person, from inner out with sin and all, and you are still important to me and I want you; here is your opportunity to be redefined, transformed and made whole,” so that (3) “we can have intimate relationship together and you can experience belonging in the relationships necessary to be whole as a full member of the family of God.” The significance of Jesus’ person discloses the quality of his communication, the content of which is qualified by these relational messages. And the third relational message defines the depth of relationship Jesus vulnerably engages Face to face with Levi, which Jesus practices in the distinguished love of relational involvement with Levi over table fellowship with his friends (“tax collectors and sinners,” Mk 2:15) after Levi’s response to the call to be whole—a key involvement constituting the primacy of relationships necessary to be whole.

Aside from the conviction of the Spirit in the call to all these early disciples, what does Levi see in Jesus to warrant a radical response for such a drastic identity change? For Jesus’ person to be vulnerable to him and openly exposing his own person to social sanction and ridicule certainly must have spoken deeply to Levi. And to hear this person say (with both content and relational aspects of his communication) that he wants ‘me, my whole person’, for relationship together Face to face undoubtedly disarmed Levi and touched him at his core—the significance of his own heart, most likely guarded from others in the surrounding context. The presence of the person Jesus presented was too distinguished and therefore significant, qualitatively different and relationally intimate for Levi to dismiss or resist. And how does he ignore the person Face to face?

Yet, for Levi to cross those social, cultural and religious barriers, he would openly have to let go of his old life and reject reductionism—its perceptual-interpretive framework and its substitutes for the whole of persons and relationships, both prevailing in the surrounding context which defined him and determined his life all these years. This is a risk Levi is able to take because he is entrusting his person to relationship with the vulnerable presence and relational involvement of this person he can count on to be truly who and what he is, nothing less and no substitutes. He can count on Jesus’ whole person in this relationship because he personally sees how Jesus is in practice—the significance of his whole person presented, the qualitative difference of his communication in relational terms, the intimate depth of relationship he engages—is congruent with who and what he is from inner out, thereby confirming for Levi that Jesus’ whole person is for Face-to-face relationship. This is what Levi must have seen (not merely blepo, to see, but more like horao, to recognize the significance of, encounter the true nature of, to experience) in Jesus to support making such a drastic change.

Levi’s story is about the gospel, the whole gospel. This gospel, however, is not a fragmented gospel with an incomplete Christology and a truncated soteriology; nor is it a substitute gospel from human shaping and construction. An incomplete Christology is disembodied from the whole person Jesus presented throughout the incarnation and is without his presence, consequently its Jesus is essentially dysfunctional for the vulnerable involvement necessary for whole relationship together. Accordingly then, a truncated soteriology is disengaged from the relational process with Jesus’ whole person and no longer in relational progression with him in the primacy of whole relationship together that he saves to. As a result its salvation is not functionally contextualized in the whole of God’s relational context of family, notwithstanding doctrine; and its salvation lacks the ongoing relational significance of being whole and living whole in human contexts within the relationships together of God’s family, all of which Jesus’ whole person vulnerably presented and prayed for its intimate relational outcome (Jn 17). The whole gospel, which Paul defined as the gospel of wholeness (“peace,” Eph 6:15), emerges only within the whole ontology and function presented in Jesus’ person and presence. This is the distinguished Face who engaged Levi Face to face in the only gospel he experienced.

It is problematic for anyone to suggest that Levi would have made a radical change for a fragmented or substitute gospel. Not only does the whole gospel emerge conclusively within Jesus’ whole ontology and function but, equally important, the human condition is illuminated conclusively by his whole person and presence (Jn 12:46; Lk 12:1-2). Nothing less and no substitutes defined the Jesus whom Levi experienced Face to face, and determined the gospel that he claimed in whole relationship together for his human condition.

Likewise, for the other disciples, their radical response to Jesus’ call is difficult to explain (not to diminish the Spirit’s work) without some understanding of Jesus’ relational messages qualifying “Follow me” (which certainly would involve the Spirit’s work). Without this understanding of Jesus’ communication, we are left to consider that the disciples just somewhat blindly or irrationally changed the course of their life to follow Jesus. Without suggesting they understood well his relational messages, and knowing they had ongoing difficulty understanding his whole relational context and process while following him after the call, nevertheless in their call they still relationally received the person, not a referential proposition about the person; and they still responded to this person for relationship together, not to follow a teaching, a model or a missional goal. They had the embodied and distinguished Face of the whole of God before them—nothing less and no substitutes—because God’s self-disclosure and the presence of God were relationally communicated and integrally enacted in the whole person Jesus presented. This was the person who was vulnerably present with them, relationally pursued and extended his whole person to them, and was intimately involved with them for the primacy of whole relationship together.

The disciples’ response to this person was not irrational and at the same time was not the result of mere rationality—perhaps to the discomfort of Lessing and his ‘ditch’. No amount of socio-historical, philosophical or even theological inquiry can account for the presence of God in the person Jesus presented. That is, God’s self-disclosure and the presence of God in the person of Jesus are communicative acts not for mere exhibition but for relationship (cf. Jn 1:11,12,18; 17:26). As communicative acts, God’s disclosures and presence cannot be understood merely by observation (scientific, critical or casual). They are understood only as they are received in the distinguished relational context and process in which God is disclosed by the person Jesus presented in his vulnerable presence and relational involvement—in other words, as the relational outcome of Face to face.


The Integral Person, not the Central Figure

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 by the presentation of Jesus as the integral person—not the central figure to the whole of God’s face, 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.

Christocentricity in referential terms overly focuses on Jesus and revolves around him, which is what Satan tried to get Jesus to do in his last relational test. Certainly then this is re-presenting the person Jesus himself presented: a re-presenting with a person from the lens of a theological anthropology that has redefined the person by the outer in without the primacy of whole relationship together, consequently (1) shifting primary (not necessarily in quantity) focus to the individual person, (2) making the individual central (not necessarily overtly), and (3) providing the basis for individualism—even operational in a collective-oriented human context by the genius of reductionist assumptions, as exposed in Satan’s tests of Jesus. This is a misre-presentation of the whole of Jesus.

Contrary to, and even in conflict with, becoming the central figure in the whole of God and God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, the presence of the person Jesus presented is integral to understanding the whole’s ontology and function and is the key to experiencing the whole. To distinguish the integral person from the central figure is critical for the synthesis of Jesus and Paul; but, more important, it is critical for us to know and understand the whole of God in the new relationship together in wholeness, as the face of God promised. How so?

When the Word became flesh, the glory of the Father’s only Son was made vulnerable to us in the presentation of his divine-human person (in Jn’s cosmological view, 1:14). His disclosures in relational terms as Subject both divine and human are for relationship, yet involve different aspects of the dynamics of relationship. On the one hand, this integral person communicated directly to us in the distinguished Face, and thereby the whole of God is disclosed vulnerably with the glory in his Face “who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4,6)—the integral image relationally disclosing who, what and how God is, all for the purpose of relationship together. While the humanity of Jesus is certainly involved in this relational action from God, there is another aspect of this relational dynamic of the integral image necessary to understand to complete the whole function of his divine-human person, and thereby the purpose for Jesus’ sanctifying himself (Jn 17:19).

Since God’s self-disclosures are only for relationship, what God communicates and discloses is never for unilateral relationship and to be merely received by us as information. For this specific relational process to be fully engaged and for its relational dynamic to be complete, there must (dei by its nature, not from obligation or compulsion) be compatible response back from us. On the other hand, then, the humanity of Jesus’ integral person also enacts as the image of God this response back to God in order to both fulfill this compatible reciprocal response to replace our past failure, as well as help us understand who, what and how we now need to be in the same image created for the human person. Jesus’ fulfillment was imperative so that we can complete the relational dynamic necessary for ongoing whole relationship together.[5] In other words, the humanity of Jesus’ person also functions in the qualitative image and relational likeness of God to become that necessary response back to God to complete the primacy of relationship (“sanctify myself”) in order that we can respond back to God in the very qualitative image and relational likeness God created for the human person (“so that they also may be sanctified in the truth of who, what and how they are”). In these relational terms, ‘sanctify’ (hagiazo, to set apart for God) can be understood as being distinguished as God’s whole in the human context.

The integral image presenting the distinguished image is irreplaceable for the theological anthropology necessary to define human persons in wholeness and to determine their whole ontology and function. Yet, merely following Jesus’ example/model is insufficient to distinguish this image and to engage the relational response back to God, because the Father wants us to be congruent with the relational response distinguished by “the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29), “who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). The Father does not divide in referential terms the divine-human person Jesus presented. Imago Dei is conclusive in the integral person Jesus presented as the whole of God’s ontology and function, and also definitive in Jesus’ whole person for the human person’s ontology and function. As Paul clarified theologically (2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10,15; Eph 4:24), complete Christology defines our theological anthropology in wholeness, rather than the reverse wherein the person Jesus presents is not the image of God but shaped in the image of our terms. The latter image is neither compatible with the image of God for Jesus’ person nor congruent with the image of God in which human persons are created. The integral person Jesus presents clarifies the image of God and makes it conclusive for persons’ whole ontology and function, both divine and human. And how the Son vulnerably responded to and relationally involved himself with the Father in the Trinity is also the response the Father expects us to be congruent to in relationship together “in order that he might be the integral person within my large family” (Rom 8:29). Therefore, the Father’s relational imperative to us: “Listen to my Son’s relational language, not to referential words” (Mt 17:5).

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 emerges increasingly in this study is the complete Christology and thus the whole gospel. 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 will develop 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.

Throughout the whole of God’s self-disclosures, we need to understand how the presence and person of Jesus is seen and related to, and how he himself is involved in relationships both with God and others in the human context. This will help piece together (syniemi) the who and what of the whole of God, which will then engage by what and how the whole of God does relationships. Without this whole understanding (synesis) we are left with only a limited view narrowed down to fragmentary terms, which we may attempt to aggregate in a seeming coherence (e.g. a systematic or biblical theology) lacking wholeness—rendering that coherence insignificant. While Paul apparently did not directly see how others saw and related to Jesus, he directly experienced how Jesus involved himself in their relationship for his synesis (Acts 26:16; Gal 1:12; Eph 3:2-4). As the epistemological, hermeneutical and functional keys, Jesus’ self-disclosures open up and take us to the Father (Jn 1:18; 14:6; 17:6), and accordingly to the whole of God, the Trinity. This is not static referential information but dynamic relational communication functional to “dwell with” us for relationship with the Trinity (Jn 14:23; Rom 8:15), and to “dwell in” us as God’s family together (Jn 17:21-23,26; Eph 2:22). Jesus engages us in this distinguished trinitarian relational context and process which intimately involves us in this relational progression to the whole of God—a relational progression that involves us further and deeper into relational communion with the Trinity. To stop in this relational progression to focus mainly on Jesus is to become non-biblically christocentric by reshaping the Word on human terms, therefore not “dwelling with and in” the Trinity.

The biblical interpretations for this study then necessarily must be theological in relational terms, not referential terms. This could be problematic if one’s interpretation is skewed by an interpretive framework, for example, from a theological anthropology one brings to the Word, particularly to the Word embodied to antecede Christology. While no one is without theological presuppositions, how we use them is crucial. We can be chastened in this engagement with the following perspective:

Theology emerges from the intimate reflection on the outcome of receiving and responding to God’s communicative action (cf. theaomai, Jn 1:14), not from measured consideration of mere information in referential terms. On this basis, theology needs to be understood beyond the task of formulating doctrines (even systematically) informing us about God to its deeper significance of making definitive the coherence (synesis) of God’s self-disclosures vulnerably communicated to us as the Word from God only for the primacy of relationship together with this twofold relational outcome. First, in order that we can vulnerably know the triune God Face to face and intimately experience the communion of life together in the ongoing involvement of transformed relationships as the whole of God’s family. Second, so that we together relationally embody the interdependent relationships necessary to be God’s whole in likeness of the Trinity, and thereby relationally witness to the experiential truth and whole of the gospel for the human condition to be made whole—God’s relational whole only on God’s qualitative relational terms, with nothing less and no substitutes.

This is the relational outcome for which Jesus asked the Father in his formative family prayer (Jn 17), and this is the only outcome of theological engagement that has significance to God—no matter how wise and learned the theological discourse.


The significance of theology for the person Jesus presented cannot be measured in referential terms but only relational terms. The measure of theology in relational terms must by its nature be functional for relationship in order both to have the significance of the whole of God presented and to be of significance to those wanting to know and understand God in their relationship. The inseparable integration of theology and function is a given for the theology which emerges whole from Paul—that some may question if it ever emerged. Part of their difficulty is the separation of theology and function, which Paul never does because his theology was first his function in relational involvement with the whole of God. Paul’s theology emerges only on this basis, without being fragmented from function; therefore it emerges whole.

Basing this integrated theological and functional whole in the person and presence of Jesus’ self-disclosures is both a necessary and sufficient theological process to constitute the complete Christology (without fragmentation) functional for the whole of our ontology and function with God in his distinguished relational context and with others in the human context. This Christology does not function simply to inform our life and practice but to transform our ontology and function to “the image of his Son” as family together (Rom 8:29). Therefore, the vulnerable ontology and function of the integral person Jesus presented are the necessary keys for the change to the new relationship together in wholeness from the face of God, and keys to the synthesis of his person into Paul. Moreover, this Christology (without being overly christocentric) becomes the conclusive theological-functional pivot to the whole, while vitally integrated with a relationally functional pneumatology, from which emerges conclusively: a full soteriology (including not only saved from but more so saved to), an ecclesiology of the whole (without reductionist substitutes), a missiology predicated on the whole gospel (thereby deepening missions), an eschatology of relational conclusion of this relational outcome’s relational progression to the whole of God (not events about the Kingdom), and the integral aspects of each of these in coherent relational terms. All the above theological dynamics converge to serve as integral functions of the whole of God’s thematic relational response to the human condition, which integrates our discussion, therefore providing the necessary theological coherence for our whole ontology and function with, in and for the whole of God.

Theology, then, and all interpretations of Scripture related to it need to converge and to be integrally functional. For theology and its interpretations to function integrally and not be fragmented, there must be primacy given to relationship both to engage the trinitarian relational context of family and to involve the trinitarian relational process of family love. This distinguished relational context and process constituted God’s thematic relational response of grace to the human condition, within which the person Jesus presented was embodied vulnerably with the presence of his whole ontology and function, full of grace and truth (covenant love and faithfulness) in the relational involvement of the gospel of wholeness. Anything less and any substitutes misre-present the whole of both Jesus and the gospel. This whole theology will be evident in what Paul further embodied for the wholeness distinguished by Jesus in the gospel that only his presence presented.

This is the door Jesus opens to the whole of God through which Paul and those following (person and persons together as the church) must enter together with the Spirit in order to be Jesus’ distinguished followers in relational progression as the new creation family (in relational terms, not referential) in the theological trajectory and relational path of the whole of God’s thematic relational action. This is where Paul enters.




[1] 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).

[2] 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.

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

[4] For more background on tax collection and collectors, see Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 82-83, 387-88.

[5] For a similar examination of this relationship but from a conceptual perspective of dialogic process, see Alistair McFadyen The Call to Personhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 45-47.



©2012 T. Dave Matsuo

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