by Richard D. Draper
Over the millennia, Christian thinkers have tried to determine the nature or natures of Christ—that is, they have attempted to understand who he was, what he was, and what he accomplished. Their efforts led to discussions, arguments, councils, excommunications, schisms, and theological battles that continue right into the present. This intense and combative history suggests at least two things: first, New Testament writings alone do not provide a definitive answer concerning the nature of Jesus, and second, scholars of religion and theologians felt and feel the answer is very important, some even willing to risk their standing among their theological peers and religious communities by advocating a particular view.
There is good reason for this deep commitment. As a colleague (Julie Smith) has noted, “belief about the nature of God was directly linked to one’s behavior. Recognizing this context is important because it emphasizes the high stakes and real consequences in any discussion of Christology.” To stress the point: How one understands the nature of [Jesus] directly links to how a person feels he or she should behave. There are high stakes and eternal consequences to one’s Christological views. Can our natures really approach his? Is it really possible to become as [the Father and Son] are? To answer those questions, one must know what the Father and especially the Son are like.
What exactly was he? Was he fully divine? Was he fully human? Was he a combination of both and if so, to what degree did each play part in determining who and what he was? During the 17th century (AD 1673 to be precise) someone gave the name “Christology” to this type of investigation, combining the words Christos and logia (from logein, “to speak”). Initially, Christology was the attempt to serve “both as a response to heresies and as a development of a systematic theology that orthodox Christians could accept.” It became divided into two categories: high Christology and low Christology.
“High” Christology refers to approaches that begin with the divinity and pre-existence of Christ as the Logos (“the divine Word”), as expressed in the prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-14). These approaches interpret the works of Christ in terms of his divinity. The early church emphasized this high Christology, beginning in the second century with Ignatius of Antioch.
“Low” Christology, on the other hand, refers to approaches that began with the human aspects and the Lord’s ministry (including his journeys, teachings, miracles, and so on) and moved towards his divinity and the mystery of divine embodiment.
There is no systematic Christology of either type in the New Testament. That is not to say that it is devoid of Christological elements, far from it, and little wonder! As one scholar noted, “The early Christians found themselves confronted with a set of new concepts and ideas relating to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as well the notions of salvation and redemption, and had to use a new set of terms, images, and ideas in order to deal with them. The existing terms and structures which were available to them were often insufficient to express these religious concepts, and taken together, these new forms of discourse led to the beginnings of Christology as an attempt to understand, explain, and discuss their understanding of the nature of Christ.” However, at the time, no one actually tried to systematize those understandings.
Furthermore, early Christians had to explain their concepts to a new audience, which had at times been highly influenced by Greek philosophy. They had to present arguments that sometimes resonated with, and at other times confronted, the beliefs of that audience. “A key example is the Apostle Paul‘s Areopagus sermon that appears in Acts 17:16-34. Here, the apostle attempted to convey the underlying concepts about Christ to a Greek audience, and the sermon illustrates some key elements of future Christological discourses that were first brought forward by Paul [or popularized by him].”
What is important is the sophistication and depth of understanding the Apostle’s arguments reveal. These suggest that by the mid-first century, this church leader was comprehending and articulating an ever–clearer picture of what Christ was and did. The degree to which other church authorities also understood who and what the Savior was is evidenced in the writings of the author of Hebrews. From beginning to end, his work is full of Christological information including both high and low elements. This presentation focuses on the low Christology found primarily but not exclusively in the first two chapters.
The low Christology in Hebrews rests on that portion of the high Christology that looks to the pre-mortal existence of the Savior as God. As the author of Hebrews states, Christ was “the brightness of [the Father’s] glory, and the express image of his person,” (1:3) through “whom also he made the worlds” and whom the Father appointed “heir of all things” (1:2). In short, Jesus was God in the full sense of the word.
The one grand personal act which the mortal Savior did for those who would accept him and repent was to purge them of all their sins. The author of Hebrews’ understanding of sin accords well with that of many Jews at the time—sins were acts which estranged both individuals and nations from Jehovah. Sin is both a falling away from a relationship of faithfulness toward God and disobedience to the commandments. Its essence is, then, reflected in unfaithfulness to Jehovah, which manifests itself, among other ways, in neglect and lassitude (2:3; 5:11). In extreme form, it reveals itself in open rebellion against God’s law (2:1–4: 3:7–9) and especially apostasy (6:4–6; 10:26–31). Its keenest expression is in a willful and determined departure “from the order given by God” and the establishment “of oneself in one’s own position and to go one’s own way.” The author’s focus is, therefore, less on individual sin and more on general faithlessness.
Hebrews shows that the Savior’s sacrifice was necessary to make his people pure so that they could enter into the new order he established, an order that opened a way for them to have access to God as never possible under the Mosaic Law. That access would come by continued obedience (10:1–18) and moral effort (12:1–4) on the part of those who brought themselves under his purifying power. Therefore, it was necessary for the author to give his readers a correct understanding of what purity consisted.
Due to Jewish legalism, impurity was more of an external than an internal condition. This misunderstanding allowed them to commit egregious acts such as taking widows’ houses (Mark 23:14) and dishonoring parents (Mark 7:11) while still claiming to be “pure.” The Lord clearly countered this misunderstanding when he proclaimed, it is “not that which goeth into the mouth that defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Mark 15:11). He, therefore, castigated the Pharisees, saying, “woe unto you, . . . for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23). For that reason, he warned his disciples to “do not ye after [the Pharisees’] works: for they say, and do not” (Matt. 23:3).
Not surprisingly, then, the author of Hebrews focused on the internal cleansing which the Lord, through his Atonement, brought about. In contrast to traditional acts and cultic rites that focused on cleansing the body, Hebrews concentrates on the Savior’s cleansing of the conscience (1:3). However, that means repentance is necessary, for “purifying actions are fully effective only when the conscience is cleansed, and cleansing the conscience takes place through faith” in Christ with repentance and obedience as its fruit (Heb. 9:14; Luke 3:3–8; Acts 3:19).
Further, the author shows that the Lord did not take his glorious station at the right hand of God until after he had accomplished what was necessary for his brothers and sisters. In short, his disciples’ salvation came before his station. Indeed, it was the very means of his accession (Heb. 9:11–14; 9:23–10:4; 10:11–14). At the point of his resurrection and exaltation, and not before, he became heir of the Father, receiving immortality, and entered into perfection (compare Philip. 2:6). .
In chapter 2:14–18 the author develops the theme of the Savior’s sharing in the trials and suffering of his mortal kin. These combine to show why he can lead them back to God. The author of Hebrews states (and the reading is from the BYU NTC Rendition of the Greek text):
Now since the children share flesh and blood, he also in just the same way shared their mortality, so that through his death he might render the one who holds the power of death ineffective (that is, the devil) and free them who through fear of death were in bondage their entire life. For he is certainly not concerned about angels, but he is concerned about Abraham’s descendants.
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest over the things relating to God, to atone for the sins of the people. Because he himself has endured trials and temptations, he is able to help those who are tried and tempted.
The subordinating conjunction used by the author in verse 17, othen, translated “for this reason,” is telling. It marks the basis for an action and, thereby, gives the reason for it. In this case, it explains that what drove the Lord to become mortal was his care for Abraham’s posterity.
The author is clear that this caring necessitated that the Savior become like his brothers and sisters. The verb “be obligated, must, have to,” denotes an indebtedness that puts one under obligation for payment. It connotes the need to pay a heavy moral or social obligation. In the context here, however, it carries the idea of being constrained by circumstances to do something and emphasizes its obligatory nature. In this case, Jesus had to be made like his mortal kin.
Also telling is the phrase kata panta. . . homoiōthēnai where the verb homoioō in the passive means “to be made like,” and when coupled with kata panta, “in every way,” expresses how fully the Savior became mortal—that is, fully and completely. Thus, he was subject to trials, temptations, suffering, loss, failure, and sorrow, among other aspects of mortality. Indeed, becoming like his brothers and sisters bound him to them in history, in temptations, in trials, in suffering, in mortality, and, thus, in death.
And the author, with the use of the conjunction hina, a marker for “a purpose, aim, or goal,” points to why Jesus had to become fully mortal. He gives two reasons. The first he expresses with the adjective eleēmōn, which carries elements of both mercifulness and compassion. It connotes the feeling aroused when one sees another suffering from undeserved affliction. In the sense of compassion, it expresses an emotional sharing in the distress or misfortune of an equal. In the sense of mercifulness, it expresses a disinclination to be either rigorous or severe, especially toward an offending party.
The second reason the author expresses with the adjective pistos. This word stresses “trustworthiness” or “faithfulness” to a cause or people. As used here, the word suggests total faithfulness to God and his purposes. In the context of Jesus’ ministry, this virtue is buttressed by the understanding he gained through experience of the importance of his responsibility toward those whom he served.
He would need both of these attributes to fulfill is role as archiereus. The noun denotes the high priest in the Levitical system. In Hebrews, however, the author uses the word more metaphorically to denote the high station the Savior holds as the one who presides over all priesthood orders. He uses it to highlight and expound on the Savior’s saving acts toward his people.
In verse 17, the author describes the supreme act which this very mortal High Priest had to perform. It was “to atone for the sins of the people.” The verb hilaskomai, “atonement,” in its religious context, has the basic sense of reconciling a person to God. The word also carries the idea of showing “compassion and concern for someone in difficulty, despite that person’s having committed a moral offense.” That concern drives the reconciling party to do what is necessary to restore a broken relationship.
In the Old Testament, “atonement” generally referred to those cultic activities priests performed to bring Jehovah and his people into oneness. The focus of these activities was overcoming the offending and separating effects of sin. The author of Hebrews, when using the term, appears to have Christ’s passion in view, but the infinitive “to atone” is in the present tense, suggesting “continuing application of the benefits of the sacrifice to God’s people.”
The author emphasizes the role of Jesus as the High Priest empowered to bring the Father’s children into oneness with him through the Savior’s personal sacrifice. Note that God is not the recipient of atonement. The movement of reconciliation is not of God toward humankind, but of humankind toward God.
In verse 18, the author emphasizes that the atonement was made possible in large part because Jesus himself “endured trials and temptations.” The verb paschō, translated as “suffered” in the KJV, denotes both undergoing and enduring something that is unpleasant. The force of the perfect tense shows that, as far as the Savior is concerned, this kind of suffering is now in the past, left behind with his mortality. Even so, its effects in generating understanding, compassion, and mercy are still in full force.
The author’s use of the verb peirazō is important in understanding what Jesus suffered. Though translated as “tempt” in the KJV, the word has a broader range of meaning that included “to try, attempt, make trial of, and put to the test.” Hence, we have translated the phrase peponthen autos peirastheis (literally “he himself has endured, being tempted/tried”) as “he himself has endured trials and temptations,” the point being that during the Savior’s life and ministry, he not only endured the temptations that all mortals experience, but he also experienced a broad range of the trials and tribulation associated with mortality (on this see also Alma 7:11-13).
The author is clear that, as the result of what the Savior went through, he “is able to help those who are tried and tempted.” The verb boētheō means “to render assistance to someone in need, to help, or come to the aid of.” It points to the Savior’s anxious willingness to supply whatever aid is necessary to sustain those in need.
In sum, the author shows that because of God’s concern for Abrahams’s descendants, the Savior had to be made like them in every way. The reason was so that he could became the merciful and faithful High Priest willing atone for the sins of his people and thereby reconcile them to God. The point: because he endured trials and temptations, he is both willing and able to assist and forgive those who are tried and tempted.
The author’s tone is not apologetic, for he sees Christ’s suffering as part of God’s plan of redemption. As the author states in verse 10, “It was fitting for God . . . to make [Christ] perfect through suffering, who was the founder of their salvation.” Note how “boldly [he] asserts his shocking thesis: it was [prepō, that is “fit” or, in other words,] ‘appropriate’ to the character and purpose of the sovereign God, the source, judge, and goal of ‘all,’ to use suffering to equip the Savior so that God could fulfill his purpose for his ‘sons and daughters.’ The view in Hebrews is that Christ’s suffering was neither a logical necessity forced upon God nor a mere decision of his will, but an appropriate expression of the divine character.” This whole idea is underscored by the author’s use of prepō, “to be fitting,” rather than dei, “to be necessary.” It was fitting, therefore, for Jesus to be perfected through suffering because of what it would allow him to do, that is, make others as he is, that is “perfect.”
The verb teleioō, often translated into English as “to make perfect,” does not carry that same force in Greek. The English term reflects the ideal of being without flaw and having no defect, fault, or inefficacy of any kind and in any way. The Greek comes closer to the English words “whole” or “full” in their moral sense; that is, it connotes more of completeness than of flawlessness. The Greek word especially looks at the idea of being suitable to perform a task. Religiously it had various nuances. One described a person who was consecrated or initiated into one of the mystery religions, another indicated “a wholehearted relationship to God,” another of being prepared for priestly duty, and another (for moral individuals) the completing of one’s life-mission at death.
In the context of Hebrews, the Savior was made perfect, that is “fit” and “complete,” for his office of High Priest because of his suffering, including death. As one scholar noted, “through his suffering, Christ becomes the perfect model, who has learned obedience (5:8), and the perfect intercessor, merciful and faithful (2:17).”  His perfection became complete when he entered into the honor and glory of his exaltation. His accomplishment serves as the promise that his followers can reach the same state of perfection. Further, as this same scholar notes, “It is not through enlightenment or moral development [for Christ was always sinless], but through the sonship characterized by faithful endurance that Christ attains ‘perfection’ and makes it possible for his ‘perfected’ followers to take the same route.”
In sum, the author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus was made perfect through his voluntary suffering. It must be noted, however, that pain alone is not perfecting. It is how a person responds, learns, and deals with it that is. The author’s words suggest that it was through that kind of suffering, and that alone, that the Son became the perfect High Priest and was able to reach his goal of atoning for all. When both aspects are at play, then the point of Hebrews is that “by undergoing death, God accomplished his purpose whereby the Son would become the High Priest [2:17], able to cleanse God’s people from their sins, thus enabling them to approach God in true worship.”
It was by the means of the Savior’s “sufferings” that God perfected him so that he could lead the Father’s sons and daughters to honor and glory. The plural “sufferings” (5:8) includes all the trials, temptations, disappointments, and heartaches the Savior experienced as a mortal climaxing in his rejection and crucifixion. It was both his willingness to and actual suffering of these vicissitudes that validated his perfect obedience (5:8–10; 10:5–10) and provided the flawless example of faithful endurance for the rest of God’s children.
Of fairly recent development in the Church is the idea that Jesus’ tutoring pathos occurred almost exclusively during Gethsemane. There he felt others’ embarrassments, disappointments, heartaches, physical and mental pain and anguish, as well as the agonizing weight of their sins, the searing of their guilty consciences, and their terrible agony knowing they would eventually have to face justice of a holy God. In short, while making the Atonement, the breadth and depth of the Savior’s pathos caused him to relate to all levels and types of human suffering.
Though that may be the case, I do wonder just why the Savior would have to atone for such things as the broken ribs I once suffered after a hard fall, which were unrelated to sin or guilt. I fear that this idea pushed too far greatly underplays and thereby severely dilutes the significance of the Lord’s fully mortal experience. He was born a peasant in a poor country, with all the weight, inconvenience, and hardship that carried; he knew firsthand the pain that came from loss of loved ones; he understood physical toil to the point of exhaustion; he felt the deep throb that comes from failure after one’s best effort; and he knew the agony derived from blatant rejection expressed in murderous hatred even by loved ones. Jesus did not need to have such common mortal pain and suffering visit him in Gethsemane. He was already well acquainted with them.
However, what he did not know, and what he had never experienced before that moment, was being bereft of an abiding, personal, and loving relationship with his Father. In short, he knew nothing personally of the consequences of sin and the spiritual death it brings. Further, he did not experientially know what satisfying the law of justice would demand of him—he who was, though fully mortal, also infinite and eternal and could therefore suffer and bear, at extreme cost, the full weight of the Atonement. It was this anguish that filled the garden and endured on the cross.
Amazingly, according to the low Christology of Hebrews, all this suffering, both mortal and divine, was fit or appropriate for the Lord to go through for at least three reasons. First, it equipped the Savior to become the faithful and merciful High Priest, filled with understanding and compassion for those whom he served. Second, through it the Son became “perfect,” that is, fully finished and completed and thus adequate for the task he had to perform in making atonement for God’s sons and daughters. Finally, it brought to the Son well-deserved honor and glory that remains his forever as he rules with his Father through all eternity.
In all this there is an important lesson. It is best expressed in the author’s own words: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but although he was tried and tempted in every way just like us, he was without sin. Even so, let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:15–16).
 Julie Smith, email to writer, June 28, 2016.
 Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), 272.
 McGarth, Christianity, 137–41.
 Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, 5 vols., rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014, 1:257, hereafter cited as NID.
 The focus in the work as a whole is not on individual sin. Indeed, the only reference to individual sin is adultery and the love of money. See 13:4–5.
 Craig R. Koester, Hebrews, vol. 36 in The Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven and London: Yale University Press: 2001), 119.
 The author expounds on this in 7:19–28. See Translation Notes and Comments with the associated Analysis and Summary for those verses in The Revelation of John the Apostle (Provo: BYU Studies, 2016).
 See Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1985), 47, and The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 59-60.
 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958, 692–93, hereafter cited as BDAG.
 BDAG, 743; Johannes P. Louw, Eugene A. Nida, ed., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols, (New York: United Bible Society, 1998), §§ 57.221; 71.25, 36, hereafter cites as Louw-Nida. It also can also mean to commit sin against another through which a heavy moral debt is incurred. Louw-Nida, § 88.298.
 BDAG, 707.
 Louw-Nida, §64.4, 5. The only exception was that Jesus never tasted of personal sin. Heb. 4:15. See also Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965), 3:145–46.
 BDAG, 316; Louw-Nida, § 88.77; NID, s.v. ἐλεήμων; Dictionary of Synonyms, s.v. “sympathy,” “forbearing.”
 BDAG, 820-21; NID, s.v. πιστός. The whole family group focuses on that which either describes or evidences trust and faith. See Rudolf Bultmann, s.v. B4FJ,bT in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, trans., Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1968), 6:174–228.
 See Harold W. Attridge, Epistle to the Hebrews (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 95, nn. 189–190; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 88.
 The noun occurs only three times in the Old Testament (Lev. 4:3; Josh. 22:13; 24:33), but is found over 30 times in 1–2 Maccabees. Joseph Smith equated the office with the Melchizedek Priesthood noting that “Christ is the Great High Priest; Adam next.” Joseph Smith, Report of Instructions, Commerce, IL, July 1839; pg. 65 in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, pp. 63–73, Willard Richards, Journals, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/report-of-instructions-between-26-june-and-4-august-1839-a-as-reported-by-willard-richards&p=3.
Joshua G. Mathews, Melchizedek’s Alternative Priestly Order: A Compositional Analysis of Genesis 14:18–20 and Its Echoes Throughout the Tanak (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2013), argues that the account given in Genesis of this priest-king sets up a priesthood that is distinctly and intentionally different from that of the Aaronic order and acts as its alternative.
 BDAG, 473-74:
 Louw-Nida, § 88.75.
 Louw-Nida, § 40.9; given the relative frequency of the word’s appearance in the LXX, noteworthy is that it only appears twice in the New Testament (Luke 18:13; Heb. 2:17). The thrust of the New Testament, however, is more on reconciliation than expiation and, therefore, the verb καταλλάσσω is favored. See for example Matt. 5:24; Rom. 5:10; I Cor. 7:11; Col. 1:20–21.
 Garth Lee Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrew in The New International Commenary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1012), 150.
 ED, s.v. ἱλάσκομαι.
 Though πάσχω (paschō) can denote experiencing something pleasant, this nuance is used only once in the scriptures. See Gal. 3:4.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996), 574–76.
 BDAG, 792-93.
 McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 499-501.
 BDAG, 180; Louw-Nida, § 35.1. A pleasant nuance exists in the archaic English word “succour” used in the KJV. Taking its thrust from its Latin base (succurrere, “to run to the rescue) “succour” implies a very dynamic movement to give aid.
 The Book of Revelation highlights the accolades that heaven pays to Christ for what he has done. See Rev. 5:9–10; 10:6–8).
 Cockerill, The Epistle, 137.
 See the discussion in Richard Neitzel Holzpfel, Thomas A. Wayment, Making Sense of the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 450; D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: Acts through Revelation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 247.
 Dictionary of Synonyms, s.v. Perfect.
 BDAG, 996. The author, however, does not show any influence upon his thought by Greek mystery cults. A. M. Fairhurst, “Hellenistic Influence in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” Tyndale Bulletin, 7–8 (1961) 17-27. http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/index.php?page=TB_Authors
 For example see, LXX Gen. 20:5; Deut. 18:13; Judg. 9:16, 19 where one is admonished to “be perfect before God.”
 In the LXX, τελειόω (teleioō) is used to translate the Hebrew מִלֵּא יַד (millē’ yad), literally “to fill the hand” meaning “to consecrate as a priest.” (HAL, 583-84). See LXX Ex. 29:9, 29, 33, 35; Lev. 8:33; 16:32; 21:10; Num. 3:3.
 Attridge, Hebrews, 85–86.
 Attridge, Hebrews, 86–87.
 Attridge, Hebrews, 86–87; See also Cockerill, The Epistle, 138–39; William L. Lane, Hebrews 1–8, vol. 47 in World Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Book Publishers, 1991), 57–58.
 It was the task of the Levitical high priest to present the offering that reconciled Israel with Jehovah (Ex. 30:10). Jesus did this, as the author shows, through offering his own blood (Heb. 10:4–14).
 Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrew: A Commentary on the Greek Text in The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 163.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), Cockerill, The Epistle, 138.
 Attridge, Hebrews, 83–84 with n. 52.