THE BAHA'I FAITH AND CHRISTIANITY : 2. THE BAHA'l CHRISTOLOGY.
Stephen Lambden, UC Merced.
Originally written 1980s – being revised and expanded, 2018.
Last uploaded 17-04-2018.
“Say: this is the One Who hath glorified the Son and hath exalted His Cause”. (Bahā'u'llāh, Lawḥ-i Aqdas (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, Haifa: BWC Centre, 1978, p.12, alluding to John 16:14).
"As to the position of Christianity, let it be stated without any hesitation or equivocation that its divine origin is unconditionally acknowledged, that the Sonship and Divinity of Jesus Christ are fearlessly asserted”. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come (BPT Wilmette, Illinois 1980) p. 109.
The name Jesus (Heb. Aram. Yeshū[a], a late form of the name Joshua, `YHWH saves’ (cf. Gk. Ieÿsous) was the proper name of the founder of that Jewish faction which became Christianity. Jesus probably lived from c.- 6?- BCE until c.30 CE.. In Qur'anic Arabic he is referred to (for reasons that remain unclear) as `Īsā. ("Jesus"). The Galilean messiah has a prominent, elevated place in the Arabic Qur'an being mentioned 93 times in 15 sūras. Not literally "a son of God" or a deity consubstantial with God (Q. 9:30f; 5:19f; 43:59), Jesus is said to be al-masīḥ (the messiah, Q x11), a prophet (nabī) and a messenger (rasūl) as well as His "Word" (kalimat; Q. 3:45;4:171 cf. John 1"1f) and a "Spirit (rūḥ) from Him" (Q. 4:171); one aided with the "Holy Spirit" ( bi-rūḥ al-quds; Q. 2:81; 5:109:19:30; 58:22).
Bābī- Bahā’ī primary sources greatly exalt and frequently refer to Jesus. In his commentary on the Islamic tradition man `arafa nafsahu faqad `arafa Rabbuhu ("He who has known himself hath known God" ..) in Sufī fashion the Bāb has referred to Jesus as the ashraf al-anbiyā’ ("most honourable of the prophets) (INBA Ms. 6007C:64). Going beyond the qur’ānic and later Islamic exaltation of Jesus, Baha'u'llah has affirmed his subordinate divinity and position as an exalted, divine, maẓhar-i ilāhī (Manifestation of God) with all that this entails. In his Lawh-i Hartīk (Tablet to Hardegg, c. 1872 CE) he states that a true appreciation of the exalted station of Jesus is "beyond the comprehension of humanity". The Baha'i Christology unities and develops the Qur'anic-Islamic view of Jesus in a manner that contributes to and extends Jewish-Christian-Muslim and other viewpoints, suggestive of a oneness or unity of religions. Ultimately, from the Baha'i theological point of view, the divive Jesus Christ embraces and may be thought to be a unitative figure within the world's religions. Numerous Christian and Islamic texts suggest that he will "return" (spiritually) and have a universal role in realizing the eschatological kingdom of God.
Christian estimates of the station of Jesus Christ form part of what constitutes Christology. The Baha’i theophanology (mazhariyya) or doctrine of the Manifestation of God (mazhar-i ilahi) includes a Baha’i Christology in which the spiritual Sonship and sublime Divinity of Jesus are acknowledged and greatly celebrated. Baha'is are firm believers in Jesus Christ whose timeless and universal divinity is renewed or reflected in the person of Baha'u'llah (The Glory of God).
Discussions between Christians and Baha’is sometimes become unnecessarily heated on Christological points relating to questions about the Trinity and the Incarnation (Latin, incamato, 'being in flesh'), or the Divinity (or `Godhood') and Sonship of Jesus of Nazareth. For many Christians it is Jesus' claim to be God which underlines His uniqueness and sets Christianity apart from other religions. Classically formed doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation have generally been seen to be central to Christian theology. A growing number of ''modern Christians have though… come to reject or reformulate classical trinitarianism and such doctrines as that of the Incarnation. Many novel Christologies have been proposed. Certain ancient or largely forgotten formulations have and are being revived and rethought. Much that is central to Baha'i theophanology/Christology has come to be championed by liberal Christian scholars. While this subject cannot possibly be adequately dealt with here, it is hoped that the following few paragraphs will contribute to a greater level of openness and mutual respect and understanding between Bahā’īs and Christians. We do have much in common Christologically.
The word trinity (`being three’) is non-biblical. Its classical formulations were largely read into the Biblical text in order to check a multitude of alleged heresies. Many modern theologians find the doctrine either difficult or an illogical 'divine mystery'. Some reject it altogether. While Baha’is reject the consubstantiability (' of the same substance’) of the three `Persons' (Father, Son, Holy Spirit ) of the Trinity, they yet find profound symbolical truths within it. 'Abdu'l-Baha often gave positive senses to a "Trinity". See for example, Some Answered Questions Ch.27; Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha' Abbas, Vol.1. (Baha’i Publishing Committee, New York 1930 ), pp.117-8.
This doctrine states that Jesus is not subordinate to God but an equal Person within the unity of the Godhead who, having human body and soul, has lived a human life. "lncarnation" is not a New Testament term. In recent decades the theology surrounding Jesus' being God incarnate has been increasingly criticized or denied altogether: "For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ." (1 Tim. 2:5)
The important 1977 volume, The Myth of God Incarnate, (ed. John Hick, SCM Press Ltd, London) set off a major and continuing Christian debate. The many subsequent books and papers cannot all be listed here but Incarnation and Myth: the Debate Continued (ed. M. Goulder, SCM 1979) and God Incarnate: Story and Belief (ed. A. E. Harvey SPCK London 1981) are well worth detailed study. An important earlier volume is Geoffrey Parrinder's Avatar and Incarnation (Faber & Faber, London 1970). It became clear to many that the classical doctrine of the incarnation is seldom something fully presented in (but has been read back into) New Testament scripture. God cannot Himself become directly incarnate but His “Manifestations, as divine Beings are incarnations of the totality of the names and attributes of the Godhead". The essence of the Godhead cannot become human but the divine Manifestations of God are perfect human beings reflecting the Goshead most perfectly.
In expounding incarnational theologies, many modern western theologians have paid little attention to the truths of the unknowability of the Essence of the Godhead. In past centuries countless Christians gloried in the sublime incomprehensibility of God the Father. Some learned saints and mystics regarded the inner experience of God’s apophatic unknowability to be the very apex of mystical realization. In Babi-Baha'i sacred writings the accessibility and knowability of God within humanity and outside the domain of humanity, is fully set forth although the mystery of the One unknowable is never compromized.
The Divinity of Jesus
There are numerous New Testament passages in which Jesus Christ is subordinated to God the Father. Jesus was not the Essence of the Godhead (see, for example, 1 Cor. 8:6; Mark 10:18;13:21, 32;15:34; John 5:30,10:30,14:28,17:3; Eph. 1:7.) New Testament evidence suggest thst Jesus rarely (for some, never) called Himself either 'Lord” (Kyrios), or 'God' (theos). Some early Christians gradually came to a fuller appreciation or realization of the Divinity of Jesus; a belief that is perfectly legitimate insight from the Baha’i point of view. Yet is in a very small number of largely late New Testament texts that Jesus is directly referred to as “God" (see for example, John 1:1, 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8-9; 2 Peter 1:1. cf. Mark 2:7). In occasionally describing Jesus as "God", the New Testament “still exercises great restraint" (so Rudolph Bultmann The Theology of the New Testament Vol.1. London: SCM, 1965 p. 129). In their Christological controversies some early Christians came to make no distinction between Jesus' "Godhood" and the Ultimate Godhead or unknowable Essence of Divinity. From the Baha’i point of view Jesus could have voiced the claim, 'I am God', for this claim is the prerogative of the divine Manifestation of God, the pure 'Mirrors' reflecting most perfectly the 'Sun' of Divinity. Baha’u’llah has championed the view, ''Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: “I am God!” He verily speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto” (Kitab-i Iqan 1961:114). The theological status of Abrahamic founder prophets (Moses, Jesus. Muhammad) cannot be made barriers to an appreciation of the exalted station of each one of them. Their humanity and divinity were expressed in diverse ways over many centuries. Elevating any one of them should not, Baha'is believe, lead to divisive religious triumphalism. The divine Jesus is mirrored in Moses, Muhammad and Baha'u'llah. Relative to mankind and to this contingent world, no distinction can be made between God and His divine yet human manifestations (the maẓāhir-i ilāhī). When a Christian states the Christ is God, Baha’is have confirmation in their sacred writings that this is an important theological Truth.
`Abdu'l-Baha’ explained that John 1:1 is “replete with the greatest meanings”. He pointed out that many Christians had limited its interpretation in terms of John 1:14, instead of highlighting the identity of the "Rays" of Jesus' Divinity and the "Sun" of the Divinity Itself (see The Promulgation of Universal Peace (Wilmette, Illinois: BPT, 19S2 pp. 154-5). It should further be noted in this connection that as the Logos/Word, Jesus is said to be "God" or "Divine" (theios; the Greek here lacks the definite article). In John 20:28 Thomas ascribes Deity to the risen Christ by exclaiming "My Lord and My God", though Jesus made it clear that God the Father was greater than Himself (John 14: 28), It is essential that Baha’is make it clear that as they see it, Jesus is not God's Ultimate Essence thought they might “fearlessly assert" His Divinity. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians that, "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God, a thing to be grasped". Philippians 2:6-11 is a primitive Christological, liturgical hymn. Jesus' being "in the form of God" ('en morphe theou) does not indicate (his pre-existent) identity with the Essence of the Godhead but, rather, his being the pre-existent Locus of the Divine Image.
As indicated, it was from the 2nd cent CE that references to the Deity of Jesus come to be multiplied and a Christology of Jesus' Divinity clearly asserted. In this connection the early to mid. 2nd cent. CE authentic and attributed (pseudo-) Letters of Ignatius of Antioch ( ) are of great interest (see Gilliam III 2017),
Jesus the Son of God.
Baha'u'llah occasionally referred to Jesus as the "Son" of "Son of God".
“The Sonship station is the heart of Christ” ('Abdu'l-Baha, SAQ., Wilmette Illinois : BPT., 1981),p.114..
“As Christ found existence through the Spirit of God He called Himself the Son of God." (`Abd al-Baha’ ibid, 63).
Within the New Testament, Jesus' messianic title Son of God is of central importance. It expresses His special relationship with God the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Like all Manifestations of God, He was a "unique" or "only" (monogenes) Son of God. The Greek monogenes is rather inadequately translated “only begotten"(cf. the Creeds; Jn 1 :14,18; 3 :16, 28; 1 Jn. 4:14 ). In ancient Judaism this adjective was used of the whole people of Israel or in ways other than filial. His Sonship should not be interpreted literally or physically. Many modern Biblical scholars fully realize this:
"this title [Son of God] was metaphorical and honorific in its use rather than literally descriptive. And no doubt Jesus himself spoke in this same poetic
way of God as our Father and men as his sons. But in the course of time, as the Latin theologians got to work, the symbolism hardened into dogma, and the metaphorical son of God became the metaphysical God the Son, Second Person of the Trinity ( Hick, 1983:31).
Baha’u’llah has noted that believers in general have been called "sons of God" in past holy Books (e.g. Matt. 5:9 ) (Tablet in Iqtidarat 1310/18XX, p.3). In the Hebrew Bible the Israelites are referred to as the "son of God" (by adoption not procreation; Exod.4:22 ) as have various kings, angels and others. Refer also to the words of 'Abdu'l-Baha' in Star of the West Vol. 5. No.8. p.122. For members of the heavenly court or angels as “sons of God” see Gen 6:2; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7. Psalm 29:1; 89. For further details see Hengel, 1976).
In His Tablet to the Templar leader G. D. Hardegg (d.1879; Lawh-i Hartik), Baha’u’llah indicates that Jesus' station is so transcendent as to be beyond the confines of limited scriptural terminology. Baha’is would doubtless improve their dialogue with Christians and others if they championed the exalted station of Christ the Manifestation of God. Abdu'l-Baha often highlighted the greatness of Jesus life, station and sacrifice. The full comprehension of the divine nature and status of Manifestations of God such as Christ (the Son) and Baha’u’llah (the Father) is essentially beyond human understanding.
The Promise of the Future Paraclete.
The Johannine figure of the Paraclete is of central importance within the Gospel of John (esp. chs. 14-16). Most early Christian viewed the Paraclete as being identical with the post-pentecostal Holy Spirit bequeathed to humanity after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Some Christians, however, as well as Muslims understood to Paraclete to be a messianic figure, one to appear after Jesus as his advocate the successor. While in the early Christian centuries the future (Gk.) παράκλητος (paraklêtos) or Johannine “Paraclete” was often identified with the Holy Spirit, it was also seen by some to have messianic implications. Both Islamic and Baha'i texts interpret the figure of the Paraclete as the persons of Muhammad and/ or Baha'u'llah. Translated by the Arabic mu`azzī (lit. “Comforter”) in the London Polyglot (1657) and a large number of subsequent Protestant Arabic translations including that of Van Dyck (see Lambden, 1997), this title was specifically claimed by Baha'u'llah in his Lawh-i Hartik (Tablet to the German Templar, Hardegg, c. 1871-2) While the English translation “comforter” apparently goes back to the English reformer John Wycliffe (d. 1384), the Greek was from patristic times thought to have an active sense of consoling or comforting (Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, etc). As a messianic figure, Baha'u'llah assumed a Paraclete type comforting role as well as one of the "Spirit of Truth" (Ar. ruh al-haqq) and eschatological judgement.
From the 1860s, the founder of the Baha'i religion claimed to be the second coming or "return" of Christ. This on a spiritual level and in the light of the 19th century (CE) allegorical fulfillment of messianic and apocalyptic expectations. He proclaimed this to Pope Pius IX in a specific scriptural Tablet and to all Christians in innumerable sacred, scriptural or revealed (Ar. w-h-y) writings.
It was the case then, that from the mid-late Edirne (Adrianople) period (1866-1868), Baha'u'llah claimed to be the second coming of Jesus. He claimed that at the eschaton he had come in the station of the "Father". In his Lawh-i `Ali Muhammad Sarrāj (c. 1867) he refers to Jesus as "my Son in the Supreme Concourse (malā’ al-a`lā)" (Mai'ida-yi Asmani VII:05, cf. 112). He drew numerous parallelisms between himself and Jesus and addressed both the Italian Pope Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, Pius IX (1846-78) and the whole ecclesiastical panoply of oriental and occidental Christendom. One of the main purposes of Baha'u'llah was to promote the glory and power of Jesus, to bear witness to his elevated Sonship and Divinity, and to proclaim the eschatological advent of the kingdom of God.
Anderson, Paul N.,
- The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6, WUNT 2:78, Tübingen: Mohr / Siebeck, 1996.+ 3rd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.
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Gilliam III, Paul R.
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Pollard, T. E.
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- The Spiritual Gospel: The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel in the Early Church (Cambridge: Cambridge .University Press, 1960;
Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-1850).
Arabic and Persian Bayāns including Frech translations of Gobineau (see bib. below) and A. L. M. Nicholas (1864-1939):
- Ar- Bayān = al-Bayān al-`arabī in INBMC 43:1-68.
- al-Bayān al-`Arabī, in `Abd al-Razzaq al-Ḥasani, al-Bābiyyun wa al-Bahā'iyyun fī ḥadirihim wa hadihim. Sidon: Matba`at al-`Irfan, 1962, pp. 81-107
- Ar. Bayan = French trans. in Gobineau 1865 [2nd ed. 1866 see bib. below] as an Appendix entitled `Ketab-É-Hukkam’ [sic.] (Le livre des préceptes), pp. 461-543.
- Ar-Béyan trans. Nicolas 1905 = Le Béyan Arabe, Le Livre Sacré Bábyse. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905.
- r. Bayān = Bayān-i Farsī. Azali printed edition [Tehran nd.]
- Kitāb-i mustatab-i Bayān-i Farsī, INBMC vol. 24, dated 1954 as photocopy dated, 123 BE/ 1967.
- Persian Bayān. UCLA Library: Special Collections. Box 97, MSS 741.
- Per. Béyan = Le Béyan Persan, trans. A. L. M. Nicolas, 4 vols. Paris: Librarie Paul Geuthner, 1911-14.
- Ar. Dala’il = in Dalā'il-i sab`ah. np.nd. [Azalī ed. Tehran, 196?] [pp.](alif-nūn);
- Per. Dala’il = Dalā'il-i sab`a `Arabī va Farsī. n.p. n.d. (= Azalī edition [Tehran,196?]) 1-72.
- Per. Dalā’il = Dalā'il-i sab`ah. np.nd (Azali printing based on several mss.).
- S-Preuves = Le Livre des Sept Preuves de la mission du Bab. Paris: Maisonneuvre, 1902
- K- Haykal = Haykal al-dīn. (The Temple of Religion”) np.nd [Tehran, Azalī ed. 196?].
- `Letter to the Imam / ` People of the City of Medīna’) In INBMC 91: 23-25.
- `Letter to Salmān’ in INBMC 91: 52-56.
- K-Panj-S = Kitāb-i panj sha'n. (“The Book of the Five Modes”), np.nd. [Tehran Azali ed. mid.1960s]
- Qayyūm al-asmā’ / Tafsīr Sūrat Yūsif (Qur’ān 12) = QA.  QA. INBMC III. Pagination usually refers to this early ms.  QA = Qayyūm al-asmā’ Afnān Lib. ms.5 (copy of ms. dated 1261/1845).
- S-Haramayn = Ṣaḥīfa bayn al-ḥaramayn. CUL, Browne Or. Ms. F 7(9):1-125; TBA. ms. 6007C, 348-413.
- Tafsīr Sūrat al-ḥamd (Commentary on the Surah of Praise, Q.1) INBMC 69: 2-13.
- Tafsīr Sūrat wa’l-Aṣr (Commentary on the Surah of the Declining Day’ Q. 103) in INBMC 69: 21-119.
- Tafsīr Sūrat al-Baqara (`Commentary on the Sūrah of the Cow’, Q. 2, 1843-4) in INBMC 69: 157- 410.
Baha'u'llah, Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri (1817-1892),
- AQA = Āthār-i qalam-i a`lā. Vol. IV. Tehran: MMMA: 125 B.E./1968.
- Aqdas = The Kitáb-i-Aqdas. The Most Holy Book. Haifa: BWC, 1992/5.
- Days of Remembrance: Selections From the Writings of Baha’u’llah for Baha’i Holy Days. Haifa: Bahā’ī World Centre, 2017.
- ESW [Persian] = L-Shaykh = Lawḥ.-i Ibn-i Dhi’b (“Epistle to the son of the Wolff”) = Lawḥ-i Khiṭāb bi-Shaykh Muḥammad Taqíī Mujtahid-i Iṣfahānī ma`ruf bi Najafī. Cairo: nd. 1338/1919-20.
- ESW = Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (trans. Shoghi Effendi). Wilmette: BPT., rev. ed., 1971(76).
- Jawahir = Jawāhir al-asrār. Brazil: Bahā’ī Publishing Trust. 160 BE/2003. See also Mss.  INBMC 46:1ff  INBMC 99. Printings, AQA 3:4-88.
- Jawahir trans. = Gems of the Divine Mysteries, Javāhiru’l-Asrār. Haifa : Baha’I World Centre, 2002.
- KI = Kitāb-i īqān, Hofheim-Langenhain: Bahā'ī-Verlag, 1998/ 155 BE (= rep. K. īqān, Egypt, 1934); trans. Kitáb-i-Iqán: The Book of Certitude (tr. Shoghi Effendi). Wilmette, Illinois: BPT.,1989.
- L-Creator = `O Thou Creator!’ ms (trans. Hebrew University, Jerusalem).
- L-Hurufat = [Tafsīr] L- Ḥurūfāt al-muqaṭṭa`ah. Haifa ms.  INBMC 36:212-242;  Mā’idah-‘ āsmānī, IV:49-86.
- L-Jawhar-i Ḥamd (“Tablet of the Essence of Praise”) in INBMC 35:161-168.
- [as Mīrzā Āqā Jān, Khadim Allāh] L-Khalīl [Ibrahīm] = The Tablet to Khalīl (the Friend/ Ibrahīm) on the Sinaitic mission of Moses. See ms. XXX (in BSB 1986). First part is printed in Ma’ida IV: 38-41. See further for a ms. text translation and commentry Stephen Lambden in BSB, 1986 ‘The Mysteries of the Call of Moses’ (see below).
- Lawḥ-i Khalīl [Shirazi], Mirza Ibrahīm Muballigh Shīrāzī ms in TBA ms. 3003C (photocopy in personal library), pp.1-30.
- L-Liqā’ = Lawḥ-i Liqā’ (Tablet of the Meeting with God) in Mā’ida-‘ āsmānī, VIII: 69-70.
- L-Sarraj = Lawḥ.-i Sarrāj (Tablet to `Alī Muhammad Sarrāj), Ma’idih VII: 4-118;  INBMC 73:198-231.
- L-Tajalliyāt = Lawh-i Tajalliyāt (Tablet of Effulhences) in Majmu`a 1980, pp. 63-71; trans. BWC., TBAA., 1980, pp. (see below).
Ma’ida = `Abd al-Ḥamīd, Ishraq Khāvarī (ed.)
- Mā'idah-yi āsmānī. vols. 1, 4, 7 and 8 (= writings of Bahā’u’llāh). Tehran: MMM., 128-9 BE/1971-2.
Majmu`ah 1980 + Translation (TBAA):
- Majmu`ah = Majmu`ah min alwāḥ Ḥaḍrat-i Bahā’-Allāh. Belgium, 137 BE/ 1980.
- TBAA = Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1978. Reprints include US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, 1988 English translations of sixteen or so major Tablets of Bahā’-Allāh by Shoghi Effendi and others (original texts are printed in Majmu`ah, 1980 above).
Rashḥ-i `Amā’ =
- Rashḥ-i `amā’. Haifa typsescript in the hand of Zayn al-Muqarrabīn  INBMC 36:460-1;  Ma’idih 4:184-6. trans. + commentary Lambden. BSB 2/1 (1983): 4-114.
`Abdu’l-Bahā’ `Abbas ( 1844-1921)
- Makātib-i Haḍrat-i `Abdu’l-Bahā’, vol. 1 (ed.), Faraj-Allāh Zakī al-Kurdī, Cairo: Maṭbūʻāt Kurdistan al-`Ilmiyya, 1328/1910.
- Lawḥ-i Liqā’ (Tablet of the Meeting with God) in Makātib, 1: 102-108.
- Lawḥ-i Liqā’ Allāh (The Tablet of the Divine Theophany) [title provided] in Makātib 1: 102-108. trans. http://hurqalya.ucmerced.edu/node/3201
- Kitab-i Iqan. Baha’i Publishing Trust London, 1961.
- Tablet to the Templar leader G. D. Hardegg (d.1879; Lawh-i Hartik)
- Lawḥ-i Aqdas in Tablets of Baha’u’llah, Haifa: BWC Centre, 1978, pp.
- Iqtidarat 1310/18XX .
Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (c. 1896-1957),
- The Promised Day is Come. BPT Wilmette, Illinois 1980.