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Offices of Christ

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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OFFICES OF CHRIST.—As the specific offices of Christ are handled in this work under their several heads, the treatment in the present article will be general.

Etymologically the word ‘office’ is from officium, the shorter form of opificium, the root meaning of which is ‘a doing of a work’ (Gr. πρᾶξις). The meaning of officium being wide enough to include any service or kindness, a more precise connotation is supplied by munus, the technical term employed by writers like Calvin to describe the capital functions discharged by Christ. In the Bible the word is nowhere used of Christ’s work, though it occurs in other connexions in OT (פְּק֖רָּה) and in NT (διακονία, Romans 11:13 [Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘ministry’], πρᾶξις, Romans 12:4). The idea, however, abounds in connexion with the Jewish Messiah and the Christ of the Gospel. Under the OT dispensation the three principal offices were those of prophet, priest, and king; and ‘the innermost pulse, so to speak, of the history of prophecy is to be found in the effort to interweave these three offices together, and to contemplate them in the Messianic image instead of in their distribution among several persons’ (Dorner, System of Christ. Doct. iii. 388). Jesus, being the Messiah, fulfilled these three offices, as the supreme prophet, arch-priest, and Divine king. So repeatedly does He appear in these capacities in the NT, that it would be superfluous to enumerate loci.

Passing to theology, we may find beginnings of the official conception of Christ in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, etc. Thomas Aquinas departs from the triple division of the offices, and makes them coincide with the two states of humiliation and exaltation; the high-priestly office, to which the prophetic is merely introductory, coinciding with the state of humiliation, while the kingly is to be reserved for the state of exaltation (Dorner, op. cit. iii. 391). Discussions as to the relations of Christ’s two natures (Eutychians and Nestorians) involved different views as to the way in which He performed official functions. But it was the Reformation, magnifying the sufficiency of Christ in every capacity, that was most fruitful in the exposition of His offices.

‘The theologians of the Lutheran Church,’ writes Hagenbach, ‘further developed the locus de persona Christi by distinguishing between three different genera of the communicatio idiomatum, which were brought into connexion with the two states of Christ’s exaltation and humiliation (status exaltationis et exinanitionis). To this they added the theory of the three offices of Christ, viz. the prophetical, priestly, and kingly offices. These definitions owed their origin in part to temporary controversies within the Lutheran Church, such as the controversy between the theologians of Giessen and those of Tübingen, at the commencement of the 17th cent., concerning the κένωσις and κρύψις of the Divine attributes, and the controversy carried on by aepinus in a previous century respecting the descensus Christi ad inferos’ (Compend, of Hist. of Doctrines, Buch’s translation p. 317). Those of Tübingen said that Christ in His humiliation possessed omnipotence, omnipresence, etc., but that these attributes were concealed; whereas those of Giessen said that Christ laid these prerogatives aside, aepinus said that Christ’s. soul suffered the punishments of hell while His body lay in the grave, whereas Calvin said that the only hell suffered by Christ was anguish of soul. The Lutherans, again, held that Christ’s visit to hell was a part of His exaltation. Such controversies had a reflex influence upon ways of stating how Christ exercised His offices. Our subject is admirably treated by Calvin in the second book of his Institutes, Christ’s priesthood being magnified as against Romish usurpations (ch. xv.). Arminius is especially full and interesting in the present connexion. ‘Two things,’ he writes, ‘were necessary on Christ’s part: that He should undertake some offices for the sake of men to obtain eternal salvation for them, and that God should bestow upon Him dominion or lordship over all things’ (Private Disputations, Nichols’s translation ii. p. 380). Both these things were comprehended under the title of Saviour and Mediator. In respect of Christ’s priesthood, the preparation consisted in imposition of office, sanctification by the Spirit, obedience, sufferings and death, and resurrection; and the discharge of the office consisted in His offering His body and blood. Re Christ’s prophetic office, Arminius raised the question as to whether He received knowledge from the Logos as well as from the Holy Spirit. The functions of Christ’s kingly office were legislation, giving of remission of sins and of grace, and judgment. The results of Christ’s official work are the gathering of the Church, the obedience of His people, the actual remission of sins, resurrection from the dead, and life eternal. The means of Christ’s rule are His Church, Word, and Holy Spirit. To all this the corollary is that no one is admitted even subordinately to participation in Christ’s proper offices; therefore no pope can be tolerated.

The Westminster Confession of Faith contains a chapter (viii.) ‘Of Christ the Mediator,’ from which we give the third Section. ‘The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the Divine, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure; having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell: to the end that being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety. Which office He took not unto Himself, but was thereunto called by His Father; who put all power and judgment into His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.’ Along with this may be taken the answers to questions 43–45 in the Larger Catechism. ‘Christ executeth the office of a prophet in His revealing to the Church in all ayes, by His Spirit and word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation.’ ‘Christ executeth the office of a priest in His once offering Himself a sacrifice without spot to God, to be a reconciliation for the sins of His people; and in making continual intercession for them.’ ‘Christ executeth the office of a king in calling out of the world a people to Himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which He visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon His elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sing, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for His own glory and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.’

In our day it is less common than formerly to speak of the official character of Christ; and this for several reasons. Definite doctrine as to the Person and work of our Lord is unacceptable in many quarters, and a reaction from the terminology of the schools is common. Questions as to the metaphysical nature of Christ are thought to be too abstract. That Jesus should embody a fulfilment of OT prophecy as to the Messiah is of remote interest to many. The richness of Christ’s humanity has been so energetically unfolded, that there is an aversion to contemplate Him in any aspect which might be suspected of dehumanizing Him by representing Him more in the light of a formal functionary than of a loving Son of Man and Elder Brother. Ritschl, e.g., attacks the word ‘office’ as unsuitable, because office is a special calling with a view to realizing a legal or moral community upon conditions of law (see Corner, op. cit. p. 383).

As against such objections we would submit that the theological category in question possesses too much historic and intrinsic worth to be discarded. Historically it has its roots in Scripture, and controversially it has served to clarify doctrine and to safeguard certain aspects of Christ’s Person and work. But, above all, Christ in His official character meets the entire needs of sinful man. On account of that moral evil which blinds the soul to the knowledge and perception of God, we need a Mediator to reveal God and to enlighten the conscience; and here Christ, as the Light of the world, appears in His prophetic office. Next, the effect of light is to disclose the fact of sin and awaken the sense of guilt and the fear of judgment; and here Christ, by putting away sin, by affording access to God, and by blessing us from God, discharges the priestly office. Lastly, by creating an eternal society in which we may live as His loving subjects, serving Him willingly according to His laws, He acts as a Divine king. Nor is there any subordinate office performed by Christ which may not be classified under one or other of these constitutive three.

Literature.—Hodge, Syst. Theol. ii. 459 ff.; Martensen, Chr. Dogmat. 295–329; Maopherson, Chr. Dogmat. 328 f.; Litton, Dogmatic Theology, 222; Denney, Stud. in Theol. 137 ff., 163 ff.; art. ‘Jesu Christi dreifaches Ant’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] and the Lit. there given.

Robert M. Adamson.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Offices of Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​o/offices-of-christ.html. 1906-1918.
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