You ain t nothin but a hound dog
In the late ’70s, while I was in my final year of college, I bought a copy of the New Testament that included a commentary by G. Campbell Morgan, the well-known English preacher, from his book The Personhood of God. I was fascinated by it because of Morgan’s way of seeing the biblical characters.
I came from an evangelical tradition and had always thought that the way the characters in the story of the gospel were seen by God was the right way to see them. However, Morgan wrote that God sees each human being from the very beginning as God sees himself, not from our perspective, but from his own. God sees each person from the perspective of his own personhood. So, Morgan wrote, each of us has to be seen as God sees us, and that’s what God is most concerned about when he looks at each of us, his creation. This view, which Morgan referred to as the “persons view,” had the result of making each human being the center of his or her own life.
This view would not have appealed to me at all, for I had thought about the biblical stories all of my life as having been told from the point of view of God. But Morgan showed me that if we are to see these stories in the way that he thought, we had to see ourselves from God’s perspective and not as we saw ourselves. And if I am to be like God, I have to treat each of my fellow human beings as a person, as a person with his or her own dignity and worth.
The way in which the character of Jesus is presented in the gospels has always been one of the most controversial issues in Christianity. In the gospels, Jesus is presented as the incarnation of the Logos, as the embodiment of God’s own plan for the world. But in the persons view, he becomes more human in the process of the incarnation. In this view, Jesus was fully God but he was also fully human. He had his own thoughts, feelings, ideas, and personality. And, since we humans, in order to live a good life, need to make sense of things, he taught his followers, the community of the persons of the community, to make sense of life by using reason, which is one of our God-given capacities.
We all have our thoughts, feelings, ideas, and personality. But the gospels show Jesus as not just a person, but as a fully human being, and not just a person, but as a fully human being with feelings, ideas, and personality. Jesus taught his disciples to make sense of things by using reason and by asking questions. So, although Jesus was fully God and fully human, he was not presented as a sort of demigod.
Jesus as a fully human being was a person, just like you and I. And he was presented as being like us. As an illustration of this view, let’s look at the way he is presented in Mark’s gospel. After Jesus has been arrested, he and the disciples are brought before the high priest and other officials. The passage begins with Jesus telling Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” And then Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (14:21) And Jesus, after making Peter the head of the church, says, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:18-19)
Now, in this first version of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter has asked Jesus a question, a very human question, which is, “Do you love me more than these?” And Jesus, responding to that question, gives Peter his first assignment as the leader of the church. But this is not a demigod, and that is why Jesus is presented to us as a person. Because Jesus is presented as a person, we learn more about him in the gospels than we learn about any other person in history. He is presented as a man. And we learn more about a man, and who he is as a man, through the interaction with him in the gospels than we learn about any other person in history.
If Jesus is presented as a person, then we learn not only what he thought and believed but also why he thought and believed the way he did. He taught his followers to ask questions and not just accept what the teachers said. This was part of Jesus’ mission in the world. He was sent by God to help the people make sense of their lives and the world in which they lived. And he taught them how to do that by asking questions.
I remember when I started to use the word “persons” in my preaching, I was told that it was a word that only a few scholars knew about. But when I used it in my sermons, I discovered that it has a wide range of meaning. For example, the way it is used in one of the Gospels, in Acts, and in some of Paul’s letters. It means that we are to see ourselves as God sees us. In this sense, we have to see ourselves not only as persons who are loved by God, but as persons who have their own personality, their own thoughts, their own ideas, their own beliefs, their own desires and hopes.
And if we look at some of the people who lived in the first century, we see a few others who had this idea about personhood. One of the earliest writers in the New Testament is the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. His name was Paul. I was reading some verses of his letter to the Romans. Romans chapter 11 verse 7: “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread