The Baha'i Christology, Some Introductory Notes.


Stephen Lambden, UC Merced.

Originally written 1980s – being revised and expanded, 2018.

Last uploaded 18-02-2018.

“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.

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. .

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 Trinity

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.

The Incarnation

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 G. Parrinder's Avatar and Incarnation (Faber & Faber, London 1970).  It became clear to many that the classical doctrine of the incarnation is not something directly 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.

In expounding incarnational theologies, 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.


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.) Jesus seems not to have directly called Himself either 'Lord” (Kyrios), or 'God' (theos). Some early Christians gradually came to the realization of his Divinity, 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 'Mirror' 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 (Baha’i Publishing Trust London, 1961) p.114).


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.

Jesus the 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 ( John Hick, The Second Christianity (London, SCM Press, 1983), p. 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  M. Hengel, The Son of God (London SCM Press: Ltd. 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.