The Vulcan Messiah: Spock as a Christ Figure

Kevin C. Neece is a contributing editor for Imaginatio et Ratio: A Journal of Theology and the Arts, a media and pop culture columnist for New Identity Magazine and the founder and editor of The Undiscovered Country Project, an ongoing journey through Star Trek from a Christian worldview perspective. His work on Star Trek is featured in the book Light Shining in a Dark Place: Discovering Theology Through Film and has been presented at fan events and academic conferences. Kevin is available as a speaker and writer on topics relating to Christianity, the arts, popular media and more, including the history of Jesus films. Learn more at http://kevincneece.com and http://undiscoveredcountryproject.com.

In these past few years of research, writing and speaking on Star Trek from a Christian worldview perspective, I have covered quite a number of topics—from Gene Roddenberry’s personal beliefs and spiritual quest to Biblical references within the franchise, from ethical and cultural issues in certain episodes to the influence of Judaism on certain alien cultures.  Time and again, however, I have found in myself and in others a great deal of interest in Spock.

This is not news, of course. Spock was easily the most popular character on Star Trek during its original run on television and he has remained, through its myriad incarnations and among its ever-growing family of beloved characters, the central figure of the Star Trek franchise. It should perhaps come as no surprise, then, that when people hear me mention Spock as a Christ figure, their ears—fittingly—perk up a bit.

My first notion of this connection came while watching (what else?) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s not hard to spot and I’m certainly not the first to do so: faced with the choice between allowing the certain death of all those aboard the Enterprise and placing himself in harm’s way, Spock willingly sacrifices his life so that others may be saved. Then, of course, in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Spock rises from the dead. Presto! Instant Christ figure!

It is so easy to see the broad strokes here that one wonders why this connection isn’t mentioned more often and how on Earth it could have escaped (as it apparently did) the notice of virtually every major player in the making of these films. As one looks deeper, however, the subtleties in this unintentional metaphor are incredible. There are references to Eden, a garden, Creation, the book of Genesis, life from lifelessness, escape from punishment for past wrongdoings, the preservation of the eternal soul, the Promised Land and so many more things that keep lining up with the gospel story. This is not an isolated incident and is a thread that runs through Star Trek II, III and IV. Yes, Spock is a Christ figure in Star Trek IV.

I go into a great deal more detail on this subject in my audio commentaries for these films (the first of which is available now) and even still, there is more to be said. For a quick overview, though, here’s the rundown: Star Trek II shows us Spock sacrificing himself, as I mentioned above, but also dying in Kirk’s place, paying the price for his past sins. Kirk is seized upon throughout the film by age and mortality—the very consequences of the fall of humankind—and symbolically encounters Eden through the Genesis cave and the Genesis planet and is restored to feelings of youth and vitality.

Then, in Star Trek III, Spock’s sealed room is found to have been forced open, as two guards stand dumb. There, Kirk encounters McCoy, who speaks with Spock’s voice and says to go to the place where Spock grew up in order to meet with him. At Spock’s empty place of burial, his friends find his burial robe. We then see the Genesis planet being led to destruction by the sins of David and Spock suffering along with this damaged creation. Spock’s friends give their all and sacrifice everything to answer his call in response to the sacrifice that he made on their behalf. At the end of their journey, they are reunited with him in a heavenly place.

Finally, in Star Trek IV, the Earth is about to be destroyed because of humankind’s sin. A search (probe) for what is missing comes up empty and nothing can stand against the probe because of what has been lost. Then, Spock returns on the clouds with his friends to restore that which was lost. He not only saves their lives and rewards their faith, but restores order to all of Creation. Then, when Kirk and crew stand before judgment, Spock, though he does not stand accused, stands with them. Because he has saved them through his sacrifice and has returned from death, because they have been faithful and willing to give up everything for him and because they followed his plan to save that which human sin had doomed, they now stand blameless before the judge. Then, Spock’s father reverses his judgment against them and they are restored to their right place and a renewed version of their original Enterprise.

And I’m just hitting the high points.

This is only the biggest, most detailed image of Spock as a Christ figure. Later, as we go episode-by-episode through the Original Series with our audio commentaries, I’ll show how Spock’s role as a Christ figure is amazingly foreshadowed in the classic episode, “The Naked Now,” wherein a human’s simple misdeed leads to a cascade effect of lusts and harmful behaviors that will result in certain death for all unless Spock can conquer temptation, endure suffering and provide a way by which Kirk may turn from his present course and restore the Enterprise and her crew to their destiny.

In so many ways, Spock is an amazingly detailed Christ figure—perhaps the most detailed I have ever encountered. And he’s one of at least three major Christ figures in the Star Trek universe. I have a hard time believing this to be an accident. I have a hunch that Gene Roddenberry’s spiritual quest informs the whole of Star Trek and that God may indeed be at work everywhere—even Where No One Has Gone Before.

Image Credit: The Undiscovered Country Project.  Image used with permission of the author.

1 Comment

  • Sheridan Voysey says:

    An excellent piece. Just linked to it for a spot I did on BBC Radio 2: http://sheridanvoysey.com/Is-Spock-a-Christ-Figure-50-Years-of-Star-Trek given the 50th anniversary of the franchise.

    Some great work being done here on Transpositions. Thank you.

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