Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?

JesusAlthough I agree that Jesus is God (John 1:1), I have something specific in mind when I ask if Jesus is like God or God like Jesus. Traditionally, people have looked at Jesus and identified divine attributes and used this as ways to demonstrated that Jesus is God.

But some theologians sees this as a backward process.

There is a growing trend to start with Jesus and to use him as the measure to determine what is truly God. I have seen this in the writings of Greg Boyd and have heard similar things by Scot McKnight and Brian Zahnd. I will admit that I have not read Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, although I hope to in the near future. But I have read such statements in Boyd’s other books.

This is a convenient hermeneutic for Boyd and other (mostly Anabaptist) scholars. There are some troubling passages in the Old Testament where not only does God perform acts of violence, he also commands his people to use violence. This can be difficult for Christians who are committed to nonviolence.

What Boyd is able to do is to look to Jesus and then measure descriptions of God in the Old Testament by that standard. Anytime we read a description of God, we should ask, “Could we see Jesus doing that?”

So when God in the Old Testament command people to care for the poor, that is consistent with Jesus and so is an accurate description of God. But when God in the Old Testament calls people to attack and destroy a city, that is inconsistent with Jesus and so is an inaccurate description of God.

I have not read enough of Boyd to know how he explains those troubling passages. I would suspect he would say that the Israelites misunderstood what God wanted or tried to impose their own agenda with a theological foundation.

While I can see the attractiveness of this view, I have some serious concerns.

The first is that it makes interpretation of the Old Testament very difficult. Just because the Old Testament quotes God in saying something, doesn’t mean that God actually said it. The Old Testament is a mix of accurate and inaccurate accounts, some divine revelation mixed with mistaken ideas about God. This theory prevents us from reading the Old Testament in anything like a straightforward (I purposely avoid literal) manner.

The other problem is that I don’t think this theory takes seriously diversity within the Trinity. They look to passages like, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) From this it is argued that since Jesus is exactly like God, God is exactly like Jesus.

However, I suspect that if you asked the author of Hebrews to summarize Israelite history, he would have include the warrior images of God and the God-ordained invasion of Canaan. Probably all of the apostles would have understood the Old Testament as accurately revealing the words and actions of God.

I believe the author of Hebrews was trying to describe Jesus in such a way the demonstrate he was far greater than the angels or Moses. I don’t think he was trying to redefine God as being more Christ-like.

I don’t see why belief in the Trinity requires the Father, Son and Spirit to act in exactly the same way. Each person of the Trinity had different roles and I don’t think the earthly ministry of Jesus revealed everything about the Godhead.

Here is an example from the New Testament. In Acts 5, we find the deaths of Annias and Sapphira. It seems to be the Holy Spirit who is responsible for their deaths. Do we find Jesus killing people during his earthly ministry? No. Does that mean that the deaths of Annias and Sapphira was not divine judgment? No again.

I agree that there are some troubling passages in the Bible and that we need to wrestle with them. But I am not convinced that using the earthly ministry of Jesus as the standard of what is really God is the way to go.


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How Should Christians Respond to the Shack Movie?

I have already seen some Christians getting frustrated with a movie being made of the popular book, The Shack. Most of the Christians I know hated the book and considered it heretical. It was bad enough that a book was written, a movie will just be that much worse.

Or will it?

The Shack definitely had some problems. Portraying God the Father as a black woman or the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman were not the problem. It was really the relationship among the members that was the problem. The book seems to portray tri-theism more than a Trinity.

Having said that, I found it to be a moving book. As a father of five, the abduction and murder of the little girl hit me hard. I had some pretty strong emotional responses.

I understand that many Christians will want to attack this movie for being sub-orthodox. Many will want to warn people against seeing the movie. But think about these things:

  • Plenty of non-Christians will see this movie.
  • The movie asks the right questions.
  • People are struggling with why God allows tragedy.
  • People are not going to watch the movie to understand the theological intricacy of the Trinity.

Instead of putting all our energy into attacking the movie, why not focus on taking advantage of the opportunities that the movie will create? This should open up opportunities to talk about the problem of suffering and the Trinity.

Attacking what we don’t like is the easy way out. Let’s consider walking through the open doors that God gives us.

Active Advantage

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Understanding the Trinity

Orthodox Christianity includes an understand of God as a Trinity. There is one God, who is three persons. This is one of the most difficult doctrines for people to understand. Here are a number videos that seek to help explain the Trinity.


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Father, Son and Spirit

Father Son and SpiritAndreas J. Kostenberger and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel. Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2008. 224 pp. Pbk.

It is common knowledge that both historically and perennially John’s Gospel has played a significant role in the formulation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. What is surprising, then, is the scarcity of books given exclusively to this theme — the Trinity in the Gospel of John. This 2008 addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series (D. A. Carson, ed.) is designed to help fill that gap. Andreas Kostenberger (Professor of New Testament and Director of PhD Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest) and Scott Swain (Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando) bring together mature reflections from the domains of Biblical, Exegetical, and Systematic Theology to provide a helpful model of how Biblical scholarship can move (as Carson describes it in the Preface) “from careful study of biblical text to theological formulation.”

Chapter one begins by establishing the apostle John as the author of the fourth Gospel in order to demonstrate, in turn, that the historical setting and perspective of the fourth Gospel is that of strict Jewish monotheism. Jesus’ teaching challenged and stretched the Jewish understanding of that monotheism, to be sure, but a strict Jewish monotheism it was nonetheless. In a way that is very reminiscent of Bauckham’s God Crucified, Kostenberger and Swain argue that John and the early church understood Jesus as participating in that divine identity. It was a committed monotheism that allowed interpersonal relationship within its divine essence. In other words, John and the early church considered Jesus as included in the unique identity of God as declared in the Shema. In the Gospel of John and the early church, Jewish monotheism, while strictly preserved, was redefined in Christological terms.

The following five chapters explore, in turn, the teaching of the fourth Gospel concerning God; the Father; the Son, the Spirit; and, finally, a synthesis of the teaching regarding the Father, Son, and Spirit. Here we have the exegetical groundwork for the systematic conclusions drawn in the final chapters. Kostenberger and Swain offer no new theology of course. They consciously locate themselves in the mainstream of orthodox Trinitarianism. But they do provide a wealth of exegetical support and, thus, an insightful articulation of this leading mystery of the Christian faith. The varying ways in which John and Jesus speak of the Three Persons are surveyed, and the subtle nuances of each are noted. The authors’ study has obviously been careful and thorough, and their results are helpful indeed toward a sharper understanding of the Father-Son metaphor, the significance of the “Son” titles (monogenes, Son of God, Son of Man, the Son), the Spirit’s procession and mission, and the larger “mission” theme of the Gospel of John.

The final section of the book (chapters seven through ten) provides theological conclusions that arise from their exegetical survey. If earlier the authors argued that John’s Trinitarianism is a Christological Trinitarianism, now they emphasize that John’s Christology is distinctly a Trinitarian Christology. Both observations are valid, of course, and capture well John’s outlook. Further, the authors articulate specifically John’s teachings regarding not only the Son’s and the Spirit’s equal sharing in the identity of “God” with the Father but also the factors that set each apart as distinguishable Persons in their relationships with one another. Their examinations of the “sending” theme, the ontological vs. the economic Trinity, and questions of equality and subordination (in light of the various relevant Johannine expressions signifying dependence, authority, and such) here are precise and helpful. And special attention is given to John’s “mission” theme which the inspired apostle does not present within the framework of a larger Trinitarian theology. Rather, the authors argue, John presents God as Father, Son, and Spirit within a larger mission outlook — reminiscent of Warfield’s contention a century ago that God’s revelation of himself as Triune was “incidental” to the revelation of his redemptive purpose. This, in turn, is shown to inform the Christian mission as a continuation of a mission begun in heaven in eternity past. And throughout this section the authors provide a treasure of insightful observations regarding specific passages — the “I Am” sayings and especially the “I Am” of John 8:28, the connection of the crucifixion to the Passover, passages which speak of the “sending” and “coming” of the Son, the influence of Genesis 22 on John 3:16, the connection between Jesus’ resurrection and our adoption as children, just to name a few outstanding examples.

Father, Son and Spirit provides a valuable contribution to the study of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Gospel of John. Any study of the Trinity would benefit by it. And certainly no preacher seeking to expound the Gospel of John would want to be without it. If you are intending to preach through the fourth Gospel you will want to read this book first so better to grasp not only the various intricacies of the doctrine of the Trinity itself but also the Trinitarian structure and atmosphere of John’s Gospel itself. Then as you preach through each next passage you will want to return to this book again and again to benefit from its insights. Its presentation of the logic of Trinitarian thought in the early church, its unfolding of the divine mission as it relates to the Persons of the Trinity, and its careful exegetical and theological insights into various passages will enrich the study and expositions of John’s Gospel for any preacher.

Fred G. Zaspel

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5 Ways That Christianity is Unique

The uniqueness of Christianity

UniqueOne of the most common claims is that all religions are the same. This is incredibly false. Each religion has its own claim to being unique. Here are five ways in which Christianity is unique.

1. Christianity is falsifiable.

Did the Buddha achieve enlightenment? Did Muhammed receive revelations from Gabriel? Even if you had a time machine you would not be able to tell if these things happened. The truth of Christianity is based on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is false. Unlike other religions we are dealing with historical evidence rather than internal experiences.

2. God is self-sufficient.

God as Trinity is not a weakness for Christianity, it is a strength. Many religions agree that God is loving but if he is a monad he can only love once he has created. As a Trinity, God was love within himself before creation.

3. The only true incarnation.

There are religions (such as Hinduism) where a god (such as Vishnu) appears as a human. That is far from the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus was fully God and fully human. He went from overseeing the universe to being a fetus. That was a sacrifice even before the cross. The incarnation is also unique in that it was a permanent experience.

4. The Bible as an inspired book written by humans.

The Bible is not a magic book dropped out of heaven. It was not dictated by God. Nor is it just a collection of thoughts by people reflecting on God. It is inspired and yet fully includes the personalities and the situations of the human authors. There is no other holy book like this.

5. Christianity is about love.

Each religion has its own focus (submission, obedience, enlightenment, etc.) but only Christianity is based on love. God is love. Jesus boiled down Christianity to love for God and love for people. This is the only religion that puts love at the complete centre.

Are all religions the same? Not at all. While having some things in common with other religions, Christianity is very much unique.

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The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards

This book is available for only $2.49!

The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards

By William Danaher / Westminster John Knox Press

Examining the theological ethics of Jonathan Edwards, William Danaher Jr. shows that Edwards’s doctrine of the Trinity both was foundational to Edwards’s thought and is the necessary framework for understanding the theological and moral vision expressed in his writings. This Trinitarian interpretation identifies what distinctive contribution Edwards makes to contemporary Christian ethics, particularly concerning the nature of virtue, the will, sin, evil, and love.

The Columbia Series in Reformed Theology represents a joint commitment by Columbia Theological Seminary and Westminster John Knox Press to provide theological resources from the Reformed tradition for the church today. This series examines theological and ethical issues that confront church and society in our own particular time and place.

227376: The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards

 

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The Johannine Comma and the Trinity

If you do not know what the Johannine Comma is, I will explain it to you (hint: it is not John’s punctuation). The best way to understand it is to compare 1 John in the KJV and a modern translation.

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” (1 John 5:7–8 KJV)

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” (1 John 5:7–8 ESV)

What we see is that the King James records a comment about the Trinity while all modern translations are missing those words. Textual criticism has demonstrated that the King James version of those verses are not original and they were added much later on. I will not go into detail about this but you can find more information here.

I am more interested in the ramifications of this being a later addition. I have heard skeptics suggest that this is proof that the Trinity is a late invention. Should this issue cause us to doubt the doctrine of the Trinity?

One of the things that we should note is that the church fathers were talking about the Trinity long before the Johannine Comma came on the scene. No one waited until this verse appeared to discuss the Trinity.

We should also realize that there is plenty of biblical evidence for the Trinity. In another post, I demonstrated some of the places (and this is not an exhaustive list) in the New Testament that we see clear evidence of the Trinity.

Would we like the Johannine Comma to be original? Of course we would. But even if it was original, it would not be the deciding factor for the Trinity. It simply would have been one verse among many verses that point toward the Trinity.

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The Trinity in the New Testament

People often point out that the trinity is not in the Bible. What they really mean by this is that the word ‘trinity’ is not in the Bible. The basic concept of the trinity is in the New Testament though. Here are three passages where the idea of the trinity is beginning to emerge.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 ESV)

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–6 ESV)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:1–2 ESV)

The first thing that I have to say is that in the New Testament, Lord normally refers to Jesus and God normally refers to God the Father. What we find in these three passages are descriptions of the Father, Son and Spirit where they are in parallel. There is no sense that one is superior to the other. In fact, the Father is not always first. These passages do not make sense unless all three are on the same level. Why would we need to be baptized in the name of God and two lesser beings? While these passage do not have the intricacies of the church father’s description of the trinity, they are at least beginning to point in that description.

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My View of Islam

On Facebook recently, I frustrated a number of my evangelical friends with posts I shared and comments I made related to Islam.  I was accused of not knowing God, needing to repent and holding to heterodox doctrine.  Since some people are concerned, I will take the time to make clear my position.  I do not expect to change anyone’s belief, but if you are going to disagree with me, at least disagree with what I really believe.

The first thing that bothered people was my view of Islam and violence.  In light of the Boston Marathon attack, I urged people to not assume that all Muslims are  violent.  I was told that all Muslims were violent and if they were not, they were not really Muslim.  Let me make clear my position.  I am not saying that all Muslims are peaceful.  Nor am I denying that Islam has a violent past or that some Islamic states today persecute non-Muslims.  I understand that these things happen.  What I am saying is that it is wrong to assume that because a person is a Muslim that they want to kill non-Muslims.  I have read the Qur’an and I have not found passages that command all Muslims to kill all non-Muslims.  There are passages that talk about killing non-Muslims, but the context is that of an existing war between Muslims and non-Muslims (of which there were many in the early years of Islam) in which the Muslims are told to go all out.  I don’t like those passages, but to be honest, they are no worse than some Old Testament passages.  To suggest that all Muslims must build their faith around these few passages is as unfair as a non-Christian arguing that Christianity must be based on the holy war passages in the Old Testament.  In case you think no Christian would interpret the Old Testament that way, there are plenty of examples from church history.

The second thing that got people upset is my suggestion that Christians and Muslims (and Jews) believe in the same God.  When I say that, people seem to hear me saying that Islam is a valid way to achieve salvation, that Muhammad was a true prophet, that all religions are the same and many other things that I am not saying.  My argument is based on the question of how much has to be in common for us to be talking about the same thing.  If an American was talking about the country to the north of them called Canada, bound by the Pacific ocean on the west, Arctic ocean in the north and the Atlantic ocean on the east and with the capital of Toronto, would they be talking about the same country of Canada that I know has a capital of Ottawa?  I believe that two people can talk about the same thing with one of them having some mistaken facts about that one thing.  That is my understanding of Christianity and Islam.  I think we are both talking about the same God but that Islam is mistaken in some of their assertions (simple unity, relationship to Jesus).  I realize that my view is in the minority, but please don’t accuse me of denying the Trinity or the exclusivity of Christianity.

Perhaps this clarification will only make things worse, but at least you know where I stand.  I am an evangelical Christian with orthodox theology and a high view of the Bible.  Do not mistake me for something else.

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A Unique Gospel

This sermon was preached on Oct. 3 2010 at Woodford Baptist and First Baptist Church Meaford.

A Unique Gospel

Galatians 1:6-9

Introduction

What would it take for you to want to curse someone?  Perhaps for some people it would be as simple as getting stuck behind a slow driver when you are in a hurry.  But for most people it would take something drastic, something that was close to our heart.  Growing up, we had a neighbor who tried to place a curse on our house.  He was the typical stereotype of the hippie.  He was a draft dodger, English professor with long hair and a beard who smoked marijuana and meditated in his backyard.  One of the things that was dear to his heart was the natural world, especially the trees.  Well one of those dear trees decided to send its roots down to attack our sewer pipes, causing all kinds of problems in our basement.  We contacted the city and got permission to take this big old tree down.  You would think that we had just killed his first born son.  He called his guru over and sprinkled “holy” water on our house and attempted to curse it.  Most of us do not think in terms of curses, but it is not unknown in the Bible.  In fact, in the passage we are looking at, Paul speaks of curses twice, using the word anathema.  By cursing, Paul is not speaking about swearing at, nor is he talking about something occultic, such as our neighbour’s guru.  What Paul is doing is calling down God’s judgment on the activity of certain people which was serious enough to deserve it.  This was something that was close to Paul’s heart and that was the nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The basic problem was that Paul had preached the Gospel and these people had come to faith.  Now others were coming and preaching a different gospel.  Paul was upset, not because of pride or a desire to be looked up to, but because he knew that there was only one Gospel.  As a result, in this letter we see some of the harshest language of Paul.  We can look to Paul and admire his zeal for the Gospel, but what does that mean for us?  Even before we get to the point of zeal, we have to ask ourselves if we would actually be able to differentiate the true from the false gospel.  There was a time that most of the differences between religious groups were about how much water was used and when baptism took place or the structure of church leadership.  Now we are confronted with whether there is one, many or no gods, whether Jesus was God, a prophet, teacher or heretic.  These are not just obscure groups that are hidden in some dark place but ideas that are promoted by the media and have even influenced churches and Christian organizations.  We need to be able to recognize the true Gospel if we are going to be able to keep away from false gospels.  Let us take a look at some aspects of the Gospel.

1. Trinity

Although the word does not appear in the Bible, the Gospel of Christ is closely tied to the concept of the Trinity.  In the first verses of this letter, Paul speaks much of the role of the Father and Christ.  Later he will describe the Christian life not as following a bunch of rules but of walking with the Spirit.  Everything about the Gospel is about the Trinity.  The Father sends the Son.  The Son dies for us and sends the Spirit.  The Spirit comes into us at faith and reveals the Son to us and the Son reconciles us to the Father.  We do not have to know all the details of the Trinity, of how one God can be three persons.  But we need to know that the Gospel has its foundation in the Trinity.  When we encounter other religious systems, even if they sound good and have many nice people, we must test them against the Trinity.  What do they say about the Father?  Is God personal or just a force?  What do they say about the Son?  Is he God incarnate or just a teacher?  What do they say about the Spirit?  Is he a person or just the power of God?  In case you think this is too theological and not relevant, think of this statement: God is love.  We value that statement about God.  But the only reason that it makes sense that God is love is that he is Trinity.  There was love between the Father and the Son and the Spirit long before humanity was created.  This brings us to our next point.

2. Death and Resurrection

Central to Paul’s concept of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We sometimes take that for granted.  We see crosses all over the place do not think twice about it.  But for Paul, it was a challenge to proclaim a crucified Messiah.  It just did not make sense.  The cross was for the worst of the worst.  It was humiliating and was a sign, if anything, of God’s disapproval.  From a purely human perspective, the fact that Jesus was crucified pointed toward Jesus as a failure rather than a success.  Why would anyone want to follow a Savior like that?  He could not even save himself.  What Paul knew, and we must know, is that Jesus‘ death was not just a cruel and terrible crime.  It was actually part of God’s plan from the beginning.  The problem with humanity was not just that they were not religious enough.  The problem with humanity was that sin had created a barrier between us and God.  There was only one way to fix that problem and that was for the one who was both God and man to bridge that gulf by paying the penalty for humanity’s sins.  That God-man is Jesus Christ.  But the death is not the end.  Also essential to the plan was that Jesus would return to life on the third day.  This is vital.  Not only did sin have to be defeated, so did death.  By breaking the chains of death, Jesus has provided a way for us to share in his resurrection and thus experience eternal life.  This is so important as there are those, even some who declare themselves Christian, who deny both doctrines.  They may believe Jesus died, but they see Jesus dying as an example either of human cruelty or as an example of selfless love.  Both are true, but unless we include the atonement for sin, it is not the true Gospel.  There are others who believe that Jesus died but that he was not resurrected, or that he was resurrected only in the hearts and memories of his friends.  That is not good enough.  If Jesus not physically rise from the dead we have no hope.

3. Grace

The Galatians likely agreed on all of these points.  It is the third point where they struggled.  The teachers who were coming in were not denying the deity of Christ or the importance of the cross.  What they were denying was the role of grace.  They wanted the Galatians to convert to Judaism and take on the Jewish law.  This is what made Paul so angry.  Paul was not anti-Jewish and he was Jewish himself.  What was important to Paul was an emphasis on grace.  It is natural for us to want to earn things ourselves.  We respect people who have earned their fortune rather than receiving an inheritance or winning a lottery.  We have all probably felt uncomfortable at some point receiving something free out of another person’s generosity.  We want some way of saying that we earned what we have.  However, this is not an option in the true Gospel.  We receive forgiveness of sins, not because we are so righteous and obedient but because Jesus died for us.  We receive eternal life, not because we are so good that heaven would not be the same without us, but because Jesus rose from the dead.  When you encounter a religious teaching from any source, ask yourself how you are to receive those benefits.  Is it from your own goodness and works or is it from the grace of God?

Conclusion

Many people are offering their own version of the good news.  But all that glitters is not gold.  How can you tell the true Gospel from false gospels?  You need to ask three questions.  1) What are they saying about the Trinity?  Do they accept the deity of the Father, Son and Spirit?  2) What are they saying about the death and resurrection of Jesus?  Do they affirm that Jesus died to atone for our sins and that Jesus rose from the dead?  3) What are they saying about grace?  Are you expected to earn your salvation or is it a free gift of God embraced only by faith?  This is the measure of the true Gospel.

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Why the Trinity Makes Sense

Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses sometimes point out that the Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible and yet traditional Christianity uses the Trinity as one of its major tests of orthodoxy.  Could the Trinity be so important if it is never mentioned in the Bible?  Does it even make sense?  When you study early church history, you see that there were some very complex arguments that were used to develop the doctrine of the Trinity.  Most pastors and probably many theologians would have difficulty sorting through all the discussions of how the human and divine natures were present in Jesus.  What are we to make of all this?

First of all, it must be noted that there were other competing views of Jesus in the early church.  The Ebionites were a group of Jewish Christians who believed that Jesus was the Messiah but that he was not divine.  The Arians believed that Jesus was some sort of divine being but that he was not equal to God, being merely a creation of God.  We saw in the post Divinity By Decree: Part Two that there is a very strong and consistent theme in the New Testament of Jesus being a divine being.  Does this get us to the Trinity?

The place we need to start is the Shema, the ancient Hebrew creed that there is only one God.  We find in Mark 12:29 that Jesus himself affirmed Jewish monotheism.  Jesus confirms for us that there is only one God.  So what do we do with the divine descriptions of Jesus?  Ancient groups such as the Arians and modern groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to put Jesus as a separate being.  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus is the archangel Michael.  This is problematic.  The first chapters of Hebrews go to great lengths to show that Jesus is not an angel.  If you translate ‘archangel’ as ‘head of the angels’ rather than the ‘head angel,’ you are left with a Jesus who is not an angel but is a god (which is how the New World Translation puts John 1:1).  However, this goes against the monotheism that Jesus affirmed.  Jesus cannot be an angel and he cannot be a separate god.  At the same time we have these divine descriptions of Jesus.  What is the answer?

The Bible does present us with some proto-trinitarian passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 and Matthew 28:19 where Father, Son and Spirit are put together in a very interesting way.  We also have the intriguing statement in John 10:30 where Jesus says “The Father and I are one.”  These are not full fledged trinitarian statements but they are beginning a trajectory that made it inevitable for the early church, as it attempted to be faithful to the witness of biblical revelation, to arrive at the Trinity.  It is the only explanation that retains monotheism and still accepts the divine descriptions of Jesus.

Many people still struggle with the Trinity and I can understand that as it is confusing.  How can one plus one plus one equal one and not three?  It is not logical.  Personally I think that ‘one’ is an inadequate number to represent God.  If we replace ‘one’ with ‘infinity’ (a much more fitting value for an eternal God), we have infinity plus infinity plus infinity equals infinity (not 3infinity).  There are other explanations of the Trinity, but this is one that I have found helpful.  My main point is that the doctrine of the Trinity is the only explanation that makes sense of all the biblical data.

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Divinity By Decree: Part Two

Did Jesus receive his divinity by a vote at the Council of Nicaea?  In part one of this discussion, we looked at Jewish monotheism and saw that there was some flexibility within that monotheism that could conceive of a divine figure beside the Heavenly Father.  But just because there was potential within Judaism, does not mean that the earliest Christians understood Jesus as being divine.  Let us look at the biblical evidence.

There are many places that we could look for biblical evidence of Jesus’ divinity.  There are hints of it in the synoptic Gospels, including Jesus’ forgiveness of people’s sins.  But the natural place for us to begin is the Gospel of John.  The most famous text is that of John 1:1-3.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

This seems pretty clear. I recently read a booklet by the Jehovah’s Witnesses that warned us that we must interpret these verses by the rest of the Gospel of John. I completely agree. In addition to the verses that they mention which speak of a distinctiveness between the Father and Jesus, there are other relevent passages.

“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:56-58)

F.F. Bruce comments on this verse: “How can a man who is ‘not yet fifty years old’ speak like that? Only if he speaks as the Word that had been with God in the beginning and was now incarnate on earth.” (F.F. Bruce, Gospel of John, p. 205) We must also consider these verses:

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28)

It seems obvious that John sees Jesus not just as a human teacher but as the divine Son of God. This has led some scholars to suggest that John must be very late, even into the second century, for it to have such a high Christology. Archaeological evidence suggests that John is a first century text, but our basis of Jesus’ divinity is not based solely on John.

Long before John sat down to write his Gospel, Paul was writing epistles to various churches. In fact, Paul’s letters are the earliest Christian documents that we have. Did Paul see Jesus as only human, or was there a divine nature? Let us take a look.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

What is interesting about these passages is that many scholars believe that Paul is not just making this up but that he is quoting earlier Christian hymns of faith. So we have an already early Paul, quoting even earlier material about the divine Jesus.

Another interesting passage is from 1 Corinthians:

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”
(1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

In the New Testament, ‘Lord’ is normally used of Jesus and ‘God’ is normally used of the Father. In this passage, we have Spirit, Lord and God used in parallel. Thus, what we find is proto-trinitarian language.

In addition we have the powerful testimony of the book of Hebrews written by an unknown author (I believe it was Apollos).

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3)

There is much more that we could look at. We could look at how Old Testament passages that speak of the LORD (YHWH) are applied to the Lord (Jesus). But even what I have presented show that both earlier and later texts of the New Testament testify to a divine nature to Jesus hundreds of years before Nicaea.

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