A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Why is Arianism bad?

For an intellectual exercise with a purpose, here is a question for my fellow Nicene Creeders. Why is Arianism such a horrible heresy? Why is it worse than, for instance being wrong on the topic of free will? To take the question a bit deeper, how does Arianism run counter to whole of the Biblical message (minus the passages that speak about Jesus’ divinity)? And when I mean Biblical message, I do not mean atonement theory and other metaphysical ideas that are not ever mentioned within the Bible. So no reference to Anselm’s substitution or things like that.

I have my own answer, but I await to see what other ideas there might be to this one.

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

The mind-body problem and Jesus

The mind-body problem has been the focus of debate and discussion. Descartes tried to place the exact point of the soul. Modern day materialism tries to deny it altogether. Others maintain a strict dualism. But the topic has been thrown around and there hasn’t been any conensus, nor will there be anytime soon.

However, there has been a growing trend with people who can not accept materialism’s claims, but yet also have a problem with a soul-body dualism. They have formulated a solution called epiphenomanlism, in which the soul exists but it is purely a byproduct of the body. Epiphenomanlism is even workable in classical Christian belief, due to the belief in resurrection and the fact that some postulate that one the soul exists, it may continue to exist even if the physical cause does not.

But the problem has far ranging implications for Orthodox Christianity. In an attempt to try to explain things totally in terms of the observable, one may take an axe to the trunk of Christianity in regards to our understanding of Jesus. If the soul is a byproduct of the body, then one is left with an interesting dilemma when it comes to the person of Christ. The results could be either towards a denial of Jesus divinity, denial of Jesus’ humanity mythology, pantheism, or a peculiar form of materialism.

If human like is not comprised of an existance independent of the body, then where does that leave the person of Jesus, the Logos of God? The Logos spoken of existed with God in the beginning would not naturally be viewed as a physical entity. And yet, if we proclaim humanity is a body with a projected soul, then Jesus becomes either a superhuman with something more than all other people have or he becomes a God who is only in the illusory apperance of a person. Where can the non-material pre-existant Logos fit into the equation?

The next possibly solution would be to move towards a form of mythology, in which God is not a trascendant being, but he lives as the form of a person. Not only does this deny orthodoxy in God’s transcendance, but it also leads to the denial of the Trinity itself. One must accept either Jesus being by himself God (a form of modalism) or tritheism.  Such would not appeal either to a materialistic world or to Christian orthodoxy.

The next step would be to move towards pantheism, in which God is everything and thus Jesus can be God. One might even move further and say that Jesus is God fully realized. But again, this strikes against the root of Orthodoxy, like above, in its denial of classic theism.

A final form, similar to another idea, is a weird form of materialism in which God himself is a material being. It is different from the mythological view subtly in that it doesn’t present God necessarily as a human being. But in order to incoporate Jesus divinity, one must state that God himself can be material.

The last three would be rejected by almost all people (except pantheists accepting the pantheistic working). The first, while maybe acceptable to different groups, strikes right at the heart of the Incarnation.

One doens’t have to accept a radical dualism, a one way interaction from the body to the spirit is workable within Christian theology and Incarnational understanding. But the rejection of an independent immaterial existance calls for the rejection of the Orthodox faith as a whole.

October 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How could the early church come to see Jesus as God?

It is often times viewed with skepticism the idea that Jesus could have had been attributed the idea of being God by the early church, that the formulation was in fact a later invention. However, I think there is a much more plausible way in which Jesus began to be viewed as being God in the early church, by the apostle’s themselves, without having to make the demands that Jesus made such explicit claims. In other words, the very early church could have potentially through reflection come to legitimately believe in Jesus’ divinity.

By the fact that Jesus himself proclaimed himself as Messiah, he was making a claim to kingship, at the very least of the Jews. But the idea of king in other places was often times associated with claims of divinity. At that time, it was Caesar, king of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t uncommon either, as the Egyptian Pharaoh made such a claim, as did some Japanese emperors. Furthermore, Elohim (“God” in Hebrew) was also associated with leaders, such as Moses (Exodus 7:1) and in Psalm 82.

But just because Jesus had royal claims isn’t sufficient in and of itself. It is necessary to see Jesus himself as being contrasted with and viewed greater than the Caesar who claimed divinity himself. And the Messianic expectations of the Old Testament fulfill that role, especially the book of Daniel. It speaks of a kingdom that does not cease that covers all the nations, which the Son of Man reigns over. That is a similar but much higher claim to that which Caesar could boast. In other words, if Caesar could claim to be divine, how much more so could the Messiah make that claim.

But even that by itself isn’t sufficient for such reflection to develop. There were many other people who claimed to be the Messiah, but they were never worshiped as God. Jewish monotheism would fight heavily against the idea, unless there was a earth shattering, paradigm shifting revelation.

The resurrection of Jesus takes upon such a role. It was also earth shattering because through that, it vindicated the very claim to Messiahship that would be capable of combating with Caesar’s claim. If such a thing that only God could do, raise the dead, happened to the man who was claimed to by God’s Messiah, then certainly this man was sent by God.

But it was also earth shattering in the sense that while a resurrection was believed to happen, it wasn’t believed one man who would be resurrected before the others. I would argue that such a “premature” resurrection could have pointed towards divinity. Isaiah 57:15, amongst other passages, speaks of the immortality of YHWH. And if Jesus himself wasn’t contained by death, then certainly that would also lend credence to the idea that he was “immortal” (in a sense, though he could taste death), and thus something that points towards him being God. However, this is not a very clear claim by itself.

So even that, by itself, I do not think could overcome Jewish monotheism. There has to be something that can link Jesus more credibly in the minds the people more so than what I have mentioned so far.

It is at this point that I think NT Wright makes a great point in Jesus and the Victory of God. He argues that the things that are attributed to YHWH throughout the Old Testament, Jesus is making a claim to do himself in his proclamation and his actions. Basically, Jesus was doing that what God does. And a perfect example of that is where Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic and the response from the skeptics is that only God can forgive sin, and Jesus responds by healing the man and vindicates his claim to offering forgiveness. Jesus was doing that what God does.

So imagine, for instance, the disciples seeing all these things happening to them before their very eyes. This man is doing what throughout the Old Testament is attributed to YHWH. Certainly, the similarity would have been recognizable to Jews who followed him around and knew the Old Testament. Perhaps the question was even asked in their mind, but their Jewish monotheism would have lead them to reject the notion. But the question could have been asked.

So, once the resurrection occurred, vindicating Jesus and attributing immortality to him, it allows the disciples to ask the question that they would have rejected previously because of their monotheism. The question was asked but rejected because of Jewish monotheism, but the vindication allowed one to seriously entertain and even affirm the idea that Jesus is the fleshly embodiment of God. Jesus’ acts alone couldn’t affirm the question for many, and Jesus’ resurrection alone couldn’t fully develop the idea, nor could the comparison between the kingly claims of Jesus to Caesar. But united together, it could lead to the conclusion that Jesus was indeed God. The resurrection would have been the “AH HA!” moment.

This theory would explain the narrative of John 20:24-29 very well then. The disciple Thomas was skeptical of the risen Jesus when other people told him about it. But then once he sees the opens wounds of Jesus, his immediate response is “My Lord and my God!” After realizing Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, it suddenly clicked in his mind and immediately affirmed the notion that Jesus was God in the flesh. And then Jesus response could take upon the meaning of “You had to see my proof of my resurrection to come to believe I am your Lord and God. Blessed are those who believed beforehand without seeing that.” Thus alluding to the the idea that Jesus works showed him to be God (or the Son of God, a title with connotations of divinity, as John 20:30-31 speaks about), but also the fact that the resurrection confirms it for those who would have otherwise rejected the notion. Furthermore, Romans 1:4 goes to say state that Jesus was declared the Son of God because of the resurrection, further strengthening the idea that the resurrection was the key that unlocked the door for many people.

So, in the end, the reflection could have arisen so early, that it could have started as Jesus was in the middle of his ministry. So while Jesus never explicitly stated before than he was God (stating such would have gotten him called either crazy and/or stoned right then are there), his actions as his disciples reflected upon them opened up the potential question, and the resurrection gave vindication to the idea.

The explanation that can then be given to the rest of the New Testament not bestowing the title of “God” upon Jesus (unless we take Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 to be genuine and actually attributing the title of God to Jesus) is because it could lead to confusion. So instead Paul and others determined to call Jesus Lord, which was a critique of Caesar, spoke of Jesus authority, but also allusion to the name of God, where YHWH, was substituted with “Lord” (adonai in Hebrew and kyrios in Greek). The first statement of Thomas became the standard title for Jesus, whereas the latter was diminished to avoid confusion or hints of the denial of Jewish monotheism (albeit a modified form).

This makes the best sense of the material we have at hand, all while keeping true to the Jewish context and being relatively simple (only three strands, contrast with Caesar, resurrection, and his works, pulled together). It also makes sense of why Paul’s epistles attribute such things seemingly reserved for God to Jesus and yet never really attributes to Jesus the title of God (unless, again, Titus 2:13 is genuinely Pauline and is referring to only one being).

Furthermore, since its simplicity but yet explanatory power of a variety of evidence (of which I have only touched upon) is such a strong argument for it, it also gives further credence that Jesus indeed was resurrected. Such a belief could not have powerfully come into play otherwise (as Romans 1:4 might also imply).

In addition, one could not say that Jesus’ divinity was an invention of the very early church, because the Jewish monotheism would not easily allow such a concept to be developed. It would have to be powerfully and definitively revealed. So while the resurrection is given credibility, so also are the works attributed to Jesus through the gospels.

The first reasonable recourse is to appeal to a later tradition, but if the material about the powerful works weren’t around then (or even if they were, since by that time it was for a primarily non-Jewish audience who would not be as quick to see Jesus performing the works of YHWH in the Old Testament), nor resurrection genuine.

The next recourse would be to potentially appeal to Jesus’ claims of royalty and having the rule of all the world and that over time (as opposed to the rather quick comparison I argued for), he would be compared with the supposedly divine Caesar and would have been consider divine over and against Caesar. But this couldn’t happen early when the church was more heavily influenced by Jews without the powerful works and resurrection. And it really isn’t feasible for a later development, unless a belief in resurrection spring up and made the Jesus cult retain its staying power.

Another argument would then have to come up was that the resurrection was an early invention of the early church. But that then flies right into the face of the simple hypothesis that explains a lot of the evidence at hand. One must appeal then to a more complicated hypothesis that the New Testament as a whole is unreliable and has been tampered with. And that is where many might go, but at their own risk and peril.

(Great amounts of credit must be given to NT Wright, who a lot of my thinking is based upon along with the ability to put different threads together. Peace be upon his name!)

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

The Granville Sharp rule and Titus 2:13

One of the texts used to support the divinity of Jesus is Titus 2:13, where it says “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Used in support is a rule that itself is valid, the Granville Sharpe rule. Daniel Wallace defines Sharp’s rule as when two nouns connected by the conjunction kai (“and”) and the first has the article but the second does and neither of the nouns are impersonal, plural, or a proper name, then both nouns are a reference to the same thing.

But there are three problems with this application to Titus 2:13 in my mind, one of which is rooted in whether 2:13 technically qualifies for the rule.

1) Is it proper to say that the usage of “God” here is not actually be used as a proper noun? Proper nouns can be determined because proper nouns are never capitalized in ancient Greek. The greek word theos is in fact at times capitalized according to some of who done the research. It is concluded that its usage can not be a proper noun, but this forces the noun to be used always as a personal noun or never as a personal noun. I think it is conceivable that “God” can be used essentially as a proper noun as it seems to be in the New Testament, but there are other usages where it is not. If it is indeed used as a proper noun, then it is probably right to say Paul’s (if you affirm Pauline authorship) usage here is also proper noun, and the Granville Sharp rule would not apply here?

[Later edit: I have since been corrected by Tim that what is used to determine whether a noun is proper or not is whether it is pluralized, not capitalized. I made a mistake in remembering what I read on it in the past, plus I didn’t realize capital letters were not around when Titus was penned. Read the comments for more. However, the main thrust of the question remains at this point]

2) The possesive pronoun (or more precisely in the Greek, the plural genitive pronoun) in fact falls after the word for “Savior” (sotwHros). Is it possible that the genitive in fact gives a noun definiteness? The Greek article is used to make a noun definite, but can not a genitive that identifies possession, roughly speaking, also perform the function that the article does? If it can, then it is as if the article is used for the word “Savior” and Sharp’s rule does not apply here.

3) Probably a little less force behind this one, but does the fact that the nouns themselves are genitives perhaps make the rule need a little bit of an exception? Could the rule be expanded in the case of genitives to declare common “possession”? In other words, the glory is both God’s and Jesus’. In one sense, there is a unity between the nouns, but it isn’t in the beings described, but what they both commonly possessed.

All three of these are not absolute proofs that Sharp’s rule should not be applied here. Rather, there are curiosities in my mind as to perhaps weaknesses in its application. These thoughts may have been explored and answered and I do not know of them. I am not an expert at Greek. However, I am left wondering whether it is as sure of a thing as some people say it is.

But I need to append this by saying that even if I am correct, this doesn’t deny the divinity of Christ. Titus 2:13 would still affirm in a more implied sense Jesus’ divinity by saying that Jesus shares in the same glory God has. Similarly in 2 Peter 1:1 also.

Also, there are a couple exegetical issues that would have to be dealt with in Titus (especially in 2:11-15) if “God” and “Savior” do not refer to the same being, because the context seems to be in support of Jesus being viewed by the title of God explicitly. However, it is nothing that is absolute, but can potentially be explained in other ways.

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Why I dislike Trinitarian language

The title makes me sound blasphemous, but do not get me wrong, I maintain the basic meaning of the Trinity. I will even use the Trinitarian language at times because it can at times be used in a good sense. But I think today, Trinitarian language does more harm than good in the end. In the modern understanding of it, it portrays the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as being same exact type of being/person. And the word God in the New Testament is essentially a reference to the Trinity. In the end, it now leads to a skewed concept of the portrayal of the three persons in the Bible.

Only once anywhere in the New Testament is Jesus referred to explicitly as God, John 1:1 (I’ll leave the discussion of the supposed references in the Pauline pastorals for another day). And in that instance, it is not ho theos (the Greek article and the Greek word for God) that was the frequent pattern used throughout the New Testament to refer to the God of Israel, but simply as theos. This isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness argument saying that it should be understood as “a god.” Rather, it is saying that Jesus wasn’t being identified as some person of a trinity, but rather that he is the God in essence, or in nature. A better way of putting it is that he proceeded from God, hence the usage of logos which had philosophic undertones along with a reference to the words attributed to God in Genesis 1 (see 1:3).

The importance of this for New Testament theology isn’t so much in Jesus ontological position, but rather what Jesus reveals. In 1:5 the word is spoken of as light. In Hebrews 1:3 it says the Son is the exact representation of God’s nature. Romans speaks of Jesus as the revelation of God’s righteous nature and the mercy seat (the place of atonement where also the cloud of God’s presence existed). And then, as NT Wright argues in Jesus and the Victory of God, Jesus takes upon the roles that were attributed to YHWH throughout the Old Testament. My point is, with the exception of the last point, that Trinitarian language does a rather poor job of communicating that point, the point that is emphasized throughout the New Testament. To speak like this implies a sense of subordination, that Jesus is not revealing himself so much as the God YHWH. Such notions are not readily included in Trinitarian language, nor Trinitarian logic that necessities that Jesus is equal in all ways to the Father.

In addition, Trinitarian language also tends towards docetism. If Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and is one with the Father, he must take upon all the characteristics of the Father. So we tend to see the exclusion of his humanity. Trouble is attributed to sayings like that not even the Son of Man himself doesn’t know when he will come. And if we take away Jesus’ humanity, we get some “revelation” that is of little value for us people. He doesn’t really reveal to us God’s righteous nature that we are ourselves to emulate, because he is an unachievable ideal. He is God, we are merely human. We can not be anything like him.

It also struggles to make sense of some of the Gospel narrative, for instance when Jesus says “Why do you say I am good? None is good by God.” If we make the automatic equation of Jesus with God at the cost of his humanity, instead of a human that also happens to be the divine Word, we struggle to let Jesus himself be struggling for his own vocation. So questions like that either are interpreted awkwardly or are taken as express denials as Jesus’ own divinity. We can not see it as Jesus not sure of his exact nature of the time.

References to the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity have similar problems, but my main issue is how it portrays Jesus in this modern culture.

At one time Trinitarian langauge had value, in a struggle to maintain that Jesus as the fitting object of worship. It has value as a logical paradigm that allows us to maintain Jesus’ divinity in the face of Jewish monotheism. But when it is made as the source of Christian theology, instead of a logical conclusion to make it justified, it leads to problems with the Biblical claims of Jesus. And while one might argue that properly understood, the Trinity doesn’t lead to these problems, we have to ask is it really worth it to try to resurrect proper Trinitarian understanding? Would we claim the langauge itself is holy, or rather that the object(s) of the langauge?

(Later edit: You have to forgive me as I sometimes can be an idiot at times. John 20:28 is also another place where Jesus is explicitly referred to as God, and actually as ho theos, which serves as the final concluding proof for the statement in John 1:1.)

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 23 Comments