Tag Archives: The Trinity

The Litmus Test

Recently I had a “conversation” with one of our local seminary professors and occasional teacher of our Discipleship group regarding the Trinity.  In a recent class she taught regarding her specialty, Old Dead Guys (Edwards, Luther, Calvin, etc.) she made a comment that seemed to indicate if one did not believe in the Trinity then they were not a Christian.

If you follow this blog you’ll know I took exception to that idea. Not because I don’t believe in the Trinity but because adding orthodoxy as a litmus test of personal faith is problematic. So, I asked her about her comment via email.  She confirmed my understanding and explained that belief in the Trinity was so important to proper orthodoxy that men were willing to die for it. Continue reading

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The Trinity – Confused

Since starting this topic I’ve found myself often chasing my tail. At times it appears too big to pursue. Other times it seems so obviously clear that the Bible does speak of a triune God that it’s hard to see how others find such merit for the concept. Then there is the sobering thought that my thoughts are in the minority. Like that’s a first.

As I’ve been reading the scriptures, not books about the scriptures, I find myself coming back to one central question t regarding Paul’s writings. If Paul believed, or understood, God to be God and Jesus to be God and the Holy Spirit to be God, that would have been a more than radical departure from his Hebrew upbringing. It would have been such a paradigm shift it seems hard to fathom that he would not have addressed the issue specifically and not simply in what appears to be passing reference. Furthermore, if Paul had adopted a system of belief that saw God in three persons, he could not have avoided expressing that in his preaching and teaching throughout his missionary journeys. Consequently, one would think the churches he established or visited would have had more than a few questions about the idea. And those questions would have been addressed in one or more of his letters. However, that does not appear to be the case. Why?

Another observation about Paul’s writings. In almost every letter of Paul the introduction makes a clear distinction between God the Father and Jesus, the son of God.  1Corinthians 1:3 is a good example; “Grace to you and peace from God our Father AND the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Just a couple of comments about these types of greetings. In many instances Paul uses a conjunction to distinguish between God the Father and Jesus. Also, often when he refers to Jesus he uses the term kurios – lord. If, in Paul’s mind and theology, Jesus was God and he thought in terms of kurios being a term equal to Jehovah, there would be no need for a conjunction. He could simply say, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Of course he doesn’t say that – as near as I can tell he never says it.

Now I’ll make a brief comment about one of the sticking points to this whole trinitarian thought process – the prologue in John’s Gospel. Here’s a typical translation;  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”    If we first note that John does not say “God was the Word” which might settle things once for all, he says that “the Word was theos” – could he have meant “the Word was divine?”      If we make a further note by linking  those beginning words with some of John’s closing words, “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God…”  He does not say Jesus is God the son, or those things were written were so that we would believe that Jesus is God, or that Jesus was God, he says that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the very son of God. That’s a huge distinction from what he said in the beginning and it must be reconciled.

As you can tell, I’m a bit confused not by what scripture says, but apparently, what it does not say. I can pick a verse here or there and say “see it says that Jesus is the exact representation of God” so that must mean he IS God and that he and the Father are one along with the Holy Spirit.  But that doesn’t seem to be what the Bible actually says when looking at the full voice of scripture.  It may be, as was noted in the on-line version of the ISBE – “…the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions…”  Perhaps I need to pay more attention to the allusions.

 

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The Trinity, The Creeds and Conclusions

The Trinity, the Creeds, the Conclusion

At the beginning of this journey I posited the idea that one of my objectives was to be able to understand the Trinity from the evidence of Scripture. As I continue to ponder this concept of the Trinity and Jesus as God, there are three things that persist whether right or wrong: 1) Understanding the Trinity is really not possible at every level, it is simply too big a “mystery.” 2) The creedal formulas developed by the early church were not crafted on a whim. They were sculpted by men inspired by the Holy Spirit over many years and thus – since they’ve done the haggling – there is no need for me or anyone else to dissect the issue. They have deemed it orthodox and orthodox it shall be. 3) Only those students of church history, theology, and the early church fathers can appreciate and understand the depth and language of the Trinity.  Even though the ancients or the contemporaries may not fully understand the mystery of the Trinity, they can speak volumes about it and use nuances of language to explain it.  Then of course, when their explanation does not seem rational or consistent with the biblical text, they fall back on the mystery motif.

I don’t mean to be flippant or disqualify those who have spent decades with the topic. I simply think we should pause and give consideration to the ramifications of how we adopt things as orthodox.  And how that orthodoxy dictates our  belief systems.

Recently I followed a discussion on a blog which, even though its main purpose was not the Trinity, it slid into that discussion. An author and sociologist was very quick to point out, to one of the blog commentators who had some questions about the Trinity, the fallacy of his thinking.  The original comment on the blog which involved Biblicism stemmed from a comment made by Scot McKnight who posed the question: “How do you square, for instance, with the necessity of belief in the Trinity with its explicit absence in the Bible and yet its centrality in Christian Theology?”  What follows is a series of posts addressing that question.

Jon G wrote:

This has been a major struggle for me, personally.

Indeed, I would go even further than saying it’s “absent” to say that it is negated…or at the very least inconsistent.

For instance 1 Timothy 1:1 and 2:5 blatantly differentiates between “God” and “Christ Jesus” so that we see there is SOME sort of distinction there, but in 3:15-16 we see Paul say that “God” was manifest in the flesh…not Jesus. In the first two instances, Paul is using “God” to represent YHWH and Jesus to represent a go-between for God and Man, and so, in context, we see that God was the one manifest(sp)…not a Son.

IMHO this is one instance where “Trinity” as explained by church doctrine fails miserably. And yet, why should I think that I know more than all the millions of Christians who went before me?! Still, I can’t believe something just because the church says so for two reasons:

1. I can’t control my beliefs. I must be CONVINCED of them.

2. The church disagrees on so much (church history has as much pluralism in it as the Biblicist does) that I can’t rely upon it to be correct all the time.

As a result of no longer having complete confidence in either tack(sp), I’ve been left wondering what I can have confidence in…

I should add that I’m not basing my anti-Trinity stance on just 1 Timothy. That’s just an easy one to illustrate with.

 

An author and prominent sociologist replies:

 

Jon, Trinity and Nicaean(sp) Christology are non-negotiables  for Christianity of any stripe. The Church spent centuries working through these doctrines and ended up with excellent dogmatic definitions on them. That is how we know they are true, and that heretical proposal which also had scripture to back them up are not true. There was/is a theological coherence most atuned(sp) to scripture as a whole that required those dogmatic definitions. The bishops and fathers of the church rightly ultimately realized that the gospel makes no sense if Arius was right, for example, and solemny(sp) pronounced that as a defining truth. We all have Athanatius to thank for that. And that is why anti-creedal Christianity simply does not work. It is either *parasitical* on the tradition of the church (i.e., feeding on its life while undermining its health), or else it falls off into heresy (e.g., Unitarianism). We trust leaders of the Church (under the guidance of the H.S.) to have worked out certain issues as simply now settled, or we do not. If we do not, then we place ourself(sp) outside the bounds of orthodoxy. I don’t see any other way around it.

·  Jon, I don’t mean this to be condescending or evasive, but I think you just need to learn a lot more about Trinitarian(sp) theology. All these things have been sorted out already, reinventing the wheel isn’t a good idea (though modern, American evangelicals love to try it). Non-negotiable does not mean we cannot talk about it, but it means that if one doesn’t buy it, they put themselves outside the bounds of historical orthodoxy. That’s all (!). Also, all of this must always remember that we are talking about mysteries far beyond our rational capacity to understand. We can formulate languages that best capture our best account of the mystery. But we should never think we’ve not(got) it. Theological language about God is analogical, not univocal (or equivocal). It was a late-medieval theological development, the nominalism of Duns Scotus and William of Occam, who screwed us up, convincing the world that the language of “being” could make our talk of God univocally meaningful. (I recommend Placher’s Domestication of Transcendence on this.) So, I hear your questions and doubts. But to sort them out you need to learn more church history and theology. Meanwhile, it’s a very safe bet to confess the teachings of the historic church, at least those formulated in the first 4-5 Ecumenical Councils.*****

Others offered comments, explanations and resources for Jon G to use in order to ground himself in orthodoxy. Much like some have suggested to me. If I just read enough of the right resources I’ll come to the right conclusion – the Trinity is not only orthodox it is biblical. Which may be true and I greatly appreciate the suggestions. I’ve been following up on those suggestions I’ve just not found myself there yet.

Is it good for sources outside of scripture to shape our major theological positions? I expect to some degree it is. If it were not those who have come before us to shed light over our shoulders, truth would be hard to discover. However, if God intended to expand our understanding of Himself, His beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, is there some reasonable explanation why He would not clearly do so within the scope of OT Scriptures and the NT writings? Why is it a “safe bet to confess the teachings of the historic church, at least those formulated in the first 4-5 Ecumenical Councils?” Do the Creeds lead to proper conclusions or even reflect proper conclusions? When was the last time you read one of the ancient creeds or your church read a creed in worship?

Now I’m not discounting the value of theology, church history, the languages or the creeds. We can embrace the all with enthusiasm. However, should they be our primary backdrop for building or even measuring the truth of Scripture?


*****Source for all quotes:    http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/08/12/the-problem-of-biblicism-8/#more-19069


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The Trinity – Jesus as God – The Names Used

The Trinity – Jesus as God … Names Used

I expect I should include a disclaimer at the beginning of each of these posts. First, this topic, along with the Trinity is larger than any one man should tackle and one that has been grappled with for centuries by some of the greatest theological minds. So why am I venturing down this road? Because it’s important to me and something I want to understand with some assurance.

Second, in this post and others, I am not saying that Jesus is NOT God. What I am saying is it is hard to demonstrate such a position from what we see in the NT. That does not mean he is not divine or preeminent or transcendent over time, it simply means making a case for him as God seems challenging.

And finally, in these posts I am not saying the Trinity is not a valid doctrine. What I am saying is it is hard to build a logical case for the Trinity based on either OT or NT teachings.  However, if I come to the text with the idea that the Trinity is there then certainly evidence seems apparent just like such “doctrines” as predestination, eternal security, limited atonement and the like. But it also seems odd that for such a pivotal doctrine of the NT church neither Jesus nor the Apostles seemed to make a clear case for the Trinity.

When we look at the idea of Jesus as God and the Trinity one is virtually dependent on the other. If Jesus is not equal to God then a case for the Trinity breaks down. If the Trinity is not valid, then Jesus as God the Son breaks down or at least becomes a moot point. [Note: the Holy Spirit is not part of this discussion at least at this point.] If we leave the Trinity out of the equation, Jesus, God’s Son takes his rightful place in the economy of God as the Messiah: The savior of the world. Otherwise, as soon as we posit the idea that Jesus is God we must explain how there can only be one God according to the OT as expressed both in Ex 20:1-6 and the shema, Deut 6:4.  It is at best a stretch without something like the Trinity – God in three persons.  That becomes hard to do if what God says about Himself is true – “…the LORD is one.”

In the ANE, names are critical points of both identification and a description of character. When it comes to God, there is primarily one name YHWH and several titles: El Shaddai, El Elyon, God Most High, etc. Regarding Jesus, there is again one name – “And you shall call his name Jesus…” with several titles; Christ, Messiah, Son of Man and Son of God. As noted in an earlier post there are some significant issues that must be addressed when talking about Jesus as God, not the least of which is the name Jesus and how Jesus identifies himself, how others identify him and how God the Father addresses him.  If we exclude, the “I am” sayings in John where Jesus ascribes certain titles to himself, he most often uses “Son of Man” or “Son of God.”[1. Luke 12:28, 22:69] * when identifying himself.  In the Gospels the idea of Jesus as God the Son, is conspicuous by its absence. It’s not even implied yet the Son of Man and the Son of God are frequent and distinct.   (We’ll look at John 1:1-4 separately in other posts.)

All three of the synoptic gospel writers make it plain – even in looking back to write their stories – that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.  Mark says it best when the first words of his account are clear and simple:   The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each of the Gospel writers, regardless of their personal time with Jesus, when writing their account of the birth, life and death of the Messiah they speak of him as the Son of God.  One of Jesus’ faithful disciples Peter also makes it clear when asked, “But who do you say that I am?” He responds with “You are the Christ.”  In Matthew that statement is expanded to read, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.”  There’s not an inkling of equality with God or such a notion as God the Son. Peter has learned, and Jesus seems accepting of what he has learned, that Jesus is the Christ the “Son of the living God.”  John, even in light of how he opens his book, says clearly in 1:34 “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” Expanding that idea, John says in his purpose statement, “…these (things) have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…”   This is important considering his statement that “the Word was God.” And, lest we forget, Satan when he tempts Jesus in the wilderness says “If you are the Son of God…,” knowing full well that he was!  Would Satan dare take on God himself under any terms?

Hoping not to over simplify this idea, how Jesus is described by those who lived with him, wrote about him and spent intimate moments with him, it seems clear that they understood him to be who he claimed to be – the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah. Why we should inflate that notion with something more it seems to me is unacceptable. Furthermore and perhaps most important, God the Father states on more than one occasion that Jesus is his “beloved Son.”  Not his co-equal, but his “beloved Son.” We should not over look or ignore that simple scriptural witness.

If Jesus is not God’s equal in all ways, does that make him less divine? Does it diminish his role as Savior or Messiah?  Does that negate his resurrection or his sitting at the right hand of God? To me these are central questions.

Now I know this study is not exhaustive. I’ve not even looked at the Epistles. So there are a great many leaves left unturned, some of which we’ll look at when talking specifically about the Trinity. Nevertheless, when hearing people say Jesus “claimed to be God” or “Jesus is God” or refer to Jesus as God, it makes me wonder, “Is that true?”

* 78 Verses in the Gospels have “Son of Man”, all used by Jesus to identify himself.  8 verses in the Gospels have “Son of God” as used by Jesus.

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