The apocalyptic subversion of philosophical Trinitarianism

Tue, 10/04/2012 - 16:58

A key part of the broad “thesis” that I am putting forward on this blog and in my books is the observation that the New Testament texts reflect a consistently apocalyptic outlook. What I mean by this, essentially, is that the whole story about Jesus and the emergence of the churches is directed towards certain decisive future events by which the status and condition of the people of God in relation to the nations would be dramatically transformed. This was expected to happen within a realistic and relevant historical horizon: it was to impact the world as the early church knew it. It was not the whole story: the New Testament narrates a critical episode in the continuing story of the family of Abraham, which has Genesis 1-11 as its preface and John’s vision of a new heaven and new earth as its epilogue. We cannot, therefore, simply apply the theology of the New Testament to the church today as though nothing has changed.

Within this apocalyptic frame, the dominant narrative about Jesus, as I understand it, is that he renounced any right to claim equality with God, he pursued a path of faithful obedience, he suffered, died, was raised from the dead, was made to sit at the right hand of God, and was given authority not only to reign over a reconstituted multi-ethnic people but also, eventually, to judge and rule over the nations; he would “come” at some point in a foreseeable future as ruler of the nations to deliver and vindicate his “elect” and to defeat their enemies. This is what mattered to the early church. This was the orientation of their theology.

This is the section of the narrative marked by the pink block, from the birth of the king who would save his people from their sins to the eventual defeat of pagan empire at the parousia. From the resurrection onwards Jesus reigns at the right hand of the Father over the family of Abraham. What the diagram is meant to highlight is that the main biblical story only runs as far as the conversion of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē. The story of the people of God, however, continues indefinitely beyond that—through Christendom, schism, imperial expansion, modernity, consumerist evangelicalism, postmodernity, globalization, and onwards into a very uncertain future….

Now here’s the question: How do we get from this dominant narrative about Jesus to classical Trinitarianism? How do we get from a first century argument about the Son of God to a fourth century argument about God the Son? Can we realistically jump that far?

In a recent address to the Italian Conference of Bishops, in which he explores the significance of the resurrection, Tom Wright made this statement:

The point about Israel’s Messiah is that when he appears he will be king, not of Israel only, but of the whole world. Paul’s vision, that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow’, is an essentially messianic vision before it is even a vision of Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, though it is that as well, and Paul believed the two were made to fit together.

I disagree with Wright about the nature of the climax that Jesus’ resurrection represents. In my view Jesus fulfils Israel’s story, but history does not come to a halt at this point. Major historical events such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the defeat of paganism, and the conversion of the empire remain prophetically and theologically important—they constitute the substance of New Testament apocalyptic. Paul’s “whole world” was not our whole world; it was the world of Greek-Roman paganism, and it was in the context of the clash with this world that Jesus would appear as judge and king.

I also do not think that in Philippians 2:9-11 we have a vision of Jesus as “second person of the Trinity” in the sense that we commonly understand it. Paul does not here state either that Jesus is God or that he has become God. Rather, the name “Lord”, formerly reserved for YHWH alone, has been given to Jesus. The obedience and loyalty that should have been given to YHWH alone are now to be given to Jesus, and not by Israel only but also by the nations (cf. Is. 45:22-23). It’s as though God steps back and lets Jesus take the credit.

People will come from the ends of the earth, abandoning the worship of idols, and will bring glory to Israel’s God by swearing allegiance to Jesus as Lord, on the “day of Christ”, when the long struggle of the churches to embody the gospel in Greek-Roman world will be over (Phil. 1:6), when those who remain faithful in the face of intense opposition will be vindicated (1:10; 2:16), when their enemies will be defeated (1:27-28), when the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been given the power to subject all things to himself, will transform their current condition of humiliation into one of glory (3:21). Paul is not saying that because Jesus now has the name that was formerly YHWH’s name, he is to be identified with YHWH. He is saying, I think, that Jesus has been given the authority and power to bring about this radical transformation of the ancient world.

But the basic point that Wright makes is correct. We are having to work with two distinct visions of Jesus—as apocalyptically conceived messiah and as philosophically conceived second person of the Trinity. Somehow we must show that they were “made to fit together” if we wish to affirm the integrity of the development of Christian theology.

Can it be done without a massive leap of faith? I’m not sure, but I did wonder if we might not simply inject the apocalyptic meaning into the Trinitarian formula so that the “Son” who is the second person of the godhead is understood precisely and only in this dynamic apocalyptic sense. He is the “Lord” through whom the ancient world was transformed and who continues to reign over his people. It would amount to the apocalyptic subversion of philosophical Trinitarianism, but in a post-Christendom, post-modern context it may offer the best way forward.

So when the church speaks about God—about who our God is, about how he differs from the God of Judaism or the God of Islam or the God of the philosophers—it always acknowledges or confesses or narrates the apocalyptic development. The delegation of kingship is incorporated into the godhead. We cannot know God apart from the one to whom all authority has been given. But this is a statement not so much about divine being as about the dynamic of “kingdom”. The doctrine of the Trinity, therefore, is supremely a matter of how we as the people of God, in history, acknowledge and confess the kingship of Jesus. In other words, we should not expect Jews, Muslims and philosophers to agree with us on this. This is our God, as we relate to him, as a people accountable to him.

Such an understanding of the Trinity binds our God into the narrative of history, not in modalist or process terms, but perhaps eschatologically: it is our way of saying that we relate to God only on the grounds of the messianic intervention in the story of Israel and of the hope of a final new creation to which that intervention gave rise. Significantly, Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 that at the end the “kingdom”—this authority to rule—will be given back to God the Father, with even the Son subjecting himself to him. That would make the “Trinitarian” arrangement contingent, not absolute, confined to the circumstances of human history and the contextualized witness of the covenant people.

There is, arguably, a good biblical reason for this. Kingdom is inseparable from the narrative of sin and oppression. The people of God need a king to rule over them because they are disobedient and because they are threatened by enemies—by the surrounding nations and cultures, but also by the last enemy death. In the new heavens and new earth there will be no more sin, and all the enemies of the people of God will have been destroyed, including death. So there is no longer any need for “kingdom” to be exercised. And no further need for a Trinitarian understanding of God. Perhaps.

The doctrine of the Trinity may not come into quite the same category of redundant intellectual furniture as theories of the atonement, but if we are going to retain the construct, I would argue that it has to be done in a way that is much more transparent to the dominant lines of biblical thought. Clearly we still need to be able to speak coherently about Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but I seriously wonder whether the Western ontological-relational paradigm still serves a useful purpose. As with the atonement, I suspect that the narrative-historical approach has a lot to teach us.

Comments

What can I say? You are getting closer and closer all of the time to declaring that Jesus was/is not eternally God. One little “bump” further, in removing the “perhaps” and you are there.

Hi Cherlyu:
I’m sure that whenever Andrew officially “bumps”, it will be with a biblical –NOT a philosophical–nudge.

Other than as a means of affirming our systematic theologies ( which you’re entitled to do ), I wonder where does this ‘eternally God’ thing fits into the narrative ?

I cannot honestly say that this first century Jewish ( lest we forget ) messianic sect espoused a fully-formed Constantinian notion of the Trinity. Yeshua’s ( Jesus’s ) unique status is not in question, but the leap to a 4th cenury construct of the godhead travereses quite a gulf indeed !

Not there yet, though—and didn’t you notice that I was actually trying hard to keep Jesus in the godhead?

I would be interested to hear your take on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:28 that in the end, when the last enemy has been overcome, “the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” Or how do you account for the fact that in Philippians 2:9 God exalts Jesus and gives him the name “Lord”? It seems nonsensical to maintain that Jesus is here presented as being “eternally God”. We cannot force these apocalyptic statements into orthodox Trinitarian categories without doing serious damage to Paul’s argument. For once I would like to hear the defenders of the classical formulations defend their argument on the basis of scripture and not on purely dogmatic grounds.

My concern at the moment is simply to do full justice to the biblical argument about Jesus and in particular the historical argument about his lordship. Then we can ask how we might reconcile that with the traditional formulations.

Andrew,
Re: 1 Cor.15. They call it “eternal subordination of the son”.
Some righteous neo-reformers go as far as making it analogous to the de-rigueur role of women in the marital godhead :)

You “tried very hard” to keep Him as a temporary part of the Godhead perhaps! That is quite different then being eternally God.

I wonder what you think it means in Philippians 2:6 when Paul says he was “in the form of God?” If He was just a man until after His death and resurrection, how could it be said He was in the form of God?

What do you do with John 1:1-3 that says, “In the beginning was the Word……. and the Word WAS God?” And, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made?”

Or what about Colossians 1:16-17 where it states that all things, visible and invisible were made through Him?

Or what about His statement in John 8:58 that says, “Before Abraham was, I am?”

What about Colossians 2:9 that says all of the fullness of deity dwells in Him in bodily form?

Were the people in John 5:18 and John 10:33 wrong in their understanding that He was equating Himself with God? They were trying to kill Him for that reason.

And yes, Yinka is correct in the statement about the “eternal subservience of the Son.”

I can see what you are saying, and also what you are trying to say. The problem is that almost everything you say in the paragraph on Philippians 2:9-11, and the following paragraph, which takes up points I have already argued in my response to your commentary on the same, is trying to wriggle out of the overwhelming evidence that what is said about Jesus actually only properly belongs to what can be said about YHWH alone. Only if Jesus was YHWH could these things properly be said about him.

To say that YHWH authorised what is said especially in Philippians 2:5-11 to be said about Jesus, whilst Jesus was no more than a human agent, and that YHWH authorised people from the ends of the earth to give their allegiance to Jesus (one could add: as if he were YHWH), contradicts entirely everything else that we know about YHWH. At the least it raises the question, which you constantly avoid asking, who exactly was Jesus? To say that he was simply an apocalyptic prophet is plainly nonsensical in the light of all that he was authorised to do and be, and eveything else that was said about him in Philippians 2:5-11, for instance.

what is said about Jesus actually only properly belongs to what can be said about YHWH alone…

That is true, but it does not amount to an argument for identity. What is said in Philippians 2 is that God gave Jesus the name which had until then been reserved for God himself. This is consistently the argument in the New Testament: Jesus is given the authority to forgive sins, still the storm, judge the nations, etc. This is certainly an authority that properly belongs to God alone, but the extraordinary claim made in the New Testament is that it has been given to Jesus. Giving someone the authority to act on behalf of someone else does not make him identical with that person. So as long as Jesus reigns—that is, up to 1 Corinthians 15:28—he is God for us.

At the least it raises the question, which you constantly avoid asking, who exactly was Jesus?

Nonsense. The whole post addresses the question of who exactly Jesus was. As far as Philippians 2:6-11 is concerned, he is the one who, because of his perfect obedience to the point of death was exalted to the right hand of the Father and given the authority to judge and rule that hitherto had belonged to YHWH. Look at what the passage actually says. It does not say that he was given this authority because he was God. It says he was given this authority because he was obedient. If he was God in the way that you are suggesting, he did not need to be authorized to do anything.

To say that he was simply an apocalyptic prophet is plainly nonsensical in the light of all that he was authorised to do and be, and eveything else that was said about him in Philippians 2:5-11, for instance.

He was not “simply an apocalyptic prophet”—I have never said that. He was not less than an apocalyptic prophet, but he was Israel’s messiah. Through his perfect obedience he was installed as Israel’s king and ruler of the nations; and by his resurrection from the dead he inaugurated a new humanity, a new creation.

What is said in Philippians 2 is that God gave Jesus the name which had until then been reserved for God himself.

Yes - a “name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth”. Even, presumably, God’s knee as well. This is why a trinitarian understanding of Jesus makes good sense of this passage and of Jesus’s presentation throughout the NT.

So as long as Jesus reigns—that is, up to 1 Corinthians 15:28—he is God for us.

Don’t you think there is something wrong with the logic as well as the theology here? Jesus “is God for us” until a point when he will no longer be God? Isn’t this the problem with where your line of thinking takes you? How can someone be “God for us”, who is not actually God, and then cease to be “God for us”?

I also think you do fail to ask fully who exactly Jesus was. Your argument works, up to a point, if Jesus is primarily limited to being an apocalyptic prophet. It works up to a point in your limited understanding of Jesus as messiah, though I think there is quite a lot of question-begging going on here.

The question of Jesus’s priesthood, of his self-substitution for temple, of his role as renewer of creation in himself, of his relationship to those who believe in him as incorporating them in himself, his continuing intercessory role, raise issues which are extremely difficult (I would actually say impossible) to explain according to your limited presentation of who Jesus was.

God bows the knee at the name of Jesus? Are you serious?

Don’t you think there is something wrong with the logic as well as the theology here? Jesus “is God for us” until a point when he will no longer be God?

No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the logic. Jesus is given the authority in certain respects to stand in the place of God for his poeple, to act on behalf of God with respect to his people, notably as deliverer and king, until the point at which that is no longer necessary, when he will subordinate himself again to the Father.

Neither as priest nor as temple does Jesus = God. A priest acts as a mediator between God and the people. In Hebrews Jesus’ priesthood after the order of Melchizedek is an argument about kingship. The temple is the place where God dwells, it is not itself God. The New Testament does not say that Jesus in himself renewed creation: God renewed creation in him; Jesus is the beginning of new creation. The incorporation of others in Jesus does not make him God. An intercessor does not intercede with himself. That is madness. You don’t have to be God to intercede with God. None of these examples points to an understanding of Jesus as God. They all point in exactly the opposite direction. This is not the way to go.

Jesus is given the authority in certain respects to stand in the place of God for his poeple, to act on behalf of God with respect to his people, notably as deliverer and king, until the point at which that is no longer necessary, when he will subordinate himself again to the Father.

This isn’t what you said earlier, but actually what you said earlier is nearer the mark of what you are actually saying, that Jesus “is God for us”; but later he will cease to be “God for us”. If Jesus is “given the authority in certain respects to stand in the place of God for his people”, as you say, then he isn’t “God for us”, is he? But actually, to all intents and purposes, he has become precisely that: “God for us” - according to you.

“God bows the knee at the name of Jesus? Are you serious?” - I’m simply looking at the breakdown of logic in your explanation of Philippians 2:9-11.

I think when you look at all the things which are said here about Jesus, it is much more scripturally coherent to say that Jesus was God, rather than pursue an ultimately top-heavy argument about God delegating all the attributes of divinity to Jesus without Jesus actually being divine.

The huge overarching problem with your argument is that throughout the OT, God is presented as transcendent, unique, alone in the universe, with nothing to compare to him. He is alone to be worshipped. Everything said in the OT about God goes in the opposite direction to God inexplicably deciding that someone else will exhibit all his attributes, without actually being God.

This is why a trinitarian explanation of Jesus is the inevitable outcome of understanding passages like Philippians 2:5-11, and indeed of everything else that I’ve mentioned about Jesus, which you have dismissed. (I say inevitable, but of course Unitarians, Russellites and many of the sects would disagree).

Why is this important? Is the divinity of Jesus just a box to be ticked to justify the trinity, or some pre-existing systematic theology?

It all depends on which story you think is the central narrative of the Old and New Testament. You make a call that it is primarily a narrative about a 1st century crisis, in which the continuity of the promises to Abraham for Israel were under threat. I simply don’t think this is adequate, and it breaks down at key points, especially over the crucial question, still not satisfactorily answered by you, of who Jesus actually was. (If he was a mortal man, what kind of man do you think he was, in view of how different he was from any other mortal man who has ever existed, as far as we know?).

Along with the boring old traditional core of the Christian church, I make a call that the problem was not a 1st century crisis (though that there certainly was within the narrative as as well), but a creation crisis, in which the purposes of God for his good creation were under threat, and that winding through the whole story, especially of Israel, was this theme.

Such was the extent of the problem, that it was not enough for a proxy of God to come and fix it or act on God’s behalf. The verdict on humanity, and on humanity as set apart in Israel in particular, was that no such person existed or could exist. Only God could fix it, and this he did through Jesus. This accords with the OT, eg Isaiah 65:17, that God without any human proxy mentioned at all would renew creation. It accords with the NT because in Colossians 1:15-19, as well as John 1:1-10 and Hebrews 1:2-3, the same is said of Jesus: he created all things at the beginning, and he will restore all things. If he was man, God’s agent, what kind of man pre-existed all things in order to do these things?

This summarises the gulf between us Andrew, and between you and not simply the evangelical community, but the entire orthodox Christian community. You have redefined evangelical, trinitarian and orthodox to describe yourself, but in your usage the words do not remotely mean what they do to these groups. It’s interesting that support for your viewpoint on this site is coming from all kinds of people, but few if any that I’ve seen who could be described as evangelical or orthodox, in the common usage of the words, which is what you would need, I think, for your argument to make headway.

Along with the boring old traditional core of the Christian church, I make a call that the problem was not a 1st century crisis (though that there certainly was within the narrative as as well), but a creation crisis, in which the purposes of God for his good creation were under threat, and that winding through the whole story, especially of Israel, was this theme.

I entirely agree that ultimately scripture addresses a creation crisis—indeed, that was a major theme in Re: Mission. The question is how the biblical narrative is to be understood as God’s answer to the crisis of creation.

Nowhere does it say in the New Testament that Jesus “created all things at the beginning”. That is simply wrong. All things were made through him. Jesus is not said to do what God does. God does it through him. However, these are important statements, and I have no problem accepting them as part of the New Testament witness to the person of Jesus. What I object to is the misreading of the apocalyptic narrative in the attempt to make it conform to the standard Trinitarian model.

I would pay more attention to your lengthy sermon if you took the trouble to address the specific points I made about the popular construction of Jesus’ divinity on the basis of priesthood, temple, new creation, etc. I dismissed these for very good reasons. They do not make the point that you want them to make.

Nowhere does it say in the New Testament that Jesus “created all things at the beginning”. That is simply wrong. All things were made through him.

These are indeed important statements, as you say, and raise the question of Jesus’s identity, as well as what the statements mean. I wonder now what you think they mean if the meaning (also taking into account John1 and Hebrews 1) does not link to Genesis 1, and does not imply that Jesus was there at creation, creating all things? If God did it (or “does it”) through him, and he was not God, when and where and how did these things happen, and what do you suppose this creating activity means? I wonder what reinterpretation you have come up with?

Do you really want ‘another lengthy sermon’ on why the priesthood and temple identity (I’ve been through this often enough in the past), of Jesus can only be effective if his nature was divine? Likewise new creation, and I’d add to that his intercessory role, which is really also his priesthood, his kingly role, and prophetic role, in the sense of being the new Moses (as indicated in Matthew’s gospel).

None of these things form a basis for a “popular construction of Jesus’s divinity”, as you put it. On the contrary, they are part of a narrative argument, based on close understanding of the scriptural background, for Jesus’s divinity.

What I object to is the misreading of the apocalyptic narrative in the attempt to make it conform to the standard Trinitarian model.

I think I object to a misreading of the apocalyptic narrative that ignores the layers of meaning which have far wider ramifications than a 1st century crisis.

I guess I could say the same of your arguments as you do of mine (“I would pay more attention to them” etc), except that I do pay close attention to them! Sometimes it is important also to take a wide look at where an argument is heading or taking you, as I do in some thoughts which you describe as “your lengthy sermon”.

It’s just rising above the minutiae of the argument to take a long view.

I haven’t said that the “through him” statements have nothing to do with Genesis 1, but presumably the idea of creation through the Word or through Jesus has been filtered the Wisdom tradition (cf. Prov. 8:22-31). I have commented on John 1, and it rather looks as though the writer to the Hebrews was thinking about the world to come rather than the original creation (cf. Heb. 2:5). But I recognise that these statements need to be integrated into the overall picture.

Hebrews 2:17 rather suggests that in order to function as a “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” Jesus had to become like his suffering brothers, faithful Israel. In other words, Jesus was a priest because of his humanity, not because of his divinity. Where does it say that in order to perform his priestly role Jesus had to be divine?

Hebrews 2:17 rather suggests that in order to function as a “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” Jesus had to become like his suffering brothers, faithful Israel. In other words, Jesus was a priest because of his humanity, not because of his divinity. Where does it say that in order to perform his priestly role Jesus had to be divine?

The starting point is in this very verse. “He had to be made like his brothers in every way”. So he wasn’t, initially like his brothers. What was he like? Or who was he?

The whole argument has to be taken into account here.

1:2 “his (God’s) son whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made also the world/universe.” Most people would assume this means the world as it was created, and that no ordinary mortal could have done this, even with ‘God’ doing it through him. Certainly, the writer of Hebrews is wanting his readers/audience to pay closer attention to what they have heard so that they do not drift away - 2:1, which would seem apposite. Jesus is not an angel; neither is he any ordinary mortal man. Who is he?

1:3 The son “is the radiance/brightness of God’s glory and the express image/exact representation of his being”.

1:5 The son is someone of whom God says: “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

1:8 The son’s throne is everlasting

1:9 The son is understood to be the person addressed as Lord in the psalm “In the beginning O Lord you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hand” etc.

This is who Jesus is, as the immediate background to his priestly role, which begins in 2:9 “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

The pre-existent Jesus who was so highly exalted and creator of the world in the beginning - 2:9, was “made a little lower than the angels”, to be made “perfect through suffering”.

2:14 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity (partook of the same) that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Just to note that there is no sense of “the devil” and “slavery” being limited to a political meaning here, such as “the devil” = Rome, “slavery” = political slavery to the Empire. Rather, the incarnation is being described, the pre-existent divine Jesus becomes a man (as in Philippians 2:5-11), is “made like his brothers in every way” (that is, like the descendants of Abraham), “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” - 2:17.

There was a problem with the existing priesthood and the sacrificial system. This is the burden of much of the argument in Hebrews. An eternal priest and a heavenly sanctuary, ie a sanctuary with God, not in Jerusalem, not “man-made”, not “a part if this creation” - 9:11, replaces a human priesthood and temporary sanctuary, “a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves.” - 10:1.

The argument shows that Jesus as a high priest did what no ordinary human-born Israelite could do, let alone any other representative of humanity in general. In fact, the existing temple system was never designed to do what Jesus did. Jesus fulfilled it as the reality fulfilling the shadow. The reason why the earthly temple system in Jerusalem could not fulfil what Jesus came to do was because of the problem with its priestly officers, and the nature of the offerings brought to the temple.

So who was Jesus, as high priest? Greater than Moses; greater than angels, pre-existent with God, exactly like God, the creator of the universe, yet made to be like man, to become a high priest on behalf of man, but without sharing in man’s sinful humanity - needing to be set free from slavery by fear of death (2:15), because of sin, which needed to be atoned for (2:17).

It was because Jesus in this way was unlike humanity in general, and Israel in particular, that he qualified in this high priestly role. This dissimilarity was his divine, pre-existent origin. He acted “on the basis of an indestructible life” - 7:16. He was a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek - 7:17. It was nevertheless because he also shared in certain aspects of the humanity of Israel, and the world in general, that he could be the high priest who is not “unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but - - - one who has been tempted in every way as we are - yet was without sin.” - 4:15.

The accomplishment of Jesus as high priest raises the crucial question about Jesus yet again: Who was he? Was anyone in Israel ever without sin? These questions push us back to the answer which Hebrews more unequivocally than other letters provides: Jesus was of divine origin, kept his divinity, yet was made human, and learned obedience through suffering, becoming a sympathetic high priest to those for whom he offered atonement for sins. As high priest, as in all his other roles, he was who he was - the God-man, or God made flesh as a human being.

There you are Andrew; a lengthy sermon for you to meditate on in the back row, furiously making notes so that you can have roast preacher for Sunday lunch.

Andrew,

This is referring to your reference to the John 1:1 Scriptures.

After doing some further reading in the book I mentioned several days ago, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, I see that there were many second century references equating the “Word” of God to Jesus. This is not a recent development either. Christians from very early on had this understanding of what was meant by the Word.

I think that is a very good summary, Peter. Thank you very much.

It may be a good summary, but it misses the point completely. Peter maintained that Jesus could not have served a priestly function without being divine. Even if his argument here is correct, it seems pretty clear to me that that for Jesus to serve as a priest he had to share in the suffering humanity of his brothers.

Andrew,

That comment was supposed to appear under Peter’s 13:55 comment earlier today. That is the specific one I was referring to as a “good summary”. I don’t believe that divine priesthood issue was mentioned in that one.

Why it ended up where it did when I specifically posted it in the “reply” box under that comment, I don’t know. But it sure confused the specifics of what I was trying to say.

I think you put it in the right place. I just didn’t register the connection. Sorry for the confusion.

Andrew - I think you may have missed the point as well. I did say very clearly that Jesus needed to share in the suffering humanity of his brothers, as you put it.

As high priest, Jesus had a divine nature (for which Melchizedek provides a ‘type’ - “without beginning or end”, something else I could have mentioned), which I think I have illustrated fully in the argument.

As high priest, Jesus was also a man, able to share in the suffering humanity of his brothers, as you put it. He was, in short, fully God, and fully man. Have you never come across this argument before? It’s traditional, mainline Christian belief, and it’s there in Hebrews, especially in Jesus’s high priestly role.

“In the new heavens and new earth there will be no more sin, and all the enemies of the people of God will have been destroyed, including death.”

Let’s see. In the New Heavens and New Earth we have people dying in Isaiah 65 (the passage that establishes the term in scripture) and all sorts of bad people dwell outside of the walls of the New Jerusalem

“Revelation 22:15 (ESV)
15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

Where do we get that there will be no sin in the New Heavens and New Earth?

In Isaiah 65:17-25 I think we have a poetic account of the restoration of the earthly Jerusalem. The terminology is introduced here, but it is a metaphor for the forgetting of Israel’s former sins. John, however, is quite insistent that in the new creation that he envisions there will be no more death (Rev. 20:14).

As for Revelation 22:15, this is not part of the new creation vision. At 22:6 we return to the time in which John is having the vision, when he is waiting for Jesus to come soon to deliver the churches from persecution and reward them for their faithfulness. In 22:14-15 the blessing is on the martyrs who wash their robes; they enter the heavenly city, which eventually (after a “thousand years”) will be restored to its place in the midst of a final new creation. Outside that city are the “dogs gand sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood”. But in the new heavens and new earth the wicked who are currently excluded from the community of the holy martyrs will be destroyed:

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)

It’s strange to me that you’ve basically defined a paradigm in which there is a New Heaven and New Earth and a New New Heaven and New New Earth without explaining how the readers in the New Testament were supposed to know that John was stealing the term from Isaiah to use it in a radically unexpected way. Why would John even bother to use the terms at all if he planned on redefining them into a scope totally unpredicted by the Old Testament? Doesn’t it seem more likely likely that the narrative of the New Testament, in as much as it is quoting critical Old Testament eschatological terminology, would be talking about the same thing? My basic understanding of a narrative approach is that there is a continuity between the two portions of scripture. If it turns out that John is using it the same way as Isaiah, and if we apply the concept of Jerusalem that Paul defines in Galatians, then we have the passages of the New Heaven and New Earth as well as the New Jerusalem pointing to the establishment of the Jerusalem above under the New Covenant which seems to me to fit cleanly into the rest of the New Testament message. If we say that John’s New New Heavens and New New Earth is a totally different animal than Isaiah’s New Heavens and New Earth, then when was Isaiah’s prophecy supposed to be fulfilled (or did it go unfulfilled?)?

As far as Rev. 22:15 goes, it seems to me that these two sections are cleanly parallel.

Revelation 21:6-8 (NKJV)

6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.
7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Revelation 22:13-15 (NKJV)
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

The context for the first passage is the description of the New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth (it is not necessarily describing the conditions everywhere in the New Heavens and New Earth). The context for the second passage is in the summary for the book. I don’t see that it is necessarily back on earth during John’s time . It’s more likely that it’s a promise that is “about to be”.

It might be helpful on the timing to look at the positive side in v.14. From the point of view of John in time, when do people get to enter into the gates of the city? It would have to be once the city is fully operational (still in John’s future, though “about to be”). Then, the negative side would apply at that time. BUT, the city wouldn’t be fully operational outside of the definition of it in Rev. 21:1-8. Another critical consideration is the function of the New Jerusalem. The River of Life coming from the Throne in Rev. 22:1 is supposed to be for the healing of the nations. In the parallel passage of Ezekiel 47 we see a progressively more effective river that renews the earth. So, at the moment that the River of Life become operational in the New Jerusalem in the New Heaven and New Earth the effect barely washes up on Ezekiel’s ankles. Eventually, the renewing effect is quite significant (after four “1,000“ ‘s, BTW). This clearly means that as of the initiation of the New Heavens and New Earth there is a lot of work to be done. Inside the New Jerusalem it is an idyllic place, but outside the work of healing the nations is still going on. This is within the context of the New Heaven and New Earth. Eventually, each person either dies and is given the reward of entering the New Jerusalem (Rev. 14:13) or the punishment of being excluded and sent to the second death. This function lasts over a period of time while the earth is being renewed (though there’ll always be salt marshes of non-renewal, again Ezekiel 47).

As far as the 1,000 years goes, I’d argue that Rev. 20 and 21 happen in parallel. That’s a longer argument than is really appropriate for a blog response (maybe in another post if you are really interested).

Doug

It’s strange to me that you’ve basically defined a paradigm in which there is a New Heaven and New Earth and a New New Heaven and New New Earth without explaining how the readers in the New Testament were supposed to know that John was stealing the term from Isaiah to use it in a radically unexpected way.

This is puzzling. Isaiah says there is death, John says there isn’t. That’s how readers were supposed to know that he was using the concept in a different way. It seems to me that John is simply taking the metaphor literally in the light of the resurrection. The historical existence of the people of God as new creation from Abraham onwards comes to be seen as an anticipation of the final victory of the creator over sin and death.

Nothing too much to add, but just wanted to commend you Andrew for being very honest and courageous.

Cherylu, you might check out biblicalunitarian.com/verses. Fairly thorough handling of most of the texts commonly cited in support of Trinitarianism. I doubt that Andrew would consider himself a Unitarian, and no doubt he would differ in his reading of some of these texts, but anyway, it’s an interesting resource.

Thanks, Jeff. I consider myself a trinitarian, but I don’t think we are helped by a trinitarianism that distorts or obscures critical narrative dynamics in the New Testament. I accept cherylu’s point that the New Testament picture is rather more complicated than this post suggests, but without question the dominant narrative about Jesus is the apocalyptic one, according to which he is given authority to rule and judge both Israel and the nations. What I want to suggest is that in the post-Christendom, post-modern world we need to learn to live under that essentially historical paradigm rather than under the theological paradigms that have prevailed in the Christendom-modern era.

Andrew,

Thank you for your fine article above. I think you communicated it well and biblically accurately. God’s son is his reflection, his glory and his imprint. We’d expect that from Jesus. But Jesus belongs solidly to the category of anthropos, adam, and nothing else. JAT Robinson in his The Human Face of God says it well, in that Jesus was not only A man, he was also THE man. That is truly uplifting. Jesus really uplifted humanity in that he showed what was mankind meant to be like - he was truly the perfect initiative God had in mind when He created. Obviously much more can be said about this.

Just something on the Philippian hymn. Jesus was most certainly in the morphe, form or image of God. But this was during his life as human, not before or after. This is also the understanding of great theologians such as James Dunn, McGrath, Berkhof and others. The hymn sets Jesus in contrast to Adam who DID grasp at equality with God, instead of humble obedience. Isaiah 52/53 summarised, in other words. The name above every name needs clarification. On the one hand this could mean ultimate exaltation to the highest possible authority any human creature can be exalted or be delegated to have. Or it could mean the highest office of representation, namely acting in YHWH’s name. Jesus acted in YHWH’s name even when he was on earth (John chapters 5-7). In these chapters we see language of representation belonging firmly to the ancient understanding of agency or shaluach (Heb. 3:1). So greater exaltation, in my opinion, would be that of honor and reputation, even in the hearts and minds of humans, and not necessarily of bearing the name of YHWH. None of this makes him ontologically identical to YHWH, since YHWH’s ontology cannot be shared like a mass noun or fluid entity. That belongs to the Hellenistic world and is utterly alien to Hebraic categories and thinking. Representative identity, YES! Just as in Ex. 7:1 and 23:21, we see human and angelic characters functionally identified as Ha’elohim and YHWH which fits perfectly into the Hebraic model.

As soon as one starts to speak in terms of “natures,” “substances” and “essences,” biblical/Hebraic categories are compromised. In every other discipline of literary analysis such an erroneous epistemology would be discarded and trashed. Unfortunately, due to the sentimentality people have for the Nicean/Chalcedonian hybridizations of who God and Christ are, the sacred cows are much harder to be gotten rid of…alas…

Well done again.

I have just been doing some exceedingly interesting reading. I have a book, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, edited by David W. Bercot.

I’ve been reading in the Incarnation section. Very enlightening, to say the least!

It would seem that the doctrine of the Trinity–as pertaining to Jesus existing as God before and during the incarnation–has been around for a long, long time. It doesn’t appear at all that it just kind of happened on the scene centuries later with the formation of the Nicene creed.

As early as the first part of the second century, there is a quote from Ignatius, who was taught by at least one of the disciples, that show this was what he believed. He said, “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit. He is both made and not made. He is God existing in flesh, true Life in death. He is both of Mary and of God.” (c.105)

Aristides made this statement, “It is said that God came down from heaven. He assumed flesh and clothed Himself with it from a Hebrew virgin. And the Son of God lived in a daughter of man.” (c. 125)

And Hermas (c. 150) had this to say, “The holy, pre-existent spirit Person who created every creature, God made to dwell in flesh, which He chose.”

“We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of man.” Tatian (c.160)

And we have this from Melito (c.170), Though the Son was incorporeal, He formed for Himself a body after our fashion. He appeared as one of the sheep; yet, He still remained the Shepherd. He was esteemed a servant; yet, He did not renounce the Sonship. He was carried in the womb of Mary, yet arrayed in the nature of His Father. He walked upon the earth, yet He filled heaven. He appeared as an infant, yet He did not discard the eternity of His nature. He was invested with a body, but it did not circumscribe the unmixed simplicity of His Divinity…He needed sustenance inasmuch as He was man; yet, He did not cease to feed the entire world inasmuch as He is God. He put on the likeness of a servant, while not impairing the likeness of His Father.”

“He received testimony from everyone that He was very man and that He was very God.” Irenaeus (c. 180)

“Inasmuch as the Word of God was man from the root of Jesse, and son of Abraham, in this respect the Spirit of God rested upon Him and anointed Him to preach the Gospel to the lowly. But inasmuch as Christ was God, Christ did not judge according to glory, nor reprove after the manner of speech.” Irenaeus again. (c 180)

There are several more listed just in the second century. But it seems to me that those should prove my point.

Where is this supposed “great leap” to full Trinitarianism that didn’t take place until the fourth century? Am I missing something here? To me it appears that it was there from very early on in the minds of the church fathers.

I certainly see nothing here of a man that was made, in some way to be God, only after His death and resurrection.

Thanks Cherylu, It would help if you cited Jews who were closer( or close enough) to the action. Guys like Paul and such. Hellenized gentiles don’t sound very objective to me. Besides, Ignatius and other “fathers” had some not so nice things to say about a pesky Jewish Christian group, the Netzarim, who remained fiercely monotheistic…till they were wiped out by good, orthodox trinitarian spacemen…

Yinka,

Seems like you very conveniently missed my point, haven’t you? Both Andrew and yourself have stated that the jump to FOURTH century trinitarianism was quite a leap.

My point was that trinitarianism appears to have been strong and well in the church of the second century as evidenced by these quotes.

The first man I quoted, Ignatius, was the Bishop of the church of Antioch. Not just a nobody. And he was a disciple of the Apostle John. Pretty close to” the action” it would seem to me.

Irenaeus was Bishop of Smyrna and was taught by Polycarp as a boy. Polycarp was also a disciple of the Apostle John. So he was not so very far from said “action” either.

Ignore them and the others if you like and say they didn’t know what they were talking about. That is your choice. But you can’t ignore that they show that trinitarian belief and teaching was very much a part of Christian belief and teaching well before the fourth century.

And very frankly, I can’t help but think that someone like Ignatius or even Ireneaus that were that close to an apostle or one taught by them just might likely know a bit about what they believed on this issue!

And orthodox trinitarian spacemen??…..let’s get real here.

Cherylu,

Spacemen seemed apt at the time…maybe it still does :)

Thanks for your note. At best, they are arguments for belief in the alleged divinity of Christ, not robust trinitarianism ( what happened to the third hypostatses of the ousia, a.k.a the Holy Spirit ? )

Besides, we can’t say all Jesus followers of the day adhered to the same beliefs;least of all, the largely Jewish Torah keeping christians whom the “fathers”–when they were not busy inciting violence against them–pretended never existed.

I’ll take the hebraic view over prejudiced, hellenized gobbledygook any day.

Hi again Yinka,

Been hanging close by my computer this a.m.

Remember I made this statement in the comment that you have been referring to: “It would seem that the doctrine of the Trinity–as pertaining to Jesus existing as God before and during the incarnation–has been around for a long, long time.”

I was specifically arguing for the belief in Jesus divinity being around long before the 4th century. And that is the specific thing we have all been discussing in regards to the Trinity, isn’t it? So why keep trying to derail the discussion into something other then the point I was making? I was not talking about the belief in the Holy Spirit being a part of the Trinity at all.

And whether the church fathers holding these beliefs is “prejudiced, hellenized g0bbledgook” or not depends on your view of things. In fact, it would seem to me that for someone to make such a statement would show quite a bit of prejudice in itself!

Hi again:

I understand the point you were making, Cherylu. I was trying to bring a more comprehensive scope to the conversation and show how vast, in my view, this conceptual gulf ( apocalyptic narrative to philosphical trinitarianism ) really is ! Afterall, the Trinity is a “package” isn’t it? Or are we really only in love with Jesus ?

The “fathers” certainly weren’t shy of exposing their prejudices. That is history, not merely my “view of things”. Thus, I think I can, in all good faith, clamber atop my soapbox once in a while as well.

From the first century we have the Didache:

“And concerning baptism, baptize as follows: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water. And if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else is able, but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before. (7).

“We thank You, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your servant. To You be the glory for ever.(9).

“We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your servant, to You be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your Kingdom for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever. (9).

“We thank You, Holy Father, for Your holy name you that made to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which you revealed to us through Jesus Your servant. Glory to You forever and ever. You, Almighty Lord, have created all things for Your own name’s sake, You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You, but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Your servant. Above all things we thank You that You are might. Glory to You forever and ever. (10).”

And Clement of Rome:

“The church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the church of God sojourning at Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you, and peace, be multiplied, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ.

“For Christ is of those who are humble, and not of those who Lord over his flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the sceptre of the majesty of God, did not come in pomp of pride or arrogance, although he might have done so, but in a humble state. (16).

“Let us look steadfastly to the Father and Creator of the universe. (19).

“All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony, while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for safety to His compassions through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be glory and Majesty for ever and ever. Amen. (20)

“Let us, therefore, approach him with holiness of spirit, lifting unto him pure and undefiled hands, loving the kind and compassionate Father who has made us a part of his elect. For it is thus written, ‘when the Most High divided the nations…’ (29).

“Called by His will in Christ Jesus, we are not justified out of ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have worked out of holiness of heart, but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (32).

From the above Christ is clearly seen to be in subjection to the Father and the Father Alone is the Most High.

Do yourself the favor and read the Shepherd of Hermas. Even Tertullian. You’ll be surprised at how vastly different in areas their Christology was to the sophisticated models of the fourth and fifth centuries. What those Councils denounced as heresy these men believed and proclaimed as sacred truth. You should also keep in mind that there were clear influences well at work even in the apostles’ day. After their demise, there was no resistence to these. Gnosicism, docetism, pre-existence models, etc., entered the minds of believers very quickly.

Just to quote Harnack:

“The Apologists laid the foundation for the perversion/corruption [Verkehrung] of Christianity into a revealed teaching. Specifically, their Christology affected the later development disastrously. By taking for granted the transfer of the concept of Son of God onto the preexisting Christ, they were the cause of the Christological problem of the fourth century. They caused a shift in the point of departure of Christological thinking—away from the historical Christ and onto the issue of preexistence. They thus shifted attention away from the historical life of Jesus, putting it into the shadow and promoting instead the Incarnation [i.e., of a preexistent Son]. They tied Christology to cosmology and could not tie it to soteriology. The Logos teaching is not a ‘higher’ Christology than the customary one. It lags in fact far behind the genuine appreciation of Christ. According to their teaching it is no longer God who reveals Himself in Christ, but the Logos, the inferior God, a God who as God is subordinated to the Highest God (inferiorism or subordinationism)”

Jaco

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