God the Father

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One of the revised common lectionary Easter readings for this year came from Acts 10:34-43. What struck me about that passage was how remarkably un-Trinitarian it seemed. It might be easy to miss this point because of what I think is a kind of automatic translation process that may easily occur when one hears those words. But I think that in just reading that passage as is, without the interpretive lens of Trinitarianism, it is rather hard to interpret that passage as an expression of Trinitarian theology at all.

The passage presents a speech by Peter, who repeatedly--and I mean repeatedly--distinguishes Jesus from God. For example, we are told that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power", "God was with him", "God raised him on the third day", and "he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead." In every one of those phrases, Jesus is described as a distinct personage from "God". Jesus is the object of God's actions in all of those passages. Peter did not say that God did these things to himself, or that one part of God did these things to another part of God; he said that "God" did them to "Jesus". God is the subject, Jesus is the object. Two different personages. It would make no sense to phrase it that way if Jesus himself were part of the Godhead.

My guess is that most Christians who read those passages do a quick translation in their heads: they read or hear the word "God" in those verses but in their mind they conceive of the reference as being to the "Father" in a Holy Trinity. I think this is probably a common translation that many Christians make, not just in this passage, but in others in which God is distinguished from Jesus. For example, the hymn in Philippians 2 is often touted as an expression of Trinitarianism. But, in fact, the hymn specifically distinguishes Jesus from God, saying, for example, that "God also highly exalted him." Once again, we have God as the subject, Jesus as the object But most Christians probably just do a quick translation in their heads and conceive of "God" in that passage as "The Father of the Holy Trinity", thus resolving what is an apparent conflict with standard dogma.

Christians take for granted a Trinitarian doctrine that has been taught to them as a given of their faith, despite the fact that the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible and the doctrine of the Trinity was only "settled" (which is to say, imposed) more than three centuries after Jesus's death. But I think it is such an esoteric, not to mention confusing, doctrine, that itself was subject to intense debates over the finest of points early in Christian history (I wonder how many American Protestants could describe what the filioque is off the tops of their heads?), that I suspect that few who pay lip service to it fully understand in all its implications. People have to pay lip service to it, after all, lest they be branded heretics. What happens in practice is that there begins to be a confusion in passages like those between "God" and the "Father in the Holy Trinity". The tendency within Nicene Trinitarianism to give a certain primacy to the Father (itself a difficult concept to make sense of, given the Eternal nature of the Godhead) probably makes it all the easier to make this translation. The Father thus becomes sort of the default character in the Trinity, so that when the Bible says "God", it is just interpreted to mean the Father part of this Triune God.

But in reality, Trinitarianism says that God encompasses the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus when you talk about the Trinitarian God without qualification, you are referring, at least in theory, to all three at once. Yet when we run across verses where the Bible uses the word "God", the term often gets implicitly shrunk to just the Father when it deals with the relationship between Jesus and God. For unitarians, this clearly presents no problem; one could then simply say that what Jesus understood as the Father was another way of describing...God! One need not be a Trinitarian to understand that God was the "Father" to Jesus, just as God is everyone's "Father" (or, Mother, to avoid the use of sexism.) The Lord's Prayer begins, "Our Father", after all, and lots of people not named Jesus of Nazareth have recited that prayer over the centuries. God the Father is thus Father of us all. But that has nothing to do with the Trinity.

(The Biblical references to Jesus being anointed with the Holy Spirit, such as in the passage above, also raise similar questions. If Jesus is already one of the persons of the Trinity, why does he need to be anointed with another person of the Holy Trinity as well? He's already a "fully divine" presence, according to Trinitarianism. The anointing of the Holy Spirit might be useful for ordinary, sinful human beings, since we aren't God--but seems a little superfluous for Jesus, since he is already has an indwelling Divine nature, and thus would really have no need for another indwelt part of God while residing on earth.)

One of the most interesting examples of how Jesus was separated from God in the Bible can be found in Mark 10, when Jesus says, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." This statement not only distinguished Jesus from God, but also called into question his perfection! No wonder the passage was modified by Matthew, who used Mark as a source.

I often feel like Trinitarianism is one of those things that people believe just because that's what they think they have to believe. It is so ingrained in much of post-Nicene Christian theology that even during the Reformation, it was taboo to question it (and Michael Servetus was burned at the stake by Calvin for just that reason.) Unitarianism can easily be dismissed by the orthodoxy as an "old heresy", as a way of squelching debate on the subject. Maybe it is time for Christianity to, once and for, rid itself of this taboo.

40 comments:

SocietyVs said...

I couldn't agree more about the debateableness of the Trinity doctrine...it just isn't all it's cracked up to be - and this proof coming from the very scriptures some claim to see a Trinity in.

It's funny - I accpeted the theory of the Trinity for years but I always saw the personages as different - just never paid it much mind. I once accepted the idea without question and I have to admit - I was more accepted because I did.

Now that I do not accept this core doctrine of the Christian faith - I really have no place in mainstream faith per se. But to be honest, the trinity makes no sense and plenty of scripture can prove that from the gospels to the letters - and mainly from the Tanakh.

See the core problem with the trinity is Jesus breaks a lot of teachings of God. He dies for one. He breaks commandment #1 (God is One). He annuls the commandments - which is kind of weird since he said he wouldn't. It just keeps getting more and more problematic as one keeps looking - namely in the atonement.

For those reasons and more I reject the trinity...to me God is One and God is the Father (as I have always had an inkling to think). Jesus ushers in a messianic age - only slightly for now, but I see him as a human messiah. And the Holy Spirit - I would go with how he is viewed in the Tanakh - God's outpouring. Now this is rough work for me - but that's the gist.

I am okay with being wrong on this - however - I think the doctrine needs to be questioned out the yazoo.

Andrew said...

"Out the Yazoo" Heh! that is a great way of putting it.

Mystical - Thanks for a well done article. It is timely for me. I had mentioned on a recent blog that I am not an evangelical. One of my fellow church members questioned me on that point in an email. I wrote this person back a polite email listing the reasons I probably don't qualify as an Evangelical. Part of it listed my views on the Trinity -

"For example, I don't necessarily believe in a triune God. I think the Shema had it - “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” As I read Paul, there are just too many times he sets up a hierarchy between Jesus and God. I don't see equality and interchangeability being presented in the New Testament. I think if I had never heard a trinitarian teaching prior, I would have been hard pressed to develop such a notion through scripture reading. Still, as I said, I am rather agnostic on this point. I am not sure what to make of it, so I am trying to keep my views limited to the ideas I see about Christ presented in Scripture."

This person has made it clear that "for the good of the church" that I should not be allowed to teach or be in any kind of a leadership role.

It seems we no longer burn folks at the stake, but silencing is still encouraged.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

This is a very well-written article. I've also noticed that about the Acts portion -- there is clear opportunity for them to describe a God that came in the flesh, and instead, the focus is that Jesus is human. What if this was the only chance they had to describe who Jesus was? And that chance was spent explaining a clear hierarchy between Jesus and God, elaborating that Jesus was anointed.

Or even look at 1 Peter 21 -- "Through [Christ] you have come to trust in God who raised [Christ] from the dead and gave [Christ] glory, and so your faith and hope are fixed on God."

Why would Christ need to be given glory if Christ is already God? The glory would be Christ's by default. I just see too many instances where it clearly states that Christ is not God, point blank. And the parts where Christ seems to be God are basically inferences.

I think part of why the Trinity is so engrained is that if it's wrong, then Christianity is committing idoltry. They're worshipping something other than the one true God, and it would be very hard to ever say "We were wrong about that," given the ramifications.

This may in part be why there seems to be a caustic reaction in some quarters when this is questioned. THe Bible is full of warnings about pursuing idols, worshipping false gods, turning away from God Himself ... worshipping Jesus would match all those in quite a few ways. It would be a sobering thing to contemplate.

Grace said...

One, I totally agree. If Jesus is not also truly God, then Christians are definitely guilty of idolotry. No question about it.

I would be leaving the Christian church in a heartbeat if I could not affirm the divinity of Christ.

Frank said...

I would challenge the assumption that getting back to the "real" Christianity of the early days is the ideal. We're dealing with an evolving faith tradition here, and even in the early days we have 4 gospels + Paul and Peter each with a very different take on things. Kudos to the early Church for preserving this diversity, not resolving it.

In the Reformation, there was a backlash against a Catholic Church that had gotten out of hand, so there was a need for something else to be seen as authoritative. The problem is that Sola Scriptura got out of hand, as well. It would be wrong to invalidate later theology just because it is not Scriptural.

It is important as a check and balance, though. Scripture informs Tradition, and Tradition interprets Scripture.

Mystical Seeker said...

Societyvs and Andrew,

Questioning the Trinity out the yazoo is a great way of putting it! Unfortunately, as Andrew's experience shows, there is a lot of effort involved at suppressing any questioning. That is how the troops are kept in line, I guess.

Onesmallstep,

I think you are definitely on to something. A lot of people are driven by the fear of the consequences of a change in belief. This is just one way that Christians are kept in line and prevented from thinking about these things too hard. Personally, I think that the criticism of idolatry in this case has a lot of merit.

Frank, you raise an interesting point about not making an idol out of the past. This too, can be a form of idolatry. If God is still speaking to us, then we should not be afraid to evolve our religious traditions as we continue to understand new things.

Sometimes the best of ancient traditions get suppressed and superseded, and compromises over principles are made for reasons of power or expediency. But sometimes the worst of ancient traditions need to be stamped out. I think that an example of the former is the way that Jesus's inclusiveness, identification with the powerless, and anti-Imperial lifestyle and message became co-opted by a theology of exclusion and association with the power of the Roman Empire. An example of the latter would be the development of even greater ideas of inclusiveness towards women, gays, and others.

SocietyVs said...

This is the most people I have seen in one place that don't believe in the trinity - and everyone has made some great points. I kind of feel relieved in a way - and happy in a another.

But if there is no trinity - what of Jesus then?

Mystical Seeker said...

Societyvs, you ask the question that I think gets asked a lot by more conventional Christians (and more or less this was Grace's point in her comment here.)

I think some Christians will say that if Jesus wasn't God, then there is just no point to it. I don't know if my answer to this question would be the same as everyone else's. But to me, it is possible to say that Jesus points the way to God without saying that Jesus himself was God. By analogy, one can be a Buddhist without worshiping the Buddha.

Marcus Borg describes Jesus as a "spirit person", one who had a very intimate relationship with God. I think that his message and life proclaiming the Kingdom of God, his identification with the downtrodden and suffering, his snarky resistance to religious and political authority, and his willingness to give his life for all of that, make it possible for one to be a follower of Jesus without worshiping him as a deity.

To me, he was a person with a very special relationship with God, and through that relationship he disclosed something about God. I am not prepared to say that he is unique. I can see no reason why other charismatic figures with a close relationship with God cannot have existed in human history.

I like the radical monotheism and the message of Jesus and his life. To me, what he discloses about God is what matters, rather than the idea that he himself is God. I think that this does require a paradigm shift from Christian orthodoxy. It is because of this need for a paradigm shift that a lot of Christians, like Grace for example, just can't imagine carrying on the faith. It isn't about anyone dying for our sins, it isn't about atonement, and so forth.

OneSmallStep said...

Society,

**But if there is no trinity - what of Jesus then?**

Like Mystical, I'm also troubled by the idea that if Jesus isn't God, the whole religion is pointless (I know this isn't your point, but rather a question in general that you are extending. You do find a point to Christianity w/out the Trinity).

Because really, what I see in the Bible is if Jesus wasn't resurrected (define that how you will), then the whole religion is pointless.

It comes down to me with the idea from 1 John 4: 12. "Though God has never been seen by any man, God himself dwells in us ..."

Given where we are now, the world in which we live, we can't see God. We can't "see" the spirit. We didn't quite know how to "access" God.

So the Word/wisdom then became flesh, in order to tell us who God was and what God was like. That's why Jesus is important. His life was a radical demonstration of how to live the way of God.

And depending on how one approaches the resurrection, his life was also a demonstration that God is the victor over sin and death. Death, the last great enemy, will be destroyed. The crucifixion and resurrection proved that God's power is "bigger" than the other side. God demonstrated that fact through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I ultimately see him as a physical demonstration to what God the Father -- who is Spirit -- is like.

SocietyVs said...

For me, it is just a basic question - because I have noticed that once we get away from orthodoxy (trinity idea) that we move into 'who is Jesus'? I think it is normal to try define his role in this whole thing.

I keep it simple - but you'd never know that from my blog (lol). Jesus is the messiah and that's where it all starts - including ideas on teachings, atonement, and lifestyle. He ushers in the messianic age - which he only begun and has not fulfilled as of yet. He is human - but he is the one God has used and also granted a special place in the court of God (right hand). I, like most people, take the teachings as the main thing to take away from the Jesus stories.

Grace said...

Part of the reason, the incarnation means so much to Christians is because it shows us in a very tangible way the extreme depth of God's love for us.

God was willing to fully enter into human life and suffering. He absorbed all the consequence of our brokenness into Himself so that we could share in His life.

Christians believe that our lives are hidden with Christ in God. It's not so much that we could have no spirituality or truth apart from this. But, the heart of our faith together would truly be gone.

The outward shell, and familar forms of the church might remain, but without the essential substance.

As much as I might love and care for friends who disagree, I really think that the unique divinity of Jesus Christ is a dividing issue.

Frank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank said...

This may not relate to the nature of Jesus, but one thing I like about the concept of Trinity is that it is ultimately about relationship. God is a verb, they say.

Here's a quote from Ratzinger's excellent book on Eschatology: "being the actuality of relationship which is Trinitarian love, God is not "atomic": he is relationship, since he is love. It is for this reason that he is life."

This is related to his theology that relationship marks life and non-relationship is death. If that is true, the God the creator of life would have to be a God of relationship. Its hard to imagine God as having 3 "parts", but sometimes monotheism makes God seem too static--a thing, not a verb.

(Quoting Ratzinger, I feel like I need to qualify that or risk losing any progressive credentials I might have... but I've found him to be a first rate theologian!)

Mystical Seeker said...

One of the implications of panentheism is that it is not necessary for God to become a human being in order to fully experience what it is like to be a human being, since God incorporates all of our experiences already and has already suffered uncountable horrible deaths. I think it limits God to suggest that he/she has to become a human being in order to know what we go through. God already knows that.

SocietyVs said...

"I really think that the unique divinity of Jesus Christ is a dividing issue." (grace)

Well literally this is true - because if Jesus is divine then we are ripping Him from God (us non-believers in the Trinity). But if he is not God - then division occurs because the church will not accept this view...it's basically a tough one.

I don't think it needs to be a dividing issue though - because it is an either 'is true' or 'not true' issue - what matters is what he taught and we are splitting hairs about the divine aspect of God...although I don't think Jesus is God - that doesn't mean I don't still love God.

Mystical Seeker said...

I don't think it needs to be a dividing issue though - because it is an either 'is true' or 'not true' issue - what matters is what he taught and we are splitting hairs about the divine aspect of God

I agree. It doesn't have to be a dividing issue at all, but there are some who just can't bear to share a faith community with people who think different than they do on this subject. It gets back to an issue of control, I think. There is this need to enforce doctrinal conformity that confuses the whole issue. But actually, I think it is quite possible for those with more orthodox views on Jesus's divinity to have no problem with sharing their churches with non-Trinitarians.

OneSmallStep said...

**Christians believe that our lives are hidden with Christ in God.**

I think statements like this are the most problamatic for me, because to say that Christ is God, and yet one's life is hidden with Christ in God is ... contradictory. In the idea that a life is hidden with Christ in God, the "God" there very clearly does not mean Christ. God there means the Father. How can the heart of one's faith be gone when in that very statement, Christ and God are two seperate people?

There's no consistent defintition to the word "God" when the Trinity is applied.

**I really think that the unique divinity of Jesus Christ is a dividing issue.**

It would depend on the ultimate end of the focus of worship. Almost everything in the New Testament is done to glorify the Father/God. God sent His son, every knee bows at the name of Jesus to glorify God, Jesus going to both his God and our God, God raises him from the dead, God makes people alive in Christ.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think statements like this are the most problamatic for me, because to say that Christ is God, and yet one's life is hidden with Christ in God is ... contradictory. In the idea that a life is hidden with Christ in God, the "God" there very clearly does not mean Christ. God there means the Father.

This gets back to the point I was trying to make in the original posting. There is so much confusion involved in trying to use Trinitarian language that a lot of times when people say "God" they easily can slip out of their professed Trinitarianism and sort of revert to a kind of implicit unitarianism without meaning to.

Grace said...

I think guys, the reality of God as trinity is this mystery that goes beyond human understanding. Our language falls short. I've heard the analogy that it's kind of like folks living in "flatland," trying to
comprehend the possibility of multi-dimensions.

I'm sure you can't agree with all this, but it speaks to me. I can't see so many of these issues as being about "power over." For me, it's about truth, the reality of who God is. How we come to know Him.

To be honest, I think a natural kind of seperation happens. If a church takes a strong position relating to some of these issues, and the clergy preach clearly concerning them, don't compromise the gospel in anyway..

People who are open to this message are eventually going to be drawn to share in the worship and fellowship of Jesus Christ. (God loves the entire world. Jesus died for us all.)

Those that definitely see things differently, and feel strongly though, will just naturally want to hang out elsewhere. In the sameway, that, as an orthodox Christian, I wouldn't go ahead and join a mosque or affilitate with the unitarian/universalist association.

Certainly, I feel the Christian church should be loving and welcoming to any sincere folks that are open and seeking. We shouldn't conduct orthodox litmus tests at the door.

But, I feel it's wrong to compromise our message and beliefs too, or to conduct "bait and switch" operations just to get people in there to be part of our institutions. It seems to me to be a false kind of inclusiveness, not truly centered in the gospel.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**I think guys, the reality of God as trinity is this mystery that goes beyond human understanding. Our language falls short.**

I know I'm flogging this horse to a pitiful death, but even a statement like this ... to me, it's essentially saying that God revealed ... a mystery. It's also saying that 1+1+1=1, and in any other context, we'd dismiss that as absurd. It violates all other truths that we know.

Even to take the statement that God loved us to die for us, and then we are hidden with Christ in God -- can you understand the reaction that Mystical and I have to this? We are told the identity God is paramount, and then the very definition of God becomes incredibly fluid. There's no set idea, as it could mean the Trinity, God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.

Take the statement "For God so loved the world that He sent His only son" and then compare that to the statement "God loved us so much that He became human." The definition of God does not remain consistent in those two sentences.

I don't mean this in a mean way, or to attack you, but one thing that frustrates me about the Trinity as a mystery is that I see it as a cop-out. It can't be explained by the human language, it functions as a contradiction (God is both mortal and immortal, finite and infinite, God can still be eternal and yet die), and yet to "know" God is to know that God is Triune. Except the Trinity is a mystery, which goes against what the very idea of knowledge is supposed to convey.

**I can't see so many of these issues as being about "power over." For me, it's about truth, the reality of who God is. How we come to know Him.**

It's "power over" in the sense that one faction is telling another faction how to encounter God, and the only right way to encounter God. The one faction is saying, "We tell you how to communicate with God. We tell you how to know God."

Mystical Seeker said...

I don't mean this in a mean way, or to attack you, but one thing that frustrates me about the Trinity as a mystery is that I see it as a cop-out. It can't be explained by the human language, it functions as a contradiction (God is both mortal and immortal, finite and infinite, God can still be eternal and yet die), and yet to "know" God is to know that God is Triune.

I agree, I think it is a total cop out. It basically says that we must pay lip service to a theological construct that doesn't make any sense to us, and that we have no recourse of challenging because the tools of logic and reason have been stripped from consideration. It not even considered optional whether we buy into it or not, because it is considered an essential tenet of faith. That's where the whole power thing comes into play. In affirming this theory that makes no logical sense to us, we have let other decide for us what dogma to affirm, and we have no choice but to simply obey because whenever we try to ask for an explanation, we are just told that we just shut up and accept it because it is a mystery. With the tools of reason taken away from us, all that is left is that we must simply repeat the dogma that was handed to us by other human beings in the fourth century AD.

Yes, I think it's a cop out, and yes, I think it's about power. I don't see any other way to look at it.

Andrew said...

The trinity does not bother me so much on the believing the unbelievable part, but rather that the more I study it, the more I find the scriptural support to be so weak. It doesn't seem to hold up using scripture as a reference point. Catholics and Mormons get ripped on for treating church dogma equivalent to scripture, yet the Trinity theory is this extra scripture notion that gets one labeled a heretic for merely questioning.

OSS- that was a great example the way you overlayed John 3:16

OneSmallStep said...

Thanks, Andrew. :)

And I understand what you meant about the Biblical support. I read the New Testament straight through for the first time about six years ago. I never believed that Jesus was God, but have evangelical friends, so I decided to see what the Bible said.

In all honesty, I can understand why it took so long to form the Nicene Creed. There is tons of stuff on Jesus being a man, and Jesus having otherwordly aspects, given the whole Word made flesh. But the Trinity, or Jesus as God puzzled me. If you took someone with no knowledge of Christianity and had them read the New Testament, I don't see them reaching the "automatic" Trinity conclusion. It's too vague, and requires too much inference.

If this is the end all and be all of the Christian faith, I would expect it to be "bigger" in the New Testament. I would expect Paul to make it a criteria of faith, and for there to be huge arguments about it in his letters -- and mentioning that it was one of the reasons why the Jews had difficulty with the gospel.

Grace said...

I know you're not trying to be mean, One. And, Mystical I can't imagine you ever just shutting up, or blindly accepting anything. (LOL)

I think the Scripture can be read to infer God imaged as a trinity. Scripture teaches that God is one. Yet, divine attributes are given to Jesus, as well as God's spirit. Sometimes a trinitarian kind of formula is used.

But, somehow guys, I have a feeling that you've already searched this out, and can't agree.

Still, if you're interested C.S. Lewis has written some insightful things in this area. And, I'm sure there are even more recent books out there as well. Reading early church history is interesting, too.

For now, I guess we'll all have to agree to disagree.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

A question -- if the trinity is the dividing line for who is and is not a Christian, why do you think the concept wasn't more explicit? Why wasn't it a dividing line for the gospel, per Paul? Why didn't the speeches in Acts mention it as part of receiving salvation? Why when Jesus so often asks people who he is, they respond with the Messiah, Son of the living God, and that is enough for Jesus?

Okay, that was more like four questions. :)

Note -- there is a difference between saying that something pre-existed, and something was God.

Grace said...

Hi, One,

I'm not sure I can fully answer your questions, One. God's revelation to us is progressive. And, I think, even today, in preaching the gospel we have to try and meet folks where they're at.

I mean even Dr. Billy Graham doesn't usually share with people a full dissertation concerning the trinity when He invites them to receive Christ. :) I think if we give every part of who we are to Jesus Christ and open ourselves to Him, He will do the rest.

I do think that the trinity is implied in the N.T. God is one. Yet, there are affirmations relating to the divinity of Jesus...In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is clearly referenced as God.


It all fits together, and makes sense to me.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think that, as usual, One Small Step raises a lot of valid questions. It is odd indeed that something that is supposedly "essential" to the faith is never made explicit as a tenet of faith in the Bible itself.

Does the Bible imply it? I see plenty of examples where the Bible doesn't imply it, and in fact strongly indicates just the opposite. I cited examples of where the Bible distinguished Jesus from God, and commenters have pointed out other examples in comments to this thread. And the further back you go in the Bible--for example, to Mark, the first Gospel, or even further back to Paul--the more removed from any idea of Jesus's divinity you go. That is why Matthew whitewashed Mark's reporting of Jesus's statement that questioned why he was called "good" when no one was good but God.

(I always found it odd that even Protestants who are fixated on "sola scriptura" still insist that the Trinity is an absolute tenet of faith, when as Grace pointed out, the only way you can really justify this doctrine's post-Biblical origins is by saying that revelation is progressive.)

If revelation is progressive, then this implies that the first Christians (and Jesus himself) did not consider Jesus to be God, but a few centuries later a group of Christians decided in retrospect to identify Jesus in that way, and that furthermore they were completely right about it and were right to suppress dissent on the question.

What we're left with is modern day Christian gatekeepers, whose entire justification for turning this late-developed doctrine not found in the Bible into an unassailable tenet of faith, who use "it makes sense to me" as a membership criterion. If a church is going to create a theological litmus test based on something that only "makes sense to me", then what are we left with?

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**I do think that the trinity is implied in the N.T. God is one. Yet, there are affirmations relating to the divinity of Jesus...In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is clearly referenced as God.**

But what I'm getting at is your earlier comments that a Christian can only be a Christian if they accept Jesus as God. Paul lays out some very clear groundwork as to what he feels the gospel is, and what gospel one must accept. What part of that includes that Jesus is God? If one confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes in the Resurrection, one is saved. If one holds that Jesus died for one's sins, was buried, was raised, and so forth, and someone holds to that, someone is holding to the gospel. The thing with the 'Lord' idea is that it's not synonmous with calling someone 'God.' Even Psalms 110 shows this -- The Lord said to my lord -- that second lord referenced in Psalms 110 is not talking about God, it's talking about a human person. Adonai said to adon/adoni.

Even to go back to Acts -- if it's that important to the entire matter, why don't the speeches mention it? Why do they make Jesus so human? I know you said you can't fully answer this, but does it truly make sense to you that something this important would be revealed so gradually? Unlike everything else?

I don't see the Billy Graham example as working, just because it's two different time frames. Today, everyone is aware of the Christian aspect that Jesus is God. Why would he need to expound upon that if asking people to accept Christ? 2,000 years ago, there was no world-wide knowledge of the Trinity, or Jesus as God.

In the Acts part, are you referring to Acts 5? The man lied to the Holy Spirit, and then lying to God? But if the HOly Spirit is sent by God, and represents God ... why would that make the Holy Spirit God? If I send a friend as my mouthpiece to deliver a message, and the "mouthpiece" is lied to, then I am also lied to. That doesn't make me the same as the mouthpiece.

Mystical Seeker said...

The thing with the 'Lord' idea is that it's not synonmous with calling someone 'God.'

That is a very important point. Saying that Jesus was Lord was a provocative political statement as much as a theological one. The Lordship of Jesus was in contrast to the Lordship of Caesar. But that has nothing to do with Jesus being God.

OneSmallStep said...

**If a church is going to create a theological litmus test based on something that only "makes sense to me", then what are we left with?**

This would also be complicated, because of how the lines are drawn. On the one hand, the idea of God as a Trinity is a mystery. It doesn't make sense to finite human understanding. I believe how Grace described it would be similiar to many other Trinitarians: the mystery goes beyond human understanding, the langauge falls short, and the analogy she provided.

On the other hand, based on the inferences in the NT, it is claimed that defining Jesus as God is a sensible conclusion.

But where's the line drawn between what makes sense, and the mystery? How much of it makes sense, verses the mysterious portion? It seems like it would make sense superficially -- and by that, I mean that we would say God is a Trinity the same way that a two year old can repeat that 5+5=10. The two year old understands that those words go together, that's the proper response, but doesn't comprehend why adding the fives together make ten. It would be a mystery to them, and beyond the understanding they have at the time.

So does it make sense in a comprehensible sort of way, or in a way that says it has to be that way because of a certain way the Bible is read?

It just seems that too much of the Bible would then be left a mystery, and then how can it provide any use?

Take the following verse in Romans, from chapter 8: 9-11

"... since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the ded will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you."

How does one maintain a consistent definition of God in that paragraph? The Spirit would probably go for the Holy Spirit, which is defined as God. Yet it's the Spirit of God, so that means that the second God is not the Trinity God, but God the Father. Then the Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Christ ... so we're again referring to God, only not Trinue God, but God-Spirit and God-Son.

Only then the idea switches to the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead. The 'him' has to be God-Father, and but it was just referred to as the Spirit of Christ, only it's now the Spirit of Him who raised Christ, so it either can't be the Spirit of Christ, or it still counts as the Spirit of Christ, since they're all God -- Triune God.

If we go further, to verse 14:

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry 'Abba! Father!" it is that very spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ ..."

What about the definition of God there? The God would have to be God-Father, since people are being called the heirs, and then joint-heirs with Christ. So we are children of God the Father (which, if we keep following through, would put us as brothers with Christ? So then brothers with God?)

I just feel that if the analysis of God goes that in-depth, the whole crumbles, because how is the definition maintained?

Grace said...

Well, guys, I'm not a theologian or much of a Biblical scholar. I'm sure there are folks out there who could do a much better job of responding to these question than me. But, I'll share my own thinking. I can just talk abit now, and then will get back.

In Acts, if the Holy Spirit is not God, but a kind of mouthpiece, like a friend of God. Who is He then?

Are you feeling that there are lesser gods, or the Holy Spirit is like an angel?

Also, how can the death of Christ have anything to do with the forgiveness of sin, if He is a mere man?

Or, One, are you thinking that Jesus is sort of like a lesser god, or that God literally had a son?

Will you share with me abit more concerning your own faith, One. Then things might make more sense to me here.

More about this Romans passage later. I need to give it some thought.

I do think there are many people who recieve Jesus Christ today, who may not have received alot of teaching relating to the trinity. Even when young children trust Christ, how complete is their understanding? I would not persume that they are not really Christians.

But, as people grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, I think they need to grapple with the concept of God as trinity, and the claims of the Christian church.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**In Acts, if the Holy Spirit is not God, but a kind of mouthpiece, like a friend of God. Who is He then?**

It wasn't a matter of the identity of God. It was showing that in Acts 5, simply because it's said that one has lied to the Holy Spirit, and lied to God, does not make them the same thing. If you lie to a messenger, you also lie to the person who sent the messenger.

To answer your question, though, I see the Holy Spirit as God's presence in the world, or God's agent in the world. And this might get a little lengthy, but the words used for spirit in Hebrew and Greek corresponded with the words of 'wind' or 'breath.' So it was a way the writers had to describe encounters with God -- describing like something you can't physically see, but can "feel." But it was also connected with the life-sustaining breath of God. But if the Spirit is referring to God's spirit, then it would be of a different association, such as the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is something that God sends out to people, part of what dwells in people.

**Also, how can the death of Christ have anything to do with the forgiveness of sin, if He is a mere man? **

From my understanding, Christianity sees the sacrifices in the Tanakh as foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ. I would assume that also entails the forgiveness of sins. How could those animals provide temporary forgiveness, if they weren't God? Not only that, the very definition of 'God' precludes the ability to die. God cannot die. It's part of the eternal aspect, with no beginning, and no end. If you say that Jesus died for one's sins, and was God, are you saying there is a point at which God the Son simply ceased to exist? Can that occur, and God still be God? If the God the Son did not in fact cease to exist, then the thing that actually died for the forgiveness of sins is Jesus the man, and only the man.

But even if you don't hold that Jesus is God, I can still see the forgiveness idea working: take Romans 5. Paul there compares Adam and Jesus. Many died through one man's trespass, so many shall also live through one man as well. Through the obedience of that one man, Jesus, many have been given righteousness. But even in that passage, it's comparing the humanity of the two men.

Paul goes into chapter 6, where it says that the old self was crucified with Jesus, and so if they have died with Christ, they will also live with Christ, and by dying, he died to sin. So if the Christians also die to sin, they are no longer under the power of sin.

I see Jesus as an archtype, and almost taking on everyone when he was crucified, and so 'killing' the old nature of everyone, and thus demonstrating the death of that nature, and the new one. If you die "with" Jesus, you are reborn "with" Jesus.

I'm going to quote something from Karen Armstrong's book, the History of God, in relation to Jesus. "[Paul] called [Jesus} "The Son of God" in it's Jewish sense ... [Jesus] had simply posessed God's "powers" and "Spirit," which manifested God's activity on earth and were not to be identified with the inaccessible divine essence ... LIke the divine WIsdom, the "Word" symbolized God's original plan for creation. When Paul and John spoke about Jesus as though he had some kind of preexistent life, they were not suggesting that he was a second divine person in the later Trinitarian sense. They were indicating that Jesus had transcended temporal and individual modes of existence. Because the "power" and "wisdom" he represented were activities derived from God, he had in som eway expressed "that which was there from the beginning."

To answer your question about my faith, I've had an off/on encounter with God. I wasn't raised to ever believe in the Trinity, or that Jesus was God, but in more of a unitarian sense. My perspective is always the idea that God is one, and there is only one God, one person of God, one essence of God.

I don't think that there are lesser gods, or that Jesus was a god in a lesser sense.

**More about this Romans passage later. I need to give it some thought.**

It's not just the Romans passage, Grace. TAke any passage in the New Testament like this, and find a consisent use of the word 'God.' How are they defining God? Father, Son, Holy Spirit, or the Triune God?

Romas 8: 26-30. HOw is God defined in those passages? The God who searches the heart -- Triune God, Father, Jesus, or HS? Romans 9: 16-24 -- which 'God' is the one who shows mercy, who shows mercy on whomever He chooses.

1 Corinthians, chapter 2. Which 'God' is the one whose mystery Paul is proclaiming? Or the God who revealed things through His Spirit?

2 Corinthians 5: 11-21. Christians are well-known to God -- which one? They are well-known to God, and the love of Christ urges them on? Is God there referring to Christ? Or the Father, since it then goes on to say Christ died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Christ who died and was raised for them. The 'was raised' would lead me to believe it was God the Father, since 'was raised' is passive, and incidated something raised Jesus.

Then it says that those in Christ are a new creation, and it is from God, who recoincield himself to us through Christ, so 'God' there would have to be God the Father? They are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through Christians, and so on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God, who made Christ be sin -- Christ, who knew no sin.

Collossians 1: 15-20. Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. God there would be which one? I would say the Father, since Christ is the firstborn of all creation. Christ was the one in whom all things were created, and all were created for him (the passive voice here makes me see it as God the Father created through Christ). He is before all things, he is the beignning, the firstborn of the dead, so that he can have the first place in everything. "In Christ, all the fullness God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleaced to reconcile to Himself all things."

That verse is particular key, for what does 'God' mean in the fullness of God dwelling in Christ, compared to the God who who reconciled to Himself all things through Christ? The latter would refer to the Father, but the former refers to which God? It would seem to lean more towards the fullness of God the Father was pleased to dwell, but that again is holding some sort of seperation between the two.

Or even Thomas's proclimation of Jesus being both his God and his Lord -- how is 'God' defined in that sense? In every instance, God is connected with the Father. Here, Thomas cannot be using it in that Jesus is God the Father. But how would have Thomas defined 'God' there or even meant 'God?'

**Even when young children trust Christ, how complete is their understanding?**

Given that the Trinity is a mystery, how complete is anyone's understanding regarding it? To say that God is one in essence, yet three people simply does not make sense, no matter how old one is. Hence why it goes back to being a mystery. Is it truly something that can be comprehended?

Grace said...

One,

I don't think God as trinity is something that anyone can fully comprehend, let alone explain. It's where we begin in our knowledge of God.

It seems best to me to look at all of the Scripture, and the testimony of the church as a whole.

To try to tease out some of these individual Scripture verses, and completely wrap our mind around all this seems impossible to me.

But, I seriously think the only way to get around the idea of God as trinity from the Scripture is to suppose that Jesus is some kind of lesser god. (This really doesn't make sense though since Scripture and the church both affirm God as one.) We're not polytheists.

For instance, here in Col. the Scripture is saying that by Jesus all things were created...all things were created by Him, and for Him. .in Him all things hold together.. I mean how can we look at this as saying anything other that in some real sense Jesus is God. Can a man create, or hold all things together?

What about John 1? The Word was God, referring to Christ. All things were made by Him.

We also have the witness again of Paul in Phil. With all due respect, I think that Karen Armstrong is mistaken. Paul also clearly states that Jesus Christ was in very nature God, but that He emptied Himself, being made in human likeness... Mystical, to me this is a perfect picture of the incarnation. The least that can be said is that Paul was a binarian. (laughing)

I'm feeling that when Jesus died for us, it was His physical body that died. His inner self was eternal, and didn't die. (Hope I"m not falling into some heresy here. :))

I've heard the explanation that only God could provide an infinite sacrifice, and that only a man could in some sense be our substitue. (Check out Heb. 10:1-18.) Jesus was the god/man.

Of course, One, Christians all disagree concerning theories of the atonement. I'm sure you're aware of that. And, any analogy we use will fall miserably short.

My own conviction is that God saves in Christ. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Him, we're made able to share in the life of God. All my trust is in Him. But, I can leave all the exact mechanics of this to the Lord.

One, I've enjoyed talking with you. If you're not a professor of religious studies or philosophy somewhere, you should be. :)

God bless!

Your friend,
Grace

Mystical Seeker said...

So, in a nutshell, we have a litmus test of faith that requires people to pay lip service to a theological position that no one understands.

The motto should be: "Don't think, don't understand--just parrot, and we'll let you in our exclusive club. Otherwise, you're out!"

There is something seriously wrong with this picture. No wonder so many people are alienated from Christian orthodoxy.

Grace said...

Mystical,

When I was a young woman, I challenged and questioned God about everything even though I wasn't certain if He was even there. I was looking for truth and meaning fiercely as many young people are.

Then one evening I had this, how can I explain it, a mystical experience. I sensed and realized the awesome power, and infinite wisdom of the Lord. I knew deep down inside the limits and finiteness of my own human understanding. Even intellectually I felt humbled.

My words can't even express this "knowing" to you. But, there is a difference between knowing our human limits to understand and describe all of God, and just checking our minds at the church door.

God as trinity speaks to me as truth. I think if we could fully understand, and know everything about the mystery of God, that god would probably be an idol that we created ourselves to support our own philosophy, and personal world view... a god made in our own image, and not the other way around.

Sincerely,
Grace.

Mystical Seeker said...

God as trinity speaks to me as truth.

If that speaks to you, more power to you. I would not take that away from you. The issue I am bringing up is that you are imposing what speaks to you as a litmus test for others.

You talk about "knowing our human limits to understand" and yet you presume to tell others what theological positions they are allowed to take. You want to have it both ways. You talk about the limits to our understanding and yet you turn around and insist that your own limited understanding is a litmus test for the faith of others.

You talk about the mystical experience that you have had with God through the lens of Trinitarianism, and yet you deny the legitimacy of the mystical experiences of others who don't share your theology.

If we accept that the human understanding of God is limited, then we open the door to the very religious pluralism that you deny.

If we accept that human understanding is limited, that means that human exploration of God's nature means taking chances, making provisional choices, having the freedom to make mistakes, and being free to explore theology in directions that may take us beyond the limits of dogma. Intellectual and theological freedom derives from knowing that human understanding is limited; dogmatism is the enemy of this freedom.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

The problem I see with the response here, though, is that I don't have a consistent way of determining what God means in any of the verses I've provided, let alone any verse in the Bible. Even take your statement of "God saves in Christ. He is the lamb of God, and allows you to share in the life of God."

There, you mean God as the Father. Although I'm unsure which 'God' you refer to in terms of sharing the life. Shouldn't the definition of God be very clear by use the word 'God,' as opposed to context?

And this is the problem I have --
I don't see how telling me to look at all of the Bible and the church tradition provides an answer to my questions. It comes across as more like saying that this is how it's always been, so just accept it. If I look at the entire BIble, I still run into the same problem of defining 'God.' How does telling me to look at the entire Bible solve the difficulties shown in the verses I provided? I'll find the same complications no matter which part of the Bible I look in. So I'm left with no answer to those individual Bible passages?

**For instance, here in Col. the Scripture is saying that by Jesus all things were created...all things were created by Him, and for Him. .in Him all things hold together..**

Because it can also correspond with the wisdom aspects used in Proverbs 8: 27. There's also the fact that he is called the *firstborn* of all creation, and that in him, all things were created. In the Logos/wisdom, all things were created.

Not only that, contrast it to Acts 17: 24-31. The 'God' there cannot refer to Jesus, because at the end of the passage, this God has appointed a man to judge the world, and proven this apointment by raising this man from the dead. This 'God' is the Father who made the world and everything in it.

**What about John 1? The Word was God, referring to Christ. All things were made by Him.**

Okay, take John 1. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Although, I've also seen translations that hold to the idea that the Word was divine, and thus describing the characteristics of the Logos.

Define God in that paragraph. Or look at how the use of 'God' does not remain consistent. And then it says that all things came into being through the Logos -- why can't that mean that God created through the Logos?

** Paul also clearly states that Jesus Christ was in very nature God, but that He emptied Himself, being made in human likeness...**

But Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God -- and God there means the Father, I would presume. But what does 'form' mean in that sentence? If one wants to get techincal, aren't we all in the form of God to some degree or another? And it also says that Christ Jesus did not seize at equality with God (like Adam did), but rather emptied himself, and then God raised him high and gave him a name. There's still an idea of Christ being inferior to God, because a name is given to Jesus due to the obedience Jesus demonstrated, as opposed to the obedience Adam demonstrated. Not only that, the people are bowing, in the end, for the glory of God the Father. This name given to Jesus was not his from the beginning, but only given to him by God, and he only received it because of his obedience.

Not only that, why doesn't Paul simply say, "Have the mind of Christ Jesus, who is God?" How can this be a picture of the incarnation when the name 'God' is never used to describe Christ?

**I've heard the explanation that only God could provide an infinite sacrifice, and that only a man could in some sense be our substitue.**

Well, nothing in Hebrews 10 indicates that Christ is God. Rather, the 'God' there is referring to God the Father. (That, and on another note, the Psalms is quoted wrong. It references Psalms 40: 6-8, which says, "Sacrifices and offering you do not desire, but you have givne me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required." But that's a whole other thing).

Not only that, but do you say that God died in physical body only? The inner self kept going? Is that really even a death, then? Because this again comes down to the fact that by very definition, to say something is God is to say it's eternal -- it can't die. So how can God provide any sort of sacrifice if God can't die?

I'm not sure if you'll respond to this, given that you seemed to indicate an end to the convo in your last response, so thank you also for the conversation.

SocietyVs said...

"don't think God as trinity is something that anyone can fully comprehend, let alone explain. It's where we begin in our knowledge of God." (Grace)

Interesting. We have a theory about God that cannot be truly understood - OSS and Mystical question the Trinity as a solid belief - then all of a sudden you take a firm stand on a belief you cannot even fully explain nor understand (it's mystery)...why should anyone accept that belief if it not understandable - shouldn't it be put to the side until it can be further expanded upon and we go to the default position of Monotheism?

Fact is, the Jewish people accept God as One (and always have in those Tanakh passages that both Paul and Jesus quote from) - and for some odd reason the Judaic faith is very sure of their claim 'God is One'. Turn the page to Christian beliefs - and we have a Triune God that is supposed to be One God - but that belief has not basis in the Tanakh at all (it is exterior to the texts and was added in). And it is always a 'mystery' even though the texts make no claim to this.

"a god made in our own image, and not the other way around" (Grace)

This is actually the fear from the Monotheism side - are we creating God too much into our image and what we want to see? God as human - that seems about as far as one could go with the idea of 'a god made in our image' if you ask me. That's why it strikes me Jesus would not do this - he believed in One God also and followed the Torah/Law - where God is explicitly 'taking no partners to Himself'.

Mystery is a convenient way to hold to a belief one cannot make sense of. OSS and Mystical are currently also studying the bible on this issue and coming to a perspective where Jesus is not God - based on the same scriptures any church would be using to make a Trinity definition. Real question is - why are they coming to this conclusion? I don't think their viewpoints can be ignored because something is a 'mystery'...I admit God is mysterious - but He has been understood as One for over 2000 years (traditionally) prior to Jesus even arriving.

Grace said...

Hey One, and Myst.

My husband and I are relocating, and it's going to be crazy for several days. In a while, I won't have access to this computer. So, I have to give everyone the last word.

I feel really strongly that even though we can't know God completely by any means. Aspects of Him are "mystery." I think that we can know Him truly. The Christian faith is a revealed religion. Christians believe that God loves us so much that He became one of us, so to speak. He reached out to us so that we could have a real relationship with Him.

I fully affirm there there's something of truth and beauty in other faiths and philosophies. And, I certainly don't feel that everyone who hasn't come to conscious faith in Christ, in the triune God, is heading straight for Hell. Noway!

But, on the other hand, I can't affirm that every opinion relating to God is equally true, and valid either. To use an extreme example, if Muslims believe that the concept of God as trinity, or that Jesus even died on the cross at all is blasphamous...Can this paradigm be true, and the affirmation of Christian faith also truly true at the sametime?

This doesn't make sense to me guys.

But, here's my hope. Paul writes that right now, "We see through a glass darkly," but that someday we'll fully understand everything, and see the Lord face to face.

The knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ, and His gospel will fill the whole earth. Hallalujah!! :)

God bless, and the peace of the Lord to everyone here.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**Can this paradigm be true, and the affirmation of Christian faith also truly true at the sametime?**

Why not? Many Christians hold that 1+1+1=1. God is both one and three. How can both be true at the same time? :)