Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Earliest Theology 3

posted by xscot mcknight

In Irenaeus’ great studyDemonstration of the Apostolic Preaching we are treated in paragraph six to one of the earliest summaries of the principle articles of the Christian faith. Here they are:
Is there any story of the Christian faith that can ignore these three articles? Trinitarian faith is the historic faith of the Church. Already in the 2d Century — not fourth — Irenaeus not only teaches a Trinity-shaped faith but assumes this is the only faith the Church knows.
The “order” begins with the “foundation”: “God, the Father, uncreated, uncontainable, invisible, one God, the Creator of all” [6].
Second, “the Word of God, the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord … revealed by the prophets … “by whom all things were made” and “who, in the last times, to recapitulate all things, became a man amongst men, visible and palpable, in order to abolish death, to demonstrate life, and to effect communion between God and man.
Third, the Holy Spirit. What here? It was through the Spirit the prophets did their work, it was through the Spirit that the patriarchs learned, it was through the Spirit that the righteous were led, and who was poured out “in a new fashion upon the human race renewing man, throughout the world, to God” [6].
Therefore, [7] “the baptism of our regeneration takes place through these three articles.” What does it do? “granting us regeneration unto God the Father through His Son by the Holy Spirit.”



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 25, 2007 at 2:06 am


I think it is a gross anachronism to speak of trinitarian theology in Iraeneus. If this is the case, there is obviously also trinity-shaped faith in the New Testament. The question, in my view, isn´t if one should speak about Father, Son and S/spirit, even arians and other “heretics” do this, the question is whether the fourth and fifth century´s church-teaching on God as one and three, and about “persons” and “natures”, is normative to every generation of believers and the only legitimate way to read the scriptures.



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Diane

posted September 25, 2007 at 6:22 am


Scot,
Could you compare this briefly to Augustine’s notion of the Trinity? I’m leaving in a couple of hours for a Bible study on that … What about your notion of perichoresis?



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Lew A

posted September 25, 2007 at 7:53 am


Very interesting.
I am enjoying this series very much.
Lew
The Pursuit Online Store



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Scott Lyons

posted September 25, 2007 at 10:29 am


Jonas, I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking, so forgive any wrong assumptions, but the reason that Arius and all who follow him are heretics is for the very reason that they no longer read the Scriptures legitimately concerning the Holy Trinity.
Why would questions defined in the fourth century be gross anachronisms in the second? On the contrary, the doctrine is defined in the fourth because it is believed in the second – and the first. Arian is a heretic because God is Holy Trinity. And Holy God as Holy Trinity was, is, and always shall be the only legitimate way to read the Scriptures (and be orthodox). The Trinity is the center, the “very root,” of our faith. To define God differently is to leave the faith.
Similarly, how can we view Jesus as anything but two natures in one person? The terminology may evolve to better express it, or to clarify, but the One Who is expressed remains the same. Our best understanding is expressed in saying two natures in one person. For the Trinity, the best we can do is to understand One in Three and Three in One. Again, the terminology may change but the One Who is being expressed cannot and does not.



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 25, 2007 at 11:11 am


Scott Lyons. Apparently this is a non-question to you. To me, though, and to many others, it seems obvious that the language of the fourth century is (very) different from the Bible and the NT (and Iraeneus!). For example, the apostles almost always speaks about “God and Jesus”. Jesus is desribed as a human being and mentioned at the side of or under God (1 Tim 2:5, 1 Kor 8:6). At the same time Paul and others argue that God has chosen him, raised him and exalted him to the place at the right hand of God. But this is a language deeply rooted in the story of the gospels, while the later creeds have a quite loose connection to the story of Jesus birth, baptism, obedience, miracles, death, resurrection and exaltation.
At least I think we need to argue why we desperately need the language of trinity, persons, natures etc, when it is not in the Bible and by the way is extremely hard to understand in our post- or late modern context. Since this is supposed to be a dialogue, please put forward some arguments instead of saying that heresy is heresy because it is heresy and God is trinity because God is trinity.



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Rick L in Tx

posted September 25, 2007 at 11:31 am


I do not know whether we need the language of trinity. But I am convinced that we need what I perceieve to be the essential truths behind the trinty – i.e., a) that there are three individuals or persons b) who are distinct from one another and c) that these three are mentioned in the New Testament, and d) that each of them is called “God” explicitly or implicitly, while affirming that e) there is one God.



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Scott Lyons

posted September 25, 2007 at 11:44 am


Jonas, I appreciate what you’re saying. However, the nature of Christ and the Holy Trinity are non-negotiables. They’re not, for me, up for discussion.
Authority is the issue (as it usually is). And therefore the creed is an excellent place for us to begin our discussion, but the creeds speak of Christ’s humanity and divinity and of God’s being Trinity.
If we can’t agree at least to begin there, I’m not sure that we can discuss it. Arius used the same Scriptures as I use to say that Christ is not God. So I’m not sure that if we dispense with the idea of the Trinity and begin haggling from the Scriptures that we’ll get anywhere. I’m no Athansius. I’m no Basil.
The Scriptures speak clearly, however, about Jesus and the Father being One. The Scriptures call Jesus God, and the Holy Spirit God (and Person). The Great Commission says to baptize in the name of God – trinitarian God. And if there is any doubt, go to the Jordan – God is there, in Trinity.
To become more involved may be beyond the scope or purpose of this post. You’re welcome to get in touch with me if you’d like to pursue such a discussion. But I’m rather close-minded on these doctrines.



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Sarah

posted September 25, 2007 at 11:56 am


I’m not sure if the creeds can be said to be different from the Scripture. The Nicene creed itself is little more than a recounting (a recapitualation) of the Scripture. Every word in the Nicene creed has a scriptural basis. This would have been evident to everyone reading both the creed and Scripture in Greek at the time, though modern translation of both have a tendency to obfuscate this connection.
I’m not sure if the “lower” Christology of Scripture can be pushed too far. We first see Christ as he has revealed himself to us in the Incarnation, then through him we see the Father by the Holy Spirit. This humanity of Christ does not de facto exclude the divinity.
As for “God and Jesus” the “God” here is the Father. The New Testament writers and the early church fathers referred to “God” as being the Father. (cf. all the references to “God the Father” in the NT and Origen saying that the Name of God IS Father). Jesus is the monogenes, the unique Son of God” and as the Son is everything the Father is. Therefore, we only know God as he is, i.e. Father, through the Son. (For without a Son God is not a Father).
As for language of natures and properties etc. I don’t have any problem with using terminology to express what Scripture is saying. It is what is being expressed, not the terminology, that defines Orthodoxy. Basil clearly says (in On the Holy Spirit) that such while some things of the Christian faith are not Scriptural they are Traditional, meaning that they express Christian truths which are in line with what Scripture teaches. Interestingly, Basil already quotes Irenaeus as being a traditional authority on the Trinity.
As for modern approaches to terminology, I think we have to be careful not to recreate God according to our own philosophical sensibilities. Rahner’s reworking of “person” , for example, I find problematic. Sure, person does not mean personality (the Cappadocians never said that in the first place) but that doesn’t mean we have propose semi-Modalism to take its place.



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Scott Lyons

posted September 25, 2007 at 11:57 am


Jonas, I’m sorry. In comment #6 I made certain assumptions about your background that I’m wrong to make. Mostly due to the context of this blog, I would imagine, but it’s a wrong assumption regardless.
I would be happy to discuss with you why I think, and why I think the Church has always taught, that Jesus is both God and man, that God is Trinity. I believe the Scriptures are clear on these subjects and I believe the early Fathers and the Church is clear (and right) in further illuminating them for us.
Again, I’m not sure this post would be the place to do it. Feel free to follow the link to my blog – my e-mail is available there.



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Brian M.

posted September 25, 2007 at 1:03 pm


I am very thankful for Scott’s and Jonas’s honesty and candor. In a small way, this mirrors the larger debate surrounding and within the emerging church (see similarities with Webber’s Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church).
On the one hand, I think it is acceptable for Jonas to ask the question, “do the creeds accurately represent Scripture?” We should always be willing to go back to the Scriptures, even if this means giving up something precious like the Nicene Creed. I think this is consistent with what the Reformers wanted to do (and for us to continue to do).
On the other hand, I think it is important to listen to the historical church. The fact that the Nicene Creed has been accepted by every major branch of Christianity for 2,000 years means something. Think about how many people of different denominations, eras, ethnicities, etc. there are reading Scripture and coming to the same conclusion.
This leads to my final point, we must always go back to Scripture, and Scripture concludes (so says the church of 2,000 years) that God exists in three persons. Even Nicene uses different language (not written in koine greek), it accurately represents the teaching of Scripture on the nature of God. And the nature of God is normative to every generation of believers.



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Matthew

posted September 25, 2007 at 1:15 pm


I never thought of this before, but great stuff.
http://www.matthewsblog.waynesborochurchofchrist.org



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Scott M

posted September 25, 2007 at 4:25 pm


Jonas, when you say that you think something is a gross anachronism you are making a historical assertion. And when you make such a historical assertion which is contrary to the accepted evidence for the past many centuries, it really does place the burden of proof squarely on your shoulders. Revisionist history is not always wrong, but it tends to more often be motivated by particular agendas.



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vynette

posted September 25, 2007 at 5:17 pm


Scott L, you said:
“The Scriptures call Jesus God”
I beg to differ, Scott. Please give one citation.
Scott M, you said:
“Revisionist history is not always wrong, but it tends to more often be motivated by particular agendas.”
No matter the plenitude of numbers, or the length of time a belief is held, the great majority could still be wrong.
Jesus challenged the beliefs that had been held by the majority for a great length of time. He was therefore viewed as a heretic, a blasphemer, a malcontent, and a man bent on overturning accepted values. He also had an “agenda” – the establishment of a Kingdom in which God would rule, not the religious establishment.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 25, 2007 at 5:26 pm


Vynette,
John 20:28: My Lord and my God.



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Sarah

posted September 25, 2007 at 6:04 pm


Outside of the Johannine literature:
Rom. 9:5 “…Christ according to the flesh the one being the God over all be blessed forever..”
Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (here one article and one possessive pronoun indicates that “God and Savior” are both referring to one subject)
I’m not sure if I agree with the idea that Jesus was some kind of revolutionary. He proclaimed himself the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and also told the people to listen to the rabbi’s because they sit in the seat of Moses. The message of Jesus fits easily in pre-70 Judaism. Only after 70 (and more 135) did Judaism change (and rather dramatically if I may say so).
Even in my postmodernism I am still a historian, and as such I respect the cultural milieu and philosophies in which texts were written to gain an understanding of the meaning. The NT depiction of Jesus as being the Son of God, being everything the Father is, the paschal sacrifice, etc. all indicate their faith in Jesus as Divine. That this faith continues in the early Christian writings testifies that this was not a minority idea. It is also, perhaps, the only coherent way of Christianity. Arianism may look simple and nice on the face of it, but in reality it just doesn’t work as a religion. Religions need to be self-coherent for all the different aspects of the theology to work, and Arianism (and Gnosticism) just doesn’t offer that in the end.



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Scott M

posted September 25, 2007 at 7:05 pm


vynette, even in the bit you quoted, I said pretty directly that revisionists are not automatically wrong simply because they speak against the majority. I said the greater burden of proof for their revisionist claims lies with them. I do read a bit and I had an interest in history, particularly ancient history, long before any identifiable Christian portion of my journey. And frankly, the evidence from those who support the perspective Jonas outlined strikes me as pretty weak and flimsy from a historical perspective. The majority story simply fits what we know better in a continuous arc. Jonas made assertions of fact for a minority view of history and provided nothing to support them. That’s all I was saying.
More broadly, the synoptics are pretty clear about Jesus’ self-perception of his role as prophet and Messiah. They are not as directly obvious as the Johannine literature, but Jesus again and again places himself in the place in his parables and teachings and actions reserved for Yahweh. And typically, it was when he did that that people wanted to kill him. The prophetic and messianic claims might be accepted or rejected, and they were certainly different than the typical messianic claims. But that’s not why people wanted to stone him.
Ephesians 1 also clearly evokes the Daniel image of the Son of Man enthroned with the Ancient of Days. Colossians 1 states the idea in John’s gospel a little differently, but holds everything to have been created through and sustained by Jesus. He existed before all was made.
I just thought I would add a bit to what others have written.
We also see in Matthew 28 and Luke 24 that his followers worshiped him after the Resurrection. These were good Jews. I think people like to gloss over those implications.
In short, there is a continuous thread through the NT, into early Christian writings and on through the first of the ecumenical councils once Roman persecution ceased. It is the gnostics, the Arians, and others who deviated from the norm of that arc, not the other way around. That is what everything we have preserved from that time tells us and generally what has been accepted by most. Therefore, the postmodern in me grows curious about the agendas driving an alternative story.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 25, 2007 at 7:31 pm


Good to read. And great to know that this was written so early to refute some who think this was invented in the fourth century. Thanks, Scot.



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vynette

posted September 26, 2007 at 12:51 am


Scot,
In John Chapter 20, Jesus draws a previous and definite distinction between himself and God: “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” (verse 17) Verse 28 must be viewed with this already stated distinction in mind: “Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.” Thomas is here addressing two separate entities – both Jesus as Lord and the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
Sarah,
You quoted Titus 2:13: “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (NASB). It is the “glory of God” as embodied in Jesus, that is hoped for here. Even if one does not like this particular translation, it is obvious from Matt. 16:27 that it is indeed the correct one. “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father…” and also Mark 8:38: “…of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father…”
The entire NT witnesses to the separation and subordination of Jesus to God.
Consider the same book of Titus where God and Jesus are separate: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.” (1:4)
Also, 1 Tim. 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope…”
And 2 Thessalonians 1:12 “so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and (the) Lord Jesus Christ” (similar construction to Titus 2:13.)
Consider also 1 Timothy 2:3-5: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 26, 2007 at 2:06 am


-I did not know that it was controversial to argue that there is a difference between the language of the creeds and the NT. To me this seems to be what many theologians teach, even conservative ones. The controversial stuff, I thought, was whether the development was a good and legitimate one or not. The concepts of “persons” and “natures” are CENTRAL to the creeds, but non-existant in the New Testament. Isn´t this a difference, than what is? Please explain.
-I am not Arian. I think the “orthodox” view might have been the best way to put it, in the situation of the 4th and 5th centuries.
-To me, there are no such thing as The Church than can speak and hold a definite view. What we have, historically, is different churches and traditions. The “catholic” church of the 4th and 5th century had excluded not only marcionites and valentinians, but also more biblical oriented groups like the ebionites, montanists, donatists and more from “the one and only church”. After this, there has been a lot of anti-trinitarian groups, especially with the stream of radical reformation.
-The NT doesn´t say (God) “The Father and The Son” as often as it says “God and Jesus/Messiah/Son”. Maybe the apostles used their language in a misleading way, but I wouldn´t dare to say this.
-I agree with the creeds that there is a three-ness to God´s story, that might correspond to God´s inner being in some way, but I wouldn´t dare to explain how, since the Bible doesn´t do this. I like the apostles creed (the most part of it, at least), but hesitate towards Nicea and reject the Athanasian one. If i should try to spell out my view, I would say that God is one (not a team of three) and that Jesus is a human being, chosen by God etc. The Spirit is God´s presence. Jesus was pre-existent, but I would hesitate to say that he was “a distinct person”.
/Jonas Lundström



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vynette

posted September 26, 2007 at 3:25 am


Scott M,
I agree that “the synoptics are pretty clear about Jesus’ self-perception of his role as prophet and Messiah.” I disagree, however with “places himself in the place in his parables and teachings and actions reserved for Yahweh.”
Colossians 1:13-20 is written within the framework of the New Creation – not the Old. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn of the New Creation. He is the “creator” of the Kingdom of God.
You said: “We also see in Matthew 28 and Luke 24 that his followers worshiped him after the Resurrection. These were good Jews. I think people like to gloss over those implications.”
The Greek word usually translated as ‘worship’ in the New Testament denotes an act of reverence whether paid to the creature or the creator. So when the disciples ‘worshipped’ Jesus, or when John ‘worshipped’ the angel (Rev 19:10), it was not an indication that either were regarded as other than creatures.
KUNEW means “to kiss,” and reflects the Eastern custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing his feet. The use of PROSKUNEW in the LXX shows that this term was frequently used to describe varying degrees of homage including ‘worship’. In view of its application in the LXX, to use the word PROSKUNEW as proof of ‘worship’ is not possible because its semantic range encompasses much more than ‘worship’. The New Testament authors were no doubt aware of this semantic range and used it in varying degrees, in different contexts, for humans as well as God. I could go into much greater detail on this point if you wish.
You also said: “In short, there is a continuous thread through the NT, into early Christian writings and on through the first of the ecumenical councils once Roman persecution ceased.”
I would disagree with this statement and instead argue that when the NT writings passed from Hebrew hands into those of the Hellenists and Latins, the teachings underwent a radical change in accordance with the religious predilections of those particular groups. The “Jesus Christ” of the various creeds bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Hebrew Jesus of Nazareth.
I agree that the burden of proof lies with persons such as myself who wish to overturn accepted teachings – I am more than willing to take up this burden and furnish ample proofs from the entirety of Scripture, not just in response to a selection of verses perceived to shore up orthodox doctrine.



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Sarah

posted September 26, 2007 at 7:16 am



You quoted Titus 2:13: “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (NASB). It is the “glory of God” as embodied in Jesus, that is hoped for here.

I beg to differ. Like I said, there is a singular subject here. To put the Greek literally “appearing of glory of great God and Savior our Jesus Christ”. These are one and the same thing, not two separate things.
And in any case Rom 9:5 does clearly call Jesus ho Theos, which is as divine as one can get.
I mentioned before, though I suppose I will mention again, biblical (and early Patristic language) refers to the Father as “God”. The name of God is Father. This is why the Cappadocians form their Trinitarian theology around the monarchia of the Father. God is the Father (cf. the Nicene Creed “I believe in One God, the Father…and in One Lord Jesus Christ”) and the Son and the Spirit are of the same essence with the Father (i.e. is everything that the Father is) which makes the Son and Spirit, by category, God, even though they only have this “God-ness” by participation with the Father. The Son is begotten of the Father (which makes the Father a father) but this does not de facto make the Son less than what the Father is, not unless you want to restart the whole Eunomian debate again. The idea that “God” refers to “Divinity” begins in Augustine and continues throughout much of Western theology, and no, it is not biblical language at all.
I am also uncomfortable with this idea of Hebrew vs. Greek Christianity. It is an old model which current scholarship has serious questions about. Cf. Mark Julian Edwards new book “Origen Against Plato”. Those of a previous generation had a tendency to approach patristic theology through a Modern model of Nominalism, so they subscribed everything “fantastic” to the Aeons and Ideals. Now that we are coming to see that we can read ancient authors in their own terms, attempting to enter into their own worldview and first principles, a very different picture emerges. The Cappadocians were first and foremost biblical, cf. Basil’s On the Holy Spirit which is little more than an examination of how the Bible uses prepositions. Or Origen’s scriptural exegesis which is, I would argue, a form of pre-70 Judaistic interpretation (which is why Origen opposes the the innovations of his contemporary rabbi’s for approaching Scripture in completely untraditional ways). The Christianity of the early centuries was quite Judaistic (far more Judaistic than most forms of modern Protestantism I would say) and everyone knew it. But, like I said before, Judaism itself underwent a major transformation in this time period, so just because patristic theology doesn’t look like the Mishnah doesn’t mean that it was being untrue to Judaism.

I did not know that it was controversial to argue that there is a difference between the language of the creeds and the NT.

I have no idea why people argue this. Key words and entire phrases of the Nicene creed are directly from Scripture. The ones who made the creed did this deliberately. A cursory study of plugging the Greek words of the creed into BibleWorks makes this pretty clear.



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RJS

posted September 26, 2007 at 8:01 am


Jonas,
When Irenaeus can say something like:
“So then the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God; for that which is begotten of God is God. And so in the substance and power of His being there is shown forth one God; but there is also according to the economy of our redemption both Son and Father.”
I do not see how we can claim that the orthodox view of Jesus is a 4th century corruption, Nicea and later.
Irenaeus bases this received understanding primarily on the received foundation of corporate understanding of John 1: 1-5, and also the Christological statements of Philippians and Colossians.
So – we can claim that the church got it wrong and misinterpreted the NT scriptures – but then the major stream of the continuing church has been fundamentally wrong from almost the very beginning.



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Brian M.

posted September 26, 2007 at 8:26 am


vynette,
Moving beyond word studies to context, let’s bring Revelation into the mix. Throughout, both God the Father and Jesus are described as “the one who was, and is, and is to come” – or another variation (first and last, alpha and omega – see Rev. 1:8, 17-18; 4:8 for examples). There is a clear similarity here. Furthermore, the worship of Revelation 4 to Revelation 5 is a beautiful movement from the worship of God the Father to the worship of the Lamb, utilizing similar descriptions for both (praise, honor, glory). Revelation 5 cannot be interpreted simply as worship of a creature carrying out God’s plan…it is so much bigger than this.
When we move beyond semantic ranges of words to context and understanding how a Jewish audience would read the NT, particularly the abundant number of specific OT references and allusions (“Son of Man” to use but one example), it is clear that the NT authors are designating Jesus as God. This is why Jesus’ and Paul’s opponents were so angry at them – they understood what was being said and the implications therein.
Thanks for the discussion – this helps us all grow.



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 26, 2007 at 8:46 am


RJS,
-There is a movement over time. Ignatius, the Letters of Hermas and Didaché does speak roughly in line with the NT. God is one and Jesus is a human being (although “pre-existent” in some way), chosen and exalted by God in a totally unique way. A great change comes with Justine the Martyr who understand christianity as the true philosophy. He focuses (dialogue with Trypho) on the Messiah´s pre-existens in the OT and speaks of Jesus as a kind of secondary God. Iraeneus often speaks about the pre-existence of “the Word”, in line with John´s gospel, but he still focuses on God, the Father, as the one and only God (Against Heresies, book 4, chapt 1-2). Tertullian is bringing the langauge one step more towards trinity.
-I belive in “the fall of the church”, that “the church”, was fundamentally perverted in the 4th century as it was alligned with Constantine and the Roman empire. I share this conviction with not a few people… For me it is not credible to say that this didn´t effect the church´s theology. For example, to follow Jesus and obey his instructions seemed to be the important thing in the early church, while thinking right about God´s inner being was spelled out as the only important thing in later creeds.
-What about all the movements and groups that were excluded? (ebionites, montanists, donatists, nestorian and more) They were not just a bunch of very few lunatics.
/Jonas Lundström



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RJS

posted September 26, 2007 at 9:04 am


Jonas – If you have read Irenaeus it is obvious that the Son – incarnate as Jesus – is preexistant absolutely.
Following a discussion of Jesus as born of a virgin who lived and died, his summation is:
“Thus then the Word of God in all things hath the pre-eminence; for that He is true man and Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God; calling men anew to fellowship with God, that by fellowship with Him we may partake of incorruption.”
We can argue whether Irenaeus is correct – but don’t corrupt him in your argument. This is not a 4th century doctrine.



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 26, 2007 at 9:11 am


Scott M
I would like to flip your argument about “the minority view”. It seems to me that most emergent-friendly people believes that “the church” is in need of radical reform. Many also have a post-christendom and anti-constantinian stance. (And if not, they ought to… ;) I don´t know if this is the case with you, though. But if “the church” was fundamentally corrupted in the fourth century when hooking up with Ceasar and the worldly powers, accepting riches, violence and force as a normal way to be christian, baptising masses of unconverted heathens etc, instead of being an alternative society, a minority following a different way, wouldn´t this have effected also the theology? Could it really be that the same church structure that fell, also made the most fundamental contribution to christian life-style, namely to explain how one should do to think right about the persons and natures in God (or else one should be for ever condemned, as the athanasian creed says)?
Therefore, I think anyone longing for a radical, far-stretched reformation, should be very careful in supporting practises, theology and life-style that is a central part of constantinian, christendom-churches.
/Jonas Lundström



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RJS

posted September 26, 2007 at 9:13 am


By the way Jonas – as a search for answers to this and other questions I have read Ignatius, The Shepard of Hermas, the Didache, the apology of Aristides, Justin Martyr (apology and dialog with Trypho), Irenaeus (demonstration and against heresies), much of Tertullian and am currently reading Origen – The Principles, having already read most of Against Celsus.
I don’t see how we can trace anything but a high Christology and devotion in this literature.



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 26, 2007 at 9:22 am


RJS,
I agree that I says this. But he is ambivalent whether The Word/Jesus should be explained as “inside” or “outside” God.
“no other God [...]except him who, as God, rules over all, together with his Word, and those who receives the spirit of adoption, that is, those who believe in the one and true God, and in Jesus Christ the son of God” (Against Heresies, 4:1)
I am no expert on I, but I have read Against Heresies. The Word or pre-existent Jesus (I am not sure if Ir. says “Jesus” about the Word as pre-existent) is divine in Ir., for sure, but still below and subordinated to the one and only God. As I interpret him, but I might be wrong.
There is still a difference though, to the wordings of the Athanasian Creed:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; [...] Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance [...] And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another [...] So that in all things, as aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped [...] One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person [...] This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved



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Sarah

posted September 26, 2007 at 9:39 am



I belive in “the fall of the church”, that “the church”, was fundamentally perverted in the 4th century as it was alligned with Constantine and the Roman empire. I share this conviction with not a few people…

It confuses me when people say this. Constantine was, in basic theological terms, an Arian. One of his sons was a major proponent of Arianism and used his imperial might to throw all non-Arians out of the Empire. If imperialism influenced Christianity it was in favor of Arianism, not the other way around. The Nicene creed was hardly a watershed for its contemporaries, consider the numerous creeds produced at councils after Nicea which tried to turn the church into one big happy family that could all say the same creed but believe different things about Christ (something that sounds awfully familiar these days). For its own part, even with imperial support Arianism proper petered out in the Empire within a pretty short amount of time, being replaced with the teachings of Aetius and Eunomius (who were semi-Arians only in the broadest sense of modern categories).

For example, to follow Jesus and obey his instructions seemed to be the important thing in the early church, while thinking right about God´s inner being was spelled out as the only important thing in later creeds.
For me it is not credible to say that this didn´t effect the church´s theology. For example, to follow Jesus and obey his instructions seemed to be the important thing in the early church, while thinking right about God´s inner being was spelled out as the only important thing in later creeds.

I don’t know of any pre-4th century creed which says anything about obeying Jesus’ instructions. Likewise, Christian morality was rather undefined in early Christianity beyond what was laid down at the Council of Jerusalem. One can’t compare different genres and then complain that they focus on different things. Perhaps it appears to us that the 4th century was all about some esoteric arguing about properties and essence, but this has more to do with the emphases within modern scholarship than with what was being actually written. Consider, for example, Basil’s Moralia. I don’t know of anything better in the history of Christianity that shows through extensive quotations of Scripture how a Christian is to live in obedience to Christ (consider the irony that modern scholarship then classified this work as an “ascetical treatise for monks” and went so far to translate every occurrence of the word “Christian” in the text with “monk”, showing more what modern scholarship thinks about what Christian ethics than what the Cappadocians actually believed). The sermons of Chrysostom are also full with teaching people to live in obedience to Christ, which makes sense because this is the genre in which Chrysostom communicated with the everyday Christians.
The theological debates are in some way very necessary, how is one to follow a God whom one does not know? Can one say, like Eunomius, that one knows God better than God knows himself? Basil’s response to this is quite simple, see his Epistle 234. I really don’t think Athanasius or the Cappadocians enjoyed splitting hairs over the essence and activities of God. If you read them you see that they much enjoyed other ways of speaking of God, but that their opponents took their language to say something they did not intend, so they had to come up with what they themselves considered to be dry and clear words that at least could not be twisted to say something else.
Also, good estimates put the population of Rome as being at least one-third Christian before Constantine came on the scene and ceased making Christianity an illegal religion. I have a hard time thinking that such a large amount of people would have changed spontaneously just because their religion became tolerated.



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RJS

posted September 26, 2007 at 9:46 am


Jonas – I don’t particularly like the wording of the Athanasian Creed either. For one thing it is rather condemnatory and negative rather than affirmative.
But I don’t think the evidence supports the idea that belief in Jesus as fully human and as preexistent Son and Word and as God is a late invention or development (third or fourth century). To the early Church, of the first and second century, Jesus was not “a man”, he was fully human and at the same time much, much more.



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 26, 2007 at 10:24 am


Sarah,
interesting, I will consider what you say more. Just one question. I am not that concerned with Constantine, but with the church married to the Roman Empire. Theodosius edict of non-tolerance is more of clear mark than Constantin or the years 311/313. Since “the church” in traditional theology is represented by the hierarchy, and this hierarchy accepted the church position as the only allowed way to believe, could this church really be the one that the crucified Jesus instituted? Isn´t there a fundamental contrast between a persecuted minority, following a crucified Messiah, being an alternative society and the church of the rich and powerful that are committed to persecute heretics, even supporting the use of the sword in this?



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Sarah

posted September 26, 2007 at 11:31 am


I’m not exactly certain how to form an answer, so I’m just throwing out some thoughts.
Hierarchy was present even before the 4th century. Ignatius says a lot about hierarchy, and about how one is supposed to be obedient to it like one is obedient to Christ. Basil in his Moralia though instructs Christians to test the teaching of the bishops and priests with Scripture. I think this tension is to be best held in a Both/And.
Even with hierarchy having governmental power it was not always seen as making the best decision. Maximus the Confessor was a martyr because he opposed the theology being espoused by the Imperial decrees in the 6th century. Orthodoxy has since sided with Maximus as being correct and the Emperor Justinian as being pretty wrong (though they both were canonized as saints, it seems to be a running theme that Emperors are canonized in spite of their theology, not because of it, as seen from the time of Constantine to Czar Nicholas II).
I don’t know how much the “sword” was used in early Imperial Christianity. An Arian church was tolerated in Constantinople for a while, mostly for political reasons (the Arian Goths kept the Huns away) at least until Nestorius showed up and got himself the nickname of “torchy”. Most heretics, lest we forget, began firmly within accepted and hierarchial Christianity (Arius was a priest, Nestorius (aka “torchy”) a patriarch of Constantinople, Pelagius a priest) so perhaps the question should not be so much “how did imperial Christianity quell outside dissent?” as “how did imperial Christianity deal with heresy within its own structure?” Also, persecution could go many ways. Chrysostom died while in imperial exile (sent there by Cyril no less) and Athanasius made a career out of being exiled by the emperor, I already mentioned Maximus. This back and forth of imperial theological policy exasperated everyone involved.
As for the relation between imperial Christianity and outside groups such as paganism or gnosticism, I can’t think of an incidence of forced conversion or harm. Except in the case of a few incidents in Egypt, Athanasius against the Meletians (before toleration) and Cyril against Hypatia, as well as the destruction of pagan temples under Shenoute in Upper Egypt. Though in antiquity the Egyptians were widely regarded as being volatile and ill-mannered and their practices were often called into question by their follow bishops. The cultured and educated Greeks and Latins preferred rhetoric over an army of monk-thugs. The canons concerning the treatment and reception of heretics are quite conciliatory. The violence done against the Albigensians in the Middle Ages are perhaps better to be seen as a later development, done when the issue of the authority of local bishops vis a vis the Pope was being hammered out.
I suppose I am uncomfortable with the contrasts you are making. A persecuted minority and an alternative society supposes that there are others by whom you are persecuted by and who you seek to be different from. I feel it is like saying that you need sinners around to persecute you and tempt you to do immoral things, kind of like how a battered woman feels the need to stay with her abuser. There needs to be a better way to form one’s identity, and I don’t think the opposite of this needs to be “rich and powerful”.



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Scott Lyons

posted September 26, 2007 at 12:00 pm


Jonas, I would agree with your grave concerns with the “church being married to the Roman Empire.” I would extend it to the church being married to political power in whatever shape it takes. But this “marriage” is something that would happen sooner or later – whether in Rome or in America – the Church herself, I believe, had (has to?) to discover that such a relationship is corruptive, had to learn by experience that such a relationship does not and will not work. At the end of the day because “My kingdom is not of this world.”
That being said, just because empire was a corruptive influence on the Church, does not mean that it destroyed the Church.
Yes, God is incomprehensible. But He is also Revelator – He made and makes and will make Himself known. An Orthodox priest, Fr Thomas Hopko, says something like, “It is impossible to know God, but you must know God to know that.”
I would also affirm, therefore, the canon of Scripture (decided post-Constantine) and the formulations of the creeds (including the Athanasian Creed). It is one thing to never hear about the formulations of Chalcedon, it is another thing entirely to hear and consider them, and then to dispense with them. (This is where the necessity of the “condemnations” arise.) Our faith is not found in either the ancient creeds or in the “Jesus Creed.” It is both, one inseparable from the other.
Gandhi, if I may assert him as such, was a Jesus Creeder, but not a Christian. And, unfortunately, the examples are legion of those who embrace the ancient creeds but are not Jesus Creeders, and therefore (to our shame) not Christians. (Please, understand I’m not damning here – that is God’s place. And only for God to know is the heart of a man.)



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vynette

posted September 26, 2007 at 4:53 pm


Sarah,
Titus 2:13 – Consider the same letter of Titus where God and Jesus are separate: “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.” (1:4) To claim that the author contradicts himself within the same short letter, and to apply rigid rules of grammar which are notoriously inconsistent in these epistles, is to impose confusion upon the mind of the author and make nonsense of the texts. Note that the article is also missing before “Saviour” in 1 Tim.1:1 and 4:10. Interpretations and translations must be consistent with the whole.
Romans 9:5 – your interpretation invalidates the entire passage. Paul has just described Jesus as an Israelite descended from the patriachs according to the flesh. Then follows the doxology. It is all a matter of placing punctuation in an originally unpunctuated text. To claim that this passage indicates the two natures of Jesus is to retroject later Trinitarian theology into the text. One cannot interpret passages such as 9:5 according to grammar or punctuation but according to ideas – which must form a consistent whole with the rest of scripture. For instance, in a similar passage in 2 Corinthians 11:31: “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever,” the last clause obviously refers to the “God and Father.”
As I said before, my arguments are taken from Scripture – not from what any post-apostolic writer may have thought about any subject. Ideas, which later became doctrinalised, were imposed upon scripture from the earliest times by ‘fathers’ whose minds were set in the key of a different structure – their own prevailing religious predelictions.
Words are an imperfect medium – it is the consistent application of ideas, values and principles underlying words which should form the basis for interpreting scripture.



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Jim P.

posted September 26, 2007 at 5:06 pm


Scott Lyons wrote: “Gandhi, if I may assert him as such, was a Jesus Creeder, but not a Christian. And, unfortunately, the examples are legion of those who embrace the ancient creeds but are not Jesus Creeders, and therefore (to our shame) not Christians.
I have an honest question for you, given the context you provide with Gandhi (who claimed to be primarily Hindu by faith, but also Muslim, Jewish, and Christian), what is the difference between a “Jesus Creeder” and a practicioner of Bahais?
http://www.bahai.com/thebahais/pg33.htm



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Scott Lyons

posted September 26, 2007 at 5:12 pm


Vynette:
John 12:41 – “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory.” Tied in with Isaiah 6 – holy, holy, holy.
John 1.1,18: Word was with God, was God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.
If the fathers imposed these ideas onto the Scriptures it is only because they were taught to do so by the apostles. Something to consider.



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vynette

posted September 26, 2007 at 6:19 pm


Brian M, you said: “Throughout (Revelation) both God the Father and Jesus are described as “the one who was, and is, and is to come.”
Revelation 1:8 and 4:8 refer to Almighty God (pantokrator) whereas Rev 1:17-18 refers to Jesus. These verses are not interchangeable.
You also said: “Revelation 5 cannot be interpreted simply as worship of a creature carrying out God’s plan…it is so much bigger than this.”
Jesus has been “anointed” with plenipotentiary powers to be the representative of God on earth and to speak and act in the name of God. Yes, it is an extremely exalted position, but Jesus still remains a creature throughout. Hebrews 1:3 points out that Jesus is “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power…”
Throughout scripture, there is a distinction made between God’s own glory, and the reflection or image of God’s glory which can be embodied in humans. For instance, see Isaiah 49:3 – “You are my servant, Israel, in whom my glory will be seen.”
Many NT passages tell us that the disciples and those who follow Jesus in the resurrection will share in the ‘glory’ of Jesus. So God and the Lamb of Revelation cannot share the same ‘glory,’ else all would be equal to God! (John 17:22, 1 Cor. 15:43, 1 Pet.5:4, Col. 3:4)
Of course I disagree with your statement: – “it is clear that the NT authors are designating Jesus as God. This is why Jesus’ and Paul’s opponents were so angry at them – they understood what was being said and the implications therein.” A suggestion that Jesus was in any way equal to God, except as it pleased God to make him so, would have been regarded by 1st century Jews as the most monstrous idolatry. Jesus himself castigated the priests for misunderstanding his words and for assuming he was claiming to be God.
Thanks likewise for the discussion.



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Sarah

posted September 26, 2007 at 6:43 pm


Vynette,
I would say that the writers of Scripture also had “prevailing religious predelictions”, which greatly impacted their own language to express theology. Whether this predeliction is different from that of later writers (who were disciples of these writers and lived in the same religious and cultural and linguistic world) is a matter of conjecture.
My point in Rom. 9:5 is that Jesus is referred to as ho Theos. Nowhere else is Jesus described as God with the definite article. That ho Theos refers to Christ is shown by a few points:
1. If the end of the verse was a separate doxology (a period after “flesh”) then the word “blessed” would typically come first.
2. Doxologies in Paul tend to refer to someone who has already been mentioned. Here Christ is the only one mentioned, “God” is only mentioned later in the chapter.
3. If the doxology does not refer to Christ the particle “wv” is redundant.
4. The phrase “according to the flesh” usually calls for a parallel in Paul. Usually this is “according to the Spirit” but flesh can also be contrasted with Theos.
The lack of punctuation in this passage does suggest some ambiguity, though I find it telling that all the early exegetes of this passage (i.e. the one’s for whom this passage was written in their first language using their
native linguistic model) are unanimous in reading this passage as referring to Christ as ho Theos.
As for Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1:
The construction in 1 Timothy 1:1 has two possessive pronouns, which clearly makes it say something different from these verses which has only one possessive pronoun which bridges both nouns.
And Titus 1:1 is also presenting a different construction, God who is the Father and Jesus who is the Savior. One can not collapse the two into saying that the Father is the same as the Savior. Like I said, it was traditional to see God as being the Father, but this does not mean that Jesus could not also be referred to as God, or even “the God”, so I don’t see how this makes the author of Titus into contradicting himself. If a=b and c=b then a=c, though a=c only in relation with b. This is the clear scriptural model and is why the Cappadocians ended up writing their treatise “On Not Three God’s” using this language to show the monotheism of the Trinity.



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bob charters

posted September 26, 2007 at 8:01 pm


I finally understand where Jonas is coming from, from comment 19. I’m in sympathy with him. I must state up front that I agree with the basic concept of Trinity as put forth by the Nicene creed. However, I would try to put it into perspective: It may have seemed like a good idea at the time as far as creating an official creed to counter the false assumptions being put forth at the time, but in doing so, we lost our innocence, as it were. It’s like we began to disect God in a laboratory. The language of Nicene creed almost makes it sound scientific rather than theological i.e. ‘homo ousia’ (same essence). Also the Mathmatics: the three being equal. From a simple reading of scripture, it isn’t hard to see that there is One God, and somehow three persons within that One God. However, words like ‘essence’ and the equalness takes a bit more theological wrangling.
Because we adopted such a scientific definition of God’s being, we’ve left the unscientific minds behind in the dust. We have people relating to God as being three Gods, or three friends who one day, back in the primordial mists of time, said, ‘Hey! We’ve got a lot in common. Let’s get together and be God!’ Of course, the Arians, and the Moslem and Jewish scholars have a theological heyday with our silly notions.
We need to re-emphesise what Moses proclaimed to the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai: ‘Adonai, our Elohem is One’. Even within that phrase is the seed for understanding that God is so great and beyond our power of comprehension that he can reveal Himself to us as three persons, all agreeing as One.



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Jonas Lundström

posted September 27, 2007 at 2:29 am


Bob, thanks. Nice with some nuances to this debate. I don´t know why we often (myself included) have to speak like there is only one obvious view, implying that people that have a different conviction are just stupid or evil… After all, people do hold a view for a reason, and we should try to respect the story being each others convictions. I do not reject the trinitarian teaching (as vynette seems to be doing), but I definitely hesitate, and I definitely prefer the wordings of the apostles and the more simple words of the apostles creed.
Sarah, you put forward a lot of historic evidence that I am not capable to evaluate… Still,
-I agree that hierarchy is earlier, and it probably took off through Ignatius. To him, the bishop is one person above the elders that stand in the place of Christ and should be obeyed unconditionally. One should not meet without the bishop. Is this your view to? This condems maybe most christians… To me, it is a clear step away from the pattern of servanthood that Jesus has examplified and taught about. (Among you it is different, Lk 22, John 13, Mt 22, Mk 10) See also 1 Pet 5, 2 Kor 1 and more (largely unknown prior to his letters?) To me hierarchy seems to be a structure, a system, that is opposed to the teachings of Jesus, not the one holding the keys to the kingdom.
-So, if I understand you rightly, there was no fundamental change in the fourth and fifth century as to the place of the church in the world, and the church´s relationship to violence, power and wealth?
-The contrast between church and world is deeply rooted in the language of Jesus and the apostles. Wouldn´t you agree? I cannot see why this should make us uncomfortable.
/Jonas Lundström



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Jonas

posted September 27, 2007 at 3:36 am


Bob,thanks.Nice with some nuances to this debate.I don´t know why we often (myself included) have to speak like there is only one obvious view, implying that people that have a different conviction are just stupid or evil… After all, people do hold a view for a reason, and we should try to respect the story being each others convictions. I do not reject the trinitarian teaching (as vynette seems to be doing), but I definitely hesitate, and I definitely prefer the wordings of the apostles and the more simple words of the apostles creed.
Sarah, you put forward a lot of historic evidence that I am not capable to evaluate. Still,
-I agree that hierarchy is earlier, and it probably took off through Ignatius. To him, the bishop is one person above the elders that stand in the place of Christ and should be obeyed unconditionally. One should not meet without the bishop. Is this your view to? This condems maybe most christians… To me, it is a clear step away from the pattern of servanthood that Jesus has examplified and taught about. (Among you it is different, Lk 22, John 13, Mt 22, Mk 10) See also 1 Pet 5, 2 Kor 1 and more (largely unknown prior to his letters?) This structure seems to be an invention with Ign, not present in the letters of Clemens, the Didache or the NT.To me hierarchy seems to be a structure, a system, that is opposed to the teachings of Jesus, not the one holding the keys to the kingdom.
-So, if I understand you rightly, there was no fundamental change in the fourth and fifth century as to the place of the church in the world, and the church´s relationship to violence, power and wealth?
-The contrast between church and world is deeply rooted in the language of Jesus and the apostles. Wouldn´t you agree? I cannot see why this should make us uncomfortable.
/Jonas Lundström



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vynette

posted September 27, 2007 at 6:04 am


Sarah, you said:
“I would say that the writers of Scripture also had “prevailing religious predelictions”, which greatly impacted their own language to express theology. Whether this predeliction is different from that of later writers (who were disciples of these writers and lived in the same religious and cultural and linguistic world) is a matter of conjecture.”
Yes, the writers of scripture also had “prevailing religious predelictions” but these were formed around Hebrew montheism. The polytheism of the Hellenistic and Latin world, where divine heroes and virgin mothers abounded, is the very antithesis of Hebrew monotheism.
You base your interpretations on grammar – which I consider to be inconsistent – whereas I base my interpretations on the consistent application of ideas, so I suppose we will just have to agree to disagree.



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vynette

posted September 27, 2007 at 6:11 am


Scott L,
As a first step when studying John’s prologue, it is necessary to determine exactly what the ‘Word’ was before it became flesh.
Fortunately, John provides the answer himself in his First Epistle:
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life, and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” (1 John 1:1-2)
And again: “And the witness is this, that God gave unto us Eternal Life, and this life is in his Son. (I John 5:11)
Paul leaves no doubt that it was the the Word of Eternal Life that existed from the beginning:
“holding forth the Word of Life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain.” (Phil 2:16)
“Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in hope of Eternal Life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal.” (Titus 1:1-2)
It is very clear that it is the “Word of Eternal Life” that existed from the beginning, was pre-existent, not Jesus himself. Jesus was God’s Word of Eternal Life made flesh. There is much more to be said on this issue but it would exceed reasonable thread limits.
I think I have already stated on this thread that there is a difference between God’s glory, and the image or reflection of god’s glory which can be seen by humans. I don’t see what point you are making by tying John 12:41 to Isaiah 6:3.



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Sarah

posted September 27, 2007 at 7:24 am


A Logos is a revealer and a revelation, that is what it means. A revelation can not be its own revelation.
The Logos then is a revelation of the Father, I think scripture makes this pretty clear. As Paul says, making visible the invisible God. I don’t think it is correct to say that in Titus 1:2 the Eternal Life is a separate pronoun. It seems to be stretching the text quite a bit.
As for divine heroes and miraculous births, they are all over Hebrew literature. Consider any of the second temple Jewish literature, whether it be the deuterocanonicals or the dead sea scrolls. The rabbi’s later rejected these ideas as a “two powers heresy”, but these ideas were firmly within the Judaism that Jesus and his followers were a part of. Just because they did not continue in later rabbinic theology doesn’t make them hellenistic or Latin. The only instance of a “virgin birth” in Greek literature I can think of is when Zeus impregnates Daphne(?) with a shower of gold coins. This is quite a bit different from pregnancy from angelic proclamation, which was a common topos in second temple literature.



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Scott Lyons

posted September 27, 2007 at 4:27 pm


Vynette, your lens is heterodox.
I know you’re familiar with the early fathers, please consider that the teaching of the Church, everywhere and at all times, is contrary to your beliefs. I pray that you draw some caution from it, and some humility. (That is not to say that you come across as proud or arrogant, by the way, but rather that you are elevating your own reason above the constant teaching of the Church, the right interpretation of the Scriptures.)
You are a smart lady. Too smart for me. And I hope and pray that you will reconsider your path.



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Scott Lyons

posted September 27, 2007 at 4:31 pm


Jim P., excuse my excessively liberal use of “Jesus Creeder.” My point is that some people live as we ought to live, but do not share our faith. Perhaps calling Gandhi a Jesus Creeder was a step too far.
To answer your question, with my excessively liberal use of “Jesus Creeder,” I would not have a problem applying it to anyone of any religion. But I think, as you make clear, that I’m playing too loose with the term. So I would happily withdraw it.



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vynette

posted September 27, 2007 at 6:44 pm


Sarah,
Every culture, including our own, has its fair share of literary “curiosities.” The works of which you speak fall outside the mainstream of Jewish thought. After all, that is why we have a canon of the Old Testament and a canon of the New Testament and why I work from those canons. Issues of dating, Hellenistic influence, later Christian interpolations, provenance, and so on, surround these non-canonical works and really preclude any discussion outside the realms of the scholarly.
However, and more to the point, we can certainly resolve the question of whether or not the minds of the Hebrew disciples were influenced by Hellenistic thoughts and whether they regarded Jesus as “divine” – or not. We only have to open our New Testaments and turn to the Gospel of John:
When first joined by his disciples, Jesus was described by them as:
the Christ
he of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote
Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph
the son of God
the King of Israel
All these descriptions are contained within John Chapter 1 verses 40-50. As we can plainly see, the disciples believed that Jesus was the son of God while still acknowledging his human parentage.
As to your statement: “The only instance of a “virgin birth” in Greek literature I can think of is when Zeus impregnates Daphne(?) with a shower of gold coins…” I will leave to other students of Ancient History to evaluate.
However, this evaluation will require minimal effort – just a thorough reading of the First Apology of church father Justin Martyr, wherein he sets out to prove the similarities between Hellenistic thought and his own. For example, this former disciple of Plato wrote: “And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus.” (First Apology, XXII, Analogies to the sonship of Christ.)



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phil_style

posted September 29, 2007 at 7:32 am


I think Perseus is the resultant child of the “golden shower” from which Zeus gained access to on Danae’s chamber that Sarah is talking about, so we still have only one literary example from hellenstic work to rely on (at this early stage). As to whether Perseus Conceptin required a sexual event between Zeus and Danae (and therefore negates the ‘virgin status’ of Danae) I do not know. I’m not sure if that helps at all.
It seems clear to me from Justin’s Analogies that he is not writing to lay down a greek interpretation of scripture, but to argue the sensibility of the scripture to a Greek audience by using analogy from their own cultural tradition. However, I’m no classicist(?),so my word carries no weight ;)



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