Is McGrath being fair or a monotheist?

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In a subject likely to cause some heartache, the professor has decided to resurrect the controversy known as ‘Was Paul a Monotheist Like we Define Monotheism Today’ bit. He asks:

You already know what I think, and it has been a while since the biblioblogs were alive with a discussion of monotheism and Christology. So let’s hear from others. What do you think Paul meant in this passage? Was Paul a monotheist in exactly the same sense as his other Jewish contemporaries? Please answer in the comments here, or on your own blog!

It is in reference to 1 Corinthians 8.6 which reads:

NAB  1 Corinthians 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist.

NLT  1 Corinthians 8:6 But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.

Annoyance, and I’ll tell you why. He wants us to decide if Paul was a “monotheist in exactly the same sense as his other Jewish contemporaries.” Um…. to that I’d say… trick question.

Varying views of monotheism and even lingering henotheism survived. Truth be told, as one who currently subscribes to the Christus Victor theory as the only God-given, inerrant, and infallible image of salvation which if changed would so shatter my faith that I would become an a-theist, I see in Paul a lingering amount, or a healthy respect of henotheism which would allow for a figure which was given the divine name in order to vanquish the powers… which doesn’t require pre-existence, allows for the union of divine identity, and still allows for complete humanity.

But, alas, I did name my youngest daughter Sophia too.

This is and should be an interesting discussion. Let’s see where it takes us and what side(s) I end up arguing for.

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Has Dr. McGrath finally made it up to me about his book?

Holy Trinity by Fridolin Leiber (1853–1912)

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To be honest, James McGrath’s book was one of the first scholarly books, in a certain area of study, which I read. I loved it all, especially the chapter on John… well all until the final bit where he allow for certain developments…

Anyway, he reviews this book and then, in the comments section, asks,

McCall makes much of the fact that the Son is depicted as addressing the Father in an “I-Thou” fashion in the New Testament, as the basis for understanding persons in the Trinitarian sense as those who are distinguished through such interpersonal pronoun usage, and thus suggesting that the New Testament evidence requires a Godhead consisting of multiple persons. But I wonder whether this doesn’t face problems in connection with some of the monotheistic passages in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, where God is depicted as saying that I (first person singular) am Yahweh and that no other is God (Isaiah 43:11; 45:5)? It seems that this could be fatal to an attempt to justify distinctions of a personal sort (at least, using person in its modern sense) within the Godhead, by means of an appeal to the Bible.

Review of Thomas McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? | Exploring Our Matrix.

Anyway, enjoy the conversation.

I do think that as the Church moved to a more Gentile population, and to a more philosophical theology, that certain connections to Hebraic thought was lost. I’m not going to say that this was wrong or right or not in the due course, but I find it rather difficult to accept developed Christian theology as the underpinning of theological interpretation of Hebraic texts, such as Genesis 1.26.

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Are you a monotheist or a henotheist?

Pastor Bob has a post up in response to something Miroslav Volf said. Read it here:

Ponderings on a Faith Journey: Are Christians (at times) henotheists not monotheists?.

Okay, so here are my thoughts.

We know that Israel, for a very long time, were henotheists. It looks like Paul recognized ‘powers’. So what if he was a mix between the two? Why are we so stuck on what we think is monotheism?

What if there are other powers, cosmically, which Christ has defeated?

But, Volf is correct. When we start taking God for our own tribe, or nation, then we are creating a henotheistic cosmology.

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Miloslav Volf – Jehovah on Trial: Should we kill monotheism?

Cain and Abel. Byzantine mosaic i =n Monreale
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While reading this book (which I will be posting on later), the first author mentioned that this essay he had written sometime ago. As a send up, I thought I might share.

Essentially, he is reviewing/responding to Regina Schwartz‘s claim that monotheism has engendered too much violence to remain. Without reading the book, I can only point to the ancient polytheistic tribal systems and the causes of war. But, Volf is much better in his response:

Why does belief in one God forge identities antithetically? one could ask, wondering whether the chain with which Schwartz connects violence to monotheism might lack a crucial link. And why is the claim to distinctive identity sufficiently important to spawn violence? The answer, argues Schwartz, lies in the principle of scarcity—the belief that everything is in short supply and must be competed for. This principle, too, is rooted in biblical monotheism, we are told. “Scarcity is encoded in the Bible as a principle of Oneness (one land, one people, one nation) and in monotheistic thinking (one Deity), it becomes a demand of exclusive allegiance that threatens with the violence of exclusion.”

The story of Cain and Abel provides Schwartz with the key to the evils of monotheism. She calls it a story of “original violence.” Unlike the story of original sin, though, the story of original violence does not suggest that we kill becauseCain did, but that we kill for similar reasons. Without stating so explicitly, however, Schwartz implies that, at another level, the story of Cain and Abel is a story of original sin, with this twist: the sinner is not Cain but his divine Maker. We kill because God did something wrong, argues Schwartz. Cain was enraged by God’s arbitrary decision to accept Abel’s sacrifice and reject Cain’s; we all kill because of the same arbitrariness of the one God of the Bible. “What kind of God is this who chooses one sacrifice over the other? This God who excludes some and prefers others, who casts some out, is a monotheistic God—monotheistic not only because he demands allegiance to himself alone but because he confers his favor on one alone.”

Jehovah on Trial | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

I would encourage you to read it, of course.

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Free Resource: Simo Parpola on Assyrian Monotheism

Charles Halton has some good news for those of who like such things:

One of Simo Parpola’s more controversial proposals–that the Neo-Assyrians had a form of monotheism–is available for free on scribd, “Monotheism in Ancient Assyria.”  This essay first appeared in One God or Many? Concepts of Divinity in the Ancient World: Essays on the concept of monotheism/polytheism in ancient Assyria, Egypt, Greece, and Israel, ed. Barbara Nevling Porter. Transactions of the Casco Bay Assyriological Institute, Vol. 1, 2000, pp. 165-209.  Enjoy! » Free Resource: Simo Parpola on Assyrian Monotheism.

Why is monotheism important? I believe that a certain set of dogmas and moral codes go along with the social move towards a monotheistic view of God.

Monotheism and the Origin of Religion

I cam across this quote:

Stephen Langdon, also of Oxford, concluded:

“I may fail to carry conviction in concluding that both Sumerian and Semitic religions [which he considered to be the oldest historical civilizations—AB], monotheism preceded polytheism…. The evidence and reasons for this conclusion, so contrary to accepted and current views, have been set down with care and with the perception of adverse criticism. It is, I trust, the conclusion of knowledge and not of audacious preconception” (as quoted in Custance, p. 113, emp. added).

You can read the rest of the article here:

MYSTAGOGY: Monotheism and the Origin of Religion.

Review: Ancient Christian Doctrines Volume 1

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I want to thank Intervaristy Press for this review copy. In the course of my studies, due to a long time commentator, on the history of doctrinal development, I have become interested in the Church Fathers. While I may not always agree with everything found in them, they serve as a vital link from our time to the Apostles. (Not to say that everyone followed the Apostles) It is important to constantly test your doctrine against that of history. With the multitude of new doctrines being formed, and ancient heresies resurrected, we should look to the past before going forward with any new idea, or revelation, which we might have.

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Ecco Homo Echoes Paul

Michael has made several posts lately that has caused some stir in the blogosphere. In his latest, he is likely to cause a tad bit more.

What I mean is this: It is often easier to judge one’s actions than his or her thoughts. The former is easier to see. In the same way, it is easier to see the contours of Paul’s Christology by looking at the contours of Pauline Christianity. When I look at the marks of Christianity in the ancient world, I am compelled to believe that the earliest Christians (Paul included) treated Jesus in much the same way they treated God Most High. For example, they prayed to Jesus (”called” on his name), celebrated a modified passover regularly that was centered about Christ, they attempted to do great works in his “name,” etc. Of course, it may objected that this is not “worship” in the sense of sacrificial worship. Perhaps, but it is certainly devotion to Jesus as an expression of their loyalty to God Most High. In this way, to show devotion to Jesus was to express loyalty to “the one who sent him.”

For me, it was the failure to include the eucharist as worship, or even devotion, to Christ as God which left  a hole in the arugment of McGrath’s chapter on Paul. It is my opinion that Paul saw the eucharistic sacrament as replacing the sacrifices in/to the Name of God found in such places As Deuteronomy 12.

Michael has an excellent blog, so please check it out.

Beginning Thoughts on The Only True God – Copernicium (5)

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I have been reviewing James McGrath’s book, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context. While I do not want to give away the ‘spoilers’ so to speak, I want to give an honest review, so here it goes:

During the first chapters of the book, McGrath lays out well his understanding of monotheism in ancient Judaism, which he continues to build upon in later chapters. It is here, as any good author does, that he plants seeds which is brought to fruition as he progresses. It is also here where he gets my attention with such motifs for monotheism as worship and creation.

McGrath approaches the subject with care, and almost apprehension, so as to not go too far too fast.  He writes for the common reader, often explaining himself in more detail than perhaps he should – but this is to the reader’s advantage. Further, from time to time he leads his readers back to previous explanations, reminding them before he proceeds.

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More Thoughts on The Only True God (4)

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By now, most of you know that I have been reviewing James McGrath’s latest book, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context. This will be my last in the series of the rolling reviews, with a final review to follow sometime this week.

In this chapter co-written with Dr. Jerry Truex, McGrath dialogues with Alan Segal’s theory on the Two Powers Heresy in early Rabbinic Judaism. Segal interprets this theory as a ‘principal angelic or hypostatic manifestation in heaven was equivalent to God.’ (p124, n1). Segal’s point, I believe, is that he feels Christianity developed from this hypothetical heresy supposedly found in 1st century Judaism, or at the very list, Segal believes that the two powers heresy found in later Jewish sources refer to the burgeoning Christian movement.

This, besides the endnotes, is the major problem of the book. While some may find it pleasing to see McGrath dialogue with others on this subject – primarily Hurtado and Bauckham, it feels to me as if I am joining a trilogy on the last few pages of a book. While I do not dismiss the need for such dialogues, especially in this field, I feel that more attention should have been given to establishing arguments independent of other works, not based as a response to them (if this was possible).

In this chapter, McGrath sufficiently answers – from what I could find in the endnotes and other responses from various sources to Segal – Segal’s theories, especially the redating of such theories. He notes the ‘shortcomings’ in the theory which forgets redaction time in the Mishnah and Tosefta. The author does well in making the point that it is possible that either this heresy didn’t exist in the 1st century Judaism (which would prevent Judaism and Christianity from separating over it) or that it simply was not considered a heresy (which would prevent Judaism and Christianity from separating over it).

Further, the author(s) begins to delve into answering the direction of monotheism in Judaism based on sacrificial (cultic) worship which had to take place due to destruction of the Temple in 70 a.d. McGrath makes comments in regard to failed Messiahs, such as Bar Kochba (and by virtue other Messiahs that had been tried as criminals before Rome, found guilty, and executed), which should open the conversation up to why Judaism and Christianity began to diverge.  It is here that he makes great strides in winning me over to a portion of his argument concerning the separation of Judaism and Christianity, that it was not monotheism (of the 1st century version of Monothesim) which separate the two, but perhaps a single (failed) Messiah.

McGrath briefly discusses the issues around Rabbi Akiba and his endorsement of the failed messiah figure of Bar Kochba(p87-89). Because of his endorsement of a leader who was later rejected by the Jews because a failed revolt and subsequent execution at the hands of the Romans, later passages in the Talmud associated with the Rabbi a (vague) reference to the belief in ‘two powers.’ While this is a passing discussion (concerning the failed Messiah) it is a hint of the separation, I believe.

In answering the dating and general thoughts by Segal, McGrath also begins to answers the questions regarding the separation of Judaism and Christianity. A theory (p92) is developed by McGrath which relates that the separation, in part, came from a need to redefine Monotheism in light of the end of sacrificial worship. While previous generations of Judaism allowed for divine agency, after the destruction of the Temple, a line had to be drawn which focused worship only on God, removing any allowances for worship of a secondary individual. It came down to creation – the lines began to be drawn. While it was not the notion of a divine agent being worshiped which first separated Judaism and Christian, as sacrificial worship ended, and monotheism was seemingly redefined, the idea of worshipping Christ as God became a severe separator.

This chapter, like the one on John’s monotheism is again, copernicum.

Continuing Thoughts On The Only True God (3)

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This is the third in a series of the rolling review for James McGrath’s, The Only True God. (Here and here). Further, Michael at Ecco Homo has posted his final review, which sparked a conversation with the author of the book. (Here, here, and here. Michael also posted something concerning 1st Corinthians in light of McGrath’s book.)

I have only read Michael’s post on Paul ‘s monotheism, as I didn’t want to cloud my judgment during the review. To be honest, I attempted to read Michael’s review, but I found something in his, about the end of the book, which made my view of the entire book change. That’s not fair to an honest review, in my opinion – basing it (even subconsciously) on someone else’s thoughts and reactions.

I want to start off this review with the negative – I still do not like the Endnotes, but I here that the author addressed this issue with Michael. Further, the chapter on John’s monotheism was entirely too short. It was, what’s the word, copernicium. It was weighty, you might say.

I remember reading once, that John was the most Jewish Gospel of them all, and indeed, McGrath highlights the ‘Jewishness’ of it in such a way as to make me understand the rabbi more. In the chapter entitled, ‘Monotheism and the Gospel of John‘, McGrath tackles the Prologue (including an extensive look at the textual variant in John 1.18), equality with God, the ‘I AM’ passages, and Thomas’ confession. It is this chapter which is I believe is the cross section with McGrath’s hypostasis and what we may accept as something similar to orthodox Christianity.

The author sees John’s Jesus as something more than the exalted agent of Paul’s monotheism, but as the embodiment of the Name of God (p63). The author does a fair treatment of Philo’s use of Logos and connects it to John’s (although I would contend for a different origin of Logos). He refuses to allow his ideas to be abandoned, often times reminding the reader that he has already covered them.

One of the refreshing things about this book is that it assume, unless I am missing something, that the early Christian community was monolithic on the idea of monotheism – although one might disagree as to the understanding of monotheism. In the conclusion to this chapter, the author asserts that he is attempting two things – not to dispute later developments, but to ‘clarify what issues did in fact provoke controversy’ (p68).

In the following chapter, Monotheism and Worship in the Book of Revelation, he tackles the idea of, well, monotheism and worship in the book of Revelation. Personally, I would have rather seen time devoted to the catholic Epistle (Hebrews, Petrine) than Revelation, especially since it is so controversial. Because of this, I find it difficult to give an honest review of this chapter. For me, much of Revelation is steeped in prophetic language which may distort various doctrines; however, he does carry his previous themes quite well, adding to it the angelology of not only the book, but the culture of the time.