Facts and History for me, please

Andrei Rublev's Trinity, representing the Fath...

Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a similar manner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was raised an anti-Trinitarian oneness guy. This view is based on ignorance of Christian Tradition, Scripture, and certain key concepts, such as monotheism. It is based on ignorance of Christianity and arrogance that we know better than 2000 years of Christian tradition.

As one who is an orthodox Christian, I am now a Trinitarian, believing the Trinity is well in line with Scripture and is a natural development of Christian doctrine.

But, outside the oneness pentecostals are those who view Christian Tradition with disdain while claiming to be Christian. (accept my nuance here ). The first thing they like to get rid of is the Trinity. Usually, a good 90% of the time, it is because they lack the knowledge necessary to understand the Trinity and its place in Christology and soteriology.

For instance, Mark Sandlin. In a recent post about his cool new anti-Christian Tradition Christianity he writes,

Jesus was a Jew. (Please tell me no one is surprised to hear that.)

As a Jew, Jew was a strong monotheist.

Except… Jewish monotheism isn’t exactly a thing for all Jews and for all Jews at the time of Jesus.

He then writes,

Jesus was a monotheist.

Can’t prove it. Indeed, we don’t know much about Jesus and his personal beliefs. If we put him next to other apocalyptic Jews, he may have believed in the two-powers of heaven, which is not monotheism. What we know about Jesus comes from the Scriptures held together by the Christian, i.e., Trinitarian Church. We know nothing of Jesus except by the Church that is Trinitarian. It is this same Church that took John (I and the Father are one), Paul (2 Co 13.14) and Proverbs 8/Wisdom of Solomon/Baruch to develop a confession holding the unity of God with the triunity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

English: Malayalam-language version of Christi...

English: Malayalam-language version of Christian Trinitarian “Shield of the Trinity” diagram, created on the lines of Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Nathan McDonald notes, polytheism and monotheism are Enlightenment developments. In other words, a Western European concept. See Larry Hurtado as well. Indeed, one should really read Hurtado’s article. Jesus, I hate to tell the Southern minister, was not a post-Enlightenment Western European male.

By the way, the development of the Trinity was led by Africans such as Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian along with other non-European thinkers.

He goes further and says,

Even the Bible predominantly practices monotheism.

Biblically, God is always addressed with a singular pronoun, not plural.

Except, that is not true either. Not only does Scripture refer to other gods, but God actually speaks to the “we” in creating humanity. Elohim is plural. Indeed, much of the OT, if not the NT, is poly- and heno-theistic (2 Kings 3:27; Ps. 95:3; Ps. 97:7; Ps. 135:5; Ps. 89:6–7). The NT includes theomachy events which means… non-monotheistic.

Mark S. then becomes a biblicalist:

Not only that, but biblically there is no mention of the Trinity.

I find that argument little more than circular reasoning. For that matter, “bible” isn’t mentioned either, neither is the canon laid down. Nuclear missiles, electricity, and pews are out the window as well.

And for some unknown reason, he confuses confession (the Trinity is a confession, i.e., mystery) with fact when he writes,

Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quailed some of the early Church’s division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory.

The Trinity is not a theory, hypothesis or otherwise. Neither is it a fact. It is a confession of our faith (Epistle to the Hebrews. Seriously, the entire book). It helps us explain Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, and even anthropology.

And then, it all becomes clear…

The lack of biblical witness leaves me to believe that either there simply was no understanding of a Trinitarian God at the time books of the Bible were written, or that the concept was so unimportant to their faith that it mostly wasn’t mentioned.

Mark has no idea what Church History is or how Christianity developed. He abandons something he doesn’t even have and insists he is doing something progressive, emergent, liberal — right. Indeed, what he is doing is what fundamentalists do. Make it up as they go along.

By the way, I’m a henotheist.

Thoranity – we get hammered so you don’t have to.

Is McGrath being fair or a monotheist?

Coronación de la Virgen, óleo sobre lienzo. 17...

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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!

Awilum.com » 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.