Friday, 29 May 2015

God becoming flesh and the NO MIXING clause (i)

John 1:14 was taught to me in Bible school as the verse to shut up all heretics. It's so simple! The word - God - became flesh. This is the full incarnation, and anything else isn't worth wasting your time on.

At some point we will look in a bit more on this blog into some of the detail of John 1:1, which is a foundation for this view I was taught. That said, before we look at 1:14 now, it is perhaps important first to remember that we have two strange (for us) article-free nouns in that opening verse in 1:1.

The first strange article-free noun only appears once, in the word "beginning". Literally, it says: IN BEGINNING. The "rules", or perhaps it is more "principles", in Greek grammar that "govern" how these articles function are complex and - to this day - incomplete. So it is indeed curious to find in the first two words of John's gospel: IN BEGINNING. Could this mean "a" beginning? Some think so. Even within this same gospel, Jesus uses the word beginning to refer to the beginning of his earthly life and ministry. What these interpretations seem to fail to integrate, however, is that the LXX (Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the same language in Genesis 1:1: IN BEGINNING. The second strange article-free noun is Theos, God. Theos + article occurs twice with the definite article, and once, probably the most crucial of the three, without. This is John 1:1c - THE GOD WAS THE WORD. This whole state of affairs was left out of my teaching at Bible school  (admittedly, this was an entry-level one-year theology course).

But right now where my focus is on the word becoming flesh - verse 14. Sometimes it is worthwhile entering as fully as possible into orthodox (ecumenical councils) belief systems to see if there are hidden issues that we should be aware of. I cannot help but thinking there are. One of the key notions in the minds of those voting the wording of the Chalcedonian creed concerning the two natures of Christ (fully man, fully God), was that there was NO MIXING. One person, of two natures, now indivisible in the "hypostatic union", but NO MIXING. Why? I never really got that bit, but I think I do now have an idea. One of the problems for the early church in reconciling the divinity of Christ with the Scriptures they now held as canonical, were the numerous occasions when Jesus did not seem very divine, or lesser than the Father. In fact, as my paper will highlight, there are many of those, some of them more explicit than others.

These fourth-century bishops were aware (although to what extent we can but guess) that the New Testament Scriptures have absolutely no hesitation in expressing "Jesus and God" formulations, Jesus praying to God, Jesus calls God his Father, and he also calls his Father, his God. They also particularly noted that Jesus and God's respective wills could differ, and, most significantly, God raised Jesus back to life. They needed a way through, and this "no mixing" was the key. In my own interpretation, I see this very much like a switch. Let us imagine - I think like the two-natures pioneers - some internal switch within Jesus. It is not possible for God to not know something, Jesus did not know something, therefore we flick the switch to human nature. Jesus is speaking according to his human nature. No mixing. Jesus is speaking again with the switch firmly switched to "human" when he says "not my will, but yours". Because within God there can be but one Divine will, here the human nature of Jesus speaks and submits to the entire triune God's will. No mixing. The human nature of Jesus speaks in a way that the divine nature would never speak - there has to be a separation, which thus avoids the otherwise inevitable clashes and contradictions between the creeds and the Scriptures they supposedly support. Of course, the conversation does not stop there...

Who controls that switch?
I think we know the answer to that.

How can one person have two contradicting wills, and not be schizophrenic? How can a person have two wills and one mind?
I think we know the answer to that too.

Most importantly, though, another good question is arising out of John 1:14. If there is no mixing, then in what sense did the divine word BECOME flesh (or fleshy or human)? There is NO MIXING! We also know that the Old Testament understanding of the Invisible God is re-affirmed in the New Testament (1 Timothy 1:17, 1 John 4:12, John 1:18). In which case, is there not a significant difference between saying
A: the divine Word, eternal true God simply became human.
B: the divine Word, eternal true God became a sort of God-man, who spoke or acted according to one nature or the other depending on the occasion.

Maybe I am confusing "human" with "flesh". But it still seems to me that while A seems very different to B, trinitarians start off by saying A on the basis particularly of John 1:14, while ending up having to say something much more like B. In a subsequent post, I will attempt to look into the question of human personhood as something much wider and complex than simply the "flesh" it is attached to, in my ongoing quest to find justification for this creedal stuff lurking in our minds and devotion.

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