Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 6. Ineffability

Having recently completed my main review of the New Testament (and some Old Testament) texts, cataloguing almost 500 passages, I am "celebrating" that milestone by publishing on this blog a chapter of a paper I am writing, which helps me in the processing and weighing of these texts. This chapter is currently entitled Chapter 2: Key Notions Defined. It also is an opportunity for me to tidy up these definitions. Here is the next one:


The Oxford dictionary defines ineffable as “too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words”. It is curious and perhaps a little paradoxical, that it was the very proponents of the Nicene formulations that also developed this concept with regard to the Divine. On the one hand, God is affirmed as so great as to be unfathomable and indescribable, while on the other hand, the church was under such pressure to define its God in as precise terms as possible on the basis of the now-defined scriptural canon. In some ways, it was a real paradox!

Here is a nice little quote from Paula Rhinehart, that illustrates a much more modern understanding of this concept:

God does not allow us to reduce Him to a size and a shape we can manage. He moves in our lives in ways that burst our categories and overwhelm our finiteness. When we realise He’s bigger than anything we can get our minds around, we can begin to relax and enjoy Him. 

Of course, it is almost a given that Rhinehart is referring to the Trinity, but should not a Unitarian perspective also embrace the God-Jesus relationship as "ineffable"? Either way, I basically agree, and this paper should be understood to operate within this boundary. The more we know, the more we know how little we know.

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