Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado - Part 2: Introduction

I am now going to more systematically post on the book Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. 

Why Part 2? This is not actually the first response - I posted an insight inspired from my initial "unwrapping" of this wonderful gift a few posts back, where I had hit on an absolute nugget, around the idea of unsuccessful mutations. Please check that out - it is going to be key for what I end up proposing as a theory for the development of the late fourth-century doctrine of the Triune God, and I will certainly be referring back to that idea sparked by Hurtado.

That's a great queue for what I would like to say for the book as a whole: it's sparky. As I read through it with my usual critical approach I am finding whole new areas relevant to the development of the church and its theological, christological and pneumatological categories rise up and take up three-dimensional space in my mind. Read with a mind already initiated to some historical factors behind the rise of Christianity, and you cannot help but find yourself interacting with Hurtado's perspectives - probably endorsing many, questioning some others and perhaps disagreeing with a few too. Before I read it (and I'm not done yet), I didn't really have much of a view about "the Son of Man", or the "Q Source" (theoretical document used to explain the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent from Mark), or Jesus-worship in Pauline churches and Jesus-worship in Johannine churches, or the Greco-Roman bios writing genre adopted and adapted by the canonical gospel writers, or how radical it would have been for monotheistic Jews to give cultic devotion to Jesus alongside God and what could have enabled that, and on and on. But that's the point of thinking. Once you do think about something, you are changed by that thought (this could even be true of the thorny issue of slavery in the Bible - once the church did think about slavery, it was forced to have an opinion about it)

So this really is such a great book in the way it draws you in, but on so many other levels as well; overall, I think it's the combination here that I feel I so particularly stimulating: the way in which the ideas and first century data draws you into having your own critical viewpoint, the careful review of the scholarly work already done in the field Hurtado is covering, non-simplistic (interactive) coverage of the time periods examined and smooth integration of the ancient and modern sources. It's academic in style, but not at all inaccessible to lay readers like me (and maybe readers of this blog) and very clear. In fact, it is this clarity of presentation, I think, that also fuels the analyses and ideas being sparked off in the reader's mind. In reading it, you should still find some extra mental resources available for questioning, comparing, developing etc., instead of scratching your head and searching in vain for a sentence from where you think you can jump back on the train of thought. It's never like that.

Before I go, a couple of words of reminder about why I am covering this book and how I will cover this book. I initially wanted to hold off until I had read the whole thing - but it is Hurtado's life work, weighing in at over 700 pages. Despite its extremely accessible style and structure, the sheer size of the "package" got to a critical mass when I reached chapter 4, at which point I realised I was going to have to do some critical summaries to consolidate my learning as I went along. Now, this book is fascinating enough in its own right. But I'm not just reading it because I am so interested in first century Christianity, or even first-to-fourth century Christian developments, but because I am researching for the second part of my book/manuscript, the working title of which is Mutated Faith & the Triune Hub. That gives me a purpose as I read, I am zooming in on this critical read on any material that helps account for Trinity development really. Since this book is so committed to "binitarian" (two) worship practice, I am predisposed to require Hurtado to more fully account for the Holy Spirit in his model. Sometimes the Spirit seems accounted for, sometimes less so. You can look out also for a request by me to more carefully distinguish the Pauline from the Johannine worship practices, in which Hurtado certainly makes an impressive start and even provides most of the material needed without fuelling stating the conclusions I would see them serving.

All in all, the thesis of this book is a huge asset to the idea of a refashioned, reshaped, mutated Jewish-Christian hub. I had initially hoped to compress my findings into a single chapter, but from what I'm seeing so far that is going to be a hard ask! Anyway, these posts shall hopefully provide the groundwork for that/those chapter(s).

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Son of Man: a fresh call for new categories

One of Jesus' most preferred titles according to the four canonical Christian gospels is "Son of Man". Correction: "THE Son of Man". It is important to savour the definite article, and digest slowly. While scholars have shown no consensus over the centuries of this conundrum, one thing is clear. There are no other pre-Christian usages of the definite article like this. Either Jesus himself or his immediate followers ascribed to Jesus the *title* of: the Son of Man.

Obviously if no-one had managed to solve the puzzle definitively, we're unlikely to make much headway here. However, there might be some important clues here to stock up my ammo on promoting the Triune Hub model. Jesus' exaltation is described by some as "super-exaltation", that is to say that by the time of the writing of Revelation, the Johannine letters and the gospel of John, cultic (religiousu) worship, obeissance, honour and glory were ascribed to Christ along with God. God had given **all** authority to Christ, his Son. Until quite recently, I had put to one side the "the Son of Man" evidence. Dr Hurtado does not want to read too much into it: "son of Man" can simply be a Jewish way of saying "a man". But what about one appearing like a man to whom divine worship and authority is given? How might you want to refer to **that** son of man? Let's read from Daniel 7:13-14:

 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Dr. Michael Heiser describes this passage in his insightful The Unseen Realm (which I really recommend) as a "second Yahweh figure". Along with a minority of scholars, he believes that the ancient Israelite worldview was of a binitarian Yahweh. In the relevant chapter of Unseen Realm, he develops how Baal and other national deities of ancient middle east nations would be described as "riding on the waves", especially noting the more extensive evidence we have available on the Ugarit practices and beliefs. For someone other than Yahweh to be doing the cloud-riding for Heiser is impossible. It has to be the God of the people the prophet is describing in his vision. Where this view breaks down is the same issue that we find throughout the New Testament, which is totally in line with this striking Old Testament precedent: given authority.

Given authority is no less than inate authority. I was born with British nationality, but I have been given French nationality. So I now have dual citizenship. But the fact that their means of obtention is different has no bearing whatsoever on my power to vote in each of those countries. My British vote is just as important as before, and my French vote has no greater or lesser bearing than that of someone who was born French.

The point for the Triune Hub is that the combination of Daniel 7 and Jesus' designation (probably self-designation) as the Son of Man, seem to suggest that Christ's superexaltation *did* exist as a messianic conceptual category, at least in Jesus' mind. Glorious visions of the risen Christ could - I think we can reasonably speculate - have joined dots in a Jewish eschatological mind, whereby stories would circulate in which just like that Son of Man, that Son of Man of Daniel 7, Jesus also was given divine authority and glory.

Once again we witness how the biblical texts simply will not play ball with the theological categories so often imposed upon them. With that burden in mind, I believe we should feel pressed to finding newer (or older) theological categories that fit the biblical picture more accurately.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Hillsongs Creed song - subtle difference between English and French accidentally reflecting an ancient move

It's been a while since I posted about a worship song - but as a former worship leader and a thinker on the prominent role that worship has on shaping our theology, it is still very dear to my heart.

This morning at church I was introduced to a powerful 2014 Hillsongs song of "Oui je crois (le Crédo)", which quite powerfully resonated for me as someone passionate about the Trinity. Here is the official French video of that song along with the French words. In a minute we will, of course, have a look at the original version in English and reflect again how the Triune Hub model can marshal reconciliation with older Christianity.

Notre Père Éternel, 
Toi qui a tout créé, 
Dieu Tout-Puissant. 
C'est par ton Saint-Esprit, 
Que Jésus fut conçu, 
Christ Notre Sauveur.

Oui je crois en Dieu notre Père,
Oui je crois en Christ son Fils,
Oui je crois en ton Saint-Esprit,
O Trinité divine.
Oui je crois à la résurrection,
Que nous vivrons à jamais, 
Car oui je crois,dans le Nom de Jésus.

Notre Juge et Défenseur,
Tu souffris à la croix,
Le pardon est en Toi.
Descendu jusqu'aux ténèbres,
Tu es ressuscité, 
A jamais élevé.

Oui je crois en Lui 
Oui je crois qu'il est Vivant
Oui je crois, que Jésus est Seigneur.(x2)

Oui je crois à la vie éternelle,
Je crois que d'une vierge il est né,
Je crois à la communion des saints,
Et en ta sainte Eglise. 
Oui je crois à la résurrection,
Quand Jésus reviendra,
Car oui je crois dans le Nom de Jésus.

A quick word about the visuals first. I really like the French video - I like its urban setting, which speaks of relevance to a 21st-century audience. That is important. By attempting a song of ancient Christian truth it is necessary to bind it through to the present, and the visuals play an important role in assisting this.

The French is led by a male singer without choral backing - I'm not so fussed about this point. Part of me likes the impacting clarity of a single voice, while another part appreciates the classic Hillsongs sound which includes the choral backing, even if it gets a bit "samy" to my ears.

Here now then is the English video and lyrics:

Our Father everlasting
The all creating One
God Almighty

Through Your Holy Spirit
Conceiving Christ the Son
Jesus our Savior

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the Name of Jesus

Our Judge and our Defender
Suffered and crucified
Forgiveness is in You

Descended into darkness
You rose in glorious life
Forever seated high

I believe in You
I believe You rose again
I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord

I believe in life eternal
I believe in the virgin birth
I believe in the saints' communion
And in Your holy Church
I believe in the resurrection
When Jesus comes again
For I believe in the Name of Jesus

Whereas before I felt quite critical of any song that for me "missed the mark" with respect to the Trinity - especially if I felt the song encouraged Father-Son blurring - I feel more these days a sense that this is a tough challenge to take on as a songwriter. I think one of my main issues is that songs that people label as "Trinitarian" aren't really trinitarian. What people mean by this most-holy of labels is that there is a line in the song that speaks some form of Trinitarian truth that sounds deep and historical to them, often without any deeper trinitarian structure to the song. My feeling is that this song is a bit like this. It's a lot better than Chris Tomlin's song I looked at in November 2015 here, but it too runs the risk of associating the Trinity with Christ, although more through its general direction than the blatant wording of Tomlin. To the song's defense, the song itself does not claim to be a song about the Trinity - it's aim is to reflect ancient (probably a mixture of second to fourth century) creeds in a contemporary style. A creed, of course, attempts the impossible, by summarising the entirety of the faith in a few short phrases, and it is true that the creeds focussed a lot on Christ, and at some points had very little to say about the Holy Spirit (see the Council of Nicaea in 325, for instance).

OK time to point out an important difference introduced by the French translator, whom I am certain had no intention of introducing the nuance I am going to bring out here. In English, we have a direct affirmation of the Triune God: Our God is three in one. No attempt is made to clarify here of course - as I said these are short, ultradense statements that were carefully defined and rigourously debated for centuries. The way it was worked out was to build an understanding of God around the stuff he was made (although he was never made, of course). Once God had stuff, and the first introducer of the Latin word trinitas, Tertullian, was most clear on that point, it became easier to have three in one. The stuff was called "godhead" and was shared between the Father, Son and Spirit in perfectly equal measure and then at some point - probably in the early 400s, I'm still trying to find out quite when - it lost the necessity of "head", thus returning the stuff to the one called "God".

Unfortunately, although this reflects a very old form of Christianity dating back 1600 years - it does not reflect how the earliest Christians understood their Trinity. Thus it is most interesting (to me at least, as a franco-English worshipper!) to see that the French translators have unwittingly bridged that historical evolution (or "mutation") undergone by the early church. The French version states:
Oui je crois en Dieu notre Père,
Oui je crois en Christ son Fils,
Oui je crois en ton Saint-Esprit,
O Trinité divine.

Note only the Father is called God (Dieu), although all three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit receive perfectly equal prominence. Finally, note also that these three are not called "Our God three in one", but simply "O Trinité divine" (Oh divine Trinity!)

This subtle difference is a perfect example to my mind of how we can see the hermeneutical circle functioning in the earliest centuries of the church. Every generation of the Christian faith has to establish what the texts mean to their day and age through the lenses provided them by their forefathers. The task comprises meaningful application but also meaningful safeguarding.

What we are trying to put out there on this blog via the Triune Hub model is that the Triune God, although absent strictly speaking from Christian Scripture is an interpretative move that was both meaningful and necessary according to the Greek philosophical frameworks undergirding the Hellenised church's thought process. This church knew that there had already been very early distillation of the Christian faith around a radically-reshaped core, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (see Didache, Matthew 28, 2 Corinthians 13, etc.). Prior to that radical reshaping, the strictly monotheistic Jews reserved this core for only One: Yahweh. Yahweh alone. The parts of Isaiah that are generally agreed to have been written from a context of Babylonian exile are if anything more monotheistic than previous Israelite writings, and Hurtado claims that this tendency to monotheism just got stricter and stricter as Judaism progressed through to the Roman era in which Christianity was born out of its Jewish beginnings. To cut a long story short, this "successful" mutation of the core of Jewish faith won out over other early forms of Christianity (deemed heretical) and required naming. However, in the image of the New Testament writers, "God", that is the "ho theos" of the New Testament and the Greek Septuagint, was one of the three, synonymous with "the Father" (or even "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ", e.g. Romans 15:6). But centrality is accorded to all three, and it is in interaction with Father, Son and Spirit that the church's faith, vocation and hope crystallised and was put into practice. In the fourth century, perhaps with a few exceptions, the battleground had moved away from those early threats which blatantly denied such threefold centricity (e.g. gnosticism, docetism, ...) to a more subtle threat: creating a hierarchy between the blessed Three.

And that is what some Christian history books downplay. Written from a perspective of victorious orthodox belief it can be considered that the fourth-century threat that wanted to keep Jesus' statement of the Father is greater than I a literal one, was totally committed to upholding and preserving the Trinity! The problem with that interpretation of a hierarchy meant by implication (this is the premise of the Triune Hub model) that One member, namely the Father, would be more central thus upsetting the careful balance maintained since the beginning. That couldn't and wouldn't do.

So, back to the Hillsongs song (can anyone else out there be making these kind of connections?!), I believe we have encapsulated here as we move (back) from French to English a nice summary of how the church worked out and safeguarded its understanding of its all-new threefold core, a.k.a. "The Trinity".

Friday, 19 May 2017

The "being" of divine space and the challenge of Indifference

I have to confess to feeling a low ebb of motivation right now theologically. Over the past three years that has been rarely the case, but receiving the rejection from Wipf & Stock, a fresh ankle sprain, internet woes and very little take up on my insights into the Trinity development have left me wondering what to do. My last post about unsuccessful mutations, which seemed like one of my most insightful posts to date, received a measely 10 hits. In the blogosphere that's like saying "don't bother".

However, that very fact alone is theologically interesting. That is to say, why should a theologian theologise? If no-one is interested in your questions, are you still willing to pursue them regardless of the public interest that might generate? How will you cope with indifference? Perhaps this is another place where the dividing line of faith becomes relevant to theological work. If you believe that God really is there, listening, encouraging, pleased with your heart: then that might be enough. That should be enough. God is not indifferent - not the God of the Bible.

So, with some difficulty, let me try to suggest something about the Trinity and the "being" of God. Some of the better theologians around today recognise that our words are not really very adequate when it comes to speaking about God. N. T. Wright mentioned this again recently at the 2017 BioLogos conference (or it might have been his panel session around his book launch of The Day the Revolution Began), and therefore the need to speak wisely and humbly. This is especially important to note with divine beings, because there is at least one being, according to Trinitarian orthodoxy, who comprises/comprise three persons. See - we are already in a difficulty with verb conjugations. If the issue hits our grammar, then something might not be right about our approach to the subject matter.

The supreme Christian divine being, God, is not just the Father, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, a.k.a. the Blessed Trinity. There is no other being like him/them. But which is it? "Him"? Or "them"? Let's switch to human beings for a moment, which should make it immediately apparent why the language is not working well for Triune-God advocates. Can there be any difference between a human person and a human being? No, there is none. A human person is identical to a human being. If I point to my Mum and say here is a human person (although that would be a strange thing to say!) then it is the same thing as saying she is a human being. A being just is a person in every other case, billions of times over. Even in the realm of mythological antiquity, the gods were personal and single personal entities. They were "he" and "she". In English, we apply grammatical rules, like in Greek, that are by definition governed by the number of persons involved. So a third-person singular conjugation is about a single (third) person. If you wanted to refer to more than one person, you would need to use a third-person plural form. Some languages like classical Arabic have a special third-person plural for precisely two persons and a separate form for three or more. Regardless, the number of persons is crucial to knowing what grammatical form to use.

What about the God of the Bible? Does "he" ever receive a multi-person verb form? No, he doesn't. With the God revealed by the Bible and through Jesus Christ, you do not need to use quotes around the "he". He is not revealed as a "they". Later, however, by the fifth century, the plurality of persons comprising the "godhead" would be worked out, even if sentences were usually formed that avoided the difficulty of personal pronouns. But is that not ducking the issue? If God is the only divine being to not be identical to the divine persons "within" "him", then what do we do? Good question. What do we do? Fortunately, the Bible still influences our way of thinking deeply as Christians and we continue with the third person singular and do not encourage confusion. God is thus maintained as a simple personal being and trinitarian issues are bracketed.

My recent posts and work on the Triune Hub have encouraged a new stance. I have been encouraging a new way through for trinitarianism which revolves around quasi-physical space. It should be readily granted that the first century provided fertile soil for new emergence of theological perspective. Christianity emerged from **within** Judaism for instance, radically redefining various aspects of Jewish belief, not least of which was permitting that a human figure be worshipped alongside God. The point is that prior to that time, the person of God and the being of God were viewed (I would claim) in a way similar to human persons and human beings - that is to say: identically. God was a Divine person. God was a divine being. Another way to put this in quasi-spatial terms from the perspective of a second temple Jew would be that his person filled the central divine space. The middle, the centre, the core, the heart, the hub of the Jewish faith was God himself.

Before the close of the first century A.D. that central space had been radically redefined to now include the Messiah and the Spirit. That is a monumental shift. But you can see how this divine hub that used to be just God, but is now revealed to be occupied by Father, Son and Spirit, could indeed be later understood - with the best words available of the time - as the being of God, and not his person, which Scripture bolts firmly to the Father. What is really fascinating to ask is why? Thus far, I haven't seen any other hypothesis that matches the explanatory power of the Triune Hub model. But I'm open! Theories can usually be improved, and my own work has seen a lot of fine-tuning over the last six months.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Unsuccessful Mutations

"Unwrapping" my digital birthday gift of Larry Hurtado's most substantial work on early Christian devotion to Christ, I searched for his use of "mutation" as a way to understand how Christianity grew in the first century from within Judaism. Of course, I know what his thesis is in general terms, but it is important to understand in more detail the evidence arising out of first-century sources for how Jesus was reverenced religiously and from the offset.

A couple of initial surprises. One of the practices in modern evangelical church of confusing Jesus and the Father was apparently a first-century struggle as well in some areas. I've yet to cover Hurtado's development there.

Secondly, very intriguingly, Hurtado also uses mutation language to describe unsuccessful early forms of Christian thought and practice. In responding to (and grilling) scholar Burton Mack, Hurtado points out that Mack's Jesus had to be a Jesus closely associated with a Sayings Jesus, such as the one found in the Gospel of Thomas. And that brand of Christianity didn't make it.

A question instantly popped into my mind: why? What can we identify about Christianity streams that were successful? As usual, I referred back to my Triune Hub model, which builds on three major developments within successful Judeo-Christianity that mainstream scholars have described as mutations (the combination of these three (along with other data) points to the mutation of faith itself into a trinitarian shape). Let's state them again:

1. The future hope of restoration of judgement and salvation has tangibly begun in the resurrection of the Messiah - nobody saw that coming.

2. Jesus is worshipped alongside God (Hurtado - although I might suggest that Jesus mediates worship back to the Father) - nobody saw the ascension of the Messiah coming.

3. The collaborative/participative kingdom mutation - nobody expected God's people to be directly involved and empowered to achieve God's Divine Cleanup of the world.

Not only do these three central mutations seem to require some kind of trinitarian articulation to faith (in place of "unitarian"), but they might provide the response to unsuccessful mutations. The Sayings Jesus seems to fail on 2 or 3 of these counts, the docetic Jesus on at least the resurrection count I would think, the Marcian Jesus rejects the notion of mutation entirely (i.e. rejects Judaism). The later Arian and subordinationist Jesuses were also unsuccessful but were seated on a couple of centuries of successful mutations. This probably indicates why they may not have denied any of the above.

But this is where it gets really interesting. Unlike some Christian apologetics that may try to squash these three centuries of debates into a small and even contemporary timeframe, we need to see the subordinationist movement as very close indeed to orthodoxy. All the really whacky stuff had already been done away with. In the fourth century we are not asking "was Jesus a man" or "did the resurrection matter". Successful Christianity acknowledged the mutations and had, by and large, left Judaism by now by virtue not least of its trinitarian shape. The question was now to decide how Christ and the Holy Spirit integrate the hub of Christian religious thought and activity. The question is ontological. But my recent discovery via Paul Ricoeur is that the question may not be ultimately ontological (I have yet to decide), but is certainly not uniquely ontological. 

What I am proposing is that because the church zoomed in further on their trinitarian faith, because there was a strong sense of loyalty to the biblical texts (the canonisation of which was in some interaction with the doctrine), which assert that "the Father is greater than I", a paradox ensued. Was the Father really greater than the Son? By bringing in Platonic thought, metaphysics and ontology into the discussion, a platonic-metaphysical-ontological answer to this question was necessary that would not upset the balanced trinitarian faith inherited from the earliest mutations described above, yet would still satisfy the loyalty issue.

An Arian or subordinationist view, despite the negative characterisations we receive from successful Christian historians, could still have rejoiced in the resurrection of the Christ as an anticipation of their own future bodily resurrection, could still have worshipped Jesus religiously and still be acting to lovingly advance God and Christ's Kingdom. But by asserting, for the first time perhaps from within this successful adaptation framework, that one aspect may be lesser or greater than another, may have just been too upsetting to the foundational Triune Hub mutation.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Jewish roots of the Trinity

As readers of my blog may have noticed, I can appear difficult to pin down on my views on the Trinity. That isn't because I enjoy that status - the reason is that my view simply doesn't fit any of the categories that I am currently aware of, and I continue to tweak it.

I see that we must make a distinction between two historical components or phases: a first century Judeo-Christian "mutation" and a late fourth-century Hellenistic preservation of the first-century mutation. Both are hermeneutic effects, but work differently.

In the New Testament, Father, Son and Spirit dominate. Never before in Jewish thought had focussed religious reflection ever been expressed in such a way, but that is the plain and evidential reality that we find in these first Christian texts (including early non-canonical texts, like the Didache).

The title of this post now needs some word of explanation. What I am about to grossly over-simplify is a Jewish threefold centre of their religious worldview and discourse. It is not a Hellenistic product (even if Tuggy is correct to assert an influence of divine triads over the development of Christian Trinitarianism, I would argue that this influence would be underscoring a pattern that we see already evidenced in the texts that we both agree are authoritative). However, it is also false to affirm that the second Hellenistic phase has also occurred, namely that God is triune. First, faith mutates into having a trinitarian structure. Secondly, the God concept mutates into having a trinitarian internal structure but in conformity with the faith mutation stage. 

What is going on in the first phase? The religious space typically accorded by the Jews to Yahweh alone, that hub, centre, core or whatever other synonyms you might prefer, had come to be shared with those other Two (my favoured term is "hub" because, in addition to centricity, it also carries the idea of movement of dependent elements around that hub). 

The first-century mutation, the Triune Hub, is making Jewish sense of:

  • the Jesus events: death, postmortem encounters and enthronement visions mean the resurrection of God's Messiah and Son, physically absent but envisioned exalted and reigning at a cosmic level: at God's right hand.
  • This super-exalted raised Messiah is also a clear instruction to worship God's annointed and continue to "follow" him.
  • the unforeseeably early resurrection of Jesus winds the eschatological clock forward and prepares a new eschatological window: outpouring of the Spirit, empowering God's people symbolised through baptism to advance the inevitably victorious kingdom foreshadowed by Christ's victory over death and evil during the Easter-Passover weekend.

Between the two trinitarian mutation phases, there was a lot of heated debate within the church, particularly over Christ's exalted status as the movement rapidly outgrows its Jewish roots and moves wholesale into the Roman empire. This too is unwittingly hermeneutical, because while debating subordinationism, for example, and trying to understand quite what Christ meant when he said "the Father is greater than I", another threat was lurking in the shadows. By asserting an unnuanced interpretation of that statement, the Jewish root idea of tri-centric religious discourse was under threat, along with the movement hosting the discussion. If the church were to admit that one really was greater than another, then that lesser one would also begin a potentially slippery slide further and further from the divine centre space. This would throw the whole delicately balanced mutation out of whack. At some point, the words trias and later trinitas were introduced to help establish the hub with a referring term, even though God himself remained graciously one of those three.

When eventually events required some sort of resolution to this fourth-century crisis, it is the response to the subordinationists that wins the day. Orthodoxy - if we may personify it - subconsciously realised the inherent paradox of the Sirmium Council, which both affirmed the central task of forever preserving the Trinity and that one of those three really was lesser. Those two views are not compatible. Since it was indeed essential that the Trinity be forever preserved (or perhaps practiced would have been more faithful still to the New Testament texts), it could not be that one Trinity member was greater than another, where "greatness" carried symbolism of not just greatness or glory per se, but centricity.

So it is an over-simplification from the Unitarian minority report to insist that God is one, God is one, God is one, until suddenly a great theological switch is thrown to now insist that God is three in the late 300s. It's an impossible picture and one that would be far too destabilising for the church. No, you have to start earlier than the New Testament and affirm that God was identical to the space he occupied at the hub of the Jewish faith. Secondly, the faith unpredictably evolves to feature three somethings at the hub of the faith - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thirdly, the space is again reconciled with the being of God, comprising now three hypostases. So while the Unitarian will seek to show the drastic error of saying God was simply one and became three much later on, that person misses the organic nature of the development I am arguing for and the threefold centre of the faith they cherish. The number "three" can be seen as a threat to Unitarians, so they do not tend to focus on the possibility of such an early threefold hub. Perhaps they too, like Trinitarians, confuse trinitarian faith with trinitarian God. What both camps thus ignore is that the first and fourth-century churches share a triune hub. 

The fourth and fifth-century creeds, as ontological in focus as they might appear, should be seen to carry purpose, and that purpose is to guard - fiercely - the triune Hub rooted in the Jewish first-century church, by means of the philosophical tools available at the time. Those tools happen to be metaphysical and appear to be straight up fact claims, but they are loaded with the deeper purpose given at Sirmium.