Monday, 31 July 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, S2 Part 1: CHAPTER 2! Paul's material takes us as far back as we can go and takes us forward

YES AT LAST we will attempt to respond to Hurtado's second chapter of his great book Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (LJC). For anyone new to this series, a recommendation from the author himself is available here and a summary of material covered thus-far is available here.

To avoid the burdensome feel of a huge series, I have decided to reset the counter. Instead of stating "Part 16", I have entitled it S2 Part 1; the S standing for Series 2, these series roughly corresponding to the 10 chapters of LJC. Note that since not all are necessary in the depth I am giving here for the research purposes of my own work around Mutated Faith and the Triune Hub, it is unlikely that I will be covering all 10 in this fashion. 

A final word of introduction is necessary to point out that I am in the midst of a couple of other things on the blog, not least of which is an exchange with author Dr Dale Tuggy, where our dialogue can be traced Dialogue with Dr Dale Tuggy: herehere and here. It's his turn to respond, and I am expecting it to be a corker (at least I threw everything I had at my last contribution). Furthermore, I also had intended to share on the blog some more of the insights of French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, into our quest, but I'll hold onto to that i think until the relevant time. His approach to phenomenology will be crucial to helping us understand how a religion could shift from a binitarian/trinitarian something to a binitarian/trinitarian God.

Also, in the current chapter but also elsewhere, other interruptions to LJC have been planned for a while, when for instance our author will turn to Q, John the Baptist and the "Son of Man" literature. At these points, we will see read up on some other literature that will not necessarily support the positions taken by Hurtado in LJC. But God willing, we will try to see the book through despite these inevitable interruptions (better to consider them interactions). 

So let's open Chapter 2. Hurtado wants to start testing his thesis he laid out in Chapter 1 chronologically, beginning with Paul. Although Paul is not considered representative of the first "wave" of Christianity as his writings date typically from the 50s-60s, they are the earliest direct and undisputed source we have to the form of earliest Christianity. He nonetheless affirms with the majority of scholars I have read on the period that: the emergent Christian movement were made up of Jewish adherents in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Roman Judea (Palestine) pp. 79-80. Hurtado also points out the importance of these epistles in their efforts to maintain the bridge between the gentile converts and the Jewish roots of the church with which he is still in close relationship and from within which he is at pains to remind people that his own dramatic conversion experience took place. It is important for proponents of "mutation" metaphors like myself to make abundantly clear that personal conversion to Christ is not at all equivalent to "converting from Judaism to Christianity". It was perfectly acceptable, like for Jesus himself, to be a true follower of God as a Jew. The big question for the early church was now how to interpret that huge body of holy literature around the events of Christ and the Holy Spirit's outpouring.

Since the Triune Hub presentation will be taking the writings of John Dominic Crossan very seriously on the specific mutation of the collaborative kingdom (as opposed to interventionist), I need to be particularly attentive as to when he and Hurtado disagree on other matters (see p. 82). but the issue is more methodological - Crossan wants to "bracket out" Paul in order to focus on this earlier stage of Christianity, something which Hurtado considers pretty impossible. Furthermore, Paul's deep personal association with the early Christian movement during those formative years alluded to in some of his brief biographical sections in his epistles can provide us further insights into that period. His reasons for starting with Paul in bullet form then (with my emphasis):
  1. Pauline Christianity is the earliest form of the Christian movement to which we have direct access from undisputed firsthand sources.
  2. Paul's letters... also incorporate and reflect emergent Christian traditions of belief and religious practice from still earlier years.
  3. Paul's own associations with Christian circles, which include important Jewish Christian figures such as Peter, James the brother of Jesus, Barnabas, and others, go back to this conversion, which is to be dated approximately 32-34, and so his acquaintance with beliefs and practices of Christian circles is both wide and extremely early.
  4. Several of Paul's letters reflect disagreements between him and other Christians, in particular, some Jewish Christians with different views of the terms for full acceptance of Gentile converts, making Paul's writings our earliest and most unambiguous evidence that there was a certain diversity of beliefs and groups in the earliest decades of Christianity, and also our best indication of the nature of this diversity and whatever commonality linked the groups.
  5. The Christ-devotion attested in Paul's letters amounts to a notable development in the history of religions, especially when set in the context of the Jewish religious tradition and the larger Roman-era religious environment, and his letters exhibit this development as having already taken place at a remarkably early point
  6. Finally, the place of Christ in the Pauline letters also anticipates, represents, and likely helped to promote the Christological beliefs and devotional practices that came to be widely characteristic in Christian groups after Paul. (p. 85-86)
Makes sense to me. 

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Some more thoughts on the interpretative process around The Father Is Greater Than I

LAST TIME RICOEUR was examined here on this blog we established three fundamentals:
  1. Hermeneutic task of discerning the apparent and hidden meanings
  2. Group persons are real agents, with memory, desires, goals, moral responsibility, etc. Personality is like a culture and vice versa.
  3. Hermeneutic understanding of oneself via understanding of other. On this third point I am reminded of the "wildly divergent" (Holmes) attempts of certain Trinitarian theorists to see their own vision of the Trinity as a blueprint for the church. Take John Zizioulas, for instance. He sees the Trinity this way, and yet sees the connections between the Members as fundamentally relational not ontological. What would Ricoeur suggest this reflects about him and his relationships between churches or within churches? Leonardo Boff is adamant: Zizioulas' proposals are far from relational, they are heavy and political:

[T]he trinitarian vision produces a vision of a church that is more communion than hierarchy, more service than power, more circular than pyramidal, more loving embrace than bending the knee before authority. 
(L. Boff, Trinity and Society, (Liberation and Theology, vol. 2), Tunbridge Wells: Burns & Oates, 1998, p154.)

The similarity in the goals between these two Trinitarian theologians seems to illustrate the point well. It would seem that the perception of the church and of God are indeed tightly bound up with who we are as persons and our personal history.

Moving onward today to p. 42 in Conflit des Interprétations, Ricoeur points out a certain insufficiency of the Cartesian "I think therefore I am". What's wrong with it? You have to start somewhere, don't you? The issue, for Ricoeur, is that you don't only start there, you stop there too. It is a deposited truth claim that can neither be verified or deduced: The cogito is not only a truth as vain as it is invincible; we must add, as well, it is like an empty space which has, from all time, been occupied by a false cogito. We have indeed learned from all the exegetic disciplines and from psychoanalysis in particular, that so-called immediate consciousness is first of all "false consciousness"... a philosophy of reflection must be just the opposite of a philosophy of a philosophy of consciousness...textual exegesis of consciousness collides with the initial "misinterpretation" of false consciousness. Moreover, since Schleiermacher, we know that hermeneutics is found wherever there was first misinterpretation

This is a long quote, but you'll see why we need all of it, please keep reading:

Thus reflection must be doubly indirect: first, because existence is evinced only in the documents of life, but also because consciousness is first false consciousness, and it is always necessary to rise by means of a corrective critique from misunderstanding to understanding.

Yes, you may have noticed that the translations are pretty good today - I have found an officially translated version of Conflits available here, p. 18, trans. Kathleen Mclaughlin).

I'm hoping readers are beginning to get the picture. Lots has been said in hermeneutics about how readers today might interpret a text (or misinterpret a text), how that interpreted meaning spirals back into a larger conceptual whole that is an integrated part of our being, modifying it, affirming it and preparing the person for the next interaction with that text. But since hermeneutics is associated with the contemporary task of interpreting important texts such as the Bible or the State Laws, it seems to have slipped our notice that this might well be a vital historical phenomenon as well. In fact, from all that we have seen of Ricoeur thus far, I would say it utterly confirms it, especially when we accept with List and Pettit (2011, 162-163) and Copp (1979) that we can correctly deduce "joint control" in a group via a mechanism of "multi-level causality", that the ecumenical decisions made were groupal and in response to opposing groupal misinterpretations.

So what you would do if you were an intelligent-but-stranded Amazonian who dug up an English Bible, somehow taught herself to read through it and read "the Father is greater than I", what a Unitarian might read when she reads "the Father is greater than I", and what a Trinitarian (Triune God Advocate) might read when she reads "the Father is greater than I" are three quite different processes, all of which contain groupal and multi-level components.

Let's take the Amazonian first. She has spent months, maybe years, trying to cypher this enormous book - not because she wants to waste her time, she has plenty of other tasks she would normally be doing to help maintain her tribe as specialised in fishing and preparing the tar needed to make fishing vessels. But time has been thrust upon her, and she is reading out of curiosity that is fed by the dream that she might one day be rescued and returned to her tribe to share her knowledge with her kinfolk. The fact that this extraordinary Jesus character even could have been considered as great as the creator god may simply add to her marvel of this historic man, and she may not gloss over it so quickly.

The Biblical Unitarian's core tenet, please excuse me Biblical Unitarians reading this and please feel free to correct me below, is that Jesus is not God since only the Father is God, and so when a member of this "tribe" comes across this Jesus statement, the thought flashes through her mind: What more evidence do you need?! She certainly is less likely to gloss over it, it will be actively affirming and feeding the self-knowledge of the reader in a profound way in preparation for subsequent readings. This is a particularly important process of integration of interpretation for the Biblical Unitarian, since, like with many small denominations, they represent a small minority, that sense of identity needs to be more carefully and intentionally hewn. Someone deciding to become a Catholic hardly need consider themselves too deeply with theology or church practice, but a thinly-spread minority group with a non-mainstream reading of the Christian texts, needs to have well-affirmed readers. Notice the potential for emotional reaction. That reaction is in line with the group's marginal status and potential for rejection. It is also a development within the Biblical Unitarian's interpretative matrix precisely because there exists a perceived misinterpretation (or "false consciousness"). Readers do well at this point to remember that we all belong to groups and that we as individuals are simply unable to fully bear the loads of our predecessors.

What about the Trinitarian coming to this passage? Well, I used to be a Triune-God advocate myself, as most readers know, and I also for a short time considered myself a Biblical Unitarian. Now I have run out of theological carparks to park my car, although I hope the Trinitarians might still find some space for me in their basement. My feeling is that Trinitarians probably read the text in the widest variety of ways. As Christians, we are free to read the text slowly, fast, for facts, for deep meditation, reading plans around a topic for a "biblical understanding" on a topic. We might put it to music or commit it to memory. As such, a single text to the human mind becomes a veritable plethora of meaning that cannot be reduced to any simple layer of meaning. It truly does dance and shape our sense of self. But what happens when the Triune God Advocate reads "The Father is Greater than I"? Such an apparently contravening statement to the idea of co-equality in the godhead might seem shocking, but as my exchange here with Sam Fornecker illustrates, there is no "feeling of tension" generated by this text that you might for Triune God Advocates - literally, none (I am still waiting for Sam to pick up the conversation there, I think he has left some of my questions in an unsatisfactory state of suspense). No feeling of tension in the face of such a "clear" text might leave the Unitarian at something of a loss for words. But the bigger interpretation is too deep, too historical, too liturgical, much brought forth in prayer and worship to be swept aside by a verse putting co-equality into question, as if for the first time. Generally speaking, the careful Trinitarian reader will simply keep reading. For any "difficult text", the general advice is almost invariably to "step back" from the text and try to get the bigger picture of what is going on here. However, and I mean no disrespect here, the majority of readers are not highly nuanced "Triune God Advocates". They are simply Christians reading through the popular gospel of John and looking for ways to deepen their faith and sense of connection with God. They may quite simply just keep reading, drinking in the depth of the outplaying of this threefold relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They may be imploring the Holy Spirit to now come powerfully into situation X, Y or Z in this amazing way that Jesus said we would do things, even more, with even more "greatness" than he did.

The Christian apologist, however, has a quite different reading process in mind. Like a great chess-player, he is trying to foresee his imaginary opponents' next moves and is not really in a deep interaction process of his own. Rather he or she is going through his armoury, checking the ammo stores are full, the key citation grenades pins are primed and the lie-guided missiles fully online... that's right, he's a warrior! A great fighter for the Church! I don't even want to probe his or her next steps on this verse. I tend to find some of their efforts a little sickening.

Notice not only the variety of these examples but their huge limitation. There are many, many more contemporary possibilities and nuances today, both individual and denominational (or groupal). Even if such an in-depth study were possible, it would be representative of the interpretative ranges operative today. That is why it is important for us to study the church fathers - and I intend to do some longer excursions on this blog in the future - in order to see how interpretation was operated in both "victorious" (orthodox) groups and, as far as it is possible to ascertain, the "unvictorious" groups.

To return, then, to the insufficiency of cogito, we see a disenfranchised uni-layered reading as both a non-starter and a non-finisher. It is nothing. But interpretation rises or rather arises out of a corrective movement by a victorious group of interpreters over misinterpreting opponents. What gives rise to that "victory"? That's a huge question I shan't attempt here, I simply mention it as it seems to a necessary one to ask in light of today's steps. Nonetheless, it is probably worth noting that the Triune Hub hypothesis suggests that in order for a stable religious bedrock to establish itself, it became increasingly clear as each off-kilter wave of teaching was refuted that this stability required co-centricity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, perhaps even more than the New Testament texts, in order to hold the New Testament texts. Every time the church went through a process of refutation, via apologists such as Irenaeus or Justin Marty, by ensuring the co-centricity of the Father, Son and Spirit, the church herself was constructing her own stability, her own "being" as the hermeneutic circle continued to turn, and so did the "WHOLE".

See also my post:

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Responding to Dale Tuggy on Trinitarian Conceptualisation

AS WITH DR. Hurtado, now with Dr. Tuggy, I have received the honour of some recognition and interaction over the ideas contained in their respective fields and work. Some may have already read my response to Dale's new book, What Is The Trinity: Thinking About The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which you can of course still consult here. In fact, I would recommend doing so first and then reading Dale's response to me on his blog in order to make fuller sense of today's post.

Let's get to it!

I think I stand corrected on an important point: small-t big-T usage with the word "Trinity". I may still not quite be on the money here, but if I understand correctly, Dale is not attempting to establish some new literary practice that he came up with, rather he has seen it and wants to encourage that usage. Be that as it may, I stand by the "inoperable" assessment. If the distinction can only be made by writing the word down, then how useful and practical is it to have to say "small-t trinity"? What percentage of people are aware of this practice anyway? Finally, how practical is it when both capitalised and non-capitalised versions are not capitalised in the adjectival form, and how exactly do we go about that anyway? This creates some issues when laid out, and I think we should ask Dale which he thinks is true:



If the answer is 1 (whether someone believes in the Trinity or the trinity, both are "trinitarian"), then not only is the distinction difficult being reliant on a small written difference in the noun form, but once an adjective, even that small written difference is swallowed up. If the answer is 2. (someone who believes in the Trinity is "trinitarian"; someone who believes in the trinity is "unitarian"), then we still have a most peculiar rule set, whereby small-t means one (very significant) distinction in the noun form, but another quite different (simply grammatical) distinction in the adjectival form.

If the answer is both 1 and 2, then further rules (senses) seem necessary in order to prevent a contradiction. Altogether, I believe this is actually quite a complicated state of affairs indeed, and is what I meant by my assessment of inoperable.

Moving on to my criticism of insufficient definition of quite what small-t trinity actually is. Dale responds, John, you’re overreacting to the word “just” here.  In that context the purpose of it is just to let us know that the members of this triad are not necessarily parts that compose some whole, or aspects of some one thing, or even things of the same exact physical status. It is not a comment on the importance of the triad or any member in it.  The thing is, the triad might also be a Trinity.

This is very interesting. Actually, as I mentioned in my initial post, I don't perceive Dale's small-t usage as referencing something small or lesser. In the same way he sees me, according to his definitions, as unitarian, I am beginning to see him, according to my definitions as trinitarian. One of our key differences, I think, is that the model I am trying to develop does not start with the ontology of God - it's conceptual. In my post yesterday I translated some important philosophical contributions made by Paul Ricoeur, because I am particularly interested in the unstated meanings of the institutionalising 4th-century and later Church. We tend to focus on the grand ontological deliberations and damning anathemas. When the church said that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were of one substance, three Persons in One God, the question is not only what could that mean in the apparent, ontological comprehensive sense, but what else did she mean, in the fuller interpretative sense? What were her concerns, her worries, her goals, her injuries, her loyalties, her priorities? How did "she" interpret the biblical texts to join her horizon with the horizons of the New (and Old) Testament texts? (I have already shared how insightful I find the Sirmium II Council to be into this question in my post Hermeneutic Circle and Asking Better Why Questions).

It's a terrible thing, perhaps, to say, but I actually have found it helpful to put my own beliefs to one side on this. To adopt my own rough model for the emergence of the Triune God (I'm quite enjoying testing the word "triunification" of God) requires no personal faith in Christianity whatsoever. It might help for you to care enough to think about it (let's remember what a tiny minority we are to find this so "crucial"). But an interested atheist or agnostic historian can come to this data and will naturally want to ask the kinds of questions I just stated. How did "substance" help articulate and preserve the collective beliefs and practices of the Church at the time, even if it is entirely symbolic (e.g. zero gods)? My approach is thus to say that this substantialization process is a symbolic hermeneutic that can only mean one thing: they were looking for a way to ground the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the centre in a way that they already were functioning in practice. Dale - I firmly believe history needs more continuity than the 381 eureka! moment/scenario your model seems to require, because as you say, the triad might also be a Trinity (even if we mean this in slightly different ways).

I find it slightly curious that my usage of the word "mutation" is not more meaningful to Dale. It is the go-to word for some scholars like Crossan, NT Wright and Hurtado (the last of whom has been interviewed on four occasions on the trinities podcast, here, here, here and here) to express the modifications of religious belief structures that would permit Jews to still be Jews but also a part of the new Christian movement. I've looked in detail at how each of the aforementioned scholars use the term and feel ready to borrow its usage while still critiquing some inconsistency in its use (esp. Wright). So I think I can be considered clear of simple or unthought idea-grabbing on this point. While I teetered on the edge of embracing biblical unitarianism in 2015, it was (geekily enough) recognising that unitarian scepticism around the textual soundness of Matthew 28:19 was so weakly based, especially when I had to concede the baptismal formula in the Didache, some quite ambivalent personal views I have on the gospel of Matthew (love, hate and late), that made me start to question whether or not a form of trinitarianism did indeed actually spring up as early as the first century. I actually believe it did and I can provide some good arguments to back that up and the fourth-century picture is part of that explanation.

On Tuggy's response to my response to Q5, about "absolute equality", the issue of mutation rears its head again. Tuggy points out that prior to the Christ-event, Daniel 7 provides a precedent: "But to the Jews they were not absolutely unassignable"..."that all sounds like God stuff! It is! It is from him". One of the mutations that Tom Wright highlights about resurrection in Judaism and resurrection in Christianity, is that it (resurrection) has shifted from being a marginal belief to something at the centre - he specifically identifies this relocation as a "mutation". Daniel 7 is a pretty awesome text, but, as with bodily resurrection, it does not seem to have captured messianic hopes in mainstream pharisaic Judaism, which is what Dale's comments could be construed to imply. It is unclear to me even if we can be sure that Jesus or his disciples would have had access to that particular text, although I am inclined to think that they may well have had access to the Parables of Enoch (and possibly Daniel). Larry Hurtado is much more sceptical on this point even than me: zero precedent for this kind of Jewish cultus of Christ. I would point out, however, even if this were a mainstream hope, which it most certainly does not appear to be, it would be one thing to hope for such a figure in the future and quite another to believe that this one like a Son of Man had indeed come as the Messiah and God now required that worship of him be carried out in a way only anticipated beforehand and otherwise reserved for him alone.

Dale's response to the centrality of Jesus and the Spirit is still engaging with the issue from a different standpoint - he can agree on centrality, without any modification to the theology, by which he means the unity of the one God although allowing for modification of the messianic category. But when you examine the issue historically, seeing each set of religious thinkers as interpreters of those before them, then the only way you can get from Point A (monotheistic unipersonal God) to Point C (monotheistic tripersonal God) is via a Point B. There has to be a point B - no, indeed God is not yet triune, but something has changed via his exaltation of Christ and the participative rule empowered by God's sent Spirit. This is something we can identify as a historical religious phenomenon of reconfiguration. As an atheist, agnostic, trinitarian, Trinitarian (oops, sorry ;)), Unitarian, Buddhist, Muslim or whatever your personal faith, none of that matters on this point. You can't teleport Christianity from Point A to Point C, and that Point B simply has to have something to do with the substantial changes and mutations Christianity has been firmly recognised to have brought from within its Jewish contingent. Could it not be that fourth-century ousia is symbolic for religious centrality? Reconfigured divine space? Again, I don't mean real divine space! I refer to the psychological, conceptual and, I believe it is the correct word having looked a little into Ricoeur's work now, phenomenological space hitherto accorded to Yahweh alone.

On the divine logos category, Dale asserts correctly: " It seems to me that he’s really using Jewish categories". I think I get his point, Jewish usage of this "through whom" business in the New Testament is natural and certainly precedes John, who simply clarifies it a bit more than Paul, for instance. It is worth remembering that a lot of Jews at the time may not have known much Hebrew or Aramaic - this was one of the reasons driving the third century BC translation of the Septuagint in Alexandria into Greek. It should still be considered remarkable that these "through whom"s were so readily applied to Jesus so quickly. The Jewish Christians were "primed".

Q6 is really about worship of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting here to note that Tuggy seems to side with Hurtado on this one. Hurtado points consistently to what he calls a "binitarian worship" practice among the earliest Christians. That's distinctly one less than three - however, if pushed to Tuggy's standard of "primary trinitarianism", Hurtado's binitarian usage would fail (Hurtado is not claiming that God himself is binitarian in the first century, it is the act of worship that it binitarian, see my post on this point here: Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado, Part 9: what does Hurtado mean by "binitarian"). My argument, however, contra Hurtado, is that since religious experience would have been best understood by the central revolutionary empowering presence of God of his Spirit, that God is now more firmly located next to his Son in heaven and other distinguishing aspects I will be laying out in my presentation of the forces and factors determining the first century triune hub emergence. Although founded on some traditional creedal authorities, it would be an assumption I think for many evangelical Christians to suppose they worship the Spirit, also calling "him", "Lord". The point here is that contrary to Dale's insistence that the Trinitarians have got it wrong on this one, most evangelical trinitarian practice I know of simply agrees with the New Testament practice Hurtado calls "binitarian" (provided they haven't subsumed the Father into Christ). On over-personification of the Holy Spirit, Dale should remember I share the same reservations, and I still stand by most of what I wrote that he published on his blog, demanding more evidence from social trinitarians of the Holy Spirit as a giver and receiver of love among the other Members.

Dale closes this point stating that he has never heard of nor seen New Testament evidence for a Triune Hub, such as I suppose, and that this idea lacks clarity for him. I take his challenge very seriously - I need to be ready to give a clear presentation of my thesis, and I am pondering doing a youtube video, while at the same time shuddering at my lack of skills in that area. Some followers of the blog will know that I have also made some approaches to book publishers with the idea, which has improved with each submission. Thus far I have tried Wipf & Stock (rejected), Austin Macauley (accepted, but I'd prefer a specialised publisher), SPCK (rejected, although some apparent interest) and now Paternoster (currently under review). If you would like to contact Paternoster to encourage them to take on my project, then please write to Authentic Media Submissions at submissions[at] regarding John Bainbridge's book proposal - thanks! Of course, I can also send you what I wrote to them beforehand.

On the concept of the hub itself, I have tried on numerous occasions to summarise it into a sentence or two, so I guess I could have another go now. The model is a semantic one, it wants to look at how Jews, then Christian Jews and then later Christians could triunify God. It understands and accepts that as neurotheological research has pointed out, the human brain's association with the religious world is actually interconnected. Neurotheology recognises that there is neither a "God Gene" nor a brain "God spot". We are wired to explain a world in which establishing and influencing causality enhances our chances of survival. All cultures have developed with religious beliefs and practices, some establishing a plurality of divine beings, some with one above the rest and others with exactly one, like Islam. I'm not yet completely convinced that the Christian mutation occurred at a time in Jewish history when henotheism (multiple gods, but one above them all) was not the more accurate or representative worldview for them. The semantics and practices around the gods or god of religions are detailed and change over time, although are usually constrained for the more stable religions to ensure continuity with and preservation of sacred revelations of the past. The concept of God, however, shifted astoundingly quickly according to Hurtado. No longer was there God and his emissaries, but now, following the sudden events around the first Easter, is his Messiah forever reigning at his right hand, whom he commands be worshipped.

Such divine reverence, Hurtado argues compellingly, was reserved for Yahweh alone... until now!

"Inasmuch as exclusivist monotheism is manifested a refusal to offer worship to any figure other than the one God". (LJC Ch. 1). Furthermore: [W]e have no analogous accommodation of a second figure along with God as recipient of such devotion in the Jewish tradition of the time, making it very difficult to fit this inclusion of Christ as recipient of devotion into any known devotional pattern attested among Jewish groups of the Roman period. [KL 919, my emphasis], see also my post on Hurtado, "Part 8: the line no-one ever crossed"). The point is that for these Jesus-worshipping Jews, their religious concepts were in a state of flux. Certain rules no longer applied. Some of these were about worship. Others were about a single-stage eschatology. Others were about resurrection. Others were about the participative (as opposed to interventionist) nature of the Kingdom of God. Others were about the temple. All of this was in sudden movement as God started to play some cards that he had previously only hinted he held. The result was Jesus-worship to the glory of God the Father in the Holy Spirit; in fact, the "proto-orthodox" church saw it their duty to sustain these revealed modifications, a process which began before the close of the New Testament canon. Matthew, for instance, one of the most Jewish books of the New Testament canon, is responding to some confusion over baptism as he has witnessed not least in reading Acts 8:14-25 and 18:24-19:8, and ensures that baptism "into Jesus" is absolutely about receiving the Holy Spirit by placing this on the authority of Jesus' own lips post resurrection. All the major acts of God begin to be reconfigured around the Father, Son and Spirit (see this Stephen Holmes video for a clearly articulated argument on this, especially the Q&A at the end).

Prior to Jesus, Yahweh filled that religious centre in the Jewish mind. It was slightly blurrily edged at times, but worship seems to be the big dividing line in the Jewish mind. I slightly prefer "hub" to centre, because you can have a static centre or core, like a building, but a hub is dynamic. It turns and interacts with its surrounding elements. That semantic hub looks different now. That's more than a couple of sentences, but I'm just trying to be clear and yet still not extend into the chapter-length necessary to deal with this new angle.

On Q. 7 about persons, Dales asks: What difference does it make if we go on to talk about this, “hub” thing? In what way are you trying to tweak either a humanitarian or a subordinationist unitarian theology? I am trying to understand how it is possible to end up with a Triune God from the New Testament conceptually, even symbolically. The clearest example we have of the paradox I discovered listening to your podcast episode 177 on the Second Sirmian Creed. The paradox, if I follow Ricoeur's encouragement to decode deeper meaning, is that the precious Trinity is both to be preserved forever, while One (the Father) is greater than the others. I believe that for a stabilising institution, this made for a lopsided and unstable Trinity. What is greatness? Might it not be religious centricity? If "all are central, but one is more central than the others", then we find ourselves in Orwell's paradoxical Animal Farm...

On my two additional comments, Dale seems to concede my point, without explicitly going back on his language in his book of the Holy Spirit's mention in 325 being an "afterthought".

On the second point about risking going around misleading people about my love for the Trinity (i.e. articulating my own spiritual life and purpose around the F, S & HS), I feel no shame nor risk. On the contrary, I believe most people need a simpler emphasis on all three (my 7-year-old was delighted to discover that there were "3 of them"! even though he does not yet need to ask quite what "them" means, and God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit remain distinct for him, or at least I hope). Most people haven't ever heard the word "Triune" before. I'd been a Christian for over a decade and only doing a Bible course to consolidate my faith and knowledge of Scripture at age 21 do I remember hearing it for the first time. In practice, I hardly ever use the word Trinity, but I simply emphasise and articulate my faith in as threefold a manner as I know how and feel remarkably safe there.

Very nearly there...

Dale says: I have the impression that you’re groping for a sort of middle ground between unitarianism and trinitarianism. I don’t see why we need that though. Queue: Paul Ricoeur. Rarely known fact: this influential Christian philosopher actually helped train French President Emmanuel Macron. The book chapter I have been doing some posts on over the last couple of days has a lot to do with arbitration, the title of the book is aptly named The Conflict of Interpretations. Having examined both sides of this trinitarian debate in some depth, I can safely say that both positions have strong points. I don't care much for "groping" - but I am indeed scoping out ways in which dialogue between these two sets of perspectives can lead to a more harmonious reading of the texts. Here's a very small example, one that set my religious foundations into a state of dangerous tremor when I began to see it just three years ago: just look at all those simple "and"s between God and Jesus. This is not a complicated "and", say the Unitarians. And they are right, but that position gets tricky when that same simple "and" (along with other sharp distinguishing linguistic features) comes between the Father and the Spirit.

Finally, Dale closes with: Before, you’ve expressed incredulity at the idea that mainstream Christianity could go from a unipersonal God to a tripersonal one, in the 4th c. I agree that at first glance, this is a big surprise. But I think I sort of see how it went, in the minds of some of the speculators whose views prevailed. At least, I’m starting to. Long story, though. Yes it is! I think that is my point - it has to be a lot longer than is sometimes implied. And it is also the key story that we are all dying to hear and that I haven't yet heard told satisfactorily. Looking forward very much to hearing more of what you have started to see :)

What a fascinating exchange! Thanks so much Dale, I have really appreciated it, and for making me think so very hard about this issue.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

How does your interpretation help you understand yourself more?

Yesterday we began to draw some of the connections between Paul Ricoeur's work and the methodologies underlying some of the historical quests for the Trinity. I attempted this in both English and French, which was a big effort at over 2300 words in total, something I won't be able to maintain. It was also one of my least visited posts recently - possibly a coincidence, possibly English readers hadn't realised that the post was also in English, I don't know. Anyway, today I will keep it mainly in English with a couple of French summaries, using the same colour codings as yesterday. Citations will continue in both languages, the English being my own translation.

Aujourd'hui je me contenterai de faire la plupart de l'article en anglais, avec quelques remarques et citations en français.

Yesterday we saw Ricoeur distinguish two types of ontological inquiry: the short route, which I translated as "ontological comprehension", is very black and white. The longer route is more arduous and involves semantics. It does not attempt what I coined as "historical surgery", is more nuanced, personal, intentional and multi-faceted. I'm going to fast-forward a few pages now to arrive at a key citation that brings in the concept of symbolism, which is important when insisting, as I do, that the fourth-century discussions around the doctrine of God, despite the ontological packaging, were also deeply symbolic. Here's Ricoeur on p. 35:

I am calling a symbol any structure of meaning where a direct, primary, literal meaning also provides an indirect, secondary, figurative meaning behind it that can only be apprehended via the first. These two-layered structures constitute the hermeneutic scope ... I suggest we afford [the concept of interpretation] the possibility of the same layering as the symbol. Thus let us assert that interpretation is the mental task in which the hidden meaning is distilled from the apparent meaning and to deploy the various layers of meaning implied in the literal meaning.

J'appelle symbole toute structure de signification où un sens direct, primaire, littéral, désigne par surcroît un autre sens indirect, secondaire, figuré, qui ne peut être appréhendé qu'à travers le premier. Cette cironscription des expressions à double sens constitue proprement le champ herméneutique. Je propose de donner [au concept d'interprétation] même extension qu'au symbole; l'interprétation, dirons-nous, est le travail de pensée qui consiste à déchiffrer le sens caché dans le sens apparent, à déployer les niveaux de signification impliqués dans la signification littérale.

More dynamite! I've been saying this for a while, but the more we look at the Triune-God process - let's call it the "triunification", the intelligent minds that were involved in that process, the more improbable it gets that this was an illogical, unbiblical or crazed invention. Something I breezed over to get to this crucial quote was a very brief treatment of Edmund Husserl, factoring in personal intention. Husserl is focussed on phenomenology, which is this curious sub-world in philosophy that attempts to look at human experiences experientially without reference to metaphysics and theories. All this is very interesting, but where we still need to join some dots is by asking the following the question: can we consider an institution to be a person with intentionality? Chad McIntosh argues compellingly that we can as "corporate personalities", provided we designate them as functional persons and not "intrinsicist" persons. Like most intrinsic persons, these corporate personalities meet the conditions first of agency....:

An agent is anything that has representational states about how reality is, motivational states
about how it wants reality to be, and the ability to rationally process and act on those states so as
to attempt to get reality to fit its desires. Insects, animals, men and even robots may all qualify as
agents on this account. Houseplants, rocks, stuffed animals, and screwdrivers do not.
That groups, too, can be agents in this sense is standard fare among many philosophers.
Once it is recognised that groups can meet conditions of agency, it is natural to consider next
whether they might meet conditions sufficient for personhood, such as being morally
responsible, having free will, and having a first-person perspective. The most travelled route from
group agency to group personhood is via the first of these, moral responsibility.
(CA McIntosh, God of the Groups, p. 2)

Je fais le lien entre Ricoeur et McIntosh, puisque cela me permet de proposer que les collectivités d'évêques qui sont représentées par les documents historiques des concils écuméniques sont, à mon sens, dotées des conditions nécessaires pour l'herméneutique dans le sens où il y a une signification apparente et aussi des significations cachées à en déchiffrer. 

And McIntosh will indeed conclude that such an "adoption" into personhood is not only possible but full, along with some notable philosophical support. All that is relevant to establish a development that I want to make from Ricoeur's insistence that hermeneutics is about teasing out the hidden layers of meaning behind the more literal or apparent meaning. Since we are such social creatures, preprogrammed to work in social structures, we have to step beyond a simple individual's examination of an ancient-yet-meaningful text. The individual's focus and drive are part of a wider-held concern (or lack thereof as perceived by the individual), but so also are the Biblical texts themselves and the later great ecumenical councils, which especially need to be seen as interpretative in the sense brought to us by Ricoeur, and as a collective in the sense brought to us by McIntosh.

When the church said that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were of one substance, three Persons in One God, the question is not what could that mean in the apparent, ontological comprehensive sense, but what else did she mean, in the fuller interpretative sense? What were her concerns, her worries, her goals, her injuries, her loyalties, her priorities? How did "she" interpret the biblical texts to join her horizon with the horizons of the New (and Old) Testament texts? I have already shared how insightful I find the Sirmium II Council to be into this question in my post Hermeneutic Circle and Asking Better Why Questions.

Let's return to Ricoeur, who wants to widen our understanding of interpretation not just as something we do with the knowledge that we have, but as interwoven into the fabric of our being, our deep semantic field of reference out of which we derive our meaning - albeit still on an individual level. Here on p. 40, our author is having another go at Dilthey's hermeneutic problem we examined yesterday:

The exegete can appropriate the meaning of an outsider, she wants to make it her own...; it's then the expansion of her understanding of herself that she is pursuing via the understanding of the other. All hermeneutics are thus, be it explicitly or implicitly, understanding of oneself via understanding the other.

L'exegète peut s'approprier le sens: d'étranger, il veut le rendre propre...; c'est donc l'agrandissement de la propre compréhension de soi-même qu'il poursuit à travers la compréhension de l'autre. Toute herméneutique est ainsi, explicitement ou implicitement compréhension de soi-même par le détour de la compréhension de l'autre.

So, next time you want to understand "what Paul was really saying", you are really trying to understand more of who you are via that understanding - amazing, huh? Would you agree? What about the "great" ecumenical councils - what do you see the purposes and meanings are behind the scenes? Think beyond controversy A, B or C - unless you can answer why those controversies might have shed light on some deeper concern. We need to watch carefully. Let's ask a new question: not what, but who does the Church understand herself to be and how does she understand herself better through her "triunification" of God? That's probably enough to chew on for tonight :)

Monday, 17 July 2017

Digging in deeper into interpretation (Profondons notre perspective de l'interprétation, article bilingue)

I AM TORN between two directions. I want to resume the survey of Lord Jesus Christ as soon as possible, as it simply covers so much important ground and is gathering fresh interest including a referral from Hurtado's blog himself. I also want to explore my deepening hunch that we need to be clearer that, like us, all of our predecessors in the Christian faith were also interpreters of that which preceded them. That is to say, in some clearer sense than before, we need to do away with the ideas that the "divinely inspired" writers of the New Testament were not interpreting according to principles that still govern us today. Same is true of Christian interpreters in the second, third and fourth centuries too. Obviously much more to be said about that. A key author in this field is Paul Ricœur, for whom I have received a specific request to relate his "arbitration" work to the question of the unfolding articulation of the centrality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the first centuries (I also note that my article on hermeneutics received considerably more interest than average, see Hermeneutic Circle and asking better "why" questions).

Since it has always been the goal of this blog to not disenfranchise my French readers, and this second author is French (and I am reading him in French), I propose to do just a few posts (I'm aiming at three) in both languages on Ricœur and then pick things up again with Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul Ricœur

Puisque ça a toujours été l'objectif de ce blog de ne pas perdre de vue mes lecteurs francophones, j'ai choisi de m'orienter maintenant pour quelques articles sur quelques citations de Paul Ricoeur avant de reprendre Lord Jesus Christ, par Larry Hurtado. En effet, j'ai reçu une demande de développer ce qui m'interpelle chez cet auteur français vis-à-vis de la Trinité, son rôle d'arbitrage étant important dans la question du déploiement de l'articulation de la place centrale dans la foi chrétienne qu'ont toujours occupé le Père, Fils et Saint Esprit dans l'esprit Chrétien.

The title I am referring to is The Conflict of Interpretations, which speaks directly to the sharply differing views to which I have been exposed over the last few years, and in many senses encapsulates the direction taken by the Triune Hub model I have been developing. English citations are my translations (which, since I am still grappling with Ricœur, may not be perfect, apologies). Page numbering is from the 2013 edition of Conflit des Interprétations: Essais d'Herméneutique, by Editions du Seuil, which is virtually unchanged from the original 1969 edition by the same publisher.

Our first citation seems to confirm this conviction that interpretation is integral not only to our acquisition of historical information but also the way in which that was originally composed itself in the past:
No striking interpretation can be drawn without borrowing from the modes of understanding available at a given time: myth, allegory, metaphor, analogy, etc. (p. 24)

Nulle interprétation marquante n'a pu se constituer sans faire des emprunts aux modes de compréhension disponibles à une époque donnée: mythe, allégorie, métaphore, analogie, etc. (p. 24)

Le titre auquel je fais allusion est Le Conflit des Interprétations, ce qui se situe pil là où il faut pour répondre aux perspectives fortement contradictoires auxquelles j'ai été confrontées ces dernières quelques années, et répond bien à l'orientation prise par le modèle du Noyau Trinitaire que je développe. Les citations sont tirées de l'édition 2013 de Conflit des Interprétations: Essais d'Herméneutique, par Editions du Seuil, ce qui reste pratiquement inchangé de l'édition 1969 par le même éditer. Cette première citation semble confirmer que l'intérpretation est intégrale non seulement à notre acquisition d'informations historiques mais aussi à comment ces dernières ont elles-mêmes été composées. Ce constat nous conduit à un deuxième: puisque le cercle herméneutique agit à travers des périodes de l'histoire qui dépassent la simple vie d'un tel ou tel interprète, nous pouvons constater qu'il existerait surement un niveau de réflexion, de compréhension et d'interprétation collective dont l'Eglise est le titulaire. Cette appropriation collective pourrait se rapprocher au sens voulu par Chad McIntosh dans ses illustrations de "personnes groupales" dans sa quête d'ouvrir de nouvelles possibilités philosophiques pour un Dieu multi-personnes (voir mon article de 2015: "Jésus Sois Le Centre").

Not only can we note that it that interpretative processes are constantly active, both now and the periods in the past that seems so vital to us, but that this leads us to a second observation: because this hermeneutic circle hugely exceeds the lifespan of any given interpreter, we should surely consider a real collective thought, comprehension and interpretation ascribable to the Church. This collective consideration may be close to Chad McIntosh's illustration of "Group Persons" in his exploration of new philosophical possibilities for a tri-personal God (see my 2015 article: "Jésus Sois Le Centre").

In surveying the early 20th century efforts to place Hermeneutics more centrally within the scope of human sciences, Ricœur covers Dilthey and his hermeneutic problem, which is profoundly psychological. This is because interpretation (e.g. of a text) is a small part of an individual's wider field of semantic reference, his "comprehension". To understand another person thus becomes seriously problematic and requires some form of conscious reception mechanism:

"To understand is to transport oneself into the life of another; historical comprehension brings into play the full force of historical inquiry: how can a historical being understand historically his history?... This is the major difficulty that can justify how phenomenological search for a reception mechanism, like grafting it onto a young plant" (p. 26).

Comprendre c'est... se transporter dans une autre vie; la compréhension historique met ainsi en jeu tous les paradoxes de l'historicité: comment un être historique peut-il comrendre historiquement son histoire? ... Telle est la difficulté majeur qui peut justifier que l'on cherche du côté de la phénoménologie la structure d'accueil, ou.... le jeune plant sur lequel on pourra enter le greffon herméneutique. (p. 26)

En reprenant les efforts du début de 20ème siècle pour placer l'herméneutique au centre des sciences humaines, Ricœur note le problème fondamental de l'herméneutique décrit par Dilthey. L'hermeneutique est profondément psychologique, puisque l'interprétation (d'un text notamment) est en effet une petite part d'une masse sémantique de référence plus large de la "compréhension". Comprendre donc l'autre devient sérieusement problématique et nécessite un méchanisme de réception qui joue sur le conscient (voir citation dessus de p. 26).

On est au point de voir la pertinence absolue de l'hermeneutique à la question de l'émergence du Dieu trinitaire à la fin du quatrième siècle et faire face aux choix que l'herméneutique pose devant nous.

And so we are just about ready to observe the absolute relevance of this study of hermeneutics to the question of the late fourth-century emergence of the Triune God and face the choices hermeneutics place before us.

"There are two ways to root hermeneutics phenomenologically, the short route and the long route. The short route is that of ontological comprehension"

Il y a deux manières de fonder l'herméneutique dans la phénomé voie courte et la voie longue. La voie courte c'est celle d'une ontologie de la compréhension (p. 26-27)

The short route, to cut a long story short (!), is more problematic. It's like attempting historical surgery, and, most fascinatingly for our own interest in the Trinity, is obsessed by ontology. Guess what? That is precisely the form of expression (I choose these words carefully) that the victorious fourth-century bishops were so concerned adopting their understanding: identification of the Son with the Father and the Spirit, via... something ontological a.k.a. ousia. Here I need to be very careful not to mix up two independent critiques. We can criticise the fourth-century "Homoousians" (those who believed in the "consubstantiality" of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) for inappropriate hermeneutic integration of their predecessors, or we can criticise later (e.g. 21st-century) historians for inappropriate hermeneutic integration - presuming some of the ontological categories to be valid while simultaneously stating that such categories cannot be applied to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Assuming those ontological categories are biblical, you could perhaps continue to say the usage of those categories is downright "unbiblical", transgressing stacks of sound exegetical practice, and so on, while not seeking out what lay behind the form.

La voie courte, pour aller vite (!), est plus problématique. C'est un peu comme tenter une intervention historique chirurgicale et serait particulièrement concernée par l'ontologie, d'un intérêt tout particulier pour notre sujet de la Trinité. C'est tout à fait dans cette forme d'expression (je choisis mes mots avec prudence) que les évêques victorieux du quatrième siècle voulaient exprimer leur compréhension: l'identification du Fils avec le Père et l'Esprit, via... quelque chose de l'ordre ontologique, notamment "ousia". 

Ontological comprehension, says Ricœur, is an all-or-nothing affair, black and white. You've either got 1 God or three. You've either got a Unipersonal God or a Tripersonal God, etc.
La compréhension ontologique, dit Ricœur, c'est une approche tout-ou-rien, noir ou blanc. Soit vous avez un Dieu ou trois dieux. Soit vous avez un Dieu unipersonnel ou tripersonnel, etc.

The Long Route, on the other hand, will not devoid itself of ontology, but will access it via nuanced semantics, "by degree". That is a good term for my model of the Triune Hub: "semantics", which would seem to be situated within Ricœur's second category of hermeneutic. Why is that? I have a hard time explaining to some seasoned philosophers who reason in more black and white categories what I mean by this "hub". Semantic is a very good word to describe it. I also like "space" - I am referring to the Jewish mindset that, while not yet embracing a vocabulary of monotheism, had some strict semantic parameters in place about what could hitherto be said of Yahweh/[the] LORD via his agents and what could not. I like using the word "hitherto" very much; by it, I am of course referring to the events surrounding the life of Jesus, whose Jewish followers felt obligated to modify and reorganise their own monotheistic semantics and God's place within it.
Image taken from

La Voie Longue, en contre partie, n'abondonnera pas l'ontologie, mais l'accédera par la sémantique, "par degrés" (p. 27). Cela est un mot important pour mon modèle du Noyau Trinitaire: "la sémantique", ce qui correspondrait à la deuxième catégorie de Ricœur. Pourquoi? J'ai du mal des fois à essayer d'expliquer ce que j'entend par ce "noyau" à des philosophes bien rodés qui raisonnent avec des distinctions catégorielles bien plus noir et blanc. La sémantique est une bonne expression pour le décrire. J'aime aussi "l'espace" - je fais allusion à l'esprit Juif qui, même si pas encore doté d'un vocabulaire de "monothéisme", intégrait des paramètres sémantiques strictes de ce qui pouvait être dit des agents de Yahweh/L'Eternel et de ce qui nous pouvait pas être dit d'eux. Cependant, cela était jusqu'à l'arrivée de Christ qui a modifié cette sémantique et la place de Dieu dans cette organisation sémantique.

Pour s'interroger sur l'être en général [référence ontologique], il faut d'abord s'interroger sur cet être qui est le "là" de tout être..., c'est à dire sur cet être qui existe sur le mode de comprendre l'être. (p. 28, mon accentuation)

To inquire about the being of something in general [reference to ontology], we first need to inquire about the being that is the "that" of all being, that is to say, this being that exists in and through its mode of being understood.

This last quote is quite a lot of philosophical mumbo-jumbo and a difficult one to translate (for me), especially Ricœur's use of the preposition "sur" (typically simply "on", which I have rendered "in and through"). But if you get the contrast that Ricœur is driving his readers toward, especially when you are motivated by a key "conflict of interpretation" like I am in the case of fourth-century interpretations of the Trinity, we can maybe start to grasp the distinction in slightly less philosophical lingo. What I am saying is that Ricoeur is right in his drive to help us look at the mode of transmission of important theological information - we cannot strip it down naked so to speak. The bones always have flesh. But here is where we and the church can hit confusion because the very subject at hand is ontology (ousia, divine "substance" or "essence" linking the three Persons as one Godhead, then simply "God")! But we mustn't allow ourselves confusion between the packagin and the contents here, via this double usage of ontology. There is a "mode" at work of transmission of important theological information that has as much ontological importance as the ontology explicitly described.

Cette dernière citation contient pas mal d'expressions difficiles et la traduction en anglais pour moi n'était simple, surtout l'emploi de Ricœur de la préposition "sur". Mais si vous comprenez le contraste que Ricœur veut mettre en lumière, surtout lorsqu'on est motivé par "conflit d'interprétation" comme je le suis dans le cas des interprétations du quatrième siècle de la Trinité, peut-être que nous pouvons commencer à saisir la distinction par des termes moins philosophiques. Ce que je veux dire c'est que Ricoeur a raison lorsqu'il insiste à ce qu'on regarde le mode de la transmission d'informations théologiques importantes - on ne peut pas les réduire comme informations brutes. Les os sont toujours recouverts de la chaire. Mais c'est bien là où nous et l'Eglise pouvons nous heurter à la confusion puisque le sujet même c'est l'ontologie ("ousia", la substance divine qui relie les trois Personnes dans un seul Dieu)! Mais nous ne pouvons pas nous permettre à confondre ce contenu ontologique de son emballage ontologique. A l'oeuvre ici est et était un "mode" de transmission d'informations théologiques importantes aussi important que son contenu.

More tomorrow! A suivre demain!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

What Is The Trinity? A brief response to Dale Tuggy's recent book

WHAT IS THE TRINITY? A central question indeed to which author Dale Tuggy has an answer that leads the open reader dissatisfied with current explanations.

(Since I wrote this post, Dale Tuggy has responded to it over on his blog, Dialogue with John on Thinking about the Trinity, to which I now have an extended response: Responding to Dale Tuggy on Trinitarian Conceptualisation)

I liked the book - that was always probable as I have supported the trinities show for a couple of years and Tuggy's own views have been important in shaping my own, which are nonetheless distinct now from his. I liked it for Tuggy's systematic approach into an issue that for some may have always appeared impenetrable, for the author's ruthless efforts at showing where he sees inconsistencies to lie, for his deep respect for some Trinitarian theologians and philosophers and for what still appears to me to be a genuine search for Truth. Even if Tuggy's place within the Biblical Unitarian camp is now well established and appreciated by them, he is not playing to them.

As I began to read it, I was surprised by a few typos, including on the back cover and early on. But readers shouldn't be put off by those - this is not a slap-dash book, and those seem to disappear as you get further in.

Readers should remember that Tuggy is a philosopher, so at times, although he has deliberately aimed this short book at a wider audience, reference is made to philosophical and logical constructions that not everyone will be immediately familiar with. The examples he gives to illustrate his points often include that dry wit that many of us also appreciate in Dr. Tuggy.

Today, it is not my goal at all to engage with the book in depth - there are other ongoing projects as regular blog readers are aware - I will just take the opportunity to respond to Tuggy's takeaway questions, that can be found on p. 133-134, which might illustrate nicely where our common and uncommon ground lies, and then two other comments.

1. Does the New Testament in any sense appeal to "mystery" about the Trinity or the trinity? If so, what is meant by "mystery" there?
No it doesn't, although I now disagree that the Trinity/trinity distinction is operable in that format. The clearest example of mystery in the New Testament to my mind is the inclusion of the Gentiles into God's people.

2. Does the New Testament anywhere mention or refer to a Trinity, or only to a trinity? Neither, if we are on explicit criteria. If we are on the implicit side and we accept that Trinity = The Tri-personal God alone, then God is certainly not referred to with that idea in mind. However, Tuggy does not integrate the significance of what he calls small-t trinity in sufficient depth. At another point in the book (sorry I'm going for a speedy post today, so no page reference) he refers to this trinity as "just a triad". Don't focus on the word "triad", when he says this. Focus on "just" and "a". In my view, that is a wholly inadequate description of the way in which the Jewish-Christian religious semantics underwent a profound reorganisation ("mutation") through a relatively short number of decades including the divine core itself, which I refer to as the "hub". I want to keep these answers short so I won't say more on that here, but there are quite a few other posts on this if you look back through my archive.

3. Does it teach that there are three eternal equally divine Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who all together in some sense "are" the one God, Yahweh?

4. Does it teach that those three Persons share an ousia, and if so, what would the New Testament authors, in their first-century context, mean by that saying that?
This is a difficult question, perhaps a bit like to use the author's own analogy of wondering what someone from centuries past might have thought of the Internet. Having said that, it is true that Aristotelian ideas of substance, form and matter would have been known to some of the earlier educated Greek converts, although I don't know how well grounded in those Paul would have been. Interestingly, ousia, or substance, does not appear to be the foundational aspect of a thing. In the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (in which Tuggy is also published, unsurprisingly enough on the Trinity), there is an entry under "Form vs. Matter". Here it states: "In these cases, the thing that underlies is the matter of the substance". The substance itself is not the permanent underlier. So the question Tuggy wants to ask of a first-century Christian, assuming he is versed in Greek philosophy is doubly inconceivable since the word ousia does not seem to mean at that point in history what the church would later graft it in to mean and indeed even later adapt (into something eternal).

5. Does it teach the absolute equality of the Father, Son, and Spirit, so that each is eternally unlimited in power, knowledge, and goodness? No, but there are some important things to note in conditioning this response. Firstly "absolute equality". We all know that, awkwardly for some, Jesus goes on the record as saying that "the Father is greater than I", so at least in essential greatness, it is very difficult to go back on Jesus' own words. How do some Christians do that? Well, the passage in Philippians 2 (which is certainly not ignored in this book) may include part of the answer. The idea is that the full worship and glory can be directed at Christ "to the glory of God the Father". One of the key building blocks to the "meta-mutation" of the Triune hub is the recognition of the unforeseeable incorporation of the Messiah into the sphere or individuals worthy of worship, as explained in detail by Larry Hurtado (see my summary post here for a good access point into my series). Hitherto, that space was occupied fully by Yahweh. Jesus receives "all authority". From a New Testament standpoint, the Father's presence and anointing in his son were quickly proven supreme, such that many of these hitherto presumed unassignable qualities of God were indeed shared with the one whose own (essential, I would say) humility was of equal match. If you can be as geeky as I am then you may have already tried doing some New Testament word-counts. I have done this on references to God and Jesus. They both number at around 1200. That's pretty astounding and points to a roughly shared centrality in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit does not fare so well on that criterion although is central on other criteria. Again space here limits me on this, but the primary distinctive that was necessary to make between John the Baptist and Jesus were on the central issue of the Holy Spirit - whose distinction from the Father was an outworking of the going of Christ to "be with the Father" (at his right hand).

On eternality (man, Tuggy's question is dense!), then the New Testament is significant on one understated point. On awareness and influence of Greek ideas (see also question 4), insufficient work has been done on first-century logos incorporation into Christian discourse. The way in which Jewish writers Paul and his followers (some of whom also wrote epistles), the writer of Hebrews and later, John simply assume the agency role of the logos in creation and sustenance of the universe. This can only mean that that which we have fortunately preserved in detail in the writings of Philo likely knew much wider Jewish acceptance than simply one Alexandrian writer. There has to have been something that Jesus said or was ascribed to him early on for him to "transgress" purely human messianic categories and fit so neatly within this adopted Greek one. The parables of Enoch are a likely part of the answer to this pre-Christ, Jewish-Greek convergence that justify the offhand New Testament references. On the Parables, may I recommend Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man: Revisiting the Book of the Parables, by Gabriele Boccaccini (2007), especially Part 6: "THE DATING", and the chapter by J.H. Charlesworth "Can we discern the composition date of the Parables of Enoch?" pp. 450-468.

6. Does the New Testament teach or positively portray the religious worship of: Father? Yes. Son? Yes. Spirit? Not "of", but "in". Does it teach or show worship of the three of them together, worship of the triune God as such? There is no Triune God yet - although the New Testament describes a reconfigured hub of the Jewish faith hitherto occupied in its entirety by Yahweh.

7. Does the New Testament teach that the only god just is the Father himself or does it teach that the Father is but one of three Persons "in" God? The former, although see my other comments above about the reconfigured monotheistic space/hub.

8. Does the New Testament make catholic bishops the successors of the apostles, with apostle-level authority to settle questions of Christian doctrine, working together in official, emperor-convened councils? As the reader now knows, this describes a scenario much later than the New Testament one. Slightly curious question.

Besides this, there is a lot to commend in this book, whose structure in particular has been thought through carefully with some excellent chapter titles! I am in agreement with a fair bit of the presentation and despite having been exposed to a lot of Tuggy's work already still learned some important things. A lot of this book is not an attempt at promoting (while not hiding) the particular views of the author. I will, however, before signing-off, highlight two assumptions that I do not feel are good characterisations of the historical data, that may also be where the personal views do interact with the analysis of the data.

Firstly, p. 89, the chapter is wittily entitled "Substance Abuse" and concerns the fourth-century controversies. In the Nicene Creed, it can seem striking that so little is said about the Holy Spirit, but look at Tuggy's assumption:

The 325 Creed ends with the seeming afterthought: "and in the Holy Spirit". (p. 89)

Especially in light of his comments elsewhere about the nature of the 325 Creed (its focus is refuting Arianism), it was not attempting to be some kind of eternal declaration that would shape core Christian belief for millennia. Rather, it was clearing up an Arian controversy that messed with Jesus' divine status. If Arians were not perceived to contravene the catholic interpretation of the Holy Spirit to the same degree, then it might seem sufficient to provide a simple mention on this occasion. Meanwhile, the more Trinitarian Creed of 381 can fill this out, without necessarily be seen to "correct" it. We should remember that since the end of the first century, Christians felt it necessary to specify that baptism into the faith was in the name of Father, Son and Spirit. In many ways, I believe that the debates from third to fourth-century act as a mirror to some of the earlier first-century developments, both culminating in a triune result. The first was a Triune Hub of Jewish-Christianity, the second was a Triune God.

My second comment follows on from this and a general disagreement about the distinction method (Trinity vs. trinity) described in chapter 3, over which I was lucky to have some dialogue with Dr. Tuggy. I'll mention that in a second, but first the text of p. 113: What sort of being is "God" supposed to be? Your answer to this will constrain your options when it comes to thinking about the Trinity. The "Trinity" (in the primary sense of the term, as saw in chapter 3) is supposed to be none other than the triune God...". (p. 113, my emphasis).

In Dale's lovely understated tone, I can respond: "Nope". The use of the word "primary" here is, I believe, quite misleading. Although I still haven't gotten round to Robert Jenson's The Triune God, I do value his and Fred Sander's distinctions of a "primary" from a "secondary" (only explicitly so with Sanders) trinitarianism. So, no, I don't think we can simply accept that there is only one form of trinitarianism, which is precisely why Tuggy's blog and podcast is called trinities. He might point out that this is a reflection that the "Triune-God" presentations are multiple and contradictory in important places (to which I'd agree), but that still doesn't make that whole tier the primary form - in fact, it divorces them from it. The Triune God is phase 2 of an insufficiently detailed mutation of the religious core of Jewish faith and practice among Christians in the first century. It is thus the secondary (or even later) sense, not the primary.

Regarding my exchange with Tuggy, since it was semi-public on the trinities facebook group, I feel I can show it again here:

JB: Enjoying what must be one of the first copies of What Is the Trinity to reach French shores, by a certain Dale Tuggy. On Chapter 3: Trinity vs. trinity: Why attempt the distinction this way? Why not reclaim an earlier understanding of a mutated Jewish 3-fold religious core, allow that to be called trinity or even Trinity, and reserve a special term for the fourth-century version that we all get so upset over (my proposal is Triune God advocates/advocacy)? Something along these lines would be more effective in reducing ambiguity, rather than possibly adding to it, as the following (ironically) illustrates: "But it gets confusing, because unitarian (non-trinitarian)..." (p. 29) - by which Dale seems to contradict the central distinction of the chapter, except: no, the adjective should not apparently be subjected to such consistent distinctions (p. 33). Wow.
I used to think the distinction worked, but I personally don't think it's going to catch or even should.
Sorry for the quibble, I think everyone knows I am a big fan, hence my indulgence. :)

DT: Hi John. I'm not sure I understand this idea of a "mutated Jewish 3-fold religious core." About terms like "Trinity" or "trinity," there seem to be only three options. (1) they don't refer, (2) they refer to something, (3) the refer to some plurality of things, i.e. to more than one thing. I propose that it's helpful to use "Trinity" as referring to the triune God of catholic orthodoxy, and "trinity" to refer to the triad of God, his spirit, and his Logos. About the earlier Jewish view - that's just "God" right? Aka "the Father," "the King of the Universe," "Yahweh" - a mighty self, the creator. Yes?

JB: Hey Dale. I'm sorry for the lack of clarity in my explanations about the Triune Hub idea, although I have tried to explain them before in a couple of our other exchanges. On the subject of options, I would also want to place before a BU the following options: is this triad, small-t trinity, or whatever anything special in Christianity, including Jewish Christianity, or not? In your interview with Sean Finnegan I think you imply that it is special if the Bible might indeed be "all about" the small-t trinity. My Triune Hub hypothesis attempts to provide precisely the "thing" that we need in the absence of a first century Triune God. Expanding on Larry Hurtado's comments about how central Jesus is to God discourse for the first-century church, the accepted parlance of "mutation" by leading scholars such as Hurtado, Crossan and NT Wright, and the "Jewishness" of some of the sources that even correct misconstrual of Jesus' baptism with respect to his predecessor John (cf Acts 8:16, Matt 28:19, Didache 7:1 and even "unsuccessful mutation" of GThomas 44:1-3), the mutation I am proposing is that the central religious *space* or focus now includes a consistent articulation with the Son and Spirit. "Personhood" discussions aside, these three appear equally individuated in these significant references and to share **hitherto** (albeit with some conceptual "foreshadowing") - apperently - unassignable - divine (aka religiously-central) prerogatives.

DT: If I understand you, you suggesting that "Yahweh" turns out to really be there beings, functioning in a unified manner. Is that right?

JB: I'm not sure about "beings", certainly entities. I want to account for what you describe as "primary" trinitarianism (see your use on p. 113) in a way that makes better historical sense (ie Triune God advocacy as a "stable" interpretation of that which was primary, which has to be something other than "just a" triad). Otherwise we are still left with the impossible theological switch problem (wake up one day in 382 and decide that God is tri-personal). I have just completed a fuller response over on my blog to your excellent little book here: [link to this post]. Thanks for the exchange, always a real pleasure!

Thanks Dr. Tuggy for a great yet stimulating little book, very well referenced and clear. I have since been lucky enough to earn a response from Dale over on his blog

(Since I wrote this post, Dale Tuggy has responded to it over on his blog, Dialogue with John on Thinking about the Trinity, to which I now have an extended response: Responding to Dale Tuggy on Trinitarian Conceptualisation)