Friday, 29 May 2015

God becoming flesh and the NO MIXING clause (i)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I was pondering this evening, once again, beauty - more specifically, the beauty of the doctrine of the Trinity. I allowed the voice of Gregory (of Nyssa?), in awe, send me from one person to the next to the next and be impressed afresh in the grace, the partnership, the togetherness. One of the most staggering things in this 1600-year-old doctrine is the notion of inseperability of operations. There is this incredible idea woven into the doctrine that they (they is a bit of naughty word in Trinity discussions) are all intrinsically involved in all of the divine acts, and in slightly different (and complementary) ways.

I for one still find it exceedingly beautiful in many ways, even if not in all ways. However, the question I am asking, is: does beauty indicate truth? At first glance, it seems to. How can something be good without its imputed goodness? Or be beautiful without imputed beauty?

If a flower is beautiful, then it is because God made it that way, therefore, the plant's beauty is of God. But hang on a moment, what about the old famous saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Most people find flowers beautiful - but what if the flowers were thistles? A gardener might not be so appreciative of the "beauty" of the thistles. His work is made so much harder by their existence that he may even come to see them as ugly.

Take another example of something man-made. Near where I live (sorry if I already told this one, but it's still relevant) is a high-speed train station. I got to have a real good look at it as I waited for my wife to pick me up, following another ankle sprain while out running on trails near the station. I really appreciated its design, it's modern appeal, how it is so carefully shaped, using lots of glass, creative architecture, it is unlikely to age too quick, it is kept in good condition, and so on. For me, there was something of beauty in its design. Perhaps we might want to trace God's involvement in this through his (or their) incredible work in making man capable of such incredible work.

Except that, some people living nearby might not think of it as incredible work at all. They might see it as a terrible eye-sore, with a negative impact on the environment, and associate it with disruptive noise and the traffic coming and going. Over time, they may well come to find it more than a little annoying, but positively UGLY.

It would seem that the same object can be beautiful for one person and ugly for another. How does God see it? Can he see both the beauty and the ugliness simultaneously? If humans saw beauty in the craftsmanship of the image of an idol or another god, perhaps painstakingly chiseled from a single stone, God would clearly not be impressed. He would not be going "on the one hand, I love this, but on the other, it revolts me. No. Other gods, no matter how physically appealing they might appear are UGLY in God's perception, I think the Scriptures are clear on this point. The potential beauty is utterly lost on God.

I have a final example: the fake smile. A fake or forced smile can still look very appealing and provide a person with a sense of good connection and friendship with the "smiler". The observer may not see that the smiler's smile is not very natural etc because the relationship is still very new. However, for a married couple, for example, who know one another extremely well, they can usually see through anything insincere in no time, and there is nothing positive or beautiful about it at all.

So it seems that to say that something has beauty for one individual does not necessarily mean that it possesses a universal or absolute beauty. In this case it is difficult to make too direct a connection between something that is held to be beautiful and God, even when that something (like the flower example) is the majority view.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 10. Monotheism

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

9. Monotheism

Nathan Macdonald shows that our modern understanding of monotheism is quite different to the expression and commitment required in First Century Judaism to the One True God, maker of Heaven and Earth. Even the word monotheism, our English word derived entirely from Greek words, was never used back then. We can only trace it back in English to Henry Moore (17th century), although a single mention of μονόθεον in Greek is found in a Byzantine hymn, of unknown date (but definitely a few centuries earlier, since the Byzantine empire finishes decisively in 1453). 

Monotheism today forgets the dynamic and life in the ultimate God, it forgets the praise that is for him alone, and instead intellectualises. Or as Chiara Peri puts it in her brief essay The Construction of Biblical Monotheism: an Unfinished Task: “In its historical development, monotheism is a dynamic process rather than a static reality.” The “mono” also can distract our focus – and translators’ focus – from the plurality of heavenly beings. God’s angels can be extremely powerful and awesome, even speaking on His behalf. The biblical authors speak of multitudes, and of course the “Heavenly Host” and the “Lord of hosts”, akin also to a heavenly (good) army. In the Torah, the Israelites are instructed that they shall have no other gods before YHWH, which clearly presupposes a belief in their existence. Modern translations have tended to squash this emphasis perhaps in light of a more rationalistic monotheism. It is more than a little interesting to note that Jesus himself seems to re-address wrong thinking about what we call monotheism when he is accused of blasphemy in John 10:34.

Please also see my brief presentations of "God" and "Deity":  

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Reaching down

On the back of my car, there is the symbol of the Christian fish. You might think that I stuck it on in a hurry because it isn't level, for it is swimming downward...

For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens. May your glory shine over all the earth. (Psalm 57:10-11)

I whisper, exhort, encourage, shout and implore my own heart to hear that message from the psalmist that God's love to me and to us and our families will not fail. There is depth, permanence and stability in the psalmist's spirit as he sings, writes or whatever he is doing as he first utters these things.

I return fairly often in my mind (or at least this morning) to the truth of the "benefit" of developing a richer and more profound spirituality through prayer and meditation. To me, it feels more and more that God created us with a need to go deep. I put "benefit" in quotes because the word makes me think too much of some kind of superficial gratification without those quotes.

Reaching down to God - and not just up or out - helps us become deeper more profound individuals, but the benefits are for all: for our families, our friends, other seekers, our communities and so on.

See also my report from my recent family experience with a small orthodox assembly on Sunday of Pentecost (yet to be written)

Monday, 25 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 9. Logic

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


Logic can be perceived negatively, but it should not be! In fact it shares some very common ground with the word logos, the Word, which we find famously in John 1. It is what helps us grasp concepts and meaning, and enables us to communicate them as best we can to others. So it is not just the domain of philosophy, for we are constantly applying logical principles to see if people, arguments, and practices are consistent. As soon as something appears contradictory, we say “hang on a minute! Something is not right here!” When we see the biblical authors also trying to make their point, they will at times (depending on their own personal style of writing and the genre of the biblical text) make very logical appeals to strengthen the arguments they are making, or to protect themselves against future accusations of inconsistency.

Paul is a great example of this:

For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection’, it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him [1].

We love logic – I think God might do too, provided it is a source of life to us and in us. God’s logic keeps us sane and prevents us from spiralling off into thinking absurdities like “God is so great that he can exist and not exist at once”, or “there might be such a thing as a square circle” or “I know a married bachelor”. Now if – let us imagine for a moment – there were mention, say in Psalms, of a married bachelor, what would our response be? Would it be a mystery? No. We would identify the genre of the text – poetic – and remind ourselves that not all of the texts are to be taken literally, that we must understand its context. We might possibly conclude with something like: while the man was officially married, in actual fact, his life really was that of a bachelor (he did not love his wife or his children, he did not communicate with them, he came and went as he pleased, and so on). So there is no contradiction. In one sense, the man is married, the legal, civil and administrative sense, but in another sense he is a bachelor.

I hope that is clear! We do not tolerate true contradiction, only relative or superficial contradiction, and this is logic that is at work at the heart of our reasoning. Most, if not all “Trinitarians” fully comply with this, despite the apparent 3 and 1 tension. No-one is implying that God is three of one thing and one of that same thing.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:27

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 8. Interpretation

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


This is absolutely central to the thesis of this paper! I mentioned it a little already in the opening chapter, where I recalled that we are all interpreters of the information our senses provide our brains. We have trained our brains to process information from the world in order to interact with it better, to survive and to thrive. Sometimes we process well, and sometimes less well, to a point where we can say to someone who understood something quite different from what we intended to say as having “misinterpreted” what we said. I recently discovered kicking about in the back of my mind something of a working definition of poor biblical interpretation that I hope you like and find useful when it comes to how many approach the Bible on a variety of topics:
Interpretation is what makes me say this verse’s plain reading works just fine for me, but that verse needs to be understood according to its context or underlying doctrinal truth. Most Bible teachers or theologians probably practice this to some degree, it is difficult to completely avoid. One person stands out for me, however. His name is Phil Norris. Whilst I was studying at King’s Bible College and Training Centre, Oxford, in the Autumn of 2001, he taught our opening module, on exegesis. I still remember Phil saying something very fresh, and it remains fresh: we do not need to learn the context of just the passages we find difficult, but of the verses we cherish or find easy to interpret too. That sounds so simple! But it needed stating as it is not a very natural approach for most of us. We should note Fee & Stuart: “The antidote to bad interpretation is not no interpretation, but good interpretation, based on common-sense guidelines”. 
Interpretation is absolutely fine, necessary and normal, provided we do not, as Stephen Holmes put it in an interview in 2014, “smuggle our assumptions onto the table”. See Exegesis& Eisegesis.

[1] Steven C. Roy, 2006, How Much Does God Foreknow?, p.22.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 7. Inspiration [updated]

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


[revised 13/06/15]
This is a big topic, and there are many, many understandings of what it might mean for the canon of Scripture to be “inspired” by God. I want to let you know straight away my own understanding of inspiration. It is but one of many interpretations, but it is central to why I am probing what authors came to think about God, His Son and His Holy Spirit.

Scriptural inspiration is not:
- God bypassing the writer’s brain and directly moving his hand across the page (inspired texts but uninspired authors)
- Affirming ideas and thoughts that go against what the author generally believes
- At all the same thing as prophecy
- “Magical”
- Something that we have the authority to apply to the text.

Scriptural inspiration is:
- In line with the author’s opinions
- Over time understood and tested to be authoritative
- Fully incarnated, beginning in the author’s inspired mind and inspired beliefs
- Invested with original and binding meaning and intention
- Most fully (and best) understood in light of original context, occasion and genre

So while we Christians believe that these first century authors were writing down “God-inspired truth” to shape followers of Jesus for all ages to come, this process necessarily started with their own generation. It is vital to this paper that we grasp this approach to inspiration. This view is not always shared, but these principles match a view in the scholarly world, that Paul, the gospel writers, James, Jude, and so on, were very intentional in their writings and that it is dangerous to attempt to separate what they thought and believed from what they wrote (i.e. uninspired minds but inspired texts).

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 6. Ineffability

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 5. God

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


Oh my God, she’s beautiful!” exclaimed the younger sister to her older sister, Millie, cradling the new-born baby in her arms.

O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame”, writes the Psalmist 3000 years ago, pleading to Israel’s all-powerful, universe-creating, divine council-presiding and nation-founding God, Yahweh, to keep his country and people.

What we mean when we say a word like “g-o-d” can vary a lot (see “Deity”). One of the questions of this paper is do we understand that the “God” of Paul is the same “God” of Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa and the other fourth century religious authorities, and if it is redefined what does that mean for us?

Dr. Carl Mosser also informs us that the word God – θεός or theos, in Greek – might not originate in Greek as a being. In early antiquity it was frequently used in an adjectival sense, i.e. of that divine realm. For Greek-speaking Jews who carried belief in Yahweh, ultimate supreme creator and presiding among the heavenly council (Psalm 82), the fullest sense of theos in the first century was of “that ultimate one, the God of Israel” when prefixed by “ho” (the). However, because theos does not originate in Hebrew, but in Greek, it seems possible that it came to be used increasingly as a noun with the expansion of its empire into Jewish areas. Mosser notes that the earlier more generic sense was not instantly replaced and that in the first century both usages could be happily used alongside, relying on context to communicate the intended meaning. Dr. Winfried Corduan, who makes an interesting case for original monotheism (that monotheistic religions did not “evolve” from a pantheistic root), might take issue with this slow shift in usage from one language into another.

Dr. Paula Fredriksen is also in agreement with Mosser, however, that we need to be careful about the application of words like “deity” and “god” in the early Christian era. In the ancient world, it was a commonly held view, monotheistic cultures included, to see other divine gods as present and active, but that towering above them all was the one True God, the Creator of all things.

The Old and New Testaments, with a possible few exceptions, like Isaiah, seem to accept and presuppose the existence of other gods, and yet Christians are often sheltered from this more ancient form of monotheism. Indeed, Psalm 82 and other Old Testament passages  would suggest a more plural divine picture, but all the same: allegiance and worship were reserved for God Almighty, El Shaddai, as shown in Exodus 6:3 as YHWH.

Some of the most famous words in the Old Testament are the ten commandments given to Moses, and the very first, and possibly most important of these seem to pre-suppose other gods:

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God (Exodus 20:3-5).

Another final point we stumble over a few times in the paper is the issue of this definite article preceding “theos”: ho (the). In Greek, you get a strong idea of the subject being a specific being when this definite article is used, i.e. “ho Theos”. First century believers – like Arabic-speaking Christians in North Africa to this day – are quite comfortable about saying “the God” all the time. When it is without the article, well, that is a big debate!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 4. Exegesis & Eisegesis

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

Here is the next one, minus some footnotes:

4. Exegesis & Eisegesis

Exegesis is the work of drawing out the original meaning intended by the author. It is commonly and correctly understood as a necessary practice for preachers and teachers of the Bible in order to remain as faithful as possible to its message. Nowhere have I seen it better summarised than by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s classic introductory work, How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth. On p. 26 of my 2nd Ed., it reads with a beautiful simplicity:

A text cannot mean what it never meant   

I take this as fundamental and universal. Exegesis is a safeguard against too quickly applying meaning of our own to these texts that were not there in the original author’s mind and introducing extra-biblical foundations into the church, because as Stephen Holmes states this with his usual eloquence: “No reader approaches any text in a neutral and uncommitted manner” .

A lesser-known term for adding extra meaning to the text is eisegesis. While exegesis is careful to take into account contextual factors like time, place, writer, recipients, occasion, literary factors such as genre (is the text a story? A parable? A poem? Wisdom literature? An epistle?) and textual issues (are there any significant manuscript variants in this passage?), eisegesis is often “in a hurry” to get on to what the individual or group in question are wanting to teach and hear, infusing their own message with borrowed authority from the Bible.

Exegesis is absolutely central to the question this paper is asking about the status of the creeds. Some can tolerate some eisegesis on grounds roughly along the lines of: although the author may not have fully known what he was saying, the God who was inspiring and orchestrating the whole thing did know. While this might conceivably exonerate writers such as the composer of Matthew’s gospel, from proper exegetical practice, later authors should not have any more legitimate, spiritual or prophetic authority than you or I. Relaxing exegetical rigour, or trying to sidestep it as I feel Stephen Holmes attempts via his appeal to some kind of “deeper exegesis” , cannot and will not do for the true Protestant.

We must exegete, we must provide hermeneutics, we must not eisegete.

Presented here is my plumb line, which is a widely accepted principle today. Stephen Roy, himself on a theological quest, puts us on a good, common-sense track. When he acknowledges the authority of Scripture like this it makes you really want to listen to what he has to say:

…I propose that a valid theological model must be consonant with Scripture both quantitatively and qualitatively. In other words, we must first ask, does this model deal with all relevant biblical data? And second, does it do so fairly, without misreading texts so they serve a prior theological agenda?
However, it is also a rather modern understanding of exegesis. Early church authorities, such as John Chrysostom, were still pioneering the fundamentals of today’s good interpretative practices. Stephen Holmes outlines the tension well:
[It is understood by Chrysostom that] a text cannot be understood unless we know its author, the context of composition, and so on… But all patristic interpreters are united in seeing the primary meaning of the biblical text as Christological...”

To paraphrase this you could say that the new church approached (Old Testament) Scriptures:

  • Desiring and expectant to find Christological references throughout, especially when there is dialogue and the speaker of the text is not identified
  • Let us be careful how we go 

The victorious theology of the church in the fourth century was shaped by a prototype exegetical method roughly along these lines, sometimes referred to as prosopological exegesis. The Councils were then the outworking of an early systematic theology, that is an attempt at a more collective or canonical exegesis.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 3. Doctrine

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

Here is the next one.

3. Doctrine

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16[1] (NRSV)

Congregations and students of the Bible are often reminded of this wonderful verse, but how does the Holy Trinity fare? Is it definitely God-breathed and infused into the Scriptures? Is it useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness? Is it practical? This is one of the key challenges that underpins the “Trinitarian revival” picture painted by Holmes in the next chapter, taken up by many. Let us simply remember that dry, intellectual (even unbelieving) study of God is a very recent phenomenon, and that purely intellectual and vocalised agreement of “a” doctrine might have sounded very strange in much of our church history, and I suspect would still be odd, for example, in the Orthodox Church. So do not be fooled when you see the word “doctrine” in scripture. It is the same Greek word translated “teaching” [διδασκαλίᾳ] in the passage cited above . Quite frankly, it is surprising that translators still opt for this word, when the first century meaning – according to the Pastoral Epistles – was so consistently practical.

So if you see the word “doctrine” in this paper, please do not confuse it with the way the earliest Christians saw διδασκαλίᾳ: good, applicable teaching that changes your life.

[1] Another possibility reading is “Every Scripture inspired by God is also useful…”
[2] See 1 Tim 1:3, 1 Tim 1:10, 1 Tim 4:16, 2 Tim 4:3, Titus 1:9, Titus 2:1

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Key notions defined series: 2. Deity

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

Here is the next one.


I have had an increasing sense of wariness about the confusion hanging over this word, which is why it will not feature strongly in this paper. Deity has come to be used like a measuring tape of the degree of heresy and damage you might be capable of wielding on the belief of an individual or even of a church. How much deity does Jesus have? Seven? Fourteen? If we use expressions like “fully divine” or “full deity”, what would it mean to say “partially divine” or “partial deity”?

Dale Tuggy voices a similar complaint here commenting on the sacking of a World Vision employee over the issue of the Trinity:

The words in their doctrinal statement […] fail to clearly express any precise views about God and Jesus. It seems to me that a lot of evangelical talk of the “deity of Christ” (or him “being God” or “being fully God” or “100% God” etc.) functions primarily as a sort of shibboleth, and that’s what is going on here. Their statement also owes something to a distinctively American anti-creedal tradition, which goes back to the founding of [the United States of America…t]he result is a distinctive sort of Christian tradition zealous to police itself for correct beliefs, but without interest in making precise distinctions.[1]

More and more, I feel that the word deity does not really reflect anything we can find in the Scriptures regarding God (except one single verse, Colossians 2:9, which I will not be examining) in the way we use the word. It also places major question marks over the roots of Fourth Century Trinitarianism itself, for the second and third centuries are full of church fathers and writers who would not have professed the “full deity of Christ” in the sense understood one or two centuries later.

The term deity also – in my view – is now spoiled with a misunderstanding of what we now define as monotheism, please see below.

Finally, deity does not even reflect what the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed actually states (or the church movement behind it) in the fourth century. Take the legendary Athanasius for instance, who strategically made the otherwise inconsequential Arius into a heresiarch. This is the same Athanasius who is famous for being such a strong proponent of salvation as deification: Jesus became man, so that men could become gods, deified. There was arguably no-one more central to the creed most churches hold so dearly to today. See “God” for more on the evolution of the word “theos” in antiquity.

[1] See full article No Trinity, No Job – Part 2,

[1] See full article No Trinity, No Job – Part 2,

Monday, 11 May 2015

What means what? Key notions defined series: 1. Contradictions

I am one satisfied blogger right now :)

Not because of the blog going especially well, but because the main research I am doing finally hit a big milestone this weekend - I have completed my main review of the New Testament (and some Old Testament) texts, cataloguing 463 NT passages. To "celebrate" that milestone, I want to publish a part of the paper that helps me in the processing and weighing of these texts, which is currently entitled Chapter 2: Key Notions Defined. It also is an opportunity for me to tidy up these definitions.

I will publish one every two days for the next month, in alphabetical order. Here is the first one.


Contradiction concerns two opposing and incompatible statements or ideas (see Logic), whereby both cannot be true. I do not believe in full biblical contradictions on significant issues, nor do I believe on contradictions on the micro-level within the same author and text. That leaves some wriggle room on a medium level, although some (conservative streams) will try very hard indeed to eliminate the slightest whiff of any kind of inconsistency whatsoever. This is rooted in an implicit assumption that every Greek and Hebrew word  must be utterly faultless. So when confronted with issues like how many angels were at the tomb after the resurrection – I feel little concern. But more significantly, is there contradiction between James and Paul on what faith looks like? There is disagreement on emphasis, yes (again, see “Logic”, below). But here we do not need to consider ourselves locked into a contradiction. That is an example of a significant issue.

For an example of no micro-level contradictions within the same author and text:

Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, ‘Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.’ (John 7:28)
Then they asked him, ‘Where is your father?’ ‘You do not know me or my Father,’ Jesus replied. ‘If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’ (John 8:19)

Neither Jesus nor the author have time between these passages to change their point of view. We can therefore assume that unless insane, John is not writing something that fundamentally contradicts itself. Conclusion: Jesus came from Nazareth in the geographical sense (the “where” part, which was and is key to knowing someone) but they do not know the One from whom Jesus has come in the spiritual sense (a key part of “who” since the Father is “in” Jesus). Contradiction does not seem to be an issue here.

If the doctrine of the Trinity is to stand biblically as essential interpretation, according to these requirements of non-contradiction, then it must not contradict the Scriptures on micro or macro levels.

[1] There is also a King James fundamentalist group that believes that this English translation is the ultimate word of God.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Jesus using the third person singular when speaking of God

How can we understand Jesus being the one true God when God's son is quoted using the third person singular of God? We have a few options. Here is one of many examples of this usage from Revelation:

Revelation 22:18 NIVUK
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.

So if we apply this general question to this specific example, we get something like, if Jesus is as God as the Father is God, and if Jesus knew that and John knew that, then why would Jesus not be quoted saying: "I will add to that person..." or "we will add to that person..."? I think it is a very good question that we are not encouraged to query.

Here are three options I can see:
1. When Jesus says "God", he is not referring to the full Divine being of God, that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but rather the one person of the Father. This then would need the third person even though Jesus is no less God Almighty than the Father.
2. When Jesus says "God", he is referring to the One God, of whom he is one of and not all three of the three members of that Divine being. So even though he knows he is God, it would be improper or unnatural for him to assume the first person singular or plural, since that would be to assume that he is the Father and the Spirit when he is not. This then would need the third person.
3. Either Jesus or John should not be assumed to have grasped Jesus' divinity in this way, hence the need for the third person.

There may be some other options for the Trinitarian here. One however they are unlikely to go for is: " Jesus doesn't say he will add to that person... he simply says God will add". Most serious Trinitarians would sensibly avoid that mistake because they know that not only does Jesus elsewhere use the third person pronoun he in reference to Theos, God, but because they also know that in the Greek the verb form used for will add is third person, regardless of whether or not we have the pronoun.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Throne sharing

I really like the throne sharing Jesus demonstrates here in Rev 3:21. His throne seems clearly to me to be a DIFFERENT throne, but that does not mean that he is bolted to it! This is also useful context in understanding the subsequent passages that talk of the lamb on God's throne.

I'd also just like to point out that I personally find this throne sharing idea quite inspiring. It goes against the grain of the way systematic theologians like to rationalise and compartmentalise the Bible in some rigid way (or rather our own theological worlds). This throne sharing to me speaks of trust, intimacy, entrusting, even discipleship. It is dynamic. Maybe it is also the apocalyptic genre but it seems vibrant and alive!

John 10:33

We have traditionally understood the divine and the created orders as utterly distinct, separated as if by an unbridgeable chasm. Basil of Caeserea. That's the work of Christ, to bridge that chasm. Others have pointed to more of a spectrum of divinity, a hierarchy, although not emphasised in Isaiah but strong in other OT and extra-canonical writings. What I believe this passage indicates (in Greek, not this translation so much) is that there IS a chasm AND a spectrum, that the title that Jesus had assumed of himself SON OF GOD was considered a divine claim and condemnable as blasphemy. It also appears likely from :
- Jesus' response, which has no quotes in the Greek around the word "gods" (v34),
- the anarthrous theos, god, and the anarthrous anthropon, man (v33),
--> that the allegation in v33 carries indeed the sense of the indefinite article "a".
The " mere " of "mere man" I think is a stylistic interpolation of the NIV that while comprehensible may do nothing to draw us closer to the original meaning of these fascinating verses.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Homoousians, homoiousians and homoians

There's three ancient Greek words you do not see every day! They are, however, extremely relevant to understanding what most Christians believe today in our history, and will lead us to a rather key question regarding the belief that prevailed; I will be asking both Stephen Holmes and Bart Ehrman for their points of view on this question (maybe I'll bug Dale Tuggy again too, but I am still waiting for another answer from him, so don't want to bug him too much). But first, let's define.

Homoousian is the belief-set that Jesus is of the same substance or essence as God the father [the one and only divine].

Homoiousian is the belief-set that Jesus is of similar substance or essence as God the father.

Homoian rejects any talk of substance with "its materialistic overtones, inevitably misleading and unhelpful" (Holmes, Quest For the Trinity, p 93), but still keeps the key iota there, that Jesus is like God.

In Holmes' book, the Homoiousian and Homoian distinction is not clearly developed, with Holmes concentrating mainly on the predominant Homoian belief in the fourth century. I am not sure why that is, and Wikipedia, for instance, is able to cite many more Homoiousians than Homoians - I suspect that the distinction is fine and not exclusive. What is fascinating is that in the fourth century, when these first monumental councils and creeds were coming together, it is not the Homoousian view that initially prevailed. Furthermore, the Roman Emperor Constantine who was absolutely pivotal in the 325 Council formation, was baptised several decades later by a Homoian (or Homoiousian) bishop, just before he died! It was by no means a foregone conclusion (Ehrman) that the Homoousians were going to win out, but in the end they did.

And so we get closer to our question - why was that? When I read Holmes' couple of chapters on this key period, and remember that Holmes is a deep and devout believer himself in God's sovereignty in this process, he points to a lack of unity among the Homoians. They were also too busy trying to dismantle the opposing view, without "doing theology" themselves. In the meantime, the Homoousians were very busy doing theology. Somehow, I still do not quite get it.

I am not certain that Ehrman's orthoparadoxes idea quite answers it either - this is Ehrman's idea that what prevailed was where certain "right" (ortho) beliefs of one belief-set were maintained and others rejected from several different 2nd and 3rd century Fathers, none of which were fully orthodox (and some, like Origen, positively condemned later), in order to gain a paradoxically, but ultimately purely orthodox view.

So let's see if I get lucky with some answers...