Friday, 1 July 2016

A new (very small additional) argument for a Triune Divinity from canonicity

...The second part that is overlooked is early Christianity. Did the early christians think that Jesus was Fully Divine, where that means that Jesus has all the Divine attributes? No they didn't. It's a matter of record that leading mainstream theologians taught that Jesus was not eternal, Jesus does not know as much as the Father, Jesus doesn't have the same kind of power, Jesus isn't good in the same way - his goodness depends on the goodness of God, whereas God has his goodness independently. Who am I talking about? Mainstream theologians in the 100s, and in the 200s and even into the 300s. When they came to a text like: "The Father is greater than I", they just said: yes, see: "greater". They didn't say greater with respect to his human nature but equally great with respect to his divine nature". And when he said he didn't know the day or the hour, they said "yes, only God is omniscient". Jesus isn't omniscient, he says he doesn't know something, you don't want to say he's a liar, right? You just don't find most early Christians saying that Jesus is fully divine. You see them saying things that go very clearly against that. Even after they're speculating about the pre-existent logos, the logos is divine, even after they're calling Jesus "our God", they'll turn right around and say the one True God is the Father, and only he is eternal, only he is perfect in knowledge and so on. And as we have just looked at, this claim that Jesus is fully divine is fully loaded with problematic speculations; it always was.

- Dale Tuggy, 2016, at ‘Tis Mystery all - 21st Century Reformation Theological Conference 30/04/2016

For me, originally a die-hard exegesis fan (and the die-hard is not dead yet), this argument is very significant. In my paper Trinitarian Interpretations, I argued that if we are right about the early church Fathers not believing that God was Triune, then we have a problem. One of the solutions I considered, which I have never heard argued, is that the inspired 1st century authors were so inspired that they were literally centuries ahead of their subsequent interpreters. Most people prefer to argue that the earlier (Ehrman would call them "proto-orthodox") theologians, were roughly right, but they were less refined or something like that.

I think there are quite a few theologians who believe the conciliar Christologies are basically on track and that this perspective simply takes a very long time to work out (and it is not finished yet, and its various interpretations today are multiple and mutually-incompatible). That might mean that non-triune things are said in the Scriptures, which, if all are to be considered true on a deep level, that you end up with something looking like a form of Trinitarianism. But God set the whole thing up for a huge debate from an obscure beginning in order for it to stand somehow (because it didn't come easily; paradoxically because it was not as blazingly obvious as evangelical apologists like to assume and argue today). That's an argument I'd be more open to: but I think I have another option still. These beliefs about the Triune God began around about the same time the canon was sealed, so to speak. It could be argued that the wrestling and debating going on with regard to canonicity are not independent of the christological wrestling. Had the canon been clearer earlier, then maybe the Triune God perspective would have emerged earlier too. The same church that decided these are the books, is the church that said, this is our Christ.

My position might be considered to drift. It isn't, or hasn't much. I still firmly believe given the lack of clarity and the supreme position of the Scriptures, the close proximity of the church Fathers in terms of chronological interpretive distance, that we have to allow for greater breadth and tolerance and welcome differing views of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For me, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit remain central to church life, individual faith and the advancing Kingdom of God. And that has always been the case for me.

This is where the Biblical Unitarian communities, I think, also need to be careful. They can be so sceptical of a whiff of a "divine" Christ, that it could be harder for them (I speculate) to worship Jesus, even if they knew it was to the glory of God the Father, as explicitly stated in Philippians 2.

Let the debate roll on!

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