Don’t Believe What Everyone in the Bible Says

Narrator and character. Biographer and subject. Whenever people talk in a written work, there is a difference between how you are supposed to take the words of the author versus the words the author wrote down from various people.

For a quick example, consider the following text:

Suddenly, out of nowhere a large, metallic woman appeared out of nowhere. “It’s my mother!” Dornob exclaimed. Little did he know just how wrong he was.

In this text, two people make statements. The first is the narrator. He is (in most writings) assumed to be correct. The other person saying things is Dornob. He is a character in the story, and unless the narrator tells you that Dornob is infallible or just right, we assume that he is no more or less reliable than the average bear. In this particular case, Dornob is quite wrong, and the narrator tells us so. Of course, the narrator doesn’t have to tell us explicitly that Dornob is wrong for him to be wrong. Past, future, or outside material may make that clear.

This same logic applies to real world writings, too. A reporter can write a piece on the events of the day, but that doesn’t mean he thinks every person he quotes is correct. Sometimes he’ll say so specifically, but other times he may quote something someone said that he knows is not entirely correct without comment, simply because we know he doesn’t agree 100% with everyone he interviews.

To most of you, this probably sounds like common sense (if I’m speaking clearly, that is). But for a lot of people, this basic logic seems to disappear when the Bible is involved. What do I mean? I’ll jump to an example:

His servants asked him, “What did you just do? While the baby was alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you got up and ate food.”

He answered, “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let him live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me.”

2 Samuel 12:21-23

Now, this text is in narrative form. The author is telling a (historical) story. So we have to remember that there’s a difference between what the author/narrator says and what the people he is writing abut in the narrative say. The author was divinely inspired, but the the people he wrote about were just people saying what people say. We would probably agree already that the servants didn’t say anything divinely inspired, so what about David? He is just a person in the narrative, and he is not the inspired author/narrator. Therefore we should also read his words as merely his own, not divinely inspired.

Of course, if you recognize this verse, you may see where this is going. Many Christians use verse 23 to argue that infants who die go to “heaven” (something I do believe, by the way). After all, the Bible says that David would go to his baby, right? Completely wrong. The author/narrator under the inspiration of the Spirit does not say that David will go to be with his child. David himself said that, and the author of 2 Samuel just wrote down what David had said. David had just sinned against God big time, and he had just lost his child. There is no special reason to think that he is speaking God’s words here. Seeing his child again was his own expectation, which could be right or wrong. (As a side note, since God had revealed so little about life after death at this point, David probably wasn’t talking about heaven. He probably just meant they would be together in the grave.)

There are other examples of this kind of thing throughout the Bible. For example, David, the same person from before, lied in 1 Samuel 21 (which was written by the same author, probably). The author doesn’t specifically say that David lied, but the story shows he did. In Genesis 30:18, Jacob’s wife Leah says that God has rewarded her for letting Jacob make a baby with her slave girl, and the text never mentions that she was wrong, but we know from the whole of Scripture that polygamy is wrong.

We always, then, have to make a distinction between what the inspired author says himself and what the people he is writing about said. Otherwise, we can be led into any error of the people the Bible talks about. But since we don’t trust everything the Pharisees, the serpent, or lying Jacob said, we must also remember that we can’t trust everything even the good people said when they are just characters in the story, not the author.

Basically, don’t believe what everyone in the Bible says.

Liberty Doesn’t Automatically Mean Gay Marriage

Does religious freedom equal gay marriage? Some people think so. I didn’t want to say anything else about gay marriage any time soon at this point. I feel that, for the most part, more than enough has been said on each side in the last three days. But watching Facebook (and a few other places), there has been this particular idea which I think deserves a response from a blog like mine (i.e. a blog which mostly reaches a few common folk the author knows).

See, some Christians have been suggesting that, even though they agree that homosexuality is wrong, the SCOTUS decision is still a win for liberty. After all, we have religious freedom here. So if gay marriage is only wrong from a Christian point of view, shouldn’t the government still allow it for people in general? Wouldn’t restricting marriage to a Christian view violate the religious liberty which Christians so enjoy? We don’t want the government forcing people to worship Jesus, so why should we want them forcing people to respect a Christian view of marriage?

I think there are a few problems with such an argument. The first is that it assumes something about marriage which should not be assumed, namely that it is something which can apply to both homosexual and heterosexual couples. It assumes that it means something for a male to “marry” another male, for example. Yet this cannot be a given. Someone must first question what marriage actually is and is about before we can assume that it makes sense to speak of two men or two women as married. An an analogy, we know we cannot speak of men as pregnant. Nothing a man can experience counts as pregnancy. If the government wished to pass a law which allowed some kind of male circumstance to be legally recognized as pregnancy, it would be absurd and everyone would know it. I suggest we should think twice before assuming that marriage does not work in a similar way when it comes to different or same-sex relationships.

Secondly, we have to ask, “Why does the government recognize marriage?” After all, most people still would think you can be in some way married even if there is no government. Marriage has a legal side and another side. So why is there a legal side? Once we ask that question, we can compare the answers to see if it even makes sense for government to recognize “marriage” in same-sex relationships. These days, people tend to assume that marriage is about nothing more than twue wuv and personal fulfillment. There is no significant reason for a government to care about such a union whether gay or straight. Legal marriage, if love is all marriage is about, has no purpose. But if there are other important matters which it makes sense for the government to support by recognizing marriage and giving it legal benefits, then we have to ask whether they apply equally to gay and straight couples.

As well, from a specifically Christian point of view, the original argument I’m countering smacks of Gnosticism. To say that marriage only needs to be heterosexual for religious reasons, but not in the rest of the world, is basically to say that what is right and designed by God has no important impact on the real world after all. We would be promoting a theology which separates God’s moral law from the way the real world works. Can we really say that homosexuality is only wrong for an arbitrary spiritual reason and has no tangible consequences? But if a Gnostic moral worldview is false, and homosexual unions are wrong, then we must admit that they do cause tangible problems. And if homosexual unions do cause tangible problems, then for the government to legally recognize and privilege them is for the government to promote what damages human society, which of course should not be done.

In fact, this all ties in to the silly idea that legally recognized marriages are a right. That’s simply wrong. To marry is a right, and the government must protect it, but the government is not obligated to legally recognize marriages and give them benefits. They have reasons to do so, but ultimately legal marriage constitutes a government privilege, not a right. If the government is to have legal marriages, they should do so because they have some vested interest in promoting marriage. And in that case, it is not a right they are dealing with. They are choosing to promote certain relationships for the benefit of society. This means that some form of discrimination is necessary, as not all relationships can serve that goal (certainly, for example, pedophilic, incestuous, or polygamous relationships we all agree do not serve that goal, and thus can be justly barred from government recognition). If we moved legal marriage from the category of “right” to “privilege,” where it belongs, then all of this nonsense about equality would be less powerful.

I may have rambled some, but I hope one point remains. As Christians, we do not need to agree that legalizing gay marriage is a good idea for the sake of religious liberty. There are various reasons that, religion aside, the definition of legal marriage can still in principle reasonably be restricted to heterosexual unions without violating any principles of religious freedom. The separation of church and state can still exist without gay marriage, and I daresay it should.

An Obligatory Post in Response to the Legalization of Gay Marriage

I spent quite some time this morning working on my last blog post, and the moment I shared it on Facebook I noticed something else in my newsfeed. There was #MarriageEquality, and within moments the message was clear: after all this time and to absolutely no one’s surprise, the United States Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is a Constitutional right and is therefore legal in all 50 states. My immediate response: “Darn, I just finished a big blog post and now I have to write another today!”

On a more serious note, this is a pretty big event. June 26, 2015 will definitely be in the history books. Already there have been tons of extreme reactions on both sides of the main aisles. And of course this issue has occupied my thoughts for most of the day, even though I’m not worked up over it. I don’t have a major theme for my response. So here are my miscellaneous thoughts on the national legalization of gay marriage.

First, this battle was lost years ago. Nothing that new is happening. Public opinion has been moving steadily for decades towards acceptance of homosexual relationships as equal to heterosexual ones. More than that, the idea of gay marriage works perfectly as part of the conception of marriage in the modern world. The West started a very long time ago moving marriage from the sphere of commitment, responsibility, reproduction, social stabilization, etc. to the sphere of “twue wuv” and personal fulfillment. Once that became the dominant paradigm, which happened well before I was even born, gay marriage was a natural and reasonable outcome. To undo the damage, we would have to completely reformulate society’s understanding of what marriage is all about and for. Maybe that will happen, but politics won’t be enough and such a worldview change will take generations.

Next, real marriage is still untouched by legal fictions. If marriage is, as I believe, something with a distinct nature and a specific ontological shape, then it exists before and apart from any legal recognitions. This means that the government may be redefining “marriage” for legal purposes and as an example to society, but it still can’t change the leopard’s spots. The new legal unions between gay couples may be called “marriage” by our society, but that doesn’t make them in any way a real marriage. This means God, too, is unhurt. He will only recognize the marriage covenant as He pleases, whatever government may say.

As well, nothing has changed in our nation to invite God’s judgment. This legal decree is just the latest symptom of existing moral faults in society and government. Those are what fall under God’s “No,” not the enactment of a policy most of the nation was already in agreement with. If God at all intends to bring America down, it will be on the basis of many preexisting faults which led to this act. There is nothing new happening in the Supreme Court decision to affect God’s response to us for better or for worse.

For these reasons and more, Christians don’t need to panic or decry the end of the world. The truth is that, as I mentioned, America has been on this path for some time, so panic now isn’t necessary. Moreover, God’s purposes and the Church have survived far worse. The Church in Germany made it through Nazism. When the first Christians burst onto the scene of the Roman world, their society was even worse than ours was. Yet just in that place God turned the world upside down and Jesus was proclaimed everywhere with great results. Even the atrocious conflicts between Catholics and the Reformers, an evil which grew up within the Church, did not spell the end for God’s people. For God is faithful, and the gates of Hell will not prevail over those who share the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead.

What Christians must do is prepare to address the new challenges for the Church. First and simply, we must prepare for churches and any Christian organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. That’s very likely at this point. Moreover, it’s not inconceivable that Christian colleges could lose accreditation from federally recognized agencies. Christians in many occupations, if they have any voice, may find themselves fired, suspended, or penalized in pay for opposing gay marriage. But most of that isn’t what I want to focus on. After all, if Jesus is Lord and the government is not we should expect such things. What concerns me far more is the challenge coming to the Church from within. For years there have been people within Christianity arguing that homosexuality isn’t actually condemned in Scripture. Some of them have decent arguments and are serious scholars. Voices for this belief will only grow louder now that gay marriage is a fact of American existence. This means that Christians will have to deal with people within the Church disagreeing on this issue moreso than ever before. Many of these people even have a genuine belief in the authority of Scripture and are convinced that this position is Biblically faithful. How should we handle that? Will we excommunicate them? Will we ordain them or not? Can they serve as deacons? Must we treat them all as unbelievers? To what extent should we feel the need to respond to their arguments, and how do we decide if they are “too wrong” on this matter of Biblical interpretation? We will find this issue confronting most congregations, even the more conservative ones. We need to be preparing answers now.

It is more important than ever for believers holding to the traditional view to live quiet and respectable lives full of grace. We are now, more than we even were before, on the “wrong side of history” in the eyes of most of society. As we go on, it’s probably time to focus on living peaceable and upright lives. If we are modest, reserved, and blameless, we cannot be faulted on character charges. If we are quiet (not silent!) respectful, we will earn a better hearing. But more than anything, if we show radical, unconditional love to all people as we try to live these unassuming lives, our actions will speak the loudest. We must in every way defy the stereotypes of people who believe in traditional Scriptural marriage by being too approachable and easy to get along with for anyone to get away with calling us “bigots” or accusing us of hate.

There’s probably other stuff I might say, but I can’t remember anything else right now. Nonetheless, I think these points are enough for today. We’re dealing with a major change, and who knows what all will happen but God? So these are my 2 cents. Feel free to spend them as you wish.

Being Christians: Marked Out as God’s People

My current reading project is The New Testament and the People of God by N. T. Wright. I hope one day to finish the entire series of which this is the first book, namely Christian Origins and the Question of God (for that matter, so does Wright). It’s been a very interesting study so far, covering the nature of literature and history, epistemology, Jewish history, the first century Jewish worldview, Christian history, and now the worldview of the first century Christians. An important part of studying worldviews is the study of praxis, what people in a group (in this case people within the mainstream first generation Church) do.

According to Wright, the distinctive elements of early Christian praxis could be summed up in a few major categories: mission, sacrament, worship, ethics, sacrifice, and martyrdom. In each of these areas, Christians were noticeably different from the rest of the world, which consisted basically of pagans and Jews. The gist of the differences is as follows:

  • Mission:
    The early church had evangelistic fervor. Unlike the pagans, the Christians spread their teachings with enthusiasm and love. They used their lives instead of legal decree to lead people to the truth. Unlike the Jews, who mostly kept their religion to themselves and frowned upon Gentiles, the Christians felt themselves compelled to persistently offer their good news to all the world.
  • Sacrament:
    The early Christians took baptism and Communion for granted. Every new convert was hastily baptized, and they regarded their baptisms as having significance to new creation and union with Christ. Every time they met (or nearly so) they partook of the Lord’s Supper together. No pagan rituals were anything like this. The Jews’ closest equivalents were baptizing Gentiles converts to Judaism, though it was never given the significance of Christian baptism, and Passover, which was a far more elaborate (and legally binding) ritual than the simple sharing of bread and wine.
  • Worship:
    The worship of Christians is perhaps the most distinctive point. The pagans worshipped very many gods and goddesses, one for almost every part of the natural and supernatural worlds. They also were legally obligated to worship Caesar. Jews, of course, worshipped only one God, Yahweh, and believed all other gods to be shams. Christians continued the Jewish tradition of worshipping one God alone, contrary to the pagans, but in a manner strange and scandalous to Jews included Jesus, a crucified carpenter/prophet from Nazareth, in the worship of their God, though at this time they didn’t explain exactly why or how that worked.
  • Ethics:
    Even secular historians who thought poorly of Christianity were astounded at the virtuous lives of the early Christians. They did not, like the pagans, engage in any kind of sexual immorality. They refused to lie or cheat or steal. Unlike many Jews, they demonstrated love, hospitality, and grace to people of every kind, even the worst of sinners or the lowest members of society. Any accusations made against Christians could only be against rumors of what they might do in secret, or against their dangerous doctrines. They character was generally impeccable.
  • Sacrifice:
    Possibly the strangest way that Christians were different for a religious group was how they handled sacrifice. Unlike both pagans and Jews, they never performed sacrifices, easily one of the most basic elements of religion at the time. They felt a need neither to satisfy pagan gods nor to continue participating in the Levitical priestly system. Instead, if they spoke of sacrifice at all, it was in reference to their Jesus dying for them, or of their own suffering for Him.
  • Martyrdom:
    Pagans saw no need to die for their faith. If anything, they worshipped their gods in order to be saved from death. The Jews had martyrs, but never so many as the Christians, who at times died almost daily. The Christians were noticed for the way they seemed to spit in death’s face, as though it had already been defeated.

In these ways, the Christians stood out blatantly from the rest of the world. They were nothing like the pagans, and their new message directly undermined mainstream Judaism. Indeed, their differences were so striking that they were by some classified as a totally new kind of people or race. You had Greeks, Jews, barbarians, and now Christians. 

This, of course, was right to be the case. We all know as Christians that God has called us to a new and different life than that of the world. We are holy, that is, set apart. We are the ekklesia, the called out ones. In a world of Gentile sinners and unbelieving Jews, we are the true Israel, the true humanity. God has redeemed the human race, and we are the firstfruits in Christ. The overlap between the kingdom of God and this present age is found in the Church. Therefore we ought to be different in very notable ways from those who are still in Adam, who have yet to experience God’s new life created in Jesus and applied by the Holy Spirit.

So what is my point now? Upon reading the section on early Christian praxis in The New Testament and the People of God, I started thinking of ways that we can today still stand out in each of these categories. We are still God’s people, and still as such should be set apart. But how? I’d like to quickly run through some ideas based on what I’ve mentioned about the early church. We can, like our spiritual ancestors, be different in these ways:

  • Mission:
    The world today has many causes and missions. But your average people don’t think much about them. You don’t expect to meet any random person and find them on a mission to convince someone of this or accomplish that. When you do, it’s an exception, and usually thought of as weird. That last thing our culture condones is any kind of mission in personal, day-to-day interactions which says in any absolute terms, “What I have to say is for everyone, period. It’s not a matter of opinion. You won’t get away with ignoring or rejecting it.” Yet we are called to tell the whole world that Jesus is Lord, that He died and was raised for the sins of all people, and that He will return to right every wrong and heal the world with new creation. If we do this in our everyday lives and interactions, and yet also do it with love and grace instead of the stereotypical condemnation or Hellfire scare, we will stand out and people will notice that we have a unique message with a unique method.
  • Sacrament:
    If you ask people what they associate with church, you will rarely hear anything about baptism or Communion. Yet these rituals were defining for the early Christians, so much so that on the basis of their secret Communion meetings people accused them of cannibalism. We must learn to make baptism a big deal, so that no one will think of becoming a Christian apart from in Christ dying to sin and rising to Spirit-led life. To demand with the utmost seriousness a physical act of identification and commitment as the first step of a religion that’s actually not a cult will raise eyebrows and get noticed in our culture. With Communion, as well, if we make it our constant and weekly practice, investing it with both its proper sanctity and its vitality, then we will find that all church visitors or seekers will be confronted every time they come: you need Jesus’ body and blood, but you can’t share in these while you deny Him with word and/or deed. The need to repent and enter the loving community of those who do feast on Christ’s benefits will be evident and, again, strange to a world that’s all about including everyone.
  • Worship:
    As it stands, formal worship is not a part of the lives of most people in the world, so participating in Christian worship at all stands out some. Yet people expect this for churchgoers. What is required to actually stand out in worship is two-fold: we must let worship flood the rest of our lives, so that praise for the Creator and gratitude to our Redeemer is evident in all we say and do. We must also be different in what we refuse to worship: we cannot let politicians, musicians, actors, speakers, authors, government, business, or anything or anyone else own our allegiance or affections.
  • Ethics:
    To stand out in ethics, we have a lot to do. The world thinks of itself as good. Part of what we must do as God’s restored humanity is live our lives so blamelessly and virtuously that we prove them wrong. This will mostly take the form of everyday details. While of course on larger matters like abortion and homosexuality, we stand out, these are not what make us stand apart in ways that are really valuable. The ways which count most are small. Don’t gossip at the water cooler. Don’t try to cheat anyone, or lie about all the things people think it’s okay to lie about. Don’t flatter to the face or curse behind the back. Don’t speak in vulgar ways. Don’t try to get any revenge, or hold grudges, or even just mention that you hope someone “gets what’s coming to them.” If you disagree with someone, make sure any discussion includes clarity and charity. Don’t accuse people who disagree with you of anything without doing research from their side. Don’t demonize people. Be hospitable. Welcome strangers into your home (that one in particular stands out these days). Love everyone all the time. Participate in culture while refusing to take part in the sins involved. All these little differences add up and can make us a peculiar people.
  • Sacrifice:
    Nowadays, in mainstream society no one performs animal sacrifices. So how do we stand out? Two ways come to mind. First, our society believes that we must make personal sacrifices, doing special good, to atone for our sins. We must sacrifice for forgiveness. That people believe this is clear enough if you watch any TV. We must respond with a resounding “No!” and proclaim that forgiveness is accomplished exclusively through Jesus. The other point is that people of the world offer lots of sacrifices in their daily lives which we must not take part in. People sacrifice all the time with their families to make money. When they get the money, they sacrifice their means of blessing others on the altars of the gods Technology and Luxury. Some people sacrifice their children to the goddess Fame by passing them through the fire of the entertainment industry. They sacrifice their marriages for the sake of personal fulfillment. To appease the wrathful god of Sexual Liberation, they sacrifice their bodies and hearts to people they know should not have them. All of these sacrifices, and more, made in worship of money, the American Dream, education, progress, autonomy, sex, or self-expression—we must refuse to participate in any such rituals. When we do, we will be noticed. Indeed, our society still worships the same gods as the Greeks did; they just call them by their normal names—sex, alcohol, wealth, etc.—instead of Aphrodite, Dionysus, or Plutus. And just like the Greeks did, people today think it is awfully strange when others don’t worship them as well.
  • Martyrdom:
    Martyrdom has always been unusual, so it remains one of the most powerful ways to stand out. Yet American Christians do not usually show the same spite of death that the early Christians were known for. Most still take great pains to make sure they stay healthy and whole. And to some extent this makes sense. We don’t live where you can be persecuted just for being a Christian. Yet our victory over death in Jesus must still be made known, because the watching world deals with death every day. So what we need are Christians willing to risk their lives and bodies by going on dangerous foreign missions, or even just living in dangerous parts of our own society. Christians who penetrate both hostile nations and American ghettos, who risk their lives both to take Bibles to Koreans and to help inner city youth escape crime and gangs. Those of us who are guaranteed a good resurrection by the Spirit must take advantage of this hope to accomplish the most risky ministries, and help everyone in need. Both in the evangelistic and in the socially beneficial, we ought to stick out our necks. Hanging out with people with serious, contagious diseases so they can know love and grace? That should be our work. Taking down violent criminal organizations and leaders? Who better to do that than men whose God told them to seek justice and then promised to raise them from the dead?

I hope by this point I’ve said at least something you may find helpful (goodness knows I’ve written quite a bit). If I’ve learned anything by studying the early church, it’s that Christians stood out like bright lights in dark places. Yet most modern American Christians (myself included more or less) seem to fit in well enough with our culture, sitting in the tidy little box of what the wider world thinks Christians are allowed to look like. I pray we will not stay this way, but that God by His Spirit will lead us all on to new things, so that we may be the light of the world as He has called us to. In Jesus name, amen.

 

Why Trinity Analogies All Stink (With Help from Quantum Physics!)

“The Trinity is like…” Talk about a dangerous way to start a sentence. As Christians, we believe strongly in the strange and paradoxical truth that in some way, God is both one God and yet also exists three co-equal, co-eternal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is a deep mystery. Certain details of how this works will always be beyond the furthest limits of human understanding.

Of course, that’s not always a helpful thing to say around skeptics and curious new believers. They want answers that make sense to them. So naturally we try to use analogies. This is, in my opinion (though with the support of many Reformed theologians), a bad idea. Analogies for the Trinity have a huge flaw: the reality of the Trinity is so unique that all analogies will fall in line with some heresy or another.

Speaking of heresies about the Trinity, I should explain the two main kinds of heresies possible. The first group is called modalist or Sabellian heresies. In this kind of heresy, there is really only one person of God, and He acts or reveals Himself in different ways, modes, or means at different times. Sometimes He interacts with us as Father, other times as Son, and other times the Spirit. Some heresies in this group would say that God was the Father, then became the Son, and then became the Spirit. The defining point of these heresies is that God only exists as one person, and the Father, Son, and Spirit are all basically different aspects or parts of that person.

The other kind of heresy you can fall into with the Trinity is tri-theism. Tri-theism is simply a belief in three Gods. There are many ways of looking at the Trinity which basically say there is the Father God, the Son God, and the Spirit God, all separate beings who work together in creation and salvation history. This is also a serious heresy, since all tri-theism violates the basic creed of God’s earliest covenant revelation: “The LORD your God is One.”

So, here’s where analogies fail. All analogies for the Trinity end up basically agreeing with one of these two kinds of heresy. Want some examples? Here they are:

  • The Trinity is like an egg. This analogy says the members of the Trinity are like an egg: an egg has shell, white, and yoke while being one egg. But this acts like the members of the Trinity are basically just parts of one person, which would be a Sabellian heresy. Or, for that matter, you could interpret this analogy as a tri-theistic heresy, since the shell, white, and yoke are each totally different materials. 
  • The Trinity is like the three states of water. This analogy uses ice, water, and water vapor to explain the three members of the Trinity. Three forms but one substance. This is a blatant modalist heresy, since in this case the one substance of water just switches between different forms. Honestly, this is practically textbook modalism.
  • The Trinity is like mustard. Just one word, man: tri-theism. At best.
  • The Trinity is like someone being husband, father, and employee. This analogy is totally modalist, trying to make the different roles of one normal person comparable to one God substance existing eternally as three persons.
  • The Trinity is like three-in-one shampoo. I’m sure that sounds silly, but I didn’t come up with this one. Using three-in-one shampoo for the Trinity is basically tri-theistic, saying the Trinity is like three totally different substances mixed in one container.

I could go on, but the basic point should appear by now. Trinity analogies inevitably line up with one heresy or another. This happens because nothing we can see, touch, or understand is actually anything like the Trinity.

Here is where I drag in quantum physics. See, in quantum physics there is something called the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. According to this principle, having equally precise knowledge of both a particle’s position and the particle’s momentum (think “speed” for simplicity if you don’t understand) is impossible. The more you know one of them, the less you know the other. The only ways to precisely measure a particle’s position throw off the momentum too much to measure both, and the only ways to precisely measure a particle’s momentum make nailing down the location impossible. So there’s a trade-off: the more you drill into a particle’s position, the less knowledge you have of the momentum, and vise-versa. If you want to know both at the same time, you have to be content with only a very imprecise and vague knowledge of both.

I think the Trinity ends up in a similar situation. Our God is has revealed Himself both in one-ness and three-ness. Yet there is a trade-off in how precisely we can understand these two realities. The more we try to nail down God’s one-ness, the more we lose sight of His three-ness. The more we try to nail down God’s three-ness, the more we lose sight of His one-ness. If we want to balance these two realities Biblically, we find ourselves with no choice. We cannot try too hard to analyze or analogize, or we will end up seeing a God who is basically all one-ness and no three-ness (modalist/Sabellian heresy), or a God who is basically all three-ness and no one-ness (tri-theist heresy). If you want to have a God who is truly both three and one, who is three-in-one, we have to check our normal reasoning and analogies at the door. All we can do is humbly bow at God’s self-revelation.

This, of course, is the necessary way of faith. If we believe in a God who is greater than we are, we have to accept that sometimes truths about Him are greater than any truths we understand, and He cannot always fit into the categories and ideas we are used to. So how else can I conclude but to use the praise of the Apostle Paul?

Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His being and untraceable His essence! For who has known the nature of the Lord? Or who has ever explained Him? Or who has ever understood Him, and deserved to be renowned? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.

Early Evidence for Belief in Jesus’ Deity

[This is an article I made for an apologetics forum. I decided I might as well post it here as well.]

An argument frequently made by those who deny orthodox Christianity is that Jesus was not believed to be God until a very long time after His death. Among those who have the Internet but nothing else to their credit, this development supposedly came as late as the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, or at least the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Not everything is this absurdly extreme, of course. Among the more reasonable and learned of skeptics, Jesus’ deity is acknowledged to reach back to at least some time in the first century. The best example of this is probably Bart Ehrman, who believes that some kind of belief in a divine Jesus existed by the time John was written.

I do not intend to argue particularly against Ehrman’s account of belief in Jesus’ deity here. I merely intend to lay out some of the basic evidences from the New Testament that Jesus’ deity was already at least partially present, or perhaps strongly so, in Christian doctrine within a generation of Jesus’ death.

Paul

Paul’s epistles (mostly AD 50-60) do not often make any explicit statements about Jesus’ deity, though there are verses in the contested Pauline letters which make such a statement (Titus 2:13, 2 Pet. 1:1). However, in all of Paul’s letters Old Testament verses which spoke of Yahweh in the original context are applied to Christ, with YHWH appearing in the Greek citation as adonai, “Lord.” Examples include Romans 10:13 (cf. Joel 2:32, probably the strongest), 1 Corinthians 2:16 (cf. Isa. 40:13), and 2 Corinthians 10:17 (cf. Jer. 9:24).

Also in Paul we have the early Christian hymn in Philippians 2, which is difficult to interpret in ways which do not ascribe to Jesus in some way a preexistent divine nature. In 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul reworks the Shema, which was the defining declaration of Jewish monotheism, around the Father and His Son Jesus in a way which applies the lordship, oneness, and role as creator to both of them (of particular interest would be the new developments on this by Crispin Fletcher-Louis).

Hebrews

The anonymous letter of Hebrews, most likely written sometime before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, has an undeniably high Christology. While an exact and explicit identification of Jesus as deity is not present, the entire first chapter demonstrates a strong belief that Jesus shared a relationship with God that far surpasses the royal sonship in the psalms which he cites. He clearly sees in Jesus a nature as the Son of God. This appears to cross the line into affirming true deity when he cites Psalms 45 and 102. There he not only says that the Son is addressed by God as God (and in the context of his argument he seems to take this beyond the original sense of royal adoption), but even speaks of the Son as the Lord (YHWH in the cited verse’s Hebrew text) who created the universe and is eternal before and after it.

John and Revelation

Remaining to mention are John and Revelation, both supposedly the work of the apostle John, who tradition says died around the close of the first century. Both of these books are usually dated to the 90s, which is a little later than the rest of the New Testament evidence, though still just within a lifetime of Jesus’ death. Of particular interest, though, is the theory increasingly considered by even secular and liberal scholars that John was actually written in part before the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. This is argued mostly on the basis of John’s portrayal of the Temple authorities, along with a peculiar feature of John 5:2.

John opens up with what is arguably the highest Christological declaration in the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since, by the end of the passage, this Word is clearly identified as Jesus, there is no possible way of understanding this except to say that Jesus had, at least in some way, a preexistent divine nature. Even Ehrman admits this, though is careful not to anachronistically assume this takes a post-Nicene shape. Adding interest, most scholars think John’s prologue is came from earlier traditions. If this is the case and it were the case that John was written before the Temple fell, then we have an extremely strong statement of Jesus’ deity dating very early.

Revelation, although without doubt later than all of the other books in the New Testament, with consensus placing it during Domitian’s rule (AD 81-96), is nonetheless an interesting case. By this time there can be no doubt that, even if no one else agreed, the author held a view which somehow identified Jesus as God. The entire books operates on that assumption, repeatedly attributing to Jesus divine attributes and actions, especially in allusion to Yahweh’s roles in the Old Testament. Citing verses would be a tedious task here, but enough evidence can be found simply by reading the book with a good list of cross-references. A clear theme is that the Lamb who was slain shares in every way the life, names, character, and roles of God Himself.

N. T. Wright on the New Creation

The world is created good but incomplete. One day when all the forces of rebellion have been defeated and the creation responds freely and gladly to the love of its creator, God will fill it with himself so that it will both remain an independent being and also be flooded with God’s own life. This is part of the paradox of love, in which love freely given creates a context for love to be returned, and so on in a cycle in which complete freedom and complete love do not cancel each other out but rather celebrate each other and make one another whole.

N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope