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The Trinity is not our social program(me)

516Ym6AgZLLThere are moments of the year which all preachers dread. Perhaps ‘dread’ is too strong a word; but there is a definite sinking of the shoulders as we, once again, think about finding something new to say on the occasion of the major festivals. Christmas and Easter are, of course, the regular challenges—yet in both biblical stories there is so much rich material that finding a new insight or angle isn’t that hard. Where dread really does descend is as we approach Trinity Sunday.

Fortunately for us, there has been a remarkable revival in Trinitarian thinking in the last 70 years or so—so we no longer need to feel like Robbie Coltrane in Nuns on the Run (‘The Trinity is like a clover.’ ‘What, you mean it is green?’). In the opening chapter of his excellent exploration of The Quest for the Trinity, Stephen Holmes traces the shape of this revival. If the scholasticism of the middle ages had made the doctrine of the Trinity speculative and obscure, the rationalism of the 18th and 19th centuries had (in effect) rejected the doctrine as implausible. Karl Barth rejected this rationalist approach, and aimed to reinstate the Trinity as the centre of Christian theology.

Barth was, famously, not interested in natural theology; he also took decisive leave of the intellectual tradition of Schleiermacher.  He insisted on the priority and particularity of revelation in identifying the God of the Christian tradition— he chose, that is, to write a church dogmatics.  As Barth himself says, ‘The doctrine of the Trinity is what basically distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God as Christian…in contrast to  all other possible doctrines of God’. (p 4)

(Incidentally, this might suggest that Trinity Sunday is the most important, most distinctively Christian, Sunday of the whole year. So, no pressure…) Holmes goes on to trace the development of thinking about the Trinity, through the Catholic Karl Rahner and the Greek Orthodox bishop John Zizioulas. Rahner’s key dictum was that ‘the “immanent” Trinity is the “economic” Trinity and the “economic” Trinity is the  “immanent” Trinity’. In other words, whatever it means for God to be Trinity in godself (‘immanent’) is expressed faithfully by how God is revealed in God’s dealings with the world (‘economic’)—there is no need for further speculation about aspects of the Trinity which are not revealed there. Zizioulas’ book Being as Communion looks at the development of patristic thought on the Trinity—and then famously argues that the Trinity provides the pattern for human relationships in the redeemed community of the church.

Holmes then looks at the influence of Barth, Rahner and Zizioulas on Pannenberg and Moltmann and the further reflections of liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and Croatian Miroslav Volf. This line of thinking leads to the ideas of perichoresis, the mutual relationships between the ‘persons’ of the Trinity in a community of love, and the model this offers not just for the church, but for humanity made in the image of God. If you have studied theology, you will be familiar with this idea; if you have not, the chances are that you will have heard this idea expressed in a Trinity Sunday sermon at some point (though you might not have known where it came from). In addition to the ideas of the ‘immanent’ Trinity (God as he is in himself), the ‘economic’ Trinity (God as he is known through his interaction with the world), we then have the ‘social’ Trinity (God in relationship with himself as a model for human relationships).


But Holmes points out that there is something of a problem in this way of moving from the relationships within the Trinity to relationship between people, as shown by the radically different conclusions theologians come to about the implications of this move.

 For Zizioulas, the monarchy of the Father, as cause of the Son and the Spirit, leads to a monarchical view of the role of the bishop, and they strongly hierarchical, and tightly ordered, church. For Boff, perichoresis  is the decisive principle, and it is completely mutual and symmetrical. (p 26)

So the life of the Trinity is either egalitarian, or it is hierarchical, depending on your viewpoint. The sceptical reader might, at this point, wonder whether this doctrinal discussion is little more than a projection of the theologian’s prior viewpoint on to the blank screen of speculation about God’s inner life. But the discerning reader might also recognise Zizioulas’ hierarchical conclusion in another, rather surprising, context. Conservative evangelicals have also read hierarchy in the relationship between Father and Son, and since ‘the head of every woman is man, and the head of Christ is God’ (1 Cor 11.3) then the hierarchical ordering within the Trinity is expressed not so much in the specific hierarchy of the bishop over the people but generally in the hierarchy of men over women. In this way, debates about gender roles and women’s ordination are elevated to central questions about the nature of God, and are therefore ‘primary’. It is odd that this argument can ever be applied to ministry only, rather than to society in general, though perhaps not as odd as evangelicals being in logical debt to a Greek Orthodox bishop.


In response to the latter move, Kevin Giles has set out a review of what orthodox understanding of the Trinity looks like, under nine headings. Noting that patristic exposition of the Trinity understood the three ‘persons’ as acting inseparably, having one will, and ruling as one (which, incidentally, makes the idea of one ‘person’ of the Trinity doing things to another ‘person’ in atonement rather problematic), he carefully reflects on the questions of ordering and subordination.

In becoming incarnate in history, the Son of God did not cease to be God in all might, majesty, and authority, but he did “empty himself,” take the form of a servant, and become the second Adam to win our salvation by going to the cross.

This means that not everything that is true of Jesus Christ in his earthly life and ministry—specifically, what is creaturely in him— can be read back into the eternal or immanent Trinity. The Son continues as God and man after his resurrection, but in returning to heaven, his humanity is exalted and glorified, and he rules as the one risen and ascended Lord and as the Mediator of our salvation. We rightly, therefore, make a contrast between the Son’s earthly ministry “in the form of a servant,” or, as Reformed theology calls it, his “state of humiliation,” and his heavenly reign as Lord and King, in all might, majesty, and authority, in “the form of God,” or, as it is called in Reformed theology, in his “state of exaltation.”

Giles goes on to make the more general conclusion that the life of the Trinity does not offer us a programme for human relations.

The way in which the three divine persons relate to one another in eternity is neither a model for nor prescriptive of human relationships in the temporal world. God’s life in heaven does not set a social agenda for human life on earth. Divine relations in eternity cannot be replicated on earth by created human beings, and fallen beings at that. What the Bible asks disciples of Christ to do, both men and women, is to exhibit the love of God to oth- ers and to give ourselves in self-denying sacrificial service and self-subordination, as the Lord of glory did in becoming one with us in our humanity and dying on the cross. In other words, the incarnate Christ provides the perfect example of Godly living, not the eternal life of God.

Specifically, appealing to the doctrine of the Trinity, a three-fold perfect divine communion, to support either the equality of men and women or their hierarchical ordering, is mistaken and to be opposed.

51OKMnjyj-LIt is interesting that, in opposing hierarchical deductions from the Trinity, he is also opposing egalitarian deductions from the Trinity—not because of the conclusion reached, but because of the methodology involved.

In another excellent book on this, Trinitarian Theology for the Church, Mark Husbands offers a more detailed critique in a similar direction. In his chapter ‘The Trinity is not our social program’ (sic), he points out that there is one obvious reason why the relations within the Trinity cannot model relationship between humans: he is God, and we are not! It is not possible to enjoy both the distinctions of hypostasis but the unity of homoousiosbecause humans are not divine. I might be made of similar substance to my fellow human beings, but I am not of onesubstance in the way the Father, Son and Spirit are. To make the social Trinity a model for human society is to collapse the divide between creator and creature, which cannot be done even with the help of the Orthodox idea of theosis. Rylands supports his case by going back to the Cappadocian fathers, in particular Gregory of Nyssa, and looking carefully at what they actually said. It is perhaps worth adding that, if the Trinity did provide a model for gender relations, we should have three genders and not two.


Where does all that leave us on Trinity Sunday? That is probably the occasion for a fuller post. But returning to the ‘economic’ Trinity might not be a bad place to go. We experience God as transcendent, as Father over all. We experience him as involved in the world, as the Son who came to redeem us. And we experience him as present with us, immanent and empowering, by the Spirit. (Note that this dynamic is not the same as modalism.) God’s speech to us and his missional self-involvement in his creation are indispensably Trinitarian. There is probably enough there for a sermon or two.


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30 Responses to The Trinity is not our social program(me)

  1. Louise Tinniswood May 21, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    Really helpful Ian. Thanks. 🙂

  2. Alan Wilson May 21, 2016 at 10:09 am #

    It may not be be odd for evangelicals to be in logical debt to an Orthodox bishop — the 17th Century Ecumenical Patriarch Cyril Lucaris did manage to be a fully paid up Calvinist… It’s always fascinating how theology can link surprising people together before people start using labels as tribal identifiers.

  3. David Shepherd May 21, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

    Ian,

    I found the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict) ‘Concerning the notion of person in theology’ to be one of most cogent explanations of the Trinity in modern times. He starts with Tertullian’s Adversus Praxean’, the I understanding of God revealed to be ever dialogical in being (‘Let us make man’, ‘the Lord said unto my Lord’) and that ‘person’ must be understood as relation. In Deo nihil secundum accidens dicitur, sed secundum substantiam aut secundum relationem’ said Augustine: ‘In God, there is nothing accidental, but only substance and relation’.

    The former cardinal wrote, ‘Relation, being related, is not something superadded to the person, but is the person itself. Put more concretely, the first person does not generate in the sense that the act of generating a Son is added to the already complete person, but the person is the deed of generating, of giving itself, of streaming itself forth. The person is identical with this act of self-donation.’

    The language here is not describing essential substance, but describing one being who is relational in essence. In contrast, human relations involve the interaction between individuals who are completely diverse and delimited from each other.

    The supreme majesty of the transcendent Father’s utter self-donation streams outward from eternity past through the Son’s pure revelation: discernible to the mind through the creation, perpetuation and eventual full redemption of the universe.

    However, we are called to emulate the mind of Christ in His incarnation: the Messiah’s condescension to don full humanity, by which He veiled the overt manifestation of His divine nature. Jesus’ humanity veiled those attributes from immediate recognition of Him by all to be the ‘outshining of God’s glory’ (Heb. 1:3) and the ‘unapproachable light whom no man has seen nor can see’ (1 Tim. 6:16)

    In Philippians 2:5-6, St. Paul’s hymn exhorts us to emulate Christ’s mind of servanthood, whereby the recognition of authority is relinquished for the priority of meeting the needs of others.

    Incarnation is the true theological model for human relationships, not the Son’s voluntary submission to the Father, especially when He warned His disciples: ‘Call no man father upon the earth. For one is your Father, which is in heaven.’ (Matt. 23:9)

  4. Phillip Mutchell May 21, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

    The highest piece of wisdom which the world knows on this subject is the Christian faith in Christ. The Christ of faith is not some figure remotely supernatural about whom ingenious doctrines have been propounded by theologians. He is the very heart of the present matter. For consider ; what do we mean, when we call the man Jesus, Christ and Son of God? We mean that the action of Jesus was simply the action of God. But what was Jesus? Was he a divinely mesmerised sleepwalker, a jointed doll pulled by heavenly wires? Was he a painful pedant, carrying out with pharisaic exactitude a part which had been written for him by a divine hand? He was all the reverse of this. The spontaneity of his compassion moves us to tears, the blaze of his indignation shocks us : his speech is an unforced poetry, the coinage of his heart ; the sacrifice made in agonies of sweat. If any man made his own life, Jesus did ; yet what was the impression he left on his friends? That his whole life was the pure and simple act of God. What Jesus did was simply what God did to save us all. (Grace and Resurrection A. Farrar)
    Personally I’ve wasted far too much money on books trying to make sense of a biblically unsupportable doctrine, and this I have done because that which calls itself Christian insists as the quote you give demonstrates that apparently one can’t be Christian unless one pays this psychic subscription fee. Perhaps it would be good on Trinity Sunday to consider the many thousands slaughtered so that this doctrine might be the ‘test of orthodoxy’ and humbly suggest that anything for which disciples of the sacrificed Lamb of God are prepared to slaughter other people for isn’t actually of God. As someone once proclaimed ‘And for those who are bent on denying the truth, it makes no difference to them whether you warn them or not, they will not believe.’ Am I alone in thinking Islam is God’s judgement on this precise doctrine.

  5. Phillip Mutchell May 21, 2016 at 6:53 pm #

    On this subject there’s a free book (PDF is best quality) available at archive.org titled A Critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism and its outcome in the New Christology by Levi Paine (I think) which is a superb treatment of the subject.

  6. Iain Baxter May 22, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

    A great post.

    I read this with interest, having just preached my sermon for Trinity Sunday.

    I agree that a (hard to understand) doctrine about God – at least five centuries in the making – is not a good place to start building a doctrine about man!

    This morning, rightly or wrongly, having outlined the development of the doctrine through Tertullian, the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, and the Great Schism, I left people with the view that God is in an eternal loving internal relationship, into which we are invited as part of the Bride of Christ.

    Conclusion – we should be a happy relational people – with God and each other!

    I think arguments about hierarchy, or the lack thereof, go too far!

  7. Wyn Beynon May 22, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    Are you sure you’ve not gone Modalist?

  8. Jonathan Tallon May 22, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

    Thank you for this, Ian. It always seems too easy to project our own prejudices onto God.

    (And I don’t think your focus at the end is modalist – it was experience that led to the doctrine of the Trinity.)

    • Phillip Mutchell May 23, 2016 at 10:07 am #

      How was it experience? It was clearly the marriage of Philo’s use of the Logos as demiurge commingled with Paul’s obscurantist statements regarding Christ’s being the focal point of the new covenant, which eager minds took to refer to the material creation and so have Jesus as Creator, but damn it we still have to have this awkward monotheism throughout the first testament. Answer – let’s just make declarations and slaughter any who wish to differ, welcome to Orthodoxy. Effectively though go into any Evangelical Church (especially the WEST brand) and they have Jesus as Jehovah, the same Jehovah who promises David of his seed he will become my son, and I will become his father, and grant to his dynasty permanent rule over Israel’ (NET 1Chr. 22:10) which clearly indicates that Jehovah is not Jesus if the Trinity is to be maintained.

      Zwemer’s book on Christ in Islam shows how the Muslim did with Mohammed (pbuh) exactly what the Church has done with Christ, only their concept of shirk prevents them from actually making Mohammed (pbuh) a god, even though, with that deliciously unconscious irony that ever characterises religious thought, ‘you cannae be a Muslim unless you canny Mohammy’.

      • Jonathan May 23, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

        Phillip,

        please forgive me if these are stupid questions; I haven’t studied this field at all…

        -Surely some of the reason that Jesus is thought of as Creator is John 1:3, which states that all things were made through him and with him, if not by him. Are you suggesting that John was one of these “eager minds”, marrying Philo and Paul’s thoughts?

        -When you describe Paul’s statements as “obscurantist”, were there any particular ones you had in mind? What was Paul trying to obscure?

        -I was not aware that anyone had been killed because of differences of opinion over the Trinity (although my knowledge of church history is minimal). Are you thinking of a specific incident when you talk about “slaughter[ing] any who wish to differ”?

        Many thanks,

  9. Phillip Mutchell May 25, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi,
    the book I recommend above really rewards reading. On John 1:3 John is saying God’s word which is God himself created all things, it is translator bias to make this the masculine personal pronoun, the Geneva and Tyndale’s excellent 1525 translation correctly render it as it, the word is not a person although it might be personified. That people are slaughtered over opinions is the common reality of history, oppressed become oppressors as the battles for supremacy rage, as it were. The point with the Trinity as its been delivered through Augustine, is its impossible. In making Jesus self-existent rather than derived from God the ‘only true God’ we lose any real distinction of persons, there is no human mediator, there is no reality of becoming ‘partakers of the divine nature’ no possibility of like Christ ‘being filled with all the fullness of God’ because Christ ceases to be a man truly born of the creative act of God’s Word, as John insists we shall all be at 1:12 but is made God himself, an absurdity that shouldn’t need refutation if it weren’t for 1600 years of inculcation.
    The book I reference above goes to some pains to show that this is not the Trinitarianism of Origen, Tertullian, Martyr, and Athanasius, who never lost sight of the reality that the Father alone is the source and cause of all else, and explains it far better than I can, a difference that caused the breach between East and West, because without this Monarchianism you always end up with Modalism, despite the protests of ‘scholars’ who insist that three what’s making one who is describing a trinity which God ‘eternally is’. It’s free on archive.org and well worth reading.
    Colossians 1ff and parallels are taken to refer to the material world, which makes a lot less sense to me than seeing them as applying to the new covenant spiritual creation which is a large part of Paul’s teaching. His whole argument on Law and Grace boils down to the matter of how does a Gentile enter into Covenant with God, by the terms of the Mosaic Covenant he simply can’t, he can only ever be a proselyte, his grandchildren get in but not him, but praise God ‘the Grace of God has appeared unto all mankind, teaching us to deny ungodly lusts & co.’ and that’s it really. Grace gets you in, now wash those robes through living as Christ, or as James puts it ‘receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your soul(s)’ to start mutilating yourself and keeping things that were soon to be abolished re Heb. 8:13 is to deny the efficacy of Christ’s work by effectively disbelieving that God raised him from the dead.
    Over the establishment of what became Chalcedon (Church history conveniently skips over other councils which ruled differently) Will Durant in his History of Civilization observes more Christians killed other Christians than ever perished through persecution. England strung many a Unitarian by the neck until the act was repealed, it’s easy to forget though in these days of indifference that different views then were also an attack on the stability of the State, being seen as political as well as religious agitation. Hope this is of some use in answering you.

    • David Shepherd May 26, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

      Phillip,

      I began reading the book which you referenced. However, even one chapter in, I’m left asking whether Jesus ever is ever recorded in scripture as accepting worship and on what basis?

      Perhaps, you can answer that question.

  10. Phillip Mutchell May 27, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    Hi,
    it depends on what is meant by worship? We call a judge in this country your ‘worship’ for the very reason that he or she represents the dignity/worth of the State. As the Preacher says ‘speak not against the king in an evil matter’ because they can crush you.
    Similarly Pharaoh makes Joseph ruler of Egypt to the degree that ‘only in the throne am I greater than thee’ because Pharaoh is the born God-given ruler of Egypt whereas Joseph through his faithful obedience to God was finally vindicated and raised to that position, accordingly ‘his brothers came and worshipped him’. None of this is to confound categories or suggest that his brothers considered him to be YHWH; but of course there could no longer be any doubt for others that Joseph was ‘God with us’.
    Jesus’ miracles convinced his followers and others ‘that no man can do the works you do unless God is with him’ and so worship was offered in recognition of the status given him by God, to make a leap from this to urging the notion that his disciples confused Jesus with the Creator YHWH is patently absurd, to insist that any who can’t believe such nonsense aren’t of Christ is an example of that spirit Jesus warned his own disciples against. That Jesus became deified through historical development is evident from reading the changes from the Didache to Polycarp in the Didache Jesus is God’s servant and our Master while the thought is definitely that of a guide to the way of life and away from the way of death and salvation consists in the active obedience of doing, in the words of Paul ‘be not deceived, God isn’t mocked, that which YOU sow YOU shall reap’ and by the time we get to Polycarp the assembly is no longer the spiritual equivalent of Weightwatchers but a fledgling institution itself mediating grace through the office of the Bishop ‘Let the Church be gathered around one bishop’. With this comes the necessity of elevating Jesus’ essential dignity because we’re no longer to be saved by our works, which was to ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling KNOWING it is God which works in you’, because the Church now arrogated to herself the Mediating function she nominally ascribes to the Cosmic Christ. the bridge being both God and Man, between woeful fallen humanity and Remote Deity to removed from Creation to soil his hands with any actual involvement, this was done through those lesser deities.
    The God who tells us his Name is Yhwh this God brother, ‘humbles himself to behold the things that are in heaven and on the earth’. This is the God we need to discover afresh, this is the God to whom Jesus delivered the kingdom in AD70 that God might be all in all, but this is the God who says of that Jesus he shall have the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession and he shall abide like Melchisedek a priest for ever and so ever able to intercede for his people, and why because in all things he was made like them, and then learned he obedience by the things he suffered, which he suffered for the ‘joy set before Him’, and so, ‘he endured the shame even the shame of the Cross’, and what was that Joy but the certain promise that, ‘just as the Father has life in himself so he has given the son to have life in myself and (which) I can give to any who the Father gives me’.
    The Roman church is consistent in claiming the right to interpret scripture according to her own light as being rightly apostolic, that this is arrant nonsense won’t deter her followers is as sure as Muslims claiming the Quran is inspired, the protestant is commonly understood to rest on scripture, and scripture just won’t support the claims laid on it, Adam already immortal and thus we all have immortality, A righteous God condemning all humanity through changing their actual nature when scripture simply says bugger off and work for a living you schmuck and as for living forever that’s no longer seen as a good idea, so bye bye baby bye bye it’s your turn to cry to borrow of Madonna and on and on the ministry of double speak to borrow of Cypress Hill.

    Sorry short on sleep and ranting but hope this answers something.

    • David Shepherd May 27, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

      Hi Philip,

      Sleep deprivation can dol that.

      You wrote: ‘so worship was offered in recognition of the status given him by God, to make a leap from this to urging the notion that his disciples confused Jesus with the Creator YHWH is patently absurd’

      Yet, one might consider the status of the seven angels given the seven bowls of wrath. John worshipped one of them in recognition of the status given him by God:

      And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” So why wouldn’t Christ do the same?

      Again, St. Paul claims that Christ did not prize His equality with God as something to be seized (Philippians 2:6).

      Also, I have difficulty explaining away Col. 2:9: in Him permanently resides all the fullness of the Deity bodily’

  11. Phillip Mutchell May 28, 2016 at 9:18 am #

    Hi David,
    I’m aware that I’m sounding like a committed Unitarian, which if one is talking about the being of God I most certainly am, ‘to us there is one God, the Father’, and the initial point I think was to suggest in line with Paine’s analysis, that the notion of Three persons being but one essence isn’t what the early Greek thinkers were saying at all, but in fact a result of Augustine’s authority and lack of Greek; and now to demonstrate the poverty of any case built on the verses you offer.

    Paul’s purpose in Phil. 2 is encourage an attitude of thought, of mind which in Romans is called the service of the law of God, this same mind is that self-denial which Christ enjoins on any who would be his disciples, disciple itself is the Greek word mathetes which implies a precise system of discipline hence it became the root of our word mathematics. Now in the NIV translation there’s the atrocious paraphrase ‘in very nature god’ and yet of course it will not then be consistent by saying ‘in very nature servant’ and thus the inconsistency of dishonest translation is sufficient to refute the absurdity the translator(s) would wish to introduce. The Greek word morphe simply means form as in the KJV or appearance, and who would actually fail to see the direct comparison with Adam, who as Luke insists was also a ‘son of god’ but unlike Jesus grasped at equality as in Gen. 3, if of course it hadn’t become an apparent proof text for those who claim the mantle Orthodox.

    Again, amen, it did indeed please the Father that in Jesus should ‘all the fullness of deity reside, that same fullness that Paul would have you, I and all believers know, please compare Eph. 3:19 or dare I say it, Jn.1:12, and I would ask you to consider that both Paul; and Peter are insisting on participating in God, what the Eastern Church still understands salvation to be. The epistle to Barnabus chapter 16 insists of the physical temple and of our own hearts that both ‘were full of idolatry and the habitation of daemons, through our doing such things as were opposed to the will of God’, but we ‘become new creatures, formed again from the beginning. Wherefore in our habitation God truly dwells in us’.

    In Revelation, that most abused of books, the emphasis is entirely missed I would suggest, if you focus on the messenger saying ‘don’t do that’ regarding worship, rather than on his assertion that I am a ‘fellow servant with your brethren the prophets’ as this is surely the point, we have been raised up brother to sit with Christ, far above all principalities and powers… come on it’s the first century equivalent of Obama being elected for your modern (poor) African-American; do we not too easily forget that Christ was first embraced by the ‘filth and off scouring of the world’ just as Islam was grasped first by the dispossessed, as was Sikhism, which in its inception was so remarkably like Christianity, and historically went the same way once it became subject to those who ‘ arise among their own selves, speaking perverse things, draw away disciples after themselves’ (Acts 20:30)

    Hope this is useful. peace

  12. David Shepherd May 28, 2016 at 11:18 pm #

    Hi Phillip,

    This may appear exhaustive and exhausting, but, as you indicate, such is the precision implied by mathetes

    So, if, as you say, ‘the Greek word morphe simply means form as in the KJV or appearance, we can apply it equally throughout the self-same passage from Philippians:

    Who, being in the appearance of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the appearance of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

    So, does Paul’s use of morphe here mean that the incarnation was nothing more than the semblance of full humanity? Or was Christ truly human? Well, we know that the form of a servant which Christ took upon himself was thoroughly human and no semblance: ‘he was made like unto us in every way except sin’ (Heb. 2:17) Humanity is intrinsic and essential to the incarnate Christ.

    So, I find it inconsistent for you to consider ‘morphe Theou’ to be anything less than a statement of the intrinsic and essential deity of Christ. The comparison with Luke’s reference to Adam as ‘a son of God’ fails because it does not recognise the distinguishing significance of Jesus’ designation as ‘the only-begotten Son of God.’

    In distinguishing Christ from the angels (who, though ministering spirits, are called ‘sons of God’) the writer of Hebrews declares Christ to be ‘the brightness [effulgence] of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb. 1:3)

    Whatever you might claim about our adoptive sonship, we are not (and, for that matter, nor are angels) the eternal out-shining of God’s glory. We are not the perfect stamp and exact revelation of God’s person. We do not uphold all things by the word of our power. And, note the use here of the definite article.

    Instead, John states that ‘no man hath seen God at any time’. This declaration of God’s transcendence is cognisant of the incarnation. As light is the out-shining of the sun, so is Christ the (not ‘an’) outshining of God, without whom He is unknowable. ‘Through Him all things were made, and without Him was not anything made that was made’.

    Your own change of emphasis regarding the angel’s refusal of worship in Revelations is a distraction. You haven’t explained why Jesus accepted His disciples falling to their knees and worshipping Him: something which the apostles and angels have repeatedly refused, while insisting ‘worship God’.

    You may well be Unitarian, but you’ve had to cherry-pick and use morphe inconsistently in order to sustain that position.

    But, I guess that even if you don’t accept Christ to be the outshining of God’s glory, you apparently have no problem with falling down and worshipping Him as the apostles did.

  13. Phillip Mutchell May 29, 2016 at 9:39 am #

    The argument isn’t that God’s word is embodied in Jesus Christ, this is clearly stated. The issue at root is simple. Orthodoxy declares that this man Jesus is actually the embodiment of YHWH, that Jesus is not a distinct person but actually an eternal distinction of a tri-unity, it then (has) insisted on submission to this doctrine or suffer severe penalties. It considers this an essential doctrine of ‘the faith’ yet any unbiased investigation would soon discover that Jesus was never so understood by his followers, and how can it be other than evil to demand the submission of our own god given logos or reason to human authority? ‘Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind’.

    Jesus’ contemporaries understood ‘that no man could do the works that he did unless God was with him’ but he himself claimed that his disciples would do ‘greater works than these’ this is to have the position or appearance of God, men would witness such works and proclaim ‘the gods are come down among men’ (Acts 14:11) That these works flow not from our own intrinsic power but are of God is as much Paul’s understanding as it was Jesus’s ‘I can do nothing of mine own self’. Jesus is the beloved son, but a son isn’t the Father but a production of the Father although potentially always present within the Father, when we come to YHWH he alone is the self existent creator who ‘dwells in unapproachable light’. Jesus is not this God, he is ‘a man approved of God’ he is ‘God’s holy servant’ he is the ‘one mediator the human Christ Jesus’ but ‘God is one’. How you get from appearance or form of God to it being ‘a statement of the essential and intrinsic deity of Christ’ is beyond my capacity to understand..
    Take Frances Young’s assessment of Eusebius in her From Nicaea to Chalcedon, ‘As von Campenhausen suggests, monotheism and morality was the heart of the gospel for Eusebius. The work of Christ was that of teacher and revealer pointing the way to the true religion and overcoming idolatry and ignorance…Unlike Athanasius, Eusebius did not argue from Christ’s revelatory and redeeming work to his essential, undiluted divinity; in fact this would undercut the ability of the Logos to act as an intermediary. A second Lord could become incarnate, whereas this would be impossible for a transcendent First Cause. An IMAGE can reveal without being IDENTICAL to the original; a deputy can act with the delegated powers of his superior. (apologies for caps, but point valid)
    How is this not the approximate view of the New Testament? God says Hebrews spoke in the past through his prophets but now he has spoken in His son, this Son as Hebrews is trying to tell his audience really has been ‘given all authority in heaven and on earth’ he really has been raised up higher than any angel, but friend if you read this as stating Jesus was already this then the text is senseless, John Owen’s treatment on Hebrews is very good here, and he is of course a famous defender of the Trinity, although his focus on the real distinctions of Father, Son, and Spirit reminds one of the early fathers.
    Regarding the worship of John in Revelation, I was simply replying to the point of the messenger’s rebuke, the notion of worship somehow being indicative of some recognition that he was YHWH in flesh is a ‘tale told by a fool, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’,(Macbeth) and not one worth a response. Similarly you use John 1:3 but it doesn’t say him and the very demands of sense and grammar insist that the subject is God and God’s word, it is only translator bias which gets he from the neuter which is used; as I said before the early translators were much more honest and translated ‘all things were made through it’ for the simple reason that a word is not a person, compare ‘this is a hard saying who can bear it’ same Greek tense but some integrity involved in the translation.
    This is where one gets irritable with the whole Protestant heritage, arguing from some sola scriptura position its adherents are forced to dishonesty because, to borrow of Augustine, ‘we just have to admit that these usages were developed because of the sheer necessity of saying something’ (Pg. 229 On the Trinity). Again the doctrine of the Trinity of there being 3 gods in 1 essence called God to the confounding of language is not in scripture, but the Church developed the doctrine to distinguish what she properly called Christian faith from that which she didn’t, and in her wisdom decided all other forms inimical and injurious to the Faith. Sing hallelujah to the king of kings that the struggles for freedom of religion have resulted in people being free to choose that religion which is most consonant with their reason or lack thereof. Personally I think the Trinity apologist would do better to focus on how Jesus brings us to God rather than exhaust themselves attempting to prove what the new testament never asserts, those that do look dishonest or ignorant. James White springs to mind but only because non-Trinitarians use his many You Tube appearances to make him look as inconsistent as his doctrine.
    Brother let us remember that Jesus is the Way to God, and thank God that ‘he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit’ and do you see how the mere capitalization of that word spirit would so easily change the perceived meaning from participation to identity? O little children, keep yourselves from idols. Peace

  14. David Shepherd May 30, 2016 at 11:32 am #

    Phillip,

    So, let’s really see who’s dishonest or ignorant, given that, once again, you’ve sidestepped my argument, which opposed your inconsistent interpretation of morphe.

    Instead, you resort to the empty rhetoric of saying: How you get from appearance or form of God to it being ‘a statement of the essential and intrinsic deity of Christ’ is beyond my capacity to understand.. That something is beyond your capacity to understand does not justify your position that ‘morphe doulos’ refers to the essential and intrinsic humanity of Christ, while ‘morphe Theou’ refers to the mere semblance of God through miraculous works.

    On the basis of Christ’s claim that his disciples would do ‘greater works than these’, you assert this is to have the position or appearance of God, men would witness such works and proclaim ‘the gods are come down among men’

    In stating this, you confound the mistaken notions of Lystran idolatry with the apostolic declarations enunciated in the NT. When St.Paul describes the self-emptying of the recognizable attributes of God by Christ, this nicarnation was not a mere semblance of doffing that which would have made Him immediately recognizable as the ‘outshining of God’s glory’.

    Also, you’ve omitted the charge that prompted Christ’s statement: ‘I can do nothing of mine own self’ (John 5:30), which is: ‘For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. This was the Jewish understanding of His claim.

    Again, I can’t see how you can distinguish the ‘unapproachable light’ in which the Father dwells from the outshining of the Father’s glory, which the writer of Hebrews declares to be the Son of God.

    While that sublime purity and transcendence of God (which ‘unapproachable light’ connotes) might terrify us, it is the human nature which Christ took upon himself through incarnation which gives us confidence to draw near. We know that we have an intercessory high priest, who has fully experienced ‘the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), yet without sin. In the verses which you’ve quoted, the apostles emphasize Christ’s human nature without denying His pre-existent deity.

    It is through the self-emptying of incarnation that Christ became the mediator between God and man. As such, he is proclaimed by the gospel as ‘God’s holy servant’ and ‘a man approved of God among you’.

    You cannot divorce Christ’s incarnate submission to the Father and subsequent exaltation from His self-emptying, which is so poetically described in Philippians: Who, being in the form [morphe] of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form [morphe] of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion [schemati] as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross!’ (Philippians 2:6 – 8)

    Instead of recognizing that this self-emptying and humbling preceded His exaltation, you claim that:Hebrews is trying to tell his audience really has been ‘given all authority in heaven and on earth’ he really has been raised up higher than any angel, but friend if you read this as stating Jesus was already this then the text is senseless No, it isn’t, since I’m stating that Hebrews 1 doesn’t refer to Christ’s resurrection. It refers to Christ’s pre-existence and says as much through the OT references to the Son of God:

    ‘But about the Son he says: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” (Heb. 1:8,9)

    But the writer doesn’t end his reference to the Son there. Instead, he re-iterates of God’s declaration of out Lord’s pre-existence:
    He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. (He. 1:10)

    This demonstrates that the Son of God, as the outshining of God’s glory, ‘laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of His hands’. YHWH has created all things through the eternally pre-existent Messiah. And this is consonant with John 1:3 and Colossians 2:9, whereas your position is not.

    Nothing of the doctrine of the Trinity claims that the Father and the Son are indistinguishably identical. Yet, you have not demonstrated how scripture supports your claim that Jesus was just ‘a teacher and revealer pointing the way to the true religion and overcoming idolatry and ignorance Your proclamation of Christ as ‘a revealer’ is not the same as proclaiming Him as ‘the outshining of God’s glory And guilt by association with medieval heresy trials doesn’t help your case.

    So, the only way to shore up your shipwrecked theology is through:

    1. interpreting morphe inconsistently in Philippians 2:6,7.
    2. Assuming of those verses that Christ’s self-emptying of His equality with God and humbling acceptance of humanity provides no context for anything said during his earthly life.
    3. Assuming that Heb. 1:10 makes no reference to Christ as creator, which enables you to ignore its obvious consonance with John 1:3 and the person whom you view as a mere literary device in Prov. 8:22.

    Your use of an excerpt from John’s to deliver a parting and patronizing retort is the last straw: ‘Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.’ (Tit. 3:10) Feel free to continue writing non-sequiturs, but until you abide by consistent rules of interpretation, I won’t bother answering.

  15. Phillip Mutchell May 31, 2016 at 8:12 pm #

    Ok David,
    love the passion.

    1. The point of form/appearance is that it doesn’t mean intrinsic anything it means what it says that Jesus being given the power to work his signs was therefore in the appearance of God but he didn’t grasp at this equality but remained a servant and showed this most perfectly in his wilderness temptation the 40 days being the symbolical equivalent of Israel’s 40 years I suppose but Jesus, unlike Israel which was also a ‘son of God’, fashioned no new idols to call YHWH, but consistently answered ‘it is written worship the Lord your God and serve him only’. Both uses of form are concerned with how one appears to others, the enemies of Christ are no guide to who he is, their charge is surely a belying of Paul’s claim in Philippians – please use your reason.
    2. You are evidently keen on some notion of kenosis, but the idea that one can divest oneself of ‘essential and intrinsic deity’ is of course absurd, and needs no refutation. The very verse continues to the glory of God the Father, and the Father is God alone, the deity Christ has is given him as it will be given to us all – this is that ‘eternal life which is with the Father’ it is not flesh and blood brother that inherit the kingdom of God.
    3. Again I would ask you to understand that Christ didn’t pre-exist and John isn’t saying he did, he is saying that the Father’s logos, the word through which he commanded all things to be ; ‘through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God’ (Heb 11:3) was always present with the Father, just as the your word is with you from the moment of self-consciousness. Yes later development of this doctrine assigned the notion of pre-existence and arbitrarily insisted that God’s logos was a distinct hypostasis, but this was all later and not in the text and raging about it brother will not ‘make it so’ (Captain Picard)

    If your replies to me have solidified your understanding and thus increased your faith I’m happy for you, but to spit your dummy out and misapply Titus hardly seems consistent with the behaviour of a man complacent with his views, no it’s that same spirit which had Calvin roast Servetus. Perhaps a little something from Mufonius Rufus ‘How can we condemn tyrants, when we are much worse, we have the same impulses as theirs, but lack the opportunity to indulge them.’ Brother it is a great shame to the school of Christ when heathens teach us how to live, and a visit to any curry house in Brum any evening of Ramadan will show people who are in real community, while our affluent social Trinitarian is ordering a take away to pick up after leaving the office late. Not that I consider Muslims heathens as Islam was clearly of God if we listen to Acts ‘if it be of God ye cannot overthrow it lest haply ye be found even to fight against God’ Acts. 5:29) Peace.

    • David Shepherd June 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

      Philip,

      I didn’t notice that you came back on this. Here’s my belated response.

      1. You suggest that Philiipians 2:6 – 8 is about the humility with which Jesus conducted His ministry, rather than the entirely of His incarnation, saying: Jesus being given the power to work His signs was in the appearance of God’.

      Yet, there is nothing in this passage that relates ‘appearance of God’ specifically to the impact of His power to perform signs was understood. Your imposition of this on the text very much a self-serving eisegesis.

      Jesus’ humbling to take the form of a servant is, in fact, prophesied in Psalm 40 and recounted by the writer of HebrewsTherefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’?” (Heb. 10:4 – 7)

      The language indicates the Messiah’s pre-existence and is entirely consonant with Philippians relating to Jesus’ incarnation, rather than just His supernatural ministry.

      2. ‘the idea that one can divest oneself of ‘essential and intrinsic deity’ is of course absurd, and needs no refutation’. But that’s not what I wrote. Instead, I describe its as self-emptying of the recognizable attributes of God. That is what is meant by morphe.

      3. Again I would ask you to understand that Christ didn’t pre-exist And I would ask you to understand that this is a flat contradiction of Psalm 40 in which Christ speaks pre-existently.

      Finally, to have nothing to do with someone is a far cry from burning them at the stake, but don’t let that stop you from responding to my rebuttal by implying that it all but consigns you to a martyr’s demise.

  16. Phillip Mutchell June 11, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    David,
    it is good that iron should sharpen iron, and I’m pleased that your happy with your view of the texts you quote. That they have all been dealt with more than adequately by better thinkers than me is of course easily discovered by a brief internet search.
    Yet because only the truth shall set us free I would ask you to consider.
    1. You say yourself that Psalm 40 prophecies of Christ, and it is exactly in this fashion that he is foreknown, if you disagree and would have the physical Jesus existing before his birth then who can stop you, I only say that scripture speaks of God’s word and wisdom from the beginning but the Son is born in time.
    2.. Paul’s actual and pseudo letters still must begin from the resurrected Christ. He expressly states that his knowledge of Christ is not the flesh man but the raised Lord, he never knew the crucified Jesus except as he is Christ crucified, which is to say the divinely appointed agent of God’s purpose to reconcile all things in said agent. Again if you will believe the scripture ‘this man hath God raised up and made both Lord and Christ’. I fail to understand how the scripture could be plainer.
    3 Yes you build your case for morphe but the word won’t handle the freight ; appearance is appearance and carries no notion of ‘self emptying’ that’s theological knowledge imposed on, as you rightly call it, poetry; and all the poetry is saying is Jesus denied himself to be God’s perfect servant and in so doing brought back that life lost in Adam.
    4. If you wish to make whatever your case for Christ’s essential deity is please just show me from the scriptures where this deity is necessary to the work God appointed him to do. it seems to my reading that it’s essential he’s a man. Peace.

  17. David Shepherd June 11, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

    Philip,

    1. I did not claim that I would have Jesus being incarnate (what you call ‘the physical Jesus’) before His birth. Psalm 40 is messianic and in the first-person. It indicates His spiritual pre-existence before incarnation.

    2. St. Paul’s reference to preaching ‘Christ and Him crucified’ among the Corinthians was about declaring without reservation the cross of Christ which destroyed reliance on earthly wisdom, since the cross was an insurmountable hurdle of repugnant harm and failure to both Jews and Greeks, which only faith could clear. It’s pretty desperate when you resort to this passage to prove that Paul rejected the doctrine of Jesus’ pre-existence.

    3. ‘Appearance is appearance’ alright and it doesn’t mean semblance. It refers to recognisable attributes.

    Of course, we’re back to whether, to suit your argument, you can cherry-pick to have two meanings of morphe in the same sentence. So, was Jesus taking the form/appearance of a servant (which, as Psalm 40 shows, refers to His incarnation) a mere semblance, or intrinsic and essential humanity? You really can’t have it both ways.

    4. Interestingly, Jesus was challenged on His pre-existence by the Jews: Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

    “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was (genesthai), I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:56 – 58)

    So, here in John’s gospel, we see Jesus’ detractors once again seeking to execute Him for blasphemy, having previously charged him with the same offence of making Himself equal with God (John 5:18)

    So, wherein is the blasphemy? How could Jesus’ declaration be a rebuttal of their clearly expressed doubts that He had seen Abraham, unless it referred to Him seeing Abraham in His conscious spiritual pre-existence in the bosom of the Father, whence He came forth?

    Clearly, for you, ‘before Abraham was, Jesus wasn’t’. As flat a contradiction of Christ’s words as anyone could ever make.

  18. Phillip Mutchell June 12, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    Hi David,
    On Hebrews 1 please read this
    http://www.postost.net/2016/06/trinity-subordination-narrative-hebrews

    an excellent piece by A. Perriman.

    On the ‘doctrine of Jesus pre-existence’ he clearly had none, except in God’s plan, does the Psalm say behold my son Jesus? do you not consider yourself ‘chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world’ which if I read in the context of the narrative Paul tells means chosen from the beginning of this new creation – the new creation ‘Israel of God’ but if I read it from a Greek philosophical universalist tendency it would mean before or with the beginning of the creation period. Again Paul wrote letters to people who understood, we MUST assume, his presuppositions, isn’t this why Romans is clearly more structured to prove his arguments precisely because this group hadn’t been taught by Paul, and so naturally this would figure in how he writes.

    Back to morph brother, ‘it refers to recognizable attributes’ you say. Amen, Jesus healed a man – wow – and the people praised the God who had given such authority to God – just kidding – man. Jesus by his willing obedience in ‘pouring out his soul unto death’ demonstrated the ‘recognizable attribute’ of being a servant and ‘therefore God hath highly exalted him’ oh sing hallelujah too the king of kings.

    That translators insist Jesus by ego eimi meant just I am is a grand example of what was that word you used eisegesis because it would in English only mean I AM HE as it is of course consistently translated elsewhere but we must keep our traditions at all costs. Paul insists that the mystery of Christ was that he should have the pre-eminence in all things, that this thought and intent – some might say God’s logos or reason or design – was before all; but its actual appearance awaits that now : ‘when the fullness of time was come God sent forth his son’ and please note ‘made (ginomai – to come into existence) of a woman’ so again I ask when was the son?

    Once more his detractors were ‘of their Father the devil’ so why hear their testimony, Paul insists that Jesus who knew no sin ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped at’ so should I believe the inspired witness, or the enemies of Christ, on which claim is true?

    Brother I honestly have no idea whether you were raised in Church and thus are simply conditioned to reading scripture in a particular fashion, which I by no means berate but suggest that it might hinder you from actually seeing the reality to which the story points. I knew nothing of scripture until Christ claimed me and so I read the bible as narrative, worked and reworked to the glory of God but narrative concerned with Israel and God’s dealings with her because Israel is every person in their faithlessness and desperate need. When the arguments concerning Christ and God began it was, as our history books tell, when the Church embraced the empire as she was beholden to do, this necessitated a new story about Christ and his people would you not agree. Does not the Bible end and post AD70 the Jewish/Israel story is done, but what then of Christ and his new people how do we give Him the primacy and yet still remain worshippers of One God? Nicene and the battles following sought to answer this, and I do not say their arguments and conclusions were wrong, I simply assert what any non sola scriptura scholar is happy to assert that the bible itself doesn’t support their conclusion rather the Church’s spirit led communal reading/interpreting of scripture does. Let us I ask you, leave this discussion now, as it begins to appear as we are both being seduced into ‘striving for masteries’. Peace.

    • David Shepherd June 12, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

      Hi Philip,

      I’ve read the article to which you referred me. Despite the thrust of Perriman’s argument, in respect of Hebrews, he writes:

      He then introduces the idea that God made the “ages” (not “created the world”) through the Son, who is the “radiance” (apaugasma) of the glory of God. Presumably Jesus is here being identified with divine Wisdom as an agent in creation. Wisdom of Solomon speaks of Wisdom as “a reflection (apaugasma) of eternal light and a spotless mirror of the activity of God and an image of his goodness”

      If that identification of Christ as divine wisdom is valid, then so is the Proverbs description of God’s pre-existent wisdom:

      “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. (Prov. 8:22 – 31) This is the pre-existent Christ.

      What’s strange is that Perriman skips over Heb. 1:10 – 12, which informs our understanding of Christ’s nature: He also says, “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

      The pre-eminence of Christ is the focus of Heb. 1. So how is it that the Son (whom the Psalm is addressing) is described thus: ‘you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.’? You really haven’t answered this.

      To be designated in this scripture as the One through whom all creation has been made is a far cry from the Christian declaring that: ‘I was chosen from the foundation of the world’. It is saying that the Wisdom of God and Word of God are divine designations of the pre-existent Messiah.

      You assert that: because it would in English only mean I AM HE as it is of course consistently translated elsewhere but we must keep our traditions at all costs. Yet, your own alternative interpretation doesn’t make sense as a reply.

      So, let’s see, the Jews ask rhetorically and incredulously: ‘You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham!” And to this, Jesus replies: ‘Before Abraham was, I am he.’

      Far from causing offence for blasphemy, your interpretation makes nonsense of Christ’s reply to a rhetorical question about being old enough to have seen Abraham.

      Finally, you suggest that the offence which this saying provoked in Christ’s detractors cannot shed light on a true understanding of the nature of Christ. Despite this, St. Paul was clear that, while Christ’s detractors did not accept the word of truth, they knew exactly what the messianic designation meant and broadcast it inadvertently and disdainfully to incite persecution: It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15 – 18)

      I’m happy to leave off this discussion. I’m not ‘striving for masteries’, but, instead, I ‘earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints’ as Jude encouraged.

  19. Phillip Mutchell June 14, 2016 at 8:18 am #

    I’m minded of that Don McLean song the Pride Parade ‘it started out quite simply as complex things can do’ but we return again to the beginning. If you say Jesus was wisdom re Prov. 8 then he ‘was brought forth’ and thus created, so grant the pre-existence and lose that iota, the shades of those ‘slain for their testimony’ gather to cry ‘how long Lord’ and Athanasius sits gleefully inventing stories of Arius’ demise.

    David what is this obsession with ‘nature’ and how does Hebrews discuss this? The thrust of the book is about the superiority of Christ and his administration to that of Moses, and why is it better because Christ ‘became so far better than the angels BECAUSE he has INHERITED a name superior to theirs’ ; please follow the logic of the argument. Honestly, I would suggest you purchase J. Owen’s astounding commentary on Hebrews now available on Kindle just to see how even the staunchest Nicene man is able to interpret these verses for what they’re saying about Christ as the agent of God’s NEW CREATION, Grant then when Hebrews was written the New Covenant wasn’t fully established but as with the first under Moses they had been summoned to be a redeemed people through obeying the word preached ‘for we had good news proclaimed to us just as they did, but the message they heard did them no good since they did not join in with those who heard it in faith’ (Heb. 4:2) and so only 2 of that first generation entered Canaan ‘being of a different spirit’. This I suggest is the purpose of the book, it’s not to discuss questions of ontology.

    Does the Greek not have the ability to say before Abraham was I was? Of course it does, now I hate to ask you to consider context but the whole passage is about whether or not Jesus is God’s son, he is insisting that if God were indeed their Father they would love him, and more that he is the greatest, the real Ali, of their world, but to them he’s just some upstart wannabe, and so Jesus tells them they don’t know anything but have only empty claims because before Abraham was, he Jesus is the dude! Man. Now John wrote his gospel that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one ordained and promised from before the ages. Again by all means keep your Trinity but stop insisting it’s retrievable from the pages of the Bible for such is only possible by misreading, no matter how many ‘proof texts’ are lined up once they are placed in context they dissolve leaving only the beautiful truth that to us there is one God the Father. Peace

    • David Shepherd June 16, 2016 at 5:10 am #

      Philip,

      You’re all over the place. You ask me to consider the context of John 8, namely, ‘the passage is about whether Jesus is God’s Son. I have considered that. What give context to Christ declaration of divine Sonship is exactly what He meant by it and why it caused the Jews such offence. The Greek is telling here: ‘For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father (Patera idion elegen ton Theon), making himself equal with God.

      You’ve simply discounted the significance of that.

      Your response regarding Heb. 1:10 – 12 is ridiculous, how can an declaration: ‘In the beginning, Lord, you created the foundations of the earth’ be about the new creation. That’s just empty sophistry. You’re just omitting the bits of each passage that don’t support your case.

      The whole counsel of God obviously means nothing to you. I have no more to say to you.

  20. David Shepherd June 16, 2016 at 5:13 am #

    Oh, and if Heb. 1:10 – 12 was about the new creation, then why does it describe the works of that creation: ‘they shall wear out’.Here was I thinking that the new creation is eternal.

    Your thesis is completely inane.

  21. Phillip Mutchell June 16, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    My apologies David, yes Heb. 1:10-12 are about the first creation, but by this is meant the creation of Israel, which as the apostle instructs us was ‘our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ’ it is this creation that is to be destroyed, as it was AD70, this is the point of his warning to his brethren ; don’t brothers trust to this, remain faithful Christ is indeed all we say he is. Christ is the fulfilment of God’s plan which is why it is true to say that God made the ages through (dia) on account of Christ. Isn’t this the thrust and intent of Hebrews that although Moses’ face shone it ain’t nothing next to the gospel – God’s living word (Heb. 4)
    I think you’ll find that Jesus defended himself against their accusations in John 10 by showing the meaning of God, and the accusation was certainly not one of equality or co-substantiality, now was it?
    Novatian says “The rule of truth teaches us to believe, after the Father, in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, yet the Son of God, of that God who is ONE and ALONE, the MAKER OF ALL THINGS, HE (Christ) although he was in the form of God, yet did not attempt the robbery of being equal with God. For though he knew he was God, of (or from) God the Father, remembering that he was of the Father, and the Father gave him to be what he was. (As in Some account of the origin and progress of Trinitarianism).
    Slowly but surely the people were brought to a new doctrine even though the warning was given that to look at the serpent for healing in accordance with God’s instructions is good, to then worship that serpent becomes – – – – – – – – let’s play Hangman -:) Peace

    • David Shepherd June 17, 2016 at 5:36 am #

      Phillip,

      Be honest! How can ‘the foundation of the earth’ and ‘the heavens’ mean Israel? But, okay, let’s follow your strained logic.

      When God asks Job: Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:4), you think that He’s talking about Israel.

      Or when Zechariah states ‘YHWH, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person’ (Zech. 12:1), you think that the prophet meant Israel?

      Or worse still, altenatively for you, it’s only in Psalm 102:25 (where Hebrews explicitly shows that the Psalmist I’d referring to Jesus, the Son of God) that ‘the foundation of the earth and the heavens’ means Israel.

      And then you quote Novatian, as if his doctrine is the divinely prescribed lens through which we should interpret scripture. Ridiculous!

  22. Phillip Mutchell June 17, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    David, how am I being dishonest?

    If you wish Hebrews to apply to the material creation then it makes no sense to say ‘made the ages’ which is perhaps why the NIV translators provide universe to shore up just the view you advocate. We’ve travelled from the initial point but you appear to be insisting that Jesus is the Creator, but this is to fail to understand that Jesus as God’s anointed servant is the focal point of God’s creative purpose, for the which was Israel created, and personally aside from the opening declaration of Gen.1:1 I cannot read the rest accept as an account of the creation of Israel. Clearly you wish to hold to some traditionalist reading of scripture despite the evidence of scholarship and science. Cain took a wife, and people finding him shall slay him but Adam and Eve (and definitely not Adam and Steve) were the world’s first couple, come on friend I know we’re allowed everything green but what are you smoking? It’s about the covenant creation of Israel, Adam is simply Everyman enlightened through the spirit of God, and thus enabled to perform his will, but failing because ‘the first man is of the earth’, and what is the whole of the old covenant but the repeated lesson that human willing might be mighty but the truth abides ‘ye cannot serve the Lord’ because ‘the carnal mind is enmity against God’. How would Origen weep at your delightful literalism, now on which 1000 hills precisely are the cattle the Lord’s and which are up for grabs?

    How does Zechariah contradict, do you think that the heathen have God’s spirit as far as the faithful Israelite was concerned? On the contrary they are ‘as the brute beasts’ so Paul of reprobate Israel says they ‘are dogs’ such language would be ungodly were it not inspired surely? Yet all quotation of the OT to prove YHWH is the creator merits nothing as I don’t deny this, rather I insist this is the very thing that distinguishes the ONLY TRUE GOD from everything else. Thus Novatian was brought as an example that none of the first servants of Christ’s assembly knew of your ontological tri-unity, this was a development within the Church post scripture, and your repeated attempts to insist the doctrine is discoverable in the scripture is without basis as the Catholic scholar can happily admit finding his authority within his Church and do you not see yourself as somehow the inheritor of ‘apostolic’ authority via succession? Which was the original point I made was it not?

    That the understanding grew that Jesus was the Word and therefore pre-existed as this Word in accordance with the theory that the absolute Creator was too transcendent to soil his hands as it were, is clear from Mathetes “He did not as one might have imagined send to men any servant or angel or ruler …but the very fashioner and creator of all things, by whom he made the heavens…as a king sends his son who is also a king so sent he him, as God he sent him; as a Saviour he sent him, and as seeking to persuade and not to compel us, for violence as no place in the character of God” (Ch. vii) Yet isn’t it clear that even with this conception of Christ raised to cosmic levels he is still a distinct person and not sharing a single essence?

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