Christology and the Trinity: An Exploration

 

By Edgar G. Foster

 

EMF Publishing

 

ã2001

 

 All rights reserved

                                 

                                                  Table of Contents

 

Preface. 3

 

Christology and the Trinity: An Exploration. 5

 

Did the First Century Ecclesia Believe that Jesus Was Almighty God?. 8

 

Gerald Borchert's Exegesis of John 8:58. 18

 

Did the Ante-Nicene Fathers Teach or Believe in the Trinity?. 23

 

The Kenosis of Jesus Christ: What Does It Tell Us about the Son of God?. 40

 

Aseity and the Trinity. 54

 

Excursus A: John 5:26 and Aseity. 60

 

Does Hebrews 1:1-8 Teach that Christ is Almighty God?. 63

 

Glossary of Terms. 79

 

Works Consulted. 81


Preface

 

Since 1983, I have intensely devoted my life to Biblical or theological studies. During these relatively short but rewarding years, I have also endeavored to know the true God more intimately. Furthermore, the present writer has tried to discern what God requires of him as one of His worshipers. In the process of searching for the living God, I have concluded that Jesus Christ cannot be Almighty God. Thus I have written this book to dispel the erroneous notion that Christ is one persona in a triune Godhead. Furthermore, we compose this monograph to present an authentic portrait of Jesus Christ since a Christian has a twofold obligation to both expose falsehood and communicate or teach truth.

In this work, I have employed Greek and Latin terms somewhat liberally. I have taken care, however, to transliterate such terms and provide a concise glossary of words that need to be defined.[1] This work also contains in-text citations (MLA Style) rather than footnotes.[2] In this way, I am following the convention used by the Word Commentary series and other theologians who have elected to dispense with footnotes. The MLA citations consist of the author's name and the page number of the work that I am citing. Consequently, all the reader has to do is go to the works consulted list in the back of this book to find out what source a citation comes from. In future editions and in the second volume of Christology, there will be a scholar's version that starts to include footnotes.

The reader should also note that we employ the historical-theological as well as the grammatical approach in this work.[3] Based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas, William Most has rightly contended that theology entails 'arguing from authority' (Most 2). With the words of Most in mind, I have endeavored to freely cite both theological and historical authorities, always attempting to employ these authorities aright. Citing a number of sources (at times extensively) is also necessary since certain persons claim that only Jehovah's Witnesses explain particular Biblical verses (such as Phil 2:6-7) in certain ways. Indeed, it is said that only the Witnesses posit certain notions about Christ (e.g., that he is never called or identified as Creator in Holy Writ). Yet other detractors suggest that Jehovah's Witnesses egregiously misuse scholarly sources. However, my study will demonstrate that theologians who have shown themselves to be highly skilled in the activity of “God-talk”[4] also corroborate the Witness view with respect to what particular Bible passages actually say about the Son of God.[5] I apologize in advance for the length and frequency of quotes at times, but I felt they were necessary in the context of this work.

Additionally, we cover and discuss various views in this book. The summation of each chapter represents the author’s views, which are consonant with the religious beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses. In addition, while I have written this work primarily for theology students, I hope that my fellow brothers and sisters will benefit from it as well. As regards my qualifications, I have a degree in Classical Languages (Latin and Greek) and I have been a Bible student for over fifteen years. I may now add that I have studied ecclesiastical history at the University of Glasgow (focusing on Tertullian) and I am currently completing postgraduate work at this wonderful research institution.

It is important to point out that while I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses, this project is solely my own. Christology is not sponsored or in any way directed by the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Lastly, Vol. II of Christology will be released in December 2003.[6]

 

October 10, 1997

 

Edgar G. Foster


Christology and the Trinity: An Exploration

 

Upon reading the title of this document, several readers may wonder why they should be interested in the subject of Christology. Furthermore, one may rightly ask how we should define Christology. To initiate the discussion, we will address the latter concern first.

Christology is the theological doctrine of both the person and work of Jesus Christ.[7] It systematically concerns itself with the pre-existent Christ (high Christology) as well as the "enfleshed" Logos (low Christology).[8] Of all the significant Christian theological sub-disciplines, systematic theologians generally consider Christology to be the preeminent doctrine of Christian theology (theologia). In the words of theology professor Owen Thomas, Christology is the "basis" of systematic Christian theology (Thomas "Theology" 143). Oscar Cullmann has even declared that early Christian theology “is in reality almost exclusively Christology.”[9]

While we should temper Cullmann's words somewhat, since first century Christians primarily focused on the God and Father of Jesus Christ in their sacred worship and kerygmatic activities, his observations mutatis mutandis are accurate. For the primordial documents written by the Primitive community of faith (the first century Christian assembly) and the second century Church (ecclesia) clearly revolve around the person of Christ and his exalted role in God's eternal purpose or aion prothesis (Eph 3:8-11; Phil 2:5-11; Col 2:1-3).[10] Therefore it is imperative that we thoroughly examine the work and person of Christ as delineated in the Greek New Testament and the pre-Nicenes.

But if the early Christian congregation considered Christ to be its ruler and Lord, and if he was in fact 'life' for them (as the apostle Paul wrote in Phil 1:21-23), if the modern Church has preserved the doctrinal tenets of the Primitive ecclesia--why should we explore or seek to reconstruct modern Christology?

We should try to restructure the traditional Christological model put forth by most Christian theologians as it is quite possible the modern Church presently composed of nominal Christians does not preach the same Jesus that the first century community of faith proclaimed (2 Cor 11:1-5).[11] In fact, it seems that during the post-apostolic period, several Christian believers began to speculate vis-à-vis the being (ontos) of Christ Jesus. “Could Jesus be Almighty God,” they asked with sincere wonderment. Chapter one of this publication will thus review the intriguing development of the Trinity doctrine and discuss its relation to Christology as we also deal with Christological questions posed by thinkers of ancient times.

At any rate, since the inception of the Trinity doctrine proper, "orthodox" Christianity has adamantly taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share one nature (ousia) while subsisting as three persons (tres personae).[12] According to the Bible, however, Jesus is not Almighty God: He is the only-begotten Son of God who is qualitatively (essentially) distinct from his Father (Matt 16:14-17; Jn 3:16; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:24-28)! Continually, the Johannine Gospel appears to militate against the Trinity doctrine. The Gospel writer manifestly declares that the Son is subordinate to the Father and in fact calls Him "My God." More importantly, Jesus starkly addresses his Father in prayer as “the only true God” (Jn 14:28; 17:3; 20:17). Yes, the fourth Gospel consistently indicates that the Trinity doctrine is not a product of divine revelation, but evidently originates from the finite cognitive processes of men.

Commenting on this poignant situation, Swiss theologian Emil Brunner explains: "From the time of Origen's doctrine of the Logos . . . speculation was rife in the sphere of theology; thus men's interest were deflected from the historical centre to the eternal background, and then severed from it. People then began to speculate about the transcendent relation of the Three Persons of the Trinity within the Trinity" (Brunner 224). In this book, we will also explore and test Brunner's claims to see if they are valid.[13]

Most Christian theologians, it seems, have obfuscated the authentic nature of Christ and his salvific (soteriological) work by means of theological accretions. Since it appears that Trinitarian theologians have made the identity of Jesus unnecessarily opaque, we must now bring the alethic Christ into the light (Eph 5:13). Beneath the metaphysical trappings (the ontological speculations of the Trinity doctrine) lies the bona fide Son of God. As we survey the modern theological terrain, it soon becomes evident that contemporary Christological formulations are seriously in need of restructuring. I hope that the reader will keep an open mind while he or she reads information that will probably appear heretical, unorthodox, and even inimical to the Christian faith, as professed believers generally understand it. Having said the foregoing, I must now point out that it is my desire to provoke thought in all persons who name the name of Christ and thus help them to see what Scripture has to say about Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was and is God’s only-begotten (monogenes) Son (Jn 1:18; 20:28-31).


Did the First Century Ecclesia Believe that Jesus Was Almighty God?

 

Various theologians and Church historians have written that Primitive (first century) Christianity neither affirmed nor taught that Jesus Christ is Almighty God (the second Person of the Trinity). Speaking on our present theme, Brunner presents a balanced and thorough discussion concerning the Trinity doctrine and its relation to first century Christianity. After careful consideration of the New Testament and ante-Nicene evidence, he concludes:

 

It was never the intention of the original witnesses to Christ in the New Testament to set before us an intellectual problem--that of the Three Divine Persons--and then to tell us silently to worship this mystery of the "Three in One." There is no trace of such an idea in the New Testament . . . The ecclesiastical doctrine of the Trinity is not only the product of genuine Biblical thought, it is also the product of philosophical speculation, which is remote from the thought of the Bible . . . Similarly, the idea of the Three Persons is more than questionable. Even Augustine felt this (cf. De Trinitate, V, 9). K. Barth seems to share this misgiving (Kirchl. Dogm., I, I, p. 703).[14]

 

While Brunner finds certain aspects of the Trinity doctrine problematic, most contemporary Bible scholars and systematic theologians contend that the Primitive Christian congregation (ecclesia) believed Jesus the Messiah was essentially God. Some scholars even claim that the New Testament writers held divergent views about Christ or that their respective Christological systems show signs of dialectical development (Anderson 1ff). Nevertheless, at least some Protestant and Catholic theologians have candidly conceded that the Trinity is not a strict Biblical doctrine. Certain thinkers have even noted that the first century ecclesia did not believe that Jesus is Almighty God nor did God’s Primitive Christian people think that the Son of God is consubstantial with the Father or ontologically identical to the Holy Spirit.

Martin Werner is one such writer who reports: "From a high angelic-being the Church made Christ a god in terms of the concept of deity current in Hellenistic mythology" (Werner 215). This change, avers Werner, took place in the post-apostolic era (214ff). The present writer thinks that the change Werner recounts was, in fact, a deviation from the primal tenets of first century Christianity, as we shall attempt to show in this essay. But if the triune doctrine of God is simply a speculative human dogma that does not truly represent the spirit of Jesus Christ's original teachings, it seems safe to conclude that those theologians who declare that the Son of God is ontologically equal to the Father are somewhat overstating their case. Indeed, as we examine the history of the primordial ecclesia, it appears doubtful that early Christians ever viewed Jesus as Almighty God qua Almighty God (Robinson 70). To buttress this point, please note the words of John L. McKenzie (S.J.):

 

The relation of the Father and Son as set forth in [John 5:17ff] is the foundation of later developments in Trinitarian and Christological belief and theology; it is not identical with these later developments. Much of the discourse seems to be a refutation of the charge that Jesus claimed to be equal to God. This is met by affirming that the Son can do nothing independently of the Father. Later theology found it necessary to refine this statement by a distinction between person and nature which John did not know. (McKenzie 187)

 

McKenzie appears to substantiate the notion that the first century congregation of God neither taught nor believed that Jesus Christ is Almighty God (Deus omnipotentia). It did not make the fine subtle distinctions between "person and nature" that later students or doctors of theology would introduce, implement, and heavily depend upon to explain the supposed triune Being of God. To the contrary, the belief in the omnipotence of Christ was a much "later" development in Christian history (Youngblood 111). Fittingly, when commenting on the Greek of 1 Cor 8:5, 6, Clarence T. Craig observes that for the first century writer of Corinthians: "only one is really God, the Father of all, who is the Creator and consummation of all things" (Craig 93-94).

 

Craig further elucidates this point, saying:

 

Paul chose his prepositions [ex and dia] carefully in order to distinguish between God the Father, who is the ultimate source of creation, and Christ, the Lord, through whom [dia] this activity takes place . . . it is perfectly clear what Paul wants to affirm. Neither Caesar nor Isis is Lord, but only Jesus Christ. When Paul ascribed Lordship to Christ, in contrast to later church dogma, he did not mean that Christ was God. Christ was definitely subordinated to God (Craig 93-94).[15]

 

In a monograph entitled Christianity: Essence, History and Future Hans Kung convincingly demonstrates that the first century congregation of God did not teach that Jesus is ontologically equal to Almighty God (Kung 95-97). After a brief review of the New Testament evidence, he boldly declares that the Greek Scriptures do not teach that there is one divine nature (physis) common to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is, the Greek Scriptures do not teach the Nicene doctrine of homoousion to patri. Rather, the New Testament focuses on the Father: "from whom are all things and to whom are all things" (97). He is the One who reveals Himself through Jesus Christ and He (the Father) takes the lead in initiating,[16] in bringing to fruition the dynamic, interpersonal divine revelatory and salvific activity gloriously manifested in human history through the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:18; 2 Cor 5:19; Tit 3:4-7; Heb 1:1-2; 1 Jn 5:20). God has supremely revealed Himself through (dia) Christ, not literally in Christ. True, the apostle Paul does use en to describe God’s saving work en Christ (2 Cor 5:19). However, Paul utilizes the Greek preposition instrumentally in the aforesaid text: God was reconciling the world of humankind by means of Christ (NWT).[17] Concluding our Biblical search for evidence of Jesus’ Deity, we can heartily agree with E.P. Sanders’ analysis: "Historically, it is an error to think that Christians must believe that Jesus was superhuman, and also an error to think that in Jesus' own day his miracles were taken as proving partial or full divinity" (Sanders 135).

Other theologians have also admitted this vital fact. In other words, they are well aware that the Trinity is not a New Testament teaching and they admit that the New Testament writers do not depict Jesus as Almighty God in the flesh, even if these same scholars affirm the Trinity on other grounds. For instance, Cyril C. Richardson has expressed his personal reservations about the doctrine of God's triunity being an accurate depiction of the Living and true Deity portrayed in the Bible. According to Richardson, the Trinity is "an artificial construct" (Richardson 148). As an "artificial construct," it arbitrarily tries to resolve the perennial dialectical tension between God's simultaneous absoluteness and relatedness to the world by esoterically delineating necessary and eternal threeness in the Godhead. However, Richardson writes: "There is no necessary threeness in the Godhead" (149). God’s putative threefoldness, claims Richardson, is neither eternal nor immutable nor necessary. Furthermore, the so-called “necessary threeness in the Godhead” evidently does not obtain as an actual state of affairs (Verhalten) “in the Godhead.”

While he believes that there are immanent and necessary distinctions in the Godhead, however, Richardson contends that the Trinity does not exhaust all of the distinctions that one needs to make vis-à-vis the divine nature (ousia).[18] Nor does it resolve, according to Richardson, the numerous antinomies evidently associated with the absoluteness and relatedness of God. Consequently, this theologian declares that every Trinitarian interpretation ever formulated has failed to resolve the tension between God's absoluteness and relatedness to the world. In a word, Trinitarian formulations are “artificial.” Of course, Richardson obviously rejects the Trinity on other grounds that he thoroughly covers in his treatise.

Nevertheless, we must genuinely ask whether Richardson’s analysis is satisfactory. Does a careful analysis of the Trinity doctrine show that it is an artificial construct, which has failed to adequately delineate the transcendent nature of God? Most importantly, does the Bible teach us that God is actually three divine Persons united in one community of substance (substantiae per communionem)?

As we examine the Scriptural evidence we cannot help but conclude that the Trinity is an anachronistic doctrine that is neither explicitly nor clearly taught in Scripture: "The New Testament writers could not have said that Jesus Christ is God: God meant the Father. They could and did say that Jesus is God's Son" (McKenzie 188). A close look at McKenzie's entire work Light on the Gospels will reveal that he is not simply arguing that early Christians did not identify Jesus with the Father (a position called modalism or monarchianism). Rather, his observation is very clear when considered in its context. "God meant the Father" for first century Christians, writes McKenzie. Thus, we seem warranted in concluding that Jesus was immanently subordinate to God the Father in the eyes of Primitive Christians. Further elucidating this point are the following words of McKenzie: "It is altogether impossible to deduce the Nicene Creed, and still less the dogmatic statements of the Council of Chalcedon from the Synoptic Gospels . . . The word ‘consubstantial’ had not even been invented yet: far from defining it, the evangelists could not even have spelled it. No, they did not know and they did not care" (188). The words of John L. McKenzie again sound a distinct and unambiguous tone: the Primitive ecclesia did not consider Jesus Christ "fully God and fully man" (vere deus et vere homo). In truth, Jesus did not “become God” until the fourth century (Rubenstein 211-231).

 

How the Belief that Jesus Is Equal to God Developed

 

Exactly how did the belief that Christ is ontologically equal to God the Father develop? What factors were behind its organic and prolific growth in Christian theology? We shall now briefly review the historical events associated with the development of the Trinity doctrine.

The historical evidence shows that a major shift in Christianity resulted in the uncomplicated Christian gospel acquiring extensive and complex metaphysical baggage. At one point in the life of the Christian Church, disciples of Jesus were willing to accept by faith, the life, death and resurrection of the only-begotten Son of God (1 Cor 2:1-16).[19] Though he talks exaltedly about "Gnostic" Christians (advanced believers), Clement of Alexandria explicitly states that a simple faith (pistis) is the primary requisite for eternal salvation through Christ: "To the Gnostic [Christian] 'are prepared what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man;' but to him who has exercised simple faith He testifies a hundredfold in return for what he has left, a promise which has turned out to fall within human comprehension" (Stromata 4.18.4). 

Unfortunately, this early Church father did not follow his own advice: his theological ideas are largely the result of abstruse Stoicism and Neo-Platonism (Brown 87). Stanley Burgess informs us of this fact, noting:

 

When referring to God, Clement follows Neoplatonic doctrine which makes heavy use of negative theology: nothing can be said directly of God, for He cannot be defined. This does not lead Clement to attempt any formal definition of the Trinity nor any Member thereof. (70)

 

Backing Burgess' observation are these words from Clement of Alexandria's Stromata (4.24.156):

 

The God, then, being indemonstrable, is not the object of knowledge, but the Son is Wisdom, and Knowledge, and Truth, and whatever else is akin to these, and so is capable of demonstration and definition. All the powers of the Divine Nature gathered into one complete the idea of the Son, but He is infinite as regards each of his powers. He is then not absolutely One as Unity, nor Many as divisible, but One as All is one. Hence He is All. For He is a circle, all the powers being orbed and united in Him.

 

Commenting on this significant Clementine passage, Charles Bigg declares the dynamic implication of these words:

 

Clement it will be seen, though Philo is before his eyes, has taken the leap from which Philo recoiled. He has distinguished between the thinker and the thought, between Mind and its unknown foundation, and in so doing has given birth to Neo-Platonism. It is essentially a heathen conception, and can be developed consistently only on heathen principles. (Bigg 64-65)

 

Clement 'heathenized' Christianity, to be sure. He was not alone in this practice, however, for other second century believers also began to rationally investigate the nature (ontos) of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.[20] These professed Christians earnestly endeavored to plumb the unfathomable depths of the Logos' seemingly mysterious enfleshment, all the while ardently desiring to make sense of the supposed ontological relationship obtaining between the transcendent Omnipotent Deity and “the Son of His love” (Col 1:13). As a result, second century Christians subsequently began to formulate numerous speculative notions about God and His beloved Son that have continued to shape Christendom’s doctrinal framework up to this very day (Hatch 133-137).

How though could these Christians express in terms that would appeal to the public at large, the seeming transcendent relationship obtaining between God and His only-begotten Son? Ultimately, these believers decided to utilize Greek ontology to describe the apparent exalted ontological relationship between the Father and the Son (Copleston 17-22). Nevertheless, they did not carry out this determination without encountering certain unexpected consequences.[21]

The Grecian view of ontology was faulty and riddled with inadequate philosophical concepts and notions of being as such.[22] Indeed, it is now apparent that the early Church Fathers placed too much trust in Grecian metaphysics when they worked out their respective theological systems (Wolterstorff 126-127). As various these spiritual forebears of modern-day Christendom began to lean inordinately on the Greek science of being qua being (metaphysics), adulterated notions of God and Christ started to slowly appear in the writings of such men as Irenaeus (quasi-Platonism), Ignatius (possible binitarianism or ditheism), Justin Martyr (Platonism and Stoicism) as well as Origen (paganistic syncretism).[23]

Again, we need to stress that none of the aforementioned individuals taught Trinitarianism per se. Nevertheless, it seems accurate to attribute the pioneering of the Trinity doctrine to these early Church Fathers (Barnard 100-105). That is, the pre-Nicenes previously discussed in this work laid the groundwork for the Trinity by positing metaphysical theories about God that went well beyond the rightful boundaries long ago established by Scripture (1 Cor 4:6).

 

To further substantiate these charges, please note the following comments:

 

No single philosopher has contributed as much to Christian theology as Plato has. Indeed, for many early Christian thinkers it was a perceived affinity between Platonism and Christianity that allowed Christian thought to accommodate Greek philosophy. In turn, it was Plato who gave Christianity crucial conceptual tools needed to articulate its doctrines. (Allen and Springsted 1)

 

Notice that “early” Christian thought accommodated “Greek philosophy.” Christian history itself shows that this ‘accommodation’ involved more than simply borrowing Greek philosophical terms or methods as “conceptual tools.” Not only did Plato give Christianity “conceptual tools,” as it were, he provided an entire interpretive framework that Christians subsequently implemented to shape their views about God and Christ. The inimitable historian of philosophy, Frederick C. Copleston, even unabashedly admits that early Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr or Theophilus of Antioch “naturally made some use of terms and ideas taken from Greek philosophy” (Copleston 18). It is therefore no wonder that the Good of Plato in time became the God of Christendom mutatis mutandis (Allen and Springsted 1).

Robert Wilken writes about the change that eventually took place in Christianity regarding its attitude toward philosophy and Scripture. He informs us of the shift in the following way:

 

Justin Martyr, a Christian writing in mid-second century, took the initial step of presenting Christianity not as an exclusive religious tradition derived largely from Judaism, but as a new philosophical way of life in competition with Stoics, Platonists, Cynics, and the other ruling ‘ways’ of his day. What would Paul, whose scorn for philosophy only served to support Justin's critics, have thought of Christianity as a philosophical sect? The term ‘philosophy’ appears only seldom in Christian writings up to this time, and where it appears it is usually regarded with contempt . . . No one before him [Justin Martyr] had really thought seriously of presenting Christianity as a philosophy, but this ‘innovation,’ after much opposition, came to be tolerated, accepted, and finally celebrated by Christians of every stripe--from learned theologians to the cobblers, washer-women, and wool-workers Celsus made fun of. (Wilken 177-183)

 

Concerning Origen, Stanley M. Burgess further observes:

 

In his understanding of the Trinity, Origen is deeply influenced by Neoplatonic thought. Neoplatonism recognized the One, the unspeakable being from which all other beings emanate . . . Throughout Origen's writings one can see a tension between the recognition of the equality of members of the Trinity, and a more Neoplatonic position which distinguished between the Father and the other members of the Godhead by making the Son and the Holy Spirit subordinate beings. Swete (p. 131) correctly has pointed out that Origen's teaching is not consistent throughout his writings. (Burgess 73)

 

While Burgess commendably admits that Neo-Platonism influenced Origen, he nevertheless goes on to maintain that the Alexandrian theologian does not seem consistent as one peruses his theological treatises. In his Commentary on John, for example, Origen contends that the Logos created the Holy Spirit (2.6). However, in Peri Archon 1.1.3, he purportedly contradicts what he explicitly declares about the Logos in Commentary on John 2.6. Nevertheless, I do not think it is accurate to say that the famed Alexandrian thought the Holy Spirit was an uncreated being. Nor did Origen express such a notion in Peri Archon. Origen simply notes that the Church of his time had not found a passage in Scripture that forthrightly declared the Holy Spirit is a creature (Peri Archon 1.1.3). This does not mean that Origen believed the Holy Spirit was not created, however. For elsewhere in Commentary on John he writes: "There are three hypostases, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and at the same time we believe nothing to be uncreated but the Father" (Burgess 73). Therefore, Origen clearly held that God created the Holy Spirit through the Logos (Compare Peri Archon 4.4.1). Despite this fact, we must concede that Origen consistently espoused a Neo-Platonic worldview that subordinated the Son and Spirit to the Father while in some way construing each Person in the Trinity as God in some sense of the word. This is not to say that Origen taught the Trinity per se. Nevertheless, the divine hierarchy of being notion that characterizes Middle/Neo-Platonism evidently influenced his Christology and special theology (Bigg 152-234). Appropriately, Hans Kung concludes that "as a Christian one can speak of Father, Son and Spirit, without having to follow Origen in taking over the Middle Platonic/Neo-Platonic doctrine of hypostases" (Kung "Christian Thinkers" 67-70).

 

The previous reflections bring us back to the astute words of Emil Brunner:

 

From the time of Origen's doctrine of the Logos . . . speculation was rife in the sphere of theology; thus men's interest were deflected from the historical centre to the eternal background, and then severed from it. People then began to speculate about the transcendent relation of the Three Persons of the Trinity within the Trinity. (Brunner 224)

 

Ergo, despite the vehement dogmatism employed in the modern proclamation (kerygma) of the Trinity, a closer look at Christian history helps us to appreciate that Primitive Christians simply did not think God is threefold nor did they believe that Jesus was Almighty God. Contrariwise, the first century Christians affirmed that Christ Jesus was ontologically subordinate to God the Father (1 Cor 15:24-28). The Trinity is a fourth century innovation, pioneered by earlier developments involving speculations regarding the peerless Deity of Judaism and Christianity (Hatch 332-333).

What though about alleged proof texts for the Deity of Christ? Does not the Bible itself teach that Christ is Almighty God? What about Jn 8:58? Surely, this verse is a clear indication that Jesus is Almighty God. We will address these issues in the next essay.


Gerald Borchert's Exegesis of John 8:58

 

Paul Anderson has written that the ego eimi sayings that one finds in the Johannine Gospel are some of the "more controversial" statements debated in contemporary Johannine studies (Anderson 21). The ego eimi declarations that occur with predication normally do not present exegetical problems (John 6:51; 8:12). The difficulties come when scholars examine the accounts where ego eimi ostensibly has no predicate (the so-called absolute use of ego eimi). In this regard, it is important to point out that most exegetes consider John 8:58 to be one verse where ego eimi occurs in an absolute manner.

In the words of Phillip Harner, when a writer employs ego eimi in an absolute manner, he uses it in a "distinct, self-contained" way. That is, in a way which is "complete and meaningful in itself" (Harner 3). Harner thus contends that ego eimi (when utilized in an absolute manner) does not need a predicate in the context to make it complete. Nevertheless, while Harner and other Biblical scholars insist on the uniqueness of ego eimi without an explicit predicate, we should note that this view has not found unanimous consensus among New Testament scholars or lexicographers. In fact, there seem to be passages in the Greek Scriptures that belie this claim (John 4:26; 6:20; 9:9).[24]

In an article Ego Eimi in John 1:20 and 4:25 Edwin D. Freed examines the issues surrounding ego eimi and questions whether the phrase ever occurs in an absolute sense in the Johannine literary corpus. He repeatedly demonstrates how a predicate could be supplied each time ego eimi appears in the Gospel of John. A predicate could also be supplied in Jn 8:58.[25]

In spite of Freed's treatment, however, a number of scholars insist that ego eimi in Jn 8:58 is essentially "theophanic" (Anderson 21).[26] That is, Ex 3:14 putatively serves as a backdrop for Jn 8:58. This OT passage evidently identifies God by means of the phrase "I AM" (KJV). The LXX has ego eimi ho on, but note Ex. 3:15, where God is called ho on. In view of the exclamation recorded at Ex 3:14, Anderson thinks that the expression ego eimi in John 8:58, "is reminiscent of the revealing and saving work of Yahweh, as well as images used to describe the true calling of Israel" (Anderson 21). In view of what Anderson and other writers have claimed, we do well to ask: was Jesus identifying himself with the I AM of Ex 3:14? Is Jn 8:58 "theophanic" in nature? Alternately, could Jesus have simply been affirming his temporal existence prior to Abraham?

 

Critiquing Borchert’s Exegesis of John 8:58

 

Admittedly, there are a number of learned works that scholars have produced on this subject. I do not intend to discuss all of the immense research that has been published about Jn 8:58, but I do want to review a few pertinent comments on this controversial passage and then offer some remarks of my own concerning this verse. In particular, we will focus on the observations of Gerald Borchert and critique his approach to Jn 8:58.

 For starters, we should point out that Baptist exegete Gerald Borchert believes Jesus clearly affirmed his Godhood (his essential and eternal Deity) in Jn 8:58. In fact, Borchert claims that Jesus transparently identified himself with the so-called I AM of the Old Testament, when he exclaimed ego eimi in Jn 8:58. His comments are as follows:

 

Certainly the juxtaposing of the past tense concerning Abraham with both the prior time and the present tense as they relate to Jesus explodes all natural reasoning concerning time . . . Jesus claimed to be ‘I am’ over against Abraham. That claim was a reminder of the claims for God in the Old Testament over against creation (Cf. Ps 90:2; Isa 42:3-9) and of the self-designation for the comforting God of Isaiah. (Borchert 309)

 

Borchert definitely gives a Trinitarian slant to Jn 8:58: he vigorously proposes that Jesus here identifies himself with the Most High God of the Old Testament. This stance is one among many and is not to be seen as conclusive, however, since there are countless and diverse treatments of Jn 8:58. At any rate, Borchert's main line of reasoning is that the timeless and eternal existence of Jesus as represented by the use of the Greek ego eimi is juxtaposed in Jn 8:58 with the temporal birth and finite existence of Abraham. Thence, John's use of ego eimi unequivocally points to Jesus’ eternal existence.

In view of this data, we pose the following question: is Borchert's exegetical approach to Jn 8:58 sound? Does it capture the vital and dynamic semantic value associated with this fateful Johannine passage? Before answering these questions, it is beneficial to review what other commentators have said about John's use of ego eimi in connection with Jn 8:58.

The eminent Johannine scholar Raymond E. Brown pursued what remains up until now a peerless discussion of our theme passage in his Anchor Bible Commentary on the Gospel of John. Brown carefully detailed the sacred and banal uses of the term ego eimi. And in doing so, he demonstrated that ego eimi could simply function as "a phrase of common speech" (equivalent to "It is I" or "I am the one"). However, he also showed that the formula could be used to denote solemnity and sacramentalism in the LXX, the New Testament, in pagan Greek religious writings, and in the ancient writings of Gnostic authors. Nevertheless, what does ego eimi denote in Jn 8:58?

In Appendix IV of the Anchor Bible Commentary Brown notes that there are four Bultmannian classifications of ego eimi. These are as follows: (1) A presentation formula which answers the question: "Who are you?" (2) A qualificatory phrase that addresses the question: "What are you?" (3) An identification formula. (4) A recognition formula.

Does the Johannine employment of ego eimi in Jn 8:58 reflect any of the uses discussed by Rudolph Bultmann? Brown favors the view that 8:58 is equating Jesus with YHWH of the Hebrew Scriptures. He sees a possible connection between the Hebrew ani hu used in Isaiah and the Greek ego eimi that John employs. Most modern commentators would concur with Raymond E. Brown's conclusion in this matter. Hans Conzelmann, however, does not interpret Jn 8:58 in an ontological manner. He writes: "Although the 'I am' formula stands out strikingly in Deutero-Isaiah, who describes Yahweh as the light, John's terminology cannot be derived directly from there" (Conzelmann 351). The grammatical and cotextual evidence of both Isaiah and the fourth Gospel seems to confirm Conzelmann's stance.

Contra Brown, T.W. Manson has also proposed that ego eimi in Jn 8:58 means: "The Messiah is here." He derives this understanding of 8:58 from Mk 13:6 (Cf. Lk 21:8) where we find Jesus' prophecy concerning the last days: 'Many will come in my name saying I am'.[27] Mt 24:5 adds that many would come in Jesus' name, saying: 'I am the Messiah.' While certain expositors are inclined to reject Manson's view of Jn 8:58 for what they deem, solid contextual and grammatical reasons, it cannot be denied that Manson posits a suitable and thought-provoking alternative to the traditional reading of Jn 8:58. Simply put, Manson believes that Jn 8:58 identifies Jesus as the Messiah of God.  Thus, according to Manson, it is not affirming his divine nature or eternal existence per se. Is this view plausible? Does this explanation correspond with what the writer of the fourth Gospel is trying to convey?

Manson's interpretation of Jn 8:58 does avoid a number of problemata that attend Trinitarian explanations of this verse. It is very difficult, however, to see how Jesus could have been simply and solely asserting his Messianic status in this Johannine pericope. This is not to say that Manson's interpretation of this text is to be rejected in toto. In contradistinction to Manson's exegesis, however, the primary point of Jn 8:58 seems to be that Jesus is predicating both his preexistence and his temporal superiority over against Abraham's relatively mundane temporality. That is, Jesus subsisted before Abraham came into existence and he did so on a higher plane of being, namely, a spiritual mode of being (Daseinsweise).

This approach represents a straightforward way to read Jn 8:58. It is a grammatically sound way to exegete the text. Therefore, to render Jn 8:58 as "I have been" makes sense exegetically. In the excellent work Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, linguists Louw and Nida suggest that this Johannine passage could be translated: "before Abraham came into existence, I existed" (Louw-Nida 158).[28] This rendering more accurately reflects the meaning of Jesus' words recorded in 8:58. It also helps us to understand that Jesus was not necessarily speaking in a metaphysical sense, when he said prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi. Yet, Kenneth L. McKay's translation further improves Louw and Nida's suggestion. He suggests the following: “I have been in existence since before Abraham was born.”[29] McKay's rendition is especially appropriate when we recall that ego eimi in Jn 8:58 is evidently a durative present or present of past action.[30]

 

Summation

 

From our prior discussion, it seems warranted to conclude that Jn 8:58 does not necessarily affirm the Deity of Christ Jesus. Gerald Borchert's suggestion that Jesus strongly asserted his eternality at John 8:58 is evidently eisegetical. His comments again are as follows:

 

The answer of Jesus to the Jews [in Jn 8:58] was an intriguing double amen . . . that focused both on time and status: "Before Abraham was, I am (ego eimi, John 8:58) . . . Certainly the juxtaposing of the past tense concerning Abraham with both the prior time and the present tense as they relate to Jesus explodes all natural reasoning concerning time. . . Jesus claimed to be "I am" over against Abraham. That claim was a reminder of the claims for God in the Old Testament over against creation (Cf. Ps 90:2; Isa. 42:3-9) and of the self-designation for the comforting God of Isaiah 41:4; 43:3, 13. (Borchert 309)

 

In harmony with Borchert's observation, I do not deny that Jesus "juxtaposed" his existence with that of his forefather Abraham. My question is: Why does the juxtaposition have to be a juxtapositioning of time vis-à-vis eternity? Why do we have to contend that John establishes an antithesis between Creator and creature in 8:58? After all, is there really a qualitative difference between eternality and temporality? Biblically, there is not. The Scriptures do not equate eternity with timelessness (Cullmann). This is not to say that time constrains God. Nevertheless, God is not necessarily atemporal either (Boman 151-154, 205). The Bible teaches no such thing (Ps 90:2). What is more, why could Jesus not simply have been making a distinction between his pre-existent temporal status over against Abraham's "ordinary" temporal mode of being? This is not out of the realm of possibility (either logically or exegetically). In this regard, McKenzie writes:

 

Jesus asserts his own innocence and the vindication which the Father will give him. This leads to a clear assertion of preexistence and his life is threatened for the first time. The preexistent Messiah actually does appear in rabbinical literature; and it was also rabbinical belief that the patriarchs and Moses saw the Messiah in a vision (McKenzie 193-194).

 

One of the foremost modern Catholic theologians therefore concludes that Jesus was not necessarily juxtaposing his eternality with Abraham's temporality, but rather boldly asserting his preexistence over against the comparatively mundane existence of Abraham. By making this claim he was in effect proclaiming: "I am the Messiah." Manson's exegesis of this controversial passage is therefore not to be utterly rejected, only refined, because his explanation does not thoroughly account for the existential use of ego eimi in Jn 8:58.[31]

As McKenzie and others effectively demonstrate, Jesus' preexistence is the focus of Jn 8:58 (not necessarily his "eternal existence"). Jn 8:58 does not say that Jesus is God, but it does indicate that Jesus the Christ is the subordinate Son of the Most High Deity (Jehovah our Father). Apropos here are the comments of K.L. McKay who pens the following words: "If we take the Greek words [in Jn 8:58] in their natural meaning, as we surely should, the claim to have been in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction."[32]

The first century ecclesia evidently did not believe that Jesus was God. It is my belief that Jn 8:58 should not be invoked as proof of Jesus' Deity.


Did the Ante-Nicene Fathers Teach or Believe in the Trinity?

 

Some of the most significant extant religious documents available to us at present are the writings of the ante-Nicene Fathers. The voluminous literary corpus produced by the early Church Fathers is crucial since it provides a glimpse into the early Church's unique belief system. In short, the ante-Nicene library of works contains early Christianity's doctrine of God. Most important for our present purposes, these theological documents help us to appreciate the early Church's position on the Trinity and its view of Christ in God's divine purpose. With regard to the Trinity doctrine, however, what was the view of the ante-Nicene ecclesia? Did the ante-Nicene fathers teach that God is threefold? Alternatively, did these men espouse a subordinationist view?

When reading the last question, some readers may feel that we are guilty of the either/or (vel/vel) fallacy. "Stop question loading!" logicians may assert. Yes, certain readers may think that it is erroneous to assume that the ante-Nicene fathers were either Trinitarians or subordinationists. Why could they not possess both viewpoints simultaneously?

Once a proper understanding of subordinationism is grasped, it will become clear that there is no possible way a Christian can simultaneously affirm both subordinationism and Trinitarianism. Why is this the case though?

First, we think that the very definition of subordinationism makes it logically impossible to concomitantly affirm Trinitarianism and subordinationism. But to fully understand this particular contention, it is imperative to define the subordinationist position, restate the claims of classical Trinitarianism, and then juxtapose those claims with the ante-Nicene writings.  This study will endeavor to successfully navigate through the torturous but exciting field of arcane Trinitarian terminology and clearly show the necessarily contrasting positions of subordinationists and Trinitarians. We will conclude that the ante-Nicene fathers were not Trinitarians qua Trinitarians.


Defining the Trinity Doctrine

 

As noted by contemporary theologians, there are in fact many disparate "doctrines" of the Trinity (i.e., the Trinity doctrine is not monolithic). For instance, systematic theologian Owen Thomas observes:

 

Our survey of the history of the [Trinity] doctrine in the text has indicated that there are several doctrines of the trinity: Eastern, Western, social analogy, modal, so forth. There is one doctrine in the sense of the threefold name of God of the rule of faith as found, for example, in the Apostle's Creed. This, however, is not yet a doctrine. It is ambiguous and can be interpreted in a number of ways. There is one doctrine in the sense of the Western formula of "three persons in one substance." However, this formula is also ambiguous if not misleading and can be interpreted in a number of ways. A doctrine of the trinity would presumably be one interpretation of this formula . . . let us assume that the phrase "doctrine of the trinity" in the question refers to any of a number of widely accepted interpretations of the threefold name of God in the role of faith. (Thomas "Theological Questions"  34)

 

As Thomas accurately relates, there are many "widely accepted interpretations" of the Trinity doctrine. These interpretations viewed from a collective standpoint, we can call the Trinity doctrine. Despite certain Roman Catholic protests to the contrary, "the Trinity doctrine" is not distinct from the many divergent, but acceptable (“non-heretical”) interpretations of it.[33] Neither the Eastern Church nor the Western ecclesia has formulated a well-defined, unambiguous or unanimously accepted creedal statement regarding the triune doctrine of God. It is therefore appropriate to consider any treatment of the Trinity not proclaimed heretical to be a delineation of the Trinity doctrine proper, as Thomas writes above.[34]

Despite differing in form, there is a common thread that runs through every interpretation of the Trinity doctrine. This common denominator is the notion that God is one substance (or subject), but three personae: "We must regard the nature of the Son as identical with that of the Father, since the Holy Spirit Who is both the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God is proved to be a Being of one nature" (Hilary of Poitiers).[35]

If God is one substance (or subject), however, this fact ultimately means that immanently (within the Godhead) subordination does not and cannot obtain among the individuated divine personae, who presumably constitute the threefold God of Christianity. Note well: one main point put forward in this study is that the orthodox formulation of God’s triunity rules out any form of subordination in the Godhead. Trinitarianism does not allow room for subordination amongst the eternal, necessary, and immutable relations of the Trinity. Moreover, I am arguing that the ante-Nicene fathers believed the Son is subordinate to the Father because of his unique originative generation (generatio) from the Father. We shall try to establish this point as we proceed in this essay.

For now, it is sufficient to note that if a Christian contends that the Son is subordinate to the Father in any way, if he or she says that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father or to the Son, then the aforesaid Christian thereby abnegates Trinitarianism and subsequently begins to affirm subordinationism. Subordinationism and Trinitarianism cannot exist side by side. Either a Christian is a Trinitarian or he or she is a subordinationist: this is the traditional interpretation of the Church:

 

God the Father is the ground or presupposition of God the Son, and God the Father and God the Son are the ground or presupposition of God the Holy Spirit. God the Son is of or from God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit is of or from God the Father and God the Son. But the Church interpreted this in such a way that there is no temporal priority or subordination. (Thomas "Theology" 68)

 

Since the sixth century, the Western Church has continually affirmed that 'none is greater or lesser in the Godhead' (The Athanasian Creed). There is no priority of one "Person" over another in any respect. So the Church has traditionally maintained:

 

A classic contrast is between [John] 10:30, "The Father and I are one," and 14:28, "The Father is greater than I." It is the perdurance of such lower christological statements which shows that the Johannine community had not made a rival God out of Jesus, but it also shows that the christology of John still stands at quite a distance from the christology of Nicaea wherein the Father is not greater than the Son." (R.E. Brown "The Johannine Community" 53)

 

John McKenzie adds that "a celebrated problem in Christology is found in John 14:28; and it is perhaps best to say of this verse that there is much about the relation of Father and Son which we do not know" (McKenzie 203). McKenzie is of course correct when he declares that John 14:28 presents a Christological problem for Trinitarians. Nevertheless, he is mistaken when he implies that this passage is a mysterious or incomprehensible verse. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is not God, but subordinate to Almighty God (El Shaddai). Yes, subordinate in every respect. In the book of Revelation, Jesus repeatedly calls the Father "my God" (Rev. 3:12). How though could God possibly have a God? Surely, Jn 14:28 unambiguously substantiates that the Son’s “act of existence” or very act of being (actus essendi) is not equal to the Father’s (cf. Jn 20:17).

In demonstrating the veracity of the previously-mentioned observations, namely, that the Church has traditionally maintained the equality of the tres personae in una substantia, Charles Ryrie informs us that the opera ad intra trinitatis: "has to do with generation (filiation or begetting) and procession which attempts to indicate a logical order within the Trinity but does not imply in any way inequality, priority of time, or degrees of dignity. Generation and procession occur within the divine Being and carry with them no thought of subordination of essence" (Ryrie 54). Ryrie is also quick to point out, however, that the eternal generation idea is not "an exegetically based doctrine.” Yet, further in his work, he avers that the idea conveyed by the eternal generation teaching is "not unscriptural." But he cautions us that the notion of an eternal begettal must not be stated in such a way so as to undercut the "personal and eternal and coequal relation of the Father and Son" (54). The Baptist theologian's insights thus verify that the Trinity doctrine proper does not allow room for a "superior" God and a "subordinate" God: "No person of the Trinity is any less God than the others; in particular, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not demigods or intermediaries, subordinate to the Father." (Macquarrie 192) It is important to grasp this thought because of what scholars have observed about the ante-Nicene fathers.

Speaking of the ante-Nicenes, New Testament scholar Robert M. Grant perspicuously explains that: "the Christology of [early Christian apologists] . . . is essentially subordinationist. The Son is always subordinate to the Father, who is the one God of the Old Testament." He adds: "Before Nicaea, Christian theology was almost universally subordinationist. Theology almost universally taught that the Son was subordinate to the Father" (Grant "Gods" 109, 160). It is clear that Robert Grant thinks Christology was universally subordinationist in nature prior to the Nicene council of 325 C.E. This statement is significant because of what the term subordination denotes. In this regard, Robert Wilken elucidates matters for us when he speaks of subordination and the ante-Nicenes in these terms:

 

From the very beginning, the Christian tradition had struggled with the question of Jesus' relation to God . . . Very early Christians tried to account for his extraordinary life and accomplishments and his Resurrection, and it was not long before he was called Son of God--then God. Even so, he was not God in the sense in which the Father was God--or was he? Was he creator, was he eternal, should he be addressed in prayer? These and other questions troubled thoughtful Christians for almost three centuries. During these years, most Christians vaguely thought of Jesus as God; yet they did not actually think of him in the same way that they thought of God the Father. They seldom addressed prayers to him, and thought of him somehow as second to God--divine, yes, but not fully God . . . When the controversy over the relation of Jesus to God the Father broke out in the early fourth century, most Christians were ‘subordinationists,’ i.e. they believed that Christ was God but not in precisely the same way that the Father was God. (179)


In addition, Wilken contends:

 

Arius took the traditional [Christian] understanding of God to mean that Christ, the Word, or Son of God, had come into being at a particular moment by a creative act . . . The problem raised by Arius became particularly acute because Christians were unclear in their own minds how they should express the relation between the Son and the Father. Christian tradition did not give an unambiguous answer. (Wilken 177-184)

 

As this New Testament expert explains, the Christological picture during the ante-Nicene period (second century-fourth century) is somewhat unclear. Nevertheless, we can safely say that the ante-Nicene fathers did not believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man (vere deus et vere homo). The early Christians were not Trinitarians--they were subordinationists. They "vaguely" thought of Jesus as God. Yet he was not God in the same way that God the Father was Deity for them. In fact, both Justin Martyr and Origen speak of the Logos as a "second God" or as one who is in "second place" vis-à-vis the Most High God:

 

And although we may call Him a "second" God, let men know that by the term "second God" we mean nothing else than a virtue capable of including all other virtues, and a reason capable of containing all reason whatsoever which exists in all things, which have arisen naturally, directly, and for the general advantage, and which "reason," we say, dwelt in the soul of Jesus, and was united to Him in a degree far above all other souls, seeing He alone was enabled completely to receive the highest share in the absolute reason, and the absolute wisdom, and the absolute righteousness (Contra Celsum 5.39).

 

As one reads the writings of Justin Martyr and Origen, he or she finds that Jesus was unequivocally viewed as subordinate to the Father in an immanent sense. That is, the Son was subordinated to the Father ontologically as well as economically: "What has provided historians of doctrine for more than a century with an occasion for discussion has been the fact that Justin could conceive in one category the Logos-Son together with the 'host of the other good angels, of like being to him', and that he set this angel-host, together with the Logos-Christ, before the (prophetic) Spirit" (Werner 135).

Additionally, when commenting on the writings of Justin Martyr and his Christologically significant statements, Demetrius C. Trakatellis observes that for Justin: "The differentiation in divinity between the Father and the Son is so pronounced that one wonders what exactly Justin meant when he used the term theos for both of them" (Trakatellis 52). Justin himself shows the chasm between the Father and the Son that Trakatellis mentions, when he writes:

 

These and other such sayings are recorded by the lawgiver and by the prophets; and I suppose that I have stated sufficiently, that wherever God says, 'God went up from Abraham,' or, 'The Lord spake to Moses,' and 'The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,' or when 'God shut Noah into the ark,' you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. For the ineffable Father and Lord of all neither has come to any place, nor walks, nor sleeps, nor rises up, but remains in His own place, wherever that is, quick to behold and quick to hear, having neither eyes nor ears, but being of indescribable might; and He sees all things, and knows all things, and none of us escapes His observation; and He is not moved or confined to a spot in the whole world, for He existed before the world was made. (Dialogue With Trypho 127)

 

Consequently, although immense Christological obscurities pervade the writings of the ante-Nicenes, one fact seems secure: the ante-Nicene Fathers were universally subordinationists. Moreover, in Justin's case, it is obvious that the subordinationist understanding of at least some of the ante-Nicenes is a subordination of essence. We should not forget this point since the present writer contends that it is impossible to simultaneously affirm subordinationism and Trinitarianism. For as Leonard Hodgson reminds us, the ante-Nicene documents show: "The Fathers . . . tried to give an intelligible account of the divine unity [but] never shook themselves free from subordinationism" (Hodgson 100). And as Hodgson also notes: "Subordinationism, as I have indicated earlier, attempts to preserve the [divine] unity by making one person ultimately the real God and the others divine because of their relation to him" (100).

It seems correct to contend that the ante-Nicene fathers never shook themselves free from subordinationism. This thought is quite interesting in view of Hodgson's definition of subordinationism. Note that he defines subordination as making one divine Person "the real God" and the other Persons divine by virtue of their relation to "the real God." What implications does Hodgson's view have for those who want to introduce some type of subordination into the Godhead (economic subordination) while excluding other forms (ontological subordination)? We read:

 

The notion that in the Trinity one Person may be the fount or source of being or Godhead for another lingered on to be a cause of friction and controversy between the East and the West, and still persists today. The main thesis of these lectures, I have said, is that the act of faith required for acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity is faith that the Divine unity is a dynamic unity actively unifying in the one divine life the lives of the three divine persons. I now wish to add that in this unity there is no room for any trace of subordinationism, and that the thought of the Father as the source or fount of God-head is a relic of pre-Christian theology which has not fully assimilated the Christian revelation. (Hodgson 102)

 

The implications for the Trinity doctrine are profound and staggering if what Hodgson asserts is true. In the quote above, Hodgson maintains that the ontological dogma of the Trinity allows "no room" whatsoever for one divine Person to serve as a Fount or Source of Being for another member of the Godhead. Each Person must possess full deity in an underived sense--no divine Person can obtain His personal form of Being from another Person of the Godhead. There is no room in the Trinity doctrine, Hodgson believes, for a fatherly "source of divinity" (fons divinitatis). Contrariwise, the Trinitarian formula (expressed in the Quicunque Vult) requires that the one divine life be actively unified in the lives of three divine Persons. We should thus consider the thought of the Father serving as the source or fount of Godhead, Hodgson writes, "a relic of pre-Christian theology which has not fully assimilated the Christian revelation." All of these factors cause Hodgson to conclude:

 

The Quicunque Vult leaves no room for misunderstanding. ‘In this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together; and co-equal.’ The express rejection in these verses of all subordinationism is good reason for the retention of this document among the official standards of the Church's faith. (102)

 

There is no doubt, where Hodgson stands doctrinally. However, John V. Dahms thinks that Hodgson has simply ignored what the rest of the famed creed says to his own theological detriment: "One part of the Athanasian creed must not be so interpreted as to negate what is said in another part. However much the equality of the persons is emphasized in the creed, the derivation of the Son from the Father is also affirmed" (Dahms 499). Dahm's objection aside, the present writer contends that Hodgson is correctly interpreting the spirit of the Quicunque Vult and the Trinity doctrine proper. While John V. Dahms has shown that the Quicunque Vult may allow room for subordination and the notion of a fatherly fons divinitatis, it seems safe to conclude that the overall thrust of the Quicunque Vult is non-subordinationist in nature. Ergo, it appears wise to agree with Hodgson's interpretation of this monumental creed. Other theologians (ala Jurgen Moltmann) have followed suit and outlined similar Trinitarian depictions of God that some also think are tritheistic. Regardless of how one views Hodgson's explication of the Trinity, however, there can be no doubt that the Church has traditionally interpreted the Trinity in a way that negates subordination and temporal priority in both the internal and external life of the Godhead (Alfs 31-37).

 In contrast to Hilary, Hodgson, Moltmann, and Dahms, ante-Nicene father Tertullian did not ontologically equate the Father and the Son:

 

Because God is in like manner a Father, and He is also a Judge; but He has not always been Father and Judge, merely on the ground of His having always been God. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father. In this way He was not Lord previous to those things of which He was to be the Lord. But He was only to become Lord at some future time: just as He became the Father by the Son, and a Judge by sin, so also did He become Lord by means of those things which He had made, in order that they might serve Him. (Against Hermogenes 3.18)

 

According to Tertullian, the eternal Most High God became a Father. Thus, before God brought forth the Word, the Son qua Son did not exist as an individuated rational being coterminous with the Supreme God. The words of the Christian apologist alert us to the fact that he was a subordinationist and not a Trinitarian. W.H.C. Frend confirms this construal of Tertullian's theology, writing that in the Latin apologist’s theological system:

 

The Word was derivative ("a portion of the whole") and subordinate, and equally liable to Modalist interpretations (345).

 

Frend supplements his comments on Tertullian’s Christology by adding:

 

Despite Tertullian's thrust against Praxeas, Trinitarian theology never had a high priority in the thought of the North African church leaders . . . Fourth century inscriptions if anything emphasize the subordination of Son to Father. God [the Father] was "Omnipotent," Christ was "Saviour." In this period, few African Christians showed much concern regarding the accusation that Donatus was an Arian. (346)

 

The Subordinationist Views of Origen and Novatian

 

The Alexandrian theologian Origen likewise expressed subordinationist sentiments when he wrote: "We can say that the Saviour and the Holy Spirit exceed all creatures without possible comparison, in a wholly transcendent way, but that they are exceeded by the Father by as much or even more than they exceed the other beings" (Commentary On John 130, 25, 151). Concerning this passage, eminent Origenist Henri Crouzel admits that: "Of course later orthodoxy would not express it like that, it would avoid anything that could express a superiority of the Father over the other two" (Crouzel 203). Origen also manifestly stated that the Father made the Holy Spirit through Christ: "We therefore, as the more pious and the truer course, admit that all things were made by the Logos, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was made by the Father through Christ. And this, perhaps, is the reason why the Spirit is not said to be God's Son" (Commentary on John 2.6). This proclamation is a sure sign of essential subordination in the "Godhead."

The early church father Novatian also wrote a comprehensive tome on the Trinity that transparently depicts the Son in subordinationist terms. In this magnificent theological treatise, Novatian waxes in a somewhat rhetorical manner as he exclaims:

 

Thus God the Father, the Founder and Creator of all things, who only knows no beginning, invisible, infinite, immortal, eternal, is one God; to whose greatness, or majesty, or power, I would not say nothing can be preferred, but nothing can be compared; of whom, when He willed it, the Son, the Word, was born, who is not received in the sound of the stricken air, or in the tone of voice forced from the lungs, but is acknowledged in the substance of the power put forth by God, the mysteries of whose sacred and divine nativity neither an apostle has learnt, nor prophet has discovered, nor angel has known, nor creature has apprehended. To the Son alone they are known, who has known the secrets of the Father. He then, since He was begotten of the Father, is always in the Father. And I thus say always, that I may show Him not to be unborn, but born. But He who is before all time must be said to have been always in the Father; for no time can be assigned to Him who is before all time. And He is always in the Father, unless the Father be not always Father, only that the Father also precedes Him,--in a certain sense,--since it is necessary--in some degree--that He should be before He is Father. Because it is essential that He who knows no beginning must go before Him who has a beginning; even as He is the less as knowing that He is in Him, having an origin because He is born, and of like nature with the Father in some measure by His nativity, although He has a beginning in that He is born, inasmuch as He is born of that Father who alone has no beginning. (De Trinitate 31)

 

 

Novatian thinks that the Son was always in the Father. No doubt, Novatian believes that there is a distinction between the immanent Logos and the begotten Word. But notice that this Latin Church Father conceives of the Son having a “beginning.” Indeed, he explicitly claims that Father in some sense “precedes” the Son. The Son is in fact less than the Father since he originated from Him.

Concluding this well-written section of his tome, Novatian climaxes by uttering these telling words of faith:

 

For all things being subjected to Him as the Son by the Father, while He Himself, with those things which are subjected to Him, is subjected to His Father, He is indeed proved to be Son of His Father; but He is found to be both Lord and God of all else. Whence, while all things put under Him are delivered to Him who is God, and all things are subjected to Him, the Son refers all that He has received to the Father, remits again to the Father the whole authority of His divinity. The true and eternal Father is manifested as the one God, from whom alone this power of divinity is sent forth, and also given and directed upon the Son, and is again returned by the communion of substance to the Father. God indeed is shown as the Son, to whom the divinity is beheld to be given and extended. And still, nevertheless, the Father is proved to be one God; while by degrees in reciprocal transfer that majesty and divinity are again returned and reflected as sent by the Son Himself to the Father, who had given them; so that reasonably God the Father is God of all, and the source also of His Son Himself whom He begot as Lord. Moreover, the Son is God of all else, because God the Father put before all Him whom He begot. Thus the Mediator of God and men, Christ Jesus, having the power of every creature subjected to Him by His own Father, inasmuch as He is God; with every creature subdued to Him, found at one with His Father God, has, by abiding in that condition that He moreover ‘was heard,’ briefly proved God His Father to be one and only and true God. (De Trinitate 31)

 

It is clear that Novatian thinks of the Father as “the only true God” (Jn 17:3; 1 Thess 1:9; 1 Jn 5:20). The Son is only deity in a qualified sense. It is apropos that the Son thus turns over the Kingdom to his God and Father at the end (telos). Based on these eloquent theological formulations, Robert Grant concludes:

 

Novatian finally ends his treatise with allusions to the passage in 1 Corinthians (15:24-28) that speaks of the final subjection of the Son to the Father, ‘that God may be all in all.’ His own stance is thus subordinationist and can be explained in reference to his reliance on Biblical passages. Apparently the work is difficult to interpret toward the end because a later orthodox reviser has tinkered with the text. (Grant 159-160)

 

From these affirmations, we can see that Novatian is yet another early Church father who was an avid subordinationist. His pronouncements seem to provide condemnatory evidence against the notion that the Trinity was an early Church teaching or belief.

 

The Views of Theophilus

 

It is also significant that the early Church Father Theophilus was not a Trinitarian qua Trinitarian: he was a thoroughgoing subordinationist. The captivating theological language of this early Church Father is reminiscent of Philo Judaeus' Hellenistic Judaism and it is evident that the apologist closely mimicked Philo's literary and theological writing style. For instance, in his work To Autolycus (3.9) Theophilus repeats a Philonic formula word for word, indicating that the Alexandrian Jew heavily influenced him. By his overall writing and theological style, Theophilus proves himself "an heir of Hellenistic Judaism and presumably reflects some of its major developments in the second century. His doctrine of God uses Biblical texts most of the time for philosophical conclusions" (Grant 129).

Grant also points out that Theophilus is frequently inconsistent in his writings. Sometimes he differentiates between the Logos and Wisdom, while at other times he equates them. Moreover, the Christian apologist vividly describes the generation of the Logos and at times produces modalistic implications concerning God and His Logos. One thing is clear in the writings of Theophilus, however: he is not a Trinitarian. True, in To Autolycus 2.15, he employs the word "Trinity" (trias). But what does the signifier (used in this context) mean? When describing the creation of the cosmos says, Theophilus clarifies matters for us:

 

In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.

 

Does the aforementioned statement by Theophilus demonstrate that he was a Trinitarian? We urge the reader who is inclined to answer in the affirmative to read carefully the words of this ancient Church Father. What is the "Trinity" he is discussing? Is it a triunity composed of three personae united in one divine substance? Hardly, for the text specifically states that the Trinity Theophilus has in mind is a "triunity" of God [the Father], the Logos of God [the Son], and God the Father's wisdom. In this momentous passage, he equates God's Logos and God's Sophia as he often does throughout this work. His Trinity is therefore not putting forth what later theological dogmatists affirmed. This is why Grant notes:

 

A passage in Theophilus of Antioch is sometimes invoked for the doctrine of the Trinity, but it proves nothing. He is offering symbolical exegesis of the "days" of creation in Genesis (Grant 156).

 

Grant continues:

 

What we find in these early authors, then, is not a doctrine of the Trinity--a term we reserve for a doctrine that tries to explain the relation of the three Persons to the one God--but a depiction of three Persons. In other words, we find the materials for such a doctrine but not a doctrine as such . . . Even if this could be viewed as a correct picture of the earliest stages of doctrinal development, the meaning was not necessarily—or one might say ‘necessarily not’—expressed in its initial stages. (156)

 

Adding to Grant’s testimony in even stronger terms, Stanley Burgess comments in this way about Theophilus’ “trinity”: “The members of the Trinity are not named as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, however; rather, they are God, His Word (Logos), and His Wisdom” (32). The conclusion we thus arrive at concerning ante-Nicene Christology is: “Before Nicaea, Christian theology was almost universally subordinationist. Theology almost universally taught that the Son was subordinate to the Father” (Grant 160).[36]

Based on the previously stated data, Kung's conclusion seems to accurately account for the historical development of the Trinity. He pens the following words:

 

We should note that whereas the Council of Nicaea in 325 spoke of a single substance or hypostasis in God, the starting point in the 381 Council of Constantinople was three hypostases: Father, Son and Spirit. There has been much discussion in the history of dogma as to whether the transition from a one-hypostasis theology to a three-hypostasis theology is only a terminological change or-more probably (as the temporary schism in Antioch between old and new orthodox shows)-also involved an actual change in the conceptual model. At all events it is certain that we can speak of a dogma of the Trinity only after the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople. (Kung "Christianity" 187)

 

Kung and others rightly contend that the Trinity was a gradual ecclesiastical development that resulted from an imperial decree promulgated in the fourth century. It was not a first century Christian teaching.

 

The Testimony of Lactantius

 

One of the most damaging testimonies supporting the aforesaid details presented in this essay is the witness given by the fourth century ecclesiastical apologist-historian Lucius Lactantius. Did he believe that Jesus was consubstantial with the Father? Was he a Trinitarian qua Trinitarian? Interestingly, Lactantius was an apologist par excellence in the Church circa 320 CE. This means that his writings reflect the spirit of the Church during the years preceding the Nicene ecumenical Council of 325. Notice this Lactantian apologetic written in the fourth century:

 

We have sufficiently taught, as I think, in our Institutions, that there cannot be many gods; because, if the divine energy and power be distributed among several, it must necessarily be diminished. But that which is lessened is plainly mortal; but if He is not mortal, He can neither be lessened nor divided. Therefore there is but one God, in whom complete energy and power can neither be lessened nor increased (A Treatise On The Anger Of God 11).

 

Not only did Lactantius believe that there was one God, he also affirmed that God is one persona:

 

Therefore all divine power must be in one person, by whose will and command all things are ruled; and therefore He is so great, that He cannot be described in words by man, or estimated by the senses. (A Treatise On The Anger Of God 11)

 

Who did Lactantius think that this one Persona was? Who was this one true God?

 

For thus at length He may be called the common Father of all, and the best and greatest, which His divine and heavenly nature demands. (A Treatise On The Anger Of God 5)

 

From the aforementioned quotes, it seems apparent that Lactantius was not a Trinitarian. He believed that one uncreated God brought forth two spirits who were two created gods in a Platonic sense. This vital piece of information evidently explains why the Holy Spirit does not figure prominently or even at all in Lactantius' conception of the Godhead (Campenhausen 61-86). He lucidly expresses this point when he writes:

 

God, in the beginning, before He made the world, from the fountain of His own eternity, and from the divine and everlasting Spirit, begat for Himself a Son incorruptible, faithful, corresponding to His Father's excellence and majesty. He is virtue, He is reason, He is the word of God, He is wisdom. With this artificer, as Hermes says, and counsellor, as the Sibyl says, He contrived the excellent and wondrous fabric of this world. In fine, of all the angels, whom the same God formed from His own breath, He alone was admitted into a participation of His supreme power, He alone was called God. For all things were through Him, and nothing was without Him. In fine, Plato, not altogether as a philosopher, but as a seer, spoke concerning the first and second God, perhaps following Trismegistus in this, whose words I have translated from the Greek, and subjoined: "The Lord and Maker of all things, whom we have thought to be called God, created a second God, who is visible and sensible. (A Treatise on the Anger of God 42)

 

The testimony of Lactantius solidifies the fact that the ante-Nicene fathers did not subscribe to the Trinity, but were avid subordinationists. Many more examples could be given. However, space does not permit. The examples we have given should demonstrate the main point. More on this matter will be discussed in Christology (Vol. II).

 

Conclusion

 

What can we extract from our discussion regarding the ante-Nicene fathers? First, it becomes evident that the early Church Fathers did not affirm the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. They were subordinationists who believed that only the Father is truly God. The Son was secondary in the thought of the early Church Fathers, being ontologically subordinate to his Father. Therefore, the ante-Nicenes were not Trinitarians qua Trinitarians. This is not to say that the thoughts of the ante-Nicenes were strictly Biblical. It does, however, show that the ante-Nicene Fathers did not believe in the ontological teaching of the Trinity, strictly speaking. We could cite examples from the writings of Irenaeus and Ignatius to demonstrate the ante-Nicene position in a more detailed fashion. But we will discuss these ecclesiastical leaders in the second volume of Christology.   


The Kenosis of Jesus Christ: What Does It Tell Us about the Son of God?

 

One subject that has continually initiated considerable controversy is the issue of Jesus Christ's kenosis. The word kenosis (in this context) refers to the "self-emptying" of the heavenly Logos, who was with God “in the beginning” (Ryrie 260-262). It pertains to the act of self-negation whereby the Son of God "became flesh" and resided among men (John 1:14). This theological doctrine that we will now examine in some detail finds its origins in the “hymn” recorded at Phil 2:5-11.

The term "kenotic" derives from the Greek kenoo, which can mean: "to empty." Apparently, Theodotion was the first theologue to use "kenosis" as a theological term in his translation of Isa 34:11. However, both Gregory Nazianzus and Cyril of Alexandria use the word to express the action whereby Christ "emptied himself." Additionally, the Latin Vulgate renders Phil 2:7 with the phrase "semetipsum exinanivit," while Tertullian uses the formula "exhausit semetipsum" in his work Adversus Marcionem. The real concern for each of these thinkers seems to have been: 'In what sense did Christ empty himself'? Thus we seem justified in viewing the term kenosis as an emptying, and in our discussion it will refer to the Son of God's self-emptying described in Phil 2:6-7. Admittedly, there have been many theories and a number of approaches to Christological kenoticism. We shall examine some of these theories and then analyze the locus classicus of the kenotic event: Phil 2:6-7.

 

The Traditional View of Christ's Kenosis

 

Philippians 2:6ff has often been associated with the so-called hypostatic union of Christ Jesus. Theologians have frequently enlisted this passage to putatively elucidate the personalistic ontological uniting they say occurred when he assumed the form of a man.

In this regard, Bishop Cyril declared that Phil 2:6ff demonstrates that "God [was from] God, being by nature the only-begotten Logos of God, the radiance of the glory and the express image of the person of him who begot him" (Pelikan 1:247-248). In other words, Cyril thought that Phil 2:6ff helps Christians to understand that the "enfleshed" Son of God was "unchangeable according to nature," and "[remained] completely what he was and ever is" during his earthly life. Therefore, he believed that the alleged incarnate God enjoyed "an indivisible unity [of nature]" while subsisting in the form of a man (1:248).

As shown from Cyril's comments, Phil 2:6-7 has played an eminent role in the formulation of Christological dogma. It has therefore proven to be a significant Biblical account vis-à-vis the development of Christological systematizations. In view of its admitted didactic character, Pope Leo thought that Christians should interpret the kenosis of Christ as "the bending down of [the] compassion" of God: not as the "failing of [God's] power" (Pelikan 1:255-258). The kenosis event also signified, for Pope Leo, that both natures of the only-begotten Son of God 'met in one person.' Subsequently "lowliness [was] assumed by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity." The upshot of such an exegesis is that we can describe the life of Christ as somewhat of a dialectical tension between his divine and human natures. This theological data supposedly explains the seeming contradictory events in the life of our Lord and Savior. Hence, one who believes in the incarnation is supposedly able to reconcile the Biblical occasions where Christ appears to lack divine knowledge and looks like he is passible, by appealing to the kenosis. As man, kenoticists contend that Christ was mutable, mortal, lowly, and weak; as God, however, they claim that he was Impassible, Immortal, Transcendent and Omnipotent. To resolve the ostensibly conflicting elements of this theological stance, Christian scholars invoke Phil 2:6ff. Evidently, this Biblical account adequately clarifies the "enfleshment" (incarnatio) of “God the Son.” However, we must ask whether Paul’s words really justify Trinitarian explanations of Jesus' limitations on earth. For example, what is Phil 2:6-7 speaking of when it says that Christ "emptied himself"? What are the implications of this Pauline statement?

The Synod of Antioch in 341 CE decided that Christ emptied himself of "the being equal with God" (kenosas heauton apo tou einai isa theo) when he became incarnate. While the Synod thus emphatically affirmed that Christ is fully God and fully man, it simultaneously contended that he emptied himself of equality with God during his "incarnation" (incarnatio). Consequently, it seems that certain fourth century Christians viewed the kenosis of Christ as the supreme act of humility whereby God the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) engaged in self-abnegation vis-à-vis his equal standing with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The kenosis thus serves as an event that Christians should emulate in their personal lives: "If the divine majesty lowers itself in such great humility, does human weakness have the right to make boast of anything?" asked Ambrose of Rupert with regard to the kenotic event” (Pelikan 3:23). Professor Pelikan also notes:

 

In this he was carrying on a way of speaking characteristic of his fathers and brethren, who took delight in the paradox of the incarnation. Christ, the Son of God, has undergone humiliation in order to save mankind, and it was only fitting that his followers should imitate his humble suffering. (3:23)

 

Probably one of the most intriguing interpretations of the kenosis event is the one proposed by Anselm of Canterbury. In his famous work, Cur Deus Homo, Anselm expounded on Phil 2:6ff and its meaning for the Christian faith. This theologian thought the kenosis implies that the Son of God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit all made a determination that "he [the Son] would not manifest the sublimity of his omnipotence to the world in any other way than through his death" (Pelikan 3:142). In Anselm's theological paradigm, Christ the God-man (deus et homo) had to die in order to effectuate the deliverance of humankind from sin. The Son (in his preexistent state) was incapable of suffering or dying. However, by means of the kenosis--the Logos became capable of suffering, was susceptible to morbidity, and consequently was able to deliver humanity through his holy blood, which according to Anselm, possessed infinite worth. The famed bishop of Canterbury thus concluded that as a result of the Son's utter spontaneity and divine free heartedness, Christ in the person of God the Son "enfleshed" showed himself willing to die and satisfy the eminent justice of God. It was only by means of the kenosis that Christ's death had been possible: there was no other way for the Impassible to become passible.

While Anselm's treatment of Phil 2:6-7 seems to clear up any conundrums that may develop when we discuss the enfleshed Christ, the question still remains--did Anselm really remove the enigmatic features surrounding the kenosis? Does Phil 2:6-7 serve as clear proof of Christ's Deity?

 

Other Interpretations of the Kenotic Event

 

As can be seen from a brief perusal of the patristic tradition, theologians have generally interpreted the kenosis of Christ as an example of divine humility, self-negation and "divine self-limitation." The idea of divine self-limitation has especially been explored since the nineteenth century. Gottfried Thomasius is one such theologian who exerted a profound influence on the teaching concerning the self-limitation of the Son during his days in the flesh:

 

The transition into this [human] condition is manifestly a self-limitation for the eternal Son of God. It is certainly not a divesting of that which is essential to deity in order to be God, but it is a divesting of the divine mode of being in favor of the humanly creaturely form of existence, and eo ipso a renunciation of the divine glory which he had from the beginning with the Father and exercised vis-à-vis the world, governing and ruling it throughout. (qt. in Welch 48)

 

Discoursing on this same theme, Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up contemporary notions of the kenotic event when he dramatically stated:

 

Behold the God who has become man, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves man. God loves the world. It is not an ideal man that He loves, but man as he is; not an ideal world, but the real world . . . God becomes man, real man (Bonhoeffer 71).

 

It is apparent that traditionally and contemporarily, the kenosis of Christ has often been interpreted as an event involving divine self-negation, humiliation and self-limitation. Kenotic theories have frequently been employed to explain how Christ could be "fully God and fully man" (vere deus et vere homo): they have been utilized to demonstrate how he could be simultaneously Impassible and passible. With these preliminary points covered, we shall now take the time to examine this doctrine in the light of Phil 2:6-7.

 

Philippians 2:6-7: Exegesis and Exposition

 

One of the most controversial passages of Holy Writ is Phil 2:6-7. In the NRSV this Bible passage reads: "though he [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself." It is now my intent to analyze closely Phil 2:6-7 and to discern whether or not the Bible supports any of the kenotic theories set forth by ancient or contemporary theologians.

From the outset, we note that the apostle Paul writes: en morphe theou huparchon ouch harpagmon egesato to einai isa theo. What did the apostle mean when he penned these rich Greek words? In what sense was Christ en morphe theou huparchon? Here again, this verse has proven to be a metaphorical battleground for contemporary theologians and exegetes. Many have wondered, exactly how did Christ exist en morphe theou huparchon? Theologian Charles Ryrie makes the following observation:

 

J.B. Lightfoot, after a detailed study of morphe in Greek philosophy, in Philo, and in the New Testament, concludes that it connotes that which is intrinsic and essential to the thing. Thus here [in Phil 2:6] it means that our Lord in his preincarnate state possessed essential Deity" (Ryrie 261).

 

Spiros Zodhiates echoes the thoughts of Ryrie. He points out that morphe denotes "form" in that:

 

Morphe in Philippians 2:6-8 presumes an [objective] reality. None could be in the form (morphe) of God who was not God. Morphe is the reality which can be externalized, not some shape that is the result of pure thought. It is the utterance of the inner life, a life which bespeaks the existence of God. (Zodhiates 937)

 

Kenneth Wuest's views are as follows:

 

It is to this expression of glory that the words, being in the form of God, refer. The word God is anarthrous here, referring not to any single person of the Godhead but to deity as such . . . The word essence in the translation comes from the demands of the Greek text here since theos is anarthrous. The presence of the Greek article identifies, its absence qualifies. Its absence emphasizes nature, essence. In this state of preincarnate being, Paul says that our Lord thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Equality with God here does not mean equality with the other person of the Godhead, but equality with deity as such. The word God is again anarthrous. And this equality here is not equality in the possession of the divine essence but in its expression, as the context indicates. However, the expression presupposes the possession of that essence. (When Jesus Emptied Himself, Kenneth Wuest, 1958)

 

As can be discerned from the aforementioned comments, Zodhiates, Ryrie and Wuest believe that en morphe theou describes the eternal existence and substantial Deity of Jesus Christ. Christ en morphe theou huparchon is thus said to signify essential and substantial Godhood. This conclusion could possibly be true if we understood morphe to signify "essential, substantial" reality. But is this how we should define morphe in this particular context?

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon appears to take a different view of morphe. Other explicators of Scripture also support the stance delineated in this work. In his Greek-English Lexicon, Thayer particularly notes that morphe may denote:

 

The form by which a person or thing strikes the vision; the external appearance: children are said to reflect psuches te kai morphes homoioteta (of their parents) 4 Macc. 15.3 (4); ephanerothe en hetera morphe, Mark 16:12; en morphe theou huparchon, Phil. 2:6 . . . he [the Logos] bore the form (in which he appeared to the inhabitants of heaven) of God (the sovereign, opp. to morph. doulou), yet did not think that this equality with God was to be eagerly clung to or retained . . .  (Thayer 418)

 

Thayer's words indicate that one probably should not conscript morphe to buttress the belief that Jesus is fully God (vere deus). Morphe, based on Thayer's observations, may simply refer to an "external appearance” or “outward reflection." In the NT, it evidently does not refer to the substance or essence of a thing. Christ could therefore have existed as a reflection of Deity; consequently, he would not necessarily have subsisted as a member of the triune Godhead. (For another ancient use of morphe as "outward appearance" with regard to children, cf. Philo, De Legatione 55.) Instead of being Almighty God per his essence, Christ could have simply resembled God the Father outwardly as he lived among the heavenly hosts (John 14:9; Col. 1:15). A number of scholars have become aware of this point in their study of the lingual signifier morphe. These individuals have consequently been unable to avoid concluding that morphe carries the sense of "external appearance" in Phil 2:6:

 

By seeing the expression 'in the form of God' against the common wisdom of Antiquity that offspring bear the visible likeness of their parents, Paul's thought becomes much clearer. As the Son of God from heaven, Christ bore the outward morphe of his Father in his existence before becoming a man and divested himself (heauton ekenosen) of it in order to take the form of a slave. (Wannamaker 185)

 

Additionally, in an article entitled "Ernst Lohmeyer's Kurios Jesus," Colin Brown writes that morphe "connotes visible appearance" (Martin and Dodd 27). Upon reading A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature (BAGD), it is indeed very difficult to avoid this understanding of morphe. This superb reference work says that morphe carries the sense of "form, outward appearance, shape." It is used generically of bodily form in 1 Clement 39:3: "For what can a mortal man do? Or what strength is there in one made out of the dust? For it is written, "There was no shape [morphe] before mine eyes, only I heard a sound" (Cf. Job 4:16 LXX), and the Bible writers also employ morphe to describe "the shape or form of statues, appearances in visions similar to persons, [and] the risen Christ ephanerothe en hetera morphe" (BAGD 528).

BAGD additionally notes that Christ appeared in a "different form" after his resurrection (Mark 16:12). Paul's use of morphe (in Phil 2:6) thus suggests that although Jesus existed en morphe theou in his preexistent state of glory, he did not possess absolute Deity before he became flesh. In other words, he outwardly resembled God the Father in heaven, but was evidently inferior to this same God per substance and rank (John 14:28; 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:24-28). A closer look at the classical and Scriptural use of morphe will provide further illumination on this matter. To further discern the Pauline use of morphe, please note the words of Moises Silva below:

 

If we stress the classical usage of this term [morphe], the technical sense of Aristotelian philosophy suggests itself: morphe, although not equivalent to ousia ("being, essence"), speaks of essential or characteristic attributes and thus is to be distinguished from schema (the changeable, external fashion). In a valuable essay on morphe and schema, [Lightfoot] argued along these lines and remarked that even in popular usage these respective meanings could be ascertained. The many references where morphe is used of physical appearance . . . make it difficult to maintain Lightfoot's precise distinction, though there is an important element of truth in his treatment. (Silva 113-114)

 

Upon closer examination, it becomes manifestly obvious that Phil 2:6-7 (by its use of morphe) does not unequivocally establish the essential deity of Christ. The employment of morphe in Philippians does not necessarily substantiate the teaching that Christ is God incarnate. To derive this conclusion from Phil 2:6 demonstrates a mistaken over-reliance on the Greek term. Moises Silva offers further valuable comments along these lines as floolws:

 

[Lightfoot's] claim that morphe (opposite schema) refers to unchangeable essence can be sustained by some references, but too many passages speak against it. (Silva 122)

 

Silva also quotes Plato (Republic 380d) who inquires about God's ability to alter His "shape" (to autou eidos eis pollas morphas). The New Testament professor subsequently references Xenophon, Philo, Lucian and the fourth century writer, Libanius, who wrote: ouch ho tois theos tes morphen eoikhos (Silva 123). All of these references indicate that morphe refers to one's external appearance (not to one's intrinsic essence).

At this point, we must point out that all of the foregoing does not mean Silva denounces Trinitarianism; he surely does not concede that Phil 2:6 is dissonant with Trinitarian claims. His comments do help us to see, however, that one cannot base his or her belief in Christ’s Deity on the mere occurrence of morphe in Phil 2:6. As we shall note elsewhere in this discussion (contra Silva), the self-emptying described in Philippians is not necessarily consistent with the claims of Trinitarianism.

 

Philippians 2:6-7 and Other Divine Beings

 

To help us understand this point in more depth, it is beneficial to consider the observations of Jane Schaberg concerning the respective semantic fields of elohim and theos. She astutely notes that unity may be emphasized in the New Testament "without any intended implication of equality" between the Father and the Son (Schaberg 8). For example, Jesus claims that he and the Father are one (Jn 10:30). But this verse need not imply that Jesus is declaring himself equal to the Father in any way (Jn 14:28). Moreover the apostle John describes Jesus as theos in his Gospel (Jn 1:1, 18; 20:28). Nevertheless, it appears that the NT writers utilize theos in a broad monotheistic context. Thus, elohim is applied to Melchizedek five times in the Qumran document concerning the ancient priest-King. Philo also applies the word theos to Moses. We may therefore conclude that the New Testament teaches us there are subordinate divine beings or godlike ones who are not to be equated with YHWH (John 10:34-36).

In a similar vein, Phil 2:6-7 tells us that a divine being humbly became the man Jesus Christ who subsequently lived on earth and underwent an excruciating and ignominious death. Afterwards, God resurrected him, subsequently giving Christ a position of authority more eminent than any other in the universe, save that of the Father Himself (Phil 2:5-11). According to Phil 2:6-11 and 1 Cor 15:24-28, however, the Son will eventually hand over the Kingdom to his God and Father.

Jn 17:3 further assures us that the Son of God is not to be identified with the only true God. For John, there was only one true God: the Father. The writer of Philippians also subscribed to the thought found in the Johannine Gospel. He indicates this belief by his use of morphe and the cotext of Phil 2:6-7. Let us now return to our consideration of this pivotal term and also introduce another key word.

 

Morphe and Harpagmos

 

Earlier we reviewed Lightfoot's treatment of morphe and his inadequate claim that the term refers to the substance or essence of a thing in Phil 2:6. The deficient nature of Lightfoot's argument is also highlighted by Robert B. Strimple in the Westminster Theological Journal where Strimple openly relates that for years he too tried to uphold Lightfoot's distinction between morphe and schema until he had to admit that there “is really little evidence to support the conclusion that Paul uses morphe in such a philosophical sense here [in Phil 2:6]" (Strimple 259). Strimple also cites four instances where morphe appears in the LXX (Judg 8:18; Job 4:16; Isa 44:13; Dan 3:19). We now reproduce all four texts for the benefit of our readers:

 

Anesten kai ouk epegnon eidon kai ouk en morphe pro ophthalmon mou all’ e auran kai phnhn ekouon (Job 4:16 Brenton).

 

Eklexamenos tekton xulon estesen auto en metro kai en kolle erruthmisen auto kai epoiesen auto hos morphen andros kai hos horaioteta anthropou stesai auto en oikos (Isa 44:16 Brenton).

 

Strimple writes concerning these four passages: "In each instance . . . morphe refers to the visible form or appearance" (260). Furthermore, it is worthy of note that Aquila employs morphe in Isa 52:14 to describe the "outer appearance" of the Messiah.

Since, as Strimple concurs, the theme of Jehovah's Suffering Servant undoubtedly serves as a backdrop in the Philippians account--it seems reasonable to assume that morphe as used in Isa 52:14 bears a similar meaning in Phil 2:6. Strimple concludes: "meager though the Biblical evidence is, it is sufficient to make a prima facie case for the reference being to a visible manifestation" (260). These exegetical insights do not mean that the systematic theologian views the New Testament account as dissonant with Trinitarianism. Yet, his words do show the inappropriateness of interpreting the morphe tou theou of the apostle Paul through Aristotelian lenses. Strimple's words manifestly show the futility of trying to prove Christ is God via the Biblical use of morphe and an appeal to Aristotle or Philo’s use of the term. (cf. Wannamaker 185-187 for a clarification of God's "outward appearance.")

Next, the apostle Paul writes: ouch harpagmon egesato to einai isa theo. What is the significance of this phrase? The Greek word harpagmos is derived from the term harpazo. Harpazo can depict the act of stripping, spoiling, snatching, seizing with force, or robbing someone. The lexical signifier is also used to describe "an open act of violence in contrast to cunning and secret thieving" (Zodhiates 892). Moreover, harpazo carries the sense of a forcible seizure, a snatching away or taking to oneself (See Dunn's observations in Dodd and Martin 77). Early Christian writers employ it at Acts 8:39, 2 Cor 12:2, 4; 1 Thess 4:17, Rev 12:5, Mt 11:12. The sense of the word in Phil. 2:6 is not so much retaining as it is that of forceful seizure:

 

Once we recognize that for Paul Christ did not possess equality with God in an absolute sense, for the very reason that he was the Son of God, the meaning of the problematic expression ouch harpagmon hegesato becomes clear. Every interpretation which assumes the essential equality of Christ with God is excluded. In spite of certain difficulties, the sense of ouch harpagmon hegasato  must lie in the direction of res rapienda: the Son of God did not think equality with God something to be grasped. (Wannamaker 188)

 

To attribute a passive sense to harpagmos appears to be unwarranted (Hawthorne 84-85). Exploring this issue further before coming to any definite conclusions, however, we will now note the exegesis of Moises Silva:

 

The ambiguous phrase in v. 6, [ouch harpagmon hegesato], has created a literature far more extensive than it probably deserves. In particular, one is impressed by the futility of trying to reach a decision regarding Jesus' preexistence and deity on the basis of whether harpagmon has an active meaning or a passive meaning . . . if one opts for the passive idea, is the nuance positive ("windfall, advantage") or negative ("booty, prize")? Further, if it carries a negative nuance, we must decide whether it speaks of a thing already possessed, which one is tempted to hold on to . . . or a thing not possessed, which one may be tempted to snatch. (Silva 117)

 

In the end, Silva concludes that a sense of retaining may be the most likely meaning of harpagmos in Philippians 2:6ff. But he is forced to admit that such a conclusion is uncertain and not central to the "hymn" of Philippians 2:6-11 (117). Furthermore, he adds that the few instances of harpagmos outside of Christian literature are all active and not passive (as is the case with harpagma). Consulting Abbott-Smith also reveals that "there is certainly a presumption in favour of the active meaning here" since the apostle does not use the LXX form harpagma. Paul thus speaks of an act of seizing: not a thing seized or a prize (A-S 60).

Though being a firm advocate of Trinitarianism, Greek Professor Daniel B. Wallace also openly admits that while it may be theologically "attractive" to construe harpagmos as a passive voice verb (in Phil. 2:6), "it is not satisfactory" (Wallace 634). Wallace convincingly demonstrates that we must interpret the verse in the light of the phrase heauton ekenosen. He concludes that the only translation harmonious with Philippians 2:7 is "a thing to be grasped" (an active meaning for harpagmos). We can thus see that an objective look at the usage of harpagmos in the NT leads one to conclude that harpagmos in Phil 2:6 evidently carries the active meaning of snatching (i.e., a usurpation). This apostolic passage therefore appears to be affirming the fact that Jesus did not aspire to equality with God. To the contrary, completely antithetical to the first Adam, the one who existed en morphe theou contentedly subjected himself to his Father in heaven: "What Christ emptied himself of was his right to be served, his privileged position as the Son of God, and his visible glory [morphe] by taking the form of a slave" (Wannamaker 188).[37]

 

What Philippians 2:6 Tells Us about the Son of God

 

We now come to the culmination and crowning point of our discussion. What is Philippians speaking of when it says that Jesus "emptied himself"? We have touched on this point some in the earlier sections of this study. Now let us probe this subject a little deeper. In doing so, we will first note how Charles Ryrie interprets Philippians 2:7-8:

 

Notice that whatever the emptying involved, it was self-imposed. No one forced Christ to come into this world and eventually die . . . Other uses of the verb empty are found in Romans 4:14 (void); 1 Cor. 1:17 (void); 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3: but they do not really contribute to the understanding of this passage . . . The self-emptying permitted the addition of humanity and did not involve in any way the subtraction of deity or the use of the attributes of deity. There was a change of form but not of content of the Divine Being . . . He added humanity. And this in order to be able to die. (262-263)

 

The observations made by Ryrie show us that he thinks the self-emptying of Christ in no way involved “the subtraction of deity.” The enfleshed Logos simply “added humanity.” Since Ryrie believes that Christ possessed absolute Deity in heaven, he subsequently argues that the Messiah was wholly Deity during his incarnation. Ryrie thus vigorously contends that Christ did not give up any of his divine attributes when he emptied himself in order to become a man. To relinquish any of his divine attributes would suggest that Christ was not the God-man during his relatively brief sojourn with humanity (a view utterly unthinkable for Ryrie).

I must say at the outset that I vehemently disagree with Ryrie on the definition of kenoo and its relevance to Phil 2:7. Greek writings utilize kenoo to delineate the effecting of a complete emptiness, void, or an absolute negation. In addition, writers of sacred literature employ kenos to describe vainglory, groundless self esteem, and empty pride (Phil 2:3, 4 Macc 2:15).

The LXX uses kenos to describe abject emptiness or complete negation (cf. Gen 31:42, Deut 15:13; Job 22:9). Kenodozos also specifies: "glorying without reason, conceit, or eagerness for empty glory" (Gal. 5:26).[38] Simply put, kenoo may convey the sense, "to empty" or "make empty.” Thayer therefore understands Phil 2:7 to mean that Christ "laid aside equality with the form (external appearance) of God." Thus Christ was made void: emptied (negated) as regards his being en morphe theou. He completely divested himself of his spirit nature and the outward form wherewith he subsisted in the presence of God:

 

The verb kenoun requires an object to be expressed which is understood. Those who believe that Christ possesses equality with God in his preexistence naturally urge that Christ emptied himself of his equality. However, my explanation of vs. 6 has ruled out this possibility (Wannamaker 188).

 

No, Christ did not empty himself of ontological equality with God. In fact, he was never consubstantial with his Father in the first place. Therefore, when Christ emptied himself of existing in God's form, he simply stopped subsisting in the external form (outward appearance) of God.

Now just what does this statement imply? As pointed out by William Barclay, kenoo in Phil 2:7 seems to imply that even if Christ was Almighty God (God the Son) in heaven, he surely was not such on earth. Heb 2:11-17 also supports this conclusion when it reports that Jesus became like his brothers in every respect. If Jesus was like unto his human brothers in all respects, then how could he have been God enfleshed? One way out would be to interpret the term “all” (panta) in Heb 2:17 in a relative manner. Such a choice, however, must be determined on the basis of cotext and other grammatical factors. We must not appeal to the relative sense of panta based on theological presuppositions alone. While William Barclay admittedly denied that the kenosis eternally put the Deity of Christ in eternal jeopardy, it is difficult to see how his contention can be successfully sustained. Nevertheless, it does seem that Barclay rightly defines kenoo, though he does not extrapolate the same conclusions from this definition that I have.

But if kenoo does refer to the total emptying of a container or person, another conundrum raises it unsightly head vis-à-vis incarnational dogma. If Jesus emptied himself of subsisting in God's form while he lived on earth, then he ceased being either God or manifesting the peerless glory of God. Ryrie argues that such emptying is logically impossible and that it certainly did not occur in the case of our Lord (contra Barclay). One has to ignore the clear meaning of kenoo, however, to argue for such a conclusion. According to BAGD, kenoo can signify "to empty.” Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that when Paul says Jesus "emptied himself," he possibly meant that Jesus of Nazareth (the embodied Word of God) ceased to be what he previously was in the heavenly realm.

 

Conclusion

 

What can we therefore extract from this survey of kenotic opinions? To encapsulate matters, we can say that the Logos in his pre-existent state subsisted in God's form (God’s external likeness). Despite this basic fact, we can rightly proclaim that he was not God during this time, but ontologically subordinate to God. In order to die for humankind and honor his Father--the Logos 'emptied himself' of existing in God's form, he manifested authentic humility. This emptying evidently entailed Christ's becoming a man, divesting himself of his spiritual mode of being, suffering on a stauros and humbly submitting to an ignominious death. This interpretation of Jesus Christ's kenosis is the most straightforward exegesis of this controversial passage. It is a reinterpretation of an opaque teaching about the only-begotten Son of God.

 

 


Aseity and the Trinity

 

The doctrine of God's aseity is one of Christian theology's primary tenets. In the theological paradigm of most Christians, God is the self-existent, self-caused One: "It is to this very property of absolute independence, or self-existence by nature that we give the name aseity" (Sauvage).

Anselm of Canterbury was evidently the first theologian to employ the term aseity: He used it to describe the self-existence of God. Other thinkers also employed this word and consequently defined God as "the Absolute, the innominable Self-caused [AUTOPATOR et Causa sui], in whose transcendent 'I Am,' as the ground, is whatever verily is." Yes, these theologians viewed God as the One who uniquely enjoys: "eternity, self-existence, necessary existence, [and] spirituality" (Pelikan 5:189-190). Similarly, the fourth century bishop Athanasius claimed that it was "an admitted truth about God that he stands in need of nothing, but is self-sufficient and filled with himself" (1:52-54).

From this brief perusal of the theological tradition, it is difficult to see how we can think of God in any other way than self-existent and necessary. In fact, Professor Jerome Adler reminds us that if “God's existence were not thought of as independent, unconditioned, and uncaused existence . . . we would not be thinking of God as the supreme being" (89). Adler’s comments adequately delineate the traditional Christian view of aseity. Moreover, a cursory historical survey of the theological terrain reveals that God's necessary existence and His aseity are also associative attributes. In this regard, Adler emphatically states that to describe God as independent in His existence "is just another way of saying that God has a necessary existence" (89). We can therefore declare that God is self-caused since He derives His Being from no one. As Owen Thomas writes:

 

God is revealed as sovereign, free, independent and self-sufficient . . . Since God's lordship means the divine freedom in relation to the world, the divine self-sufficiency and independence of the world, many theologians, beginning with Anselm, have used the philosophical term a se, by or from the divine self, that God is self-derived. There is no matter or fate prior to God which conditions the divine freedom. It is in this case that the term absolute is applied to God (Thomas "Theology" 82).

 

Anselm of Canterbury himself writes in a famed passage from his work Monologium: "Whatever things there are else, then, exist through something other than themselves, and this alone through itself. But whatever exists through another is less than that, through which all things are, and which alone exists through itself. Therefore, that which exists through itself exists in the greatest degree of all things" (Deane 88).

These statements go to the very heart of aseity. If God is necessary, then it seems that from a Trinitarian point of view, the Godhead in its entirety must also be necessary (since the Godhead is supposed to be immanently triune). Therefore, it appears that each "person" in the Godhead must possess esse a se. Thus, if the Godhead in its entirety is self-existent and necessary, if each divine Person possesses the quality of aseity, this fact indicates that Trinitarians have seemingly postulated three self-existent metaphysical entities that collectively form one God. Indeed, if the premises stated hitherto are valid, then the specter of tritheism appears to hover over the triune teaching of God. The ontological dogma of the Trinity once again seems to produce irresolvable and problematic antinomies!

 

The Ante-Nicene Fathers and Aseity

 

A brief look at the Ante-Nicene Fathers demonstrates their affirmation of God's inimitable self-existent nature. One patristic who elucidated the notion of God's aseity was Athenagoras. In his writings, Athenagoras affirms a God who is "uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, and infinite,” one “who created and now rules the world through the Logos who issues from him" (Embassy For the Christians 10.1). Further showing that God is esse a se, Athenagoras transcendently proclaims that "God is in himself all things to himself: inaccessible light, a complete world, spirit, power, reason" (Embassy 16.1). True, Athenagoras' words are tinged with Platonic concepts. Yet they beautifully delineate the self-existent character of God.

At this point, however, certain readers will probably disagree vehemently with the conclusion that I extract from the words of Athenagoras. 'Athenagoras was a Trinitarian,' some will ardently insist. Are these sentiments true, however?

In the theological model espoused by Athenagoras, the Logos is not on par with the Father: The Logos is God's "ideal form" and "energizing power" that gives shape and order to the kosmos. The Logos is not fully divine (or fully Deity) in Athenagoras' eyes (neither is the Holy Spirit a third "Person" in Athenagorean theology). To the contrary, Athenagoras regarded the Holy Spirit as "an effluence of God which flows forth from him and returns like a ray of the sun." Of course, we cannot deny that Athenagoras spoke of God the Father, the Logos, and the Holy Spirit subsisting in simultaneous unity and diversity. Athenagoras, however, not only worshiped God and His Logos; he also included "angels" in his theologia as beings worthy of worship (Embassy 10.1ff). This fact suggests that Athenagoras undoubtedly had a very broad view of what constitutes a "god" (as did Justin Martyr).

With the foregoing in mind, what are we to conclude about Athenagoras' theologia? In the book Gods and the one God, Robert Grant writes that Athenagoras constructed his theological concepts from Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy (Athenagoras also incorporated Stoic thought when systematizing the nature of God). Grant provides compelling evidence that Athenagoras' ideas are Trinitarian concepts in utero that simultaneously employ Platonic and Pythagorean philosophical notions to explain Christian theology (Grant 158). The bottom line, however, is that Athenagoras was not a Trinitarian: He subordinated the Logos to the Father. What is more, we must point out that Athenagoras' Christology and angelology were tainted and impure. Nevertheless, his theology does assist us in gaining a proper understanding of Christianity's traditional view of God's transcendence and aseity (158).[39]

 

Is The Trinity Compatible With God's Aseity?

 

The Patristics did not originate the idea of God’s self-existence. The Bible itself unequivocally teaches that God is self-existent (John 5:26). This peerless book overwhelmingly demonstrates that God alone is inherently and by His very nature self-existent (self-sufficient). The concept of God deriving self-existence from a fons divinitatis seems logically incompatible with the notion of aseity. Theoretically, a derived kind of divinity or a consequential form of self-existence appears to be inferior to an underived one as Tertullian implies in Adversus Hermogenem. How can the Supreme Being receive Godhood? Is this idea either rational or scriptural? Summing up the problem, Brunner aptly observes: "In the New Testament the Son, or Jesus Christ, is never called the Creator. This title is given to the Father alone. It is He who 'granted unto the Son to have life in Himself' " (Brunner 232). Brunner thus concludes that the Bible raises the "problem" of the Trinity perhaps, but it does not teach that God is tres personae in una substantia.

Interestingly, the Amplified Bible renders John 5:26: "For even as the Father has life in Himself and is self-existent, so he has given to the Son to have life in Himself and be self-existent." Not only are the Father and the Son self-existent, Holy Writ also reveals that God will reward resurrected anointed Christians with the gift of self-existence (1 John 3:1-3). The charism of aseity will not make such ones equal to God. Nevertheless, they will perpetually enjoy an uninterrupted state of deathlessness akin to the very life of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51, 52).

Robert Knopp tries to deal with the difficulties produced from John 5:26, when he relates the following: "It is obviously contradictory to say that the Father gives the Son life in himself . . . How then can the Son have life in himself if he has been given it by the Father? John is trying to make human language do what it cannot do--express the infinite-and of course his human language breaks down in the attempt, as must all theological language that tries to express divine mystery" (Knopp 274).

It would appear that at this point Knopp finds himself enclosed in a cognitive labyrinth from which he must try to extricate himself through linguistic and metaphysical acrobatics. He is hard pressed to explain how Jesus can be Almighty God and possess self-existence while at the same time look to his Father to supply the aforesaid self-existent life (John 5:26; 6:57).

Knopp appeals to the failure of human language to adequately express the "infinite." Such appeals--although well intentioned--are decidedly erroneous. Contra Knopp, we think we can safely contend that God has provided humans with language so that we might efficaciously express the infinite, though we cannot articulate the infinite exhaustively. As Carl Henry astutely noted, using human language to convey divine meaning and authorial intent is essential if we would understand God's self-disclosure transmitted through the pages of the holy Bible (White 100). In the final analysis, Knopp concludes that the apostle John "is saying that by generation the Son derives his life from the Father and that, nevertheless, this divinely generated life is the very life of God, the very being of God, absolute equality with the Father" (Knopp 274).

Seemingly, this author has successfully delivered himself from the pit of contradiction, but in actuality, he has done nothing more than stay the inevitable since he merely asserts the Son's equal essential standing with God the Father without really providing evidence that correlates with John 5:26. (The apostle John does not teach what Knopp asseverates!) Simply put, the idea of derived Deity or aseity is highly problematic. Therefore, certain theologians reject both the notion of the eternal begettal of the Son and the eternal spiration of the Spirit (Zodhiates 306). Hence, the problem of derived aseity still looms in the horizon.

Despite the foregoing, some thinkers have tried to solve the problems presented in this essay by positing the Father's dependence on the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is, some theologues contend that each Person in the Godhead is dependent on the other two divine Persons. Nevertheless, theologians in Eastern Christendom have traditionally viewed the idea of the Father being dependent upon the Son or Holy Spirit with repugnance and I am not so sure Western theologians generally accept this stance either. Rightly (mutatis mutandis), Greek Orthodox theologians have generally viewed the Father as the pele [source], the arche [principle], and the aitia [cause] of the Godhead. In the eyes of these eminent authorities:

 

The Trinity [is] a unity only if "both the Son and the Spirit are led forth from one cause, the Father"; any other theory [is] "blasphemy" and a resurgence of the godlessness of polytheism . . . in the guise of Christianity." Although the Son and Spirit, as well as the Father, were without beginning, they did nevertheless have a single cause within the Godhead, namely, the Father, who had no cause distinct from Himself. Dionysius the Areopagite had taught that "the Father is the only source of the supersubstantial Godhead; The Trinity could be compared to a balance scale, in which there was a single operation and center (the Father), upon which the other two arms (Son and Holy Spirit) both depended. (Pelikan 2:197)

 

Eastern theologians have generally not been able to tolerate the position that contends the Father has vital need of the Son or Holy Spirit since the Father is considered to be the singular principle in the Godhead (Burgess 2:50-51). What is more, John 5:26 indicates that the Father has life in himself independent of any other Person. Consequently, while the Grecian view of the Godhead eradicates some of the problems that plague the Western Trinity, it still fails to explain the concept of derived aseity in the Godhead in a satisfactory manner.

 

Aseity Does Not Harmonize with the Trinity

 

The Scriptural testimony seems to reveal that God is indisputably a se esse. He is Self Caused. This means that He is neither dependent upon nor derived from anyone. If Trinitarians postulate three personae that consubstantially possess the property of aseity individually, then they are positing three gods. If these same believers argue that the Son or the Holy Spirit is dependent upon the Father, then the said parties face the dilemma of arguing that neither Christ nor the Holy Spirit are vere deus. Either way Trinitarians evidently produce an ineluctable conundrum that they cannot easily expunge. It seems that the concept of God's aseity conflicts with the Trinity doctrine. Which point of view will we accept then? Will the reader believe that God is three-in-one and self-existent or unipersonal and self-existent? The choice is yours.


Excursus A: John 5:26 and Aseity

 

The Johannine phrase “life in himself” (zwen en heauto) and its variant forms is a very interesting and significant formula since John writes in verse 5:26 of his Gospel: “For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself” (NWT). This dominical passage provides a number of important details that should influence our view of Biblical Christology.

First, John informs us that the Father has “life in himself.” Jesus makes this observation in a context discussing the resurrection of the dead, which is an ancient Jewish topic, to be sure. The enfleshed Son of God reports that the Father has life in Himself to show the role that the Father plays in the resurrection. The dead come to life when they hear the Son of God’s voice (Jn 5:26-29). Nevertheless, the Son is able to resurrect those in the memorial tombs (mnemeiois) because the Father, who has life in Himself, “has granted to the Son to have life in himself” (Jn 5:26).

What exactly does John mean when he employs the formula “life in himself” in this particular Bible verse? In what sense can we say the Father and Son have life in themselves?

Before reviewing the semantics of the text, we need to explore another passage in which similar language appears. The germane text here is John 6:53:

 

“Accordingly Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves’” (ouk exete zoen en heautois).

 

We will not address the Eucharistic controversy surrounding this text. It is sufficient to note that while certain exegetes contend that John’s words have a bearing on the transubstantiation doctrine of Roman Catholicism, Paul Anderson has proffered a recent explanation of John 6:53ff that seems to have refuted the Roman Catholic reading of this passage (Anderson 139-140). However one may choose to treat the sacramental issue this text evokes, we now want to concentrate on the clause: “you have no life in yourselves.”

While it is tempting to equate the formula in John 6:53 with the one in 5:26, there is most certainly a difference in view of the context. While the phrase in 5:26 most surely is a statement about the Father and Son’s ability to impart life to others, John 6:53 evidently does not predicate such a notion of those who “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood.” In context, all that 6:53 teaches is that those subsisting off of the blood and flesh of Christ in a symbolic manner will have everlasting life and subsequently be resurrected “at the last day” (note the parallelism in 6:54). The “life” mentioned in connection with the Father and the Son at John 5:26, however, is “life” in a unique qualitative sense. J.R. Michaels recognizes this fact in his commentary on John’s Gospel: “In itself, the phrase does not include the notion that one has the power to confer that life on others, but such translations as ‘source of life’ (both GNB and Jerusalem Bible) can be defended on the basis of the context, especially the parallelism with v. 21” (93).

We are thus faced with the question as to what type of life is mentioned by John in John 5:26? What is the point that John is communicating?

In view of the cotext, it seems that we can rightly infer John is telling his readers that the Father is self-existent and possesses the power to both sustain His own life and grant the same ability to others, namely, the Son. But even the Son depends on the Father to sustain his life (6:57). Trinitarian commentator Michaels even writes: “Jesus lives because of the Father both in his life on earth and in resurrection from the dead, while the disciple lives because of Jesus in both senses as well” (119). Robertson adds: “The Living God possesses life wholly in himself and so he has bestowed this power of life to the Son” (206).

From the foregoing, it seems that we can set out the following proposition, to wit, the Father is self-existent and does not depend on anyone or anything for His continued existence. On the other hand, the Son has been granted life in himself by the Father. The four Gospels demonstrate this fact as they detail the earthly sojourn of the Son. We also witness the truthfulness of John’s account as we take note of the other NT writings that deal with the resurrected Christ, who is a life-giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45). John 5:26 is another passage that makes us wonder how Trinitarians can harmonize aseity and the Trinity. How can the “second Person” of the Trinity derive his own personal form of self-existence from God the Father? The evidence indicates that the Son is not Almighty God. He is rather comparable to the Son of Man in 1 Enoch. In that famed pseudepigraphal book, YHWH makes Enoch the eschatological Judge, granting him an exalted position in heaven. The Son of Man in John’s Gospel also seems to be a high-ranking godlike figure: The Judge of the eschaton. Jn 5:26 clearly delineates the subordinate position of the Christ. He depends upon the Father to possess the type of life mentioned in the aforesaid Bible verse.

 


Does Hebrews 1:1-8 Teach that Christ is Almighty God?

 

Among the many "proof texts" that Trinitarians use to buttress their belief in Jesus' Deity, Heb 1:8 is considered to be one of the most striking and explicit examples. In Greek, the verse reads as follows: pros de ton huion ho thronos sou ho theos eis ton aiona tou aionos kai he rhabdos tes euthutetos rhabdos tes basileias autou (Westcott-Hort). TEV translates the passage in a way that would seem to uphold the notion that Christ is God on some level. It says: "About the Son, however, God said: "Your kingdom, O God, will last forever and ever! You rule over your people with justice," whereas Byington's Bible in Living English renders Heb 1:8 thus: "but as to the Son 'God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of integrity is the scepter of his reign.'

From a comparison of the two Bible versions cited above, translational and theological questions immediately come to the fore. Heb 1:8 makes us wonder how we are to understand what the book of Hebrews teaches concerning the ontological status of our Lord and Savior. Does Hebrews show that Jesus is Almighty God? Alternatively, does it ontologically subordinate him to the Father?

This essay will try to establish a more moderate claim than the Christological teaching of Hebrews as a whole. In this chapter, I will focus on what Heb 1:8 and its cotext has to declare about the Deity (deity) of Jesus Christ. In order to show the first century writer's seeming intent and meaning, I will approach Heb 1:8 from three primary perspectives: (1) From an Old Testament perspective, looking to see what we can learn from Ps 45:6ff, (2) From a cotextual perspective. That is, I will examine the word proskuneo in Heb 1:6 and try to discern how its meaning bears on one's understanding of theos and thronos in Heb 1:8. (3) Lastly, I will consider the syntax of Heb 1:8 and attempt to determine how one either should or might construe the word order in the said passage. This paper will argue that we should interpret Heb 1:8 as a royal account that religiously delineates the kingly status of the risen and exalted Christ without attributing to him full Deity. We will therefore begin by outlining the structure of Heb 1:1-8 and discussing verse by verse how each unit of the text contributes to understanding Heb 1:8.

 

The Structure and Cotext of Hebrews 1:1-8

 

Hebrews 1:1-4 constitutes the exordium of the treatise written to the first century Christians living in Jerusalem and Judea. It is a monumental accomplishment, not only religiously and theologically, but rhetorically as well. Professor Harold W. Attridge interestingly points out that "the rhetorical artistry of this exordium surpasses that of any other portion of the New Testament" (Attridge 36). George H. Guthrie adds: "With its majestic style and high concentration of programmatic topics, which the author will elaborate throughout the book, Heb 1:1-4 may be identified as the 'introduction' of the discourse" (Guthrie 119). Indeed, Heb 1:1-4 will serve as the ab initio of this discussion.

Hebrews 1:1, 2 initiates the Christological discussion that permeates the Epistle addressed to certain first century Jewish believers in a peerless rhetorical fashion. The writer liberally employs the literary device of alliteration as he writes: polumeros kai polutropos palai ho theos lalesas tois patrasin en tois prophetais ep' eschatou ton hemeron touton elalesen hemin en huios (UBS4).

Admittedly this Biblical passage is filled with dynamic and skillful examples of alliteration that instantly grab the reader's attention. It is imperative, however, not to overlook the vital Christological message contained in the passage because of its literary features. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that in the pre-Messianic age, God (ho theos) communicated to humankind via numerous and diverse means and ways through such prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah as well as Daniel. A.T. Robertson also explains: "The Old Testament revelation came at different times and in various stages, and ways, as a progressive revelation of God to men. God spoke by dream, by direct voice, by signs, in different ways to different men (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, etc.). The two uses of 'many' are a literary device meaning 'variously' " (Robertson 557).

While we surely cannot label what Robertson calls, "the Old Testament revelation," inferior--Heb 1:1, 2 definitely tells us that the divine revelation recorded in the Old Testament was only a faint adumbration of the things that were to come (Heb 9:11). For in the last days (eschatou ton hemeron) of the Jewish system of things, God decided to speak through "a Son" (NRSV). Before we explore the Epistle’s delineation of God’s revelatory activity manifested through the Son, two points relating to Greek articles and anarthrous constructions now deserve our attention at this point.

First, we note that the writer of Hebrews utilizes the articular construction ho theos in Heb 1:1. The article, writes A.T. Robertson, "is never meaningless in Greek" (Qt. in Young 55). This observation does not mean that we always understand why a particular writer decided to use or not to use the article at a particular point in a treatise, however. For in Philo, we read that the God of the Old Testament (YHWH) is properly called ho theos (De. Som. 1.229ff). But Philo specifically remarks that Greek writers call the Logos theos (without the article). Origen supports this understanding of Greek grammar in Commentary on John as he too indicates that there is significance in including or omitting the article.

The use or non-use of the article is a complex issue and we do not want to suggest that it is a problem one can easily resolve by arbitrarily differentiating between nouns that have the article and nouns that do not: "It is very difficult to set forth exact rules [for the article] that will cover every case" (Young 55). The truthfulness of this contention can be seen when we note that Ignatius of Antioch clearly has no trouble describing Jesus of Nazareth as ho theos in his writings (Eph. 18:2) and John 20:28 prima facie depicts Thomas addressing Jesus as: ho theos mou kai ho kurios mou. Furthermore, Satan the Devil is seemingly described as ho theos tou aionos in 2 Cor 4:4, though certain scholars have suggested (based on the LXX reading of Dan 5:4) that Jehovah is actually the God alluded to in 2 Cor 4:4 who blinds the minds of the unbelievers (Scott 85). That is, God allows the minds of unbelievers to be unreceptive to divine enlightenment (Rom 11:8; 2 Thess 2:11, 12). The position taken in this work, however, is that ha Satan is the referent delineated by the signifiers ho theos tou aionos in 2 Cor 4:4.

Regardless of how writers employ the article elsewhere in the New Testament, it appears that Murray J. Harris is correct as he observes: "When (ho) theos is used, we are to assume that the NT writers have ho pater in mind unless the context makes this sense of (ho) theos impossible" (Harris 47). Indeed, Harris' observation is both astute and germane to our discussion when we return to Heb 1:1, 2 and note that it is ho theos, whom the writer of Hebrews argues actually spoke through the prophets of antiquity. Fittingly, the author of Hebrews employs the article when speaking of God the Father, for Heb 1:1, 2 definitively shows that ho theos spoke to humans through a Son (elalesen hemin en huios). Thus, ho theos in Heb 1:1 must be synonymous with ho pater. This point additionally means that YHWH spoken of in the Old Testament (the One also called Alpha and Omega and the Most High God in Ps 83:18) must be ho pater (not ho huios tou theou). While this fact does not seem to bother him, Murray Harris does acknowledge: "For the author of Hebrews (as for all NT writers, one may suggest) 'the God of our fathers,' Yahweh, was no other than 'the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' " (Harris 47). This comment in no way implies that Harris disavows the supposed Deity of Jesus Christ or that of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Harris' observations serve to make the pivotal point that the God (ho theos) of Heb 1:1 is none other than the God and Father of Jesus Christ. In my view, the writer of Hebrews seems to maintain a crucial ontological distinction between the Most High God and His anointed Messiah. With that point established, we must move on to the second issue involving articular and anarthrous constructions in Heb 1:1-2.

As mentioned earlier, while he recounts God’s activity carried out through the Son of God, the writer of Hebrews tells us that God ultimately and definitively spoke through (instrumental en + the dative of person) "a Son" (NRSV). Richard A. Young thinks that the anarthrous construction in Heb 1:2 focuses on "the nature rather than the personality of the Son." Young thus concludes: "the character of the Son is contrasted with that of the prophets" (68). He subsequently points to the anarthrous construction in Heb 5:8 as proof of this contention, where Hebrews reports that although the man Jesus Christ was a Son of God, "he learned obedience from the things he suffered." Young again notes that the focus in Heb 5:8 is on "the character of the Son rather than his specific identity" (68).

Daniel B. Wallace basically echoes the sentiments of Richard Young, averring that "a Son" is probably the way Heb 1:2 should be rendered. Yet overall Wallace thinks that there is no satisfactory way to compactly and succinctly communicate the writer's intent in Heb 1:2. Nevertheless, Wallace does decide that the anarthrous construction in this passage "is clearly qualitative," but closer to the indefinite category on the continuum (of definite, indefinite and qualitative forces) than the definite one (Wallace 245). Ultimately, Wallace writes that Heb 1:2 speaks of the Son in a way that greatly sets him apart from both angels and men. Should one read this much into the anarthrous construction in Heb 5:8, however?

As we analyze Heb 1:2, we must note that the expression concerning Christ could be definite, indefinite, or qualitative. More than likely, it actually overlaps on the continuum of these three “forces” (definite, indefinite, and qualitative). Since while the phrase in Heb 5:8 could be either definite, indefinite or qualitative, an indefinite sense alone (while possible) does not seem likely in Heb 1:2. En huios could well be definite here (as suggested by Ryrie). However, in view of the context and the manner in which the writer employs the anarthrous construction when delineating the exalted position of the Son throughout the rest of the letter, a qualitative or indefinite reading is the most likely one in Heb 1:2. Although I tend to concur with Wallace and Young in viewing Heb 1:2 and 5:8 as qualitative, I think that they read too much into the anarthrous construction in Heb 1:2. (The present writer actually tends to favor the overlapping notion advanced by Wallace.)

The character or quality of sonship may be emphasized in Heb 1:2, and the writer may also stress the Son's superiority to the angels and Old Testament prophets. These facts, however, do not indicate in and of themselves that the Son God spoke through was ontologically superior to or is ontologically better than the holy angels or prophets of God. That is, the inarticular usage by the author of Hebrews does not mean the Son is Deity in the writer's eyes (Heb 7:28). He became better than the angels when he received a new name from God (Heb 1:4). Nevertheless, when God spoke through this human Son, he was actually lower than the angels were and on par with his human brothers and sisters, being like unto them in all respects (excepting sin). We do well to remember that Heb 1:2 deals with Jesus of Nazareth and his activity in the sphere of humanity. Therefore, it could very well teach that Christ was a continuation of the divine prophetic tradition initiated in times of antiquity. But he was greater than Moses and the other prophets since he existed before the prophets (Heb 3:1-6). He was also preeminent since Jehovah God created all things through him as the preexistent wisdom of God (cf. Heb 1:3; 2:6-16; 4:15).

 

Hebrews 1:3-4

 

In Heb 1:3, we come to yet another thorny problem in the exordium of Hebrews. Writing in delightfully pictorial terms, the author of Hebrews points out that the Son of God, through whom God made all things (panton), is the apaugasma tes doxes [tou theou] and the character tes hupostaseos autou [i.e., theos].

BAGD indicates that we cannot always discern the meaning of apaugasma. Its active sense is "radiance" or "effulgence"; the passive sense is "reflection" (BAGD 82). This reference work goes on to demonstrate that Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Theodoret and Chrysostom all accepted the active meaning of apaugasma. F.F. Bruce also suggests construing apaugasma as active in Heb 1:3 as does A.T. Robertson (Bruce 5; Robertson 557).

Harold Attridge offers a perspicuous observation regarding this issue, when he informs us that "the context of Hebrews itself, where apaugasma is paralleled with 'imprint' (character), may support a passive understanding of apaugasma, although that second term [character] is not entirely free from ambiguity" (Attridge 43). In the final analysis, after discussing Philo and the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom, Attridge has to admit that the meaning of apaugasma is not easy to pin down. He seems to think, however, that the passive sense is more preferable in Heb 1:3 than the active sense. While the precise meaning of apaugasma and even character may be somewhat ambiguous, the overall thrust of the words in the text are clear enough.

In Heb 1:3, the Son is manifestly identified as the apaugasma (reflection or radiance) of God. The expression is similar to Paul's use of eikon tou theou in Col 1:15 and, furthermore, the phrase informs us that as the image of God, Christ starkly resembles God and perfectly reflects his Father's matchless characteristics. He is not, however, equal to his Father (Buchanan 7). The apostle John pointedly writes that the One who sends is greater than the one sent (Jn 13:16). Heb 7:7 also communicates the principle that the One who blesses is greater than the one blessed (Lk 1:42). As the apostle, priest, prophet, coworker and reflection of God the Father, the Son aptly mirrors God. Yet, he is not in the same category of being as his Father.

We could make the same point about the Greek word character. The word indicates that the character is a faithful reproduction of the original (Lev 13:28). The character bears the form of the original without being identical to the original (2 Macc 4:10). The Son thus externally resembles God without being God himself. Time and space do not permit us to dwell any longer on Heb 1:1-4, however. We must move on to the next section of Hebrews chapter 1. For more information on character, consult Abbott-Smith 479.

 

Hebrews 1:5-8

 

Guthrie views Heb 1:5-14 as an expositional unit that highlights the Son's superiority to the angels (145). In this regard, he is followed by Attridge and William L. Lane. Nevertheless, while these passages evidently form a literary unit filled with scriptural proofs, it is outside the scope of this essay to deal with Heb 1:10-14 at this time. I will consider those passages in volume II of Christology. Now we will discuss Heb 1:5-8 and its Christological significance.

Hebrews 1:5-8 continues to present an argument a fortiori for the superiority of the Son over the angels. However, the line of reasoning employed in this Biblical book does not mean that the writer thinks the Son of God is Deity. It is in the context of the Son having become better than the angels and consequently inheriting a name better than God’s holy and heavenly spirit creatures that the words of Heb 1:5 are penned: "For to which of the angels did he ever say, 'Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee?' And again, 'I will be to him for a Father, and he shall be to me for a Son' " (Heb 1:5 ED).

Admittedly, the presupposed answer to the rhetorical questions in Heb 1:5 is an emphatic, "None!" In the Hebrew Scriptures, to be sure, the angels are called "sons" of God. Indeed they are sons of the Majesty (the Father) and Bible writers even attribute the appellative elohim to them (Gen. 6:1-6; Job 1:6-12; 38:1-7; Ps 8:5). Never has God addressed an angel with the words "my Son," however. After God resurrected the Son, he took his place at the right hand of the Majesty, and became head of all government and authority (Eph 1:19-23; Col 2:10; 1 Pet 3:22). He subsequently inherited a name more excellent than the angels and was in this way deemed the royal and priestly Son of God: "In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: 'You are my son; this day I have begotten you" (Heb 5:5, 6 NAB). The catena of passages cited in Heb 1:5-8 indicate that the royal-priestly status of the Son is being stressed in Heb 1:5. Conversely, Hebrews chapter one does not necessarily  teach that the Son is Almighty God.

Buchanan picks up on this important and indispensable detail, when he declares: "Both quotations in [Heb] 1:5 are related to kings who are called God's sons . . . The first quotation (Ps 2:7) is from an enthronement Psalm. It pictures the kings of surrounding nations plotting against the Lord and his anointed one, meaning his anointed king" (13). Buchanan goes on to add: "It is such a powerful king as this who is called God's Son and his anointed one" (13). In this capacity, the Son of God is empowered by his Father to sit at the right hand of the Majesty (a term for God). Appropriately, Buchanan therefore reminds us that Rabbi Yudan (in the Midrashim) remarked that God would fulfill the promises contained in Ps 2 for the Messiah: "This means that the rabbis considered the Messiah to be a king, Son of God, and Son of man" (14). The first citation included in Heb 1:5 thus points to a royal interpretation of the passage and it demonstrates why Heb 1:5 does not negate the filial status of angels (See Robertson 558). We also better understand the Messiah’s role in God’s purposes as well.

 

 



[1] Christology was always meant to be a readable and accessible work for the public. It was not written as a “scholarly work” per se. Thus while some of the discussions could have been more in-depth, I think the essays appropriately reflect the original intent of the author.

[2] This new edition is obviously evidence of an adjustment to the author’s views vis-à-vis footnoting!

[3] Originally, grammar did not play a large part in most of the arguments found in Christology. The work was supposed to be theological in nature (i.e., it was an experiment in systematic theology).

[4] Howard W. Stone and James D. Duke (How to Think Theologically) note that the English term “theology” etymologically refers to logia (sayings or accounts) concerning theos (God, gods, or goddesses depending on the context). See Stone and Duke 1996:7.

[5] By saying certain scholars or theologians “corroborate” the Witness view, I do not mean to imply that theologians discussed in this work consciously agree with Jehovah’s Witnesses or even purposely do so. Nor do I think that these thinkers share the same Weltanschauung as that of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This type of consensus is neither realistic nor necessary. Those who expect Jehovah’s Witnesses to only cite authorities who agree in toto with the Witnesses are manifesting a unique form of bias that is not shown toward more “orthodox” writers.

[6] Circumstances have forced me to alter the original publication date.

[7] Cf. Macquarrie 1977:268-327

[8] Most theologians refer to the Deity of Christ when they employ the terminology “high Christology” and have reference to the humanity of Christ when they write about “low Christology.” However, the present writer utilizes the said terminology to speak of the preexistent Son of God, who was the first creation of YHWH (Rv 3:14). Alternatively, I use the terms “low Christology” to speak of the man who was known as Jesus of Nazareth. Context will determine how we are employing the formulae throughout this work. Petr Porkorny demonstrates the importance of the earthly Jesus when he writes: “Without the earthly Jesus Christology would remain idle speculation; dogmatically speaking its doctrine would be docetic in character. The history of Jesus is part of Christology” (Porkorny 1997:14).

[9] Consult page 143 of Owen Thomas’ introduction to systematic theology.

[10] For prothesis, BDAG notes that the signifier evidently points to the “divine purpose” that is eternal in nature. Observe how the apostle John enlists aion in Rev 14:11; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5. God’s prothesis may be eternal in that it will confer eternal benefits on humankind. In other words, Paul appears to focus on future eternity rather than past eternity. His comments thus in no way suggest that God formed His purpose in eternity past.

[11] I use the word “model” in a collective sense here. That is, while Christology has assumed many faces throughout history, orthodox Christologies have traditionally put forth the view that Jesus is (in some manner) God. One of the most recent approaches to Christology attempts to show that Christ is God per his identity. The writer extendedly argues that Christ partakes in the very identity of God by sharing the divine throne with YHWH and engaging in both the protological and eschatological works of God. However, we think it is significant that the New Testament neither calls nor explicitly identifies the preexistent Logos with the Creator of ta panta. A prime example of such an omission is Jn 1:3 (See Louw-Nida). The apostle John’s subordinationist theme in the fourth Gospel also seems to sound the death knell for identity Christology.

[12] Some thinkers prefer to say that the tres personae are one natura, instead of contending that they share one nature. In view of the accepted terminology homoousia (consubstantial), however, Harold O.J. Brown seems correct when he speaks of the three so-called divine hypostases “sharing a common substance or nature” (Brown 91).

[13] See Stone and Duke’s discussion of theological validity (1996:35).

[14] Brunner 1949:226-239.

[15] Interestingly, Hans Conzelmann provides evidence that “The Christian use of kurios cannot be derived from the LXX. The reverse is in fact the case” (Conzelmann 1969:83-84). His comments suggest that when the early Christians called Jesus “Lord” (kurios), they did not mean that he is God or YHWH.

[16] Besides Jn 3:16, other passages such as Jude 25 and Rv 19:6-9 indicate that God the Father initiates and “takes the lead” in the revelatory and soteriological works predicated of God in Scripture. The Son serves as God’s minister or agent. He is Savior in that God effects salvation through the Son.

[17] For a discussion of the causal or instrumental use of en, consult BAGD 260. Clear examples of the instrumental en are Mt 12:24; Jn 1:4; Rom 3:24; Phil 4:7; Heb 1:2.

[18] Richardson thinks that the two primary distinctions we need to make vis-à-vis God’s Being are the divine distinctions of absoluteness and relatedness.

[19] Finley Hooper details these developments in his Roman Realities. See 1979:498-500.

[20] Tertullian attempts to analyze the generatio of the Son in Adversus Praxean  5-8. Furthermore, he discusses the two substances that allegedly constitute the one person of Christ, in the same work (Consult § 27 of Adversus Praxean).

[21] Interestingly, existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger lamented the theological use of philosophy based on the apostolic words found in 1 Cor 1:20ff. Cf. Allen and Springsted 1992:259

[22] An example of such “inadequate notions of being as such” is the Platonic Doctrine of Forms. Alasdair MacIntyre discusses the problematic features of Plato’s doctrine in MacIntyre 1998:26-56. See also Wolterstorff 1970:263-293.

[23] Origen’s syncretism is well documented. For a discussion of texts that imply some early Christian writings contained elements of binitarianism, see Pelikan 1:184-186.

[24] See eimi in BAGD 224.

[25] Note how Thayer classifies Jn 13:19 under his entry for eimi (177).

[26] Gerald Borchert even avers that ego eimi in Jn 6:20 is “a divine identification statement” (1996:259).

[27] GRB Murray notes that most exegetes think Mk 13:6 simply affirms Jesus’ Messianic office. That is, most exegetes do not think the divine name is in view here (Murray 1993:391-392).

[28] Louw-Nida of course think that Jn 13:19 is theophanic and may think Jn 8:58 is as well. But my comments here deal with the issue of translation, not theology, strictly speaking.

[29] McKay 1994:42. McKay also rejects the divine identification view of Jn 8:58. See Furuli 236-239.

[30] Richard Young () uses the terminology “durative present” whereas McKay seems to prefer “present of  past action” (1994:41-42). Both formulae describe an action that began in the past and continues up until the present. Young lists Jn 14:9; 15:27; 1 Jn 3:8 as examples of durative presents. Wallace (1996:519-520) cites Lk 13:7; 15:29; Jn 5:6; Acts 15:21; 27:33; 1 Cor 15:6 (possible); 2 Pt 3:4; 1 Jn 3:8.  I consider Jn 8:58 to be a durative present as well. It can thus fittingly be translated, “I have been.” Furuli argues that the translation, “Before Abraham came into being, I have been” (NWT, et. al.), is “ungrammatical” (1999:237). Nevertheless, both he and other Norwegian linguists with whom he consulted think the NWT rendering is superior to the common rendering, “I am” (1999:238).

[31] Existential here is a grammatical, not a philosophical category. See Young.

[32] McKay 1996: 302ff

[33] In private conversations, Professor Philip Blosser of Lenoir-Rhyne College has insisted that there is a marked difference between the Trinity doctrine and interpretations of the said dogma. The present writer obviously disagrees with Blosser’s position. Evidently, so does Owen Thomas.

[34] Consult Moltmann 1984:137ff for a review of Trinitarian development and diversity throughout Christian history.

[35] De Trinitate 7.26

[36] Grant’s words imply that after Nicaea, subordination was not universally taught by the Church.

[37] Hawthorne thinks that we could possibly construe en morphe theou as a dative of sphere (81). Wallace provides examples of this usage in his grammar (1996: 153-155). The position taken in this work is that en morphe theou is a dative indirect object. Wallace writes that this use is by far “the most common of the dative uses” (1996:141). Cf. Rom 8:3; Phil 2:7, 10.

[38] Thayer 343

[39] Cf. Frances Young's From Nicea to Chalcedon for further details on Athenagoras' Christology and its ties to Arianism (page 63).