God of the Philosophers:
Brief Comments on the Godhead
by Lynn Ridenhour
We had just stepped off the bus.
My wife and I were standing near the edge with the rest of the tour group,
mesmerized by the moment. The Niagara Falls was unbelievably stunning. I saw
beauty, power, majesty and grace all wrapped into one.
Then a guide walked by.
"…Sir, you’ve got to look at this…"
He seemed disinterested. "…O, we see it all the time…"
and walked away.
I couldn’t believe it. Then turned my attention back to one of God’s
* * * * * *
The above scene describes my feelings toward our subject matter.
"…Sir, you’ve got to look at this…"
The first time I saw what I’m writing about, I saw beauty, power, majesty
and grace all wrapped into one. Of course, I’m talking about discovering the
God(s) of the Restoration. For you see, unknowingly I had preached the God of
the Philosophers for years to my congregation.
(You must forgive me, but this restoration business is still new to me. It’s
like I’m looking at the Niagara Falls for the first time. By the way, I want
to keep this lighthearted while sharing a bit of history. History, if you don’t
watch it, can get awfully heavy handed.)
I remember preaching on the Trinity, covering the normal topics:
"…We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things,
visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the
only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God,
Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one
substance with the Father…"
Of course, I’m quoting the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D.
As said, for years I preached the God "…of one substance…,"
the transcendent God, the God of "Ex Nihilo." On more than a few
occasions I preached on the mystery of the Trinity, and thought I was on top
of things. Ironically, now that I look back, I was requiring of my people to
believe in a doctrine that none of us pastors could quite understand, let
alone articulate. Yet, this very doctrine was at the bedrock of our faith.
Mainstream Christianity had adopted a paradox to push its faith forward. A
seemingly contradiction. Interesting.
God of the Philosophers:
"…But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the
everlasting King…" –Jer.10:10
"…And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true
God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent…" –Jn. 17:3
Prophets of the old and new testaments both proclaimed "the one true
God" of Israel. The God of Israel is the one true God. That’s different
from "The One."
And that’s the first substitution…substituting The One for the One
True God. That subtle switch in emphasis turned Jesus Christ, the Logos,
into a Greek abstraction.
At first, early framers of the Christian faith saw no need to substantiate
their faith by appealing to Greek philosophers. Unfortunately, thoughts soon
changed. Greek concepts of God began creeping into mainstream Christian
thinking as early as the middle of the second century. One day the platonic
god slipped into our pews unnoticed. The god without a body has been with us
for a long time in Christian circles. And sadly, the majority of Christendom
is unaware, and/or doesn’t care.
In most Protestant & Catholic colleges and seminaries, second and third
century religious history more times than not is skimmed over. We Protestants,
for example, begin getting excited when studying sixteenth century religious
history—the time of the reformation. While studying for the ministry, none
of my professors emphasized what crucial changes occurred during the first
four centuries of the Church. That’s sad. It’s sad because the first few
centuries are extremely relevant.
Hear, for example, our church fathers:
"…Whatever attributes therefore you require as worthy of God, must
be found in the Father, who is invisible and unapproachable, and placid, and
(so to speak) the God of the Philosophers; whereas those qualities which you
censure as unworthy must be supposed to be in the Son…" --Tertullian
Tertullian, around the turn of the third century, already refers to the
Christian God as "the God of the Philosophers."
Listen to Clement of Alexandria:
"…No one can rightly express Him wholly. For on account of His
greatness He is ranked as the All, and is the Father of the universe. Nor
are any parts to be predicated of Him. For the One is indivisible…"
And Clement refers to the Christian God as "…the One…"
As early as the second and third centuries, God’s transcendence had
outmaneuvered His immanence; thus, the abandonment of anthropomorphism. How
different from the God of Israel. Somehow the God of Moses always had time to
visit with the prophet face to face. The God of Israel was never far from His
offspring. Hellenistic intellectualism was quickly squeezing those simple
conceptions from the early saints; i.e., God walks among us and Moses
saw his hinder parts. Ignored are those early Jewish Christian documents based
upon anthropomorphic belief:
"…And Simon said: ‘I should like to know, Peter, if you
really believe that the shape of man has been moulded after the shape of
God.’ And Peter said: ‘I am really quite certain, Simon, that this is
the case…It is the shape of the just God." --Clementine
Who knows how much influence Greek philosophy has had on our Christian
theology? Even today. Just how infiltrated are we? And, more importantly—does
I think it does.
I see great differences in the God of Israel and the God of Plato.
The God of Israel is that God, a material being, whose physical form is
that of a man. Plato’s God is incorporeal and invisible—asomaton.
The God of Israel is knowable. The unknowability of God crept in through
The God of Israel spoke creation from chaos. The God of Plato favors creatio
ex nihilo—creation from nothing.
The God of Israel is the God of subordination. Elohim is the God of gods.
Jesus Christ, in his pre-existent state was named "Yahweh." The God
of the Trinity wallows in modalism, stumbling to give its advice to new
converts. Listen to Cyril of Jerusalem:
"…For there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God,
the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost; the Comforter.
And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into
His nature or substance: for had it been written, we would have spoken of
it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our
salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy
Ghost." --Catechetical Lectures 16:24
What kind of Being is God?
Let Joseph answer. The Prophet preached that "…if you were to see
[God] today, you would see him like a man in form," and that "the
Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s; the Son also;
but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of
Spirit" (D&C 130:22).
As I said in the beginning, this may be old hat to most, and not unlike the
tour guide, some may be tempted to say "…O, we see it all the time…"
and walk away, but for me—it’s like seeing the Niagara Falls for the very