Archive for July, 2013

Expressing Jesus Christ in Greek

I have been asked the proper way of expressing the name and title Jesus Christ in Greek.  The following are some of my notes on this point.  The extended etymology is quite complex, and I do not pretend to have command of all the ancient languages to properly present it myself, so I have quoted an explanation which I think offers a good starting point for those who wish to delve into that more deeply.  At the end of this post I have also included a number of online references which may prove useful for those who wish to explore this subject more thoroughly.

In Greek, Jesus Christ = Iesous Khristos (Eeay-sohoos Khrees-tos):

Iesous (in two syllables: Ee-ay / soh-oos.  Running the sound-pairs of each individual vowel together quickly, so as to produce one combined sound, for a total of two syllables:  Eeay-sohoos.  Or something like, Ee-ay-soos, but getting that H sound in the second syllable seems to be closer to the original, although it is subtle and only infrequently used, as far as I can tell.  And I’m pretty sure Jesus will be OK with any of the above [grin])

Khristos (also in two syllables: khrees / tohs.  Using the K, or hard Ch, and long E and long O: Khrees-tos)

“Jesus” is a transliteration, occurring in a number of languages and based on the Latin Iesus, of the Greek Ιησους (Iēsoûs), itself a Hellenisation of the Hebrew יהושע (Yehoshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic ישוע (Yeshua), (Joshua), meaning something along the lines of “the YHVH saves” (YHVH is the full caps LORD found in many versions of the bible, so we can also read this as some variation of “the LORD saves” – see below).  Thought to be Yeshua (Ye-shu-a) in Aramaic, derived from the Hebrew Yehoshua (something like, Yeh-oo-shoo-ah).

“Christ” is His title derived from the Greek Χριστος (Khristós; alt. Christós), which in Latin is Christus, meaning the “Anointed One”, a translation of the Hebrew-derived Mashiach (Messiah).  Priests (Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 4:3), kings (I Kings 10:1; 24:7), and prophets (Isaias 61:1) were to be anointed by the Spirit of the LORD prior to assuming their respective duties.  Jesus is now understood by Christians to embody all of these Offices in one person.

Not all the ancient Hebrew people anticipated a Messiah, but of those who did, scholars believe he was commonly referred to as the Anointed (Messiah).  How this Messiah was to liberate the people was a matter of opinion.  Some believed the Messiah would come as a conquering king, some as a priest, and some as a cosmic manifestation sent from heaven.  But in all cases, it was assumed he would come forth with great power.

Traditionally the king of Israel combined the Offices of King and High Priest.  This is a probable reason the Gospel of Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back to King David.  It is also to my thinking the most likely reason Jesus denied his role as Messiah in the Gospel of Mark, out of concern for others who were likely to mistake his true role as the Messiah who must die.  This would *not* have been in anyone’s expectation!  It was in fact antithesis to all popular expectation.

Thus, Christ is a title, and not a name.  Common modern variations include:

  • Jesus Christ
    Jesus the Christ
    Christ Jesus
    The Christ

Key Points

The original translation from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek required a number of changes to the name given to Jesus, because these languages did not share all the required vocal sounds.

Transliteration from Greek to Latin was a smoother transition.

The letter J did not come into use in the English language until about 500 years ago (to distinguish the I-consonant sound from the I-vowel sound).

Some sources point out the letter J was not used in the original King James version (KJV) of the bible.  As a result, an early Hebrew leader (Joshua, son of Nun; leader after Moses’ death) was mistaken for Jesus of Nazareth in the two following verses in the New Testament:

Acts 7:44 (KJV) Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. 45 Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David;

Hebrews 4:7 (KJV) Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.

(Emphasis mine in both cases.)

Extended Etymology  [quoting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_and_titles_of_Jesus%5D

There have been a number of proposals as to the origin and etymological origin of the name Jesus (cf. Matthew 1:21). The name is related to the Hebrew form [Yehoshua`] יְהוֹשֻׁעַ Joshua, which is a theophoric name first mentioned within the Biblical tradition in Exodus 17:9 referring to one of Moses’ companions (and his successor as leader of the Israelites). This name is usually considered to be a compound of two parts: יהו Yeho, a theophoric reference to YHWH, the distinctive personal name of the God of Israel, plus a form derived from the Hebrew triconsonantal root y-š-ʕ or י-ש-ע “to liberate, save”. There have been various proposals as to how the literal etymological meaning of the name should be translated, including:

  • YHWH saves
    YHWH (is) salvation
    YHWH (is) a saving-cry
    YHWH (is) a cry-for-saving
    YHWH (is) a cry-for-help
    YHWH (is) my help

This early Biblical Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ [Yehoshua`] underwent a shortening into later Biblical יֵשׁוּעַ [Yeshua`], as found in the Hebrew text of verses Ezra 2:2, 2:6, 2:36, 2:40, 3:2, 3:8, 3:9, 3:10, 3:18, 4:3, 8:33; Nehemiah 3:19, 7:7, 7:11, 7:39, 7:43, 8:7, 8:17, 9:4, 9:5, 11:26, 12:1, 12:7, 12:8, 12:10, 12:24, 12:26; 1 Chronicles 24:11; and 2 Chronicles 31:15 — as well as in Biblical Aramaic at verse Ezra 5:2. These Bible verses refer to ten individuals (in Nehemiah 8:17, the name refers to Joshua son of Nun). This historical change may have been due to a phonological shift whereby guttural phonemes weakened, including [h]. Usually, the traditional theophoric element [Yahu] יהו was shortened at the beginning of a name to יו [Yo-], and at the end to יה [-yah]. In the contraction of [Yehoshua`] to [Yeshua`], the vowel is instead fronted (perhaps due to the influence of the y in triliteral root y-š-ʕ). During the post-Biblical period, the name was also adopted by Aramaic and Greek-speaking Jews.

By the time the New Testament was written, the Septuagint had already transliterated ישוע [Yeshua`] into Koine Greek as closely as possible in the 3rd-century BCE, the result being Ἰησοῦς [Iēsous]. Since Greek had no equivalent to the semitic letter ש shin [sh], it was replaced with a σ sigma [s], and a masculine singular ending [-s] was added in the nominative case, in order to allow the name to be inflected for case (nominative, accusative, etc.) in the grammar of the Greek language. The diphthongal [a] vowel of Masoretic [Yehoshua`] or [Yeshua`] would not have been present in Hebrew/Aramaic pronunciation during this period, and some scholars believe some dialects dropped the pharyngeal sound of the final letter ע `ayin [`], which in any case had no counterpart in ancient Greek. The Greek writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus frequently mention this name. It also occurs in the Greek New Testament at Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, referring to Joshua son of Nun.

From Greek, Ἰησοῦς [Iēsous] moved into Latin at least by the time of the Vetus Latina. The morphological jump this time was not as large as previous changes between language families. Ἰησοῦς [Iēsous] was transliterated to Latin IESVS, where it stood for many centuries. The Latin name has an irregular declension, with a genitive, dative, ablative, and vocative of Jesu, accusative of Jesum, and nominative of Jesus. Minuscule (lower case) letters were developed around 800 and some time later the U was invented to distinguish the vowel sound from the consonantal sound and the J to distinguish the consonant from I. Similarly, Greek minuscules were invented about the same time, prior to that the name was written in Capital letters: ΙΗCΟΥC or abbreviated as: ΙΗC with a line over the top, see also Christogram.

Modern English “Jesus” /ˈdʒiːzəs/ derives from Early Middle English Iesu (attested from the 12th century). The name participated in the Great Vowel Shift in late Middle English (15th century). The letter J was first distinguished from ‘I’ by the Frenchman Pierre Ramus in the 16th century, but did not become common in Modern English until the 17th century, so that early 17th century works such as the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible (1611) continued to print the name with an I.

[end-quote]

References:

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Jesus_Christ
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_and_titles_of_Jesus
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ
http://jesusisajew.org/YESHUA.php
http://www.biblicalgreek.org/links/pronunciation.php
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07421a.htm
http://www.catholic.org/clife/jesus/origin.php
http://www.catholic.org/clife/jesus/jesusname.php

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Reflections on the Triunity of God

I have been asked to offer my thoughts on the Christian Trinity.  “Trinity” may be thought of as a conflation of Triple-Unity, or Tri-Unity.  It simply means three-in-one.  In this case it refers to three aspects of the Christian God:  God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This question has been prompted by a presentation of the Trinity found on the web site http://www.PleaseConvinceMe.com (http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2013/the-triunity-of-god-2/ by Aaron Brake).  My reply will make more sense if one first reads Brake’s article.

An additional resource which I would offer for consideration is Prof. Bart Ehrman’s 22nd lecture (“Did Early Christians Accept the Trinity?”) of his Great Courses production “The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History” (course #6410, which may be purchased on the http://www.GreatCourses.com web site).  For those interested in New Testament studies, Ehrman’s college text book, “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writing” is available from Amazon and other book sellers.  This text book is widely used in seminary courses throughout the United States.  Of course, it also reads like a text book.  Ehrman has also authored a large number of popular books which are widely available and perhaps easier to read.

Much of what I have to say will be in response to what I have read (June 2013) in Mr. Brake’s article.  Brake offers a number of scriptures in support of his views regarding the Trinity.  Discussing these will account for the majority of my following response.  But before going to that depth, I would like to begin with a number of more general observations.  My hope these will help frame my commentary, and make it more understandable.  Please bear with me.

 

Finally, I will conclude with Erik’s Conclusion, which those who tire of reading the details, may wish to skip.

 

Dating the Books of the Bible and Authorship

Under the heading, “History of the Trinity,” “First Century,” “The New Testament” the author states “Less than thirty years passed from the death of Christ before we have written evidence of the Trinitarian formula from Matt. 28:19 being used as a regular baptismal rite.”  There are some scholars who place the Gospel of Matthew (not written by Matthew) this early, but most do not share this opinion.  It is too early.

Jesus was crucified sometime around 30 CE (“CE” means Common Era, and corresponds to AD).  Paul’s letters are our earliest surviving Christian texts, written in the 50’s and 60’s (about half of which are thought to be authored by Paul).  Most scholars place the writing of Mark (the earliest of the gospels) around 60-70.  Given that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources, they must be dated later, and given sufficient time for hand-written copies of the Mark’s gospel to be circulated.  So perhaps Matthew was as early as 65 CE or so, but it seems more reasonable to my mind to place it somewhere between 70-80.  So too with Luke/Acts.  (It is widely thought the same person wrote Luke and Acts, which dates Acts immediately after Luke.)  John is the latest of the gospels, and is usually dated between 80-95 CE.  As a point of comparison, Revelation is typically dated to 95 CE, and the later letters, such as 1, 2, 3 John, and 2 Peter are dated anywhere from 70-110 CE or so.  Given the theology these later letters tend to offer, I suspect they are dated from the time of the Gospel of John and later.

All of the New Testament was written in Greek.  All of the gospels are written anonymously.  We do not know who wrote them, but the vast majority of scholars agree it is highly unlikely they were written by any of the apostles or their immediate associates.  These books were only granted their apostolic authorship centuries later when such authorship strongly influenced which books were accepted into the canon/bible.

Therefore, while one may cite the gospels as the best evidence of early Christian thought (with the understanding that the authentic letters of Paul are the earliest such records), I do not think it is fair to intimate that Matthew was written “less than 30 years” after the crucifixion of Jesus.  To my mind this is unlikely and misleading.  One must grant however, it is within the realm of possibility.

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas presents an interesting discovery.  This is one of the ancient books found in Egypt near the village of Nag Hammadi in the late 1940’s.  This collection of books is called the Nag Hammadi Library.  This gospel was written in Coptic, which is a combination of Egyptian and Greek, and was translated from sources written in Greek.

The Gospel of Thomas is very different than other gospels we have.  There is no narrative.  It is simply a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus.  About half of these are very similar to sayings of Jesus found in the four gospels of the New Testament.  Others are quite different.  I find all of them to be quite thought provoking, and worthy of reflection.

Scholars hold widely differing opinions regarding this text.  All agree it is sourced from early writings, but they differ on what dates to assign.  The latest generally date it to the 2nd century.  Some scholars think some of the sayings date much earlier, perhaps as early as the oral traditions originating within a few years of the death of Jesus.  The late professor Ron Miller believed perhaps a third of the sayings date very early, into these oral traditions, certainly pre-dating the letters of Paul, while the remaining sayings date later into the 2nd century.  Miller’s position is the most logical argument I have heard to date.

A Note Regarding Paul’s Letters

Paul’s writings account for nearly half of the books found in the Christian New Testament (13 of 27).  This is one reason some suggest that Paul is really the proper founder of the Christian religion, as opposed to Jesus.  However, this fails to take pseudepigraphical works into account (books or letters written by one person in the name of another; a fairly common practice in the ancient world, certainly as compared to our modern era).  This insight significantly weakens this proposition, but Paul still wrote at least six letters found in the New Testament, and perhaps as many as nine.  This means Paul penned between 22% and 33% of the books or letters of the New Testament, which is still a significant percentage, and a greater influence than any other single author of the New Testament.

It is also fair to observe Paul’s letters must have been significant to persons in the earliest years of the Jesus Movement.  It took a lot of resources to hand-copy a letter in the ancient world.  First one had to find someone able to write (estimates range from 5% to 15% of the population had such skills; the ability to author sophisticated letters and books would have been a much smaller percentage of the population).  Then the time and materials had to be allocated to reproduce the manuscript (manually written script).  That Paul’s writings survive, and in such numbers, are evidence of their wide circulation.  It seems obvious these were considered important texts by many of the earliest Christians, and later by the earliest formalized Christian churches.

For these reasons, I feel it is very important to distinguish which letters are really written by Paul, and which are clearly not written by Paul.  Of Paul’s 13 Epistles (which simply means, letters), six are considered to be authentic.  This is only rarely contested.  These authentic letters of Paul are:

1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon

Of the remaining seven letters, several are contested and several nearly all scholars regard as pseudepigraphical (forgeries, certainly in the sense of declared authorship; but perhaps not in the sense content – this is a judgement each reader must determine for themselves, and is a source of great debate).  The contested letters of Paul are:

2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians

Those letters which almost no one considers having been written by Paul are:

1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews

I would emphasize that almost no serious theologian believes Paul wrote 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, nor Hebrews.  Hebrews is not even a letter, it is almost certainly part of a sermon.  In addition to this, its author misunderstands key points of the Jewish scriptures it cites – a mistake Paul would never have made, given he was a former pharisee.  Had Hebrews not (mistakenly) been thought to have been written by Paul, it most likely would not have even been included in the New Testament canon.

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the “Pastoral Epistles” (these are the letters addressed to individuals, as opposed to an ekklesia (group, gathering, congregation, or church)).  These letters address questions which presuppose a formal, hierarchical church structure, which did not exist in Paul’s day, so these are clearly not written by Paul.  We can also see the hand of censorship and male domination in them, which is antithesis to Paul’s theological positions in his authentic letters.

For these reasons, these Pastorial Epistles are obviously dated to a later period, and to my eye are obviously not written by Paul.  Furthermore, because they are highly biased and prejudiced texts, I also am very leery of taking what they have to say to heart.  My opinion is these three books must be read with a very critical eye.

And more generally, for those who are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, as opposed to the formal, organized church which come into existence much later, we must also read all of the latest books of the New Testament with an increasingly critical eye.  We must ask to what degree do they observe the teachings of Jesus, and to what degree do they speak to more earthly concerns, such as church hierarchy and subjugation of women?

Inerrancy of the Bible – Context, Context, Context!

Many Christians -I hope unintentionally- depreciate the Hebrew bible by calling it the Old Testament, implying the covenant between the Israel and God is invalid, superseded by Jesus Christ and the message of the New Testament.  I find this needlessly offensive, and for this reason make a conscious effort to refer to the “Old Testament” as the Hebrew bible.  Christian canonical texts, I prefer to either call the Christian bible, or the New Testament.

The Hebrew bible and Christian bible simply are not be inerrant.  Both bibles themselves demonstrate this point in that they contain obvious contradictions.  This is conclusive evidence.  Both also at times wax poetic, employing metaphoric language.  This is perfectly fine, but we cannot reasonably hold the position that these scriptures are inerrant.  Inspired?  Texts of deep spiritual value?  Certainly so!  But written by men (and few, if any, women).  Not written by the Hand of God (which is an example of metaphoric language).

My seminary classes have taught me each book of the bible should be read in light of its own context, taking into account when it was written, by whom, to whom, and for what reason.  Before we engage a given scripture, we should be aware of these elements of the book or letter from which we are reading.  This provides the frame work which allows us the best opportunity to understand the scripture.  When was it written?  What was happening in the surrounding culture at that time?  By whom was it written?  Do we know the author?  Were there multiple authors?  To whom was it written?  Who is the intended audience?  For what reason was it written?

I have come to completely agree with the assertion each book of the bible must be read based upon its own merits.  If we simply conflate them all, smashing them all together, we miss the subtle points each attempts to make, and in many cases we miss the emphasis each individual book or letter wishes to make.  These are subtle yet important clues guiding us to a more thorough understanding of each text.

Consider the Genealogy of Jesus.  Doing so shows us example both of discrepancies between the texts, and of the importance of knowing the context in which, and for which, the various texts were written.  Knowing the context offers us additional insight as to the intended message of the text.

Matthew opens by tracing Jesus back to Abraham, so as to emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus.  Luke 3:38, traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam (of Adam and Eve fame), and in fact, to God himself!  The best reason I have heard for doing so, is to establish Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) for *all* those decedent of Adam (every living person, in other words).  As opposed to emphasizing the Jewishness of Jesus, Luke emphasizes the human-ness of Jesus;  and simultaneously, Jesus’ divine heritage, in that his genealogy begins with God himself.  Some may claim this demonstrates that Jesus was simultaneously Man-and-God.  Perhaps.  But if so, you and I are equally so  (being equally decedents of Adam, in this context).

Trinitarian Heresies

Under the heading of “Trinitarian Heresies” the author, Mr. Brake, notes several interpretations of the Trinity which he considers mistaken.  One of these heresies is called Modalism, which is an attempt to understand God as manifesting in modes of existence.

Please note:  heresy is relative to orthodoxy (lower case: not to be confused with a person who is a member of an Eastern Orthodox church).  In the Greek, otho means correct; doxa means common or popular opinion.  Therefore, orthodoxy means holding the correct, or common, opinion.  Heresy derives from the Greek hairesis, which is literally, the act of choosing; in this context, choosing the wrong belief, which is defined as contrary to that of the orthodox belief.  Therefore, we can see that no one believes themselves to be a heretic; instead they would adopt what they believe to be the correct opinion.

Modalism is offered as an attempt to demonstrate there is only a single God, but at the same time, God is also revealed to humans as Jesus and as the Holy Spirit.  This distinction of One-ness was considered especially important in the ancient world because Christianity was defining itself while surrounded by polytheists (with the exception of the Jewish religion).  But Christians understood themselves to be monotheists.  So some means of explaining that three apparent Gods, were in truth the same God, had to be developed.  So persons subscribing to Modalism stated that Jesus and the Spirit were also God the Father; that God the Father manifests in three modes of existence.  One God, not three.

Brake says of Modalism, “God is one Person who appears in three different modes or is known by three different names: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To put it another way, Jesus is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

By way of example, the author cites a fairly common attempt to clarify this:  “The Trinity is like a man who has three different roles as husband, father, and son.”  In fact, this is an example I sometimes use.  The key point is found in the nature of the relationship we have with this person (as husband, father, or son).  The differences are found in the means of relating, one to the other.  I feel this example does help one get a sense of the nature of the proposed Trinity.  However, the author is correct to point out one cannot take this too literally, as it only leads to a partial understanding of the Trinity.

Now, if one makes the additional assumption -as does Brake- that “God exists and manifests Himself in one form at a time,” this will certainly lead to a misunderstanding or corruption of the concept of the Trinity.  However, I do not believe this is an accurate representation of Modalism.  To sum Modalism in this light is to present the Persons of God as experiencing serial existences.  I do not think that is an accurate characterization of Modalism, because as I understand Modalism, it portrays the Persons of God as separate, yet also existing simultaneously; not serially.

The understanding of the Trinity evolved over several centuries.  Modalism was one step along that evolution, and Prof. Ehrman states that it may even have been a majority opinion at the end of the 2nd century.  Ironically, its fundamental difficulty was in failing to express sufficient separateness between God the Father and God the Son.  This lead to the untenable position that God the Father -in the Person of the Son- was made to suffer crucifixion.

As history has shown us, the view which won out was that God is one, yet of three Essences or Persons.  I am reminded of the common depiction in Hindu artwork, displaying multiple faces on some of their deities.  This is a means of representing the “multiple faces” or “personas” of the deity; it is not to be taken literally.  So too with the multiple arms.  These are depicting the many ways in which the deity is active in the world, not that the deity is thought to literally have many arms.

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The author of the article published at PleaseConvinceMe.com states the Trinity is a Central Doctrine of Christianity, because this is one of the core doctrines which distinguishes Christianity from any other religion.  I suppose that presumption is generally accepted by most Christians, and I will tentatively grant that point.  This is especially true in the exoteric, or outer, expression of Christianity.  But I find it to be less so in the esoteric, or inner, expression of Christianity (Christian Mysticism).

However, as there are other religions which understand God to be emanate in this world in multiple aspects or persons, I do not fully agree if one takes a wider view of the underlying principal of multiple persons, or personas, of the Divine.  One might successfully argue specifically that the idea of the Trinity is unique to Christianity, but not that of the principal of multiple emanation of the Divine.  So this point may be reasonably argued in either the positive or negative, depending whether one is arguing a more narrow Christian-centric position, or a generalized principal of Divine emanation.

Furthermore, it is my opinion the Trinity is a secondary tenet of Christianity, not a primary tenet.  My position is the central tenet of Christianity -which is unique to Christianity- is Christ, specifically in the person of Jesus.

Christology

Christology is the area of Christian theology which concerns itself with the study of the nature and person of Jesus Christ.  The complexities of Christology is a topic for discussion some other day, but I believe it will be useful to touch upon it here.

The word Christ derives from the Greek word for anointed, christos, which in turn was used in place of the Hebrew word, mashiach (messiah, which means anointed).  So Christ and Messiah mean the same thing -anointed- it is just a matter of derivation from either Greek or Hebrew.

The aspect of Christology which pertains to our understanding of the Trinity is this:  how do we understand Jesus versus the Christ?

In other words, when did Jesus become Divine?  Did Jesus become Divine after he was raised from death?  This would seem to be the understanding presented in Romans 1:3-4 and and Acts 2.  Or perhaps at his baptism?  This may be the case in the synoptic Gospels, in which the Holy Spirit (Ruach Hakodesh of Hashem) descended upon/into Jesus.  And as Prof. Ehrman prefers to relate the translations of what he considers the earliest and best manuscripts, “…*today* you have become my Son….”  Or was he existent prior to the formation of the world, as related in the Gospel of John?

A related question is how human was Jesus, and how Divine was Jesus?  Understandings of this too have evolved over time.  Some have felt Jesus was fully human and the Christ came to dwell within him, and later left him.  Some have felt Jesus was always entirely Divine and only appeared to be human.  And some felt that Jesus was born fully human and later became “adopted” by God, and thereupon become fully Divine.  We see here many questions which may provide insight as to the nature of the Trinity.

Ultimately the orthodox view came to be that Jesus was both fully human and simultaneously fully Divine.  How this is possible is left as a Divine Mystery.  I suspect our investigation of the Trinity is going to lead to a very similar conclusion – namely, that God is simultaneously One and Three; one Being expressed as three Persons.  How?  This too is a Divine Mystery.

Defining the Doctrine of the Trinity

Early in his article, Mr. Brake offers a number of points which define his understanding of the Doctrine of the Trinity:

A Basic Definition: “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is a logical deduction based on three lines of evidence presented in the Bible: 1) There is one God. 2) The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. 3) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.  (A number of scriptures are cited in support of these assertions, the exploration of which will take up the majority of my reply to follow.)

God is Triune: “He exists eternally and simultaneously as three distinct and distinguishable persons (though not separate): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three persons in the Godhead, or Divine Being, share equally and completely the one divine nature, and are therefore the same God—coequal in attributes, nature and glory. God has revealed himself as one in essence or substance (being), but three in subsistence (person-hood). In terms of what God is (essence), God is one; in terms of who God is (subsistence), God is three.”

“We worship one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance…The entire three persons are coeternal and coequal with one another, so that…we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity” (The Athanasian Creed).

“Trinity can thus be defined as three persons in one divine essence or as one divine essence subsisting in three modes, the unity of essence being guaranteed by the consubstantiality and coinherence of the persons, the distinction of persons being manifest in their relations.”

An Attempt to Clarify

While I suspect the foregoing is technically correct, for me, it needs to be offered with greater clarity.  I feel Brake’s best attempt to do so is found under the heading “The ‘Is’ of predication vs. the ‘Is’ of identity.”  His example is that we may accurately state that “Jesus is God” however, we can NOT correctly state that “God is Jesus.”  We are able to state that Jesus is God, because all that Jesus is, is contained within that which is God.  But the reverse is not also true.  In other words, Jesus is a “smaller container” than God.  Jesus is also not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not Jesus.  Therefore, Jesus is also a “smaller container” than is the Holy Spirit.

But may we say the same thing about The Father?  This point is not addressed by Brake, but as I read his article, God is the same thing as saying God the Father, so I suspect his answer is in the negative.  I think we can defend a different case, however.

Ontology of the Unknowable-Ineffable-Transcendent God

I contend that we *may* also state that The Father is a “smaller container” than is God.  In this view I am defining “God” as the Ineffable-Transcendent aspect of the Divine.  There is no larger concept of God, than the Ineffable-Transcendent.  The Ineffable-Transcendent is beyond human comprehension or imagination.  At this extreme, we simply have nothing to say about “God.”  The Ineffable-Transcendent aspect of God is that which is outside the scope of our universe.  The only thing we may say about such a Being, is we can know nothing of It.

In my view, it is from this most extreme aspect of the Divine that all other aspects of the Divine are emanate.  And it is only those aspects of the Divine which are emanate inside our universe, which we have any hope of meaningfully addressing or attempting to apprehend.  In fact, I believe we are stretching the capacity of our comprehension to understand those aspects of the Divine which are emanate in our own world.

And for me this is a fundamentally critical observation!

My personal reflection on the meaning of the Trinity, and of the nature of God -at least what we may be able to apprehend of the incomprehensible- flows from this understanding.  In my opinion this is the single most important point we must grasp when trying to think about “God.”  If we get this right, a great deal of theological speculation falls into place.

So we start with the assertion the most extreme aspect of the Divine is completely unknowable to us.  This means the most fundamental, radical (in the sense of “root” or “beginning”) concept we need to hold about “God” is that “God” is beyond our grasp.  As a friend of mine -Charles Perdue- is fond of saying, no matter what we think we know of God, “God is all that and more!”

This is also important to our theological speculations because we then realize that whatever we have to say about God, there is always room for additional understandings or apprehensions of God.  This should make us very humble.  We should be very leery of telling another person they fail to understand God, while our understanding of God is correct.  (Committing and sanctioning violent or murderous acts is one of my few limitations in this regard.  I consider murdering in the name of God (anyone’s God!) to be among the most evil acts one may commit.)

The second major point to be made, is that what we do apprehend of God is limited to that which is emanate in our world and experience.  Given our own ability to perceive provides the limits of our ability to experience the Divine, this must be so.

And it is from this point that I strive to place meaning to the concept of the Christian Trinity.  We are dealing with Divine emanations into our world.  Another way of saying this, is that we are not really defining God, but rather we are defining the lens or lenses through which *we* perceive God.  And another way of saying that, is God is always the same – it is we who change, and as we change our perceptions of God, God appears to us to change.  But this is illusionary.  It is merely a matter of perspective.  We are nails attempting to fix water in place.

Only with this understanding in mind may we begin to define God.  And we do so with the foreknowledge such a God must be made to fit within our human limitations.  The more closely we define God, the more we limit and diminish God; the more human we make God.  Yet, so long as we remain human, we *must* diminish the Ineffable-Transcendent God in order to hold any concept of God.  But it is important we do so mindfully.

Evaluation of Scriptural Citations

I now return to Mr. Brake’s article, and will address each scripture Brake cites as evidence of the Christian Trinity.  Brake begins this section by providing us with a working definition of the the Doctrine of the Trinity:

“Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

I remind you that Brake says the doctrine of the Trinity “is a logical deduction based on three lines of evidence presented in the Bible,” which he sums in three statements:

1. There is one God.
2. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.
3. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.

For each of these statements he provides a number of scriptural citations in support of the claim.  These will be the individual verses which I discuss below.  At the very end, I will offer my conclusion.

1. There is one God

1.A. Deut. 6:4

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

Alternate translations read:

The Lord our God is one Lord;
The Lord our God, the Lord is one;
The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.

As I stated in my introduction, context is important.  The following is provides the context of Deuteronomy Chapter 6:

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Great Commandment

6 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem [OR: as a frontlet] on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

1.B. 1 Tim. 2:5

Below is the context of 1 Timothy Chapter 2, in which we find this verse:

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Instructions concerning Prayer

2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all

—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth [other ancient authorities add “in Christ”], I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman [OR: wife] learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman [OR: wife] to teach or to have authority over a man [OR: her husband]; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

1.C. James 2:19

For context, below is the text of James Chapter 2, verses 14-26:

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Faith without Works Is Dead

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters [in the original Greek ‘My brothers’], if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Erik’s opinion:  I personally find the above unconvincing in terms of proving the Trinity.  If these passages prove anything, it is that there is one God, not three-in-one.  So I am in apparent agreement with Mr. Brake in-so-far-as he offers these passages to demonstrate there is only one God.

2. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God…

2.A. John 8:58,  “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ ”

Erik’s opinion:  Well, this is the Gospel of John after all!  Here we find numerous “I Am” statements by Jesus.  But we have to be careful with the interpretation of the Gospel of John for two reasons:  (1)  It is the last of the four canonical gospels, written sometime around 95 CE (contemporary with The Book of Revelation).  And (2) it is written in a very mythic style.  Some have proposed it is best understood as an extended parable.

Now, I happen to really like the Gospel of John for its beautiful wording and poetic descriptions.  I also find a deep affinity with some of Jesus’ “I Am” statements, such as John 14:20 where Jesus says,  “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  In other words, we all have something of the Divine within us, and we may all aspire to reunite our Inner Divinity with the Ineffable Divine; which is to say we may all aspire to realize and ultimately obtain theosis:  we are in God, and God is in us.

2.B. Acts 5:3-4

The following offers the fuller context of, Acts 5:1-11

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Ananias and Sapphira

5 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us[a] but to God!” 5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6 The young men came and wrapped up his body,[b] then carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
Erik’s opinion:  Perhaps this is a misprint?  I cannot imagine how Acts 5:3-4 is supposed to support the idea of the Trinity, and specifically the part of the claim which states:  “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.”

2.C. 1 Cor. 1:3

1 Corinthians Chapter 1

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Salutation

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord [in the Greek, “theirs”] and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my [other ancient authorities lack “my”] God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of [or “to”] Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Erik’s opinion:  This is a letter of Paul.  Paul’s letters typically followed the formal Greek format, and this includes a greeting/salutation, of which verse 1:3 is a part.  I would not take it too literally, and certainly not in an attempt to demonstrate a subtle point.  When we write “Dear X” at the beginning of a formal letter, we do not mean the person being addressed is necessarily “dear” to our heart.  So too in Paul’s salutation.

2.D. Eph. 4:30 (“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.”)

For greater context, Ephesians 4:17-32

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Rules for the New Life

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up [other ancient authorities read “building up faith”], as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you [other ancient authorities read “us”].

Erik’s opinion:  I do not see this as clearly supporting the doctrine of the Trinity.  This could just as easily be addressing an aspect of, or an emanation of, God; or an emanate aspect of the Ineffable.  When speaking of the Holy Spirit/Ghost I often think of my friend Charles Perdue’s observation that he thinks of the Holy Spirit as the “Power” of God.  Or as the “Presence” of God.  Seen in this light, the Holy Spirit is that Presence of the Ineffable-Transcendent-Divine of which we are aware at any given point in time.

In any event, such a short little aside, I would tend to take as exactly that – an aside; a way of turning a phrase; but *not* as a basis for formulating a doctrine of the Trinity.  I will need to see much better support for such a claim.  At best, this a tertiary supportive claim, which presupposes the claim has already been made and supported by an unstated primary proof.
2.E. Col. 2:9  “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”

And in context, Colossians 2:6-19 (one of the contested letters of Paul):

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Fullness of Life in Christ

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives [in the original Greek “to walk”] in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe [OR: the rudiments of the world], and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision [in the original Greek “a circumcision made without hands”], by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God [in the original Greek “he”] made you [other ancient authorities read:  “made us”;  others, “made”] alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed [OR: divested himself of] the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling [other ancient authorities read “not dwelling”] on visions [the meaning of the original Greek is uncertain], puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking [in the original Greek “by the mind of his flesh”], 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Erik’s opinion:  First of all, I am suspicious of breaking a phrase in half!  The entire sentence is *both* verses 9 and 10.  Taking verses 9 and 10 at face value,  “9 For in him [meaning Christ Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.”

I understand this to be saying Christ Jesus is 100% Divine.  I can believe that.  But this by itself does *not* establish the Trinity or even a strict Duality.  I say this because, one may read this in at least two other ways:

a)  “Christ” as an emanation of the Ineffable into this world, and as the “anointing” (which is what Christ means in the Greek) of Spirit upon a person.  In this case, that person is Jesus.  But can this anointing fall upon others?  I think the answer is yes, it may.  Seen in this light, this may be another way of describing the Holy Spirit falling upon a person, as is seen in the Pentecost.

b)  It may also be that the indwelling Divine Spark has been enlivened!  Jesus also says that he is one with God, God is one with him, and he is one with us (John 14:20).  Meaning that we all share the same Divine Spark, which dwells within each of us.

And I don’t think this is an exaggeration of the possible reading of this scripture, for if Jesus is fully Divine (“the whole fullness of deity dwells”) and in the second half of the same sentence reads, “and you have come to fullness in him,” then why cannot we read this to be saying that we too may receive the “whole fullness” of the deity dwelling within us?  To my eye, this is as good a case as saying this is supporting the idea of the Trinity.
2.F. 2 Peter 1:17  “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'”

And in a fuller context, 2 Peter 1:16-18

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Eyewitnesses of Christ’s Glory

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved [other ancient authorities read “my beloved Son”], with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Erik’s opinion:  To begin with, this was not written by the apostle Peter (and it is also written by a different author than 1st Peter).  Most scholars date it somewhere between 80-150 CE (Peter died around 65-67 CE).  Why is this important to consider?  This makes it one of the latest books/letters to be included in the bible.  This means it shows us a later, more developed, understanding of Christianity.  Specifically, this letter addresses concerns such as false teachers who are distorting authentic traditions of Christianity, and it needs to explain why God has delayed the Second Coming of Christ.  (So that more people will have the opportunity to come to salvation, is the answer given.)  Paul certainly expected to be living when Jesus returned.  This was the early teaching, so many persons expected exactly that.  As the decades passed, this became an increasingly difficult position to defend.  An alternate interpretation had to be developed.

Returning to the passage itself, there are a number of thoughts that come to mind…

a)  Bart Ehrman (a well known New Testament scholar) has observed that a small number of the very earliest -and in his opinion among the best- manuscripts read that at his baptism, Jesus, “today” became the Son of God – which may imply that prior to that occasion Jesus was fully human, and upon his baptism became the adopted Son of God  (Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus).

b)  The gospels differ on this account.  Sometimes only Jesus hears this voice (Mark 1:9-11, and Matt. 3:13-17), and sometimes those present may also be aware of this announcement (Luke 3:21-22).  Why the differences?

Mark 1:9-11

The Baptism of Jesus

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22

The Baptism of Jesus

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved [Or “my beloved Son”]; with you I am well pleased [other ancient authorities read, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”].”

Erik’s opinion:  Well, Mark is the earliest of the gospels.  Matthew and Luke use Mark as one of their sources.  In Mark Jesus’ Divinity is never understood.  Most likely this is why this revelation is made only to Jesus in Mark.  Matthew is not concerned with the “secret messiah” theme as is Mark.  Matthew is concerned with portraying Jesus from the Jewish perspective.  It may be that the author of Matthew simply did not see this as a particularly important point, whether only Jesus heard this, or everyone present heard this, and therefore simply repeated the phrasing as given in Mark.

Luke is attempting to provide a fuller account of the life and ministry of Jesus, and for this reason may have felt it was important to portray all those present as hearing this declaration from God.  Luke’s account is also more equanimous to Gentiles, perhaps portraying this as a public announcement as a foreshadowing of the world-wide spreading of the Gospel?

In any event, it remains unclear whether this is announcing a pre-existing condition (Jesus was always the Son of God) or whether upon his baptism Jesus became the adopted Son of God.  Apparently this distinction was not of universal importance in the early years of the Jesus Movement.  Later it became important.  As these later dates the translations and copies were made to show that Jesus was always the Son of God, and they therefore dropped the “today” reference.

No one can know which is the correct interpretation.  Are humans fully animals, devoid of the Divine?  Or do humans also contain some aspect of the Divine within us;  are we humans both animal and Divine?  My personal preference is the “today” account because this lends itself to the understanding that we may all become the Son of God (or the Daughter of God, for women).

But this is because I favor the theme of theosis and of our ability to develop the internal “spark” of the Divine dwelling within each of us.  This is the same reason I like the Gospel of John, which while poetic and metaphoric in nature, lends itself to a similar interpretation.  In this we see that one’s preferred theology colors the interpretation we give to the scriptures.  In this we see that the text is just the text;  it is the reader who imparts meaning to the text.

3. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons…

3.A. Matt. 3:15-17

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Erik’s opinion:  I agree this would best demonstrate God the Father, God the Spirit, and Jesus are separate and distinct beings.
3.B. Matt. 28:19  (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”)

In a wider context, Matthew 28:16-20…

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Commissioning of the Disciples

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Erik’s opinion:  This is a reference to baptizing others in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I would take this as a reference to three persons, or three emanations, or three aspects of the Divine:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

I believe one could also understand this in different terms, as the Ineffable God, the Incarnate God, and the Holy Presence (or Emanate Energy) of God.  I also see no reason why one could not further adopt this to fit another social-cultural setting, and for example, include God the Mother, if one wished.

But at the same time, I once again would agree this might be cited as an example of their separateness.

3.C. John 16:13-15  (13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.)

Here is a fuller context, John 16:4-15

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Work of the Spirit

4 [Jesus is speaking] … “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate [OR “helper”] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about [Or “convict the world of”] sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Erik’s opinion:  This is a complicated passage.  And in the Gospel of John to boot, which is poetic and metaphoric, making the interpretation more complicated still.  To my ear, Jesus seems to be speaking both of separateness from, and unity with, the Divine.

The Advocate (which is understood to be the Holy Spirit) is to come, yet in verse 13 would appear to be dependent (“…for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears…”).  This would lend itself to an interpretation close to that of Charles Perdue, that the Advocate is an Energy or Force of the Divine, not really a separate being at all.

Verse 15 is not much clearer.  “All that the Father has is mine.”  Is Jesus saying that he is God the Father and God the Father is Jesus, or is he saying that Jesus has possession of all that which the Father has access?  And what does that mean, especially in light of person-hood?  Does it include the Father’s Will?  Creative Power?  Spirit?

The second half of verse 15 seems to switch pronouns to point to the Advocate, saying, “For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  Suggesting that the Advocate will reveal to us, all that which belongs to Jesus, which Jesus has just said is “all that the Father has.”

The web site http://www.PleaseConvinceMe.com indicates that verses 13-15 demonstrate the separateness of the persons of the Trinity.  I do not read this passage in this way, when taken as a whole.  The reading does not seem to be that clear and straight forward to my eye.  But maybe I only say this because I do not wish to view the Holy Spirit as nothing more than a recorder, to simply replay for us the message of God the Father?  Yet at the same time, this Advocate is to speak to us all that is yet to come.  Perhaps the point of this passage is misunderstood…  perhaps it is suggesting the scope of the Advocate transcends the limitations of time-space as we understand them?

Jesus attempts to clarify this passage, saying:

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God [other authorities read, “the Father”]. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Erik’s opinion:  In any event, whatever this passage means, I would not have personally chosen it to highlight that what are understood to be the persons of the Trinity are separate beings.  That seems far from clear to me.

3.D. 2 Cor. 13:14

Below is the passage in a fuller context, 2 Corinthians 11-13

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Final Greetings and Benediction

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of [OR: and the sharing in] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Erik’s opinion:  Interestingly, the online version I prefer to use retains “All the saints greet you” as part of the previous verse, whereas most versions I looked at consider that to be a separate verse, which makes the 14th verse to read “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of [OR: and the sharing in] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

I would take this as a formal ending to the letter.  I would not read a great deal into it, although it makes for a very nice benediction or blessing:  “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

I also think another point could just as easily be made.  Consider instead of the persons of the Trinity as the focus of the sentence, think of the Personifications of the Emanate Powers of God as the focus:

May the GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ, the LOVE of God, and the COMMUNION of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

If read in that light, the blessing is extending to us God’s Grace, Love, and Communion; and if this interpretation is correct it is not really speaking to the separateness of the Persons of God at all.

 

Erik’s Conclusion

This last passage leads me to the larger thought on the discussion about the Trinity….

I really think people make too much of it.

For my own part, I perceive the Divine in various ways, depending upon my need.  Usually I am “in my head” and thinking in more abstract terms.  For me the best means of apprehending this aspect of God is as the Ineffable-Transcendent.  You can say everything-nothing about this aspect of the Divine and be equally wrong-correct!  There is no “person-hood” readily apparent to me at this level of the Divine.  It is more like the Tao, or the Source, or the Field-Matrix in which we are all embedded.  Of course, as I have intimated, I also consider this Unknowable aspect of the Divine as the nearest we are able to approach the “true” aspect of the Divine (at least while limited to our human nature).

On the rare occasion I am going to address God the Father, I am just as likely to address God the Mother, or God Father-Mother (although I prefer the Aramaic, Abba-Amma).  But usually this is taking place during a liturgy or other ritual.  As such, I see it in a ritualistic light.  Abba-Amma is closer than the Ineffable-Transcendent.  But not by much!  Abba is the Sky God; Amma the Earth God (or Goddess if one prefers).  But they are mythic.  I do not literally consider either aspect of the Divine as being male or female, nor Father or Mother.  I do however, tend to apprehend God the Father as YHVH, the God of Israel and of the Hebrew bible.  God the Mother carries connotations of Mother Nature or the various Mother-Goddess motifs.  So these aspects of the Divine retain a lot of abstractness for me.  They are more vague and “sensing” aspects of my apprehension of the Divine.  I “feel” them more than anything else, I suppose.

When I feel the need to “work with” the Divine, I work with the Holy Spirit.  In many ways, I perceive this as the Energy of God or the Presence of God.  I like one of the translations I have heard for Shakinah:  the Shadow of the Presence of God.  This is also the Presence of God which I feel as in-dwelling.  When my apprehensions make this approach, I begin to lose sight of what may be the difference between the Holy Spirit and The Christ, and I ask whether they might not both be different means of identifying that aspect of the Divine which is in-dwelling within each of us?  I wonder if perhaps they are a matter of degree or scope…  perhaps The Christ is more cosmic where the Shakinah is more personal?

But none of these reasons are why I am a Christian.  I am a Christian because when my spiritual back is against the wall, I appeal to Jesus for my salvation/redemption.  If I am going to address the deity as a personal Being, it will be in the name and Persona of Jesus Christ.  For me, this is the human face of God to which I am able to relate best.

I have also come to work with angels, or at least I have begun to address them as additional active agents.  For example, when working with healings I address the Archangel Raphael.  In my liturgy I appeal to the Archangel Uriel.  This too falls within the scope of the Emanation Model.  One point a great many religions agree upon, is that we are “here” and God is “there.”  Between, is a vast spiritual realm; and this realm is inhabited.  I feel one might well appeal to such beings as Divine Messengers and Guides.

But, when all is said and done, I do not really find the Doctrine of the Trinity as especially important to me.  Certainly not in and of itself.  As I have said several times, for me God is ultimately Ineffable.  Transcendent.  Beyond all comprehension, leaving us only with what apprehensions we may imagine.  The bottom line then, is to take what we find useful to us.  Which way of looking at God offers a useful grasp of what is important in the here-and-now?  What understanding furthers our spiritual growth?  I suggest we each may need to find our own best approach, and allow room for others to do the same.

And I feel these understandings and ways of looking at God may be expected to change now and then, as according to our needs, and our spiritual growth.  For this reason I do not mind people speaking of God the Mother any more than I do as God the Father.  I do not see any important difference between better understanding God as a Quadrinity (four-persons) or Trinity (three-persons).  I feel both are equally mistaken-proper apprehensions of the Ineffable.

So my best advice when dealing with the Trinity is to use that which you find comfortable, approachable, useful, and meaningful.  God is *not* contained in our severely limited expressions, which must fail when naming the Ineffable-Transcendent-God.  To name something is to limit it and shovel it into a neat box.  But God will not fit into any human understanding (box).  God is in the revelation;  God is in the experience.  So use that which feels right to you.

Use that which you feel brings you closer to the Divine.  For most Christians, apparently, that is found in understanding God as three persons of a Trinity.  Three facets of the same gem;  three personas of the same person of God.  If that works well for you, use it.  Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking this *is* God.  It is one means of trying to think about that which is beyond our ability to think.

That said, in a more conventional mode of expression, one of the better teachings I have run across is to think of the Trinity as Personas.  As in the Greek, which is related to the masks actors would wear during their plays.  An actor would don one mask or another depending upon the role or function they were to about to play.  This offers a way of understanding the Trinity as the combination of several aspects of the Divine.  Which become emanate to us at any given point in time depends upon the circumstances.

 

  •   Update, June 2014:  Prof. Phillip Cary (History of Christian Theology, Great Courses #6450) has offered another very useful way of apprehending the idea of the Trinity, which so far is the best formation I have heard:  The Personas of the Trinity act with a single, unified Will.  Three persons, Peter, Paul, and Mary, may agree or disagree;  they may, and do, express individual wills.  That which comprises the Trinity, however, always acts with a single Will;  disagreement amongst these Divine Personas is by definition impossible.

 

Yet at the same time, the Emanation Model suggests that the Ineffable-Transcendent manifest into this world through a variety of means discernible to our human senses and experiences.  It may very well be that what appears to us as unique and separate within the universe, is in fact One when experienced-perceived from outside our universe.  (Although by definition we cannot literally comprehend nor even apprehend this. Thus we must settle for metaphoric references.)

This Ineffable-Transcendent-Emanate model also opens us to the understanding that there may be other, equally valid, means of representing other aspects of the Divine.  Which on one hand opens us to wider spiritual support (more ways of seeing God as an active agent in our lives), as well as providing us a means of better understanding how others may see the Ineffable-Transcendent-Emanate God from their perspective (which we may expect to be colored by their culture and up-bringing).  Which is to say this way of looking at the idea of the Trinity allows us to be more tolerant of how others have learned to see God.

And if one wished, I believe a reasonable argument could be made that the Ineffable-Transcendent-Emanate model of the Divine may be mapped to the Father-Son-Spirit model of the Divine.

Ineffable-Father is that from which all originates;  It is all that is beyond the confines of our universe.  Transcendent-Son is that which bridges the gap between that which is outside the universe and that which is within the universe.  Emanate-Spirit is that which is active in the world, and is that which bridges the gap between that which is outside ourselves to that which is within ourselves.  And perhaps if we delve deeply enough into the our own Indwelling-Spirit we may discover we are each somehow connected to that which is beyond the universe, the Ineffable, completing a circuit; Unity.

But as I said above, my best advice when dealing with the Trinity is to use that which you -and those to whom you are ministering!- find comfortable, approachable, useful, and meaningful.  Use that which feels right to you.  Use whatever perception of God you find reveals the Divine to you in your own experience.  After all, the only place we are able to find God is wherever we happen to be.

And if you are a priest or minister, set yourself aside.  Use that to which those you are ministering best relate.  Meet them where they are, and serve as a guide to where they feel they need to go, in order to find their best apprehension of God.  They too will only be able to find God wherever they happen to be at the time.
May God bless you and keep you,
Erik+