Who Is Jesus? Do the Creeds Tell Us the Truth About Him?
by Anthony Buzzard
Dear Fellow Truth-Seekers,
It is a well-documented fact that many of the church's "major doctrines" were not instituted until well after New Testament apostolic times. Christians in search of a vigorous biblical Christianity will find it refreshing to distinguish between what comes from Scripture and what many have unconsciously 'canonized' from Church tradition and Councils. The words of F.F. Bruce need to be treated as a prophetic testimony to this generation:
"Evangelical Protestants can be as much servants of tradition as Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox Christians; only they do not realize that it is 'tradition.' People who adhere to sola scriptura (as they believe) often adhere in fact to a traditional school of interpretation of sola scriptura" (from correspondence, June 13, 1981).
The early church continued persistently in the Apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42) as well as in fellowship. What the modern house-church movement (as well as Christians in any setting) needs is freedom to explore all doctrines in the light of Jesus' and the Apostles teaching. At present it is often assumed that early Church Councils (which represent the very institutionalizing which the house-church movement complains about) faithfully relayed the Bible's teachings. Many scholars know that this is not so.
Paul did not "shrink from communicating the whole counsel of God." It may be an unpopular business to suggest that some of the cherished teachings of traditional Christianity need investigation and testing against the gold-standard of the Bible, but the job must be done. We suggest that house-churches begin with the doctrine of God and of Jesus and follow it quickly with the doctrine of "the Gospel." The Gospel consists of facts in addition to the death and resurrection of Jesus (although these are obviously absolutely central), since Jesus and the Apostles preached "the Gospel of the Kingdom" long before they said a word about Jesus' death and resurrection.
To our friends in the various "Jewish Roots" movements we say: What sense is there in clinging to a doctrine of the Trinity which offends Jews and Muslims and which Jesus would not have believed? Mark 12:28ff shows Jesus to be in line with the cardinal tenet of Judaism: God is a single Person, the Father of Jesus. Ps. 110:1 says it clearly. The One God speaks in an oracle about ADONI, positively not ADONAI! God does not speak to God. He speaks to the Lord Messiah (Adoni, "my Lord, the King Messiah."). ADONI refers some 195 times to superiors other than God. It is a word describing human beings and occasionally angels.
Echad: Compound Unity?
The old arguments about echad being a compound unity are fallacious. The word one means "one and not two or more." "One flesh" is still one flesh. The idea of plurality is derived not from the word echad but from the idea of two persons being one flesh. But there is nothing in the context of the biblical statements about the "One God" which hints at plurality. In fact ADONAI (or the sacred Name) is referred to by singular pronouns and accompanied by singular verbs multiple thousands of times. Singular pronouns tell us that God is One Person. Rabbi Paul was not a Trinitarian. He believed in "One God, the Father and One Lord Jesus Messiah" (I Cor. 8:4-6). The Lord Messiah is not the Lord God. In Gal. 3:20 Paul said (according to the Amplified Bible) "God is [only] One Person." There is no occurrence of the word "God" in the whole Bible which can be proved to mean "God in three Persons." That is because the Bible-writers had never heard of the Trinity and did not believe in it. Those espousing the Jewish roots of Jesus, an excellent way to get back to the Messiah of Israel, should avoid attaching themselves to Gentile distortions of the faith.1
Elohim Points to a Trinity?
The old argument about Elohim having a plural ending and thus pointing to a Trinity is held by no recognized Hebrew scholar today. This attempt to justify the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible was apparently not heard of until the 12th century. It has been constantly rejected by scholars in both Roman Catholic and Protestant camps. Yet it continues to be promoted by Dave Hunt whom many trust as an expert. Dave Hunt tells the public that non-Trinitarians are "pseudo-Christian cultists." He says that "aberrant groups" reject the Trinity. He also promotes the myth that the Trinity can be traced back through the early Church fathers to the New Testament. This is not possible since, as many patristic experts know, the earliest Fathers were unitarians, in the sense that they believed that the Son was begotten in time, not in eternity. The Son for these Fathers was definitely subordinate to the Father. He was not co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.
We are convinced that the Bible presents us with a body of Truth to which Christians must be committed. We are alarmed at the contemporary trends which emphasize "experience" to the exclusion of the "sound teaching" promoted by the inspired Scriptures. We do not, however, think that the Church Councils necessarily grasped biblical truth accurately, when they defined the creeds for posterity. Nevertheless, many evangelicals unwittingly take on board the theology of those councils without examining all things carefully, as Paul admonished. We are convinced that evangelicals ought to be much more troubled than they are about the doctrines of God and Christ which tradition has handed on to them via the "Church fathers" and the Roman Catholic Church.
We invite you to consider the following information about "orthodox Trinitarianism" and compare it with the Bible. Two orthodox evangelical Trinitarians wrote:
"It is true that in Chalcedonian orthodoxy [the teaching of the Council which defined the Person of Christ in 451 AD] God the Son united himself to a personless human nature."2
This statement is an accurate description of the orthodox view of Jesus. Let us unpack it a little further. A Trinitarian scholar writes:
"In Chalcedon and the theological development that flows from it, Jesus is called 'man' in the generic sense (human), but not 'a man.' He has a human nature, but is not a human person. The person in him is the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Jesus does not have a human personal center. This is how the Council gets around the possible problem of a split personality."3
Another Trinitarian scholar wrote:
"During my theological formation I was well instructed in the traditional account of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. I distinctly remember being told that the Word of God, when he assumed human nature, assumed impersonal humanitry: that Jesus Christ did not possess a human personality; that God became man in Jesus Christ, but that he did not become a man...Two considerations have persuaded me that this traditional Christology is incredible."4
An orthodox theologian describes the view of Jesus which evangelicals accept in the Trinity:
"Now the doctrine of the Incarnation is that in Christ the place of a human personality is replaced by the Divine Personality of God the Son, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ possesses a complete human nature without a human personality. Uncreated and eternal Divine Personality replaces a created personality in Him."5
An expert on Gnosticism (a philosophy which threatened the early church) points to the problem:
"Already Harnack was forced to say: 'Who can maintain that the Church ever overcame the Gnostic doctrine of the two natures or the Valentinian Docetism [the theory that Jesus only appeared to be a human being but really wasn't]. Even the later councils of the Church, which discussed the Christological problems in complicated, nowadays hardly intelligible definitions did not manage to do this; the unity of the Church foundered precisely on this."6
Note that this scholar admits that the Church did not overcome Gnosticism in its definition of Jesus.
Man but Not a Man?
The official Jesus of Trinitarian theology is "man," but not "a man." Are you happy with that as a description of the biblical Jesus? Once Jesus is confessed as truly and fully God, in every way coequal and coeternal with the Father, it is impossible to say that he is also fully and truly man. The Trinitarian church fathers realized this and so they maintained that Jesus had "impersonal human nature" and was not "a man." Is that a tradition you want to be part of? This is official Trinitarianism. The scholar above pointed out that this division of the Godhead into two (and later three) was the cause of the disruption of the unity of the church. The greatest commandment cited by Jesus (Mark 12:28-34) was tampered with.
You obviously cannot be a human person unless you are "a man." Orthodox Trinitarianism officially denies that Jesus is "a man." The documentation above, which represents the Trinitarian point of view, proves this. Trinitarianism suffers from the "docetic" heresy: Jesus only appears to be a man, but his center of personality is really God.
A Dying God?
God only has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). How, if Jesus is God, can he have died? An immortal Person cannot die. That is a flat contradiction. Does it honor God to speak in such contradictions? Jesus is God and Jesus as God (who is immortal) died? How can Jesus, if He is God, not know the time of His Second Coming (Mark 13:32)? God is omniscient. Jesus did not know everything. Therefore Jesus cannot be God, unless language has ceased to have any meaning. God cannot be tempted (James 1:13). But Jesus was tempted. If he was not fully human, his temptation was a charade. Did Jesus give up being God when he did not know when He would return? Did he give up being God when he died? How can God give up being God? That would mean that Jesus was not God when he was on earth.
Trinitarians argue that only God could be the Savior. But if Jesus, as God, could not die, how can he have saved us? Cannot God appoint a sinless man to be the Savior (Acts 17:31; 2:22 - "a man approved by God")?
All these complex questions are solved if Bible readers would observe some simple facts:
Thousands upon thousands of times in the Bible (someone has calculated over 11,000 times), God is described by personal pronouns in the singular (I, me, you, He, Him). These pronouns in all languages describe single persons, not three persons. There are thus thousands of verses which tell us that the "only true God" (John 17:3; John 5:44, "the One who alone is God") is One Person, not three.
There is no place in the New Testament (or Old) where the word "God" can be proved to mean "God-in-Three-Persons." The word God, therefore, in the Bible never means the Trinitarian God. This would immediately suggest that the Trinitarian God is foreign to the Bible. The Word "God" in the New Testament means the Father, except (for certain) in two passages where 'God' refers to Jesus in a secondary sense (Heb. 1:8; John 20:28) If Jesus is as much entitled to be called God as His Father, why these extraordinary facts? The word "God" can be used of a man who reflects and represents the true God (see for example Ps. 82:6; Ex. 7:1).
Relying on John
Most Trinitarians rely heavily on one only of the four Gospels - John. They neglect not only the 77% of the Bible which is the Old Testament, but also most of the NT. Why did all translations in English before the King James render John 1:3: "All things were made by IT" (not HIM)? How do you know that Jesus was the eternal Son of God, when no verse of Scripture calls him that? What if the Word or Wisdom was with God (John 1:1) and was fully expressive of God and this Wisdom became embodied in the real human being, Jesus (John 1:14)? Jesus would then be a human being who is the perfect embodiment and expression of the wisdom and creative activity of God ("the word became flesh," not "the Son became flesh").
If so, Luke's statement would be exactly right. "Because of the supernatural begetting of Jesus in the womb of Mary, Jesus is entitled to be called the Son of God" (see Luke 1:35). Luke describes the supernatural coming-into-being of the Son of God. (This is exactly what Raymond Brown in his monumental commentary on The Birth of the Messiah says Luke describes. Luke cannot have been a Trinitarian.). There is not a hint in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts or Peter that Jesus preexisted his birth. There is no indication in the Old Testament that the Messiah was already alive before his birth in Bethlehem. God did not speak through a so-called preexisting Son in Old Testament times (Heb. 1:1-2).
The Trinity relies on the idea of the Son having been "eternally begotten." Does that make the slightest sense? How can someone who has no beginning be begotten? Why are there absolutely no verses which speak of Jesus being begotten by the Father in eternity? Why do all references to the begetting of Jesus refer either to his conception and birth (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20; Acts 13:33, describing the beginning of his life, while v. 34 refers to his resurrection) or to his appointment to kingship (Ps 2)? Without an eternal begetting of the Son, there can be no doctrine of the Trinity.
The famous Methodist expositor Adam Clark felt it necessary to say:
"The doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ, is in my opinion, antiscriptural and highly dangerous. I have not been able to find any express declaration of it in the Scriptures"?7
And yet without the "eternal generation" of the Son there is no doctrine of the Trinity.
J.O. Buswell, former Dean of the Graduate School, Covenant College, St. Louis, MO, examined the issue of the begetting of the Son in the Bible and concluded with these words. He wrote as a Trinitarian:
"The notion that the Son was begotten by the Father in eternity past, not as an event, but as an inexplicable relationship, has been accepted and carried along in the Christian theology since the fourth century.... We have examined all the instances in which 'begotten' or 'born' or related words are applied to Christ, and we can say with confidence that the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say about 'begetting' as an eternal relationship between the Father and the Son."8
Why does a leading Roman Catholic scholar admit that Luke 1: 35 (above) is an embarrassment to orthodox scholars?
"Luke 1:35 has embarrassed many orthodox theologians, since in preexistence [Trinitarian] theology a conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb does not bring about the existence of God's Son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine sonship for him."9
Why do writers of standard encyclopedias tell us this fact about church history?
"Unitarianism as a theological movement began much earlier in history; indeed it antedated Trinitarianism by many decades. Christianity derived from Judaism and Judaism was strictly Unitarian. The road which led from Jerusalem to Nicea was scarcely a straight one. Fourth-century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature of God; it was, on the contrary, a deviation from this teaching...It must be reemphasized that the concept God, understood as a single, undivided personality, precedes the Nicean notion of a Deity defined as three persons sharing one essence. Unitarianism is the early norm, Trinitarianism a later deviation from this norm. It is therefore more proper to speak of Trinitarianism as an anti-Unitarian movement than of Unitarianism as an anti-Trinitarian mode of theological speculation." 10
How can the Trinity be traced back through the Church Fathers when the Father of Latin Christianity was clearly not a Trinitarian? Tertullian wrote:
"God has not always been the Father. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son. There was a time when the Son did not exist."11
This famous church father doesn't sound like a Trinitarian. What about earlier church fathers of the second century? They are said by Trinitarians to provide a continuous Trinitarian tradition back to the Bible. But what did they really believe? A professor of church history explains:
"The Christian writers of the second and third centuries considered the Logos as the eternal reason of the Father [note: not the eternal Son], but as having at first no distinct existence from eternity; he [the Son of God] received this only when the Father generated him from within his own being and sent him to create the world and rule over the world. The act of generation then was not considered as an eternal and necessary life-act but as one which had a beginning in time, which meant that the Son was not equal to the Father, but subordinate to Him. Irenaeus, Justin, Hippolytus and Methodius share this view called Subordinationism."12
This view is not that of official Trinitarianism as later established. Without the doctrine of the eternal, coequal Son, there is no orthodox Trinity.
Even Origen who in the third century initiated the concept of the "eternal generation" of the Son was not an orthodox Trinitarian:
"Origen's philosophical presuppositions ensure that for him the Son can be divine only in a lesser sense than the Father; the Son is theos (god), but only the Father is autotheos (absolute God, God in Himself). In his treatise on prayer he taught that prayer ought to be addressed only to the Father through the Son."13
The Creed of Israel and of Jesus
It seems to us incredible that Jesus, who recited the great creed of Israel (Mark 12:28ff.) and was a Jew, could possibly have believed in the Trinity. There is no Trinity in the Old Testament (as scores of modern scholars admit 14). Jesus confirms and perpetuates the creed of Israel which described God as One Person, the Father. He then defined Himself as the Lord Messiah of Psalm 110:1 to whom the One Lord God spoke in an oracle about the future. This verse is quoted more than any other Old Testament verse by the Apostles and other writers of the New Testament. In that verse, the one God Yahweh, addresses the One Lord Messiah. This "my Lord" of David is translated from a Hebrew form of the word "Lord" (ADONI) which is used 195 times to describe a man as distinct from God. God is ADONAI and the Messiah is the human ADONI ("My Lord, the Messiah, the King"). The Massorites deliberately used a human title for the Messiah to distinguish him from ADONAI, the title of the One God of Israel.
No Jew could possibly have expected His Messiah to be God in the Trinitarian sense. No verse in the Old Testament had said any such thing. In fact Moses had predicted the arrival of the Messiah by saying that God would not speak to the people directly, but through a person "like Moses" who would be raised up from among the people of Israel (Deut. 18:15-18; see Acts 13:33) To say that the Messiah is God Himself contradicts this prophecy, which announces that this person is not God but a human prophet! Both Peter and Stephen teach that it was fulfilled in the human Messiah (Acts 3:22; 7:37), who perfectly reflects the will and the words of His Father and who is the "visible image" of God, but not God Himself. Here is the biblical picture of the Messiah as described by the Hebrew Bible, the Bible of Jesus' Himself:
"The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among yourselves and to that prophet you must listen. I will put my words into his lips...."15
The Creed of Paul
This is no Trinitarian Jesus, but a fully human Jesus perfectly carrying out the will of the One God, his Father. No wonder, then, that Paul expressed the same creed as Jesus, when he wrote:
"To us [Christians] there is one God, the Father and one Lord Jesus Messiah."16
Clearly, the one God is the Father and in close association is the one Lord Messiah. The Christian confession that Jesus approved is the belief that that "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God." On that truth he promised to found his church.17 John labels as "the liar" anyone who deviates from the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, or that he is "the Messiah, Son of God."18 He worked against the error that Jesus was something less than human. He advocated belief in the human Jesus.19 When churches teach that Jesus is man but not a man, would they have the approval of the Apostle John?
It is time for the Church to insist, with the Bible, on the creed which describes Jesus as the "the man Messiah"20 and stop condemning as heretics those who confirm belief in Jesus as the sinless Messiah and Son of God, God's unique and virgin-born agent, but not actually God Himself.
A return to the creed of Israel and of Jesus, the Jew, will enable Jews today and Muslims to consider more sympathetically salvation through Jesus, the Christ, the "only name given under heaven by which we may be saved."
Finally, on the issue of the so-called preexistence (what preexists what?) of Christ, Paul Tillich remarks on John 8:58 ("Before Abraham I am [he]"): "This means that the universal Logos, the principle of the divine manifestation, is present in Jesus."21 This does not mean that the Son of God preexisted but that God's creative Plan did. As Harnack remarked "the miraculous genesis of Christ (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35) in the Virgin by the Holy Spirit and the real preexistence are of course mutually exclusive."22 Luke and Matthew denied the Trinity when they described the coming-into-existence of the Son of God by miracle.
It is time for Christians to return to the non-trinitarian creed of Jesus and Israel (Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:28ff). If the creed of Israel is not Trinitarian, then neither is the creed of Jesus. Christians are pledged to following Jesus, not post-biblical Church Councils. Why do evangelicals seem to want to canonize those councils? Isn't the Bible sufficient?
1 For some serious reading, see Martin Werner, The Formation of Dogma, Harper, 1957 (though he wrongly attributes "angel Christology" to Paul). J.A.T. Robinson The Priority of John, SCM Press, 1985. J. Kuschel, Born before All Time? The Dispute over Christ's Origin (Crossroad, 1992). James Dunn, Christology in the Making (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1996, 2nd ed.). The latter sees that Paul did not believe in the orthodox Trinity. Back to text.
2 Norman Geisler and William Watkins, "The Incarnation and Logic: Their Compatibility Defended," Trinity Journal, 1985, Vol. 6, p. 189. Back to text.
3 Thomas Hart, To Know and Follow Jesus, Paulist Press, 1984, p.44. Back to text.
4 A. T. Hanson, Grace and Truth: A Study in the Doctrine of the Incarnation, SPCK, 1975, p. 1. Back to text.
5 Leslie Simmonds, What Think Ye of Christ? p. 45. Back to text.
6 Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature and history of Gnosticism, Harper and Row, 1983, p. 372. Back to text.
7 Commentary on Luke 1:35. Back to text.
8 A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Zondervan, 1962, p. 110. Back to text.
9 Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, p. 291. Back to text.
10 Encyclopedia Americana, 1956, Vol. 27, p. 294L. Back to text.
11 Against Hermogenes, ch. 3. Back to text.
12 Michael Schmaus, Dogma, Vol. 3, God and His Christ, Sheed and Ward, 1971, p. 216. Back to text.
13 The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, OUP, 1990, s.v., Origen, p. 1009. Back to text.
14 See our article, "Does Everyone Believe in the Trinity? Back to text.
15 See Deut. 18:15-18. Back to text.
16 See I Cor. 8:4-6. Back to text.
17 Mat. 16:16. Back to text.
18 I John 2:22; John 20:31. Back to text.
19 I John 4:2; II John 9. Back to text.
20 I Tim. 2:5. Back to text.
21 Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, p. 409. Scores of scholars have said the same thing. Back to text.
22 History of Dogma, Vol. 1, p. 105. Back to text.
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