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Many groups do not see a need to peel back the layers of tradition in order to discover what the original apostolic faith of the first century was. Rather, they are content to hold fast to the beliefs and practices that the church has bequeathed to them regardless of whether or not they were held to by the early Christians. That is not the sort of Christian I am. Instead, I am a restorationist—someone who wants to understand and align my practice of Christianity as closely as possible with the earliest Christians. Unfortunately, many times people who belong to restorationist groups, like us, oversimplify what early Christianity looked like. We imagine that everyone got along and agreed on doctrines, that there were no major schisms or controversies until much later. Some of us probably even believe that until the fourth century when the trinitarian controversy occurred, everything was serene and unified. But, this picture, no matter how much we might want for it to be true, is simply not accurate in light of the facts.

In actuality, many of the epistles of Paul deal specifically with controversial issues in the new churches. For example, in Corinth, there had been an issue where the saints had begun to split into factions: one for Paul, one for Apollos, one for Cephas, and one for Christ. Paul responded:

1 Corinthians 1.13-15
13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one would say you were baptized in my name.

Further controversies concerned the role of women in the meeting, which was apparently an issue in the first century (1 Corinthians 14.34-36; 1 Timothy 2.11-15). Also, one of the most significant issues that caused division was whether or not Gentiles were required to keep the Law of Moses. In fact, the disagreement was so sharp and the outcome so serious that a council was held in Jerusalem with the pillars of the church in order to decide on the issue. The resultant letter (Acts 15.23-29) was then carried throughout the Mediterranean world by Paul and Silas to inform the churches that Gentiles were accepted without a need to become circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. Later on, another controversy arose over whether or not Jews needed to keep the Law of Moses. Sadly, that issue was not resolved as quickly, though the epistle to the Hebrews certainly does make it clear that because of Christ’s work even Jews are freed from the yoke of Torah.

My purpose in mentioning these early disagreements is simply to point out the fact that even back in the first century, in the early years of Christianity, there were plenty of controversies over all sorts of issues. Why was that the case? The answer is simple: any time someone changes their theological views on an issue and then teaches others, there is usually going to be someone who resists the change. Controversy is not necessarily bad even if it is uncomfortable, because through dialog and dispute often times we are able to learn where we need to change. So, when there is a significant change in doctrine there are almost always growing pains as people deliberate and transition occurs.

However, once we begin to talk about the doctrine of the Trinity, there is a major historical hole. The trinitarian myth generally goes like this: “Jesus claimed to be God in a trinitarian sense; he taught that he was God to his disciples who accepted it on the basis of his miracles and resurrection; it wasn’t until three hundred years later when the heretic Arius started spouting nonsense about Jesus being created that the church needed to formulate a creed to fight him off, though the church had believed in the Trinity all along.” Generally speaking, trinitarian defenders will tip their hats to a historical reconstruction similar to this. If the question is asked, “Who was the first trinitarian?” The answer is always “Jesus.” But if one asks, “Who was the second trinitarian,” suddenly we have a major thought experiment on our hands, because nowhere in Scripture does Jesus ever teach the Trinity. So, the trinitarian is left to fumble his or her way to the answer, “Well, the Scripture doesn’t say, but I’m sure the disciples believed in it.” But, isn’t that just assuming the answer from the outset? Furthermore, where is the controversy?

It is absolutely critical to realize that the first generation of Christians was strictly monotheistic. They were raised to believe in the Shema, the central creed of Judaism which teaches that Yahweh our God is one Yahweh (not two or three). From that day to today, one would be hard pressed to find a single Jew who would just go along with the idea that the Messiah is God. It’s just not part of their religion. But if Jesus really was teaching that he was God in a trinitarian sense to non-trinitarian, first-century Jews, then wouldn’t that be a massively significant change? Yet, as we saw just a moment ago, change generally breeds controversy. In fact, we could say that the bigger the change the more likely it is that there will be resistance.

Let’s take it one step further. Let’s assume that the disciples had no trouble accepting this new formula for defining God and they went forth proclaiming the Trinity from town to town after Jesus ascended into heaven. As they arrived at synagogue after synagogue it is easy to observe that there was significant resistance and persecution, which is what we would expect if they were now teaching that God is three-in-one rather than just one. Even so we must ask the question, why were the early Christians persecuted? Was it because they taught that Jesus was God or was it for other reasons?

In Judea Peter and John were persecuted by the Sanhedrin for proclaiming the resurrection of a man they had executed as a false messiah (Acts 4.2; 5.28). Stephen was first accused of saying “that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6.14). Then he called the Sanhedrin to repentance (Acts 7.51-53) which enraged them to such a point that they gnashed their teeth, stopped their ears, and stoned him to death (Acts 7.54-58). Once Paul became a Christian he preached in Damascus that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (Acts 9.20-22). He was so difficult to defeat in argument that the people decided to murder him, though he narrowly escaped when he was let down from the city wall in a basket (Acts 9.23-25). In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were persecuted by the Jewish leadership because they were jealous that many of the Gentile proselytes and Jews gravitated towards the Christian message (Acts 13.42-45). The early Christians in Syrian Antioch were harassed by Christian Judaizers because the Jewish Christians ate with the Gentile Christians, accepting them as full members of the people of God even though they were not circumcised and they did not keep the Law of Moses (Galatians 2.4, 11-16; Acts 15.1-2). In Philippi, Paul and Silas were seized and beaten after they had cast a demon out of a girl who was being used to make money by telling fortunes (Acts 16.16-19). The specific accusation brought against them was that they (being Jews) were throwing the city into confusion by “proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans” (Acts 16.20-21). In Thessalonica, Paul and Silas preached that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead and that Jesus was in fact the Messiah (Acts 17.3). When a large number of God-fearing Gentiles and a number of the leading Jewish women joined Paul and Silas, the Jews became jealous and instigated a city-wide uproar. As a result they seized Jason (the one who was housing Paul and Silas) and dragged him before the city authorities saying, “These men who have upset the world have come here also… they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6-7). In Ephesus, Paul’s traveling companions—Gaius and Aristarchus—were dragged by an angry mob into the theatre where they shouted out “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for hours since Paul had been teaching that idols were not real gods (Acts 19.26). Later on, in Jerusalem, Paul was nearly torn to pieces by a riot which broke out because they thought he had brought Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, into the inner courts of the Temple (Acts 21.28-29). The formal accusation they brought against Paul was that they found him to be “a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ring leader of the sect of the Nazarenes. And he even tried to desecrate the temple” (Acts 24.5-6). The Roman administrator, Porcius Festus summarized the accusation like this, “they [the accusing Jews] simply had some points of disagreement with him [Paul] about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive” (Acts 25.18-19).

There is no shortage of trouble the early Christians faced as they traipsed about the Mediterranean world proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and Christ, but isn’t it telling that they never even once faced the accusation that they were redefining God? Never did someone say, “I can’t accept Jesus as God because that would be idolatry.” Not once did a riot erupt over Paul proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth was a divine being. Yet, every single Jew today would say exactly that if they were asked to recognize Jesus as the second member of the holy Trinity.

It is preposterous to think that Jesus or his apostles redefined the concept of God from a unipersonal, monotheistic belief that “Yahweh alone is God” to some triune God of three persons when there is not one New Testament book, not one chapter, not one paragraph describing such a change. There is no explanation of how the clear statements of radical monotheism found in the Old Testament could be reinterpreted in light of this new understanding of divine plurality. We should find at least one church in either Palestine or the Diaspora that struggled to accept this new doctrine of God. To think that the early Church debated over accepting the Gentiles, keeping the Law, how to keep communion, the role of women in the Church, yet never once had any trouble at all accepting that God is now mysteriously three instead of one is absurd. Would not some group of Christians resist a change of this magnitude? Yet, what we have instead is a conspiracy of silence—zero evidence that the Trinity even existed in New Testament times.

Eventually a controversy about whether or not Jesus was God did break out, but it was in Egypt not in Judea, in the early fourth century not in the first century. This controversy was so severe that no less than twenty-five councils met specifically to address this issue between a.d. 318 and 381. Fifteen of them found in favor of Arius who taught that Jesus was a created being

Theodosius (a.d. 347 – 395)

and seven found in favor of Alexander and Athanasius who taught that Jesus was fully God with no beginning. (Three of them ended in stalemate). In fact, it was not until Theodosius (the emperor who took office in a.d. 379) made non-trinitarian beliefs illegal that the die was cast and orthodox Christianity cemented itself into a rigidly trinitarian shape. The church could just as easily have had a unitarian rather than a trinitarian creed, but politics, in the end, were the decisive factor. Had the non-trinitarians been more successful in courting the emperor’s favor everything would have been different.

So what are we to make of these facts? Controversies come about when new ideas emerge that conflict with people’s long-held and cherished beliefs. The Trinity was certainly a new idea which nearly all scholars agree was not taught at all in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). Furthermore, the Trinity was foreign to the way first century Jews thought about God and the Messiah. Thus, if Jesus did come on the scene revealing this “truth” then where is the evidence of it? We have no passage from the New Testament explaining or even stating the Trinity. Furthermore, there is no controversy within the church where some Christians rejected it and needed to be persuaded otherwise. In addition, when the Christians traveled abroad as missionaries, supposedly teaching the Trinity among other things, they were met with repeated persecution for a variety of reasons, yet in not one case was there a conflict about whether or not Jesus was God. Last of all, we do find controversy over this issue, but it is not until much later. I think if we take these historical lines of argumentation together we have solid grounds to reject the myth that Jesus and/or the disciples believed and taught the doctrine of the Trinity.

39 Responses to “Where’s the Historical Controversy?”

  1. on 29 Jul 2009 at 11:44 amJohnE

    Excellent article Sean. When I was mentioning these very points to trinitarians in the debates I participated in, silence would be all I got in response – except for one of them, who basically said that Jews of that time knew very well from the OT that the Messiah is God. Of course, I got no explanation on how or why that is so 🙂

  2. on 29 Jul 2009 at 11:48 amSean

    JohnE,

    thanks,…did you by chance record your debate(s) on audio?

  3. on 29 Jul 2009 at 2:45 pmJohnO

    Most educated Trinitarians would have no problem stating that the disciples did not teach a trinity. However, to assert that there is no “controversy” over this issue of Jesus in the first century is quite different. There is ample evidence (mostly Hurtado, and Dunn and McGrath would agree) here that Jesus’ role in the Christian story and life was very central and included some aspects that were usually reserved for God (basically an argument from behavior). There is a reason the “two-powers” theory would later become a hot topic in Judaism that the rabbi’s would put down.

  4. on 29 Jul 2009 at 3:29 pmSean

    when did the two powers theory (metatron?) originate?

  5. on 29 Jul 2009 at 3:37 pmJohnO

    The metatron issue was contemporary with Akiba (afaik), that whole debate can be found in the Talmud. However, it was argued/supported by texts and thoughts already well within the cannon. And those thoughts were explicitly present and developed in both Christian thought and in the DSS. There is little question that this is a strand of development that, in the time of the Talmud, they had had enough of it and put it to pasture.

  6. on 29 Jul 2009 at 5:39 pmRay

    I think the trinity doctrine came from new age thinking.

  7. on 29 Jul 2009 at 7:00 pmJohnE

    Sean,

    JohnE,

    thanks,…did you by chance record your debate(s) on audio?

    You’re welcome. There was no audio, it was on an Internet forum (and not even in English 🙂 )

    About the two powers issue, I don’t think it applies here. Afaik, there’s no apostolic era document to suggest there was a controversy about who the God of Israel was (or what He was, a composite being or not). The talmudic references to the two powers controversy are later developments. The issue is not contemporary with Akiba himself (50-135 A.D.?) but with rabbinical legends about Akiba and Elisha ben Abuya (110-135 A.D.?) – called “Aher”, “the other”, the heresiarch in the rabbinical tradition – which say that Akiba and Aher (and two others who did not survive) ascended to heaven while alive. Aher saw Metatron enthroned, and wondered if there were two powers.

    No to mention that the two powers issue itself (again, afaik) is centered on a numerical issue, that of the existence of two powers in Heaven (God and Metatron), and not on the nature of God himself.

  8. on 29 Jul 2009 at 9:12 pmBrian

    Learn something new every day. I had never heard of that metatron dude; so I’ve looked it up in that very reliable source known as Wikipedia.

    John,

    With reference to this statement:

    “There is ample evidence (mostly Hurtado, and Dunn and McGrath would agree) here that Jesus’ role in the Christian story and life was very central and included some aspects that were usually reserved for God (basically an argument from behavior).”

    could you give some examples that they might reference?

  9. on 29 Jul 2009 at 9:30 pmDustin

    Great article Sean.

    The two powers heresey cannot be traced with any certainty in the first century. It is clearly in the 2nd. If someone is interested in reading on this, email me and I will send you an article (off topic, so I won’t talk about it any further).

    Sean, as a restorationist, just curious if you would be open to the possibility that early Christianity did not have each and every issue settled for 100% agreement. Let me know your thoughts, for I am reading James Dunn’s Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, and thus having to wrestle with this very question.

    Dustin
    kggospel@gmail.com

  10. on 29 Jul 2009 at 10:19 pmrobert

    Now thats the type of common sense questions that lead to the truth.
    This subject is not the only place it should apply to though

  11. on 29 Jul 2009 at 10:37 pmRay

    I like the picture of Theodosius. Reminds me of a man steeled in his doctrine.

    I wonder about his name because Theo means “God” doesn’t it?

    Does anyone know what Theodosius means?

  12. on 29 Jul 2009 at 10:45 pmrobert

    Theo means god not God
    Theodosius means giver of god

  13. on 29 Jul 2009 at 10:50 pmDustin

    Ray,

    The⋅o⋅do⋅si⋅us I  /ˌθiəˈdoʊʃiəs, -ʃəs/
    –noun (“the Great”) a.d. 346?–395, Roman emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire 379–395.

  14. on 29 Jul 2009 at 11:13 pmrobert

    this was just becaused he made himself the son of God, how much more problem would of been if he made himself God. there wouldnt of been a single jewish to convert

    John 19
    6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. 7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.

  15. on 29 Jul 2009 at 11:40 pmRay

    It seems that in the Jewish mind the Messiah that would come would be the Son of God, not God, though I am sure some who hated God and whatever is right would be more than eager to not hear the Messiah, either willingly or out of ignorance. Some must have willingly decided to hear something other than what Jesus had said at times, in order to cause men to view Jesus in a way that is not right.

    Because he is the Son of God, the Messiah, he is all that God is.
    Discerning these things, let’s hold fast to the simplicity of the gospel.


    I believe Jesus did not make himself the Son of God, rather he was
    simply being who he was and still is, the Messiah, the Son of God.

    I believe it was the accusation of some of the Jews that said, “He made himself the Son of God.”

    We might ask, “How can any man ‘make himself the Son of God’?”

    But it doesn’t have to make sense if it is simply something corrupt
    does it?


    Is the phraze “..made himself the Son of God..” (John 19:7 KJV)
    a proper way of saying, “..confessed himself as the Son of God..”?

    I see the NASB has it “..made Himself out to be the Son of God.”

  16. on 30 Jul 2009 at 12:07 amrobert

    the point wasnt if he was, it was there reaction to the claim.
    how much more would he claiming to be God turn those of the jewish faith away from him and his testimony.

  17. on 30 Jul 2009 at 6:17 amSean

    Dustin,

    In Dunn’s book, what are some examples of diversity that he mentions?

  18. on 30 Jul 2009 at 8:30 amJohnO

    Dustin and Sean,

    Witherington makes many of the points regarding first century pluriformity.

    Brian,

    Some examples are doxology in the Christian Scriptures (the appropriation of Christ into what were previously sayings which magnified God alone), the actual practice recorded in Didache, the earliest fathers, and by contemporary historians (if memory serves “they sung songs as if to a god” as just one example). There are more as well that are straight behaviorial arguments. The books are “How in the World Did Jesus Become a God” by Hurtado, and “Jesus and the Israel of God” by Bauckham.

  19. on 30 Jul 2009 at 10:44 amDustin

    Sean,

    I am not very far into the book, but I already get this limited scope (these are all Dunn’s observations, not my own):

    1) there was not one expression of the Gospel, but several within the earliest Christian communities (Synoptics vs. John);

    (2) the confessional formulae and their settings for proclamation varied (Matt. 4:23 vs. Rom. 10:9);

    (3) that the concept and structure of ministry varied widely among the earliest Christians (Corinthians vs. 1 Timothy/Titus);

    (4) that the structure and practice of worship was not unified (Corinthians and Hebrews);

    (5) that different Christian communities experienced the Spirit of the living God in different ways (much more obvious);

    (6) that while all of the early Christian communities were unified by centering their lives and proclamations around the risen Christ, all of the early Christian communities did not understand the risen Christ in the same way (Hebrews vs Paul).

    Again, these are not mine, they are his.

    A good question he asks as far at methodology is, “Do we really have the right to assume that Christianity was a single, tightly structured sect?”

    I mean, it did take the early church 20 years to solve the whole Gentile inclusion issue. Some change like that we must certainly allow for.

    Just some thoughts.

    Dustin

  20. on 30 Jul 2009 at 11:52 amSean

    Dustin,

    I’m not sure I would agree that there is any problem with most of these. On the issue of what form of Christianity do we accept as authoritative, I think the answer needs to be based on the cannon. Where the cannon ends is where I end. So, the latest change, whatever that may be (perhaps saying that Jews need not keep Torah) is valid for me, but the post-biblical changes (say for example, exaltation of Mary and prayer to the saints) I do not accept as authoritative. Does that make sense? Even so, I think there can be diversity on non-critical issues. My concern with the projection style of interpretation is that truth quickly becomes subjective and primarily dependent on the whims of the interpreter. I think there is a remarkably consistent core to early Christianity, call it kerygma, if you like and that is what I want to agree with. That, and for me, the apostles are authoritative…so if Paul tells me as a man to take off my hat when I pray or prophecy, I do it.

  21. on 30 Jul 2009 at 12:21 pmDustin

    Fair enough and well stated.

    I agree that there can and is diversity on non-critical issues. The problem arises when we (or anyone else) cannot agree on which issues are critical and which are non-critical.

    On a slight tangent based on your last sentence, I do wonder if we need to be more discerning on which commandments were intended by the Apostles to only refer to their immidiate recipients and which were intended to be for the church for years to come. I dont know many churches which actually obey the command to greet one another with a holy kiss, continue to collect money on the first day of the week (waiting for Paul to arrive to take it), or actually enforce the socially-situated command for women to remain absolutely silent.

    Perhaps this would make a better post as opposed to a comment.

    Dustin

  22. on 30 Jul 2009 at 12:30 pmSean

    Dustin,

    Great distinctions. You are right. (1) We must distinguish between critical and non-critical issues. and (2) We must distinguish between issues that were relevant only in their culture as opposed to principles that are relevant in every culture. This is, of course, the task of serious Bible study.

  23. on 30 Jul 2009 at 1:02 pmRon S.

    Concerning the original post article, great job Sean! Very well said!

    I’ve used this identical arguement in several online debates I’ve had over the years. I remember one I had on beliefnet several years back where I and another unitarian believer or two were going at it with quite a few trinitarians and I argued this exactly (though you did a much better, more detailed presentation here).

    If Paul and the other NT writers were teaching a new 3 in 1 conception of God that Jesus gave them, there would be as much if not MORE records of them in controversy with the audiences they were preaching to then. If they had numerous problems convincing fellow Jews that Gentile believers didn’t need to be circumcised or to follow all the Torah laws, then they darn sure would have had even more problems convincing them that their conception of Yahweh as a single entity was wrong and that He was really three. Not to mention the – oh btw, that guy that was crucified wasn’t just the Messiah, but he was God himself – would have taken some serious explaning.

    Yet there’s no record of that ANYWHERE in the NT like there are with the other controversies? Come on, get real. It doesn’t take a genius to see that it is not recorded anywhere because it simply didn’t happen – at all!

  24. on 30 Jul 2009 at 11:43 pmJohnO

    Sean,

    On the issue of what form of Christianity do we accept as authoritative, I think the answer needs to be based on the cannon. Where the cannon ends is where I end.

    I find this incredibly arbitrary, considering the stances you take on other issues. Have no doubt that an appeal to cannon is an appeal to at least a third or fourth century decision made by men (in the traditional defense taken). And that traditional defense relies on the majority decision of the time. However, many of your own stances on many other issues deny the majority decision of that time as well (making your argument contradictory). On what reasoning do you uphold the traditional cannon, cutting out writings like Maccabees, Tobit, Wisdom, and perhaps even Thomas? (I bring up Thomas since most historical scholars consider him a 5th gospel source worthy of consideration).

  25. on 31 Jul 2009 at 12:22 amRay

    When the Jews said in John 19:7, “He made himself the Son of God”, we can see that they did not believe in him.

    I suppose that when men began to worship the Lord Jesus (and rightfully so) that they began to see how much he is as God is.
    This therefore opened up an opportunity for men to make their doctrines wanting their approval of men. And it seems to me that
    many of them received it of men.

  26. on 31 Jul 2009 at 6:25 amSean

    JohnO,

    It is not arbitrary for a Christian to state that the Bible is his sacred text as opposed to later uninspired writings.

    It is not contradictory to take some things from sub-apostolic history and leave others. There are a great many things that post-biblical Christians believed and practiced that I am in complete agreement about. One of those things is that the New Testament contains the 27 books that it does. Besides it is not like they flipped a coin to determine which books were included. There were determinative criteria.

    On the matter of the apocrypha, I reject it because the Jews reject it as not part of the holy cannon and they were the custodians of these oracles. That doesn’t mean that a book like Maccabees can’t be useful for study, but it does mean that when in 2 Maccabees someone prays for the dead, I’m not beholden to start praying to saints.

    I’d be curious to hear what your authoritative text collection is (i.e. your cannon). Or do you not believe any writings are inspired?

  27. on 31 Jul 2009 at 8:19 amJohnO

    Sean,

    It is not arbitrary for a Christian to state that the Bible is his sacred text as opposed to later uninspired writings.

    How does a Christian know which writings from Christians are inspired? Is it not entirely plausable that a letter written today from one Christian to another is entirely inspired by God? That is the arbitrary part to me.

    It is not contradictory to take some things from sub-apostolic history and leave others. There are a great many things that post-biblical Christians believed and practiced that I am in complete agreement about. One of those things is that the New Testament contains the 27 books that it does. Besides it is not like they flipped a coin to determine which books were included. There were determinative criteria.

    There is nothing from a sub-apostolic history. Everything is a post-apostolic history. Luke isn’t even an apostle, neither is the writer of Hebrews (and in my view, Revelation). That determinative criteria was, again, only used by a subset of Christianity. There was, again, a pluriformity. And despite cannonicity the other books continued to be used, believed, and referenced.

    On the matter of the apocrypha, I reject it because the Jews reject it as not part of the holy cannon and they were the custodians of these oracles. That doesn’t mean that a book like Maccabees can’t be useful for study, but it does mean that when in 2 Maccabees someone prays for the dead, I’m not beholden to start praying to saints.

    Only the later Jewish rabbis rejected these books. They also rejected Christianity. The earlier Jewish peoples accepted most these books, and used them as the basis for writing their own (DSS). The Saduccees rejected most prophecy. And the later rabbis rejected apocalyptic works (because of their social and political effects).

    I’d be curious to hear what your authoritative text collection is (i.e. your cannon). Or do you not believe any writings are inspired?

    Of course I believe in inspired Scripture. However, I see no reason to define “inspired” it as Westminster or many fundamentalists do. I absolutely believe in the cannon we have. I also think that many other writings we have must be taken into account of how we read all these writings (intertextuality). Could other writings be inspired? Other Christians thought so. How can I blanket all writings with a ‘no’, without explicitly, and only, leaning on tradition (the traditional you so want to peel off).

  28. on 31 Jul 2009 at 9:24 amSean

    Sean,

    How does a Christian know which writings from Christians are inspired? Is it not entirely plausable that a letter written today from one Christian to another is entirely inspired by God? That is the arbitrary part to me.

    so you don’t believe in a closed cannon? I wonder what criteria of authenticity you would use to test a modern letter to see if it should be included in the Bible.

    There is nothing from a sub-apostolic history. Everything is a post-apostolic history. Luke isn’t even an apostle, neither is the writer of Hebrews (and in my view, Revelation). That determinative criteria was, again, only used by a subset of Christianity. There was, again, a pluriformity. And despite cannonicity the other books continued to be used, believed, and referenced.

    subapostolic is post-apostolic; it is a technical term used to denote the time from the death of John to the death of Polycarp…i.e. those whose lives overlaped with the apostles. What groups are not in the subset of Christianity? Are you referring to Marcion or the Gnostics or what?

    Only the later Jewish rabbis rejected these books. They also rejected Christianity. The earlier Jewish peoples accepted most these books, and used them as the basis for writing their own (DSS). The Saduccees rejected most prophecy. And the later rabbis rejected apocalyptic works (because of their social and political effects).

    “Accepting” these books is not the same as regarding them as holy texts is it? Apparently, Jesus saw the Bible in an “orthodox” way calling it Law, Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24.44). Are you saying that the apocrypha (and other Psuedepigraphical writings) should be included in the Bible?

    Of course I believe in inspired Scripture. However, I see no reason to define “inspired” it as Westminster or many fundamentalists do. I absolutely believe in the cannon we have.

    You believe in the cannon we have?!??! Why do you keep niggling at it saying it is incomplete and that other writings should be included? Are you saying you believe in the Bible plus other writings? If so what are those other writings? How do YOU determine which should and should not be in the Bible. Back to the problem of post-modern ego-centrism where the individual is the ultimate arbiter of truth.

    I also think that many other writings we have must be taken into account of how we read all these writings (intertextuality).

    No one disputes that it is informative and helpful to read non-biblical literature in order to tell us about the culture, history, etc. of the period.

    Could other writings be inspired? Other Christians thought so. How can I blanket all writings with a ‘no’, without explicitly, and only, leaning on tradition (the traditional you so want to peel off).

    Tradition that goes back to the apostles is different than tradition that developed later. I’m not anti-tradition, I’m anti-mutation from biblical Christianity. Why can’t I be a biblical Christian? Why is that so offensive to you high-church types? You cannot both say “I absolutely believe the cannon we have” and also say that you cannot exclude other Christian writings. The whole concept of cannon is used to define what the holy writings are. If you believe “absolutely” in cannon then you also believe “absolutely” that everything NOT in the cannon is not in the cannon.

    Quite honestly, I have no idea what you do believe about these matters.

  29. on 31 Jul 2009 at 11:14 amRay

    As a child and even a young man in church over 30+ years ago
    I heard about the Dead Sea scrolls as if it was some kind of worthless thing, even something evil, as if we were not to want
    anything to do with them.

    A few nights ago I watched a TV program on the Dead Sea scrolls
    and they talked about it’s value, and how this amazing find supported the Bible, saying so much exactly as the Bible has. It seemed to me as if it was in fact a copy of Bible writings, a collection of what we would refer today as “the holy scriptures.”

    I should have paid more attention to the program. I hope to see it again.

    I think I’ll look up Dead Sea scrolls on the internet to see what more I can find.

    I also heard about some writings someone found that wasn’t scripture but seemed to be written by some very wise men. This
    was talked about on a radio talk show. One Christian took the
    position that because it isn’t scripture we shouldn’t put any confidence in what it says, as it will no doubt lead people away from God and the true gospel.

    Another took the position that these writings by their content were
    written by some wise godfearing men. It could be at a time when
    in the area they were at, people had not heard about Jesus. They
    may have been writing walking in the fear of God at such a time, and these writings do lead people to God.

  30. on 01 Aug 2009 at 12:14 pmrobert

    “You cannot both say “I absolutely believe the cannon we have” and also say that you cannot exclude other Christian writings. The whole concept of cannon is used to define what the holy writings are. If you believe “absolutely” in cannon then you also believe “absolutely” that everything NOT in the cannon is not in the cannon”

    why do you think that other christian writings take away from those included in the cannon. Do you believe in whats wrote in them or do you just believe in who included them. Tradition effected those who made that view and you should insist on making your own view.
    if you think that everything in the cannon is 100% accurate to the originals then you dont understand the effects of mans traditions when the copies where rendered and the originals somehow disappeared.
    even the OT was not copied correctly from hebrew to greek

  31. on 01 Aug 2009 at 12:27 pmDustin

    Guys, guys, guys……

    Canon is spelled with only one ‘n’ (other than the last letter).

    can⋅on1  /ˈkænən/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [kan-uhn] Show IPA

    –noun 1. an ecclesiastical rule or law enacted by a council or other competent authority and, in the Roman Catholic Church, approved by the pope.
    2. the body of ecclesiastical law.
    3. the body of rules, principles, or standards accepted as axiomatic and universally binding in a field of study or art: the neoclassical canon.
    4. a fundamental principle or general rule: the canons of good behavior.
    5. a standard; criterion: the canons of taste.
    6. the books of the Bible recognized by any Christian church as genuine and inspired.
    7. any officially recognized set of sacred books.

  32. on 01 Aug 2009 at 12:34 pmrobert

    I am sorry to tell you Dustin it has now been officially changed here on this site because the authority here used it that way. it was a consensus by many before you corrected it

  33. on 01 Aug 2009 at 1:01 pmSean

    Dustin,

    thanks for the correction

    Robert,

    Of course I am not at all against reading other Christian (and non-Christian) literature in order to inform our historical, cultural, and linguistic understanding so that we may better interpret the Bible and in particular Jesus. In fact, I intend to spend a good deal of time focusing on patristic literature while at Seminary. My assertion before was in regards to authority. I take the biblical documents as God’s authoritative revelation–that is to say, as an adherent I’m bound to obey what the holy book says. This understanding was best articulated by my Lord in Luke 6.46.

  34. on 01 Aug 2009 at 1:38 pmrobert

    ‘My assertion before was in regards to authority. I take the biblical documents as God’s authoritative revelation–that is to say, as an adherent I’m bound to obey what the holy book says.”

    this is where we differ
    I believe that only the original writtings are 100% God inspired and any copy or translation needs to be understood that traditionalist had the opportunity to render certain things to support their own beliefs. sometimes it only takes a comma being put where it doesnt belong.

    but sometimes it seems to be more than that as the reference to Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 is rendered from the greek translation for the word virgin when the original hebrew does not use a word that could be rendered virgin. this tell me that Matthew 1:23 was not inspired by God but inspired by a poor translation from hebrew to greek. I believe all of the original writtings of Matthew are inspired by God but this shows that man can corrupt anything they can get their hands on.
    so you should understand nothing can be proven 100% God inspired but the originals which somehow have disappeared.
    this does not mean throw it out but to prove what you think is the truth before holding it as the truth completely

  35. on 01 Aug 2009 at 5:05 pmSean

    robert,

    I disagree with you there.

  36. on 01 Aug 2009 at 9:22 pmrobert

    are you saying you disagree with all or part.
    do you believe the hebrew text which it was based on less authoritive then the greek translation. do you believe the OT was God inspired or was just the greek translation.
    i did know we would disagree before i posted that thus the statement where we differ but was expecting a little more detail why

  37. on 09 Aug 2009 at 6:05 pmRay

    I’ve heard Trinitarians teach that Jesus claimed to be God in John
    8:58, but when Jesus asked the Jews for what reason would they
    stone him in John 10:33, his testimony about himself which was of
    God was that he is the Son of God, (John 10:36).

    I asked a trinitarian about this in a letter. I’ve often heard that Abraham lied when he told of Sarah being his sister, even as she was his half-sister, and his wife. It’s even been said that a half-truth is a whole lie.

    If we judge that Abraham lied about who Sarah was, but say that
    Jesus did not lie about who he is, but say that he claimed to be God, why do we judge thus?

    I received no reply.

  38. on 09 Aug 2009 at 7:08 pmRay

    It seems clear that the historical record tells us that centuries after
    Jesus came in the flesh, men began to make their doctrines about God for their own acceptance, to be accepted by men.

  39. on 11 Sep 2009 at 11:02 amXavier

    “…the Trinity was foreign to the way first century Jews thought about God and the Messiah.”

    altho it seems to me that this statement is true when it comes to God, what 1st century Jews thought about the Messiah varied alot didn’t it?

    For example, some thought there were 2, others that he would be a rich person etc?

  

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