This Site Is No Longer Active

Check out RESTITUTIO.org for new blog entries and podcasts. Feel free to browse through our content here, but we are no longer adding new posts.

Who Is Messiah? (Part 5)


History and Development

Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and not God the Son. His belief about God reflected the central tenet of Jewish faith, that God is One.

Mark 12:
28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

Jesus quoted the Shema in this passage. When he did, the scribe readily agreed with him. Was Jesus a Trinitarian or did he affirm the Jewish unitarian monotheistic creed? Jesus and the scribe both agreed that YHWH was the One True God and there was no other. The scribes, and indeed all Jews from Old Testament times on, held that God was one, and never considered it in a Trinitarian sense. The word “discreetly” in verse 34 is translated “wisely” or “intelligently” in other versions. Jesus concluded their discourse with the statement, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” If Jesus was a Trinitarian, he’d have been dishonest to agree with the scribe.

Had Jesus believed that God was one essence, but existing in three persons, it would have constituted a major departure from traditional Jewish doctrine. Such a departure on the part of Jesus or his disciples would have been met with questions and controversy as well. But no such controversy ever occurred in the first century Church. There was controversy about the need for Messiah to be crucified, about the need to keep the letter of the Law, and especially about the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church. But no controversy ever arose in the first century concerning the definition of God as more than one person.

None of the apostles subscribed to the notion that Jesus was God. The first century Church (who were mostly converted Jews) believed that Jesus was the Messiah promised to Israel. However, when more and more Gentiles became Christians, Gentile thinking came to dominate the Church, replacing Hebrew thinking, as discussed in the article about the Hebrew Origins of the Bible. With the loss of Hebrew understanding, the terms “Son of God” and “Son of Man” lost much of their meaning and eventually took on new meaning, based on Greek philosophical ideas. Similarly, words like “Lord,” “God,” “person” and “Word” acquired new meaning when the Hebrew understanding was lost. Confusion arose as to the exact relationship between God and Jesus.

Gnosticism was a philosophical movement that predated Christianity, and stemmed from a variety of sources. There are a number of variations, but the basic theme that they have in common is that the spiritual is good, and matter is evil. Escape from the evil of matter was considered to be dependent on gnosis or special knowledge available to those who are fully initiated. Christians who embraced gnosticism began to develop a different interpretation of Jesus. He could not be fully human to them, since matter is evil, so they began to theorize that he was either a spiritual being who inhabited a body, or else only “appeared” to be human (a belief known as “docetism”).

Those who considered him a spiritual being considered him to be a “lesser god” created by God some time after the beginning, but still many years before his birth. But if that were the case, he would not have been entirely human. Likewise, if he only “appeared” to be human, he did not truly come in the flesh. John refuted these ideas in his epistles.

I John 4:
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

II John
7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

In addition, Greek philosophy, particularly stoicism, spoke of a supreme rational principal, which they called logos. It also taught that “hypostases” were realities which derived from higher essentials. The highest principle was called “the One” and from that was derived the second hypostasis, called Mind. From this came the third, or the Soul. Such ideas were incorporated into Christian doctrine as early as the second century Apologists, after the Hebrew understanding of the Messiah was largely lost. They began to describe the Word as a pre-existent person, created by God, but inferior to Him. This shift from the historical coming of the Messiah in the flesh to the incarnation of a pre-existent being, provided the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Historian Paul Schrodt, in his book The Problem of the Beginning of Dogma in Recent Theology, writes the following:

The world of the second century was marked in its philosophy and religion by a strong syncretism [mixing of alien systems of thought]. The highest expression of this tendency was, of course, Gnosticism. Within its dualism between spirit and matter, cosmological speculations and progressive emanations (Aions) from the highest God linking via these aions to matter, there was found also a place for a revised Gospel of salvation through Christ.

With the Church this hellenization has remained and is to be found first amongst the apologists of the second century…The Church’s monotheism always retained a certain heathen, philosophical pluralistic coloring. This strange coloring of the doctrine of God began with the taking over of the heathen-philosophical notion of Logos, which in the heathen background had a different meaning. In John’s gospel the Logos is tied to the notion of “teacher” and “teaching.” In the philosophy of that time it was, on the contrary, only one Aion of the Most High God. It was in this last meaning that the apologists [Justin Martyr and others] read Philo’s doctrine of the Logos into Scripture.

Thus the Logos, or Word, was changed from God’s preexisting purpose to a preexisting person. Justin Martyr (mid 2nd century) proposed that it was the Son of God, rather than the word of God, which existed before, and appeared as an angel in the Old Testament. Still, the Son was not yet “co-eternal” or “co-equal” with the Father, as later developments described him.

Tertullian was the first Christian writer to use the term “trinity” to describe three “persons” having “one substance,” around the end of the 2nd century. But he still considered the second and third persons to have proceeded from the first to fulfill a specific function. Origen (early-to-mid 3rd century), on the other hand, considered them to have always existed. He coined the term “eternally begotten” or “eternally generated” which is actually a meaningless contradiction in terms, since “begotten” means someone is brought into existence. But “three persons in one substance” means “God” is now a “substance” or an “essence” rather than a person.

Such language, which is essential to the doctrine of the Trinity, was coined to explain the apparent contradiction between Jesus being deity (in whatever sense) and the belief in only one God. Had these Christian writers simply maintained the original Jewish understanding of God and Lord, along with the understanding of Messiah being God’s Son and thus His ultimate representative, there would have been no contradiction. There would therefore have been no need to coin new language which, in addition to being illogical and self-contradictory, is found nowhere in the Bible. Instead they believed that Greek philosophy provided a way to explain the complex nature of God. They then took these foreign concepts and read them back into the Scriptures, in an attempt to prove that the concepts were Biblical.

As time went on, differences in the nature of the Son and of his relationship with the Father grew more contentious. Athanasius taught that Jesus was co-equal with God, while the Arians believed he was inferior to the Father (though they still believed he preexisted his birth). The heated division over these questions necessitated the Council of Nicea in 325. Under the leadership of the Emperor Constantine, it was officially declared that Jesus was God. The Nicene creed states that he was “begotten of the Father before all ages; God from God; Light from Light; True God from True God; begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.” In 381, the Council of Constantinople added the designation that the Holy Ghost was “the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; and who spoke through the prophets.”

The doctrine was further developed in the middle ages, as witnessed by the Athanasian Creed of the fifth century. It states that “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.”

However, complete equality with regards to their origins was still not claimed for all three, but rather it states, “The Father is neither made, created, nor begotten. The Son of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.” After the Reformation, this distinction was dropped and the definition of the Trinity was fully developed into three persons in one God, completely equal in origin as well as substance, power, and glory.

Since the first introduction of these doctrines, there were always individuals or small groups that opposed the “orthodox” teaching. They were generally excommunicated, exiled, and often persecuted and even killed. Yet there have always been small pockets of Biblical Unitarians throughout history. The 16th century Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation brought it more into the open, and during the 1800s many more people came to an understanding of this view of Jesus. Today, many Biblical scholars recognize that the Scriptures present Jesus Christ as the only-begotten Son of God, and not God the Son. However, they are in the minority and often ridiculed or berated. Nevertheless, they present a sound case that doctrine of the Trinity cannot be shown from the Bible, and in fact is refuted by it.

To Be Continued…

5 Responses to “Who Is Messiah? (Part 5)”

  1. on 09 Mar 2010 at 12:02 amDoubting Thomas

    Mark C.
    Good article. I clicked on the “Hebrew Origins” link and got that “content encoding error” again. Maybe my computer doesn’t like your computer… 🙂

  2. on 09 Mar 2010 at 12:06 amrobert

    its not just you
    i got this when i tried

    The web address you entered could not be found

  3. on 09 Mar 2010 at 12:38 amRandy

    Mine worked. Enjoyed the article, well written. Just makes one wonder how many have believed the “lie” apparently put forth again by Satan. Would seem the first commandment has been brokened by many, knowingly and unknowingly. Looking forward to reading more.

  4. on 09 Mar 2010 at 3:20 amMark C.

    I edited the link. Let me know if it works now.

  5. on 09 Mar 2010 at 8:08 amDoubting Thomas

    Mark C.
    That link works fine now. Thanks…


Leave a Reply