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The Progressive Revelation of Our Triune God

July 10, 2009

My conversation on Psychochemiker’s post on the Trinity made me think of a hypothetical question that I would like to ask my non-LDS Christian friends. (My LDS friends are welcome to chime in too of course!) 🙂

To summarize the discussion we were having, I was sharing my view that the doctrine of the Trinity is the only doctrine on the nature of God that faithfully interprets all of the revelations given in both the OT and the NT. Embracing the separateness of the divine Persons while denying their ontological oneness results in polytheism. Embracing monotheism and denying the separateness of the Persons results in modalism. The Trinity is the only doctrine that remains faithful to all of the revelations that God has given of Himself. The separateness of their Persons accounts for all the places where we see interaction between the Father, Spirit, and Son. The unity of one divine nature/Being accounts for all the passages that say there is only one God.

Even though God has chosen to reveal Himself progressively to humanity, the revelation of the Trinity was not without foretelling from the OT. Isaiah had given many specific prophecies about Jesus, including references to His Deity (Isa. 9:6), in the context of his teaching that there is only one God.

Now, in considering the LDS claims of modern revelation (where we do not find any foretelling to justify the radical contradiction of core Biblical revelations on the nature of God), I would like to consider the following hypothetical scenario:

What if the OT did not include any foretelling of the Messiah? Should Christians reject Jesus’ claims of Deity – even given the historical arguments that he rose from the dead?


Let me explain my thoughts behind this:

Throughout the OT, the prophets proclaimed that there is only one true God. If there were no indications that the Messiah would also be God (Isa. 9:6), or the detailed prophecies concerning the Messiah and His mission (Isa. 53), including the timing of His arrival and death (Dan. 9:25-26), true worshipers of God would be justified in questioning Jesus’ claims to divinity. His claims would seem contradictory to everything that YHWH had revealed!  In other words, if there were no prophecies of a Messiah, I would (or at least it would be understandable that I should!) become a Jew in order to worship the one true God. I would (or I justifiably could) reject Jesus as a false prophet.

Now, I should add that I don’t think the NT revelation is actually contradictory to the OT as the LDS teaching on the nature of God is contradictory with both the NT and the OT.  The revelations in the NT are progressive, building upon the revelations in the OT, but they are not contradictory.  The OT teaches that there is one true God.  The NT reveals that this one true God exists eternally in 3 divine persons.

Do you agree or disagree with my hypothetical scenario?  Is there anything I’m missing here?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. psychochemiker permalink
    July 11, 2009 4:44 pm

    I decided to search for and include some of the polemical works Jewish works provide against Christianity. I do this not because I agree with them (I severely disagree), but because I think the same tactics can be (and often are employed) by those who seek to “protect” Christianity from Mormonism.

    Q: Who do you think Jesus was?
    A: According to most theologians and Jewish scholars, Jesus was a 1st Century Jew who claimed to be the Messiah and died without fulfilling the Messianic prophesies, including bringing universal peace.
    Q: Doesn’t the [Old Testament] prove that Jesus is the messiah?
    A: No, every on of the biblical or rabbinic passages that missionaries brings as a proof that Jesus is the Messiah, have been either mistranslated, misquoted, taken out of context or even fabricated. When analyzed carefully, the Jewish Scriptures do not point to Jesus and in fact disqualify him as the Jewish Messiah.
    Q: Did you know that believing in Jesus is the most Jewish thing you can do?
    A: According to Judaism the Messiah will not be divine or eliminate the obligation to observe Torah. Jews believe in a monotheistic system of a non-corporeal God. By believing that Jesus is “co-equal to God the Father” Jews for Jesus have crossed an unbridgeable chasm by accepting a belief idolatrous for Jews.

    source

    The last point is even illustrated in the New Testament: In John 10:, we find that some 1st century Jews believed that God was inherently a single personed entitym and probably non-corporeal.

    31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? 33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. 34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? 35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; 36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? 37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.

    Some 21st Century Jews continue to believe, as their first century counterparts, that the trinity is incompatible with strict monotheism:

    The foundation of Christian theology includes belief in the bodily incarnation of G-d, that G-d exists as a Trinity, and that Jesus was a mediator between G-d and man. “Hebrew Christian” missionaries claim that this theology is totally compatible with Judaism.As stated earlier, Judaism maintains that certain beliefs may be permissible for non-Jews, but not for Jews. The Christian theology concerning G-d is one example of a belief that is absolutely forbidden to Jews according to the Hebrew Bible, as the following biblical
    sources demonstrate:
    1) The commandment to believe in G-d’s absolute Oneness was given specifically to the children of Israel (the Jewish people), as is stated in the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel, The Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.” The concept expressed in this verse not only refutes the plurality of gods, but also asserts that G-d is the only true existence. Biblically, G-d is not only infinite, but He transcends time, space and matter. G-d has no beginning and no end, as it says in Isaiah 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last and besides
    Me there is no other.” While Judaism believes that G-d manifests Himself to His creation (humanity) in many ways, (i.e. as a judge or a protector) G-d’s essence itself is indivisible and therefore without any possibility of distinction. Something that transcends both time and space cannot be described as consisting of three different aspects. The moment we attribute any such distinctions to G-d’s essence, we negate His absolute Oneness and unity.*The following verses from the Hebrew Bible, when correctly translated, further substantiate this fundamental and crucial Jewish belief in the Oneness of G-d: “See now that I, even I, am He and there is no god with Me” (Deuteronomy 32:39) and “There is nothing else besides G-d” (Deuteronomy 4:35). 2) Jews are also forbidden to envision that G-d has “any likeness of anything.” Deuteronomy 4:15-19 and Deuteronomy 5:8-9 are only some of the many biblical references prohibiting Jews from believing that G-d dwells in bodily form, as claimed in the New Testament.* 3) The prohibition against a mediator is found in the Second Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) Therefore, the New Testament statement in John 14:6,
    that “No one comes to the Father, but through Me [Jesus]” is not acceptable to Jews. Even if he or she considers something to be a part of G-d, a Jew is not permitted to use it as a mediator. The Torah teaches that each person is capable of connecting with G-d directly. source

    Now obviuosly, all Evangelical and Mormon Christian will be unconvinced from these arguments, but hopefully we could analyze the assumptions going into their viewpoint and our respective viewpoints to better understand them, and ourselves.

    Some 21st century Jews, like their 1st century counterparts make a strict assumption that one God = a single person. I would posit that this is also what Isaiah thought. Of course, both Evangelical and Mormon Christians posit that multiple persons can be allowed in one God. While Evangelicals require one “ontological being” of God united in being as well as will, and LDS allow one community of divine beings united in will but not in being.

  2. July 12, 2009 6:58 am

    Just two making thing interresting, this is what some 21st century Jews think about Christians. This is taken from Jews for Jesus.

    “Sometimes people ask us, “How long has Jews for Jesus been around?” We love that question because it gives us the chance to grin and say: “Since 32 A.D., give or take a year.” The joke reminds people that a minority of Jewish people have always believed and proclaimed the gospel, and that we follow in that same tradition.”

    And Here is what they say Christians believe.

    Statement of Faith

    We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are divinely inspired, verbally and completely inerrant in the original writings and of supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and life.

    We recognize the value of traditional Jewish literature, but only where it is supported by or conformable to the Word of God. We regard it as in no way binding upon life or faith.

    We believe in one sovereign God, existing in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, perfect in holiness, infinite in wisdom, unbounded in power and measureless in love; that God is the source of all creation and that through the immediate exercise of His power all things came into being.

    We believe that God the Father is the author of eternal salvation, having loved the world and given His Son for its redemption.

    We believe that Jesus the Messiah was eternally pre-existent and is co-equal with God the Father; that He took on Himself the nature of man through the virgin birth so that He possesses both divine and human natures.

    We believe in His sinless life and perfect obedience to the Law; in His atoning death, burial, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, high-priestly intercession and His personal return in power and glory.

    We believe that the Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son; that He was active in the creation of all things and continues to be so in providence; that He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and that He regenerates, sanctifies, baptizes, indwells, seals, illumines, guides and bestows His gifts upon all believers.

    We believe that God created man in His image; that because of the disobedience of our first parents at the Garden of Eden they lost their innocence and both they and their descendants, separated from God, suffer physical and spiritual death and that all human beings, with the exception of Jesus the Messiah, are sinners by nature and practice.

    We believe that Jesus the Messiah died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice; that all who believe in Him are justified, not by any works of righteousness they have done, but by His perfect righteousness and atoning blood and that there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

    We believe that Israel exists as a covenant people through whom God continues to accomplish His purposes and that the Church is an elect people in accordance with the New Covenant, comprising both Jews and Gentiles who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Redeemer.

    We believe that Jesus the Messiah will return personally in order to consummate the prophesied purposes concerning His kingdom.

    We believe in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust, the everlasting blessedness of the saved and the everlasting conscious punishment of the lost.

    And here is what they say the Hebrew Bible says about the trinty.

    Don’t Christians Believe in Three Gods?

    No! It’s a very common misrepresentation that while Jews believe in one God, Christians believe in three. The fact is that Christianity is as firmly monotheistic as Judaism.

    What Christians believe is that this one God exists, in a way finite man can never fully understand, in three persons or personalities. This belief is not based upon philosophical arguments, but on the Scriptures–both Old and New Testaments.

    We affirm that the Hebrew Bible teaches the oneness of God.

    The cardinal affirmation of the Jewish people has always been the Sh’ma: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” But along with the emphasis on the oneness of God are a number of hints that He is at the same time somehow more than one.

    One such hint is the number of times plural forms of names and words are used in reference to God. The common Hebrew word for God, Elohim, is itself plural in form. The singular counterpart of Elohim, namely Eloah, is used ten times less than is the plural form. Plural verbs are sometimes employed with the name Elohim, as in Genesis 20:13.1 Plural pronouns are at times used by God when referring to Himself, as in Genesis 1:26.2 Other descriptions of God are sometimes found in the plural, which is not always evident in our English translations (for instance, Ecclesiastes 12:13 or Isaiah 54:54).

    Even more striking is the very word used in the Sh’ma to proclaim the oneness of God, echad. This word allows for a plurality or diversity within unity. This can be seen especially clearly in several passages. In Genesis 1:55, 2:246, Ezra 2:647 and Ezekiel 37:178, the oneness is the result of combining evening and morning, man and wife, the individual members of an assembly, and two sticks, respectively. There is however, another word in Hebrew to describe an indivisible unity, namely yachid. It so happens that the scholar Maimonides9, when composing his famous Thirteen Articles of Faith, substituted yachid for echad in describing the nature of God. Ever since, the notion of an indivisible unity of God has been fostered in Judaism; nevertheless, the Bible gives ample instances to show that there is a diversity within God’s unity.

    The Zohar, the foundation book of Jewish mysticism, recognized that the idea of a plurality-in-unity is not foreign to Jewish thinking. While the medieval mystics’ idea is different from the Christian idea of the Trinity, the basic idea of a plurality within the one God still holds. The passage from the Zohar, commenting on the Sh’ma, reads as follows:

    “Hear, O Israel, YHVH Elohenu YHVH is one.” These three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of Faith: in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eyes alone. The mystery of the audible voice is similar to this, for though it is one yet it consists of three elements–fire, air, and water, which have, however, become one in the mystery of the voice. Even so it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by YHVH Elohenu YHVH–three modes which yet form one unity.10

    In fact, beside God Himself, there are two other personalities in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures who are portrayed as distinct from, yet somehow the same as God. These other two are the angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of God or Holy Spirit.

    The angel of the Lord is mentioned a number of times but is also identified with God Himself. For instance, in Genesis 16:7 and 16:13 He is called respectively the angel of the Lord and then the Lord.11 Another example would be Genesis 22:11 and 22:12. This particular individual is both distinct from and identified with God Himself.12

    Then there is the Spirit of God. God’s Spirit is spoken of in the Scriptures as a personality of His own, yet identified as God. Such passages include Genesis 1:2, Psalm 51:13, or Isaiah 11:2.13

    Because Israel was surrounded by polytheists in ancient times and tended to absorb the idolatry of those nations, the Hebrew Scriptures emphasized God’s oneness more than His “tri-unity.” But by the days of the New Testament, when idolatry was no longer a problem in Israel, the idea of God’s “tri-unity” was more clearly articulated in the Scriptures. The three personalities just mentioned are portrayed in the New Testament as God the Father, God the Son (the Messiah, Jesus) and God the Spirit–yet all without compromising the fundamental affirmation of the Sh’ma: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” an affirmation which Jesus himself termed “the most important commandment.”14

    You might protest, “But don’t Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God? But if Jesus is God, how can he be the Son of God? Look, you’re making a man into God, and on top of that, God doesn’t have a son!”

    Again, not true! In Exodus 4:22-23, Israel is called God’s “son.”15 The King of Israel is referred to as God’s “son” in I Chronicles 17:13.16 That the Messiah would also be God’s son is stated in the Talmud:

    Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days),’Ask of me anything and I will give it to thee, as it is said [Ps. 2:7,8]. I will tell of the decree: [The Lord hath said unto me, “Thou art my son;]l this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance.”17

    The idea in the Scriptures is not that a man became God–God forbid–but that the Messiah would himself be God coming as a man. Isaiah 9:6 portrays the coming of the Messiah in these terms: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But if God is indeed a “tri-unity,” then it is possible for the Messiah both to be called God and also to exist in a relationship characterized as “son of God.” This is the conclusion we Jews who believe in Jesus are driven to as we study the Scriptures. With our fellow Jews, we affirm that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”–a oneness characterized by a “tri-unity.”

    So what are the Jews saying about mormons. You worship idol’s.

  3. July 12, 2009 3:09 pm

    Again As Jews for Jesus say’s. When you translate what is writen it say’s.

    The Shema

    Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!

    Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the Shema, has always been Israel’s great confession. It is this verse more than any other that is used to affirm the fact that God is one and is often used to contradict the concept of plurality in the Godhead. But is it a valid use of this verse?

    On one hand, it should be noted that the very words “our God” are in the plural in the Hebrew text and literally mean “our Gods.” However, the main argument lies in the word “one,” which is a Hebrew word, echad. A glance through the Hebrew text where the word is used elsewhere can quickly show that the word echad does not mean an absolute “one” but a compound “one.” For instance, in Genesis 1:5, the combination of evening and morning comprise one (echad) day. In Genesis 2:24, a man and a woman come together in marriage and the two “shall become one (echad) flesh.” In Ezra 2:64, we are told that the whole assembly was as one (echad), though of course, it was composed of numerous people. Ezekiel 37:17 provides a rather striking example where two sticks are combined to become one (echad). The use of the word echad in Scripture shows it to be a compound and not an absolute unity.

    There is a Hebrew word that does mean an absolute unity and that is yachid, which is found in many Scripture passages,2 the emphasis being on the meaning of “only.” If Moses intended to teach God’s absolute oneness as over against a compound unity, this would have been a far more appropriate word. In fact, Maimonides noted the strength of “yachid” and chose to use that word in his “Thirteen Articles of Faith” in place of echad. However, Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) does not use “yachid” in reference to God.

  4. Michael Mattei permalink
    July 13, 2009 3:38 am

    Well, its very speculative. I personally don’t think anything as monumental as the incarnation could not be foreshadowed. If the prophets had failed to do so, the rocks would have cried out. Far better (that is actual) theologians than I have gone to great depth about how all the Bible is really about Jesus, he’s the “decoder ring” for all the scripture. It really all fits together. There are overt and covert moments of Christ through the old Testament. I particularly like to focus on Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. It’s the mirror image of what his covenant partner, God, would do on his behalf. The Judaism that did not have the groundwork laid for Christ would be a very different thing indeed.

    I suppose an “unannounced Christ” would be best likened to a Moses figure. The Israelites cried out for a deliverer but they really didn’t have any prophecy (that I can remember off the top of my head) to identify him. When Moses came he came with signs and power brought forth deliverance to the people, constantly reinforced by the presence of God’s works. He led the people with God given and readily apparent authority.

    Jesus’s ministry was accompanied by many miraculous signs. It unified many people that had never before been unified. The end result sprung up a movement that would not die even after Jerusalem was razed some forty years later. The fact there was prophecy foretelling Christ is major proof that He was what He claimed to be. It is not the only proof. There are witnesses of the faithful, there is archeological proof for the sites and events surrounding His ministry, there is even oppositional support in the form of the writings of Josephus the Jewish historian who both acknowledged Him and His crucifixion, there is a continuity of history and witness from then to now.

    But again, I don’t think something as monumental as God taking on human form without creating ripples in the universe throughout time, forward and back. We can find proof of him because we must.

    The infinite became finite, even if only for a short span*, and nothing has ever been the same again.

    Now to return to the Mormon train of thought, they clearly lack substantial prophecy**. The major proof is Joseph Smith testimony substantiated by eleven or so witnesses. This does not seem like much. Many religious movements have members and witness easily to match. However, this particular conversation probably belongs in another thread.

    *I believe the incarnation continues, which makes Jesus both a glorified human and God. A theological discussion for another time.

    **The prophecy claims I’ve seen have struck me as tenuous at best.

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