The Tyranny of Christological Orthodoxy
By F. Paul Haney
It can be shown from history that many of those who departed from religious orthodoxy, that is, from the trinitarian position, died horrible and cruel deaths. Others gave in, joined the orthodox group, and kept quiet. This dreadful scenario would be a wave of the future in America if some people had their way. Certainly, religious persecution is occurring today in a number of nations around the world.
Introducing: Michael Servetus
"Servetus, Michael, 1511-53, Spanish theologian and physician. His name in Spanish was Miguel Serveto. In his early years he came in contact with some of the leading reformers in Germany and Switzerland: Johannes Oecolampadius. Martin Bucer. Wolfgang Fabricius Capito. and probably Martin Luther.
"But he held views, concerning the Trinity in particular. that brought condemnation from the theologians of the Reformation as well as from those of the Roman Catholic Church.
"When he published De trinitatis erroribus (1531) and De trinitate (1532), the feeling of opposition was so strong that he assumed the name of Michel de Villeneuve, from the family home, Villanueva, and spent some time in Lyons, working on an edition of Ptolemy's geography and other scientific works, then in Paris studying medicine.
"There he is said to have seen John Calvin. He became well known for his ability in dissection and had unusual success as a physician; he discovered that some of the blood circulates through the lungs. From 1541 to 1553 he lived in the palace of the archbishop of Vienna as his confidential physician.
"When (1553) he had a work setting forth his ideas of Christianity secretly printed, investigation was begun by the Inquisition. Servetus, arrested, tried, and condemned, escaped from prison. Several months later, while making his way to Italy, he was seized in Geneva by Calvin's order. There, after a long trial in which Calvin's condemnation was a stem factor, he was burned on Oct. 27, 1553, at the age of 42." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.
Letter to the Editor Published In 'The Journal,' April 30, 2003
To Dixon Cartwright Jr., Editor; The Journal; P.O. Box 1020; Big Sandy, TX 75755; Thursday, March 20, 2003
Bob Schmid, writing in THE JOURNAL (Jan. 31, 2003, "God is not one or the other"), posits that God Almighty is neither a biblically singular being, as in true monotheism, nor is he dual, as in two separate entities. Since the standard common-usage definition of polytheism is the worship and support of two or more gods, the two-separate-entities model represents pure polytheism, and polytheism is an abomination to the only true God of Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Those supporting the two-god model are, by definition, practicing polytheism. This fact can hardly be denied. As in Trinitarianism, however, the supporters of "Poly-Binitarianism" (a phrase we coined at Christ Fellowship Ministries to describe the peculiar Church of God "twogods-plus-millions-of-human-gods-later" model) insist that their worship model of two gods, plus their support of millions of latter-day human gods, somehow represents biblical monotheism, or one God. The logic of such a position escapes me, while the reason they profess this doctrine does not.
Bob Schmid suggests that both positions he mentioned, one God or two gods, miss the mark, as it were, and further, he has the "correct biblical model." His suggestion is amusing to be sure, but rather than "ground zero," I think "year zero" would be a bit more in keeping with his analogy. Nevertheless, the gist of his position seems to be that from time in eternity past to the birth of Christ, only one God being was in existence. Due to the birth of the Messiah and from then on, Schmid offers, God became two separate beings, a Father God and a Son God. In his letter, Schmid consistently capitalizes the word "God." By so doing, he is telling us that these two beings are divine, or as others have stated, "God as God is God."
Continuing, Mr. Schmid concludes that, "God was one, He became two, and He will be many." However, the writer contradicts himself and confuses his presentation in a desire to present the "correct biblical model," which model I suggest is neither correct nor biblical.
He states that the "relationship between God and his Word" (we are to assume this is the Messiah) was exactly the same from eternity past all the way to the birth of Christ even as the relationship is now between God and the Son, whom he calls "God the Son." If this is true, then because the current relationship is father to son (or God to God!), then the newborn baby preexisted himself and his birth as a son in some fashion and was, in all past eternity, a son to the Father. According to Schmid's assessment, the father-to-son relationship never changed from before the birth of Christ to after the birth of Christ. This means that rather than God existing as a single being prior to the birth of Christ, as Schmid writes in one place, Schmid now claims God existed as two beings, one called the Father and the other called the "Son" in his "biblical model." So, which is it? Did God exist as one singular entity in Old Testament times or not?
I see the problem. It is very difficult to make the case that the "Son of God" is also "God" but folks try it all the time, and wind up confusing themselves and the issue. And the "logic" they use turns out to being hauntingly similar to the trinitarian model. It reminds me of the old country tune, "I Am My Own Grandpa," which goes, "It sounds funny I know, but it really is so, I am my own grandpa." "'You are My witnesses,' says the LORD, and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He.
"'Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, and there was no foreign god among you; therefore you are My witnesses,' says the LORD, 'that I am God'" (Isaiah 10:10-12, NKJV).
I suggest that Yahweh, the Lord God, did indeed exist as one singular entity before the birth of Christ, the Lord Messiah, and further, that Yahweh, the Lord God, continues to exist as one singular being. The Messiah cannot be "God" unless someone redefines the word "God" away from Yahweh's singularity. Yet, not only is "God" constantly being redefined into a mushrooming pantheon of millions of separate and little "God" beings, the terms "monotheism" and "polytheism" are also being redefined today, all for the sake of church tradition. Once you redefine God, expansion into Greco/Roman polytheism is inevitable. Those who ardently support the poly-Binitarian cause, suggest that because the Hebrew "elohim" (430, as God) has various meanings, the word "God" can therefore apply to millions or billions of future humans turned into "God-beings," beings of the "God kind," a newly minted species.
However, in their rush to God status and power, poly-Binitarian proponents generally utilize the capitalized "God" (supreme Divinity) definition of "elohim" and to my knowledge, seldom, if ever, use the lower case "god" definitions, such as 'judges, angels, magistrates," or "mighty ones" in speaking of themselves becoming "God Beings." If they were to correctly suggest, "We will become magistrates and judges as magistrates and judges are magistrates and judges" and forget trying to usurp the power and prestige of the singular God, most arguments in this area would cease. And if they would come clean, if they would stop redefining common-usage words like polytheism, and if they would simply stop denying and admit their polytheistic stance up front and quit hiding it, we could get on about the business of clarifying the issues and deciding whether or not their brand of polytheism is the correct biblical worship model. Until then, the arguments will continue. F. Paul Haney
NOTE: The Armstrong polytheistic camp tries to make the case that "elohim" (Heb.430, "gods in the ordinary sense, used in the plural of the Supreme God, occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates, and sometimes as a superlative, as angels, great, exceeding, judges, mighty judges") is a "uniplural" noun, like, they say, "family" or "church." But they are dead wrong. The word "elohim" is the plural of Eloah (Heb.433, "God or god"). The words "family" and "church" are COLLECTIVE nouns as "collective bodies," words that by their nature include or may include two or more elements, yet are not plural in themselves, or "uni-plural." They are singular. The Greek word "kurios" translated "Lord" or "lord" in the NT, Greek 2962, is "controller, by implication Mr. (as a respectful title): God, Lord, master, Sir." Theos, NT Greek 2316, a deity, esp. with 3588, fig. A magistrate." F. Paul Haney
Letter sent to the editor 'The Journal,' April 30, 2003
To Dixon Cartwright Jr., Editor; The Journal; P.O. Box 1020; Big Sandy, TX 75755; Friday, June 30, 2003
I think it is high time in this ongoing "nature of God" debate, to lay our cards on the table and be totally honest with one another and with the world—maybe even brutally honest, even if that level of honesty makes us uncomfortable or angry. The nature of God debate is constantly being characterized as "Binitarian versus Unitarian," but that characterization is false. And it is false primarily because the term "Binitarian" does not properly describe the Armstrong camp worship model. Rather, the Armstrong camp's model is a first cousin to ancient Greco/Roman "polytheism" and nothing less. And this Armstrong model can only be appropriately described as polytheistic in nature.
The standard picture being presented to the brethren contains more than a simple error or mistake in terminology, I am afraid. The general debate rages about whether we should worship and support one God or worship and support two Gods. But this usual characterization contains a measure of fraud in the sense that the whole story is not being told. Rather, I believe that in their zeal to uphold the late Herbert Armstrong's polytheistic view of the gods of his imagination, a view in which many persons have a vested interest (which includes generous salaries for some preachers and a fear of losing friends), many Armstrong disciples and advocates of HWA's corrupt worship system are being blinded to the truth about that which they support. For the most part, I think these supporters are sincere but sincerely deceived persons. Consequently, the readers of The Journal are being led astray and deceived regarding the foundational position and the truth of the "Binitarian" worship model. Deceived individuals, no matter how sincere they may be, should be given mercy and treated kindly, but they also need to be awakened from their slumber.
Recently, Dave Havir wrote an article for The Journal entitled, "Can binitarians and unitarians get along?" (May 31, 2003, p. 3). In this article, he readily admits that he is a "binitarian" and goes on to rightly suggest that a brotherhood of love should prevail between these warring factions. I have no big quarrel with Mr. Havir's column. It was well presented but typical in one respect. Within his article and within others as well, including some letters to the editor that commonly appear in The Journal, a huge fraud is unwittingly being perpetuated and sustained upon the readership. Even those of us who believe in the one true God of Jesus Christ have fallen into this trap and propagate the inaccuracy.
The point: The debate is most definitely NOT between "binitarians" and "unitarians. "This is especially true if you capitalize the word "Unitarian" as is frequently done by writers (Mr. Havir did not capitalize "unitarian."). As soon as you capitalize this word, you have identified a particular historical and extant congregation of people who have their own peculiar views, many of which we in the "One-God Movement" reject. Those who support the one-God view are biblical monotheists who believe in the "unity," the oneness, or the singleness of the Creator God, Yahweh and do not, for the most part I believe, accept the standard "Unitarian" position. This is no minor point in the debate. If you are going to deride someone for his one-God belief system as many do, or simply discuss it, at least get the terminology right. Getting our terminology correct will go a long way toward understanding one another. But the next point is even worse.
The point: The debate is definitely NOT between "binitarians" and "unitarians." A "binitarian" is one who supports two gods of some sort that are usually equal in status. But the basic position of those who are most often called "binitarian" in the pages of The Journal is most definitely NOT "binitarian" at all! Armstrong disciples who are self-confessed worshipers and supporters of two separate Gods (a.k.a. “binitarian”) do not stop at the support of two separate Gods, although they balk at admitting the next level of worship and support. They are supporting, in the Armstrong mold and in the Armstrong tradition (which, I might add, is well documented), millions and perhaps billions of gods! They ultimately worship and support an essentially unlimited family of gods. So to suggest that the opponents of monotheism (defined accurately and biblically as the worship of one divine God) are merely supporting two Gods is inaccurate at best. It is just not true. Somebody is not being upfront or forthcoming in the presentation of his theology, I would suggest. Those supporting the Armstrong view are POLYTHEISTS, pure and simple—they are NOT "binitarian" in any sense.
Christ Fellowship Ministries has coined a new term for the followers of HWA. It is "Poly-Binitarian." The word "poly," meaning many (two or more), is added to the self-assigned designation of "binitarian." The members of the Armstrong camp who worship and support two Gods now (and millions of gods later) are slated, by their own admission, to become "Gods" themselves—even "Gods as God is God" with all the attendant power and glory of the Almighty. This fact does not seem to bother a whole lot of people in the "Armstrong Movement." Further, these newly created "Gods" are to be worshipped as Gods in the "wonderful world tomorrow." They are supposed to become "CoSaviors" and "Co-Creators"—Gods in their own right with power to create other humans, destroy them, and raise them from the dead, and more. And I heard this very testimony with my own ears from socalled "binitarian" preachers. In the final analysis, they are worshipping the "creature."
So, let's get the name right, folks. Let's call a spade a spade and stop hiding behind more expedient and convenient terms. People who support two gods plus millions of additional humanoid gods are not "binitarians" in any sense of the word. The word "binitarian" is not an accurate description of where they are coming from. Let's put our cards on the table and name the followers of many gods exactly what they are. They are polytheists. There is no other way to state this case and there is no way to defeat this true characterization no matter how much squirming goes on in the pews of the so-called "binitarian" camp. However uncomfortable the truth may be for all of us, let's be honest, shall we? Isn't this a better way?
Yet, regardless of the facts, very many practitioners of poly-binitarianism steadfastly refuse to admit their true practice of polytheism.
They claim that the common usage definitions of the words "polytheism" (which definition they reject) and "monotheism" (which, with a straight face and just like Trinitarians, they claim to practice), do not apply to them because those definitions by Webster are not "God's definitions." On the other hand, "binitarianism" must be one of "God's definitions" because it is that one definition they do accept. Let's face it. The worship and support of two or more gods is polytheism. That is the Plain Unvarnished Truth. If you want to use the name "PolyBinitarian," that is okay, because the multi-god theology the Armstrong camp supports is just that, worship and support of many gods beginning with two, and it is that view they should be presenting to the world, but are not.
One other problem: if the leaders, especially, of the so-called "binitarian" camp cannot be honest with themselves regarding the true character and the true name of their adopted worship model, how can they be honest with the world and with those whom they are trying to reach? Thank you. F. Paul Haney
LETTERS TO READERS OF THE FELLOWSHIP COMMENTATOR
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Thank you for writing and thanks for the materials. They are interesting but unconvincing. I don't know if you can characterize the thematic nature of the last several Fellowship Commentators as a "preoccupation," however. That term smacks of an "obsession." I prefer calling it a focus or topic. By contrast, the sermons I deliver in services usually cover other subjects. Since the issue of the nature of God is so involved and so many people have differing ideas, I believe it would be a disservice to the Fellowship Commentator readership and what I stand for with regard to the Commentator to touch upon this matter lightly and then move on to something else. I like to be thorough and as precise as possible, and since folks keep recycling many of the same objections to a singular God, I need to respond to them somewhat frequent1y. The repetition may at times be overkill, but it's better than neglecting those who have not yet learned. Besides, the issues of Christology and the nature of God are essential, I think, to proper biblical understanding. The more light that I shed on them, the better.
You wrote that, "theology has coined a word," and, "theology has invented a term" called "monotheism" and you claim that it, the term, excludes "biblical truth," essentially suggesting that the term is anti-biblical as not being found in the Bible. I suspect that you have been listening to my friend Ray Wooten because this is exactly his position regarding the terms "monotheism" and "polytheism." He essentially dismisses them and, insofar as I know, puts nothing in their place. But I suggest that theology has invented no such thing. These words are part of the English language and like other descriptive terms, we would be unable to communicate if we stuck our own definitions on them or dismissed them altogether. Words mean things and without proper definitions, words would be worthless; they would convey nothing. Theology is merely the study of God—it invents nothing—it describes the process of learning about God. Let me ask you: What terms would you use to describe a single-God concept and a multiple-God concept?
These common-usage words are representations of religious concepts, concepts that would be meaningless without some descriptive terminology. By nature, terms must be restrictive, especially in a given context, if they are to describe something that is meaningful. A tree cannot be a horse, nor could a shoe be a hat, if we are to converse at an intelligible level. In using the term monotheism to envisage two or more "God-beings" as some do, the sense of the word is destroyed and it becomes meaningless. So, if the term monotheism cannot be used to describe the single-God view, what else can be used? Just because some religious folks have hijacked this word and call the idea of two-gods-now-and-millions-later "monotheism," which it is not, or "threegods-in-one," dittos, does not mean that the term is faulty. The fault lies with the poly-binitarian and trinitarian folks who cannot face their own theology and feel a need to hide behind ambiguous words and terminology rather than present their worship model to the world for what it really is: multiple god support and worship, and face the consequences of their unbiblical stance.
You say the "truth" cannot be found through "theological processes." Think about what you are saying and then think about the theological papers you sent me, some of which are based upon The Companion Bible theological position appendices, written by E.W. Bullinger, trinitarian, and your wholehearted acceptance of his theology, at least on certain points. The Bible gives examples of learning the word of God (Acts 18:11), and therein is a "theological process." We are to get knowledge and wisdom, and thereby get understanding (Prov. 4:5, 7; 8:9-11; 16:16). Proverbs 1:22 tells us that fools hate knowledge. We are to "study to show ourselves approved unto God" as workmen (2 Tim. 2:15, KJV), more theological processes. No one I know suggests that the "only way" to come to the truth of God is through some sterile process of study, but to suggest that people cannot find God's truth via theology or the "study of God" is to not understand the process of learning or the desire of God on this point. Biblical learning is not an "either/or" proposition. The idea that "truth" only comes from reading the Bible is a fallacy of the highest order.
I agree when you say that "binitarianism preserves the same fundamental error found in trinitarianism" regarding calling their model monotheistic. But again, the problem is not with the term, but with the people who have hijacked the word "monotheism."
You wrote that you don't see HWA as being charismatic at all. I suggest you have not been paying attention. Maybe you were never in an audience when he walked in. Then you say that he was "good at presenting ideas in a way that got through to people." Well, one of the basic definitions of "charisma" is: "a special quality of leadership that captures the popular imagination and inspires unswerving allegiance and devotion." Perhaps you dismiss this term also, but recognize it or not, HWA had this quality. He captured the imagination, inspired people, and many became devoted to him. Some still are. In fact, many of the positions you take were established in the minds of HWA followers by HWA at one time or another.
HWA did in fact originate and popularize teachings. That he gathered some from other sources is immaterial; he was a master at redesigning others' teachings and presenting them as his own. Perhaps you can cite for me a prior source for the "God is a Family" doctrine that he taught, as he taught it. I have already written that this doctrine he presented was nothing more than Greco/Roman polytheism warmed-over, yet, HWA's brand, his presentation, I believe, was unique.
As to those "secretive" 134 "emendations" (scribal changes) you place so much weight upon, they are not a secret at all. Many folks are aware that copyists changed the "Tetragrammaton" YHWH (Yahweh) to read "Adonai" (LORD) in the Hebrew Bible. Fewer folks are aware that the scribes used not only Adonai for the "LORD" but also used "adoni" for non-divine persons in the Hebrew Bible in order to differentiate. One case cited in the papers you sent is the ever-popular objection to one singular God, "The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool' " (Psa.110:1). This passage is repeated in the New Testament several times. Where you would agree with Dean Wheelock in his Hebrew Roots publication that every place (134) where the word "Lord" (one cap with lower case letters) is mentioned in the Bible, that you line it out and replace it with "LORD" or "YHWH," I would suggest that you go slow on this project.
It is obvious that the passage above is referring to two different beings. But what are they? A modicum of research will show that the first "LORD" is the Hebrew Tetragrammaton YHWH (Strong's 3068), defined in Strong's Concordance (which has its limitations) as the SelfExistent or Eternal. This is Yahweh. The second "Lord" in Psalm 110 is the Hebrew word "adon" or "adoni" (Strong's 113) defined by James Strong as: ". . . from an unused root (meaning to rule); sovereign, i.e. controller (human or divine):- lord, master, owner, compare also names beginning with 'Adoni-.' "So, when you scratch out the second "Lord" and replace it with "LORD" or Yahweh, you have made a mistake. You have been misled. The second instance of "Lord" is not Yahweh or the Almighty Self-Existent One, but a being that is not divine, not deity, not God or even a God as you might suggest. Simple research will show that these are two different words that represent two different beings—one of which is divine and the other not divine. But alas, if you reject theology or the study of God, this kind of information will escape your notice.
You claim in your paper that, "the Jewish religion regards the Godhead, basically, as a single Being, a single individual." Then go on without any support to claim: "That wasn't always the case!" Then you write that the Sopherim (scribes) were "uncomfortable with the few passages that didn't square with their belief system" and as a result, "selectively changed them!" You state that they changed these words that "posed a challenge to the essence of their monotheistic views" and did so "under the pretext of protecting the sanctity of God's name" and "in order to accommodate the beliefs which they rigidly held." This sounds awfully prejudicial to me in addition to being mere wild claims. To assume evil intent on their part is just not the right thing to do, especially since you offered not one shred of supporting documentation attesting to why they made these 134 changes, beyond the common understanding of name-protection, which you apparently reject out of hand. Based on your incomplete knowledge, and what I see as severe prejudice, you go on to claim that Jewish scribes "imposed a theological stumbling-block, not only upon themselves, but before the Christian world, centuries later, even to the present in most circles." I strongly disagree with your conclusions on this issue as well as with the attitude you seem to present.
By lifting out of context the "I am not alone" portion of John 8:16, you exhibit a lack of understanding of the entire passage, which has to do with witnessing, not a number of persons in a Godhead. And your writings go on in this vein.
Perhaps you would like to explain why the Bible contains some 20,000 singular pronouns that refer to the one solitary God as "He," "Him," "His," and "I"? Will you suggest that the Jewish scribes changed all these from plural to singular in yet another conspiracy? If so, why did they overlook Genesis 1:26: "Let us make man in our image. . ."? In your response, do not neglect to read and comment upon the next passage: "So God created man in HIS own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen.l:27).
The Bible clearly states that there is but one God and that singular God states beside him there is no other God formed. God says, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3) but you say there are two Gods. The Lord Yahweh says that he is the LORD and there is no other in Isa. 45:6 but you say there are two beings called Yahweh.
It is clear to me that you are out of step with the Bible and have adopted certain positions that have little or no spiritual merit. I suggest that you seriously rethink your position.
F. Paul Haney
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Thank you for writing once more. I will, as you suggest, critique your four-page paper entitled: "The Doctrine of Antichrist. "
First, the bottom line: You did not say in so many words or define in an opening premise that what you call the "doctrine of antichrist is the worship of God in a manner different than your method. But, this is what I understand you to be saying throughout the piece. You are apparently defining both trinitarianism and biblical monotheism as part of the above named doctrine. You do not do so in precise words, but in an obtuse manner. Accordingly and directly, I strongly disagree that biblical monotheism is such a doctrine and resent your false implication that it is. (Never mind trinitarianism, since we both know it is a lame worldview).
As I read your writing, I got the distinct feeling that many of your negative and sarcastic remarks were directed toward those persons who believe in One God and that includes me (as opposed to our ideas), remarks that seem to be naming all those who believe as we do, as some sort of despicable "antichrist," playing the emotional card. I hope I am wrong on this point. Those who subscribe to emotionalism, as in your last line: " need to heed his [John's] warning and remain alert to that danger: THE SPIRIT AND DOCTRINE OF ANTICHRIST. " prove that their intellectual arguments are feeble and inadequate. My examination of your argumentation cements this conclusion. Your arguments are not strong at all.
I might add that you are also placing Jesus Christ in the same category as a despicable "antichrist" since he clearly testified that there is "one True God."
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (In.17:3). Jesus, the Lord Messiah, the unique agent of God, was also an advocate of strict biblical monotheism—he supported the idea of one singular God. How you defeat this passage is beyond me.
The apostle Paul, according to your evaluation, must also have been a despicable antichrist. And opposing these two persons as you apparently do, wipes out most of the New Testament. "For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live" (ICor.8:5-6). I openly echo the apostle Paul in his support of one singular God being. For me, there is but one God, identified both by the Messiah and the apostle Paul as "the Father." This is the Lord God, Yahweh. On the other hand, you apparently do not echo the beliefs of the Messiah and his true apostle at all but rather support the "so-called gods" plural concept of Armstrongism that the apostle Paul rejects, sometimes called the "Armstrong movement," including the millions of human divine "Gods-to-be" notion that present Armstrong disciples and those of the Armstrong persuasion ardently support.
But if you want to call someone an "antichrist (as I think you really are doing), why not do it openly rather than beat around the bush? I, for one, would appreciate that. I have been called all sorts of names, directly and indirectly, so join the crowd. I am pleased to be in the company of the Lord Messiah as a recipient of derogatory names due to what I consider the correct belief system about the nature of God. By the way, I have no hard feelings toward you nor am I offended regarding your negative implications of my beliefs and me. I expect to be called these names and worse because I have dealt with the polytheistic Armstrong camp many times before, have the scars to prove it, and, thanks to the one true God, I have survived intact.
About your paper: In the first two paragraphs, you go on about a "sinister error," but neglect to define what it is. (Errors cannot be "sinister"; only people are sinister, as in wicked, evil, or dishonest, especially in some dark mysterious way, as having a sinister interest.) You then go on for six paragraphs discussing "antichrist" after saying the word is a "misnomer" without telling us why it is a "misnomer." Next, you say that, "those who deny that Christ is God's Anointed (that one sent the other) are declared liars." Although the Bible does not spell out what you suggest the way you describe it, no one in the Biblical Monotheism movement, to my knowledge, denies the biblical fact that God "sent" his Messiah or that Jesus is God's anointed. And in respect to 1 John 4:1-3, again no one in the Biblical Monotheism movement, to my knowledge, denies that Jesus "is come (or came) in the flesh."
In addition, you insist (later) that whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ is "a LIAR," as you loudly put it, but that he is an "antichrist" who denies the Father and the Son, with respect to 1 John 2:18ff and your interpretation thereof. This looks like a straw man to me. I tell you that I know of no biblical monotheist who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) or that Jesus is the Son of the Father in heaven, Yahweh. So, I think you are wasting your time here, even with your re-interpretation of some of these and other passages. The problem with your extension of I John 7 (p. 2) is that (it) covers much more than what the passage (or the epistle!) literally says or implies. So, you say (without biblical support, I might add) that, "The problem area with many people was and is the fact that He [Jesus] had a Spirit pre-existence, and for a time became manifest in the flesh!" Surely, you must know that John's epistle does not address your assertion and claim.
Thank God that assertions and wild claims as this by mere humans do not create facts. Remember: saying so does not make it so. A couple of paragraphs later you insert your "proof text." And lo, it is the ambiguous John 1:14, no less. What else do you have? Nothing. The passage states that the "word became flesh." How? In what manner?" And who, specifically, defined the Greek word "logos" so that it became "Word" and a specific heavenly being? Have you ever investigated your assumption that the "word" or logos, was a real being and how that assumption got inserted into all of Christendom? Who began capitalizing the English "word" into "Word" and why? Dittos with the words, "His" and "He" of the next verse. If you have not made such an investigation, why then do you assume that "Word" equals a pre-existent being, and why then do you insist on teaching others something you have not thoroughly and properly investigated? If you are in error, and I believe you are, would that not make you a false teacher—even a sincere one? I think so. (I do not doubt your sincerity.) To simply regurgitate a doctrine that came from a certain church organization is to skate on thin theological ice, wouldn't you say?
You gave an interpretation of the next verse. "John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, 'This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before  me, for He was before  me' " (In.1:15). First you interpret John 1:14 by stating the "Word was made." You suggest that, "He was made" by someone "other than Himself." So, right off the bat, you insert your ideas into the passage. Having this false basis, you go on to leap all the way to writing that, "John the Baptist alleges that this begotten Being [your caps equals an allegation of deity] pre-existed before he did!" This is preposterous. John alleges no such thing.
Now, my friend, you can read this passage as easily as anyone else and surely you know that what you claim that John alleges is NOT IN THE PASSAGE. This is not rocket science. First, I ask: What is the immediate sense of this passage? What is John saying? Have you read the context? A person is preferred "before" John. What does this mean? Does this mean the person was preferred "before John was born"—a pre-existent preference? I don't think so. What John is clearly talking about is a relational position with regard to honor and respect of a person who is far greater and more honorable than he is. Want proof? No problem.
A few verses later, in context, John responds to someone about the very same subject. "John answered them, saying, 'I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before  me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose'" (Jn. 1:26-27). John is simply saying in context that this man Jesus is preferred above and beyond his own minor and low position; that this person is great and John is not. Why complicate the passage according to church tradition?
Consider the Greek words. Strong's 1715: enprosthen from 1722 and 4314, in front of (in place [lit. or fig.] or time):- against, at, before, (in presence, sight) of. The base 1722: primary preposition denoting (fixed) position (in place, time or state), and (by implication) instrumentality (medially or constructively), i.e. a relation of rest (intermediate between 1519 and 1537); "in," at, (up-) on, by, etc., and 4314: pros, a strengthened form of 4253; a prep. of direction; forward to, i.e. toward (with the gen. the side of, i.e. pertaining to; with the dat. by the side of, i.e. near to; usually with the ace., the place, time, occasion, or respect, which is the destination of the relation, i.e. whither or for which it is predicated).
Then, we look at the second "before." It is Strong's Greek 4413: protos, contr. super!. of 4253; foremost (in time, place, order or importance):-before, beginning, best, chief(-est), first (of all), former. All this means that what you assert is an error and not really what John was saying at all. You are teaching an error.
You write: "But was the 'Son' Divine? Did He abandon His Divinity in order to become a 'Son of Man, born of the human kind? Can a God Being exist other than that of Spirit? . . . The fundamental premise was that God could not exist other than that of Spirit, that He could not exist IN the physical dimension and still be Divine. A further progression along that line of reasoning concluded that God could not die. .. [This so-called "progression" is simply another faulty claim. FPH.]
"Yet, the fundamental assertion in Scripture is that He in fact did become flesh, and DID die! (Heb.2:9, 14, Jesus became flesh and blood that He might taste death for every man!)" (p. 3).
Neither citation supports your claim. Nowhere in these passages does it say or suggest that, "The God of the Old Testament became flesh and died."
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. . . Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death. . ." (Heb. 2:9, 14). In fact, one verse you somehow skipped over is the tail end of verse 13: "And again: 'Here am I and the children whom God has given Me' " (v. 13). Why did you skip over this verse? Maybe because the verse states clearly that Jesus is differentiating between himself and God.
In fact, why did you skip over the prologue of Hebrews? Here, the writing clearly shows a difference between God and Jesus and indicates that the "Majesty on High" is God and NOT Jesus! "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they" (Heb. 1:1-4). In this verse, Jesus is not God; he is the Son of God. The "Majesty on high" is God; Jesus is not God; he is the Son.
You suggest: "Perhaps we shouldn't be trying to comprehend or define the nature of God by the theological limitations of 'monotheism' or 'trinitarianism.' Because, you see, neither discipline allows the basic Biblical Truth! Rather, we should conceive of this subject by the Biblical definition of the 'Father and the Son. ' (That's the term John used.) "
"Father and son" is not a definition of a theological position. Of course, Jesus NEVER used the term "God" for himself, I notice, but you folks do all the time. Nor did John state that, "Jesus is God," either. This is Biblical truth. He only called himself the "son of God" or the "son of Man." Well, now, I suppose we should throw out the English language when it is contrary to your tradition. I guess that when a legitimate common-usage word is inconvenient, it should be replaced by something convenient. But this is nothing more than trying to dodge the truth of the matter. Perhaps if you and others would stop saying that Jesus is God and just say that he is the "son," we could drop the terms of monotheism and trinitarianism you detest, as well as "binitarianism." But until you folks in the Armstrong polytheistic camp stop claiming that Jesus is God and the Father is God and the Family is God and the Kingdom is God (implying also that the Church is God) and that human beings are going to become Gods, and stop using the false term "binitarian" for your worship model, we will have to continue calling your worship model what it is, polytheism. Your model is neither monotheism nor binitarianism. Still, these descriptive terms are valid. You cannot invalidate such terms just because they make you uncomfortable, and I am sure these terms make a lot of folks in the polytheistic Armstrong camp uncomfortable.
My friend, is it necessary for you to twist a passage in support an unsupportable doctrine? HERE IS WHAT YOU WROTE: "We should keep in mind that Jesus was condemned to death for affirming that there are two Beings in the Godhead" (p. 4).
Really? How did you come to this conclusion since it is not in the Bible? You then give this partial citation as "proof': Matthew 26:64 ". . . sitting on the right hand of power." Lifting a passage out of context and applying it to a personal doctrine is not good exegesis. In fact, you are reading your ideas into passages, which practice is called eisegesis. Why do you not read the context of that passage or cite the entire verse?
Nowhere in the context of the entire referenced chapter does Jesus ever suggest or imply that he was God, a God-Being, or that he was one of the "two Beings in the Godhead."
"'What is it these men testify against You?' But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, 'I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!'" (Matt. 26:62b-63).
Oops! You write that Jesus claimed to be God as in "two Beings in the Godhead." Notice that this passage never says what you say it does say. It says he claimed to be "the son of God." That's a big difference. Well, then, what did Jesus affirm? "Jesus said to him, 'It is as you said'" (Matt. 26:64a). Jesus only affirmed that he was the Son of God. He did NOT affirm that he was one half of a "Godhead," did he? Why did the priest tear his clothes? Because in his eyes, affirming to be the son of God was just as good as claiming to be God, yet, Jesus never claimed to be God at all-nowhere, so regardless of what the priest thought, Jesus was not claiming "Godhead" status.
Here is another contextual passage you must have overlooked supports the conclusion that Jesus only claimed to be the son of God and not God at all. "And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself. If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt. 27:39-40). Even bystanders at the crucifixion knew the charge against Jesus was not that he claimed to be God or another God as you suggest he did claim, but only being God's son. I am not only puzzled at how you arrived at your conclusion, but why you did so.
Worse, you then bring up Stephen wherein you snidely remark about the people before him, extending it to all such believers: "Being the 'strict monotheists' that they were, they reacted in typical fashion. "Typical? Here is their reaction: "And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God. . ." (Acts 7:59). Come on now. Is this your idea of "strict monotheists" acting in a "typical fashion"? Do you expect to be "cast out of the city" and stoned by some of us who support biblical monotheism? Why do you suggest that murder by a mob is "typical" of monotheists? And why do you ascribe murderous activity to "strict monotheists" today as "typical"? I think you owe somebody an apology.
The Cloning of a God. You wrote: "One God Being changed the SPIRIT ESSENCE of the other God Being into PRE-CODED GENETIC MATERIAL capable of producing a physical reproduction of what that other God-Being had been" (PA). Frankly, this is gobbledygook—it is nonsense. You cite Heb. 1:5, ". . . this day I have begotten you. . ." This is no proof at all. You neglect the context: "But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: 'Let all the angels of God worship Him' " (Heb. 1:6). Here, God's Son is his "firstbom" and that term refers to a physical procreation of a human being; it does not suggest an implanting of a God as a cell (or genetic material) in the womb or cloning of one God by another God. The annunciation to Mary was that she would conceive and become pregnant with a child by the overt act of God's spirit and one to be born would be called Jesus (Lk. 1:31) —Yashua, if you please.
I guess the angel neglected to mention that this Jesus was going to "cloned" or just "implanted" and therefore would not actually be of the line of David. Neither would this child really be Mary's child, but only a speck of the "God kind." By this method of bringing a genetic preJesus being into the world, the genetic material that was implanted inside of Mary's womb would NOT be Mary's child because she would only be a biological "oven" for something that was of a different "kind." I suppose she would have been a "surrogate" or "stand-in" mother "of a God."
God is spirit. He is all spirit. He is 100 percent spirit (In. 4:24). So, to change or boil down the "spirit essence" of the "other" God is to reduce him in his entirety. Consequently, there would be nothing left except this tiny brainless bit of "pre-coded genetic material," which itself would be a "God" since the brainless bit before he was boiled down was a "God." Since "it" (the brainless bit) was capable of reproducing the "other God," it must not have been combined with the genetic material in one of Mary's eggs, because the "God" genetic material would have been reduced by combination with Mary's genetic material and would not have reproduced the other "God-Being." So, in all likelihood, this idea you suggest above is an act of "cloning" or simple insertion of the "God" genetic material into an egg at the same time the resident genetic material was removed from the egg. This way, Mary would think the child was hers, and so would everyone else, when in fact it was not. In this case, Jesus would have been "God in the flesh" for sure, but he would not have been of the Davidic line at all, nor would he have really been a true human being.
Or, if the "God kind" genetic material were recombined in one of Mary's eggs without the removal of her genetic material, she would have been the legitimate mother of Jesus (not God). This would be "artificial insemination," which seems a likely method that God used to impregnate Mary, anyhow. Only by artificial insemination (half of her genetic material plus half of whatever DNA Yahweh added) would Jesus have been a legitimate member of the Davidic line and a son of God at the same time. However, to suggest that one God reduced the other God down to a manageable size for impregnation is just preposterous. Why? Because the thing (God?) that went into the egg would not have been itself reproduced and it would never reproduce "what the other God being had been." Using a human analogy, no impregnation results in "what the other adult" had been, only partially in what the one was and partially what the other was, resulting in a new and unique offspring. The problem with your speculation of a reduced or freezedried God is that there was only one God in heaven to start with and one God period. And there is only one God in heaven now.
I am fairly certain that none of this will persuade you to look more carefully into your assumptions or to help change your mind on any of these points. But there is always hope. Nevertheless, you have given me a chance once again to expose and debunk the very doctrines you seem to hold so close and a chance to reveal assumptions that are primarily church tradition and a mixture of truth and error. So, in the end, I appreciate this opportunity. Thank you.
F. Paul Haney
I wanted to hasten this letter off to you because within my last letter, mailed yesterday, I may have left you with the wrong impression. In re-reading your cover letter dated 5/25 a moment ago, I was reminded that you expressly mentioned you would respond to my earlier letter when you got a chance, so forgive me for saying that "although you failed to respond to the questions in my previous letter to you (4-29-03)" as though you had just ignored the letter.
The other main point I wanted to bring out, which I do not think I did very well in my letter yesterday, was that you should not take my critique of your paper as a personal attack upon you, but only upon your ideas and teachings, although admittedly, my critical reviews and responses can be and are often pointed. My purpose was not to offend you. But expect me to be rough on writings I decide to critique. I take what I consider "poor scholarship" to task. As to your paper, I appreciate the effort, but I think it lacked a lot of substance.
In respect to the term "antichrist," others and I have been called this name on a few occasions (by people you may know) simply because we believe in one God, and it is this sort of disparaging and insulting name-calling that does not further anyone's interest. Certainly, it breeds disrespect both for the person calling the name and his issue. I think I made it clear in my letter that rejecting the pre-existence of Christ or rejecting his supposed "Godhead Divinity" (have you looked up the term "Godhead"?) does not mean that the Messiah is rejected. He is not rejected. And he is to be worshipped and highly respected as the Son of God, as the unique agent and representative of Yahweh Elohim.
Little has really changed between my former position of Armstrongism's two-plus Gods and my present position on one single God other than I now worship and support one God while the Armstrong people continue to worship and support multiple gods (even millions and billions!). (Other WCG doctrines are different issues.) I think I have always had a problem with their doctrine on this. My switch was innocent enough; the result of a search for the truth, yet multi-god advocates got vicious in their defense. I have moved from supporting Jesus as a pre-existent God to supporting him as the Lord Messiah and supporting his one true God of John 17:3. It is terribly logical and clear to me. It is a seemingly small step from my former position to my current understanding, but it has wide implications with respect to the very first of the Ten Commandments. So, in my view, the amount of work it takes to maintain a multi-god position as Armstrong disciples do over against the simplicity of supporting one true God is an amazing comparison. It is, for me, a God-given release from trying to believe in one God while maintaining support for multiple gods. You really should try it sometime.
Finally, when you get your next study finished ("the development and dependence on the monotheistic definition") I would like to have a copy, if we are still on speaking terms. Take care and God bless. F. Paul Haney
Godhead: Strong's Greek #2304, Acts 17:29; #2304, Rom. 1:20; #2320. Col. 2:9. DEF: #2304, from 2316, god-like, (neuter, as noun, divinity); 2305, from 2304, divinity, abstract; 2320, from 2316, divinity, abstract. #2316, theos, of uncertain affinity, a deity, esp. (with 3588) the supreme Divinity, fig. a magistrate.
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The Tyranny of Christological Orthodoxy
By F. Paul Haney
The unorthodox message is of the one true God, Yahweh, the Lord God of all, and his son, the Lord Messiah. And the power of the current orthodox doctrine, once forcibly set in place by ungodly men, and now supported by blind leaders of the blind, is weakening and losing power. Who are these people? How did we get to this point in history? Where are we now? Come, listen and read. This is a fascinating historical discovery and wonderful story. Come take this journey with us and believe in the one true God of Jesus the Lord Messiah. You will not regret it.
Sorting out the Historical Context
Prior to the fifth century AD, orthodox Christianity, as we might envision it, did not exist. It was not until after the fourth or fifth century, some 300 + years after the death and resurrection of the Messiah, that some semblance of Christological orthodoxy began to take shape in the early Church. The period of disputations and polemics from the first century leading up to the generally accepted orthodox model, beginning with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and winding up around 481 AD at the Council of Chalcedon when those openly advocating contrary views were decisively deposed, defeated, or destroyed, has been termed "primitive-orthodox" (compare ancient versus modern orthodoxy). Today, it is estimated that there are about 2600 or more differing Christian groups laying claim to being the true Church, or at least direct descendents of the True Church described in New Testament times. 26O0! And they are all orthodox and true!
A Riddle: "It is a simple and undeniable historical fact that several major doctrines that now seem central to the Christian faith—such as the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the deity of Christ—were not present in a full and well defined, generally accepted form until the fourth or fifth centuries. If they are essential today—as all the orthodox creeds and confessions assert—it must be because they are true. If they are true, then they must always have been true; they cannot have [just] become true in the fourth or fifth century. But if they are both true and essential, how can it be said that the early church took centuries to formulate them? The answer, or at least the best attempt at an answer, lies of course in the assertion that they were implicit in Christian faith from the beginning, even though they did not become explicit until considerably later" (Heresies, Harold 0.J. Brown, p. 20).
Follow-up questions: If these two essential doctrines, the Trinity and the deity of Christ, were so implicit in the beginning, they must have been taught from the beginning. Why then did it take some Roman bishops hundreds of years to find them? And, why did the apostles not openly teach these essential doctrines and write about them? Could it be that the apostles were woefully ignorant while the Roman bishops were wonderfully brilliant?
My desire in this brief writing is to investigate orthodoxy in its various forms, from "primitive" orthodoxy to the present-day or modern forms of orthodoxy, compare these forms with what we may be familiar in some of our previous affiliations, and thereby suggest certain conclusions. This is not an exhaustive study. Along the way, I will express my opinion regarding what I will refer to as "the tyranny of the orthodox minority," that is, I will point out that small groups can be just as tyrannical in their adopted orthodoxy as any other given group of religious practitioners. I will also point out some aberrant practices of a fringe group (or "movement") with which I am personally familiar and let the chips fall where they may. Some of the questions I will endeavor to answer: (1). What is orthodoxy? (2). How did it come about? (3). Where is it today? (4). How does it affect us in particular? (5). Why are some forms of polytheism being called monotheism? (6). Is the "nature of God" a salvation issue? (statement of purpose).
The word "orthodox" simply means "right opinion." You might say it means the "correct view." But like beauty, religious views are always defined in the eyes of the beholder—and the more beholders there are of one view, especially if these beholders are wealthy and influential, the more correct it becomes. One person's "correct" view is often another's mistaken view. The term "early church" may refer to apostolic congregations yet it often refers to the early Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, no significant organized inclusive wide-ranging body with a general consensus as such was in existence in the first few centuries after Christ, especially a Christological consensus, although certain Orthodox Church people will tell you that there was a "cohesive and unified" Church until the 11th century that was maintaining the apostolic faith ("faith once delivered") of the New Testament record.
"Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
But what was this "faith once delivered" to the saints? Some say "many gods" and others claim "one God" Some say whatever Herbert Armstrong (founder of the old Worldwide Church of God) taught. No one seems to know for sure. Orthodoxy is supposed to be the traditional and timeless faith of the whole Church—the Church established by the Lord Messiah, while heresy is supposed to be (or was) the error of the faction or the fringe group. With respect to the early Church era, nothing could be further from the truth. The difficulty with maintaining such an elitist position, declaring that your group has a "corner on the truth," is that there is hardly any Christological doctrine that has not been denied somewhere, at some time, by someone claiming to be Christian, and one that has not finally made its way into church dogma by some congregation. "Truth" then becomes relative—"We have it and they do not!"
"In retrospect, what we now call orthodoxy was sometimes apparently the faith of only a tiny minority. In the middle of the fourth century, it was 'Athanasius against the world' even as Vincent, a fifth-century church father, was fully aware of when he called upon Christians everywhere to believe all that has been believed, 'everywhere, always, and by everyone' " (adapted, Heresies, by Harold OJ. Brown).
No church wants to be considered irrelevant or a mere splinter from a splinter. It needs to stand on "higher ground" and the loftier the perch, the better. The Roman Catholic Church hijacked Peter for their foundation—and there is no more lofty a church perch than having the first "Pope" as your base and his sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:111) as your starting point! Many Sabbatarian churches of God today also claim "True Church" status and apostolic authority—they are also teaching the "faith once delivered." The late Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA), who some recognize as "Elijah" and the "End-Time Apostle," was the originator of a strange "nature of God" doctrine that is being promulgated today in many quarters. As fallible as they might generously suggest he was, the fact remains that the Christological theology of Sabbatarian Armstrong disciples today is predominantly the Armstrong theology once delivered to Mr. Armstrong's loyal and faithful supporters. When Armstrong disciples speak of the "faith once delivered," they are generally making reference to the Armstrong religious position.
Let me state here and now that none of my remarks regarding Armstrongism (the religious practices of Armstrong and his disciples) or the Christology of his disciples, may be honestly construed as an attack upon any certain individual, but rather a specific and passionate criticism of what I consider an unbiblical, unsound, and dangerous religious system. I prefer to attack ideas, not people. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to separate the bizarre idea from the person. Ideas do not usually function in a vacuum. Persons or groups espousing and teaching certain biblically contrary ideas need to be named. We cannot turn a blind eye to those who openly teach dangerous doctrines such as polytheism, which is the worship and support of two or more gods, and which is the essence of Armstrongism.
However, religious advocates in leadership roles have vested interests in maintaining lofty positions in their churches (even their jobs and reputations). They are the persons usually promulgating the ideas I attack. As a result, they tend to vigorously defend themselves and their ideas and draw the less informed into their circles. But when ideas reach the marketplace of ideas, they are fair game for criticism, exactly as our ideas are in the same manner, fair game.
Armstrong supporters call his unusual polytheistic religious worldview or system, "binitarianism," which is actually "polytheism," also called by the blanket name "Armstrongism" by many others. It is a system I variously refer to as "poly-binitarianism," "polytheism," or "Armstrongism." Poly-binitarianism is a term that Christ Fellowship Ministries coined some time ago. It reflects the polytheistic multi-god core of Armstrongism, and includes their support of millions of future human-gods. Fact: Armstrongism is polytheism.
This peculiar religious system or model that equates multi-god support with monotheism was the brainchild of the late Herbert W. Armstrong. My concern at this point is with the Christology and the nature of God portions of the teachings of Armstrong and the continued teachings by Armstrong's current disciples and ardent supporters.
Persons should not take offense because others strongly and openly disagree with their publicly held doctrines. And I strongly disagree with Armstrong polytheism. However, when ideas are criticized, those who support such ideas often take offense. Please be assured, it is not my desire to offend anyone. But as an ordained minister of Jesus Christ, I understand that one aspect of my calling is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. If you are comfortable with your support of many gods, as in two gods or more, even supporting millions of futuristic human gods, you are practicing rank polytheism, and it is my job to make you as uncomfortable with such a worship model as I can and to call for you to return to the one true God of the Bible. Don't look at me; it is the word of God that offends you.
Political correctness (PC) in orthodox religion is (and was) a genuine hindrance to the Kingdom of God and to the spirit of God. PC quenches the spirit. "Orthodox" religion does not just encompass "mainstream" Catholic, Protestant, Baptist and similar churches. But make no mistake. Fringe groups, cults, fellowships, and virtually all other church bodies, including Sabbatarians, have their own particular and often peculiar brand of orthodoxy or PC. All orthodoxy, whether it is the orthodoxy of the majority or the orthodoxy of the minority, the orthodox of the mainstream or the orthodox of the fringe group, to some degree stifles and quenches the spirit of God and encourages a measure of inflexible acceptance by the church member. This is what I call the Tyranny of the Orthodox. Religious political correctness and oppressive religious orthodoxy results in a distinct fear to speak up and express an opinion within a group. As a consequence, God's Kingdom cannot advance to any great degree in these areas nor can any appreciable spiritual growth take place.
A while back, I wondered how we got to this ridiculous point today in elitist orthodoxy, a time when orthodox Christianity is spelled out in rigid doctrinal positions and creeds. I knew that the base of these creeds is actually one popular view of Christology, a multiple-God trinitarian model wrongly called monotheism, which particular doctrine, if denied, catapults you completely out of Christendom, insofar as the "mainstream" orthodox trinitarian denominations are concerned. Not to be undone, some poly-binitarian Armstrong folks also desire to catapult you out of their off-brand Christian worship when they discover that you are a biblical monotheist and worse, that you do not keep it quiet.
So I began a study to trace the roots of Christological Orthodoxy. With some difficulty, I discovered that, contrary to popular opinion, there is no single taproot of Christological Orthodoxy going back from our day to, the apostolic time period. It is stunning to realize that during the first 300 to 400 years after the Lord Messiah left the scene, no orthodox, no overarching Christological consensus existed. What eventually came about was a struggle for dominance between the Western and the Eastern churches, and various other combative minority factions, wherein the Western, or Roman, church won, and the Byzantine empire comprising Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt and some outlying Mediterranean areas, lost. The Roman view (previously a minority) prevailed and became the dominant "orthodox" church or the church with the "right view." This turbulent and formative era, a span of about 400 years, was a time of transition from Jewish biblical monotheism to Gentile polytheism. Later, about 1054, the Eastern Empire, which had gotten itself sucked into the wealthy and influential Roman vortex, split away and is called the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day.
One fascinating discovery was contrary to popular opinion. No monolithic Christian orthodox religion existed in the first few centuries following the resurrection of God's Messiah. That period was marked with rancor, bitterness, infighting, power struggles, strife, mutual banishments, warring factions, and outright assassinations of opposing minority groups, priests and assorted leaders.
In the beginning, groups of believers in village after village, in town after town throughout all of Christendom, had their own regional standards of worship. And to make matters more puzzling for Christological orthodoxy today, the idea of a "triune" or a "biune" god, which included Jesus Christ as some form of a god or deity, was generally absent in those very early apostolic years. Needless to say, the worship of more than one God was considered to be polytheism and frowned upon, but eventually, the churches overcame this little problem in the same way our poly-Binitarian friends, the Armstrong disciples, are doing it: by calling that which is not as though it were.
Jumping Back to the Past
Polytheism took a sharp left turn in the early church years and swerved right into a toxic faith, a faith that often poisoned the minds of the faithful. The inheritors of Christianity deliberately dumped the "strict" monotheism (as though monotheism can be qualified!) of hated Judaism and then in opposition, morphed itself into a tortured "polytheistic monotheism" model. Defining trinitarianism as monotheism was a masterstroke in the early church councils. Adding a mystic "Triune" godhead finished the transformation from an apostolic single God into an incomprehensible extra-biblical mystery religion, a toxic religion. (In effect, Armstrongism followed suit; HWA practitioners also have a mystery religion when it comes to Christology and the nature of God-monotheism has been redefined.)
The new Roman religion of the early centuries contained a perplexing mystery that was designed to place power in the hands of the educated elite which, when accompanied by severe penalties for noncompliance, allowed this educated elite to get a stranglehold on honest Christology through ecclesiastical and political authority. Besides, many pagan and heathen peoples were used to religious mysteries, rituals, and strange mumbling ceremonies, and this made it all that much easier to bring them and their pagan worship (now called Christian) into the Roman Church. Most of the faithful were relatively uneducated persons who were barred from owning or reading the Scriptures. (At one time, members of the old Worldwide Church of God, under the authoritarian direction of the late Herbert Armstrong, were essentially barred from reading opposing or doctrinally contrary papers and books. This was on pain of disfellowshipment.) Although trinitarianism continues to be a clear misrepresentation of biblical reality, relatively few within modem trinitarian orthodoxy dare challenge the prevailing multi-god worldview. By the same token, relatively few within the orthodoxy of Armstrongism dare challenge the current multi-god view they support, often with their tithes and offerings, mostly from fear of losing control, church friends, companions, fellowship, and perhaps jobs.
The study of the ecumenical councils and ongoing polemics during the third and fourth centuries AD is a fascinating study in how the monarchical and authoritarian caste of bishops, with their willing accomplices of the Imperial State, managed to overcome the biblical revulsion of polytheism and institute multiple-god worship first in the Roman church, and eventually in virtually all her daughter churches around the world, and thereby establish the iron-clad grip of orthodoxy. How the Armstrong church leadership managed to overcome (you would guess) a similar (and instinctive, you would think) revulsion of polytheism and then establish and institute an eccentric anti-biblical form of polytheism, as an orthodox doctrine in their church, is a study in itself. In fact, this is the anticipated opening subject of an upcoming issue of The Fellowship Commentator (Jul/Sept issue, FC#2003-3).
Out of the many warring factions in the early years, the Roman Church emerged as the leader. And hand-in-hand with the Imperial State (whose leaders knew that divided religions weakened the State) and wealthy associates and landowners, she eventually overpowered all the other differing less wealthy factions and came to dominate the ecclesiastical scene. What was beginning to materialize by the third century was the rise of a monarchical episcopate (bishop rule), the special role of Rome—the operation of a deliberate policy, pursued relentlessly from generation to generation, with the object of creating a system of ecclesiastical law, a privileged clerical class and an authoritarian faith. The state recognized an inherent danger in a fractured religion, so for the sake of societal unity, the state supported the Roman faction. Consequently, what we have today in orthodoxy is a privileged class and an authoritarian faith.
"From the second century, the Catholic Church, as it increasingly called itself, stressed its universality, its linguistic and cultural uniformity, and its geographical and racial transcendence—in short, its identity of aims with the empire. In due course, the orthodox Roman Church received its reward: imperial recognition, beneficence, and support against its enemies. For, and this is the key point, were not the enemies of the Catholic Church the enemies of the empire even before the alliance was formed? From the antinomian perspective of Julian we again get an insight into the truth. . . . [Withdrawing support from the orthodox brand of religion, he wrote:] 'Many whole communities of so-called heretics were actually butchered, as at Samasota, and Cyzicus in Paphlagonia, Bithynia [Asia Minor] and Galatia, and among many other villages were sacked and destroyed; whereas in my time exile has been ended and property restored.' We have here a picture of the Roman Church and the Roman State operating jointly over a wide area for diverse but compatible motives, to impose order, uniformity, and central control. . . . One reason why Julian's policy failed to work and was abandoned and reversed was that diversity of religious belief was incompatible with the purely secular needs of the imperial administration. . . . By the 390's, Filastrius, the elderly Bishop of Brescia, had compiled a list of 156 distinct [heretical forbidden sects], all, it would seem, still flourishing" (Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, p.86).
When considering why a person might do one thing as opposed to another, the answer often is, "Follow the money!" Money buys power and influence. By means of attracting wealthy individuals and giving them special privileges and high offices (and conniving with the Imperial State), the Roman Church was able to work and buy its way into influence and prominence over other minority Christological views through generously helping other Christians, by ransoming prisoners, building up a congregation of freed slaves and the poor, and providing bail sureties and judicial bribes. The Roman congregation was rich, and became richer during the second century. (The Eastern Church, on the other hand, was not said to be wealthy.) With Roman money, there went a "gentle" but persistent pressure to conform to Roman standards, whatever they were. Rome's supposed connection with the two greatest apostles, Peter and Paul, was never challenged. And this connection was exploited from the earliest times with respect to the "Rock" and "Keys" text of Matthew.
"And I also say to you that you are Peter (4074), and on this rock (4073) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:18-19). A small amount of research will show how flimsy is the basis for the "Primacy 0f Peter" doctrine coming from this passage that is used to under gird the Roman Church. Here, "Peter" is the Greek "petros" (Strong's 4074) meaning a small chip of a rock, while the word "rock" is Greek "petras" (Strong's 4073) or a massive rock. It seems unlikely that the Lord Messiah would found his church on a small chip of a rock or a stone, especially when we know that the church was built upon Jesus as "the Chief Cornerstone" (Lk. 20: 17-18; Eph. 2:20).
A realistic reading of verse 19 throws suspicion upon the generally accepted version of the Roman Church "Primacy of Peter" passage because the sense found in the correct phrasing below is just the opposite of what is usually presented, as can be seen in the definitions of "rock" and "Peter." And did Peter obtain authority to change what he (or the subsequent bishops and Popes) wanted to change? The answer is "No." The Interlinear Bible: "And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. And whatever you bind on earth shall occur, having already been bound in heaven. And whatever you may loose on the earth shall be, having already been loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19, TIB). This passage does not give authority to determine, but merely to announce guilt or innocence. "Whatever you announce as bound shall be bound, having already been bound in heaven." Obviously, binding and loosing are to be within biblical parameters.
There is no evidence that the Roman Church exploited this text before the year 250, and then, interestingly enough, the apostle Paul (Saint Paul) was eliminated from the Roman episcopate (office of a bishop) and the office firmly attached itself to Peter alone.
The first Roman bishop in any meaningful sense was probably Soter, 166-174 AD, but by that time, the concept of an Episcopal (government by bishops) tradition going back to Jesus had already been established. (Interestingly, Episcopalianism, the theory that the authority to govern a church rests in a body of bishops and not in any individual, was rejected by the Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church in 1870.)
But even before this stage (166 AD), however, there is evidence that Rome was using its position as the imperial capital to influence the Church in other centers, and build up a case history of successful intervention. Rome was then naturally appealed to as the best apostolic authority, and it responded eagerly. It was also orthodox such that it was felt to have preserved intact the teaching of Peter and Paul. The danger zone of heresy for Rome was in the east, notably Syria, Asia Minor, and Egypt. Rome profited greatly from its many associations and became the standard for faith, ritual, organization, textual accuracy, and general Christian principles (Adapted: A History of Christianity, by Paul Johnson).
It is this Roman Church that lays claim to "Church Fathers." The "Church Fathers" are theologians of the first several centuries AD who have been termed "fathers" after the fact—in arrears—in retrospect, the same way that apostolic authority and the primacy of Peter doctrine of the Roman Church developed. But, not all of these "fathers" agreed doctrinally with one another.
"In the Mediterranean world of the fourth century, where the state depended so much on religion, ecclesiastical affairs were in such a turmoil that government felt called upon to interfere even in the mysteries of theology. The great debate between Athanasius and Arius had not ended with the Council of Nicea (325). Many bishops-in the East a majority—still openly or secretly sided with Arius; i.e., they considered Christ the Son of God, but neither consubstantial nor co-eternal with the Father. Constantine himself (ruled 306-337), after accepting the Council's decree, and banishing Arius, invited him to a personal conference (331), could find no heresy in him, and recommended restoration of Arius and the Arians to their churches. Athanasius protested. A council of Eastern bishops at Tyre deposed him from his Alexandrian see (335); and for two years he lived in exile in Gaul. Arius again visited Constantine, and professed adherence to the Nicene Creed, with subtle reservations that an emperor could not be expected to understand, Constantine believed him, and bade Alexander, Patriarch of Constantinople, receive him into communion. [It was about this date that Arius died, apparently by a horrible death. Constantine died the following year: 337.]
"Constantius [son of Constantine] took theology more seriously than his father. He made his own enquiry into the paternity of Jesus, adopted the Arian view, and felt a moral obligation to enforce it upon all Christendom. Athanasius, who had returned to the see after Constantine's death, was again expelled (339); church councils, called and dominated by the new emperor, affirmed merely the likeness, not the consubstantiality, of Christ with the Father; ecclesiastics loyal to the Nicene Creed were removed from their churches, sometimes by the violence of mobs; for a half century it seemed that Christianity would be Unitarian, and abandon the deity of Christ. In those bitter days, Athanasius spoke of himself as solus contra mundum; all the powers of the state were opposed to him, and even his Alexandrian congregation turned against him. [It was Athanasius against the world.] Five times he fled his see, often in peril of his life, and wandered in alien lands. Through a half a century (323-373) he fought with patient diplomacy and eloquent vituperation for the creed as it had been defined under his leadership at Nicea. He stood firm even when Pope Liberius gave in. To Athanasius, above all, the Church owes her doctrine of the Trinity.
"Athanasius laid his case before Pope Julius I (340). Julius restored him to his see; but a council of Eastern Bishops at Antioch (341) denied the Pope's jurisdiction, and named Gregory, an Arian, as Bishop in Alexandria. When Gregory reached the city the rival factions broke into murderous riots, killing many, and Athanasius, to end the bloodshed, withdrew (342). In Constantinople a similar contest raged. When Constantius ordered the replacement of the orthodox patriot Paul by the Arian Macedonius, a crowd of Paul's supporters resisted the soldiery, and three thousand persons lost their lives. Probably more Christians were slaughtered by Christians in these two years (342-3) than by all the persecutions of Christians by pagans in the history of Rome. Christians divided on almost every point but only—that the pagan temples should be closed, their property confiscated, and the same weapons of the state used against them and their worshippers, that had formerly assailed Christians" (Will Durant, The Age of Faith, pp. 7-8).
"Orthodox" Christianity (in large part the idea of a triune God enveloping a divine Savior who was also God) would not come along for years after the death of Christ. However, orthodox preachers today will tell you with a straight face that the doctrines they preach can be traced right back to apostolic times, and, that they emerged in nearly whole form (with the exception of some distinctive terminology), from the Holy Bible. As might be imagined, it did take coaxing and manipulating of passages for the Bible to give up some of those orthodox views. Further, these same Roman theologians imply strongly in their writings, if not stated outright, that the Roman Church was the orthodox organization from the time of Peter (ca. 33 AD), whom they claim as the first "Pope." All heretics during this time were supposedly fighting this "universal" church but all failed in their attempts to change this magnificent organization. Alas, history does not support this grand view.
In addition to the fact that no monolithic universal church existed during the first several hundred years of Christian history, no monolithic New Testament super-scroll exists or existed from which all orthodox Christological positions are derived. Even the canon of scripture in general (but not universal) use today (39-OT, 27-NT books) had its beginnings in turmoil.
The Almighty God, Yahweh, did not deliver an exemplary, perfectly preserved set of documents and writings to the early church to preserve along with the first "Pope." Nor did God set a guard over those writings to ensure precision in their transfer from one language and age to succeeding languages and ages. The preserved ancient writings we now have are fragmentary and variant.
Authoritarian orthodox groups of my experience (also Internet forums) make it a point to discourage differing doctrinal opinions by the rank and file member. Opinions may be voiced only so far as they stay within certain usually well-defined borders. One Sabbatarian group does not allow open discussion of possible controversial subjects even after their services. This is genuine and deep-rooted Tyranny of the Orthodox. A cult or a splinter group can have its own level of tyrannical orthodox dogma, even while existing as a minority group.
Any given cult or a splinter group can be both orthodox and heterodox at the same time, but not in the same relationship—internally they are orthodox, but externally, they are heterodox. Yes, this is a paradox! A group can be both orthodox and unorthodox at the same time. From the perspective of mainstream Christianity, a cult will be unorthodox (heterodox). But from the perspective of the fringe or splinter group, they are orthodox and the mainstream group becomes unorthodox. In any case, outside of orthodox borders is heresy territory or swampland and discussion in this area may bring about a stiff rebuke. Today, creeds and statements of beliefs set borders for churches and may even limit discussion within groups or on forums. Opinions and serious questions straying outside these borders will not be tolerated for long. The unbending orthodox attitude: "It is our way or the highway."
Repeating, a religious orthodox position is not limited to what we now call "mainstream" Christian denominations. One writer has suggested that heresy and orthodoxy have changed places—that which was heretical is now orthodox and so on. I think the better view is that groups that might once have been termed heretical have, in their own minds, and in their own fellowships, become orthodox within their own sphere of influence. There are lesser-known forms or models of Christological orthodoxy that impact many of us today—some we might not even consider orthodox by the world's standards. These might be termed the "orthodox minority, being "orthodox" within their own limited circle of friends and associates. But make no mistake. Minority orthodox positions can be just as tyrannical as can be majority orthodox positions. In fact, they can be, and have been, more tyrannical and more cult-like than many others.
One of these lesser models posits that Jesus Christ was a preexistent, omnipotent, infinite, eternal and immortal God-being, one that existed "from eternity" as an "eternally begotten" God-Being, who chose to became a mortal by "putting off" his glorified God-Being existence and putting on, for starters, a single-celled embryonic human fleshly existence that had no mind, no brain, and no power. This one-celled thing, not even a fetus, then somehow squeezed its mindless and brainless way into Mary's womb (others later pretended the event was a "conception"), was born and emerged precisely nine months later as a finite, limited, fully human baby, which grew up and died as a man, and subsequently became a full-fledged infinite and eternal omnipotent God once more, completing the cycle. The man/God Being was then called "God the Son," thereafter co-equal with God the Father as a lesser God. This lesser worship model that some lesser groups adopt as their unyielding foundation recognizes God the Father, God the Son, Gods the Family, and the Kingdom of Gods. This essentially is their "creed." While this group's "creed" compares favorably with the Roman Athanasian and Nicene Creeds, it goes a giant step further.
The supporters of this lesser worship model call their adopted practice "Binitarianism." But alas, they are not being wholly honest with their terminology. They are rank polytheists whose foundational Christological concept is shot through with polytheism. I more properly call these people "poly-Binitarians" because they do not stop with two gods, but go on to wholeheartedly support millions of deified human gods. They defensively reject out of hand (somehow) the common definitions of polytheism and monotheism and are joined philosophically at the hip in this sense to Romanism and Roman Catholic theology.
The so-called "Binitarian" advocates claim that millions of gods equals one god (even one god with many heads?), but they swerve away from their Roman Church counterparts (or so they think) by adding that their "Gods" are "in a God Family" which is, by the way, the exact same concept as "a family of gods" except that they prefer the more palatable phrase, "God Family." I cannot overemphasize the fact that there is no difference whatsoever between the terms (a) "the God family" and (b) "the family of gods."
But since the supporters and teachers of this inherently unbiblical system carefully weigh their words for public consumption, it is unlikely that you will hear the term "family of gods" emanating from their camp. To my knowledge, they have no booklet entitled: "Just What do you mean—The Family of Gods "?—but they should. And since they have not published one and otherwise will not advertise their actual worship model, Christ Fellowship Ministries will publish such a mini-booklet (Study 71-A, free of charge). Make no mistake! The biblically inappropriate essence and the spirit of Armstrongism's polybinitarian minority orthodoxy is a multiple-god doctrine—actually comprising, as they themselves insist, of two individual gods now but millions and millions of lesser human gods later. In the end, the very foundation of the so-called "Binitarian" worship model that Armstrong disciples follow, is blatant rejection of the very first of the Ten Commandments. "And I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Ex.20:1-2). This is a singular God (personal pronoun "I") speaking of his singular being. He testifies to all that he will tolerate no plurality in our worship. Color' that "none."
I want to be perfectly clear at this point. We need to understand the Armstrong camp religious worldview. The so-called "Binitarian" system is generally regarded as a two-God model, but the proponents of "Binitarianism" today, our brethren and friends in the various Armstrong camps, support multiple gods—many more than two. This is a radical theology. The model they support is not limited in the number of gods they worship and support. They have one big "uniplural" tent called "God." In that tent are many "Gods." The term Binitarian suggests only two gods, as they propose it. But Armstrong disciples in leadership positions neglect to advertise their claim that they themselves (and their faithful followers) will become multiple Gods just as they believe God is multiple Gods.
Their lame argument for the "Jesus is God" position is not terribly far removed from the standard Roman position. The truth of the matter is, that while Armstrong disciples make the claim that they worship and support only two gods, they are actually supporting millions and billions of future gods and simultaneously calling this bizarre worship model the worship of one God and monotheism! The worship model they present to the world is not biblical—it is extreme and radical. Are the so-called "Binitarian" preachers and teachers trying to be deceptive? I do not know. I hope not. They are sincere, I am sure. But this I do know: The model they portray is not really Binitarianism at all. It is rank polytheism. The sooner we all realize this, the sooner we describe their worship practice for what it is, and, the sooner they accept this common terminology, the sooner, I think, the nature of God issue can be resolved. But a lingering problem is the seeming impossibility of their acceptance of the appropriate title of their worship model, which is polytheism, pure and simple.
Make no mistake. Armstrong Binitarianism is polytheism. The truth of the matter is that Armstrong disciples support millions and billions of gods, most of them futuristic human creature gods. This is rank polytheism, pure and simple. Whether these new creature gods are present today or slated for the future is immaterial. This polytheistic view is what is being kept from public consumption and scrutiny. I think they don't want the public to realize that they worship and support multiple millions of god-beings, even themselves as future "Gods." By supporting themselves as multiple gods in a fantastic futuristic setting where they will be exalted rulers and claiming that others will worship them as Gods, they actually encourage worship of the creature instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:18-25). Once that happens, they may become "futile in their thoughts" with their hearts darkened." A "dark" heart is a dead heart, one without the light of God through Christ in it, since Jesus is the "light" of the world (Jo. 8:12).
Indeed, Armstrong polytheist disciples call themselves "monotheist" at the same time they call themselves "Binitarian." And no one laughs when they do it. Like Trinitarians, these people are serious. The usual name used for the opposition to polytheistic Armstrongism, the name they frequently call those in the "One-God," camp is "Unitarian." This term, though technically correct (in my case) without the capital letter, has some negative baggage.
Do they use this word purposely to muddle the issue? I do not know. So why do they not call what we teach, "monotheism" without qualification as "strict' monotheism? Monotheism, in my mind, is a word that needs no qualification. I think the reason is that if they were to call us monotheists, they would have to declare themselves something other than monotheist. It would be an open admission that they are not monotheist, and those who are not monotheist are, by default, polytheist. But they do call themselves monotheist while at the same time they worship and support multiple millions of gods and presumably, goddesses, since females will also surely be turned into deified human gods at the resurrection.
How they can call themselves "Binitarian" or "monotheist" with a straight face is beyond me. Consider how the Armstrong Camp Apostolic Creed (ACAC) might appear.
The Armstrong Camp Poly-Binitarian Apostolic Creed
"Now this is the apostolic faith. Whoever desires to be saved and to eventually qualify to enter the Kingdom of Gods that we as First-Fruit fully Divine God-Beings will rule and administer, should hold to this apostolic faith that has not been preached to the world for some 1900 years.
"We believe in one God, composed of God the Father, God the Son, a whole host of Innumerable Gods of the Family of Gods, and the Kingdom of Gods.
'We worship one God in multiplicity and the multiplicity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence. The Father is immeasurable; the Son is immeasurable; the Gods of the Family are immeasurable; and the Kingdom of Gods is immeasurable.
"And yet there are not millions of eternal and Divine Beings called Gods (though they are God), which would truly be polytheism in individualism, except in unity, but one eternal and Divine Being who is one God in unity, not multiplicity, represented by a futuristic and growing host of resurrected Human Divine Beings, even multiple millions and billions called 'God-Beings' of the 'God Kind.'
"What qualities the Father has, the Son has, and the Family of Gods has. We represent the First-Fruits. In becoming fully Divine Gods just as God is God, we will soon be worshipped as Co-Creators and CoSaviors in the soon-coming Wonderful World Tomorrow.
"This is an eternal mystery (and a Truth) that your finite minds are not able to understand, yet, it is so—you can trust us): it is The Plain Truth.
"Just as our apostolic Christian faith compels us to confess each person of the Family of Gods individually as God, so our religion forbids us to say or consider that we support or worship multiple Gods, for in our multiplicity of millions of God-Beings, there is monotheism, one God, and monotheism in multiplicity, many Gods in essence and in Person. Those who say, respecting our monotheistic support of a multiplicity of Gods and God-Beings, that we are polytheistic, that is, worshipping and supporting multiple Gods, and not truly monotheistic, worshipping one God, let him be anathema."
Fast-Forward to tile 21st Century
To be a Christian "orthodox" individual today means that you are a member of a generally accepted mainstream church organization that adheres to certain generally accepted doctrinal positions as established primarily by Roman Church councils, "fathers," priests, and bishops of the first several hundred years of Christological history, and later adopted by Roman Catholic daughter Protestant churches and others of like mind.1
- Christological Orthodoxy, as I represent it here, is the opinion and practices of the dominant groups of Christian religious practitioners in various denominations in the western world regarding the nature of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. Yahshua ha Masiach. and the nature of Yahweh God.
Orthodoxy is the dominant "Christian" religious view (Ortho = "correct" doxa = "opinion.") By virtue of being orthodox, orthodoxy is the "legitimate" Christian religion today, while the unorthodox view (heterodox, hetero = "other") is illegitimate. As you know, the litmus test of standard orthodoxy comes primarily in the form of a "Triune God." Deny this three-headed mystery and you deny the faith. For the marginal orthodox polytheistic religion of Armstrongism, the litmus test is turning out to be blind acceptance of their two-God mystery plus millions more human gods model (so-called "Binitarian" family of gods) over against the biblical model of one singular God; monotheism.
"Jesus Christ, God and Man, Trinity and Incarnation belong together. The doctrine of the Trinity declares that Christ is truly divine; together they proclaim the full reality of the Savior revealed in the New Testament, the Son who came from the Father's side at the Father's will to become the sinner's substitute on the Cross. . . . The New Testament forbids worship of angels, but commands worship of Jesus. Outspokenly it presents the divine/human Savior as the proper object of faith, hope, and love. A religion without this emphasis cannot be Christianity" (The New Geneva Study Bible, John l: lff notes by a Reformed theologian).
That the Bible nowhere "commands" the worship of Jesus or presents him as God and man is immaterial here, I guess, when authoritarian dogma is being presented.1
- please listen closely to what I have to say at this point and weigh my words carefully. My concern for my friends, what friends I have left in the Armstrong polytheistic camp, is genuine, and my godly love for my brothers and sisters who have been and who are being deceived in that camp is real. Lest there be any misunderstanding, this is where I am coming from—it is not from a spirit of hate or revulsion, even though I have been reviled by many of them, but it is of sorrow and a heavy heart. I bear no ill will towards those who revile me, only pity. I bear no ill will or hard feelings towards those who think me a "heretic." Life is too short for such debilitating sentiments—I cannot be bothered by hate. Those who hate lose credibility all around, even with God. Haters are not worthy of the inconvenience it takes to worry about them—they should be dismissed.
- i want to be perfectly candid and a little blunt in this writing—I think it is about time to present the facts and let the chips fall where they may. As much as I dislike hurting the feelings of some in the opposing camp whom I consider friends, I feel compelled to be forthright with this issue-I cannot withhold this observation any longer.
In the past I have deliberately arm-wrestled intellectually with many individuals in the polytheistic Armstrong camp over certain facets of the nature of God issue and in particular, Christology. Critically discussing Christology made many of them uncomfortable. I could picture them squirming in their seats, perhaps even gnashing their teeth. I deliberately asked provocative and tough questions in a useless attempt to evoke serious consideration of the issues. I, along with my ideas and tough questions, have been strongly rejected by the representatives of this multi-god camp—even tacitly disfellowshiped. This is no complaint, however, since it was fully expected. I am willing to pay this price. Now, however, time is of the essence, and the truth has to be stated once and for all. The truth has to be told. Do any of us have a problem with the truth?
As stated earlier, the spirit and essence of the radical Armstrong brand of poly-binitarian orthodoxy is the "Biune-Plus Many GodBeings" or "Multiple God-kind" doctrine—actually comprising two individual gods now but millions and millions of lesser human gods later, all divine, all with the power of the Almighty God, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree, they hasten to add.
Never forget that radical Armstrong poly-binitarianism goes far beyond God the Father and God the Son—it goes all the way to "Gods the Family" and "Gods the Human Beings." Poly-binitarianism is a term that Christ Fellowship Ministries coined some time ago. It reflects the polytheistic essence of Armstrongism. Armstrongism is polytheism.
Without this core multiple-god teaching, Armstrong disciples would have few distinctives beyond observing the seventh-day Sabbath and biblical Holy Days. This recently coined phrase (poly-binitarianism) represents the quintessential Herbert W. Armstrong model that his disciples support—two separate gods now and millions or billions of gods later. In addition, what they seldom tell you is their belief that they themselves will become fully divine Gods, eternal Yahwehs, Creators and Saviors, each and every one of them God as God is God. This is heady stuff. This is the "poly" part of "binitarianism."
Frankly, what they support is rank polytheism but they will never admit to it openly. I have tried to get some of their representatives to openly state that the model of multiple-god worship they support is defined as polytheism, but without success. Those I spoke with think to escape and evade the charge of polytheism by redefining the terms and suggesting that the common-usage definitions of polytheism and monotheism are "worldly" and therefore not applicable. I am told that these common definitions are not Gods definitions!
However, poly-binitarianism. the classic Armstrong worship model, is decidedly not "binitarianism" or a "two-god" model, no matter what the proponents of the system assert. They are wrong. But regardless of the facts, Armstrong disciples call their worship model both "binitarianism" and "monotheism." When Armstrongism advocates claim that they are "binitarian" or "monotheist," they are not being totally straightforward, according to their own teachings and common-usage definitions of these terms. I don't know how else to say it. This is difficult for me to express, and may be difficult to hear, but the truth has to be brought out. We have to stop playing word games with these people. My personal experience is that most will not listen to sound reason. In my view, the Armstrong model of worship is irrational and illogical.
A core belief of Armstrong poly-binitarianism worship as created by HWA, and as it is being expressed today, is based upon a sham: many gods equals one god if you manipulate terms. This sham is probably the most monstrous part of their entire package. But the mystifying part is that the vast majority of HWA supporters are not deliberately trying to deceive anybody—these are not evil people. I am certain of this. I think they sincerely believe the things they teach—they really do believe that Jesus is God and that they themselves will also become Gods with power equal to God, but lower on the hierarchical ladder. Still, those persons who refuse to see the core error of this camp, those who become stiff-necked and stubborn, I am afraid, may never be set free.
The teachers and leaders of the radical Armstrong worship model are unknowingly (I hope and I believe) sending a false gospel into the world. And this errant message as to what they are really teaching regarding the "God Family" issue goes out even to their own followers. They have a convincing message to those who are not well informed and ignorant. (I was once in this category.) This is very troubling. It is especially troubling when you have friends who have been blinded by the strange spirit of Armstrongism and who are simply unable and perhaps now unwilling to see the truth.
It is normal that those who become deceived do not even know they are being deceived—this is the nature of deception. Many seem blissfully unaware of the terrible mistake they are making.
Now, IF there is any deliberate deceit or fraud (and I do not know that there is any deliberate deceit and I am not suggesting there is any), it can only have been perpetrated by the leaders and preachers (the shepherds) and not by the rank and file follower because the leaders set the pace.
The leaders of the Armstrong "movement' make a great production of what they term "The God Family." This is an important and central teaching in Armstrongism. The idea of God having a family is biblical. Covering this fact is an essential part of the deception, so they deny that God has a family—they say God is a family. Certain persons are children of God. True believers may now be baptized into the family of God But, they are NOT collectively a "family of gods" as some preachers would have you believe.
Yahweh God is the father of believers that he called into fellowship with him and his Messiah. John writes: "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 In. 3:2-3).
The apostle Paul echoes the fact that believers are right now children of God, not future children. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together" (Rom. 8:14-17). Paul suggests that if you are led by God's spirit, you are ALREADY one of his children.
From knowing we are children of God to the next level, the Armstrong distinctive, is a small but critical step. This is a step that throws you back in time, all the way back to the Greco/Roman days of rampant polytheism.
If a candidate-member of the Armstrong "movement" knew up front precisely what the group enticing him to join truly believes, if he knew ahead of time what we now know, he might have second thoughts about coming on board.
The problem is in what is not being stated openly and up front in the "God Family" doctrine. They will tell you, and insist, that "God IS a Family," which sounds so close to the truth that it appears plausible. (They assert that God does not have a family.) But the notion misses the mark by one small word: is vs. has. (Mostly they use the term "the God Family," which is nearly a correct term, except in the veiled sense they offer it.) God has a family, but God himself is not defined as a family entity or unit within the Bible! However, the worst part of this whole issue is this. When they state that "God is a Family" or that "the God Family" comprises the Father and the Son, they do not tell you that, "God is a family of gods ," nor do they usually offer the information that they themselves (and maybe you, too) are scheduled to become human-type Gods, according to their belief system. The radical and extreme idea of a "family of gods," which is really what they are all about, is 180 degrees out of phase with the biblical concept of God's family.
If the Armstrong preachers would openly state to the world that they support a "family of Gods, "which would be an admission of polytheism, I am convinced that few persons would be dumb enough join their camp. Further, I think they know this. Most people probably realize that a "family of gods" represents a form of ancient Roman and Greek polytheism. Who wants to engage in polytheism? Not even so-called "binitarians" want to be called polytheistic! But this is exactly what the so-called "binitarian" camp is trying to avoid—they are not telling the world that they are polytheistic in their worship.
As earlier mentioned, I tried very hard on a particular Internet forum 1to get some of these people to simply admit that what they are doing is advocating and practicing polytheism by supporting two or more Gods, but they avoided that word like the plague. No one admitted it! Their defenses went up, and some doctrinal sharks started circling their forum camp. They insisted that Webster's definition of "polytheism" was my definition, as if my name were Daniel Webster. I only succeeded in getting myself kicked off the forum by the exalted owner of the forum—they wanted no part of my ideas or my arguments and refused to put up with them any longer.
The Armstrong worship model is a first cousin to the Roman Catholic model because the Roman Catholic religion is also built upon deceit. The RCC deceit is that they are supposedly completely apostolic in their teachings. Come to think of it, the Armstrong poly-binitarian camp believes the same thing.
One preacher, an Armstrong disciple and ardent follower of the Armstrong discipline, claims to be "reviving" an apparently long dead apostolic Christianity.
"The 'overarching objective' of the effort [revival-type campaign], Mr. Boyne [Jamaica Church of God, International] said, was 'to lead people to accept that the Church of God movement represents the revival of apostolic Christianity' " (The Journal, Vol. 74, March 31, 2003, p. I).
The early Roman church must have known (as our poly-binitarian friends now know) that to be brutally honest with a worship model of multiple gods would be to admit practicing polytheism. But this they could not do, simply because the Bible is clearly monotheistic in nature and they knew it. Hence they hijacked the term "monotheism," redefined it as triune gobbledygook, and, instead of being brutally honest in their dealings, they became brutal and dishonest.
These "primitive-orthodox" Christians needed the Messiah to be a God but they also must have realized the difficulties in creating a god that had multiple personalities and bodies. So they usurped the term "monotheism" from the hated Jews and redefined it. All trinitarian Christendom now consents to the hoax. The term monotheism has been hijacked not only by the traditional orthodox trinitarian church in history, but also by certain untraditional and ultraorthodox poly-binitarian fringe organizations today. In this regard, there is precious little difference between the two worldviews, trinitarianism and so-called "binitarianism." In short, it looks like the Armstrong poly-binitarian camp in the beginning modeled their view after the Triune model, perhaps noting the great success mainstream Christianity has had with this mystery and desiring to have the same success. But now they casually deny that they are practicing polytheism.
In keeping with this notion of apostolic authority by the followers of Armstrong, those who have voiced their reservations and even denials of the multi-god poly-binitarian position as biblical have been called heretics and even antichrist.
"The Growth of Heresy. According to the tradition of the Church, they [letters to the Seven Churches] were especially written to combat heresy, not by the method of direct and vehement controversy, but by that noblest of all methods which consist in the irresistible presentation of counter truths. The word 'heresy,' though it was used in the Authorized Version to translate the hairesis of the New Testament, has not the same meaning. The word was not originally applied in a bad sense.
"In classic Greek, for instance, it merely meant a choice of principles, a school of philosophy or of thought. In the New Testament it comes to mean 'a faction,' and the sin condemned by the word is not the adoption of erroneous opinions, but the 'factiousness of party spirit.' It was, however, perfectly natural that it should come to mean a 'wrong choice,' a 'false system' For Christianity, being a divine revelation, involves a fellowship and unity in all essential verities, and he who gives undue preponderance to his own arbitrary conceptions, he who allows to subjective influences or traditional errors an unlimited sway over his interpretations of the truth, becomes a heretic. And in this sense many are heretics who most pride themselves on their vaunted catholicity; for the source of all heresies is the spirit of pride, and the worst of all heresies is the spirit of hatred.
"The word 'heretic' has indeed been shamefully abused. It has again and again been applied in a thoroughly heretical, and worse than heretical, manner to the insight and inspiration of the few who have discovered aspects of the truth hitherto unnoticed, or restored old truths by the overthrow of dominant perversions. A Church can only prove its possession of life by healthy development. Morbid uniformity, enforced by the tyranny of a dominant sect, is the most certain indication of dissolution and decay. Since Christianity is many-sided, the worst form of heresy is the mechanical suppression of divergence from popular shibboleths.
"Every great reformer in turn, every discoverer of new forms or expressions of religious truth, every slayer of old and monstrous errors, has been called a heretic. When a new truth could not be refuted, it was easy for the members of a dominant party to gratify their impotent hatred by burning him who has uttered it. . . .
"But the real heretics were, in most cases, supporters of ecclesiastical tyranny and stereotyped ignorance, by whom these martyrs were tortured and slain. . . . The moral fiber of bitterness, from which all heresies spring, is one and the same. Whether they result from the blind and tyrannous unanimity of corrupt churches, or the wide self-assertion of opinionated individuals, they owe their ultimate origin to the pride and ambition of the heart" (The Early Days of Christianity, by Frederick W. Farrar, 1898, pp. 494-5).1
MY PREMISE REGARDING ORTHODOXY IS that religious orthodoxy is present in nearly every body of believers and, as such, it is the dominant force within each such group, often choking off dissenting views and, in effect, quenching the spirit of God by being overly stubborn in maintaining the orthodox view. The refusal to even listen to another view or to honestly weigh another opinion is decidedly part of the tyranny of orthodoxy. This is nothing new. Many of us witnessed this mind set within our past church affiliations. As in the Roman Church of yesteryear, it was called "my way or the high way"—literally.
Today, however, unlike the forced acceptance of the past, people gravitate to this or that church organization when, for one reason, the need to belong to something religious and social is greater than the need for personal or independent expression. Other reasons might be convenience of travel or a large parking lot. Maintaining a friendly atmosphere in a church meeting is a laudable desire. But many folks today go along to get along in their groups. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in avoiding arguments and dissension. No one needs to put up with constant disagreements and bickering. In fact, it is good to avoid disrupting services over finer points of Christology within a group that may otherwise be an acceptable association. Yet, the Christological debate that pits the biblical monotheistic view over against any polytheistic view is more than mere intellectual acrobatics or mindless squabbling over terms; it may affect your very salvation, since if you do not know who or what you worship, you may be worshiping another god or another messiah. Frankly, it is no small thing to deny the oneness of Yahweh, no matter what your reason might be.1
IS IT A SALVATION ISSUE? Some in the Armstrong camp have voiced a concern about the point or the purpose of the nature of God issue. This concern needs to be addressed not only for their sake but for ours as well. The question: "Is it a salvation issue?" is valid. That is, does it matter to God that professing Christians worship and support two or more gods, or even millions of gods? Or are we, as biblical monotheists, working on a minor issue that in the final analysis means nothing to Yahweh? Are both Armstrong practitioners of polytheism and biblical monotheists "going to the same place" except that they are following different paths? One person from the other camp suggested that he thought few things are as important to a Christian as the "Fear of God and loving God." He went on to say that demoting "God" to "mere manhood" takes a "huge bite out of our reasons to fear and love him." What does this mean? Does this make any sense?
At the same time, these inquiring Armstrong disciples suggest that trinitarians (other heretics who do not believe as they do) will not be in the "first resurrection," which is a code phrase for something like salvation as a "first-fruit" and eventual entrance into the Kingdom of God, and salvation. The nature of God issue has been said by Armstrongites to be a question of who will be in the "first resurrection." What then do Armstrong polytheism-practicing disciples think of biblical monotheists, those who believe in one true God?
There is considerable name-calling and personal demonization coming from the radicals in the Armstrong poly-binitarian camp against those of us who believe in one God. In light of all the hatred spewed forth, it is puzzling to me why these persons claim to represent "God's Church." In general, some question the "motives" of the OneGod conference people, one suggesting that the purpose of the conference is to "proselytize" among ex-Worldwide Church of God (WCG) folks, and further, finds fault in what is characterized as the "disingenuous [i.e.., lying, dishonest, deceitful] attempt to imply a neutral reason for picking" the Texas Church site for their "utterly un-neutral conference." They suggest that the nature of God issue has "serious doctrinal implications." They think that monotheism is a "heresy" and such an awful heresy that one of them even suggested that our brand of "unitarianism" (in reality biblical monotheism) "needs to be recognized as a dangerous heresy and it needs to be stamped out. "
According to some persons in the Armstrong polytheist movement, biblical monotheism needs to be stamped out! When in history has an extreme sentiment like this been voiced and consequently acted upon?
One person claims that opposing the dangerous monotheist heresy is the reason composers of the Nicene Creed declared Jesus to be "the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father." He then suggests that all people in his group should be in agreement with this part of the Nicene Creed.
One Armstrong disciple apparently compares the biblical monotheism "heresy" to Titus 1:7-11 as "mere talkers" and "deceivers." And going on past the "circumcision group" of the passage, this person and his associates obviously apply the following citation to monotheists such that "they must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not teach. . ."
It appears that the level of nastiness and contentiousness is rising to a fever pitch by certain outspoken radicals in the Armstrong "movement" against those who support one God. They must be worried. Maybe they are squirming in their seats knowing that something is intrinsically wrong with their form of polytheism. Maybe their hearts are telling them something. Maybe we are the "goads" of God (Acts 9:3-5; 7:57). When God sends goads against a person, it is "hard to kick against the goads." But if those who adopt the extreme anti-biblical monotheism position were secure in their polytheism, they would have nothing to worry about, because we, in our biblical monotheism, would be insignificant. But they are not secure. They are worried about losing control.
Religious extremists who zealously guard Armstrong's so-called "binitarian" view characterize and demonize us who attend these seminars and who profess the belief in one God "foolish men" who are "arrogantly" teaching "carnal doctrines." To them, we are "errorridden, vain, arrogant, and greedy men." We are "wicked tares, anti-Christs, liars, false ones," going from "one lie to another." We are "clowns" introducing "evil heresies." (They, of course, teach that there are "millions of Gods yet to be born."). Not to be outdone, one of these crude religious zealots who believes that they will be "actual Godly clones" when they "become Gods," characterizes him and his friends as the Messiah's "true, humble, obedient saints" and "noble, humble Berean-type saints." He bluntly calls those who believe in one God and those who attend one-God seminars, "Satan's 1 ministers. "
I caution you to be very careful whom you accuse as being "a minister of Satan." When you do this, you are taking an extreme negative position that will most definitely come back to haunt you if you are wrong. And most of the time you will be wrong. You will be standing on dangerous and treacherous ground. "Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). I delivered a sermon some years ago at a particular Feast of Tabernacles gathering. I forget the subject of the sermon. However, immediately after the service, as we were milling about, a certain person came out of the crowd, got face to face with me, and with a crowd listening, pointed to me and accused me of being a "minister of Satan." This enraged individual got angry with me because he disagreed with my understanding regarding the passage in 2 Cor. 6:2 about "the" or "a" day of salvation. He loudly and defiantly refused to look into the passage with me. I told him that I forgave him for his vicious outburst and hoped that God would also forgive him (or words to that effect). Not long afterward, this man was divorced and lost his family.
One extremist Armstrong disciple stated an opinion to the effect that he felt closer to trinitarians than to monotheists. One more called biblical monotheism a "fantasy." They do not dare use the more correct term "biblical monotheism," preferring rather to use the term "Unitarian," one which has some negative baggage (as a specific group). The term "biblical monotheism" probably causes them to squirm in their seats. Another disciple of the late Armstrong openly wondered how "Unitarians" (notice the capital U, which goes to my point above) are different from Muslims, because once you have "dethroned Jesus, then all the others are equal." Yet another Armstrong follower rightly suggested that if the Westby people are making this a "salvation issue" [for other persons], they are way out of line. One radical Armstrongite says we "deform scriptures" to fit our "comic book" doctrines and we are "doofuses" with a need to "insure a retirement” in our "old age,” and we are "scripture twisters." I hope these people are not representative of all ex-Worldwide Church of God people, but I fear, since these outspoken radicals and extremists persist and few, if any, from their groups (not even preachers) seem to be rising up to challenge this extremism. then by default. they must represent the vast majority in the Armstrong camp.
It is evident to me, therefore, that the Armstrong movement in general, and the extremist wing in particular, do not think that the worship and support of many gods has anything negative to do with salvation. If they did. they would not be so quick to redefine monotheism away from one single and individual God called Yahweh. To them, God has approved their brand of polytheism as a worship model and thus, the monotheism of the Bible is not monotheism, after all, but is some awful heresy—something God hates.
From all my research, it is very probable regarding biblical monotheism, the true monotheism of the Bible, the monotheism we support, that they think it is a barrier or a stumbling block to salvation. Being incensed and indignant at the idea of people actually believing in, and worse, teaching others about the one God of the Bible, especially teaching ex-Worldwide Church of God people, it is obvious that many extreme religious persons therefore have some intense opinions regarding the subject of One-God as a salvation issue. They apparently think that worshiping the one true God that Jesus worshiped causes a loss of salvation whereas worshiping and supporting two Gods or even millions of future Gods in a family of Gods is perfectly okay and actually facilitates salvation.
In my experience, extreme Armstrong multi-god disciples have strongly suggested, if not stated outright, that biblical monotheism is an "anti-Christ" theology, and those who support a true one-God theology are anti-Christ, so it would logically seem, in their minds, that such a monotheistic theology would certainly bar a person from salvation. That is, what biblical monotheists teach in support of the one true God of Jesus Christ (In. 17:3) prevents people from being saved. On the other hand. Armstrong disciples, teaching the worship and support of multiple gods, even the support of millions of human gods, Gods as God is Gods, in a vast family of Gods, are going to be saved, the crux of this matter being a salvation issue—they will be saved but we will not.
Indeed, one Armstrong disciple admits that the nature of God and Christ issue has much to do with salvation! He tells the world this: knowing that Christ is both God and our Savior while also knowing that the Father is God (recognizing two eternal and separate Gods) definitely and without a doubt, is a salvation issue. So, for them, knowing the nature of God does impact salvation.
WHAT, THEN, IS THE ANSWER? (1) Is belief in biblical monotheism a "salvation issue" or is it not? How does the "nature of God" issue affect salvation? (2) And precisely who determines what doctrine or teaching comprises a salvation issue? (3) Is one "saved" by believing in (and following) the one true God of the Bible or can a person be saved and still believe in and support many gods, even millions of gods? Mere belief in one God is insufficient of its own to bring salvation to a person (d. Jas. 2:17-20). Salvation is primarily a matter of the heart, and then of godly obedience.
Answering the Question two (2) first, it should be a given that only one person has the power, authority, and ability to determine what is, or is not, a salvation issue, and who will or will not be saved. Yahweh, the singular God of the Bible, is that person. We call that person "the Father."
One Armstrong disciple suggested that Jesus is the only one with this authority, but I do not think so. Dethroning the Father and dumping him is a foolish action on man's part. The Father, Yahweh our Elohim, who created the heavens, the earth, and all things therein, is one Being; he is not two or a million little god-beings who will some day be running around after hapless humans breaking their legs to force them to kneel and worship these new gods.
Yahweh God established the laws contained in the Bible and he delivered these codified laws, called the Ten Commandments, to Moses. The very first of these Ten Commandments effectively tells all mankind to worship the One God. Yahweh. usually printed "LORD" in our English Bibles. "And God spoke all these words, saying: 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me' " (Exod. 20:1-3). This is a clear statement.
The book of James: "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (Jas. 4:12). Remember this phrase: "Who are you to judge another?" "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls" (Rom. 14:4). James, the brother of our Lord Messiah, clearly states that only the Lawgiver is able to save—no one else has that authority. That means no one else has the authority to determine another's condition of salvation or whether that person can or will be saved. That judgment does not belong to humans. The only persons that will be saved are those whom the Father draws! Jesus does not "draw" people into salvation—only the Father. The "sheep" of Jesus are in the Father's hand (Jn. 10:29). Jesus does state, "And I give them eternal life . . . neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand" (v. 28). At the end of this discourse, Jesus says that He and the Father "are one" (v. 30). In this sense, the people of God are in both hands. Jesus also states that. "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me" (Jn. 7:16). In another place, Jesus tells us that the Father is greater than he is. He states, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out" (Jn. 6:37). Jesus says that of himself, he can do nothing. "I can of Myself do nothing . . . I do not seek My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me" (Jn. 5:30).
So, the bottom line is that without the authority and the gifting of God the Father, Jesus the Messiah would be powerless. Consequently, salvation of any person is dependent upon the Father, Yahweh, and this salvation comes through the Lord Messiah, the Lord God's unique agent.
Question three (3) addresses a condition that in my mind has been answered many times in the past. It is an extension of the first question. can a person be saved if he believes in, supports, and follows many gods? In short, will Almighty God save a practicing and dedicated polytheist? Will Yahweh God save a person who rejects him as the one God of the Bible and who instead supports many "Gods"? Out of my flesh, I would say, "No," but it is not my call.
Hear this, my friends. Yahweh God can save anybody he wants to save. If he wants you saved. he will see to it that you are saved. The standard for salvation is in God's mind and the authority to save is in his hand alone. He is not tied to a set of guidelines that any human devises, whether developed through a fertile imagination or whether it comes through a distinctive interpretation of any biblical passage. We humans do not have authorization to set ground rules for God. At best, we can only try to determine what those rules might be and then apply them to ourselves and maybe suggest them to others in the proper setting. But no one else is obligated to follow our ideas, no matter how orthodox or unorthodox they may be. Salvation is a matter of the heart and it is a private matter between God and a person. I hope this is clear.
When we humans begin to layout patterns of behavior for God to follow, then we have thought to snatch authority from God and claim it for ourselves. God tells us in no uncertain terms what we are obligated to do. "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord [Yahweh] require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Mic. 6:8). But then when we , or some of us, by dint of our positional authority in this camp or in another camp, insist that the rules we determine to be true must apply to every person, we have strayed from this exhortation. Those Armstrong disciples who say "not in my church" to others who teach and preach the monotheism they find in the Bible are probably right about "their" church. It is their church they are protecting and it may well not be God's church, although that is generally the claim—they frequently refer to themselves as "God's Church."
Finally, to the crux of the matter and the answer to Question one: (1) Is belief in biblical monotheism (some call this "strict" monotheism) a salvation issue and how does the nature of God issue affect salvation? The phrase "salvation issue" may have different meanings in different minds. Yet, I think it is safe to say that a "salvation issue" is a condition or teaching that either allows or blocks God's salvation of an individual, as in a person practicing monotheism versus polytheism (so-called "binitarianism").
Since salvation (ongoing or ultimate) is an individual and personal state of a relationship between God and the person, what any of us thinks about another's condition is immaterial and does not reflect upon the eventual result. If I think that a person can only be saved by supporting one individual God (Yahweh), that belief has no affect whatsoever on any other person, except as they might hear me, listen to my arguments, and decide for themselves. Salvation is a matter of the heart and an ultimate provision of God's mercy. It does not matter what I think, but it does matter what The Eternal thinks. God will have mercy and compassion upon whomever God will have mercy and compassion (Rom. 9: 15-16)—it is out of our hands. What is it to any of us if God saves a reprobate, a heathen, or even a trinitarian, and destroys a person we might consider worthy?
Personally, for me, worshiping one God, one individual God called The Eternal, the Lord Yahweh, is an issue of my salvation. I cannot worship a God I do not, or cannot, know. If I know whom I worship, then worship moves forward. I believe in biblical monotheism. I reject the Armstrong model of Christological polytheism masquerading in the guise of "binitarianism" and worse, as "monotheism."
I also believe that Jesus is the Lord Messiah and that he is worthy to be worshiped as the highly exalted Lamb of God and the Son of God. Worship does not necessarily indicate deification, but may emphasize the bestowing of great honor to a highly exalted person (Phil 2:9). For those who carelessly throw the word "anti-Christ" around, I believe that Jesus "is come or came in the flesh" (1 Jn. 4:2). In context, this passage was probably written in response to first-century Gnostics and others who claimed that Jesus Christ was a "phantom" or that the "Christ," who entered Jesus at baptism "like a dove" (Matt. 3:16), went back to heaven just before he died (Matt. 27:46) leaving the man Jesus to die alone on the cross. I find no contradiction in any of my beliefs. I know what I believe is right for me and for me to deny an understanding of the nature of God would be sin because I think Yahweh opened my mind to his oneness whereas he has not opened the minds of some others. I believe that the First Commandment is still in force. Apparently, some of our friends do not.
And I do not know how far sincerity will bring you toward salvation—to be sincerely wrong is still wrong. But my understanding of where I am theologically has nothing to do with anybody else. I speak for myself only. At some point, someone will bring up Mother Theresa and ask if I think she is saved or not. I do not know. And, I might add, neither do you. Nor is it any of our business.
A deliberate rejection (or dismissal) of revealed knowledge as to the nature of God may well be a serious sin and may in turn result in a loss of one's salvation. Such rejection can quench God's spirit and smother spiritual growth. God reveals knowledge and distributes mercy when he feels like it. But those of us who show no mercy, even to polytheist Armstrong disciples, will receive no mercy (Jas. 2:13), whether they are merciful to us or not. Never forget this!
The Tyrannical Orthodoxy of the Minority
In the final analysis, orthodox religion is the "politically correct" view. Being politically incorrect puts a person on the outside of the orthodox box regarding things biblical. By using the word "orthodox," I do not necessarily mean "mainstream" as in Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, and so on, although they are orthodox. Orthodoxy also exists in fringe groups, cults, fellowships, and in all other socio-religious organizations. Orthodoxy represents conformity, accepted beliefs, tradition, convention, or standard views in any given social setting. In religion, a "statement of beliefs" or "creed" of some sort represents the orthodoxy of an organization.
An orthodox system cannot tolerate very much difference or divergence from the company line. Conformity is the number one priority, all other conditions pale beside this one item.. Consequently, those who are "different," who are "nonconformists"—those found to be thinking outside the box and discovered within such a group, will often be considered "heretics" and worse, even "wolves." As a result, they immediately become candidates for being cast out into the darkness where there will be gnashing of teeth. Dumping the oddball is always a prerogative of the orthodox organization.
Orthodoxy has historically controlled socio-economic and religious-political institutions. Those in power pull the strings of society and determine how the rest of us should think and act.
It is a truism that the victors write the history and generally preserve only the writings of their camp. The defeated rival's opposing books are burned. Theological writings of religious forebears are preserved meticulously while other writings were left to decay. Interestingly, prior to the fourth century, there was no true orthodoxy and few central doctrinal positions around which the majority of believers gathered. But the times were changing and one viewpoint managed to wrest control from all the others.
Among other things, the historical Roman Church urged a hierarchical structure upon their congregations, within which the ruling bishop could persuade the majority of the laity (often out of fear) to adopt certain concepts or doctrines. Those adopted views became what we now know as "orthodox" or literally, "right opinion." (Even the canonization of the Bible was controlled by leaders of the orthodox church.) Persons disagreeing with the orthodox view were naturally of the "wrong opinion" and, thus, heretics—or, worse, beneath contempt.
The hapless individual called a heretic is labeled a "traitor" to the cause. Disqualification by labeling is a poisonous practice that hurts the individual (who may have just wanted some straight answers) and allows persecutors to continue in their dehumanization of questioners. Labeling attempts to dehumanize persons so that dismissing them or their opinions is much easier. In times past, labeling made it easier to banish and even burn unrepentant heretics. However it is handled, unorthodox persons must be "put in their place." We at CFM call this methodology, "The Tyranny of the Orthodox."
To remain in good standing within a tyrannical orthodox system and in nearly any such group in particular, you must parrot the company line or simply keep your month shut.
Analyzing or commenting upon the writings or preaching from such groups may be deemed condemnation and unacceptable. To criticize is to launch an ungodly "attack." You become a "wolf." Even today, the orthodox camp usually does not see criticism as merely the free and open exercise of analysis of published works in the marketplace of ideas. Some politically correct orthodox camps are more sensitive than others, suggesting that "wolves" need to be silenced and their reputations destroyed.
In the public marketplace, ideas compete for recognition and acceptance. It is only right that public utterances can be evaluated in public discourse—at least in The United States of America. Thank God for our Constitution and The First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. "
Admittedly, this freedom does not exist within the walls of many of our churches, since they are usually considered to be private institutions run by men and women, and not really public forums, even though some claim they are administering "God's" church. No matter your disagreement, however, disrupting services is not the right thing to do unless persons are in physical danger, as in the orthodoxy of the Jim Jones cult.
A person's degree of vested interest in any given religious group determines, in large part, the power and influence of his attachment to that group and the control that the group ultimately has over his theological positioning. When an investment is heavy, as in possible loss of friends or where a loss of generous wages might occur should a person speak up or even leave, chances are good that the person will stay put. He will "go along" to "get along." But this person will be conflicted until either he changes or his conscience becomes seared.
There is a religious phenomenon found especially within orthodox groups that can frustrate the seeker of truth to no end. Two basic points often ignored by these organizations:
(1) Obscure or speculative passages cannot be used to establish dependable doctrine. One should determine how they stack up against the clear passages, especially in context. In this way, your judgment of the issue might change and your conclusions might be altered.
(2) Clear passages trump obscure, speculative passages every time, all things being equal, and this is especially true when speculative passages contradict the clear ones. Clear passages carry much more weight than do speculative passages.
It is this last item, number 2, I find abused so much, not only in the Armstrong Sabbatarian Churches of God, but in other denominations as well. It seems that by multiplying obscure, unclear, or speculative passages, these unclear passages somehow become clear and certain. It is as though when they add fog to fog, the view gets clearer and clearer!
This common religious phenomenon puzzles me. I will no doubt never fully understand the logic of such a bizarre and extreme methodology.
Elohim And Other Key Terms
Hymnotheo poet, wks., 1727, Ill, 335: "Strange generation this? Father and Son coeval: two distinct and yet but one." "It is difficult to place three billiard balls on one spot" (JAT. Robinson).
1720: Waterland Sermons: "The Arians had some plausible things to urge particularly in respect of the generation of the Son."
1848: Wilberforce on the Incarnation: "Origen introduced the phrase 'the Son's eternal generation.' "
Professor Colin Brown, general editor of THE NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY: "To be called Son of God in the NT means that you are not God. . . To read John 1:1 as though it means 'In the beginning was the Son' is patently wrong."!
"God is one WHAT in three WHO's" — Hank Hanegraaf, Bible Answer Man.
"The New Testament offers no new doctrine of God, but simply proclaims that the Old Testament God has now acted definitively. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is now the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Even the fatherhood of God is not new (Isaiah 64:8). Thus all Old Testament theology is implied in the New Testament: God is the creator and Lord of history, the God who acts, who calls Israel into covenant, who promises the redemption of his people. The New Testament proclaims that these promises have now been fulfilled, or rather are now in the process of being fulfilled" (Oxford Companion to the Bible, "Biblical Theology," NT).
Professor Mauch, Trinity College, CT: "These [traditional] ways of reading the Philippian hymn contain an emphasis on Jesus Christ as a divine being who previously was with God, emptied himself of his pre-existent divinity, became a man on earth, and then went back up where he properly belonged. When people do read Philippians 2, the 'heavy hand of tradition' keeps them reading along these lines. The Fathers, countering the Arian dilution of Christ's divinity, clarified the terms 'in the form of God' and 'he emptied himself' to show that Christ is fully equal and co-existent with God. This dominant theology is evident in Calvin's explanation of Philippians 2, 'For a time his Divine glory was invisible, and nothing appeared but the human form, in a mean and abject condition.' "
Defining God in the Bible:
"It is as dangerous to get it wrong as it is difficult to get it right"—Morgridge
"At the Trinity reason stands aghast and faith itself is half confounded "—Bishop Hurd
"Nothing to support the dogma [of the Trinity] can be pointed out in Scripture "—Luther
The importance of Our Topic
At present the world is deeply divided over who God is. Millions of Jews and over a billion Muslims are alike repelled by the historic Christian doctrine that God is Three in One. As long as that central tenet is maintained, it fosters a religious hostility between peoples of the world-faiths. Our difficulties as a human race are firstly theological. Collectively we do not know who God is and which God to serve. And we have apparently forgotten that Jesus was a Jew reciting as his most precious doctrine the Shema ("Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord") of Deut. 6:4 (cp. Mark 12:28ff.) which as everyone should know is a Unitarian creed. At stake is the question of obeying and following the teaching of Jesus. If our God is not the God of the Hebrew Bible, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of Jesus himself, are we floundering in the chaos of polytheism? It is at least worthwhile exploring that threatening possibility. In so doing we may be able to confirm our salvation and rejoice in the truth as Jesus taught it. No considerations of party loyalty, "what we have always believed," or fear of standing alone should deter us for one second from the Berean exercise to which we are all committed (Acts 17:11). God is to be worshiped, Jesus said, "in spirit and truth." Error can only obstruct our relationship with God.
"Distinguished but undivided, bound together in otherness, one in three: that is the Godhead and the three are one (Credo of Gregory of Nazianzus, Jan. 6, 381). This language is still heard in Roman Catholic liturgy. Thus Hans Kueng has spoken of 'the unbiblical very abstractly constructed speculation of the Roman Catholic treatises' and 'the Hellenization of the Christian primordial message by Greek theology' and expresses 'the genuine concern of many Christians and the justified frustration of Jews and Muslims in trying to find in such formulas the pure faith in One God.' Claus Westermann said, 'the question of relationships of the persons in the Trinity to one another and the question of the divinity and humanity in the person of Christ as a question of ontic [having to do with 'essence'] relationships could only arise when the Old Testament had lost its significance for the early church. The Christological and Trinitarian questions structurally correspond to the mythological questions into relationships of the gods to one another in a pantheon'" (From Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine, A Dialogue Between Pinchas Lapide and Jurgen Moltmann, Fortress Press, 1981, pp. 40, 41).
A Mother of Muddles: A Confusion Over the Bible's Word for God
One does not have to advance very far into Scripture to arrive at the word God, with capital G (although in the original there are no capitals as distinct from lower case).
"In the beginning God created . . ."
We confront here the Hebrew word Elohim followed by a verb which is singular ("he," not "they," created).
In G.T. Armstrong's paperback of 1977, The Real Jesus, the author announces that "it is time you met the real Jesus" (p. 1). After a spirited description of the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, we learn that the Creator, obviously here not Jesus but the Father, was announcing the birth of His Son through three different groups of individuals. Surprisingly the visitation of Gabriel to Mary declaring the basis on which Jesus might be called Son of God, that is, by the procreating activity of the Father (Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:20), is bypassed in our author's account. We are immediately, however, plunged into a chapter entitled "Jesus the Creator-His Former Life."
Jesus in his former life, we are told, had spoken to Abraham in Genesis 18. Jesus, said Mr. Armstrong, was not understood by his opponents when he spoke of Abraham having looked forward to his appearance (p. 14). "Jesus was thinking in another dimension-the full knowledge and awareness of who and what he was, of his spiritual background and timelessness." Mr. Armstrong then moves from Abraham to John 1:1: "There are two other important Scriptures relative to Christ's preexistence: 'In the beginning God created. . . ' (Gen. 1:1) and 'in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.' "
Now I do not wish in any way to come over as "smart" or condemning, but what follows in The Real Jesus sets out a whole theology which has had dramatic consequences for the education and spiritual journeys of countless people over some 70 years. G.T. Armstrong says: "The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. It is an interesting word with a plural form (the -im ending)." "A little research," says Mr. Armstrong, "demonstrates that Elohim can indicate more than one person; and can be taken to mean a family of persons." Our author goes on. "Elohim means more than one and while not necessarily limiting the number, many other texts prove there was the Father (whom no man has ever seen at any time) and the Son. Therefore in our modern English language, the beginning text of the Bible would be more understandable if it were written thus: 'In the beginning the family of God consisting of the Father and the Son, created the heaven and the earth.' "
Presumably it would follow that the thousands of appearances of that same word Elohim in the Hebrew Bible are likewise, according to the Armstrong scheme, mistranslated, and really mean "the one God Family." The proposal is surely a momentous one setting the standard for an entire theology. At the same time this proposal corrects all the standard translations of the Scripture.
The die is now set. We are launched, I think, into polytheism—based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts of the Hebrew Language—the use of the word Elohim.
I would invite you to pause and reflect on what is happening here. Let us ask this question: Since the Bible was translated into English from Hebrew and Greek in hundreds and hundreds of translations into hundreds and hundreds of languages, has any single translator or committee of scholars who rendered the sacred text from the Hebrew, at any time, proposed or sanctioned that translation, which our author, who would claim no specialist training in language modern or ancient, offers us: "In the beginning the family of God, Father and Son, created the heavens and the earth'?
He goes on: "The Hebrew word elohim in Genesis 1:1 means that there was more than one member of the God family involved in the creating. . . The Word of John 1 was the executive member of the Godhead of whom the Bible says all things were made by him. Perhaps the clearest description absolutely proving that the Jesus Christ of the New Testament was the same Being who was the Eternal Creator of the OT, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is Col. l: 16 . . . . The Bible clearly shows, without any interpretation or exegesis, that the creator being who is called 'God' (Elohim or Yahweh) in the Old Testament is the same individual who became the Jesus Christ of the New Testament . . . The personage who emptied himself and became flesh, born of the virgin Mary to become the baby Jesus in Bethlehem was the same individual who created Adam, who saved Noah, who appeared to Abraham. He was the same personality of the Godhead or God family who wrote the 10 commandments and ruled Israel. The Bible absolutely proves the fact that Jesus Christ of the NT is the same person as the God of the Old'" (p. 18).
If we now review the information presented in The Real Jesus, we have been told that:
1) Elohim is plural in meaning.
2) It means the Family of God.
3) It means one member of that family, the one who became Jesus. There are a number of serious problems with these declarations.
If Elohim is plural in meaning then it should always be translated Gods. In this case it would refer to two or more Gods. A word cannot mean both God and Family. This would be to assign two completely different meanings to the same word. If the Bible wanted to speak of the Family of God it could do this quite easily, as for example in the "family of David," "family of Egypt." There is a perfectly good Hebrew word for family, but the Creator is nowhere said to be a Family of Persons.
However, if Elohim means "family," and yet is a plural word, why should it not be rendered "families"? And if it means in Gen. 1: 1 "Gods," or Family of God, how can it also refer to one single member of that family, Jesus Christ?
A number of more serious problems arise on these premises:
If Elohim is plural and thus means Gods then what is the significance of the singular verb following? ("he [not they] created"). We would have to translate, "In the beginning Gods, he created" or "Gods was the creator."
We are rapidly reducing the sacred text to nonsense.
What we are seeing here is a highly problematic shifting of definitions, which in every other field would be recognized as a form of confusion and deception. What Mr. Armstrong presents is a grammatical method in which all sorts of grammatical laws, rules and definitions are thrown aside. Dictionaries and lexicons are discarded as unnecessary and imagination is given free rein. A kind of mystical grammatical category is created by which an innocent word like Elohim has taken on a speculative new dimension, allowing this disaster: that precious monotheism is undermined—and the evidence of standard lexicons and commentaries is allowed no place. Moreover, the Jewish understanding of God (remembering that the sacred oracles were committed to Jews) is overthrown.
Unfortunately, it is by changing, or interchanging, the meaning of words, without notice, that disinformation can be created.
Firstly, then, Elohim cannot mean at the same time in Gen. 1: 1 three different things:
1) Gods, 2) Family of God, and 3) One member of that Family. Gods is of course plural, family is a singular word and one member of the family is also singular. To ask the same word in Gen. 1:1 to have all three definitions is utterly impossible. God and family are quite distinct ideas and cannot possibly be covered by the one term Elohim. Now one could argue that Elohim is a collective noun, like team, family, committee. But in that case it is not plural—not like teams, families or committees. A collective noun denotes a collection of persons, places or things regarded as one (flock, forest, crowd, committee, jury, class, herd, covey, legislature, battalion, squad, and squadron). The objects collected into one term have some characteristics in common, enabling us to regard them as a group. The word "audience" or "congregation" enables us to gather individuals into a single unit.
But the fact needs to be stated clearly: Elohim is never in the Bible a collective noun—never. It is not a "group" word when used of the One God. It does not function like the word family. No lexicon lists it as a collective noun.
Peloubet's Dictionary of the Bible (F.N. Peloubet, D.D. and Alice Adams, MA, 1947) stated the truth: "The fanciful idea that Elohim referred to a Trinity [or we could add Binity) of persons in the Godhead hardly finds now a supporter among scholars."
In presenting what Mr. Armstrong called The Real Jesus we were introduced into the realm of grammatical fiction and fancy. We were invited in fact under the guise of intelligent Bible study to embrace a pagan godhead consisting of more than one Person.
Twenty years later, when Ernest Martin issued his comprehensive account of the Essentials of New Testament Doctrine in 1999, the same confusion over God was reinforced and with a greater degree of dogmatism:
It is worth observing first, though, an extraordinary assertion of E.L. Martin in regard to the status of the teaching of Jesus. His ultra-dispensationalist point of view represents, I think, a dangerous rejection of Jesus:
"All the teachings Christ gave to the Jews during his earthly ministry within the Old Covenant framework were of no importance to Paul (in matters relating to salvation). Paul did not refer to any of Christ's teachings (other than the bread and wine) given by Christ while in the flesh" (p. 78).
This amazing dictum would mean that the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the sower and the rest of Jesus' precious utterances (including his affirmation of the creed of Israel) are of no interest to the Christian.
This confusion is compounded when ELM declares: "We need to know what 'God' signifies in Scripture. . . It will be found that both God the Father and His Son are 'God,' yet they are both separate personalities united together in a singular purpose." Martin then speaks of "confusion regarding who or what 'God' really is" (p. 450). "This misjudgment occurs because most people assume the term 'God' always means a singu1ar and exclusive Supreme Being" (ibid). Now this: "Whether the Greek word theos is used to describe the Deity or the Hebrew word elohim, it was fully accepted [by the writers of the Bible) that there existed more than one 'god'" (p. 451). "Elohim is clearly a plural word. The two terminal letters 'im' make the word to be plural. . . Since Elohim is plural, the simple meaning of Elohim is 'Powers,' or 'powerful ones.' However, we will see that when Elohim is governed by a singular verb (which occurs often in Scripture) the stress coalesces the plural meaning into a singular understanding (but still with plural significance)" (p. 488). "The plural is fused into meaning a singular 'group of powers,' or worded differently 'a Congregation of Powers.'" "No matter what we have been taught over the years about the singularity of God, the word Elohim is a simple plural. If we wish to use the English word 'God' as its translation, we must (to be grammatically harmonious and consistent) place the letter 's' on our word God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures" (p. 488).
Martin here proposes a corruption of the Hebrew Bible and accuses, by implication, the writers of the NT of ignorance. No NT writer ever rendered the Hebrew word for the One God as "theoi" (Gods).
Elohim when referring to the One God comes into the inspired Greek of the NT (some 1320 times) as theos (singular). This proves of course that the translations are all correct when they say "in the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth." Thousands of singular personal pronouns standing for Elohim, and His other names, can only affirm, massively, the fact that God is a Single Personal Being.
Martin repeats himself: "If one wishes to retain the English word 'God' one must put an 's' on 'God' each time it is used. By stating this I would normally be subjected to ridicule by those who read and know the Hebrew language, because it is evident that in the great majority of cases Elohim, though plural in grammatical construction, is governed by singular verbs and must be understood in a singular manner. Yes, but I state dogmatically [here ELM goes into bold print) that the only way to make sense out of the Hebrew in regard to understanding the Godhead is to put the letter 's' on the end of every word translated 'God' in the English language if the Hebrew word is Elohim" (p. 490). "[In the Shema) the very text itself says that Elohim ('Gods') is ONE. This cardinal point emphasizes the singularity of the plural word Elohim." "The Hebrew word 'one' can actually carry the meaning of more than 'one' (a single person). Note carefully when Adam was married to Eve they became 'one flesh' (echad) though they represented two separate personalities (Gen. 2:24)" (p. 495). "The Hebrew word echad is more expansive in the plural meaning than that . . . ." "So the plural Elohim refers to ONE Godhead made up of many individuals (the Father, the Firstborn and other Sons of God, along with female members, see Proverbs 8:2-31)" (p. 495). "Just what is God? Elohim is the One divine family to which all of us belong" (p. 499).
All this prodigious effort to turn One into Two or Three, of course, began early in church history and continues unabated in some evangelical Trinitarian and especially Messianic Jewish Trinitarian circles. By the time of Origen (c. 185-254) a confusion over God was in full swing. The historical Son of God had been turned into the "eternally generated" Son. This concept was at the heart of the whole traditional creedal system of Roman Catholics and Protestants. It produced the problem that though God is One, yet since the Son is God, somehow Two has to be One.
Ernest Martin and Ted Armstrong were unwittingly in the Roman Catholic tradition—a tradition, however, based on arguments about Elohim constantly, in fact, rejected by the best Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars of the biblical languages, for many centuries.
Before illustrating some of the ancient debate over Elohim and the supposed plurality in the Godhead (Binity or Trinity), here is the state of play in the 3rd century (a papyrus first published in 1949): Origen is discussing the Godhead with a certain Bishop Heraclides. He wants to check him out and verify his "orthodoxy."
"Since the bishops present had raised questions about the faith of the bishop Heraclides, so that in the presence of all he might acknowledge his faith, and each of them had made remarks and had raised the question, the bishop Heraclides said: 'And I too believe exactly what the divine Scriptures say: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and nothing came into existence apart from him.' So we agree in the faith and, furthermore, we believe that the Christ assumed flesh, that he was born, that he ascended into the heavens with the flesh in which he arose, and that he is seated at the right hand of the Father, whence he is going to come and judge the living and the dead, being God and man.'
"Origen said: 'Since a debate is now beginning and one may speak on the subject of the debate, I will speak. The whole church is here to listen. One church should not differ from another in knowledge, since you are not the false community. I ask you, Father Heraclides, God is the Almighty, the uncreated, the supreme one who made all things. Do you agree?'
"Heraclides said: 'I agree; for this I too believe.'
"Origen said: 'Christ Jesus, who exists in the form of God, though he is distinct from God in the form in which he existed, was he God before he entered a body or not?'
"Heraclides said: 'He was God before.'
"Origen said: 'He was God before he entered a body, or not?'
"Heraclides said: 'Yes.'
"Origen said: 'God distinct from this God in whose form he existed?'
"Heraclides said: 'Obviously distinct from any other, since he is in the form of that one who created everything.'
"Origen said: 'Was there not a God, Son of God, the only-begotten of God, the first-born of all creation, and do we not devoutly say that in one sense there are two Gods and, in another, one God?'
"Heraclides said: 'What you say is clear; but we say that there is God, the Almighty, without beginning and without end, containing all things but not contained, and there is his Word, Son of the living God, God and man, through whom all things came into existence, God in relation to the Spirit and man in that he was born of Mary.'
"Origen said: 'You do not seem to have answered my question. Make it clear, perhaps I did not follow you. Is the Father God?'
"Heraclides said: 'Certainly.'
"Origen said: 'Is the Son distinct from the Father?'
"Heraclides said: 'How can he be Son if he is also Father?'
"Origen said: 'While distinct :from the Father, is the Son himself also God?'
"Heraclides said: 'He himself is also God.'
"Origen said: 'And the two Gods become one?'
"Heraclides said: 'Yes.'
"Origen said: 'Do we acknowledge two Gods?'
"Heraclides said: 'Yes; the power is one.'
"Origen said: 'But since our brethren are shocked by the affirmation that there are two Gods, the subject must be examined with care in order to show in what respect they are two and in what respect the two are one God.'"
This today remains the problem for all those who propose that God is in some sense more than One. Once the unitary nature of God slipped from the church's grasp, and once a Trinity or Binity is embraced, it becomes necessary to force that idea back on to the Bible. Elohim is the point of attack in this procedure.
(For a full history of the protests of good scholars about the futility of arguing for the Trinity [or Binity] from Elohim, please see the Appendix, p. 18 of this handout.)
Lexical Facts about Elohim
Elohim, in fact, is singular in meaning when referred to the One God. This is shown by the singular verbs which normally follow. And by thousands of singular personal pronouns.
Elohim has a plural meaning when it refers to pagan "gods." Elohim has a singular meaning when designating a single pagan god, Milchom, Astarte, etc.
Elohim, El, Eloah, and Yahweh are identical in meaning and singular in meaning when referring to the one true God. They are replaced by singular personal pronouns.
This information can be inspected in the Hebrew text, in translations and in all the standard Hebrew Lexicons (Brown, Driver and Briggs, Kohler Baumgartner, Jenni and Westermann, etc.).
Those of us who followed the Armstrongs in defining God rejected the testimony of history, of the Hebrew text and the Hebrew lexicons and grammarians. We preferred to believe the teaching of those who had no training in languages, biblical or otherwise.
The Problem: How to Reconcile One with Two or One with Three
We have seen that Elohim meaning the One God will not yield to any attempts to force it into a support for a Trinity or God-Family of two or more. The fundamental problem remains for all subscribers to the Trinity or Binity as to how Three X's can be One X. This is logically impossible. But the Athanasian creed which speaks of the Father being God, the Son being God and the Holy Spirit being God, "and yet these are not three Gods but One God" asks us to indulge in illogical nonsense. As Geoffrey Lampe, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, remarked with restrained British humor: "The classical statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, the so-called Athanasian creed, ends: 'This is the Catholick Faith, which unless a man believes it faithfully he cannot be saved.' This has been paraphrased in less dignified language: 'Accept my model or I'll do you,' or rather, 'This is God's model: accept it or He will do you' " ("What Future for the Trinity," Explorations in Theology, 8, SCM Press, 1981, p. 31).
The churches have been amazingly cruel to those noble souls who challenged the extraordinary proposition that God is more than One Person and that Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man. They burned dissenters, exiled them, defrocked them and passed laws of Parliament against them.
Back to our subject: What then if the Trinity or Binity means 3 X's or 2 X's = 1 Y. This is logically feasible, but what does it mean in terms of defining X and Y?
On the admission of the best contemporary Trinitarian experts, no one has ever been able to explain in what sense they mean God is one and in what different sense more than one. Thus the leading exponent of the Trinity among contemporary evangelicals admits the desperation of the situation:
Professor Erickson (God in Three Persons, 1993): First he comments on the state of the Trinity in the mind of an average churchgoer: It is "a matter of not knowing whether they believe or disbelieve the Trinity because they do not know what the doctrine says" (p. 46). No one has preached to them on this central doctrine.
"Christians who believe this strange doctrine seem incoherent. . ." "We can make it partially understandable. . ."
Erickson continues: "Stephen Davis (a logician) does not say the doctrine can never be shown to be coherent but this has not yet been achieved."
"Davis the logician has examined the major contemporary explanations and having found them not to accomplish what they claim to do has been honest in acknowledging that he feels he is dealing with a mystery. In so doing, he has perhaps been more candid than many of us who when pressed may have to admit that we really do not know in what way God is one and in what different way He is three" (Erickson, p. 258).
"To say the doctrine has been revealed is a bit too strong, however, at least with respect to the biblical revelation" (p. 258).
"It simply is not possible to explain the Trinity unequivocally. What must be done is to offer a series, a whole assortment of illustrations and analogies with the hope that some discernment will take place. We must approach the matter from various angles, 'nibbling at the meaning' of the doctrine as it were. . . It may be necessary, in order to convey the unusual meaning involved in this doctrine, to utilize what analytical philosophers would term 'logically odd language.' This means using language in such a way as intentionally to commit grammatical errors. Thus, I have said of the Trinity, 'He are three,' or 'They is one.' For we have here a being whose nature fans outside our usual understanding of persons, and that nature can perhaps be adequately expressed by using language that calls attention to the almost paradoxical character of the concepts" (p. 270).
But this is desperation. Where does the Bible say that God breaks the rules of grammar in order to reveal Himself? Erickson has surrendered the grammatical method. God speaks to us in terms which are meant to reveal truth, not confuse us. We are reminded here of GTA's assertion that Elohim must be taken as plural resulting in "Gods, he created."
It is customary for some Binitarians and most evangelical Trinitarians (especially Messianics) to propose that the Hebrew word for one, the numeral one (echad), is really "compound one." This is a clever device which confuses logical thought. Echad occurs some 960 times in the Hebrew Bible, and it is the numeral "one." It is a numeral adjective when it modifies a noun. "One day," "one person," etc. Echad is the ordinary cardinal number, "one." Eleven in Hebrew is ten and one. Abraham "was only one," said Ezekiel 33:24 (NASU), "only one man" (NIV).
Just as the famous Armstrongian term "uniplural" does not appear in the Webster's (thus it represents the DIY grammatical venture on which Worldwide theology was done in respect to defining God), "compound one" as a definition of echad is also not recognized in standard texts describing the grammar of the Hebrew language. It is an invented grammatical category which confuses and divides.
The Hebrew word for one operates as does the word "one" in English. You can have one thing, one person. And of course the noun modified by echad may be collective, one family, one people, one flesh, as a single unit composed of two-Adam and Eve, in that case. But to say that "one" carries the meaning of "compound one" is misleading in the extreme. The basic meaning of echad given by the lexicons is "one single," even the indefinite article "a." Sometimes "the only one," or even "unique," is the proper translation of echad.
Suppose now we say that "one" implies more than one. We could prove our point like this: In the phrase "one tripod," is it not obvious that one really implies three? Does not one dozen mean that one is really 12? Or one million? Is one equivalent to a million? Does this not suggest the plurality of "one"? What about "one quartet" or "one duplex"? To carry this madness to an extreme, we could argue that in the phrase "one zebra," the word one really means "black and white."
What is happening here? We are being asked to believe that in the phrase "the Lord our God is one Lord," that "one" is "compound." That "Lord" is more than one Lord, perhaps two or perhaps three. We are being lured into a complete falsehood that "one" implies plurality. We are asked to believe this on the basis of a tiny fraction of the appearances of echad when it modifies a compound noun (the vast majority of the occurrences of echad when it does not modify a compound noun are left unmentioned). Even when "one" modifies a compound noun—one family, one cluster—the word "one" retains its meaning as, "one single . . ." There is no such thing as "compound one" as a definition of echad.
This procedure is to confuse the numeral adjective "one" with the noun it modifies. It is to "bleed" the meaning of a compound noun back into the numeral. This will take the unwary by surprise. Thus "one flesh" is supposed to mean that one can mean more than one. The point, obviously, is that "flesh" as a combination of Adam and Eve does have a collective, family sense. But one is still one: "one flesh and not two fleshes." "One cluster (singular) of grapes" does not in any way illustrate a plural meaning for the word "one." "Cluster" has indeed a collective, plural sense. But one is still one: "one cluster" and not "two clusters." Just imagine if at the check-out the clerk announces that your one dollar purchase is really "compound one." You could become bankrupt.
So then, Yahweh, the personal name of the One God, occurs some 6,800 times. In no case does it have a plural verb, or adjective. And never is a plural pronoun put in its place. Pronouns are most useful grammatical markers, since they tell us about the nouns they stand for. The very fact that the God who is Yahweh speaks of Himself as "I" and "Me" and is referred to as "You" (singular) and "He" and "Him" thousands upon thousands of times should convince all Bible readers of the singularity of God. The fact that God further speaks of Himself in every exclusive fashion known to language—"by myself," "all alone" etc. only adds to this proof. "There is none besides Me," "none before Me" and "none after Me." "I alone am Elohim, and Yahweh." "I created the heavens and the earth by Myself; none was with Me."
A Sample of the Use of 'echad' (one)
Genesis 42: 13: "Joseph's brothers said, 'We are 12 brothers, sons of one (echad) man, in the land of Canaan. The youngest is this day with our father and one (echad) is not.'" Verse 16: "Send one (echad) of you." Verse 19: "Let one (echad) of your brothers. .." Verse 27: "One (echad) of them opened his sack" Verse 32: "One (echad) is not." Verse 33: "One (echad) of your brothers." There are well over 900 other examples in the OT.
Elohim, El, Yahweh are different names for the same One Person. Furthermore: Ps. 83:13: "Let them know that Thou alone, whose name is Yahweh, art the Most High over all the earth." Neh. 9:6: "Thou art Yahweh, thou alone. Thou hast made the heavens, the heaven of heavens, with all their hosts, the earth and all that is in it, the seas and all that is in them." II Sam. 22:32: "For who is El but Yahweh? And who is a rock except our Elobim?" Isa. 43: 10, 11: "You, Jacob, are my witnesses, says Yahweh, and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before Me no El was formed nor shall there be after Me, I, I am Yahweh, and besides Me there is no Savior." Isa. 45:42: "For I am El and there is no other." Ps. 18:31: "For who is Eloah [singular form of Elohim] but Yahweh? And who is a rock except our Elohim?" Ps. 114:7: "Tremble, 0 earth, at the presence of Yahweh, at the presence of the Eloah of Jacob." Jer 10: 10: "But Yahweh is the true Elohim, he is the living Elohim and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble and the nations will not be able to abide his indignation."
Then consider this: Of the 4,400 occurrences of the world Elohim (God) or theos (Gk. God), not one of them can be shown to mean "The Triune God" or "The Biune God." Never, in fact, in Scripture when men wrote about their God did they ever imagine a tripersonal or bipersonal God. Such a God is foreign to Scripture and to Jesus. Is it surprising then that the end-products of a theology of God-Family, of uniplural God(s) do not demonstrate the unity of the spirit to which the Bible directs and exhorts us?
We have the strange paradox in churches (speaking generally) that the most important of all doctrines that God is two or three is seldom if ever preached on. But if these strange concepts are challenged, then the full force of dogma comes into play and threats of excommunication and heresy go flying. When the detail of the argument for a Triune God emerges, the questioner is invited to believe that:
1) "Today" ("You are My Son: Today I have begotten you"-Ps. 2;7) means "In eternity you are My Son." In this church-speak, which is at the root of all our problems, "today = in eternity."
How then could God say "today" if He meant "today"? God here is being muzzled and told what He can say and what not.
2) "Person" in Trinitarian definitions does not mean person. Beget does not mean beget, bring into existence. God is one OUSIA (essence or substance) existing in three HYPOSTASES (subsistencies). The term OUSIA is never used of God in the Bible. Hypostasis is not used to describe Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
3) "I will be his Father" (II Sam. 7: 14) really means "I have always been his Father." Note how history is replaced by timelessness.
Augustine (On the Trinity): "Human learning is scanty and affords no terms to express it. It is therefore answered 'three Persons,' not as if that was to the purpose [had any meaning] but something must be said and we must not be silent" (De Trinitate, Bk 5, ch. 9). The same Augustine in his Homilies on John felt it necessary to tamper with the sacred text of John 17:3, declaring that Jesus had said: "This is eternal life: that they believe in You and Jesus Christ whom You sent, as the One True God" Note the complete alteration here in the interests of squeezing the Messiah into the Godhead. Jesus in fact described the Father here as "the only one who is truly God"
Professor Stuart of Yale and Andover (1780-1852), one of the most learned Trinitarians in the world, speaking of the definition of Person in the Trinity said: "I do not and cannot understand them. And to a definition I cannot consent, still less defend it, until I do understand what it signifies. I have no hesitation in saying that my mind is absolutely unable to elicit any distinct and certain ideas from any of the definitions of Person which I have ever examined."
It is a relief to turn from this strange grammar and "church-speak" to some sound facts, from standard authorities:
The Truth about God Has Been Clearly Stated by Good Scholars
Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels: "The relation of Christ to the Father is that of a real Son, including dependence and subordination (I Cor 3:23; 11:3; 15:24-28)."
This brings refreshing and brilliant light.
What, Then, Went Wrong?
Martin Werner, DD, Prof., University of Bern: "There was certainly no justification for substituting, in the interpretation of the person of Jesus, for the original concept of the Messiah, simply a Hellenistic analogy such as that of a redeeming divine being. The analogy was no more appropriate or proper than that which had become problematical, and it did not deserve to serve as a substitute for it. It was a myth behind which the historical Jesus completely disappeared, because there was nothing common between them" (Formation of Christian Dogma, Harper Bros., 1957, p. 298).
He spoke also of "The transformation of the eschatological Primitive Christianity into the Hellenistic mystery-religion of Early Catholicism" (p. vii).
Professor Loofs: How the Church, from the second century AD, lost sight of the historical Jesus and replaced him with a spirit-being who took on human flesh, but was not really a human being! How the unity of God, the first and most important of all commandments (Mark 12:28ff.), was permanently damaged because of the speculative Greek philosophical influence which invaded the original church. Our contemporary problems, in the church and the nation, go back to the drastically weakening process that began when the poison of Greek philosophy mounted a kind of terrorist attack on the supreme unity of the One God of the Bible.
Friedrich Loofs (church historian and theologian, 1858-1928): "The Apologists ['church fathers' like Justin Martyr, mid-2nd century] laid the foundation for the perversion/corruption (Verkehrung) of Christianity into a revealed [philosophical] teaching. Specifically, their Christology affected the later development disastrously. By taking for granted the transfer of the concept of Son of God onto the preexisting Christ, they were the cause of the Christological problem of the 4 th century. They caused a shift in the point of departure of Christological thinking —away from the historical Christ and onto the issue of preexistence. They thus shifted attention away from the historical life of Jesus, putting it into the shadow and promoting instead the Incarnation. They tied Christology to cosmology and could not tie it to soteriology. The Logos teaching is not a 'higher' Christology than the customary one. It lags in fact far behind the genuine appreciation of Christ. According to their teaching it is no longer God who reveals Himself in Christ, but the Logos, the inferior God, a God who as God is subordinated to the Highest God (inferiorism or subordinationism).
"In addition, the suppression of economic-trinitarian ideas by metaphysical-pluralistic concepts of the divine triad (trias) can be traced to the Apologists" (Friedrich Loofs, Leitfaden zum Studium des Dogmengeschichte [Manual for the Study of the History of Dogma] (1890), part 1 ch. 2, section 18: "Christianity as a Revealed Philosophy.
The Greek Apologists," Niemeyer Verlag, 1951, p. 97). 2
This disastrous development is reflected exactly in modern popular evangelism:
James Kennedy says: "Many people today think that the essence of Christianity is Jesus' teaching, but that is not so . . . Christianity centers not in the teachings of Jesus, but in the person of Jesus as Incarnate God who came into the world to take upon Himself our guilt and die in our place" ("How I know Jesus is God," Truths that Transform, 11th Nov., 1989).
The proposition that" Jesus is God" is impossible, since God cannot die. He is immortal ( I Tim 6:16). Holy angels cannot die ( Luke 20:35 ). Thus Jesus cannot be Michael the Archangel either. Only a mortal human being can die, and only a mortal human Son of God died for the sins of the world. Jesus died. We, too, die, but we can be brought back from death to life, as was Jesus.
Oxford Companion to the Bible (Metzger, Coogan, eds.): "Because the Trinity is such an important part of later Christian doctrine it is striking that the term does not appear in the NT. Likewise the developed concept of 3 coequal partners in the Godhead found in later creedal formulations cannot be clearly detected within the confines of the canon" (Art. "Trinity").
JAT. Robinson of Cambridge: "John is as undeviating a witness as any NT writer to the unitary monotheism of Judaism."
The Bampton lectures for 1818, said to have been "full of abuse, bigotry and dogmatism, rudeness, misunderstanding and ignorance" were in response to the growing protest by Unitarians. The official Church replied in its annual lecture with "The Doctrines of Unitarians Examined and Opposed to the Church of England." The Bampton Lectures of 1976, 1980 and 1984 promoted, by contrast, a rather severe criticism of plurality in the Godhead. They were Unitarian in substance as was the famous series of essays which appeared in The Myth of God Incarnate in 1977. The light of the central doctrine of1he Bible is perhaps returning.
The Theology of Paul
By Gary Fakhoury
Well, then, who were the Pharisees? What did they believe? What did they teach? How were Jewish boys brought up in that day, and how were they educated? To help shed light on Paul's upbringing, let me quote at some length from William Barclay's biography of Paul, Ambassador for Christ (pp. 17-23):
"The Jews were always very particular that their children should be well educated. It was their boast that the children 'from their swaddling clothes were trained to recognise God as their Father and as the Maker of the world' We know exactly the kind of education that Paul would receive. When he was six years old he would go to school for the first time. Once he had learned to read he would be given little rolls of parchment with certain scripture passages on them, which he would have to learn by heart.
"(The first passage was) The Shema (Duet. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41). Shema is Hebrew for 'Hear!' And the title comes from Deuteronomy 6:4 , 'Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.' That might be called the creed of the Jews because that was the verse with which every one of their synagogue services began. . .
"Most boys would stop their education (at 13), but Paul did not. He was to become a Rabbi, which is something like a college professor, and for that purpose he would have to go on and take a higher education, which was the equivalent of going to the university today. There he would go on studying the Old Testament. . .
"This intensive study would last until Paul was about twenty or twenty-one and then he would be qualified as a Rabbi and a teacher. . . Purely on Jewish grounds Paul had a further and still greater claim to distinction. He had been a Pharisee. Of all Jewish religious figures none were so respected as the Pharisees. There cannot ever have been more than six thousand of them all told but, in one sense, however misguided they were, they were the very cream of the Jewish nation. . .
"All life was hedged around by (their) detailed rules and regulations, which the Scribes had worked out and systematised from the great broad principles of the Law. . .It is easy to criticise the Pharisees and to condemn them as misguided and arrogant legalists. But one thing is clear—they must have been desperately in earnest. A life dominated by these rules and regulations must have been a most restricted and uncomfortable thing, and yet of their own free will they accepted such a life and kept to the utmost its every detailed regulation. Only someone with a fanatical intensity of belief would have attempted that.
"Paul was like that. He was a man who had a passion for the Law. He was willing to make life as uncomfortable as its minutest regulations demanded in order to be, as he thought, true to God. We see how Paul's qualifications to appeal to his fellow countrymen are piling up. He was a Jew of the purest blood; he was a rabbi with the highest possible academic attainments; he was a Pharisee, one of that devoted six thousand who. . .were. . .the shocktroops and the spearhead of Jewish religion."
Today we tend to accept, without much contemplation, the Pharisees as a simple fact of Jewish history. But this group had reasons for existing, and for doing what they did. Their deep commitment—indeed, their fanaticism—was rooted in certain facts of Israel's history.
The Jews understood that the primary reasons they were taken into exile in Babylon were their willful neglect of the Sabbath, and their decline into pagan polytheism. When Ezra and Nehemiah attempted to reorder Jewish life upon the Jews' return from exile, they understood their most important task was to orient the Jewish culture toward the Law of Moses. They understood that if the Jewish people were going to survive, the Law needed to become the centerpiece of Jewish life (Neb. 10:29).
Israel's slide into polytheism did not occur by accident. It was in large measure a natural consequence of Ishmaelite contact with and intermarriage with the pagan peoples of the land. So listen to what Nehemiah does when he discovers the Jews are again intermarrying with pagan women:
"In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. . .So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, 'You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? . . .pagan women caused even him to sin'. . .Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan" (Neh. 13:23-30).
Ezra and Nehemiah became the inspiration for the Pharisaic movement, when it emerged in the second century BC in response to the Hellenization of Jewish culture. The fear now was not so much Canaanite infiltration but Greek, and the Pharisees banded together to stand firm for Torah Judaism in the face of what was in reality a worldwide cultural onslaught from polytheistic Greece.
We're reviewing this history because we need to take stock of how critical it was for the Jew, and most especially the Pharisee, that they remain pure from any taint of paganism, which, for them, was synonymous with polytheism.
So then, if Paul was indeed a Pharisee, how, exactly, would he have been trained to think about God? How did the Pharisees understand God, and what did they teach others about Him?
There is a wealth of information in first-century Jewish writings on this subject, and they all agree that the scribes and Pharisees were ardent unitary monotheists, as the NT itself reveals:
"Then one of the scribes (the legal scholars of the day) came. . .(asking Jesus), 'Which is the first commandment of all?' Jesus answered him, 'The first commandment is: 'Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. . .' So the scribe said to Him, 'Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. . .' So when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God'" (Mk. 12:28-34).
Here, Jesus cites the Shema as the first, or most important, foundational teaching of the Law. But the scribe understands the Shema in terms of one God being, not a multiple unity within God, evidenced by the fact that he uses the singular personal pronoun—He—to explain to Jesus what "the Lord is one" means. To the Pharisee, the Lord God is not a compound unity of Persons. They believed that the Lord is one person, a "he." And Jesus approves of this understanding.
Thus in this encounter we see a reflection of the fact documented in many contemporary writings that first-century Pharisaism, as in Judaism generally, understood God as a single being, apart from all others and standing above all others.
Now, in the passages quoted earlier, you may have noticed that Paul cited his status as a Pharisee specifically in the context of his pre-conversion years. Did this end when he became a Christian?
Before the Sanhedrin in a public trial, in the latter part of Paul's career, Luke reports, "But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out at the council, 'Men and brethren, I am (present tense) a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!" (Ac. 23:6)
Now, there were several schools of thought among the Pharisees at this time, some more liberal, some more conservative. Which did Paul belong to?
Later, in his defense before King Agrippa, Paul charged, "(The Jews) have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee" (Ac. 26:5, RSV ).
The publicly known fact of Paul's strict Pharisaical belief and practice allowed him to proclaim publicly once more, "But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets." (Ac. 24:14)
Here Paul claims perfect continuity with his understanding of God as a Pharisee and his worship of God as a follower of Messiah Jesus. There is no hint here of any kind of break with Judaism in any point of theology. His understanding of the Law and the Prophets—which contain many passages the Jews understood in the strictest monotheistic terms—remains intact. Not even being struck down and blinded by the glorified Christ on Damascus Road could shake Paul's belief in the one God of his fathers!
For Paul, following "the Way"—being a Christian, we would say today—did not alter, or require altering, his understanding and worship of the one God introduced to him by his Jewish fathers. Clearly, there have been developments in theology since Paul's day, have there not? Because what Paul says here simply could not be accomplished in today's Trinitarian and bi-theistic Christian environments. Indeed, perhaps the greatest barrier for Jews to accept Christianity today is their understandable reluctance to embrace a multi-personal God Clearly, something has changed in Christian theology from Paul's day to ours.
Paul's allegiance to the one God of his Jewish fathers was maintained throughout his Christian career with wholehearted and unwavering devotion, so that he could write in truth to Timothy: "I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did. . ." (I Tim. 1:3)
At this juncture we need to ask ourselves a question: If, as it has been alleged, Paul was in fact beginning to move away from the unitary monotheism of the Pharisees and indeed of the entire Jewish religion and culture, what would the reaction have been to that?
To begin to answer this question we must first take into account the fact that Paul had enemies. Enemies without, and enemies within. Indeed, these trials we've been reading about would not have occurred otherwise. Now, who were Paul's adversaries? The Jews! Five times he received 39 lashings from non-believing Jews, three times he was beaten with rods, and at Lystra the Jews stoned him and left him for dead (IICor.ll:24;Ac.I4:19).
Things weren't much better within the church. Once, Paul was strenuously opposed by Jewish believers who came to Antioch—"false brethren" Paul calls them—and insisted that the gentiles there must be circumcised as a sign of allegiance to the Law of Moses. This same party, apparently, was behind the trouble in Galatia, occasioning Paul's impassioned letter to that beleaguered congregation.
Who were these Jewish believers? Luke identifies them as Pharisees: "But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise (the gentiles), and to command them to keep the Law of Moses'" (Ac. 15:5).
We don't often consider that there were Pharisees in the church. And they opposed Paul on the issue of the gentiles' relationship to the Law of Moses. Paul calls them "the circumcision group" (Gal. 2:12; Tit. 1: 10), and they dogged him all of his career in the church.
So, what was the source of conflict between Paul and his enemies? To the Jews without, it was his teaching that Jesus, a convicted criminal who died a shameful death on a Roman cross, could be the promised Messiah. To the Jews within, it was Paul's insistence upon gentile freedom from customs associated with the Law of Moses.
But note this. Not one time do Paul's Jewish enemies, who followed him everywhere he went and knew well his life and doctrine, ever lay the charge of polytheism upon him. Not once do they accuse him of departing from the pure monotheism of the Hebrews. Not once do they lay upon Paul the charge that he has made Jesus a "second God," which is what they surely would have had he begun to teach what defenders of orthodoxy suggest he did.
How could Paul's determined enemies have possibly failed to seize their best opportunity to discredit Paul by laying upon him the devastating charge of polytheism? Knowing what we know about Pharisaic fanaticism in confronting paganism, and their singular desire to protect Israel from the polytheism of the occupying Romans, their refusal to even hint that Paul was sliding into polytheism speaks volumes about how Paul's audiences understood his teaching about Jesus, and about God.
We can be sure Paul's Jewish enemies would have had little patience with intricate expositions concerning multi-personal unity within a multi-dimensional monotheism. The Pharisaic mind surely would have dismissed this as transparent double-talk before running headlong at Paul with charges of polytheism, in the hope of justifying his stoning and finally ridding the earth of the man.
Aside from the issue of Paul's enemies, we need to also consider the effect Paul's alleged transition toward a multi-personal God would have had upon rank-and-file members of the growing Christian church.
In the earliest period, the period covered roughly by the first ten chapters of Acts, the church was entirely Jewish. Cornelius' introduction to full fellowship in "the Way"—as they called it then—and later, Paul's evangelism of the gentiles throughout the larger Western world, eventually created a Jew/Gentile mix in the church. But the church still retained much of its original Jewish character in the period that covers Paul's ministry.
Aside from the Jews themselves, the majority of the gentiles that converted to Christianity had been former proselytes—full, circumcised converts to Judaism—and "God-fearers," gentiles who attended synagogue to learn of the God of Israel and His Law, but yet to be circumcised in a full commitment to Judaism. Thus by preaching in synagogues throughout Gentile lands, Paul reached both Jews and gentiles. But this point needs to be recognized: even though many converts to Paul's preaching were gentiles, most of them had been schooled in monotheistic Judaism and were believers in the one God of Israel before Paul ever reached them. Indeed, it was precisely the belief in one God which attracted many gentiles to Judaism in the first place; weary as they were of currying favor with the conflicting and capricious demands of the many gentile gods.
So both the Jewish population within the church membership, and much of the Gentile membership embraced Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, the fulfillment of all the promises of the O.T. But they would not have had any reason to believe Jesus was very God, unless someone held in high esteem in the leadership—an apostle, to be sure—taught them that and took the time to explain it all to them carefully and thoroughly.
Even there, we can expect that there would have been impassioned debate as there was concerning other important changes, like circumcision. No evidence of any such discussion or dispute exists in the book of Acts or any of the NT epistles. I think it would be worthwhile to put the NT's silence on this alleged revolution in Christian theology in a cultural context we can better appreciate.
Imagine for the moment that it is late January, and the President of the United States is about the give his annual State of the Union address. All the members of both houses of Congress are there, Supreme Court justices, military personnel, along with a large gallery of citizens, notable and not so notable, watching from the balcony. The press is out in force, as always for these events, several hundred newspaper reporters, photographers and news broadcasters from around the country and around the world. The President's image is beamed by satellite to every home and tavern in America. Families all over the fifty states gather around their televisions to see and hear their President. The nation waits. Mr. Bush steps up to the podium, and after the hearty applause from the assembly finally dies down, this is what he says:
"Mr. Speaker, members of Congress, distinguished guests, I, George W. Bush, declare that the Constitution of the United States, which has governed this nation for over two hundred years, is, from this moment on, revoked, rescinded, and rendered null and void. Congress has been disbanded, and all religion will center upon myself; all churches will be closed, and all media will be produced by my office alone. I am personally taking control of all powers and offices of government, including the military, and will decide all court cases personally according to my whims and personal interests. We will no longer be regulated by laws in America, because laws no longer exist. From this moment forward, until the day of my death, I, George W. Bush, am the law. Good night, and God bless America."
Can you imagine the press and members of Congress simply shrugging their shoulders, rising up out of their chairs, and quietly filing out of the room, knowing the very foundation of their beliefs—not to mention careers—had just been blown to pieces? Without a single word of protest in the broadcast media, not a single contrary editorial in what was destined to be the last edition of the New York Times and Washington Post?
Can you imagine the millions of Americans who still understand the significance of the Constitution to our freedoms not uttering so much as a single word of objection to this heretofore unthinkable revolution in governance? And ministers and priests abandoning their congregations and parishes, knowing they've preached their last Sunday sermon, without a hint of resistance? Can you imagine it?
No, you can't. I know you can't. You know you can't. It's simply not possible given what we all know about human beings and how they work. So why should we assume such a thing could be possible among first century Jewish Christians, who, if anything, believed in their monotheistic faith even more passionately than we Americans believe in our Constitution?
With that as our historical backdrop, let's search the writings of Paul and discover exactly what he taught his followers about Jesus, and about God.
PAULINE PROOF-TEXTS: CLEAR STATEMENTS OF MONOTHEISM I Cor. 8:4-6
It is important to note that Paul writes this passage with the full intention of establishing, once and for all, his convictions concerning the powers that be in the universe. The practical issue at hand is this: Are idols anything, that we need to worry about them contaminating our meat when it is ritually presented to idols in the public markets? The Corinthians needed to know. Paul quickly identified the key, underlying question: What is, after all, the reality of the unseen divine world? Though our circumstances are different today, and meat offered unto idols is no longer an issue for most of us, the question of the nature of the divine realm is very much a live one, and indeed is the purpose for this conference. Therefore, this passage has the highest possible teaching authority with respect to our subject, because it is Paul's subject. Paul is deliberately endeavoring to answer the question we are all asking this weekend. And here it is:
"Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. . .for us there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Messiah. . ."
Trinitarians and followers of Armstrong theology claim they agree with Paul that there is only one God. The problem is that they do not agree with Paul that that one God is the Father. Instead they believe God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in unity, or, Father and Son in family relationship. This is the source of the disagreement between us. We believe all of Paul's creedal statement on the nature of God, and they—it must be said—do not. We believe, as this passage clearly proclaims, there is, and has ever only been, one eternal creator God, and one Lord Messiah, the only begotten son of God, who has been exalted to his father's right hand. But Paul's proclamation of one God didn't end with his letter to the Corinthians:
Ro. 3:30 "since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith. . ."
Gal. 3:20 "Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one."
Eph. 4:6 "There is . . .one God and Father of all. . ."
I Tim. 1:17 "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
I Tim. 2:5 only one man.
Have you noticed that all of these theological proclamations are clearly stated, with no ambiguities in language? Let's compare these to the passages which have been put forward to prove Paul believed Jesus was God, and ask ourselves this fundamental question: If the only sound method of doctrinal study is to understand unclear scriptures in light of clear ones, what shall we conclude Paul believed about God?
ALLEGED STATEMENTS OF JESUS' DEITY Ro. 9:5
About this verse Robert H. Mounce wrote: "The meaning of (v. 5b) is one of the most hotly disputed questions of the New Testament." (The New American Commentary. Vol. 27, p. 349.) Are clear scriptures "hotly disputed"?
The literal word order of the Greek text is the source of the difficulty: "of whom the fathers and from whom the Christ according to flesh the one being over all God blessed unto the ages amen."
There is no punctuation in the earliest Greek manuscripts. So here the difficulty lies not in the meaning of the individual words but in their syntax—how they should be arranged to create a sensible sentence:
"Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." ( NIV )
"of whom are the fathers, and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen." ( N KJV )
"to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. Amen." ( RSV )
"Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them, in natural descent, sprang the Messiah. May God, supreme above all, be blessed for ever! Amen." (NEB)
All these renderings are possible given the source material at hand, which is the reason for the "hot dispute" concerning this verse. Many commentators agree with the NIV / N KJV 's choice of wording here, some do not. Therefore it is impossible to know for sure which is closest to Paul's intended meaning simply by examining the text itself.
So, can we receive any guidance from the rest of the letter?
"God" appears in Romans 154 times and it is generally agreed that each time its use refers to the Father. This would truly be an exceptional exception if "God" referred to Jesus here.
Also a similar doxology in Gal. 1 :4, 5 explicitly refers to God the Father: "who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen"
Moreover, if the NIV / N KJV translators are correct, it would prove perhaps more than orthodox apologists might desire, because this reading would suggest that Jesus stands "over all," which would naturally include his Father—contrary to the entire NT teaching on that subject.
In any case it seems that a certain—or nearly certain—understanding of this passage is not too much to ask given the theological stakes involved, and this verse is not able to supply that. Until it is clear what, exactly, this verse is saying, it can never serve as the decisive proof-text defenders of orthodoxy seek.
"who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross." ( N KJV )
"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" ( NIV )
Gk, hyparchon, which is the root huparko with a present tense participle. Thus it carries the sense of continuity past to present. i.e., whatever he was then continues until now.
"in the form of God" Gk., morphe. Does this mean, as the NIV says, "in very nature (God)?" For obvious reasons, defenders of orthodoxy prefer this translation. But which rendering of this phrase is more accurate, "being in the form of God" or "being in very nature God?"
Kittel defines morphe as " 'form,' 'external appearance.'" Thayer defines it, "the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision; the external appearance." Are these definitions (contrary to the sense of the NIV ) borne out by the NT text?
The only other NT usage of morphe is in Mk. 16: 12: "After that, He (Jesus) appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country."
Are we supposed to believe that Jesus transformed his inner nature to hide his identity to these men on the road to Emmaus? No, the obvious meaning is that Jesus' outer appearance was disguised from them.
Morphosis is a close relation to morphe. Paul uses it in II Tim. 3:5 with regard to wicked men. "... having a form (morphosis) of godliness but denying its power." Obviously these people only have the outer appearance of godliness; indeed, their inner nature is precisely the opposite of their morphosis.
Those of us who are content to allow the Bible to interpret the Bible must conclude that Paul's use of morphe here, contrary to claims made by defenders of orthodoxy, does not necessarily mean Jesus possessed very Godhood in some past existence, but possessed and possesses the image or likeness of God.
Well, so, if Jesus exists in the image of God, would not that fact alone make him very God? Not necessarily, because in I Cor. 11:7 Paul teaches that all men exist in the image of God: "For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God." This is an obvious reference to Gen. 1 :27.
That said, we do see in Paul and in the NT generally the conviction that Jesus embodied the character and moral perfection of God in a unique and ultimate sense. As God's only begotten son, Jesus could truly say, "he who has seen me has seen the Father." This is not true of men in general. However, there is nothing in morphe, as we've noted, which touches upon the issue of one's category of being.
"did not consider it robbery to be equal with God." (NKJ)
"did not consider equality with God something to be grasped." ( NIV )
Key Gk. word: harpagmos, used only here in the NT, and the key question is this: did Paul mean to suggest that equality with God was something Jesus had all along but didn't hold on to, or that it was something he chose not to attempt to take from God?
The root word for harpagmos is harpazo, which Kittel defines: "to steal, to capture, to snatch, to seize, to take by force." Thayer, "the act of seizing, robbery."
Harpazo is used 13 times in the NT and always carries the above sense. i.e.:
Mt. 11: 12: ". . .the violent take (the kingdom) by force. . ."
In. 6:15: ". . .would come and take (Jesus) by force.
Ac. 23: 10: ". . .commanded the soldiers to go down and take (Paul) by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks."
I Thess. 4:12: ". . .(we) shall be caught up into heaven. . ."
Here four NT authors use harpazo with the sense of taking away, of removing something to another place where it had not been previously.
Expositor' s Greek New Testament, p. 436: "We cannot find any passage where harpazo or any of its derivatives has the sense of 'holding in possession,' or 'retaining.' It seems to invariably mean 'seize' or 'snatch violently."
So, of the major translations perhaps the NEB has it best: "he did not think to snatch at equality with God." Contrary to what some of us have been taught, this verse does not teach that Jesus always possessed equality with God but voluntarily gave it up, but quite the opposite--that he did not have equality with God and never attempted to take it.
As the "second Adam," Jesus stands in direct opposition to the first Adam, who took the forbidden fruit in an effort to "be like God." He also stands in opposition to Lucifer in Isa. 14:13, 14 who attempted to "be like the Most High." And in the temptation in the wilderness Jesus refuses Satan's offer of preeminence and promotion to higher status as ruler over the kingdoms of the world.
So the highest irony is present here; the orthodox Jesus does, in fact, "snatch at equality with God," even though Paul tells us that's precisely what he would never do!
"but made Himself of no reputation. . ." ( KJV + N KJV )
"but made himself nothing. . ." ( NIV )
"but emptied himself. . ." ( RSV )
Gk. houton ekenosen, literally, "himself emptied. . ." This phrase is ambiguous. Does it mean, as the RSV suggests, that Jesus literally emptied himself of something? Or, as the KJV, N KJV and NIV suggest, that he accepted a lowly position?
The root word of ekenosen is kenoo. Thayer, "1) to empty, to make empty. . .2) to make void. . .render vain, useless, of no effect. . ."
The notion—still popular with laymen and uninformed clergy—that the "emptying" here refers to an emptying by the incarnate Jesus of the divine qualities which could not be mediated in a human form (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) is known as the Kenotic Theory; kenosis, Kenotic.
There are two major difficulties with the Kenotic Theory, one exegetical, the other theological. We will discuss the theological problem tomorrow. The exegetical problem is that ekenosen, which gives the Kenotic Theory its name and without which there would be no theory, does not mean "divine self-emptying" in any known writing; it means, simply, "emptied," and nothing more. The Kenotic Theory, then, shows itself to be merely the product of theological imagination bringing meaning to a text which does not secrete from the text itself.
Since ekenosen is ambiguous, we must check our understanding of it against the immediate context. When we do, the KJV / N KJV / NIV rendering "but made himself of no reputation" appears to better fit Paul's main point in this entire passage, that is, of the Christian obligation to accept the burden of voluntary humility relative to others: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (v. 3) There is no discussion here of adopting a lower level of ontological existence, obviously, but of voluntarily accepting a lower role of servant relative to others.
". . .taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."
Notice that this section of the passage features three virtually synonymous claims. Jesus:
took the form of a servant;
- came in the likeness of men;
- was found in appearance as a man.
Why does Paul state this one fact three different ways? It has been widely noted by scholars that the entire passage from v. 6-11 is either a hymn, perhaps in wide use in the Christian community by this time, or a lyrical poetic work penned by Paul himself. This is why the NIV and other newer translations typeset the passage in the form of a hymn, like they do the Psalms.
Taking this fact into consideration helps us understand the triple repetition here, because such multiple references to identical facts were very common in Hebrew hynmic verse:
"Blessed is the man who (1) walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, (2) nor stands in the path of sinners, (3) nor sits in the seat of the scornful." (Ps. 1:1)
"I am weary with my groaning; (1) All night I make my bed swim; (2) I drench my couch with my tears. (3) My eye wastes away because of grief." (Ps. 6:6, 7)
"Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity; For (1) the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. (2) The Lord has heard my supplication; (3) the Lord will receive my prayer." (Ps. 6:8, 9)
This kind of lyrical repetition is found throughout the Psalms because it is a dominant feature of Hebrew hynmic method. Repetition focuses the mind upon a single fact, turning the phrasing slightly to keep interest, yet returning again and again to the point of emphasis. This is what we see in Phil. 2:7, 8.
So, three crucial claims that have been made of this verse have been examined and found wanting. We have been told Jesus was "by very nature God," but morphe doesn't mean this. We have been told Jesus possessed equality with God, but harpazo means precisely the opposite. Then we have been told Jesus emptied himself of his divine powers, but ekenosen doesn't mean this, either. It is hard to think of a passage of scripture which has suffered more mis-interpretation than this one.
Taking all these facts into consideration, then, how should we understand Paul's meaning here? NT usage of the key Greek words suggests the following meaning:
"who, though existing in the form of God, did not think to snatch at equality with God, but made himself no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and came in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross."
Paul is reminding his readers that, as God's son, Jesus existed in the very image of God; but rather than seeking selfish advantage, as did Adam and Lucifer, he chose instead the role of humble servant, even death on the cross. Jesus did not use his affinity with God to gain position for himself; rather, to pour himself out for others in ultimate service and sacrifice.
Col. 1:19 + 2:9
"For it pleased the Father that in (Jesus) all the fullness should dwell. . .For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
"Godhead," Gk., theotetos, appears only here in the NT. It is translated "Deity" in the NIV and elsewhere. "Godhead" is problematic because if all the fullness of the Godhead indwelt Christ, the Godhead would exclude the Father!
This difficulty is resolved when we understand that theotetos is an abstract noun for theos, (God). An abstract noun indicates the quality of something, such as goodness or beauty. Thus when Paul writes that in Jesus dwells "all the fullness of deity," he meant that the qualities of God's character indwells Jesus.
Paul is countering Gnostic heretics in Colosse who apparently taught that Jesus was only one of a series of intermediaries between God and men, emphasizing, in opposition to this, that all the attributes and activities of God are centered in Jesus, and in him exists the full expression of God's divine character. God's expression of His nature is not divided up into countless mediating spiritual powers extending out from God, as the Gnostic heretics were teaching the Colossians, but could all be found in Jesus alone.
Weymouth seems to best capture the essence of Paul's meaning: "For it was the Father's gracious will that the whole of the divine perfections should dwell in Him."
There are two things to notice about this, however. First is that, according to v. 19 "it pleased the Father" for this to occur ("By God's own choice," NEB). Jesus is said to possess divine attributes only by the will, prerogative and action of the Father. This is not compatible with the idea that Jesus is a self-existent, eternal, uncreated God Person.
Secondly, the verb in 2:9 "dwells" is present tense and explains what Jesus is now, in his post-resurrection glorified state. Thus Paul would have us understand that this plenitude of knowledge, glory and power has been received by Jesus from his Father post-ascension, being the "firstborn from the dead" (1:18).
There is no discussion here of Jesus' essential divine nature during his time on earth, or in some preexistent state. Therefore we see no move away from unitary monotheism reflected here because these divine attributes, while indeed now permanently housed in the glorified Christ, were given to him by his Father when He "seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion. . ." (Eph. 1 :20, 21 )
I Tim. 3:16
"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh..."
There is now nearly universal agreement that this is an incorrect rendering of this verse. The uncial Greek manuscripts upon which the King James Versions based their translations of this passage included a scribal error which features the letters QC, an abbreviation of "God," where nearly all other manuscripts feature the letters OC, the Greek word for "who." The accidental (ahem) scribal pen stroke which created a "Q" out of an "O" led to an inaccuracy which other translations have noted and corrected:
"He appeared in a body. . ." ( NIV )
"He was revealed in the flesh. . ." (RSV)
"He who was revealed in the flesh. . ." ( NASB )
Thus, this passage is no longer used by informed proponents of orthodox Christology
The ambiguity of syntax (sentence construction which creates meaning) of this passage is so great, translators have rendered it with three different meanings:
"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." ( KJV )
"looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." ( N KJV )
"awaiting the blessed hope of the appearance of the Glory of the great God and of our Savior Christ Jesus." (Moffatt)
None of these translations can be dismissed on syntactical grounds alone. What is currently known of koine Greek grammar allows for the possibility of each of these constructions. The grammatical discussion is quite technical and it is beyond the scope of this lecture to explore it in detail.
Suffice it to say that experts in ancient Greek who know more of the subject than anyone here have not come to consensus on the best grammatical construction of this text. So the discussion turns on the probabilities of the correctness of each translation as it compares with the teaching of the rest of the letter, the whole of Pauline writings and NT literature in general.
The first translation option suggests that both God the Father and Jesus will appear together. If this is true it would be unique in the NT and runs counter to the weight of NT evidence that Jesus will appear alone in his second coming.
The second translation option suggests that Jesus is "our great God," yet this runs counter to Paul's usage of "God" in this letter, in which 12 times "God" refers to God the Father. Of course that fact, by itself, does not make it impossible that Paul intended "God" here to refer to Jesus. But if that were Paul's intent, one would expect that he would have been clearer in his sentence construction so as to leave no doubt in Titus' mind that, in this one instance, when he says "God," he means to refer to Jesus, and not to the Father.
Moreover, one must ask proponents of orthodoxy to explain why this Pharisee should or could choose to upend thousands of years of Hebrew monotheism
through a passing comment in a private letter to an assistant,
with no explanation or argumentation whatsoever,
without proclaiming this earthshaking theological understanding to the Christian community at large, and
directly contrary to explicit monotheistic statements in his other letters.
The third translation option is the only one which avoids these weaknesses while retaining a complete compatibility with Jesus' teaching concerning his return:
"For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's and of the holy angels" (Lk. 9:26).
Gordon Clark: "The text (Tit. 2:13) does not clearly say that the great God . . . appears. It says that the glory of the great God appears; and surely one may say that the appearance or return of Christ exhibits the glory of God the Father" (The Pastoral Epistles, p. 224).
For all these reasons it's impossible to say with confidence that Paul intended Titus to understand that Jesus is "the great God" and significant reasons to suspect that he did not. Once again, as with Ro. 9:5, until it is certain that this verse is stating what defenders of orthodoxy claim it is, it can never serve as the decisive proof-text that they seek.
ALLEGED STATEMENTS THAT JESUS IS THE CREATOR
These three passages from Paul, which appear in some English translations to say that Jesus created the world, have much in common. They use similar key Greek words and concepts.
I Cor. 8:6
". . . (there is) one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live." (See also Heb. 1:2)
"For by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him"
"and to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ."
There are two key words in these passages (and in Heb. 1:2). In the passage which reads "For by him all things were created. . ." the word "by" is from the Greek en. In the majority of instances, en is translated "in," which, if so here, would render a meaning different than that Jesus created everything.
Next is the word "through," from dia, variously translated in the NT "by," "through," "for," "because of," and "for the sake of." Whether dia is translated "through" as opposed to "because of' is regulated by the cases which accompany. With genitive cases it is usually translated "through" and with accusative cases it is sometimes translated "because of' or "on account of." In all these passages dia is in the genitive case, which would favor "through" as the correct translation. Did Paul mean to say, then, that the universe was created by Jesus?
First, let's recognize a difficulty with that conclusion within one of these proof-texts. Col. 1:16 reads, ". . .all things were created through him and for him." Did Jesus make everything for himself? Is this how we are to understand the universe, then, as a cosmic playhouse for Jesus? If not, then we cannot take "for him" exactly literally, can we? And if we cannot understand "for him" literally, by what principle must we then take its adjoining phrase—"through him"—literally?
Hold that thought and consider that Jesus himself appears to be blissfully unaware that he had anything to do with creation. In each case Jesus gives God—whom he refers to in the third person—full credit for the creation (Mt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6; Mk. 13:19).
Adding to this difficulty for the Jesus-as-creator theory is that Paul also is very clear in his public and private teaching concerning the creation and exactly who was responsible for it. To the men of Athens he said: "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, nor is He worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed anything. Since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. . .Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all, by raising him from the dead" (Ac. 17: 24, 25, 30, 31).
God the Father alone is credited with the act of creation; the man Jesus, whom he ordained by resurrection from the dead, is not said to have anything to do with it. In like manner Paul taught his assistant Timothy: "I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate..." (I Tim. 6:13). Again, two persons in view: the creator God, and Jesus. This agrees precisely with the early Christian community's understanding (Ac. 4:24-28).
What's going on here? On the one hand, Jesus and Paul keep saying the Father created everything, with Jesus not in the picture at all, and then these other verses seem to be saying everything was created through Jesus.
To resolve this apparent contradiction I think we need to dig beneath the surface and try to drink in what Paul is really attempting to express in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians. This will require some investment of time to lay the foundation for that understanding, but I trust when we're finished you'll consider it time well spent.
Last time, we mentioned the influence of Hebrew wisdom literature upon the Apostle John and how that, in turn, influenced his use of logos in the prologue to his gospel. What is sometimes not recognized is that wisdom theology also had a profound effect upon Paul, and in his letters he draws the closest possible connection between wisdom and Jesus.
To help us better understand the significance of these passages, let's first review the significance of the ancient Hebrew concept of wisdom and how it filtered down to the first century, when the NT was being written.
We mentioned last time that wisdom, in the Hebrew sense of meaning, is far more than making shrewd decisions in everyday life. Back then it included a much broader and deeper understanding, of wisdom being the divine intelligence whereby God created the universe.
Proverbs 3:19 and 8:22-31 are the best known of these passages: "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens" (Prov. 3:19).
"Does not wisdom cry out, and understandings lift up her voice?. . .The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth. . .When He prepared the heavens, I was there. . .Then I was beside Him, as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in His inhabited world. . ." (Prov. 8:1, 221)
In Proverbs 3, wisdom is understood to be the divine intelligence which created the worlds. In Proverbs 8, the writer draws a far richer literary picture, with wisdom described as an agent of creation--indeed, a person—who delights in God and who is delighted in by God. There appears to a relationship here between God and wisdom. Yet we know there was no Mrs. Wisdom in heaven, helping God create the universe. Wisdom here signifies God's wise ordering of the worlds, and despite its colorful personification, is not intended to be understood as a person actually standing next to God creating everything.
What we are witnessing here is the Hebrew penchant for personalizing concepts in a highly poetic fashion. A literal reading of these passages would yield quite an inaccurate picture, and the Jews understood this.
In the period between the Testaments, we see the wisdom tradition continued directly along the lines of the Proverbs:
"For she (Wisdom) is an initiate in the knowledge of God, and an associate in his works. If riches are a desirable possession in life, what is richer than wisdom who effects all things? And if understanding is effective, who more than she is fashioner of what exists?" (Wisdom of Solomon, 8:4-6)
"Wisdom, by whose agency the universe was brought to completion. . ." (Philo, Quod Deterius Potiori, 54)
"From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall not cease to exist" (Ecclesiasticus 24:9).
James Dunn is helpful in understanding the larger intent of these expositions on wisdom: "Wisdom. . .was a way of asserting God's nearness, his involvement with his world, his concern for his people. . .of God's immanence, his active concern in creation. . .while at the same time protecting his holy transcendence and wholly otherness." (Christology in the Making, p. 176)
Coming into the first century, we see some striking parallels to wisdom literature in the NT:
"With you is wisdom, who knows your works and was present when you made the world" (Wisdom of Solomon 9:9) + "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. . ." (Jn. 1:1).
"All light comes from her. . ." (Aristobulus) + "The life was the light of men" (In. 1:4).
"Wisdom went forth to make her dwelling among the children of men, and found no dwelling place" (I Enoch 42:2) + "He came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (In. I: 11).
"She is the radiance of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God. . ." (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26) + "He is the radiance of God's glory . . ." (Heb. 1:3).
"The stamp is the eternal Word" (Philo, De Plantatione 18) + ". . .the stamp of (God's) nature. . ." (Heb. 1:3).
Finally, then, let's narrow our focus to the writings of Paul himself. In Paul's vocabulary, wisdom is sophia, which can mean either worldly or divine knowledge, depending upon the context. In some places, however, Paul uses the term just as we've been reading in the wisdom literature: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory" (I Cor. 2:7).
In the following passages Paul directly equates the hidden wisdom of God with Messiah Jesus:
"but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1 :24).
"But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God. . ." (I Cor. 1:30).
With that background we are better prepared to understand Paul's expression in I Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians, that all things were made through Jesus Christ. As we've seen, for Paul, in Christ Jesus dwelt the hidden wisdom of God, that divine intelligence which personified God's creative power in Hebrew thought and literature. We saw that understanding reflected in John and the letter of Hebrews as well.
We need not think Christ made the worlds, any more than we need think wisdom literally made the worlds. God the Father made the worlds, as Jesus and Paul both clearly taught, and the first century Christians all believed. Paul isn't attempting to inform us of something Christ himself didn't know he did, and there is no contradiction here of his own teaching on the subject either.
Rather, Paul—and the other NT writers—applies God's creative wisdom to Jesus exclusively, whom he directly identifies as "the wisdom of God." He is trying to convince his readers that the power and divine intelligence which made all things has now been revealed finally and completely in Christ Jesus.
So then, if
a) wisdom figuratively identifies the divine mind through which all things were made; and
b) Jesus uniquely and ultimately embodies that wisdom, then:
c) Jesus embodies the divine mind through which all things were made.
This is the sense in which Paul means to say that all things were made "through Jesus Christ." The wisdom of God, which was said to be at work with God in creation, is embodied in Jesus Christ.
"Christ who because he is now Lord (by virtue of his resurrection—Ac. 2:36; Phil. 2:9-11) now shares in God's rule over creation and believers, and therefore his Lordship is a continuation and fullest expression of God's own creative power." (Dunn, Christology. p. 181, 182).
STATEMENTS SUGGESTING JESUS WAS CREATED
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."
"Firstborn" is prototokos, meaning literally, "the first one born," as in Mt. 1:25, Lk. 2:7 and Heb. 11:28. However, prototokos carries with it the cultural weight of connoting rank, status and esteem. In Hebrew society, the firstborn son was greatly favored over the rest. The firstborn son of a Jewish family was considered preeminent over his siblings (Gen. 49:3). He, not his younger brothers, became the head of the family after the father's death and received a double portion of inheritance. Hence, the term firstborn took on a connotation of authority and position of favor (Jer. 31:9—Ephrairn was actually, literally, second-born to Manasseh, yet is called God's prototokos in the septuagint).
So, a literal understanding of this passage which suggests Jesus was the first one made, while not necessarily incorrect, cannot be held with certainty. It may be that Paul is using prototokos in a figurative way and only means to say that Jesus was God's most esteemed and preeminent son. Indeed, the entire passage of v. 15-20 emphasizes this very point.
At the same time, certainly prototokos is fully compatible with the idea that Jesus is, in fact, a literal offspring of God, and this is not the term one would normally use to refer to an eternal, uncreated being. After all, to be "born" at all is to have a beginning.
". . . so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
II Cor. 11:31
"The God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever..."
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . ."
Defenders of orthodoxy have never given us a plausible understanding of what the NT means when it repeatedly presents God as Jesus' "father" even though he is allegedly nothing of the sort, since Jesus allegedly existed eternally and was created by no one. If a "father" is not his "son's" progenitor, what meaning, exactly, could these terms have at all? Until promoters of the traditional doctrine can answer this fundamental question, we are right to suspect their conclusions.
Having finished examining the alleged proof-texts of Jesus' Deity in the writings of Paul, let us return to our original question. Do we see in any of these passages a clearly stated, unambiguous teaching that Jesus is God? The answer is no. There is not a single passage in all of Paul's writings which clearly teaches such a thing, and several, as we've seen, which either explicitly state, or strongly imply, precisely the opposite. The burden of proof which orthodoxy must bear in positing Paul's move away from the unitary monotheistic faith of his fathers has yet to even be touched, much less fully borne.
Paul's straightforward proclamation that ". . .for us there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Messiah. . ." stands uncontradicted. Paul the Pharisee, Paul the unitary monotheist, still speaks to those who are willing to listen.
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Consequences of Strict Monotheism
Who is God?" is an academic question. It's fitting for scholars to ponder, but does it have any bearing on the behavior of the average person? Believers in strict monotheism can meet with various churches and have fellowship with many good people who believe that God is two or three. Unless someone makes an issue of it and attacks based on that issue (demonstrating a lack of love), believers who differ on the issue can co-exist without strife. Outside of the academic understanding that God is One, what difference does it make? Does knowing that there is One God make a difference? Does it change your behavior?
Does it really matter?!
For years I struggled with that most important of questions: "So What?" For any doctrine to qualify as a MAJOR doctrine, it must pass the "So What?" test. I believed in One God. The man next to me in church believed in a family of Two Gods. The lady two seats over who had recently switched from another church believed in a Trinitarian family of Three Gods. That's a wide variation in theology, but it didn't change these beliefs and behaviors that we had in common:
There is a Creator
We are His children
- The Creator gave us His Torah and made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- We have sinned and fallen short of the glory
- We need to seek first the Kingdom of God
- Yahoshua the Messiah was sacrificed for us
- There will be a resurrection
- We live our lives in preparation for the Kingdom
Whether you believe in One God, a family of two or more Gods, or a three-personed God, we hold these important doctrines in common. Why then, does your understanding of the nature of God really matter?
There are seven areas where adherence to strict monotheism has consequences on your life, on your understanding, and on your behavior.
Our concept of who is God will color our understanding of the law. In particular, it will bear directly on the concept of changing the law. If you hold to the understanding that Yahoshua the Messiah was the God of the Old Testament, then when he was transformed into a man, he (as God) had the authority to change the law. After all, he gave it, so he can change it! Several examples of this exist in the practices of Bible believers.
The most notable practice that this concept bears on is the Sabbath. Yahoshua said that he was "Lord of the Sabbath." IF he was the God that created the world and instituted the Sabbath day, he had the authority to change it. In fact, his resurrection on the first day of the week caused a change in the law so that Sunday is now the proper day to keep the Sabbath.
This line of reasoning falls apart completely upon understanding that there is one God, and that Yahoshua the Messiah was not the Creator God. He had no authority to change the law. Only God his Father had that authority. The law of the Sabbath was given by the Lawgiver, and never rescinded or changed.
In similar fashion, we see that Authority is used by many to effect a change the clean and Unclean Meat laws given to Israel in the Old Testament. In Mark 7:19 we read the oft quoted "Thus he declared all meats clean." Could a man change the meat laws that were given that Israel might be holy before their Creator God? Certainly not! Only by assigning deity to Yahoshua so that he had the Authority to change the law can you reach this conclusion.
In another bout of law-changing, it is commonly believed by those who claim that Yahoshua was the Creator God that he changed the night in which Passover should be kept to be the night before the Passover service that had always been kept. Since he was (or had been) God, he had the authority to do that. When we understand that this was not the case, and that he did not possess the authority to change the timing for Passover, then the Great Passover Argument that has raged for centuries finds quick resolution.
We see that by one's understanding of who is God, one's practices and behaviors are affected. A consequence of strict monotheism is that we understand that God is One, not two or three. Yahoshua the Messiah did not pre-exist his human birth; he was not the Creator. As a result of this understanding, we are free of the delusion that Yahoshua the Messiah had the authority to change the law of God.
Understanding the Authority issue frees us to keep the law of God. We need to obey the first commandment. It is disobedience to this commandment that brought so much trouble to Israel. When you elevate anything, or any ONE to the status of replacing the Creator, you are breaking the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Those who make the Messiah into the God of the Old Testament are supplanting the Creator God with another god and violating the first commandment. This is not an accusation, but rather an observation. Most of us are guilty of having done it too.
II. Clarity: Avoiding Confusion
When our model of who God is grows from "God is One" to "God is two (or three)," confusion results. We have all heard the confused prayer that starts out praying to our Father in heaven, and then switches to address the Son, alternating between gods in mid-prayer, switching haphazardly between the two several times in the same prayer. There are even people who have adopted the unscriptural practice of praying to the person of the Holy Spirit because He is perceived to be left out and lonely.
Confusion is not limited to prayer. In our congregational singing in church, when we reach the words: "Lord" and "God"—of whom are we singing? Is it the Father, or the Son? Consider the words to songs such as "Rock of Ages." Who is the subject of this song? Are we praising our Heavenly Father the Creator of all, or, more frequently, are we praising "Jesus" who has supplanted his Father as Creator?
Understanding that God is One also frees us from the burden of "fuzzy math" that plagues those who are trying desperately to evade the charge of polytheism. For example: If a pre-existent individual is augmented with another half of his genetic material from Mary, is he not 1 +1/2 = 1 1/2 man? The gyrations that ensue from this line of reasoning can make you dizzy! (For more detail on the mathematics of the ontology of God, see Faction's Fractions— by Jonathan Sjerdal.)
Understanding that there is only One God also allows us to stop doing violence to language. The word "immortal" means not subject to death. The word mortal is the exact opposite, meaning subject to death. We use language to communicate. If language means anything, then "immortal" cannot equal its opposite: "mortal" In particular, God, who is immortal, cannot also be mortal. God CANNOT die. (For more detail on the limits our Creator God places on himself: see Limiting God by Jonathan Sjerdal.)
There are basic rules and definitions that avoid anarchy and make communication possible. If we become comfortable with gross abuse of language like claiming that immortal God died, what other abuses will we accept? Where will it lead us? The consequence of strict monotheism is that we avoid losing meaning in language. We don't have to exist with linguistic contradictions in describing the most important topic of all. Three does not equal One, nor does two equal One. If One doesn't mean One, then what does?
Hear, 0 Israel, YHWH our God is ONE YHWH.
III. Relationship with God and man
Throughout the Old Testament, the Creator God is referred to as "the LORD" in our English translation. This phrase is the translators' substitution of a generic title in the place of YHWH, the name of our God. The consequence of understanding that there is One God is that we immediately realize that every occurrence of YHWH in the Old Testament refers to our Heavenly Father. This is crucially important / in understanding prophecy, as we will see in the next section on
Identity. Once we understand who "the LORD" is, we can clarify matters by calling Him by His specific name. There are many lords. The Messiah was called Lord. Men are called lords. But there is only one Yahowah God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By calling our Heavenly Father by his name, we reap no benefit of some magical talisman. But we do clarify our relationship with our Heavenly Father. (For more detail on the name, see The Name of Our God—by Jonathan Sjerdal.)
Understanding that the God of the Old Testament was not the one who became Yahoshua the Messiah further clarifies our relationship. The man Yahoshua who lived, died, was resurrected, and sits at the right hand of God is truly our intercessor. He was a man, who experienced what we experience—without the benefit of being God first! He KNOWS. We have a true advocate with our Heavenly Father.
We also understand that the Trinitarian construction of God in three persons is false. The holy spirit is NOT a person. Understanding that there is only one God and that the Trinity is a false doctrine allows us to purge this teaching. For example, the God in three persons teaching has permeated nearly everyone's theology regarding the word "Comforter." The English translation "comforter" is from the Greek parakletos: An intercessor, consoler:-advocate, comforter. It merits no capital C, and indeed does not refer to the person of the holy spirit, but rather to the resurrected Yahoshua working with his disciples through the power of his spirit. To claim otherwise is to assign personhood to the holy spirit, in accordance with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. Consider the description of who our advocate/comforter is:
1 John 2: 1 "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate (Greek: parakletos) with the Father, Yahoshua Christ the righteous."
The final consequence of monotheism on Relationship is how it affects our relationship with one another and how we demonstrate compassion. Most of US did not start with our current understanding, but have learned and grown. This helps us to have compassion for those who have another view, which means, if you consider it, having compassion on your former self!
Knowing the cast of characters in the Bible allows us to understand the events in the Bible. If you mistake one individual for another, your understanding of the story will be flawed. Consider the following prophetic passage from Zechariah 14 :
Zec. 14:3 "Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle."
Zec. 14:4 "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
As in the entire Old Testament, the title "the LORD" is substituted by the translators in place of YHWH, the name of God. And who is this being? None other than our Creator Yahowah, our Heavenly Father. Read these verses again. Who will come down and stand upon the Mount of Olives? Nearly all of us have been taught that it is the Lord, who is the son of God. But that's not what Zechariah says. It says "the WORD," or more specifically, YHWH, the name of our Creator God, our Father. This is a classic case of properly understanding Identity changing our whole interpretation of prophetic scripture.
There are yet many more examples of scriptural truths that are waiting to be unlocked by the key of Identity. Scripture records that our Heavenly Father Yahowah made a Marriage Covenant with Israel. Yahowah married Israel. We know that the covenant of marriage can only be ended by the death of one of the parties. Who died to end the marriage covenant?
God is immortal: "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (I Timothy 1: 17) Unless we embrace the contradiction that says immortal = mortal, then this means that God cannot die. Even God's name, YHWH, means "self-existent, eternal." Such an one cannot die.
If the marriage covenant is terminated by death, then one partner must die. Since God cannot die, then the other party (Israel) must have died to terminate the marriage covenant. We find that this is exactly what happened:
"Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead. she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, YE ALSO ARE BECOME DEAD TO THE LAW by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God" (Romans 7:1-3).
The man Yahoshua the Messiah died. He was the kinsman redeemer to Israel. As a result of his sacrificial death, the 12 tribes of Israel (my brethren) died to the law. This was the completion of the old covenant. Therefore the wife (Israel) died. The marriage to YHWH ended. resurrected Israel will be married (the new covenant) to another: Yahoshua who is raised from the dead. (For more detail on the covenant issue, see Marriage Covenants with Israel—by Jonathan Sjerdal.)
The Trinity is THE test for Christianity. If you don't believe in the Trinity, then you aren't a Christian. This shouldn't worry us too much. The believers were only called "Christians" three times in the New Testament, and each time it appears to have been pejorative. It doesn't say that they were Christians, but rather that they were called Christians by others.
Those who believe in polytheism will persecute you if you hold to your biblical view of strict monotheism. The polytheistic Trinitarians will persecute you. The polytheistic Binitarians will persecute you too, for the Binity is just a variation on the Trinity. The Binity is in fact just the poor man's Trinity. It is the Trinity without the person of the Holy Spirit.
Such persecution may take many forms. A frequent accusation made of those who adhere to strict biblical monotheism is that they have a "doctrine of demons." It is curious that such a charge would be made toward people who are accusing no one, but rather honestly searching the scriptures for the truth of the matter.
As strict monotheists, we WILL be persecuted for our belief in One God—maybe even unto death. If there is any truth that is worth dying for, it is that ancient command uttered by Moses: Hear, 0 Israel: YHWH our God is one YHWH.
Ken Westby is even now being persecuted for taking a stand as a strict monotheist. His organization ACD lost much of his support this past year, and many people separated from him over this issue. But he stands firm because it is a matter of principle. May God bless him for his stance.
Adherence to strict monotheism will cause people to divide from you. Either (l) you will be asked to leave the church, or (2) the church will leave you. Last year, Mark Rattee, a pastor from British Columbia, attended the One God Seminar in Seattle. Mark came to the Seminar as a believer in two Gods. Presenter Duane Giles made the point that ultimately reached him. Mark commented later:
"Nevertheless, one thing was said to me that made all of my constructions fail. The question was "at what point and how did one God become the father of the other God?" If you think about this question long enough you begin to realize that its answer leads to only one construction."
After the seminar, Mark returned home to study the issue deeply. Some of his congregation were not willing even to study the issue at all. Half the congregation left because they were so upset that this issue was even being studied. Was this issue worth Mark losing half his congregation over? No, and Yes. No, those people should not have left over this issue. There is opportunity to study the issue, and even to co-exist without agreeing on the issue. It's not worth dividing over, but rather continuing to work together in love as we all grow in grace and knowledge. But do you avoid bringing up the issue because some might get offended and leave? NO. We can't compromise on truth just for people to be happy. Where would that leave us? In time, we would be meeting for church on a Sunday morning. . ."It is revolutionary to finally keep the first commandment!" —Mark Rattee
One of the most marvelous consequences of strict monotheism is hope. REAL hope. Since Yahoshua the Messiah was not pre-existent God, we know an essential truth of scripture: A man who was created has transcended death to become immortal. We can too. This is the BASIS of our hope. It has been done! We too can be resurrected to life immortal, just as our elder brother Yahoshua was. Understanding that he was a man and not pre-existent God is by no means a demotion. On the contrary, understanding what our elder brother did to pave the way for us makes him worthy of even more respect.
Furthermore, we can know of a certainty that our Heavenly Father is an eternal sovereign, not a God who died. We can trust that He is, has always been, and will always be. He is not, nor can be, subject to death. This understanding glorifies our Heavenly Father.
VII. The Kingdom
Our relationship with our Creator is hugely affected by our concept of who He is, who we think we are, and who we think we will become. The Bible says that we will become sons of God in the Kingdom, not Gods. If the Godhead is represented as a God family (a construction not found in the Bible), then it becomes easy to conclude that we will each become a God in the God family so that we will be "God as God is God"—a truly arrogant statement that is an affront to our Creator. There is but One God, and we his offspring will never be God. The Creator God is an individual, not an expanding polytheistic Godhead that will one day include millions of Gods.
Our understanding of the Kingdom of God is based on our understanding of the King, the One God who is over all. As he has resurrected his firstborn son Yahoshua to life everlasting, so he will do with the rest of his children. Yahoshua was not, and did not become God. Neither will we. There is only One God. Always has been. Always will be. We are not going to become God! We look forward to becoming resurrected sons of God in His Kingdom and receiving the gift of everlasting life.
Understanding the ONE God of the Bible brings the scriptures to life. From the first premise of creation, to final Kingdom matters, we understand that there is one single eternal designer who has done everything according to His original plan. Halleluyah!
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