Re: Is Jonah to be taken literally?

From: george murphy (
Date: Wed Aug 22 2001 - 17:45:21 EDT

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    "Howard J. Van Till" wrote:

    > In a response to James Stark, Vince Calhoun asked.
    > > Isn't
    > > there adequate evidence from scripture that Jesus was God and that
    > we are
    > > called to worship Him?
    > Interesting question, especially in light of the fact that it took the
    > early Christian community several centuries to take a definitive stand
    > on precisely this question. For more of the story, see Richard E.
    > Rubenstein's book, When Jesus Became God (Harcourt, 1999). From the
    > back jacket:
    > "After almost three hundred years of persecution, Christianity made an
    > astonishing breakthrough in 324, when Constantine the Great became the
    > emperor of Rome. No longer fearing for their own survival, Christians
    > turned to the question of how to define what beliefs identified a
    > "true" Christian. Led by two charismatic priests‹Arius who preached
    > that Jesus, though uniquely holy, is less than God, and Athanasius who
    > argued that Jesus is God himself in human form‹the debate over Jesus'
    > degree of divinity escalated from heated argument to violence and
    > bloodshed."
    > Like many episodes in the history of the institutional Christian
    > church, this is a sobering story. What may seem so "obvious" to some
    > today is itself the product of human history, complete with all of the
    > shortcomings of human behavior. The Christian church is a thoroughly
    > human institution. Its historical decisions ought not be considered
    > beyond question.

            This is correct only if one highlights the phrase "take a
    definitive stand." It is very clear that within a few years of Jesus
    death some in the Christian community were speaking of Christ as one who
    had existed before his human life in "the form of God" and on whom in
    his exaltation the "name above every name" (i.e., the name kurios =
    YHWH) had been bestowed (Phil.2:5-11). Paul cites this attribution as
    if it were common Christian belief, and from the date of Philippians
    it's pretty clear that this belief must have arisen in the Palestinian
    church. See, e.g., Martin Hengel, The Son of God (Fortress, 1976). Of
    course a number of other NT texts speak of Jesus as divine.

            Belief that Christ was simply a human being who somehow had been
    deified never found favor in the mainstream church. This isn't at all
    to say that belief about his nature or natures was monolithic, and a
    good deal of the christology of the 2d and 3d centuries was
    subordinationist to some extent. But it was, crudely speaking, a
    subordination within the category of divinity - as, e.g., when Justin
    Martyr speaks of the Logos as a "second God." Thus the idea that Jesus
    "became God" is rather misleading. Even Arius was willing to say that
    Christ was "God" and the Arians at Nicea would have accepted the phrase
    "God of God" in the creed. Volume I of Aloys Grillmeier's Christ in
    Christian Tradition (John Knox, 1975) is a throrough scholarly treatment
    of the development, though of course not up to date in all regards.

            What Nicea did was to formalize the realization that Christian
    thought had come to over three centuries, that one couldn't make the
    fundamental affirmations that Christ is Lord and Savior in the fullest
    senses if one stopped short of saying in one way or another that he is
    "one in being with the Father." Of course there were various political
    factors involved at Nicea and its aftermath - on both sides, it should
    be noted. Only the most naive about the church will be surprised by
    that, and only those who don't believe that God can act through the less
    attractive features of human nature will think that this disqualifies
    the council's decision.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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