Is Jesus God? (was: Is Jonah to be taken literally?)

Date: Wed Aug 29 2001 - 14:49:28 EDT

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    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?

    Howard Van Till responded:

    > > 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=8BArius who preached
    > > that Jesus, though uniquely holy, is less than God, and Athanasius who
    > > argued that Jesus is God himself in human form=8Bthe 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.

    Guy Blanchet answered Howard Van Till as follows (Sun, 26 Aug 2001

    > You're confusing the Church of God with the Church of Rome. The arguing
    > over whether or not Jesus was God was simply the beginnings of what the
    > Chruch of Rome has come to refer to as Tradition. The Bible may
    > clearly say something but Tradition may decide to 'rephrase' certain
    > things to widen the road and give elbow room. That's what makes that
    > institution a 'thoroughly human institution' as you say.
    > One example of clearly established theological issues in the Bible is
    > the deity of Jesus: "But about the Son (Jesus) he (God the Father) says:
    > Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever." Hebrews 1:8. And
    > that is only one of the many strong statements on this issue.

    And Howard Van Till replied (Mon, 27 Aug 2001 08:33:36 -0400):
    > Before I respond, let me be certain that I understand you correctly.
    > (1) Are you saying that, of all Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic
    > Church is the only one that might be described as a 'thoroughly human
    > institution'?
    > (2) Are you saying that "Tradition" (by which I presume you mean "binding
    > ecclesiastical decisions") do not play a role in denominations other than
    > the Roman Catholic Church?
    > (3) What do you mean by "the Church of God"?
    > (a) A specific denomination or set of denominations? If so, what are the
    > criteria of selection?
    > (b) A subset of members from several denominations? If so, what are the
    > criteria of selection?
    > (c) A set of persons, not necessarily members of any institutional
    > church, who are committed to certain tenets of faith? If so, what are these
    > tenets?

    I shall be glad to read Guy Blanchet's answer. He (and Vince Calhoun, in
    the sentence quoted) expressed a conviction I fully share.

    But Howard's responses make me sad. I agree with him that "the Christian
    church is a thoroughly human institution" and "its historical decisions
    ought not be considered beyond question", although I would add that the
    Church of Christ is not _only_ a human institution. I don't dispute the
    fact that some early Councils like Nicaea (325) formulated valid
    expressions about Christ's nature. But that did not originate the truth
    of his being God, nor Christians' belief in it, as can be seen in the
    various New Testament formulations written down by earliest Christians
    (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit). Nor do I dispute that, in the
    centuries following the conclusion of the NT, there was much theological
    discussion about these questions, escalating "from heated argument to
    violence and bloodshed". But this just demonstrates that many of those
    "Church" theologians had become sectarian by that time. And it
    underlines that for Christians, the authoritative source of their faith
    can only be the Bible, never tradition (contra Roman Catholicism).
    Whatever statements later tradition formulated must be measured with the
    yardstick of conformity to the (original) biblical texts.

    Of course, each biblical statement must be interpreted, and each
    interpretation is a "tradition", and as such unreliable. Thus, we have
    to be humble about our "readings" of the Bible. But this does not
    abrogate our duty to receive "the word with all eagerness, examining the
    scriptures daily to see if these things were so", as the "noble"
    Beroeans did when confronted with Paul's preaching (Acts 17:11).

    Howard's request to specify what is meant by "the Church of God" is
    somewhat mystifying. Sure, the questions about denominations (1),
    traditions (2), and the nature of the Church of God (3) are very
    important. But they have, in themselves, nothing to do with the question
    of whether Jesus Christ is God. The Bible alone settles this, without
    any need of "historical decisions" by church councils. I would answer
    all of Howard's formulations with "No", even (3c) which comes closer to
    what I believe to be clear biblical teaching. In (3c), I would replace
    "committed to certain tenets of faith" by "born again", where a detailed
    definition of what this means implies an extended Bible study (before I
    read Howard's last post, I happened to have decided to take this as the
    topic of my next sermon in our church, on Sep 30). If we want to discuss
    the question of Christ's divinity, we better make it clear from the
    outset that denominations and traditions have nothing whatsoever to add
    that would be binding for Christians. I take the warning of Rev.22:18 to
    refer not only to the book of Revelation, but to the whole Bible.


    Dr Peter Ruest, <>
    CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    Creative providence in biology (Gen.2:3):
    "..the work which God created (in order) to (actively) evolve it"

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