Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 27

The Nicene Creed~ Part 13

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed. As you can see below,  I have skipped several clauses that we previously examined in the Apostle’s Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

HIS KINGDOM WILL HAVE NO END

Of the clauses from the Creed of 381 encompassed by the present volume, this is the most substantial addition to the Nicene Creed of 325. A heresy based on 1 Corinthians 15:28 had declared that in the last days Yeshua and all that belonged to Him would be taken into the Father, so that God, in being, all in all, would cease to be a Trinity. Now when everything has been subjected to the Son, then He will subject Himself to God, who subjected everything to Him; so that God may be everything in everyone. (The heretic who was alleged to have maintained this was Marcellus of Ancyra, a friend of Athanasnius, though he incurred no ecumenical condemnation in his lifetime and would probably have considered the charge unjust.) The purpose of this clause, then, is to make it clear that just as the second person of the Trinity has existed from eternity, so He will continue to exist for all eternity after the end of the created order – in willing submission to God the Father but without surrendering either His own identity or the individuality of the saints.[1]

The ESV Study Bible explains the apparent heresy this way: Yeshua is one with God the Father and equal to the Father in deity (8:6; John 10:30; 14:9; Heb. 1:8) yet functionally subordinate to Him (Mark 14:36; John 5:19, 26–27, 30; 17:4), and this verse shows that His subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity. God will be all in all, not in the sense that God will be everything and everything will be God, as some Eastern religions imagine, but in the sense that God’s supreme authority over everything will be eternally established, never to be threatened again.[2]

In my next post, we begin to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Edwards, M. J., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord(Vol. 3, p. 171).

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2214).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 26

The Nicene Creed~ Part 12

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit

He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

FROM HEAVEN

The Gospel lies behind the following clause of the Creed when it says: No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven; the Son of man who is in heaven. ~ John 3:13 (NKJV) Messianic reflection tended to begin from this point and move downwards. The heavenly Son of Man descends to the earth and manifests as the suffering Son of Man on this earth. It is remarkable from the earliest known iterations of the Creed how the same subject reference is used throughout all the Messianic statements. The heavenly Son is described as the same subject as the earthly Savior; no distinction between the two states is made concerning the one person. In the earliest centuries of the church, that personal unity was often taken for granted. The context of argument supplied by the Gnostics had made it imperative for the catholic pre-Nicene theologians to insist that the Son of God was a Mediator and Savior from the very throne of God. It was no alien God that had made the material world or who had appeared within it as a savior, but, on the contrary, it was the Logos-maker who came down to that very creation he had once fashioned.

As the fourth century dawned, however, confusion began to rise about the relation of the heavenly Son of God to Yeshua of Nazareth. Some speculations of Origen had partly caused it, roughly sketched out as they were in those early years of the third century, that tended to speak of the Logos-Sophia uniting with the preexistent Soul Yeshua, one of the original spiritual creation that so united itself in love to the divine Word that it offered itself as the soul-medium of the immaterial Logos presence on earth. He meant Origen’s theory of the intermediating Soul Yeshua as a mode of the personal unity of the incarnate Lord. However, if pressed by complex logic, the theory could suggest to critics that the Logos and Yeshua were two distinct persons. The Nicene fathers, therefore, used this Creedal clause to reaffirm the total weight of the ancient rule of faith’s intentionality in using a single subject in all the Messianic clauses: that the heavenly Son of God was none other than Yeshua of Nazareth and that all the deeds and acts of the earthly Savior were deeds and acts of the Word. Throughout the fourth century, and indeed for long after, the ramifications of that central statement had to be elaborated and explained with greater precision and sensitivity; nevertheless, the confession that the Heavenly Son and the earthly Messiah were the same person was the significant contribution of the Nicene Creed, and to it, the fifth-century theologians, such as Cyril of Alexandria, keep returning, to insist that no Messianic nuance should ever lose sight of that belief.

BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Just as flesh signified the sin and fragility of humanity in Biblical Literature, so did Ruach signify the power and energy of God. The attribution of distinct hypostatic identity of the Ruach, as not simply a cipher for divine power and presence but a specific and focused person of the Trinity, was a theology that was clarified only after the tremendous Messianic crisis. It can be said that in the history of Messianic thought, the personal subsistence of the Ruach as a distinct member of the Trinity is something that grows out of the reflection on the significance of the divine person of Yeshua. It might be more accurate to say that the two trajectories grew up alongside one another.

The greatest theologians who formulated the early doctrine of the Deity of Yeshua were always the very ones who were also its chief interpreters of the glory of the Ruach. Nowhere is this more evident than in Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus. These were the most outstanding protagonists of patristic Pneumatology [1] and were, as well, the leading pillars of the Nicene Creed.

The Creed here refers to the dynamic of incarnation to the agency of the Ruach and the Virgin Mary. The Ruach thus initiates the flesh in a way that flies in the face of all Gnostic suppositions that tended to suggest that the Ruach was hostile to or opposite to the flesh. Behind the Creedal phrase lies the Lukan text of what the angel Gabriel explained to the Virgin about her overshadowing by the divine power. This image recalled the great drama of Genesis 1:2 and thereby suggested the incarnation was the Ruach’s renewing of the creation, where it is said, and thus the child shall be holy. In almost all patristic literature, the Ruach is associated with the divine energy of sanctification. In the course of the Monarchian disputes of the second and third centuries (Paul of Samosata was an example) and then again in the fourth-century Arian crisis, some theologians had approached Yeshua’s godly power and His status as a godly witness in terms of his election by the divine Ruach. If the Lord was holy, it was seen to be a result of his special inspiration by the Ruach for this school. The Nicene patristic witness is clear and persuasive in response to this. The Lord is Himself the giver of the Ruach and cannot be understood as simply one more of the line of ancient prophets. The Ruach indeed anointed Him with grace, but that is to be understood as the anointing of His humble humanity, in which He was a model vessel of the Ruach, though all that the Lord did was in the unity of the Trinity. Yeshua’s possession of the divine Ruach is the quintessential sign that He is the Father’s own Word, in the unity of the Trinity where all possess one another in love and energy. The incarnate Lord’s gift of the Ruach to the world, through the power of the incarnation, is described by Cyril of Alexandria as no less than the regeneration of the human race.[2]

In my next post, we complete our dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The branch of Messianic theology concerned with the Ruach.

[2] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 114–115).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 25

The Nicene Creed~ Part 11

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down
from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

AND FOR OUR SALVATION

Here as in other places in the Creed, we find parallel phrases juxtaposed. The first of the pair, for our sake, is mirrored with and for our salvation. The reason for these parallels was a perceived need for increasing specification because of more particular contexts of controversy as the fourth century unfolded. The motive of the incarnation as an act of concern from the part of God toward the human race was a Creedal element of the ancient rule of faith that was designed to offset Gnostic belief in a divine power that stood away from this world. In the Gnostic system, the supreme deity was interested only in liberating souls from a material world that evil and alien power had created. The rule of faith had taught, to the contrary, that the supreme God is, in fact, the Creator of the visible as well as the invisible cosmos, and the sending of the Son of God to earth was for our sake, motivated by love for God’s own creation.

For our salvation, the second clause came about because the Arian crisis had necessitated a deeper clarification of what that motive of God’s advent might entail. What did salvation mean, and how was it affected by the descent of the Son of God? Arian theology tended to see the Son of God as one of the chief angelic powers of God, who had come to serve an educational mission: to give examples and correct teachings to a race that had gone astray. This was a one-sided development of one of the many themes found in the works of Origen in the third century. In the response of the Nicene fathers to the Arian movement, we see a continual focus on the status of the incarnate Word as true God come among humankind. The advent of the deity in the flesh to the human race is not merely seen to be an educational activity. However, there is much reflection on how the teachings of Yeshua were essential.

Consequently, there is a reiterated affirmation that salvation is not affected merely through an example. The incarnate Word is seen to bring a life-giving power back to the human race, which had lost the vital energy of life and immortality that had initially been given to it by the very Logos who made humankind. The Word returns to His own to immortalize and deify fallen humanity.

HE CAME DOWN

The Creedal phrase came down from heaven is solely based on Yeshua’s words in the Gospel of John, describing Himself as the living bread that came down from heaven. Ancient Messianic witness to the incarnation as an act of the saving God is organized around this great verb that is found throughout the scriptural record but mainly organizes the thought of the Johannine Gospel as a grand drama of salvation worked out in the twin axes of epiphanies of the Word’s coming down and ascending on high: His exaltation and return to transcendent glory. In the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the term katabasis (coming down) could signify a rich range of meanings. A katabasis could be that of the mother stooping down to her child (an image used in the psalms and the prophets to describe the compassion of the God of Isra’el) or the vigorous and swift descent to aid a friend against the attacks of a foe. Perhaps the most dynamic meaning of all was to connote the fantastic descent of God to reveal His energy and action among humankind. The coming down was thus a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Tanakh, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize His presence leading the Isra’eli through the desert. For such reasons, the idea of coming down to His people to save and illuminate was inherent in this weighty biblical phrase. We find it used in the early church as a keynote description of the act of the Word’s incarnation: the typical example, for the Messianics, of God’s self-revelation and His compassionate stooping down to humankind.

The early Fathers are quite clear among themselves, and more or less unanimous, that there is only a movement of salvific [1] energy from above to our side, from God to humankind, never a movement the other way around, such as the ascent of a blessed person to the throne of God. The initiative is entirely that of the divine Savior. This is perhaps one of the most striking differences between the Christology of the ancient church and that of recent times. The coming down of the Word of God into embodiment is described with great reverence among the Fathers as an act of profound compassion on the part of God, an act of humility and endurance, motivated by the desire to save and comfort His people. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Having the intent or power to save or redeem. Merriam-Webster Dictionary/

[2] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 96–97).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 24

The Nicene Creed~ Part 10

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

THROUGH HIM, ALL THINGS WERE MADE

This clause of the Creed is predominantly concerned with reiterating the New Testament teaching that speaks of the Word as the divine agent of God’s creation (Jn 1:3; Col 1:16). The vision of the cosmic Messiah evokes and undergirds much of the early church’s understanding. As it was fundamentally the Word who shaped the world as God’s creative power, so it was appropriate that the Word was the only one who could reshape and rescue it from its distress. The maker was thus the same as the redeemer. Early Logos theologians of the late second and early third century delighted in seeing the Logos as the underlying pattern of being within the cosmos. All intellectual and spiritual understanding, especially, was the gift of the divine Logos and constituted the root of the “image of God” within humanity.

By the middle of the third century, Origen had greatly amplified the systematic nature of Logos thought. In his extensive biblical commentaries, he had shown how the whole plan of salvation and redemption was a great story of the Word’s human involvement with His cosmos. For most of the third-century Logos theologians, the Word was the divine force as it interacted with the world. In contrast, the Father was the divine being contemplated in its more transcendent glory. For these theologians, the Father’s origination of the creation was entrusted to the Logos for its accomplishment. Accordingly, by the beginning of the fourth century, many Messianic thinkers were asking questions about the relative status of Father and Logos in the order of creation. Arian theorists, in particular, began to argue that the Word was the firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15) in the sense that He was first ranked among the created beings. Arian cosmology tended to see the Logos as the first of the angel creations of God, who was then used by the Father to bring into being the material world order. The Nicene Fathers reacted strongly to this teaching, countering that the supreme agent of creation could not Himself be a creature. If he were so defined, the ascription of creative power to the Word would be erroneous and blasphemous. Creation, in other words, was a wholly and strictly a divine attribute. If all things (by which the Nicene Fathers specifically meant all the spiritual orders of angels as well as all the material orders of human and animal creation) were made through the Word, it was a clear affirmation, as far as they were concerned, of the Word’s divine status. The Nicene’s knew, however, that even the Arians who affirmed the creative power of the Logos tended to understand it in a way that dissociated creative force from divine status. This was why, throughout the fourth century, much attention was given to the notion of the eternity of the Logos and His unique power in initiating the created orders of spiritual and material beings from the vantage point of preexistent union with the Father. When they treated creative agency, they were aware that only by qualifying the term with “preexistent” or “eternal” was the anti-Arian argument secured.

FOR US

The significant theological controversies of the Gnostic era, lasting throughout the second century and into the third, had turned on an idea of the Godhead that was overwhelmingly important for the Hellenistic religious mentality, namely, that deity must not be sullied by material chaos. Thus, the Gnostics could not confess either that the sublime, transcendent God could either make this material world or be interested, let alone involved, in its variations. Much of that attitude ran on into the Arian movement and influenced its theology unconsciously.

In catholic (universal, not Roman) theology, on the contrary, it fell to the witness of the Scriptures to assert with great power that the God of revelation was wholly and entirely the Creator God who, precisely because He was the creator and fashioner, had a profound and faithful love for His creation and willed its unfolding into beatitude. It was this establishment of the catholic reading of theology over and against the Gnostics and Arians that can be seen in the later patristic theology, which instinctively explains all the mysteries of theology and the incarnate economy by reverting to the fundamentals: that the mission of the Son of God on earth was for no other reason than the same compassion God the Father had for the cosmos. All the apparent strangeness of the Yeshua story, both as a narrative of the descent of the heavenly Logos to earth and as a tale of the sufferings of the Messiah while on earth, can be explained, the Fathers consistently taught, by the fact that the sublime compassion of God motivated all that he did, and that the divine interest and love for creation was in Him to such a degree that humility and mercy became the only trophies of glory that interested him. Such a Lord was transcendent in His stooping down and powerfully great in His smallness. The altruism involved in that creedal clause for our sake and our salvation is far from being easily comprehended. It is more sublime and transcendent than could ever have been invoked by a Gnostic vision of a Godhead that was significant by remaining remote and sublimely indifferent. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 79–80).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 23

The Nicene Creed~ Part 9

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post continues to dig a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

BEGOTTEN, NOT MADE

The insistence on the Son as begotten, not made is another particular aspect of the fourth-century Arian controversy that breaks its way into the creed text at this point. Insofar as the more powerful biblical analogy of the Son of God’s birth from the Father could be used to designate a wide range of modes of secretion from God (angels and saints could be in a sense spoken of as born of God), the Nicene Fathers were concerned with this additional clause to specify that the Son’s process of being begotten from the Father is uniquely different from all others. Adding on the qualification “begotten before all ages” is specifically meant to attack the central Arian premises that the Son was a creature whom God the Father brought into being at a specific time in the plan of salvation. The creedal affirmation elevates against such notion the twin insistence that the Son was born of God (not made or created or emitted in any less than personal sense) and that the birth of the Son takes place within eternity, that is, within the divine being, not as something irrelevant or alien to it. Both images of a natural birth and eternal birth describe and define the full divine status of the Son’s being as necessary additions to the ancient baptismal creed to meet the Arian problem head-on.

Several Arian theologians had begun to argue in the fourth century that the divine Sonship of Yeshua was an analogy for the sanctification of a creature and, therefore, the biblical references to the heavenly Son of God ought to be taken as references to God’s creation of His angelic helpers. They argued that this applied especially to the great angel, the Logos, who thought He was heavily involved in the salvation of the world, was still, nonetheless, the firstborn (that is, first created) of the supreme Monad [1] of the divinity and was a Son of God on the same terms as the rest of creation, only perhaps more impressively so. To teach the doctrine that Yeshua was the earthly Son of God, precisely because he was the incarnation of the eternal Son of God and that in His case alone birth means the antithesis of creation, this clause in the creed, begotten, not made, was added. Aren’t we glad the Nicene Fathers added that phrase?

OF ONE BEING WITH THE FATHER

By the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, it had become apparent to many who had been debating the issues over the last few decades that the Arian party could use many biblical terms and concepts in a radically different sense from what they seemed to mean to the orthodox. The Son’s birth from the Father, for example, was read by Arians as a synonym for “being made.” The Word’s issuing from “before the creation” was read as meaning “as the first act of creation.” So, at the council of 325, the Nicene fathers were determined to make a statement within the series of clauses that could not be interpreted in a vague sense.

Into the series of descriptions of how the Son was born of God, as true God from true God, and as eternal from eternal and as Son from Father, they inserted this explanatory clause: born of the being of the Father. This affirmation of the Son’s birth from the very being of God was a highly abstract and shorthand way of summing up the generic biblical doctrine of the Son’s birth from the Father. The use of the philosophical concept of “birth from out of the divine essence” was meant to emphasize and underscore the potency of other biblical metaphors about the divine Sonship, rather than replace or supersede them.

Yeshua was to be confessed as truly God, without equivocation, and without mental reservation. To that extent, it has often been regarded as the epitome of the Nicene confession of orthodoxy. In its time, it was meant to be a brief synopsis of what the biblical confessions meant in condensed and straightforward form, not a replacement of them. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Supreme Being ~ “Monad | philosophy | Britannica.

[2] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 53–54).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 22

The Nicene Creed~ Part 8

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

LIGHT FROM LIGHT

The Scripture, throughout, favors the analogy of God’s being as light and its energy in the world being experienced as an active and life-giving radiance. The first spoken “word” of God in the Genesis creation account was “Let there be light.” Messianic theologians noted this, as they reflected on God’s ultimate Word, and ever afterward they connected with the image of light as the finest biblical type for conceiving the character of God’s creative force.

The psalmist spoke of the “light of God’s face” falling as a blessing on Isra’el and of God as being wrapped in light as in a robe, (Ps. 104:2) a text that entered the fabric of Messianic prayer as the main psalm of evening worship. The notion of light was also prevalent in Scripture as a symbol of the observance of the Torah and of moral fidelity. When Isaiah spoke of the renewal God had promised His people, a text that the early Messianics from the beginning saw fulfilled in the advent of the incarnate Lord, he spoke of Isra’el seeing a great light that had dawned on them. (Isa. 9:2) The epiphany of God to Moshe at Sinai is described in terms that suggest it is light so intense that a mere human cannot look on it and live. Moshe has to veil his face to speak to the Isra’eli, a text that was before the minds of the Evangelists who narrated the story of the transfiguration of Yeshua, who emitted the light of the Glory-Shekinah of the Father in an important and central Gospel episode. The symbol of light was therefore a ready symbol of the glory of God to the earliest Messianic theologians, and from the outset, the Lord was described as a light for the Gentiles, the divine light that was to come into the world for its salvation and illumination. When the creed refers to the Son of God as Light from Light, therefore, it is specifically annotating the relationship of Son to Father and describing it in biblical terms as the single Glory of God shining in the person and the saving work of the Son. The image of light from light inspired whole generations of theologians across many centuries, who saw it as a vivid example of the divine unity and harmony of action, as well as a powerful message to underline that all the incarnate economy was motivated by God’s desire to illuminate His creation and elect a transfigured people.

TRUE GOD FROM TRUE GOD

This creedal clause is evidently a repetition of the previous one “God from God.” From the third century onwards Origen of Alexandria’s theology had become widespread. This great Messianic thinker had many insights in his large-scale Logos theology that was traditional and favored a view of the eternal and divine status of the Son, but he was also concerned to mark a strong distinction between the being of God the Father and that of God the Son. It is a distinction that he tended to make with formulas of his own, speculative reflections that in the next generation after him caused much controversy among the interpreters who continued to read him. One of Origen’s distinctions was to call the Father very God and the Word simply God. It would be something comparable to an attempt to distinguish between God and God. He was always more than sensitive to such hidden mysteries in the minute details of the scriptural verses, especially those that contained the direct words of the Logos. Several of the surviving Origenian scholars of the early fourth century were still using such terminology, which many had found defective even in the third century, and the problem flared up in the early years of the Arian crisis, when both sides of the Nicene fence (Arius as well as Athanasius) declared straightforwardly that divinity, being an absolute category, was not capable of such distinctions as superior and inferior, of God and God. One of the real causes of the Nicene crisis was, in fact, the collapse of some parts of the antique Origenian system of theological categorizations. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 53–54).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 21

 The Nicene Creed~ Part 7

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

 We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ, the only Son of God

This phrase is essentially the same as the Apostle’s Creed, so I will not elaborate on it again. Where the Nicene Creed differs is a more elaborate description of Yeshua before mentioning His birth to Miryam.

ETERNALLY BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER

The question of the divine status of the Son of God was couched, from the mid-third century onwards, in the question of the eternity of the Son-Logos. Origen had expressed the view that the Son-Logos shared in the eternity of God the Father, even if the Logos proceeded from the Father’s own being in a logical relation of priority and succession (Father and Son). In the early decades of the fourth century, this theological problem had become acute in the school of Lucian, an early Believer teacher, and martyr, who taught Arius. How could the Logos be eternal if He came as a second from God the Father?

 Arius was to press the logic of this strongly in the first quarter of the fourth century, so as to insist on the single absolute transcendence of the Father, with the Logos of God envisaged as emanating from Him as a quasi-divine being, not a divinity in the same sense as God; more, as it were, an honorary deity, an angelic and lofty being held in intimate closeness to God because of the unswerving probity of his devotion. For the ease of teaching this complex view to his parishioners, Arius coined the phrase “There was when he [the Logos] was not.” This was the birth of the Arian crisis – the affirmation that the Son was not an eternal being.

The Nicene party, led by Alexander and Athanasius, countered with the position that there can be no such thing as an honorary deity. And if the Son of God was not eternal, then He was clearly part of the ranks of creatures. But if he was divine, then it followed of necessity that the Son was eternal and born from the Father “before all ages.” The latter phrase, in particular, meant born “before the creation, and that passage of time that marks the unfolding of the creation.” It was theological shorthand for an affirmation that the Son-Logos was the agent of the creation itself. Athanasius deftly altered the Arian slogans he found on the walls of his city, adding a critical amendment of “never,” so as to make them read: “There was never a time when he [the Logos] was not.” The Fathers at the Council of Nicaea lay great stress on this creedal clause “begotten before the ages.” It graphically sums up the Pauline and Johannine doctrine that the eternal Son of God was the Father’s agent of creation; not part of the ranks of creatures but the Lord who created the ranks of creatures in the predetermined plan of his Father’s mercy.

 GOD FROM GOD

The creedal affirmation of the belief that the Son was God from God is an element that predates the Nicene controversy and once more stands as a synopsis of the generic Brit Hadashah confession of the divine status of the Son, as the Word of God sent from the Father’s side. It reflects the scriptural sense of the divinity of Yeshua as marked in such passages as John 1:1–2, John 1:18, John 8:42, John 20:28, 1 Timothy 3:16, Colossians 2:9, and elsewhere. This notion of the deity of the Son is not spelled out in great detail. In the Brit Hadashah passages where it occurs, the sense is primarily related to the notion of the divine power and honor that the Son enjoys as the heavenly apostle of the divine Father. But the Kehilla was deeply rooted in the prophetic Scriptures, and the Christian communities shared the sensitivity of the synagogue in late antiquity, that Godhead was not a title to be loosely bandied about in the manner of the Gentiles, with their many lords and gods.

The Word, though God, is not God in the same way as the Father is God. That affirmation sometimes led to the confusion of some theologians who deduced that the Word was not God “at the same level” as God is God. It would take the Arian crisis of the fourth century to bring out a phalanx of theologians of high caliber such as Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nyssa, who would turn their minds to the clarification of this issue. Highly conscious that the notion of divinity is an absolute one (if one is a monotheist) and that deity admits no degree, they set out to clarify the issue of the Son’s divinity with a newfound precision and force.[1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 42–43).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 20

The Nicene Creed ~ Part 6

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

OF HEAVEN AND EARTH

As we have already looked at this in the Apostle’s Creed, I will be brief. To counter pagan objections, Believers argued that the intelligent design of the universe presupposes the existence of a supremely intelligent Creator. The complexity of the created order is such that it can hardly have emerged out of chaos by itself. Apparent anomalies, like the superiority of the human race to animals that are bigger and stronger than we are, cannot be explained by chance evolution. Furthermore, Believers maintained that everything in the world was good in and of itself and became evil only through misuse. They also claimed that the creation was not eternal and generally believed that time and space had been made together at the beginning of God’s great work. This flew in the face of a commonly held pagan view that matter was eternal and, by its nature, opposed to the spiritual world from the beginning.

OF ALL THAT IS, SEEN

The human race was the supreme act of God’s creation, as is stated in the book of Genesis. This supremacy is not because human beings are the highest of the creatures (a distinction that belongs to angels) but because we combine both the spiritual and the material in one being. For that reason, have been given dominion over the creation in obedience to God. To the fathers of the kehillah, it was highly significant that although God revealed Himself to us by the agency of angels, when He wished to appear on earth Himself, it was as a man that He came. The incarnation of the Son of God validated the goodness of the material world and ensured that it would be redeemed along with the spiritual order. Once this point was established, the way was open for Believers to explore the natural world as a gift from God, and many early believing writers took great delight in its wonders, which they often described at great length. The six days of creation were a favorite theme for commentators, and virtually every prominent writer has left us at least one treatise on the subject. It would be untrue to say that the triumph of the Messianic movement in the fourth century led to a new era of scientific exploration. It would take many more centuries before the implications of the Messianic doctrine of creation began to do its work at that level. However, it can still be said that the kehillah fathers prepared a more positive approach to the natural world. When the scientific revolution finally came, their writings could be appealed to as confirmation that Believers had indeed inherited dominion over the earth.

AND UNSEEN

The question of spiritual creation is not often raised nowadays, but the kehillah fathers gave it detailed and special treatment in its own right. To modern readers, this doctrine often appears quite strange, and how the Fathers dealt with it often seems to us to be less satisfactory than other aspects of their creation doctrine. Therefore, we must understand the historical context in which they were writing and the specific problems they were forced to address.

Everyone in the ancient world believed in the presence and power of spiritual forces for good and evil. The Jews thought of them either as messengers from God (the word angel means “messenger”) or as rebellious spirits who had been cast out of His presence but were still allowed to operate within certain limits on earth. Pagans knew no such distinction, and for them, particular spirits could often be either good or bad, depending on the circumstances. From the Jewish perspective, it was easy to identify the pagan Gods as evil spirits who had deceived the people. However, this opinion had to compete with the more widely held assumption that the gods were nothing but figments of the imagination.

The Tanakh is remarkably reticent on the question of spiritual forces, and in particular, it says virtually nothing about the fall of HaSatan and his angels from heaven. The kehillah fathers recognized this but felt that they had a duty to supply what was missing by speculating on the significance of specific mysterious passages like Genesis 6:1, where it says that the “sons of God married the daughters of men.” This was taken by many to be a reference to the fall of the angels, who, through their lust for human women, created a race of demons even more rebellious than they were. They also relied on Ezekiel 28:12–19, which was addressed to the king of Tyre but used such extravagant language that it is difficult to interpret it in any way other than explaining the fall of the devil from heaven.

The main concern that the kehillah fathers had was to reassure Believers that they had nothing to fear from these spiritual powers. They promoted the idea that all Believers had a guardian angel who looked after them, and they did what they could to insist that demonic forces had no power over Believers. However, this was not an easy claim to maintain since various diseases and disabilities were attributed to demonic action, and Believers were not exempt from them. At the popular level, the kehillah waged a constant and unsuccessful battle against superstition, which was much easier to dismiss intellectually than it was to eradicate at the popular level. After believing in Yeshua became the official state religion, the various oracles and soothsayers who had flourished under the pagan dispensation were forbidden. Still, their trade merely went underground to become what we now think of as the occult. It would be many centuries more before magic and astrology were finally banished from respectable society, and they are still popular though publicly unacceptable today.

On a more sophisticated theological level, the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries began to explore the structure of the spiritual world as part of their attempts to systematize Messianic teaching. They began to examine the qualities of angels, their ranking in the celestial hierarchy, and their different functions. The most significant expression of this was the Celestial Hierarchy, an anonymous treatise written by someone who claimed to be Dionysius the Areopagite, a man who had professed faith following Sha’ul’s preaching at Athens. His claim was accepted throughout the Middle Ages, which gave his writings extraordinary authority. However, they are now universally recognized to date from the early sixth century and probably came from Syria.

The Fathers paid less attention to the demonic world and said remarkably little about hell. However, what they did say was very much following the teaching of the Brit Hadashah, particularly with the hard sayings of Yeshua. However, it must be said that they found it difficult to accept the eternal nature of divine punishment and tended toward the view that in the end, God would redeem everything and turn it into good. Most of them recognized that what they were saying was largely speculative because Scripture did not give enough information for them to be sure one way or another. Modern readers, who are generally disinclined to follow their speculations, must bear this in mind when they read what the Fathers had to say. Like us, they were doing their best to make sense of something that intrigued them but lay beyond the bounds of human understanding. At their best, they were prepared to admit their limitations and to put their trust in the God whom they knew would protect them on earth and save them from destruction at the end of time. 1]

In my next post, we begin to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

1] Bray, G. L., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One God (Vol. 1, pp. 128–129).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 19

The Nicene Creed~ Part 5

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

THE ALMIGHTY

Centuries of Creedal repetition have made it seem natural to associate the words Father and Almighty, and it now takes special effort to realize that this was not so in the early days of the church. The title Almighty is used many times in the Tanakh and the book of Revelation, but it occurs only once elsewhere in the Brit Hadashah, and in no instance is it ever coupled with the word Father. No doubt, the early Believers were happy to make this identification. However, although they did so almost unconsciously, a case can still be made for saying that there should be a comma between the two words in the first article of the Creed to emphasize that the terms are of independent origin.

The word Almighty is not an adjective describing a divine attribute, but a title given to the God of Israel, which is unfortunately obscured in translation. In our English Bibles, Almighty is used to translate the Hebrew name El-Shaddai every time it occurs, and its apparent Greek equivalent, Pantocrator. However, the Greek word is used more than 150 times in the Tanakh, where it sometimes translates El-Shaddai but more often Yahweh Sabaoth or the Lord of Hosts. Unfortunately, neither Latin nor English has exact equivalents of these names.

Initially, the word emphasized that God was the ruler of all things, a status that belonged to him because He had created them. The early Believers needed to maintain this essentially Jewish idea. Without it, the door was open to belief in an independent evil deity that could compete with the true God for power and influence. As time went on, the question arose as to whether God’s universal rule implied that He could do anything and everything, and at first, Believers like Origen were inclined to say that it did. This view was modified somewhat later on, as other theologians (like Augustine) realized that God could not do things that contradicted His nature. This was not because He was not omnipotent but because it made no sense to say that God could do such things. They were no more than verbal constructs, with no reality behind them. For example, to ask whether God could commit suicide or do evil was to fall into absurdity since such concepts could not be applied to His being.

The fact that the Brit Hadashah presents Yeshua as the co-creator of the universe quickly led the early Believers to recognize that the Son must also be Almighty God. As the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was developed in the fourth century, the term was naturally extended to Him as well. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that this theological development, which was greatly assisted by the need to react against the claims of Arius, did not find its way into the Nicene Creed.

Maker

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. ~ Genesis 1:1-2 (CJB)

The doctrine of creation is one that the early church inherited from Judaism, and it is fundamental to any understanding of the Tanakh. Like Jews, Believers have always believed that the world was created by a good God, who is a personal being who cares for His creatures. He governs the universe by His providential care, and nothing can happen in it without His permission. Because of this belief, Believers have always had to face the problems of what theologians call theodicy. These can be stated as the problem of the existence of evil, and second, the degree to which evil can affect those who believe in God.

The early Believers did not have to defend their doctrine of creation against Jews, except insofar as to say that it was the work of all three persons of the Trinity and not of the Father only. This issue became critical in the fourth century after Arius tried to maintain that the Son and the Holy Spirit were the highest of the creatures. [1] Until that time, the bigger problem for the church was explaining and defending its doctrine against the many forms of paganism, including the most sophisticated pagan philosophies, which could not reconcile their understanding of evil with that of a world created by a good and omnipotent God.

As the implications of a divine ordering of the universe sank in, it became clear that God had to be understood as being in complete control of His creation, even when the latter appeared to go against His wishes. This led to an elaborate defense of divine foreknowledge, which included Adam’s (future) sin and eventually to a refined doctrine of predestination, which is associated above all with Augustine. The Church Fathers were determined to avoid saying that God created evil or made it impossible for some people to be saved on the ground that they were not predestined. Still, the logical implications of predestination were hard to escape, and the fundamental dilemma remained for future generations to ponder and attempt to resolve in their own fashion.

Another issue that engaged the Fathers was the distinction between a world fashioned by God (out of preexisting matter) and a world created by Him out of nothing. The Bible emphasizes the former without denying the latter, but things were not so clear to the Greek mind, which was often dualistic in this respect. The Fathers argued that the word make implied that God had created matter out of nothing since it had to come from somewhere. The fact that God had ultimately created it meant that matter must be good, not evil, and it was here that Messianic teaching confronted the most widespread pagan beliefs of the time. At the same time, the Fathers did not deny that it was the fashioning of matter into what the Greeks called the cosmos, which was the true glory of creation, and they often went into this in great detail. Creedal usage oscillated between maker and “creator,” with the latter word emphasizing the origin of matter ex nihilo. Still, it is clear from the comments made on it that both words are meant to convey the same belief in a God who has made everything according to the purpose of His mind and the intention of His will. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the first article of the Nicene Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] This is the controversy that spurred the Council at Nicea.

[2] Bray, G. L., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One God (Vol. 1, pp. 93–94).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 18

The Nicene Creed~ Part 4

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we dig a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

THE FATHER

Suppose faith in one God is part of the Messianic church’s Jewish inheritance. In that case, they were then confessing Him as Father probably ought to be regarded as a specifically Messianic contribution to that belief. It is not that Jews were unacquainted with the notion that God is Father to His people. The concept of divine Fatherhood was quite acceptable in Hellenistic circles, where Father andCreator were often used synonymously. Sha’ul recognized this in his preaching ministry, and the early Messianics did not hesitate to follow his example. In the first two centuries of the Messianic church, this use of the term Father for God was quite common because it provided a ready link between Biblical and educated pagan notions of God. Therefore, Messianic writers used it to show their pagan counterparts that the latter also recognized the God of the Bible, though without fully realizing what that meant. Whether this form of evangelism was effective or not, it was gradually understood that this interpretation was not the principal use of the termFather in the Brit Hadashah. Indeed, by the time Cyril of Jerusalem wrote his Catechetical Lectures (about 350 CE), he could state quite categorically that it was erroneous! In the Brit Hadashah, said Cyril, God was first and foremost the Father of the Son Jesus Christ, and it is in that perspective that we must interpret the meaning of the termFather.”

Was Cyril, right? Practically everyone now agrees that calling GodFather was a particular hallmark of the ministry of Yeshua, underlined in the Brit Hadashah by the preservation of the original Aramaic word Abba. Jews did not usually refer to God in this way, and the evidence of the Gospels suggests that Yeshua’s use of the term scandalized them because it implied that He was making Himself equal to God. That was, in fact, the case, and from the beginning, Messianics were aware that to call GodFather implied that he had a SonYeshua Himself. Therefore, it seems that Cyril was justified in his insistence on the trinitarian context of the termFather.” However, the more general use of the term cannot be excluded.

Messianics called GodFather not in imitation of Yeshua but in union with Him. In other words, God is our Father not because we are divine but because we have been united to Him in the Son, Yeshua. What Yeshua is by eternal right and nature, we have become by grace and adoption. Therefore, to call God “Father” is to participate in the inner life of the Trinity. This point is underlined by sending the Paraclete (Ruach HaKodesh), who comes from the Father and the Son, to make fellowship with them a reality of our spiritual experience. Outside the trinitarian context, the designation of God as Father loses its relational dimension, and it was for this reason that from the time of Cyril of Jerusalem onwards, the Fatherhood of God came to be interpreted almost exclusively in a trinitarian way.[1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the first article of the Nicene Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Bray, G. L., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One God (Vol. 1, pp. 60–62).