Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 30

The Nicene Creed~ Part 16

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ In Creation

When it came time to formulate the Ruach’s role in the Trinity and its interaction with the world, the ancient Kehillah chose to emphasize the Ruach’s role as the Giver of Life. They viewed the work of the Ruach as bringing to completion the work of the Father and the Son. This is especially true when contemplating the Genesis account. On its most basic level among the ancient Messianic writers, the phrase Giver of Life evokes the Ruach’s presence with the other persons of the Trinity at creation, brooding over the waters, bringing life to them and through them, animating all living creatures with the breath of life.

Even though the Hebrew and Greek words for Ruach in Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 2:7 are different words, this did not stop the Fathers from understanding the same Ruach as the breath breathed ultimately into Adam, which brought life to him and his descendants.

Passages that connected the breath and the Ruach of God with creation, such as Genesis 1:2, as well as Psalm 33:6, figured prominently in the ancient Kehillah’s understanding of the third person of the Trinity’s involvement in creation. Other passages, such as Proverbs 8:22 and Wisdom 1:7, spoke of the Wisdom of God present at creation, which was often identified from the second century with the Ruach just as John had identified the Word (Logos) with the Son. Thus, in writers such as Irenaeus, there arose the conception of the two hands of God operative in creation: The Word and Wisdom, that is, the Son and the Ruach. This later evolved into the Son is referred to as the right hand of the Father and the Ruach as the finger of God. Either of these conceptions has as its preconception the source of creative power in the Father. The creative work originated in the Father and was exercised through the Son and perfected in Ruach. Thus, the peculiar work of the Ruach was to actuate and bring to fulfillment the creative work of Father and Son. The Ruach is the vitalizer and perfecter of the Trinity’s work in creation, and it was to Him, along with the Word, that God said, Let us make man in our image. Thus, the spiritual nature of humanity also became the unique purview of the Ruach, whose work is to bring fallen humanity back to the image that was lost. The ancient Kehillah did not confine the Ruach’s work to the original creation. The same Ruach present at creation enlivened the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision and will revitalize our dry bones at the Resurrection. The Fathers also spoke of the Ruach’s role in the Son’s conception, memorializing it in the creedal statement and was incarnate by the Ruach of the Virgin Mary. They realized that just as human and divine were joined together in the incarnation through the power of the Ruach, so the Ruach also joins the divine to created things, bringing life through them too when His presence and power is invoked in consecration and blessing as the giver of Life. [1]

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

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

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).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 17

The Nicene Creed~ Part 3

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.

We Believe in One God

The first article of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, popularly known as the Nicene Creed, is the shortest and probably also the oldest because it can be found (with only minor variations) as far back as the first baptismal confessions of the earliest Believers. In the historical development of the Creeds, brevity and antiquity usually go together, and, remarkably, this article survived the theological upheavals of the fourth century virtually unaltered.

It is not difficult to demonstrate that the doctrine that it contains was taught in the church from the very beginning. With the significant exception of the word Father, it can even be traced back to the opening pages of the Tanakh. It is the only article of the Creed to which a practicing Jew can assent without serious difficulty. However, he or she might find the combination of the words Father and Almighty somewhat unusual. In a real sense, therefore, the first article of the Creed is a confession common to both biblical Testaments, and its all-embracing nature may be one reason why it survived the ups and downs of early church doctrinal controversy substantially unchanged.

The first article of the Nicene Creed presupposes an objective body of teaching [1] that Believers are expected to confess as their faith. This idea seems normal and natural to us, but it was a novelty in the ancient world. Neither Judaism nor any pagan religion or philosophy could claim to have a closely defined set of beliefs that everyone adhering to it was expected to profess publicly and defend against all comers. Jews were generally born into their faith, and the relatively few converts were obliged to submit not to a body of doctrine as such but the prescriptions of the law. These could be very demanding, particularly when grown men were expected to undergo circumcision, and the requirement seems to have been quite a deterrent in many cases. Indeed, there was a substantial number of Gentiles, known in the Brit Hadashah as God-fearers. They adhered to Jewish synagogues but did not become full community members, presumably because the barriers were set too high for them.

Believers inherited their belief in one God from Judaism and were insistent on this throughout the patristic period. At the popular level, they had to defend their faith against the prevailing polytheism of the ancient world. Many early Messianic texts contain examples of anti-polytheistic satire, but few of them mount a sustained attack on polytheism as a belief system. The main reason for this is that Believers did not often have to fight this battle at the intellectual level since many educated pagans were equally critical of polytheism and ridiculed the ancient myths every bit as much as Believers did. They preferred to believe in a perfect being out of which existing reality had been formed. However, precisely how this had happened was a matter of furious disagreement among the different philosophical schools of ancient Greece. Believers were quick to point out the various theories’ inconsistencies to explain what we call creation.

The early Believers also insisted that God is a personal being who establishes a relationship with human beings created in His image and likeness. This relationship was initially given to the Jews, and in Yeshua, it has been extended to others. God does not reabsorb us into His being but establishes a fellowship with us that will endure for eternity. This personal character of God distinguishes Messianic belief most obviously from any philosophical equivalent, and the insistence with which it was hammered home is a good indication of how difficult it was for the average pagan to embrace this concept.

It would be wrong to suggest that the doctrine of the one God developed in any significant way during the first Messianic centuries. The teaching of Augustine and John of Damascus can be found in the second century, with very little difference. However, Messianic theologians had to explain how the one God was at the same time a Trinity of persons, a doctrine that did not contradict the monotheism of the Tanakh. Belief in a communion of three divine persons led to a growing understanding of God as love, a biblical idea that finds its most remarkable flowering in the works of Augustine. By stressing the concept of divine love, he combined the unity of the three persons in one God and our union with Him (and them) as the height of our spiritual experience and the ultimate goal of the divine plan of salvation.[2]

In my next post, we pause our series on the Creeds to celebrate Shavo’ut.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The canon of the Tanakh and Brit Hadashah.

[2] Bray, G. L., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One God (Vol. 1, p. 34).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 16

The Nicene Creed~ Part 2

In our last post, we began to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we dig a little deeper into the background of the Nicene Creed.

Why Nicaea?

The Nicene Creed is the most authoritative common confession of the Messianic movement. Like all ancient baptismal confessions, it is presented in three phases or articles corresponding with the three Persons of the one God attested in Scripture.

There are two centuries of confessional prototypes before Nicaea. Their Christological core is found in Philippians 2:6–11, which confesses: 6 Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force. On the contrary, He emptied Himself, in that He took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when He appeared as a human being, He humbled Himself still more by becoming obedient even to death – death on a stake as a criminal! Therefore God raised Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above every name; 10 that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – 11 and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai – to the glory of God the Father. (CJB)

This same core confession repeatedly appears in the rule of faith we find in Ignatius (107 CE), the Epistula Apostolorum (150 CE), Justin Martyr (165 CE), the Presbyters of Smyrna (180 CE), Der Balyzeh Papyrus (200 CE), Tertullian (200 CE) and Hippolytus (215 CE), all in use and carefully committed to memory more than a century before Nicaea (325 CE). All early creedal prototypes follow this same sequence of confession. Scripture itself provides the structural basis for the organization of baptismal teaching.

As early as about 190 CE, Irenaeus of Lyons summarized the faith of Believers in this memorable way, which anticipates the background of this series: “The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles, and their disciples, this faith: [She believes] in one God,

  • the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and
  • in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and
  • in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God.”

This core outline of Messianic teaching had already appeared originally in Matthew 28:19–20 in the formula for baptism, where the resurrected Lord concluded his earthly teaching with this summary charge to all subsequent believers. Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach HaKodesh, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.” (CJB)

Today’s Messianic teaching still stems from early baptismal teaching. Messianic theology came into being to explain Messianic baptism. The Creed first had a baptismal teaching function that later came to have a doctrinal teaching function – for the defense of the faith, for liturgical life, scholastic, and systematic theology, and for the training of persons charged with teaching the faith.

T.C Oden opines:

“Today, we live amid a flurry of well-publicized efforts to revive ancient heresies. Some are desperate attempts to give even the weirdest ideas some faint aroma of legitimacy: DaVinci decoding, the grail as a bloodline, the sexual relations of the Messiah, the insertion of ideological claims into Messianic interpretation, the new Gnostic elitism. Doting press attention has been given to these highly speculative forms of advocacy that promote long rejected documents and ideas. It has become a profitable media game to defend the poor heretics against the oppressive winners and elitists who wrote the rules of orthodoxy. The truth is the opposite: the most extreme elitism of all false claimants to Christian truth came from the Gnostics, who were contemptuous of the naive consensus of uninformed believers, and who were never even interested in gaining the hearts of ordinary believers. Yet ordinary believers then and now could easily recognize that these later speculations did not match the authenticity, beauty, and clarity of the original apostolic witnesses.” [1]

The Nicene Creed is the first which obtained universal authority. It rests on older forms used in different East communities and has undergone some changes again.

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

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] General Introduction. In G. L. Bray & T. C. Oden (Eds.), We Believe in One God (Vol. 1).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 15

The Nicene Creed~ Part 1

In our last post, we concluded our look at the Apostles’ Creed. In this post, we begin to examine the Nicene Creed.

Introduction

The Nicene Creed was originally the result of the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. While there are similarities between the text of the Nicene Creed and the text of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed is more definite and explicit than the Apostles’ Creed in the statement of the divinity of the Messiah and the Ruach HaKodesh. The Nicene Creed provided the needed clarification to combat the heresies developed in the Fourth Century and is useful to combat those same heresies today that invariably reoccur in differing forms.

The Nicene Creed [1]

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

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.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

As you can see, the Nicene Creed follows the order of the Apostles’ Creed in affirming what we believe in God the Father Almighty, in God the Son, and in God the Ruach HaKodesh.

In my next post, we dig a little deeper into the background of the Nicene Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] As stated in my previous post, I am using the version that appears in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 of the Episcopal Church.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 14

The Apostles’Creed~ Part 13

This post will complete our closer look at the third article of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,

the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the Resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

AND THE LIFE EVERLASTING. AMEN.

You cannot make life better just by increasing its quantity. What matters most is quality. It is perhaps regrettable that our English version of the Creed speaks of “the life everlasting” – as if life just goes on and on for an indefinitely long time. A better translation would be “eternal life.” The Creed uses an expression frequently found in the Brit Hadashah, especially in the Gospel of John. For Yochanan, “eternal life” is about quality, not quantity. It is a quality of life that believers experience already when they attach themselves to Yeshua. Whoever trusts in the Son has eternal life. But whoever disobeys the Son will not see that life but remains subject to God’s wrath. (John 3:36). Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever hears what I am saying and trusts the One who sent Me has eternal life – that is, he will not come up for judgment but has already crossed over from death to life! (John 5:24).

Yochanan does not define this unique quality of life, except by saying that it is identical with Yeshua Himself. The Son of God is the one who is truly and fully alive. All other living things are alive through Him (John 1:3–4). Eternal life can even be used as a title for Yeshua. He is called the eternal life that was with the Father (1 John 1:2). When we get close enough to this personal life source, we begin to share His quality of life. We, too, become truly and fully alive. And eternal life is this: to know you, the one true God, and him whom you sent, Yeshua the Messiah. (John 17:3).

When we confess that we believe in eternal life, we are not talking about the duration of life but a relationship. In the person of Yeshua, we find ourselves drawn into a quality of life that is so rich that it can only be described as eternal. Yeshua says, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

When we experience life in its fullness, death is rendered obsolete. Yeshua says I am the Resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25–26). Yeshua is so truly and fully alive that even death is really another way of being alive to Him. When we find our way to the living source of life, to Yeshua Himself, we discover that death is not death anymore. Even in death, our relationship with Yeshua is not broken. Death becomes another place where we can go to find Him.

Yeshua often begins his sayings with the striking preface in the Gospels: Amen, amen, [1] I tell you. He alone has the authority to pronounce the amen. He says the amen not in agreement to anyone else’s word but as an expression of His authority. His word is truth, not because it meets any external criteria of truthfulness but because He is Himself the standard against which all other truth claims are measured. It is He who looks into the depths of God and tells us what He sees. His word is Yes and Amen. The book of Revelation goes so far as to name Him the Amen, the faithful and true witness (Rev 3:14). In Him, the amen to God has become personified.

And so, at the end of the Creed, we join our voices to His – what else can we do? – but allow ourselves to be caught up in Yeshua’s response to God. “I believe … Amen!” And all to the glory of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[2]

In my next post, we begin to unpack the Nicene Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Frequently translated as Truly, Truly in English.

[2] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 13

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 12

This post will continue our closer look at the third article of faith contained in the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT,

the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY

From start to finish, the Creed affirms the value of the material world. In opposition to rival systems of thought that denigrate matter and the body, the ancient catechism confesses God as the maker, redeemer, and sanctifier of this world. The life of the flesh is not alien to God. It is God’s creature and the object of God’s loving intentions.

The first part of the Creed proclaims God as the creator of all things, not only of the spiritual world but of the material world too: maker of heaven and earth.

The second part of the Creed confesses that the Son of God has become part of this world by taking human nature to himself. All God’s intentions for creation come into focus here: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. And the Son of God suffers in the flesh. He is crucified. He dies. He is buried. He is raised in the flesh and continues to share our nature in the glory of the Resurrection.

The third part of the Creed confesses that God’s Spirit (Ruach) remains present in this world. Believers share in the power and presence of the Ruach HaKodesh. The Ruach does not live on some higher plane but is here within us.

Belief in bodily Resurrection is one of the controlling undercurrents of the Brit Hadashah. Yet, the nature of the Resurrection is hardly ever addressed directly. The Gospel accounts never try to depict the Resurrection itself. Mark’s account does not even include a depiction of the risen Yeshua: the tomb is empty, and it is left to the reader to understand why (Mark 16:1–8). The other Gospels depict the risen Yeshua, but not the Resurrection itself (Matt 28; Luke 24; John 20). The tomb is already empty when the talmidim get there. The actual Resurrection has occurred in secret. It has happened, but where? In the tomb? In hell? In eternity? Wherever and however it happened, the event has already occurred. That is why the talmidim are faced with a decision, whether to believe or not.

The closest the Brit Hadashah comes to explaining the Resurrection is Sha’ul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 15. He argues that we, too, will rise in the same way that Yeshua has risen. But we do not have any clear picture of what a Resurrection looks like. So, Sha’ul tries to explain it using the image of a seed (1 Cor 15:35–49). The body now is like a seed, and the life of the Resurrection is like the tree. There is an incredible difference between the seed and the tree. They do not look alike. You would not be able to guess the appearance of the tree by looking at the seed. Yet, their identity is the same. In the same way, Sha’ul says, our mortal bodies will be planted and raised immortal in Yeshua. Sha’ul calls this a mystery (15:51).

So, what are we claiming to believe when we say that we believe in the Resurrection of the body?

If God intends to bring forth a single redeemed body, then the eternal joy of the life to come depends, in some measure, on each of us. The joy of Yeshua is on hold until we take up our place with Him.

This still leaves us no closer to forming a clear picture of the life of the world to come. So, what do Believers hope for? Perhaps it is enough to say that a Believer’s hope is a social and, therefore, an embodied hope and that this hope centers on communion with the person of Yeshua. We learn these things not by speculating about the afterlife but by contemplating the risen Yeshua and accepting by faith the things that are revealed in Him. Most of all, what we know about Yeshua is that He is the lover of humanity. And so, the life that we await will be a life of love. [1]

In my next post, we will conclude our examination of the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 6

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 5

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

AND IN JESUS CHRIST, GOD’S ONLY SON, OUR LORD:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary
,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Who Was Conceived By The Holy Spirit

At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, the angel visits Miryam and tells her that: The Ruach HaKodesh will come over you, the power of Ha‘Elyon will cover you. Therefore, the holy child born to you will be called the Son of God ~ Luke 1:35 (CJB). This opening act of Yeshua’s story is meant to remind us of the creation story in Genesis 1, which we reviewed in The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3.

So, when the Ruach covers Miryam, we see a picture of God’s creative work happening all over again. Yeshua is brought into being by the creative breath of God’s Ruach.

In the third century, the Origen of Alexandria, widely regarded as one of the most important Messianic theologians in the third century, came up with a striking image to illustrate how Yeshua’s humanity was united to the eternal Son of God. He pictured a piece of iron placed in a fire until it is glowing with heat. This iron, he says, has become wholly fire since nothing else is discerned in it except fire; and if anyone were to attempt to touch or handle it, he would feel the power of that fire. In this way, Yeshua’s human soul is like the iron in the fire.

Yeshua is genuinely human: nothing but iron. He is truly divine: nothing but fire. Yeshua is so permeated by the divine presence that every part of His humanity is filled with divine energy. He is born of a woman. The Ruach HaKodesh conceives Him. He is human: He is divine.

This way of thinking about Yeshua’s humanity and divinity is just an attempt to make sense of the complex things that are said about Yeshua in the Gospels. The Gospels portray Yeshua as someone whose life is drawn directly from the source of God’s creative energy. Even in His mother’s womb, He is already the bearer of the Ruach. In Luke’s Gospel, the same Ruach that brooded over Miryam’s womb is constantly flashing out and touching the lives of those who come into contact with Yeshua. When Miryam greets her cousin Elisheva, the baby in Elisheva’s womb leaps for joy, and Elisheva is filled with the Ruach (Luke 1:41).

The same Ruach who rested on Yeshua in His mother’s womb now rests on the whole company of Yeshua’s followers.

Born of the Virgin Mary

There are Believers that the idea of the virgin birth is a relic of bygone days when people were more straightforward and found it easier to believe in impossible things. They can handle the rest of the creed, but the virgin birth stretches credulity too far. To understand the virgin birth, we need to see how it fits into the whole story of Scripture – a story in which miraculous births play a starring role.

Isra’el’s story begins with a promise to Avraham and Sarah (Gen 12–17). A couple who cannot conceive are chosen by God and told that they would have a family. Sarah laughs at the promise. But later, when she has given birth in her old age, the child is named Laughter (Isaac ~ Hebrew: Yitz’chak) because of the astonished joy of his parents. Sarah can hardly believe her own body: and yet it is true. She has given birth to the promise.

The next great turning point in Isra’el’s story is the arrival of Moshe (Ex. 2:1–10). Although Moshe’s conception is not a miracle, his infancy is marked by a miraculous escape from danger. He is snatched away from the murdering hand of Pharaoh. He is placed in a basket and set adrift on the river, where he is found and adopted by a member of the royal household, an Egyptian princess. She then appoints the baby’s biological mother to be his nursing maid. The whole story portrays a unique providential design by which Moshe is spared and, as it were, smuggled right into the heart of Egyptian power. All this is meant to anticipate the great miracle to come when God delivers the people of Isra’el from slavery.

When Isra’el has come to the promised land, God raises up judges to lead the people before the establishment of the monarchy. The greatest of the judges is Shimshon (Samson), and his story begins with another miraculous birth (Judges 13:1–25). Shimshon’s mother is unable to conceive. But she is visited by an angel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will triumph over the P’lishtim (Philistines).

That is how it goes in the Tanakh: at the great turning points of history, we find a woman, pregnant, and an infant child brought into the world by the powerful promise of God. Isra’el’s story is a story of miraculous births.

Later the people of Isra’el were taken from the promised land and led away into Babylonian captivity. It was the darkest hour of their history. Out of the depths of despair, the promise of God was heard again through the prophet Isaiah. The prophet compared the coming deliverance to the joy of a miraculous pregnancy in Isaiah 54:1–3, 13.

Against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise to find Isra’el’s Mashiach entering the world through a miraculous birth.

The confession that Yeshua was born of a virgin is not a random miracle story. It is a reminder that our faith has deep roots in Isra’el’s story and Isra’el’s Scriptures. The coming of the Savior was not just a new thing. It was the culmination of the whole incredible story of God’s loving faithfulness to the people of Isra’el. When we confess that Yeshua is born of the Virgin Mary,” we see Him silhouetted against the backdrop of God’s promise to Avraham, the exodus from Egypt, the rule of the judges, the coming of the prophets, and the promised deliverance from exile. [1]

In my next post, we will continue to unpack this second article of faith that Yeshua is Adonai in the Apostle’s Creed.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 4

The Apostles’ Creed ~ Part 3

This post will continue our closer look at the Apostles’ Creed to learn more about what we affirm that we believe.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
“ALMIGHTY”

Almighty is a powerful word that is part of God’s character of being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

This is not like the power of the pagan gods who might intervene in the world from time to time. God’s might is everywhere present in creation. It is the underlying mystery of everything that exists. It is not just a solution to problems in this world. It is the reason there is a world at all.

We could not trust in God if God’s power were limited, sporadic, or unpredictable. A god who exercised that kind of power would be a pagan god: not the world’s sustainer but its invader, or perhaps a distant ruler whose wishes have to be imposed by force.

That is the problem with trying to place any limitations on God’s power. If God’s power were just one power among others – if God were “mighty” but not “almighty” – then divine power would end up being another form of manipulation or control. Only a totally free and sovereign God can relate to the world with unconditional love, patience, and generosity. There is power elsewhere in creation: each living thing has its unique power and energy. But God does not have to compete with these other powers. God’s power is their source, the reason why they exist at all. God’s power is what sustains and nourishes the power of creatures.

True power is not the ability to control. Controlling behavior is a sign of weakness and insecurity. True power is the ability to love and enable without reserve. Like the power of a good parent or teacher, God’s power is the capacity to nourish other people and help their freedom to grow. Without the sovereignty of a good parent, children have a diminished sense of worth. In the same way, God’s sovereignty is what secures human freedom, not what threatens it.

In the creed, we confess the three great movements of God’s power: God lovingly brought the world into existence; God lovingly entered the womb and became part of the world as Yeshua HaMashiach; and God the Ruach HaKodesh who is lovingly transfiguring the world in the lives of the saints.

The world lives because of this gentle but all-embracing power, and we are free because of it.

“CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH”

In Hebrew, Genesis 1:1 reads B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. בָּרָא bara is a verb meaning to create. Only God is the subject of this verb. It is used for His creating: heaven and earth (Gen. 1:1); humanity (Gen. 1:27); the heavenly host (Isa. 40:26); the ends of the earth (Isa. 40:28); north and south (Ps. 89:12); righteousness; salvation (Isa. 45:8); darkness (Isa. 45:7). David asked God to “create” in him a clean heart (Ps. 51:10). Isaiah promised that God would create a new heaven and earth (Isa. 65:17). [1]

Belief in the truth of this one simple yet utterly profound verse hangs all the validity of the entire Bible and serves as the basis for a belief in creationism. If we cannot believe this one simple truth, then nothing else is relevant. If we cannot believe the veracity of this one simple statement, then the entire rest of the Bible is merely words with no lasting meaning. B’resheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’arets – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Henry Morris, President of the Institute of Creation Research, writes, “This simple declarative statement can only have come by divine revelation. Its scope is comprehensively universal, embracing all space (heaven), all time (beginning), and all matter (earth) in our space/time/matter cosmos. B’resheet 1:1 speaks of creation ex nihilo (Latin for “from or out of nothing”); only God could originate such a concept, and only an infinite, omnipotent God could create the universe.” [2]

Yet, in the second century, Messianic teachers struggled to define their beliefs and commitments in opposition to popular rival teachings. The prevailing cultural mood was one of deep spiritual pessimism. Members of the educated class took it for granted that the physical world was inherently evil and irredeemable. They yearned to escape from the world of the flesh and to experience spiritual enlightenment.

The Messianic baptismal confession developed, in part, in response to such world-denying doctrines and the broader culture of despair that had engendered them. Right from the start, Messianics were marked by their positive stance toward creation. John’s Gospel begins by retelling the creation story: “In the beginning …” (John 1:1; Gen 1:1). The followers of Yeshua believed that in Him, they had encountered the enabling source of creation. They had come to know the One through whom all things came to be (John 1:3). Looking into the face of Yeshua, they had seen the blueprint of reality and had come to understand God’s good plan for the whole creation.

It is often said that creeds are narrow and intolerant. But in the ancient world, the truth was precisely the opposite. It was the Messianic creed that took a stand on behalf of creation. It was the creed that said No to those doctrines that condemned creation, disparaged the body, and sought escape from the world of the flesh.[3]

As a side note, my wife’s small group got into a discussion of the word “heavens” in Genesis 1:1. So I did some research in my digital library (Logos) and found some interesting stuff. I have attached the PDF version of the one document that was the most comprehensive here if you are interested.

In my next post, we will continue to examine the Apostle’s Creed in detail.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament.

[2] Scientific Creationism by Henry M. Morris, Institute of Creation Research, Masters Books

[3] The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism.