Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

How early are the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity?

Here’s a great post from Tough Questions Answered.

The post describes evidence for the Incarnation and the Trinity in the writings of Ignatius, who was the third Bishop of Antioch from 70 AD to 107 AD.

Here’s the raw quote from Ignatius’ “Epistle to the Ephesians”:

But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.”  Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

And TQA discusses the passage:

There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ.  First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.

[...]Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”.  This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .”  Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim).  However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation.  It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”.  Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.

In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”.  Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature.  He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body;  although He was life, He became subject to corruption.  These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner.  As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself.   However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.

Now I think you can pull the Incarnation and the Trinity right out the Bible, but it’s still nice to see such a prominent church father writing about it decades after the events.

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Kenosis and the doctrine of the Incarnation in Philippians 2:5-11

It’s almost Christmas, so it’s time to see what the Bible says about who Jesus was and what it tells us about the character of God.

Here are the relevant verses in Phil 2:5-11 [NASB]:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Here’s respected New Testament scholar Ben Witherington to help us make sense of it:

Incarnation refers to the choices and acts of a pre-existent divine being, namely the Son of God, that the Son took in order to become a human being. He took on flesh, and became fully, truly human without ceasing to be fully, truly divine. Divinity is not something Jesus acquired later in life, or even after his death and resurrection. According to the theology of Incarnation he had always been the divine Son of God, even before he became Jesus, a human being. Strictly speaking the name Jesus only applies to a human being. It is the name the Son of God acquired once he became a human being in the womb of Mary, a name which he maintains to this day as he continues to be a human being.

[...]When I try and explain the incarnation to my students I deliberately choose to use the phrase divine condescension. What do I mean by this? Put another way, if there is going to be a corporate merger between a divine being and a human nature, then the divine side of the equation must necessarily limit itself, take on certain limitations, in order to be truly and fully human. The next question is…. what does it mean to be fully human? It means to have limitations of time and space and knowledge and power, and of course being mortal. Jesus exhibited all these traits. He was even tempted like us in every respect, but he avoided sin. What we should deduce from this is sinning is not a necessary part of being truly human. Yes, it is a trait of all fallen humans, but no, it is not how God made us in the first place. It is not necessary to sin in order to be truly or fully human.

[...]While the hymn is clear that the Son was ‘in very nature God’ at the same time he chose before he became human not to take advantage of his divine prerogatives. What were those? I call them the omnis– omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence.

[...]And here I think is what Paul is driving at when he says ‘have this mind in yourselves that was also in Christ Jesus’. It says that he ‘humbled himself’. Now contrary to what the world may think humility has nothing to do with feelings of low self-esteem. It has nothing to do with feelings of low self-worth. If Jesus is the model of true humility, it can’t have anything to do with those things, because Jesus surely was the one person who walked this earth who did not have such feelings, did not have an identity crisis, and so on. Humility is the posture of a strong person who steps down to serve others, as Jesus did.

This IVP commentary on Bible Gateway talks more about what this “divine condescension” means to us, using that passage from Philippians:

Christ’s selflessness for the sake of others expressed itself in his emptying himself by taking the “form” of a slave. Historically, far too much has been made of the verb “emptied himself,” as though in becoming incarnate he literally “emptied himself” of something. However, just asharpagmos requires no object for Christ to “seize” but rather points to what is the opposite of God’s character, so Christ did not empty himself of anything; he simply “emptied himself,” poured himself out, as it were. In keeping with Paul’s ordinary usage, this is metaphor, pure and simple. What modifies it is expressed in the phrase that follows; he “poured himself out by taking on the ‘form’ of a slave.”

Elsewhere this verb regularly means to become powerless or to be emptied of significance (hence the NIV’s made himself nothing; cf. KJV, “made himself of no reputation”). Here it stands in direct antithesis to the “empty glory” of verse 3 and functions in the same way as the metaphorical “he became poor” in 2 Corinthians 8:9. Thus, as in the “not” side of this clause (v. 6b), we are still dealing with the character of God as revealed in the mindset and resulting activity of the Son of God. The concern is with divine selflessness: God is not an acquisitive being, grasping and seizing, but self-giving for the sake of others.

I think it’s important to be clear that Jesus didn’t give up anything of his divine attributes by becoming a man. Rather, he added a human nature to his divine nature. The humility is because he came to serve  others.

I think that it is important for us to emphasize the doctrine of the Incarnation at Christmas, in order to correct the grasping and seizing that is so widespread. The really interesting thing about Christmas is the Incarnation, and what it tells us about God and us. It tells us that we have value, because Jesus loved us. But it also says that following Jesus means being humble and being a servant to others. It means pouring yourself out to others in order to serve them. And these obligations are not metaphorical – they are rooted in the historical facts. This is the way the world is as a matter of fact, although certainly we have freedom to rebel against it.

For those looking for defenses to the doctrine of the Incarnation, you can find a chapter on it by Paul Copan in the book “Contending With Christianity’s Critics“. That’s for intermediate readers. For advanced readers you can look for a chapter in “The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology“, edited by Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister, and published by Cambridge University Press. I just bought that latter book for one of the graduate students I sponsor. I know that Thomas V. Morris also has a couple of books out there on the Incarnation – one for intermediate readers and one for advanced readers. The latter book is published by Cornell University Press.

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How early are the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity?

Here’s a great post from Tough Questions Answered. They find evidence for the Incarnation and the Trinity in the writings of Ignatius, who was the third Bishop of Antioch from 70 AD to 107 AD.

Here’s the raw quote from Ignatius’ “Epistle to the Ephesians”:

But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.  We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.”  Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

And TQA discusses the passage:

There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ.  First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.

[...]Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”.  This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .”  Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim).  However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation.  It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”.  Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.

In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”.  Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature.  He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body;  although He was life, He became subject to corruption.  These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner.  As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself.   However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.

Now I think you can pull the Incarnation and the Trinity right out the Bible, but it’s still nice to see such a prominent church father writing about it decades after the events.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why did Jesus have to die? 50 reasons from theologian John Piper

For Good Friday, I thought it would make sense to post a list of 50 reasons why Jesus had to die, from famous theologian John Piper. (Link fixed)

Here are the ones that speak to me, but I think they are all really good:

2) To Please His Heavenly Father

Isaiah 53:10 – Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Ephesians 5:2 – And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3) To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected

Hebrews 5:8 – Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

Hebrews 2:10 – For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

8) To Become a Ransom for Many

Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

21) To Reconcile Us to God

Romans 5:10 – For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

27) To Become a Sympathetic and Helpful Priest

Hebrews 4:15-16 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

36) To Create a People Passionate for Good Works

Titus 2:14 – who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

37) To Call Us to Follow His Example of Lowliness and Costly Love

1 Peter 2:19-21 – For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (20) For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (21) For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, a leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

Hebrews 12:3-4 – Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (4) In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Philippians 2:5-8 – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (6) who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (7) but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

38) To Create a Band of Crucified Followers

Luke 9:23 – And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.Matthew 10:38 – And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

42) To Disarm the Rulers and Authorities

Colossians 2:14-15 – by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (15) He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

1 John 3:8 -  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

49) So That He Would Be Crowned with Glory and Honor

Hebrews 2:9 - But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Philippians 2:7-9 – but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (9) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

Revelation 5:12 – saying with a loud voice, a “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

This is really good. You should definitely read it! You can understand what Christianity is about in one post.

Let me just say a word about why I chose the verses that I chose. When I think of Jesus and what he did, I think about growing up and wanting to be a good person. The problem is that being the kind of person that I want to be is not rational unless Christianity is true. I need to know that God is real, that the moral law is real, that following the moral law makes sense – even when it hurts. Even knowing what kind of person I ought to be is a problem! Jesus solves all of those problems.

One thing that Jesus does for me that is important for me is that he shows that obedience to God and the moral law is, in the end, what is best for us. And that it really doesn’t matter what other people think of you when you do the right thing. Even if they kill you, you will still have eternal life, because the sacrifice of Christ to cover all your sinfulness and failure. Even when you fail to do what you knew you ought to do, Christ offers forgiveness and a fresh start. And in the end, he offers you victory. Victory of a kind that you will never achieve on Earth through your own efforts alone.

Jesus is someone you can admire, love and follow. Even when you did not know or love the Father, the Son took the initiative to suffer in your place, so that your rebellion against the Father would not be counted against you. When the day of Judgment comes, you want to be on the side of the one who obeyed God the Father perfectly. You want to be there with the person who loves you the most. That’s Jesus. And you can know him too, and begin to work together with him in this life right now, if you are ready to become a Christian.

My testimony is here, if anyone is interested.

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The doctrine of the Trinity: one being and three persons

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity

Here’s an article by Jonathan M. to explain what the Bible says about God and the doctrine of the Trinity.

Excerpt:

So, what exactly do we mean when we talk about the Trinity? Writing in the early third century, in hisAgainst Praxeas, Tertullian is credited with first employing the words “Trinity”, “person” and “substance” to convey the idea of the Father, Son and Spirit being “one in essence — but not one in person”. Indeed, Tertullian writes,

“Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are, one essence, not one Person, as it is said, “I and my Father are One,” in respect of unity of substance not singularity of number.”

This concept was established as church orthodoxy at the famous Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The Nicene Creed speaks of Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

It is this definition that I am going to assume in the discussion that follows. Succinctly, then, the doctrine of the Trinity may be defined thusly: Within the one being or essence that is God, there exists three co-equal and co-divine distinct persons – namely the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who share that essence fully and completely. This concept is not to be confused with polytheism, which maintains that there are multiple gods. While orthodox Christianity emphatically holds there to be only one God, we nonetheless understand God to be complex in his unity. The concept is also not to be confused with the ancient heresy of modalism, which maintains that God exists in three different modes. The Son has never been the Father and the Holy Spirit has never been the Son or the Father. Modalism is refuted by the picture given to us in all four gospels (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34) in which the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice is heard from Heaven “This is my beloved Son. With him I am well pleased.” Similarly, it should be noted that the Father, Son and Spirit do not each make up merely a third of the Godhead. Rather, each of the three persons is God in the full and complete sense of the word.

Having shown that Scripture emphatically rejects the notion that the Father, Son and Spirit are synonymous persons, only five propositions remain to be demonstrated in order to provide Biblical substantiation for the concept of the Trinity. Those propositions are:

  1. There is only one eternal God.
  2. The Father is the eternal God.
  3. The Son is the eternal God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the eternal God.
  5. Although the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are non-synonymous persons, the concept of the Trinity does not violate the law of non-contradiction.

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

He then takes a close look at what the Bible says about God with respect to those assertions. There can be no doubt that the Bible teaches that God is one divine substance, and three persons.

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