Since God is One God, Jesus can’t be God

Monday Musings for March 16, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

One advantage of being a Christian today is that we stand on the shoulders of giants — but specifically, we benefit from their accumulated scholarship. Picture being an early church father... wrestling with ideas not found in the Old Testament — like the Trinity... and without the internet! Tertullian (155–220 AD) did just that. God bless that man!

But there must’ve been some ambivalence among the fathers. How is it that the God they knew from the Old Testament — a God who is definitively One God — is three persons? The New Testament didn’t teach explicitly that God was a Trinity ( — and that would’ve been helpful, God… I’m just saying... ), but he was amply revealed in three persons throughout the New Testament texts… and the scholars had to deal with that data.

And as if figuring out the Trinity were not enough, the early church fathers also had to articulate just how it was that Jesus was truly God and truly man — but at the same time! In my opinion, that would’ve been harder than the trinitarian project. The union of Christ’s natures (called the hypostatic union) is a wonder of biblical and natural theology (not to mention philosophy), but a lot of people don’t buy into it — and most famously, our spiritual forebears, the Jews.

They are not alone in this. Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not subscribe to the deity of Christ either. But the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ are definitive doctrines of the Christian faith. The problem is, to get there, a person must understand that the New Testament revelation trumps the Old Testament revelation where they seem to conflict. For instance, it is clear through the New Testament that we should no longer make animal sacrifices — and most people don’t have a problem with this. Yet many have not taken the lesson.

For instance, today’s questioner is clinging to the “One God” of the Old Testament at the expense of the deity of Jesus Christ — and there is no real reason to do that. We are not dealing with a logical either/or here. It’s a both/and. Our God is One God — AND — Jesus Christ is God. He is the second person in the Tri-unity, and he is called "the Son" … but I doubt that anyone walks in off the street and just “gets” this. It’s a doctrine we have to live with for a while.

For me, the doorway to Christianity was the historic veracity of the person of Jesus Christ. Both the texts and the gospel says that he died for my sins. I believe that he lived, and I believe that he died for my sins. But studying the Bible and making theological sense of the particulars of Jesus’ person is a different project from the project of salvation. Salvation is wonderful… but Christology — done right and well — is not for the faint-hearted.

How is it that the physical man can also be a spiritual God? How is it that three persons can have a single essence? These are learned-truths — and except for people used to speaking in terms of philosophical ontology — these are not felt-truths. Mature Christians should always be trying to make sense of — that is, to own — the doctrines that were handed to them in Sunday School... and sometimes I think that’s harder than learning them from scratch — but that’s the job!

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