1. We have added a Gift Upgrades feature that allows you to gift an account upgrade to another member, just in time for the holiday season. You can see the gift option when going to the Account Upgrades screen, or on any user profile screen.
    Dismiss Notice

Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,079
    Location:
    In orbit
    But Jesus was executed as a revolutionary: the one question Pilate asked of him whether or not he was "king of the Jews" - something which the Romans simply would not tolerate. And yes, here I am using the Gospels as a source. (Since Jesus wasn't a Roman citizen, but also not a slave, there are but a few possibilities for which he might have been executed.)

    The fact remains that there are no contemporary records of Jesus; even the earliest Gospel writings are some 30 years after the fact. He was, at the time, simply not known enough to deserve reference. (Flavius Josephus also has no mention of him.)

    Quite simple: the notion precedes the doctrine - which first needed to be developed, then agreed upon by religious authorities. (As a sidenote I might mention that Jesus himself had little personal regard for religious authorities.)

    The difference between the Father and the Son or the Son of God is beyond theological circles very hard to explain. The formula "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" results from church doctrine, but it is quite obvious why there is no mention of the Son of God here, as it would only confuse laymen. Personally I don't really see any necessity for a Third Person. But it makes perfect sense from the viewpoint of numerology: three is a holy number, whereas two is not.

    And I think warpus has a very valid question. (Although that touches upon another theological question: the extent to which God is almighty.)
     
  2. Bigfoot3814

    Bigfoot3814 Chieftain

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2008
    Messages:
    6,211
    Location:
    Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell
    Who's right?
     
  3. Patricman

    Patricman Hepatologist/liver doctor

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Messages:
    179
    Location:
    under my desk
    LOL! probably you. :)
     
  4. Bigfoot3814

    Bigfoot3814 Chieftain

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2008
    Messages:
    6,211
    Location:
    Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell
    Ah it's OK, we can disagree, one faithful brother to another. :) :jesus:
     
  5. Patricman

    Patricman Hepatologist/liver doctor

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Messages:
    179
    Location:
    under my desk
    Your a christian? you didn't sound like one very much to be honest. ;)
     
  6. Bigfoot3814

    Bigfoot3814 Chieftain

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2008
    Messages:
    6,211
    Location:
    Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell
    Oh yeah, Cat'lick though. I was a little steamed when I was posting, that's probably why. What denomination are you?
     
  7. Patricman

    Patricman Hepatologist/liver doctor

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2007
    Messages:
    179
    Location:
    under my desk
    I'm protestant, but im still searching for a fitting denomination. It ain't baptist though, that's for sure. :lol:
     
  8. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,079
    Location:
    In orbit
    For Jesus' personal views on the Torah (or Old Testament, as Christians refer to it) it's best to rely on the Gospels. As per Jesus being God, that is a Christian doctrine developed after Jesus died; he would have considered it blasphemous to be called God, as he was a Jew.

    But I'm sure Plotinus can explain it in much greater detail.
     
  9. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2004
    Messages:
    10,649
    Location:
    an ecovillage in madagascar
    Another question: What's the difference between "revealed theology" and "natural theology"? I encountered this distinction in reading contemporary stuff on the trinity, but the author assumes that the reader is familiar with the distinction, which I'm not, I'm afraid.
     
  10. Elrohir

    Elrohir RELATIONAL VALORIZATION

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2004
    Messages:
    12,507
    Hey Plotinus! Great thread. :) I have a question: Do you know what "open theism" is? If you do, could you tell me whether it's in line with any major Christian sect or orthodox leaders in history? I've only read about it a little, but I don't think I've seen anything like it before, outside maybe a random individual here or there. (And no, I don't believe in it. I've just recently heard about it a lot)

    On a related question, do you commonly keep up on 'new' movements in the church today? (Or do you mostly specialize in historical, rather than contemporary, theology?) If so, any opinion on the emergent church movement, at all? Do you think it offers anything really new, or is it just a fad?

    I dunno if you can answer either of those questions (I wouldn't blame you if you mostly focused on older stuff, since that's honestly more interesting) but thanks anyway, regardless. :)
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,810
    Location:
    Somerset
    For those not in the know, relative identity is a controversial philosophical thesis which involves the claim that it's possible for two things to be the same X but not the same Y. Normally we think that either two objects are the same thing (ie, different names for the same thing, like Clark Kent and Superman) or not the same thing at all (ie, different things), but according to relative identity theory there is a sort of middle ground. For example, eight-year-old Julius is the same person as the middle-aged general, but they are not the same child (only one of them is a child at all). Another example: the lump of clay that this vase is made of is not the same thing as the vase. The lump of clay existed before the vase did (ie, before it was shaped into the vase) and it may continue to exist after the vase does (I might smash the vase and glue the bits together in a different form). But the lump of clay and the vase are the same collection of atoms.

    So some philosophers of religion have used this idea to argue that the persons of the Trinity could be different persons but the same God, in a parallel way. Personally I'm not convinced by this. This is partly because the logic of relative identity is pretty controversial to start with even before you start applying it to God. And it's partly because I don't think the proponents of relative identity Trinitarianism have really shown that it's possible to make sense of relative identity statements in the way that would be required for orthodox Trinitarianism. For example, if the Father and the Son are distinct only in the sense that a vase is distinct from the lump of clay with which it shares precisely the same atoms, I would say that that is modalism.

    We discussed that here. Basically, traditional theology distinguishes between the knowledge Jesus had as God and the knowledge he had as man. Roman Catholicism holds that his human knowledge was as perfect as human knowledge can be, but if you accept the distinction in the first place there is nothing stopping you from supposing that while his divine knowledge was perfect his human knowledge was limited. Many theologians today who hold something like the traditional doctrine of the incarnation argue that part of what it meant for God to become incarnate was for him to choose to limit his knowledge, perhaps by (as it were) temporarily forgetting what he knows as God.

    I don't believe there is any reason to view the passage in question as a later addition to Matthew's Gospel, although there are certainly reasons to regard it as redactional (ie, written by the author rather than being an authentic saying of Jesus). I take it that's what you mean. In this case I think you are right to claim that Jesus didn't say it, but I don't think that simply stating that it's a Christian formula whereas Jesus was a Jew is a very good reason. You can't be sure of what Jesus could or could not have said purely on the basis that he was a Jew, partly because Judaism was very varied at that time and is still very imperfectly understood, and partly because you can't be so certain about how much Jesus innovated. Paul was a Jew too but that didn't stop him saying an awful lot of stuff that we normally hold to be exclusively Christian. You can't assume a priori that Jesus didn't do the same thing.

    No-one really knows precisely what the charge was that Jesus faced; it's perfectly plausible to suppose that the high priest arrested him simply because he was a trouble-maker and he wanted to crack down on any potential trouble during Passover as quickly as possible. That would be consistent with the Synoptics' suggestion that Jesus' action in the Temple was the immediate occasion of his arrest. That action doesn't seem to have had much to do with any claim to be king of the Jews, but it was certainly an incendiary thing to do during Passover. The Gospels' picture of Jesus going through a hearing before the high priest, followed by a brief hearing before Pilate and a rubber-stamping of the execution order, would be consistent with this. The attribution to Pilate of all that hand-wringing is very probably a Christian invention.

    There are actually two references to Jesus in Josephus - Jewish antiquities 18.3.3 and 20.9.1. The first of these is famous because it gives a lot of information about Jesus, but Josephus could not possibly have written it because it states that he was the Messiah and rose from the dead. So it is generally considered to be a later, Christian interpolation. However, it is very possible - perhaps even probable - that Josephus did mention Jesus here, and that the Christian interpolater has simply expanded an existing reference rather than added one completely out of the blue. The other reference, however, seems to be perfectly authentic.

    I'm still not clear on the distinction - can you give an example of what you mean? What is the "notion" of the Trinity, and what is the "doctrine"?

    I don't believe there's any good reason for supposing that Jesus had little regard for religious authorities. There is little relevant material in the Gospels, but what there is presents Jesus as respecting the religious authorities. For example, he is portrayed as being willing to pay the Temple tax.

    You are, as far as I can tell. The idea that Jesus advocated revenge is surely ridiculous, in the light of the passages you cite and plenty of others, such as Luke 23:34.

    Citing Old Testament passages about God and stating that they also refer to Jesus because Jesus is God is not a very historically literate way of going about things. Someone may believe that what Nahum says about God is also true about Jesus on these grounds, but you cannot cite that as evidence. It is, incidentally, perfectly possible to think that Jesus was God but to reject the view of God held by certain Old Testament writers; believing in the divinity of Jesus does not commit someone to believing that everything in the Old Testament is true. Finally, the Psalms passage is completely irrelevant since it says only that God will do bad things to bad people, not that he will do so out of a desire for vengeance. He could have all sorts of reasons for doing it.

    "Revealed theology" is stuff that is known by revelation only, while "natural theology" is stuff that can be known through the exercise of reason. According to Aquinas, for example, you can work out philosophically that God exists by using your reason, but you can never find out that he is a Trinity in this fashion. The only way to know that is through divine revelation.

    Other theologians have rejected this sort of thing - Karl Barth famously argued that there can be no natural theology of any kind, and indeed that the mere attempt to engage in it was sinful and satanically inspired. But he thought that about quite a lot of stuff.

    Yes, "open theism" is the idea that God doesn't know the future and that his actions or decisions can be influenced by other people. I don't really know much more about it. The view goes back at least to Faustus Socinus, the sixteenth-century theologian, who was most famous for denying the Trinity but who also thought that God is inside time and that his omniscience covers only the past, while his will covers only the future. Socinianism was generally regarded as a heresy. More recently, similar views have been much more common; for example, Process Theology was a fashionable movement in the 1970s which also held that God is inside time, but I don't think it's so big today. Richard Swinburne has a very similar view to Socinus. But I don't think there are any major churches that would endorse open theism.

    I don't really keep up with contemporary theological or ecclesiastical things; they don't interest me so much. And more recently I've been focusing more on philosophy than on theology, and on the early modern period in particular, so I'm less au fait with contemporary theology than I was ten years ago, say. I hadn't heard of the emergent church movement before you mentioned it here. Looking it up, it strikes me as very similar to the Japanese nonchurch movement, at least in intent. I think that movements similar to these have often appeared in history, but the problem of course is that as soon as such a movement became relatively established, it is effectively a new church, no matter what the original intent was.
     
  12. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,079
    Location:
    In orbit
    Well, no one can be sure of what Jesus really said or did since there are no sources other than the Gospels (canonic or otherwise) and the two instances you mention by Flavius Josephus. But I am not "simply stating that it's a Christian formula", I clearly said it's a Christian church formula. And yes, Saul/Paul was a hellenic Jew and a Roman citizen, but he also became a Christian, something Jesus definitely was not. But even Paul could not have used the formula of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, because it hadn't been formulated yet. (As far as I know, and I am no church historian.)

    Quite plausible.

    It's obvious my source was ill-informed. I'm now actually very curious as to the second reference. Do you have a quote?

    I'll refer back to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit formula. As I stated, it could not have been Jesus' words, since Jesus (although referring to the Innamable One as "My Father") was not himself under the impression that he was the Son of God. He had developed the notion of being a son of God (in the sense that we are all children of God). In perhaps the same way that the idea of the Messiah differed (and differs) from the Jewish doctrine of the Messiah - although the distinction here would have been negligable in the beginning, the Christian doctrine now is clearly distinct from the Jewish one. It is an interesting question, BTW, how the notion of son of God developed into the doctrine of the Son of God. (The origin may have been Jewish, but the end result was definitely Christian.)

    I may continue this reasoning further, but I hope I've made my point clear. (In a simple formula: notion -> idea -> doctrine.)

    Why would he not be willing to pay the Temple tax? I would rather bring up the examples of him being questioned by Pharisees and Sadducess. Ofcourse he respected religious authority - up to a point. At any rate, what matters is that in certain fundamental ways his beliefs diverged from those religious authorities - notably in the observance of the cleanliness of the Temple (one of the few incidents that Jesus actually broke out in rage). It would seem that beyond the observance of the rituals his beliefs went further than those of the religious authorities - which would explain his questionings by them and the final solution of accusing him of being a (religious) "troublemaker". I always got the impression that these questionings led up to his arrest - for which the Temple disturbance was a welcome pretext.

    Something a bit off-topic: I found the title you had chosen a good one, The Crucible of Christianity, but it sounded familiar somehow. And then I remembered the title as being that of a book by various authors, which I found in the library of the History faculty when I was at university. It dealt, among others, also with the history of early Christanity. Perhaps you were familiar with it?
     
  13. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2004
    Messages:
    10,649
    Location:
    an ecovillage in madagascar
    Thanks as always, Plotinus, for your answers.

    I already have another one! What is it for a theological view to be "orthodox"? I mean in the sense that I read in contemporary philosophical theology, in which being "orthodox" is taken as a good thing for a view to be. I know it is something like "for a view to be orthodox is for it to be consistent with church doctrine", but what exactly is that? It seems that philosophers try to make their views consistent with 1) The Bible, particularly the New Testament, and 2) Creeds. Are there any other sources for "orthodox" views beyond Scripture and Creeds? And why on earth do people care about their view being consistent with whats written in Creeds? I mean I can see why someone would want their view to be consistent with scripture, but whats the big deal about Creeds?
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,810
    Location:
    Somerset
    I still think you're using categories such as "Jew" and "Christian" too rigidly. Yes, Jesus was not a Christian, at least not in the usual sense of the word. But it doesn't follow from that that he couldn't have used terms that would subsequently be peculiarly Christian. After all, Jesus must have been an unusual Jew, since most Jews don't become the focus of a new religion.

    In this case, I think the main reason to suppose that the Trinitarian formula in Matthew comes from the later Christian community is its obviously liturgical nature: it seems to be a formula that was used in baptism. But don't be so sure that its raw materials, as it were, did not already exist. Philo of Alexandria was perfectly capable of talking about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and he was not only not a Christian but predated Paul. Of course he didn't mean by these terms the same things that later Christians would, but the point is that the supposed boundaries between Judaism and Christian on matters such as this are much more fluid than you might suppose if you simply assume that "Jewish" and "Christian" mean the same thing in a first-century context that they do in later contexts.

    It's a reference to the lynching of James, the brother of Jesus, so Jesus is mentioned simply in passing. I wouldn't normally direct people to Wikipedia but both of the passages in Josephus can be found there.

    I think you're making too big an assumption when you suppose that the name "Son", as a designation for one of the members of the Trinity, developed from the title "son of God". First, the title "son of God" as a title for Jesus is not very important anywhere in the New Testament. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus usually calls himself "son of man", while in the rest of the New Testament the titles "Christ" and "Lord" are much more important. The name "Son" by itself, as a title for Christ, appears in one or two places in the Synoptics (such as Matthew 11:27). It is common only in John's Gospel, where it dominates. In these contexts, "the Son" is always compared to "the Father"; "Son" is not a lone title but describes Jesus' relation to God. Now it does seem very likely that Jesus did call God "Father" (something that other wandering charismatics, such as Honi the Circle Drawer, did too). So it seems to me that the designation "Son" is not so much a development of the title "son of God" as a development of Jesus' preferred way of addressing God. Some of the early Christians dwelled upon the fact that God was "the Father" and accordingly called Jesus "the Son". It seems to me that this meant that the term had a rather different meaning from "son of God" right from the start.

    As for what Jesus himself thought of himself or his relation to God, I don't think that anyone can really know that.

    The Pharisees and the Sadducees were not religious authorities. They were parties of lay people. The religious authorities were the priests, and they are conspicuous in the Gospels by their almost complete absence.

    There's no good reason to suppose that the incident in the Temple had anything to do with "cleanliness". The existence of merchants and money-changers there did not contravene any religious rules; indeed they were necessary, given that people came to the Temple from distant places to make sacrifices, and could hardly be expected to transport livestock all that way with them. A more plausible explanation of Jesus' behaviour in the Temple is that he was predicting its imminent destruction as part of the coming kingdom of God. Jesus certainly did make such a prediction (see Mark 13, for example) and his action of overthrowing the tables in the Temple might have been intended to convey the same idea visually.

    Don't forget that the "controversy" elements in the Gospels have certainly been over-emphasised by the authors. Just compare Mark to Matthew - you'll find that the later Gospel gives an impression of much greater controversy and hostility from other people. There is also much that is virtually impossible in them. Mark 3:6, for example, tells us that people plotted to kill Jesus after he healed someone on the Sabbath. But Jesus' action did not break any Sabbath rules - he merely told the man to hold out his hand. That was perfectly acceptable. Moreover, even if Jesus had broken the Sabbath rules, he would hardly have become the subject of a murder plot for it. There are many examples from the rabbinic literature of people breaking the Law and being criticised for it but not murdered.

    Finally, the people with whom Jesus is portrayed as having these disputes are the Pharisees (and occasionally Sadducees). The Pharisees and the Sadducees did not get on. The Sadducees' question in Mark 12:18-23 is an attack on the Pharisee doctrine of the resurrection; they obviously think of Jesus as a Pharisee, at least on this issue; and Jesus' answer does ally him with the Pharisees. And the Pharisees were completely different people from the priests (a few Pharisees were priests, but not many). If Jesus spent much of his time debating about the Law with the Pharisees, that would have been a matter of complete indifference to the priests and to the authorities in Jerusalem, since the Pharisees spent most of their time doing this anyway and people not only didn't mind but quite approved.

    It is more likely that Jesus got into trouble quite quickly during his trip to Jerusalem. That is, there was probably not a long period of simmering tension beforehand. If there had been, he would probably have been arrested more quickly. John the Baptist preached incendiary stuff and he got arrested for it without actually doing anything revolutionary. There are other examples of the same sort of thing. If Jesus was walking around free for most of his ministry, that probably means that he did not make much of a splash and did not get into trouble with anyone actually in authority. When he started throwing tables around in the Temple and telling people that it was going to be destroyed, that was another matter.

    I don't know it, but then I didn't choose the title. My publishers commissioned this book from me and they already had the title in mind.

    "Orthodox" just means in accordance with whatever the church teaches. So different churches have different standards of what that means. In the early church, it tended to be a combination of tradition, current teaching, and the Bible, which were thought to form a sort of unity known as the Rule of Faith.

    It's not the creeds that are important so much as the ecumenical councils. Most of the mainstream churches believe that the rulings of these councils are definitive, which is why the creeds they issued - above all the Symbol of Nicaea (325), the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381), and the Definition of Chalcedon (451) - are definitive and authoritative. They are authoritative because these were councils of the whole church which laid down what the correct doctrine was, on the basis of their understanding of Christian tradition and the Bible. The Catholic and Anglican churches, as well as other major western denominations such as the Lutheran churches, hold the first four ecumenical councils to be definitive. The Orthodox churches believe that the three later councils are also definitive, making seven in all.

    Of course there's a bit of cherrypicking here too. The council of Chalcedon forbade any church from formulating a creed in the future, on the basis that the Nicene Creed was sufficient. But that hasn't stopped churches that supposedly hold that council's ruling to be definitive from doing so - thus we have the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Augsberg Confession, and innumerable evangelical "doctrinal bases", all of which are technically in breach of Chalcedon. And other churches aren't interested in councils and insist that the Bible alone matters. But of course then you have the problem of how to interpret the Bible; in practice even the most fundamentalist evangelical churches consider their own doctrines to be definitive and simply interpret the Bible in accordance with them.
     
  15. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2001
    Messages:
    27,779
    Location:
    Not on your side
    I was of the impression that most priests were Sadducees? Is this in error?

    A related question; would the "Jew in the street" have identified with any of these parties, or were they the concern only of the more educated strata?
     
  16. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,079
    Location:
    In orbit
    Very elucidating, thanks. (It hadn't occurred to me that Pharisees and Sadducees weren't identical to Jewish religious authorities at the time.):blush:

    One final comment, though, if I may. I am very rigid about the distinction Jewish-Christian, true, and for one, but principal reason: though Christianity over time has developed into a rather distinct strand of religion from Judaism, originally (i.e. at the time of Jesus or, more precise, after he died) they must have been identical to the point of being indiscernible. (And, over time, Christianity seems to have almost forgotten these Jewish roots. Also, it touches upon a peculiar brand of antisemitism which likes to claim: "the Jews killed Jesus". Even if this were true, which it isn't, it would have been an internal Jewish matter, as Jesus was himself a Jew and not a Christian. So the distinction Jewish, not Christian, in Jesus himself is very dear to me.)
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,810
    Location:
    Somerset
    Actually we're both wrong. Most Sadducees were priests (although most priests were not Sadducees). They dominated the group who actually ran the Temple and were basically a group of very conservative aristocrats. So Jesus would probably not have met any among the priests he encountered in Galilee (most priests had other jobs as well - they worked in a rota whereby they came to Jerusalem to administer the Temple sometimes, but the rest of the time worked in their normal jobs back home). I did half-remember all this when I wrote my post before, but alas wasn't thorough enough when checking it!

    The Pharisees, though, were definitely lay-dominated.

    The Sadducees were unpopular. The Pharisees, by contrast, were very popular. I think that most people regarded them as a Good Thing because they were doing their best to preserve distinctively Jewish culture.

    However, bear in mind that these parties were mainly restricted to Palestine, whereas most Jews lived outside it. So the average "Jew on the street" probably wouldn't have even come into contact with them. Moreover, Judaism both in Palestine and in the Diaspora was very varied, ranging from highly insular groups who refused to learn Greek or Latin (despite living in the Roman empire) to groups who tried to amalgamate with the dominant culture so much that they had operations to make it seem like they hadn't been circumcised. The mind boggles. So the "Jew on the street" is rather like the man on the Clapham omnibus, or indeed Joe Six-Pack - a fiction.

    Fair enough, but don't forget that there was no such thing as "Judaism" in the first century AD or indeed for some time afterwards. There were "Judaisms", that is, a range of different sects, groups, and individual interpretations of what the religion was all about. Judaism as we know it today is the descendant of rabbinical Judaism, but that didn't even exist at the time of Jesus, and it wouldn't become dominant within Judaism as a whole for at least a couple of centuries afterwards. Rather than thinking of two distinct religions - Christianity and Judaism - it is perhaps better to think of second-Temple Judaism as a spectrum of different religious currents out of which emerged two particularly robust ones, Christianity and rabbinic Judaism (in that chronological order).
     
  18. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2005
    Messages:
    49,428
    Location:
    Stamford Bridge
    That reads more like something a Star Trek fan would write on a Trek board explaining how the episode with the Tribbles doesn't violate canon rather than a real explanation, but alright.
     
  19. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,079
    Location:
    In orbit
    I think Spinoza gives a very accurate description of God. Any thoughts?
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,810
    Location:
    Somerset
    Spinoza's a sort of panentheist - he thinks that God is the only thing that exists, and everything in the universe subsists in him. But what makes you agree with that?
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page