Sunday, July 1, 2007

Does Christianity re-define monotheism?

Monotheism: the doctrine or belief that there is only one God.

I know very little about Judaism, and even less about Islam, but from my understanding, they do consider Christianity to have shades of polytheism. Or consider it to be outright polytheistic.

This is completely understandable. When one says that a religion is monotheistic, the expectation is that there is one God only, and that God appears as a constant. In Christianity, it's difficult to say that God appears as a constant. There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Nothing in the definition of monotheism says that a monotheistic God can be one, and yet exist as three others, or ten others, or one hundred others. Granted, there is little that says this can't happen, either. But when you start referring to more than one entity as God, you're usually drifting towards polytheism.

Christianity gets around this problem by bringing out a previously unheard of concept: God existing as one, yet as three persons, all which are unified in will, power, knowledge, and so on. But in a way, Christianity can come across as wanting to have its cake, and eat it, too. It wants to follow the, "Here, Oh Israel, the Lord God is one" and yet keep the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as God. I can understand why the other two Abrahamic religions would find this polytheism. Given how they use monotheism, there's no room for the concept of the Trinity. If you have two beings with the same type of power and divinity, then you have two gods. That's how it's been throughout history -- at least, from what I've seen. The whole point of monotheism was to start ending the concept of more than one God.

Christianity seems to approach the table saying, "We are monotheistic with the Trinity, and that is acceptable." But is it really? Or is Christianity saying that we have to accept their monotheistic claims on their terms, rather than a set standard, or an objective term? Whereas Islam and Judaism approach the table with their perception of God that matches a set monotheistic standard.

It just seems that Christianity is monotheistic because they say so. For instance, let's turn this around. Say Christians followed a god known as Allah, and Islam had the concept of the Trinity. Can anyone honestly tell me that Christianity would accept Islam as a monotheistic religion? I highly, highly doubt it.

Also, before people start throwing out verses that "prove" the Trinity, I would ask that those people investigate how the concept of the Trinity first came about. There is a reason why there was no official Trinitarian creed until the 4th century. Paul and Peter and the lot didn't suddenly go around saying how God was a Trinity. It's a concept that took time to develop, in order to reconcile the divinity of the Christ with the concept of one God. And even after the Council of Nicaea, it still wasn't happily accepted by everyone. The Trinity is also something that is not clearly or explicitly taught anywhere in the Bible, and I'm pulling this justification from trinitarian scholars themselves.

19 comments:

SocietyVs said...

"The Trinity is also something that is not clearly or explicitly taught anywhere in the Bible" (Heather)

I have actually took brief looks at this issue and have also come to a similar conclusion and how the wholow thing works out (Father, Jesus, Spirit) I cannot even begin to pretend to know in full. But I think the Trinity made sense to that community but is a doctrine we need to re-visit and see what the gospels and Paul actually said.

What I do know is these three things are talked about:

(1) God the Father
(2) Jesus the Christ (Messiah)
(3) Holy Spirit - Comforter/Helper

Now if that means this equals a trinity (which is a belief that has not been questioned for some time) then we need to look closely at it. For me I see some hierarchy within it and all things point to God the Father (Jesus' teachings and the spirit afterwards). I think it is possible we have misunderstood the Messiah and his connection to God - even if this means the title 'God's son'. Questions need to be asked and purused.

That being said, I haven't done enuff research on the subject as I could and I am thinking off the top of my head here - but I am open to further research.

Heather said...

Society,

** I cannot even begin to pretend to know in full.** I think even full-fledged Trinitarians can attest to this. It's not something that makes 'logical' sense, but simply something that is.

I grew up with a unitarian view of the Christian God. The first time I read all the verses that are said to support the Trinity, my reaction was "... That's support?" Now, I can see how they were interpreted as such. But I also saw other interpretations that worked, and the whole concept was just incredibly vague.

Then, I had to keep reminding myself that Paul and Peter and all the others were Jewish. They never stopped being Jewish, and they saw Jesus as a fufillment of that religion. If they truly thought that Jesus was God, why didn't they just come out and say "Jesus is God." Why all the verses that are almost open-ended? How likely is that kind of leap considering that nothing in the Messianic expectations had a belief of God becoming man? Or even the Messiah being divine?

Mystical Seeker said...

As far as I am concerned, the doctrine of the Trinity makes no sense. Most Christians in the pews don't even understand it. It usually gets explained away by Trinitarian Christian apologists as a "mystery", which is another way of saying "I know this makes no sense, so just accept it and shut up."

One of the things that I find interesting is that when you go back to the Gospel of Mark and compare it with Matthew, you find a tantalizing clue regarding the evolving Christology that led to Jesus being declared divine. Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone", which clearly distinguishing himself from God. This was too embarassing a thing to have Jesus say, so Matthew rewrote the passage to say something slightly different.

Of course, you have the whole long evolution of ideas about the divinity of Jesus after that time. I think that Christians were so focused on elevating Jesus to divine status, they were stuck with a problem--how do you make Jesus divine and still have monotheism? So they came up with an incomprehensible doctrine of the Trinity.

And I say, if God has three persons, why only three? Why not 17 or 259? Or an infinite number? The number three is just plain arbitrary, as far as I am concerned.

The Christian Heretic said...

It comes down to how one defines "God." Very few Christians have thought the issue of the Trinity over at any length, and if they did they'd realize that, at least according to their view, "God" is not a person at all but rather a force or an essence made up of at least three individual consciousnesses. I don't necessarily have a problem with the Trinity, but I think most Christians who like to think of God as a person would if they thought about it a little more. :)

Heather said...

Mystical,

**It usually gets explained away by Trinitarian Christian apologists as a "mystery", which is another way of saying "I know this makes no sense, so just accept it and shut up."**

Yup. And the thing with that is if Jesus being God is that pivital for salvation, why is it left to be such a mystery, then? If it's that important, shouldn't it make sense?

I think you've mentioned previously that you've read Karen Armstrong's books, including 'A history of God.' Her explanation to this makes a lot of sense, given how quickly the Gentiles starting taking charge of the church direction. They would've interpreted Jewish thought differently, and assign Jesus as a God status.

CH,

I think another reason why the Trinity's never made sense to me is that I've never seen God as a 'person.' If God is a spirit, as the NT says, then how could a spirit become a man? And if Jesus is God, how does one know one isn't worshipping the man aspect of Jesus, which is expressly forbideen.

Utlimately, I think it comes down to what you and mystical have said: people don't put a lot of thought into it.

Dan Marvin said...

I can clear up a lot of your confusion. One way to understand Jesus is God besides John 10:30 is to name a word to describe God and there is a verse that describes Jesus the same way. Here is a link to a great lesson on this subject Deity of Jesus

With every description of God there is an equal  description of Jesus and verses to back it up

Dan Marvin said...

**I forgot to mention that on page 321 there is a great chart for what I am talking about.

jennypo said...

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one." (1John 5:7)

Is it really that complicated? Don't you think maybe the "Christian" elite are simply trying to justify all those theology degrees?

My experience with "infinite" and "perfect" is rather lacking, but "All for one and one for all" is not the incomprehensible part of God, to me.

Heather said...

Jenny,

The verse you quoted above is known as the Johannine Comma, and it's no longer used in much of the latest Bible translations. It was found in the Latin Vulgate, but not in the earliest Greek manuscripts. Nor do the early Church fathers quote that passage in defense of the concept of the Trinity. It looks like it was added to the Latin copy by a translator.

jennypo said...

Heather,

The belief that slavery is wrong is not an idea that gained prevalence throughout the world until about a century ago. Women have historically been denied rights in most of the world's cultures throughout history. Yet I am sure, as I believe you are, that oppression, racism, and sexism have been, in fact, wrong all along, despite popular belief. Why should an understanding of the Bible be any different?

Slapdash said...

*** Why should an understanding of the Bible be any different? ***

...meaning that its truths can change over time? Or, I think you would argue, that its INTERPRETATIONS can change over time?

Do you include in this the bedrock theology on which your faith stands? The Trinity is a pretty foundational idea. You are comfortable believing it, when for 15 centuries - 75% of the elapsed time since Christ walked the earth - Christians evidently did NOT believe it?

You are the one who has argued that the Bible is either all true, or none true (or am I oversimplifying?).

You seem to be saying something different here.

Kay said...

Heather,

I meant to comment earlier that Rabbi Kushner is a "Process Theist." That's a view that I once disliked, but am now finding more and more compelling (depending on the interpretation).

From a Christian-ish perspective, you might like Philip Clayton.

trufflehunter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jennypo said...

Slapdash,

It is not truth that changes, but what is commonly accepted and called truth. The Bible says the same thing that it said when it was first written - IT hasn't changed. That popular opinion about the Bible has changed is no surprise, nor does it make any commentary on the Bible - popular opinion about science, morality, any form of truth at all - has changed drastically through the centuries. There has always been dissent in the church.
Have Marx's followers all agreed on what he wrote? And yet, if you wish to understand his thoughts as he revealed them, they may be examined in libraries everywhere. You may read them for yourself without any regard at all for the ways in which they have been interpreted.
I do not say that an understanding of history is useless in evaluating Christianity or the truth of the Bible, but it is limited. The selfish aims of humanity must be factored into the equation. What we may learn from historical interpretations is their consequences when put into practice. The interpretations that led the Crusaders on their attacks - were these things that accomplish what the Bible says it seeks to accomplish? Did they bring glory to God and further the cause of Love and Truth in the universe?
My mother has always baked delicious bread. When we moved away from home, she gave her recipe to both my sister and to me. Now my sister also makes delicious bread, but mine, on the other hand, is always tough and heavy. I have complained to my mother many times that her recipe is no good. She insists that the recipe is fine, it's the cook that's the problem.
I can fully relate with those who want to equate the Bible's idea of Christianity with what they see in the socio-political realm, but perhaps my Mom is right to blame the cook, not the recipe. Everywhere and always, both inside and outside the established church, there have been people who have known God through sense, intellect, and spirit. Many of them have had the privilege of access to the Scripture. Such people have lacked the power, and indeed the interest, to speak for the church. But they existed and they exist. God is not a white North American Republican oil baron, and never has been, regardless of what the establishment says he is.
I do not say that the Bible is either all true or not at all - but if it is 98% true it is untrustworthy by the standards that God must be held to. I cannot know that it reveals a God who is Truth.
If my understanding of God changes and grows, it shows I am learning. I do not think myself to fully understand God, just as humanity cannot judge that it fully understands the scientific laws. But science itself is a reliable means of discovery, and God himself is fully reliable to me. If I fail to understand the Trinity when it seems to me that I do, that says nothing about God and everything about me.

Chris said...

There appeared to be a flaw with how you described the Trinity. You said that there was more than one "Being" within the Godhead. That is not how the Trinity is defined.

The Trinity is one "what" and three "whos." That's why Trinitarians can say there is one Being who is God. We can also say that the Father is God, as is the Son, as is the Spirit. The distinction comes because we see these persons acting in ways that only God can act (meaning that each is "God"), and they interact with one another (meaning they are not the same actors or persons).

R. A. Torrey wrote an excellent, time-tested book called What the Bible Teaches. You can find overview of the Doctrine of the Trinity here.

Brendan said...

The term (trinitas) was first used by Tertullian near the end of the second century. He later joined the "gnostic" sect known as Montanism and was branded a heretic. This is why the father of the "Trinity" is not listed as "Saint Tertullian."

He was one of the early proto-orthodox heresy hunters. I wonder if he saw the irony of being branded a servant of the Devil by the machinery he helped in part to create?

Matthew N. Petersen said...

I'm a bit late, perhaps I'm missing something, but I think saying "Christians Jews and Muslims are Monotheistic" is kinda like saying "Christianity and Buddhism are both religions." In one sense yes, granted. But study Buddhism at any college and they will tell you "Thinking of it as a religion really isn't helpful. It's something completely different from Christianity Judiasm and Islam." The fact is, yes, we are saying something fundamentally different from Jews and Muslims. I believe in one God eternally existant in three persons. They believe in one God eternally existant in one person. If we want to use "monotheism" to refer to both positions, fine, but its probably more confusing than helpful.

Heather said...

Jenny,

** Why should an understanding of the Bible be any different? ** Because that would influence any claims to inerrancy. WE would have no way of determining if the Bible, or any religous text, is in fact inerrant, if the method of interpretation has changed throughout the centuries. And your examples of slavery and sexism support that, because both did find great support from certain Christian circles. It ultimately comes down to which interpretation one is going to follow.

As you said, it is not truth that changes, but what is accepted as truth. But we are stuck with the acceptance of truth, not the actual truth, because of our subjective viewpoints. Even take the BIble -- it has changed throughout the years. Some old copies don't match others. Some were translated in a certain way to showcase the mindset of the time.

Chris,

I have no doubt that I haven't explained the Trinity in full. It's a confusing concept. ;) And no one seems to fully understand it, but it's something outside of human comprehension.

robert said...

Chris,
Every important Christian doctrine is clear and easy to explain except the Trinity. That should tell you that it is not a Christian doctrine. It came from Plato.

And yet it is the unsolid rock on which Christianity has placed itself for nearly 1700 years.

Nowhere do the scriptures say you must believe in the Trinity to be a Christian and yet it is part of the tradition of the elders that has replaced the teachings of the prophets and Jesus.

After his resurrection Jesus told Mary of Magdala, "I go to my God and your God". Jesus has a God. That means he is not God. god cannot have a God. God is God.

There are 18,000 references to God in the Bible and not once did any writer use the words triune or three in one.

Nowhere will you ever read the words "Jesus is God".


peace
Robert Roberg
Gainesville FL