Is YHWH just a Hebrew version of Zeus?

Is YHWH equivalent to other gods? Just a Hebrew version of Zeus for instance? With a wife even? No, YHWH’s domain is not limited to the sky. Nor did YHWH come into being at some point like Zeus did. Granted there is some evidence to suggest early Hebrews had a more limited conception of YHWH, but subsequent revelation, not least through Jesus, has expanded our understanding of YHWH.

The Trinity before the Council of Nicea

I thought I’d clarify why I affirm trinitarian doctrine even though I am no fan of Emperor Constantine, a man historically associated with the Nicene Creed (325AD). It’s because, although the Nicene Creed wasn’t formulated till then, the trinitarian thinking it articulated hardly appeared out of nowhere. Christian leaders had been expressing themselves in these terms long prior to that. A prime example is Tertullian (160-215AD), an African apologist and theologian, who put it this way:

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Early Christian Creeds

Christianity has produced a number of creeds, confessions, and statements of faith, throughout its long history. Here’s a list of some of the earliest and most significant:

  • The Creed of Aristides (125 AD)
  • Apostles Creed (120 – 250 AD)
  • The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381 AD)
  • The Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD)
  • The Athenasian Creed (298 – 373 AD)

Jesus and the Old Testament

Below is a graphic representation of the number of times Jesus quotes the Old Testament in the New Testament. There are some interesting patterns here.

jesus-quotes

Firstly, note how the the Gospel of Matthew is the most quote heavy of the four all and that there’s considerable focus on the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. This supports the common claim that his gospel is the most Torah focussed.

The Gospel of Mark also puts substantial weight on the Torah, and it’s the only gospel that references Ezekiel and Joshua. For such a brief and action focussed gospel its surprising how many quotes it references.

On the flip side, note how the Gospel of John, the last to be written, is the least intertextual of them all, only referencing Psalms and Isaiah.

Studying such interconnections between these books can help us to get a better feel for the concerns and intentions of the authors of each gospel.

 

Different kingdoms

When fellow Christians speak of the separation of church and state I find it’s necessary to tease out what they mean by that.

Do they mean church should only be overseeing the personal dimensions of life while the state overseeing the political dimensions of life, as in a two kingdoms model? Or do they see separation in more counter cultural terms, and seek to exercise power differently to the powerful, as in a rival kingdoms model? In other words, is the state a type of Jerusalem that we should feel at home in or a type of Babylon that we should feel like exiles in?

Personally I lean towards the latter. The kingship of Jesus is not limited to one dimension of life. Jesus is Lord of all dimensions of life. Jesus is the king of kings, or president of presidents if you will. I see it this way: we are to be loyal to the state only to the extent that it doesn’t conflict with higher loyalties … and we can be assured that at some point those loyalties will come into conflict. At that point we will have to choose between two kings. We can’t follow both at the same time all the time.

The Trinity in the Bible

Although the doctrine of the Trinity is not taught explicitly in scripture, it is the many verses which illustrate the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, acting as one, which bring Christians back, time and time again, to the question. Consider, for instance, this introduction to the first letter to the Thessalonians; the intertwining of references to God the Father, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, for a people who daily recited, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Being Christian scripture, it is not something Christians can lightly ignore.


Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in GOD THE FATHER and the LORD JESUS CHRIST:

Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our GOD AND FATHER your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our LORD JESUS CHRIST.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by GOD, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the HOLY SPIRIT and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the LORD, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the HOLY SPIRIT. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The LORD’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in GOD has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to GOD from idols to serve the living and true GOD, and to wait for his SON from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—JESUS, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

 

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed, also called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, is statement of faith that is accepted as authoritative by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and major Protestant churches. It summarises a number of beliefs about God, the world, Jesus, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the church, and the last things. Most likely it was issued by the Council of Constantinople in 381, even though this fact was first explicitly stated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

 

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one substance with the Father,
through whom all things came into existence,
Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down from the heavens,
and was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became man,
and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered and was buried,
and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
and ascended to heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father,
and will come again with glory to judge living and dead,
of Whose kingdom there will be no end;

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
Who proceeds from the Father,
Who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and together glorified,
Who spoke through the prophets;
in one holy Catholic and apostolic Church.
We confess one baptism to the remission of sins;
we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen

Alternative ways of speaking of the Trinity

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to explore the Bible in its original languages. The Hebrew word used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is Ruah. The Greek word used for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is Pneuma. Both mean Spirit or Breath. So it is quite orthodox to refer to the Holy Spirit as the Breath of God. Now, as one of the titles for Jesus in the New Testament is the Word of God this raises some interesting possibilities for alternative language when speaking of the Trinity: instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we could say Speaker, Word, and Breath.