My Faith—A Philosopher’s Look At Christianity, 18

It Now Gets Interesting

Enter one inquiring mind, Theodotus, a leather-seller of Byzantium. He came to Rome (c. 190-200) or earlier. According to Theodotus Jesus was a man born of a virgin according to the counsel of the Father, that He lived like other men, and was most pious; that at His baptism in the Jordan the Christ came down upon Him in the likeness of a dove. Because Theodotus could not rationally accept the ontological essence of a God who could also be Jesus and Holy Spirit he chose to not accept the simple (not provable) and made it more complicated (again not provable). What made Jesus more pious than anyone else in Israel? What about Enoch who “walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away?” Why didn’t Enoch take on this Christ role? No one seemed to ask these questions. From Theodotus’s questioning came Monarchianism confusing the issue even more.

In the year 318, a priest of Libya named Arius began to preach a different doctrine about the Son of God. He denied that the Son is God in the same sense that the Father is God. According to Arius, the Son is not eternal nor of the same substance with the Father, but is a creature. This teaching was known as Arianism and one reason for the Council of Nicia meeting.

The term and idea of a trinity comes from Tertullian. Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus was born about 150 AD in Carthage, North Africa. We read this about him:

“His father was the captain of a Roman legion and provided Tertullian with the education and training to become a lawyer. When he was about 40, Tertullian was converted to Christianity. He exuberantly embraced the gospel and ably used his legal skills to defend Christianity from pagan attackers. Tertullian had a tenacious sense of the truth, and frequently railed against the church’s conformity to the world and compromise with surrounding paganism. The social life of his time … was riddled with idolatry. Tertullian believed the Christian’s conscience should be sensitive to the idolatry associated with the gladiatorial shows, violent games, plays, literature, administration, and even business guilds. ‘Our Lord Christ has surnamed Himself Truth, not Custom,’ and Christians should beware of being conformed to this world. ‘The spirit of Christianity,’ wrote Tertullian, ‘is of meekness, peace, and purity, while the public shows and sporting events only excite the wild and furious passions of anger and lust. Licentious speech is condemned by God, and what a man should not say he should not hear.’

“In these early years church leaders were struggling to understand how they should relate the faith to worldly learning. Other Christians of this period, such as Justin Martyr , sought common ground between Greek philosophy and Christian belief. He would consider someone like Socrates as perhaps a Christian before the time of Christ. Tertullian, however, demanded ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ Socrates, he asserted, was not a forerunner of Christianity: For by whom has truth ever been discovered without God? By whom has God ever been found without Christ? By whom has Christ ever been explored without the Holy Spirit? By whom has the Holy Spirit ever been attained without the mysterious gift of faith? Socrates, as none can doubt, was actuated by a different spirit. . .”

Now there was a time when I would joke about Socrates being a pre-Christ because of his humility and demand for truth, or Reality. It was nothing more than a joke, but let me answer this question of Tertullian when he asks “by whom has truth ever been discovered without God?”  Without God, no one. But could not God be found in all people beyond the Jews and Christians and not know his name? Actually Paul already answered the question in his letter found in Romans 1:18-20. Stop and think. Has no one outside the line of people from Adam to Abraham and his progeny leading to the Hebrews in Egypt to Moses leading them out of slavery to the Promised Land, are they really the only ones in the world that knew Truth? I think not. How about all those people Cain fled to? What about all the peoples of the world, are they condemned because God only spoke to Abraham or Moses or David? Really? Let me ask this: Can I know and experience God without knowing his name? Without knowing all the personal stuff we learn from the Old Testament? Can I know God even though not completely? Paul answers yes. I’m getting a little off track but this is an important discussion that needs looking at and I will come back to it.

The Jews around the new Christians often stirred the pot, especially from their point of view when Christians made Jesus the same as God. Then too there must have been new Christians who were intellectual questioning how Jesus and God could be One and this controversy, while not big, was problematic. And what do you do with the Holy Spirit? When enough questions began to rise Tertullian rose to give an answer from his mind: trinity, three-in-one, one essence. It’s not a term ever used by the disciples in their spread of the Gospel, but the terms omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient aren’t in the Old Testament either. Omnipotence means God is all-powerful. This means God has supreme power and has no limitations. Omniscience means God is all-knowing. Omnipresence means God is everywhere at the same time. Certainly the idea that God must be omnipotent is expected of a God who created the cosmos and all therein. Isaiah speaking the word of God to the Israelites who have taken up with Babylonian idols declares this: 

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. Even to your old age, I will be the same, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you. To whom will you liken Me or count Me equal? To whom will you compare Me, that we should be alike?. . . I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and ancient times from what is still to come, saying: ‘My purpose will stand, and all My good pleasure I will accomplish. I summon a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far-off land. Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, I will surely do it.” (Isaiah 46:3-5; 9-11.)

As for God is everywhere we read this song from David: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, you are there; if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12).

Certainly Jewish scripture supports the idea that God is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent even though these terms are never used, they certainly are implied. But does the Jewish Bible support the idea of a trinity? And does the Gospel support it? As for God the Father, and God the Son, Jesus clearly references they are of one essence each worthy of worship and adoration. But the Holy Spirit is more complicated. While in the end I accept the Holy Spirit is of the same essence and not something outside God we do not worship and adore this aspect of God the same way we do the Father and Son.

From one Jewish Rabbi we read this:

“The Rabbinic term for the Holy Spirit is the Hebrew phrase, “Ruah ha-Kodesh.” Let’s look at these words. Ruah means spirit. . . . And kodesh, as you know, means holy; that is where we get our words kiddush, kaddish, and kedushah. For Jews and Christians alike, ideas of the Holy Spirit originate in the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, starting from the very first chapters of Genesis, in which Ruah Elohim, the spirit of God “hovers over the face of the water,” followed by the story of Adam, in which God breathes the life spirit into the first human being. Ruah in the Bible can mean “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit,” and is a very important and frequently used biblical concept. When individuals are imbued with God’s spirit, they may become prophets, leaders or kings.

“The Rabbis spoke of “The Holy Spirit” in two main ways, one fairly familiar and one rather provocative. In the first definition, Ruah ha-Kodesh is simply divine inspiration, the flow of spirit from God to men and women that moves and empowers them to serve as God’s spokespeople. Great prophets like Moses and Isaiah, and yes, women like Sarah, Deborah, and Esther are said to have the Holy Spirit resting upon them. And even ordinary folks who unwittingly say something prophetic may have experienced a momentary spark of the Holy Spirit kindled within them.

“But there is a more surprising use of the term Ruah ha-Kodesh in Rabbinic writings. Ruah ha-Kodeshis also personified as a kind of divine character. As I have said, this doesn’t mean that the Rabbis viewed the Holy Spirit as part of a Trinity, and yet, they did use the term in the sense of a metonym, something associated with God that stands in for God.

In Jewish scripture the Holy Spirit is never presented as a person but rather as a divine power capable of transforming the human being and the world. Here are some interesting verses found in scripture:

  • John 14:26: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

  • Psalm 51:11: Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

  • Isaiah 63:10: Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.

  • Matthew 1:20: But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid totake Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

  • Matthew 3:11: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

  • Matthew 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

  • Luke 3:16: John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

These are just a few of the verses that mention Holy Spirit. It is clear that the Holy Spirit is something of God, but what?