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Athanasius's scratchpad

by Athanasius (Archbishop)
on May 01, 2012 at 11:13 UTC ( #968232=scratchpad: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

For Polyglot (30 July 2022)

Interesting argument — and not what I was expecting! Here is my understanding of the issues raised:

(1) John’s target in 1 John is (an early form of) Gnosticism, which taught that the physical world (and the creator god of the Old Testament who made the world) is evil; Jesus (who is pure spirit) came to save us from the bondage of the physical world by means of knowledge (gnosis); so of course He cannot have come “in the flesh.” Not surprising that John would identify this blasphemous heresy with the “spirit of antichrist”! — but this has no bearing on the doctrine of the Trinity.

(2) I think we agree that Jesus is both Messiah (Christ, annointed one) and Son of God. The big question is then: how do we understand “Son of God”? You write, “Jesus was a Man, and God is not a man ... however, God—even “all the fulness of the Godhead”—dwelt in Jesus”. This sounds like some form of Adoptionism, which is an attractive doctrine in that it (a) renders many of Jesus’ sayings more readily understandable, and (b) does not require a distinction of Persons within the Godhead. But it simply isn’t Biblical.

John himself says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us...” (John 1:1,14) We see there:

  • a distinction drawn between God and the Word (and the Word was with God)
  • the identity of God and His Word (and the Word was God)
  • the pre-existence of the Word (in the beginning)
  • the Word as Creator (all things were made by him)
  • the Incarnation (the Word was made flesh)

There is no suggestion of adoption here: the Word did not adopt Jesus, the Word became flesh. This is a very Trinitarian passage. Put together with Colossians 1:13-16 and Hebrews 1, it clearly teaches that the Son created all things. (And if you read Hebrews 1:8-12 with reference to Psalm 102:25-26, it is clear that the Son is the creator God of the Old Testament.) Jesus Himself affirmed his pre-existence, as recorded in John’s Gospel: “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

(3) Once the doctrine of the Trinity had been settled at Nicea, the focus of theological debate shifted to Christology, culminating in the Confession of Chalcedon:

We, then, ... teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; ... one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved...

Or, more simply: Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

(4) Here is the gist of your argument:

Trinitarians claim that Jesus is “God the Son.” If we believe the Man himself, we must accept that God is a spirit, and that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. Therefore, strictly speaking, no Trinitarian or anyone who believes that Jesus IS God can honestly confess that Jesus came in the flesh—certainly not without contradiction to these plain passages—because God, who is spirit, does not have flesh.

This misses the point. If Jesus is, as Trinitarians believe, both God and man, then we must say, Christ as God is spirit, and Christ as man has flesh. Since I believe that Jesus is both God and Man, I have no difficulty in honestly confessing that Jesus came in the flesh. This does not contradict the Bible; on the contrary, I affirm with John: the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh.


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