Wednesday, June 22, 2016

An important event for Christendom

Yesterday, Nick—who blogs at Nick's Catholic Blog—brought to my attention an ongoing event (June 18-27, 2016) that is sure to have both current, and future, ramifications for Christ's visible Church:

There are "six items on the agenda of the Council" (link):

1. The mission of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world;
2. The Orthodox diaspora;
3. Autonomy and the manner of its proclamation;
4. The sacrament of marriage and its impediments;
5. The importance of fasting and its observance today;
6. The relationship of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world.

Of particular interest to me is #6 on the agenda. Directly related to this issue, is the following informative post at Eclectic Orthodoxy:

Anyway, I thought others might share my interest in this ongoing event.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Father is greater than I (John 14:28): The Patristic witness that is ignored by many contemporary Evangelicals

Over the weekend, I came upon an ongoing "civil war" (Dr. Michael Bird used the phrase "civil war" in one of his numerous posts on a number of issues germane to this thread - see his posts listed under THIS LINK)*, between a good number of contemporary Evangelical theologians (most of whom are also Calvinists). I first gained knowledge of this "civil war" via a blog post published by Dr. Mike Ovey, Principal of the Oak Hill College in London, England, under the title: "Should I Resign?" (LINK)

This "civil war" seems to have begun over the divide between the complementarian and egalitarian camps over gender roles. For reasons I don't fully understand, it was broadened to include the issue of 'the eternal subordination' of the Son to the Father. It is this latter issue that will be the focus of this thread—without further reference to the gender issue.

From what I have gathered, the main disagreement is over whether or not the Son of God is eternally subordinate to God the Father. Those who affirm, usually do so via the concept of 'functional subordination' and/or 'relational subordination'; while those who deny, relegate all talk of subordination of the Son to the Father in terms of the Incarnation.

Since I hold to the doctrine of the Monarchy of God the Father, I side with those who affirm that the Son of God is eternally subordinate to God the Father. But, with that said, a key element concerning this eternal subordination has been pretty much ignored in this contemporary debate: the issue of etiology—i.e. the causality of the Son from the Father. [IMO, the issue of etiological subordination within the Godhead is even more important than 'functional subordination' and 'relational subordination'.]

As with most issues concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, I think it is imperative that one examine closely what the Church Fathers had to say. In my studies of the Church Fathers, I have found that the interpretation of one verse in particular was quite significant in determining what a good number of the Church Fathers believed about the issue of the subordination of the Son of God to God Father: John 14:28. The selections I will be providing clearly show many CFs understood that the phrase, "the Father is greater than I", should not be relegated exclusively to the Son's incarnation; but rather, it also speaks to the Son's eternal causation from God the Father. Note the following:

Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria -

We have learnt that the Son is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient and perfect, like the Father, lacking only His "unbegotten." He is the exact and precisely similar image of His Father. For it is clear that the image fully contains everything by which the greater likeness exists, as the Lord taught us when He said, 'My Father is greater than I.' And in accordance with this we believe that the Son always existed of the Father ; for he is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Father's Person.' But let no one be led by the word 'always' to imagine that the Son is unbegotten, as is thought by some who have their intellects blinded : for to say that He was, that He has always been, and, that before all ages, is not to say that He is unbegotten...

Therefore His own individual dignity must be reserved to the Father as the Unbegotten One, no one being called the cause of His existence : to the Son likewise must be given the honour which befits Him, there being to Him a generation from the Father which has no beginning ; we must render Him worship, as we have already said, only piously and religiously ascribing to Him the 'was' and the 'ever,' and the 'before all ages ;' not however rejecting His divinity, but ascribing to Him a perfect likeness in all things to His Father, while at the same time we ascribe to the Father alone His own proper glory of 'the unbegotten,' even as the Saviour Himself says, 'My Father is greater than I.' (Epistle of Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, to Alexander, Bishop of Constantinople, from Theodoret's, Ecclesiastical History, I.III - NPNF 3.39, 40.)

Athanasius -

But since he has here expressly written it, and, as has been above shewn, the Son is Offspring of the Father's essence, and He is Framer, and other things are framed by Him, and He is the Radiance and Word and Image and Wisdom of the Father, and things originate stand and serve in their place below the Triad, therefore the Son is different in kind and different in essence from things originate, and on the contrary is proper to the Father's essence and one in nature with it. And hence it is that the Son too says not, 'My Father is better than I,' lest we should conceive Him to be foreign to His Nature, but 'greater,' not indeed in greatness, nor in time, but because of His generation from the Father Himself", nay, in saying 'greater' He again shews that He is proper to His essence. (Against the Arians, I.58 - NPNF 4.340.)

Basil -

For since the Son's beginning/origin ( ảρχή) is from the Father, according to this, the Father is greater, as cause (ἀίτιος) and beginning/origin (ảρχή). Therefore the Lord said, My Father is greater than I, clearly because He is Father. Indeed, what else does the word Father mean unless the cause (τὸ αἰτία) to be/exist [Latin: esse] (εἶναι) and beginning/origin (ἀρχὴ) of that which is begotten of Him? (Against Eunomius,  I.25 - translation mine.)

Greek text:

Ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἡ ἀρχὴ τῷ Υἱῷ, κατὰ τοῦτο μείζων ὁ Πατὴρ, ὡς αἴτιος καὶ ἀρχή. Διὸ καὶ ὁ Κύριος οὕτως εἶπεν· Ὁ Πατήρ μου μείζων μου ἐστὶ, καθὸ Πατὴρ δηλονότι. Τὸ δὲ, Πατὴρ, τί ἄλλο ση μαίνει ἢ οὐχὶ τὸ αἰτία εἶναι καὶ ἀρχὴ τοῦ ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεννηθέντος; (Migne, PG 29.568)

Gregory Nazianzen -

As your third point you count the Word Greater ; and as your fourth. To My God and your God. And indeed, if He had been called greater, and the word equal had not occurred, this might perhaps have been a point in their favour. But if we find both words clearly used what will these gentlemen have to say? How will it strengthen their argument ? How will they reconcile the irreconcilable? For that the same thing should be at once greater than and equal to the same thing is an impossibility; and the evident solution is that the Greater refers to origination, while the Equal belongs to the Nature ; and this we acknowledge with much good will. But perhaps some one else will back up our attack on your argument, and assert, that That which is from such a Cause is not inferior to that which has no Cause ; for it would share the glory of the Unoriginate, because it is from the Unoriginate. And there is, besides, the Generation, which is to all men a matter so marvellous and of such Majesty. For to say that he is greater than the Son considered as man, is true indeed, but is no great thing. For what marvel is it if God is greater than man ? Surely that is enough to say in answer to their talk about Greater. (Orations, 30.7 - NPNF 7.312—see THIS THREAD for more detail.)

Hilary of Poitiers -

But perhaps some may suppose that He was destitute of that glory for which He prayed, and that His looking to be glorified by a Greater is evidence of want of power. Who, indeed, would deny that the Father is the greater; the Unbegotten greater than the Begotten, the Father than the Son, the Sender than the Sent, He that wills than He that obeys ? He Himself shall be His own witness :The Father is greater than I. It is a fact which we must recognise, but we must take heed lest with unskilled thinkers the majesty of the Father should obscure the glory of the Son. Such obscuration is forbidden by this same. (On the Trinity, III.12 - NPNF 9.65.)

If, then, the Father is greater through His authority to give, is the Son less through the confession of receiving? The Giver is greater : but the Receiver is not less, for to Him it is given to be one with the Giver. If it is not given to Jesus to be confessed in the glory of God the Father, He is less than the Father. But if it is given Him to be in that glory, in which the Father is, we see in the prerogative of giving, that the Giver is greater, and in the confession of the gift, that the Two are One. The Father is, therefore, greater than the Son: for manifestly He is greater, Who makes another to be all that He Himself is, Who imparts to the Son by the mystery of the birth the image of His own unbegotten nature, Who begets Him from Himself into His own form, and restores Him again from the form of a servant to the form of God, Whose work it is that Christ, born God according to the Spirit in the glory of the Father, but now Jesus Christ dead in the flesh, should be once more God in the glory of the Father. When, therefore, Christ says that He is going to the Father, He reveals the reason why they should rejoice if they loved Him, because the Father is greater than He. (On the Trinity, IX.54 - NPNF 9.174.)

I have chosen the above Church Fathers for two very important reasons: first, all of them wrote in Greek, for Greek was their mother tongue; and second, all of them wrote their above reflections on John 14:28 with Arianism in mind. If there ever was a period in the history of Christianity for one to limit John 14:28 to the incarnation of the Son of God it was the period from Arius through that of the Homoians and Anhomoians (i.e. Neo-Arians); and yet, their exegesis of the Biblical text compelled them to refrain from doing so.

In addition to the above CFs, I would like to add John of Damascus—the Church Father I recently introduced to readers of AF (LINK)—who wrote the following concerning John 14:28:

So then, whenever we hear it said that the Father is the origin of the Son and greater than the Son, let us understand it to mean in respect of causation. (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book I, Chapter 8 - NPNF vol. 9, page 9, second section.)

In ending, I think that when one considers John 14:28 and its relationship to the subordination of the Son of God to God the Father, one should seriously keep in mind the reflections from the Church Fathers quoted above.

Grace and peace,


*UPDATE (06-15-16): Because the post where Dr. Bird used the phrase, "civil war", has already moved to page 2 of the link I provided above, I thought it wise to provide a DIRECT LINK to it.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Recent dialogue with a Muslim apologist

Back on June 3, 2016 I got involved in a thread published by Paul Williams under the title, Catholic Truth Society fails to answer its own question.  My participation began with this post.

The next day, Paul Williams asked: "Where does Jesus say he is equal to God?" (link).

I responded with:

The Gospel of John is perhaps the most complex and deepest work in the NT. An important aspect of that complexity is the contrast between a number of passages which clearly speak of the subordination of the Son to the Father, with those which imply equality.

I then provided passages from the Gospel of John which illustrate the contrast mentioned above—i.e. subordination and equality—(link).

This led to Paul's subsequent denigration of the Gospel of John, invoking two liberal New Testament scholars (Raymond Brown and James Dunn)—and a couple days later, his own book, Jesus as Western Scholars See Him—for support.

The rest of this post will focus on the reliability of the Gospel of John. As I mentioned earlier, Paul brought into the discussion two liberal New Testament scholars: Dr./Fr. Raymond Brown and Dr. James Dunn. I published the following concerning Raymond Brown back on June 6 (correcting some typos):

Being a former Jehovah's Witness (4th generation) who utilized liberal scholarship to attack Christian orthodoxy, I am quite familiar with the works of such scholars as Brown, Collins, Dunn, Kung, Wiles, et al. The shelves of my library contain dozens of their books, which I began purchasing and reading back in the late-70s. For instance, I have Raymond E. Brown's The Birth of the Messiah, The Death of the Messiah (2 vols.), An Introduction to the New Testament, Gospel According to John (2 vols.), The Epistles of John, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, Antioch & RomePeter in the New Testament, The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Biblical Exegesis & Church Doctrine, Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible and Priest and Bishop. Unfortunately, I do not have his The Community of the Beloved Disciple, so I cannot comment its content. But, I suspect that there is little in this more popular work of his which does not appear in his larger works; as such, I am fairly confident that what I am about to share will not conflict with its content.

Dr. Brown was somewhat of an enigma; on the one hand, he fully embraced liberal Biblical scholarship (i.e. the historical-critical method), while on the other, he retained personal belief in many of the doctrines that most higher critical scholars reject (e.g. Trinity, bodily resurrection of Jesus, virgin birth of Jesus; as well as the Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity and Assumption of Mary). As such, I rarely used Brown when I was a JW.

As for his higher-critical works on the New Testament, they are, to be brutally honest, in the end, based on highly subjective theories. What I find particularly interesting is that much of his higher-critical work has received formidable criticism/s from both conservative and liberal scholars. The breadth, depth and complexity of the higher-critical method/s is so massive, it would be folly to attempt delve into the topic in any detail within the confines of a combox. ( link)

Brown's acceptance of higher-criticism concerning the Bible did not affect his view of the Gospel of John as authoritative Scripture, his belief in the divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of the Trinity. Since Paul denies that the Gospel of John is Scripture, as well as the divinity of Jesus, and the doctrine of the Trinity, I shall let him deal with the why Dr. Brown continued to embrace these important doctrines.

Moving on to James Dunn, I shall start with what Paul published:

‘On the question of the historical value of John’s Gospel there is probably one of the biggest gulfs between New Testament scholarship and the ‘man in the pew’. In preaching and devotional Bible study the assumption is regularly made that all four Gospels are straightforward historical sources for information about what Jesus did or said. Whereas scholars have almost always found themselves pushed to the conclusion that John’s Gospel reflects much more of the early churches’ understanding of Jesus than of Jesus’ own self-understanding. There is Christian interpretation in the other three Gospels, as we have seen, but in John’s gospel there is much more of it. Again, evangelical or apologetic assertions regarding the claims of Christ will often quote the claims made by Jesus himself (in the Gospel of John) with the alternatives posed, ‘Mad, bad or God’, without allowing that there may be a further alternative (viz. Christian claims about Jesus rather than Jesus’ claims about himself). Or again, ecumenical pronouncements will frequently cite Jesus’ prayer, ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21), without ever raising the question as to whether the prayer was formulated by Jesus himself or at a later date.’

‘How then are we to understand John’s Gospel? The issue here is obviously a peculiarly sensitive one. And the answer to it will have wide repercussions on our use of John’s Gospel at all these different levels (preaching, evangelism, etc). It is important therefore that the Christian community at large should recognize how scholars see John’s Gospel and why they see it that way. That is our task here.’

James DG Dunn The Evidence for Jesus pp. 31-32 (link)

As with Raymond Brown, James Dunn is an enigma to me, for like Brown he has retained the views that Scripture is authorative, as well as the full divinity of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity. (See THIS INTERVIEW for his perspectives on these issues.)

Though Dunn himself claims that he has retained some important elements of 'orthodoxy', his numerous works have certainly given ample ammunition to those who have not done the same. For instance, I myself retained my 'Arian' (Homoian) theology for a good 4-5 years longer than I would have if I had not come under the influence of liberal theologians like James Dunn and Maurice Wiles. But I digress—time to get back to what Dunn wrote. I will be using his book—referenced by Paul—The Evidence for Jesus. After presenting, "three possible explanations for the rather striking contrasts between the Synoptic Gospels and John's Gospel (p. 35), he summarizes that:

...the Jesus of John is not to be identified in a complete way with the Jesus who meets us in the Synoptics. The Jesus of John is also Jesus as he was increasingly seen to be, as the understanding of who Jesus was deepened through the decades of the first century. John's Gospel, we may say, is intended to present the truth about Jesus, but not by means of a strictly historical portrayal. The Synoptic Gospels, if you like, are more like a portrait of Jesus; John's Gospel is more like an impressionist painting of Jesus. Both present the real Jesus, but in different ways. (Page 43 - italics in the original; bold emphasis mine.)

He goes on to write:

Such utterances as "I am the light of the world' (John 8.12) and 'I and the Father are one' (John 10.30) bear testimony to John's experience of Jesus (during his life and since), Jesus' witness to himself through the Spirit, as John would no doubt want to claim (John 15.26; 16.12-15), rather than Jesus' witness to himself while on earth – the truth of Jesus in retrospect rather than as expressed by Jesus at the time.

But that is not the complete answer. For the same evidence shows that this teaching was not invented by John. It is rather an enlargement of an element which was already present in Jesus' teaching from the beginning. It was important for John that the Spirit was revealing to them 'many things' Jesus had not said to them while on earth, many things which glorified Jesus (John 16.12, 14). But it was also what Jesus had said while he was still with them (John 14.25-26). It is likely then that the expanded teaching of Jesus about his divine sonship is just that, expanded teaching of Jesus. Or to put it more precisely, it is likely that this element of Jesus' discourses too has firm roots in the earliest memory of what Jesus had said while with his first disciples. As in other cases the discourses seem to have grown round particular sayings of Jesus which we know of also from the Synoptics (p.38), so here Jesus' teaching on his divine sonship in John has probably grown round the memory of things Jesus actually did say on the subject. (Pages 44, 45.)

And a bit later, he states:

Although John's Gospel is a well developed portrayal of Jesus' claims to divine sonship, that claim is in fact rooted in Jesus' own ministry, and particularly in his prayer address to God as 'Abba', Jesus, we may say with confidence, thought of himself as God's son and encourages his disciples to share his own intimate relationship with God as his son. (Page 49.)

In the next chapter of the book, "Beliefs about the Resurrection", he includes a section titled: The very high estimate of Jesus which soon became established in Christian faith. From this section we read:

Here the data focuses on the striking fact that within a few years the first Christians  were speaking about Jesus in divine terms. The most outspoken testimony comes from John's Gospel. It begins by speaking of 'the Word' which/who was in the beginning with God and was God, through which/who 'all things were made' , and which/who became flesh in Jesus Christ (John 1.1-3, 14). The prologue to the Gospel ends by calling Jesus 'the only son', or 'the only-begotten God' (John 1.18); there are different readings in the Greek manuscripts, but the latter is more likely. In the same vein the Gospel reaches its climax in the adoring confession of Thomas, 'My Lord and my God!' (John 20.28). In addition we may simply recall the very high view of Jesus presented by John the Evangelist (above chapter 2). The probability that this is a developed view (chapter 2) is of no consequence here. It is the fact of such development within seventy years of Jesus' ministry which is so striking. (Page 61.)

So, despite the use of unproven higher-critical methods/theories, James Dunn still arrives at some very important conclusions shared by conservative New Testament scholars: first, the Gospels (including John) are authoritative; second, Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God; third, Jesus' claims about himself and his relationship to God, led his disciples to conclude that he was in a very real sense God.

With the above in mind, I would like to suggest to Paul that he rethink his use of James Dunn.

Grace and peace,