James Alison on the “one” in monotheism

by Kim on July 30, 2010

… What is meant by the ‘one’ in mono-theism? Does it mean ‘one’ as opposed to two, three, or seventy-nine? In which case it is one as a number, and is opposed to other numbers. In that case, since whenever we define something over against something, it is true to say that it is much more like that thing than it is unlike it, ‘one’ God would be merely a uniquely big, powerful and somewhat lonely member of the series of ‘gods’ all of whose other members have been declared inexistant.

But there is another use of the word ‘one’, which is not properly speaking a numerical use at all. This is where ‘one God’ is opposed to ‘nothing’. In other words, where ‘one’ is more like the exclamation ‘is!’ than it is like a number. The exclamation ‘is!’ is opposed to ‘nothing there!’ Now just as the number ‘one’ is more like the other numbers that it is scrubbing out than it is different from them, so the ‘one God’ as opposed to ‘nothing at all’ is more like the ‘nothing at all’ that it is opposed to than it is to anything else. In other words, following this understanding of the ‘mono’ in ‘monotheism’, God is much more like ‘nothing at all’ than like ‘one of the gods’.

And this, of course, is part of the genius of monotheistic Judaism: the realisation that ‘one God’ is much more like ‘no god at all’ than like ‘one of the gods’. In other words that atheism, which is untrue, offers a much less inadequate picture of God than theism, which is true. For monotheistic Judaism, as for monotheistic Catholicism, which I take to be universal Judaism, the principal temptation is not atheism, but idolatry.

James Alison, “Monotheism and the Indispensibility of Irrelevance”, in Underground God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-In (New York / London: Continuum, 2006), p. 18.

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1

PamBG 07.30.10 at 11:01 am

I love James Alison and I’ve not read this book. Thank you for that thought.

2

dh 07.30.10 at 3:08 pm

I kind of liked this. Worshiping God is like all or nothing. Worshiping God is truly monotheistic like the author says. Therefore when one says they are Worshiping something other than the triune monotheistic God then really they are no different than an atheist.

3

dh 07.30.10 at 3:09 pm

…with the monothesitic triune God the only God being Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

4

Kim 07.30.10 at 5:32 pm

Alison, a good Thomist here, is saying that while the atheist is wrong, he is less wrong than the believer who pits his god (even if this believer claims his god is the trinity) against another god, for his god cannot be God - why? - because God cannot be pitted. As Alison goes on to say:

“[I]nseparable from our [conventional] notion of ‘oneness’ is the ‘as opposed to’ bit. And this is where things get dangerous. Because if there is a God who is not one of the gods, who is not on the same level as anything else at all, then of course it is true to say that there can be no ‘as opposed to’ in God. Or in other words, there is no rivalry at all between God and anything else. Which means that whenever in any of our thinking about God we have an ‘as opposed to’, however residual, that same ‘as opposed to’ reduces God to some sort of ‘god’ and that same ‘as opposed to’ will immediately have sociological consequences” - viz., pitting my group/denomination/religion, which is true and good, against yours, which is false and dangerous, resulting, for example (Alison’s own), in the Christian denunciation of Muslims or gays. Functionally, observes Alison, such belief “is the worst sort of nihilistic atheism”. By contrast, a non-idolatrous monotheism “appears to begin as a voice which is far tougher on the ‘we’ than on the ‘they’, and indeed berates the ‘we’ for paying far too much attention to the ‘they’.” “A severe despoilation of self-importance” and habitual self-criticism are the characteristic marks of a non-idolatrous faith.

5

dh 07.30.10 at 7:12 pm

Kim, doesn’t Scripture say the very thing you disagree with in the statement “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”? Isn’t that a statement of God saying that the other gods are not gods?

In light of Scripture this view or her view makes no sense and I don’t see how stating that The Triune God is the one true God. The adjective of “true” implies a comparison of God over what man has as god. The fact remains Muslims do not have Faith in the one true God. That isn’t a denunciation of Muslims but the observation of the lack of Faith in the one true God. With regard to denuning of gays, it isn’t the gays themselves it is the gays themselves but the acting upon something that happens to be sin.

No rivalry? In the Epistles it talks about “Spritual warfare” (in regard to Satan) if there were no “rivalry’ then there would need not be any mention of warfare.

The view doesn’t seem to match up with Scripture. There isn’t one “more wrong” than the other. Worshiping a false god in light of Scripture is just as bad as an atheist. Both have no Faith for their faith is not in the one true God. This view isn’t idolatry but a recognition of what Scripture specifically states regarding those without Faith and those who have “other gods before Him”.

6

Tony Buglass 07.30.10 at 8:28 pm

DH: “doesn’t Scripture say the very thing you disagree with in the statement “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”? Isn’t that a statement of God saying that the other gods are not gods?”

It doesn’t say that those other gods actually exist. It simply addresses the fact that people believe in other gods. In the context of ancient Israel, worship of Yahweh was often put alongside worship of the traditional ba’alim: Ba’al was a fertility god who was believed to make the crops grow, so people saw that as his job, and were quite happy to work with him for that while looking to Yahweh for other things. There was also a tendency to ‘henotheism’, ie the belief that there were other gods, usually territorial gods, who had authority in their own lands (which is why Naaman took bags of Israel back home, to give Yahweh a toe-hold in his land). The message of this commandment is that none of these other gods should be put before Yahweh. Eventually, by the time of the Exile, Deutero-Isaiah was teaching monotheism as opposed to henotheism: there is only one God, none of the others exist except in the minds of those who worship them. Isa.44:9, at the start of a wonderful dismissal of idols and false gods, contains a phrase which is usually translated “they are worthless” but really should be translated using my native Geordie dialect: “they’re a load of little nowts!” Nothing else quite expresses the idea with adequate scorn.

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dh 07.30.10 at 9:16 pm

Tony, thanks for the clarification. However, I ‘m still trying to understand what people would have a problem with in my previous statement. I did say “Isn’t that a statement of God saying that the other gods are not gods?” and nothing I said contradicted it.

You mention: “The message of this commandment is that none of these other gods should be put before Yahweh.’ I personally believe the rebuke is that He wanted His people or all people for that metter to not have any other gods in any other way (period) with sole Worship of the Triune God alone.

However, I do like this statement from you “there is only one God, none of the others exist except in the minds of those who worship them. Isa.44:9, at the start of a wonderful dismissal of idols and false gods, contains a phrase which is usually translated “they are worthless” but really should be translated using my native Geordie dialect: “they’re a load of little nowts!” Nothing else quite expresses the idea with adequate scorn.”

I guess I agree somewhat with what Kim and you say. However, I have a problem with people rebuking people like myself who happen to believe that Islam or any other religion outside of the Triune God is the Worship of a false god who doesn’t exist. Some of what Kim and the lady say seems to say otherwise.

Maybe I’m really misunderstanding their positions. Your clarifications seem kind of a middle ground between the two but I believe Scripture is even more harsh to the concept of atheism as well as any other worship other than the Triune God of Himself aka Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one God.

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JDVH 07.30.10 at 10:48 pm

Of course Judaism was henotheistic rather than monotheistic.

9

Pam 07.31.10 at 6:16 am

There’s a children’s novel called “The Never Ending Story” (very popular in our library). Now I know there’s also a Never Ending Conversation! :)

10

Kim 07.31.10 at 1:40 pm

As kindly as possible: JDHV is a heno-eyed reader of the Old Testament, and a purblind reader of the New, which is Jewish through and through.

11

Tony Buglass 07.31.10 at 4:02 pm

“Of course Judaism was henotheistic rather than monotheistic.”

Not strictly true. Early Hebrew religion was henotheistic. It wasn’t really Judaism until after the exile, and wasn’t Judaism as we’d recognise it until post-NT days. What we know as Judaism is the descendant of Pharisaic Judaism via Rabbinic Judaism.

As Kim says, the mind of the NT is thoroughly Jewish. Patristic and Catholic exegesis tended to lose that, by treating the Greek text as if it had been written by Greek philosophers. The language may be Greek, but the mind and world-view are Hebrew.

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JDVH 07.31.10 at 8:08 pm

Kim - you seemed to have missed the most important word of my statement: ‘was’. If you didn’t notice I used the past tense. Judaism was defined by the book of Deuteronomy, and the impact of this book is unquestionable to post-exilic Judaism. Yet the outlook and ideology of this book is clearly henotheistic (something that later scribes have in places tried to erase from the tradition). Indeed many OT stories (as I notice Tony has already alluded to) simply do not make sense if they are not looked at from the perspective of henotheism.

Obviously you were more interested in being pedantic but my statement was clearly questioning how any theological ideas such as the one above can have any integrity in light of these facts. Perhaps your replies indicate in order to maintain this theological stance you would rather ignore the facts.

13

Pam 08.01.10 at 2:59 am

Such knowledge, I’m impressed. But I have to wonder - would the person helped by the good samaritan have questions about “monotheism” or “henotheism” or would the person just be grateful that somebody that helped?

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Tony Buglass 08.01.10 at 9:21 am

“would the person helped by the good samaritan have questions about “monotheism” or “henotheism” or would the person just be grateful that somebody that helped?”

Horses for courses. The parents whose baby I will baptise in a couple of hours have never heard of either, and they won’t factor in any of the three sermons I will preach today. But if someone is making confident assertions about what was believed by the people who wrote the Bible, that kind of knowledge becomes not only relevant but important. There have been too many cases where people have effectively denied that Jesus was a Jew, and that our faith has strong Jewish roots, which has led to radical heresies like Marcion’s and radical anti-Semitism like Hitler’s. At a more subtle level (but more dangerous because it is so subtle) it has led to a complete change of worldview, which has implications for the way we understand who we are and thus how we behave.
- The Hebrews did not believe in a separate immortal soul, but in a whole person; the Greeks were dualist, and believed in an immortal soul. The Early Church more or less baptised that Greek worldview, allowing an emphasis on the soul to the detriment of the body; the results are at least an unworldly and ascetic lifestyle which may lose important emphases on community and care and at worst the idea that you are actually doing someone a favour by burning them at the stake - saving their soul by mortifying their flesh (and that really was the underlying rationale of burning heretics, would you believe).
- The Hebrew worldview had a sense of history and time moving towards a conclusion, which reached its fullest expression in intertestamental and NT eschatology. The Greek worldview was eternal, and transcendent; eternity is always out there. It had no sense of a coming End. Jesus’ teachings about the coming Kingdom lose their central emphasis in such a worldview, which is why teaching about the Second Coming has largely been the preserve of extremists and sectarians rather than mainstream teaching in the Church.

Yes, it may sound remote and academic, but it feeds in to the general understanding and spirituality of the whole Church in ways which do have effects on what the person in the pew believes and how we live and act. If my car is running rough, I want the mechanic to know enough to get me driving again, I don’t need him to know anything about the dynamics of gas flow in the upper cylinder. But somebody needs to know something about that in order to design a car that actually works with efficient fuel consumption and engine life.

As I say, horses for courses.

15

Pam 08.01.10 at 10:59 am

Thanks for your reply, Tony. I guess I’m one of those people (and there are quite a few around) who find “church” hard going. I’m very involved - scripture teaching, prayer leader, bible reader but find my work outside church to be more satisfying. I like working with “non-church people” via op shop and tutoring an African refugee. I like to work out my own “theology”.

16

Tony Buglass 08.01.10 at 1:08 pm

Excellent comment yesterday by Graham Peacock on http://diggingalot.org/diggingalot/

“‘Jesus is Lord’ was the first Christian creed. It says it all in 3 words. As I get older I tire more and more of lengthy lists/constitutions of what one should or should not believe to be ’sound’, ‘accepted’, ‘orthodox’ etc.
Those 3 simple words are huge, massive and outrageous. Quite enough to go on with. A lifetime’s work in fact…”

I think that harmonises with what you’re trying to say. Discussions of henotheism v monotheism and such stuff is as much history as anything else; it’s about what was. Such discussions are part of the data by which we work out what we believe. I keep coming back to the so-called Wesley Quadrilateral as the tools by which we do our theology - Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. The really important thing is that it’s a corporate exercise. “Whats true for me” can become an excuse for wishful thinking.

I’d agree with you about the satisfaction of work ‘outside’ the church. God is not contained within some orthodox or ecclesiastical box, but is to be found and discerned in his world. Go for it!

17

Kim 08.01.10 at 1:50 pm

Hey, Pam, there is a saying that has been attributed to St. Augustine - and if he didn’t say it, he should have: “The church is a whore - but she is my mother.” If “Jesus is Lord” is theology in three words, that statement is ecclesiology in ten!

18

Pam 08.02.10 at 3:59 am

St Augustine sounds pretty smart.
Thanks Kim & Tony for your wise words.

19

dh 08.02.10 at 5:47 pm

What is great to know is that Jesus showed us the proper nature of Himself in the Trinity aka Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Also the Good Samaritan story is not one of Salvation except to show how as Believers we should respond to those in need.

Also, the Hebrews actually did believe in the resurrection of the dead as well as a “Second Coming” aka Pharisee’s and Saddussee’s (spelling).So to say that those who teach a “Second Coming of Christ” are wrong or are inconsistent with history are actually incorrect in their understanding.

I too agree that God works outside of the church. Heck, I accept Christ as my Savior on my knees at a couch and my grandpa’s pastor in a field by a farm tractor.

The Apostle Paul in the Epistles had it right in regards to “sound doctrine”, “sound teaching”, etc. Therefore it is important not to lead people astray in helping people to have a proper nature of who God is.

With regard to Jesus He taught the proper nature of Himself when being asked “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” These questions were from Jewish people to Jesus. He even mention many times in regard to the Lords prayer “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” as the foundation of the Trinity. The fact remains is that after Jesus’s teaching the First Century church “had it right” in that Jesus revealed more of Himself to them as compared to anytime previously. Therefore the OT people had an incomplete view of these issues but that doesn’t mean they were totally incorrect but that they did not have, understandably, the full manifestation of who a Triune God was. However, many Scriptures point to a Triune God which Jesus specifically refers to to support the concept of what Jesus was in relation to the Trinity in regards to Christ’s nature.

My pastor a long time ago that in relation to eternity that while the Pharissee’s and Sadussee’s were “messed up” that the Sadussee’s were even worse in that they didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead and therefore that view was “Sad as you can see”. :)

20

Tony Buglass 08.03.10 at 7:50 pm

DH: “Also, the Hebrews actually did believe in the resurrection of the dead as well as a “Second Coming” aka Pharisee’s and Saddussee’s (spelling)”

Which Hebrews did you have in mind?

Ancient Hebrews had no belief in resurrection. Death meant Sheol, the place of the dead. Over the centuries, the hope began to develop that the relationship with God might not end with death, because of the strength of God’s love (so Ps.16, dating from after Zerubbabel but before Nehemiah ). Israel’s hope was communal, the survival of the people in the land, so Ezek.37 is about the resurrection of the nation, not the resurrection of the dead. The question of resurrection of the dead was raised by Ezek.37, but not before it. The earliest clear statement of belief in resurrection of the dead was Dan.12:2, from the mid 2nd C BC.

The idea of resurrection developed a lot more during the intertestamental years, which explains the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: the Pharisees began during these years, as a revivalist nationalist group accepting many books as scriptural, while the Sadducees maintained that only the Pentateuch was scripture. The pressure to develop the idea came about because of the numbers of martyrs during the Maccabean uprising: it was inconceivable that God would allow those who accepted death for the sake of his Name to go down into Sheol.

By the time of Jesus, there were several different Jewish sects and parties. Most (like the Pharisees) did belief in resurrection; popular Jewish thought grew out of intertestamental apocalyptic: the resurrection of the dead would happen at the End, on the last day (which was how Martha and Mary expected Lazarus to be raised - Jn.11:24).

The point about reading Christian beliefs into OT texts (like the Trinity, or resurrection) is that we read them there with hindsight; the OT writers didn’t see it the way we see it. It was only through Christ that the full truth was revealed, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the OT revelation is incomplete.

21

Tony Buglass 08.03.10 at 7:52 pm

PS - glad to move the conversation on from a discussion of the game we used to play at junior school, except there we called it rounders. ;)

22

dh 08.03.10 at 10:31 pm

Well Kim, mentioned Isaiah 53 or we could refer to Genesis with “Let Us make man in Our own image.” etc., etc. There are many OT passages that have somewhat of an indirect reference to the Trinity. I think what you are doing is projecting the lack of completeness with regard to OT and projecting that onto the NT. The fact is we DO know there is a resurrection of the dead, Jesus taught it, the Pharisee’s believed it and taught it.

In regards to Sheoul, it encompassed Paradise and Hades as described by Jesus in reference to the people prior to the Resurrection of Christ. The same term was in reference to the grave. However from Jesus’s teaching on “Abraham’s bosom” we understand what truly Sheoul was.

Extabiblical text are what they are extrabiblical. However extrabiblical texts are not biblical. If you get my drift.

I think many times when we project the extrabiblical into the Biblical we diminish what the Truth of these issues are truly are. That is not to say that extrabiblical things are not valid to look at but we should place our sole credence on that.

23

Kim 08.03.10 at 10:33 pm

Tony, Hart refers to rounders - as among the “charming finger-paint renderings of the ideal, vague, and glittering dreams that the infant soul brings with it in its descent from the world above before the oblivion of adulthood purges them from memory; they are as inchoately remote from the real thing as a child’s first steps are from ballet.”

And of cricket: “The Berbers of Libya produced Ta Kurt om el mahag, and the British blessed the world with cricket, but, because the running game in both is played between just two poles, neither can properly mirror the eternal game’s exquisite geometries, flowing grace, and sidereal beauties.”

So there!

24

dh 08.03.10 at 11:00 pm

“but we should NOT place our sole credence on that.”

Sorry for not adding the not.

And Kim that is “not” not “Knot” as in “Knot-hole gang” in baseball. :)

BTW, I have my own “knot-hole gang” moment:

At the 1980 American League Championship of the KC Royals vs. NY Yankees my dad won two standing room only tickets to the opening game. At about the the 3rd inning we got tired and dad had an idea of trying to move to the Club Seats right by the press box. He took our tickets and marked them “JS” for the General Manager of the Royals (John Sherholz) and told the ticket agent in the Club Section “JS said we could sit here” (He told me JS was in reference to Jesus but later my dad said he needed to ask Jesus for forgiveness for lying.) We got to sit there the rest of the game right by the press box on the front row. I even got on TV. The Royals won in a pitching dual between Ron Guidry and Larry Gura. The Royals ended up beating the measly Yankees to go to the World Series only to loose to the Philadelphia Phillies.

That was a great time even though some sins were committed. I guess prior to my dad asking God for forgiveness for lying that before that time it would have been better to have a mill stone around his neck then to see my at the time 10 year old self be led astray. (Just kidding and teasing my dad and being humorous with you great bunch of guys) :)

25

Pam 08.03.10 at 11:35 pm

dh, “I too agree that God works outside of the church,. Heck, I accept Christ as my Savior on my knees at a couch and my grandpa’s pastor in a field by a farm tractor.” Is it really all about you?

26

Tony Buglass 08.04.10 at 12:35 pm

DH: “There are many OT passages that have somewhat of an indirect reference to the Trinity.”

More accurately, there are a number of OT passages into which Christians read the Trinity. It wasn’t in the minds of those who wrote them. In most cases it’s no more than a plural pronoun deriving from the fact that Elohim is a plural, and that’s more of a ‘royal plural’ than anything else.

“The fact is we DO know there is a resurrection of the dead, Jesus taught it, the Pharisee’s believed it and taught it.”

We believe it. The Pharisees believed it. The Sadducees didn’t, and neither did the writers of the OT until Daniel.

“Extabiblical text are what they are extrabiblical. However extrabiblical texts are not biblical.”

By definition. However, hey are part of the historical background to the Bible, and part of the development of ideas which are in the Bible. As you say, the Pharisees believed in resurrection of the dead, but they did so because of texts which we now class as extrabiblical. Some of them are quoted in the NT. You can’t just dismiss them, even if we don’t grant them scriptural authority.

“I think many times when we project the extrabiblical into the Biblical we diminish what the Truth of these issues are truly are. ”

This is nonsense. Where was I projecting the extrabiblical into the biblical? I gave a brief survey of the development of an idea through the different layers of the Bible into the NT. The only person around here who is engaging in eisegesis is you. What I was doing was setting the biblical in its historical context. To do otherwise is heresy.

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Kim 08.04.10 at 1:46 pm

What I was doing was setting the biblical in its historical context. To do otherwise is heresy.

That, by the way, is the reason so many so-called Bible-believing young Christians that I encounter as a university chaplain actually have a distinctly hollow, if not altogether heretical, faith (older Christians too, of course): they believe in a Jesus torn from his historical context, a socially and culturally deracinated Jesus who amounts to a mere cipher for salvation (i.e., they believe in Jesus while actually knowing bugger-all about him except that he “saves”, such that “naming the name” is little more than religious abracadabra). As N.T. Wright observes, in criticism of the Christology of C.S. Lewis : “If you don’t put Jesus in his proper context, you will inevitably put him in a different one, where he, his message, and his achievement will be considerably distorted.”

Btw, Wright makes another observation that rehearses a few points with which I mischievously like to nonplus evangelicals, referring to “the way in which Lewis has been lionized by Evangelicals when he clearly didn’t believe in several classic Evangelical shibboleths. He was wary of penal substitution, not bothered by infallibility or inerrancy, and decidedly dodgy on justification by faith.”

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dh 08.04.10 at 8:21 pm

I DO put Jesus in His proper historical text. The fact is He defined all of the subject matter as I have referenced.

Also, just because writers fail to mention “eternity” doesn’t mean they did not have a particular understanding as we have laid out.

“It wasn’t in the minds of those who wrote them. In most cases it’s no more than a plural pronoun deriving from the fact that Elohim is a plural, and that’s more of a ‘royal plural’ than anything else.”
That is your opinion or explaination. That doesn’t mean that the original writers wasn’t relaying an understanding of the embrianic understanding of the Trinity.

Kim, my Belief in Jesus and His nature is way more than Salvation alone. There are many, many more subject matters and passages beyond Salvation. However, Christ did make it clear to Nicodemus and others what it means to “inherit eternal life”. Then when one looks at the Gospels in lieu of the entire NT then one sees what is the full understanding of.

Failing to mention a subject matter and having a view on a subject matter are not the same thing.

29

dh 08.04.10 at 8:25 pm

NT Wright criticizing CS Lewis. While I’m not that big a fan of CS Lewis, I wonder where Mr. Wright had the nerve to criticize him? Being wary and being against something are two different things. I would venture in light of his novels that he believed in someway penal substitution at some level. He was correct to not being bothered by infallibility and innerancy. Dodgy about justification by Faith? I know many writings where he adhered to it. His novels give insight into that as well.

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Kim 08.04.10 at 9:59 pm

Wright’s criticism of Lewis, I should have said, comes in a piece subtitled “Reflections on a Master Apologist after Sixty Years”, i.e., it is the constructive criticism of a great fan. Nevertheless, it seems to me, it is a quite devastating criticism.

31

dh 08.04.10 at 10:18 pm

Kim, I still say “What the nerve of the guy.” I consider Wright’s criticism misplaced.

Wright’s not right, Wright’s wrong. Wright needs to get on the right side of the tracks. Myself being on the right is not the rationale for me saying Wright is not right aka being wrong. Now is that right?
Just having some fun with some word play.

P.S. I do like Wrights defense of the resurrection of Christ. Other than that there seems to be much of Wright that isn’t right.

32

Tony Buglass 08.05.10 at 9:13 am

DH “that’s more of a ‘royal plural’ than anything else.”
That is your opinion or explaination. That doesn’t mean that the original writers wasn’t relaying an understanding of the embrianic understanding of the Trinity.”

Well, yes it does. Perhaps when you’ve studied a little Hebrew language, you’d be better qualified to engage in such an issue.

“Also, just because writers fail to mention “eternity” doesn’t mean they did not have a particular understanding as we have laid out.”

In this context, it certainly does. The Hebrew mind worked in particular ways. The Greek mind worked in different ways. They were distinct and very different worldviews. I can categorically say that ancient Hebrew thinkers did not have a Greek worldview. C’mon, DH. it’s not difficult - you’re a modern Westerner; you don’t think or see the world through the same eyes as (say) a 17th Japanese or a 10th C Comanche, do you? So why d’you insist on the same mind and worldview for ancients of different centuries and different cultures? The languages and the way they are used say otherwise - stop trying to bend evidence to fit theories which it doesn’t support.

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dh 08.05.10 at 3:27 pm

Well, when Scripture fails to mention eternity that doesn’t mean eternity doesn’t exist or that based on that that Scripture “changed its view” on eternity. The fact is the places where eternity is mentioned in Scripture is defined as what has been addressed here. I consider the fact that Scripture when mentioning eternity lays out how it is described shows the Truth of eternity and that it is beyond Greek or anything else but what the Truth of what Scripture says. If eternity in pre Daniel times were true today then Scripture would have stated that. The fact it fails to mention that shows that what Hebrew thinkers were thinking was in fact not true (if we assume what you say regarding the extrabiblical is true).

With regard to “Let Us make man in Our own image.” I know many many scholars who know way more Hebrew than myself who would strongly disagree with you. There seems to be some controversy among specific scholars on this issue.

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Tony Buglass 08.05.10 at 10:12 pm

“The fact it fails to mention that shows that what Hebrew thinkers were thinking was in fact not true…”

No. It shows that they were learning, that their understanding was not yet complete. Which is of course the case - it is only in Christ that God revealed himself most clearly, so of course what OT writers knew was incomplete. Why is it necessary to read the more complete NT view into the texts that prepared that way for it?

“I know many many scholars who know way more Hebrew than myself who would strongly disagree with you. ”

There are a number of different theories for the use of the plural with reference to God. No OT scholar advocates that the writer of Genesis believed in the Trinity. No serious biblical historian would entertain the idea for a moment.

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dh 08.05.10 at 10:36 pm

“No OT scholar advocates that the writer of Genesis believed in the Trinity.” I never said that. I said embyonic understanding. There are scholars who point to the passage I referenced as an indication of a Trinitarian concept. Whether or not the writer believed what they wrote is another story. However, the point is that there are serious scholars who happen to agree with my position (or I should say scholars to which I agree with their position, either way that is beside the point) with regard to the passage I referenced.

“Why is it necessary to read the more complete NT view into the texts that prepared that way for it?” It isn’t that but that I’m just saying that Scripture before a certain point doesn’t mention something. Lack of mentioning something should not project something assumed. You know what happens when people assume something. It is what it is. They failed to mention one way or the other. I do know this though. That Scripture says that “eternity is in our hearts” implying that the foundational understanding of what eternity is is understood by nature.

“The Hebrew mind worked in particular ways. The Greek mind worked in different ways.”

Wow, I didn’t know you were a “mind reader” of people thousands of years ago. That sure must be a “supernatural”. I guess you can call me a “mind reader” or learned to be a mind reader of those who are atheist when reading Solomon when he calls those who are atheists mind as being “the mind of fools”. (sarcastic, humorous and not attacking you but more of a celebration of the differences) :)

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Tony Buglass 08.05.10 at 11:42 pm

DH: “There are scholars who point to the passage I referenced as an indication of a Trinitarian concept. Whether or not the writer believed what they wrote is another story.”

Sorry - this is incoherent. Reading Trinitarian concepts (or indications of Trinitarian concepts into the writings of people who did not believe in it is eisegesis, nothing less. All it proves is that later readers believed in the Trinity (or something like it), it proves nothing about what the original writers were saying. That is the key - either you read the Bible, or your read what you want to read in the Bible. Eisegesis is doing the latter, not the former.

“That Scripture says that “eternity is in our hearts” implying that the foundational understanding of what eternity is is understood by nature.”

Pardon? More incoherence? Would you like to unpack that a little, and give me a text or two to explain it?

“I didn’t know you were a “mind reader” of people thousands of years ago. ”

Ho, ho, ho. Jolly good jape, what? OK - simple question: how many languages do you speak? How many languages can you read? Do you have any idea what a different linguistic worldview might be? The Greek and Hebrew mind are not the same as the modern English or American mind. Anyone who takes the trouble to learn the languages and listen to the thoughts of the writers (rather than shout your own thoughts at them - eisegesis) will be enough of a mind-reader to feel the difference.

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dh 08.06.10 at 4:37 pm

Tony, I guess what I’m saying is that many scholars more knowledgeable on the subject than I happen to agree or I agree with their position. They don’t “read Trinitarian concepts” into the OT but recognize aka from previously I wrote, “There are scholars who point to the passage I referenced as an indication of a Trinitarian concept. Whether or not the writer believed what they wrote is another story. However, the point is that there are serious scholars who happen to agree with my position (or I should say scholars to which I agree with their position, either way that is beside the point) with regard to the passage I referenced.”

With regard to the passage on eternity it is in Ecclesiasties written in Solomon’s day before the time of Daniel.

“I didn’t know you were a “mind reader” of people thousands of years ago. ” I was just being humorous with your “mind” concept. I understand that people thought different from one time in history to another. However, I don’t believe that everybody thought the same or that everybody had the same view on things on a specific period time in history.

I think we reached a good place to agree to disagree. I know you have done scholarly research on the subject and have your views. I also, while not a scholar myself, can quote the scholars who are just as scholarly who have the opposite view which I happen to adhere to. I will say that I agree to a point that is why I say “embyrionic view” and other phrases. I understand you don’t adhere to that specific view. However, my views as mentioned on this and previously spells it out. I’ll save you the pain of mentioning the specific scholars even though I could.

Hope you have a wonderful weekend. Please don’t take the “mind reader” comment personally. I was just being funny and humorous and more celebrating our differences. I do respect the level of education and knowledge you have on the subject matter even though myself and other scholars may disagree. :)

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Tony Buglass 08.07.10 at 9:59 am

Found it Eccles.3:11b - the Hebrew word is ‘olam’; don’t get me wrong - I wasn’t saying the Hebrews didn’t have a concept of eternity, but that it wasn’t the same idea as the Greek world had (the differences are between the Semtic eschatological worldview and the Greek transcendent worldview, as they were defined by one scholar, but let’s not go there…).

I did understand what you were arguing, and I still think it was wrong. The idea that a Hebrew grammatical construction arising from a ‘royal plural’ can be described as embryonic trinitarianism is nothing more than eisegetical hindsight: reading back into a text something which developed much later, and which was not at all in the mind of the writer. Fine - if you want to use the Bible to demonstrate the Trinity, go to NT texts like Mt.28:19. Reading such ideas into texts which do not teach or contain them is actually obscuring biblical truth, but overlaying the authentic OT voice with a NT one. It’s not good exegesis, it’s not good history, and it’s not good preaching or teaching.

And we both agree that the most important thing is good biblical preaching and teaching, yes?

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