Saturday, November 28, 2009

Is Jesus' Divinity Clearly Revealed in Scripture?

Over in the ever-growing comment box at Called to Communion (a Roman Catholic blog), there is at least one man, Mr. Ciatoris, who is trying to argue that the Scriptures do not clearly teach that Jesus is God. (link to the comment box in question)

John Cassian (lived about A.D. 360 – 435) thought differently:
As we have finished three books with the most certain and the most valuable witnesses, whose truth is substantiated not only by human but also by Divine evidences, they would abundantly suffice to prove our case by Divine authority, especially as the Divine authority of the case itself would be enough for this. But still as the whole mass of the sacred Scriptures is full of these evidences, and where there are so many witnesses, there are so many opinions to be urged— nay where Holy Scripture itself gives its witness so to speak with one Divine mouth— we have thought it well to add some others still, not from any need of confirmation, but because of the supply of material at our disposal; so that anything which might be unnecessary for purposes of defense, might be useful by way of ornamentation. Therefore since in the earlier books we proved the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ while He was in the flesh by the evidence not only of prophets and apostles, but of evangelists and angels as well, let us now show that He who was born in the flesh was God even before His Incarnation; that you may understand by the harmony and concord of the evidences from the sacred Scriptures, that you ought to believe that at His birth in the body He was both God and man, who before His birth was only God, and that He who after He had been brought forth by the Virgin in the body was God, was before His birth from the Virgin, God the Word.
- John Cassian, On the Incarnation, Book IV, Chapter 1

John Cassian goes on to give this as his first example:
Learn then first of all from the Apostle the teacher of the whole world, that He who is without beginning, God, the Son of God, became the Son of man at the end of the world, i.e., in the fullness of the times. For he says: "But when the fullness of the times had come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law." [Galatians 4:4] Tell me then, before the Lord Jesus Christ was born of His mother Mary, had God a Son or had He not? You cannot deny that He had, for never yet was there either a son without a father, or a father without a son: because as a son is so called with reference to a father, so is a father so named with reference to a son.
- John Cassian, On the Incarnation, Book IV, Chapter 1

After some discussion of the text, John Cassian states:
And so as it is clear from the above testimony that God sent His own Son, and that He who was ever the Son of God became the Son of man, let us see whether the same Apostle gives any other testimony of the same sort elsewhere, that the truth which is already clear enough in itself, may be rendered still more clear by the light of a twofold testimony. So then the same Apostle says: "God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh." [Romans 8:3] You see that the Apostle certainly did not use these words by chance or at random, as he repeated what he had already said once— for indeed there could not be found in him chance or want of consideration as the fullness of Divine counsel and speech had taken up its abode in him.
- John Cassian, On the Incarnation, Book IV, Chapter 3

But even leaving aside the fact that Mr. Ciatoris has a different view of Scripture than the fathers did, one has to wonder how Mr. Ciatoris cannot clearly see the divinity of Christ in this verse:

John 20:28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

Or in the comparison of Jesus' teachings here:

Matthew 4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

With the practices here:

Mark 5:6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,

Matthew 28:9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

Matthew 14:33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

Scriptures do clearly teach the divinity of Christ, which is why they are sometimes accused of corruption by our Muslim opponents, who refuse to accept Jesus' claim to be the "I AM."

John 8:58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: Mr. Ciatoris thinks I'm posting a "flimsy straw man" of his position. His own words, however, were: "I suppose I’m glad that Nicene orthodoxy is perspicuous to you. Without the Church’s authoritative guidance, it’s not to me."

And later:
I was not giving examples of proof-texting, but taking examples of possible pro-Nicene proof-texts (one of which you’d used yourself in a pretty proof-text-y way in #290, the other of which, I admit, I tacked on gratis) and showing that an Arian could answer these. The possibility that an Arian could respond coherently and plausibly demonstrates the insufficiency of proof-texting. I was by no means endorsing the practice, though I can understand why you might have taken me to mean that proof-texting was a legitimate theater for theological battle—I didn’t mean that.


Another comment of his that seems relevant is this:
I’m having trouble seeing a principled difference between you and an Arian who might say, “Look, guys, we all agree that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the world through His cross and resurrection. He’s the Son of God, the perfect image of the Father, indeed he is God – just not in the same way the Father is, you know, not consubstantial. You’re all obsessing about non-essentials when you insist on this silly homoousios language. It’s not biblical – we Arians stick with biblical language – and I’m not going to let these bishops try to tell me that their reading of Scripture is guided by the Holy Spirit.” What’s the difference, lojahw? Why draw the line in the fourth century? Why pick on all those poor Bible-reading Arians but give a free pass to the Bible-reading reformers of the 16th century?

7 comments:

natamllc said...

My answer, "yes" if you are filled with God's Holy Spirit so as to understand Scripture; "no" if you are not.

1Co 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

T said...

Dear TurretinFan,

I'm disappointed by this post, for two reasons.

First, it utterly misrepresents my arguments at the CTC thread. This makes me doubt that you've read my comments there thoroughly, carefully, charitably, and with comprehension. I don't mind that you disagree with me, but I wish that you disagreed with my actual position rather than this flimsy strawman. I don't know exactly where the disconnect is, and I'm not going to repeat everything I've said at the CTC thread here. But perhaps it will help if I briefly gesture at a couple of things: as it is well known, the fourth-century heretics did not deny that the Word was divine; the issue at stake was what, precisely, this meant. If we say "Jesus is God" without clarification or qualification, we leave ourselves open to a number of heretical positions (not least of which is modalism). This set the stage for the set of issues addressed by the Church at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon: what is the precise relationship of the divine Word to God the Father (Nicaea and Constantinople)? What is the precise relationship between the divine Word and Jesus of Nazareth (Ephesus and Chalcedon)? I don't know of any heretics directly involved in these debates who wouldn't have agreed with you (and me) that Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is divine. But that's not a sufficient statement to guard against any number of heresies. With this in mind, I hope you'll revisit my comments at CTC before making further fallacious statements about my position.

Second, if you thought I'd made as egregious a claim as "Jesus' divinity is not clearly taught in Scripture," I would have hoped that you'd have discussed it with me, either privately or on the thread at CTC. That would have fulfilled the demands of charity and intellectual honesty. Posting what you've posted here without notifying me or asking me for clarification is neither charitable nor constructive. Hence my disappointment.

For the record, I firmly and unswervingly believe that Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is divine.

By the way, the "T" in T Ciatoris stands for Thomas. John 20:28 is one my favorite verses!

in Christ,

TC
1 Cor 16:14

Turretinfan said...

TC:

I've provided an update to the original post to provide your own words from the comment box in question.

I leave it to the reader to decide whether your disappointment is justified.

While you claim "it is well known, the fourth-century heretics did not deny that the Word was divine" the "Catholic Encyclopedia" defines Arianism as: "A heresy which arose in the fourth century, and denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ."

And Athanasius tells us: "And so too, this counterfeit and Sotadean Arius, feigns to speak of God, introducing Scripture language, but is on all sides recognised as godless Arius, denying the Son, and reckoning Him among the creatures." (Against the Arians, Discourse 1, Chapter 1, Section 4)

-TurretinFan

T said...

Dear TurretinFan,

Fair enough. Thanks for providing the update. I'd encourage interested readers, however, to read more than the isolated selections of my comments provided by TurretinFan.

I'd also like to add one comment with respect to the quotation you've included from the Catholic Encyclopedia, if you don't mind. It's true that, from a Nicene perspective, which I also claim as my own, Arianism amounts to a denial of the genuine Divinity of Jesus Christ as it is understood by the Church. But part of the work and gift of the Church in the fourth century was to work out more clearly what the Church means by "divine." Obviously, it doesn't mean for Christians what the Greek and Roman pagans meant by it: Christ is not "divine" in the sense that Zeus or Apollo was believed to be divine. Nor, from the perspective of orthodoxy, can "divine" mean "identical in every respect with God the Father." The Council of Nicaea demands that we orthodox Christians understand it as at least meaning "consubstantial with the Father." This was not an obvious conclusion for late-antique persons to draw when they were told, "Jesus Christ is divine." The Council of Nicaea rules out the Arian understanding of Christ's divinity. But an Arian, if asked if Christ was divine, would have said, "Yes." The Council of Nicaea gives you, me, St. Athanasius, and the Catholic Encyclopedia grounds to inform the Arian that he's mistaken. I don't think we'll fully understand the gifts given us by the ecumenical councils until we've read the fourth-century heresies charitably, without triumphalistically pegging them as the "bad guys" from the get-go. Having engaged in such a reading myself, I'm all the more thankful for the clarifications of orthodoxy given us by the Church in the ecumenical councils, which allow me to recognize Arianism unequivocally as a heresy.

I hope that helps.

in Christ,

TC
1 Cor 16:14

Turretinfan said...

a) Scripture gives us the ground to accept Nicaea's definition over that of the Arian councils.

b) I think that Athanasius would have called this Arian sophistry: "But an Arian, if asked if Christ was divine, would have said, "Yes.""

c) John Cassian was not saying that it is only clear from Scripture that Jesus is divine in such a broad sense that an Arian could accept it.

-TurretinFan

T said...

Dear TurretinFan,

As to (b), I agree. The Arian claim would be, from the Church's, Athanasius', your, and my point of view, sophistry because the Arian definition of "divine" does not agree with the Church's definition of "divine". This definition is, of course, context-sensitive. For example, Christians have regularly referred throughout history to the "divine Scriptures" without meaning that they were consubstantial with the Father! But I certainly agree with your point (b).

As to (a) and (c), I don't have a zinger for you, because I don't think one exists. (If it did, we wouldn't be in this mess!) I'm afraid there's simply not room here to articulate a response with an appropriate degree of nuance and clarity, so I'm not going to attempt one in this forum. I didn't ask for this discussion, though I did choose to respond to your post. So I'm going to go ahead and bow out now, giving thanks that you and I both accept the Nicene faith with joy. I hope you'll consider my second point of disappointment in my first comment on this post, to which you have not responded, so that future communication can be more fruitful. Cheers!

in Christ,

TC
1 Cor 16:14

Turretinfan said...

It is interesting how the fathers refer to the divine Scriptures but not the "divine councils" although occassionally one may find a church father speaking about the "divine fathers" or something to that effect.

An Arian might seek to take refuge in the use you mentioned. Divine Scriptures were called such because they were of God. Yet no one would call the Scriptures, "My Lord and My God," precisely because the term "divine Scriptures" is not intended to suggest that the Scriptures are God.

Perhaps before you go, you'll enjoy reading what Gregory of Nyssa wrote:
*** Quotation ***
Now seeing that the Only-begotten is in the Divine Scriptures proclaimed to be God, let Eunomius consider his own argument, and condemn for utter folly the man who parts the Divine into created and uncreated, as he does him who divides man into horse and man. For he himself says, a little further on, after his intermediate nonsense, the close relation of names to things is immutable, where he himself by this statement assents to the fixed character of the true connection of appellations with their subject. If, then, the name of Godhead is properly employed in close connection with the Only-begotten God (and Eunomius, though he may desire to be out of harmony with us, will surely concede that the Scripture does not lie, and that the name of the Godhead is not inharmoniously attributed to the Only-begotten), let him persuade himself by his own reasoning that if the close relation of names to things is immutable, and the Lord is called by the name of God, he cannot apprehend any difference in respect of the conception of Godhead between the Father and the Son, seeing that this name is common to both—or rather not this name only, but there is a long list of names in which the Son shares, without divergence of meaning, the appellations of the Father—good, incorruptible, just, judge, long-suffering, merciful, eternal, everlasting, all that indicate the expression of majesty of nature and power—without any reservation being made in His case in any of the names in regard of the exalted nature of the conception. But Eunomius passes by, as it were with closed eye, the number, great as it is, of the Divine appellations, and looks only to one point, his generate and ungenerate,— trusting to a slight and weak cord his doctrine, tossed and driven as it is by the blasts of error.

*** End of Quotation ***

Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book 7, Chapter 2

- TurretinFan