Friday, September 16, 2016

On Unitarianism

Unitarianism is the belief that God the Father is the only person of the Godhead, or rather that Jesus is not a distinct person of the Godhead and not God. This belief is similar to that of Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Arianism, and Jehovah Witness(ism). It should be said that Unitarianism beliefs are in fact a heresy.
Now, I don't throw the word heresy around all will-nilly. There are many extreme, hardcore, holier-than-thou types of Orthodox who would call all Protestant sects to be heretics, but honestly, to be a heretic one would first have to be a part of the Church and then teach something different from what the Church teaches. Protestant churches have never been a part of the Church, and while they are wrong on certain things, I (and many others) prefer the term heterodox - meaning different worship/beliefs - to describe Protestants. 

However, the beliefs of Unitarians are heretical because their beliefs have been deemed heretical by the Church. This means that at some point in time someone who was a part of the Church taught similar beliefs to those of Unitarians. In fact, if one were so inclined to click the link above to the Wikipedia article on Unitarianism, one could see that Unitarianism is often broken down into three classes - one being Arianism. Arianism is an ancient heresy, and the cause for the first Ecumenical Council. In a nutshell, Arianism maintains that Jesus is a created being only, and not also an eternal being like God the Father. This stance was deemed heretical at the First Ecumenical Council and as a result, two things happened; 1) We had the formation of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (usually just Nicene Creed) which affirms the Trinity, and 2) Santa slapping Arius

That Unitarian beliefs are heretical can be seen throughout the history of the Church, but Unitarians don't seem much to care for authority and insist that they are correct. Many go to proofs of the Bible as to why their beliefs are correct. One of their biggest complaints is that the doctrine of the Trinity is never fully explained in the Bible. Neither is Sola Scriptura, but whatever. 

Now before we move along I want to touch on just a few points. Judaism, Islam, Mormonism and the Jehovah Witness ascribe to a form of Unitarianism in their beliefs, mainly denying that there is a Trinity. Obviously, the Jews outright deny the divinity of Jesus insisting that God can not be three persons. Islam teaches that Jesus was the Messiah, but He was not God, just a prophet. Mormonism is.... complicated, but essentially do not see Jesus as also being God. And Jehovahs Witness are pretty much just Arianism with a new name.

There is another group that sometimes denies the Trinity and divinity of Jesus as well, Messianic Jews, who are people who follow Jewish customs but believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Some groups deny His divinity and the Trinity, others do not. And while they call themselves Messianic Jews and maintain that they are Jewish most Jews do not actually view them as being Jewish. My Aunt is a Messianic Jew, but I've not talked to her about her beliefs or anything outside of just knowing that she is a Messianic Jew, so I don't know where she falls into the Trinity debate, but I'm willing to guess she believes in the Trinity.

So, all of the fluff aside, we see that there are many groups that believe similar things when it comes to denying the Trinity. It is easy to see why the Jews would do so, since they only recognize the Old Testament and deny that Jesus is the Messiah, but what about for the other groups which split from Christianity and hold to these beliefs? Why do they not think that the Trinity can be found in Scripture?

Here is a link to 100 verses used to show that Jesus is not the same as the Father. Make of this list what you will. Now I will state very clearly and with no hesitation, the Son and the Father are not the same person! They are two very distinct persons, absolutely. But they are both still God, and they were both perceived to be God by the Apostles and by Jesus Himself. 

When one takes bits and pieces of Scriptures to support their claims they often loose some context of the rest of the verses. For this reason, many also say that to get the context of a verse read the one before it and the one after it. I say that is hogwash, to get the context of the verse you should read the whole chapter, and the whole book even. Doing otherwise is like taking the first sentence of the above paragraph (or even the first four sentences) and saying that I am a proponent of Unitarianism. With this in mind, we will look at just a few verses (not nearly 100) as well as some early extra-biblical sources as well.

First up is the book of St. John chapter 1:1-4, 14 
"1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2The same was in the beginning with God.
3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (KJV)
What is being said here? Well, the Apostle John is saying that this Word (Logos) was in the beginning, and that this Word was God. This Word made all of the things, and in Him was life. Then, the Word was made flesh, and this fleshy Word was beheld as the glory of the only begotten of the Father. This fleshy Word was Jesus - which we can see from the very next verse on in the rest of the chapter. In fact, Saint John the Forerunner mentions the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove - which Saint John the Apostle records for us in his opening chapter - which is important because we have God in three persons appearing in this chapter; God the Father as a bodiless voice from the Heavens, God the Holy Spirit descending as a dove, and God the Son having been baptized in the Jordan.

We see that St. John is saying that the Logos is God, and that God became flesh and dwelt among us in the form of Jesus. Logos is a difficult term to really pin down because it has had some different meanings in its day, but the first time it seemed to be used philosophically it was used to mean order and knowledge, then some used it to mean reasoned discourse or argument. Later the Stoics used the term for the divine, and then it was used by Jewish philosophers in the same vein. It seems that Saint John was aware of this and used the term in the same way - Logos = Theos. 

I recently saw where a Unitarian was trying to say that the term Logos was God's Plan, and not actually God. This makes no sense. First, the term Logos was never defined as "plan", nor has it ever been defined as God's Plan. Secondly, given the context of the chapter, we can plainly see that Logos =/= (or =! for my nerdy types) does not equal God's Plan. Let's change some words around,
"In the beginning was God's Plan, and God's Plan was with God, and God's Plan was God.The same was in the beginning with God...And God's Plan became flesh, and dwelt among us..."

I'll admit, God's Plan does fit somewhat with verse 14 if we take the view that God's Plan for salvation is Jesus, but the rest makes no sense. God's Plan was God? Well, that only makes sense if we take the view that God's Plan for salvation is Jesus, WHO IS ALSO GOD. So it seems very self-defeating to try to say that the Logos isn't God, but His Plan since that ultimately still points back to Jesus being God.

Now, according to that link to the 100 verses above, the disciples never claimed that Jesus was God. We see this is false because Saint John is saying that Jesus is the Logos and the Logos is God. Even if we say that Logos means Plan, then Jesus is the Plan and the Plan is God.

Writing in about AD 150 (this would be just about 120 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and about 50 years after the death of Saint John) Saint Justin Martyr uses the term Logos to define Jesus. He does this in his debating with Jew and with Greeks, and as previously discussed, the term was used by both groups as a reference to the divine. Knowing this we see that Saint Justin is saying that Jesus is God.

Even Saint Ignatius, writing in the 2nd Century (circa AD 107) as he was heading to his death, says that Jesus is God,
"There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord." (Wikipedia)
 One may try to argue that Saint Ignatius and Saint Justin Martyr were both writing in the 2nd Century so some error probably popped in there. This argument holds no water as Saint Ignatius was the disciple of at least Saint John, and possibly Saint Peter, and he was the Bishop of Antioch from AD 67-107. There was only one bishop between him and the Apostle Peter in Antioch, and it is said that Saint Peter recommended Saint Ignatius for the bishopric of Antioch. Saint Ignatius is also traditionally said to be part of the children when Jesus said to let the children come to Him. This guy has a direct link to Jesus, was the disciple of two Apostles, and taught that Jesus is God, just as Saint John taught that Jesus is God. Following the example of Saint John, Saint Justin Martyr uses the same term that Saint John did for Jesus - Logos.

This was not some off the wall theory that got mixed into proper Christian understanding, but rather something that was taught from the earliest times of Christianity.

One other argument that Unitarians make is that Jesus Himself never claimed to be God. However, even a cursory reading of Scripture shows this to be untrue.

In John 8:58 after the Jews ask Jesus if He has seen Abraham Jesus states, "Before Abraham was, I am." (KJV). That statement seems strange because Jesus is using the past tense, and then the present tense. He uses the past tense to refer to Abraham, but uses the present tense to refer to Himself. This, of course, has great theological bearings. Jesus is saying that He is the I Am, just as God identified Himself to Moses in the Old Testament. The Jews knew what Jesus was saying here because in the next verse we see that they picked up stones to throw at Jesus before Jesus hid Himself away. They were going to stone Jesus for blasphemy because He claimed to be God!

Before we start to think that it is only the Apostle John who wrote about Christ's divinity and think that perhaps he was a less than trustworthy witness, let us look at the book of Saint Matthew 22:62-66,
"62And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?
63But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
64Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.65Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.
66What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death."(KJV)
Now let's take a look at the Gospel of Saint Luke 22:67-71
"67Art thou the Christ? tell us. And he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe:
68 And if I also ask you, ye will not answer me, nor let me go.
69 Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.
70Then said they all, Art thou then the Son of God? And he said unto them,Ye say that I am.
71And they said, What need we any further witness? for we ourselves have heard of his own mouth."(KJV)

A similar account is given as well in the Gospel of Saint Mark chapter 14.

Why would the Jews give cries of blasphemy and want Jesus to be put to death for a statement like, "I am the Son of man and you'll see me sitting on the right of power,"? And why even when Jesus says that the Jews say that He is the Son of God when asked would they want no further witness? Why especially when we consider that Jews were referred to as sons of God (specifically as first-born sons as seen in Exodus 4:22)?

The term Son of God was used to describe Jews, but also the Messiah. Jesus here was claiming to be the Messiah. But more than claiming to be the Messiah in these verses Jesus is also claiming that He will be sitting on the right hand of God, in a favored position, but also claiming divine power and omnipotence. Jesus was not just saying, "Yes, I am the Messiah," He was saying, "Yes, I am the Messiah and I have divine power and omnipotence, " or basically, "Yes, I am the Messiah and God." The Jews understood these terms, they understood that Jesus was not just claiming to be the Messiah (which would not be blasphemous as plenty of other people claimed such [and one such claimant even converted himself and his followers to Islam]), but also God (which would be blasphemous if not true).

Also, in Matthew 1:23 where Saint Matthew is quoting the Prophet (Isaiah) we see the prophecy, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (KJV) This is a messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14. 

Unitarians will try to say that this is in fact not a reference to Jesus, nor should we take that name Emmanuel to mean that God will literally be with us, but there is a slight problem with how they view this. Firstly, they try to say that Isaiah was telling King Ahaz specifically a prophecy, and they interject [King Ahaz] into their reading, but one will notice that Isaiah starts of his prophecy here saying, "Hear ye now, O House of David" (Isaiah 7:13, KJV) Isaiah is speaking to the House of David, not just the King. The second problem is that Saint Matthew is very obviously tying this prophecy to Jesus in his opening chapter that runs through the ancestry of Jesus, and then later in Matthew we see Jesus saying that He is essentially God. When read within the whole context of the Gospel of Saint Matthew we see that we are given this bit of information to help us understand that Jesus is God.

We also see that according to the 100 verses that Saint Paul only calls Jesus a man. However, if we look in Saint Paul's Epistle to Titus, specifically in chapter 2 we come across these verses,
"9Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again;
10Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.
11For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
12Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
13Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
14Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." (Titus 2:9-14 KJV)
In verse 10 we see Saint Paul refer to God as "our Saviour in all things," and then in verse 13 he talks about how we should look for the "glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." It seems apparent then that Saint Paul is most definitely calling Jesus God. We see this as well in Hebrews, which the Orthodox Church holds as a writing of Saint Paul - though I am aware that many people simply do not really know.

Hebrews starts off in chapter 1 saying, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets," and then proceeds to list some things that God has spoken. Down in verses 6-8 we read,
"6And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
7And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
8But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom."(KJV)
In verse 6 we see that Saint Paul says that God told the angels to worship the first-begotten (being Jesus) and then in verse 8 that God says to Jesus, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." Saint Paul tells us that God has called Jesus God.

We have Saint John the Apostle saying that Jesus is God, we have Saint Paul saying that Jesus is God, we have God saying (according to the writings of Saint Paul) that Jesus is God, we have Jesus saying (according to the writings of Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, and Saint John) that He is God, we have Saint Ignatius - a disciple of Sts. Peter and John saying that Jesus is God, and we have Saint Justin Martyr saying that Jesus is God.

And in 2 Peter 1:1 we have Saint Peter calling Jesus God, "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:" (KJV) In fact in the last verse we even have Saint Peter mentioning the Holy Spirit, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Peter 1:21, KJV) Saint Peter in this one chapter affirms the Trinity by saying that Jesus is God, and we see that God speaks through the prophets by the Holy Spirit. This is saying that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are two different people from God the Father.

What the Unitarians have done is to take a tremendously simplistic and literal view of some scriptures by separating their proof texts from the rest of the Scripture around them. Many people do this very same thing when they try to argue their points from Scripture from those who try to say that homosexuality is allowed, to those who argue for Sola Scriptura, and even those who try to ridicule Christians for not following the Law of Moses in Leviticus and saying that the whole religion is crazy because of those laws we don't follow. These examples, along with Unitarianism, only take select verses to fit their agenda; they twist certain verses - and separate them from the rest of the message of the Bible - to make them say what they want them to say. Unfortunately for them, this is not the way to pull doctrine from the Bible, for the Bible must be taken wholly into context, not pulled apart and dissected to fit our needs.

But, even disregarding all of those verses and extra-biblical sources there is one verse that, for me at least, seals the deal - 1 Timothy 3:15, "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."(KJV) Here Saint Paul states that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. 

Why does this verse seal on the Trinitarian debate for me?

Well, if the Church is the Pillar of Truth, then that means that the teachings that come from the Church are truth. We see that Saint Ignatius, a disciple of Saints Peter and John, and recommended for the bishopric of Antioch by Saint Peter, says that Jesus is God. Saint Justin Martyr, following along with Saint John, says that the Logos - understood to be the divine - is Jesus. Then there is a long line of succession from Sts Ignatius and Justin Martyr that also say that Jesus is God. We can be assured that this is the teaching of the Church, which means that it is the truth, because the whole of the Church came together and said as much in the First Ecumenical Council. This also means that an opposing teaching - that Jesus is not God - does not come from the Church, and is therefore false. We can therefore surmise that Unitarianism and Unitarians are not a part of the Church.

This does not fall into the realm of just believing these people because they are in a position of authority. No, humans are prone to err, which is why we must study to show ourselves approved. 

Arius and his teachings were very popular and they were causing a great schism in the Church, which is why the First Ecumenical Council was called - to bring the Church together in proper theology and unify them all in one faith as they had previously been. The Church as a whole declared Arius, a person in a position of authority, was in the wrong, and he was called out for it. In Acts we read about the Council of Jerusalem where the main question was if it was proper for Gentile converts to have to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law - Saint Peter was for such, Saint Paul was opposed; in the end the Council decided that no, circumcision and following the traditions of the Jews was not needed for acceptance into the Church. After the Council of Florence had for the most part worked out a unity between Rome and the Orthodox the laity questioned those in authority (the Bishops) and said that this could not work since Rome was not Orthodox - the people said no to this council because it did not fit within the Pillar of Truth instead of just blindly following along with those in authority. 

So too must we question those in authority to make sure that what they are teaching is in accordance with what the Church teaches, and the Trinity is most definitely in accordance with what the Church teaches. Unitarianism falls outside of the realm of Churchly teachings, which means that it is not the truth.



Post a Comment