Theological Conference, May 1996, edited 2002
Friday, May l7th, 1527. Rottenburg, Germany.
The judges returned with a verdict of guilty and a sentence of horrifying and unmitigated savagery. “Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner, who shall convey him to the square and first cut out his tongue. Then he shall forge him fast to a wagon and thereon with glowing iron tongs twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the site of execution five times more in the same manner, and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic.”
There was a moment of emotion. The prisoner’s wife turned to her husband and, drawing him to her, embraced him in the sight of the entire crowd. It moved at least one member of the audience.
Sattler was remanded in custody for a further three days. Said a friend in a letter: “What fear, what conflict and struggle flesh and spirit must have undergone cannot be imagined.”
There is a spot on the Tübingen road, about a mile out of Rottenburg, where men, following such dim light as they had, in the name of perverted justice, removed from their midst one more worthy than themselves. The cutting out of the tongue was bungled, allowing Michael to pray for his persecutors. As he was lashed to the ladder he spoke with concern to Halbmayer, urging him to have no part in the deed lest he also be condemned. The mayor answered defiantly that Sattler should concern himself only with God.
His last public words, uttered with difficulty, were a prayer for God’s help to testify to the truth. The ladder was thrown on to the fire. As the fire burned through the ropes that bound his hands, he raised two fingers of his hand in a victory sign, a pre-arranged signal to his friends that he had been steadfast. He was thirty-seven. Eight days later his wife was thrown in the River Neckar and drowned.
· John Biddle (1615-1662) was a distinguished British academic, graduate of Oxford, and at the age of 26 elected headmaster of Crypt Grammar School, in Gloucester, England. Since he was asked to teach Scripture, he began a painstaking examination of the Bible. He was supposed to teach his students according to the catechism of the Church of England but soon found this impossible. His relentless search for Truth in Scripture produced in him an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible. He knew the whole of the New Testament by heart in English and in Greek. He admitted that he had some difficulty in remembering the Greek text after Revelation 4!
He spoke against the spurious Trinitarian verse in 1 John 5:7 and explained the oneness of Jesus and the Father as a “union in concert and agreement, but never a union in essence.” He produced a pamphlet entitled “Twelve Arguments against the Deity of the Holy Spirit.” Someone gave a copy to the magistrates and he was committed to jail — he later debated with Bishop Ussher (of the Ussher’s chronology) and outwitted him, asserting that the Father is the Only True God!
In 1646 Biddle was summoned to London and confined in the Gatehouse at Westminster while his trial dragged on. He remained in prison for 5 years, mostly for his questioning of the Trinity. He spoke of the early church fathers as those “who put on Christ without putting off Plato.” He alluded to Matthew 19:14 where he maintained that Jesus, in referring to “Him that made them in the beginning,” attributed the creation to a Being other than himself. Deserted by his friends, he spent most of the rest of his life in prison. In the 1670’s the British houses of Parliament passed the following law:
Any who shall by preaching, printing, or writing contradict the deity of the Son or the equality of Christ with the Father, shall suffer the pains of death, as in the case of felony, without benefit of clergy. Any who shall maintain that man has by nature free will to turn to God; that the soul dies after the body is dead; . . . that baptizing of infants is void and that such persons ought to be baptized again; that the use of arms is unlawful; that the Churches of England are no more churches nor their ministers and ordinances true ministers and ordinances shall be imprisoned!
(What hope for the Abrahamic Faith?!)
Biddle had single-handedly recovered central Truths of the Bible. He claimed that he had read none of the Polish Brethren’s literature (more of this later) before coming to his own conclusions.
On Feb. 10, 1652 Biddle was released. He remained in London addressing small groups on Sundays, but he was never officially ordained. He produced a large number of tracts on different biblical topics, but principally his “Twofold Catechism,” consisting almost entirely of Scripture verses: In his preface he says: “. . . all catechisms generally being so stuffed with supposals and traditions of men that the least part of them is derived from the Word of God, not one quotation amongst many being a whit to the purpose” (i.e. having any point at all).
From his catechism he banned all phrases like “eternal generation of the Son, God dying, God made man, Mother of God.” The catechism, which reads in most respects like a statement of the Abrahamic Faith was ordered to be burnt and he was again imprisoned along with his publisher, Richard Moore. Two days later some brethren from Poland arrived in London with tracts translated into English by Biddle and printed by Moore! Biddle was charged with blasphemy and heresy. He escaped a capital sentence but remained in confinement. Some influential persons were bold enough to ask parliament “whether Biddle does not in fact, profess faith in God by Jesus Christ. Is he not like Apollos, mighty in the Scriptures? Is his crime that he believes the Scriptures according to their most obvious signification, and not according to the remote and mystical interpretations?” A typical argument of Biddle’s is this: ‘He that saith Christ died, says that Christ was not God, for God could not die. But every Christian saith that Christ died; therefore every Christian saith that Christ was not God.’ His last days were spent writing on “the personal reign of Jesus Christ on the earth.”
In 1658 he was released once more. He maintained a steady contact with the Polish brethren. An observer remarked that “there is little or nothing blameworthy in him, except his opinions.” Government agents pursued Biddle frequently but many were forced to admire his “strict, exemplary life, full of modesty, sobriety and forbearance, no way contentious, altogether taken up with the great things of God revealed in the Scriptures.”
On June 1, 1662, he was holding a Bible Study in his own home. An armed party entered the room and carried him off and imprisoned him before a Judge Brown. Five weeks later, sick with jail fever, he died, confident of his hope in the resurrection at the second coming. He had been unable to pay the £100 demanded as a fine. He is the Father of British unitarianism.
I began with these brief sketches from the lives (and deaths) of two of the most interesting examples of dissidents to show the extraordinary antagonism which awaits any who question orthodoxy’s view of the Godhead or, in the case of Sattler, other traditional doctrines.
To count God as one rather than three-in-one is a risky business. The denial of popular Trinitarian notions, though less dangerous in our day, is an invitation to be labeled “cult”, and to be included in the late Walter Martin’s of the ever-growing Kingdom of the Cults. Our own denomination, the Church of God Abrahamic Faith, has not escaped mention in a recent public meeting of the Cult Awareness organization in Atlanta.
It is essential for our health and growth that we be well-informed about the doctrine of the one God. We must be experts in that teaching if we are ever to convince anyone but the biblically uninstructed of its Truth. There is now for the first time a body of literature emerging from England which confirms in a most scholarly manner what the Church of God has taught for 150 years. More of that, later.
The Mennonites have been quick to see that converts should be given a detailed course of instruction in the history of their movement. This sense of heritage builds confidence and stability. There is a highly significant, vociferous, if often tragic heritage in the field of belief in one God, the Father which ought to make us deeply grateful for our brethren, and conscious of their tremendous devotion to truth, often to the point of martyrdom.
For this reason the Radical Reformation by George H. Williams (Philadelphia, Westminster Press) should, I believe, be central in the libraries of ministers of the Church of God. This book will make you proud as well as humbled, to be part of such a galaxy of dedicated Christians: those who struggled against terrible odds to preach a doctrine of God which has a firm basis in Scripture; but which is anathema to the mainstream. In many cases attempts to recover the Truth did not go the whole way. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that the Church of God (Abrahamic Faith) has preserved in tact a simple definition of the Godhead which does away with the whole fearfully complex Trinitarian “problem” (as theologians often like to call it). A recent lecture on “Tough Questions on the Trinity” by a leading proponent of Trinitarianism battles bravely with the so-called paradoxes of the Trinity, but does not, I think, deal with even the fundamental difficulty of explaining how Jesus, as Deity, could die.
We will devote our time to surveying the history of Anti-trinitarianism, a movement which has no single form. As I am sure you appreciate, we are Socinian (after Faustus Socinus, 1539-1604) in our view of Jesus as not literally preexistent, but “ideally” or “notionally” preexistent in the counsels of God. (We are not Socininian, however, in our view of the atonement. We insist with evangelicals on the substitutionary death of Jesus for the sins of the world.) The other principal form of Anti-trinitarianism is represented by the Arian position (after Bishop Arius, 250-336) which sees Jesus as preexistent but created (“There was a time when the Son was not” — Bishop Arius). Modern Socinians, with ourselves, would be some of the older Church of God Seventh Day members as well as some Advent Christians; also the late V.P. Wierwille of The Way International movement. Modern Arians are the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
· Michael Servetus (1511-1553) is perhaps the most celebrated Anti-trinitarian. A native of Spain, anabaptist (“rebaptizer”), “soul-sleeper,” his doctrines were a constant red flag to the bull, in this case Calvin, who spent much of his time trying to silence millenarians, soul-sleepers and Anti-trinitarians. (A little known fact is that Luther preached a sermon in 1524 upholding soul-sleep!) Servetus is of less interest to us in that he did not give up belief in literal as opposed to “ideal” preexistence; though he saw Jesus as subordinate to the Father. It appears that forgotten Truth was rediscovered in the Reformation period, by stages. First Servetus, later the Polish and Italian brethren led by Faustus Socinus, who arrived at a purely unitarian view (not, of course, Unitarian — capital “U” — in the contemporary sense of that word). However, the Spaniard Servetus’ deviation from orthodoxy on the Godhead was enough to cause his martyrdom at the hands of Calvin. His effigy was burned before he finally succumbed to the same fate in 1553. The theology which resulted in death for Servetus is summarized by E.M. Wilbur (Our Unitarian Heritage, pp. 61, 62). I am grateful to Kent Ross for this reference:
What now was the teaching of these books, that they should have so shocked the reformers? Let us glance at them in the briefest and clearest summary of them possible. Taking the teaching of the Bible as absolute and final authority, Servetus held that the nature of God can not be divided, as by a doctrine of one being in three persons, inasmuch as no such doctrine is taught in the Bible, to which indeed the very terms Trinity, essence, substance, and the like as used in the Creeds are foreign, being mere inventions of men. The earlier Fathers of the Church also knew nothing of them, and they were simply foisted upon the Church by the Greeks, who cared more to make men philosophers than to have them be true Christians. Equally unscriptural is the doctrine of the two natures of Christ. He pours unmeasured scorn and satire on these doctrines, calling them illogical, unreasonable, contradictory, imaginary; and he ridicules the received doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of one God in three persons he says cannot be proved, nor even really imagined; and it raises questions which can not be answered, and leads to countless heresies. Those that believe in it are fools and blind: they become in effect atheists, since they are left with no real God at all; while the doctrine of the Trinity really involves a Quarternity of four divine beings. It is the insuperable obstacle to the conversion of Jews and Mohammedans to Christianity; and such blasphemous teachings ought to be utterly uprooted from men’s minds.
In place of these artificial doctrines of the Creeds, Servetus draws from the Bible the following simple doctrines, and quotes many texts to prove them. Firstly, the man Jesus, of whom the Gospels tell, is the Christ, anointed of God. Secondly, this man Jesus the Christ is proved by his miraculous powers and by the statements of Scripture to be literally the human Son of God, because (he was) miraculously begotten by him. Thirdly, this man is also God, since he is filled with the divinity which God had granted him; Hence he is divine not by nature, as the Creeds teach, but solely by God’s gift. God himself is incomprehensible, and we can know him only through Christ, who is thus all in all to us. The Holy Spirit is a power of God, sent in the form of an angel or spirit to make us holy. And the only kind of Trinity in which we may rightly believe is this: that God reveals himself to man under three different aspects (dispositiones); for the same divinity which is manifested in the Father is also shared with his Son Jesus, and with the Spirit which dwells in us, making our bodies, as St. Paul says, “the temple of God.”
Anti-trinitarianism found its fullest expression not in Spain but in Polish Socinianism and Hungarian unitarianism. Many of the leaders of these movements were Italians, notably the Sozzini’s, Faustus and his uncle Laelius (from whom the label “Socinian” came). Earlier and less-known pioneers who had set the scene for radical questioning of orthodoxy were Lorenzo Valla, an Italian philologist who in the 1400’s raised questions about the Trinity; and a priest, and Platonist, Marsilio Ficino (d. 1499) who suggested that the Logos of John 1:1 should be rendered not Word, but as “sermo” (from which our word “sermon” is derived). He thus began a whole trend of thought which would equate the word with the prophetic voice of God in the Old Testament, not with an eternal Second Person. He began thus to undermine the whole concept of the Logos=Son as consubstantial with the Father. Where the “Fathers” had spoken of the Word as an eternal Son, the Anti-trinitarians of the Radical Reformation following Ficino spoke of Christ as wholly human, as the fullest and final form of the prophetic voices which had preceded Him (cp. Heb. 1:1). (Erasmus was also part of the anti-trinitarian camp, and wanted to have the spurious text, 1 John 5:7 removed).
In England, we can single out (in addition to John Biddle mentioned earlier) a surgeon, Dr. George Van Parwis, a Fleming by birth, burned at Smithfield in London, 25th April, 1557 because “he believeth that God the Father is only God, and that Christ is not very God.” The widespread unitarianism produced a spate of “helpful” literature from Calvin including “A Short Instruction for to arme all-good Christian people” (i.e. against the heretics) and from Bullinger “An wholesome Antidotus or Counterpoyson” (London l545) and “a most necessary and frutefull dialogue between ye seditious Libertin or rebel anabaptist and the true obedient Christian” (Worcester, 1551). Had you lived at this time, the local clergy would have reported on you as follows: “We found at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth a large and inauspicious crop of Arians, Anabaptists and other pests, which I know not how but as mushrooms spring up in the night.” There followed under Elizabeth I’s reign the burning of two anti-trinitarian Anabaptists, Henry Terwoort, a 35 year old goldsmith, and John Pieters, 50, father of nine children. Such merciful measures as strangling, suffocation or gunpowder around the neck were omitted and the two men died in unrelieved agony amidst the flames.
We must now make reference to Adam Pastor, one of the clearest exponents of the Abrahamic Faith view of the Godhead. He had been a Roman Catholic priest before joining the Anabaptists in 1533 in Minister, Germany. Pastor held (against Menno Simons of the Mennonites) that Christ was human only, though the bearer of God’s Word. Adam Pastor and a Frisian elder Francis de Cuiper stated at a conference in 1547 that Christ did not exist as the Son of God previous to his coming into the world; and was divine after his birth only in the sense that God dwelt in him. Adam Pastor was excommunicated even by some of his anabaptist colleagues, but gained a large following calling themselves Adamites. Pastor wrote tracts on 13 topics including incarnation and the Kingdom of God. The section on God is a listing of unitarian texts of the Old and New Testaments with a minimum of comment. Pastor insisted that no text showed that the Son existed before the incarnation, as a member of a tri-Personal Godhead. Adam Pastor was described as earnest and critical, but mild and reverent in his debates. He was to influence the Polish Unitarians who later established one of the most significant centers of Abrahamic Faith Unitarianism ever to be organized in the present evil age (a challenge to our own denomination).
· Faustus Socinus was born on December 5, 1539. His father and grandfather had been famous lawyers. His first theological essay was an explanation of John’s prologue to the Gospel. He maintained that Jesus was divine by office rather than Deity by nature. He wrote also on the mortality of man. It was his perception of the meaning of the logos which led him to the Truth. The word or will of God appeared in the form of flesh — a man. After his death and resurrection, Christ ascended to take his place at the right hand of God, sharing henceforth in God’s power. In that sense only could Jesus be called God, as representing God, but always distinct from the One True God (John 17:3; 5:44). God, said Socinus, assigned to Christ at the ascension an adoptive deity as co-regent in the government of the world. Socinus considered Jesus to be entitled to divine adoration, in opposition to the chief spokesman for unitarianism in Transylvania, Francis David, who did not think Jesus should be worshipped.
It was this same Faustus Socinus, perhaps the most refined theologian of the Radical Reformation, who moved to Poland and helped to establish a college and printing press at Racow, as well as farms and craft industries. This organization became an institution of international repute. Many of the faculty were scholars of unquestioned learning, some of them having been originally schooled in Hebrew and Greek before becoming Anabaptists. The school drew 1,000 students from all over Europe, including 300 from families of European nobility. A Scot who visited the campus remarked:
“For whereas elsewhere all was full of wars and tumult, there was all quiet, men were calm and moderate in behaviour, although they were spirited in debate and expert in language.” The famous Racow confession of faith makes this statement:
Jesus, our mediator before the throne of God is a man, who was formerly promised to the Fathers by the prophets and in later days was born of the seed of David, and whom God his Father ‘has made Lord and Christ,’ by whom he created the New World, to the end that, after the supreme God, we should believe in him, adore and invoke him, hear his voice, imitate his example, and find in him rest to our souls.” In many countries this confession was banned and its owners punished, often by death. The confession contains the doctrines of adult baptism, soul-sleep, and the hope of the second coming. Many passages in John’s Gospel are dealt with. Typical is the following:
“That a person may have had something, and consequently may have had glory, with the Father before the world was, without its being concluded that he actually existed, is evident from 2 Timothy 1:9 where the apostle says of believers that grace was given to them before the world began. Besides it is here (in John 17) stated that Christ prayed for this glory. Christ beseeches God to give him, in actual possession, with Himself, the glory which he had with Him in purpose and decrees, before the world was. For it is often said that a person has something with any one, when it is promised, or is destined for him. On this account believers are frequently said by this evangelist to have eternal life. Hence it happens that Christ does not. say absolutely that he had had that glory, but that he had had it with the Father; as if he had said that he now prayed to have actually conferred upon him that glory which had been laid up for him with the Father of old and before the creation of the world.”
Having concentrated largely on the Reformation period and the century following (in which we noted John Biddle, the schoolmaster), we should now turn our attention to the earliest period of church history. Holding as a fundamental conviction (with the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica) that Jesus did not in any way propose to alter the strictly monotheistic faith of Israel, we are naturally keen to know how the unitarianism of the New Testament (Mark 10:18; John 5:44, 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Eph. 4:6; 1 Tim. 1:17, 2:5; James 2:19, 4:12, etc.) could have been disturbed.
Church history shows that the development of the “Three in One” notion was a process extending over centuries, culminating in the Nicene and Chalcedonian Councils (325 AD, 451 AD). It is very far from the truth to suggest that the doctrine of the Trinity gained universal acceptance from the beginning of the post-New Testament era. As the Harvard theologian, F. Auer, says so well: “Fourth century Trinitarianism did not reflect accurately early Christian teaching regarding the nature” of God; it was, on. the contrary a deviation from this teaching.. It developed against constant unitarian opposition and was never wholly victorious. The dogma of the Trinity owes its existence to abstract speculation on the part of a small minority of scholars” (Lowell Institute Lectures, Boston, 1933).
The crux of the whole Trinitarian problem lies in the logos doctrine and its development. The “orthodox” position was based upon the understanding of logos as a second “divine Person in the eternal Godhead.” The point is obscured for contemporary readers of the Bible by the simple fact that the grammatically masculine word “logos” in Greek is referred to as “he,” “him” (John 1). If however “logos” were rendered “God’s utterance,” and “it,” a quite different impression would be gained. Thus the impersonal logos of the prologue, i.e. God’s word, wisdom and mind, becomes embodied in Jesus, the man. “Jesus is the incarnate Logos, not the logos as such.” So says, correctly, a helpful contemporary German theologian (Leonard Goppelt, Theologie II, 1976, p. 634).
In theology’s most gripping detective story “How the Logos became a Person, before it became a person (!),” we are astonished to find that Justin Martyr, writing in 150 AD contends against a Jew, Trypho, with whom he held a lengthy debate, that Jesus preexisted his birth quite literally and was in fact the Angel of Yahweh mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. Trypho the Jew protested against the inherent contradiction involved in saying that Jesus was a man, but not really a man. Thus he says to Justin, “When you say that this Christ existed as God before all the ages, then that He submitted to be born and become man, yet that He is not man of man, this assertion appears to me to be not merely paradoxical, but also foolish” (Dialogue with Trypho, p. 48).
The astonishing fact is that, had the Jewish argument prevailed against the philosopher Justin Martyr (supposedly representing Christianity) the Trinitarian “problem” might never have arisen. Once the idea is floated that Jesus was “around” before his birth, he must be “found” in the Old Testament. Without a shred of biblical proof, the Angel of Yahweh was said to be the pre-existent Jesus, and many evangelicals as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever since accepted the theory. It is wise to consult the New Testament on the point. In Acts 7 Stephen summarizes the history of Israel and makes specific mention of “an” (not the) angel of the Lord (Acts 7:30, 38), who represents the Lord God (Exod. 23:20, 21). What an opportunity for Stephen to say that the angel was Jesus, pre-existing! That equation he does not make; and the writer to the Hebrews took two chapters to explain that Jesus was superior to all angels. He never had been and never will be an angel! Furthermore God did not speak through a Son until New Testament times (Heb. 1:1, 2).
With Justin the “logos as second divine Person” became entrenched. In the ensuing centuries isolated individuals arose to challenge orthodoxy. Notable are the “Dynamic Monarchians.” The first of these, Theodotus of Byzantium, was a man of learning. He came to Rome in 190 AD and taught that Jesus was fully a man, born of the virgin, upon whom the Spirit came at His birth. Theodotus held that Jesus became to a greater degree divine at His resurrection. Theodotus was promptly excommunicated by Bishop Victor of Rome (189-198). He was followed in his thinking by another Theodotus, and by Asclepiodorus and also by Artemon, but Dynamic Monarchianism was dying in the West.
In the East Paul of Samosata was the chief exponent of a non-preexistent Jesus. Paul was Bishop of Antioch from c. 260-272. He considered the logos to be an impersonal attribute of the Father. Jesus in uniquely inspired man. Paul’s Christology is like the primitive Jewish-Christian idea of the person of Christ. So say the Church history books, notably Henry Chadwick in The Early Church, p. 114. Three councils considered Paul’s view and the third excommunicated him. Be kept his place until driven out by the Emperor Aurelian. Of Bishop Arius (Father of Arianism, as opposed to Socinianism) much more is known. He contended that Jesus was pre-existent but created (“There was a time when He was not”). This view was thought to be unsatisfactory since it made Jesus neither God nor man. But could not exactly the same be said of the “orthodox” view which has prevailed to this day? A leading contemporary New Testament scholar, John Knox seems to think so when he says: “We can have the humanity without the pre-existence and we can have the pre-existence without the humanity. There is absolutely no way of having both” (quoted by J.A.T. Robinson, The Human Face of God, p. 144).
Before leaving the early period we should mention as representative of a Socinian School of Christology Bishop Photinus (d. 376) whom the Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 12, p. 43) labels “heretic.” Photinian became a term to describe anyone who held Christ to be a man, who is not, until his birth at Nazareth. Photinus’ writings are lost, but he is known to us mostly through the 27 anathemas of the council in 351 which condemned him. Much later in the 600’s our Christology is perhaps represented by the Paulicians (possibly named after Paul of Samosata) whose leader Constantine was executed for his heretical views of the Trinity.
Of the greatest significance for the Abrahamic Faith was the publishing in 1977 of the Myth of God Incarnate in England. Though we would not subscribe to the general theological position of these scholars (i.e. in eschatology, particularly), we must welcome their refreshing analysis of the doctrine of God. They seldom use the terms Trinitarian, and non-Trinitarian, but they do question whether Incarnation, in the traditional sense can be found in the Bible. That is just the question asked by the pioneers of the Abrahamic Faith in the last century. It is exciting and most encouraging to hear scholars say that the Trinitarian dogma “was determined neither by Scripture nor by experience but by the Arian controversy on the doctrine of the Trinity” (J.A.T. Robinson, The Human Face of God, p. 102) A Cambridge scholar, Maurice Wiles writes that the church has “not usually in practice (whatever it may have claimed to be doing in theory) based its Christology exclusively on the writings of the New Testament” (The Remaking of Christian Doctrine, p. 54).
It is interesting to find a school-mate of mine, now a well-known television theologian and Cambridge professor writing: “God’s Son is not a second co-equal person alongside God the Father but simply man ‘filled’ with. God, united with God.” (Don Cupitt, The Debate About Christ).
The current debate in theological circles world-wide concerns eschatology and Christology. Our desire is to lead the way back to the true Jesus, and to the Gospel about the Kingdom. John A.T. Robinson, one of Britain’s best known New Testament scholars, has adopted a view of Jesus which the Abrahamic Faith has preached for 150 years. When I told him that I had gone to teach in a Bible College, his immediate reaction was: “You won’t last more than a few days there; a non-Trinitarian Jesus will be quite unacceptable in an American Bible College.” He is beginning to understand that his own “heretical” views have been orthodox in the Abrahamic Faith since the beginnings. We might present the debate about Christology dramatically, as below.
Some “modern” theologians: How can we present Jesus to the People today? No one will believe in a pre-existent being arriving on earth, at His birth.
J.A.T. Robinson: But wait! Did anyone in the New Testament believe that anyway? No, but the early church fathers influenced by Gnosticism misunderstood the book of John, neglected the evidence of the rest of the N.T. and O.T., relied on a handful of difficult Pauline verses. and presented a Jesus who was literally pre-existent. But this is not the Jesus of the Bible.
Abrahamic Faith But didn’t we tell you so! But for 2,000 years you would not listen and burned us to death for questioning your dogma. Nevertheless our task is to present to the world the true Jesus, who was never a second member of an eternal Trinity. Paul, in II Cor. 4, warned that Satan’s most diabolical trick would be to replace the real Jesus with a counterfeit Jesus, and John warned in I John 4:2, II John 7 that the confession of a Jesus who is not the fully human historical Messiah signals the spirit of antichrist.
Orthodoxy (disbelievingly) No one is going to tell me the Church could have been wrong for nearly 2,000 years on a basic doctrine.
Abrahamic Faith The arrival of Jesus as a divine being on earth will occur at the
(answering the “modern” second coming. Jesus is “pre-existent” to that event because
theologian) he lives!
In view of Paul’s much neglected warnings in 2 Corinthians 11:4, it would seem to be of great importance for us to distinguish clearly between the pre-existent non-fully-human Jesus of the Churches and the Jesus of the Bible. Not to define clearly who Jesus is, when we are founding new churches, seems to me to invite the traditional understanding of the “God/Man” into our midst. And this is bound to dilute the Abrahamic Faith. John has stated clearly that Jesus was “flesh” (i.e. fully human) and that to deny this is the spirit of antichrist (I John 4:2, II John 7). This simple truth is the crowning glory of the NT documents. It honors God as the only true God (John 17:3), and enables us to worship Him in “spirit and in truth,” without the unnecessary complexities created by transposing the Bible into the thought forms of the Greek world. It would, I believe, be an illusion for us to suppose that we are doing the Lord’s work faithfully, if we were to be unfaithful to the Bible’s teaching about “the one who alone is God” (John 5:44) who is to be approached through His Son the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Ultimately the confusion of Jesus with the Creator seems to come perilously close to idolatry, and we may well wonder if the Living Bible is not encouraging just that in its extravagantly inaccurate paraphrase of John 11:3, 10:
Before anything else existed, there was Christ with God. He has always been alive and is Himself God. He created everything there is — nothing exists that He didn’t make. But although He made the world, the world didn’t recognize Him when He came.
Meanwhile Walter Martin says:
Many individuals and all cults steadfastly deny the equality of Jesus Christ with God the Father, and hence the Triune Deity. However, the testimony of the Scripture standeth (sic) sure and the above mentioned references (his ‘proof’ texts, especially 1 John 5:20) alone put to silence forever this blasphemous heresy, which in the power of Satan himself deceives many with its deceitful handling of the Word of God (Kingdom of the Cults, p. 73).
Unless we value the ongoing process of restoration, of which we are a part, and contend for the faith quite deliberately we shall not encourage that “love of the Truth” about which Paul spoke three times in 2 Thessalonians (chapter 2:10, 12, 13). It is, according to Paul, reception and love of the truth (v. 10), belief in the truth (v. 12), and faith in the truth (v. 13) which leads to salvation. An easy-going tolerance of a contrary teaching leads in the opposite direction. It is of the essence of the Abrahamic Faith, for which tens of thousands have given their lives, that we teach men not just to “believe in Jesus,” but to believe what Jesus believed and taught. Nothing was more central to His message than the kingdom of God and John 17:3. History shows that the Messiahship and Lordship of Jesus was early replaced by His “Godship,” and by “Godship” was meant coeternal, coequal “God-ship” (as distinct from a biblical, Heb. 1:8; John 20:28). Just who is this “other Jesus,” against whom Paul warned so urgently in II Cor. 11:4? Might he not be the antichrist’s non-human Jesus of 1 John 4:2?
Our salvation lies in the worship of the Father, the only one who is truly God (John 17:3), through His Son, the man Jesus, the Messiah (1 Tim. 2:5; Matt. 16:16), exalted Human Lord (Psalm 110:1) and King of the Coming Age. We can be encouraged by the words of a distinguished contemporary systematic theologian, Professor Colin Brown, general editor of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, who says, “The crux of the matter lies in how we understand the term Son of God…The title Son of God is not in itself an expression of personal Deity or the expression of metaphysical distinctions within the Godhead. Indeed, to be a ‘Son of God’ one has to be a being who is not God! It is a designation for a creature indicating a special relationship with God. In particular, it denotes God’s representative, God’s vice-regent. It is a designation of kingship, identifying the king as God’s Son…In my view the term ‘Son of God’ ultimately converges on the term ‘image of God’ which is to be understood as God’s representative, the one in whom God’s spirit dwells, and who is given stewardship and authority to act on God’s behalf…It seems to me to be a fundamental mistake to treat statements in the Fourth Gospel about the Son and his relationship with the Father as expressions of inner-Trinitarian relationships. But this kind of systematic misreading of the Fourth Gospel seems to underlie much of social Trinitarian thinking…It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John’s Gospel to read it as if it said, ‘In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was God’ (John 1:1). What has happened here is the substitution of Son for Word (Gk. logos) and thereby the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning.” (Ex Auditu, 7, 1991)
Cupitt, Don. The Debate About Christ. London: SCM Press, 1979.
Dunn, James D.G. Christology in the Making. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980.
Eyre, Alan. The Protesters. The Christadelphians, 404 Shaftmoor Ln., Birmingham, B28 8SZ, UK
Hick, John, ed. The Myth of God Incarnate. London: SCM Press, 1977.
Martin, Walter R. The Kingdom of the Cults. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 1965.
Robinson, J.A.T. The Human Face of God, SCM Press, 1973.
Theology magazine, Sept. 1982.
Williams, G.H. The Radical Reformation. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962.
 Alan Eyre, The Protesters, p. 69.
 Little advertised by Trinitarians is the fact that Tertullian, supposedly a stalwart supporter of Orthodoxy, also stated that there was a time when the Son did not exist (Ad Hermogenes, ch. 3).
 I.e. the teaching that man is unconscious in death until the resurrection.
 I.e. Universalist Unitarianism.
 A noted leader was Gregory Paulus.
 “Son” and “eternal” are really mutually contradictory terms since one who is begotten, i.e. brought into existence, cannot be eternal!
 I.e. the doctrine that at death man sleeps until the resurrection and that the final punishment of the wicked is annihilation, not everlasting torture.
 Eight English translations of the Bible prior to the KJV spoke of the Logos as “it,” not “him.”
 See appendix 2.