Posts Tagged 'Trinity'

Theological Supersessionism and the Doctrine of Messiah’s Deity

  

Council of NiceaThe relation between Supersessionism and belief in the Deity of Messiah is a somewhat conjectural and speculative domain in Messianic Jewish theology today, because many leading Messianic ministries and congegrations are adherents of the doctrine of Messiah’s Deity, and some of them are even more or less outspoken trinitarian.

 

In my view Messianic Jewish adherence to this doctrine is biblically erroneous and a theological symptom of a mistaken and concealed continuation of the “Hebrew Christian Church” in Messianic Judaism. In fact, it is a symptom of the fact that Messianic Judaism still suffers from theological colonization by the Christian Church. Messianic Jews are sometimes even more eager and willing to subscribe to the traditional doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation than their non-Jewish Christian colleagues, so as to raise no doubt or suspicion about their status as believers in Messiah Yeshua.

 

However, as appears from many magazine articles and Internet publications, this theological position is hardly ever questioned and sufficiently thought through. It is only “defended”, often in an exagerated and overdone manner. Over against this thoughtless defence, I would like to propose here the hypothesis that the doctrine of Yeshua’s Deity, established by the Council of Nicea, is the cornerstone of Supersessionism and an alien element in Messianic Jewish theology. By Supersessionism I understand the teaching that the later Christian Church was the divinely legitimated religious successor of Judaism and of the divine mission once entrusted to the Jewish people. There are a lot of things in Supersessionism that seem to be intimately connected with the Deity doctrine. To justify my hypothesis, I’ll sum up, below, a number of them on the systematic theological level. To avoid mistunderstanding: The points mentioned below do not, and are not intended to, disprove or refute the Deity doctrine. They only establish a systematic relation between this doctrine and Supersessionism. For a thorough biblical refutation of the Deity doctrine we refer to the excellent work of others, e.g. Buzzard’s & Hunting’s, in their well known book: The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self Inflicted Wound.[1]

 

If Yeshua is G-d, and consequently G-d contains more persons than one, there is a huge change from the concept of G-d as revealed in the Tanach and Jewish tradition to the concept of the Christian G-d, who is a Binity or a Trinity. This change is not simply a matter of progressive revelation. Progressive revelation in itself does not imply that basic concepts of the Torah are under revision for a “sensus plenior”, a deeper or even a changed meaning. Yet this is the case here, to an excessive degree. The revelation of G-d’s personal unity in the Tanach is viewed as defective and incomplete, and the central affirmation of Judaism, the Shema: “Hear, o Israel, HaShem is our G-d, HaShem is One!” — although it is not considered to be false — is considered as only a preparation-phase of the completed truth about G-d which supposedly is received in the Trinitarian doctrine of the Christian Church. By the doctrine of G-d as consisting in more than one persons the basic affirmation of Judaism in the Shema is not enriched or deepened in a “sensus plenior”, it is overthrown.

 

If Yeshua is G-d, the leaders of the Jewish people in their rejection of him did not only crucify and murder their Messiah, they committed the far more heinous crime of Deicide, and murdered their own G-d! This crime of Deicide was later, in the Middle Ages, attributed to the Jewish people and seen as the pinnacle of the failures of Judaism, and, theologically, as the end of the covenant relations between G-d and his chosen people. These relations were from then on, it is taught, transferred to the disciples of Yeshua, who constituted the emerging Christian Church. Thus, paradoxically, the horrible accusation of Deicide was levelled against the Jews by those who had fundamentally changed and overturned the meaning of the Shema Yisrael.

 

If Yeshua is G-d, and G-d has become man in Yeshua, then the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature, as it is generally upheld by traditional Christianiy, is obliterated in the very person that is to be the Mediator between G-d and man. Yeshua is viewed both as the true image of G-d, by his manhood, and as G-d himself. He is two natures in one divine Person. Therefore, when people meet and see the Person Yeshua according to this conception, they literally meet and see G-d, although “veiled in flesh”. In other words, if G-d is incarnated in the realm of creation — in the man Yeshua — then one can as well say that that part of creation is deified. G-d is identified here with a visible being. However, if G-d Himself exists as a visible being, then the elementary lesson of the Torah, expressed in Deut. 4:15-20, that nothing that we can see or touch here on earth or in the heavens above is divine — in other words that no creature at all is G-d — is denied. According to the dominant interpretation of the Incarnation, favoured by the Catholic streams in Christianity, this means, inter alia, that the important Torah prohibition of image worship should be considered cancelled. For what reason can there be for still upholding the prohibition that we should not make or worship a graven image or likeness of G-d, if G-d himself chooses to become a visible creature? In this way the Torah is reinterpreted in such a way that it is really overruled. If this can happen once, it can happen more often. Thus the possibility for the abolishment some of the commandments of the Torah — in fact the category of the ritual commandments — seems to be grounded in the ecclesiastical exaltation of Yeshua to the realm of Deity. Indeed, one can say, the genius of Catholicism has found “a beautiful way” of setting aside the word of G-d in favour of human tradition, under the guise of piety and devotion (cf. Mk. 7:9).

 

If Yeshua is G-d, then Miryam, Yeshua’s mother, is the mother of G-d. Protestants often shy away from affirming this and prefer to say that Miryam is “the mother of our Lord”, but on an official and theological level they have to admit it, since they accept the Council of Ephesus, that produced this pagan formula. There is simply no way to escape it, since it is an immediate implication of the Deity doctrine. Apart from the fact that “mother of G-d” is a completely unbiblical category, the idea behind it is to introduce a new level of mediation. If we need a mediator with G-d, and that mediator, being a G-dman, is himself G-d, we cannot really identify with him as our mediator, for in this case the mediator himself, being G-d, is to be mediated to us. Moreover, according to the classical doctrine of the Incarnation Yeshua as a G-dman has no real human personality but only an (abstract) human nature (whatever that means!). The person that unifies the two natures is a divine Person. So we need other mediators to approach that divine Person, and the real mediation is thus relegated to the Virgin mother (and the saints). In this way the declaration of Yeshua’s Deity becomes the cornerstone of a whole new system of worship and devotion, that is seen, in supersessionist theology, as more complete and richer in nature than the worship system of Judaism.

 

Perhaps the most disquieting point: If Yeshua is G-d, then Yeshua is the most important Person of the “Holy Trinity”, in a sense even more important than G-d the Father. By the Deity doctrine G-d the Father is inevitably relegated to a background position, because as G-d Yeshua can do all things by himself! Although it is emphatically stated in theological theory (of course!) that G-d the Father and G-d the Son always operate in perfect harmony, the elevation of Yeshua to a position of ontological and essential equality with the Father — which is in flagrant contradiction with e.g. John 14:28 — is of highly symbolic importance, for it means that the G-d of Israel (the Father) is replaced in a sense by Yeshua as the “G-d of the Church”. And although this will never be admitted officially, Yeshua’s exaltation by the (Catholic) Church to the level of Deity brings him in a rival position with G-d the Father, a position that symbolically mirrors the rival position of the Church with Israel.

These points clearly show a systematic connection between the Deity doctrine and theological Supersessionism. For the reasons mentioned one would expect of Jewish Messianic theologians a spirit of reluctance and of investigation, whether this doctrine can really be upheld on a Scriptural basis, not a spirit of thoughtless or even fanatical adherence.

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[1] Buzzard, A.F. & Ch. F. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound, International Scholars Publications — Lanham · New York · Oxford 1998. Other important works are: Broughton, J.H. & P.J. Southgate, The Trinity: True or False?, “The Dawn” Book Supply — Nottingham GB 2002 (1995) (This book is available at: http://www.biblelight.org/trin/trinind.htm);  Graeser, M.H. & J.H. Lynn & J.W. Schoenheit, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith, Christian Education Services — Indianapolis (Indiana) 2003. Recommended websites: http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/  ;  http://www.kingdomready.org/topics/god.php ;  http://focusonthekingdom.org/index.html


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