Tag Archives: polytheism

Exploration of the Trinity – Part 8 – The Christianized Shema – Jesus, One God, and Polytheism

After setting up some foundations last week we left off with this question:

  • How is it that the ex-pagan can understand the worship of both the Father and Jesus as the worship/affirmation of the one God of Israel?
  • We explored how the Unitarian might answer this question.
  • Now we need to explore how the Trinitarian might answer the question.

 

BTW – The same question can be posed about Paul’s Jewish monotheism.

  • Interestingly, the ex-pagan was “subtracting”, Paul was “adding” (Trent Rogers).

 

 

Pagan Polytheism:

There is one more piece of information we need.

  • It concerns the nature of pagan polytheism.

 

The pagan had no qualms with a fluid and varied pantheon of gods.

  • For the pagan, “a god need not always be a god, some gods are not complete gods, other gods are supercomplete gods, hence some gods are more god that others” – Henk Versnel (Coping with the Gods).
  • Thus the Father and Jesus could each have easily been added to the pantheon as being two more of one of the above gods.

 

So what would be required to bring a pagan from this polytheism into ancient Jewish monotheism?

 

Henk Versnel helps us here – the pagan’s pantheon of gods would need to be:

  • Relegated to a position, “beyond the political or cultic horizon of the community”.
    • The pagan would have to give exclusive worship to just one God – YHWH in our case.
  • Cast as being, “powerless, wicked or demonic…without any real significance”.
    • The pagan would need their gods be marginalized.

 

Given that this obviously occurred among the ex-pagans of the Corinthian church…

  • We can deduce from the above observations two things accomplished by Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.
  • (1) Distinguished Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) United Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.

 

BTW – And one would think that each of these would have to involve not just function (what they did), but also their nature (what they were – ontology).

  • Something we will briefly consider at the end of this lesson.

 

 

Paul’s Christology:

This brings us back to our text:

  • 1 Corinthians 8:4–6 (ESV) — 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

 

The above text contains at least six truths that accomplished the two things just mentioned.

  • (1) Distinguished Jesus and Father from other gods.
  • (2) United Jesus and Father.
  • We will take the time to unpack all six (they come from Paul Rainbow).

 

 

(1) Divine Name:

The first thing Paul does is associate Jesus with the divine name of YHWH.

  • He does this using Deuteronomy 10:17.
  • Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

 

We see that Moses told us something quite specific about YHWH in Deut. 10:17.

  • For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords
  • In other words, in Moses’ text (LXX), YHWH is both God (ho theos) and Lord (ho kyrios).

 

And then we see Paul tell us something rather peculiar in 1 Cor. 8:6

  • Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

 

Paul (or someone, and Paul endorsed it) split Moses’ declaration about YHWH into two.

  • He assigned the Father to Moses’ “God”.
  • He assigned Jesus Christ to his “Lord”.
  • Paul has “glossed ‘God’ with ‘the Father,’ and ‘Lord’ with ‘Jesus Christ’” – N.T. Wright.

 

In other words:

  • The Father is identified with YHWH by filling the “ho theos” slot.
  • Jesus is identified with YHWH by filling the “ho kyrios” slot.
  • (1 Corinthians 8:4-6 does this with both Deut. 10:17 and Deut. 6:4).

 

Does our “Divine Name” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?

 

It seems to do both and establishes Jesus’ identity in two directions.

  • (1) As it relates to the pagan lords and gods, Jesus is the incomparable “one Lord”.
  • (2) As it relates to the Father, Jesus is the YHWH “ho kyrios” to the Father’s YHWH “ho theos”.

 

Jesus is cast as the incomparable “ho kyrios” of Deut. 10:17.

  • A title that connotes Jesus’ participation in the unique “divine status” of YHWH – DPL.
  • Something that sets him soundly on the god-side of the “god” and “non-god” divide.

 

 

(2) Prepositions United:

In verse 6, Paul tells us that:

  • Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

 

In this verse, Paul distributes three prepositions between the Father and Jesus.

  • Father – “from” and “for”.
  • Jesus – “through” and “through”.

 

And, importantly, what comes “from”, “for” and “through” the one God and one Lord?

  • Creation – the creation of the universe.
  • Redemption – the “making/saving” of the body of believers.
    • What Fitzmeyer calls the “means through whom Christians attain the goal of their existence”.
    • This includes eschatology.

 

To elaborate just a bit:

“The universe comes from God through the Lord Jesus Christ and those whom he has redeemed return to God through the Lord Jesus Christ” – Paul Rainbow.

 

Creation and Redemption are two things attributed over and over throughout the OT to YHWH alone.

  • Something we saw so clearly in our survey of Isaiah 40-44 last week.

 

This means that Paul unites Father and Jesus in the OT YHWH functions of Creation and Redemption.

Paul …designates the unique functions of the one true Godhead within which God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are co-workers” – Andrey Romanov.

 

But wait, there is more!

 

Attributing Creation and Redemption “through” Jesus has huge implications for His identity.

Christ is an “indispensable participant in the act of creation and the co-worker of God the Father. And therefore not just through Jesus Christ did all things come into being from God but only through him” – Andrey Romanov.

  • So Christ is “a unique and indispensable participant” in creation and redemption – Andrey Romanov.

 

Why is this hugely significant?

“This makes I Cor. 8. 6 perhaps the earliest documentary evidence for the Christian belief in the personal pre-cosmic existence of Christ” – Paul Rainbow.

  • So the Son of God, “was present with the Father before the world came into being” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Jesus is “the pre-existent mediator of creation” (Fitzmeyer)!

 

The NT speaks of this elsewhere:

  • John 1:3 (ESV) — 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
  • Colossians 1:16 (ESV) — 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
  • Hebrews 1:2 (ESV) — 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

 

This has an important implication for our pagans.

  • The Father and Jesus stand over and above all that has been made.
  • They have a transcendent or universal relation to all of creation – Paul Rainbow.

 

This is a huge contrast to the gods of pagan polytheism.

  • The pagan polytheist, “assigned to each lord [and god] a city, nation, sphere of human life, or part of nature” – Paul Rainbow.
  • But, “Paul sees his one Lord in relation to the whole” – Paul Rainbow.

 

So when the pagan gods are contrasted with Jesus, the “one Lord”:

  • We find that “they dwell ‘either in heaven or on earth’ (v 5), that is, inside the boundary of all things. As such they are from God through the Lord; they are created beings” – Paul Rainbow.
  • This, “makes God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ unique in comparison with other ‘gods’ and ‘lords’” – Andrey Romanov.

 

Does our “Prepositions United” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?

 

The answer is both.

  • The pagan gods are cast as inferior by virtue of the fact that the One Lord and One God created them.
    • They are “able neither to create, nor to save” – Andrey Romanov.
  • Jesus and Father are united as the pre-existent Creators of creation and Redeemers of God’s people.

 

 

(3) One:

The textual parallel of 1 Corinthians 8:6 is a Pauline confession of unity.

Yet for us there is one God, the Father

     from whom are all things and for whom we exist,

and one Lord, Jesus Christ,

     through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

 

Buy virtue of the parallel, both the Father and Jesus Christ are given equal billing.

  • The parallel unites them in function against the “lords and gods”.
  • It sets them apart in status from the other “lords and gods”.

 

And, the textual parallel, along with their shared functions, unites them together as the “one” God and Lord:

  • “Each is confessed to be one” – Paul Rainbow.

 

The extent of their shared “one” is startling:

“Both bear titles of divinity, and the titles have equal dignity. Both were active in creation. Both are active in redemption. Thus they both participate in a unified way in uniquely divine titles and operations” – Paul Rainbow.

  • So both are “one” – one Lord and one God.

 

And in ancient Jewish monotheism what does one mean?

  • “unique, incomparable, wholly other” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

 

So Jesus and the Father share in the same functions of the one YHWH of Moses and Isaiah.

  • And each possesses what we might call the “one-characteristic”.
    • “unique, incomparable, wholly other”.
  • What makes more sense of this – Trinitarian or Unitarian approaches?

 

And even more interesting – is Paul raising the idea of a shared, divine nature?

  • Not directly, but Paul Rainbow thinks Paul does think in the category of ontology (nature).
  • Paul is clearly making a distinction between everything and the one God and one Lord.
  • “Implicit in the distinction is the insight that the creator is qualitatively superior to his work” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Again, we will hit this again at the end of this lesson.

 

Does our “One” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?

 

 

(4) Identical Relations:

The simplest way to unpack this is to make some needed distinctions.

  • Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
  • Looking at verse 6 we can pull out the following distinctions.

 

In one corner “X” we have the following:

  • gods” and “lords” – the powers and principalities, whether of the supernatural or natural variety.
  • all things” – as in creation
  • we exist” – as in Christians and Christian redemption and hope.

 

In corner “Y” we have:

  • one God, the Father
  • one Lord, Jesus Christ

 

The corner “Y” observation is simple enough, but very important.

  • There aren’t three corners in this text – corner “X”, corner “Y” the Father and corner “Z” Jesus.
  • The textual parallel we discussed last week unites the Father and Jesus in the same corner.
    • Though Jesus is subordinate functionally to the Father as it pertains to the work described.
  • So, “Paul does not have two foci of divinity, but two foci of divine unity” – Paul Rainbow.

 

Now, as we saw in Prepositions United (point 2):

  • Everything in corner “X” is “from”, “for” and “through” either the Father or Jesus – the divine unity of corner “Y”.
  • “Neither…has unique responsibility for either creation or redemption. To each is assigned a phrase in v 6 having to do with cosmology and also a phrase having to do with soteriology” – Paul Rainbow.
  • They are co-workers (as we said earlier).

 

This means that the Father and Christ participate together on the same side of the divide.

  • They are united in their position as both superior to, and the source of everything in corner “X”.
  • This position is their “identical relations” vis-a-vis everything else.

 

Paul Rainbow sums this up for it:

“A comparison of the relations which God and the Lord each have to the many gods and lords, to the world, and to the people of God, shows that these two figures have identical relations. Even as God is exclusively divine over against the many gods of polytheistic belief, so also the Lord is exclusively divine over against the many lords. Even as God is uniquely transcendent to ‘all things’, so also the Lord is uniquely transcendent to ‘all things’. Both stand together on the side of the creator rather than the creation. Even as God is the unique object of Christian hope, so also is the Lord the unique object of Christian hope” – Paul Rainbow.

 

Does our “Shared Relation” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?

 

 

(5) Jesus and “one God”:

We can start this point with an observation.

  • Remember, verse 4 affirms, “there is no God but one”.
    • One meaning “unique, incomparable, wholly other”.
  • So, “The basic structure of [verses 4-6] corresponds…to that of Jewish texts which contrast pagan polytheism with the Jewish belief in one God” – Paul Rainbow.

 

This means that:

“Paul the Jewish-Christian monotheist has no intention of setting over against pagan polytheism a belief in two Gods rather than one. He wishes to define Jewish-Christian faith, in continuity with Old Testament faith, as belief in a divine unity” – Paul Rainbow.

 

So how does Paul handle Jesus “in continuity with Old Testament faith, as belief in a divine unity”?

  • Paul as already set Jesus in the same corner as the Father.
  • But now what to do with Jesus?

 

This is an especially pressing question given what we have seen thus far.

  • Jesus and the Father share identical relations to everything.
  • They are co-workers in creation and redemption.
  • Jesus pre-exists creation.
  • Each posses what we called the “one-characteristic”.
  • They both share in the divine name from Deut. 10:17.

 

To see how Paul answers our question, to see what he does with Jesus…

  • It will help us here to revisit the choices Paul has available to him.

 

It seems there are at least three choices.

  • (1) Jesus is a divine agent in the Jewish tradition.
  • (2) Jesus is an incomplete god or demigod in the pagan tradition – a “god” or “lord”.
  • (3) Jesus is a full participant in the uniqueness/unity of YHWH.

 

The pagan god explanation with Jesus as just a “god” or “lord” is ruled out straight away.

  • “Paul plainly means to affirm a divine unity in contrast to pagan polytheism”– Paul Rainbow.

 

The divine agent explanation has some explanatory power.

  • But, its drawbacks are that it doesn’t fully account for everything we have already learned.
  • Learned not only in our dealing with 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 but in our previous lessons as well.

 

Jesus is repeatedly explicitly or implicitly (through contextual messaging) called or cast as God.

  • He does what only the YHWH of the OT does – such as pre-exist creation.

 

Moreover, there was never a time when a divine agent received YHWH-like cultic devotion.

  • Jesus, in huge contrast, received the same cultic devotion as YHWH.
  • (More on this next week).

 

But even more devastating to the divine agent explanation is Corinth’s pagan context.

  • It is hard to see how the ex-pagan of Corinth would not see an exalted divine agent as just another incomplete god or demigod – a “god” or “lord”.
  • This possibility is too often overlooked.

 

Remember, Paul is dealing with nations here – not the Israelites.

  • And the pagan Corinthian does not have the category of Jewish divine agency.
  • They have the category of a pantheon of gods.
  • Gods that come in all shapes and flavors.

 

Travelers into Corinth, like Paul, would have immediately encountered statues of…

  • “…Artemis Ephesia, Dionysos, Poseidon, Apollo Klarios, Aphrodite, Hermes, Zeus, and Athena with some Muses [poetry, music, etc.]” – Paul Rainbow.
  • Not to mention, “in the agora [market] were temples dedicated to Tyche, All the Gods, and Octavia the sister of Julius Caesar, who re-founded the city” – Paul Rainbow.

 

If the sister of Julius Caesar was venerated as a kind of god, how much more would Jesus be so?

  • “Hey guys, lets slap up another temple to YHWH and make a statue to venerate His Son, Jesus.”

 

Paul Rainbow gets this when he says:

“The application of the language of monotheism to a man whom Paul did not suppose to be in some way united to God would be a departure from Jewish monotheism of the most radical kind, a virtual assimilation to the pagan environment which [ranked as god] heroes and ascribed titles of divinity to emperors” – Paul Rainbow.

 

So, the only way for Paul to handle Jesus “in continuity with Old Testament faith, as belief in a divine unity”…

  • Is to assign Jesus to the divine unity and uniqueness of YHWH.

 

And this is exactly what 1 Corinthians 8:6 does.

In it, Paul “puts God and the Lord together in v 6 where the structure of traditional Jewish monotheistic statements would demand one deity” – Paul Rainbow.

  • “In Paul’s confession, God and the Lord together take the place which belongs to God alone in Jewish confessions. Paul is unconscious of anything in this Christian confession which might threaten or compromise the divine unity” – Paul Rainbow.

 

In other words, the Father and Jesus share in the “one deity”, the divine unity, and the uniqueness of YHWH.

  • Jesus is “regarded together” with the Father as demonstrating this unity without violating it – Paul Rainbow.

 

Paul Rainbow sums this section up for us:

“The juxtaposition of this one, divine Lord Jesus Christ with the one God on that side of the antithesis which stresses the divine unity is felt to be a further affirmation of God’s unity and not a surrender of it. How can this be, unless Paul presupposes that the Lord Jesus Christ is in some undefined sense what the one God is?” – Paul Rainbow.

 

Does our “Jesus and One God” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?

 

 

6) Language of Jewish Monotheism:

It is important to know that Jewish “monotheism was for Paul…a primary tenet” – Paul Rainbow.

  • Romans 3:30 (ESV) — 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
  • Galatians 3:20 (ESV) — 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

 

And yet in 1 Corinthians 8:6, “Christ is included in a revised proclamation of God’s uniqueness [the Shema]” – DPL.

  • Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
  • Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

 

The revision stipulates that both the Father and Jesus share in the “one-characteristic”.

  • Both are one – “unique, incomparable, wholly other”.

 

Yet, how can two be unique, incomparable and wholly other in a Jewish monotheistic way?

“The exclusive language of monotheism is inherently bound to one referent. To distribute it to more than one referent would be by that very act to empty it of meaning… the two referents must be in some sense one” – Paul Rainbow.

 

Moreover, as we alluded to in our dealings with Isaiah 40-44 a few weeks ago…

  • There are some very specific attributions made about the one God of ancient Jewish monotheism.

 

Paul Rainbow sums these attributions up this way:

  • Ancient Jewish monotheism had, for its one God, a specific list of attributions: “a negative attitude towards idolatry and polytheism, the belief in one creator of all things, in one Lord of all the earth, whose will determines the course of history from beginning to end, and who stands in a special relationship to the one people of Israel with one temple in Jerusalem” – Paul Rainbow.

 

The mind-blowing thing about 1 Cor. 8:4-6 – the Christianized Shema – is that…

  • Every single one of these fundamental Jewish monotheistic attributions is applied to Jesus Christ.
  • Let’s look at each attribution and confirm this claim.

 

(1) “Negative attitude towards idolatry and polytheism”:

  • We have seen over and over, Jesus is on the side of the Father in opposition to Corinth’s “gods” and “lords” and their idols.
  • Jesus, like the Father, is on the positive side of the attitude expressed in 1 Cor. 8:4-6.

 

(2) “Belief in one creator of all things”:

  • We saw last week that 1 Cor. 8:4-6 tells us that “all things” – as in creation – came “through” Jesus.
  • He was a pre-existent co-worker with the Father in creation.

 

(3) “One Lord…determines the course of history…stands in a special relationship to the one people of Israel”:

  • Here as well we saw what Paul means when he says it is Jesus Christ “through whom we exist”.
  • This is salvation and redemption language – now and not yet.
  • Something that involves both God’s people and history.

 

In other words, the consummation of the Kingdom of God is wholly the domain of Jesus Christ.

  • It is Jesus’ return that will finally put all things right and usher in the new heaven and earth.
  • This is “the course of history”.

 

So Jesus Christ is firmly situated within ancient Jewish monotheistic attributions of the one God.

  • He is included in fundamental Jewish monotheistic language.
  • This is without precedent in ancient Judaism (Paul Rainbow).

 

And it leaves us with two possibilities:

“Either Paul is using monotheistic language with reference to a glorified human being in a way unacceptable to Judaism, or he presupposes that the Father and Jesus Christ share some point of identity” – Paul Rainbow.

 

And given the fact that:

  • Paul embraced ancient Jewish monotheism…
  • And that, “there is a complete absence in Paul’s letters of any controversy with Judaism or Jewish Christians over the matter of monotheism” – Paul Rainbow.
  • And that we have (today and in past lessons) uncovered many problems with the divine-agency-only approach…
  • We can say the best explanation for what Paul is doing with Jesus is to be found in a Trinitarian understanding of the NT.

 

Does our “Jesus and One God” section…

  • (1) Distinguish Jesus and the Father from all other gods – relegating the other gods to inferior status.
  • (2) Unite Jesus and the Father in a way that Jesus was not seen as a “not complete god” to the Father’s “supercomplete” god.
  • Or both?

 

 

Conclusion:

There is no doubt that Paul sees “the gods of polytheism as deficient” as it relates to the Father and Jesus – Paul Rainbow.

  • There is no need to enumerate the reasons here – we have just seen a bunch.

 

Importantly, however, we do need to know that their deficiencies are functional in nature.

  • The gods can’t do the things Jesus does.
  • Jesus does things that the gods can’t do and that only YHWH is supposed to do.

 

But, is there anything about Paul’s handling of Jesus that indicates that Paul sees the gods as deficient in nature or essence?

 

To answer, we need to add a couple more observations of Paul found elsewhere.

  • Galatians 4:8 (ESV) — 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) — 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

 

Paul Rainbow argues that in these two texts we see:

  • A distinction of nature or essence between the one true God and the gods.
  • This means that “[the gods] lack the divine essence [or nature] by virtue of which God alone can be and act as God” – Paul Rainbow.
  • So the gods are deficient by their very nature.
  • They do not possess the divine nature of God.

 

In contrast:

  • “The living and true God of monotheism, who alone is God…is uniquely divine by virtue of his essence [or nature]” – Paul Rainbow.

 

What’s the point?

“When we place the high Christology of 1 Cor. 8:4–6 alongside of the concept of the unique divine essence from Gal. 4:8 and I Thess. 1:9, we see that all the necessary elements are present for concluding that Paul’s Christ is ontologically divine” – Paul Rainbow.

  • In other words, Jesus possesses God’s divine nature in contrast to the gods and lords who do not.

 

The simplest way to put this is as follows:

  • The gods can’t do because they AREN’T.
  • Jesus can do because he IS.

 

We can get at this another way as well.

  • If the function is – just to make a point – flying…
  • Something the Bible says only YHWH can do…
  • And we are told that the gods and lords can’t fly…
  • We have to ask why the gods and lords can’t fly.

 

If we suggest that they could learn to fly, or be given the power to fly…

  • Then we could argue that they could function as YHWH.
  • But what Paul (and the OT and NT generally) implies is that gods and lords can’t fly because…
  • By their very nature, they aren’t birds – they don’t possess bird-essence.
  • They are something all together different – they have a different essence or nature.
  • The Father and Jesus, on the other hand, “have” or “are” the nature that flies – YHWH-nature.
  • (Not the best analogy, but it might bring some clarity.)

 

All of these essence implications are things the ex-pagan at Corinth would have understood.

  • And so this, in tandem with everything else we have discussed the past few weeks…
  • Explains why the ex-pagan could worship the Father and the Son, affirm the Shema, and yet…
  • Not see Jesus as a demigod or a “not complete” god.
  • Jesus was altogether something different.