Augustine On The Invisibility of the Trinity

Augustine of Hippo PortraitOne key challenge that Augustine counters in Book II of his On Trinity is the question regarding the invisibility of Jesus in His essential nature. The antagonists argued that Jesus as the Son of God was always visible to the Father; therefore, this visibility also implies mortality and changeability. Two texts that Augustine quotes are:

  • Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1Ti 1:17 NKJ)
  • He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1Ti 6:15-16 NKJ)

Augustine maintains that the invisibility of God means that the Triune God (Father-Son-Spirit) is invisible.

The antagonists argued that the Son was visible not only in flesh through His incarnation but even before that in Himself, and so visibly appeared to the fathers. And, since He was visible in His pre-incarnational existence, He was also mortal, they said. And, so they argued that 1 Timothy 1:17 speaks only of the invisibility of the Father. Further, in that same sense, the Holy Spirit is thought to also be mortal, because He also was visible once as dove and at another time as fire. Both the Son and the Spirit were visible to mortal eyes in various forms and various times, all implying, according to the antagonists, that both the Son and the Spirit were visible, mortal, and changeable; therefore, 1 Timothy 1:17 cannot apply to them but only to the Father.

Augustine begins by asking who the contenders think was walking in the Garden of Eden from whose face Adam hid. Was it the Father or the Son? Why not the Father, especially when the form of the narrative signifies no change of the Divine Person from chapter 1 to chapter 3. If we understand that the world was made by the Father through the Word, why not also accept that Adam saw the Father in a visible form. In fact, the visibility of the Father is not impossible in the same way as the audibility of Father was not impossible (as in John 12:28 and Matthew 17:5 when His voice is heard apart of the Spirit and the Son). Obviously, the voice was not of the Spirit; for, nowhere is Jesus called as the Son of the Holy Spirit. ‘But here, where it is written, “And the Lord God said to Adam,”‘ says Augustine ‘no reason can be given why the Trinity itself should not be understood.’

Augustine goes on to examine the theophanies to Abraham, Lot, Moses, the Israelites in wilderness, and to Daniel. Why not accept the three-person appearance to Abraham as the visitation of the Trinity, especially when none of them is shown to be lesser or greater to the other? Next, the two angels that appeared to Lot could be understood to be the Son and the Spirit, since They say that They were sent, and nowhere does it say that the Father is sent; however, He is the sender. The goal of Augustine is to show that visibility cannot be limited to only the Son and the Spirit, but even the Father can be seen as being visible at times. However, in His divine nature, the Triune God cannot be seen corporeally, “but we must believe that by means of the creature made subject to Him, not only the Son, or the Holy Spirit, but also the Father, may have given intimations of Himself to mortal senses by a corporeal form or likeness.”

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See Augustine On Trinity, Book II.

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Prophets, Apostles, and Canonicity of the Bible

Apostle Paul WritingThe Bible contains 66 books that are considered together to be the canon (i.e. standard rule). There were many other books which the church fathers did not include into the canon because they failed to fulfill the 5-fold criteria of canonicity. The 5-fold criteria was:

  1. Authorship: It should be authored by an apostle or a prophet or a holy man of God.
  2. Local Church Acceptance: It should have been accepted in the local churches of First Century Christians
  3. Recognition by Church Fathers: It should have been recognized as scripture by the church fathers in their writings.
  4. Sound Doctrine: It should convey sound doctrine and must be consistent with the revelation of God.
  5. Personal Edification: It should be dynamic in nature towards transformation of lives and contribute as spiritual food and light for personal edification.

The Old Testament canon was already recognized during the time of Jesus and the Apostles and referred to as the Law and the Prophets. The New Testament canon was being recognized by the Apostles, for example when Peter treats Paul’s writings as scriptures (2Pet.3:16) and when John affirms his book of prophecy as that to which nothing must be added and from which nothing must be removed. The NT canon was declared during the 3rd Council of Carthage in AD 397. The church father Athanasius listed them in his 39th Paschal letter (AD 367).

We understand the apostolic authorship of the New Testament and the prophetic authorship of the Old Testament very clearly from the writings themselves. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus being the corner stone (Eph.2:20).

One important keystone is the prophetic explanations provided in the Bible, which certainly cannot be based on any other authority than God Himself. For instance, in Judges 14 we find the account of Samson adamant to marry a philistine girl, though his parents are not in favor of this. The writer of Judges notes here: “his father and mother did not know that it was of the LORD — that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. For at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.” (Judges 14:4). One would ask, “How did this writer know what was in the mind of God? Was he just interpreting God’s mind on the basis of a retrospection of incidents that happened? If so, how can he make an authoritative statement like that? Can anyone know the mind of God?” Obviously, the answer is that only the Spirit of God knows the mind of God and the Scriptures were given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1Cor.2:10,11; 2Pet.1:21; 2Tim.3:16).

See:
Outline of Theology
How Do I Know that the Bible is True?

Narrative Criticism

Narrative criticism is a form of literary criticism applied to biblical studies that developed in the past few decades since the 1970s. As a method of approach, it  focuses more on stories, events, people, discourses and settings. According to A Dictionary of the Bible,  “The main thesis is that readers (e.g. of the gospels) should read the narratives and respond to them as the authors hoped.” The previous approaches to biblical criticism, viz. form, redaction, historical, and textual are considered to have become obsolete and effecting no conclusive results. According to Mark W. G. Stibbe,

Until the late 1970s, the traditional methods for the study of the gospels and Acts were form criticism, source criticism, historical criticism, tradition history, redaction criticism, and textual criticism…. …traditional methods of interpretation were more concerned with what lay behind NT narratives than with their form and their literary, artistic features….

A change began to occur most noticeably in the 1980s, when two books were published on Mark as Story (Rhoads and Michie, 1982; Best, 1983); one on Matthew as Story (Kingsbury, 1986), one on The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts (Tannehill, 1986), and one on the Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (Culpepper, 1983). Each of these works, and a number of lesser-known books and articles… took up the challenge of looking at the final form of the gospels and Acts in order to highlight those narrative dynamics which traditional methods had neglected.[1]

According to John David Punch, “the pendulum has swung, for literary criticism looks at the text as a whole with virtually no interest in sources, traditions, or redactional material.”[2]

Christopher T. Paris observes, “Narrative criticism embraces the textual unity of canonical criticism while historical criticism holds fast to textual divisions that arose from multiple sources and editors. Narrative criticism admits the existence of sources and redactions but chooses to focus on the artistic weaving of these materials into a sustained narrative picture.” [3]

The narrative critic tries to first establish the literary aspect and genre of the text (whether it is fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry?. Then, he goes on to analyse the setting, plot, theme, characters, story elements, etc. His goal is to understand what the narrator (author) of the narrative really wanted to communicate and how he accomplishes it.

NOTES


1. Mark W. G. Stibbe, John as Storyteller: Narrative Criticism and the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1992), p5.
2. John David Punch, The Pericope Adulterae: Theories of Insertion & Omission, Doctoral Dissertation submitted to Radboud University Nijmegen, 19 April 2010.
3. Christopher T. Paris, Narrative Obtrusion in the Hebrew Bible, PhD Dissertation submitted to Graduate School of Vanderbilt University, May 2012. p4.

Is it not cruel for God to kill His Son in place of us?

The doctrine of atonement is a stumbling block for some who feel that it not only exemplifies cruelty but also does away with human responsibility. The issue abounds with various questions and attempts to solution.

Questions:
1. If God knew that man would sin and fall, why did He create man?
2. Why doesn’t God, if He exists, intervene and stop evil; why just be Judge but not be Governor with proper police security system that minimises the possibility of transgression?
3. How can the death of one particular man atone for the sins of many particular men?
4. Isn’t it not cruel to punish an innocent man for the sins of others so that they go free?

Answers that challenge the Christian doctrine:
1. God does not require sacrifice in order to forgive, He can forgive by sovereign authority.
2. Every man must bear his own guilt so that he has a sense of responsibility and possess a genuine reason to pursue good and turn from evil.

Biblical Responses:
1. God’s knowledge of human Fall is historical and not potential at par with His knowledge of the creation of man.
2. God is both Governor and Judge but humans live in a status of wilful rebellion and enmity against His rulership but with a choice to surrender or be judged.
3. The death of Jesus can atone for every man’s sins because Jesus is the Source of all creation and Head of all things.
4. God is One and the sacrifice of Christ the One God was voluntary self-giving of Love.

1. God’s sovereignty doesn’t imply the denial of injustice by arbitrary pardoning, in which case the element of injustice is allowed to subsist rather than removed from the moral world. The crucifixion put an end to all rebellion by allowing the Judge Himself to die to rise again as Author of the new Creation with the power to destroy all things that do not submit to Him. The crucifixion and resurrection portray the victory of God over all chaos wrought by evil and injustice in the moral universe.
2. This is not contradicted by the doctrine of confession, repentance, and new life.

Usury

Usury is the money charged for the use of money. What is understood as usury in the negative sense usually, is considered as interest in the positive or neutral sense.

Old Testament law discouraged practice of usury against fellow brethren. But, the Israelites were permitted to lend on interest to foreigners. Jesus mentions in His Parable of Talents that the servant with one talent should have deposited the money with bankers rather than hide it in the ground so that the Master could get back his amount along with interest. However, Aquinas considered the application of this suggestion in spiritual terms. For many centuries, usury was forbidden by the church (though Luther observes that many of the clergy did wickedly practice it). The Jews who practiced (or were marginalized to this trade) often became victims of persecution. A great example of the evil of usury is exemplified in Shakespeare’s play, “Merchant of Venice”, the usurer personified as the evil Shylock the Jew.

Aristotle considered usury as unnatural. In his Politics he wrote:

Now money-making, as we say, being twofold, it may be applied to two purposes, the service of the house or retail trade; of which the first is necessary and commendable, the other justly censurable; for it has not its origin in nature, but by it men gain from each other; for usury is most reasonably detested, as it is increasing our fortune by money itself, and not employing it for the purpose it was originally intended, namely exchange.

And this is the explanation of the name (TOKOS), which means the breeding of money. For as offspring resemble their parents, so usury is money bred of money. Whence of all forms of money-making it is most against nature. (A Treatise on Government, Gutenberg)

Thomas Aquinas, borrowing the argument from Aristotle, further argued:

To take usury for money lent is unjust in itself, because this is to sell what does not exist, and this evidently leads to inequality which is contrary to justice. In order to make this evident, we must observe that there are certain things the use of which consists in their consumption: thus we consume wine when we use it for drink and we consume wheat when we use it for food. Wherefore in such like things the use of the thing must not be reckoned apart from the thing itself, and whoever is granted the use of the thing, is granted the thing itself and for this reason, to lend things of this kin is to transfer the ownership. Accordingly if a man wanted to sell wine separately from the use of the wine, he would be selling the same thing twice, or he would be selling what does not exist, wherefore he would evidently commit a sin of injustice. On like manner he commits an injustice who lends wine or wheat, and asks for double payment, viz. one, the return of the thing in equal measure, the other, the price of the use, which is called usury.

On the other hand, there are things the use of which does not consist in their consumption: thus to use a house is to dwell in it, not to destroy it. Wherefore in such things both may be granted: for instance, one man may hand over to another the ownership of his house while reserving to himself the use of it for a time, or vice versa, he may grant the use of the house, while retaining the ownership. For this reason a man may lawfully make a charge for the use of his house, and, besides this, revendicate the house from the person to whom he has granted its use, as happens in renting and letting a house.

Now money, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 5; Polit. i, 3) was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange: and consequently the proper and principal use of money is its consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange. Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury: and just as a man is bound to restore other ill-gotten goods, so is he bound to restore the money which he has taken in usury. (Summa)

Martin Luther also considered usury to be an evil; however, he rejected Aristotelianism altogether. His argument against usury was that it contravened the principle of Love. Luther considered that the Christian dealing and the right use of temporal goods consist in “giving them away, lending them without charge, and quietly letting them go when they are taken by force.” (On Trading and Usury). He counters arguments in favor of usury in the following ways:

The concept of ”interesse”
We will now look at the arguments by which this tender business is justified. There is a little Latin word called interesse. This noble, precious, tender, little word may be rendered in German this way: If I have a hundred gulden with which I can trade, and by my labor and trouble make in a year five or six gulden or more, I place it with someone else, on a productive property, so that not I, but he, can trade with it, and for this I take from him five gulden, which I might have earned; thus he sells me the income – five gulden for a hundred – and I am the buyer and he the seller. Here they say, now, that the purchase of the income is proper because, with these gulden, I might perhaps have made more in a year, and the interest is just and sufficient. All that is so pretty that no one can find fault with it at any point. But it is also true that it is not possible to have such interest on earth, for there is another, counter-interest, which goes like this: If I have a hundred gulden, and am to do business with it, I may run a hundred kinds of risk of making no profits at all, nay, of losing four times as much besides. Because of the money itself, or because of illness, I may not be able to do business, or there may be no wares or goods on hand. Hindrances of this kind are innumerable, and we see that failures, losses, and injuries are greater than profits. Thus the interest on loss is as great as the interest of profits, or greater.

Safe profit
….money in trade and money at interest are different things, and the one cannot be compared with the other. For money invested in income has a basis which constantly grows and produces profit out of the earth, while money in trade has no certainty; the interest it yields is accidental, and one cannot count on it at all. Here they will say, perhaps, that, because they place money on land, there is an “interest of loss,” as well as an “interest of profit,” for the income stands or falls according as the land stays or not. This is all true, and we shall hear more about it below. But the fact remains that money which one can place on land increases the “first interest” too much and decreases the “second interest” as compared with money that moves in trade; for, as was said above, there is more risk in trade than in land. Since, then, one cannot get ground with a definite sum of money, neither can one buy income with a definite sum.

Usury
There are some who not only deal in little sums, but also take too much return – seven, eight, nine, ten percent. The rulers ought to look into this. Here the poor common people are secretly imposed upon and severely oppressed. For this reason these robbers and usurers often die an unnatural and sudden death, or come to a terrible end (as tyrants and robbers deserve), for God is a judge for the poor and needy, as He often says in the Old Law. (On Trading and Usury)

However, modern Christian economist, Gary North observes that Jesus annulled the Jubilee laws of the Old Testament, thus rendering slavery laws as ineffective. Secondly, Jesus authorized interest in His Parable of Talents. He concludes:

The Mosaic law prohibited interest on a narrow class of loans: charitable loans to fellow Israelites and resident aliens. It did not prohibit interest on all other loans.

Charitable loans were to be annulled in the seventh year, at one time. Loans collateralized by rural land were to end in the seventh seventh year, or jubilee year. The land reverted to the heirs of the conquest generation.

The sabbatical year and the jubilee year system were annulled by Jesus and ended when Israel ceased to exist as a nation.

Jesus authorized interest-bearing loans. (Usury, Interest, and Loans)

Analysis

  • It is evident that personal loaning on interest is regarded as an evil even in scriptures. Or else, God would not have forbidden it for the Jews against their fellow-Jews. Usury contradicts the principle of love as it is based on profit-making and not on charity.
  • However, the banking system is a system of lending and keeping. It not only pays interest to those who save money in the bank, but it also charges interest for those who would borrow from the bank. The interest rates can be regularized and governed by proper legislation. In addition, it is through the banking system that currency notes are issued and kept in check. Therefore, it is different from the personal loaning system. Jesus didn’t discourage this banking. In fact, His parable encouraged depositing money with bankers who would give interest for the same. There are certainly bad and vicious banking systems; however, that is another topic altogether.
  • Charitable loans must be distinguished from luxury and commercial loans. Charitable loans must not be charged interest. In fact, it is Christian to lend without expecting anything. However, Christians are not expected to lend money in order for people to enjoy luxuries. You can lend money to a man in need. But, you are not obligated to lend money to someone who wants money in order to buy a Mercedes Benz. The same holds for commercial loans that are non-charity in nature.
  • The Bible discourages borrowing of money, but doesn’t discourage giving.
  • The Bible encourages that we do not owe anything to anyone. In other words, people are expected to pay back what they borrow.
  • Jesus encouraged the idea of depositing with bankers rather than hiding money or keeping it unused, for God established multiplication as the nature of creation. But, hording wealth for selfish purposes is anti-social. We must distinguish between hording and pursing (pursing is keeping some money at hand for immediate uses). The modern banks actually can act as both purse and safety lockers, while at the same time having the advantage of the money not remaining unused.
  • The Aristotelian concept of money breeding money doesn’t apply to modern banking systems. Government systems may help inflate economies by not regulating the influx of fake currency or growth of black money. However, this is dilution and not growth. On the other hand, a banking system in modern times actually can help save money by providing proper loans on low interests so that people can use money to avail greatly and pay back. It is like the Master in Matthew 25 who gives talents to his servants and actually expects them to multiply them. He actually deposits or saves the talents with them. Wise stewardship is encouraged. Of course, this is not the Parable of the Forgiving Master, and banking is not about Masters and servants; the Parable was only quoted to highlight that multiplication is expected through wisdom, integrity, and diligence. But in the Parable of the Forgiving Master, Mercy (the quality upheld in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice) comes into spotlight. The Master forgives the one who is indebted to him and expects him to do the same. This is the essence of the Gospel ethics. Contrary to the OT Law that would have made slaves of this debtor and his family, the NT principle encourages forgiving of debts when payment becomes impossible.
  • The Bible discourages bad loans as well as merciless collaterizations. The poor man’s cloak must be returned to him for the night. The poor man cannot borrow more than the value of his cloak. The poor man cannot engage in multiple borrowings.
  • Greed and love of money is the root of all evil.
  • An economy based on unjust and merciless practices of loans and borrowings is bound to collapse.
  • The Christian principle is to give to the needy without expecting anything in return. However, it doesn’t ask Christians to refuse the use of bank notes, banking, and systems of monetary use as long as the use doesn’t blatantly rebel against the true revelation of God (e.g. Rev.13). Jesus knew that the Jews used the Roman coin that had the image of Caesar, and didn’t tell them to forsake such use. Instead, He encouraged them to give to Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God what is due to God.