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Is THAT in the Bible?

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Is THAT in the Bible?

Session 2


Why did it take the prophets so long to arrive at monotheism?

The road to monotheism led through two “gates:”
  1) The affirmation that YaHWeH was creator; he, not Baal, controlled nature (as in Elijah’s triumph against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, 1 Kings 18; it is YaHWeH who brings, and then breaks, the drought); and
   2) The affirmation that YaHWeH controlled history, not only in the Exodus, but as shown in bringing foreign invasion, and exile to Babylon—and return from exile!


Who Was the First Monotheist?

  • His writings, dating from 540 B.C., are collected in chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah.
  • He lived and worked during the Babylonian exile, when he announced the fall of Babylon, and Israel’s return from exile.
  • The name of the most eloquent poet and the profoundest thinker in the Old Testament is unknown; he is referred to as “Second Isaiah” because his writings are found in the second part of the book of Isaiah.

It was this author who was the first to affirm that YaHWeH was the only God!

His journey to monotheism led through the two gates:
  1) The affirmation that YaHWeH was creator. 

Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:… I made the earth, and created humankind upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host (Isaiah 45:11-12);
  2) The affirmation that Yahweh was the Lord of history. [It is YaHWeH] who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing (Isaiah 40:23).

From these two postulates, Second Isaiah concludes that YaHWeH is the only God: could the world really have been created by more than one God? could more than one God control the events of history?

So here it is, the vision of one, universal God, from the unnamed prophet-poet-theologian of the exile. 
Thus says the LORD [YaHWeH], the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.... Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one (Isaiah 44:6, 8).

This monotheistic insight generated a sharp critique of idolatry, which not only was contrary to the Ten Commandments, but was an object of derision. 10Who would fashion a god or cast an image that can do no good? 11Look, all its devotees shall be put to shame; the artisans too are . 12The ironsmith fashions it and works it over the coals, shaping it with hammers, and forging it with his strong arm; he becomes hungry and his strength fails, he drinks no water and is faint. 13The carpenter stretches a line, marks it out with a stylus, fashions it with planes, and marks it with a compass; he makes it in human form, with human beauty, to be set up in a shrine. 14He cuts down cedars or chooses a holm tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. 16Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!" 17The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, "Save me, for you are my god!"

    … a neat bit of satire!

But this monotheistic teaching is not to be kept secret (Isaiah 45:5-6). 
I am the LORD [YaHWeH], and there is no other; besides me there is no god. . . . [All peoples are to know] that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD [YaHWeH], and there is no other.

Thus, a corollary of monotheism is universalism (i.e. Israel’s mission to all nations)!


A Universal Mission in the Service of a Universal God

The author likely knew that in affirming monotheism he was emptying the pantheons of the nations. If YaHWeH was the only God, then the nations were in effect left god-less, without any God. How were the nations to learn of the one true God, unless . . .
  • Unless the people of Israel were to share their unique knowledge of God,
the nations [i.e. gentiles] would be left with no God at all.
  • Was it possible that Israel had been called to be the chosen people, not for privilege, but for service?
  • Thus Second Isaiah often refers to Israel as the Servant of the Lord, and
  • This servant is called to world mission.
And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, . . . “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:5-6).

But the servant of the Lord is called not only to world mission, but to suffering.


The Suffering of the Servant

The servant of the Lord appears as a public spectacle, before nations and kings.
So he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him. . . .  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity . . . . Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases . . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities . . . . All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 52:15; 53:3-6, 12).

The servant in this section is in some sense the epitome of Israel in its sufferings; in some sense a reflection of the prophet’s own sufferings, in company with other members of the exiled community; and in some sense the portrait of an ideal servant, who embodies qualities of innocence and commitment not often encountered in human life.

This sacrificial interpretation of suffering is arguably unique in Israelite religion, and was destined to have an influence far beyond what the author might have imagined.

The work of this unnamed, sixth century prophet is the high water mark of the Jewish Bible, for its teaching on monotheism, universalism, and vicarious suffering.

We find echoes of this universalism in Jonah and Ruth. To what extent might one describe historic Judaism as universalistic? a missionary faith?


Was Paul a monotheist?
Paul talked like a monotheist: “We know that ‘no idol in the world really exists,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ . . . for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:4,6)
But in the next breath he adds, “… and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist”              (1 Corinthians 8:6)

So, what is he saying about Jesus?

Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is the agent of creation; and if so, he is affirming:
That Christ is pre-existent, and
  • That Christ shares in the divine prerogative of creation, and hence is regarded as divine.
  • Similar ideas are to be found in Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:1-14.
  • The term “Son of God,” used frequently in the New Testament, sends the same message.

Philippians 2:6-11  Though he was in the form of God, [Christ Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hebrews 1:1-3  Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. . . . 

John 1:1-3, 14, 18  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him . . . . 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. ... 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.


Is the doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament?

Is this a doctrine of the Trinity?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you,” 2 Corinthians 13:13.

We do not yet find here the formulation, later incorporated into the creeds, that God is one substance (substantia), or divine nature, in three persons (persona, hypostasis), or modes of being.

If the doctrine of the Trinity was not worked out until the Councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinope (381), the raw materials of the doctrine were present in the New Testament:

The belief in the unity of God (Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:6);
• The belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6; Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:1-14); and
• The belief in the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God and also the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9).

The formula reached in the fourth century attempted to maintain both the unity of God and the three simultaneous modes of God’s existence, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It’s quite a journey, from ancient Hebrew beginnings (pre-henotheistic?), to the henotheism of Moses, to the monotheism of Second Isaiah, and finally to the incipient trinitarianism of the New testament, and the technical trinitarian definitions of the fourth century—almost seventeen centuries!


A practical doctrine of the Trinity: “For God [the Father] so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who [through the influence of the Holy Spirit] believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Next session:

Explorations in the well-known (but often under-appreciated) creation narratives of Genesis!



Click for Session 3

Is THAT in the Bible?

Revised October 27, 2003





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