Inclusive and Exclusive Monotheism

In his essay “The ‘Most High’ God and the Nature of Early Jewish Monotheism,” Richard Bauckham helpfully distinguishes between inclusive and exclusive monotheism.

Inclusive monotheism declares the God is the highest being within the class of deities to which he belongs. “He is unique,” Bauckham explains, “only in the sense of superlative.” His uniqueness is defined by his supremacy over all other gods and divine beings. He is the most powerful, most wise, most intelligent of all the gods. This inclusive monotheism developed out of the older polytheisms of competitive gods. Most importantly, “it takes a ‘gradient view of reality that does not draw sharp ontological distinctions between the supreme God and other gods, or between gods and humans” (p. 109). As we saw in an earlier post, this gradient understanding of divinity is characteristic of pagan religion and ancient philosophy. God is but one within the continuum of being. Perhaps we might call this a relative monotheism.

Exclusive monotheism, on the other hand, understands “the uniqueness of the one God in terms of an absolute difference in kind from all other reality” (p. 109). Bauckham calls it “transcendent uniqueness.” I commonly refer to it as God’s “radical difference.” God does not belong to a class called “Deity,” nor is he the supreme instantiation of generic divinity. Exclusive, or absolute, monotheism thus asserts a binary view of reality.

In Bauckham’s judgment, the Second Temple Jewish understanding of deity is properly described as one of exclusive monotheism:

In my view, early Jewish literature (with few, if any, exceptions) is strongly committed to such a view by the way it constantly understands the uniqueness of the God of Israel as that of the one Creator of all things and the one sovereign Ruler of all things. Because these definitions of God’s uniqueness drive an absolute difference of kind between God and ‘all things’, they override any older gradient features of the Israelite-Jewish worldview (such as survive in some of the vocabulary used) and create an essentially binary view of reality. This does not and need not deny the existence of many heavenly beings, but simply insists that they are created by God and subject to the sovereign will of God. In early Judaism, the binary distinction between God and all other reality was observed and inculcated—in daily religious observance—by monolatry. In a gradient worldview (such as the pagan, inclusive monotheism of antiquity), many beings are accorded honour, each to a degree appropriate to its originally been a concomitant of henotheism) into a powerful symbol high-ranking creatures (but not in contexts where it might be mistaken for divine worship, and so usually not to angels or to rulers who claimed divinity), worship was different because it was acknowledgement of the transcendent uniqueness of the God of Israel. (p. 109)

Hence even though Israel may originally have conceived of YHWH as one of the gods, perhaps even practicing a form of inclusive monotheism, eventually it moved into an exclusive monotheism, denying all other gods precisely as gods. As a rabbi wrote to me last week:

From the standpoint of tradition, however, there is no question that the Biblical references prohibit not only worship, but even belief in any competing deity. Consider Deuteronomy 4:35 אין עוד מלבדו. There is nothing besides Him. I imagine one could interpret that as “Of all the other gods hanging around out there, there is none other that should interest you.” But the text does not say that. It either says there is no other god, period, or (the way that Rabbis taught it), there is nothing else in the cosmos but G-d Himself.

Given Judaism’s commitment to exclusive monotheism, it becomes clear why the Christian confession of Jesus as Lord required, right from the start, a wrestling with, and reconstruction of, the notion of divinity. Creator/creature marks an absolute distinction. There are no degrees of divinity, no semi-divine beings or intermediaries. There is only the Creator, the one God of Israel whom Jesus addresses as Father, and the world of beings that he has freely brought into existence and over which he exercises his sovereign rule. Assuming faithfulness to exclusive monotheism, the Church was thus faced with the problem: which side of the divide do we locate Jesus of Nazareth? And if we include Jesus within the identity of the one God, how do we avoid the assertion of two Gods?

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32 Responses to Inclusive and Exclusive Monotheism

  1. whitefrozen says:

    Something that popped into my head while reading this: there are a lot of references to God’s spirit in the OT which refer to the Spirit as its own entity – the spirit of God hovering over the waters, for example (Robert Alter translates it as ‘breath’ in his version of Genesis). So it seems that even in the OT there is at least one thing identified with God that isn’t God but isn’t a competing god, the Spirit/Breath/life of God.

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    • There are also references to the so-called “visible YHWH” in the Angel of the Lord, Glory, Name, Voice, Word, Wisdom, and Face later identified in Second Temple Judaism as the Memra, Yahoel, and later (when merged with Enochic traditions) Metatron and seen both in the Palestinian Targums and Philo of Alexandria – an idea taken up by Justin Martyr.

      In a sense, this theology seems to the ancient Jewish answer to the question of God’s transcendence. How could the unique God, ontologically uncreated and bigger than heaven or earth itself, specifically in the Temple, be both “in heaven” and on earth, unseen and yet seen?

      This seems – to me, at least – to be an ancient version of the Palamite distinction in terms of how much contact the Creator could be in contact or participate with Creation in a meaningful sense so that the Word of Christ becomes precisely that – the reflecting mirror of God, light from light, within the created order.

      Where Christianity parted with Judaism at first was the insistence not so much of belief in the Word through which all things were made and fills all things but its specific incarnation in one Man. It seems quite possible to find the outlines of the Trinity, but I hesitate to call it as some have a “Jewish Trinity” because, not fully systematized, it sometimes can appear like Modalism. Especially in later rabbinic writings, as Alan Segal has written, figures like Yahoel were rejected for precisely the confusion with “two gods.” There are references to Enoch-Metatron, a late conglomeration of the Divine Name Yahoel with the antediluvian Patriarch, being flogged in heaven precisely to demonstrate his not being God. That reactionary position almost sounds Arian with the Yahoel being the highest of created creatures and the one through whom God made the world but still a created being.

      Yes, we have the uncreated YHWH the “Father,” the Visible Word-Wisdom Agent Who crafts all things and dwells in the Tabernacle, “playing before God,” and YHWH’s Breath-Spirit Who assists in prayer and creation all sharing the same identity as the One, Unique God in absolute distinction from other created beings, including spiritual ones, that other nations called “gods.” The broad outlines were there while we’re still a bit ways away from Nicaea in terms of the dynamics.

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      • whitefrozen says:

        A very long way from Nicaea 😛

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Dante, like you I do not know how one could speak of God as Trinity before the Incarnation. As you point out, both biblical and inter-testamental writers employed various images by which to speak of God and his active presence and self-communication in the world; but there is no reason for us to take them literally as designating ontological distinctions or realities in the Godhead. Only with the Incarnation are we compelled to start thinking this way.

        I am not sure if saying, as Bauckham does, that the NT writers bring Christ into the identity of God is the best way to describe things. Tuggy has advanced some criticisms of Bauckham on this point: “Bauckham’s Bargain.” I haven’t read either author closely enough to have an opinion. But I obviously disagree with Tuggy’s apparent belief that the NT writers would have had no problem locating the risen Christ on the creature side of the creator/creature divide. Any thoughts? (An audio version of Tuggy’s critique can be found here.

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  2. Reblogged this on CatholicPhilosophyBlog and commented:
    This is a good piece that distinguishes two different kinds of monotheism–one whereby God is different in degree and one where God is different in kind. A clear and interesting piece!

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  3. JMA says:

    That characterization of Greek philosophy is not quite fair. Sure, it may apply to the Stoics or to Aristotelians, but not to Platonism proper, which was the most prevalent of the ancient schools. For Plato, the Form of the Good is epekeina tes ousias (beyond being), unlike the other forms, which represent true being. Plato was also interpreted as making a distinction between the One and the Dyad, between the an unconditioned supreme reality and the conditioned multiplicity of finite beings. I would put Platonism in the second category.

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  4. I’m not certain that Judaism ever could be called “inclusively” monotheist as if the YHWH was simply one god among others or even that YHWH was not different in kind but only degree of power like Zeus over the Olympians. I know some like Mark Smith do see it that way whereby YHWH the storm-god from Arabia or Edom overthrew and supplanted the other gods of Canaan and became identified with El later on, but others like Frank Moore Cross never saw YHWH as anything other than the Creator. At least when the Old Testament still used the term elohim, or “mighty ones,” for other “gods,” these seem to be merely created beings, or angels. The fact the ancients believed they could deify people after death seems to afford “deity” a very broad definition to “anything which could have a numinous or supernatural effect in the world.” That this was ridiculous to the Jews and Christians is indicative (and the confusion this caused people like Celsus as to why God was so “jealous” as to His prerogatives, who could not understand why it was not perfectly legitimate to petition to the Most High’s underlings) that “deity” itself was redefined from merely anything powerful and numinous “on the other side” – that is, vaguely spooky – to locating all true Power and Holiness par excellence not in an exercise of will but in the One God by virtue of His status as Creator Ex Nihilo set over and above Creation.

    The name YHWH itself seems to have either one of two meanings. The traditional, non-Platonic or pre-Thomistic one I have communicated about with some rabbis seems to be “He Who Is, Was, and Will Be” – that is, the God who alone preexisted and will outlast Creation. Then the most convincing historical opinion, in my opinion, is that proposed by W.F. Albright, David Noel Freedman, John Geyer, and Frank Moore Cross as “He Who Creates the Hosts (of Heaven)” and “I create what I create” for Exodus 3:14 – a name which relegates the so-called “gods” to mere creatures and making the distinctive nature of this God as the uncreated Creator, a difference not in degree but in kind.

    I greatly enjoyed Bauckham’s essay by the way as well as this whole series. Thank you for posting it. Anything by Bauckham I’m lucky to find.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Has Old Testament scholarship reached a consensus on the question whether the religion of Israel (at any point in its history) can be properly described as henotheistic or monolatrous? I left this question open in this article, as I’m just not up on biblical scholarship.

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      • “Has Old Testament scholarship reached a consensus on the question whether the religion of Israel (at any point in its history) can be properly described as henotheistic or monolatrous?”
        Not really. Monolatry is the belief that only one out of a multiplicity of gods can be worshipped.
        Henotheism is tribal worship of a god.
        You’ll see Bible scholars, philosophers, and theologians going at it until the cows come home at times.

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      • New England Sun, quite true! It’s a fascinating area, but honestly it can be a bit deflating as a personal interest. I love history very much, but math does have its advantages. There’s nearly always a way to definitively check your answer.

        No. There are those like Frank Moore Cross, Michael Heiser, David Noel Freedman, and William F. Albright among others who saw/see YHWH as a name, title, or epithet for the Creator God identified with El in the Canaanite pantheon. Recently, I think most scholars, however, such as Mark Smith have been positing a merger between YHWH as a foreign storm-god, usually posited to be from Edom or Arabia, worshipped in a henotheist fashion and the Canaanite El.

        At least in some circles El was himself not uncreated but begotten identified with Cronus by the Greeks. On the other hand, El Elyon was also identified with Amon-Re and Ptah cross-culturally who were uncreated save the primeval waters personified as Nun – the closest any Mediterranean culture I am familiar with got to “monotheism” prior to the Neoplatonic or Pythagorean “One.” At the same time, Cross in particular emphasized in his book that saying YHWH and El Elyon was “creator of creatures and gods” did not necessarily imply the biblical “sons of God” were not begotten in a genealogical sense. I disagree with Cross given the weight of biblical passages and not just the etymology of the divine name, but I’m just a general reader in this area. I suppose one might call this interpretation of Cross’ position still henotheistic because in effect YHWH was occupying merely the primal slot in the divine genealogy – maybe Bauckham’s inclusive monotheism – rather than any kind of radical distinction between Creator and creature.

        I wrote my previous comment before reading Bauckham’s piece in its entirety, but I liked how he phrased exclusive monotheism as placing YHWH Most High on the ontological tier opposite of the created order, including whatever other supernatural powers might or might not exist under His sovereignty. Honestly, I would be tempted, unlike Cross, to say this vision of exclusive monotheism hinged upon “creatio ex nihilo” could be dated at least to the Early Monarchy, if not earlier. Gary Rendsburg, a professor of Jewish History at Rutgers, makes an interesting but tentative case that the Pentateuch in its written form could be dated to that time as well as for substantial knowledge of Egyptian culture and religion in a give-and-take relationship on the part of the Israelite writers. In particular, YHWH is depicted as more powerful than the Egyptian deities but also subsumes a number of the Egyptian creator-god’s motifs and even titles. Exodus 3:14, for example, if read as “I create what I create” is quite similar to an epithet of Amon-Re’s – “I create what I bring into existence.” By the New Kingdom Period, Egypt had reached an almost inclusive monotheism in some respects.

        I’d like to imagine Moses, knowing the “wisdom of the Egypt,” as having a hand in this radical distinction between the uncreated God and the gratuitous, created world, including its so-called gods, as one step beyond even the centralizing cult of his oppressor had created in its elegant, semi-monotheistic cosmologies – recognizing the One God shorn of divine genealogies. But then this is reading beyond the evidence and with an eye towards an intra-traditional reading of history as Jews and Christians with Moses as bearing a new revelation of who God is to his time just as the New Moses revealed God in a fuller way in His.

        There’s no consensus, and I’ll admit in my eagerness I often hypothesize more than warranted.

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  5. Ben Nasmith says:

    I find this distinction from Bauckham extremely helpful (inclusive vs. exclusive monotheism). Where he seems to get into trouble, as Dale Tuggy will point out, is what precisely is meant by “is God”. Once we affirm an absolute partition of reality into divine and not-divine categories, and we place Jesus and the Spirit in the divine category along with the Father, it gets tricky to explain why that is monotheism and not polytheism.
    I don’t think Bauckham is very clear here because he says that the partition is between God and the world. But the New Testament almost always refers to the Father when it names God, and always refers to the Father when it uses a modifier, such as “one God”. To my knowledge the word “God” is never used to denote multiple divine persons in Scripture (please correct me). For Bauckham, “God” is whatever is on the divine side of the line. But according to Scripture, God is the Father, prima facie. Something has to give.
    I think the way forward is to notice that for Bauckham that which is on the divine side of the line acts as one united agency. I’ve sketched this idea out in a brief post – http://wp.me/p3HhGo-4x. Otherwise, we would have “exclusive polytheism” – multiple (equally) divine agents responsible for multiple creations, realms, and loyalties for worship. If multiple divine agents are to exist in exclusive monotheism, they must act as one towards the non-divine portion of reality. The question of who or what “is God” can have multiple possible answers without derailing such monotheism: the Father or the Trinity being the main two options.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I’m off to bed, but just a quick thought: if we understand what the Church has historically meant by the word “God,” is polytheism really a threat or possibility? I suspect this is a bigger problem for theistic-personalists than for classical theists, whether Western or Eastern. I understand how there can be more than one god, but I cannot imagine what it would mean to say that there are two or more Gods. Even the confession of the One God is a mystery. God transcends counting.

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        I’m struck by the affirmations of “one____” in Paul’s letters. One God, one Lord, one loaf, one Spirit, one baptism, etc. The “oneness” of God seems to ground the unity of many other things. So if God were not “one”, I suppose there would be several Lords, loafs, Spirits, baptisms, etc. I suspect that’s what two more Gods would look like. (Multiple gods is just multiple divine pretenders). Still thinking this one through, just some thoughts.Good night,

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    • If it is merely a union of action as Bauckham seems to say is the basis for unity between Father and Son and not being, then what keeps this from seeming like Tritheism?

      It seems to me that Bauckham might be slightly overdrawing the idea that Jewish religion was foreign to ontological notions and favored “identity” as being defined by action.

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        It seems like tritheism because tritheism necessarily involves three divine or semi-divine agents. But do three divine agents necessarily entail tritheism? I hope not, because scripture seems to reveal three divine agents, in the absolute sense described above.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Ben, please define “agents.”

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        Not sure how to precisely define agents. Something like “person” I suppose, although that seems like a slippery fish too in trinitarian discourse. I think we need to consider using the concept of group agency. The Trinity can be said to do things even though the persons of the Trinity are really doing it – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/shared-agency/

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      • The problem is, “agent” sounds like a separable figure like a herald to a king. They are both human in nature but possess separate persons, separate points of consciousness, and in theory have the same will or corporate identity.

        I suspect the Trinity must be stronger than a mere corporate identity, and I’d hesitate to even talk about three divine agents, especially if that places the Father alongside the other two as if they all were ontologically basic. I know I’m walking into troubled waters here. Yet the Person of the Father must have an ontological priority even if for all temporal eternity there are Three Persons so that God could not be any other way but Three Persons. I won’t go so far as Eckhart von Hochheim here but close. The Word in Jesus and pre-Incarnate reveals the Father so it is utterly transparent not doing anything or showing anything more except for the One Will of God – the Spirit also – so that they seem the two Hands of God. The Word has only one purpose – if one can talk about an eternal Person of God as having purpose without imposing subordination or temporality – and that is revealing the Father to the finite and fragile not-God. They all completely possess the Godhead from the Father and differ only in the points of their origination with no more information or less.

        In sociology, there’s a perspective called dramaturgy which might be helpful. Erving Goffman and George Herbert Mead talked about the ideal self, dramatic self, or the “I” vs. “me.” We construct a picture of ourselves and what we could be to exist in dialogue with ourselves, measuring ourselves up. Temporal and finite creatures, we use others as mirrors to construct this identity and then act accordingly to measure up with this self. We address this self using our names. If the Word is the name of God personified, then God “creates” an Ideal Self out of which also the creation is conceived. Maybe this doesn’t sound all that original. I hope it doesn’t. At least it reminds me of John Scotus Eriugena superficially. Of course, dramaturgy isn’t original either. Academics tends to re-label old things.

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        “‘agent; sounds like a separable figure like a herald to a king. They are both human in nature but possess separate persons, separate points of consciousness, and in theory have the same will or corporate identity.”

        Sounds good to me! If the persons are in fact the same person then we have modalism (more or less). If three divine agents constitute tritheism then that’s just the price of not being a modalist. Relate them to each other as closely as you wish, there still needs to be three of them.

        What I think Bauckham has done with his analysis is provide us with tools to evaluate whether any given agent is divine or not-divine, all this without speculating as to what divinity consists of ontologically or metaphysically. Nothing in his monotheism rules out a plurality of divine agents.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Ben, I think you are verging close to anthropomorphism and the projection of the creaturely apprehension of human agency into the Godhead. Three centers of consciousness—or in Dale Tuggy’s preferred way of speaking, three selves—is tritheism (which is why Dale embraces his form of unitarianism). The problem here is the starting point, which seems to be common to the analytic philosophical approach: it begins with the human self and then abstracts from that to God as divine self (sometimes known as theistic personalism). Given this approach, it is natural to read the biblical drama of salvation and to deduce deity as a collective of three divine selves.

        But this is not the approach of the Eastern Fathers, who were sometimes accused of being tritheists:

        In patristic thought, the person is not the center or subject of consciousness or of psychological experiences. This is apparent from the following highly significant observation: the persons of the Holy Trinity have only one will, only one “consciousness,” and—if the term may be permitted—“psychological experience.” In reality, all the things that in personalism constitute essential elements in the concept of the person are connected by the Fathers with the nature or essence of God, in other words, with what is common to the three Persons and not what is different. In other words, these are not hypostatic-personal properties that define the concept of the person, but properties relating to the essence or the nature of God. (John Zizioulas, The One and the Many, p. 21)

        The Greek Fathers insisted that memory, knowledge, will and love are not individuated between the persons of God but common to them all. They understood that to confer individual psychological attributes to the persons of God may lead to the projection of creaturely characteristics onto God. (John Zizioulas, Lectures in Christian Dogmatics, p. 69)

        Like you I begin my trinitarian reflection with the economic Trinity, and thus with the Triad. This led me very early on into a social trinitarianism. One of my favorite books in seminary was Leonard Hodgson’s The Doctrine of the Trinity. Hodgson was an early social trinitarian. But the more I read the Church Fathers, the more problematic this approach becomes in my eyes.

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        I’ll start a new comment thread here.
        “Three centers of consciousness—or in Dale Tuggy’s preferred way of speaking, three selves—is tritheism.” Ok, this is really helpful to clear things up. So I take it you are committed to a “one-self” Trinity theory (or mystery), which is fine. The question I’m interested in is (a) whether Bauckham’s monotheism is compatible with a three-self Trinity (I think it is), and (b) whether Bauckham’s monotheism is indeed the correct sort of monotheism, the monotheism of the Bible. If so, (a) and (b) have affirmative answers, then you would be incorrect: three divine selves would not be tritheistic according to the NT authors.
        P.S. have you read Samuel Clarke’s “Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity”, a book that Dale Tuggy promotes?

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        I was hoping to avoid the anthropomorphism charge by staying ambiguous about what a divine agent is. Oh well 🙂 Yes, I know that a divine person is not quite the same sort of thing as a human person. I don’t know much about John Z. beyond what I read about him in Thomas McCall’s “Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?”. He sounds interesting.
        I’ll start a new comment thread below. The crucial issue for me right now is what does Bauckham think tritheism is.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Ben: “So I take it you are committed to a “one-self” Trinity theory (or mystery), which is fine.”

        No! I don’t want to commit myself to any of these models, which seem intrinsically flawed. God transcends our counting. He transcends our notions of personhood. He transcends our understanding of consciousness and knowing. He transcends our experience of personal agency, etc., etc.

        Bernard Lonergan proposes that we speak of three subjects and one consciousness. Is this the way to go forward? Would Zizioulas agree? I do not know. I think it’s easier to identify where our speculations go off the track than it is to articulate the interior life of the triune Godhead.

        At the moment I still find myself deeply attracted to Zizioulas’s understanding of the Trinity as a communion of persons.

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      • Ben Nasmith says:

        I just have a hard time personally swallowing the idea that God transcends counting (being a math-major and all). I understand that the Eastern tradition is all about transcendence but things look different from where I stand. I’d personally rather just say “I don’t know [yet] how many _____” than “God transcends counting”.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Ah ha, my young padawan. If you solve the mystery of counting, transcendent dimensions of consciousness will be opened to you. 🙂

        First consider the mystery of the One.

        Then consider the mystery of the Three.

        “There is no number in God” (Aquinas).

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  6. Ben Nasmith says:

    Also, here’s a helpful quote from Bauckham’s “Jesus and the God of Israel”(p.159)

    “The texts, in my view, are concerned for the unique identity of God, not for the unitariness of God, which became a facet of Jewish monotheism only later. In other words, there is no reason why there should not be real distinctions within the unique identity of God. To say that the Wisdom of God and the Word of God are portrayed as intrinsic to the unique identity of God does not, in itself, decide the highly debated question of the extent to which their portrayal as personal agents is merely literary personification or real hypostatization. I am inclined to think this varies in the various texts. What my conclusion does deny is either that they are divine beings subordinate to the one God or that they are non-divine creatures of God. However much real existence of their own they are envisaged to have, they belong to the one God’s own unique identity, to who he is. Similarly, it is not because high-ranking angels are portrayed as personal agents that they should not be seen as intrinsic to the unique divine identity.”

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  7. Sue says:

    All “God”-ideas come from the human ego-“I”. They therefore not only reflect or are an extension of the ego-“I” itself, but, altogether, “God”-ideas, being mere ideas, reinforce and console the state of egoity, and, in fact, subordinate The Living Divine Reality to the ego and the ego’s search and purpose (particularly the collective tribal ego).
    Which is to say that all “God”-ideas reduce The Living Divine Reality to the merely mortal meat-body scale only. At the collective level such “God”-ideas are thus used to justify all the inevitable atrocities committed by the tribalistic ego against the members of other tribes and their tribalistic “God” or “Gods”.
    Furthermore, because Christians (in particular) pretend that their tribalistic “God”-idea is the ONLY one that is true, with all others being false, they are effectively at war with all other faith traditions and their multi-various cultural expressions. They thus seek, using whatever means they can, to “convert” all human beings to their supposed “one true way”. They even pretend that they have a Biblically inspired “great commission” to do so.

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    • Ben Nasmith says:

      I’m stuck on the first sentence. Does your idea–that All ‘God’-ideas come from the human ego-‘I’–itself count as a ‘God’-idea? If not, how do you know that the human ego is the source of all God-ideas? (“We create God” sounds very egotistical to me). Even if the ego were the source, how do you know that it is an untrustworthy source when it comes to God-ideas (i.e. maybe there are fingerprints of the divine in the human ego)? Lots to unpack here, http://wp.me/p3mheW-1Z

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    • Are you referencing the Sartrean “desire to be God”?

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  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Ben, this evening I thought of this passage from N. T. Wright’s book What St Paul Really Said. You no doubt are already familiar with it, but just in case:

    Jewish monotheism in this period was not an inner analysis of the being of the one true God. It was not an attempt at describing numerically what this God is, so to speak, on the inside. Instead it made two claims, both of them polemical in their historical context. One the one hand, Jewish monotheism asserted that the one God, the God of Israel, was the only God of the whole world; that therefore the pagan gods were blasphemous nonsense. . . and that the true God would one day decisively defeat these pagan gods. (p. 63)

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    • Ben Nasmith says:

      I haven’t read that book, but I am reading his “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” right now. I think this is helpful because we can get beyond claims that monotheism requires one and only one divine agent. The monotheism of scripture is mostly about one unified divine rule over one creation. The details about what it’s like on the other side of the line between the divine and not-divine are hard to come by.
      Also, NT Wright seems to be pretty much on board with Richard Bauckham. He adds that Jesus and the Spirit are said to do the things that Israel’s God was expected to do, like return to or rebuild the temple.

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  9. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I wrote to my friend Phillip Cary, philosopher and Augustine scholar, about the question of the monotheism of Neo-Platonism. (I call Phil a friend, though we have never met in person. Yet over the past years he has always generously responded to my email queries, and he reached out to me after my son’s death.) Here is part of his reply:

    I would say that Neoplatonism is ambiguous on precisely this point. It has a notion of an absolutely transcendent, incomprehensible and ineffable God, called the One or the Good. But is also speaks of a divine Mind (Nous) that is less than the One. In an important sense, only Nous is God, because the One is not an being, not one existent being among others, and has no particular features by which it could be compared or contrasted with anything that exists – – so Plotinus hesitates to call it by the name “God” or any other name. Nevertheless, if what you want is a concept of God as “transcendent uniqueness,” then NeoPlatonism has got it – – two of them, in fact, since both the One and the divine Nous are transcendent and unique.

    That ambiguity, I think, is one of the reasons why some 4th century traditionalist Christians could resist the language of Nicaea, defending a radical monotheism that insisted on the transcendent uniqueness of the Father, and assimilating the divine Logos to the Platonist Nous.

    You know, Tuggy is probably right that Bauckham’s formulation about Jesus belonging to the identity of God is a little vague. But I’m thinking it captures the conceptual vagueness of a definite set of practices, which amounted to worshiping Jesus (calling on him as Lord, identifying him as seated on the throne of God, etc.).

    What happened in the 4th century, in the wake of Nicaea, was that one way of remaining conceptually vague and ambiguous about the consequences of these practices of Christian worship lost an extended argument. The argument was at bottom about whether Jesus deserved worship that was equal to the worship of the Father. The way of remaining vague was to assimilate the Logos of John 1 with the Nous of Neoplatonism. The Nicene answer won because it was comopatible with according Jesus the same worship as was accorded God the Father.

    The metaphysical conclusions followed–including the homo-ousios, and trinitarian metaphysics for the next millenium and more, trying to catch up with what Christians had actually been doing in their worship from the beginning. Conceptually, we still haven’t caught up. But some of the milestones on the way, such as the homo-ousios, are things we won’t be going back on (that’s what it means to call them dogma).

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