Trinity, Eucharist, Tradition and the Challenge of Sola Scriptura

Eclectic Orthodoxy

In his article “The Evolution of My Views on the Trinity,” philosopher Dale Tuggy briefly describes how the writings of the 18th century philosopher Samuel Clarke impelled him to re-read the New Testament with the aim of learning whether the New Testament authoritatively supports the catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity. At the conclusion of his study he was forced to conclude that it does not:

In the end, it is the Bible vs. catholic tradition. For me, the Bible had to win. So, reading Clarke led me to see the unitarianism (again, just the thesis that the Father is one and the same as the one God) in the Bible, and this made me a unitarian, though I had no desire to be one, and many reasons to not want either that label or that belief.

In a previous post I noted the oddity of someone invoking…

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3 Responses to Trinity, Eucharist, Tradition and the Challenge of Sola Scriptura

  1. On the old thread, PJ and Dante both make a fundamental point that could be stated more baldly: the OT already shows the Creator to be plural, not a monad, so unitarian readings of the Bible fail, whether you believe in the Trinity or not. Put another way, if you believe the Bible, but reject the Trinity, self-consistency will take you, not to some philosophical monotheism, but to something like the binitarian merkabah mysticism of early Kabbalah. Put yet another way, if you believe in philosophical monotheism and want to try to read the Bible through that lens, then you will have to account for the places in scripture where divinity appears under signs of dialogue and relation. Can’t be done.

    Here’s why. In various places in the OT, the Creator reveals himself under the signs of Word, Law, Wisdom, Presence, and Spirit. Moreover, the OT shows God in relation to himself in such places as Psalm 110, Proverbs 8, Daniel 7, or the various appearances of the Angel of the Lord who descends from heaven, denies that he is the Lord, but then speaks as God. So the OT –> NT semiotic change is not that two strange new Persons were tacked onto the old One, but that the several signs for God in the OT are referred to just three in the NT. There are those, such as Tom Wright, who have no quarrel with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan definition of the Trinity, but who nevertheless cherish the use of the OT signs in the NT.

    How this change is to be understood as ordinary religious history is an open question, but scholars as widely different as the Orthdox talmudist Daniel Boyarin and the Evangelical neuetestamentler Richard Bauckham would agree that the apocalyptic writings both canonical (eg Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7) and non-canonical (OT pseudoepigrapha edited by Charlesworth, Bauckham) pointed to plurality in God long before the birth of Jesus. Boyarin hazards the hypothesis that the cults of the two creation gods in Canaan– YHWH and Elohim– became two traditions within the religion of ancient Israel that resurface in eg the Ancient of Days and the One Like A Man of Daniel 7.

    Much easier is understanding why, despite the textual evidence, unitarianism is revived from time to time. (1) Some are attracted to a philosophical god that is impersonal and transcendent; much of popular theism is neo-Epicurean (eg Bette Midler’s “From a distance…”). (2) Jesus makes some sense to people who lack the apocalyptic imagination in terms of which trinitarian reflection began and he was first recognized as God. (3) Jonathan Z Smith has shown that Enlightenment appeals to a Jesus behind the biblical text was meant to discredit the tradition of the Church. (4) Scholars of the history of religions school underestimated the religious creativity of Jews before Jesus and so assumed that trinitarian thought must have developed after the apostles in the Hellenistic world. (5) Recently, the religious conspiracy genre (eg Dan Brown) and some good research into Christian gnosticism has given a certain contrarian chic to believing that dastardly deeds in the C4 have tainted the traditional understanding. These are not arguments one necessarily believes, but they are considerations that raise one’s Bayesian priors until it is plausible that, somehow, all of those millions of people who have prayed and studied over Bibles must have gotten this wrong.

    So, in a way, there is a secret to be revealed: after years of reading the OT as a guidebook for archaeologists, many more of us are now reading it for its fascinating accounts of the NT God. And please note, this is not an authortarian move. The NT itself is our guide to these readings.


  2. RVW says:

    For what it is worth, I’ve mused on this set of articles (going back to the original “Unitarianism and the Bible of the Holy Trinity” over at my blog:

    This whole thing is a rehashing of my life story.



    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you for this link. I commend this article to my readers. RVW, I strongly affirm this statement of yours in particular: “The Trinity is the assumption needed to make sense of the texts.”


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