The Question of the Divinity of Jesus of Nazareth (Chapter 7)
The Incarnation — Jesus as God incarnate, in the flesh. The Trinity — one God in three persons. Here we have the bedrock tenet of Christian belief.
Or do we?
Many would say that to be Christian, you have to believe that Jesus was divine, and that he was one person in a three-part God. But most of the Gospel writers didn’t believe these things — so how can they be necessary to being Christian?
I greatly admire the Trinity as a way to accommodate Christianity to the thought-world of the ancient Roman Empire, a way to explain God and Jesus according to the common sense of 15 or 20 centuries ago.
But that doesn’t mean this is the only way to explain God or identify Jesus today — or even the best way.
As a Christian, I cannot accept the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. There are (at least) five reasons for this:
First, to begin with, there is the liberating fact that there is no one interpretation of Jesus in the Gospels — and certainly not the doctrine found in the official creeds that were adopted later, in the Fourth Century. So we can be faithful to the Biblical witness without accepting these doctrines. (In this respect, it is worth noting the more recent development of “Biblical Unitarians” among evangelical Christians — watch for this link to be added].
Second, these doctrines are not logically possible. Saying that someone is both human and divine, finite and infinite, is like talking about a square circle. It may be imaginative, but it is neither a paradox nor an enlightening mystery – rather, it is meaningless nonsense. If we mean to say that God was revealed in Jesus of Nazareth in some unfathomable way, then we should say just that.
Third, they violate our common sense. What was imaginable for Zeus or Apollo — to descend to the earth in human form — is not imaginable for the God of the Universe.
Fourth, it has struck me more and more over the years that the inapt translation of the Latin formulation as one substance, three “persons,” has resulted in a lot of Christians who are, in effect, “tritheists” rather than monotheists.
Finally, for many people the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are both unnecessary and unhelpful. Unnecessary, because we do not need to believe that Jesus is divine in order to choose him as our focus for understanding God, and to try to follow his teachings. Unhelpful, because many of us just can’t make sense of it, and refuse to recite that we believe “X” the incomprehensible. Of course God is beyond our finite understanding, but that is no excuse for using sloppy, illogical, or meaningless language to describe God. (See Chapter 11: Talk about Talk about God.) Moreover, if Jesus was human in the same sense that you and I are human, then maybe, at least some of the time, you and I can also live in a way that is based on the love of others.
For more on the Trinity, and Unitarianism, and why I am a unitarian but not a Unitarian [watch for this link].