68. Son of Man/Son of God, Editorial

Clifford Denton

It has not been easy to put this edition together. I resolved to do something, when the issue of the doctrine of the Trinity was questioned by friends who are keen to rediscover the Biblical origins of our Faith. However, it is not easy to unpack the whole subject safely, and I do not want to either promote error or appear to do so. Nevertheless, I am convinced something needs to be done to explore the whole Church doctrines afresh, including the doctrine of the Trinity. After all, the term “Trinity” is not to be found in the Bible. It is a theological description of God which developed through the Church Councils. Theology can have too much Greek philosophy in it, as far as I am concerned, so that one can appear to know a lot about God without knowing Him in personal terms.

As I have looked into this I have discovered that the whole area of Trinitarian doctrine has foundations which cause concern. For example, there is a large amount of vocabulary that one needs to come to terms with if one is to understand what theologians mean, such as “substantia”, “hupostasis”, “ousia”, “essence”, “substance”, “tritheism”, “modalism”, “socinianism”, “unitarianism”. On the one hand, theologians have wrestled with the concept of the Trinity and found that they have had to go deeply into philosophical concepts to lay out a description of the God-head, accurately. On the other hand, ordinary people, who know little of this sort of argument have had to accept a simple doctrinal statement that there are three co-equal, co-existant “persons” in the God-head, called the Trinity, without understanding any of these philosophical expressions and arguments. The theologian needs to grapple with concepts that he cannot convey to the ordinary believer, who is simply asked to agree to a statement of belief which is beyond his ability to comprehend. This has put a distance between ordinary people and God, and a fear of committing heresy if they say that they do not fully subscribe to what they do not understand, or has given a feeling of inferiority about not understanding. Yet we are encouraged to sing hymns including lines like, “Holy, Holy, Holy, God in three persons blessed Trinity”, not really knowing what we are singing. Of course an innocent singing of these hymns is not going to lead us to be condemned by our Lord when we are simply trusting that this is the way to address Him, but we must admit that there is a point of concern. The Lord’s prayer encourages us to approach God as “Father”, not as “Trinity”. “Blessed Trinity” has a hint of Roman Catholic doctrine about it which may not have been removed at the Reformation. We are surely right to ask if this concept of God is the most appropriate and if it is a barrier to the intimate relationship between Father and child which is ours through belief in Yeshua, the Son of God. Otherwise, what did the Lord mean through Jeremiah, when he said, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.”

As I try to discover the roots of our Faith I am led to the progressive revelation of God through the Old Testament and then to the final and complete revelation in His Son Yeshua. All this has been given to me, whether I am a philosopher or a slave. The Holy Spirit has been sent to me to draw me into truth and into a fellowship with God. When I read the best of theological books it is apparent that this is known by sound theologians as well, but we nevertheless end up with Church philosophies and concepts of God which are understood by very few people. Indeed, if I am honest, when I am a mature believer, these theological concepts are almost irrelevant, because I know that I know God. Because there is a difference between knowing God and knowing about God, I am both cautious about theologians who have a lot to say about theology but a shallow testimony of Faith, while also being concerned that many believers will not go on to maturity if they are simply brought up on doctrinal statements and lack teaching which leads them to child-like Faith.

Now there are many pit-falls in tackling this subject. Theologies and doctrinal statements were developed to combat heresy, so the whole area is a battleground. In raising up the issues that resulted in the Church councils, and in carefully worked out statements in our most reliable books of systematic theology, naive believers are likely to fall into the same traps of heresy which have been found during the history of the Church. There are traps everywhere of gaining the wrong perceptions about the manhood and deity of the Lord Yeshua, about the Holy Spirit, about the unity of the character and “essence” of the One True God, about the inter-relationships of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If one even begins to question the notion of the Trinity one may immediately cause some people to tremble or to cry “heresy”. This is one of the most important doctrines of the Church to counter heresy itself, after all. When I suggested that I might begin to approach this topic, one close friend said that she would send flowers to my funeral! My answer has been that if we are to look at this issue then whatever ideas we promote, they must be at least as good as the doctrine of the Trinity. Some have softened the term, or broadened it, and called it the Tri-unity instead, but this is not sufficient, in my view.

To illustrate the dangers of looking at this subject, there are those who would interpret the title which Yeshua used of Himself “Son of man” as simply pointing out that He was a man. They might then go on to look at the history of the Church and how and when the idea was made explicit that Yeshua was also Divine (I have, in my possession, a book which develops this theme). They would then proclaim that it was a misunderstanding of the term “Son of man” that gave Yeshua Divine status and conclude that He was only a man and separate from any concept of the God-head. What message does that give for the Church to proclaim, that Yeshua is not God? Some Gospel message that is! Instead we must find what we can, in truth, say about Him which is higher than any concept of the Trinity, that is born out of Faith and Fellowship with Him.

One of the growing dangers in the Church is the following after false spirits. I would suggest that there can be teaching about the Holy Spirit which causes us to focus on spiritual manifestations rather than on the Father and Yeshua, and this becomes a route to accepting false spirits into the Church, because we become out of balance with our ideas of who God is and how He manifests His life to us: This can come out of knowing God from a distance on account of theological teaching which is too difficult for the ordinary believer.

In developing this edition of Tishrei I have had to carefully consider how it should be pitched. I have decided not to take the issue head-on by publishing (even good) articles that could be over-controversial at this stage. We have time to look at this issue in the coming years. I have been impressed, however, by the arguments that insist that we should not use the terminology “God in three persons”. When we study the Scriptures we discover that it is more about a Father and Son relationship that about a Trinity. Is this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? No, not if we see that The Holy Spirit is simply the Spirit of God. Does the weight of Scripture incline us to consider the Holy Spirit as a “person”, albeit that Trinity doctrine tells us to consider that person an equal member of the God-head. In this sense, Trinity doctrine can cause us to pay attention to the Holy Spirit as an end in itself, while the Holy Spirit’s coming to anoint us, minister to us or through us or in us, is simply the way the Father and Son come to be evident among the people. If this is the case, nothing is lost, and the true purpose is gained, when we simply allow the Holy Spirit to help us into worshipful relationship with God our Father and Yeshua, His Son. The object of our attention is then to wonder at the relationship between Father and Son, and being drawn into that family as a Bride. This is certainly an experiential issue, but we can refine our teaching so that seeking after experience does not lead to error. The Holy Spirit of God has come to help us, and surely Faith is primarily about life and relationships. What we are called into is a family of faith, where a Bride is being prepared. There can be nothing more wonderful and more experiential than that. We are part of the preparations of a Jewish wedding more than being prepared for a class on Church doctrine.

My appeal, I raising this issue, is for a bold study of our Jewish roots by those who can lead the way. Perhaps there is need for some careful discussion behind the scenes before this is opened out too fully, lest we destabilize what has presently been protected by Church doctrine. This issue of Tishrei has not been so bold as to risk going into error, but there is just the beginning, particularly through Joe Shulam’s article, of an honest attempt to recover the Jewish perspective and challenge the Church councils. The Church councils wanted to defend the Faith. By so-doing they created a concept of the Trinity. It is not necessary, however, to defend the doctrine itself when we are ready to regain the maturity that can be established deeper down in our roots.

(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol 4 No 2, Son of Man/Son of God, Spring 1996)



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