THE NATURE OF GOD IN THE BIBLE
The first view of Deity presented in Hebrew scripture presumed a man-shaped god, who required rest after the strenuous labor of creation, who kept a tree of immortality for his own special use, who had to “go down” to earth (or send angel-spies) to know what men were doing, who loved bloodshed (of animals in sacrifice and of men in war), who resided in the back chamber of a temple, and who was beset with all the human emotions. This was the conception of the Patriarchs.
A later view of God postulated a heavenly King with a retinue of angel-warriors, or, alternately, a righteous Judge, who always tipped the scales in favor of the Hebrew race. These were the conceptions of the Prophets.
The most advanced viewpoint was finally provided in the Christian scriptures. There, God was revealed as a loving, universal Father, who was in the nature of a Spirit. This ultimate, superior concept was the only acceptable description of Divinity compatible with a mature religious philosophy. But there still remained the complication of the Trinity.
The question of Christology was the hottest issue of debate in the early Church. Granting that Christ was divine, the question of His exact relationship in the Godhead was undecided. Two schools of thought emerged: the Athanasian (Nicene) and the Arian. The followers of bishop Athanasius (predominant after the Council of Nicæa) held with the Trinity, while deacon Arius taught that Christ was a separate, lower personage from God the Father. Without meaning to, the Arians were promoting a regression to polytheism - or tri-theism.
Unfortunately, both parties could cite scriptural proof-texts. Scriptures supporting these two views were the following:
Jesus is stationed at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1, Matthew 22:44, 26:64, Mark 16:19, Acts 7:56).
Jesus is subordinate to God (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of His own accord” (John 5:19).
Jesus said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:19).
Jesus said, “No man is good except God” (Mark 10:18).
The “Son of God” concept (Matthew 27:43, Mark 1:1, John 10:36).
The heavenly Voice: “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5).
The Lamb before the Throne of God (Revelation 5:6).
Christ is Intercessor to God (Hebrews 7:25, Isaiah 53:12, Romans 8:26).
Jesus as the heavenly High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).
The derelict cry from the Cross (Matthew 27:46).
“The Word was God” (John 1:1).
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Jesus said, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Jesus said, “I AM” (John 8:58).
Thomas called Jesus “God” (John 20:28).
“This is the true God” (1 John 5:20).
“Jesus” means “Jehovah-Salvation” (Matthew 1:21).
God said, “I Myself will be Shepherd of My sheep” (Ezekiel 34:15).
Jesus is the visible image of God (Colossians 1:15-16, Hebrews 1:3).
The Fulness of Deity is in Christ (Colossians 2:9).
God manifested in the flesh (i.e., Incarnation) (1 Timothy 3:16).
“Immanuel” means “God with Us” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23).
Jesus is “Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Jesus is “First and Last, Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 1:8, 2:8).
Jesus is “King of kings” (Revelation 17:14).
Jesus is “Christ, God blessed forever” (Romans 9:5, Hebrews 1:8).
There is no attempt to reconcile these contradictory passages in the Bible itself. Thus, it is left to the believer to seek a solution.
Any answer must be compatible with the essential goodness of God. (The question of the goodness of God is the theological concept of “theodicy.”) Now, there is in the theodicy of the Crucifixion the possibility of ascribing evil to the divine nature. If the Arian view is correct, the Cross becomes a defamation of the good name of God. It becomes the error of Abraham all over again - the morbid decision of that old sheik to cut the throat of his only son as a human sacrifice. The only difference is that unlike Abraham, the Arian God proceeded with the atrocity!
That God should have a “Son” in the physical sense is in itself erroneous, but that He should send that “Son” as a victim to undergo torture and death is a gross libel of His righteous character.
Thus, the Trinitarian view is the only feasible alternative. It was God Himself in the Incarnation Who suffered. It was not some lesser divinity, emanation, or angel. The Redeemer of Israel was the merciful God Himself. The message of the prophets was that God would save His people. Consequently, the Christ had a special name, Immanuel, “God with Us.”
Every scripture to the contrary is in error. Many of these can be explained as referring to Jesus the man, prior to His exaltation. Naturally the human Messiah would say, “My Father is greater than I.” The incarnate God is less than the ineffable God - but that was only a temporary condition. From eternity, God was God, and it was just in the space of a short thirty-year period that a portion of the divine Spirit was housed in clay.
The best explanation of the Incarnation is the “kenotic theory,” based on the Greek word kenosis: “emptying.” It was stated in Philippians 2:7 that God “emptied Himself” into a human vessel. He poured out a measure of the Spirit into a man - how much may not be determined - and then later restored that portion of divinity to Himself.
Jesus in His teaching about the Fatherhood of God called people “sons” of God. Since He was also human at the time, He also considered Himself a “Son.” But after the Resurrection, there was no more sonship. Once again, God was God.
The scriptures that are in error are those that show “sonship” after the Ascension. There is not a separate “Son of God” figure in heaven. The bodily Ascension would imply that the human form of Jesus is presently in heaven, but this is not necessarily so. God appeared to man in human form several times in the Bible narratives, and it is unlikely that these theophanic “bodies” were retained in heaven. The picture of Jesus “sitting at the right hand of God” has been explained as a symbol of the deity of Christ and of the divine approbation of the ministry of Jesus. But be it symbol or not, this false picture has been nothing but a source of confusion. There are not three Thrones in heaven. If there is a “Throne” at all, it is only One. And prayer to “Jesus” - rather than “in the name of Christ” - is a mistake. Richard L. Atkins 8-3-1976