Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Bible, Justin Martyr and Monolatrism

Evangelicals and many Jews claim that the traditional or Orthodox Judeo-Christian belief was strictly monotheistic. That there is only one being in the universe rightly called God. However, this belief led to unfortunate consequences. The Jews used this belief as a pretext to reject Jesus Christ who didn't just claim Messiah-ship, but also claimed he was a God. And this belief has led Evangelicals and Catholics to adopt a creed that describes God in terms that cannot be explained or comprehended. According to the Nicene and other Creeds, God is 3 persons, but only 1 undivided substance and being. While Christians reject modalism (belief that 3 persons of the godhead are the 3 manifestations of God), there isn't a logical way to explain how 3 persons can be the same being. However, looking at the Bible and explanations from the First-Century Christian Fathers, it turns out the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament were not teaching a strict hypermonothesism but monolatrism. Monolatrism is not polytheism or henothesism. What is it? Monolatrism is the belief that while there may exist other beings that are gods in the universe, a monolatrist only worships one God. So, if monolatrism is taught in the Old and New Testament, is there evidence?

Elohim means "the gods" or the almighties" or "the omnipotents." Many claim that the use of the pleural for a singular God is meant to reverence His greatness and majesty. This is also referred to as the "royal we". The problem with the "royal we" together with using the pleural form of "the almighties" or "the omnipotents" as a reference for the Father is that Justin Martyr forgets to mention this when he explaining to Trypho about the statements in the creation story in Genesis.

Justin Martyr quotes Genesis to Trypho: "Let us make man in our image and after our likeness" and then "Man has become as one of us to know good and evil."He then tells Trypho that there are at least 2 "numerically distinct intelligent beings present" and that God is not talking to himself, or the elements, or the angels. So, it seems that Justin is making a case that the pleural form Elohim which means "the gods" actually means what it says. Also, we should notice that Trypho didn't argue this point either. (Justin Maryr comments to Trypho Chapter 61-62)

So, how would these verses read if we used the pleural form?

1. In the beginning [the Gods] created the heaven and the earth.
2. And [the gods] said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness
3. And the [head of the Gods]* said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil

*Lord God = Jehovah Elohim = the "self-existent one" or "head" of the Gods

But what about the several verses in Isaiah that saying God is one, and there is no God beside me, and God doesn't know any other Gods or that before and after God was no God formed? (Isa. 43: 10 , Isa. 44: 6 , Isa. 44: 8 ,Isa. 45: 5-6, 14, 21-22, Isa. 46: 9) It was these scriptures which led Jews to reject Christ. Also, in context, Isaiah is saying there is only one God who will save Israel and only one God that Israel should worship. The significance of Isaiah and other in stressing the oneness of God, is that the Gods (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost) are unified in purpose, and not numerically one being.

Justin also discussed Psalms 82 and gives an interesting version of this scripture.

Psalm 82:1 (KJV): God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.

Justin Martyr Chapter CXXIV.--Christians are the sons of God. And when I saw that they were perturbed because I said that we are the sons of God, I anticipated their questioning, and said, "Listen, sirs, how the Holy Ghost speaks of this people, saying that they are all sons of the Highest; and how this very Christ will be present in their assembly, rendering judgment to all men. The words are spoken by David, and are, according to your version of them, thus: `God standeth in the congregation of gods; He judgeth among the gods. How long do ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Judge for the orphan and the poor, and do justice to the humble and needy. Deliver the needy, and save the poor out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither have they understood; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken. I said, Ye are gods, and are all children of the Most High. But ye die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God! judge the earth, for Thou shalt inherit all nations.' But in the version of the Seventy it is written,`Behold, ye die like men, and fall like one of the princes,' in order to manifest the disobedience of men,--I mean of Adam and Eve,--and the fall of one of the princes, i.e., of him who was called the serpent, who fell with a great overthrow, because he deceived Eve. But as my discourse is not intended to touch on this point, but to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming "gods," and of having power to become sons of the Highest; and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve. Now I have proved at length that Christ is called God.

Evangelicals argue that Psalm 82 is not saying that men are gods, but that the word for judge and god are interchangeable and that it is just a word play. But Justin Martyr must not have gotten the memo, because he doesn't seem to know anything about this. He accepts the words of scripture on face value. In fact, he gives a clearer version of Palsm 82 than the KJV and correctly translates "Elohim" as gods instead of mighty which clarifies this passage as referring to the divine heavenly council (sod qedoshim).

What is the point here? The key doctrine that Justin is teaching is that while only Chistians will ultimately be choosen as the children of God and "called gods;" all men are deemed worthy of becoming "gods," and of having power to become sons of the Highest. However, as Justing explains, all men have fallen, and will die like Adam and Eve and must accept the adoption of Christ. But all men were "deemed deserving of the name of His sons" originally before falling by sin. This doctrine reminds believers of the infinite potential of all mankind regardless of status.

1 Cor 8:5-6 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Paul also makes in indirect reference to monolatrism in referrance about idol worship. Here Paul is referring to those idols when he first says "For though there be that are called gods" referring to the idols. But the parenthetical "(as there be gods many and lords many)" is validating the teaching in the Bible that there are, in actual fact, many beings in the heavens considered gods and lords, but only one Being who we worship as God, and one being we worship as Lord who is the Father and the Son Jesus Christ. This is not polytheism or henotheism but a kind of monothesism called monolatrism. While there may be many beings in heaven who are considered gods and children of god, we worship only one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ.

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