Unity & the Christian Fundamentals (III), Progressive Revelation of 2 Mysteries through Paul

Unity & the Christian Fundamentals (III), Progressive Revelation of 2 Mysteries through Paul

The Apostle Paul wrote of two distinct, yet interrelated, “mysteries” that were concealed in the Old Testament Scriptures, yet were progressively revealed to the Apostles over several years after Pentecost. Neither of these two mysteries were fully comprehended by the Apostles at the beginning of their evangelistic outreach.

It should not come as a surprise that Jesus sent out His Apostles to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom without their training and knowledge being complete. He told them that their training was incomplete, and that He would continue to instruct them from God’s right hand through the Breath of Truth, giving them much fuller revelation during their on-the-job training.

John 16:12-15 LGV 12 I still have much to tell you, but you are powerless to carry it right now. 13 But when that should come, the Breath of Truth, it will lead you into all the truth, for it will not speak from self, but will speak whatever it hears, and it will inform you [about] what is coming. 14 That will glorify Me because it will receive out from Me and will relay-message to you. 15 Everything, whatever the Father has, is Mine. Therefore I said [that] it will receive out from Me and will relay-message to you.

Both interrelated “mysteries” were taught progressively to the Apostles, especially Paul, by Jesus Christ through the Breath of Truth. Understanding these mysteries was not essential at the beginning since the Gospel of the Kingdom was confined primarily to Judea and to the synagogues in Jewish communities of the Diaspora (Acts 2:5-12,37-42). Yet as the Gospel was spread beyond the synagogues throughout the Roman world (primarily through Paul), comprehending these mysteries became essential in order to make Christianity inclusive of all ethnic peoples, not only Israelites. These mysteries form the very bedrock of mature Apostolic Christianity as it relates to all nations, including us.

The First “Mystery” concerned the Abrahamic Covenant, the Hope of immortality and the inheritance, exactly how God would bring together both Jew and Gentile as equals into the inheritance that He seemingly only promised to Abraham and his physical descendants. The Old Testament Scriptures, both the Torah and the prophets, are very Israel-centric. The Abrahamic Covenant acknowledges that Abraham’s “Seed” will also be a blessing to “all nations” (Gen. 18:18; Gen. 22:18; Gen. 26:4). Yet the application and fulfillment of the Abrahamic land inheritance is seemingly promised exclusively to the Twelve Tribes in the Torah (Exod. 6:8; Exod. 13:11). In the treatment of the Kingdom by the prophets the land inheritance is still viewed as pertaining to the twelve tribes of Israel. Even Ezekiel’s description of the Promised Land in the Kingdom has it divided among the twelve tribes (Ezek. 48). Israel is placed as head of nations with restored Jerusalem as its capitol (Isa. 65-66). Israelites will take Gentiles as their servants and will rule over all other nations that previously oppressed them (Isa. 14:1-2).

But the mystery, concerning how the Abrahamic inheritance can become the possession of the faithful remnant from all nations, and how individual Gentiles joined to Christ become “Abraham’s Seed,” becoming equal members and heirs of the Abrahamic inheritance, was completely hidden until revealed to Paul. This is described primarily in Galatians (chs. 3-4) and Ephesians (chs. 1:9-18; 2:11-22; 3:1-9). This important truth was not revealed in the Old Testament, nor was it taught to the disciples during Jesus’ ministry. The only exceptions were a few hints from Jesus which the disciples did not comprehend until much later (Matt. 8:11-12; John 10:16).

From the beginning of the synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ birth and His role as the Anointed King was announced to Mary in terms of His occupying the Throne of David and ruling over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:30-33). Mary’s “Magnificat” is entirely Israel-centric. “… He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever” (Lk. 1:54-55 NKJ). John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, also prophesied similarly (Luke 1:68-75). From His birth until His crucifixion, Jesus was portrayed, not as “King of kings and Lord of lords” as in Revelation, but as “the King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2; Matt. 27:11-12,29,37).

For several years after Pentecost the Apostles continued to have a very Israel-centric paradigm derived from Moses, the prophets, and Jesus’ preaching “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Not until Paul was chosen by Jesus to proclaim this “mystery” to the Gentiles, to preach and adapt the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Gentiles, was this mystery fully revealed (Rom. 16:25-27; Col. 3:1-9). In fact, the first hint of this mystery was at first strongly resisted by Peter. It took the vision of the sheet let down from heaven to pry Peter away from his taboos concerning accepting the Gentiles (Acts 10), and even eating non-kosher with them (Acts 11:1-3; Gal. 2:11-16). Later it took the Jerusalem Council, having heard and considered Paul’s reports of how God was working mightily among the Gentiles through His ministry, to convince the other Apostles and elders to decree that the Gentiles need not become converts to Moses and Israel in order to partake of the inheritance (Acts 15). Paul, in writing to the Gentiles, took great pains to announce that they were equal members in the Body of Christ (Eph. 2), and would share in the Abrahamic land inheritance (Gal. 3:3-29), that God would also give them “an inheritance among those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

The Second “Mystery” concerned the Davidic Covenant, which was equally hidden and is equally essential to the mature Apostolic Faith. This “mystery” deals with the relationship of Jesus the Messiah to both David and God. The Davidic Covenant promised David a dynasty and a specific heir who would sit upon “the Throne of David” and reign over David’s kingdom forever (Isa. 9:6-7).

1 Chron. 17:11-14 NKJ “And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. 14 And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.”‘”

Thus the Messiah was presented first as “the son of David,” but also “the Son of God.” Lest one suppose that He would be God’s Son only by adoption, David quoted the Son of God declaring what the Father said to Him: “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” (Psalm 2:7; Heb. 1:5). Thus He was God’s Son by procreation out of God Himself (Jn. 8:42 Gk).

The mystery of how the Messiah could actually be “begotten” by both God and David, thus having two fathers, was not understood by the Jewish leaders. In fact, Jesus used this very mystery to completely stump the Jewish scholars.

Matt. 22:41-46 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him Lord, saying: 44 ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool “‘? 45 “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” 46 And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.

Some might suppose that Jesus’ question was not that difficult to answer. David simply called his descendant, the Messiah, “my Lord” (Master), because the Messiah outranked him. Yet that is not possible in Jewish thought because an ancestor always outranks his descendants. In a kingly dynasty, a successor can never outrank the founder of that dynasty. David was the king of Israel and the first king of the Davidic dynasty thereafter referred to as the “Throne of David.” The word “Messiah” is Hebrew for “the Anointed” (“Christos” in Greek, and “Christ” in English). David himself was called the Lord’s Messiah – Anointed – Christ many times (1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 19:16; 2 Sam. 22:51; 2 Sam. 23:1; 2 Sam. 23:1; Psalm 18:50 etc.). So also was Solomon his immediate successor (2 Chron. 6:42). Each of the kings of the Davidic dynasty were an Anointed, Messiah, Christ, and each one sat upon “the Throne of David” (1 Kings 2:24,45; Jer. 22:2,4,30; Jer. 29:16; Jer. 36:30).

God promised David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne and reign forever (thus defying death). The Messianic expectation by the leadership of Israel was that the last “Messiah” would simply be the last king of the Davidic dynasty in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

Isaiah 9:6-7 NASB 6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”

If Messiah was exclusively the final king of David’s royal line to sit upon David’s throne, there is no way he could be David’s “Lord” (Master). This is why the scholars were completely stumped by Jesus’ riddle. However, the solution to this “mystery” was progressively revealed in the New Testament. The teaching of the preexistence of God’s only-begotten Son is absolutely essential to resolve this conundrum. That the Son was “begotten” as “the Beginning” of God’s works (Psalm 2:7; Prov. 8:22 LXX; Prov. 30:1-4), that He was God’s agent through whom God created everything, including mankind (“Let Us make man in Our image and after Our likeness” {Gen. 1:26}) , makes the Son of God anterior to David and indirectly the source of David’s own existence. Thus, the Son of God was David’s “Lord” (Master) because He participated in the creation of man, and interacted with man directly as God’s personal Agent, thus bringing about the Davidic Dynasty in the first place. Yet He also eventually became David’s descendant through Mary.

Jesus Himself, in the book of Revelation recorded by John, unambiguously gave the solution to the riddle that He posed much earlier to the Jewish scholars when He said to them, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is he?” The correct answers is: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David,” (Rev. 22:16). That is, “Jesus is the Christ(meaning Son of David and heir to the Throne of David), but also “the Son of the living God (who was begotten of God before David) (Matt. 16:16; John 20:31). This is THE solution to the mystery of the Davidic Covenant, and how the Son of God can have two fathers. He was “begotten” of the Father as “the Beginning” (Prov. 8:22-25 LXX; Prov. 30:1-4) and then later “begotten” through Mary whose father (Heli) was a descendant of David (Luke 3:22-31). When Jesus posed this riddle to the temple scholars He knew they could not answer because they were looking only for a man who would be exclusively David’s son, and God’s “son” merely by election and adoption. They did not understand Micah 5:2 which states about the Messiah who would be born in Bethlehem, “whose goings forth have been from old, from ancient times.”

The “mystery” concerning the Davidic Covenant is that the Messiah is both the only-begotten Son of God, preceding David, yet He is also the “Christ” (Messiah), the son of David. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians was that they would fully comprehend this “mystery.”

Colossians 2:1-3 LGV “For I wish you to have observed the great struggle I have concerning you, and those in Laodicea, and as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, 2 so that their hearts may be called near, being united in love and unto all riches of the complete assurance of comprehension unto full knowledge of the mystery of the God and Father, and of Christ, 3 in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.”

Exactly how the Son of God who preceded David could also be David’s offspring was explained by Paul as follows:

Phil. 2:5-8 NASB “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Just as the mystery of the Abrahamic inheritance was at first concealed and then fully revealed through Paul, so also “the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ” was also concealed in the Torah and in the prophets, but fully revealed through Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. In Paul, Jesus went from being portrayed merely as the “King of the Jews” to being the Redeemer and restorer of the whole creation (Col. 1:19-20). This mystery included His having been begotten out of God as “the Beginning,” His role as “Wisdom” and “Word” in the creation of all things (Col. 1:15-18), and having interacted with mankind as “the Messenger (Angel) of the Lord.” Thus, from the beginning the “only-begotten Son” had a personal relationship with the patriarchs Adam, Seth, and Noah whose descendants eventually were divided forming all nations. The Son had a special relationship with Abraham, and was the Agent of God who made and confirmed the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants on God’s behalf. Then coming as a Man, He also made and confirmed the New Covenant on God’s behalf with the disciples. Both of these mysteries were concealed in the second Psalm; first that the LORD’s “Messiah” (vs. 2) was literally “begotten” out of God (vs. 7), and second that “all nations” and “the ends of the earth” would be the Son’s inheritance and possession when He is installed on Mt. Zion as King.

John’s Role to Defend the Mysteries: Both Paul and Peter predicted that after their martyrdom false teachers would arise within the assemblies (Acts 20:28-31; 2 Peter 2; 2 Peter 3:15-18). That is precisely what occurred because of the vacuum of leadership in Paul’s and Peter’s absence. Jude, observing the deteriorating situation, wrote his short epistle as a plea for help in defending “the Faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3-4). In response, John stepped up to reinforce and defend the mature Pauline teachings of the “mysteries” against their being twisted and adapted to Greek philosophy. John took over the seat of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles at Ephesus shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. John directly exposed and took on the heretics, particularly the Nicolaitans and Cerinthus. All of John’s works directly challenge these Gnostic heresies and reinforce Paul’s earlier teachings.

John’s primary work, his Gospel, confirmed Jesus as the Word (Logos) who was in the beginning with God, and through whom God created all things. This was intended to confirm Paul’s statements in Colossians 1:15-18 & Heb. 1:1-3. He then recalled John the Baptist’s testimony concerning Jesus, that “He was before me,” even though John was six months older that Jesus (John 1:15,30). He then reinforced Paul’s statement in Eph. 4:9-10, “Now this ‘He ascended’ what does it mean but that He also first descended unto the lower parts of the earth.” John affirmed the Son’s prior descent to earth by his own editorial comment, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who came down from heaven (John 3:13). John recalled many things Jesus Himself said about His preexistence, including For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 6:38), and that the appearances of God to the ancient people was actually the Son, because “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him(John 1:18 NKJ); that Jesus is the only one who has ever seen the Father (John 6:46); that He existed before Abraham (John 8:58), that He was about to “ascend back to where He was previously” (John 6:62); having asked the Father to again bestow upon Him the glory that He formerly possessed beside the Father before the world was (John 17:5). All of this was to confirm (often from Jesus’ own mouth) what Paul had already taught in passages such as 1 Cor. 1-2; Eph. 1-2; Col. 1-2; and Heb. 1-2. John poured it on thick in order to give no quarter whatsoever to the Gnostic heretics who were twisting Paul’s letters (2 Pet. 3:15-16), claiming that the one who descended from heaven was a different person than the man Jesus. John continued to do the same in his epistles, calling “antichrists” those who denied that the one who came down from heaven had “come in the flesh.” Then in Revelation, John gave several more proofs of the Son’s preexistence, that He was the “Angel (Messenger) of God” (Rev. 1:1-2). John then quoted Jesus as claiming to be “The Beginning of the Creation of God” (Rev. 3:14) thus validating Paul’s statement that the Son was “the first-produced of all creation” (Col. 1:15) and “the Beginning” (Col. 1:18), both of these were referencing Prov. 8:22-31 from the Septuagint. He quoted Jesus as claiming to be “the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17) which was the claim of the Angel [Messenger] of the Lord (Isa. 48:3,12). Then John is the one who recorded Jesus as saying “I am the Root and Offspring of David” (borrowing from Isa. 11:1,10). Finally, John emphatically stated that His name is called Logos of God confirming Paul’s statement about “Logos of God” in Heb. 4:12-15, and leaving no question as to the meaning of John. 1:1-3.

Through Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, both of the above “mysteries” were gradually but fully revealed, not only the Gentiles being included as equals in Israel’s hope of resurrection and the land inheritance, but also the full identity and purpose of the Son of God, “the hidden Wisdom,” and “Word” (Logos) whose true identity had been concealed from Israel in plain sight from the very beginning. But the disguise of God’s only-begotten Son throughout the Old Testament was absolutely necessary as Paul explained.

1 Cor. 2:6-10 LGVAnd we proclaim Wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or the principle [men] of this age, those being deposed. 7 But we speak the Wisdom of God in a mystery, having been concealed, whom God predetermined before the ages for our glory, 8 who none of the principle [men] of this age have discovered. For if they had discovered, they would not have crucified the Master of glory. 9 But just as it has been written, ‘That which the eye did not see and the ear did not hear and the heart did not ascend towards, these things God prepared for those loving Him.’ 10 Yet God revealed [the mystery] to us through His Breath. For the Breath searches everything, even the deep things of God.

The writings of Paul, and then John’s greatly reinforcing Paul, provide the mature and full revelation of both mysteries. The Abrahamic Faith, and Gospel of the Kingdom, is not complete, whole, and entirely effective without the full understanding and proclamation of both of these mysteries. Paul’s desire was that the Gentiles come to understand the richness of both of these mysteries, both of which have great benefit for Christians who fully understands them.

The Benefit of Understanding the Abrahamic Covenant: “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:15-18 NKJ).

The Benefit of Understanding the Davidic Covenant: “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3 NKJ).

These two mysteries are treasures that God wants to share with all of His adopted sons and daughters because of their motivational value.

The Son of God was not a latecomer to the Abrahamic Faith. He said, “Before Abraham was, I exist.” He was and is both “the Founder and Finisher of the Faith,” the same “Abrahamic Faith” which was held by “the great cloud of witnesses” since Abel (Heb. 12:1-2). He was “in the beginning with God” (John 1:1), through whom God created all things (Prov. 8:22-29 LXX; John 1:3; Col. 1:15-18; Heb. 1:2). The Father mentored His only-begotten Son as they together fashioned what would eventually become the Son’s own inheritance (Psalm 2). The Son was “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “the express image of His Person” (Heb. 1:3) to Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses; the one whom Isaiah calls “the Messenger of His Face” (Isa. 63:9). As God’s personal Agent, the Son led Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land (Exod. 23:20-23; Judges 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 10:4,9; Heb. 11:24-26). This intermediary was “The Messenger (Angel) of the LORD” in both Testaments (Mal. 3:1; Rev. 1:1) and was the sole personal “Mediator” between God and man from creation, and continues to be so after He “became flesh.” No one has ever come to the Father except through the Son. No one receives “life” in the resurrection except through the Son (John 1:4; John 5:21,25-27). The Son of God has always been THE buffer between sinful man and the one and only Almightly and holy God. This role as intermediary from the beginning was absolutely essential simply because “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (Jn. 1:18).

Both of these “mysteries” were central to “the Faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) for which we are called to contend. This is the true “Abrahamic Faith.” As Christians, we are called to “walk in the steps of THE FAITH of our father Abraham” (Rom. 4:12) while also “looking to the FOUNDER and FINISHER of THE FAITH – Jesus” (Heb. 12:2).


10 thoughts on “Unity & the Christian Fundamentals (III), Progressive Revelation of 2 Mysteries through Paul

  1. Hello Tim,
    As there is no forum I reach out to you here.
    I have a question in regard to the article “One God – The Father”.

    I quote:
    “he Son of God has never possessed or exercised authority inherent to Himself, apart from what has been granted to Him by the supreme Sovereign, His Father and God, to act on His behalf.”

    If Jesus is the devine offspring of the Father, sharing his essence, how could Jesus not have all the power that the father has?

    1. Jon,
      There is a difference between power and authority. As a begotten Son, He was always under the authority of His Father, both before and after He became flesh. It is the same idea as with mankind. Seth was of the same kind as Adam, having like “power.” But as a Son, he was inferior to his father, Adam, simply because Adam came first and gave him his very existence.

      1. Tim,
        Okay, so Adam was superior to his son because the son willingly submitted to the father and not because of his essence as man.
        My question is than: could Jesus, if he wanted to, rebel against the Father and challenge him in a real way, since they are both are God-kind nature?

        1. Adam was superior to Seth in RANK and PRIORITY, not in essence. In the same way, the Son, while He was “in the form of God” and was thus “equal with God,” before He “emptied Himself” and took “the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-8), absolutely had a free will. This is shown from the same passage, that He “did not regard quality with God a thing to be grasped.” The NIV renders this as follows: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Phil. 2:6 NIV). The next verse says: “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7 NASB).

          So this passage states plainly that He “considered” and then made the choice to empty Himself. This clearly shows free will. Yet the fact remains that He was always obedient to His Father, whether before or after He “emptied Himself” in order to take the form of man.

          As far as whether the Son could have rebelled against God, I see no value in such hypotheticals because they cannot be answered with Scripture. Yet, even as man, He was tempted in all points as we are. So could the virgin-born Son of Man have failed His temptations from the devil? Obviously He could or they would not be real temptations. What would have happened to humanity if He failed? We would all be doomed, I suppose. Yet I do not think God does anything without knowing fully what the outcome will be before He does it. That would be true before He begat a Son as the “First-produced of all creation” and “the Beginning of the Creation of God,” and it would be true when Logos became flesh and was born of Mary.

  2. It seems that when the Kingdom was being preached primarily among the Jews, that while the nature of Christ was indeed mysterious to the Jews, they did have within their own theology the idea that the phrase “Son of God” denoted divinity in some way. When Jesus claimed God as His own Father (Jn 5.18), the Jews took this as a claim of equality with God, though a Son. The Jews themselves claimed to have only one Father, God (Jn 8.41), yet they did not consider themselves as blasphemers. So, the Jews understood Jesus’ claim as different than their own: as one of divinity. While this was certainly “mysterious”, it appears to have been a part of the 1st century CE, Jewish theological thought, so Scripture testifies.

    As stated by Tim, it was the pagan doctrines of the Greeks that caused God to further clarify the person and nature of the Son through Paul and later John.

    Some may argue that the Greek belief in a Supreme God with that of the Demiurge (lesser creative god) was the catalyst for Justin’s theology, but Justin’s theology, at least when it came to the only-begotten Son ran contrary (as far as I know) to the accepted Greek thought. Justin taught that the Son was truly begotten, before the world was, out of the person of the Father. The Greeks would have bristled at this because the Gnostic thinking would never consider the divine actually becoming “material” – this was an abomination to their thinking. We see this in the writings of the pagan emperor Julian to the unitarian Photinus (who believed Jesus to have only existed from the womb of Mary), who said, “O Photinus, you, at any rate, seem to maintain what is probably true, and come nearest to being saved, and do well to believe that he whom one holds to be a god can by no means be brought into the womb. But Diodorus, a charlatan priest of the Nazarene, when he tries to give point to that nonsensical theory about the womb by artifices and juggler’s tricks, is clearly a sharp-witted sophist of that creed of the country-folk.” We must not forget, Julian was a pagan emperor who succeeded a line of “Christian” emperors before him – he is here defending (from the gnostic perspective), the belief that Jesus was not preexistent.

    Justin (martyr) taught differently, that the Son of God did pre-exist, and did indeed possess an inherited divinity prior to HIs incarnation.

    The mature Christian doctrines were expounded by Paul and John, the first – the shared inheritance of the Gentiles, due to a misunderstanding of the Jews, and the second – the pre-existent, only-begotten Son, due to an error of the Gentiles.

    1. Thanks for the quote from Julian the Apostate in his letter to Photinus (letter 55). Photinus was indeed an early Unitarian, and rejected the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ, as did Paul of Somosata before him.

      I do not think either of these early Unitarians held their view because of Gnostic tendencies. I believe they simply accepted the same basic Greek philosophical principle that the Trinitarians, Modalists, and Arians were all grappling with. They just resolved the problem in different ways.

      You are absolutely correct that the original doctrine of “kenosis” (that the Son of God literally and completely “emptied Himself” of the unique qualities of divinity in order to become fully man) was totally incompatible with Greek philosophical principles. Celsus’ 2nd cent. attack on Christianity (in his book “The True Logos”) makes this abundantly clear, arguing from Greek philosophy that the divine nature must be unchangeable in order to be eternal, and thus the divine Son of God could not be transformed into a human. Tertullian’s “Against Hermogenes” also grapples with the same Greek principle which was incompatible with “kenosis” (ch. 39). This Greek philosophical principle, and Christians’ attempt to circumvent it, was the reason that the Platonic incarnation doctrine was devised by Melito of Sardis in which the divine Son of God merely ADDED flesh while remaining unchanged in His divine nature. This new Platonic version of “incarnation” was then absorbed into Trinitarianism, thanks in part to Tertullian’s promotion of it.

      As stated above, the early Trinitarians solved the problem by saying that the divine Son of God did not under go any change, but only added flesh. The Arians, realizing that the Gospels demand that Jesus had to be fully human with no divine powers, contradicted the Trinitarians, saying that He did indeed become fully man. They solved the “kenosis” problem by saying that the Son was first produced at the beginning as a kind that was different from God and unique to Him, and that this kind or essence was changeable. Unitarians like Paul of Somosata and Photinus solved the problem by denying His preexistence all together. In all of these variations the single goal was to get around the problem created by the Greek philosophical principle that the divine nature must be unchangeable in order to be eternal, and how to reconcile this with Scripture (especially Paul and John).

      The much earlier Gnostic teachers, whom John called ‘many antichrists,’ had the same presupposition but solved the “kenosis” problem by saying that the man “Jesus” and the divine “Christ” (who came down from heaven) were distinct persons. Against this view (held at the time by the Nicolaitans and Cerinthus, and later by Marcion) John wrote that those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh are not of God. John’s argument presupposes that the Son indeed came down from heaven in agreement with the Gnostics. John did not challenge this aspect (but affirmed it many times in His Gospel). Instead he directly challenged the Gnostics’ denial of “kenosis,” that the one who came down from heaven was fully transformed into the man Jesus (that the Word became flesh).

      The earliest Christian apologists, such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, stuck with Paul and John and the simple “kenosis” doctrine. But others departed from it in order to give Christianity standing in intellectual circles and answer critics like Celsus. This is THE primary reason why all of these other “isms” developed and battled one another. Had they stuck with the simple reading of Scripture, they would have challenged or just ignored the Greek philosophical principle.

      Tertullian at first made the argument that the Greek principle is wrong, saying that the divine nature is incapable of being known to man, and thus may indeed be capable of such change required by “kenosis.” But he then caved and conceded the Greek philosophical principle. Why? Probably because he knew that as long as Christianity maintained the kenosis doctrine it had no hope of winning in philosophical circles, and was scoffed at just as when Paul addressed the crowd at Athens (Acts 17). Paul knew the Gospel would not penetrate the Greek intellectual circles, which is why he wrote the following to the Corinthians (just outside of Athens):

      1 Cor. 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. … 2:6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

  3. Gday Tim. I’m a little excited to see how Jesus will make things work for the good of the justified in these last days when it is very difficult to find encouragement in Christianity concerning these mysteries. I’m also a little concerned.
    Keep on keeping on.


  4. God chose Paul a “Jews Jew” to share the Gospel of the Kingdom with the gentiles. Thanks for your effort in teaching, translating, and being an example.

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