In my previous post I listed ten theses that I thought could form a basis for a coherent creationist approach. Evidently, I use “thesis” and “theses” in their common usage such as “statement(s)”, or “idea(s)”. Given the concise format used in formulating these statements, I thought it would be necessary to explain them, one by one, for a better understanding of the points I intended to make.
Thesis 1: God is the only Supreme Being, unborn and unmade. He is both Transcendent (He is beyond space and time) and Immanent (He reveals Himself in Creation and sustains it).
This thesis is actually the hardest to develop or to comment on because we are dealing with a subject that is outside of our capacity to understand or define. At the same time, I considered appropriate to set a basis for our creationist approach, since before we talk about Creation we need to mention the Creator. Humans always engaged in what could be considered the highest level of meditation, that of thinking about God, however, our mind and our language are incapable of fully grasping the concept of God. It follows that “Supreme Being” or “Divine Being” or even the “Absolute Being” are not quite appropriate terms, as much as there are no appropriate terms for God to start with, and do not subscribe to the notions of “being” as defined by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), where being is mostly defined by temporality as it applies to human beings.
In attempting to understand God, scholars use two main theological approaches: the apophatic approach, also known as negative theology, which uses “negative” terminology, i.e. what God is not, and the cataphatic approach, also known as positive theology, which uses “positive” terminology when referring to God, i.e. what God is. In the Bible we find both apophatic and cataphatic statements. These statements contradict each other, yet some scholars consider that they are complementary to each other.
Moses Maimonides (1120-1190) is perhaps the first Hebrew scholar who uses apophatic statements about God, suggesting in his best known work The Guide for the Perplexed that God is unknowable to man, therefore we cannot make any direct statements regarding God, nor can we attach any positive attributes to God. Citing Psalm 65, Maimonides concludes that the highest form of praise we can give God is silence (citation). Later, Wittgenstein asserts something similar in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (the seventh statement) saying “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence”. In Jewish belief, God is the Creator (Genesis 1, 1; Isaiah 44, 24) who is outside of Creation, a transcendent God who is outside of space and time, as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan also states. Among the names used for God in the Old Testament, the most used name is YHWH, or the Tetragrammaton, (“[He] was being”) which, along with the similar expression in Exodus 3, 14 (I Am the One I Am), “refer to God in his ‘negative attributes’, as absolutely independent and uncreated,”, as Wikipedia puts it. Starting from the 3rd Century B.C. and especially after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., the Jews are not even allowed to pronounce this name, so instead of YHWE they use the name Adonai (“My Lord”) when they pray or read the Torah, or in other occasions they use HaShem (“The Name”).
An important concept of the Old Testament is the Unity of God expressed in Deuteronomy 6, 4: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one“, which Maimonides considers to be a positive command, and explained by Kaplan as “God is a most perfect and absolute Unity”. No attribute we can think of can be “added” to God because it would imply plurality; therefore “according to Maimonides, there can be no plurality of faculties, moral dispositions, or essential attributes in God” (citation). Being separate and different from all that is created, the attributes asserted to God refer to God’s actions, not his Being. When we find expressions like in Genesis 1, 26, “Let us make humankind in our image”, that does not mean a hint to plurality in the Godhead, as later Christianity would assert under the influence of the concept of Trinity. The NET Bible commentary says: “In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Isa 6:1-8) (citation).
As we enter the New Testament, most statements about God are cataphatic in nature (they use “positive” terminology) thus, we are dealing with opposing views about God compared to the Old Testament. As Wikipedia puts it, “To speak of God or the divine kataphatically is thought by some to be by its nature a form of limiting to God or divine. This was one of the core tenets of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. By defining what God or the divine is we limit the unlimited. A kataphatic way to express God would be that God is love. The apophatic way would be to state that God is not hate (although such description can be accused of the same dualism). Or to say that God is not love, as he transcends even our notion of love. Ultimately, one would come to remove even the notion of the Trinity, or of saying that God is one, because The Divine is above numberhood”. The main issue with the cataphatic approach resides in the concept of Trinity and the Immanence of God, which mainly states that God, who is transcendent and cannot be seen or approached in His Being, becomes Immanent in the incarnate person of Jesus the Christ, as stated by John 1, 1. This means that Jesus is the Logos, fully God and with God, and the concept has resonance in Jesus’ words in John 8, 58: “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!’”, which is clearly connected with Exodus 3, 14. The reaction from the Judeans, picking up stones to throw at Jesus for blasphemy, confirms that in this occasion “I am” is an explicit claim to Divinity. As John 1, 3 states, the Logos/Jesus is the Creator, thus Judaism will never accept this concept because it is in contradiction with the principle “God is One”. As Christians, we accept the doctrine of Trinity, generally speaking, but there is no consensus regarding what exactly Trinity means. A general description would define Trinity as God’s manifestations in Creation, Redemption, and Revelation, which I find acceptable; therefore we can say that Immanence of God is manifested in Creation and in Creation’s constant sustaining.
The apophatic approach is specific to the Eastern Orthodox theology, while the cataphatic approach is specific to the Western (Catholic and Protestant) approach. Both are epistemological suppositions, highly philosophical demarches, that do not come from the Bible itself, but from human reasoning. People may reason legitimately either way. Both demarches are useful, but not as a method of knowing God better than studying the Source Book. We should think cataphatically were the Bible is cataphatic, and apophatically where the Bible is apophatic. When it comes to spiritual realities, I would not be satisfied with just human reasoning. I need an epistemology which is fairly controlled by the divine revelation. When philosophical reasoning stands in the place of Biblical revelation, that reasoning is a blind alley.
Regarding the expression of Genesis 1: 26, “…in OUR image”, the Hebrew morphology is crystall clear: it is a standard suffix pronominal in plural. The rabbinical explanation, that tries to make it a plural of majesty, does not work AT ALL. First, the Hebrew language did not ever use plural of majesty for pronominal forms, not even for kings. Second, the Biblical God speaks of Himself as ”I”, ”Me”, ”My” thousands of times. The plural is used only a few times (see also Gen 11:7; Is 6:8). How can one explain as plural of majesty the expression of Genesis 3:22 ”the man has become like ONE OF US”? It does not say ”like US”, but ”like ONE of US”. And the expression is clearly limited to Godhead, since it ironically repeats the serpent‘s lie of verse 5 (”your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God/gods, knowing good and evil”).
The NET Bible commentary is definitely wrong, when it suggests that in Gen 1:26 and Is 6:1-8 the text reffers to God and his heavenly court (cf. 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). Nowhere in the Biblical narrative is suggested that angels or whatever heavenly creature would have been associated with the Creator, when He made the human beings, or when He said ”ONE of US”. The antichristian hostility of the Jewish and liberal theologians is so high, that in order to get rid of the Christian ”three gods”, they resort to an argument involving much many ”gods” than even Babylonians ever imagined.
Thank you for your notes. I do not feel an urge to disagree with you, but I am raising a few questions. Both apophatic and cataphatic approaces are limited and incomplete. What is wrong with human (philosphical) reasoning about God anyway? Human reasoning should not be discarded because it is the best reasoning we know on Earth (pun intended). The Bible is also limited and incomplete when it comes to talk about God, as we already discussed this issue with Dr. Ionica. None of the names for God used by the Biblical authors are really describing God because, simply, we have no language capacity to describe what we cannot comprehend. Even the “I Am Who I Am” is problematic to be accepted as a true revelation from God, as I pointed to you on FB. So the Biblical writers used human reasoning as well when they tried to “figure out” God. My personal position is that there is a divide between the true God and the one described/talked by in the Bible. “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside”. (1 Cor. 13:9-10)
What do you mean by “spiritual realities”? And in what way an epistemology (which is defined by human reasoning, isn’t it?) cand be “fairly controlled by the divine revelation”?
My approach to Creation is non-apologetic, non-denominational. I am not as sure as you are that the NET Bible commentary is wrong. Maybe it is, but at the same time it seems odd to bring into the Genesis 1:26 the idea of Trinity (as it was to bring the idea of sacrifices when God made clothes for humans). It’s anachronistic, to say the least.
The OT is full of “gods”, lets deal with it. What would you say if I suggest to you that Abraham was worshiping the god of Sin/Moon? Think about it, because I am preparing an article on the Sin/Moon worship, the seven-day week, and the Sabbath from the OT until Paul in Col. 2:16. 🙂
I agree with you as regards to the (im)possibility of having a complete understanding of God.
I also agree with your belief in human reason, since it is God given and the only tool that we have for understanding things. I only say that, if God cannot be perfectly understood, then our reason is naturally limited. And especially when God revealed some important things about Himself, we have sometimes to choose between God’s revelation and our reasoning.
I agree, ”the Bible is also limited and incomplete when it comes to talk about God”, but if it really comes form God, even though through earthly imperfect channels, we must accept its claim that in it we fiind sufficient knowledge of God for practical purposes, to be saved. Yes, God’s names in the Bible describe only some divine features. The most important name equals ”Don’t Ask Me Who I Am!” (I Am Who I Am). The third person form of the Name (Yahweh) just affirms that He IS. This is not only a self-affirmation of existence (in polemics against false gods or against any proud creature), but a statement of availability, a true invitation. Remember that when God revealed this name to Moses, He offered TO BE their Deliverer.
Thus it is indeed ”a divide between the true God and the one described/talked by in the Bible”. But I don’t take that ”divide” as a discontinuity / separation. We have the great chance to see God and His promises, though in a foggy bronze mirror (1Cor. 13:9-10). If I reject/neglect this imperfect mirror, I am left with pretty nothing. Therefore I stressed our need of revelation. I guess you are not suprised by my occasional underlining this idea.
My approach to Creation is also non-denominational, but it IS apologetic. I defend what I understand/believe. I see, it seems odd for you to bring into the Genesis 1:26 the idea of Trinity. I am not in a hurry to press the doctrine of the Trinity here, but simply I cannot fiind a better solution. For me it is clear that the Hebrew Bible attests the paradoxical nature of God, in a plurality of Divine Persones. Genesis 1 suggests three Persons: the Spirit of God (God Himself AND His Spirit, Gen 1:2) and the One Who Has the Image of God, the Divine Model of Man (vers 26). Naturally, I have a vantage point, as a Christian. But this is not anachronistic reading, or otherwise what in the world did God mean to tell us through such ”Christian” disclosures, if not the same truth about Himself, as it is revealed more fully in the New Testament.
Also, when it comes to Genesis 3, where God dressed Adam and Eve with skin cloths, this cannot be a usual statement or an unimportant detail. Moses wrote to a people of herdsmen who knew how skin cloths are made. We have also another clue in Genesis 4, where Abel (the blessed worshipper) brings bloody sacrifices to God. Wherefrom did he take this idea? It is not presented as a new form of worship invented by Abel. The narrative is quite lapidary, so that we cannot expect to have explanations. Neither are all the facts revealed. Therefore we must use our reasoning, keeping in sight that the God of Jesus must be the same God of Moses, if the Bible really comes from God. Reasoning from just a superficial human viewpoint is not so great or critical reason.
Regarding many gods in the Bible, it is true that Israel was often bent to polytheism. The tribe of Abraham and Jacob was contaminated since their Mesopotamian homeland. Sumerians and Akkadians were astral worshipers, while Ur and Kharran were exactly the temple-cities of Nanna-Sin (the Moon god). Both the Bible (Joshua 24:14-15; Ez 20:16-29; Ps 106:35-40) and the Jewish talmudic tradition suggest that Terach’s family was idolater. But Abraham broke the polytheistic tradition. We do not find God rebuking Abraham for idolatry. However, it is possible that some people in his ”tribe” were worshipping idols, in the same way as with Jacob (Gen 35:2-5). And don’t forget the Abraham’s relatives (Gen 31:19, 30-35).
As regards the moon worship, there is no observable trace in the life of the patriarchs. The only reminiscence of this old semitic cult is the feast of the new moon. It was not given by God through Moses, neither it is claimed to have been given at Creation. However, it is possible that some strong popular cultic reminiscents remained, and this explains why God accepted the New Moon feast in the sacred calendar, and marked it by special sacrifices at the sanctuary. Otherwise, the day was not regulated by the Law, and it was spent in family parties and possibly a partial cessation of work. Bringing sacrifices to Yahweh at the sanctuary in that day would prevent people sacrificing to the creature Moon. The sun, moon and stars worship is blamed by many Biblical authors. I don’t think one could build a case for the existence of a lunar week in Israel, as it was in Babylon, or that such lunar system had been the original Hebrew week. Col. 2:16 is better understood in a judaizing context, or possibly in a Jewish sectarian astrological context. Best wishes!