Musings on Jesus and the Abrahamic faiths

It’s been awhile since I last posted a blog entry. However, I’ve been thinking a bit about Jesus from a theological view when it comes to the Abrahamic faiths, particularly Islam and Christianity. What I am about to write may anger some people, but it is not meant to do so. Rather, it consists of thoughts that I’ve had based on life experience, the brief formal theological training I’ve had, and my own theological training through reading on my own.

First, most people, especially fellow Christians, seem to forget that Jesus never once said to pray to him as if he were God. Rather, the prayer given as the model prayer states that when we pray, we are to pray to Our Father/Allah/Abba. Most Christians consider the Lord’s Prayer to be the perfect or model prayer for our faith. It is simple. It is succinct. It covers all the major areas a simple prayer to the Creator should cover. Praises the Creator. Asks for His Kingdom to come to earth to save us from our human troubles. Asks God to grant us food. Asks God to forgive us for our sins. Asks God to help us to not be tempted to sin, even though we will be tempted since we are human and, as such, imperfect. Asks us to forgive others as we forgive them, which we try to practice, but rarely accomplish due to our imperfect nature. Ends with more praise to the Deity. A good prayer. However, it never says to pray to a Trinitarian Godhead, just to God/Allah/Abba.

So, why do Christians consider Jesus to be God? If Jesus never said he was God, then why do we? One argument uses the passage where Jesus says no one can come to the Father except through him. However, many of the prophets of the Torah or Old Testament also say they need to be heeded if people are to obey God and follow His commandments. One particular event in history occurred to make the theological statement that Jesus was and is God. That event was the First Council of Nicea in the year 325.

The First Council of Nicea was called together by Emperor Constantine the Great to bring about unity in the Church when it came to the nature of Jesus as either being the Son of God or actually God in the flesh. One one side were those who were led by St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius who stated the doctrine that Jesus was God, rather than separate or even a prophet of God. The term they used was ‘homoousios’ which meant that Jesus and God were of the same “essence”. The other side, called the Arian side due to the primary debater of the side being named Arius, used the term ‘homoiousios’ meaning that Jesus and God shared a ‘similar essense’. This one letter difference brought a substantial change to Christianity in that by deciding that Jesus and God were essentially the same rather than similar, then Jesus was God rather than just one of God’s prophets. Let me break this down a bit for you.

St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius, hereafter known as the Orthodox side, argued that God the Father always existed and God the Son always existed along with Him in an equal manner. They used the scriptures where it quoted Jesus as having said phrases such as, “I and the Father are one”(John 10:30), and the “Word was God” (John 10:30).

Arius, and those who followed his idea of God, argued that God was God alone and that the Son of God was created by God and therefore could not be God due to his being a creation of God. As such, there was a time when the Son did not exist. That would make the Son separate from the Father and therefore inferior to the Father. To use Arius’s words, “were He in the truest sense a son, He must have come after the Father, therefore the time obviously was when He was not, and hence He was a finite being”(M’Clintock & Strong, 1890, p. 45). They also appealed to scripture by using phrases such as, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and stating the Son was “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

In the end, the Arian side was branded as heretics and the orthodox side held sway over time as a whole. They adopted what Christians know as the Nicene Creed which declares that Jesus is and always has been God, rather than just God-like.

Yet, if you think about it, for the 325 years leading up to the First Council of Nicea, Christians varied in the belief of Jesus as being God. That would have made them much like the Jewish and Islamic faiths of the time in that Jesus was considered a prophet, albeit a major prophet. In a way, it makes the early followers of Jesus much like our cousins of the Muslim faith in that Christians see Jesus as the last of the great prophets and Muslims see Mohammed as the last of the great prophets. For them, God was God. One God. Allah. Abba. Father.

It becomes even more ironic when you consider the fundamentalist branch of Christianity which says it longs for faith like the early Christians in that the faith they long for is more in tune with Islam and Judaism than it is with what is now seen as Christian theology.

If one looks deeper into the Islamic faith, it is also seen how Muslims view Jesus with reverence as a prophet. I have a long way to go to fully understand my cousins of the Islamic faith, but I can say that they and our cousins of the Jewish faith are closer to us than many Christians realize. It just takes all sides wanting to open the door to dialog and understanding rather than simply believing all that is given to us by media outlets. Our common heritage through Abraham exists. Sure, we have different theologies and variations on those different theologies, but we share in the common belief of one true God as Creator of the Universe.

Just food for thought in a world where there is too much negative stew.

Peace-Salaam-Shalom

References:

M’Clintock, John; Strong, James (1890), Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature 6, Harper & Brothers.

Where Some Religious Problems Began and Hope For Peace

I have always been interested in religion, between having been in a number of denominations, visiting a number of different faith paths as well as seminary, I have seen the varying aspects of the way humanity worships and finds a niche for our spiritual side. I keep returning to one event that may have been one for which there arose some issues between the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). That event was the First Council of Nicaea. It was at this meeting where the Christian church truly set up a barrier to differentiate itself from Judaism and, in a way, Islam. The difference caused by a single word containing a single letter changed how Christianity viewed its namesake.

Prior to the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325, the Christian church had no agreement on the nature of Jesus. Some viewed Jesus as one with the Creator, while others saw Jesus as a separate entity from the Creator. The concept of one Deity is the foundation for both Judaism and Islam. One God, monotheistic in nature, serves as the Deity for these two faiths. Up until the First Council of Nicaea, this was even the foundation for the Christian faith to an extent. The nature of Jesus was not concrete. Was he God? Was he another God? Was he a subordinate God? Was he simply a prophet? Members of the early Church wrestled in their faith with these questions.

The purpose of the First Council of Nicaea was to put an end to the arguments over the nature of Jesus as Son of God in relation to God the Father. On one side were the Arians who claimed that the Son of God was created by God the Father and was, therefore, not actually God, but a separate being from God. The other side, usually referred to as the orthodox side, claimed that the Christ was indeed God and was not a distinct entity from God the Father. It all came down to one letter that changed a single word, the letter “I”.

The words in question are Greek. One is homoousios. This means roughly “same essence”. The other, also Greek, is homoiousios meaning “similar essence”. This one letter, which ironically we get the phrase “one iota of difference,” changed the world and relationship of Christianity as it relates to our cousins of the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam. By the Christian church deciding that Jesus the Christ was God, it set up Christianity’s distinct view of a Trinitarian Deity, or more simply put from my catechism, “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. How many Gods are there? One.” If you answered three, the nun slapped you on the wrist and made you go through the lesson one more time. From this council the first Christian creed was adopted, which is what we now call the Nicaean Creed. It helped to bring an end to the divisions in the early Christian church, to an extent as those not agreeing with it were banished, and established the orthodoxy of the Church.

The problem arises as many people do not know this history of the Christian church, in addition to forgetting that the Christian faith, as well as Judaism and Islam, all hearken back to Abraham as the patriarch for these three faith paths. We are cousins. The issues we have with one another are due to the human desire or foible to be completely correct on an issue, in this case, religion. Yes, the media shows people from every side who are hell-bent on eradicating the infidel regardless of the faith of the infidel. There are misguided Christians, misguided Muslims, and misguided Jews who would rather advocate the differences and attempt to eradicate the other two than to open dialogue between us. We need to recognize that and accept it for being the bastardization of their faith to the point of using it as a weapon. It is up to those of us in all three of the Abrahamic faith paths who are open-minded and intelligent to work together to open the lines of communication and instruct others, and ourselves, into knowing that we have more in common than we have different.

The biggest similarity is that we all believe in One True God. Whether we see One God as just one distinct Deity or a Trinitarian version does not really matter in the long run. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in charity. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in love for one another. All three Abrahamic faiths believe in striving for peace. We cannot allow the fringes of our faiths to lead us down the path of continual hatred and war. We must strive for peace and acceptance of our shared lineage and shared values.