Somehow, Paul—the first century missionary and apostle of Jesus—appeared on a university campus in the 21st century. Paul has stayed with Don, a university professor of Hebrew literature, who invited him to lecture and answer student’s questions.
Joe: (A student of theology at the university) Alright, let me get straight to the point.
Paul: That is fine.
Joe: Is Jesus God?
Paul: Yes, he is.
Joe: (A smug smile appears on his face and he response with a sarcastic tone.) Fine, Paul. Since you affirm Jesus to be the second person of the Trinity, equal to God in every way, then let me ask you, why does your writings have no indications whatsoever of the trinity or even of Jesus’ deity?
Paul: You are jumping ahead of yourself, son. I said nothing of the Trinity.
Joe: No? Didn’t you declare that Jesus is God?
Paul: Yes. But this is not the same as most statements made of the Trinity, in its traditional form.
Joe: Explain the difference to me.
Paul: The classic form of the Trinity is an expansion of the statement made at the council of Nicene?. That statement is that Jesus is of the essence of the Father. The Father, as Jesus stated, is God. Jesus is the son of God. However, we have no clear evidence that Jesus is of the same essence of the Father. The same power, yes. The same authority on earth, yes. But not the same essence.
Joe: Excuse me, but how would Paul the apostle know of the council of Nicene?
Paul: The same as you: I read. Frankly, I probably know it better for I read it in Greek and then discussed the implications and history of it with my friend, Professor Don.
Joe: (Smirking) Oh, right. Of course. So what is the difference between the Nicene statement of “essence” with statements made in the New Testament?
Paul: To claim that Jesus is “God” is a very general statement, which could mean a number of things. In my experience, I saw Jesus as the powerful Lord, having all the glory of God.
Joe: How can your vision really rate as evidence?
Paul: How can you rate that you are seeing me as evidence? You can say to your friends, “I saw Paul today” and they might say, “Prove it, we don’t think you really did.” And you would stammer, because you expected to have your word taken as truth. Even so, my word represents my experience and so how can you call it a lie?
Joe: But if you had a dream, you wouldn’t necessarily try to pass that off as reality.
Paul: I saw Jesus face-to-face, just as you are seeing me. It wasn’t a vision, it was a real-life event. I wasn’t asleep, nor was it a dream…
Joe: But couldn’t it have been? After all, you fell off your horse…
Paul: (Irritated) What horse? Who was there, you or I? You think I was some general, that I could afford a horse? I was walking with my servants and Jesus just appeared in front of me, all light as a glowing presence—no question, he was divine. This was no dream.
Joe: (Putting up his hands) Sorry, I suppose I have no right to question your experience…
Paul: Quite right.
Joe: But you saw Jesus appear and glow in front of you, is there some other explanation than that he was divine?
Paul: Like what?
Joe: Ummm… couldn’t he have been sent from God? Given the glowing and the appearing?
Paul: (Confused) Of course he was sent.
Joe: But… to say Jesus is divine… is to say he is the only God.
Paul: The problem, I think, is many people’s limited understanding of the English language. To say someone is “divine” certainly does not mean that someone is of the same being or essence as God the Father. Yes, that is one explanation, although a complicated one…
Joe: Complicated? Isn’t it just saying that God is one and three?
Paul: Yes, and the math is certainly confusing. I am not saying that the theologians are wrong. But I am saying that it isn’t the only option of what the apostles were saying.
Joe: What other explanations are there?
Paul: Well, the language we used is that after his resurrection, Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father. We did not think so much in the concepts of being as of authority. An emperor might have one “sitting on his right hand.” Like your namesake of old.
Paul: Joseph. He was made a prime minister at the right hand of pharaoh. He did not sit in pharaoh’s throne, but in whatever he did, he spoke and acted as the pharaoh. Both pharaoh and Joseph were called, properly, “king”, but, ultimately Joseph was under the authority of the emperor. Even so, the Father and Jesus are both “God”, meaning that they both have the authority of ruling the universe, but Jesus is in full submission to the Father. In this understanding, the question of essence never comes up.
Joe: So you are saying that the Nicene Creed is wrong.
Paul: No, no, NO! I am saying no such thing. I am saying that the apostles never asked the question of essence. It is an interesting question that we never thought of and so never addressed. The trinity is a possible truth. Or Arius’ idea is possible—that Jesus was a powerful angel who came to earth. Other ideas are also possible. And it is all speculation.
Joe: So the essence of modern orthodoxy is speculation?
Paul: If you are saying that the essence of modern orthodoxy is the trinity, then yes. I would say, however, that the essence of all Christian orthodoxy is that Jesus is the risen Lord, seated at the right hand of the Father.
Joe: But every Christian believes in the trinity, which you claim to be speculation!
Paul: (Laughing) You have a rather myopic gaze at Christianity, don’t you? Many believe in Arius’ speculation. And I would say that most Christians who belong to a Trinitarian church leave the question of the trinity out of their theology.
Joe: So why did the Nicene council determine that essence is the foundation of Jesus’ divinity?
Paul: Don, do you wish to express an opinion here?
Don: Well, Christian theology isn’t my expertise. However, in my reading, I understand that the whole argument came out of a theological debate between Arius and his bishop. But it seems to me that the real issue wasn’t so much about Jesus essence as much as whether a priest could disagree theologically with his bishop when his bishop—Alexander of Alexandria— commanded him to teach and believe something other than his opinion. Arius rebelled against his bishop, and so it seems that the council was basically rebuking Arius for his unethical behavior.
Joe: So the exiles and wars fought over this issue was all about…
Don: A teaching priest’s rebellion. That’s my opinion. Others would have different opinions.
Joe: So, Paul, since you are the apostle, what should we do about the trinity? Ignore it?
Paul: If some believe in the trinity, that is all for the good. Jesus is honored. And others who glorify Jesus but hold to a different speculation as to the being of Jesus, that is all for the good as well—Jesus is still honored. However, Jesus is not honored by his people, whatever their opinion on this matter, if they destroy each other or accuse each other on this subject. The only problem is if someone says or acts like Jesus is not Lord over themselves. Jesus is your God? Then act like it and love all those who glorify Jesus and live in Him. If you do not live in Jesus, it doesn’t matter how much honor you give him on your lips. You are condemned—not for your theology, but for your lack of Jesus in your life.
Joe: It seems so sad, Paul, that although you make so much sense, that you are willing to land in the midst of heresy, being a reject of the church.
Paul: It wouldn’t be the first time. The sad thing is that the church thinks so much of themselves that if someone decides to remain to just the teaching of the apostles that they are called a heretic. You ever read “The Inquisitor” by the Russian author, Dostoyevsky? Read it sometime. The basic accusation there is if Jesus came to earth today, the church would have to kill him again in order to maintain its authority and “ministry”. This is happening again and again.