Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses and Monotheism

The post below is taken from my old yahoogroup, greektheology:

As has already been suggested, I think we must keep in mind that such terms as monolatry, monotheism or even henotheism are all attempts to delineate, circumscribe or define certain religious phenomena that one encounters in Scripture. In other words, the Bible itself never uses such terminology to describe the ways in which people of ancient times worshiped. One can only formulate such descriptive expressions by prescinding from that which is explicitly contained in Holy Writ. Another task, however, is to precisify the relevant terminology of this discussion.

(1) Henotheism has been defined as the act of worshiping one God--in particular, a national or tribal deity--while simultaneously refusing to rule out the existence of other gods. It has well been said that henotheism defined thus "certainly does not fit the universal and cosmic conception implicit in the Old Testament" (Ralph L. Smith, Old Testament Theology, page 232). I would also argue that Jehovah's Witnesses are not henotheists since Jehovah is not a tribal god, nor are other beings recognized as "gods" by Witnesses accorded the same ontological status as Jehovah. Only one Being exemplifies the properties requisite for being identified as God (ontologically) with no qualifications: that deity is Jehovah the God and Father of all.

(2) One online source defines monolatry as follows: "worship of one god only out of many believed to exist."

Witnesses worship (in the sense of LATREIA) one God--not "god"-- and we believe that there are others that can be called "gods" in a functional or (possibly) ontological sense (i.e., angels and judges). But what does it mean to say that one believes there are many gods that exist? Does it not all depend on how one defines the term God/god? To illustrate what I mean, notice what Smith says about monotheism.

(3) Ralph L. Smith quotes from three scholars who all
define monotheism in slightly different ways. The
point I want to draw attention to now, however, is
what G.E. Wright states, as quoted by Smith. Wright
notes that monotheism is "the exclusive exaltation of
the one source of all power, authority, and
creativity" (Smith, page 232).

Now, if one defines monotheism in the foregoing
manner, it is safe to say that recognizing what Wright
calls "subordinate divine beings" (i.e. gods) does not negate
monotheism. In fact, D.S. Russell
("The Method and Message of Jewish
Apocalyptic") writes concerning Old Testament theology:

"There is ample evidence to show that conception
of monotheism was held in conjunction with a belief in
a spiritual world peopled with supernatural and
superhuman beings who, in some ways, shared the
nature, though not the being, of God" (page 235).

I thus conclude that it is appropriate to refer to
ourselves as monotheists rather than monolaters. We
worship "the only true God" (Jn 17:3) but realize that
images of this one God subsist in the spirit realm. Moreover,
some men (and angels) have represented God on earth. Hence,
they also can be called ELOHIM.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Can a Timeless God ACT in Time?

Robert Bowman has recently argued that "Unfortunately, Andy [a member of his yahoogroup], you are making the mistake of reasoning that if God is eternal, he cannot act in time."


By "eternal," I understand Bowman to mean "timeless" or atemporal. I thus suggest that he is overlooking the difficulties that attend the timeless God doctrine. For it does indeed seem that a timeless God cannot act in time. For temporal categories do not apply to a timeless deity. Such a deity has no temporal location or temporal duration (see Stephen T. Davis' _Logic and the Nature of God_).

Moreover, I recently encountered a quote regarding God's
atemporality in a book written by Brian Hebblethwaite.
The book is entitled _Philosophical Theology and Christian
Doctrine_. This quote is taken from p. 45 of that

"The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, which we
shall be considering in the next chapter, is very hard
to square with the classical view of [divine] timeless
eternity. But so is the notion of a timeless ACT of
creation. For an act is surely a novel realization of
a prior intention, an actualization of a

In a nutshell (IN NUCE), Hebblethwaite is saying that it is difficult
to understand how a timeless, immutable God becomes man or creates the
universe or acts at all. For the Incarnation doctrine implies that the LOGOS became
flesh, whereas the doctrine of creation indicates that God acted to
bring creation into being EX NIHILO. Both notions appear problematic
in the light of divine atemporality concepts. Scripture indicates that YHWH is from OLAM to OLAM (Psalm 90:2). Some thinkers have construed OLAM (in this context) as unbounded temporality.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Historian Paul Johnson on Hell

I would now like to post some quotations from Paul Johnson's book entitled _A History of Christianity_ and obtain your input:

He writes: "Ambrose [of Milan] was a superstitious and credulous man, with a weird cosmology. He distinguished between paradise and the superior Kingdom of Heaven, already inhabited by Constantine and (after his death) Theodosius. He thought, in fact, there were seven heavens. Then there was Hades, where people waited for the last judgment, and purgatory, a place of second baptism or furnace of fire, where the precious metal in a soul was tested to rid it of the base alloy. Finally, there was Hell, divided into three regions, of increasing horror" (p. 107).

On pages 340-342, Johnson's comments are a bit long to type at this point, so I will just summarize them. The historian points out that Scotus Eriugena denied the existence of an eternal or material hell, and substituted "pangs of conscience" in its place. But despite having misgivings about an eternal hell, he refused to believe that such ideas should be taught pastorally. Why not? So that the parishioners would be frightened into serving God by being told that an eternal hell existed (whether it, in fact, did exist or not). This is why "the three most influential medieval teachers, Augustine, Peter Lombard, and Aquinas, all insisted that the PAINS of hell were PHYSICAL as well as mental and spiritual, and that REAL FIRE played a part in them" (caps. for emphasis).

Johnson also reports that "the general theory was that Hell included any horrible pain that the human imagination could conceive of, plus an infinite variety of others . . . Jerome said that Hell was like a huge winepress. Augustine said it was peopled by ferocious flesh-eating animals, which tore humans to bits slowly and painfully, and were themselves undamaged by the fires." In view of the observations above (1) how can some professed Christians say that Catholicism does not presently espouse a different view than what has been expressed in the past, when one reads about contemporary discussions concerning Hell which exclusively refers to it in terms of separation from God? (2) What kind of God is this described by the previously-mentioned writers? What type of God could carry out such punishments? The God of the Bible evidently could not torture souls for eternity (Jeremiah 7:31; 1 John 4:8).