Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Oden 5: The Trinity

The previous post in this series is here.

I only got through one chapter this week, chapter 5, "Whether God is Triune."

Oden repeatedly says that theology is simply an explanation of baptism, very interesting even though I wait to be fully convinced. I continue to be bothered by the way he handles the "fathers." Bounds has indicated to me that his sense of "original meaning" is more subtle than one might at first think, that in fact the end of the first part on the Father will lay down some of his hermeneutical cards.

But in general, the early fathers were no more wired to read the New Testament or Old Testament texts in their literary and historical contexts than the New Testament authors were in their readings of the Old. We presume their trinitarian readings of Scripture were on the right theological track. But a clever student who has taken inductive Bible study will be a better contextual interpreter than any of them.

The Bible scholar in me thus chafes when Oden says silly things like, "The unique phrase 'O God, thy God" makes no sense without a triune premise" (113). I have no objection to reading this psalm and Hebrews that quotes it with trinitarian lenses. But the psalm made perfect sense against its ancient near eastern context, a place where human kings were thought of as God's sons and where the king as godlike and God's representative in no way contradicted God as God. We should see these statements as stones on a revelatory path toward trinitarianism and we can read them in the light of later trinitarianism. But this is not the same as reading them in their original contexts.

Still, this chapter is a gold mine of the biblical texts in which the earliest Christians were inspired to hear reference to the Trinity. "The triune teaching has become incrementally clarified as established teaching by passing through successive stages: preindications in the Old Testament; the central disclosure of God as Father, Son, and Spirit in the New Testament; and the full development of church teaching in the Nicene definition and its subsequent interpretations" (109-110).

In the Old Testament, he mentions the plural form of Elohim, the threefold repetition of "holy" in Isaiah. The plural form in "remember your creators." I'm not sure if Oden really thinks these things originally had anything to do with the Trinity, which is highly doubtful--it would require us to assume such things made no sense to the people they were actually written for. But they are passages in which later Christians have heard inklings of the Trinity.

He mentions that Father, Son, and Spirit in the NT all are called God. All display the attributes of God. All do the same works. All are worshipped.

Finally, he mentions 12 NT passages that include all three persons: 1) the baptismal formula of the Great Commission; 2) Jesus' baptism; 3) Paul's benediction in 2 Cor. 13:13; 4) the Ephesian formula of 2:18; 5) Jude's summary call to prayer; 6) the Johannine farewell discourses; 7) John's prologue; 8) the Johannine letters; 9) Revelation's salutation; 10) Philippian hymn; 11) Colossians 1; 12) Hebrews introduction.

On the whole, I've found all the chapters of Oden disappointing thus far. It's because he has kept his promise. He is saying nothing new. He isn't even really clarifying the old.

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