Thursday, February 9, 2017

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The Oneness Community and the Social World

[In this post, I share a chapter from my dissertation, The People of the Name: Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States (Florida State University, 1985) regarding the social functions of the Oneness Pentecostal community and its relations with the larger social world. Several of the examples used in these posts reflect American evangelicalism in the 1980s when the dissertation was written.]

The Oneness community/congregation serves not only as the arena for the defining events of ritual worship and the theoretical framework these events engender, but also as the central social institution in the believer's world. The worshipping community acts as a primary grouping which provides a sense of identity, belonging, and order for the individual and, in turn, bridges the gap between the individual and the larger society. On the one hand, the Oneness community functions as a social world unto itself which displays an "objective existence" apart from the existing relationships of its members, provides obvious standards for membership which define and exclude, and raises clear boundaries which regulate the flow of members into and out of the community. But on the other hand, individual believers continue to function in the economic, political, and vocational life of the greater society. The boundaries between the two worlds—the Oneness community and the larger society—remain permeable, but this permeability is closely monitored by the framework of belief which orders the worshipping community.

The maintenance of a given social order, according to Peter Berger, rests in the continuing function of the society as that which is "most real" for its individual participants. In other words, the social base must retain its "plausibility," its believability and functionality, among its individual adherents. Any framework of religious belief must be undergirded by constructive social communities to maintain this plausibility.

The reality of the Christian world depends upon the presence of social structures within which this reality is taken for granted and within which successive generations of individuals are socialized in such a way that this world will be real to them. When this plausibility structure loses its intactness or continuity, the Christian world begins to totter and its reality ceases to impose itself as a self-evident truth.1

The firmer the sense of community is, the firmer will be the theoretical framework upon which it is built. Accordingly, social bonds within the Oneness community both maintain and legitimate the worship forms and distinct beliefs as the truth of Christianity and the way of salvation.

Berger sees that the "plausibility structure" of a religious tradition is maintained in one of two ways in the contemporary world: the religious community relates the larger society as "church" or "sect".2 In the religious community as "church," the entire society serves as a "plausibility structure" for the religious world—all social processes within the larger society confirm or reconfirm the reality of the religious community. But such situations of religious monopoly in the American scene have recently given way to an explosion of pluralistic competition. In this context, the religious community as "sect" acts as a sub-society, seeking to organize a "cognitive minority" against a hostile or at least non-believing environment.3 The growing secularism of contemporary society and the innumerable religious options appearing in the 1960's have created a milieu of pluralistic competition in American religious life and forced this redefinition of the terms "church" and "sect." Pentecostalism, especially its Oneness expression, has engaged and even flourished in this time of religious pluralism and competition.

In the present, Oneness Pentecostalism continues to take advantage of the instability and discontinuity in the contemporary religious world, offering an alternative "vision" from the major Christian traditions which have grown tenuous and even unacceptable to many. The ability to convert and maintain the allegiance of the converted signals Oneness Pentecostal successes. But such successes are not easily perpetuated: sectarian groups like Oneness Pentecostalism must find ways to motivate individuals to remain sectarian in light of the "attractiveness" and ease of life in the greater society. Oneness Pentecostals have, thus, developed certain strategies to prevent such lapses in commitment, including complex theological apologetics, defensive attitudes in childhood training and higher education, and restrictions on associations with those deemed "dangerous" to the maintenance of the religious "worldview." Such defensiveness has often limited, even replaced, the vitality of the Oneness movement, further gelling notions of exclusivism. At this point—the "openness" and "closedness" of the worshipping community—the central dilemma of Oneness social life appears: in what way is the congregation to maintain its identity and purity while also evangelizing and participating in the larger society?

The Oneness community provides the essential bridge between the believing individual and secular society and, in so doing, colors the believer's perceptions of the external social world and defines, even delimits, the believer's active participation in it. Oneness believers demonstrate a high degree of "consciousness of oneness" with the religious group. This intense "in group" identification appears most clearly in the distancing of Oneness life from the practices and values of the "outside" society.4 While "Holiness" condemnation and restrictions on certain behaviors and associations have faded in general Pentecostal circles, Oneness practice has institutionalized this late nineteenth century value system, changing it only through reapplication to modern technology (note especially the United Pentecostal Church's restriction on television viewing).5

Social roles within the Oneness community are fixed and real. Oneness believers fully and joyfully embrace the community demands of worship and daily ethics. These believers resist any role detachment or "front stage/back stage" manipulation of impressions by bringing together the ideal of the "overcoming" Christian and the reality of this ideal's performance. Such "true believers" demonstrate a pervading authenticity (albeit out of step with greater cultural values) in their social and ethical lives. Those perceiving the "ought" of the Oneness Christian life, but failing to fulfill it, are deemed outsiders, regardless of any close connection to the congregation. This ethical clarity and exclusivism, as much as any specific behavior pattern or restriction, sets Oneness Pentecostals apart from the dominant society.6

The Oneness community encourages strong feelings of loyalty, solidarity, and cooperation, all of which function to draw members in and prevent them from flowing back into the larger society. Theoretically, the Oneness community understands itself in conflict with the values of secular society or, perhaps better, as a participant in the great cosmic struggle between good and evil, God and Satan—a conflict which is waged at the most practical level in daily ethical decisions. But seldom does this rather apocalyptic rejection of secular society work itself out in true attitudes of world-denying. Although Oneness believers do feel themselves separated from and incompatible with the greater society, most do not understand their restrictive behavioral norms as a total rejection of human society (cf. the true world-denying attitudes of the radically adventist Jehovah's Witnesses), but rather of the evil that plagues that society. The real arenas of antagonism are specific clashing values—the traditional Holiness norms to which Oneness believers are emotionally committed and by which they judge behavior. The evil in society is often projected upon the "demonic system" as a whole or upon its leaders or specific institutions (educational centers and corrupt governments) rather than upon individuals who are deemed, not incessantly or irredeemably evil, but pitiable, deluded, and in need of the readily available salvation provided by Christ.

Relationships within the Oneness community, especially in smaller congregations, are understood as primary—intimate, invaluable, ends-in-themselves—in contrast to the secondary and instrumental quality of the community's relation with secular society. In Oneness circles, religious activity serves as the basis for broader communal associations and the congregation provides a pool of human resources from which closest associates and friends are drawn. In larger congregations, the physical proximity of believers in regular face-to-face contact during worship services and their frequent inter-visitation tightly knits the community together. Accordingly, even the largest Oneness congregation preserves the intimacy of the primary group and acts as the arena of direct, personal contact, the haven of values, and the agent of socialization and social control.

In light of the intimacy of Oneness congregations, it is not surprising that the community often perceives itself in the biblical image of the "new family," the superlative family that supplants the functions and allegiances of all other primary groupings. The initiatory experiences of the Acts 2:38 "plan of salvation" are constantly cast in the language of "new birth," transitions to "new life," and rites of passage within this "new life." The notion of the non-human leader in ritual worship blends with portraits of God as "loving Father" to reinforce the images of birth and family which pervade Oneness self- perception. In the salvation process, the believer embraces not only Christ experienced in the community as "new parent," but the worshipping community itself as "new family." References to fellow believers as "Brothers" and "Sisters" are commonplace; while references to pastors or elder believers as "Mother" or "Dad" are not unusual.

Beyond the matter of self-perception, the community's responsibility to the believer and the believer's loyalty to the community parallel normal family relations. The family, therefore, provides not only an engaging image to describe the community of believers, but also an effective pattern for ordering community inter relationships. The fact that Pentecostal recruitment follows lines of existing social relationships means that families, as well as individuals, are the normal targets of evangelism. Existing family bonds within Oneness congregations only further enhance the notion of the worshipping community as the "new family."7

The dynamic, direct, on-going contact with Christ in worship demands a choice of community for the participant—identification with the Oneness community with its restrictive ethical life or identification with secular society and its relative ethical ease. The choice of Oneness life is measured by the quantity and quality of personal associations and external conformity to the behavioral norms within the worshipping community. The notion of the Oneness congregation as "new family" appears strongest and most demanding in times of community opposition and intense worship. This notion is not so overpowering in everyday life as to disrupt normal family relations. The compartmentalization of spiritual and natural families rationalizes Oneness daily practice, elevating the claims of the worshipping community, but avoiding the disruptive power of these claims. Only in times of open hostility and family opposition toward an individual's participation in Oneness life do the claims of the "new family" supersede existing family relations. In such cases, the worshipping community literally replaces the old support system as a new source of values and center of relationships for the believer.8

In addition to this family structure, Gerlach and Hine have expounded the "segmented" nature of the Pentecostal community: Pentecostals demonstrate both strong interpersonal relations within their congregations close associations with members of other congregations through personal associations, leadership exchanges, and travelling evangelists. This "infrastructure" within the movement, as well as perceived hostility from the larger society, solidifies the Oneness Pentecostal community within and beyond the local congregation. Such a social network provides a "grapevine" communication system which quickly collects and disburses information vital to the life of the community and offers a system of support—both prayer and financial support—that transcends normal denominational and organizational distinctions.9

Leadership roles in the Oneness community, especially that of pastor, have followed a pattern of development and institutionalization similar to the changes in the elements and order of worship. Whereas early Pentecostal leaders acted as "referees" to control and order the spontaneity of demonstrative worship, contemporary pastors have assumed roles more comparable to the traditional notions of ministry in evangelical churches. But in the Oneness movement, with its institutionalized restorationism and zeal to maintain Pentecostal enthusiasm and Holiness ethical rigorism, the minister has also come to function as the guardian of the orthodox message and the supervisor of the community's ethical life as well as a leader and participant in ritual worship. Ironically, this shift has often led to excessive authoritarianism among those Pentecostals who most emphasize divine, rather than human, leadership in the worshipping community. With the rush toward organizational uniformity and centralized administration, the Oneness minister has enjoyed constant elevation, in some extreme cases apotheosis, as the "voice of conscience" within the community.

This centralizing of leadership within the congregation has also accelerated a shift toward theological conservatism in the Oneness tradition. Rather than retaining the "openness" to divine insight inherent in the "end time revelation" of "Jesus" as the saving name of God and the prominence of spiritual gifts of utterance, the Oneness movement and message has developed its own "fundamentals of faith" which contain not only the rejection of modernity apparent in Fundamentalist thinking, but also Oneness distinctives as necessary ingredients in the church's orthodoxy. Also, the Oneness statements of faith act as creedal tests for those aspiring to the ministry and as points of censure for those deviating from the party line. This is equally true for the unwritten standards of behavior inherited from the movement's Holiness forebears.

Deviance in doctrinal beliefs, standards of behavior, and attitudes toward the secular world is usually limited to individuals rather than substantial subgroups within Oneness congregations. The rise of such a subgroup usually leads to community fission and the formation of a new congregation. Heterodox individuals, more often than not, keep their deviating beliefs and behaviors to themselves, outwardly conforming to group standards. Outspoken heterodoxy leads to community isolation, correction, and even expulsion.10 Whenever opposition to Oneness doctrine or practice becomes too vocal, the detractors quickly find themselves outside the movement. The Oneness pastor, therefore, acts as an agent of social control who pressures the compliant into conformity and ostracizes and even removes those deviating from orthodoxy.

Such in-group exclusiveness and strong social control raises the issue of the Oneness community's place in the larger social world. Arthur Paris correctly states that the Pentecostal "participates in the world but does not 'live' there," that their "worldly lives are of secondary importance to them."11 While this obviously overstates the case, it is essentially true. The amount of time demanded by Oneness religious devotion and the strict regimen of behavior standards limits the believer's leisure time and recreational opportunities. Beyond work support self and family, the Oneness believer lives his life in the context of church worship and activities.

The isolation and insulation from secular society underlies the prevailing attitude of social quietism in Oneness churches. The "in group/out group" conflict model defines Oneness perceptions, but offers no significant framework for understanding the believer's participation in the larger society. This Oneness framework of thought disallows any meaningful recognition or discussion of the believer's secondary relation to the secular world. Religious commitment is the sole point of reference for the believer, but this does not discredit the believer's worldly life. It is wrong to understand American Oneness Pentecostalism (except in its most apocalyptic expressions) as anti-cultural and, therefore, thoroughly sectarian and world-denying. The believer lives in an ethical paradox—a dualism of community and secular demands. The "Christ against culture" rhetoric common within the group arises from its limited framework of perceptions rather than real anti-cultural sentiment.

Marion Dearman's early 1970's sociological study, "Christ and Conformity: A Study of Pentecostal Values," clearly captures this ethical dualism. This study tests Benton Johnson's conjecture that certain features of religious groups rooted in the Holiness tradition socialize members in the key values of the dominant society. Johnson, in 1961, argued that the conversion experience in such groups leads to an "innerworldly asceticism" which emphasizes "rational, purposive, disciplined, efficient, steady, predictable activity directed toward self direction, mastery, and positive achievement in occupational tasks." In short, such religious traditions actively socialize their adherents to the dominant values of American society.12

Using Robin Williams' list of "value belief clusterings," Dearman demonstrates that Oneness Pentecostals (in this case, United Pentecostal Church members from Oregon) share these values or orientations. These "belief clusterings" include:

(1) activity and work, (2) achievement and success, (3) moral orientation, (4) humanitarianism, (5) efficiency and practicality, (6) science and secular rationality, (7) material comfort, (8) progress, (9) equality, (10) freedom, (11) democracy, (12) external conformity, (13) nationalism and patriotism, (14) individual personality, and (15) racism and related group superiority themes.13

ACTIVITY AND WORK. The Oneness Pentecostals interviewed unanimously showed a positive attitude toward activity and work. The assumption that God observed the believer while at work and that the worker represented God and his church to his non-believing fellow workers leads Oneness believers to excellence in their jobs or at least to "work to the limits of their capacity."

ACHIEVEMENT AND SUCCESS. Despite the rhetoric of separation explicit in the Holiness life style and a negative attitude toward secular education, Oneness believers learn the importance of the "power of positive thinking" and "aggressive, self-confident action" in their church lives which prepares them for upward mobility.

MORAL ORIENTATION. Oneness believers take American moralism to its extreme with restrictions on liquor, tobacco, and almost every form of entertainment.

HUMANITARIANISM. The Oneness community is only partially committed to humanitarian values—they are forever concerned with the needs of men's souls, not their bodies, and often attribute poverty and poor health to the moral evil of those who suffer—but this limited commitment parallels that of the larger society.

EFFICIENCY AND PRACTICALITY. Oneness believers recognize the qualities of efficiency and practicality as God's standards for the Christian worker in both religious and secular vocations.

SCIENCE AND SECULAR RATIONALITY. The Oneness believer accepts the advances of technology, but vehemently opposes scientific discussions which ignore or discredit divine guidance in nature or history.

MATERIAL COMFORT. Oneness Pentecostals do not deviate from the desire for possessions and creature comforts prominent in secular society.

PROGRESS. Most Oneness Pentecostals are optimistic about the future despite their eschatological beliefs.

EQUALITY. Oneness believers qualify this notion under the divine rule: if divine authority is recognized, then human equality is advocated.

FREEDOM. These Pentecostals use the American rhetoric of freedom, although their understanding seems to lean toward freedom to conform to society's norms rather than any real recognition of dissent or non-conformity—a position shared by many in the early 1970's.

DEMOCRACY. These believers praise democracy as the "American way," but show little real understanding of the concept.

EXTERNAL CONFORMITY. Dearman found these Pentecostals extremely favorable to societal external conformity, here understood as a return to the "old fashion" middle class values upon which America was built.

NATIONALISM AND PATRIOTISM. Oneness Pentecostals, despite standard conscientious objection clauses in their statements of faith, demonstrate ample nationalism and patriotism. Displays of "Americanism" and respect for the nation are deemed Christian duties.

INDIVIDUAL PERSONALITY. Oneness Pentecostalism asserts the value of the individual personality, although this value is ultimately religious—the individual as the object of divine love and the recipient of Spirit baptism.

RACISM. Dearman found the least conformity to national values among Oneness Pentecostals in their rejection of racist notions and language, although she admits that this finding might more reflect the geographic arena of her study (the Pacific northwest) than the standard values of the entire American Oneness community.14

These findings led Dearman to conclude that rather than rejecting the values of the dominant society, Oneness believers fully embraced them. This embrace of the establishment is "not passive, but active." Moreover, Dearman saw that emotionally compelling conversions made it possible for new members to change from value systems which do not prize the values of activity, achievement, and success to a new way of life that more clearly reflects dominant societal values. In Oneness circles, Dearman concludes, "it should be sufficiently clear that the life God demands is remarkably similar to that which the establishment desires."15

In light of Dearman's study, the noted social quietism of the Oneness movement seems to blossom from limited social vision and theological perspective rather than any apolitical leanings. Arthur Paris comments that any discussion of the "apolitical or reactionary political position of Pentecostal religion" is flawed by its assumption that politics or political action is a concern, or much less a central concern, of the churches. Such evaluations fail to take seriously the framework within which the believer perceives himself and the community. The Oneness church's sole social action is the salvation of the lost. This goal of evangelism shapes, almost exclusively, the Oneness community's relation to the secular world. This purpose along with latent millenarianism removes serious consideration of secular society, its ills and future, from the church's corporate concern. Corporately, Pentecostals simply do not have a political role. In questions of social, political, or economic struggles, Pentecostals act as individuals, concerned citizens, rather than as community members.16

With other evangelical groups, Oneness Pentecostalism limits its understanding of Christian mission to the all-consuming aim of winning the world to Christ. Ministries of social service are secondary, even suspect, lest a "social gospel" replace the evangelistic imperative. Social ministries, when engaged, uniformly work toward evangelistic ends. Those who seek God find him within the church building or through the religious "witness" of believers. Any notion of a non-churchly worship of God has yet to appear in Oneness circles. For the Oneness believer, obedience to Christ's social demands consists of being an instrument for bringing individuals to the institutional church and the salvation it provides.17

Samuel Hill, noted scholar of southern religion, finds three "distortions of Christian responsibility" in this evangelical reductionism:

[First,] the degeneration of the valid Christian belief that the life of faith produces transforming power into the naive judgment that the conversion experience will rectify all individual and social ills, and by itself humanize life . . . [secondly,] the tendency to overlook persons and their need unless they are "prospects" for membership in the local church . . .[and thirdly,] the inflation of "one portion of the biblical message into the whole," making the "all-important moment of conversion" dynamically separate from the rest of life.18

Oneness Pentecostal life—in the worshipping community and beyond it in the secular world—internalizes the dichotomy of men as "Christian brothers" or evangelical prospects. This dichotomy underlies, even legitimates, the social and political quietism of the movement. Within the community, ethical demands are social and positive. The community as "new family" recognizes the vast array of needs in its membership and joyfully assumes for meeting these needs. But beyond the community, the believer stands alone to face the secular world. The corporate life of the community does not extend beyond the church service or the existing relationships (familial or otherwise) of community members. Outside the community, the believer's ethics become strictly personal and negative, defining his behavior and separating him from the larger culture by outward symbols such as dress and hairstyle. The paradox of the activism of the church "as a social world" and the quietism of the church "in the social world" dictates the values of Oneness social and ethical life.
_____________________

1Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1969), p. 46.

2Berger's redefinition of these terms does not ignore or discredit previous church/sect analysis—whether expressed in its classical form by Troeltsch and H. Richard Niebuhr or in its contemporary forms by Yinger, Wilson, and others—but rather reapplies these studies in light of the rampant religious pluralism of the 1960's. This redefinition, therefore, updates and clarifies church/sect analysis in terms of the changing situation.

3Berger, Sacred Canopy, p. 164.

4James W.Vander Zanden, Social Psychology (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 218-34.

5United Pentecostal Church International, Manual of the United Pentecostal Church International (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1981), pp. 22-23.

6Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Mentor Books, 1951), pp. 130-33.

7Luther Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), pp. 79-97.

8The strength of the believer's commitment to the Oneness community as surrogate family also diminishes with time as the believer develops broader social relations (i.e., employer/employee, teacher/student, and neighbor/ neighbor).

9Luther Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, "Five Factors Crucial to the Growth and Spread of a Modern Religious Movement," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 7 (1968): 26-30.

10Arthur E. Paris, Pentecostalism: Southern Religion to an Urban World (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), p. 123.

11Ibid., p. 121.

12Marion Dearman, "Christ and Conformity: A Study of Pentecostal Values," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 13 (1974): 437-38.

13Ibid., pp. 439-40.

14Ibid., pp. 442-47.

15Ibid., pp. 449-50.

16Paris, Black Pentecostalism, pp. 128-29.

17Compare the assessment of southern religion in Samuel S. Hill, Southern Churches in Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), pp. 195-98.

18Ibid., p. 198.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

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BAPTISMAL LANGUAGE SIDE-BY-SIDE


In light of Dr. Joe’s recent excellent posts on the little-known history of the origins of Oneness Pentecostalism, and because a good deal of this early development focused upon the wording of baptismal formulae, I wish to point out something from the early church that may be helpful. The early Pentecostal pioneers, as Joe has pointed out, were sharply divided over the issue of what words to say over the candidate at the time of his/her baptism. Mainstream Pentecostals preferred to continue their use of the longer wording found in Matthew 28:19, traditional in the long history of the Christian church. The Oneness upstarts pushed hard for the shorter wording found in Acts 2:38; 8:12; 10:48 and 19:5, some even to the point of denying the validity of water baptism if the longer formula was used. Others, like Bell, seemed to be somewhere in the middle and possibly misunderstood by those at both of the more radical poles.

So, what about the fact that side-by-side in the New Testament one finds such alternative wording? Apparently, the earliest Christians in the New Testament did not seem to find this side-by-side wording objectionable (at least if they did, no writer in the New Testament ever says so). That they did not find it objectionable suggests either that there were no huge theological issues hanging on a precision of words, or else, these various passages were not intended as precisely worded formulae in the first place, only general descriptions.

This same lack of concern over precise wording continues into the post-apostolic church, where one finds the same side-by-side use of baptismal language in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers from the early years of the post-apostolic church. Observe how similar are the following two passages from the post-apostolic church to the language of both Matthew and Luke:

…baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Didache 7)

…they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord” (Didache 9)

These two passages both appear in a post-apostolic work called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or The Didache. It usually is dated by scholars to the latter part of the 1st century or the early part of the 2nd century, and it is arguably the earliest Christian document outside the New Testament itself. The point is simply that even here, just as one finds in the New Testament, the two versions of the language of baptism, whether “Father, Son and Spirit” or “the name of the Lord”, appear within a few paragraphs of each other.

One is tempted, therefore, to regard these early 20th century disputes by the Pentecostals as “much ado about nothing”, to parrot the words of the Bard. Why should anyone object to using either the longer wording of Matthew or the shorter wording of Luke in the ritual of baptism, since both types of wording are in the New Testament as well as in the language of the post-apostolic church? Isn’t the element of faith toward the death and resurrection of Jesus the primary issue? Of course, once the New Issue brethren had coupled baptismal wording with the idea of a “saving name”, and incorporated their version of baptism into a three-step process of salvation, which, of course, they did, the lines were sharply drawn. No longer could they tolerate any diversity in this regard. Still, in the end, I must say that from my perspective it still was “much ado about nothing”.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Earliest Biblical Writings (4 of 4)


Encoding the Covenant Law in the Bible (Part 4 of 4)


            The compilation of written law codes in the ancient Near East is well known. Several Hittite treaties have clauses requiring their periodic reading in public, and the same would be true of what Moses wrote (cf. 31:24). In the treaty between Suppiluliumas and Kurtiwaza, for instance, the code was to be read “at regular intervals.”[7] The precise extent of what Moses actually wrote is debated. It is unnecessary to suppose that he wrote the entirety of the Torah as we now have it (especially the account of his own death), but it is equally unnecessary to suppose that everything was recorded later from oral tradition, as some scholars have suggested (or was made up later and does not even date back to Moses). Linguistically, we have only sparse indications of the state of the Hebrew language at this early period, and whatever form Moses used, it may well have needed updating later. Indeed, the Hebrew text of Moses’ song contains more than a dozen hapax legomena as well as some complicated syntax which remain as challenges for any translator. However one wants to speculate on exactly what Moses wrote, the text clearly indicates that he wrote some form of the covenant law and delivered it to the priests and elders for safekeeping and periodic reading. There was to be a public reading every seven years during the Festival of Booths “at the place God would choose” (cf. 15:1ff.; 16:13-15).

There are even some passages describing Moses as writing, such as, Dt. 31:9, which refers to an unspecified section of law codes, Dt. 31:19, 22, (referring to chapter 32), and 31:24ff. (probably referring to the Decalogue). Such references suggest that portions were written out as smaller segments prior to the compilation of the whole. The rabbinical custom of referring to everything in the Pentateuch as the words of Moses, of course, was adopted by the writers of the New Testament, but this convenience of speech does not necessarily support the view that Moses personally penned the entire corpus. One can only speculate how long elements in Deuteronomy and other books in the Pentateuch may have been preserved as oral tradition before being codified. A generation later, Joshua is commanded to obey the “book of the law” (Jos. 1:7-8), a reference that seems to refer to the contents of Deuteronomy 5-26 or 5-30. Joshua is familiar with the law code that altars were not to be fashioned using an iron tool (Jos. 8:31; Dt. 27:5), and indeed, the whole ceremony in the Shechem Pass is based on the anticipation of this ceremony as described in Deuteronomy (Jos. 8:30-35; Dt. 27). Even later, Joshua is said to have drawn up decrees and laws which then were recorded in the “Book of the Law of God”, so apparently Joshua, also, had a hand in the composition of the Torah (cf. Jos. 24:25-26). Even later references also cite the “Book of the Law,” expressions that clearly seem to refer to at least portions of Deuteronomy (cf. 2 Kg. 14:6//2 Chr. 25:4; Dt. 24:16). Certainly some of the prophets knew of law codes that were preserved in Deuteronomy (cf. Hos. 5:10//Dt. 19:14; Am. 8:5 and Mic. 6:10ff.//Dt. 25:13ff.; Am. 4:4//Dt. 14:28; Hos. 4:4ff.//Dt. 17:12), but whether all these things were an oral memory or reference to a written code is unclear.

These, then, are some of the factors that must be considered when assessing the earliest written documents in the Bible. As Christians, we believe that God superintended this production, which is what we mean by the term inspiration. At the same time, these biblical texts bear the stamp of history so that it can be fairly said that this is the Word of God in the words of humans.



[7] ANET (1969), p. 205.
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Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Earliest Biblical Writings (3 of 4)


Law Codes

            Along with literary writings, many of the political writings uncovered from the ancient world have proven relevant to our understanding of the Old Testament.  Among these, law codes in particular have provided links between the Bible and the ancient Near Eastern world.  Two of the more well-known examples are the Nuzi texts and the Code of Hammurabi which bear special relevance to the Patriarchal and Mosaic periods of Israelite history respectively.

            The Nuzi texts consist of about 20,000 clay tablets inscribed by a people called the Hurrians who lived in the Zagros mountains around the 15th century BC.  The texts consist primarily of private and public legal documents which, while not particularly interesting to read, are very helpful for understanding the social customs of the period.  In many cases, the social conditions and customs described in the Nuzi tablets parallel those described in the Patriarchal period of the Old Testament (i.e., the period of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).  For example, the laws of inheritance at Nuzi held that a double-portion of a father’s estate was to be given to the eldest son.  In addition, the eldest son held the right to sell his double-portion if he so chose (cf. Jacob and Esau, Gen. 25:29-34).  The laws of inheritance at Nuzi also indicate that if a man had no son to be his heir he could adopt an heir of his choice (cf. Abraham and Eliezer, Gen. 15:1-3) or produce an heir through his wife’s maidservant (cf. Abraham and Hagar, Gen:16:1-4). The Nuzi texts also contain regulations concerning the possession of household gods (Gen. 31:19) as well as the practice of conferring oral blessings on others (cf. the blessing of Isaac, Gen. 27:1-40; the blessing of Jacob, Gen. 49:1-28).  Parallels such as these have provoked a good deal of speculation and debate among scholars with regard to the historical setting of the Patriarchal narratives.

            Another ancient Near Eastern law code called the Code of Hammurabi was inscribed on a pillar by the great Babylonian king Hammurabi sometime around the 18th century BC.  As with the Nuzi texts, there are various parallels between the Code of Hammurabi and the Old Testament.  The first and, perhaps, most striking of these is Hammurabi’s claim to have been given the code by Shamash (i.e. the sun-god) on a mountaintop (cf. Exodus 19:20).  The Code of Hammurabi also contains various structural similarities to the Law of Moses as contained in Exodus 20-23, although nothing resembling the Ten Commandments is found in either the Code of Hammurabi or any other ancient Near Eastern law code for that matter.  In both codes, the principle of Lex Talionis (i.e. “an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth”, cf. Ex. 21:24; Lv. 24:20; Dt. 19:21) provides the basic framework for the concept of justice and, in addition, many of the specific case laws are remarkably similar. These include punishments for striking one’s parents (cf. Exodus 21:15), assaulting a pregnant woman (Exodus 21:22), failing to restrain a goring ox (Exodus 21:28-32), theft (Exodus 22:1), and adultery (Exodus 22:16).  As with other ancient Near Eastern texts, the significance of these similarities is debated among scholars who arrive at different conclusions.

 

Summary

            While this brief introduction to ancient Near Eastern texts is far from exhaustive, it does provide a taste of what scholars are doing when comparing the Bible to other ancient Near Eastern texts.  The four texts dealt with above constitute only a small portion of what ancient Near Eastern literature has to offer the field of Biblical studies, but they are certainly among the most complete and relevant in the field.  Some other texts frequently addressed in relation to the Bible include: the Sumerian King List (describes ten rulers from before the flood with reigns lasting from 18,000-40,000 years), the Legend of Adapa (Mesopotamian legend mentioning the tree of life), the Amarna Letters (letters written from Palestine requesting Egypt’s aid against a group of people called the Hapiru—possibly Hebrews), the Baal Cycle of Myths (Canaanite mythology about the god Baal), the Ur-Nammu Law Code, the Lipit-Ishtar Law Code, the Hittite Law Code, and the Eshnunna Law Code.

            The relationship between these ancient Near Eastern texts and the text of the Bible have intrigued scholars for many years. One thing generally agreed upon is that of these ancient texts, the biblical texts were composed later than the Mesopotamian texts by even the earliest possible date for the exodus. Hence, one cannot argue that the Mesopotamians borrowed from the Bible. The inverse is possible, of course. The authors of the Bible may have borrowed ideas from the Mesopotamian texts, and in fact, most historical-critical scholars arrive at such a conclusion. Still, at least two other reasonable possibilities exist. One is that there was a common stock of ancient oral tradition that was older than and lay behind both the biblical and Mesopotamian materials. The other is that the Genesis accounts of the creation and flood may be apologetic material aimed at correcting the false cosmogonies of Mesopotamia. Either of these hypotheses would account for the linguistic links and literary parallels between the various texts.
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Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Earliest Biblical Writings (2 or 4)


Creation Texts

            One of the most important literary themes in the ancient Near East was cosmogony (i.e., the story of how things came into being).  Among the cosmogonies of the ancient Near East, the earliest and most enduring were produced by those cultures to whom we owe the invention of writing, Mesopotamia and Egypt. The Mesopotamian cosmogony, in particular, bears a number of resemblances to the creation account found in Genesis 1 and continues to be a subject of perennial interest to scholars and archaeologists.

            The Mesopotamian cosmogony, Enuma Elish or “when on high”, originated in ancient Babylonia probably sometime around 1800 BC.  The story tells how the world was created by the gods of fresh water and salt water, Apsu and Tiamat, and how through their union the other gods and goddesses were born.  Almost immediately, however, discord arose between the primordial gods and their descendants, and Apsu and Tiamat decided to kill off their offspring.  Upon discovering this, one of the lesser gods, Ea, killed Apsu, while another god, Marduk, was chosen to lead the others in war against Tiamat.  Marduk, the god of storm, eventually defeated Tiamat with weapons of thunder, lightening, and wind, and took his place as king among the gods.  Marduk then attended to the task of creation.  Out of one half of Tiamat’s body he made the earth, and out of the other half he made the heavens. Out of the blood of one of Tiamat’s appointees, Marduk appointed Ea to fashion human beings… “savage man I will create, and he shall be charged with the service of the gods, that they might be at ease!”4.  Finally, Marduk appointed different roles to the gods, set the cosmos in order, and celebrated with a divine banquet.

While the theological differences between Enuma Elish and the Biblical account of creation are obvious enough, there are nevertheless numerous parallels.  The larger part of these are purely linguistic in nature, but the most striking, and the one for which Enuma Elish is the most famous, concerns the order of creation.  In both accounts, the creation of the universe occurs in discrete phases, with the gods or God resting on the last.  Furthermore, the details of each specific phase of creation are identical: the first involving the creation of light; the second, the dome of the sky; the third, the creation of dry land, and so on. The strength of this parallel has led to an unending debate among scholars concerning the precise nature of the relationship between Enuma Elish and Genesis chapter 1. Scholarly opinion ranges from the view that there is no close relationship between the two5 to the view that the latter is directly dependant upon the former6.

 

Flood Texts

            Interestingly, more than 200 flood texts have survived from cultures around the world. The earliest flood texts come from Mesopotamia and Egypt and record the occurrence of a world-wide deluge parallel to the one spoken about in Genesis 6-9.  Of the two, the Mesopotamian account is again the one that bears the closest resemblance to the story in the Bible.

            The Mesopotamian flood story is actually only one part of a much larger literary work called the Epic of Gilgamesh.  The work was written somewhere in the vicinity of ancient Babylonia by no later than the end of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 2000 BC).  In the epic, the story tells how the hero king and semi-divine being, Gilgamesh, overworks his subjects to such an extent that the gods endeavor to divert his attention by creating for him a companion, Enkidu, of equal strength and ambition. Quick to become friends, Gilgamesh and Enkidu embark on a series of successful heroic adventures.  Eventually, Enkidu dies prompting Gilgamesh to undertake the greatest and most challenging quest of all—the search for eternal life.  In his quest, Gilgamesh searches to the ends of the earth to find the legendary Utnapishtim, who alone among humans is said to have attained eternal life.  When Gilgamesh finally finds Utnapishtim, Utnapishtim recounts to Gilgamesh the story of the great flood and how he alone among humans survived and was granted the gift of eternal life by the gods.  As for Gilgamesh, however, Utnapishtim remarks that he can expect no such gift from the gods.  However, Utnapishtim does tell Gilgamesh of a secret plant hidden at the bottom of the sea which, if one eats it, can rejuvenate the life of one that has grown old.  Thereupon, Gilgamesh recovers this plant and attempts to return home with it, but is deceived by a serpent who eats it while he is bathing in a pool.  At long last, Gilgamesh despairs of his search for eternal life and endeavors to take joy in the work of his hands.

            As in Enuma Elish, the thematic differences between the Babylonian account of the flood and the Biblical account of the flood are readily apparent.  Nevertheless, some remarkable parallels exist.  For example, in Utnapishtim’s flood narrative, he tells of how, being warned by the gods that a flood was imminent, he built a ship and sealed it with pitch in order to survive (cf. Gen. 6:13-14).  In addition, just like Noah, Utnapishtim kept animals on the ship in order to preserve the various species (cf. Gen. 6:19-21).  Utnapishtim also sent birds out of his ship in order to ascertain whether or not the flood had stopped (cf. Gen. 8:6-12).  When at last the flood had ceased, the ship came to rest on a mountain where, upon exiting his ship, Utnapishtim offered sacrifices to the gods (cf. Gen. 8:20).  As in Enuma Elish, the relationship between the book of Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh continues to be a source of scholarly interest and debate.



4 J. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton: Princeton University, 1958), p. 38.
5 K. Kitchen, The Bible in its World (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP, 1977), p. 26-27.
6 E. Speiser, Genesis [AB] (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 9-11.
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Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Earliest Biblical Writings (Part 1 of 4)


The Origin and Development of Writing

            The first indisputable examples of writing appear on clay tablets and were found at the site of Uruk in lower Mesopotamia.  These mark the transition from “prehistoric” to “historic” civilization and are roughly contemporaneous with the onset of the Early Bronze Age (i.e. 3200 BC).  The content of these early texts has proved for the most part to be undecipherable.  However, scholars are generally agreed that the Uruk texts constitute an early written form of the Sumerian language.  Shortly after the appearance of this cuneiform (i.e. “wedge-shaped”) writing in Mesopotamia, writing also appeared in Egypt in the form of hieroglyphics (i.e. “sacred-carvings”)1.  Mesopotamia and Egypt, therefore, are our earliest sources for the study of the written history of humankind.

            From this point of origin, writing went through several stages of historic development in the ancient Near East2.  This development is important to bear in mind since it is easy to fall into the misconception that ancient languages were written with letters, as in our western alphabet.  Sumerian and Egyptian, however, were not written with letters and did not have an alphabet.  In an alphabet, letters consist of symbols written to represent simple sounds, such as, the letters “a” or “b”.  In Sumerian and Egyptian, words were written with symbols representing either whole words, which are called logograms, or whole syllables, which are called syllabograms.  Thus, for example, a single symbol stands for the Sumerian word “dinger” (god), while another symbol stands for the syllable “nig” (which could be used to form any number of words).  This manner of writing is referred to as logo-syllabic writing and is the earliest system known to have been used in the world.  Of the two forms of logo-syllabary just mentioned, cuneiform became the dominant one used throughout the ancient Near East, while the use of hieroglyphics remained almost exclusively within the province of Egypt.

            From this brief introduction, it is easy to see how cumbersome such a system of writing could become.  While modern English writers are able to represent every word in their vocabulary with a 26 letter alphabet, the earliest logo-syllabaries of the Sumerians could contain up to 2000 different symbols, all with different meanings. To complicate matters more, the meanings of most of the symbols varied across time and space so that, eventually, signs could acquire up to five or six possible meanings all of which would have to be determined by the context of their usage.  Hence, literacy in the ancient world was a rare privilege enjoyed only by professional scribes and the elite, well-educated few.  After the conquest of the Sumerians by the Akkadians, logograms began to gradually disappear from regular usage except in a few idiomatic expressions, while written language came to be represented almost entirely in syllabograms. This manner of writing is referred to as syllabic writing and persisted throughout the latter part of the Early Bronze Age and all of the Middle Bronze Age (i.e. 2000-1550 BC).

            The earliest examples of consonantal writing begin to appear in Palestine sometime around the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (i.e. 1550 B.C.)3. Next to the invention of writing itself, this is easily the most significant historic development in the history of writing.  The transition to consonantal writing began with the insight that syllables (such as, for example, “nig”) could be broken down into a relatively small group of sounds called consonants (e.g., “n” and “g”) which could be rearranged in various ways to formulate words.  Thus, the Palestinian consonantary, as it is called, could now represent the full range of human language with only 22 symbols, each representing a consonant—an unimaginably efficient system of writing when compared to the 2000 symbols used in the logo-syllabary of the Sumerians! Archaeologists have uncovered numerous attempts at developing this consonantary in Palestine and Sinai in the Late Bronze Age, but the one that eventually caught on and was disseminated to the rest of the Mediterranean world was that of the coastal Phoenicians.  From this point on, literacy and writing grew in proportion to the facility with which it could be carried out.

            The last and most familiar development in ancient Near Eastern writing is the advent of the alphabet, which appeared sometime around 800 BC in Greece.  The Greek alphabet, named after its first two letters “alpha” and “beta”, incorporated all the advantages of the Palestinian consonantary, but it also included within its scope the representation of vowels. This innovation required that a few additional letters be used in the formulation of words, but also overcame a certain amount of ambiguity inherent in the consonantal system due to the absence of vowels. (For example, in a consonantal system of writing, the symbol “blck” could be interpreted as either “black” or “block”.) The Greek system was passed on to the Romans and preserved in Latin, which is the basis of modern western language.



1 The long-standing debate about whether writing first developed in Mesopotamia or Egypt seems, at present, to be resolved in favor of the former on the basis of the clay tablets discovered at Uruk.  Fresh evidence, however, could easily open this debate again.
2  Traditionally, archaeologists and linguists only recognized three basic systems of writing.  The most recent analyses, however, suggest six systems, four of which are treated here (i.e. logo-syllabic, syllabic, consonantal, and alphabetic).  For a fuller treatment of these four systems as well as abugida and hangul, cf. Peter T. Daniels, “Writing and Writing Systems” Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Neat East, ed. E. Meyers (New York: Oxford University, 1997) 5.352-358.
3 Possibly the earliest example of consonantal writing in ancient Palestine is a fragmentary potsherd from Gezer dated to approximately 1650 BC.  The potsherd is inscribed with only three symbols, the interpretation of which is a matter of debate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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The "New Issue": Doctrinal Development

Doctrinally, the New Issue did not mature as a unified front. Although uniformly attacking Pentecostal Trinitarianism with their new understanding of the "absolute deity" of Jesus,1 the New Issue thinkers demonstrated exegetical inconsistency, misunderstandings and misrepresentations of their opponents' positions, and varying degrees of moderation and sectarianism. New Issue theology developed in two stages: the 1913 attempts to harmonize the triune and apostolic baptismal formulas and the later radical revisions of the doctrines of God and salvation which the 1913 discussions precipitated.

The restorationist drive for the pristine Christianity of the New Testament pattern, so common to American evangelical religion, lies at the roots of Oneness thought. Advancing the rhetoric of the Azusa revival which proclaimed the restoration of the original apostolic church in the practice of glossolalia, New Issue proponents argued that "latter day" Christianity was "fully" restored with the revelation of the divine name and the uncovering of the "mystery" of the Godhead. G. T. Haywood explained that the "mystery" of the Godhead had been "folded away in God's infinite wisdom, awaiting the day appointed, when in the dispensation of the fullness of times all things were to be gathered in Christ."2 For Frank J. Ewart, the supposed "introduction" of the Trinity doctrine at the Nicene Council (325 A.D.) resulted in the plunge of Christianity into the "Papal Darkness" of the middle ages.3 Only a latter day restoration of the divine person and name could overcome this apostasy.

The doctrine of the Trinity in its introduction as a fundamental of faith, in the third century, kept very bad company. Transubstantiation, indulgences, Mariolatry, infallibility of the Pope, purgatory, and many others companied with the Trinity. These tenets of the Roman Catholic creed held the field with Constantine to Luther. Subsequent to Luther, Protestants have refuted all the fundamentals of the Catholic Church, with the noted exception of the doctrine called the Holy Trinity . . . In 1914 God made his final move to raise up a people to restore the One Body or Church to the Apostolic Age [referring to the "revelation" of the Jesus name baptismal formula].4

This unique blending of restorationism and millennarian hope perfectly paralleled the expectations of the Azusa believers.

This restorationist, or "latter rain," mentality (as Oneness Pentecostals call it) served as an apologetic for the novelty of the doctrine. Clearly begging the question, the novelty of the doctrine became its greatest proof in light of "end time revelation." References to "more light" and additional religious insight which permeated Oneness periodicals prompted Trinitarian opponents to charge New Issue believers with capricious subjectivism and extremes in doctrine and practice.5 Indeed, some statements, apparently deriding biblical authority, left the new doctrine open to attack. Carl Brumback quoted Howard Goss as saying, "Oh, you'll never get this by studying it out like some other doctrine. This comes by 'revelation.'"6 Haywood, in his own writings, contrasts literal human interpretation of the Scriptures with the power of the Oneness "revelation."

No man can know who the Father, nor the Son is, except it be revealed. . . .Almost anyone that is able to read can take up the Bible and see, what is apparently, "three persons," the common view held by Catholic and all other denominations, but is Jesus revealing this to them? I tell you "NAY." God has taken the wise in their own craftiness.7

But such passages were isolated and such attacks unfounded. As a whole, the New Issue thinkers showed a more moderate, although often unstated, understanding of the Oneness "revelation." Andrew D. Urshan, a latecomer to Oneness ranks in 1919, clarified the meaning of "revelation" in Oneness writings.

By the word "revelation" . . . we mean, the Holy Ghost illuminating our hearts and minds to actually understand certain Scriptures. He [the Holy Spirit], the blessed Spirit of truth, is also the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. When he enters the true believer's heart and mind, he begins his blessed work of illuminating, revealing and unfolding the infinite love and majestic personality of the One God of Israel in the Name and Person of his son, Jesus Christ.8

The real distinctions between Trinitarian doctrine and Oneness "revelation" arose from the content, not the method, of this "revelation." Redefining the biblical category of the "mystery" of God's transcendence, the Oneness thinkers perceived Jesus as "God's revealed mystery"—not God revealed in mystery, but rather God revealed such that mystery is altogether eliminated. New Issue writers replaced the Trinitarian "mystery" with a "common sense hermeneutic" which drew literalist conclusions from biblical texts. This appeal to "common sense," which assumed that anything contrary to simple reason must necessarily be false, preceded all Oneness investigations of the scriptures and served as a catch-all defense against any difficult Trinitarian argument. Thus Ewart argued that "the normal mind revolts against the thought of there existing from eternity more than ONE CREATOR, First-cause, Redeemer, or Saviour."9 Trinitarianism was mere human speculation; whereas Oneness doctrine was God's revelation.10 To Oneness sectarian eyes, Christendom had settled for less than God's full truth in revelation.

The New Issue began and ended in the act of baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Significantly, the controversy did not grow from an academic debate concerning the doctrines of God or salvation, but rather sprang from efforts to harmonize the Matthean and Acts baptismal formulas. Initially, the secondary role allotted water baptism in general Pentecostal circles kept this discussion on a non-divisive level. Early toleration ceased only when the debate spread beyond these simple harmonizing attempts. Then, rebaptism, the ultimate act of submission to the new position, became the most obvious point of schism.

As early as the spring of 1913, R. E. McAlister offered the first harmonizing attempt by equating the terms "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and the terms "Lord, Jesus, Christ."11 In this, McAlister evidently retained orthodox Trinitarianism, although his influence on Ewart produced more heterodox results. Ewart expounded his early "theology of the Name" in simple, common-sense arguments. First, the singular word "name" in Matthew 28:19 anticipated the singular name "Jesus" in Acts 2:38. Secondly, Ewart held that the apostles' practice of baptizing in the name of Jesus should serve as a key for interpreting the intent of Jesus' words in Matthew 28:19. Had Jesus intended that the titles "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" be used in the baptismal ceremony, Matthew 28:19 would have to read "names" and the Acts of the Apostles would have recorded baptisms using the triune formula.

Later Oneness thinkers developed this "theology of the Name" as "the key that unlocked the door to the nature and the person of God himself."12 These efforts usually began with lengthy studies of the Old Testament names for God and always concluded that God's primary revelatory mechanism has always been the divine name.13 To know God's name meant to understand God. Oneness thinkers correctly recognized that references to divine names (especially the Jehovahistic titles) in the biblical acts of salvation history served as interpretive revelation. "It was the purpose of God to make himself known to his people," Haywood declared, but then clarified how this was to be done: "His name was to be declared among the brethren."14 The biblical witness progressively enriches human understanding of God through additional names, titles, and descriptions. The "overplus" of "name revelation" in the Old Testament pointed to the need for a single, easily understood revelation of the divine name which would sum up the totality of God's characteristics.15 The Old Testament itself carried a motif which pointed beyond its limited revelation: the "secrecy of the divine name."16 Haywood argued that the "secret name" restructured the Old Testament eschatological hope around the ultimate revelation of the divine name in the great age prior to the consummation. Obviously, to Haywood, that age had arrived and the eschatological name was Jesus.17 In the last days, Jesus had been "rediscovered" as the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the ultimate revelation of God in both person and name.

The "rediscovery" of Jesus as the Jehovah of the Old Testament brought a great reaffirmation of Hebrew monotheism. References to the Shema became the watchword of the New Issue. The "oneness" of God became radicalized with the application of the Old Testament language to the person of Jesus and resulted in the rejection of any position which failed to appreciate the "absolute deity" of Jesus (e.g., Trinitarianism as misunderstood by the Oneness believers). The God who revealed himself throughout the Old Testament in multiplied theophanic manifestations was fully and quantitatively incarnate in Jesus Christ.18

Resting on the "common sense" hermeneutic, the New Issue attack on Trinitarianism failed to comprehend the language or purposes of the early Trinitarian creeds. To Oneness thinkers, Trinitarianism meant only that God was divided into three separate, distinct persons, each eternal in heaven, with the second person, at a point in time leaving the other two in heaven, to be incarnate in Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem.19 Three strata of arguments were raised against this "straw man" definition. First, Trinitarianism was Tritheism barely disguised. Haywood stated succinctly, "If the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate Persons, Spirits, Personalities, we have on our hands three separate Gods."20 Such a view was seen to "divide the Deity" and "perpetuate Catholic dogma."21 Kenneth Reeves, a later Oneness defender, defined Trinitarianism as "a merger of Tritheism (belief in three Gods) with Monotheism (belief in one God), which is neither Monotheism nor Tritheism in its purest form."22 Secondly, Trinitarians based their doctrines on non-biblical terminology, such as trinity, three persons in the Godhead, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.23 Lastly, Oneness writers alluded to religious and moral problems among Trinitarians who rejected the Oneness doctrine, "who gave only lip service to God," without true sincerity, who choose "traditions over the Word of God."24 Any sincere Christian who was open to the biblical message and the work of the Holy Spirit should also be open to the Oneness doctrine.

Although Oneness thinkers denied a trinity of "three separate, distinct persons," they recognized an obvious biblical "threeness" concerning God.25 This "threeness" was understood, not in terms of three ontological persons, but rather as three historical manifestations—three modes of God's revelation rather than three static divisions in God's person. Haywood stated

There is but one God and He has been manifested in a three-fold manner. And this three-fold manifestation was not intended to establish a three- person God idea, but instead, it was to reveal to mankind that there was a true and living God who loved them with an everlasting love.26

Ewart added, "God is one in essence but three in manifestations."27

When this notion of God's "threeness" was combined with the radical "oneness" of God in Jesus Christ, the essence of the Oneness conception of God emerged.

That there is but one Holy, Eternal Spirit of God is clearly set forth in the Word of God. . . .The apostles were in no wise divided over this matter, but all recognized that the Spirit of the Father, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of His Son were different expressions of the one and self-same Spirit.28

This position consistently affirmed God's absolute unity and explained all diversity in terms of function, variety of terminology, and revelatory action.

The assertion of the "absolute deity" of Jesus led Oneness leaders to depict Jesus as the quantitative incarnation of God's whole being.29 Quoting two proof texts—Colossians 2:9,"For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" and John 14:10 with Christ speaking, "The Father who dwells in me does the work"—the New Issue writers balanced their understanding of the radical "oneness" of God in Christ and the Father-Son (divine-human) Christology.30

The Oneness preoccupation with the person of Christ drew a barrage of accusations. Hostile Trinitarians labeled Oneness believers as "Jesus only" and charged them with "denying the Father." This attack encouraged Oneness writers to further clarify their definition of the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in terms of the Father-Son Christology. Haywood stated

To acknowledge the Father and the Son does not necessarily mean to believe in "three persons in the Godhead." Those who are baptized in Jesus name acknowledge the Father and Son in Christ Jesus. . . The Fatherhood of God is found only in the Son, who was God manifest in the flesh. The only way a person can really "deny the father" is to fail to acknowledge that Jesus is the true and only living God.31

The Father and the Holy Spirit came to be seen, not as separate and distinct from the Son, but as expressions of the divine-human interplay within the incarnate God, Jesus Christ. The Father was the eternal indivisible Spirit which was in Christ.32 The Holy Spirit was that self-same Spirit in Christ which flowed forth from him to create and sustain the church. Traditional hypostatic distinctions between the divine persons were forgotten: "the deity in Jesus Christ was that of the Father, not [the] hypostatically distinct 'eternal God the Son.'"33

The Father-Son Christology distinguished the Christological titles "son of God" as divinity and "son of Man" as humanity. The sonship of Christ was limited to his human existence, while the Fatherhood of Christ meant only his divine nature.34 Some even equated the term "Son" with "body."35 Oneness writers depicted Christ's body as the habitation of God,36 the "visible portion of his substance," "God's headquarters" while on earth,37 and "the meeting place for the God who is a Spirit and the souls of lost men."38 Christ's humanity served as a vehicle, a tool, an agency for the eternal Spirit which indwelled it. Succinctly, the man Christ acted as the "Eternal Spirit's right hand man."39 Christ's humanity was the "veil of flesh" assumed by the Mighty God. In the flesh, he was the Son of man and the Son of God. As a man, he walked, wept, prayed, suffered, and died. As God He raised himself from the dead and showed forth in the radiance of eternal glory.40

Christ as the Father was the eternal God, but his sonship "began when he was begotten [through Mary]."41 Oneness theology offered no parallel for the Trinitarian eternal Son.

Oneness thinkers explained the pre-existence of Christ in terms of God's foreknowledge: Christ eternally existed in the mind or plan of God as "the lamb slain from the foundations of the world." Christ's temporal sonship found real existence only when the eternal plan reached its fruition in the incarnation.42 Ewart stated, "When it is claimed that Jesus' sonship existed eternally in any other sense than in the predetermined purpose of God, the claim is invalid from a Scriptural standpoint."43

As long as the implications of the Oneness reinterpretation of the name and nature of God for the doctrine of salvation were not explicitly discussed, the New Issue remained secondary and academic. But when these doctrines were directly applied to the practical imperatives of Christian salvation, open hostility and even schism followed. A cycle of criticism and defense led to deepening sectarianism and admitted exclusivism among some Oneness adherents. With finality, Urshan stated, "The sure foundation of the 'New birth' or the birth of the Spirit is the accepting and believing in the Lord Jesus as God [in context, the Oneness understanding of God].44

As in the beginning, Acts 2:38 reemerged as the crisis point of the debate. For Oneness proponents, Acts 2:38 offered "the gospel in miniature,"45 a three-step "plan of salvation" involving (1) repentance, (2) water baptism administered in the name of Jesus (evidently including acceptance of the Oneness understanding of God and his name), and (3) the Holy Spirit baptism evidenced by glossolalia. This threefold plan was portrayed as the final restoration of the true apostolic church in the last days.46 The imperative of the Acts 2:38 plan demanded that Oneness thinkers expound baptismal regeneration and redefine the purposes and functions of Holy Spirit baptism.

These thinkers came to equate the imperatives of water and Spirit baptism of Acts 2:38 with the New Birth of water and Spirit of John 3:3-5. Terms such as "full salvation," "Bible salvation," and "New Testament salvation" emerged as the New Issue writers sought to differentiate the true essentials of Christian salvation from the lesser standards held by most Christians. Haywood pointed out that "to be born of 'water and the Spirit' and 'believe and is baptized' (John 3:5 and Mark 16:16) are proved to be synonymous terms."47 Again he stated concerning Christ's command to be "born again of water and the Spirit," "there is no record in the Acts of the Apostles that his instructions were ever carried out, except by being baptized in water and the Holy Ghost."48 In rebuttal, the Assemblies of God "Statement of Fundamental Truths" presented the "New Birth" as the product of repentance and a faith experience in Christ, with baptism functioning as an "outward symbol of cleansing" and the Holy Spirit baptism as an "enduement of power for life and service."49 To dismiss any ambiguity, the statement adds, "This wonderful experience [Holy Spirit baptism] is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the New Birth."50

The Oneness equating of conversion and the "full" Acts 2:38 experience rested upon the whole-hearted acceptance of popular commentator Adam Clarke's exegesis of the New Birth passage. Clarke equated the terms "birth" and "baptism"—therefore, to be "born of water and the Spirit" means to be "baptized with water and the Spirit" and Acts 2:38 and John 3:5 are equivalent sayings.51

Oneness Pentecostals, seeking to show the essentiality of water baptism in the name of Jesus, made a mental leap from the command of baptism in Acts 2 to the statements regarding the exclusion from God's kingdom of those not "born of water" in John 3. A second leap necessarily followed: the Holy Spirit baptism of Acts 2 was linked with the "birth of the Spirit" of John 3, demanding the essentiality of the Pentecostal experience for salvation. Going beyond the normal Pentecostal notion of the subsequence of Spirit baptism to conversion, the Oneness believers held Spirit baptism as the climactic moment of a single "work of grace" and therefore necessary for "full salvation.52 Similarly, water baptism correctly administered by immersion in "Jesus name" was also a part of this single "work of grace." Haywood, commenting on "baptism as a saving medium," argued that salvation did not simply occur through the ceremonial act or any virtue in the water, but rather through the application of Christ's blood and name through the act: "To be saved by water baptism it must be administered in the Name of Jesus, for there is 'no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.'"53

 The Acts 2:38 "plan of salvation," consistently applied, excludes all Christians except Oneness Pentecostals from Christian salvation and fellowship. This sectarian position excludes non-Pentecostals for lacking the baptism of the Holy Spirit and Trinitarian Pentecostals for their failure to understand God and accept his name in baptism. Some Oneness Pentecostals apparently embraced the extremity of this position.

If you take away the absolute DEITY and the incarnation of the DIVINE BEING (God, the Spirit) from the Lord Jesus Christ, then you cause the Bible to crumble and our HOPE OF SALVATION to perish.54

But others struggled for a more moderate position recognizing at least a limited acceptance for Christians with lesser experiences. One such struggle, best expressed in Haywood's writings and propagated by instructor S. G. Norris at Apostolic Bible Institute, drew a distinction between those Christians "born of the Spirit" and those "begotten by the Word."

A child is first "begotten" by the Word (I Cor. 4:15) of the Gospel before he can be born of the Spirit. . . . No child can ever be born until it is first begotten, but many were never born into the world. So it is with the Spirit . . . . There are multitudes who are in this state today.55

Accordingly, Haywood differentiated two stages in the resurrection of the dead following the dispensational division of the "secret rapture" and the final, general resurrection. Those partaking in the Acts 2:38 experience would escape the "Great Tribulation" via the "rapture;" whereas those "righteous men of all ages who walked in all the light they were given" would participate in the general resurrection.56 Haywood's final statement anticipated an even more moderate assessment of the status of non-Oneness Christians: the "Light Doctrine." This position argued that God required of men only that which had been "revealed" to them. Repentance and faith were enough if the "light" of water and Spirit baptism had not been understood.57

In summary, Oneness doctrine developed at a time of crisis in the fledgling Assemblies of God and spawned a greater and more lasting controversy. Despite Oneness claims, this novel position, although well documented, has never displayed consistency and uniformity. Failing to grasp the functions and implications of historical Trinitarianism, Oneness writers, driven by a desire to exalt the person and name of Jesus, produced an alternate, somewhat one-sided understanding of God. This effort, beginning as an intense Scriptural search, ended in a sectarian claim of exclusivism.

Urshan likened the Oneness message to "a two-edged sword" that "tests the faith of the believers" and "reveals and separates the true from the false."58 Ewart summed up the Oneness sectarian attitude in no uncertain terms.

It is extremely dangerous in these last days, when apostasy abounds on every hand, to deny the necessity of the name of the LORD JESUS CHRIST. A church, denomination, organization, or assembly which refuses to take the name of the Lord-Jesus- Christ in Christian baptism could never have a place in His Bride.59

It was this sectarian spirit that forced the exclusion of the New Issue men from the Assemblies of God. Following three years of struggle with developing doctrine, organizational tension, and leadership rivalry, the New Issue crushed the spirit of liberality upon which the Assemblies had been founded. The Assemblies of God officially formed a new organizational orthodoxy and catapulted the New Issue ministers on the path toward formation of new Oneness bodies.
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1Oneness thinkers rejected the notion of Christ as the incarnation of the eternal Son of the Trinity, choosing rather to affirm the "absolute deity" of Christ as the quantitative embodiment of the entirety of the Godhead.

2G. T.Haywood, Divine Names and Titles of Jehovah, (Indianapolis: Christ Temple, n.d.), p. 18.

3Better informed contemporary Oneness scholars do not resort to such non-historical assertions. Compare David K. Bernard, The Oneness of God (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1983) and William B. Chalfant, Ancient Champions of Oneness: A History of the True Church of Jesus Christ (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1979).

4Frank J.Ewart, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (St. Louis: Pentecostal Publishing House, 1965), pp. 26-27. See also S. C. McClain, Student's Handbook on the Facts of Church History (St. Louis: Pentecostal Publishing House, n.d.).

5Carl Brumback, Suddenly from Heaven (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1961), p. 203.

6Ibid., p. 202.

7G. T. Haywood, The Victim of the Flaming Sword (Indianapolis: Christ Temple, n.d.), pp. 46-48.

8Andrew D. Urshan, The Life of Andrew Bar David Urshan: An Autobiography (Stockton, Ca.: Apostolic Press, 1967), p. 137.

9Ewart, The Revelation, p. 15.

10Ibid., p. 10.

11Compare McAlister's view with that of William Phillips Hall, Remarkable Biblical Discovery Of "The Name" of God According to the Scriptures, 3rd ed., (New York: American Tract Society, 1931).

12David A. Reed, "Origins and Developments of the Theology of Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States" (Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1978), p. 150.

13See Haywood, Divine Names, Ewart, The Revelation, Andrew D. Urshan, The Almighty God in the Lord Jesus Christ (Portland, Ore.: Apostolic Book Corner, 1919).

14Haywood, Divine Names, pp. 6-8.

15Ibid., p. 9.

16Ibid., p. 10. Here Haywood lists five Old Testament instances of the "withholding" of the divine name: Jacob wrestling with the angel and his desire to know God's secret name, the annunciation of Samuel's birth and Manoah's desire to know the secret name, God's insufficient reply to Moses' request to know his name ("I am that I am"), Isaiah's insufficient titles for the Messianic king (Isaiah 9:6), and the mysterious "Angel of the Lord" in whom God's name dwells (Exodus 23:21).

17Ibid., p. 11.

18Ibid., p. 3.

19Ewart, The Revelation, p. 26.

20Haywood, The Victim, p. 58.

21Ewart, The Revelation, p. 7.

22Kenneth V. Reeves, The Godhead (Granite City, Ill.: By the Author, 1971), p. 6.

23This attack diminishes amidst the similar non- biblical language of Oneness believers: "manifestations," "tri-unity," "three-in-one," "three-one God." Ewart calls on all in the debate to "dismiss unscriptural words" and "use 'tri-unity' instead of 'trinity,' 'substance' instead of 'person,' and 'entities' instead of 'persons'" (See Ewart, The Revelation, p. 25). The fact that Ewart fails to perceive the contradiction of his proposals captures much of the quality of the New Issue debate.

24Haywood, The Victim, p. 55.

25Ewart, The Revelation, p. 14.

26Haywood, The Victim, p. 12.

27Ewart, The Revelation, p. 18.

28Haywood, Divine Names, p. 12.

29Several Oneness thinkers realized the impact that this teaching might have on the doctrine of God's transcendence (e.g., Haywood, The Victim, p. 16; Paul Fergeson, God In Christ Jesus, (Elgin, Ill.: Real Truth Publications, 1963), p. 21; and Melvin R. Springfield, Jesus—The Almighty (Portland, Ore.: By the Author, 1972), pp. 24-25). But these all perceive the problem in purely spatial terms and therefore offer no real solutions.

30Note Haywood's reinterpretation of the event of incarnation as the depositing of the divine name within the womb of Mary. Thus, the supreme function of Christ was as bearer of the divine name, the ultimate act of revelation. See Haywood, Divine Names, pp. 10-11.

31Haywood, The Victim, pp. 51-54.

32Later Oneness thinkers sometimes revised this definition of the Father to avoid any denial of divine transcendence. Fergeson, God In Christ Jesus, p. 21 states that "The Father was the divinity which was not incarnate in contrast to the visible image which was." Reeves, The Godhead, p. 5 argues that "The omnipresence of the Son is the Father." But this retreat from the "absolute deity" of Christ undermines the appeal to John 14:10 and the Father- Son Christology and therefore limits rather than aids the Oneness presentation.

33Reed, "Origins and Developments," pp. 163-64.

34A clear Nestorian tendency permeates this Christology.

35S. G. Norris, The Mighty God in Christ (St. Paul: Apostolic Bible Institute, n.d.), p. 20.

36Oliver F. Fauss, Buy the Truth and Sell It Not (St. Louis: Pentecostal Publishing House, 1965), p. 23.

37Fergeson, God In Christ Jesus, p. 17.

38Fauss, Buy the Truth, p. 31.

39Haywood, The Victim, p. 45.

40Ibid., p. 48.

41Fauss, Buy the Truth, p. 41.

42Haywood, The Victim, p. 44.

43Ewart, The Revelation, p. 34.

44Urshan, The Almighty God, p. 22.

45Reed, "Origins and Developments," p. 167.

46Fauss, Buy the Truth, p. 6.

47G. T. Haywood, The Birth of the Spirit and the Mystery of the Godhead, (Indianapolis: Christ Temple, n.d.), p. 5.

48Ibid., p. 4.

49Assemblies of God, Minutes of the General Council, 1916, pp. 10-11. (Typewritten.)

50Ibid., p. 11.

51Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible: A Commentary, Vol. V (Matthew to Romans) (New York: Funk and Wagnall's, n.d.). (This work is not paginated.)

52The term "full salvation" differentiates the full Acts 2:38 experience from lesser, and therefore inferior and insufficient, experiences.

53Haywood, The Birth of the Spirit, p. 24.

54Norris, The Mighty God in Christ, p. 26.

55Haywood, The Birth of the Spirit, pp. 10-11.

56Ibid., p. 12.

57Fred J. Foster, Their Story: Twentieth Century Pentecostals (Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1981), pp. 143-144.

58Urshan, The Almighty God, p. 21.

59Ewart, The Revelation, p. 42.