("One God Controversy" ad copy for August ’06 The Journal--News of the Churches of God)

 

The Angel Gabriel Was Not a Trinitarian (or Binitarian)

 

My friend Sir Anthony Buzzard had devoted his life’s ministry to proclaiming the truth of the One True God and His coming Kingdom. I found his analysis of Gabriel’s words compelling evidence in the One God Controversy. Below I have excerpted the crux of his article on this

topic.[1] Gabriel, the Angel of the Presence[2]--the highest ranking angel, should be heard with a measure of the awe that overwhelmed Mary. Gabriel made it clear what was going to happen in her womb. His words should make it clear to us when and how our Lord and Savior came into being. –Ken Westby

 

We should consider with all seriousness the classic words of Gabriel delivered to Mary. When angels speak they are concise and logical. Each of their words must be carefully weighed and every ounce of information extracted. Replying to Mary’s very reasonable objection that she was as yet unmarried, Gabriel declared, “holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason indeed (dio kai) the holy child to be begotten will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

I suggest that this Christological statement from the angel Gabriel be taken as the basis for identifying who Jesus is. It should be understood as a clarion call for unity, a rallying point for divided Christendom. What better way of calling Christians back to their first-century roots?

The message is simple and clear. The Son of God of Gabriel’s announcement is none other than a divinely created Son of God, coming into existence — begotten — as Son in his mother’s womb. All other claimants to divine Sonship and Messiahship may safely be discounted. A “Son of God” who is the natural son of Joseph could not, on the evidence of Gabriel, be the Messiah. Such a person would not answer to the Son who is son on the basis of a unique divine intervention in the biological chain. Equally false to Gabriel’s definition of the Son of God would be a son who preexisted his conception. Such a son could not possibly correspond to the Messiah presented by Gabriel, one whose existence is predicated on a creative act in history on the part of the Father.

Gabriel does not present a Son of God in transition from one state of existence to another. He announces the miraculous origin and beginning of the Messiah (cp. Matt. 1:18, 20: “the origin [Gk. genesis] of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God.” The later concept of the Incarnation of a preexisting “eternal Son” cannot possibly be forced into the mold revealed by Gabriel. A preexistent Person who decides to become a man reduces himself, shrinks himself, in order to adopt the form of a human embryo. But such a Person is not conceived or begotten in the womb of a woman. He merely passes through that womb, adopting a new form of existence.

Conception and begetting mark the point at which an individual begins to exist, an individual who did not exist before! It is this non-preexisting individual whom Gabriel presents in the sacred documents for our reception. This Son of God, of Scripture as opposed to later church tradition, is a Son of God with a history in time only, not in eternity.

Following his marvelous promise that the Messiah would be the seed of Eve (Gen. 3:15), a prophet like Moses arising in Israel (Deut. 18:15-19) and the descendant by bloodline of David (II Sam. 7:14), God, in a precious moment of history, initiated the history of His unique Son. This was a Son through whom God expressly did not speak in previous times (Heb. 1:2). Naturally enough, since that prophesied Son was not then alive!

Only a few pages later Luke traces the lineage of Jesus, Son of God, back to Adam who likewise is called Son of God (Luke 3:38). The parallel is striking and immensely informative. Just as God by divine fiat created Adam from the dust as Son of God, so in due time He creates within the womb of a human female the one who is the supernaturally begotten Son of God. It is surely destructive of straightforward information and revelation to argue that the Son of God did not have his origin in Mary but as an eternal Spirit. This is to dehumanize the Son — to make him essentially non-human, merely a divine visitor disguised as a man.

Luke presents Jesus as Son of God related to God in a parallel fashion to Adam (Luke 3:38). The attentive reader of Scripture will hear echoes of Israel as Son of God (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1) and Davidic kings (Ps. 2). Like Israel before him, Jesus, the Son of God, goes through water to begin his spiritual journey (Luke 3:21; cp. Exod. 14, 15). In the wilderness and under trial Jesus proves himself to be the obedient Son unlike Israel who failed in the wilderness (Exod. 14-17; 32-34; Num. 11).

The whole story is ruined if another dimension is added to the story, namely that the Son of God was already a preexisting member of an eternal Trinity (or Binity). Gabriel has carefully defined the nature of Jesus’ Sonship and his words exclude any origin other than a supernatural origin in Mary.

Gabriel’s Jesus, Son of God — the biblical Son — originates in Mary. He is conceived and begotten by miracle. In preexistence Christology, the main plank of Trinitarianism, a conception/begetting in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s Son. According to Gabriel it does. Neither Gabriel nor Luke could possibly have been Trinitarians.

No need for centuries of complex wrangling over words. All that is required is belief of the angelic communication: “For this reason precisely (dio kai) — the creative miracle of God through His divine power — the child will be Son of God.” For no other reason, for this reason only. (Note the very watered-down rendering of the NIV, “so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”)

Jesus as Son of God is “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32; 8:28). Christians are also given this title, “sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35; cp. Ps. 82:6). Jesus’ royal Sonship is established by his miraculous begetting. That of the Christians originates with their rebirth or regeneration.

Many scholars know well that neither Luke nor Matthew show any sign of believing in a pre-human eternal Son of God of the post-biblical creeds. Raymond Brown’s magisterial treatment of the birth narratives in his Birth of the Messiah makes a major point of the fact that neither Matthew nor Luke believed in the Incarnation of a pre-human, prehistoric Son.

Commenting on Luke 1:35, “therefore,” Raymond Brown says, “of the nine times dio kai occurs in the New Testament, three are in Luke/Acts. It involves a certain causality and Lyonnet (in his L’Annonciation, 61.6) points out that this has embarrassed many orthodox theologians since in preexistence Christology a conception by the holy spirit in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine Sonship for him…And so I cannot follow those theologians who try to avoid the causal connotation in the ‘therefore’ which begins this line, by arguing that for Luke the conception of the child does not bring the Son of God into being.” Raymond Brown insists that according to Luke, “We are dealing with the begetting of God’s Son in the womb of Mary through God’s creative spirit.”

“Orthodoxy” derived from later Church Councils has to turn a blind eye to Gabriel’s definition of the Son of God. It contradicted Gabriel by denying that the conception of Jesus brought about his existence as Son of God.

This is a very serious issue. Is the Jesus of the creeds, the Jesus under whose umbrella churches gather, really the created Son authorized by Scripture in Luke 1:35 and Matthew 1:18, 20?

Again, the exhaustive work of Brown on the birth narratives brings us the important fact that the Jesus of the Gospels is quite unlike the “eternally begotten” Son of the later church creeds:

“Matthew and Luke press [the question of Jesus’ identity] back to Jesus’ conception. In the commentary I shall stress that Matthew and Luke show no knowledge of preexistence; seemingly for them the conception was the becoming (begetting) of God’s Son (p. 31).

“The fact that Matthew can speak of Jesus as ‘begotten’ (passive of gennan) suggests that for him the conception through the agency of the holy spirit is the becoming of God’s Son. [In Matthew’s and Luke’s ‘conception Christology’] God’s creative action in the conception of Jesus begets Jesus as God’s Son...There is no suggestion of an Incarnation whereby a figure who was previously with God takes on flesh. For preexistence Christology [Incarnation], the conception of Jesus is the beginning of an earthly career but not the begetting of God’s Son. [Later] the virginal conception was no longer seen as the begetting of God’s Son, but as the incarnation of God’s Son, and that became orthodox Christian doctrine. This thought process is probably already at work at the beginning of the second century(pp. 140-142).

Do we really believe the words of the Bible or has our tradition made it difficult to hear the text of Scripture without the interfering voices of later tradition? There is the constant danger for us believers that the words of the Bible can be drowned out by the clamorous and sometimes threatening words of ecclesiastical teaching, which mostly goes unexamined. At stake here is the whole nature of the Savior. Is he really a human being, or did he have the benefit of billions of years of conscious existence before deciding to become a man? Is this latter picture anything more than a legendary addition to Apostolic faith?

The Son of God, Messiah and Savior, is defined in precise theological terms by Gabriel, laying the foundation of the whole New Testament and fulfilling the promises of the Old. Christians should unite around that clear portrait of Jesus presented by Gabriel. Jesus is the Son of God on one basis only, his miraculous coming into existence in Mary’s womb. This was God’s creative act, initiating His new creation and providing the model of Christian Sonship for us all. Though obviously we are not, like Jesus, brought into existence supernaturally, nevertheless we, like him, are to receive a supernatural birth from spirit by being born again under the influence of the Gospel (Gal. 3:2; Eph. 1:13, 14; Rom. 10:17; Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11, 12; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; James 1:18).

The “divine” nature of Jesus has no other foundation than the stupendous miracle granted to Mary and to humanity. A Jesus who claims to be Son of God for any other reason should be rejected. A natural son of Joseph cannot qualify as the Messiah, nor can a person whose existence did not originate in his mother’s womb by a divine creative miracle.

The constitution of Jesus as the unique Son of God is given its basis by the superb words of Gabriel in Luke 1:35. This definition of the Messiah, Son of God, should be allowed to stand. It was later, post-biblical tradition which interfered with the definitive, revealing statement of Gabriel. Once Jesus was turned into a preexisting Son of God who gave up one conscious existence for another, Christology immediately became problematic (as witnessed by the centuries of disputes, excommunications, and fierce dogmatic decisions of Church Councils).

A Son of God who is already Son of God before his conception in his mother is a personage essentially non-human. Under that revised scheme what came into existence in Mary was not the Son of God at all, but a created human nature added to an already existing Person. But Gabriel describes the creation of the Son of God himself, not the creation of a human nature added to an already existing Son. The two models are quite different. 


 

[1] Read the complete article at Anthony’s website: http://www.mindspring.com/~anthonybuzzard/gabriel.htm

[2] Luke 1:19