ACTS 2 PENTECOST
THE BEGINNING OF THE WORK OF THE APOSTLES
[2:1]. «When the day of Pentecost arrived».
Every Jewish male had the obligation to present himself in Jerusalem «before YHWH» during three particular feasts (Ex 23:14-17; Deu 16; Lev 23): at Easter or the Feast of Unleavened Bread (around April), 50 days later at Pentecost or Harvest (end of May), finally at the Feast of Booths or Collection (mid-October).
For those who lived near Jerusalem it was easier to observe these rules, while it was in fact impossible for a “synagogue Judaism” now spread from the Persian Gulf to the entire Mediterranean basin. So some chose to go to only one of the three festivals, prefering that of Pentecost because the summer season aided travel.
For someone who wanted to spread news among the Jews of the world, therefore, the best way was to do it in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost: coincidentally, the very day chosen by God for the first proclamation of the Gospel!
[2:2]. «Suddenly there was a sound from heaven as of a raging wind blowing».
Suddenly: nothing suggested it (there was no storm).
From heaven: it was therefore not the result of any human activity.
Impetuous sound: it struck everyone, even the distracted as mentioned below (v. 6).
Like the wind that blows: spirit, breath and wind are almost synonymous (Gen 2:7; John 3:8).
[2:3-4a]. «Divided Tongues appeared to them as of fire and rested on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit».
The wind filled the whole house, and the fire divided itself and came upon every man; and they were all filled with the same Spirit. It was a work of God that united all believers, who were filled by the very fact of being believers and not because they were holier than others.
[2:4b]. «And they began to speak in other languages».
Those who spoke had not learned that language before, while those who listened perceived it as their mother tongue (v. 6). The miraculous aspect was immediately perceived, while only later it was understood that it was the sign of a great turning point.
In electing/choosing Abraham, God had also chosen the language of Abraham, that is, Hebrew, which was then used by Moses and the prophets. It was logical to expect that the Gospel would be announced in the language of the Jewish people, since Jesus had worked within that people and spoken Hebrew (Mt 15:24; Acts 26:14). Paul too would later use the Hebrew to address his people (Acts 22:2).
The miracle of making the Gospel heard in the various mother tongues, in short, was not foreseen and for this very reason it represented a sign of ensuing, though gradual, developments. The first great turning point would be the baptism of an uncircumcised (Cornelius, Acts 10:47), then there would be the first Church of predominately uncircumcised (Antioch, Acts 11:20-24), finally the spread of the Gospel in the heart of the Greek world (after Acts 16:9). All this would have meant that the final draft of the New Testament would not be in Hebrew, but in Greek. To make a comparison, it is as if the Qur’an continued with a new section written in English, that is, in the language of those who are perceived by many as “enemies” of Islam.
However, some signs of linguistic adaptation are also present in the Old Testament. In Genesis 31:47, for example, we are told both the Hebrew name given by Jacob to a certain place, and the Aramaic name given to it by Laban. Significant is that, in Jeremiah 10:11, the admonition to idolaters is made in the Aramaic spoken by them. More importantly, when events take place in the Babylonian area, where the Jews had been deported, whole chapters are in the language of that area, which is again Aramaic (Ezra 4:8 to 6:18; Dan 2:46 to 7:28).
Of course, every translation is a bit of a betrayal of the original, but this is compensated by two aspects: one is that, even if with a translation you understand worse, without translation you would not understand anything; the other is that a translation does not cancel the original, but rather enhances it: In fact, Christianity has been a means of spreading the Old Testament throughout the world, in some way promoting the study of Hebrew.
The fact that the Gospel was heard from the beginning in the mother tongue (2:6-11), sets us free from the duty of studying the original languages, studies that someone undertook to translate the Bible into our language and we are infinitely grateful, but we do not now consider it necessary that to understand the Word of God one must necessarily study Hebrew and Greek. We believe that our duty is to listen consistently to the Word of God that has been made available to us in our language, because even if it is true that sometimes scholars understand the Bible better, other times it is the faith of the less educated to make it better understandable. Scholars are welcome, in conclusion, but only if they place themselves and are placed at the side of other believers, not above.
Many theologians have a great need to define Israel in an ethnic sense, even to satisfy a Christianity that loves to feel different and superior to the Judaism of the time of Jesus. Christians generally think that the composite audience, being “of every nation” was not composed entirely of Jews, with a reasoning clearly wrong but to which they are very fond. The error comes from not wanting to acknowledge that EVERYONE COULD BECOME A JEW AND BE CIRCUMCISED, as everyone today can become a Christian and be baptized.
In Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, there could also be some sympathizers of Judaism not yet circumcised and referred to as “proselytes” (v. 11). Those who, however, accepted Peter’s message and were baptized, that is, the first members of the Church, were all circumcised: it will be necessary to wait for Cornelius (Acts 10) to have the first baptism of an uncircumcised person. Peter’s message, in short, certainly did not invite us to leave Judaism and the synagogues, but, following the example of Christ, the invitation was to be consistent with the Word of God represented by the Old Testament, to whose authority he was called to submit.
When Jesus invited all peoples to proclaim the Gospel (Mt 28:19), contrary to what is often thought, he did not teach anything very different from what the Jews had done, since the Old Testament was already internationalist: Whether by the foundation of synagogues outside of Israel which all might attend, and of which the Gentiles also might become members, being circumcised, or by allowing even the uncircumcised to go to the Temple and present sacrifices (Num 15:14-16; see also Old Testament Summary, ch. 4/E and ch. 24/11/B). However, there is something more significant to which Jesus refers that, as “Son of David”, relaunches the invitation that so many centuries before David himself had promoted: «Praise YHWH, call on his name; make known his deeds among the peoples […] Give to YHWH, O families of the peoples, give to YHWH glory and strength […] Bring to him offerings and come in his presence […] Let it be said among the nations, ” YHWH reigns”» (1 Chronicles 16:8-31).
[2:12]. «Everyone was astonished and puzzled».
It was evident that there was a “simultaneous translator” who acted between the mouths of those who spoke (simple people of Galilee) and the ears of those who listened. Since this took place in Jerusalem it was inevitable to attribute the phenomenon to the God who had chosen to “dwell” in that city (1 Kings 8:13). To some listeners, then, one may suppose that the episode in which God was able to make even a donkey speak came to mind! (Num 22:28).
[2:13]. «But others mocked them and said “They are full of sweet wine”».
In Acts the same reactions continue that we find in the Gospel (and in the Old Testament): even when God manifests himself in a convincing way, not everyone is convinced, since no fact external to man can automatically act internal to him. Very interesting is the accusation made in this case against the disciples, that is, to be drunk: an accusation that was so false, but plausible. On the other hand, the Apostle Paul makes this comparison: «Wine leads to debauchery. But be filled with the Spirit». Even Hannah, the mother of Samuel, while praying intensely was considered drunk (1 Sam 1:13-14).
[2:14a]. «Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice».
Earlier, Peter had stood up «among the brethren» (1:15). There are formally hierarchical systems of government, where there is one who commands and everyone else obeys, and formally democratic systems, where all are equal and where the majority decides. These episodes reveal something more complex, because there is both the assumption of responsibility on the part of those who have been called to exercise it, and the participation of the entire collective. Peter works in harmony with the other apostles, in ways that today we would call “responsible leaders”. Evidently the example of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit had led the apostles a long way, compared to when they debated who the greatest was (Mk 9:33-35).
The road ahead was not finished, however, because it was unthinkable that Peter, after having effectively guided the Church (Chap. 1-5), would prove inadequate, if not even an obstacle. In fact, it would be others to carry on the “strategic plan of God” (Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Paul) and a decisive turning point would take place also through the anonymous “some” (11:20).
Beyond and above human instruments, in fact, the Book of Acts shows that the true leadership of the Church is exercised by the Holy Spirit, who now uses one or the other according to actual needs: this is one of the “messages in filigree” that Luke transmits, but this will be clearer later.
[2:14b]. «Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem».
Peter speaks as a Jew to the Jews, as is reiterated in vv. 22 and 36: «Men of Israel», «Know … the whole house of Israel».
[2:15-21]. «This is what was announced through the prophet Joel».
The prophecy of Joel announced a spreading «above every person» of that same Spirit who worked in Joel and who would then operate in a generalized way.
[2:22-23a]. «Jesus of Nazareth, man … this man».
The divinity of Jesus is taught in the New Testament gradually and starting from seeing Jesus as a man: the apostles themselves, at the beginning, considered him above all a “teacher”. At the same time, there is no explicit mention of the divinity of Jesus in the preaching of Acts, which clearly would be better understood after having entrusted onself to him for the remission of one’s sins. In short, the divinity of Jesus was not taught “in Greek” as Christians have done, that is, with more or less philosophic discourses, because the Jewish way of knowing is not separated from the experience and therefore knowing the divinity of Jesus is first of all the experience of it: Reflection is not forbidden, but is usually posterior. However, we resume this theme with the special Connection No. 4, placed at the end of the chapter.
[2:23b]. Jesus «was given into your hands for the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God».
The same concept is also reiterated by Peter in his later discourse, in which he states that what happened to Jesus was only what had been «foretold by the mouth of all the prophets» (3:18).
Sometimes believers have the impression that God is defeated or absent, while non-believers feel “smarter than God”. In Acts, however, it is continually affirmed that it is God who directs history according to His precise objectives, even if human beings remain free and responsible for their actions. But Luke does not use complicated discourses to make it clear how God’s sovereignty and human freedom can be reconciled, instead he shows how in practice the two realities come together. For a fisherman like Peter, equipped with a practical sense, this was not so difficult to understand.
[2:24-32]. David «foresaw the resurrection of the Christ and spoke of it».
Peter quotes Psalm 16, to show how the resurrection of Christ had already been veiledly announced by David: veiledly and not clearly, as we Christians at times want to make people believe. To this aspect of the prophecies about Christ we have already dedicated Connection No. 3, so now we limit ourselves to pointing out that the strength of the quotation that Peter makes is not so much in the clarity of the prophecy, but depends on many other factors, such as:
-part of the audience knew about Jesus and his miracles (v. 22);
-there had been a sign of that kind of thunder and an unusual wind (v. 2);
-there had been the miracle of hearing in one’s own language (v. 8);
-it was clear, for those who wanted to understand, that the euphoria of those 120 people not different from them was given by the Spirit and not by wine.
Today, therefore, we cannot expect a Jew to accept the Messiah Jesus just because we quote him Psalm 16, whose effectiveness also today depends on the context in which he is quoted (starting with the credibility of those who cite him).
[2:33-36]. «God has made this Jesus Lord and Christ».
The Christ/Anointed/Messiah was the future king who was to restore the kingdom of David. “Lord” was a title with a broad meaning and that was attributed as recognition of some authority; it was certainly applied to a king, but it was also used for God himself. “Lord” was therefore a title perfectly suited to Jesus, because it indicated his humanity, but opening to the divinity, which in this case was not explicit and binding.
[2:37-38]. Repent and be baptized, to receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.
Preaching, conversion, baptism, forgiveness of sins and reception of the Holy Spirit occur in Acts with surprising immediacy and in a simple, very simple, too simple way; if so, what end should we make of all the devised instruments to bring men to salvation? What would this simplicity make the handlers and managers of such complex instruments look like then? This is one of the reasons why the Church does not dwell too much on this book, with its calm tones, yet disruptive content.
[2:39]. A promise for us too.
The “simple solution” offered by the apostles was not only for those who were listening, but also for all those who were far away in space and time, «for those whom the Lord, our God, will call». It is therefore not God who has complicated things, but it is the web of our ties and the noise with which we surround ourselves not to make us hear his voice and make it difficult to obey him.
[2:40]. «Save yourselves from this perverse generation».
Peter did not have much confidence in the society in front of him and invited them to “get off the ship”, climbing the “lifeboat” of salvation in Christ. It is not easy to leave the group and trust in Jesus but, now as then, his appeal is “follow me” (Mt 9:9).
[2:41]. «That day were added to them three thousand people».
Listening, repentance, baptism, community life: everything was so fast and without problems, also because everything remained within Judaism. The prophets had in fact systematically called for repentance (e.g. Isa 55:6-7) and washing themselves in water was an outward cleansing gesture well confirmed by the law of Moses (e.g. Lev 14:8). In the end, one continued on the path traced by John the Baptist (Mt 3:1-6) and one’s baptism signified publicly declaring the desire to be a more coherent Jew, certainly not the abandonment of Judaism as it is perceived today.
It is very significant that there was not yet a specific name to indicate those who had been baptized (“Christians” will come in Acts 11:26, as we will see below), also because Jesus had placed himself as the interpreter of the law of Moses that he wanted to apply, not to abolish (Mt 5:17). The same name as “brothers” was typical of Judaism (1:16; 2:37; 7:2; 13:15,26; 22:1). Luke makes up for the lack of a specific name by remaining vague: starting by indicating the apostles (1:2-14), around whom we find a group of 120 people (1:15), to whom we “add” other 3,000 (2:41), but always as a current within Judaism.
Today an observant Jew says of himself that he follows “the halakah”, which means “the way”, that is, the way of walking in accordance with Jewish law, indeed a way, because within Judaism (as elsewhere) there are somewhat different ways of putting the same teachings into practice. The followers of Jesus, significantly, are defined by Luke as “followers of the way” (9:2; 19:9; 22:4; 24:14) and the name of “Christians” was not only of external derivation (“they were called”), but was necessary only when at Antioch the first church formed which was mainly composed of uncircumcised (11:26).
The name of “Christians” then ended up extending to all the followers of Jesus, but we must not forget that that name does not appear at the beginning of Acts, let alone in the Gospel! It seems paradoxical, but using words precisely, neither Christ nor the apostles were Christians!
The apostles preached a “life” (5:20) that contrasted with the “vain way of living” of tradition (1 Pet 1:18). They were accused of being a “sect”, that is, of having separated themselves from others and of having caused a rift in the people of God, but Paul rejects this accusation, professing himself a believer «in all things which are written in the law and in the prophets» (24:14-15) and declaring their own Jewish consistency to the end (28:17-23).
In short, Luke describes a church that is born and grows in a fully Jewish context, so the Acts must be interpreted within this framework. Uncircumcised believers will eventually have the prevalence, but only numerical (28:28) and only as branches grafted into that olive tree that represents Israel (Rom.:17-24).
[2:42-43]. «They dedicated themselves to the apostles teaching and to brotherly community, in breaking bread and in prayers».
These activities did not in themselves constitute a break with Judaism, especially since separate places of worship were not established. The “communal breaking of the bread” took place “in the houses” (2:46), while for the rest they continued to be Jews attending the usual Jewish meetings (significant as they went every day in agreement to the Temple, 2:46). Over time, however, a “de facto separation” was being produced between the minority of Jews who followed the teacher Jesus and the majority who relied on the codified tradition. The beginning of a true separation occurred only after the stoning of Stephen (7:58) and the subsequent persecution of the disciples (8:1).
[2:44-45]. «They had everything in common; they sold property and goods, and distributed them to all».
This behavior of the disciples of Jerusalem is usually seen as an example that “should” be followed: but then no one follows it because it is unrealistic and so one is content with a vague desire. To have a correct understanding, their example must be seen in the immediate context, in the context of Acts, the New Testament and the entire Bible. The more general context of the New and Old Testaments makes us see that there is an invitation to be generous, especially with those who find themselves in difficulty not through their own fault, but private property is never seen as negative in itself.
Coming instead to the nearest context, selling one’s goods was a spontaneous gesture and not an imposed rule, as Luke soon points out unequivocally (5:4). While the context of the entire book of Acts shows that nowhere else did they behave like this. It is then to be thought that, in Jerusalem, there was something specific that led us to do so and it is not difficult to imagine what it could be. In fact, Jesus had said that in the Temple there would not be left «one stone upon another»: this meant that Jerusalem would be invaded by an enemy army. Even Judea would be devastated and all would happen within that generation (Mt 24:2,16,34; cf. Luke 19:41-44).
A first difficulty for the disciples of Jerusalem was that they had accepted Jesus, which automatically entailed strong opposition from the ruling class (Jn 7:13; 9:22; 12:42; 19:38). A definite need to escape was triggered by hatred towards Stephen (8:1), but what was disastrous for all was due to the Roman occupation, which occurred almost 40 years later (70 AD). With hindsight perspective, the choice of the believers in Jerusalem was therefore appropriate, because they sold estates which they would have had to forsake; and they used that money to be with the other believers, and to be strengthened in the faith; in order to be able to face the flight not only without discouragement, but even with the strength to give a turning point in the history of the Church, for they were the instrument used by God for the foundation of the first church composed of people from paganism (Antioch, 11:19-21).
But those of the other places also did well, who did not sell their possessions, administering their finances wisely, because then there would be material help for the believers in Jerusalem and Judea (1Cor 16:1-4; Acts 11:29; Rom 15:25).
[2:46-47]. «Every day they went assiduously and in agreement in the temple … praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people».
In every religion there is a majority that feels lacking and therefore looks with sympathy at those minorities that apply the rules more strictly. The people with whom the early Christians enjoyed favor were the Jews (cf. also 4:21; 5:15,26) and indeed the first real persecution occurred not at Pentecost (Acts 2), but after the episode of Stephen (Acts 8:1): This is an unequivocal confirmation that the early Christians were and gave the impression of remaining Jews. In short, while Christianity generally imagines an emergence of the Church immediately in contrast with Judaism, Acts show us a birth of the Church entirely within Judaism, from which it separates itself at a later time, very slowly and never definitively.
Unfortunately, the Jewish people once again are manipulated by their ruling class, joining in the responsibility for the stoning of Stephen (6:12), just as not long before they had been persuaded to shout «crucify him» against Jesus (Mt 27:20-22).
Connection n. 4
THE TEACHING OF THE DIVINITY OF JESUS
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In this Connection I mostly use parts of a larger study entitled The Trinity between the Old and New Testaments, in which I defend the classical doctrine shared by Christianity, but I negatively evaluate the way in which it has been and is often handled. The study is available online where no one would expect it, that is on a site run by a Jehovah’s Witness, Roberto Carson, in which for special reasons I was given a special section, in which I could express myself in complete freedom. The collaboration started in September 2009 and lasted about a year, after which I decided to focus on biblical research. To find the complete study look for “fernando de angelis geova”, or with the following link:
2. A basic yet often confused doctrine.
One substantially belongs to Jesus through faith in him, but one formally enters the Church through “trinitarian” baptism, that is, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). Trinitarian doctrine is therefore a foundation that unites Christianity and it would be necessary for there to be clarity about it, but often the ideas are uncertain and confused.
Leonardo De Chirico knows the evangelical world well for various reasons (birth, studies and type of commitment), but what he says can be applied to the generality of Christians: «In the life of the churches there are few sermons about the Trinity. Believers are not used to thinking in Trinitarian terms because preaching is rarely Trinitarian» … «churches can be formally Trinitarian, but you do not know what it means and what difference it makes» … «The constant Trinitarian self-revision of Christianity is a vital necessity» (Dictionary of Evangelical Theology, edited by P. Bolognesi and others, EUN, 2007, pp. 757-758).
To create a minimum of clarity, let us begin by pointing out that the Trinitarian nature of God means a conception of God as “one and in three distinct persons”. The following recommendation is known: “Do not unite people and do not separate nature”. To simplify the problem, let us overlook the questions connected with the Holy Spirit, focusing on the twofold relationship between Jesus and the heavenly Father (whom we call “Duity”), which is most profoundly revealed in the Gospel of John, to which we will arrive after a brief overview of how Jesus is seen in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and how the apostles presented the divinity of Jesus.
- Extraordinary, but still human.
Certain aspects of the extraordinariness of Jesus are regarded as a clear sign of his divinity, but in the Jewish context of the Gospel they did not necessarily mean a “superhuman” of Jesus. “Son of God”, for example, was also Solomon, though only as adopted (1 Chronicles 17:13) and so, for Jesus, the title of “Son of God” acquired a deeper meaning only after it was known that he was not the son of Joseph.
When Jesus calmed the storm (Mt 8:23-27), he did no more than Moses, who also commanded the waters and the winds (Ex 14:21). Neither did the resurrection and the ascension into heaven qualify Jesus by himself as divine in nature, for something like this had also happened to Enoch and Elijah (Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11). When Peter saw Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9), he did not think that Moses and Elijah had become of a divine nature.
A good defense attorney is very selective when he has to gather evidence in favor of a thesis, not to offer easy criticism to the other side and not to discredit himself in the eyes of the judge. The mixture of good and doubtful evidence is also very damaging, because for the opponent it would become easy to focus on questionable evidence, thus devaluing the good. It is better then, to set aside initially all the doubtful proofs on the divinity of Jesus, which can, if anything, be fished out after the thesis is already demonstrated, and focus first only on the clearest biblical passages.
- The placement of the Trinity in the New Testament.
It is necessary not only that a doctrine be biblical, but also that it be placed in the place assigned to it by the Bible and that it be expressed in biblical ways. I am convinced that the Trinity is a biblical doctrine, but I believe that Christianity sometimes speaks of it in an unbiblical way and, above all, that it places it in a very different position from that which it has in the New Testament. This discourse is complex, and one must view it in its entirety.
Today the Bible is easily found, and the four Gospels often travel together. At the beginning of the Church, however, the Gospel was oral and each of the four written texts was conceived of as autonomous and sufficient in itself. It is a common conviction that the preaching of the apostles was based above all on the parts common to the three “synoptics” (Matthew, Mark and Luke), while the Gospel of John would be later and for an internal use of the Church, rather than for the outside; In it, instead of many facts and few speeches (as in the synoptics), there are few facts but well commented.
Of the three synoptics, Mark is the shortest and most of what it contains is also found in the other two, so it can be considered as the essential expression of the Gospel… and in it there is almost no clear trace of the divinity of Christ! In the other two synoptics the most significant passage is that on the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary, a news that Mark skipped completely and of which, presumably, the apostles had knowledge after the resurrection of Jesus.
When Jesus asked the apostles what they thought of him, Matthew thus reports Peter’s answer: «You are the Christ, the Son of the living God» (Mt 16:16). In Luke, “Son” disappears, with Peter answering, «The Christ of God» (Luke 9:20). Mark simplifies further and writes only: «You are the Christ» (Mk 8:29), where “Christ”, in that context, indicated a particular-king descendant of David who would be “anointed” (which is the meaning of “Messiah” and “Christ”) as king. That this king then would be “Son of God”, was for a Jew implied, since God had adopted the “Son of David” Solomon (and therefore his descendants) as his son (1 Chronicles 28:6).
Of course, it is not trivial that all three Synoptics conclude their history with Jesus who, under pressure from the Sanhedrin, agrees to declare himself the Son of God. The episode is thus reported by Mark: The high priest asked him and said, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One coming on the clouds of heaven”. The high priest tore his clothes and said, “What do we need witnesses for? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” All condemned him as deserving of death» (Mk 14:61-64). This passage in the Gospel of Mark is fundamental, but it should be noted that it is placed at the end and that the statement of Jesus was used above all as a pretext; for it was not for this reason that they had decided to kill Jesus, but they went in search of some justification after having decreed death for other reasons.
The conclusion seems inevitable, although it can surprise many: the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is not a central part of the synoptic Gospels!
The history written in the Gospels continues in Acts of the Apostles and we have seen that in Acts the divinity of Jesus is marginal and almost absent in the various preachings! In fact, to the 3,000 Jews who were baptized on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and the other 2,000 who joined shortly after (Acts 4:4), as well as to the non-Jewish Cornelius and the many who were with him (Acts 10:24), it was simply announced that by accepting Jesus one was forgiven of one’s sins (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 10:43). God did not regard this simple message as abdridged and endorsed it by giving the Holy Spirit to those who received him, who were immediately baptized (Acts 2:41; 10:44-47), thus entering the Church without presumably having heard of the divinity of Jesus, which for them was then easily understood, having in themselves the Holy Spirit and having experienced the forgiveness of God the Father through the Son.
In short, as we know, a theory is more easily learned when it has been experienced and, for the first Christians, the experience of the Trinity came before the theology of the Trinity. In the New Testament, therefore, the Trinity tends to be discussed after conversion and we do not find that this doctrine was at the center of controversy among believers: we should therefore do the same.
It is not by chance that the Constantinian Church began to convene the Ecumenical Councils (Nicaea, 325) and to focus them on the Trinity, placing in a corner other aspects, such as the simplicity of forgiveness in Christ, for each one to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and to welcome one another with love (Jn 13:34-35), avoiding to fighting over (or worse, to kill oneself!) a subtle and philosophical difference of opinion, as Paul also urged them to do (Rom 14).
Theological speculations about the Trinity abound, but when they aim to clarify what the Bible does not clarify, they also end up confusing what is clear in the Bible.
5. The “Duity” in the Gospel of John.
John 1:1: «In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the word was God».
The Gospel of John already expresses the essential in the first verse, and then reiterates it throughout the entire Gospel; instead of insisting on the analysis of the first verse, then, it is better to clarify briefly the meaning and then continue with the other steps, after which it will be easier to realize what those initial words mean, which, objectively, are somewhat enigmatic.
John wants to transmit essentially three concepts and, as he will say later (v.14), “Word” (logos) means “Jesus”.
1. Jesus was there “from the beginning”.
2. Jesus was “near God” (or “with God”), therefore a person separated from God.
3. Jesus himself was “God” (not in the sense of a person, but of substance).
The first concept is widely shared, because in the New Testament it is repeatedly stated that all things were created through Jesus, who therefore was present from the beginning (e.g. Col 1:16 and Heb 1:2). Let us therefore dwell on the second and third concepts, which are at the heart of the Trinitarian doctrine and which may seem at odds with one another.
John 10:30: «I and the Father are one».
Besides reiterating the distinction between the two persons («I and the Father»), John also reiterates their unity of substance («we are one»), adding the reason for this unity, given by the Father-Son relationship. A relationship of fatherhood not adopted as that with Solomon (1 Chronicles 17:13), but generative; as John had already anticipated in the Prologue («We have contemplated his glory, glory as from the only begotten by the Father», 1:14) and as Luke makes very explicit (1:34-35).
The subordination of a wife to her husband and a child to his father (Eph 5:22 and 6:1) does not mean that there is a diversity of nature between them, all sharing human nature and being all the “image of God”. Nor does the diversity of knowledge affect the unity of substance between a father and a son. The Trinitarian doctrine is therefore not denied when it is shown that Jesus is a different person from the Father, or noting that he is submissive to the Father and that he does not know some things that the Father knows instead (as obtainable from Jn 14:28 and Mt 24:36).
John 5:18: «This is why the Jews sought more than ever to kill him, because he not only violated the Sabbath, but called God his Father, making himself equal with God».
The Jews tried to kill Jesus because they interpreted his words as making himself equal to God (see also 8:58-59; 10:33). If Jesus had been an “antitrinitarian” he would have replied that they had misunderstood, but instead he reinforces that interpretation by stating that everyone must honor the Son, that is, himself, «as they honor the Father» (5:23), inviting them to recognize that the Father is in him and he is in the Father (10:38), concept later reiterated more directly to the apostles (14:9-10, see below).
John 14:9-10: «Jesus said to him, “I have been with you such a long time, and you have not known me, Philip? Who has seen me, has seen the Father; how can you say ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me?”».
It is true that the Jews were scandalized by the fact that Jesus declared himself the Son of God by nature, but not all; for even the apostles, the disciples and the crowds who followed Jesus were Jews, and they were not scandalized. In short, it is a certain way of being Jewish which is incompatible with the Trinity, but from the beginning there were Jews who considered it compatible.
The Apostles’ Letters, as well as the Apocalypse, abound in direct and indirect references to the divinity of Jesus, but we shall go no further, for our purpose was to show that the divinity of Jesus was taught primarily to those who had already believed, while initially Jesus presented himself and was presented in his humanity (son of David, teacher, Lord in a generic sense, of Nazareth).