Interpretation of Christian Concepts
& Biblical References


Introduction
The role of Mary Magdalane
Early Christianity: Sects, Non-Canonical Texts and Concepts of Jesus
Concept of The Trinity
Monotheism and Dualism
Hesychasm and Theoria
The Afterlife
Last Judgement
Kingdom of God
Original Sin
Opposition to Human Sacrifices
Genesis: Creationism and Evolution
Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament and Antisemitism

Last Updated: 22 May 2014  

Introduction

This article examines some of the concepts within Christianity as a whole, their Biblical basis and how they have evolved over the last two Millennia. It is all too easy to take for granted some of the contemporary interpretations of Christianity and Christian concepts and assume continuity over the last two thousand years. This article reflects my own exploration of the Christian experience in the noughties.

 

Mary Magdalene

Much has been said about Mary Magdalene by the Catholic Church and other churches over the last 2000 years. She is rumoured to have been a prostitute and immoral woman before meeting Jesus. This allegation was first made by Pope Gregory the 'Great' in 591 AD in a speech, and the association has stuck ever since. However, these rumours have no basis in historical fact or in Biblical evidence. A female prostitute is mentioned in the gospels but she is not identified as being Mary Magdalene. Indeed no mention of Mary Magdalene's past in mentioned in the gospels. Mary Magdalene was the disciple/follower of Jesus who first saw Jesus after the resurrection and clearly had a pivotal role in the four canonical gospels. She was a intelligent, level headed and independent woman of the day. It is likely that these rumours were spread initially by the Catholic church to reduce her importance in the Biblical story, perhaps to ensure male domination of the early church, and have stuck largely to this day. Was Mary Magdalene's role played down in the canonical gospels? Was she 'edited' down to give Jesus' story more credibility - female legal testimony of the day was not regarded as equally trustworthy as that of a male. Perhaps this had an influence in the canonical gospels. The Bible did not really offer much in the way of sexual equality and good, balanced role models for women, with specific exceptions. It was only in 1969 that the Catholic Church actually acknowledged that there was no Biblical basis for calling Mary Magdalene a prostitute and has acknowledged her role as an apostle to the apostles and canonised her as a Saint. However, the notion of MM being a adulterous woman has stuck in popular culture and films in the 1970s and to this day.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Magdalene

There is an inconsistency in the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, verses 1 to 11.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=KjvJohn.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=20&division=div1

Mary Magdalene is identified as the person who first found Jesus' tomb open (verse 1). She ran to meet Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved (verse 2). Why does John refer to 'the disciple who Jesus loved' which is much more long winded than referring to his or her name? If John identifies a specific disciple as being more loved than the others, then why not name him or her? John does refer to the disciple that Jesus loved in the masculine gender (verse 5). John states that Simon Peter and the disciple who Jesus loved both ran to the tomb to investigate (verse 3). The two disciples then went away (verse 10). But then John refers to Mary Magdalene as being outside the tomb, weeping (verse 11). It is not very hard to mention that Mary Magdalene ran back to the tomb. Why the inconsistency? Is it a case of bad writing? Or a case of bad 'editing'? Was the disciple of Jesus loved in fact Mary Magdalene? And the attempt to separate out her role into two people confused by the 'editors'? Was the attempt to describe both 'Clark Kent' and 'Superman' being in the same place at the same time always going to be prone to confusion? Was the role of Mary Magdalene separated out into two characters to give the Biblical story maximum credibility and Jesus a more divine sounding nature? If Jesus did love Mary Magdalene more than the other disciples, then what kind of love was this? Brotherly/sisterly love? Or romantic love? Clearly evidence for the latter scenarios is speculation and not actually based on Biblical fact. You decide!

The Gospel of Philip contains a an incomplete verse (the last few words eaten by ants): 'Mary Magdalene. [...] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her...' This verse has been 'completed' by certain translators and speculative people as to saying 'on her mouth' - as in the Gnostic Society Library translation. However this has just been made up. That this is evidence for Jesus marrying and having children with Mary Magdalene has no basis in historical evidence whatsoever and is pure speculation. Works on fiction such as the Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code extrapolate such theories even further with more fanciful fictional additions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Da_Vinci_Code

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priory_of_Sion

www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com/why-jews-should-worry-about-the-da-vinci-code.html

www.thetruthaboutdavinci.com/christian-analysis-of-da-vinci-code.html

The above is assuming that the Gospel of Philip itself is a valid and trustworthy text, which may not necessarily even be the case. Those that believe in the 'blood line of Christ' base their ideas upon dubious evidence such as the Da Vinci Code and false claims and falsified documents about the Merovingians (based on claims from one rather shifty and sleazy looking Walter-Mitty type that he was a surviving Merovingian, who later admitted it was all falsified). Of course, there is no record of what Jesus did before his ministry in his 20s and one could speculate anything, even if it totally goes against what he did in his ministry. However, using historical evidence, then one could assume that Jesus' brothers and sisters, who are mentioned in the New Testament in passing (i.e. the sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph), could well have been married and had children. These children would have had the bloodline of Mary (the mother of Jesus), which goes back to that of David, however this is not the same as having common ancestry with Jesus. At best they were 'half brothers'. It is no doubt possible that there are people alive today who are descended from Mary, but there was never anything supernatural about her DNA, and it is about as relevant as claiming ancestry to Ethiopians 20,000 years ago.

More 'evidence' to prove that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene is provided by the finding of the family tomb of a wealthy person called Jesus, outside Jerusalem, and not in Nazareth. It is estimated that up to 10% of the population had the name Jesus. The tomb is of a man called Jesus, son of Joseph and related to a woman called Mary in some capacity, with a brother called James. These were not uncommon names at the time. Mary could have been his sister rather than his wife. The Bible states that Jesus was not the son of Joseph but only the son of Mary. It was Jospeh's lineage to David that was seen as important even though he was not Jesus' father according to Matthew 1:16.

www.skeptics.ca/articles/eric-jesustomb/eric-jesustomb.html

www.progressiveu.org/160029-a-tale-of-two-or-eleven-ossuaries

Another version of Jesus is described on Jeff Rense's 'conspiracy theorist' web site below - that of Jesus as a magician. Many Hermeticists and perhaps some Fringe Gnostics may have regarded / may regard this as a likely picture of Jesus. The belief in the extent of Hermeticism in Jesus' philosophy/practices varies amongst such persons, from a little to total. Egypt did spend his early youth in Egypt, and it is not unfathomable to believe that he was at least familiar with early Egyptian Hermetic or even Gnostic teachings.

www.rense.com/general66/hide.htm

Some argue that most Jewish men were married at the time of Jesus, and also that all of Jesus' disciples were married (but which is not documented either in the Canonical Gospels; and that if Jesus was married, it probably would not have been written about in the Gospels anyway as it would not have been considered important to the 'narrative'; and that if he was married, he would have certainly had children; and that not all of disciples and followers believed he was equal to God, although the Canonical Gospels cite as many examples of instances where they do.

It should however be noted that there was significant number of Jews at the time of Jesus that chose celibacy for spiritual reasons. These include the Essenes, the Jews that are believe to have written and stored the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran, at the northern point of the Dead Sea. Some Gnostics believe that Jesus visited the Essenes and was inspired by their philosophy, which included a belief in a soon coming end time and ritual cleaning. One could also view the fact that some of Jesus teachings pointed to his bleief in representing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. One of his teachings was to disregard the family. In the New Testmanet:

Matthew 19:29:
"And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."

Matthew 22:23-30:
[23]The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,
[24] Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
[25] Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother:
[26] Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh.
[27] And last of all the woman died also.
[28] Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.
[29] Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
[30] For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.


A major conceptual problem for those that theorise about Jesus' alleged physical relationships and his alleged children, is that they largely draw upon Gnostic gospels as opposed to the New Testament. The argument is that Jesus was more 'man' than 'God', or that his 'manliness' was the entirety of the male experience, with all its desires, lusts and longings. These people (on the whole) believe that Jesus was not crucified, but had one or more children. However, the problem here is that Gnosticism (the philosophy behind the Gnostic Gospels) holds that Jesus was not a man at all, but an Aeon, a spiritual essence, imitating human form. Gnosticism holds that Jesus was not crucified but that his spiritual essence simply reunited with God, and that his crucifixion was a myth. So those that believe in his physical form are relying on texts that suggest he was not physical at all. It would be wise to consider these facts, and the cosmology of the Gnostic Gospels, before using any one Codex or archeological find as 'evidence', but try to find a consistent story or thread. The Gnostic Gospels are rather varied in the picture they paint and information/teachings/narrative they impart, so if one is to use certain specific Gnostic Gospels as evidence, then one must have good reason to believe that these are true and reliable, and that others are not reliable, true or relevant; rather than just pick the few Gnostic Gospels that suit one's argument, and ignore the others.

The question of who Jesus was in a complex one. And the question of what he taught is another. Ultimately, our view of who or what God is and what he represents actually defines for us who Jesus was and what he was about. If we start at the top and work down, everything should hopefully be clearer. If we are uncertain about who God is, if he represents a monotheistic God, Jehovah, a panentheistic God, or a pantheist monist ideal or essence, like the Gnostic Monad, and if the latter, in what context and what this actually means, then we are unlikely to have any idea who Jesus was either.

There is clearly a trend in post-modern and post-enlightenment society to increasingly distrust authority, the authorites and establishment's account of 'truth', and to believe in 'pseudo-science' and to question any established religious doctrine and theology. To the point where a 'conspiracy theory' or version of events is automatically given more credence than an official version! This applies to Christianity too, and the example of The Da Vinci Code proves this point. People are more likely to believe unsubstantiated allegations and theories, and fiction, than actual historical documentation, because it is the sort of thing they would like to believe.

There is perhaps a tendency to view the Gnostic Gospels in this manner, with rose tinted spectacles, and to interpret them in the way we would like the theology to be, and to interpret the role of women in the early Church in a way that we'd like it to be. However, we should try to stick to the actual documents themselves and not wildly speculate too much. Whether the Gnostic Gospels are pure fiction anyway is another question entirely! If we are to look specifically at the role of women in the early Church, then there are not really specific positive statements about the role of women made in the Gnostic Gospels in general.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned specifically in a number of the Gnostic Gospels, and the exact relationship between Jesus and Mary is not explicit or clear. However, if one was to wildly extrapolate from the Gnostic Gospels, and assume that she was Jesus' lover, 'bitch' or 'bit on the side', it does not really tell us anything positive necessarily about women in general in early Christianity. One can draw one's own conclusions about how the references to Mary Magdalene relate to women in general in Gnosticism and the Early Church, but the physical evidence is not there. It all comes down to speculation at the end of the day, and theories. And personal opinion. But you can't really prove anything, either way! 

Early Christianity: Non-Canonical Texts, Cults and Concepts of Jesus

Please note that the Berlin Gnostic Codex, the Qumran Library, the Nag Hammadi Library and other 'gnostic' texts are often all referred to as the Dea Sea Scrolls, although this may cause more confusion than anything else as the history and origin of these different texts is very different.

It is important to try to understand the Dea Sea Scrolls and other non-canonical texts in proper historical perspective in as much as is possible. The books of the New Testament were allegedly written in the middle and end of the first century AD, in many cases after the apostles had since passed away. Some date the books to the second century. The canonical gospels are traditionally ascribed to being written by the actual apostles themselves, although there is little historical data to support this, and they were perhaps more likely to have been written by others. They were originally circulated anonymously.

In the 300 years or so after Jesus' death, the concepts of early Christianity were far from widely accepted by Christians, and there were a large number of Christian books in circulation. There are considerable debate about the nature of Jesus, and the nature of the trinity, and whether Jesus was solely God, solely man or somewhere in between. And in the latter cases, there was considerable debate as to how much man and how much God! This related to the concept of the trinity and its exact nature - clearly a complex concept when one delves into details. Some theories were more leftfield and had radically different concepts of the trinity and even of multiple Gods (Jewish God and Jesus)! The vast majority of Christian sects however viewed the OT as sacred, Jesus having been a Jew and observed most but not all Jewish religious practices. For some philosophers of the time, the extent of separation of Christianity from Judaism was a matter of debate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Christianity

Perhaps an indication of the confusion that arose is documented in the canonical gospels, where the disciples sometimes refer to Jesus as teacher or Rabbi, and at other times Lord. These are very different roles. One would think it disrespectful surely to refer to the Son of God as just teacher or Rabbi? Perhaps Jesus only really portrayed himself as a Rabbi. There are some odd passages in the New Testament in this respect. Some passages refer to Jesus both as Rabbi and the Son of God. Others do not.

In John 3:2 (KJV): 'The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.'

Is God with him (i.e. an enlightened prophet or teacher) or is he God? The verse above implies the former.

Luke 18: 18-19 (KJV) states:

18: And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
19: And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.


Is Jesus implying that he is not God?

In addition, later in this chapter of Luke, Jesus implies that giving one's wealth to the poor (in addition to following the Scriptures) is enough to receive 'treasure in heaven' and eternal life.

20: Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
21: And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22: Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.


Jesus adds at the end 'and come follow me'. Is this then necessary for the ruler to have eternal life and treasure in heaven? Or is the following Jesus necessary as well? And when Jesus says 'follow me', does he just mean follow him or does it mean that the ruler had to accept Jesus as God rather than just a teacher or prophet whom one might follow to become wiser and more spiritually fulfilled? You decide!

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man (and to a much lesser extent as the Son of God) in the New Testament, but it should be noted that the term 'Son of God' is also used to describe others. This is inconsistent. Does this detract from the meaning intended by Jesus' own use of this term? Or is this just a result of poor use of terminology, the lack of proper referencing to other work, excessive personal choice of symbolism or error in translation? Or a result of creative editing to emphasise certain aspects of the text to promote certain meanings to the target audience?

Adam is referred to as the Son of God:

Luke3:38 (KJV): Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Israel is referred to as the Son of the Lord:

Exodus 4:22 (KJV): And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
23: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.


King David is referred to as the Son of the Lord:

Psalms 2:6: Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
7: I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.


Those who believe in Jesus Christ are referred to as Children of God:

Galatians 3:26 (KJV): 'For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.'

The Gospel of John refers to God, the Light, and John the Baptist, and then makes the following statement where the 'he' and 'him' one can assume most likely refers to God.

John 1:12-13 (KJV):
[12]But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: [13] Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Those who follow the teachings of Jesus are referred to as Children of God:

Matthew 5:9 (KJV): Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Certain types of human behaviour were not accepted by followers of Peter who would later make up the Catholic church (e.g. romantic, sexual or other manly behaviour). There is a big gap in the story of Jesus of roughly 30 years where nothing is actually known. What were his relationships like with Mary and his brothers and sisters? After his birth and childhood, and a brief period of teaching in synagogues when he was a child, nothing is mentioned of Jesus until his thirties when he began his ministry. He seemed to have a huge command of the Hebew Bible and scriptures from an early age. Did he study these further over the next 25 years? Was he just helping his family, working as a carpenter and had a normal circle of friends and acquaintances? Was his carpentry any good?! What were his friends like and what were these relationships like? Did he show an interest in any women during these years? If so, how 'innocent' was it? After all, Christians date before marriage, and many abstain from physical contact during this period, and sometimes even kissing! Did he preach or teach in any capacity during these 'in between years'? Was he getting to grips with being merely human prior to beginning his ministry? Was he human just like any other man? Was he influenced by any fringe Jewish sects (e.g. The Essenes) in his own philosophy (as a man)? How much of a 'man' really was he or was he 'allowed to be'?

One book that claims to document the adolescent life of Jesus is The Urantia book. This was written between 1924 and 1955 by unknown sources, and it is claimed to have been written by 'spiritual relevation from celestial beings to the planet of Urantia' (a funny name for the planet Earth). It is intended to be a complete work on science, religion and philosophy, using many Christian and Gnostic Christian concepts with a little new age science fiction. The Urantia Book can be read on line at the second of the links below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Urantia_Book

http://www.watchman.org/Profile/urantiapro.htm

http://urantiabook.org/index.html

http://www.urantia.org/about.html

There are many unanswered questions about the life of Jesus, and the implications may affect our understanding of his place in the trinity to an extent. The early Christian sect known as Adoptionists viewed him as being fully human only during his early adult life, only reaching a state of perfection and Godliness (at one with God) later in his life (i.e. adopted by God). This was not however the mainstream view of Jesus in early Christianity. Many Christians are/were clearly uncomfortable with many of the human aspects of Jesus. How human was he allowed to be? Did he go to the toilet? What did he talk about prior to his ministry? Was he just a regular guy?

There was apparently also a power struggle between followers of Paul the Apostle (Paul of Tarsus) and followers of James the Just (Jesus' brother, the son of Mary and Joseph). This struggle was most likely really about the centre of Christianity, in Jerusalem or Rome. James was the first bishop of Jerusalem, and Peter could be viewed as the first Pope of what would become the Catholic Church, based in Rome. James and his followers had known Jesus in person intimately whereas Paul had never met Jesus and had found faith by hearing about Jesus alone. Could Paul have heard a slightly distorted or exaggerated version of the story of Jesus (relayed second or third hand)?

Some might argue that as Saul or St Paul had never actually personally known Jesus, physically, and could only go by what he'd heard and his own personal experience, that he was not really in a position to guide the direction of the religion and change it (allegedly). St Paul could perhaps be compared to the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, who came up with a new type of Christianity from his own head - and question the reliability and appropriateness of such a source. Smith did not try to replace any other type of Christianity that went before him and homologate it in the way that Paul did of course. One could view this as a negative or a positive. Some might argue that Christianity needed this to survive - but at what cost (assuming there was a cost and that he actually did change Christianity to a 'cult of Jesus worshippers' rather than 'religion about the sayings of Jesus'.

James' Epistle features in the New Testament but is greatly overshadowed by the writings of Peter and Paul. Some argue that James' focus was more on God, and Jesus role as a teacher than on Jesus' divinity than the writings and words of Peter and Paul who were perhaps more keen to emphasise Jesus' divine nature. Whether James was actually suggesting that Jesus was just a man, just a prophet, or a man given power to heal and resurrect by God and the most significant prophet to have lived (in line with the Muslim view of Jesus), or that he was both God and man, but stressing his human side as much as his divine nature, is another matter and subject to speculation. Please note that whilst Gnostics may share some of these views, they do not believe that Jesus was a man at all, but just an angel (Aeon) imitating physical form (no physical resurrection), which of course contradicts the New Testament.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_the_Just

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_of_Tarsus

http://www.bible.ca/cath-peter=pope.htm

In the first century, there were three main Christian sects, those who the followers of James the Just (including Jesus' disciples and their followers), Pauline Christians - the followers of Paul the Apostle (aka Paul of Tarsus), and the Gnostic Christians. Pauline Christians began to dominate from the first century onwards. It should however be noted that Christians of all branches or Sects were equally persecuted by the Romans in the centuries prior to the 4th Century AD. Gnostic Christians were however regarded as the biggest threat to Christianity besides Roman persecution.

On the subject of James the Just being the brother of Jesus, there is a reference to Jesus' brothers in the gospels of the New Testament. James the Just was reputed to be one of his brothers. In Matthew 12:47 (KJV), they are referred to as his 'brethren'.

47: Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

In the New International Version, this is translated as his 'brothers'.

47: Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."

The context is clear from Jesus subsequent response (Matthew 12:48-50 (KJV), as he refers to family members, i.e. mother, brothers and sisters:

48: But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
49: And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
50: For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.


One could argue that this teaching of Jesus was against family values, in opposition to what most modern Christians regard as being something Christian. It of course depends largely on your interpretation, and in what spirit you adopt Jesus Christ.

www.nobeliefs.com/jesus.htm

Clearly before the introduction of a formalised New Testament, and indeed before the writing of the first of the canonical gospels, between 50 and 90 AD, Christianity had an oral tradition. During these years, it is highly likely that memory of the events surrounding Jesus and also subsequent versions of accounts of Jesus' life and teachings would gradually become somewhat distorted, embellished or mutate somewhat, certain aspects being emphasised and others forgotten; much like what happens in an office when trying to recall a procedure that has been used by staff not actually read for several years - recollections of the procedure will vary quite considerably. Can you accurately remember the exact words and context of your conversations with family members, 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

Based on the four main areas of Christian tradition, namely Scripture, schooling, singing and the sacraments, it would appear that there is no basis for Gnostic Christianity in these, but that certain aspects of its theology is derived from other sources or ideas (i.e. Zoroastrianism). The Hebrew Bible was widely acknowledged as the main source of Scripture, with some new sporadic Christian books being utilised by communities, depending on the location. Gnostic Christianity rejects the use of the Hebrew Bible and the idea of a physical resurrection, both of which deviate from Christian tradition at the time.

This is not to say that the four main areas of Christian tradition are completely accurate or complete with respect to the exact wording and completeness of Jesus teachings, the nature of Jesus humanity (i.e. his God/man nature) and indeed in the role of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples. And indeed that the gospel writers and their editors/compilers accurately reflected all of these things (i.e. some of the aforementioned Codexes that are considered controversial or with 'Gnostic elements' in them, but not containing the Gnostic cosmology.

http://blog.bible.org/primetimejesus/content/orthodoxy-%28or-proto-orthodoxy%29-there-was-functioning-new-testament-april-8.08

In subsequent centuries, other Christian sects arose included the Adoptionists, Arians, the Ebionites, the Montanists, the Marcionites and amongst others. Some even speculate that the Essenes (a Jewish sect) could have influenced early Christianity and even Jesus himself.

The Ebionites were a Jewish ascetic Christian Sect that lived in Palestine and Judea between the 1st and 4th Centuries. They acknowledged Jesus Christ and also strictly adhered to Jewish Law and customs. They however followed the Adoptionist view of the Trinity, which is discussed in the section below on the Trinity.

It is understood that there is some Essene influence on early Jewish Christianity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites

During the 2nd Century, Montanus claimed to have received a series of direct revelations from the Holy Ghost, but personally to be the incarnation of the paraclete mentioned in the Gospel of John 14:16. Montanus was accompanied by two women, Prisca, sometimes called Priscilla, and Maximilla, who likewise claimed to be the embodiments of the Holy Spirit that moved and inspired them. They were known as 'the Three'. They spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and pray, so that they might share these personal revelations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montanism

In the 4th Century, Arius started a movement called Arianism. This is discussed in the section below on the Trinity.

Marcionism is the dualist belief system that originated in the teachings of Marcion of Sinope at Rome in the year 144. Marcion affirmed Jesus Christ as the savior sent by the true God, Monad, and regarded Paul as Jesus' most important apostle. He however rejected the Hebew Bible and the Hebew God Yahweh. He saw Christianity as totally separate from Judaism and in a sense tried to 'de-Judaize' Christianity and separate it from the Old Testament. He regarded Yahweh as the creator God, but a wrathful and vengeful lower being compared with the loving and all powerful God of the New Testament. This was certainly one way to resolve the conflict between some of the concepts of Judaism that seemingly conflict with the New Testament! Marcionism regarded Jesus in a Docetic way (see Gnosticism below), i.e. that Jesus was not a man and did not take physical form, but was the saviour sent by God in spirit form, but who resembled physical form. Thus Marcionism did not believe in a physical resurrection, in a similar manner to Gnosticism. The two Gnostic religions Manichaeism and Mandaeanism are both thought to have been influenced by Marcionism. There are important differences between Marcionism and Gnosticism however, and Marcionism is not considered to be Gnostic by many. This is because Marcion relied on the Epistles of Paul and took the Christian view that belief in Jesus Christ and asking for forgiveness of one's sins was enough to be a Christian and go to heaven. Gnostics had a different view, involving reincarnation and of breaking free of the cycle of rebirth by attaining Gnosis or secret knowledge. Marcion did not belief in the concept of secret knowledge or of discovering one's true nature in this manner, but through direct belief in Jesus Christ. Marcion was however regarded as a heretic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcionites

The Gnostic Christians and more cerebral or philosophical Christians were less focussed on sacrifice and faith being defined merely by believing in Jesus and the Resurrection, but by a more internal, intellectual and philosophical approach to Christianity, and gaining salvation through understand deeper and hidden meanings in religious texts. This was perhaps more elitist and less open than the faith adopted by Peter and his (later Catholic) followers, which was more explicit in its theology (to an extent), and emphasized more the sacrifice of Jesus and gave people strength and the willingness to die for their faith. It is perhaps likely that Gnosticism's tendency towards minority and 'elitist/intellectual' uptake and philsophical and esoteric meaings lended itself well to being preserved in Masonic Temples in later centuries.

However, more philosophical Christian sects did not perhaps hold such strong beliefs with regards to conversion. Finding God through philosophical reflection does not lend itself to a strong belief in seeking to convert others. 'ConversionÕ is not such a simple concept as there are simply different shades of understanding God on a sliding and perhaps infinite scale. Spreading the word of God or knowledge of God is more a process of offering information and 'planting seedsÕ that may seem obscure to some, but more often than not make an impression on the subconscious mind whether the conscious mind recognises this or not. Some clearly grow these 'seedsÕ more than others (i.e. a seed landing on fertile soil rather than on rocky ground). To just keep oneÕs enlightenment to oneself unless others particularly express an interest in it and ask one directly (assuming that they are even aware of oneÕs beliefs which they may not be) would perhaps be just a glorification of the self. One could be sitting next to the most enlightened or wise person on the planet, but if he never opened his mouth, one could easily miss it, even if one had a genuine desire to learn!

Mainstream Christian theology and teachings had an inbuilt duty to convert others and to preach the (Biblical) word of Jesus, via ministries. This inbuilt self-replicating tenet is present in other religions such as Islam, which seek to convert as many people as possible to their respective faith/denomination. This could be compared with a 'virusÕ or a 'replicantÕ (from the Sci Fi Series Stargate SG1), that exists only because of its replication from others. Or perhaps just similar to the way that human and animal life procreate in order to maintain the survival of their 'genes'. Is this approach to religion then a mechanism or programming to ensure the survival of the 'spiritual geneÕ in future generations? If oneÕs ideas and beliefs are merely the result of inbuilt self-replication, to what extent is one enlighened, intelligent and acting according to free will? Such a view/approach may be justified by Old Testament interpretations of God punishing mankind or populations for being too 'sinfulÕ in statistical terms. It could be argued that such core beliefs were introduced into the theology in order to preserve the continuity of the religion and to ensure that its teachings are not lost or do not just disappear into obscurity like many religions and teachings before it - does this 'practical' element however detract from the spirit of the actual teachings themselves? Perhaps it depends on what you believe those actual teachings really are. Are such core beliefs there to ensure its dominance over other religions which were considered to be false or inappropriate. Other religions were/are competing for people's minds, so perhaps it was felt that Christianity should be competitive also, given the hostile response and persecution early Christians received from the Romans. However, this is a sceptical view of course. Overzealousness to convert and strong conviction in oneÕs position as 'rightÕ and another as 'wrongÕ can often lead to division and judgementalism if one is not careful, which goes against the spirit of the actual teachings. Some more philosophical forms of Christianity regard living and behaving in a way where one does not know God or is separated from god as just ignorance rather than sin.

One could equally argue that if one has experienced peace, calm, beauty and enlightenment, and one feels compassion towards oneÕs neighbour and fellow man, then one would wish to help others and to let the other person know what one has learnt and to develop their own relationship and feeling/understanding of God. Oh course, one cannot 'forceÕ anyone to believe anything - except if one is using the old Islamic doctrine of offering people a 'choiceÕ of Islam or the Sword. One can however choose to plant seeds by helping others and leading by example; by preaching the gospel (repeatedly) at people until they start to listen (or who avoid you because they are fed up with hearing it repeatedly); or by making the relevant information readily available to people should they wish to take it up. Clearly, approaching people and discussing spirituality with them may be more effective at some times than others; and it depends on what has gone on before and if any others seeds have been planted or not. However, to what extent is it caring to respect someoneÕs beliefs and freedoms to do and think what they like, and to respectfully offer up information in a semi-passive manner; and to what extent is it more caring to actively try to convert them as you deeply care about them? Clearly the latter position assumes that one is right and they are wrong or ignorant. It requires certainty. One can be certain about certain precepts in a philosophical approach too, but here there are many grey areas, leading it to be more open and acceptable to discuss with others than a more fixed position.

As part of the drive to unify Christianity, there was an increased drive to eradicate those books which were deemed unsound. There were a large number of different books in circulation, written by people belonging to a variety of Christian sects. It is likely that a letter in the 4th Century AD from the church in Alexandria to the Egyptian bishops encouraging them to unify in their formal adoption of the 27 approved books (of what would become the New Testmanet), and to dispose of any other unapproved gospels, resulted in priests or bishops taking some of the other texts and hiding them in the caves at Nag Hammadi so that they would not be destroyed. The Roman Emperor Constantine I become the first 'Christian' emperor, although the extent of his faith could be debated as there was still Gladiator fighting permitted under his rule! Constantine wanted to unite Christians under his rule, which later led to the formation of the Catholic or Universal Church. The Roman Empire later became known as the Holy Roman Empire.

www.roman-emperors.org/conniei.htm

www.earlychurch.org.uk/constantine.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Roman_Catholic_Church

Over time, the Catholic view predominated and those of other schools of thought were excommunicated or otherwise persecuted, along with their books and works. Constantine would perhaps have never taken up a faith that was fragmented, and so perhaps a more powerful, unified faith helped to spread Christianity throughtout the Roman Empire and into Europe. It is likely that what was the Catholic Church at the time held that a simple view of faith was easier for the 'masses' to comprehend and take up, more accessible and more effective in achieving mass conversions. That is not to say that that way of viewing the Christian faith was wrong, but it was perhaps necessary for its survival. The more mystical and philosophical forms of Christianity and Gnostic Christianity, theological and cosmological differences aside, were perhaps too elistist to really spread and survive, and would only ever really have found favour with the intellectuals of the time and the future. That is not to say that that view or approach to Christianity is wrong.

If Constantine had never converted, then perhaps Christianity would have died out or never actually spread to Europe, leaving Europe to be dominated by pagan religions, and morely likely by Islam in later centuries. Without Christianity in Europe, we would never have seen a Protestant Reformation, which was one of the key instigators to modern capitalism, democracy and individualism. One can of course speculate about the scientific, cultural, commercial and other benefits that Europe would have gained from a moderate Islamic faith.

As we know from history, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and later Protestantism prevailed over more philosophical forms of Christianity or Christian influenced movements. However, since the 19th Century and particularly since the late 1940s after the discovery of the Qumran and Nag Hammadi 'libraries', there has been an increased interest in the more philosophical aspects of Christianity, which are often at the expense of core Christian beliefs. Many mainstream Christian Churches are now trying to modernise, embracing environmentalism and sexual equality amongst the clergy, and even accepting homosexual priests and bishops. The Catholic Church is trying to face up to its 'errors' of the past in protecting child molesting priests. There appears to be a move towards more accountability and equality in the modern Church; a stronger desire to appeal to the young in order to survive. This is not universally so, as some Evangelical, Baptist and 'Fundamentalist' Churches, particularly in the USA, reject this modern progressive movement. To what extent will more modern and progressive churches embrace the more philosophical side of Christianity (e.g. Desert Christians and even some aspects of Gnostic Christianity) in order to survive or to grow? Who is to say in what direction Christianity will take in the future. It will be interesting to see.

Gnostics ironically have adopted the Gospel of John, but it is not actually Gnostic and was used by proto-orthodox Christians as a basis for argument against the ideas of the Gnostic cosmology. Carbon dating identifies some of the Dea Sea Scrolls as being written during the fourth century. It is possible that the original writings were written before this, as what we had at Nag Hammadi was copies stored and hidden. However, it is likely that the later emergence of these texts compared with the four gospels we know of today counted against their inclusion into the New Testament. Ideas of the role of women in the church perhaps also played a part in the selection of the gospels for the NT. It is understandable that there was a drive to create a more coherent Christian message as some ideas floating around were clearly contradictory and controversial. One may however debate about the validity of the end result.

So whilst there were many different Christian books in circulation in the first few hundred years after Jesus' death, and many different sects and views of Christ, the vast majority of these books were destroyed and became lost. What we have today is just a small part of this in the Nag Hammadi library, much of which is heavily fragmented, damaged and hard to piece together. The different views of Christ can be understood in many different ways. One may take a rigid view of the NT being correct and other gospels being heretical. Or one may take a view that recollections of Jesus, his teachings and his nature became fragmented and distorted by subjectivity, and that only by taking in a variety of views about Jesus and his life and teachings can one really get a glimpse of what the real Jesus was like; and perhaps take all the different views with a pinch of salt (as being interpretations and no one giving us a complete and unbiased view of Jesus) and understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to achieve and project. What we do know is that had Christianity not unified it might not exist today, but that perhaps in its present form or historical form has not perhaps embodied the true cross section of ideas and beliefs that were in evidence at the time of Christ and shortly after his death, and that perhaps the rigid view of Jesus that we find today may perhaps have alienated some who might potentially otherwise be attracted. Given the difficulty or near impossibility of piecing together all the Dea Sea Scroll fragments, then perhaps we will never know fully! It is important to try to understand the history of Christianity and also the respective beliefs of the various denominations and branches (viewed as 'cults') that deviate in their teachings from the Bible - both in the past and present - to understand where the respective ideas came from and who has shared them in the past and present.

Of the present denominations of Christianity, there are those that seek to preserve their own historical traditions, there are those that seek to preserve the historical traditions of the early Church, there are those that seek to dispense with tradition (to varying degrees, although never completely) and stick to the core message of and spirit of Jesus, and there are those that seek to recreate past or lost traditions of the early church based on references in the Bible and 'filling in' or making up the gaps.

www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations

Many denominations (of the latter category) are often regarded as cults by mainstream Christianity (the 'respected denominations' such as Anglicanism, Catholicism, Lutheranism and Orthodoxy, etc.) However, there is debate as to whether the Catholic Church is strictly Christian in all of its ideas and practices (hence resulting in the breakaway denominations). For example, there are a number of practices and beliefs which have no Biblical basis, for example, the concept of Purgatory, the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the Saints and others. Are these supplementary activities and beliefs of pagan origin, taken up by the Catholic Church to keep the pagan converts happy? Or were they brought in by pagan converts? Or are they in fact supplementing and enhancing what is written in the Bible, adding new traditions to enhance the faith and the follower's relationship with the trinity? This is for Catholics to decide for themselves. What indeed is a 'proper' Christian other than one who believes Jesus Christ is the Messiah? We should remember that it is not only Catholics who took on certain pagan traditions in their faith. Other Christian denominations have done the same, for example, baptism originates from ancient Egyptian Religion. Pagan festivals were replaced by Christian festivals on the same dates, etc. So one should get it all in proportion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianization

Catholics are criticised for using 'non-canonical books' i.e. the Apocrypha, but the Authorised Version of the Bible issued by King James in 1611 did include the Apocrypha and it was the formal Bible for use in Protestant England! It was widely adopted by both Protestants and Catholics alike. The 1611 AV Bible was originally issued including the Apocrypha (aka The Maccabees Bible), which were deemed to be non-essential but still spiritually inspired books to be included in this Bible.

www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Cults/Catholicism/catholic.htm

www.jesus-is-lord.com/cath.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_James_Version

The problem we have is that of history and wanting to know the historical truth about who Jesus was; and to what extent we can rely on the written gospels as they are today; and indeed the question of rewriting 'history' or accepted accounts based on questionable evidence. There was no formal church structure in place at the time of Christ, so one could argue that it is not necessary today to belong to a church to engage in a full spiritual life. Churches do offer the advantage of fellowship with other Christians, but this is not unique to a church. Early 'churches' were home groups, a small number of people collecting in someone's home. In a sense, no matter what books you decide are valid and to be read, the whole point of Christianity is a relationship with God and Jesus, and the opening of one's heart to the Holy Spirit. So any text is secondary to this experience.

Calling oneself a Christian could also be viewed as somewhat pretentious, as it implies that a one off decision or commitment is sufficient to ensure one has 'eternal life' and will go to 'Heaven', as opposed to being a day to day relationship and way of being in the 'here and now'. Clearly the whole concept of Christianity is forgiveness, and the concept of who you were before believing being irrelevant. One can only comment on the here and now, and ultimately it is not up to us to make that kind of claim, it is for God to decide! A little humility goes a long way. Early Christians did not refer to themselves as Christians but as 'brethren'.

Biblical texts can be interpreted in a number of different ways, and it is easy to read them and understand them in an intolerant manner (e.g. attitudes to 'sinners', gamblers, tax collectors (!) and homosexuals), and lose the whole purpose and spirit of the New Testament (the good news!) I view any kind of spiritual enlightenment to be a matter of philosophical meditation on life rather than a simple and easy formula. But clearly this is a personal decision, choice and understanding.

Indeed, Islam sought to remove all idolatry from Middle Eastern religious practices. Some 'left overs' from pagan idolatry can be said to be found in Christianity, such as the depiction of Biblical characters, saints and so on. Such pictures include frescos, stain glass windows and carvings. In addition, relics and particular churches or Biblical places are often 'venerated' by Christians, even those that may be fakes, such as the Shroud of Turin (probably) or alleged 'bones' of Jesus or Apostles. Even if they are not fakes, it is somehow missing the whole point.

Exodus 20:4 (KJV) states: 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth'

Islam does away with all this and no pictures, symbols or images are permitted inside a Mosque. Perhaps Christians could learn a few things from Islam! To eliminate all unnecessary distractions and maintain a better focus during worship. Why Christians must all face the alter whilst praying is beyond me. In early Mosques, there would often be no central focus, but a more egalitarian approach to worship and prayer.

In more modern times, other attempts to recreate 'primitive' or 'original' Christianity inlucde the New Thought Movement, as discussed on the Psychology Bibliography and Reviews page. 

Concept of the Trinity

Is the concept of a Trinity and of Angels strictly monotheistic? Or is it a form of polytheism? There are five beliefs behind the Trinity:

1. There is only one God
2. The Father is God
3. Jesus is God
4. The Holy Spirit is God
5. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons

The OT and NT do not mention the term 'Trinity', but it was adopted in probably the 3nd Century AD, after the Canonical Gospels were written. The concept of the trinity, i.e. the separate persons of the trinity but also their equivalence to God, is stated/implied in pieces in various places in the Bible. There are various passages in the both the OT and NT that can be used as references for the above (e.g. OT passages referencing The Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost). For examples, see the link below.

www.contenderministries.org/biblestudy/trinity.php

As the link above shows, there are references to the Father being God, to the Son being God and to the Holy Spirit being God. However, some passages are slightly unclear. Are there any actual passages that mention all three together conceptually?

Let us look at The Gospel of John.

John 1:1-18 (KJV):

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 'The Word' is not really defined in the first verse, but being somehow equivalent to God. Did anyone really speak to 'The Word' prior to Jesus' ministry? Who did Moses and Abraham speak to? Was The Word differentiated here? If the Word has always existed, then why is it not mentioned in the OT?

[2] The same was in the beginning with God.
[3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
[4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
[5] And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Above, John defines the 'light' as being life in/through God.

[6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
[7] The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
[8] He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
[9] That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.


The 'light' has a slightly different meaning here, which we can assume to mean Jesus, although it is could still just mean 'life in/through God', John being a witness of God.

[10] He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
[11] He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
[12] But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.


Here we have a reference to men becoming 'sons of God' as discussed elsewhere on this page, as 'son of God' is not an exclusive term used for Jesus Christ. But who is the 'him' and the 'he' here? And 'his name'? We would assume that the 'he' and 'him' meant God, but the reference to 'his name' would suggest/imply the 'son' or Jesus, from what we know elsewhere in the gospels.

[13] Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

This is a reference to being born again in the spirit, that Jesus describes later on.

[14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

We can assume that 'the Word...made flesh' is referring to Jesus, as Jesus, the son of man, is said to be God made flesh. This is further elaborated on by 'the only begotten of the Father', implying it was the Father's only Son. However, this is implied rather than stated.

[15] John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 'Him' we can assume refers to Jesus, from the narrative elsewhere int he gospels and the above verses, but it could perhaps also refer to just 'God' or 'the light'.

[16] And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
[17] For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.


Verses 14 refers to grace meaning 'The Word made flesh' and verse 16 also refers to grace. Verse 17 states that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

[18] No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

What exactly does this verse mean? Is it suggesting that man can now only see God through Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son (presumed to be the same thing)? What of the experience of those who communicated with God in the OT?

1John.5:7 (KJV): For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

1 John 5:7 above states that the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost are as one. Who is 'The Word'. 1 John does not define this, but it is implied from John above that it is the 'Word...made Flesh' or Jesus. This is probably the closest that one can get to a statement regarding the 'Trinity' in the NT.

Matthew 28:18-20:
[18] And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
[19] Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
[20] Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.


Here is another statement close to the concept of the Trinity, spoken to Jesus after his resurrection.

John 14:11: Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

The above verse may be read that Jesus and the Father are both God, as one is in the other.

1John.4:15: (KJV): Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.'

However, the verse above from 1 John 4 suggests that he who believes in Jesus as the Son of God is defined in the same way. It would be helpful if this had been elaborated more fully as according to Christians, there is a HUGE difference! A man cannot become God! Having God dwelling in one and oneself dwelling in God does not make one God. So what does this say about Jesus statement about this?

John 14:16-17:
[16] And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
[17] Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.


In John 14:16-17, Jesus first introduces the concept of the Holy Spirit, a gift from the Father to mankind to be with us when Jesus had risen from the dead and returned to Heaven. Jesus states that the Comforter/Spirit of Truth/Holy Spirit shall dwell in believers. According to the New Testament, there was no Holy Spirit experienced on the earth. However, what was the spirit of God felt by believers? What is the relationship between the 'spirit' sent by God in various passages in the OT, which are not references to angels, but in some form the embodiment of God (as discussed below)?

John 14:20: At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.

However, in verse 20, Jesus states that again he is in the Father, and that we are in Jesus, and also that Jesus is in us. He already stated that the Holy Spirit will be in believers, so is this a contradiction, a blurring of distinction between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, or do they both reside in one? Most modern Christians attend churches where Jesus is said to be among us. However, are they really referring to the Holy Spirit? Few churches are churches to the Holy Spirit, but are dedicated to Jesus. If one believes in the name of Jesus, Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, then what is the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Father? God is only the father in the sense that Jesus is the Son. Presumably the Holy Spirit is not another 'son', and was never made flesh. What exactly is the Holy Spirit? Is it the feeling of Jesus inside one? If the Holy Spirit was part of the 'one' from the beginning, along with the Word, then is it really just a Trinity? Are there not other aspects or manifestations of God that are not arbitrarily considered part of the Trinity that have been described in the OT? And if the Word had been one with God from the very beginning, and the Word can be seen as the 'spirit of God' or the 'teaching of God', then why did the spirit of God change from the Old to the New Testament? Surely God's wisdom in Jesus was present all along? Sometimes people use the phrase 'the Word' to describe the Bible as a whole, as if it is literally the spoken word of God in its entirety.

Jesus himself told his disciples that the Kingdom of God shall not simply be defined clearly to the world, but that it shall be communicated in a slightly metaphoric manner or with parables. This is a theme that is common to both the Canonical Gospels and the Gnostic Gospels. Jesus disciples spent much of his ministry misunderstanding him, and only seemed to have grasped his true message at the very end of his life and even only after his resurrection when he departed back to heaven. Is it not likely that in subsequent years, that believers in subsequent centuries would also not be in complete agreement or misunderstand his message, perhaps so much more so as they did not actually know him? One could arguably say this about Paul. What of the Gospel writers themselves? And the translations we have now, and modern versions based on older English versions which were themselves erroneously translated in places? Slightly variations in wording can have a profoundly different effect on the meaning.

Whilst the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God, they are considered by most Christians as three distinct persons. That is, they are the same 'what', but not the same 'who'. Not all Christians accept all 5 premises, and some accept only the first four, e.g. Modalism. This is in a sense a blurring of the three Persons of God. For example, the doctrine of the trinity led to many to pray to the trinity. Instead of addressing the Father as the one we pray to and Christ being our Mediator to bring our petitions on our behalf, the doctrine led to people blending the three together so strongly that there was little distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Modalism accepts the first four premises, but denies that The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons. Modalism is the view that there are no distinctions within God, threefold or otherwise, but that in God's external relationships with his creation, he assumes different modes in which to make himself known and to accomplish his purposes amongst humankind. The implication or argument is that the modes are successive not simultaneous and thus not representative of 'different Persons'. Modalism is the view most frequently held by Oneness Pentacostals and United Pentacostal Church. There are however references in the Bible to two or three Persons acting. Some examples of these are discussed at the link below.

www.westpalmbeachchurchofchrist.com/articles/diff_quest/biblical_trinity.html

The other extreme is to view all three Persons of the Trinity as being too separate, to the point of Polytheism; that they are three separate Gods, one central God and two lesser Gods (i.e. Mormonism - examined on the Christianity page). The other view is that there is one central God and the other two are of equal status to 'angels', widely held by Jehovah's Witnesses. Both views have little Biblical basis however and certain passages imply that the concept is incorrect. Mormons are often classified as polytheistic, although they claim only to worship one of the Gods they recognise. These beliefs are derived from Arianism.

Arianism is an early 4th Century view that God is so transcendent and separate from all of existence that he needs a 'mediator' for every relationship or interface with the world. Jesus, the Logos, is then the semi-divine, and lived so perfect a life that he was given the title Son of Man or Son of God. Jesus is thus viewed as being created and not as strictly eternal (always having existed and always will exist), but rather immortal, i.e. Jesus is not God but is not just man either. The New Testament does state that the child named Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit entering into Mary, so in what sense is this a creation event. If the human form of Jesus was created from the Holy Spirit entering into Mary, to what extent was the entirety of Jesus eternal prior to this and to what extent is he a 'product' of the Holy Spirit and a woman? i.e. his divinity coming from the Holy Spirit? What was Jesus role in the trinity prior to his birth? Was he on the right hand of the Father through all of time prior to this? There is no mention of the Son, Jesus Christ, explicitly in the OT, although there are references to one that will come and to the future Messiah.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arianism

Indeed, to what extent is the human soul eternal (given by God)? Did the human soul exist prior to conception? Is the soul just allocated a physical body at the point of conception? If so, what was it doing for all eternity before this? Was it in Heaven? Or somewhere else? Did it have any self-awareness?

The formation of the modern concept of the Trinity that the vast majority of Christian denominations accept is actually based on a compromise reached by Constantine to appease both opposing factions in the 4th Century AD, namedly the Nicene Creed (325), The Council of Sardica (342), The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381). Thus the concept of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit arrived at and used ever after was a concession and compromise of differing opinions rather than rooted in Biblical scripture. That is not to say that it is not correct. The Trinity are all divine, but that in Jesus, his divine nature was integrated with his human nature. Opposing parties had previously believed on the one hand that Jesus' two natures were distinctly separate (giving the problem of how God could also be a distinctly separate human), and on the other hand that they were one and the same. Arianism held that Jesus was created by God, and the opponents that he had existed all the time. Arianism has been said to have influenced Islam in its view of Jesus, and also the modern Christian movements Unitarianism and Jehovah's Witnesses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed

Similar to the Arianist view is that of Adoptionism (aka Dynamic Monarchianism). This the view regarded Jesus as merely human, but that he became divine later on in his life. This however denies that Jesus as a Person of the Trinity was co-eternal. It holds that God is one being, above all else and wholly indivisible and of one nature, it reconciles the "problem" of the Trinity (or at least Jesus) by holding that the Son was not co-eternal with the Father, and that Jesus the Christ essentially was granted Godhood (adopted) for the plans of God and his own perfect life and works. Adoptionism, in addition to contradicting the Canonical Gospels, does not also explain the Biblical references to Jesus preaching with profound wisdom in the synagogues as a child. Was he then just a 'wise' at an early age? However, arguably this could be explained by the Transfiguration, the moment when Jesus went from being merely a man and a wise teacher to becoming divine and God-like. The concept of the transfiguration is problematic when trying to determine just how human Jesus was before this and how human he was after this. Few Christians are completely comfortable with the balance of his humanity vs his divinity. How Jesus had such a in depth knowledge of the scriptures as a child? It is possible that he studied them from an early age, as there are childhood prodigies. Perhaps this knowledge was of a divine source. If so, then to what extent was Jesus divine all along and the Transfiguration not really what it is made out to be? Different types of Adoptionism hold that Jesus was "adopted" either at the time of his baptism or ascension. An early exponent of Adoptionism was Theodotus of Byzantium. The Sects that adopted Adoptionism (no pun intended) were the Ebionites and the Monarchians (Dynamic Monarchianism). The Monarchians also adopted a Modalist view of God (Modalist Monarchianism).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoptionism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarchianism

The Christian practice is usually to pray not to the Father but to the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. beginning with 'Dear Lord' or 'Dear Lord Jesus'; and ending with 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen'); but it is not uncommon for prayers to be directed at the Father. The general convention seems to be to pray to the 'Lord' (which could be either the father or the son) or 'Father' and to sign off with a statement that the prayer is 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ', before ending with 'Amen'. It seems that the Holy Spirit is the one Person not often prayed to. What is the logic here? To what extent should Christians (be allowed to) pray to just God? When one feels God, which Person is one feeling? The Holy Spirit? As described by Jesus after his resurrection? Jesus taught the disciples the Lord's prayer, where one prays to the Father. This is the matter in which one should pray he taught. He did not teach them to pray to him. Jesus himself prayed to the Father (or God). Not to himself. Should we not also pray to the Father and not to Jesus, as Jesus did and told us to do? Does it matter? Why is the father (or just plain 'God' -God is God after all) not prayed to more often Christians? Do they feel bad if they neglect Jesus? Sometimes, Lord is used in prayer to imply either God or Jesus, is it important which one in the mind of the worshipper? What part of the Trinity is Lord referring to? Jesus? Or the Father?

Christians believe that our covenant is with Jesus Christ, regardless of Jesus own covenant with the Father. Because the Father sacrificed Jesus for the sins of the world, we are able to ask Jesus for forgiveness and to pray to God in the name of Jesus in order to communicate with the Father, rather than make sacrifices as a way of asking for forgiveness as described in the pre-Jesus OT. Christ in a sense is the ultimate sacrificial offering to God. By using Jesus' name and praying to the Father in Jesus name, we are representing Jesus as a sacrificial offering to God, and hence we are no longer bound to the letter by the laws of the OT. To mention 'in Jesus' name' we are communicating directly with the Father but mentioning that 'Jesus sent us'. Jesus is said to represent the ultimate level of holiness that we as humans strive to achieve, and that we pray to God AS Jesus, as hopefully representatives of Jesus Christ. Whilst there is a certain logic here, it is still a rather strange concept to many believers and non-believers, and hard to many Church ministers to grasp or teach correct. Indeed, this probably why there is so much variation in the understanding of the concept.

There appears to be some confusion in terms of the concept of Blessings in Christianity. Who gives them and where do they come from? Christians often say 'God Bless YouÕ? Why is this? Are they asking God to Bless them? Or do they believe that they are in command of blessings or in directing them on some level? Is it an encouragement to the receiver to feel blessed? The saying often results in an elevated state in the receiver, or a sense of feeling closer to God, if they believe in God. Why do Christians not say 'Jesus Bless YouÕ rather than 'God Bless YouÕ? If they pray to Jesus? Why is the phrase GBY used on receipts in the retail section in the USA? What has retail consumer capitalism to do with religion and Jesus? If retailers can utilise religious feeling to create a good feeling and of Godliness associated with their store, customers are more likely to come back and spend again. As if one associates good feelings with buying from a certain vendor, or rapport with a salesperson, then repeat business is more likely. Is this exploitation of Christianity viewed as acceptable by Christians? Why about references to God on the Dollar Bill? What has God got to do with Central Banking and capitalism?

It should be noted that according to the version of events in the Gospels of the New Testament, the disciples addressed Jesus as 'Lord' or as 'Teacher', and not as 'Jesus'. So why would we refer to Jesus as 'Jesus' today? Jesus was at the time a common name, and was not synonymous with 'Lord' or 'God'. So it is rather interesting that it is today. The name Jesus is still used today, albeit not as commonly, and not always as an inspiration from Jesus of Nazareth (as Muhammed is used by Muslims today). If we were to refer to Jesus as 'Liam' or 'Geoff', would it not be strange? If one of the Trinity was called Liam, this might seem rather wierd. Yet perhaps the use of a common name strengths the human side of Jesus of Nazareth more to people, making their relationship to him seem closer. The word 'God' is not a unique term, and could apply to any number of pagan deities, yet the term is used to imply there are no other Gods. The actual name of God is not used by name Christians at all. This seems odd as they use Jesus' first name - unknowing of his last name - which is also rather odd, seeing as he was such a huge historical figure.

It could be argued that if we pray to Jesus and notice an immediate result or a miracle, then is this because we prayed directly to God, the whole of the Trinity, or just one of the Persons of the Trinity? If we assumed for a moment that Jesus was just a prophet, and not the Son of God, and that the Trinity did not exist, but that there was one God alone, Jehovah aka Jahweh - would a prayer to Jesus Christ/Lord Jesus actually work and would God listen. Clearly we can see examples of prayer to Jesus working, sometimes even with miraculous results - is this because we were directly openning our hearts to Jesus, or was God listening (the Father - assuming no Trinity), but regardless of the words and titles used, the spirit of God being prayed to was the same, and that God recognised it and answered it? If we pray to Jesus Christ in this way, we are conceiving of God in a certain way, not in intellectual tems, but a certain aspect of God, a certain Person of God. This may be very powerful way of connecting to God, regardless of whether Jesus is God, or whether it is just the Father who is God. Presumably the theology is irrelevant when entering a deeply spiritual state, letting go of the ego and feeling God with one's heart. Does God really hear the words or is one really just communicating in spirit, in emotion of joy and love for God, which God can feel? Prayer is/should be an opportunity for humility, honesty with self and with God, and to open one's heart. It should not really be an opportunity for gratuitous self-serving thoughts of 'I want that Ferrari' or 'I want that parking space' etc., even though positive visualisation according to the principles of the law of attraction may indeed set up one's mindset and mental resources in order to make it happen. Prayer in a sense is a direct way to 'see' God. Perhaps the emotional association with each term for God thus triggers our emotional state when we use it and try to connect to that Person of God. Perhaps one could use it as a metaphor for connecting to one's higher self and that with positive visualisation and the mind and body working at the optimum level of positive 'vibration', that miraculous results can be possible. Clearly one can view the Trinity and prayer in any number of critical ways! However, we are here just concerned with why it works and the mechanism, considering all possible different scenarios for the reader's benefit.

On the subject of prayer, miracles and the Trinity, there are a large number of documented miracles that have occurred through the power of prayer. The revivalist web site below contains a list of verified testimonies. The main page is www.ibethel.org

www.ibethel.org/features/testimonies/index.php?f=testimonies.php&page=24

Below is another web site containing a number of testimonies which is worth a read.

www.freshfire.ca/?Id=959&pid=8

One can see the Biblical references that imply that there is a trinity. We can see the what and who. One could indeed ask why there is a trinity however. Could it purpose not be served by just one Person? Can anyone truly understand the exact nature of the trinity? To what extent can they all be God but simultaneously be separate People? And how separate are they if they are all God?

The First Vatican Council called the Trinity a Mystery, a truth that we are usually incapable of discovering or understanding apart from through Divine Revelation; and even then which when revealed may still remain hidden by a veil of faith and enveloped by a kind of darkness, most impenetrable to reason.

www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm#IV

www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm

In some respects, one could argue that excessive intellectualisation misses the point and one should just feel and communicate with God. However, is this a form of Modalism? Christians expect non-Christians to comprehend this and often have difficulty themselves! The Trinity is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Christianity. Clearly the concept of the Trinity deserves more study and thought.

The Muslim view of the Trinity is slightly skewed by Mohammed's misinterpretation of Catholicism, with its focus on the veneration of the Virgin Mother Mary. Thus, Islam came to view the Trinity as being the Father, Jesus and Mary, instead of the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Muslim ideas about Jesus and the Trinity can also be read in the section below.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity

One may acknowlege the Biblical evidence for a Trinity, but to really understand why there is a Trinity and really the relationship between the 'what' and the 'who' is another matter, and something many Christians still struggle with. Both the Trinity concept and Arianism regard Jesus and the Holy Spirit as 'mediators' in some sense, but that the Trinitarian view is that Jesus as a mediator is God, whereas the Arian view is that Jesus as mediator is semi-God and not actually God.

Judaism regards the Trinity as a false doctrine and is some sense could be considered the basis for Arianism. Jews argue that the OT is quite clear that God, The Eternal, is indivisible and one, and that the Jews were taught by Moses to only pray in the one God's name. Isaiah writes of God's words that he was the first and the last, and besides him there is no God. Jews do also not accept that Jesus was God, but instead a heretic. Judaism argues that there is no direct reference to the word Trinity, or complete single verse explanation of it, in the Old Testament (which is true). Judaism also argues that certain passages from the NT state that not all parts of the trinity have equal power, nor is the punishment for blasphemy against any one person of the Trinity the same.

http://whatjewsbelieve.org

Judaism also points to the passages from the New Testament as evidence questioning the validity of the concept of the Trinity:

1) Jesus does not have the same power as the other Persons of the Trinity - presumably Jesus should be forgiving them in any case as he is God?

Luke 23:34 (KJV): Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

2) Jesus will is not quite the same as the Father.

Matthew 26:42: He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

Jesus was man as well as God, but his will should be that of the father - even in times of weakness? As when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. Indeed one could argue that Jesus should not need to pray to the father if he is already God - unless his human side is somehow separated from his God-side, compartmentalised somehow. If Jesus prayed to the Father, and showed us the Lord's prayer beginning 'Our Father..', why do most Christians pray to the 'Lord Jesus' and not just to the Father?

3) Jesus did not have the knowledge of the Father - one can presume that his includes both Jesus and the Holy Spirit?

Matthew 24:36: But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Mark 13:32: But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

Judaism also argues that God has sent many spirits to mankind, apart from Angels, for example:

1) The Spirit of God - Genesis 1:2 (KJV): And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
2) Evil Spirit of God - I Samuel 16:23 (KJV): And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
3) The Lying Spirit of God - I Kings 22:23 (KJV): Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.

4) The Destroyer - Exodus 12:23 (KJV): For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you.
5) The Burning Bush - Exodus 3:2-4 (KJV):
2: And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3: And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4: And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.


These are described or implied in the Bible as being aspects of God in some sense. However, Judaism argues that if one is to adopt a concept of the Trinity, or multiple Persons of God, or 'mediators, then surely these forms should have been included too? Or none included at all. It is thus thought that Christians and the NT in general have arbitrarily chosen the Holy Spirit and the Son and ignored the others. Jews often accuse Christianity of wanting a concept of 3 Persons, in similar keeping to other religions like Hinduism (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Babylonian mythology (Anu, Bel and Ena) and Roman mythology (the trinity of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva - ignoring the other Gods). However, if one is to take the New Testament as fact, then it is clear that this is not what Jesus taught.

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation06.html

Judaism argues that many of the concepts of the New Testament are out of keeping with the teachings of the Old Testament, for example, returning to the pagan concept of human sacrifice, not sticking to just the one Person of God, different concepts of Hell and of Satan, introducing the concept of 'original sin', using the concept of another dying for one's sins (not permitted in OT); and Jesus not fulfilling many of the Messianic prophecies, and thus in some sense it is not valid as it breaks with God's teachings.

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation03.html

Christians argue that the purpose of Jesus ministry was to act as a more effective 'mediator' to mankind than to necessarily fulfill every prophecy of the Tanakh. Indeed, Jesus was not recognised as the Messiah by many Jews for this reason, as he was not seen as a literal, powerful, political King for the Nation of Israel.

Judaism believes that man cannot become God and God cannot become man. This is the pagan tradition of the Pharaohs and Roman Emperors who claimed to be Gods and were worshipped.

Hosea 11:9 (KJV): I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.

Numbers 23:19 (KJV): God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation08.html

What is your concept of the trinity? 

Dualism in Monotheism

If one views spiritual fulfillment as being in tune with God, and if there is only one God, then evil could be viewed as the absence of spiritual awareness and a moving away from God and connectedness; towards the ego, and self-power through negative and hateful actions. Clearly one requires an ego in certain respects to interact with the world and to survive. The ego is in a sense a defense mechanism ingrained from our animal 'fight or flight' days. Is it important to literally believe in the concept of the Devil, and in Satan as a self-conscious being? Does belief in God necessarily mean that one has to believe in the Devil? The Devil is often cited as being the 'opposite' of God, and as such, is given the status of a 'God', albeit an evil one! As a fallen angel, surely Satan is just an evil spirit, as other demons are. The 'enemies' of being with God in our day to day experience are demons, or evil spirits, who normally reside in the astral plane. Does one really need to know the exact hierarchy and which exact evil spirit is trying to mess us around? Do demons have to necessarily have a 'big boss'? Probably not. To what extent can Christian beliefs be considered dualistic in terms of two 'Gods', one good and one evil, (i.e. ditheistic - two opposing Gods, as opposed to bitheistic meaning two complimentary Gods!), and to what extent can it be considered monistic, monotheistic and/or panentheistic? Can an angel, whether fallen or not, exert such a big influence on the minds and hearts of humanity? Or is he working with considerable help from 'friends', i.e. other evil spirits? Or is 'evil' just the sensation of egotism and turning away from God, in its lowest form?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism

Dualism when applied to theism is the belief in two Gods, either complimentary (bitheism) or in opposition to one another (i.e. ditheism). Many Christians have a perception of Satan as a 'God' and being the polar opposite to God. This is a somewhat dualistic (ditheistic) interpretation of Christianity. Those of this perspective may view evil as being that which highlights the good that there is, and in a sense good and evil having some kind of symbiotic relationship, one 'needing' the other.

Some Christians point out the difference between believing 'in' something and believing 'against' something. Clearly if you focus on what you believe is what you don't want, you are more likely to subconsciously embrace it rather than reject it. Not all Christians believe 'in' the Devil or a concept of Satan. Karl Barth once remarked that it is impossible for a Christian to believe 'in' the devil, since the devil deserves only an attitude of utter disbelief. Thus Christians do not believe in him, but against him. If you want to 'believe in' something, it’s much better to believe in God! It could be argued that a belief in God is itself also a denial and rejection of the powers of nothingness and of all the dark glory of their parasitic pseudo-existence.

One could argue that Christians, believing in God, cannot believe in the devil and demons as they may believe in angels. Christians are supposed to have a positive relationship to that in which we believe. There is no positive relationship to the 'devil' and/or demons. Christians perhaps can only know that they oppose them with the most radical unbelief (i.e. a strong belief in the power of God). So in a sense the 'devil' or demons are just a myth, the lie which is the basis of all other lies - i.e. to believe in the devil is to believe in a lie!

However, perhaps this is just a matter of focus and that one is still in effect believing in the existance of 'Satan', but that one is choosing not to focus on him or give him any power. Is this a more enlightened view or just burying one's head in the sand? Does one have to fool oneself to just avoid focussing on the Devil? Is one's faith that weak? It could be argued that this is still a dualistic (ditheistic) view. Interpreting anything that moves away from God as 'Satanic' can sometimes help to reinforce the dualistic interpretation and understanding of Christianity, which often misses the point. It could be argued that practices such as Exorcism are in some way dualistic or give significance to 'devils' or 'the devil'.

Unless one acknowledges that the 'devil' is just a belief (convenient term) in 'non-God' or absence of God, in a literal sense, or an embrace of the more destructive parts of one's ego, then only this is arguable truly monotheistic. Whether one believes in fallen angels and evil spirits any more than one believes that some peoplein the past and present have committed cruel, 'evil' deeds and atrocities against humanity actually has anything to do with God or has any bearing in one's concept of God is another matter. The concept of God does not need a 'formal opponent' as such. Does one need to understand exactly the nature of 'non-God' in order to understand one's faith in God? Does it matter if 'non-God' is just the destructive side of the ego, or where one is vulnerable to literal 'spiritual attack' by an evil spirit or spirits, or whether it is the influence of 'Satan' is perhaps largely irrelevant.

If one believes in a formal entity or opponent, how powerful is one to assume that it is - as powerful as God? That would truly be dualistic.

Whether 'Satan' then is a fallen angel generally associated with a person's rejection of God, of 'devils' or just symoblic is a matter for personal interpretation. Christianity should presumably be focussed on God (what one wants) rather than on the 'devil' (what one doesn't want). The confusion over terminology in the New Testament and how literal or symbolic it is clearly does little to help Christians understand what they really believe in.

To make matters more confusing, one should consider what Jesus actually believed as a man, and what he believed, being 'God'. Jesus was brought up in the faith Judaism. He regarded the Scriptures as divine. Judaism as discussed above does not believe in a literal concept of the Devil. Presumably Jesus then as he regarded the Scriptures with great reverence did not believe in the concept of the Devil either? The New Testament has numerous references to 'the Devil' and Satan in the Christian rather than Jewish context. Was this creative writing or interpretation by the gospel writers/editors, or did Jesus actually radically differ from the books of the Old Testament in his beliefs? What is the exact nature of the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament? In many respects, Jesus was providing some new interpretations of how one should reach God and how to interpret the spirit of the Scriptures. He was declaring himself to be the Son of God (according to the Bible). But otherwise, as a man, he followed Jewish customs and Jewish laws (with certain exceptions!) To what extent did Jesus share the scientific views and beliefs of the Jews? To what extent did he possess divine knowledge of these and to what extent did he possess the same knowledge as everyone else (e.g. the earth being the centre of the universe, the earth being flat and having windows in the sky to let the water in etc.)? Are the references to 'devils' or the 'devil' in the New Testament just a reflection of Jesus power over the dead and evil spirits? And have nothing actually to do with 'the devil'? 

Hesychasm and Theoria

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychasm

Hesychasm (Greek 'hesychasmos', from 'hesychia', "stillness, rest, quiet, silence") is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some other Eastern Churches of the Byzantine Rite, practised by the Hesychast; based on Christ's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to "go into your closet to pray", Hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God (Theoria).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoria

Eastern and Western Orthodox Traditions vary in general, as Western Orthodox Christianity holds that the essence of God is unknowable and cannot be directly experienced.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Fathers

http://home.newadvent.org/cathen/01623c.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sayings_of_the_Desert_Fathers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philokalia

Below are the Philokalia in mp3 format.

www.philokalia.org 

The After Life

The ancient Christian Churches hold that a final universal judgement will be pronounced on all human beings when soul and body are reunited in the resurrection of the dead.

Some other denominations, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, hold that, until the resurrection, the dead simply cease to exist or, if they exist at all, do so in a state of unconsciousness.' (a.k.a. soul sleep).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_sleep

In Christian theology, soul sleep is a belief that the soul sleeps unconsciously between the death of the body and its resurrection on Judgment Day. Soul sleep is also known as psychopannychism (from Greek psyche (soul, mind) + pannuchizein (to last the night)).

A similar belief is thnetopsychism (from Greek thnetos (mortal) + psyche (soul, mind)), the view that the soul dies with the body to be recalled to life at the resurrection of the dead, or that the soul is not separate from the body and so there is no "spiritual" self to survive bodily death.

In both cases, the deceased does not begin to enjoy a reward or suffer a punishment until Judgment Day.

The more common Christian belief about the intermediate state between death and Judgment Day is particular judgment, that the soul is judged at death. In Roman Catholicism, the soul is judged to go to heaven or hell immediately after death, a belief also held by most Protestants. In Catholicism some temporarily stay in purgatory to be purified for heaven. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the soul waits in the abode of the dead until the resurrection of the dead, the saved resting in light and the damned suffering in darkness. This Eastern Orthodox picture of particular judgment is similar to the 1st-century Jewish and early Christian concept that the dead either "rest in peace" in the Bosom of Abraham or suffer in Gehenna. This view was also promoted by John Calvin in his treatise attacking soul sleep.

Soul sleep was promoted by some Reformation as well as some minor Protestant denominations.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell#Christianity

In the above instance, the soul that dies could be interpreted literally, in the precise terms that Ezekiel was used to using, to support the above idea, or metaphorically to mean 'eternal damnation' or 'not heaven', i.e. life meaning the kingdom of heaven and death meaning hell.

Universalism is the belief that all life comes from God, and that the dead are reconciled with God, in one way or another. Universalism is increasingly marginal as a Christian belief in the present day, although much more prominent up until the 6th Century AD.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universalism

One could argue that our moment to moment experience is our consciousness being dragged around by our conscious minds and subject to the thought patterns and 'software' programming of our unconscious minds. But that these things do not constitute our 'soul' or consciousness. Our consciousness is simply a 'passenger' to this 'computer' or 'vessel' of the brain. If one subscribes to this understanding, one could perhaps consider that your programming dictates your actions and that your concept of freewill is indeed somewhat limited; and that when you die, your soul is released from your body, and is still separate from the body/mind/brain, and basically it makes no difference what you did in your life, your soul rejoins God and the Universe, knows peace once again. The 'hell' or 'heaven' you experience perhaps depends on your programming and state of mind that you drag yourself through whilst you are alive. Of course, this view may not necessarily be true. Perhaps this is an interpretation of Universalism, where the exact mechanism of reconciliation is varied according to the exact belief.

The question of the starving child who doesn't know Jesus is as old as the Bible itself. If a starving child has not accepted Jesus into his heart, will he go to Hell? What about toddlers who cannot yet speak? Must they believe in Jesus to be go to Heaven if they were to be killed in an accident? Does it depend on whether the child was baptised or christened? Or the spirit and atmosphere around the child, specifically the parents, and the vibe that the child picks up? And to what extent is this within the todder's control? Are we expecting children, toddlers, infants and the child in the womb to make adult decisions? To what extent does a child's faith really mean anything as the child has yet to experience life, appy his faith in life situations and to know himself? Of course, not all children lack self-knowledge. 

Last Judgement

Last Judgement is the belief that after the return of Jesus, that all souls, both living and dead, will be judged again. Those that have already gone to Heaven will be judged again and if deemed worthy, will remain in Heaven, or otherwise be cast out. This is a view held by both Protestants and Catholics. However, some Protestants believe that the dead souls rest in another place whilst waiting for the Final Judgement. Esoteric and Gnostic traditions however do not believe in the Final Judgement as it is at odds with God's nature.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Judgment 

Kingdom of God

What is truly meant by the 'Kingdom of God'? It is mentioned in both the OT and NT. Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom of God as the theme of his ministry as well as the destination for the righteous in the end of days. Those who believed in him would join him in the Kingdom of God, i.e. Heaven, when they died, and receive eternal life, but only truly experience the full kingdom of God after the Last Judgement at the end of days. Some Christians interpret the Kingdom of God to be all around us in the physical world, a state of mind that one attains through faith, rather than just being a final destination. On some level in the latter philosophy it is very similar in concept to the Holy Spirit, or perhaps a panentheistic view of the Kingdom of God. It is the journey and not the destination. Some minority Christian groups believe in different types of Heaven, for the faithful, and for the good that do not believe in Jesus or God, etc. Some scholars have interpreted the Kingdom of God as referring to a literal geographic power group, meaning the Jewish people in Israel (being Godly - with a 'King', i.e. Jesus) versus the Roman rulers (not the Kingdom of God, but Kingdom of sin etc.) Muslims interpret the Kingdom of God as being in everything good, including people who do good deeds and who trust in God, but not in those things that do not. Jesus uses some elaborate language when describing the Kingdom of God, and indeed there are several possible interpretations. Gnostics interpret the Kingdom of God as being Gnosis or indeed the Pleroma.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_god

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven

A friend of mine sent him this anecdote:

Look back and 'Thank' God.
Look forward and 'Trust' God.
Look around and 'Serve' God!
Look within and 'Find' God! 

Original Sin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin

Judaism does not have a concept of Original Sin that mankind inherited from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Babies are born free of sin, and become sinful through fleshy desires and rebellion against God, in opposition to mainstream Christianity's view that one is born sinful and only through faith in Jesus and being 'born again' and asking Jesus for forgiveness can one be cleansed of sin. However, the concept of Original Sin did not appear in Christianity until the 4th Century AD, when St Augustine of Hippo, the Bishop of Hippo Regius, created it through his own interpretation of the Bible, basing this notion on 2nd Century anti-Gnostic teachings. The concept of original sin was one of the factors that held down the power of women in the early church and even today, as woman are in some sense believed to be blamed for the fall of mankind from grace, and giving 'ancestral sin' to their children. The story of Jezebel, the proud Queen who refused to give up her own culture and religion in her new surroundings, much like Christian rulers would not give up their own religion and impose it on others, but who was thought of as an example of the 'evil' of women, is also a contributary factor to misogyny and sexism in Christianity.

Even if one was to assume that Original Sin WAS Christian from the beginning, but was not understood properly prior to the 4th Century AD, then to what extent were Jews then free of sin before the coming of Christ, but then by default sinful until they believed in him after his ministry? Were the teachings of the Torah on this wrong? The Scriptures were the teachings that Jesus himself studied and followed prior to his ministry. Jews argue that Genesis does not actually state that Adam and Eve were sinful, but first mentions 'sin' in conjunction with Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve stated as being thrown out of the Garden of Eden because Eve listened to the speaking Serpent and tasted fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and God did not want Adam and Eve to taste fruit from the Tree of Live and receive Immortality. Thus it could be argued that humanity experiences mortality and physical death as it is the intended natural cycle of life that God intended and that he never intended for humankind to be physically immortal. However this is a matter of debate as Genesis refers to extended life spans of early man, and the fact that God was not pleased with Adam and Eve for disobeying his instructions. Was this then 'sin'?

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation05.html

Christians believe that man is born into sin, and that Jesus came to save mankind from damnation, rather than comdemn people to (eternal) damnation. From the Father comes the Final Judgement.

John 5:24: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Christians believe in the concept of being born into sin and condemnation, and the purpose of Jesus was/is to save mankind from condemnation, and not to condemn him. The Father performs the Final Judgement.

John 5:24: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

What does the evangelical/born-again Christian concept of being 'saved' actually mean. Is it a single decision or event in one's life that 'guarantees' that one will go to heaven regardless of how one behaves in the rest of one's days? The way many Christians use it does instill a somewhat false belief in this regard, like it's in the past tense.

Does being saved to mean escape condemnation? Or does it mean to actually go to heaven? The latter meaning is unlikely. However, to be saved in the Christian sense may mean that one may enjoy some fruits early on but that as one grows in one's faith one can enjoy many other fruits of one's relationship with Jesus.

In romans 10:9 the word save is a greek word, "sozo." It means to save, "keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction one (from injury or peril); to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health, to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue.

To save could therefore mean to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment or to save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance.

The word saved is often used in a single sense rather than in the above usages, but after one has embraced God, one's spiritual wellbeing is up to the individual and his ongoing relationship with God. 

Opposition to Human Sacrifices

After Abraham, God was clearly opposed to human sacrifices to God. Yet God gave his son Jesus to be sacrificed for the sins of mankind. Did this action then cleanse mankind of its sins (and original sin) only if they believed in Jesus? To what extent was God breaking his own rules?

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation01.html

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation02.html

http://whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation05.html

Genesis: Creationism and Evolution

The historical relationship of science and religion, specifically Christianity, has been rocky in places, with the Catholic Church suppressing and persecuting early scientists that challenged the authority of the Church. Natural events were thought of simply as the Will of God. Over time, the scientific perspective has more and more formulated our society and its technology. It should however be noted that not all religions have dismissed Science that challenged their cosmological view. Indeed, Islamic scholars and scientists were at the cutting edge of scientific development before the Enlightenment.

One may view Genesis (or other parts of the Bible) as being literal truth. Or indeed as a spiritual understanding of the creation of the universe applied to historical concepts of 'physics' and 'astonomy', i.e. a human interpretation of divine truth and inspiration. i.e. the Bible is not the same as the Koran which is believed to be the literal word of God as spoken to Mohammed, observed orally until the death of Mohammed, but after which time was recorded by scribes. The Bible is clearly not an all or nothing book. It is a collection of many different books written by different people in different cultural surroundings, for different reasons. There is not one single mode of interpretation that applies to all books equally, one has to take each book on its own merits, and indeed each verse on its own merits even, understanding its context, to arrive at sensible interpretation. All or nothing arguments are outmoded and inappropriate in my opinion.

Perhaps if Genesis had been written today, then it would be very different, but still convey a similar spirit and meaning. For example, would it include a description of the Big Bang or Super String Theory, i.e. the creation of the universe and not just the Earth, by God?

Many theoretical physicists have no explanation why a singularity should suddenly explode and many cite it as evidence that there must have been some form of divine intervention, including Professor Stephen Hawking himself. Modern physicists marvel at the exact relationship between the fundamental forces, as any minor deviation would have meant that life could never have existed anywhere in the universe. M-Theory may provide an explanation of the big bang in terms of colliding membranes. However, it cannot be proven yet.

If one regards the laws of physics, and cause and effect on a large scale and also quantum level as being the mechanics of God, then every action and result is the will of God on some level (God being in all things and in those that choose to accept and feel God's spirit and without ego.) One could then argue that separation from God, in worry, anger, depression and other negative emotions, thus attracts a negative consequence and this is the will of God in some sense; as opposed to the 'wrath of God'.

Clearly the understanding of science in this manner is a case of accepting scientific discoveries and theories, and using faith as an add on, to explain the unexplained that physics often creates. Physics is unable to explain why, and the further it progresses, the more unanswered questions it raises. To adherents of this view, including Vatican astronomers, they do not reject any scientific discoveries, but are actually seeking to advance knowledge of science and astronomy. They do not regard Genesis as literal truth, but as an allegory as described above, with the spirit of God in it. As Genesis is not a fundamental tenet of the Christian church, then they feel comfortable with accepting the scientific explanation of the creation and age of the Universe with no problems at all. However, if one day science was to disprove the existence of Jesus, then this might present a problem. This is not likely. The Bible as a religious and spiritual work can be viewed as never dating over 1000s of years, not being a scientific work, whereas science books and papers go out of date in a matter of years.

Of course, not all scientists have any spiritual belief, and from a strictly scientific perspective, one cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. However there is not hard data to go on for scientists, and thus the idea cannot be discounted but is not a theory in progress.

Most (Western) Christians would concede that the creation story is an allegory or a metaphor based on Jewish traditions and not perhaps the literal word of God. However, there are Christians that reject any scientific theory that provides a conflict with the Bible, and indeed may adapt/distort/reinterpret contemporary scientific evidence to make it fit in with the Bible story, even if this means ignoring a huge amount of data from geological dating etc. Even if one does not believe in God one can view Genesis as a piece of beautiful poetry and worth reading on its own merits.

Those of an atheistic disposition who dismiss Genesis as outmoded myth, perhaps underestimate the importance of storytelling and myth. Human beings have been telling stories for as long as language has existed. We understand ourselves and see insights into the human condition through storytelling and myths, and the tales of the actions of others. Atheists who reject any story or myth of creation may consider themselves as being educated and rational, but the vast majority still enjoy escapism and myths, in the form of novels, television and cinema. Is it rational to watch a low quality soap opera for many years and on some level the brain considers it to be 'real'? Clearly there is a human need for such abstractions or fantasies. Does this make a spiritual person less rational?

What Genesis does do however is quite new from the pre-existing Jewish pagan religions of the time. Other pagan and monotheistic religions that predate Judaism view creation as something that was born out of conflict between opposing forces or rival deities. Genesis describes acts of creation not as dramatic explosive results of spiritual conflict but as serene, calm and deliberate acts of a single creative force. There is no conflict.

Would a modern version of Genesis (if written today) use the concept of Darwinist evolution or not? There are many Christian evolutionists, so it is not just a debate between atheist scientists, creationists and 'intelligent design' proponents. The fossil record is used by some Christians to justify creationism, to the extent that Christian museums exist today featuring Homo Sapiens together with dinosaurs - despite the fact that no human/proto-human remains are found in the same geological period as dinosaurs and large reptiles. Literalists who believe Genesis to the letter do not always have the same sense of following every letter in the Bible, as often key teachings of Jesus, such as forgiveness and turning the other cheek, are ignored when it suits, for example, when it concerns the death penalty, engaging in warfare and in matters of foreign policy. So it is a form of selective 'fundamentalism'. Science does not have to be at odds with spirituality, but in fact both should enhance each other, and should be simply different ways of expressing the same thing (on a Quantum level).

The UK movement known as the 'Sea of Faith' is a network of religious individuals who believe wholeheartedly in science. They acknowledge that the idea of creation in Genesis is an allegory, and that God might not exist, and that Jesus probably existed but may not have been a supernatural figure or had a resurrection. Strangely some with these views are practising bishops and priests! However, their open mindedness in their beliefs, perhaps largely Agnostic, favouring science and psychology over religion, does not stop them practising their religion personally and in the service of others. This is justified by the logic that rather than reject their faith and practice, they choose to embody it as it answers many spiritual questions and provides a valuable method of developing positive relationships with others, cultivating happiness and stillness, taming the ego and providing a positive social fabric and guidance for society. The Bible is viewed as a narrative of describing human nature and a better way to live, and which may or may not be the literal word of God. Clearly this perspective is non-dogmatic in its approach, but is a personal view of faith or a personal Agnostic view of faith. Whilst this clearly only has a minority membership with the UK Churches, it is still significant and growing. There are many ways of viewing faith, and the concept that there is a default clash with science is not correct. There can be, but equally there does not have to be.

www.sofn.org.uk/sof/index.html

Whilst Western Christianity, particularly Catholicism, stifled the growth of science for many centuries, it did slowly adapt to embrace scientific enquiry and not view it as a threat. When Darwin first presented his theory, it started a religious argument that has ensued to this day. Many contemporary Christians at the time were concerned about the comparison with monkeys and the literal interpretation of Genesis, and later on when Darwin was used as a rationale for atheism and a divergence from Christian morality, they were understandably concerned that survival of the fittest would replace helping the poor and needy. Indeed, the excesses of this philosophy can be seen in its misapplication in Eugenics and indeed Nazi Germany's policies. Clearly there was good reason to be concerned about the excesses of Neo-Darwinism and applying Darwin's theories outside of it's actual scientific 'home'. Creationism, some might argue, is the application of religious beliefs and ideas into domains where it does not belong either, and is not a true reflection of religion or spiritual belief. Unfortunately, many atheists point at creationism to dismiss all religion as being unscientific, much as some anti-Darwinists point to Nazism to dismiss all of Darwin's ideas, which is not fair either. It should be remembered that Darwinism does not necessarily have to conflict with religion, although it clearly can for Creationists and those who take religious texts completely literally in their entirety. Darwinism and the Theory of Natural Selection, like any scientific theory, is true as far as it goes and we can measure it today - on the whole, although that is now in question following the latest studies in genetics - but it is by no means a complete theory. It is a part theory, explaining only a small part of the overall empirical picture. It is the theory of the how, but does not tell us 'why'. Religion can be used to explain the why as plausibly as atheism and chaos theory can. Atheism in this sense is not proven by Darwin. And neither is Religion. What meaning one chooses to associate is down to personal choice and interpretation. 

Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament and Antisemitism

Christians acknowledge that God sent Jesus to preach a different message than was evident in the less forgiving and vengeful (on occasion) God of the Old Testament, and that over time, God came to want to reach humankind (and not just the Jews) in a slightly different way. One could debate as to why God wasn't like this from the beginning. One way of interpreting this is clearly to separate the aspects of God into two separate Gods, as the Gnostics have done. Another way is to completely reject the Old Testament as being false or confused religion and not embodying the true spirit of God. Another is to regard the Old Testament as really being a collection of books describing Jewish religious history, traditions and 'myths' with less global application than the New Testament. Or one could view the struggle Jesus had with the Jewish religious establishment as evidence that the Jewish religion had slowly become corrupted (no fault of the Old Testament or Torah itself), and that there is no real inconsistency between the Old and New Testaments, but the New Testament is merely adding an additional layer on top of spiritual understanding and way of coming to God. One could take the view that much of the New Testament as largely irrelevant or lesser in importance, and just stick to reading the four canonical gospels, as anything that the apostles said or did would be of secondary importance to the word and actions of Jesus.

At the time of Jesus ministry, his audience had only had sight of the Scriptures, or the Old Testament and other books of the Torah. Jesus was teaching a slightly different message about the spirit of God. In some sense, before the arrival of Jesus, it was 'enough' to just believe in God to 'go to heaven'. However, after Jesus ministry and death on the cross, his message was on the whole if one believes the canonical gospels, that one had to believe that Jesus was Lord. How can one reconcile these two different positions based on a difference of say 50 years? Clearly if Jesus was the son of God, and one believed in God, then there would be no reason not to believe in him. Does this mean that those Jews who continue to follow Judaism are then considered 'hard of heart' and not worthy of going to heaven? Does this mean that God should have communicated the commandments differently to Moses and his message differently to Abraham and Isaiah? Or was it because of the way the message from God from the prophets adopted by the Jewish people had changed over the subsequent years?

To what extent was Jesus preaching to the Jews and simply fulfilling Jewish prophecies from the Scriptures? To what extent was his story 'sexed up' so that he would fulfil these predictions and prophecies to the letter and fullest extent, to appeal to the Jews more? To what extent was his message Universal and the history of the Jewish people and Israel irrelevant? Jesus, being a Jew and following the Scriptures, preached a message to mankind which was not strictly based on the Scriptures or tied to the Scriptures - to what extent should those who follow the word and spirit of Jesus actually pay attention to those same Jewish customs and Scriptures?

Jesus was fully versed in the Torah and Scriptures and indeed so were his Jewish audience and followers. The Kabbalah did not become part of the Torah until much later, probably the 13th Century AD. The Bible has explicit mention of evil of the occult, and if the Kabbalah did represent the secret, esoteric knowledge given by God to both Adam and Moses, then Jesus would no doubt have been aware of it, being God, and would have communicated this in his teachings, assuming this was something that was valuable and congruent with a belief in God and in Jesus, and that it had disappeared from Hebew texts of the time.

Many view the early teachings of Jesus as a refinement of Judaism, being that Jesus was well versed in the Scriptures (i.e. Torah) and used to teach from the Scriptures in Synagogues himself as a youth. Has the Jewish component of Jesus been lost? History and the NT show us that Paul's vision of Christianity became increasingly dismissive of the Jews, who were not worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven unless they accepted Jesus as the Son of God. Paul became increasingly dismissive of the Torah or OT and associated books. This general attitude prevailed within the early orthodox (Catholic) church.

Further demonisation of Jews perhaps occurred because of the perception of Judas, the Jew - his name sounding a bit like 'Jew-das', being the Christ killer, and his image being portrayed in religious art as having increasingly Jewish features; Jesus becoming more classically 'white European' or Gentile in his appearance; and the story of the death of Jesus 'at the hands of the Jews' rather than Pontius Pilate; has resulted in a huge amount of anti-semitism over the last 2000 years. Jews were demonised in Christian art as being the enemy of Christianity. In England, stories of cannibalism of Christian babies by Jews was spread resulting in incidents of mass executions of Jews. Some perhaps regard this as being insecurity of the offspring religion of it's parent religion, a form of Oedipus complex.

Rome made its first Jewish Ghetto in 1555 at the bequest of the Roman Catholic Pope, as it was felt that Jews and Christians living in harmony was undesirable, as the Christians might become 'tainted' somehow. This lasted until 1870 when it was finally abolished. The Vatican did not make an official statement about Jews not being 'Christ killers' until 1965!

Martin Luther's 'One the Jews and their Lies' (1543) was arguably anti-semitic in content, although to regard it as a precursor to Nazism would be highly anachronistic and misuse of hindsight. It was one book of many, and his main focus was on the nature of salvation. Some scholars view Luther's influence as limited and the Nazi party's use of his work as highly opportunistic. In any case, the Nazis in general were not interested in religion and indeed persecuted Christianity as it promoted the idea of universal brotherhood. Some Nazis were indeed Christians and perhaps they cited this book of Luther to justify what they already believed and acted upon. It is of course no reason to dismiss Luther's ideas about salvation, as indeed the vast majority of priests, scholars, intellectuals, politicians and so on were predominantly ethnocentric and racist to some degree up until some time in the early or middle of the 20th Century.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther

A critical view of Martin Luther and his anti-semitism can be found at the link below. Indeed, Hitler regarded Luther as one of Germany's great reformers - which sounds rather like an opportunistic use of his name, as Hitler perhaps wanted to associate himself with 'household Germanic names'.

www.nobeliefs.com/luther.htm

Of course, the holocaust of WWII was not a Christian instigated programme, but it is clear that Aryan Christianity in Germany at the time had some influence on Adolf Hitler's own ideas, amongst a whole host of philosophical and Germanic mythological influences. However the holocaust affected not just Jews but also Christians, non-desirables, political prisoners and non-ethnic Germans. There are various incidences of the Vatican turning a blind eye to the Nazis and assisting them (discussed elsewhere on this site), and also certain Catholic populations assisting the Nazis, for example, the Croatians, that creates further friction between Catholics and Jews. The fact that the current Pope was once a (forced) member of the Hitler Youth has of course opened old wounds, but whether this is of any actual consequence is another matter.

Will the Jewish people regard Jesus to be one of the finest teachers and prophets of Judaism? Will Christians come to recognise Judaism and attribute it with its just significance and part in Christianity? And understand Christianity through Judaism? This might occur if the NT was not comprised mainly of texts by Paul and did not perhaps overemphasise Jesus' divinity, but more his teachings. One could view that modern Christianity as having its Jewish origins and Jewish practices, that Christ would have himself performed and been involved with, removed, to leave certain simple aspects remaining such as Baptism and the Resurrection/Forgiveness of man's sins formula remaining. Were John the Baptist and Jesus inspired by the Essenes, the Jewish sect that practiced regular ritual washing. Are these practices in fact a reflection of Christianity as a special Galilean Jewish sect, rather than being a completely new religion? Jesus was said to be the fulfillment of prophecy and the King of the Jews, to enhance and refine the Jewish religion and bring one's relationship with God back to the living and everyday existence rather than something one waited for after one was dead and the hypocrisies and showiness of contemporary Judaism of the time. Some Jews argue the concept of the 'messiah' of the OT was not necessarily of a Son of God, but a Son of Man, someone who would show the path to God and to liberate the Jewish people from Roman rule and bring truth and justice to Israel. Like a religious and military figure, a true King in that sense. Some Jews regard Jesus as being a failed messiah, in that he did not deliver in the physical world, but promised the Jews and everyone salvation after death, and in a sense during one's life through a full relationship with God; but that his physical messianic role was never fully realised. Christians argue that the second coming will result in the fulfillment of prophecy, which is either true or a convenient way of explaining around the fact that Jesus 'got himself killed' and 'failed'. Was Jesus then really resurrected? Is it possible for Jews to accept Jesus as their greatest teacher - and if so, what must be changed or adapted from the modern Christian account of who Jesus was and what he said?An examination of some of the Jewish sects and early Christian sects as above sheds some light on this, but we are still far from an easy answer or reconciliation between the two religions.

To what extent were they just a product of Jesus' humanity and his geographical location and the social traditions and culture in which he existed? If Jesus did not follow the Scriptures to the letter but more in their true spirit, were they not best communicated to the Jewish people in their Scriptural format?

To what extent are those followers of other religions, that embody a similar spirit to that of Jesus, but not quite the same, and who perhaps only recognise Jesus as a prophet, are they 'wrong' or at 'sin'? And to what extent do religions embody and deviate from the Universal Truth about God, and to what extent to they embrace it? Do they embrace it 'enough'? With the rise of atheism, secularism, individualism and hyper-capitalism, and the parallel rise in 'fundamentalism' of different faiths, are we likely to see any other prophets? And if we do, would anyone recognise them or give them any credibility? Followers of various religions are often quick to proclaim a figure a prophet or even an incarnation of God (e.g. Hindus proclaiming a deformed baby with two faces to be an incarnation of God) on a minimal sound basis.

Whilst virtually all Christians follow the teachings of Jesus in the Bible in terms of the need to pray and the need for fellowship, the vast majority of Christians do not fast and lack any kind of physical discipline. There has been a huge embracing of consumerism within Christianity, even if many Christians claim this is not the case, and a corresponding lack of respect for the body and physical discipline, and the spiritual discipline which comes from this. This is partly a case of selectively reading the Bible. Fasting was common amongst early Christians.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting#Christianity

Some modern 'fringe' branches of Christianity have incorporated holistic ideas about health and looking after the physical body into their overall theology, for example, Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists (SDA). Is this considered a 'reintroduction' of such ideas into Christianity?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah's_Witnesses

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh-day_Adventist_Church

It is a shame that Christian denominations tend to focus on their differences and what they do not like about each other, or live in insular worlds where other denominations do not exist - as if their version of theology and the teachings of Jesus as the only true path; rather than focus on Jesus' teachings and his positive message. Many atheists who regard Jesus as just a wise teacher who was 'hijacked' by religious zealots might become much more interested in the teachings if the focus was here rather than on the 'formula of Jesus' - the idea that the Bible clearly states he said he was the son of God and there is no possibility that he was just a wise teacher. During Religious Education classes at school, a number of other students and I were genuinely interested in Jesus, but the teacher insisted this could not be so, presumably to try to bring in people to the faith with his written 'proof', but all it did was to turn everyone offand lose interest entirely. Is this a wise way to preach the message of Jesus?

Is a literal belief in the Christian 'Formula' necessary? That of God giving his only Son to be sacrificed so that the sins of man could be forgiven; and that in order to achieve this he had to die on the cross and be resurrected? And to taste eternal life, one must believe in this formula and accept Jesus as one's saviour, and one has a guaranteed seat in Heaven when one dies; rather than really try to understand the very deep sayings of Jesus and try to apply them to the complex situations and ethnical dilemmas of merdern living? Is the exact nature of the formula so important to 'faith' or to feeling God? At the time of writing, I acknowledge Jesus as a wise teacher, a source of illumination and being from God, but does not worship Jesus directly - but more prays to God and 'vibes' with Jesus. I believe in the Trinity as much as I am agnostic about the Trinity. Perhaps this is a Gnostic interpretation.

To search on individual words or phrases in the Bible or individual books, one may use various on-line Bibles. Here is the search page for the on line KJV:

http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/kjv2www?specfile=/texts/english/religion/kjv/kjv-pub.o2w

I concede that there are issues with some of the wording in places in the OT. There was indeed politics and culture seeping into the Bible at various times when the books were being written. If we look at things historically, everyone of every religious faith, pagan or otherwise, was butchering people for varying reasons. It is easy to impose our hypocritical, pro-human rights, modern, selfish, consumer culture onto culture of the past and criticize it, but values were very different. People went to gladiator fights! Now we have similar urges, but we repress them, and we are not honest with ourselves, and it comes out in nationalist conflicts, road rage, bullying in the workplace, yob culture, watching violent films and TV shows, listening to 'gangster' rap music or 'death metal', drug culture and racial hatred etc. I personally have an issue with the people the OT says to put to death. Just because one or more defining books of a religion has a few issues or contradictions doesn't necessarily mean that it is bad or everything in it is wrong, as you can appreciate. It depends on the individual what he chooses to believe and apply to his own life. Books are written and edited by men, and men are imperfect after all, whether they were divinely inspired or not. Politics and culture always have an effect on some level. We need to be conscious of this before passing judgement.

Some critical views of the Old Testament can be found at the links below.

www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/DarkBibleContents.htm

www.bidstrup.com/bible.htm

© 2006-2014 Fabian Dee