Classic Christian Creeds and MJ

A few weeks ago, I blogged about an immensely enjoyable and edifying paper we enjoyed at the Hashivenu Forum in Los Angeles, by Mark Kinzer. You can see that post here.

Yesterday, on Scot McKnight’s blog (Jesus Creed), he posted a discussion about the Nicene and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds. In the comments section, a number of people express their problem with the creeds more so that their affirmation.

If you want to understand the issues about the creeds, a good place to start is wikipedia.

Messianic Jewish synagogues do not, as a rule, recite these creeds. Yet, many of us in MJ, myself included, would affirm what these creeds affirm and negate what these creeds negate. As Mark Kinzer discusses in his paper, we cannot think about Yeshua apart from the creeds, because none of us can or even should isolate ourselves from the traditions that inform our thought.

Yet a great deal of ignorance abounds. I hate to use the word ignorance, because it sounds so negative, but we are all ignorant about many things. I, for example, am largely ignorant about string theory, maintenance procedures for nuclear subs, and Polynesian cooking (just to randomly pick some examples).

How about you? Are you well informed about the creeds, church history, Jewish thought regarding differentiation in the nature of God, and mediators of the divine presence?

Scot McKnight is a theologian from whom I have learned a great deal. His blog is a good source for mind-food. He regularly features guest bloggers who write about topics like science and faith. He has let me guest blog a few times (imagine that). He has gathered a remarkable community of people who read and comment.

I find it interesting that Professor McKnight got some resistance about the creeds.

I find it interesting because so few people in free churches and Messianic Judaism think these summaries of faith are important.

Would you work on a Volkswagen without reading the manual? Would you attempt to design your own electric motor ignoring the methods of the past and starting from scratch? Would any company manufacture a product without building on existing knowledge first?

If every generation thinks the best way to understand the faith is to start from scratch with “just the Bible,” we will always have a lot of confusion.

The “just the Bible” approach is ultimately dishonest because none of us comes to the Bible with an open mind or a blank slate.

Mainstream Judaism has a creed, known as the Yigdal. It is not without problems. I cannot say, “In Israel, none like Moses arose again.” I cannot describe God as yachid, when the text says he is echad. I recognize that the Yigdal is a reaction to Christianity and not an objective statement of faith.

I also recognize (and if you read the earlier post on “The Nicene Creed and MJ,” you will see this is a major point) that the councils that devised the creeds were anti-Judaic and that the creeds themselves lack reference to much of the biblical story (you know, Israel’s history and role), so that the creeds are missing a major portion of the biblical message.

I also recognize that the creeds need some alternative language or to be summarized for our MJ community in alternative language.

But the creeds are like the traditional Siddur. Many people look at the Jewish prayer book and say, “These prayers are man-made.” In ignorance, they fail to realize the Siddur beautifully and masterfully combines truths, verses, and phrases from all over the Bible into a consistent theology of prayer.

Likewise, the Christian creeds distill the essence of many scriptures, putting them at times into abstract, philosophical language. Nonetheless, they masterfully avoid errors which will demean the glory of God and Jesus and positively express the mysteries of the faith.

Many in MJ have problems with the creeds and even with ideas like the divinity of Messiah. Many misunderstand and think the creeds say Jesus is the totality of God (as if the Son and Father are singularly identical).

Many also would like to find better ways of expressing what is affirmed in the creeds. Would you care to weigh in with some thoughts? Don’t hesitate to create an anonymous username and comment under it if you’d rather not have your name attached to your comment (I’ll see your email address, but others won’t). I know it is dangerous to discuss such matters. Also, I am likely to take the side of the creeds in the discussion. But I think we can civilly discuss this.

What are problems you have with the creeds? What are positives you see in the creeds? Should MJ make an expanded and revised Yigdal?

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Scot McKnight, Theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Classic Christian Creeds and MJ

  1. Joseph says:

    The Yigdal has been adapted into a hymn:
    http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/PsH/621

  2. Ovadia says:

    Derek:

    As for the divinity issue… this is why I love blogging anonymously. I honestly think that we need to find ways of describing who Yeshua is that are operate in Jewish theological terms. Wyschogrod’s example of the presence of God in Yeshua as an intensification of the presence of God in the midst of Israel (which I also see paralleled in Levertov’s work on the Shechinah) is an idea I’d like to see further explored. However, I have not yet grappled with the issue full-on, and do have a great deal of reservation from the Jewish end on the whole enterprise.

    In certain Sephardic nuscha’ot, the Thirteen Principles of Faith are recited in a creedlike fashion, as written by Rambam, but it’s not particularly common. The Yigdal is much more like a hymn and a piece of poetry than a creed (and is usually discussed in tandem with Adon Olam). I personally sing Yigdal if everyone else is singing it.

    We do not have to define yachid in the Maimonidean way to be able to affirm “Echad v’ein yachid k’yichudo”. Even those of use most creedally-inclined definitely agree that God is Echad, and that his oneness is quite unlike any other oneness.

    As for “lo kam b’Yisrael k’Moshe od”, I think we can also agree that God’s revelation at Sinai was definitive and cannot be overturned by a subsequent prophet, which is what the song is trying to say in its reference to Moses.

  3. Ovadia:

    Helpful ways to think about the Yigdal. It doesn’t work for me though, since Yeshua did arise within Yisrael. I could certainly bend on the yachid thing, but not on the Yeshua-Moses thing. Words matter. That’s part of what prayer is all about, the idea that words uttered to heaven matter. And I cannot say to God that none has arisen in Israel greater than Moses.

    Over the months and years to come I will be a goad to you, always jabbing at you (and others) and urging you toward a fuller expression of the divinity of Messiah. Wyschogrod’s idea (found in his book Body of Faith) is a step along the way, but does not reach the heights. Yes, Yeshua is the ultimate expression of the kavod dwelling within Israel, but now in a new way, not just an angel of the Lord, not some type of appearance, but born as a man. I’m not discounting Wyschogrod’s work at all. It’s a good way to explain Messiah’s divinity in a Jewish context. Yet the uniqueness of Yeshua as embodied divinity also needs to be made clear.

    Derek Leman

  4. judeoxian says:

    But, no one should have a problem reading Deut 34:10 from the Torah scroll, right? And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses…

    I could see it from both Derek’s and Ovadia’s perspectives. If one thinks Yigdal is simply expressing how foundational Moses’ revelation was, then that’s fine IMO. But, if Yigdal is saying no prophet has arisen with the level of revelation as Moses, then we might have a problem. While Moses talked with God “face to face,” Yeshua was sent from “the Father’s side.”

    Can anyone recommend any good sources on the history behind Rambam’s 13 principles and Yigdal?

  5. christian4moses says:

    I think you might like Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology (Portland: Littman, 2004). He goes into the reasons that motivated the Rambam and the disputes that arose.

    The first page dealing with the 6th and 7th principle relates:

    […] the Seventh Principle, also includes the belief that no prophet as great as Moses will ever arise again. ‘He reached a greater understanding of God than anyone who has lived or will ever live.’ Thus even the messiah is not regarded as Moses’ prophetic equal, and elsewhere Maimonides says explicitly that the messiah will approach, but not surpass, Moses’ level.(87)

  6. Jciminawe says:

    I think tradition is helpful which would make the creeds helpful. The way you have explained this is insightful thanks!

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