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in both these gospels are inconsistent with the story of the birth from a virgin-they both trace the descent of Jesus through Joseph-it has been argued also that the item of the birth from a virgin even in these prologues is not original but is a later editorial insertion, accomplished by the change of a few words in one verse of each gospel. Be that as it may, what is perfectly clear is that neither of the two primitive sources for the life of Jesus, the gospel of Mark and the document from which Matthew and Luke drew their common sayings material, knew anything of a story of Jesus' birth from a virgin. Apparently that was inserted after the gospel had been carried onto Greek soil (for a story like that of the virgin birth would never have risen on Hebrew soil) by men who had been accustomed all their days to stories of heroes, born of gods and men. Challenged to account for the unique influence and power of Jesus, their explanation took this form. The truth that cried for utterance in them was that Jesus was divine and the virgin birth was, in their forms of thinking almost the plainest way to say it.
I certainly do not aim to present the matter in any controversial spirit. But I am impelled to speak of it because I agree heartily with the authors of the story of the virgin birth that the divinity of Jesus is an essential part of the gospel and one of the eternal truths of the spiritual experience of men. My belief is that if we were to lose the divinity of Jesus and catalogue him as an extraordinary Jewish rabbi, the loss would be tremendous. But the divinity of Jesus can be fitted into forms of thinking now in use far better on other grounds. If you identify it with one reference in two of our gospels which the silence elsewhere concerning it in those gospels tends
to discredit, you do it doubtful service. For people in time are bound to learn that this story of the virgin birth lacks the historical foundation which it ought to have, and they will be apt to discard the divinity of Jesus along with it. When you allow the glorious doctrine of the divinity of Christ to shrink to the miserable compass of a physical miracle, you are giving it a most precarious future. The divinity of Jesus dissociated from this story means volumes more to the rest of us and to the human race to which we belong. I hold, therefore, (if I may turn this statement for a moment into a personal confession), with absolute assurance to the divinity of Christ. It is cardinal in my Christianity. If I did not believe that God had dwelt in Jesus, that Jesus had revealed him supremely, that Jesus rightly stands to us for God, I should not be a Christian at all. But the divinity of a non-human or even of a half-human Christ, even if it could be proved, seems to me to be of little or no interest or use to us. It is the moral and spiritual divinity of a truly human Christ to which I hold. And it is to the divinity of such a Christ that Biblical criticism and the modern idea of God inevitably lead us.
Changes go on in theological thinking unperceived over long periods of time, until they are brought to light by some controversy or crisis. This is the case at present, in regard to another cardinal doctrine of Christianity, namely the Trinity. The “Encyclopedia of Religion” gives a summary of the stages of its development from which I abridge the following statement: The pre-existent Christ of the Pauline theology (by which we mean not all the pre-existent Jesus but the pre-existent Messiah) was first identified with the
Logos of Greek philosophy: this says the writer was "the first step in the logical process whereby the historical figure of Jesus Christ was caught up into the purely speculative sphere.” Then came the doctrine of “the eternal generation of the Logos or Son,” by which I understand the authors to mean that the Son was not a created being but a being who issued necessarily from the Father, yet not at a particular time; who therefore not only had the essence of the Father in him but in some sense was eternal as the Father also is. These ideas were re-inforced by the doctrine of the "consubstantiality of the Son with the Father”; then the doctrine of the eternal procession of the Spirit, then the eternal distinction within the divine nature, by which, as I understand, the authors mean that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not merely (as Sabellius said) three manifestations of one God, three ways in which he shows himself, and nothing more, but they are three eternal distinctions within his nature or being. Then came the last stage over which the eastern divided from the western Catholic church, that the Holy Spirit proceeds not from the Father alone but from the Father and the Son. The article sums up the results of this development as follows: "There are then three persons or real distinctions in the unity of the divine nature or substance. The persons are co-equal and in each of them the divine nature is one and undivided, and by each the collective divine attributes are shared”: I seem to remember the words of some old creed, "neither dividing the substance nor confounding the persons. The use of the English word, "person” for the distinction in the God-head introduces an unnecessary absurdity into this old doctrine for ordinary people.
Person with us has always meant an individual. The English version of the creed thus seems to say that God is three persons in one person or three individuals in one individual, certainly something which the fathers never intended to affirm. Whatever else may be said for or against, it may honestly be said that the doctrine of the Trinity as it was conceived by its authors was not an arithmetical puzzle,-never a question about how one thing could be three without ceasing to be one. And there is a form of the doctrine of the Trinity, or rather there are truths of Christian thought and experience at the heart of the doctrine, on which practically all Christian people today can unite. Setting aside exact statements and distinctions, and not expecting our forms of thinking to agree with those of the Nicene fathers, we can all say that we believe in God as he is revealed in the universe at large; and we may call him for that, God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We believe in God also as he revealed himself in Jesus Christ and we may call him for that, God the Son. We believe in God as he is revealed in human life and human history at large and we may call him for that, God the Holy Spirit. We shall thus have conserved the fundamental beliefs at the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity. But whether these three words or phrases, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, represent three eternal distinctions in the God-head, we may as well confess first as last, that we do not know anything about all that. That is speculation, absolute and a priori. And it is precisely the kind of fruitless speculation which in science, and philosophy, and everywhere, except in religion, the modern age has absolutely outgrown.
Nor do I believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is in these days a practically helpful one to most Christian people. The beliefs in God and in Jesus Christ and in the presence of God in all human life are tremendously valuable convictions. Certain great trinitarian formulæ and the baptismal formula and the Te Deums are very dear to our hearts: and I for one always feel a sense of impoverishment when I attend a church service where I do not hear them. But the doctrine of the Trinity is certainly the last sort of doctrine that we should create or discover if we were left to do it out of what we know about ourselves and the universe. The idea that the theologians of the fourth century were somehow susceptible to a degree of inspiration not possessed by us or that they stood so much nearer to the New Testament times as to entitle their work to a permanent value, and that we must therefore somehow find or make their statements true and useful to us, is a myth. On the contrary, a knowledge of the actual process by which the doctrine of the Trinity was established in the church, the subtle and tortuous reasonings on which it was based, the allegorical interpretations of the scripture and the utterly unhistorical, and uncritical readings of it, the politics and the intrigue which entered into the formulation of the doctrine, the exiles and the anathemas which went with it, is apt to rob it very largely of the air of sanctity and of divine and eternal truth which has always clung about it. That history, of course, most people never do and never will read. And most people will continue to prefer the use of the trinitarian formulæ in public worship as I have confessed that I do. But trinitarians in the old and original sense, men who could pass an examination on