Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monotheism - Again

The discussion about Monotheism continues, with Chris Tilling helping us along. In the comments to Chris' post, I asked: isn't Paul's "monotheism" more about loyalty to YHWH than a statement about the philosophical nature of GOD? Chris agrees with my position. Being the curious person that I am, I had a quick look at Thiselton's massive contribution where he writes:

Only God is God. Nevertheless, the fact that kyrios-cults do really exist means that habituated patterns of loyalty and devotion long practiced by new converts before their conversion cannot simply be brushed aside as no longer affecting their lives and attitudes in the present. At an existential and psychological level they still leave their mark. Indeed, this may mean even more. Not only do they return a subjective influence; they may also constitute objective forces of evil which bring destruction, disintergration, and pain. Unless we adopt a partition theory between 8:1-13 and 10:14-22, Paul appears to associate them with demonic forces.

[Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, pg. 633]

This seems to offer the best understanding of 1 Cor 8:6. Therefore, it appears that Paul is mocking the existence of "so-called gods" [Thiselton's translation]. These forces may be subjective or objective, but they do not assume Paul's definition of who God is or what God does. These are "so-called gods" which Paul then describes as demons later in 1 Cor 10. Thus, I'm not sure that we can confidently call Paul a polytheist.
Besides, this issue surely has more to do with loyalty and devotion than it has to do with ontological issues. There has to be a stable definition of what constitutes GOD, for there to be discussion about how many or who this GOD supposedly is. Bauckham's categories of Creator and Sovereign appear to appropriate the evidence well. Surely Paul did not believe in other creators or other sovereigns? Surely only YHWH was the Creator and Sovereign, and in that identity they [the early Christians] included Jesus. For all other gods, they were atheists - denying them loyalty and ontological status.

No comments: