Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Amoeba/Protozoa Theology (Gospels 1)


If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 
(John 3:12 NKJV)


Here is the great theological puzzle: Ever since the second century, Christian theologians have tried to reconcile scriptures that appear to present Jesus as subject to or subsequent to God the Father with scriptures that appear to present Jesus as equal to or preexistent with God the Father.  This post begins to take another stab at that issue, this time, based on extending Aristotle’s concept of entelechy, his concept of what happens in the physical world.  We begin with a consideration of one-celled plants and animals.

What happens when an asexual protozoa (one-celled animal) or an amoeba (one-celled plant) reproduces?  The single-celled organism splits into two separate single-celled organisms.  The process is called “binary fission.”  Biologists term these two newly produced single-celled organisms both “daughter cells,” perhaps, because there is no way of knowing which of the two thus-produced organisms should be considered the parent and which the offspring.  There is, of course, no sexual identification to be attached to the term “daughter cell,” since the protozoa (and the amoeba) are asexual.  

These issues, then, exist:  Which resultant organism can claim prior existence over the other?  Did not both new organisms preexist simultaneously in the original organism?  A similar point could be made when one considers identical twins, since they both have preexistence in a single zygote.

In a “binary fission” analogy, just cited, Jesus and God might have been “one” in the Beginning; then have become “two,” with each retaining His preexistent claim and His equality claim.  Would such a biological phenomenon (“earthly thing”) solve the theological riddle (“heavenly thing”) pertaining to Jesus’ and God’s equality/subjection or preexistence/subsequence in John’s Gospel?  No, because it does not account for the “Father-Son” terminology applied throughout the New Testament.  Nevertheless, it might serve as a first step of a type of explanation Jesus used with Nicodemus, as cited in John 3:12 (above) to the effect that we may understand heavenly things by understanding earthly things.  For our discussion of “earthly things,” we will consult Aristotle, who is considered the father of biology (the study of “earthly things,” i.e., biological life forms) and who was certainly well-known at Jesus’ and John’s time, even in a Jewish milieu.  However, before we get to Aristotle and his term entelechy, we move to a discussion of the Jewish view of Father-Son relationships in human reproduction in John’s milieu and Gospel, whence I have retrieved the verse highlighted at the first of this blogpost.

Nicodemus and New Birth

The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night (a non-controversial setting), presumably, in order to honestly pick Jesus’ brain (John 3:1-2), since he believes that God is “with” Jesus.  On that occasion, Jesus attempts to explain spiritual life (the heavenly) using the linguistic terms of biological life (the earthly), telling Nicodemus that, in order to see the Kingdom of God, one must be “born again” (3:3).  Nicodemus counters: “Can [a grown man] enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (3:4 NKJV).  This very question of Nicodemus introduces a foundational Jewish concept of human birth and progeny, which most interpreters overlook.  Since Nicodemus’s proposed scenario refers to the “second time” the man “enter[ed] . . . into his mother’s womb,” there is the definite hint that the “first time” he “enter[ed] . . . into his mother’s womb,” as Nicodemus understood it, he had had a prior existence (before he entered his mother’s womb).  More specifically, though alas, less delicately, the man was already considered a man (in the sense of a separate agent) even when he “enter[ed] . . . into his mother’s womb” in the semen produced in the loins of his father.  This concept of the preexistence of humans BEFORE they enter into the womb of their mothers is consistent with other statements in the Bible regarding the preexistence of humans in the loins of their human fathers.  The other

statements will be considered, momentarily.

In answering Nicodemus, Jesus compares and contrasts being born of the water (the earthly) with being born of the spirit (the heavenly).  John Marsh’s translation of Rudolph Bultmann’s The History of the Synoptic Tradition (p. 43) explains that God “creates a man out of water (human semen).”  Although Bultmann is, here, illustrating an argument used in the Babylonian Talmud regarding resurrection, not the John 3 passage, he equates “water” with “semen.”  Hugo Odeberg in his 1929 book The Fourth Gospel (p. 48) agrees: “[The phrase Nicodemus uses] does not mean ‘return to’, but ‘enter a second time’ . . . in other words, what is to enter a second time is not the child that has once been born, but the semen that is to give birth to the child.”  Nicodemus (not understanding Jesus’ teaching) is asking Jesus if a man must return to “water” (=semen) and reenter his mother’s womb.  Jesus’ response to Nicodemus seems to indicate that there are two separate births—one the result of water/semen (the earthly), the other the result of spirit (the heavenly).  While there is much theology to be mined from Jesus’ teaching of the new birth, to pursue this discussion of the new birth further, at this point, would take us far afield from the primary issue I am getting at:  that Jews understood that an individual has a preexistence in the loins of his father before he is even conceived.  Now, we shall corroborate that point with two additional examples.

Melchizedek, Abraham, and Levi

Hebrews 7:1-10 (NKJV) states: 

Melchizedek . . .  to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, . . . remains a priest continually.  Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.  . . .  Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham . . . for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Levi, being the son of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham, not only had a preexistence in the loins of his father Jacob, but also in the loins of Jacob’s father Isaac, as well as in the loins of

Isaac’s father Abraham.  And, even in that historically remote preexistent past, Levi engaged in ACTION.  He paid tithes to Melchizedek.  What Hebrews seems to suggest is that Levi is JUST AS RESPONSIBLE for the action of paying tithes to Melchizedek as is Abraham.  Therefore, Levi recognizes long before his birth that the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to his own priesthood.  (Levi is the tribe from which all priests in the Jewish system come.)  But, why stop with Abraham and Levi?  All of mankind is represented in the Adam example.

Adam and the Original Sin

Paul explains in Romans 5:12-21:

[J]ust as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men . . . death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam . . . For if by the one man’s offense many died . . . if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one . . . the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ . . . For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

As I understand Paul’s teaching, the sin of Adam produced death, and Adam’s offspring until the time of Moses, even though they did not possess the Law and, therefore, “had not sinned according to the likeness of

the transgression of Adam,” continued to pay the “death” penalty for that original sin.  Of course, Paul is comparing and contrasting the sin of Adam (and its consequences to all Adam’s “earthly” offspring) to the righteous act of Jesus, dying on the cross (and its consequences to all Jesus’ “heavenly” offspring).  The penalty for Adam’s original sin was not, incidentally, hell, but rather, death—a penalty that is still being paid by every one of Adam’s earthly offspring, to this day—those who are born of the water (semen).  Jesus, on the other hand, according to I Peter 3:18 (NKJV), “suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust . . . being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”  I Corinthians 15:22 (NKJV) states: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 

The most important term in the I Corinthians passage is the word “in” (“in Adam” and “in Christ”).  The Greek word for “in” is spelled “en/ἐν.”  This two-letter Greek word forms the first part of the Greek word entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια, where it indicates “preexistence.”  The way Paul seems to describe it, we all ACTIVELY participated in the sin of Adam (when we were “in” his loins) in the same way Levi paid tithes “in” the loins of his Great-Grandfather Abraham.  In the “semen existing in the loins of the father” analogy, just cited, Jesus and God might have been “one” (“in” God the Father) in the Beginning; then have become “two,” with each retaining His preexistent claim but not necessarily an equality claim.  The argument advanced by Jesus in Mark 12:35-37 (also in Matthew 22:41-45 and Luke 20:41-44, NKJV) seems, however, to convey an equality or even superiority by a “son” over his “father”:  

How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit:The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’” Therefore, David himself calls Him Lordhow is He then his Son?”

For that matter, it is clearly taught that Jesus, the “son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38) is far superior to his “father” Adam, but not to his Father God?  Would such a biological phenomenon (“earthly thing”) solve the theological issue (“heavenly thing”) pertaining to Jesus’ and God’s equality/subjection or preexistence/subsequence in John’s Gospel?  Not completely.  Let’s look at John 1.


The Logos Hymn in John 1

The Greek word “en/ἐν” is also the first word of the Gospel of John, which I think relies on Aristotle’s “earthly” concept of entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια.  I will be explaining entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια in future posts.  For now, I point to the fact that, according to John 1, both God and the Logos existed simultaneously in a scene that has been (incorrectly, I think) translated “in the Beginning.”  Keep in mind that John did not use the explicit term “Jesus” or “son” when he first said that “en archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ) was the Logos.  The first two words of John’s Gospel are the Greek words “en archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ).  While a word study of “Logos” is also needed, the words “en archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ) have very deep meaning in Aristotle’s concept of entelechy/ἐντέλεχεια.  I will consider the meaning of all of these terms (and, certainly, others, such as “light” and “only begotten”), in future posts, as we progress in this series.  For now, consider the amoeba/protozoa analogy alongside the “loins of the father” analogy.  Just as both “daughter cells” preexisted as one amoeba/protozoa, and were ACTIVE together, so God and the Logos are presented as being preexistent together and equal “en archē” (ἐν ἀρχῇ).  The Father/Son relationship, however, is not introduced until the 14th verse of chapter one. There, the “loins of the father” analogy may contribute to an understanding.  We have just begun to scratch the surface of the Gospel According to Entelechy.  Stay tuned.

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