On God and Calves

My pastor emailed me this morning and offered a pushback of his own concerning my assertion that Christians and all Jews don’t necessarily worship the same God. His basic premise was that Jews who deny that Jesus is the Son of God and do not believe that God is Trinity know in part and thus do worship the true God, just not in fullness (my paraphrase). He and asked how I’d respond to that line of reasoning. Here’s the gist of what I said:

At the foot of Sinai the Israelites gave their gold to Aaron and had him fashion them a statue of a calf. They called that calf YHWH. They said that the calf led them out of Egypt. They proceeded to worship the calf whom they called YHWH. Were they worshipping YHWH? Maybe in part because they got the name right? Or maybe not at all because YHWH has to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

Did they get a pass for being confused? Or did YHWH want to kill them for their idolatry. The nature of idolatry is worshipping something *other than* the true God. The Jews who have denied Jesus have denied the Father. No different than Muslims who claim to worship the one God of Abraham. So I don’t see a way of saying that they do worship the same God. I see them as worshipping a golden calf that they appended God’s name to. They worship something *other than* the God we worship.



3 thoughts on “On God and Calves

  1. Hi Nick. You may have written about this already on your blog, in times past, but my question would concern the Old Testament saints. Do you think they consciously worshiped a Trinitarian God?

  2. Idolatry is not only limited to worshiping something other than the True God. Idolatry can be worshiping the True God in a false way. The calf is the primary example. They were not worshiping another god, but worshiped the LORD, the one who brought them out of Egypt, in an unholy manner. And it does seem that some of the worshipers “got a pass,” or at least were not killed. Aaron the high priest being one of them.

  3. James: Inasmuch as I believe that YHWH is Trinity I’d say yes. Do I think they had a developed doctrine of the Trinity like we see in the 4th century? Of course not. I don’t believe we have that in the NT either. I think the idea that the OT saints or NT authors or whoever came before Nicaea weren’t trinitarian comes from setting 4th century trinitarianism as the standard. I see it as a development along the way of an understanding of God that will always, to some extent, be developing. I think there is a trinitarian doctrine to be found in the OT just as I believe there’s a more developed one to be found in the NT. I’d highly recommend Christopher Seitz’s “The Trinity in the Old Testament” in The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity.

    Seth: I can agree that idolatry can have the right object with the wrong reverence. I don’t think that’s the case with the golden calf though. And when I said that they didn’t get a pass for their idolatry I was referring to the fact that YHWH *wanted* to kill them all. Of course Moses interceded and God was merciful.

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