Chris Anderson is the curator of TED, a non-profit organization that promotes innovative thinking and entrepreneurship. He recently interviewed Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Space X. Musk told Anderson he attributes his success to mostly two things: hard work (1oo hours per week the past 15 years, which he recently scaled back to 85 hours) and First Principles Thinking. (This info is taken from an online article today by Business Insider.)
“the practice of actively questioning every assumption you think you know about a given problem or scenario, and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch.” It is the opposite of the most common principle of “building knowledge and solving problems based on prior assumptions, beliefs and widely-held ‘best practices’ approved by (sic) majority of people.”
That’s what happened to me nearly forty years ago regarding my beliefs about God and Jesus. I was sitting in my study one day, reading Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in the Gospel of Matthew in the New American Standard Bible. I came to text wherein Jesus said of his yet future second coming, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” I knew this verse well. But suddenly, I saw it like I had never seen it before.
Jesus said in this saying that he did not know when he would return, yet he said God the Father knows. I had been a Trinitarian Christian for twenty-two years and a serious student of the Bible. (See “At Forty Years Old I Best Saw the Light–Trinity Doctrine No Long Seemed Right.”) I had never questioned the church teaching of the doctrine of the Trinity. I had also been taught its corollary–the Hypostatic Union of Christ. That means that Jesus had two natures, divine and human, and that whenever he said or did anything, it was always from the perspective of one of these two natures. In this case, I had been taught that Jesus said that from the perspective of his human nature. Thus, he knew the time of his return in divine nature, but he did not know it in his human nature.
For the first time in my life, I actually blurted out to myself audibly, “that makes Jesus look like a liar. He said he didn’t know the time of his return, yet he really did know it.” I quickly concluded that I needed to look into this matter. And I did, seriously.I first did so by buying a red-letter New Testament (Jesus’ saying in red) and reading only Jesus’ sayings in the New Testament gospels. I was looking for only one thing–did Jesus ever say straight out that he was God. I was astonished to discover that he never did.
Now I began to employ this First Principles Thinking that Elon Musk talks about. I had always assumed that Jesus said in the Bible that he was God. Moreover, I had been taught that he did. But when you look at what scholars cite in Jesus’ sayings to prove that he said he was God, it is just about zero.
After about two years into this study, I decided that, according to the Bible, Jesus never said he was God, and it is questionable if anything else in the Bible says he was/is God. Eventually, I became certain that it doesn’t. In so concluding, I was using First Principles Thinking by questioning assumptions and establishing new knowledge for me.
But it didn’t take me long to learn that it wasn’t really new knowledge. There never was a church doctrine of the Trinity until it was developed by three theologians in the 370s and made official by the Catholic Church in 381. Thus, for hundreds of years Christians had never heard of the idea that God is three co-equal and co-eternal persons, who are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
And it appears from all literature available to us that Christians never began thinking Jesus is God until the early second century CE, thus at least seventy years after Jesus lived here. Moreover, even when it became common for Christians to think Jesus was God, during the second and third centuries, they all believed he was not God to the same degree as the Father. For they understood Jesus’ statement literally, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14.28), so that Jesus was not as great as God was.
Actually, I was going back to the first principles of Christian Faith. They were that God is one, a single person, The Almighty, the Most High, and Jesus was his agent whom he sent, like he sent prophets before him, to preach salvation, heal people, and die on the cross for our sins. That is the New Testament gospel, not that God is three persons. For Jesus had prayed to the Father, saying, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 173). This is the First Principle of knowing the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ.