Tag Archives: The Holy Trinity

Zilpha Elaw: 19th Century Inerrantist for Abolition and Women’s Ordination

I have perhaps become a little infamous for my negative theology and criticisms of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. If people think that my outright rejection of this statement makes me a heretic, then so be it. I could care less about that label anyhow.

It’s a shame that some of the best “defenders” of orthopraxis/orthodoxy and of evangelical orientation are ignored because they are either northerners, people of color, or women. In this case, Zilpha was all three (she was born in Philly in about 1790). As I was reading and re-reading through Zilpha Elaw’s Memoirs last week, I found some interesting and even new theological possibilities with her views. Although she claims at one point in the book that it was just the Lord and her doing it all alone; it is far from the truth, in fact, the very same page she makes such a claim, she goes on to tell the story of how she was discipled by the Methodist tradition. In fact, the noun Methodist appears every hundred words in her autobiography (that’ called an overexaggeration and a joke, people). Honestly, I found her allegorical interpretation Scripture re-freshing (she was living during the early 19th century). Concerning the Bible, she says,

“it is the high privilege of those who are begotten by the Word of truth [re:Christ] to read the Scriptures, not as the word of man, but as they are indeed, the Word of God, a sacred volume, the production of the infinite God […]”

(page 133)

Granted, given her stances of being pro-abolition of slavery and pro-women’s ordination (both issues I will deal with in later posts), for her to hold a definition of the Bible as the Word of God, with Jesus being the Word would be considered quite peculiar, especially in the Slave states of the U.S. where inerrantist Christians were both staunchly pro-African enslavement and anti-women’s ordination.

What to make of all of this? First, I would say that Zilpha Elaw has a superior definition of Scripture’s function compared to today’s run of the mill conservative evangelical in the United States. The key to the Bible for Zilpha Elaw was not human rationality (re: male/phallocentric reason) but the Holy Spirit who allows us to partake in the Intelligence of the Triune God. For Elaw, Scripture was not about lording our particular doctrines and traditions over each other (I am saving that for another post too), but for the purpose of becoming “increasingly assimilated to the same image, from one degree of glory to another, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (Ibid). Her doctrine of assimilation rings so much of Clement of Alexandria for me (I could not help it!). I think an appropriate, tentative phrasing of a definition of Zilpha Elaw’s view of the Scriptures, similar to John Calvin< and Zwingli/a> as trustworthy would be this, “That the Bible does not err in that it leads us to all things necessary for sanctification.” Close to Calvin, just replacing salvation with sanctification, since that was a big part of Elaw’s Holiness theology.

I know what you are thinking. What about women’s ordination? What about Elaw’s anti-slavery arguments? How did Zilpha Elaw feel about men who gossip too much? And just why did she consider the Founding Fathers to be apostates? I will get to them in the near future, but for now, I just wanted to introduce her to you.

For more, read Zilpha’s story in William L. Andrews’ Sisters of the Spirit.

Race and The Trinity

Professor Leonardo Boff

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A long time ago, at a friends’ wedding, one uncle asked me, what did I like about theology (since I told him I was in seminary)? As a Calvinist (at that time–I have already posted on it years back–see here, I answered, “Predestination and The Trinity.”

I could not go a day without mentioning the Holy Trinity, or something about God living in community.  In fact, I even did an independent study with a professor on Black Theology and the Trinity.  At one point, I did like where I was headed in terms of discussing trinitarian theology.  However, I began to feel a deep dissatification with my methodology, which was originally of the narrative theology variety.  When I left “Hauerwasianism”, I guess I turned my back on my own black trinitarian project.

I believe that that move (the leaving of the project behind) was temporary.  Methodologically speaking, I have found my own voice.  Narrative theology, much like narrative interpretation of Scripture, hides presuppositions, and therefore the bodies and context of the person who is narrating.  Plus, as one professor pointed out to me, what theologian isn’t formed by story in one way or another.

What brought about this second post of the day on The Trinity? Erin from UNDONE theology posted on how to talk about race and the Trinity.

I find this conversation exciting, for a couple of reasons. Besides going back to my work in the past and revisiting that research, an exploration may help me better connect the two subjects for the academy and church. Talking about the Trinity which is a mystery can be considered an equivalent of talking about race, because on one hand, with the Trinity, we do talk about a person being history with a story, a set of practices, and a culture (the God-man Christ Yeshua) as well as something we can grasp (Revelation, Scripture, Tradition), but at the same time the relationship of the Triune God to the world remains something we can only touch since it is a mystery. Similarly, when discussions of race happen, on one hand, we have definite histories of oppression and hope, real human experiences of discrimination every day, as well as public policies that reflect our racialized views of humanity (affirmative action, torture); on the other hand, when it comes to race, we must realize that race and always has been a social construct, and that what blackness, whiteness, brownness, whatever, always have had changing definitions.

There have been several books that have been influential to my thoughts about the Trinity and race, including Leonardo Boff’s The Trinity and Society as well as Karen Baker-Fletcher’s Dancing With God.

In that vein, I have posted my most recent research on the Trinity and race, a paper presentation given last year in Atlanta, for the National Association for Baptist Professor of Religion (they allow students).  It was originally a paper for a Black Political Theologies course, but I added some insights from Patristic theology and early Black Christian thought (the enslaved African church meetings during the time of chattel slavery in the U.S.–17th to 19th century) for the NABPR presentation.

Here is the link from Academia.edu: Social God, Social Teaching, Social Justice


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God, Goddess, or Godde?

J.K. Gayle has several posts up concerning some book about what we didn’t we in Sunday school.

What is interesting is that Gayle uses Jewish and non-Christian sources, and their reception of the Christian canon for a discussion of gender.

On one comment, I did catch Gayle defending Christian orthodoxy, so I think we can throw out that postmodern, emergent label [imposed upon JK by that guy who is now #2 who is not to be named] :

And since you bring up non-Christian Bible translator Robert Alter, let me now bring up non-Christian and Jewish New Testament translator Willis Barnstone. Barnstone has this for Matthew’s Greek (for further comparison):

“The child engendered in her came from the holy spirit.”

“Washing them in the name of the father and the son And the holy spirit.”

Just to be clear, and absolutely accurate, I don’t think Matthew intended for his readers to think that Mary was pregnant from or through or by anyone or anything other than “the Divine Spirit” or “the Holy Spirit” or “the holy spirit.” Atteberry and Smith and their translation teams with Barnstone all have their English agree here with Matthew’s Greek.


So what of using Godde instead of God or Goddess?

For this, enter Suzanne:

I understand two things. Shawn is using Godde to show that God transcends gender. She is also using the feminine pronoun in the same way that masculine pronouns has been used for millenia by others who claim that God transcends gender.

It is possible that Shawn is not aware that the “e” ending on Godde suggests that it is a feminine word rather than one which transcends gender. But that is an artefact of Indo-European lingistics and does not invalidate her assertion that Godde transcends gender.


The problem with gender for Christians is not only one of  biblical interpretation or translation, (or are they the same?), but I think it has to do with struggling to reconcile God’s transcendence of gender with a God who forever enfolded Godself in the flesh of a Jewish rabbinical day-laboring male. One can take the Christian platonist approach of the Alexandrians (Athanasius and Clement, I will admit) who have what Joerg Rieger called in his Christ and Empire, space-suit Christologies, as if the Word of God was some alien invading the planet. Perhaps one can see a connection between the teaching of theosis and alienness, or being the Other?

I think this is why I find value in the doctrine of the Trinity, and the traditional co-equality of the persons within the Goddehead. YHWH has parental qualities of both mothers and fathers, Christ is the embodied Word and Sophia of God according to Scripture and the early church writers, and the Holy Spirit can be used both in gender neutral, masculine, and feminine terms, as the Spirit dwells in both men and women making Godde all the more immanently transcendent.

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