He is the Lord GOD Almighty of Christianity, a strict monotheist deity who still manages to have three separate personalities comprising the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In one small corner of the world, YAHWEH, the God of Judaism, was worshipped with the utmost devotion. He had obliterated his nearest rivals, but he was a big fish in an ever-shrinking pond. Then JESUS came along in a burst of publicity offering eternal life and free gifts — and a controversial twist.
According to JESUS, YAHWEH was the GOD of all nations, not just the Jews. It didn’t matter what food you ate or how you trimmed your beard. What mattered was love, belief and devotion. This came as a surprise to most of YAHWEH’s worshippers, who were only doing what he’d told them to do all along. But many were convinced. Followers of JESUS were instructed to spread the word, so Christians stampeded all over the world to deliver their revelation.
In the chaos that followed, Christians, Jews, Romans and Greeks tussled and fought to defend their beliefs. It was a gigantic free-for-all, a verbal war in which the most effective weapons were generally an overactive tongue and deaf ears. The first Christians were bursting with enthusiasm, but being mostly ex-fishermen and AWOL tax collectors, they had little grasp of theological niceties. To their audience, they sounded like a bunch of blasphemers — and were lynched on a daily basis.
But along came PAUL. He was a Jewish troubleshooter who’d been happily persecuting Christians until JESUS appeared to him in a flash of light and told him to leave off. Paul was educated, literate, and had a real genius for theological mechanics. He not only saw the light, he understood it, fine-tuned it, and preached it.
Paul was single-handedly responsible for converting the subtleties of JESUS’s somewhat evasive approach into a robust and fully-fledged new religion for the masses. It went like this: Because ADAM, the father of mankind, had sinned, all humans were sinners — and deserved death. In the past, YAHWEH had demanded the blood of animals to atone for mankind’s sinful existence. But now he’d sent his Son to die in mankind’s place — and this sacrifice was great enough to wipe the slate clean for ever. The resurrection of JESUS showed that God was willing to forgive and forget.
But this idea only made sense if JESUS was actually a God. (Who cares if a mere man is sacrificed? People have been slaughtering each other for millennia.) As everyone agreed rather strongly that there was only one GOD, a degree of theological tinkering was called for. Result: a Holy Makeover in which YAHWEH was transformed into the concept of JEHOVAH — a Trinity package deal of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Now we have to admit that we’ve taken a slight liberty. The name ‘Jehovah’ is a late invention which won’t be found in any Testament. It’s a slightly misguided mix of vowels and consonants from the original Holy Names Yhwh and Adonai — created so that people wouldn’t utter the actual name (see YHWH). This was fine in Hebrew but went very badly in translation. But as it’s very popular among Christians, we’ve used the name ‘Jehovah’ to distinguish the Christian version of GOD from the Jewish one. Okay?
In Christianity, YAHWEH is the Jealous Father and Lawgiver, JESUS is the Loving Son and Judge, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit. Each personality is distinct and separate, yet JEHOVAH is also an indivisible whole. Analogies with other three-in-one concepts such as water/ice/steam or mind/body/spirit don’t really clarify much, and this Trinity business is regarded by the Church as the Ultimate Mystery. Which neatly — but understandably — sidesteps the issue completely.
With such a mind-twisting concept at the heart of Christianity, it’s not surprising that people found it hard to accept. Schisms and sects popped up all over the place. Heretics lurked on every corner. As the centuries passed, there were enough alternative versions of JEHOVAH to populate a telephone directory.
Such confusion was bad for business. Especially since the Roman Emperor Constantine was in the market for an official religion to unify his people. He was a big fan of JEHOVAH but not of chaos. So in 325 AD the highest-ranking bishops assembled the famous Council of Nicea to define once and for all what they were supposed to believe in. This resulted in the Nicene Creed — and made Christianity the first and only religion ever to be decided by vote.
Democracy had given a big thumbs-up to JEHOVAH, and he was very willing to return the favor. The Church and the State have been best buddies ever since. (Particularly in Vatican City, where the Church is the State.) This alliance gave Christianity a huge boost, particularly when it came to obliterating other religions via invasion, persecution or — if all else failed — war.
Christianity was a huge success. At least, for the Christians. Other cultures had a tendency to shrivel up and die when JEHOVAH arrived at the door. Like a sponge, Christianity absorbed pagan religions and stole all the best bits. For example, Easter (Saxon) and Christmas (Germanic and/or Roman). Local Gods were demoted to the level of Saints, Angels or — in really difficult cases — Demons. (See CROM-CRUAICH, SHEELA-NA-GIG, PAN, EOSTRE...)
How times have changed since the bad old days of unpronounceable YHWH and the Public Relations disasters of MOSES. Thanks to the JESUS factor, JEHOVAH is accessible, friendly, and suitable for all members of the family. A bit like a Disney movie really.