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Within the Reformed tradition, it is a considered a fundamental principle of doctrine that the 'Chief End' of Man, of Creation and most importantly of God Himself is His own self glorification. We see this in the Westminster Catechism, throughout Calvin's Institutes and by so many within the Puritan tradition, e.g. Johnathan Edwards writing an entire essay on the subject; 'A Dissertation Concerning The End For Which God Created The World '. In fact, one of the 'Solae' of the Reformation, 'Sola Deo Gloria' shows how central God's glory was in the minds of the reformers.

'Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.' - Westminster Catechism, Shorter

'And God had regard to it in this manner, as he had a supreme regard to himself, and value for his own infinite, internal glory.' - Jonathan Edwards, 'A Dissertation Concerning The End For Which God Created The World'.

'The meaning of all this is, that the world, which was made to display the glory of God, is its own creator' - Calvin's 'Institutes', Chapter 5.5. (Calvin is here referencing Virgil, but acknowledges the the world was created for the display of Gods glory).

'Zeal in Christianity is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way' - J.C. Ryle,

This doctrine is so singular and remarkable that it can properly be described as the defining principle of Reformed theology. My question is, what are the pre-reformation precedents for this doctrine? I.e. do we see this teaching in the writings of Augustine, of the Schoolmen, in the Eastern church etc..? Although I can clearly see its Biblical precedent, it seems to be a question that was not explicitly addressed until the Reformation.

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    God is Love, I John 4:8, and God's purpose is to 'bring many sons to glory', Hebrews 2:10. I think that your first sentence mis-represents the Deity, nor do I think that the Reformers themselves would agree with your definition.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 26 '18 at 19:01
  • I agree with Nigel's comments. You should support your assertion with some references.
    – user43409
    Dec 26 '18 at 22:07
  • @NigelJ I've put up some references for you. I'd be interested in why you think the reformers would disagree with what I've written. Dec 27 '18 at 13:40
  • I can't answer your question as I have searched but I can and do support every statement that you brought forth. We seem to forget that God did not create us for our own glorification but for His and His alone glory. As a reformed believer, I certainly agree with your opening statement. I could certainly go into great detail about this but that is not your question Dec 29 '18 at 15:21
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Although I can clearly see its Biblical precedent, it seems to be a question that was not explicitly addressed until the Reformation.

This "doctrine of self glorification" can actually be found in the earliest Judaic writings:

"I have fashioned this nation for Myself, they will relate my praise" (Isaiah 43:21)

and

"You are my servant, O Israel, through whom I will be glorified" (Isaiah 49:3)

The majority of Biblical scholars believe that the written books of the Torah were a product of the Babylonian captivity (c. 6th century BCE), based on earlier written sources and oral traditions, and that it was completed with final revisions during the post-Exilic period (c. 5th century BCE). The Hebrew religion out of which Judaism evolved, was polytheistic, becoming officially monolatrous during the late monarchy and monotheistic around the time of the Babylonian Exile.

This means that many of the oldest Torah texts were first written or finalized during the transition from polytheism to monotheism. Many echoes of the "struggle for supremacy" between these (usually city) deities can be found in the OT.

According to the available evidence, Israelite religion in its earliest form did not contrast markedly with the religions of its Levantine neighbours in either number or configuration of deities (See Mark S. Smith: The Early History of God). At some stage Yahweh joined the Israelite pantheon, possibly from Midian, where Egyptian records show that a god called YHW was worshipped. "Self-glorification" as witnessed in the texts of the OT is an obvious way to make Yahweh the top deity.

Yahweh (YHWH) was worshipped during the early, polytheistic centuries of Israel and Judah, although it is thought that Yahweh only entered Hebrew belief some time after the people became established as identifiable groups. So, Yahweh clearly was a polytheistic deity. The Canaanite father of the gods was El (Hebrew: Elohim), but Yahweh became the national god and then syncretised with El as one supreme God above all others. Evidence of this syncretization is easily found in the OT:

enter image description here (Exodus 6:7)

Many verses take on a completely different meaning if you know of the polytheistic origin of Judaism:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3)

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; (Exodus 20:5)

Clearly these self-glorifying statements make more sense in a polytheistic context before Yahweh became the state deity.

One of the titles that Yahweh calls himself, "El Shaddai" (usually translated as the almighty) takes on a very different meaning in the aforementioned Midian origin of Yahweh:

The biblical account describes the Midianites as worshiping more than one deity, including both Baal-peor and Yahweh. Both of these deities are likewise described as being worshiped by the Israelites themselves, although Baal worship was supposedly forbidden to them. Scholars speculate that the worship of Yahweh may have actually begun among the Midianites and was later adapted by the Israelites. Supporting this theory is the fact that Exodus states that God was known as as El-Shaddai by the Israelites until Moses' encounter with Him at Sinai, after first meeting the Midianite priest Jethro and marrying into his family:

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. (Exodus 18)

After this event we get Mozes' encounter, where Yahweh states:

enter image description here (Exodus 6:3).

In conclusion, not only does self-glorification clearly predate the Reformation, but its origin is very likely strategical writing to ultimately establish an imported Yahweh as the state deity and to syncretize this deity with Elohim.

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  • +1 with a question based on your closing statement: Is "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols." a statement written under the inspiration of the spirit of Yahweh (the one true God) or propaganda written by men in a religious/political power grab? Apr 29 at 12:27
  • Well, look at the original wording of Isaiah. You quoted 42:8 which is part of what scholars call "Deutero-Isaiah" because it was compiled later (est 6th centry BCE) than First Isaiah (est 8th Centry CE). If you compare first to Deutero, you will observe a significant difference in the use of "Yahweh" vs. "El(ohim)" or "Adonai") E.g. 2:2, 3:14, 3:16, 3:17, 4:3,.... use Elohim or Adonai for THE LORD frequently, 40-55 (Deutero) significantly less. This chronologically corresponds perfectly to the period of "make Yahweh top deity by association with El" vs "established national deity" .
    – Codosaur
    Apr 29 at 13:14
  • Might not the difference be explained by an increase in revelation and understanding rather than a political move? Apr 30 at 0:21
  • In other words, the Biblical sequence of events 1) Midianites are documented to worship Yahweh and Baal 2): Moses marrying into a Midianite family, 3) his father-in-law (a priest of the Midianites) giving him political advice on how to bring Yahweh to the people, 4) closely followed by Yahweh's "official" revelation of his name is...coincidence? Then please explain how matching prophecies to historical events to argue their fulfilment (in language far less explicit than what in this case is clearly written in the Bible) is somehow not deemed coincidence?
    – Codosaur
    Apr 30 at 9:42
  • Not denying the connections you've mapped out but doubting Yahweh originated in or was limited to Midian given Genesis 1:1. Apr 30 at 11:33

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