The Divine Hierarchy: Father, Son & Angels
This week I hope Rob will show Biblical evidence for the essential relationship formulae of Trinitarianism:

  1. Father = “God”, Son = “God” and Holy Spirit = “God”
  2. “God” = Father + Son + Holy Spirit

In Week 1 we saw that proving the first does not automatically prove the second, for even if we agree that The Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, it does not necessarily follow that God = the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Both formulae (F+S+HS=G and G=F+S+HS) must be proved independent of each other. Additionally, Rob must show that all three are individual divine persons comprising a single divine being.

For Biblical Unitarians, the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit begins with the Father as head of a divine hierarchy:

  • God, the Father: “the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19); “God of gods” (Deuteronomy 10:17); “rules over all” (I Kings 18:15); “Father, Lord of heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21); “He alone possesses immortality” (I Timothy 6:16); “Almighty” (Revelation 21:22)
  • Jesus Christ: “the Son can do nothing on his own initiative… I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true” (John 5:19, 30-31); “I live because of the Father” (John 6:57); “the Father is greater than I am” (John 14:28); “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36); “God is the head of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:3); “and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (I Corinthians 3:23)
  • Angels: “angels came and began ministering to [Jesus’] needs” (Matthew 4:11); “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14); “he did not put the world to come, about which we are speaking, under the control of angels” (Hebrews 2:5); “[Jesus] is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him” (I Peter 3:22)

Thus we see that the Father is utterly supreme. He is the source of everything that exists; He is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological. The Son is subject to and dependent upon the Father for his very existence, while the angels are subject to the Father and Son.

Note that Scripture never includes the Holy Spirit in this hierarchy (further evidence that the Holy Spirit is not a person). Even the book of Revelation contains no vision of the Holy Spirit, despite portraying God, Jesus, the heavenly court, and the redeemed saints in multiple instances.

Father, Son & Holy Spirit: in the Bible’s Own Words
How does God refer to Jesus? As His Son, representative and mediator to humanity:

  • Matthew 3:17, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight”
  • Luke 9:35, “‘This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!'”
  • Acts 13:33, “‘You are my Son; today I have fathered you'”
  • Hebrews 1:9, “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God, has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing”
  • Hebrews 1:13, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”
  • Hebrews 5:6, “‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek'”

Galatians 4:4 reinforces this picture, telling us that Jesus was “made of a woman.” The Greek word for “made” here is ginomai as in John 1:3. Both occurrences refer to something which was brought into existence. Thus, Jesus’ existence has a commencement in time.

How does Jesus refer to God? As his Father and God, the source of his own authority and power:

  • Mathew 28:18, “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me'”
  • Mark 12:29, “‘The most important is: ‘Listen, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one””
  • Luke 22:29, “‘Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me'”
  • John 5:22, 26-27, 43, “‘the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son… just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself… he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment… I have come in my Father’s name'”
  • John 17:7, “‘Now they understand that everything you have given me comes from you'”
  • John 20:17, “‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'”
  • Revelation 3:12, “‘The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well'”

Trinitarians might argue that many of these verses refer only to functional subordination (ie. difference in rank), not ontological subordination (ie. difference in nature). But if they take this line of reasoning, they must explain their apparatus for distinguishing one from the other. On what basis do they decide that a verse refers merely to functional subordination instead of ontological subordination? What criteria do they use?

In Acts 2:24, the apostle Peter tells us that Jesus was raised by God, Who “released him from the pains of death.” (Why would “God the Son” require “release from the pains of death”?) This unquestionably refers to Jesus’ transition from mortality to immortality, with an echo in I Corinthians 15, where Paul tells us that Jesus “became a life-giving spirit.” (How can “God the Son” become a life-giving spirit? Surely he already is one?)

How does Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit? As the Father’s divine power and presence (occasionally personified), which guides, inspires and empowers:

  • John 14:16-17, “‘Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you'”
  • John 15:26, “‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me.'”
  • John 20:22, “And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”
  • Acts 1:6, “‘For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now'”

How did the apostles refer to God? Overwhelmingly as “God”, “the Father, “our Father”, and “the God and Father” of Jesus:

  • Romans 1:7, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
  • I Corinthians 1:1, “…called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”
  • Galatians 1:3, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”
  • Colossians 1:2, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father!”
  • I Timothy 1:2, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!”
  • Titus 1:4, “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior!”
  • Philemon 1:3, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
  • II John 3, “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Son of the Father”

How did the apostles refer to Jesus? Overwhelmingly by such titles as “Christ” (Messiah), “our Lord”, “our Lord Jesus”, “Jesus Christ our Lord”, “Saviour”, and “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Twice they call him “Son of God” (Acts 9:20 & 13:33). They carefully distinguish him from God and specifically identify him as human (“a man”, “the man”, “himself human”):

  • Acts 2:22, “Jesus the Nazarene, a man”
  • Acts 7:59, “‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!'”
  • Romans 5:15, “the one man Jesus Christ”
  • Romans 1:4, ” Jesus Christ our Lord”
  • Galatians 6:14, “our Lord Jesus Christ”
  • Ephesians 3:11, “Christ Jesus our Lord”
  • I Timothy 2:5, “Christ Jesus, himself human”
  • II Timothy 1:10, “our Savior Christ Jesus”
  • Titus 1:4, “God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior!”
  • II Peter 1:1, “our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”
  • I John 4:14, “the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world”

How did the apostles refer to the Holy Spirit? As a miraculous gift from God; the Father’s divine power and presence, (occasionally personified), which guides, inspires and empowers — and could be bestowed by the apostles at their own discretion:

  • Acts 2:38, “‘you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'”
  • Acts 8:17, “Peter and John placed their hands on the Samaritans, and they received the Holy Spirit”
  • Acts 19:6, “when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them”
  • Acts 20:23, “‘the Holy Spirit warns me in town after town'”
  • Romans 15:13, “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”
  • I Thessalonians 4:8, “the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (cf. Acts 5:3-4)
  • Hebrews 2:4, “God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit”

Occasionally the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are mentioned together in the same context, but not in any way that suggests they are all distinct persons who together comprise the totality of God. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20, “the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”), the Father works through the Son via the Holy Spirit (John 14:10, “the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds”), and all three were recognised as sources of apostolic authority (Luke 9:1, II Corinthians 12:11-12, I Thessalonians 4:8). It is therefore natural that they appear together in ways which reflects this relationship:

  • Luke 1:35, “‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God‘”
  • Matthew 28:19, “‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit‘”
  • Acts 20:28, “‘The flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son‘”
  • II Corinthians 13:13, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”

Throughout the NT we see Jesus’ followers expressing these concepts in the same way he did. They recognised the distinctions between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and appreciated that these distinctions formed the basis of their interrelationship. They refer to the Father and Son not only as two separate persons, but also as two separate beings (“God” and “man”). They describe Jesus as “Son of God”, not “God the Son” or some other proto-Trinitarian formula.

They treat the Holy Spirit as a divine power which is able to be transferred via the laying on of hands at the apostles’ discretion. Using language reminiscent of water, they describe it as something which can “fill up”, “baptise”, “fall on”, “come upon”, and be “given.” They refer to the Holy Spirit not as God, but as something belonging to God; an attribute and extension of His divine power and presence.

The apostle Paul describes himself as being “poured out” (Philippians 2:17), but he never describes himself as being poured out onto, or into, other people (cf. Acts 10:45, “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles“). When we contrast the number of times the Holy Spirit is described using functional language (including the “water” vocabulary) with the number of times it is personified, we find that the former is overwhelming and the latter is sparse. That is the opposite of what we would expect if the Holy Spirit was a real person.

Since the Holy Spirit is the medium through which God interacts with creation, His words and actions are often attributed to it, just as He is often credited with words spoken by His prophets. This is a literary device carried over from the OT:

  • Psalm 95:7, “For he is our God; we are the people of his pasture, the sheep he owns. Today, if only you would obey him!”
  • Hebrews 3:7, 15, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks!'”

The words are spoken by the psalmist under divine inspiration, so the author of Hebrews attributes them to the Holy Spirit.

In some cases it is more explicit:

  • Psalm 2:1, “Why do the nations rebel? Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?”
  • Acts 4:24-5, “When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, ‘Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather, ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things?””

Here the words spoken by David are attributed to God via divine inspiration. Note the progression: “God… said by the Holy Spirit through… David.” Thus, David, through the Holy Spirit, spoke the words of God. (Cf. Psalm 110:1, “Here is the LORD’s proclamation to my lord, ‘Sit down at my right hand'”; Mark 12:36, “David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand””; Hebrews 1:13, “to which of the angels has [God] ever said, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?”).

A similar principle applies to Christ’s exercise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-7, “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia. When they came to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do this”).

The natural way in which Scripture interchanges these references throughout the OT and NT is a demonstration of the first-century Christians’ adherence to OT Jewish religious teachings. There is no sudden ideological breach between the Testaments.

Jesus Christ: Son of God
Central to the relationship between the Father and Christ is Jesus’ role as the Son of God and Jewish Messiah. “Son of God” already possessed a generalized antecedent in the OT title “sons of God”, applied to angels (Job 38:7, “all the sons of God shouted for joy”) and mortal men (Psalm 82:6, “You are gods; all of you are sons of the Most High'”). Faithful believers are described as “sons of God” (Luke 20:36, Galatians 3:26) and Adam is described as the “son of God” since he was created by the Father as the world’s first man (Luke 3:38). But when Jesus is described in this way, we are left in no doubt that the meaning contains a unique significance (Luke 1:35, “‘Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God'”).

We know that the Jews of Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah would be the Son of God (Matthew 26:63, “‘I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God‘”). Here the high priest equates “Christ” (“Messiah”) with “Son of God.” He saw no blasphemy in the idea that the Messiah would be the Son of God; in fact, the Jewish rulers never objected to this concept. What they objected to was Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, since he did not match their preconceptions about the Messiah’s identity and mission.

The use of the term “Son of God” tells us that the person referred to in this way is not actually God Himself. “Of” denotes a distinction between “Son” and “God”, not an equivalence. Some Trinitarians try to circumvent this by arguing that “like begets like; human begets human; God begets God.” But the analogy fails on several grounds. If true, it would mean:

  • Jesus’ divine existence had a beginning in time (which Trinitarianism denies)
  • Jesus’ deity is not inherent, but derived from the Father (which Trinitarianism denies)
  • Jesus is a separate being from the Father (which Trinitarianism denies)

Most of the church fathers from the 2nd Century and onwards subscribed to this belief (known as “ontological subordinationism”), which formed the basis of what would later be known as Arianism.

Justin Martyr (ANF 1.170):

We assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation

Theophilus (ANF 2.103):

When God wished to make all that He determined on, He begot this Word. He uttered the First-Born of all creation.

Irenaeus (ANF 1.576):

As He was born of Mary in the last days, so did He also proceed from God as the First-Begotten of every creature.

Tertullian (Adversus Hermogenem, III):

Because God is in like manner a Father, and He is also a Judge; but He has not always been Father and Judge, merely on the ground of His having always been God. For He could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a Judge previous to sin. There was, however, a time when neither sin existed with Him, nor the Son; the former of which was to constitute the Lord a Judge, and the latter a Father.

Hippolytus (ANF 5.150, 151):

This solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos… Him alone did [the Father] produce from existing things. For the Father Himself constituted existence, and the Being born from him was the cause of all things that are produced.

Origen (Contra Celsum, 8.14):

And I am therefore of the opinion that the will of the Father alone ought to be sufficient for the existence of that which He wishes to exist. For in the exercise of His will He employs no other way than that which is made known by the council of His will. And thus also the existence of the Son is generated by Him.

Examples could be multiplied. Suffice it to say that this later Christological development is well recognised by Trinitarian commentators. Catholic theologian Michael Schmaus (Dogma, Vol. 3, “God and His Christ”, Sheed and Ward, 1971, p. 216):

The Christian writers of the second and third centuries considered the Logos as the eternal reason of the Father, but as having at first no distinct existence from eternity; he [Jesus] received this only when the Father generated him from within his own being and sent him to create the world and rule over the world. The act of generation then was not considered as an eternal and necessary life-act but as one which had a beginning in time, which meant that the Son was not equal to the Father, but subordinate to Him. Irenaeus, Justin, Hippolytus and Methodius share this view called Subordinationism.

None of these early church fathers were Biblical Unitarians — but they weren’t Trinitarians either. In fact, even as late as the 4th Century AD, Christians were hopelessly confused about the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This situation was tackled by three prominent theologians: Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and his brother, Basil of Caesarea. Gregory of Nazianzus gives us some insight into the church of his day when he complains about his fellow Christians (NPNF 2-07):

But, they go on, what have you to say about the Holy Ghost? From whence are you bringing in upon us this strange God, of Whom Scripture is silent? And even they who keep within bounds as to the Son speak thus. And just as we find in the case of roads and rivers, that they split off from one another and join again, so it happens also in this case, through the superabundance of impiety, that people who differ in all other respects have here some points of agreement, so that you never can tell for certain either where they are of one mind, or where they are in conflict.

Now the subject of the Holy Spirit presents a special difficulty, not only because when these men have become weary in their disputations concerning the Son, they struggle with greater heat against the Spirit…

Jaroslav Pelikan (The Christian tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1, University Of Chicago Press, 1975, p.213) quotes Basil of Caesarea as saying:

Of the wise men among ourselves, some have conceived of him [the Holy Spirit] as an activity, some as a creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call him… And therefore they neither worship him nor treat him with dishonor, but take up a neutral position.

Gregory of Nyssa was similarly offended, and wrote a letter to Bishop Ablabius of Nicaea complaining that he was accused of believing in three gods.

This snapshot of the church in the late 4th Century reveals that the Trinity was still not a fully established doctrine. Christians were still arguing about the identity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit; there was widespread agreement on various points, but not enough to maintain a united church.

Did the first-century Christians believe that Jesus was the God of Israel and the Holy Spirit was a co-equal divine person with him? No; these ideas emerged long after their time. Did the second-century Christians believe in a Trinity? No; many followed the Logos Christology of Justin Martyr and others, believing in a pre-existent Christ whom they considered a type of finite divine creature. Perhaps the third-century Christians? No; Modalism, and ontological subordinationism were still common in that era. Maybe the fourth-century Christians? No; the identity of the Holy Spirit was not fully defined at the Council of Nicaea in AD325, while the First Council of Constantinople (AD381) left gaps in the definition of Christ’s dual nature that would not be covered until the Council of Chalcedon in AD451. Thus the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit was blurred for centuries.

Rob is vague about the point at which he believes the church embraced true Trinitarianism, but I receive a general sense that he perceives an implicit Trinitarian Christology within the NT which gave quickly rise to fully-fledged Trinitarianism. Precisely how long this took and what process was involved, Rob does not say. But the history of Trinitarianism — as admitted by its own theologians — reveals an excruciating mess of debate, controversy and confusion spanning several hundred years.

How can Trinitarianism be the doctrine once preached by the apostles, whom the Holy Spirit would “lead into all truth” (John 16:13)? It bears no resemblance to their preaching in the book of Acts, or the doctrinal statements in their epistles to fellow Christians. It is absent from the earliest extra-Biblical writings (e.g. the Didache) and the works of the first-century church fathers (e.g. Papias and Polycarp). It is contrary to reason, antagonistic to Scripture, and undermined by the record of history.

Jesus Christ: Sacrificial Lamb
Putting Jesus in His Place (hereafter PJIHP) is surprisingly light on atonement theology. Genesis 3:14-21 is universally regarded as the bedrock of Christian soteriology, but it’s not even mentioned. Even Christ’s atoning work is almost entirely restricted to a handful of references between pages 209-213. The argument presented throughout this section (entitled “The Way, the Truth, and the Life”) strongly emphasises Jesus’ ability to forgive sins (“Jesus’ contribution to our salvation is not limited solely to his death and resurrection, as great as those redemptive acts are”, p.210), though no attempt is made to address Christ’s words to his disciples in John 20:23 (“‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained”‘).

But if our atonement is primarily based upon the fact that Jesus is God and has the power to forgive sins, is there any need for an atoning death at all?

By contrast, the NT’s emphasis is on OT typology, with its theme of a perfect, sinless blood sacrifice. This principle is established in Genesis 3 (coats of skins for Adam and Eve), reaffirmed in Exodus 12 (institution of the Passover) and repeatedly emphasised throughout the Law of Moses, with its complex system of typological offerings. As we have seen in previous weeks, the atonement consists of three main points:

  1. Sin deserves death
  2. Sacrifice offers a covering for sin
  3. Only God can provide a sin-covering sacrifice; a sacrifice which is “other than God”

The sacrifice itself demands two essential qualities: mortality and moral perfection. Under the Law of Moses, moral perfection was symbolised by physical perfection; a sacrificial offering had to be healthy and flawless (Deuteronomy 15:21). Having lived an obedient, sinless life, Jesus fulfilled this typology as the perfect “Lamb of God” without any moral blemish, and was sacrificed for the sins of humanity (John 1:29, I Peter 1:19).

A common evangelical objection to the Biblical Unitarian atonement is that Jesus could not have been morally sinless unless he was God, because all humans are considered sinners from the moment of their birth as a result of “original sin” (or “total depravity”, as the Calvinists call it). But Biblical Unitarians do not believe in “original sin” or “total depravity.” We believe that human nature is capable of sin and prone to sin, but humans are not regarded as sinners until they sin. Thus Jesus’ human nature did not preclude the potential for sinlessness.

This presents yet another weakness for Trinitarianism: the question of Jesus’ nature. As an evangelical, Rob surely believes in some form of “original sin”; but how does he view it in relation to Jesus? If Rob’s Jesus does not have original sin, how can he be truly human and “made like his brothers in every way”? If he does have it, how can he be sinless? Rev. Donald Macleod wrestles with this problem (Did Christ have a fallen human nature?) and ultimately concludes that Jesus’ nature was not fallen, which leaves him with a Christ who is perilously close to Docetism. (He is contradicted by Karl Barth, J. B. Torrance, Edward Irving and others, who believed that Jesus “assumed ‘fallen humanity'”; Oliver Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: the Incarnation Reconsidered, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.91).

Rob believes Jesus could be tempted, yet was incapable of sin (PJIHP, p.122). But there can be no temptation without the possibility of sin. To deny that Jesus could sin is to deny that he could be tempted, so the statement “Jesus could be tempted but was not capable of sin” is both self-refuting and utterly meaningless. If Jesus cannot be tempted, then Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15 are both false. If Jesus was incapable of sin, then Hebrews 2:17 and Galatians 4:4 are both false.

This is one of many theological contradictions Rob lists in his book. Since by his own admission he cannot resolve them, he simply labels them “paradoxes” and decides that this legitimises the contradiction. But it does not; it merely re-states the problem without addressing the cause. (Ironically, Rob’s “paradoxes” would disappear completely if he embraced Biblical Unitarianism).

The traditional method of addressing these Christological contradictions is to argue by reference to the hypostatic union, claiming that Jesus acts and responds “from his human nature” or “from his divine nature” depending on the context. Jesus’ physical weaknesses and limitations are thus attributed to his human nature, while his supernatural capacity is attributed to his divine nature. Rob seems to endorse this approach as an effective way to deal with the logical conflict of the hypostatic union. But it solves nothing.

Dividing the Trinitarian Jesus’ two natures in this way essentially treats them as two separate persons, thereby lapsing in to the heresy of Nestorianism (see Justin Cloute, Reformed Christology: Modern Nestorianism?, 2000). Reformed Christians have been criticised by Lutheran and Orthodox theologians for their neo-Nestorian Christology, while the Reformed respond with accusations of Monophysitism. Can Biblical Unitarians be legitimately criticised for rejecting Trinitarianism when even Trinitarians cannot agree on their own Christology?

The Message of Reconciliation
Trinitarians frequently overlook the differences between the post-resurrection Jesus and the pre-crucifixion Jesus. Biblical Unitarians take these differences very seriously. The man who rose from the dead is the same man who died on the cross, but free from the weaknesses and limitations of mortal humanity. He is not a “mere man”; he is the immortal, perfected, ultimate man. He is the Son of God, raised above all creation, imbued with the Holy Spirit beyond measure, whose power is almost limitless and whose authority is second only to God’s. Yet we can relate to him because we know he can relate to us, for he shares our humanity, having resisted human temptation and experienced human suffering during his mortal life.

The Bible describes Jesus’ humanity in a way that leaves no room for deity and totally precludes the “God-man” hypothesis. Born as a mortal man and made like his brethren in every way (Hebrews 2:17), he was subject to the Law of Moses (Galatians 4:4) and capable of sin (Luke 4:1; cf. James 1:13-14). His sinless life was made possible by his superior mental and intellectual qualities (Luke 2:46-47), his close relationship with the Father (John 1:18, 10:30, 38), and the angelic assistance he received whenever necessary (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43).

We know that he struggled with the awful burden of his task (Matthew 26:39-42; Luke 22:42) and suffered when he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15), but completely resisted sin. As a mortal man, he required release from the pains of death (Acts 2:24) and recognised this need through his prayers and supplications to God, who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5:7). Submitting obediently to his sacrificial death on the cross (Philippians 2:8; Colossians 1:20) he was raised to life by the Father (Galatians 1:1) and now sits at His right hand in an exalted, glorified form (Mark 16:19; Acts 5:31; Philippians 3:21), exercising divine power, authority and judgement while he awaits his Second Advent (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 21:27; John 5:27; Acts 1:11; Ephesians 1:20-22).

Biblical Unitarianism’s high Christology is based on a high anthropology, recognising humanity as the pinnacle of God’s creation. Adam and Eve were the only creatures created made in the image and likeness of God, and we are the only creatures capable of reflecting Him. The first Adam sinned, fell, and lost his relationship with God. The second Adam (Jesus Christ) obeyed and was exalted, offering a way to restore the relationship between God and humanity. It is that relationship which God now invites us to share through the work of His Son.

Romans 5:11, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.”

    88 replies to "The Great Trinity Debate, Part 5: Dave Burke on Father, Son & Holy Spirit"

    • M.J. Farrar

      Dear Paul,

      I think it is safe to say that since we are both commenting on a debate blog about precisely who God is and who He is not, we can acknowledge that we both affirm that “knowing what he really is or how he achieved forgiveness of sins for us” is of utmost importance. Let us put that canard to rest.

      What I have said is that you are quoting Luke 18:8 out of its context and ascribing to it a meaning which it clearly cannot have. Were Luke 18:8 to occur in the context of a discourse on doctrinal apostasy, the interpretation you suggest would be quite valid. However, it is in the context of persistent prayer and should thus be understood in that light; a statement about doctrinal apostasy simply does not fit in here.

      I hope that clarifies my point.

    • M.J. Farrar

      Also, a point of correction to one of my previous posts (thoughts and typing didn’t align). Paragraph 1 in Post #44 should read:

      “I agree, we should get back on topic, so I’ll keep this brief. I also agree that false doctrine and a slide in morality go hand in hand. Please understand: I by no means defend all the practices of the church. However, I do believe that the early church fathers, who elsewhere are much more explicit in their belief in Incarnational and proto-Trinitarian theology–as Jason has pointed to– are a good guide to understanding the Christian doctrines handed down by the Apostles.”

    • Paul W

      Dear M.J. Farrer,

      Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?

      I fully recognise that faith encompasses more than a “set of doctrines” that can be apostatized from (You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! James 2:19). And while I agree that Luke 18:1-8 is a parable about persistence in prayer and the necessity of faith in order to have prayer answered, the conclusion of the parable (vv.8) is not solely limited to the context of the parable but to the wider context of the NT, where “faith” becomes a technical term that describes a body of belief or doctrine:

      One Lord, ONE FAITH, one baptism;
      one God and Father of all, who is above all,
      and through all, and in you all.(Eph 4:5-6)

      Just as there is only ONE LORD and ONE GOD there is only ONE FAITH

      We can speak of “being obedient to the faith”(Acts 6:7), “continuing in the faith”(Acts 14:22), and “the word of faith which we preach” (Rom 10:8), standing fast in the faith (1 Cor 16:13), and finally, “you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith” (Rev 2:13). It can be argued that “faith” in the technical sense is usually anthrous – proceeded by a definite article (the)………This is exactly what we find in a more literal translation of the Greek:

      YLT Luke 18:8 I say to you, that He will execute the justice to them quickly; but the Son of Man having come, shall he find THE FAITH upon the earth?’

      So are you of THE FAITH or not?

    • Paul W

      Anyway, back to the topic……still waiting for Biblical proof of the Trinity

    • Paul W

      Will I find THE FAITH in the earth?

    • Fortigurn

      M.J. Farrar, it’s worth noting:

      * The earliest Christian creedal statements are Unitarian (and the Didache, the ‘Old Roman Symbol’)

      * The earliest Christian writers maintained a Unitarian description of God (Clement, Ignatius)

      * Early Jewish-Christian groups maintained a Unitarian description of God (Ebionites, Nazarenes), and these groups were still around in the 4th century

      * Even the earliest proto-Trinitarian statements caused considerable controversy

      * By the 5th century Trinitarians were complaining that there were still people who wouldn’t accept the trinity

      This is all well acknowledged in the relevant scholarly literature. It is noteworthy that Dave has been able to take advantage of the fact that standard Trinitarian academic commentary is supportive of his key premises.

      In contrast, Rob has presented the layman’s view of the Trinity, and the layman’s view of the relevant history, both of which are far removed from the views found in peer reviewed works. This works well for the pew sitter, because the pew sitter is rarely exposed to academic commentary and so is able to be kept safely insulated from facts which would disturb their faith.

      Your argument from history is essentially what the Catholic Church has always argued, ‘This is what we believe now, so they must have believed it then’. It’s a logically fallacy, quite apart from being completely unsupportable from history. You commit another fallacy by assuming ‘We are the majority, therefore we are right’.

    • Fortigurn

      Your points about the subsequent history of the Christian church are not well considered. The single most important message given by Christ and the apostles about the post-apostolic church is that it was going to fall into catastrophic apostasy, with the true believers subjected to persecution by false believers. This warning is repeated with increasingly greater urgency and increasingly more severe descriptions as we move through the later New Testament works, with Paul’s letters and the Revelation of John containing the most dire warnings of all.

      This is completely counter to your interpretation of church history, in which the church actually developed an increasingly better understanding of truth (even more accurate than the apostles), and promptly persecuted all other Christians for well over a thousand years.

      I’ll ask you a simple question. Why is it that if I preach what the apostles are recorded in Acts as preaching, Trinitarians call me a non-Christian heretic?

    • Nick Norelli

      Fortigurn: As I see it Rob has consistently provided us with exegesis of the texts themselves. That is to be preferred to secondary literature which can be helpful as well. Dave has selectively cited secondary literature and Rob has responded in a number of comments showing how Dave has misread and/or misrepresented some of these sources. But I’d ask you to cite some of the “peer reviewed works” you have in mind. What are these writings that Rob wishes to keep all of us Trinitarians insulated from with his “layman’s view of the Trinity and relevant history”?

      Also, are you seriously suggesting that Trinitarian scholars (that’s what I take you to mean with your reference to “standard Trinitarian academic commentary”) support Dave’s key premises? Would you then be suggesting that these scholars are simply deceiving themselves in being Trinitarians even though they know that the facts support Unitarianism?

    • Fortigurn


      * Rob’s personal exegesis of individual passages is itself ‘secondary’, and is in the same position as other secondary literature such as the post-apostolic Christian creedal statements, to which it is therefore not superior; with all due respect to Rob, nor is it superior to informed scholarly commentary on the subject

      * Post-apostolic Christian creedal statements are actually a superior source for helping us to determine the continuity of beliefs during the apostolic era to the immediately post-apostolic era

      * Please do provide evidence that Dave has selectively cited secondary literature in such a way as to misread or misrepresent it (in your own words please, and don’t bother unless you can actually quote directly from the works yourself)

      * I haven’t said Rob wants to keep anyone insulated from any writings

      * Yes, Dave’s premises are supported by standard Trinitarian commentaries by standard Trinitarian scholars; this will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the relevant literature

      * No I am not suggesting that these Trinitarians are deceiving themselves; there are plenty of Trinitarians who do not believe that Christ or the apostles taught the Trinity, who do not believe that the Trinity is taught in the Bible, but who still believe that the Trinity is a validly derived post-apostolic doctrinal development of the Church (a view which has been held by mainstream Trinitarian academics since at least the 19th century)

      Trinitarians such as yourself and Bowman would find it a lot less work to acknowledge that the Trinity was a post-apostolic doctrinal development, than try to argue it was taught by Christ and the apostles. You’re welcome to join the mainstream academic view any time. If you find Dunn too hard to read, try a little NT Wright. Admittedly some Trinitarians find Wright tough going as well:

    • Fortigurn

      Nick, for an informed commentary on the debate by an actual professional scholar of the Trinity who is both published and recognized in the relevant peer reviewed literature, see Dr Dale Tuggy’s site:

      * Opening comments:

      * Burke 1:
      * Bowman 1:
      * Burke 2:
      * Bowman 2:
      * Bowman 3:
      * Burke 3:
      * Bowman & Burke 4:
      * Bowman 4:
      * Burke 4:
      * Burke 3 re-assessed:
      * Bowman 5 (part 1):
      * Bowman 5 (part 2):
      * Bowman 5 (part 3):

      Tuggy currently scores the debate thus:

      Revised score up through round 4:

      Bowman: 0
      Burke: 3
      draw: 1

    • Nick Norelli

      Fortigurn: I’ll number my responses to correspond to your points:

      (1) My point concerning Rob’s exegesis vs. Dave’s citing of secondary literature is simply this: Rob can do the work all by himself; Dave probably can as well but for whatever reason has chosen not to. And I’m not quite sure how to take your reference to “informed scholarly commentary on the subject” since that’s a pretty nebulous category (did you have any commentators in particular in mind?). Certainly Rob is an “informed scholarly comment(ator)” in terms of both training and publication. So I wouldn’t imagine that he’d be superior to himself.

      (2) Okay? I’m not sure why you brought this up. But if that’s the case then Rob is certainly more in line with post-apostolic creedal statements than Dave is.

      (3) Rob has shown that Dave misused Erik Waaler; misunderstood Max Turner; and I’ll note Dave’s insistence that when sources disagree with him he attributes that the “trinitarian bias” on their part.

      (4) My mistake. I mistook the intention of your comment that

      In contrast, Rob has presented the layman’s view of the Trinity, and the layman’s view of the relevant history, both of which are far removed from the views found in peer reviewed works. This works well for the pew sitter, because the pew sitter is rarely exposed to academic commentary and so is able to be kept safely insulated from facts which would disturb their faith.

      Perhaps you could explain clearly what you mean. Thanks.

      Comment to be continued…

    • Nick Norelli

      …comment continued:

      (5) You keep mentioning “relevant literature.” What works exactly are you talking about? I’m familiar with quite a bit of literature relevant to this subject but until you start citing sources I can have no idea about who or what you’re talking about. But to the point, if Dave’s premises are supported as you say, then what reason could you imagine that these scholars remain Trinitarians?

      (6) You’re playing a bit fast and loose here. If all you mean to say is that formal, creedal definitions of the Trinity are post-biblical, well, then, yeah, of course they are! If all you mean to say is that the Christian doctrine of God has developed over time then who would argue with that? But if you are denying that these creeds and later articulations of the doctrine of God in post-apostolic Christian thought and writing are anything less than distillations of what they believed Scripture to have been teaching then this is where we part ways.

      So far as I know, no one, not Rob and certainly not me, has argued that the doctrine of the Trinity was taught in a formal and systematic way by Jesus or the apostles. Rob has shown all the raw material in Scripture. Certainly Jesus taught us about the Trinity in John 14-16 without teaching us the doctrine of the Trinity (there is a difference).

      I’ll ignore the condescension in your recommendation of Dunn and Wright. Anyone else you’d recommend reading? It seems to me like you may be in need of some recommendations (since you’ve been vague on just what the “relevant literature” is) so if you’d like a list of recommended reading then let me know and I’d be happy to provide one.

      Comment to be continued…

    • Nick Norelli

      …comment continued:

      Fortigurn: I’ve been keeping up with Dale’s posts. Needless to say, I disagree with him, but that was bound to be the case since he’s a Unitarian and I’m not. We see the world and all that’s in it through different lenses. And while Dale is certainly published (3 articles in 2 journals, a chapter in an edited volume, and a contribution to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as far as I’m aware) and recognized by some (mainly philosophical theologians working in the analytic tradition) I don’t know that you’re not being a bit too generous in calling him am “actual professional scholar of the Trinity.” He’s a philosopher by training and his areas of specialization according to his CV are: Philosophy of Religion, Philosophical Theology, Early Modern Philosophy, Metaphysics. His areas of competence include: Medieval Philosophy, Logic, Ancient Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Philosophy of Science, World Religions. That’s an impressive list to be sure but it’s not such that I’d describe the person to whom it belongs as being a “professional scholar of the Trinity.” I don’t think his rather limited publication in the area stands up to that description either. But all that aside; Tuggy operates with the understanding that for God to be personal he must be a [single] person, or, that every divine person is a God. In his recent book Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?, Tom McCall describes Tuggy’s argument as “theologically naïve” (p. 94). I’d agree with McCall’s assessment.

    • Paul W

      I rather be “theologically naïve” than “theologically confused” which is a nice summary of the doctrine of the Trinity

    • Paul W

      You’re playing a bit fast and loose here. If all you mean to say is that formal, creedal definitions of the Trinity are post-biblical, well, then, yeah, of course they are! If all you mean to say is that the Christian doctrine of God has developed over time then who would argue with that? But if you are denying that these creeds and later articulations of the doctrine of God in post-apostolic Christian thought and writing are anything less than distillations of what they believed Scripture to have been teaching then this is where we part ways.

      So we agree……these creeds are what THEY BELIEVED Scripture to have been teaching……

      Unfortunately they got it WRONG

    • Paul W

      Quote: “So far as I know, no one, not Rob and certainly not me, has argued that the doctrine of the Trinity was taught in a formal and systematic way by Jesus or the apostles. Rob has shown all the raw material in Scripture. Certainly Jesus taught us about the Trinity in John 14-16 without teaching us the doctrine of the Trinity (there is a difference).”

      Why is it that theologians always go to the Johannine gospel – the most theologically complex gospel – and the most JEWISH….probably because it is easy for them to distort.

      The “raw material” from this Gospel has been used to support all sorts of heresies……..because it is the least understood.

      You are right………the Trinity was not taught in a systematic way in the Bible. God decided to leave the most important Revelation about himself to be defined by a bunch of uninspired “Christians” three centuries later. We won’t discuss the political machinations employed to achieve this.

    • Paul W


      “I’ll ignore the condescension in your recommendation of Dunn and Wright.”

      What is wrong with these authors?

    • Nick Norelli

      Paul: Re: # 64 — Confusion is subjective. I’ve never found the doctrine of the Trinity confusing. Sorry you do.

      Re: #65 — Umm… yeah, they believed that to have been the truth. They same way you believe it to be wrong.

      Re: #66 — How is John’s Gospel any more complex theologically or any more Jewish than the other Gospels or any writing of the NT for that matter? I think one reason that we’d turn to John 14-16 to show that Jesus told his disciples about the Trinity is because in John 14-16 Jesus told his disciples about the Trinity! What other reason would we go there for? And John’s Gospel also has extended discourses from Jesus whereas the Synoptics give shorter versions of more episodes in his ministry.

      And I quite agree. The raw material found in Scripture has been used to support all kinds of Unitarian heresies such as the one that Dave Burke has been espousing in this debate. 😉 Thank God for folks like Rob who have been able to rightly interpret this data! And I’m perfectly okay with not getting into a discussion with you about the “political machinations employed” in the formation of creedal statements about the Trinity. But I’d have to disagree that God didn’t reveal himself as triune. Rob’s case has been thoroughly biblical throughout and he hasn’t found it necessary to refer to later formulations to make his case. That speaks volumes.

      Re: #67 — Plenty, but that wasn’t my point. Fortigurn suggested that I read Wright if Dunn was “too hard” for me. Why on earth would he think Dunn “too hard” for me or anyone else for that matter?

    • Paul W

      If the doctrine of the trinity is not confusing explain how Jesus atoned for me? Who died on the cross? Why did he die?

      RB has not proved the Trinity from Scripture. He has not explaind the disconnect between the God of the Jews and the Trinitarian God

      To say that God is One and that Jesus Christ the Messiah is the Son of God is not heresy

      You make the Apostles heretics………..

    • Paul W

      You constantly admit that the Trinity was not taught in a systematic way in the Bible. Why not? Why is the most fundamental doctrine to Christianity left unexplained?????????

    • Paul W

      Re #68

      Quote: “Confusion is subjective. I’ve never found the doctrine of the Trinity confusing. Sorry you do”

      Michael Patton (“The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo”. . . And Other Stupid Statements) says:

      One more thing. I often tell my students that if they say, “I get it!” or “Now I understand!” that they are more than likely celebrating the fact that they are a heretic! When you understand the biblical principles and let the tensions remain without rebuttal, then you are orthodox. When you solve the tension, you have most certainly entered into one of the errors that we seek to avoid. Confused? Good! That is just where you need to be.

      Guess I am the real Trinitarian here………because I am sure the doctrine makes no sense and is utterly confusing………you must be the heretic because you understand it.

    • Nick Norelli

      Paul: Re: #69 — I’m not following you here. What exactly is supposed to be difficult about your questions from a Trinitarian perspective? To answer them: How did Jesus atone for you? He gave his life on the cross. Who died on the cross? Jesus. Why did he die? To save people from their sins.

      What disconnect are you speaking of when you mention the “disconnect between the God of the Jews and the Trinitarian God”? And which Jews are you referring to? The NT authors were certainly Jews who wrote about this Trinitarian God. Jesus was a Jew who talked about the Trinitarian God. And on your reading, I can see at least two gods, the “God of the Jews” and the “Trinitarian God,” so are you at least a ditheist?

      And you’re correct—to say those things is not heresy—it’s to say those things to the exclusion of other things (such as God is not defined as “one” in any ontological sense in Scripture; why do you Unitarian types always read these statements through Greek metaphysics? or that Jesus is both Messiah and God) that results in heresy.

      Re: #70 — You’re reading of the Bible seems woefully anachronistic to me. You keep insisting that the doctrine be explained in the Bible in the way that later questions and concerns forced it to be explained. In short, creedal articulations of the doctrine of the Trinity were composed to settle theological disputes that had arisen within the Church. When confusion ensued clarification followed. These debates simply weren’t taking place in the first century so why would we expect to see the same formulations in first century writings?

      Re. #71 — Michael Patton is not infallible. I can assure you that my orthodoxy is in tact and I do indeed “get” the Trinity. It makes better sense of the biblical data than any of its alternatives.

    • […] David Burke on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit […]

    • Paul W

      Author: Paul W response to # 72

      Dear Nick,

      It is clear that you have already made up your mind and nothing that the Word says will change it therefore this response will be my last (to you) and is done for the benefit of others like AD who was able to come to a knowledge of the Truth which is accessible to all who approach the Bible with an open mind.

      Your answers about the atonement are a classic avoidance and do not address the question. Why is this? Did Jesus die because God made a bet with the Devil? You avoid serious debate on the atonement because any theory you propose will run into difficulty. You cannot explain how Jesus’ death relates to ordinary men and women. DB has demonstrated this in his debate. Because Jesus was a man he is our representative……..he is called the “last Adam” and Paul calls Adam, “a type of Him who was to come” (Romans 5:14). So Jesus is second Adam and last Adam not second God or God pretending to be man. We preach a High Christology and a High Anthropology.

      I agree with you that the “doctrines of the Trinity were composed to settle theological disputes that had arisen within the Church”. This is exactly what the Apostles prophesied:

      For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers…(2 Timothy 4:3)

      Of course you will state that the “sound doctrine” is the Trinity and the “error” that developed is Unitarianism but this runs contrary to the Biblical evidence which starts by teaching One God in the OT and ends up after much arguing teaching three Gods (but still one….we must add this to avoid the charge of polytheism……bah humbug) FOUR CENTURIES after the death of the Apostles.

    • Paul W

      response to # 72 continued……

      Quote: What disconnect are you speaking of when you mention the “disconnect between the God of the Jews and the Trinitarian God”? And which Jews are you referring to?

      Under the Jews I understand the descendants of Abraham – this includes Isaac, Jacob, Moses and the prophets, the Apostles and Jesus. They all believed in One God….in fact Paul tells us that the Gospel was preached to Abraham (Gal 3:8)………therefore Abraham understood the meaning of the atonement and the promise of Messiah and the inclusion of the Gentiles into the hope of Israel and this without the benefit of the council of Nicea! Of course Abraham was met by “three men (angels)” in Gen 18:2 maybe that was the Father, Son and Holy Ghost? The inventiveness and dishonesty of Trinitarians never cease to amaze (and amuse) me.

      So the disconnect is very real and remains to this day as a wedge between Jews and Trinitarian Christians……..but they regard the Jews as rejected anyway, and they have no problem with preaching “another gospel” (2 Cor 11:4)

      NKJ 2 Corinthians 4:4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

      You are right Michael Patton is not infallible and neither are Theophilus, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Origen, Methodius, Tertullian or the Pope. However, the Apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit (unlike these others) and they remained faithful to their Jewish roots – they did not preach:

      Hear O Israel, Yahweh your God is three, of one substance…..blah…blah

    • Paul W

      response to # 72 continued……

      Finally, the failure of Trinitarians is caused by a failure to understand the Bible (particularly the OT) and its Jewish setting. They do not understand Biblical idiom and first century Jewish thought processes – they do not understand concepts like personification or typology- this is why the Johannine writings (see here- for correct exegesis) and Paul’s (a Jewish Rabbi) writings are a favourite hunting ground;

      NKJ 2 Peter 3:16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

      So, this is my final word to Nick ……….but I know that others (like AD) are out there who will appreciate the simplicity and cohesiveness of Biblical Truth.

    • Nick Norelli

      Paul: Re: #74 — I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to ask, are you on medication? I only ask because it seems that perhaps something might be keeping you from thinking clearly and I know that medication can sometimes do that. I would hate to think that you’re being intentionally dishonest but it certainly seems that way. I pray that there is some other explanation.

      You’ve accused me of avoiding your questions when I answered them directly. To be honest, I can’t even think of how you could disagree with my answers given that they were inherent in your questions, but I’d also add that not receiving the answers you’d like is not the same as one avoiding your questions. If you’d like to answer your own questions then simply pose them to yourself. I’m sure you’d be much more satisfied.

      You then caricature what Trinitarians (me included) believe when you say, “So Jesus is second Adam and last Adam not second God or God pretending to be man.” We believe that Jesus is a man! It’s essential to our Christology! Rob has stated this repeatedly throughout the debate and it’s one of the fundamental misunderstandings exhibited by Dave in nearly all of his posts and comments. We do not believe that Jesus “pretended” to be anything. As a matter of fact, 1John refutes precisely this kind of notion, a proto-docetism if you will. Likewise, we do not believe that Jesus is a “second God,” because again, monotheism is essential to our theology! The doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine about one God.

      Let me also correct one error on your part: when you say, “you have already made up your mind and nothing that the Word says will change it,” you are simply wrong. It is clear that I have made up my mind; but nothing that you say will change it. This is mainly because I have truth on my side, but also because your method of argument is unconvincing and your overall demeanor is unappealing.

      To be continued…

    • Nick Norelli

      …comment continued:

      Re: #74 – As I stated above, the doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine about one God, we’re monotheists! So Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the rest believing in one God coheres nicely with what we believe. Do you actually know what we believe? If not then I’d suggest reading the debate that Rob Bowman just had with Dave Burke. Rob spends 6 posts and several comments following those posts stating what Trinitarians actually believe. As far as the three men that met Abraham in Genesis 18; the text tells us that two of them were angels (see Gen. 19:1) and one of them was YHWH (see Gen. 18:1). Genesis 19:24 then tells us that “YHWH rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the YHWH out of heaven.” It really an interesting passage for we have YHWH on earth and YHWH in heaven. Many Trinitarians have explained it as a reference to the preincarnate Son and the Father and I’m hard-pressed to see a solid Unitarian refutation to this idea.

      Are you really incapable of fairly and accurately representing what Trinitarians believe? No one would read the Shema like that, but even if someone would, I wouldn’t and haven’t. If you were interested in how I read the Shema you could have asked. But I’ll forego my reading and just mention that it does not says, “Hear O Israel, YHWH our God is one and only one person,” although that seems to be how Unitarians read it.

      To be continued…

    • Nick Norelli

      …comment continued:

      Re: #75 – I think you’re wrongly equating rejection of Unitarians arguments with lack of understanding. I understand exactly what it is that Unitarians believe and it’s because I understand it that I reject it. Rob seems to be in the same position as he’s gone to great lengths to show why arguments about personification as it pertains to the Holy Spirit are unconvincing. So in closing, I’m very pleased that you have issued your final word, all the more since of all the words you issued before it I’ve found you to be rather unpleasant. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.

    • Nick Norelli

      Correction: My comments #78 & #79 are in reference to Paul’s comments #75 & #76 respectively. A pingback popped up that changed the comment numbers and I forgot to edit my comments to reflect that.

    • Fortigurn

      @Nick #63:

      1. I understand you disagree with Dale because he’s a Unitarian. That’s not a valid reason for disagreeing with him. The fact is that you also end up disagreeing with the Trinitarian scholars who agree with him, just as Bowman has disagreed with Turner, Wallace, Harris, McGrath, Dunn, and NT Wright. Tuggy has considerable Trinitarian scholarship on his side, not simply his own Unitarian views, whereas you have to disagree with this scholarship.

      2. I searched for Bowman in 26 standard journals (including BibSac, JETS, and Semeia), and found only ten references to any of his works. Two were in lists of ‘books received’, one was in an annotated bibliography, and seven were in brief reviews. He is described as providing ‘popular-level apologetics’, but I did not find him recognized as a scholar on the trinity. His works are nowhere used to defend the trinity in any of these journals, nor is he identified in any of them as notable for his defense of the trinity. Without intending any disrespect to Bowman, it does seem that he isn’t particularly recognized in this field within the relevant scholarly literature, though he is well regarded in the scholarly literature for the value of his populist treatments of difficult subjects.

      I count three of Tuggy’s articles in ‘Religious Studies’ journal, one in ‘Sophia’, one in ‘Faith and Philosophy’, two in ‘Religious Studies Review’, one in ‘International Journal for Philosophy of Religion’, among others. I also see Tuggy’s work cited in several Cambridge monographs on philosophy or religion, as well as in several scholarly journals. This places Tuggy in a very different league to Bowman, since Tuggy’s work on the Trinity has actual scholarly recognition.

      3. Please provide any examples of Dave dismissing Trinitarian scholars with the claim that they are biased. He has actually provided more than one example of Trinitarian scholars themselves identifying bias in Trinitarian scholarship.

    • Nick Norelli

      Fortigurn: (1) You seem to have misunderstood. The issue is one of presuppositions. Dale and I do not share the same presuppositions so the way we read Scripture, scholarship, or evaluate debates will not, indeed cannot, be the same. I don’t disagree with him simply because he’s a Unitarian; I disagree with everything that informs his being a Unitarian. Just what exactly do all these Trinitarian scholars (of which I’m not sure that McGrath is one) agree with Tuggy about?

      (2) Bowman has published a number of books relevant to the subject, his last, Putting Jesus in His Place, having received endorsements from some of the top scholars working in the field of Christology such as Larry Hurtado, Martin Hengel†, Richard Bauckham, I. H. Marshall, et al. I can provide a list of publications if necessary. In terms of “leagues” I’ll just say that I have yet to see Tuggy’s work endorsed by the top scholars in any field. But then again, that does much matter since I’ve actually read his work and don’t judge it based on where it’s published or who agrees with or endorses it.

      (3) Here Dave acknowledges A. T. Robertson as “a notable Greek grammarian” but then dismisses his commentary on Philippians 2:6 because “he was also a Trinitarian, and his interpretation of this verse is clearly imposed upon the text rather than being derived from it.”

    • Fortigurn

      @Nick #82

      1. Thanks, that clears that up. Can I just check that you’re saying unfamiliar with these scholars and don’t know in which ways they agree with Tuggy? I’m checking because we did go through this before, and I explained it. I can take you through it again if you’ve forgotten.

      2. I agree Bowman has published a number of populist works relevant to this subject. They have been endorsed enthusiastically by the scholarly community as laymen’s guides, as I said myself. Apart from agreeing with me, were you trying to add anything in this point? What you haven’t shown is that Bowman is recognized as a Trinitarian scholar, nor that his particular formulation and interpretation of the Trinity is recognized as significant, nor that his works are cited in the scholarly treatments of the subject. The fact is that they just aren’t. Meanwhile, Tuggy’s are. If you haven’t seen any such references, I suggest you start looking (I can provide you with a list if you like).

      3. Dave doesn’t dismiss Robertson because he’s a Trinitarian. He points out that Robertson’s interpretation of the passage was the product of his Trinitarian theology. Not only that, he goes on to quote Dunn saying that this is exactly what Trinitarians do when approaching the passage:

      In fact, as J Murphy-O’Connor has recently maintained, not without cause, the common belief that Phil. 2.6-11 starts by speaking of Christ’s pre-existent state and status and then of his incarnation is, in almost every case, a presupposition rather than a conclusion, a presupposition which again and again proves decisive in determining how disputed terms within the Philippian hymn should be understood

      So Dave is once more saying nothing other than what standard recognized Trinitarian scholarship has already said. Was that your only example?

    • […] Burke’s fifth round opens some interesting cans of worms. […]

    • […] we saw last time, Burke in round 5 argues like […]

    • trinities


      Were there any “biblical unitarians”, or what I call humanitarian unitarians in the early church? Buckle your seatbelts – this post isn’t a quickie. First, to review – in this whole debate, Burke has argued that all the NT…

    • John P F

      A classic ad-hominem in #77 where Nick N., failing to rebut any of his points resorts to questioning Paul W’s mental health asking him if he is “on medication”.

      I am sure this will not deter the serious truth seeker any more than the main debate which has tackled this subject quite lucidly and systematically; revealing out of the cloud of Greek mysticism the Master in his true glory who loved us and gave his life for us.

    • Dave Burke

      My response to Rob’s rebuttal in this thread starts here.

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