I would like to thank David Burke for taking so much time from his busy life to participate in this debate. His efforts have given all of us an opportunity to learn a great deal from the contrasting arguments for our two theological positions.

Trinitarianism versus Unitarianism: Defining the Issues

The doctrine of the Trinity is biblical if and only if all of the following propositions are biblical teachings:

  1. One eternal uncreated being, the LORD God, alone created all things.
  2. The Father is the LORD God.
  3. The Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, is the LORD God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the LORD God.
  5. The Father and the Son stand in personal relation with each other.
  6. The Father and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.
  7. The Son and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.

The only theological position that affirms all seven of the above propositions is the Trinity. However, each of these propositions finds affirmation in at least one or more non-Trinitarian doctrines. Biblical Unitarianism affirms #1, #2, and #5; Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm #2 and #5; Mormonism affirms #3 and #5, #6, and #7; and Oneness Pentecostalism affirms #1, #2, #3, and #4. Since each of these propositions has some non-Trinitarian theologies that affirm them, none of these propositions presupposes the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity just happens to be the one theological position that can and does affirm all of the propositions.

Partisans for these different theologies claim that the Bible clearly teaches the propositions they affirm out of the seven listed above. Biblical Unitarians and Oneness Pentecostals think it is obvious from the Bible that the LORD God alone created all things; Oneness Pentecostals think it is obvious from the Bible that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God; Mormons think it is obvious from the Bible that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are personally distinct. I agree with them! The Bible does clearly teach all seven of the above propositions.

Yet, when Trinitarians appeal to the Bible in defense of these same propositions, non-Trinitarians claim that Trinitarians approach the Bible from a biased Trinitarian perspective. Admittedly, a Trinitarian may be biased, just as anyone may be, but adherence to any one of these propositions is not in and of itself evidence of Trinitarian bias, since there are anti-Trinitarians who also agree in each case that the proposition is clearly taught in the Bible.

What really drives criticism of the doctrine of the Trinity is the perception that it is illogical, unreasonable, and irrational. Critics of the doctrine universally argue that it is logically impossible to affirm all seven of the above propositions at the same time. This is an important issue in its own right, but it is not the question we are addressing in this debate. The question here is which doctrine—Unitarianism or Trinitarianism—is most faithful to all that the Bible teaches. If the Bible teaches all seven propositions, then Trinitarianism is the correct answer to that question. I do not think the doctrine of the Trinity is illogical, but I do think that it may be that this is one aspect of God’s being that is beyond our comprehension. As I argued in Part 1 of this debate, the Bible does teach that God is incomprehensible, and so we ought not to reject a doctrine such as the Trinity merely because we find it logically puzzling. For those who are interested in the philosophical question of how the doctrine of the Trinity can be coherent—that is, how one can affirm all seven propositions—I recommend a new book by Thomas H. McCall, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

Since Unitarians and Trinitarians agree that the LORD God alone created the world (#1), that the Father is the LORD God (#2), and that the Father and the Son are personally distinct (#5), I have no obligation in this debate to defend these propositions. If I were debating a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Oneness Pentecostal, the debate would look very different, because I would be spending much of my time defending propositions that Dave and I both affirm!

Setting aside the three propositions to which both Unitarians and Trinitarians agree, this leaves four propositions for me to defend. However, the task can be simplified considerably. Basically, Trinitarians and Unitarians have two key differences. First, Trinitarianism affirms that Jesus Christ, the Son, is the LORD God; Unitarianism denies this claim. Second, Trinitarianism affirms that the Holy Spirit is a person; Unitarianism, particularly as Dave and other Christadelphians espouse it, does not. If the Holy Spirit is a person, Christadelphians will have to concede that he is distinct from the Father (who sent him) and the Son. Thus, in this debate I have focused on defending two claims: (1) that Jesus Christ is the LORD God, and (2) that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person.

In what follows, I will do little more than review the discussion that Dave and I had in the first five rounds of this debate. The rest of this post contains numerous hyperlinks that will take the reader to the specific posts or comments to which I refer. This will hopefully make this concluding post a useful point of departure for those wishing to follow and understand the back-and-forth discussions that we have had.

ONE GOD = THE FATHER: A REVIEW OF DAVE’S ARGUMENT

Most of Dave’s argumentation has focused on defending the claim that the Father alone is the LORD God to the exclusion of Jesus Christ. Dave’s main arguments for this claim were as follows:

  • The Bible says that God is one (Deut. 6:4, the Shema), and the Jews have always understood this to mean that God is unipersonal. Since Jesus and the apostles, who were all Jewish, affirmed the biblical teaching that God is one (e.g., Mark 12:29), they must also have believed that God is unipersonal.
  • The pervasive use of singular pronouns for God throughout the Bible proves that God is unipersonal, whereas the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 can refer to angelic members of the heavenly court.
  • Jesus identified the Father as the only true God and excluded himself as that God (John 17:3), and elsewhere denied claiming to be God (John 10:34-36).
  • Paul explicitly identified the “one God” as the Father and in that context distinguished him from Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:6).
  • The Bible consistently teaches that Jesus Christ is a human being and that he needed to be a human being in order to redeem us; and he cannot be both a human being and God.
  • The NT’s explicit teaching that Jesus is the Son of God is incompatible with identifying him as the LORD God.

Therefore, Dave concludes, God is a unipersonal being and is the Father alone, whereas Jesus Christ is not and cannot be God. Here is how I have responded to these arguments.

Jesus and the Shema. The Shema affirms that the LORD (Yahweh, Jehovah) is “our God” and is “one,” but, as I pointed out it in Part 1, it does not address the nature of God’s oneness. If we are to determine how Jesus and the apostles understood the Shema, we must let them speak for themselves in the NT. In fact, Jesus included himself with the Father in the identity of the “one” (John 10:30), and Paul referred to Jesus as the “one Lord” (1 Cor. 8:6; 12:4; Eph. 4:5).

Pronouns. The pervasive use of singular pronouns for God is perfectly consistent with Trinitarianism, which views the LORD God as one indivisible, infinite, and personal Being. In a comment on the issue of pronouns, I showed that singular personal pronouns do not always refer to a single person (e.g., Psa. 25:22; 130:8) and gave several reasons why the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 cannot refer to angelic members of the heavenly court.

Jesus never denied that he was God. In John 17:3, Jesus affirmed that the Father is the only true God. In Part 2, I explained that since Trinitarianism affirms that there is only one true God and that the Father is God, Jesus’ statement here actually agrees with Trinitarianism. The disjunction in that verse is not between Jesus Christ and God, but between Jesus Christ and the Father. At most, one might claim that John 17:3 implicitly excludes Jesus from being “true God,” but it does not do so explicitly. Thus, John 17:3 must be correlated with the rest of what John says about Jesus Christ, not used to deny what other texts explicitly say. Likewise, in John 10:34-36 Jesus did not deny that he was God, as I explained in a comment on John 10:31-39.

1 Corinthians 8:6—Jesus is the “one Lord.” A good deal of our debate focused on 1 Corinthians 8:4-6. In Part 3, I argued that Paul’s reference to that Father as the “one God” and Jesus as the “one Lord” both clearly allude to the Shema, so that the text identifies Jesus as the LORD himself. Against Dave’s objection that Paul’s use of the words “one God” exclusively for the Father disproves the Trinitarian claim that Jesus is God, I explained in an important rebuttal comment that this objection confuses vocabulary with meaning. 1 Corinthians 8:6 no more denies that Jesus is God than it denies that the Father is Lord. In a follow-up comment, I replied to some other objections from Dave and pointed out that Erik Waaler’s dissertation The Shema and the First Commandment in First Corinthians, which he had cited, thoroughly supports my conclusion. In another follow-up comment, I responded to James McGrath’s recent attempt to refute the same conclusion.

Jesus is a man. Unfortunately, throughout the debate Dave has insisted on treating the fact that Jesus was a real man as a key difference between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism. He claims, despite the emphasis with which Trinitarians throughout church history have affirmed that Jesus was a man, that they cannot really mean it. For example, after ticking off various aspects of Christ’s humanity, including his virgin birth, growth as a child, temptation, sinlessness, death, and resurrection, Dave claimed: “None of this is true of the Trinitarian Jesus.” As I pointed out in my rebuttal comment, this is a slanderously false criticism. There is nothing intrinsic to the nature or experience of being human that orthodox Christians do not regard as true about Jesus. This truth is absolutely essential to orthodox doctrine. Dave claims that I as a Trinitarian cannot affirm that Jesus is a man “without qualification.” However, not only is this not so, but it is Dave who must qualify and equivocate much of what the NT says about Christ. Thus, Dave doesn’t think the NT means it when it calls Jesus God, says that all things were created through him, or says that he came down from heaven.

Jesus is the Son of God. Dave also made the interesting—and bizarre—claim that Biblical Unitarians believe that Jesus is the “literal” Son of God. But as I pointed out in response, Unitarians do not believe that Jesus is God’s “literal” Son because they do not believe that God procreated Jesus or that Jesus is the same kind of being as God. In another comment, I showed that even though “Son of God” in Jewish parlance might be used simply as a synonym for “Messiah,” Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God was repeatedly understood by the Jews as claiming equality with God (John 5:17-18; 10:30-33; 19:7).

MY LORD AND MY GOD: THE CASE FOR THE ETERNAL DEITY OF CHRIST

As a Unitarian, Dave affirms that Jesus Christ is an exalted man in heaven, deputized by God to perform divine functions on his behalf. Thus, Jesus Christ is not really God at all. However, because he performs divine functions on God’s behalf, the Bible occasionally refers to Jesus as “God” in the sense of acknowledging him as God’s agent. Dave claims that the Bible speaks of other creatures as God’s agent in this way as well.

My case for believing that Jesus Christ is God, over against this Unitarian construct, rests on three main points: Christ’s preexistence, honors, and names.

Christ’s Divine Preexistence

The NT teaches in a variety of contexts that Jesus Christ preexisted his human life, especially in John (1:1-3, 9-10, 14-18; 8:56-59; 13:3; 16:28; 17:5), Paul (Rom. 8:3; 1 Cor. 10:4, 9; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 4:4-6; Phil. 2:3-8; Col. 1:12-17), and Hebrews (1:1-3, 10-12; 2:17; 7:3; 10:5). We had the opportunity to discuss some of these passages in detail.

Galatians 4:4-6. Paul’s statement that in the fullness of time “God sent his Son, coming to be of a woman, coming to be under the Law” (Gal. 4:4) speaks of God’s Son as someone who already existed and then became a Jewish human being. In a comment on Galatians 4:4 responding to Dave, I pointed out four exegetical details in the passage that converge to show that this is the correct understanding of Paul’s statement.

Philippians 2:3-8. In Part 3, I made three key points in my brief discussion of Philippians 2 that support the conclusion that Paul there teaches the preexistence of Christ and that Dave completely side-stepped. (1) Paul uses Christ’s deference to God the Father as the ultimate illustration of a person treating an equal as someone more important than himself (vv. 3-5). This makes perfect sense if Christ was by rights equal with God but makes no sense if Christ is by rights not equal with God. (2) Christ existed in God’s form but took the form of a servant (vv. 6-7). I explained why this means that Christ existed in heaven in the glorious appearance of God but graciously took on the humble appearance of God’s servant. (3) Christ “emptied himself,” that is, humbly gave of himself, by “becoming in the likeness of human beings,” and he found himself in outward appearance as a man (v. 7). As I put it, “A human being cannot humble himself to become a human being because that is what he already and originally is. What Paul says here, then, must refer to Christ’s decision before the Incarnation to become a human being.” Dave failed to engage any of these arguments, and instead rather outrageously claimed that I “didn’t present any” evidence for my view. I reiterated these points and responded to Dave’s other criticisms in a detailed comment on Philippians 2.

All things created through Christ (John 1:3, 10; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). John, Paul, and Hebrews all teach that “all things” were created “through” the preexistent Jesus Christ (whom John calls the Logos and Paul and Hebrews call the Son and Lord). Dave’s strategy for handling the Pauline and Hebrews texts is to argue that “all things” (or “the ages” in Heb. 1:2) refers to the new creation that comes through Christ’s redemptive acts, not the original creation. I explained in a comment why this interpretive strategy will not work, comparing the language used for Christ’s role in creation to the language used for God’s role. In a comment on Hebrews 1:1-4, I also discussed the meaning of tous aiōnas (“the ages”) in Hebrews 1:2 and showed why it must also refer to the totality of creation. Dave had argued that when Hebrews 1:10-12 quotes Psalm 102:25-27 concerning the Lord creating the universe, it is referring to the Father rather than the Son. In my comment on Hebrews 1:5-13, I showed why that will not hold up exegetically and why Hebrews does apply that Psalm text to the Son.

Jesus is the Logos, who is God, incarnate (John 1:1-18). In Part 2, I laid out in summary form a Trinitarian understanding of this passage: the Logos, who was personally distinct from God and yet was God, became flesh as the human being Jesus Christ. Dave argued that John 1:1 means not that the Logos was “God” but that it was “divine,” and that the subject of John 1:1-3 is not Jesus (who is not mentioned there), but the impersonal Logos. Dave also proposed that John 1:10 should be exegeted to mean that the world “was split” or divided by Christ’s life and mission on earth.

In my first comment on John 1 in response, I pointed out that the omission of the name “Jesus” from John 1:1-3 is no more significant than its omission in Colossians 1:15-20 or Hebrews 1. In another comment on John 1, I showed that the Logos is a preexistent person and explained why John 1:10 must mean that the world “came into existence,” not “was split,” by Christ (a truly unprecedented and indefensible exegesis as far as I can tell). In a long comment on “God” in John 1:1c, I explained why the translation “the Word was divine” is simply untenable. As I showed in that comment, no major Bible version ever translates the nominative theos as “divine” in any other verse (LXX or NT), because it simply is not used with that adjectival meaning. The data overwhelmingly proves that “God” is the correct rendering.

Confusing preexistence with predestination? Dave argued that any NT passage that seems to describe Christ as preexistent is actually using language familiar in Judaism to speak of God foreknowing or predetermining his plans for human beings. According to Dave, this use of “preexistence” language is reflected in the Talmud and in texts that refer to God calling or preparing his prophets before they existed (e.g., Assumption of Moses 1:14; Jer. 1:5). Dave also quoted at length from Sigmund Mowinckel’s book He That Cometh to prove that in Jewish thought the Messiah was described as preexistent only in this predestinarian sense.

In my comment on preexistence in Talmudic Judaism, I showed that in general when the rabbis said that something existed or was created before the world, they meant it literally (e.g., Eden, Gehenna, the Torah). When they did not mean it literally, they typically said so (“Some of them were created, and some of them arose in the thought of God to be created”). The rabbis did not say that the Messiah preexisted but only that his name preexisted—a distinction that Dave’s argument overlooked. In my comment on prophetic calling texts, I pointed out that in such texts as Assumption of Moses 1:14 and Jeremiah 1:5 attribute no existence or activity to the prophet; they simply state that God prepared, designed, or predetermined that the prophet would serve in that calling. Finally, I showed in another comment that Dave had quoted Mowinckel out of context. Mowinckel shows that the Jewish “Son of Man” was a really (not ideally) pre-existent, heavenly, divine being. Thus, careful study of the Jewish background to the NT actually turns Dave’s argument on its head and shows that the NT preexistence language for Christ refers to him as a really preexistent divine person.

John 13:1-3 and 16:28. In John 13:1-3, John tells us that Jesus knew he had come from God and was going back to God. In John 16:28, Jesus asserts that he came from the Father into the world and was about to leave the world and go to the Father. As I explained in Part 4, since Biblical Unitarians agree that Jesus literally left the world and went to the Father, they cannot plausibly deny that these verses mean that Jesus literally left the Father to come into the world. Furthermore, the disciples acknowledge immediately after Jesus’ statement that he was not speaking figuratively (John 16:29)! These statements prove that Christ literally preexisted his human life.

Christ’s Divine Honors

The NT reveals that the Son is the proper recipient or object of worship, prayer, spiritual singing, fear (reverence), absolute love, and other honors that in a religious context all belong only to God (e.g., Matt. 9:28; 10:37; 14:33; 28:17; John 5:23; 8:24; 14:1, 14-15; Acts 1:24-25; 7:59-60; 16:31; Rom. 10:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:16-22; 16:22; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; 12:7-9; Eph. 5:19-21; 6:24; Phil. 2:10-11; Col. 3:22-25; Heb. 1:6; 1 Peter 2:6; 3:14-16; 1 John 5:13-15; Rev. 5:9-14; 22:1-3, 20-21). The hypothetical construct that he is God’s human agent simply does not account for this unreserved showering of divine honors on Christ.

The divine honors that Dave and I discussed were prayer to and worship of Christ. In a comment on Romans 10:9-13, I showed, contrary to Dave’s objection, that “calling upon the name of the Lord” does mean praying, and that the NT instructs us to direct this activity toward Jesus Christ. I also argued that in order for Jesus to attend to any and all prayers directed his way, he must know what is in the hearts of all people at all times. This means that he needs to have the divine nature commensurate to the task.

Regarding the worship of Christ, Dave argued that the Greek word for worship (proskuneō) need not imply that Christ is God, since human beings in the Bible sometimes “bow down” (proskuneō) to other human beings. The problem is that the contexts in which the exalted Christ receives worship are clearly religious contexts. The disciples worship the risen Christ on the mountain (Matt. 28:17); if Christ was only an exalted man, would this not be like the Israelites worshipping Moses when they should have been worshipping God? In Part 2, I argued that the surrounding context of this worship makes it a religious act, and in a follow-up comment I defended this interpretation. In that same comment, I also responded to the argument from silence that the Bible never refers to Christ as the object of actions described using the latreuō or sebomai word groups. Hebrews 1:6 reveals that the angels also worship Christ, quoting an OT text (probably Deut. 32:43) in which God was the object of their worship. (In my follow-up comment on Hebrews 1:5-13, I briefly discussed some problems with Dave’s claim that Israel, not God, was the object of angelic worship in Deuteronomy 32:43.) In a later comment on Revelation 4-5, I gave four reasons why the worship that the Lamb receives in Revelation 5 must be regarded as the highest act of religious worship.

Christ’s Divine Names

The third major line of evidence for the eternal deity of Christ that I discussed in this debate is his divine names or titles.

While the Greek word kurios could mean simply “master,” in religious contexts quoting from or alluding to OT texts and motifs the term stands for the Hebrew name Yahweh (“Jehovah” or “the LORD”), which was the distinctive name of God in the OT. Examples of the NT calling Jesus “Lord” where this clearly means the LORD Jehovah are too numerous to dismiss. In addition to 1 Corinthians 8:6, I drew special attention to Romans 10:9-13 and Philippians 2:9-11 as examples in Part 3 of this debate (see also the follow-up comments on Romans 10:9-13 and Philippians 2:3-11). My treatment of 1 Corinthians 8:6 included a paragraph summarizing the evidence that Paul referred to Jesus as the LORD Jehovah repeatedly in 1 Corinthians. For example, Paul uses the expressions “calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” and “the day of the Lord Jesus Christ,” two allusions to Joel 2:31-32, in the same context (1 Cor. 1:2, 8).

Although the number of texts that call Jesus “God” is comparatively few, they are potent in theological significance. I have already explained why John 1:1c (“and the Logos was God”) refers to the preincarnate Christ and identifies him as “God” (not describe an impersonal “logos” as “divine”). Dave acknowledges that Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God,” and I explained (again in Part 3) why this reference cannot be explained away as meaning only that Jesus was God’s agent. Most difficult for the Unitarian position, however, is John 20:28, where Thomas confessed Jesus as “my Lord and my God!” Dave admitted that Thomas called Jesus “God” but supposed it was sufficient to point out that the Bible occasionally calls angels or people theoi. However, as I pointed out in a follow-up comment on John 20:28, Thomas did not simply refer to Jesus as “God” (or “god”); he called him “my God.” That is something no faithful Jew would ever call any creature. I documented in that comment that the OT is filled with over a thousand parallel expressions (“my God,” “our God,” “your God,” etc.), and in none of them is anyone or anything approvingly given such a designation. This is compelling evidence that John 20:28 refers to Jesus Christ as the LORD God.

Jesus has other divine titles, including “Savior” as a divine title and the parallel, exclusive divine titles “the First and the Last” and “the Alpha and the Omega” in Revelation. The cumulative weight of all this evidence is just too much to explain it all away.

Jesus: Super Agent Man?

In order to make sense of the divine names, honors, position, and works of the exalted Christ, Unitarianism postulates a principle of agency according to which Jesus bears those names, receives those honors, holds that position, and performs those works simply as God’s exalted human agent. Jesus’ statement, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives not me but the one who sent me” (Matt. 10:40), is the primary proof text for this supposedly “Jewish” principle or law of agency. It supposedly proves, as Dave quoted James McGrath as asserting, that the agent was “functionally equal or equivalent to the one who sent him” (Only True God, 62).

As I explained in a comment on the principle of agency, neither Matthew 10:40 nor the rabbinical literature attests to such a principle in the broad way that Dave and McGrath seek to employ it. The actual principle was a simple matter of receiving a messenger’s message as coming from the one who sent him. Neither Jews nor Christians employed this principle, for example, to mean that humans might worship, serve, or pray to angels. The very Christian text Dave quoted, Didache 11.4, illustrates the limited focus of the agency principle, as it instructs Christians to welcome apostles for one or two days as they would the Lord—and after that to regard them as false prophets seeking to exploit Christian hospitality! In the same comment, I responded to Dave’s list of biblical examples of the agency principle, showing that they do not exemplify the assignment of divine powers or privileges to creatures as God’s agents.

The theological construct that Christ bears the divine names “God” and “Lord” merely as God’s agent falls to pieces when we recognize that Christ was “God” before creation (John 1:1) and was performing divine functions before anyone else existed—and therefore before there was anyone to whom he might come as God’s agent. We should therefore take the NT at its word when it affirms that Jesus is our God, the LORD himself.

WITNESS OF THE PARACLETE: THE CASE FOR THE PERSONHOOD OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Due to space limitations, I will have to be much briefer in reviewing the case for the personhood of the Holy Spirit. In general, my argument in Part 4 for the personhood of the Holy Spirit anticipated and refuted in advance Dave’s main arguments against this aspect of the doctrine of the Trinity. The simplistic argument that Luke 1:35 defines the Holy Spirit as the power of God is fallacious, as a comparison with such texts as Luke 22:69 (in the same book!) or 1 Corinthians 1:24, where the Father and the Son are also both called “the power of God,” makes clear.

There is some basis in the OT for viewing the Spirit of the LORD as a divine person. However, the fact that the Holy Spirit was a person distinct from the Father and the Son could not be and was not revealed explicitly until the Son had come to reveal the Father (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18) and was preparing to leave the disciples in the custody of the Holy Spirit. Such explicit revelation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit is a major theme in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-16). Jesus introduces the figure of the Paraclete (“Comforter,” “Advocate,” etc.) in the context of his leaving the disciples to return to the Father (John 13:1-3; 16:5-7, 28). When he leaves them, Jesus says, he will send “another Paraclete,” the Holy Spirit, to them—who will be someone like Jesus himself (cf. 1 John 2:1). The narrative context in which Jesus says these things as he prepares them for his departure rules out the notion that this is mere personification.

The Book of Acts confirms this conclusion. The Holy Spirit appears in the narrative at the very beginning and end of the book (1:2; 28:25-26) to mark him as the book’s primary witness, just as Luke had mentioned Simon Peter as the first and last named disciple in his Gospel (Luke 4:38; 24:34) because that book derived primarily from Peter’s eyewitness testimony. Acts also presents the Holy Spirit as a participant at key points throughout the book. The “personal” language in Acts about the Spirit speaking, being lied to, thinking, testifying, etc., is not personification, because it is integrated into a historical narrative account in which the Holy Spirit is a major participant and witness.

By contrast, the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 takes place in the literary context of a poetic book of wisdom literature, not a historical narrative. Dave’s attempt to argue that if we don’t view wisdom as a person neither should we view the Holy Spirit as one ignores these genre and contextual differences, as I explained in a comment on personification.

The evidence for the personhood of the Holy Spirit, already quite substantial from John and Acts, is augmented and broadened when we look at the many instances of triadic statements about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the NT. I looked at a dozen major examples of these triadic statements in Part 5. These triadic statements provide further confirmation of the distinct person of the Holy Spirit, and testify to a threefoldness of Christian piety woven throughout the NT.

CONCLUSION: THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY IS BIBLICALLY GROUNDED

I have argued that the Son truly is the LORD God and that the Holy Spirit is a person distinct from the Father and the Son. I conclude, then, that the evidence presented here shows that the Trinity is biblically grounded in a way that Unitarianism is not.

Ironically, if the apostles did teach Unitarianism, their understanding of Christianity completely and suddenly disappeared after the passing of the apostles. As I pointed out to Dave in a comment on early Trinitarianism, historians find no trace of any religious movement even remotely akin to Unitarianism in the second or third centuries. On the other hand, the ante-Nicene Fathers were roughly or rudely trinitarian in their theology. This historical evidence provides significant confirmation that the Trinitarian reading of the NT is correct.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    166 replies to "The Great Trinity Debate, Part 6: Rob Bowman’s Closing Statement"

    • Patrick Navas

      because it is not prefaced by the modifier “one.” But the “one God” of 1 Cor. 8:6 is clearly the same “God” of Acts 2:36 who made Jesus “Lord,” just as the “one Lord” of 1 Cor. 8:6 is the same “Lord” of Acts 2:36, namely, Jesus, the one who was “made” Lord by the one God.

      “In John 17:3 I see something affirmed about the Father yet nothing denied of the Son.”

      That is comparable to reading the following statement…

      “To truly experience what our government represents, you must meet the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and you must meet the one he sent, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.”

      …and then arguing, “In the above sentence, I see something affirmed about Barack Obama (namely, that he is ‘the President of the United States’), yet nothing denied of Hillary Clinton (that is, that she is not ‘the President of the United States’).”

      In the above sentence the speaker does not have to make it a point to deny that Hillary Clinton is “the President of the United States” because it is self-evident and intrinsic to the language used—a logical necessity. The logic could not be more basic. Hillary Clinton cannot be the “President of the United States” because she is the “Secretary of State” who is distinct from “the President of the United States” (Barack Obama) and was “sent” by “the President of the United States.” It simply goes without saying that she is not “the President of the United States.”

    • Patrick Navas

      The same is true when Scripture describes Abraham as “the friend of God.” Does Scripture make a special point to tell us that Abraham is not God? Why would it? It is logically necessary that Abraham is not “God.” If you are the “friend of God” you are not “God” because you are “the friend of God.” Common sense that really needs no elaboration.

      The same common-sense point applies to texts like John 17:3 and other texts like it. Jesus is not presented as “the only true God” but as a distinct figure from “the only true God” that was “sent” by “the only true God.” Jesus did not have to “deny” that he was “the only true God” just as the above sentence does not have to “deny” that Hillary Clinton is not “the President of the United States.” This is already a foregone conclusion by virtue of the fact that she is “the Secretary of State” that was “sent” by “the President of the United States” who is a distinct figure from herself. Likewise, Jesus does not have to go out of his way to “deny” that he is “the only true God” because his purpose is not to prove who he is “not” but who is “is,” namely, the one that was sent by “the only true God,” a figure Jesus himself presented as someone other than himself.

      “I also see that in context Jesus says that salvation is predicated on knowing both himself and the Father so that the understanding that we’re left with is that the Father alone is not enough for eternal life. I also see Jesus recounting the preexistent relationship that he had with the Father when he commands him to glorify him with the glory that they shared before the world existed.”

      I agree that salvation is tied to knowing the only true God and the one he sent, Jesus, but I accept Jesus as he presents himself here, as the one sent by the only true God, the “Christ.” Jesus “commands” the Father to give him glory? Does the Psalmist “command” God to “incline…

    • Patrick Navas

      “And finally, I don’t ask questions of the text that aren’t addressed by the text, such as “why didn’t Paul say something here that I think would have been the ideal place for him to say it?” I wonder, why didn’t Moses mention whether or not Adam and Eve had belly buttons when surely Genesis 2 would have been the perfect place for him to do so?”

      Once again, a bizarre and completely irrelevant statement. Your argument would have merit if I was arguing that the notion that “Adam and Eve had belly buttons” is the central doctrine of Christianity and that our very salvation depends upon acceptance of this. Your comparison is utterly without substance. Trinitarians are not positing an aribitrary, non-religious point that has no relevance to the tenets of the Christian faith. They are positing a doctrine about the very identify of the one God that they say you must accept in order to be a true Christian, in spite of the fact that neither Jesus nor his apostles ever taught it. The Trinitarian claim fittingly begs the obvious question. If the Trinity is true, why didn’t Jesus or his aposltes teach it?

      “I think the difference is that I, as a Trinitarian, can point out the shortcomings in the positive case presented by the Unitarian. From my reading of this debate and my interaction with Unitarians of various groups over the years it seems that they tend to rely on arguments from silence (as you do when you ask why Paul or anyone else didn’t say what you think should be said at an opportune time) rather than dealing with the positive case presented by the Trinitarian.”

      I cannot speak to your past experiences or in regard to your assessment of Dave Burke’s performance in this debate. But I have published a nearly 600 page book (Divine Truth or Human Tradition?) in which I do in fact address essentially every relevant text and positive argument Trinitarians make. I quote Trinitarians directly and represent their arguments accurately, and…

    • Patrick Navas

      and then proceed to show why I believe their arguments fail, from a scriptural perspective.

      Best wishes,

      Patrick Navas

    • cherylu

      Ummm, I have found myself wondering over the last few days if anyone is reading the blog rules here? Particularly # 5? You know the one that says something like, “Please don’t spam comments–don’t make one post right after another.

    • Patrick Navas

      Sorry if I flooded the posts everyone. I didn’t read the rules.

      Patrick

    • MarkE

      Rob,
      May I ask a question?
      If I interpret what you said in my own words (please correct if wrong):
      Christ could sin in theory as otherwise temptation is not real.
      Christ could not sin morally as otherwise one small mistake would have meant that God’s plan of redemption would have failed, and the risk was so high.
      I realise this is a very short summary, but that is what it seems to boil down to.
      So then what was the struggle in Gethsemane about?
      Do you see it as a human “fear of dying”? But we see that Paul had lost that. The average terrorist has lost that (and not because they believe death will be quick and painless). Not only that, but a fear of dying is a human reaction and not a sin yet Hebrews compares our struggle against sin with this struggle in Gethsemane (“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” Hebr. 12:2 – maybe not the best translation as that means killing).
      Or do you see it as a fear of failing, but then you think he could not?
      So what are your views on this?
      (@cherylu – sorry, I’ll stick to the rules)

    • Phil McCheddar

      Some suggestions as to why the NT does not teach the Trinity in a nice tidy formula similar to the Nicean Creed:
      (1) Referring to Jesus as God would sometimes create a linguistic ambiguity, eg. it may lead to the absurd idea that: “The Father was in God, reconciling the world to himself” (cf. 2 Cor.5:19).
      (2) There was a risk believers would fall into the trap of thinking there are 3 Gods.
      (3) A formal statement of the Trinity may have misled some people into not accepting the truth of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus’ humanity was an aspect of his nature that was essential for him to become an effective High Priest for us.
      (4) The statement “Jesus is God” may have implied to some people that “God is Jesus” – which is not true.
      (5) It may have misled and confused monotheists into thinking that Jesus is the Father.
      (6) Instead of spoon-feeding people with explicit doctrine, the apostles could communicate some truths more effectively by making allusions and hints and then leaving people to join the dots together for themselves to form the right conclusion (cf. Matthew 11:2-6). This method forces people to think through the ramifications and significance of the issue instead of learning a formal statement of a doctrine but not having any depth of understanding.

      I’m not sure of any of the above – I just throw them into the arena to see if any of these ideas withstand your keen scrutiny!

    • Patrick Navas

      Phil,

      Thanks for attempting to answer my question directly.

      If there was “risk” that believers might fall into the trap of thinking there were “three gods,” could not the apostles have avoided all these “errors” (assuming they believed in the Trinity) by simply explaining all the necessary nuances and qualifications of Trinitarian doctrine so that people would not fall into error? Did they not have this ability? If the statement “Jesus is God” might imply that Jesus is the Father or “God is Jesus” why do Trinitarians say it that way today? And why would it have been misleading for first-century believers but not misleading or confusing now? To me it sounds like you are essentially saying that the explicit doctrine of the Trinity (and associated concepts) would have confused people in NT times. That’s why they refrained from presenting it in that way?

      (6) Instead of spoon-feeding people with explicit doctrine, the apostles could communicate some truths more effectively by making allusions and hints and then leaving people to join the dots together for themselves to form the right conclusion (cf. Matthew 11:2-6). This method forces people to think through the ramifications and significance of the issue instead of learning a formal statement of a doctrine but not having any depth of understanding.

      I agree that the Bible at times uses parables, poetry, symbols, hyperboles, and figures of speech to communicate truths, but, when it comes to essential Christian teaching, I noticed that Jesus and the writers of Scripture always directly and explicitly “spoon fed” essential truths to us. “God raised Jesus from the dead.” “This is eternal life, their knowing you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent,” “He that confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” “God is one.” “These things were written so that you may…

    • Ed Kratz

      Mark E,

      As I understand it, Jesus was not afraid of dying, nor was he afraid of failing. He dreaded taking on himself the crushing weight of our sin. He knew that in the ordeal of his crucifixion he would feel the weight of our guilt and shame and the pain of feeling abandoned or forsaken by the Father. It was perfectly right for him to express candidly in prayer that he would have rather avoided that experience.

      Does that answer your question?

      By the way, I don’t understand Hebrews 12:4 (not 12:2) to be referring to Jesus’ ordeal in Gethsemane. It means that the readers had not yet had to face martyrdom.

    • Ed Kratz

      Andrew,

      Here are my answers to your questions and comments.

      1. Rabbinical Judaism is not akin to Biblical Unitarianism. Unitarianism is not merely belief in a unipersonal deity. By that standard, Judaism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, and even the ancient pagan worshippers of Zeus, were “Unitarians.” That is not a constructive or informative use of the term. Unitarians believe in a unipersonal God and in Jesus Christ as his created, exalted human agent.

      2. Our aim should not be to accommodate Christian theology to some “Jewish Christianity” that once existed, but to be faithful to the teachings of the apostles. Would you want to accommodate Christian theology to satisfy Paul’s opponents in Galatia?

      3. I didn’t say that Dave’s view entails the sudden disappearance of “Christianity,” but the sudden disappearance of the Unitarianism he claims the apostles taught.

      4. I’m sorry, but you don’t seem to have followed my argument very closely. I didn’t say that there were no non-Trinitarian theologies in the second century. Go back and read what I wrote again, please.

      5. Dave himself made the sweeping observation that the church fathers of the second and third centuries were generally subordinationists, and in that respect deviated from Trinitarianism as formally articulated in the fourth century creeds. If this was the most important way in which they differed from later, explicit Trinitarianism, then they were much more like Trinitarians than they were like Unitarians.

      6. Church history formed no part of my case for the doctrine of the Trinity. I was simply responding to Dave’s argument and showing that it backfired on him. Church history, if anything, supports Trinitarianism. But I have been clear throughout the debate, have I not, that the issue must be decided on the basis of the Bible?

    • Ed Kratz

      Dear Pär,

      You are obviously a very discerning person. 😉

      First, I don’t claim that every use of kurios for Jesus in the NT represents the divine name Yahweh. I look at each occurrence on a case by case basis and attempt to make a determination exegetically as to whether such is the case or not.

      Second, yes, once the Jews routinely used “Lord” (in whatever language) as a surrogate for the name Yahweh, it would be a natural development to attach possessive pronouns to “Lord” even when using it in place of Yahweh.

      Third, Revelation 11:15 is an unambiguous example (“the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ”) of a text that calls the Father “Lord” with a possessive pronoun. Assuming Revelation 4:11 (“our Lord and God”) refers to the Father, that text would probably be another example. I say “probably” because I suppose it is barely possible to construe “our” with “God” only, but I think this is exegetically tough to defend. There are other texts that call the Father “Lord” where this cannot be glossed as “Yahweh” (e.g., Matt. 11:25; James 3:9).

      Fourth, there are several NT texts that call Jesus Lord and allude to or quote from Psalm 110:1, but most do not, and hermeneutically it would be unjustifiable to try to shoehorn all NT references to Jesus as Lord into a narrow understanding of Psalm 110:1.

      Fifth, I don’t see how Psalm 110:1 plausibly helps to avoid the conclusion that such texts as Romans 10:9-13 identify Jesus as Yahweh. Paul tells us explicitly what OT text he has in mind, and it isn’t Psalm 110:1, it’s Joel 2:32.

    • Ed Kratz

      Thomas Gaston,

      Thanks for your comments. Let me repeat what I told Andrew: Church history formed no part of my case for the doctrine of the Trinity. I was simply responding to Dave’s argument and showing that it backfired on him.

      You are correct that the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, et. al., have survived because Trinitarian Christians in later centuries found them compatible, by and large, with their own beliefs—or at least in sufficient continuity with orthodoxy that they were worth preserving. I don’t think this observation does anything but support my contention that these second-century and early third-century Christian writers were in general on a trajectory toward Trinitarian theology.

      Now it’s true that writings of Christians whose theological views were well out of that mainstream were not preserved. But the orthodox church fathers’ writings contain a great deal of information about the alternative theologies of their day, and none of those alternative theologies were anything reasonably close to Unitarianism.

      I also agree that some elements of Justin’s theology derived from Hellenistic philosophy, not from the Bible. The trick is to figure out which was which. Where Justin produces numerous biblical proof texts for his position, especially where those proof texts show up in the writings of other early Christian writers, I take it that he was drawing on the Bible for his views, probably as other Christians had taught him. Where Justin’s biblical support is weak or nonexistent, or where his reasoning is evidently drawn from Hellenistic philosophy, I take it that his ideas did not derive from the Bible. Based on this distinction, I conclude that Justin’s belief that Christians were to worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that the Son was himself the LORD God, derived from the Bible, and his subordinationist interpretation of the Son’s relationship to the Father derived from extrabiblical Hellenistic philosophy.

      Finally, I am surprised that you would claim that Unitarians can “agree whole-heartedly” with Aristides. Did he not write the following? “And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man” (Apology 2). Is this statement not wholly incompatible with Unitarianism?

    • sam shamoun

      This is directed to brother Rob Bowman. I think that both you and Dave have made your case and that there really is no need to continue responding to comments since this will be never ending. This is especially so in light of the fact that most of the questions and comments are all from unitarians and I am afraid that this puts you in a disadvantageous position of being bombarded with objections. I know that you have a lot more to do with your life than to sit behind a computer spending hours responding to for hours.

      Anyway, may the Triune God richly bless you for all you have done and continue to do and for the fantastic job of proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the Holy Bible does affirm the Trinity. I am sure that I speak for all the Trinitarians that we were immensely blessed reading your six part defense of this gloriously revealed truth.

    • Ed Kratz

      Patrick,

      In reply to comment #17 above, you wrote:

      “I had a feeling you would not answer my question. I’m asking honestly, and I’ll ask again. For the sake of argument, let’s say the Trinity is true. From your perspective, why didn’t Jesus or the apostles simply teach/proclaim the doctrine clearly and directly. Did they deliberately avoid teaching it directly, for some reason?”

      Patrick, your question assumes that I think the apostles were holding something back in their teaching. I don’t think any such thing. They taught what they taught in the words they chose under divine inspiration to use. They did not articulate explicitly, “clearly and directly” as you put it, any of the systematic theologies that later developed. That is, they do not teach in explicit form Unitarianism, Arianism, Modalism/Monarchianism, or Trinitarianism. So the exact same hypothetical question that you asked could be posed to a Christadelphian, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a Oneness Pentecostal.

      One could also ask, hypothetically, other questions, such as the following: If it is true that the Scriptures consist of 66 books — 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament — and assuming this is important for Christians to know, why didn’t the apostles ever provide a list of the books that belong in the Bible? Why don’t they ever deal “clearly and directly” with the issue of the canon of Scripture?

      Asking such questions, in the end, is a diversion from the task of dealing with what the biblical writers do say.

    • Ed Kratz

      James,

      In the ancient world, bowing before an earthly king was not an act of religious devotion. It was a traditional custom of the culture that carried no religious overtones or implications. The act did not signify that the earthly king was a god. (Of course, in some cases earthly kings claimed to be gods, but the act of bowing before an earthly king was not in and of itself an act that accorded divine honor to the king.)

      On the other hand, bowing before a divinity (real or imagined) or its image, on the other hand, was an act of religious devotion. The LORD forbade the Israelites to bow down to or serve any other gods or any idol, or any of the heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon, or stars (Ex. 20:3-5; 23:24; 34:14; Lev. 26:1; Deut. 4:19; 5:7-9; 8:19; 11:16; 17:3; 30:17; Josh. 23:7, 16; 2 Kings 17:35-36). These texts do not simply prohibit sacrifice to anything other than the LORD (although that is occasionally mentioned, as in 2 Kings 17:36); they prohibit acts of devotion or subservience toward any supposed deity other than the LORD. You seem to think this is a circular argument, but I don’t see why it is. If anyone claims to be a deity, we should not bow to him; if anyone or anything is presented to us as a deity for us to acknowledge, we should not bow before that supposed deity. If anyone other than the LORD claims to occupy his place in the cosmos, we should not acknowledge that claim by bowing before him or by doing anything that would constitute an acceptance of his claim.

      I am not aware of a single text in the OT or the NT describing a figure as the object of proskuneō where the figure functions as an agent of God, unless you count as examples texts in which Christ is the object (which would be circular). The passage you cited, 1 Chronicles 29:20, is no such example. The so-called agency principle is that the agent supposedly receives the same treatment or response as the one whom the agent represents. This principle presupposes a situation in which the sender is not present or visible, but sends an agent in his stead. Supposedly, this would mean that the people would “worship” God’s agent because the agent is there representing God. But in such a situation, the people would not be directing worship to the agent as well as to God, but rather directing the worship to the agent in loco Deus. Yet 1 Chronicles 29:20 states that the people assembled “bowed themselves to the LORD and to the king.” The people do not bow to the king as God’s agent, but as the king, as the people always did toward any human king.

      In the case of Matthew 28:17, the act of bowing before Christ in that context connotes an acknowledgment of him as divine for several reasons. (1) The event has an obvious religious physical setting on a mountain where, if Jesus is just God’s human agent, his place is comparable to that of Moses. Yet the disciples worship Christ. (2) The Gospel of Matthew sets up this narrative in the Temptation narrative, where the devil offers the authority that Christ eventually received if Christ would worship him, to which Christ says that only the LORD is to be the object of worship (Matt. 4). With this narrative framing, the worship of Christ on the mountain in Matthew 28 is evidently the worship that Christ had earlier stated belonged only to the LORD God. (3) Christ claims to have universal authority, i.e., he claims to occupy the place of God in the cosmos. (4) Christ includes himself as the Son alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit as the objects of confession in baptism. (5) Christ promises his continued presence with his people wherever they go in terms that echo similar claims in the OT by God (e.g., Gen. 28:15).

      In other places in this debate, I have explained why proskuneō directed toward Christ in Hebrews 1:6 and Revelation 5:13-14 in those contexts also connotes religious devotion.

      I do not think Jesus is the object of sacrifice in the NT. In your book, you make much of this point. But James, surely you know the reason why: in the NT, Jesus himself is the sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 7:27; 9:26; 10:10-14). By his death on the cross, Jesus accomplished redemption for all time and made the sacrifices and offerings of the old covenant passé. Why would Christians offer animal sacrifices to the One who was himself the ultimate and final sacrifice, the Lamb of God? Indeed, the practice of offering sacrifices in the temple seems to have been exceptional rather than routine even among the Jewish Christians prior to the temple’s destruction (Acts 21:20-26 seems to be our only recorded example, and the circumstances suggest that it was an exceptional occurrence). So this is hardly a convincing basis on which to argue that the NT writers do not view Jesus as God.

      You make a worthy point regarding Solomon sitting “on the throne of the LORD” (1 Chron. 29:23). I address this point in Putting Jesus in His Place:

      In 1 Chronicles, David stated that God had chosen his “son Solomon to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel” (1 Chron. 28:5). As Martin Hengel points out, David’s statement falls short of what the New Testament says about Christ. “Here it is not a question of the heavenly throne of God itself, but of the ideal kingdom of the house of David, that Yahweh as the true king of Israel established, a motif that can be traced back to 2 Sam. 7:14 in connection with 1 Sam. 8:7 and 16:1” (Studies in Early Christology, 180). At the end of 1 Chronicles the author states, “Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD, succeeding his father David as king” (1 Chron. 29:23). In light of the previously quoted statement of David, the meaning here is that the Lord is the true king of Israel (1 Sam. 8:6-7); David and his sons are simply ruling on his behalf, subject to his continued support (cf. 1 Chron. 29:25). These statements do not speak of the king ruling from God’s heavenly throne, but they do suggest that in some sense the king rules in God’s place. [248]

      So I agree that in a limited sense, the Israelite king (David or Solomon especially) functioned as God’s “agent” in that they ruled Israel on his behalf. I even agree that this motif establishes some precedent for the NT teaching that Christ rules from God’s throne. In the NT, however, what was a very limited, circumscribed agency with regard to the Israelite king is expanded to include Jesus Christ in the very identity of God. OT texts referring to Yahweh are applied to Christ. He is given divine titles such as God, Alpha and Omega, and Savior, in contexts where the divine status these convey is unmistakable. He is credited with making the universe and sustaining it. He is the object of the fear of the LORD, the love that Israel was to have toward the LORD, the doxological praises that David gave to the LORD, the singing of hymns to the LORD, and the worship that Jesus himself said belonged only to the LORD. At some point, I would think, the “agency” principle just breaks down as an explanatory filter.

    • MarkE

      Rob,
      Re #60. Yes it’s an answer. Thanks, I now understand your point of view.

    • James F. McGrath

      Thank you, Rob, for your detailed reply.

      I’ll post about other details on a later occasion if it still seems worthwhile, but for now let me focus on two major substantive points whichprobably undergird many of the details on which we differ.

      First, why should we be surprised if a worldview that allowed the divine name Yahweh to be bestowed upon agents, also applied texts about Yahweh to such agents. The transfer or sharing of the name seems to encourage such use of Yahweh texts – without necessarily implying eternal inclusion in the divine identity.

      Second, belief in an omnipresent God either requires distinctive thinking about agency, or eliminates the possibility of agency altogether. As the Gospel of John puts it, “The one who sent me is with me.”

    • Kaz

      Rob,

      You said:

      “The passage you cited, 1 Chronicles 29:20, is no such example. The so-called agency principle is that the agent supposedly receives the same treatment or response as the one whom the agent represents. This principle presupposes a situation in which the sender is not present or visible, but sends an agent in his stead. Supposedly, this would mean that the people would “worship” God’s agent because the agent is there representing God. But in such a situation, the people would not be directing worship to the agent as well as to God, but rather directing the worship to the agent in loco Deus. Yet 1 Chronicles 29:20 states that the people assembled “bowed themselves to the LORD and to the king.” The people do not bow to the king as God’s agent, but as the king, as the people always did toward any human king.”

      First, the act of proskuneo offered at 1 Chron 29:20 was a sort of physically expressed “Amen!” that came at the end of a long worshipful prayer to Jehovah. The context is clearly that of worship and the proskuneo offered was therefore a physical gesture offered as part of that worship. This was more than the standard bowing a person would offer to a king in a purely secular context.

      Second, the king sat on God’s throne and was therefore a sort of physical expression of God’s ruling authority. He therefore _was_ an agent of God. Note how the Amplified Bible captures this:

      “And David said to all the assembly, Now adore (praise and thank) the Lord your God! And all the assembly blessed the Lord, the God of their fathers, and bowed down and did obeisance to the Lord and to the king [as His earthly representative].”

      The king was considered God’s earthly representative and this made him an agent. There is no reason to think that an agent couldn’t be given proskuneo along with God, esp. in the context of a coronation, where the representational authority of the king is in view.

      ~Kaz

    • Tom McCall

      For discussion of the coherence of the doctrine of the Trinity, you might also want to see *Philosophical and Theological Essays on the Trinity,* eds. Thomas McCall and Michael Rea (OUP, 2009).

    • Sam Shamoun

      Kaz, since you think that an agent can receive worship or pruskyneo alongside God can you please explain to me why the angel in Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9 refused to recieve it even though he was clearly the agent of God and Christ according to Rev. 22:6 and 16? And further explain to me why Peter in Acts 10:25-26 refused it even though he too was an agent of God and Christ whom God had exalted in the heavenly places to sit with Christ on his throne and who would some day judge the nation of Israel in the kingdom which Christ promised to confer upon him and the other eleven disciples? See Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; Ephesisnas 2:6; Reve. 2:26-28; 3:21.

    • Kaz

      Hi Sam,

      Thank you for your questions.

      First, that proskuneo could be offered to the king alongside God isn’t really something I “think”; it’s something that seems to be presented to us rather clearly at 1 Chron 29:20. I consider it essentially impossible that the proskuneo the Jews offered in the “Amen!” gesture did not involve worship. Indeed, it’s hard for me to imagine any context in which the Jewish nation would prostrate themselves before Jehovah in recognition of his sovereignty where that act did not involve worship. Yet this single act of proskuneo was offered to both God and the king. This doesn’t mean that I think the Jews were in the habit of worshiping their kings indiscriminately, but 1 Chron 29 is a scene involving the coronation of one who would occupy God’s throne. As I said on James McGrath’s blog, there could scarcely be a clearer example of the application of the agency paradigm. You have the principal, God, who is appealed to for his blessing; you have an agent, the king, whose coronation involved the investment of divine authority as one who sat on God’s throne; and you have a nation of subjects who offer a gesture that seems to constitute their recognition of this relationship. The agency paradigm is fairly broad in its application and this is one example of that paradigm/concept at work.

      The question about the angel in Rev is addressed briefly by James McGrath here:

      http://www.jrdkirk.com/?p=727#comment-2899

      See my response directly below his post.

      As for Peter, there are probably a number of possible explanations. While he would eventually rule with Christ, he didn’t yet occupy a throne (whether one takes that literally or figuratively), nor did he sit on God’s throne, specifically, the way that David and Solomon did, as that throne was reserved for Christ.

      ~Kaz

    • Kaz

      Hi Sam,

      For another striking example where a king receives proskuneo with God’s blessing, see Isa. 45. In this account Cyrus is referred to as “Messiah”; God gives Cyrus a “name” (though unstated) that signifies conferred authority; and Cyrus is “worshiped/given obeisance” (he receives προσκυνήσουσί). Notice the correspondence between verses 14-17 and verses 22-25, which clearly seems to suggest that it was by bowing before Cyrus that “every knee” was made to bend and “every tongue” made to swear to Jehovah! The account is clearly Messianic, which is why Paul alluded to it at Philippians 2.

      ~Kaz

    • Sam Shamoun

      Kaz, thanks for your comments but you really didn’t adrress my question.

      In the first place, my comments concerning what you think wasn’t directed to your point regarding the king receiving worship alongside God. I was commetning on your claim concerning agency.

      Second, your reply regarding Peter won’t do since Jesus recieved proskyneo while on earth before he ascended to the throne and began to rule so why didn’t Peter? And Peter does in fact sit on God’s throne since according to Rev. 3:21 alll who overcome will sit on Christ’s throne who happens to sit on the Father’s throne. Thus, Peter being seated on the throne of Christ means that by extension he is also sitting on the throne of God. So I don’t see how your comments address my question here.

      Finally, McGrath’s comments do not explain why the angel refused worship. If an agent can receive proskyneo then why not this angel? To say he is a servant doesn’t address it since all Christian believers, including the apostles, were/are servants of God and Christ.

      This leads me to my next point. If as McGrath says that the angel is a servant like the human Christians then why are human Christians permitted to receive proskyneo in Revelation 3:9 whereas the angel is not? If all he is is a servant and on that grounds should not be rendered proskyeno then this surely must apply to all the other servants as well. So this leaves you with another problem, namely why are human Christians allowed to receive proskyneo but not God’s heavenly agents?

      Finally, doesn’t Peter’s refusal to receive proskyneo and the angel’s censoring of John actually prove that being agent, even one who shares in God’s rule and the exaltation of Christ, doesn’t qualify you for or give you the right to receive proskyneo?

      So I am left with the conclusion that your definition of agency is simply defective in light of the Biblical examples I provided. The Bible seems to contradict your understanding of agency.

    • Sam Shamoun

      continued

      So in light of this could you please reconcile 1 Chronicles 29:20 and Revelation 3:9 with what I said concerning Acts 10:25-26, Revelation 19:10 and 22:8-9? That would be much appreciated.

    • Sam Shamoun

      Kaz, I have to take issue with your interpretation of Isaiah 45:13-17 since you assume that vv. 14-15 necessarily apply to Cyrus. I disagree. However, we can discuss that some other time.

    • Kaz

      Hi Sam,

      It certainly could be quite interesting to get into an extended dialogue about the various instances in which proskuneo was offered to various individuals, what was signified by this elastic gesture in each individual context, why some received it with apparent approval and others without it, etc, but that’s really not my objective here. It’s an involved subject and I’m afraid that it would involve a greater time commitment than I am in a position to offer you right now. Perhaps we can take this up again at some point in the future.

      My twofold point here is that (i) kingship was a form of agency, and (ii) that kings were permitted to receive proskuneo alongside God and with his blessing in contexts where worship was apparently involved. My point is not and has never been that merely being an agent is itself a necessary basis upon which one becomes the rightful recipient of proskuneo, certainly not proskuneo that involves worship. The context and the form of agency must be carefully considered, and we should approach the subject with a degree of humility, recognizing that we are too far removed historically to expect to apprehend the absolutely definitive answer to every question.

      ~Kaz

    • MarkE

      Rob,
      As there are not a large list of outstanding questions for you, I would like to ask something else.

      In week 1 you started by listing the characteristics of God. As I understood the intention, it was to prove that if Christ showed these characteristics it is proof he is God (in the following weeks). As such I do not completely agree with the way it was worked out, as I agree that man in a mortal state does not have these characteristics, but that does not imply that man cannot be given some of these characteristics when raised in a new and glorious body, but I’ll leave that aside.

      A characteristic not mentioned, but in the Bible, is the complete unchangeableness of God. He can be completely relied on as He does not change. He is not human to change His mind. The limited number of words allowed here hampers also a complete description of this in Isaiah 40 – 48. There is also James 1:17, but maybe you only apply that to God the Father (not linked to Psalm 136?).
      So how does this link to Jesus, where a number of attributes contrary to God are visible:
      He is mortal, he is not omniscient, he can be tempted, and these are but a few. By taking on human nature, God has therefore shown He can change and destroyed the argument that He does not.
      I notice that Christ’s omniscience is defined by what happens to suit particular verses. He can remember the glory with the Father, but not remember when things will happen. He does remember the outcome of his suffering etc.
      So how do you link God’s unchanging nature (linked to promises) with a complete change taking on human nature? I would like to hear your view.

    • Antioch

      Rob (or any Trinitarian),

      If an individual who did not believe the doctrine of the trinity nevertheless received salvation, would this not mean that the doctrine is not essential to Christian belief?

    • sam shamoun

      Kaz,

      Since this is an involved subject which requires more time than you currently have we will leave it at that. If the Lord wills we can discuss it in the future when we both have more time. Thanks for your thoughts and taking the time to answer some of my questions.

    • Dave

      The entire exchange is collected conveniently on the following page:

      http://crande.blogspot.com/2010/04/great-trinity-debate-bowman-burke.html

    • […] his sixth and final installment of the debate, Bowman turns in his finest performance, making a number of interesting moves, and […]

    • trinities

      SCORING THE BURKE – BOWMAN DEBATE – Final Reflections (DALE)…

      Congratulations to both debaters on a fight well fought. (Here’s all the commentary.) Plenty of punches, thrown hard, relatively few low blows – two worthy opponents. Certainly, the fight must be decided on points, as there was no decisive …

    • MarkE

      A quote from someone who has written various books combining a scholarly approach and a readable style:

      It is also now recognized that the background of much of John’s Gospel is Jewish, and not exclusively Greek. Early traditions place the origin of this gospel in Ephesus, which made it inevitable that scholars should look for an exclusively Hellenistic background, especially in view of the prologue (1:1–18) which explains the incarnation in terms of the word or logos. Apart from the fact that Hellenism is now known to have been all-pervasive throughout the Roman empire, even in Palestine, it is interesting to note that if the prologue is removed from John there is little in the rest of it that demands a Greek background. Not only is there an emphasis throughout the gospel on the fulfilment of the Old Testament, but the evangelist states his purpose in a very Jewish form: ‘these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God’ (20:31).

      (Introducing the New Testament , John Drane, 2000, p.213).

      So why not try to read that last section, the prologue, against a Jewish background as well, even is that does go against tradition?

    • Dave Burke

      New Week; New Formula
      Rob,

      Since you’ve had to wait so long for this response, I thought it only fair to make it worth your while by adding some counter-rebuttal (you’ll find them posted immediately after this rebuttal).

      I was intrigued by the fact that the Trinitarian formula you presented in Week 6 was not the same one you presented at the start of the debate.

      In Week 1 you opened with this:

      1. There is one (true, living) God, identified as the Creator.
      2. This one God is the one divine being called YHWH (or Jehovah, the LORD) in the Old Testament.
      3. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is God, the LORD.
      4. The Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is God, the LORD.
      5. The Holy Spirit is God, the LORD.
      6. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each someone other than the other two.

      In my Week 1 rebuttal I criticised this formula on logical and theological grounds, showing that it does not necessarily result in Trinitarianism, fails to adequately express the sum total of Trinitarian belief, and remains vulnerable to Christological heresy. Dale Tuggy took the same view in a detailed critique on his blog.

      I applied pressure to your formula throughout the debate (e.g. here, here and here), and Dale’s analysis (here, here and here) shows I was right to do so.

      Initially you insisted the formula was valid, but at some point between Weeks 2 and 5 it was quietly abandoned, and in Week 6 you replaced it with this:

      The doctrine of the Trinity is biblical if and only if all of the following propositions are biblical teachings:

      1. One eternal uncreated being, the LORD God, alone created all things.
      2. The Father is the LORD God.
      3. The Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, is the LORD God.
      4. The Holy Spirit is the LORD God.
      5. The Father and the Son stand in personal relation with each other.
      6. The Father and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.
      7. The Son and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.

      The only theological position that affirms all seven of the above propositions is the Trinity. However, each of these propositions finds affirmation in at least one or more non-Trinitarian doctrines.

      It’s not difficult to spot the essential differences between the Week 1 formula and the Week 6 version. The latter is more refined, makes some sort of attempt to assert Christ’s humanity, and includes three subclauses intended to guard against Modalism (a necessary amendment, since your original formula was tacitly Modalistic). Nevertheless, it is still logically weak, theologically inadequate for Trinitarian purposes, and susceptible to heretical interpretation. Like the Nicene Creed (which it vaguely resembles) it could be safely confessed by Arians and other ontological subordinationists without hesitation.

      In previous weeks we have seen that you count the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as “three persons” (all of which are called “Yahweh”) yet refuse to accept that three persons each called “Yahweh” comprise three Yahwehs. Rob, if I have three persons and each one is called “Yahweh”, that’s three Yahwehs in the language of anyone who knows how to count.

      You accept the Trinity as “three persons”, when it suits you, but at other times you treat the three persons as one (ie. one Yahweh, or one Lord). You do this by effectively treating the three separate persons as a single unipersonal being, which is logically inconsistent and results in Modalism.
      Consistent with this Modalistic model, you maintain the use of singular personal pronouns in reference to God despite the fact that you do not believe God is a person. Instead you believe God is a single divine being consisting of three divine persons. Why, then, do you refer to the triune collective as if it was a single person? I keep asking this question, but your only response has been to re-assert the contradiction.

      It seems to me that the formula best suited to your Christological requirements is found in the Athanasian Creed, which I cited in the first of my Week 1 rebuttals. But as we saw, its illogical use of language results in a self-contradictory confession (“So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord”). I originally thought that this might be one reason why you found it necessary to develop your own definition of the Trinity — and let’s be clear about that, Rob: it is undeniably your definition of the Trinity, not a strictly orthodox, creedal formulation — yet your DIY version solves none of the problems associated with the traditional formulae.

      At this point I feel justified in reminding our readers that my definition of God remained consistent all the way from Week 1 to Week 6. I found no need to change it in any way at all. Additionally, I have been able to express my Christology and my doctrine of God in language that is purely Biblical. I can do this because the words of the inspired OT and NT writers reflect my beliefs perfectly. We both know you cannot do this and we both know why.

    • Dave Burke

      Misquoting and Misrepresentation (I) Use of Sources
      Rob,

      You have accused me of misrepresenting, misquoting, and otherwise mistreating certain sources. I’d like to revisit these alleged misrepresentations and clarify them for the sake of our readers.

      #1 The first was my quote from Mowinckel in Week 3, within the context of “pre-existence” passages. My argument here was that the Jewish concepts of predestination and pre-figuration were often described in language which appears to denote literal pre-existence when read through modern, western eyes. Mowinckel shows that this Jewish use of language plays an important part in NT literature and must be taken into account when we come to interpret statements about the Messiah.

      Please note: I did not claim that Mowinckel’s Christology is the same as my own, nor did I misrepresent his overall position in any way. This is how I introduced the quote from Mowinckel:

      Reverend Sigmund Mowinckel insisted the Jewish conception of predestination and prefiguration must inform our understanding of passages appearing to speak of pre-existence

      That was the only claim I made about the meaning and significance of Mowinckel’s statement. I then went on to quote Mowinckel’s description of the Jewish view (which he does not claim as his own), and I quoted him word for word. I did not assert or imply that Mowinckel himself rejects the pre-existence or deity of Christ. (Dale Tuggy realised this once I had pointed it out, and amended his blog accordingly).

      Let’s review:

      1. I claimed that Mowinckel “insisted the Jewish conception of predestination and prefiguration must inform our understanding of passages appearing to speak of pre-existence”
      2. Mowinckel does indeed insist that the Jewish conception of predestination and prefiguration must inform our understanding of passages appearing to speak of pre-existence
      3. I explicitly referred to Mowinckel as a reverend and made no claims about his personal Christology; nor did I claim that he subscribed to the Jewish view of pre-existence he describes in the quote

      There is no misrepresentation here. You had more to say about Mowinckel, but I’ll address it later.

      #2 Another source you claimed I had misrepresented is Erik Waaler, but your reasons for making this claim remain unclear. Here’s a direct quote from my Week 3 argument, which contains my one and only reference to Waaler:

      Commentators today agree that I Corinthians 8:6 is polemical (e.g. Erik Waaler, The Shema and The First Commandment in First Corinthians: An Intertextual Approach to Paul’s Re-reading of Deuteronomy, Mohr Siebeck, 2008). In defiance of pagan polytheism, Paul affirms his commitment to the one true God of Israel by saying that there are many which are called “God” and many which are called “Lord”, but to Christians there is only one God (the Father) and one Lord (Jesus Christ).

      What exactly is wrong with this? I referred to Erik Waaler as one commentator who says that I Corinthians 8:6 is polemical (specifically, a polemic against polytheism). That’s the only thing I’ve said about Waaler’s views on I Corinthians 8:6. I have not said that he doesn’t believe Jesus is God, nor have I said that he shares my Christology. So where’s the misrepresentation?

      #3 In your discussion of my Philippians 2 argument you claimed I had dismissed the exegesis of A. T. Robertson simply because he was a Trinitarian. This is not true. I simply cited Robertson as an example of eisegesis, demonstrating that he presupposes Christ’s pre-existence without evidence (here I quoted Dunn, who observes that this presupposition is common practice) and relies on a misinterpretation of morphē which is rejected by modern Trinitarians. I then went on to address arguments raised by some of those Trinitarians, who explicitly refute the interpretation favoured by Robertson and explain why it is flawed. I’ve done nothing wrong here. If Trinitarian scholars can’t agree amongst themselves, that’s your problem — not mine.

      #4 You objected to my use of Max Turner in Week 4, but why? I did not claim that his Christology is the same as mine, nor did I claim that he rejects the literal personhood of the Holy Spirit. He is addressing Adler, but he is also addressing “others holding the position” (p.40) I quoted him initially to demonstrate that inter-testamental Jewish pneumatology was reflected by Luke. Later I quoted him in my analysis of the “personal” language applied to the Holy Spirit in Acts.

      Turner examines a wide range of passages from Acts and concludes that they do not reflect literal personhood, but merely show the language of personification that was common within the first-century Jewish theological milieu. I quoted him word for word, in context, and in full. I showed that he rejects the “personal” language of Acts as evidence of a Lucan understanding of any literal personhood in respect of the Holy Spirit, and by quoting him extensively I allowed him to explain why he takes this view:

      The important question we must ask in each case, however, concerns the intended linguistic status of such affirmations. Is the personal language intended literally (and so to imply the Spirit is a hypostasis), or is it part of the more widespread and typically Jewish tendency to personify divine attributes, or to represent the Spirit as the extension of Yahweh’s own presence?

      Most treatments of the subject are too insensitive to the various possibilities. If we bear this distinction in mind, an examination of Luke’s Spirit material does not suggest he thinks Christians were any more aware of the Spirit’s personhood than their Jewish contemporaries were. The ‘personal’ traits within his Spirit traditions rarely move beyond the types of personification of the Spirit (and of the word, the Shekinah, the name, etc.) regularly found in exclusively monotheistic Judaism.

      For Turner, the question turns upon whether or not we can take Luke’s “personal” language literally. Here he says Luke did not intend it to be taken literally, and explains why he reaches this conclusion. (Note that Turner’s view of later Christianity as Binitarian rather than Trinitarian is consistent with his understanding of early Christian pneumatology). How can you accuse me of misrepresenting Turner when I’ve simply let him speak for himself?

      Your own exegesis of Turner misses the point of my usage of Turner: rather than make my own claim about the correspondence between Luke and inter-testamental Judaism, I am using Turner’s construal of this evidence. Your exegesis is concerned with the conclusions that Turner is interested in making; I am concerned with his construal of evidence. Your exegesis is something of a smokescreen deflecting readers away from the evidence.

      Having accused me of misrepresenting my sources, you go on to misrepresent me yourself by accusing me of ten arguments from silence and ten straw man misrepresentations. I will now demonstrate that these accusations are false.

    • Dave Burke

      Misquoting and Misrepresentation (II) “Ten Arguments from Silence”
      Rob,

      Let’s be clear about the definition of this term: an argument from silence involves an appeal to silence to assert an argument. Yet you have not shown a single place in which I have actually done this. Instead I identify the absence of evidence which could reasonably be expected if your case was true. While noting this absence as significant negative evidence against your case, I never draw a positive argument from this silence to assert my case.

      For example, I never said that since the NET Bible foonote on Isaiah 7:14 does not say that the verse means Jesus is God, or that this means the Trinity is false, or even that this means the verse does not mean Jesus is God. What I did, as I have always done, is demonstrate that there are Trinitarian scholars who agree with me that this verse cannot be relied on to prove Jesus is God. This is not an argument from silence, because I’m not appealing to the absence of anything. On the contrary, I’m appealing to the presence of something, namely the NET’s comment that this passage, when read naturally in its original context, does not support the case claimed for it.

      Likewise, I never said that since the Bible does not apply latreuō (“or any of the sebomai word group”) in reference to Jesus, that this proves Jesus is not God. I simply pointed out that this is contra-intuitive to the claim that Jesus was worshiped as God. There was a perfectly good word which could have been used, and which was used consistently of God, but it is never used of Jesus. It is not an argument from silence when I point out that your argument needs to address this fact. You even acknowledged the force of my point by actually taking time to address it. After noting that the word appears 26 times in the NT (hardly a hapax!) you admitted none of them are applied to Jesus, except possibly Revelation 22:3 (though you concede it is grammatically ambiguous).

      This evidence allows three positive assertions:

      • The word is used sufficiently frequently in the NT for us to establish its range of application in the NT (it is not a hapax)
      • The word is used consistently in the NT of God (the Father)
      • The word is never used in the NT of Jesus

      This does not prove that Jesus is not God, or that Jesus is not worthy of such worship, or that he never received such worship. But it does mean I can make the following positive statements without fear of contradiction:

      • There is a word used for worship, which is applied consistently in the NT to God and not to Christ
      • The NT contains a consistent distinction between the kind of worship Christ received, and the kind of worship God received
      • This coheres well with the Unitarian perspective; from a Trinitarian perspective it is possible to explain as indicative of the functional subordination of the son, but this is an ad hoc explanation

      An argument from silence is a clearly defined logical fallacy. The alleged examples you have cited from my work simply do not meet this definition. If I had indeed committed the fallacy ten times, Dale Tuggy (who appears to be something of a logic specialist) would have nailed every single one of them in his analysis. Yet although he criticises me on a few points, he does not accuse me of multiple fallacies in the way that you have done here.

      Consider why that might be.

    • Dave Burke

      Misquoting and Misrepresentation (III) “Ten Straw-Man Misrepresentations”
      Rob,

      As before, let’s define our terms of reference. A “straw man” is a misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument or position, which is then attacked as if it represented the opponent’s views. Your examples of my alleged straw men were curious because in some cases you claimed I was misrepresenting Trinitarian doctrine, when in fact I merely presented typical statements which can be found in regular Trinitarian commentaries. Let’s look at them one by one.

      #1 “The Incarnation means that Jesus is both God and not-God (in the same respect)”

      You claim this is a misrepresentation of the Trinitarian doctrine of the incarnation, saying:

      the doctrine maintains that Christ is God in one respect and man in another.

      Well, that’s an interesting spin on the hypostatic union and I’m sure it works for you, but it is not orthodox Trinitarian teaching. The official dogma teaches that Christ is ontologically God, and ontologically man; “God” with regard to his nature, and “man” with regard to his nature. These statements directly assert that Christ is God in one respect, and man in exactly the same respect. I can prove this by reference to standard commentaries.

      Tell me what you think this means:

      The next challenge to the orthodox view came through the Arian, Apollinarian, and Nestorian controversies in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Arianism held that the incarnation was total, so that Christ the “Logos” was no longer fully God. At the same time he was not fully human, so Christ was someone between two natures. The Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) affirmed that Jesus was indeed both God and man. A further question soon arose, however, as to the relation between his two natures. Apollinarius (310?–390?) taught that only the body of Jesus was human; his soul was absorbed completely into the divine Logos. Nestorius (after 381–451) taught that the two natures must always remain distinct in the person of Christ; they functioned together but were separate in his being. The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) affirmed the unity of the two natures in Jesus.

      (W. A. Elwell & B. J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Baker Publishing Group 1988, p.1027).

      Does this say that the Council of Nicaea “affirmed that Jesus was indeed both God in one sense and man in a different sense”? No, it makes an explicit reference to two natures, one of which is divine and the other human. That is precisely why Jesus is referred to as “fully God” and “fully man”; because Trinitarianism teaches that Jesus is God in the same respect that he is man: his nature.

      Again:

      According to the traditional teaching, it is precisely by virtue of the Word assuming flesh in Jesus of Nazareth that Jesus’ humanity is fully and completely human in the same sense as we are, but without sin – even though it is our sinful flesh that he assumed.

      (Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: toward a contemporary understanding, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007, p. 295).

      What is Molnar saying here? He says Jesus is “completely human in the same sense as we are, but without sin.” Would you deny that Jesus is “fully God” in the same way “God the Father” is fully God? Do you believe Christ is God with regard to his nature, and man with regard to his nature? In other words: can you affirm that Christ is ontologically God, and ontologically man? A positive answer is necessary in each case unless you want to stop calling yourself a legitimate Trinitarian.

      #2 “The mere use of theos for Jesus does not prove he is God.”

      I did not say that you believe the mere use of theos for Jesus proves he is God, and you offered no evidence that I did. If you are to assert that I am committing a straw man argument, it is essential to demonstrate I am misrepresenting you. In this case you can’t even claim I’m misrepresenting Trinitarians, since you and I both know that many Trinitarians claim that the very use of theos for Jesus does prove he is God. You can’t even assert that I represented you as making this argument, since I went on to discuss your book and its approach to these verses, but never once attributed this argument to you or to your book.

      Instead I went on to discuss a number of passages you raise, which I agree “apparently call Jesus ‘God’ literally, directly and without qualification.” You will note that two of them are in the OT (thus having nothing to do with the use of theos with regard to Christ), and one of the NT verses doesn’t even contain the word theos at all (Acts 20:28). If you know of any places where I claimed that you assert “The mere use of theos for Jesus proves he is God”, please quote me directly.

      #3 “Trinitarians think that ‘one’ in John 10:30 means ‘one but with room for two more if I need them’.”

      You’ve taken this statement out of its original context and completely distorted its meaning. I didn’t make a statement about Trinitarians in general; I asked you a question and you replied “I refuse to dignify it with any further response.” A question which asks you to clarify your meaning is just about the opposite of misrepresentation. It’s a question which I can use to help me avoid misrepresenting you, and an opportunity for you to help me do so. Despite the fact that you declined to answer, I did not repeat the question in the form of a statement; I just added it to the growing list of “questions Rob doesn’t want to answer.”

      #4 “Trinitarians cannot mean it when they claim to affirm that Jesus is human.”

      No, I said “Rob will probably say he agrees with all of this, but we know he cannot do so without qualification” (my emphasis). Big difference!

      You say:

      Outrageously, after ticking off various aspects of Christ’s humanity, including his virgin birth, growth as a child, temptation, sinlessness, death, and resurrection, you claim: “None of this is true of the Trinitarian Jesus.”

      Actually, I’m the one who should be outraged, since you’re not telling readers what I wrote. Let’s recall that long list to which you refer. Look particularly at the parts in bold, which you have carefully avoided mentioning:

      The Biblical Unitarian Jesus was genuinely born to the virgin Mary following her miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20) and was therefore the literal Son of God (Luke 1:35). He grew up just like any other human child (Luke 2:52), was tempted like any normal man (Matthew 4:1-11) yet resisted sin (Hebrews 4:15) through the strength of his superior will (Matthew 16:23) and his close association with the Father, upon whom he depends for his existence (John 6:57), just as we do. Despite being capable of sin, he lived a sinless life (1 Peter 2:21-22), died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:26-27) and was raised to immortality by the Father (Acts 2:22-24, Galatians 1:1).

      Is your Jesus literally the son of God because of the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit? No, because you believe his sonship is eternal. Did your Jesus grow up just like any other human child? No, you told me that “Jesus is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient”, which means Jesus either suppressed or relinquished these qualities while he gave the appearance of “learning” what he already knew. Is your Jesus tempted like any normal man? No, you have told me categorically that Jesus was not tempted like any normal man; you said “in the sense of being ‘tempted’ that James is talking about in James 1:13-15, Jesus was never ‘tempted’.” Yet James says explicitly that this is the manner in which every man is tempted.

      Did your Jesus resist sin through the strength of his superior will? Apparently not, since you told me “I have no idea what you mean by ‘the strength of his superior will'” (which part of this was unclear, Rob?) though you muddied the waters with “I actually agree that Christ’s will is the key.” Some elaboration on that point would have been helpful, but perhaps you felt it was safer to avoid specifics.

      Does your Jesus depend for his existence on the Father, just as we do? No, your Jesus is the self-existent Christian God. Is your Jesus capable of sin? No, you explained in some detail that your Jesus “could not sin because he was the divine Son incarnate.” Was your Jesus raised to immortality by the Father? No, you believe he is eternal (not merely immortal) and did not receive immortality from the Father.

      Reviewing my statement therefore, we find that it is you who has misrepresented me, by carefully excising the very words with which you have explicitly expressed disagreement previously. Your alleged “straw man” is, ironically, a straw man.

      #5 “Trinitarians cannot affirm that Jesus’ sonship is unique.”

      Once again you’re not quoting me accurately. Let’s look at what I said:

      An identical problem arises from the title “Son of God”, which only makes sense in the context of the virgin birth. The Bible insists that this mode of Sonship is unique to Jesus. Yet if Jesus is not literally the Son of God (ie. God’s own special creation in the womb of Mary) then how is his Sonship any different to the spiritual sonship shared by Christians?

      I linked the virgin birth with the kind of sonship unique to Jesus, saying specifically that “this mode of Sonship is unique to Jesus.” I then asked if Jesus is not literally the son of God, that is “God’s own special creation in the womb of Mary”, how is his Sonship any different to the spiritual sonship shared by Christians? Predictably you answered this question without any reference to the virgin birth at all, proving that you do not see the virgin birth as relevant to Jesus’ unique sonship. Instead you believe Jesus’ unique sonship is derived from the fact that he shares the nature of the Father.

      But X having the same nature as Y whilst being a natural consequence of biological procreation, is not itself a definition of sonship. You and I have the same nature, yet neither of us is the son of the other. Your definition of sonship therefore completely omits the sine qua non of the literal father/son relationship, namely that the father is responsible for bringing the son into existence. Your “definition” of “literal sonship” is actually not a definition at all; it’s a description of the kind of nature we would expect of a biologically reproduced son (a concept we both reject as applicable to Christ).

      Indeed, Trinitarian commentaries typically take care to identify the fact that the terms “father” and “son” are not applied in Trinitarian theology with their standard English meanings. On the contrary, a unique and completely non-literal definition of ‘father’ must be applied in the case of Christ:

      Moreover, all subsequent Trinitarianism has been indebted to Origen for his exposition of the “eternal generation” of the Son. This clarification illustrated Origen’s awareness of the analogical function of language applied to God: “Father” did not imply what it did of a human father, that he existed before his son.

      (D. F. Wright, “The Formation of the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church”, Reformation and Revival, 10.3, (2001), p.79).

      I have pointed out that the Unitarian view has Christ as uniquely the son of God by virtue of his miraculous conception and the virgin birth; a mode of sonship which does not apply to anyone else. You claim Jesus as the son of God simply because he shares the same nature as God, despite the fact that this is not itself a definition of sonship, and this is not unique to Jesus, since the person you call the Holy Spirit also shares the nature of God the Father, yet you do not refer to the Holy Spirit as a Son of God. The only way therefore in which you have claimed that Jesus is “uniquely the son of God”, is not unique to Jesus. Thus your claim is self-refuting.

      #6 “Trinitarians claims that kurios means YHWH whenever it suits them, without providing any evidence from the context.”

      Let’s see what I really wrote:

      Commentators have correctly noted that ‘kyrios’ was used in the LXX and NT to represent the name of Yahweh. But in stressing this word in I Corinthians 8:6, they forget that it was also used to represent the non-divine title of ‘adon’, which I discussed in an earlier section. We can’t simply claim that kyrios means Yahweh whenever it suits us; we need to show a reason why it must mean this in any given verse and context.

      Notice that this is very different to the words you have put in my mouth. Additionally, I made no reference to you whatsoever; a fact you even acknowledged in your reply (“Although you couch your comment here in reference to unnamed ‘commentators,’ it has no relevance here unless it is also aimed at me, since you are responding to my claim that kurios represents the name Yahweh in 1 Corinthians 8:6”). Actually Rob, it has total relevance regardless of whom I’m referring to, and it was simply a general statement about commentators. If you wish to be included in my criticism, you’re more than welcome.

      I then went on and addressed your actual argument about kyrie in 1 Corinthians 8:6, so you can’t claim I dismissed you with a straw man and you can’t claim I didn’t address your argument. You even acknowledge that I addressed your argument, though you claim I didn’t address all of it:

      In fact, I gave four exegetical reasons for my interpretation! You completely ignored three of those reasons and addressed the fourth.

      Correct. Three of your reasons weren’t worth addressing, so I only dealt with the fourth. The bottom line is that you can’t cannot simultaneously accuse me of a straw man and claim I addressed what you’d written, especially when you admit that what you claim is a straw man was a statement which wasn’t even addressed to you, or used to describe your argument.

      #7 “I supposedly claimed that the Psalms quoted in Hebrews had nothing to do with the Israelite kings.”

      Wrong. I quoted you as saying “Not one of the proof texts in the catena in Hebrews 1 applied in reality to the Davidic king”, and I specifically addressed the claim that none of these texts applied in reality to the Davidic king. Thus:

      This is a staggering assertion, flatly contradicted by Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian commentators alike. As with every other Messianic passage, the OT texts applied to Christ in Hebrews 1 have a dual application. Some parts are equally true of Jesus and the Davidic king; others can only apply to the Davidic king; still others only find their true completion in Christ.

      There is nothing whatever there to suggest I was saying you claimed that “the Psalms quoted in Hebrews had nothing to do with the Israelite kings.” Quite apart from the fact that I used the phrase “applied in reality”, not ‘had nothing to do with”, I used the highly specific term “the Davidic king”, not “the Israelite kings”, and you know these are not synonymous terms. Once again the misrepresentation is yours, ironically.

      #8 “I supposedly claimed that John 13:3 and 16:28 use the words ‘down from heaven.'”

      Wrong. I said no such thing. This is what I said:

      You claim that John 13:3 and 16:28 literally say Jesus “came out of heaven from the Father.”

      The phrase “came out of heaven” was mine (not “down from heaven”). Even more importantly, I did not say “use the words”, which is critical to your claim of a straw man. You make it look as if I was saying that you claimed these verses use the words “down from heaven”, as if I said that you claimed the words “down from heaven” actually appear in the verses; but I did not actually say that. My statement was with reference to the literality you claimed for these verses.

      Let’s look at the claim of yours to which I was referring:

      Biblical Unitarians agree that Jesus literally left this world and went to the Father in heaven. However, they deny that he literally came out of heaven from the Father. Yet this is what 13:3 and 16:28 clearly say. If the going out of the world to the Father is literal, the coming into the world from the Father in the same statements must also be literal.

      Your words, not mine.

      #9 “Michael Patton says that Christians should aspire to confusion.”

      If you’re going to quote me, please quote me in full and in context. This is what I actually said:

      Patton urges Christians to confess an incomprehensible faith, ignoring any “tensions”‘ which may arise and aspiring to confusion as the benchmark of orthodoxy. But did Jesus or the apostles ever preach God in this way? On the contrary, Jesus said to the woman of Samaria “You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Biblical Unitarians are well positioned to repeat these words to Trinitarians.

      (My emphasis).

      Did I represent Patton correctly? Let’s see what he wrote:

      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.

      (My emphasis). Now for a question: does Patton identify “confused” as the state at which Christians “need to be” in order to be sure they are orthodox in their understanding of the Trinity? If he doesn’t, I’ll stand corrected as having misunderstood him. But from where I’m standing now, it’s pretty clear. If you disagree, perhaps you should talk to Patton about the meaning and use of the word “confused.”

      #10 “The Trinity teaches three Lords who are not three Lords, and three individuals who are only one being.”

      Rob, where did I use the phrase “three individuals who are only one being”? You haven’t quoted me, so what’s your source for this claim? You are clearly equivocating here, as if I have used the word “individuals” to mean individual beings. But I was careful not to do this. Instead I specifically used the term “individual persons.”

      This is what I actually said:

      This presents us with three “divine persons” who are collectively and individually called “God” and “Lord.” God + God + God = three entities in the category of “God”, yet the Athanasian Creed forbids Christians to say “three Gods.” Lord + Lord + Lord = three entities in the category of “Lord”, yet the Athanasian Creed forbids Christians to say “three Lords.” Even if we allow the Trinitarian explanation that the three who are called “God” are not individual gods but individual persons who comprise one God, this still leaves us with three Lords within the Godhead. The Creed permits us to acknowledge these three Lords individually as “Lord”, provided we do not refer to them as “three Lords”! Thus the Creed demands an illogical confession by insisting we confess three Lords as one Lord.

      Nothing there about “three individuals who are only one being”, but plenty about “three individual persons who comprise one God.” This is an important distinction, since some Trinitarians claim the Trinity does not consist of three individuals, yet accept “three individual persons” as an orthodox statement.

      You have said:

      The three persons are not individuals, and they are not individuated from one another.

      But I didn’t say that the three persons are individuals, nor did I use the term “individual” in the sense of separate beings. I said that the three are individual persons, which that is exactly how Trinitarianism defines them. You will find this definition everywhere from the classical creeds to contemporary Trinitarian literature. It is an orthodox definition. Why are you fighting it? Do you honestly mean to tell me that you don’t believe the Trinity consists of three individual persons who comprise one God? Is this yet another facet of your increasingly idiosyncratic version of Trinitarianism?

      Interestingly, “social Trinitarianism” does present the persons as “three individuals”, and recent commentary identifies the danger of misreading this term. B. Hebblethwaite (The Essence of Christianity: A fresh look at the Nicene Creed, SPCK Publishing, 1996, pp.61-62):

      The social analogy pictures God as a society of three individuals, as in the Rublev icon. Only so can justice be done to the fact of personal relation in God and to the priority of communion and love in God, not just between God and creatures. This must mean that there are, within the one God, distinct centres of consciousness and will, between which relations of reciprocity, co-operation and love obtain. Of course the use of the phrase ‘three individuals’ is dangerous and can mislead. The three Persons are not separate, externally related substances, as three finite, embodied, humans are. The one God, rather, consists in the three, inseparable and mutually interrelated spiritual subjectivities that we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In ultimate reality, communion is basic.

      My emphasis.

      On the inadequacy of the Athanasian Creed, R. A. Smith ( Paradox and truth: Rethinking Van Til on the Trinity, Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002, p.27):

      What this means in terms of the Athanasian Creed is spelled out as follows: “The Father is the divine essence, the Son is the divine essence, and the Holy Spirit is the divine essence; yet there are not three divine essences but only one—the very thing that God the Trinity is.” This statement may be analyzed in two ways, both of which fail to accomplish what the traditional view aims to accomplish: a biblically consistent statement of the doctrine of God.

      First, Plantinga suggests that if Father, Son, and Spirit are taken as mere names for the divine essence, then the conclusion is not inconsistent. But this is mere modalism. Second, if Father, Son, and Spirit are taken as names of persons, then the statement reduces persons to essences, which are abstract. Each person would be a set of properties and the three sets of properties would be identical. The persons themselves thus disappear.

      My emphasis. I think Dale Tuggy would appreciate this, since it reflects some of the problems he has already identified with your own definition of the Trinity.

    • Dave Burke

      Misquoting and Misrepresentation (IV) “Five Other Fallacious Arguments”, Part 1
      Rob,

      As if your ten straw men weren’t enough, you continue to misrepresent me by attacking statements I have not made and arguments I have not presented. I’ll go through them one by one.

      #1“Guilt by association: Shepherd of Hermas appealed to the plural pronouns in Genesis to support plural persons, but Hermas is heretical.”

      Wrong. Guilt by association would be saying “Shepherd of Hermas appealed to the plural pronouns in Genesis to support plural persons, but Hermas is heretical, therefore the appeal to plural pronouns in Genesis to support plural persons is also heretical.” We both know that I didn’t do that. I simply noted that this interpretation of Genesis 1:26 is never found in the canonical works, and appears for the first time in an unorthodox post-apostolic heretical work. From my Week 2 rebuttal:

      The ‘plurality of persons’ argument from Genesis 1:26 was used for the first time in a heretical apocryphal book called The Shepherd of Hermas, written in the mid 2nd Century AD, more than 100 years after Jesus’ ascension. Prior to that time, nobody had used Genesis 1:26 for this purpose – not even the apostles, who knew Christ intimately.

      Nowhere do I imply guilt by association. My point is that the first evidenced Christian use of the argument so long after the apostolic era goes against the idea that it represents a natural reading of the text, or that first century Christians would have interpreted it this way. Of course, as I’ve already demonstrated, standard textual and linguistic commentaries contradict the view that the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 refer to plural persons in the Trinity, a view which is now marginal to say the least.

      I note with interest that you failed to explain why the Genesis 1:26 argument is not presented at any time by Jesus or the apostles. You also provided no explanation for the fact that this argument did not emerge until more than 100 years after Christ’s ascension. That’s a pretty long time to wait for a proof text, Rob!

      #2 “Overgeneralization: the apostles are ‘always’ careful to distinguish Jesus from God.”

      Omitting any reference to the many passages I have cited which do this, you simply say “they call him ‘God’ at least a few times and ‘Lord’ many times in contexts where it appears to represent the divine name YHWH.” Of course when you say “they call him ‘God’ at least a few times” you are begging the question. As I have agreed previously, they call him theos a few times. Certainly they call him kurios many times, though again you beg the question when you claim that this appears “many times” in contexts where it represents the divine name YHWH (though you offer no evidence for this claim). But even if it did so in every case, it is further begging the question to claim that this blurs the distinction between God and Christ.

      Furthermore, you are not quoting my entire argument I was speaking explicitly of those passages in which God and Christ are referred to together. Let’s look again at how the apostles consistently distinguish Jesus from God in such passages:

      • Acts 2:22, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know—”
      • Acts 2:23, “this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.”
      • Acts 2:24, “But God raised him up”
      • Acts 2:32, “This Jesus God raised up”
      • Acts 3:15, “You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised”
      • Acts 3:26, “God raised up his servant”
      • Acts 4:10, “Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead”
      • Acts 5:30, “The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus”
      • Acts 5:31, “God exalted him to his right hand”
      • Acts 13:33, “this promise God has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus”
      • Acts 17:30-31, “Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated”
      • 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”
      • I Corinthians 1:4, “…the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus”
      • II Corinthians 1:2, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
      • Galatians 1:3, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”
      • Ephesians 1:2, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
      • Philippians 1:2, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
      • I Thessalonians 1:1, “… to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
      • II Thessalonians 1:2, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
      • 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!”
      • I Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our 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”

      I’m beginning to sense a pattern here. How about you?

      What you really need to do is start addressing this evidence. Jesus is not simply differentiated as “other than the Father”‘, he is differentiated explicitly and consistently at other than God. Not only that, but in such passages he is frequently differentiated as “other than God” by the term “man.” This takes place even in the very passages you claim identify Jesus as God:

      Philippians 2:5-11, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

      The last verse completely contradicts the Trinitarian interpretation of this entire passage. Whereas the Trinitarian claims that the purpose of this description of Jesus’ exaltation is to tell us that Jesus is God, the passage itself concludes by telling us that the exaltation of Jesus is to ensure that all people confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, who is not only differentiated from Jesus but is identified as one person, the Father.

      #3 “Selective evidence: The Messiah was to be ‘only’ human.”

      You didn’t actually quote me saying this, because I didn’t actually say it. Shall we move on?

    • Dave Burke

      Misquoting and Misrepresentation (V) “Five Other Fallacious Arguments”, Part 2
      Rob,

      #4 “Begging the question: If the Messiah was to be human, he cannot be God.”

      What this really identifies is the fact that to you “God” is not in the class “not-man”, and “man” is not in the class “not-God.” So for you, the fact that the Father and Holy Spirit are “God” does not exclude the possibility that they are both “man”, and the fact that Moses and David are “man” does not exclude the possibility that they are both “God.” You are compelled to this conclusion by your Trinitarian theology, which denies that “God” and “man” are mutually exclusive categories. Yet Scripture repeatedly affirms them as mutually exclusive categories, particularly when describing their respective characteristics.

      That aside, the link you provided didn’t actually quote a single statement from me which said this. What I actually said was (and you quote me saying this), “only God can provide a sin-covering sacrifice; a sacrifice which is “other than God.'” I provided exegetical reasons for this, which you acknowledged (“To establish this principle, you cited several examples of OT typology and grouped them into ‘four primary roles’ that Jesus fulfils”), so you cannot claim I am begging the question. Begging the question requires a conclusion which proceeds from a premise for which no substantiation is offered, and yet that is not what I’ve done.

      But while we’re here, let’s look at some of the passages you cite with reference to Christ. Explaining your use of these terms, you say cautiously:

      My intention here is not to offer an argument to “prove” that Christ is God directly from OT proof texts, although I think a surprisingly much stronger case can be made than most people realize. My point is to show that the OT speaks of the eschatological hope in many ways that are compatible with and even surprisingly encouraging to the orthodox belief that the Messiah is himself God come to save us.

      Are these terms “surprisingly encouraging to the orthodox belief that the Messiah is himself God come to save us”?

      • “The arm of the LORD” (Isa. 40:10-11; 53:1 [cf. John 12:38]; 59:16); does “arm of the LORD” really mean “LORD”? Does “arm of Rob” really mean “Rob”, or does it mean “the means by which Rob carries out his work”?
      • “The glory of the LORD (Isa. 35:2; 40:5; 60:1; cf. Ezek. 1:28)”; does “glory of the LORD” really mean ‘the LORD”? Does “glory of Rob” really mean “Rob”, or does it mean “an attribute or expression of Rob”?
      • “The suffering Servant of the LORD (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)”; does “servant of the LORD” mean “the LORD”? Does “servant of Rob” really mean “Rob”, or does it mean “servant who is other than Rob”?
      • “One like a son of man (Dan. 7:13-14, cf. Ezek. 1:26-28)”; does “like a son of man” really mean “actually God”? Does “son of Rob” really mean “Rob”, or does it mean “son who is other than Rob”?

      In particular, let’s look at the “son of man” in pre-Christian literature. The problem here is that although the phrase appears in a range of pre-Christian Jewish sources, with a range of meanings, there is no evidence that the Messianic “son of man” of the pre-Christian Jewish literature was the background of the gospel use of the term:

      In the light of our discussion of Dnl. 7, 12En 37–71, and 4 Ezra 13, it appears that (1) there were emerging beliefs in Judaism of heavenly, angelic redeemer figures (e.g., Michael), and of human beings who were somehow identified with heavenly, angelic figures (e.g., Enoch, Melchizedek); (2) there was a tendency to speak of the preexistence of the Messiah; (3) there is no evidence for a pre-Christian messianic Son of man figure that could serve as a background for understanding the Son of man sayings in the Gospels; (4) two functions of the Son of man in 12En 37–71 and of the man from the sea in 4 Ezra 13 that are not found in Dnl. 7 are that he judges the nations on behalf of God and that he gathers the redeemed for the kingdom.

      (D. E. Aune, “Son of man”, in Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002, p. 576).

      So even within the range of Jewish literature, the closest option you have of use to Trinitarian theology is that Jesus is an “angelic redeemer figure” like Michael the archangel. This will not do, because your claim is that this is a term “surprisingly encouraging to the orthodox belief that the Messiah is himself God come to save us”, not an angel.

      It is noteworthy that early orthodox and heretical literature identified the term “son of man” as a reference to Christ’s humanity:

      Three texts generally dated to the first quarter of the 2nd cent A.D. use the phrase “son of man” as a way of designating the human nature of Jesus. In Ign Eph. 20:2 Jesus Christ is called “the son of man and the son of God,” referring to His human and divine natures. Similarly, Barn 12:10 states, “See again Jesus, not as a son of man, but as a son of God,” reflecting His current heavenly status. Finally, Odes of Solomon 36:3 has, “And although I was a son of man [Syr br˒nšˊ], I was named the light, the son of God.”

      Similarly, the Georgian translation of Did 16:8 (with interpolations in parentheses) reads, “Then will (this) world see (our) Lord (Jesus Christ, the Son of man who at the same time is Son of God as) coming on the clouds,” etc. (Audet, p. 474). In HE ii.23.13 Eusebius has preserved a fragment from the Christian historian Hegesippus that includes a statement attributed to James the Just, containing allusions to both Ps. 110:1 and Dnl. 7:13, immediately before his martyrdom: “Why do you ask me about the Son of man? He is sitting in heaven on the right hand of the great power [Ps. 110:1], and he will come on the clouds of heaven [Dnl. 7:13].” In Acts of John 109, the phrase “him that for us was called the Son of man” occurs in a prayer of John, along with a string of other christological titles.

      (D. E. Aune, “Son of man”, in Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002, p. 578).

      Aune notes the same usage in the following Gnostic literature (pp. 578-579):

      • Fragments of Baruch
      • The Coptic-Gnostic Treatise on the Resurrection 44.21–26
      • The Sophia of Jesus Christ 105
      • An Ophite source quoted by Irenaeus, ‘Against Heresies’, i.30.6
      • The Coptic-Gnostic Apocryphon of John 14.14
      • Heracleon, the Valentinian Gnostic commenting on the gospel of John, quoted by Origen, ‘Commentary on John’, 13.49
      • The Naasenes and Monoimus, quoted by Hippolytus, ‘Refutation of All Heresies’, v.6.3; v.7.33; viii.12.3; 14.2

      Thus G. W. E. Nickelsberg (“Son of Man”, in Toorn, Becking, & Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2nd rev. ed., 1999, p. 802):

      Thus, for Mark ‘son of man’ is a complex and ambiguous code word that denotes Jesus’ humanity (the ordinary meaning of the expression), Jesus’ identity as the eschatological son of man and messiah, and his fate in the role that Wisdom explicates for the servant and the central figure in Ps 2: the suffering and vindicated righteous one…

      The Gospel of Mark, the earliest extant Christian text with references to the son of man, plays on the ambiguities in the paradoxical use of the term mentioned above. Son of man denotes Jesus in his humanity and stands in contrast to ‘son of God’, the gospel’s highest designation for him. At times, however, the expression is ambiguous and can also indicate the notion of a transcendent son of man.

      Also Douglas & Tenney (New International Bible Dictionary, Zondervan, 1987, p. 958):

      Jesus, in assuming this title, was saying to the Jews, “I am the Son of man in that prophecy.” This title emphasized his union with mankind. It was also a name no one would criticize. Jesus could not call himself the Son of God or the Messiah. The Jews would not accept him as such. But they did not object to the term, the Son of Man. But no one else ever called him by that name.

      It is noteworthy, as the last source quoted here identifies, that the term “son of man” evoked no outrage from the Jews; not even Christ’s enemies. It is clear they did not see this as a claim to be a supernatural being, certainly not a claim to be God. Can you really assert that this term in particular is “surprisingly encouraging to the orthodox belief that the Messiah is himself God come to save us”? What evidence is there that Jesus’ Jewish audience understood it in this way?

    • Dave Burke

      Misquoting and Misrepresentation (VI) “Five Other Fallacious Arguments”, Part 3
      Rob,

      #5 “Suppressing contrary evidence: discussing scholarship on the meaning of harpagmos in Philippians 2:6 while ignoring the now dominant view, ‘something to be exploited’.”

      We shall see. Let’s look at your claim a little closer:

      If you’re going to argue about the meaning of the word and cite scholarly reference works, you simply cannot do this adequately without at least mentioning the now dominant interpretation of harpagmon as “something to be exploited” (Phil. 2:6 NRSV) and the work of such scholars as Wright and Roy W. Hoover (“The HARPAGMOS Enigma: A Philological Solution,” Harvard Theological Review 64 [1971]: 95-119).

      As a matter of fact, my exegesis of Philippians 2 mentions two alternative interpretations of harpagmos which favour a Trinitarian reading, and explained why I reject them:

      • “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”
      • “retained”

      In light of this, it seems rather petty to criticise me for not mentioning your preferred interpretation.

      You claimed that “something to be exploited” is “the now dominant interpretation.” To support this you quote the NRSV (published in 1989), an article from the Harvard Theological Review (published in 1971) and allude to Wright’s book The Climax of the Covenant (published in 1991). Is that supposed to be evidence that “something to be exploited” is “the now dominant interpretation”? One Bible translation published 21 years ago, a journal article published 39 years ago and a book published 19 years ago? Is that what you call “now”?

      In order to test the strength of your claim I enlisted the services of my twin brother, who possesses an extensive library of commentaries, translations and journals, including volumes 1-11 of the Theological Journal Library Series and the Portfolio Edition of Logos Bible Software 4, as well as:

      Not to mention many more academic resources (the complete list of his Logos collection is over 8 pages long, but I’ll spare you). He generously took the time to search for your preferred interpretation throughout a broad range of theological publications. The material which follows is distilled from the results of his search.

      Rendering of “harpagmos” in English Bible translations:

      • 1959: Harper’s New Testament Commentary, “plunder”
      • 1962: Baker New Testament Commentary, “something to cling to”
      • 1973: Translator’s New Testament, “that he must cling to”
      • 1985: NJB, “something to be grasped”
      • 1989: NRSV, “something to be exploited”
      • 1991: NAB (rev. ed.), “something to be grasped”
      • 1992: GNB/TEV, “to try by force”
      • 1995: ASV, “a thing to be grasped”
      • 1995: NASB95, “a thing to be grasped”
      • 1996: NIV, “something to be grasped”
      • 1997: CEV, “try to remain equal”
      • 1998: NIrV’, “something he should hold on to”
      • 2001: ESV, “a thing to be grasped”
      • 2003: HCSB, “something to be used for his own advantage”
      • 2004: NLT, “something to cling to”
      • 2006: NET, “something to be grasped”

      I see only the NRSV giving “something to be exploited”, and the HCSB close behind with “something to be used for his own advantage.” What do you see?

      Interpretation of “harpagmos” as “something to be taken advantage of” or “something to be exploited”, or equivalent (such as “an opportunity to exploit”), in standard commentaries (academic and popular):

      • Bruce, F. F. (1989), New International Biblical Commentary: Philippians (69): No
      • Loh, I., & Nida, E. A. (1995), A handbook on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, UBS Helps for translators; UBS handbook series (58): Yes
      • Ash, A. L. (1994), Philippians, Colossians & Philemon, The College Press NIV commentary (Php 2:6): No
      • Fee, G. D. (1995), Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (206–207): Yes
      • Martin, R. P. (1987), Vol. 11: Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (107): Yes
      • Silva, M. (2005), Philippians (2nd ed.), Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (114): Yes
      • Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001), Vol. 5: New Testament commentary: Exposition of Philippians, New Testament Commentary (107): NoArnold, C. E. (2002), Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Volume 3: Romans to Philemon (355): No
      • O’Brien, P. T. (1991), The Epistle to the Philippians: A commentary on the Greek text, New International Greek Testament Commentary Series (215): Yes
      • Melick, R. R. (2001), Vol. 32: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (electronic ed.): Yes
      • Anders, M. (1999), Vol. 8: Galatians-Colossians. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (225): No
      • Robertson, A. (1997 reprint), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Php 2:6): No
      • Wuest, K. S. (1997), Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English reader (Php 2:6): No
      • The Pulpit Commentary: Philippians, 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (60): No
      • Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press, (1993), The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Php 2:5): No
      • Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary, (1983-), The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures (Php 2:6–8): No
      • Carson, D. A. (1994), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed.) (Php 2:5–11): Yes
      • Dockery, D. S. (1998), The Pauline Letters. In D. S. Dockery (Ed.), Holman concise Bible commentary: Simple, straightforward commentary on every book of the Bible (D. S. Dockery, Ed.) (584): No
      • Ellsworth, R. (2004), Opening up Philippians (37): No

      Number of commentaries that use “something to be taken advantage of” or “something to be exploited”: 7. Number of commentaries that use a different interpretation: 12.

      Definitions of “harpagmos” in standard lexicons:

      • 1985: TDNT, ‘In common with other subst. formed with -μός, ἁρπαγμός first means a. the activity of ἁρπάζειν.1 In non-Christian writings it is found only in this sense’, ‘the word then took on the sense of the more common ἅρπαγμα and came to mean b, “what is seized,” esp. plunder or booty’, ‘to take up an attitude to something as one does to what presents itself as a prey to be grasped, a chance discovery, or a gift of fate, i.e., appropriating and using it, treating it as something desired…’
      • 1988: Louw/Nida, ‘a plunder’, or ‘something to hold by force, something to be forcibly retained'(Philippians 2:6 is glossed as ‘he always had the nature of God and did not consider that remaining equal with God was something to be held on to forcibly’)
      • 1990: EDNT, gives ‘robbery’ as the definition, and then blatantly admits that it cannot accept this definition in Philippians 2:6 for theological reasons (‘The meaning which predominates in secular Greek, robbery, is out of the question for Phil 2:6′)
      • 1993: Newman, ‘ἁρπαγμός , οῦ m something to grasp after; something to hold onto’
      • 1996: LSJ9, ‘ἁρπαγμός, ὁ, robbery, rape, Plu.2.12a; ἁ. ὁ γάμος ἔσται Vett.Val.122.1. 2. concrete, prize to be grasped, Ep.Phil.2.6; cf. ἅρπαγμα 2.’
      • 2000: ANLEX, ‘literally something seized and held, plunder’ (Philippians 2L6 is glossed as ‘figuratively in PH 2.6 of Jesus’ equality with God οὐχ ἁρπαγμόν”)
      • 2003: BDAG (3rd), ‘a violent seizure of property, robbery’, ‘ As equal to ἅρπαγμα, someth. to which one can claim or assert title by gripping or grasping, someth. claimed’ (the gloss on Philippians 2:6 is ‘ the state of being equal w. God cannot be equated w. the act of robbery’, which helpfully shows that the meaning of the word is incompatible with the idea that Jesus is God in Philippians 2:6

      Rob, out of all of these sources I am not seeing “something to be exploited” as a “now dominant interpretation.” On the contrary, I see several comparatively recent translations returning to the older rendering (thus ESV’s “a thing to be grasped”, and NET’s “something to be grasped”). I see “something to be exploited” (or equivalent) in significantly less than a majority of the commentaries. I do not see it as a dominant definition in the lexicons.

      A few key journal articles from my brother’s search help to illustrate the lack of consensus on “something to be exploited”:

      • 1980: Feinberg, ‘The Kenosis And Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Analysis Of Phil 2:6-11’, Trinity Journal, volume 1, p. 31 (1980):

        A more common approach is to take ἁρπαγμός in the passive sense, usually res rapienda. Translators have given the word the meaning of “something to be seized.” The problem with such an interpretation should be clear; it seems to demand that equality with God was something that could be seized or snatched, although unlike Adam Jesus refused to do it.

        Interestingly, we see this 1980 article saying that at that time at least, it was apparently “more common”‘ to interpret this in a manner contrary to Trinitarian theology.

      • 1991: McClendon, ‘Philippians 2:5–11’, Review and Expositor (88.4), p. 441 (1991):

        KJV preserves the mistranslation of harpagmos, a term which as research has shown need not mean “robbery,” but can have the idiomatic sense “an opportunity to exploit.”

      • 2001: McLeod, ‘Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8’, Bibliotheca Sacra (158.631), p. 316 (2001):

        The expression does not mean to cling to something in a grasping way. Nor does it refer to grasping something aggressively or robbing something. Rather, it has the idiomatic meaning, “to regard as something to be taken advantage of.”

      I quote these out of complete fairness, showing that I’m not suppressing evidence contrary to my position. However, what we have to note is that these articles reference the 1971 study of Hoover, “The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution”, Harvard Theological Review, volume 64, pp. 95-119 (1971). This is particularly significant because it is the very same study you’ve cited.

      You will note that we have seen nothing to support your claim that this is the “now dominant interpretation.” Instead you have cited two authors to support this conclusion, and a few commentators cite Hoover as support for their view. Even in the journals it remains only one of several accepted interpretations, with the “Adam Christology” interpretation still alive and well.

      I invite you to search the following journals for any articles which cite Hoover’s study:

      • Bibliotheca Sacra, 1934-2005
      • Grace Journal, 1960-1972
      • Grace Theological Journal, 1980-1991
      • Trinity Journal, 1980-2004
      • Master’s Seminary Journal, 1990-2003
      • Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 1995-2005
      • Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 1966-2005
      • Westminster Theological Journal, 1950-2005
      • Emmaus Journal, 1991-2004
      • Michigan Theological Journal, 1990-1994
      • Journal of Christian Apologetics, 1997-1998
      • Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, 1998-2005
      • Chafer Theological Seminary Journal, 1995-2003
      • Conservative Theological Journal, 2000-2004
      • Reformation and Revival, 1992-2003
      • Journal of Ministry and Theology, 1997-2005
      • Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 1996-2005
      • Bible and Spade, 1972-2000
      • Christian Apologetics Journal, 1998-2000, 2005
      • Reformed Baptist Theological Review, 2003, 2005
      • Review and Expositor, 1982-2005
      • Global Journal, 1998-1999
      • Ashland Theological Journal, 1991-2005
      • Faith and Mission, 1984-2005
      • Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 1997-2005

      I can spare you some exertion by informing you that Hoover’s study is cited only five times throughout this entire body of literature (Strimple, WTJ:1979, Feinberg, TrinJ:1980, McClendon, RevExp:1991, MacCleod, BibSac:2001, Hellerman, BibSac:2003). Likewise, in the professional historical lexicons we find no reference to this study as definitive. Clearly, this is not “now the dominant interpretation.”

      So why did you make this claim in the first place? Perhaps it was a hasty generalisation based on something you read in the McLeod article, “Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8” (Bibliotheca Sacra (158.631), pp. 315-316 (2001)):

      A translation that is somewhat different from the traditional ones is gaining wide acceptance today.40 Instead of translating “a thing to be grasped” (NASB), or “He thought it not robbery” (KJV)41 scholars have recently suggested that the word should be translated “something to be taken advantage of.”

      The expression does not mean to cling to something in a grasping way. Nor does it refer to grasping something aggressively or robbing something. Rather, it has the idiomatic meaning, “to regard as something to be taken advantage of.” And the words translated “although He existed,” should be rendered “because He existed.”43 Thus the verse can be rendered, “Precisely because He was in the form of God He reckoned equality with God not as a matter of getting but of giving,” or “He did not regard His divine prerogatives as something to use for His own advantage.”

      I have included the footnotes because they allow us to examine the basis of McLeod’s assertions. In support of his claim that “to regard as something to be taken advantage of” is “gaining widespread acceptance today” we have footnote #40, which says:

      Hawthorne, Philippians, 84–85; Silva, Philippians, 117–18; and O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 212–16

      McLeod doesn’t provide any dates, so my brother looked them up; Hawthorne is 1987, Silva is 1992 and O’Brien is 1991. Three scholars do not constitute “wide acceptance”!

      McLeod also claims that “to regard as something to be taken advantage of” is one which “scholars have recently suggested.” In support of this we have footnote #42, which says:

      Here Wright (ibid., 336-37, 344-52) has nicely woven together the views of H. C. G. Moule and R. W. Hoover (C. F. D. Moule, “The Manhood of Jesus in the New Testament,” in Christ Faith and History, ed. S. W. Sykes and J. P. Clayton [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972], 97; idem, “Further Reflections on Philippians 2:5-11,” in Apostolic History and the Gospel, eds. W. W. Gasque and Ralph P. Martin [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970], 271-74; and Hoover, “The Harpagmos Enigma,” 117-19.

      Well, that’s disappointing. The footnote cites only Wright, who cites only Moule (1970, 1972) and Hoover (1971), for a grand total of three references from three scholars who quote each other in work that is not “recent” by any stretch of the imagination.

      As a follow-up to his investigative work, my brother also his electronic resource library for the specific phrase “something to take advantage of”, applied to Philippians 2 (excluding Bible translations). It occurs only twice: once in the McLeod article quoted above, and once in the New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (4th rev. ed. 1994). In the same body of resources (excluding Bible translations), “something to be exploited” as a specific phrase turns up just 20 references in 19 resources. Of those references:

      • Fifteen are instances of the NRSV’s translation of Philippians being simply quoted (without any comment, sometimes in the context of a broader quote from Philippians 2), or quoted specifically as an appropriate translation of “harpagmos” (without scholarly commentary justifying why it is appropriate)
      • One is in a daily Bible reading companion (Carson, 1999)
      • One is not even a reference to Philippians 2 (“The extent to which the handling of the law had become a matter for the specialists and therefore something to be exploited, is shown by the debate in the Sanhedrin after an abortive attempt to arrest Jesus”; Brown, New international dictionary of New Testament theology, volume 2, 1986, p.448)
      • Another is likewise not even a reference to Philippians (“Instead, the human response was all too often cynical, treating God’s choice as something to be exploited: a shelter against his judgment (Jer. 7, especially verses 8–15) or an asset to be commercialized (Matt. 21:12f.)”, Kidner, Psalms 73-150: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, volume 16, 1975, p.487)
      • The other two are scholarly comments arguing on exegetical or linguistic grounds (or both) that this is the correct interpretation of harpagmos in Philipians 2

      You might feel that this was all a little over the top, but we don’t want you accusing me of “suppressing evidence” again, do we? I have laboured the point because your claim was a bold one, and it’s important for our readers to know that it was utterly false. Contrary to your assertion, we find that in order to argue for harpagmos in Philippians 2 means “something to be taken advantage of”, or “something to be exploited”, you cited a mere two scholars and overlooked references to all the intervening scholarship and standard English translations, including all the professional historical lexicons. This would not be necessary if it was the “now dominant interpretation”, as you claimed.

      In contrast, references to and citations of the “Adam Christology” interpretation remain plentiful in the relevant literature, with recent studies by the likes of Dunn being cited with increasing frequency from 1991 onwards.

    • Dave Burke

      God (I)
      Rob,

      I agreed that the Jews interpret the OT to teach that God is unipersonal. I did not agree that this is what the OT actually means. Your argument is unsound. It is like the following argument. “If the OT revealed that Messiah would come just once to destroy the wicked (and you’ve already accepted that this is how the Jews interpreted the OT) and if Jesus revealed that as Messiah he was coming twice, first to die and then to destroy the wicked, then there is no logical basis for claiming that ‘Jesus’ revelation did not contradict the revelation in the Jewish scriptures.’ A contradiction necessarily arises.”

      Can you provide any evidence whatever, from any standard scholarly commentary, that the OT itself does not teach God is unipersonal? Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996), New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.), p.1209:

      Without the titanic disclosure of the Christ event, no one would have taken the OT to affirm anything but the exclusive, i.e. unipersonal monotheism that is the hallmark of Judaism and Islam.

      You believe that singular personal pronouns indicate the Father is one person, Jesus is one person, and the Holy Spirit is one person, but as soon as singular personal pronouns are used of “God”, suddenly you backflip and don’t want singular personal pronouns to refer to one person. You believe that plural personal pronouns could have been used to indicate one multi-personal God, and you even believe there’s evidence that they were used in Genesis 1:26 for this purpose, yet when singular pronouns are used instead you still read them as plural. This is the fallacy of special pleading.

      The Trinitarian God is more than a grammatical paradox, He is – or should I say “They are”, or should I say “They is”, or should it be “He are”? – a philosophical conundrum. One being, yet three persons, and one of these persons has two natures but remains one person. Could you honestly get anything like that out of the Old Testament, even if you really tried?

      The NBD I quoted just now says “The robust monotheism of the OT concedes only a few hints of plurality within the One God”, citing just six, all of which it provides explanations for within traditional orthodox Jewish monotheism, noting “It is unlikely that any of these was understood by the OT authors or their contemporary readers to denote eternal personal distinctions within Israel’s one God.”

      The article makes the point that the relevant data just doesn’t exist in the Old Testament, people had to wait for the “new revelation” of the New Testament. And since that’s what you’ve said you also believe, then why turn around and try to argue that the Old Testament doesn’t teach God is one person? If it does, there’s a need for new revelation. If it doesn’t, there isn’t.

      By the way, I think I should correct what I said about the Jews’ understanding of the OT teaching. They clearly did understand that the LORD was one God, and they clearly held that the LORD God was one “being” (see Ex. 3:14 LXX). But on reflection I wonder if it isn’t anachronistic to assert that the Jews in Jesus’ day thought of the LORD as one “person,” i.e., as unipersonal. Not only would they not have used the word “person,” but the issue of whether the one Divine Being was unipersonal or tripersonal simply had not come up. If you assume that each and every being, including the Divine Being, must be one and only one person, then on that assumption of course the ancient Jewish view of God as one Being would entail that God is one person. The problem is that this assumption introduces a concept (that of person) that the ancient Jews did not have (i.e., as an explicitly held and articulated concept).

      There’s quite a bit of backtracking here. You now seem to be saying that the Jews had no concept that a person was always a being. Please provide evidence for this. You’ve already acknowledged Greek had no word for a person who was not a being, can you provide the word in Hebrew which means a person who is not a being? If not, I believe you’ll have to acknowledge with standard grammars that a person in Hebrew was always a being.

      Asserting that the Jews had no concept that one being was one person, and vice versa, is certainly difficult in light of the fact that their personal pronouns assume exactly that, when plural pronouns could just as easily have been used to describe one God and a plurality of persons. Asserting it without evidence, as you have done, really gets you nowhere at all.

      You’ve referred to my interpretation as an assumption, but it’s not; I am simply reading the Bible and accepting the normative meaning of the words that it uses, as its original audience would naturally have done. This meaning is demonstrably consistent from the OT to NT. I don’t need to assume that the Bible uses singular personal pronouns to denote single persons; we can all see for ourselves that this is the case. The burden of evidence lies upon you to prove that a non-normative meaning is more appropriate.

      Perhaps I’ve missed it, although I went back over your previous comments twice, but I did not see any citations from Trinitarian commentators on Matthew 11:27. Could you please quote for me the portion of your comments where you demonstrated that my exegesis of Matthew 11:27 has no support from Trinitarian commentators? All I see is a generalized assertion about Trinitarian commentators saying that Matthew 11:27 is about the relationship of the Father and the Son.

      That’s actually what I was referring to Rob. Can you provide quotations from Trinitarian commentators showing any of them interprets this passage as meaning “No one knew the person of the Father until I came along”, as you do?

      However, I agree it is reasonable for me to quote some Trinitarian commentators, to show that I’ve had a look and can’t find any agreement with your point. I searched a number of Trinitarian commentators and have found none which give your interpretation. Here are the results:

      • “it is only through him that they have received and can receive their special knowledge of God’s truth”, France, R. T. (2007), The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p.445
      • “It may be important not to press the exclusivity of the mutual knowledge. The image of the special relationship between a father and his son and heir marks out a space of particular privileged mutual knowledge, but should not be taken to mean that knowledge of either father or son is totally lacking outside that relationship”, Nolland, J. (2005), The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text, p.472
      • “Clearly Jesus and God have a unique relationship. He is God’s Son in a different sense than believers are God’s children (John 1:12). Epiginōskō means more than know, involving the most intimate and fullest acquaintance. The theology is not yet Trinitarian but prepares the way for the references to the Father and Son in the baptismal formula of 28:19”, Blomberg, C. (2001), Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.), The New American Commentary, p.193
      • “The exclusive communion between Father and Son is of the essence of their relationship. For anyone else to share in this knowledge, however, is a matter of revelation, and as such is not a natural right, but a matter of divine choice. Thus God’s sovereign initiative in revelation, set out in vv. 25–26, is applied specifically to our knowledge of God: it does not come naturally (see 1 Cor. 2:6–16 for a spelling out of this theme). It depends on God’s choice, or, more specifically, the Son’s choice. Thus Jesus unequivocally describes himself and his will as the key to men’s approach to the Father; there is no other”, France, R. T. (1985), Vol. 1: Matthew: An introduction and commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p.203

      You will note that all these quotes understand the passage to be referring to the relationship of mutual revelation between the Father and the son, not between “God” and the son. None of them say that this passage means people can only understand the identity of God unless Jesus tells them first, and of course none of them say anything about the OT saints being unable to know the true identity of God because Jesus hadn’t told them.

      Remember, whereas this passage says that no one knows the Father unless the son reveals Him, what you’re trying to argue is that the OT saints did not understand God, not just “the Father.” You’re claiming that they wrongly understood God to be one person, a critical error which had to be corrected by Christ, and yet which Christ never actually dealt with in any of his many addresses both to the crowd in public and his disciples in private.

      On that point, let’s keep going and look at these commentaries:

      • “The sentence can be expressed with a positive construction instead of a negative: ‘Only God the Father knows who the Son really is, and only the Son and those he chooses to reveal it to, know the true nature of God'”, Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992), A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, UBS helps for translators; UBS handbook series, p.343
      • “Whatever the background, Jesus’ words testify to an exclusive awareness of God that can only be explained on the basis of his unique transcendent relationship to God”, Chouinard, L. (1997), Matthew, The College Press NIV commentary (Mt 11:27)
      • “Matthew 11:27 may attribute the power of predestination (assigned only to God in Jewish sources) to Jesus; as the revealer of God, he assumes a position often assumed by divine Wisdom in Jewish tradition”, Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press (1993), The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Mt 11:24)

      This is almost close to what you’re saying, though none of these say anything about no one before Christ being able to know who God really was, or no one being able to understand God unless Jesus comes and explains it to them personally. We have instead an unspecified “true nature of God” (but not that God is multi-personal), “an exclusive awareness of God” (nothing about God’s identity), and yet more generically “the revealer of God” (even less specific). Unfortunately they also differentiate between “God” and “the Son” such that “the son” is “other-than-God.”

      This is where that “God the Father”, and “God the Son” language is so desperately needed by Trinitarianism, and this is yet another example of the fact that such language is completely absent from the NT.

    • Dave Burke

      God (II)
      Rob,

      You continue to insist “that a singular pronoun does not denote multiple persons” despite the evidence I presented that in some cases a singular pronoun can refer to a group of multiple persons (e.g., Ps. 25:22; 130:8). Your objections to this evidence are irrelevant. You say that it is clear “from the context” of these verses that “Israel” refers to the nation, not the man. In fact, it is not “the context” (i.e., the literary context, something in the psalm) that tells you this, but your historical background knowledge. In any case, it doesn’t really matter, because the point stands that the singular pronoun refers to a group of persons. You also criticize the point by noting that “Israel” is a name whereas “God” is not. This is also irrelevant; for one thing, the referent of the singular pronouns for God is more often than not the name YHWH (Jehovah). Again, your absolute statement that a singular pronoun always refers to a single person turns out not to be correct.

      This gets you nowhere because none of your proof texts contain an example of the singular pronoun used in reference to a plural person. On the contrary, your texts show that the singular pronoun is consistently used in reference to a singular person. Thus:

      • Psalm 25:22: Israel (singular noun), his (singular pronoun) trouble
      • Psalm 130:8: Israel (singular noun), his (singular pronoun) iniquities

      The grammar is consistent here. A singular noun is identified as a singular pronoun. In this case “Israel” is a singular noun, not a plural noun, and is being treated as a singular person, not as a plural person. It is a personification of the entire nation as one person. This is certainly not a case of multiple persons being identified with a singular pronoun. You’re supposed to be finding something analogous to Genesis. All you’ve done is to confirm what I’ve already said, that God (whether referred to by name or by a noun, e.g. “God”), is referred to consistently using singular pronouns, not plural pronouns. You cannot obscure this point by the use of irrelevant proof texts.

      I would very much appreciate you getting onto the B-Hebrew email list, where you can explain to professional Hebraists how Hebrew pronouns function, and what they mean. I will await your arrival with anticipation, and look forward to seeing you validate your grammatical views with people who are fully qualified in the relevant field. Do make sure you explain to them that when the Hebrews used a personal pronoun it didn’t mean they thought of the subject as a single person, and that the Hebrews had no concept of single beings as single persons, or vice versa.

      Regarding the plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26, if you agree with me that angels did not assist in creation, then those plural pronouns in Genesis 1:26 cannot refer to God and the angels collectively.

      No, that’s a false dichotomy. What it means is that those plural pronouns cannot be indicating that the angels actually participated actively in the creation. We know that anyway, from the singular pronoun of the verb “created”, in the very next verse, and I’m not arguing for that as you know. But that the angels are addressed by God in the phrase “Let us”, is not even controversial in the relevant literature. Aside from the NET footnote, we have:

      The first area of debate is over the striking use of the first person plural pronouns: us … our. Needless to say, earlier Christian commentators were prone to see here a reference to the Trinity. But even if one grants that Moses was in some way responsible for Gen. 1, it is going too far to call Israel’s hero a trinitarian monotheist!

      (Hamilton, V. P. (1990), The Book of Genesis. Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, p.132).

      Although Hamilton believes that “God here speaks to the Spirit, mentioned back in v. 2, who now becomes God’s partner in creation”, he acknowledges that the view that the heavenly court is addressed “is probably the most widely held.”

      And in fact the use of the singular verb “create” in 1:27 does, in fact, suggest that God worked alone in the creation of mankind. “Let us create man” should therefore be regarded as a divine announcement to the heavenly court, drawing the angelic host’s attention to the master stroke of creation, man.

      (Wenham, G. J. (2002), Vol. 1: Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary, p.28).

      Wenham throws a sop to fellow Trinitarians by suggesting Christ may be included in the sensus plenior, but notes “such insights were certainly beyond the horizon of the editor of Genesis.”

      In the final analysis any of these three views is plausible and makes sense for the imagined audience. Perhaps the three views are not mutually exclusive; the imagined audience might well have read this text in more than one way.

      (Kissling, P. J. (2004-), Genesis, The College Press NIV commentary, p.123).

      The three views Kissing finds plausible are an address to the heavenly court, the plural of deliberation, or God addressing the Spirit.

      The extraordinary use of the first person plural evokes the image of a heavenly court in which God is surrounded by His angelic host.20 Such a celestial scene is depicted in several biblical passages.

      (Sarna, N. M. (1989), Genesis, The JPS Torah commentary, p.12).

      Interestingly, the UBS Handbook, after listing the various options, says that many translators prefer to read this is as a plural of deliberation, so that the passage is rendered with singular pronouns throughout:

      The usage is a “plural of deliberation”; that is, when the speaker is conferring or consulting with himself. For example, in Isa 6.8 the Lord says “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” A similar usage may be in Gen 11.7, “The Lord says, ‘Come, let us go down and there confuse their languages.…'” Modern interpreters prefer the last explanation. Speiser translates “I will make man in my image,” while NJV did the same in an earlier printing but has since returned to the use of the plural.

      (Reyburn, W. D., & Fry, E. M. (1997), A handbook on Genesis. UBS handbook series, p.50).

      This of course makes the Trinitarian reading completely invisible.

      Remarkably, in the link you gave me to your explanation of the plural pronouns, you claim “nontrinitarian interpretations cannot account for these occurrences.” Yet as I showed in previous weeks (and have now demonstrated again) the scholarly consensus of Trinitarians themselves is that non-Trinitarian interpretations not only can account for these occurrences, but offer the most plausible explanations.

      You then tried to defend your claim that proving that the Father is God, the Son is God, and Holy Spirit is God would not prove the Trinity. You suggested that these propositions might be consistent with both the Trinity and Modalism or Monarchianism. However, your argument here overlooks the fact that my core propositions included not only the three you listed but also the proposition that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each someone other than the other two.

      Let’s revisit what I actually said. I pointed out that you are using the word “God” in two different ways:

      1. As the name for the Trinity as a concept (ie. the concept of three persons in one being)
      2. As a name possessed by each individual member of the Trinity

      In other words you use the word “God” in reference to the triune Godhead as a single unit, but you also use it in reference to each of the three persons individually. You do exactly the same with the name of Yahweh, as we saw in a previous exchange which left some unanswered questions on the table. Remember this, from my second counter-rebuttal in Week 1?

      All your energy so far has gone into proving the first formula at the expense of the second. But if you only manage to prove the first, what would you actually have proved? Possibly Trinitarianism; but possibly also Modalism (or even Dynamic Monarchianism).

      That’s my point here: if you only manage to prove the first. Not “if you prove all your propositions”, not even if “all your propositions are true”, but “if you only manage to prove the first.”

      For example, Modalism easily comprehends the idea that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God; however, it does not work the other way because Modalism teaches that God is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second formula is an essential element if you wish to preclude Modalism (and similar heresies) and it must be proved independently of the first formula. Trinitarianism only becomes a necessary deduction when both formulae are equally demonstrated, independent of each other. Proving the first does not prove the second.

      That is precisely why I am requiring you to prove all your propositions independently. I am demonstrating that you can’t prove just the first and then claim you get any others “free.” You still have to explain why you are using the word “God” in two different ways, and you still have to prove that the Bible uses them in these two ways. If on the other hand you want to acknowledge freely that you use the word in these two different ways in order to express your Trinitarian understanding of what the Bible says, that’s fine too. It will simply make clear the fact that this terminology is a by-product of your own theological requirements.

    • Dave Burke

      Christ (I)
      Rob,

      So now, “the Word of God” in Revelation 19:13 is a theophoric name? That is a very interesting claim.

      Straw man. I didn’t say that “Word of God” is a theophoric name. I said the fact that Jesus is called the Word of God in Revelation 19 does not prove that he pre-existed as the logos of John 1:1-3. I agree it’s not a proper name. I agree it says something about Jesus. I agree it says something about his function, just as “Lamb of God” does. The term “Word of God” says that Jesus is God’s agent. The Word of God is not God any more than the word of Rob is Rob, and if you call someone else the Word of Rob, you’ll have a hard time convincing people that you mean they’re really Rob.

      With regard to “King of kings and Lord of lords,” no biblical text applies both designations to any human ruler; in fact, no biblical text refers to anyone other than God as “Lord of lords.” My point was that it is hermeneutically fallacious to separate the two designations in order to argue that, since Daniel called Nebuchadnezzar “king of kings” (Dan. 2:37), the application of these designations together to Jesus does not identify him as God.

      You repeat your claim that the application of the title “king of kings and lord of lords” to Christ actually identifies him as God. I’m still waiting for the logical process of reasoning by which you reach this conclusion. You’ve already agreed that it’s a title, and you’re well aware that the Unitarian position is that Christ, as the divinely appointed agent of God, bears God’s titles just as the angel of the presence bore God’s own name, so you need to explain why bearing a title of God (even uniquely), means that the one bearing the title is also God. You argue the same with the title “first and last” and “alpha and omega”, so it’s clearly a critical argument for your case.

      I apologise for inadvertently mis-phrasing your statement regarding the word “saviour.” Since you acknowledge it isn’t used exclusively of God, and since you acknowledge it’s a title, this is another instance in which you need to explain how bearing a divine title means someone is God. By now you should have an understanding of the divine agency principle and the fact that it was well developed in Second Temple Judaism, so you really need to engage the relevant 1st century milieu in your explanation.

      This leaves you with an awful lot to prove, since you’re saying that these titles aren’t a reference to literal deity when used of other people, but are a reference to literal deity when used of Christ. If that’s not intended to be special pleading, you’ll to have to rephrase it in a way which makes this clear. You’ll also have to provide evidence that when a title was applied to Christ, the intended meaning was literal deity.

      The fact is you can’t do that. You can work backwards from Christ’s deity to the titles, but you can’t work forwards from the titles to his deity. All you’re doing is retrofitting the Trinitarian understanding of the titles, to the intention of the original writer. Remember, the argument you need to defend is that if X bears the title of Y, then X is Y. You also need to prove that these titles weren’t used of Christ to identify him as God’s agent. You need to prove that they’re not being used of Christ as divine titles were understood and used in Second Temple Judaism.

      Thus, Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000), Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments (electronic edition):

      The documents of Second Temple Judaism demonstrate a proliferation of “divine agents” (Hurtado, 17–92). These heavenly figures can be divided into three sometimes overlapping categories: agents who are depicted as personified attributes of God (e.g., Wisdom, Word), as exalted patriarchs/matriarchs (e.g., Enoch, Moses, Jacob) or as principal angels (e.g., Michael, Melchizedek, Yaoel). Similar to other figures, these divine agents either originated in or were exalted to heaven; however, unlike other figures, these divine agents were depicted as bearing the marks and properties of divinity in unprecedented ways. In some cases these divine agents were described as performing deeds typically reserved for Israel’s God—i.e., creating the world and/or executing eschatological judgment and redemption.

      The phenomenon of divine agency undermines any claim that Jewish monotheism had weakened during the Second-Temple period. Instead of indicating transcendence and distance (Bousset), these divine agents actually demonstrate God’s immanence and immediacy (Hurtado). Despite the exalted ways in which these figures could be described, divine agency did not compromise the piety of Jewish monotheism. Divine agents were never worshiped as god(s).

      Although the extravagant epiphanies could well have confused the line of demarcation between one of these powerful agents and the one true God, the angelic refusal tradition (in which angelic figures refuse to be worshiped) safeguarded Jewish monotheism by legitimating the veneration of the one true God alone (Stuckenbruck; see Worship).

      If the monotheism of the biblical writings emphasized the singularity of the one true God (there is only one God, Yahweh; all others are mere idols), the writings of Second Temple Judaism preserved the unity of the one true God (despite the presence of powerful agents that share the marks of divinity, Yahweh is one). The singularity and unity of the creating, covenanting and purposeful God formed the conceptual matrix for early Christian theological reflection.

      That’s a highly well developed matrix of divine agency. Now, how do you intend to show that Christ is depicted as doing anything more than previous divine agents? Bearing divine titles? Already done. Given the name of God? Already done. Bearing the marks and properties of deity? Already done. Performing deeds typically reserved for Israel’s God? Already done. Creating the world, executing eschatological judgment and redemption? Already done. This is the Second Temple paradigm within which you have to work before moving forward to the New Testament. You can’t keep starting with the post-apostolic creeds and working backwards to the New Testament, isolating it from its original context.

      How did the apostles explain that Christ was “not a divine agent like all the others?” We can see they would have had to do something fairly drastic, which is why we can expect it would have left its mark on the first-century era and prompted a massive backlash from first-century Judaism, as did the abolition of circumcision and the Law. So what did they do?

      Remember that Christ bears the name and titles of the Father (not just “God”), so be careful to make your argument whilst avoiding identifying the person of the son with the person of the Father. While I’m here I’ll point out that it’s not an argument from silence when I identify the absence of evidence we could reasonably expect if your argument is true. I am not saying this is positive evidence that your argument is false. I am pointing out that you need to provide an explanation for the lack of evidence that we could reasonably expect if your argument is true.

      No, I was very specific as to what was the methodological problem with your approach. I did not “imply” what you were doing; I stated it explicitly. Here is what I wrote: “Your line of argument moves from the premise that differing interpretations of a text exist to the conclusion that the text has nothing to contribute to the discussion.” Your claim that I never quoted you to prove that this was how you were reasoning is also false. Here is what I quoted you as saying:

      “However, these passages are not decisive, since virtually all of them can be understood differently due to textual variations and contextual/grammatical issues. Textual critics and Trinitarian authorities of various schools observe repeatedly none can be relied on with absolute certainty, and even the strongest requires qualification.”

      That this meant in context that you wanted us to set aside these verses is clear from your statement, “I address these verses now since I feel that they distract from the far more important task of building a case for our respective Christologies on a Scriptural basis as a whole” (your emphasis). Note your claim that these verses “distract” people from the task of developing a biblical Christology. Dave, they can only be a distraction from that task if they have nothing to contribute to it.

      The fact that I actually did address these verses proves that I do not believe that they should be simply set aside as having nothing to contribute to the discussion. That was never my argument. What I said was that they cannot be relied on with absolute certainty, which means they are not decisive. However, even though they are crux interpreta I never said that they have nothing to contribute to the discussion. You cannot accuse me of leaving them to one side when I actually addressed them specifically, and did so before I did anything else.

      Nor did I say that they “distract people from the task of developing a biblical Christology.” I said that for you and I to spend most of our time on these texts rather than others is a distraction from the debate requirement that both of us develop a biblical Christology. I made that quite clear:

      I address these verses now [note I address them, I don’t discard them] since I feel that they distract from the far more important task of building a case for our respective Christologies on a Scriptural basis as a whole.

      Spending time on verses which do not constitute “a Scriptural basis as a whole”, does distract us from spending time on verses which do constitute “a Scriptural basis as a whole.”

    • Dave Burke

      Christ (II)
      Rob,

      Your first question rhetorically argues that if the Bible rarely calls Jesus “God,” then he must not really be God. This argument is fallacious and easily backfires. The NT rarely calls the Father “Lord” (= Yahweh), roughly about as often as it calls Jesus “God.” Does this mean that the Father isn’t really the LORD? You claim that when the Bible does call Jesus God it does so according to the principle of agency, and you find this principle at work practically everywhere in the NT. I could ask you the same question, then: If it was completely normal to call God’s agent “God,” why doesn’t the NT call Jesus God more often than it does?

      Wrong. Firstly, I didn’t say that if the Bible rarely calls Jesus God, then he must not really be God, nor was that my intended meaning. Secondly, what I actually said was that you made no attempt to explain why Jesus is so rarely referred to as theos. Thirdly, you have blatantly avoided my question. I’ll take that as “I don’t know and I can’t answer your question.”

      I can answer your question about God’s agent being called “God” (actually theos) very easily. The simple answer is that it wasn’t very common for God’s agent to be called theos (in the LXX we have theos used only occasionally of angels, God’s judges, and the Davidic king). The NT application of this word to Christ therefore follows precisely the pattern we would expect from the OT use, referring to Christ many times using divine titles, but rarely as theos. Thanks for asking, and thanks for confirming that you couldn’t answer my question.

      You say:

      Your second question may reflect badly on the behavior of some ancient Christian scribes, but it has absolutely no relevance to the doctrine of the deity of Christ or the Trinity. We have plenty of evidence for these doctrines after we eliminate the overzealous scribal changes reflecting concern to safeguard the deity of Christ. I simply don’t need 1 Timothy 3:16 to say “God was manifest in the flesh” to defend the deity of Christ, nor do I need the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7) to defend the Trinity.

      As before, this is just another version of “I don’t know and I can’t answer your question.” It’s nice that you don’t need I Timothy 3:16 and I John 5:7. But early Trinitarians felt very strongly that they did. These passages have also been defended hotly by Trinitarians over the centuries. You have not yet answered the question. Why was it felt necessary to write these interpolations, as the Ignatian epistles were interpolated?

      Frankly, you have to admit it looks pretty bad. The JWs are notorious for the Arian bias in their New World Translation, and Trinitarians have been quick to point out that such careful word choices would hardly be necessary if the text actually said what they want it to say. Yes, I’m aware that some Christologically significant textual variants work in the other direction. I’m not exactly sure what this contributes to your case though. You can’t claim that they were put there by Unitarians, because you don’t believe any Unitarians existed during that time.

      You say:

      I stand by my criticism: the NET Bible was not rejecting a Trinitarian interpretation of Isaiah 9:6, as you claimed (and still claim); rather, they were criticizing a “Trinitarian” understanding of “Everlasting Father” that would erroneously identify Jesus as God the Father.

      Here’s a breakdown of the NET’s analysis:

      • Extraordinary Strategist: “Does this suggest the deity of the messianic ruler? The NT certainly teaches he is God, but did Isaiah necessarily have this in mind over 700 years before his birth? Since Isa 11:2 points out that this king will receive the spirit of the Lord, which will enable him to counsel, it is possible to argue that the king’s counsel is “extraordinary” because it finds its source in the divine spirit. Thus this title does not necessarily suggest that the ruler is deity.”
      • Mighty God: “Scholars have interpreted this title is two ways” (the NET presents an application to the Davidic king, and “a reference to God, confronting Isaiah’s readers with the divinity of this promised ‘child'”).
      • Everlasting Father: “This title must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense”, and “The use of ‘everlasting’ might suggest the deity of the king (as the one who has total control over eternity), but Isaiah and his audience may have understood the term as royal hyperbole emphasizing the king’s long reign or enduring dynasty.”
      • Prince of Peace: “This title pictures the king as one who establishes a safe socio-economic environment for his people.”

      Let’s recap.

      They explicitly reject a Trinitarian interpretation of “Extraordinary Strategist” and “Everlasting Father”, they do not identify “Prince of Peace” as a reference to deity, they list two options for “Mighty God” (neither of which support Trinitarianism), and they only refer to the Trinity in order to advise that that “Everlasting Father” shouldn’t be read in a Trinitarian sense. At most you could say is that they list one “Trinitarian compatible” option for one of the titles.

      This being the case, I don’t believe I’m exaggerating to say that they reject a Trinitarian interpretation of this verse.

    • Dave Burke

      Christ (III)
      Rob,

      With regard to my argument that Jesus cannot be David’s descendant if he is actually God, you say:

      Your last assertion is a theological inference, not something that the OT (or the NT) articulates. Nor do I see any sound argument to support this inference. For example, to assert that if the Messiah is to be the descendant of King David he cannot be God is simply begging the question of whether the eternal divine Son (who is God) became flesh of the seed of David. You may think it reasonable and even obvious that David’s descendant cannot be God, but I don’t see why David’s descendant cannot be God incarnate, if God chooses to become incarnate.

      How can anyone be David’s descendant unless they postdate David? That is a basic requirement of the definition of “descendant.” If they don’t postdate David, they cannot be his descendant. A descendant isn’t someone who existed several thousand years before you did. Would you like to use a special definition of “descendant”, to go with your special definition of “person”?

      You say:

      Your argument is also flawed because it appeals to selective evidence. Yes, the OT speaks of the future Redeemer in various ways, including the typological pictures you mention. But it also speaks of his coming in ways that identify him as the LORD God, Yahweh, come to save his people.

      One word, agency. We’ve been through this many times now. See the quote from Martin and Davids in Christ (I), and my subsequent comments.

      You say:

      My intention here is not to offer an argument to “prove” that Christ is God directly from OT proof texts, although I think a surprisingly much stronger case can be made than most people realize. My point is to show that the OT speaks of the eschatological hope in many ways that are compatible with and even surprisingly encouraging to the orthodox belief that the Messiah is himself God come to save us.

      Which is typical of the description of divine agents, as I’ve just demonstrated. Thanks.

      You refer to my use of OT motifs as “selective”; but what other motifs do you think I should have included? You certainly didn’t list any; in fact, I’m the only one of us who has consistently been able to show that his Christology is explicitly taught and reflected throughout the OT. Your use of the OT has been sporadic and unsystematic; you dip into it occasionally for a proof text here and there, but you cannot demonstrate that this is part of a wider theology.

      You can make no argument from Genesis 3, from the patriarchal types, from the Law of Moses, from the Psalms or Proverbs, from the kings, nor even from the minor and major prophets. I have been able to show a consistent doctrinal arc from Genesis to Malachi which fully supports my Christology, and I have been able to demonstrate that Jesus and the apostles drew upon this material as a basis for their own theology. In fact, they insisted that everything about the Messiah could be found in the OT, and Jesus openly criticised people for not realising this.

      By contrast, you have been forced to argue against the relevance of the OT, claiming instead that there was a special “progressive revelation” (the precise nature of which you have never actually defined) which somehow taught everyone that God is actually three persons, two of whom are Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Yet you were not able to support this claim from the OT or the NT. You could not explain why Christ and his apostles constantly employ the OT in their preaching lectures and refer their listeners to it again and again. You could not explain why they never claim any “progressive revelation.” The entire book of Acts militates against your hypothesis and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

      You say:

      A key claim in your case against the eternal deity of Jesus Christ is that all of the NT language that appears to describe or imply that Christ was preexistent is simply a Jewish way of saying that God had predestined to redeem the world through Jesus Christ.

      That’s right, and it’s a good argument. Why? For these reasons:

      • I can actually demonstrate that “ideal pre-existence” was common to Second Temple Judaism, and applied to a range of concepts, including the Messiah
      • I can acknowledge without damage to my argument that “literal pre-existence” was also present in Second Temple Judaism, and applied to a range of concepts, including the Messiah
      • I can demonstrate that the “literal pre-existence” language of Second Temple Judaism (well attested to, being clearly and repeatedly applied even to such figures as Melchizedek), was not applied by the apostles to Christ (by contrast, you couldn’t find any; the best you could do is say “Well here it seems to say that Jesus created the world, from which I deduce that he existed before he was born”, acknowledging that we lack the explicit “pre-existence” language you yourself have quoted)
      • I can list a number of standard Trinitarian scholars (as you know), who acknowledge that in light of A, and despite B, the apparent “pre-existence” language used of Christ in the NT is non-decisive in identifying him either as having literally pre-existed, or as being God, or as even being divine, largely because of C

      As you say yourself (my emphasis):

      Nevertheless, the evidence from the classical rabbinic sources shows that the Jews could and did think of at least some things as existing prior to the creation of the world. On the other hand, they do not seem to have held this view concerning the Messiah—though they spoke of his “name” as preexistent.

      I am thus entirely content to rest on the interpretation I hold with regard to this subject, since it has scholarly support from those to whom it is least useful, and to whom it is least convenient. You should be more concerned about the fact that the interpretation you hold is not considered convincing by your own fellow Trinitarians (notably the most scholarly among them).

      I’ll leave you with this:

      Whether pre-Christian Judaism regarded the Messiah as simply human, or as a being of a higher order, and especially whether it attributed to him pre-existence, cannot, with the uncertainty about the dates of authorities, be positively decided. The original Messianic hope did not expect an individual Messiah at all, but theocratic kings of the house of David. Subsequently the hope was consolidated and raised more and more into the expectation of a personal Messiah as a ruler endowed by God with special gifts and powers.

      In the time of Christ this form had at all events long been the prevailing one. But this naturally implies that the picture would more and more acquire superhuman features.

      The more exceptional the position awarded to the Messiah, the more does He Himself step forth from ordinary human limits. In the freedom with which the religious circle of ideas moved, this was effected in a very different fashion.

      In general however the Messiah was thought of as a human king and ruler, but as one endowed by God with special gifts and powers. This is especially evident in the Solomonian Psalter. He here appears as altogether a human king (17:23, 47), but a righteous one (17:35), free from sin and holy (17:41, 46), endowed by the Holy Ghost with power, wisdom and righteousness (17:42). It is the same view, only briefly expressed, which designates him as ἁγνὸς ἄναξ (Orac. Sibyll. 3:49).

      Elsewhere, on the other hand, even pre-existence is ascribed to him, and his whole appearing raised more to the superhuman. So especially in the figurative addresses in the Book of Enoch.

      (E. Schürer, Vol. 4: A history of the Jewish people in the time of Jesus Christ, second division, Vol. II, 1890, pp.159–160).

    • Dave Burke

      Christ (IV)
      Rob,

      Given this template, it won’t do to admit that the Jews were thinking Platonically when they spoke about preexistence, so you cut that bit out from your lengthy quotation from Mowinckel.

      Wrong. I quoted only what was necessary to prove my point; that’s all. I don’t have any issue repeating Mowinckel’s phrase “in the platonic sense.” It certainly doesn’t ruin my template in which the Unitarian reading of the NT is Jewish and the Trinitarian reading is Hellenistic.

      You should know by now that I move from the Second Temple milieu forward through the Jewish concepts of the Old Testament and inter-testamental Jewish literature to the New Testament, reading the latter in the context of the former. In contrast, you move from the Athanasian Creed (or whichever of the creeds you prefer) back through the Hellenistic concepts of the Greek Fathers to the New Testament, reading the latter in the context of the former.

      We both bring our paradigm to the New Testament, and meet there. At this point I read Jesus as a unique divine agent, a concept I have brought from Second Temple Judaism, not Hellenism, as you acknowledge . At this point you read Jesus as the second person of the Trinity a concept you did not bring from Second Temple Judaism (as you admit), but from the 3rd-4th century Christological developments.

      Do you honestly think that Mowinckel is saying that the Jews had adopted a specific understanding of “ideas” from Plato? It’s no more saying that than when I talk of someone holding a “platonic love” for someone else it means the person was influenced by Plato’s definition of love. You’re completely over-reading Mowinckel here; in fact, I would say that you’re misrepresenting him.

      To say the Jews understood that the community of Israel had been from all eternity in the mind of God as an “idea” in the platonic sense, means that this is the sense in which they understood it. It doesn’t mean that they borrowed this idea from Plato, still less that their theology was Hellenistic. It’s Mowinckel’s choice of adjective, not theirs.

      If Mowinckel had at least said they understood the community of Israel had been from all eternity in the mind of God in a sense they derived from Plato, you would have half a chance at this argument. But he didn’t. Nor did he say that they were “thinking Platonically” (your phrase, your all important capital letter).

      Mowinckel even explains what he means:

      It is an ideal pre-existence that is meant.

      I agree entirely! So unless you want to try and argue that Second Temple Judaism obtained the concept of “ideal pre-existence” from Plato, you don’t even have an argument here. Let me know when scholars of Second Temple Judaism start insisting we need to read Second Temple Judaism through Plato, by the way.

    • Dave Burke

      Christ (V)
      Rob,

      The claim that Jesus “is only spoken of as a human being,” or that the apostles insisted that Jesus was “only man,” simply cannot be substantiated by selectively quoting biblical texts that refer to Jesus as a man, as coming in the flesh, as the son of David, as a prophet like Moses, etc. These texts prove that Jesus was a man, all right, but they do not disprove the doctrine that he was the eternal Son incarnate as a man.

      We’ve been through this before. I am not begging the question when I say that the apostles repeatedly and explicitly taught people Jesus is a man. They distinguish him carefully from God and specifically identify him as human: “a man”, “the man”, “himself human” (see Acts 2:22-23, 17:31; Romans 5:15; I Timothy 2:5). This is not positive evidence that the apostles never taught your understanding of Jesus as “the God-man”, but it is negative evidence for the case. On the other hand, we do have positive evidence that the apostles preached Jesus is a man. You have acknowledged that this positive evidence is silent on key Trinitarian doctrine, by accusing me of an argument from silence.

      I am thus able to say without contradiction that there is explicit positive evidence for the apostles teaching the Unitarian understanding of God and Christ before baptising people, but none for their pre-baptismal teaching of the Trinitarian understanding. Despite your claim that this is an argument from silence, you feel the force of this argument and attempt to salvage at least some kind of Trinitarian compatible teaching from Acts (claiming that the application of “Lord” to Christ identifies him as Yahweh, and thus as God, and thus as the second person of the Trinity). This proves you are aware that the negative and positive evidence is against you, and you wish it wasn’t.

      The fact is you know full well this isn’t an argument from silence, which is why you make exactly the same form of argument when challenging me over early Christian history. You certainly wouldn’t accept me responding to your request to explain where the early Unitarians are in the historical record with “Invalid, that’s an argument from silence.” And what if I told you “The reason why there’s no such evidence is because the Trinitarians destroyed it”? You would rightly point out that this was nothing but an ad hoc argument, a defensive attempt to reconcile contrary evidence with my case. Of course in this instance I claim there is indeed such evidence, and I can provide it from the relevant academic sources (EDB, ODCC, EoC, DLNT, ABD, Schaff).

      So please, show me where the apostles preached that Jesus was not simply a man, before they baptized people. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t necessarily prove that they didn’t, but it does mean you cannot claim that they ever did, because you have absolutely no evidence for it. I, on the other hand, can claim with complete confidence that the apostles preached a Unitarian understanding of Jesus, and then baptised people with that knowledge. I can say that because I have actual evidence for it, and the onus is then on you to provide evidence that they preached something in addition to this.

      To summarise:

      I have strong, explicit, consistent positive evidence for my argument that the apostles preached Christ as an exalted man, and baptised people into that belief. You have no positive evidence whatsoever that they preached Christ as God, and baptised people into that belief.

      The evidence therefore favours my position overwhelmingly. But where is the evidence for yours? It doesn’t exist.

    • Dave Burke

      Christ (VI)
      Rob,

      You claim that when the Bible says Jesus is a man you accept this statement fully. But if that’s the case why do you add to it by saying that he is the “God-man”? That’s not good enough. You do your own theology a disservice by presenting only half of it in order to claim that it’s no more than what the Bible actually says. Ironically, you do exactly in regard to the NT teaching about Christ’s deity what you falsely accuse me of doing with regard to his humanity: you affirm what you think you need to affirm, but you do so by qualifying and equivocating.

      With regard to your points:

      • I believe that no one knows the Father except those to whom the son reveals Him; what I don’t believe is that Jesus said “No one has known the Father until now”
      • I believe that when two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus, he is there among them; since the phrase “in my name” is a technical term of authorisation and the context is the authoritative disfellowship of the impenitent believer (as it is when Paul use the same phrase), I understand Jesus is saying they are acting as authorised by him (“Though verses 19 and 20 appear to be speaking of corporate prayer, the context suggests that the agreement reached with its heavenly sanction relates to the matter of church discipline mentioned in verse 17”, Mounce, “Matthew”, NIBC, 1991. p.177)
      • When Jesus says that all people are to honour the son just as they honour the Father, I agree; no qualification necessary
      • When Jesus said “I have come down from heaven”, I agree; he came down from heaven in the same way that the manna “came down from heaven” (which is precisely the parallel he himself draws, so it makes sense to be guided by his comparison)
      • When Jesus says he came forth from the Father and came into the world, I agree; he was conceived by the Father through the Holy Spirit, and came into the world
      • I agree Thomas called Jesus “My “kurios” and my “theos” (unless he used Aramaic) and it’s only through examining his own self-described Christology that we can understand what he meant
      • When Paul says that the Rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness was Christ, I agree with him that the Rock that followed the Israelites in the wilderness was Christ; I don’t agree that Paul says “Christ was in the wilderness with the Israelites”, just as I’m sure you don’t believe Hagar is Mt Sinai in Arabia (Galatians 4:25)
      • When Paul says that all things visible and invisible (“whether thrones or dominions, principalities or powers”) were created through God’s beloved Son, and when Hebrews says that God “made the ages” through the Son, I agree on both points (the “thrones, dominions, principalities [rulers] and powers [authorities]” are hierarchical elements of Christ’s kingdom; see Revelation 5:10 and note II Peter 2:10, where kuriotēs (“dominions”) is translated “governments”)
      • When Paul says Christ was in the form of God and humbled himself by taking the form of a servant and was found in the form of a man, I agree; it’s strange that you use this passage, since you’re the one who believes “in the form of God and humbled himself by taking the form of a servant and was found in the form of a man” really means “existed before he became a human being”
      • When Paul says that the fullness of the deity dwells in Christ in bodily form, I agree wholeheartedly

      So you see, I do actually agree with these passages. I just don’t agree with your interpretation of them. More to the point, I don’t say that they all left out half the story. I don’t say that they have to be interpreted as making two contradictory statements resulting in an insoluble paradox, such as that Jesus was God and man. Not only that, but you know perfectly well that my understanding of every one of these passages can be found in mainstream Trinitarian exposition.

      But let’s return to the primary issue, which is that you cannot accept what the apostles are recorded as teaching before baptising people, as an accurate description of Christ. You can’t. You literally cannot. Unitarians know this better than most, because when we teach people these very words of the apostles and then baptise them, Trinitarians say we are wrong, say we have omitted critical teaching, say we are teaching a false Christ, say we have affirmed only “one side of the Bible’s teaching about Christ”, say we have failed to “identify who Jesus really is.” This apostolic teaching is just not good enough for you.

      Unitarians can prove the apostles used “God”‘ as a reference to one person, the Father, that they consistently differentiated Christ from God, that they taught Jesus Christ is a man, predicated the salvic efficacy of the atonement on Jesus being a man, and that they taught Jesus Christ is a divinely appointed agent of God.

      Can the Trinitarian identify any arguments used by the apostles to teach the Trinity, or even to teach that Jesus is God? You have already acknowledged you can’t, and accused me of an argument from silence. But this is not an argument from silence; it is simply an observation that the evidence which would support your case is absent from the record.

      So I’m not the one begging the question here. The apostles never preached that Jesus is “both a real human being and that he is the LORD God, maker of heaven and earth.” Can you find me anyone in the Bible who was baptised with that teaching?

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