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.


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).


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.


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.


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"

    • Dave Burke

      Christ (VII)

      In reference to the trial of Christ, you accuse me yet again of presenting an argument from silence. As usual, the accusation is false.

      When I asked you these questions, it was not an argument from silence. 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.

      The fact is, you know 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 also acknowledge that this isn’t an argument from silence by actually attempting to supply answers to my questions (thank you), although the irony is palpable when you start by appealing to what you freely acknowledge yourself is an argument from silence:

      Jesus routinely spoke of himself as “the Son of Man” and frequently as “the Son.” The latter title, of course, can be expanded to “the Son of God,” though it is interesting to note that the Gospels report Jesus using this specific form only once (John 10:36). The Gospels never report Jesus saying “I am God” in those exact words. Although arguments from silence are hazardous, it isn’t unreasonable to guess that he never made that precise statement. That is probably sufficient explanation, if one is needed, why the Gospels do not report Jesus being accused in the trial of making that precise statement.

      My emphasis. Apparently you believe arguments from silence are bad unless you’re the one using them…?

      The reason why Christ was not accused of saying “I am God” is because he never made that precise statement. But since we’ve seen what the false witnesses were prepared to do with the statement “I will destroy this temple and in three days raise it up again”, you’d think they would at least have something to go on if they wanted to accuse Jesus of claiming to be God.

      What about the passages in which Trinitarians say Jesus was claiming to be God? The trial of Christ is a great example of how at the very time when such claims would have been most useful to his enemies, they were never even raised. Yet there is literally no evidence that the worst of Jesus’ enemies, prepared to twist and wrest his words to their own advantage, were prepared to accuse him of claiming to be God, even though this would have been a clincher in the trial.

      You say:

      If “Son of God” meant nothing more than or other than the human, Davidic Messianic king, what would Jesus’ opponents find blasphemous about that?

      Nothing at all, unless they believed him to be a false Messiah. But remember, this entire issue did not turn upon the question of whether or not Christ could claim to be the Messiah and Son of God, since this was an accepted belief in Jesus’ era, even amongst the conservative Sanhedrin. We find confirmation in Mark 14:61, where the High Priest openly confessing his personal belief that the Messiah would indeed be the Son of God:

      But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”

      (Note the synonymous parallelism there).

      The Second Temple milieu informs us further on this point. During this time the charge of blasphemy was applied broadly to a wide range of actions and statements. A key work on the subject is Bock’s Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus: a philological historical study of the key Jewish themes impacting Mark (1998).

      In any case, you’re missing the fact that the whole point of the trial is that it was a travesty of justice. False witnesses were brought and false accusations were made. The problem for you is that none of these accusations involved any assertion that Jesus had claimed to be God. This is a point you have consistently failed to explain. And why are you treating the trial as if it was fair? Critical scholars have previously argued that none of Jesus’ words or deeds met the conditions under which blasphemy was defined by the laws of his day, so that even if the trial was a genuine historical event described accurately in the Gospels, the cries of “blasphemy” were as false as every other charge laid against him.

      Bock (p. 8, op. cit.), cites Lietzmann as making this very argument:

      In fact, the blasphemy question by the high priest in the scene is not Jewish, nor is Jesus’ reply believable as blasphemy. Had Jesus spoken in this way, it would have been detested as senseless fantasy and as pernicious superstition, but not as blasphemy. Here the problem of the nature of the blasphemy is introduced in as clear a form as possible. If, as the Mishnah says, one must pronounce the Divine Name to blaspheme, then where is Jesus’ blasphemy in this scene?

      Bock explains that many critical scholars similarly dismiss the entire scene as non-historical, in order to get around this problem. His own understanding is far simpler and has nothing to do with a claim of deity. Referring to his previous work, he writes (p. 24):

      In it I argued, as several others have, that the key to the blasphemy is the combination citation of Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13. Then I argued that in the conceptual world of Judaism, the claim by a contemporary [his italics] to sit by God in heaven [note this, Jesus is claiming to sit by God, thus identifying him as “other-than-God”] would be seen as blasphemous, because it was worse than claiming that he would walk into the Holy of Holies and sit by the Shekinah. The article discussed the concept of God’s holiness, blasphemy in the first century, and the fact that the temple was seen as a model of God’s heavenly presence. These concepts stand as the world view basis behind the perception of offense.

      According to Bock, the issue turns upon the idea of a man claiming unauthorised access to the presence of God. You will note his explanation is grounded firmly in the Second Temple milieu.

      A few other points he makes are worth noting (pp. 25, 50, 52, 111):

      O’Neil correctly observed that blasphemy is not limited to just using the divine Name (m Sanh 7.5), since idolatry was also seen as blasphemous (Isa 65:7; Ezek 20:27-28).

      These Maccabean texts reveal the broad use of blasphemy to describe someone who has shown great disrespect to God in the way the people and his holy place have been treated. [cf. the false charge that Christ claimed he would destroy the Temple]

      So the few references of the so-called Pseudepigrapha also suggest a broad definition of the term blasphemy.

      Yet beyond utterances of blasphemy involving the Name, there is also a whole category of acts of blasphemy. These examples move beyond mere utterance of the Name, though often include it. Here one can start with the use of a range of substitute titles. But beyond these offensive utterances one can see discussed a whole range of actions offensive to God. Such actions would have been perceived by all as blasphemous, even if they were not specifically addressed by any formal, ideal legal statute.

      You say:

      If Jesus was simply claiming to be the Messiah, why did his opponents repeatedly accuse him of claiming to be God?

      Well that’s just it: they didn’t. They never did. At best they accused him of making himself equal with God. On the other hand, if Jesus had repeatedly claimed to be God, why didn’t they just accuse him of this? The best you can do is acknowledge that he didn’t say it in so many words, but this only demonstrates how far his words really were from such a statement, given how they were prepared to re-phrase his statement concerning the temple.

      You say:

      The Sanhedrin needed an accusation that they could “sell” to two parties (in addition to themselves): the general Jewish population, and the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. Healing on the Sabbath and forgiving people endeared Jesus to the general populace and, as an accusation of law-breaking, would have evoked a yawn if not a guffaw from Pilate. Besides, while some Pharisaic stuffed shirts may have felt comfortable arguing that healing on the Sabbath was technically a violation of the Torah, they could not plausibly claim that it was a capital offense. Some false witnesses offered a more suitable accusation: that Jesus had claimed he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (Matt. 27:60-61; Mark 15:55-59). The threat of violence against the temple would have been unsettling to the Jewish populace, while Pilate would have viewed it as a security matter. Another false accusation was that Jesus had forbidden the paying of taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:2), a charge obviously trumped up exclusively for Pilate’s benefit.

      That doesn’t work, because the purpose of the false witnesses was to provide evidence for the Sanhedrin to convict Christ, not to convince Pilate. You’re completely misrepresenting the trial.

      When we read what the Jewish leaders accused Christ of to Pilate, these false claims are never mentioned. They don’t say “Oh, he said he would destroy the temple, a disturbing terrorist act!” (by the way, Matthew 27:60-61 says nothing about the Temple, it’s Joseph of Arimathea requesting the body of Christ from Pilate, and Mark 15 ends at verse 47; there is no such passage as Mark 15:55-59). What the Jewish leaders told Pilate was actually a truth, not an untruth. They said Jesus had referred to himself as the king of the Jews, and Jesus confirmed this fact (they also accused him falsely of forbidding people to pay tax to Caesar, a charge which was never raised at the Sanhedrin trial). Your argument just doesn’t fit the facts: the Jewish leaders never presented the other charges to Pilate.

      You say:

      There are only two senses in which anyone could possibly describe someone as “literally” the son of someone else: in respect to the way the person originated, or in respect to the shared natures of the two persons. For example, if someone claims that Billy Smith is the literal son of Johnny Jones, this claim must mean at least one of two things: that Johnny procreated Billy as his literal offspring, or that Billy shares his nature with and derives that nature in some way from Johnny (or both). Your view fits neither requirement. (1) You do not believe that God the Father literally procreated or sired Jesus. (2) You do not believe that Jesus has the same nature as God, since you deny that Jesus is eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, and so forth. If Jesus is not the same kind of being as God, and if God did not procreate Jesus, then Jesus is not “literally” the Son of God.

      This is a false dichotomy. Your carefully contrived definition of literal fatherhood introduces an irrelevance (“share his nature with and derive that nature in some way from”), avoids one simple fact: that in order for X to be the literal father of Y, then X has to bring Y into existence. That is the sine qua non of literal fatherhood. Your definition carefully leaves this out, because you do not believe God brought Jesus into existence. I believe that God was literally the Father of Jesus, just as He was literally the Father of Adam. In both cases God brought them into existence, and appropriately both men are referred to as the son of God.

      Ironically, neither of your definitions fit Adam, since Adam was not the product of a procreative act, nor did Adam share the nature of God. But of course, yours is not the normative definition of fatherhood; it’s a contrived definition for the purpose of shoring up a theological argument. Does the Bible say that Jesus would be called the son of God because he would “share his nature with and derive that nature in some way from” God? Or does it say something else? I find it says this:

      Luke 1:34-35, “Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.'”

      According to the Bible, Jesus is “son of God” because he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, namely, God brought him into existence. That is literal fatherhood. That is what I believe. That is not what you believe.

      As usual, I find plenty of standard Trinitarian commentators who share my view that Jesus was literally the son of God by virtue of his conception by the Holy Spirit, though not a literal procreative act as in the pagan religions. Naturally they must qualify this interpretation against their belief that Jesus pre-existed, which is something I have no need to do since I can accept Scripture at face value.

      Green, J. B. (1997), The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p.91:

      First, he emphasizes the relation of the Spirit’s activity and Jesus’ sonship: Jesus is “Son of God” not as a consequence of his assuming the throne of David (as in Ps 2:7), but as a result of his conception, itself the result of the miraculous work of the Spirit.

      Marshall, I. H. (1978), The Gospel of Luke : A commentary on the Greek text, The New international Greek testament commentary, pp.70–71:

      God’s powerful presence will rest upon Mary, so that she will bear a child who will be the Son of God. Nothing is said regarding how this will happen, and in particular there is no suggestion of divine begetting (Creed, 20).

      Morris, L. (1988), Vol. 3: Luke: An introduction and commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p.90:

      Speaking with reverent reserve Gabriel says that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and that the power of the Most High will overshadow her. This delicate expression rules out crude ideas of a “mating’ of the Holy Spirit with Mary. Gabriel makes it clear that the conception will be the result of a divine activity. Because of this the child to be born would be holy, the Son of God. We should not miss this explanation of what the Son of God means.

      Black, M. C. (1996), Luke, College Press NIV commentary (Lk 1:34):

      Though not expressing doubt, Mary does wish to know how a child can be born to her, a virgin. Gabriel’s answer satisfies her, and, as in John’s birth, involves the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus’ beginning is even greater than John’s, in that Jesus will be literally the Son of God. The term Son of God was not at all uncommon among first-century people. In this instance it seems to refer to God’s role in the conception of Jesus. However, it also could be for Jews simply a synonym for “Messiah” (4:41; Acts 9:20, 22). The term was also used outside the Jewish world in the sense of a human who nonetheless was seen by his moral virtue or miraculous powers to be divine.

      Evans, C. A. (1990), New International biblical commentary, Luke, p.26:

      The angel explains that her pregnancy will result from the Holy Spirit, and for this reason her child will be called the Son of God (v. 35).

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (I)

      Let’s begin this section with our dispute over your “‘definition by parallelism’ fallacy”, where you say:

      I’m afraid it is also fallacious to argue, as you did, that accusing a person of committing an invented fallacy demonstrates that the person committed no fallacy at all. Consider the following exchange:

      Jim: That professor’s obviously unqualified. He didn’t even mention if he has a PhD.
      Tim: Your criticism is fallacious because you committed the “contraction fallacy”—your argument uses contractions.
      Jim: There’s no such thing as a contractions fallacy. The fact that you would accuse me of a nonexistent fallacy proves that what I said was not fallacious.

      In this case, Jim is right to object to Tim’s “contraction fallacy” criticism, but Jim’s claim that Tim’s bogus criticism proves that Jim’s original argument was not fallacious is also wrong. Jim’s original argument exhibits the fallacy of arguing from silence. Thus, a misdiagnosis of the original argument does not clear it of being fallacious. Jim’s defense commits the non sequitur fallacy: it does not follow from the fact of a faulty criticism of his argument that his argument was not fallacious. Your defense of Buzzard’s argument commits the same fallacy.

      The reason why the “definition by parallelism” fallacy does not appear on “standard lists” in logic textbooks is that it is a hermeneutical fallacy specific to the study of Hebrew poetry. Naturally, you won’t find it in university logic textbooks.

      There are several issues here Rob.

      The first is that there was no appeal to authority. An appeal to authority is the claim that argument X is true or false simply because source Y says so. I made no such appeal. I simply pointed out that the fallacy you described is not a recognized logical fallacy. You actually acknowledged this by arguing that it is a hermeneutical fallacy instead. Nor did I argue that since I had not made the “‘definition by parallelism fallacy”, proves I had not made any fallacy at all. I simply pointed out that I hadn’t made the fallacy you claimed

      The second is that there was no argument from silence. An argument from silence means that if there is no evidence for claim X, then claim X is false. I did not make such an argument.

      The third issue is I can find nothing to support your claim that “definition by parallelism fallacy” is a hermeneutical fallacy (especially “specific to the study of Hebrew poetry”).
      It appears nowhere in these 14 works on hermeneutics. It appears nowhere in these 30 odd journals. It appears nowhere in this collection of over 400 theological commentaries, Bible dictionaries and encyclopaedias, lexicons, discourse analyses, and other original language tools.

      It does not appear in a single book in Google Books, nor in a single article in Google Scholar. Even a Google search turns up just four references to the “definition by parallelism fallacy.” Two of them are your own words in this debate, and the other two are quotations of you on other blogs, such as Dale Tuggy’s. Without any evidence, how can we call this a formal hermeneutical fallacy recognized in the relevant scholarly literature?

      The shorter phrase “definition by parallelism” does appear, just once, in this collection I mentioned previously (though nowhere in all the other sources). However, it does not appear as a fallacy. It does not even appear as an exegetical technique. Instead it appears as a legitimate literary technique by a Biblical writer.
      Nicole, “The Biblical Concept of Truth”, in Carson, D. A., & Woodbridge, J. D. (1992), Scripture and Truth, p.288:

      ‎In Exodus 18:21, there is a kind of definition by parallelism: “… men who fear God, trustworthy men [literally, men of ʾemeṯ] who hate dishonest gain.…” (Cf. also Neh. 7:2.)

      Here the writer of Exodus uses what Nicole refers to as a “kind of definition by parallelism.” The writer himself is creating a definition by using a parallel. There is of course no reference to the idea that this is a fallacy, either by the writer or the reader.

      Your “definition by parallelism fallacy” may be a genuine hermeneutical fallacy specific to Hebrew poetry (feel free to prove this) but right now it just looks like you made it up on the spot.

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (II)

      This text satisfies perfectly the conditions you claimed were missing in the texts I cited as counterpoint to Buzzard’s argument. This text uses what scholars typically label Hebrew synonymous parallelism, with the second line introduced by the word “and,” just as in Luke 1:35. Moreover, this text is just ten verses later in the same book! But does this text prove that “soul” and “spirit” are interchangeable terms? No, although evidently they are used synonymously in this particular text. Oh, and by the way, could Mary plausibly mean “My power has rejoiced in God my Savior”? I don’t think so.

      Actually yes Rob, I’d be perfectly happy reading “soul” and “spirit” as synonymous, both here and in a number of other passages where they are paralleled, since the Greek words in question share semantic and lexical overlap and are often used in synonymous parallelism in the LXX and New Testament. Of course you know that I don’t believe “power” is the meaning of the word “spirit”, so your question about what Mary could plausibly mean is irrelevant. Why do you persist in these straw man arguments?

      You committed a similar error when you said that the Bible never refers to someone’s “spirit” as their “power”, to which I can only say: “Yes, I agree. So what?” Since I do not claim that “spirit” and “power” are equivalents, your observation is completely irrelevant. Are you sure that you actually know what I believe? I have to ask because it’s difficult to understand why you’re still misrepresenting my position.

      In any case, you’re moving the goal posts because the issue under discussion is not the definition of the word “spirit”, but specifically the definition of the “Holy Spirit.”

      Now going back to Luke 1:35, the second line does not merely restate the first line but augments it. The language of the Spirit coming upon a human being was familiar from the OT, generally referring to an empowering of the individual to function as a prophet or ruler (e.g., Num. 24:2; Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6; etc.; 1 Sam. 16:13 is especially relevant). The second line alludes to the cloud of God’s glory that “overshadowed” (LXX, epeskiazen, the same verb as in Luke 1:35) the tabernacle when God’s glory filled it (Ex. 40:35; note also Luke 9:34).

      Well Rob, you’re just helpfully reinforcing what I already agree with. The parallelism is grounded completely in the Old Testament concept of the Holy Spirit as God’s empowering presence, and this shows us that the meaning of “Holy Spirit” here is indeed God’s empowering presence, the “power of God”‘, not a person within the Trinity.


      • “The Holy Spirit is identified with God’s power in a way that anticipates Acts 1:8.” (Green, J. B. (1997), The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament p.90)
      • “The Holy Spirit, here equated in poetic parallelism with the power of God (1:17 note; W. Grundmann, TDNT II, 300), is to be the agent, as is appropriate in the new creation (Ps. 104:30; cf. Mt. 1:18, 20; Ellis, 74).” Marshall, I. H. (1978), The Gospel of Luke: A commentary on the Greek text, The New international Greek testament commentary, p.70)
      • “The parallelism with “power of the Most High” (δύναμις ὑψίστου, dynamis hypsistou) and Luke’s general portrait of the Spirit suggest a reference to the creative power of God, God’s active Holy Spirit (24:49).40 To make a distinction is too subtle in light of the major role that Luke gives to the Holy Spirit.” (Bock, D. L. (1994), Luke Volume 1: 1:1-9:50, Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament, p.121)
      • “dunamis hupsistou ‘the power of the Most High’; for dunamis cp. on v. 17 and for hupsistou on v. 32. The expression is almost synonymous with pneuma hagion, the difference being that pneuma has in view the character of divine action and dunamis its effectiveness.” (Reiling, J., & Swellengrebel, J. L. (1993), A handbook on the Gospel of Luke. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators, p.59)
      • “QUESTION—How are the Holy Spirit and ‘the power of the Most High’ related? The clause ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you’ is in synonymous parallelism with ‘the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ [AB, NAC, NICNT, NIGTC, NTC, TH]” (Blight, R. C. (2008), An Exegetical Summary of Luke 1-11 (2nd ed.), p. 45)

      That makes eight commentaries identifying the clause as a parallelism, at least six of them saying explicitly that the purpose of the parallelism here is to identify the Holy Spirit as the power of God. They don’t just say it’s a parallelism; they say the purpose is to identify the Holy Spirit as the power of God.

      This is the standard scholarly view. Clearly it is not your view.

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (III)

      “I agree that ‘spirit’ is used as a term for a supernatural entity in the NT (this is consistent with Second Temple usage), but the metaphysics of your examples (angels, demons, departed believers, etc.) are not consistent with the way you wish to apply this word to the Holy Spirit. In every case pneuma denotes a type of being, not a person. Since you do not believe the Holy Spirit to be a separate being from God, there is no clear parallel for your theology here. If we used your examples we could make a good case for the Holy Spirit being the Angel of the Presence, but not for the Holy Spirit as a third person within a triune being.”
      This is so awful an objection it leaves me almost speechless. By this reasoning, no term in any ancient language would be suitable to use in reference to any of the three persons, including the Greek and Hebrew words for Father and Son, because of course those terms in regular use denoted beings, not “persons” in the later special theological usage of the Trinity. In short, no ancient writer could even have gotten started talking about the persons of the Trinity, because supposedly no words existed that they could use

      For all your bluster, you haven’t addressed my point. The fact is that the word pnuema, when used of a supernatural entity in the NT, speaks of a type of being, not as a person. You want to using it for something else completely, a meaning which is not contained in its lexical range, and you say that my objection to this is “awful”? How would you like it if I defined “Christ” as “mortal Messiah who came into existence only at his birth and who is definitely not God”? Would you say it was “awful” to object to that? You’re making up your own meaning for the word pnuema and complaining that I object?

      Frankly, I’m the one who should be speechless at your attempt to avoid my argument and the nature of your unsubstantiated assertions. I would be perfectly happy to post your claim for this word to the professional Biblical Greek email list and ask them what they think of it. How about we do that? You could list for them all the Greek words which you believe refer to a person who is not a being, starting with pnuema. I am sure they would be interested.
      You helpfully recognise that there were no words in Greek which defined a person other than as a being, and the fact that this is typically true of other languages is a difficulty with which Trinitarians still struggle. An ancient writer could certainly have described the persons of the Trinity despite this limitation, and we know the later Christian writers had no difficulty in doing so using various formulas and phrases rather than a specific word which wasn’t in the available vocabulary.

      In a previous week I alluded to Humpty Dumpty from Alice Through the Looking Glass (“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less'”). That’s fine for Humpty Dumpty, but you are claiming that when someone else uses a specific word, it means just what you chose it to mean, neither more or less. If you want to claim that the NT writers used the word pnuema to refer to a person, rather than to a being, then you need to provide evidence that they did so.

      All you’re doing here is proposing an ad hoc argument without any evidence whatsoever. The fact is that pnuema does not mean “person as distinct from a being.” Where it refers to a person at all, it means a type of being, namely “a spirit” such as an “evil spirit” or an ‘unclean spirit.” Claiming without evidence that the NT writers used it with a completely different found in no standard lexicon, is not persuasive.

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (IV)

      “You say that the term ‘Paraclete’ confirms the Holy Spirit was someone, not just something; but what exactly is the reasoning here? I can refer to my daughter’s ‘comfort blanket’ without suggesting that the blanket itself is a literal person with the ability to encourage, comfort, support, help, defend, etc.”
      Again, I have to say that I am embarrassed for you when you make such statements, because they show that you simply cannot handle the evidence that confronts you. The Holy Spirit is not called “comfort” but rather “the Comforter”; not “help” but “the Helper”; not “defense” but “the Defender” (pick your translation of paraklētos). The word paraklētos is a personal noun, just as much as “savior” or “ruler” or “teacher.” And that the term refers to an actual person is evident from the context, as I explained and have explained again.

      But your objection is still invalid; it seems clear that you’re either avoiding the issue or failing to understand it. Something can be a “comforter”, “helper”, or “defender” without being a person; this is a fait accompli. The onus is on you to demonstrate that the word here is a personal noun. The comforter (or counsellor, as you will), is also referred to by Christ as the “spirit of truth”, which is certainly not a personal noun and is a term which was used in Second Temple Judaism as an impersonal force or inclination (as in Testament of Judah 20:1, 3, 5, 1QS 3:18-21, Hermas 3:4).

      You have failed to explain or demonstrate the use of a specifically impersonal term, to describe what you claim is a person.

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (V)

      The LXX uses ekcheō several times of human persons (“and pouring out my soul before the Lord,” 1 Sam. 1:15; “I am poured out like water,” Ps. 22:14 [21:15], “I poured out my soul upon me,” Ps. 42:4 [41:5]; “pour out your hearts before him,” Ps. 62:8 [61:9]; “and now my soul is poured out upon me,” Job 30:16). Jude 11 uses it in an unusual context, of wicked people who “poured themselves out to the error of Balaam.” The verb spendomai denotes the pouring out of a drink offering and so is irrelevant to the Holy Spirit. The same Hebrew verb translated “poured out” in Isaiah 32:15, ‘ārāh (“Until the Spirit is poured out upon us”) is also used in Isaiah 53:12 in reference to the Suffering Servant’s death (“he poured out himself to death”).

      Once again you’re not addressing the issue. We have here a soul poured out before the Lord (meaning inner thoughts exposed), a person poured out like water (meaning fatigue or total exhaustion), people who poured themselves out to the error of Balaam (meaning people who gave themselves over to it), someone’s soul poured out on themselves (actually ‘within me’, meaning they are wasting away or grieving, NET footnote), someone who poured out themselves to death (meaning they willingly submitted to death), but in none of these passages do we have the phrases used of the Holy Spirit:

      • None of them say that person X is poured on, into, or over person Y
      • None of them say that person X pours out person Y onto person or persons Z
      • Nor do any of them say that person X is filled with person Y

      You need proper parallels. All you’re doing is showing that this language just isn’t used of people.

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (VI)

      The Bible never refers to the Holy Spirit being “divided.” I can only guess at what text or texts you might have in mind, since you don’t cite any. Acts 2:3 says that tongues as of fire appeared to be distributed or divided and to rest on each of the disciples. This doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit was divided, but that a manifestation of the Holy Spirit was divided or distributed. I cannot even think of another text that you might have in mind.

      I don’t mind rephrasing for the sake of the argument, though I note you didn’t address the actual point that the Holy Spirit was shared among people (if this didn’t involve division, what did it involve?) What do you make of the Old Testament reference to a ‘double portion’ of the Spirit in II Kings 2:9? If that’s not the language of division into parts, what is?

      By the way, the NET translates “May I receive a double portion of the prophetic spirit that energizes you”, though the Hebrew is literally “your spirit.” Surely you’ll agree that “your spirit” in this case does not really mean “you”, and you will agree that it’s possible for the spirit possessed by one person to be given to another person, without either of them being that spirit or that spirit being them? Thus the “spirit of the Lord,” and the “spirit of Christ”, and the “spirit of God” does not mean that all these referents are in fact one and the same being.

      So why didn’t you address my point? (Let me guess: “I don’t know and I can’t answer your question”).

      I have seen this technique enough times now to recognise it as part of your regular strategy; you attempt to distract the reader with an attack on the argument presented, then quickly move on without answering the question or dealing with the substance of the argument. I don’t know how you think it looks, but from where I’m standing it gives the strong impression of someone who can’t answer the challenges presented to him.

      This does not assist your credibility.

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (VII)

      The use of the possessive pronoun is hardly decisive or definitive in support of your conclusion. In order to make the argument work, you must also show that “Holy Spirit” actually denotes something impersonal. Otherwise, “my Holy Spirit” or the like is no more indicative of a non-person than “my Son” or “my Servant.”
      By the way, the expression “my Holy Spirit” never occurs in Scripture. You will find “his Holy Spirit” occurring in two passages (Isa. 63:10-11; 1 Thess. 4:8) and “your Holy Spirit” in just one passage (Ps. 51:10). The Spirit is called “my Spirit” 12 times in the OT and never in the NT except in two quotations from the OT. The Spirit is called “his [God’s] Spirit” or “your Spirit” 9 times in the OT and 3 times in the NT.

      Once again you evade the issue and fail to address my argument. The argument I am making is that the Holy Spirit is described as a property of God. I note you have not denied this point. If you want to explain how a person can be a property of God, please do so. Meanwhile, you need to address the fact that the Holy Spirit is repeatedly referred to as a property of God, “My Spirit” (“My Holy Spirit” in some of the looser translations, e.g. TLB), “My Spirit”, “Your Holy Spirit”, “His Holy Spirit”, “the Spirit of God”, etc.

      You helpfully acknowledge the reference is analogous to references to God’s word, and that these can be understood as abstractions or circumlocutions for God Himself, and that this OT usage carries over to some extent to the New Testament. Thank you, that’s precisely what I am arguing. Attributes and properties of God can be understood as occasionally circumlocutions for God Himself, but this does not change the fact that they are attributes and properties of God, they are not God Himself.

      You return to the ad hoc “new revelation” argument. As I’ve stated before, I agree that progressive revelation is possible. What you need to show me is that in this specific case it actually took place. Where is it? I don’t see if. If you see it, where do you see it? I’m looking at the NT right now, and I’m seeing not a difference, but a continuity, not a new revelation that the Holy Spirit is a person who comprises part of a triunity within the Godhead. I see “Spirit of God”, “Spirit of your Father”, “Spirit of Him”, “Spirit of the Lord”, and “His Spirit”, “His Holy Spirit” in the NT.

      What you are doing is characteristic of distinctive Trinitarian word gymnastics, whereby “Spirit of God” means “God the Holy Spirit” and “son of God” means “God the Son.” This is demonstrably insupportable unless you think eisegesis is an ideal way to approach Scripture.

      Of course you reserve this word re-interpretation for references to the Spirit and the Son; you don’t do it anywhere else. The “spirit of infirmity” isn’t re-interpreted as “Infirmity the Spirit”, nor “spirit of man” re-interpreted as “Man the Spirit.” You reserve this peculiar re-interpretation for the Holy Spirit and Christ, which is special pleading at its finest. Everywhere else the possessive pronoun is used you interpret it as such, but not in these cases.

      Why not go one step further and claim the “name of God” really means “God the Name”?

    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (VIII)

      Of course the Holy Spirit has a name. Jesus said he did (Matt. 28:19). The name distinctively designating him is “Holy Spirit.” Is he Yahweh? Yes, he is the LORD (see 2 Cor. 3:16-18; cf. Acts 5:3-9). Remember, your own view concedes that the Holy Spirit is at least an aspect of God, not something separate from God. So, if the Holy Spirit is a person, he must be the LORD God.

      Thanks, that’s exactly what I was waiting to hear. Now all you need to do is show me evidence that “Holy Spirit” is a name. Surely you’re aware that “in the name of” (not “in the names of”), in Matthew 28:19 is a complete phrase meaning “with the authority of”? Whether expressed with “en“, “epi“, or “eis“, the phrase “in the name of” has this meaning. We went through this in Week 5, remember? Let’s review some standard commentaries:

      • Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992), A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, UBS helps for translators; UBS handbook series, p.886, “In the name of means ‘by the authority of'”
      • Bibliotheca Sacra (1996), “The expression, ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus,’ means under the authority and approval of Him”
      • Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 157. 2000 (625) (22), “‘in the name of Jesus’ (i.e., under His authority and will)”
      • Moo, D. J. (2008), The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament commentary, p.291, “When believers are baptized ‘in the name of Jesus’ they come under his authority and are called to conform to his character”
      • Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. (2000), Vol. 4: Analytical lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament library, p.282, “ἐν (τῷ) ὀνόματι used to claim authority for something in the name of”
      • Theological dictionary of the New Testament (1964-), G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed. (electronic ed.), p.245, “the documents of authorisation are always deposited in the ‘names’ of those concerned”
      • Theological dictionary of the New Testament (1964-), G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed. (electronic ed.), p. 245, “διάστειλον εἰς ὄνομα τοῦ δεῖνα ἀρτάβας18 (2nd cent. A.D.); σύμβολον εἰς τοῦ Κλεομάχου ὄνομα P. Hibeh, 74, 3; permit in the name of Kleomachos (3rd cent. B.C.)”
      • Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-), Vol. 2: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament, p.521, “In the LXX, ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι is used interchangeably with ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι with the same meaning, esp. with ‘by commission of / on the authority of.'”

      On what grounds do you split this phrase up, give it a completely different meaning, and argue from it that “Holy Spirit” is a personal name? If I go to the B-Greek email list and ask them if “Holy Spirit” is a personal name, what do you think they’ll tell me? If I look up the relevant words in the standard lexicons, will I be told that “Holy Spirit” is a personal name? If I search for “Holy Spirit” in standard Bible dictionaries and encyclopaedias, will I be told that “Holy Spirit” is a person name? Remember, it appears in the Old Testament as well. Was it a personal name back then? I don’t mind you making these claims, but you have to understand that they’re completely irrelevant without evidence.


      • II Corinthians 3:16-18 says “the Lord is the Spirit” and “the Lord, who is the Spirit”; it doesn’t say “The Holy Spirit is the LORD”
      • Acts 5:3-9 doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit is God, nor does it say that the Holy Spirit is “the LORD” (this was covered in Week 4)
    • Dave Burke

      The Holy Spirit (IX)

      “Where in the book of Acts do we find the apostles preaching that the Holy Spirit is a person, and where do we find the Jewish reaction to this novel theology?”
      There you go again, Dave, with yet another argument from silence. The focus of their preaching was on Christ, not the Holy Spirit, in keeping with the Holy Spirit’s mission (as Christ himself had stated in advance) of testifying to and glorifying the Son, not himself (John 15:26-27; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8). The Jews who opposed the Christian movement had plenty to keep them upset even if they never noticed that Christians viewed the Holy Spirit a bit differently than they did.

      You’re either still confused about what constitutes an argument from silence, or deliberately repeating a false claim in the hope that our readers won’t realise what you’re doing.

      An argument from silence is the argument that since there’s no evidence for claim X, claim X must be false. I did not do this. I asked why there is negative evidence which is contra-indicatory to claim X. Negative evidence against claim X means the absence of evidence which would reasonably be expected if claim X was true. Positive evidence against claim X means the presence of evidence which contradicts claim X. A robust case against claim X will include negative and positive evidence.

      In this case I’m asking you to explain the negative evidence against claim X. One of your two answers is that the Holy Spirit wasn’t the focus of their preaching. This is incredible given that it is centre stage in their preaching from Acts 2 onwards, and repeatedly identified as a critical aspect of their preaching in Acts 10, to the extent that it is identified as necessary pre-baptismal teaching in Acts 19. Your other answer is that the Jews simply had too much to keep them upset to notice (!), if they ever did notice (!!)

      These are ad hoc arguments, the fact of which is exposed easily by the fact that you don’t supply any evidence for either of them, the fact that there is evidence to the contrary, and the fact that they simply generate more questions. Your entire paragraph can be summarised in the words “I don’t know and I can’t answer your question.”

      The most important point is that you acknowledge there is no evidence whatever that the apostles preached the Holy Spirit is a person. Thank you. This is negative evidence in favour of the Unitarian case.

    • Dave Burke

      Father, Son & Holy Spirit (I)

      My Week 5 argument opened with a large body of Scriptural evidence demonstrating the Biblically defined relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At ~1,400 words it is too long to repeat here, but if you follow the hotlink I’ve provided, you will find it easily. It begins with the words “For Biblical Unitarians, the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit begins with the Father as head of a divine hierarchy” and ends with a quote from Hebrews 2:4.

      I mention this because you did not address any of it in your rebuttal. Either you agreed with it (unlikely) or you didn’t want to deal with it (more likely). Most of our readers probably arrived at the latter of these conclusions, as do I.

      You say:

      The deliberate parallelism of these three lines practically speaks for itself. If a Jew unfamiliar with Christianity read these lines alone, he would certainly understand “the same Spirit”, “the same Lord”, and “the same God” to be three synonymous expressions for the same Creator.

      Would he really? Why? I have to ask because you merely make the assertion; you offer no evidence to support it. It looks like a typical non sequitur to me.

      Levinson (The Spirit In First Century Judaism, 2002) identifies the range of understanding of “the spirit” (not just “the Holy Spirit”), in 1st century Jewish theology as follows:

      • The prophetic spirit of Balaam was in fact the inspiration of the angel who talked with him (Philo and Josephus)
      • Life itself (Pseudo-Philo, Numbers 22-24)
      • A manifestation of the divine presence (Josephus)
      • Divine inspiration in the form of wisdom or prophetic revelation (Philo, LXX, ‘the divine spirit of wisdom’, Psalms of Solomon, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs)
      • The breath of life (Philo)

      See also McGrath, An Introduction to Christianity (1997), p.209:

      However, patristic writers were hesitant to speak openly of the Spirit as “God,” in that this practice was not sanctioned by Scripture – a point discussed at some length by Basil of Caesarea in his treatise on the Holy Spirit (374-5). Even as late as 380, Gregory of Nazianzen conceded that many orthodox Christian theologians were uncertain as to whether to treat the Holy Spirit “as an activity, as a creator, or as God.”‘

      Even Basil himself was strongly averse to referring to the Holy Spirit as “God”:

      It is therefore notable that, while adopting formulae and language whihc plainly imply the substantial Trinity, Basil does not write of the Holy Spirit as “God” or as “consubstantial with the Father.” So in a letter asserting the one essence, he concludes “God the Father” and ‘God the Son” (Gk theon huion), but “the divine Holy Spirit” (Gk to theion pneuma to hagion). He does not want to expose his case to the retort that it adds unbiblical titles to the Spirit, though there can be no doubt about what he believes.

      (Hall, Stuart G, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church, SPCK, 1991, pp.158-59).

      Kessler & Wenborn, A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations (2005), p.196:

      Paul’s comment, in Acts 28:25, that the Holy Spirit “spoke to the fathers through Isaiah” mirrors the traditional understanding of Holy Spirit, based on the Hebrew term ruah ha-kodesh, which indicates a force emanating from God that impels prophecy and other forms of divine inspiration.

      You say:

      Orthodox Christians have always understood that our views of the nature of God and of the person of Jesus Christ as both God and man are paradoxical. In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr, writing in the middle of the second century, represented his Jewish interlocutor Trypho as raising such objections to the Christian belief in the deity of Jesus Christ:

      However, as Martyr demonstrates, this is a paradox which the Jews would not accept. How, then, could it possibly have arisen from the first-century Jewish milieu? After all, that is the theological context in which Christianity emerges.

      The “paradox” itself requires closer scrutiny (more on this later).

    • Dave Burke

      Father, Son & Holy Spirit (II)

      You take the view that Christ was incapable of sin, whilst claiming he could still be tempted. The contradiction here is obvious, but you claim that any attempt to reject it is merely a “rationalistic assumption.” Jonathan Edwards, Wayne Grudem, William G. T. Shedd and other Trinitarian scholars beg to differ (as do I). They cannot be easily dismissed by waving the “rationalistic assumption” flag.

      The entire sum of your attempt to defend the contradiction of temptation without the possibility of sin boils down to little more than “There’s no evidence for the non-Trinitarian view that Jesus was guarded against sin by the Holy Spirit, so that leaves the Trinitarian view that he was God.” Not only is this a false dilemma, it ignores completely the fact that we are told at least twice that Jesus was ministered to by angels, once after the temptation and the second time most notably in Gethsemane, where he was specifically “strengthened” by an angel. Of course if he was God there would be no need for this.

      You acknowledge that being filled with the Spirit may have been a necessary condition of Christ’s sinless life, but you have only your opinion to go on when you say it “does not seem to be a sufficient condition or explanation.” This skirts dangerously close to the argument from incredulity (“It is invalid because I find it difficult to believe”). I do not actually argue that the Holy Spirit prevented Jesus from sinning; I merely offer the suggestion that its presence assisted his resistance to temptation and sin (possibly by heightening his awareness of the Father’s own presence via His Spirit).

      Your claim that Jesus as the divine son of God “simply could not sin” renders Jesus’ temptation a farce and comprises a blatant ad hoc argument, since you never actually provide any passages of Scripture which say this. Nor do you explain how someone can be tempted to do X, but morally incapable of doing X. To be tempted to do X means that there is sufficient will to do X, regardless of finer moral sentiments within the conscience. You provide no evidence whatsoever for your claim that someone can be tempted to do X without being morally capable of doing it, and of course Scripture never describes temptation in this way.

      You say that I am confusing “capability with moral capacity”, and make some attempt to explain what you mean by this. But the explanation fails to demonstrate how Jesus could be tempted without the possibility of sinning. Ultimately, all you can do is re-assert the contradiction that it is possible to be tempted without the possibility of sin. If someone is incapable of experiencing any inclination to perform an act, there can be no temptation to perform it. Temptation requires the capacity to sin; without that capacity, there is no temptation. This is the crux of the issue.

      Let’s compare your argument with the evidence of Scripture:

      Scripture says Jesus was tempted (Matthew 1:4, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2) without any qualification: you want to qualify this with the ad hoc statement “Of course this means he was tempted to do something he was unable to do”

      Scripture says Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15), identifying the process of his temptation as identical to ours, a process which can result in sin: you want to say that Jesus was <i<not tempted as we are, and that the process of his temptation was utterly different to ours because he could not sin

      Scripture showing us that Christ prayed to God as he agonized over temptation in Gethsemane, and was strengthened by an angel: you want to tell us that despite all this it was actually impossible for him to sin and that since he was God there was no need for assistance

      Christ himself saying that he could have called on an angelic army to save himself: yet you say he could not have done anything contrary to the will of his Father

      Your argument from James is lengthy but shallow. We both agree God cannot be tempted in the sense that God cannot be carried away and enticed by lust. Humans can. That is how our temptation works. Does Scripture say Christ was tempted in a very different way to ourselves? No, it says that he was tempted in every way just as we are, yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Not only that, we are told Christ had to be in every way like his brothers and sisters, in order that he could be a faithful High Priest, and this is followed specifically by the statement that since he suffered when he was tempted he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18). The two temptations are necessarily identical.

      You would have us read “Since he suffered when he was ‘tempted'” in a way we will never experience, and was never actually able to sin, he is able to help those who were tempted in a completely different way, and who can and do sin.”

      As is so often the case, we find Scripture repeatedly identifying Christ as the same as those he came to save, whilst Trinitarians repeatedly identify Christ as different from those he came to save. When it comes to the specific ways in which Scripture identifies Christ as identical to those he came to save, the Trinitarian claims he was different in those very ways.

    • Dave Burke

      Father, Son & Holy Spirit (III)

      With regard to Galatians 4:4, I certainly won’t disagree that ginomai necessarily means something was brought into existence. You’ve spent around a page and a half on this passage, but I can cut through your digression by pointing out that context indicates which meaning of ginomai is intended, and in this case the key contexualising phrase is “of a woman.” You will know of course that ginomai used with “of a woman” is a specific reference to birth (LXX Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4), and we both know that to be born is to come into existence. This governs the use of ginomai in the next phrase, which is precisely why standard modern English Bibles translate ginomai “born” in this phrase as they do in the first phrase.

      I agree with you that “becoming of a woman” is certainly your translation (I’ve never seen it in any standard modern English Bible). You don’t explain what this is supposed to mean, but since it’s so completely idiosyncratic. I can safely ignore it. I’ll go with the professional translators on this; ginomai here means “born” in both places, and to be born is to come into existence. All you can do is make the typical Trinitarian claim that when “born” is used of Jesus it doesn’t mean what it means when it’s used of everyone else. Special pleading is the first and last resort of the Trinitarian case, and in this instance we both know the burden of evidence is on you to prove that the Greek phrase in question really means “becoming of a woman”, and that being born of a woman doesn’t mean coming into existence. I can’t see that working out for you.

      Later you deny that the Holy Spirit could be bestowed by the apostles at their own discretion, rejecting the various places in Scripture where this occurs (e.g Acts 8:17, 9:17 19:6). Furthermore, Luke tells us in Acts 8:18-19 that the Spirit was given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, and that when Simon saw this he asked for this power also. Peter’s response demonstrates that he understood he had the choice of whether or not to grant Simon’s request.

      Showing that the Spirit was given in other ways at other times does not change the fact that there is clear evidence that the apostles could and did bestow it. To say it was “never at their discretion” is manifestly overstating the case. Where is the evidence that it was never at their discretion? By the way, I did not say that the Holy Spirit is God in action; I said that it operates as God-in-action. This makes perfect sense when we view the apostles as authorised channels of the power of God.

      Regardless, none of this even starts to address the key issue in my argument, which is that you have to explain how a person can be “bestowed” on others, especially at the hands of mortals who have the choice to bestow that person on whomsoever they will. You don’t explain what that is supposed to mean.

    • Dave Burke

      Father, Son & Holy Spirit (IV)

      I do of course take issue with your claim that no non-Trinitarian theology is present in the first two centuries of the church. I can start with the Didache and move on to the Old Roman Symbol (140 AD at latest, itself a development of an earlier first-century confession), before I’ve even hit 150 AD. It is well recognized that these represent the earliest creedal confessions of the Christian community, and it is also well recognized that they were gradually abandoned as “orthodox” theology developed increasingly further away from them.

      We both know that the Unitarian reads these two confessions and finds nothing but distinctive Unitarian statements (“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, creator… His son, Jesus Christ… the Holy Spirit”), whereas the Trinitarian finds nothing distinctive to their theology (“I believe in one God, who is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”), and must either beg the question and surrender to logical fallacy.

      This leads to such “explanations” as: “They were Trinitarians, they just didn’t mention it; ‘One God, the Father, creator of heaven and earth’, actually means ‘One God, the Father Almighty, who created heaven and earth by the agency of God the Almighty Son’; when they said ‘I believe in one God, the Father’, they really meant ‘I believe in one God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.'”

      Alternatively, Trinitarians can acknowledge that the distinctive understanding of God as more than one person simply did not exist at this early date, and was not developed until much later (as mainstream theologians agree).

      A comparison of the Apostles’ Creed and Didache to the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds shows all too clearly to what extent the earliest faith had been abandoned for new ideas which cannot be found in the creeds of the first two centuries.

      Wim van den Dungen, The DIDACHE or DUAE VIAE (25 November, 2005):

      … [in the Didache] Jesus is a mediator who serves the Holy Father and it is to God that all returns, not to Christ. Giving Jesus the title “Lord” does not justify the trinitarian identification of Jesus Christ with God (there is no Nicean trinitarian circularity here). During the eucharist, no mention is made of the paschal Jesus Christ, nor has his participation during thanksgiving to be understood as the mediation of the “logos” or “second God” (cf. Paul and Philo of Alexandria).

      More on this later.

      You say you would expect “some continuity with the theology of the NT writings”, which is odd since you don’t seem to expect any continuity between the OT and NT. But I do agree that this is what we would expect to see, and I find it between the NT confessions of faith, the confessions in the Didache, and the Old Roman Symbol. The confessions we find there are essentially the preaching speeches of Acts all over again.

      You mention Theophilus, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen (thanks Rob; none of them are Trinitarians, as we both know full well) and say that you would expect Unitarianism to be a participant in the theological discussions and disputes of their day. You further state that “Most heresies in the second and third centuries agreed that Christ was divine and that he preexisted his human conception—in fact, other than the Ebionites, this seems to have been almost universally accepted.”

      This is what we would expect of extended doctrinal development by people who didn’t stay with the NT teachings, people who departed from the simpler confessions of the Didache and the Old Roman Symbol.

      Of course we do find unitarian (lower case “u”; believers in a uni-personal God) commentary in the Fathers. Significantly, we find it recorded in the writings of those who were developing theology past the point of the NT statements and the earlier creedal confessions. In other words, as theology became Binitarian and finally Trinitarian, we find those who took part in this development recording consistent resistance to this development all the way along the line, which is exactly what we would expect if these were new ideas gradually being introduced to the Christian community.

      I find a coherent agreement on this point within the elderly commentary of Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 1910 (Schaff), and also modern commentaries such as Freedman, Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1996 (ABD), Martin & Davids, Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments, 2000 (DLNT), Freedman & Myers, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 2000 (EDB), Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 2002 (ISBE), Fahlbusch & Bromiley, Encyclopedia of Christianity, 1993-2003 (EoC), Ferguson & Packer, New Dictionary of Theology, 2004 (NDT), and Cross & Livingstone, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2005 (ODCC).

    • Dave Burke

      Father, Son & Holy Spirit (V)

      From the 1st century onwards (Bammel, 913; Daniélou, 63; Wright, “Ebionites”, DLNT) we have the Ebionites, who demonstrate continuity with the New Testament in exactly the manner and context in which we expect to find it. They were Jewish Christians, unitarian monotheists who believed God is the Father, and that Jesus is a man, though God’s son. The Christian historian Eusebius knew of two Ebionite groups (History, XXVII, 1-3):

      The ancients quite properly called these men Ebionites, because they held poor and mean opinions concerning Christ. For they considered him a plain and common man, who was justified only because of his superior virtue, and who was the fruit of the intercourse of a man with Mary. In their opinion the observance of the ceremonial law was altogether necessary, on the ground that they could not be saved by faith in Christ alone and by a corresponding life.

      There were others, however, besides them, that were of the same name, but avoided the strange and absurd beliefs of the former, and did not deny that the Lord was born of a virgin and of the Holy Spirit. But nevertheless, inasmuch as they also refused to acknowledge that he pre-existed, being God, Word, and Wisdom, they turned aside into the impiety of the former, especially when they, like them, endeavored to observe strictly the bodily worship of the law.

      In fact Jewish Christianity is a historical study itself, distinguished notably by unitarian monotheism:

      One may, on the other hand, establish certain positive criteria that are regarded as distinctive of Jewish Christianity. Daniélou found three such criteria, each representing a discrete group: a low christology that denied the deity of Christ; esteem for the Jerusalem church ruled by the relatives of Jesus; and an apocalyptic orientation.

      (Hagner, “Jewish Christianity”, DLNT).

      Significantly, the scholarly consensus is that “From the beginning, as we have seen, the only Christianity that existed was a Jewish Christianity” (Hagner, op. cit.). That’s the Christianity with the “low christology that denied the deity of Christ.”

      Also from the first century onwards, we find the Nazarenes (or Nazoreans); “H.-J. Schoeps’s influential interpretation accepts that both Ebionites and Nazoreans derive from the first community in Jerusalem” (NDT). Their apocryphal gospel (“The Gospel of the Nazorean”) is dated between 100 and 150 AD (EDB), and references to it are found as early as Hegesippus (110-180); EDB. Like the Ebionites (with whom some scholars identify them) their theology was unitarian; “They called Jesus the Son of God (→ Christological Titles 3.3), accepted his virgin birth, but rejected his preexistence as God” (EoC). See also Schaff, DLNT, ISBE, EDB, EoC.

      In the mid-2nd century we find Justin Martyr “acknowledges that some Jews who confess Jesus as the Christ hold him to be only a man among men” (Hagner, op. cit.).

      In the late second to early third century we find “orthodox” opposition to heresies “akin to Unitarianism” (to use your phrase). At the end of the 2nd century (Schaff tells us Victor excommunicated Theodotus in 192-202), we find opposition to the Theodotians of Theodotus the Cobbler, who believed Jesus was supernaturally begotten but a man nonetheless; see Schaff, NDT, ODCC.

      Around the same time we find opposition to the Artemonites of Artemon, “an erudite leather-merchant active in Rome about AD 19” (EDT), who with his followers “declared the doctrine of the divinity of Christ an innovation and a relapse to heathen polytheism” (Schaff); see EDT, ODCC, ABD.

      Soon after Artemon was Beryllus, supposedly re-converted to the faith in 244 by Origen (Schaff), but who earlier denied the divinity and pre-existence of Christ, holding instead that he was indwelt by God, the Father (Schaff).

      Paul of Samosata, appointed a bishop in 260, is referred to by Schaff as “the most famous of these rationalistic Unitarians”, who “taught, like the Socinians in later times, a gradual elevation of Christ, determined by his own moral development, to divine dignity.”

      In the beginning of the third century the Pseudo-Clementines display “a classic form of Jewish Christianity” (Hagner, op. cit.), in which once again “Christ is the only Savior”, yet “he is the Son of God, but not God” (Hagner, op. cit.); see EoC, ISBE.

      We have here a continuity of unitarian monotheism, reflected in opposition which starts no earlier than the mid-second century . Thus unitarian monotheism precedes the opposition which emerged as a result of the later doctrinal development which departed from the uni-personal view of original Jewish Christianity.

      I’ll leave you with a passage from Tertullan’s Adversus Praxean, courtesy of Dale Tuggy:

      The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation (of the Three in One), on the ground that their very rule of faith withdraws them from the world’s plurality of gods to the one only true God; not understanding that, although He is the one only God, He must yet be believed in with His own [economy]. The numerical order and distribution of the Trinity they assume to be a division of the Unity; whereas the Unity which derives the Trinity out of its own self is so far from being destroyed, that it is actually supported by it.

      They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves pre-eminently the credit of being worshipers of the One God; just as if the Unity itself with irrational deductions did not produce heresy, and the Trinity rationally considered constitute the truth. We, say they, maintain the Monarchy (or, sole government of God). And so, as far as the sound goes, do even Latins (and ignorant ones too) pronounce the word in such a way that you would suppose their understanding of the [Monarchy] was as complete as their pronunciation of the term.

      Clearly unitarianism was alive and kicking during Tertullian’s era, and its adherents were actively engaged in the current Christological debates.

    • Sam Shamoun

      Wow Dave! Why not just start another debate and post another six posts of 5,000 words! Didn’t you ask to shorten the original debate format from 10,000 words to 5,000? If so were you plannning on making up for the other 5,000 words in the comments section? Or should we see this for what it really is? An attempt of undoing all the major damage against your position since Bowman clearly schooled you? Shame on you, but that is to be expected from a person who failed to defen his heresy and distortion of Biblical truth.

    • mbaker

      I agree with comment #116. Burke’s point is totally lost in such a long reply.

    • Ed Kratz


      I am forced to agree with Sam’s complaint. Your 30 comments on this post add up to about 33,000 words, nearly the number of words (about 34,000, by my calculation) of my comments responding to you on all six of your posts in this debate COMBINED. Your 30 comments fill 68 pages of a Word document!

      I have not had a chance to read your comments, and I don’t know how soon I can do so. If they are fair-minded and make substantive contributions to the discussion, I will be inclined to be somewhat forgiving of the excessive volume. I won’t prejudge that question. However, I feel no obligation to respond to any, some, or all of your comments. If I do, I expect to have the last word, in the wake of such an excessive volume of material from you.

    • MarkE


      I tend to agree that the timing of the posts is not ideal, so answering everything in one go. It will probably mean that the majority of the points don’t get answered which is a shame for those following it.
      However, that is not the same as starting with 10,000 words. Or, as a trinitarian, are you redefining the word debate?

    • DSA

      Why is excessive volume an issue?
      Considering the seriousnes and the implications of the nature of the topic the only thing anyon should be interested in is the quality of the information – and it is begging a lot of answers from rob

    • mbaker

      ‘Why is excessive volume an issue?’

      Rob is well able to defend himself as far as the the quality of information. The quality on either side isn’t the issue, but the sheer wordiness of Burke’s replies, as Rob pointed out. As a former journalist,, I find that is an issue because excessive verbiage can get the reader so involved in details that the main point is often lost in the shuffle.

      In other words: You can’t see the forest for the trees.

      I respect Dave Burke’s willingness to hang in there, even though I have not been persuaded to change my mind by his arguments, I just think he loses a lot of reader’s interest, who might otherwise have their opinions changed, because they get tired of wading through so many overly long and detailed rebuttals.

      In other words: Too much information to comfortably absorb at one time.

    • sam shamoun

      Mark, my point is that if Burke felt he needed more than 5,000 words per post to adequately make his case or to address Bowman’s points then he should have accepted the initial format of 10,000 words per post. instead he posts 30 “replies” that tally over 30, 000 posts which means that Burke cranked out ANOTHER SIX PART 5,000 WORD POST!

      Anyway, it is really up to Bowman whether he wants to spend more time exposing more of Burke’s gross logical fallacies and distortions of the actual assertions being made by some of the scholars he misquotes and misrepresents.

    • Ed Kratz



      In your first comment (comment #86 above), you attempt to show that my “formula” is inadequate as a statement of the core affirmations of the doctrine of the Trinity. You also try to show that what I wrote in my closing statement has “essential differences” from what I wrote in the first week. Your argument begins from a false premise: what I presented was not a “formula.” It does not claim to be the only way or even the best way to state the core affirmations of the doctrine. Nor is it, as you claim later in your comment, a “definition” of the doctrine of the Trinity.

      It is true that I made explicit in my closing statement that Jesus is a man. Since we agree on this premise, as do all of the other major anti-Trinitarian Christologies, there really was no need to make it explicit. I did so only because of your straw-man criticism that Trinitarians really cannot mean it when they affirm that Jesus is a man. Thus, this is not an “essential difference” between my closing statement and what I wrote in the first week.

      You also claim that I made changes to my statement of the core affirmations because my “original formula was tacitly Modalistic.” This is simply false, since, in the original statement, I included the affirmation, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each someone other than the other two.” No modalist could agree with that statement.

      Next, you claim that my new statement “could be safely confessed by Arians and other ontological subordinationists without hesitation.” Dave, this is ridiculous. My statement includes the affirmation that “The Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, is the LORD God.” No ontological subordinationist could affirm that proposition (without lying).

      You then claim that I am still supposedly “effectively treating the three separate persons as a single unipersonal being, which is logically inconsistent and results in Modalism.” Dave, you simply must make up your mind. What I wrote can’t be acceptable to both ontological subordinationists and modalists!

      Frankly, if this sort of sloppy, haphazard criticism characterizes the rest of your 33,000 words of comments, it won’t be worth my time reading and responding to them.

    • sam shamoun

      Nick Norelli hit it on the head and perfectly when describes the difference between Bowman’s approach and Burke’s:


    • sam shamoun

      Brother Rob,

      It is obvious to us that Burke is trying to do everything he can to offset your utter destruction of his arguments in order to give the impression that he is actually refuting your arguments. But, as you just demonstrated, all Burke is doing is providing further evidence that he cannot accurately represent you or the sources he reads, is incapable of quoting the authors he cites accurately, and cannot help himself is from committing logical fallacies.

      Burke was clearly outclassed in this debate and demonstrated over and over again that he doesn’t have what it takes to do any serious exegesis which is why he constantly resorted to the fallacy of appealing to authorities even though, as you showed over and over again, he repeatedly misrepresented these very same authorities by either wrenching their words out of context or by not properly understanding the point being made.

    • Dave Burke


      My rebuttal to your Week 6 argument consists of just under 12,000 words, which is 2,500 less than my Week 3 rebuttal. I believe this is perfectly reasonable. Everything else is counter-rebuttal to your comments on the preceding weeks, as you can see from the titles I’ve used and the material I’ve quoted. (I have no intention of dragging this out for another month, but required closure on a few points from Weeks 1-5). I would have responded earlier, but my personal and pastoral commitments have been severely demanding.

      I could have posted the counter-rebuttals in their respective threads, but thought it simpler to keep everything on one place where it could be easily read and cross-referenced. If you check the length of my counter-rebuttals you will find they are no greater than anything posted by either of us in previous weeks; the only difference is that they’re all in one place instead of being spread throughout the blog. You might object to their location, but you cannot reasonably object to their length.

      Nevertheless, mbaker correctly observes that I risk fatiguing the reader and obscuring my arguments. This answers Shamoun’s question about my request for a 5k word limit instead of accepting the originally proposed 10k: shorter arguments are easier to read and follow than longer ones. But rebuttals are not the same as primary arguments; their structure is entirely different and they often require extended interaction with opposing material (if I’d agreed to the 10k word limit, our rebuttals could have been double their current size).

      This is also a consequence of the current debate format, which has seen us talking past each other on several occasions. If we’d been debating in classical style (e.g. positive argument vs. negative argument) we could have incorporated our rebuttals into our primary arguments and avoided this problem.

      I agree you are under no obligation to reply, and I did not expect you to; any questions I’ve posted are purely rhetorical, so from that perspective you lose nothing by leaving them unanswered. You can respond to as much or as little as you wish.

    • Frank Spinella

      Lest this wordy debate get wordier, I want to join mbaker in making a pitch for brevity. The debaters should agree to limit their posts, so as not to lose too many of us along the way. Otherwise, I think both Dave and Rob will end up battling to a draw in the effort to sway the majority of us who have been trying to follow their discussion. That’s really the end-game, isn’t it? I mean, neither of you really harbor hopes of persuading the other, do you?

      I’m happy to throw my $0.02 into the discussion by urging both sides to consider whether the meaning they ascribe to their proof texts is faithful to the context in which the author wrote. That would help us all get a better sense of the author’s meaning.

      In that vein, it might be less distracting if you both stopped treating every NT word as historically accurate in addition to being theologically significant. Example: Dave wrote “I agree Thomas called Jesus “My “kyrios” and my “theos” (unless he used Aramaic).” There’s no reason to posit that someone named Thomas actually spoke those words to Jesus, in any language; most theologians would simply say that John fashioned a story to make a point, and leave it at that. It’s the point, the meaning, that matters; let’s not saddle our notions of what it means for Scripture to be divinely inspired with more than that notion needs to bear. Historical accuracy is, thankfully, not an element of divine inspiration. Let’s keep our eye on the ball!

    • cherylu

      I would like to comment on the issue of brevity too. I have read, as far as I know, every post and every comment up to this point in this debate. But this long, drawn out group of very detailed comments lost me before I got a third of the way through them. I simply did not have the time or energy to wade through all of that material so I simply gave up.

      It certainly would of been easier to follow this debate more closely too if the rebuttals and counter rebuttals had been posted in the same week as each weeks subject matter was. It got rather confusing at times to have to back track a week or two to see what was being discussed.

      I realize both Rob and Dave are very busy people, so maybe that was simply not possible. But from my perspective, if any future dabates are held on this site, that would certainly be a huge improvement in format.

    • Fortigurn


      It is true that I made explicit in my closing statement that Jesus is a man. Since we agree on this premise, as do all of the other major anti-Trinitarian Christologies, there really was no need to make it explicit. I did so only because of your straw-man criticism that Trinitarians really cannot mean it when they affirm that Jesus is a man.

      Can you provide a direct quote from Burke which actually says ‘Trinitarians really cannot mean it when they affirm that Jesus is a man’? I note that previously you claimed Burke said ‘Trinitarians cannot mean it when they claim to affirm that Jesus is human’. Yet you never actually quoted him saying this.

      You also said:

      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”.

      This gives the impression that Burke was claiming Trinitarians don’t believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, growth as a child, temptation, sinlessness, death, and resurrection. Yet you never quote Burke making this claim. Not only that, but a closer look at what Burke actually said in the material of his you critique here, demonstrates that he certainly did not make this claim. He addresses that here:


      So when you say Burke claims ‘Trinitarians really cannot mean it when they affirm that Jesus is a man’, it would be helpful if you actually quoted him saying this.

    • DEK

      sam shamoun wrote: “Burke was clearly outclassed in this debate and demonstrated over and over again that he doesn’t have what it takes to do any serious exegesis…”

      “Clearly”? “Outclassed”? “Doesn’t have”? Alright. I’d only like to point out and remind you that this is YOUR view and you are surely welcome to it. Just please make an effort of keeping in mind that there are many others who see the whole situation in a diametrically opposite way, me being only one of them. You just take “Burke” and replace it with “Bowman” in the initial phrasing and what you get is almost exactly how the outcome of the debate is viewed by the other half of the audience. And I do not in the slightest expect you to doubt that those who choose to hold to the latter reading are in any way less welcome to their assessment than you are to yours.

    • andrewneileen


      The debate has run its course. I agree on the value of brevity. But my complaint would be about the blog format and whether this handles an ‘opening to the floor’ stage very well at all. I was happy to read Burke versus Bowman but all the other mini-debates by others got in the way of finding the Bowman versus Burke material. I added two comments myself and Bowman replied but I didn’t counter-reply because there was no need. When you have said your piece you have said it and you don’t have to say something else to bolster it; let the reader just have a ‘one comment versus one comment’ package to take away. My advice would be if Bowman or Burke debate again, limit the word count on the posts and follow a classic debate style in any week: one proposal speech and one rebuttal speech and open to the floor after its all done on a different blog.


    • Fortigurn

      I agree with andrewneileen with regard to the format of the debate. It was unorthodox, and suboptimal for readers. I have foudn myself having to bookmark the various different pages and check them regularly for updates. I have followed both sides closely, and in my own posts I have criticized arguments by both Bowman and Burke at times (I found one argument by Burke on the meaning of AIWN in Hebrews 1 to be completely wrong, and I questioned his selective use of lexicons in making this argument). But this has been a time consuming process, not made any easier by the awkward format of the debate.

      A better format would have been the traditional style in which each debater takes turns affirming or denying a proposition each week, with an opportunity for Socratic style questioning of each other at the end of the week, before closing that section of the debate and moving on to a new section.

      At present it is difficult to know exactly when this debate willl ‘end’. I understood there was originally to be a vote on the debate, but I note nothing has been said of this recently. Will this still go ahead, and if so would it not be a good time to draw a line under further discussion, closing off these threads and inviting those interested to conntinue comment on the debate elsewhere?

    • Abel

      Many thanks to David Burke for all his obviously careful and diligent work.

      You have left the tripod without a leg to stand on!

    • Fortigurn

      Looking through Burke’s rebuttal, lengthy though it is, I find that in reality there’s not much for Bowman to reply to, still less to complain about.

      For example, Burke spends all of 2,800 words on Bowman’s claim that ‘something to be exploited’ is ‘the now dominant interpretation’ of ‘harpagmos’ in Philippians 2:6, but Bowman doesn’t have to even respond to 99% of it. The vast majority of this response to Bowman consists of quotes from Bible translations, lexicons, and commentaries. Although it’s a chore to read it (as I did), there’s no reason for Bowman to spend any real time here. He can either just ignore it, or simply acknowledge he has exaggerated the level of scholarly agreement on the point, and leave it there.

      Burke spends around 1,200 words describing scholarly commentary on the term ‘son of man’. But is there anything for Bowman to really disagree with here? I can’t see there’s any reason for Bowman to dispute any of this section, surely he agrees that the term ‘son of man’ is a reference to Jesus as a mortal, not as a divine being, so nothing need be said.

      Another 1,300 words are spent by Burke establishing the fact that the Trinity contains logical paradoxes and contradictions, such that mainstream Trinitarian theologians typically acknowledge it cannot be assessed by standard principles of logic. This is hardly controversial, so Bowman can simply just acknowledge it (‘Yes the Trinity is a paradox, no it can’t be validated using the law of non-contradiction, it’s a divine revelation nonetheless so we must believe it despite our finite limitations’), and move on.

      Yet another 1,500 words are spent by Burke arguing that singular pronouns refer to singular persons (a grammatical point which is demonstrably true in Hebrew, Greek, and English). Would Bowman really dispute this?

      That’s 6,800 words which Bowman doesn’t even have to bother answering.

    • Ed Kratz



      For some reason, you chose to split your response to my criticism of your use of Mowinckel into two widely separate comments (#87 and #98 above). I will deal with the issue here.

      In comment #87, you point out that you had not claimed that Mowinckel held to the same Christology as you. True enough; but I didn’t claim that you had made such a claim. You say you “didn’t assert or imply that Mowinckel himself rejects the pre-existence or deity of Christ.” Fine; I didn’t assert or imply that you did. You emphasize the fact that you referred to him as a “reverend,” apparently as code for “Trinitarian minister.” If you say so, but I didn’t claim that you represented him to be non-Trinitarian. Why not talk about what I did say?

      By the way, many non-Trinitarian ministers use the title “Reverend.” Perhaps the most famous is the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Ministers in the Unitarian-Universalist Association use the title (e.g., the president of the religion is the Rev. Peter Morales). So the use of this title is not code for “Trinitarian minister.”

      You say that “the only claim” you made about Mowinckel was in your sentence, “Reverend Sigmund Mowinckel insisted the Jewish conception of predestination and prefiguration must inform our understanding of passages appearing to speak of pre-existence.” Correct; but what did this sentence mean, in the context of your post? What did you mean by “inform[ing] our understanding of passages appearing to speak of pre-existence”? First, let’s define what you meant by “passages appearing to speak of pre-existence.” You meant, in context, New Testament passages that appear to speak of Jesus Christ as preexistent. Second, what did you mean by “inform our understanding”? In context, you meant informing us as to how we should understand what such language really meant in its original context. And what “inform[ation]” did you claim Mowinckel provided that we “must” allow to “inform” our understanding of these NT passages? Why, the information that Jews used preexistence language to express God’s predetermination, his “predestination” or prophetic “prefiguration” of what did not yet exist or what had not yet happened. Now let’s put it all together. What your sentence clearly meant, in the context of your post, was that Mowinckel insisted that we must understand New Testament passages that appear to speak of Christ as preexistent as using Jewish ways of expressing predestination or prefiguration and thus not as actually meaning that Christ was literally preexistent. That’s what you were arguing, Dave, in making that statement, and that’s what your quotation was supposedly supporting. The problem is, that is not what Mowinckel was saying, as I documented. Thus, you clearly did misrepresent Mowinckel.

      The truth is, Dave, that an honest scholar—strike that, an honest person—would acknowledge, when quoting Mowinckel to support the notion that NT preexistence language for Christ is ideal, that Mowinckel specifically argues to the contrary. An honest person would acknowledge that Mowinckel argues that Jewish preexistence language for the Messiah was understood literally in those circles that identified the Messiah and the Son of Man. An honest person would acknowledge that Mowinckel presents a cogent argument for understanding NT preexistence language about Jesus literally within the cultural and religious context of Second Temple Judaism. Such an honest person could quote the portion of Mowinckel that you did and then proceed to present an argument refuting Mowinckel’s arguments concerning the Son of Man and the NT Christological preexistence language. You didn’t do any of this. You didn’t engage Mowinckel’s position at all. Instead, you mined his book for a juicy-sounding quotation that you thought would help “prove your point” within the context of the debate.

      That you were not handling Mowinckel in an honest manner is already evident enough, but your excision of fifteen words from the middle of your lengthy quotation from Mowinckel confirms it. Apparently trying to disconnect these things, you addressed the excision in a separate comment (#98). You quoted only this much from my critique of your ellipsis in your quotation from Mowinckel:

      “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.”

      You then wrote:

      “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.’”

      Your die-hard partisans might buy this, Dave, but I don’t. It is obvious that you can’t mount a convincing defense on this point because you are not addressing fairly and squarely the basis for my criticism. As I pointed out, “You cut off the last seven words in a sentence that you quoted, and cut also a short eight-word sentence. Thus, you cut fifteen words from a quotation that runs over three hundred words.” Moreover, you cut these fifteen words from the middle of your quotation (not from the beginning or the end). Thus, you deliberately, intentionally, cut these words out; you had some purpose for cutting them. Since the quotation ran over three hundred words, it isn’t plausible that you cut these mere fifteen words from the middle of your quotation for the sake of your word count. What was your reason for deliberately excising those fifteen words? You have offered no explanation. Saying that you “quoted only what was necessary to prove [your] point” is not an explanation for why you cut these fifteen words from the middle of your lengthy quotation. If you truly have no problem “repeating Mowinckel’s phrase ‘in the platonic sense,’” why did you bother cutting the seven words from the end of his sentence, “as an ‘idea’ in the platonic sense”? The fact that you cut Mowinckel off mid-sentence and then resumed your lengthy quote a sentence later (quoting an additional 98 words) is damning evidence that you skipped these fifteen words because they didn’t fit your paradigm.

      You then tried to turn the tables and argue that I misrepresented Mowinckel:

      “It certainly doesn’t ruin my template in which the Unitarian reading of the NT is Jewish and the Trinitarian reading is Hellenistic…. 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.”

      I didn’t say anything about the Jews adopting a specific understanding of ideas directly from Plato. All I said was that according to Mowinckel “the Jews were thinking Platonically when they spoke about preexistence.” You later claim that my “all important capital letter” here reveals my supposed misrepresentation. I disagree. Anyone who has read widely about ancient philosophy (as I have) knows that the word Platonism is sometimes spelled with a capital letter and sometimes not; the meaning, when referring to ancient notions of “ideas,” is the same. When someone speaks of “an ‘idea’ in the platonic sense,” the word platonic here means characteristic of or similar to that notion found in the philosophy of Plato. It does not mean, necessarily, that the notion derives from Plato.

      That having been said, it is quite possible that Second Temple Jewish use of preexistence language was influenced by Platonism per se. Most scholars think that Jewish speculations about the preexistence of human souls derived from Platonism. James Kugel says that Jewish references to the earthly temple as corresponding to a preexistent heavenly sanctuary sometimes “is presented in terms reminiscent of the Platonic conception of ideal forms” (Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible as It Was at the Start of the Common Era [Harvard University Press, 1998], 58). Ancient Jewish and Christian intellectuals (like Philo and Aristobulus) thought (incorrectly) that Plato had borrowed his notions about ideal forms from Moses (Kugel, 63-65)!

      The larger issue here is that your attack on Trinitarianism presupposes a sharp divide between Second Temple Judaism and ancient Hellenistic philosophy. That presupposition is false. Scholarship in the past sixty years or so has thoroughly refuted that simplistic dichotomy. Second Temple Judaism engaged Hellenistic thought on a number of levels and reflected Hellenistic terminology and concepts on a wide array of issues. In some cases there was simply overlap because different cultures always have some overlapping concepts. In other cases Jews (such as Philo) openly embraced some aspects of Platonism or Stoicism and sought to articulate Jewish belief in ways that directly engaged these pagan Greek philosophies.

      In any case, my point was that the only reason I could see for your cutting those fifteen words from your lengthy quotation from Mowinckel is that it didn’t fit your simplistic paradigm that Unitarians interpret “Hebraically” while Trinitarians interpret the Bible “Hellenistically.” In making that point, I certainly did not misrepresent Mowinckel. You, however, clearly did.

    • Fortigurn

      Rob, could you provide a quote from Mowinckel which says ‘the Jews were thinking Platonically when they spoke about preexistence’? However Burke has used Mowinckel (and honestly, when I read ‘It is an ideal pre-existence that is meant’, I am led to believe an ideal pre-existence is meant), I do not see Mowinckel saying ‘the Jews were thinking Platonically when they spoke about preexistence’.

      What I see is Mowinckel describing the Jewish concept of ‘ideas’ as platonic. I don’t see this as having anything to do with Burke’s case that we should read the New Testament in the context of Second Temple Judaism, as opposed to the idea that we should read the New Testament in the context of 4th century Christian neo-Platonism.

      Would you mind (and I realise you may be as sick of this point as I am), explaining what you understand by Mowinckel’s statement ‘It is an ideal pre-existence that is meant’? Does it mean:

      * An ideal pre-existence is meant
      * An ideal pre-existence is not meant

      Furthermore, could you show where Mowinckel says that ‘the Jews were thinking Platonically when they spoke about preexistence’? That seems to be your interpretation of Mowinckel.

    • Ed Kratz


      It only takes one word to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater; it can take considerably more words to convince the patrons that there is no fire. I am breaking up my response on harpagmos in Philippians 2:6 into seven comments to make the response slightly more tolerable to read. Anyone wishing to skip the tedious review of literature might wish to read this comment and then jump to Part VII for the conclusion.

      Dave and Fortigurn,

      I am addressing this comment to the two of you because it is now obvious that Fortigurn is Dave’s twin brother, whom Dave mentioned in his lengthy comment above (#92) on harpagmos in Philippians 2:6. Fortigurn has posted comments of his own that show some of the same methods of citation (and of several of the same specific works, especially the lexicons) as in that comment. Fortigurn, your suggestion that I either ignore Dave’s comment on Philippians 2:6 or “simply acknowledge” that I “exaggerated the level of scholarly agreement on the point” sounded a bit like a Jedi apprentice trying one of those mind tricks—“You don’t need to bother engaging that argument, just concede the point.”

      I don’t mind that the two of you are working together; frankly, Dave, you need all the help you can get. But what you need help doing is most decidedly not compiling busy work to try to wear me down. Instead, you need a biblical scholar, or perhaps just a librarian, to sit down with you and give you some guidance in how to use scholarly secondary literature in biblical studies. You need to learn how to engage the arguments of the secondary literature in a fruitful, fair-minded way, rather than treating them as mines from which you extract confessions or useful soundbites.

      Your comment is filled (padded) with irrelevant citations. The use of the word “exploit” in completely different contexts in scholarly literature is totally irrelevant to our issue. I do not need to know that Fortigurn has software packages with the “Early Church History Collection,” the “Gnostic and Apocryphal Studies Collection,” the “JPS Tanakh Commentary Collection,” the “Studies in Talmud and Midrash Collection,” and on and on and on. Must I remind you that Philippians 2:6 is in the New Testament, not the Old Testament, the Midrash or Talmud, the writings of the church fathers, or the Gnostic and apocryphal writings? I didn’t need your list of periodicals that Fortigurn has in his software program (the fact that your latest dates for most of the periodicals are 2005 and prior is a dead giveaway that the list came from a software package), particularly since most of them are not exegetically oriented periodicals. It’s nice that he has the money for such an extensive software library of theological literature. On the other hand, it’s a shame that he doesn’t know how to use it properly.

      Before I launch into a detailed response, let me remind everyone of the claim I made that you are disputing. I had written:

      “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). But you don’t do this, despite the fact that you cite scholars who mention these things.”

      Your comment is an attempt to show that I was incorrect in claiming that the Hoover/Wright view is “the now dominant interpretation.” To test who is right, we will need to look at literature published since 1986. This is because it really wasn’t until N. T. Wright’s 1986 article in the Journal of Theological Studies (later published in his book The Climax of the Covenant in 1991) that many scholars started taking the view that Hoover was probably right. Literature dating from before about 1960, when a precursor to the Hoover/Wright view began to circulate, is completely irrelevant. Literature dating between 1960 and 1986 that does not reflect that view is also not really significant evidence against my view. Again, my claim was and is that the Hoover/Wright view is “the now dominant interpretation.” I will therefore restrict my attention to works appearing since 1986.

    • Ed Kratz


      Dave and Fortigurn,

      Let’s start with the English Bible versions. At least five versions that were published after Wright’s article reflect his view of harpagmos: the NRSV (1989), the NCV (1991), the Inclusive Version (1995, essentially a revision of the NRSV), the TNIV (2002), and the HCSB (2004).

      Your list of translations that do not reflect this understanding was unfortunately very misleading. It included versions dating from before Hoover and Wright’s articles, notably the ASV (1901), the GNB/TEV (1966), and the NAB (1970), and a couple more that came after Hoover but before Wright, notably the NIV (1973, revised 1984) and the NJB (1985). For several of these you gave dates in the 1990s, probably referring to reprint dates or other “editions” in which the translation itself was not changed. You gave a date of 1995 for the ASV, which was particularly ignorant (to be blunt). Three more are fairly recent revisions of existing translations: The NT portion of the NASB was produced in 1963 and the “updated edition” in 1995; the 1994 NIrV is merely a simplified version of the NIV; and the 2001 ESV was a conservative revision of the 1971 RSV. This leaves only three new versions published after Wright’s article that do not reflect that understanding of harpagmos: the CEV (1991), the NLT (1996, 2004), and the NET (2005).

      To be fair, you could argue that the Hoover/Wright position is not quite “dominant” in the new versions published since Wright, though it does seem to be the majority view (five out of eight that I checked). The powerhouse new versions that represent serious academic scholarship are the NRSV and the HCSB on the Hoover/Wright side, and the NET on the other side. In any case, when we look at the secondary literature, what we find is that scholarly opinion on the matter is much more one-sided than the new English versions would suggest.

    • Ed Kratz


      Dave and Fortigurn,

      This is likely to be the most tedious of the seven comments.

      We must begin our examination of the “lexicons” by eliminating the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which you misleadingly dated 1985. The first volume of TDNT (where the article on harpagmos is located) is a 1964 translation of a volume written in German in the 1930s! We must also drop the Liddell-Scott lexicon, since the 9th edition (revised by Jones) was produced in 1940. The 1996 date you gave for LSJ9 is the date the work was published with a “Supplement,” not a revision of the main lexical entries.

      Your list of “standard lexicons” is interesting. In his comments responding to my fifth-week post, Fortigurn claimed that Louw/Nida and Newman (the UBS dictionary) are “derivative” works. Yet here they are on your list. Apparently I convinced him that these were legitimate reference works. On the other hand, they are the only significant recent lexical reference works that do not reflect the Hoover/Wright view, so you had little choice. Neither of these reference works mentions or disagrees with that view; they simply don’t mention it.

      This leaves three lexical reference works that you cited: ANLEX (Friberg), EDNT, and BDAG. Maddeningly, you managed to misrepresent all three of them. Let’s take them one at a time. Regarding the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, you wrote:

      “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’).”

      Actually, theological reasons have nothing to do with it. It is widely recognized by biblical scholars that the sense “robbery” simply will not fit in Philippians 2:6, not because it disagrees with someone’s preferred theology, but because it simply makes little or no sense. For example, BDAG also states that this interpretation “is next to impossible” in Philippians 2:6. In support it cites the German lexicographer Winer: “W-S. [sect.] 28, 3: the state of being equal w. God cannot be equated w. the act of robbery.” (You quoted that last part from BDAG and claimed you agreed with it, but it is simply saying the same thing as EDNT.) Gordon Fee points out in his commentary that the meaning “robbery” is “a meaning that can hardly obtain here” because “it makes very little sense at all” (NICNT, 1995, p. 205 and n. 54). J. C. O’Neill, one of the very few critics of Hoover’s view, felt that although “robbery” was the correct meaning of the word, the result was “near nonsense”; to make the meaning “robbery” work, he had to speculate that the word “not” in Philippians 2:6 was a scribal mistake and should be omitted! These scholars all agree that it would make no sense for Paul to have said that Christ “did not consider equality with God robbery, but emptied himself.” This is an exegetical observation, not a theological a priori.

      Now, if you want to go to bat for the interpretation “robbery,” go ahead. If that interpretation is to have any meaning at all, it would have to mean that Christ was equal with God and did not consider it robbery for him to have that status. It doesn’t fit well in the context, but theologically I would have no problem with it!

      By the way, since you didn’t tell our readers, I will tell them: EDNT states that harpagmos “must be taken” to mean “take advantage of (or seek to take advantage of) something for oneself.”

      Next, here is what you said about Friberg’s Analytical Lexicon:

      “2000: ANLEX, ‘literally something seized and held, plunder’ (Philippians 2L6 [sic] is glossed as ‘figuratively in PH 2.6 of Jesus’ equality with God οὐχ ἁρπαγμόν’).”

      Here is the complete entry that you butchered:

      “(1) literally something seized and held, plunder; (2) figuratively in PH 2.6 of Jesus’ equality with God οὐχ ἁρπαγμόν; (a) possibly, as not forcefully grasping something one does not have something not to be seized, not a prize to be seized; (b) probably, as not forcefully retaining something for one’s own advantage something not to be held onto, not a piece of good fortune.”

      Everyone—and I do mean everyone—agrees that Paul uses harpagmos figuratively in Philippians 2:6. That is, no one thinks that Paul is referring to some physical thing that Jesus could or could not have considered seizing or plundering. The only issue debated is what that figurative use means. Friberg acknowledges (a) the alternative view and then states (b) what he considers the probable meaning of the word in Philippians 2:6.

      Then there is BDAG, which many anti-Trinitarians treat as the bible of lexicons except when it is inconvenient. You wrote:

      “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.”

      As I have already pointed out, you are here agreeing with a statement that makes the same point as the EDNT, which you dismissed as theologically motivated. Honestly, at this point I’m wondering whether either of you has a clue what these reference works are saying. Winer’s comment, with which BDAG agrees, does not show that the word is incompatible with the text meaning that Jesus is God. There are other meanings, notably the Hoover/Wright view, which are compatible with that understanding.

      Your quotation from BDAG is a pastiche of three snippets: (1) the first definition, then (2) the second definition, and then (3) a comment cited from another work under the first definition. The way you present these snippets gives the impression you don’t even understand that you have quoted two different definitions.

      BDAG actually reviews six proposed interpretations, four of which are treated under the second definition:

      (1) robbery (def. 1, “next to impossible”)
      (2) booty = holding on to something one already has (def. 2(a), first option)
      (3) booty = appropriating to oneself something that is sought after (def. 2(a), second option)
      (4) windfall = something already seized and waiting to be used (def. 2(b), first option)
      (5) windfall = something not already appropriated (def. 2(b), second option)
      (6) rapture = a mystical experience (def. 3, “less probable”)

      BDAG concludes in favor of interpretation (4), which is the Hoover/Wright view, and gives the following translation: “did not consider equality w. God a prize to be tenaciously grasped.” Although this translation does not use the words “exploit” or “take advantage,” it expresses using the word “grasped” the same view as Hoover and Wright. Equality with God is something that Christ already had but did not tenaciously grasp in order to use it. The first several bibliographic citations at the end of the BDAG entry (including a citation of Hoover’s article) all support this explanation.

      Finally, I should point out that although Ceslas Spicq’s Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (1994) does not have a separate entry on harpagmon, it does support the Hoover/Wright view of the word (2:229).

      In review, two of the lexical reference works published since Hoover ignores his view, while four such reference works—BDAG, EDNT, Friberg’s Analytical Lexicon, and Spicq’s Theological Lexicon—mention and endorse that view. The Hoover/Wright view, then, dominates the lexicons.

    • Ed Kratz


      Dave and Fortigurn,

      In your comment, you cited just four periodical articles, three of which you admitted agree with the “something to exploit” interpretation of harpagmos:

      • Hoover’s “The HARPAGMOS Enigma” in Harvard Theological Review (1971)
      • McClendon’s “Philippians 2:5-11” in Review & Expositor (1991)
      • McLeod’s “Imitating the Incarnation of Christ” in Bibliotheca Sacra (2001)

      The fourth article was Feinberg’s “Kenosis and Christology” in the Trinity Journal (1980), published before Wright’s article had convinced the majority of NT scholars that Hoover was correct. You did not cite a single article after 1986 that disagreed with Hoover and Wright! Even I can do better than that. I know of four English periodical articles that favored a different view:

      • Burk, “On the Articular Infinitive in Philippians 2:6,” in Tyndale Bulletin (2004)
      • Collins, “Psalms, Philippians 2:6-11, and the Origins of Christology,” in Biblical Interpretation (2003)
      • Wegener, “Philippians 2:6-11—Paul’s (Revised) Hymn to Jesus,” in Currents in Theology and Mission (1998)
      • O’Neill, “Hoover on Harpagmos Revisited,” in Harvard Theological Review (1988)

      On the other hand, you missed at least six more periodical articles that supported the Hoover/Wright view:

      • Jackson, “Jesus Christ as Humble Lord,” in Princeton Theological Review (2008)
      • Allen, “Philippians 2:1-11,” in Interpretation (2007)
      • Peterson, “Philippians 2:5-11,” in Interpretation (2004)
      • Hellerman, “The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi,” in Bibliotheca Sacra (2003)
      • Byrne, “Christ’s Pre-existence in Pauline Soteriology,” in Theological Studies (1997)
      • Seely, “The Background of the Philippian Hymn,” in Journal of Higher Criticism (1994)

      Thus, even counting four articles favorable to your argument that you missed, I count at least nine periodical articles since Hoover and Wright (that is, not counting those two articles) that favor their view and only four that do not. The Hoover/Wright view clearly dominates the periodical literature.

    • Ed Kratz


      Dave and Fortigurn,

      One category of literature you completely missed—understandably, since you were dependent on software packages of theological literature—is the category of academic books that focus on the passage in Philippians 2. Such books are especially significant because their focus requires more sustained attention to the passage and greater engagement with the exegetical issues than any other category of literature.

      Three academic books in English on Philippians 2 stand out from the past half-century or so. Ralph P. Martin practically built his career on Philippians 2. He first published his book Carmen Christi: Philippians ii.5-11 in Recent Interpretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship through Cambridge University Press in 1967. Eerdmans published a second edition in 1983, and InterVarsity Press published a third edition, retitled A Hymn of Christ (the meaning of the original Latin title), in 1997. Martin also co-edited a collection of essays on the passage entitled Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2 (1998). (By the way, Martin was one of my New Testament professors at Fuller Seminary.) More recently, Joseph H. Hellerman (who happens to have been a close friend of mine during my college days!) has published a monograph on the passage entitled Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

      Martin, in the 1967 edition of his book, endorsed an interpretation of harpagmos similar to the one that Hoover defended in 1971. “He had the equality with God as His Image, but refused to exploit it to His personal gain” (149). In the second and third editions, Martin cited Hoover’s article as confirming his own view of the meaning of harpagmos (xxii, lxviii). Among the essayists in Where Christology Began, Gerald Hawthorne endorses the Hoover/Wright view (102), as does Stephen Fowl (142). One essayist disagrees—James Dunn (77). Finally, Hellerman strongly affirms the Hoover/Wright view in his 2005 book Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: (134).

      Clearly, the Hoover/Wright view dominates the academic books that focus exclusively on the Philippians 2 passage.

    • Ed Kratz


      Dave and Fortigurn,

      Finally, we turn to the commentaries on Philippians. I have saved the worst, in terms of your handling of the literature, for last.

      I was able to track down all but two of the commentaries you cited: Max Anders’s commentary on Galatians through Colossians in the Holman NT Commentary series (1999), and Ellsworth’s book Opening Up Philippians (2004), which from the title and the description I found is clearly not an academic or scholarly commentary. My guess is that neither of these two works engages or even mentions the recent academic literature on harpagmos, or even mentions the Hoover/Wright view. It doesn’t matter, because we have a lot of other works to consult.

      I must once again disqualify several of the works that you listed with misleading dates in the 1990s and 2000s that actually date from much earlier. The Pulpit Commentary, which you cited with a date of 2004, was published in the nineteenth century! A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament was published in 1931. Kenneth Wuest’s work on Philippians that is included in his Word Studies from the Greek New Testament was first published in 1942; Wuest died in 1962. Hendriksen’s commentary on Philippians was published in 1962. None of these writers could possibly “take advantage of” Hoover’s article! The Bible Knowledge Commentary was published in 1983, after Hoover’s article but before Wright’s article in 1986.

      Then there are several works that you cited as saying “no” to the Hoover/Wright view but which offer no comment at all on the meaning of harpagmos. In this category belong Keener’s IVP Bible Background Commentary, Arnold’s Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, and the Holman Concise Bible Commentary. It is outright skewing of the evidence to add these to the “no” side.

      This leaves two relevant commentaries that I could consult that you listed as saying “no” to the Hoover/Wright view: Bruce’s commentary in the NIBC series (1983, second edition 1989), and Ash’s commentary in the College Press NIV Commentary series (1994). You are wrong about both of these commentaries.

      Bruce, after rejecting the view that harpagmos means either something to be grasped or something to be retained by force, explains its meaning as follows. “The point is rather that he did not treat his equality with God as an excuse for self-assertion or self-aggrandizement; on the contrary, he treated it as an occasion for renouncing every advantage or privilege that might have accrued to him thereby, as an opportunity for self-impoverishment and unreserved self-sacrifice” (69). This is an elegant way of saying exactly what Hoover and Wright said: Christ did not view his equality with God as something that he should take advantage of for his own gain.

      Here is what Ash writes: “‘Grasp’ (from [hARPAZW], harpazō) means to snatch or seize, and in the passive sense indicates a prize; i.e., the thing seized. Christ did not use the equality to escape service and humiliation” (65). This is yet another way of making the same point.

      Thus, with the possible exception of Anders and Ellsworth, which are not accessible to me (and probably don’t discuss the matter), you failed to cite one commentary from the past 24 years that disagrees with the Hoover/Wright view. Not one!

      In your comment, you claimed to have found only 7 commentaries that interpreted harpagmos in a way equivalent to Hoover and Wright. That would be enough to establish dominance of the view, but the number is actually much higher. Here are 22 commentaries that endorse or accept that view (listing in reverse chronological order):

      • Charles Cousar (New Testament Library, 2009)
      • Walter Hansen (Pillar NT Commentary, 2009)
      • John Reumann (Anchor Bible, 2008)
      • David Garland (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed, 2006)
      • Stephen Fowl (Two Horizons NT Commentary, 2005)
      • Moisés Silva (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2005)
      • Ralph Martin/Gerald Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary, 2004)
      • Bonnie Thurston/Judith Ryan (Sacra Pagina, 2003)
      • Charles Wanamaker (Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, 2003)
      • Morna Hooker (New Interpreters Bible, 2000)
      • Carolyn Osiek (Abingdon NT Commentary, 2000)
      • Markus Bockmuehl (Black’s NT Commentaries, 1998)
      • Francis Foulkes (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 1994)
      • Frank Thielman (NIV Application Commentary, 1996)
      • Gordon Fee (New International Commentary on the New Testament, 1995)
      • I-Jin Loh/Eugene Nida (UBS Handbook, 1995)
      • Anthony Ash (College Press NIV Commentary, 1994)
      • Richard Melick (New American Commentary, 1991)
      • Peter O’Brien (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 1991)
      • Brendan Byrne (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1990)
      • F. F. Bruce (New International Biblical Commentary, 1989)
      • Ralph Martin (Tyndale NT Commentaries, 1987)

      Thus, with regard to commentaries in the past 24 years, the score is 22 commentaries in favor of the Hoover/Wright view, and zero against it—or perhaps one or two against it, in the highly unlikely event that Anders or Ellsworth even mention it. The above list includes every single major exegetical commentary series that has published a volume on Philippians in the past 24 years.

      My conclusion follows (scroll down a couple of posts).

    • Fortigurn


      The larger issue here is that your attack on Trinitarianism presupposes a sharp divide between Second Temple Judaism and ancient Hellenistic philosophy.

      Where? I have read Burke saying that there is a sharp divide between Second Temple Judaism and post-apostolic Christian neo-Platonism and Hellenistic philosophy. This is hardly controversial.

      He has made the point more than once that he approaches the New Testament from the context of Second Temple Judaism and the Old Testament, whereas you approach it from the well developed Trinitarianism of the 5th century, predicated on Christian theological adoptions of neo-Platonic and Hellenistic thought. You claim that these later Christians understood the Bible better than the Jews of the Second Temple era, including 1st first century.

      It is indeed significant that you have avoided almost any reference to Second Temple Judaism other than when Burke has raised it, and even then you’ve attempted to minimize its relevance to understanding the New Testament, which scholarship most certainly does not (see McGrath, Hoglund, Sacchi, Hurtado, Schniedewind, Horsley, Evans, etc).

      In all this wrangling about Mowinckel from both sides, I still don’t see you actually disagreeing with Burke’s point that the Jews held to an ‘ideal pre-existence’ as well as a literal pre-existence, so what’s the real issue here?

    • Ed Kratz


      Dave and Fortigurn,

      I must say that the data is even more lopsided than I imagined it would be. Clearly, the meaning of “something to be exploited or taken advantage of” for harpagmos is indeed now the dominant view in biblical scholarship. A majority of new English translations from the past 24 years favors this view. Twice as many of the standard lexical reference works favor it as those that do not mention it (and none disagrees with it). Twice as many periodical articles favor it as those that disagree with it. The two major monographs in English on Philippians 2 during the period both favor this view. Finally, 22 new commentaries published in the past 24 years favor it and none, so far as I know, disagree with it. Not only is my claim not “utterly false,” as you alleged in your comment, but my review of the literature shows that my claim is definitely true.

      I close my review of the scholarly literature with a few choice statements from recent authors on the state of the question in contemporary scholarship:

      “Hoover’s view…has been adopted as the correct understanding of harpagmos by the majority of recent interpreters of Philippians 2:6.” Gerald F. Hawthorne, “In the Form of God and Equal with God (Philippians 2:6).” In Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2, ed. Ralph P. Martin and Brian J. Dodds (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 102.

      “Hoover’s view has not gone unchallenged…but it is fair to say that it now represents majority opinion in the scholarly community.” Joseph H. Hellerman, Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi: Carmen Christi as Cursus Pudorum, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 132 (Cambridge University Press, 2005), 134.

      “Although the term has generated a long scholarly debate, it now appears that there is a consensus emerging, which is that in contexts such as this one we should understand the word indicating something that is used for one’s own advantage.” Stephen E. Fowl, Philippians, Two Horizons NT Commentary (Eerdmans, 2005), 54.

      I’m going to assume, out of charity, that your comment on harpagmos in Philippians 2:6 was for the most part sophomoric rather than willfully deceptive. It’s hard to believe that you didn’t know that many of the translations, commentaries, and other reference works you cited dated from long before the dates you were listing for them. On the other hand, your handling of the lexicons and some of the other resources was so inept that it seems you didn’t understand what you were quoting. I don’t know for sure what the two of you were thinking. What I do know for sure is that your handling of the literature was so bad that you have only made matters worse for yourselves.

      In case anyone has missed the significance of this argument in the larger context of this debate, the fact that New Testament scholars now generally agree that we should translate Philippians 2:6 “did not consider his equality with God something to be exploited” or the like has obvious theological implications. It confirms that the traditional understanding of Philippians 2:6 to mean that Christ was equal with God but chose to humble himself is correct.

    • Fortigurn

      Rob, do you understand the difference between a lexical definition and a gloss? Just saying.

    • Fortigurn


      We must also drop the Liddell-Scott lexicon, since the 9th edition (revised by Jones) was produced in 1940. The 1996 date you gave for LSJ9 is the date the work was published with a “Supplement,” not a revision of the main lexical entries.

      I suggest you familiarize yourself with the electronic edition. One out of every five main lexical entries has been updated by integrating the supplement. It’s a little misleading to say that the main lexical entries haven’t been revised. The entry for ἁρπάζω was one of the revised articles.

    • Frank Spinella

      Is the theological implication of ἁρπάζω that is under discussion this one: if the word connotes “to be grasped at” then Jesus didn’t have equality with God to begin with, whereas if it connotes “to be exploited” then Jesus did have it to begin with (but laid it aside)?

    • Ed Kratz

      Mr. Burke (Fortigurn),

      I have done more than enough homework for you and have spent far too much time responding to your diversionary comments. I am interested in seeing from you one of two things: (1) evidence refuting the overall cumulative argument I presented (not just scratching at a thread of the argument here or there) that the Hoover/Wright interpretation of harpagmos is now the dominant interpretation in New Testament scholarship, or (2) an acknowledgment that you and Dave were wrong on this point. I am satisfied that (1) is factually impossible, given the evidence I presented. Whether (2) is possible depends, of course, on your willingness to admit when you are wrong.

    • Ed Kratz


      The meaning of the word harpagmos (not the verb harpazo) has exegetical relevance in the context of the whole statement in Philippians 2:6-7, not simply in the abstract. If we interpret the word to mean “something to be seized,” then the exegetically natural interpretation of the statement as a whole would be that Christ did not possess equality with God and did not consider it something to be seized. If we interpret the word to mean “something to be exploited,” then the exegetically natural interpretation of the statement as a whole would be that Christ had equality with God but did not consider it something to be exploited. Admittedly there are all sorts of exegetical variations on these two ways of construing the word in context, e.g., Ralph Martin’s view that Christ possessed equality with God by rights (de jure) but did not try to seize de facto equality with God.

      If you go back to my third-week post and read my initial presentation on Philippians 2:3-11, you’ll see how I approach the interpretation of the passage as a whole. I don’t put all my eggs in the basket of one interpretation of harpagmon, even though the scholarship is now heavily supportive of the “something to be exploited” view.

    • Frank Spinella

      Thanks, Ron. The “something to be exploited” meaning is the one that makes most sense to me, given the “emptied himself” language that follows. Can’t empty something that wasn’t full to begin with.

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