The second round of The Great Trinity Debate has now been posted over at Parchment & Pen. Again, as a brief reminder, Rob Bowman is the Trinitarian in the debate (here is his second article) and David Burke is the non-Trinitarian in the debate (here is his second article).
Some Introductory Comments
Last week, I posted my comments on the first round of articles, specifically working through some of David Burke’s statements in his post. Before moving into addressing some of David Burke’s statements from his second post, I thought Rob Bowman gave some great words to ponder when studying theology through the science of exegesis and hermeneutics:
One commonly stated reason for assigning some texts priority, however, requires some rethinking. I am referring to the common hermeneutical canon that we should interpret the “obscure,” “ambiguous,” or “unclear” texts in light of the “clear” texts. Many people who appeal to this principle to validate their interpretations have engaged in untold mischief. All too often, people view any text that agrees with their predetermined position as “clear” and any that does not as “unclear.” The reasoning often proceeds along these lines: “My opponent thinks that Text A teaches his doctrine. However, Text B clearly teaches my doctrine, which is contrary to his. Furthermore, scholars disagree about the meaning of Text A. Since Text A, then, is not clear, we should go with the clear teaching of Text B.” Using this form of argument, it is all too easy to dismiss from serious consideration texts that do not seem to fit one’s theological position.
The reality is that almost invariably Text A seems clear to one group while Text B appears equally clear to an opposing group. Furthermore, one can find some scholars with differing opinions about the meaning of almost every text, including Text B (whatever that text may be). Scholarly inventiveness and creativity know almost no bounds, and since academia in the humanities (including biblical scholarship) encourages revisionism, scholars often put forth differing explanations of a text simply because they think that’s their job. In the end, “clarity” and “obscurity” are usually subjective judgments that reflect the beliefs of the interpreters more than they inform us about the texts themselves.
Now, I am sure each side could use such a statement against the other. We all have our clear texts and we all have our obscure texts. We have to deal with both, even when the obscure texts don’t seem to support our view. And, yes, we all know how to fit the obscure into our theologically conceptual boxes that we’ve created. But we must also realise that the obscure and debatable verses can be (and normally should be) interpreted in light of the more clear texts.
Below are now some specific comments I would like to make in response to some of David Burke’s statements in his second post.
Burke’s Statements About the Identity of Christ
I personally thought Burke spent too much time (or words) at the beginning of his article sharing what he did believe about Jesus Christ. He seems to have been laying some ground of agreement, which is not a bad thing at all. Hey, this is a good thing – find common ground. But I think that, sometimes, what might come across as agreement is rather subtle ways to work in differing theology. Again, shared ground is good (i.e. both Bowman and Burke have expressed their beliefs being first and foremost founded in the Scripture rather than ‘tradition’). But I believe that this shared ground can also be misleading at times.
Here is an example of what I mean.
Groups like the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses can utilise specific vocabulary that sounds very similar to orthodox Christian beliefs for the average person. This might lead the person to say, ‘Oh, they are Christian. They believe in Jesus Christ.’ All the while, the group believes in quite a different Jesus Christ than what has been viewed as orthodox for some 1500-2000 years (they usually believe in a ‘less-than’ Jesus).
Or someone might say, ‘Oh, they are Christian. They believe in salvation by grace.’ All the while, the phrase salvation by grace can have a completely different context. For example, in the Mormon context, salvation by grace refers to the reality that every person will be resurrected from the dead and receive immortality. Quite a different meaning from the view that salvation by grace is the actual act wherein the believer is born again, united to Christ, reconciled to the Father.
Thus, I know Trinitarians would not agree with every one of Burke’s statements about the identity of Jesus Christ in the opening section of his article, though some of it would be shared ground. Simply stated, some of the wording was a bit questionable as to what he meant. Specifically, I would have liked him to flesh out this statement more: Jesus was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by divine intervention, on which basis he is the Son of God.
The wording seemed a little different. And, knowing that, from his perspective, the Holy Spirit is not a divine-person, I simply wonder what this statement fully means to a non-Trinitarian Christadelphian. I don’t expect him to address it in this series, but maybe David will stop by here and comment.
From the section: The “Easy” Verses
I believe Burke is holding off until next week’s post to address some of the more ‘crucial’ texts that Trinitarians use to support Christ’s deity, specifically John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:6-11. But he did look at Hebrews 1:1-14 (or at least vs8), which I will address later on in this post.
Still, I was surprised so much time was spent on some ‘less significant’ verses. And I think Bowman touches on what might be going on here in his own article, of which I quoted from at the beginning of my post here:
My opponent thinks that Text A teaches his doctrine. However, Text B clearly teaches my doctrine, which is contrary to his. Furthermore, scholars disagree about the meaning of Text A. Since Text A, then, is not clear, we should go with the clear teaching of Text B.
Now Burke does say why he is addressing some of the ‘less significant’ passages, as they might distract from the major Biblical texts:
I address these verses now since I feel that they distract from the far more important task of building a case for our respective Christologies on a Scriptural basis as a whole.
I am not sure, but it seems that he might be preparing to ‘deconstruct’ the Trinitarian view in his next article in regards to more significant texts (i.e. John 1; Colossians 1; Philippians 2; etc). But, he is already trying to defeat what seem as more ‘peripheral’ verses so that we cannot come back and lean on them once the more ‘central’ verses are deal with. I am not sure, we shall see how things continue to move forward next week.
Still, specifically, I feel Burke leaned way too much on this kind of arguing: There are varying interpretations of these secondary texts based on linguistic, grammatical and punctuational nuances. Thus, these texts fail in supporting Trinitarianism.
Well, there are multiple, multiple, multiple interpretations of almost every text that it simply becomes mind-numbing. You would think it doesn’t have to get so minutely detailed and difficult, but it can be at times. I am not saying we disregard study of the languages, grammar, punctuation (or lack of punctuation in the original languages). Nor do you not study the plethora of interpretations that are out there. It is important. But I believe pointing out that a verse has multiple interpretations and, thus, is not clear in its teaching is, by no means, something to lean too heavily on.
Even more, this seems to employ this specific tactic that Bowman refers to: Furthermore, scholars disagree about the meaning of Text A. Since Text A, then, is not clear, we should go with the clear teaching of Text B.
I personally believe this distracts too much from what is there in the clear passages. If it had been up to me (and it wasn’t and isn’t), I would have preferred that the clear passages be treated first, rather than the secondary (and sometimes more obscure) passages. Certain passages like Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6; Acts 20:28; Romans 9:5, etc, are interpreted in light of the more substantially clear passages of John 1, John 20:28, Colossians 2, Philippians 2 and Hebrews 1.
Now on to some more specific passages that Burke brought up:
Though familiar, Isaiah 7:14 says:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
This was fulfilled in Matthew 1:18-23. In addressing Isaiah 7:14, Burke states:
There is no attempt to extrapolate an argument for Christ’s deity. The translators understand that a name is not the same as a statement about Christological identity or ontology (nature). Jewish names commonly include names and titles of God (a practice known as theophory) without ever implying that the person being so named is literally divine.
He, then, lists examples of names that declare something about God’s character. Most will recognise that the names of the Hebrews had great significance, even prophetic significance. The name could not only speak about the character of God but also about the character of the person, i.e. Abraham meaning ‘father of a multitude of nations’.
But, with regards to the name Immanuel, ‘God [is] with us’, this is not really the specific name that Jesus was called by. The name He was called by was Jesus, which does mean, ‘Yahweh saves’. So, Immanuel is not just a name like Elijah or Abraham or Zechariah. This is a signpost declaring and identifying who Christ is Himself. It’s almost a ‘title’ like Christ/Messiah, Lord, God, etc.
This is highlighted in Matthew 1:18-23 where Immanuel is applied to Christ, not as a name, but as an identity. He was called Jesus, but Jesus was literally ‘God with us’, hence why He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and would save His (not just God the Father’s) people from their sins. Or, we could say the opposite that, because Jesus was conceived by the Spirit of God and would be the one to save His (not just God the Father’s) people from their sins, Jesus was literally Immanuel, God with us.
In his own article, Bowman has this to stay as he addressed Matthew 28:16-20:
The evidence of this final statement in Matthew illuminates the reference toward the beginning of the Gospel to Jesus as “God with us” (1:23). Critics commonly argue that this expression means nothing more than that God was to be present through Jesus in his ministry and death. It means at least that much, of course, but in light of 18:20 and 28:20, it evidently means much more. Jesus promised that he himself would be present “with us” who believe in him whenever and wherever we gather in his name, and as we take the gospel to people of all nations. In this light, the statements in 1:23 and 28:20 form an inclusio, “bookends” statements in the Gospel revealing Jesus to be quite literally God with us.
Another well-known Messianic passage from Isaiah, it states:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I am not sure who Burke is quoting (I think the NET footnotes), but he says in regards to the title ‘Mighty God’:
[“El Gibbor”] is probably an attributive adjective (“mighty God”), though one might translate “God is a warrior” or “God is mighty.” Scholars have interpreted this title is two ways. A number of them have argued that the title portrays the king as God’s representative on the battlefield, whom God empowers in a supernatural way (see J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, 181-82). They contend that this sense seems more likely in the original context of the prophecy. They would suggest that having read the NT, we might in retrospect interpret this title as indicating the coming king’s deity, but it is unlikely that Isaiah or his audience would have understood the title in such a bold way. Psa_45:6 addresses the Davidic king as “God” because he ruled and fought as God’s representative on earth.
Specifically I point out the bold statement. This, bothers, not the Trinitarian. We are very secure in the progressive nature of God’s revelation in Scripture. Something might not be clear in the Old Testament, but because of the greater light shed from the New Testament, there are things we can now ‘re-consider’ in light of that greater revelation of the New Testament.
Now, I’m not saying we need to abuse this. We need to be careful and not have a heyday. Goodness, some can see almost every verse as talking about Jesus. The whole Old Testament does point to Christ, but not each particular verse. In regards to the Trinity and the great revelation now seen in the New Testament, I like these words of B.B. Warfield:
‘The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted: the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or not at all perceived before. The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but is only perfected, extended and enlarged.’ (B.B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines)
I suppose Burke will not like the word ‘mystery’ and, because of previous statements, he believes that everything about the nature of God was already clear to Jews before Jesus arrived. But that simply falls short by a long shot. Jesus came and brought a lot more revelation into our understanding of God, His kingdom, His purposes and quite a few other things.
Burke then quotes these words (again, I believe from the NET footnotes) about the title ‘Everlasting Father’.
[“Everlasting Father”] This title must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense. (To do so would be theologically problematic, for the “Son” is the messianic king and is distinct in his person from God the “Father.”) Rather, in its original context the title pictures the king as the protector of his people. For a similar use of “father” see Isa_22:21 and Job_29:16. …The New Testament indicates that the hyperbolic language (as in the case of the title “Mighty God”) is literally realized in the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy, for Jesus will rule eternally.
It’s interesting that the source quoted shows how the term father can be used to speak of the king being a protector, and thus, this is about Christ being the eternally ruling protector. Of course, Christ is the eternally ruling protector. But this does not strike at Christ’s deity, for what does eternal mean if not that Christ had no beginning and no end?!
Is this particular phrase the basket that we are to put all our eggs into for the case of Trinitarianism? By no means. But again, this phrase (and the whole verse) is considered in light of the full and final revelation of the New Testament. A Christian that does not read the Old Testament through the lens of Christ and the New Testament will find themselves having serious problems. Of course, we want to know what the passage meant in its original context. But, in the end, Christ and the New Testament help us know the fuller picture of what a passage was saying, i.e., what Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6 were teaching about the Christ.
I don’t really need to say much, for Bowman addresses the prologue of John in his own article. I specifically quote Bowman:
John also makes explicit an even more startling implication: the revelation that Moses received of God’s glory, of God himself, was only an anticipation of the revelation of God that came through his Son. John’s statement, “No one has ever seen God” (v. 18a), clearly recalls the Lord’s statement to Moses, “no man can see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). John concludes: “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18b NRSV). The textual evidence we have now strongly favors the use of theos here for Christ, and the best translation is the one quoted here from the NRSV (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 328 notes 14-15). In this text there can be no circumventing the fact that the one who makes the Father known is a real person distinct from the Father, yet this only Son of the Father is himself God. The apparent paradox of the opening sentence of the Prologue recurs in its closing sentence—just in case we missed it or didn’t believe it the first time! The Prologue thus affirms twice that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is God.
Jesus is the actual glory of God revealed. Or, as the writer to the Hebrews says: [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (1:3). Jesus is what God ‘looks like’.
It is interesting that Burke only focused on 1:8, as the whole chapter presents the glory, deity and worship due to the Son. It would have been good to also address vs6 and vs10.
Specifically, Burke points out that, in the original context of Psalm 45:7, this did not speak about the divinity of Christ. This is true, as Psalm 45:7 refers to the Davidic king of long before Christ. But this still fails in specifically dealing with Psalm 45:6 (or Hebrews 1:8).
Now, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 45:6 and 45:7 together in referring to Christ. So we have to deal with both together. While Burke seems to desire that vs7 help inform us about vs6, why cannot vs6 help inform us about vs7? Remember, Hebrews 1:8 says, ‘But of the Son he says.’ The author then goes on to quote Psalm 45:6, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’
However you slice it, there is no watering down this fuller statement. Yes, in and of itself, Hebrews 1:9 does not support the claim of Christ’s deity. And, in and of itself, one might even want to argue that it shows us that Christ is not divine. But Hebrews 1:9 was not put by itself. Rather it is connected with vs8 and that verse does identify Christ as God. And a Trinitarian has never had problems with God (the Father) being referred to as the God and Father of Jesus. It is something to grapple with, yes. But it is grappled within the context of other helpful and informative verses such as Hebrews 1:8.
And, while a non-Trinitarian might want to argue that Psalm 45:6 did not originally refer to Christ and His deity, that argument fails in light of the New Testament giving the greater light. The Old Testament, if you will, serves the New Testament revelation about Christ. And the writer to the Hebrews lets us know in his entire first chapter that Christ is of the exact imprint of God’s nature (vs3), He is worshiped (vs6), He is God (vs8) and He was involved at creation (vs10) – all four pointing to His divinity.
From the section: Jesus in the Old Testament
Though I have already addressed it, I again wanted to show how this statement of Burke does not really hold water:
Everything first-century Christians needed to know about Messiah was built into the words of the Law and the prophets. Jesus is popularly recognised as a New Testament figure, but he is foreshown frequently in the Old Testament as Messiah.
The word ‘everything’ is not helpful in this statement. Imagine a Christian, first century or today, only having the Old Testament to determine what they believe about Christ. I think major problems would arise. I don’t think you could really inform yourself about Christ. There are seeds, foreshadowings, types, etc, of Christ lying in the pages of the Old Testament. Of course! But all these are insufficient in themselves to tell us everything about Christ. We need to read about His life, what He taught, what His close followers taught. And I believe that is given to then help inform us about what the Old Testament was hinting at.
Now, as an example, Burke says:
We first glimpse Jesus in Genesis, an encounter providing a template for interpreting other passages referring to him.
As a specific illustration of this, he quotes from Genesis 3:21 – The LORD God made garments from skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
Does Genesis 3:21 teach us about Christ?
Well, we learn something. But we only learn something because we know what the New Testament teaches, especially in places like Hebrews about the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin. And Christ’s eternal blood sacrifice made the way for eternal salvation. Again, the New Testament informed us about the underlying intent of the Old Testament.
And, this principle that Burke used above is the same that Trinitarians apply in viewing passages in the Old Testament as teaching about the deity of Christ, or other Trinitarian beliefs. Isaiah 7:14 or Isaiah 9:6 are not sufficient in themselves to teach about Christ’s divinity. But I would say they are now better viewed through the light of the New Testament. This is perfectly acceptable practise. Again, we don’t go haywire here and make everything about Jesus and His divinity. But such an ‘anachronistic’ approach is not out of bounds with the full revelation of God in the New Testament.
Ok, that is enough for me for now on part 2. We await next week now. If anyone is interested, the blog Trinities is also offering some ‘play by play’ commentary on the weekly posts. So check it out as well.