The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 3)

The Great Trinity Debate has continued over at Parchment & Pen. Rob Bowman, the Trinitarian, has posted his third article here and David Burke, the non-Trinitarian, has posted his third article here. As in my last two posts on the debate (post 1, post 2), I will share some comments in regards to Burke’s article.

I will say from the start that it felt Burke was getting a little more ‘in your face’ with Rob. I think it would be best just to address the arguments, the Scripture passages, etc, rather than baiting with comments like, ‘Come on Rob, show us.’ Nonetheless, I still appreciate Burke’s interaction and laying out his theology in a very easy to follow format.

From the section – Jesus Christ: Prefigured and Prophesied

Near the beginning of his article, Burke states:

‘The OT repeats three principles constantly. They underpin the entire Law of Moses, which underpins NT atonement theology. It is essential to understand these principles and recognise how they were fulfilled by Christ, as they inform our understanding of his identity and purpose. The OT was a guidebook pointing forward to Christ (Galatians 3:24); thus any interpretation contradicting the OT’s view of Christ must be rejected.’

Burke has referenced Galatians 3:24 a few times now:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

It’s a small quibble not fully relevant to the Trinitarian debate, but I believe that Galatians 3:24 speaks more about the role of law in regards to keeping us in check with regards to sin and transgression before Christ’s arrival. And ultimately the law would push us to Christ. I believe the larger context supports this – verses like Galatians 3:19, 21-23. Of course the Old Testament points us to Christ, but I think that if we wanted to show how this particular aspect, we would better use passages like Luke 24:44, which are Jesus’ words to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus:

These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

But, again, this is really another topic.

So let’s re-quote those bolded words above: The OT was a guidebook pointing forward to Christ (Galatians 3:24); thus any interpretation contradicting the OT’s view of Christ must be rejected.

This seems a trap, though a shaky one, for all side A now has to do if one does not agree with side B is claim something like this: ‘Well that interpretation does not line up with the Old Testament view of Christ.’ And this is the path Burke heads down as he quotes a lot of Old Testament passages to show Christ is a mere, mortal man. If Burke can show that a specific passage in the Old Testament points to the humanity of Christ, then this must show Christ is only human and not divine. This is what Burke believes he has done.

But again, in the full revelation of the Scripture, the Old Testament serves the New Testament. Not only that, but the New Testament sheds greater light on what is being spoken of in the Old Testament. So, yes, in an original context, a passage could be speaking about the human, Davidic king. I completely agree with this. But, many times, the New Testament writer utilises that passage to emphasise how Christ has come to be the greater fulfilment of that passage (i.e. Hebrews 1:8-9 showing how Christ is the great fulfiller of Psalm 45:6-7).

For example, Psalm 110:1 states: The LORD [Yahweh] says to my Lord [Adonai/Adoni]. In the Old Testament context, this seems like the great Lord is speaking to a kind of lesser Lord. And, in that context, it was focused in on Yahweh’s words to David. That is correct. But, when we turn to the New Testament and see how the title, Lord, is bestowed upon Jesus, not as a lesser Lord, but as the Lord of lords, then we are able to see how the New Testament shines greater light on who Christ really is.

One of my favourite prophecies (or allusions) to Christ is found in Ezekiel 34:15-16. Now this does not specifically deal with any accusation that Christ was only human, but nonetheless it is an example of how to understand a passage in its original Old Testament context and then in light of the fuller revelation of the New Testament. The prophecy goes as so:

15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

In the midst of judgment on the very evil shepherds of Israel, God states He, Himself, is going to come and shepherd His own people. Very intriguing. We are now sitting on the edge of our seats wondering what this looks like.

Well, lo and behold, Jesus, the Christ, arrives on the scene declaring to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). I wonder what every good Jew who knew the Hebrew Scriptures is thinking when Jesus starts declaring such? I think they are pulling up that reference from Ezekiel’s words that God would Himself shepherd His own people. Wow, this is God Himself shepherding us!

Now, I know the argument by now. Jesus was simply God’s agent, but not God Himself. And so He could function on God’s behalf, shepherding God’s people in a way that it would seem like God were doing it Himself.

But, let’s go back to some other verses in Ezekiel 34:

23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken…29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.”

There is only going to be one shepherd (vs23) and remember God already said that He would be that shepherd Himself (vs15). Now, vs24 is the great verse for the Unitarian, right? There is Yahweh and then there another – His servant, David. But this is not a problem for the Trinitarian who sees that the Father and Messianic-Son are distinguished, yet one (or one, yet distinguished).

Yahweh proclaims who is going to be the shepherd? He Himself. And in this great shepherding act, one is going to come from the line of David to do this. And, as vs16 says, this shepherd is going to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, etc. Hmmm? I wonder who did this? See also Matthew 15:24; 18:12; Luke 19:10. The two are equally one and yet functionally distinct. I know the Unitarian dislikes this terminology, but God said He was going to shepherd His people and Jesus arrives saying I am here to shepherd the sheep. He is not merely being a human pastor. He is the great shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).

From the section – Jesus Christ: Predestined, not Pre-existent

Burke specifically quotes Reverend Sigmund Mowinckel in showing that Jesus Christ was not pre-existent:

‘This is true of references to the pre-existence of the Messiah. It is his ‘name,’ not the Messiah himself, that is said to have been present with God before creation. In Pesikta Rabbati 152b is said that ‘from the beginning of the creation of the world the King Messiah was born, for he came up in the thought of God before the world was created.’ This means that from all eternity it was the will of God that the Messiah should come into existence, and should do his work in the world to fulfill God’s eternal saving purpose.’

Burke also goes on to say:

‘Scripture also uses this predestination language to speak of events and people as occurring and existing before they literally did.’

And he quotes Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 2:6; Hebrews 7:9-10 as examples of predestination language.

While this idea of ‘predestination’, or, at times, it seems more in line with proclaiming in faith what is already true in God (i.e. Ephesians 2:6), is an important aspect of our life in God, I don’t believe this fully addresses what is going on with Christ in all the varying passages pointing to His existence before becoming the incarnate Jesus. I know Burke tries to claim they only speak of ‘predestination’, but I don’t believe they are on the same playing field.

Well, for starters, the Jeremiah passage speaks of the plans God had for Jeremiah before He was born. Of course, there were predetermined plans for Christ before being born of Mary. No one denies that, or I certainly don’t (i.e. Acts 2:23). But Christ is not merely and only spoken of in the since that Jeremiah or Paul (Galatians 1:15) was. But Christ is spoken of as existing before Jeremiah and Paul and Abraham (John 8:56-58). There are plenty of verses which Burke tried to oppose as if they did not show Christ’s pre-existence and there are some that he did not address. So I will look at some of those he did address and some he did not.

John 17:4-5

4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Do we really believe this simply refers to a plan that the Father had made before Christ became flesh? Do these words of Mowinckel do justice to Jesus’ words?

‘This means that from all eternity it was the will of God that the Messiah should come into existence, and should do his work in the world to fulfill God’s eternal saving purpose.’

Certainly not. This is not just speaking of a predestined act before it would happen. Jesus is speaking of what was true of Him as He was with the Father from the beginning. Burke ends up saying:

‘Last week Rob quoted John 17:5 and told us it refers to the literal pre-existence of Christ. Now more familiar with Jewish religious language, we can see why Rob’s interpretation falls short. Jesus claimed ownership of the glory God intended for him long before his literal existence (he also said he had given that same glory to his disciples; a statement Rob didn’t explain).’

Burke might have informed us of some of the ideas surrounding Jewish religious language, but Burke definitely does not deal with everything. So Rob’s interpretation does not fall short by any means. The ‘predestined language’ does not fit the reality of what the New Testament teaches, and specifically with John 17:4-5. Jesus actually had glory with the Father before the creation of the world. But let’s press on to other passages.

John 6:62

Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

Again, for Burke, this falls into the ‘predestined’ passages about Jesus, rather than pre-existence. As support, Burke quotes theologian G.H. Gilbert, who seems to be a theologian of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But have we ever read the full context around John 6:52? Read John 6:53-58.

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

I’m not here to argue about whether Jesus meant his literal flesh and blood and whether the doctrine of transubstantiation is true. But how could a mortal man (for remember, Jesus has not yet been exalted by the Father, as the Unitarian acknowledges His immortality only after the resurrection and ascension) give life eternal? And, remember, Jesus tells us He is the bread that came down out of heaven (vs58). Not only that, but a promise is being given by Jesus that He has the power to give life, just like the Father.

Other Passages

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

I know how Burke dealt with this verse in his last post, but it is clear from the first phrase of vs14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – that the Word and the Son are connected. The Word became flesh (human) and the Son became flesh (human), meaning He existed beforehand. This is not a statement of definitive beginning at His birth from Mary. This is a statement of stepping into human flesh from His place of glory with the Father (i.e. John 17:4-5).

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (John 3:13)

Again, this points to the Son coming down from heaven. If Christ did not exist before, then how did He descend, come from heaven?

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

I wonder why the Jews picked up stones to throw at Christ (vs59), meaning they wanted to kill Him? For them, it was blasphemy to describe Himself as the I AM. Utter blasphemy!

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

If Christ did not exist before becoming human, how in the world could Paul declare that all things were created by Him, through Him and for Him? And how can all things hold together in Him? Is this predestined language or pre-existent language?

I realise that the question that has to also be answered is, ‘Does this prove Christ has always been with the Father? Could not He just have been created sometime before the creation of the world?’

Well, let me go ahead and make clear that the use of the word firstborn does not mean Christ was created. In a Jewish context, the firstborn was the pre-eminent one, the most important one, the special one. The word firstborn made one think of the firstborn son who was allowed a double inheritance from the father. And I believe it’s easy to recognise that Christ takes first place, since by Him, through Him and for Him all things were created and are held together by Him. This loudly proclaims Christ’s pre-existence.

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6-7)

I will let Bowman address this himself from his own words in his third article:

‘Again, Paul’s line of thought here presupposes that Christ existed in heaven before becoming a man. 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.’

From the section – Jesus Christ: Son of God; Son of Man

Burke’s second paragraph into this section declares:

‘I maintain God predicated our salvation on the involvement in His plan and purpose of a man He would raise up from among men, among his fellows, his brethren, with whom he would share the very same nature, with all its qualities and weaknesses. I further maintain this message was contained in the OT and that NT believers were expected to know it.’

This might be a ‘jot and tittle’ thing, but I would say our salvation is solely predicated on an act of God alone. Jesus, thus, is that saving act of God. Yes, He was man. I shall never deny it. We should never deny it. That is part of what makes it special. But it is also special because God said He would act in salvation and He actually did it in coming to us.

Yes, I know the argument that God did bring about the salvation act Himself, but through an agent. But this was not only just like Moses leading the Israelites into salvation from Egypt. This is not just like a judge or David saving the Israelites. Those all pointed to the great salvation giver Himself, Christ. And Jesus’ sacrifice is nothing less than a divine, eternal sacrifice. How could a sacrifice reach back and cover the sins already committed if the One bearing the sin was not already eternal? How could one bring about eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9), providing eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12) through an eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20) if He Himself was merely mortal?

Burke then goes on to charge Trinitarians:

‘Trinitarians make it a fundamental fellowship issue that Christ was both 100% man and 100% God. But if this was truly the apostolic understanding, why can’t we find it in Scripture?’

That is what we are doing here – showing how Scripture teaches that Christ is both God and man. Not in the literal biblicist way where we have to find a specific reference, in Romans or Galatians or wherever, that says Christ is both 100% man and 100% God. But we take the full tenor of Scripture and conclude that He is both God and man, making Him the perfect, eternal sacrifice – the eternal man who shared in our humanity.

Then, Burke goes on to challenge:

‘If Jesus was God, he would already possess authority and power by virtue of his deity. There would be no need to authorise, empower or protect him. Yet we find in Scripture that the prophecies speak of a man who is greater than any other man, but still totally human; he is not the Trinitarian “God-man.”’

This has already continually been addressed from the Trinitarian view. The Son humbled Himself (i.e. Philippians 2:6-7) and thus was pleased to receive His authority from the Father.

In regards to John 5:18 and John 10:30, which are two important passages for Trinitarians, Burke espouses:

‘Some had accused Jesus of making himself equal to God (e.g. John 5; John 10) but he successfully refuted this false charge, which was never raised again.’

Did Jesus refute these false charges? Yes, in John 5:19f, Jesus speaks of doing only what He sees His Father doing. But this is no refutation of the Jews ‘false’ charge. Rather, Jesus is fleshing out what it means for He and His Father to be equal.

And with John 10:30, well this easily echoes the words of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4). Hence why they are so angry and want to kill Jesus. And I’ve already shown how God said He would shepherd His people Himself and how Jesus shows up stating He is the Good Shepherd. Even John 10:28-29 speaks of the ability of both the Father and Son being able to protect the sheep from being snatched from their hand. Then, in John 10:31-39, we see that they wanted to stone Jesus. Why? Because of blasphemy.

Now the Unitarian would say, ‘Ah, but Jesus quoted from Psalm 82:6 showing that multiple people are referred to as gods (elohim). So Jesus is just a highly exalted elohim like others.’

But, again, the Jews give this reason for stoning Him: but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God (vs33). The Jews understood the statement in vs30, might I add they understood it correctly, as a statement of divinity. Jesus never corrected their theology. What Jesus is saying is that, if human judges (see Psalm 82:2–4) can in some sense be called ‘gods’ (in light of their role as representatives of God), this designation is even more appropriate for the one who truly is one with the Father and the Son of God.

Again, there is no refutation from Jesus in either passage. Rather there is a fleshing out of His role as the Son who is one with the Father.

From the section – Jesus Christ: Son of David; Born of a Woman; Made Like His Brethren

This is the last section to deal with in Burke’s article. He starts out with some sharp words:

‘Jesus is referred to as the “son of David” fourteen times in the New Testament, usually in a Messianic context. This title reaffirms his genuine humanity, emphasising his ancient lineage all the way back to the father of Solomon. The Trinitarian Jesus cannot make such a claim, since the Trinitarian Jesus is not a son of David but a divine being who pre-existed in heaven before David was born. What does “son of David” mean in a Trinitarian context? Can Rob explain?’

‘The Trinitarian Jesus cannot make such a claim, since the Trinitarian Jesus is not a son of David…’ What? Huh?

Of course, we would passionately agree that Jesus is the Son of David. He even more properly had four titles with regards to being ‘the son of’: He was Son of Adam, Son of Abraham, Son of David and Son of God (see Matthew 1:1 and Luke 3:38).

As Burke asks: What does “son of David” mean in a Trinitarian context? It means He was the one long ago promised to come forth as the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour, the Lord. It means that all the prophecies and promises of Scripture rest in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). That’s what it means to be the Son of David, the Messianic King (or at least a very essential aspect, as we could really expound on this topic).

Later, he goes on to exclaim:

‘Scripture therefore affirms that Jesus’ existence had a beginning and that he was made just like other human beings in every possible way.’

To support this, Burke quotes Galatians 4:4. I’m not sure how this supports the Son having a beginning.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.

The Son had a beginning in becoming flesh. No Trinitarian doubts that. But this does not, by any means, cut at the reality that we hold to Christ existing with the Father from the beginning. Think about it: If one is sent on a mission today, they would be sent forth by a local church, or possibly a mission’s agency. The day the person began their mission did not constitute their existence, but rather the initiation of their specific mission. The same is true of the Son. To be sent forth means He was already existent, but His mission to humanity was initiated as Christ became flesh.

Burke also quotes Hebrews 2:17 as proof that Christ was created:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

But this also does not cut at Christ’s eternal nature. Rather this fits into the understanding of the incarnation that the divine Son was willing to be made like humanity in every respect. Absolutely beautiful, and it links in quite nice with Philippians 2:6-7.

Near the end of his article, David Burke offers what I believe is some very poor rhetoric to the debate:

None of this is true of the Trinitarian Jesus, who remains a theological paradox and a logical contradiction. Visible despite being invisible (Colossian 1:15); seen but “never seen” (John 1:18, 1 Timothy 6:16); tempted even though God cannot be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11; cp. James 1:13); “made like his brothers and sisters in every respect”, which in Trinitarianism means “not being made like his brothers and sisters at all”; “dying” on the cross yet simultaneously eternal (1 Timothy 1:17).

Readers, ask yourselves which Christology is more consistent with the Biblical evidence. If the Trinitarian Jesus pre-existed, he is neither “son of David”, nor “Son of Man”, nor “Son of God.” If he is God, he was not tempted, cannot be seen and was not seen, did not really die, and was therefore not a sacrifice for sin. If his nature was simultaneously human and divine, he was not made like his brothers and sisters in every respect.

This is quite silly, I must say. It really deserves more rebuke than just referring to it as silly. It’s playing on emotions, it’s acting as if Trinitarians do not look to ground their theological understanding in Scripture. It’s simply poor argument. Sure, the Unitarians and Christadelphians might be cheering from the stands. But these kind of statements fail in being response worthy.

Until next week….. And don’t forget to check out the assessment over at Trinities blog.

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46 thoughts on “The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 3)

  1. I posted this comment on the wrong thread. Sorry for that. Just one correction. Adonai does not appear in Psalm 110:1 but the word Adoni. This happens to be one of the favorite prooftexts of unitarians (along with Deuteronomy6:4) since they argue that the OT NEVER uses Adoni for God which they then take as proof that the Messiah is not God but a highly exalted human figure. If you want links to the unitarian exegesis of Psalm 110:1 I will be more than happy to provide them.

  2. Actually, I think in the original Hebrew is לאדני and only later were the vowels added in. Notice the lamed even before Adonai/Adoni. Now the later vowel added in was the equivalent of the English ‘i’ with the dot underneath the nun. So, thus, we have Adoni. But, in the end, I think it is clear that this is speaking of Lord, whether Adonai or Adoni. And the NT makes it clear that they are giving this great title until Christ as the Lord of lords. There is no greater Lord than Christ.

  3. There you write:

    “One of my favourite prophecies (or allusions) to Christ is found in Ezekiel 34:15-16…….The prophecy goes as so:
    In the midst of judgment on the very evil shepherds of Israel, God states He, Himself, is going to come and shepherd His own people. Very intriguing. We are now sitting on the edge of our seats wondering what this looks like.
    Well, lo and behold, Jesus, the Christ, arrives on the scene declaring to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). I wonder what every good Jew who knew the Hebrew Scriptures is thinking when Jesus starts declaring such? I think they are pulling up that reference from Ezekiel’s words that God would Himself shepherd His own people. Wow, this is God Himself shepherding us!
    Now, I know the argument by now. Jesus was simply God’s agent, but not God Himself. And so He could function on God’s behalf, shepherding God’s people in a way that it would seem like God were doing it Himself.”

    That’s a beautiful prophecy indeed and I see your fascination with the link you establish between the two passages in OT and NT respectively. I’m fascinated with it too but in a slightly different manner. What if I take the language of Ez. 34:15,16 against the background of other numerous passages that employ the same approach and consider what it means in purely practical terms, such excerpts as the following:

    “And the house which king Solomon built for the LORD…”
    “And for the house he made windows of narrow lights.”
    “So he built the house, and finished it…” (1Kin. 6)

    And so on. I am almost sure Solomon himself didn’t even move a finger of his to accomplish any of these and many other like things which it’s plainly written here and there were all made by himself. Rather, a huge host of other people were working for him. The reason he’s continually presented as the one who made this or that is obvious – HE WAS THE INITIATOR AND WAS IN CHARGE OF THE WHOLE PROJECT.

    The same language is also found in verses that refer to God Himself and His plans/intentions that had to be fulfilled later on.

    “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations.” (Eze. 5:8). However, we know that in reality the job was done by the Babylonians.

  4. DEK –

    Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

    The thing is that Jesus does this kind of stuff continually – applying things to Himself that Scripture has spoken about Yahweh. Occasionally you can find a person employing some of these names/titles/language to themselves because they are God’s agent, but Jesus comes in and we see applied to Him one after another after another after another: the good shepherd, the I AM, Lord of Sabbath, the first and last, Lord of lords, King of kings, the Saviour, and others. This list is not an occasional list of some things Jesus applies to Himself. He takes on all that is applied to Yahweh. That really challenges me to consider who is this Christ.

  5. ScottL:
    The word Adoni and Adonai are not the same. Yes, vowels were added later, but if you check any Hebrew concordance you will see two different words (without the vowels), that is also why in the Strong numbering they have two different numbers. And if you then check the usage you will see Sam’s comment is correct.
    The Hebrew is very distinctive in the use of these two words.
    So yes, that makes Jesus Lord of Lords.

  6. MarkE –

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, I knew the two words were different (with the use of the different vowel in the two words). But they both speak of the great Lordship of Jesus, He being Lord of Lords. That was my main thrust.

  7. I’ve been thinking about one more thing David Burke said in his third article. This is from the section Jesus Christ: Son of God; Son of Man

    First, he quotes 2 John 1:7 – For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist!

    Burke then says: For John, the touchstone of orthodoxy is Jesus’ humanity – not his alleged deity. John writes against those who believed that Jesus was somehow more or less than human.

    The thing is, I believe Burke has misused this Scripture in support of his view. The view of the Unitarian, and Christadelphian, is that Christ is a mere human like us that reached immortality and exaltation through living a sinless life. But, in reality, this is not what John is arguing in passages like 2 John 1:7 and 1 John 4:2. To say that Christ ‘came in the flesh’, is not asserting that Christ is only a mere mortal human being, but rather John is combating the gnostic heresy that despised flesh, matter, or anything created.

    Thus, from the gnostic teaching, Christ did not really come in the flesh, since God does not really like flesh/matter that much. Rather, for them, Christ only appeared to come in the flesh. But John would say, ‘No, part of our confession is that the Christ came in the flesh. He was really a human, not just an illusion of becoming a human.’ This is central to the faith, and has implications reaching far beyond even our confession of the Christ. In all, we also learn that God loves His creation, our bodies are good, and matter does matter.

    Just some recent thoughts that has been in my mind this week.

    • ScottL wrote:
      “The view of the Unitarian, and Christadelphian, is that Christ is a mere human like us that reached immortality and exaltation through living a sinless life.”

      I’m not inclined to view this as a deliberate misrepresentation, it’s rather a result of your being insufficiently acquainted with numerous Christadelphian expositions and writings on the Lord Jesus’ nature. In their Statement of Faith, which is also known as the BASF and which serves as a foundational set of principal doctrines to be upheld by every Christadelphian, there are two articles that have the following:

      # 2. That Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, begotten of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, WITHOUT THE INTERVENTION OF MAN, and afterwards anointed with the same Spirit, WITHOUT MEASURE, at His baptism. Isa. 7:14;11:2; 41:1; 42:1; Matt. 1:18-25, 3:16-17; Luke 1:26-35; John 3:34, 7:16, 8:26-28, 14:10-24; Acts 2:22, 24, 36; Gal. 4:4; I Tim. 3:16

      # 10. That being so begotten of God, and inhabited and used by God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was Immanuel, God with us, God manifest in the flesh – yet was, during his natural life, of like nature with mortal man, being made of a woman, of the house and lineage of David, and therefore a sufferer, in the days of his flesh, from all the effects that came by Adam’s transgression, including the death that passed upon all men, which he shared by partaking of their physical nature. Matt. 1:23; Gal. 4:4; I Tim. 3:16; Heb 2:14, 17.

      The first article (# 2), if understood correctly, will be more than sufficient to obviate any idea that “Christ is a MERE human like us”. Where and how he was “like us” is spoken about in the second article (# 10).

      • DEK –

        Thanks again for commenting. My goal was not to misrepresent Christadelphian’s, so I apologise if I have done so. Though I did see this statement in Dave’s third article. In describing a Trinitarian belief, he says:

        Trinitarianism:

        * Objects to Christ being described as “only man”, but the apostles insisted on it

        It seems that Dave (a Christadelphian) would argue that Jesus came as “only man”. Of course, Burke would a;sp argue Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, but in a different manner from a Trinitarian. Still, it seems, Burke might conclude Jesus is “only man”.

        In the end, my greater challenge comes in what I believe is a misuse of 2 John 7.

  8. Scott,

    I’m glad you brought that last point out. I thought Dave completely stood the meaning of that verse on it’s head too.

  9. Scott,

    ‘To say that Christ ‘came in the flesh’, is not asserting that Christ is only a mere mortal human being, but rather John is combating the gnostic heresy that despised flesh, matter, or anything created.’

    Actually no he wasn’t. Gnosticism didn’t exist in John’s day. Check the scholarly consensus, it’s overwhelming:

    * Combs, ‘Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and New Testament Interpretation’, Grace Theological Journal (8.2.207-208)
    * McRae, ‘Nag Hammadi and the New Testament’, pp. 146–47, in Combs, ‘Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and New Testament Interpretation’, Grace Theological Journal (8.2.208)
    * Unger, ‘The Role of Archaeology in the Study Of the New Testament’, Bibliotheca Sacra (116.462.153), (1996)
    * Freedman, ‘Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible’, p. 509 (2000)
    * Lüdeman, ‘Primitive Christianity : A Survey of Recent Studies and Some New Proposals’, p. 150 (2003)
    * Dunn, ‘The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul’, p. 9 (2003)

    John wasn’t writing against any ‘Gnostic heresy’. Try a search in TLG or the Duke corpus and see how many hits you get for ‘in the flesh’ in a Gnostic context.

  10. Scott, you referred to Dave’s list of contradictions in the Trinitarian position as ‘silly’. Is that as far as you go in terms of a response, or are there actual answers to these contradictions?

    Feel free to say there are no answers and that they’re insoluble contradictions, that’s fine. It’s well within historic Trinitarian orthodoxy to say that the doctrine is an irreconcilable paradox which cannot be articulated rationally.

  11. Fortigurn –

    I am aware that some (or you would argue that many) say that gnosticism was not around in the first century. It’s debatable, but I wonder if seeds of gnostic (maybe dualistic) thought might be there? But maybe not.

    In the end, why is John adamant to teach that Jesus came ‘in the flesh’? Is it to teach that Jesus is ‘only man’ (as I refer to Dave’s own words in my comment response to DEK above), or was it John combating some teaching that would claim otherwise, that somehow Jesus did not come ‘in the flesh’, rather than he was ‘only man’?

    As for my ‘silly’ comment, my problem, as I stated, was that it was so emotionally charged rather than dealing with the text, theological arguments, etc. Of course Burke has been in other places, and I have commended him for such, but to end out his third post with such language was, from my perspective, ‘silly’.

    As for addressing what seems contradictory, or even unreasonable, about Trinitarian theology, I suppose my quote of C.S. Lewis in a recent article I posted was decent for consideration.

  12. Jesus used the words “I AM” several times, and the Jews did not react. This time, though, he was claiming to have existed before Abraham, and that was blasphemy.

    The best treatment I have read on this subject is a small book called “The Problem of God,” by Fr. John Murray. I am not a Catholic, but I can appreciate scholarship when I see it.

    If you check it out, the Hebrew word in Exodus 3:14 (translated “I am” in most English Bibles) is translated “I will be” everywhere else in the context. In fact, that’s the way it is translated everywhere in the books of Moses.

    Also, others in the NT used the same Greek words (ego eimi). See John 9:9.

    The “I am” argument is just as fallacious as Burke’s use of 2 John 1:17 as evidence that Jesus was ONLY a man.

    By the way, thank you for that criticism. I do agree that Jesus is more than a man, and that he is fully divine.

    However, I also believe that the Father is the only true God (John 17:3).

  13. Scott,

    If you think it’s debatable that Gnosticism didn’t exist in the 1st century, then I suggest you sugest a paper to a relevant peer reviewed journal, together with your evidence. Before you do that, you should make yourself familiar with the scholarly consensus in the relevant literature, so you understand the arguments.

    Alternatively, you can show me which 1st century Gnostic text contains the denial that Jesus came ‘ἐν σαρκί’. Did you have a particular text in mind? If you don’t have a particular text in mind, what made you suggest that this is what John was writing about?

    Here’s a link to the abridged Thesaurus Lingaue Graece:

    http://www.tlg.uci.edu/demo/fontsel

    Choose ‘Text search: simple’, type ‘ἐν σαρκί’ in the ‘Search for’ window, and hit ‘word index’. Tell me how many 1st century Gnostic documents you find which contain this phrase.

    Furthermore, have you checked to see how ‘ἐν σαρκί’ is used in the New Testament itself, so you can be sure of what John was actually saying?

    ‘As for my ‘silly’ comment, my problem, as I stated, was that it was so emotionally charged rather than dealing with the text, theological arguments, etc.’

    It isn’t ’emotionally charged’ to point out that a particular interpretation has logical difficulties. As Dale Tuggy has observed, an interpretation with logical difficulties is less economical and less likely to be true, than an interpretation with no logical difficulties:

    http://trinities.org/blog/archives/1773

    Since this argument is rightly used by evangelicals against competing theologies of groups such as the JWs and Mormons, I expected you to be in agreement with it. Apparently not?

  14. Fortigurn –

    I’d love to have discussion with you. I’m even willing to recognise that you are more skilled and studied than I am. But, though you assured me over at Trinities that you are not trying to stir, your words seem somewhat attacking. Forgive me if I continue to misread.

    Let’s say gnosticism was not even a thought in the first century world. As I said above, I still don’t believe Burke’s explanation of a passage like 2 John 7 is fully in line with what John is addressing. In the end, why is John adamant to teach that Jesus came ‘in the flesh’? Is it to teach that Jesus is ‘only man’, or was it John combating something else, that somehow Jesus did not really come ‘in the flesh’? I don’t believe the statement is simply purporting that Jesus is ‘only man’.

  15. Scott, with respect I believe you’re reading far too much into my words. Perhaps we’re used to a different style of dialogue.

    When I invite you to present the evidence for your case, that’s not an attack. It’s a genuine invitation. When I invite you to submit it to a relevant peer reviewed journal, that’s not an attack. It’s simply standard procedure for any evidence which will overturn the existing scholarly consensus. I’ve submitted articles to journals before (and even been rejected a couple of times), so I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done.

    ‘In the end, why is John adamant to teach that Jesus came ‘in the flesh’? Is it to teach that Jesus is ‘only man’, or was it John combating something else, that somehow Jesus did not really come ‘in the flesh’?’

    To answer that question, you can do what I suggested. Search all the New Testament instances of the phrase ‘ἐν σαρκί’, and then search TLG (at least the abridged version, if you don’t have CDROM-E as I do, the latest published corpus), to see how it was used in relevant proximate literature.

    This is not an attack, I’m explaining in very simple terms the kind of research which is typically carried out by scholarship in this area. This is standard practice. First determine facts, *then* propose an interpretation of them.

    At the end of the day Burke’s point remains. John is concerned that people not deny Jesus came ‘ἐν σαρκί’. He shows absolutely no concern that anyone denies Jesus ‘is God’. In other words, he shows precisely the opposite concern of the average Trinitarian. And that’s the point here.

  16. Fortigurn –

    I understand debating. That’s ok. I simply felt you had an air of ‘you aren’t that smart, you don’t know what you’re talking about’. But, again, I apologise for reading the comments wrong.

    As with regards to the ‘in the flesh’, I appreciate the challenge of looking up the Greek ἐν σαρκί. A quick perusal of my English translation of the phrase ‘in the flesh’, which is probably going to be ἐν σαρκί from the Greek, I see that the phrase can be utilised in different ways:

    1) Referring to being ‘in the body’ or ‘being human’ (2 Cor 10:3; Gal 2:20; Phil 1:24)
    2) Referring to living according to the sinful flesh-nature (i.e. Rom 7:5; 8:8-9)

    You might be able to suggest another use of ‘in the flesh’.

    I think the epistles of John references are in line with #1. And this is truly part of the confession of Christ’s followers. I agree wholeheartedly, and this is repeated in places like 1 Tim 3:16. Hopefully I can check the resource you left me to see how ‘in the flesh’ is used in other relevant literature in that day. But, at least at this point, I am not convinced that the phrase ‘in the flesh’ (or ἐν σαρκί) means Jesus was ‘only man’, as Burke suggested in his article. I don’t believe that quoting 2 John 7 somehow is a refutation that Christ is divine. I would agree with the confession that Jesus came ‘in the flesh’ and am very comfortable with that confession, not believing it is a blow to my theology.

  17. Scott, I take your point about the interpretation of dialogue. References to the relevant scholarly literature and peer reviewed journals may seem elitist outside those groups accustomed to discussing them.

    ‘A quick perusal of my English translation of the phrase ‘in the flesh’, which is probably going to be ἐν σαρκί from the Greek, I see that the phrase can be utilised in different ways:’

    Which English translation are you using? It’s best to look it up in Greek, so you don’t miss any references.

    ‘I think the epistles of John references are in line with #1. And this is truly part of the confession of Christ’s followers.’

    I agree. So you agree that John’s reference was to those who deny Jesus was human. That’s precisely the point Burke was making.

    ‘But, at least at this point, I am not convinced that the phrase ‘in the flesh’ (or ἐν σαρκί) means Jesus was ‘only man’, as Burke suggested in his article.’

    I believe you’re repeatedly missing Burke’s point. His point was not that ‘ἐν σαρκί’ proves Jesus is ‘only man’. His point is that the crux of Christian fellowship, for John, rested on the declaration that Jesus is really human, *not* that Jesus is ‘really God’, or that Jesus is ‘the God-man’.

    Such a declaration is precisely what we would expect of a Unitarian John. It is not what we would expect of a Trinitarian John. It is certainly the complete opposite of the declaration typically made by Trinitarians, as encapsulated in the Athanasian Creed, that it is *essential* for fellowship to believe that Jesus is God.

    ‘I don’t believe that quoting 2 John 7 somehow is a refutation that Christ is divine.’

    That is not how Burke was using it. He was using it to show that John’s test of Christological orthodoxy was the complete opposite of the Trinitarian test. The Trinitarian test of Christological orthodoxy is ‘Do you believe Jesus is God?’, whereas John’s was ‘Do you believe Jesus is a human?’.

    ‘I would agree with the confession that Jesus came ‘in the flesh’ and am very comfortable with that confession, not believing it is a blow to my theology.’

    I would be interested to know if you were very comfortable with that confession being the crux of your Christology, *without* adding that Jesus was ‘also God’.

  18. Fortigurn –

    Thanks for understanding. I have always taken great measure, maybe even to my demise, to try and word things carefully so as not to offend. Though it happens, and we just need to get over it (even me). 🙂

    I utitlise the ESV mostly. I have Greek resources here on my desk. So I hope to get into them, though I do have the link you gave me now.

    I agree. So you agree that John’s reference was to those who deny Jesus was human. That’s precisely the point Burke was making.

    I would say that John’s reference was to those denying that Jesus ‘has come in the flesh’. I believe that there is something here other than John saying Jesus was ‘only man’ or ‘only human’. I don’t believe John is trying to get his disciples to remember that Jesus was ‘only human’.

    Here is why I believe there is more going on here than just saying Jesus is ‘human’ or ‘only human’ or ‘only man’. These antichrists were still going out and proclaiming some kind of Jesus Christ, right? They would not have been ‘deceivers’ (2 John 7) if they were simply proclaiming another message altogether, completely devoid of Christ. So, for them, Jesus had come. But, for them, had He come ‘in the flesh’? No, they affirmed He had come, but they did not affirm that He came ‘in the flesh’.

    Thus, John is saying, ‘Remember that Jesus truly came in the flesh. Those who deny such are antichrists.’

    I don’t know if I came across clear enough, but to also say it this way, I don’t agree that your question of orthodoxy is the right question – ‘Do you believe Jesus is a human?’. I believe the question is ‘Do you believe Jesus came in the flesh?’. For all, Jesus came. But some denied he came ‘in the flesh’. John is combating such.

    So I think there is a difference.

    By the way, are you a Christadelphian?

  19. Scott,

    I’m hearing you loud and clear that you believe there is more going on here than just saying Jesus is ‘human’ or ‘only human’ or ‘only man’’. What I need to understand is why.

    You’ve agreed John is saying that the test of orthodoxy is whether or not Jesus came ‘ἐν σαρκί’, which you have also agreed means ‘Jesus is human’. So John’s test of orthodoxy is whether or not we believe Jesus is human.

    What we’re left with then is John warning that there were people who denied that Jesus came ‘ἐν σαρκί’, or as you put it, that Jesus was ‘being human’ (some denied Jesus was human). This was precisely Burke’s point, because it is counter-intuitive to the idea that John was a Trinitarian, and it is the opposite of the typical Trinitarian test of orthodoxy.

    Yes, I am a Christadelphian.

  20. Fortigurn –

    I am good at repeating myself. It’s part of my terrible communication skills. 🙂

    What I need to understand is why.

    I thought I had explained in the previous comment.

    You’ve agreed John is saying that the test of orthodoxy is whether or not Jesus came ‘ἐν σαρκί’, which you have also agreed means ‘Jesus is human’. So John’s test of orthodoxy is whether or not we believe Jesus is human.

    I have agreed that to say Jesus ‘came in the flesh’ is to say that Jesus ‘came in a body’. Again, the deceivers would have never said that Jesus did not come. They would deny he came ‘in the flesh’ (or perhaps, ‘in a body’). Now, you don’t like inferences to gnostic dualism that would have excluded God thinking physical matter is important. But, the thing is that Platonic thought existed before the Christian message. And Platonic thought was, if you will, somewhat gnostic, or at least dualistic and negative about physical matter.

    So, again, I lean towards John combating some kind of theology that said Jesus came but Jesus really wasn’t ‘in the flesh’ or ‘in the body’. Heck, these guys might have even been willing to say Jesus is human, but to be human does not necessarily compromise being ‘in the flesh’. But that’s just a side thought.

    I think Platonic, or dualistic, thought would have been around and possibly what is being combated by John. These deceivers said Jesus came, but He did not come ‘in the flesh’ (or ‘in the body’). John says, ‘Whoa! Hold on a minute. We confess Jesus did come, and He came in the flesh/in the body.’

  21. Scott, thanks for the further dialogue. What I’m now hearing is that your reason for believing ‘there is more going on here than just saying Jesus is ‘human’ or ‘only human’ or ‘only man’’ is that you believe John was writing against a Platonic based heresy. Any time you suggest that John was writing against a specific heresy, I’m going to need to see evidence of its existence contemporary with John. Otherwise we can just make up our own historical contexts for John’s letter, without evidence.

    You say:

    ‘I have agreed that to say Jesus ‘came in the flesh’ is to say that Jesus ‘came in a body’.

    Actually you agreed to this:

    * ‘1) Referring to being ‘in the body’ or ‘being human’ (2 Cor 10:3; Gal 2:20; Phil 1:24)’

    Note that this shows ‘ἐν σαρκί’ was used in the New Testament as a *positive* statement. It is that *positive* statement which heretics deny.

    We both agreed that ‘ἐν σαρκί’ as used in the New Testament could be:

    ‘1) Referring to being ‘in the body’ or ‘being human’ (2 Cor 10:3; Gal 2:20; Phil 1:24)

    2) Referring to living according to the sinful flesh-nature (i.e. Rom 7:5; 8:8-9)’

    This being the case, there is no need to posit Gnostic, Platonic, or any other flavour of heresies. John’s insistence is that the test of orthodoxy is whether we believe Jesus was in the body/being human, or ‘living according to the sinful flesh-nature’.

    The latter is clearly ruled out by John’s insistence on Christ’s sinlessness. That leave us with John’s test of orthodox being that we believe Christ came ‘in the body’, or ‘being human’. Whatever we think this means, it was already being used as a *positive* statement long before John wrote. So ‘ἐν σαρκί’ is *not* a negative phrase intended to contradict a particular heresy. It is a positive phrase which heretics deny.

    So we’re left with a test of orthodoxy which insists on the unitarian statement that Jesus really was a human being. For John, the test of orthodoxy was not that Jesus is God. That was Burke’s point. This is contra-indicatory to the claim that John thought Jesus is God, and therefore contra-indicatory to the idea that his writings teach Jesus is God.

  22. Fortigurn –

    Any time you suggest that John was writing against a specific heresy, I’m going to need to see evidence of its existence contemporary with John. Otherwise we can just make up our own historical contexts for John’s letter, without evidence.

    I was not trying to label a specific heresy as much. I was simply saying that Platonic thinking could have been around (well, it was around since he existed before the gospel). You are saying that gnosticism didn’t exist in the first century (or maybe you are saying that John was not specifically combating gnosticism). But if some kind of Platonic, dualistic thought did exist, which would have thought the idea of God in a physical body was out of bounds, then John could have been combating gnosticism. It doesn’t have to be specific. There are plenty in the church today that have gnostic leanings, but I wouldn’t label them *specifically* gnostic heretics. There could have been some kind of leanings towards Platonic or dualistic (or even gnostic) thought. Not specifically, but those deceivers would still have been influenced by it. Hence they were denying Jesus came in the flesh or, ok, became human. Of course they would have said He had come, but they would have denied that in His coming, He was ‘in the flesh’ or ‘human’. In the end, none of this cuts away at the view that Christ was also divine. None of it.

    So we’re left with a test of orthodoxy which insists on the unitarian statement that Jesus really was a human being.

    Just to clarify that this is not only a unitarian statement. Trinitarians would heartily agree that Jesus was human and came in the flesh. You won’t like how we see this being played out. But that statement is not unique to unitarians.

  23. Scott,

    ‘I was not trying to label a specific heresy as much. I was simply saying that Platonic thinking could have been around (well, it was around since he existed before the gospel).’

    Ok, so show me the evidence that John wasn’t using established Christian teaching as a test of orthodoxy, he was saying ‘You know some people say Jesus didn’t come ‘ἐν σαρκί’? Well that’s wrong!’. That’s the point here. He isn’t explaining that a negative statement is false, he is reinforcing the fact that a previously made positive statement is true.

    ‘In the end, none of this cuts away at the view that Christ was also divine. None of it.’

    You keep missing the point. No one is saying this. No one is saying this. No one is saying this.

    To put it another way, no one is saying this. No one.

    ‘Just to clarify that this is not only a unitarian statement. Trinitarians would heartily agree that Jesus was human and came in the flesh. You won’t like how we see this being played out. But that statement is not unique to unitarians.’

    You’ve done it again Scott, you’ve successfully attacked something no one said. I have not said that this is ‘only a unitarian statement’, or that this is ‘unique to unitarians’. I know that Triniarians say that Jesus came ‘ἐν σαρκί’. I am pointing out that this test of orthodoxy as articulated by John is not a Trinitarian test of orthodoxy.

    If you don’t yet understand what that means, ask any Trinitarian if the definition of the Trinity is that Jesus came ‘ἐν σαρκί’.

  24. Fort –

    Sorry, I misunderstood this statement of yours:

    So we’re left with a test of orthodoxy which insists on the unitarian statement that Jesus really was a human being.

    It seemed to possibly purport that Trinitarians could not really agree with John’s statement or that John’s statement combated Trinitarian theology. My bad.

    I am pointing out that this test of orthodoxy as articulated by John is not a Trinitarian test of orthodoxy.

    Maybe that statement should be clarified this way: I am pointing out that this test of orthodoxy as articulated by a couple of statements in John’s epistles are not a Trinitarian test of full orthodoxy.

    But I sense disagreement on that. 🙂

  25. Scott,

    ‘Maybe that statement should be clarified this way: I am pointing out that this test of orthodoxy as articulated by a couple of statements in John’s epistles are not a Trinitarian test of full orthodoxy.’

    It’s worse than that. The statement which John says is a test of orthodox is not a Trinitarian test of orthodoxy. It’s a test of orthodoxy used by Unitarians. It’s a statement which Trinitarians say should not be used as the test of orthodoxy.

    Find me the Trinitarian test of orthodoxy in the New Testament. Where is it?

  26. Pingback: The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 4) « The Prodigal Thought

  27. Fortigurn,

    Maybe I am missing the point of this rather lengthy discussion you have had with Scott here. But you said,

    “Ok, so show me the evidence that John wasn’t using established Christian teaching as a test of orthodoxy, he was saying ‘You know some people say Jesus didn’t come ‘ἐν σαρκί’? Well that’s wrong!’. That’s the point here. He isn’t explaining that a negative statement is false, he is reinforcing the fact that a previously made positive statement is true.”

    How is John not making the statement that a negative statement is false when he says in II John 7, ” For many decievers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anitchrist.” It seems to me that is precisely what he is doing–correcting a false statement made by deceivers. If you want to call those deceivers Gnostics or whatever, that is still what John is addressing here.

  28. Fortigurn,

    You said, “‘In the end, none of this cuts away at the view that Christ was also divine. None of it.’

    You keep missing the point. No one is saying this. No one is saying this. No one is saying this.

    To put it another way, no one is saying this. No one.”

    Dave Burke said in his 3rd aritcle, “Let’s begin with a warning from the apostle John:

    2 John 1:7, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist!”

    For John, the touchstone of orthodoxy is Jesus’ humanity – not his alleged deity. John writes against those who believed that Jesus was somehow more or less than human.”

    It seems to me that is exactly what Burke was saying here. Or is being “devine” and “deity” two totally different things in your understanding?

  29. Cheryl,

    This is a positive statement:

    * Jesus came in the flesh

    This is a negative statement:

    * Jesus did not come in the flesh

    This is a denial of a positive statement

    * I do not confess that Jesus came in the flesh

    What John says is that there are those who do not confess the positive statement that Jesus came in the flesh. They do not confess a positive statement.

  30. Cheryl,

    ‘It seems to me that is exactly what Burke was saying here. Or is being “devine” and “deity” two totally different things in your understanding?’

    Quite apart from the fact that I do distinguish between ‘divine’ and ‘deity’ (which are not the same), Burke did not say that John was aiming at those who believed Jesus is divine.

    His point was that John’s crux of orthodoxy is Jesus’ humanity, not his deity, and that John writes against those who believed that Jesus was somehow more, or less, than human.

    He did not say that this ‘cuts away at the view that Christ was also divine’. What it does do is make it difficult to claim that John believed Jesus was God.

  31. I think Cherylyu won this exchange, Fortigu. I think you are splitting hairs. If John felt so passionately about the deceivers who did not CONFESS that Jesus was come in the flesh, it is fair to assume that they were teaching the opposite.

    Nevertheless, I am slowly understanding some viewpoints that I was previously unaware of, and that’s a plus. It’s impossible to discuss the Bible reverently, with an open mind, without learning something valuable.

  32. ScottL,

    I don’t want to add too much to the Parchment and Pen blog as this is really the space for Dave’s and Rob’s rebuttals, so I will give you an answer here.
    You asked (based on the words “today I have begotten you” from Psalm 2):
    “I just wanted to know if the relationship began at Christ’s baptism (or Mount of Transfiguration) or sometime before.”

    Begotten for me starts when we read: “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”.
    The whole Psalm speaks of the future as if it is the present.

    My point was that the Bible describes a real Father and Son relationship, not one that is taken on. When the Bible uses “begotten” in all the cases I can see it means fathered. It does not mean the point when Father and Son interact. However, trinitarians seem to loose the normal meaning of beget and Father/Son when describing the “persons” in a “being” as equal, and a Son that existed from all eternity.
    So why does the Bible use the terms Father/Son and begotten if that is not what is really meant?

    As to the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism. Yes, that links Ps 2:7 and Is 42:1. For a Jew, Psalm 2 is about the Messiah, and Isaiah about the suffering servant. They are now told, this is one and the same, and that they had not understood.

    But the question still stands what begot actually means for a trinitarian.

  33. MarkE –

    My major hang-up was that your initial comment at P & P almost seemed to suggest that the Father-Son relationship began at Christ’s baptism (or Mount of Transfiguration). You stated:

    What I find funny is that the words Father and Son don’t seem to mean that for a Trinitarian. Rob writes that Dave believes Jesus is a mere human being, but Dave states he is the Son of God (conceived in Mary). “This is My Son today I have begotten you” would normally be a description of the beginning of a Father and Son relationship, but Trinitarian ignore that as the Son existed before being begotten.

    With your use of the word ‘beginning’ and then pointing to the statement at Jesus’ baptism, it seemed that you were suggesting more of an adoptionist view. But I supposed you believed Jesus was the Son of God from his conception, right?

    That’s all I was asking/clarifying with that.

    The whole Psalm speaks of the future as if it is the present.

    It speaks in the present because it was initially about David/the Davidic king of that day. David was the anointed one (messiah) of his day. And what happened in his life typified/pointed to things that would be a reality in The Messiah’s life.

    Hopefully I’ll come back to you soon with some thoughts to consider on ‘begotten’.

  34. Hi ScottL,

    My initial comment did not refer to baptism. You seemed to be indicating that the words “today I have begotten you” were said at Jesus’ baptism and my second statement was that they aren’t.
    I was originally asking how this verse in the Psalm can be understood if the Son existed before being begotten, and in what sense there is then a Father/Son relationship.

    I look forward to your answer when you have given it some thought. I hoped that Rob would have addressed this point as it intrigues me. Dave asked about Father and Son in week 2, but I haven’t seen an answer.

  35. MarkE –

    The first time the statement was made to Jesus was at his baptism. Did the relationship not exist before?

    It was initially made in Ps 2, but as I stated in the previous comment, it originally speaks in the present because it was initially about David/the Davidic king of that day (just as Ps 22 and other psalms would also have been about David). David was the anointed one (messiah) of his day and he actually would have penned these words. Of course, we are not 100% sure about the authorship of Ps 2, but at least we can understand it speaks of the Davidic king in the ancient times. And what happened in David’s life typified/pointed to things that would be a reality in The Messiah’s life. So it first spoke into the present of David’s life, but prophetically into the life of the true Son.

    But the first time it was spoken to Jesus was at his baptism. But the relationship existed before then. So for Ps 2:7 to be utilised in referencing Christ does not necessarily mean he did not exist prior to his physical birth, since it was first spoken to a mere human king. For the Jew to hear these words being referenced in regards to Jesus would make their ears perk up and say, ‘Ah, this must be THE Messiah we have been awaiting.’

    I was originally asking how this verse in the Psalm can be understood if the Son existed before being begotten, and in what sense there is then a Father/Son relationship.

    Thus:

    1) It spoke of David firstly. So we have firstly to see it in that context, then moving into Christ’s life as that which pointed to. But this does not necessarily call for us to bring over every nuance, specifically that this must mean Christ did not exist prior to his physical birth because of the use of the word ‘begotten’.
    2) The nature of Christ’s sonship is a large, large topic. In our modern-day understanding, we see reference to a ‘son’ as being less than the ‘father’. Just as in a patriarchal society we would see ‘woman’ as less than ‘man’. But all things in our own thinking don’t always transfer into the nature of God. I don’t want to use this as an excuse to get out of things, but it is certainly true. So, I don’t think to claim that Christ is the Son of God inherently points to his ‘less-ness’. I do recognise, as a Trinitarian, as you will know, that in the incarnation there was a sense of the divine Son-Logos subordinating himself to the work of the Father, though interestingly enough the Father was very strongly about glorifying the Son and making him supreme.

    I hope to share some thoughts on begetting tomorrow.

  36. Scott,

    I am wondering how you know that this phrase, “Today I have begotten you,” was first spoken to Jesus at His baptism? It is not said that this was spoken by the Father to Him in Matthew, Luke or John. There the statements made are to the effect of, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” I think this is what MarkE is getting at when he says this statement was not made at His baptism

  37. Most theologians believe that the words spoken by the Father at Jesus’ baptism were a combination of both Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1.

    The words spoken at Christ’s baptism: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 3:17)

    Psalm 2:7 part – ‘You are my Son’
    Isaiah 42:1 part – ‘my chosen, in whom my soul delights’

    Of course, we would say the wording is not exactly the same, but the OT is translated out of the Hebrew and the NT out of the Greek. So it isn’t word for word. We’d have to look at the English translation of the Septuagint (Greek OT) to see how much closer they are.

    But, again, most theologians believe the Father’s statement was a combination of both Ps 2:7 and Is 42:1. For Jews, they didn’t have to quote a whole verse or passage to imply the reality of a particular context. So this statement by the Father would have set off a trigger in the minds of the Jewish listeners (and readers of the text) that this is THE Messiah.

    Hope that clarifies.

  38. Thanks Scott, I guess that clarifies. (Sort of anyway!) I wonder why the “begotten” part wasn’t actually recorded as being said by God in any part of the Gospels if it really was. Or is it believed that the Hebrew writer just picked that part up and added it as applying to Jesus at His baptism along with the rest of those two verses from Psalms? (Under the inspiration of the Spirit of course.) Guess I am still a bit confused.

  39. ScottL,
    Yes, I fully agree that what is said is the combination of the Psalm and Isaiah. Yes, to quote a few words implies the whole context. The context of Psalm 42 is that God will raise a Son who will rule over all nations. The Jews took this as a Psalm about the Messias (Hebrew for anointed one) or Christ (Greek for anointed one). That is also what the apostles believed, confirmed by the many quotes from this Psalm in the NT.
    The context of Isaiah 42 is a series of prophecies describing initially Israel, and then pointing out how they failed, so that one from their midst would become the suffering servant (see the details in e.g. Isaiah 53), thereby not only saving Israel, but all the world. The Jews did not understand that the Messiah and the suffering servant were one and the same, and that is what was clearly stated at Jesus’ baptism and again on the mount of transfiguration. It is not difficult to see the many connections between the cruxifixcation and Isaiah.
    But that was only understood after Christ was raised from the dead.
    So the statement is not about this being the time when the Son was begotten, but about this being the Messiah and what his role would be on earth.

  40. Cheryl –

    I wonder why the “begotten” part wasn’t actually recorded as being said by God in any part of the Gospels if it really was. Or is it believed that the Hebrew writer just picked that part up and added it as applying to Jesus at His baptism along with the rest of those two verses from Psalms?

    Well, one reason some words get ‘left out’ is that they are not translated over at all times from the Hebrew to Greek to English. The NT writers were working with the Greek OT, which had been translated from the Hebrew OT, which we now have in English in our personal Bibles. So, sometimes the language doesn’t always transfer perfectly. Hence the the word ‘begotten’ (from Ps 2:7) might not be there at Jesus’ baptism.

    But, in all, when a Jew heard or read one verse or a part of a verse quoted from the OT, the whole passage and context would more likely come to their mind. For example, if I said something like this, ‘For God so loved the world,’ you’d know exactly what context I was quoting from. That is how it would work, and specifically with this example at Jesus’ baptism with quoting two verses, which would make them think of the larger Messianic context of Ps 2 and Isa 42.

    Hope that helps clarify even better.

  41. MarkE –

    Holy cow! We are in complete agreement together on your last comment. 😉

    One things on this statement: But that was only understood after Christ was raised from the dead.

    I would say, as a whole, this is true. But there was some understanding beforehand, since Peter was able to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. But I understand your point.

    With such agreement, maybe you begot me, or I begot you. 😉

  42. ScottL,

    But there was some understanding beforehand, since Peter was able to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.

    What I tried to say was that the Jews did not understand Jesus was both Christ and suffering servant.
    Peter and others understood that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ) from Psalm 42, but they did not understand he was the suffering servant from Isaiah and therefore had to die on the cross. That was my point. That is why on the way to Emmaus two disciples said: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” with which they meant the Messiah. But apparently their hopes had been dashed. None of the twelve disciples understood that Jesus had to die, although I think some of the women did. Obviously they understood after the resurrection when Jesus spent 40 days making it clear.

    So while we are in agreement on some points, I still await your answer what begot means for a trinitarian.

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