The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 4)

The fourth round of The Great Trinity Debate is now available at Parchment & Pen, this round specifically focusing on the Holy Spirit. As the Trinitarian, Rob Bowman sees the Holy Spirit as a divine person, distinguished from the Father and Son. David Burke, Unitarian-Christadelphian sees the Holy Spirit not as a person, but as an extension of the Father, His divine power at work in the world. Click here for Rob Bowman’s fourth article and here for David Burke’s fourth article. My previous comments are in these three posts: post 1, post 2, post 3.

Just a few paragraphs in, Burke comments:

Due to the paucity of evidence, Rob may argue that his doctrine of “God the Holy Spirit” is merely “implicit” in the NT, as he does with the Trinity as a whole…By contrast, I argue that the Bible provides us with explicit doctrines about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which in previous weeks I have shown to be firmly rooted in OT theology. Thus, if we are to understand the Holy Spirit correctly, we must begin with the OT and follow its lead into the NT.

Again, as I have have argued previously, I think such statements are somewhat lacking. I am fine to start with the Old Testament, for the Bible begins there, and even Genesis 1:1-2 gives insight into the work of the Spirit of God. But the Old Testament does not become our final and ultimate source for our theological understanding of any subject matter. Rather, we must recognise that Christ and the New Testament shed greater light on the seeds and foreshadowings of the Old Testament.

Let me give an example: Suppose you arrived to watch a movie in the cinema. The movie is scheduled to last two and a half hours. But, lo and behold, you receive a call about one a half hours into the movie. The call is from your spouse saying that your daughter has fallen and hurt herself. Your spouse is on the way to the hospital, could you please head that way as well.

Thus, you miss a good portion of the movie. Now, once the whole situation is settled with your daughter, she is shaken but will be fine with a good night’s rest. As you arrive home in the evening, you start to ponder the movie you saw, but you are only able to ponder just over half of it. You begin to make guesses as to how the story ends. By knowing the characters, a lot of the plot line, and other such things, you make an educated guess.

And you know what? Once you re-watch the movie, a major part of your hypothesis is proved right. But, you still were off on a few things. You still did not realise a few other events would take place. And, after watching the whole entire movie, including the hour you previously missed, you are now able to understand why certain things were said and done by particular characters early on in the movie. Yet, if you had not seen that last hour, again, your educated guesses were pretty decent. But they were not fully correct.

The same is true of Scripture. Of course we start in the Hebrew Scriptures. But it’s the final part, which we identify as the New Testament, that helps make sense of some of the things said and done in the Old Testament. It clarifies.

So, with the Holy Spirit, or Christ, or anthropology, or eschatology, or soteriology – let’s start in the Old Testament. It’s a good place to begin. But if we do not allow the New Testament to more readily inform our theology, we shall fall well short of the bigger picture. I say that with great certainty, knowing that many Jewish followers do just that today (as well as Christians on many a doctrinal beliefs).

Personification of Wisdom

One of the greater arguments from those who believe the Holy Spirit is merely God’s power or force active in the earth is that there are many examples certain things or entities being personified in Scripture. The major example is the personification of wisdom in Proverbs. Burke shows examples of this personification of wisdom:

The problem here, which Bowman also points out, is that we need to identify the genre of literature we are looking at. Proverbs is poetic wisdom literature. Hence, personification is going to be utilised regularly, as well imagery, parallelism, etc.

But, with regards to the teachings of the New Testament on the Holy Spirit, we are dealing with two completely different sets of literature: narrative prose-history and didactic-teaching material. Of course, poetic language is embedded in there at times. But as a whole, when we consider passages on the Holy Spirit from the New Testament, the ending of the story that sheds greater light on the beginning of the story, we are dealing with a lot of straight forward statements, if you will. No poetic imagery and personification.

Burke then goes on to claim:

The Bible explicitly describes wisdom in terms which mainstream Christians traditionally associate with the Holy Spirit, even going so far as to imply literal deity.

He gives four examples of wisdom indwelling the believer:

  • Exodus 28:3, “‘You are to speak to all who are specially skilled, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom’”
  • Exodus 31:3, “‘and I have filled him with the Spirit of God’”
  • Deuteronomy 34:9, “Now Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had placed his hands on him”
  • Job 38:36, “‘Who has put wisdom in the heart, or has imparted understanding to the mind?’”

But, when we turn to the New Testament, we see that the Spirit and wisdom are distinguished. Notice how the seven chosen in Acts 6:1-7 are distinctly filled with both the Spirit of God and wisdom. Specifically vs3 notes this:

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

Now, one might argue that being filled with the Spirit of God would lead to being filled with the wisdom of God. But I don’t think this could be utilised in arguing these two are to be equated. Just like Barnabas was filled with both the Spirit and faith (Acts 11:24).

Yes, one can be filled with wisdom, even the spirit of wisdom. But, firstly, wisdom and the Spirit of God are distinguished from one another in many a places and, secondly, to speak of a spirit of wisdom does not imply that the Spirit is impersonal just as wisdom is impersonal, especially if the Spirit of God is specifically spoken of in personal terms. And I believe He is, especially in texts like John 14-16 and the book of Acts.

I don’t need to spend too much time on John 14-16 and Acts, but they are rich with the personality of the Spirit of God. I cannot imagine a force able to do what the Spirit of God is able to do. But I’ll let you read Bowman’s thoughts.

Scripture Speaks

In his first section on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, Burke challenges the Trinitarian with these words:

Verses which tell us that the Holy Spirit can “speak” (e.g. 2 Samuel 23:2, Acts 10:19-20, Acts 13:2, Acts 20:23, Acts 21:11, Acts 28:25-27, Hebrews 3:7-11) merely employ the same literary device by which Scripture can “speak” (John 7:38, 42; John 19:37; Romans 4:3; Romans 9:17; Romans 10:11; Romans 11:2; Galatians 3:8; Galatians 4:30; 1 Timothy 5:18; James 4:5). How many Christians would claim that Scripture is a person? None that I know of; they would tell me that this is just a form of poetic license. Yet when faced with verses in which the Holy Spirit “speaks”, they insist that it must be a literal person. But why differentiate in this way? Which interpretation is more likely: that the same use of language implies a completely different conclusion in two identical cases, or that the same use of language implies the same conclusion for both?

I don’t believe this is a strong argument. Why? Well, of the ten verses stated above, eight of them are misused to support the point. What I mean is that all of them, outside of Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8, are utilised in a quoting manner. The New Testament writer or speaker is saying something to this affect: ‘The Scripture says this,’ and then quotes or refers to a passage from the Old Testament. This is not personification. This is quoting.

For the other two passages, it is interesting what they say:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8)

In both contexts, the main purpose is, again, quoting the Old Testament. But it is fine to recognise personification here. So, we have the possibility of two New Testament passages personifying the Scripture. But, of the 379 references to pneuma, the Greek word for Spirit, how many of them personalise the Holy Spirit? I don’t know, as I haven’t counted as of today. But let’s just start in John 14-16 and the book of Acts and see how much personal attributes are assigned to the Spirit. I’m thinking over 100 at least. But two given to Scripture.

I think it’s pretty safe to conclude, 1) Scripture is, though rarely, personified, as wisdom was. 2) The Holy Spirit, noting the enormous amount of personal language attributed to Him, rather than only two references, is being more than personified in the vein of wisdom or Scripture. He is being personalised.

Three Distinguished Persons

I was surprised that this week’s posts did not bring up the passages that mention the Holy Spirit distinct from the Father, i.e., the words of Jesus with regards to baptism in Matthew 28:18-20:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Another passage is what is known as Paul’s Trinitarian benediction:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

Finally, we read these words of Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

Specifically, vs4 refers to the Spirit, vs5 refers to the Lord Jesus and vs6 refers to God (Theos being normally associated with the Father).

My point is to show how the Spirit is distinguished from the Father. This is important because the Unitarian, or at least the Christadelphian, will simply acknowledge that the Spirit of God is an extension of the Father, His power at work in the earth. But why distinguish the Spirit from God the Father if the Spirit is simply an extension of Him?

This is where a notable author becomes helpful. Actually Burke quoted Max Turner quite a lot, professor of New Testament Studies at London School of Theology. A few month’s back, I read one of Turner’s books, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today (my thoughts on the book can be found here).

In his chapter 11, Turner looks to give biblical and theological evidence for the personal deity of the Holy Spirit. As we have noted continually, most who deny the personal deity of the Spirit (Judaism, ‘cults’) would say that the Spirit is actually an extension of the Father’s own personhood, not a distinct person Himself. For when the Spirit acts, it is the Father Himself acting, because it is His Spirit.

Turner includes some helpful discussion on this topic, of which here are a few words:

‘Indeed, the “sending” of the Spirit by the Son “from the Father” (John 15:26) itself implies some kind of differentiation of the Spirit from the Father.’ (p173)

His point is that Jesus is the actual one who gives and pours out the Spirit. This shows that the Spirit is connected to not only the Father, but also the Son. And such is true when we read Acts 16:6-7; Galatians 4:6; and Philippians 1:19.

This is important for developing a holistic pneumatology, informed by the complete revelation of Scripture. The Spirit is not only the Spirit of the Father, but also the Spirit of the Son. I believe this both speaks volumes about the nature-status of Christ and the nature-status of the Holy Spirit. It challenges us to come to terms that the Spirit is not only an extension of the Father, but shows the connection between the Son and the Spirit. Here we have three distinguishable characters, or persons, if you will. And this falls right in line with Trinitarian theology.

Thus ends my fourth post of comments. Don’t forget to check out the interaction at Trinities blog, as well as a blog I just became familiar with today known as Kingdom Ready, where there is also some live interaction going on.

But, I end out with Paul’s Trinitarian benediction:

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)

C.S. Lewis on the Trinity

With the continuance of The Great Trinity Debate over at Parchment & Pen, and with my interaction with the first three of six total rounds (post 1, post 2, post 3), I pulled C.S. Lewis’ great work, Mere Christianity, off the shelf. I wanted to re-read some of his thoughts on the Trinity, as I remembered them being quite insightful.

What he shares is not so ‘theological’, though it is because he is thinking about God, which is what theology is about. But we still might term his thoughts more philosophical, and some even practical.

Nonetheless, here are some of Lewis’s thoughts on the Trinity:

You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already. (Harper Collins version, p161-162)

Now, by no means do I think this is THE proof for a Trinitarian belief. But what I do believe is that it addresses the frequent argument from a non-Trinitarian that belief in a Trinity is too complicated and unreasonable, meaning, it doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t expect this to ‘convert’ any non-Trinitarian. But for those of us who believe in a three-personed, Triune God, we see from Lewis’s words that this is not an unreasonable understanding of the biblical data. As Lewis said above, ‘In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.’ And he, then, goes on to exclaim, ‘It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.’

We worship, follow and give our lives to the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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.

The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 2)

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:

Isaiah 7:14

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.

Isaiah 9:6

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.

John 1:18

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’.

Hebrews 1:8

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.

The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 1)

Yesterday, I mentioned about The Great Trinity Debate over at the Parchment & Pen blog. The first 2 articles (and comments) were very good from both parties. I appreciate the respect that both Bowman and Burke are showing. It doesn’t seem false and simply pretense. This is a breath of fresh air between strongly opposed viewpoints, as my usual observance of interaction on this topic is not so benevolent amongst the debaters.

I thought I might bring up some statements from David Burke’s article and comments that I would like to share my own thoughts about. There are five specific statements I would like to consider and share my own thoughts on:

1) From the section: God: Definition and Identity

Before entering any discussion about Who and what God is, it is important for us to keep in mind an essential point: the Christian God is the Jewish God and everything that we know about Him through the Christian message was already known to the Jews through Judaism. Christianity added nothing to the nature or identity of God, but took for granted the definitions and principles already present in Judaism. Biblical Unitarianism stands firmly within the context of Old Testament Judaism and first-century Christianity; our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Peter, John and Paul.

Bowman already addressed this (and Burke commented back), but I would say that the new covenant (of which the New Testament testifies to) absolutely sheds much greater light on the nature and identity of God. Not just in the sense that a Trinitarian would look to argue for the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit from the New Testament, but the lights is shed better simply on God’s nature and His identity in and of Himself. Scripture presents the progressive revelation of God, meaning that God unveiled more and more about Himself and His purposes as Scripture was written. God’s people knew more about God in the time of David than they did in the time of Abraham. And God’s people knew much more about Him after the New Testament was written than in the time of Abraham or David. There are many doctrines that could never be argued from simply an Old Testament perspective – the substitutionary atonement, eschatology, heaven/hell, etc, etc.

So, Jesus could state in John 14:8-9 states: 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

I don’t think it’s necessary to even try and argue Trinitarian theology from this passage. I simply point out that Philip is asking a question to know more about God. I don’t think Philip is asking that Jesus physically show the Father to them. Vs7 shows that Philip wants to know more about the Father. So the Son arrives  in flesh to help us know more about the Father. Jesus even tells us that He is the only way to the Father, which had not yet been known outside of the new covenant revelation in Christ.

So to say that ‘everything that we know about Him through the Christian message was already known to the Jews through Judaism’, as Burke argued, is not a reality. We know so much more about God, and a plethora of other things, because of the New Testament.

2) From the section: Attributes of God: Identity

As the debate progresses we will see that Trinitarians have found it necessary to construct an increasingly complex system of “solutions” and “work-arounds” by which they attempt to “explain away” the many Bible passages which contain this strictly Unitarian language. By contrast, Biblical Unitarians can take all of these verses at face value without resorting to lengthy “explanations” of statements which do not require any explanation at all.

Not everything in the Scripture comes down to reading a verse, or verses, at ‘face value’. Some things are quite clear (as theologians will argue for the perspecuity-clarity of Scripture, especially with regards to understanding salvation). But there are many varying beliefs within the faith because the Scripture isn’t always so clear, at least to us, mainly because we are removed by thousands of years of history, culture, and other things.

A Trinitiarian’s desire is (or should be) not to ‘explain away’ things, but to take the collective data and form conclusions. That is what systematic theology is all about. I could quote a few of my favourite passages all day long to back up a particular doctrine I believe, but I still have to think through the seemingly contradictory passages. This is true of both Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians with regards to all passages that talk about God.

So, we would hopefully collect all verses that speak about A (God), all verses that speak about B (the Father), all verses that speak about C (the Son) and all verses that speak about D (Holy Spirit) and come to a faithful conclusion in formulating E (the holistic theology). You still have Scripture passages in tension with one another, as such cannot be denied. But it isn’t explaining away. It’s considering A through D in arriving at position E.

It’s similar to one who holds to the doctrine of eternal security, meaning the true believer is securely saved in Christ. You still have to deal with passages like Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31 (and a few others). But you also have to deal with them in light of the massive amounts of passages that support the eternal security of the sons and daughters of God. Yes, an vice versa. But the conclusion is a holistic deduction from the available information in God’s revelation of Scripture.

3) Also from the section: Attributes of God: Identity

Ignoring this Biblical pattern, Trinitarian doctrine developed new definitions for the words “being” and “person.” In Trinitarian parlance, a “being” can consist of more than one “person”, while a “person” is not necessarily a “being.” Thus, while “God the Son” (Jesus) is one “person”, he is not an individual “being”; instead he exists as one “person” within a tri-personal “being” known as the “Trinity.” To date, the use and acceptance of these definitions remain unique to Trinitarianism, since they contradict the use of “being” and “person” in regular human communication. Inconsistent use of language and the need for careful qualifications when employing even a simple term like “God”, are common features of Trinitarian exegesis.

Specifically, I wanted to address the last 2 sentences of this comment. In one sense, all human communication fails in explaining the divine. Not only that, but we are translating into a language (for me, English) far removed form the original writings in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Now, I still do believe God can be comprehended (at least in some sense that finite beings can comprehend the infinite), but it still does not fully allow us to get our minds around all of God. I can speak about the eternality and uniqueness and omnipresence of God all day long, because I find such in Scripture. But I still believe our words (in English or in Hebrew) fail at fully understanding this reality. But I believe, as a gracious act of God, these words can still help us comprehend what is necessary in knowing God in this present, fallen age.

So, with distinguishing the terms person and being for the Trinitarian, it is simply taking the available language we have and utilising such words to help understand what is going on in Scripture with the nature of God. Granted, the use of these two specific  words are not employed in a specific, outright Trinitarian way in Scripture. But, when a Trinitarian sees the God-like, divine characteristics and attributes being assigned to the Son and Holy Spirit, we are employing our own language to help define this, given the holistic available data. Thus, the distinction that is employed by the Trinitarian with using the two words being (or maybe ‘essence’) and person.

To the non-Trinitarian, we can accused of ‘working around things’ and ‘contradicting’ ourselves. That’s easy to say in accusing a Trinitarian. But there is no contradiction as terms are qualified and defined, at least in the best way we can as humans with language that pales in comparison to the reality of all of who God is as God.

4) In Burke’s comment to Bowman’s comment:

But Trinitarianism teaches that Jesus was both God and man (hence the use of the Trinitarian term “God-man”). This teaching necessarily requires Jesus to be simultaneously “God” and “not-God” unless you believe that “man” is equivalent to “God.” Attempting to circumvent this difficulty by an appeal to the hypostatic union (the incarnation of two natures in the person of Jesus Christ) merely restates the problem without actually solving it, and introduces an unBiblical concept in lieu of Biblical evidence.

I thought Bowman addressed this well in his own comment. What seems like the normal argument from non-Trinitarians against a Trinitarian Christology we are argument fails and contradicts, for we are really arguing that Jesus is both God and not-God. But, of course, this is not what Trinitarians argue. Trinitarians argue that God became man, became flesh. And, in doing so, the divine, eternal, pre-existent Logos/Word was willing to completely function as a human being in the incarnation. In doing so, many Trinitarians will argue that Jesus laid aside His ability to right to function in and of Himself as the divine Son and rather depended on the words of the Father and work of the Spirit. But, this was a willingness to lay aside right, or claim, on being divine. This was important for the eternal Son to fully identify with humanity, for He can now sympathise with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

So to speak of Jesus as both God and man, or the God-man, or God became man, is not a contradiction of terms saying that He was both God and not-God. Rather God became man in Jesus Christ.

Here is another example, though I’m sure there are holes. But the point is hopefully sufficient. Jesus is talked of as both King/Ruler and Servant in Scripture. It’s very easy to see, at least in Isaiah (if not in other prophecies of the Old Testament) and in the New Testament (both by direct statements and via indirect statements and observations). But how in the world can one be a King/Ruler and also a lowly servant? I’m sure we could point out examples, as I said there are holes here.

Well, the interesting thing is that I believe a King (in the God, biblical sense) is to be a servant. So that’s how I can confirm that Christ is both King/Rule and Servant. But, first of all, specifically, Scripture says He is both simultaneously, though at times each aspect might be highlighted in greater detail. But He is still both King/Ruler and Servant. And I would even argue He shall be both of these for all eternity, since God’s nature is to serve His children, but not in some worm-servant sense.

So, with regards to Trinitarian Christology, we are not arguing contradictions. We are not arguing that Christ is both God and not-God. We are arguing that Christ is the God-man, or God became man in Jesus Christ. Christ can be both divine and human, as He can be both King/Ruler and Servant. It’s not that He ceases to be God and become not-God, or that after 33 or so years of time on earth, He ceases to not be not-God and becomes God again. It’s that the divine eternal Logos/Son became man, existing as both divine and human. This makes good for the all-sufficient, perfect sacrifice as the eternal God-man.

5) In Burke’s comment to Bowman’s comment:

Thus far you have been arguing consistently in one direction: that the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. But this is not enough to prove Trinitarianism. You also need to prove that the reverse is true: ie. that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I’d say that proving Trinitarianism is enough, right? Now, philosophically, others might be able to walk this path better than I, but if one were to show that Scripture teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, then we can holistically conclude from the information that God is then Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I suppose that is working from my own premise, my own playground, if you will. Thus, it could be argued that just because a man is a son, it does not make him a father as well. Just because water is H2O, it does not also mean that the present form of H2O in my freezer is water. It’s actually ice.

As Bowman said, I don’t want to walk down the path of trying to utilise all of these possible examples to explain the Trinity (though they might be helpful to the common, non-theological believer). But they all do fail. But I would say all examples of anything trying to explain the divine will fail. So do we just give up all our examples? We don’t have to, if we define and qualify. But enough with that…

Burke says: You also need to prove that the reverse is true: ie. that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And I believe this is what the Trinitarian does, but not in the way that I suppose a non-Trinitarian would like us to. A Trinitarian dives into the Scripture and sees not only that passages say that the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but we also see the Scripture teaching that God is Father, God is Son, God is Holy Spirit. Yes, some is deduction from a holistic examination of Scripture’s revelation. So, therefore, I suppose this fails in meeting the expectations of the non-Trinitarian and how they would like us to approach this.

But, my question would be (and this is where the philosopher could help better), if we see the Bible teaching the the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, would not the reverse be true? What else could these statements help us conclude?

I guess a non-Trinitarian might say that these statements could teach that there are three Gods, a polytheistic belief, which Trinitarians are accused of many times by Islam and certain cults. But, we would never argue for polytheism in the sense of three distinct Gods. Such is out of bounds from Scripture. But we do see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit presented as divine in Scripture. Thus, because we know polytheism is out of bounds, we collect the data of Scripture that underlines the divinity of all three persons and conclude that, in the full revelation of Scripture, God is presenting Himself as a Triune God.

Ok, I will try and stay up on things. I’m glad Bowman and Burke are only posting one article per week (though comments might continue through the week). It might be too overwhelming if there were more being posted.