The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 6)

The Great Trinity Debate has now officially concluded over at Parchment & Pen. The sixth installment of Bowman, the Trinitarian, can be read here and Burke’s, the Unitarian, can be found here. Or, if you would like to find all articles at once, you can visit this link.

It was by no means the smoothest of debates, in that both Bowman and Burke found it hard to keep the continued interaction going on a regular and consistent basis. Burke had given many rebuttals in the allotted comments section of Bowman’s earlier articles and he is presently catching up on the final two rounds. Bowman stopped after round 2, but has now also provided rebuttals in each of the comment sections of Burke’s six articles.

I will say that, from the Trinitarian perspective, Rob Bowman’s final article was his best, giving a concise yet thorough case for biblical Trinitarianism. There are still a few points I wish he had addressed in his articles, mainly the reality of the development of doctrine in the early centuries of church history.

Dave Burke commences his final presentation with 10 points that undergird biblical Unitarianism. They are as follows:

Biblical Unitarianism…

  1. Is the original, first-century Christology
  2. Enjoys greater compatibility with the Biblical evidence
  3. Allows a more natural reading of the text
  4. Eliminates alleged “paradoxes” and “contradictions”
  5. Maintains the essential connection between the OT, Second Temple Judaism, and first-century Christianity
  6. Preserves the cultural and ideological context of original Christian beliefs
  7. Is logically and rationally superior to Trinitarianism
  8. Commands the earliest historical support
  9. Offers a coherent high Christology, grounded in OT typology and comprising a consistent doctrinal arc stretching from Genesis to Revelation
  10. Provides the basis for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and Christ

I thought I might address these 10 specific points in this final article if mine, though, when I approach some of the successive points, I might simply refer back to statements on previous points while also adding a few more thoughts.

1. Biblical Unitarianism is the original, first-century Christology

One major contention from Burke that is also connected to this bolded statement above is this – Trinitarianism is not the original, first-century Christology.

In theology, we are not only called to present a positive case for our particular standpoint, but also show the opposing standpoint is not biblically viable. As has been argued from Bowman, and every other studied Trinitarian, such language as Trinity, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, hypostatic union, etc, are not found in Scripture. From the start, this could seem a defeating point. But the overly unnecessary and stringent view of biblical literalism – where every single theological word and phrasing must be literally founded in Scripture – has already been established as lacking.

Taken to its extreme, none of our theology and doctrine would be biblical, since it was written in completely different languages from our own English. But, we don’t need to be extreme here.

What we recognise is that, within the context of the revelation of Scripture, to help us understand certain things, we provide systems of theology on particular topics. Thus, in the discipline of systematics, we formulate our Christology, pneumatology, eschatology, soteriology, etc, from a full survey and collection of the biblical data on a particular topic.

A lot of words within eschatological discussions are not employed in Scripture – i.e. rapture, dispensationalism, postmillenialism, amillenilaism, premillenialism, etc. But such words are acceptable within our English linguistic framework in helping to describe and understand particular eschatological developments across Scripture. It is acceptable.

So, we do not and will not find such words-phrases as Trinity, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But, what Trinitarians are convinced of is that we find solid Scriptural evidence that allows us to develop particular words and phrases within the systematic framework to help sum up what is taught across the full tenor of Scripture about Christ, about the Holy Spirit, about the nature of God, etc.

But why were these particular theological terms (or their Greek or Latin counterparts) employed a few centuries after the Scripture was written. I believe Burke even identifies something about this within his own article:

Historically, doctrine always develops from the minimal to the complex, evolving as it is exposed to new influences and adapting in response to perceived heresies.

Burke’s comment was not made as an endorsement of what I am about to propose, but it gets us thinking about the concept of doctrinal development. I mentioned the point of the development of doctrine in church history in my comments, part 5. For some to consider such a development notion of doctrine, this is an anathema. They will remind us that we are called to utilise Scripture and Scripture alone. Well, even the motto sola scriptura sees Scripture as the starting point and measuring stick for our doctrine, but not the only source. Interesting how Burke turns to reason and church history himself, which I believe is fine and acceptable.

So why did these doctrines of the Triune God, hypostatic union and personality of the Holy Spirit come forth much later? Well, as even Burke seems to recognise above, these were unnecessary to work through and consider until there was actual questions and discussion that began to arise. You don’t usually address a problem in any area of life until you are aware of that problem. You don’t address sin in your own life until the revelation comes forth that something needs to be dealt with.

Thus, after a few centuries of varying fathers of the church putting forth some varying teachings on the nature of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc, there was a sense, a providential sense, that certain issues needed addressing. Such was the time. Hence, the major councils of the first few centuries were an opportunity to work through the Scripture, consider all points at hand, and faithfully conclude what was the underlying teaching of Scripture. The particular terms and words were not specifically found within the Scripture. But the conclusions were not found to be non-Scriptural nor anti-biblical.

This is a major point that Burke does not seem willing to concede. He quotes many a church fathers in the second and third centuries to show varying doctrines on the nature of God and Christ and the Spirit, and such is worth noting. But what makes Burke think that the fathers of the third, fourth and fifth centuries were not able to faithfully consider the Scripture and come to faithful conclusions about its teaching?

In the end, the early fathers could not be moved away from the reality that the Scripture taught that the Son was eternal, divine, he created all things, he was worshiped and honoured above all, he was Saviour, he was Lord of all, he was King of kings, etc, etc. And the developments of early Christology would subsequently lead to developments in fully understanding the teaching of Scripture on the Holy Spirit.

But no one sat down one day on their own and said, ‘Oh, we need to make sure we understand the nature of Jesus Christ better.’ It came forth as differing views began arising, through major discussions and gathered councils who intricately discussed the nature of God and of Christ, and who came to conclusions that did not contradict the actual teachings of Scripture, but nonetheless did ‘flesh out’ that teaching more.

2. Biblical Unitarianism enjoys greater compatibility with the Biblical evidence

I don’t need to add much more to what I just said above, but, again I state that, from first glance, this bolded statement seems an easy one to accept. But, just as Trinitarians are left with difficult texts to deal with (i.e. John 20:17), so Biblical Unitarians are similarly left with difficult passages (i.e. Colossians 1:15-20).

Of course, Biblical Unitarians have an explanation for Colossians 1:15-20 and Trinitarians have an explanation for John 20:17. Neither group is left with an easy task at times. But to say Biblical Unitarianism enjoys greater compatibility with the Scripture is not really that helpful. I could say the same of Trinitarianism. But, we hit a place like John 20:17 and we must think it through. They hit a place like Colossians 1:15-20 and they must think it through. There are difficult points on both sides.

Let this not lead to us giving up our searching of Scripture and the God who has revealed Himself. But let us keep reading, studying, discussing, reading other authors, and even be ok with coming to conclusions that utilise words that aren’t found specifically in Scripture but are helpful in summing up the full biblical data.

3. Biblical Unitarianism allows a more natural reading of the text

This has been addressed in points 1 and 2, but I cannot help but note that, whereas Trinitarians are accused of butchering specific passages to fit their mould, I really believe the same is true of Biblical Unitarians. To say that Colossians 1:15-20 speaks of the new creation, as they claim, and not the original creation, is beyond comprehension. Am I reading the wrong passage? To say that passages like John 17:5, and similar passages, in no way speak of Christ’s pre-existence, I am baffled.

For the Trinitarian, the natural reading of those two passages is quite clear. In the end, both groups could easily be charged with creating their own readings different from the natural reading. Thus, we have to get into each of the texts individually, as well as consider them within the full scope of Scripture.

4. Biblical Unitarianism eliminates alleged “paradoxes” and “contradictions”

This is simply not true, which I point out in this recent article – Paradoxes of Our Faith. What Biblical Unitarians must admit is that the Bible presents a plethora of paradoxes and tensions that we can attempt to explain (which is fine), but, in the end, they are not fully resolvable. We have to leave the tensions. And Biblical Unitarians do this as well (at least if they want to stay faithful to Scripture).

Some examples of biblical paradoxes:

  • The kingdom of God is both present and not fully present yet.
  • Jesus Christ was both the presenter of the sacrifice for sin and the object that has been sacrificed.
  • God is both transcendent (another word not in the Bible) and intimate (another word not in the Bible).
  • Believers are told they are both secure in God’s hand and that they must persevere to the end.

And the tensions and apparent contradictions continue on and on. That is the nature of our faith that is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

Let me take a moment to address a particular ‘contradiction’ that Burke might consider a fatal blow to Trinitarian Christology. He highlights what he believes are contradictions and inconsistencies about the Trinitarian theology on Christ. He claims:

Since the Trinitarian Jesus is believed to be God, everything in Scripture which applies to God must necessarily apply to him. But this results in many contradictions:

  • 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” (Hebrews 2:17), yet not really made like them at all, since he is God and does not possess “fallen nature”
  • “Died” on the cross despite being eternal (1 Timothy 1:17)
  • “Raised from the dead” (Matthew 28:7) and “released from the pains of death” by the Father (Acts 2:24), though he never truly died
  • Omnipotent yet dependent upon the Father’s power for his miraculous works (John 14:10)
  • Omniscient yet lacking knowledge (Matthew 24:36)
  • Simultaneously “God” and “not-God”

Burke fails to truly try and understand the theology of the incarnation from a Trinitarian perspective. There are a few minute, varying differences amongst some explanations of the incarnation, but as a whole, we believe Jesus ’emptied himself’ and fully became like a man. He did not cease being the eternal God, but he did cease to grasp at that right and privilege as the eternal God, entrusting himself completely to the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the great thesis of Paul in Philippians 2:6-7.

If Burke would simply take time and not blow off incarnation theology as contradictory, irrational and inconsistent, I think he just might understand what is being laid out. But I have yet to find him willing to even graciously concede these words: You know, I don’t think Trinitarian Christology is fully faithful to the Bible, but I do understand where they are working from.

But, no doubt such is probably unacceptable.

5. Biblical Unitarianism maintains the essential connection between the OT, Second Temple Judaism, and first-century Christianity

The thing is that the new covenant faith and the gospel is paradoxical itself. Let me explain: There is both continuity and discontinuity within the framework of the new covenant gospel and the old covenant faith.

It is true that the new covenant came forth from the old covenant faith and we must not forget it’s roots. The old covenant was a pointer to, a foreshadowing of what is the true substance. Thus, we must admit our faith has strong Jewish roots and we can find enrichment from learning about Old Testament and first century Judaism.

But, at the same time, there is also discontinuity. To deny such is to deny the gospel. There have been changes, there has been a progression. As always, I liken it to an acorn. Within the acorn, there is the potential of a full oak tree. But the acorn is not the full oak tree. And neither is the oak tree and acorn. But the full oak tree came out of the acorn.

That is a picture of our new covenant faith. Many things were set in motion to prepare and point to the full substance, that being Christ and the new covenant gospel. In a sense, we have moved forward from what was a more immature faith into a more mature faith. In a sense, we know more about God and His purposes than those of the old covenant. This is at the heart of passages like Colossians 2:16-17. The mystery of the gospel has been unveiled. The old covenant had not allowed for the full revelation of the gospel. But now it has come forth in the new covenant.

In all, my point is that, while we are rooted in the old covenant faith, the faith has developed. We must always recognise this. The New Testament lays out much more understanding on our salvation, the nature of God, the nature of the Messiah (the Christ), the workings of the Holy Spirit, new gifts are given by the Spirit, etc, etc.

So, yes, our faith is connected to the old covenant and first century Jewish understanding. But it has also surpassed it. It must have, for those who still hold to a purely old covenant or first century Jewish faith are, to this point, not included in Christ and his kingdom.

6. Biblical Unitarianism preserves the cultural and ideological context of original Christian beliefs

Lest I bore you, I refer you to my comments in point 1 above.

7. Biblical Unitarianism is logically and rationally superior to Trinitarianism

This idea is somewhat addressed in the section about paradoxes, but there are a few more words to add. Trintarianism is not necessarily illogical and irrational. Biblical Unitarianism might seem more rational on the nature of God as one divine being-essence. But, I must admit that I do not believe it is the most logical conclusion in regards to faithful, biblical Christology.

I believe there has been an enormous amount of explaining away from Biblical Unitarians on the Scriptures emphasis on the eternal, divine, creative, prayed to, worshiped and honoured nature of Jesus Christ. An extreme amount of hoops to jump through here. I cannot begin to imagine how this continues to be done. Jesus is not simply God’s agent. Oh, he is. But he is by no means merely God’s agent. He is Lord of heaven and earth, worshiped by all of heaven, all believers and will one day be worshiped by all humanity.

As to the irrationality of the Trinity, I point you to some words of C.S. Lewis, which I already had posted up in a previous article:

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)

8. Biblical Unitarianism commands the earliest historical support

Again, for this point, I refer back to my comments in point

9. Biblical Unitarianism offers a coherent high Christology, grounded in OT typology and comprising a consistent doctrinal arc stretching from Genesis to Revelation

My points 2, 3 and 5 can be reviewed.

10. Biblical Unitarianism provides the basis for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and Christ

Burke also makes this comment near the end of his article:

The Biblical Unitarian Jesus is a Messiah you can relate to, because he can relate to you. Unlike the Trinitarian Jesus, he genuinely understands your pain and sympathises with your temptations, because he is truly human. He once experienced the very sufferings that you endure (and more!)

Trinitarians could not agree more with this statement. This is not privy to Biblical Unitarians. Of course, in practicality, some Trinitarians might struggle with seeing how Jesus could understand us if he were also God. I address this in my own article on Jesus’ humanity, which Burke also quoted from in his final post. I hope these words can help us think through more what this means. It does not present something nice and neatly packaged with a bow on top. But it still helps us understand beautiful statements like this in Hebrews:

14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:13-15)

So the debate has ended. Well, kind of. A couple of more rebuttals are still to be posted by Burke in some comment sections, and comments are now open to the ‘general public’. So this might go on for a few more weeks.

In the end, as I believe I have mentioned before, I have come to respect Dave Burke and his Biblical Unitarian position. I am still a Trinitarian, worshiping the one true God who has manifested Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I have appreciate Burke’s articles and the personal interaction he has afforded me.

If anything, I hope that Biblical Unitarians can learn to interact with Trinitarians in a way like Burke. Who knows? It might just lead to sharing the same, biblical theology in the future. I don’t want to hear those words – Ah, that’s impossible. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

Advertisements

The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 5)

I am a few days behind in posting some comments in regards to Part 5 of The Great Trinity Debate over at Parchment & Pen. For Rob Bowman’s fifth installment, click here. For David Burke’s fifth installment, click here.

I must say that this debate has not developed as I had hoped. What I mean is that, after the first two weeks, there has not been much interaction following their main articles posted. No rebuttal and/or counter-rebuttals as of late. Burke went back in round 3 and posted a whopping 14,500 words of rebuttal to Bowman (which I have yet been able to read). But that’s been it for the past few weeks. I know these guys are busy and have other things to focus on than just a debate about the Trinity. But I had hoped for more interaction.

We will see what the final week brings. Hopefully there can be a lot of tying up loose ends and even some interaction via the posts of the final round.

I want to also say that Dave Burke has presented his case exceptionally well. I have had some personal interaction with him over these weeks, and it has been quite pleasant (I only hope he can say the same from me). And I am thankful for such respectful interaction from Burke.

By no means am I the expert on Trinitarian theology. By no means! At first it wasn’t my intention to interact with the debate. But I left some comments over at Theologica about the debate and, then, I thought, ‘This comment is so long, it could just become a blog post.’ So, lo and behold, I decided to stay up on the debate and interact with each round.

But I wanted to give credit where credit is due. Dave Burke has been a great person to read from the Unitarian-Christadelphian view. There are lots of challenges he presents that must be thought through. I still believe God has revealed Himself as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I have come to respect the more Unitarian position and Burke’s approach to Scripture.

So now the interaction with round 5, mainly, as usual, with thoughts on Burke’s installment.

From the section: The Divine Hierarchy: Father, Son & Angels

From the beginning, Burke lays out the divine hierarchy that he believes is shown within the pages of Scripture:

  1. God the Father
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. The angels

Burke goes on to state:

Thus we see that the Father is utterly supreme. He is the source of everything that exists; He is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological. The Son is subject to and dependent upon the Father for his very existence, while the angels are subject to the Father and Son.

What I have noticed now is that the words divine and deity are different words in the vocabulary of Burke. I believe he would argue that, Jesus, post-resurrection, had attained divinity, but Jesus is not deity (which is synonymous with God). Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that.

Burke has thrown out the challenge that Trinitarians misuse the two words being and person, in that we state that God is one being (or essence) but is manifested, or exists, as three eternal persons. I guess certain words will take on certain meanings within the context of each individual’s (or group’s) language.

I’d love to hear Burke flesh out the difference between divinity and deity. Of course, I am not sure I would agree. But he definitely doesn’t agree with the philosophical differentiations between being and person amongst Trinitarians. To each his own, right?……

But let me go back to one statement in the quote above from Burke’s opening section: He [God the Father] is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological.

Of course, for the Trinitarian, there is no ontological difference between the three persons of the Triune God. This simply means that we believe there is no difference in being (or essence) between the Father and Son (or the Holy Spirit). They are all of one being, or essence, and that essence is that they are God.

As Burke would let us all know, there is no book, chapter and verse to quote to prove such an exact statement. Rather, this comes forth as Trinitarians consider the whole tenor of Scripture’s teaching on Jesus Christ. We are convinced He is the divine, eternal Messiah and Son of God. Thus, because there is only one God, the conclusion is that Christ is of the same ontological being as the Father. Yet, this is also why we differentiate between the personhood of the two, as it is quite obvious they are two distinct persons.

Yes, this is all quite philosophically heady. But, whereas Scripture is clear that there is one God and one God alone, Scripture is also clear that Jesus is eternal, worshiped, prayed to, creator, first and last, Lord of lords, King of kings, honoured by the heavenly hosts, etc. Thus, we conclude He is God. And, therefore, we differentiate between the one God in being-essence and the three persons of the Triune God.

If you want more to chew on, at least from a philosophical standpoint, I would encourage you to read these thoughts I posted from C.S. Lewis on the Trinity, which come from his Mere Christianity.

Finally, on this topic, though I’ve just spent a little time addressing the ontological question of God in three persons, I think it might be worth addressing the functional question. Again, Burke states: He [God the Father] is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological.

Trinitarians differ on some aspects of the functional nature between the three persons of the Triune God. Some would argue that, in their being as the Triune God, there is no functional difference. All three are intimately committed to honouring the others of the Trinity. Yet, some Trinitarians would argue for the functional difference between the Father and Son (and Spirit), at least from the incarnational perspective of the eternal Son becoming human. In that act, He laid aside his rights as the divine, eternal Son (i.e. Philippians 2:6-7). Christ became fully man and, in such, He had chosen to be completely reliant on the Father and the Holy Spirit as He walked out His Messianic call.

For me, I would definitely recognise the functional subordination in the incarnation of the Son becoming human. It’s quite obvious He relied completely on the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit in His life. I find it hard to dance around that teaching in the text. But, it is also highly plausible that the Son has a functional subordination even now as the reigning King of heaven and earth:

20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)

Passages like these are real and have to be dealt with. As do passages post-resurrection where we read:

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” (John 20:17)

Similar statements are also made in Paul’s writings, such as:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3)

There are three other examples like this in Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 11:31; and Ephesians 1:3.

These words challenge Trinitarian thinking. For Burke, this is proof that the Son is subject not only functionally, but also ontologically. But, again, for the Trinitarian who is convinced of Scripture’s teaching on the eternal nature of the Son, His divinity-deity, creator, worshiped, prayed to, etc, there can be no doubt He is God. But not a second god or less-than god, since Scripture also testifies to there only being one God.

Therefore, Trinitarians are usually not too bothered with recognising the subordination of the Son to the Father – in the incarnation, and possibly post-resurrection. But the argument could then arise is: In choosing to become human, did the Son also choose to become functionally subordinate to the Father for the rest of eternity? I’m sure such questions are silly and extreme to the Unitarian, but suffice it to say, these questions cannot really be answered. We can only produce conjecture. And that’s not a problem for me.

Of course, there is no desire to take on full subordinationist theology that says the Son (and Spirit) are fully subordinate to the Father in both being and function. Rather, it is more from the functional perspective. And, normally, this would be seen as a choice from the Son and Holy Spirit, rather than a dictated commanded from the Father.

I expect sneers from some. But, I hope, at least, as I am willing to respect Burke’s theology, those who disagree with someone like myself would be willing to respect where the Trinitarian is coming from. Scripture is clear that there is one God. One and one alone!! But we are clear that Scripture lays out the eternal existence, the creative power, the worthiness of worship before and after His resurrection, and the great honour of all heaven and earth for the Son. No one can receive such honour, glory, worship and respect than God Himself. No one!!

Later on in the same section, Burke states:

Note that Scripture never includes the Holy Spirit in this hierarchy (further evidence that the Holy Spirit is not a person). Even the book of Revelation contains no vision of the Holy Spirit, despite portraying God, Jesus, the heavenly court, and the redeemed saints in multiple instances.

Two points: 1) I would say this ‘divine hierarchy’ is more established by Burke than the full tenor of Scripture. Even if we recongise the functional subordination of the Son and Holy Spirit to the Father, this is by no means hierarchical. There is joy and love in the submission of the Son and Spirit. 2) Of course the Holy Spirit is referred to in Revelation. The Holy Spirit speaks to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. There are other passages as well (i.e. 14:13), not too mention that some theologians argue that the ‘seven spirits of God’ are a reference to the Holy Spirit.

But maybe I am misunderstanding this statement of Burke: Even the book of Revelation contains no vision of the Holy Spirit.

From the section: Father, Son & Holy Spirit: in the Bible’s Own Words

Burke brings forth this argument once again:

Galatians 4:4 reinforces this picture, telling us that Jesus was “made of a woman.” The Greek word for “made” here is ginomai as in John 1:3. Both occurrences refer to something which was brought into existence. Thus, Jesus’ existence has a commencement in time.

No Trinitarian would disagree that the humanity of Jesus began, commenced, or was brought into existence at His conception-birth through Mary. But the divine, eternal Son had always existed with the Father ‘from the beginning’ (which is a statement of eternality).

Again, I’m aware this could be brushed away by non-Trinitarians as absolute foolishness – that somehow a divine soul inhabited a shell of a body. The description of how it all came together is not easily grasped. For the Unitarian, they might even say they have a better and much easier way to describe it all within the framework of their theology. But, as I repeat myself continually, I have failed to be convinced that Jesus is anything less than the eternal, divine, worshiped Son. And, thus, my (our) theology allows for this combination of the divine and human natures in Christ. The term normally used for this is the hypostatic union.

Moving on, Burke makes this comment, of which I take up just two words from it:

How does Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit? As the Father’s divine power and presence (occasionally personified), which guides, inspires and empowers.

Occasionally personified? Huh? I wish I had a count for how many times the Spirit is spoken of in personal terms. But let’s just start in John 14-16. How many times does the personal pronoun ‘he’ show up? Again, that isn’t THE proof of the Spirit’s personhood. But just count in those three chapters how many times Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit in personal terms. The count I have in John 14-16 alone is that the Spirit is personally referred to 17 times.

Then move on to Acts. Then move on to Paul. Then move on to the other letters of the New Testament.

Whereas wisdom is personified a little in the Proverbs, the Holy Spirit is personified an outstanding number of times. The Proverbs are poetic and so wisdom will be personified, just as there was the adulteress who stood as if she was personally embodying adultery itself. In the prose narrative of John 14-16, you would not expect the literary feature of personification. You would expect a straight forward record. That’s what you get on Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit.

So, the Spirit is not occasionally personified. He is referred to in personal terms on a very regular basis.

From the section: Jesus Christ: Son of God

Burke makes this comment about the church fathers views on the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

None of these early church fathers were Biblical Unitarians — but they weren’t Trinitarians either. In fact, even as late as the 4th Century AD, Christians were hopelessly confused about the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Similar words come forth in two other places:

Rob is vague about the point at which he believes the church embraced true Trinitarianism, but I receive a general sense that he perceives an implicit Trinitarian Christology within the NT which gave quickly rise to fully-fledged Trinitarianism. Precisely how long this took and what process was involved, Rob does not say. But the history of Trinitarianism — as admitted by its own theologians — reveals an excruciating mess of debate, controversy and confusion spanning several hundred years.

How can Trinitarianism be the doctrine once preached by the apostles, whom the Holy Spirit would “lead into all truth” (John 16:13)? It bears no resemblance to their preaching in the book of Acts, or the doctrinal statements in their epistles to fellow Christians. It is absent from the earliest extra-Biblical writings (e.g. the Didache) and the works of the first-century church fathers (e.g. Papias and Polycarp). It is contrary to reason, antagonistic to Scripture, and undermined by the record of history.

There is no doubt that there was not a uniform understanding of the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit until a few centuries following the writings of the New Testament. But let me say something that many might not like to hear – evangelicals and Unitarian-Christadelphians alike: We need to be willing to recognise and be open to a sense of the development of doctrine in the course of church history. It happened and it happens. Hence, why you had councils and creeds.

I know the arguments: Scripture first. Yes, I agree! When theological matters are discussed, we utilise Scripture as our starting point. That is very important. If we have developed a belief about the relationship between the Father and the Son, which was one of the first matters discussed, this has to line up with Scripture. And, so, a Trinitarian would recognise: 1) the Trinitarian beliefs are not always explicit in the New Testament, but 2) such beliefs are implicitly there and that which was developed a few centuries later is not in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture. They did test it against the tenor of Scripture.

To not allow for development of doctrine, if taken to the extreme, means we must take on the complete first century mindset and not shift from that. But such is impossible, and I am convinced God does not desire such. Well, He would only desire such if he were a static, concrete God, which He isn’t. Again, Scripture is our foundation. But it is a foundation for an ever living faith that is continually breathed out by our God who is still alive.

Another great example is the development and realisation that the Sabbath rest of God is not a 24-hour period (Saturday or Sunday). Rather it is Jesus Christ Himself (I share more here). Is it explicit? No, not really. But it is there. The Trinitarian is convinced of the same with the Trinity. It’s there, but not necessarily fully fleshed out in that 30 verses can be quoted and we move on to the next topic. Matter of fact, this stands true for a large portion of the doctrine we all hold to.

From the section: Jesus Christ: Sacrificial Lamb

Burke lays out to important points for the atoning sacrifice that God would provide:

The sacrifice itself demands two essential qualities: mortality and moral perfection.

I would love for him to flesh out the first quality a little more – mortality. By that word, I believe he means human. Some Christians believe that all people are created immortal. Some believe, as with Christadelphians, that only God is immortal (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:11-16).

So I assume that Burke is saying the sacrifice must be mortally human and morally perfect. I am ok with this. Regardless of whether we believe in the immortality of the soul or that all humanity is mortal, Jesus fully took on human flesh. I might have more to say in the future, as I am currently reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope.

In the same section, we read:

But Biblical Unitarians do not believe in “original sin” or “total depravity.” We believe that human nature is capable of sin and prone to sin, but humans are not regarded as sinners until they sin. Thus Jesus’ human nature did not preclude the potential for sinlessness.

I would love to see Burke interact with Romans 5:12-21. But, if Jesus was just like us, and we are both capable and prone to sin, what in the world kept Jesus from sinning? Listen, I don’t want to walk the path that says Jesus could have never sinned. I believe He had to be able to sin to actually really suffer and experience and be tempted like we are. But if man is both capable and prone to, and we all actually end up sinning, what did keep Jesus from sinning? A good conscience? A strong and disciplined enough will?

These questions are not easy to interact with. But, I simply think Burke needs to be challenged in his theology that says all humans are prone to sin, which we all do end up sinning in the end, but somehow Jesus did not sin. If we are all the same, including Christ, how did he ‘pass the test’?

As Burke would later on say, is the answer this? His sinless life was made possible by his superior mental and intellectual qualities (Luke 2:46-47).

What? I don’t really understand this. Did He have an advantage above us? I thought He was fully like us? Or was it because the Messiah-Son of God actually enjoyed the right (maybe ‘perfect’) relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit?

I, by no means, say this is easy to answer, as how the functional subordination of the Son to the Father works itself fully out. But I do challenge Burke to rethink some of his points on this.

I look at one final statement:

Rob believes Jesus could be tempted, yet was incapable of sin (Putting Jesus In His Place, p.122)

Here, Burke is challenging Rob Bowman’s theology. I haven’t read Bowman’s book, so I don’t know the full context, but I do have something for consideration. When a Christian makes a statement like this, I think it could be either unacceptable and acceptable theology. Here is how it is unacceptable.

If one means that, unequivocally, Jesus could have never sinned, then I think it cuts away at the reality of Jesus being fully human and tempted. If one cannot possibly choose the ‘sin option’, then it is not really temptation. It’s like if a woman who decides to tempt an unmarried man to have sex with her, and he also happens to be a eunuch. Well, there really is no temptation there, since he has no organ for sexual intercourse. The ‘temptation’ kind of defeats the purpose, since the sin act could never actually take place.

I believe Jesus, in His humanity, could have chosen sin. He had to have been able to or the temptation is cancelled out.

To say Jesus was incapable of sin can make sense in retrospect as we note who He is. In Jesus’ time, very few were convinced of His identity. But, centuries later, all believers are convinced. And knowing who Jesus really was, we can remark that He would have never sinned, or at least He would have never chosen to sin. The divine Messiah who would be the sacrifice for all of mankind would never sin. He was tempted and could have chosen to sin. But we can be assured such an action would have never played out knowing who He was and His mission.

I hope that makes sense. I’m sure some might disagree. But I was at least trying to flesh out the statement that Burke challenged from Bowman’s book. It’s not a completely wrong statement if all the implications are considered.

Ok, that is enough from me. Much more than I originally thought I would post. The next round, whenever it is released, is the final round. We shall see how it all unfolds. I only hope for more interaction in the coming week between Bowman and Burke.

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)

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.