Monday, April 26, 2010

Challenge for Anti-Trinitarians, Part 1

Those who oppose the basics of the doctrine of the Trinity on the grounds of biblical hermeneutics have no good reason to feel smug or confident in their theology. Their alternatives to the doctrine are no better than the doctrine at issue. In fact, these alternatives are riddled with various problems.

Certain presuppositions are central both to trinitarianism and semi-Arianism. Moreover, both sides on the issue would agree with the following:

(1) Only one god exists (Isaiah 44.6), no god existed prior to this particular object, and no god will exist after this object (Isaiah 43.10).

(2) In the Scriptures, there is an object named “the Father” which is also named “God” (e.g., see 1 Corinthians 1.9, 1 Thessalonians 1.1; cf. Matthew 6.9-15).

Meanwhile, semi-Arianists who believe that the Father is God but believe that Jesus neither is God nor is divine in any sense would agree with the following:

(3) In the Scriptures, there is an object which is denoted by “Son” and “Jesus” and which is neither equal with nor identical with the Father.


There is no shortage of evidence that both Jesus and his apostles believed that Jesus was equal with the object denoted by the word “God” if not also identical with the object denoted by the word “God.” Nonetheless, some people may not be able to believe this because of certain Scriptures which at first glance seem to run contrary to this truth.

(1) And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none [is] good, save one, [that is], God. (Luke 18.19)

Some people will take the words of this verse to amount to a contradistinction of God and Christ or to a denial on the part of Christ that he is God. Now, one thing that is often lost in treatments of this verse is that the interpretation in question places one in a strange position of having to explain just how it is that Jesus is not good. For it seems incredible that Jesus was not a good person.

Nevertheless, isn’t Jesus, who is mentioned in this passage, the same person who says in John 8.24, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am [he], ye shall die in your sins”? Could it be that the words Jesus spoke in Luke 18.19 set the rich man up such that he would acknowledge or become aware of the divinity of Christ? This is plausible even before we stop to ask the question of whether or not Jesus was not a good person.

(2) Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. (John 5.19)

Even if we were to interpret this verse to be an indication of inability on the part of Christ, so what? For starters, what does the apostle Paul say in Philippians 2.5-11 but the following?

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; 11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So we can see that when the Word became flesh he humbled himself. In fact, the Philippians passage is to be compared with Mark 6.5-6:

5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed [them]. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.

All told, one does not need to posit that Christ was not divine in order to make sense of any of these passages. One should remember that many actions in this universe are intentional in nature. For example, to breathe is an unintentional and involuntary act, but to walk and to talk are both intentional actions. What this means, in turn, is that one has the ability to walk or talk only insofar as he has the intent to walk or talk--if you decide that you are not going to talk for the next two seconds and then hold that intention for the next two seconds, you can’t talk. Again, you can’t talk--your will and your intention not to talk hems you in and constrains you. So, with regard to both John 5.19 and Mark 6.5-6 it need only be the case that when the Word became flesh he had decided not to exercise all of his divine powers and abilities until he would later be exalted by God the Father and given a name which above every name.

(3) Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come [again] unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (John 14.28)

So, one cannot be equal with God the Father while not also being as great as God the Father, right? Wrong. Barack Hussein Obama is some sense greater than I am as a regular American. (Indeed, even though I don’t like Barry Obama, I’m not going to go on national TV and demand that he personally hear my grievances like a certain woman from California during the Bush 43 years. The sitting President of the United States of America may be a servant of the people, but the office of the Presidency does bestow upon the man some level of dignity and greatness.) Likewise, Queen Elizabeth of the Great Britain is in some sense greater than Tony Blair is as a normal subject of the British Crown.

Of course, in this instance we speak of greatness of office or function, not of ontic or ontological greatness. Each one of these persons is a human being, nor more and no less deserving of basic human rights as the the other. Nevertheless, the office or function that each has makes for a various degrees of greatness in one sense of the term.

(4) 4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol [is] nothing in the world, and that [there is] none other God but one. 5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us [there is but] one God, the Father, of whom [are] all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8.4-6)

If the Corinthians passage indicates that there is only one god and that this god is the Father to the exclusion of the Son, then doesn’t it follow with equal force that there only one Sovereign or Potentate in heaven? Compare 1 Timothy 6.13-16:

13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and [before] Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14 That thou keep [this] commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15 Which in his times he shall shew, [who is] the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom [be] honour and power everlasting. Amen.

It follows, but you don’t want to say that there is only one Sovereign or Potentate. So at the end of the day both passages plausibly reflect a practice of usually applying one epithet to one individual and another epithet to another individual. There are instances in the New Testament where Jesus apparently is denoted by the word “God”; however, in many more instances this word denotes the Father specifically. Likewise, the word “Lord” is typically used in the New Testament to denote Jesus in particular when not substituting the Tetragrammaton.


Again, there is no shortage of evidence that both Jesus and his apostles believed that Jesus was equal with the object denoted by the word “God” if not also identical with the object denoted by the word “God.”

(5) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1.1-3)

No one doubts that the Word in this passage is Jesus Christ. So, the apostle John teaches not only that Jesus is an uncreated object or entity, but also that Jesus is divine.

(Meanwhile, it would do no good to say, “No, Koine Greek grammar allows for John 1.1 to be translated as ‘...And the Word was a god.’” After all (and with reference to judges and idols notwithstanding), how many gods are there in the universe? Or do you really think that the words of Isaiah 44.6 and 43.10 were written in reaction to the belief that there were many capital-“G” gods in the universe, as if polytheist pagans really drew a distinction between little gods and big gods? Or on what principle do you draw a distinction between minuscule-“g” gods and majuscule-“G” gods, especially considering that the word “God” is often used as a proper noun in the Scriptures and is often used to denote the Creator, thus calling for the use of a capital letter in keeping with modern orthography conventions and in keeping with the modern tradition of capitalizing nouns and pronouns that denote the Creator? And how exactly can this distinction be justified vis-à-vis 1 Corinthians 8.4-6?)

(6) Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5.18)

Whoever or whatever is equal with God is equal with God. If God is worthy of reverence and worship, then any object equal with God should also be worthy of reverence and worship. Or if God is eternal and all-powerful, then any object equal with God should also be eternal and all-powerful. The apostle John apparently teaches that Jesus is equal with God, and I leave it to the reader to form the right conclusion from this verse.

(7) 26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: [then] came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace [be] unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust [it] into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed. (John 20.26-29)

From a standpoint of prosody or rhythm, it is highly unlikely that anyone would ever exclaim “My Lord and my God!” as one exclaims expletives in a moment of shock or surprise. On the other hand, considering the number of biblical passages which at least at first glance appear to teach that Jesus is divine, it is most likely that the apostle Thomas refers to Christ as his Lord and his God in the passage above. It bears noting, meanwhile, that the passage has no record of Christ’s having corrected Thomas for daring to refer to him as a god.

(8) 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw [it], and was glad. 57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. 59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (John 8.56-59)

Say what you will about the Jews’ inability to believe in Christ and to understand everything that Christ said to them. However, the fact remains that the two parties did have conversations with each other such that basic rules of what would have been Hebrew or Aramaic grammar were still perfectly understood by both parties.

With that said, what is the likelihood that anyone will risk violation of cultural norms and mores in attempting to stone and kill a man for that man’s having merely asserted that before Abraham existed, this man existed and exists now? There have been re-evaluations of verse 58 above, ones which seize upon Greek grammar and treat present tense “eimi” as having a meaning which corresponds with the function of the perfect phase in Koine Greek. However, the validity of this reinterpretation becomes questionable given that no reputable modern translation agrees with it and given that it makes the chain of events related by John 8 to be more or less nonsensical.

So, something ticked off these individuals who attempted to stone Christ. However, you don’t get that kind of reaction from merely claiming to be very old. On the other hand, if someone makes a claim which essentially makes him out to be uncreated, it is reasonable to believe that people may take this as a claim of divinity. Meanwhile, the final words of verse 58 above certainly bring to mind those of Exodus 3.14 such that it may well be that Jesus claims to be divine in John 8.58.

(9) 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: (Philippians 2.5-6)

(10) For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. (Colossians 2.9)

You do not have the fullness of divinity if you lack any part of it.

(11) 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself [His] own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2.11-14, NKJV)

(12) Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (2 Peter 1.1, NKJV)


(13) 1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of [his] glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. 7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 8 But unto the Son [he saith], Thy throne, O God, [is] for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness [is] the sceptre of thy kingdom. (Hebrews 1.1-8)

That’s all for now.

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