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Week I: God


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#1 Evangelion

Evangelion

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Posted 10 April 2010 - 09:56 AM

In November 2009, Robert M. Bowman proposed a debate on the Trinity between himself and any non-Trinitarian challenger at his blogsite. Bowman is a well known evangelical author in the USA who specialises in Christology and has written a number of books on the Trinity and the deity of Christ. He provided a list of criteria that all applicants were required to meet and said if more than one suitable candidate emerged, a vote would be held to determine his opponent.

After a few weeks, readers were asked to vote for one of five candidates: myself (Unitarian), Anthony Buzzard (Unitarian), Michael Richardson (Mormon), David Barron (Seventh Day Adventist), and Kermit Zarley (Unitarian). In the poll which followed, I won the most votes and was selected to debate Bowman.

The debate began in early 2010 and covered six weeks, with each week devoted to a specific subject. It can be read in full at Bowman's website via the following clickable links:Rebuttals and counter-rebuttals can be found in the comments following each main argument.

The format of the debate required us to post a positive argument on each subject, and respond to the opposing argument in the form of rebuttal. Thus, on the first day of the first week, we both presented an opening argument which articulated our respective understanding of God (His identity, characteristics, etc.) and then posted rebuttals throughout the rest of the week. By mutual agreement our opening arguments were restricted to 5,000 words. There was no word limit on rebuttals. At the end of Week 6 readers were invited to post questions and responses to Bowman and myself.

The debate was followed by a number of bloggers, most notably Scott Lencke, a pastor at Cornerstone International Church (here) and Dale Tuggy, associate professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia (here). Lencke criticised my arguments from an evangelical perspective, while Tuggy, who confesses a Unitarian Christology, provided a weekly commentary on both sides of the debate and concluded with an analysis of the final outcome (here).
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#2 Evangelion

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Posted 10 April 2010 - 07:38 PM

Opening Argument


Introduction

I would like to begin by thanking Rob Bowman and Michael Patton for giving me the opportunity to present and defend my faith. Before I commence my argument, I'll take a little time to introduce myself, my beliefs and my approach to Scripture.

I am a Christian. I belong to the Christadelphians ("Brethren in Christ"), a small Biblical Unitarian denomination which is spread across more than 60 different countries around the world (you can learn more about us here: www.thechristadelphians.org). Christadelphians are the largest Biblical Unitarian denomination and emerged out of the Restitutionist movement over 160 years ago. Biblical Unitarians are distinct from Rationalist Unitarians (who do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God) and Universalist Unitarians (who believe that all people will be saved, regardless of what they believe). The Christadelphian community has no hierarchy and no paid clergy.

I am 37 years old, married to a beautiful wife (Liz), with a gorgeous 13 month old daughter (Johanna). I was born and raised in a Christadelphian family, and attended Sunday School and Youth Group as a child. At the age of 19 I was baptised into Christ, and at 22 I became a lay pastor (a position I have now held for 15 years). I have a considerable amount of public speaking experience throughout Australia and the UK, having ministered at Christadelphian ecclesias ("churches") in both countries. I am a founder and administrator of the Bible Truth Discussion Forum (www.btdf.org/forums) where I post under the pseudonym of "Evangelion."

In summary, I believe:

  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God and the sole authoritative source of Christian doctrine and practice
  • The Father alone is God
  • Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but not God himself
  • The Holy Spirit is the power of God, but not God himself
  • Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised to immortality by the Father
  • At an appointed time (concealed from humanity) Jesus will return to Earth, judge the living and the dead, restore the nation of Israel to her former glory and reign over a kingdom that will last for 1,000 years

A comprehensive statement of my beliefs complete with supporting Scriptural references can be found at my forum (here: http://tinyurl.com/6fbfhc).

Throughout this debate I will be using the NET Bible (available online here: net.bible.org/bible.php) which is an evangelical translation. Despite its obvious doctrinal bias in some places, I recommend the NET as an accessible and demonstrably superior translation with excellent footnotes and a high degree of exegetical transparency. It is the Bible that I use for personal study and public speaking.

Since I believe that the Father alone is God, I will be using the words "God" and "Father" interchangeably. Any reference to "God" (capitalised) or "Yahweh" should therefore be taken as a reference to the Father, and any reference to the Father should be taken as a reference to God unless otherwise stated.


Exegetical Method


My approach to Scripture seeks to uphold the primacy of God's Word above historical traditions and theoretical speculations. I believe that the essential message of the Bible can be understood by ordinary people without any academic training or professional expertise. When attempting to interpret a passage of Scripture, I apply the following rules:

Context is paramount
Scriptural statements do not exist in a vacuum. The context of a passage should always be our first consideration. A proper understanding of context is vital because context determines meaning; thus, the use of a word in one passage may be very different to the use of that same word in another passage.

For example, the word "baptism" is used in at least three different ways throughout the New Testament:

  • Literal baptism with water (Matthew 3:13, Acts 8:37-39)
  • Receipt of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5)
  • Suffering through trial (Mark 10:38, Luke 12:50)

In each case the intended meaning of "baptism" is determined by the context and application of the word.

Scripture the interpreter of Scripture
This is the literal English translation of a Latin expression used by the Reformers: "Scriptura Scripturae interpres." It goes hand in hand with another Reformation motto, "Sola Scriptura" (meaning "by Scripture alone") which means that Christian doctrine must be derived purely from Scripture and no other source.

In the New Testament we find some explicit examples of Scripture interpreting Scripture:

  • Matthew 2:13-15 quotes Hosea 11:1 and tells us that this prophetic saying was fulfilled by Mary and Joseph's escape to Egypt
  • Matthew 2:17-18 quotes Jeremiah 31:15 and tells us that this prophetic saying was fulfilled by Herod's slaughter of the children during his search for the Messiah
  • Acts 15:16-17 paraphrases Amos 9:11-12 and tells us that this prophetic saying was fulfilled by the Christian message, which called Gentiles into the covenant relationship originally established between God and Israel

We can apply this principle by cross-referencing Bible passages to obtain additional information or draw out their intended meaning. For example, we gain a greater understanding of events in the books of the Kings by comparing parallel records in the books of the Chronicles. Similarly, we will find that statements by the apostle Paul which may appear obscure in one place, are sometimes more clearly explained in another place.

Scripture cannot contradict Scripture
This principle echoes Jesus' words in John 10:35 ("...Scripture cannot be broken"). Apparent contradictions are often due to errors in textual transmission, translation, or misunderstanding. It is essential to determine where the problem lies before attempting a solution.

Arguments from silence are inadmissible
An argument from silence ("argumentum ex silentio") is a logical fallacy defined as a conclusion based upon a lack of evidence. For example:

  • The apostle Paul does not refer to the virgin birth in his epistles
  • Therefore, Paul was ignorant of the teaching that Jesus' mother was a virgin when she conceived him

This argument is flawed because the conclusion does not follow from the premise. There are any number of reasons why Paul does not mention the virgin birth, one of which could be that he is writing to Christians, who are already familiar with the life story of Jesus and do not need to hear it again. The absence of any reference to the virgin birth does not prove that Paul was unaware of it.

Another example shows why we must take care when applying this principle:

  • Jesus never claimed to be God
  • Therefore, Jesus is not God

The mistake here is less obvious because the argument appears more reasonable at face value. The fact that Jesus never claimed to be God is significant because it is precisely what we would expect him to do if he was actually God. So the initial statement has some rhetorical force.

However, we know that Jesus sometimes concealed his identity (Matthew 16:20 "Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ") so it could be argued (albeit unconvincingly) that he concealed his deity in a similar way. Thus it is not enough to conclude that Jesus is not God simply because he never claimed to be. Additionally, some Trinitarians will claim that Jesus did claim to be God, so this argument can be attacked on other grounds.

Arguments should be predicated upon a variety of evidence; doctrine cannot be based upon a single verse
The point being made here is that our conclusions must be consistent with the wider body of Scripture. God's word is a tapestry of many threads and they are often interlocked. If we focus too much on one part we lose sight of the whole.

For example, it is not enough to say "Jesus was worshipped in Matthew 2:11; therefore he is God." We need to examine alternative lines of evidence. What is the Greek word for "worship" in this verse? Why is it translated "bowed" in some translations? Does it occur elsewhere? Applied to whom? In what context? An interpretation which appears "obvious" at first glance may prove to be flawed when we investigate more closely.

We must take Scripture literally unless we have a reason to take it figuratively; apparent "contradictions" in Scripture can often be seemingly resolved in this way
Figurative interpretations are valuable but they cannot be arbitrary; we may not resort to them simply to clear an obstacle. We must show that our interpretation is valid and explain why it must be figurative.

Scriptural consistency is a signpost of true doctrine; likely interpretations uphold this consistency
This principle follows naturally from the previous one. God's message is consistent. If we find several dozen verses saying one thing and one verse which appears to say something different, we have either discovered an apparent contradiction which must be resolved, or an solitary exception to a pre-established principle.

Where alternative interpretations present themselves, we should follow the conclusion which is most consistent with the greater body of evidence
This principle follows naturally from the previous one.

Any proposed definitions of a word must be supported from several examples of identical usage
This principle is self explanatory.


God: Definition and Identity

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

Equally important is the origin of Christianity. Although generally regarded today as a western religion, Christianity was originally a Jewish sect, with Jesus first preached to the Jews and later to the Gentiles. Since most of the earliest Christians were Jews, we must strive to understand the Christian faith as they did, and not as it was later interpreted by Gentile Christians of later centuries, many of whom lacked an essential understanding of Jewish religious traditions.

The first-century Jewish opponents of Christianity insisted that it constituted a heretical breach from Judaism, but in the pages of the NT we are able to see that Christians proved otherwise, demonstrating powerfully from Scripture that Christianity is the end result of a process which had begun with Israel. Thus, as Christians, we must recognise and acknowledge that there is a doctrinal continuity from Judaism to Christianity which cannot be broken. This continuity is emphasised by the apostle Paul in Galatians 3:24, where he says that the Law of Moses was "...our instructor into Christ."

But how was the Law of Moses our instructor? In what way could this rigid Old Testament legal system prepare anyone for the message of love and grace that we find in Christianity? This is a point to which I shall return in later discussions.

Trinitarians recognise the vital importance of the Judaeo-Christian continuum, as evidenced by their sensitivity to the theological tension which results from the anachronistic imposition of Trinitarian interpretations upon first-century doctrinal statements. Since it is now widely accepted that the first-century church was not Trinitarian, it has become necessary for Trinitarians to explain (a) why this was and (b) how Trinitarianism successfully emerged from an ideological climate which was wholly unfavourable to it.

Various scholars (not all of them strictly Trinitarian) have approached this problem with considerable ingenuity but limited success. For example, James F. McGrath postulates that Johannine Christological development was a tentative process which blurred the distinction between the pre-existent logos and the pre-existent Jesus without ever committing to a fully defined ontological unity between Father and Son. James D. G. Dunn takes a similar position.

Larry Hurtado (whose work reflects the influence of Alan Segal's "angelomorphic" or "two powers" model) is bolder, but even he can only offer an "early binitarian" hypothesis which is ultimately unsatisfactory. A closer examination of these issues will be presented in Weeks 2 & 3 of the debate.

Attributes of God: Identity

God is a personal being Who exists as a single divine Person (Yahweh; the Father). This attribute is arguably the most important of all, since it has a direct bearing upon our debate. The identity of God is explicitly defined in Scripture on many occasions, and the unitary nature of His personhood is repeatedly emphasised. For example:

  • Deuteronomy 6:4, "Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!"
  • Deuteronomy 32:6, "Is this how you repay the LORD, you foolish, unwise people? Is he not your father, your creator? He has made you and established you."
  • Psalm 89:26, "He will call out to me, 'You are my father, my God, and the protector who delivers me'"
  • Isaiah 63:16, "For you are our father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us. You, LORD, are our father; you have been called our protector from ancient times."
  • John 4:21, 23, "Jesus said to her, 'Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem... But a time is coming - and now is here - when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers'"
  • John 17:3, "Now this is eternal life - that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent"
  • I Corinthians 8:6, "Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live"
  • Galatians 1:1, "From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead)"

Some of these verses present unique challenges for Trinitarian theology, since they demonstrate an unequivocal distinction between Father and Son as two separate persons who exist as individual beings.

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

A case in point is Deuteronomy 6:4 ("Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!") This statement, known in Hebrew as the Shema, was cited by Jesus as the greatest of all God's commandments (Mark 12:28-29). It is explicit Unitarian language, as clear and simple as it can possibly get.

Biblical Unitarians can read this verse and accept what it is saying without any qualification whatsoever: Yahweh is one; ie. one person. Our understanding of this "oneness" is identical to that of Old Testament Judaism. But Trinitarians cannot accept the Shema without qualification, since to them Yahweh is not one; Yahweh is three. (I should add that this depends on which Trinitarian you ask; some will say that the Trinity is three but Yahweh is one, though they struggle to articulate what this means in practical terms).

A popular Trinitarian approach to this problem has been to seize upon the Hebrew word for "one" (echad) and claim that it means "a complex unity", thereby offering a back door for the Trinitarian belief in a multi-personal Godhead. Trinitarian exegete Sam Shamoun employs this argument in an online article entitled The Binitarian Nature of the Holy Bible’s supreme proof text for the unity of God, where he says:

That God is multi-Personal can be seen from the following passage, known as the Shema, the monotheistic creed of Israel:

“Listen, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one (Yahweh Eloheinu Yahweh echad)! You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5 NET Bible

Eloheinu is the 1st person plural declension of Elohim and can therefore be translated as “our Gods.” Moreover, the Hebrew word for “one,” echad, functions much like the English word in that it can refer to a solitary oneness or to a complex unity as in the following example:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (basar echad).” Genesis 2:24

Two separate and distinct flesh and blood human beings become echad or one flesh through sexual consummation.

[...]

In light of this we propose translating the Shema in the following way since it brings out more clearly the revelation that God is multi-Personal:

“Hear O Israel: Yahweh our Godhead, Yahweh is a complex unity.”


Notice Shamoun's blatant refusal to accept the simple statement that "Yahweh is one", correctly recognising the danger that this presents to his Christology. Instead he wants to affirm that Yahweh is more than one, contrary to the clear message of Scripture. Hence his appeal to the meaning and use of echad, which he claims "...can refer to a complex unity."

But echad does not refer to a "complex unity"; it is simply the Hebrew word for "one." Occasionally it is used to modify a collective noun (e.g. "one bunch"; "one pair"; "one herd") but its actual meaning never changes. It still means "one" and only "one." The plurality is found in the collective noun, not in the word echad.

Rob Bowman appreciates the futility of the "echad" argument and neatly debunks it in an online article entitled Oneness Pentecostalism and the Trinity. Yet in the very same article he boldly asserts that "...nowhere in Scripture are we ever told that God is one person." There are two problems with this claim.

The first is that it comprises a classic example of argumentum ex silentio - the argument from silence. Simply saying " Scripture doesn't tell us that God is one person" does not prove that He isn't. Additionally, Rob does not qualify his assertion, so it is meaningless until we know what his parameters are. This prompts me to ask him two questions:

(a) What would you consider valid evidence of a Unitarian God?
(b) If God is one person how would you expect Scripture to say so?

The second problem with Rob's claim is that it stands against a wealth of Biblical evidence for the unitary personhood of God. Throughout the entire Bible, God is consistently referred to by means of singular pronouns, clearly denoting a single being and therefore a single person. This single divine Person is referred to as "Father" 15 times in the Old Testament and 245 times in the New, where He is also unequivocally identified as "the only true God", "one God, the Father", etc.

Ignoring this Biblical pattern, Trinitarian doctrine developed new definitions for the words "being" and "person." In Trinitarian parlance, a "being" can consist of more than one "person", while a "person" is not necessarily a "being." Thus, while "God the Son" (Jesus) is one "person", he is not an individual "being"; instead he exists as one "person" within a tri-personal "being" known as the "Trinity." To date, the use and acceptance of these definitions remain unique to Trinitarianism, since they contradict the use of "being" and "person" in regular human communication.

Inconsistent use of language and the need for careful qualifications when employing even a simple term like "God", are common features of Trinitarian exegesis.

Attributes of God: Omnipotence

God's nature is defined by a number of divine attributes, most of which are unique to Him. The first of these is omnipotence (meaning "all-powerful"). This attribute is explicitly stated in Revelation 19:6 ("...For the Lord our God, the All-Powerful, reigns!")

The Greek word translated "All-Powerful" here is pantokrator, which occurs only 10 times in the New Testament (II Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8, 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7,14, 19:6, 15, 21:22). The Hebrew equivalent is shaddai, which occurs 48 times in the Old Testament (e.g Genesis 17:1, 28:3, 49:25; Exodus 6:3; Ruth 1:21; Job 5:17; Isaiah 13:6; Joel 1:15).

These words are only ever applied to God. They are never applied to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit. God alone is uniquely all-powerful. Indeed, the very nature of the term "all-powerful" implies exclusivity.

God's omnipotence does not preclude our free will, nor is it undermined by the fact that we can choose to disobey Him. While He is undoubtedly capable of forcing obedience, He allows us to make our own choices. God's will would be irresistible if He chose to impose it upon us, but because He does not, we retain our free will.

In theory, "omnipotent" could mean that God can do absolutely anything - even if it is illogical, irrational, or physically impossible. In reality, the truth is a little more sophisticated.

An old philosophical question asks: "If God is omnipotent, can He create a stone that is too heavy for Him to lift?" The question raises a paradox: if God cannot lift the stone, He is not all powerful; yet if He is not all powerful, how did He create it? Here we have an example of the logical traps we can fall into unless we take care to define our terms of reference.

The Bible is very clear that the attributes of God preclude Him from exhibiting certain behaviours or being subject to certain conditions. For example:

  • God cannot die, because He is eternal (Psalm 90:2, "Even before the mountains came into existence, or you brought the world into being, you were the eternal God"; see also I Timothy 1:17)
  • God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, "...in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began"; see also Hebrews 10:23)
  • God cannot invoke a higher authority than Himself (Hebrews 6:13, "Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself")
  • God cannot sin or be tempted by evil (James 1:13, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one")

Thus the Christian God can do anything and everything which is consistent with His character and nature. (The converse is equally true: God cannot do anything contrary to His character and nature). Ultimately, this means it is impossible for God to cease being God, or to become simultaneously "God" and "not-God." God is not self-contradictory.

Attributes of God: Omniscience & Omnipresence

God is omniscient ("all knowing"). Nothing is hidden from Him. He knows everything which has ever happened in the past, everything that is currently happening, and everything that will happen in the future. His knowledge is absolutely perfect and unfalsifiable. This attribute is explicitly stated in a variety of passages. For example:

  • Psalm 147:5, "Our Lord is great and has awesome power; there is no limit to his wisdom"
  • Ezekiel 11:5, " Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon me and said to me, "Say: This is what the LORD says: 'This is what you are thinking, O house of Israel; I know what goes through your minds"
  • Hebrews 4:13, "And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account"
  • I John 3:20, "...that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things"

(See also Psalm 139:1-16).

Since God is omniscient, it is impossible for Him to be ignorant of anything. This attribute is unique to God; He alone possesses omniscience, and He alone possesses exclusive knowledge of future events (Matthew 24:36, "But as for that day and hour no one knows it - not even the angels in heaven - except the Father alone").

In addition to His omniscience, Christians have traditionally viewed God as omnipresent, meaning "everywhere present." While there are passages in Scripture which provide evidence for this (e.g. Psa 139:7-8, "Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence? If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there. If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be"); it can appear logically redundant in light of God's other attributes.

For example, if God is omnipotent, He can perform His will in any part of the universe without being "present." By the same token, if God is omniscient, He knows what is happening everywhere in the universe without actually being there. Thus it appears that omnipresence is a superfluous attribute.

The concept of omnipresence also begs the question: "What does it mean for God to be 'present'?" Scripture appears to show that God's presence is occasionally localised (Genesis 4:16, "So Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden"; Leviticus 10:2, "So fire went out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them so that they died before the LORD). But how can this be, if God is always present everywhere?

These questions introduce a line of discussion that will not be continued here, but may arise in future posts. Suffice it to say that I accept omnipresence as a unique attribute of God, possessed by nobody except the Father.

Attributes of God: Self-Existence

God is self-existent, meaning that His existence is not derived from another source. He exists independently of anything and anyone. Consequently, God is eternal; He has no origin, He cannot die, and He will exist forever. This attribute is explicitly stated in many passages. For example:

  • Genesis 21:33, "Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer Sheba. There he worshiped the LORD, the eternal God"
  • Psalm 90:2, "Even before the mountains came into existence, or you brought the world into being, you were the eternal God"
  • I Timothy 1:17, "Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen."

Scripture tells us that God's self-existence is unique; all other beings are dependent upon Him for their existence:

  • Job 12:10, "...in whose hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all the human race"
  • Job 34:14-15, "If God were to set his heart on it, and gather in his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together and human beings would return to dust"
  • Acts 17:24-25, 28, " The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we too are his offspring'"

Even the "eternal life" which is promised to faithful believers is not equivalent to the eternality of God, for He has always existed, while those who receive eternal life have a finite origin. The distinction is occasionally blurred because Scripture sometimes uses the term "immortality" interchangeably with "eternal life", e.g. Romans 2:7, "...eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality". Nevertheless, God is the only One Who possesses immortality as an inherent attribute (I Timothy 6:16, "He alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see...")

Attributes of God: Moral Perfection

God is morally perfect: He cannot sin, and He cannot be tempted. This attribute is derived from a variety of Biblical data, both explicit and implicit. For example:

  • Psalm 18:30, "The one true God acts in a faithful manner; the LORD's promise is reliable"
  • Matthew 5:48, "So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"
  • Titus 1:2, "...in hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began"
  • Hebrews 10:23, "And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy"
  • James 1:13, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one"

God's moral perfection (an attribute that He shares with Jesus and the angels) is utterly comprehensible under Unitarian theology, but raises curious dilemmas for Trinitarianism. These will be identified in the examination of Jesus during Weeks 2 & 3.

Attributes of God: Invisibility & Incorporeality

God is invisible (ie. he cannot be seen) and incorporeal (ie. non-physical). These attributes can be directly inferred from His omnipresence (e.g. God is everywhere but we cannot see Him; ergo He must be invisible and incorporeal) but they are also supported by statements throughout Scripture. For example:

  • I Timothy 1:17, "Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen."
  • John 4:24, "God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (see Luke 24:39, "a spirit does not have flesh and bones...")

God's inherent invisibility and incorporeality are features unique to Him.

Attributes of God: Conclusion

We have seen that God's character and attributes set Him far apart from His creation and demonstrate His total superiority in every possible aspect of existence. This is both awe-inspiring and deeply humbling, particularly when we reflect upon the incredible work that He has wrought on our behalf:

John 3:16, "For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#3 Evangelion

Evangelion

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Posted 13 April 2010 - 07:15 PM

First Counter-Rebuttal


Rob,

Like you, I was pleased to see that we have so much common ground. It's good to know that we won't be quibbling too much over exegetical methodology.

You quote John 4:23-24 and Matthew 11:27 to argue that the Jews' knowledge of God was somehow lacking. You also assert that they "did not know the specific person of the Father."

Jesus' statement in John 4:23-24 was made within the context of his conversation with the Samaritan woman and therefore refers immediately to that context. Notice that Jesus explicitly contrasts the woman's improper worship and lack of spiritual knowledge against the Jews' correct knowledge ("...we worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews"). This is a tremendously powerful statement for two reasons:

(a) It reveals that Jesus has Someone Whom he worships
(b) It demonstrates that the Jews' knowledge of God was correct and could potentially lead to salvation

Nowhere does Jesus suggest that the Jews also fail to understand God correctly and must therefore be corrected, like the Samaritans. Instead he uses Jewish religious knowledge as the benchmark of truth and orthodoxy. Having done this, he emphasises the need to know and worship God correctly, predicting that one day even the Samaritans will share this privilege.

Standard Trinitarian authorities agree with my interpretation. In this regard I am spoiled for choice, but I'll settle for a quotation from Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible (reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983):

Salvation is of the Jews - They have the true religion and the true form of worship; and the Messiah, who will bring salvation, is to proceed from them. See Luke 2:30; Luke 3:6. Jesus thus affirms that the Jews had the true form of the worship of God. At the same time he was sensible how much they had corrupted it, and on various occasions reproved them for it.


The reference from Matthew demonstrates the need to approach the Father through the Son, but it neither states nor implies that the Jews had no specific knowledge of the Father's personhood and required a proper understanding of God's identity. It also lacks any comment on the Holy Spirit, which is a curious omission for a statement supposedly offering a gateway to Trinitarianism. (May we infer from this that we can know the Holy Spirit without Christ? That would make the Holy Spirit even more accessible than the Father!)

Jesus refers here to an intimate knowledge, of the sort which only comes with a personal relationship. We cannot conclude that this knowledge was either lacking and/or inaccessible to the Jews, since the Old Testament is replete with examples of men and women who possessed the very type of relationship to which Jesus refers (e.g. Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Deborah, David, Solomon, Elijah and many others). Standard Trinitarian commentators take a similar position, with most arguing that the knowledge here refers to the relationship between the Father and Son, not the relationship between the Father and the Jews.

You phrase your argument for the multi-personality of God in the following way:

Premise 1: The Bible identifies three distinct persons as God.
Conclusion : Therefore, God is not only one person.
Supplemental Premise: The Bible never says that God is only one person (lack of defeater).
Conclusion: Therefore, the conclusion that God is not only one person is confirmed.


This was an interesting logical exercise. I have a few thoughts on it:

  • Premise 1 does not tell us how you are using the words "God" and "person", which leaves you open to all sorts of objections. For example, I can present many passages of Scripture which appear to identify more than three persons as "God" and thereby invalidate your initial premise.
  • Even if we allowed that premise 1 was valid and substantial, your first conclusion should logically be "Therefore, the Bible identifies that God is not only one person." In its present form it is simply a metaphysical statement without sufficient linkage to Premise 1. There is a suppressed premise to articulate.
  • Your supplemental premise is nothing more than a reiteration of your first conclusion, but this time with a reference to the Bible that I would have expected to see in the first Conclusion.
  • The two premises together cannot imply the first conclusion; you still have a suppressed premise requiring articulation. Without it the first conclusion is redundant.
  • Your second conclusion when based on the premises will be seen to defeat my "argument from silence" accusation by providing the necessary second premise that you originally lacked. This is a trivial result reinforcing the silence argument involving the second premise, but it begs the question at issue (ie. whether the Bible identifies three distinct persons as God).
  • You finish this section with the assertion that there is no defeater to the Trinitarian claim, but this is a point you have yet to prove.

In response to my question about evidence for Biblical Unitarianism, you respond:

It is more a matter of what I would *not* expect Scripture to say.


You are welcome to tell me what you would not expect Scripture to say, but this does not answer my question. I have asked you to tell me what you would consider positive Scriptural evidence for Biblical Unitarianism but you have not provided any examples. The question requires an explicit positive answer. Rephrasing the question does nothing to answer it. I do hope you will answer it.

You say:

If if all we had were statements that asserted or implied that God was a single being [surely you mean "person" here? we both agree that God is one being], I would not deny that Unitarianism would be a plausible inference


A mere "plausible inference"? I put it to you that if all we had were statements that asserted or implied that God was a single person, Unitarianism would be an inevitable conclusion and Trinitarianism would be precluded by default. If the only available evidence points entirely in one direction, there is no logical or rational basis for assuming an alternative. As I said in my opening statement:

  • Scriptural consistency is a signpost of true doctrine; likely interpretations uphold this consistency
  • Where alternative interpretations present themselves, we should follow the conclusion which is most consistent with the greater body of evidence

I was delighted to see you say that it is "...for the most part plausible and reasonable for Jews to infer a Unitarian conception of God from their Bible". This accords with the arguments I have already raised. However, when you add that "... Unitarians might plausibly adduce monotheistic statements in the Bible that refer to God as one being as evidence for their position" you appear to miss the mark.

Biblical Unitarians do not merely use Biblical statements that refer to God as one being to prove our case (this would do nothing to refute Trinitarianism, since you also believe that God is one being). Our argument is that Scripture consistently depicts God as one person. The issue does not turn upon the question of whether or not there is only one God, but whether or not that one God is unipersonal.

You say:

It would have been more precise if I had written, “nowhere in Scripture are we ever told that God is *merely* one person.”


In fact, Scripture consistently depicts God as merely one person and in my opening statement I referred to a couple of places where this occurs, and chose to focus upon the Shema. Significantly, you were unable to take the Shema at face value (as I had predicted) but immediately began to qualify it (as I had also predicted) and digressed into speculation about alternative meanings.

You refer to NT "defeaters" against Unitarian evidence (e.g. personal pronouns, etc.) and by this you presumably mean certain NT statements about Christ. Next week I will be interested to see how you can interpret these in a way which is perfectly consistent with the OT revelation of God.

You say:

... singular pronouns do indeed denote a single being, but it does not follow that God can only be a single person.


Why does it not follow? No reason that I can see. On the contrary, it naturally follows unless you arbitrarily redefine the terms of reference to allow one "being" to consist of more than one "person" - and there is no reason to do this unless you assume a priori that it is necessary. So Trinitarianism not only begins by assuming what it must first prove, but also seeks to change the rules of language in order to accommodate its hypothesis.

Pronouns count persons, not beings. When a singular pronoun is used, a single person is indicated (whether literally or metaphorically). Thus, when a singular pronoun is used in reference to God, it tells us that God is one person. It is revealing that Trinitarians agree with this principle and routinely accept that one "being" = one "person" in every passage of Scripture except when God is in view. This is a fundamental weakness of the Trinitarian approach and reflects the exegetical inconsistency to which I referred in my opening argument.

It is a major difficulty for Trinitarianism that Scripture never uses pronouns in the way that we would expect them to be used if God was more than one person. Instead of referring to Him as "they", Scripture uses "He." Instead of God referring to Himself as "Us", He uses "I."

Attempts to invoke passages such as Genesis 1:26 ("let us create man in our image...") as proof of a multi-personal God, have now been largely abandoned by modern Trinitarian scholars as anachronistic and ultimately insupportable (see the footnotes in the NET Bible for a scholarly treatment of this verses and others like it).

But the very appeal to such verses is itself a major concession, for it shows that Trinitarians are aware that their theology is undermined by the Bible's overwhelmingly consistent use of singular pronouns in reference to God (hence the need to locate passages with plural pronouns). Thus it is evident that Trinitarianism has admitted the strength of this Unitarian argument, yet still finds itself lacking a coherent Bible-based rebuttal.

Rob, I have noticed that you yourself refer to "God" using singular pronouns yourself. Why? Surely "God" is more than one person to you. Is your use of singular pronouns unconsciously influenced by the Bible's use, or do you believe that the correct pronoun for three persons is "He"? You can't have it both ways without giving ground on one point or the other. Your current position is illogical.

In reference to my statement that "...These words are only ever applied to God. They are never applied to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit" you ask how this is not an argument from silence.

It is not an argument from silence because it is simply an observation. My reasoning is not "this language is never applied to Jesus or the Holy Spirit; therefore they are not God." I do not even say this. I raise the exclusivity of the language as a significant piece of evidence in favour of the Unitarian position, contra the Trinitarian position. However, I do not claim that this comprises a definitive proof or a comprehensive argument in itself.

You argue that God is not simultaneously God and not-God in the incarnation, which is precisely what I had expected you to say. Yet there are Scriptural and logical difficulties for you here, and you have not confronted them.

We can agree, I am sure, that the categories of "God" and "man" are not equivalent. God Himself is explicit on this point (Numbers 23:19, "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind") as was the apostle Paul in Acts 14:15, where he tells the Lycaonians that he and Barnabas are "... men, with human natures just like you!" Thus, to be "God" is to be "not-man" and to be "man" is to be "not-God".

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

Please note: I do not claim that by becoming both God and man Jesus would become two beings or two persons. However, it is inescapable that he would simultaneously fall into two mutually exclusive categories, possessing two mutually exclusive states of being, with mutually exclusive attributes. This position is Scripturally and logically insupportable.

Thus the hypostatic union becomes the hypostatic dilemma, a fact which Trinitarian scholars tacitly admit by voluntarily identifying the many difficulties arising from the hypostatic union (e.g. why did Jesus appear to lack omniscience? was he capable of sin? did he perform his miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit, or through his own innate divine power?) Could Mary be legitimately referred to as theotokos ("God-bearer") due to her status as the mother of God the Son? The Eastern Church certainly thought so, but the Western Church rejected this idea as blatantly heretical. The point was so controversial that it contributed to a major split in AD1054 (known as the Great Schism) when the two churches were officially divided into what we know today as the Catholic and Orthodox.

These and similar problems have plagued Trinitarianism for centuries and remain unresolved to this day. They will be addressed in Weeks 2 & 3.

Now that you've introduced the hypostatic union into our debate, I must request that you demonstrate that this concept is purely Biblical. Please note: I am not asking you to show that the word "hypostasis" is contained in Scripture (it makes a brief appearance in Hebrews 1:3, though not in any context that Trinitarianism requires). You have already agreed with me that the concepts underpinning our respective Christologies must be found in, or derived from, Scripture alone. Yet the hypostatic union goes beyond anything that Scripture either states or implies. How do you arrive at it?

Even if you choose to argue that Scripture shows Jesus to be "God and man" (or however you choose to phrase it), this does nothing to explain what being "God and man" actually entails, nor does it prove that Jesus and God are of one substance, existing as two persons within the same being, nor does it prove that Jesus was incarnated as God and man, possessing the natures, attributes and characteristics of God and humans.

Above all, it does not prove that the hypostatic union is a Biblical concept. This aspect of the incarnation must necessarily be imported into Scripture, for it simply does not exist there in any form. It is merely a piece of theological speculation upon one aspect of Trinitarian Christology.

Thus far you have been arguing consistently in one direction: that the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. But this is not enough to prove Trinitarianism. You also need to prove that the reverse is true: ie. that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Finally, you must prove that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are united in substance as three persons comprising one being Who is God. All of this must be achieved using exclusively Biblical concepts derived solely from Scripture.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#4 Evangelion

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Posted 14 April 2010 - 11:16 AM

First Rebuttal


Rob,

I'll begin by saying that I'm pleased to see you acknowledge that I am using the words "being" or "person" in the usual way. It would be helpful if you could explain precisely what they mean to you in the context of Trinitarian Christology. How do you differentiate "being" from "person"? Does Scripture use these words in the way that you require? If so, where?

In my reply to your rebuttal I have emphasised that the Bible always refers to one person when speaking about God. This is an issue you chose not to address in your opening argument, though you briefly touched upon it in your rebuttal. I believe you will need to elaborate on it before Week 2 commences. The Old Testament contains at least 7,000 references to God using singular personal pronouns. Even the simplest exegetical methodology cannot fail to recognise this as powerful evidence that God is one person. The minority evidence must be interpreted in light of the majority evidence, and the majority evidence overwhelmingly supports a Unitarian depiction of God.

You've piqued my curiosity on a couple of points by affirming the eternal Sonship of Jesus (which is not universally confessed by Trinitarians). If the Son is eternal, what does "Son" mean to you, and how is the Father a "Father"? It seems to me that these are two more terms that Trinitarians have arbitrarily redefined to suit themselves, rejecting the common usage because it is incompatible with Trinitarian theology.

You presented 6 propositions which are intended to comprise a chain of argument for Trinitarianism, but the logical progression is not compelling. Even if I accept all 6, I do not necessarily end up with your definition of Trinitarianism because the propositions are not fully consistent with the framework you have outlined. For example, the propositions make no reference to eternal Sonship, so I could confess all of them and still be left with a pre-existent Jesus who is not an eternal Son.

By defining the doctrine of the Trinity as a conceptual framework for understanding your 6 propositions, you tacitly imply that the Trinity itself is not a Scriptural concept but merely one which is synthesised from the propositions. I also notice that you have not precluded the possibly of alternative conclusions based upon the same propositions. Trinitarianism is certainly a plausible conclusion from your 6 propositions, but it is not a necessary one.

You say that you intend to prove all 6 propositions from Scripture. Given that they all represent vital aspects of Trinitarian theology, I have to wonder why the eternal Sonship of Jesus is not among them. Do you believe the eternal Sonship to be an optional or a necessary feature of orthodox Trinitarianism? Will you be seeking to prove it from Scripture? (This will be required if it is an essential part of your Christology).

The nature of your propositions betrays the fact that the clear statements required by Trinitarianism are not found in Scripture; hence your need to approach it tangentially, rather than by direct proof-texting. This would not be necessary if the concepts underpinning your theology were wholly Biblical.

You spent a substantial proportion of your wordcount refuting Biblicism. Since I am not a Biblicist, none of this was relevant to me. I agree with you that there is no restriction against using words outside Scripture, and I further agree that what matters is the concepts expressed by whatever words we use. Those concepts must be strictly and demonstrably derived from Scripture alone. I will be interested to see how you defend the eternal Sonship and the hypostatic union on this basis.

A restriction against using words outside Scripture would not require us to speak in Hebrew and Greek (as you claim), since we have sufficient means to translate the original languages into English which accurately reflects the vocabulary employed by the Bible's writers.

You made a bold assertion here:

...all non-Trinitarians adhere to some concepts or formulations that are not explicit anywhere in the Bible.


Will you be seeking to prove this at some point in our debate? I would be interested to see your evidence.

You attempted to conflate the issue of canonicity with the definition of doctrine. This will not stand. The issue of canonicity is irrelevant; defining a canon is not equivalent to defining a doctrine and accepting the concept of a canon is not equivalent to accepting a non-Biblical doctrine or doctrinal concept. Canonicity is a point of textual criticism (not theology) and I accept the canon for reasons that are not theological.

You say:

Trinitarian scholars routinely acknowledge that the Bible does not teach the formal, systematic doctrine of the Trinity; that the concept of the Trinity is nowhere explicit in Scripture; that the biblical writers did not themselves think of God as triune or conceptualize God as triune; and so forth."


This being true, it is surely an admission that the concept of the Trinity itself is necessarily extra-Biblical, comprising nothing more than a theological hypothesis for the sum of the Biblical data. In other words, the Trinity is an idea not found in Scripture, but one which must be superimposed upon it.

Can you prove your claim that "Biblical Unitarians make a distinction between the Holy Spirit (capitalised) as another name for God the Father, and "holy spirit" as the impersonal power of God? Christadelphians do not make this distinction, and you will not find it within anything I have written.

In order to illustrate a certain point, you raised the question of whether God created ex nihilo or ex materia. If I said to you that God created purely by the power of His spoken Word, would you define this as ex nihilo or ex materia?

I will be interested to see how the concept of three persons existing in one being can be deduced purely from Scripture, since this is usually the point at which Trinitarians reach for the Early Church Fathers and begin to quote metaphysics as a substitute for Biblical evidence.

You did not fully define the attributes of God, but you appear to agree substantially with the definitions I have listed, which is helpful.

I was pleased to see you reaching for the Shema so early in the debate, since this corresponded nicely with my discussion of the same passage. Yet even as you began to exegete it, you balked at the prima facie meaning, as Trinitarians always do. In my opening statement I had said that Trinitarians cannot accept the Shema without qualification, and sure enough you proved me correct.

Your assertion that "the sense in which Jehovah is one, is not specified" reflects an a priori assumption that the verse cannot be taken at face value. This assumption is itself the result of your Trinitarian preconceptions about the identity of God. The Bible does not need to specify what "one" means here because there is no indication that we are required to interpret it in any way that is different to the normative use that we find everywhere else in Scripture. Yet you wish to make this a special case and argue for an alternative meaning.

You exegete the Shema as saying that Israel has one God, despite your claim that the "oneness is not specified" and despite the fact that the specific inclusion of the Yahweh name means that the verse is saying Yahweh Himself is "one" (demonstrating that the person of Yahweh is referred to here, and not just the concept of Yahweh as God).

This begs two questions:

  • If the oneness is not specified, is your interpretation arbitrary?
  • What is your exegetical basis for the interpretation: "Yahweh is number one"?

Elaborating on your "the oneness is not specified" argument, you presented a list of possible meanings for this "oneness". Yet this list of possible meanings does not include "one person"! Why not? There is no valid reason for precluding it. Once again your preconceptions appear to be directing your exegesis.

You presented several interpretations of the Shema, but contrary to your claim they are not automatically consistent with each other, nor are they necessarily consistent with Trinitarianism or Unitarianism. In fact, at least one of these interpretations allow for the existence of other gods: "Yahweh is number one" could imply that there is a "number two", "number three", etc.

You clearly wish to use the name "Yahweh" in two different ways:

  • As the name for the Trinity as a concept (ie. the concept of three persons in one being)
  • As a name possessed by each individual member of the Trinity

But if Father + Son + Holy Spirit = 3 because they are all distinct from each other, and if each of them can be individually referred to as Yahweh, how can this not mean that there are three Yahwehs?

It is yet another example of inconsistent terminology. You count the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as "three persons", then you tell me that they are all "Yahweh", but you don't want to accept that three persons each called "Yahweh" comprise three Yahwehs. This reflects the logically incoherent statements of the Athanasian Creed, which states:

So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.


Here we have a series of unBiblical statements which mirror your own assertions exactly. Our readers should now be asking themselves how you can claim to be only using concepts derived purely from Scripture, whilst simultaneously articulating ideas sourced directly from fourth-century theological traditions, in language inspired directly by the metaphysical language of that period.

The assertion that "Deuteronomy 6:4 does not address the issue of whether Jehovah is a 'unipersonal' or 'triune' being" seems to be predicated upon the a priori assumption that the passage could mean God is more than one person (which is something that you have yet to prove). But why would we interpret it any differently to the other places where the Bible refers to individuals as "one"? Take for example Genesis 19:9 ("This one [echad] came to live here as a foreigner..."). What is the "oneness" referred to here? Will you claim that we cannot be sure because it is "not specified"?

Thus your objection that the Shema "...does not specify one what" is irrelevant. Genesis 19:9 does not specify "one what" either, but translators have no trouble deducing the intended meaning here, and some even transliterate it explicitly as a singular noun (the NET uses "man"). In summary: you need to give a compelling Scriptural reason for rejecting the normative use of "one" in the context of Deuteronomy 6:4.
Are "triune" and "unitary" really opposites? You seem to imply that they are, but you do not explain why.

In my opening statement I used several passages from Scripture to show that the Bible explicitly defines the sense in which Yahweh is "one", using terms which show that unipersonality is in view (see my quotes from the identity of God; particularly I Corinthians 8:6). I also refer you to my reply to your rebuttal, where I point out that God always refers to Himself in singular pronouns. (Why would God do this, if God is actually three persons?)

You accepted that the Jews understood the Shema in the way that Biblical Unitarians do, but speculated that their understanding was "incomplete or imperfect at this point"; yet how could that be, since the Shema was revealed to Israel by God Himself as part of the Law? Are you seriously suggesting that God's revelation was "incomplete or imperfect at this point", or that He would leave His people with an " incomplete or imperfect" understanding of His greatest commandment? Your theory leads naturally to this sad conclusion.

Searching Scripture to find out how Old Testament Jews traditionally understood the Shema is an exegetical process, not a historical one. Thus your objection that "This is a historical argument and not an exegetical one" is invalid. (Remember, we are supposed to be sourcing our arguments from the Biblical data).

There is nothing in Scripture which suggests or implies that the Jews misunderstood the Shema. Jesus made no attempt to clarify the formula when he hears it from others, nor does he attempt to redefine it when he quotes it to an audience. The apostles also gave no indication that they understood the Shema in a way that was different to OT Jews.

You accept that echad and heis are used in the context of human being as one person; why then do you make an exception for the Shema and claim that we "do not know" what it is intended to mean here? Again you have merely reiterated the Trinitarian a priori which refuses to accept "one person" as an option and seeks to blur the issue by speculating that multiple persons could be referred to here. You appear to accept that "one" means "one person" in every place except the Shema, for no other reason than the fact that you cannot afford it to mean "one person" in Deuteronomy 6:4!

What texts do you have in mind which teach that God is a single being "but not a unipersonal being"? How do you distinguish between the two? What would a unipersonal text look like? I hope you are arguing a position which is actually falsifiable.

Again in reference to the Shema, you say:

This argument would be sound if by 'person' we meant an individual being.


Who is "we" in this case? Surely it can only be Trinitarians like yourself, for you are the only ones who employ the words "being" and "person" in ways that are different from the normative use. So aren't you effectively saying that the argument cannot be sound because Trinitarians don't use the words in this way? That seems rather circular.

I maintain that my argument from the Shema will be sound regardless of whether or not Trinitarians use the language in this way, because the argument stands or falls on the basis of Biblical evidence - and it is the Biblical evidence that determines how we must all be using these words.

You say:

In Trinitarian theology, a divine “person” is not an individual being, because God is one being, not three.


The emphasis is mine. I have two observations to make on this statement.

  • It is an explicit confirmation that Trinitarian theology uses the words "being" and "person" in a way that deviates from normative practice
  • The statement doesn't really explain anything (how does the fact that God is one being instead of three, prove that a divine person is not an individual being?)

You referenced certain aspects and attributes of God which are in comprehensible to humans. While this is true, it offers no support for Trinitarianism. Is it simply being mentioned to justify a belief in an illogical and paradoxical formula?

Critics may indeed argue that the classical Christian attributes of God are paradoxical, but Christians have successfully proved that they are not (as you yourself affirm). The same cannot be said of Trinitarianism, which Trinitarians freely admit to being paradoxical (and also illogical, depending on which Trinitarian you ask).

You arbitrarily set special conditions for Trinitarian exegesis when you say that the term "person" is "...stipulated to be used with a somewhat different connotation as compared to its use for human beings." But why use the term person in a way that differs from its use for human beings in the first place? The Old Testament does not require this. The Old Testament Jews did not use the word "person" in such a way, and neither did God. So how is the idea deduced from Scripture? Where is the Biblical evidence which demonstrates that this is how we are intended to use the word "person" in reference to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

I agree with you that God's omnipresence is not a superfluous attribute; I merely said that it appears to be (which it does, from a purely logical perspective).

I'll spare us an additional argument by informing you that I do not reject Trinitarianism on the basis of incomprehensibility. I reject it on the basis of the argument from Scripture, the argument from history, and the argument from reason.

The argument from Scripture demonstrates that Trinitarianism is an unBiblical doctrine based upon unBiblical evidence derived from a mixture of Biblical and unBiblical sources. The argument from history demonstrates that Trinitarianism emerged long after the New Testament era, within an intellectual and theological climate far removed from first-century Christianity. The argument from reason demonstrates that Trinitarianism is illogical and irrational.

By contrast, the overwhelming body of evidence compels a Unitarian understanding:

  • Scripture repeatedly presents us with consistent unipersonal language in reference to God (e.g. God only referred to in singular pronouns; God only referring to Himself in singular pronouns)
  • Scripture repeatedly presents explicit statements depicting God as only one person
  • Scripture qualifies its references to others who appear to possess attributes and titles of God
  • Scripture qualifies its references to others as "god" or "gods"
  • The first-century Christian understanding of God's identity comprehended all of the points listed above
  • The first-century Christian understanding of God' identity was consistent with the Old Testament Jewish understanding of God's identity
  • The Unitarian God is both logical and rational

These lines of evidence help to inform our understanding of the language used in certain New Testament passages, as I shall demonstrate in the weeks that follow.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#5 Evangelion

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 03:10 AM

Second Counter-Rebuttal



Did the OT saints know the Father?


Rob,

We've reached the point at which we are now debating methodologies more than evidence, so this will be my final reply to your responses in this thread. I'll retain your section titles for the sake of clarity.

If the OT revealed God as one person (and you've already accepted that this is how the Jews interpreted the OT) and if Jesus revealed himself as another person of God in the NT (as you claim) then there is no logical basis for claiming that "Jesus' revelation did not contradict the revelation of God in the Jewish scriptures." A contradiction necessarily arises.

You've repeated your claim that Jesus was implying "...some truth that even the Jews had not yet learned." I still don't see how you can legitimately extrapolate this from Jesus' words. He is very clear in his affirmation that the Jews' knowledge is both superior to the Samaritans' and that this knowledge is demonstrably valid. There is no suggestion that the Jews lack "some truth."

On the contrary, Jesus says "We worship what we know." Here he places himself firmly within the category of those who worship, and affirms that this worship is based upon sound knowledge.

I agree that salvation is "from the Jews" according to Jesus, as you rightly observe. But if Jesus didn't mean that the Jews had enough knowledge for salvation, it seems odd that he would say "we worship what we know." Your interpretation implies that he meant something like "we worship what we know, although we don't actually know enough." I think we can all see the problems there.

You've given no reason to interpret Jesus' statements Christologically. But even if we did, it would still not prove that the Jews lacked "some truth", nor would it show that this "truth" was related to the person of God and/or Christ. They knew about the Messiah, they were aware of the prophecies, and in Matthew 2:5-6 "the chief priests and experts in the law" correctly interpreted those prophecies to accurately predict his birthplace.

I've already demonstrated that your exegesis of this Matthew 11:27 is a highly unusual one which finds no support among Trinitarian commentators. It's ironic that my interpretation agrees with standard Trinitarian exegesis, but yours does not.

Your heading for this section was "Did the OT saints know the Father?" yet this question still remains unanswered at the end of your reply, which strikes me as rather odd since you're the one who asked it in the first place.


A prioi argument?


Rob,

Your refusal to provide definitions of "person" and "being" until Week 5 is at best peculiar and at worst evasive. I understand that from your perspective it's preferable to keep using these words without defining them because you need to present a moving target. This is a familiar Trinitarian strategy and I have encountered it many times before. However, it does reduce the strength and credibility of your arguments.

From your opening statement to your rebuttals and counter-rebuttals, you have consistently relied on a uniquely Trinitarian differentiation between the concepts of "being" and "person", insisting that when a "divine person" is in view, the regular definitions cannot and do not apply. Yet that unique differentiation has never been specified - not even in your discussion of the Shema, when you needed it most. It remains just as conveniently fluid and nebulous as it was when our debate first began.

You say that your argument from the Shema is based on a posteriori reasoning rather than an a priori reasoning. I maintain that this has not been sufficiently proved. All you've done is to argue that your interpretation of certain NT passages trumps an unequivocal OT statement. But your interpretation of those NT passages contradicts the OT statement. You earlier tried to preclude this contradiction by claiming that the Shema allows for multiple persons within the Godhead, but your attempts to prove this assertion have been unsuccessful. This, again, is where you needed clear definitions of "being" and "person", yet we still haven't seen them.

I understand that you arrive at your conclusions by correlating the lines of evidence, as we have already discussed. The process is clear to me. My point is that you wrongly apply this method to the question of the "being/person" differentiation. Simply showing that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all "God" is not enough to demonstrate that we are free to depart from the regular definitions of "being" and "person" when discussing Who God is.

This is especially true when addressing OT passages which use these words in a way that gives no indication that a unique definition is intended. Instead of accepting the Bible's own use of these words, you superimpose your own, unique meaning on the basis of evidence which does nothing to change their normative use.

You say:

Here's what I would expect in a positive case for Unitarianism: A demonstration that Christ's existence began at his human conception, that Christ is not God but only a man through whom God worked, and that the Holy Spirit is the Father - with all of the apparently contrary evidence cogently shown not to be contrary to these conclusion.


(My emphasis).

This statement is fine until we reach the highlighted words. Within the space of a single sentence you have shown that you do not actually understand the Christology you are attempting to debate.

In my opening statement I presented a summary of my beliefs and a link to a more detailed confession of faith. At no point did I ever say I believe the Holy Spirit to be the Father. On the contrary, I explicitly stated that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, but not God Himself (this is point #4 of the doctrinal summary in my introduction).

You may wish to re-read my doctrinal summary (and perhaps also my larger confession of faith) in order to familiarise yourself with the principles of Biblical Unitarianism. I do believe it's essential to understand your opponent's position before you attempt to debate it, and I expect you to correct me when you believe I have misunderstood yours.

On an unrelated note: your persistent use of the term "anti-Trinitarian" strikes me as unnecessarily pejorative. It might be understandable if I was brandishing the term "anti-Unitarian", but I don't play that game.


The problem with pronouns


Rob,

In this section you committed the fallacy of special pleading and basically admitted to it here:

Likewise, I see nothing amiss with understanding “God” in some contexts to refer to the triune Deity and in some contexts to refer to one person specifically of the three.


This demonstrates that you do not allow the passages in question to inform your understanding of God's identity. Instead, you bring a previously established conclusion which you've drawn from the NT and use it to "trump" the OT evidence.

In your discussion of the pronouns you said:

Actually, pronouns count singular referents, which may be persons, beings, or collective entities named for one individual.


This looks like an attempt to shift the goalposts. I had originally said:

Pronouns count persons, not beings. When a singular pronoun is used, a single person is indicated (whether literally or metaphorically).


Your digression into "referents" does nothing to change this and has no relevance here. Of course a person can be a referent; that's a truism. The point is that a singular pronoun does not denote multiple persons. In regular discourse, singular pronouns count singular persons for each party to the discourse.

"I" refers to one person. "Me" refers to one person. "He" refers to one person. "We" does refer to multiple persons, but that is not how God refers to Himself. 7,000 singular personal pronouns in the OT can't be wrong (not to mention the equally consistent use of singular personal pronouns in the NT) and the Biblical Unitarian understanding of these pronouns, being strictly a posteriori, is clearly the most natural.

Your examples from the Psalms do not prove your case; "Israel" is the name of a nation as well as a person, but it is clear from the context that only the nation is referred to in the passage which you present. In my previous rebuttal I said that you accept the normative use of singular personal pronouns except where you believe the Trinity to be in view. That is the fallacy of special pleading and you have merely repeated it here. Additionally, you are using the name "Israel" as analogous to the word "God", but "God" is not a name, which weakens your analogy to an insupportable degree.

Another flawed analogy emerged in your defence of Trinitarian special pleading, where you said:

Suppose someone were to make the following assertion: "It is revealing that Christians routinely accept that whenever in Scripture someone is said to be “with” someone else, or to be “present,” this refers to being located at a specific place, except when God is in view."


This is not the same as the argument I have raised against Trinitarianism's inconsistent use of certain words. Your analogy fails because when a Christian says that God is with someone, he is referring to being located at a specific place (ie. the place where that "someone" is located). God is omnipresent, remember? Thus He is literally present at the specified place, and so the Christian is not redefining the word "with" at all. He is using it in the normative sense. The point turns upon a property of God (omnipresence) and not upon the definition of "with", which remains exactly the same.

Your critique of the NET footnotes at Genesis 1:26 reflects your concern about the OT's consistent use of singular pronouns in reference to God (as I had anticipated) which adds weight to my argument whilst undermining yours. Do you seriously believe you can overturn the evidence of 7,000 singular personal pronouns with one verse containing two plural pronouns? I refer you to the principles of exegesis in my opening statement. Scriptural consistency is a signpost of true doctrine; likely interpretations uphold this consistency.

Since I do not claim that the angels literally created the world (and neither do the NET translators) your digression on this point is all but irrelevant, except where you highlight a verse in which one person claims to have created the world by Himself. This was Isaiah 44:24, which refers to Yahweh as a single person and emphasises that He alone created the world. Does this sound more like Trinitarian or Biblical Unitarian theology?

As a side note, I liked your point about the imago dei and I agree with you that human beings are made as physical image-bearers of the invisible God. This was also the view held by Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses 5.6.1) who developed it in opposition to the Gnostic view that we are saved by release from the body (for a good treatment of this issue, see Stuart G. Hall's Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992). However, it does not negate the NET translators' point about God's use of the word "us".

I would be interested to know if you can list any OT and ANE scholars who believe that your Trinitarian interpretation of the plural in Genesis 1:26 is the correct reading. Your use of this text as implicit evidence for Trinitarianism is atypical of the Trinitarian profile that I had assigned to you, but there's always an exception to the rule and you've matched the profile in every other way so far.

I can summarise this section by saying that you've failed to prove your case from pronouns (whether singular or plural). You've also skirted around the questions I presented in my previous counter-rebuttal:

Rob, I have noticed that you yourself refer to "God" using singular pronouns yourself. Why? Surely "God" is more than one person to you. Is your use of singular pronouns unconsciously influenced by the Bible's use, or do you believe that the correct pronoun for three persons is "He"? You can't have it both ways without giving ground on one point or the other.


These remain unanswered.

Finally, you've begged the question of why God would leave one or two pieces of "implicit evidence" for Trinitarianism within the OT whilst surrounding them with explicit evidence which points in a completely different direction. For nearly 4,000 years the Jews believed that God was a single person, and God not only allowed them to believe this but made no attempt to prove them wrong despite centuries of divine revelation. Why? It's the elephant in the room.


On arguing from silence - modestly


Rob,

You cannot seriously be claiming that a single piece of evidence within the context of a larger argument comprises a "tentative or evidential argument from silence."


Logic, Biblicism and the hypostatic union


Rob,

Accusing me of misunderstanding the hypostatic union might be a useful way to avoid the logical objections I've raised, but it does not address them. I can allow that in your own minds you do not view yourself as believing that Jesus is simultaneously God and not-God. However, it is nevertheless an inescapable conclusion which necessarily arises from the concept of the hypostatic union. It is what your doctrine amounts to, whether they like it or not (and even whether they believe it or not).

I have shown from Scripture that God is not-man and man is not-God. There were no objections from you on this point, and rightly so. Yet you still want to insist that when God the Son becomes the God-man, he is somehow not simultaneously God and not-God. This is insupportable. The Trinitarian Jesus is not a demi-god (half man and half man) but "100% God and 100% man" (as a popular formulation describes it). This simultaneously places him into the two mutually exclusive categories of God (=not-man) and man (=not-God). Mortal, but not immortal. Omniscient, yet restricted in knowledge. Peccable, but impeccable. And so on, and so forth. Trinitarian strategies to address these contradictions will be examined as they arise during Weeks 2 & 3. The very fact that these contradictions are recognised as contradictions by Trinitarian scholars is itself a vindication of the argument I am presenting.

Leaving aside your erroneous and unsubstantiated claim that I don't understand the hypostatic union, your reply amounts to nothing more than "But I don't look at it that way." Well, you can look at it any way you like, but you can't change the reality.

You attack a straw man when you (mis)represent me as believing you are obligated to prove explicitly Nicene and Chalcedonian theology from Scripture. I believe no such thing. But you do need to prove that it is at least Biblical in the sense of being Biblically derived, whether from explicit or implicit evidence. You must also do this in a way which demonstrates that the hypostatic union presents the best interpretation of the Biblical data. Can you do this and still preclude the possibility of Docetism, which taught that Jesus was not a man but merely appeared to be? Some would argue that a Docetic Christ provides an even better explanation than the hypostatic theory.

You are right when you say that if you can show from Scripture that Jesus is God (in the sense of being the all-powerful Judaeo-Christian deity) my case for Biblical Unitarianism will have failed. But if that is all you do, your case for Trinitarianism will remain unproved, since the Trinitarian God consists of more than just Jesus.

You make another mistake when you say:

Somehow, you want to convince people that even if I can prove “that the Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God,” that will not be “enough to prove Trinitarianism.” It surely will, as long as we stipulate our common ground that there is only one God—and it clearly will refute Unitarianism decisively.


No Rob, it won't be good enough by a long shot. Simply proving that "The Father is God, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God" does not automatically mean that the reverse is equally true. I'll give you an example in another context:

  • Dave is white
  • White is Dave

The second statement is not automatically true just because it's a reversal of the first statement. It must be proved independently.

The same problem arises for Trinitarianism, and here I think you have become trapped (or perhaps confused?) by your own terms of reference. The only methodological errors are yours, not mine.

Our readers will recall that you are using the word "God" in two different ways:

  • Father = "God", Son = "God" and Holy Spirit = "God"
  • "God" = Father + Son + Holy Spirit

Thus you use the word "God" in reference to the triune Godhead as a single unit, but you also use it in reference to each of the three persons individually. You do exactly the same with the name of Yahweh, as we saw in a previous exchange which left some unanswered questions on the table.

All your energy so far has gone into proving the first formula at the expense of the second. But if you only manage to prove the first, what would you actually have proved? Possibly Trinitarianism; but possibly also Modalism (or even Dynamic Monarchianism).

For example, Modalism easily comprehends the idea that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God; however, it does not work the other way because Modalism teaches that God is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second formula is an essential element if you wish to preclude Modalism (and similar heresies) and it must be proved independently of the first formula. Trinitarianism only becomes a necessary deduction when both formulae are equally demonstrated, independent of each other. Proving the first does not prove the second.

You seem to think that this line of argument is unfair, but it's not. I am simply holding you to your own terms of reference.

To summarise this final exchange:

  • Jesus himself confirmed that the OT Jews understood God's identity and possessed salvific knowledge of Him
  • You commit the fallacy of special pleading when arguing for a unique use of the words "being" and "person"
  • You recognise that the overwhelming use of singular personal pronouns in reference to God throughout the entire Bible is powerful evidence against your theology, but you cannot account for it or explain it away
  • You cannot explain why God kept His alleged tri-unity a secret for nearly 4,000 years
  • An entity cannot possess mutually exclusive properties, God is not man, and Jesus can't be both simultaneously
  • The two essential formulae of Trinitarianism (F+S+HS=G & G=F+S+HS) must be proved independent of each other

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#6 Evangelion

Evangelion

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Posted 17 April 2010 - 05:29 PM

Second Rebuttal



Biblicism and the Trinity


Rob,

Here follows my last response on this thread, since once again we have begun to focus on methodology rather than evidence and there is little more to add.

In my first rebuttal I explained why your 6 propositions are not sufficient to prove Trinitarianism. You say this is "debatable", but you cannot categorically deny it. Of course Unitarianism is not a plausible conclusion from your 6 propositions; that goes without saying. What matters is that Trinitarianism is not a necessary conclusion from those propositions. You will need to tighten them up considerably if they are intended to comprise your exegetical framework for Weeks 2 & 3. It doesn't matter how you "do exegesis", a logical problem is still a logical problem and it doesn't go away until you resolve it.

You didn't tell me if you consider the eternal Sonship an essential or optional feature of Trinitarianism. Perhaps you're waiting until Week 2.

Your excursus into Biblicism reiterates much of what you said in your latest response to my counter-rebuttals on the other thread. I am happy to agree that theological concepts are not required to be explicitly stated in Scripture, but may be reasonably deduced from the Biblical evidence. However, I am cautious about the abuse of this principle, and your frequent use of the word "implicit" reminds me Humpty Dumpty's proud boast to Alice: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less." I keep wondering if "implicit" is being used with the same flexibility.

Proof-texting is certainly a Biblicist expectation, but not one that is exclusive to Biblicism. For example, it is clearly employed in Putting Jesus in His Place, the book you co-authored with J. Ed Komoszewski. So I think we can agree that proof-texting also has its place.

On the issue of the canon you take a fundamentalist view (quelle surprise!) We can debate the epistemological basis of the canon another time. Suffice it to say that I do not regard the canon as doctrine and I accept it for reasons that are historical, not doctrinal.

You explain that your mistake about the Biblical Unitarian understanding of the Holy Spirit (an error which also appears in the other thread) was based upon a certain reading of two Biblical Unitarian resources, neither of which was written by me. It would have been better to visit my discussion forum or a Christadelphian website to see how we define the Holy Spirit. Alternatively you can return to my opening statement in the other thread and re-read my doctrinal summary.

After initially saying that the "oneness is not specified", you've now decided that the Shema means Yahweh is Israel's one and only God. I can see why you favour this interpretation, though I don't believe it offers any substantive assistance to Trinitarianism.

I did not say that you had claimed the Shema means God is more than one person; I said you appeared to assume that it could mean this. You even quote my exact words here, so I was perplexed to see you saying "this is incorrect" and then repeating the very substance of my own statement as if you were contradicting me.

You repeated your claim that the Shema allows for the qualification that God is more than one person, but this merely begs the question of how you're defining the words "being" and "person". It's a recurring problem.

I didn't say that you'd used the word "unitary", but the concept was clearly in view. You certainly weren't referring to anything else.

I said:

You accepted that the Jews understood the Shema in the way that Biblical Unitarians do, but speculated that their understanding was ‘incomplete or imperfect at this point’


Confusingly, you once again quoted the substance of my words back to me and claimed that I've misrepresented you:

First, I said that the Jews’ understanding may have been incomplete or imperfect; I did not describe the Shema or the Torah in that way.


Rob, I didn't say that you described the Shema or Torah as incomplete or imperfect. I said you speculated that the Jews' understanding was incomplete or imperfect.

Your use of Hebrews 8:7 seems misplaced (it refers to a different covenant, not to a new revelation) and does not provide an analogy to new knowledge about the identity of Christ or God.

I'll conclude with a few observations:

  • Biblical Unitarianism offers the most natural reading of the Shema
  • The Shema does not support Trinitarianism (whether implicitly or explicitly)
  • God's identity was revealed at Mt Sinai and did not require qualification
  • The OT Jews interpreted the Shema in the same way that Biblical Unitarians do today

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.




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