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Week II: Christ

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#1 Evangelion



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Posted 15 April 2010 - 07:59 AM

Jesus Christ: Son of God; Son of Man
Jesus of Nazareth is the most important man who has ever lived. Christians are indebted to him for the hope that he offers, the sacrifice he offered on our behalf, and the special relationship with God that is made possible through him.

This post explains how Biblical Unitarians view Jesus, and why we honour him as our master, saviour, shepherd, king and Lord. Rob will find plenty to agree with here.

Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah
  • Matthew 2:1-6, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.' When King Herod heard this he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. After assembling all the chief priests and experts in the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem of Judea," they said, "for it is written this way by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are in no way least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.''"
  • John 4:25-26, "The woman said to him, 'I know that Messiah is coming' (the one called Christ); 'whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.' Jesus said to her, "I, the one speaking to you, am he.'"
  • Acts 3:19-20,"'Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you — that is, Jesus.'"
Jesus was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by divine intervention, on which basis he is the Son of God
  • Isaiah 7:14, "'For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.'"
  • Matthew 1:20-23, "When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord16 appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 'Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel', which means 'God with us'.'"
  • Luke 1: 34-35, "Mary said to the angel, 'How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?' The angel replied, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.'"

At his baptism Jesus received the Holy Spirit, through which he performed miraculous works
  • Matthew 3:16, "After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him."
  • Luke 4:14, "Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and news about him spread throughout the surrounding countryside."
  • John 3:34, "For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he does not give the Spirit sparingly."
  • Acts 10:38, "with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, because God was with him."
Prior to his death and resurrection Jesus was a mortal man, subject to the infirmities of mortal men
  • John 4:6, "Jacob's well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon."
  • Acts 3:15, "'You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this fact we are witnesses!'"
  • Hebrews 2:17, "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people."
Jesus enjoys a uniquely intimate relationship with the Father
  • Matthew 11:27, "'All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him.'"
  • John 6:45, "'(Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God — he has seen the Father.)'"
Jesus worships the Father as his God
  • John 4:21-22, "Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews."
  • John 20:17, "Jesus replied, 'Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.''"
Jesus lived a sinless life of service to the Father’s will, despite being capable of sin and subject to temptation
  • Matthew 4:1, "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."
  • John 4:34, "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work.'"
  • Hebrews 4:15, "For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin."
  • I Peter 2:21-22, "For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth."
Jesus died as a perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins
  • Romans 3:23-25, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed."
  • Hebrews 7:26-27, "For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all."
  • I Peter 1:18-19, "You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed — not by perishable things like silver or gold, but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ."
  • I John 2:1-2, "(My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.) But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous One, and he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world."
Due to his sinless life Jesus did not deserve to die, and was consequently raised to immortality
  • Acts 2:22-24, "'Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know —this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power.'"
Jesus is now seated at the Father's right hand as God's divine, exalted Son, where he acts as our mediator to God
  • Romans 8:34, "Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us."
  • I Timothy 2:5, " For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human"
None of these points requires Jesus to be God. He is presented consistently as a mortal man before his death and resurrection, and an immortal man after he is raised from the dead. This consistent positive evidence is very strong.

Names and titles of Jesus
Jesus has many titles, identifying aspects of his identity, mission and status. I have listed some below:
  • Messiah (Acts 3:20)
  • Lord (John 13:13)
  • Saviour (Acts 13:23)
  • King of Kings (Revelation 17:14)
  • Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16)
  • Immanuel; "God with us" (Matthew 1:18-23)
  • Last Adam (I Corinthians 15:45)
  • Lamb of God (John 1:29)
  • Word of God (Revelation 19:13)
  • Firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18)
  • Author of life (Acts 3:15)
  • Chief shepherd (I Peter 5:4)
  • Light of the world (John 8:12)
  • First and last (Revelation 1:19)
  • Firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15)
There is no suggestion here that Jesus is God. These are precisely what we would expect of the Father's own Son, elevated to His side and mediating on our behalf. It is important to maintain an extremely high view of Jesus prior to his resurrection; a mortal man, made like us in every way. But at his resurrection his body was perfected; made immortal by God. Jesus has been glorified and exalted to the extent that it is almost impossible to give him too much honour.

This informs our understanding of Jesus. No point can be taken in isolation; the most accurate interpretation is one based on the greatest body of consistent evidence.

The "Easy" Verses
Before Week 3, it's important to address verses often used as shortcuts to "prove" that Jesus is God because they appear to call him "God" directly, or refer to "God" in a way that implies "God" means "Jesus." It seems to be assumed that if Jesus is God, the Bible must tell us repeatedly... somewhere. Yet incredibly few specific examples are appealed to.

We must take care to avoid two arguments:
  • The Bible refers literally to Jesus as "God"; therefore he is God
  • The Bible does not refer literally to Jesus as "God"; therefore he is not God
Since the exact meaning of "theos" (Greek: "God") can vary according to context, it is not enough to find a passage where Jesus is called "theos." Of itself, this does not prove the Trinitarian case. However, we cannot assume that having "theos" used in relation to Jesus is the only evidence we would expect to find if Jesus was actually God. We can allow that there may be other, less explicit evidence.

Rob and I agree some passages apparently call Jesus "God" literally, directly and without qualification. Rob quotes several in Putting Jesus in His Place (Kregel Publications, 2007) as evidence that Jesus is indeed God. However, these passages are not decisive, since virtually all of them can be understood differently due to textual variations and contextual/grammatical issues. Textual critics and Trinitarian authorities of various schools observe repeatedly none can be relied on with absolute certainty, and even the strongest requires qualification.

I address these verses now since I feel that they distract from the far more important task of building a case for our respective Christologies on a Scriptural basis as a whole. I shall be quoting from the NET Bible (with exceptions noted).

Rob discusses Isaiah 7:14 on pages 135-8 of his book (hereafter PJIHP):

For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.

Rob links this with Isaiah 9:6:

For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He shoulders responsibility and is called: Extraordinary Strategist, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Rob says he is familiar with the NET Bible, so I am sure he has read the footnotes. I quote the relevant parts, as they are extensive.

On Isaiah 7:14 -

The name Immanuel means "God [is] with us."

There is no attempt to extrapolate an argument for Christ's deity. The translators understand that a name is not the same as a statement about Christological identity or ontology (nature). Jewish names commonly include names and titles of God (a practice known as theophory) without ever implying that the person being so named is literally divine. Some examples follow:
  • Elijah: "Yahweh is God"", or "Yahweh my God"
  • Adoni-zedek: "justice of the Lord"
  • Jehezekel: "strength of God"
  • Zephaniah: "the Lord is my secret"
  • Bithiah: "daughter of the Lord"
  • Isaiah: "salvation of the Lord"
  • Ishmael: "God that hears"
The Messianic name of "Immanuel" was prophetic, pointing forward to the redeeming work that God would achieve through Jesus, whose name means "Yah shall save."

On Isaiah 9:6 -

["El Gibbor"] is probably an attributive adjective ("mighty God"), though one might translate "God is a warrior" or "God is mighty." Scholars have interpreted this title is two ways. A number of them have argued that the title portrays the king as God's representative on the battlefield, whom God empowers in a supernatural way (see J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, 181-82). They contend that this sense seems more likely in the original context of the prophecy. They would suggest that having read the NT, we might in retrospect interpret this title as indicating the coming king's deity, but it is unlikely that Isaiah or his audience would have understood the title in such a bold way. Psa_45:6 addresses the Davidic king as "God" because he ruled and fought as God's representative on earth.

["Everlasting Father"] This title must not be taken in an anachronistic Trinitarian sense. (To do so would be theologically problematic, for the "Son" is the messianic king and is distinct in his person from God the "Father.") Rather, in its original context the title pictures the king as the protector of his people. For a similar use of "father" see Isa_22:21 and Job_29:16. ...The New Testament indicates that the hyperbolic language (as in the case of the title "Mighty God") is literally realized in the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy, for Jesus will rule eternally.

The NET translators openly reject a Trinitarian view and provide several reasons why it is not possible.

Rob's own analysis is brief and contains not one single reference from the relevant scholarly literature to support his interpretation, so let's eliminate these as potential Trinitarian proof texts.

On page 141 of PJIHP, John 1:18:

No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.

This translation is based upon a specific choice of manuscript supporting a Trinitarian reading. There are a several Greek manuscripts for this verse, some leaving no place for the deity of Christ. English Bibles have historically translated John 1:18 in different ways, reflecting the manuscripts they use:
  • English Standard Version: "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known."
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible: "No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son — the One who is at the Father's side — He has revealed Him."
  • Revised Version: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."
  • New International Version: "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
The NET translators admit in a footnote that this verse is controversial and awkward to translate ("The textual problem μονογενὴς θεός (monogenē theo, 'the only God') versus ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (ho monogenē huio, 'the only son') is a notoriously difficult one"). They list a range of translations, assess the evidence for and against each, and explain their choice. Other translations similarly explain their arrival at an alternative translation.

The "...only begotten God" is less supported among Trinitarian scholars today, as it is an ancient variant known to the early church fathers and accepted by the Arian heretics of the 4th Century AD, who believed Jesus was not Almighty God, merely "a god" in the sense of a separate divine entity from God. For them his existence had a literal beginning, unlike the Father. (Arius himself used the term "only begotten god" in Thalia, his mystical hymn about the Father and Son). Hence, "only begotten God" is a sub-optimal match with Trinitarian Christology.

Two notable authorities have discussed the opposing views of John 1:18: Dr Daniel B Wallace, evangelical theologian and grammarian (The Text and Grammar of John 1.18, 2004) and Prof. Bart D. Ehrman, agnostic New Testament scholar and textual critic (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Oxford University Press, 1993).

Wallace belongs to the NET translation committee and favours the translation given in the NET; Ehrman favours the translation "...only begotten son." Both present strong arguments and readers will inevitably favour the result best suiting their Christology. It is admitted candidly that all translations of this verse have difficulties, regardless of the manuscripts, so it cannot be presented as neutral evidence for Christ's deity.

Rob appeals to Acts 20:28 (PJIHP, p144) -

Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Some translations have "...with his own blood", implying it was God who sacrificed Himself for us, which has been used to argue that Jesus is God (since it was he who died for our sins). Rob prefers this translation, using it in his book.

The NET rejects this translation on grammatical grounds:

Or "with his own blood"; Grk "with the blood of his own." The genitive construction could be taken in two ways: (1) as an attributive genitive (second attributive position) meaning "his own blood"; or (2) as a possessive genitive, "with the blood of his own." In this case the referent is the Son, and the referent has been specified in the translation for clarity. See further C. F. DeVine, "The Blood of God," CBQ 9 (1947): 381-408.

Rob's interpretation faces theological dangers. "...with his own blood" is danger of implying that the Father Himself died on the cross (the Patripassian heresy), or that God Himself has blood (problematic since for Trinitarians the word "God" may refer to the Trinity as a whole, implying all three persons have blood). Thus Acts 20:28 is indecisive as a Trinitarian proof text.

Next is Romans 9:5 (PJIHP, p146):

To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen.

However, in their footnotes the translators acknowledge other acceptable readings:

Or "the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever," or "the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever!" or "the Messiah who is over all. God be blessed forever!" The translational difficulty here is not text-critical in nature, but is a problem of punctuation. Since the genre of these opening verses of Romans 9 is a lament, it is probably best to take this as an affirmation of Christ's deity (as the text renders it).

Although the other renderings are possible, to see a note of praise to God at the end of this section seems strangely out of place. But for Paul to bring his lament to a crescendo (that is to say, his kinsmen had rejected God come in the flesh), thereby deepening his anguish, is wholly appropriate. This is also supported grammatically and stylistically: The phrase ὁ ὢν (ho ōn, "the one who is") is most naturally taken as a phrase which modifies something in the preceding context, and Paul's doxologies are always closely tied to the preceding context.

For a detailed examination of this verse, see B. M. Metzger, "The Punctuation of Rom_9:5," Christ and the Spirit in the New Testament, 95-112; and M. J. Harris, Jesus as God, 144-72.

Romans 9:5 is therefore inconclusive.

With regard to Hebrews 1:8 (PJIHP, p148), I agree that Jesus is unequivocally called "theos":

but of the Son he says, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.

Jesus is undoubtedly referred to as "theos" in this verse. However, the meaning of the word is qualified: (a) by the context and (b) by the original use of this phrase in Psalm 45:7, where a Jewish king is called "elohim" by the psalmist ("theos" in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament). The NET footnotes are confident here ("Hebrews 1:8 is thus a strong affirmation of the deity of Christ"), yet in their footnotes on Psalm 45:7 they make no mention of Christ's deity whatsoever.

Standard scholarship finds no reason to infer literal deity from the application of the title "elohim" to a human king in Psalm 45:7; thus, Trinitarian theologian Vincent Taylor, Does the New Testament Call Jesus God? (Expository Times 73 (January 1962): 116-118):

A single passage in the Epistle of the Hebrews may be mentioned, but it supplies no ground at all for the supposition that the author thought and spoke of Christ as God. The passage is a quotation from Ps 45:7-8 in Heb 1:8-9 which is applied to Christ, to show His superiority to the angels. ... The Psalm is Messianic and the divine name is carried over with the rest of the quotation. Like Paul and John the writer frequently uses the name 'the Son', and he does so in introducing this very quotation. He has no intention of suggesting that Jesus is God.

To argue Jesus must be God simply because this verse is connected with him, whilst insisting the original referent cannot be God even though he has just been called exactly that, commits the fallacy of special pleading. Far better to accept Jesus' words in John 10:34, defending himself against a charge of blasphemy by quoting Psalm 82:6 to prove that mortal men can legitimately be called "elohim" or "gods" ("theoi" in the Greek of John 10:34).

The last two texts turn appeal to a point of grammar (PJIHP, pp150-6):

Titus 2:13
as we wait for the happy fulfillment of our hope in the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

The NET takes a Trinitarian reading, and follows the same pattern here:

II Peter 1:1
From Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, have been granted a faith just as precious as ours.

In both cases the Trinitarian translation is based upon a principle known as "Sharp's Rule", after its originator, Trinitarian grammarian Granville Sharp. At the risk of over-simplifying, I summarise the Rule by saying that it argues certain grammatical constructions must always be interpreted in a particular way. The NET translation follows Sharp's Rule rigidly, since it is held in high esteem by the translation committee (particularly Daniel B. Wallace). Yet even Wallace urges caution, pointing out that the application of Sharp's Rule is very limited, not applying to proper names.

Sharp listed eight texts he believed Christologically significant, arguing his Rule proved they supported the deity of Christ (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:5; II Thessalonians 1:12; I Timothy 5:21; II Tim 4:1; Titus 2:13; II Peter 1:1; Jude 4). In an online article (Sharp Redivivus? A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule) Daniel B. Wallace rejects six on textual and grammatical grounds:

Sharp invoked dubious textual variants in four of the eight texts to support his rule (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 5:21; 2 Tim 4:1; Jude 4). As well, in 1 Tim 5:21 and 2 Tim 4:1, if the almost certainly authentic reading of tou' qeou' kaiV Cristou' jIhsou' (for tou' qeou' kaiV kurivou Cristou' jIhsou') is accepted, then the text can also be dispensed with, for “Christ Jesus” is surely a proper name, and thus does not fall within the limitations of Sharp’s rule.

Further, two other passages seem to involve proper names. Second Thessalonians 1:12 does not have merely “Lord” in the equation, but “Lord Jesus Christ.” Only by detaching kurivou from jIhsou' Cristou' could one apply Sharp’s rule to this construction. Ephesians 5:5 has the name “Christ” in the equation, though one would be hard-pressed to view this as less than a proper name in the epistles") eight that only two of these verses can be validly claimed.

Two verses remain which Trinitarians can claim as supporting the deity of Christ.

Of these, Wallace says:

The canon even works outside the twenty-seven books and, hence, ought to be resurrected as a sound principle which has overwhelming validity in all of Greek literature. Consequently, in Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1 we are compelled to recognize that, on a grammatical level, a heavy burden of proof rests with the one who wishes to deny that “God and Savior” refers to one person, Jesus Christ.

(Ibid. Wallace's emphasis).

Notice the qualification: "...on a grammatical level", which we would accept, though other translations disagree with the NET (e.g. the American Standard Version). Thus the argument from Sharp's Rule is not an unequivocal proof. We must ask is why "theos" is used of Jesus; here I would argue that, in Titus 2:13, "great God" quotes "mighty God" from Isaiah 9:6, a Messianic title.

Concluding this section, I repeat that the deity of Christ requires far stronger evidence than a tiny handful of disputed verses regarded are as textually and grammatically problematic and variously translated in ways perfectly acceptable to Biblical Unitarian Christology. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof; this just isn't it.

Jesus in the Old Testament
My opening statement last week, says:

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.

The Law of Moses instructed us into Christ by teaching us basic principles of Christianity through typology and symbol. Everything first-century Christians needed to know about Messiah was built into the words of the Law and the prophets. Jesus is popularly recognised as a New Testament figure, but he is foreshown frequently in the Old Testament as Messiah.

We first glimpse Jesus in Genesis, an encounter providing a template for interpreting other passages referring to him:

Genesis 3:21
The LORD God made garments from skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

This is Christianity's foundation teaching:
  • Sin deserves death
  • Sacrifice offers a covering for sin
  • Only God can provide a sin-covering sacrifice; a sacrifice which is "other than God"
In Week 3 I shall expand on this theme and discuss the many OT passages in which Jesus is foreshown clearly. We will see why his sin-covering sacrifice was made effective by Jesus' humanity (not deity) and come to see him as the apostles and first-century Christians did: Jesus Christ: Son of God; Son of Man.

Few today would take issue with Rudolf Bultmann’s oft-quoted line that “In describing Christ as ‘God’ the New Testament still exercises great restraint.” The list of passages which seem explicitly to identify Christ with God varies from scholar to scholar, but the number is almost never more than a half dozen or so. As is well known, almost all of the texts are disputed as to their affirmation—due to textual or grammatical glitches—John 1:1 and 20:28 being the only two which are usually conceded without discussion.

(Daniel B. Wallace, Sharp Redivivus? A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule).
'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.


#2 Evangelion



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Posted 20 April 2010 - 11:18 AM

First Counter-Rebuttal


There's little to provide by way of counter-rebuttal, since you nibbled at the edges of my opening argument but ventured no further.

Names and Titles of Jesus
You raise the issue of Yahweh being applied to Jesus via NT citations of OT texts. We can address this in detail during Week 3 as you suggest. I take the position that there are few such occurrences (if any) and they pose no threat to my Christology. Naturally I will not be accepting the mere application of "kyrios" to Jesus; there must be an explicit OT link to the Yahweh name.

The application of a name does not itself provide any indication of ontology, as I showed with my brief explanation of theophoric names. The fact that Jesus is called the Word of God in Revelation 19 does not prove that he pre-existed as the logos of John 1:1-3. That is a very weak argument which gives every appearance of special pleading. (Jesus is also called the Lamb of God in the Gospel of John Revelation, but you don't believe he is literally a Lamb, do you?)

You say it was "a bit misleading" of me to separate the titles "King of kings" and Lord of lords." Misleading how, exactly? Apparently you think "King of kings and Lord of lords" is one title. Well I don't read them that way, so what's the big deal? I simply listed the titles as I see them.

"King of kings" is applied many times to pagan kings; Nebuchadnezzar is just one example and there are other examples in ANET in regard to the Assyrian kings. This is clearly a separate title. When coupled with the other title ("Lord of lords") it is interchanged in two different verses:

  • Daniel 2:37, "'You, O king [Nebuchadnezzar], are the king of kings. The God of heaven has granted you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor.'"
  • Revelation 17:14, "'They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.'"
  • Revelation 19:16, "He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: 'King of kings and Lord of lords.'"

There is no consistent order for these titles, so it is disingenuous to claim that "King of kings and Lord of lords" is a single title rather than a composite.

Curiously, your rebuttal does not address the fact that Jesus is never called "God of gods." I hope you intend to examine this in Week 3.

You want to tell me that "Saviour" is an exclusive title of deity, but you admit that it is applied to mortal men at least four times. Thus it is not an exclusive title of deity and does not imply that the one called "saviour" is literally God. As before, you have committed the fallacy of special pleading.

You slip in a mention of "God and saviour", but we both know that this only occurs in two disputed texts (Titus 2:13 & II Peter 1:1) which I've already addressed. I agree with Daniel Wallace that on purely grammatical grounds it is legitimate to read Titus 2:13 as "...God and saviour." This is still not conclusive but presents no difficulties, for reasons I gave in my opening statement.

Texts Apparently Calling Jesus "God"

In this section you use a great many words to say little more than "I disagree with you, Dave" without properly addressing what I've written. At one point you appear to be suggesting that I approach Scripture in a certain way, and that this is very bad. Since you never quote me to prove that I'm doing what you imply I'm doing, and since what I'm allegedly doing is never clearly defined, this digression remains obscure and ultimately irrelevant. The general impression I receive is that you're not happy with the way I dispatched the "Jesus is God" texts, but that is a point you'll have to take up with Daniel Wallace, since I merely follow his line of reasoning.

In the final paragraph you say:

Finally, by your own admission, biblical scholars widely acknowledge John 1:1 and 20:28 as relatively unproblematic instances of NT texts that speak of Jesus as _theos_. In the case of John 20:28, in particular, there are no text-critical problems, no translational disputes, and virtually no serious interpretive alternatives to the text describing Jesus as God. Yet you offer no explanation of these texts. Perhaps you plan to deal with them in the next round?

Yes Rob, I agree that there is general consensus in John 1:1 and 20:28. John 1:1 is, of course, a theological reading rather than an explicit or grammatical one, since the word "Jesus" simply does not appear anywhere in the verse; it must be inserted by the same eisegesis which reads "God the Son" for "Son of God." So in my view it is a verse of straw, but I allow that most authorities take it as a reference to Jesus. John 20:28 is crystal clear: this is definitely an application of theos to Jesus and no sensible Biblical Unitarian would dispute it.

I did not raise these verses in my opening argument because they don't fall into the "easy verses" category for the very reasons that you give (e.g. no textual variants or traditional disputes). I also anticipated that you would raise them yourself, and you justified this expectation by doing so. I have addressed them in my rebuttal to your opening argument, as originally planned.

For your own part, you make no attempt to explain why Jesus is so rarely referred to as theos, nor do you address the evidence of Trinitarian textual interpolations, which arises necessarily from the problem of textual variants. Trinitarian frauds are notorious for cropping up not just in Scripture but even in the works of the early church fathers (e.g. the Ignatian epistles). If the deity of Christ was already present in Scripture, why have Trinitarians spent so many centuries trying to write in into the Bible?

Dave Burke, the NET Bible and Isaiah Texts Calling Jesus God

You deliberately personalise the debate (poor form; this would never have been allowed in my college debating team days) and accuse me of two things:

  • an argument from silence re. Isaiah 7:14
  • misrepresentation of the NET footnotes re. Isaiah 9:6

I can probably grant you a 50% success rate on your first point, since my observation from the NET footnotes does look rather like an argument from silence in the cold light of day. But we both know that I did a lot more than just quote the NET footnotes; I provided an interpretation of the verse by reference to theophory, which still stands.

On the second point I can grant you nothing since you misrepresent me whilst accusing me of misrepresenting the NET. You focus in on the bolded section of the footnotes on "Everlasting Father" whilst ignoring the footnote on "El Gibbor" above it, which comprises 50% of the evidence for my claim that the NET translators reject a Trinitarian reading.

You then misrepresent me as claiming that the NET translators reject a Trinitarian view on the basis of "Everlasting Father alone, which I neither stated nor implied. I'll put this down to over-zealousness on your part, since the bolding obviously caught your eye and you thought you'd found an easy target. Next time please take care to address my evidence as a whole.
'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.


#3 Evangelion



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Posted 24 April 2010 - 07:00 AM

First Rebuttal

Exegesis Redux
I agree there's an "embarrassing wealth of riches from Scripture" about Christ. What we don't have is a wealth about Jesus' alleged deity, which is what we'd expect if Jesus was God and we were supposed to know about it.

You spend ~654 words undermining a standard Protestant hermeneutic (that unclear passages are interpreted by those which are clear), effectively arguing that no such thing as a "clear" passage exists ("almost invariably Text A seems clear to one group while Text B appears equally clear to an opposing group"), a conclusion which seems unnatural and contrived. Is a theological agenda behind this sidestep?

Luther's Claritas Scripturae remains foundational to Sola Scriptura. If the Bible is our only doctrinal authority, the Bible is sufficiently clear for doctrinal enlightenment, regardless of semantic quibbles.

You say "we cannot assign priority to texts on the simplistic assumption that our favourite texts are the clearest" which is both obvious and irrelevant; since nobody suggests that we should. Your 8 principles are clearly defined to suit your arguments which follow; I pass no further comment other than to observe that a change of exegetical rules by Week 2 of a 6-week debate suggests fundamental flaws in one's original view of Scripture.

Christianity is best served by taking into account all Biblical evidence. We thus develop a fuller view of Christ, particularly in the context of the OT, where typological symbolism reveals him repeatedly. Our understanding of the OT is informed by the NT, but we must remember that OT principles underpin NT theology. Any texts must be explained within the broader context of the Biblical message, using all data available. We must not pick and choose selectively, but address passages apparently unfavourable to our Christology and show their congruence with our beliefs. I presented a detailed examination of at least 7 such passages in my opening argument; you looked briefly at 2.

The way to break our interpretive deadlock is simple; teach me the Trinity the way the apostles taught those they baptised. Use the arguments they recorded in Scripture, the concepts they described, the OT verses they quoted.

I invite our readers to look at Acts 2 and see what the apostles taught before baptising their converts. If the Trinity is in Scripture, even if only "implicitly", as Rob claims (though this seems a very weak position, and precisely what he means it remains unclear) we should find it in the apostles' message to the world.
'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.


#4 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 01:40 PM

Matthew 28:16-20

Your argument relies obviously on the English translation, failing to engage with the Greek. You make much of the statement "And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted", claiming that their doubt was about "the propriety of worshipping Jesus", when the context is linked to Jesus' resurrection and their seeing him alive. Searching a dozen commentaries over the past few days, I have failed to find anyone supporting your interpretation; Trinitarian scholars unanimously refer the "doubt" to Jesus' resurrection. A parallel account is John 20:25, where "doubting Thomas" finally believes. Your reading has no credible grounding.

Strangely, you insist that "worship" presented to Jesus in this verse is necessarily religious, offering no evidence to support this, but merely cross-referencing Matthew 4:1-11, where Jesus tells the tempter that only God may be worshipped. This passage contains nothing to support your idea that Jesus is being worshipped as God in Matthew 28:16-20.

The word translated "worshipped" in Matthew 28:17 is proskuneo, which has a broad semantic range and occurs in many different contexts. Legitimate translations include:

  • Worship (religious)
  • Prostration (lying flat in front of someone)
  • Kissing the hand
  • Bowing

(See Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon).

Proskuneo was common among pre- and post-Christian Jews, who employed it in a secular and a religious context. The Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) contains many non-religious examples of proskuneo, thus:

  • Genesis 23:7, "Abraham got up and bowed down [proskuneo] to the local people, the sons of Heth."
  • Joshua 5:14, "He answered, 'Truly I am the commander of the LORD's army. Now I have arrived!' Joshua bowed down [proskuneo] with his face to the ground and asked, 'What does my master want to say to his servant?'"
  • I Samuel (I Kings LXX) 24:9, "When Saul looked behind him, David kneeled down and bowed [proskuneo] with his face to the ground."
  • I Samuel (I Kings LXX) 25:23, "When Abigail saw David, she got down quickly from the donkey, threw herself down [proskuneo] before David, and bowed to the ground."

(Note Joshua's use of proskuneo towards the angel acting as commander of God's army).

Many places in the NT use proskuneo in a religious sense, e.g. John 4:22, "You people worship [proskuneo] what you do not know. We worship [proskuneo] what we know ". Context is our guide. God is clearly the subject of proskuneo, so we may assume a religious meaning. Jesus specifies whom God actually is; according to Jesus, God is "the Father" (verse 23). This unambiguous language further informs our understanding of God's identity as a single person Whom Jesus himself worshipped as God.

Where God is not the obvious recipient, the true intent is clear:

  • Matthew 18:26, "Then the slave threw himself to the ground [proskuneo] before him [his master]'"
  • Revelation 3:9, "Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan — who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying — Look, I will make them come and bow down [proskuneo] at your feet"

Even in Revelation 19:10 & 22:8-9, where an angel refuses proskuneo, there is no suggestion of religious worship. The angel directs all worship, honour and glory to God, just as Jesus himself did.

Contrary to these and other identical passages in the NT, Matthew 4:1-11 (Jesus answering the tempter) contains a qualifier: latreou, meaning "serve." Typically used throughout the NT to denote religious service, it is never applied to Jesus, whether on its own or with proskuneo. Jesus' words to the tempter are replete with religious significance; God is to be worshipped in every possible sense, not merely honoured with bowing or prostration.

By contrast, Jesus never makes any such claim for himself. James D. G. Dunn (Did the first Christians worship Jesus? (London: SPCK, 2010), notes “The number of references to Jesus being worshipped (proskynein) is surprisingly few” (p. 12).

The NT contains three other words consistently used in an explicitly religious sense:

  • Sebazomai: "to worship; to be religious; to feel awe or fear before God"
  • Sebasma: "an object of awe or worship"
  • Sebomai: "revere, worship"

(See Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon).

Unlike proskuneo, these are always used by NT in the context of religious worship and devotion towards God alone, never to denote any honour shown to Jesus or another human being. Claiming Jesus' receipt of proskuneo as evidence of his deity despite consistent application of the word to other men, commits the fallacy of special pleading.

Rather, Dunn observes regarding the latreuein word group (which I mentioned in connection with Jesus’ response to the Devil), “Bearing in mind that the latreuein word group is the nearest expression for the offering of ‘cultic worship’, the fact that it is never used for the ‘cultic devotion’ of Christ in the New Testament is somewhat surprising...” (p. 15).


Those who deny that Christ is God raise the objection that Jesus said his authority was “given” to him, and ask how anyone could give God authority (or why God would need to give God authority). They argue that this is a derived and therefore inferior authority to that of God. This objection ignores the orthodox explanation that the Lord Jesus, by choosing to come into the world “not to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28), had placed himself in a position in which he depended on the Father to exalt him.

You either misunderstand or misrepresent the counter-argument. Biblical Unitarians do not ignore your explanation; we observe that it is wholly inadequate because it is not declared in Scripture. An ad hoc argument assuming the conclusion, it concedes considerable ground by representing Jesus as unequal to the Father (contra creedal Trinitarianism, which prohibits ontological and economic incarnational subordination), demonstrating God was the sole source of his power. This is not mitigated by the defence that Jesus came "not to be served, but to serve" or that he had "placed himself in a position in which he depended on the Father to exalt him." Such ad hoc reasoning begs additional questions:

  • Why would Jesus need to be placed in a position dependent on the Father?
  • Why didn't Jesus come to Earth in his own power and authority?
  • Do you believe Jesus surrendered supernatural power and divine authority when incarnated as "God-man"?
  • Where is the evidence a pre-existent Jesus consciously decided to come as a servant? This is implicit in your claim, but no proof is offered.
  • If Jesus is God and therefore all-powerful, how can he relinquish or receive any authority?

You quote Matthew 20:19 as "proof" the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God - though this verse says absolutely nothing of the kind, nor leads us to any such conclusion. Juxtaposition of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one verse proves nothing. The Christadelphian community uses this baptismal formula, and I myself was baptised under it.

Where are we told that Jesus "identifies himself alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit as the deity to whom each new disciple is to commit himself"? What verse says Jesus presents himself as " one of the persons toward whom disciples perform a religious act of devotion and covenant commitment", a concept found nowhere in the passage? This volume of theology from one verse is ad hoc reasoning.

What then is the purpose of Jesus' statement? Is it ontological consubstantiality, or affirming the authority in which the apostles would act on Jesus' behalf? The issue of authority is in view here (standard commentaries agree); the apostles are sent into the world as Jesus' agents, just as God sent him into the world as God's agent. Jesus bestows his authority on the apostles, just as he received authority from God; "in the name of..." simply means "in the authority of...", with not even a hint at multiple persons, all somehow deity.

From Jesus' promise to be "with you always, to the end of the age" you presuppose omnipresence - why? Paul assured his readers that "though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit" (Colossians 2:5) yet you do not presuppose his omnipresence.

Jesus bestowed the Holy Spirit on his disciples (John 20:22), promising he would send the Holy Spirit to provide divine inspiration (John 14:26) which would "be with you forever" (John 14:16); thus he was to be with them through the power of the spiritual gift he provided. Attempting a link with Genesis 28:15 ignores the context and the way in which the words are qualified by the promise of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 18:20 contains no mention of "divine presence"; your reference to the Shekinah is a bait and switch. Jesus is spiritually present wherever his followers meet to worship God, since they approach the Father through the Son. Christadelphians acknowledge this every time we take the emblems of bread and wine, recognising there the body and blood of Christ; to us he is always present whenever we meet to remember him.
'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.


#5 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 01:46 PM

John 1:1-18 (I)

You begin immediately read Jesus into a place where he does not appear. John 1:1-3 contains no mention of Christ; why do you see him there? If John had meant "in the beginning was Jesus..." why did he not say so? He knew how to write "Jesus", but chose to say "logos" instead. You make no attempt to explain this, though it is a critical point revealing a reluctance to accept Scripture at face value.

Note the gaps in this interpretation. Why does "logos" mean "Jesus" instead of "logos"; why does John use this word instead of writing plainly that Jesus pre-existed as God? Which specific persons are present in verses 1-3, and how many are there? One? Two? Three? Who is the "God" the logos is "with"? Later Rob admits his interpretation of the prologue is paradoxical, a fact which concerns him. Yet this paradox remains unresolved; Rob merely re-asserts it, as if repetition improves matters.

Rob, your attempt to engage with the Biblical Unitarian perspective via Anthony Buzzard is limited, implying a comprehension gap. (I appreciate Trinitarians find it difficult to critique the BU position without properly understanding our Christology).

I agree John 1:1-3 alludes to the natural creation of Genesis, echoing the creative process in the earliest verses ("God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light!"; "God said, 'Let there be an expanse"; "God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered"); note Psalm 107:20; 147:15, 18, 19, Hebrews 11:3 (compare Jeremiah 10:12, 13:5); also II Peter 3:5,7: "For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water... But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly."

The connection between God's spoken word and His work of creation is transparent. God gave a divine command; His will was done. This language requires no theological wrangling. Last week we saw that Scripture provides explicit information on the creation process, telling us (a) only one person was responsible for creation, (b) this person was God, the Father, © God created directly and personally, without divine agency or proxy. The consistent singular pronouns leave no possible doubt creation was performed by only one person, who took sole credit for creating alone.

Several verses make this explicit:

  • Job 35:10, "But no one says, 'Where is God, my Creator'"
  • Isaiah 64:8, "Yet LORD, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the product of your labor"
  • Isaiah 44:24, "This is what the LORD, your protector, says, the one who formed you in the womb: 'I am the LORD, who made everything, who alone stretched out the sky, who fashioned the earth all by myself'"
  • Jeremiah 27:5, "'I made the earth and the people and animals on it by my mighty power and great strength, and I give it to whomever I see fit'"

Last week's challenge to you of Scripture's consistent reference to God by the use of singular personal pronouns, still remains. You now seem to ignore it, making no attempt to resolve the contradictions between your interpretation of John 1:1-18 and the OT message. Retreating into a "new revelation" hypothesis (as last week) does not address the issue of inconsistency and merely begs more questions.
'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.


#6 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 01:56 PM

John 1:1-18 (II)

The word "logos" simply means "word" (spoken, written or thought) but can also mean something more abstract, like "reason". We must allow John to use it naturally, without imposing theological meanings on his text. The natural connection here is to Proverbs 8, with its language of personified wisdom. John most likely has this in mind when he speaks of the logos as being "with God... in the beginning."

Trinitarian translators have traditionally referred to the logos as "he" in John 1:1-3, despite there being no reason to assume literal personality. The word translated "he" is the Greek pronoun "autos", having three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. In John 1: 1-3 it is masculine, agreeing with logos, a masculine noun. This is grammatical gender, not personal gender. It does not tell us the logos is a person, so we can read "autos" as "it", as it appeared in at least five 16th Century Protestant Bibles (e.g. Tyndale's).

Of course Jesus is later called "the Word of God" in Revelation 19:13, but this is an eschatological reference not in the same context as John's gospel. Elsewhere in Revelation Jesus is distinguished from the Word of God, particularly in 20:4 ("those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God").

The phrase "...and the word was God" is usually claimed to suggest the logos is a person. However, "theos" ("God") here can be taken in a qualitative sense; thus Paul M. Dixon (The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John, Dallas Seminary, 1975) and Daniel B. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Zondervan, 1997).

Wallace's "qualitative logos" argument is motivated primarily by his own Christology, assuming the logos is Christ pre-existent. Thus, rather than "the logos was divine", as some translators (e.g. Moffatt New Translation, 1922; Original New Testament, 1985) Wallace prefers "the word was fully God", as in the NET Bible.

Wallace aims to preclude an Arian reading, since "divine" rather than "deity" may imply the logos (which he believes to be the pre-existent Jesus) is less than God. But the statement that God's word is divine does not suggest God's word is also a person, and the statement God's word was "with Him" is no different to saying that we "have an idea" when referring to our own thoughts.

This is a point modern commentators make, and has been acknowledged for many centuries. As early as the 3rd Century, Tertullian wrote in Chapter 5 of Adversus Praxean:

Whatever you think there is a word, whatever you conceive there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind, and while you are speaking you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which is this very reason whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are producing thought by means of that converse with your word. Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second with you. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has Reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word.

Tertullian notes the "logos" can be "with" a person whether spoken aloud or retained in one's thoughts. I do not share Tertullian's Christology (he believed in a pre-existent Jesus who was created by God and subsequently agent of the Genesis creation) but I concur with his explanation of the way in which God's logos was "with Him" in the beginning.

The relevant scholarly literature reveals standard authorities also share this position. Dr Colin Brown, systematic theologian at Fuller Theological Seminary writes in Ex Auditu (7, 1991):

It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John’s Gospel to read it as if it said: ‘In the beginning was the Son and the Son was with God and the Son was God’ (John 1:1). What has happened here is the substitution of the Son for Word (Greek logos), and thereby the Son is made a member of the Godhead which existed from the beginning. Following carefully the thought of John’s prologue, it is the Word that pre-existed eternally with God and is God.

(My emphasis). This agrees with the Second Temple Judaism environment, in which we find God's word ("memra") consistently distinguished from Him as His agent but not considered anything more than His literal word, even when personified and anthropomorphised in the Palestinian Targum, where God's word has "a voice", speaks, and "goes up" (Genesis 3:8-10, Exodus 33:1, Numbers 7:89).
'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.


#7 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 02:02 PM

John 1:1-18 (III)

This clarified, see if John complements or contradicts the OT:

  • Genesis 1:3, "God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light!"
  • Psalm 33:6, "By the LORD's decree the heavens were made; by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created."
  • John 1:1-3, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was divine. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created through it, and apart from it not one thing was created that has been created."

I quote the NET Bible without alteration except in the opening of John 1, where theological spin is removed, providing a Christologically neutral reading. The word "by" is rendered "through" (Greek dia, "through" or "by means of"; not "ek", "by" or "from"). This better renders the original text, which tells us that the logos itself was the agent of creation but not the origin of creation. The fluency of Scripture's message is immediately apparent: God created all things through His divine logos. Thus we have complete continuity between the OT and NT, as opposed to the Trinitarian disconnection.

In verses 3-14 John refers to "the light". The light is equated with the "life" which John describes as being "in" the logos (verse 4: "In it was life, and the life was the light of mankind"). This life/light is definitely a person: Jesus Christ. We know this from verses 6-9, describing the light in terms leaving no room for doubt (John the Baptist was not the light; John bore witness to the light; the light was coming into the world). Jesus himself announced "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12) and "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).

Verse 10 tells us "the world was created by him" (NET). The Greek for "created" here is ginomai, meaning anything from "came into existence" to "appeared" or "became" (in the sense of one thing becoming another). The earliest verses of John 1 use ginomai to describe the creation ("all things were ginomai through it...") but in verse 14 the meaning is completely different (more later).

However, ginomai can also mean "split" or "divided", as Revelation 16:19 ("The great city was split [ginomai] into three parts", NET; definition, full semantic range). This is rare, since we typically expect to find more specific Greek words such as "merizō" or "diamerizō" (perhaps John uses ginomai to express more fully the impact of this sudden, radical consequence, as he does in Revelation 16). Yet it matches the context and is perfectly consistent with Jesus' warning about the cost of accepting his message:

  • Matthew 10:35-36, "'For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man's enemies will be the members of his household.'"
  • Luke 11:23, "'Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.'"
  • Luke 12:51, "'Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!'"

A series of statements thus describe Jesus' life and mission during his time on Earth: he was in the world; the world was divided through him; he came to his own people; was not recognised; was rejected; made it possible for us to become sons and daughters of God - unquestionably Jesus. Notice every statement here describes events after Jesus entered the world. Nothing implies or requires pre-existence; not once is Jesus equated with the logos of verses 1-3.

John reaches his pinnacle in verse 14, where " logos became flesh." Again the choice of language is very deliberate. John does not say "God became flesh" or "God the Son became flesh"; Jesus is not a pre-existent divine being become flesh, but God's pre-existent logos become flesh. Jesus is not God incarnate; he is God's logos incarnate.

So what does "made flesh" mean here? It means to become a real flesh and blood person; to become a human being. The logos did not merely "take on" flesh or "add human nature to himself" as Trinitarianism teaches, and as John does not say; the logos became flesh. Readers, where are we ever told that God "added" human nature to divine? A "dual nature" is precluded; "the logos became flesh" = "X became Y." When noun "X" becomes noun "Y", it is no longer noun "X." At Cana, the water ginomai wine; it did not "add wine nature to itself" or "assume a dual water/wine nature." It became wine and ceased to be water.

J. D. G. Dunn emphasises the distinction repeatedly (Christology in the Making, Grand Rapids, 1989), exposing the fallacy of uncritically interchanging "Jesus" with "logos":

The conclusion which seems to emerge is that it is only with verse 14 that we can begin to speak of the personal logos. The poem uses rather impersonal language (became flesh), but no Christian would fail to recognize here a reference to Jesus Christ - the Word became not flesh in general but Jesus Christ. Prior to verse 14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and logos, the same language and ideas that we find in the Wisdom tradition and in Philo, where, as we have seen, we are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than an individual divine being as such.

The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine logos as 'he' throughout the poem. But if we translated logos as God's utterance instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend logos in vv.1-13 to be thought of as a personal divine being. In other words, the revolutionary significance of v. 14 may well be that it marks not only the transition in the thought of the poem from pre-existence to incarnation, but also the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.

(My emphasis).

William Barclay (The Gospel of John, 1955):

[John] said to the Greeks, "All your lives you have been fascinated by this great, guiding, controlling mind of God. The mind of God has come to earth in the man Jesus. Look at him and you will see what the mind and thought of God are like. John had discovered a new category in which Greeks might think of Jesus, a category in which Jesus was presented as nothing less than God acting in human form. ...

By calling Jesus the logos, John said two things about Jesus:

(a) Jesus is the creating power of God come to men. He does not only speak the word of knowledge; he is the word of power. He did not come so much to say things to us, as to do things for us.
(b) Jesus is the incarnate mind of God. We might well translate John's words, 'The mind of God became a man'. A word is always 'the expression of a thought' and Jesus is the perfect expression of God's thoughts for men.

I do not share Barclay's Christology, but his description of Jesus as the incarnate mind of God is well constructed and easily comprehended.
'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.


#8 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 02:09 PM

John 1:1-18 (IV)

Your brief tour of the Johannine prologue is followed by statements about Jesus. You say he "made his dwelling among us" and you link this correctly with the tabernacle in the wilderness (God's temporary dwelling with Israel). This parallel itself does not require or suggest Jesus is God, nor does John even hint at this. The point is that Jesus has brought God to us by living with us as His Son; His ambassador; His image; His chief agent and representative. Jesus revealed the invisible God to us, living a life reflecting perfectly his Father's character. In Jesus, the unapproachable God is made approachable.

You say Jesus is full of grace and truth; grace and truth came through Jesus; Jesus makes the Father known by his own revelation of God. I agree unequivocally, but this does not support the deity of Jesus. Attempts to daisy-chain unrelated passages of Scripture for this purpose (John 1:18 = Exodus 33:20?) suggest wide net casting, in an effort to dredge evidence; where is that evidence?

Rather than prove Christ's deity from these passages, you merely resurrect an old problem Trinitarianism still hasn't resolved: God is invisible, cannot be seen, and has never been seen (as your own proof texts say). Yet you believe Jesus is God and was seen. This dilemma was in your opening argument, yet you ignored it. Will this contradiction be resolved or added to the pile of paradoxes you have identified?

I note your appeal to a Trinitarian-friendly translation of John 1:18, pre-empted in my opening statement. It will be interesting to see if you explain your repeated appeal to verses long since abandoned as "proof texts" by professional Trinitarian scholars. Disputed verses are broken reeds (Isaiah 36:6); you would not use them if you had stronger evidence.
'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.


#9 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 02:15 PM

John 20:26-31
As expected, Rob opens this section with John 20:28; one of only four places in the whole of Scripture where scholars (secular, Trinitarian or Biblical Unitarian) agree that Jesus is explicitly referred to as "theos".

You criticise an article on the Biblical Unitarian website without addressing its substance, objecting only to the statement that "theos" was "a descriptive title applied to a range of authorities." Were you genuinely unaware of this, Rob? It's in all the standard literature.

Trinitarian Murray Harris (Jesus as God: the New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, 1992) acknowledges the word "was capable of extremely diverse application, ranging from the images of pagan deities to the one true God of Israel, from heroic people to angelic beings" (p. 270). Texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls use "theos" of Melchizedek (11Q13 2:9-11; 21-25).

The Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon provides a full range of applications (entry here), including "God", "special divinities", "title of rulers" and "one set in authority; judge." Jesus uses "theos" this way in John 10:35, making it indisputable.

Did you provide evidence Thomas is using either "God" or "Lord" from Psalm 35:23, as claimed? Thomas knew the Messianic use of "kyrios" (Psalm 110) and the OT Jewish use of "theos (Psalm 82:6) so where is the evidence for his departure from customary usage?

James F. McGrath (The Only True God: Monotheism and the Gospel of John, University of Illinois, 2009) insists Thomas' words remain in their traditional Jewish context:

We may thus conclude that the author of this Gospel considered it appropriate to acclaim Jesus as both Lord and God. Both of these could potentially be understood as designations of the one true God. Yet as we saw in the earlier discussions of the designation "Lord", it was possible for other figures serving as God's agents to also bear these titles precisely as designations that were shared by the one true God with his agent. It was also possible for both "god" and "lord" in a broader sense for other figures as well. Once again, we are dealing with titles that were used within the context of Jewish monotheism without provoking controversy. In order to determine whether that is the significance they most likely have in John 20:28, we must engage once again in a comparison with relevant Jewish parallels. ...

In John 10, when Jesus is depicted as defending himself against the accusation of making himself God, it is to the wider use of the designation "gods" that appeal is made. This argument in John 10 must surely be allowed to inform our interpretation of what "God" means in reference to Christ in 20:28. Like later Jewish Christians, the author of the Fourth Gospel can call Jesus "God" yet still refer to the Father as "the only true God" (17:3).

(My emphasis).

Roman customs were pervasive, secular authorities were called "theos", the emperor himself hailed as "God"; in contrast, the confession of Thomas defiantly proclaims his newly discovered faith in the identity and authority of his resurrected Messiah and future King.

Why does your interpretation of John 20:17 result in another "paradox"? Is there any need for a paradox in the first place? I understand your Christology is not intended to be wholly comprehensible, but why do your explanations result in self-confessed contradictions and paradoxes? Does Jesus worship the Father? Does Jesus worship the Holy Spirit? These questions await answers, but you don't answer. You know there is a problem, because you identify it as "paradoxical." Please consider if a non-paradoxical answer may be more likely!

Rob, John 20:17 has just informed you that Jesus has a God Whom he worships. You claim Jesus is God. Yet God worships no-one; He is above all. This presents a paradox for you, but not for me; on the contrary, you give yourself even more to prove and another passage to explain. You insist "my God" is "conventional Jewish usage" in both verses, but neglect to inform our readers that "conventional Jewish usage" was much broader than you allow. We need not assume identical usage in both verses; context informs our understanding, as McGrath says.

You quote Harris asserting without evidence that "For John, recognition of Christ's deity is the hallmark of the Christian." On the contrary, John defines the hallmark of the Christian as the confession of three basic propositions:

  • Jesus is the Christ (I John 2:22-23)
  • Jesus Christ is the Son of God (John 20:31)
  • Jesus Christ genuinely existed as a real man (II John 1:7)

Rob, you don't tell our readers that Harris believes "theos" is only used of Christ in 7 out of 15 possible passages, and that Wright (Jesus as Θεός (God): A Contextual Examination, 2007, cited approvingly by Wallace) dismisses 10 out of 17 such texts. Why are Trinitarian scholars themselves abandoning these long cherished "proof texts"?
'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.


#10 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 02:22 PM

Does Jesus in John’s Gospel Deny that He Was God? (I)

Yes; Jesus' defence from Psalm 82:6 (where mortal men are called "gods") is one place proving it. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever unless Jesus is refuting the false accusation he claims to be God. On the contrary, his correction insists that he has only claimed to be the Son of God, and that if mortal men can be called "god" (as in Psalm 82:6) he has no case to answer.

Readers, why does Rob say nothing about Jesus' use of Psalm 82:6? Standard commentaries identify the verse as critical support for Jesus' argument.

McGrath (John's Apologetic Christology, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 117-8):

(1) Jesus claims a functional unity with the Father. The Son does what the Father does (5.17, 19-21; 10.25-30, 37-8).
(2) "The Jews" misunderstand this in terms of Jesus making himself, as Son, equal to or identical with the Father (5.18; 10.33).
(3) As a direct consequence, "the Jews" seek to kill Jesus (5.18; 10:31).
(4) An apologetic response is given, which appeals to Scripture as a support for the claims and actions of Jesus (5.39-40, 46-7; 10.34-5).

Rob, you assert without evidence that the Jewish leaders' second attempt to apprehend Jesus was a response to a claim to deity, when Jesus merely said he performs the deeds of his Father. This claim to divine authority was enough to antagonise the Jews, but says nothing of the essential "three in one" concept of the Trinity.

You claim John 10:30 = the Shema? Do you say it means "one" or "one but with room for two more if I need them"? Jesus is God because he's a spiritual shepherd? Jesus is God because he has the power of life and death? Where's the evidence?

The "oneness" shared by Father and Son in John 10:30 is a unity of purpose, character and relationship, as R. V. G. Tasker (The Gospel According to St John, 1960) shows on grammatical and contextual grounds:

One translates the Greek neuter hen. This verse was much quoted in the Arian controversy by the orthodox in support of the doctrine that Christ was of one substance with the Father. The expression seems however mainly to imply that the Father and the Son are united in will and purpose. Jesus prays in [John 17:11] that His followers may all be one (hen), i.e. united in purpose, as He and His Father are united.

Jesus prayed this oneness would be shared with himself, his disciples and his Father, using the Greek word hen in the same way:

  • John 17:11, "'I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one."
  • John 17:21-22, "'that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one —'"

Rob, you appear unfamiliar with the principle of agency. Agents of God (such as Jesus) are typically granted various prerogatives and powers of God, including the authority to act on His behalf and bear His name.

James F. McGrath (The Only True God: Monotheism and the Gospel of John, University of Illinois, 2009, p. 62):

As I explained earlier, there were certain basic rules or assumptions connected with agency in the ancient world. The most basic of all was that, in the words of later Jewish rabbis, "The one who is sent is like the one who sent him." Or in words that are probably batter known to those of us familiar with the New Testament, "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives not me but the one who sent me" (Matt. 10:40).

These are words which the Gospels record Jesus as saying to his apostles, and "apostle" is simply the Greek word for "one who is sent", an "agent." When someone sent an agent, the agent was given the full authority of the sender to speak and act on his behalf. ...

The agent was thus functionally equal or equivalent to the one who sent him, precisely because he was subordinate and obedient to, and submitted to the will of, him who sent him.

(My emphasis).

John 4:1-3 is a case in point; here Scripture says "Jesus baptised more disciples than John", but then qualifies this with "Jesus was not baptising, but his disciples were." Thus, Coffman's commentary on John 3:22:

Nothing may be made of the fact that Jesus did not baptize, but his disciples baptized. See under John 4:2. What one does through his agents he is lawfully said to do; therefore Jesus baptized.

Early Christians understood this principle perfectly; we find an echo in the Didache (a first-century church manual of doctrine and practice) which says:

Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord.

(Didache 11.4).

Scripture provides many cases in which representatives of God exercise His divine authority and prerogatives:

  • Power of life and death: Elijah (I Kings 17:17-22, II Kings 1:10); Elisha (II Kings 4:32-35); Peter (Acts 5:3-5, 9-10); angels (Proverbs 16:14, Targum has "angels of death", I Chronicles 21:15)
  • Divine foreknowledge: Isaiah (Isaiah 15); Daniel (Daniel 7); Zechariah (Zechariah 12); Malachi (Malachi 3:1-1)
  • Bearing Yahweh's name: Moses (Exodus 5:23); angels (Exodus 3:2-4, cp. Acts 7:35, Exodus 23:20-21, Judges 6:12-14); prophets (Daniel 9:6)
  • Forgiveness of sins: Jesus (Matthew 9:6); Jesus' disciples (John 20:23)
  • Shepherd of God's people: King David (II Samuel 5:2); King Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28)

Examples could be multiplied. I labour this as a point sadly obscured by centuries of poor exegesis. Even some Trinitarian scholars recognising this principle will abandon it for special pleading when Jesus is the subject.
'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.


#11 Evangelion



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Posted 20 November 2012 - 02:30 PM

Does Jesus in John’s Gospel Deny that He Was God? (II)
The crucial difference between Jesus and other agents of God is that Jesus represents a man of an unprecedented authority, whose claim to divine Sonship was not spiritual but literal, embodying the power of God in a unique way. Faithful people encountering Jesus recognised that his power and authority were derived from God and that he acted as God's agent, but was not God himself:

  • Matthew 9:5-8, "When Jesus saw their reaction he said, 'Why do you respond with evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' — then he said to the paralytic — 'Stand up, take your stretcher, and go home. And he stood up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were afraid and honored God who had given such authority to men.
  • Matthew 16:15-16, "[Jesus] said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'"
  • Luke 24:19, "[Jesus] said to them, 'What things?' 'The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene,' they replied, 'a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people'"
  • John 4:19, "The woman said to him, 'Sir, I see that you are a prophet.'"
  • John 6:14, "Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, 'This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.'"
  • John 9:17, "So again they asked the man who used to be blind, 'What do you say about him, since he caused you to see?' 'He is a prophet,' the man replied."
  • Acts 2:22-3, "'Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know — this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.'"

Note the constant distinction between Jesus and God in Acts 2; the apostles are always so careful to do this.

You conclude tilting at John 17:3, your cautious treatment showing you recognise its Christological implications. Yet perhaps you have been too cautious? You juggle Jesus' words briefly with reluctance before skipping to verse 5, where you make a passing reference to alleged pre-existence (the concept here is figurative rather than literal, reflecting traditional Jewish predestination concepts; more in Week 3). Yet you still leave us with no reason to reject the prima facie reading: the Father is the only true God; Jesus is someone distinct from the only true God.

Your forced reading recalls your treatment of the Shema; you could not deny the obvious meaning of the text, so obscured it by claiming that "one" somehow leaves room for "more than one." Here in John 17:3 you want us to believe that "you" and "only" leave room for "us" and "also." This is illogical and implausible. You claim your interpretation is informed by verses calling Jesus God, but how can those verses overturn an exclusive statement of this sort? Why not use this clear verse to inform your interpretation of the verses where you believe Jesus is referred to as God, given that Trinitarian scholars acknowledge those other verses are not clear?

Readers, ask yourselves how Rob would be treating John 17:3 if it said "This is eternal life - that they know us, the only true God, and our apostles, whom we sent." Do you think he would be arguing that there is room in the category of "only true God" for Jesus, the Father and the apostles?

Rob has argued from Genesis 1:26 that the use of plural personal pronouns indicates God is a plurality of persons. Since he takes this line of reasoning, he must acknowledge the corollary: that the use of singular personal pronouns indicates God is only one person! What does the bulk of the evidence show? 7,000 singular personal pronouns in reference to God.

The "plurality of persons" argument from Genesis 1:26 was used for the first time in a heretical apocryphal book called The Shepherd of Hermas, written in the mid 2nd Century AD, more than 100 years after Jesus' ascension. Prior to that time, nobody had used Genesis 1:26 for this purpose - not even the apostles, who knew Christ intimately. Can Rob explain why it took so long for people to start using Genesis 1:26 in this way, and why the earliest forms of that argument did not refer to a plurality of persons within the Godhead, but to the idea that God was speaking to another pre-existent being distinct from Himself?

A plural personal pronoun in John 17:3 would be a major coup for Rob's Christology, but Jesus has no knowledge of a multi-personal God. Why not? Why does Jesus seem to believe that the Father is the only true God, while distinguishing himself from the only true God as a completely different "other"? Why doesn't Jesus use this opportunity to leave a record of the triune Godhead; where is the Holy Spirit in all of this? Why doesn't Jesus use the language of triune personality in this Christologically decisive place?

Rob tries to distract us by playing words games with the text, but he cannot dislodge Jesus' statement or distort its message: the Father alone is the only true God; Jesus Christ is the one whom He has sent.

C. K. Barrett (The Gospel According to St. John, Westminster John Knox Press 1978, p. 505):

The use of μόνος helps to explain the meaning of ἀληθινός (here and elsewhere). The God whom to know is to have eternal life is the only being who may properly be so described; he and, it must follow, he alone is truly θεός.

'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.


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